Go

The Friday night DVD over, Tween got ready for bed while Guy channel surfed. He landed on a food show just as they began a profile on a restaurant in the town where we attended college.

The owner couple looked round-about our age, like ordinary, friendly people with whom we – and you – would like to spend time. They smiled. They have four tween-teen aged sons. They are passionate about their shared enterprise. And not so long ago, their restaurant went belly-up and their family home along with it; this restaurant is their second chance.

Astounded, the show host asked, “What happened?”

Their church helped them out. The church had recently come into “…a big ranch with six bedrooms that was offered to us along with a job as the janitor at the church.”

The family thought their dream was over, but they had shelter and employment. And then someone offered to carry the note on a new restaurant.

Guy and I exchanged a look. We knew that church.

The church we attended throughout most of our college years and beyond didn’t own a building. They rented, and kept enough money in the bank to cover three months’ expenses. They gave away any above-and-beyond money to mission partners and trusted God to provide. It certainly wasn’t a perfect community, but it strived to be a community faithful to God and its witness to the world.

I googled the family and church names and found the (abridged) story in the local paper. Our premonition was correct: we recognized our former church by their actions alone.

I’m so grateful that God gave Guy and me the gift of that church during formational years in our lives. I’m grateful we learned the value of community, that we saw a church attempting to be different in the world, even different within church culture, in order to authentically be the church – the people – God called them to be. I am grateful for their continued health and witness to God’s gracious love.

I’m not saying that every person or family who lost a job or home while attending that church would be automatically granted new digs. I am saying that some did, that as God provided for the church the church was able to provide for others. God provided for the church, which provided for this family, who told their story to those who would listen.

Blessed to be a blessing.

I used to think the task of “Go” was given to others, not to me. I’m not an easy evangelist, or I didn’t think I was. I can’t sidle up next to someone I’ve never met and pray with them by the end of our encounter. No way, Jose! And I was beyond-a-doubt convinced that the missionary aspect of “Go” was for others, not me. I can pray, I can give, but I don’t have gifts of service to share. I’ve tried, and felt like a failure, so no thanks.

I was wrong.

God calls each one of us to be His witnesses, to tell the story He’s writing in our lives. We all have a story, lots of them actually, and in the right light so many of them will reveal His fingerprints.

If I can talk about my favorite brand of hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Hummus, FYI) or a restaurant I’d recommend or that funny comment Tween made just last night, I can also talk about that cool way Jesus showed up in my day. I get it’s not quite the same, except it’s also not all that different.

Oh, and God corralled me into what would become a life-changing mission trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. I dreaded the experience, had the best week ever, and came home asking God, “What’s next?” If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

For some, “Go” may seem scary. But if you’re truly convinced you’ve got the best of something, you want to share it. When you count your blessings, when you grab hold of the adventure of life with Jesus, you want to share the goodness with others.

Let’s be convinced of God’s “unfathomable riches” (Eph. 3:8) and let’s go share them with those who will listen.

Connect
How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone new (i.e., what do you most want people to know)?

Study
Read Ephesians 3:1-12.
In this passage, how does Paul talk about himself and his task, and what might that tell us about our call as Christ’s followers?
What is “the mystery” (vv. 3-6; see also Eph. 1:9-10 and 2:12-13)?
How do each of the three terms for Gentiles – “heirs,” “members” and “sharers” – further paint the picture of the mystery of the gospel (v. 6)?
What is God’s intent for the church (v. 10)?

Live
What might it mean in your life that God is both the One who reveals and the One who is revealed?
For the Ephesians, the inclusion of Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s family was an impossible “mystery” they needed God to reveal to them. Discuss contemporary issues that render the gospel mysterious to those who haven’t yet come to Christ.
How can the unity and diversity of the Church witness to the world the good news of Jesus Christ?
How has the gospel of Christ changed your life? How might God want to work through you to share the gospel with others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use you to share “the manifold wisdom of God” with the world.

Give

Do you know what gift(s) God has given you to build up His Church? If not, I highly recommend taking this quick test. (There’s also a test for youth if that’s you or someone you love).

Similar to family chores, we all have a role to play in God’s family and through our God-given gifts God directs us to particular works of service.

A few initial thoughts:
*God gives gifts to His children.
*God’s best gift is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
*God intends us to use the gifts He gives us.
*Using our gifts will give glory to God and build up His Church.

It should be easy, and thankfully sometimes it is.

Prepping for this post, I had a great conversation with Tween. I asked, “What great gifts have you given and received?”

He mentioned a video game we bought him that encouraged creativity and community. And he mentioned two gifts he’d given: his well-loved but in great shape tricycle to a young friend, and “God” to his friends.

Mama’s heart skips a beat: Tween recognizes that he introduced some of his best friends to His Best Friend, Jesus.

I asked what gifts he thought God had given him to serve the church, and at first he didn’t think he had a gift, that God had skipped him or not yet come to his name on the divine list.

But as we talked, he began to realize that he has Faith, that he “knows things about God” that might not come as easily to other people (Teen took the “youth” version of the spiritual gifts test and has the gift of faith, too). And he cares deeply that his friends know Jesus. So faith and evangelism, maybe. He’s still young.

Tween decided that a great way to develop the gift of faith, to be sure he knows the Truth of God and not just his own ideas about Him, will be to keep the Bible and a headlamp next to his bed so he can read the Bible when he can’t sleep. This kid has never slept well and I can’t think of a better thing for him to do when he’s not sleeping.

Other times, evidence of the fallen world we live in, using our gifts isn’t as easy.

I’ve seen the movie “Frozen” three times, once in the theater when it first came out and twice since. It ranks up there with “The Lion King” as one of my favorite Disney movies.

New Year's Eve "Frozen Fractiles" on our windshield

New Year’s Eve “Frozen Fractals” on our windshield

The main story line centers on the relationship between sisters. But I see a story of giftedness and love, one with definite implications for God’s people.

Elsa has a gift. Fear and criticism have caused her to hide not only her gift but herself, have cut her off even from those who should be and long to be closest to her [hide the girl, the gift, and the love]. When an accidental use of her gift outs her she walks away, again, this time determined to let her gift flow free [hide the girl and the love, let the gift out]. But the gift sans love has drastic far-reaching consequences. Elsa’s gift can only be used rightly, and Elsa herself will only be free, when the girl, gift, and love intertwine.

The impossibly catchy, played-to-death song “Let It Go” says what we might like to say to our critics:

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say…
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

In other words, I no longer care what you think! I will be myself, use my gifts, see what I can do, rules-free, to hell with your fear and criticism.

But Elsa’s plan backfires, as do our attempts to hide ourselves and our gifts because of fear and criticism.

Fear and criticism can rock us straight out of comfort and onto the ground, beat up and bruised. The temptation to dust ourselves off and walk away, to hide, to stop using our gifts, can be enormous. Likewise with the temptation to stop caring, to think we’re free sans community.

But it’s not true, folks. God designed us to use our gifts, the very gifts He grace-fully bestows upon us, to build up His church and bless the world. Only when we use our gifts with love, in community, to His glory will we truly be free.

So what do we do with fear and criticism? Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer, just some thoughts:

*We need to listen, ego aside, to the reasons behind the fear and criticism. Maybe we have used our gifts inappropriately, or untimely, or without love.

*We need to develop our gifts to God’s glory. Maybe we have used them prematurely.

*We need to pray and pray some more. Did we use our gifts prayerfully, under the Spirit’s guidance? Can we together prayerfully resolve the conflict caused by fear and criticism?

*We need to seek refuge in God alone. God will direct us to the proper use of our gifts in His time and place. Maybe God is using fear and criticism to redirect us to another ministry.

*We need to seek the Spirit of peace and unity and resist our own fears and criticisms. Why should we fear someone using their God-given gift? Why would we criticize their giftedness? Sometimes we need to bite our tongues, to step on our egos and let God do His work without our meddling.

*Finally, we need to ask the Lord for courage to be the best US He has created us to be, and to use our gifts despite fear (our own and others) and criticism, because from time to time we will face both.

Justin McRoberts sang at our church yesterday and shared with us an original song, Courage to Believe. The chorus says:

Lord, give me eyes to see
Lord, give me strength to believe
You give me all I need
So give me courage to believe.

Lord, give us courage to believe that you have given us all we need to believe and to serve You!

Alright, already, on to Ephesians 4 which has some great stuff to say about gifts. I pray that God will release you to serve Him in love and grace.

Connect
Describe a significant gift you have given or received. What made that gift special?

Study
Read Ephesians 4:7-13.
Read Ephesians 1:20-23. What light can this earlier passage from the same letter shed on Eph. 4:7-8?
How would you explain to someone the significance of Christ’s ascension into heaven (vv. 8-10)?
For what purpose did Christ give the gifts mentioned in this passage (vv. 11-13)? In other words, what is Christ’s desire for His people and His Church?

Live
God gives gifts to people and He gives people as gifts to the Church. Describe some people you appreciate as gifts from God.
Paul lists other spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30. How do these gifts add to the list in Ephesians 4? Where do you see your gift(s) listed?
What “works of service” do you particularly enjoy? Which works of service would you like to try?
How have you been equipped for service? How have you equipped others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that your worshiping community will experience the unity of the Spirit as we each exercise works of service.

Frost made even ordinary leaves something spectacular

Frost made even ordinary leaves something spectacular

He’s Right

I am I to the third power: an Incredibly Indecisive Individual. Do you want to grab coffee or lunch? Up to you. Italian or Indian food? Up to you. Want to watch something on the DVR or rent a movie? Up to you. In each of those scenarios, how we spend time matters far less to me than the company we share.

But when I do have an opinion, I’m fairly certain I’m right. And by “fairly certain” I mean absolutely convinced. The difference, I’m beginning to understand, is that I feel strongly about How to Make the World a Better Place. Another I, I’m an idealist. Which is why church work has always made sense to me, as the Church is God’s family working for the sake of God’s good purpose in the world.

Alas, I am not always right, which may be why some of the opinionated Bible characters have a special place in my heart. I can relate to Moses, telling God that He’d surely chosen the wrong person to represent Him to the Egyptians on behalf of the Israelites. Moses and I need to be convinced that God has the better way. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it figured out, thanks very much, Lord.

Peter argues with God in Acts 10, today’s Bible study. He’s so convinced that the traditions of Judaism, the rules passed down for generations set out by God Himself, supersede a direct word from the Lord that he tells God no. No, Lord, never! I’ve never done it that way and never will. I’m following you, Lord, so don’t tell me otherwise.

With Peter, I have a few things to learn. May God soften my heart to be convinced that He is right, to follow Him especially when it doesn’t make sense.

Connect
When have you experienced favoritism and what was that like?

Study
Read Acts 10:9-35.
Compare Peter’s vision (vv. 9-16) with Cornelius’ vision (vv. 30-32). Why do you think the Lord appeared to them in visions? What did each have to learn?
What do you think motivated Peter to argue with the Lord over the vision’s content (vv. 9-16)?
What role does hospitality play in this story and, ultimately, in the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 22-29)?

Live
The Lord spoke to Cornelius and Peter during times set aside for prayer. What does your prayer practice look like, and how might it need sharpening?
When has God called you out of your “comfort zone”? What happened?
For what prejudice might God be asking you to repent?
What can you do to open up in your life space for others, and how might God use that space to further the good news of Christ?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be open to God’s Spirit and His conviction and that God will work through you to further His Kingdom on earth.

Trust & Obey

Years ago as I left one of my favorite bookstores, a man greeted me just outside the door. “Do you know Jesus?” he asked.
I answered with a hearty, “Yes!”
“Are you sure?” he forced.
“Positive,” I assured him.
He followed me down the walkway, pressing literature onto my clenched fist. I kept walking.

Really? No “Praise Jesus, we’re siblings in Christ” but instead doubt that I knew my God. Bleh.

We’ve all seen bad evangelism: televangelists, health-and-wealth “gospel,” disheveled soap-boxers with “The End is Nigh” signs. Pastors more concerned with their wallets than spiritual health. As a result we’ve become jaded, even to those who would quietly share grace, who won’t push but long to share truth.

For those who follow Jesus, we have to ask ourselves: where do we fall on the faith-sharing spectrum? I know I’ve been guilty of being too forceful. And I know just as often, if not more so, I’ve neglected to speak truth out of my own insecurity; not wanting to ruffle relational feathers, I’ve failed to trust that God will do His work when I am faithful to listen and obey.

Over the last few years, God has nudged me into a new season of evangelism. Actually, even that term makes me slightly uncomfortable as it raises images both of cold-calling door knockers or filled stadiums, neither of which are my scene. I’ve always thought of myself as a discipler, someone who will walk in faith with those who express desire to grow in faith. Except that discipleship grows out of evangelism, and some who might be interested haven’t yet figured out the words to say or questions to ask.

And so I find myself – at the school, the park, the pool party – having conversations that suddenly (it sure feels sudden, each time) turn to matters of faith. And I have become bold in ways I never imagined, witnessing to the truth I have experienced. I don’t have all the answers. I never will. But I know that out of His great love for His creation God sent His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die and rise from the dead in order to pay the price for our sin, to pave a way back to God, to heal our broken relationship with God, and ultimately, with one another.

I am not perfect. I am as broken as they come, as we all are. I need a loving Savior, and I live in the freedom that He does love me, that He forgives me, that He wants all to come to know Him. And I have the privilege of sharing that truth with others. It’s not always easy. There remains the risk of rejection.

But God is faithful. One of my favorite realizations about today’s passage from Acts 5 is that the apostles didn’t know how Gamaliel spoke on their behalf. God was at work in unexpected ways with an unexpected person who enabled unexpected ministry that changed the world. You do the work God puts before you, and trust the rest to Him.

Connect
Share a time from your past when you disobeyed someone in authority. What happened? 

Study
Read Acts 5:26-42. 
Based on this passage, describe the apostles’ faith. What stands out to you?
How does Peter summarize the gospel (vv. 30-32)? What can you learn about what’s important to tell people about Jesus?
Read 5:29, 32 and 41-42. What do these verses say about obedience as it relates to sharing the gospel, and why is that significant?

Live
Think of some current examples in your life or in the lives of those you know where the principle in verse 29 may come into play.
Sometimes Christians face opposition because the message of the gospel is offensive (see 1 Cor. 1:23). At other times, it is the Christian him- or herself who is offensive. Describe the difference.
Read 1 Peter 3:15-16. What would obedience to God’s Word in this passage look like in your life?
When have you been reluctant to share your faith when you knew you should? What might you do differently?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for courage for one another to be obedient in sharing your faith with the people God has placed on your heart.
Pray for Christians in places like Syria and Iraq who are suffering right now for their faith in Jesus. Ask God to give them courage and perseverance in the face of suffering, and like the first disciples, to be able to rejoice that “they have been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

By the way, if you’re using and enjoying these Bible studies, I’d really love to hear from you!