Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Take it by force

As I was reading through Joshua chapters 11 and 12, I was again struck with the totality and even the brutality by which the Israelites took the Promised Land. They didn’t mess around. God gave them the land and told them to completely destroy the enemy. When the Israelites obeyed God, He gave them victory after victory. 

These passages give us a picture of the God's nature and His heart for His people. How does this apply to us today? Well, as children of God, we are supposed to take the land and bring His kingdom to this world. We have been commissioned to take the nations. Just like in the days of Joshua and Caleb, this requires some serious warfare. Taking the land involves a fight. It involves destroying the enemy. However, we are reminded by the apostle Paul that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood (people), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12 

Warfare will be a common experience in the life of a Christian. I have said it before, “the Christian life is not a passive experience.” Rather, the life of a Christian is a life of action, a life of warfare against Satan and his demons, a life of passionate obedience to our Commanding Office, and ultimately a life of victory.   

Let’s remember what Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Let’s take up arms and forcefully advance God’s kingdom!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Making peace with the enemy

The Israelites were on a mission from God. They were directed to take the Promised Land and destroy the enemy. However, in the middle of this mission from God, they found themselves making peace with the enemy. How did this happen? In Joshua 9:14 we see that the Israelites foolishly made peace with the enemy because they acted in their own wisdom apart from seeking God. They decided to walk by site and not consult the Lord whose mission they were on.

Do we do this in our own lives? Do we find ourselves allowing the enemy to have access into our lives because we act in our own wisdom apart from God? Do we unknowingly make peace with the enemy because we leave God out of our decisions and live our lives without inquiring of our commander – God Almighty? God has a plan and a mission for our lives. He wants to use us for His kingdom purposes. However, we must seek Him for our marching orders and not take things into our own hands.

The dangers of walking in our own wisdom and by our own site is amplified when we consider that we are in a war against the Prince of Darkness and evil spiritual forces that desire to destroy us. Therefore, we must have spiritual eyes and not trust our physical site. We can look at something with our physical eyes and think we can handle it. However, we are blind to the massive spiritual danger that desires to destroy us. Let’s learn from the mistake made by the Israelites and let’s inquire of the Lord. Let’s never allow ourselves to make peace with the enemy.
The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. – Joshua 9:14-15


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Who’s the miracle worker?

When we pray for the sick and they are made well, have we just done a miracle? If this becomes a common occurrence, can we call ourselves healers? Do we ever really do miracles or is it really God who has done a miracle through us?

Based on the Apostle Peter’s words at Pentecost, it looks like he would not only tell us that we are not healers, but that we shouldn’t even fool ourselves into thinking that we have any business doing miracles. In fact, Peter indicates that Jesus himself didn’t even do any miracles, signs, or wonders while He walked this earth. Rather, Peter indicates that it was God the Father who worked through Jesus His son to perform the miracles, signs and wonders. Check this out:
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” - Acts 2:22
If this is true of Jesus, then how much more is it true of us. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking we can do something that only God can do. However, while we cannot perform miracles ourselves, God does want to work through each one of us. Remember what Mark wrote, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

Make no mistake about it, God is doing miracles in the world today. He is healing the sick, providing for the needy, freeing the captives, and even raising the dead. If we are truly in Christ and surrendered to the will of God; if we make ourselves available to Him in faith and obedience, then we will be used by Him in ways that are truly miraculous. It is really a wonder in and of itself that God would choose to use us. What a humbling thing – praise God Almighty. 

Finally, let's press into God, make ourselves available to Him, and see Him do miracles in us and through us today.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Influence

This week's small curriculum reminds us that we can all make a difference if we choose to.

Big Idea:
Just as Christ influenced the world for all eternity, each of our lives is meant to have significant influence on the world around us - both locally and globally.

Summary:
God has called us to be good stewards of our lives and the gifts He has given us – relationships, time, talent, and treasure. But none of those things may matter as much as the influence that God has entrusted to you. Influence is so important because it is the power to affect how someone develops, acts, or thinks. Influence shapes our world and can affect the eternal destiny of people. This is why influence requires careful stewardship. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to influence the world for the sake of Christ, His gospel, and His kingdom. Therefore, we must become the most influential people on the planet. Having a heart for the world is making the commitment to become a person of influence who stands for righteousness, truth, and justice. In fact, neglecting to influence the world around you for the sake of Christ is to completely miss the calling of Christ on your life.

How can we best steward this gift of influence? The Bible teaches us the following three principles. First, we must recognize our influence. Everyone has influence. We are far more influential than we realize. Each of us has some measure of influence over every person we come in contact with in life. Second, we must exercise our influence; otherwise, it is irrelevant. Influence is like money. We can use it for good, we can use it for evil, or we can save it and never use it. The way that we influence the world is through compassionate engagement - through loving, giving, serving and sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Third, we must maximize our influence. There are two legitimate reasons for expanding your sphere of influence – ministry and missions. The enemy is working hard every day to maximize and expand his influence of unrighteousness in the world. Therefore, as Christ followers, we must be about expanding and maximizing our kingdom of God influence. If we do this, we will make a difference in this world and the world to come. 

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Matthew 5:13-16
This passage encourages us to be influential. Give examples of how we can be salt and light. How does Christ look upon those who neglect their influence? What is the result of us exercising our influence? Share a specific story of what has happened as a result of letting your light shine.

Daniel 3:13-30
How did these guys influence a nation? Discuss how your obedience to God’s commands can influence others.

1 Peter 5:8-11
Discuss how the Devil is exercising his influence in the world today. What is the result of his influence? How can our influence make a difference? Discuss ways we can maximize our influence in the world.

Taking Action: Exercise your influence in a real way by engaging individually or as a group in the upcoming “Project Homeless Connect,” by signing up for a short-term missions trip, or use your financial resources to send someone else. Contact Katie in or Outreach Department this week.

Ministry Time

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One Degree of Seperation

This is part one of my Heart for the World small group curriculum. Let's get out of our bubbles and reach the world for Christ.

Big Idea:
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Summary:
According to what the Bible teaches us, there is only one degree of separation between us and every other human being on the planet. That one degree is the person of Jesus, who not only stands between God and man as the only true mediator, but He also stands as the only common denominator that draws us together in healthy community in spite of our vast differences. Jesus underscores this truth when he tells us that how we treat one another, especially the needy and broken, is how we treat Him. In fact, the very acts of mercy toward others, which we are called to perform every day of our lives, are the evidence of the reality of our salvation?

If this is true, then what keeps us from serving those in need? Here are five common objections. 1) I don’t feel called. This objection is based on the faulty belief that one has to be “called” to serve the world. You don’t need a call when you’ve been given a command: “Go into all the world.” In fact, you need a permission slip from Jesus to stay home. 2) I don’t know how. However, God said that HE would guide and direct you. He will be with you when you step out in obedience and show His love to others. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be willing enough to actually “go”. 3) I don’t have time. It is often not convenient to serve, but we can always find time for what we value. 4) I don’t know if I can make a difference. All of us can, because all of us have been called by Christ to make a difference. We can do all things through Christ. We can go, we can pray, and we can provide financial support. 5) I don’t want to. This is simply your selfish flesh talking and isn’t consistent with a heart that has been changed by Christ. Say no to your flesh and say yes to the will of your Savior. Go and be His hands and feet.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Matthew 25:36-40
What is the fate of the two groups? What are the standards by which the two groups are judged? Whose needs had they met or failed to meet? Did everyone get a fair chance? Imagine yourself in each group and discuss what would be going through your mind. What are some specific actions that can be taken in meeting each of the needs mentioned?

Isaiah 58:6-9
What are God’s promises to those who take action and help the oppressed, the hungry, and the marginalized? How do our actions in this area affect our relationship with God and our prayer life?

Matthew 28:18-20
Is sharing Christ’s love and compassion to others optional? Why can we confidently do this and know that we will be successful? Discuss practical ways that you can overcome the objections mentioned in the summary of this study.

Taking Action: At some point this week you will find yourself just one degree away from Jesus as you look into the eyes of the broken and the hurting. Don’t turn them away. Treat them as if they were Jesus. Share your experience with the group.

Ministry Time

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A BIG Rock

There are BIG rocks and small rocks in the Christian faith. There are ESSENTIALS and non-essentials. The Apostle Paul presents us with one of the NON-NEGOTIABLES in his letter to Timothy:
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” - 1 Timothy 2:5.
Jesus said it this way, “I am the way, the Truth, and the Life … no one comes to the Father except by me.” John 14

Believe it or not, this is not the popular view in the world today. In fact, the truth of only one God and Jesus being our only way to Him is even a fuzzy concept in the minds of many “Christians” today. Check out this scary statistic: 57% of evangelicals believe that other religions can lead to eternal life? Whether or not this is a completely accurate statistic, the possibility of any significant number of evangelicals believing that there is any way other than Christ is troubling.

Claiming that there can be another way other than Christ is to nullify His sacrifice. It is to spit on the cross. Jesus said, “if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).

It might be politically and socially correct to say that God could make another way for people of other religions, but God has clearly told us in His Word that the only way is through Christ – PERIOD! Paul very clearly says that if you want access to the Father for now and for eternity, then you had better know the Son – Jesus Christ. When I say know – I don’t mean know of Him, but rather KNOW him as you savior and your Lord. Again, “There is only ONE GOD and THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO THE FATHER, BUT THROUGH HIS SON – JESUS CHRIST!”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's a battle, not a cuddle session

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “fight the good fight.” – 1 Timothy 1:18. Paul also talks about himself fighting the good fight in his second letter to Timothy when he stated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” - 2 Timothy 4:7.  The concept of the fight is a common view that Paul has of the Christian life. Paul doesn’t talk about the Christian life as a walk, a stroll, or a cuddle session; rather, he speaks of it as a fight, a war, a race, something full of intense action. 

Make no mistake about it, we are in a fight (a war) for our very souls. But remember, “our struggle (battle) is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Eph 6:12 

As men and women who are in the middle of this battle, we had better follow the instructions of our commanding officer – Christ Jesus. Living the Christian life without an understanding of our marching orders can result in whole lot of unnecessary pain, being taken as a prisoner of war, or even the loss of our lives. We have been given the offensive weapon of God’s Word – the Sword of the Spirit. It is very advisable to use it and carry it with us at all times by hiding His Word in our heart. Let’s not be clueless soldiers; rather let’s know God’s Word so that we can take hold of the victory that is our in Christ Jesus. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Get out of the bubble

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” 1 Timothy 1:15
When the Apostle Paul tells us that he has a trustworthy saying for us, we had better sit up and listen.  This is important stuff. In this statement, Paul clearly and concisely let’s us know that Christ came for sinners, not the righteous. He came for the (spiritually) sick, not the healthy.  We also see that in the ministry of Christ, He intentionally shared His hope with sinners – the ignorant and the unbelieving. If Christ came into the world for sinners, and if we are called to continue the ministry of Christ, then we had better be sharing Christ with sinners. Are we Christ-like and intentionally sharing the gospel to the lost or do we spend all of our time in our little church bubble? It can become very easy to insulate ourselves from those who need to hear the good news of Christ. Jesus didn’t say that He came so that believers could circle the wagons, be comfortable, and sing Kumbaya. No, He said that He came to save sinners.

We must be people who are continuing the work of Christ by presenting Christ and His saving grace to people who need it. Let’s get out of the bubble and be about our Saviors business. Let’s share the good news with the lost, the dying, the ignorant, the unbelieving, the sinners. 


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Becoming a poster child

The Apostle Paul called himself the worst of sinners. He called himself this because he was a really bad guy who violently persecuted Christians. However, because of God’s strength, mercy, and grace and Paul’s faithfulness to Christ, he was transformed into an Apostle that would carry the gospel message of Christ to the ends of the world and write half of the New Testament. (read about it in 1 Timothy 1:12-16) 

Paul’s testimony reminds us that the grace of Jesus Christ can change any of us and when we cooperate with God’s calling on our lives, we can be used in mighty ways for His kingdom. Paul is a poster child of God’s mercy, grace, and powerful transformation. We can be too. If God can change and mightily use a bad guy like Paul, then He can do the same in our lives. We must reject the lies of the Devil that say God can’t use us because of what we have or haven’t done. Christ came to make us new creations that are fully alive, victorious, and useful in God’s hands. Faithfully chase after the kingdom of God and His righteousness and be amazed at where God takes you and how He uses you for His glory. Become a poster child!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Honor's Reward

Here is the small group curriculum I wrote to accompany the message John Bevere presented this weekend in our church services.  
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Big Idea:
God made it very clear that showing honor is essential when He stated, “Those who honor Me, I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained.” Understanding the Biblical principle of honor is critical to all followers of Christ.

Summary:
Honoring others is not a popular theme promoted in the world today. The spiritual law of honor is often overlooked by a self-focused and critical generation. However, our decision to integrate the principle of honor into every aspect of life, both functionally and spiritually, will significantly affect us today and for eternity. The Greek word used for honor in the Bible is best defined as “valuing”. To show someone honor is to treat him or her as valuable, precious, and esteemed. We are called by God’s Word to extend honor to our Creator, those in authority over us, our peers, and those who are under our authority. This extends to the four areas of New Testament delegated authority: civil, family, social, and church. 

How we value, respect, and treat others matters so greatly to God that it affects our heavenly and earthly rewards. The Bible gives us examples of how a full reward is offered to those who truly show honor to others by valuing and respecting them; a partial reward is experienced by those who are selective in how they honor others; and no reward is given to those who handle God and others with indifference. Our ultimate reward is eternity in the presence of God Almighty. In several parables, Jesus indicated that faithful disciples would receive great rewards. Sometimes the reward is described as rulership, but Jesus also used other ways to describe our reward: the gift of salvation is symbolized by one day’s wage, a marriage banquet, inheriting a kingdom, being put in charge of all the master’s possessions, rulership over cities, and authority over the nations. However, we don’t want to be people who simply obey God for what we can get out of it. Rather, we need to catch His heart and allow His precepts to penetrate us. Let’s make honor an integral part of who we are and how we treat others. 

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss) 

Matthew 10:40-42
In this passage, Matthew uses the word “receive” which is a synonym for “honor”. Based on this passage, who does Jesus say we should honor? How does this passage associate honor and reward? Discuss what kind of rewards Matthew may be referring to. 

Romans 13:3-7 & 1 Peter 2:17
How can you show your civil leaders honor when you don’t agree with them politically or morally? What should we do if honoring our civil authority compromises honoring God? Discuss ways that we can honor our pastors and spiritual authorities. 

Matthew 19:27-29 & Mark 10:29-30
Is giving everything for the sake of following Christ worth it? What kind of rewards does Jesus outline? Does Jesus promise an easy life for His followers? 

Taking Action: Does your life exhibit honor? Are you showing honor to God, those in authority over you, your peers, your spouse, and those under your authority? Choose this day to honor God and others, and enjoy the rewards. 

Ministry Time

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Don’t get the cart before the horse

Why do you want to be in ministry? If it is for prestige, power, or profit then you had better think again. Ministering as a means of providing for your own needs is backwards and is not God’s design. It does make a difference which one comes first – the cart or the horse. Ministering to others must come before your own needs. The calling and heartfelt desire to serve others and further God’s kingdom must precede your need and aspiration for an income, job, or career. Yes, a workman (minister) is worth his wages, but that should never be the goal or purpose for ministry. God’s Word tells us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and then He will take care of our needs. 

Being driven by financial gain has led many ministers to drift far from the will and presence of God, leading to ungodly behavior. This was one of the many reasons Martin Luther protested the Catholic Church. Church leaders were selling forgiveness in the form of indulgences. The church leaders were putting their needs first and lining their pockets instead of ministering the gospel to a needy generation. Pastors and teachers can fall into this trap when they water down the Word of God in order to appeal to a larger audience for the purpose of increased tithes and finances. We are told to freely give because we have freely received (Matthew 10).  We must not minister out of greed or out of fear. God will provide all of our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. He is faithful and will bless those who lift up His name and proclaim His Truth. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Crazy Love

This is the fourth and last small group study discussing the topic of relationships. It is appropriate that we conclude by focusing on the power and importance of God's extravagant love. 

Big Idea:
Your relationships will mold you and contribute to who you are: however, it is your relationship with Jesus Christ and the impact of His crazy love that will impact and forever change your very soul and spirit.

Summary:
God’s crazy love for us is commonly referred to as “agape” love. The Greek language has three words for love, which enable us to distinguish agape love from passionate devotion (eros) and warm affection (phileo). Agape love is a gracious, determined, and active interest in the true welfare of others, which is not deterred even by responses of hatred, cursing, and abuse, not limited by calculation of results, but based solely on the nature of God. It is crazy because it is love with no boundaries and no end.

There are two important characteristics of agape love. First, crazy love is intentional. God didn’t accidentally send His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sinfulness. No, He intentionally exhibited His agape love to us. “For God so loved the world that He gave.” If you are not purposefully pouring unselfish love into your relationships, then you are not following God’s example of intentional, crazy love. Love that heals our hearts, transforms our homes, betters our marriages, guides our relationships, and saves our souls is intentional love. Second, crazy love is relentless. Love that changes lives and the destiny of souls is unconditional and eternal love. Agape love doesn’t give up because the going gets tough or because it is not immediately received. This is Energizer Bunny kind of love – it keeps going and going. Just like Jesus Christ intentionally and relentlessly came for you and to you, you must also demonstrate His crazy love to others. This is how people are drawn to Christ and away from spirit of this fallen world. This is how lives are changed and nations are won.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Discuss how agape love is different from other types of love. How can these qualities of crazy love be demonstrated in our relationships? What makes it hard to show this kind of love? Why is it possible?

John 1:14 & John 3:16
These passages show the intentionality of God’s love. Share how God has shown you His agape love. Discuss how we can follow Christ’s lead and intentionally show love to others. What does that look like?

1 John 4:7-21 & John 14:15-21
What two principle outcomes of God’s love are presented in these passages? How do we know we have received God’s love? How do obedience and love relate to one another?

Taking Action: Have you accepted the crazy unconditional overflowing love of Christ? If not, do it today. Your LifeGroup will pray with you and your life will be changed for all eternity. If you have been changed by this kind of love, then pay it forward by demonstrating crazy agape love to others. Be intentional and be relentless.

Ministry Time

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Living above the snake line

Snake bites can be extremely painful and very often deadly. Many people are petrified of snakes. But are you aware that there is a place where snakes do not go? Snakes do not go above a certain elevation. This invisible line of elevation is often called the snake line. Many hunters and campers are keenly aware of this fact and intentionally pitch their camps above the snake line.  

We know that the devil is often referred to as a serpent and a snake. Just like a snake can cause pain and death, so can the devil. He is poisoning people every day all over the world. It is true that we live in a fallen world and bad things happen to good people – even Christians. However, we can restrict the enemies access into our lives and live above the snake line by following God’s prescription for living life. God’s Word calls us to a lifestyle of repentance, forgiveness,  obedience, and love. We can pitch our tents above the snake line by not allowing ourselves to be “conformed to the things of this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds” - Romans 12:1-2.

God has enabled His children to live above the snake line. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness" - 2 Peter  1:3.  We should not fear the enemy because the work of Christ has given us victory over him. “I will not fear what the devil may bring me because I am a child of God.” Live for God, follow His precepts, know the authority you have been given in Christ Jesus, and live above the snake line.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Friendlationships - Part 3

This is our third episode of friends and uncovers the all-important dimension of covenant. 

Big Idea:
Do you want your relationships to go to a whole new level? Do you desire deep, meaningful, and life-transforming relationships? Then you are looking for the dimension of covenant.    

Summary:
Why do people feel so lonely, disconnected, and empty in a hi-tech world where we seem to be in touch with more people than ever? Maybe it is because much of the world is settling for imitations rather than pursuing real relationships. Meaningful relationships require serious investment and commitment. The Bible reveals that the dimension of a relationship that makes it special is the covenant. A covenant is the commitment to love and be faithful in all things and at all times. A covenant in the Biblical setting was a pledge to death and was cut in blood. Can you imagine being loved so much that someone would pledge himself to die for the security of your well being? Staggering, isn’t it? In His love, Jesus cut a covenant with us and freely gave His life for us. This covenant also serves as an example of the kind of relationships we are to have with other members of God’s family - the church. These relationships should be the richest and most rewarding we have in life. They should be filled with love and compassion, grace and mercy, encouragement and affection.

The friendship between Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and David, the king-to-be, is a stunning picture of taking a relationship to a whole new level of covenant. The story is summarized in 1 Samuel chapters 18 through 20. Let’s look at five qualities of covenant that made their friendship special and that can take your friendships to that new level. (1) Covenant friends are committed to caring for one another. (2) Covenant friends are faithful, loyal, and trustworthy. (3) Covenant friends are committed to the principles of honesty, transparency, and truth. (4) Covenant friends protect and cover one another. (5) Covenant friends encourage and empower one another. The dimension of covenant is essential if we are going to be the kind of “friend” to others that Jesus was to people during his ministry, the kind of friend that Jesus is to us today. Ultimately, it is essential if we are going to win people to faith in Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

1 Samuel 18:1-4 and 1 Samuel 20:41-42
Do you have this kind of covenant relationship with another person? If so, please share how it works and what it means to you. How have you shown covenant friendship to others?

Galatians 6:10 & John 13:35
Have you witnessed or experienced first-hand a difference in friendship between Christ followers that is not present with others? Why does the way Christians treat one another matter? Give examples of how our relationships with believers can be enhanced.

Romans 5:8
How did Jesus demonstrate a covenant relationship toward us? Explain why we can commit to a covenant relationship without the other persons commitment? Discuss the kind of relationships that require the dimension of covenant.  

Taking Action: Read 1 Samuel chapters 18 through 20. Examine your friendships. Are you reflecting the qualities of covenant? By God’s grace, commit to exhibiting the qualities of a covenant friend to those closest to you.

Ministry Time