Friday, February 29, 2008

Thank God for Friends

I just returned from a short trip to Coronado, CA with my wife, 4 kids, and some of our closest friends. We were blessed with incredible weather and even better fellowship. It is beautiful when distance doesn't change things. Our friends moved away about 5-6 years ago and we only are able to get together about once a year. But, it is like nothing has changed when we are blessed to spend time together. Like Michael W. Smith said in his tune Friends, “a lifetimes not too long to live as friends.”

My two oldest sons are still best friends with their oldest two sons. After some hugs, they pick up right where they left off. I am convinced they will always be best friends. Again, it is a beautiful thing. Friends are a blessing from the Lord. Thank you God for giving us friends to love.

Until we see each other again, "I thank my God for my remembrance of you."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

GO FISH

This week’s small group curriculum is focused squarely on evangelism.


Big Idea:
If you are a disciple of Christ, you are called to be a fisher of men; an evangelist. So, what’s in your tackle box? What tools of the trade have you acquired in order to be successful at the task of fishing for men?

Summary:
Fishermen use different techniques and bait based on the conditions, environment, and what they are trying to catch. Sometimes they use a fly, they cast, they troll, or they bobber fish. Lures are often used, but so is live bait. And at times, they even pull out the nets. The good ones come prepared for any condition and are able to adapt as those conditions change. Relational evangelism is an effective and biblical technique of fishing for men. It is about building healthy relationships with people far from God and then allowing the Holy Spirit to work through that relationship to draw them to Jesus. But, the relational fisherman also knows when to set the line and share the gospel. Remember, you are not just the lure, but you are the fisherman. A relational fisherman will purposely (1) find those God has assigned to them, (2) involve themselves in their lives, (3) share the good news and invite them to church, and (4) help them grow in Christ. Every one of us has been commanded to go fish! If we are going to follow Christ and fish for men, we must fill our evangelism tackle box. We must know when to be patient and when to get aggressive; when to use the bobber and when to use the nets. Have you spent the time acquiring the tools of the trade? Do you know how to adapt your techniques? Fishing is not a game of luck. Serious fishermen do not leave it up to chance. They are prepared, studied, and practiced. The result is consistent success. So, what’s in your tackle box?

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Paul made sure he had a full and diverse tackle box. Did Paul’s technique encourage compromise? Why or why not? What would this look like and not look like today?

Romans 10:13-17
Our actions are important, but they are dead without words. If ever words should be used it should be for the purpose of sharing the Good News of Christ. Why are words important? Are you using words and telling people about Christ? If yes, give examples.

Matthew 28:18-20
Is Jesus simply looking for conversions? What responsibility do we have after someone becomes a follow of Christ? Jesus tells us how to make disciples. How do we accomplish this? Why can we accomplish this?

Taking Action: Begin filling up your tackle box and start actively fishing. Pray for healthy relationships with non-believers. Make a list and begin engaging in new relationships. Study God’s Word and have answers to the questions of “how can I be saved”, “what must I do”, and “what is this good news.” Finally, just go fish.

Ministry Time

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jones-ing for some intimacy in marriage

My wife, Velvet, and I were honored to be the keynotes last night at a marriage dinner. We decided not to present a bunch of marital tips and tricks. Rather, the message was focused on the imperative that we become intimate with God, surrender to his will, and allow him to transform us. This will lead to intimacy in marriage.

We spent a lot of time telling personal experiences and stories about our marriage – the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, I will spare you from that and leave you with these random excerpts and bullet points from the talk:
-------------------------
Let's start with the definition of Jones-ing: To have an eager or intense desire. For instance, "I'm really jonesing for a cup of coffee right about now."

Types of Intimacy in Marriage: Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual

Most men lean toward physical intimacy while women desire emotional intimacy. However, the most important intimacy that your marriage needs is spiritual intimacy. In fact, the more spiritually intimate you become, the more emotional and physical intimacy you will experience.

Q: So, how do we grow our spiritual intimacy? How do we become more spiritually intimate?
A: Each of you must become intimate with God and grow in that intimacy.

Developing solid relationship on earth (like our marriage) begins by developing a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

God’s love enables spouses to develop deeper emotional & physical intimacy when they are engaged in fulfilling Christ’s goals for their own lives. Jesus said, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you." - Matt. 6:33. Ask the Lord to help you fulfill all of Christ’s goals in your own life and also ask the Spirit to draw you together in the process as a couple.

So, how do we get intimate with our Lord and Savior? How do we know more about God? Remember, you can’t get intimate without developing a deep and growing knowledge.

* We read His Word, pray, and fast. (this is how we get to know God more and to know who we are in Christ)
* We learn what He likes and dislikes. We learn about His love for us and how we can show Him love.
* We learn that God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to live and die for us.
* As we learn and put into practice this new knowledge, we change.
* We learn that when we surrender and submit to Him he changes us – we become transformed into new people. (could your marriage use a little bit of that?)
* He gives us all we need to put sin to death. (Titus 2:11-12 & 1 Cor. 10:13)
* That’s right, sin begins to disappear: lust, anger, selfishness, pride, materialism, jealousy, etc…
* You begin to exhibit: love, joy, peace, gentleness (kindness), goodness, patience, faithfulness, meekness, & self control (could your marriage use more of these qualities?)
* Bottom line, you become easier to love because you are becoming more like Christ!
* How do you change your marriage? You change!
* How do you change? You die to self and become intimate with God!
* Changed people = changed marriages. People living for God (rather than for themselves)= marital bliss!

We also briefly discussed emotional and physical intimacy since they are a result of increased spiritual intimacy. I used statements like, "from the Bible to the bedroom." It got a little crazy at this point, but it was fun. We'll leave it at that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Having sex to save your marriage

My friend Zack Hensley who blogs at Forever Nocturnal had an engaging post today titled, "Having sex to save your marriage?" He was right on the money even though he is still just a young single (engaged) pup. No, he does not advocate that having sex will save your marriage.

On a related topic, it just so happens that my wife and I are speaking at a marriage event this Friday night and I have been preparing the talk. The focus is to get away from tips and tricks (marital band-aids) and get intimate with God. My marriage went to a whole new level when I got intimate with God. Seek first the Kingdom of God and all the other stuff (a good marriage included) will be added. I will post some bits from the talk later this week.

Anyway, read Zack's Post.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Give him what he wants - TRUTH

People want answers. They want the truth. Check out this video that a friend sent to me and then try to tell me that post-modernism, emerging views, and universalism isn't dangerous. What makes me sick is that this kind of stuff is going on today - for real. People are dying for truth, but they are being fed a bunch of mumbo jumbo. We should all be as aggresive as this man was against the distortion, watering down, and elimination of the gospel truth.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lost = yes, Rebellious = no

Jesus is all about going after the lost. In the 15th chapter of Luke, Jesus presents the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the “lost” son. However, there is a big difference between the first two parables and the last parable. In the parable of the lost sheep we see that the lost sheep is aggressively sought out and then found. We also see the owner of the lost coin very passionately seeking it out. However, the father of the lost son does not go after his son. He does not seek him out. Why? What is the difference? The son was rebellious. These parables indicate that Jesus is all about going after the lost, but not the rebellious. The lost are clueless while the rebellious know what they are doing and what they are walking away from. Rebellion is very dangerous. However, we also see that, while the father did not seek out his rebellious son, he did joyfully welcome him back.

We put ourselves in a very precarious position if we willfully rebel and walk away from the Father. As followers of Christ we must walk in the light as he (Jesus) is in the light. We must remain in him (Jesus). We must live in obedience and not rebellion. By God’s grace this is completely possible.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Table: Unity, Diversity, and Charity

Here is this weeks small group curriculum. We added a 5th and final lesson to the Table series.

Big Idea: The church is a table of sorts; where people from different backgrounds, experiences, and levels of spiritual maturity gather together for the glory of God. Maintaining unity in the midst of this diversity is a critical component of our Christian life.

Summary: There is absolute truth – the essentials. For example, there is only one God, and Jesus Christ is the only way unto salvation. However, there are many non-essential things that relate to life that are not specifically defined and outlined in scripture – what we should eat and when we should gather. In fact, in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians, Paul directly acknowledges the fact that there are “disputable matters,” and that differences of opinion is permissible. But, we must appropriately manage the way we handle these differences. We must accommodate our differences in the non-essentials while “speaking the truth in love” as it relates to the essentials. St. Augustine put it this way, “In the essentials we have unity, in the non-essentials we have diversity, and in all things we have charity.” Here’s the big question, are we willing to divest ourselves of our petty inclinations of self-interest for the ultimate goal of expanding the table and increasing the population in heaven? In accomplishing this mission, our motto as Christ followers should be “compassion without compromise.” Therefore, we should not say, “lighten up” or “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Rather, we must, “stand in awe of the risen Christ who will get his glory from the living and from the dead and from the eaters and the abstainers and from the day-keepers and the non-day-keepers. Stand in awe of Jesus Christ. And whatever we do, whether we eat or whether we drink, do all to the glory of Christ.”

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Romans 14:1-12 Why is the one who limits what he eats weak in faith rather than the other person? A holy life is one which does what pleases God. How does this apply if there is no particular right or wrong way?

Romans 14:13 - 15:13 Do you have a problem with judging other Christians and making sure they meet up to your standards? What are some principles from this section of scripture that would help you to have a proper attitude toward them?

1 Corinthians 10:23 – 11:1 Instead of being critical of others and being divisive, how are we to conduct ourselves? Because of our love for others, what are some things that we can do, but shouldn’t do?

Taking Action: Identify some non-essentials where you can accommodate others instead of criticizing them. Are there some essentials that you are compromising instead of speaking the truth in love? List at least two changes you desire to take place in your life because of this study.

Ministry Time

"By his wounds we are healed" - of what?

What did Peter mean when he referenced Isaiah 53 and said, “by his wounds (stripes) we are healed” – 1 Peter 2:24. Is he referring to physical healing or spiritual healing? Physical healing is definitely all over the New Testament and is very prevalent and available today. For instance, Jesus healed many, the disciples and apostles healed, and we are instructed by James to gather the elders, pray for the sick, and they will be healed. But, are we misusing Peter’s words when we directly, or simply, apply “by his wounds we are healed” to all situations involving physical healing? I tend to think that we do misuse this passage. If you look at the context there is no mention of the physical. Rather, the entire context revolves around our spiritual condition and the victory we should be experiencing over sin. The healing Peter appears to refer to is a spiritual healing that brings us into perfect health (relationship) with our Savior and Lord. This is also true about the passage in Isaiah 53. It is referring to the healing (victory) we have over our transgressions and iniquities (sins).

This should not in any way diminish or dismiss your belief and assurance of the very evident presence of physical healing by our loving and all-powerful God. But it should remind us that the spiritual is always more important than the physical. However, good spiritual health can often lead to physical healing. James gives us a little insight into this reality:
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. – James 5:14-16.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Disciple of Christ will (and can) obey

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (toward God), - Philippians 2:12
Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi to continue to work out (not work for) their salvation with fear and trembling toward God. Out of a deep reverence for God, they are to continue to grow in sanctification (work out your salvation) through the inward working and power of the Holy Spirit active in our lives.

What grabbed me is the direct link that Paul makes between obedience and salvation, “as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Obedience is important and will always be an indication of our spiritual condition.

This is an incredible encouragement that this group of Christians were living obedient lives. They weren’t just talking the talk – they were walking the walk – going all the way! What a testimony of God’s grace and the power of the cross. This text underscores both the importance and real possibility of obedience. Paul made real disciples of the Christians in Philippi. They were “obeying all Christ had commanded”. Why is this encouraging? Because, if they can do it – so can we. They prove the power of Christ in us, the freedom we have from sin, and the reality of the full gospel message.

Remember the Great Commission:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20
A disciple of Christ will obey all Christ has commanded. Someone who decides not to obey Christ is deciding not to be a follower of Christ. Paul was labeling the Christians in Philippi as disciples when he declared that they always obeyed. Are we disciples of Christ. Can this be said of us?

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Jones Band Leads Worship

Here are links to three videos on YouTube of Velvet, Jake, Grant, and myself leading worship on January 13th in the children's services. Ben and Faith joined us on stage too. Anyway, enjoy. I am having a blast - I have my own band.
1. King of Majesty, 2. One Way Jesus, 3. Blessed Be Your Name / Rain Down

Sanctification is not optional.

Sanctification is an often overlooked aspect of the Christian life. Much focus is given to our justification while our sanctification is considered optional.

“This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” - 1 Thessalonians 4:3

Sanctification is the progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” It is the process of making us like Christ. This process involves the cooperation of both God and man with each playing a distinct and very active role.

If you have ongoing sin in your life that you are aware of, yet you are not putting it to death, then there is a good chance you are not experiencing sanctification. If you knowingly stop the sanctifying work of Christ in your life because there are some sins you just won’t let go of, then you are putting yourself in great peril. Sanctification is not optional, it is absolutely necessary for salvation. Just as you cannot experience salvation without justification, you cannot experience salvation without sanctification. Praise God that through the work of Christ in us, he gives us all we need for both justification and sanctification. But, just as we must accept his justification, we must also accept, allow, and cooperate with sanctification. It is not forced on us, we must willingly participate. Are you participating?

Are you allowing Christ to perfect you, change you, transform you, and make you pure and blameless? The fruit of your life will testify and provide you with the answer to this question. The work of sanctification is very evident because you will see sin disappearing while being replaced by the fruit of the Spirit.

J.C. Ryle is one of my favorite writers on the subject of sanctification. He does a wonderful job and a thorough writing on this critical biblical mandate. CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

THE TABLE: How are you treating the body

This week's small group curriculum completes the Table Series with a study of the Lord's Table and the importance of properly handling the "Body" of Christ: the elements and the church.

Big Idea: The church is a table of sorts; a place to gather where we connect with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. The Table of the Lord is about remembering relationships – first our relationship with Christ, and second our relationship with others who are part of the body of Christ.

Summary: Come to the table and remember that Christ redeemed you by his own blood. If we truly understand what the bread and the wine represent at the Table of the Lord; if we actually remember what Christ has done for us, the sacrifice he made, and the love he demonstrated then we will come to the table in love – love for Christ and love for others. This will bring unity with God and unity among each other. Is there a lack of unity at the table? Is there a lack of grace exhibited by those seated at the table? Then it is because people are coming to the table and forgetting the ultimate reason why. Through Communion, The Table of the Lord, we are refreshing our memories and reconnecting with the Lord Jesus Christ and his body. The “union” in communion doesn’t only refer to our joining together with Christ in his death and burial and resurrection, it also means joining together with his body (the church) in life! If we bring to the Lord’s Supper a divisive spirit, selfishness, or insincerity, then we diminish the true meaning of the table. And if we allow any kind of prejudice, whether social, racial, generational, or cultural, to control our attitudes toward anyone in the body of Christ, then we undermine the integrity of this meal. This is the meal in which we celebrate the death of Christ for the whole world. We’ve got to be certain that we come to the Lord’s Table fully committed to the New Testament definition of agape, or sacrificial love, and Christian fellowship toward everyone. If we don’t, then we could hurt the cause of Christ rather than helping it and we insult the sacrifice made for us in love.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

1 Corinthians 11:17-29 Why is Paul rebuking the Corinthians? Based on this passage, how does the way we treat each other affect our ability to commune with God at the Lord’s Table?

Romans 12:9-18 Contrast this passage with Paul’s message to the Corinthians. What are the differences? Is this how we are treating and relating to each other? If not, why?

1 John 4:7-12 & 19-21 When we come to the table, we must come in love. Why does John say we should love one another? Why should we be concerned if we don’t exhibit love to each other? Give examples of how we can live out this love in the church.

Taking Action: What would church look like if we came with the love God commands? Brainstorm as a group what this would look like from the parking lot, to the lobby, in the children’s ministry, before, during, & after service, and even in your LifeGroup. Challenge each other to personally begin implementing the changes this week.

Ministry Time

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Humanity of Christ

"The humanity of Jesus is as essential to the Christian faith as his deity. The New Testament teaching and the orthodox Christian position regarding the Person of Christ is that Jesus is truly God and truly man in the fullest sense of the terms. In His Person is a union of two distinct natures -- human and divine. Jesus is truly human in every essential aspect. Indeed, Jesus, being sinless, is the most authentic human being who ever lived."

So, Jesus was fully man. He was born of a woman. He got hungry and tired. He had human emotions. He was tempted in every way. Yet, he was without sin and he only did what the Father instructed.

Here are a few examples of how Jesus was human:

Fully Man: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with a child of the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:18

Emotions: 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" John 11:33-36

Without Sin: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. – Hebrews 4:15

Did the Father’s Will: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." – Luke 22:42

The Importance of His Humanity:

17For this reason he 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. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:17-18

Only as man can Jesus truly represent men to God, (Heb. 2:17). He understands our lives because He has lived it also, (Heb. 2:18). Because He understands, coming to Him we "obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need," (Heb. 4:15-16). As man He provided for us the pattern for living as men, "21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." 1 Peter 2:21

Isn’t it amazing that the Son of God was obedient, when called by the Father, to be stripped of his glory, power, and position and become the savior of the world in the form of a man? He did this for us. Does Jesus love you?

As followers of Christ we are called to exhibit this same humility. We are supposed to “die to self” and “take up our cross” when we follow Christ. We are supposed to humbly lay down our rights.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

“Confess with your mouth” means what?

Most Christians are very familiar with the passage, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

Amen. But, let’s examine it a little more closely and try to understand this passage in its historical context. What did it mean for an early Christian to confess “Jesus is Lord?”

At the time Paul wrote this letter, the persecution of Christians was intensifying and he was keenly aware of the implications resulting from publicly confessing Jesus as Lord. The Apostle Paul knew a lot about persecuting Christians because he was one of the Jewish ringleaders who persecuted Christians until he himself very dramatically met Christ. As we know, he stood by and approved of the stoning (murder) of Stephen.

The Roman government also made it common practice to violently persecute, torture, imprison, and kill Christians. When Paul wrote this passage in his letter to the Romans, he was already acquainted with persecution. Paul was in prison more than once, he was stoned and left for dead, beaten with rods, and received 39 lashes several times. Paul was ultimately martyred for his confession of Christ and the gospel.

To confess with your mouth in those days that Jesus is Lord was an all-in proposition. When you publicly identified with Christ, everything could, and usually did change. You could lose your job, your status, your property, your health, your freedom, your family, and even your life. When Paul said that becoming a follower of Christ meant confessing Jesus as Lord, everyone knew it wasn’t just lip service. And because this confession was so significant, it was not made haphazardly or cavalierly. It was definitely not done because everyone was doing it. It was not done because they wanted to hedge their bet and cover all the spiritual bases either. Early Christians confessed when they were ready to give it all for Christ.

Unfortunately, many Christians today cheapen what it means to be a follower of Christ and think that it is all about words. Just say it, get that warm fuzzy feeling, and you are in – you’re a Christian who will be saved. Because it is “just words,” many continue living for themselves and actually demonstrate very little change. Oh, maybe they go to church a few times each month. But what about the radical change? What about being all-in? What about complete obedience, boldly sharing the gospel, putting on the mind of Christ, and completely changing what you say and do. What about giving every aspect of your being to follow Christ – even when it hurts?

We need to be careful to not throw around Romans 10:9 casually. When we use this scripture make sure we, and those we share it with, understand that confessing “Jesus is Lord” is an all-in proposition that requires our everything and must completely and forever change us. Don’t just give Christ lip service, give him your life. That is what he demands.

God, we need your grace. Thank you that it is sufficient and teaches us to live for you. Thank you that real change comes through Christ and that complete transformation is possible when we totally surrender in repentance to your will.

Expanding the Table

Here is this week's small group curriculum that complements part 3 of "The Table" series called "Expanding the Table."

Big Idea:
The church is a table of sorts; a place to gather where we nourish believers and nurture seekers. But a problem arises when the table becomes all about feeding the immediate family at the exclusion of others.

Summary:
It is a good thing for churches to focus on maturing. In fact, Jesus demands that we feed his sheep. Equipping the saints and growing in our faith is mandatory. However, we cannot allow our focus to inwardly degenerate to the point of it being all about “me, Me, ME.” We must be about expanding the table by making room for new family members, while at the same time never allowing anyone to pull up the “i” chair. You know, the chair where it is all about what I want and what will fill my spiritual love tank. How do we stay out of the “i” chair and instead bring new people to the table? We must have the mind of Christ. Christ came to seek and save the lost. Christ sought out the marginalized, the oppressed, the unlovable, and the sinner. He ministered life to them in love and invited them to the table where they would be fed nutritious spiritual food. And Christ demands that we do the same thing. We are called to love people. We are called to minister to others, and we are called to bring others into the family of God. Jesus has commissioned us to go into all the world and make disciples, and he has called us to be fishers of men. You and I must stay out of the “i” chair and actively spend our time and resources nourishing believers and nurturing seekers.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Philippians 2:3-4
How can we apply this passage to our lives? What would this look like in a church setting? What character quality does Paul say we need in order to stay out of the “i” chair?

Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17 & Luke 5:10
What is a disciple of Christ supposed to be and supposed to do? Are you actively fishing? Are you teaching others to fish? Give examples of both.

Matthew 28:18-20
What are we called by Christ to do? Are we called to simply invite people to church? Describe how this demand of Christ encompasses both nurturing and nourishing.

Taking Action: Give examples of how your LifeGroup is intentionally nourishing believers and also nurturing seekers. What are some other ways to accomplish these kingdom tasks? Examine your group’s make-up. Are all three chairs represented: mature believers, new believers, and the lost?

Ministry Time