toward a life without accumulation

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church‘s LIFE groups tomorrow night. This discussion guide works the same subjects and primary texts as the Sunday morning sermon. You’ll find these guides categorized each week under the category title LIFE group guides.

Aim

To aid our development of Christ’s character, moving toward a life totally possessed by God rather than money or material things.

Scripture

Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! (Matthew 6:19-23 CEB)

Open

Icebreaker questions are intended to simply get us all talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. What’s one of the dumbest things you’ve ever spent money on?

2. A distant family member has just died and left you $500,000. What would you do with the money?

3. Aside from essentials in terms of basic food, clothing, shelter, and what it takes to stay employed, you’re now limited to five other possessions. What would make your list of five and why?

4. Would Jesus drive a Ferrari?

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple directly with the sermon’s primary Scripture text.

1. In Matthew 6:19-23, what three “health issues” does Jesus use as illustrations of the seriousness of living a life of craving for more money and more material possessions?

2. In light of Matthew 6:19-23, what are three lies the father of lies tells us as he tempts us to crave things and/or dollars?

3. What does Jesus mean when he says “collect treasures for yourselves in heaven?”

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word.

1. How is the euphoria of deep religious experience and buying something special similar?

2. What sort of events or influences in your life, be they good or bad, have strongly shaped your thinking and desires as to money and possessions?

3. Have you ever known a person who was virtually destitute who was quite content and happy with their life? Tell us the story.

4. What sort of things do we commonly tell ourselves to give ourselves some sense of plausible deniability to the fact that compared to most of the people in the world, we’re very wealthy?

5. Given the power of Satan’s deception on us, how can a person really know if they’re imprisoned by avarice?

6. A fellow Christian has just confessed to you that they’re living in bondage to buying stuff. They’ve requested your practical counsel and help in being set free from slavery to possessions. What counsel would you give them?

7. On a scale of 0-100, how would you score yourself as to living in simplicity? With Matthew 6:22-23 in mind, think of 0 as total darkness within you and 100 as living totally in the light of God’s will in this regard.

8. What specific things could you do now to move in a constructive way toward healthy deaccumulation?

this went thru my mind

Alabama: Our hearts go out to, and our prayers go up for, the people of Alabama. Jay Guin is one of the elders of the University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa. His personal website, One in Jesus, should be one of your browser’s bookmarks; it’s simply one of the best out there, day in and day out. Some of Jay’s most recent posts speak to the devastation wrought by the recent tornadoes. They will assist you in your prayers for the folks out that way. Here are two examples of such posts: Tornado information and Tornado: maps & stories.

Bible interpretation: Rachel Held Evans’ post Discussing the Bible: Seven Rules of Engagement is full of healthy thinking.

Children & faith: Unfortunately, Thomas Weaver’s Five Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church are virtually guaranteed to work … and are too often attempted.

Church and church buildings: Matt Dabbs has pegged it in his post entitled The New Anti-Institutionals.

Confidentiality and transparency: Kurt Willems’ post Floaties, High Dives, and Spiritual Questions: Is the Church a “Safe Place? is required reading. What a huge issue that affects everything we do whenever and wherever Christians come together as a church! Do read Dale Hudson’s To Tell or Not to Tell? when you’re through with Willems’ post.

Faith healing: Derren Brown is a British illusionist and skeptic. In a recent post, Mike Cope shared a 70+ minute video of Derren Brown attempting to expose faith healers for what they are, charlatans. This video has some foul language in it, but aside from that, you’ll find it fascinating, disturbing, and instructive. If you use no other link I list here today, this is the one to choose: Miracles for Sale. Come to think of it, Tim Woodroof’s Painted With the Same Brush would serve as a good intro to this video.

Kindle: Here’s a tip that couldn’t be more easy and has greatly expanded the way I use my Kindle. Clip Web Pages and Send Them Straight to Your Kindle.

KJV: The King James Version of the Bible will be four hundred years old this Monday. You might enjoy this infographic on the KJV.

Oklahoma: You know the song Swing Slow Sweet Chariot. Did you know it just recently became Oklahoma’s official “state gospel song.”

Persecution. Pray for all who believe. Underground Christians Fear China Crackdown.

Praise: Brief and inspiring. Turn on the closed captioning. Easter Mob Song in Beirut.

Prosperity gospel: It’s a common teaching in many circles today that if a Christian is of genuine, growing faith they will experience less and less suffering in life and more and more material abundance. How this teaching – radically contradictory to the experience of our own Lord Jesus – ever got traction is beyond me. This much is certain: it isn’t a new teaching. In my junior high school days, David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade was required reading. David Wilkerson died in an automobile accident this week, but you can still hear his passionate, weeping denunciation of the health and wealth gospel online. Tim Spivey’s brief excerpt of a quote from Charles Spurgeon is good to note along this line as well.

Repentance. In Nov. 1864, Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister and well-known (as he was called in the day) “Indian fighter” led an attack on a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, butchering a great many women, children, and elderly. In 1996, the United Methodist Church expressed repentance for Chivington’s actions and initiated a series of steps expressing that repentance. Chris Herlinger’s post Methodists Express Repentance for Massacre of Native Indians speaks to the latest expression of those steps of repentance. Repentance brings healing and it’s never too late to repent. On a related note (file this under “courage”), not all of Chivington’s men followed his order to participate in the massacre. The story of Silas Soule is one that should not be forgotten and will inspire you to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost.

Wedding: Whether you were one of the one-third of the planet who tuned in this week to Will and Kate’s wedding or you’re just glad it’s over, you’d enjoy two excerpts from their wedding ceremony. The first is the thoughtful, penetrating reading of Romans 12 (in its entirety) by Kate’s brother, James. The link is to a video clip of it. And the second, is the terrific text of the wedding sermon (homily). Well done, chaps! Jolly good show!

Urban legends. Trevin Wax’s post Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition is good stuff.

the seventh commandment

This coming Sunday morning, May 1, most of our English-speaking adult Bible classes (9:00 a.m.) at MoSt Church will study Rock Solid Commitment, a study of the seventh of the Ten Commandments (“you shall not commit adultery”; Exodus 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Utilize the following questions to help you prepare for your part in class this Sunday.

1. What’s the biggest lie that Satan tries to sell people today about marriage? About sex? About fidelity?

2. What is a Biblical definition of adultery? Is adultery always spoken as being sexual in nature?

3. What does adultery have in common with the previous six of the Ten Commandments?

4. How is it that adultery and deceit naturally accompany each other?

5. Why do you think the OT prophets used adultery as a metaphor for idolatry? How are the two alike?

6. This commandment, “you shall not commit adultery,” is a clear call for us to never ignore, exploit, manipulate, or use people. Someone has said, “Disposable sex makes for disposable people.” How does it feel to be used and then discarded, to be treated with unfaithfulness?

7. What do you suppose are some of the drivers behind adultery?

8. How has adultery affected your family? Friends of yours? Our church family?

9. Why do we automatically think “it would never happen to me” when it comes to adultery?

10. Sexual adultery is rarely the first reason a relationship goes south, but it is often “the last straw.” What do you sense are some of the biggest and most common pressures placed on marriages today?

11. What are some situations you face that are potentially dangerous to your marriage?

12. If you were to give advice to a couple about to get married, what advice would you give them as to how to help make their marriage “adultery-proof?” What practical steps do you take to avoid compromising your integrity and purity yourself?

13. How can you best help a struggling friend who has an unfaithful mate? How can you help a friend who is being unfaithful?

23 ways to retool your devotional reading

 

Have you ever had any of the following happen to you?

  • You just read a whole page of Scripture and then it dawned on you that you didn’t get one blessed thing out of it.
  • You’ve hit a “tough text” in your devotional reading and you can’t seem to get any traction to either get through it or around it.
  • The passage you’re reading is so familiar to you that you can’t see anything new in it. At best, you’re unimpressed; at worst, you’re actually bored.

What can you do? This: dig down into your Bible reading toolbox and put a new tool to the task. And to help you with that, here are twenty-three of the tools in my toolbox that you’re welcome to use, too. The links are to recent devotionals I’ve penned that were crafted with these same tools. They get the job done!

1. Ask yourself, “Has this passage inspired a song I know?”
your love, o Lord – Psalm 36:5-9 and our refuge & strength – Psalm 46:1-7

2. Notice the flow of thought in the passage and meditate on the movement.
consider – Isaiah 53:6-11

3. Back off and get the text’s “big picture” and then recast the story in a modern way.
not too good to be true – Isaiah 55:1-9

4. “Sense” the text and ask yourself, “What is the dominant sense in this passage and what does it communicate?”
hear this – Matthew 3:1-6

5. Straight up challenge the common understanding of the passage.
invitation – Matthew 5:3-12

6. Ask yourself, “What is it in this Scripture that I don’t want to hear?”
fail – Matthew 26:47-56

7. Pay close attention to what is conspicuously absent from a text.
the sound of silence – Matthew 26:57-68

8. Ponder over how personalities highlighted in a passage might engage things you experience today.
I beg to differ – Matthew 26:69-75

9. Reflect on how God brings good out of evil in the account.
doubt as reason to believe – Matthew 28:1-10,16-20

10. Record the personal questions that come to your mind as you read the passage.
five questions to ask yourself – Mark 9:33-37

11. Focus on the feelings that color the text and identify with those feelings.
cry – Mark 15:33-39

12. Ask yourself, “Does this Scripture automatically bring to my mind other Scripture?”
on his cross in the wilderness – Luke 23:32-43

13. Be especially sensitive to sharp contrasts you see between characters in a text.
Judas & Mary – John 12:1-8

14. Concentrate on what strikes you about a Scripture. – C4 – John 14:1-6

15. Try to recall any tangible depictions of the text, depictions that can help you visualize what’s happening.
picture Bible commentary – John 20:11-18

16. Here’s a 3-in-1 tool: (a) label the passage’s parts, (b) research key words and/or concepts in a passage, and (c) recall expressions of such concepts in cinema.
what it means to be adopted – Romans 8:12-17

19. Count a passage’s parts and note any patterns you discern.
the perfect word for us to hear – Romans 8:31-39

20. Ask yourself this question: “On what thought does this text hinge?”
you have refreshed others – Philemon 1-7

21. Discern how the text’s author is being transparent, laying their heart on the line.
like sending my own heart – Philemon 8-22

22. Zero in on the note on which the Scripture ends.
grace be with your spirit – Philemon 23-25

23. Never leave a Scripture without allowing it to move you to pray and allowing it to shape your prayers (e.g. – the way every preceding devotional concluded with prayer).

grace be with your spirit

Epaphras, who is in prison with me for the cause of Christ Jesus, greets you, as well as my coworkers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Philemon 23-25 CEB)

It’s not at all unusual for this phrase to flow from Paul’s pen, whether he is writing to an individual (2 Tim. 4:22; Philemon 25), a church (Phil. 4:23) or a group of churches across a rather large area (Gal. 6:18). While “grace” is Paul’s well-known watchword, his use of this particular phrase – “with your spirit” – accentuates where Paul wants to see grace reside in all disciples – in their spirit. It is from their spirit that Christ’s grace should well up and flow out into the lives of the people all around them.

Grace; Christ’s grace. In our spirit; with our spirit. Mull those words over for a minute. It’s quite a remarkable thought, isn’t it?

Picture the concept as two people standing beside each other, “with” each other: one named “spirit” (your spirit) and the other named “grace (Christ’s great, free goodness). Where you go, God’s grace goes. Where you stand, you stand not alone, but with the grace of God.

It sums up the essence of what we are as Christians: recipients and embodiments of the amazing grace of God.

It reminds us of how we have the power to deliberately choose to connect each moment in our lives with the great work of God. The heart of the Master of the Universe is connected with the center of who we are and then, with that holy connection at work, we reach out to those with which God has crossed our lives. Each moment then becomes the holiest of moments, for the here and now becomes the when and where the Lord of all touches us all.

It calls for us to act very differently from those around us, and not merely feel comfortable in settling for “just fitting in” with the others with whom we are naturally drawn. The very core of our being has been touched by God and his grace and so, how can we ever be the same, whether it be in terms of who we are or how we conduct ourselves with others? We are changed. Maybe not nearly so much as we need to be or would even like to be yet, but changed, nonetheless. For the good. For the betterment of all.

Father God in heaven, do send your God Spirit of grace to stand alongside my spirit throughout this day, I pray. As you have poured out grace upon grace on me, may I be a conduit for your grace to others today. For in the name of him by whom this grace flows, I pray. Amen.

sermon follow-up: pride

Why on earth would a preacher preach about such on Easter Sunday morning? Because it’s Christ’s death and resurrection that puts the lie to, and calls for the death of, all forms of human pride.

Pride is a problem for everyone, perhaps especially, Christians. If you think otherwise, ask a few folks who are yet to believe or who once believed, but quit. Pride is all around us. It’s one of the three things that make up the world’s way of thinking (1 John 2:16).

Human pride says: “I don’t need a Savior.”

To which God asks: “Do you not see my Son on the cross for you?”

Human pride says: “This life is all there is.”

God replies: “See my Son’s empty tomb.”

Human pride says: “I’m only worth as much as what others think I’m worth.”

And God responds: “I alone can determine the worth of life and I have considered you worth my Son’s death on the cross and the sharing of his resurrection life with you.”

Many, rather than understanding and taking in what God has to say to them about their worth, continue to try to live with the world’s definition of their value still in their head. But to do so is to risk driving off the road of humility into one of the two ditches of pride on either side.

The ditch of pride on the right comes from thinking, “I know better than God for I know my real worth: nothing.” However, if we see that ditch for what it is, we must be careful not to yank the wheel and over-correct our steering and so, wind up in the ditch on the other side, the ditch that comes from thinking, “Look what all I do for God.

To hold onto the world’s story as to our value (or lack thereof) and simultaneously try to be a Christian is to ultimately either have just enough religion to be miserable or to turn faith into something focused on us. In either case, pride will have its destructive way with you.

So hear the good news of the resurrection of Christ. He is risen! And that means its all about him, not you or me.

Praise God!

like sending my own heart

Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to command you to do the right thing, I would rather appeal to you through love. I, Paul—an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus— appeal to you for my child Onesimus. I became his father in the faith during my time in prison. He was useless to you before, but now he is useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, which is like sending you my own heart. I considered keeping him with me so that he might serve me in your place during my time in prison because of the gospel. However, I didn’t want to do anything without your consent so that your act of kindness would occur willingly and not under pressure. Maybe this is the reason that Onesimus was separated from you for a while so that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave but more than a slave—that is, as a beloved brother. He is especially a beloved brother to me. How much more can he become a brother to you, personally and spiritually in the Lord!

So, if you really consider me a partner, welcome Onesimus as if you were welcoming me. If he has harmed you in any way or owes you money, charge it to my account. I, Paul, will pay it back to you (I’m writing this with my own hand). Of course, I won’t mention that you owe me your life.

Yes, brother, I want this favor from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. I’m writing to you, confident of your obedience and knowing that you will do more than what I ask. Also, one more thing—prepare a guest room for me. I hope that I will be released from prison to be with you because of your prayers. (Philemon 8-22 CEB)

Paul is not one given to empty expression. And so when Paul told Philemon that sending Onesimus to him was his “sending his own heart” (vs.12), we are told a great deal! Here is a former Jewish rabbi now turned long-time Christian evangelist speaking of a runaway, Gentile slave, still quite new in Christ, as “beloved” (vs.16) to him, something like “a child” to him, in fact (vs.10). The differences between these two would have been legion, yet in Christ, they had found fantastic kinship and oneness. No doubt each could see in the other some of the very long road traveled to get to where they were now in Christ.

Now most all of us have a small circle of people we consider our “very heart.” They are our true family, perhaps as close, or even closer, than our biological kin. But I have to wonder how many of those we are closest of all to in life are people with whom we share faith in Christ, and not only kinship in Christ, but are people who are very much unlike us.

Where Christ is truly at work in our lives, we will find him actively chipping tearing down the walls that would normally separate us from others. Over time, we find that “our heart network,” the product of Christ’s work, is composed, at least in part, of people we would never have chosen on our own with whom to be one. Yet, they are the ones who have become “very dear to us.” Indeed, we would sacrifice whatever was asked of us to benefit them, so close we have become to them. Differences such as heritage, race, economics, social standing, language even, melt away as we stand together in the presence of Christ.

That is the way Christ’s family, the church, is supposed to be. That’s the way the church of Christ is supposed to be in you and me. It is up to us to let it be.

God our Heavenly Father, bless us all, all who call on you in Christ’s name, with a fresh vision of what you would have us to be in terms of heart and life toward each other. Amen.