Experience the Power of the Holy Spirit

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

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The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us. This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

FOR ALL ORDERS DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, I WILL BE DONATING ALL OF THE PROCEEDS.

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.

Filling Positions

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:1-7 CEB.

If you have been in any position of leadership, you have heard about what aspects of the organization are missing or need to be redone. Anything that needs to be done can cause some anxiety among people because our first inclination is to fill the position quickly.

We look around us and find someone who has know-how for what needs to be done and then try to plug them into the role of the new ministry, new event, new aspect we know needs to come to fruition.

When we act with the mentality of placing a warm body to fill the position, how long does the program or event last? How much fruit/results will be seen through the new venture?

As we look at our passage for today, look at how the early Church filled positions. Notice the apostles had people come forward with complaints, with strong suggestions about what more needs to be done. We, as leaders, are not immune to having people complain or show areas that are not at their potential. It could be very easy for leaders to think they have to do everything and find the right people themselves. Or, if complaints are heard all the time then our hearts could become hardened to the true need around.

The apostles could have easily ignored the situation of people not getting food because they had “more important” work to do of proclaiming the gospel; but they didn’t. Instead, the apostles listened! They listened with concern for those around them. They listened with concern to those who were not getting what they needed. They listened.

Then, they commissioned the Greek-speaking disciples to seek out and find the right people. I am sure they took this task very seriously. If the rightly motivated, or gifted, people were not put in the roles of care, the task would not get done in the right spirit or carried out successfully.

Look at who they chose to provide the service: “Stephen, a man endowed by the Holy Spirit with exceptional faith, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.” They chose those who had been gifted and had the right demeanor for this important task. They were not just putting anyone in the position.

I have read books and have listened to great leaders and they always point to finding the people with the right passion and the skills can be learned. Many people believe leaders are made and not born. I believe it is a combination of both. If we can find the people with passion for the task and a vision to accomplish it, then we will hopefully get people who will encourage and build up the community. We are born with some leadership qualities and we can nurture and develop other qualities.

As you are searching for people to fill empty positions seek for passion, seek for being gifted, seek God’s hand, we will be able to have the right type of person to fulfill the task at hand.

Trust that when God places a vision on your heart for a new task, activity, mission, that he will also guide you to the right type of person to aid you.

Grace With You

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Ephesians 6:21-24 Tychicus, my loved brother and faithful servant of the Lord, can inform you about my situation and what I’m doing. I’ve sent him for this reason—so that you will know about us. He can reassure you. May there be peace with the brothers and sisters as well as love with the faith that comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ forever. 

Paul always ends his letters with a statement of grace. Even though there are times when he had to scold the congregations he planted, he wanted them to know and live into the grace that God was giving. I believe we could take the example of Paul and be sure to send people who will keep information correct about us, but also be there to support and build up the community.

These are trusted people by Paul and he knows their gifts and graces. Paul sends Tychicus because he knows the job he will do and that he will be able to reassure the people. Can you imagine what it would be like to have you leader thrown in jail and you are carrying on after this happened. What must have been going through their minds. But Paul is as calm as he can be and find great excitement in showing people the love of God in all his words and actions. This is Paul’s purpose.

He also longs for there to be peace among the brothers and sisters because there can be strife; but Paul wants the people to live in peace because this is the life that Christ calls us to. Peace even when everything seems to be going wrong around us. This peace is not just everything working out; but it is an inward peace which we have opened ourselves up to to show we are trusting in the Living God. This peace and faith comes through Jesus Christ and is offered to those who love the Lord Jesus Christ forever.

Paul’s salutation is full of life and grace. Is this how we leave people when we’re not around them? How can we work with God toward bringing the message of peace to those who need it most?

#TheGospelChangesUs

Old vs New Part 4

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Ephesians 4:29-32 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. 

This is where I feel Paul is really stepping on my toes. How can he write this and expect that people live like this? It almost seems too difficult. After all, don’t the people around us make us do the things that we do? Aren’t we obligated to speak what we want to say and “need to say” so the other person knows how they are in the wrong? Paul is finishing this chapter with this seemingly negative command. It can almost seem like he is in your face and telling you directly that you and I are the ones in the wrong and he is proving it to us. But, this is not what Paul is talking about. For the past few days, we have been looking at the differences between the “old” way of life and the “new” way of life.

So, why should we desire to live this way? What’s in it for us? The truth is that we should live this way because it is God who forgave us and is compassionate toward us. How bad is it when you give a gift and the person you gave it to treated everyone else as poor? This is the same kind of thing. God has shown us grace, forgiveness and mercy, why shouldn’t we freely give as we have been given?

Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and love people. Even if someone treats us wrong, we should look at our response. We like to justify our actions and show people why they are the ones in the wrong; but we are all asked to live to a higher standard. This means loving our enemies, feeding them, turning the other cheek, not judging, etc (see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). This kind of life is not easy with out Christ. For, when we lean on Christ and trust in Christ, we can see the value in other people and live lives of humility and patience toward all people. God has freely given us grace and forgiveness, how can we pass this on to others so they too know God’s grace and love personally?

Tomorrow, we journey into Ephesians 5!

#TheGospelChangesUs

Sharing What We’ve Learned

Ephesians 3:1-7 This is why I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ for you Gentiles. You’ve heard, of course, about the responsibility to distribute God’s grace, which God gave to me for you, right? God showed me his secret plan in a revelation, as I mentioned briefly before (when you read this, you’ll understand my insight into the secret plan about Christ). Earlier generations didn’t know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I became a servant of the gospel because of the grace that God showed me through the exercise of his power. 

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At first when I read this, it almost seems that Paul is acting smug, “I know this…and was revealed to ME…” But I think there is something deeper to what Paul is saying. If this were this only passage we read of Paul’s writings, we miss what the entire message is. Paul is overflowing with the grace of God and is held responsible to share this grace with all people he encounters.

Think of a time when you were given knowledge. Were you the only one? Did it make you feel part of the group to know the same things they know? We all like to be “in the know” and to know things other people don’t. This can give us superiority and authority over others. If we’re not careful, we will us that knowledge for ourselves. There is always something more that we can know other people don’t. Secrets and gossip are rampant. I have fun with people when I sing to them, “I know something you don’t know.” This is a fun thing to do.

Now, what if we are given some incredible news, like anything God reveals to us, and we just try to keep it to ourselves and don’t share? Paul is reminding us that he has a responsibility to share the good news that was revealed to him. I believe God still reveals wisdom and truth to us today through His Spirit. What is something you feel God has spoken to you? Paul is saying that the plan of God is to bring ALL people to God through Jesus Christ. This is an awesome plan because that means that God is wanting you and me to come to faith and knowledge in Him. This is something we cannot keep to ourselves. If we are given some insight to what God is doing, that means we are spending time with God and we see the world through His eyes which means we share what we have learned.

This is one of the things I love about the book of Ephesians, about the whole Bible really, that God’s grace and mercy is available for all people. There are stories in the Old Testament through the New Testament that show God speaking to His people and giving them a word or insight the rest of the culture needs to hear. This is what Paul is doing. This is what we are called to do.

Because of Jesus Christ everything is different. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that changes us and transforms us to new creations who go out and make a difference in the lives of those around us and share in the goodness of God in all aspects of our lives.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Sharing Life

Today, we begin the final chapter in Galatians. This is a great chapter on how we should live in community with others in the faith.

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Galatians 6:1-5 Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. Each person will have to carry their own load. 

Throughout the letter of Galatians, Paul is speaking of a personal faith in Christ and how Christ gives individuals freedom. Now in chapter 6, the last chapter of this letter, Paul shifts his focus from the individual to the community. This should remind us that Christ is working in us personally, but Christ is also working through the community. I am not going to pretend that living in a community is easy; nor will I say it is peaceful. When we add other people into our lives, life becomes more, not less complicated. But, Paul is reminding us how we should live and encourage each other.

Paul reminds us that we should be gentle. Oftentimes we say that the other person needs to be told just like it is and it doesn’t matter how the words come out. They need to know they are wrong! This is true; but there seems to be a way to correct, but also build up so that the other person can become better. We can affirm the person’s strengths and good qualities, then we can speak of what went wrong. The end of verse one is something we should also keep in mind: Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. This reminds us that we are also susceptible for the same kinds of actions and attitudes as that of the person we are there to correct.

We do not live this life alone so. This statement by Paul reminds us how we should be with each other: Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. I think it is awesome, Paul found another way to say the simple phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the law of Christ. We should be the people who do not allow others to live, or think they live, this life alone; there are always people there for them even when life seems to go down the drain. But he also goes on to say, If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves.” To me, this means we need to be humble and not think highly of ourselves. Many times if we are trying to help someone in need, we want them to get the help they need, our way. It becomes hard to listen to a person who thinks they are more important than they are.

Conversely, we should not compare ourselves with anyone else. We should be the people who do our work to the glory of God, which means we do it as best as we can. Then, when our work is tested, we know for sure we did what we were supposed to do. We have our own work to do, so we must do our job and not add to other people’s work load just because we don’t want to do it.

Our faith in Christ gives us absolute freedom to be there for people, no matter how different they are from us, and to do our work the best we can. When we live in this way, we proclaim Christ with our entire lives, words and actions.

“LiveFreeInChrist

*photo credit: counselingoneanother.com

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 4 of 4

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

I have heard it said it takes a people an average of 10 times to hear the gospel (good news) message of Jesus Christ before they decide to make any life change. Our job is just to be faithful to the Spirit’s leading and go when he says “go.”

So let’s look at the parable again with the lense of learning how to witness and share our faith:

  1. The shepherd know there is part of the flock that is missing.
    1. This means we should be open to hearing from God to see what the situation is (this applies to unbelievers as well as those who have strayed away for whatever reason)
    2. All this means is that we simply leave our place of comfort (being with those like us) and moving toward those God is leading us to.
  2. The Shepherd “goes for a walk.”
    1. We see the shepherd meets the sheep exactly where it is.
    2. For us, it is simply listening to the other person so they feel valued (people will not come to love and follow Jesus if we do not show compassion and love toward them)
  3. The shepherd does not judge or condemn.
    1. He just carefully pick up the sheep (our case: speaking God’s love to the person) and guides it back to the flock.
    2. The shepherd is constantly guiding and being the right example to point the sheep to the life that God can and does offer for ALL.

That is really how simple it is. In the midst of the conversations we have, at some point it may become spiritual. So I invite you to think about how you came to faith (your personal faith story). This is basically 3 things: How you came to faith, how you are different because of your faith, and why your faith continues to be important for you. The best part is, this can be done in 100 words or less (45 seconds to 1 minute). I would be happy to sit down and work with you on this.

An example testimony:

I was raised to think of and believe in God and Jesus Christ. In my teenage years, I drifted from the church but always felt a hole and a longing to return. My friends helped me see and experience God in studies, prayer, etc. When I look back, I see that God has pursued me and that I have sensed his presence throughout my life. Jesus Christ broke me out of the prisons of selfishness and pride so that I could experience this new life that only he can give.

After this we can share the good news (the gospel message).

Examples of what you might say:

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now I’m found;

was blind, but now I see.

John 3:16-17

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send the Son in the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

The important thing is that we speak of the Gospel in personal terms, however you might say it: God created everything. People strayed. Jesus Christ came, showed us how to live and rose from the dead so we would have eternal life and know God personally. It is by God’s grace we are saved.

God is actively seeking out those people who are far away from him. We have the opportunity to join with God in this endeavor.

There may be people thinking, “my faith story is not important enough or valid enough to share.”

Every story and person matters. I invite you to take a name tag. On it, I would like you to write your first name. Below your name write:

“I can share my faith story, it matters!”

Now, wear your name tag throughout worship and at least on your way home.

No one is too far from God. No story is invalid. Here is our challenge: this week, if we are open to is, God will place in our path someone we should talk to. I hope and pray we all take the time to see God working in us so that we can reach out to those people in need so they can enter the joy, rest and real life God through Jesus Christ offers to all people.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 3

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

For some reason, many of us, including me, are timid or afraid to witness our faith about Jesus Christ to another person.

  • They say 90% feel they have failed in witnessing attempts in the past.
  • They are biblically illiterate.
  • They leave it to the professionals.
  • We shouldn’t impose our faith on others.
  • My actions will speak for me so I don’t have to talk.

Our job is not to try and “convert” someone to the Christian faith. Our job is to continually point people to the faith by our actions AND our words. A simple definition of witnessing is “to see or hear or experience something and to testify to it’s occurrence.”

Another definition comes from Stuart Briscoe, “A witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible evidence of what he has seen and heard without being deterred by the consequences of his actions.”

Basically a question we should all answer is, “if we know and have possession of something or information that brings us joy, should we hesitate to share?”

We love to tell (share with) people about the restaurant, the movie, the new drink, the new friend, etc..

Evangelism is much easier than most people may think. It boils down to this: “just take a walk and begin a conversation with someone and see how the conversation naturally flows.

This is an aspect of our everyday lives. We have been studying and practicing this concept in our Saturday worship as well as in the youth group. Notice this also, evangelism can be done anywhere: at the store, in rush hour traffic, at home, in our neighborhood, school, work, etc.. The shepherd was at work.

“But,” you might say, “I’m not allowed to talk about Jesus at school or at work.” This is kind of true. Our actions, work habits and demeanor should lead people to ask questions like, “what makes you so different, joyful, peaceful, able to cope with this stress?”

At this point, we can share.

There is no secret to evangelism. There really are simple steps we all can take to point another person toward Jesus Christ. Think about this for a moment, who was it that brought you to faith? Parents, children, teens, pastor, friend, youth director–who?

So many people encounter those “zealous” Christians who want to constantly change someone’s mind about Christ and feel it is their job to get the person to “make a commitment” right then and there. We should speak the truth so that people will be open to hear the voice of God speaking to their lives. It is then people will be able to begin to change their lives and follow Christ.

Simple Steps (Sharing Our Faith) Part 2

This blog series (parts 1-4) is the sermon teaching how to share our faith in Jesus Christ easily and naturally. Sermon given by Ryan Stratton on Sunday, September 21, 2014.

The Scripture reference for this sermon is Luke 15:1-7.

We all know the saying, “there is one in every crowd.” Well Jesus says this shepherd knows exactly how many sheep are in the flock. ALL of a sudden, when he was doing roll call and looking over past attendance, the shepherd notices one of the sheep is not there. There’s one in every crowd who always likes to do their own thing and not clue the others in or simply may not want to follow. The sheep stopped coming to prayer group, Sunday School, Bible Study, worship, etc… One just wanted to do it’s own thing!

Can you feel the tension and panic from the shepherd who unconditionally cares for each individual sheep? “One of the sheep under my watch and care has gone missing!”

Did you also catch that 99 stayed behind? Sheep usually do not go off alone. People don’t either unless something may be wrong. Maybe this one sheep felt abandoned. Maybe he saw a shiny object, or a squirrel, and gravitated toward it. Maybe the other sheep did not like him…they wouldn’t let him play in the sheep games. Maybe he did not feel welcome, even if the other sheep were the most welcoming and gracious people. Our imaginations could come up a many ideas why the sheep left the safety of the flock. The point is the sheep is missing!

Without thinking or hesitating, the shepherd goes off and searches for the missing sheep out in the wilderness and among any type of danger, ridicule, etc.. he might encounter.

The shepherd finds the sheep! What does the shepherd do when he finds the sheep?

He tries to convince it to return…no.

He begins to shame the sheep for wandering off…no.

He tells the sheep of the wonderful activities the rest of the flock is doing so he’ll be enticed to come back…no.

The only thing the shepherd is interested in is that the lost, confused, loner sheep has been found. So he bends down and gently picks up the sheep and carries it back on his shoulders ALL THE WAY back to the flock. Without complaining, without saying someone else will come get you, without plotting how the sheep will be blamed for making the shepherd go out of his way. The shepherd took the initiative and rejoiced the whole way back!

When he gets back with the rest of the flock, the shepherd throws a party–not for admiration of himself; but because the sheep is back! He throws the party for the sheep!

Imagine this: in all three of the parables there is an act of repentance. The sheep in this story could not repent of it’s own; but the very act of it allowing the shepherd to pick it up and carry it back to safety is a symbol of repentance because the sheep completely trusts the shepherd to care for it and lead it.

I’m sure sometime while the sheep was out, it thought (if sheep could think this way), “I’m lost and I am getting hungry and thirsty and I am all alone and scared. I don’t know the way back. I need help! Where is my guide? When the shepherd appears the sheep allows him to carry it. In essence, the sheep was saying, “I cannot do this on my own and I know now I should stay with you.”

God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “I myself will search for  my flock and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of cloud and thick darkness….I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12;16a)

God is working in us and through us. He is constantly inviting us to participate in bringing more people into his flock and back into the flock. This is why we witness and share our faith.