Loving to Life Pt 3

SMALL GROUPS

One of the things I love about moving to a new area is getting to know the people. As we learn about the people, we learn their stories, their passions, their hopes and dreams for the future. We also have opportunities to learn more about who they are as a person, what their struggles are, and what’s going on in their life.

So far, we have talked about praying for God’s direction and work in the new area. This is important because we will be able to see and experience much more “success” because we are joining God in the work being done instead of coming in and doing what we want to. Then, we have talked about meeting people where they are and allowing them to be their real, true selves.

This is all “big picture” stuff, if we think about it. I do much better when I think about the bigger picture because I struggle at the detail level often; but this is where we are heading now.

I would recommend finding ways to be in a small group in your new area. This will do a few different things. 1) You will be able to spend more intentional time with a smaller amount of people and give them a chance to learn about you. 2) You will be able to focus more on relationship building. 3) Trust is developed more in smaller groups than always being on stage, or in larger venues.

In a church setting, we often talk about small groups as Bible study groups. These are all well and good; but I would challenge us to think about small groups a little differently. Instead of finding ways to impart “wisdom and knowledge” creating atmospheres where people can share, free of judgement, and build each other up is a key.

What are some ways we can do this? I’ll be talking about what we can do in a church setting; but feel free to modify these approaches for your own setting.

  • Bible Study groups are a way for people to get together and knowingly talk about the Bible, theology, and doctrine. These provide settings for people to tell what they have studied and believe about scripture.
  • Lunch after worship is a great way to connect and be with people in a public setting and enjoy a meal together.
  • Prayer groups.
  • Meet together at restaurants, bars, to share life together.
  • Groups for accountability.

There are many different ways we can connect together in small groups. This is vital because it is much easier to get to know a person in a smaller group setting.

I also want to be quick to note that using small groups to get to know people should not really be why we are doing them. We should be involved in small groups because we are genuinely interested in other people and their lives; because they would be interested in our life.

As we continue to learn about the area, pray for direction, meet people, and really begin to share our lives together, God will be working. It will be incredible to see what God will continue to do to help the church, organization, business, neighborhood, etc.

For a great book resource on starting small groups within a church that promote life transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, check out Kevin Watson’s book The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience.

Loving to Life Pt 2

MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Last week we began a series to help us love people to life. When we go to a new place, it it easy to assume we know what people need to do. In many cases, we may be right.

The best thing to do is to pray, and listen, to see where God is working and how God is working in the new area we’re in. Go night to a new place and driving forward our plans, without seriously paying attention to the work of God already in progress, can create some issues. This is not saying God will not bring redemption through work we do;  but the work could actually take longer.

So, we’ve prayed and we believe we have listened carefully to God’s voice and have opened our eyes to see the work in progress. We must be careful not to give into the temptation to get to work right away. I know this seems odd to say. The truth is we would do so much better if we took our time.

Taking our time means we begin the process of getting to know the people. Plus, it gives us a chance to “meet people exactly where they are.”

Think about that for a minute. How did Jesus Christ begin working with your life? He met you, the person you were, in the exact situation you were in. I would also bet to say that when you realized Jesus was right there with you, he did not start off by saying, “I’m here to fix your life, so you need to do these steps right away!”

Instead, I believe Jesus first said to you, “I love you. Come and see what your  life can and will be like with me.” That’s basically what he said when he called the disciples in Matthew 4, Mark 1-2, Luke 5, John 1. He invited the disciples to join him, just as they were. That’s when the transformation begins.

Our number one priority in this life, aside from loving and worshipping God through Jesus Christ, is to love the people God created.

Now we have to ask the question, what does meeting people where they are look like?

This is really one of the hardest things we will ever do. This involves simply listening to their stories, what they say about other people, how they say they live their life, anything they want to tell you…without judgement. It involves us learning the area, past customs, past traditions, history of the area, learning what dreams people have. All of this is done at the same time we are praying for God’s wisdom, vision, for the area while we are there.

I have found that, most of the time, you will hear people begin to say things that are very similar to what God has been speaking to you. And, when we take time to get to know the person and witness their life, trust is formed through this relationship. Then, we can begin to see the work of Christ in their life. Afterall, this is how we would want other people to treat us.

We may have a grand vision, grand ideal, for an area, for the life of a person, or people group; but Jesus may be working on something deeper than what we can see and experience at the surface. This is why it is so important to meet with people where they are, as they are, so we can see how God is using us to work with him in that person’s life.

Here is something I have had to learn to consider in every situation: maybe it’s not just about working to make change in other people’s lives; maybe it is also about God’s redemptive and transformative work within our own life.

How is this sitting with you, right now? What did you know about this concept? What do you not agree with?

Additional questions to consider:

1) What do the people do/act like, that is hard for you to be around?

2) Do you think you have to patience to continue this work for getting to know people for months or even years without getting frustrated or impatient?

3) What do you sense God working on in your life, as you get to know new people and their stories?

Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?

I Believe in the Victory of God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 3

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.  I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”? If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. We are found to be false witnesses about God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, when he didn’t raise him if it’s the case that the dead aren’t raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.  It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end, since he has brought everything under control under his feet. When it says that everything has been brought under his control, this clearly means everything except for the one who placed everything under his control. But when all things have been brought under his control, then the Son himself will also be under the control of the one who gave him control over everything so that God may be all in all.

 Psalm 110:1

What the Lord says to my master: “Sit right beside me until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet!”

Suppose I ask you to describe your life with one of these words, which would you choose? Victorious, Defeated, So-so.

So many of us are living lives that simply do not reflect the victory of Jesus Christ. Look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed:

“the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

What do you experience when you read these words? I invite you to read them again, and then read the Scriptures above and see what God may be telling you.

If we look at the words from the Apostle’s Creed, we can see at least three things:

  1. “I have a risen Lord because Jesus rose from the dead.”
  2. “I have a reigning King because Jesus ascended into heaven.”
  3. “I have a righteous Judge because Jesus is coming again to judge.”

If nothing else, when we look at this, we can see how much we have even when we hear the lies our life isn’t worth anything. We have a risen Lord who has defeated our ultimate enemy, death, so we can live life everlasting here and now and in the life to come. We have a reigning King who sits in heaven who makes sure we can have everything we need. We have a righteous Judge who is able to discern and see the truth and bring true justice and reconciliation in the world.

We have so much because of the power and person of Jesus Christ that we should be the most joyful, confident, hopeful people who don’t let the circumstance of our life bring us down. Who don’t become envious of others because they have more or their life seems smoother. We have everything we need and we can live victoriously through the power of Jesus Christ.

The verse we all know, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” should really be thought of in this way, “I can endure all these things through the POWER of the ONE who gives me STRENGTH.” See the difference?

How can you live your life in such a way that people know you have the victorious power of Jesus Christ shining through everything you do? We get to live as people of the resurrection; and as such, show the awesomeness of Jesus Christ daily.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

Rejoice!

Christmastime is such a joyous time of year for so many people. This is the time we celebrate families with gift giving, parties, travel, and much more. We can see the good things in life, when we get together.

Unfortunately, many people do not have this same experience of this time of year. So many have felt loss and this time of year reminds them of this. There are also people who feel they are being punished in life by God.

The first two and a half chapters of the book of Zephaniah speak of pronouncing and impending judgement. His prophecies seem very similar to the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. But then, the tone completely shifts at the end with a message of hope and joy.

Click here to read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

When I read this short book in the Bible, I am reminded that we should not focus on the difficulties and disasters in our life.

“Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”

“The Lord has removed your judgement…”

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;..”

“Don’t fear…”

Then God promises to “deliver,” “gather,” “change their shame into praise,” “bring all of you back,” “gather you,” “restore.”

God was speaking these to the Israelites; but this also speaks to us today. How? Jesus Christ.

We rejoice because God is in our midst through Jesus Christ. He has removed our sin and shame because of the cross and His resurrection. Jesus, our good shepherd, is gathering us in and leading us. We are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

Christ coming in the world, changes everything. Will we allow Him in to change us once again?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Higher Grounds

trees on mountains

Colossians 2:16-19 So don’t let anyone judge you about eating or drinking or about a festival, a new moon observance, or sabbaths. These religious practices are only a shadow of what was coming—the body that cast the shadow is Christ. Don’t let anyone who wants to practice harsh self-denial and worship angels rob you of the prize. They go into detail about what they have seen in visions and have become unjustifiably arrogant by their selfish way of thinking. They don’t stay connected to the head. The head nourishes and supports the whole body through the joints and ligaments, so the body grows with a growth that is from God.

Paul is wanting to be clear of the point he is making: stay grounded in Christ and firm in your faith. He wants to make sure that when the time comes people make fun of ceremonies you or I do or do not participate in that we will stand firm in our belief in Christ. Several of his letters seem to address similar situations. Everything we do should reflect Christ, not cast a shadow over the message.

There will be people we encounter who say we have to do certain rituals, or act a certain way to worship Christ. Paul says the people will even go into detail and become arrogant that they have had certain experiences and others have not. We are all on the same playing field because of Jesus Christ. This means that Christ is not looking for specific acts of worship. Although He is looking for us loving each other and showing love toward others to prove we are His disciples. Christ is simply asking us to follow Him and Him alone. He is not looking for anything we can use to justify our faith, He just wants our faith and love.

It is easy to say that other people are the ones who need to watch their arrogance; but this applies to us also. Our lives are meant to glorify Jesus Christ in all we say, do, even think. We stand on a higher ground, not because we want to be better than anyone else; but so we can be sure to be close to Christ in all we do.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Motives

As we take this time to journey through the book of Philippians, we can see Paul’s joy even though he’s been locked up. I’m sure there are people that are mocking him and saying all kinds of things about him; even possibly saying that others are better preachers than him just trying to get him upset. 

I know there are better speakers, listeners, writers, readers than I am. I could easily sit back and say they are not doing their job right, they’re making me look bad, their hearts are not in the right place, etc. Have you felt this way about any person, any job, any church, any friend, any enemy? I believe this is something we all should look closely at, especially me. 

How often we can succumb to the pride of thinking that we are the only ones who can do the job, we are the ones who know the right way to do the task. Paul is reminding us of something important: look at the results of the work. I will say we need to keep this in mind, especially with the church. 

We will not always agree with each other on every point. There are those who enter ministry with selfish motives to go toward fame and recognition and prestige. And, there are those who have the most incredible spirits about them that do not want or desire any recognition or honors. What does any of this matter?

Paul is saying that thanksgiving should be given to all of those who are preaching Jesus, whether or not we think their motives are correct. It is pride that can keep us from celebrating with the body of Christ, if we are not careful, because we may be the one who want to be recognized. Paul wasn’t this way. He simply wanted Jesus Christ preached. 

People come and go, but the message of Jesus is eternal and can pierce even the hardest of hearts even if it’s not done the way we want. 

As I am writing this, I am giving thanks for all of those people, all of those ministries, all of those organizations, all of those churches who work tirelessly to proclaim Christ and the life we were meant to live. I give thanks for you!

Be motivated out of love and trust that God is working.

#BeJoyful

Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have actually advanced the gospel. The whole Praetorian Guard and everyone else knows that I’m in prison for Christ. Most of the brothers and sisters have had more confidence through the Lord to speak the word boldly and bravely because of my jail time. Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition. They are insincere, hoping to cause me more pain while I’m in prison. What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad. I’m glad because I know that this will result in my release through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭12-19‬ CEB)

Level Playing Field

Ephesians 2:14-22 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit. 

IMG_0209

How do you feel about other people? What causes divisions between groups of people? Isn’t it interesting how the Gospel of Jesus Christ promotes reconciliation and repentance of sin by God’s grace, and we get it through our heads to “hate” other people because they are not like us. But we can also think, “how are this person, or this group, and I similar?” Doesn’t this change how we might think about others? Thinking we could be like them?

Now, there are people who will disagree with this, but God does not want His people to divide the world. He wants the world to be reconciled to Himself and for all people to come to faith in Him. We are the ones who want to divide. We are the ones who think because someone is different, then they are bad and shouldn’t be “in the group.”

Does this sound like anyone you might know? As I am writing this, I realize I am describing ME. My guess is that description is also you. It seems to be human nature to be around people who are just like us. This makes us more comfortable. But God, wants us to be engaged in, not influenced by, the world around us. I believe the first thing to do is to come to faith in Christ so that we can be filled with His love, His presence, His life and see the world through His eyes.

Jesus broke all kinds of cultural boundaries, but He did it because He loves. We like to ask the question “What Would Jesus Do?” This is a dangerous question to ask because we know what Jesus would do, we just don’t always want to do what He would do. Jesus leveled the playing field. Because of Jesus there is no separation from lepers and society. Samaritans and Jews. Pharisees and citizens. Jews and Gentiles. Black or white. There is no distinction in any group because Christ breaks the veil we use to separate “us” from “them.”

This reconciliation God did through Christ first restores our relationship and standing with God and then frees us to bring reconciliation and healing to those around us who are “different” from us. Having our relationship with God restored means we allow God to change our lives from the inside out and we allow Christ to lead our lives. It begins with a simple communication and belief. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just about our relationship with God, but also our relationship with other people. This is why Jesus summed up the Law with two phrases, “love God and love people.” The Gospel changes EVERYTHING because now we can realize we are all on the same playing field with God. Some are coaches, some are players, some are caring for the team, some are in the stage of learning, etc. We are all on the same team. The Gospel changes us.

See you tomorrow in Ephesians 3!

#TheGospelChangesUs

Real Strength

One of the traits I have observed people attempting to show is being a “strong man” or “strong woman.” I believe it is important to be a strong person; however, it also seems that people may have somewhat of a wrong idea about what it means to be strong. These are some qualities that may provide some idea that show true strength (emotional, mental, social, etc). I invite you to study this list and see if something should be taken off or added.

A “strong man” or “strong woman” should:

  • be compassionate toward others
  • be able to listen
  • realize there are things we can learn from anyone
  • be able to learn from other people
  • not think anyone is beneath them
  • be the most loving person (without allowing others to “run over them”)

These are just some of the qualities and traits of strong people. What else would you add?

Why?

There is a simple question most children will ask and it consists of three letters–“Why?”. They are curious and are simply seeking out answers so they can try to learn what’s going on or the reason behind a particular question or statement,  etc.

As I have grown older, “why” has become a favorite question for me to ask simply because I enjoy learning the “behind the scenes” instead of what’s shown. Seeking answers to this simple, three worded,  question has helped me understand people and situations with a clearer view than just taking it at face value.

This question also teaches me and reminds me I do not know it all and that I still have much to learn. This excites me that I get to learn something new all of the time!

How often do you ask “why?” and listen to the answer? This simple question also helps us keep a childlike attitude when it comes to viewing the world and seeing people as they are. Not just their skin color or what they have; but as someone we can learn from and see how much value they have.