Monday, March 31, 2008

Does Jesus know us?

Are we on our way through the narrow gate if we associate with Jesus, if we talk with Jesus, and if we know His teaching? If we continue to live a lifestyle characterized by doing evil, then apparently not. (see Luke 13:22-30)

This goes back to what it means to be a follower of Christ. It is not just an association, a proclamation, or even a desire. It is a lifestyle that is affected in every manner including how we think, what we believe, and finally what we do.

Eating with someone was a very intimate and personal activity during the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. In fact, it is still this way in many parts of the world. It indicated friendship, acceptance, and personal association. That is why the Pharisees were so aghast when Jesus ate with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Many thought that once they had achieved this level of intimacy with Jesus that they were in. They thought they had made it and were considered His disciples. However, Jesus completely shocked them when He said “I don’t know you or where you have come from.” Why did Jesus not know them? Why were they headed for the wide gate instead of the narrow gate? Jesus said it is because they were doers of evil.

Who we are is much more than our names, our titles, our associations, our beliefs, and our friends. Who we are is how we live. Who we are is what we do and what we don’t do. Jesus looks at the whole man. Let’s never fool ourselves into thinking that our actions really don’t matter. Our actions, our practices, and how we treat others is a much better indication of who we are than who we “say” we are. Our actions reflect our heart. Our actions are essentially an outward expression of our inward condition.

When we have truly been affected by Christ and in turn truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves, then our actions will begin to become the actions of a disciple of Christ. They will become the actions of one who Jesus recognizes.
"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' - Luke 13:26-27

Sunday, March 30, 2008

It keeps coming up

It seems as though I have had several posts lately on the topic of repentance. I am not intentionally gravitating this direction. However, as I read God’s Word it just continues to very prominently jump out. Repentance is all over the scriptures – Old Testament and New Testament.

One of my current reading threads is the Gospel of Luke. In the 13th chapter Jesus is recorded as saying the following:

"I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." - Luke 13:5

Jesus very frequently reminds us of the importance of repentance. It is non-negotiable. It is a must. We can’t follow Christ without repentance. We can’t turn to Him without turning from our old ways of thinking and living. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t hold onto Christ without letting go of the world. We come to a fork in the road of life. Which path will we choose? Do we follow Christ or do we follow the world. We can’t go both directions. Thus, the need for repentance.

The beauty is that it all starts with Christ and Christ is with us all along the way.

Here is a post that begins to define and explain repentance and another related post.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Passion for God

Here is my latest small group curriculum which complements our new sermon series: Go Big or Go Home.

Big Idea:
Do you have a passion for God? Here’s another way to ask this question: “Is God your first love?” A “big” passion for God means that every fiber of our being is drawn to God and given to God.

Passion is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction; a strong liking, desire for, or devotion; ardent affection; love. How does Jesus portray a passion for God? He said that the most important thing we can do is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” – Mark 12:30. What does Jesus really mean when he uses the word “all”? Why does he say all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Jesus is laying out what God really desires and requires of us - total devotion. He wants every part of our lives to be completely His. Not just our minds; not just our bodies; not just our hearts; but all of us. He expects to have our whole being. Does He have our whole mind when we are filling it with worthless knowledge, facts, or worldly filth? Does He have our whole heart when we still have concern for ourselves; when our own comfort, reputation, happiness, and pleasure are still of importance to us? Does He have our whole soul when we are filling it with lust, anger, and jealousy? The love of God and His passion for us demands our everything: our souls, our lives, and our all.

Where does this kind of passion for God come from? It comes from an understanding of who He is, what He has done for us, and the reality of His overwhelming passionate love for us. This kind of comprehension of the love of Christ will lead to an unwavering devotion to him. It will cause the pleasure offered by sin and this world to be shown in its true light – empty and vain promises compared to the eternal satisfaction offered by God. It will drive us to willingly surrender all to the One who gave us His all.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Psalm 42:1, Psalm 63:1-3 & Psalm 73:25-26
Discuss the passion for God depicted by David in these passages. Are we living daily with this kind of passion? If not, why?

Mark 10:17-29
Why did he walk away sad? Are we like the Rich Young Ruler? What things are we holding onto that might be killing our passion and intimacy with God? What can be the result of never letting go and never loving God with our everything?

Philippians 3:7-14
Paul is showing some passion for God in this passage. What is Paul’s focus and what drives him? Paul’s passion is not passive, but active. How can we live out an active passion for God? Where do we get the ability to do this?

Taking Action: Go big with a passion for God. Examine your life and ask God to reveal anything that might be hindering your passion or intimacy with Him. Write down your findings and then daily submit them to God in prayer. Cooperate with God as His passion ignites your passion.

Ministry Time

Click here for PRINTER-FRIENDLY copy of the small group curriculum

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Financial freedom?

I have been reading through the gospel of Luke and rejoiced when I got to chapter 12 and the parable of the rich fool. Why did I rejoice?

Well, earlier in my life I had a big issue with greed. I was consumed with the need and desire to accumulate wealth. It drove me and even kept me up at night. It got so bad that I actually slept with a financial calculator on my bedside table and I would crunch numbers in the dark while my wife was trying to fall asleep. How could I accelerate the process of becoming a millionaire? How fast could I amass wealth and how soon could I retire? I look back and see just how sick I was and how misdirected my focus had become. I was the rich fool. My life was driven by a desire for wealth rather than a desire for God. It was all about storing up things for me and not for God’s kingdom.

I was going to make it; I was going to be financially secure; I was going to be financially free. However, I was the furthest thing from free. I was in bondage to greed and to fear.

But, God delivered me from this bondage and from this sin. He changed my focus and my way of thinking. By His powerful grace He transformed me by the renewing of my mind; by correcting my thinking; by redirecting my priorities. My passion is still for millions. But, it is for millions to find Christ and to live for Him rather than for millions of dollars in my financial portfolio.
Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." - Luke 12:15

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Relating to God

Do you have a text message relationship with God or do you actually experience his presence and hear his voice?

I am a fan of technology. In fact, I have two college degrees in information systems. I will be the first to say that email, text messaging, and the plethora of other ever-increasing methods of communication are extremely helpful when used appropriately. However, real relationship, closeness, and intimacy are best experienced when we gather together and do some old fashioned talking and hanging out. There is a depth of intimacy that only happens when we sit with each other; when we talk with each other; when we listen to each other.

The same is true in our relationship with God. We can’t expect intimacy with God if we don’t sit in His presence and listen to His words. In fact, we need to do this every day. How bad do you want to know God? How close do you want to get to God?

Repentance is a big deal

To hear the truth, the good news of Christ, and then not truly repent is putting oneself in great peril. Jesus makes reference to this when he speaks of the Ninevites standing in judgment of the Israelites including many of the Jewish religious leaders. Remember the people of Nineveh? You know those evil, rude, horrible sinners? Well, as bad as they were, they will stand in judgment of many, including many of God's chosen people because they repented while others did not. The people of Nineveh turned from their wicked ways and very passionately and evidently turned to God when they were introduced to the truth. Have we been introduced to the truth of Christ and not yet repented? The avoidance or procrastination of complete and sincere repentance is in fact a sign of disobedient and disbelief. Repentance is a huge thing with God. It is a big deal and one of the essentials.
The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:32
Here is another post on repentance. CLICK HERE

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The resurrected Jesus changed everything.

Here is my Easter small group curriculum which ends up highlighting the importance and effect of the ressurection of Jesus Christ.

Big Idea: Who is Jesus? Was he a prophet, a really talented teacher, a miracle worker, a myth, or is He the Son of God; the Savior of the world who conquered sin and death through his life, death, and resurrection? How you answer this question and what you personally believe will change your life forever.

Summary: For Jesus to be the Savior of the world, the crucifixion and the resurrection must both be true. Without the resurrection everything is meaningless. A dead savior cannot save anyone. But, physical, historical, and biblical evidence overwhelmingly prove and substantiate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is monumental because at this moment Christ conquered sin and death. And those who wholeheartedly, by faith, put their trust in Him and follow Him will experience the same victory over sin and death. Just like Jesus is alive, we too become alive again and the old ways of thinking and acting change for the glory of God. The resurrection is powerful and as Christians we can, and must, take hold of this transforming power that compels us to passionately love God and love others which results in restored relationships, forgiveness, freedom from addiction, obedience, humility, and ultimately the glory of God. The death and resurrection of Christ has changed everything. Jesus is alive! He is alive in history and in the hearts of millions around the world. People’s lives are being changed. Those who once were hopeless, afraid, addicted, confused, and powerless have become people of purpose and victory because they have accepted the free gift of salvation that is offered by the resurrected Christ. Is this your story? Is this your reality? It can be today.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Who were some of the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection? Were the numbers limited or numerous? This, along with much more proof, indicates a faith that is not blind.

Romans 6:1-10
As Christians, what affect does the resurrection of Christ have in our lives? What does it mean to be united with Christ in his resurrection? Is the idea of being dead to sin in this section talking about sin no longer determining our destiny or sin no longer controlling our behavior, or what?

Romans 6:11-14
Does your life bear witness to this passage? Have you been freed from sin? In what respect? How might you go about not letting sin reign in and through your physical body?

Taking Action: Examine your life this week – your thoughts, behavior, fruit, and relationships. Are you experiencing victory? Wholly submit to Christ and apply His resurrection to your life. Like David, ask God to create in you a clean heart and allow the change to begin. Believe.

Ministry Time

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is forgiveness essential?

If we are unable or unwilling to forgive, is Christ truly in us? Can a follower of Christ harbor unforgiveness? Is unforgiveness the “unpardonable sin”?

Here is how Jesus addresses the topic of unforgiveness:
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. - Matthew 6:14-15
Forgiveness is not optional. An unwillingness to forgive is an indication of a heart not turned toward God, a heart not affected by the forgiveness of God, a hardened heart not filled with the love of God. Unforgiveness will have no place in the life of a Christian. As we are freely forgiven, we MUST freely forgive.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Love like Patrick

What does St. Patrick’s Day mean to you? I am reminded of a man who loved God and loved people so much that he followed the call of God. He served the very people and country that had just a few years earlier imprisoned and enslaved him. Jesus said we are to love our enemies. Patrick lived out this command in a very real way. Instead of hating the Irish people, Patrick obeyed the calling of Christ and took the gospel message to a dark land controlled by the druids. Because of his love for God and for people, Christ was made known to an entire country steeped in paganism. This is something to celebrate. This is also something that should challenge us and embolden us to be motivated by love and obedience to the commandments and calling of God on our lives as followers of Christ. Go and love. Go and share the love of Christ. This is the story of St. Patrick and I pray this will be our story as well.

Be careful ...

Building our doctrine and beliefs based on our own personal experiences, feelings, or condition is very dangerous.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who is My Neighbor?

This is the final week of our "Heart for the World" series. My small group curriculum for this week focuses on who we are called to love and what real love looks like.

Big Idea:
Most of us would say we love God. But, do we also love our neighbor? Before we answer yes to this question, it is important to understand Jesus’ definition of a neighbor, exactly who He demands we love, and what that love looks like.

What matters most? Jesus says it is loving God and loving our neighbor. He helps us understand what loving God looks like by telling us that “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” What about loving our neighbors? When Jesus demands that we love our "neighbor" it is clear that He is speaking about more than just those who live on your block. After all, if "your neighbor" is defined as “your friends”, then just about all of us would pass the test with flying colors. However, according to the definition Jesus gives in the story of the “Good Samaritan”, your neighbor may be someone you don't even know. He may be someone who is unfriendly and unlovely and unable to repay you for your kindness. He may be someone who requires your time, money, and effort. The parable of the "Good Samaritan" makes it obvious that your neighbor is really anyone whose need you see and are able to meet. God demonstrated His love for people by sending them His only Son. Does God love people? Look to the cross and you will clearly see the answer is an emphatic and undeniable YES! Similarly, God calls us to die to self, lay down our rights, and love people. Like Christ, we are called to demonstrate our love for others in real ways. Love is not just a thought or a good intention. Rather, love is only love when it is put into action. So, do you love your neighbor? Do you love people? How about your enemies? There is nothing in the universe that matters more to God than people and as followers of Christ we must have this same passion and active love for people – all people.

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Luke 10:25-35
Why did the priest and Levite pass by? How and why do we pass by people today? Why is it significant that the person who finally helped was a Samaritan? How does this help us understand God’s definition of “neighbor”?

Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus goes a step further in this passage with his demand to love others. What is the result of not loving all people including our enemies? How can we love our enemies?

1 John 4:7-21
What is love? What does a lack of real love for people indicate about our hearts and our spiritual condition? Pray for God to change our hearts and to give us hearts for others – hearts for the world.

Taking Action: Think of a person you know who is in need. What tends to keep you from being compassionate to this person and showing them love? Put your faith into action and be a Good Samaritan to this person. Share the results with your LifeGroup next week.

Ministry Time

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nothing but the truth

While "Jeremiah was a bullfrog" to some, there was also a man named Jeremiah that was a powerfully anointed prophet of the Lord. He boldly, passionately, and steadfastly spoke the word of God to the Jewish people in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C.

Yesterday morning my prayers resonated with this passage in Jeremiah.
Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” – Jeremiah 1:9
As a pastor and teacher I take truth seriously. I often find myself crying out to God for “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” As James said, “you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” This drives me to my knees as I prepare to teach, write, minister, pray, and lead. The truth of God is of extreme importance. Truth penetrates the heart and transforms lives. So I humbly cry out to the LORD and ask Him to reach out his hand and touch my mouth and to put His words in my mouth every day.

I must add the point that all of us who follow Christ are called to be ministers. We are all called to disciple others, pray for others, and ultimately share the love of Christ with others. So, we all must be immersed in truth, be speakers of truth, and live lives submitted to truth – submitted to Christ who exclaims, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Just say no ... to sin

Do you believe Christ conquered sin? Scripture clearly proclaims that He did. Praise God! However, do we live our lives justifying why we still have ongoing sin present in our lives or do we aggressively put to death all sin because of the authority and power we posses as followers of Christ?

Is it possible to stop sinning? The answer again is yes and must be a convincing yes for all Christ followers. If Jesus commanded us to sin no more and has given us the victory including all we need to succeed at this command, then we have no excuse and no other option than to aggressively kill sin by God’s amazing grace. We can do ALL things through Christ who gives us strength.

This is wonderfully good news! So, let’s take hold of the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus and no longer give sin a home in our lives. Just say no to sin.
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. - 1 John 3:9

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What are we running after?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33
How often do we pursue things other than the Kingdom of God? How often are we running around trying to make things right in life: relationships, careers, marriage, finances? When we seek the will of God, when we seek his Kingdom, when we seek His face, and when we seek his righteousness everything else will be taken care of. Is life tough? Seek God with a repentant and obedient heart. Is your marriage having troubles? Surrender to God and allow Him to thoroughly transform you. Are your finances in the red? Willingly serve the God who provides all of our needs with every fiber of your being. Affix your eyes on God and don’t let the world distract you.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Going Global

While continuing our "Heart for the World" series, I was reminded of the story of Jonah because it paints a very vivid picture of the importance to both share in God's heart for others and to willingly obey the calling he has on our lives. So, here is this weeks small group curriculum.

Big Idea:
God’s heart is for the world. Do our hearts reflect the heart of God or, like Jonah, do we decide to go our own way?

“For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His one and only Son.” God’s heart is global and he has called us to be global by commissioning His followers to carry out the most important task of sharing His message of salvation through Jesus Christ to all nations. But, are we willing to go global and fulfill this great commission? Let’s take a look at what can happen if we say no to this high calling by examining the story of Jonah. Thousands of years ago, God asked a man named Jonah to go global. But, Jonah wasn’t willing to share God’s message of repentance and salvation to anyone outside of his own people group – especially not to his enemies. Jonah ignored God and then disobeyed Him by going the opposite direction. Finally, after a near drowning and an encounter with a big fish, he reluctantly delivered the message. However, his heart was still not global and still not the heart of God. Jonah liked God’s blessings and forgiveness when it was in his favor to the point where his self-centeredness and self-righteousness caused him to be more concerned for a mere plant, and his own comfort, than for the souls of an entire city. Instead of obeying God’s directions, Jonah went his own direction. Don’t let Jonah’s story be your story. Remember, we are all called to go global with the good news of Christ. For some of us the global call is to our own family, neighborhood, or city. For others, the global call is to a foreign country on the other side of the globe. Bottom line, the call has been clearly made so let’s GO!

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Jonah 1:1-3

Discuss things God wants us to do both individually and as God’s people that we haven’t done. What kind of things can happen in our lives if we don’t go God’s direction? Discuss.

Jonah 4:5-11
What are the “shady plants” (the temporary pleasures and perceived “needs”) in your life? How do you keep your focus off the “shady plants” and instead direct your concern to knowing, loving, and sharing Christ? Give examples of how we can improperly elevate the blessings that God has given us to enjoy, above God himself. How do we prevent this from happening?

Matthew 28:16-20
Why should we not be afraid to live out the great commission and go global? Where is Jesus when we follow God’s heart and go to the nations with His gospel?

Taking Action: Individually, determine two things you are willing to give up for the sake of others knowing Jesus? Share with the group. Next week, ask each other for progress reports and testimonies.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Love is a Verb

I’m still on the love thing. What I see so clearly in God’s Word is that love is not simply a feeling or a declaration. Love is not just emotion, but it must also be motion. Love is only real love when it is put into action.

Do you love your spouse? Tell them, but also show them. Do you love your children? Don’t just tell them, but daily demonstrate it. Do you love God? Don’t just tell him, make it real and put it into action. You’ve heard the saying that we need to express our love. That means we need to show it in real tangible ways.

Here’s a real tangible way to show our Savior love. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey what I command.” - John 14:15 Love that moves the heart of God is a love filled with action. True love is a verb.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Don’t just tell Him – show Him

Love is only truly expressed when it goes beyond words and is put into action. We can say “I love you,” but showing our love in real ways is when love comes alive. This is the kind of love we are demanded to demonstrate.

Jesus pointed out this fact in the following exchange with Peter:
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17
So, do we love Jesus? Is our love going beyond words? Are we feeding his sheep? Are we sharing the good news of Christ with others? While making a profession of love is important and a good start, it is not the completion. Love is lived out as we serve others, show kindness to others, help others, and most importantly feed Christ’s sheep with the bread of life.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Heart of a Servant

Following is my small group curriculum that will hopefully add value to this week's "Heart for the World" focus.

Big Idea:
Are you a follower of Christ? Then you are called to serve – not to be served. A follower of Christ will have a servant’s heart and live a servant’s life.

Having a servant’s heart isn’t optional. Rather, it’s mandatory for those who will live eternally in God’s Kingdom. So, understanding and developing a servant’s heart is a must. Christ displayed the ultimate act of servanthood when He humbled Himself, became a man, and obediently laid down His life in order that others might be reconciled to God. Christians are called to be like Christ. And like Christ, we must lay down our lives for others. We must be servants. We must “take on the very nature of servants.” So, what does that look like? Servanthood is not a state-of-mind or simply the desire to help others. It really comes down to daily laying down your life in service to God and to others instead of looking out for number one – yourself. When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples he showed us that a mere profession of discipleship does not make us a disciple and guarantee us a place in the Kingdom; it is loving service and true humility that is real greatness. Here’s the beauty of God’s economy; He is not asking the impossible because His all-powerful grace gives us all we need to live the life of a servant. “When we realize that Christ has served us to the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet with from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake.” – O. Chambers

Discussion Questions: (read the Scripture & discuss)

Matthew 20: 25-28
Discuss how Jesus contrasts the ways of this world with God’s Kingdom. Jesus exemplifies a servant leader. Share about someone you know personally who has chosen a lifestyle of servanthood.

Matthew 25:31-46
How important is this to God? Is a servant’s heart simply a state-of-mind or some good intentions? Discuss how this can be lived out.

John 13:1-17
It was the custom for the lowly to wash the feet of guests. Yet, the Master washed the feet of His disciples. Jesus didn’t just pray for them. Instead, He got on His knees and got dirty. How does this passage challenge you? How are you serving those who are less fortunate than you? Do you live each day as a servant or as a master?

Taking Action: Take inventory of your life. Who are you truly serving: God, others, or yourself? Write down one way you can serve your family, your church, and also someone else in need this month – then do it. Share with your group (this week or next) and hold each other accountable.

Ministry Time