Fasting- An Act of Submission

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When we think of “worship,” fasting rarely comes to mind, but in truth, they’re closely related. Fasting and worship share the same root – submission to God.

1. Read

James 4:6-7 [ESV] “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.”

Fasting, just like worship, is an act of willful submission. It rarely comes easily, but that’s part of what makes it so powerful. If God is really “Lord,” we owe Him worship, whether we feel like it in the moment or not. Q . What has been the most challenging part of your fast so far? Have you been tempted to cheat, or to quit? How does sticking with it – against your natural desires – help you deepen your devotion to God?

2. Challenge

Psalm 8:1-4 [NLT] “LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens…What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”

Whatever the expression is, worship begins with an understanding that God is, well – God, and you’re not. Before you call on God to meet your larger-than-life need or give you divine wisdom, you have to get off of the throne of your life and bow before Him. Fasting is a season of practicing that dynamic, as you say “no” to your desires, and “yes” to God’s plan. Q . What’s an area of your life that needs divine intervention? Is He Lord in that area of your life right now, or are you? Q . God wants us to be humble, but not to feel broken-down or worthless. How would you describe the right balance between self-worth in God, and humble knee-bowing before His throne?

3. Prayer Focus

Take a minute to search your heart. What are the areas where your will often puts up a fight against God’s way? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you, as you continue a season of fasting, to focus on submitting better in those areas.

Family with Small Children Discussion Guide

Life is a Highway: STOP

1. Power Verse

Galatians 5:25 “…let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”

What’s up: “S-T-O-P Say No To Sin!”

This week, we continue our series called, “Life Is A Highway”. In this series, we’re learning that life is a lot like a highway. The Bible says that there are two roads that we can choose to travel on. One leads to life in Heaven forever and one leads to sin and death. We have to make sure we are on the road that leads to Heaven.

2. Activity

Ask your kids to make a list of “BIG” sins and “little” sins. When they finish, take turns reading each list.  Sin is dangerous. ALL sin is dangerous. Sadly, many Christians have decided there are “BIG” sins and “little” sins – they divide them up just like we did. There are some sinful habits that we tend to ignore and allow to remain in our lives.

3. Discussion

What are some of the sinful habits we tend to ignore and allow to remain in our lives? Why? ALL sin breaks God’s heart and can cause eternal damage to our souls. It’s important to S.T.O.P. sin in its tracks and defeat those nagging sinful habits that tend to continue to hang around. S – Stop What You Are Doing T – Think About What The Bible Says O – Obey It P – Pray That God Will Give You Strength To Resist It

4. Prayer Focus

Pray for your children if they have been struggling with the same sinful habits over and over. Pray God will help them break those habits and follow the S.T.O.P. method.

Why Fast?

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Fasting is supposed to be a season of focusing on God, but it can easily become a season of focusing on “doing it the right way.” In the end, God’s not impressed with the “how” of fasting; He’s impressed with the “why.”

1. Read

Matthew 6:16 [NLT] “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.”
Fasting can become a way to show how “spiritual” you are by how you do it. It’s human nature to want a pat on the back for doing something hard, but we should seek that from God, not people. Q . You shouldn’t fast to impress others, but you should encourage others, especially your family / children, to want to fast themselves. What’s the difference between this and what Jesus was describing? Where is the line between inspiring others and showing off?

2. Challenge

Matthew 15:1-3 [NLT] “Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, ‘Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.’ Jesus replied, ‘And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?’”
When you’re working hard to serve the Lord through a fast, it’s easy to become sidetracked judging others on the “how” of their service. Instead, focus on the heart behind why you’re fasting. Q . As Christians, we’re called to look out for each other, and confront those who have strayed into sin. How is that dynamic different from the Pharisees’ interaction with Jesus? Q . Imagine a scenario where your focus on the details and traditions of a fast could overshadow the heart behind it in someone else. What would that conversation sound like? How can you avoid playing it out in real life?

3. Prayer Focus

Talk to God in a different way this time. Try to communicate without using the phrases and terminology that normally come to mind. What do you need? What are you thankful for? Keep it real, and just say it in plain English.

Family with Small Children Discussion Guide

Life is a Highway: Yield

1. Power Verse

Galatians 5:25 “…let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” 
What’s Up: “Slow Down, Wait A Minute, Listen To The Holy Spirit!” This week, we continue our series called, “Life Is A Highway”.  In this series, we’re learning that life is a lot like a highway.  The Bible says that there are two roads that we can choose to travel on.  One leads to life in Heaven forever and one leads to sin and death.  We have to make sure we are on the road that leads to Heaven.

2. Activity

Show your children a GPS or map app on your phone. Q. How does a GPS/map app know where to tell you to turn? (It’s in constant communication with satellites that give it information about your position.) Q.  What happens if you’re using a GPS/map app and you make a wrong turn? (The GPS tells you how to get back on the right road.) Q. If a GPS/map app has access to ALL the information about your location, would it ever be smart to ignore the directions it gives you? Why not?

3. Discussion

The Holy Spirit is like this GPS/map app.  He speaks to us as we travel down the highway of life.  He tells us where to go and what to do.  We need to listen to His still small voice in our hearts and always obey what He tell us. Q. How is the Holy Spirit able to help you in your everyday life? Q. How has the Holy Spirit helped you in the past?  Did you listen?

4. Prayer Focus

Pray for your children to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking into their lives.  Practice slowing down by sitting still for a few moments.  Ask your children to listen to what the Holy Spirit is speaking to their hearts.  Then, pray that God will help them obey the Holy Spirit this week.

Tending Sheep

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We’ll today we come to the last chapter of John  and the last day of our prayer and fasting.  By the time you read this, I and the team will be in Panama.  I’ll continue to blog from there but there will be some gaps because we will be in areas where I won’t be able to get anything out.  Here in chapter twenty one is a section of scripture that the Lord used several years ago to teach me a powerful truth about the church.

Let me set the stage.  In the church world today there are those who are doing a style of church designed to target a specific age group.  When asked about what they are doing and why, I have heard them say many times that their church, “isn’t for everyone” or that they are only going after the young.

Can I be so bold as to say that I don’t agree with this thinking?  I honestly don’t believe that this is the sort of thing that Jesus intended in the scriptures, because of something in this chapter.  Notice with me, verses fifteen through seventeen.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

What I want you to notice is the fact that Jesus changes something each of the three times he questions Peter.  The first time Jesus mentions “feeding” his lambs.  The second time he mentions “taking care” of his sheep.  The third time Jesus tells Peter to “feed his sheep”.  What do I think is significant here?  The church is made up of both lambs and sheep, young and old; and we ministers are to both care for and feed those people.

My firm conviction is that every local congregation can only be healthy if it has the whole range of both physical and spiritual ages.  There is great strength when you combine the wisdom of age with the energy of youth.  We are often called the “body” of Christ.  We are literally his hands and feet in this world. As such we need the variety and diversity that is lost if we become any single group.  Like a family, I believe that we were intended by God to exist together with young and old loving and blessing each other.

I don’t mind bragging on the church that I pastor. Abundant Life Community Church in Alton and Wood River are the best example of this that I have ever found. It’s a place where lambs and sheep worship, serve, grow, and live together.  We don’t struggle over styles of decor or music.  Rather, there is a culture of missions and purpose and a divine sense of God’s calling upon us to reach the world.  It’s an incredible place to serve!  Why?  Because it’s a great flock of sheep!


Love Beyond the Law

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Note:  This post was written on Monday, January 21 and the Panama Team made it to Panama City.

I am writing this to you from 35,000 feet on a United flight with the Panama team. It’s 6:30 in the morning and we can see a beautiful sunrise on the left side of the plane.  This morning we are looking at the twentieth chapter of John.  There  are a couple of verses here that I love.  Notice verses fifteen and sixteen.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Do you hear the tenderness and concern in Mary’s voice?  She seems only concerned about how Jesus’ body is being treated.  There’s something about the phrase, “I will get him,” that makes the whole moment feel loving and tender.  I imagine her leaning forward with tears in her eyes ready to move in whatever direction the “gardener” indicates, in order to get the body of Jesus and return it to its place of burial.  There is an aspect that you might miss if you don’t know some of the aspects of Jewish law.

You see, the Jews of Jesus’s day had very strict rules by which they lived.  Some of the most rigid had to do with what it took in order to be “clean” so that you could enter and worship in the temple.  There were a lot of things that could make a person “unclean.”  You could become unclean simply by traveling in the wrong area, eating the wrong foods, or handling certain things.  One of the most well known prohibitions was touching a dead body.  Do you see it?  Mary has changed!  Suddenly she loves something more than the temple.  In this moment her heart, eyes, and mind have a single focus… Jesus!

I think that perhaps this is why she got to see him first.  Have you ever thought about why she was at the tomb anyway?  Verse one says that she went to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark.  I think she’s having trouble sleeping because she misses Jesus.  I think she came to the tomb alone because she simply wanted to be as near to him as she could.  It’s the same emotion that made her willing to go find his body and move it back to the tomb.  Mary loves Jesus.  He has changed her whole life and her heart belongs to him!

How about us today?  Are we willing to look beyond the traditions of our lives and simply pursue Him?  Is there a longing in our hearts to be as near to him as we can?  Hearing her devotion and care Jesus simply speaks her name….”Mary” …and she knows him.  I think she starts to move towards him when Jesus stops her and tells her not to touch him yet.   Its a powerful picture of devotion the Lord.

A picture we should lean towards in our lives!


Betrayed and Denied

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John chapter 18 deals with the events surrounding the arrest and trial of Jesus.  Jesus is arrested after Judas’ betrayal and taken first to Annas, then to Caiaphas and ultimately to Pilate the Roman Governor.  It is during his time at the High Priest Caiaphas’ residence that Peter’s betrayal takes place and that’s what I want us to consider today.

Have you ever wondered what caused Peter to betray Jesus?

Especially after Jesus told Peter that it would happen.  You would think that Peter would be especially on guard after Jesus warned him that he would betray him three times before the rooster crowed.  Yet Peter did exactly what Jesus said he would do.  What factors could have created enough fear to have Peter, who just hours earlier had been willing to draw a sword and attempt to kill a man to defend Jesus, to now deny him?  Before we get too hard on Peter, let me remind you of what Peter and all the disciples thought was going to happen.

Jews during the time of Jesus had a very particular idea of what the coming Messiah would be.  He would be a king, a mighty, warring king.  I believe that they all believed that he would be very much like King David, who with God’s help, had conquered all the enemies of Israel and had established them as the greatest nation in that part of the world.  The Jewish people thought that he would fill all three roles of prophet, priest, and king.  Because they had an erroneous view of what God was, they certainly had an erroneous view of what the Messiah who was to come from God would be.

We see glimpses of that in sections of scripture like Matthew chapter twenty and Mark chapter ten where the mother of James and John asks Jesus to let her sons sit on his left and right when he establishes his kingdom.  She’s not asking about heaven, they think that Jesus is going to become the king of Israel.  They believe that he’s going to take over from the Romans, expel them from Israel, and become King and High Priest all in one.

With all of that in mind, imagine what it does in Peter’s heart and mind when he sees Jesus arrested.  Perhaps he can see Jesus when one of the officials near the high priest strikes Jesus for the way that he responded to one of the high priest’s questions (18:22).  Can you imagine the confusion and doubt that begins to eat away at Peter’s faith?  Have you ever expected one thing to happen and something totally different happened?  Have you ever felt the disappointment of expecting something only to be let down?  Of course you have.  We all have.  Now imagine that this disappointment isn’t just about a single issue, but rather that this disappointment touches everything you hope for now and everything you have ever hoped for.  Now you have some sense of what Peter was feeling.

In that moment of doubt and confusion, Peter denied that he was a follower of Jesus.  I think I understand.  I even think that I might have done exactly the same thing.  However, Peter’s story doesn’t end there.  If you’ve read the first few chapters of the book of Acts, you know that Jesus picks Peter back up, dusts him off, encourages him, fills him with the Holy Spirit, and uses him to change the entire world!

Even if at times you have doubted who Jesus is and his purpose for your life, be encouraged.  Jesus is patient and he knows how we are made.  He’ll not only prove himself to you as he did Peter, he’ll use you to change the world as well!


Jesus’ Prayer to God

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John chapter 17 is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.  In this chapter Jesus turns his attention away from the disciples and towards his heavenly father.  This entire chapter is the prayer that he prays just before he is betrayed and arrested.  There are once again too many great truths for me to mention them all in a blog this short, so let me focus on just one of them.

It is fairly rare in the scriptures for us to have a picture of things that took place in heaven between God the Father and Jesus before the time that Jesus came to earth, but we have one here in this chapter.  Notice if you will, verse five which says…

John 17:5 (NIV84)  ” And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

I love trying to get my mind around what it is that Jesus is saying.  Let’s look at the words that Jesus uses.

Glorify means, “to bring glory.”  But what exactly does glory mean?  The Greek word that Jesus used which we translate into our English word glory means splendor, brightness, amazing might, praise, honor, and greatness.  In short these are the qualities that Jesus took off when he became a man and that he put back on when he left this earth and returned to God the Father’s presence.

Jesus says, “Father put back on me (glorify) all of the qualities (glory) that I put off when I came here.  Make me once again just like I had been since before the foundation of the world.”  This is a wonderful picture of Jesus, the Son of God, in his heavenly state.  Eternal, splendid, beautiful, powerful, radiant, honored, and great!  Moreover, Jesus didn’t start “being” with his birth in Bethlehem, he has always been!  Sometimes I think we forget exactly who Jesus is, where he’s really from, and his true greatness.

Jesus left all of that out of his great obedience to the Father and his great love for us.  He is now and always has been, worthy of our praise!  He’s our friend!  He’s our savior!  He’s our intercessor at God’s right hand!  Do you know him?  Do you really know him?  He’s worth really getting to know.


Jesus Has It All

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I must admit that I have been anxiously awaiting our arrival at John chapter 16.  Of all of the chapters of John, this one is my favorite.  It’s my favorite because it contains a promise with a possibility so great that I get excited each and every time I read it.  The section of chapter sixteen that I am referring to is found in verses 12-15.

John 16:12–15 (ESV)   “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Let’s look at these verses in reverse order because there is a promise with so much potential that I don’t want you to miss a single piece of it.

Notice what Jesus says in verse 15…

“All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Don’t miss this truth: Everything that God the Father has also belongs to Jesus the Son.  “ALL that the Father has is mine…”  Can you imagine the scope of this?  In actuality, no you cannot.  No one can. The scriptures say that we can’t even imagine what he has prepared for us in heaven, so how could we possible comprehend EVERYTHING that is the Father’s!  So Jesus has it all.  All power, all knowledge, all dominion, all possessions… all everything!

The next verse above this one says…

“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Do you see it?  Can you try to imagine it?  Consider this.  The Father gave everything to Jesus.  Jesus just said that the Holy Spirit will glorify him by taking that and making it known to us.  Therefore, what’s the limit on what the Holy Spirit can do through us?  There’s not one.  What’s the limit on what the Holy Spirit can teach us?  There’s not one!  What’s the limit on the power available to us through the Holy Spirit?  There’s not one!

As I examine these verses of scripture I am always left with an excitement about what the Holy Spirit wants to do in my life but I am also always left with a sense of disappointment.  I’m disappointed in a depth, or lack of depth in my openness to the Spirit’s work in my life.  I want to go deeper!  How about you?  I want God to be able to use me to advance his kingdom in a miraculous way.  I want to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice louder than all of the other things vying for my attention.  I want more than what I have seen or experienced.  I want… “He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

As we have come down to the last week of our prayer and fasting, lets really press in and ask the Lord to teach us great and mighty things that will truly equip us to move his kingdom forward in 2014!

He’s got some spectacular things that He wants to say to us!  Are you listening?