God wants us to be whole people, not religious people. I have recently been struck by the sheer normality of authentic spirituality. Jesus, the only perfect man who ever lived on this earth, was so “normal” that most of His relations, friends, and neighbors could not possibly believe that He was the Messiah. He was not “religious enough” for that! He was simply the son of the local carpenter; a perceived glutton, drunkard, and friend of sinners... How refreshing to realize that God has created us and redeemed us to be fully human — nothing more and nothing less!
Faith. It is a word that we use so often in our day-to-day Christian conversations, but what does it truly mean to have faith? What is the difference between mental assent and true faith in Jesus? How do we detect when we are living out of self-sufficient effort rather than relying on kingdom faith? The struggle for faith to accomplish God’s purposes is what we see playing out in Mark 9:14-29, and as we reflect on this account the Holy Spirit invites us to see ourselves in the story. The event that took place in a village somewhere in the Judean countryside two thousand years ago becomes a mirror that reflects the reality of the faith struggle in our own lives today.
“Remember” is one of the most important, and also one of the most skipped over, words in Scripture. It occurs in its Hebrew and Greek forms over 250 times to clearly reveal:
-- the immediacy and the intensity of God’s love for us;
-- the passionate exercise of His sovereign rule on our behalf;
-- the complete expression of His unconditional grace;
-- the attentiveness of His shepherding care and provision; and
-- the vindication of His justice over evil and sin.
“Remember” discloses God’s desire to have a relationship with us that is personal, immediate, substantial, and faithful...
Jesus uses the parable of the vine to describe the reality of Christian growth and the way that God prepares a disciple to be useful to His work in the world today. Jesus is here speaking of two conditions. The first is the presence of branches that are dead or diseased and whose continuing presence will threaten its own viability for future growth and production. These branches cannot be left in their current and unfruitful condition. They must be cared for if your goal is fruitfulness. Sin, when exposed or recognized, cannot be tolerated and flirted with. What our culture calls normal the Lord frequently calls sin. It must be decisively addressed through repentance, the acceptance of God’s grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit to repudiate its attraction and to renounce its power. Diseased branches cannot be ignored if the goal is to maintain the health and productive capability of the plant...
Throughout the history of the Church, God has taken young, inexperienced women and men and equipped them by His Spirit for great work. Think of Rahab, Hannah, David, Samuel, Daniel, Mary, John the Baptist, and Timothy. Calvin wrote the first edition of his Institutes at the age of twenty-four; Wesley founded Methodism at twenty-five; and Ian Murray McCheyne, who shook Scotland with his preaching, died at twenty nine. Oswald Chambers, author of the best-selling devotional book of all time, My Utmost For His Highest, was dead by forty-one.
Another young man once heard someone remark, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” The young man stood up and replied, “By the Holy Spirit, I’ll be that man.” His name was Dwight L. Moody and thousands turned to Christ through his ministry.
In these critical days, God is calling out and looking for women and men with an obedient heart. Let us encourage one another to be the people God is looking for.
The Sermon on the Mount contrasts two ways of living before God. One way measures faithfulness by what we do and the other by who we are. In short, the Sermon on the Mount is aboutintegrity that is distinctly Christian. Every sentence bears the conviction that who we are on the inside matters immensely to Jesus because there is no inherent relationship between what we do and who we truly are. A man may go to church, sing the songs, and read his Bible but never have the essential poverty of spirit that God blesses with salvation, love, and strength (Matthew 5.3). A man may not cheat on his girlfriend or wife but his fidelity is compromised by his obsession with lust and sexual fantasies of every kind (Matthew 5.27-30). A man may pray eloquently in front of others but God knows that it is not an expression of faith but a will to impress, influence, and manipulate (Matthew 6.5-15). Integrity is not who you are when no one is looking. This understanding confuses privacy with honor.
Everything I have seen tells me that it is as impossible for a man or woman to live without having an object of devotion as it is for an eagle to refrain from flight. The very composition of human life, the mystery of a person’s being, and our inherent ambition and yearning all demand a center of worship that is necessary for a fulfilling and purposeful existence. The question is whether your life and powers will be devoted in worship to the true God or to a false one. Do not be deceived. Your life is a transparent testimony of who or what you worship. Christian pretense and jargon cannot conceal to those around us who or what we value most.
Following Jesus makes life adventurous. When you follow Jesus you commit yourself, without reserve, to the most exciting person the world has ever seen. You will find no monotony in Him. Following Jesus will not make you boring or dull. He will make you holy and that is a very different thing altogether.
Let no one deceive you. It is undeniably costly to follow Jesus Christ. Everything about Jesus that we long to emulate and see evident in our own lives will not be realized through mediocrity and lukewarm commitment. He made this abundantly plain on many occasions. God offers His all to us but He wants all of us in return. Jesus outlined very clearly what it will cost to follow Him...
Mark’s gospel presents many themes that are designed to speak relevantly to believers during turbulent times. But most of all it should be read as an invitation to follow the one who is both Lord and Savior. It issues us a challenge to keep pace with Jesus. When we read this gospel we discover that discipleship is nothing short of a marathon that begins in Galilee and ends in Jerusalem— only to begin again on Easter Sunday with the women running and Jesus going before them all to Galilee. Discipleship is not for the half-hearted. Nor is it for those who already perceive themselves fit. Mark summons the “faith- hearted” to keep step with Jesus. His presentation is compelling to the man or woman who is willing to project themselves into the center of the narrative and run the course afresh.
Do you know what the goal of our LifeGroups is? Our goal is to grow in our trust in God and one another so that meaningful community can develop. I’ve been thinking again about how that happens. How do we grow in our trust in God? How do we grow in our trust for one another? Yes, we can learn people skills, leaders can become aware of group dynamics, and we can share our stories. But LifeGroups need a starting point that is at once compelling and accessible for all. A starting point that disintegrates bias and creates welcome. A starting point that can become our connecting point. A connecting point that might become a dynamic catalyst for growing our relationship with God and each other.
What is a starting point that might be common for everyone who desires to connect through a LifeGroup – for first-timers and old-timers alike?
Dear ones, no close friendship or marriage can prosper when trust is partial or tentative. The same is true concerning our relationship with God. We will quickly discover, when we place our full trust in the Lord, a well-spring of life that will not disappoint us or leave us weak, defenseless, or ashamed (see John 7.38 ; Romans 5.1-5).
Summer is an opportunity for us to recalibrate our trust so that our trust and our hope lies in our Savior. Let me suggest that you use this season to focus on relationships and circumstances that you have not wholly placed in God’s hands. Let’s agree to make this a summer for renewed trust in the Lord.
How easily we fall into the trap of thinking that the truly spiritual person has some special aura of holiness or mystique about him, which keeps him separate from the more ordinary wholesome things of life! How urgently we need to rediscover God as Creator as well as Redeemer. God is my Maker. When God created man He made us in His image, sealed it by breathing His Holy Spirit upon us, and intended us to be in a personal relationship with Him. Instead man has maligned the image, quenched the Spirit, and forsaken the relationship. When God calls a man to follow Jesus He makes us a new creation, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and reconciles our relationship with him. In short, His mission is to make us truly human— in the image of His Son.
Last week we defined “drifting” as the motion of people who have lost touch with their God, their relationships, their vision, their convictions, and their priorities. The good news is that drifting does not possess terminal velocity! It can be overcome— but to do so a “drifter” must become a “runner.” In the New Testament, Paul uses the word, “run” to describe how the Christian life is directed towards a goal which mandates that a runner apply all one’s strength. Runners must keep pace and fix their eyes on the finish line because the race, Paul describes, will last a lifetime. One last observation: in the event that we stop running, we will start drifting. Therefore we must cultivate a life which can maintain the pace.
When I was twelve, my uncle and I “put out to sea.” After about two hours our engine went dead and we started to drift. He tried everything but to no avail. There were only two things to do: call for help and drop anchor. Are you drifting? If not, look out for those who are. If you are, isn’t it time to call for help and drop anchor? God promises to answer your prayer with His Living Hope. His Hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.
The apostle Paul writes: From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view… God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:16, 18-20)
The sin of prejudice is incompatible with God’s call and ministry of reconciliation. Paul understood this and overcame his culturally condoned racism for Gentiles. When God loves, He does not care about skin color, ethnicity, gender, lifestyle choices, fashion, age, political perspectives, social status, vocation, academic degrees, worldview...
Faith means taking God’s word as literally true. How do we become Christians? By claiming a promise of the Lord Jesus. How are we filled with the Holy Spirit? By claiming Jesus’ promise that God would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. How do we find victory over sin and temptation? By believing in the promise of God. In other words, faith is trusting the faithfulness of God.
During a rugby match at university, a friend of mine was particularly unnerved to see a group of humongous muscle bound men bearing down on him. As he anticipated the apocalypse that awaited him, a voice to his left said, “With you,” and with intense relief he passed the ball! The risen Christ comes to the sad, the depressed, the frightened, the disappointed, the weary, and the confused and says, “With you.” We can be wonderfully sure that Jesus is with us.
In Romans 1.1, Paul is introducing himself to fellowships he has not met before. He chooses his words deliberately so that they may gain insight into who Paul is… his identity, his heart, and his faith. In Romans 1.1 we meet (again) a man whose life has been set free by becoming a “slave of Christ Jesus.” Paul was an “apostle of the heart set free” and may we all discover the same vibrant freedom he did.
All of us will face challenges, opportunities, decisions, and relationships that will test us. This is why each of us should take a moment to honestly ask: “What do I think of Jesus?” Be honest, who is He? Let’s be honest before Him. If we answer that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord God in the flesh— then let us make a fresh commitment to surrender ourselves to Him that our lives might honor Him. If we truly believe, then may it never be said of us: “for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (Romans 1.21) In the event that you are not sure what to make of Jesus, then let me urge you to use these days to come to terms with His identity, His claims, and His work.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5.24)
What does the way of the cross mean for us today when the majority of us will probably not be faced with crucifixion nor any other form of martyrdom? What does it mean for us to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2.20) in 2017?
A. W. Tozer observed: “Many of us Christians have become extremely skillful in arranging our lives so as to admit the truth of Christianity without being embarrassed by its implications... We boast in the Lord yet carefully watch out that we never get caught depending solely upon Him. The one who is crucified with Christ makes daily decisions to affirm the reality of God’s leadership by denying his right to live like the “rest of the world.”