Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things I Love: The Bible

Big Idea:
Beyond being the best selling book of all time, the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God that reveals the character and majesty of the Creator of the universe, while also presenting His love and purposeful plan for us. However, the Bible is only effective when we allow it to penetrate our hearts, minds, souls, and spirits. We must receive the Word and permit it to take root in our lives, resulting in change that will last for all eternity.     

Summary:
The Bible is a special book because it is God’s Word.  Although written by human beings, it is also the inspired Word of God.  God has revealed Himself to us through His written Word, which points us toward Christ. He shows us truth, reveals our hearts, disciplines us, encourages us, and prepares us for life. Reading the Bible helps us maintain and refresh our relationship with God. Additionally, the Word of God has the power to heal and transform our lives. God's word is not like the word of man; it is living, effective and self‑fulfilling. It diagnoses the condition of the human heart and brings blessing to those who receive it in faith.   

Jesus tells us that people have different responses when they encounter the Truth found in God’s Word – The Bible. The first hears the Word, but the philosophies of this world drown it out and actually make it sound like foolishness. This person rejects the Truth of God because they did not understand. The second person hears the Word and initially believes, but because they receive no instruction, they sadly end up falling away and rejecting Truth. The third person hears the Word, believes it, grows in it, but after time they become distracted by the cares, worries, lusts, and riches of this world. However, there is the person who hears the Word, believes it, grows in it, embraces it, perseveres in it, and allows it to completely transform them. The power of God’s Word will change this person and cause them to fulfill the very plan that God designed for them. They end up living a life of spiritual victory and abundance.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Luke 8:4-15 
1.     What does the seed represent? What is the growing process? 
2.     Elaborate on each of these types of ground:  
  • Along the path: How does the devil take away the word from their hearts? 
  • Among the rocks: What do the rocks represent? Why do you suppose they fell away? 
  • Among the thorns: How do these things "choke" the Christian life? What are indications of maturity? 
  • On good soil: What are characteristics of people who not only receive the message well, but also produce fruitfulness after much perseverance? 
3.     How can people in the first three categories develop good soil? 
4.     And how can those in the good soil maintain the condition of their soil? 
5.     What type of soil are you growing in?   

Taking Action: Analyze the condition of your soil. Is your life experiencing spiritual growth and are you producing much fruit? Intentionally nourish your soil by frequently watering it. Spend time in God’s Word; allow Him to renew your mind. Put the things of God’s Word to work in your life and watch the growth and transformation happen. 

Ministry Time

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

“The proof of desire is pursuit.”

Do you want to know what you really desire? Take a look at your life. What are you pursuing? Are you pursuing the things of God? Are you going after righteousness, godliness, faith, and love? Are you taking advantage of every opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God? If so, then Jesus is your desire? Or, are you pursuing the things of this world - wealth, pleasure, comfort, and reputation. Is it the applause of man that you seek? Is it your next purchase or your next vacation that fills your thoughts and drives you? If so, then that speaks volumes about your desire.

Take inventory of your life. God wants to be your deep desire. He will not share that with anyone or anything.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Take hold of the eternal life

Being a follower of Christ is not a one-time decision. It always starts with the loving work of Christ on the cross and His grace that He freely offers to us. We then have the opportunity to accept this gift. But, this is not the end of the story. It is still just the beginning. Check out this passage from the Apostle Paul to his protégé, Timothy. Let’s remember that Paul is writing this to an established man of God – a leader in the church.   
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12 
Notice how these passages remind us that being a Christian is not a one-time decision. It’s not simply about saying a prayer and becoming a member of “the Christian club”.  It’s about taking hold of the eternal life. It’s about bringing the kingdom of God to this lost world. Our confession of faith is just the beginning. It is not the end! Let’s fight the fight. Let’s take hold of what Christ has taken hold of for us. Let’s live everyday for Him and for His glory. Let’s finish well.   

Here’s some more good news. Jesus never told us that being His disciple would be easy, but He did assure us that He has given us all we need and that He will be with us throughout the process until the very end. We are not left to our own strength. Christ is with us. Praise God for His goodness and for His deliverance. Now, let’s take hold of it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Are you fleeing? Are you pursuing God?

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he states, “But you, man of God, flee (run) from all this (greed, bad doctrine, divisiveness, controversies, sinful behavior), and pursue (chase after) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11   

I submit that each of us should heed these words of encouragement from the Apostle Paul. I love the use of the words flee and pursue. Paul uses strong words of action. When Paul tells Timothy to flee bad doctrine, the things of the world, and Satan, he is instructing him to run from them as fast as he can. Have nothing to do with this stuff. Turn away and hi-tail it out of there. When someone flees from something, they flat out run away from it as fast as they can. Are you fleeing?   

I also appreciate the use of the word pursue. To pursue something means to chase after it. Pursuit means that you are diligent and unwavering. You press on, keep going, and do what you must until you get it. It drives you. Paul says to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Don’t pursue money, fame, or comfort – the stuff of this sick world. NO! Pursue the things of God! Are you pursuing?   

One other thing, Paul doesn’t simply tell Timothy to think about these godly things or just long for these things, instead he tells him to get up and go after them with passion and with everything in him. Take action!

As followers of Christ, these are our marching orders. We must go after God with everything that is in us. We must pursue Him with passion. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's Impressing You?

Part four of our "Tattoed" series challenges us to be aware and be careful of what we allow to impress us because it will affect how we impress others and it will ultimately affect what kind of mark we leave on the next generation.

Big Idea:
Impressions shape our lives in big ways and in small ways, and what we allow to impress us will affect what kind of impression we leave on others.

Summary:
Impressions are more than words that we remember; they impact and change us, sometimes ever so slightly, and yet, a few times in life we encounter moments, events or influential people that leave an unmistakable imprint on our souls. Have you ever thought about what kind of impression you are leaving? We will all leave an impression on the world around us and on the generations that follow us.

Here are three types of impressions we are called to leave: (1) Intentional Impressions: We are called to intentionally shine the light of Christ in a dark world and to teach the ways of the Lord to the generations that follow us. We intentionally make impressions upon others when we live like Christ is the King of our lives and when we make disciples. (2) Righteous Impressions: As agents of righteousness, we have the privilege of working with God to build up, encourage, speak the truth in love, and bear the burdens of others. If we choose to ignore or put down others, we are abandoning our assignment to bless them. Your blessing has the power to change the atmosphere in a room, in a relationship, and in a community. (3) Lasting Impressions: We should not be satisfied with leaving a few “warm fuzzy” feelings and some inspirational thoughts with the generations that follow us; rather, we should be driven to leave an indelible impression that cannot be erased or ignored - an unforgettable reminder that people matter because they are loved by the God of heaven, that their faith response to the call of God will make a difference in a hurting world, and that the only life worth living is the one that represents Christ.

Finally, what you are impressed with will determine what kind of an impression you leave on others. If you are impressed with the things of this world, then you will leave the mark of this world on others; however, if you live a life that demonstrates the evident impression of Christ, then you will leave the mark of Jesus on those around you and the generations that will follow. The world needs people who have been truly changed because the King of Kings has impressed them to the core. Let God impress His Son so deeply on your life that He is seen in everything you say and do. Let’s leave an impression!

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
How can we practically impress the ways of God on the next generation? What is the result of discipling others? How have you seen this precept work in you and in the lives of others around you?

Matthew 5:13-16
Why is it important to intentionally display Christ in our daily lives? Discuss how we can we “let our light shine”. What are you personally doing in this area?

Philippians 4:8-9
Discuss what things you are allowing to impress your life. How is this affecting the kind of mark you are leaving on others? How does the truth of this scripture change what you will allow into your life?

Taking Action: Write down those who you are purposefully impressing (discipling) in the ways of God. If the list is short, ask God to reveal those you are called to intentionally impress for His glory. Begin making a lasting impression of righteousness in their lives as you teach them the ways of God.

Ministry Time

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Stigmata of the Cross

Here is part three of our "Tattooed" series.

Big Idea:
Just as God has our names tattooed on His hands and His image imprinted on our hearts, He also wants His mark of identification branded on our lives. This mark separates, regenerates, and unites us.

Summary:
The Apostle Paul once said that he bore the “marks” (or “stigmata”) of the Lord as a result of his life and ministry. The Greek word “stigmata” represents ownership. We all wear marks and show our allegiance to something. We tell the world and God where our allegiance lies by what we say, what we do, where we spend our time, how we spend our money, and how we treat others. There are times when we show our allegiance to the world, to our friends, to our political party, and to our social clubs more clearly than we do to the Kingdom of God. There is really only one thing that truly matters in this life, one event which divided the History of the world, one payment which covers the cost of sin: it is the cross of Jesus Christ. May our lives be branded with the symbol of His amazing sacrifice.

God took the vilest of symbols, the cross, and turned it into the ultimate sign of victory! That God became one of us and allowed Himself to be viciously nailed to that “emblem of suffering and shame,” is remarkable. Only God would do such a thing. Only God could bring glory from shame, taking the stigma of the cross and turning it into a tattoo of beauty - a priceless piece of art. But is this stigma just a symbol, or is it an instrument of deliverance? Do you wear the stigmata of the cross, not just around your neck, but also in the way you live? Do others associate you with what the cross truly represents? 1) The stigma of the cross represents separation. The Greek word for separation basically means to be holy, righteous, and sanctified. When we fully identify with His stigmata, God instantly separates us from our sinful past. Then he progressively separates us from the behavior that keeps us from fully becoming like Jesus. And ultimately, we will one day be completely separated by being given perfect and sinless bodies. The goal of a Christian is to be more and more like Jesus until this happens. 2) The stigma of the cross regenerates us. The work of the cross is what brings us into newness of life and removes the old sinful nature that used to rule us. We are new creations. The old has passed away, and we can now live for God while we shed our sinful lifestyles. 3) The stigma of the cross unites us by making those who believe in Christ into a family. So, what brand to do wear? What stigma do you bear?

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Galatians 6:14-17
What does it look like to “die to the interests of this world”? Give examples of how we can bear the “stigmata” of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17
What does Paul say will happen when we wear the brand of the cross and fully associate with Christ? Share what “old things” have disappeared in your life since coming to the cross.

Hebrews 2:10-11
How can the cross change our identity? What does it mean to you to be called a brother of Christ and also a child of God? Discuss the implications of being a member of God’s family.

Taking Action: Write down where you spend your time and money. Based on this list, what brand are you wearing? Purpose to associate more with the cross and less with the world.

Ministry Time

Friday, May 08, 2009

Time in the parking lot

Late last week I went through a couple of days feeling overwhelmed and anxious. This is not at all a normal experience for me, and I must admit that I was not handling it well. Finally, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit and my wife (sometimes the two of them work hand in hand), I grabbed my Bible and quickly left the house in order to run from the temptation to overreact to the anxiety and instead, to cry out to God for some help. I stopped off at the QT market and grabbed an extra-large Dr. Pepper before finding myself in an empty parking lot. I opened my Bible and started reading. After about 10 verses I shut my Bible and told God, “I need something right now!” God is good, and I believe He very much likes it when we cry out to Him in desperation. That’s where I was – desperate. He immediately told me to read Psalm 43. Here is what God gave me: 
“Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. 
I declared this scripture a dozen times continuing to speak it out louder each time. I followed it up with speaking other truth from God’s Word over my life, reminding my self who I am in Christ Jesus. In other words, I engaged in some spiritual warfare. Here’s what happened - the enemy fled. The overwhelming sense of anxiety left. I was back at home only 40 minutes after I had left. I walked in the door and announced to my family, “I am back!” And I was, to the glory and praise of God. 

The battle was not a physical battle against people or even my busy schedule of life and ministry; no, it was a battle against Satan himself. Satan is a liar. He wants to mess with us and he doesn’t want us to live out the purposes God has for us. He is bad news, but in Christ and the truth of God’s Good News, we can drive the enemy away and move forward in joy, peace, and victory as we minister the life of Christ. Hallelujah! We serve the risen King who is victorious. 

Saturday, May 02, 2009

What's our motivation?

What’s our motivation for Christ? Is He our ticket out of hell? Is He the means to our best life now? Or, is He our deep desire and our great expectation? Are we Christians because we are afraid of hell and would rather have an eternity of comfort instead of torment? Or, are we Christians because we crave to be in the presence of God? If we crave to be in God’s presence, then why aren’t we chasing after His presence right now? Why don’t we rearrange our day to make significant time for him? Why do we allow the distractions of this world to crowd out Christ from our daily life? Why do we choose 3 hours of watching football or shopping over 3 hours of worship, prayer, and time meditating on His Holy Word? Is He our deep desire? Do we want to really know God? We can be in His presence today. Let’s go for it. Let’s choose God. 

Friday, May 01, 2009

Foundational Truths

During my time in the prayer room on Tuesday, the Lord brought to the front of my mind some foundational truths that can sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of life and ministry. It’s good to have them front and center in my heart and on my mind this day.
“Lord, why did You create me? Was it to make money? Was it to satisfy the cravings of my flesh? NO! You created me to be loved and to love. You created me to love you and to love others. You created me to bring glory and fame to Your name – Jesus Christ, the hope of the entire world.”
 
“The work of Christ is enough to fully justify me and to fully sanctify me. His grace is enough! I have all I need for life and for godliness. I am fully equipped in Him. He will complete His work in me. May His full sacrifice be made fully evident in my life for His glory. My flesh is not in charge. It does not control me. I am a child of God who walks by the Spirit! In Him, nothing is impossible.”
- Eric Jones