About a month ago, Chris wrote an article where he encouraged us to join the men’s or women’s groups this summer. This, he said, can help us grow as disciples. I will tell a story about myself and how growth group helped me in my spiritual growth. The church I attended in Nigeria had house cells (home groups). All the church members were supposed to plug into the one closest to where they lived. And, for instance, if I did not show up at a meeting on a Sunday evening, the person closest to my house was required to check on me before he or she went home. Cell phones? Nope. We did not have cell phones then. And the church member that stopped to check on me will report to the cell leader of his or her findings. It was a challenge for me to attend the meetings. I hated it when someone knocked on my door at night. I did not know most of the people in my group. Those that I knew, I did not like. But things changed when I started attending the program faithfully. By the grace of God, that kept me in check and to change some of my ways. It helped to bring me to my senses. I am forever grateful for the cell group and the members whose love for the body of Christ helped me to return home. Fellowshipping with one another will help us grow spiritually. The summer is not yet over, plug in.
So, every night before my son (Barnabas) goes down for the night, we replay the day in our heads and talk about all our joys and disappointments. And at the end, we not only pray to thank God and for those who are in need, but we always lift-up special prayer requests like when my foot is in pain due to a gout attack. And although I often forget our prayers and wonder what Barnabas thinks of our faith (especially with his father being so busy with sermon preparations, going to church early and separately, as well as leaving the home some nights for various meetings) it put a smile on my face when my foot got better and my son pointed out it was all because God answered our prayers! And you know for my devotional, it pointed to Deuteronomy 6 and I was reminded how the bible tells us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 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. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” Thus friends, whether you are a parent or a member who promised to help raise the children of Gracepoint together, let’s continue to teach the little ones that Christianity is not a business, nor a religion, nor is it about going to this meeting or that but instead it’s really about a loving relationship with Jesus who cares and desires to bless every part of our life!
God could have chosen to speak to us any way he wanted. He is God and we are not. He could have left us a series of statements about himself: I am good, I love you, trust me. Yet, when we read the Bible we do not see a collection of propositions about God. Instead, we find tons of stories and poetry. This reality, that God has chosen to reveal himself through metaphor has been one of the central tenets being taught by Dr. Iain Duguid while we are in Japan. Why does God reveal himself through beautiful imagery, when a statement of facts was also an option available to Him? Well, one powerful reason is the power of metaphor to captivate our imagination and bring abstract ideas home. This past Sunday, Jenn and I witnessed first hand the power of poetry (when it is God’s Word to us) as our professor preached two different sermons from the Psalms. As we heard Psalm 23 preached, the image of a shepherd caring for his sheep, an image that would have been a powerful one for an agrarian culture in the Middle East over 2000 years ago, we saw it remains just as powerful and relevant today. As we sat and heard God’s Word preached, we witnessed firsthand the power of poetry to communicate God’s love and care for His people. Across centuries, across cultures, across gender and ages, God’s Word remains powerfully clear and pierces our hearts, because of HOW God chose to speak to us. Praise God for loving us, praise God for His wonderful poetry, praise God for sending His Holy Spirit to make these truths real to our hearts and minds.
What if the way you have understood a part of the Bible was incorrect? What if it was a passage you were so familiar with, you thought it was impossible to possibly learn anything new about it? That was the situation I was confronted with during the past couple of weeks as I prepared to preach on the Beatitudes. As someone that grew up going to church, there are few passages of scripture that are more familiar and yet as I read and studied I realized that while I was familiar I was actually mistaken in my understanding. The radical and powerful nature of the Beatitudes has completely eluded me for most of my life. In the 9 statements that open up the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is actually talking about people who are flourishing now because they are living in a state of being that lines up with God’s means of grace. They are not about receiving some future blessing, but instead about a person’s current state. But, because the Kingdom of God is not yet fully on earth, flourishing today sometimes looks like the exact opposite. It is only when we realize we are living in line with God’s design that we can see our current conditions, even when difficult, as evidence of flourishing. What was even more amazing was seeing how the OT shed even more light on Jesus’s teaching on mourning. At the end of the day I was convicted not only of the immense power of scripture, but of the possibility of a lifetime spent learning even more about what God’s word means for us today! It truly is a living and breathing word that cuts
us to the heart!
About three months ago a friend from Gracepoint reached out to me and asked if I was willing to join him for breakfast. It was unexpected. He is not someone I frequently see at church. Part of me was concerned something serious might be wrong and he needed to talk to someone about it quickly. But when I arrived that morning to share a meal, the exact opposite was in fact the case. Instead, we spent a couple of hours talking about our lives and praying for one another. Now, three months later this has become a regular occurrence. Our conversations still include family updates, but have gone on to include areas of struggle we pray for, what we have been learning in our time in scripture or devotional reading and what we have been trying to apply to our hearts in light of the sermons being preached. What began as a casual breakfast, has now become a time of intentional discipleship. God has made us for community. The first time He says it is NOT GOOD is when he notes Adam is without a suitable partner in Eden. Jesus, began his ministry by calling 12 men to follow him. During their three years together, He taught them, they watched him, they prayed together and they served. We are called to do the same. Are you walking alongside a brother or sister and intentionally using that time to grow as a disciple? As the summer is in full swing, consider coming out for the men’s and women’s groups. They are one way of starting on the path of discipleship we are called to as followers of Christ.
Names are powerful. “Names often reflect the characteristics of a person or the aspirations or wishes for that person of the one bestowing the name”(The NIV Thematic Bible). The Scripture reveals many names of God, such as Jehovah Sabboath (The LORD of hosts), Jehovah Shalom (The LORD of Peace), Jehovah Nissi (The LORD our banner). His names tell us about His character and reputation. His names reveal who He is. His name also identifies His people because we bear His name. We bear His name because we have been made righteous through Jesus Christ, God’s begotten Son’s suffering, shedding of His precious blood, dying on the cross and resurrecting. While other people may walk in the name of their gods, we believers, who are called by the name of the living God will walk in His name, who is God for ever and ever. Let us go to Him with our fears and anxieties in faith for,“the name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).” Halleluiah!!
Twas Grace that Taught my Heart to FEAR. The women are beginning a book called, From Fear to Freedom. One of the wise women said that the title was confusing because she always thought that freedom led us to fear. Another wise woman asked me what it meant to fear the Lord and thought that sounded perplexing.
Here is what we learned. Click the link below to read more. (Good idea to read it all!) “The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a malicious master who would come with the whip and torment the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner. Luther distinguished between that and what he called filial fear, drawing from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love. (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/qas/throughout-bible-we-are-told-fear-god-what-does-me/)
If this is an area you would like to grow in please study, Lord I Want to Know you by Kay Arthur to grow in the knowledge of who God is. If you know his names,you will grow in the true Fear of the Lord. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” -Proverbs 18:10
Roman 1:19 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them”
Last week, the irreverent comedian Sarah Silverman appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show to promote her new comedy special. It was the first time she had seen Kimmel since he disclosed his son’s heart condition to the world in one of the most moving opening monologues in recent history. Before saying anything, Silverman in a rare moment of complete seriousness said she was glad his son was alive and then followed by saying,“I prayed to the God I do not believe in.” Two weeks ago, Bill Maher made news headlines for using the N-word while interviewing a senator on his show REAL TIME. Last week was marked by public outcries to have him fired. People were curious what he would say this past Friday to try and repair his reputation. Within the first ten minutes of the episode he said not once, but twice that he was a “sinner” and asked for forgiveness. Maher is one of the most vocal atheists in popular culture. He even made a documentary mocking Christians called Religulous. Silverman and Maher frequently deny the existence of God, yet found themselves referring to him in public. Why? Well, Romans 1 helps us understand the life-experiences of many self-proclaimed atheists. In the end there really is no such thing as atheism, just people who prefer living as if there isn’t a God who has authority over their lives. This is more than understandable. It is a weighty thing to know there is a holy and perfect God who knows all that you think and do, and to whom you live in opposition. But, in the end denying God exists doesn’t change the fact that even the most ardent atheist knows in their heart that He is real.So why does this matter to the average Christian? Well, we are often intimidated about dialoguing with non-believers for fear they will never understand us. But, if deep down everyone knows God is real, we can share our experiences with confidence knowing that deep down even the harshest critic of God knows that what we say is true. So the next time you convince yourself not to talk to someone about God, remember they know Him too.
1 Peter 1:6-7
It’s funny how the older you get the more you begin to enjoy places like Costco. Because not only do they have great prices on things we need but the giant wholesale store sets up all these delicious sample stations where people can try and eat things for free. Now I must admit, as much as I love the free samples, for the longest time I thought it was the silliest business model. Because why would people buy a product if they can just get it for free? And the answer I’ve come to realize is, it’s through these free trials/samples that, companies are hoping people will taste and see that their products are really good. In the same way, some of us may be going through hard times with friends at school, coworkers at our office, or maybe with members with our family and we’re just left confused asking “Why God, Why?!” And although the Lord doesn’t always reveal His will to us, still,Scripture tells us“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary,you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith.” That is, just like the samples/trials that Costco gives out for free, as difficult as our situation may seem it reveals the truth about our faith and how true our Savior is! You see, it’s really hard to gauge things when everything is going smoothly. But it’s during the tough times that exposes who we really are and who we can really trust. Thus Gracepoint, although difficulties tend to bring us down, as the opening words tell us“let us rejoice!” Because it’s through these experiences that our faith will be refined and reveal to us and point for us the only true savior who we can trust!
Even in His Silence
There are times when God seems not to be there with you, not to help you, not to give you the right words when you think you need them most, not to guard or guide you… and you feel all alone. Scared. Angry. Confused. I, sometimes, feel like God has left me alone to deal with my own situations. But the truth as promised in the Bible is that God will never leave or forsake us. He is always there with us!
When God seems silent, one of the ways to remind oneself that He is always present is to begin to “Count your blessings…name them one by one…,” and you will see that He has always been present. Looking back at the experiences you had with God’s promises helps you to see His immeasurable grace and blessings. You will see God’s abiding presence (Psalm 23). May the Holy Spirit help us to be still even when the great windstorms of life swirls around us and, to see and hear God even when He seems silent. Therefore, as we reflect on God’s promises, let us also look to the future of the glory of the promises that is in Christ Jesus.