How to Make Lasting Change

We are often perplexed on why we make commitments to change yet fall miserably short of success. One essential start is to make your life based on the Bible:

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” (John 8:31b NASB)

One cannot stress enough how important it is to make a commitment to reading the Bible regularly. Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31b NASB). It’s a long-term commitment to learn from Jesus and his Word that makes us his disciples.

How do you continue in the Word and stay connected with Jesus through his Word for the long-term?

1. Make the decision. It starts with your commitment to actually do it. Don’t wait for a better time to make God’s Word a regular part of your life. Start your commitment today.

2. Make a declaration. Announce your intentions to others. Hold yourself accountable and allow yourself to be held accountable by others. If you keep your commitment to God a secret, it’s easier to slip up.

3. Make a determination. Don’t allow anything to knock you off your commitment. Absolute determination can make this a permanent habit in your life, particularly in the early months. If you start skipping days, it will be much harder to stay committed to God’s Word.

4. Double up. Get a spiritual partner to come alongside you for support and encouragement. This is someone with whom you can share what you learn in your quiet times. It could be someone in your small group, a friend, or a family member. The Bible says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT).

[print_link] [email_link] [Based on a devotion by Rick Warren]

The Blessing of Weakness

It has been said, never show your weaknesses, mainly because it will be used against you. The fact is, everybody has weaknesses. We have physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual weaknesses, so the question is, what do you do with your weaknesses?

While most people deny, defend, or excuse their weaknesses, Christians can embrace them and ask God to use them! When God works through weak people, His power is shown more clearly (2 Corinthians 12:5, 9, 1 Corinthians 9:22, Hebrews 4:15, 11:34).

When I use the word weakness, I’m not talking about a character flaw that can and should be changed. A weakness is any limitation in my life I inherited or can’t change. How do you lead your small group through weaknesses that you didn’t ask for and don’t have the ability to change?

1. Admit Your Weaknesses: In other words, stop pretending to have it all together, stop hoping the weaknesses will go away, stop ignoring them, and stop making excuses and blaming others (which only hurts my credibility in the end).

2. Be Grateful for Your Weaknesses: The limitations God allows in our lives are actually blessings in disguise (remember that Laura Story song on K-Love). Our limitations guarantee that God will show up to help. If I can do things in my own strength, the ultimate conclusion is, “Who needs God?”

Weaknesses also prevent me from becoming arrogant, and nothing will limit my effectiveness in leading a small group more than arrogance.

3. Openly Share Your Weaknesses: This is what is called being vulnerable. By sharing my weaknesses I am admitting that there are limits to my knowledge, my ability, and my energy.

Being open is also very risky (which is why we seek to avoid it at all cost). There will be people in your small group or the church at large who don’t want you to be human. They think a teacher is some super Christian and can’t handle knowing about any weaknesses. They’d rather put a halo on you and pretend you are never tempted and that you’re above the negative realities of life.

Refusing to be vulnerable is dishonest and hypocritical, but even worse, it sets up a scenario in which people become disillusioned with Christians when one’s humanness eventually shows – and it always will.

Why is it so important to reveal your feelings? Here are seven reasons:

  1. It liberates you from the stress of keeping up a false image.
  2. Some faults won’t be dealt with until you confess them to others.
  3. You can’t experience grace without weaknesses and you can’t minister and teach others without grace.
  4. It’s the fastest way to endear yourself to others. People will seek to support you and pray for you.
  5. Honesty supports your credibility, and people only follow leaders they trust.
  6. It’s good for the group. It encourages others to throw away their masks, deal with their own weaknesses.
  7. It helps your teaching to speak to others with transparency.

When you share your strengths, you create competition.
When you share your weaknesses, you create community.

So what do you share? As you think about how you will relate and communicate to others this week, think about how you will share these five things:

  • Failures.
  • Feelings.
  • Faults.
  • Frustrations.
  • Fears.

Your humanity is actually one of your greatest assets in your teaching ministry. To deny your humanity is not only dumb, it decreases your effectiveness. Do you want to be used by God? Do you want his blessing on your ministry? Do you want people to give the glory to God? Walk in total dependence on God and embrace your weaknesses!

[print_link] [email_link] Modified from Rick Warren

God’s Will and the Church

The passage for this message is First Corinthians 12:12-14, 26.

We have been studying how to best experience God, not just to know God but to experience him. The seven realities of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God can change our perspective from a self-centered theology to one that is God-centered, understanding these profound truths:

1. God is always at work around us
2. God pursues a continual love relationship that is real and personal
3. God invites us to join him in his work
4. God speaks to us to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways
5. Having heard from God, we will experience a crisis of belief that requires faith and action
6. We will have to adjust our lives to join him in his work
7. We come to know God through experience as we obey him

It been challenging and this confronts us on a deep and personal level. These realities cause us to think about our current relationship with God and force us to admit that we have often been simply a casual fan of Jesus, but not a follower of Jesus at all, believing just enough to know that heaven is the place we want to go after this life, but not enough to make actual changes in our lives that will allow God to use us and make an impact on his kingdom. We believe the mission and purpose of God is to call out pastors, teachers and missionaries to build his kingdom, and we settle for sitting on the sidelines, never really wanting to get into the game. We are glad we “made the team” by saying YES to Jesus at some point in the past. We know there’s a playbook but have not really gotten it out to read it, or to prepare for the game, and we justify ourselves by saying, “I just sit here on the bench so I leave reading the playbook and running the plays to the starting team. I don’t expect to get in the game so I’m just fine sitting here on the bench, dressed out and wearing my team’s colors. I don’t really like practice too much: the coach is always telling us what to do and how to do it. He makes the team run, shoot, get in shape, hone our skills and get prepared for the games. But I don’t really DO all that stuff. I prefer just sitting over here on my little bench, next to this little orange water cooler filled with Gatorade. Why am I on this team? It’s because I like the crowd cheering for me and my team, knowing I can make it to the Final Four and the Championship Game because of all the dedication, commitment, skills and efforts of those five starters who get all the playing time.”

Wow, I didn’t think I would take this illustration so far, but the more I thought about it, how often is this the truth? My faith is all about ME. My faith is personal. But the Bible begs to differ. Faith is not something that we believe in or live out on our own. There is way too much evidence in Scripture that the Christian faith is to be carried out in the context of community. We often seek God’s will in our own lives but fail to realize that God has a will for the church. The church is the gathered group of Jesus followers. The church is people, those who have confessed allegiance to the One who bought them and saved them, not just to sit and soak, but to serve. I’m not talking about volunteering, although that is expected when we have a corporate mentality to Christianity. I’m talking about truly understanding what the church is all about. What does God expect of the church? Why do we gather in worship? Jesus mentioned that there are two great commandments: to love God, and then to love others. The whole law can be summed up in these two commands, but the Bible also has a lot to say about HOW we live as believers and followers and disciples of Jesus. Let’s first see what the church IS:

1. The Church is a Creation of Christ.

A. He builds the church: Matthew 16:18, I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

B. He builds the church using Spirit-led pastors and leaders: Ephesians 4:11-13, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

C. He builds the church and arranges its members according to his own will: 1 Corinthians 12:18, But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

2. The Church is the Living Body of Christ with many Members; 1 Corinthians 12:27, Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. It is not an organization as much as it is an organism; people make up this active and living body of Christ.

3. The Church is Uniquely Related to Jesus Christ as the Head of the Body;

  • Ephesians 1:22, And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.
  • Ephesians 4:15-16, 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

All matters of the church are to come under the lordship of Christ.

4. We (believers) are the Members of the Body of Christ who are Uniquely Related to Every Other Member of the Church; Ephesians 4:11-13, 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

5. The Church is on Mission with God in Carrying Out the Father’s Redemptive Plan;

The Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20, 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Ministry of Reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Wanting to Know God’s Will

We often desire to know God’s will for our lives, but remember, THAT is the wrong question. We need to ask, “What is God’s will?” rather “What is God’s will for my life?” Discover what God WILLS and align your life to what we know. Of those two questions, one is God-centered while the other is self-centered.

There IS something called “God’s will” and as individuals, we want to hear God speak, discover that will and then make major adjustments to be a part of God’s will. But God also has a will for the church, which is the gathered body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we want to hear God speak in order to discover his will, and then make major adjustments to be a part of God’s will.

So today, I want to focus on ONE aspect of what God’s will is for the church. It can be summed up in one word, ACCOUNTABILITY. Since we are NOT involved in an individualistic religion but rather a faith of interdependent relationships, what does God really want from us? How can the body of Christ best function? How can I be the best member that I can be, not only for myself but also for the church?

Accountability is not something that we can do alone, by reading the Bible more, praying more, tithing more… accountability is done in connection with other people. It’s more than just BEING WITH other people. Face it; there is no real accountability in a worship experience where we find ourselves looking at the back of another person’s head, sitting in rows like this. Real accountability takes place in the context of small groups, and it is only within a small group that lives intersect and believers grow, and help OTHERS to grow toward Christian maturity.

Accountability:

I want to spend the rest of my time building the case that Christianity is lived out in the context of small groups, and that the proof is found in a repeated phrase, “one another.” Let’s begin this lesson on the church by looking at ancient faith accountability:

In the Early Church:

  • Acts 2:47, Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart
  • Hebrews 3:13, But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:24-25, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

John Wesley and the Rules for Band-Societies

I did a little research on the Band-Societies of John Wesley (like a band of brothers). These were basically class meetings; this guideline was drawn up December 25, 1738.

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

To this end, we intend.

  1. To meet once a week, at the least.
  2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To each speak in order, freely and plainly, of the true spiritual condition of our souls, including the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer suited to the spiritual condition of each person present.
  6. To each speak of his own spiritual condition first, and then to ask the rest, in order, probing questions regarding their spiritual condition, sins, and temptations.

Wow, these statements reveal that John Wesley had a passion for accountability in small groups. Remember that HE was the catalyst for a great spiritual awakening, speaking to hundreds of people at a time. Speaking to the crowds was not enough to live the Christian life.

Wesley was influenced by the Moravians, who were founded by John Huss. He was actually burned at the stake in 1415 for heresies against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. His teaching eventually influenced theology in the west, primarily in Europe, and it laid a foundation for a young Catholic monk named Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517.

John Wesley described his small groups as “a company of men [and women] having the form of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (The Book of Discipline pg.75).

You may be saying to yourself, “But I don’t like accountability in my spiritual life. It’s a private matter and I don’t want to talk about my journey and struggles and failures.” But does it not make sense to have all of our assets in place to increase the probability of our success in the Christian life? If we go it alone and fail miserably, why not have trusted, spiritual people around us to help us become mature in our faith and in our lifestyle and behavior?

Did you know that you CANNOT avoid accountability forever? Do you know why? Because…

Accountability is Inevitable: Romans 14:12 says, So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Accountability is Anticipated: Hebrews 13:17 tells us to, obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

If accountability before God is inevitable and anticipated in the church, then it only stands to reason that it would be advantageous for us to keep short accounts HERE in this life (with the church) before we ultimately stand before God.

An accountability relationship involves giving permission to a group of fellow believers to ask and expect an honest answer to mutually agreed upon questions. It’s not me telling you that I’m going to hold YOU accountable.

There is a classic verse on accountability: found in Proverbs 27:17, As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Accountability isn’t a remedial class for wayward Christians; accountability is God’s way to achieve God’s very best for our lives. Who among us does not want to please God, by becoming the best Christian we can be, the best husband or wife, employee or employer, teacher, student, parent or child? Christian growth happens in community, in the context of small groups, accountability. We all need encouragement and instruction, guidance, warning, admonition, challenge, to build up… it doesn’t happen in the large corporate worship setting. Let me tell you why.

This public gathering has one purpose, to offer worship to God out of a grateful heart. We don’t come to worship for what WE get out of it, because if we do, worship becomes self-centered. No matter how inspiring the service might be, from music to message, it’s not about US. It is in the context of a small group where we live out our faith in a culture of accountability.

Since I have three other things to tell you, and have no time to do so, I am going to put these items on my blog, and here is what you can find there:

  1. What are some reasons why we need accountability?
  2. Why do people avoid accountability?
  3. Obedience (to God and His Word) is always a positive thing; so take a look at all the “One Another” statements in the New Testament and see how great God’s Will is.

The New Testament is filled with imperatives (commands that God expects us to obey). These imperatives instruct us how to interact with one another, and talk to one another. Our talk should include confession, prayers, exhortation (which are basically suggested “next steps” for someone to follow), words of comfort, rebuke, admonition (or warnings), and the list goes on. Check out the church website for more.

As I wrap up, maybe today is the day that you finally realize that simply attending worship is not God’s will for the church. As important as worship is in the life of a congregation, God has so much more planned for his children. He expects us to be a community of faith, interdependent with each other, under the lordship of Christ.

It is God’s will for his children to share life together for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ. Each member of the body has a function and if we don’t do what God desires for us, the whole body suffers. You have to seriously ask yourself, “Why does God have me in this place at this time in history? What function am I supposed to do at this church? Why has God brought me here?

Today is the day of salvation; it is the day of commitment and a day of making decisions to embrace God’s will for the church, his kingdom and your life. Please bow in reverence while I pray.

My Prayer: Father, we have read many passages from your Word this morning, we ask that your Holy Spirit remind us of what you have said, and convict us about how to live the Christian life as YOU have designed and intended according to your will. Amen.

Obedience to “One Another”

This is part of my message on God’s Will and the Church. I brought up accountability and ran out of time and said I’d post it here!

Obedience (to God and His Word) is Always a Positive Thing:

The New Testament is filled with imperatives (commands that God expects us to obey). These imperatives instruct us how to talk to one another. Our talk should include confession, prayers, exhortation (suggested next steps for someone), words of comfort, rebuke, admonition (or warnings), and the list goes on.

  1. John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” [more on LOVE is written below]
  2. Romans 12:10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;”
  3. Romans 14:19 “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
  4. Romans 15:7 “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”
  5. Romans 15:5 “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,” [Romans 12:16]
  6. Romans 15:14 “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.”
  7. Romans 16:16 “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” [1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12]
  8. 1 Corinthians 12:25 “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
  9. Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
  10. Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”
  11. Ephesians 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,”
  12. Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
  13. Ephesians 5:21 “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”
  14. Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;”
  15. Colossians 3:13 “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
  16. Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
  17. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 “Therefore comfort one another with these words”
  18. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ‘Therefore encourage one another and [Ephesians 4:29] build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25)
  19. 1 Thessalonians 5:13 “and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” [Mark 9:50]
  20. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”
  21. Hebrews 10:24 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,”
  22. James 5:16 `Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
  23. 1 Peter 4:9 “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
  24. 1 Peter 4:10 “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
  25. 1 Peter 5:5 “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
  26. Ephesians 4:25 “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.”
  27. 1 John 1:7 “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
  28. John 13:14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” [This one seems odd but there IS a good explanation]
  29. We are to Love One Another
    1. John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
    2. John 15:17 “This I command you, that you love one another.”
    3. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;”
    4. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;”
    5. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;”
    6. 1 Peter 1:22 “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,”
    7. 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
    8. 1 John 3:11 “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;”
    9. 1 John 3:23 “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”
    10. 1 John 4:7 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
    11. 1 John 4:11 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
    12. 1 John 4:12 “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
    13. 2 John 1:5 “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.”

When we choose to NOT get involved in these interdependent relationship, accountability or small groups, here is the alternative: Matthew 24:10 “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.”

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