Jesus Is Our Peace

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” – Isaiah 26:3

Peace and contentment. What does it mean? Merriam Webster defines peace as, “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions,” and contentment as, “the quality or state of being contented (feeling or showing satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation).” Words such as still, quiet, calm, happy, pleased, and satisfied might be used to describe feelings of peace and contentment.

It’s no secret that in today’s world, there are so many things that can put stress on us: pressures from school or work, or emotional events such as a death in the family or a divorce. We may have fears about our health. We may worry about our finances. Anyone or more of these can lead to anxiety, excessive worry, and fatigue. 

Peace is a commodity that can only be found with time spent seeking the face of God. The world can’t offer us peace because it has nothing in which to place its hope, trust, and security. Kingdoms come and go. Leaders move in and out of power. What culture values today can change tomorrow. The one constant is God. He longs to offer total and sustained peace to all who place their hope and trust in Him.

The Bible talks about peace a lot. First, from the Old Testament: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Then, from the New Testament: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Our God has peace in store for us in every situation if we will choose to keep our mind stayed on Him and trust Him. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.. . . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:1-3, 5). God longs to prepare a table for you in the midst of whatever trouble surrounds you. He is calling you to keep your mind stayed on Him no matter what lies before you. And He is asking you to seek His face and find your rest in Him rather than trying to find peace in the things of the world.  

Discussion questions:

  1. How would you try to describe the peace of God if someone asked you to?
  2. Have you ever felt a peace in the middle of a turbulent time that did not make sense to others or a peace that surprised even you?

The Road To Success

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

What does success look like? It can look like any number of things.  So often we elevate people in our minds simply because we know they do well in their careers. We need to dig a little deeper because money doesn’t define a person’s life. A person’s financial success, or their prestige, does not tell us anything other than the individual knows how to make money.  The goal is not to criticize those who have been blessed with much but to allow the Holy Spirit to redefine what we believe is the measure of success.

God’s standard for success is quite different. Unimpressed by our status or wealth, He looks instead for faithfulness to His will. In God’s eyes, success means discovering His will for your life and using that purpose for His glory, rather than your own.  

Paul understood that principle and diligently pursued his calling.  But judging from 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, you would hardly view him as being successful. “I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”

But none of those things deterred him from obeying God’s will. His final testimony was, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7).  Jesus teaches us that success is about seeking first God’s kingdom while allowing God to provide for the rest: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33). Success then is walking with God and experiencing the joy of His presence in your life. In each situation, you can confidently give your best efforts and trust the results to Him.  

Examine your personal definition of success on a spiritual level. If God has called you to do something, to be someone, are you obeying? God’s definition of success is obedience.

Discussion questions:

  1. How have you defined success throughout your life? In what ways has God equipped you to be successful?
  2. What do you think will happen when you’re able to let go of the world’s idea of success and instead embrace what the Bible says about success?

Small Group Discipleship

“Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. 2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others – 2 Timothy 2:1-2.

“ My life would be so different without my small group. It’s the tool God used to make me into the person I am today, a person who seeks to know Him even better.”   

Those sentiments have been reiterated dozens of times by different people who have grown in the knowledge, grace, and love of God through small group participation. Churches do not grow through big, flashy programs and advertisements. Instead, churches depend on the engagement of every member in their workplaces and neighborhoods, in the market, and around the dinner table. These are where real, effective conversations about Jesus take place.

If we want to see God glorified in the world through the church, discipleship must be one of our highest priorities. Making disciples who make disciples remains the surest way to grow the church. The heart of the church’s mission is making disciples who make disciples. Small groups are a good vehicle to multiply disciples. When Jesus invited twelve men into His small group, He knew that He would not be with them forever. His ultimate goal was not to remain with them but to send them out. The twelve disciples knew the goal was for each of them to go out and do what Jesus had trained them to do. Likewise, every small group should be committed to multiplication. In many small groups, you are likely to have at least one in your group who will go out and start a new group. Healthy things grow – both in quality and quantity. For the Kingdom to grow, groups must multiply.

Another advantage is the multigenerational effect. In his letter to Titus, Paul encouraged multigenerational discipleship (Titus 2:1-8). A godly older man or woman brings years of wisdom and spiritual maturity into your group. New Christians or struggling believers in your group will profit from the biblical insights shared by an older and mature follower of Christ who has walked with Jesus for many years. Sometimes senior adults feel they are no longer useful in ministry. However, when seniors are actively involved in intentional discipleship, their lives take on a new significance as they intentionally invest in others in a small group.

Investing in discipleship may be the single greatest investment we can make with our time. Consider joining or even leading a small group. 

Discussion questions:

  1. If the idea is that disciples of Jesus will in turn make more disciples of Jesus, how will that happen in your life? 
  2. Read Matthew 25:31-46. As disciples, how important are our actions in communicating our allegiance to Jesus? How do our actions effectively build the Kingdom and create more disciples for Jesus?

Why Meeting Together In Small Groups Matter

“I grew up in the church, and I always kind of knew Bible stories and knew the Sunday school answers, but when I was a freshman in high school I joined youth group, and that’s when I started to see radical love; that’s when I started to see what Christian community is supposed to look like and what fellowship is supposed to look like.” – Jeremy Lin. 

Small groups are integral parts of the church. Rick Warren said, “Small groups are not a ministry of the church, small groups are not a program of the church, small groups are not an outreach of the church, small groups are not an event of the church, small groups are the church.” Many Christians believe that while small groups are a good thing, they wonder in the grand scheme of things whether going to church on Sundays is enough: “Does it matter that I go to small groups as well?” We believe the answer is yes.

Small groups go by many different names, but they all function in the same way: they allow churchgoers and church members to have closer, more intimate relationships with others in the church. They are a place to build deep and valuable friendships with others; be a source of accountability and support on a personal level. God has designed all of us to be in relationship with one another. We will not be able to thrive and do His will without helping one another. It has become pretty common for people to move from church to church trying to find the ideal or right fit for them. They sit in service after service feeling empty on the inside, longing for something more than just a good sermon. When they don’t find the ideal they move to the next church. What they are missing is a way to get engaged with the church body. The solution for this struggle is small groups.

Taking the community group, or Bible study or discipleship, or small group out of the church and introducing it into the home brings an intimacy not found in the church.  People are more likely to share what is going on in their lives such as troubles at work or struggles with the family. Sharing a meal leads to very natural conversation and reinforces the idea that this group is a family found in Christ. Gathering and studying God’s Word gives a purposeful reason to come together and a time of prayer gives a chance to have the group pray over needs, as well as an opportunity to rally around each other and help in whatever way possible. 

Small groups have the power to radically change lives. Martha grew up in church, but circumstances led her to stray away from the faith. But then she felt something was missing so she was trying to decide whether to give church another try. But while she was making up her mind, a friend invited her to her small group.  There she experienced true family rather than just a group of acquaintances, because they truly cared for her, took time to lift her needs up in prayer, and welcomed her into their family. After several weeks Martha attended church and inquired about serving. 

This is the power of small groups. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it is a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

Discussion questions:

  1. How can small groups help us love one another in transparency, accountability, and mutual edification? Why is it important for believers to strive for this kind of community with one another? 
  2. Christian community is both a restorative work of God in the gospel and a response of believers to that work. What does that mean? 

The Large Benefits of Small Groups

“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:46-47.

Getting involved in a small group can help enrich our lives as Christians and develop our faith.  For some, joining a small group can seem intimidating, time consuming, or simply not important compared to other obligations. Life is busy with our families, careers, and the long list of tasks we are responsible for. Committing to a small group may often fall at the bottom of one’s list of priorities for a variety of reasons.  

But, people who are part of small groups feel more connected to their church, find ways to serve, and have a support system they can depend on for prayer and encouragement. The early church provides us with rich wisdom and examples about how to connect with other believers and how to be the body of Christ. The Acts 2 passage gives us a picture of the unity and harmony that can be found among believers, and what we should strive for today.

Believers are not called to face life alone.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Long before Jesus walked this earth, the same wise message was shared with those who followed God: companionship is necessary and part of God’s design for His people. We weren’t meant to go through life alone. As we journey through life, and especially when we face battles, having fellow Christians to support us in prayer and presence can make all the difference. Other believers can walk with us as we grow and transform spiritually. A small group can be the shoulder to lean on, or the hand to hold when we’re going through a difficult situation or need biblical counsel. God is our source and strength, and He oftentimes uses other believers to bring us renewed hope and peace when times are tough.

When you become part of a small group, you will have a chance to not only be encouraged, but to encourage others who are wanting to deepen their faith and live faithfully. You will get the chance to pour into other Christians who are looking for genuine community and fellowship. As God strengthens and empowers us, we are able to invest in others and point them in the direction of a solid relationship with Jesus.

If you’ve been on the fence about becoming part of a small group at your church, consider these benefits and how the Bible instructs us and gives us wisdom about being part of an intentional community of believers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we need other people to watch over us and speak into our lives? 

Being Bold

“Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Acts 28:31. 

When we read about Paul in the Bible, we think of someone who was so bold and courageous that the Lord could not help but accomplish great things in and through Him. The Bible portrays Paul as one who regularly preached in the face of great opposition, who boldly confronted his adversaries, and who made a practice of telling his listeners exactly what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear. And while we sometimes struggle with boldness in speaking about Christ or in taking a stand for Him, we believe Paul did not.

But boldness is not a given, nor is it constant, nor can it be taken for granted. We must keep praying for it whenever we need it. The apostle Paul experienced this. On at least one occasion, Paul directly asks the church to pray for him “at all times” that he might “keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18–20) 

So what is Christian boldness? Boldness is being strong and courageous, stepping out of our comfort zones in faith, and taking action in areas of life that seem unknown, uncomfortable, or risky. Boldness and courage do not come from ourselves, it comes from the relationship we have with Christ, which results in our purpose, and courage. The power of the Holy Spirit, time with Jesus in His word, and prayer give us strength, guidance, and wisdom.   

This doesn’t mean we won’t feel afraid or scared at times, but we move forward knowing that God walks with us wherever we go. Acts 4:13 says, “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. And Joshua 1:9 adds, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Acts 4:29 says, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.”

We can’t know Jesus and experience transformation, only to keep it to ourselves. But we don’t become bold in one fell swoop: it is one bold step at a time. The best first step we can take is prayer. Prayer changes everything. From there, maybe it is devoting 10 minutes to God every morning in the Bible and prayer, inviting that person to Church again, joining or leading a Bible Study, volunteering to help those in need, using your unique gifts to serve others, forgiving someone who hurt you, sharing your story with someone to provide healing, going on a mission trip, to name a few.

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus has already won the war: How do they give us boldness to face the future?
  2. What needs to change for you to be bold? 

A Movement Is A Series Of Sparks

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” – 2 Timothy 2:2.

There is no experience like going to church camp and gathering around a blazing campfire with other kids. The kids would chat and eventually somebody would start to strum their guitar and the group would sing songs. One popular song in years past was “Pass It On.” It was a simple, campfire-type song about starring a fire. 

It only takes a spark to get a fire going

And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing

That’s how it is with God’s love once you’ve experienced it

You spread His love to ev’ryone you want to pass it on

Sparks are small but that doesn’t mean they stay small. One spark can result in a blazing, destructive fire. But the spark in Pass It On is entirely different in that it is positive and potentially life-giving. Some sparks may seem small. They may be done in relative obscurity in the context of our normal lives. It may seem like what we do is little and thus not really very important. But ultimately the gospel is spread one spark at a time. Our sparks may be small, but they are part of a worldwide movement in God in every part of the globe.

It only takes a tiny spark to ignite a fire and it only takes one individual filled with the Spirit of God to ignite others into becoming followers of Christ. It was one man, John the Baptist, who saw Jesus passing by and proclaimed, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! ” (John 1:29) Two of His disciples, Andrew and Peter responded to Jesus’ call and began to follow Him. Jesus eventually had 12 disciples. Those 12 developed into seventy disciples who went out to the villages. From the 70 (Luke 10:1) came 120 (Acts 1:15) and on the day of Pentecost, that number burst through the roof to 3,000. (Acts 2:41)  In Acts 4:4, we read 5,000 came to believe. 

The Christian gospel is the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the two thousand years since, the account of Jesus’ victory over sin and death has been embraced by hundreds of millions of people.  Each of us who are followers of Jesus are beneficiaries of this ripple effect of the gospel.  We are asked to do our part to continue the ripple. It only takes a spark for God to cause a ripple through our communities.  

In our lives, we all know people that from the outside look unlikely to turn to God. However, on the inside, they are desperately longing for someone to tell them about Jesus. All they need is a spark.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways we can be a spark in our communities? 
  2. How can you be a spark in someone’s life this week. 

Philip And The Eunuch

So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.” – Acts 8:35

Imagine for a moment during a Sunday worship service, an out-of-the-blue thought enters your mind. And it stays there. You need to leave the church service and walk to a nearby Waffle House. It’s not that you lack focus on the sermon or you suddenly crave some hash browns, smothered and covered. No, this is a direction from the Holy Spirit. As you enter the Waffle House, you notice an open seat next to a strangely dressed person. You immediately assume he is not from around here.  His head is buried deep in a book, and as he looks up with puzzlement on his face, he turns to you and asks, “I don’t get this. What does John 3:16 mean anyway?”

The Holy Spirit has set up the perfect opportunity for you to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a stranger. In Acts 8 we read about the Holy Spirit calling Philip from success in Samaria, where many are won to Christ, to a lonely desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. To this point, the good news of Jesus has been preached to crowds, and conversion has happened to many at a time. Now, we see how God uses Philip to save one man—and not any man but an Ethiopian eunuch, from a land far away.  

In Acts 8:29 the Spirit says, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” The Holy Spirit does not tell Philip why, or who is in the carriage.  Philip hears the Ethiopian reading out loud the book of Isaiah. “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.” (Isaiah 53:7–8).

Now Philip knows why the Lord directed him to this desolate place where there is one lone chariot and man from Ethiopia. Philip proclaimed the good news of Jesus to him, the Ethiopian believed, was baptized (v. 38) along the road, and went on his way rejoicing (v. 39). 

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch teaches us one of the ways God uses us to evangelize the world. It’s what one does if one loves Jesus and loves people. You tell the good news. The Ethiopian eunuch shows us that through the power of the Holy Spirit with the good news of Jesus Christ, God will radically save even the most unlikely.

When God calls you to move, to act, or to share – will you? Philip did and a man’s life was changed for eternity.

Discussion Questions:

  1. We can trust in God’s foreknowledge to align people, situations, and events that present us with opportunities to share the gospel with those whose hearts are ready to receive. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. It’s important to have a solid biblical foundation, a knowledge of Scripture, and how it all points to Jesus, if we’re going to be Spirit-filled and evangelize our neighbors. Agree or disagree and why? 

The Jesus Model

“… Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15

When we look at Jesus’s life and ministry we see the greatest evangelist that ever was or ever will be.  He was the light of the world. He was the one who in every moment of His life for thirty-three years filled every word He spoke with grace and truth. We would do well to imitate Him in everything we do, including going out amongst the lost. 

His passion is for us to be in the world as He was in the world; to imitate Him and to love and to serve non-Christians. His desire is that we be like Him and that we commit ourselves to develop intimate relationships with non-Christians. Jesus intended for His disciples to make disciples. Or in other words to multiply His life in the life of others. That’s what happened in the early church. (Acts 6.7 ESV) says, “…the Word of God continued to increase and number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem….” 

But how do we go about going out amongst the lost? We can learn from what Jesus did. We can learn first from how Jesus related to people. Jesus connected with people on a personal basis. He was loving, caring, and treated people with dignity. He built strong relationships with people, yet, He never watered down the truth. Jesus was passionate; He made a conscious effort to enter into and participate in people’s lives. He regularly dined in people’s homes and attended wedding feasts; He met people from all walks of society. When He was criticized for eating in the company of tax collectors and sinners, Jesus pointed out, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Mark 2:17). Clearly, Jesus associated with the spiritually lost in order to save them. He cared for the lost. He never tired of bringing the Gospel to people. 

Jesus directed the conversation toward spiritual things. It is good for us to interact with those we meet, but simply being friendly and talking to people will not save them. The gospel is God’s power to save: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16). If we are to have success in reaching the lost, we must eventually turn our conversations with them toward spiritual things.  

We can learn a whole lot about going out amongst the lost from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You and I, of course, are not the only people in the world that Jesus loves and cares for. He came to save all people. The Bible says that “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (1 John 2:2) Jesus had so much to give and He gave it all for us. It is our job to go out amongst the lost and give it to them. 

Discussion questions:

  1. What does going out amongst the lost mean to you?  
  2. What can we do this week to imitate Jesus model for evangelism? 

Getting Out Of The Holy Huddle

“For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” –Romans 10:13-15.

If we are not careful, Christianity can be practiced in the midst of our “holy huddles.” For those of you who don’t know, the term holy huddle is defined as, “the tendency for Christians to surround themselves with other believers.”  Oftentimes Christians perpetuate this self-imposed insulation by purposely segregating themselves into holy huddles with other believers in the church and outside of the church. As a result, believers have few if any deep friendships with unbelievers.

Without even realizing it, we can fill our days with tons of Christian activity, but never once step out to engage with someone who isn’t in the family of God. We have the best of intentions. We meet for small group here, a prayer meeting there, and next thing we know our calendar is filled with holy huddles. We need to remember that Jesus “…came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10) and He calls us to do the same.  

Before you think otherwise, community with other believers is critically important and necessary for the believer who wants to grow spiritually. Meeting with other believers is a great way to be encouraged, refreshed, and challenged. Hebrews 10:24-25 is just one of many verses on the importance of meeting with other believers: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” But it is not the end-all for your Christian experience. We were saved to save. Forgiven to forgive. Loved to love. We are the light of the world. The living breathing testimony that God is real and His love is powerful. Everything that we have been given was always meant to be given away. God has placed you amongst people who don’t know Him yet. God’s plan to save them is us. 

In Romans 10:13-15, Paul tells us the way someone far from God draws close to Him, is if someone close to God goes far to reach them. The people in our life may never hear about Jesus if we don’t have the boldness to leave our comfort zone to tell them.

But do you have what it takes to reach the lost? The answer is yes. Jesus has already given believers everything they need to not only share the Good News but also to be effective witnesses of His power, authority, mercy, and love. What’s more, as His disciples, He’s given us instructions on how to go about this even in the face of adversity. So what can you do to intentionally love the lost people in your life? What friendships can you pour into, what groups can you spend time with, what habits can you set up, so that you are regularly seeking out and loving on the lost?  Find some time to escape the holy huddle to talk to the people in your life who don’t know Him yet.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who do I spend most of my time with?
  2. How often do I make an effort to make relationships with people who don’t know God?