Archive for October, 2013

A number of years ago our family took a two day trip to the Sequoia National Park. This National forest is the place where the trees are hundreds of feet tall. This is the land of the giant sequoia trees. Some of these trees are 3,200 years old and reach a height of 311 feet.

It was here as well that we took our kids and went into a cave of stalagmites and stalactites called Crystal Cave. It was a beautiful sight seeing God’s awesome creation. While we were in the huge cavernous room, the guide said that we were going to shut off all of the lights of the place and asked if everyone could refrain from making any noise. They said not to move but just see what it is to be totally in the dark.

Well, our daughter was about one at the time and we sure wondered what she would think of this experience. They turned out the lights and what an experience. We stood there holding our hands directly in front of our faces not able to see anything. The silence was eerie. We knew that we were with a group of people but couldn’t see them or hear them. Our daughter was a little bit anxious after about 45 seconds and started to wiggle. I whispered in her ear, “Don’t worry, the lights will come on soon.”

Thank goodness for the light. Thank goodness for the comfort that it brings, thank goodness for peace that is given as we can see our way.

  1. Read Matthew 5:13-16. Summarize in your own words what Jesus is saying.

  1. Jesus indicates that it is possible for Christians to lose their saltiness or hide their light. Has there ever been a time when you have lost your “saltiness” or hidden your light? What caused this?

  1. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to keep or retain their “saltiness?” How can a person be a better “light-bearer?”

  1. In verse 5:16, Jesus tells us that one of our main purposes in life is to be a light-bearer in this dark world. According to this verse, what is the purpose of doing good deeds?

  1. List some of the people and places in your world that you know could use a little salt or experience the radiance of Jesus.

  1. Jesus says to be generous with our lives and open them up to others. When you care or serve someone, you begin to develop mutual respect and trust. As a result of serving someone, the barriers to the Gospel begin to melt away. Think of a few specific ways that you can serve, care for and be a light for a friend today.

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We have a great challenge ahead of us, but it is also an exciting challenge. We live in a community where it is estimated that 82% of people do not attend church and 90% do not have a personal relationship with Christ. Think about that! In Livingston County, there are just over 183,000 people. That means there are approximately 164,700 of our friends and neighbors who don’t have eternal life. There are also approximately 151,000 of our neighbors who don’t go to church. If we have this many people in our community who need Christ and only a handful of people who are taking up the call to reach them, what do we do?

God has put us right here to reach our neighbors and friends. Reaching people is more than a responsibility; it is a challenge and a privilege. We are invited to bring people into God’s eternal family. We have the joy of helping a person cross over from eternal death to eternal life! If you have ever introduced someone to Christ, you know what I mean. It is the highlight of our Christian life. It’s exciting! We can play a part. I don’t know of anything more significant that we could give our lives to.

  1. Read Matthew 9:35-38. Oftentimes we look down our noses at people who don’t know Jesus. We critique or criticize their choices and lifestyle. Jesus sees lost people totally different. Have you ever felt certain people are too far gone for salvation?

  1. In verse 36, what are the words He uses to describe them? Why does He describe them in this way?

  1. In Matthew 9:37, what is the problem that Jesus identifies? Is this still true today at CBC and in our community?

  1. Can you imagine apple trees filled with beautiful ripe fruit or corn fields yielding bumper crops but there are not enough farmers to harvest the fields? How is this similar to what Jesus is describing?

  1. What is the first command Jesus gives to His disciples in verse 38?

  1. How does 1 Timothy 2:1-4 fit with this command?

  1. Read John 4:35-38. Now read this again and insert your own name and street as if Jesus were talking to you face-to-face. For instance, “I tell you, Joe, open your eyes…look at Elm Street…”

  1. Read John 4:38 out loud with emphasis and again, insert your name.

  1. Think of three friends, co-workers, family members, or neighbors and pray for “workers” to be sent to them and pray to see these people as Jesus sees them.

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In Luke 19 we learn that it’s possible for really good people (like us) to perform poorly when it comes to compassion for those we consider the “bad” people in our world. The “good guys,” like the Pharisees, were distraught that Jesus cared for the very people they saw as the enemies of Judaism, the people who shamelessly contradicted all that the Jewish leaders held to be of value and worth. So they grumbled among themselves that Jesus, who claimed to be God, was often found hanging out with what the religious leaders thought was the wrong crowd.

The Pharisees had what I call the “good guy, bad guy” theology. Since God is holy, perfect and good, surely His favor must rest on those who are “good” and religious. As for those who are “bad” and deserving of judgment, the only thing a righteous God would extend to them would be disfavor and condemnation. That’s why Jesus was so odd to the Pharisees. How could someone who claimed to be God spend time with prostitutes, tax collectors and other “bad” elements of society? If He were really God, wouldn’t He spend more time with the “good guys” of society? The Pharisees were right about God’s holiness and justice, yet they failed to see that this holy God was also a God of mercy, compassion, patience, and love.

If we aren’t careful, our theology can become distorted and misapplied. When that happens, life and compassion get distorted as well. No one was clearer on His theology than Christ. Yet no one has ever been more compassionate to the “bad” crowd.

  1. Read Luke 18:9-14 to see an example of “good guy, bad guy” theology in action.

  1. Now look at Luke 19:1-10. What are the similarities between the attitudes of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 and Zacchaeus in 19:3,8?

  1. List some of the attitudes of the Pharisees in these passages.

  1. Why does Jesus dine with Zacchaeus in 19:5-7?

  1. How did meeting needs and rubbing shoulders with Zacchaeus soften his heart for the Gospel?

  1. Why does this expression of compassion and love toward Zacchaeus bother others?

  1. Look at Jesus’ perspective toward the “bad guys” in Matt. 9:12-13.

  1. Pray that God would give you a more compassionate heart toward others in the community. Pray for a specific opportunity to reach out to others who are not as fortunate as you.

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Okay, I’ll confess, I’m a germophobe—I don’t like germs or being around people that are sick with colds and the flu. This is a bad time of year when we shut the windows for the winter and the kids go back to school where it is germ infested. I’ll do almost anything to keep from getting sick like lathering up with the hand sanitizer while I’m at church on Sunday morning.

Today we’ll read a passage that always makes me stop and wonder—I wonder what I would have done in this situation? The story is about Jesus and the leper. I can imagine the suffering leper covered in sores, his skin drying up and flaking off and his bones so diseased and brittle that he became disfigured. He was supposed to separate himself from people and not go near. As people approached him he was to call out, “Unclean, Leper!” and go in the opposite direction, but he didn’t. Emotionally and physically an outcast from all human interaction, Jesus does something amazing.

  1. Read Luke 5:12-16. Notice the leper didn’t avoid Jesus but actually came to Him. What do you think the leper knew about Jesus?

  1. Notice the posture in which the leper approached Jesus. Compare his attitude to that of the Pharisees (5:21-22, 30). What can you learn from the leper’s attitude?

  2. Jesus does something radical here in verse 13. He touches the unclean leper. What do you think Jesus was demonstrating here? What is it that Jesus wants you to model?

  1. Who are the “lepers” in your life? Are there people whom you avoid or are tough to love? Compare your response to Jesus’ response.

  1. Jesus says, “I am willing.” How willing are you to reach out and touch someone with the love and compassion of Jesus?

  1. What is one way that you could reach out and express care and compassion to them or touch them for Jesus’ sake?

  1. Take a moment and pray for that person that God has placed on your heart. Ask God to open a door so that you can express care and compassion to them in the next day or so.

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“In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome…”

~ I John 5:3

When I think about the amazing love God has poured out on me, I do feel gratitude and love for Him. But the more I engage with the things of life (busy schedules, the irritable humans I rub elbows with, etc.) it doesn’t take too long for that sense of gratitude to diminish and for selfish thoughts to rise up. Insecurities and fear emerge. It is sad but true…in any given week, distractions of the world can make my love for God look a whole lot more like an ideology and less of what I long for, a love relationship with the living God.

And so, this past week has been helpful to raise my thoughts to God more often and to understand what true and passionate love for Him can and should look like for me personally. After all, if I really love God and want to love Him well and in a way that He desires to be loved, shouldn’t I be setting fear and insecurity firmly aside and pushing forward in obedience to Him?

What response did you have to this past week in your own spiritual journey Forward? Please feel free to leave a comment…

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This past summer I watched a little boy jump from the side of the pool into the water as his grandfather held out his arms before him. That little boy had no doubt that his grandfather was there for him and would catch him! The man said to me, as I stood in the water nearby watching, “Typically, my grandson is the most timid little boy. I cannot tell you how much it thrills me to see him have no fear to jump into the water like this.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the same confidence in God as the boy had in his grandpa? Unfortunately, I don’t always see God this way. I remember days facing challenges, unsure of the result, afraid to take the next steps forward. What if l try but fail? My fear of failure has often kept me from trying. I’ve been like a timid child, afraid to jump in the water.

  1. Thinking back to this boy and his sudden fearlessness of the water, what were some characteristics of his grandpa that he trusted?

  1. Think of a time when doubt kept you from moving forward in obedience to God. Was there something that prevented you from trusting God in that situation? Did you have regrets later?

  1. Has there been a time when you stepped forward in obedience to God despite your doubt and fears? What enabled you to do so?

  1. Read 1 Peter 5:6-7. Peter highlights several of God’s characteristics. What are they and how can trusting in these help you to overcome fear?

  1. Read 1 Peter 5:6-7. How does the Bible say you are to deal with stress, hassles and fears?

  1. Read Psalm 103:8-13, 17. List some of the ways God views you. How does knowing this help you to jump off the side of the pool into His arms?

  1. Is there a faith step you have been hesitant to take? Can you take this to your loving Heavenly Father and cast it into His arms? Take a moment to do so.

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It makes my hands sweat just thinking about them—roundabouts. There was one particular time when I was in a bit of a hurry to meet a friend at a restaurant on the east side of 23 when I made a mistake. A pickup truck in the lane nearest me blocked my view of a motorcyclist behind it. In order to be able to exit for the restaurant, I quickly changed lanes, cutting off the motorcycle—a police officer. A few minutes later, as he approached my stopped car in a nearby parking lot, he asked if I knew why he pulled me over. “Failure to yield,” I replied. Fortunately, I only received a warning but failure to yield might carry with it some disastrous consequences.

In the closing days of Joshua’s life, the last action he would take as Israel’s leader was to call the people to renew their commitment to the Lord. He warned them of the consequences if they failed to yield to God.

  1. Read Joshua 24:1-13. Why do you think Joshua recounts Israel’s history?

  1. Joshua reminds Israel of God’s faithfulness. In what ways has God shown His faithfulness to you? What would be the highlights of your story?

  1. Read 24:14-15. After all they have been through, why do you think the Israelites are given a choice now about whom to yield and serve?

  1. Read 24:16-18. How do the people respond to Joshua’s challenge to yield to God?

  1. In verses 19-27, Joshua really doesn’t believe they’re sincere about their commitment to the Lord. Why do you think he is suspicious?

  1. What other “gods,” besides the Lord, are you tempted to serve? How can you resist them?

  1. Joshua used a stone to remind them of their commitment. How can you show that you mean business with the Lord?

  1. What is one concrete spiritual commitment you want to make?

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