< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: April 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Making Great Sacrifices Part 4

Continuing my lesson from Chip Ingram's Book: Good to Great in God's Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common

Romans 12:1 – In view of God’s mercy. Our sacrifice in living a Christian life is a grateful response that acknowledges the worthiness of God for all He has done for us.

Romans 12:2 - We have to start living in God’s way first and then we will begin to learn how good it really is and what His will for us is. We first step out in faith and then God will “grow us.”

I read somewhere that “Real religion is to draw our strength from God in order to give it to others. Real religion means taking our own needs to God – not so we get peace and quiet and undisturbed comfort, but so that we may be enabled graciously, effectively and powerfully to meet the need of others.”

Are you doing anything for Christ, who did everything for you?

Chip explains how in Romans Paul lays out a logical progression of what happens. Chapters 1–3 show we all have a problem with sin, but God solved that thru the gift of Jesus on the cross. Chapters 4-5 talk about how to receive that gift by faith. Chapters 6-8 tell by how dying with Him one is raised with Him to new life and now lives in the power of His Spirit. Chapters 9 -11 answer the question of Israel – how salvation relates to the Hebrews. And then chapter 12 is “now what” In light of all that God has done – how does He want us to live.

He has unconditional love for us - Great Christians know they don’t have to earn God’s favor. We are unconditionally loved by Him. We can’t do anything to make Him love us more – or less!

Our sacrifice comes not from a sense of duty, but gratitude. God doesn’t look at the size of our gifts, but the size of our sacrifice.

Chips gives an example of a 10% tithe with different incomes – how someone who makes $20,000 and gives $2000 as a tithe is really giving a lot more than someone who makes $200,000 and gives away $20,000.

He says that for the one with the higher income 10% is a gift – not a sacrifice.

People who make great sacrifices don’t think they deserve special treatment or a great reward” they’re just doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Chip said “if you want to be a good Christian, sacrifice everything. If you want to be a great Christian, sacrifice everything with passion.”

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making Great Sacrifices Part 3

Continuing on from a lesson I taught from Chip Ingram's book Good to Great in God's Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common

My daytimer is full of verses and quotes I want with me all the time. And years ago I wrote down Romans 12:9 -13 and 15 – 18 and titled them “How to Live”
If we could read these at the start of every day I think it would change us for the better.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

These verses are kind of a capsule for what Christians need to be doing daily.

God wants all of us. Not just our Sunday mornings, not just our tithes, but every minute of our day, every word out of our mouth, every action we take. Everything about us should show the world who we honor and who we belong to.

When you make a commitment like this, it’s pretty easy to decide what to do in a situation. Will this please God – or not? Is it something Jesus would do? Does it help you grow God’s kingdom? If someone saw you do it, would they question your walk with God?

Chip said “Good Christians make the sacrifice required to demonstrate that Jesus is, in fact, the object of their worship. But, great Christians go above and beyond everything that’s required to express their overflowing love and commitment to Christ. They trust God to take what He already owns; their life, and do something lasting and wonderfully fulfilling with it.”

Romans 12:1-2

This is a very practical section. The section starts with “therefore” and therefore in the Bible, always points back to something that was taught earlier. Here it teaches that because of the way God has saved sinners thru the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, because of the way God has set them on the path of godly living by joining them with Christ and because of what God is doing – calling new people from both Jew and Gentiles, Christians should live differently from the way they lived before they were saved and from those around them They are now a part of Christ’s church. Paul begins his statement with the need for Christians to develop a Christian way of thinking and that’s that our bodies need to be offered as living sacrifices: holy and pleasing to God. Sacrificing your life for someone is the ultimate proof of true love. And Paul tells us we’re to do that for God.

But, we’re to be living sacrifices. This was novel in Paul’s day when all sacrifices involved animals dying. But, Paul says we are to offer our lives to God so that, as a result, we no longer live for ourselves, but for him. We’re to be instruments He can use for doing His will.

And the place to start is our minds. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The mind is powerful. What you fill your mind with determines how you act. If you fill your mind with the Bible and Christian books and godly conversation you will become increasingly useful to God.

Paul also says that our sacrifices need to be holy. All sacrifices in the Bible were to be holy: the lambs weren’t to have a spot or a blemish. Anything less then perfect was an insult to God. That was the problem with Cain’s offering way back in Genesis.

Paul says our sacrifices should be pleasing to God.

We offer ourselves as sacrifices because of His mercy, because He’s been so good to us in so many ways and also because of what He continues to do. Salvation is not a thing of the past. God continues to work in those whom He has brought to faith in Jesus Christ. When God starts something, He will bring it to completion. We also offer ourselves because service is God’s will for us and He is worthy of our best effort. The things we do for God will go in to eternity.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 that Heaven and earth will pass away. But, in 1 John 2:17 it says, “the one who does the will of God lives forever.” And that includes his works because in Rev. 14:13 it says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…they will rest from their labor and their deeds will follow them.”

What we end up doing in Heaven has a lot to do with what we’ve done on earth. Romans 12:2, “Do not let the age in which you live force you into its scheme of thinking and behavior and customs of the world.”

One commentator, JB Phillips said about this verse, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” We’re not only to act differently than the worldly people, we’re to think differently. People: worldly, secular people, don’t think about eternal consequences when they do something. The future to them is: retirement or maybe their grandchildren’s world – maybe they’re trying to leave “their world a better place” for future generations – that kind of thing. But, they don’t think of their lives as already a part of eternity where our earthly life is just a dot long. When you see that, you begin to understand that some of the trials and problems you go through, if you react to them the right way, which is not becoming bitter, but staying focused on God – you come out a little bit more like Christ. A little bit more humble, a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more grateful when it’s over!

God’s will is we all end up like Christ by the time we stand in front of Him – whatever it takes!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Plastic Pearls

There was a little girl named Jenni. One day she and her mother ran in to the store for something her mom needed. Jenni caught sight of a little necklace hanging on the wall and stopped short. "Oh, mommy! Look at the beautiful necklace! Oh, mommy! Can I have it? Please!" It was a fake pearl necklace.

Her mom looked at the price and said, "Well, Jenni, I don't have an extra 1.99 today. But, I'll tell you what. Your birthday is in a couple weeks and your grandma usually sends you a dollar in your card. You could use that and also do a few chores around the house and earn the money to buy this yourself!"

And that's just what Jenni did. Her birthday came and sure enough, Grandma sent the dollar and she did enough chores to earn the rest and her mom took her back to the store where she purchased the little necklace.

And Jenni wore it everywhere! To Sunday school, to school and to play. The only place she didn't wear it was the bathtub, because her mom was pretty sure it would turn her neck green!

One day her dad came in to kiss her goodnight. He sat on the edge of her bed and said, "Jenni, do you love me?"

"Oh, Daddy! Of course I love you! I love you more than the stars!"

"Jenni, would you give me your pearls?"

Jenni's hand went to her neck and she clutched the pearls tightly. "Oh, Daddy! My pearls? Daddy! I'll give you my toy pony!? Would you like that?"

Her dad said, "That's ok, Jenni, goodnight, sweetie."

The next night he came in to kiss her and said, "Jenni, do you love me?"

"Oh, Daddy, you're so silly! I love you bigger than the world!"

"Jenni, would you give me your pearls?"

"Daddy! My pearls? What if I give you my doll? The one that cries real tears?"

"That's ok, honey, goodnight."

The next night when her dad walked in to the room, Jenni was sitting cross-legged on her bed. As he sat down on the edge she held out her little fist and with a big tear rolling down her cheek, she dropped her pearl necklace into his hand.

And he took them.

But, at the same time, his other hand reached into his back pocket and he took out a blue velvet box.

He had bought her real pearls.

God wants to replace all the cheap, fake things in our life that we hang on to so tightly and give us the real deal.

Pain helps a person discern between plastic and real pearls.

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Making Great Sacrifices Part 2

We’ve heard over and over “If you want to know what you really love, all you have to do is notice where you’re giving your time, your energy, your money and your dreams. It might be your spouse, kids, jobs, hobbies, self…” All of these things we’ve allowed to get in the way at one time or another.

Chip Ingram, in his book, Good to Great in God's Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common says we should spend time thinking about what some of those things are. And we should ask God to highlight one area of our life that is not fully surrendered to Him. And pray for surrender and then do it.

He also says we need to grasp how love and worship were intertwined in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. That if we don’t grasp the nature of the relationship between them, we miss both the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and the appropriate depth of our discipleship.

The book of Leviticus is the instruction book for Israel’s priests on how to lead the nation in worship. It talks about all the sacrifices they needed to be offering to God: sin offerings, guilt offerings, faith offerings, thanksgiving offerings.

God was training His people through the sacrificial system. Every sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed to Christ’s ultimate one – the once and for all one. All the sacrifices in the Old Testament had to be done and re-done; over and over. People had to understand; that access to God demanded sacrifice. Our sins needed to be covered. And that fellowship with God grows through sacrifice.

In this section, Chip used the story of Abraham and Isaac. And he had a good thought we should take notice of: “Abraham did what great Christians do, even when they don’t understand why or feel like they can: he obeyed.”

And he said, it’s best to obey early.

Sometimes God just wants us to show our willingness to sacrifice. He’s not proving it to Himself. He always knows what’s on our hearts. He wants us to realize it and admit it and be willing to show it and act upon it. This tells us that our attitude and hearts are important to God.

Chip says God periodically tests us for the singularity of our devotion through sacrifice. How tightly do we hold a relationship, a possession, a dream, a job? And he says it will hurt. The willingness to give it up won’t be easy. That’s why it’s called a sacrifice. Because a sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice unless it’s a sacrifice! But, it will demonstrate to you and others where your true love rests.

He said if that sounds cruel to us, we should know that God tests us out of His own goodness and mercy. He says good people left unchecked with good things overtime will drift away from God and the most important thing will deteriorate. So the tests for us to give up the stuff that gets in the way keep us close to Him.

God’s goal in our lives is to make us like His Son. In order for us to get there, there are a lot of rough edges that need to be filed. A lot of character development worked out. A lot of humbleness worked in.

Chip wrote though: if we really understand who Jesus is, if we really grasp the depths of His goodness and compassion, we realize that He only asks us to leave everything behind because compared to Him “everything” is second rate.

I've told the story of The Plastic Pearls in many Sunday School lessons: I'll tell it in the next post.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Good to Great – Making Great Sacrifices

I’m back teaching from Chip Ingram’s book,Good to Great in God's Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common

This is from the chapter “Making Great Sacrifices.” As I do with all my lessons, I’ve pulled in other information from various other places of things I’ve learned and read along the way.

Jesus said in Luke 14:33, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

I think that one statement is a big part of the reason some people don’t want to become Christians. It’s their biggest fear. That God will ask them to give up all the fun stuff, all their money, all their comfortable things. Maybe some of their friends and activities… They don’t turn their lives all the way over to God because they’re afraid He’s going to zero in on that one thing they really want to hang on to and ask them to get rid of it.

And He might.

But, God isn’t in the business of asking us to do things we hate. He designed each of us uniquely. He gave us interests and talents and passions and personalities that are perfect for us to use in the body of Christ for His purpose. And using those things, knowing you are square in the middle of God’s will is the best thing in the world. God’s will is never bad for us.

But, following Him does almost always require giving something up. Following Jesus, picking up the cross; means we do have to become selfless. That it won’t be all about me anymore. That we’ll put Him first – His plans - His kingdom. We are not a disciple if following Him isn’t our top priority. And that does require absolute sacrifice.

But, listen to this:

Mark 10:29 -30 - "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life”

What the non-believers don’t understand is – when they fall in love with Jesus – pleasing Him, living for Him – isn’t really a sacrifice. It will be something they want to do and something they enjoy doing.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What if Everyone Tried to be the Answer to Someone’s Prayer?

A couple years ago I cut out a little story about making everyday a “million dollar day.” I kept it to inspire me to not only treat each day as a gift to me, but for me to be a gift to others.

I carry it around with me and today pulled it out to re-read and I got to thinking. God uses people most of the time to answer people’s prayers. We each have it in our power to do that more often then we would think.

We can be there for lonely people. We can give money to people who have been praying for relief from debt. We can be on the lookout for job leads for people who are unemployed. We can help someone overwhelmed by a problem. We can send cards, make phone calls...

Just think if everyone spent some time every day thinking about what someone might be praying for – and then trying to be that person’s answer to prayer.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter

Happy Easter! He is Risen!

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Seven Days to Live

Bill Hybels has a good article over at Today's Christian Woman. It answers:
What can we learn from Jesus' last week on earth?

Read it here

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

God's Guidance

God still speaks to His people. He speaks to us in 3 distinct ways:

1. His Word (The Bible)

A Christian leader, Paul Little, once said, “Ninety percent of God’s will for your life has already been revealed in His Word.” The Bible gives specific instructions for most of the areas of our life. It teaches us about what our character and conduct should look like. It gives direction for making wise career choices, choosing a spouse, loving that spouse, raising children, handling finances, growing spiritually, caring for our body, making our life count for Christ, etc. etc.

We need to be committed to knowing the Bible. We need to read the Bible daily. And before we open it we need to pray for God’s guidance and teaching for what we are about to read.

2. The Holy Spirit

Sometimes we ask things like should I go to college or start a career? Should I marry this particular person? Then God gives us direction through the Holy Spirit. That’s one of His jobs: guidance. Sometimes He will make us feel unsettled until we do something. Usually what we’ll do then is start praying. Asking for God’s direction. When we start listening and then acting on what God tells us He will start to give us a feeling a peace about the decision.

3. His people

There is great wisdom in seeking insight and counsel from other followers of Christ. Listen to them. Ask their advice.

True fulfillment only comes when we are doing what God has planned for us.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Being a Christian in an Non Christian World

One of the worst diseases in Christendom is isolationism. We get hurt because of some ridicule or rejection from others so we hide our faith. We decide to stay inside the church with other like minded Christians and be safe.

As followers of Christ, though, we are told to let our lights shine. To salt the earth. We are to die to ourselves. To bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.
Our lives should exhibit fruit for God. We should constantly be aware of His presence. And this should show to other people.

If someone you loved were dying, what would you say?

Well. We are all dying.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Unanswered Prayer – No Such Thing! Ending

In the book Steps to Christ
the author wrote – “Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.” When Jesus was on the earth He taught His disciples to pray. He directed them to present their daily needs before God and cast all their cares on Him. And the assurance He gave them that their petitions would be heard is assurance also to us.”

But, he also said, “If we regard iniquity in our hearts, if we cling to any known sin, the Lord will not hear us, but the prayer of the penitent, contrite soul is always accepted. The assurance is broad and unlimited and He is faithful who has promised. When we do not receive the things we ask for, at the time we asked we are still to believe that the Lord hears and that He will answer our prayers. We are erring and shortsighted that we sometimes ask for things that would not be a blessing to us, and our heavenly Father in love answers our prayers by giving us that which will be for our highest good – that which we ourselves would desire if with vision divinely enlightened we could see all things as they really are. When our prayers seem not to be answered we are to cling to the promise, for the time of answering will surely come and we shall receive the blessing we need most. But, to claim that prayer will always be answered in the very way for the particular thing we desire is presumption. God is too wise to err and too good to withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly."

A little summary: Prayer draws us into the will of God. We become like minded with Him. We don’t change God’s mind with our prayers, but our minds get changed! And therefore our actions.

Romans 8: 26-27 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the Saints according to the will of God.”

We are told that Jesus is next to God this very minute constantly interceding for us. I read one commentator who said that Jesus was interpreting our prayers. In other words, He takes our feeble attempts and stutterings and groans and sorts them out for us.

God wants to grant our requests much more than the most loving father on earth wishes to give his children good things. But, remember, He is a Father and as any good Father, He knows how to give good gifts and when to give them. A “no” will often keep us on the right track. God’s no answers are always said in love. He alone knows what is best for us. Maria Von Trapp said, “When God closes a door, He always opens a window.” And what a window it can be! In Malachi 3:10b it says, “I will open up the windows of heaven for you and pour out a blessing so great you won’t have room to take it in.”

Learn to accept God’s “no” in your life, trusting that He has something better for you. And remember that although God blesses us, our real inheritance is something laid up for us in heaven. It is not license to demand earthly riches from God now.

When God says no to us it is not because He can’t afford it. Nor is it because He doesn’t care. God is the owner of everything; riches, knowledge, wisdom, power, health, joy and love. And He cares for us. He loves us more than any earthly father could ever love us. So even though God does, on occasion, say no – often His response to us is yes.

The yeses happen when we are walking with God and in His will. The more we study the Bible, the more we will know what God’s will is in a matter and when we act on that will, even though we have yet to see it take place in our lives, we open the door for God to answer prayers more quickly.

This of course means that we are praying more in line with His will.

Today, think of 1 or 2 prayers you’ve been praying to God for a long time. Reaffirm your trust in God’s timing and wisdom. Let Him know you are willing to wait for His answer. Tell Him if you need to grow in the process you are ready. Promise to continue praying and pray for a patient spirit as you await His reply. And thank God for His word and His wisdom and for loving you enough to protect you from your own prayers!

Prayer: Lord, we pray that we live a life worth of You and may please You in every way. Bearing fruit it every good work, growing in knowledge of You, being strengthened with all power according to Your glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience. And that we are able to joyfully give thanks to You in every situation if for nothing else, then for who Your are and for the gift of Your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Unanswered Prayer – No Such Thing! Part 4

OK, so now we’re growing. We are seeking the will of God. God always challenges us to grow. We shouldn’t ask Him for or expect a problemless life or plastic tranquility, but for the peace of knowing what’s important and that we are in His will.

In the book POWER FOR LIVING
the chapter “Growing as a Christian” tells us to go to God in prayer daily. It says “Prayer is simply talking to God and listening while God talks. It is the basic expression of our faith. It is the breathing of our spiritual life. It is our lifeline to God.”

The author recommends keeping a prayer journal and writing your prayers on one side and later on going back to write the answers on the other.

He also said that the most important thing to remember about prayer is what Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” And suggests that means all prayer should be in the name of Jesus. But to pray in the name of Jesus is more than a mere mention of that name at the beginning and ending of a prayer. It is to pray in the mind and spirit of Jesus while we believe His promises, rely on His grace and work His works.

Again and again in the Bible God promises to be with us.

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage: be not frightened, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Psalm 23: 4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Isaiah 41:10
“Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am Your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Matthew 28:20 “lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Theses are promises we need to keep in mind as we pray. He is there! We are talking to Him.

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