Monday, October 31, 2016

Three Promises

I was reading Proverbs the other week and this verse jumped out at me. The sowing and reaping aspect of this was compelling, but even more so were the three promises. This is a short but profound teaching.

Proverbs 21:21
Whoever pursues righteousness and love
    finds life, prosperity and honor.

Things to think about:
  • The Message translates the beginning part of this verse as “Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind…”
    • I’m struck by the intentionality of the verbs used – pursues, hunting. First observation is that they are in the present tense. Becoming a Christian isn’t the end point, becoming Christ-like is
    • These aren’t casual efforts, or stumbling upon something, rather they are focused on their object
    • Do we pursue righteousness and love like our work or favorite activity?
  • The Pursuit
    • Like a good hunter, we must become students of what we’re are after. How do we know what righteousness and love look like?
    • Who in your life embodies these qualities?
    • When you ask God to help you be righteous, what kinds of things come to your mind that would tell you something is righteous or not?
    • Have you had an opportunity in the last week to demonstrate love?
  • The Promises
    • Life, Prosperity, and Honor
      • Sounds like winning the heavenly lottery to me! See Proverbs 3:16
      • Who in their right mind wouldn’t want these things? If that’s true, why do so few go hunting for righteousness and love?
    • What do you think Solomon means by “life”?
      • One hint: John 14:6
      • What does it mean to truly have “life”?
    • Prosperity is a tricky one. Are we being promised financial success if we pursue righteousness and love?
      • If not, what might it mean?
      • Hint Psalm 103:2-5
    • Honor
      • We have talked a lot recently about legacy and significance. How does the concept of honor relate to these?
      • Psalm 103:4 – even God crowns us with love and compassion
      • What is the  opposite of honor? How could that creep into the picture?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Grace to the Rescue

Practically everyday, we encounter a person or situation that tests our patience. I had just such a situation this weekend with a family member. I really felt like I was being wrongly accused of something and I was getting caught up in a maelstrom of anger, frustration, and hurt.  You know how when you’re upset with someone else you start having conversations in your head of what you’re going to tell them (or at least would like to)?  Welcome to my Sunday morning!  I’m really glad there weren’t "thought clouds" hovering over my head because it wasn’t pretty!   

James 1:19-20
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Things to think about:

  • When was the last time you got really angry?
    • Was being tired or hungry part of the situation?
    • Were you able to keep it together?
    • Are there some people who just know how to push your buttons?
  • What are the kinds of things that set you off more than others?
    • People who show ingratitude, selfishness, an attitude of being better, won’t listen
    • Situations where you are being overlooked, treated unfairly, taking the blame, not being listened to, lied to
  • Does your temper usually win?
    • Has this changed in the  past 10 years?
    • if it has changed (for better or worse) why do you think that is?
  • Our verse says we should be quick to listen
    • oftentimes our disagreements are really misunderstandings. “well, i thought you did that because…” “I thought the situation was like this…” “ I heard you said…”
    • May times the best response is a question.  “From your perspective, what happened here?”  “Can you help me understand where you coming from on this?”
      • it may come as a shock that what we thought were the facts may not be entirely correct or complete
      • has this happened to you?
  • We’re to be slow to speak
    • kind of goes hand in hand with quick to listen. It’s pretty hard to have a lot to say when you’re busy listening
    • two ears, one mouth  - use them in that order!
    • do you have a tendency to blurt something out before you have all of the facts?
  • Take a deep breath and be slow to get angry
    • in my situation, I prayed and tried to replace the “conversation I want to have” with the conversation Jesus would rather I have
    • it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to exhibit some grace when I what I really wanted to do was air a grievance
    • How does this approach change the dynamic of a volatile situation?
  • The upshot in my story is that bridges were built not burned. After several hugs and a few tears, I learned something about my family member, myself, and the real-life transformational power of prayer

Monday, October 17, 2016

Arrogance and Aggression

I have been following Rick Warren’s recent series on stress in our lives and Sunday’s devotional really struck a chord with me, both for its counterintuitive perspective and that it hit pretty close to home.  Have a read through it and then there are some questions to help facilitate a Spirit-led conversation.

By Rick Warren — Oct 16, 2016

“Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29b NIV).
The third thing Jesus says in the Bible’s stress management sentence is, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29b NIV).
What can you learn from Jesus Christ that will lower the stress in your life? Gentleness and humility. You say, “Wait a minute! That’s not exactly what I want to learn. Why didn’t Jesus say, ‘I’ll teach you endurance and stamina’ or ‘I’ll teach you confidence and courage’?” Jesus wants you to learn gentleness and humility to help manage your stress. Why? 
You probably don’t realize it, but the two biggest causes of stress in your life are arrogance and aggression
Aggression happens when you do things too quickly. You don’t wait. You don’t ponder. You don’t delay. You don’t think it through. You don’t trust God’s guidance and direction. You just jump in with both feet. And as a result, you get over committed, and you fill up your life with a lot of things that it shouldn’t be filled with.
Arrogance is the idea that you know what’s best for you, so you’re going to control everything in your life. You think you can handle things better than God can. Don’t you think that attitude probably creates a great deal of stress in your life? 
The truth is when you try to do it all, have it all, be it all, and experience it all, that is aggression and arrogance. What’s the antidote? Gentleness and humility. The two things we think we don’t need in life are the two things that reduce stress in our lives. 
You’ve tried everything else to reduce your stress. Why don’t you try trusting God? Come to Jesus. He is gentle and humble of heart, and he will give you rest.

Things to Think About:
  • How does arrogance (thinking you know best) contribute to your anxiety?
    • we talk a lot about ego and pride and this is in the same vein
  • another way Pastor Rick talks about things that contribute to our stress is taking on too many activities and responsibilities because we think we can or must do all of them. Does this resonate with you?
  • What does it mean to humble yourself before God?
    • Oftentimes with a boxer, the only time he gets humble is after 10 seconds flat on his back!
    • How are we often like the boxer?
    • How would God have as act instead?
  • What are some habits you have formed that are in the category of aggressive? 
    • could be things like saying things you later regret, making a poor decision because you feel there is no other option, interrupting others, not giving someone enough time to come to a realization on their own, getting angry or frustrated easily...
  • How can you practice gentleness today with the people and in the activities you have committed to?
  • How does Jesus model gentleness?
    • what are some examples of how He treated “sinners”?
    • how did He treat those who struck Him and crucified Him?
  • How does Jesus model humility?
    • see Philippians 5-11

Monday, October 10, 2016

Be Strong & Courageous

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

If you read the verse in its full context, it seems a little out of place. Paul is in the middle of telling the church at Corinth about his planned trip to Macedonia, an update on Apollos and Timothy, and then he throws in this pearl of wisdom. One of the things that made this verse jump out at me is that it is full of verbs: Be, stand, be, be, do. It is not theoretical or rhetorical, rather simple words that any of us can understand and importantly, apply. The other quality it has that I’m hoping we can explore is that it is distinctly masculine. This isn’t a verse for sissies but for real men.

Things to think about:

·       Be on your guard – this presupposes we are to be alert and aware of attacks. Nobody needs to be on guard for something good coming their way!
o   Jesus tells the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane to  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
o   Let’s get specific about what you’re on guard about
o   What are you primary forms of defense?
·       Stand firm in the faith
o   People and events can conspire to challenge our faith. Admittedly, it can get rough sometimes whether it’s a series of things happening or the magnitude or duration of a single event is just too much to handle
o   How do you see God’s hand either as the author of what’s happening or His hand as your form of rescue?
·       Be courageous; be strong
o   Now Paul is going from staying in place (be on guard, stand firm) to moving forward
o   A quick search on Bible Gateway for “be strong” yielded 36 hits that almost invariably included “be strong and courageous”. Clearly these go together.
o   Courage has us going into uncharted territory where it’s risky
o   Is courage the absence of fear or something else? See Psalm 27:1
o   Do you sense that God is asking you to take a risk or do something that makes you uncomfortable?
o   2 Samuel 22:33, 35
·       Do everything in love
o   Of course, we have to look only a few chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 13
§  Absent love Paul says we are a noisy gong, nothing, profitless
o   How does Jesus, himself love incarnate, instruct us with respect to love?
§  Matthew 22:37-39

Monday, October 3, 2016


I was reading last week in Matthew 16 and came across this back-and-forth between Jesus and His disciples in verses 5-12. If you think there’s not funny stuff in the Bible, read on!

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Things to think about:

  • You gotta love the disciples! You can just picture Jesus shaking His head going, “Oh my gosh! Seriously??? You guys really think I’m literally talking about yeast and bread?” Heavy sigh…
    • Somehow they hadn’t connected the dots that since Jesus had TWICE miraculously fed thousands of people, He wasn't too concerned or constrained by their lack of provisions.  
  • It is funny to read about it now but we’re not much more sophisticated or astute than the twelve.  In fact, we do the same things, don’t we?
    • In what ways do you feel you do not have what God can use to accomplish His purposes?
      • Maybe you’re short on talent, money, proper training, or time.  Maybe you haven’t “earned your stripes” by going to Africa or South America on a mission trip, served as a deacon, know the words and melodies of obscure hymns, memorized  the 23rd Psalm, or some other “sign" of a mature believer. We can come up with lots of reasons why our perceived insufficiencies opt us out of making a difference. 
      • If God can meet the needs of thousands with a few paltry loaves and fish, then He can probably work with whatever inadequacies you and I bring.
    • But He did take all that was offered to Him in order to feed the people. God doesn’t want us to give some of what we have, He wants it all.  But remember - All is always enough!
    • Jesus gave thanks and blessed it. Put into His hands, our offering becomes sufficient.  In fact, He blesses it in a way that causes overflowing (they had to pick up basketfuls after everyone had their fill).
    • These same forgetful and not overly bright disciples are the origin of the path by which you and I have come to faith. If these guys could be used to change the world (which they did), can you think of a good reason God couldn’t use you to help build His Kingdom too?
  • Now that we’re talking about it, right now ask God to bring into your thoughts how has He previously taken little and made it sufficient
    • my mind tends to go to financial things but the topic is much bigger than that. For some, God took a broken family and made it enough. For others it could be the blessing of a well timed phone call, a smile when you were down, 
    • So when we get a little thickheaded worrying about how something is going to work out, it is good to have memories of how Jesus has delivered before
  • The yeast He was speaking about was the erroneous and legalistic teachings of these two sects of Judaism.  Both taught the people in error and Jesus was making the point that it doesn’t take much error to spoil all of the teaching.
    • Jesus cares much more about your eternal soul than your stomach.  He has promised us that God knows our material needs and will meet them.
    • Lack of food is unlikely to destroy any of us.  Lack of knowledge can be fatal. Be careful who you listen to and ALWAYS test it against God’s infallible word.