Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: January 2016

Study Guide for 1/31

Today we looked at the famous Parable of the Sower… or of the Seed… or of the Soils (MT 13:1-9, 18-23). It’s one of the few that Jesus explains. It’s the parable that kicks off a whole chapter of parables about the Kingdom.

Take today’s message home, and drive it deep! You can access the study guide by clicking: Study Guide 2016.01.31

You can watch the service by clicking here.

Hearts Changed Lead to Laws Changed

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[This also appeared in today’s Kinston Free Press]

Two weeks ago, we commemorated Martin Luther King day. He is the greatest preacher America has ever produced. Why? Because he confronted us with a national sin, and instead of driving shame deep and sowing discord, he showed us “a more excellent way.” He mobilized the hearts of women and men across the country. As a result of his and the SCLC’s godly leadership, we saw laws change. The outcome of the Civil Rights struggle was a cultural and legal framework that more nearly reflects reality: “all… are created equal.”

He changed our hearts and this changed our laws. And, this is how it needs to be.

One week ago, we were reminded of the Roe v Wade anniversary. This Supreme Court decision was published the day before I was born in 1973. I’m one of the first babies born in the Roe v Wade era. This is a sad legacy to those who believe that God really does knit together each human in the womb, starting from conception. It’s difficult to think in a country that fought so hard to bring justice and true liberty to African Americans, there opened a way to end the lives of some 50 million people legally.

But, even here, Dr. King’s legacy of “heart change first” is felt: there are countless community pregnancy centers around the country that help moms and dads see alternatives to abortion. I’m so thankful for EPIC in Kinston; they are gently and graciously walking with many who need love, counsel, and on-going support. Moreover, in the last 15-20 years, there has been a tremendous jump in families seeking to adopt children & babies. Hearts are choosing life.

Heart change has seen the number of abortions decline from 36 per 100 live births in 1984, to just 21 in 2011 (according to statistica.com, accessed 01.27.16). These are choices individuals are making for life.

Some laws have changed following this heart change. I would love to see laws changed to address the pain an unborn baby feels during an abortion. I would love to see laws changed (or enforced?) to stop the harvesting, selling and buying of fetal tissue. I would love to see laws changed to end late-term abortions altogether. I would love to see laws changed to encourage and resource even more adoptions.

Eight years ago, my wife and I lost a son in the womb. He died at 20 weeks old. His little body was perfectly formed and beautiful. He fit in the span of my hand. Joshua lived a real life. He counts, doesn’t he? Three months ago, I held my one-day-old nephew, who was being adopted by my sister- & brother-in-law. The young birth-mom made a heart choice for life, and brought joy to our family too!

In January we remember two different events in our national life. Fifty years ago, by God’s grace, and with Dr King’s help, we turned our back on a systemic failure to protect the unprotected. May we seek his grace to do so once again. As hearts change, so will laws.

Memory Challenge – Week 3

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Week 3: 2 Chronicles 16:9

NIV: For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

ESV: For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

I first learned about this verse in college, in a sermon by Major Ian Thomas, who founded The Torchbearers / Capernwray youth movement. His sermon is worth finding and listening to. He noted how God used young David and young Mary to change the world… because their hearts were fully devoted to Him.  It has been a mainstay for me as I’ve sought for God to have more of me!

You can join the “50 verses to change your life” memory challenge by emailing admin@gracekinston.org, and receiving each new verse each week!

Study Guide for Mt 12:38-50

Here’s the study guide that follows with today’s sermon on who’s putting up smokescreens and who’s really Jesus’ family!

Study Guide 2016.01.24

 

How to pick a candidate?

imgresWith the Iowa Caucuses just two weeks away, the NH primary 3 weeks, Nevada and SC coming fast and then Super Tuesday, there is no doubt that we are in election mode. A few months ago, a friend at church texted me a great question: “does Grace support a presidential candidate?”

I blogged the following answer then, and thought I’d repeat it now. If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s extremely important that you vote, and that you vote from an informed perspective.

The short answer to the question is “no, we don’t.” As an organized church, the IRS says that we can advocate on issues but not FOR individuals if we want to maintain our tax exempt status. I like this rule: Let me speak clearly on abortion, taxes, foreign policy, education policy, poverty… but keep me from saying, “everyone at Grace must vote for person X,Y or Z.”

Here’s what we do at Grace:

We ask everyone to consider carefully what policy positions reflect biblical standpoints. Before we look at candidates, look at Scripture. Measure military policy, marriage policy, tax policy, etc., etc., by the teaching of Scripture (and not “proof texting” one line of one verse, but taking the arc of Scripture’s gospel teaching seriously). Know what kind of country, state or city we are longing for. You can get good information from places like the NC Family Policy Council (ncfpc.org) if you tend right, or from Sojourners (sojo.net) if you tend left.  Both of these are evangelical.

We ask everyone to judge the character of individuals worth more than party affiliation or even any given position. It’s one of the most unfortunate truisms of the last 40 years that “we don’t care what you do on your private time, just do the job well.” There’s no distinction… who you are when no one is looking is who you are.

We ask everyone to consider public decisions and public statements. They mean things. To that end, google and research primary documents/primary interviews. Do not rely on 12 second sound-bites of someone that goes viral. Watch the whole 10 minute speech.  And for Pete’s sake, never, never, never believe the “storyline” that the news anchor is telling you; as if news organizations are immune to bias–this goes for conservative and liberal outlets.  The ncfpc.org always produces a report of all NC candidates for state and federal office and their voting records on key policy issues. It’s helpful to see who has actually voted for what.

Consider their competency and ability to get things done. They matter immensely. We currently have a president who is long on bold ideas, and short on executive experience. It shows. Whether or not you agree with his bold ideas, his actual administrating is really rather poor. The truth of the matter is that the presidency is one of the most complex jobs in the world. It takes the ability to corral real opinions, delegate real authority, hold people to real accountability, and enforce real efficiency.  Who’s got executive experience? Who doesn’t? These things matter.

Now, this seems like a lot of work… but everything worth doing will take some work.  If you are reading this far, let me really encourage you to pray all year, and make sure you vote (in primaries, run offs and general election). We have the privilege of choosing those who govern us. Let’s make sure we use it.

Some of us are interested now and even called to be involved today deeply in the political process. Help your friends learn more about the current candidates and the strategies. As believers, it is as much our right and responsibility to shape the field of candidates, as any other citizen. And as believers, it is our duty to love our neighbor, which to my mind includes bringing truth, justice, liberty and kindness not just in individual ways, but in systemic, organized, governing ways. Get involved, and help the rest of us figure things out!

Memory Challenge – Week 2

We’re starting the second week of “50 Verses to Change your Life”. One memory verse a week during 2016.

This week’s memory verse is:

Psalm 90:12

NIV: Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

ESV: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So far there are over 100 people at Grace signed up to take this challenge.  We’d love to include you.  Every Monday morning, Amber will send out the email with this week’s verse on it. If you want to jump on the email list, sign up! Email admin@gracekinston.org and say, “sign me up for the Memory Verse Challenge.”

Imagine concluding this calendar year with 50 MORE portions of Scripture hidden in your heart. The Scriptures form us as we dwell in them, Marva Dawn noted. It’s time to get more deeply formed & reformed, that we might be conformed to Christ!

By the way, Week 1’s Scripture was Psalm 119:11

NIV: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

ESV: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Sermon Study Guide – 1.17.16

arrow_circleWe saw Jesus’ strong words to us about our words, about our words which can even be “blasphemy”… blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  He shows us that our words are the best indicator of the orientation of our hearts: “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Click on the attached pdf for some questions to help you take it home.

Study Guide 12.22-37

If you missed the sermon, you can access it here (scroll down and click on “archives” for today’s date).

Be Thou My Vision

searchOne of my long-favorite prayers were the very first public words spoken in 2016 at Grace Fellowship. The worship team began this morning’s service with Be Thou My Vision, an old Irish poem written by Saint Dallan Forgaill in the 1600s, and translated/altered in the early 20th century.

I have prayed/sung this for 25 years as an aspiration that God would be my all in all.  At the start of this year, take a moment and pray, sing, ponder and be led by these five simple verses with one thought.

(The “fun” thing about poetry or lyrics is that you have to think about what the writer is saying… that very act of thinking is the means of deepening your grasp of the message!)

 

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my Shield and my Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, be Thou my might;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whate’er befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

The One Investment “Sure Thing”

images-1End of day 1. There are 365 days left this year (it’s leap year). What kind of investment return do you want at the end of this year? On your time, energy, growth, satisfaction, joy, family & purpose? I’ve got the one investment tip you need to hear: Invest 70 hours this year in a project, and watch its dividends multiply.

70 hours is the magic number. It is the time they estimate the average person needs to read through Scripture start to finish.  Imagine running with God through the whole of his inspired, revealed, authoritative and sufficient Word for us. Start the journey with God, and let him lead you to places of his character and yours that you never imagined.

70 hours investment this year. That’s approximately 6 hours a month. let’s round it up to 10 hours a month (in case you read slow!). In 20 minutes a day, you can go on a journey from Genesis to Revelation, from the start of this world to the start of the next.

They say that the average person watches 70 hours of television in just ONE month. How are the returns on those hours?

At the end of 2016’s first day, are you up for investing 70 hours of time this year in the only sure life-changing, purpose-finding, character-growing, marriage-enriching, family-boosting, delight-bringing pursuit you will undertake?

I am. I decided today that I’m going to do it. Will you join me?

I just read about 3-4 chapters a day, and keep motoring through.  Some days, I get 8-10 in. Some days I have to miss. But I keep moving (and, yes, you ARE allowed to skim the genealogies!). If you need a plan to use, click here to read a quick blog post by David Mathis from Desiring God ministries.

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