First Dates and Road Trips

You all know that I am the guy in charge of small groups at King’s Grant, so I want to make sure that I address why small groups are so important.

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On this Mother’s Day, I want to remind you that the FAMILY is the ORIGINAL small group. Think about what is accomplished in a family.

  1. Relationships are developed.
  2. Chores and workload are shared.
  3. Family members are protected and encouraged.
  4. Family and individual events are celebrated.
  5. There is a balance of time in working and playing.
  6. Children are birthed and raised.
  7. Children are nurtured and educated.
  8. Children are taught to become social beings in our society.
  9. Children become more independent and move out to begin their own families.
  10. Disagreements or a rouge family member, the so-called Black Sheep, bring grief and hurt to the rest of the family.

If it were not for faithful moms and dads, the family as a small group is not going to thrive or survive. To have a successful family it involves commitment by each parent, a shared vision, common goals, cooperation, patience, forgiveness, encouragement, and love (which is spelled T-I-M-E).

As was see the role of the family, I see a great comparison to the ministry of small groups. Let me broaden your understanding of families AND small groups by using two illustrations:

First dates: Think about the emotions that a first date evokes (fear, panic, shyness, self-consciousness, worry). There is pressure on a first date when the point of the date is to get to know the other person and they are supposed to get to know you.

There are the obligatory exploratory questions (Where are you from? What are your hobbies? Where have you lived? What is your major? Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your family? Siblings? Parents? What’s your dad like? Will he like me? (Guys, you know this is always in the back of your mind, or at least it SHOULD be if you want to date my daughter!).

Then there are the awkward responses, trying to look good, to look and act cool, make sure there’s nothing stuck in your teeth, any zits acting up? we want to make a good first impressions, (Is my deodorant still working? Does my breath smell bad? Is my hair sticking up?).

There is attention to the atmosphere and the place you go (quiet conversation, comfortable lighting, soothing music, attractive surroundings), after all, THIS could be leading somewhere. The point of a first date is to be alone; the relationship we are trying to develop is exclusive.

The same is true with church meetings. Think of a time when new people are stepping into the church, or into the faith community. Just this week we started three new small group classes. We want to make a good first impression so that people will come back for the second week (basically, will there be a second date?). There can be ice breakers to get to know other people. There can be sub-grouping to develop more conversations and lines of communication.

In Sunday School, we talk about our classes being open and welcoming of new people, but let’s face it, to new people, it often feels like showing up at someone else’s family reunion. It’s pleasant enough but the first date doesn’t always go well and many people choose not to takes a risk, or become vulnerable, or reach out. They just say, “It’s not for me” or “The topic or class is not of interest to me” or “I’ll attend if nothing else comes up” or “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” The desire for anonymity often keeps people from getting connected.

Road trip: This is where you grab 10 random people who don’t know each other, and they get stuffed into the back of a van and head off to a certain location. I remember doing this in college; we had one of those out-of-state mission trips; 10 days of serving in downtown Detroit. There were freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all together; not really knowing the people at all. It was nervous at first. Some were not too sure if this is what they wanted to do, but…

Twelve hours later when they get out of the van, how are they? Excited, laughing, there are inside jokes about Bob’s stomach ache for eating too many sunflower seeds, the tire blew out and the driver forgot his Visa card and everyone had to pitch in to buy a new tire, something happens inside that van as you move toward your destination. What is so different?

Everyone has a common goal, no matter how different each person is, when they open the door at the destination, they are excited to be there since they were on a common mission.

There is also something different about everybody, too. Everyone came for a different reason. Joe came because he wanted to do missions in the inner city. Ted came to see what it was like outside of the South. Judy came because she was stressed at school and needed to get away from campus to relax. Bob came because Judy was going and she’s kind of hot, so Bob wanted to sit next to her in the van. But remember that Bob ate too many sunflower seeds and got sick so his game was totally off.

So, when our small groups are so much like a first date, how can we make them more like a road trip? We need to create a context where we can build community, because that’s what it is all about. So often our goal is to build a larger Bible study class, when our goal should be to build a safe environment where authentic community can happen.

Starbucks is a great example: When you’re a regular at Starbucks, the barista knows your name, and you know theirs. Starbucks is more than a supplier of a great cup of coffee, it becomes a part of the daily routine for many people.

Every once in a while you might see it on the tables; a little card that promotes career opportunities at Starbucks or perhaps some other restaurant you’ve been to. Not that you were looking for a job, but perhaps you noticed what it said, “Create community: make a difference in someone’s day.” Since the topic of community is of interest to you, let’s pick up that card and read what’s on the back. “When you work at Starbucks, you can make a difference in someone’s day by creating an environment where neighbors and friends get together and reconnect while enjoying a great coffee experience.”

Starbucks appears to see itself in the business of doing more than selling a premium cup of coffee. It is part of their corporate purpose to create environments that connect people so meaningfully, it changes the quality of their lives. Now THAT seems familiar. The church needs to have such a mission statement!

According to the Starbucks website, they are selling the “Starbucks Experience,” there are even books written about it: one I found had five principles of the Starbucks Experience:

  1. Make it your own
  2. Everything matters
  3. Surprise and delight
  4. Embrace resistance
  5. Leave your mark

These can certainly be developed and found applicable for the church.

As far as the experience, are we as a culture are buying it. Starbucks is one of the 10 most trusted brands in the world. From a company whose primary product is coffee beans, they are selling coffee and promoting connection. Their success tells me that we are a culture of people who crave relationship.

Today the mission of Starbucks is this: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

So, what are we going to do in the church? Just like at Starbucks, we have to LOVE what we are doing for the community. If we don’t love what we do or love the community in which we do it, no one else is going to love and sense that community we say that we want to develop.

When you are truly in love, you go to great lengths to be with the one you love. You’ll drive for hours just to be together, even if it’s only for a short while. I remember going to visit Kim who had gone home on a college break, at Thanksgiving. I drove what should have been two hours just to spend time with her, yet it took longer because my car was a 1961 Corvair that had an air-cooled engine that tended to overheat on longer trips, especially ones that involved driving through the mountains. And think of the stupid things you do: like inviting her to a state championship game playing in her city, when one team was a rival to YOUR high school, and then she goes with you, and she doesn’t even like football. But with her being a band person, I seem to remember leaving after the halftime show, freezing our tails off.

And then there are the special times together. You don’t mind staying up way too late to talk. Walking in the rain is romantic, and not annoying. You’ll willingly spend a small fortune on the one you’re crazy about. When you are apart from each other, it’s painful, even miserable. Kim was doing summer missions here at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, while I stayed in my college town working as a youth pastor at University Baptist Church. I HAD to drive all the way up here to see her, for a couple of days. That special someone is all you think about; you jump at any chance to be together.

In his book God Is the Gospel, pastor John Piper essentially asks whether we are in love with God:

The critical question for every generation is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”

How many of you heard those words and thought, “You know, I just might be okay with that?” If you are as deeply in love with God as you say you are, you know you could never be satisfied in a heaven without Christ.

Sometimes a statement like that might evoke fear and guilt, but personal experience has taught me that actions driven by fear and guilt are not an antidote to our being casual toward God. I hope you realize that our only motivating factor is love.

Don’t we all crave love? And isn’t that what God wants from us, to crave this relationship with Him as we crave all genuine love relationships? Isn’t that what brings Him glory; when believers desire Him and are not merely slaves who serve Him out of obligation?

There is often a great disparity between how we feel about faith and how we are meant to feel. Why do so few people genuinely find joy and pleasure in their relationship with God? Why do most people feel they have to either pay God back for all He’s done (buy His love) or somehow keep making up for all their inadequacies and failures (prove their love)? Why are the words of Psalm 63:1-5 not an honest reflection of our lives on most days?

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

The solution for lukewarm living isn’t to try harder, fail, make bigger promises, only to fail again. We can’t muster up more love for God. When loving Him becomes an obligation, we end up focusing even more on ourselves.

As believers, we are called to surrender everything for Christ, and many churchgoers are not particularly thrilled with surrender. Beth recently led a Bible study on surrender, and it was confirmed that it is not something we really understand, like it is a sign of weakness to raise the white flag.

We can’t change without God’s help. The answer lies in letting Him change you. Remember His counsel to the lukewarm church in Laodicea? “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). His counsel wasn’t to “try harder,” but rather to let Him in. James puts it this way, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).

This is a fact: we need God to help us love God. And if I need His help to love Him, who is a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love people. Something supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts.

Jesus tells us that the world will know that we are his disciples, that we have love for one another, but how does God know that we have love for HIM?

Look around at the Christians you may know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list looks something like this:

  1. Careful student of Scripture
  2. Zealous and active in their stand for God
  3. Appetite for worship and prayer
  4. Consistent in worship attendance
  5. Practices Scripture memorization
  6. Not afraid to pray in public
  7. Active in the local church
  8. Fasts and tithes regularly
  9. Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
  10. Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth

For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus. But look again; these are behavior traits not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees.

I’m convinced that real-life discipleship (becoming more like Jesus in character and attitude) is what happens between the gathering times at church. What are people like at home, at school, in the lunchroom, in the office, on dates, at parties, in the locker room, in the boardroom, on the computer, or the after-school job? What are they like when no one is looking? Do they demonstrate unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, concern for others, kindness, servanthood?

Real-life discipleship is marked more by footprints than by monuments. For me, discipleship focuses on long-term commitments rather than a one-time decision to “accept Christ.” It is forward motion, a journey, a marathon. People may look at imperfection and failures of so-called Christians, but remember that the word disciple means learner, not expert.

So, if these characteristics don’t describe a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a Christian, what does?

A fully devoted disciple of Jesus is actively:

Depending on the Spirit: A person who is actively depending on the Holy Spirit to transform and empower him/her to walk as Jesus walked (John 14:26 – But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you).

Interacting in Community: A person who is actively interacting with other believers in a small group for mutual care and spiritual formation (John 13:35 – Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples).

Submitting to His Lordship: A person who is actively submitting to Christ’s Lordship in every area of his/her life (Luke 6:46 – So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?).
Communing with the Father: A person who is actively developing intimacy with God through the spiritual disciplines (John 8:31 – Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings”).

Investing His Resources: A person who actively sees himself/herself as a steward of his/her resources (time, treasure & talents) rather than an owner, and invests them to advance God’s work (Matthew 6:20-21 – Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be).

Participating in Service: A person who is actively participating in acts of service toward those inside and outside the church for the glory of God (Matthew 20:27-28 – and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many”).

Leading People to Christ: A person who is actively seeking opportunities to share his/her faith with lost people through his/her personal style of evangelism (John 4:35 – You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest).

Expanding the Kingdom: A person who is actively committed to a ministry of multiplication both here at home and abroad (Matthew 6:33 – Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need).

So, the purpose of this message is to encourage us to love, love God in such a way that HE knows that we are his disciples. The 3:16 Scripture passages for this morning have a logical progression.

  • John 3:16 – God so loved US that he gave his only Son so that we might have everlasting life.
  • First John 3:16 – This is how we know love, that Jesus gave his life for us, we ought to lay down our life for others.
  • Revelation 3:16 – After a while, our love and passion for God can and usually fades, we don’t get cold toward God but we become lukewarm. The only reaction that Jesus has for this sort of casual relationship with him is to spit us out of his mouth, literally vomit out lukewarm water. Oh, how he longs for us to be either hot or cold.

This message is for all of us.

If you don’t know Christ personally, it is time to accept his invitation. He is knocking at the door and wants to come in and change your heart. It’s time to stop closing the curtains, hiding quietly behind a locked door, waiting for Jesus to go away like we treat a Jehovah’s Witness who comes to our door. It’s always at an inconvenient time, you have other things on your list to do that day, but your decision to follow Christ is one that you can put off for only so long.

As the famous evangelist Billy Sunday once said, “It’s payday someday” and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. It’s not that everyone will be saved, but everyone will one day acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Some will do so in the presence of God in heaven, while others will recognize this fact while they are eternally separated from God, because they chose to gain the whole world and forfeited their own soul.

Perhaps you are a believer but you recognize that your love for God has faded. You want to get back to your first love, reignite the passion that you once had for God. Today is the day to get things right with God. Don’t put it off until another day.

There are some in here that have never really experienced Christian community because you are involved in “drive-by church,” you float in and out of the worship experiences at your convenience and actively avoid getting involved in the lives of other believers. You can’t understand the Starbuck’s Experience of developing community if you never stop by the store. When is the time you finally tell yourself that you are going to get involved in a small group? It’s for personal development, spiritual growth, and to practice the 31 “one another” commands of the New Testament (I’ll save that for another day). Commands to

  • Love one another (John 13:35, 13:34, 15:12, 15:17, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:22, 4:8, 1 John 3:11, 4:7, 4:11, 2 John 1:5)
  • Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50, 1 Thessalonians 5:13)
  • Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
  • Build up one another (Romans 14:19, 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Accept one another (Romans 15:7)
  • Admonish one another (Romans 15:14, Colossians 3:16)
  • Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13, 10:25)
  • Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
  • Pray for one another (James 5:16)
  • Serve one another(1 Peter 4:10, Galatians 5:13)

How can any of this being done in the context of a corporate worship experience? We can only obey THESE commands of the Bible by participating in a small group.

If you’re ready to get connected to THIS church, why put it off another week. Join this congregation by requesting membership, attend a Connections Class, or talking with me more about what it means to be a member of this congregation.

Right now, this time of dedication is for YOU to do business with God. You know when he’s knocking on the door of your heart. Open the door and allow him to come in and change your life forever.

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Attachment to Your Family

Jesus mentions in Luke 14:26 that a disciple of Christ will hate his family. Teenagers today don’t need any more incentive for breaking the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), so last time I suggested that Jesus was using a literary form called hyperbole (the use of exaggeration). Jesus does not want us to literally hate our closest relatives, but he does want us to be shaken up so that we might see him in new ways and discover what it means to be his disciples. This can lead to new ways of relating to people, including our own family members.

One general barrier to Christian discipleship is sometimes we have too much attachment to family. I think of my own career development (and of my friends who heard the call of God) to serve in a pastoral ministry or when I answered the call to international missionary service. Family can often use whatever means possible to get their loved ones back on a more suitable or profitable career path (perhaps using intimidation, money, shame). Those called by God will find the courage to be faithful to Christ in spite of parents’ disapproval or lack of support. In a sense, we have to “hate” parents in order to be an obedient disciple of Jesus.

I have seen good church-going parents use the “priority of family time” rationale to get in the way of their teenagers’ spiritual growth. Family time would prevent regular involvement of their kids in Sunday School or youth group. Family vacations kept their teenagers from being part of life-changing mission trips. In some cases, the parents who prized family time so much were the same ones who later blamed the church when their children wandered away from Christ while in college. They graduated high school and graduated God at the same time.

I realize that there are times when parents rightly choose to have their children involved in family events rather than church events. But as a parent, I know how easy it is to choose what feels best for me without considering what’s best for my kids and their spiritual growth. I want to encourage parents to take a fresh look at family relationships in light of their primary commitment to Christ.

Parents can often help their children grow in their discipleship, rather than stand in the way of it. If we model sold out commitment to Christ in our lives, our children will be encouraged to imitate our example. No matter what we say, our actions will speak loudly and clearly of what authentic discipleship is all about.

Application: Can you think of adults whose example of faithfulness to Christ has influenced you? Are there people in your life who are being influenced by your discipleship? Do you ever find a tension between your personal discipleship and your family relationships? Recognize that there may be times when we feel torn. Other times, we know what discipleship requires, but we may not be sure we want to do it. Seek to set an example of faithfulness for your children. Live in such a way that they are encouraged to pursue Jesus above everything else in life.

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Why Hate Your Family?

There are a ton of commands that we find in the Bible; statements that tell us to do this and not do that. The Bible says to love one another (John 13:35, Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:13, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:19, Hebrews 10:24, 1 John 2:7, 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 2 John 1:5-6), and Jesus said we should even love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), so this line always caused me to take a second look at the words of Jesus.

“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison, your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

Let me begin with a couple of confessions. At first, I am tempted to avoid this verse altogether. I could have easily skipped Luke 14:26, but to do that would have been to dismiss the tugging of the Spirit in my heart.

My next thought is, perhaps I wish Jesus didn’t say what he did in Luke 14:26. Verses like this are so difficult to understand, much less explain. They’re the sort of thing that opponents of Christianity drag out to make Jesus look both contradictory and cruel. It gives teenagers a biblical excuse to hate their parents. The one who told us to love our neighbors and even our enemies now wants us to hate our closest relatives. What sense does this make? To follow Christ is a contradiction and the Bible cannot be trusted to be accurate or true.

How do we make sense of this teaching? If we’re going to be fair in our reading, then we have to be wise interpreters. This means that we recognize when Jesus is speaking hyperbolically. Hyperbole is what we informally call exaggeration. It’s a way of communicating that uses bold overstatement and embellishment.

Hyperbole, which was common among teachers in Jesus’ culture, is not meant to be taken literally. If I say to you that I’m so hungry I could eat a horse, I would be distressed if you actually slaughtered a horse and prepared it for my dinner. What I mean is that I am feeling very, very hungry. So, given everything else he said and did, we can be sure that he was speaking hyperbolically when he said that to be his disciple we have to hate our families and even our own lives.

Yet, there is a danger in identifying hyperbole in the teaching of Jesus. It’s the danger of dismissing both his point and his urgency. If we think to ourselves, “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean that,” then we run the risk of missing what he wants us to hear. It’s no longer a question of interpretation, but rather an indictment of the state of our hearts. When we encounter a biblical text that is unsettling to us, are we open to hear what God is really saying? Are we willing to have our comfortable life disturbed by the Word of God? Will we let the hyperbole of Jesus shake us up so that we might be more truly and fully his disciples?

Application: Let me encourage you to consider the last three questions when you read Scripture:

  1. Are you open to understanding the deeper meaning of the words of Jesus?
  2. Are you willing to make adjustments once you understand them?
  3. Will you let the hyperbole of Jesus shake you up, and rouse you out of your comfort zone?

God wants not only to instruct me, but also to stir me up, to create within me a crisis of understanding. God wants to break through my defenses and self-serving assumptions. God help us to be wise interpreters of the bible. May we learn to read attentively. May our hearts be open to God and his Word, ready to receive even that which unsettles us.

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Our Goal is Getting Connected

My primary responsibilities on staff involve helping people to get better connected to God and our church, and the development of small groups; I see the two as being compatible. But getting connected is not automatic for a lot of people. Many are content to sit back and receive what the church has to offer, but do not understand that the entire body needs to be functioning if the body is to be healthy.

The world has never been more connected. Companies are laying millions of miles of fiber optics and shooting satellites into space. Kids all around the world are texting each other on cell phones, yet we hear about people all the time who feel more and more disconnected. They feel like they’re out of touch and lonely. Loneliness can come even when we are surrounded by a million people in Virginia Beach.

Our fast-moving lives wreak havoc on our relationships. We don’t feel nearly as connected to each other as people did a generation ago. We are not sitting on the front porch at sundown, watching the kids play and talking to neighbors over the back fence. These days we can close our electronic garage door and step into our house without even greeting our neighbors.

Yet we were created for relationship. The first thing God said was, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” God said that human beings were not made for isolation. We were made for connection. Why? We were created in the image of God. The Bible says God is love. And to love, you’ve got to have somebody else around you.

One of the crucial purposes of our church is to help people get rid of this sense of disconnection. There are people in our facility every weekend who aren’t connected to our church in a meaningful way. That’s why from time to time we offer the Connections Class.

Part of that class emphasizes the four great word pictures of the New Testament church. These metaphors tell us a lot about why God wants us to connect with one another. They give us a picture of what the church should be.

The Bible says that that being spiritually connected means:

We’re built like a building: “In Christ you are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:22 NRSV). We are meant to fit together like bricks in a new building. It’s essential that the parts of a building fit together. You aren’t safe otherwise because there’s no support. Those who aren’t connected to the church family in any meaningful way have no support. Life is tough. We all need the support of people who care about us. King’s Grant can provide that for the people in our community.

We’re joined in a body: “Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s Body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others” (Romans 12: 4-5 TLB). That which Jesus did when he was here in his physical body, he wants to do today through our church. We are the body of Christ on Earth. We are his hands. We are his feet. All of us have to play our part. Being part of the body of Christ means we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and if we don’t play our specific part, the mission of the church is impacted.

We’re born into a family: “I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church” (1 Timothy 3:15 GW). I like this one because it doesn’t take any explanation. Most people think that Christianity is a belief system. There are beliefs in Christianity, but it’s so much more. Christianity is a belong system. The Bible says we were born again into God’s family when we became a follower of Jesus. It also says that we have been adopted into God’s family. Both are great metaphors for what it should mean to be a part of the church.

Because those of us who follow Christ are part of God’s family, we should accept one another and love one another. Now let me be very clear here. We don’t approve of everyone’s behavior. That’s not love. If someone is doing something hurtful, approval is the opposite of love. But we must accept and love one another. Your family hasn’t always approved of everything you’ve done, but – I hope – they’ve loved you anyway. That’s a picture of the church that your congregation needs to see.

We’re attached to a vine: “Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me” (John 15:4 GW). Being connected isn’t just a horizontal issue. It’s a vertical one as well. Our people need to be connected to God himself, and Jesus says when we are connected to him it’s like being attached to a vine. Fruit not connected to a vine dies. It’s that simple. Our people can have all the interpersonal relationships possible, but if they are not connected to God, they will not have the life that God wants them to have.

Paul continues Jesus’ metaphor when he talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. When we’re connected to the True Vine, there will be certain spiritual fruit in our lives. If you’re connected with God, those fruit will characterize your life, and that’s the kind of connection we all want.

From the Connections Class workbook, I teach about six symbols of the church:

  1. The Church is a Fellowship:
    • Acts 2:42 – (they devoted themselves to fellowship, prayer, teaching…).
    • Ephesians 4:3 – (united in spirit, bonded with peace).
    • Romans 14:19 – (aim for harmony in the church, build each other up).
    • John 17:23 – (Jesus desires complete unity, so the world will know that the Father sent the Son, and loves them).
  2. The Church is a Family:
    • First Peter 3:8 – (be of one mind, sympathize with each other, love each other, have compassion, love, humility).
    • Galatians 6:10 – (do good to all, especially to those in the household).
    • Hebrews 2:10-12 – (we are declared to be holy and brothers of Jesus).
    • First Peter 4:17 – (judgment begins with the family or household of God…).
    • First Timothy 5:1-2 – (speak to others as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters).
    • First Timothy 3:4-5 – (must manage his own family well to lead God’s family).
  3. The Church is a Flock (Jesus’ favorite description for the church).
    • John 10:1-30, Matthew 26:31, Matthew 25:33 – (Jesus’ imagery with sheep).
    • John 21:16-17 – (the flock is led by a shepherd).
    • First Peter 5:1-2 – (overseers and shepherds are leaders of the church).
    • Acts 20:17-18, 28 – (elders are to keep watch over them, like shepherds).
    • Titus 1:5-7, 1 Timothy 5:17 – (elders will direct the affairs of the church).
  4. The Church is a Body (not a business, an organism not an organization):
    • First Corinthians 12:27 – (we are members of Christ’s body).
    • Ephesians 5:23 – (He is Savior of the body, His church).
    • Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18 – (and the church is His body, made full and complete).
    • Colossians 2:19 – (Christ is head of the body and He holds it together).
    • Romans 12:4-6 – (the members of the body working together).
  5. The Church is a Bride:
    • Second Corinthians 11:2 – (…I promised you as a pure bride to one husband, who is Christ).
    • Isaiah 62:4 – (Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride).
    • Revelation 19:7 – (…For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself).
    • Revelation 21:9 – (Then one of the seven angels … said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb”).
  6. The Church is a Building:
    • First Corinthians 3:9-10 – (…you are God’s field, God’s building. … I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care).
    • Ephesians 2:20-21 – (In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit).

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Would it Be Thanksgiving

Cooking, decorating, shopping, football, family festivities … these are all ingredients to a full and chaotic Thanksgiving holiday. This thoughtful video reminds us that there are a lot of elements that make Thanksgiving an American holiday, but the main ingredient is giving thanks to God.

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Enhancing Your Health

I have a confession to make, I tend to work too much. I don’t separate my life into neat little compartments. I discovered this past weekend (at the Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership event) that we must pay attention to seven areas of our lives or we will become unbalanced. We must put these areas into balance: career, financial, spiritual, family, intellectual, physical and social. If we focus on one over the rest or neglect one in favor of the rest, we will get a “flat” in this “wheel of life.” This is a confessional; I need discipline in this area. The point is, it is for my health, not just for better time management.


While we may not be called to martyr our lives, we must martyr our way of life. We must put our selfish ways to death and march to a different beat. Then the world will see Jesus. — Michael Tait

We all live in a fallen world, are damaged, and need to be healed as we grow in our relationships with others and God. — Dan Allender

Top 10 Ways to Enhance Your Health:

  1. Tame workaholism and stress through spiritual disciplines.
  2. Protect your sleep as the gift of God.
  3. Eat when you are hungry; stop when you are full.
  4. Choose fresh, natural foods over processed ones.
  5. Integrate moderate exercise to sharpen mind and body.
  6. Seek balance between work and play, community and solitude.
  7. Use godly resources emotional and sexual health.
  8. Keep your conscience clear of sin and unforgiveness.
  9. Stimulate your mind through diverse reading and study.
  10. Learn to listen to the condition of your body, soul and spirit.

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Trust and Faith

The essence of the Christian life is faith and trust. It’s one thing to simply believe the right stuff about Jesus but it totally another thing to live a life worthy of being called a Christian. Trusting God that He wants the best for you and any restrictions are for our benefit. Trust is a learned skill, and is something that is earned. The most we trust God, the more we come to realize that He is worthy of our trust (Jeremiah 29:11).


Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace. As unbelief gets the upper hand in our hearts, one of the effects is anxiety. The root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus. — John Piper

The one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. — Thomas Aquinas

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods. — C. S. Lewis

Top 10 Places in Life That Require Trust:

  1. Prayer: knowing that He’s there and hears every word. Even the ones you have not said.
  2. Friendships: knowing that He can sustain the ones that matter.
  3. Parents: knowing that He can bring understanding and respect.
  4. Children: knowing that they are held by stronger arms than yours.
  5. Church: knowing that God is bigger than problems and messes.
  6. Personality: knowing that He is changing you and unlocking your true self.
  7. Career: knowing that God is preparing you for important things.
  8. Finances: knowing that God is absolutely committed to your supply.
  9. Destiny: knowing that your journey has a good destination (John 14:3).
  10. Your life: knowing that God will finish what He has started (Philippians 1:6).

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30-Day Husband Challenge – Day 30

Day Thirty:

I was filled with delight day after day. (Proverbs 8:30)

Today is the final day of the challenge! How did it go? Was it harder than you expected or easier? Did you see fruit for your labor? I certainly hope so.

Now that you’ve completed the 30 days, don’t stop there. Take what you have learned and apply it to the next 30 days and the 30 days after that and the 30 days after that until you have applied it for 10 or 20 or 50 years.

Use the knowledge and insight you have gained to keep your marriage fresh. The vows you made to your wife before God are too valuable to let crumble without doing everything in your power to keep it together.

Pray without ceasing that God will continue to show you how to encourage your wife. Look at your wife with fresh eyes every day. See who she is and who she is becoming. Notice how your love and affection toward her are returned to you tenfold.

Find joy in each day that you have together. When you start to falter in your commitment, pick up this challenge and work through it again. You have the blueprint; it is up to you to build the house.

Your challenge for today and forever: Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love. Ecclesiastes 9:9

* Written and distributed by Claudia J. Pate,


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