Monday, February 18, 2013

Clear Smooth Stone

Ruth 1:1-5 (NLT) In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there. Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.

Almost everyone enjoys a love story. The Old Testament Book of Ruth is such a story. It is filled with a wide range of emotion, from severe loss to ecstatic joy. This short book, only four chapters long, lays out the splendid care God is happy to give His people.

No one really knows who wrote the Book of Ruth but tradition holds that the prophet Samuel was the author. This little book was later read with four other books of the Old Testament ~ Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther ∼ at the Feasts of Israel. Ruth was always read at the Feast of Harvest, which is better known as Pentecost, because the majority of the book is set in the harvest fields.

The Book of Ruth is special because it reveals that God chose Ruth, who was not an Israelite but was of pagan descent, to further show us what His wonderful plan is all about. At the end of this marvelous book, it is revealed that Ruth is an ancestor of King David (she is his great-grandmother) and thus in the ancestry of Jesus. Ruth lived around the 12th century B.C. It’s often hard for those of us living today to grasp how a story so old can be relevant. But, strangely, even supernaturally, it does. God reaches across the centuries and touches our hearts by telling us the story of a young woman named Ruth who would be a great part of His plan.

The story begins like this: “In the days when...” It reminds me of how fairytales traditionally start, “Once upon a time…” Already I feel connected because of the fairytales my mother read to me. The Book of Ruth is anything but a fairytale. There are no dragons to be slain or wicked witches to melt. Rather there is famine and death, love and loss.

So we start out with a “once upon a time” and then meet our first character. Elimelech was his name, and he was from Bethlehem of Judah. The Hebrew name “Elimelech” means “God is my King.” What an incredible name! However, I don’t think it will be one of the top ten baby names anytime soon.

Interestingly, their hometown of “Bethlehem,” which means “house of bread,” is where the “Bread of Life” (Jesus) was born. Isn’t God phenomenal? He orchestrates the details of everything but is never distracted by them. Do you know anyone else capable of doing that?

As we learned in our first passage, Elimelech was married to “Naomi,” which means “my joy.” They had two sons “Mahlon,” meaning “sick,” and “Kilion,” meaning “failing.” I find it interesting that Hebrew names often reflect what is going on in the life of that person. God has a name for you and the meaning of that name is positive. In fact, did you know God also has another unique name just for you written in heaven?

God tells us in Revelation 2:17 (MSG) … I’ll also give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.” 

Those who follow Jesus have a clear, smooth stone with a new secret name written on it. The things we face on this earth in our failing bodies will be no more. When Jesus sets up His eternal kingdom on the renewed earth, He will rename us and give us a new perfect body for eternity. He won’t erase who we are; He will complete us!

Sometimes we define ourselves with negative words. They do not correlate with the true words that God uses to describe us. Satan wants nothing more than for God’s people to believe the untrue and hurtful meanings of our names on this earth. God wants us to know that we are special to Him. He has a new name written on a stone smoothed by the mighty wind of His Spirit.

The evil one loves to distract us from the things that God has planned for us. Satan lies, steals, cheats, and destroys because he hates anything and everyone that God loves. God dearly and honestly loves you. I lean heavily on this truth.

So many times we focus on things that are happening to us or our bodies and lose sight of the plans God has for us. You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not about us” tossed around nowadays. (Sometimes I hear it so often it loses its impact.) But in all truth, it isn’t about us. God’s plan is for our good and for the glory of His great name and reputation.

We will see that God provides for those He loves in the Book of Ruth. He often uses the unexpected to get our attention. From the first two verses of the book we find that He is very present and very active in the lives of those written about in this fabulous book. God does love you and wants nothing more than to be in a delight-filled, promise-keeping, need-providing relationship. Are you ready to walk toward His excellent intentions for your precious life?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Owning Up to What You Really Believe

Do you really know what you believe? I guess I should put it this way; do you believe what you have been taught to believe? Are these beliefs really yours? The things that you were taught as a child will influence your belief system as an adult. As an adult you must examine your faith whatever that is. 
1. Take this time to write out what you learned to believe growing up. 

In whatever way that you were raised, you were raised with a certain belief system. One end of the spectrum would be being raised in a home believing there was no God. The other end of the belief spectrum is that God is real and sent His Son into the world to save people from a relationship without God. Many beliefs are scattered throughout this spectrum. Each of us has been raised in one of these beliefs. Each of us must decide what that is for ourselves. 

This study is based on the belief that God does indeed exist and sent His Son Jesus to make a way for people to have a relationship with Him. So as you study it is my prayer that you will come to know Jesus and accept Him as your Leader and Rescuer if you have not done so already. And if you already have a relationship with Jesus you will seek to know Him better and better. 
2. Read 2 Timothy 1:12. Why was Paul not ashamed? What is he convinced of?

3. Take this time to list things that you are ashamed of as it relates to your beliefs.

4. Now list things that you are not ashamed of as it relates to your beliefs.

 Knowing what your truly believe is essential to your growth as a person. Being honest with yourself and what you are and are not ashamed of as it relates to your belief in God will help you grow into a stronger faith. 
5. What things are you confident of as it relates to your beliefs?

6. What are the things that you are not confident in as it relates to your beliefs?

By asking yourself these questions you are establishing the foundation on which you wish to stand upon as an adult. If you do this I guarantee you that you will be way ahead of many other people who sit in churches every Sunday. 
7. Read the following scriptures from the New Living Translation. List the result/s of building on the foundation of believing in God and His Son Jesus. Psalm 18:2 - The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.

Psalm 40:2- He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 

Psalm 61:2-3- From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.

Psalm 92:14-15- Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in Him!”

Believing that God is real and does love us results in knowing for sure that we are standing on a solid foundation. Not only is our foundation sure but we are provided with His protection. He raises His shield with a power so mighty that it saves us from eternal death. It is a safe place. 
His love lifts us out of the pit of despair that we so often experience. This mud and mire of everyday life weighs us down and can destroy our very lives. But Jesus lifts those He loves and who love Him out of these pits. He places us on solid ground so our steps are steady and sure. 
Jesus can feel the overwhelming in our lives and when we accept Him as our Rescuer He leads us to a place of safety in the strong arms of God. The enemies of this world and the supernatural cannot reach us here. We are safe. 
As we age we don’t slow down or weaken spiritually like our physical bodies do when we place our lives on the foundation of Christ. Our spiritual eyes see that Jesus is just and secure. There is no evil to be found in or around Him. He has defeated all enemies of God. Knowing that He is our sure and secure foundation as we age helps us throughout life. 
Real Life
I walked into her hospital room to change her colostomy bag and bathe her. She was 99 years old. I loved taking care of her because she intrigued me. What was she like when she was my age? At the time I was all of 27 years old. This part of being a registered nurse was the part I adored ~ taking care of those who couldn’t take care of themselves.
As I stood her up on her unsteady legs, walked her to her chair and gently lowered her, I asked, “Are you ready to go home to be with Jesus soon?” She answered, “I hope so but I don’t know if I will get to or not. I tried to live a good life and raise my family in church. But I just don’t know.”
I was so shocked. Someone her age should know where she was going when she died. My words and thoughts revealed my naiveté.  I had just assumed that all “old people” had made their peace with God. So my questions were probed into an area that she was unsure of herself. Her spiritual feet were as unsteady as her 99-year-old ones.
As I bathed her and took care of her needs. I told her that she could be sure of her eternal life and proceeded to tell her about Jesus and that all she had to do was ask Him to be her Savior. It was not too late and she could know for sure.
She looked up at me and I saw a child’s eyes dance in the face of an old woman. I could see hope and excitement like I had never experienced before. She believed Jesus and I know she rests with Him now.  
I wonder what her life had been like if she had known about the safety found in Jesus when she was my age. For 99 years she wondered whether she was good enough to go to heaven after she died. At 99 she chose to build the rest of her life on the solid foundation of Jesus. 
It wasn’t long before she stepped into eternity with Him. Can you even image what that was like for her. She is walking strong in eternity with the One who had always loved her beyond her imagination.

Your Turn
Jesus gives us the vitality spiritually as we live and as we approach the end of our lives. Your Turn Take this time to write out your thoughts about your beliefs. Tell God what you think about Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you in a special way. Spend this time really searching and praying. God loves it when we do this.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Living Your Belief

Now that you’ve chosen what you believe it’s time to live out your beliefs. Whatever your decision, be true to what you have chosen and be authentic. This isn’t a time to act like you believe and really are unsure. Your life should be a reflection of your beliefs.

So what does that look like? It looks real from the inside out. Have you ever known someone who acts a certain way but something just doesn’t add up? You have a sense that they are not really what they portray themselves to be. Maybe you have acted this way too. Your behavior depends on the people you are around and it really bugs you deep down that you act this way.

What do you think it means to live your beliefs or faith authentically? 

I desperately want to live authentically in every situation. This is a choice, a conscious decision to behave as Christ wants me to behave. It’s not an act.  It’s living a credible life dedicated to the One I have chosen to follow ~ The One who knows me best and loves me most!

How can a person change from living a faith that is hidden to a faith that is open? 

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” ~  Joshua 24:14-15

God told the people of Israel to do two things.

The first is to "fear" Him. This means to place Him in the position of "awe" in your life. He's to be your "WOW!" To understand who He is and how He alone has the power of life and death ~ judgment and forgiveness.

Secondly, He tells them to "serve him wholeheartedly." To serve Him properly is to understand He is the Master and we are His servants. He's a just King who treats His people well by loving them as His own and providing for their every need.

It's our choice who we will serve ~ who we will believe. He won't allow us to serve Him and others at the same time. It's all or nothing. Sounds a little strict? Well, He knows that serving more than one master isn't serving at all. It's serving self by believing whatever supports our desires at the time.

"But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Everyone can choose what they want to do...whom they want to serve. This passage in Joshua lays out the choices the Isaelites faced as they were entering to live in the Promised Land after living in the desert for forty years.

First they could choose the gods of the pagan people whose land they had just acquired. Or they could serve the God of the Universe who had just delivered them from the bondage of salvery in Egypt and wandering in the desert. He never took their choice away.

Now what in the world do the ancient people of Israel have in common with you and me? That was thousands of years ago. Who are these Amorites and what do we need to even know them? Good questions huh? I thought so too.

By looking at of lives of faith and belief in the One True God shows us examples of how it is done. We learn that Joshua gave instructions to those who chose to follow God and to those who didn’t. Let’s look at what that entails by taking a trip back to the time of Joshua and God’s chosen people:

Fear the Lord
“For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:11-2 (NLT)

This type of fear is reverent fear. It’s a respectfully “knowing-that-He-is-God” kind of fear. There are benefits to fearing the Lord God, placing Him in the highest place of honor in life. This is the most wonderful and awe-inspiring benefit possible. It's one that no other religion offers. This phenomenal benefit is grace at its finest. It's the forgiveness of sin. He has removed the barrier from Him and us.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16-17

God provided a way to Him through His Son Jesus. No other religion has a perfect Savior, one who was willing to lay down His life for all people. All other religions of the world tell us we have to do better as we try and try to reach God. Those who choose to follow God's way through Jesus, accept that He came down as God in human flesh and felt and lived and loved and died and rose again. He did it all for us. All we have to do is accept this free gift.

Serve the Lord with Faithfulness
“Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” Colossians 3:24

Serving God faithfully is being a servant of His here on earth. It’s being an active participant in what God is doing in and through those that trust and believe in Jesus. The scripture says we are to remember that God has given us the promise of eternal life as our reward if we choose to serve Christ as our Master, our Leader, our Lord.

Throw Away Other gods
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:12-14

Throwing away other gods doesn’t just mean little carved idols that come to mind when we think of gods. It means what we focued on to lead our lives before we decided to follow Christ. It's letting god of the past and looking forward to what Christ Jesus leads us toward. We run in this spiritual race toward the prize of being in the presence of God because of Jesus. It's an awesome place free from any trouble and pain, illness or disease, hate and fear. It's a place of total freedom.

Our “gods” of the past want to haunt us. The Lord wants us to forget them, to put them behind us and move on. This is really difficult but running a race is not easy. Our goal should be, must be, “the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Can’t you hear Him encouraging you to run towards Him? Not only that He is running beside you and behind you wanting you to move forward. He lives within you cheering you on to your goal. What other “god” encourages a person like that? There is no other. God loves and encourages us. He has taken care of everything so that we can have a relationship with Him.

Real Life
     It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I realized that I wanted to live my life authentically for the Lord. Up until that time I had just gone through the motions of being a Christian. My faith was the faith of the church I grew up in and the way my parents believed. None of this was bad. It just wasn’t complete.
     I guess what I’m trying to say is this; living out my beliefs required me to decide that Jesus lives in me and has a plan and purpose for me. It meant that I would have to choose to follow His plans. I had to listen to and follow what He had mapped out for me.
     Living out my faith demands that I go to Jesus for everything. From the little to the huge, He must be my Leader. And to move forward in my faith, I must believe that He has only my best in mind.
I may not understand why He wants me to do things I don’t understand, like forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, and allowing His power to work it all out. Living out my faith is deciding that Jesus knows me best and loves me the most.
     I struggle daily with this, but day-by-day, moment-by-moment, I have grown into living out my faith.  I am getting stronger and more comfortable by choosing Jesus to be my “Everything.” It's not always easy, but its the freedom God gives me to choose Him or not.

Your Turn
Have you taken the opportunity to really live you’re your beliefs? Are you putting on an act or are you living authentically? Take this time to tell Jesus how you are living your faith. Ask Him to dwell within you. Pour your heart out to Him.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why Do We Have Church Anyway?

I admit I have asked the question, “Why do we have Church anyway?” Especially when there is conflict between its participants. In today’s world with the internet you can go to church anywhere. So why should we invest our time, talents and money in the local church at all? We will look at three areas to help us understand the need and responsibility to be a part of church.

1. Read Matthew 22:37. What does Jesus say we are to do? What does He call this commandment?

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. It was considered to be one of the most important texts in the Torah. (The Old Testament). The Jews refer to this as the “Shema,” which is how the first word in the Hebrew text is pronounced. (shma) “Shema” means, “to heed, listen and obey.”

The “Shema” was said to remind the faithful to believe in the One True God but also to preserve that belief. The religious of Jesus day would repeat this Scripture, but by this time it had lost its true meaning. They were saying it by rote instead of believing it in their hearts. Now Jesus was shedding new light on this verse and teaching the original meaning.

God should be our first priority in life and in worship. We are to give our whole being, heart ~ soul ~ strength, to the worship of our great God. Church is meant for this. It’s where we come to celebrate our Great God, the Creator of the earth and all that is in it. Our worship shouldn’t stop after church, but continue throughout all our days.

2. Read Matthew 4:10. Who is Jesus talking to? What does He say to him?

Again, Jesus uses the holy scriptures. In Deuteronomy 6:13 we read, “Worship and obey the Lord your God with fear and trembling, and promise that you will be loyal to him.” He refutes and rebukes the evil one with the very words of God’s Holy Scriptures. It silences Satan and removes the power of his attack. We learn from Jesus how to defend ourselves with God’s Word. We also learn to worship and be obedient to God. When we attend Church, we celebrate the truth God is the object of our worship and respect.

3. Read John 4:23-24. What does Jesus day about a time that is coming? What takes place then? 

What kind of worshipers does the Father seek? How does Jesus describe God? How are we to worship  Him?

Here we learn that now is the time of real worship. It’s not a time to play at worship. In other words, going to church to go through the motions of worshiping God is not true worship. It is a time of connecting with God in spirit and truth. It’s authentic worship. All other worship is not real at all. It’s not about the songs we sing. It’s about the attitude in which we sing them. Are we there to bring glory to God or to hear our favorite song?  When we come together each week in communal worship it should be directed solely to God. Our spirits should take this time to connect with His Spirit. When we do this God is honored and those who don’t yet know Him will see the truth through our time of true worship.


A. Inside the Church

4. Read John 13:34-35. What new command does Jesus give? Why is this command so important?

Jesus calls us to love one another just as He loved us. If we aren’t in community, how can we have any opportunity to love others? If we isolate ourselves from church, we can’t fully experience the giving and receiving of this marvelous aspect of God’s love. When we love those in the our Christian community and the world, the world will see that we are truly followers of Jesus’ and the benefits to loving and serving Him. Loving one another as Christ commanded draws people to Him.

5. Read James 1:22 and 2:17. Describe what James says in each verse:

James 1:22 ____________________________________________________________

James 2:17 ____________________________________________________________

Connecting through Church also includes hearing what is taught then acting on what is taught. In other words, we are to put into action what we learn from the pastor and teachers in Church. Truth without actions doesn’t benefit anyone. We should take in God’s truth and fully express it through our words and deeds. If we learn to give in Jesus Name, then we should give in Jesus Name. If we learn to get rid of all anger, then we should get rid of all anger. Hearing and applying is important to connecting our heads with our hearts.

Outside the Church

6. Read Ephesians 3:10. What does the Apostle Paul say God’s intent was to do through the Church?

7. Read Matthew 24:14. What is the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven? Who shall it be preached to? 

8. Read 2 Peter 3:9. Why is God so patient?

Our role as the Church united is to tell others about God through knowing Christ Jesus. We are to tell others the wonderful news of salvation through the forgiveness of sin because of the extreme love shown through His sacrifice. Everyone has the opportunity to have a relationship with God through Jesus. God doesn’t want “anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance.” The Church supplies a setting in which the Gospel is preached and equips Christ Followers to share this Good News with those they encounter in their daily lives.


9. Read Hebrews 6:1. What does this verse say? Why is this so important?

Stagnation is a spiritual disease of sorts. If we don’t grow in our knowledge of Jesus and His Word how can we really get anywhere? We go to Church so we can mature in our faith.

Have you ever eaten a green banana? It tastes awful. What happens as the banana ripens? It becomes mature. It begins to have a wonderfully sweet and rich flavor. (Stick with me here even if you don’t like bananas). As we mature in our faith, we become able to provide the richness found in Christ to others in the world in which we live. We become strong in our faith and learn more and more about Jesus when we faithfully attend a Bible believing Church.

10. Read 2 Peter 3:18. What are we to grow in? What does this bring to Jesus?

We are to grow in grace and knowledge. So, let’s break these two words down:

The Greek word for “Grace” is “charis.” We get our word “charity” from it. The root word of “charis” is “chairo” and it denotes “that which causes joy, pleasure and delight.” The Apostle Peter is saying we are to grow in our delight  in Christ Jesus. We find pleasure and joy increasing as we grow in the marvelous grace found in Him.

The Greek word for “knowledge” is “gnosis” and means “understanding, awareness, familiarity, recognition.” As we grow in our faith our knowledge increases. We are able to understand more and more of the Bible and the characteristics of God through Christ. We become familiar with the way Jesus does things and how we are to live as He did while on this earth which was in total obedience to and love of the Father. We begin to recognize God’s will and bow to it as we learn it’s the best thing for us.

Church is important in order to celebrate through worship of our marvelous Savior. It is important in showing who Jesus is to the world around us. It is important in being transformed into the likeness of our King.

Satan wants nothing more than to destroy the Bride of Christ (the Church). He attacks each member of the Body because he hates what Christ will do through us. We all benefit when we are unified through Christ as the Church. This is the role the Church plays and its an important one. May the true Church be seen. May we as the Church bring glory to God’s One and Only ~Jesus. Blessed be His Name.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Leave Me Alone?

Have you ever heard the song, “Leave Me Alone” sung by Helen Reddy circa 1970’s. (Oops I just dated myself!) The words are easy, “Leave me alone, won't you leave me alone. Please leave me alone now, leave me alone. Leave me alone, please leave me alone, yes leave me......” You get the idea don’t you? Lots of folks who attend church try to get out at the end of every service and get home. They don’t want to have contact with others there. I know because I was that way for a long time. In fact, I have to fight the temptation to leave quickly and not get involved in any relationship with others. It may be fear of rejection, fear of not meeting perceived standards, fear of hurt or just a plain old “leave - me - alone - attitude.” Whatever the reason God teaches through His Word that we are to be in fellowship with other believers because He wants us to mirror the relationship He, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have as the Triune God ~ the Three-in-One.

1. Read Acts 2:42. What did the people devote themselves to as the first “Fellowship of Believers” after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?

There are four things these new believers listed in this verse. First, “they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching...” 

There is a difference between hearing a sermon and listening to a sermon. Hearing just means the sound waves are going through the mechanism of your ears but not really registering in the conscious brain. Listening means hearing and acting on the content of God’s Truth delivered by the pastor.

The believers of this infant church were “devoted” to the teachings they heard. This meant they stuck close to and lived their lives according to what they had learned at the feet of the apostles.

2. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. How is God’s Word (Scripture) described? What is it useful for?

The apostles taught the believers Scripture because it caused them to grow in their faith and become “thoroughly  equipped for every good work” God had planned for them. We too, learn from godly pastors and teachers in church and Bible study so we can be “thoroughly equipped” as well. Our faith grows as we learn more and more about our God.

Second, “they devoted fellowship...” this means they got to know one another and participated together. There is no isolation of any one individual in fellowship. It is important to be in fellowship with other believers in order for growth to occur.

3. Read 1 John 4:7-12. Let’s break this passage down. Summarize each verse:
verse 7 - ____________________________________________________________________
verse 8 - ____________________________________________________________________
verse 9 - ____________________________________________________________________
verse 10 - ___________________________________________________________________
verse 11 - ___________________________________________________________________
verse 12 - ___________________________________________________________________

We learn from this passage, as true followers of Jesus, we are to love one another. How can we love one another if we refuse to have anything to do with other believers. Church isn’t just about listening to a sermon, it is loving others within the Body of Christ (The Church). God gives us the ability to love others from the infinite depths of His love for us shown in the giving of His One and Only Son. If we say we don’t love others we don’t really love as God has shown us. Loving God and loving others makes us complete. Without this we are incomplete. So many of us who lack Christian friendships lack all God has for us.

The third and fourth points of devotion found Acts 2:42 fall under fellowship. The “Breaking of bread” had to do with sharing in communion as we do at church. “Prayer” was done communally as well. Though both can be done on by ourselves, there is power found in doing so with other believers.

4. Read Acts 1:14. What did the disciples do after Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9)? Who was there with them?

It was one long time of prayer together. Can you imagine the atmosphere in this room? If you’ve never experienced this kind of prayer time, I encourage you to do so. We can experience power just like these early believers. Joining other Christians in prayer is daunting to some. Honestly, at times I am scared to be that vulnerable, but each time I do pray like this, I am blessed and feel God’s presence tremendously.

5. Read Matthew 18:19-20. What does Jesus teach in verse 19? What does He say will happen when two or three come together in His Name?

This passage on agreeing in prayer doesn’t mean we will get whatever we want but whatever is in agreement with God’s Will. Notice that Jesus teaches a combination of people coming together in agreement. Christ isn’t teaching isolation but rather community. Yes, we need our time alone in prayer and study, but He emphasizes the importance of being with other believers.

Jesus stressed that whenever two or three come together in His name, He promises to be there with them. This should make us desire community. Granted Jesus walks with us and never leaves us, but being with other Christians can intensify the awareness of His Presence.

6. Read the following passages and describe how “encourage”or “encouragement” is used in each:
Romans 15:5-6 - ____________________________________________________

1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 - ________________________________________________

Hebrews 3:12-14 - ______________________________________________________

How can a person encourage others or receive encouragement if they are isolated? The answer is: it’s not possible. This is another important reason why being in community is so important. We can’t give and receive encouragement alone.

Maybe you’ve been hurt by other Christians and even though you love Jesus you don’t want to have anything to do with being in community. I totally understand. Some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced has been from other believers. (I know I’ve caused pain to others as well.) The last time I was hurt I didn’t want to open myself up to Christian community again. But, after much prayer, study and godly counsel I have decided to believe what Jesus taught, “Where two or three are gathered together, there I am (He is) ....”

The Great “I AM”  is in the midst of true Christ-like fellowship. He doesn’t like the fighting and arguing, the back-biting and complaining either. He walks among those who are unified in Him and not caught-up in selfishness.

7. Read part of Jesus’ prayer found in John 17:20-23. Who is the prayer for? What did Jesus desire for all believers? Why?

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit reside together in perfect unity. Their relationship is flawless and produces joy and delight. Christ wants those who believe in Him to experience this Holy Unity. His prayer was for complete unity, experienced by the Trinity, would also be experienced in the Church. The Church, when completely unified in Christ as a fellowship, lets the world see and know that God sent Jesus to show the world His love.

8. Are there issues in your heart that keep you from Christian fellowship (community)? Explain. 

9. If you believe and are involved in Christian fellowship (community), how has it been beneficial? Explain.

Does Helen Reddy’s 1970’s hit song ring true in your heart?

“Leave me alone, please leave me alone.....”

Or does this old hymn echo in your spirit?

“The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; 
she is his new creation by water and the Word. 
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; 
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. 

Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,
 and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. 
O happy ones and holy! 
Lord, give us grace that we like them, 
the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.”

“Aloneness can lead to loneliness. God’s preventative for loneliness is intimacy ~ meaningful, open, sharing relationships with one another. In Christ we have the capacity for the fulfilling sense of belonging, which comes from intimate fellowship with God and with other believers.” ~ Neil T. Anderson

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Move On, Head Down, Focused on the Race

Sometimes churches can become insular. They become like an island and live to serve only those who are members. They become complacent in the mission that Christ so plainly spelled out in what is known as the great commission found in the Gospels. Here is what Jesus said:

“ Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:17-20

He did not say to remain in one place and minister only to those who go to your church. He said go! Move out! We, as His disciples, are to go and tell others about Jesus. Not only are we to tell others about Jesus, we are to show who Jesus is to the world by our actions seen in service and love.

1. Read 2 Timothy 4:6-11 and answer the following questions:

What do you suppose the phrase “...being poured out like a drink offering” means? 

A drink offering was part of the sacrificial process found in the Old Testament. Before a blood sacrifice was made, a offering of a certain amount of wine was poured out. The word "drink-offering" comes from the Hebrew word “nesek” , which means "to pour out." It was that which was "poured out" upon the altar, and not that which was drank by the people at the eating of the Passover Feast. Any portion of it which was not "poured out" could not properly be called a "drink-offering." 

2. Read Numbers 28:7.  “Offer one quart of wine with each lamb as a drink offering; pour it out to the Lord at the Holy Place.” (NCV) How much wine were they to offer? Where were they to pour it out?

Much like the drink offering, our faith should be “poured out,” not “drunk in.The ancient ritual of the sacrificial wine was that it had to be poured out. When the person drank the wine it benefitted themselves. When it was poured out it represented an emptying of self before God. The Apostle Paul used this example in his life. He gave out everything he had as sacrifice before God. He fully and faithfully served the people who Jesus had sent him to.

3. List some ways God has asked you to “pour yourself out” in service to Him? How did you respond? Explain.

 4. Read 2 Timothy 4:7. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  What three things does Paul say he has done in his life in service to Jesus?

I can’t imagine the opposition Paul faced. We all have our struggles and obstacles but we are still called to keep moving by faith in Jesus. The Lord promises us that He is always with us. Sometimes we feel all alone but we can be assured that we are not alone. Jesus is with us and dwells within us in the filling of His Holy Spirit. I like how Paul uses running a race as an example of the life of a Christian. If you have ever worked up a sweat exercising you can understand the struggle and effort required of a runner. We too are running a race of faith. We are not called to stay put, but to move out! It takes effort.

5. Read Philippians 3:10-14. (NIV) and answer the following questions:

What does the Apostle Paul say he wants to “know” in verse 10? How do you feel about this in your own life as a believer? Are you willing to “know” these things? Explain.

What goal has Paul pressed on to take hold of in verse 12? Is this a goal you have in your life? Why or why not?

Why do you think its important to “forget what is behind?” What are we to do instead?

What do you suppose is the prize?” Who gives the reward at the end of life’s race? Who enables us to run?

In competition, athletes focus on their particular sport with hours and hours, years and years of hard work, practice, blood, sweat and tears so they can reach their goal. They don’t hold back. They don’t give up or look back as they train and are completely focused on reaching the prize at the finish.

Our lives as believers can be compared on some level with these champions. We too should be focused on reaching our goal and that goal is eternity with Jesus. However, before we reach this eternal goal we are in a race. It is a supernatural race. We will face blood, sweat and tears but we must continue to run knowing we are running for an eternal prize ~ eternity with Jesus. The King watches us and not only does He watch us, He coaches us as we live our lives in service to Him. He will welcome across the finish line saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

6. Are you moving or are you sitting still? As part of the “Church” or “Body of Christ,” do you see yourself as a moving part, functioning as a servant of the Most High God? Why or why not?

7. Read 2 Timothy 4:8. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  How do you feel when you think about the “award” awaiting you? 

The Church is not called to be insular but to be active in reaching out to the world. The world needs Jesus and when we get so focused on what we want and having our needs taken care of, we become stagnant. Frankly, we begin to stink. Let’s get moving. Let’s run together in the race of faith. We have a great prize awaiting us. Don’t look back. Strive forward. There’s an eternal reward to be had. Move out Church! It’s time!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Add Some Salt

Jesus used the analogy of salt to show how we should live our lives as His followers. He gives us an example from everyday life so we can have a pattern to follow. There is nothing like a good example to help us learn.

1. Read our main text for today Romans 12:18. Write this verse in your own words. How are we supposed to live at peace with others? What exactly does this mean to a follower of Christ?

2. Read Mark 9:50. What does Jesus say about salt? What are we supposed to have in ourselves and how should we live in regards to other people?

Here are three qualities of salt:

A little salt sets the flavor in food.

When you place a turkey in a bag of brine (saltwater) and leave it overnight, the meat tenderizes and the flavor of the salt sets in the meat. It naturally reaches a level of just enough saltiness to enhance the turkey and not overpower it.

Our conduct as Believers in Jesus should help tenderize the hearts of those we encounter. I don’t mean buttering someone up or being syrupy sweet. Being salt means to “brine” (tenderize)  hardened hearts towards God. In other words, by our living consistent Christ-honoring lives, over time people can see what it means to live for Christ. We are an example of who Jesus is and hopefully our actions begin to soften harden hearts. The “flavor” of our lives is not overbearing but enhances other’s opinion of Jesus.

 Salt is a preservative. 

In Jesus day, salt wasn’t as easy to come by as it is today. It was often used as currency in trade because it was so valuable. One benefit salt was to preserve  meats so they wouldn’t spoil.

The lives of those who don’t know Jesus need the preservative of spiritual salt to allow them the promise of eternal life. We share the Good News of Jesus to show others the benefit of giving their hearts and minds to Christ. He offers the only means to live in relationship with God by mending the spoiled nature of our worldly life and preserving it for eternity.

Salt has healing properties.

Salt was also used to clean and purify wounds. It’s scouring properties were used to get rid of dirt, stains and rust as well.

Our lives should bring the spiritual healing found in knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior. He came into the world to bring the source of healing to our sin-pocked hearts making us right with God. We give healing in sharing the Hope of God ~ Jesus.

3. Read 2 Corinthians 13:11. The Apostle Paul left instructions in his closing to the Corinthian Church. What does he say to do? What is the result of doing these things?

First, we are to “aim at perfection.” The Greek word for this is “katartizo” which means to “perfect, finish, complete.” It is a goal we aim for in our lifetime. Christ is our model and we seek to be like Him. We  will reach this goal when He finally takes us home to heaven. It’s a lifetime process.

Secondly, “be of one mind.” This means not living a two-faced lifestyle. We must be consistent in our behavior. We shouldn’t be one person on Sundays and another throughout the week. We must live authentically. By doing this we show the world who Jesus is. We will face conflict, but to live at peace we must live consistently as Jesus commands us. The benefit  from living this way is having “the peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in our lives. Our lives are examples to others. They see the peace Christ brings in your life, often noting there is something different about you.

5. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. In his letter to the Church in Thessalonica, Paul asks them to respect a certain group of people. Who are they? Why should we do this? How are we supposed to live?

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T  that’s how easy love should be...” goes the song sung by Aretha Franklin. It is actually wise counsel. (Not the whole song but this To love someone properly means we show respect. This particular verse in Thessalonians teaches us to show respect to our pastors and leaders in the church. When they work hard for Jesus and not for themselves, we should show them respect.  There are so many complaints from parishioners every week that it must get discouraging. This often causes a trickle-down effect to the church as a whole and causes grief and disunity. We should be encouraging, NOT discouraging.

Not only should we show respect to our pastors but we should show respect to others. This automatically bring a sense of peace.

6. Read Ephesians 4:30-32. What should we rid ourselves of? Why?

7. Read Ephesians 5:15-16. What are we to be careful about? Why?

8. Read Ephesians 5:21. Why should we “submit to one another?”

In this consumer-driven world we  have been conditioned to look out for #1, ourselves. The Bible teaches just the opposite. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) As Christians we need to put-off this selfishness and check our words before we utter them. This brings peace from God. We receive God’s gift of peace and those around us benefit as well.

9. What benefits do you see as a result of “living at peace with others”? How are you doing in this area of life as a Christian?

We are valuable to Jesus. He thinks so highly of us and loves us so much that He has passed on the responsibility of representing Him to a dying world. We aren’t left to do this on our own. He provides the ability to be “salt and light.” Living as Christ brings His peace. Are you ready and willing to lay your life down in obedience to His commands?

Close your time of study in prayer, submitting yourself to Jesus. Ask Him what He desires for you to do? Ask Him to fill you with the power to live as He does through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, 
and at the right time,
 He will lift you up in honor.” 
1 Peter 5:6