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.


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 ...