Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Last Jedi

I'm going to ignore the battles about The Last Jedi. I loved it, love it even more when talking about it, and will love it even more when then DVDs come out and I can watch it 50 more times this year.

Here's what I posted and loved so much after the first viewing:

Rey. She is wonderful.

Porgs.

Rose.

All the Force stuff we saw to interact Rey and Ben.

Chewie busting into Luke's hut.

R2-D2 talking sense into Luke

Yoda!

Poe being a cool flyboy blowing up the cannons.

The fight in Snoke's lair.

Holdo and her purple hair.

The shot when she flies into Snoke's ship in hyperdrive.

Luke at the end.

Not knowing where the story was going.

These were second viewing additions:

I adore Daisy Ridley unconditionally.

Holdo taking the helm and flying hyperspeed into Snoke's ship is the most bada** scene in all of Star Wars history.

I almost lost it this time during Luke and Leia's scene.

Porg fever!

Having seen it I wasn't unsure of how it would go and could settle in for the joy of it all.

The captain of the first dreadnought was really good and should have been in charge of the whole fleet, because Hux is a schmuck.

I thought Finn was going to die and blow up the cannon.

Captain Tallie was so cute and should have lived.

Paige, too.

The performances were all just spectacular. A+ acting.

Second time I noted how Ben said that Rey couldn't initiate the Force connection because it would kill her.

But at the end they have it without Snoke's help.

RIP Admiral Ackbar

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Jesus Teaches

My Life Group lesson for January 7, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

In "The Last Jedi," Luke is giving Rey lessons on becoming a Jedi, and at one point he tells Rey that "It's not going to go the way you think it's going to go."

When Jesus was on earth he was a master teacher that even the likes of Yoda would be amazed.

Non-Christians think they know who Jesus is as a good and moral teacher, but if they read the Bible it's not going to go the way they think it will.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** By the time we get to Mark chapter 4 there were great crowds following Jesus to hear Him teach.

*** Such a large crowd had gathered for His teaching that He had to get on a boat and push off into the lake so they all could see Him and hear Him.

*** Interestingly, we know these people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because it was unlike anything they’d heard before (see Mark 1:22), but we see no indication they acted on what He said.

Mark 4:1-9

1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” 9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

*** What’s the most fun you’ve had learning something new?

--- Think back to a favorite teacher: elementary school, high school, college, or on-the-job training. You probably enjoyed that instructor so much because he or she fell into one or more of these groups: teachers who know their subject inside and out, teachers who love the subject and are passionate about it, and teachers who truly care about their students.

--- Many of us got into a particular profession because just such a teacher motivated us to pursue that field. And many teachers became teachers themselves because other exemplary teachers inspired them. Learning isn’t always easy, but great teachers help us develop the desire to learn.

--- Jesus taught with all three of these characteristics.

--- During His earthly ministry, Jesus certainly knew what He was talking about, He taught with passion, and He genuinely loved those He taught.

--- But Jesus’ teaching has another vital element: His teaching is life-changing.

--- One key way Jesus taught was through parables, which are short stories designed to teach a meaningful point.

--- When Yoda taught Luke in Star Wars he didn't just seem to talk backward, his wisdom made your head spin. He had ancient wisdom teaching.

--- Similarly, the modern, Western mind thinks in terms of lists and logic, but the ancient, Jewish mind thought in images and examples.

--- Parables didn’t bury the truth; rather, the principle in a parable was “hiding in plain sight” in such a way that those who understood what Jesus was saying would understand exactly what He was saying.

--- At church when we read a parable it seems odd that Jesus always had to explain the parables, but we’ve had 2,000 years of revelation and explanation. The people at the time didn’t know what Jesus was talking about until the years after the crucifixion.

--- Interestingly, Mark recorded this parable of the soils before he wrote about Jesus’ other parables and specific teachings. This parable provides a key to Jesus’ other teachings because it addresses our hearts. It’s not enough just to know what Jesus said; what makes a difference is what we do with that truth.

--- God can do great things in our lives by making us fruitful and abundant for His kingdom, but it’s only life-changing when we obey.

*** Question - What’s the best way for you to learn new things?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

"The Last Jedi" has divided people more than I care to think about. For reasons, many just didn't like it.

To me it's because they expected one kind of movie and director Rian Johnson delivered a movie that upends the saga. On a second viewing they can let go of that and just try to enjoy it.

Just as the audience of "The Last Jedi" has to let go of what they think they know in the Star Wars universe, we have to understand that different people will respond to God’s truth in different ways.

How will you obey God’s Word? Consider taking one or more of these steps in the days to come:

*** Weed. What in your life is hindering your ability to hear and obey God’s Word? Ask God to help you remove anything keeping you from fully trusting and following Him.

*** Water. Make Scripture reading a daily part of your life. Start a journal. Each day, note what God says in His Word and consider what you need to do to obey Him.

*** Sow. Create a plan for sharing what God is teaching you through His Word. Use social media to tell others. Meet someone for lunch whom you can encourage to read Scripture and obey God’s teaching.

The idea of teaching others about Jesus may feel intimidating or even out of reach. But if you are willing to hear God’s Word and obey His instruction for your life, He will guide you the rest of the way.

Jesus Calls

My Life Group lesson for August 6, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What great adventures are on your bucket list?

What’s appealing about your adventure? What’s held you back from pursuing that adventure so far?

Following Jesus is a life-changing adventure, and you’re invited.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We are starting a new study for the winter with the focus “Jesus changes everything.”

*** Mark’s Gospel is a fast-moving summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry. A brief introduction to the ministry of John the Baptist (see Mark 1:1-8) leads directly into his baptism of Jesus.

*** The focus fully moves from John to Jesus, including Jesus’ ministry of calling people—including His first disciples—to follow Him.

Mark 1:14-15

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

*** Jesus gets to work.

--- Brian is getting ready to start a new adventure as a teacher. Whether or not he teaches kids how to rock like Jack Black in “School of Rock,” he’ll chart a path of success for his students.

--- Now that He has been baptized and given the go-ahead from the Father, Jesus rolled up His sleeves and got to His mission of proclaiming the good news.

--- The kingdom, He was saying, is right here; it’s staring you in the face.

--- God’s kingdom is here and now. That’s a critical truth.

--- In fact, Jesus declared that this truth demands a response from those who hear it: “Repent and believe the good news!”

--- Repentance isn’t just feeling sorry about what you did. That’s only part of the process.

--- Belonging to the kingdom of God also means recognizing the standard God commands us to live by, acknowledging that we’ve come up short of that standard, and taking the necessary steps to get back on course.

--- Christ’s invitation calls us to an adventure unmatched in either history or fiction, and it affects us right here and right now.

--- Jesus’ instructions for entering His kingdom are simple: repent of your sins and believe the good news that the kingdom of God is not far off or unattainable, but right in front of you, waiting for you to enter.

*** Question - What have you left behind in order to follow Jesus?

Mark 1:16-20

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

*** Fishers of men.

--- In Justice League a group of superheroes teams up to take on evil. The tagline is “You can’t save the world alone.”

--- As He set out on His mission, Jesus began recruiting His disciples to help Him.

--- Note that Jesus does not recruit His disciples and “fishers of men” from the religious leadership but from ordinary walks of life.

--- When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow Him, He didn’t give them a new assignment that was unfamiliar to them; He equated it with something they knew well: fishing.

--- “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’”

--- Of course, this was still an invitation into the unknown— following a Rabbi who, at this point, had given them no instructions beyond “Follow me.”

--- For three years, these men followed Jesus and walked closely with Him. After Jesus ascended and sent His Holy Spirit, these four men—along with the other disciples—went in unique directions to do what God called them to do. But underneath it all was a common call: “Follow me.”

--- The call to follow Jesus has never been limited to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It’s a universal call to us all.

--- Jesus continues to reveal Himself to us every day in at least two ways:

--- Creation. Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

--- Scripture. We have something even more remarkable at our disposal: the Word of God. The Scriptures announce the majesty and lordship of Jesus Christ on every page.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Steven Curtis Chapman’s great album “The Great Adventure” came out 25 years ago.

As I drove into the campus of Union University in Jackson in August of 1993 to start my college adventure, I put on “The Great Adventure” and my friend Steve and I sang loudly in my car, “Saddle up your horses!”

In the adventure Jesus calls us to, we won’t always know the direction we’re headed, but we’ll always know the One to follow. Following Jesus is an adventure that leads us straight to the arms of the Father.

How will you respond to Jesus’ call in your life this week? Keep in mind the following suggestions:

*** Consider. Spend a few minutes in self-reflection. Are you walking toward God or away from Him? As honestly as possible, weigh your actions to see if they align with Christ’s call to follow Him.

*** Correct. Identify something about yourself that needs to change, and then take intentional, specific steps to change it. Seek help whenever necessary.

*** Cast. Jesus has called you to fish for people. So fish as the disciples would have done: with a wide net. Cast it far and wide, leaving the results of your casting up to God.

Love it Out: Love Endures

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 26, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Did you pile up the Thanksgiving food on your plate? Did you finish? Go back for seconds? Thirds? Desserts? Still eating leftovers?

Why do we sometimes fail to finish the tasks we set out to accomplish? What does this tell us about ourselves?

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** This is the last of our 12 week study put together by FBC and Lifeway to “Love It Out,” our theme for the year.

*** No matter how good our intentions are, there are times when we just can’t seem to follow through on a task we’ve been given or a promise we’ve made. Any number of obstacles, from plain laziness to unforeseen trials, keep us from following through.

*** Thankfully, when it comes to our relationship with God, the responsibility to follow through does not depend solely on us. God promises that all those who have been transformed by the gospel will be kept in Him through this life and for all eternity.

ROMANS 8:31-34

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

*** Who is against us? Who isn’t?

--- In the new Justice League movie, the biggest heroes of the DC comic universe team up to save the world from doom. These guys and gal use their superpowers to save the day.

--- It must have raised eyebrows for Paul to write that no one is against us. After all, Christians at this time certainly faced great persecution.

--- Paul especially knew all about both persecution and the overwhelming impact of God’s love on him.

--- Paul had been laughed at, stoned, beaten, and imprisoned because of his faith. However, none of this shattered his confidence in God.

--- Paul understood that God was the only one qualified to judge him, but his relationship with God made him innocent.

--- This section is the key to Paul’s argument.

--- In these verses, Paul posed three questions meant to give believers confidence in God.

--- We don’t need to be afraid of God or uncertain about the present or the future, because God has demonstrated He is for us.

--- Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross demonstrated beyond doubt that God is for us.

--- He will redeem His people; nothing and no one can stop Him.

--- Additionally, Christ has the position of authority at the right hand of God, and He uses that position as He intercedes for us.

--- We are assured that His love for us is eternal and our blessings are limitless.

*** Question - What are some things that can be against us in this world? How can we deal with these things?

ROMANS 8:35-39

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

*** Inseparable.

--- Some things just go well together: Peanut butter and jelly; Han Solo and Chewbacca; “Ebony and Ivory” (live together in perfect harmony); the Red Sox and baseball excellence.

--- These things are almost inseparable. Almost.

--- Paul writes that nothing – NOTHING – can separate us from the love of God, and throws in everything but the kitchen sink as an example.

--- The list of potential separators included physical danger, spiritual beings, present and future occurrences, and powers above us and below us.

--- To clearly indicate that absolutely no thing or person could come between the Lord and His people, Paul concluded his list with “anything else in all creation.”

--- Verse 36 is a quote from Psalm 44:22 that shows God’s people have always faced great danger.

--- “For your sake” is a reminder that our faith in God puts us in danger.

--- But instead of going away, God’s people have survived and flourished.

--- The assurance of God’s constant love can help you deal with threats in your personal experiences.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Any challenge to our peace in life is trivial compared to what God has done and is prepared to do for us.

*** Look for evidence of God’s love in your day-to-day life. Think of the transformation God brings in your life through belief in Christ.

*** Absolutely nothing can come between us and our Lord. Nothing can remove us from His family.

Love it Out: Who is My Neighbor?

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 19, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever had a neighbor who was particularly memorable, whether good, bad, or just plain weird?

A teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer to that question is the parable of the good Samaritan.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, both for those inside and outside of the church.

*** A “good Samaritan” has become another way of talking about someone who goes out of his or her way to serve another. We all know the story, but less often do we consider the question that led to the story.

*** Among those we know who do not have a relationship with Jesus, our neighbors provide the first and best avenue for us to share the gospel, but we must also expand our definition of who our neighbor is.

LUKE 10:25-28

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

*** It’s a trap!

--- Jesus couldn’t go ten feet without religious leaders trying to trap Him with questions meant to show Jesus was a false prophet.

--- The question the leader in this case was a great question, but this guy had the wrong motives.

--- Jesus turned the tables by asking the scribe to answer the question himself, and then complimented the man on correctly citing Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 6:5.

--- Jesus did not say that it is possible to earn eternal life by loving God and your neighbor.

--- No human other than Jesus has been able to love perfectly in every situation.

--- However, most Jews were taught that just being Jewish and following their traditions and ceremonies qualified them for eternal life.

--- We know that just going to church and listening to sermons and taking the Last Supper aren’t enough to give you eternal life.

*** Question – Why do you think the man was trying to trap Jesus?

LUKE 10:29-37

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

*** The Good Samaritan.

--- A common trope of superhero movies is when our hero get injured in battle and is hiding in secrecy to recover, helped by common folks who give the hero a reason to return to win the victory.

--- That’s what makes The Good Samaritan one of the most popular parables by believers and non-believers.

--- The scribe had his mind blown with a new reality by Jesus.

--- He had been taught that you didn’t have to love everyone, because while certain kinds of neighbors are easy to love, others are very hard to love.

--- It seems the man hoped Jesus would justify his bias against certain kinds of neighbors.

--- Jesus used the Samaritans in the parable because it was certain to get a maximum reaction.

--- The Jews considered the Samaritans to be physical half-breeds who had intermarried with foreigners and who were guilty of false worship.

--- It would be a shock and humiliation to Jews for such a sworn enemy to show compassion on an injured Jew and pay the expenses while he recovered.

--- It was impossible for the scribe to avoid acknowledging that it was the Samaritan who showed mercy.

--- Jesus pointed out how far the man (and we) fall short of keeping the law.

--- However, all people are created in the image of God and deserve our respect and service, despite how we may feel about them.

--- Our neighbors aren’t defined by social standards, ethnicity, religion, or even if we like them or not.

--- Jesus defines our neighbor as anyone in need of the gospel.

--- We love our neighbors by showing compassionate care for them.

--- The road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of 17 miles with a descent of more than 3,000 feet in elevation, was a dangerous route through desert country. It had many places where robbers could lie in wait. It is possible that the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side of the road because they thought the wounded man was dead and they would become ritually unclean by touching him. However, it is more likely that they were afraid of being attacked by the same robbers or simply did not want to be bothered with the inconvenience of helping the man.

*** Question – Do people in our culture generally want to help, or do they prefer to ignore suffering?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and many of us will be traveling to see family for turkey and the fixings, putting on your Stove Top stuffing stretchy pants.

The Good Samaritan was also on a journey – maybe even for turkey and Stove Top stuffing - but stopped and helped a bruised and broken man. He didn’t make excuses saying, “It’s none of my business.” It was a golden moment, and he took it.

All around you are people who need the compassion of Christ. They need you to see their pain as a golden opportunity to serve them in the name of Jesus.

Take advantage of the holiday to reach out to your family and neighbors and spread the gospel.

*** The teacher of the law was trying to sidestep Jesus’ commands. We shouldn’t disobey Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

*** We show Christlike love to our neighbors by serving them, even when it’s inconvenient to us.

*** To serve God with all of our heart, soul and strength (Luke 10:27) is to love, serve and pray for our neighbors as ourselves.

Love it Out: Loving the Least of These

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 12, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Imagine you are flying on a business trip early tomorrow morning. What are some things you would do to prepare?

How does your level of preparation reflect the importance of a trip?

Going into a business meeting unprepared is a poor reflection on you and the company you represent. If you performed poorly, you would face the judgment of your employer and your job would likely be on the line.

As Christians we have a very important meeting in the future with Jesus. In this meeting, He will judge our faithfulness as His disciples measured by how we extended compassion to those in need.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** In order to teach His disciples about the need to be ready for His return, Jesus used three parables in Matthew 25.

*** Today’s study is on the third parable about a shepherd who separated the sheep from the goats, which Jesus warned of impending judgment for lack of compassion.

*** Our compassion for others shows Christ’s compassion for us.

MATTHEW 25:31-40

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

*** Jesus is coming back. That’s a fact.

--- Talk of Jesus’ future can make us uncomfortable, but He talked about it a lot during His ministry.

--- And when He returns, He will judge us.

--- Again, this is uncomfortable, but it’s also not a hidden fact in the Bible.

--- At that time, each person will be separated based on our believe in Him.

--- Those who believe in Him will then be redeemed by our willingness to demonstrate our faith by how we relate to others.

--- This isn’t to scare followers of Jesus who are secure in their salvation.

--- However, it should motivate us to obey Jesus by sharing the gospel with any and everyone who isn’t a follower.

--- One of the awesome ways we show the world we know Jesus is through service.

--- Think of when Jesus fed the 5,000 and again the 4,000. He was tired and wanted to rest, but He couldn’t until He helped the people for whom He had great compassion.

--- The responsible thing to do, in human terms, was to ask the multitudes to find their own food. Jesus never wavered and drew upon the supernatural power of God.

--- Ministry to the needy should be ingrained in the lifestyle of a follower of Christ.

--- When we serve the world, we help those in need of a relationship with Jesus see that He is real and cares for them.

*** Question – Any examples of opportunities have you seen and taken or not taken to serve others and share Christ?

MATTHEW 25:41-46

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

*** Christ-like compassion.

--- These verse are so convicting of me. I allow myself to get bogged down in excuses for not jumping to help people as much as I should and would like to, whether it’s family, taking naps, or being broke.

--- Jesus says that the Day of Judgment will be a time of surprise and sadness for those He dismisses.

--- Once they are turned aside they’re left to face the Bad Place for those who reject Christ’s offer of salvation.

--- When we do good works for others, the goal is to earn the right to share about Jesus.

--- When Jesus said, “Follow me,” He in part was calling us to copy Him by ministering to people in need.

--- The entire story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) is about not making excuses and saying “It’s none of my business.”

--- Take the moment to share the compassion of Christ.

--- See their pain as a golden opportunity to serve them in the name of Jesus.

--- We have our priorities, our jobs, our duties, our responsibilities, and we’re too busy. But if we’re too busy to be kind, we’re too busy.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** When we show Christ’s compassion we have the opportunity to share why we have chosen to serve them, which leads to sharing the gospel.

*** Serving others, especially the lost, should be a natural and obvious part of our lives as Christians.

*** What’s on your schedule for today? If someone had a flat tire, could you fix it? If someone called and needed a ride to the hospital, could you take them? Clear the way for Jesus, my friend.

Love it Out: Responding to God's Love

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 5, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

You want the best, you got the best!

Like Houston winning the World Series, we like the celebrate the best of the best.

There are 23,145 verses in the Old Testament and 7,957 verses in the New Testament. This gives a total of 31,102 verses, which is an average of a little more than 26 verses per chapter.

Out of all of those verses in the Bible there’s none better celebrated than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The Bible verse regarded by many as the most concise expression of Christian faith, has been memorized by countless Sunday school students, displayed on signs at major sporting events, and printed on the bottom of shopping bags and soda cups.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** In John chapter 3, Jesus is visited at night by a leading Pharisee named Nicodemus.

*** During their conversation Jesus drops the biggest and best verse of them all as recorded in John 3:16.

*** God sent His one and only Son as the Savior. He knew we couldn’t save ourselves. So He sent His Son to be born in a manger, to die on a cross, to rise again into glory, and to come again to redeem His church.

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus - John 3:1-4

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

*** Born again.

--- We don’t know why Nicodemus came to Jesus, but it’s clear he had been impressed by Jesus’ miracles.

--- He was likely rich, highly educated, interested in spiritual matters, and knowledgeable about Old Testament Scripture.

--- However, he approached a humble carpenter with questions, but he hadn’t yet understood Jesus true identity.

--- Even though he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, when Nicodemus called Jesus “Rabbi,” he placed himself in the role of student.

--- To be “born again” means to experience a birth “from above,” speaking of salvation.

--- Before we are born again, we may suspect that something isn’t right and that our lives need to change, but we will not understand why until we ultimately address the true source – our relationship, or lack thereof, with Christ.

--- This floored Nicodemus. He was an intelligent man and a leading religious figure, yet he couldn’t wrap his head around this spiritual understanding.

*** Question - Do you know someone who has a lot of education but no salvation? How do you present the gospel to them?

John 3:16-18

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

*** The Good Place.

--- No one likes the fire and brimstone method of conversion, but the Bible makes it clear that there’s one way to The Good Place.

--- The saying goes, “If you are born once, you will die twice. If you are born twice, you will die once.”

--- If you don’t have a spiritual birth in addition to a physical birth by putting your faith in Jesus Christ, then you’ll have a lot to fear from your spiritual death.

--- But it’s so much more than just saying “turn or burn.” Instead focus on the awesomeness of God’s grace.

--- In golf terms, God gives us a mulligan.

--- In this life one thing is clear: We all have a sin problem.

--- To rescue us from the punishment we deserve, John 3:16 tells us that believing in Jesus gives us eternal life in the presence of God.

--- Salvation isn’t something we can earn on our own. Jesus alone saves us.

--- When we believe in Him we are in a right relationship with God, no longer separated from Him under His judgment.

--- While we think of heaven as “The Good Place” and so many think the only requirement is to be a good person, remember the story of the rich man who asked Jesus how to have eternal life (Mark 10). Jesus said to give up his riches and take up his cross and follow Jesus. The rich man went away sad, and Jesus let him go. Why? Because Jesus didn’t lower His standards. If there’s anything you love more than Jesus you have to let it go.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Your soul, made in the image of God, will exist forever.

It is, right now, existing forever. Your eternal life has already started.

Adrian Rogers likes to talk about how evangelist Billy Sunday put it: “Imagine a little bird taking a grain of sand and flying to a distant planet. It would take him a million years to fly to that distant planet. Then he would drop that grain of sand. Then the little bird would fly back to the earth taking another million years. He gets another grain of sand and flies back to the distant planet.

“Back and forth, back and forth it goes. When he will have transplanted every speck of earth to that distant planet, it will only be breakfast time in eternity.”

Your soul will go on, and on, and on.

Where do you plan on spending eternity? Where do your loved ones plan on spending it? If you don’t know, ask them today and get their salvation on the right side of eternity.

Love it Out: Love and Community

My Life Group lesson for Oct. 1, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

How many Christian symbols do you have around you?

Cross necklace? Fish sticker on the car? Jesus shirts? There’s a Nativity scene in your living room every Christmas?

There are many popular, familiar symbols that Christians use to display loyalty to Christ.

We understand that all of those are fine and can provide an external testimony of our faith.

However, we have to go below the surface to talk about what’s inside your heart to love fellow Christians and those who need to hear the Gospel.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Today we continue our collaborative study from FBC and Lifeway.

*** As Passover approached, Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world.

*** Jesus showed love to His disciples by washing their feet, then commanded them to love as He did. Today we will look at what it means to enjoy the family of Christ through our love for one another.

JOHN 13:31-35

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

*** The greatest love of all.

--- The past two weeks we discussed Jesus’ two commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

--- Jesus even taught us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48).

--- So what was new about the command in John 13:34? The answer is in Jesus’ words, “Just as I have loved you.” The disciples were to love one another according to Jesus’ model, which involved service and sacrifice.

--- Whether the perception is true or not, many Christians are seen as unloving. Some of this reputation comes from unfair reporting and misunderstanding, as well as the rise of cultural and nominal Christianity.

--- However, many people outside of the faith see Christians as unloving because sometimes our actions aren’t gracious.

--- We cannot help how people respond to our genuinely held beliefs, but we do have the opportunity to show our love through our relationships.

--- This is why we made “loving” one of our core values.

*** Faith without works is dead.

--- We also express Christ’s command for us to love one another through acts of compassion.

--- Jesus’ actions tell us what genuine love is and how it is acted out.

--- In John 13:1-17, Jesus modeled humility by washing the feet of His disciples. After giving the command to love one another, Jesus went to the cross.

--- Therefore, our love, too, must be demonstrated through actions. Loving one another through humble, sacrificial service is a powerful witness to the world that we are His and that it is good to be His.

--- Through our visible expressions of love, non-Christians should be able to see the love of an invisible God.

--- Each of the four occurrences of the Greek word translated “love” and “loved” in John 13:34-35 uses a Greek word meaning God’s kind of love.

--- This love seeks the good of another rather than benefit for self. It sacrifices without condition and serves without motive of personal gain.

*** Question – What kinds of things have you done, or want to do, to spread Jesus’ love through acts of compassion?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Hugh Hefner passed away this week. The founder of Playboy once wrote, “In this century, America liberated sex. The world will never be the same.” Most every man in the known world has at least glimpsed a Playboy centerfold, and this country and world are certainly worse for the sexual revolution he helped create. It’s a revolution that has completely upended what love really means.

When we love as Jesus loved, we show the world just how great the love of God is.

Love should permeate our relationships with both those outside and inside the church.

These types of relationships do not happen by accident; they must be carefully nurtured and sought after.

Jesus desired that His disciples be known as people with an obvious love for the world and for each other.

We cannot expect to fulfill our mission to connect people to the love of Jesus if His love does not impact our relationships.

*** As a church we measure our ministry success by how well we are loving God, our family, our church and the world at large.

*** Find ways to show love to one another in our life group, and the larger body of Christ in our church.

*** Loving one another in the church is essential to our witness to those outside the church. Ask God to give you opportunities to use the hours he has given you this week in selfless acts of love to others.

Love it Out: The Greatest Commandment, pt. 2

My Life Group lesson for Sept. 24, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Go ahead, get it off your chest, who (without naming names) is someone that really, really, bugged you this week?

(Was it another driver? Someone in a store? Someone at work? Your spouse?)

Is loving all people reasonable, or even possible?

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Today we continue our collaborative study from FBC and Lifeway, and part 2 of looking at the “greatest commandment.”

*** Sometimes we encounter people in life who are really easy to love, but showing love to others can be the furthest thing from what we want to do.

*** When we reflect on the teachings of Jesus, we become more aware of the fact that we need to love others and that our relationships should be defined by the way we love.

MATTHEW 22:39-40

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

*** Like a good neighbor.

--- If you have wild and crazy neighbors like the movie “Neighbors,” you might think this commandment is a tough one.

--- Last week we covered the first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.”

--- Jesus simplified the 10 commandments into just two for followers in the new covenant to follow: Love God, and love people, and that covers everything.

--- Just as Jesus used Deuteronomy for his top commandment, Jesus again took a command from the Old Testament, this time from Leviticus 19:18: “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

--- “The second is like it” is a profound statement that shows that the two commands are intrinsically tied together – if people love God, then they will love those whom God loves. The way people interact with God affects how they interact with others.

--- Jesus redefined the Jewish concept of “neighbor.” To the Jews, a neighbor was another Jew to the exclusion of non-Jewish people, but according to Jesus, a neighbor was anyone who needed help (see Luke 10:25-37).

--- Jesus added that a believer should love others as themselves, which means love for others should equal the concern one has for oneself.

*** Question – What most frequently stands in the way of your loving others?

ROMANS 13:8-10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

*** All you need is love.

--- Paul McCartney and The Beatles sang “All you need is love.” Paul the apostle writes that Godly love, not the worldly self-gratifying loves of pop culture, is what you need.

--- Paul writes that the ongoing debt that we as Christians owe is to love one another.

--- Paul then puts several of the Ten Commandments under neighborly love: do not commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet.

--- Paul understood that the Law boiled down to love – loving God and loving others.

--- In the same way, relationships must flow from love and not obligation.

--- Only through loving God and loving one another can we have healthy relationships.

--- The model for such selfless love is Christ, who gave His life to save His people from their sins: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). And "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11).

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

A well-known Peanuts cartoon shows Lucy accusing her little brother, Linus, of not loving his fellow man. "I love mankind," was his indignant response, "it's people I can't stand!"

Many believers would tell you that the Christian life is as simple as “loving God and loving people.” It’s a popular slogan for influential megachurches, making those lofty priorities seem effortless. In fact, some erroneously boil the gospel down to that simple phrase.

"Love" has been redefined as a broad tolerance that overlooks sin and embraces good and evil alike.

Christ’s command for His disciples to “love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34; cf. John 15:12) at first seems simple enough.

Consider your own flawed capacity to love others. Every selfish impulse, every effort at self-preservation, and every choice of comfort over compassion contradicts the way Jesus loved. If we’re honest, we rarely love others like that—if ever.

When we share the gospel we also have to make sure to share that believers have to repent and have faith. We have to be humbled by the reality of God’s love and obedience to Him.

Love it Out: The Greatest Commandment, pt. 1

My Life Group lesson for Sept. 17, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Who was your favorite teacher in school?

What made him or her so great or memorable?

Who is the most loving person you know? What have you learned about love by watching that person’s life?

If you have children, what are some ways you teach them what it means to love and be loved?

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We continue our special study that is a collaboration between FBC and Lifeway.

*** We all learn about love somewhere. Whether it’s movies or TV or our friends, we all develop ideas about what it means to love.

*** As followers of Jesus, it’s important to let the Bible define what it means to love and be loving. All love is rooted in our first love – the love of God. This is why the Bible makes such an emphasis on loving God and teaching the love of God to coming generations.

MATTHEW 22:34-38

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

*** The secret of life.

--- In “City Slickers” Billy Crystal is looking for the secret of life. Wise old cowboy Jack Palance tells him it’s about “one thing,” whatever you feel is most important. Jesus tells us that one thing is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul.

--- In Matthew chapter 22, the Pharisees approached Jesus with a question meant to test and trap Him.

--- The question from the “experts” reveals how they looked at the law. In their tradition, the religious leaders had reduced the law to 365 negative and 248 positive commandments. They spent a lot of time trying to prioritize the technicalities of the laws.

--- Jesus drew His answer from the most memorized and recited passage in all the Jewish scriptures, Deut. 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

--- To honor God is to love Him exclusively, from among all others who claim to be gods.

*** Question – Of these three areas, which is hardest for you to Love God with on a regular basis, your heart, your soul, or your mind?

DEUT. 6:4-9

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

*** Focus!

--- How many times do you have to tell your kids to focus? Your students? Your team (if you are a coach)? Your spouse, even?

--- The chief command of Moses was to listen, take notice and remember that the Lord is God.

--- It sounds simple, but Israel had a history of losing focus.

--- For example, when Moses was on Mount Sinai, they built a golden calf and worshipped it.

--- Israel needed to remember that the Lord is God, and no one else is.

--- “The Lord is one” means that God has no rival, no substitute, no peers.

--- It’s not enough to know there is only one God. Instead, this is a truth we must live by.

--- This truth reminded the Israelites then and us now that we can’t have any competing loyalties when it comes to loving God.

--- Moses told the Israelites that they needed to focus on the words of God and put them into practice in their lives.

--- It’s not enough to simply lecture our children about God’s love and following Him. We have to show them how to pursue a relationship with God, which we do by modeling obedience to Him and talking about this over and over.

*** Question - What are some of the things that rival God for our devotion?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

In TV news the bigwigs spend a lot of time and a lot of money on focus groups and statistics to figure out what viewers want to watch, all in the search for higher ratings.

There may be no magical formula. Most of the time people are set in their ways and watch the same newscast their entire lives. Other times people just channel-surf and look for an exciting story or video.

None of it matters if we forget the most important commandment of the news: Make it right. Don’t be fake.

As Christians we can spend all of our time trying to find the right formula to spreading the Gospel.

But none of it matters if we don’t focus on the basics, especially showing that we love God above all else, and that God is love.

Love it Out: God is Love

My Life Group lesson for Sept. 3, 2017, using a curriculum that is a collaboration between my church and Lifeway.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What is your love language?

Dr. Gary Chapman has made a lot of money and fame in Christian circles with his book “The Five Love Languages” and its sequels. He points to five ways we communicate and feel love:

Words of affirmation.
Acts of service.
Receiving gifts.
Quality time.
Physical touch.

Why is it important to love someone based on their needs rather than your own?

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Today we begin a new series called “Love It Out.”

*** Our church mission statement is “Connecting people to the love of Jesus.”

*** In order to live out this mission, we first have to understand Jesus’ love and know how to model it.

1 John 4:7-10

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

*** I love lamp.

--- What is one food that you would say you “love”? Why do you love it? Is your love related to its ingredients? nutrients? health benefits? Or it just tastes good?

--- We live in a culture that is in love with being in love. We use the same word to describe the way we feel about food, sports, music, pets, celebrities, a significant other, family members – even God.

--- When we say we “love” something, we often mean that we enjoy the way something makes us feel.

--- The love of God, however, is very different. Rather than loving based on some feeling or personal benefit, Gods love flows from His very nature and is demonstrated for us through the death of Jesus.

--- By giving us His son, the Father introduced us to the perfect love and eternal life that the Father and the Son have always enjoyed.

--- John is referring to a particular kind of love Christians possess.

--- Unlike our “love” of things around us, true love is Christ-centered and action-oriented.

*** Question - The flooding in Houston and destruction of other towns nearby could cause you or others to question the love of God. Based on these verses, how would you counter those doubts?

1 John 4:11-12

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

*** “I love you.” “I know.”

--- Han Solo’s iconic line to Leia as he was about to be frozen in carbonite almost didn’t happen. The original line was longer, but on set Harrison Ford improvised this instead, and George Lucas said that they would record both versions and see what test audiences said. The test audiences loved the “I know” line and Lucas didn’t even do a second test and kept it.

--- Han showed an example of how a rogue-turned-hero could love.

--- In verse 11 and 12 we see here that God didn’t just give us love, He gave us an example of love.

--- As Christians we have (1) the capacity to love, (2) the example to love, and (3) the responsibility to love, because that’s how you prove you belong to God.

--- It’s not about me, me, me, make me happy, make me satisfied.

--- We express His love in sacrificial service to others in order to witness to the watching world.

--- Love then becomes core to our Christian experience.

--- v.12 – John used the phrase, “no one has ever seen God” to refer to God the Father in His heavenly splendor, but God the Son makes the invisible Father clearly known (John 1:18).

--- Question - Why does it matter that no one has ever seen God? What relevance does that fact have to John’s words about love?

Does verse 12 indicate that God’s love is somehow imperfect or incomplete? Why or why not?

What, then, does it mean that God’s love is made complete or perfected when we love one another?

--- There is no deficiency in the love of God. In fact, as John has already said, we find the very definition of love in the nature of God displayed through the cross of Jesus.

--- As we love one another, the love of God becomes visible to those around us through the tangible and sacrificial expressions of love. In this way, we reflect His love and saving power to our community, nation, and world.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** One of our church’s values is, “We are unashamedly loving.” What have you learned about God’s love this week that will help you be unashamedly loving?

*** God showed us His love by sending His Son as the sacrifice for our sins.

*** Thank God that He deals with us, His children, in the language of love. Thank Him for defining love through Jesus, and that we would love each other in the same practical and tangible ways He has loved us.

Broken Vessels: Right Here, Right Now

My Life Group lesson for August 27, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What do you like best about the neighborhood you live in?

(Do you all party like Frank the Tank in Old School?)

But how many of your neighbors can you name?

Many times we think of missions as doing great things for God in exotic locations. While that is needed, the first place God calls us is often not across the world but across the street.

Jesus called one man to go on the mission field of his own neighborhood. Through this man’s encounter with Jesus, we see that we don’t have to go far to change the world.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

--- Jesus and His disciples had traveled across the Sea of Galilee to an area that was populated primarily by Gentiles—those who were not Jews.

--- The moment Jesus stepped ashore, this unnamed man appeared alone. He was alone for a valid reason. He was very broken physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Mark 5:1-2, 8-15

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. … 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

*** Can we all get along?

--- Do you avoid the news nowadays? Is it because it’s full of negativity and anger and hostility?

--- With the constant stream of the “worst thing ever” in the news daily, this won’t surprise you: we live in a broken world.

--- The news reports mass shootings and bombings. Human trafficking is a global phenomenon, and it’s in our own backyards. Blood is being spilled over removing Confederate statues.

(I’ve read stories of Christians sending themselves as missionaries to both the far left and the far right agitators.)

--- But let’s not simply point to the broken world “out there.” We live in a broken world because we are broken people.

*** A broken man.

--- In this passage, we encounter a man who was radically changed by his encounter with Jesus Christ.

--- This man was so deep in sin and darkness that he was possessed. People were afraid of him and he was isolated from family and friends, forced to live in the city cemetery.

--- Jesus did not desire to leave the man in the state he was in, and He confronted the cause of his brokenness, driving out the demons within.

--- Jesus restored this broken man. People came to see what happened only to find the man sitting with Jesus “dressed and in his right mind” (v. 15).

--- What matters most in this story is that this man experienced freedom. Jesus came to earth to set humanity free. He was so moved by the agony, brokenness, and oppression this man was experiencing that He wanted to set this man free no matter the cost.

--- It’s natural for us to want to avoid people with such brokenness. But we’re surrounded by people who are broken and hurt every day. They may not be driven by demons to hurt themselves and others, but they are broken nonetheless, just as we were before we met Christ.

*** Question - What does Jesus’ treatment of the man in this story tell us about his view of people?

Mark 5:18-20

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

*** Start spreading the news.

--- Jesus frequently sent His followers to new places to share the gospel and minister (Luke 9:2; 10:1-12). But not this time.

--- Jesus told the once-possessed man to “go home” (v. 19).

--- The town’s people had begged Jesus to leave their area (Mark 5:17), but He still cared about them.

--- Jesus wouldn’t leave them without a witness—and that witness would be one of their own.

--- This man’s story became widely known in the region and those who heard it “were amazed” (v. 20) by what they saw and heard from this man.

--- One of the biggest excuses people give for not sharing the gospel with others goes something like this: I don’t know what to say . What would I do if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? Then I’d be embarrassed and Christianity would lose credibility in their eyes, wouldn’t it?

--- Jesus has promised He will be with us and give us the words to say when we speak about Him.

--- Luke 12:11-12 - “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

--- God will guide your words and your conversation. And if you are asked a question you can’t answer, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know! You can always look it up or ask a pastor or Bible study leader and get back to the person at a later time.

--- When Jesus heals your brokenness and calls you to Himself, He also calls you to participate in His mission. God wants to use you to display His healing power and ability to redeem. So invite others into your life and let them see “how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19).

--- Want to do missions? Start here: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Interesting and different people surround us whether we venture around the world or across the street.

(Just come home, put on your sweater, put on your comfy shoes and go talk to the trolley and tigers in your personal "Neighborhood of Make-Believe.")

Regardless of our ethnicity, backgrounds, and cultures, we all share one thing in common. We each need Jesus.

Our take-away points for how we can share what God has done in our lives:

*** Learn names. Do you know the people who live on your street? In your neighborhood? Make a concerted effort to meet and learn the names of your neighbors.

*** Arrange a get-together. Invite your neighbors—both those you already know and those you’re just getting to know—over to begin building a relationship with them.

*** Get coffee. Gather a few mature Christian friends for coffee and find out how they approach our call to share Christ. Proverbs 27:17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Jesus desires to replace our brokenness with a restored life in Him. He also wants to display through you His glory to this broken world. Where is God calling you to share about Him? Start where you are.

Broken Vessels: God's Grace

My Life Group lesson for August 6, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

If you could have a lifetime supply of any product, what would you choose?

(Chocolate chip cookies? Shoes? iPhones? Free flights?)

Is it possible to have too much of a great thing?

We can get too much of a good thing if we’re talking about ice cream, coffee, or roller coasters.

One thing, though, stands out as something we all could use in an endless supply. Grace. An unlimited supply of grace is available—and fully accessible. We’re just not always aware of it.

When our lives are going great, we often rest in those things that appear to make life great. But when the circumstances of life knock those props out from under us, what’s left? Grace. Grace is there. God’s grace was always there, but we become more acutely aware of it.

“God’s grace allows me to face anything life throws at me.”

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** This is the third in our series of lessons called “Broken Vessels.”

*** Today Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about an experience earlier in his life in which God used a troubling issue to get Paul to focus on God’s grace.

*** Our lives are filled with both joys and sorrows—opportunities we embrace and difficulties we’d rather avoid. We don’t question God’s presence in the good times, although we might when life gets hard. God is with us through it all: good and bad. We are no less in God’s hands or useful as His instruments when we face challenges. God’s grace is always with us.

2 Corinthians 12:2-8

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

*** Asking for a friend.

--- Paul spent much of 2 Corinthians correcting the Corinthian believers and defending his ministry.

--- False teachers were trying to convince the Corinthian church to follow them based on their own claimed visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:4-14).

--- Paul responded by sharing his own experience with visions and revelations, but he refused to boast about it. It would seem this was not an experience Paul talked openly about, since it happened 14 years earlier, and this appears to be the first time he spoke of it.

--- And even now in telling of it, he spoke in the third person voice as though he were talking about someone else, like when someone jokingly asks about something weird or bad “for a friend.”

--- Paul—not wanting to boast—shared only the briefest of details. He did not elaborate on what was a private moment between him and the Lord.

*** A thorny issue.

--- To prevent Paul from becoming proud over his experience, Paul received “a thorn in my flesh.”

--- Paul gave us no more details regarding this sharp, painful, and persistent issue in his life. This thorn could have been his adversaries or the persecution he endured, but most scholars believe it was some type of physical condition ranging from eye or ear problems to malaria. We just don’t know.

--- This thorn was a hardship to his ministry at times (see Galatians 4:13-14 – “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.”).

--- Paul prayed for God to take it away from him three times.

--- While we don’t know just what this thorn in the flesh was, we do know it kept Paul humble before God. Therefore, Paul’s thorn in the flesh brought good into his life.

--- God can use adversity to bring about something profitable. When your job is “downsized” just after you’ve relocated to a new state for it or your car breaks down for the third time in as many months, it’s difficult to see how God is going to use it for His good. But He does. He always does (Romans 8:28). You might not see the results immediately, but God, in His providence and sovereignty, will strengthen you through these hardships. He walks with us and comforts us. That’s grace.

--- God allows us to go through hardships because He has a plan and wants to do something in our lives. He wants to remove the pride from our hearts and replace it with His love, mercy, and goodness. In light of this truth, how should we approach hardships? We can pay attention to what God is doing in the midst of that situation.

*** Question - Pride is a double-edged sword and the Bible has a lot to say about it. For instance, James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” So, how can we keep ourselves from landing on the wrong side of pride?

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

*** The weak become strong.

--- We have a natural aversion to pain. In fact, we want to prevent all pain, not simply reduce it. Pain, however, can actually be a good thing. For example, the pain you feel when you touch a hot stove is a good thing because it causes you to jerk your hand away and out of danger.

--- Pain can also throw us into the arms of God. When we experience the pain of hardship, we discover God never leaves us (Hebrews 13:5). In fact, God often uses the pain of hardship to get our attention and reveal His grace and presence to us.

--- When Paul turned to God and pleaded for Him to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). God’s grace is always sufficient.

--- God wants to shape us through times of hardship and use the difficulties to make us strong in Him. God’s grace gives us the strength to endure anything.

*** Question - What has helped you discover that God’s grace is sufficient for your needs?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Each year Forbes magazine publishes a list of the richest people on the planet. Here’s this year’s short list of some of the richest people anywhere:

--- 1. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is number one on the Forbes list for the fourth year in a row. With $86 billion, he’s been the richest person in the world for 18 of the last 23 years.

--- 2. Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is worth $73.4 billion.

--- 3. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is worth $72.8 billion.

--- 4. Amancio Ortega, founder of a Spanish clothing chain named Zara, is worth $71.3 billion.

--- 5. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is worth $66.7 billion.

It would seem that these people on the Forbes list have an unlimited supply of wealth.

In Christ, we find an endless supply of grace. And this grace is sufficient to meet all our needs.

This week think about how you will choose to respond to God’s grace:

*** Give thanks for grace. What hardship are you currently experiencing or have you most recently experienced? Thank God for His presence and grace in the midst of that difficulty.

*** Look for grace. Consider a recent hardship you encountered. How did God work in your life while going through that difficulty? Identify how God displayed His grace in that situation.

*** Share grace. Who in your life needs to experience the grace of God? Pray that God would intervene in the situation. Ask God to break the false hopes and false securities in that individual’s life. Pray that God would use you to share the amazing message of the gospel’s grace with him or her.

Broken Vessels: How God Uses Imperfect People - A Fresh Start

My Life Group lesson for July 24, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

When have you really enjoyed making a mess?

(Cooking with your kids? Going on a mud run or color run? Making a human sundae at church camp?)

Making a mess in the kitchen is one thing; making a mess of life is quite another. I can clean the kitchen. But when I make a mess of my life, I can’t just wipe away the evidence—or the consequences—with a good disinfectant.

Have you ever found yourself at rock bottom? It may have been because of an inappropriate relationship, a string of lies, or a temptation or habit that seemed to gradually take over everything in life. At that moment, you stand at a crossroad. Do you continue down the road you’re on, repeating the same mistakes because the pain of changing seems greater than the pain of remaining the same? Or do you look to Jesus for a way out?

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, knew what it meant to mess up. He failed in a big way. But Peter’s story also offers us encouragement and points us to the way out—a fresh start in Jesus Christ.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We’re starting a new series for the next six weeks called Broken Vessels. Like clay jars, we are fragile. We can be easily broken—but we do not have to remain “broken vessels.”

*** We fail, but Jesus gives us hope. As Christians, we still fail, but we sometimes chastise ourselves for failing. The same grace we needed for salvation is the same grace we need to live it out. The hope we have in Christ is grounded in grace, and we need to experience that grace day by day.

*** We are never beyond the healing and redeeming power of God. In spite of our shortcomings, God will work in and through us.

John 18:15-18,25-27

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” 18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. 25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

Peter, also known as Simon Peter, was surely exhausted and confused.

Earlier, Jesus had wanted him to pray, but instead he slept (Matthew 26:36-46). Awakened, he found himself surrounded by a group of soldiers, temple police from the chief priests, and Pharisees—all led by Judas Iscariot – who arrested Jesus and took Him away. And, Jesus allowed it all to happen. Peter’s whole world had just turned over.

*** Question - What emotions would you have experienced in Peter’s situation?

In an effort to get near enough to see and hear what was happening, Peter and John followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. John was an acquaintance of the high priest, so he was able to gain entry into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter stayed outside by the door.

It wasn’t long before people began to ask about Peter’s connection to Jesus— and the denials began. Three times Peter was asked if he knew Jesus; three times he denied this truth. At that moment a rooster crowed.

*** Question - What factors may cause us to shrink back from identifying as Christ-followers?

John 21:15-19

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

In John 21, most likely a couple weeks after Peter denied knowing Jesus, we see God’s pattern of restoration.

--- Peter and the disciples were out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. Peter understandably might have thought his friendship and usefulness to Jesus was over. Maybe he just wanted a distraction from his failure—to return to the one thing he could do well. But Jesus had a different plan.

--- After an entire night of not catching anything, a man called out to them from the shore and told them to “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some” (v. 6). They obeyed and were rewarded with such a large catch of fish they couldn’t haul the net in.

--- John, correctly identifying who Jesus was, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (v. 7).

--- As impulsive as always, Peter jumped into the water and swam to the shore to be with Jesus. In the moments that follow, we see Jesus’ heart: to restore Peter just weeks after his denials.

*** Question - When have you seen God bring restoration to a seemingly hopeless situation?

In verses 15-19, Jesus asked Peter three times about his love for Him.

--- Each time Jesus asked the question, He followed up with a commission. Jesus not only forgave Peter for his three denials, but He restored and commissioned him to service. “Feed my lambs” (v. 15). “Take care of my sheep” (v. 16). “Feed my sheep” (v. 17).

--- Jesus desired for Peter to move forward in ministry.

*** Question - What do these verses teach us about our relationship with Christ?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

This week we saw the downfall of Ole Miss’s head football coach, Hugh Freeze, who skyrocketed to coaching fame. At the same time, he would go to churches and religious events and quote Scripture and talk about his faith.

He resigned before he was fired Thursday night when it was discovered he had called an escort service, and this is after his program was in trouble for cheating.

Freeze is obviously a man who is need of asking God for forgiveness and seeking restoration through God’s grace.

God’s grace is beyond measure and He has plans to use us when we turn to Him.

*** Ask for forgiveness. Have you allowed God’s forgiveness to guide you through past mistakes? The same grace Jesus offered to Peter is available to you. Get alone with God and ask for forgiveness. He will restore you!

*** Think of 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Get this truth in your heart so that you’ll be reminded of God’s desire to restore His people and commission them to serve Him.

*** Extend grace to someone in your own life. As Christfollowers, we’re to love others the same way He loves us. Choose to give grace this week to someone who has messed up. If this doesn’t come as easily as you’d like, ask God to work in and through you as you encounter this person. We’ve each messed up, but God’s grace is so deep and His love is so wide that He will always restore us when we come to Him in repentance. Our sin is not the end of the road. Christ offers a fresh start.

Real Relationships: Forge True Friendship

My Life Group lesson for June 21, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What are some of the most fun things you have done with friends over the years?

What’s the craziest, wildest thing you did with friends?

While different people have different kinds of friendships, we will study an incredibly deep friendship in the Book of 1 Samuel. Along the way, we will discover how we can develop true friendships that last.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** This summer we’ve been studying relationships as seen through our relationship with Jesus. Today we’re looking at friendships.

*** Following David’s stunning victory over Goliath, Saul promoted him and brought him into the king’s court. Soon Saul gave David command of Israel’s army. With each battle success, David became more of a hero in the minds of the people, becoming more popular than Saul.

*** Saul’s son, Jonathan, developed a strong friendship with David. Jonathan had already commanded the army to win two significant victories (13:1-4; 14:1-46), so David’s courage likely attracted Jonathan to David.

1 Samuel 18:1-4

1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

*** David and Jonathan: BFFs.

--- After David put the smack down on Goliath using a stone and a sling shot, David may as well have been Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star and becoming the unlikely rebel hero.

--- From then on, as part of King Saul’s army David succeeded in everything he did.

--- Amazingly, Saul’s son Jonathan, even though he was next in line for the throne, “became one in spirit with David.”

--- Jonathan saw in David the qualities that affirmed God’s assessment of David as “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).

--- Jonathan knew that the Lord had rejected Saul as king and that David was to be anointed instead (1 Samuel 16:1-13).

--- Jonathan “made a covenant with David” out of love, and sealed it by giving David his royal robe, tunic, bow, belt and even his sword.

--- (Back then this was a huge honor. It would be like me giving Brian my original Star Wars VHS tapes, my Star Wars toys and my Darth Vader comics as a show of affection as my trusted Star Wars bro.)

--- Jonathan was showing his willingness to relinquish his hopes for his father’s kingdom, giving it up to the Lord and expressing loyalty to his pal David.

--- I read this week a study that said we can only handle 150 friends, and only five close friends at a time.

--- When you are pals like Jonathan and David, they shared a deeply-rooted commitment to the Lord.

--- Having one close friend like that can be a challenge, but the real challenge is to be “be” that friend to others.

*** Question – Have you ever had a friend where you had to overcome obstacles to be friends?

1 Samuel 20:10-13

10 David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?” 11 “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together. 12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father.”

*** A love/hate/hate/hate relationship.

--- Saul couldn’t decide if he loved David for his heroism and loyalty, or wanted to spear him dead. Ultimately Saul’s temper decided that murder was the way to go. (1 Sam. 19:9-11)

--- Since they couldn’t recognize the obvious crazy eyes Saul had when David’s name came up, David and Jonathan hatched a plan to determine Saul’s intentions.

--- Jonathan would talk with his dad and figure out what Saul wanted to do, while David hid outside and waited for the verdict.

--- While their friendship is obviously complicated, what’s awesome is to remember that Jonathan was risking his own life over his commitment to David.

--- Jonathan even went so far to pray that the Lord would punish him if Jonathan did not protect David as he had promised.

--- Jonathan was able to confirm that his dad really did want to kill David, and he did go outside and warn David, even though it could have meant his own death.

--- Jonathan did ask that, in return, his friend would show kindness to his household forever. Years later, even after Jonathan’s death, David would maintain his side of the friendship. He brought Jonathan’s crippled son, Mephibosheth, into his own house. “Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons” (2 Samuel 9:11), something unheard of for a man with such a handicap.

*** Question - What can we learn about healthy friendships from the story of David and Jonathan?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

How did you make friends when you were a kid?

Was it the person who shared your interests in school? Had the coolest toys? Taught you how to shoot spitballs into your classmates’ hair?

As adults making friends can be more difficult. It’s not easy to find someone with similar interests who lives close enough that you can hang out, or have the time to spend away from work and family.

Finding a deep connection like David and Jonathan is even more rare.

Jonathan and David give us a practical example of a faithful friendship by maintaining and fulfilling their commitment to each other.

Let’s review how we can allow the commitment of Jonathan and David to influence our friendships this week:

*** Commit to pray. Scroll through your phone contact list and pause to pray for those friends who have a specific prayer need.

*** Get a deeper look at covenant love. Ask God to help you display this kind of loyalty in your relationships.

*** Step up. Identify a friend who could really use a listening ear, an advocate, or practical help. Find out how you can meet his or her needs this week. This week, make it your goal to faithfully demonstrate this kind of loyalty and be ready to see God at work in your life.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Real Relationships: Love Like Christ

My Life Group lesson for June 4, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

If you are addicted to social media, you’re not alone.

--- 1.9 billion people use Facebook.
--- 700 million use Instagram.
--- 328 million use Twitter.
--- Supposedly 500 million “use” LinkedIn. (Or at least signed up but never figured out what to do.)

We are more connected than ever before. You can keep up friendships from the old days. You can stay in contact with former church members. You can say hey to family who lives far away.

In some cases, however, our relationships may not be any better.

Do you ever find yourself feeling worse about yourself while reading social media?

Some studies say that if we compare ourselves to others we’ll always come out on the bottom.

Remember: We post photos of us on our best days, not of our kids throwing tantrums. We post pictures of our best food, not the bowl of Cheerios we ate on the couch while watching Netflix. We post about happy events, but not about the mundane routine of our lives.

When we see people face-to-face, however, we connect with them as they really are. As Christians we can see them as Christ sees them – and love them as Christ loves them.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We were created for two kinds of relationships: 1. Our relationship with God; 2. Our relationships with other people. Each one affects the other.

*** For the next six weeks we’re going to examine our relationships, from forming bonds to deep friendships. We won’t just find the kinds of friends we want for ourselves; we’ll also discover the kind of friend we need to be to others.

*** Today we read in the Gospel of John where Jesus shows us how our relationship with God affects all our other relationships. This one relationship is the key that makes all the difference.

John 15:9-13

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” 12 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

*** Even scruffy-headed nerf herders need love.

--- Relationships can be fragile. Everything’s fine if two people are traveling down the same road, but what happens if those two people don’t see eye to eye? What if open animosity is evident in the relationship? The Christian’s role in a relationship—any relationship—is to love. When we live and dwell in the love of Christ, that same love seeps into all our relationships.

--- We can’t overstate the awesomeness of verse 9.

--- “As the Father has loved” Jesus, so Jesus loves us.

--- God loves Jesus a lot. Their relationship is eternal. God’s flying doves at Jesus and talking about how proud He is.

--- If Jesus loves us just as much, then we are truly blessed.

--- And with that blessing, we will be obedient to Him, in awe of wonder.

--- It’s easy to mis-read verse 10 as saying “If you obey Me then I will continue to love you.”

--- That would be a conditional love, which is empty of grace, and we know that it is God’s grace that saves us.

(If our love for our spouses and children was conditional upon total obedience then it would be a hard home to live in.)

--- We don’t keep Jesus’ commands to earn His love; we keep His commands in response to His love.

--- God’s love changes us when we believe, so that we choose obedience because it pleases Him.

*** Love like you are loved.

--- Verses 12 and 13 make it clear that God the Father and Jesus the Son love us, but it doesn’t stop there.

--- We are to love one another, and in the same way that Jesus loves us.

--- Of course we know it is impossible to love as perfectly as Jesus does.

--- After all, He laid down His life for us.

--- Verse 13 reminds us that we are to express love for others in the same way.

--- Not long before Jesus said this to the disciples, they were arguing about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24).

--- Jesus knew their selfish ways, just as He knows we are selfish.

--- Thankfully Jesus transforms us with the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we don’t rely on our own strength.

--- You don’t have to actually die in place of another person to fulfill this command.

--- Where we apply this actually comes in tossing aside our selfishness in small, daily matters.

--- We exercise love as we serve others. We can do so by listening, helping, encouraging, and giving. In these small, daily ways, we can love others as Jesus loves.

--- Our love for Christ is seen in how we love others.

--- Do we die to self in order to serve another? Do you give up your own pursuits in order to serve someone you love?

*** Question – What are some ways we can die to ourselves to serve someone else?

John 15:14-17

14 “You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

*** Jesus is my pal.

--- What’s the reward for being with Jesus? He calls His followers his friends!

--- The blessing of obedience is intimacy with God.

--- You will come to know things that you could never know any other way when you become intimate with God.

--- (Think of the people who work around kings and queens and presidents, those who tend to their needs. They overhear many secrets, and learn about the hearts of their leaders.)

--- You can be a part of the inner circle that comes with serving Him.

--- Amos 3:7 says “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”

*** Orange you glad you get to serve Jesus?

--- In verse 16 the next step is to bear fruit.

--- Gardeners know, to grow food in your backyard you have to make sure the seeds are planted in the right soil in the ideal climate, and have to be protected from disease to flourish.

--- Just as our backyard food, Jesus provides us all we need to live fruitfully.

--- When you live in a relationship with Jesus, you can’t help but bear fruit.

--- When we walk with Jesus— remaining in Him, obeying Him, and loving as He loves—our lives will bear fruit for Him.

--- And that fruit is the purpose of evangelism and our mission to spread the gospel.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

I read a story this week about a college student who was a new believer, and she was so grateful for what God had done for her that she just wanted to know “How can I pay God back?”

Of course, while we could never properly “pay God back,” we can still show Him our gratitude.

Let His love fill you and flow out of you into love for others.

That’s when you will bear fruit in each of those relationships—fruit that brings glory to God.

*** We all want real, authentic relationships, but that starts with a relationship with Christ.

*** Remain in Jesus and watch how His love strengthens your relationships.

*** Ask God to show you who you’re not loving like Christ. Pray for them, and then reach out to them.

Our Identity in Christ: Life on Mission

My Life Group lesson for May 28, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

People around United States speak a lot of different ways.

You could go to another region of the country and barely understand the locals.

We also use different pronunciations and phrases, such as:

--- In the South we say "y'all" instead of "you guys."
--- We call every drink a "Coke" instead of "pop" or "soda."
--- How do you say "pecan" when you order a pecan pie?
--- What you call a water fountain might be called a "drinking fountain out west" or a "bubbler" in Wisconsin and Rhode Island.

(Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/22-maps-that-show-the-deepest-linguistic-conflicts-in-america-2013-6/#lets-ignore-the-east-coastwest-coast-split-and-notice-that-wisconsin-and-rhode-island-call-a-water-fountain-a-bubbler-16)

Now matter how differently we pronounce words and phrases, we should be able to speak to anyone in the country or the world to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** The past six weeks we’ve talked about our identity in Christ, at home, at work, at church, and in the community.

*** In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul encouraged the church to lay aside personal comforts in order to reach people with the gospel. We see Paul reaching out to people where they were, not where he expected them to be

*** Today we’ll see how we can better share the gospel when we step into the shoes of others. If we step into the lives of others, we can lead them to find their identity in Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

*** Master of disguise.

--- In his travels, the apostle Paul saw all kinds of cultures throughout the Roman Empire.

--- All of the people from various backgrounds viewed life differently – and as a result saw the gospel differently.

--- Paul was up to the challenge and made it his goal to share the gospel with everyone regardless of their background.

--- This meant that Paul would have to change his approach to sharing the gospel, to “become all things to all people,” including:

--- The Jews – As a Jew, Paul knew the customs and rituals, and followed their practices to win their trust (see Acts 16:1-3; 21:23-26).

--- Gentiles – Paul wasn’t bound to follow the Jewish rituals when he associated with Gentiles. To do so might have alienated him from sharing Christ with them because he would have insisted on practicing rules and regulations that in their eyes would have had no meaning or purpose.

--- The Weak - Here, Paul was talking about fellow believers who had an immature faith, and the actions of other believers could become a stumbling block.

*** Take a ride into the danger zone.

--- By showing flexibility, Paul stepped out of his comfort zone for the sake of the gospel.

--- He sought to understand their lives, their goals and their dreams, and once they saw his care for them they might be ready to hear about Jesus.

--- He was all about reaching more people, whatever the cost.

--- In this way, Paul followed the model Jesus left us: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

--- That’s critical, because Jesus is our best example for serving others and sharing the gospel.

--- With that, we’ve lost some great voices in our Life Group. We’ve lost their testimonies, their experiences and advice.

--- We all have something to contribute, a different way to share the gospel and our Christian testimony.

*** Question - What are some different approaches Christians use for sharing the gospel?

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

*** The race is on.

--- As we see in our Olympic Games, the winner gets to stand on top of the platform and gets a medal and fame.

--- In Paul’s day they had the Isthmian games that were held in Corinth every two years, second only to the ancient version of the Olympic Games, so the people he’s writing to know exactly what he’s talking about.

--- The Isthmian Games didn’t give gold, silver or bronze. It was win or go home. (In other words, If you’re not first, you’re last.)

--- Paul encourages that we won’t be successful every time, but we need to run the race like we expect to win.

--- All great winners in history have understood this principle – almost any situation, good or bad, is affected by the positive attitude we bring to it.

--- The life of modern men and women is often one of busyness. People often talk about a lack of time, but our problem isn’t enough time but a lack of focus and direction.

--- Paul was fully committed to reaching anybody and everybody with the gospel and gave it his all. He was a boxer who punched with purpose.

*** Stay on target.

--- To reach that goal, though, was never easy. Paul saw it as a serious task that required strict discipline and self-control.

--- Just as Olympians do today, the athletes in Corinth abstained from certain foods, sexual relations, and virtually everything else in order to focus on their race.

--- When they win, they get Wheaties covers. If you’re an amateur who runs a marathon you get the joy of putting a “26.2” sticker on your car.

--- In Paul’s day they won a crown that would whither in time.

--- We, however, run our Christian race to get a “crown that will last forever,” an eternity in heavenly glory with Jesus. (Phil. 3:14)

*** Question - What things might we need to set aside and pick up to run the race of faith well?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

It would be so awesome if we could serve Christ by resting in a hammock all day, reading a book and napping next to a babbling brook.

Paul, however, makes it clear that reaching people with the gospel takes discipline, self-control and work, and it’s worth it.

As we rely on God’s Spirit to work through us, we need to go where people are—and that often means stepping outside our comfort zones.

Keep your eyes on Jesus and look for opportunities to share your faith in Him with others.

How will you step into the shoes of others this week in order to share the gospel? Consider the following suggestions:

*** Pray. Identify someone you know personally who still needs to follow Christ. Pray for this person each day. Ask for guidance and opportunities to be a witness.

*** Learn. Learn what you can about beliefs and customs of other cultures. Pray that the gospel would penetrate their culture. Ask God how you can get involved.

*** Step out. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is harder than we often realize. But it’s a necessary part of sharing the gospel with those who need to hear it. Are you ready?