< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Unanswered Prayer – No Such Thing! Part 3

One way to know the will of God is to yield to His discipline. Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.”

So this says, God disciplines His children so that we may know His will for our lives and embrace it.

First of all, I don’t believe that God disciplines us by punishing us with some misfortune. Our own disobedience may lay ourselves open to this (that’s called consequences!), but God is not the author of evil and my understanding of discipline has to do with the conscience.

God makes us aware of our sin and His Holiness and we’ll talk about that in a moment, but for now let me say that God disciplines by His Spirit, who convicts us of sin, righteousness and judgment. The Spirit is constantly seeking to communicate. We don’t have to get God interested in us. He’s already interested! God listens to us. It’s we who need to listen to Him. And prayer is the most effective listening device we have.

To listen to the voice within, however, is not always a pleasant experience and that’s why at least one aspect of prayer leads to discipline. Spirit-assisted prayer sensitizes us to the will of God. It makes us aware of our sin. One of the most significant changes in a believer’s life when they first become a believer is they lose their ability to rationalize sin. They still sin, but they can no longer rationalize it.

The author from Oral Roberts wrote about this too. He said,

“It occurs to me that for God to treat me with contempt would be for Him no longer to be offended by my sin. The passage cited in Hebrews goes on to say, “If you are not disciplined…then you are illegitimate children…” Again, “the Lord disciplines those He loves.” In fact if we are still sensitive enough to the Spirit so that we feel guilty for our sin then that is not only cause for shame, it is also cause for rejoicing because it means that God is still treating us as sons and daughters.

God’s discipline not only makes us aware of sin, it makes us aware of God’s righteousness as well. Hebrews 12:11 reads, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” God’s discipline is not negative, it is profoundly positive.”

We are in the business of becoming Holy in whatever it takes. We are becoming more like Christ until one day in Heaven we will be like Him.

Prayer sensitizes us to the discipline which exposes our sin, but it also reveals to us God’s complete plan for our lives as well. It reveals not only where we have been, but where we are going. The gospel is never simply what not to do. It also includes what we can become by virtue of our faith in the living Christ.

Prayer arms us for spiritual battle. It makes us aware of what God keeps us from (sin) and what God keeps us for (holiness). To be made aware of God’s holiness is the grand object of prayer. So, we have come full circle.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Unanswered Prayer – No Such Thing! Part 2

Speaking to God honestly is the beginning of prayer. Our thoughts, desires and feelings. Only when we are willing to admit our nothingness will God make something of us. In our weakness His strength is made manifest. Prayer is not a matter of trying to persuade God to give us what we want. Prayer is giving ourselves to God so that He can work through us what He wants.

Trials keep going on until we stop telling God how to answer!

Proverbs 3: 5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.”

Jesus Himself refused to act upon His own initiative, but in humble, utter obedience sought the mind of God about every action, every method of God’s work.

In John 5:19 Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does – that – the Son does likewise.”

One of the great barriers of prayer is failure to understand the will of God.
A professor at Oral Roberts University wrote a really interesting book called “Help is On the Way”. Here’s something he wrote:

Colossians 1:9 says, “For this reason (their faith in Christ and their love of one another) since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

That is it. “Prayer leads to the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom all of the biblical conditions for answered prayer can be summed up with the phrase “in agreement with the will of God” Is it consistent with the mind of Christ? Does it glorify Him? Will it serve His purpose in you? Let me illustrate with the kind of example that is frequently misunderstood.

Here at Oral Roberts University, we (the author) have many opportunities to pray for the sick. I have learned a great deal over the past few years. Early in my ministry I frequently prayed: “Lord, if it be your will, heal my friend.” Then I began to think, “If it be God’s will! God doesn’t want us sick!” So I began to pray more boldly: “Lord, heal my friend!” That too however, presented problems. Some of my friends were healed and some were not, at least as far as I could tell. Then I began to put some thoughts together in an attempt to be more effective in prayer and ministry. The result was this. If God wants us to be whole and if not all my prayers for wholeness are answered, then either I am not praying with equal effectiveness or I do not understand wholeness. (This is an important statement. WE often think we know exactly what would make our lives perfect, but we think in earthly terms and God thinks eternally.) Since I know that God wants us whole, then I must pray boldly for God to heal, but then leave the wholeness to Him since He alone knows full well what that entails.

1. Wholeness may be taking that sick person home to Heaven. For a Christian death is not the worst outcome.

2. Wholeness may be something like Joni Erikson Tada who has never been healed from her diving accident, but has a worldwide ministry for Christ in a wheelchair.
This is where the “wait” might come in. God may be telling us we need to do some growing: that we need to learn more about His will, to learn more what’s important eternally as opposed to earthly.

This is where we learn to say, not God get me out of this situation, but God, what do you want me to get out of this situation?

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Unanswered Prayer – No Such Thing! Part 1

There is no such thing as unanswered prayer! God always says either: yes, no or wait, which means slow or grow.

The reason we sometimes think we aren’t getting an answer is because we have expectations of what the answer should be so we don’t see His answer. Or sometimes we see it, but we don’t accept it.

God responds to prayer in many ways.

1. He can put a new idea directly and immediately into our minds. He has access to us through the power of imagination.
2. He can give us new perspective to view our lives with their successes and failures, agonies and ecstasies. When we start to look at things from God’s point of view we begin to see the good that comes out of the bad.
3. He can put new desires into our hearts, new strength into our wills. This often happens as our prayer life gets stronger. The more time we spend with God in prayer, the more in sync we’ll be with Him.
4. He can touch and calm our turbulent emotions. Someone wrote something about this that is really beautiful, “through sincere prayer we are brought into connection with the mind of the Infinite. We may have no remarkable evidence at the time that the face of our Redeemer is bending over us in compassion and love, but this is so. We may not feel His visible touch, but His hand is upon us in love and pitying tenderness.”

How many times have you prayed about something and just felt an unexplained peace? Paul tells us not to worry about anything, instead pray about everything and when we do, we will experience God’s peace.

5. He can stimulate memories when memories are needed. We might remember a Bible passage that is helpful.

We should never pray for guidance if we are not prepared to act upon what we receive. Sometimes God answers us and we don’t like the answer and choose to ignore it. For example, let’s say you are angry with someone. They really did do something wrong and you stop speaking to them. Then for a week, every time you turned on your Christian radio station you heard some minister preaching about forgiving others as Christ forgives us. Somewhere in your mind you know God is telling you to forgive this person, but you don’t. You ignore the messages. You ignore God’s answer.

I think one of the funniest stories in the Bible is when Peter is in prison and a group of believers are in a house in Jerusalem praying for his deliverance. Peter is divinely freed from prison, goes to the house and knocks on the door. The maid slams the door in his face because “that can’t be Peter, Peter is in prison!”

Isn’t that how we often pray? We pray and pray and when God gives us an answer we‘re like, “um, no, that’s not it!”

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Easter Ideas to Help Your Family Stay Focused

Christianity Today has a holiday section and I was just browsing the Easter ideas. Check them out here Easter Ideas to make the last 2 weeks before Easter be meaningful.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Good to Great in God’s Eyes Part 3

Following is the end of my lesson from the Pursuing Great People chapter in Chip Ingram’s book Good to Great in God's Eyes.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says “Do not forsake gathering together to spur each other on to love and good works.” This verse is the one people use when someone says, “I don’t need to go to a church – I can be a Christian on my own.” Well, no, you can’t. We go to encourage others and to be encouraged.

God designed us to enjoy and contribute to relationships with other people. In the very beginning, God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18) and He said this even though man was in the Garden with God himself. And ever since, we've had a deep need to be known, understood, and accepted by at least one other person. We need others. We are created for community, especially as Christians: 1 Corinthians 12:27 says "You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it". That means we need each other if the body of Christ is to function as God intended.

In some religions the most holy people are the ones who live in isolation, in monasteries or on top of hills and that’s not Christian. True spiritual maturity is about learning to love like Jesus and you can’t practice being like Jesus without being in a relationship with other people.

I sort of have a tradition of doing a devotion at the closing ceremony of our youth's mission weeks and I wanted to share just one paragraph from the last one. I mentioned in the devotion that Troy always asks at chapel out at Corder’s farm on the 2nd to the last day, “How was the week? Good?” and that I heard one girl sitting behind me say really quietly “amazing”.

We looked around at the people helping each other all week; hugging, reaching out, praying, worshiping, laughing - all ages mixed together - and we got to see what God's plan for his church looks like in action. COOL creates the environment where we can feel the way we're designed to feel. Where we can do the things God designed us to do. Where we can feel even for just a week that we are Godly people. And it is amazing. It’s magical.

That’s what church should be. That’s why we need it.

Plus I like to say – going to church shows the world whose side you’re on!

A couple generations ago people didn’t move so much. A large percentage were born, lived and died in the same town and had a lifetime of friends built up there. That’s not the norm now. Divorce has split up families too. Busyness keeps neighbors from knowing each other.

Relationships require constant tending. Every human being was created with a need for love, trust, service with others and to be close to others.

You need to surround ourselves with people you can totally trust. Who provide insights and courage to you as you live your life of faith. They help you be a better person because they expect you to be. Kids in school who have a teacher who expects good things, who acts like he or she believes the student is capable of greatness – do better. Employers who expect their employees to be talented, upstanding, etc – usually have employees who are.

Family can be the same. Families should encourage each other, be a place where members can be themselves, create safe havens and show unconditional love, but still expect the best from them. Churches - same thing. Which means the church has to be a center of acceptance and love. No quarreling, no bitterness, no Peyton Place. In all of these relationships: friends, family and church – we should be encouraging each other to discover meaning and to follow Christ.

I don’t think you can talk about putting great people in your life without trying to be one yourself.

We need to infuse every relationship in this church with the life of Christ. Then every person will feel valued and discover how fulfilling a Christ-saturated life can be.

Next Chip says we need to learn to look for why God has placed certain people in your life at that particular time.

A prophet to confront you
A cheerleader to keep you going
A hero to inspire you

And he says in order to pursue great people we need to:

1. Pray. Ask God to put them in your life
2. Take initiative – go after them
3. Start in your relational network – look at the people you are already in contact with
4. Ask for help. Ask for advice
5. Persevere. Don’t give up on finding someone, on developing relationships
6. Do it by proxy. Radio, books, recordings, etc.
7. Make time in your schedule. You have to make time for the important things.

He closes by saying we are shaped by the people around us (or watch on TV or in movies or read about) – so lets make them great people!

This week – Be aware – Look for people who can help you grow. Work on a relationship with them. Look at how you can be a better role model.

Slow down in your life enough to make choices when things happen.

If you have a choice to do something with excellence or just half way - do it with excellence
If you have a choice of being kind or mean – be kind.
If you have a choice of doing something with honesty or dishonesty – be honest!
Slow down enough in your life so these little things don’t get missed. We’re supposed to do everything “as if unto the Lord”.

Think about where you need to grow. Just the awareness is a huge step in the right direction.

And think about where God has helped you – can you help others?

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good to Great in God’s Eyes Part 2

To finish up the chapter I taught about Pursuing Great People from Chip Ingram’s book Good to Great in God's Eyes:

Chip lists 5 people from his life – I’ll just tell you really quick who they were. Try to think of people in your life – or maybe someone in church – that fits each role:

Coach – Someone who kind of makes themselves a mentor. The “It takes a village” mentality – and feels the need to fulfill that role.

Punkie – Someone who lives the walk. Someone you instinctively want to please and not disappoint.

Dave Marshall– quiet, does so much, but never talks about it. All around good guy.

Howard Hendricks – teacher/minister. A Chip Ingram. An Anne Graham Lotz, Beth Moore, etc.

Theresa – integrity, honesty –Chip also said Theresa has a devotion to God and constancy and follow through – she won’t give up.

So he talks mostly about people he knows. He says they should be people who believe in you, who speak the truth in love, who can give you a picture of the kind of person you want to be and who can help you set goals and push you toward them. I thought this was the perfect description of what a spouse or parent should be.

Our church has confirmation mentors, do we do anything else like this? Are older adults put in a position in our church where they can be a great Christian for younger adults or kids? If not, how could the church make this happen?

Does our class do this? Can we? How?

Individually – besides cutting all negative people out of our lives – what can we do?

Do you think our class can be an accountability group for each other?

In The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren says: It takes honesty - care enough to honestly speak the truth. One thing I thought of when I read this is tolerance. Being politically correct. How the world says Christians are too rigid and should let everyone believe what they believe. I believe that it’s not the loving thing to do to let people go down the wrong path. That it’s love that makes Christians speak up.

Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speak the truth in love.”

Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is a sign of true friendship.”

Warren says within the churches (in small groups) we need to confront people who are doing the wrong thing. And I think that’s really hard. Confrontation is hard, especially since we are all taught to mind our own business. But, he says, glossing over things will keep a group superficial and from growing close. He says never be rude about it and go to the person directly and not in front of a bunch of people. But, be honest with them. Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for looking the other way and allowing immorality in their fellowship.

So cultivating community in church or a small group takes honesty. It also takes humility. Pride builds walls between people. It destroys fellowship. Humility builds bridges. He says pride blocks God’s grace in our lives because we must humbly admit we need it first. We can develop humility by admitting our own weakness, by being patient with other’s weaknesses and by being open to correction and by pointing the spotlight onto others instead of ourselves.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself – it’s just thinking of yourself less and others more.

Cultivating community in church or a small group also takes courtesy. Being considerate of each other’s feelings and being patient with people. He says in every small group there is at least 1 “difficult” person, and usually more then one. These persons may have special emotional needs, deep insecurities, irritating mannerisms or poor social skills and he suggests we think of them as EGR people. (Extra Grace Required)

He says God put these people here for both their benefit and ours. I think it’s like always having the poor, or taking care of handicapped people. They are an opportunity for our growth. A test of our compassion and our fellowship. Will we love them as brothers and sisters and treat them with dignity? They are part of our family and we protect, defend and take care of them.

Cultivating community also takes confidentiality so that people can feel safe sharing their hurts, needs, doubts and mistakes and know the group won’t talk about it outside the group. Warren brings up that sometimes gossip is thinly disguised as prayer requests and we need to be really careful of that.

And finally cultivating community takes frequency. Regular, frequent connecting with the small group in order to build genuine fellowship. Relationships take time. We are to develop the habit of meeting together. It takes lots of time! Meeting even when we don’t feel like it.

So to re-cap: for small groups it’s important to:

Share our true feelings
Encourage each other
Support each other
Forgive each other
Speak the truth in love
Admit our weakness
Respect our differences
Not gossip
And make the group a priority. Meet with frequency.

That’s a lot of work and a big commitment. It means giving up our self-centeredness and independence, but the benefits are worth it and it prepares us for heaven.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Good to Great In God’s Eyes

All the Sunday school classes in my church are studying Chip Ingram’s book Good to Great in God's Eyes at the same time. I’m teaching chapter 3 this Sunday on Pursuing Great People and thought I would share the lesson here. It’s a little long for a blog post, so I’ve edited it and will also post it in three parts.

Chip wrote “Who we choose to follow will determine, to a large degree, who we become.” And “If we want to become great Christians, we need to pursue great Christians.”

He gives examples in scripture:
Timothy learning from Paul
Solomon from his father David
Joshua from Moses
And he didn’t say this one, but Jesus was sent to earth and showed us the example of a perfect life. He led his disciples by showing and telling. And it was all passed down for us to know what He was like so we could become like Him too. Everyday, Christians should become more and more like Christ.

The idea of becoming like the people you associate with or follow is nothing new. It’s why parents worry about rap stars, celebrities and sports figures who are our kids’ role models. It’s why parenting is so important. Our kids pick up as much from our actions as what we tell them to do. Parenting is a huge responsibility. Kids are looking for role models – and they are finding them in what the world says is important. Money, fame, status, materialism, good looks. As Christians, we know we need to fight that! And one way is to surround ourselves with people we can look up to. And that our kids can look up to. Great Christians, upright human beings living Godly lives.

We begin to take on attributes of the people we spend the most time with. We are shaped by the company we keep. We all know this. Our parents wanted us to hang around with “good” kids. Not the trouble makers.

Hopefully if we get on the path to greatness as a Christian we’ll lead others, including our children.

Chip spends some time in this chapter talking about parental role models. How we didn’t choose our parents or our family and we get both positive and negative influences from them. But, I think the big message there is we can learn from the mistakes they made and not pass them on to another generation. And we can choose the people – people more like Christ - great Christians - to follow. That we can control. And we should.

So how do you know which great people to pursue? Chip says start by looking back on your life. See how and why God used certain people to develop your character. You’ll begin to see certain patterns and then begin to see your needs. Identify the people in your life whose influence on you is positive. They can be anyone: family, teachers, people in church, someone you only knew for a very short period of time… Think about who they are, what they taught you and what they continue to teach you. And you can develop your own spiritual Mount Rushmore.

I think you can put people you don’t know on that list too. I’ve been inspired by great Christian teachers and writers whose books I’ve read or who I listen to on the radio. Or what I’ve read about them. I’ve also been inspired by people who were dead before I was born!

This isn’t just a Christian idea. Or maybe the self-help books stole it from Christianity, but people in leadership roles often talk about reading biographies of other great people and how much you can learn from them that way.

The self-help books talk a lot about negative and positive people too .

Negative people can drain the life out of you!! Run!

This is an important idea in business success too - I had saved the following before I started this lesson and don’t know who wrote it:

The importance of a Black List

A black list consists of all those that you'd rather not meet. People who are negative. Who bring you down. Who sap your energy. These people need to be quickly put on a black list and removed from your life.

Isn't this chopping and slicing a bit dramatic? You ask.

Sure it's dramatic. And if you're wondering what all of this has got to do with business, let me tell you. Today, you're more busy than you've ever been. You've got more distractions than ever before. And it ain't getting much better, but you already know that. Your business depends on your focus. And if there's one thing that negative people do, it's take you off focus.

They make you believe the economy sucks

They complain about the weather. They complain about taxes. And just about everything under the sun. These people need to be taken out of your life, like you'd pluck a weed from the garden. One swift chop, and they're out. And in this list, you may often find relatives, or friends you've grown up with. Doesn't matter. It's time for you to move on. Don't let them onto your white list. Don't hang around them.

You can't fly with the eagles if you continue to scratch with the turkeys

If you really want to move ahead in life, choose people who are pro-active. Who give you energy. Who are willing to help instead of complain and whine all day. These are eagles. Move with them, and watch your world change pretty dramatically.

Get your pen and book out and make a list

One set of people go into your little black book. The rest go on your black list. The ones on the black list never need to know. They just never hear from you again. You're gone from their lives as far as possible. Gone, like a freight train. Gone like yesterday. And start putting the eagles in your black book. Your attitude and fortunes will change almost instantly, once you make this simple move.

Even George Washington said “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company."

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Giving it all up to God

Often when I’ve been overwhelmed by problems that seemed unfixable I’ve tried to turn them over to God.

I don’t know how many times I’ve told God I’m turning something over to Him, but then I didn’t know what I was supposed to do after that! Stop thinking about it? Make myself stop worrying because it was now in God’s hands?

Just today I found the answer. Do His will day by day in small and large things. Try to solve the problem to the best of our ability, while not compromising, becoming bitter, angry or upset.

And then because we’ve been doing everything in a way that pleases God, we can trust the outcome to be what He wants it to be. Whether it’s what we thought we wanted or not.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

A friend sent me this joke for St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t we do this all the time?

Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn't find a parking place. Looking up to heaven he said, 'Lord take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey!'

Miraculously, a parking place appeared.

Paddy looked up again and said, 'Never mind, I found one.'

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Monday, March 16, 2009


John and I went to Hickory’s Home and Garden Show this weekend and Carol Davis from WMIT was there. She gave a talk called “Joy is more than a dish detergent.”

She said when she was first out of school and in an apartment on her own she put Joy dish soap in her dishwasher. And then left. For three hours!

When she got home and opened her front door she saw bubbles and wondered, “What is Lawrence Welk doing in my house?” Then she came in and saw bubbles everywhere!

Her thought?

These won’t last forever! I need to have a party!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Youth Service

Here's an idea for a short youth service we did last Sunday. We meant to do this the first Sunday of Lent, but people were snowed in!

We created a cross of fat white candles on the floor. One candle per youth and not lit. We had the kids sit in a semi circle at the foot of the cross.

I passed out a piece of paper and pen to each youth and asked them to write one attribute of God on it. Example: Holy. I told them they would not be reading their own, so please have it come from the heart. When everyone was done I collected those in a basket.

I pass out another piece of paper and asked them to write something that God has done.
Example: created puppies. Again reminding them to really think about it and they wouldn't be reading their own outloud.
I collected these in another basket

Then I had each youth draw one of the papers from the first basket. One at a time a youth would say "God you are (and then read the attribute that the paper said) As they did this we lit one candle. The whole cross was lit when they had finished reading the attributes.

Then we passed out the papers from second basket. Each youth said “God thank you for (and read from paper)

When that was done I had the youth bow their heads and silently think about how worthy God is and what they would like to do for Him this Lenten season. Once they had thought of something they quietly get up and blew out a candle.

When everyone was again sitting I closed with this prayer. “Lord, You are more than worthy to Love and Worship. Help us to grow closer to You this Lenten season and glorify You in all we do. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen."

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Monday, March 09, 2009

God Has Told Us How to be Happy

In church yesterday the opening prayer printed in the bulletin was written by Richard Allen, African Methodist Episcopal Bishop in the 19th century.

“We believe, O Lord, that you have not abandoned us to the dim light of our own reason to conduct us to happiness, but that you have revealed in Holy Scriptures whatever is necessary for us to believe and practice. How noble and excellent are the precepts, how sublime and enlightening the truth, how persuasive and strong the motives, how powerful the assistance of your holy religion. Our delight shall be in y our statutes, and we will not forget your Word. Amen.”

So true.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

What Role Should Christians Play in Today’s World?

A minister wrote in to our local paper today something really convicting. He talked about all the changes going on in the world right now with the new administration in America and also the economic crisis.

He said this is a perfect time for Christians to show what it means to be a child of God.

We have different values than the world and should not be reacting to what’s going on the same way non-Christians do. Christians are more focused on eternity than the here and now.

He said if the Christian community (and each of us individually) really focused on reconciling the lost and dying world to a transforming understanding of an all powerful and loving God it would change the world.

It needs to start with me (and you). Our personal prayer should be that our lives will witness to the world the truth of God’s Word. That we have new attitudes toward individuals, communities, nations and the world in general as we grow in our relationship to Christ.

As we change, the world will be changed one heart at a time through our personal witness. It may be one of the changed hearts that we influence that will fix the problems facing us.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Resources for Teaching Sunday School

I came across some sites that would be very helpful when planning Sunday School lessons as well as in personal study.

http://www.lifofchrist.com/ -life of Christ course of study
http://www.spirithome.com/ -Spirituality and Faith Resources
http://www.crivoice.org/index.html/ -Bible and Theological Resources
http://www.gotquestions.org/ -Bible Questions Answered
http://www.blueletterbible.org/ -Bible Study Resources
http://www.religion-cults.com/bibles.htm/ -Bibles in several languages
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/index.jsp/ -Free Jewish Encyclopedia

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