Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 35 - Live a life worthy of the calling

Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV) 
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

READ THE WHOLE CHAPTER

A gray-haired man walks haltingly through the cemetery at Normandy on the north coast of France. He passes through the sea of white crosses marking the resting places of hundreds of young men whose lives were cut off on D-Day decades earlier. He drops to his knees in front of the marker of someone who saved his life, and struggles to get out a plea to his wife who is standing at his side: “Tell me I’ve lived a good life...Tell me I’m a good man.” 

In this, the opening scene in the film Saving Private Ryan, the man wants to know if he has lived a life worthy of those who sacrificed so much. 

The world would be radically different if those who believed in Christ truly lived lives worthy of his sacrifice. This was what the apostle Paul longed for among believers: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling.” 

The calling of God is a gift and a summons. It is a call to something, to be something. To be “completely humble” in a culture of presumption and arrogance. To be “gentle” in the face of harshness and unkindness. To be “patient” when instant gratification is the driving force of society. To “bear with one another in love” instead of discarding people who irritate or inconvenience us.
The call of God also summons us to unity. This is God’s plan for mending fragmented lives: “the unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace, one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one Father.” It begins here: “you were called to one hope when you were called.” 

The crosses at Normandy remind us of the one cross—the cross of Jesus—which summons us all to a higher level. That call must not be taken lightly.

PONDER:  What is one area of life where you know you are not living “a life worthy of the calling”? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
When we begin a friendship with God, we become a new creation, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Part of becoming this new creation is shown through the traits that we begin to live out in our everyday lives. We find three of these traits in Ephesians 4:2. 

Read Ephesians 4:2. What does it mean to be humble? When have you been humble? What does it mean to be gentle? Where do you need to be gentle? What does it mean to be patient? When is it hard for you to be patient? What are some ways you can love others?
 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 34 - A Masterpiece in the Making

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

For generations, Tibetan weavers in Nepal and Tibet have been making wool rugs from hand-spun, hand-dyed wool. Weavers use a unique loop and weave these rugs by hand, knot by knot. An average 6 x 9 foot rug contains between 450,000 and 800,000 knots, representing over one thousand hours of work. These rugs are unique masterpieces sold at premium prices all over the world.

The apostle Paul writes that those who have experienced the saving grace of God in Christ have become his handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). Paul uses the word poeima, meaning something made, a masterpiece. Paul explained to the young believers that they have been saved and made alive by the grace of God in Christ, not by anything they could do, and that God now continues his work of craftsmanship in their lives. These masterpieces are created for a purpose: to habitually walk in good works—those good, distinguished, honorable, and excellent undertakings and deeds that the world needs. Paul’s use of masterpiece imagery does not so much suggest completion, but the reality that believers are the work of God’s hands, masterpieces in the making.

Masterpiece imagery is used elsewhere in the Bible and refers to creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). A finely crafted masterpiece of any art form evokes wonder. It points to the artisan, composer, or creator. What kind of person could create such a thing? How did she do that? How long did it take? Whether one is gazing at Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, admiring a hand-woven Tibetan rug, or listening to Beethoven’s 9th symphony, there is some effect produced in the beholder—appreciation, curiosity, admiration, or even awe. God’s divine masterpieces, the created world and re-created, rescued followers in that world, ultimately point to the glory of the Creator.

C. S. Lewis once said that we are truly divine works of art, made by God who is not satisfied until it has a certain character. Reimagining one’s life as an ongoing poiema, a masterpiece in the making, helps put the realities of one’s life—suffering, joys, failures, successes—into a larger perspective that God is somehow still at work in our lives.

PONDER:  As God’s “masterpiece in the making,” which part of your life could evoke wonder in those who are watching? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
We are God’s handiwork. What an amazing truth! He created us, on purpose, and for a purpose. The best way to think about the idea of being God’s handiwork is by creating something yourself. Take time today to make a masterpiece. Consider one of the following ideas for making a masterpiece. When the piece is finished reflect or discuss what you like about the masterpiece. Are you proud? Was it hard work? Did it take a lot of time?  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day 33 - Divine Paradox

1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (ESV) - But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


Every year, Time magazine publishes an issue entitled, “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” The magazine features people considered to be world shapers: entertainers, inventors, artists, leaders, politicians. In 2013, Time included an unlikely young, Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who survived an attack by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan in 2012 as she was on her way home from school. Fortunately, Malala recovered and has since become an advocate for human rights on behalf of young women and girls in one of the most violent regions of the world. Malala is an unlikely influencer to take on the power and violence of Taliban extremism, yet her story shows the paradox of the weak shaming the strong.

The apostle Paul appeals to this paradox as he addresses a struggling and immature church in ancient Corinth. A bustling place of commerce, Corinth was also a city filled with hard-drinking and hard-living people. The church Paul had started over a year earlier was beginning to fall apart. Division, blatant sexual immorality, power-grabbing, boasting, and in-fighting had put the fledgling fellowship in disarray.

Paul challenges these struggling believers to reimagine their lives and calling to Christ as part of a divine paradox: God chooses the foolish (literally, the moronic) to shame the wise (the educated and erudite); the weak (infirm and feeble) to shame the strong (the powerful and influential); and the lowly (base and low- born) to accomplish his saving acts.

The identity and self-worth of a follower of Jesus are not based on achievement, family background, or education, but rather on the work of God in a believer’s life. None of the Corinthian believers would have made Corinth’s list of the top 100 influential people—most of them were of ignoble birth, uneducated, and under-achievers. Yet God had done a work in them. They became living examples of the divine paradox, and that, Paul says, was something worth boasting about!

PONDER:
Where have you seen God powerfully use something or someone that seemed weak or foolish?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
Being boastful has a clear negative connotation. It’s so easy to get fed up with people who are proud and constantly brag about their accomplishments and abilities. This verse flips the idea of boasting on its head. In 1 Corinthians 1:31, Paul instructs the Corinthians to boast in the Lord. When God shows up in our lives in amazing ways, we can talk about it in front of everyone.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:31. What does it mean to boast? What are some amazing things God has done in your life? Where have you seen God show up? Who can you share one of these amazing stories about God with? Find time to share your story this week. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Day 32 - The Fellowship of the Son

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (ESV) I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic tale The Lord of the Rings begins with a volume entitled The Fellowship of the Ring. It describes a band of comrades whose lives were intertwined in a great and dangerous quest. They were different from one another: four hobbits, two men, one elf, a dwarf, and a wizard—but they were bound to each other by a cause, and thus they were a “fellowship.”

In real life, there are relationships in which we so deeply and completely share our lives, that they are best described as “fellowship.” Two people bound together in marriage, a platoon of soldiers who share everything and whose lives depend on one another, the founders of a major social cause.
Koinonia in the Greek New Testament, “fellowship,” is translated in different verses as “participation,” “communion,” “partnership,” and “sharing.” The root of the word—koinos—means “common.” So koinonia is “the common life” or “the shared life.”

When Paul says, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son” (1 Cor. 1:9), he is saying that the believer has been summoned (called) by God into a “shared life” with Jesus. This is comprehensive. The “shared life” of Jesus includes the grace by which we are forgiven (v. 1), knowledge and expression (v. 2), every “spiritual gift” (v. 3), and the hope that at the end of all things we will be found blameless because of Jesus (v. 4).

We need to be careful not to speak superficially or casually about “having a relationship with Jesus.” The shared life to which we are called is to be forgiven in Jesus, graced by Jesus, taught by Jesus, immersed in Jesus, confronted by Jesus, empowered by Jesus, guided by Jesus, suffered with Jesus, resurrected with Jesus.

It is an explosive thing to say, “I belong to the fellowship of the Son.”

PONDER: When you think about God calling you into a complete, immersive shared life with Jesus, what kind of reaction do you have?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
In 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 we see that through our relationship with Jesus, we have been enriched in every way and that God works in us through our spiritual gifts. As we grow in our understanding and relationship with God, he begins to further develop these gifts.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. Spiritual gifts are given to us by God to help us show the love of God to other people. Try to decide which gift fits with each person in your family: encouragement (supporting others); evangelism (telling others about Jesus); faith (trusting God even in hard times); giving (sacrificing to meet the needs of others); helping (doing what needs to be done); mercy (caring for hurting and suffering people).
 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Do you know WHY?

Easter Sunday is only a few days away... DO YOU KNOW WHY we celebrate it?  Does your neighbor or your family member know why YOU celebrate it?

Do they (or even you) know why YOU go to church?  Why you worship? Serve?  Give?  Make Disciples?  Connect in small groups?  Participate in communion or get baptized? 

The question WHY is one that is asked by all people of all ages from all walks of life.  If you really think about it, the answer to the questions of WHY have helped shape us to who we are right now.

We are going to dive into the WHY's starting on Easter Sunday and then look deeper into them weekly until summer... but even before then, here is a question that I think everyone asks...

WHY PRAY?

It is a valid question and we even have a Connection Group devoted to the topic.  Why do you pray?  Why should we pray?

Here’s the short answer: because Jesus told us to. In Luke 18:1 we read, “And he (Jesus) told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Of course, Jesus himself provided us with an example. Though He was God in human form, Jesus had a very deep prayer life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39). On the cross, Jesus prayed... And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Look at the raising of Lazarus.  Before doing anything, Jesus prayed.   “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  (John 11:41-43)

Before Jesus fed the five thousand, Jesus prayed (Matthew 14:19).

And these are just a few examples throughout scripture.

If Jesus felt the need to pray, then how much more should we feel the need to pray? He gave us an example to follow.

And here is another thing to consider. Even if prayer were extremely difficult, which it is not, even if prayer were painful to engage in, which it isn’t, and even if we never received answers, which isn’t the case, we still should pray. Why? Because we are commanded in the Scriptures to do so.

You will see on our BE THE CHURCH weekend we have opportunities to pray for people "driving through" as well as walk neighborhoods and pray.  We need to do this... and we need to be praying in advance for this event and the week leading up to Easter...

WHY - because Jesus told us to and gave us a great example to follow.

Day 31 - More than Wishful thinking

Romans 8:28-30 (ESV) -
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

When things weren’t going well, someone may say to you: “Don’t worry, everything is going to work out okay.” But is that just wishful thinking? 

Sometimes people are naively optimistic. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister, who returned from a meeting with Adolf Hitler, proclaimed that Hitler’s assuring words meant there would be “peace for our time.” A day later, Hitler began his aggression. Some well-meaning people will say your doctor’s warnings are nothing to worry about—and then you find out things aren’t so good. False optimism is wishful thinking shouted out loud. 

Romans 8:28 offers a different kind of optimism: “And we know that in all things God works for the good...” Not that all things are good (they are not). Not that all things add up to a positive sum (life is not arithmetic). Not that all things become good things. Rather, God is at work amidst “all things,” which means every day and every chapter of life, even the dark ones. He is at work. He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t leave. Any work that God does is good because he is God. Even the bad chapters of life end up being passageways to something better. There is light at the end of the tunnel—there really is. 

Who can have this kind of hope? “Those who have been called according to his purpose.”
It works like this: God foreknows (understands with love)...God predestines (prepares ahead of time)...God calls...God justifies...God glorifies. 

You’ve fallen off a ship and are sinking in the waves. The captain, who is concerned for all his passengers (foreknowledge) grabs the lifebuoy hanging on the boat’s side (predestination—a way of salvation prepared ahead of time), shouts out to you (calls), throws the ring to where you are (justifies), and pulls you safely to the ship (glorifies). 

When we believe that we are “called according to God’s purpose,” today’s sufferings have a wider context. We can know that things really are going to work out.

PONDER:  How can we let hope have a stronger voice in our lives than our pessimism does?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
We live in a fallen and broken world. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in the ugly and the bad that we forget that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him...” Not all things are good, but in the midst of everything we can trust in God, who knows all, understands all, cares for all and is working for the good.
Read Romans 8:28 and Isaiah 41:10. What are some sad/bad/ugly things that have happened to you? How does having a relationship with Jesus give us hope when those things happen? Pray.
 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day 30 - Goodbye?

Acts 20:36-38 (ESV) -  And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.  And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

(Read all of Acts 20)

Words of farewell are sometimes difficult, memorable, poignant. Note these examples from history: Napolean (1814): “Adieu my friends. Would I could press you all to my heart.” Winston Churchill (1955): “The day may dawn when fair play, love for one’s fellow men, respect for justice and freedom, will enable tormented generations to march forth serene and triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell. Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair.” Nelson Mandela (1999): “Though I shall not be seen as much as I have been, I shall be amongst you and with you as we enter the African century; working together to make a reality of our hopes for a better world.” 

Saying goodbye is not easy. We say goodbye to loved ones, colleagues, friends, family, and sometimes even nations. Seasoned with perspective and sadness, such words carry a mixture of grief, hope, sadness, love, and wisdom. Words of farewell remind us that whatever we do in life, whether great or small, is for but a season.

The apostle Paul spent only two years in the city of Ephesus, planting a church and solidifying a young congregation of believers. Two years later, he called the leaders of the church together and delivered his farewell speech. In Acts 20:17–38, he looks back on his relatively short time spent among the Ephesian elders. His heartfelt words recount his time among them—an investment marked by humility, service, gospel-centeredness, hard work, preaching, and teaching. His final words before he set off on the ship, simply echoed Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (vs. 35). Though Paul’s work among the Ephesians was finished, God had plenty more in store for Paul. In the next ten years, he would go on to write six more of his epistles, travel, preach, and teach across the Mediterranean world, until his eventual house arrest and martyrdom in Rome.
What’s in a goodbye? Among other things, a reminder that our place in God’s plan includes seasons, some long and others short. But even the shorter seasons, as in the example of Paul in Ephesus, God uses for his purposes.

PONDER:  How would you describe the "season" you are in today?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
In Acts 20, Paul delivers a powerful farewell. Paul reminds the believers of how he used his time with them. Paul shares how he acted with great humility and tears, and how he preached the truth. Paul made the most of his time with these believers. During this time he was able to spur them on to deepen their relationship with God.
Read Acts 20:36-37.  Before Paul says goodbye to his friends he explains all of the ways he cared well for them. What are some ways you would like your family and friends to love you and care for you? What are some ways you can encourage and support your family and friends?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 29 - A Call for Help

Acts 16:9-10 (ESV) - And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

(Read ALL of ACTS 16)

Bob worked for years as a financial advisor before he found an opportunity to help some young, unemployed men with some job training. The young men belonged to a severely depressed part of the city where unemployment was very high. With the passage of time, Bob was helping more and more young men who were referred to him, mostly through the network of a local church, which Bob eventually began attending every other weekend. It was a life he never would have imagined years earlier.

Sometimes the call of God—the summons for the next thing God wants us to do or to be committed to—comes in the form of a call from someone for help.

That is exactly what happened in a dramatic incident in the book of Acts. The apostle Paul and his fellow travelers were traveling through Asia Minor (what we know as Turkey), spreading the good news of Jesus from town to town. They were not able to travel in some regions they wanted to cover and ended up in the city of Troas. During the night, Paul had an unusual vision in a dream: a man from Macedonia summoning Paul with: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In obedience to the vision, they set out by sea the following day, crossing over eventually into Macedonia, and a new continent: Europe.

This historic turning point meant that, in the centuries to follow, Christianity spread to the West, through Europe, and then to the Americas. Paul was not inclined to go that way, but a plea for help changed the direction of history.

Any of us, on any given day, may hear someone say: “Could you please come here and help us?” When we react with generosity and grace we are doing the right thing in the moment. But there may come a day when one act of assistance leads us on a wholly unexpected trajectory for our lives. A call for help can be a call (of God) to help (for a long time). At the end of our lives, those are the opportunities we will remember the most.

PONDER:  Is there someone who is calling for your help at this time?

REFLECTION and DISCUSSION:
Paul and his companions shared the truth about Jesus as they traveled about. One night as Paul was sleeping in Troas he had a vision. A man was calling him to help in Macedonia. Paul responded to the dream and went. When do we hear others’ calling for help? Are we willing to respond?

Read Acts 16:9-10.  How did Paul respond to this man’s call for help? When have you needed help? Did someone help you? How can you respond when you hear others calling for help?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 28 - Going First.

Acts 13:1-3 (ESV) - Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

(Read all of Acts 13)

Pioneers are people who break new ground, explore the unexplored, do what has never been done, often putting their lives at risk. Pioneers have one thing in common: they go first. Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon. Amelia Earheart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. David Livingstone was the first missionary doctor to explore the continent of Africa. They all went first.

Since its inception, the church of Jesus Christ has been a pioneering church. Acts 13 is a turning point in the growth of Christianity, as God calls Barnabas and Saul to a pioneering work: to preach the gospel among the Gentiles (non-Jewish, Greek-speaking people). They were called to parts distant and unknown. They would be breaking new ground. Their calling is a reminder that sometimes God summons people to a pioneering work or task—something that is a “first,” something that is distant—geographically, linguistically, culturally, or even economically. Paul and Barnabas were breaking new ground, they were true pioneers. 

Note the circumstances of Paul and Barnabas’ calling. They were part of a church community that worshipped and earnestly sought the will of God. They were already serving locally and were among a diverse group of leaders in Antioch who exercised their diverse gifts. They were summoned by God, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the church affirmed and confirmed their call, releasing them for the work. Summoned, confirmed—in prayerful dependence—to go first. 

God still calls and summons pioneers—those who go first. Whether it is as a cross-cultural missionary to one of the 7,000 unreached people groups in the world today, or simply to a new person, place, or neighborhood here at home. 

The church still sends pioneers, people who are led to reimagine their place in God’s plan.

PONDER:  Where is God calling you to "go first?"

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
Imagine the excitement, fear, and hope Barnabas and Saul must have been feeling when the Holy Spirit gave the call for them to go. We have the chance to have the same response to such amazing calls today. How will we respond to God’s call in our lives to go? 

Read Acts 13:1-3. Whom did God call? God called Barnabas and Saul to go to grow the church. What is something God might be calling you to? Pray for God’s call on you.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Day 27 - Hitting "Send"

John 20:20-21 (ESV) - When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

(READ JOHN 20)

The first text message ever sent was in 1992 by software engineer, Neil Papworth. The message simply read: “Merry Christmas.” Today over 8.9 trillion text messages are sent each year. This translates into 8.9 trillion taps of the SEND button on mobile devices, a behavior that has become an almost unconscious, daily habit of much of the human race.

In one of his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, Jesus had something to say about “sending,” reiterating what he had said in his prayer in John 17: “Just as you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world.”

Theologian David Bosch wrote that “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.”

God is a “sending” God. The word “mission” literally means “a sending.” Throughout biblical history, sending is a common theme as seen in the lives of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Jonah, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, culminating in God sending Jesus. Jesus’ sending was unique and preeminent among all the other “sendings” in the Bible, yet is also a model for his followers: “As the Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you.” The manner of Jesus’ “sending” is to characterize his followers’ sending.

Incarnation (enfleshment) characterizes Jesus’ “sent-ness.” The incarnation is one of the great mysteries of the biblical story—that God would become flesh and dwell among us (Jn. 1:14). When God hit the SEND button, it was not a text, nor words put into binary code, but a life—the life of his Son, Jesus, who lived amidst a fallen, broken, sinful humanity. His very life and incarnation was a mission or “sent-ness” that embodied relationship, human touch, suffering, obedience, humility, proclamation, boldness, and dependence on God the Father.

Jesus was both messenger and message. He was sent, and sends us, as his mission continues. Mission is not just a task, but is at the core of one’s identity as a disciple. Followers of Jesus are sent into the world (as Jesus was) to live and proclaim the gospel life in a way that models the incarnation—wherever he sends us.

PONDER:  Where or to whom has God sent you today? Where or to whom might he be sending you in the future?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
In John 20:21 we read about Jesus sending out his followers. Today God is still sending us out. Where each person is being sent looks different. Some of us are sent to faraway countries while others are sent into workplaces and schools. God is sending ALL AGES. He has a specific place where he wants each one of us to engage.
Read John 21:21. Where might God be sending you? Would he ask you to start talking to your friends? Take time and pray... ask God to help you understand where he might be sending you.
 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 26 - The Harvest

Luke 10:1-2 (ESV) After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

(READ Luke 10)
They were walking in the countryside—in fields of ripe grain that bent back and forth with the least gust of wind—in the wide open spaces of Galilee. No towns here. No crowds, no buildings, no noise. Jesus’ disciples took heads of the grain, rubbed it between their hands, and ate the kernels (Luke 6:1). They were each familiar with the Jewish festivals that celebrated the harvest—and the God of the good harvest. Snooping Pharisees witnessing the scene challenged Jesus. Why was he allowing his followers to work on a Sabbath day?

People who block God’s blessing are never far from any of us.

So when, sometime later, Jesus sent seventy-two of his followers out on a mission of proclamation and healing, they understood what he meant by “the Lord of the harvest,” who is looking for workers to bring in the long-awaited crops of the divine farmer.

The sending of the seventy-two—which happens to be the number of known nations at that time—was Jesus’ signal that all of his followers would be recruited as workers to go into all the nations. Jesus was calling his followers, then and now, to join him in two great actions: healing and proclamation.

“Heal the sick.” Miraculous physical healing in Jesus’ time is the pattern for all mission-minded healing initiatives. There is no end to the number of ways today we can support the healing of people who are ill or marginalized or abused or depressed or enslaved.

“Tell them ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’” We promote healing because King Jesus broke into the world to signal that the power of God really is going to set all things right in the end, and so we get to start setting things right now. It is time for harvest, which is possible only because God has brought women and men and children to a point where the goodness is ready to break out.

PONDER:  What roadblocks do we need to get over so that we will commit to being God’s workers in the field of the world?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
After reading Luke 10, picture a field ready for harvest.  What would happen if no one ever went into that field to reap the harvest?  What would the results be? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 25 - The Call of the Cross

Luke 9:23-25 (ESV) - And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

(READ LUKE 9

Believers know that the Bible says we must be “crucified with Christ,” which means radical self-denial that leads to real life. But not many people can say that they were crucified as Christ.

Jim Caviezel can.

At the age of thirty-three, Caviezel played the role of Jesus in the massively popular and controversial film, The Passion of the Christ. The film has the most graphic and bloody imagery of the suffering of Jesus of any film ever made about the crucifixion. Jim Caviezel took on an acting role that was grueling, traumatizing, and emptying. But the “crucifixion” of Jim Caviezel came in the years following the film, as Hollywood shunned him for taking the role. When Mel Gibson offered the role to Caviezel, he told him his career would likely suffer. Caviezel’s response: “We all have a cross to carry. I have to carry my own cross. If we don’t carry our crosses, we are going to be crushed under the weight of it.” 

Jesus offers us everything we will ever need, but the way that happens is if we give up everything we ever wanted. That is the call of the cross. It looks like the worst bargain a person could experience, but it is in fact the single life transaction that leads to true prosperity and joy. 

Self-denial is the way to self-fulfillment. This is hard for us to understand, even harder to do, but is true. Being crucified with Christ is not about going through hardship. It is about choosing to give up control. And that is why it leads to life. Christ’s absolute lordship over our lives—pure, direct, powerful, unambiguous, sustained—is the only way our lives will be continually shaped by and filled by the grace and truth of Jesus. 

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British media personality and an adult convert to Christianity put it this way: “I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.”

PONDER:  What parts of life are hardest for you to give up control over?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
When people were sentenced to be crucified they carried their own crosses. Their focus shifted, and the little things no longer mattered. When we “take up our cross” we put our focus on the things that matter most to God. We desire to become more and more like him, and in that process, things that were once very important to us become less important as our call as his followers becomes more important. 

Read Luke 9:23-25. What are things that should be important to you if you want to be more like Jesus? What are things that might need to become less important to us as a family as we grow closer to God?
 
 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Endale's "Gotcha" Day

We have personal blogs on blogger (supersellerssix.blogspot.com /
longingforlilly.blogspot.com / apieceofhisplan.blogspot.com) but I
wanted to share this with the church - you all were such a huge part of
helping us get him home (see the last post of apieceofhisplan)... and
helping shape him since he has been home.

Thank you for all of your support!
Pastor Matt


Rescued for Love - Rescued to Love.

Today is St Patrick's Day.  Around the Sellers' house it is also "Gotcha" Day.  It is the day we celebrate "getting" Endale.  It has been one year since we walked into the transition house and picked up our son to hold him for the first time.  And what a year it has been.  Full of all sorts of fun and learning and most of all... CHANGE.

I look at ADOPTION and I see a picture of what God has done for us... and how He is changing us to be more like Him every day.

Ephesians 1:3-5 (ESV) - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

The entire first chapter of Ephesians [READ HERE] is amazing.  It gives me goosebumps when I read it.  It is only two (long) sentences long, but full of the love that God has for you and me.

I love where it says "IN LOVE he predestined us for ADOPTION."  Do you know what that means?

Listen to the way JI Packer explains it...
"Adoption is the highest privilege the gospel offers, arguably higher than salvation. Adoption is higher because of the relationship it involves with God. Salvation is wonderful, but it does not imply necessarily an intimate relationship. But in adoption, God doesn’t just save us, but He takes us into his family as children and heirs."

Our adoption as sons and daughters is just as amazing as our salvation.

God didn’t just redeem you from your sin. He adopted you into His family as His child. Many of us really struggle to feel God’s love for us. We hear and sing about it, but don’t really feel it. We don’t understand or feel the fullness of His love. Some of you don’t even think that God likes you, let alone loves you. Our view of God is that He walks around frustrated with us and tolerates us. Or that He just uses us for His purposes.

You will never fully feel the fullness and depth of God’s love until you understand the kind of love in which He loves you. It’s more than just a general love. It’s the kind of love that a dad has for his child.

If someone were to ask you, “How do you know that God loves you?” You would respond by quoting John 3:16 (ESV): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

You would argue that God loves the whole world, and I’m in the world. Therefore He must love me. If that is the fullness of your understanding of how God loves you, then you do not fully understand the depth of how much He truly loves you.

The disciple John was talking about this kind of love. At first, he was just a disciple, but then something happened during the resurrection. He became a son. That truth blew his mind. He wasn’t just an apostle, someone God was using to expand the kingdom, but he was now a child of the Living God.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; (1 John 3:1a ESV)


The day my first son was born... my life changed.  My mindset changed.  My idea of a father's love changed.  My second son came along and everything changed even more.  My daughter's birth took me to a whole new level of a Father's Love.  The day we landed in Ethiopia was the beginning of something even more amazing.  I realized what ADOPTION really is.  And I have seen it play out over the last year.  I've seen God's love come full circle.  


In LOVE He adopted me.  His Love Rescued Me.  That love is changing me to be more like Him.  His Love rescued me to Love others.  A year ago, we went to Ethiopia to ADOPT a little boy whose life will ever be changed.  We have given up many things to make this life change happen (and I don't say that in a way to say "look at how holy we are" but instead look at what God is doing and what God has done - after all, He gave up HIS ONE AND ONLY SON to bring me into His family - so much more than the little earthly stuff I had to give up).  The most amazing part of all of this... I see in the video the life change that has taken place in Endale's life... but while making the video, I saw just how much that little guy has changed my life in the process.


RESCUED FOR LOVE - RESCUED TO LOVE.

ENDALE'S GOTCHA DAY - YouTube

Day 24 - Unimaginable

Luke 1:35 (ESV) - And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

(READ LUKE 1)

When you think about unimaginable things that have happened, what comes to mind?The Twin Towers dissolving into mounds of dust and rubble? A young person getting an unexpected cancer diagnosis? An unexpected new opportunity? How do you react when you are faced with situations where you have no power or control?

Mary was a teenage girl greeted by an angel with unimaginable news of a divine intervention in her life. How might a young woman react at learning she was to be the mother of the Son of God?
Mary trusted God. She was ready to serve God even though it meant losing her reputation in her small hometown. She would be the subject of gossip wherever she went, but she was willing to put her dreams aside and forgo personal comfort to submit to God’s will. “I am the Lord’s Servant,” Mary answered, “May it be to me according to your word” (vs. 38).

Mary reached out to others for support and encouragement. She hurried to visit her trusted relatives who had also been visited by an angel from God. Elizabeth, who was well past child bearing years, was pregnant with the prophet, John, who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Through Elizabeth, God provided someone who could confirm Mary’s calling. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (vs. 42).

Mary remembered God’s faithfulness. She belonged to the poor class, and, like others, was looking forward to the Messiah’s coming and the promise that the oppressed would be set free and injustices made right. She responded by singing of God’s faithfulness to her people, giving her confidence for the journey that was before her. “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (vs. 51, 52).

What has happened in your life that was unimaginable or might have made you afraid? Is your relationship with God deep enough to help you reimagine his plan for you? Have you built relationships that will carry you through the difficult times? Will you sing of God’s faithfulness as you walk this path?

PONDER:  How will your faithfulness to God shine through when you are faced with the unimaginable? 

REFLECTION OR DISCUSSION
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Is that your job today? Sometimes we make great plans for our lives that have absolutely nothing to do with what God has in store for us. God had something completely unimaginable planned for Mary. Her story shows us that God can use us to make a huge difference.
Read Jeremiah 29:11.  Over the next few days, pay attention to all of the jobs you see around you. Notice the cashier at the store, the truck driver, the garbage man, the teachers, etc. How might God be using these jobs to make a difference? Pray about how God might use you to make a difference.
 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day 23 - Reimagine Discipleship

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) - And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Take a moment and think about the many teachers you have had over the years. Now think about a teacher who was your favorite. Someone you can easily picture in your mind’s eye, whose voice you can still hear, whose personality made an impression on you.

Our favorite teachers are not people who were merely skilled at communicating their subjects or who were entertaining in the classroom. They are people who made a difference in our lives—largely because they taught us something about life, and they taught it through the quality of their own lives.

At the very end of Jesus’ time with his disciples, on some mountain in Galilee, he gave them a most serious command: “Make disciples.” The command was focused, powerful, authoritative, unambiguous. In Greek it is a single word—if we had the word in English it would be discipleize.
Today we need to be crystal clear on this ultimate command. “Disciple” means “learner.” In the ancient world that meant entering in a learning relationship with a master teacher. The kind of teacher who gives knowledge, but so much more. A master teacher who talks about how to live—and who shows how to live. The “disciple” is someone who listens and watches and inquires, listens again, scratches their head, discusses with others, looks at the teacher again, prods and ponders and practices. Along the way the disciple becomes like the teacher. Amazing.

In the “Great Commission” as it is called, Jesus is calling us to help other people get into a learning relationship with Jesus. Why? Because this is God’s chosen plan for humanity’s recovery and rescue. It is how we go from being forgiven by God into a lifelong relationship with God. It is the way—over a long period of time—the image of God is restored in us.

Discipleship is not a “to do” list. We need to reimagine discipleship as a living, dynamic, daily interaction with Jesus.

PONDER:  Think of one person you know who might be open to the idea of becoming a learner of Jesus. How can you help that person with the next step?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
This passage comes just after Jesus has risen from the grave. People were confused. Some believed, but many doubted. It is during his final days that Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission. This commission, to go and make disciples of all nations, is still in effect for us today. Imagine what our lives, families, churches, would look like if we took Jesus’ command seriously.

Read Matthew 28:16-20. What is Jesus asking his disciples to do in this passage? Who are people in your life who do not know about Jesus? As a family, pray for the people in your lives who do not have a relationship with God.
 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Day 22 - Shrewd & Innocent

Matthew 10:16-20 (ESV) - Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 

Year after year, he was named the most admired man in America. Yet, when he made a trip to the Soviet Union in 1982, evangelist Billy Graham was castigated by the American media, political pundits, and even his fellow Christian leaders. There were even death threats. Whereas many thought that Graham was being used as a propaganda piece by the Soviets, he knew that cracking the door open would allow the gospel to be spread and that the emptiness of Communist ideology could not stand. Large crowds showed up wherever Graham spoke. He had access to political leaders. His events were featured in Soviet media. All of it was controversial.

One day Jesus sent his disciples on an unprecedented mission. These ordinary men were to go from village to village telling people that God the king was breaking into the world in a powerful new way—bringing healing and power and salvation. It would require submission. This was a message that people do not easily receive. The gospel is the one message that gives us life—but it requires us to give up our lives. Jesus tells his disciples that they will be arrested, but that God will give them the right words at the right time. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” 

Then Jesus said this strange thing: “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” This kind of shrewdness is not cunning or scheming. It is strategic and tactical. Savvy and smart. “Innocent as doves” means pure motive, integrity, trustworthiness. Billy Graham’s ministry for decades was savvy with integrity, whether it involved innovative uses of mass media, cutting-edge organization, or stepping behind the iron curtain. 

On any given day, you may sense that you are a sheep living among wolves. It is not a good idea for us to have a persecution complex or to whine about the world being worldly. But the gospel does clash with the status quo—and followers of Jesus will sometimes be attacked. 

So we need to be savvy and innocent. To be smart and strategic about how we live and proclaim the good news of Jesus.

PONDER:  What is your personal reaction to people who are antagonistic to the message of Jesus? How can you be smart with integrity as you interact with them?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
Most days we will encounter people in our lives who either don’t know or don’t like Jesus. As his followers, we get to be representatives of him. When we encounter people who may not know him, we get to anticipate what barriers might keep them from wanting to know Jesus and we get to present Jesus in the way he truly is. 

Read Matthew 10:16. Jesus is warning the people he is sending out. What do you think he might be trying to tell them? When you meet someone who doesn’t know Jesus, what idea of God do you think they might get from you, based on the way you are living your life? What about people who meet your family?
  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 21 - Our everyday life

Matthew 4:18-19 (ESV) - While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 
(READ MATTHEW 4)
Nicolas Herman was a dishwasher for decades in the kitchen of a Carmelite monastery in 1600s Paris. In spite of this seemingly lowly state in life, Nicolas— or Brother Lawrence as he was better known—was sought after for his great wisdom. After his death, his personal journals became a devotional classic: The Practice of the Presence of God.

In it he writes:
The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees.

Lawrence had a deep sense that his life, including its toil and drudgery, was seen by God and was therefore imbued with a deep significance.

Matthew records an account of Jesus calling Simon and Andrew. Most likely, this is not their first encounter with Jesus, as he called them earlier on in his ministry (John 1:40). But as these two men are back at their job, fishing, two simple but significant actions of Jesus stand out. Jesus saw them, and he called them to follow him as they were about their work, casting nets. Simon and Andrew’s trade, which required talent and savvy, was important to the local economy. While they were casting their nets, Jesus saw them and called them. They were not at a conference, nor on a mountaintop, they were simply trying to earn a daily living.

God sees our lives and he calls us to follow him amidst our daily work, toil, and circumstances. In the case of Simon and Andrew, it meant leaving their nets as they began the slow process of reimagining and learning what it would mean to become “fishers of men.” For Brother Lawrence it meant learning to practice the presence of God as he washed dishes every day for decades. Our lives are not unnoticed. God sees us and calls us to follow amidst the realities of daily life.

PONDER:  If indeed God sees you and calls you today—right where you are—how will that affect how you live today? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
In this passage, Jesus called some of his first disciples. Jesus called out to Simon and Andrew while they were working, and they decided to follow him. We see the same thing happen as Jesus called James and John. This is a picture of how God asks us to respond to his call for us to follow him.

Read Matthew 4:18-22 again. How did Simon, Andrew, James, and John respond to Jesus? Do you think it was easy for these men to give up everything to follow Jesus? What might it mean for you to follow God?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Day 20 - do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God

Micah 6:8 (ESV) - He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

(READ MICAH 6)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant German theologian, writer, and pastor, lived during some of Germany’s darkest years. He wrote prolifically and spoke courageously against Hitler’s horrific persecution and genocide of millions of Jews. He challenged and scolded significant factions of the German church for its silent complicity with the Nazis. He once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Bonhoeffer went so far as to participate in the plot to assassinate Hitler, but was arrested in 1943. Just 23 days before Germany surrendered in 1945, Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis. 

Micah, a prophet of the Old Testament, courageously wrote and spoke to the divided nation of Israel and Judah—the very people who were to represent the reality of a covenant-loving, compassionate, and just God. Instead, their character as a nation was selfish, dishonest, and oppressive. To make matters worse, the people thought they could earn or buy God’s approval and forgiveness through empty, meaningless offerings (vs. 7-8)—from sacrificing a few calves, or thousands of rams, or even offering up their own first-born offspring. 

Micah responds with a hard-hitting message of what true, worthy worship looks like—a life characterized by three profound things: justice, mishpat in Hebrew; mercy, chesed; and humility. Mishpat emphasizes action—giving people their due, putting things right. In the Old Testament, the doing of misphat was most often toward the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor— those on the margins of society. Mercy, chesed, is a heart attitude of compassion and grace, out of which flows a life of justice. A life devoid of such virtue and action made any attempt at worship, sacrificial or otherwise, a waste of time. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing the Gregorian Chant.” For God’s people to truly worship, Gregorian chant or otherwise, we are called to do justice (putting things right), love mercy (live out of deep compassion), and walk humbly with God. Worship, reimagined in this way, is what God wants and what the world desperately needs.

PONDER:  Is there an injustice or a wrong somewhere in your world that God is calling you to put right? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
Micah was a prophet who spoke God’s truth to a people who lived contrary to God’s way of loving others. While living in the midst of those people, Micah speaks the words in Micah 6:8. Find a way you can serve this month. The best way to pass on a heart of service is by serving together with/for others. Where can you serve?  How can you serve?
 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day 19 - Reluctance toward God's Call

Jonah 1:1-3 (ESV) - Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
(READ JONAH 1)

Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist in J.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit had a predictable and comfortable life in the Shire. That changed the day he became a reluctant participant in a band of unpredictable dwarves, setting out on a dangerous quest to recover its treasure from a murderous dragon. Baggins engages in heroic acts—sometimes in spite of himself—as he slowly reimagines his place in life.

The Hebrew prophet Jonah is another example of a reluctant protagonist. God gives Jonah challenging marching orders: preach judgment to the pagan city of Nineveh. Nineveh (near Mosul in present-day Iraq) was the powerful capital of the Assyrian empire, a city known for its cruelty and evil. Sitting in Palestine, some 700 miles from Nineveh, Jonah flees to the port city of Joppa and catches the first ship to Tarshish (modern-day western Spain), over 2,200 miles in the opposite direction—the farthest anyone could get from Nineveh.

Reluctance was a powerful force in Jonah’s life and, for a while, it kept him from participating in God’s merciful and forgiving plans for Nineveh. The story does not end there. As Jonah is on the ship to Tarshish, stormy seas ensue, Jonah is tossed overboard by the crew and is swallowed by a huge fish, in whose stomach he languishes for three days. Scripture records that “from inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.’” The fish vomits Jonah onto dry land and Jonah gets another chance.

The circumstances surrounding God’s mercy to Jonah were dramatic and remarkable and helped free Jonah’s reluctant spirit. God gives Jonah a second chance and Jonah responds by going to Nineveh. As a result, the evil and violent city of Nineveh repents and experiences the mercy of God. The story does not have a neat, tidy ending. Jonah is upset at God for extending mercy to Nineveh (vs. 4:1), surely not the perfect hero one would imagine—but one that God began to use.



PONDER:  In what way might reluctance be preventing you from taking a step that might result in someone experiencing God’s grace or mercy?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
We see God’s unending love and mercy with His people over and over again in the Bible. In the book of Jonah, God asks Jonah to deliver a message to the people living in Nineveh. The people there were indulging in all of the pleasures of this world without giving a thought to God. When Jonah heard God’s call, he tried to flee in the opposite direction. In the end, God gives Jonah a second chance and Jonah is able to preach to the Ninevites, and God has mercy when they repent.

Read Jonah 1:1-3 again. Jonah tried to run away from God’s plans but God gave him a second chance. When have you been given a second chance? Why do you think God gives us second chances?
 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day 18 - The Best Community

Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV) - For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(READ JEREMIAH 31)

The idea of a perfect society is called “utopia,” a term coined by Sir Thomas More in his fictional book Utopia (1516), which described an island where a community lived with perfect law, justice, and politics. In the late 1700s, a religious group known as the Shakers attempted to form a utopia. They held to common ownership of all property, pacifism, celibacy, and confession of sins. 

Communism aimed for a utopia. North Korea claims to be a utopia—though living there is more like living in hell. 

The word “utopia,” by the way, literally means “no place.” 

The best kind of human society or community we can hope for on earth is one God forges—a “covenant community.” He calls us to live in the covenant. 

Jeremiah 31 describes the best community, one based on the “new covenant.” God makes this happen because we, mankind, are not capable of creating true civilization, much less a utopia.
“The days are coming when I will make a new covenant [with my people]. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness
 and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:31–34

The best community begins with an internalization of God’s law, written on our hearts. Most people think that God makes rules, tells us the rules, and then we’d better follow them—or else. That does not work. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can know God’s law internally. We can obey God instinctually. When we do the right thing, it is because it is right and because we want to do it.
“I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God asserts this. He will do it. We cannot create it. God’s love and power make it happen. 

“They will all know me, from the least to the greatest,” means that the knowledge of God, and a relationship with God, are available to everyone, not just the priests. All made possible because of God’s total forgiveness. 

There is no utopia. But we are called to something better: God’s new covenant community.

PONDER:  What are the benefits of God’s law being written on our hearts? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
Jeremiah was a prophet who gave us a glimpse of what our relationship with God would look like once Jesus came and established the new covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read about our new place with God through Jesus. Through the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, God looks at us and sees Jesus’ righteousness. To understand how much Jesus gave up for us we need to understand that we sin. Use the following verses to have a conversation about sin and God’s forgiveness.
 
Read these verses on sin: Jeremiah 31:34, Romans 6:23, Romans 3:23, & James 4:17. What does sin mean? Look at God’s forgiveness in these passages: 1 John 1:9 and John 3:16-17. How does God’s forgiveness make you feel?
 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Day 17 - Speaking Up

Jeremiah 1:6-7 (ESV) -  Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.

It was a very troubled time. Working conditions were horrible. People’s lives were so desperate that, for entertainment, they flocked to public executions, the public dissection of dead criminals, and bloody animal spectacles. One-fourth of the women in London were prostitutes. Worst of all, people were learning of the horrific conditions on the slave ships where bodies were stacked together. One captain threw live slaves overboard in order to collect insurance money.

One member of parliament, William Wilberforce, decided to speak up. He made it his life goal to reform social behavior and to abolish the slave trade. He made his decision, and began to speak up—at 27 years of age.

Six centuries before Christ, God called a young man named Jeremiah to speak prophetically into the troubled times in which he lived. It was a chaotic era— politically, socially, morally, and spiritually. The kings made unholy alliances with foreign powers and borrowed their gods, ruining the faith of the people.

The call that came to 20-something Jeremiah was not merely difficult, it was life-threatening. How can a prophet speak up to the powers of the day and not be crushed by them? The mournful tone of much of Jeremiah’s prophesy shows the price he did pay, but he could hold onto God’s promise at the start: “Do not be afraid... I am with you and will rescue you.”

Today’s world is as troubling as the era of Jeremiah. Yet Scripture says that God calls many people to speak truth into troubled times. In some parts of the world this is life-threatening. In other parts the risk is merely receiving disdain or prejudice.

We also have this problem: Some believers naively think that if enough people shout loud enough that unrighteousness will somehow be shoved out of society, while other believers doubt whether speaking the truth can make any difference at all. What Jeremiah did, and Wilberforce later did, was to set a course to speak truth—faithfully, precisely, tirelessly—for decades, for a lifetime. They assumed no quick outcome, but redemption did finally come.

PONDER:  What issue in society today is something that God may be calling you to speak up about, and where? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
God called Jeremiah to speak truth to a stubborn and broken world. In Jeremiah 1, God is laying out his call for Jeremiah. Jeremiah is afraid and claims that he is too young to do the things God is asking. God responds by telling Jeremiah that youth is not an excuse.

Read God’s response to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:7-8 and read 1 Timothy 4:12. What do both of these verses say about being young? What things might God be asking you to do, even though you are young (or whatever excuse you might use)?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Do you remember

This weekend was COMMUNION at Paragon.  We read through the first part of Matthew 26 and ended with a time of remembering.

There are moments - minutes - hours - days - weeks - and even months that I forgetI forget that Jesus came to give me life more abundant (John 10:10)... I forget that there is something greater than the stuff of this life, of this world, of this culture to live for... I forget the sacrifice that God so I could be free from the slavery of sin... and that I why we take time for communion (the Lord's Supper) to remember.  When I forget, it brings it all back into focus... I am able to see what God has done and is doing for me and in me... how far He has brought me and how far I still have to go.

I am blessed to be able to lead people into a growing relationship with God.  It isn't a easy calling, but I love that I get to bring the Gospel to people in a way they can hopefully understand.  I read a quote this morning from Rosalynn Carter - it says - "A leader takes people where they want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."  I want to be a great leader.  I want to be a great leader in my home... in my church... in my community... and in my world.  But it starts with me being a great follower of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings...

We wrapped up this morning with a song that is a personal favorite...   THE STAND. (Songwriters STEWART, NATALIE / BROWN, SALEM / WEEKES, NOLAN DION)

I just want to HIGHLIGHT some of the things we SANG this weekend - and really how much of a prayer I want this to be for my life, the life of my family, and the lives of those in the church... as we go to where we OUGHT TO BE.

You stood before creation
Eternity within Your hand
You spoke the earth into motion 
(do we really realize HOW BIG GOD really is?)
My soul now to stand

You stood before my failure
Carried the Cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders
  (He did it for me at my worst... not at my best... remember)
My soul now to stand

So what can I say?
What can I do?
  (valid questions to ask ourselves... all that God did for us... how can we respond)
But offer this heart O God  (isn't that what God want from us anyway?)
Completely to You  (do we understand the word "completely?")

So I'll walk upon salvation
Your Spirit alive in me
This life to declare Your promise  (what does that mean to you?)
My soul now to stand

So what can I say?
What can I do?
But offer this heart O God
Completely to You

So I'll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the One who gave it all
So Ill stand, my soul Lord to You surrendered
All I am is Yours 
(IN AWE definition:  a strong feeling of fear or respect and also wonder - COMPLETELY SURRENDERED - ALL I AM is Yours - POWERFUL PROMISE IF WE MEAN IT)

So what can I say? What can I do? But offer this heart O God Completely to You!

I pray that this is more than just a song on a weekend... but it is a DAILY prayer of repentance and submission to the God as we stand in awe of the One who saves us from ourselves. 

Day 16 - Encountering Holiness

 Isaiah 6:5 (ESV) - And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

There are some amazing places of beauty on this earth: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef. These are places of stunning majesty and glory. Time spent in any of these places is a great privilege and can alter a person’s perspective on their personal life and place in the world.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Old Testament who never visited any of these glorious places. He was to be sent on a tough job: preach and prophesy to the wayward nation of Judah. Judah had turned its back on God and fallen into a lifestyle of injustice and meaningless religious ritual. But before Isaiah was to be sent by God, there was some work needed in his own life, which required an encounter with the holiness of God.

Isaiah’s perspective and entire life is turned upside down when he is given a vision of the Lord sitting high upon a throne surrounded by angelic beings.  The place is filled with smoke, the ground is shaking, and Isaiah hears one angel giving a “play by play” to another angel of what they see: “HOLY HOLY HOLY is the Lord of hosts; may his glory fill the whole earth!” “Holy” literally means “consecrated and set apart.” Imagine the terror Isaiah felt when immersed in the majesty and “otherness” of God. The whole scene turns personal very quickly, as Isaiah’s perspective on himself and his place in life are altered by his encounter with the Holy. He cries out, first at a deep personal level: “Woe is me! For I am lost. I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah’s encounter with the real and palpable holiness of God forced him to take a hard look at his own life—not his neighbor nor his church—but himself.

In the piercing reality of God’s holiness, Isaiah recognized his own sin and unworthiness. Thankfully, the encounter does not end there. As Isaiah comes to a reoriented understanding of the state of his soul in light of God’s holiness, he experiences God’s forgiveness. Now he is ready to be sent.

PONDER: If you had a deeper sense of the holiness of God, how would that change your perspective on life?

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION:
Isaiah was given an incredible vision from God. He was given the privilege of glimpsing the throne room of God. In response to the vision, Isaiah felt unworthy. He felt unclean and ruined because he, a sinner, was in the presence of the perfect and holy God.

Read Isaiah 6:1-3, Revelation 4:3-6, & Revelation 5:11-13. What kind of picture of heaven do you get from these passages? Using these verses to guide you, draw a picture of what heaven might be like.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Day 15 - Wisdom

Proverbs 8:1-6 (ESV)
Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: "To you, O men, I call and my cry is to the children of man. O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right...

A strange, small, green being is a source of wisdom in Star Wars V - Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker’s X Wing fighter is stuck in a swamp, deep in a hidden, far-away place. The wisdom of Yoda comes out in “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Got it?

We sometimes have this idea that wisdom is hidden in some deep, mysterious place. That only a chosen few discover the sages who can pass on enlightening truth.

But the Bible speaks of wisdom as an everyday, practical, accessible quality of life. The God of all truth and wisdom wants us to be wise in each decision we make every day.

In Proverbs 8 wisdom is depicted as out-front, conspicuous, and loud. In this passage, wisdom has a voice of its own: not a whisper or a secret, but a shout and a call. Wisdom “calls out,” saying to humanity, “I raise my voice...” What does this voice say? You don’t need to be foolish. You can live a prudent life. Here are ways to speak, to act, to discern, to react, to plan, to prosper, to please God.
In Proverbs, to be wise is to be discerning, humble, prudent, fair, and right. Wisdom is the discernment with which to see the differences between major and minor issues; humility, so that we don’t make too much of ourselves; prudence, which not only judges what is right but predicts different contingencies; fairness and rightness, which cause others to trust us. To be wise, in other words, is more than being smart. You can be the most intelligent person in the world and be a fool. Wisdom means to be good, and in so doing, to be right.

The call of wisdom is, of course, the call of God. Our creator is the one who has such high hopes for our lives that he shouts out warnings and summons us with his calming voice. And we don’t need to go looking in a mystic swamp to find him.

PONDER: In which ways do you need the wisdom of God for what you are facing today? 

REFLECTION or DISCUSSION
Wisdom is calling out to us in Proverbs 8. This call is God helping us to seek his wisdom in each area of our lives. Being wise means trying to discern the choices God wants us to make each and every day.
Read Proverbs 8:1-6 again. What do you think wisdom means? God wants us to have his wisdom. What are some ways you can become more wise? How can you use wisdom when you make decisions?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Day 14 - Glory Road

PSALM 96:2-7 (ESV) - Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!

There is a street in Green Bay, Wisconsin named Glory Road. This street reminds residents and visitors of Green Bay that the city’s professional football team, the Green Bay Packers, has won more championships than any other professional football team in the U.S.—thirteen championships in its ninety- two year existence. One of the ironies of Packer glory is that, except for a very small minority, the names of most of the 1600(+) men who have ever played for the Packers over its ninety-four year history have been forgotten. Glory is fleeting.

The Bible often speaks of the glory of God. Glory refers to the fame, renown, and honor ascribed or attributed to God because of his great deeds and perfect attributes. John Piper defines God’s glory as “the radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his many infinitely worthy and valuable perfections”! The book of Psalms is the prayer book of the people of God and its prayers and prose describe eloquently God’s deeds and attributes. The psalmist repeatedly speaks of God’s righteousness, justice, steadfast love, holiness, and faithfulness. These attributes are unchanging. God’s glory is not fleeting as human glory is.

God calls us to declare his glory among the nations, to ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. His people are also called on to sing, praise, and proclaim. All these actions speak of worship and witness. They are in response to and centered on the strength, splendor, majesty, deeds, salvation, and glory of God. The psalm reminds us that the life and character of the people of God should reflect the character and attributes of God—his glory—to the world.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in, aim at earth and you get neither.” Lewis’ admonition helps us reimagine our lives lived for the glory of God where our actions, desires, words, and choices are shaped by our love for and delight in God. Earthly glory is fleeting—like the forgotten performance of an old football player. The glory of God is lasting and reorients the way we live in this world.

PONDER: What are things you could do today that would glorify God?

DISCUSSION or REFLECTION:
Picture your favorite athlete. People tend to glorify athletes. We wear their jerseys, we give them awards, and we wait all week to watch them play. Now what would happen if we transferred this passion and excitement to God? What would it look like?

Read Psalm 96:2-7 again. Who are some of your favorite athletes or celebrities? Why are they your favorite? Athletes often bring attention to themselves. However, this passage shows us that instead we get to bring attention to God. What kind of attention are you bringing to God?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Day 13 - Courage from the Call

Nehemiah 2:8 (ESV) - and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
(WHOLE CHAPTER)

In a 1910 speech entitled “Citizenship in the Republic,” Teddy Roosevelt uttered these words:
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who...at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Nehemiah knew what it meant to “dare greatly.” To rebuild and restore anything is never easy—it takes courage, resiliency, and the commitment to take risks. Rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem required a team that understood the realities and that was committed to do what needed to be done—no matter what. Only after Nehemiah told his team “of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also the words that the king had spoken to me,” the whole group said, “Let us rise up and build.” The text goes on: “So they strengthened their hands for the good work.”

The word used in Hebrew for “strengthened” is chazaq, the same word used in other places in the Old Testament for courage—a kind of courage infused with strength, stamina, endurance, perseverance, and fortitude. Rebuilding and restoring require nothing less. 

No sooner had Nehemiah and his colleagues committed themselves to “rise up and build,” when the attacks of the opposition began—Sanballat and Tobiah’s jeers and scornful words: “What is this thing you are doing?” Nehemiah’s response to his attackers is nothing short of deep faith in God: “The God of Heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build...” Nehemiah’s experience reminds us that in the challenging but hopeful tasks of rebuilding and restoring—courage is not only a prerequisite, but we need others who are courageous, who “strengthen their hands,” to walk with us. And together, “we rise up and (re)build.” That brings hope: so dare greatly and take courage as you rebuild.

PONDER: Is there some “rebuilding” that God wants you to be about for which you need faith to “dare greatly”? 

Prayer for Courage 
Give us courage, O Lord, to stand up and be counted, to stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves. To stand up for ourselves when it is needful to do so. Let us fear nothing more than we fear thee. Let us love nothing more than we love thee, for then we shall fear nothing also. Let us have no other God before thee, whether nation or party or state or church. Let us seek no other peace but the peace which is thine, and make us its instruments, opening our eyes and our ears and our hearts, so that we should know always what work of peace we should do for thee. 
—by Alon Paton, a South African author and anti-apartheid activist (1902-88). 
From The Complete Book of Christian Prayer.

DISCUSSION or REFLECTION
Nehemiah had the courage to step out and do something great. He was in the process of restoring hope to an entire people group. Great moments, however, rarely go unopposed. Nehemiah faced major taunting and threats from outsiders who did not want the walls to be rebuilt. Nehemiah’s trust in God in the midst of the threats is a testament to his faith.

Sanballat and Tobiah hated Nehemiah and the work he was doing to repair the walls of Jerusalem. They were constantly mean and threatening to him. Read Nehemiah’s response to the bullying in Nehemiah 2:20. Who did Nehemiah say was protecting him? When have you been teased or made fun of by someone else? How did it make you feel? How can Nehemiah’s response help us when others are mean to us?