preparing for easter (part 2)

Over the past 48 hours or so, there’s been a flurry of news and social media chatter about a “Religious Freedom” bill that passed in the state of Indiana. Advocates for the bill are shouting one thing, and those rallying against the bill are shouting another. There have been threats to burn down businesses, threats to ban sporting events in the state, and much more. More interestingly, the word ‘tolerance’ has been used by both those for and those against the law. Sadly, few are offering any real solutions.

Why did I bring this up? Well, it’s not to get into my personal thoughts on the law or the state of culture in the U.S. Perhaps that’ll come another time.

Instead, I share this as a simple follow-up to the post I made a few days ago. It was then that I offered a simple challenge – give up reading and/or watching the news throughout the week of Easter and instead, use that time to read through the Gospel of John. (And oh, just in case you’re wondering how I know what’s been happening in the news, it’s because I slammed through the Gospel of John rather quickly!)

It seemed like such a simple challenge, yet it impacted me a bit more than I ever would’ve anticipated.

As I finished reading through the Gospel of John, I quickly came to a couple of different conclusions as a result. One is that I apparently spend too much time reading through news articles. Articles which, as mentioned before, don’t provide a great deal of information, but are written to make the reader excited or angry about something. The ‘news’ regarding the Religious Freedom bill in Indiana as well as the comments being made about it throughout social media is proof positive!

A second conclusion is that the Gospel of John is just as fascinating to me today as it was the first time I read through it. By my count, the word ‘believe’ is used 83 times. The general sense of the term means to believe or trust that Jesus was the Messiah sent from God. In fact, John specifically says that he wrote the book so that people would believe in Jesus.

But in my reading, it was John 17 that really stood out. It’s here that Jesus Himself takes the opportunity to pray for all who do believe in Him. He prays, specifically, that they will be one just as He and the Father are one. And this is where things get interesting.

This weekend, Billions of people around the world are going to join together in worship. Think about that for just a minute. Not hundreds, or thousands. But BILLIONS of people will worship Jesus this weekend. That’s just amazing.

And Jesus’ prayer for them was that they would join together as one. Some will have grown up Methodist, and others Baptist. Some Catholic, and others Lutheran. Some may be advocates for a Religious Freedom bill, and others against. But their religious background or denomination isn’t what really matters, nor are their differing opinions in politics. What really matters is Jesus. His desire was that all who believe would come together under the banner of His name, and that they would simplify life by focusing their energies on loving God and loving others.

Maybe we as believers in Jesus can all continue to learn from His prayer. Maybe we’ll all come to realize we spend too much time reading through news. Maybe we’ll all come to see that far too often we share our opinions on things that don’t really matter. Maybe we’ll all come to see that far too often we focus more of our energies on our differences than our similarities.

And maybe this weekend, we’ll remember His prayer…and we’ll worship Him as one.

 

learning and applying the Book of James:

Two weeks ago, we at South Ridge Church began a new message series on the book of James. This weekend, I (Pastor Justin) challenged all in attendance to read through the Book of James, and to let me know something you learned from your study, and how you plan to apply it. Below are some of the responses I’ve received so far.

Feel free to contact me at justin@southridgefairmont.com to add your contribution to this post, or “reply” below. We’re really looking forward to reading about how you’re applying the Book of James in your life!

Post 1: So much to learn from this Book of the Bible!  Our faith should motivate us to serve God in mighty ways!  Our faith, accompanied by action, shows our faith is alive! I am also thankful that mercy triumphs over judgment. I pray that I can demonstrate my faith through service to others and that I can be merciful, instead of judgmental, towards others.   Mercy triumphs over judgment.  I pray that I can face trials  and persevere, knowing that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. There are many other things addressed in this chapter that we need to make part of our daily living in this world.

Post 2: Something I learned during this series so far is to “humbly accept the word God has planted in my heart, for it has the power to save your souls”.  I am going to apply God’s word to my life.  The first will be to practice acceptance of the actions that are presented to me.

Post 3: It’s funny how it seems that the message was meant just for me, many times
I’m struggling with something or have something weighing on my heart & mind.  Then that Sundays message seems to answer or help lead me in the direction that I need. Then Sunday, again, that message was written for me. I just finished reading James, There is so much of that that I can take and apply to my life and the man I want to become!

Post 4: For me, I keep seeing the importance of our deeds that have to go along with our faith.  We need to show others around us the love of God through our actions everyday.

Post 5: Chapter 1 thought – I understand the value of temptations.  By growing stronger, I have faith to help others who struggle with the same issues.  Chapter 2 thought – Our faith must match the same as our action.  A rowboat with two oars (Faith and Works) moving to a common goal. That is my favorite illustration. Chapter 3 thought – Wisdom by practical insight is from God.  We learn to be humble.  Our spiritual growth becomes stronger in Faith. Chapters 4 & 5 – This is totally from a Dad’s perspective,  As a dad, I must let God plan my life.  Godly character can last a life time.  It is very important for our family. My performance review should be honest and sincere,  Then my children can say “My dad is a Christian”

 Post 6: Thank you for the message on Sunday.  I really like the call to action we’ve heard since starting here a month ago.  The scripture that I focused on this week was James 2:17-18: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” Although I do things that glorify God in helping others, I’ve wanted to do more community outreach. Reading the book of James, in particular this verse, along with the outreach opportunities at South Ridge, I’ve already begun to put my faith in action.

Post 7: One would think at my age I would have understood this long, long ago and I don’t remember being this way my entire adult life, but somewhere along the way I forgot to be a good listener, especially slow to speak, as well. My plan is to apply this verse to my everyday life. – James 1:19-20

Post 8: James has always been my favorite book of the Bible.  James has the attributes that I like to look for in a friend—direct, honest, and loyal.  My application involves the following verses, 1:22  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” and  2:14 “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?”  I know that our salvation is not based on our works, however, the way we live our lives is our testimony for Who is Lord of our lives.

Very recently I wrote a journal entry on what attracts me to certain Christian friends—in other words, what qualities do people possess that makes me say, “Wow I just love being with that person?”  Some of the things I wrote were “seeker of the Lord always—knowing that they will give me wise counsel”, “encouraging”,  “truthful”, “not gossipy”, “positive—don’t complain alot”, “not judgmental”, “makes time for me”, and “not envious–truly wants the best for me.”  These are people who are really living with an eternal perspective—I love being around those people. They don’t have to “say” their testimonies, they live them out.  Are they 100% of these attributes all the time? No,they are human and they fail.  However, I know that Jesus is at the center of their lives.
I desire to also have a life that is a LIVING testimony—-the kind that James described.

Post 9: Thanks for the nudge to get into the WORD. James 4:8. We step toward Him…He steps toward us…

Post 10: To sum up MY reaction to the book of James:  OUCH!  I found it very convicting as I struggle and fall short in virtually every area he mentions.  What came to me, on how to apply God’s Word was: Pause and Patience. The 2-very characteristics that I struggle with the most.  I react too quickly and expect others to do the same.  I believe if I learn the skill of taking a time out and giving some thoughtful consideration to things, I may just seem some progress.  I don’t always need to respond/react, sometimes not doing anything is the best thing to do (or not do?)

Post 11: I heard this on Rick Warren’s podcast today and thought I might share it.

“Ask God a specific question. James 1:5-6 says, “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him …. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you” (TLB). Those verses tell us three truths.

First, God wants you to ask him for advice. You’re not bothering him. He’s interested in every detail of your life, and he’s waiting for you to ask.

Second, the more specific you are, the better, because it builds your faith when you ask God for something specific and then he answers. Don’t be general in your prayers.

Third, God wants you to expect an answer. Don’t pray and ask God for help unless you expect that he’s going to help you.

Look into God’s Word. After you withdraw and as you’re waiting and watching for the Lord, you need to get into the Bible. I can’t tell you how many times God has taken a verse and, even after I’ve read a passage a hundred times, it suddenly pops out at me, and I see something I’ve never seen before. God uses the Bible to give answers to your specific questions.

Post 12: I am walking for water.
About a year ago this idea “popped” into my head and though I thought I would do it, I failed to follow through. Fast forward to the James series. In searching and questioning God, I felt strongly that I was to walk (as often as possible) contributing $ for each mile I walk but to carry a bucket to raise my own awareness of why I walk and possibly the awareness of our community. It is already starting. Someone who saw me asked what I was doing and when they found out they said they want to contribute. So now its out there! Here is  where i always fall short–follow through. I could not begin to tell you the number of times I have been inspired but failed to complete!  I want to be done with that!! James is helping encourage me in my “works”. Maybe I should add, “if the Lord is willing . . . ” I will do this!

I (and maybe lots of people) want to be a part of something that makes “a difference” in lives of others. Water makes a profound difference  to the woman who has to walk 4 miles (on average) daily to have water . Its really so simple!

Post 13: I have learned (unfortunately many times over and over again) that the trials I am going through are to be celebrated!  Time and time again God is faithful and I am stronger and joyful with the outcomes of these trials, but I find I lack the faith during the trial.  I need to trust.
James 1:2  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

the 28/14 challenge: day 11

Reading through Matthew over the past eleven days has been a fantastic challenge for me, personally.  I’ve observed so many interesting things about the life and teachings of Jesus.  For example:

  • I’ve noticed that Matthew writes a lot about various Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled by Jesus.  I haven’t counted how many times I’ve read, “This took place to fulfill…” — but I’ve seen that phrase a lot.
  • I’ve noticed that Jesus Himself had moments of being hungry. Tired. Angry. It’s been comforting to read that God in the flesh had moments when He wanted nothing more than to be alone and be with His Heavenly Father.
  • More than anything, I’ve noticed that Jesus cannot simply be a great teacher. Or a prophet. Or a wonderful man. No – He is either completely insane, or He truly is who says He is.  As C.S. Lewis has argued,  Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Lewis writes:

“Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. …

Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

Here are a few things today that help me to see Jesus as Lord:

Who is God?

We once again see Jesus fulfilling prophecies of who the Messiah would be (Matthew 21:4-5)

We see Jesus have overwhelming knowledge (and authority) of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 21:31-32; 22:2-14).

We see Jesus understanding the Scriptures differently (i.e. better) than anybody else (Matthew 22:32; 36-38; 42-46).

In other words, Jesus is someone who has complete understanding of God the Father and His purpose for each one of us.  He was able to see directly into the hearts of people, seeing prostitutes and thieves for the people they were created to be, and gently loving and encouraging them to live God’s greatest plan for their lives.  These passages (as well as many more in previous chapters) make it clear that Jesus was no fool, and He certainly wasn’t crazy.  The only logical explanation is that He was and is the Son of God.

Who am I?

I am someone who desires to regularly experience the same love and grace that Jesus showed the thieves, prostitutes, and other known sinners of His day.

What is God inviting me to do?

God is inviting me to uphold the greatest commandment:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40) – New Living Translation

Feel free to comment and let me know what God has been teaching you as you continue the 28/14 Challenge.

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This is part five in a series on the 28/14 Challenge.  I won’t post my thoughts each day of the challenge, but additional posts are provided at the links below.

The 28/14 Challenge: day 1 (Matthew 1-2)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 4 (Matthew 7-8)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 6 (Matthew 11-12)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 11 (Matthew 21-22)

Questions or comments?  Feel free to let me know in the comment section below.

the 28/14 challenge: day 6

Seven years ago today I began working at SRC full-time.  That’s right, I began working at SRC on April Fool’s Day.  Pretty crazy, huh?

But it’s been an amazing seven years.  When I first came on staff, SRC had just a little over 200 people in attendance any given weekend.  As the church has continued to grow, so have I.  I’ve grown to love a whole bunch of people I never would have known outside of SRC.  I’ve grown to see that God works in very different ways than I do.  I’ve grown in my desire to minister to others and in the ways God has made me to do so.

I’ve grown.

And I’m not sure about you, but I have found the first six days of the 28/14 challenge to be very good for me.  Even in these six days, I have grown.

Here’s a little bit about what I learned today, on day six of the challenge.

Who is God?

God is someone who has the desire to see His kingdom advance, and the message of His kingdom is a message under attack (Matthew 11:12).

God and God alone is judge (Matthew 11:21-24).

Jesus declares Himself LORD even over the Sabbath.  By doing so He declares that everything in our lives, even our rest, should be in Him (Matthew 12:8).

Jesus speaks on the importance of repentance, criticizing all who refuse to listen to His teaching (Matthew 12:39-45).

These passages show that God/Jesus isn’t the typical soft-spoken person we often make Him out to be.  He’s strongly worded.  Calling people to repentance.  Calling people to actively spread the advance of His kingdom.  When people in His day chose not to do so, He was quick to reprove them and tell them how badly their judgment would be.  His words in these two chapters are not at all mild and meek.  They are strong.  Powerful.  Purposeful.  Yet all were spoken in love.

Who am I?

These chapters say very little about me, personally.  However, it is obvious that the authority Jesus speaks with is godly authority.  And I am someone who ought to listen to His words.

What is God inviting me to do?

There is so much in this passage God is inviting me to do.

God is inviting me to use wisdom so that wisdom may be shown right by its actions (Matthew 11:19).

God is inviting me to regularly show mercy, not simply provide a sacrifice (Matthew 12:7).

God is inviting me to be “good” and not “evil”, and how much of this may be attributed to the words I speak.  As His word says, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Matthew 12:35-37)

If you haven’t yet done so, take an opportunity to read Matthew 11-12.  What is it God is inviting you to do?

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This is day 6 in a series on the 28/14 Challenge.  I won’t post my thoughts each day of the challenge, but additional posts are provided at the links below.

The 28/14 Challenge: intro

The 28/14 Challenge: day 1 (Matthew 1-2)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 4 (Matthew 7-8)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 6 (Matthew 11-12)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 11 (Matthew 21-22)

 

Questions or comments?  Feel free to let me know in the comment section below.

the 28/14 challenge: day 4

Friday afternoon I had an opportunity to meet somebody for the first time.  He is of retirement age.  The best career he’s ever had is being a handyman.  He cannot read or write.  But…

…he’s brilliant.

This man has spent more time listening to the Bible than most have spent reading it.  He’s spent more years thinking through the hard questions in life than most people have spent in a church.  We talked about evolution. The Big Bang.  Jesus.  His death.  His resurrection.  Is the Bible reliable?  Why so many religions?  You name it, we talked about it.

The thing is, I know he’s not alone in having hard questions.  You probably have some yourself.  Maybe more than a few.

What’s fascinating is how many of these questions may be answered by diving into God’s Word.  Not all of your questions may be answered in one sitting.  But continued study will answer life’s most complicated questions.

This brings me back to the 28/14 study.  Today is day 4 of the 28/14 challenge.  And this challenge asks three of the most complex questions in life.

  1. Who is God?
  2. Who am I?
  3. What is God inviting me to do?

Here are some of the thoughts I have after reading Matthew 7-8 and answering these questions.

Who is God?

As seen earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.  Therefore, we can learn a great deal about who God is from what Jesus has to say in these chapters.

God is a teacher – “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

God is a healer – Jesus heals a number of people in Matthew 7-8.  But one sticks out a bit more than the others (Matthew 8:5-12).  A Roman Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant.  This is important because to the Jews, the Romans were the bad guys. The Jews were expecting a Messiah in the line of king David to free them from Roman rule!  And here’s Jesus, God in the flesh, telling the Roman Centurion – “I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!”  If that didn’t unsettle the crowd, I’m not sure what could!

God is (or at least was) homeless – “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

When thinking about God, the first of these points makes a lot of sense.  But the other two?  Wow!  Those give a much different perspective on the character of God.

Who am I?

Jesus says, “Don’t judge others.” And…

“Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”  And…

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  (Matthew 7:2, 3, 12).

I’m one who does the opposite of these things on a regular basis.

What is God inviting me to do?

God is inviting me to radically rethink my concept of who he is.  He’s inviting me to be a true disciple, all the while requirement me to rethink what true discipleship looks like (Matthew 7:21-23).  He’s inviting me to listen to his teaching (7:24) and continually be amazed by it (7:28).

How about you?  What are you learning about God?  Yourself?  And what he’s inviting you to do?

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This is day 4 in a series on the 28/14 Challenge.  I won’t post my thoughts each day of the challenge, but additional posts are provided at the links below.

The 28/14 Challenge: intro

The 28/14 Challenge: day 1 (Matthew 1-2)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 4 (Matthew 7-8)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 6 (Matthew 11-12)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 11 (Matthew 21-22)

 

Questions or comments?  Feel free to let me know in the comment section below.

the 28/14 challenge: day 1

Have you ever found it difficult to converse with someone you’re in conflict with?  Yeah, me too.

What’s interesting, however, is that God chooses to converse with us all the time.  And he chooses to do so in multiple ways. We simply have to provide a listening ear.

As I wrote about before, we’re beginning a new series this Sunday that focuses on The Scarlet Thread all throughout the scriptures.  And Genesis 3 paints a pretty stark picture.

Sin entered the world.

Sin carried down through every person.

Every person inherits conflict with God.

Not a pretty picture, is it?

But this ties in perfectly with the 28/14 challenge I presented yesterday as well.  It’s a great challenge, but while I know some of you may have agreed to the challenge, you’re unsure what answering these questions should look like?  Well, I’m certain it will look a little bit different for everybody.  But here’s a small sample of what I gleaned from day 1.

Reading: Matthew 1-2

Thoughts that entered my mind as I read:

  • Who in the world is Jahoiachin?  And does it really matter? (Matt. 1:11)
  • On a more serious note: There’s some text here about the Messiah. What exactly does that even mean?
  • I see several passages that say, “the prophet wrote…”.  Interesting.

And then I began to think through the three questions:

Who is God?

Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us.  So, God, the creator of everything decided to leave everything and be with us — the very people in conflict with him.  That’s pretty incredible.

I also note some things about how God has chosen to communicate with us who are in conflict with him.

  1. He gave us his word (the Bible) as one form of communication.
  2. He has spoken through the prophets (5 times in these two chapters, Matthew mentions something from a prophet being fulfilled in Jesus!)
  3. He even spoke to people through an angel!

Who am I?

Matthew 1-2 says nothing about me, personally.  Nothing at all.  But a couple of things still come to light.

  1. Despite being in conflict with him, he speaks to me (and with me).
  2. I’m guessing, just guessing God may be speaking in a variety of ways in order to show that he is trustworthy.

What is God inviting me to do?

Based on what I’ve read, he’s inviting me to trust him at his word.

Those are just a few of the thoughts I had from day 1.  I’m not planning to blog something all 14 days of this challenge, but I’m sure I’ll give some additional insights I’m learning sometime next week.  Until then:

You’ve now read Matthew 1-2.  What did you learn about God, yourself, and what God may be inviting you to do?  Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

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This is part two in a series on the 28/14 Challenge.  I won’t post my thoughts each day of the challenge, but additional posts are provided at the links below.

The 28/14 Challenge: day 1 (Matthew 1-2)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 4 (Matthew 7-8)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 6 (Matthew 11-12)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 11 (Matthew 21-22)

 

the 28/14 challenge:

It was colder than I wanted it to be this morning.  Much colder.  As I walked into McD’s to meet a group of friends one of them asked, “How are you doing?”  In one breath I said, “It’s a bit chilly this morning.”  In the next I ordered a large ICED coffee.  When will I learn?

But I’m not writing today to discuss the weather.  Not at all.

As I met with this group of friends one thing seemed apparent.  We all realized our lives are hectic.  We all realized our lives are complex.  We all realized we need to spend more time with God.

So, today I want to present you with a challenge.  It’s something that will better prepare you for your hectic life.  It’s something that will help you deal with the complexities in life.  It’s something that will help you spend more time with God.

Here’s the challenge: Over the next two weeks, read the gospel of Matthew.  That’s twenty-eight chapters in just fourteen days.  So let’s just call it the 28/14 challenge.  But this is only part of the challenge, there’s a little more to it.

Take the opportunity as you read a couple of chapters each day to ask yourself three important questions.  Answering these three questions will help the text sink in.  Answering these three questions will help you better know God and His will for your life.

  1. What does the text say about God?
  2. What does the text say about me?
  3. What is God inviting me to do?

That’s the 28/14 challenge.

Two chapters a day.

Three questions a day.

Fourteen days.

Will you join me in the challenge?

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This is part one in a series on the 28/14 Challenge.  I won’t post my thoughts each day of the challenge, but additional posts are provided at the links below.

The 28/14 Challenge: day 1 (Matthew 1-2)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 4 (Matthew 7-8)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 6 (Matthew 11-12)

The 28/14 Challenge: day 11 (Matthew 21-22)

Questions or comments?  Feel free to let me know in the comment section below.