Thursday, June 25, 2020

Connect Group 19 – Don’t ignore the ‘Parking Tickets’

Text: Hebrews 12.11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

 

Icebreaker: Have you ever ignored a problem until it became a giant snowball that you didn’t know how to deal with?

 

Here is a story of someone who did that from a book called The way of the Master by Ray Comfort.

“Let me share a story that happened to a friend of mine. His name is Danny. When he told me that he was once arrested for failing to pay parking tickets, I asked, “Why didn’t you just pay them?” He answered, “They were just parking tickets, it was no big deal.”

Then he told me that the police arrived at his home at 4:00a.m, put him in a big black bus, and took him to Los Angeles County Courts. As he stood before the judge he said, “Your Honour, I brought $700 with me to pay the tickets and cover the court costs.” The judge said, “Mr. Goodall. I’m going to save you all that money. You are going to jail!” Danny was terrified.

His big mistake was that he trivialized his crimes by thinking that they were ‘just’ parking tickets, and so he deceived himself. Had he known what the Judge’s ruling would be (that he would go to prison), he would have immediately made things right between himself and the law instead of ignoring it for all that time. Most of the world realizes that they have broken God’s law – the Ten Commandments, but many also think that it isn’t a big deal to have done that. If you don’t believe it, ask around a little and listen closely to how people trivialize sin. Here’s a typical witnessing scenario (I have seen this hundreds of times).”[1]

 

From the Bible text and the story of Danny we can reflect on a few points about dealing with our own ‘parking tickets’:

 

1)    Ignoring the situation doesn’t make it  go away.

I had a friend who started getting a headache that wouldn’t go away. At first, it wasn’t really bad enough to make him go to the Doctor, but every now and then he would have a headache. Things got progressively worse but it was only a headache so he didn’t pay much attention to it and just took another paracetamol instead. After a couple of years he collapsed at work, and when he was taken to hospital, a tumour was discovered. If he had gone to the Doctor a year before, the tumour would have been treatable, but by the time it was found it was too late and he was sent home to put his affairs in order.

 

Let me tell you about another friend where the same principle was at work. He noticed that he was becoming more distant from his wife and family. He was finding more and more things to do away home and with other people. Eventually, he began to think that his family were preventing his happiness. One day, after a big disappointment, he tried to return to his family and rescue the relationships; unfortunately, it was too late and his marriage dissolved because of the many years that had passed and that had lacked friendship, love and time together.

There are so many similar stories out there; people who spent too much, and never really paid attention to the snowball of debt that was forming, until they were bankrupt.  Others who took their jobs for granted, always complaining and not doing what they should, with the consequence that they didn’t pay attention to what was important and so got fired.

 

What about you? Which ‘parking tickets’ are you ignoring and not paying attention to? What things are in danger of snowballing in your life?

 

2)    Dealing with things a step at a time is easier than dealing with a marathon.

The fact is that in the vast majority of cases it is easier to deal with the situation before it gets too far and snowballs into a court case, a life-threatening illness, bankruptcy, divorce, or worse - dying without a relationship with Jesus.

 

Don’t procrastinate, don’t put it off until tomorrow, don’t ignore the pain, the struggle, the sorrow, the bills, the addiction, the lack of fellowship or the lack of intimacy with God – ask Jesus to help you take the first step today and reach out for help.  

 

There is a lie from hell that says that time will heal everything. It’s not true – it didn’t heal my friend, it didn’t remove the parking tickets and it didn’t save the relationship of that couple. I don’t see people getting better from a chronic disease just because they give it time – treatment is necessary.

 

Remember that the time that God gives you is TODAY! Today is the present, the gift from God. Plan for tomorrow - but start today. Don’t leave until tomorrow the good that you can do today.

 

3)    Don’t allow any ‘parking tickets’ to keep you away from God.

The biggest problem in all this is that our ‘parking tickets’ are keeping us from God. The Bible calls these ‘sins’ because they cause us to miss the target that is God’s good and perfect will for our lives, and hide from us the purpose and plan that He has for us. His way is better than anything that we can think of or imagine.

 

Sin also doesn’t get better with time - in fact it is quite the opposite. One abyss will bring another abyss, a crashing waterfall of sin that threatens to drown us. And the problem just gets worse and worse; ultimately sin causes death, a total separation from God, not because God moves away, but because we do.

 

If you don’t believe that sin leads you away from God, just look around you. Sin divides families, separates good friends, isolates people and destroys everything in its path.

 

Conclusion: Hebrews 12.11 says “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

But the opposite is also the truth - if we don’t deal with the parking tickets now it will produce a complicated future full of struggles. Today we can decide to deal with what we are facing, confess our sins and allow God to change us. That is the best we can do. Would you like to start doing that more often? So let’s pray and act.



[1] Ray Comfort, The way of the Master (Alachua: Bridge Logos, 2006), p. 59.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Connect Group 18 – Responding to life in God’s way.

Icebreaker – When you were at school, how quickly did you respond to your teachers’ questions? Were you quick to put your hand up in class?

 

Text: 1 Peter 4.19       “Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful 

Creator while doing good.” (ESV)

 

Last night I watched a movie called “Brian Banks”, a story of a man who faces a false accusation and of his fight for justice. As this fight progresses, he almost loses himself and is almost destroyed, but then he remembers a phrase that someone said to him "All you can control in life is how you respond to life."

 

In life many things will happen to us, and to those whom we love. Sometimes it is harder to forgive people for what they have done to our loved ones, than for something that they did to us. However, we cannot control what life, or people, will throw at us. But "all you can control in life is how you respond to life." Let’s remember 5 things that we need to respond to life in God’s way:

 

1)    Be one who forgives

In the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘Forgives us, as we forgive’. We might not have thought about those words, but actually, we are asking God to use the same measure with us that we use with others. That is bold!

The fact is that we know that forgiveness is God’s will, and that it is the best way. But how are you responding to this truth? Are you forgiving people who have wronged you? Forgiveness is a process that begins with a decision; today you can take the first step, by telling Jesus that you want to forgive or even that you are finding it hard to do that – He will show you the next step and help you to take it.

Remember that forgiveness is not the end of the process, it is not the conclusion, but rather is a door that opens the way to a better life, and to a heart that is free from resentment and grudges from the past.

 

2)    Stand against injustice

God is against all forms of injustice whether it be racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, or any other form of injustice. Christians cannot ignore the problems of the world. Whether an issue affects me, or my brother/sister, it must be a concern for me and it is my responsibility to speak out against it. This must be enough to lead me to PROTEST! Please do protest, but the first protest to make is to speak to the One who can change people from the inside out and to listen to Him about how to respond in a Godly way. Pray and fast, go to the Lord. Our goal is not to make unjust people a bit more just, but to lead them to Christ and to transformation.  

 

3)    Pursue joy

How different is your response to the question “What is happiness?” from everyone else around you? People who don’t know God, often think that happiness is to have wealth, health and success in different areas of their lives. What about you? If our response in life is to pursue the same things as the world does, then we still haven’t understood the gospel.

Happiness is something that is very unstable, and it can be very shallow, what Jesus promises is joy rather than happiness. This joy does not depend on everything being good, or everything being as we think it should be, it doesn’t even depend on the absence of war, or on our feelings. But it depends on a person, and that person’s name is Jesus; responding to life in God’s way, means pursuing joy by following Jesus.  

 

4)    Focus on Jesus’ victory over death

In this time of pandemic, I have really noticed how desperate people get when they are facing illness or death. Before you think it’s wrong for me to say this, let me say that I don’t want to get ill or to lose anyone in this life either, but our response to illness and death must reflect what we believe, and what is reality with God. The problem is that knowing the theory is one thing, but applying that theory when we are faced with illness and death is another.

God doesn’t promise an earthly life without illness or death, but He is the solution for it! Through Jesus we have already defeated death and will live with God for eternity and this assurance can help us to change our response to these inevitabilities of life.  

 

5)    Trust in the reality of God

Our response to life must include the fact that God is real and that He is present with us and in us. Unfortunately, many people live a life without any real sense of God’s presence, with no relationship and no impact from having God in their lives.

We need to remember that God is real, His presence is real and that truth produces fruits in our day to day life. This is not to burden people that they must produce fruit, but to fill them with joy to know that no-one is alone. Even in the midst of difficulties, when you live with Jesus, life is a lot lighter.

 

Conclusion: You cannot control what will come to you. But you can decide to control your response to the world. Would you like to respond in God’s way? So, let’s pray…...

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Connect Group 17 - Faith

 

 

 

Text: Hebrews 11

          

Icebreaker: Have you ever had a situation where you knew something, but you didn’t know how to explain it? Or that you started asking something and spent many minutes speaking, but still got nowhere?

 

Last week I was explaining something to a friend - it was a simple request for help with a text. But it took me 10 minutes of speaking and in the end I still had to explain what I was trying to say again. It was confusing! Sometimes that is exactly what happens when we try to explain what faith is.

 

We need to understand what faith is and start to walk by it, and that must be a growing process in this time of this pandemic and the crisis that is coming from it. The text of Hebrews 11 tells us some things about faith. This text is talking about what faith looks like, rather than just explaining the benefits of having it. So today we will see what faith is like and look at some of the practical manifestations of faith:

 

1)  Faith is what makes me choose the future over the present

Why do people pay into a pension scheme? It’s because they want to have a good future! When we make the payments, we have faith in what we are doing, but sometimes we don’t do the same in our spiritual life – we don’t focus on the future or on how what we do in the present affects that future! To grow spiritually we must choose the future over the present, choosing Jesus over the pleasures and passions of the flesh.

 

We can see an example of choosing the future over the present in the education of children. Parents ask their children to have faith in the fact that when they stop them from doing what they want to do in the present (like playing video games instead of doing their homework), they are giving them what they need to assure a good future.  

 

The same thing is true in marriages. It is faithful to choose the future over the present when there is disagreement. By focusing on the promises and vows that were made, in faith people can choose the future over the present!

What are the situations in which you can choose the future over the present today? Health? Eating? Time with God? Family relationships?

 

 

2)  Faith helps me to live a life that trusts in the promises of God.

Abraham was very old and didn’t have any children when the Lord promised Him that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. If it was me in that situation, I would say to the Lord, “Could we start with one child? Only one because I am really old and I have no children at the moment!”, Abraham doesn’t do that though, in this moment his age does not matter and, through faith, he receives the promise and he believes it – at the time, nothing else mattered to him.

 

What about us?  Do we trust in the promises of the Lord, or are we talking about those promises but not living them out because they are not real to us? Can you imagine what a disaster it would have been if Noah had waited until the rain started to fall, before he began to build the ark?  He was in the desert, but he believed in God’s promises and lived his life according to them! None of us want to be a person who is called to do many things but who fails to do them out of an unwillingness to live by the promises that God has made; faith helps us to live the life that God has planned for us.

 

3) With faith I can obediently please God, and have more of Him.

The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11.6)

Faith cannot be separated from obedience, and if we act based in faith, the heavens will be open and miracles will happen!!! Obedience means that we don’t discuss what God asks of us, or question Him, but instead we just do what we have been told to do, walking by faith. We waste so much time procrastinating, asking God to affirm and prove that He really is asking us to do something; one reason for this is that we are too stuck in the past, or too occupied with the present, to take hold of the future that is being offered to us.

 

4) Faith helps us to move forwards instead of standing still

At first Sarah laughed when she heard that the Lord would give a son to her and Abraham in her old age, but, after that, she grew up in faith and the Bible says that she died living by faith! She didn’t have it at beginning, but she was transformed so that she grew up and died in faith!

If we need a job, faith is not shown by staying at our house, waiting for someone to come and offer us work.  Acting with faith means waking up, praying and going into the streets to find a job!

If we have a problem in any of our relationships, faith is not shown by remaining quiet about it and waiting for it to be resolved. Acting with faith means praying together, talking, and finding the will of the Lord for that situation.

If we want to grow in the Lord, it is not faithful to do nothing about working towards that. Acting with faith is to decide to put the Lord in the first place, wake up and seek Him until the moment that nothing else matters and you have more of Him!!!

 

Faith is bringing the future into the present

 

Conclusion: If you want more of God it’s time to walk in faith! So let’s pray for it.

 

 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Connect Group – 16 - Emmaus Road

Text: Luke 24: 14-16

Icebreaker: Have you ever stopped to talk to someone who didn’t remember who you were? Or were you ever stopped by someone when you didn’t remember that person?

‘As they talked and discussed … with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him’ Luke 24:14–16

 

Would you recognise Jesus if He appeared alongside you whilst you were out strolling with a friend? We need to get to know Jesus to recognise when He is nearby and to listen when He is speaking to us but sometimes we are too busy to do that, and so we miss His voice.

 

To recognise Jesus in our lives we need to understand few things:

 

1) Jesus is present, even in our disappointment

 

It becomes clear in the passage from Luke that the people walking on the road to Emmaus are disheartened, and, in fact, deeply disappointed.

 

Luke 24: 17 –21

‘One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? … Jesus of Nazareth … was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”’

 

They are obviously disappointed – ‘we had hoped’. Their hopes died with Jesus on the cross, as surely, they thought, there’s no way that the Son of God would have died in such a shameful way, right?

But the truth is that their disappointment keeps their eyes closed to the reality that Jesus is walking right next to them, and that hope is alive in Him.

 

Sometimes when we are disappointed, all that we do is complain – in the way that the disciples were doing here. But complaining does not change things, it just causes more destruction and we fail to see the good things that Jesus is doing – Jesus is present in all things, both our disappointments and our joys.

 

2) Jesus is patient

Jesus could have rebuked the two men as they walked along the road together. He could have challenged their faith saying, “Stop being so stupid! Don’t you remember what I taught you? Of course Jesus isn’t dead – I’m Jesus!” But, no, instead He waits patiently. He waits to reveal Himself to them by pointing them to Scripture and then later by meeting them in their home. Jesus doesn’t force Himself upon anyone, but if we’re open to listen He’s waiting to speak to us through His Word and meet with us.

 

Sometimes our thoughts and feelings keep our eyes closed to the reality of Jesus in our lives, but Jesus is patient in how He keeps working to reach us. Sometimes through other people (even people that we don’t like very much). Sometimes, through waking us up in the middle of the night because it is the only time that we are quiet and still enough to hear. We can trust in the patience of Jesus, and we can be honest with Him when we don’t understand – if we ask Him, He will help us to see and hear clearly.

 

 

3) How clear is your vision of Jesus?

Is your vision of Jesus blurred at the moment? - If the answer to that is ‘yes’, what could be done to make it clear again?

Are you disappointed with anyone, or maybe with yourself? Give these disappointments, and the sadness that they cause, to God and ask Him to help you let go, forgive and move forwards.

Is there anything you could do to encourage one another to read your Bible more and to apply God’s Word to your life? Is there anything practical that we could do to help each other to grow in our relationship with God?

 

Conclusion: Would you like to be able to hear and listen to Jesus in a very clear way?  If you want to say ‘yes’ to that, then invite Him to enter your life today! Let’s pray

 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Connect Group – 15- Who does Jesus say He is? Part 4

Text: John 14: 1-7

Icebreaker: Have you ever got lost on a journey? What was it like? How did you find your way in the end? How did it feel when you finally got to your destination?

Today’s group is the last one in a series about who Jesus says He is. We’ve talked about how He is the Shepherd, the Bread of life and the Living Water, and today we are going to hear something that puts all of this together and that gives us the big picture about who Jesus says He is. Jesus was talking to His disciples just after he had told them that He would be going to the cross, and that He would be returning to heaven, this is what He said to them……

So what can we understand for our lives in what Jesus said here?

1)    We are going home
Imagine you have been on a long journey. Imagine that it has taken you 60, 70, 80 or even more years than that, to get from where you have been, to being home. Imagine how amazing it would be to walk through the front door, to kick your shoes off, to be comfortable and to know that even though the journey was difficult and there were many challenges as well as many happy times, now you have reached your destination – a place of total joy and complete rest.

Actually, what I have just described is life. None of us know how many years we will have for this journey, but we do know where we are going if we follow Jesus – we are going home. Recently, I heard the story of a note that the inspirational teacher and preacher, Ravi Zacharias, left in his Bible by this passage that we read today. It was found after he died and it simply said “I am home”.

Here Jesus says that heaven is like a home – a place of many rooms and a place of welcome, a place that is prepared and made ready so that after our long journey in a broken world, we can know what it is to be complete and whole with God in a place of peace and joy. We will spend our time in this home lost in wonder and praise in a way that we see little glimpses of when God breaks through into our lives now.

What good things do you see in your life now that gives you a glimpse of being at home with God?


2)    There is no Plan B
A little boy once was concerned for his Aunty because he knew that she was going to drive home in a snowstorm, he repeated the advice that he had heard from someone else but that seemed the most sensible thing to say in the circumstances – “Go straight home”. His Aunty took his advice, went the quickest way home and arrived there safely.

But going straight home when we are talking about heaven can seem a lot less straightforward. When Jesus was talking to His disciples, one of them, Thomas, had the courage to show that he was not seeing the way to go. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus’s answer says – you don’t have to know the path, you just have to follow me – I am the Way and I will take you there. He says “I am the Way, not a way, or one way, but the way.

We can say that what Jesus says here is that there is ‘No Plan B.’ If we want to go home, to the place that God has prepared for us, then the amazing truth is that Jesus came so that we could follow Him to it.  

3)    There is life before life
When we get home, to the place God has prepared – it will be more amazing than we can describe. But God has not put up a big stop sign that says we have to sit here and wait for the time that we can go home, doing nothing, being miserable with what we have now, because it isn’t anything compared to what we will have then.

Jesus said “I am the way”, but he also said “I am the truth and the life”. In Jesus we have the answer for any lie that we can tell ourselves or let other people tell us about who we are and we have a clear mirror that shows us the potential we have in our lives for transformation and renewal when the Holy Spirit lives in us.

Jesus came so that we could choose salvation; but he also came so that we could have an abundant life – a life where he flows through us and out into the world, a life where we can know joy and peace even in the middle of the chaos and the difficulties. Jesus came to give us life now, and life in eternity – what an amazing and precious gift that is. Through the Holy Spirit God makes a home in us now, until the time that he chooses, when we will be at home with Him.

Just take a moment to think about what it means to you that Jesus is the truth and the life of your life. Take a moment to think what that would mean for the people who you see struggling and lost in your family, or amongst your friends.
Conclusion:
It is without doubt that there are many things in this life that will cause us pain, that will make life difficult, that will challenge and test us, sometimes to the point that we don’t know how to take another step on this journey towards ‘home’. But what Jesus says here is for all of us “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

This isn’t because we are going to pretend that life is easy, it isn’t because we are going to sail through all the difficulties that might come – but it is that we trust what Jesus said:
 “I am the way – I am the Good Shepherd”
 “I am the Truth – I am the Bread of Life”
 “I am the Life – I am the Living Water”
We can never be lost once we know Jesus and we are following Him along the path to home.
Let’s pray.

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 h...