Are You Just Watching Previews?

— 1 Timothy 4:13

“Most Christians are like people who watch previews of a movie constantly.  Somebody is explaining to me what the movie is about.  So, I feel like I’ve watched it, but I never did.  I know the story line, but I haven’t been caught up in the story itself.  So, let’s watch the movie … Reading the entire Bible takes about 80 hours.  So, if you do about an hour or two per week, you very comfortably finish the book every year.”

 — Bill Hwang

Small Group Scriptures (Reach In)

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Ecclesiastes 4:12
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Matthew 7:12
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

2 Peter 1:5-7
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Ecclesiastes 4:9
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.

1 Thessalonians 3:12
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

Proverbs 17:17
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Ecclesiastes 4:10
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 2not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Matthew 18:20
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.

Acts 2:42-47
All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Ephesians 4:15-16
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Acts 5:42
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

John 13:34-35
A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Galatians 6:1-2
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

1 John 4:11-13
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.

Hebrews 3:12-14
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.

Psalm 133:1
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

Come Clean

If you are wondering how to talk to God when you fail, if you want to know what true humility and surrender look like, and if you want to move from guilty to forgiven to renewal, then read Psalm 51.

As one of seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), Psalm 51 demonstrates the essence of true penitence.  Here David pours out his heart to God in honesty and earnestness.  Conscious of his sin, he shows us the way to forgiveness and true communion with God.  His prayer is direct and straightforward.  His conversation with God is a picture of intense humility and deep trust.  David looks for and finds the transformation that he needs and wants.

The insecure soul will have a hard time telling others about God.  The soul that has been healed will have a hard time being quiet.

Justice … Mercy … Grace

Justice … Mercy … Grace.

Three religious words, three sacred concepts, three spiritual movements of one powerful story. As you carefully think through these three words its one thing to consider their individual meanings. But more importantly, for my purpose in this moment, consider how they fit together. How do they flow one to the other? How does one open the door of meaning for the next? And what story do they tell together?

To answer these questions consider this simple set of definitions that can tighten up our sense of gratitude and responsibility as they show us the very heart of God.

Justice = Getting what we deserve.

Mercy = Not getting what we deserve.

Grace = Getting what we do not deserve.

Perhaps it’s the blessing of living in this country, or having good, supportive relationships, or being in reasonably good health, or some other evidence that our life is both happy and healthy. But whatever the reason, it has become just too easy to slide over from the humble feeling of being blessed to the expectation, or even demand, that we are entitled to all that we have. This is when its good to remember where we would be and what our life would look like, without the kindness and compassion of our Father above. You see, true Justice demands that we get what we deserve. Complete justice requires that, in spite of the entitlement myth, we receive every consequence, every punishment and every heartache that our sins, faults and failures have created. This is living under justice.

But Mercy changes all of this, because mercy is not getting what we deserve. Instead, Jesus takes the consequence of our failure. And so, now imagine living in mercy, having escaped justice and punishment. What is it like, what does it mean to live a forgiven life, where justice has given way to mercy?

But there is more. Continue to follow the flow. Notice how Grace moves us even deeper into the heart of God as it takes us much further than escape from justice. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. Grace is relationship. Grace is partnership. Grace is being trusted. Paul personified grace when he wrote, “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say … and to live…” (Titus 2:11-12). This grace is alive, talking to us and living before us. So much more than escape is occurring here. We are included, received, embraced and welcomed. Truly grace is getting what we do not deserve.

We praise you Father for moving us out of justice, through mercy, into the nurturing relationship of grace.

Do You Have a Plan? (part 1)

I recently returned from leading a Spiritual Formation Conference with a wonderful group of 19 ministers from all around Ghana, West Africa.

My good friend Fred Asare hosted the conference at the Village of Hope. It was a time of quiet reading, careful reflection and thoughtful discussion over a period of several days.  Some of the men I already knew, but the openness and honesty of the whole group made this time one of the high points of my summer.

Early during our first day together I asked a question that I have often asked at Spiritual Formation retreats and seminars over the years.  I had first heard this question at a small men’s breakfast when I lived in Kansas City. One of the brothers in our congregation gave a short devotional to a group of about 15-20 men on a Saturday morning, and he included this question. It so impacted me that I wrote it down and have shared it countless times over the years.

Experience 2

In it’s original form, the question goes like this:

What is the difference between a man with 10 years of experience and a man with 1 year of experience 10 times?

Of course, it can be restated and applied in a number of ways:

What is the difference between a Christian with 10 years of experience … ?

What is the difference between a Minister with 10 years of experience … ?

What is the difference between a Leader with 10 years of experience … ?

Every time I ask some version of this question the group I am with usually does the same kind of soul searching, and the group of ministers in Ghana followed the same pattern.  As they thought through the “minister” version of the question, they realized that both ministers in this scenario had put in the same amount of time, and probably had gone through the same kind of experiences each year of the ten years.  But the first minister found depth and growth from year to year while the second minister never moved and never changed.  When I asked them “why” they realized that the first minister had a vision for each year’s growth.  He followed some kind of plan and grew each year.  The second minister had no vision and no plan.  And so, he simply repeated his first year over and over.

This question set the stage for rest of our time as together we began with a vision from Jesus and then crafted a plan for personal growth.

It was clear to me that my brothers in Ghana do not want their inner life to simply remain static from year to year.  They want movement, growth and change.

Stay tuned for part 2.