SOAP Bible Study

There are NO If’s Among Believers

Scripture:

Mark 9: 16-27 “Ever since he was a little boy. Many times it pitches him into fire or the river to do away with him. If you can do anything, do it. Have a heart and help us!” 23 Jesus said, “If? There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen.” 24No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”

Observation:

Jesus has come across the father of a boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. A distraught father who is willing to try anything because this demon is trying to kill his son. The love of a father is very evident in this Scripture and yet he is helpless. He has obviously been done some alternative paths which have not worked and one can only imagine how hopeless he must be getting. The he runs across Jesus and he ask, “If you can do anything, do it.” Then Christ answered, “There are no ifs among believers. Anything can happen.” “Then I believe, Help me with my doubts!”

Application:

We serve a most awesome God. One who created everything, who has proved His greatness time and time again to humanity. There is nothing that our God cannot accomplish and yet we still need help with our doubts. We walk around asking “If our Lord can do anything.” and that is not the question. Of course our God can do something…All things are possible through Christ. As believers, we should have a confidence in the abilities of God and a confidence in his power.

Prayer:

Almighty God, when things are going bad, we tend to look to ourselves. Sometimes they work out and often times they don’t. We want to put our trust in ourselves and not in you. Lord, You are the one with the answers, with the hope, with our future. Help us to always remember with the confidence as children of the most high God that there is nothing that you can’t handle. We will give you the glory, honor and praise. Amen.

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"Do you still not get it?"

Scripture: Mark 8:16-21

Meanwhile, the disciples were finding fault with each other because they had forgotten to bring bread. Jesus overheard and said, “Why are you fussing because you forgot bread? Don’t you see the point of all this? Don’t you get it at all? Remember the five loaves I broke for the five thousand? How many baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” They said, “Twelve.” “And the seven loaves for the four thousand—how many bags full of leftovers did you get?” “Seven.”He said, “Do you still not get it?”

Observation:

The disciples had by this time seen some incredible stuff as the traveled with, ate with, and ministered with Jesus. They had not only seen him feed 4000 people with just seven loaves of bread, they had also seen him feed 5000 with just a couple fish and some bread and have abundently more than they started with left over. Yet, here when they realize someone forgot to pack the bread, they were quick to lay the blame and and worry about where their next meal was coming from. How quickly they forgot who they were traveling with. Jesus Christ himself. They had no reason to worry nor to bicker and yet this is what we see happening.

Application:

How often does this happen in our own lives? How many miracles have we seen with our own eyes and yet we forget or get distracted by the things of this world and lose sight of who we serve? Way too many. So, how am I going to apply this scripture to my life? I’m going to make a concerted effort to not stress over the little things in life. Those times when someone forgets to bring the bread and remembering that the Lord I serve is the great provider.

Prayer:

Almightly God, you have done so much for me and I continue to see your blessings and miracles everywhere I look. Yet, I so often lose focus and in those times of need, confusion, and despair I forget how great You really are. I become self dependent and crowd you out of the picture when I should be opening my lens and taking you in. Lord help me to do just that. I love you lord. I Christ, Amen.

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The Greatest is Love

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13: 3-7
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Observation: The selflessness of love is very evident in this passage. We find here a truly selfless illustration in which the emphasis is taken off of me and placed elsewhere. Can we love the way that scripture leads without putting self aside. No.

Application: Putting others first, ahead of oneself is extremely difficult. It is probably the hardest thing to do because we are such “me first” people. It takes a concisience effort to put aside oneself. It is not natural and so we must make a decision to do just that. How am I going to apply this scripture to my life? By making choices which demonstrate love, by putting others first.

Prayer: Almighty God, you have called us to love in the way that you have demonstrated for us through your Son. Yet, we as humans have such a hard and difficult time doing that. I ask for your strength to love in ways that make no sense according to worldly standards but bring you honor and glory. Amen

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Paul Gets Fed Up

Scripture: Acts 18: 5-6When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was able to give all his time to preaching and teaching, doing everything he could to persuade the Jews that Jesus was in fact God’s Messiah. But no such luck. All they did was argue contentiously and contradict him at every turn. Totally exasperated, Paul had finally had it with them and gave it up as a bad job. “Have it your way, then,” he said. “You’ve made your bed; now lie in it. From now on I’m spending my time with the other nations.

One night the Master spoke to Paul in a dream: “Keep it up, and don’t let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I’m with you and no one is going to be able to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city.” That was all he needed to stick it out. He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians.

Observation: Even Paul gets a little fed up. It seems that he is doing all he can to spread the Gospel and it’s not working out for him too well. It get’s to the point where scripture say that Paul is totally exasperated. Oh, how many times as a preacher do I get like this. It seems that nothing is going the way that I think it should. I think Paul had reached this point and then God appeared to him in a dream and gave him a little pep talk. What do we learn from God’s pep talk… several things. 1. Paul was being intimidated and attempts were made to silence him. This is not comfortable living. 2. God has Pauls back. “I’m with you” are the greatest words that God ever tells his people. 3. We don’t know all the work that God is doing. All we see is what is in front of our face and not in the hearts of all the people that God is working with.

Application: There are times when I believe that I am the only one out there spreading the Gospel. Sounds stupid and conceted, I know. I try and do it all myself and not allow God to work. When all I see is what I have done..I get “totally exasperated.” I forget that it’s not me in charge. I’m just a servant and the greatest work is being done by the Master. Work that I don’t see, realize nor get credit for. As I try to apply this scripture, I am going to focus on what God is doing and not as much on what I am doing.

Prayer: Dear God, I thank you and praise you for the work that you have called me to. You have chosen me to be among those who have gone before in the spreading of your Gospel. I thank you for this honor and ask that you continually use me in mighty ways. Ways that are beyond my imagination. Thanks Amen.

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Advent: A Time of Preparation

Scripture:

Matthew 24:36-44″But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

37-39″The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

39-44″The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.

Observation:

In this passage, Jesus is describing for his disciples what the second coming will be like. He is warning them that there are a great many people who will claim to know the date and time but no one does except for the Father. He is also urging them to stay vigilant and prepared for the time. You don’t know when, but you do know that it is going to happen and here he is warning them and us to stay prepared.

Application:

As we enter into this time of Advent (a time of preparation for the birth of Christ), Christians should also be taking inventory of our lives and asking the question are we ready for the second coming of Christ. We don’t know when it is and that not knowing leads to complacent living. It’s not something we think about on a day to day basis. We go on with our lives and give very little thought to the Words of Christ.

So, this morning I am writing on my bathroom mirror in dry erase marker the following question: “What if Christ came back today, would I be ready?” By reminding myself of that question, I hope to become more aware of what I do, how I do it, and to make sure it brings glory to Christ.

Prayer:

Dear Lord, help me to live life to the fullest for your glory. All to often we get so self centered on what is best for us and we begin to make decisions and that are not the ones you would have us to make. We begin living our lives for ourselves and not for you. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon and give us the stength, passion and desire to be prepared for your return. In Christ. Amen

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What Happens when we live God’s Way?

Scripture: Galatians 5: 22-23But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Observation: Paul was writing this letter in an explanation of the faith to the church of Galatia. He was using these chapter to talk abou their individual lives and how to live in the faith. So many people today have a distorted view of what it means to live in faith. I have even known some people who believe if they go to church every Sunday, they are faithful people and yet the rest of the week is not taken into account. Paul goes on to talk about the freedom that is found in our faith. Not a freedom to do whatever we want to do, but a freedom from those things that keep distance between us and God. We are free from the sins of the world and they don’t have control over us.

Application: The greatest gift that God gives us when we live God’s way is true life itself. As we begin to follow the ways of God life explodes with affection for others and and excitement about life. Life truly is good even in the worst of times. Following God does not mean that there is not going to be tough times and that everything is going to be perfect from here own out, but it means that we are not alone and we will be given grace to help us through any situation. We become different people than we are today. We become someone who focuses on others more than ourselves. We become selfless instead of selfish. Its the most wonderful feeling in life. Try it, you’ll like it.

Prayer; Most gracious God, you have changed my life in so many ways. Where I once was wandering aimlessly and living life solely for myself, you gave me direction and meaning. The things that I once thought were so important have lost their control on my life. I have found freedom and it is wonderful. I thank you for your love and grace and I thank you for your son who made all this possible, Jesus. It is in his name I pray…Amen

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Scripture:

Mark 12:28-34 One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?”
Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”

When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.” After that, no one else dared ask a question.

Observation:

Let’s cut to the chase…What is the greatest commandment. I want to make sure I do that one. In the Jewish faith, there are many, many commandments. So for this scholar to come and ask which one was the most important says this was a man who was cutting through all the other stuff to focus on what was most important. In life, there are so many things that have importance placed upon them and the church and religion is no different. Is it important to go to church every Sunday? Yes! But is it the most important? No or else Jesus would have answered “Go to church every Sunday” What has happened is that we have empowered church attendance and many other things with being Christian and that’s way off base. I heard someone say,(just this morning) that sitting in a church makes me no more a Christian than sitting in my garage makes me a car. So what sets us apart as Christians? 2 things: Love God and Love our Neighbor.

Application:

Although these two things seem to be extremely easy, they are not! They are extremely hard. To love God with all your heart mind and soul means placing God before all else in our lives and that’s not easy. We so often want to place even ourselves ahead of God. In order to place God first that means sacrifice and as humans sacrifice does not come naturally. It’s something that we have to work at. There’s an old saying that it’s a lot easier to say than to do and that is certainly true in this case.

Loving others as we love ourselves is equally as hard because this is calling us to love even those we don’t like very much. It calls us to love those who are not like us, who dress differently, who look different, talk different, live in a different way than we do. It’s those people whom we want to critize and to judge, yet we are not called to critize and to judge…we are called to love them as much as we love ourselves. This is a prime example of Jesus calling his disciples way out of the box. Why are we called to do this? Because it is what Christ has done.

Prayer:

Dear Lord, what you have called us to do is extremely hard and difficult. To love you in a sacrificial way does not come naturally to me and it’s something that I have to work at. I have a desire to put myself first always and to do what is best for me according to the ways of the world. However, what is best for me is your will and that is almost always contrary to the ways of the world. Help me to remember that you are desiring for me to become more Christlike and showing me the way to love in a way that leads to perfection. Yet, I can’t do that without your grace. Please continue to pour it upon me as I struggle to become more like your Son and my Savior in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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“You’re Interested in Religion, I’m Interested in People”

Scripture:

Zechariah 7:1 On the fourth day of the ninth month, in the fourth year of the reign of King Darius, God’s Message again came to Zechariah. 2-3The town of Bethel had sent a delegation headed by Sarezer and Regem-Melech to pray for God’s blessing and to confer with the priests of the Temple of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, and also with the prophets. They posed this question: “Should we plan for a day of mourning and abstinence next August, the seventieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s fall, as we have been doing all these years?” 4-6God-of-the-Angel-Armies gave me this Message for them, for all the people and for the priests: “When you held days of fasting every fifth and seventh month all these seventy years, were you doing it for me? And when you held feasts, was that for me? Hardly. You’re interested in religion, I’m interested in people.

Observation:

All through out Scripture, God makes religion personal. It’s about relationship and here God is reinforcing that theme.

Application:

From the beginning of the Bible, God has desired a relationship with humanity. Yet, through our brokenness, we have worked to destroy that relationship. As a new church plant, I have had people tell me that we were not doing church right. I beleive they mean that we are not religious enough and if that is the case, I say “praise God”. At my current church, our contemporary service has been referred to as “Christianity Lite”. Is it different? YES! Does it have a different focus…Possibly. Our focus is to facilitate a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I have found that for many of the generations, we have to meet them where they are in life. Kinda like Jesus did. Jesus met people by the sea where they worked and offered to make them fishers of men. He hung out by the wells where people would come to gather their water and he offered them living water.
I heard a story of a church who started a Bible study at Hooters! Why did they do that…because that’s where a great many men were gathering and they thought it would be a great place to share Jesus. I spend a great deal of my office time in Starbucks and other local coffeehouses. Why do I do this…because I have found very few people who don’t go to the church where I pastor walking down the halls in the middle of the day. However, it’s amazing how many people who don’t go to church that I meet at the coffeehouse. I as in a local coffee house the other day when 5 ladies walked in with their Bibles and guess what? They began having a Bible study right there in the middle of the coffee house. I thought to myself what a witness that was! Then I asked myself, why aren’t there more Bible studies being done in coffeehouses? They are after all the “wells” of he 21st century. What a way to reach people where they are. Where did we as a Church decide on he motto “if you build it they will come”? Somewhere along the line we have gotten the false notion that people who need Christ need to come to us instead of us going to them. I believe we will have to answer that question one day.

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Don’t Worry; Be Happy

Scripture:
Luke 12:25-28″Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can’t even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?

29-32″What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

Observation:

Jesus has told a parable about a farmer who has such a great year that his barn will not hold all the crop harvested and so in such great excitement, he builds multiple barns. He even goes as far as planning his retirement and living the good life from hear on out. Then God shows up and tells the man he is going to die that night. Then Christ turns his attention to his disciples and begins to talk to them about fussing before the mirror. Did the disciples worry about retirement? Were they preoccupied with storing up for a rainy day and missing out? I do.

Application:

It’s part of human nature to be worried about tomorrow. There is something in us that makes us want to be in control and to be in control, we must have some sort of control over the future. Our control comes from our wallet. Do we have enough for retirement. What happens if I get sick? What if my child needs something? What if the car breaks down? I find myself worring about things such as that all the time and Jesus is right…God knows all these things. Certainly God wants us to prepare for our furture lives. However and most of all, God wants us to put our faith in Him. So many times we put too much faith in ourselves and our solutions and God ends up being a footnote.

For me, I have to ask myself really hard questions that go something like this…”Do I trust God enough to take care of me and do my action so it?” “Why do I spend so much time in worry about things that are really out of my control? Shouldn’t I find relaxation in that our God is so big and powerful and has all the hairs on my head counted (no matter how many or few).

So the big question becomes, what am I going to do about it? I am going to give a big worry over to God. I’m going to do everything in my control to prepare, but then I’m giving it to God. No more worry. The worry is stealing my happiness.

Prayer:

O God, you are so great and I am so small. I do find great comfort in knowing that you are all powerful and there is nothing on this earth that you can’t handle. So Lord, this morning I come bearing my baggage. The stuff that has been holding me back, stealing my joy and bringing me worrry and sleepless nights. I give it to you and I trust in you that you have a better grasp on the reality of my life than I do. Thank you. Amen

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Popularity Contest

Scripture:
Luke: 6:26″There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.”

Observation:
Jesus had been on the mountain praying and as he came down, he was surrounded by his disciples and a crowd began to gather. Those who were looking to be healed, to hear him speak, to touch him. The words above are among the words he spoke to them that day. So man lived for the approval of someone in the higher class than they were in. Often times, their approval could be the difference between feeding a family or even life or death. At the very least, the approval of someone in a class higher than one’s own meant some prestige or power. It still does today.

Application:
Even in ministry, it’s very easy to fall into this trap. Most of us don’t like conflict and want everyone to get along. But even more than that, if everyone can’t get along with each other, we just want to be liked by all. Life seems easier when everyone likes you. It’s a fact. However, it always comes to an end. You can’t have the aproval of everyone all the time. I just did a Strength’s Finder and one of my strengths is Belief. The strength assessment said that those with this strength have core values that set their direction. These beliefs have served me well in my life. They have set the course for and helped me not to live flattering and indulging others. I have also found that it is okay not to be popular and there are times when it seems no one likes you. The reality of the Christian faith is that it leads to a hill called Golgatha and a cross. If it was true for Jesus, why would we think it would be any different for us. However, it does not stop on that hill, but continues on Easter Sunday morning with the resurrection. So, live like there is no death and be true to your task of sharing the Gospel.

Prayer:
Lord, our human nature desires for this life to be easy and to be liked by everyone. Yet, that leads to compromise and most often leads to a compromise of how you would have us to live. What ou have called us to do…the path that you lead us down is not an easy one and one that there is no way we could travel without you. So, continue to lead me and guide me. Continue to give me the strength that I need to do our will no matter what the cost. Amen

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It’s Your Life That Counts

Scripture: Luke 3:7-9

When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

Observation:

The people in this scripture were doing what everyone else was doing…getting baptized. Not because of a change in their heart or because the Holy Spirit touched them, but because it was the “in” thing to do. John blasted them by saying do you think a little water is going to help you? It’s you life that must change, not you skin.

Application:

The comes a time in our lives that we realize that something is missing…that something is just not quite right. We realize that we are sinners, a broken people who live in a broken world and we can’t change it. We don’t have what it takes to be whole on our own. When we realize this and ask for the forgiveness of Christ, we receieve a grace that is justifing. We’re not worthy on our own but through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are made worthy. At this time, our goal becomes to strive for Christian perfection. To be more like Jesus. To live a life like Jesus. To love others as we love ourselves and to love God with all our heart, mind and soul. That takes life change. It doesn’t come over night and each day we work toward that goal. Often times changing ever so slightly but yet still changing

While the grace of Christ is free, unmerieted and undeserved…the grace flowing upon us changes us and allows us to be more like Christ. It does not allow us to sit back and watch tv. This grace allows us to be disciples and to love others in the ways that Christ loved them. It causes us to get out of our comfort zones and do things that we would not have normally done and go places we would not have normally gone. Christianity is not a spectator sport where we watch the game on the field in the comfort of the stands, but where we get into the mud and muck of peoples lives to share with them our story of how God has changed our life.

Prayer:

Most precious God, you have loved me in such grand style. Even before I knew of your love for me, it was poured out abundently upon my head. As I grew and became away of your Son Jesus and what he did for me, I asked for forgiveness and once again, grace was poured out abundently. Now, Lord, I am walking toward Christ. Each day trying to be more like Him. Some days, I stumble and fall way short, but I keep trying. Lord, grant me strenght and a passion to be more like Christ each and every day.

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Knowing More Than God

Scripture
Jeremiah 42:1-3 All the army officers, led by Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, accompanied by all the people, small and great, came to Jeremiah the prophet and said, “We have a request. Please listen. Pray to your God for us, what’s left of us. You can see for yourself how few we are! Pray that your God will tell us the way we should go and what we should do.”
4Jeremiah the prophet said, “I hear your request. And I will pray to your God as you have asked. Whatever God says, I’ll pass on to you. I’ll tell you everything, holding nothing back.”

5-6They said to Jeremiah, “Let God be our witness, a true and faithful witness against us, if we don’t do everything that your God directs you to tell us. Whether we like it or not, we’ll do it. We’ll obey whatever our God tells us. Yes, count on us. We’ll do it.”

7-8Ten days later God’s Message came to Jeremiah. 9-12He then spoke: “This is the Message from God, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your prayer. He says, ‘If you are ready to stick it out in this land, I will build you up and not drag you down, I will plant you and not pull you up like a weed. I feel deep compassion on account of the doom I have visited on you. You don’t have to fear the king of Babylon. Your fears are for nothing. I’m on your side, ready to save and deliver you from anything he might do. I’ll pour mercy on you. What’s more, he will show you mercy! He’ll let you come back to your very own land.’

13-17″But do not say, ‘We’re not staying around this place,’ refusing to obey the command of your God and saying instead, ‘No! We’re off to Egypt, where things are peaceful—no wars, no attacking armies, plenty of food. We’re going to live there.’ If what’s left of Judah is headed down that road, then listen to God’s Message. This is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies says: ‘If you have determined to go to Egypt and make that your home, then the very wars you fear will catch up with you in Egypt and the starvation you dread will track you down in Egypt. You’ll die there! Every last one of you who is determined to go to Egypt and make it your home will either be killed, starve, or get sick and die. No survivors, not one! No one will escape the doom that I’ll bring upon you.’

Observation:

The people found themselves in a situation that was not good and the had asked Jeremiah to pray and get some answers. Just get us some answers and we will do what ever God tells us to do. God heard the prayers of Jeremiah and he asnwered those prayers with some pretty specific advice. “Stick it out in this land, I will build you up.” God told them, you don’t have anything to worry about. I’m on your side and will save and deliver you. But you can’t go back to Egypt. Stay here in the midst of turmoil and I’ve got your back. Go to Egypt where things are peaceful and you will die there.

Application:

God gave some pretty specific instructions in this prayer. He didn’t beat around the bush, cut corners and leave anyone guessing as to what was meant. God wanted these people to stay where they were and depend upon Him. Yet they thought they knew better than God…especially when God’s Word was not what they wanted to hear. That is so often the case with humanity. We seek the guidance of God as long as God leads us in the direction we want to go. As long as everything is pleasant, we enjoy following and desire to follow God. Yet, when things go extremely bad (the times we need to depend on God the most) we want to handle them our own way; we want control of the situation. I believe some of this comes from our wanting to be in control, but I think more of it comes from a lack of trust that God will do what is best for us. Of course, we often times have a difference of opinion with God in what is best for ourselves and we often choose to do it our way.

In our relationship with God, we are going to find ourselves in situations where we have to trust in God and it’s probably not going to make sense to the rest of the world (it may not make sense to you). I can’t help but to think about Noah building this great big boat in the middle of the desert and the ridicule, torment, laughter and doubt that must have crept into his mind. Yet he trusted God, suffered through the laughter and continued building. Time and time again, there are instances in the Bible of people who have been put out there and all they had was their trust in God and God NEVER failed them.

Prayer:

Gracious and loving God. You have so much in store for our lives and so many adventures to take us on. Some will be hard and test our trust in you. Some will not make any sense and we will have an urge to do things our own way…the way that makes sense to us, usually the easist least painful way. But through those tough, hard times, we find ourselves being drawn closer to you. We find our relationship growing closer and stronger. So Lord, I ask that you help me resist the urge to do things my own way and to think that I know more than You. Help my trust to deepen in you. In Christ. Amen

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Love

SCRIPTURE: 1 John 4: 7-10My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

OBSERVATION: Here we see the reference to loving neighbor and loving God. A theme that is repeated throughout the New Testament. Love is the greatest gift ever given to humanity. It is through Gods love that He sent Jesus. It is through God’s love that we have prevenient, justifying, and sanctifing grace. And it is through love that we expereince a relationship with God.

APPLICATION: As Christians we are called to love each other and it is through that love for others that our love for God is made real. To perfectly love God, we have to perfectly love others and yet…we are not perfect. We are far from it. So, how do we love others in a way that would be pleasing to God? Day by Day, little by little. It is a process and we are not going to get there overnight. It’s called santification and it takes time. It also takes us putting forth some effort. I believe that while we do nothing to earn God’s love; God’s prevenient and Justifying grace and these onl come through his love…we do have a role to play in the growing to be Christ like. The role includes Bible study, prayer, fasting, and all the other means of grace. It also includes building of relationships. It means growing in our love toward one another and it is through that love for others in which our love for God manifest itself.

PRAYER: O God, help me to love and to grow in my love for others today and each day this week. Help me to focus specifically on ways that I can demonstrate my love for others. In Christ, Amen

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Doom to the Shepherds

Scripture Jeremiah 23:1-4 “Doom to the shepherd-leaders who butcher and scatter my sheep!” God’s Decree. “So here is what I, God, Israel’s God, say to the shepherd-leaders who misled my people: ‘You’ve scattered my sheep. You’ve driven them off. You haven’t kept your eye on them. Well, let me tell you, I’m keeping my eye on you, keeping track of your criminal behavior. I’ll take over and gather what’s left of my sheep, gather them in from all the lands where I’ve driven them. I’ll bring them back where they belong, and they’ll recover and flourish. I’ll set shepherd-leaders over them who will take good care of them. They won’t live in fear or panic anymore. All the lost sheep rounded up!’ God’s Decree.” The Message

Observation: Those who have been chose to be the shepherds of the sheep of God have an incredible responsibility to take care of those sheep. Misleading, scatering and driving them off is not what God has called them to do. He even ranks this as criminal behavior. God cares so much for his sheep that he will bring them back where they belong and nurse them back to health and recovery. All the lost sheep rounded up!

Application: I can’t help but to think of the current situation in our denomination when I read this. In our conference there are 863 and it is my understanding that over 200 of those churches have less than 20 people. I believe there are 3 kinds of people. 1. Those who are on the discipleship path. They are growing in their faith, have a group of people who love and care for them and are being trained, encouraged, and empowered to reach others for Christ. These people go through tough trials of life and suffer but they have an excellent foundation of faith and also of faithful people who love, care and hold them accountable.

2. There are those who go to church, sit on the pew every Sunday, but are not growing. Those who will tell you they have faith, but you can’t see it anywhere. Some have no passion for any growth and some have a desire for more, but in their faith infancy, they don’t know how to get it and the church they are attending is not teaching them in a way that impacts their life. There is little accountablity, caring as long as it doesn’t involve more than a covered dish, and belonging as long as it is never gets beyond social.

3. There are those who don’t go to church at all or at the most on Christmas and Easter. Most have a somewhat elementary understanding of the Gospel, but have not made it applicable to their life. The are wandering and struggling through this life often times wondering if this is all there is. In many cases, these people have been hurt by organized religion and washed their hands of it. Often, they have at one time in their life truly been on the path to discovering what God had in store for them but were turned away by a “mature Christian”.

In this passage, there is a warning to those of us how are shepherds (pastor’s, laity, and all those in between). We have a responsibility to take care of our sheep. Taking care of our sheep means helping them to get closer to God as they travel down this road of life. It means giving them the tools they need, encouragment, accountablility, mentorship, be an example so that they can become all they can be (sanctification). It also means reaching out to those who don’t know God and even harder to those who have been hurt by the Church.

Our membership in the United Methodist Church has been on the decline for way too many years. Why? The sheep are not being taken care of. We have been more worried about keeping our members happy and liking us than we have their spiritual growth. Thus we have church full of people who live in “fear” and/or “panic” because they are not prepared to deal with the stuggles of the world with God and God’s people.

Prayer: Almighty God, we have not done a good job of being shepherds. We have allowed our own agendas, our own pleasures our own desires to be liked to over rule what you would have us to do. I ask for your forgiveness and I ask that you place in me and other shepherds a passionate desire to re-create churches that are more than just social clubs but disciple making factories. Amen

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Blind

Scripture: John 9:1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3-5Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.

Observation: This Gospel tells the story of Jesus making a paste, rubbing it on a man’s eyes who had been blind from birth. As the approached the man, the disciples asked who was the blame for this man’s blindness and Jesus said they were asking the wrong question. They were asking who sinned or “who did it” when they should have been asking…”What can God do?”

Application: A great miracle is about to be performed here b Christ…making the blind to see and yet, the disciples would have missed it had Christ not been physically present. They were more worried with who caused the blindness than they were the cure. So many times in life, we are faced with situations that seem unsolvable, incurable, and utterly hopeless. We tend to start searching for the cause of our situation. How did I get into this mess instead of asking what God can do. Our God is such an incredibly powerful and loving God that there is not a situation we can find ourselves in that He cannot deliverus from. Loneleness, despair, desparation…the list goes on and on as to what God can do.

Prayer: O lord, you have created the heavens and the earth. You have formed the sky and the seas and birthed all the life on earth and yet too often we don’t think you can handle the turmoil in our lives. Lord, help us to realize that you are God and you love each of us. No matter what we’ve done, road we’ve traveled, depth we’ve been to…you still long for us. Lord, allow us to call on you to clear the path for us and to the one who gives us sight. Amen

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What God Wants

Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-9
“Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
“Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Observation: Looking the part but not living the part. It’s so easy to pretend to be a Christian. To try and look the part and do what others think should be done. But having Christ in one’s life brings about life change and that is what the Prophet Isaiah is talking about here. Life change…doing things different from the rest of the world. God is not as concerned about being busy with worship or fasting or praying…if they are not backed up by life change. In this passage, we are given what kind of fast God desires…it involves loving others. Helping those out in need. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. This brings honor and glory to God much more than parading around telling everyone that you’re fasting and how much it hurts.

Application: There’s something in me that wants, desires and seeks recognition. I want people to know that I am fasting and to make a big deal about it. I want to realize and to remember that bringing attention to those things that are between me and God cheapens them. The way that I treat others is a direct reflection upon my relationship with God. There’s an old camp song that says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and there is not a truer statement which can be made.

Prayer: Almighty God, create in me a desire to bring you glory…not by telling people I’m fasting but by the love that I have for others. Help me to put self aside adn to love even those who it is so hard to love…those who make me angry, upset. Help me to see them as one of your children whom you love with all your heart so that I can love them with all of my heart.

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Role of More Mature Christians

Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1-3 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Observation: The author is talking directly to those who have been put in leadership positions. Those who are in a place to have other Christians looking to them for their care and protection and how leading should be done. Being willing and eager to serve because God wants you to…not for money nor to lord over someone but only for the glory of God.

Application: This is a great scripture to keep in mind for me as a pastor, but also to pass on to the core team as we build The Bridge. Our model is one of servanthood. Through that servanthood, we will grow spiritually but we will also be helping someone else grow closer to God.

Prayer: Almighty Lord and Savior, as I begin this journey, constantly remind me of the honor and the responsibility that has been given to me. Help me to always seek to do your will, being eager to serve those who are entrusted to my care and not lord over them. In Christ.

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Scripture 1 Peter 4:7- 11: The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Observation: As the author of this letter wrote, it was his belief that the end was near and the expectation was that Christ would be returning soon. There was and stil should be an urgency in these words of advice. In this letter the author writes, “Above all” do he following and all of his advice is directed at loving others and loving God.
1. Above all, love each other deeply.
2. Use your gift to serve others.
3. Speak as one speaking the very words of God
4. Serve with the strength God provides so that God is praised.

Application: This scripture as with most does not refer to self glory nor self gratification. In our world today, self is what life is all about. Yet, Christ flipped this world upside down and expects the opposite from the world. Christians are called to lead a different life A life that brings glory to God but also showers others in love and service.

Prayer: Almighty God, it’s so difficult to live in an unselfish way, but that is what you expect of us. We can only do it with your help. Please fill us with your Holy Spirit so that I may live a life tat will cause you to say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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Tough Times

Scripture: Isaiah 42: 16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

Observation: The Lord is acknowledging that people are not perfect in the reference to the blind. (We are all blind in different ways) We all find ourselves on paths that we do not know and places that are unfamiliar to us. These places are scary, intimidating and overwhelming. However, we have a promise from God of His presence and His action. He will turn the lights on and smooth out the rough spots. We are promised that He wil not forget us.

Application: We face such turmoil in our lives. The death of a loved one; the struggle to pay bills; the foreclosure on a house; receiving the word from the doctor that it is cancer; the loss of a job; and the list goes on and on. Often times we wonder how we can go on to the next moment in life. How am I going to get through this time? The Lord has promised and we find hope in knowing that He is leading us by was we have now known. He is our guide in life that will light the path and make the rough places smooth. It is through His love and grace that we can endure and prevail in whatever life may throw at us. He is God! There is nothing as powerfule and yet wonderful in the universe.

Prayer: Loving God, we find comfort in your words of encouragement. There is a strength found in the knowledge that you are with us as we walk down the path of life. We thank you for that assurance and ask that we be constantly reminded of your love and our need for it. Aen.

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Being an Example

Scripture: 1 Peter: :11-12 “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Observation: Live a life that will be an example even to the pagens. God will work through you life to change their view, belief and trust in God.

Application: There are going to be those how accuse ou of doing wrong, those who try and persuade you to join them in things you know you shouldn’t do. Scripture tells us to resist. To live a life that is good even among those who are accusing you of doing wrong. They want you to get on their level. Their desire is for you to get into the mud with them. Peter tells us not to do that…to be above it adn through our good life, we will be an example that God can work with.

That’s is an extremely easy thing to say and an incredible hard thing to put into practice. Especially when there are those who are a part of your life and are not going anywhere. Those who hae an impact on someone you love and care for. Our natural tendency is to rip them to shreds but here the Lord is guiding us as Christians down a path that does not make sense according to worldly standards. Peter is telling us to abstain from those sinful desires…I believe this means showing grace even to those who have hurt/damaged you and the people loved. It’s hard and it goes contrary to my feelings inside, but I know it is what Christ would do. Turn the other cheek.

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