Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: November 2015

My First Fifteen

images-2OK, so the Thanksgiving challenge from last week was to take note of 3 things each day to give thanks for, and to accumulate them, such that you’ll remind yourself of 90 “gifts” on Christmas Day from God himself.

I’ve been recording them in my phone. Here are my first fifteen. #1-3 are obvious.  Some are deep, some surface, but all are gifts from a good God who loves us! (Brackets are explanations for y’all reading this):

1. Susan

2. Andrew

3. Daniel (P.S. this order of 1-2-3 is the order in which I met these three folks, not the order in which I like them! Don’t worry Dano…)

4. The generosity of family and friends.

5. That God knows what he’s doing, that he’s good and accomplishing his purposes.

6. Little Carter (our new nephew in Charlotte, born 11/13).

7. Fall sunsets in ENC.

8. A home to come home to.

9. The opportunity to preach God’s Word to His people each week.

10. The smell, taste and effects of coffee.

11. Sadie’s affection (she’s our dog, and just came home from the kennel, since we were away).

12. That God values form and function in nature as well as arts; i.e. We live in a world of “useful beauty”.

13. That God sees a future in even the “worst of sinners”, and that future is Christ.

14. For a really fun and serious staff team to work with.

15. Pictures… To be reminded of loved ones & places I have been, and to “see” places I’ve never been.

How about you? What’s on your THANX list?

Seven Questions if your spiritual growth seems stuck

imagesWe’ve all been there… where it just doesn’t seem like we’re growing in the Lord. Stuck in the mud. Weighed down by life and slowed down. Coasting. drifting. wandering. We know God is making his children into the image of Christ, but it seems (like a caterpiller metamorphosing into a butterfly) that we’re stuck at some point and not moving.

The Lord says, “if you seek me you will find me” and that he is a “rewarder of those who earnestly seek him.” (Jer 29:11 & Heb 11:6)

So, what help can I get in earnestly seeking him?  Here are seven questions to help you out of the cocoon:

1) Do I have a goal & a plan? We have training goals to run a marathon, business goals at work, home improvement goals. When was the last time you sat down and gave yourself a legitimate goal or two in terms of getting to know God better?  Maybe it’s a reading goal: Read the NT in 2 months. Read a Psalm a day for 5 months. OR, a prayer goal: Cycle through a weekly prayer list. List 90 things to give thanks for between Thanksgiving and Christmas. OR, a fellowship goal: only miss church one Sunday in next 4 months, or well, you get the idea. And, write down a plan that will carry you there: get up 15 minutes earlier and start the day with the Lord; turn off screens at Xpm, and unwind the day with the Lord; give regularly, serve in a new way, look at each person I see with God’s eyes. A million ways to jump start your spiritual growth… you just gotta pick a few bite-sized steps, and aim toward some specific goals.

2) Do I grasp compound interest? In  finance, compound interest is the greatest thing (when it works for you… and the worst thing when it works against you). It means this: you earn interest in the second year on the original amount PLUS the first year’s interest. In spending time with the Lord, compound interest also works: the more you read Scripture, the more it changes you, and the deeper you grow. In Scripture and prayer, in giving and regular attendance at church/HC. For instance: You may not understand everything the first time you read Romans, but the 5th time you are seeing things you never dreamed of! Why? “Spiritual Compound Interest.” Every time I come across something that doesn’t mean much to me or seems confusing to me, I just say, “Well, Lord, I can’t wait till it’s time for me to learn that!”

3) Am I willing to take the time? If you have a goal and a plan, and if you grasp “spiritual compound interest”, then it’s a matter of allocating resources: the most precious of which is time! Nothing worth having will come for nothing. So, if you want to grow in Christ, ask yourself: “Am I willing to invest the time?”

4) Do I have any unconfessed sin or am I rationalizing a habit that displeases God? Some people want to follow God on their own terms. But you can’t. Either he’s God or he’s not. If he’s God, then he’s the one who frames the parameters of what living right means (which are also the parameters for what living well means). So, ask yourself: what sin am I harboring in my heart or life? We’re all sinners, but some of us have speicifc things we aren’t willing to face and bring before God to confess. What habits are not becoming for a child of the king? Maybe you use God’s name in vain, maybe you carry credit card balances or drink way too much soda. Habits that displease God. Take an inventory by asking the Spirit to bring to mind the things he wants to change.

(And by the way, the Spirit likely won’t tell us everything the first time we ask. He’d overwhelm us!  So, he gives us a couple of things.  But you can be sure that he will also give us the grace to work on it.)

5) Do I know God delights in me? Of all the creatures in the universe, from supernovae to sea horses, you alone he sent his son to die for! Your name was written in the book of life before the foundation of the world. He knit you together in your mother’s womb exactly as he intended.  How much does God love you? Infinitely. And, he delights in those he loves. As you desire to get closer to God, don’t forget he desires exactly the same thing, and for every step you take, he’ll take 10!

6) Do I recognize that the enemy wants to sidetrack me? This is a corollary of #5. Everything God loves, Satan hates. So, he hates you. He wants you to skip church, sleep through your daily devotional time, watch more TV at night, never give money or time to Christ, etc., etc.  Why? Becasue these draw you to God. He wants you to dwell on feelings that God couldn’t love you or probably won’t forgive you. He wants you to keep thinking “I can do better for God, and I will next time!” (That, of course, is a description of “religion”… where we work toward and for God… the antithesis of Grace). knowing that Satan doesn’t want me to move toward God makes me want to grow in Christ all the more! I don’t want to give Satan one ounce of satisfaction! 1 Peter 5:8-9

7) Have a wrestled with Grace so that I can rest in it? The deepest fact of the universe, the inner-most truth is that God’s grace is far, far greater than my sin, shortcomings, failings and selfishness.  Those are all real and dire… but God’s grace is more abundant, more amazing, longer-lasting, and more astounding. “You’ll never be good enough to earn God’s love, and you’ll never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace.” If we truly believed this, we’d run to God all day long! Romans 8:28-38; 5:12-20

These seven questions, taken seriously, will get you flying in no time at all!

Thanksgiving Challenge

imgresNo, no, no, the challenge is not the First Annual Grace Fellowship Turkey Trot or an awesome game of touch football.

The challenge is just a tiny bit more substantial: For 30 days from Thanksgiving to Christmas, write down 3 different things for which you are thankful. A full month. Can you actually think of and write 90 different gifts God has given you?

Some of them will be huge – the gift of Jesus… forgiveness… adoption.  Some will be medium – your job, your good news on your sore foot, etc.  Some might seem inconsequential – your daughter’s good grade on a quiz, you got your car fixed, your neighbor’s house finally sold. But everything is worth giving thanks for!

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Tim 4:4)

So how about it? Set your alarm on your phone, open your phone “notepad” app (or grab a real notepad or your journal) and start making your list of 90 things for which you can give thanks.

Here’s why: the more we purposefully give thanks to God for the gifts and supplies, the less time we can complain and worry and mutter. It’s a simple habit–this “giving thanks”–that leads us into maturity.

Then on Christmas, you can read them over and be amazed at God’s “Christmas gifts” to you.

I’ll tell you what my first three are (I’m getting a jump on Thursday): Being part of the body at Grace Fellowship (one of God’s greatest churches!!); Looking out my window and seeing a beautiful blue sky; The fact that God is patient with me, giving me second chances.

How about you?

A Prayer for Paris

imagesWe used this prayer at church this morning. It is worth us praying for a few days, until it starts to sink in! From Scotty Smith on The Gospel Coalition. You can click here to go to his website.

     Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:7-11 (ESV)

   Dear heavenly Father, another day of terror-making darkness, evil-doing madness, and life-taking sadness. How long, O Lord, how long before you send Jesus back to eradicate all evil? How long before the wicked will be no more? How much longer is “just a little while”?

     It’s hard not to fret. It’s hard not to feel fearful and angry when women and children, the young and old are mercilessly slaughtered in the city of Paris; when restaurants, concert halls, and sports areas become the venue for the perversion of religion and the murder of your image bearers.

     Father, we offer our prayer, not in self-righteous judgment, but as your weary children—longing for the Day when the knowledge of your glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14)—when perfect peace will replace every expression of evil.

     Until that Day, free us from all bitterness and a lust for revenge. Vengeance belongs to you, not to us. Make us warriors of peace and agents of hope. Our labors in the Lord are never in vain. The gospel of the kingdom will prevail. Defeated evil will be eradicated evil. The devil is filled with fury for he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12). Make it much shorter, Father, much shorter.

     Grant us wisdom to know what loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly with you looks like in Paris, and in our own communities. Replace our frets and fears with faith and trust, and our rage and wrath with patience and courage. So we say Amen in Jesus’ triumphant and grace-full Name.

Five outreach tools you already have

MMG_FeaturedImage_March_Portfolio_CohnRezWhen you say the word “evangelism” most of us respond with a tinge of guilt (“I should do better”) or fear (“but I’m not sure what to say”).

I used to think that sharing my faith was only about speaking certain words about Christ, and getting right to the point of asking for a decision: “do you want to give your life up to Christ?” Of course, this IS evangelism, but it’s only part of it.

A friend of mine used to say, somewhat provocatively, that evangelism is loving the hell out of people. Once you get past the shock, you see the truth!

Yesterday at Grace, one of our missionaries shared some simple ways that each of us has to help love the hell out of people (even before we get to the point of saying anything about Jesus). These are the bridge-building tools of evangelism. And, each of us already has these!

Friendliness: in a world so frenetic, angry or cynical, a simple smile to a stranger, a warm question to a server, a funny comment in a long line. When we open up, it will open others up.

Hospitality: The next level of opening up… your home, your life. When life is increasingly rushed, to invite someone over is one of the most honoring thing you can do. Invite them over to watch a ball game. Welcome them in for a coke or coffee if they’re strolling by. “Get your carpets stained for the Lord,” as one person said.

Listening: Give people the gift of your ear, your time, your interest. People are longing for someone to take them seriously. You can give a listening posture to a friend or co-worker who is going through something (or just deciding now is a good time to open up); likely no one else is giving them that! If we’re all so rushed, then the one who cares enough to listen builds a huge bridge for Christ.

Praying for problems right there: When someone shares a burden or a problem, or if someone asks you to pray for them, why not just do it then and there? Ask God in front of them to help, heal, deliver, reconcile, show himself to be good and powerful. God loves to be invited into someone’s world. You can do that by praying with the person.

Build time (or trust) into our schedules: We are so busy. What if we purposed before God to slow down at least once a week while we engage someone. Just trust that God will make up the time later (he always does when he gives you a divine appointment), or simply maintain a little margin in your day, so that you are not always rushing. You never know who you are rushing past.

There you have it. Five simple tools every single one of us has at our disposal, but that can build bridges to those who haven’t met Christ. For an unfriendly, inhospitable, noisy, impotent & rushing world, these five simple practices can make all the difference.

Nov 1 Sermon Study Guide

Click the link below for several questions to help you take today’s sermon deeper.

Study Guide 11.01.15

Several of our HouseChurches are using this. If yours isn’t, why not use it in your quiet time, asking God to form you out of what he’s taught us all on Sunday.

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