devotion

a study on love

Key Text: 1 Corinthians 13:13

Goals:

1. Know: That God is love and that Jesus is the greatest expression of that love

2. Feel: The difference between human love and God’s all-encompassing love.

3. Do: Allow God’s love to manifest itself in our lives through Christ.

Lesson Outline:

I. Needing Love (Genesis 1:26)

A. The Message Bible translates this verse as “Let us make human beings…reflecting our nature.” Because we reflect God’s nature and God is love, we should reflect that love through our actions. How can we do this in our lives?

B. As humans, we all have the need to love and be loved. How is God’s love different than the love of others? Can you replace one with the other?

II. Experiencing Love (1 John 3)

A. God’s extraordinary love is highlighted throughout scripture. Creation, the gift of the Sabbath, the plan of salvation, and the spirit of prophecy all affirm God’s loving nature. Share specific ways you have experienced God’s unfathomable love?

B. The gift of eternal life is the ultimate demonstration of love. What are other examples of God’s love?

III. Reflecting Love (Matthew 22:35-40)

A. Our reaction to the love of God should be love for one another. This can be hard to do in a world full of sin. How can you better reflect His love?

Summary:

God is love. By allowing Christ to abide within us, this love will be evidenced in our lives.

devotion

power misguided

A Bible Study on Ahab and Jezebel

Introduction: The book, Shantung Compound, describes the lives of the people detained in a camp in China by the Japanese during World War II. One particular chapter talks about the development of a black market within the camp. Because of the black market precious commodities like eggs, sugar, and milk that were not known to be available in the camp, became regular items on the menu. When the Japanese found out about the black market operation they shot the people involved. Ironically, this was not done not to put and end to the black market, but rather to take over the illegal business themselves and make and keep the money for themselves. (Option 2: Ask the class to name characters in the Bible who abused power. Examples: Saul, Absalom, Herod the Great, Judas, Pilate, David)

Study: Imagine having total, complete control of everybody and everything. How far would you go in using your power? What would be your limit, the line you wouldn’t cross? Would a good motive justify a dictatorial use of power?

Thanks to sin, life is filled with strife and Job-moments of tests of faith. And every time we are tested with difficulties, we brace ourselves by saying it is a time of testing, and look forward to the future when life will take a more favorable turn. But in reality, the greatest tests of spiritual fortitude occur not during difficult times but during the good times.

Take Joseph for instance. He probably thought being gagged and sold by his own brothers and sent to a foreign land was his greatest test. But it wasn’t. His greatest test came when he had control, had power, had authority to get back at his brothers. It is one thing to be tested when you are powerless and have no options; it is another to be tested when given the opportunity to get revenge and have self-satisfying options at your disposal.

While poverty, suffering, or injustice may be tests that come our way from time to time, like Joseph we are tested most by the power that is ours and the way that we use it. Our lesson this week shows how power is abused (specifically by Ahab and Jezebel). Compare this with the way Joseph used the power he had.

The use of power is an act of stewardship. True, legitimate power is a gift from God. Like money, power in itself in not evil; the love of it is evil.

Consider the following texts that speak of power as stewardship:

Genesis 1:26
Genesis 9:5-7
Romans 13:1
John 19:11
Genesis 41:15-16
1 Corinthians 4:7

Power is not to be sought for self-gain, but used to serve others. Ezekiel charged Israel’s leaders with having lost sight of the purpose for their power (Ezekiel 34:1-4). The same evil use of power was evident during Jesus’ time (Matthew 23:1-12). So it was no surprise when the disciples looked out for themselves (Mark 9:34, 10:35-45; Luke 9:33, 22:24). Yet the truth is that greatness cannot be measured in terms of power, but in terms of service (Mark 10:45).

Discuss: Have the class independently explore the different types of powers and how they may be abused in our society. Below are some kinds of power to start the discussion.

Power of position. This is the power that comes with office. A sergeant in the army has authority over a private; A manager or supervisor has authority over those under him or her. A parent has certain authority over his child; etc (Example: Ahab and Jezebel ruled as tyrant for 22 years simply because they had the title and clout to do what they wanted)

Power of situation. While positional power is the formal mechanism for allocating power, circumstances also have a way of putting power into our hands. (Example: Jacob and Esua—Jacob used Esau’s hunger gave Jacob situational power to get the birthright he wanted)

The Old Testament Law made it extremely difficult for a person to take advantage of someone else. Study the following texts:

Exodus 22:25-27
Deuteronomy 15:7-11
Deuteronomy 15:1-2
Deuteronomy 15:12-15
Leviticus 25:8-17

 Power of competence. In a situation that demands expertise, we tend to defer to someone with education and experience in that particular field. And the expert can either aid or exploit the situation with his power. (Example: For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong.

Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle’s death. Bits & Pieces, January 9, 1992, pp. 22, 23. (Source:http://www.bible.org/illus.asp?topic_id=100)

Power of personality and character. There are many ways that one can have the upper hand in a situation by playing to the psyche of another. It could be using physical attractiveness as a lure, tears for sympathy, body language for assertiveness, empty threats to get results, pretending to be helpless to get someone else to do the job, etc.(Example: Delilah used her hold on Samson as power to bring down a nation)

Conclusion:While Ahab and Jezebel are examples of how we should not use power, Joseph is an example of how we can use power: While Joseph’s feigned harshness produced fear, it was his graciousness that resulted in spiritual awareness and the beginnings of repentance. The gruff accusations of Joseph did produce the facts he sought about his father and brother (42:8-13), but it was grace that caused his brothers to consider their circumstances as coming from the hand of God. It was only after Joseph released his brothers from prison and relaxed his demands and offered hope and life by assuring them that he, too, feared God (42:18) that they began to consider God’s hand in their dilemma (42:21-22). And it was after they realized that their money was given back to them in the grain sack that they said, “What is this that God has done to us?” (42:28).

Questions:

What are some of the selfish gain that result from abuse of power (money, influence, prestige, control) in every day situations? How can we exercise the power which is at our disposal? Do we use it to serve others or to seek our own selfish ends?

You can make the Bible say anything you want and sometimes the Word of God is manipulated from the pulpit to justify a personal agenda. What can you as a church member do about this?

What Christlike characteristics do you think help combat the temptation to abuse power? What can you do to cultivate these characteristics?

In the Old Testament, many kings—like Ahab—abused power and reigned as tyrants for years. Yet God’s chosen people prevailed. What lessons can we learn from this to encourage us when church leaders abuse power at the expense of church?

Contemplation: Often it is difficult for us to objectively identify the areas of power we struggle with. Power has a way of sneaking up on you and taking over your ego. How can we deal with this problem?

Consider appointing someone whose opinion you trust and value to be your accountability partner. Give this person the authority to set you straight when you abuse power. Think of other ways you can protect yourself from caving into the lure of power and authority?

Application: Power of any kind can be a temptation, a test of a Christian’s stewardship. And how you combat the temptation of power is the same way you fight any other kind of temptation. Rick Warren in his book Purpose Driven Life gives four ways to defeat temptation:

  1. Refocus your attention on something else.
  2. Reveal your struggle to a godly friend or support group.
  3. Resist the Devil.
  4. Realize your vulnerability.

(Details in Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan], pp 209 –216)

Consider the following activities to help you from abusing power:

  1. When you find yourself in the middle of a disagreement or conflict, deliberately take time out to pray and then look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Deliberately fight your natural instinct to justify your point of view. Practice humility with the help of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Take the time to read the Beatitudes in an easy version of  the Bible. Meditate on Jesus’ counsel in the Beatitudes about attitude and behavior.
  3. Develop the habit to begin each day by turning over your life into God’s control. Remind yourself that with God in control, there will be no temptation to abuse power.
  4. When you read or hear of people in the world who abuse power, set aside time to specifically mediate for them in prayer.
Spiritual Musings

for loot or love?

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22: 20, NIV)

Sky’s favorite thing to do as a toddler was to look through Grandma’s silk sarees. The brilliance of the bright colors and gold embroidery would keep her enthralled for hours. And she was ecstatic when she learned that all of them would be hers one day.

However, she did not understand why she couldn’t have them right away if they were all going to be hers any way. So it was obvious to us that it was time to discuss the subject of death and inheritance. Unfortunately, the discussion had no effect on her—She focused only on the loot and not on Grandma’s love. And with great impatience she’d ask us every day . . . When is Grandma going to die?!

The Bible ends with Jesus assuring us of two things: 1) His coming is a certainty; and 2) He is coming quickly. For sure, our response ought to be the same as John’s—Amen! Come, Lord Jesus. Yet we should revisit, every day, the reason behind our response. Is it a selfish one? Perhaps for the streets of gold, a life with pain or death?

Do we await the Second Coming for the loot or to be with the One we love?

Feature image by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

devotion, Misc Stuff, Previously Published

four-step discussion

Preaching a 40-minute sermon is sometimes easier than leading a 15-minute discussion; delivering  a monologue is easier than initiating dialogue! Try this four-step method the next time you are to lead a discussion.

Step 1: Illustrate. Tell a story. The right story has power. It can reel in the wandering mind, bring the soul to attention, and impress upon the heart a thought to last a lifetime—all in a moment.

Step 2: Quote.  Plant your story in an environment of credibility. Quotations and passages from authoritative, respected sources not only provide this environment, but also anchor the listener to your story.

Step 3: Reflect. Throw out a few questions to provoke thinking and start and start a discussion.

Step 4: Apply. Invite the participants to incorporate into their lives the story and the quotations they have reflected on.

Now, let’s try this method using the topic Forces of Habit.

Illustrate. “On the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, a giant Sequoia lies rotting. It was a growing sapling when Christ walked the shores of Galilee. When Columbus discovered America, it was reaching maturity; during the America Civil War, it looked down from lofty heights. The tree seemed destined to live many more centuries. Then, a few years ago, a tiny beetle started to burrow into its bark and lay eggs that would produce other beetles. It seemed like an unequal battle at first, but the few beetles multiplied into hundreds, then into thousands, and finally into millions. First they attacked the bark, then they worked deeper into the trunk, and finally, they were eating the very heart and strength of that magnificent forest giant. Then one day, the rains came, the winds blew, and lightening flashed. And after withstanding the elements for centuries, the giant tree fell. Not because of the elements, but because of the weakening effects of those tiny beetles.

“Bad habits do the same to people. They slowly take a toll until the day comes when the person falls like that giant tree.”—Zig Ziglar

Quote. “The person who has been born into God’s family does not make a practice of sinning, because now God’s life is in him; so he can’t keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into and controls him—he has been born again” (1 John 3:9, TLB).

“Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (Phil. 4:8, TLB),.

“Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny” (an old proverb).

Reflect. Why is it hard to admit that we are doing something wrong? What role does confession play in the breaking of a bad habit? What confidence does Jesus’ death on the cross give us? What should we do with our evil desires? How do we nail our desires to the cross? What specific differences might we expect if our lives were Spirit-controlled?

Apply. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is an ongoing process—you can’t be filled with the Spirit today and expect the supply to last a lifetime. Translated most accurately, the Greek verb, be filled (as in Eph. 5:18), would read be always being filled. Having once had an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit is not nearly as important as being filled with the Holy Spirit today. We need to make a conscious, rational decision to yield to Christ’s control. And when we do so, the Holy Spirit’s power will be released. As we continue yielding, He will fill every part of us.

What can you do today to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life? What steps will you take this week to break a habit that keeps you from growing? With the Spirit in control, how do you see yourself thinking and acting?

devotion, Previously Published

telling it like it is

Texts: Matt. 4:18–22; 10:24, 25; Mark 3:13, 14; 8:34, 35; Luke 14:25, 26

Jesus lived in a time where stories were used very specifically. A story wasn’t just something you read to put a child (or an adult) to sleep. Stories were used to derive a legal conclusion; teach a moral lesson; illustrate an idea in philosophy or in faith; or to share a wondrous or miraculous event. And these stories were told in three different styles: as in a dream and something that does not really take place in the physical world; as a real event but related as a metaphor, using symbols; or as a real event but related in an exaggerated manner to emphasis certain points.

In making His call to discipleship (Luke 14:26, 27, 33), Jesus goes all out on the story-telling tactic of exaggeration and draws a mental picture of a disciple —The man is standing at the doorway of his house, a new disciple ready to embark on a journey. To publicly display his total, 100% commitment to follow this radical man Jesus, he’s called the leaders of his community to bear witness of what he is about to do. The neighbors are there and so is the press. This is important because it is BIG and because it doesn’t happen often–The man writes off his parents forever; he is now dead to them. He gives his wife and children his permission; he blesses them into a new life without him. He executes his new will and testament; He donates all his things except the clothes on his back and the extra set in his satchel to Goodwill. And then as a final salute to his calling, the man calls to his neighbors to pick up the heavy cross made especially for him and strap it to his back. That cross, he claims, will remain on his back throughout his discipling journey! 

This severely exaggerated story of Jesus can scare the average Christian. It’s as though Christ is calling us to be suicide bombers—Forget yourself, your family, your job, your life—just strap a bomb to yourself and die for the cause, if that’s what it takes! Not many of us can commit like this so we end up feeling like we’d never live up to Jesus’ expectations of a disciple and therefore, we might as well give up right now.

What we need to do is to remember that Jesus was trying to make a point. He wanted there to be no doubt about the level of commitment He expected, the magnitude of the call, and the power of the Spirit that He had to offer each of us to be His disciple. Let’s convert the story-telling technique of exaggeration of Jesus into plain, today’s language to understand what Jesus was saying:

The urgency of the call. When Jesus called his disciples (Matthew 4:19) Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men there had to be something in His voice, in His body language, in His demeanor that expressed urgency. We know this was probably true because of what the disciples did: Immediately they left their nets and followed Him (v 20). This does not mean that they stopped being fishermen and husbands. There are numerous references in the Bible to their occupation and their homes after this call; they continued living like regular people and carried out their society and family responsibilities. But the key point is that the moment they said YES to Jesus, they put Him FIRST and everything else second.

When Jesus calls us to be disciples, the time to answer is NOW. The lifestyle of stewardship demands an immediate response. Besides, if Jesus didn’t think we were ready to be His disciples, He wouldn’t bother calling.

The prerequisite of the call. When He called them to be fishers of men in Matthew 4, Jesus had no intention of sending them in pairs at that very moment. That call was to walk with Him, learn from Him, abide in Him—until such a time came that He was ready to send them (Mark 3:13, 14).

The prerequisite then is to learn at His feet before following at His heel. Jesus is not a one with illogical expectations: When we’re called to be disciples, our creator God personally trains and equips us for the task. We need to remember that we are merely tools placed in His hands. We have nothing to fear.

The side effects of the call. This is the most amazing perk of accepting the call to discipleship—When the disciples recognized the urgency of the call and made it their priority, they were immediately placed in a training program of emulation of Christ. And in doing so, they experienced awesome side-effects—a) Cross-bearing (putting Christ above self, family, job, culture and everything) was a joyous, willing, and voluntary act; b) Witnessing was a natural way of life!

When we are true disciples, what was once difficult is now a piece of cake. What was once a burden is now the farthest thing on our minds. This is not because of our own strengths but because in imitating Jesus, we’re becoming more and more like Him each day.

So, what Jesus was really saying is that a true life of discipleship requires Him alone as Lord of our hearts and lives. He’s not calling us to a one-time zealous act of martyrdom; He’s calling us to a life-long expression and reflection of His love. The result: Everyone around us will yearn to be disciples too!

Discuss

What are the privileges that come with being a disciple? (John 15:7-16)

Think of phrases that describe discipleship (Eg. growing in the image of Christ). Consider scenarios in your church where you can use these phrases to encourage Christian growth.

devotion, Previously Published

inspired word of God

Age Group: High School

Key Text: All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16, NIV)

Materials needed: Paper, pens, chalk board

Introduction:
One cold night, a colporteur encountered a robber who ordered him to light a bonfire and burn his books. The colporteur lit the fire, and then asked to read a little from each book first. He read the twenty third psalm from one; the story of the good Samaritan from another; the Sermon on the Mount from another; 1 Corinthians 13 from another. At the end of each reading, the robber said “It’s a good book. We won’t burn that one; give it to me.” In the end, none were burned; the robber left with all the books. Years later the man turned up again. Only this time he was not a robber; he was a Christian minister. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, St. Andrews Press, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1975, p 201)

Activity:
Option 1: Give each several pieces of paper and pen. Ask them to put their Bibles away and say: “Pretend all our Bibles are destroyed. You have to rely on your memory. For the next five minutes, write down all the Bible verses you can say from memory (once verse per piece of paper), including the reference if possible. Post the verses on the wall under the categories Law, History, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels, Epistles.

Then ask questions like What made this exercise difficult? Why is it we reproduce so little of the book we use so much? What difference should the Bible make in our lives? Why do we feel more comfortable with some parts of the Bible than others? What is it that keeps us from studying and learning more from the Bible?

Option 2: Distribute portions of a recent newspaper. Have them glean stories of people who were in a difficult, happy, sad, or strange situation. Encourage the class to contribute recent, personal experiences. Draw a 2-column table on a chalkboard. The heading of the left column is “In this the situation.” The heading of the right “The Bible says.”

As the class finds stories, write a brief description of each in the left. Stop when you have about a dozen stories. Now have the class find encouraging, faith-affirming Bible texts   that can be encouraging to the individuals in the stories.

Bible Study:
Option 1: Divide into five groups and have each study 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 along with one of these passages: Hebrews 4:12; James 1:22-24; Luke 16:17; 2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Timothy 2:15. Questions they could tackle: What do these verses say about the Bible? What is function and purpose of Scripture? What results can you expect in your life from studying the Bible every day?

Option 2: Divide into five groups and have each rewrite one of the following passages to give it a personal and contemporary application. Then have each group read aloud the original passage from the Bible followed by their paraphrase: Matthew 5:13-16; Romans 8:38, 39; 1 Corinthians 13:4-12; Philippians 4:4-7; Hebrews 13:1-3; James 1:2-8. After the sharing of these paraphrases, emphasize the relevance of Scripture and the importance of personal application in the studying of Scripture.

Discussion:

 

 

  • If you know the Word and don’t do as it says, what does that say about your respect for God and His authority?
  • How can you develop a personal checklist to ensure you say and do what is biblically right?
  • If someone told you the Bible was just a how-to book for good moral behavior, how would you defend it as being the inspired Word of God?
  • How can you communicate the message of the Bible with confidence and yet without arrogance?
  • How can you safely compare what people say about God with what the Bible says?
  • What can you do when you find it difficult to believe without seeing?

 

 

devotion, Previously Published

it takes just one

Age group: high school, college

Introduction: Elijah began his life as a nobody. By the time someone got around to writing his story, no one could remember who his parents were. But because of the special connection Elijah had with his sovereign God, he became a somebody. He became the very hands, feet, and voice of God. God spoke through Elijah. God performed miraculous feats through Elijah; God brought about a revival through Elijah. Today you too can be a somebody for God. You can do it the same way Elijah did it! Be connected, always, to your Savior through a humble lifestyle, fervent prayer, and an attitude of faith.

Study: James 2:14-26; 2 Thessalonians 2: 13-17; 2 Timothy 1:1; 2:13; 2 Peter 1:-11
Ask yourself the following questions: How is my faith reflected in the things I do? In which part of my life is it most difficult to exercise faith?

Apply:

  • Make a list of the people in your life you trust implicitly. Then, write each one a note of appreciation this week for their influence in your life.
  • Nurture someone else’s faith in the good in humankind. For example, leave a note of thanks and encouragement (along with your tip!) for the server when you eat at a restaurant.
  • Collect poetry on the subject of prayer. Then, take the time to appreciate the collection and be blessed by it.
  • Ask someone who knows you well to point out your strengths and weakness. Next, find specific ways to use your strength. Ask God for help in strengthening your weaknesses.
  • Subscribe to a magazine such as Discipleship Journal that will enrich your spiritual walk.
  • Trace your foot on construction paper. Next, as artistically as possible, fill it with statements that reflect your spiritual goals. Frame and hang it where it can serve as a reminder of where you want to go!
  • Start a book exchange. Meet your friends at a local donut shop once a month to swap books that will help you grow in your connection with the Lord.
  • Begin a mid-day devotion time with a book such as Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest.

Additional reading:
Arthur F Miller Jr., Why You Can Be Anything You Want to Be, chaps.7 and 8
Corrie ten Boom, Reflections of God’s Glory