Continuing What Jesus Started

“In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:1-2.

The book of Acts has one theme—the continuing ministry of the risen Lord Jesus. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of what Jesus began to do and teach. In Acts, Luke tells the story of what Jesus continued to do and teach through his disciples (1:1-2). Jesus’ followers, empowered by the Spirit proclaimed His word and the result is an expanding movement of new disciples and churches.

Before Jesus was taken up into heaven, He gave orders to His apostles. It focuses on the final command, the Great Commission, to take the good news to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). As you read through the Book of Acts, it becomes obvious that the apostles and early church were not doing their own thing, formulating their own plans, and building their own empires. Rather, they were instruments through whom the Lord was working His purpose and plan. They were containing what Jesus started. 

While the Book of Acts emphasizes the ministry of Peter and Paul, it shows clearly that these men were not one-man shows. They worked together with many others to do the Lord’s work. Luke lists many people in Acts. He shows that God has an interest in individuals and that He works through bringing these individuals together into His church.

Our task is to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. When we love others, we are continuing His mission. When we develop and use the particular gifts He has given to each of us, we are continuing His mission. When we respond to the grace to do something for someone else, we are continuing His mission. When we make time to be kind to those whom our society hates, the downtrodden, the socially unacceptable, the butt of jokes at school, at work, in the community, we are continuing His mission.

There is only one mission, the mission of the Risen Lord. He invites us to follow Him and participate in the fulfillment of His mission. As His word advances, new disciples are made and new churches are formed. The obstacles are immense, yet Jesus’ presence and power ensure the gospel’s advance throughout the world.

Jesus still calls his disciples to follow Him in obedience and continue what He started by taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Rather than dwelling on what we have become, each one of us needs to do our part in continuing what Jesus started.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does continuing what Jesus started mean to you?    
  2. What can we do this week to use your gifts to contribute to the Jesus movement? 

Different Approaches For Different People

“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ…When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19, 22. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is news, good news: the best and most important news that any human being ever hears. The Gospel declares the only way to know God in peace, love, and joy is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. This Gospel is the central message of the Scripture, and is the true key to understanding them.

Sharing the gospel is the most loving thing you can do for anyone. It is good news for everyone, regardless of their background or their attitude toward hearing it. It is helpful to consider those different backgrounds and attitudes when sharing the gospel with your neighbors or coworkers. When you understand where someone is coming from, you can better serve them by meeting them where they are. By asking people questions about what they believe and why they believe it, you can get them talking and thinking about the truth. There are vast differences in struggles, concerns, and world views. So each conversation must look and sound different. For this reason, we need to take different approaches to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with different people.

We are often too eager to share our own thoughts, especially when we know the other person needs to hear about Jesus. One common mistake is to jump into a conversation before we really hear what the other person is saying. We all appreciate being heard; when we extend that courtesy to someone else, he or she is more likely to listen to what we have to say. By listening first, the other person becomes an individual we care about.

Jesus is the model we all should emulate. Mark  12:37 says, “the large crowd listened to him with great delight.” The ESV version says, “And the great throng heard him gladly.” Jesus had this wonderful ability to speak simply and to summarize important truths in a way that everyone could understand. There was this amazing appeal about Jesus. He appealed to everyone, young and old—talking to people where they were, not where He wanted them to be. He could answer the deepest questions and explain eternal truths.  

He wasn’t afraid to reach out to a woman possessed by a demon, a man infected with leprosy, and a woman guilty of adultery. When adults told him to stop wasting time on children, He rebuked them and spoke with the little children. If others were hungry, he miraculously provided for their physical needs. No wonder He said of Himself, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10).

Are you willing to meet people where they are in order to share the truth of the Gospel? We should be – because Jesus does the same for each one of us. He meets us in our sin, our shame, and our brokenness, and offers us a new life through Him. It is the greatest gift you can give them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Jesus’ model change how you interact with people?   
  2. What can we do this week to emulate Jesus’ model for sharing the gospel? 

Jesus Connected To Communities

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. 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.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

It all started as a Jesus movement that started in communities.  Everything that they did and believed was centered on Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Their life was not centered on public activity so much as it was centered on small groups meeting in homes.  The book of Acts is filled with references to people meeting in homes, upper rooms, and behind locked doors. The first church was a community of charity in which all people shared what they had so no one was in need. They were also an inclusive community.

God didn’t design you to do life on your own. Scripture is filled with exhortations to engage in community with fellow believers. Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Psalm 133:1-3 says, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!”  

Think for a moment about the people God has given you. Think about your friends and family. Think about those around you at church you feel close to. What would your life be like if you had no one to share it with. The truth is we need each other: the support, the encouragement, the help along the way. The Christian life is not easy and there are so many hills and valleys along the way. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “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.”

God gives us community as a way to become more like Him. There’s something powerful about believers joining together, making each other accountable, and being a sort of witness of one another’s lives. We need people checking in on us, asking the hard questions, and challenging us to really live out our faith. If you are not a member of a small group, please consider joining one this semester. It gives people confidence in the model scripture, in Jesus’s constantly calling people together and inviting them into a relationship with Him and with each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have someone or a group of people that you can be authentic, be yourself with, without any facades or false fronts? 
  2. Small groups are about doing life together. A place where you can grow closer to God, closer to others, and closer to your purpose. Agree or disagree?

Jesus Connects With People

“He has done this so that every person would long for God, feel their way to him,[a] and find him—for he is the God who is easy to discover!” – Acts 17:27 (TPT).

Looking for ways to connect with people?  Jesus is the ultimate example. Jesus connected with people because He took the time to be with people, to engage them, to see them, and to listen to them. He chose to spend time with the people society had cast aside. He connected with people who had an array of different backgrounds and personalities.

He wasn’t afraid to reach out to a woman possessed by a demon, a man infected with leprosy, and a woman guilty of adultery. When adults told him to stop wasting time on children, He rebuked them and spoke with the little children. If others were hungry, He miraculously provided for their physical needs. No wonder He said of Himself, “ For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus observed people and listened to people so intimately that it did not take long for Him to determine what was important to that individual. From discerning Simon Peter’s deep frustration from the empty nets of a failed night’s fishing expedition to a woman’s embarrassment and shame at a well because of her past, Jesus could connect with the heart of anyone and then heal that heart.  

We see Jesus connecting with people throughout the Gospels. When people were brought to Him who were sick, He spoke to them, touched them, and healed them. When He saw people trying to get a glimpse of Him, in a crowd, or up in a tree, He stopped and talked to them and even took the time to eat with them. He invited people to come and follow Him. He had compassion for them. He healed scores of them. He fed them. He inspired people to imagine life the way God intended it to be. 

Look at the disciples. Jesus spent three years in an intimate relationship with them, encouraging them to follow Him everywhere He went and modeling for them how to heal people, cure people, save people, lead people, and connect people for change.

The church today can learn a great deal from Jesus about deepening its commitment to connecting with people. When we commit to speaking to people’s hearts, caring for people’s needs, loving them, and communicating to people something greater than themselves, we too can connect to people. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Relationships can be difficult. Why do you think Jesus was so effective at building relationships? 
  2. What can we do this week to better connect to people? 

The Importance Of Vision

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19.

Each of us is faced daily with the potential to “plateau” in our lives…to stop progressing, maturing, and growing. The same is true for churches, businesses, and organizations.

In the first part of Proverbs 29:18, we find a familiar portion of Scripture. Most Christians are familiar with the quote from the KJV: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” The translation in the NLT gives us insight as to why people with no vision perish: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…” In other words, where there is no vision, no direction from God, people will “do their own thing” and “go their own way,” which in many cases ends up badly.  

Vision requires some introspection, it requires asking some tough questions: Do we as Christians have a sense of vision? Do we have a God-given dream? De we believe God is directing us? Leading us? We need the answers to those questions because God is in the people business. And the more we are in lockstep with God’s direction for our lives the more we will have a direct impact on people’s lives.

The idea of having a plan for the future makes perfect sense. But developing that plan sounds like the province of a corporate think tank.  But is it really that complicated? We can simplify it by looking at our lives and asking what changes do we need to make going forward to live “on mission” for Jesus Christ.  

Think about it this way: what would your life be like if you were not afraid to believe God and your faith reflected that? What if you believed God’s promises? How different would you view your vision of the future? Would you dare to dream bigger dreams? Dreaming big, casting a large vision, does not cost anything. The Bible says,  “God . . . is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20 TLB). So no matter how big we think in our life, in our ministry, in our church, God can do it and so much more.  It starts with a vision.  

Ask God, “What do you want me to do? How do you want me to do it? And when do you want me to do it?” Pray and ask God to use you in His movements in our area.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How long has it been, if ever, since you asked God, “How am I doing?” What might be some of the ways God would use in your life to answer that question?

Lessons From Lydia

On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.” – Acts 16:13-15

One character that is often overlooked in the Bible is Lydia. Although Lydia only appears in chapter 16, we can learn a lot from her life and her ministry. Lydia was a woman of business and a woman of worship. She responded to the call of God, chose to follow Him, being baptized and leading her household to do the same. Paul and Silas believed her testimony of faith, accepting the condition of her invitation into her home. These men of God trusted her. In this very act of hospitality, Lydia showed an understanding of what it is to follow Christ – putting her faith into action by giving shelter to her Lord’s servants. And it didn’t stop there. She continued to have “believers” meet in her home and hear about Jesus (Acts 16:40). She hosted church in her home. 

 The first and arguably most important life lesson from Lydia is to have an open heart. Referring to Lydia, in Acts 16:14 it says “…As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.” Following that, The Bible says Lydia “and her household were baptized” (Act 16:15). In other words, her open heart led her and her household to receive the gospel. 

If we are not careful, we can lose sight of the Lydia’s of the world. While there are countless Biblical stories about giving, money, and wealth; Lydia challenges us to reflect on our role of being prepared for the moment, seeking something bigger than ourselves, and being willing to invite others to experience what we have experienced.  Verse 15 illuminates that the Lord opened her heart and that she was a “true believer in the Lord.” 

If you are willing and available, God can and will use you in powerful ways. It is not about us. It is not about our ability. It is not about how successful we are. It is about ordinary people trusting the outcome of our life and our service to an extraordinary God. “ You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” (John 15:16)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that God can do great things – impossible things – through your life? Why or why not? 
  2. What are your abilities and gifts that could help make a difference in the lives of people around you?
  3. What are some of the obstacles that prevent us from getting involved in the needs of the community around us?  What can we do to overcome them?

Go And Make Disciples Of All Nations

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20. 

It is clear throughout Jesus’ life that discipleship was incredibly important to Him. So important, in fact, that it was included in some of His last words to His disciples in Matthew 28 before He left earth. 

We know Matthew 28:19-20. We talk about it at church and in small groups. In many cases, we have memorized the words. The term “disciple” means a pupil, a student, a learner, or an apprentice. Being a disciple means one who is a close follower of a certain teacher, advocating the same teachings and striving to apply them to every area of life. 

The Apostle Paul has this to say in Colossians 1:28: “So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.” Simply put, discipleship is the lifelong process of spiritual growth, aided by the Holy Spirit and personal relationships. The foundation of discipleship is the formation of relationships between Christians with the intention of helping believers grow in maturity, learning and applying Christ’s commandments and the principles found in the Word of God to all of life. In other words, our role is encouraging and investing in new believers by sharing our understanding and experience.

The beginning of a disciple-making culture is you. But it isn’t about working harder, working smarter, and getting more skills. It is about getting involved. We disciple in everything we do, so we should be intentional in everything we do to model the love and grace of Jesus — and as often as we can, to teach them how to find that love and grace for themselves.

Discipleship also enables us to raise up leaders. Just as the original design of discipleship in Jesus’ time was laid out, the same principle lives today. Discipleship is meant to pass on the wisdom and leadership of Christ to every person who seeks to follow Him. Christians are not meant to stay stagnant in the body, looking to one or several people for guidance and direction, it is instead the whole body that should be active and working together. As in any successful business, the next generation of leaders must be identified and trained. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define Jesus’ method of discipleship? What are some aspects of it?
  2. What are some difficulties inherent in the discipleship process? How do you overcome those difficulties? 

Intercessor For Others

“Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” – Hebrews 7:25. 

The Bible tells us that Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf. Romans 8:34 (ESV) says that Jesus “is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” In 1 John 2:1 (ESV) we read that Jesus is our “advocate with the Father,” and from Hebrews 7:25 we learn that Jesus “­lives forever to intercede” for us.

If you are a follower of Jesus, He is interceding for you right now. When was that last time you praised and thanked Jesus for His work of intercession? Better yet, when was the last time that you thought about the glorious truth and reality that Jesus prays for you? This is a neglected truth about something truly amazing: Jesus prays for us; He intercedes for us. A beautiful display of Jesus praying for His disciples is in John 17. Twice Jesus says He is not praying for the world in general, but is praying for those who belong to Him (John 17:9, 20).  

There are two sides to intercession. Jesus is making intercession for you and you can be an intercessor for others. God wants us to intercede for each other. God has given each believer the privilege and responsibility of being an intercessor. 

Have you ever felt a heavy burden on your heart to intercede or pray for your local community, a nation, or the world as a whole? Have you felt the urge to lift others up in prayer? Intercessory prayer is where a person stands in the gap for another person and pleads with God (on their behalf) through persistent prayer.

This is our wonderful opportunity to approach God on behalf of others who are in need. In 1 Timothy 2:1–2, Paul writes: ”I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”

We are to pray for the opportunity to speak the Gospel boldly wherever we are: “Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains.” (Colossians 4:3). We are to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His field (Matthew 9:38).

The work of intercession is never completed. It is an ongoing and persistent task. The subject matter changes often, but the call to pray is ever the same… and always necessary.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does intercessory prayer mean to you? 
  2. Do you pray for other people? Do these prayers work? What do you do when a prayer is not answered (as you thought it would be)?
  3. What lost friend or relative can you intercede for today? 

Let The Holy Spirit Lead Your Thoughts And Actions

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” – Romans 8:14-16.

Have you learned to ride a bicycle? If so, you know that as a learner you had to remember to do many things at the same time. You had to push the pedals and guide the handlebars while keeping your balance and dodging any obstacles that came your way. Most of us had help – usually parents – aiding us as we learned to ride. Dad or mom explained what you had to do, usually ran with you down the street until they were comfortable that you could maintain your balance.  

God desires that we all become like Him, but we cannot just start living that way on our own when we become Christians. God, the expert, must help us if we are to become more like Him. The greatest teacher who ever lived is Jesus. He called a group of men and encouraged them to follow Him. In the process, their minds were opened up to learning far beyond their limited experience and eventually their experience outgrew their knowledge. When the time was right, He sent them out to put into practice that which they had learned. These simple men literally turned the world upside down for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therein lies the power of turning knowledge into action.  

The disciples of Jesus were His followers for three years, and while Jesus taught them many things, He knew that when He went away, they would need help. So He said, “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.” (John 15:26). Earlier, Jesus said, “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 is a person who knows you and loves you. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to be a counselor, one who would come alongside, and help you navigate through the decisions you are making in your life. Scripture says He comforts the saved.  He convicts the lost.  He conveys the truth. He points people to Jesus. Read what the apostle Paul wrote about this: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:22–23, 25)

As you let the Holy Spirit lead your life, you’ll notice the fruit of the Spirit – the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control you’ll never have in your own attempts. In the process, you’ll reflect the beauty of a life that’s surrendered to Him and empowered by Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. With the Spirit in us, we can do what Jesus did and more. What do you think of Jesus’ bold statement in John 14:12? What keeps us from experiencing that?   

God Is Moving

“God says “Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9

God is in control. There is no one like Him. He is sovereign over the entire universe, over all the events of history, and over your life. In verse 10, we read, “Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.”

When we look at Isaiah 46, verses 9 and 10 in context, we see that God is reminding His people that He is sovereign. God is above all things and before all things. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. God created all things and holds all things together, both in heaven and on earth.  God knows all things past, present, and future. God knows everything completely before it even happens. God can do all things and accomplish all things. Nothing is too difficult for Him, and He orchestrates and determines everything that is going to happen in Panama City, in Florida, in the U.S., and in the world. Nothing is impossible with Him. And movements of God all over the world confirm that.

God is at work. God is on the move in every part of the globe. We believe gospel movements are present in every town, city, and region. God doesn’t consult us before He begins His work, yet He invites us as a church and individuals to be partakers in it. The church is not a place, it’s a movement. The church was a collection of various people from their local community, coming together, discovering who God is. The role of the church is to help people from all walks of life engage each other and move forward with Jesus.  

Neighborhoods are the places where God calls us to live the mission of Jesus. To live on mission is simply to live your life with a conscious intention of sharing the gospel with those around you. It is about relationships.  We develop relationships by meeting and getting to know our neighbors. Then serve our neighbors. Being served feels really good. Jesus himself modeled the perfect servant. In fact, in Mark 10:45 Jesus tells us that He came to serve. Think of what it could be like if you took on this attitude toward your neighbors and began serving them. Serve them by inviting them over for coffee or a meal. You could also serve a neighbor by cutting his or her lawn. And don’t forget to pray for your neighbors. 

Prayer helps to move us away from self-dependence to God-dependence. Prayer helps us remember that while God desires to use us, it’s ultimately God who works in our neighbors’ lives. 

Whether you’re praying, serving, or building relationships, you’re taking a step of faith and caring for your neighbor.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is it about serving others that you find hard to do? What are some things that have prevented you from serving others in the past? What are the wrong motivations you struggle with when serving others?
  2. How does an attitude of humility help you make serving and putting others first a priority in your life?