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?

The Wonder Of It All

“Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” – John 21:25.

When we read scripture, we should be both amazed and in awe of God.  From the first splash of creation to the miraculous provision during the exodus from Egypt to the announcement of Christ’s arrival, those who encounter God are taken back with a deep sense of wonder. Maybe that was true at one point, but today, your sense of awe and wonder has diminished. Those time-stand-still moments, the ones that produce wonder in you, are more fleeting than you would like. 

John’s words at the very end of his book are both inspiring and challenging. For the better part of three years, John was with Jesus nearly 24/7. Yet, John’s closeness with Jesus didn’t stifle his amazement of Him. 

There’s so much more John could’ve written about but that is not what we should focus on. We need to focus on what he did tell us.  In 21 chapters, John accurately and eloquently describes the key moments of Jesus’ life and ministry. We see that Jesus is God incarnate. He came to earth and lived the perfect sinless life. He did things only God can do: He showed Himself to be all-knowing, all-powerful, to have power over life and death, over sickness and pain; even the winds and the waves obeyed Him. In 21 chapters, John accurately and eloquently describes the key moments of Jesus’ life and ministry. He writes with the sole purpose of proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: “But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” (John 20:31). 

As he writes his concluding sentence, John knows he has only scratched the surface. In John 21:25, John is telling us that Jesus is beyond comprehension and that it is not an exaggeration to say that no number of books can truly convey the magnificence of the risen Savior. The story of Jesus is far more glorious than one man could ever capture with pen and paper. John had no idea how true his words would become. Throughout the ages, countless books, articles, blogs, sermons, lyrics, etc. have been written about Jesus. People can’t stop writing about Jesus and never will. 

So why does John end this way? We don’t know but we can speculate: Maybe to humble us through the story of Jesus. Or maybe it is to awaken the wonder inside us.  

Recapture the wonder of Jesus. Go back into that first love, that awestruck wonder that Jesus came to earth for you, died for you, rose again for you, and even lives to make intercession for you. 

Take a few moments and allow John’s words to rekindle your wonder and your awe of our risen Savior.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a time in your life when you were most consistently saying, “Wow” to the Lord.
  2. How is your wonder at God these days? Is your relationship with God marked by a growth in awe? What can you do this week to continue to wake up your wonder of God?

Every Person Is A Minister

“I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” – Romans 15:14 (NIV).

People love their church. No apologies. No qualifiers. They should because the church is us. If I don’t like something about the church, I have a responsibility to change it because it is us and us includes me. The church in Rome serves as an example.

In Romans 15, Paul gives us a little further insight into this church and tells us about this church and the qualities they possessed. First, he says, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness.” That is, their motives were right. They had come to the place where they were motivated by a sense of goodness. Certainly, this church in Rome was a responsive church, a compassionate church. It reached out to people who were in need. It responded to those who had hurts and burdens and concerns. The second thing that the apostle says is that they were “filled with knowledge. This is a remarkable statement. Here was a church to which Paul did not need to give any new theology. He acknowledges that they had it already. 

The third thing the apostle had to say about this church was that they were “competent to instruct one another.” Another remarkable statement. When Paul commends the church in Rome for their ability to instruct one another, he’s really commending them for their ability to minister God’s Word to one another. They loved God, they knew God, they honored God, and so they were able to minister the Word to one another in effective ways. And as they did that, they brought unity to the church and they grew up into maturity together. No wonder, then, that Paul could tell this church, “… I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world.” (Romans 1:8).

There is too much pressure on pastors to minister to everyone when every Christian is a minister. That word “minister” isn’t a job title. It’s an action. A minister is simply someone who tends to another person.

If the idea of ministry seems intimidating or overwhelming, pray and look for places to use your spiritual gifts, skills, and resources. Invite people over, serve them a meal, pray for each other and for the church. Get to know them and where they could use the ministry of God’s word. In doing so, you will be ministering. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe every person should be a minister? Why or why not? 
  2. What can you do this week in the area of ministry?  

Ordinary People Can Make Disciples And Plant Churches

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” – Acts 4:13 (NIV).

When we really begin to look honestly at some of the people in the Bible and take them down off the stained-glass pedestals we sometimes place them on, it becomes obvious that God did extraordinary things through ordinary, regular people. We seem to think that God will only use superstars. Nothing is further from the truth.

The scriptures are full of common, ordinary people called by God to do something special for Him. Moses was living on the backside of the desert, a total failure as the prince of Egypt, and God called him to deliver a nation. When Goliath was taunting the Israelites, everyone discounted David, a teenage shepherd boy. But God didn’t! And David defeated the giant and became the king of a nation. The Acts 4 Bible passage (above) was written right after Peter and John healed the crippled man outside the temple. The Bible tells us that Peter and John were looked at as unschooled, ordinary men.  

Do you see the pattern here? God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He uses improbable men and women who have nothing of their own to offer, but their faithfulness and willingness to say “yes.”   
How could God use you? Look at your situation and your surroundings. Perhaps God has placed you in your school, your job, your family, or your neighborhood to do something special for Him. Before Jesus ascended, He explained the mission that awaited His followers after He returned to His heavenly Father; making disciples. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) The heart of our mission individually and corporately as a church is making disciples who make disciples.

“Making disciples” does not mean just bringing others to a one-time “moment of decision.” It involves continued learning together, growing together, and increasingly understanding what God has done in sending Jesus to die for our sin and calling us to serve Him.  We should regularly ask ourselves whom God has in mind for us to meet as we go along. We seek to make disciples of our children, our neighbors, our co-workers, our whole world. The same goes for church planting. That’s because we are discipling others—and being discipled by others—as we plant a church.

Church planting is not merely the end of the line for the disciple-making process. Rather, church planting is an aspect of, and catalyst for, the church’s disciple-making mission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the idea that God uses ordinary people different from what you had learned or assumed was the plan?
  2. Do you believe it is hard to make disciples? Yes or no and why? 

Pulling An All Nighter

“One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.” – Luke 6:12

None of us are strangers to the infamous experience of an all-nighter. The realization hits you that your deadline is tomorrow, and you’ve barely started your assignment. That’s when it really sinks in. You have to stay up all night to meet that deadline. After the initial wave of emotion, you fortify yourself with a strong brew from the local Starbucks in preparation for staying up all night to study for an exam or write a term paper. You keep your nose to the grindstone taking only a few minutes to look at your Instagram. Then watching the sunrise as you put the final touches on your project you make a firm commitment to never be in this position again.  

In Luke 6:12, Jesus pulled an all-nighter. Luke tells us that Jesus “went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.” Jesus filled His all-nighter with what we might call a “prayer marathon.”

The first thing that grabs you is the extraordinary length of Jesus’ prayer session. It is too bad we don’t know what Jesus prayed for. It would be amazing to have heard what He said and what He heard from His Father in heaven? Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t give us the specifics of Jesus’s prayer, just the location (mountain) and the time (all night).

Luke 6 does suggest a couple of things Jesus probably mentioned as He prayed. In verse 11, we’re told that the Jewish leaders were furious with Jesus for healing on the sabbath and discussed what they might do to Him. Perhaps Jesus needed to talk with his Father about the growing opposition He was experiencing.

Immediately following His prayer vigil, Jesus called together His disciples and chose twelve of them to have a special role in His work. Luke says He named them “apostles” (6:13). It seems likely that Jesus had prayed about this act of identifying those who would be His intimate band of followers.

The example of Jesus challenges us to consider how devoted we are to prayer when we have to make a major decision. When I’m hiring someone to work for me, do I spent the night in prayer? Or even one focused hour? Do I get away from the busyness of ordinary life, going out to “the mountain” in order to be quiet enough to hear what God has to say to me?  If Jesus sensed the need to pull an “all-nighter” in prayer, what does that suggest for me . . . and you?

I don’t think we all need to start pulling all-nighters in order to hear God speak to us. But, if we follow the example of Jesus, we will devote substantial time to prayer, talking with our Heavenly Father about the challenges and major decisions we face. If prayer was so important to Jesus, it should be important to us no matter how much time it takes.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever take an extended time away for prayer? If so, what have you experienced? If not, why not? Might this be something you’d like to do?