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There’s Some Wow in Your WHAT

Verse for the Week:   He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. Acts 3:8

Study Reference for Small Groups: Acts 3:1-10

Life can change in an instant. Think back to that time long ago; three whole weeks ago. Were you stressed out, over worked, tired, begging God for a time of rest? I am sure some of you were. Perhaps things weren’t all that bad you had a good routine. You were comfortable and had no real complaints, but maybe that routine started to feel monotonous.  Regardless of your place of employment, social stature or age undoubtedly you have experienced some changes in your daily routine over the last two weeks. Often times we view change as scary. After all it is the unknown, but change does not have to be scary. In fact it can be the exact thing that propels you into a wow moment with God! One encounter led to a completely changed life for the lame man in Acts. Yes there is much unknown in our current health and cultural climate, but do you know what is not unknown? God’s sovereignty. He is as much in control today as he was three weeks ago. So rather than spending your days questioning the unknown, and the WHAT if’s, why not take this opportunity to seek the wow? God has wow moments in store for each of us. He can radically change our lame lives in an instant. Will you trust God during a time of uncertainty and embrace the changes with exuberant jumping and praising or will you miss a wow moment because your mind is stuck in fear mode?

Application Questions:
What changes have you experienced over the last three weeks and which emotional responses have accompanied these changes?

A new routine adds for new opportunities to encounter and share God with others. In what new ways are you experiencing God today?

At times we get so busy with life we miss or overlook the wow of God’s creation surrounding us. I challenge you to take some time this week. Relax and journal or snap a picture of a wow moment you’ve experienced and then use that moment to encourage others.

Fight Your Fear with NEAR (Corona and You)

Verse for the Week: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son … It was I who taught Ephraim how to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:1-4).

Study Reference for Small Groups: Hosea 11:1-4

What’s the difference between fear and near? Just one letter right? In reality there’s a world of difference. And the nearness of God can cast out all fear in uncertain times. Just one letter makes all the difference. And like I said, there is a BIG difference between the two.

Never lose sight of God’s presence
It’s a lesson I learned several years ago. I questioned God. I was in the middle of a very difficult time in my life. If you’re like me, by that I mean a committed Christian, divorce is like a swear word. And if you, like me a few years ago, find yourself in the process of one right now you know what I’m talking about. On top of that I’m a pastor. “How can a pastor get divorced? He must be doing something wrong or have a secret sin life that no one knew about!” Those are all thoughts that ran through my head. And one night I lost it on God. After I put my son to bed I wondered where was my heavenly Father? Where was my bedtime Bible story, tuck in, and kiss goodnight!? After all, isn’t the one true God a better Father than me? If I do all of those things for my child, why wouldn’t my heavenly Father do them for me – especially in the darkest moment of my life. In that moment I lost it. I forgot that my God is a loving Father and an ever present help in times of trouble.

Everyone has their struggle
We don’t have to look far to find fear. Right now it’s got a grip on all of us just like it did me several years ago. King Coronavirus has us all wondering where we’ll find food. Will our kids be ok? Will our businesses and our sanity survive? If you’ve been alive for any length of time, it’s not the first time you’ve asked those questions. It’s just the first time they’ve been asked by us on such a massive and collective scale. So, of course, we all have our struggles. Maybe yours is a divorce. Maybe it’s financial problems or a relationship. Maybe it’s a mental disorder or health issues. It’s just that right now things are different. We’ve all got a problem whether we actually have the virus or not. We’re seeing restaurants close and grocery stores selling out of bread. Did I mention toilet paper? Seriously!!! Is this all real? Whatever it is, we’re afraid. And we don’t know what the future holds … or do we?

Are you a child of God?
Really this question makes all the difference. Are you God’s son? His daughter? Do you belong to him? If you’re not sure I want you to know today that you are by inviting Jesus into your life. Knowing that truth really does change everything. In my case, many years passed since I blatantly challenged him. Where are you!? Where is my Father!? Mentally I moved on. Or at least I thought I did. I moved out of my house. I made some new friends. You know, I just forgot about it. Something I wasn’t paying much attention to were my spiritual habits. I guess in the years following that event I just felt like I needed Jesus more than ever. So I spent more time with him, you know, reading my Bible, praying for others, worshipping him with an unhindered heart both in private and sometimes in public. Every night I would stay up late and rise early to rest in God’s presence. If that’s something you’ve never done I highly encourage you to give it a shot. Being with God will change your life just like it did mine. And just like me, he wants you to know that you are his child, that you belong to him.

Recognize God’s nearness right now
Whatever your struggle or fear. Know that NEAR is right around the corner. That’s what I realized one morning. I read these words in Hosea and it was like my life flashed before my eyes: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son … It was I who taught Ephraim how to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:1-4). At that moment I began to weep because I remembered my own wilderness experience. I remembered my complaint. I remembered my fears and my bitterness. But so did my Father. And in the form of my personal revival, he read Bible stories to me every night. Sure, I was the one doing the reading but the Bible teaches us that his Spirit speaks to us when we do. So in another sense, God was the one reading to me. Over those months and years, his presence was more real than I remember it being for a long time. The time I spent worshipping him before bed, tucked me in with perfect peace. His goodnight kisses calmed the turmoil in my heart with joy. Wow! He was with me the whole time and I didn’t even know it. In fact, the trials I faced only brought him closer. That’s where God is. He is by your side in this moment. He’s right there and he’s working in unprecedented ways to bless you.

Conclusions about Corona
We’ve all been through life. And wherever you are in your walk with God you’ve had moments where you knew he was watching over you as only a perfect Father could. Today is no different. None of this is catching him by surprise. None of it challenges his sovereignty. The fact that we’re facing fears actually means that God is on the verge of a huge breakthrough. We just don’t see it yet. In the moment, headlines and “head-lies” (you know, the lies inside our minds) get us thinking he’s forgotten about us. But nothing could be further from the truth. He’s only waiting for the right time to reveal his glory and his love for you. In the meantime, draw close to him. Draw close to him and one another as a family. That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s waiting for. He wants you. In the world he’s working through disease and even death to hasten resurrection power in your life. God has good things in store for his children and where we’re going is better than where we’ve been. So let’s draw close to him now. Let’s pray for our elected officials just like the Bible instructs us to do. The restrictions they are implementing instill fear but they are also meant to give us a future. God is doing a mighty work in our day and who can hinder the work of the Lord? All of his works are wonderful and he is fighting for us even in the midst of our darkness. God is near. So fight your fear with his nearness today!

Application Questions:
Are current circumstances causing you to forget that God is near? How have you responded to those feelings? What steps can you take to draw closer to him now?

Do you know that you are a child of God? How do you think this might make a difference during times of trouble?

Think of a time in your life when you felt close to God. What made you feel that way? How might God be calling you to help someone else during this difficult time in our culture?

Your SIGN Is Significant

Verse for the Week: Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? Galatians 3:5

Study Reference for Small Groups: Acts 2:42-47

What’s your sign? When I ask the question your mind might go immediately to astrology. Ironically, Paul said in his letters that signs accompany the presence of the Spirit in a person’s life. If you’ve been touched by God, things like love, joy, peace, patience and kindness characterize your life. But there’s also something more. When the Spirit of God comes in he breaks you out of the religious rituals that bind you, and he does that with his great power. So I ask again, “What’s your sign?” Is God’s Spirit powerfully at work in your life? With that heart, Paul asked the Galatians, “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” In other words, God’s Spirit manifested himself with great power among the Galatians. He broke into the rigor of their daily rituals with signs and wonders. When God is present miracles take place. All that is necessary to see those signs is to look to God with faith. Do you feel like you need a miracle today? Don’t look to yourself and your own abilities for the answer. You are limited. Look outside of yourself to the God who provides infinitely, abundantly more than you expect and he will blow your mind. If you’ve never felt the powerful presence of God’s Spirit ask him today for a sign and he will give it! When you look to Jesus with faith he will not let you down and will provide all of your needs in abundance. Have a great week!

Application Questions:
When was the last time you felt the Spirit of God move with power in your life?

Would you say that God is usually a powerful presence in your daily life? How do you think you can change that?

In Acts 2:42-47 and Galatians 3:5 it is evident that God’s Spirit manifested himself with power in the early church as people committed their way to Christ. Discuss how your church family might be able to accomplish more by looking to God’s Spirit for vision, power and provision.

Feel God’s FIRE

Verse for the Week: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Matthew 3:11

Study Reference for Small Groups: Matthew 3:1-12

One of my favorite theater productions is titled “Godspell.” The play depicted the life and parables of Jesus. The opening song featured the lyrics from the scripture from Matthew 3:3. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand! Prepare the way of the Lord!” John the Baptist came down the center aisle singing that phrase over and over while holding a bucket and a water soaked sponge and flinging water onto people! It was supposed to be comical and I remember thinking, “what if that’s how we were baptized … someone running by flinging water at us?” What if you were on FIRE? Would someone run past you and squirt water at you from a water bottle? Yet when you read Matthew 3:1-12 it speaks of baptism by fire! What a crazy thought! Water should put out the fire and yet John says Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Baptism by water is the outward sign of what God has done inside you! It’s a way to show others that you have been born again, that something has happened to you, that you are “on fire” for god! When you are baptized you are submerged in water, covered completely and then raised up out of the water to represent new life. Baptism is exciting because it ignites a fire inside us to spread the news of Jesus! It doesn’t put out the fire, instead it stokes the flames. The fire that John the Baptist was speaking of is a holy fire meant to purify and cleanse us. Sometimes I have to take a step back and really ask myself am I as passionate and on fire for Jesus as I should be? Am I willing to face the Pharisees as John the Baptist did and stand up for what and who I believe in? Do you have a desire to let God set you on fire for him and his mission? Have you ever been baptized by water? Seek to discover how you fit into what God is doing and how he can use you knowing that he has great things in store for you this week!

Faith Application:
Have you ever thought about baptism and fire in the way it’s described by John the Baptist?

When you read the description of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:4 he seems like a bit of a loner or “hippie” and yet the people followed him and came from all over to be baptized by him.  It was a revival of sorts.  John the Baptist was on fire for Jesus.  He was lined up with the mission to spread the news of Jesus and baptize people. Could you be excited about something like this happening in your area and do you think it would set you on fire?

What are some ways you can be like John the Baptist and prepare the way of the Lord? Is he calling you to minister to someone in your circle about how Jesus set you on fire?

Wait for God’s WIND

Verse for the Week: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all gathered together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4

Study reference for small groups: Acts 1:1-5

Have you ever been in a doctor’s office? It’s the worst, right!? First of all, you are probably there because you’re not feeling well. But to top it off you have to wait. These are the feelings I had this week as I thought about the new direction for me and many of my friends in starting a new church – Gospel Church. After twenty years of pastoral ministry I find myself in a place where I am waiting. However, if you’re waiting on God it’s never a bad thing. Waiting is where the disciples found themselves after Jesus went up to heaven to be with the Father. They were gathered together in one place while they were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost (or in Hebrew the “Feast of Weeks”) took place fifty days after the Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest in which God’s people made an offering from their harvest to the Lord. So while the first Christians waited, God was about to work. While they were in the upper room wondering when and if Jesus would send the helper that he promised, they suddenly heard the sound of a violent WIND. Then there appeared tongues of fire that came to rest on them as they supernaturally declared praises in other languages. This miracle was a sign of the unity Jesus was brining to all nations through his Spirit freely given without distinction upon a declaration of faith. As an old professor of mine used to say, Pentecost was the “un-Babel.” But the strong wind also symbolized the powerful way in which God was about to work through his early church. And so this event was God making good on his promise given through the patience of his people. While they waited, God was working to equip them with supernatural ability for the purpose he was going to carry out through them in the world. This makes me wonder: What might God be doing in your waiting? What wind is he stirring up? I’m sure it has something to do with his great purpose for you. That’s God’s great Gospel. God has good news for you today no matter where you are and what you are facing. So don’t forget that God is working in your waiting just like he is in mine. He’s got big, big plans for you and in Jesus you have a glorious future awaiting you. There’s a powerful wind coming your way to set your sails in the right direction. Therefore, declare God’s joy today and walk in his promises now because it is his will to work with power while you wander his path to your purpose. God bless!

Faith Application:
When was the last time you felt like you were waiting on God’s wind in your situation? Is there anything you feel like you’re currently waiting on God to do?

Read Acts 1:1-5. If Jesus appeared over a period of forty days after his resurrection, that means the disciples were waiting for about ten days from the time of the ascension until they saw God’s Spirit move with power at Pentecost. What do you think the disciples were thinking while they waited? What might the Spirit of God be gearing up for while you wait for greater things?

What does God’s wind represent to you? What is one big, big thing you would like God to in your life while you wait for him? Is there something you can do to work off your “wait”? In other words, is God calling you to do something in faith now to better prepare you for the big moment when it arrives?

Why Is Life So Hard? Trading Hype for Hope

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. As a young person I wrongly assumed that life got easier as you get older.

Unfortunately the further I go the more questions I have and the less confident I am in my own abilities. How can I be a good father, pastor, leader or Christ-follower if I’m increasingly feeling like I just don’t want to deal with life anymore? Why is it all so hard? Why don’t things seem to go in the direction they are supposed to? If God wants something from me, why doesn’t he make the path more pleasant? Have you ever been there?

Hard kills hype
In wrestling with this question, one thing I’ve discovered is that hard kills hype. Whether you realize it or not, hype is a big bully. Often in your life and mine, the problem isn’t the situation, the lack of funding or that annoying person. The problem is that we think other people’s lives are not exactly like ours. The problem is pictures. It’s snapshots and status updates. We get expectations and images in our minds from Instagram that make our imagination our reality. But one thing I’ve notices about the hard is that it kills my hype. It crushes the hollow and empty image I have of life and other people. Through the hard, God is killing my giant, my Goliath and in that process he’s paving the way for something better.

Hard creates hope
If you’re like me, you don’t want your hype to die. Even though it’s a bully, you’ve learned to live with it. But the truth is God has something better, a better that can only happen through the hard. In the end, your hard gives way to hope. I think sometimes God gives us hard things not to make us feel insignificant, but to help us to realize that we already are small and that he is big. God gives us the hard so that we will fix our eyes in the right place. Without disease and discomfort we would look to our bank accounts, our health and our comparisons to create happiness. On the other hand, God offers us a real and lasting hope in things to come. Jesus provides a bright future for God’s people that we can take hold of right now through faith in his promise.

Hard makes holy
We all wonder why life isn’t getting any easier. Our wondering that, however, points us to another purpose. If things aren’t going where we want them it’s because they are not supposed to go that way. If we can start to connect God’s good intentions for us with our surroundings we can only reason that, yes, God does have different plans for our lives than we have for ourselves. God’s plan isn’t to make us comfortable. God’s plan is to make us conformable. He wants us to look like Jesus, to be holy. Holiness isn’t what we seek by nature but it is exactly what we need for God’s happiness. God’s plan is to bless you. While he was in jail, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippian church, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6). Why is life so hard? Because God is hard at work! With that in mind, look at your hardship not as a hindrance but as God’s help to make you more like him and you will have his joy today.

Faith Application
Have you ever experienced what I’m talking about? Are you willing to exchange hollow hype for God’s hope? Be encouraged today that his end game is your good and that your hard is exactly what he’s using to get you there!

A Little about Me (and a Little about You Too) ….

Have you ever done some reflecting? Sometimes life can bring us to a place where we think about the places we come from and that’s what has been happening to me lately. So I thought I’d take a minute to share with you a little about myself and, hopefully, that can be an encouragement about God’s great work in your life too!

What’s in store?
Where did you start off in life? Maybe you come from an influential family. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve been successful. Or maybe you got off on the wrong foot and haven’t seemed to be able to recover. Wherever you are or wherever you’ve been, know that God has god things in store for your future. That alone is reason to look to him with faith.

My start
When I was young I didn’t think too much about making a difference in the world. I wanted to be a teacher but not because of the difference I could make. I thought it would be nice to have summers off. Oh, if only life were that easy! My perception of the world, however, began to change a few weeks before my seventeenth birthday as I found myself sitting in a jail cell for playing a prank on the assistant principle at our school. Even though I only spent about eighteen hours there, the event changed the course of my life. While stuck in that space, I sat I read a copy of the Bible and made God a promise to read the Bible when I got out. I know, I make it sound like I did hard time. I guess that’s what happens when you send a kid from the suburbs to jail for the night. The way I tell my story you’d think I started off with a twenty year prison sentence.

But regardless of “how” it happened, it happened. I followed through on that promise. I got a Bible and read it every night before I went to bed for about a year. Near the end of that year I drove a friend home from school who also happened to be a Christian. He shared the good news of Jesus with me and brought me to the church I now pastor.

Your start and future….
So that’s my story in a nutshell. It doesn’t include all of my struggles, situations and shortcomings. It’s just my start. What’s the start to your story? I never would have thought all those years ago, that I’d be serving God on the capacity that I am today. When I read the Bible all those years ago my heart felt alive.  Though I did not realize it at the time, God had a different plan for my life than the one I had imagined for myself. And through all the ups and downs, my start has kept me grounded. It reminds me that God has his own purpose for me and a plan for blessing. I hope you understand that he has the same great things in store for you too. What might those plans be? Connect with God today and he may show you something new about yourself, your circumstances or his glorious future for you!

Faith Application:
If you get a chance leave a comment about how God is working in your life today!