Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Gift of Peace

What a joyous season we are in! In a few short days we will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. I am re-reading the Christmas story in Luke and thought we could use the following passage as our study scripture. Right after Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks.  Then, a host of the angels lifted praises to God and bestowed “peace” onto mankind.  Peace can come in many forms.  There at least three senses of peace we will look more closely at:  Peace with God, Peace within Ourselves, Peace with Others. 

Luke 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Things to think about:
  • Peace with God
    • Just like when two nations are vying for control of the same territory, when we fight God for control of our lives, there is no peace.
    • Romans 5:10 says we “were God’s enemies”. Thankfully it goes on to say we can rejoice because we have now received reconciliation!
    • Jesus came to be the peace offering. In the Old Testament, part of the sacrificial law was the making of a peace offering. This no longer needs to happen because it has been made once and for all.
    • Do you remember what it was like when you resisted God and His earlier offers of peace?
    • When and why did you finally declare a ceasefire?
  • Peace within Ourselves
    • We are now free from guilt, condemnation, and worry. Our enemy is an accuser and a liar whose aim it is to make us doubt God’s goodness. When we doubt, we are robbed of our peace.
    • John 14:27 - Jesus says,  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
    • Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
    • How does the peace that Jesus offers you keep your heart from being troubled and/or allay your fears?
  • Peace with Others
    • Sometimes the hardest people to be at peace with are those closest to us
      • that could include family or fellow believers
    • John 17, beginning in verse 20, is Jesus’ prayer for all future believers (that would be us). It is a prayer of harmony and unity with one another so that the world might believe in Jesus.
      • when we are not at peace with one another, we belie the claims of Christ
    • Do you need to be reconciled (at peace) with someone now?
      • Might this be the Christmas present you need to give this year?

Monday, December 5, 2016

#Sinning isn't #Winning

Everyday we are confronted with opportunities to choose God or not to choose Him.  When stated so plainly, all of us would say that of course we want to choose God.  But the reality is we often don’t (#Sinning). So what happens along the way that redirects our good intentions and causes us to stumble?  Going back to the beginning of something is usually instructive and so it is in our case here.  Let’s look at the original rationalization, Eve succumbing to the serpent’s craftiness, and see what we can learn from it to be victors instead of victims (#Winning).

Genesis 3:6
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. 

Things to think about:

  • three elements to the temptation “Feels Good”, “Looks Good”, Makes Me Feel Better About Myself”
    • see 1 John 2:16  - lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life
  • any one of them is enough to cause us to stumble but if two or all three are present, DANGER!
    • let's think about how we rationalize and get ourselves into trouble
  • Feels Good
    • the fruit of the tree would taste good and be satisfying to her hunger
    • as men, we are primarily physical creatures driven more by our hormones than anything else
    • God created pleasure for our benefit but within certain parameters for our good
    • what are places in your life where Feels Good can override Doing Good?
      • sex, food, sleep, laziness
    • what is the lie of giving in to our appetites?
      • Truth - Luke 12:24, 29
  • Looks Good
    • the fruit was beautiful to behold
    • again, as men we can be overly stimulated visually (to our detriment)
    • God’s creation is beautiful and worthy of our praise
    • what are places in your life where Looks Good can override Doing Good?
      • women, materialism, your appearance
    • what is the lie to giving in to surface-level appeal?
      • Truth - Luke 12:28
  • Makes Me Feel Better About Myself
    • the fruit would feed her ego by giving her wisdom
    • with the various insecurities we have about ourselves, we can be vulnerable to things that would purport to makes us stronger
    • The Book of Proverbs is almost exclusively about acquiring wisdom, so in and of itself, it is a very good thing
    • what are places in your life where Makes Me Feel Better About Myself overrides Makes God Well-pleased With Me?
      • Possessions, power, knowledge, success, gossip, arguing a point, stubbornness 
    • what is the lie of giving in to a weak self-image?
      • Truth - Romans 8:17
  • #Winning
    • 1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
    • When Eve was tempted, she listened to the lies and gave in.  When Jesus was tempted, he refuted the lies with the Word of God.
    • When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he RAN
    • When Moses was unable to hold his arms up any longer, his friends supported him (Exodus 17:11-12)
    • Romans 8:37-39 
      • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Virtuous Reality

As we approach the Christmas celebration, every retailer wants to get in your wallet.  As it turns out, God wants to get into your heart! There are so many ways and places we can spend our money; some noble, some less so.  While my electronics clients would love for you to invest in virtual reality, our Savior is more interested in virtuous reality.  The real needs are stark and significant.  While there are many, many examples in the Word of people who are barely getting by, here is one that leaves little room for misunderstanding.

  In terms of our topic for the morning, let's look at Job 24:7-9
  Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
     they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold.
  8 They are drenched by mountain rains
     and hug the rocks for lack of shelter.
  The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
     the infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
  Things to think about:
  •   The Bible is replete with passages that illustrate God's compassion for the poor, the widow, and the orphan.
    •   can you share a time that was especially meaningful to you when you felt God's deep love for one of the least of these?
    •   How did that impact you in the short term? How has it impacted you permanently?
  •   Have you ever been in a situation where you were one of the least of these?
    •   if so, did anyone minister to you during that time?
    • had did that make a difference for you?
  • As mentioned in the intro above, there is a limitless supply of marketers competing for your dollars.  
    • Are you ever challenged to make your Christmas giving different than in years before?
    • If so, have you actually followed up on that intent?  
  • "For where your treasure is, there your heart is also" - Matthew 6:21
    • let’s talk about some places God has directed (or is right now directing you) to show where your heart REALLY is?
    •  Do you have an idea of how we can we come together as a group to serve the least of these and to deepen our ties with one another?

 Looking forward to seeing what God will do as we search very near the core of His heart!

Monday, November 21, 2016

What are YOU thankful for?

In this week of Thanksgiving, if you need something to be thankful about, this week's study will hopefully meet that need!  Many of you are going through hard times right now. Whether it’s health-related issues, job transitions/pressures, broken relationships, or maybe even a crisis of faith, the “here and now” can be overwhelming sometimes. We can be so focused on what we don’t have and miss the amazing promises of God as to what we do have, both now and for eternity.  Peter gives us a clear reminder that things are not only going to be OK, they are going to be perfect. Below in our notes, I phrased the comments to emphasize that these promises are for YOU, not just believers in general, so that you can feel and absorb these truths in a new and personal way.

1 Peter 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Things to think about (and to be thankful for):

  • Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  He’s not just a wise teacher, a prophet, a good role model, He is the Son of God.
    • YOUR Lord is God in the flesh
    • He wants to be with YOU
  • God is merciful.
    • Mercy is the quality of not getting what you deserve. Why is mercy important?
    • Thanks be to God YOU don’t get what YOU deserve!
  • He has given YOU new birth
    • can you describe your feelings when you held one of your children right after they were born? 
      • I think about all of the promise that is represented in a new life
    • have you ever wished you could push the reset button on life and have a do-over? In a sense, God has done that for YOU. Jesus taught Nicodemus that he must be born again, not of flesh but of the Spirit. John 3
  • He has given YOU a living hope
    • this hope that we have is alive and real.  It is not a fanciful idea or a compelling philosophy. It has been bought and sealed by the finished work of Jesus dying on the cross for YOUR sins and God raising Him from the dead.
    • YOU have every reason to hope because YOU have nothing to be afraid of! The two worst things that can happen, death and paying for YOUR transgressions, have already been taken care of.
    • there is no need for fear, there is no need for guilt and shame
  • YOU have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade
    • Earthly investments can be fleeting things. Bubbles and crashes can wipe out years of savings and perceived security.
    • God is keeping YOUR inheritance in the safest place possible - Heaven, shielded by God’s power.  Now that’s better than the FDIC!
  • Salvation is the big prize waiting for YOU, ready to be revealed at the last time
    • YOUR life will end on the most amazing high note possible - verse 9: for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
  • My prayer is that YOU can take a step back from the real challenges of YOUR life and be thankful for the unspeakably great blessings God has for YOU

Monday, November 14, 2016

Say, See, Step

Say, See, Step

Whether you grew up in Sunday School or not, you’re probably familiar with the little song that warns, “Be careful little eyes what you see…for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see.” It goes on to talk about what you hear, where you go, etc.  Proverbs 4 is the grown-up version of this and it still has great application for us. We are counseled to be careful with what we say, what we see, and where we step. The practicality of this biblical wisdom is both immediate and important.

Proverbs 4:24-27
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil.

Things to think about:
·      Say – why does what we say matter?
o   Matthew 15:17 - But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
o   What falls under the general category of perversity and corrupt?
§  It certainly seems that lying would be on the list.  Cursing too. What about false flattery? Gossip? Speaking ill of another (even if they have hurt you)?
§  If these bad things fall from our lips, let’s ask God to clean up the dirty parts of our hearts from where they spring.
o   What kind of speech should we have?
§  Ephesians 4:29 - 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.
·      See – why does what we see matter?
o   Our verse tells us to look straight ahead. “Straight” is a common metaphor for what is good and righteous.
o   Jesus said in Matthew 6:22-23, 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
§  Research tells us that 65% of us are visual learners.  We process and remember what we see!
§  What are things that can fill us with darkness when we watch/view/see them?
§  Is there any darkness that you’re allowing in?  What would you be willing to give up watching on TV?
§  How are you doing with lust? Have you been working on looking away?
·      Step – why does where we go matter?
o   Again, the concept of “straight” appears here with the admonishment to “not turn to the left or the right”
§  Where are places that can be a temptation for you? If you travel for work, do you go to the bar in the hotel (or somewhere else) alone?
§  Some places we can go aren’t good or bad unto themselves but rather they take us away from where we should be.
·      Think about hobbies or other self-indulgences that when overdone pull you away from where God would have you.  What comes to mind?
o   More broadly, stepping can be a word picture for our actions in general
·      Of these three, which is the area of greatest challenge for you?
o   Is it your practice to pray for wisdom and strength to be victorious?
o   How can a friend help you when you need support in your weakness?
§  Have you ever actually implemented this?
·      The Prescription is found in Proverbs 4:23
o   Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
§  As a wise man once said, “all means all” and “everything means everything”

Looking forward to seeing you in the morning!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Day

With tomorrow being Election Day, it seems only appropriate to take a step back and get some heavenly perspective.  As I’ve talked to many people about our presidential options this year, most feel some level of disgust or despair with our choices.  Neither candidate seems to inspire. The pundits tell us that many people will just stay home, not being able to swallow the idea of voting for one or the other.  We worry about what the candidate we’re voting for might do, or more probably, what the candidate we’re voting against might do. This quite nasty campaign season has aroused fears that the very fabric of our nation and society are being irreparably torn and frayed. Today’s study isn’t about who to vote for though; rather it is taking a look at Who is really in charge, both today and for eternity.

Psalm 11

In the Lord I have taken shelter.
How can you say to me,
“Flee to a mountain like a bird!
For look, the wicked prepare their bows,
they put their arrows on the strings,
to shoot in the darkness at the morally upright.
When the foundations are destroyed,
what can the godly accomplish?”
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes watch;
his eyes examine all people.
The Lord approves of the godly,
but he hates the wicked and those who love to do violence.
May the Lord rain down burning coals and brimstone on the wicked!
A whirlwind is what they deserve!
Certainly the Lord is just;
he rewards godly deeds;
the upright will experience his favor.

Things to think about:
·      Is this election stirring up in you angst about where our society is headed?
o   Does it feel like maybe we have reached a tipping point where our Judeo-Christian values are on the way out? Are the “morally upright” under attack as David suggests?
o   He articulates what many people seem to feel at this point in our history, “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the godly accomplish?”
§  Does this describe you?
·      David starts off in verse 1 by saying his faith is in God.
o   Why is this an important foundational statement?
o   His logic then builds to, “if I’m trusting God then why would I run away in fear because powerful people are intent on hurting the morally upright?”
o   There is a tendency when circumstances appear to be too powerful or inevitable to run and hide.  David clearly rejects this kind of cowardice.
·      Verse 4 is really the key here: The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
o   Our hope does not rely on whoever is sitting in the Oval Office, rather it is in He Who sits on His Holy Throne.
o   How does this truth comfort you in the midst of uncertainty surrounding our country?
·      God will not be mocked, whatever a man’s sows, so will he reap (Galatians 6:7)
o   God is watching, He sees and knows exactly what is going on.
o   Both His judgment and His blessing are coming to those according to their deeds
o   Certainly the Lord is just; He rewards godly deeds and the upright will experience His favor
·      As we have remarked a number of times recently, be strong, be of good courage. 

o   Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.”