Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Treasures in heaven, not banks

Fear is a nasty thing. Fear can grip us and cause us to focus on wrong things and make wrong decisions. During this time of economic craziness and turmoil, we cannot allow fear to distract our focus from Christ and His sovereignty. We must remain God-focused and seek first His kingdom.

Today, we must say no to fear and worry by focusing on God’s truth that our treasure is not here on earth, but in heaven, and that our heavenly Father knows our needs and will provide them.

19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:19-34

Monday, September 29, 2008

An uncomfortable parallel

Telling God that you love Him while you are knowingly engaging in sin is like telling your wife that you love her while openly carrying on an adulterous relationship.

P.S. Not that I really need to say this, but obviously any adulterous relationship, whether open or hidden, is a complete violation of your marital relationship and the antithesis of true love. Likewise, all sin hurts the heart of God; not just the big ones or the ones that have been going on for some time. Both situations require complete repentance.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Remaining requires faith & obedience

This week, my small group curriculum discusses what it takes to possess the land and then remain in it.

re: the art of starting over
(re:possess)

Opening Prayer, Confession of Faith & Worship

Big Idea:
Crossing thresholds is a part of the Christian journey. It is not possible for us to move forward without crossing some thresholds into new places, new experiences, new opportunities, and new victories the Lord has waiting for us on the other side. While it takes faith and obedience to cross a threshold, it also takes faith and obedience to remain on the other side of the threshold and possess the promises of God.

Summary:
Many times, crossing the threshold is the easiest part of the journey. Dealing with what we see, think we see, or maybe don’t see on the other side can often be the most challenging part. When the Israelites finally crossed the threshold and stepped into the Promised Land, they were faced with the seemingly impossible task of taking the well-fortified city of Jericho. At this point, they could have given up and turned around. However, they chose to remain in the land and possess the promises of God. The Israelites chose faith and obedience over fear. We, too, must chose faith and obedience over fear so that we remain where God has called us and don’t retreat when we encounter strongholds of stiff resistance while pursuing the will of God. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is not God’s will. We cannot allow obstacles, fear, or doubt to deter us from possessing the land.

Faith is important because it is believing in what is true – God, His character, and His promises. While faith requires being convinced that what we believe in is true, just knowing the truth is only half of faith. God’s word must be hoped for, embraced, and seized. This is where faithfulness and obedience play an important role in our possession of the promises of God. We must put our faith into action and actually do what God has called us to do. Let’s always remember that with God all things are possible. But, faith and obedience apart from Him are worthless. As much as we pour our passion and efforts into something, ultimately God has to do it … and He will.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Joshua 6:1-20
How did the Israelites display faith and obedience at Jericho? What was the result of the Israelites daily obedience? Discuss instances where you have crossed a threshold just to find strongholds of stiff resistance. Has God ever asked you to do something “unconventional”? How did it turn out?

Matthew 14:25-33
How was Peter able to get out of the boat with the confidence that he would not sink? Why did Peter eventually sink? What areas in your life require complete faith?

Deuteronomy 11:22-27
How does this passage correlate obedience and God’s blessings? Discuss how you have experienced the blessings of God as a result of your obedience.

Taking Action: Are you facing a Jericho in your life – a stronghold of stiff resistance? During this season of fasting and prayer, daily submit this “giant” to the Lord, trust Him, obey Him, do not turn back, and see His victory in your life.

Ministry Time

Printer friendly copies of curriculum: full version or text only.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daniel and his fasting

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. Daniel also shows us the importance and power of prayer and fasting.

Let's take a brief look at Daniel and his fasting. The background of the “Daniel fast” is that Daniel and his three friends had been “deported” to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had conquered Judah (2 Kings 24:13-14). Daniel and his three friends were put into the Babylonian court servant “training program.” Part of the program was learning Babylonian customs, beliefs, laws, and practices. The eating habits of the Babylonians were not in complete agreement with the Mosaic Law. As a result, Daniel asked if he and his three friends could be excused from eating the meat (which was likely sacrificed to Babylonian false gods and idols).

The concept of a Daniel fast comes from Daniel chapter 1:8-20 and chapter 10:1-9
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you." 11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. 18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. – Daniel 1:8-20
Note: Daniel and His friends were obedient to God and God poured out knowledge, understanding, and favor on them.
1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision. 2 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. 4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. 7 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. – Daniel 10:1-9
Note: Daniel was the only one who fasted and he was also the only one who was able to see the vision. God opened his eyes. Daniel prepared himself and it touched the heart of God.

Related article: The Gift of Fasting

The gift of fasting

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is often completely ignored by many Christians today. This is a shame because God has given us this gift of fasting as a unique method of relating to Him that touches His heart in a special way. Just as we gain intimacy with God through reading His Word and prayer, we too gain intimacy with Him when we fast.

Why fast?
Do you find yourself in a place of needing a breakthrough? Maybe a personal issue, you need an answer, you are contemplating something big, possibly asking the question “God are you in this?”, maybe you’ve hit a time of danger or significance, or you really need the power of God. How do you get a breakthrough? FASTING & PRAYER! However, we must remember that just like prayer cannot be used to manipulate God, fasting is not a way to manipulate God.

Fasting is also not supposed to be a religious act done to impress man. Here is what Jesus says, "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” - Matthew 6:16

Notice that Jesus says WHEN you fast, not IF you fast. Jesus assumes that His disciples are taking advantage of this incredible gift from God. Jesus himself fasted.

What is fasting?
It is the denial of something – usually food. It is saying to God, “I would rather go without food (starve myself) than to go on as I am.” I want to touch God. I want to hear God. What you do is tell your body to sit down and shut up. “Flesh, you are not getting my attention. Rather, I am giving my attention to God.” It sometime said that when we fast we starve the flesh and allow our spirit to be fed.

Other reasons you may need to fast
Fasting is a form or way of humbling yourself before God:
I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting… - Psalm 35:13 Why is it important to be humbled before God? Because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. God gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore … - 1 Peter 5:5b-6

When there is sin that needs correction – fast and humble yourself.
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers.- Nehemiah 9:1-2

When you need deliverance:
If you have an addiction or a habit: FAST and PRAY! Do you need deliverance from demonic bondage? Sometimes you need to persist, get serious, pray and fast. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. - Matthew 17:21

When you need God’s guidance & protection:
There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. - Ezra 8:21 21

Related article: Daniel and his fasting

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The "fast" way to God

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is often completely ignored by many Christians today. This is a shame because God has given us this gift of fasting as a unique method of relating to Him that touches His heart in a special way. Just as we gain intimacy with God through reading His Word and prayer, we too gain intimacy with Him when we fast. Could you imagine living without prayer or the Bible? Why then do so many Christians choose to discount or completely disregard fasting?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Crossing the threshold

This week, my small group curriculum is all about taking the leap of faith and crossing the threshold into God's promises and plans for your life. It's an all-in proposition with eternal consequences.

Big Idea:
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” When we live for Christ instead of for ourselves, everything changes. We are presented with new opportunities, new ways of doing things, and a new beginning.

Summary:
You are probably familiar with the term “crossing the threshold”. A threshold is the step that forms the base of a doorway, so when you cross one, you pass from one side of a doorway to the other. This term has historically been used in the old marriage tradition of a man carrying his bride “across the threshold”. The idea was significant, not so much relating to the literal door, but symbolizing the passing from one stage of life to another - a passage which has permanent and irreversible consequences. Crossing the threshold is therefore widely used to speak of passing through significant change points in our lives. Throughout the Old Testament we see how God uses thresholds to define transitional moments that signify moving from one place to another – often closer to the heart of God and His promises. For instance, Israel crossed a threshold at the Jordan and moved from a state of wandering to their destiny in the Promised Land. Like the Israelites of old, each of us has significant thresholds in our life that we must cross in order to move from bondage to freedom, and then from freedom to the promises of God.

We must never allow fear, selfishness, or unbelief to keep us from redirecting our lives and crossing the threshold. When God calls us to cross a threshold, we can do it with confidence because Christ crossed the most significant threshold when He passed from death to life. This can be a threshold crossing for each one of us, because we can be united with Christ and raised to new life with Him. At this point, everything changes. Today, God is saying, “Behold, I stand at the door (threshold) and knock.” He is calling us to cross over the next threshold and gain entrance into new opportunities, new ways of doing things, and new beginnings in Him.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Acts 11:1-18
God presented Peter with an opportunity to cross a threshold into the gentile world. What if he didn’t cross this threshold? What could have prevented Peter from crossing? What new opportunities have you found as you have crossed thresholds in your life with Christ?

Galatians 5:16-26
Christ changes what we do, the way we think, act, and live. What characteristics have changed in your life as a result of crossing the threshold from darkness into the light of living for Christ Jesus?

2 Corinthians 5:17-20
What thresholds are you afraid to cross and why? How does our relationship with Christ change everything? Why can we cross the threshold with confidence? What new beginnings have you personally experienced because you surrendered to Christ?

Taking Action: Have you crossed the threshold of surrendering all to Christ? If not, do it today. Are you standing at a threshold which God clearly wants you to cross? Determine that today is the day - take the leap and cross over.

Ministry Time

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Know God? Love others?

If we have a problem loving others, then we could have a significant relationship issue with the Creator of the world. The Apostle John said that if we don’t love others, then we don’t even know God. Why? Because when we know God, we are so completely changed that it results in sincere love for others. We can’t hate because we are changed by the love of God. We freely forgive because we have been forgiven. We lay down our own rights in deference to others because Christ laid down His rights for us.

Has the love of God changed you?
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. - 1 John 4:7-8

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fueled by grace

God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us. We are created on purpose and for a purpose. God has called us to do good works. This is exciting news, but how are we supposed to accomplish all this? Are we on our own to figure it all out? Absolutely not.

God doesn’t call us to accomplish incredible things for His kingdom and then leave us hanging and holding the bag. He doesn’t leave us to figure it out or to make it happen on our own. Rather, God makes His powerful grace abound in our lives so that we can find success in every good thing assigned to us by Him. God provides all we need to experience huge success as we chase after His plans and purpose for our lives.

In fact, we shouldn’t expect to simply skate by with minimal success. God’s word actually says that we will flourish and find abundant success because God fuels and equips us with His grace - that powerful grace which allows us to say to this mountain “move from here to there, and it will move.” God gives us all we need to “git-r-done” and fulfill His purpose for our life.

Here’s how the Apostle Paul puts it:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. – 2 Corinthians 9:8

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chasing down the dream

Are you a dream chaser? This week's small group curriculum is about chasing your God-given dream: God's plan and purpose for your life.

Big Idea:
God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us. He has placed within us a dream that is inseparably linked to our intended future.

Summary:
God tends to follow a specific process in order to bring His dream to pass in our lives. That process is the birth of the dream, the death of a dream and the resurrection and fulfillment of the dream. Here’s how it is typically played out in our lives:

First, God places a dream within us by envisioning us with His intended purpose for our lives. Once the dream is conceived, God requires us to make difficult decisions. Are we going to follow the dream or not? Will we lay-it-on-the-line and become willing to invest our time, our money, our reputation, and our energy in pursuit of the dream? Dream-chasing is characterized by advancement, but God usually allows a delay to test us. Virtually every dreamer in the Bible had to go through a time of waiting, preparation, and patience. It is during this period of waiting that God is not only preparing us for the place He has destined us to occupy, but He is also preparing the place for us. Additionally, God allows difficulties to occur in order to develop us. It is at this time that we choose to allow our circumstances to make us a victim or a victor; a statistic or a giant-killer. Often, God brings us to a dead end in the process. This doesn’t happen simply to frustrate us or because God isn’t able, but instead to ensure that our reliance is completely in Him so that He receives all of the glory. The final chapter in a dream that is God-breathed and submitted to Him, is deliverance and fulfillment. So, don’t be afraid of the dream, but be aware of the process and chase your God-given purpose with the confidence that God is able to bring it to pass for His glory.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Ephesians 1:11 & Colossians 1:16 (read from the Message)
Who is the source of our hopes and dreams? Where must we go to discover our true purpose? Discuss how these truths have shaped your decisions and your very life.

James 1:2-4 & 12
How does God use trials, difficulties, and delays to actually help us accomplish our purpose and reach our destiny? Share personal experiences of this truth at work in your life.

2 Corinthians 9:8
How does God help fulfill the dream? Discuss how this truth inspires you to chase your God-given dreams? Share real examples of how God has given you all you need to accomplish His calling in your life. As a group, pray this scripture over each other.

Taking Action: What is your dream? What have you set forth to accomplish above all else in life? If your purpose in life is to serve God, stop and think about the types of decisions you will make in life. Now think about this: Do my decisions demonstrate that my purpose in life is to serve God? Realign your plans to His plans and chase the dream.

Ministry Time

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A follower will follow

We must continue. Christianity is not a one-time decision; it is a life lived in Christ and wholly for Him. A true follower of Christ will always follow Him: go where He leads and do what He commands. If we don’t follow, then we can’t call ourselves a follower. It is really that simple.
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. - 1 John 2:28-29

Friday, September 12, 2008

We can't have it both ways

I am continuing to teach through the book of 1 John. Again, the Apostle John very clearly points out that it is one or the other – not both. We either live for God or we live for this world. It is either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world. NO DUEL CITIZENSHIP.

If we live for the world by embracing its ways, then we will pass away just like the world will pass away. But, if we live for God and embrace His ways, then we will live with Him forever.
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

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Passionate worship matters to God

A spiritual leader who allows pride or fear to retard his personal expression of worship to the King of Kings is in real danger of becoming spiritually barren. Do you worship God with total abandonment like King David who received the blessings of God or do you demonstrate and encourage reservation in worship like Michal who was stricken barren as a result?

Check it out in 2 Samuel 6:12-23

Monday, September 08, 2008

Barabbas gets a bad rap

Why do Christians tend to think so poorly of Barabbas? After all, isn’t Barabbas just a picture of each one of us? Without the cross are we all not sinners deserving death? But, just as Christ took the punishment that was due Barabbas, He too took our punishment. Yes, Barabbas deserved to be the one on the cross, but Christ, who was without sin or guilt took his place and Barabbas was pardoned and declared a free man. Isn’t this what Christ has done for all of us who place our faith in Him alone?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Courage to take the land

This week's small group curriculum is part 1 of a 7 week series titled "re: the art of starting over". Be ready to be both challenged and encouraged.

Big Idea:
God has called us to courageously impact our community for His kingdom. In order to accomplish this we must not live in the past, but accept the present and prepare for the future.

Summary:
The Jewish nation was dramatically led by God out of Egyptian captivity to the edge of the Promised Land; however, in spite of the overwhelming evidence of God’s faithfulness and power, they failed to take their land. What prevented them from entering the place which God had prepared for them, and what prevents us from accomplishing the plans, purpose, and promises God has for our lives? The first mistake we must avoid is idolizing the past. When we are facing an uncertain tomorrow, the enemy has a way of distorting our perspective which forces our focus onto the past instead of on moving forward. We cannot let the successes or the failures of our past define our present or our future. The second mistake we must avoid is compromising the present. Compromise typically comes in the form of disobedience. Disobedience disqualified the Israelites from God’s plan for their lives, and disobedience can also disqualify us while leading to spiritual stagnation. The third mistake we must avoid is discounting the future. Even though Israel saw the possibilities of the future, they just didn’t believe that the benefits outweighed the risks. Because of fear, they started surviving rather than thriving. They thought to themselves, “This is as good as it gets, lets just settle right here.”

Thankfully, God is a God of second chances and like the Israelites, God has again called us to be courageous and take the land. Without courage, we will never risk the walk of faith and possess the promises of God. Without courage, the Gospel lies inactive in our hearts and our community remains unaffected by our lives. This is not a call to the weak, the reluctant or the passive. This is a charge for the brave. It is a call to those filled with faith and courage. No matter our past, we can now resume and take the land because “the Lord our God is with us wherever we go.”

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Isaiah 43:16-19 and Philippians 3:12-14
Discuss how our past failures, wounds, or even successes can keep us from God’s promises and plans for our lives. How did Paul handle his past failures and even his past accomplishments? Why must we move on from the past?

Hebrews 3:7-19
What is the correlation between faith, disobedience, and not entering into God’s promises? How have you experienced this correlation in your own life? How does this compromise God’s plans for our lives?

Joshua 1:1-9
Why can we confidently chase after God and His plans for our lives (v.9)? Share the victories you have experienced as you have placed your faith in Christ and stepped into the future with courage.

Taking Action: Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal specific things from your past and any present areas of disobedience that are keeping you from His promises. Surrender these things to the Lord, repent, and resume your God-given mission – take the land.

Ministry Time

Printer friendly copies of curriculum: full version or text only.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

We’re going to Ghana, Africa

That’s right! The Jones family is going to the country of Ghana Africa for one month – mid November through mid December. We have many ministry opportunities. Velvet and the children will be helping orphans and teaching in a small Christian school while Eric is preaching and praying throughout many villages in the Volta region of Ghana with our host – Pastor Emmanuel Fiagbedzi. Additionally, we believe God is going to use this experience to lead me (Eric) into new areas of ministry that will be exercised for God’s kingdom and His church back at home in the United States.

Why go to Ghana? Why now? Simply put, because God said GO. Here’s the story:
It happened the week of June 15th. I had dedicated this week to some serious prayer and fasting as I was aggressively seeking direction from God and crying out for a fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit. That Tuesday, June 17th, a pastor from Ghana, Pastor Emmanuel, ended up in my family room where we had a time of fellowship, prayer, and powerful ministry. When he left, I found myself telling Velvet, “I really like that guy. There’s just something about him.”

Two days later, Velvet and I were at a large prayer event called Prayer Quake. Jackson Senyonga, from Uganda, was ministering after a wonderful time of worshipping God. In the middle of his message I clearly heard the Holy Spirit tell me that I needed to go to Africa and spend one month with Pastor Emmanuel. With excitement, I told my wife what God had told me as we drove home late that night. She was immediately on-board.

OK, here is where it gets even better. On Saturday morning we received a message from Pastor Emmanuel that he felt like I needed to spend one month with him in Africa. Velvet and I were blown away as we had not talked to anyone about this. God had given us unbelievable confirmation. God couldn’t be any clearer.
What it will take: We are responsible for paying for our own expenses which are estimated to be around $13,800. Most of that cost is in the airline tickets just to get there and back. As a family, we are making efforts to raise money by having a large garage sale (our kids are contributing toys) and we are planning fund raising dinners, too. It would be a wonderful blessing to have help with these expenses. If you feel led to participate with us in this exciting mission we would be most grateful. Your donations are tax deductible. You can give online at http://www.firstgiving.com/ericjandfamily.

Thank you so much. We look forward to sharing all that God does while we minister to the people of Ghana. We are expecting God to do some exciting and significant things through us and in us. Please keep us in your prayers.

In awe of God,
Eric & Velvet