Sunday, August 31, 2008

I surrender all

Victory is found in surrender. Salvation is found in surrender. Christ is found in surrender.

I found myself singing this tune this morning. It is my heart’s cry this day and every day. I surrender all!

1. All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.
Refrain:
I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

2. All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.
(Refrain)

3. All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.
(Refrain)

4. All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power;
let thy blessing fall on me.
(Refrain)

5. All to Jesus I surrender;
now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!
(Refrain) - J.W. Van Deventer

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No middle ground

I am hanging out in 1 John where the Apostle John gets right to the point in his writing:
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. – 1 John 1:6
Here’s the deal, we either live for the world and its wickedness or we live for God and His truth, holiness, and righteousness. There is no divided allegiance – it’s black and white; or, as John puts it, light or darkness. We can’t have a foot in both camps. There is no grey area for the Christ follower. We are either all-in or not in at all. Truth is truth and it is absolute. The real world, God’s economy, is all about absolutes. There is no middle ground. We are either for Him or against Him. This means that there is no such thing as a Sunday morning Christian or a carnal Christian.

Jesus requires our all. A Christ follower walks in the light and not in the darkness – period. We can call ourselves Christians, but if our lives are characterized by the darkness of unrepentant sin or a lack of love for others, then we are just fooling ourselves and we are living a lie. A Christ follower chases after Christ and not the world.

This passage is sobering, but it is also very exciting because of the underlying truth that, in Christ, we have all we need to walk in the light. We are free to be children of the light. We have been called out of darkness by the King of the universe into His marvelous light.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It’s one or the other

We either accept Christ and deny sin or we accept sin and deny Christ. We can’t accept Christ and accept sin. If we knowingly continue sinning without fighting it, we have just accepted it.

Here is how the apostle John put it:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Parenting the essentials & non-essentials

You may be familiar with this quote that is typically attributed to Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This principle is often used in discussions and debates involving church doctrine. However, I recently found myself applying it to another area of my life – parenting. For instance, before reacting to my 4-year-old son leaving the back door wide open on a 100 degree day while he is running out back to play, I ask myself if this is an essential or a non-essential situation. Obviously, it is a non-essential and therefore doesn’t require an aggressive response. I need to give my young son liberty to act childishly.

But, how should I react if my 12-year-old decides to verbally dishonor my wife (his mother)? In analyzing this situation, I find that it rises to the level of an essential. It is essential to God and to me that my son honors his mother. This is a character issue and a heart matter which requires a serious response. We must restore unity. I have to ensure that he is brought back to a place of proper thinking and action in order to train up my child in the way he should go.

Finally, in all areas of parenting, I must display charity. Every action and response to both essential issues and non-essential issues must come from a place of love.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Go Missional

This week's small group curriculum wraps up the Red Letter Summer and reminds us that everything we do is spiritual.

Big Idea:
Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all things, and in God’s economy there is no difference between sacred and secular. This means that all things belong to God, and we are called to honor Him in everything, whether we are working, playing, or worshipping.

Summary:
Many Christ-followers separate the sacred from the secular. They no longer believe that all of life is spiritual, so they compartmentalize their faith by separating the spiritual aspects from the “less spiritual” aspects of life. In this philosophy, the spiritual stuff belongs at the church and the rest of life is inherently secular. They function as though God doesn’t care about our hopes, dreams, ambitions, and achievements; all He cares about are the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, bible study and tithing. The tragedy is that this “compartmentalization” separates God from 90% of their lives.

Compartmentalizing our lives also affects our mission in the world; it prevents us from living out our faith in practical and meaningful ways. It limits ministry to what we do on Sunday, and it leaves the rest of the week and the remainder of the world to the forces which seek to shape it. It restricts us to only ministering in spiritual ways through worship, prayer, and ministry rather than reaching out naturally by feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, standing for justice, caring for the planet, and defending the helpless. Jesus took radical steps toward the re-integration of things spiritual and material—at least for those who perceive it and believe it. The uniting of the sacred and the secular goes to the very heart of the mission of Jesus in our world.

So, how do we live an integrated life? (1) By acknowledging Jesus Christ as Sovereign over all. (2) By seeing ourselves as stewards of all Jesus Christ has placed in our lives. (3) By looking for God’s presence in all places at all times. (4) By committing to the advancement of His Kingdom in every sphere of life.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

1 Peter 4:10-11
In which areas of our lives should we bring God praise? What areas of life do we typically consider secular? Why? Discuss how we can make all areas of life sacred and bring God praise and glory.

Matthew 28:16-20
Discuss who Jesus is calling us to reach when He calls us to go to all nations. How should this affect our daily lives? Why should we not be afraid to live out the great commission and go missional?

Colossians 3:23-24
How does this change the way you look at your job and daily responsibilities?

Taking Action: Identify areas of your life and relationships that you have treated as non-spiritual. Intentionally plan how you can treat these areas and relationships as sacred. Go missional and represent Christ everywhere you go, in all you do, and to all you meet.

Ministry Time

Friday, August 22, 2008

Never compromise

I am spending some time in the book of Daniel and again find myself filled with respect for this man. Daniel was a man who did not compromise. He consistently said no to the world and yes to God, even when it was uncomfortable and life threatening. Because of this, God used him in big ways and he was greatly favored. Daniel shows us that we must always choose the path of pleasing God, rather than pleasing man or ourselves. We must never compromise our convictions or our relationship with Christ.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jump out of the jar - you're free

Jesus sent us a clear message that He came to bring us freedom, recovery, and release. In this teaching, I present the powerful and transforming message of real freedom in Christ.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Completely dependent

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. – John 15:4
I daily live in this reality of dependence on God as He places me in new ministry situations. My faith is tested. Do I lean on my own abilities to make it happen or do I rely on God? Do I let fear of the unknown quench the Spirit or do I trust God? As I lean on Christ and remain in Him, He involves me in amazing “God moments”. He uses me in ministry where I feel totally unprepared and over my head. God shows up and does what only He can do. He heals the sick, delivers the oppressed, comforts the broken, and saves the lost. This happens when I remain in Him. I must remain in Him or my usefulness for the kingdom of God will diminish or all-together vanish.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Do you want to be an Olympian?

Much of the planet has been captivated these past two weeks by the Olympic Games. The world’s best athletes have been winning gold, silver, and bronze medals in track & field, swimming, gymnastics, team sports, and a host of other events.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to just step on the scene in Beijing and compete for the gold? I know I am not the only one who has had this dream. Admit it, you’ve imagined what it would be like to stand on the podium and hear the Star Spangled Banner because you just won the gold. But, here’s the catch - the athletes winning these medals didn’t receive them by just dreaming; they showed up with years of preparation under their belts. They put in the hard work required to represent their countries in the big game.

I don’t think we would likely hear the following conversation between the coach of the Olympic water polo team and one of his players. Check this out:
Player: Hey coach, put me in. I’m ready to play. Come on, let’s go.
Coach: Who are you?
Player: I’m Jimmy. I’m on the team. Look, I am wearing the team uniform and I’m ready. Put me in.
Coach: I don’t remember you being on this team. Have you been to practice?
Player: No, but I’m here now and I’m ready to go in.
Coach: I don’t think so. You haven’t been to practice. You are obviously out of shape. I can’t trust you in the pool. I don’t know if you can swim, catch, or throw. And finally, you don’t know our playbook and won’t understand the signals I send in from the side lines. Again, I don’t know who you are, but I can guarantee you that you will not be going into this game. This game is for the Olympic gold medal. Everything is on the line. I am playing those who are ready – those who are prepared. Take a seat.
Now, let’s look at this concept of preparation from a slightly different perspective. As Christians, we have become citizens of God’s kingdom and have the opportunity to play on His team. The question is, are we going to be ready for the big game? Are we going to be prepared for the ministry that God has prepared for us?

Do you realize that Jesus actually prepared for His earthly ministry? Because of His humanity, He had to prepare to be used by His heavenly Father while on earth. He studied scripture; He was baptized and received the Holy Spirit; He prayed and fasted; He said no to temptation. (Checkout Luke chapters 2, 3, and 4 for the details.) He did all of these things before being launched into ministry before being put into the big game. If Jesus prepared Himself for the big game, don’t you think it would be a good idea if we prepared ourselves? We must always be in training. We can’t be arrogant and think that we can just suit up and play in the big game without conditioning, practice, training, and a thorough knowledge of the playbook.

God has a role for each one of us in the big game of His kingdom. He wants to give us the ball. But, we must be coachable. We must follow the example of our coach and the other successful players who have gone before us; those who have finished well and have been mightily used by God. Let’s prepare ourselves by studying the Word of God, by listening and responding to the Holy Spirit, by praying and fasting, and by saying no to the temptations of this fallen world. Let’s become the spiritual Olympians we have been called to be.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic Humbuggerage

A blogging friend of mine, Jeff Weddle at Anti-Itch Meditation, has some interesting perspectives on the Olympics.

  1. “Let us all remember that while our little American gymnasts were crying over falling off a beam that hundreds of Chinese Christians are being persecuted every day.
  2. “There's something about Olympic gymnastics that reminds me of Calvinism. It's like, no matter what you do the winners are predetermined and there's nothing you can do about it. Fall all you want, you'll get the medal they predetermined you to have.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Avoid both rebellion and religion

This week's small group curriculum is a study into grace-filled living as presented by Jesus in His story of the Prodigal Son.

Big Idea:
Grace-filled living is being able to experience all that our heavenly Father has for us - His goodness, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and ultimately, His presence. Grace-filled living also empowers us to live for God in a new manner, choosing His ways over our ways.

Summary:
Jesus told a story about a father and his two sons that paints a vivid picture of God’s grace. This “Prodigal Son” story shows a younger brother who was missing out on an intimate relationship with his father and the grace-filled life because he chased after the trappings of the world. The story also depicts an older brother who was missing out on the full impact of his father’s grace, not because of rebellion, but because he chose to base his relationship with his father primarily on performance rather than intimacy. The younger son represents the person who is looking for love in all the wrong places, but finally finds what he is looking for in the Father. The older son represents those who have already found what they are looking for, but can’t fully receive it because they can’t accept the fact that the Father’s love is unconditional and free. They focus on ways to earn the Father’s love and decline an invitation to the party. Christians too often fall into this trap by becoming ultra-religious and following the rules instead of the Ruler. Honoring and loving God through a life of obedience is critical, but it must flow out of a close, personal relationship with God, not simply a commitment to the rules.

Ultimately, the “Prodigal Son” is a story about us - a story about a Father in heaven who sees humanity bound by sin or bound by religion. God wants us to experience grace-filled living by being free from sin and free from religion. Allowing our hearts to wander away from God’s provision by the enticements of sin or the deception of religion are both destructive.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Luke 15:11-24
What was the result of the younger son’s rebellion? How did the Prodigal Son finally experience grace-filled living? Discuss how living for ourselves and the world separate us from God and His grace.

Luke 15:25-32
How was the older son’s relationship with his father based on performance? (v. 29) How can “mature” Christians intentionally and unintentionally act like the older son toward new believers? How has religion impeded your relationship with God?

Titus 2:11-14
Discuss how this passage expands our definition and understanding of God’s grace. Share examples of how God’s grace has empowered you to live for Him, to love others, and to experience grace-filled living?

Taking Action: Examine your life and your heart. Are you rebellious like the prodigal son? Are you comfortable with the world and sin? Or, have you become a religious Christian who follows the rule book instead of the Ruler? If so, repent and turn back to Him, accept His grace, surrender yourself, and enjoy living solely for Him again.

Ministry Time

Monday, August 11, 2008

Out of mind, out of sight...

You’ve heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” But, I think we must also be careful because if something is not on our mind, we can quickly lose site of it too and before long it can be gone.

What’s on your mind? Is it your finances? How about your upcoming vacation? Maybe it’s the rude comment from a family member, friend, or colleague at work. What thoughts monopolize your mind? What do you begin your day thinking about? Is it God or is it your busy schedule? Does Christ dominate your thoughts? Well, He must. If we don’t allow our thoughts to be driven and dominated by Christ, we run the risk of losing sight of Him. If we don’t think about Him, we won’t talk with Him. If we don’t talk with Him, our relationship will become distant, stale or even lost. If we lose our relationship, we will lose His presence, power, and interaction in our lives; we won’t be able to see Him at work any longer in our lives.

Don’t allow the cares, busyness, or intrigue of this world to crowd Christ out of His place of prominence in your thought life. He wants to be Lord of your entire life – including your mind. Remember, we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, MIND, soul, and strength.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How about the best of both worlds?

I can’t love God and the junk of this world because I can’t serve two masters (Luke 16:13). If I love wealth, fame and pleasure, then I don’t truly love God. My allegiance would be divided. I can’t have “both / and”. The “best of both worlds” does not work for a Christ follower.

This truth must also extend to the movies and the television that I watch. Does it arouse worldly passions or lustful desires? Does it honor God or man? In general, television programs and also the movies produced by Hollywood glorify the things of this world and propagate Satan’s agenda, not God’s.

If I am for God, then how can I chase after the junk of this world? I can’t. Yes, I am called to love the people of this world, but nothing else associated with it.

Here’s how the Apostle John put it:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. - 1 John 2:15-17

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Compassionate Living

This weeks small group curriculum continues in the "Red Letters" and hits the topic of compassion. Beware, it may challenge you and make you feel a bit uncomfortable.

Big Idea:
God is calling us to be a part of a compassionate revolution in which we engage the world around us with kindness, truth, compassion, justice, forgiveness, and restoration.

Summary:
In reading the “red letters” of the gospels, it is clear that Jesus had a mission – to be the Savior of the world and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The ministry of Jesus was primarily one of preaching the good news, the Kingdom of God, and repentance; however, much of the gospels are filled with examples of Christ’s acts of compassion. Jesus had compassion. For example, His ministry was to teach the 5,000, yet He also had compassion on their physical need to eat, so He fed them. His ministry was to preach repentance, yet He healed the sick and raised the dead. His ministry was to share the good news, yet He freed people from demons. He was sent to the Jews, yet He also delivered the Gentiles. His primary concern was the spiritual health of the people, yet he also ministered to their physical needs. We are commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples; however, if you want to be like Jesus, you had better be displaying real compassion by meeting both the spiritual and physical needs of people.

A genuine relationship with Jesus will result in a life that is characterized by compassion, generosity, and service to others. Since helping others is not optional, we cannot allow any of the following excuses to derail us: (1) this is the worst possible timing, (2) maybe these people deserve their fate, (3) I’ll probably get “burned” if I get involved, (4) I’m uncomfortable around these kinds of people, (5) I just know it’s going to cost me, (6) how can I make a real difference if I don’t have my act together? Jesus could have used every one of these objections to avoid serving us. But He chose compassion, and if we truly follow Him, we too will choose compassionate living.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Matthew 25:31-46
Have you ever experienced this kind of compassion? How have you displayed it? Discuss how we can live this out today. What does Jesus say is the result of not showing compassion?

Luke 10:25-37
How did the Samaritan display compassion? What are some reasons we have used, or might use, to avoid taking action and showing compassion? How is compassion related to love?

Deuteronomy 15:7-11
Who has God commanded us to help? What should our attitude be regarding generosity and compassion? What is the outcome of showing compassion versus not showing compassion?

Taking Action: Simplify your lifestyle in order to give your resources of time and money to others. As a LifeGroup, engage in an outreach project or activity sometime within the next 2 months. Contact the City of Grace Outreach Department for ideas.

Ministry Time

Friday, August 08, 2008

It’s a black or white world

As we know, John was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He heard the gospel message directly from Christ Himself. At the beginning of his first letter, John appears to feel the need to set some things straight.
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
This is the real message of Christ. You either live for the world and its wickedness or you live for God and His truth, holiness, and righteousness. There is no divided allegiance – it’s black and white; light or dark. You can’t have a foot in both camps. There is no grey area for the Christ follower. You are either all-in or not in at all. Truth is truth and it is absolute. The real world, God’s economy, is all about absolutes. There is no middle ground. You are either for Him or against Him. There is no such thing as a Sunday Christian or a carnal Christian. Jesus requires our all. A Christ follower walks in the light and not in the darkness – period. A Christ follower chases after Christ and not the world.

This wake-up call from John to the early church reminding them that Christianity doesn’t involve compromise is a very relevant message for the church today. Like it or not, this is the way it is. It’s a black or white; right or wrong world.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

He’s the real deal

I am spending some time in the Apostle John’s three letters and plan to begin teaching from these letters later this month. It is widely held that John wrote these letters sometime after 85AD. The church had been off and running for some time, but significant doctrinal issues where beginning to arise including Gnosticism. One of the many heresies of the Gnostics is that Jesus didn’t really have a human body (Docetism). Another take on this heresy was that the divine Son of God joined Jesus the man after baptism and then left him before his death (Cerinthianism).

John begins his first letter by addressing these faulty beliefs when he says:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:1-3
Bottom line: Jesus is real. John is clearly and plainly pointing this out to the Gnostics and letting them know that Christ was fully God, but also fully man. He wasn’t just some spirit being. He is saying, “Look guys, we talked to Him, lived with Him, and touched Him. We hung out with Him. He’s the real deal! Stop it already with your messed up beliefs and teachings.”

Both the deity and the humanity of Christ Jesus are essential.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tea Anyone?

A good friend of mine, Jonah Nelson, has entered a contest to win a $20,000 scholarship. The contest involves making a promo for tea - you know, how great it is for us to drink tea. Anyway, Jonah did a great job and I want you to view it. In fact, the more views he has, the better his chances of winning.

Remember, garbage in ... garbage out. What we put into us matters. That is why we must have a healthy diet of God's Word. Well, we are also called to be good stweards of our earthly bodies. Tea, on some level, helps your physical body. Hey, it's alot better than drinking soda pop or energy drinks. And besides, we are called to take care of our bodies. See how I made this plug for my buddies video a spiritual thing. Gotcha... NOW CHECK IT OUT.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A fact about freedom

Freedom in Christ is the power to actually obey God and the grace to finally do His will. It is not a license to do whatever our flesh desires; nor is it the permission to stay the same.

We are free to do good. We are not free to do evil.
We are free from sin. We are not free to sin.
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. – 1 Peter 2:16

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The paradoxical life of a Christian

The Christian life doesn’t make sense to the world because it is a paradox. Check this out…

WE MUST DIE TO LIVE.

WE MUST BECOME A SLAVE TO BE FREE.

These statements are seemingly contradictory, but nonetheless are absolutely true in the life of a Christ follower.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Power of Dynamic Dependence

As the Red Letter Summer continues, we find ourselves discussing the importance of dependence and abiding in Christ alone. This is the topic of this weeks small group curriculum.

Big Idea:
We all depend on something or someone. Some people depend on bank accounts, investments, or careers; while others depend on people or simply themselves. As Christ followers we are called to place our total dependence on Him. We are called to abide and remain in Christ alone.

Summary:
When we place our total dependence in Christ alone and “abide” in Him, our lives reflect the fact that God’s Spirit truly lives in us. The word “abide” simply means: to wait for, to accept without objection, to remain, and to continue. This definition helps us understand that abiding in Christ means four things: (1) believing on Him; (2) trusting in Him; (3) listening to Him; and (4) following after Him. These four dynamics are the core competencies of the Christian life that we have been called to live. The results of truly abiding in Christ are incredible, both for this life and the life to come. We learn to be more selective as God helps us say no to things that do not matter and remove things that distract us from our Kingdom calling and purpose. Our lives become more productive because we live out of His strength and bear much good fruit. And our prayers are more effective because our desires become God’s desires.

When we enter this dynamic state of dependence, we experience deep change from within, and our wants are completely overhauled, beginning with our motives. So, when we pray for material things, we pray out of need, not out greed, and we can therefore pray with confidence. Our desire to be blessed goes from self-serving to an awareness that God wants to bless us so that we can be a blessing to the world around us. Finally, we must remember that while abiding in Christ produces peace, joy, victory, and favor; the result of not abiding in Christ is painful and ultimately results in spiritual malnutrition and death. The choice is simple – abide in Him and experience the power of dynamic dependence.

Discussion Questions: (read the scripture & discuss)

John 15:1-8
What is the result of remaining and abiding in Christ? What is the result of not abiding in Christ? Discuss how God has pruned you over the years. What fruit has come of this?

John 15:9-17
How does Christ say we practically abide and remain in Him? How does abiding in Christ affect and change your relationship with Him? What is one of the amazing results of abiding in Christ? (v.16)

1 John 2:28-29
Why is it important for us to live every day in Christ and for Christ? Discuss what can happen when we don’t. Give examples of how you are intentionally continuing and abiding in Christ.

Taking Action: Ask God to highlight any area of your life that needs to be pruned. While abiding in Him, cooperate with His will and His powerful work as it is cut off. This process of pruning can be somewhat painful, but it will result in much good fruit for His Kingdom.

Ministry Time