Thursday, January 31, 2008

Going to church doesn't mean you are "born again"

Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians.” – I don’t think so.

There is definitely an issue with church-goers here in America. It is unfortunately true that a majority of church-goers lives don’t look much different than the rest of the world. However, to call someone "born again" simply because they go to church or because they call themselves a Christian is a huge mistake and distorts the biblical meaning of the term “born again”.

Read what John Piper had to say about it:
Now I want to say loud and clear that when the Barna Group uses term “born again” to describe American church-goers whose lives are indistinguishable from the world, and who sin as much as the world, and sacrifice for others as little as the world, and embrace injustice as readily as the world, and covet things as greedily as the world, and enjoy God-ignoring entertainment as enthusiastically as the world—when the term “born again” is used to describe these professing Christians, the Barna Group is making a profound mistake. It is using the biblical term “born again” in a way that would make it unrecognizable by Jesus and the biblical writers.
Read Piper's entire sermon here

If Barna was truly able to identify real "born again" Christians, I think the results of this study would be profoundly different.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Did Jesus get sick?

I have been sick the last couple of days – the fever/cold thing that has been going around. I had an interesting thought today, “did Jesus ever get sick?” Of course I mean when he was fully man. I don’t know of any reference that would either concretely prove or disprove this point. However, we do know that he got hungry, he had emotions, he wept, he felt pain, and he experienced every kind of temptation. I lean toward the hypothesis that Jesus did experience sickness while he was in his humbled state of humanity.

Maybe Hebrews 2:17-18 gets us close to answering this question?
For this reason he (Jesus) had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More Teaching - Philippians

I haven't posted any audio files of my teaching lately. However, I started a series on Philippians last week and it is being recorded. Here are the first two classes that will take you through the first chapter of Paul's letter to the saints in Philippi.

Philippians 1:1-11 (January 20, 2008)
Philippians 1:12-30 (January 27, 2008)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Party on Purpose

Here is this week's small group curriculum that complements part 2 of "The Table" series called "The Party at the Table."

Big Idea:
The church is a table of sorts; a place to gather for spiritual nourishment, life, laughter, and love. And yes, it is also a place to party. God has called us to the table to “party on purpose.”

God created and even demanded that his people party. In the Old Testament we see seven celebrations, called feasts, which God commanded. But, why did God want his people to party? These feasts allowed them to remember his goodness, to look forward to his future promises, and to glorify him. For instance, the purpose of the Passover party is to remember the deliverance of God’s people, to look forward to the Messiah, and in doing so glorify God. In the New Testament we see Jesus promoting parties that celebrate redemption – the finding of those things (people) once lost. God calls us to celebrate! But wait, I thought that following Christ meant giving up some of the pleasures of this world. I thought I had to live differently now. The answer is “yes”! Jesus said we “must take up our cross and follow him.” But, that doesn’t change the fact that God has prepared a party at the table anymore than long lines at Disneyland change the fact that you are visiting the “happiest place on earth.” God understands the importance of his people celebrating his goodness and he wants the table (the church) to be a place of celebration: a party of righteousness, peace, joy, purpose, fulfillment, blessing, prosperity, increase, and thanksgiving. Simply stated, when we gather at the table we are called to celebrate the glorious things God has done, the lives he has transformed, and the promises he will fulfill.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Exodus 12:24-28:
Who called for the celebration? Why did they celebrate? What things do you need to celebrate in your life and in your church? Why?

Luke 15:1-10 & 20-32
What was the response to finding the lost sheep and coin? When does Jesus say we, along with heaven, should throw a party? Who does the brother of the prodigal son represent? What was his response to the party? What is the father’s response? Is this our perspective or do we wish the party was about us and for us? How does this change our view of the purpose of the weekend church service?

Luke 14:15-24
Jesus is throwing the ultimate party and has sent out his invitations. Who is invited? What is the celebration? Who will be allowed to partake in the cake, ice cream, and party favors? What happens to those who found excuses to not attend? Do you think we ever give excuses? Are you aggressively inviting others to this party? If not, why?

Taking Action: Does your small group party together? Intentionally spend time at each of your gatherings celebrating what God has done and is doing in your lives. Party on purpose and rejoice together.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I won’t because it might cost me something

Why won’t some believe? Because they are unwilling to potentially lose their position, reputation, power, sin, worldly comfort, personal gratification, time, relationship, and possibly reputation. It really comes down to pride and selfishness that prevents people from believing even when the evidence is overwhelming. They are not willing to die to self and give it up for Christ. The things of this world are just too important.

There are even some who call themselves Christians who fall into this category. They will follow Christ when and where it is easy, but when the going gets tough and the price gets too high, they are nowhere to be found. Well, actually you can find them. They are still living for themselves, talking the talk, but not walking the walk. In fact, you can often find them criticizing and demeaning those who truly believe and are laying it all down out of love and obedience for the Kingdom.

Take a look at this account from the gospel of John:
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did {raised Lazarus & performed miracles}, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place {position & reputation} and our nation {power}." - John 11:45-48

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Get on the love train

Love was in the air this morning as I shared from the following passages in our weekly staff prayer meeting. I really do feel that this calling to grow in love is very timely for the church and for God's people. This will be a year, if we are willing to follow Christ, of going to a deeper place in our love for God and our love for others. Now, read the following passages and get on the love train with me.
So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11 (The Message)

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your
neighbor as yourself.' – Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:9-18 (NIV)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Should I stay or should I go now?

As I read Philippians 1 today I was captivated by Paul’s unselfishness when he stated:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:21-26
While it would be better for him to be with Christ and not be living in this world that has handed him much suffering and hardship, Paul was drawn by a God-given heart for others to stay and to minister. Paul could have leaned toward his personal spiritual tank being filled, but instead he chose to think of others and to serve them at a continued personal cost.

Is this our attitude? Are we willing to endure hardship and even forgo some of the personal benefits of God’s blessings in exchange for serving others and ministering the gospel? Most of us don’t have a clue what it means to suffer for Christ. In America we would define giving up some of our time, being labeled a Christian by our co-workers (Oh my), and tithing the whole 10% as extending ourselves for God. For the American “Jesus Freaks” it might even mean downsizing our homes, cars, or lifestyles in order to serve God. But to Paul and most of the early Christians it meant beatings, whippings, floggings, imprisonment, and often death.

I suggest that we all need to have the unselfish attitude that Paul is expressing here and we need to be willing to lay down ourselves for others. Let’s not seek what will bring us joy or even give us those wonderful spiritual goose bumps, but rather let’s seek what will advance the gospel and show love to others. Believe me, then the true joy and spiritual goose bumps will happen.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Table: its purpose

My small group study for this week and the next 3 weeks will revolve around a sermon series called "The Table". This study begins by defining the table and examining some characteristics of its purpose.
Big Idea:
The church is a table of sorts. It’s a place where followers of Christ gather for spiritual nourishment. It’s also a place where we share life, love, and laughter. Unfortunately, many people don’t come to the church table. Whether because of misconceptions or simply because they are not invited, people stay away.

The church, like a table, has a primary purpose and was designed for a specific function. However, many churches have allowed “mission drift” to confuse their primary purpose with their secondary purposes and as a result they are majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. To them, the table has become about a lot of things; good things, important things, but not the main thing. So what is the main purpose of the table; of the church? Here’s the answer. The table (church) exists to bring the family together in close proximity in order to receive spiritual nourishment while exchanging love, laughter, and life. The challenge that we have in building a church in this culture is to get people to the table and to get them connected to others at the table and to keep them growing at the table. This week, let’s take a look at three things that prevent people from coming to the table and how we can make the table an inviting place.

Discussion Questions: (read the scripture & discuss)

1. It is perceived as irrelevant and boring: However, if you are on fire with a passion for God, people will come running to watch you burn. The antidote to boredom and irrelevance is not entertainment; rather it is passion.
Acts 2:42-47 => What was the passion of the early church? Passion isn’t just what you do, but how and why you do it. What was the result of their passion? What would this look like today? How are you displaying your passion?

2. People are used to eating junk food: Eating the same thing at every meal is not healthy, especially if it is only dessert. We need a balanced and nourishing spiritual meal in order to grow and remain strong.
1 Peter 2:1-3 & Hebrews 5:11-14 => What kind of food does Peter suggest we crave and why? Should we only drink milk? Why not? What does the writer of Hebrews say we should eat in order to mature and how often should we be eating it? Give examples of spiritual junk food. What would a healthy spiritual meal look like?

3. We don’t invite them to the table: Every one of us is called by Christ to bring people into the family. We are to be fishers of men who are actively sharing the good news.
Matthew 9:9-13 & Mark 1:14-18 => Matthew’s initial response to meeting Jesus was to invite others to the table. Are you actively bringing people into the family, inviting them to the table, and feeding them? Give examples and tell stories.

Taking Action: What are you doing at your church to prepare for company; to make this table an inviting and nourishing place? Examine your small group as it relates to these three criteria. Is it inviting and nourishing? Pray together about who you will be inviting to the table.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It isn't a one-way street

I was reading through Jude today and took great notice of the 21st verse that tells us that we need to do something as we are waiting for the eternal life that comes through Jesus:
Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. – Jude 21
Whoa, that is interesting especially since Jude isn’t talking to unbelievers. Rather, he is talking to the saints, to “those who have been called and are loved by God” - most likely Hebrew believers.

Jesus makes a similar statement that is recorded in John 15 when he says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”

This scripture reminds us that we must not be lulled into a spiritual sleep and think that eternal life is gained and kept by saying a prayer, simply calling ourselves Christians, or even just going to church. It is a new life lived for God, remaining in Christ, and living by the Spirit as we love him, obey him, and daily surrender to his will. We cannot gain our own salvation for that only comes through Christ, but it is very evident that we do have a critical role to play in this relationship. It isn't a one-way street.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New beginnings, but what is the cost?

Following is this week's small group curriculum. I prepared it to complement this weekend's sermon which laid out the vision for our church as we move forward into 2008. This is a big year for us because we have now officially merged with another large church in the Phoenix area and become one church on two campuses.

Big Idea:
You might be familiar with the saying, “for anything worth having, one must pay the price.” There is nothing worth more than Christ; nothing of greater value exists in all creation or eternity. Christ himself sums up his price with the command to “love God and love others.”

God is doing new things in his church and also in our lives. He is stretching us, moving us forward, transforming us, and taking us to new places in him. This process is exciting and eternally rewarding, but it comes with a cost. Yes, you heard it right, there is a cost associated with following Christ and being his disciple. So, what is the cost? We know the ultimate cost is everything: God demands your life, your soul, your all. This week we will discuss four specific focuses associated with the Christian walk and the cost of being a disciple of Christ.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

1. We must be courageous for Christ and go where he leads. We must have a passion to do the will of God, fulfill his purposes, and never stop short of going all the way. We must dare to dream again and to dream big.
Numbers 14:1-9 & 26-35. Why did Joshua and Caleb get to enter the Promised Land? What character qualities are rewarded by God? What qualities met with discipline? How can we apply this to our lives and our church?

2. We must selflessly serve God and his church. God has gifted us with talents and abilities so that we can be involved in doing his will and accomplishing his purposes. We cannot selfishly use these gifts only for our own good. Rather, we are called to employ our gifts for the benefit of the entire body of Christ.
1 Peter 4:10-11. Discuss the different gifts God has given you and how these gifts can be used to build up and serve others in the body of Christ. Who are we ultimately serving? How does this change the way we live and where we invest our time?

3. We must earnestly seek God and give ourselves to prayer and fasting. We need God’s grace, his guidance, and his direction in our lives. Prayer and fasting are critical spiritual disciplines that touch the heart of God and deepen our relationship with him.
Matthew 6:5-7 & 16-17. What view did Jesus have regarding prayer and fasting? Was it optional? Discuss your experiences and the outcomes you have had as a result of prayer and fasting.

4. We must live humbly before our God with pure hearts, treating one another with love, grace, and compassion. What we say to each other and how we treat each other is extremely important to God and to the health of his church.
Ephesians 4:29-32. Why should we treat each other with compassion? Why is unwholesome talk so dangerous? Give examples of how we should treat each other.

Taking Action: Spend this week praying for each other and for City of Grace. Ask God to direct you to opportunities in the body of Christ to use the gifts he has given you. Courageously step out and follow his lead.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Have you touched the wooden statue of Jesus?

I was introduced to this troubling phenomenon of the healing wooden statue of Jesus at Anti-Itch Meditation. There is something wrong when “Christians” stampede a wooden statue for healing and for the forgiveness of their sins that only Jesus Christ himself offers. But that is exactly what happens in Manila every year. This is the result of too much focus being directed at religious icons instead of the focus being solely on Christ himself. This event, as well as many others that happen everyday around the world, sure do have the appearance of idolatry and mysticism. Where are they being taught this stuff? How can their religious leaders and their church be comfortable with this kind of spectacle?
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:4-6

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:21

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Are you living like you know Christ?

God began challenging my views of Christianity and salvation about 2 years ago. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that he began to rock my world and shake me up. Through intense reading and studying of his Word he awakened me out of a sort of spiritual coma caused greatly by incorrect understanding of Gods grace and showed me that being his follower is more than just getting a membership to the “Christian Club”, but involves my whole life. I have a passion to share this truth and do it out of a sincere love for others and a desire for people to truly embrace Christ. So, let me throw out some of those challenging thoughts.

If you look like the world, act like the world, and are embraced by the world, then more than likely you belong to the world and not to Christ. You can only serve one master, not two. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian – one who is surrendered to Christ yet lives like the world. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The way you used to think and act is history; it’s dead and gone.

Are you wrapped up in the trappings of worldly culture? Do you watch what the world watches on TV and at the movies - the things that glorify sin, selfishness, materialism, and chaos? Do you spend your time pursuing wealth in order to gain the riches of this world and enjoy the comforts and pleasures that this world has to offer? Do you talk like the world and engage in coarse joking and gossip? Or, is your mind set on the things of God? Is your heart surrendered to the will of God? Is your motivation and focus to serve God everyday with every fiber of your being? Are you truly living by the Spirit and do you have the mind of Christ? Have you been transformed or are you still conformed to this world?

There is a significant and noticeable difference between those who live for Christ instead of for themselves and for the world. They produce good fruit. They obey God and say no to the lusts of the flesh. They truly have become a new creation and it shows in what they do, what they say, and how they live.

I say these things because some people think they know Christ. They think they are “saved” because they said a prayer and go to church. However, their lives have not truly changed and there is no fruit to back it up. I am not judging anyone because that’s not my place to do so. Instead, I am moved by a love for people and a desire that people not be duped into believing a lie. I will leave it with the words of Jesus…
Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' - Matthew 7:17-23

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Say what? There’s a cost to this gift?

Following Christ is an interesting paradox. Salvation is freely given through him, yet it will cost you everything. Paul puts it this way.
"What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith." (Philippians 3:7-9)
Jesus speaks clearly about the cost of his free gift.
“Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33). "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26)
While it is not always easy to pay the price, I say it is chump change in light of glorifying God and enjoying eternity with our loving Lord and Savior.

Friday, January 04, 2008

In the meantime, remember this...

Enjoy this week's small group curriculum.

Big Idea:
How should we be living in the meantime; as we await our Savior? Do we strive to earn our salvation? How about kicking back and relaxing? Paul directs our eyes and hearts to Christ as we passionately press on and strain toward our eternal life with our Lord.

Can we do it without Christ; can we make it on our own? In the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul responds with an emphatic “NO,” and states that apart from Christ we have no righteousness that will lead to salvation. Does he mean that good works and obedience are worthless and wrong? Not at all, but Paul does point out that doing these things solely out of our own strength is of no profit. He goes even deeper by stressing the importance of knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, sharing in his suffering, becoming like him, and ultimately being eternally saved because of him. Paul isn’t saying that he has completely accomplished all of this, but instead of sitting back and just hoping for it to happen he declares that he is pressing on and straining toward what is ahead in order to get this ultimate prize. Paul then amazes us by encouraging us to follow his example. Instead of being enemies of the cross, remaining selfish, and having our minds on the things of this world, Paul is telling us to join him in his pursuit of Christ, to eagerly await our Savior, and to live as citizens of Heaven. Is this what your life looks like? Are you going after Christ with a passion because you know that he is the only way? Are you willing to suffer with Christ, obey him, pursue him, and forsake all others save him? Yes, this is Paul’s story, but it must be our story as well.

Discussion Questions: (read the scripture & discuss)

Note: first read Philippians 3:7-21 in its entirety

Philippians 3:7-11
Knowing Christ involves knowing the power of his resurrection, but also sharing in his sufferings. How do we share in his sufferings? Give personal examples if appropriate.

Philippians 3:12-14
What does Paul mean by pressing on and straining toward what is ahead? What are some examples of “pressing” and “straining” in your life?

Philippians 3:18-21
Paul tells the Philippians to “follow his example”. What is Paul talking about? Can you confidently instruct others to follow you; to imitate you? What should we be doing in the meantime?

Taking Action: Spend this week examining your life. Does it reflect someone who is eagerly awaiting Christ? Are you giving your whole life to gain the prize? Are you living through your faith in Christ and like a citizen of Heaven or are you still captivated by the world?

"The Jones Band" on YouTube

I finally had a chance to upload video of our Battle of the Bands performance on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, it is a little tough to see the boys (Jake & Grant) because of the lighting and because they are still a little on the short side. But, you can definately hear them. Here they are - enjoy!

#1. "Front Tooth"
#2. "Anticipation"
#3. "The Life She Dreamed"
#4. "Vertigo" - U2

Related Post: "The Jones Band" Rocks in the New Year!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What's the Word?

Like many, I spent January 1st dedicating this New Year to the Lord, praying, fasting, and seeking God for his will and direction in my life for this New Year. This obviously isn’t the only time or day I seek God, but it does seem to be a special time as new-beginnings are in the air. So, as I ask God if he has anything special he wants to say to me, I am drawn to the following passage. No, I didn’t do the famous "grab your Bible, close your eyes, open it up, and randomly place your finger on a verse." Rather, God has had me in and around this passage for the last few days as I have been beginning to prepare for an upcoming expository teaching from the book of Philippians.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11
This passage is powerful and speaks deeply to my continued spiritual growth, what the results will look like, where my strength comes from, and the ultimate purpose of this entire process. This word from God keeps me focused, provides a clear directive, and emboldens me for the coming year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"The Jones Band" Rocks in the New Year!

The Jones Band had an exciting and successful debut at the Battle O' the Bands last night. We placed 3rd out of 9 bands and actually won a prize $$. We had the oldest and the youngest musicians by far. At ages 9 and 11 my two sons rocked the house. I mean they really did a great quality job. In fact we got the 2nd highest score by the judge’s panel for the quality and originality of our performance. We got 3rd because another band just had more fans there voting, but they were great too. It was a dream for me to play with my boys - wow.

We played four songs: 3 originals and 1 cover tune (U2's Vertigo). We opened with an acoustic bluegrass original called "Front Tooth" with Jake on the mandolin and me on the guitar. We then moved into a driving rock number called "Anticipation" that we wrote together in the boys bedroom. Our third tune was an original written and sung by our phenomenal guest vocalist, Daniel Stringer, called "The Life She Dreamed". Our finale was "Vertigo" and it was a hit.

I was totally blessed last night and proud of Jake and Grant as they were so confident yet humble. May God be glorified as they continue to make music for him.

Stay tuned for some video of the performance on YouTube.