No Pain, No GAIN

Verse for the Week
: “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ … I consider them garbage that I may GAIN Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8

Study Reference for Small Groups: Philippians 3:4-8

Good afternoon friends! Have you ever worked out for the first time in a while? It’s painful! In fact, you need to be careful because if you push things too far when you’re out of shape you might get injured. However, if you don’t do anything you’ll always be out of shape and if you push things too far in the other direction it can cause greater health problems moving forward. So the bottom line is that the pain you feel from a good workout is actually good for you. That’s why they say, “No pain, no GAIN!” You feel sore afterwards because your muscles are actually tearing and growing to accommodate your new patterns. Just like our physical bodies progress through pain, so do our spiritual lives. No one wants pain. And we often avoid difficult or uncomfortable situations. However, those situations are usually the ones that exercise our spiritual muscles the most. Think about it. Being in a relationship or getting married shows you the commitment level needed to maintain a good connection with someone. In addition, having children teaches you more than you ever realized that life isn’t just about you. Also, while dealing with a difficult co-worker, friend or family member, you might learn how to be patient with others. If it weren’t for difficult situations in you life you would never grow as a person. That’s what the life of the Apostle Paul shows us. In his letter to the Philippians, he said that everything he gained was a loss compared to knowing Christ and gaining a deep relationship with him (Philippians 3:4-8). In that way the Gospel gains you everything. When things aren’t looking so bright we tend to think our Heavenly Father has forgotten us. On the flip side, bad circumstances are often a sign that God is mightily at work in our lives, developing spiritual strength to help us get through everything he’s calling us to do today and into the future.

Describe a time in your life that was difficult but profitable afterwards to you or others.

What’s one area you think God might be developing spiritual strength in you currently?

Can you think of a Bible character who endured difficulty that later became profitable to other people or God’s plan for the world?

Make Your MIND

Verse for the Week: “The peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

Scripture Reference for Small Groups: Philippians 4:6-9

Have you ever told someone “TMI” or too much information!  Maybe they started to tell you about a medical procedure or that their kids threw up and you realized you couldn’t handle the information?  It’s information overload.  Our world lives in information overload.  Because it is so accessible it creates a lack of filter, no boundaries, and a ton of anxiety.  I can appreciate that God is omniscient or all knowing because the more I know the more I tend to freak out! Do you ever feel like that?  We are so hungry for knowledge about the current state of the world, the virus, the stock market, kids, school, and jobs that we live in a state of anxiety and for us it has become normal.  I just typed all those things and I can feel my heart rate accelerate!  This level of anxiety is anything but normal.  How can we stop this madness? Make your MIND! The first thing you do when you get up is to make your bed, right?  This is like that except you get up and you “make” or set your mind on things above.  You focus your thoughts and energy on God.  I have noticed that when I do this it shifts my focus in an entirely different direction. Philippians chapter 4 verse 6 says to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  So when I feel anxious and overloaded by the ridiculous amount of news, social media or just the thoughts that are running through my head I simply say, “God please help me to not be anxious and focus my attention on what you want me to think about,” this gets my eyes off me and out of my brain.  When we tend to dwell on all the things that are going wrong in the world or in our lives it makes it very difficult to be content.  That lack of contentment makes us strive and feel unsettled.  When we feel unsettled then the anxiety kicks in and kicks God right out of the way!  Paul had every right to feel anxious, discontent, and just plain upset by his circumstances. He was in prison and always in trouble! He wrote the words in Philippians as an encouragement to the church to be able to rejoice in any situation, to not be anxious and to be content.  Paul made his mind.  He intentionally set out each day to clean up his thoughts and to focus them on God.  I think we forget that we have the power over our minds, our actions, and our mouth.  There is a verse that I love that says to “take every thought captive.”  That means to own it.  You focus your mind on God and then you let him drive the bus of your thoughts and your actions.  Like verse 13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  What will you do when you have TMI this week?  Give God control and allow him to help you make your mind!

What is something that causes you to become anxious and how can you make your mind this week to overcome it?

Paul was always encouraging others even when he was in the worst of situations.  How can you reach beyond yourself this week and be a Paul to someone while they are in their own prison?  Who would you reach out to?

Philippians 4:8 lists things to set your mind on to help bring you peace.  Verse 13 holds the key to unlocking that potential.  What is it?

Your LOCK is Loaded

Verse for the Week: “Now I want you to know brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel.” Philippians 1:12

Scripture Reference for Small Groups: Philippians 1:12-19

Have you ever felt like a dark cloud was following you? Maybe for years? That nothing was going right? When I look at Paul I see what some may say is a large black cloud, that he has really bad luck and there is no way that God is on his side! Paul was thrown in jail many times; he was shipwrecked, lied about, beaten, and persecuted. But his LOCK was loaded. He never let all the obstacles and locked doors squelch his desire to spread the Word of God. Paul capitalized on his circumstances and that produced confidence in him, a godly confidence allowing him to find purpose in his prison. Can you say that about yourself? Do you find opportunity around you even in dark times to be used by God? When we look at Paul’s message to the Philippians we can see that he viewed his imprisonment and his sufferings as ways to advance the Gospel of Jesus. When my life hits a rough spot, like the one we are in now as a family, as a community, as a nation, I thought I really had to squint to see the good happening around us. But I realized that doing that creates a tunnel that I now look through to determine if things are good or bad.  I can’t even look around me because I am squinting! If I open up my eyes and actually look I can see there are other people suffering around me, that there are opportunities to serve others and that by trying to view good or bad through my own lenses that it changes my perspective. Paul knew that following Jesus wasn’t going to be easy but he didn’t care. He was viewing things with eyes of faith and not how the world would view things. He ministered to people while he was in prison, when he got out of prison, when his circumstance changed and when it didn’t. He left himself open to be changed when things around him stayed the same. Sometimes that black cloud following us is just opportunity to draw closer to God and to reach out beyond ourselves to minister to others. Paul’s journey gave other believers confidence and courage to speak about God without fear, even if they risked something terrible happening to them. My prayer is that you seize each moment as a Paul moment and preach the Word. Look for a God-given opportunity to speak joy and peace to those who need it. Don’t allow your lock to stop you from seeing God’s purpose for your life.

Questions for Application:
What are some ways that your trials and afflictions have served to advance the Gospel as we read in Philippians 1:12?

Both action and confessing can help to change your perspective on your situation. What are some actions or positive confessions you can think of to get your mind off yourself and onto someone else?

We read in Philippians 1:1-11, Paul talks about his prayer life and how he prays for his friends in the church.  This week challenge yourself to pray like Paul for your friends, and family as you continue to encourage others during this crazy time!

Don’t Dismiss Your DOWN

Verse for the Week: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” 1 Corinthians 6:2

Bible Reference for Small Groups: Acts 9:1-6

During this time of quarantine maybe you’ve had some life goals like painting rooms, organizing closets, reading a certain book or just spending more time with your kids … you know, after you do the homeschooling thing, answer math questions that make no sense and try to social distance yourself from the refrigerator!  We are all in a DOWN time.  In the past we’ve all wanted some down time but I don’t think we ever thought of this!  I don’t think Saul thought he’d be getting knocked down, have a name change, become blind for a time, and be one of the most legendary Christians in history either.  But if he wasn’t knocked down he would never have seen God’s massive plan for his life let alone the impact his “down” would have on Christians all over the world.  Often times I think that because I am not a “Bible character” then my purpose is not nearly as important as theirs.  Then God shows me obstacles in my life that he has helped me to overcome. All of them have been down moments. Usually we’re not on our feet when we have an epiphany. Most likely, you’ve been knocked to your knees when something special hits you.  With that in mind, look where you are right now.  You’re in a moment of still, a stay at home order, a lockdown. Don’t dismiss that down!  God has purposed these moments, this moment for us as Christians to seek after him.  It is an opportunity like Paul (the artist formally known as Saul) to become blind to what we think we need, and to be given exactly what God wants to speak into our lives.  Maybe it’s for you to come alongside others in a new and creative way.  Maybe it’s to pick someone up just like the men did that were with Paul the day he was knocked down.  God may want to use you to speak peace or comfort to someone during this time.  Don’t be too busy always chasing after what you want.  Seek after what God wants for you.  View this time as your “up”! Perspective is everything.  If you view this season as a horrible negative experience, even if that is your reality you may not be able to see all that God has for you.  He wants you to view this season as an up-ortunity or the opportunity to look up to the heavens and cry out to God for his goodness. Have a great week!

What are a few ways you can view your down as an up?  How can you help others change their perspective as well?

Why does it appear that God’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom?  Think about a few examples listed in the Bible.

Read 2 Corinthians chapter 6:1-2.  Do you feel that today is the day of salvation and now is the time of God’s favor in our world despite all the chaos going on?  Does that scripture give you comfort and peace that no matter what our world looks like we, as believers, carry the favor of God?

Jesus’ Resurrection: Real, Ridiculous and Relevant

Verse for the Week: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!” Luke 24:5-6

Scripture Reference for Small Groups: Luke 24:1-8

If you have ever suffered the death of a parent, spouse, grandparent, child, mentor or friend you know that the hurt is so deep it feels like you are dying inside.  Maybe you feel so alone and depressed that you wonder how life will ever be ok.   Jesus Christ was everything to all people. When he died on the cross those that were close to him hurt with such grief that they thought life as they knew it was over. But that was so far from the truth! Jesus came to earth to die and to conquer death!! Death is considered the worst thing ever. It’s permanent. You can’t come back from it, unless you are Jesus, Son of God. This story of Jesus is REAL and it sounds a bit RIDICULOUS but it is RELEVANT to you and me. Crazy right!?  When someone dies you may think that if you could bring that person back it would change everything. Well, that actually happened! Because God raised Jesus from the dead we can have eternal life in heaven with him.  That’s very real. It does sound kind of ridiculous or crazy that something like that happened. Yet the very act of Jesus’ death can give us life. Because of the resurrection power of Jesus, we can overcome anything just as he overcame death. It’s that simple. That’s what makes it relevant to your life and to your situation. When you go through the tough times, financial problems, job loss, and even death, you can have peace because Jesus has overcome the grave. There’s nothing that brings me more peace than knowing he is in complete control of my life. If he can rise from the dead then he can handle whatever life throws at me.  As we reflect this week on Good Friday, silent Saturday, and Easter “Resurrection” Sunday, remember that Jesus died on the cross for you, and he rose from the dead! He lives, therefore, we live and we will one day be raised bodily just like Jesus!

As you grew up, did you know about Jesus and what he did on the cross for you? When did that affect your life if ever?

What other real events written in the Bible seem ridiculous but are so relevant to your life today?  How can you share these stories with others to bring about peace and hope?

Luke 24 talks about Jesus being raised from the dead and the women going to the tomb to witness his not being there. Just prior to his own resurrection, Jesus also raised his friend Lazarus from the dead in John 11. How did that story compare to the story of Jesus and his resurrection?

God’s Gonna KILL It

Verse for the Week: “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people.” Acts 5:12

Study Reference for Small Groups: Acts 5:12-16

The new song entitled “The Blessing” is written by two of my favorite artists, Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes accompanied by Elevation worship AND their pastor Steven Furtick! For me it does not get any better.  The song is amazing.  Based out of Numbers 6:24-26, the song says, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord show you his favor and give you peace.” The song continues on to say, “May his favor be upon you and a thousand generations, and your children and their children, Amen.”  Did you know that Amen means “so be it”? As if to say that God wants all these things for you, such mighty blessings, so be it.  God wants to KILL it in your family, with your kids, job, marriage, school and on and on it goes.  He doesn’t want to give blessings just to you.  He wants to use Holy Spirit to do far more.  Praying for Holy Spirit blessings such as favor on you and your children is a bold prayer.  It’s a prayer of protection which is something right now we as a people need.  We need to feel god’s presence.  Maybe you don’t know what that means.  It means God wants to tear down the limitations that you may have about him, whatever preconceived ideas you have about Holy Spirit, whoever you think Jesus is or isn’t.  God wants to kill those ideas and thoughts, he wants to show you his power in ways you never thought possible.  He loves you that much.  Throughout Scripture Holy Spirit manifested himself in different ways. Sometimes it was through physical healing. On other occasions it was emotional healing.  He also multiplied food to feed large groups of people, cast demons out of individuals. He raised the dead. He healed the sick, the mute, the deaf, and he empowered the downcast with his spirit. As we deal with this horrible virus, homeschooling our kids, loss of job, no income, depression, isolation, and even death are not new to our God. Holy Spirit has been here before. He’s been doing miracles through people for years and years.  That same Holy Spirit lives in you and wants to use you to change this culture, change the world you live in, and make a difference in your community.  Maybe you feel like God could not possibly be working right now amidst all this chaos.  Let me tell you he is! And he wants to do much more.  We serve a good God and if we are experiencing, demonstrating, and sharing his great Gospel then that good will start to take over the bad. The bad may not all go away but through his mighty power things will change.  We will see him move and do miracles in the most unique ways.  Today allow God to kill the virus that holds onto certain parts of your life and let him release in you the power to do more than you ever thought possible!

Questions for Application: 
What miracles have you experienced in your life?  How would you describe them to others as an encouragement during this challenging time?

What limitations do you put on God and can you trust Holy Spirit to help you lose those limitations?

Read Matthew chapter 5:3-12. Do you feel that the blessings listed in Matthew are as bold and wondrous as the signs and miracles talked about and performed throughout Acts chapters 1-5.

Ask the Holy Spirit to ROCK Your World

Verse for the Week: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31

Study Reference for Small Groups: Acts 4:23-31

As we watch the news and view social media there appears to be a common thread.  It’s that the actions of one person can really make a difference.  We are told to wash our hands, to distance ourselves from one another and to stay home. By each one of us doing that it should help to stop the spread of this terrible virus.  One person can help stop the virus or keep spreading it.  If you have ever been to a sporting event you have probably had a moment in the stands where everyone begins to pound their feet, clap their hands and shout in unison to the rhythm of a popular song, “We will, we will ROCK you!”  Even as you are reading this you are probably now singing the song and it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome! In this same way it takes one person to pound their feet and clap their hands until all those around them are participating, then the stadium fills with the sounds of a cheering crowd all in unison.  When I think about what God wants to do through us during these uncertain times I get a visual like I described above.  It’s the idea of revival.  It’s what happens when the gospel of Jesus is shared from one person to the next and then to a group and another group culminating in a “stadium” of believers all singing the same tune!  In Acts 4 we learn about Peter and John preaching the gospel and that the chief priests threw them in jail.  In previous verses, we read about the people who believed in Jesus because of the teachings of Peter and John.  When God gets involved in your situation he’s going to rock you! Jesus sent us a helper, Holy Spirit.  He is who lives inside you and makes his home in your heart when you turn your life over to Jesus Christ.  Holy Spirit is the one who starts the feet pounding and the hand clapping and allows us to share that with the next person.  This is the picture of revival.  Even though we are an isolated people right now that does not mean that God is not at work, despite the fear or anxiety God is still working.  The good news is he wants to use you to take his message of hope and peace to the one sitting next to you at the stadium.  Revival is sharing the love of Jesus to everyone and letting it spread it around like the virus! Need help with that?  Holy Spirit is your help.  He is your comfort.  People need help and comfort right now.  So who better then you to bring that to them by way of the Holy Spirit.  Do not be ashamed of the Gospel. Ask Holy Spirit to rock your household for Jesus and pray about ways you can share him with others during this time.

When you are scared, anxious or uneasy in life do you consider the Holy Spirit as your friend, your comforter?

In Acts 4:29-30 Peter prayed and asked for some life rocking requests from God. What are the requests mentioned and what are some requests you would ask for so that Holy Spirit can rock you?

Acts 4:32-37 describes a wonderful time of sharing and love between the people.  This is a result of the bold prayers that were brought forth to God in the previous verses.  What have you experienced in the area of answered prayers in your life and do you believe that God is bringing revival during our time of waiting and isolation?  How can you pray for Holy Spirit to move in your church or your life once we get the opportunity to meet together once again?