Saturday, December 19, 2020

Cell 35 – Mary understood, do you?

 Text: John 2.5


Icebreaker: How do you feel when someone listens to your advice and as consequence has a good outcome?

Imagine an amazing wedding party, with many people invited and a Brazilian barbecue for everyone! Now imagine that the couple invited everyone for 3 days of partying, and the best part is that they will provide food and accommodation for all the guests!

Now imagine that in the middle of that wedding party they discover that they have run out of food and that there is no more meat for the barbecue. How do you think they would feel?

In the story that we read today, we can see a similar pattern, but this story does not end with shame and regret, but rather with joy and with the revelation that Jesus can transform everything in our lives. Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, knew that He could transform the shame of something that was lacking, into something that would surprise everyone. She had 3 attitudes that put Jesus at the centre of that wedding, and as consequence of that, a great miracle happened. If we want to see the same thing happening in our lives, we need to understand that:


1) In Jesus we will find all that we need  

When Mary told Jesus that they didn’t have wine, Jesus said that wasn’t His time yet, but Mary understood the amazing principle that “NO ONE WILL EVER LEAVE JESUS’ PRESENCE WITH A NEED!” Even when Jesus said that it wasn’t His time, she didn’t give up, because she knew that just one word from Jesus would be enough to change that wedding celebration forever. Today the same Jesus is powerfully and lovingly PRESENT with us. Remember that no one ever left His presence with a need! Would you like to have more of Him? Invite Jesus to the area of your life where you know you need Him most in this moment – what is it that you need His power and love to act on?


2) ‘Do whatever He tells you’

Mary understood this great principle! ‘Do whatever He tells you’ goes beyond just a simple instruction. Mary had a radical trust in Jesus, and she knew that He was good and powerful, and that He would always do what was best for her. My question to you is: Are you doing whatever He tells you? Are you obeying His direction in your life? Because if you do, you will have an amazing life!!! Jesus turned the ordinary water into extraordinary wine - what is ordinary in your life that could become extraordinary through the power of Jesus? Remember that Jesus will never force us, He is gentle and loving! He asks, but if we don’t want to say ‘yes’, He will respect our decision.  Today decide to do whatever He tells you!


3) She allowed Jesus to do everything! (She was quiet, stepped back, and let him work.)

Mary trusted in Jesus, and she brought the situation to His attention, but then stepped back to allow Jesus to work in His own ways and on His own terms; after that she allowed Him to receive all the glory and honour. Many times we seek God or we do something, but we never really allow God to be the Lord, and the one who is in control of our lives. Many of us (if not all of us) are always trying to help Jesus to do what He wants, and sometimes we want some of the recognition for the great action of God in people’s lives. What about you? Who drives your life? Who receives all the glory? Would you like to know more about how to let Jesus drive your life, so that He will be the motive for everything you do, and so that you can give Him all the glory?


Conclusion: 

Mary was a great woman, and the most amazing fact about her is that she understood that Jesus is the Lord, and He can change everything that is not right in our lives. Jesus wants to transform the water in wine! Will you allow him? Let’s pray.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Connect Group 34 - Our life – our mission

 Icebreaker: Could you introduce yourself in 10 seconds? (Take a clock a let’s go).

Text: Luke 1:26-38

Introduction: 

During the Second World War, Queen Elizabeth (who was then a princess) said: “I am a princess, this is not what I do, but who I am. There is no holiday or time off, I am a princess because of the people and for the people”. What a powerful statement to make! It’s so nice to hear, especially when it comes from a princess who would one day be Queen. It shows that beyond her title, beyond the situation she was facing, and despite the social pressure of that time, she was someone who was coherent and who understood who she really was. Princess Elizabeth served in WWII, and was trained in London as a mechanic and military truck driver at a time when other heads of state in Europe fled to places of safety.

People who’ve left an impact on the world understood that they were in the world, but understood too that they were not part of the world. They were Christians and that was, and is, enough. They weren’t Christians only on Sundays or religious holidays, but lived out their faith in their character and their identity – living as sons and daughters of God.

We need to stop with this plague of separating our lives into compartments where we say  ‘Now I am Christian’, then ‘Now I am lay person’ then ‘Now I am only a student’, or ‘Now I am working.’ You are one person under God’s guidance, and that’s it. So be it.

If we read the text of Luke again, we will be able to see that Mary said ‘YES’ to God’s plans, but she didn’t say it because everything was perfect and it would be a dream come true for this to happen to her, but rather, because as God’s child she understood that God’s plans are always what’s best for us.

Let’s see what she went through, so that we can learn how we can react, in God’s way, when we face the future that is ahead of us:


1) She didn’t say YES because it would be easy.

Look at what the text says about her first reaction to the angel

- Troubled (with what the angel was saying – she was trying to discern).

- Do not be afraid (the angel said) - probably she was afraid or else the angel wouldn’t have said it.

- By the way, you are pregnant, and you will name the baby  ‘Jesus’ (the angel said).


Mary said, ‘Yes’, despite knowing that:

- according to the law, young women who were legally engaged but found to be pregnant by someone other than their betrothed were to be stoned to death. (See Deuteronomy 22.23-24) 

- She said ‘YES’ despite knowing that many women died in childbirth. 

- She said, ‘YES’, despite knowing that it would mean the end of the dreams she had for her wedding day,  

- She said ‘YES’, despite knowing that it would probably lead to Joseph calling off the marriage. 

- She said, ‘YES’, despite knowing that she might become an unmarried mother.

-

She was young and unprepared but still said ‘YES’ because she understood that God’s plans would always better than her plans; God’s will may never be the easiest way but His will is always the best way. 


2) Sometimes God’s plans and direction seem impossible

Look at what the Angel said to Mary: ‘Your son will reign forever, and your cousin Elizabeth, who is old and has never been able to conceive, is indeed pregnant.

God calls us to accept His will, even if seems impossible, but He will always send glimpses of miracles to transform what seems impossible into possibilities. So, keep your eyes open to see and dream with what God is doing in you and around you. 

Remember the boy with 5 loaves and 2 fishes in the Bible story of John 6.9? He gave what he had to do what seemed impossible, which was to feed 5,000 people. But in that moment of decision and giving, was the seed of a great miracle.

Remember that for God nothing is impossible. Remember what he already did in your life and in the lives of those around you and let that influence your thinking and expectancy of what God can do. 


3) God wants to reach all the families of the earth through you. 

I know that might not sound real, but it’s true. 

Evan Roberts led the Welsh Revival. He started when he was 17 years old, and at the height of the outreach of the movement he was 24 years old. The Welsh Revival won, and deeply influenced, millions of people around the world.

The Welsh Revival is important for many reasons, but I love three of them:

1. It was the first great revival that was documented on TV and in the newspapers. 

2. For the first time women had a distinctive and main role in a church movement. 

3. The revival reached millions, and was the catalyst that started many other revivals. 

Today God is asking us not to focus on the difficulties, or on what we don’t yet have, but to look at Him. He doesn’t ignore our difficulties and problems but He wants to move us beyond them so that He can use us.

Everyone has a mission that God has planned for their life, don’t despise a small beginning because nothing is small with God – are you willing to say ‘YES’ in obedience, even if you can’t see too far ahead and you have questions about what God will do? Let’s ask God to do His work in us and through us today! Would you like that?


Conclusion: God is looking for men and women who are open to Him and to what He wants to do through them. Are you one of them? Would you like to be used in a powerful way and see things that not many people do? So be prepared to do things that no one else does as well! Let’s pray!


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Connect Group 33 – Lord teach us how to pray

Icebreaker:  Think about a conversation that you have had recently with someone who you are close to – it could be a friend or a member of your family. What kind of conversation was it? Were you relaxed or frustrated when it was taking place? Did you do most of the listening or most of the talking? How did it leave you feeling afterwards?


Introduction: All of those questions that I’ve just asked you could have been questions that I asked of how it was last time you prayed. Prayer is an on-going conversation with God, where we talk and listen;  where, depending on what we are praying about, we can be very agitated or very calm, and can indeed move through a range of thoughts and emotions. Prayer always leaves us with something too - this can be anything between a deep sense of calm and peace, to a deep sense of not having understood what God wanted to say to us in that moment. It is a vital and essential part of our relationship with God, and yet many of us struggle with it and have times where we may feel that our prayers are unheard or unanswered. 


There seems little doubt that this is why Jesus taught so much about the prayer that was at the heart of His relationship with His Father. The disciples saw the aliveness of His prayer-life, and even asked that they be taught to pray as He did, because they could see how important it was to Him. Here is what Jesus said to them in reply to their question:

Text: Luke 11: 1-10

The spiritual discipline of prayer is a life-time journey for us, and because of that, it takes commitment and determination, it takes passion and a desire to be in sync with God’s will and his desire for our lives – things that are rooted in the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is so much that we could say about prayer but there are 3 things that we can see in Jesus’ teaching here:


1. Prayer has many faces and we need all of them

The first part of today’s text contains words that may be very familiar to us, even if we didn’t grow up believing in Jesus and in fact if we grew up in the church they may have been a form of words that we said every week as part of worship, (although I am not certain that Jesus ever really intended that they would be used in that way.) What Jesus is teaching here is that prayer does not have one face, but many faces and His teaching  gives us a helpful signal about what they are. He begins with praise, with giving the Father His rightful place in our lives as Lord and Master. He continues with a prayer for daily needs to be met by God, which is followed by prayer focused on the two sides of forgiveness– a prayer that comes from our understanding that we have much to confess and to be forgiven for; also that this understanding should be actively at work in our relationships with others. Finally there is a prayer for help in our struggles.


When I look honestly at my prayer-life, I know that too often I skip straight to the help bit, or even to praying for the struggles of other people, without making very much time for anything else. Is that true for you too? Does there need to be more of a balance of focusing on how awesome God is, and worshipping Him in prayer more deeply when you pray?

"Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference." - Max Lucado

2. God calls us to persevere and to be bold in prayer

I love the image that comes in the illustration that Jesus gives here, of the man banging on the door of his neighbour and asking for blessing, even though it isn’t a convenient time! Sometimes people wrongly get the picture from this part of the text that we are like annoying kids saying to God “Dad, Dad, Dad, can I have….. please can I have…. Go on Dad, let me have…..” over and over again until God, like a harassed Dad, gets fed up of us asking and lets us have whatever we want, for a quiet life. But this isn’t what it means. 


To understand what it does mean, we have to start from the place where we should always start – with God. He loves us, he knows that we are living in a broken world, He knows that we have troubles and struggles and concerns and He wants us to rely on His love in a way that makes us unafraid to pray about those things. He wants us to keep praying with a perseverance that comes from our confidence in His goodness, rather than from our desire to have our own way. At the beginning of Chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel,  Jesus taught His disciples that they should pray and never give up – this is the perseverance in prayer that we are working towards as we learn to pray. 

 

The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit within us helps us to pray even when we can’t find the words, and that Jesus intercedes for us, bringing His concerns for us to the Father and acting as the ultimate Advocate for those who believe in Him. Those two truths, mean that we can have confidence and boldness to do what is really unimaginable when we stop to think about it  – which is to come right close to God and tell Him what is in our heart and our minds. Even more amazing is that God knows us so well that he knows what our hearts and minds are full of – and yet He wants us to come, because He knows that our relationship with Him will grow in the way He longs for,  when we are talking and listening to Him. 


3. Is there such a thing as unanswered prayer?


In the final part of the text Jesus talks of asking and receiving, seeking and finding and knocking on doors that will open. This too can be easily misunderstood;  this does not mean that we have a ‘genie of the lamp’ God, who will grant all our desires and wishes, or who is at our command. 


How many times in your life have you prayed and prayed for something to happen or not happen and it seems that the prayer has not been answered? This happened recently to someone close to me. A Christian friend of theirs is suffering from an aggressive form of cancer – for over 12 months there has been persistent and bold prayer for healing , until this week, the person sent a message to say that their life is coming to an end. At every turn, when we prayed for things to change or get better, or for them not be as bad as we feared, things didn’t get better.  At these moments, it seemed that our prayers had gone unanswered, but actually that isn’t true. God has answered, He has made it clear that although our hearts were set on this person being healed, in some kind of temporary way in this life (because we know the path that we all have to take one day) , that their time here is coming to an end, and although that is desperately sad for their family and friends, this person will soon know total healing, beyond anything that is possible in this life.


Is it easy to take that? No it isn’t! Our desire was for healing in this life – but the truth is that human death is the reality of living in this broken world, and a life that goes on beyond that moment is the reality of living beyond this life. God had answered our prayers for healing, before we even asked them, by sending Jesus to conquer death. The prayer for healing in human terms has been met with the truth that God knows best, and that He is in control even though it isn’t what those of us who were praying for this person wanted. 


When we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, His prayer is so fervent and so passionate – He says to His Father, if I don’t have to go through this horror, please let is pass me by, but what He says next is the key to our prayer-life growing and maturing – He tells God that He will obey His will, even if it means that He has to pass through this suffering that He would rather not face. When we pray, we need to grow in our acceptance that sometimes the deepest prayers of our hearts are not in sync with God’s will and purpose and that this will mean that they are not answered in the way that we would like. 


No prayer eventually goes unanswered, but when the answer we get is not “Yes”, it’s tempting to think that we haven’t been heard, or that we didn’t pray passionately enough for whatever it is we have asked. God may say to us – “I want you to pray some more about that”, He may say “No, that’s not what I have planned” or even “Not yet” but he does not leave us without an answer if we are open to hearing it. As we grow and mature in the life that we have through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we will become more ‘tuned in’ to God’s will and our prayers will become increasingly in sync with that. 

"The reality is, my prayers don't change God.  But, I am convinced prayer changes me.  Praying boldly boots me out of that stale place of religious habit into authentic connection with God Himself." - Lysa TerKeurst

Conclusion:

Prayer is a life-time’s work. We can grow and mature through the power of the Holy Spirit, but we have to do our part by laying aside time to pray, by focusing on and worshipping God first,  before we present our requests to Him, and by listening to answers even when they aren’t what we wanted.  Do you want to ask God to help you to do that today? Let’s pray…… 








Connect Group 32 – Are you awake or asleep in your relationship with God?

 Icebreaker:  Think about what it is like to be very deeply asleep – what words would you use to describe that state? How is your awareness of what is happening around you when you sleep really deeply? 


Introduction:

The Old Testament prophet Jonah had been given a job by God. It was a job that he didn’t want to do, which was to go to a very Godless city and tell them that if they didn’t repent, they would be destroyed. Instead of following God’s command, Jonah tried to get as far away from the city as possible, and in the process tried as hard as he could to run away from his relationship with God. He was purposefully disobedient and as we know, when we disobey God in that way, it never ends well. There are all sorts of consequences that come from Jonah’s action, but today’s reading shows us one that is still a real danger for us in our own relationship with God – this danger is what the Bible calls a “deep sleep” – some even call it the “deathly sleep” – let’s hear about how Jonah experienced that…….


Text:  Jonah 1: 3-5 


There are some things that we can think and pray about today, so that we can learn from Jonah’s experience and so avoid the “deep sleep” in our own relationship with God. 


What is this “deep sleep?”

It’s really tempting when we hear how Jonah went below deck at the very height of the storm and fell into a deep sleep, to assume that he was really relaxed, comfortable and trusting in God for whatever happened. But if we go back to the Hebrew word (radam) that is used for Jonah’s deep sleep, our ideas have to go in a very different direction. 


The suggestion is that the depth of the sleep does not come from relaxation, but from a hopelessness and lethargy and from a deep disconnection from spiritual joy and peace.  It suggests too that the sleeper has a depth of sorrow and a sense that nothing matters – remember later in the book of Jonah, the prophet wishes to die and this sleep gives a sense of that beginning – he doesn’t care what’s happening.   The unconsciousness of this sleep,  has also been linked by some Bible scholars, to the sleep that God gave to Adam in Genesis when God removed the rib from which Eve was created; this in itself suggests that it is a sleep that produces numbness, almost as if Jonah was anaesthetised to his surroundings and to the danger that was very obviously felt by the sailors that were on the boat with him. 


In the New Testament a similar word in Greek, is used to describe the sleep of the disciples whilst Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. In this case it is a dark sleep, one that comes from desperation and exhaustion and sorrow. 


So…. this is not a good kind of sleep and it is a symptom of Jonah seeking to remove himself from the relationship that he has had with God up until this point – it is something that we need to look out for in our own relationship with God. 


How can we know if we are experiencing the ‘deep sleep’?

It’s interesting to understand what the Bible is actually telling us about Jonah, but it is far more important that we go beyond that to see if we can see any signs of this sleep in our own life. 


I think we all know what it is to try to run away from God in some area of our life – to try to drown out His message to us, by numbing ourselves with all the noise, entertainment and distractions of the world. In this way we keep focusing on what we want rather than on what God has planned for us – especially when what God has planned doesn’t sound like something that we are going to like or enjoy. We might think “Well who can blame Jonah for running away?” – but whilst we might understand what happened to Jonah,  it’s really important that we don’t sleep walk into the ‘deep sleep’ of Jonah in our relationship with God.


 We can ask ourselves whether we are trying to be god in our own lives. Although Jonah was a man who had a long, and in earthly terms, successful relationship with God, he had come to the point of believing that he knew better than God, and this was one of things that led him into the ‘deep sleep’. Whenever we rely on ourselves, it will only lead to desperation because we are not God. 


We can ask whether we have a sense in our lives of obeying God. Much of what happens to Jonah, happens because of his disobedience. Doing the opposite of what God asks us, or just ignoring his call on our lives to be His people, can really do us a lot of damage. Our spirits become dry and dusty, we lose the joy and the peace that we are guaranteed, regardless of our circumstances, when we continue to walk with God. 


 We can ask ourselves whether we are producing fruit in our lives and whether the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are becoming more apparent in our lives. (This is not to say that we will have all of these things, all of the time, but that we can see how God is transforming us so that these things are beginning to grow in us). Jonah was bitter and angry, he hated that God wanted to show compassion to the people of Nineveh, he didn’t really care about anything that was going on around him on the boat.  He was far from God and whether he understood it or not, it was hurting him. If we are experiencing bitterness, hatred, anger,  or a lack of compassion for others, then it’s a sign that something isn’t right in our relationship with God and it’s time to do something about that. 


How can we be awake in our relationship with God?

God wants us to be awake, ready, alert, close to Him and living in Him – he wants us to avoid the “deep sleep” of Jonah. 

Over the last two weeks we have been considering how spiritual discipline is a vital part of our relationship with God, and here, in Jonah and in what he can help us to understand about ourselves, we have a perfect example of what happens when we neglect those things. 

Think back to what we have talked about over the last two weeks,  and see if there are any of those aspects of your relationship with God where you need to be more awake, and where, having had time to reflect, you can see that there is a danger of falling asleep. 


Perhaps it is spending time in the word, perhaps it’s prayer and listening to God, perhaps it’s setting time aside that is only for God and that you don’t let anything else take over. Maybe for you it will be making time to be in fellowship with other Christians, or serving or coming to God more often to confess your sin and to receive God’s forgiveness and guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. Whatever it is, decide today that you will commit to working on that, and to asking God to show you how you can work on it. Ask God to make you awake to Him and to make you aware of any areas of spiritual discipline where you are in danger of being sleepy. The good news is that despite all the things that Jonah got wrong, God was still with him and, eventually the plan that God had for the city of Nineveh came to pass. It’s never too late to wake up in our relationship with God. 


Conclusion:

It is so easy in this world to be sleeping when we need to be awake, but God wants to fill us with the full and abundant life that Jesus won for us on the cross. Do you want to be fully awake and living for God in a way that you could not imagine is possible in this moment?  God wants that too so let’s pray that He shows us how it is possible to be wide awake for Him in this life that He has given us……


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Connect Group 31 – Spiritual disciplines II

 Icebreaker: Have you made any changes to start or to increase the spiritual discipline that we talked about last week? The question remains - Do you think that someone who trains a lot has more chance to win than someone who does not?

Text: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Introduction:

Last week we talked about the importance of training in our spiritual lives, and the first 4 spiritual disciplines we talked about were: 1 -Prayer, 2 -Fasting, 3 -Rest and 4 – Confession and accountability.

Today we continue exploring 5 more spiritual disciplines.


1) Reading the Scriptures

People want the truth, and I believe they're searching for it. As Christians, we believe that truth originates from God alone. God's Word is the revelation of the truth, and Jesus is the physical manifestation of it, being the ‘Word made flesh’.  But we cannot know the truth if we don't know how to spend time in the Word and with Jesus; small doses of it, spoon-fed in short readings, once a week on a Sunday morning, are not enough. 


"If you are relying on a preacher to be fed, I fear for you. Listening to a sermon is second-hand knowledge. It is learning based on someone else's words or experiences. A sermon is no replacement for first-hand knowledge. You've got to see it and hear it and experience it for yourself. It's not enough to hear the truth. You have to own it. Or more accurately, it has to own you. Honestly, I'd rather have people hear one word from the Lord than a thousand of my sermons. And that happens when you open your Bible and start reading." Mark Batterson


What can you do to grow in this area? How can you develop the spiritual discipline of being in the Word more often and more deeply?


2) Solitude and meditation

In a conversation with God, while heading to the promised land, Moses declared that if God’s presence did not go with them, they would refuse to leave (Exodus 33:15). Moses asked, “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

What else would distinguish them from the nations around them? How about circumcision for a start? How about food restrictions? How about the Sabbath and yearly festivals? How about a list of ethical commandments that would play a defining role in human society for the next 3,500 years? Yet despite these other distinguishing marks, Moses knew that the presence of God was the thing that truly set the people of God apart from the nations around them. The other distinctions were simply the social, cultural, and religious boundaries that any community could display. But God’s presence? That was unmistakable.

What about us, do we desire God’s presence to the point where nothing else matters? 


What steps could you take in order to grow in this area? How can you develop the spiritual discipline of resting in God, focused on Him and becoming increasingly aware of His presence?


3) Worship

A few weeks ago I saw an online conference called ‘Renew’. A Pastor from ‘First Baptist Church’ in Orlando, Florida, shared his testimony. He had discovered that he was suffering from heart failure and a brain tumour, with the news about both conditions coming on the same day. But he shared how, in the middle of this storm, he had become more aware of the power of worship, which had blessed and transformed the situation. 


Worship is all about the attitude of the heart. True worship is motivated by who God is and not what He does (especially if He’s not doing what I want, when I want). When we worship, we must humble ourselves and surrender every part of our life, so that we can truly appreciate the Lord and get to know more about who He is. Worship is an integral part of a Christian’s life. It’s about knowing God; knowing His attributes, and His character. Even if your singing is bad, you can worship deeply, because it is not related to the talent you may have for singing, but to the attitude of your heart!!! 


How can you grow in worshipping God today? How can you develop the spiritual discipline of worshipping faithfully, regardless of whether in your life you are experiencing the valley or the mountain-top, or indeed any place between those two extremes? 


4) Fellowship and Spiritual friendship

God’s desire was not to have a domain to dominate, but to have a people to partner with. In His vision of tangible presence, Christ has chosen to manifest himself through us.

God is relationship and HE designed humans to be in relationship (yes, even those who think that they don’t need that).

People may prefer to go through life alone for several reasons—time is valuable, relationships take work, chemistry is challenging, and autonomy is easier. Some just don’t find a friend, a spiritual Christian to share time together with, because that costs and requires proactivity. Others just seem to feel that they have been made differently, almost like no one will understand them or like them. I certainly felt like that most of my life. But the truth is that God doesn’t want us to be alone and lonely, so we need to be proactive and seek for friendship with other Christians. 

How can you develop the spiritual discipline of building trust and developing the fellowship- relationship that you have with someone? Can you make the first step? Can you invite someone for a coffee this week? What can you do to grow in this area? 


5) Service

Christians who are accelerating their spiritual growth are involved in personal ministry. Personal ministry includes things like leading a cell group, an Advance group, mentoring other Christians, teaching a class, organizing a mission trip experience, serving on the leadership of a non-profit organization, or a church, or conducting a study in a workplace environment. I get excited when our people do this because it means that they are moving from being a disciple to discipling others. They are finding unique ways to use their gifts, passions, and talents for kingdom benefits. It means that they have passed the ‘baby phase’ of crying for “milk” and have started to feed others. This is when movement and further growth happens.


Service is giving more than just money, it is to honour God with our time and life.


Can you see an opportunity that God is giving you to serve? Can you see how God is encouraging you to develop the spiritual discipline of service? What is God putting in your heart about this – if the answer to that is “I don’t know”, then come to God in prayer and ask Him to show you. 


Conclusion: It is time to start training to get ready for greater things! Would you like to start tonight? What are the first steps (or next steps) that you can take in this direction? Let’s pray.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Connect Group 30 – Spiritual disciplines I

 Icebreaker: Why do sportspeople do a lot of training? Is the level of training important for the end result? Do you think that someone who trains a lot has more chance of winning, than someone who does not train so much?


Text: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27


Introduction:

One of my favourite sporting competitions in the world is the World Cup in Football. I think that the way people from different nations, languages and cultures come together to play the same sport, is great. I am particularly fond of the pre-competition, when the teams are all focused on their training. They train and train tirelessly, over and over again, in order to be ready to give 100% of excellence when it is needed.


It is the same in our Christian life! It doesn’t just happen ‘automatically’ that we grow and reach our full potential; the truth is that we need to train our spiritual muscles, and we need to do that over and over again in order to learn how to discern God’s will, how to know His presence and how to listen to His voice. As it is with sportspeople, it’s a training that we need to be committed to, even when we aren’t feeling like it. This training in the Christian life can be called the “Spiritual disciplines”, and that is what we’re going to talk about today:


1) Prayer

Prayer is a relationship and not an activity! It is grounded in a friendship with, and a delight in, God that grows when we speak and listen to Him.  It is the development of a relationship that is real and which makes a difference in our lives. We need to avoid the tiredness, the restlessness and all the distractions that keep us away from this relationship, so that we can focus on talking to God. Everywhere, and at any time, we can talk to God, and choosing a time of day when we are awake and alert can really help us to concentrate and be centred on Him. 


What changes could you make today to create more space in your life to talk to God? Can you lay aside 10 minutes (or an extra 10 minutes) in your day, to spend in prayer?


2) Fasting

Dan Allender writes that “Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement, or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God’s hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us.”


‘Setting the stage for God’, I love that. Don’t you want Him to play the leading role in your story? Fasting creates the place for that. Historically, when God’s people have turned to him through fasting, He breaks in and brings radical change. Fasting is therefore never about trying to force God to bend to our will, but about presenting ourselves to God in a way that is open to what He is doing.

- Moses’s forty-day fast resulted in the revelation of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). 

- Hannah fasted, and God released a prophet who changed the destiny of a nation (1 Samuel 1:7–20). 

- Esther called for a fast, and her people were delivered, and their enemies overcome (Esther 4:16; 7:3–9:16). 

- Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness and overcame the temptations that held humanity in bondage (Luke 4:1–13). 

- Paul prayed for God to remove the ‘thorn in his flesh’, and after praying He heard and understood that God’s grace was enough for Him. This is to have a heart aligned with God even when I hear what I don’t want to hear. (2 Corinthians 12.1-6).


Maybe we have tried every other type of solution. Maybe we will only be released from “this kind of struggle” through prayer and fasting (like Jesus said, in Mark 9: 28-29, about deliverance of the boy from the demons that were stealing his life). 

What changes can you make to add at least some time of fasting every week?


3) Rest

Rest must resist exhaustion.


Many people move into a season of their lives where they pursue success in terms of both recognition and financial reward; but to really achieve this, people have to put in an extraordinary effort. The hours required, the energy expended, and the demands placed on the body and heart can be so intense, that the inner life begins to wither. “It will just be for a year or two,” the narrative says, but the kind of cultural formation and spiritual deformation that can take place in that amount of time is staggering. Values are distorted, vision blurred, idols established, identity shifted, and relationships strained. This way of living shifts out of being ‘for a season’, and, because ambition demands it, becomes a lie that turns into a lifestyle.


A first step to understanding rest is learning to resist the ‘tyranny of doing’.

I love the phrase from Jon Tyson “Our souls are rarely restored through entertainment. Restoration comes through rest. Relaxation, though good, will not do a deep enough work.” We need to learn to rest, and to rest in God, and entertainment will not bring that. We need true rest in God’s presence, not another night of food and Netflix in excess. God instituted this rest right back in Genesis, when He rested on the 7th day of creation – we need to rediscover that rest in our lives. 


What can you do this week to see change? How will you move beyond fruitless ‘doing’ into a powerful encounter? Something has to snap us out of it. As C. S. Lewis put it, “You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.”


4) Confession and accountability

There is always a sin that needs to be confessed. As believers we might not sin outwardly as much, but inwardly we sin daily. We should make a practice of confessing our sins daily. 

A Christian doesn’t just repent one time and stop. No, we have to continually repent and grow in repentance. When we confess our sins, it allows us to truly appreciate Christ and see our desperate need for Him. When there is no confession, that can easily be an open door for backsliding because we can begin to think that we are getting away with sin.


A way out of this pattern is to be accountable to a Christian friend (or pastor, mentor or colleague)! I learned a long time ago that those who do not confess temptation will confess sin. Walk in discipleship and truth with someone. What changes could you make this week to introduce more accountability into your life?


Conclusion: 

Are you willing to make some changes in order to know more of God and His will for your life? So let’s pray.

Next week we will explore more spiritual disciplines that will help us to grow in our understanding of who God is and who we are in God.


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Connect Group 29 – Sharing the good news like Jesus

 Icebreaker: Imagine that you have an opportunity to share about Jesus. How would you do it?


Text: Matthew 9.35-36 “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.


Introduction: One thing that amazes me is the focus and passion that Jesus had to reach the least, the lost and the broken. The focus of His earthly life was to spread the good news that the kingdom of God was near and within reach for all those who wanted to be a child of God,  and to have a friendship with Him. So Jesus went to many towns and villages and spent time with people, sharing, teaching, preaching and helping with their practical needs; for me, the way that He did this was amazing. So today we can learn from the Master about how we should share His message with the world:


1) He had a real interest in people

For Jesus, people were not numbers or statistics; He did not tire of them even when He must have been exhausted from the work that He was doing. Jesus was never distracted, and was always focused on glorifying His Father by loving and blessing people.  People were the focus and reason why Jesus was in the world in the first place and so He was always ready to take the time to bless those who came to Him for help. From the pool at Bethesda to a Centurion’s house,  Jesus was there to help, to heal, to teach and preach. He was there for people;  He was interested in them, and still is interested in you, and indeed in all of us.


 If we want to share Jesus’ message with the people that we meet, then we have to listen to them, to find out where they are, and meet them there, just as Jesus did. We can’t fake this interest because it can only come from loving others as Jesus loves us. This self-less love is not something that we can manufacture for ourselves, it can only flow from the Holy Spirit living in us as we respond to the forgiveness and love that we have experienced in our lives. 


2) He took time to be with people

Jesus was never in a hurry! This doesn’t mean that He didn’t have a lot of things to do and not much time to do them in, but that He made time for what was His priority – the people who He had come to save. Nowadays people are in a hurry most of the time, so much so that if someone says that their life is not busy and full of things,  it almost seems like that person must either be lazy or unimportant.


If we want to share Jesus’ message generously, as He did,  then it’s time to break with the cultural pattern of fruitless ‘busy-ness’ that we have accepted into our lives. It is time to make the time to be with Jesus, so that through this growing relationship with Him, we can find more time and opportunities to share about Him with the people around us.



3) He was culturally relevant 

Jesus had every reason to find life in the world strange. In heaven things were perfect, He was surrounded by a glory that we can barely imagine but through the language of heaven could perfectly express all that glory. Then He came to earth, God in human form, ‘the Word made flesh’,  coming to a place that was hot, smelly and where what could be expressed was limited by the language that could be understood by those listening. 


But Jesus never once used that to excuse Himself from the task of saving the world. He spoke in a way that people understood, he went where people were and he communicated with people in a way that spoke to their deepest need. 


If we want to follow Jesus’ example we need to consider how to communicate the gospel in a way that will be culturally relevant to the people around us and in a way that will speak to people where they are. This is not to dilute the message, but rather to use the language that will be accessible to those who are listening to what we share. 


Let’s go out and share Jesus in a way that Glorifies God, that is faithful to the word of God, and that is relevant for the day to day life that people are experiencing. In this way, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be helping people to understand what it means to live a life with Jesus in a way that is applicable to their day to day life.


Conclusion: We need to be more with Jesus, and we need to be more like Him to share with people around us, that His time has arrived. Would you like that?    Let’s pray.


Monday, November 2, 2020

Connect Group 28 – Called to serve

Icebreaker:  questions for us today: 

1) If you could have a dinner with anyone in history (alive or dead), who would you choose? 

2) How do you evaluate or measure if someone had a great life or not?

 

Text: Luke 2.1-7

 

Introduction: Can you imagine meeting anyone more special than Jesus? Can you think of anyone more powerful, anyone with more amazing attributes, than the Creator of the heavens and the earth?

The Bible tells us in the Gospel of John that Jesus made everything, and that everything that there is, was made through him; He is the Creator and He sustains all things!!!!

Jesus came to earth to serve. To serve God’s purpose, to serve you and me showing us the way to God (himself), serving us, paying for our sins and giving us the undeserved gift of forgiveness and access to God.

 

1)    He didn’t demand or complain

Jesus came to this world, was born into a stable and was laid in a manger. That is no place for babies; it is smelly and dirty, it is dark and without ventilation, and that is how the King of the World came to serve the fallen world, by coming amongst the lowest and the least. 

We need to rediscover the humility and purpose of service in our lives. We serve not because it is a “dream come true”, or because it is glamorous; true service comes when we serve even though we are in the smelly and ugly places, or when things are not as we would like them to be or how we would desire. 

In true service, Jesus is at the centre, so we serve not for ourselves, but because we serve Him. This means that we LOVE to serve those who Jesus loves. There are no ‘ifs or buts’, we are called to serve and that’s the bottom line; it is our calling as followers of Jesus, remembering that it is not about us, but about the one who calls us, and who is our example.  

 

2)    He served those who were betraying Him

Jesus didn’t choose who he would serve. He did it according to purpose and principle and not because of how other people behaved towards Him. We are tempted to serve with an expectation of receiving gratitude and appreciation in return. I confess that I do that sometimes, and it is really hurtful when we serve and care for people and they turn their backs on us. In John Chapter 13 the Bible says that Jesus knelt down and washed the disciple’s feet. Through this action, He was doing the lowest service possible to serve and demonstrate His love. However, Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, that Peter would deny Him and that all the apostles would leave Him in the end. Jesus served not because of what they did, but because who Jesus was. Don’t serve others because of them or  because of what they do, but because of who you are in Jesus. 

 

3)    He served until death on the cross

He served until death on the cross, and he did that without any pomp or fancy promotion. Jesus served God’s will even to the Cross. He served even when cost him dearly, and His call to serve cost His earthly life. Don’t expect to serve only when it is convenient or when it doesn’t cost you anything, that is not service but convenience!

We should serve even when it costs, even when the price is high. Jesus gave the example that in order to truly serve and bless we need to die. We need to die to ourselves, to our wrong priorities and to an easy gospel. That is the only way that we will serve as Jesus served, and that is the only way that we will find life serving the people who Jesus loves.

 

Conclusion: Would you like to serve in a way that glorifies God? So, a good way to start is to thank Jesus for what He has done for us. Then we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us to learn from Jesus so that serve with an outrageous and bold love. Let’s pray…..

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Connect Group 27 – Surrender your ‘ifs and buts’ to the Lord!


Text: 2 Kings 5 v. 1-14

Icebreaker: Are there any ‘ifs or buts’ in your life? 

For example Everything is good but it could be better if… 

  I want things to change but… 

  If only I could…..

  If only I hadn’t……

  If only things were….. different? 


It so easy to spend our time thinking like that and it can take so much of our energy and focus. We’re going to hear today about someone who fell into that trap but who learned that the only way to change things is to surrender to God. 


The man who we will hear about was called Naaman; he was a Leader in the army of the king of Aram. He was a powerful and greatly respected soldier and he had an amazing status inside of that kingdom as being a very brave warrior; but the problem was that he had big ‘ifs or buts’ in his life because he was suffering from a disease called Leprosy, something that he longed to be free of.  This illness is unfortunately still around today – it is very contagious and mainly effects the skin and the nervous system, causing sores to break out on the body. It causes muscle weakness and loss of feeling in the arms and the legs – things that were obviously a big problem for Naaman if he wanted to continue as a soldier. Later, in Jesus time, this illness also had a great stigma attached to it with lepers (people suffering from leprosy) being outcasts and forced to live together in groups away from their families. 


Something that is amazing about God is that He doesn’t call us by the name of our sins, our struggles or our current problems. God calls us according to what He we are to Him, so He calls us His ‘blessed children’ and will always see the potential that we have, and that can be unlocked when we surrender to the work that He is willing to do in our lives. Naaman’s story can help us to see how we need to surrender to God today, and to think about how we can do that. 


1) Recognise the “ifs and buts” of your life.

The first thing that the mighty warrior Naaman did, was to recognise that he had a problem. He was not fighting to hide it, he wasn’t ignoring it, but he also wasn’t using it as an excuse. He recognised the problem and decided  that it was time to focus his energy on making a change.

Today ask yourself, what are the “ifs and buts” of my life? What have I been spending a lot of energy on, hoping for change without recognising that I have to surrender to God for change to come. 

 Is there a problem that you may be using as a crutch to divert attention from the need for change and from what God wants to do in your life? Unfortunately many people use their problems or past in this way, and that becomes an excuse and a part of who they are instead of something that can be faced and from which they can be healed through God’s power in their life.  


It may be that that sounds harsh but many people use a problem or their past to justify their actions and behaviors in the present. In this way these issues become an excuse to keep saying “if only” and “but I can’t”. Today we need to recognise the ‘ifs and buts’ that we allow in our lives and allow the Lord to start the process of healing and transformation in us. What difference would that healing and transformation make to your life?


2) Share the problem.

Leprosy can be a very visual illness because the sores are obvious, but in some cases, because of the stigma attached to it,  people could keep it hidden until the smell of the infection was so obvious, and so strong that it couldn’t be hidden from others any more. 

This is exactly what happens with us when we hide the “ifs and buts” of our lives. The problem won’t go away, but eventually that situation will spread and damage everything around it until the point is reached where others will “smell” problem and know that it is destroying us. The sad thing is that when that happens it generally means that the situation has spread and has got out of control, whereas if we had asked for help at the beginning it could have been much more easily contained and change would have come more quickly and with less damage to us and to the people around us. 

We are not lone rangers, God put us in a family, in the church and even in work places. There is always someone willing to listen, so share the problem with someone and begin the process of healing and transformation that will be a blessing to your life.


Consider for a moment if there is a problem in your life that could get out of control if you don’t share it. Think about sharing that problem today with someone that you trust so that you can talk and pray about it together. 


3) Listen to God’s voice and to what He speaks through others.

Naaman listened to God’s voice, first through the little girl who was a child of Israel and then through the prophet Elisha, but that wasn’t easy for him. He knew that what he had been told to do he could have done at home, without any of the same journey or energy being spent to solve the problem.  The river that he had to wash in, was nothing special to him– he knew that there were equally good rivers in the kingdom of Aram, and people who would treat him with far more respect than Elisha appeared to do and this made him angry because it hurt his pride.  But, cutting through all of this were the voices of his servants, who reminded him that if Elisha had wanted him to do something difficult he would have done it.


All he had to do was to have faith, and to submit to doing what Elisha had told him to do. In this story God spoke in many ways – first through the faith of the child who was a servant to Naaman’s wife, then through the prophet Elisha and finally through the servants who asked Naaman to reconsider doing the easy thing that he had been told to do. 

Ask yourself today – Am I listening to God’s voice through His word in the Bible? Am I listening to what God is saying to me through others? This is no time to be stubborn, don’t ignore His voice, and don’t agree to disagree with Him! Listen and obey!!!!


Conclusion: Would you like to surrender all your “ifs and buts” to the Lord, in order to begin the process of healing and transformation? So let’s do it now!!!!



 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Connect Group 26 – Don’t lose joy when tribulation arrives

 Text: John 16.4-24 (You can read it or read a couple of verses and share the story)

           John 15.11


Icebreaker: Is it possible to have joy in the middle of tribulation? Honestly, do you have joy when trouble comes? How do you think Jesus deals with our tribulation - especially in relation to joy?


Introduction

We can have a very limited perspective when we consider the trouble that we will face in life– we often only see what hurts us, but Jesus sees more than that, He sees how tribulations bring us closer to Him and sees the spiritual growth that will come from those times and experiences.  He sees too, an opportunity to teach us how to have joy even in the most difficult circumstances of life. 


As His death approached, Jesus became increasingly focused on working to stabilize the joy of His disciples in the face of the imminent crisis that the coming weeks would bring to them. To do this in the text above, He dealt with two main threats to their joy: 


Firstly, He is leaving the disciples and going to the Father and this threatens to fill them with fear.

Secondly, He is going to die soon and this threatens to fill them with grief. 


Both threats seem pretty bad, and both would seem to be detrimental to the joy of the disciples. It is no wonder that they were perplexed! In answering their confusion and uncertainty, Jesus speaks in a way that reaches out to us across the centuries, seeking to stabilize our own shakeable joy too, aiming to make it unshakeable no matter what trouble comes to us. This is neither accidental nor incidental,  it is what He meant to do; it was His purpose: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” – John 15.11.


There are some truths that Jesus teaches His disciples about the relationship between tribulation and joy that we need to understand if we want to have God’s joy, a joy that will last, in our lives.


1) Joy comes not from the absence of tribulation, but from knowing the truth

Jesus seeks to solidify the disciple’s joy in readiness for His coming absence, not by diminishing the love, but by removing the ignorance. He says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16.7). Although there were many reasons why this coming loss would be to their advantage, the main reason was that the Spirit was going to make the glory of Jesus more real to them and in them. Yes! Even more real than if Jesus were there in the flesh! - “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. . . . He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine” (John 16.13-15).

Some people think that Jesus will remove all tribulation from their lives, and that only then  will they be able to feel the love of God and have lasting joy. But Jesus Himself teaches us that the way that He gives us that lasting joy, is to show us the way and the truth about God, so that we can fully embrace the life that God has for us even when that involves suffering and struggle.   


2) Being a Christian does not prevent us from passing through tribulations in life! 

Jesus told His disciples that sorrow would come to them. He didn’t strengthen their joy by telling them that their lives would be without sorrow, but in fact, by telling them the very opposite.

Some people have been hurt by churches and individuals who have spoken wrong things into their lives about this; for example, by saying that some lack of faith, or lack of closeness to God must be at the heart of things if we experience struggle or suffering.  Some of those people may even have had good intentions, but nevertheless they have used God’s name to say wrong things, perhaps even things that they wished in their own heart to be true. The truth is that God doesn’t lie, He doesn’t change His mind, He doesn’t contradict Himself! And God says that we will pass through tribulations. We don’t know when or how strong, only that it will happen.

The tribulation is not the absence of God, but a circumstance that we can pass through with God. No tribulation is supposed to be eternal, we are promised that all suffering and tears will come to an end in eternity. It’s so important that we run to God, and not from Him, when the tribulation arrives. God is with you and He can do all things, but that doesn’t mean that everything in our lives will happen in the way and at the time that we would choose.


3) Not only Joy, but victory!

Jesus does not promise only joy, but also victory  “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16.33). What a great statement! 

How can we not take heart? How can we not be encouraged when we hear about the victory that Jesus won for us on the cross? Our joy has a strong foundation, it is built on Jesus Christ’s victory. Not only has He overcome the world — and hell and the devil and death — but he remains with us and in us like a mighty warrior against all our tribulations. 

So, yes, there will be tribulation in this problematic world; sorrows of so many kinds that we can’t count them. But the world that makes us so sorrowful will not have the last word. We already know the end, and the end is that all who walk with Jesus will be with Him for an eternity of joy!!!! This is the joy that cannot be taken from you whatever you are facing in your life today!!


Conclusion: Would you like to have God’s joy in you? So, let’s pray!



* This cell group was based on the article Why Jesus had to leave the earth from John Piper.


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Connect Group 25 – Living God’s promises in God’s way

 Text: Genesis 21.8-21


Ice-breaker: When was the last time you made a promise to someone? Was it a promise that could be fulfilled quickly or is it something that you will have to work on for a long time? Today we are thinking about living the promises that God makes for our lives, in God’s way! 


Introduction

God promised Abram that he would bear much fruit – that he would have as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. God promised that this would happen through a child born to Abram and his wife, Sarai.  As they were both old, unfortunately, the weight of the promise got too heavy for Abram and Sarai, and so, instead of waiting for God to act,  they tried to help fulfil the promise by acting on their own, through an idea that Sarai had.  Abram slept with one of Sarai’s slaves, Hagar, and their plan worked, a son, Ishmael, was born. But this was not how God had planned it, and it meant that things became very messy when Sarah’s son Isaac, who was the child of God’s promise, was born. This all happened because neither Abraham or Sarah lived God’s promise for their lives, in God’s way. 


 We can learn from their situation and actions; whilst we all have promises from the Lord for our lives, we don’t need to help the Lord fulfil them, we just need to be faithful and obedient, and prepared to wait on God’s timing. 


Hagar knew that the Lord had promised her that through Ishmael, she would have many descendants. However, when Abraham asked them to leave their home, because Sarah was upset, Hagar found herself surrounded by the desert and thinking that they would both die. In that moment she totally forgot the promise that God had made to her about Ishmael. She sat with the boy and cried without hope, thinking that they would die of thirst. 


Like Hagar, people surrounded by a desert will be tempted to quit, but if we want to live God’s promises in God’s way, we need to listen to the following guidance from the Lord:


1) Don’t quit 

The temptation to give up, to quit,  is real and it can have a big influence in many moments of our lives. According to a poll, 40% of the pastors in America think about giving up their ministry at least once a month. If that is true for you, and you want to quit at this moment, God is saying to you “Don’t Give Up”. 


It can help us to understand that we are more vulnerable to the temptation to quit:

a) when we are sad. If we dwell on this,  we start to think things like “nobody calls me” or “no-one invites me to anything” and we get in a downwards spiral. 

b) when we are sad because of money, relationships, frustrations and lack of joy; all these things make us more vulnerable to these feelings of wanting to give up. 

c) when things are hard; doing what God wants doesn’t mean that everything will be well and perfect or that everything will be growing as we planned. If something is from the Lord it can still be a hard thing to do. All the apostles had difficult deaths; Jesus had to die to enable the victory that followed. The truth is that the level of difficulty of life will increase as we increase in the abundant life that Jesus leads us to. However, don’t be afraid because this is a good thing; behind it all is the promise of God, behind it all is what God says is best for our lives, and in that truth is strength, encouragement and unending hope.  We need to remember that whatever we are facing, without God it would be far worse. 


2) Renew your vision

When Hagar was sitting in the desert, she cried out to God, and we hear that the Angel of God called to her, and told her not to be afraid. At this moment Hagar opened her eyes and saw a well of water that was right by her. It’s important to pay attention to the fact that the text doesn’t say that God created the well for Hagar and Ismael, it was there all along, but her eyes were closed and she just couldn’t see it.  When fear and anguish controlled Hagar she lost the capability to see the resource and blessing that God had provided, even though it was right in front of her eyes. 

When we get desperate, we become blind to the promises and faithfulness of God. Remember that God has already provided everything that we need on the cross, and if we can’t see it today, then we need to renew our vision and see the greatness of his grace and mercy for the new day we are facing. 


3) Seek God until nothing else matters 

We need to seek God until nothing else matters. The problem is that in our time people want the best outcome, with the minimum of effort. People want to know what is the least amount of exercise that they need to do in order to be fit, or the maximum that they can eat and not get out of shape; or even the minimum that they can save and that will allow a comfortable retirement. More and more, people are settling for mediocrity! I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but in total honesty,  it means that people are only willing to do just enough to get by.

Hagar’s problem was that she looked to everything else but God. And what about us, what is the new thing that the Lord is doing in our lives? The testimony of last month is good, but His mercies are renewed every day. So, what is God doing today? Can you see it? Can you see the well of provision that is right in front of you? Are your eyes open?


Conclusion

Sometimes we conform to the pattern of the world, but we need to obey God, renew our mind and seek Him until nothing else matters. Would you like to have an encounter with God this week? Something that would leave you in awe? So let’s pray and be vigilant, because I know that God wants to do it!



Thursday, October 1, 2020

Connect Group 24 – WISDOM

The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper. Proverbs 19.8


Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. Proverbs 9.8-12


ICEBREAKER: What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘wise’? What would be your definition of a ‘wise person’?


If we are on the path to wisdom, we need to choose carefully where to go, because there are only a few choices that we can make that will lead us to live in God’s wisdom. ‘Worldly’, or ‘human’ wisdom is all around us and is easy to find, it’s also temptingly easy to listen to, but the fact remains that nothing else can teach us, or can help us to grow like the wisdom of God. 


1) Choose your teacher carefully.

There are two very efficient teachers in life and it is certainly true that both of them will help you to be wiser and to live life with fewer mistakes. However, despite this, the consequences and path to wisdom that these two teachers will bring, are as different from each other as it is possible to find. So, it’s really important to know which teacher we are relying on and learning from! 

The first teacher that you can have is “PAIN” – here you learn by doing things that hurt you and that cause self-inflicted suffering. The second teacher is “LEARNED WISDOM” which is the experience of others, of those who have learned what is good and Godly, and who can share that with us so that we can walk in their footsteps.  

Both of these teachers will help us to learn lessons for life, but it is true that we don’t have enough bones in our body, enough endurance, or enough resilience to become a truly wise person through the path of being taught by pain. 


So why wouldn’t we be open to what is less painful – which is to learn in hours from others what it took them years to experience? How can we do that? How do we take that path? 


We read the Bible and see the life stories of those who encountered God; we read good books that support our learning and build our experience through the testimony of others; we listen to good podcasts and we live as part of a church community so that we hear what God has given others for our benefit as well as for theirs. 


2) Ask God for it! 

Isn’t it funny that the Bible is clear that if anyone wants wisdom, they can ask God directly and He will give it to them. That means it’s available to us - but when was the last time that you prayed for it?


 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).


3) Fear the Lord

Solomon says that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (see Proverbs 9:10). But how should we fear God? What does it mean to do that? Philipp Melanchthon, who was a collaborator with Martin Luther, discussed what it means to fear God by contrasting ‘filial fear’ with ‘servile fear.’ Filial fear is the type of respect and love that a child has for a parent, a fear of offending the one that they most adore and trust; it is a result of love and openness.  In contrast, servile fear is the kind of fear that a prisoner has for his jailer or executioner, it is rooted in pain and control. 


So, to have the ‘fear of the Lord’ that Solomon spoke of, is not be afraid of God, but to have a deep awe and respect, that leads us to want to please God, responding to His merciful and gracious love by living in His will. 


Conclusion: Wisdom is to pursue God’s will, and that is only possible through a real relationship with God. Would you like to become wiser and stop repeating the same mistakes? It is time to advance and experience a new life and new challenges and God is inviting us to do that with Him. Would you like to know God better? Would you like to become wiser? So, let’s pray.


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Connect Group 23 – Gratitude

 Text: Habakkuk 3:17-18

Ice-breaker: How often do you find yourself saying “Thank-you”? What are you thankful for in your life at the moment? Can you imagine being thankful to God no matter what the situation you are facing?


Introduction

If you dig into the back story of Habakkuk, you’ll quickly realize that it’s a dark book. Israel’s reform-minded king, Josiah, had been killed, and the nation of Israel had slid back into sin and apostasy, turning away from God after they had committed their lives to Him. The prophet Habakkuk struggles with God’s silence and His unwillingness to judge Israel. In Habakkuk’s third chapter, the prophet prays for God to revive His work in Israel. Toward the end of the of the prayer (v. 17-18), Habakkuk recognizes the potential hardships that will come with God’s judgment. Despite those difficulties, he resolves to take joy in God’s salvation. We tend to judge everything from our own limited perspective so unless we have what we believe we should, we see no reason to be thankful. That’s not Habakkuk’s perspective. He tells us to show gratitude even if we don’t have what we want—or even need. Habakkuk’s experience tells us that it’s essential for us to prioritise what God is doing in a situation over our own wants and needs. We can learn from Habakkuk that it is possible for us to rejoice even during troubling times.

It’s easy for us to put our own situation into what Habakkuk writes:  Though things are not how I want them to be, though I am sad about…., though I am suffering because……, though there are challenges in my life that are hard to face ……. “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”

Let’s see what gratitude is and see what effect it has in our lives:

 

1) Gratitude turns what we have into enough

When is enough, enough in our lives? When will the things that we desire, (perhaps money, a car, more entertainment, new activities) be enough to satisfy us? If we are still waiting for some particular thing to happen, or to come into our lives before we are grateful, we will never understand what it is to be grateful; this is true because, put simply, gratitude is not motivated by things that are exterior to us, but is the fruit of a relationship with Jesus. Gratitude is friendship beyond things; it is to know that God is everything that I need, and that that is enough. It is to be content in the Lord. Ask yourself, when was the last time you were content in the Lord?

 

2) Gratitude is to worship God. It is to live by “God is enough”

In the 18th-century classic, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law made the following statement:

“Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. Could you therefore work miracles, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit, for it turns all that it touches into happiness.”

 

3) Gratitude is radically counter cultural and against our flesh

The world teaches us that we always need more – it can be easy to feel that we are lacking something when we listen to those messages, it can cause us to fear that we are missing out on something, but truthfully, the people who transform the world are those who have a counter-cultural view about this and choose instead to be full of gratitude. It goes against our flesh and the world concept, but we need to remember that we are in this world, not of

this world. Which pattern do you want to follow? Yours and the world’s, or God’s?

 

Conclusion

Would you like to grow in gratitude? Then know the Lord and discover that He is enough. Everything starts with God and leads to the Glory of God; His Grace is sufficient. Let’s pray and put all our effort into being grateful to the One who is worthy of all praise and worship – God.

Cell 35 – Mary understood, do you?

 Text: John 2.5 Icebreaker: How do you feel when someone listens to your advice and as consequence has a good outcome? Imagine an amazing we...