The Gospel

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” – Tim Keller

What exactly do Christians mean when they talk about the “gospel of Jesus Christ?” Since the word “gospel” means “good news,” when Christians talk about the gospel, they’re simply telling the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus Christ gave His life as the price for this fallen and broken world. He is the good news we need to help us restore our lives. Jesus, more than anything, wants to be a part of our lives and build a relationship with us.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ refers to Jesus dying on the cross and rising again three days later. It’s Jesus taking upon Himself the guilt and shame of our sins and offering us the free gift of forgiveness and an eternal relationship with God the Father in Heaven. In other words, it’s an indescribable peace and assurance, love and acceptance that we can never earn or deserve alone.

In a world that seems to be an endless stream of bad news, the Gospel offers hope. The truth of the Gospel means that no matter what kind of suffering you are facing, no matter the difficulty, set-back, illness, grief or heartache – there is hope. Why? Because Jesus has risen and that makes all the difference. No matter how circumstances unfold, Jesus is victorious. Jesus is bigger. Jesus will walk you through all of life’s ups and downs.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social change. Change won’t happen through “trying harder” but only through encountering the radical grace of God.

Another thing that makes the gospel unique is that when the story does seem to get stale or boring. After a few years as a Christian, we believe we “get it” We understand the story. Only to spend some time in the Bible and discover an even deeper appreciation for and respect for the gospel. The story gets richer the more you engage it. The gospel is a song that gets sweeter the longer you listen, a film that grows more epic as you rewatch, a photograph that glows brighter the longer you stare.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the gospel mean to you generally? What does it mean on a daily basis?

We Need More Harvesters

“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” – Matthew 9:35-38.

Jesus has been traveling all throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Not only that, He’s been healing diseases and casting out demons. Epileptics, paralytics have been healed and the blind received sight. A young girl has been raised from the dead. As the crowds watch this, they were amazed: “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” they exclaimed.” (Matthew 9:33). Can you imagine what it would have been like to see this?

The Matthew 9 passage bridges the gap between Jesus’ ministry and ours so that we have the same kind of ministry that He had. In this passage we are asked to believe something and then given something to do.

First, we’re given something to believe. Jesus says in verse 37, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” He is telling us that the harvest is plentiful all around us. Do you believe that? There are many yet to be reached with the gospel of the kingdom, and there’s an urgency. They’re ready to hear, but are we ready to tell them. This is what He tells us to believe. Do you believe it?

He’s given us something to believe – that people are ready. Now He gives us something to do about it. Wouldn’t you expect that Jesus would say, “So get out there and tell them!” But that’s not what He said. Surprisingly, He said, “So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Why would Jesus tell us to pray instead of doing something? He knows that before we have the ministry that He has, we must have the same prayerful reliance on the Father that He does. Before we have the compassion of Jesus, we must have the connection with the Father that Jesus has. It’s one thing for us to go and do. It’s another thing to pray to God that He would raise up people – either through conversion or growth – who are ready to go; to pray that God would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and give them wisdom and success.  

And when we start to believe that the harvest is plentiful and pray that He would send out workers, you never know if we may become the answers to our own prayers – that we would be the workers commissioned by the Lord of the harvest himself. So two questions:  Will you believe Jesus when he says that the harvest is plentiful? And will you pray, beginning today, that God would raise up people – maybe even you – to do His work?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe the harvest is plentiful? Why or why not? 
  2. How can we pray this week that there will be harvesters for the harvest?  

Some Assembly Required

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” – Philippians 4:6. 

“Some Assembly Required.” 

If you have assembled something that said “some assembly required” you know there are nuts and bolts and pieces of wood that don’t seem to belong anywhere in particular and it all becomes overwhelming. You are trying to do it all on your own and things are not staying together the way they are supposed to be. And then you stop and you see those directions out of the corner of your eye. You take a deep breath, and you begin again. This time you go slow. When you get lost, as you almost inevitably will in this scenario, you have to circle back and consult your instructions once again. And so it goes.

This is similar to our relationship with God. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been lost in situations where we are discouraged and stressed. It might have been in the midst of a loved one’s untreatable illness. Or we may have been navigating a devastating financial loss. Perhaps it was in the midst of a heart-wrenching relationship struggle. No matter the circumstances, we have found ourselves desperate and looking for the Christian instruction manual, the Bible, for peace and comfort. And then we come to the conclusion that all we can do is pray. We pray, it seems, as our last resort. We turn to it because everything else has failed and we reluctantly admit human effort and wisdom is not enough. And so we pray that God will do what we can not. The question is do we pray first or only as a last resort? 

What if we approached prayer as if it were the key ingredient to the “assembly required”solution, not just the after-thought? What if we were to pray as though we were seeking the help of a God who loves us and who has both the compassion and the power to intervene?

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, our first response can and should be to pray. When we pray we express our helplessness to the one who is ever-present in times of trouble: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). And then we wait and watch and trust.

Pour out your heart to God. Just share with God what’s on your heart. Praise, confession, thankfulness, pray for others, guidance – all of these things, plus whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through…whatever is on your heart…pour it out to God. Whatever it is, I promise He’s big enough to handle it.

We need to take time to listen to God, and that’s what the written Word of God is for. Give God the chance to speak, to guide and direct you through His Word.

Jesus knew our tendency to try everything else first before we pray. He encouraged His followers to break out of that pattern and to go to God first, not last when “some assembly is required.” “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you do when “some assembly is required” in your life? 
  2. Do you pray first or last? What can you do this week to improve your prayer life?  

The Power Of Solitude

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.” – Mark 1:35-39

In the first chapter of his gospel, Mark talks about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He talks about people bringing all the sick and the demon-possessed to Jesus. Everybody wants to be around Jesus. It is probably chaotic at best. Very early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed. Jesus needed the power of prayer. 

Jesus could’ve prayed anywhere, of course—and He often did pray in public, among crowds, where others could hear and perhaps participate. But the Gospels show us that He made solitude a priority. If He did, shouldn’t we?

Continually Jesus withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of His ministry to be alone with the Father and pray. His ongoing, intimate relationship with His Father was a priority to Him. It’s how He began His ministry. It’s how He made important decisions. It’s how He dealt with the constant demands of His ministry.  

Solitude is not an escape from a busy life. It is not “me” time or a time for rest and relaxation. Solitude is the discipline of setting aside my daily cares so I can spend time in God’s transforming presence. It is an invitation to spend time away from the people and things in my life to be restored and renewed in God’s image. Usually, real solitude means getting up early: But there is no time of day when we’re not distracted by various things. Whether it’s the phone I have, the car I want, or the coffee refill that I need: it’s easy to find an excuse to delay spending some solitude with God praying. 

If you want to hear God, you must practice solitude. If you want fortitude in your life, a steadfastness that surpasses your circumstances, you must practice solitude. You are designed for time spent in the quiet, simply being with your heavenly Father.

So find a place where you can spend time with God free from distractions. Find a place where you know you won’t be interrupted. Second, give yourself an amount of time to spend with God. Solitude is a practice. The more you do it the better and more fulfilling it will become.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is it about the practice of solitude that excites us and/or creates fear?  
  2. What are some obstacles that keep us from regularly practicing solitude?  

The Holy Spirit

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26

The Holy Spirit is real. The Holy Spirit is God. When I think of God the Father I get a picture of a loving father in my mind. I have a father so the concept of a heavenly Father is one that I can see and understand. When I think of God the Son, I imagine a loving son. Since many of us have been a son and now have a son, it’s pretty easy to grasp the concept of God the Son. My mind draws off of my experience to formulate my perception of God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit is a little harder to understand, but that doesn’t change the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians today and in Biblical times.  

To make a point let’s do a quick look at the disciples. Jesus had some interesting if not challenging disciples. Look at a few of their not so great moments: John wanted to destroy a whole village for not welcoming them; Judas embezzled money and sold out Jesus; Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, hours after saying he would die for Him: They fought with each other over who was greatest; they often did not understand Jesus’ teachings.

They were not the smartest, talented, or most capable people to be sure. However, and this is a major however, In a matter of months, even weeks, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples become on-fire, bold ambassadors and evangelists for Jesus. Listen to their resume post-Jesus: Peter preached and thousands believed in Jesus; Peter and John stood up to the most powerful Jewish council, the same one that condemned Jesus; they took the gospel to most of their known world. How did this group of ordinary, flawed, normal guys literally change the course of history?   

The answer to that question can be found in one line in the Apostles Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” It was the Holy Spirit that transformed the disciples. The power of the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples of Christ to turn the world upside down with the powerful preaching of the gospel. They could not have accomplished this in their own power. Jesus promised that the Spirit would come, live within them, and empower them in a miraculous way. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). The day of Pentecost was the beginning of the indwelling power of the Spirit living within those He saves. “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” (John 14:17)

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, believers are saved and sanctified. The Holy Spirit reveals God’s thoughts, teaches, and guides believers into all truth, including knowledge of what is to come. The Holy Spirit also helps Christians in their weakness and intercedes for them.

Discussion Questions

  1. As the Spirit works to refine us, the Spirit reminds us of our new identity as God’s children. How does the Spirit’s voice impact my relationship with God?
  2. The presence of the Spirit can make you see things in a new light. What is the Spirit calling you to re-evaluate or remove from your life? 

Depending On The Holy Spirit

“On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.”– Acts 2:1–4.

Can you imagine that scene? Take a second and try to imagine this. Imagine being at an early morning Sunday service at Northstar and suddenly there is a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind. You can’t feel the wind, but you can hear it. Picture hurricane-force winds that you hear, filling the entire room in which you are sitting. That would certainly wake you up on a Sunday morning. 

If you are a follower of Jesus, if you have trusted in Jesus as the Savior and Lord of your life, if Jesus is your life, then the exact same Spirit who did this in Acts 2 is living inside of you right now. The Spirit of God who did this in Acts 2 dwells in you. You are not alone right now. The Spirit of God dwells in you. If you really think about that, that should wake you up every morning.  

Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So, why has God put his Spirit inside of us? We see all over scripture all kinds of things the Spirit does in our lives, through our lives, for our lives. And in the middle of it all, we must not forget that the primary purpose of the Spirit in our lives is that we might be on mission with God.

“But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) When we think of the Holy Spirit, this is how we should primarily think of Him: God with us, helping and empowering us to live a flourishing life that radiates the goodness of God. We are all in need of divine help if we are to become who God created us to be.

The Holy Spirit gives us insight. “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”  (John 14:26) The Holy Spirit will give you insight into what you are reading and furthermore, will help you recall what you’ve read in Scripture. He brings to your mind understanding and truth. Have you ever had one of those moments when you were in a situation and a Scripture verse you read or memorized years ago popped into your head, encouraging you in that moment? That was the Holy Spirit reminding you of what you had been taught. He empowers you with understanding and the ability to recall important verses that apply to your life.

And the Holy Spirit guides your prayers.“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Romans 8:26. Sometimes we don’t have the words. Or we have so much to say that we aren’t sure where to start.  Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit with us.  

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it impossible to be on mission for God without the help of the Holy Spirit? 
  2. How does the Holy Spirit give us the power to know and recall the truth?

Faith During COVID-19

“At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.” Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.” – Matthew 17:14-18

Many of us have been living in a new reality for approximately 17 months now as a result of COVID-19. We have practiced physical distancing to the best of our ability. Children all over the country have continued their education through hours and hours of screen time. Parents have juggled full plates of expectations. People were isolated for many months. With so much going on, it’s hard to not feel anxious in times like these.  

While Jesus didn’t experience COVID-19, the Bible clearly tells us that there were very pressing needs all around Him. People brought to Him all had very real needs. In Matthew 17, we read the story of a desperate father whose son was very sick.  Using all his available resources, the father had found no help for his suffering son. He had even taken his son to Jesus’ disciples to no avail. This father probably lived in constant fear of when the next seizure would occur and what it might do to his son. Out of options and desperate, he came and fell to his knees before Jesus.

The first thing Jesus did was speak to His disciples. He had given them the authority to heal the sick, (“Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.” – Matthew10:1) yet they failed to heal the boy. After reprimanding them, Jesus asked to see the boy. Immediately, he was healed. Take a second and think of how relieved that father must have been. Can you imagine how much the son’s life changed that day?  The disciples were understandably confused. Why did they not succeed? Jesus’ answer was simple: “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

Fast forward in time. The disciples healed the sick, drove out demons, and did other signs and wonders as Acts 2:43 tells us, “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” The pandemic has taught us that God’s power is not experienced in the present because you had faith in the past. God’s power is experienced in the present when you have faith in the present.

When we come to the end of ourselves is when real faith begins. We see that happen in this desperate father’s life when he fell to his knees before Jesus. We saw it happen in the lives of the disciples, as they began to understand how their faith enabled them to do some miraculous things. And hopefully, we will see in our lives as we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Faith is not something you can manufacture. Agree or disagree? Why? 
  2. A faith journey often gets worse before it gets better. Agree or disagree?

Growth Through Change

“But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!” – 1 Corinthians 15:51.

Transition is a topic that is hard to discuss. While there is plenty to say about it, most of us really don’t like change, and with transition comes change. In order to fulfill God’s purpose for your life, you have to grow. You may be comfortable where you are, but to spiritually grow some change is most likely inevitable. Each one of us is a work in progress. We shouldn’t be satisfied with our current level.  

It is God’s will that we mature as Christians, becoming more and more like Jesus. Growth is not automatic. It takes dedicated effort and every Christian needs to make a conscious decision to grow spiritually. Nothing shapes my life as much as the commitments I make, so I need to wholeheartedly commit to spiritual growth. Part of this decision is realizing that I will need to make changes in my life. I may need to act differently in certain ways or get rid of some old routines or habits. When I do my part God will do His part and will work in me.

To really change my life I need to realize that my will alone is not enough. I can’t force myself to change. I need God’s help to do this. The first step is for me to begin to change the way I think because the way I think determines the way I act. I need to think maturely, focusing on others more than myself.

As John Maxwell observed, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” The Bible contains numerous accounts of individuals who made hard choices during their journey of following God and as a result, enjoyed His rich blessings. Every choice we make either moves us closer to God or moves us further away from Him and His mission for our lives. No one should ever be able to say, “I’ve made it so I no longer need to grow spiritually.”  

There have been a lot of  transitions, change if you will, in our lives the last couple years.  Without question, transitions are unsettling. The process of changing us is not easy. God wants to transform us on the inside, to help us become more like Jesus in our attitudes, our beliefs, and our love for others. It’s about a relationship, not rules. The more we grow in our love and relationship with Jesus, and the closer we get to Him, the more He will begin to change us from the inside out and we will grow spiritually. 

The Christian life is fundamentally a changed life. And it is never too late or too early to make changes. Regardless of what season of life you are in or how long you have been a Christian, you can change.  Jesus equipped you to experience the abundant life of glorifying God in all you do. It is never too late to grow spiritually. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What changes would you like to make in your life?  What are the obstacles to making those changes? 
  2. What changes would you make this week to grow spiritually? 

 

The Process Of Spiritual Growth

“Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen” – 2 Peter 3:18.   

Most Christians believe there is a blueprint for spiritual growth and assume that the same methods will produce the same growth in different people, but it doesn’t work that way. Yes, there are standard Christian tenets that we need to follow but the reality is that God created each of us as a unique person. His plan to grow you spiritually will be different than His plan for others. What would grow a rose would not work with a cactus. The rose and the cactus need sunlight and water but in different amounts and conditions. The key is not for all of us to do the same thing but to find the unique, to us, a combination of things that will help us grow spiritually. 

Imagine your pharmacy giving everyone the same prescription even though we have different ailments and symptoms. Imagine if every parent used the same rewards and the same punishments. If you want your kids to grow, we have to find out how to parent them that works with who they are as individuals. 

Our model for this is God Himself. He always knows what each person needs. He wrestled with Jacob, whispered to Elijah, warned Cain, and comforted Hagar. God never grows two people in a carbon copy manner. But sometimes we think that is the recipe for growth. We hear a popular pastor or read a best-selling book on how we can grow spiritually and we figure if it works for them, it will work for us. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others, but we need to be aware that it may not work for us. God does not do “one-size-fits-all.”

God has a plan for the you He wants you to be. It will not look exactly like His plan for anyone else, which means it will take time, effort and exploration for you to learn how God wants to grow you. Spiritual growth is hand-crafted, not mass-produced. 

Peter is an example.  Peter made his livelihood as a fisherman. But Jesus convinced him to become a follower of the Lord. Peter was rash in his thinking and behavior. God was patient in making positive changes in him. As an apostle of the Lord, Peter hastily told the Lord, though all others forsake you, I will never forsake you. But Peter timidly denied he knew the Lord three times. When Jesus saw him after Jesus’ resurrection, he taught Peter about God love and forgiveness.  

Spiritual growth is not automatic. The writer of Hebrews noted, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. You have to have a plan. A plan that is unique to you. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Are you content with your spiritual growth? Where would you like it to be? What needs to change to get it where you want it to be? 

A Little Pruning

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.”  – John 15:2-3

In Chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, Jesus uses an agricultural example to explain how His followers are to bear spiritual fruit. First, let’s define what we mean by spiritual fruit. Ultimately, it is becoming more like Jesus and making disciples. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Bearing fruit in the Christian life is not about doing works or attempting righteousness in our own strength. Rather, it is about intentionally growing in our walk with Christ, inviting the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation in us, and actively obeying God in all He calls us to do. As we seek Him and lay down our own fleshly desires for His better ways, we will bear lasting fruit and serve as salt and light to a world in need of Jesus. (See Matthew 5:13–16)

The question is how do we bring about fruit in our lives? The short answer is we don’t.  In verse 1 of John 15, Jesus explains that He is the Vine and God is the Vinedresser. Later on in the chapter, we are referred to as branches. Branches cannot bear fruit if they aren’t connected to the Vine. Jesus is saying that our spiritual fruit can only come through Him.

What is accomplished by pruning? For the plant, it’s a healthier and more vigorous growth with more fruit. For us, it’s the ability to rely more completely on God, our source of life, and the ability to live a more spiritually secure and disciplined life. With God, pruning always gives us hope. God wants His children to be fruitful. So like a good gardener, He watches over us, cares for us, and prunes our lives. The Father’s pruning involves the targeted removal of things in our lives that hinder our ability to live Christlike lives. God’s pruning is meant to improve us, not harm us. But, rather than passively waiting for God to prune our lives, we can seek to please and glorify Him by actively participating in the process. We have God’s Word to instruct us and His indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us. We can choose to partner with God in pruning our own lives.

We need to patiently endure God’s pruning so we may be made perfect, complete (James 1:3-4), and spiritually fruitful. “ For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:3-4) Allowing God’s pruning to increase our spiritual fruitfulness brings the Father glory and demonstrates that we truly are disciples of Jesus Christ “When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:8).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever undergone the pruning process so that you can produce more fruit? Was that process painful? Was the result worth undergoing the pruning process?