< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

Searching for meaning in life

Reading the newspaper can be very depressing. We read about war, violence, crime and corruption on a daily basis. At the same time we see “inspirational” books and articles come out by the hundreds about finding meaning in life, how to be happy and how to be successful. As a Christian, I find this almost as discouraging as the news.

The reason I say that is: people are running to these books and ideas and gurus because they are searching. They’re hungry and even a little desperate. But, they are searching in all the wrong places. As Christians we need to say “enough.”

Positive thinking helps… but it’s not the answer. Organizing our homes and our lives aren’t bad things…but they’re not the answer. Getting good grades, having a successful career are nice…but they’re not the answer.

Everyone has a built in hunger for God. He created us that way – with a little hole inside that can only be filled by Him. We don’t always recognize that, but it’s there. We think it’s something else and go after money, fame, security, material items, power - but nothing fills the void.

One by one everything else fails us. As Christians, as a church, it’s time to start paying close attention to God. It’s time to start being transformed into the image of His son. It’s time to grow our spirituality and share the answer with the people searching.

“Spirituality is an inward relationship with God that fills every part of living with Christ.” It’s a molding process to make us into the people God wants us to be and we want to be.

If we want the world to change – we have to start first with ourselves and then our church. Spirituality enables us to see God at work in everything. Then when we don’t totally understand the why we still believe that God never wastes a relationship or situation in developing our interior life. That’s why we can “always give thanks for everything in the name of Christ Jesus.”

SO – if we decide God’s time IS now – we need to open our hearts, read and digest the scripture. Include Christ in every detail of our lives, examine all we do in the light of what we know He wants from us. Give Him all our excuses and commit to obedience.

If the goal of a Christian is to know and love God and then live with Him forever, then living toward that goal is what makes an abundant and quality life.

When we seek God’s will we need to remember that the “where” and “what” are less important then the “who.” God wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to believe that His Son is who He says He is. And to tell others that every time we get a chance with both our words and our actions.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Part Two: Managing your time

So what constructive things can we do to make our lives less hectic and more fulfilled?

1. Let done be done – give a task your best and then let it be finished!

2. Boss your time – look at your calendar to see what it says about your priorities. Really decide what you want to be doing – don’t let anyone else tell you what you want to be doing. If you want to be a stay at home mom – don’t ever let anyone tell you should be in the work force because what you’re doing isn’t important.

If you want to switch from some “high powered” job or professional title and become a personal trainer or florist – don’t let society pressure you into thinking just because it doesn’t pay as well – it’s not as good.

My brother, a Lutheran minister, was the assistant bishop for his conference in Philadelphia. After a couple years of that it was “time” to become bishop and everyone expected him to. But, he turned it down because he went in to the ministry to preach and be with a congregation. Gordon has a notebook on every single family in his church. He visits every house surrounding the church for however many miles – on his bike – to invite those people to church. His church grew from about 50 to 500 people while he was there. For him – being a bishop with its politics, its meetings and the paper work – just wasn’t important – even though everyone else told him the title was.

A dedicated cardiac surgeon will place patient care ahead of a golf game.

An effective teacher will stay after school to help a student rather then go shopping.

A committed critical care nurse is more eager to take care of her patients then fill out insurance forms.

Some executives are voluntarily downshifting to spend more time with their families.

Decide your goals – making sure they fit with God’s goals – and then control your time for your goals.

Also, while you are bossing your time, allow flextime. Build a cushion even as much as 25% extra for those unexpected moments you don’t want to miss. Basically refocus your life on what really matters.

3. Learn to say no – BUT, say it for the right reasons. Many times we say yes to a position or job or committee only because we are flattered to be asked. Other times we don’t know how to turn someone down. We don’t think we have a great reason, we don’t want them to think badly of us, but no one can do everything that everyone wants them to do.

4. Measure life by quality – Stop judging your life by how many committees you’re on. How many commitments. It’s ok to walk on the beach, read a magazine in the hammock, sit with your spouse and watch the sun go down, spend an afternoon fishing, play a sport or listen to music. Women especially feel guilty taking time out to relax. I think that’s why we plan so many family outings – then we can do something fun, but it's still sort of like you’re doing it for your kids or husband. We should just enjoy life more. It’s not only OK, it’s good!

And finally – again – use Jesus as your model for using time. Ask yourself at the beginning of the day how many hours you are willing to place in God’s hands for Him to use as He chooses. If life happens in the interruptions like I’ve heard Gloria Gaither say – we can’t be too busy and tied to our schedules for God to interrupt us!

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Friday, April 27, 2007

How We Spend Our Time

I am still sharing from my lesson based on the book Growing Your Soul; Practical Ways to Increase Your Spirituality:

Time. I don’t know anyone – at least adults – who say they have enough. Yet supposedly Americans have more free time then ever before in history. People are obsessed with time. We’ve all read the articles where someone has figured out how many years we spend sleeping, how many waiting inline, how many sitting at a traffic light or on hold on the phone. Someone said the average person wastes enough hours in 1 decade to get a 4-year college degree. (Doesn’t that make you feel good!)

Time can be spent, but not bought, saved, but not stockpiled, given, but not loaned. It can be remembered, but not reversed. You can waste a lifetime, but you can’t create an extra hour. Time waits for no one and nobody really knows where it goes – it’s just – gone!

Ever feel stumped when your spouse comes in and says, “So, what did you do all day?”

We get angry if the car in front of us is going the speed limit, if the person in the grocery line in front of us writes a check – and then heaven forbid stop to enter the amount in her ledger here! Take the receipt home and do it where you’re not holding up the line!

We put in more time to earn more money to buy more things that we don’t need that require time to keep in good repair even though we aren’t using them!

Our compulsions with schedules and calendars make time our enemy. Busyness takes a toll on our emotions and spirit. Somehow – we need to make time our friend instead of our enemy.

Pastor Milo Arnold wrote, “Jesus didn’t need longer days nor extended years. He just took the time He had and fitted life into it so that His work was done when His time was gone.” Yet He always had time for people and spent much time alone with God. Jesus is a worthy model of effectiveness of time.

Gandhi said, “There is more to life then increasing its speed.”

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way it became a status symbol to be busy. The multi-taskers became people for us to emulate. And when that happened a lot of just plain good living was sacrificed.

God gave us Sundays off. Most of us don’t take them. Many of us though will skip the one thing He did tell us to do on Sunday so that we can “get more stuff done.”

We all have more control of our time then we think.

(to be continued tomorrow)

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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Bible: a Guide for Life

Since my last post on the book Growing Your Soul, I have taught it to another adult Sunday School class. I wanted to share some of the section about the Bible.

The Bible gives us instruction about how to live a quality life. While it provides truth about God and a history of the world it also is an amazingly useful guide for inner wellness and a happy adjustment to life. The Bible works for those who seriously try to understand its meaning and it helps readers discover their reason for being.

The Bible deals not only with daily experiences, but life and death issues. Reading and studying it nourishes our souls, inspires our minds and energizes our wills. It is as relevant to our lives as it was to the 1st generation of Christians.

Sometimes it takes trials, sorrow or sin to get us to turn to the Bible, but when we do it stands ready to strengthen us. The Bible doesn’t just comfort you when you are down, it picks you up and sends you back into the fight with all of God’s armor on.

God says the Bible is a living thing and it changes people. But, we have to read it, meditate on it and apply it. The author wrote, “After all the profound arguments are finished and the impressive research is published, simple believers, sophisticated scholars and everyone in between find a wonderful quality of life when they heed the message of scripture and follow this amazing book to Christ – its central character."

The Bible’s 66 books were written by about 40 people over a 1500-year time span. Its long time endurance is remarkable and its abiding influence is incredible. It gives us judgment for ethical issues, comfort for pain, clarity for confusion, inspiration for despair and discipline for rebellion. All over the world thousands of individual readers and study groups apply its teaching to their situations.

In Romans 15:4 Paul wrote, “For every thing that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” So it instructs us, it gives us the resources to endure and it inspires hope.

When we are lonely the Bible has this passage for us (Deut. 31:6)

When we are fearful we have (John 14:27)

As an antidote for anger (Matthew 6:14)

For help when frustrated (Is.40:31)

When we’re suffering (Romans 8:18)

When someone dies (John 11:25) and on and on.

The writer John Jay Chapman wrote: “The darker our world grows, the more light the Bible emits.” And the Bible has one encompassing message, "human beings have problems, but God provides miraculous answers.”

One of the most amazing things about the Bible is you can read parts of it and have it help you in the place you are right now and then a year or years later read the same passage and it helps you with a different problem.

That’s because the Bible, the written word, takes us to Jesus, the Living Word. We’re not following an abstract truth as Christians. We’re following a living person. The Bible introduces us to Jesus and brings us close to Him. The Old Testament looks toward Christ. It’s incomplete without the New Testament. The New Testament records the life of Christ and it is incomplete without the Old Testament. They are interdependent. More than 1300 Old Testament references are in the New Testament. The New Testament completes the Old Testament.

The Bible points out where we each fall short, but it doesn’t leave us there. It shows us how we can close the gap. The author says that the Bible is different from any other book because you have to read it with a “yielding yes” in your mind in order for it to enrich and renew you. In other words, you have to plan on being obedient to what it tells you, or its not going to do you much good.

He wrote, “Nothing is more vital to the ability to understand Scripture than a whole hearted devotion to Christ.” If you want to change the way you’ve been reading the Bible – here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. You don’t have to start with Genesis and read straight through to Revelation.
I had always heard if you’re new to the Bible, the place you should start is with the book of John, then read some of the Proverbs and Psalms, then Paul’s letters. This author has quite a plan laid out. He says you should start with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), then Psalms 23, 24, 100, 122 and 139. Then go on to Isaiah 35 and 55. Next the Gospels of Mark and Luke and then Philippians. Finally move onto the Old Testament prophets: Jeremiah, Amos, Hosiah or Micah and then learn the history of the early church in the book of Acts.

2. Take time – Some people get up to read the Bible at the crack of dawn. Some stay up late. The important thing is to pick out a time where you can be consistent and focused.

3. Read with anticipation – do not expect to be bored. Go into it expecting a fresh word. Our minds are strong. There is such a thing as self-fulfilling prophecy.

4. But, then again – read in spite of your feelings – everybody has mood swings – some of us worse than others. To keep from being victimized by these feelings we should read the Bible when we feel like it, when we don’t feel like it and when we aren’t feeling anything at all.

5. Read for meanings – read until the Bible says something significant to you and then stop. This may sound a little strange, but have you ever been to a lecture or seminar or heard a really great sermon and there are just so many good ideas that you wished you could just hit pause and write them all down so you could really think about each one separately for a day or so? That what this means. And when you stop – look up words you don’t know, look on an atlas to see where the story or event happened, read a commentary about it, read several translations. Take the time necessary to get the most you can out of it.

6. Share it – one Bible teacher said, “It was by teaching that I learned what I know about the Bible.” I totally agree with that. But, we can also share in: group Bible studies, family devotions, Sunday school and even casual conversations.

The Bible is simple enough that anyone can find the way to God with it and challenging enough to stimulate the most brilliant mind. It’s a way of life, an encounter with God, a loving correspondence of the Father, a plan for His child and a revelation for what really matters. Our lives will be both more useful and more joyful if we follow the owner’s manual.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

givitup's Newest Christians Clothing and Gifts

I created some more designs for the Christian section of my online store:

http://www.givitup.com



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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Prayer

This is a talk I gave at a service at our church during a special “month of prayer” we had last year:

My husband and I have a Swedish friend who lives and works in France. Last December he was here for a week on business and one Saturday night we took him to a Christmas party with us. At the end of the evening I invited him to come to church the next morning and he said, “I may come, but if I do, don’t expect me to talk to God.”

His answer floored me and I didn’t know what to say. Later telling my daughter, who was home from school, about it, she of course had an immediate answer, “Mom, you should have told him that it’s not nice to come into someone’s house and not talk to them.”

This is God’s house and prayer is talking to God. It’s real contact with God. It’s precious, it’s powerful and it’s worth your effort. If you can talk to a friend you can talk to God. The more you pray, the easier and more natural it becomes.

When you love someone you want to spend time with him or her. In college I went to Iowa State University and my husband was in school in New York – we were about 900 miles apart. I told him the one thing I expected of him during the 4 years was getting rid of the 6 states between us….

They’re still there!

I used to say the one thing he and I learned for sure in college was to count backwards! We were always counting down the days until we got to see each other again.

In between visits we communicated as much as we could through letters and phone calls.

(And yes, kids, those were our only two choices: we didn’t have email, text messages or IM. Just letters and phone calls.) We didn’t even have cell phones – if John wasn’t in his room when I called or I wasn’t at my sorority house – we relied on someone writing down a message that we called. We also didn’t have unlimited minutes! (We DID have some very scary phone bills though! Talk about praying - I can remember sometimes praying as I was dialing that the line would be busy because I couldn’t afford another long distance call that week!)

We don’t need any of that when we communicate with God. He’s made it so easy on us! We can just talk! And we don’t even have to do it out loud! Really we don’t even need words! The Bible says the Spirit will intercede when all we can do is groan!

Well, if it’s that easy, why then when we go to Amazon.com, click on books and type in the word prayer, do we get 19,561 book titles about prayer?

A lot of these books are trying to answer important questions:

How can we develop a relationship with an invisible God?

How can we converse with God if we can’t audibly hear His voice?

Am I selfish when I ask for things I want?

Why should I ask for something if God already knows my needs in advance?

Some of the 19,561 books are just prayers that are already written. Some are commentaries on well-known prayers like The Lord’s Prayer or The Prayer of Jabez. I personally think the Prayer of Jabez was such a big seller because our “fast food society” is always looking for techniques to get God to give us the answer we want…but that’s another topic. Most of the books are just a lot of different people’s opinions. There’s really only one book we need for all of our examples and answers.

Look at the question about how to have a conversation with God when we can’t audibly hear His voice.

The Bible tells us that prayer is a two way street. We do have to listen to God too and there are lots of ways He speaks to us: through friends, in nature, in sermons or Sunday school lessons… but the biggest is through the Bible, which is the Word of God. But, do you know what else is the word of God? Christ. John 1:1 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” So we know we should read all those red words in the Bible to hear what Christ has to say to us! And we should listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of us.

Jesus is also our answer to the question about how to have a relationship with an invisible God. Prayer is not just submitting a list of requests to God. It’s a means of pursuing a relationship with our heavenly Father. We were created to be in a relationship with our Creator and all parents know that the greatest thing you can do when raising a child is spend time with them. No relationship grows without an investment of time. Jesus showed us a perfect relationship with God. We just need to look in the Bible to learn more about that.

Two last thoughts-

First - Prayer is its own reward. The answers we get from God, whether yes, no or wait, are secondary to spending time with Him.

Second - It’s fine to recite prayers. There are some beautiful and powerful prayers and psalms out there written by Godly people. But, those shouldn’t be our only prayers. The author of a book called “Prayer for Beginners” likened it to a son giving his father a beautiful oil painting done by a professional artist. He had chosen it because it was wonderful and he knew his father would like and appreciate it and was worthy of the gift. And his father did like it. But, the dad was moved by the homemade drawings the son had made for him -because simple though they were they had come from his son’s heart. And that’s what God really wants from His children – He wants our hearts.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Devotion for after a service/mission weekend

This is a devotion I shared with our youth after a weekend of mission projects we did from out church:

God’s 2 greatest commandments are: To love God with all of our heart, soul and mind and to love others as ourselves.

We can’t really do one fully without the other.

A story in the Bible, which demonstrates what happens when you try, is in the book of Matthew. It’s the story of the Transfiguration of Christ. Jesus had taken Peter, James and John up to the top of the mountain to worship God. There they heard God speak audibly and saw Jesus glorified. The ultimate mountaintop experience!

Peter suggested staying up on the mountain to just continue to worship and forget about all the problems of the world.

Meanwhile the other disciples were down in the Valley trying to heal people on their own. They couldn’t, because the Bible says, “they were without power”.

They were without power because they hadn’t been to the mountaintop and worshipped first!

Jesus in the story combines the two. He goes to the mountaintop to worship first and then down into the Valley to heal. He shows through this how the 2 greatest commandments of God are supposed to work in our lives.

It’s so easy to be a Christian when you’re having a mountain top experience isn’t it? Because usually everyone around you is having one too – you’re surrounded by Christians of like minds.

But, we are called to go down in the Valley too. I read once that servant hood is God’s crowning pattern for finding fulfillment. In Matthew 23:11 Jesus says the greatest among you will be your servant.

Service is a helpful deed for a fellow human being, a gift we give to God and a satisfying favor we do for ourselves. God gave each of us benefits and gifts to help people and to grow His kingdom.

When we serve in Jesus’ name and for God’s glory – we are combining the 2 greatest commandments.

This weekend has been a mountain top experience in that we were able to both worship God and serve others in His name. But, now we have to come down off the mountain and go back into the world.

The challenge is to continue to look to for opportunities to meet human need and do whatever needs to be done for Jesus’ sake. It can be as simple as giving someone a hug or a smile, visiting a shut-in or writing a note of encouragement - to sharing the gospel.

We all gave up something to participate in this weekend. We need to ask ourselves what we need to give up from our lives to continue to live out God’s 2 greatest commandments. As we go back to the valley lets ask ourselves what in our lives gets in the way of us putting God first and serving others every day.

The valley is full of “me first” mentality and shallow living. The pull to be that way is as strong as the pull to come to the mountain.

Our Father in heaven wants to replace all the cheap, fake and shallow things we cling to with the “real deal”. He has an abundant life planned for each of His children, but we have to take the first step and give up whatever it is that keeps us from putting Him in His rightful place in our lives: first and center.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for this weekend: the opportunity to serve others in Your name, the time set apart to focus on You. We ask you to help us prioritize our lives now. Show us what we each need to get rid of so that we can put You first and love others as You mean for us to. As always, we come to You through Your Son Jesus Christ, and it’s in His Holy name we pray. Amen.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Virginia Tech Tragedy

I don’t usually link to someone else’s article in this blog. In fact it’s quite possible I never have. But, I was reading Christianity Today online and came across an article by George Wood that is just so good and I feel will help people make sense out of what happened, or at least how we as Christians are called to react to it, that I wanted to share it. It’s called God’s Non-intervention and you can read it by clicking below:

God's Non-intervention

Billy Graham said after the Oklahoma City bombing, "Times like this will do one of two things: either make us hard and bitter and angry at God, or make us tender and open and help us to reach out in trust and faith."

My prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims. I also pray that unbelievers see in believer’s reactions during this time, God’s power and love.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Devotion for a Luau themed event

I was asked to give the opening remarks at a luau themed event at our church and this is what I came up with. I am sharing it because I believe churches need to be reaching out in love more then they do. And we need to do that because God wants us to, not for any social, political or feel good reason.

Did you know that The Aloha Spirit Law is an ACTUAL law, "on the books" in Hawaii?

All citizens and government officials of Hawaii are obligated by law to conduct themselves in accordance with this law, while performing their duties and obligations, as well as in their day-to-day living. Likewise, those visiting the fair islands are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with this Hawaiian law
Here’s what their government says about it.

“The Aloha Spirit elevates, empowers and ennobles its people, and KEEPS Hawaii the uniquely special place that it is. The Aloha Spirit Law deserves our unmitigated support and compliance. As a model law for the world, it can serve the greatest number for its greatest good.

Together, we can make The Aloha Spirit as vibrant and REAL as it was for those who came before us. Those who have experienced The Aloha Spirit have an obligation to make it real for those who follow. An individual, conscious effort is required. Let it begin with you.”


Full Text of
THE ALOHA SPIRIT LAW

(a) The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following translation may be used:
· Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
· Lôkahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
· `Olu`olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
· Ha`aha`a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
· Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.

These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.

· Aloha is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.
· Aloha means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.
· Aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.
· Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.

(b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to The Aloha Spirit

I’m not particularly fond of words like “life force” – it sounds a little new age to me. But, what if we as members of the Christian Church had a “law on our books” like this! What if we change The Aloha Spirit to The Holy Spirit? It would read like this:

The Holy Spirit is a gift to the followers of Christ and therefore members of (fill in your church’s name).
All members are obligated by law to conduct themselves in accordance with this law, while performing their duties and obligations, as well as in their day-to-day living. Likewise, those visiting our church are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with this law.
The Holy Spirit elevates, empowers and ennobles us, and KEEPS our church the uniquely special place that it is. The Holy Spirit Law deserves our unmitigated support and compliance. As a model law for the world, it can serve the greatest number for its greatest good.
Together, we can help make The Holy Spirit as vibrant and REAL to others as it was for those who came before us. Those who have experienced The Holy Spirit have an obligation to make Him real for those who follow. An individual, conscious effort is required. Let it begin with you.


Here might be the Holy Spirit Law:

(a) The Holy Spirit is in the heart of every believer. Each person must remember this and show Him to others -
H – for Holy – we are set apart by God and for God. Let us act that way.
O – Christ is the only way – let us never suggest to anyone anything else
L – Love – let us love our neighbors as ourselves and God above all else.
Y – You – you are loved by God so much that He sent His Son to die for you.

When we, individually and together, remember these things and act upon them our church will express the charm, warmth and sincerity of true Christians.

You know, we actually do have this law. God has called us to become like Christ. To love and serve, to spread the gospel and to welcome the sinners and the outcasts. Rick Warren in his book A Purpose Driven Life said if churches would show Christ to people and a sincere interest and love for them – they would have to lock the doors to keep people out! Look how people flock to Hawaii!

It’s something to think about!

Let’s pray- Lord, we ask you to fill us to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. And we ask that those coming into our church feel His presence too. Help us each to live our lives for your glory and our church to do Your work with love. And now please bless this food, the people who prepared it and those it was prepared for. In Your Son’s Holy and Precious Name. Amen.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thoughts from the book of James

“Blessed are those who endure when they are tested. When they pass the test they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”

Life is constant testing. God is always watching how we react to things: whether its major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticism and even senseless tragedies. Nothing is insignificant. Every day is important, every second an opportunity to grow.

How much pleasure is God getting watching my life?

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Conclusion of Living with Assurance

Read James 2:14-26

This section of the Bible trips some people up. They argue works over faith because of these verses. But, what James is saying here is that works are evidence of our faith.

My take on good works is that when we become Christians, when the Holy Spirit takes up residency in our bodies and we become members of God’s Kingdom, not only are certain things expected of us (and the Bible is FULL of advice for how we are to live our lives – from Titus where older women are told to mentor younger ones – to Romans where we are told how to treat fellow church goers – to Proverbs, which tells us how to be a good spouse or parent), but because our direction in life is to become more like Christ, we look to Him and His words for how to live. (We need to spread the Gospel, we need to forgive as He did, we need to be His hands and feet on earth, we need to love our neighbors, etc. etc.)

So, yes, when I read, “faith without works is dead” – I think it’s very true. Can a Christian be a Christian without doing good works? I suppose – but I think it’s very unlikely.

Some other false assumptions (besides being good will get you into Heaven) –

Some people think if they just believe in God and even in the fact that Jesus lived and died they’ll get in. But, James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”
Accepting a set of facts is not the same as being a Christian.

Others might say they’ll get in because they went to church every Sunday. Some because they were baptized – even that they responded to an altar call.

There is a difference in believing things about God and believing in God.

You can believe certain things, but unless you repent and put Christ first and in the center of your life – you are missing the boat. One mistake we often make is feeling like we can’t approach Jesus for forgiveness until we truly repent, when actually it is Christ that places a true desire in us to turn from sin, to see the love of God, the beauty of holiness, the joy of purity and then the longing to be cleansed and restored to communion with Heaven. Only then can we truly repent and only after repenting can forgiveness come. Whenever man recognizes sin and makes an effort to reform – it is the power of Christ that is drawing him. We are called to have an actual relationship with the Lord. We are suppose to talk to Him, love Him, worship Him and praise Him.

The author of this study writes: “As wonderful as the doctrine of justification by grace because of the work of Christ may be, it will be of no use to us unless it becomes ours personally. Yet having been justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, this state of spiritual warfare has been changed to one of peace. We have peace with God, make peace with others and experience a new measure of personal peace too. From our side we realize this new state imperfectly, often causing turmoil with others and within ourselves. But from God’s side this is a perfect peace with us through Christ’s blood – we still see our sins – and maybe even more so – but God looks at us through His Son’s sacrifice – and sees us as clean. We are secure after we accept this.”

Read:
1 John 5:11-13
John 10: 27-28
Ezekiel 36:25-27
II Cor.5:17


If it worries some of you that God is opening some hearts and not others – know that He calls everyone. It’s up to us to hear and respond. Read Rev. 22:17

Lord. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for not leaving us in our sin, but providing a way out – a way to You. Please continue to open our hearts to Your will. In Your Son’s Holy name we pray – Amen.



http://www.givitup.com

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Part 2 of Living With Assurance

Why are good works not enough to get you into heaven?

Because the Bible says “without faith we cannot please God.” There’s also a story in there about Jesus pulling a child out of the crowd and saying “this is the kind of faith it takes.” And in another place in the Bible we are told that the message of Salvation will be a stumbling stone to the wise.

God wants us to believe Him and trust Him. He also doesn’t want us to be able to boast about how we got there.

Read Romans 3:21-28

Boasting is an expression of pride and pride is the greatest of all sins, according to Christianity. Pride was the very first sin. It was the sin of Satan, who said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will make myself like the Most High” (Is. 14:13-14) Pride made Satan want to be like God, but it actually brought him down “to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (vs.15)

Pride was the sin of Eve, who wanted to “be like God, knowing good from evil” (Gen.3:5) But, she didn’t rise up to become like God. She became like Satan in her perverted and fallen knowledge.

Pride was the sin of Adam who couldn’t abide the slightest restriction on his quest for autonomy. He could not stand God’s law. Adam wanted to be a law unto himself; so he sinned and brought death on the human race.

But, Grace is a gift from God. We need to believe it and praise and thank God for it. Through the simple act of believing God, the Holy Spirit has put a new life in our hearts. We are children born into the family of God and He loves us as He loves His Son.

It might help to explain the difference between religion and Christianity. This is explained very clearly in the book Becoming a Contagious Christian. Here’s a brief overview:

Religion is spelled D-O. It is all about what we do. I go to church. I help people. I live a good life. I believe certain things. Etc etc. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It is all about what God has done for us. God gave us His Son as the sacrifice for our sins. He reached out to us. He paid the price and the way to heaven was opened by His generosity. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was dying on the cross, He said, “It is finished!” This was His way of saying He had paid the price for all of our sins.

The bottom line is clear – None of us can earn our way into heaven by anything we do. God has opened the way through Christ and we can accept His gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift from God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

When we compare ourselves, and try to measure up, and look at things like the 10 commandments, or even the Golden Rule – we realize we will never measure up. And God knows that. He’s not surprised. He gives us all of those rules and ideals as things we should strive for in our quest for holiness. But, He saves us through faith.

Justification by the grace of God through faith releases the believer from the anguish of trying to attain to moral rectitude by law and failing. This doesn’t mean that the law of God has no value. Before we came to Christ, it had value in showing us our sin and need of a Savior. Even after we become Christians, the law shows us what kinds of behavior please God and what kinds displease Him.

Martin Luther before was a pious, earnest monk. An apparent Christian. But Luther had no peace in his soul. He wanted to please God and be accepted by Him. But, the harder he worked the more elusive the salvation of his soul became. Instead of drawing closer to God, he found himself moving away from Him. Instead of coming to love God, which Luther knew he should do, he found himself hating God for requiring an apparently impossible standard of righteousness of human beings. In desperation Luther turned to a study of Paul’s great letter to the Romans where, as early as the 17th verse of chapter 1, he found the solution: “In the gospel a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

As God opened the meaning of this verse to Luther, he realized that the righteousness he needed was not his own righteousness, but a righteousness of God freely given to all who would receive it. Moreover, this was to be had, not through any works of his own, but by faith only. It was by taking God at His word, by believing Him. Luther did this and felt himself to be reborn and to have entered Paradise.

Here is how he put it: “I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against Him: I hated Him, because, not content with frightening by the law and the miseries of life, us wretched sinners, already ruined by original sin - He still further increased our tortures by the gospel… But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood the words, - when I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith…then I felt born again like a new man…In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.”

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Living with Assurance

Over the next 4 or so days I’d like to share some of a lesson I taught one Sunday from the Lectionary Series my church uses.

The author writes, “There are many people inside and outside churches who believe they will be going to heaven, but who will not be. This may seem like a harsh statement, but Jesus was clear that not everyone who claimed to know Him was really His follower. He says in Matthew 7 “not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

The will of God being – repenting of our sins and believing in His Son, Jesus Christ.

This lesson is meant to clarify how a person can be certain he or she is a follower of Christ.

Many people compare themselves to others: “I’m no where near as bad as Adolph Hitler” “I don’t measure up to Mother Teresa.”

We tend to view our morality by comparison. We find the worst examples we can think of, measuring ourselves against him or her, and patting ourselves on the back for how good we measure up. When we pick out who we want to compare ourselves to for whatever reason, we can usually make ourselves look good – or at least ok.

Why do we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others? (our families, our moral condition, our finances, our religious devotion?)

The author of this study says many people are planning on gaining entrance into heaven because they are “pretty decent” people. The real question is, decent compared to whom? The standard of the holiness of God is the only one against which we will be measured and we already know we don’t measure up to that. The Bible says, “We all fall short.” But, somehow we go on playing the comparison game and act like we think God will grade on a curve and because there are plenty of people worse then us we’ll pass the test.

It’s in Jesus’ life that we see the principles of God’s law - love of God and man – perfectly exemplified. Benevolence and unselfish love was the life of His soul. It is as we behold HIM, as the light from our Savior falls on US, that we see the sinfulness in our own hearts.

People watch how Christians act. And because of this comparison thing we all seem to have going on – they love it when we are not acting like Christ. Another reason we should really work at that!

Read Luke 16:19 – 31

1. What do we learn about heaven in this passage?
2. What do we learn about hell?

You may have heard these 2 statements before (or at least similar):

Hell is the invention of angry and closed-minded preachers. A loving God would never send anyone to hell.

Heaven is a state of mind. We achieve it in this life when we are kind and loving with each other.

Well, first of all, God does not send anyone to hell. They choose to go there when they reject Him. And the Bible is the only authoritative truth source that says something conclusive about the life hereafter. It says that there are two places people will spend eternity: a real heaven, which has been created for people to live in God’s presence forever and ever, and a real hell, which has been created for people to spend eternity apart from God in condemnation and punishment. We are all going to be in one of those two places after this life on earth ends.

If you know someone who is not sure where they will spend eternity, it’s time to face this important issue. The problem with today’s society is that everyone lives for the moment. Many people lead their lives as if they will never die. But, we all face eternity and we need to face reality.

The good news is – where we go really is our choice. So how do we get the good choice!

There’s a joke I heard once about a man getting to the Pearly Gates and Peter told him he needed 10,000 points to get into heaven. The man said, “Well, I taught Sunday school for 20 years.” Peter said, “That’s one point” (!)

The man said, “Well…I tithed” Peter said, “OK, you’re up to 5 points.”

The man started to sweat. “I helped in the soup kitchen every month for most of my adult life.” Peter said “One more point”

The man said, “I don’t get this – I put my faith in Jesus when I was a teen-ager!”

Peter said, “Ok, there’s your other 9993 points – come right in.”

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Some thoughts from the Book The Traveler’s Gift

- Faith is to believe what one has not seen. The reward of faith is to see what one has believed.

- Circumstances are rulers of the weak, but they are weapons of the wise. They do not control your emotions. They are daily lessons to be studied and gleaned for new knowledge and wisdom. A person who is depressed is spending too much time thinking about the way things are now and not enough time thinking about how he wants them to be.

- God has bestowed upon me many gifts and for these I will remember and be grateful. Too many times I have offered up the prayers of a beggar, always asking for more and forgetting to give thanks. I am grateful for sight and sound and breath. If ever in my life there is a pouring out of blessings beyond that, then I will be grateful for a miracle of abundance.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

From St. Francis

”Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing you’ve received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Live the Good News Clothing and Gifts

At the Easter service at church today I was inspired to come home and create a new design for my store. “Live the Good News.” If we would all just live the way God wants us to, this world would be amazing! Happy Easter!

http://www.givitup.com



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Saturday, April 07, 2007

From Billy Graham’s “The Key to Personal Peace”

Jesus said, “I come to give life – life in all its fullness.” (John 10: 10)

I always told Christ I’m waiting for the abundant life He promised. But, Billy wrote something about this, which was huge – “Christ promises that if we live according to His guidelines for happiness, life will be better right now.” I can’t expect an abundant life unless I am following His commands!

When faced with a choice, choose what will bring you closer to God.

Lord, in the years I have left, I yield them to Your hand. Take me, make me, mold me, to the pattern You have planned!

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Thoughts on Generosity

God’s children are exhorted to give generously without fear of loss because God promises, “a generous man will prosper.” (Proverbs 11:24-25)

One who literally believes in God’s promise “gives tithes by faith, for God has said that He will “open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room for it.” (Malachi 3:10)

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

God's Purpose for Us All

John 1: 1-12
I heard a wonderful sermon on John 1: 1-12 at Lakeview Baptist Church in Hickory, NC about a year ago. We were visiting there one Sunday because the pastor and his wife had been on a Christian Music Cruise with us and we really enjoyed them. We had also heard from people in Hickory that Ben “gave great sermons, straight from the Bible.”

Here’s what he said about this passage: “Words are the way we communicate. God would communicate through Jesus. Since He had the Word (Jesus) right there with Him before He made anything – we know God’s purpose for us has nothing to do with material things, events or happenings. His purpose is the same for all: to be like Christ, whom He sent to be an example to us, to believe in Christ, who came to save us from our sins and lead us back to rightness with God, and to be children of God.”

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Promise from God through Jeremiah

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving kindness,
I will build you up again…
You will go out to dance with joy.”
Jeremiah 31:3-4

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Praying Through the Tough Times

Lloyd John Ogilvie wrote a wonderful book called Praying Through the Tough Times.

This is one of the prayers from this book that would be a great start to everyone’s day:

“Fill me with Your grace and make me a cheerful person who makes others happier because I am with them. Make me a blessing and not a burden, a lift and not a load, a delight and not a drag. It is great to be alive! Help me make a difference because of the difference You have made in me. I dedicate this day to You. It is by Your permission I breathe my next breath. Help me be grateful. I choose to respond to You and commit myself to You. Help me glorify You with each task, thought and word and do my work with excellence to please You. May whatever I do, in word or deed, be to praise You.”

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Final thoughts from The Purpose Driven Life

This book is so good and there is so much I would like to share, but you really need to read the whole thing yourself. I studied it right after it came out with a small group. Then last Lenten season I re-read it. I’m planning on doing that again next Lent. Here’s one more thought that is so important:

When God is silent.

- “Regardless of circumstances and how you feel, hang on to God’s unchanging character. Remind yourself of what you know to be true; He is good, He loves me, He is with me, He knows what I’m going thru, He cares, and He has a good plan for my life.”

Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.

- Do the small things that no one else wants to as if they are great things because God is watching.
- “If you want to be used by God, you must care about what God cares about; what He cares about most is the redemption of the people He made. He wants His lost children found! Nothing matters more to God – the cross proves that. Find one more for Jesus!”

This last sentence speaks the loudest to me personally.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

More from The Purpose Driven Life

”In God’s eyes, the greatest heroes of faith are not those who achieve prosperity, success and power in this life, but those who treat this life as a temporary assignment and serve faithfully, expecting their promised reward in eternity.

God’s goal for your life is not material prosperity or popular success as the world defines it. The abundant life has nothing to do with material abundance.”

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