Categories
Grow Spiritually

Reflection: considering the parable of the four soils

Scripture

4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Luke 8:4-8; 11-15

Q. As you reflect on this teaching from Jesus, how are you challenged and encouraged?

Q. “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” What are all the ways you could have access to God’s Word? Are there any changes you ought to make so that you would be positioned better to hear God’s Word?

Q. The path represents those people who hear God’s Word, but their heart is too hard to let the truth sink in. On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard is your heart? Why? What situations, people, or thoughts work to harden your heart?

Q. The rocky soil represents those people who hear God’s Word with joy, but their heart is too shallow to let the truth sink in and grow roots. At the first sign of trouble, they give up. On a scale of 1 to 10, how “rocky” is your heart? Why? What situations, people, or thoughts work to make you give up on your faith?

Q. The thorny soil represents those people who hear God’s Word, but their heart is too distracted by worry and riches. Good actions grow, but are choked up by the thrones. On a scale of 1 to 10, how distracted is your heart? Why? What situations, people, or thoughts work to choke out the good things in your life?

Q. Consider the first three soils from a positive point of view. What can you do to soften your heart? How can you better persevere and outlast the difficult times? How can you have a greater focus on Jesus?

Q. Do you know anyone with a heart that is “hard,” “shallow,” or choked by “thorns?” How can you encourage that person?

Categories
Inward life Worship Discipleship

How to have peace in a world with trouble.

Scripture

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

Consideration

How can we have peace?

  • Through listening to the words of Jesus.

Why is peace so important?

  • Because this world is filled with trouble.

How do we know that we can trust Jesus?

  • He has overcome the world.

Reflection

  • Where do I put my peace? Is it internal (e.g. my ability), external (e.g. praise from others), or is it eternal (Christ alone)?
  • How easily is my peace stolen? When is my peace most threatened?
  • Who, in my world, is facing trouble from the world and needs support?
  • How can I listen more to the words of Jesus?
Categories
Grow Spiritually

How to be cut back so you aren’t cut off.

Reflections from John 15

Would you rather be cut off or cut back?

Cut back.

What has Jesus called us to do?

Remain in him. 

How do we remain?

Make sure his word is in us and obey his commands.

What is his command?

To love one another. 

What is love?

Love is sacrifice, it is the opposite of selfishness.

What happens when we love like Jesus?

We have complete joy and our prayers are answered. 

Why are we now friends with Jesus?

We are no longer called “servants” because we know the full plan of God: to love others as Jesus loved.

Categories
Discipleship

Answering Temptation with Truth

Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Read the passage two times, make a note of the words, phrases, or verses that don’t make sense. Allow everyone to share their questions without others “answering” or “solving” them.

Without looking at the passage, retell this event in your own words. Once everyone has shared, check the passage to see if anything needs to be added or corrected.

Based on your experience with temptation, how does it work? What are the stages or steps involved? What happens first, second, third, etc.?

In what ways does the spiritual world show up in this passage?

What’s the difference between being “led by the Spirit” and “tempted by the devil? Why did God want this to happen?

Why didn’t Jesus make the bread? He was hungry and later in his ministry, Jesus would feed large crowds of more than 4,000 people and 5,000 people, why wouldn’t he feed himself?

What does this passage teach about the devil?

Where are the physical locations of each temptation? In your opinion, why do these locations matter?

What were the three temptations? Can you come up with some modern-day equivalents?

How does Jesus’ answers address each temptation? In your own words, restate each of Jesus’ answers.

In each of his answers to the devil, Jesus quoted scripture. Why is scripture helpful for fighting temptation?

Satan used scripture in his second temptation, what does this mean? Was Satan wrong or was the scripture wrong?

Why wouldn’t Jesus jump and let the angels catch him (v. 6)? Especially when the angels cam and helped him at the end of this passage…why not let them help in the middle of the event?

CHALLENGE

As you consider the biggest temptations in your life, pick one of the scriptures below for meditation and memorization:

  • “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
  • “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
  • “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

 

 

Categories
Inward life Leadership

Three Warnings From Jesus

Jesus taught the crowd: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)

A little yeast, when worked through the entire dough, radically transforms the bread.

The yeast of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. Some of the things they said weren’t true, they lacked a consistency believers ought to have. Presumably they had a “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

In this short and simple teaching from Jesus, there are several warnings:

Hypocrisy is contagious. It is a lesson easily learned, because short cuts require less work. The hypocrite thinks, “I can just pretend to be good without actually needing to be good.” Hypocrisy is persistent because one hypocrite rarely exposes another, because they fear the same exposure. This is a network of relationships that says, “Let’s All Lie Together.” Hypocrisy is contagious and we must guard against it.

Sin is powerful (so is foolishness). Like yeast, it only takes a little to radically change the dynamic of the whole. You don’t need to lie ninety nine percent of the time for it to damage your life, 1 or 2 percent will lead to epic destruction in your relationships. For the Pharisees, their yeast was hypocrisy. However, I’m certain there are many “kinds” of yeast. What is one of your struggles, if it’s not hypocrisy? Gossip? Indulgence? Laziness? Pride?

Consider one more warning: the Pharisees were leaders in their communities. You may not be a formal leader in the church, but what are you passing on to others? Even the best parents pass along bad habits to their kids. Spiritually speaking, what is the “yeast” in your life that others need to look out for? Jesus was clearly teaching the crowd, “Don’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees.” Jesus is also calling us to keep careful watch over our influence.

Three Warnings:

Watch out for the negative influences, specifically hypocrisy.
Identify your personal “yeast,” if it’s not hypocrisy.
Be careful of what you are passing along.

Categories
Discipleship Downloads

His Name is Jesus

TEACHING NOTES (PDF)

OUTLINE (PDF)

My wife and I have had five children, all boys. Before each one was born, we had lengthy discussions about their name. For every child, I made an argument to name him MAGNUS. It’s unique. It’s Latin for magnificent. His nickname could be Gnus (pronounced, Guh-nus) and everything would be awesome.

Needless to say, I never got my way.

Categories
Leadership

Leadership Principles of Jesus, part 1: Matthew

A survey of the book of Matthew yielded the following reflections. But first, a few notes. (a) Reading Matthew’s gospel in two sittings showed me things I wouldn’t have seen if I was reading smaller sections. Both kinds of readings–small parts and large parts– are needed for a healthy spiritual life. (b) I read with the intention of discerning the leadership principles of Jesus. Leadership is nothing more (nor less) than influence. Every believer has influence in some arena, therefore every believer is a leader. These principles are a discernment of what it means to influence others. (c) I don’t presume to think that this list is complete or absolute! I imagine spending ten years with just Matthew would not be enough to uncover all of the teachings. (d) I did my best to remove the redundancies and clean up the confusing comments, all while keeping each one as short as possible. If you see something unclear or redundant, make a note in the comments below.

  1. Matthew 1:1-25 — God was at work before you where born, he will work after you’ve died.
  2. Matthew 4:1-11 — Defeat lies from the devil with truth from God.
  3. Matthew 4:17; 19:17; 28:18-20 — Point people to God, teach them to obey Jesus’ commands.
  4. Matthew 5:12-16 — Your faithfulness will cause others to glorify God.
  5. Matthew 4:19; 26:37-38 — Gather a team, don’t lead in a vacuum.
  6. Matthew 4:23; 8:14-17; 14-13-21; 14:13-21; 15:29-39; 20:29-34 — Bring spiritual and/or physical healing and help to others.
  7. Matthew 5:1-2; 10:5-8; 15:24; 17:22-23; 20:17-20; 25:14-30 — Use your God-given gifts to follow your God-given calling.
  8. Matthew 5:3-12 — Develop Christ-like character.
  9. Matthew 5:11-12 — Endure persecution and hardship.
  10. Matthew 5:19 — Resist setting your own agenda.
  11. Matthew 5:21-22; 27-30; 31-32 — Align your attitudes with your actions.
  12. Matthew 5:23-24 — Remove the roadblocks in your relationships to remove roadblock in your worship.
  13. Matthew 5:33-38 — Build trust through integrity with your words.
  14. Matthew 5:38-42; 6:14-15; 26:49-50 — Submit to injustice,  give generously.
  15. Matthew 5:43-48 — Love neighbors and enemies.
  16. Matthew 6:1-13; 16-18 23:5-10 — Worship in secret, not for admiration from others.
  17. Matthew 6:19-24; 19:28-30 — Work for heaven, not for earth.
  18. Matthew  6:25-34; 10:9-10 — Worry less by seeking God first.
  19. Matthew 7:1-5 — Judge yourself before judging others.
  20. Matthew 7:6 — Give the truth to those who will accept it.
  21. Matthew 7:7-11, 21:22— Ask God for what you need and pursue it.
  22. Matthew 7:12 — Treat others how you’d like to be treated.
  23. Matthew 7:13-14 — Live in the “narrow,” avoid the popular path.
  24. Matthew 7:15-23 — Judge people by their actions, but don’t just look good, be good.
  25. Matthew 7:24-27 — Listen to God’s voice and obey him.
  26. Matthew 7:28-29 — Authority comes from teaching God’s ways.
  27. Matthew 8:1-4 — Seek Jesus to be purified.
  28. Matthew 8:4; 13:52 — Never let something new in your life keep you from doing the old things which were good.
  29. Matthew 8:5-13; 9:18-34 — Believe that Jesus is willing and able to help and heal.
  30. Matthew 8:18-22 — Intentions polluted with excuses never translate into obedience.
  31. Matthew 8:23-27 — Fear forgets that God is bigger than our storms.
  32. Matthew 8:28-34; 12:22-29; 12:43-45 — We fight an unseen Enemy.
  33. Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 18-26 — Spiritual healing, the forgiveness of sins, is more important than physical healing. Jesus can do both.
  34. Matthew 9:9-11 — Everyone can have a place in God’s kingdom.
  35. Matthew 9:12 — Everyone needs Jesus, not everyone knows it.
  36. Matthew 9:14-17 — Do what makes sense—what God wants—not what makes other people happy.
  37. Matthew 9:35-36, 14:14 — Show compassion for the harassed and helpless.
  38. Matthew 9:37 — There will always be more needs than we can meet.
  39. Matthew 9:38 — Ask God to call others to service.
  40. Matthew 10:1 — Authority comes from God, not people, popularity, positions, or power.
  41. Matthew 10:11-15 — Start with people who are supportive.
  42. Matthew 10:16-31 — Spiritual leadership is opposed and this opposition should not be feared.
  43. Matthew 10:32-37; 11:27; 12:2; 21:42 — Keep Jesus first, he is our center and foundation and cornerstone. Many will question and fight this.
  44. Matthew 10:38; 16:21-28 — Leadership requires sacrifice, self-denial, and giving up the world.
  45. Matthew 10:41, 18:5; 26:10 — Welcome everyone who serves Jesus.
  46. Matthew 10:42; 25:34-46 — Ministry means meeting needs in love.
  47. Matthew 11:1-18 — Never discount or discount another person’s doubts and questions.
  48. Matthew 11:5 — Share the good news, even to the poor.
  49. Matthew 11:20-24 — Pay attention to miracles, do not ignore the often inexplicable work of God
  50. Matthew 11:28-30 — Find rest in Jesus, learn from him, live with the lighter burden.
  51. Matthew 12:1-13; 15:1-20 — Legalism is an incorrect ordering of priorities.
  52. Matthew 12:16; 16:20; 17:9; 21:27; 26:63 — Everyone doesn’t need to know everything. Wait for the right time.
  53. Matthew 12:33-37 — Words matter and they spring from the heart.
  54. Matthew 12:30-32 — Sanctification is a process, and salvation has a beginning.
  55. Matthew 12:38-42; 16:1-4 — There will always be wicked doubters, still try to answer them.
  56. Matthew 12:46-49 — The evidence for being in God’s family is following God’s will.
  57. Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15 — Not everyone who hears God’s Word will accept it.
  58. Matthew 13:24-29; 36-43; 47-51 — Let God separate the wheat from the weeds, that is, the spiritual from the unspiritual.
  59. Matthew 13:31-35; 17:14-20; 21:21-22 — A little faith in our Great God will produce great results.
  60. Matthew 13:44-46 — God’s Kingdom will cost us everything, and we’re still getting the better deal.
  61. Matthew 13:53-58 — Sometimes the people who know us will never respect us.
  62. Matthew 14:1-12 — Great injustices will happen to great leaders.
  63. Matthew 14:22-36  — Encourage, challenge, and correct others according to their needs.
  64. Matthew 15:1-20; 23:16-22 — Human traditions are important, but not as important as God’s Word.
  65. Matthew 15:5-12 — Watch for false teachings, even in small amounts.
  66. Matthew 15:13-20; 20:32; 21:23; 22:41-41 — Ask questions, because they change people.
  67. Matthew 15:21-23; 26:32-35; 26:69-75 — Even good people will oppose God’s plans.
  68. Matthew 17:22-23 — Sometimes, the sacrifices we make as leaders will sadden those closest to us.
  69. Matthew 17:24-27, 22:17-22 — Submit to earthly authorities
  70. Matthew 18:1-5 — Kingdom membership is based on humility
  71. Matthew 18:6-7 — Watch that you don’t cause others to stumble.
  72. Matthew 18:8-9 — Do whatever it takes to keep from stumbling.
  73. Matthew 18:10-14 — God cares for the lost.
  74. Matthew 18:15-20 — Relational sin needs to be confronted, personally first, then involve a few others.
  75. Matthew 18:21-35 — Leaders forgive, authentically and continually.
  76. Matthew 19:1-12 — God doesn’t give up on us when we fall short of his ideals.
  77. Matthew 19:13-15 — Jesus is for everyone, don’t hold anyone back, not even little children.
  78. Matthew 19:16-27 — Do the possible and trust God to do the impossible.
  79. Matthew 20:1-16 — Do not be envious of the generosity of God toward others.
  80. Matthew 20:20-28; 23:11-12 — Greatness comes from great servanthood.
  81. Matthew 21:12-13 — The things that hinder worship need to be destroyed.
  82. Matthew 21:28-32 — Even extravagant grace can’t break the hardest hearts.
  83. Matthew 21:42-44 — Spiritual leadership helps others bear spiritual fruit.
  84. Matthew 22:14 — Grace doesn’t negate our responsibility
  85. Matthew 22:15-18 — Maintain integrity, teach the truth, be faithful to God (not people).
  86. Matthew 22:-29 — Two things build disciples: the Word of God and the Power of God.
  87. Matthew 22:37-40 — Teach people to love God, self, and others.
  88. Matthew 23:3 — Leaders can learn from hypocrites.
  89. Matthew 23:4 — Leaders don’t need to make others feel guilty.
  90. Matthew 23:13-14, 29-32 — Avoid hypocrisy at all costs.
  91. Matthew 23:23-28 — Change from the inside out, not just the outside.
  92. Matthew 23:34, 37 — Some leaders are sent to save the hypocrites, a mission field most hostile.
  93. Matthew 24:1-51 — We are not sure when Jesus will return, do not be deceived: everyone will know once it happens.
  94. Matthew 25:1-13 — Faith is prepared to wait expectantly for Jesus.
  95. Matthew 25:14-28 — We don’t just wait, we also bear fruit.
  96. Matthew 25:31-46 — This temporary life is preparation for eternal life.
  97. Matthew 26:17-30 — Endure personal betrayal for the good of the Kingdom.
  98. Matthew 26:39, 42 — Leadership is about God’s will, not ours
  99. Matthew 26:40-41, 45-46 — Leadership supports others who are struggling.
  100. Matthew 27:1-10 — Sometimes people get what they want even when it’s not what they need.
  101. Matthew 27:45 — Because Jesus was forsaken, we never will be, but sometimes it will feel like it.
Categories
Inward life

Confidence or presumption

Scripture says:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

And scripture also says:

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” (Luke 7:6)

Great faith walks the line between confidence and presumption.

Confidence is grounded in Jesus, in his sacrificial love that has graciously granted us access to God’s presence. Presumption is grounded in our actions and good deeds. It believes that God owes us something. However, assuming that God owes us anything is too much presumption.

Confidence enters God’s presence seeking mercy and grace. Presumption calls God to us in order that he might give us what we want.

God’s blessings are a gift, evidence of God’s infinite mercy and grace that he freely offers us through his Son Jesus.

God’s love is so great, so complete, so perfect, that we can’t gain any more…or lose it. God is love, and he acts independently from our actions.

We are not good enough on our own, but this reality does not undermine our confidence. Quite the opposite! Our imperfection can move us to rely more on his perfection.

We are called to be obedience, but our faithfulness should not lead to entitlement. God is not a holy vending machine controlled by prayers, personal devotions, and other good works.

Our disappointments with God can reveal our presumptions. When we become aware of them we are presented with an opportunity. At this crossroad we can uproot these selfish weeds or we can feed them and watch them grow into the unhealthy fruit of presumption.

Categories
Inward life

So, what are you waiting for?

Anticipation is powerful. It sharpens our focus, helping us to ignore the irrelevant and look for what’s important. Expectation get’s us ready for what’s next. Waiting is often a necessary prelude for change.

Everyone lives with some degree of anticipation. Every morning we get out of bed with some kind of anticipation, we are expecting something to happen. We may want to do the minimum possible just to get by or we may want to climb Mount Everest Barefoot–but we all want something.

Excellent Waiting is a dual headed discipline:. We must learn to wait. And. We must learn to wait for the right things. It is not easy to ignore the alluring cry of instant gratification and we often want something that eventually ends up being self-destructive.

“Then [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” (Luke 4:20-21)

IMAGINE THE ANTICIPATION, THE AIR WAS THICK WITH IT!

In this narrative we discover something worth waiting for: hearing God speak. God is speaking to us: through his Word, through the Spirit, and through others . . . but sometimes we need to wait.

Some of us are waiting for approval from someone we admire or want to impress. We look forward to entertainment, diversion from the reality. We might be looking forward to success or power or getting the next Thing.

Let’s commit to waiting for Jesus, forcing all other anticipations to become less important.

Categories
Discipleship

everyone ought to be a scribe

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”Hebrews 12:2 (NIV84)

I love the imagery in this scripture: Jesus as the author of our faith.

In ancient times, scribes were important. Their job was to listen to the author and record their words. The letter belonged to the author, but it was the scribe who did the work. Not everyone could write, so the scribe fulfilled an important role. Even though Paul could write, he still used a scribe!

We have a similar role in our modern world: In every courtroom, court reporters listen to everything that is said and record it.

Ultimately, it’s the job of the scribe (ancient or modern) to magnify the message of the author. It’s recorded so other people can read and hear it even though the author isn’t present.

When it comes to our life, we ought to be more like scribes rather than authors. Our calling is to follow God’s design for our lives. We are to listen for his voice and transmit his Word to the world through our attitudes and actions.

This picture undermines our selfish nature. It’s humbling to be a scribe. We want to be in control. We want to be the one who is in charge, making all the decisions and choosing that’s best for us.

Essentially, this imagery is one of obedience. We are allowing Jesus to be the author of our lives?