Action, application, relevance, theology & thinking: 4 Ways Theology Is Practical for Everyday Life [required reading]
“Teach theology long enough and you’ll face countless forms of the same basic question: What does this have to do with real life? Will it affect the way we do ministry, how we share the gospel, or what we do every day? How is it relevant to the problems and challenges the average person faces? You know, is it practical? And the deep suspicion lying behind such questions is that most theology is rather impractical. “
Church attendance, corporate worship, duty, sacrament & worship: The Lord’s Day as a Sacrament [required reading]
“So here’s the crazy thing. I’ve found my way back to seeing the wisdom of church as duty. But less as a duty and more as a sacrament.”
Courtesy, etiquette, manners & respect: Church Conference Etiquette
“… here’s a rundown of some folks you’ll find at every conference and hopefully how not to become one.”
Income inequality, money, poverty & wealth: 40 Years Of Income Inequality In America, In Graphs
“Hover over each line to identify household income, and click through to see the percentage growth over the past 40 years.”
Ministry & the preacher’s wife: Behind the Smile: 6 Things Every Church Needs to Know About the Preacher’s Wife
“I want to love you. Please don’t make it harder. … I wish you saw the man I see.”
NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Sept. 7) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.
Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.
To explore the meaning of, preparation for, and engagement in spiritual warfare.
These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.
• The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and decrees written in this Book of Instruction, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, “Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?” It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, “Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?” No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it. (Deuteronomy 30.10-14 NLT)
• The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. … The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19.7-11 NIV)
• … God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer. (Hebrews 4.12-13 CEB)
• Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5.1-5 NRSV)
Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.
1. You need to focus on some reading/studying. Which do you prefer: silence or background music?
2. Share with us a word from, and an action of, a loved one that is especially dear and meaningful to you.
These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.
1. Compare Deuteronomy 30.10-14 with 1 John 5.1-5. What matters do these two texts have in common?
2. List the words used in Psalm 19.7-11 to describe the qualities of God’s word. Do the same for the benefits.
3. Answering only from Hebrews 4.12-13, what exactly do we believe God’s word to us is able to do to us?
These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.
1. I find myself being most mindful of the word of God whenever I __________.
2. A Scripture I find myself recalling frequently or turning to often these days is ________. Why?
3. What excuse(s) and rationalization(s) do you sometimes find yourself offering up to not read Scripture?
4. “Opening up to and receiving God’s word isn’t an end in itself, but just a means to the end.” How so?
5. How truly hungry would you say you are for receiving and doing God’s word at this point in your life?
These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.
1. Reserve a specific, daily time you will spend reading God’s word and asking him to help you live it out.
2. Develop a mental habit of connecting a brief portion of Scripture with all of your actions, big and small.
Abortion: Why Abortion Should Not Be Politically Decisive for Christians by Craig M. Watts
“Unfortunately, the abortion issue has allowed many Christians – and conservatives as a whole – to claim to be working to defend the most vulnerable when in fact they are turning attention and national resources away from those who are most desperately in need. The good that actually could be done to protect life isn’t done because pro-life Christians lend their support to politicians who are most likely to block funding for programs for children and families of the weakest and most impoverished. The abortion issue ends up serving as a smokescreen behind which certain politicians work in the interests of those who are the most rich and powerful.”
Action: The Simple Power of One a Day by Seth Godin
“There are at least 200 working days a year. If you commit to doing a simple … item just once each day, at the end of the year you’ve built a mountain.”
Conversion, culture, men & singing: American Men Don’t Sing by Alistair Begg [required viewing]
“… you can really tell that American male has really been converted when he begins to sing during worship.”
Disconnection & youth: The Tragic Geography of Disconnected Youth
“More than one in seven young Americans are ‘disconnected’ from work and from school, according to a report released Thursday …”
Freedom, politics & speech: Freedom for What? by K. Rex Butts
“Everyday my Facebook feed is inundated with political stumps. … My problem is with the vitriolic nature and dishonesty many of these stumps carry forth.”
“Here’s everything you need to know, from how to update your device(s) to getting started with Apple’s latest OS upgrade.”
Slavery: How Many Slaves Work for You? [take the survey]
“What? Slaves work for me?”
* “The truth is, I used to not like small groups very much. … Over time, I’ve become a raving fanatic for small groups … Here are four things that changed my opinion over time. Notice I said, over time. It’s hard to change one’s opinion on this instantly. The only way I know to do so is to be part of a good one.”
* “… small groups. It’s the primary means by which our church does pastoral care …”
Character & image: How to Pay More Attention to Character than Image by Jim Martin
“Image … is not a substitute for character.”
Church attendance & spiritual development: What Counts: Part 2 by Dan Bouchelle [required reading]
“Here are some common bad consequences of churches with truncated understandings of our mission …”
College-bound: Five Suggestions for That College Care Package by Maureen Herring
“Five intangibles that I believe we need to send in these packages are faith, independence, acceptance, challenge and hope.”
“Flipping through a few of the many English-language tourist guides provides a fascinating, if non-scientific and narrow, window into how people from the outside world perceive America, Americans, and the surprises and pitfalls of spending time here. Of the many pieces of advice proffered, four of the most common are: eat with your fingers (sometimes), arrive on time (always), don’t drink and drive (they take it seriously here!), and be careful about talking politics (unless you’ve got some time to spare).”
Disagreement: Why You’re Wrong and I’m Right by Dan Rockwell
“I never intentionally think stupid ideas or chose wrong options. Do you? I always choose what I think is right. Research indicates that the act of choosing strengthens my opinion that my choice is right. Even if I’m wrong, I’m right, or at least it feels that way.”
Grief & comfort: Why You May Never Heal by Caleb Wilde
“Instead of saying that the end of the grief process is detachment and healing, I think we should say that the healthy end of the grief process is adjustment. It’s adjusting to the fact that your loved one is no longer here to share life experiences with you. It’s adjusting to the loss of the future, but there’s never a detachment from the past.”
“The agency decided to target people born from 1945 through 1965 because they are five times more likely than other adults to carry the hepatitis C virus. About 1 in 30 boomers is infected and thousands die each year of cirrhosis and liver cancer.”
Hiking: World’s Best Hikes: Epic Trails
“… 20 hikes … the holy grails of trails across the world.”
Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail: Full Speed Ahead for 205 MPH Bullet Train Between Houston and Dallas? 2020 Set As Target Date
“Tracks would ‘go over, under or around car and pedestrian traffic’ to take advantage of the bullet train’s 205-mile-per-hour capabilities, and would stop in College Station — and perhaps a few other locations between Houston and North Texas — for minimal interruptions. Although no timeline has been announced for phase one … a second phase of the project would link Austin and San Antonio to the system along the I-35 corridor.”
Morality & the national budget: Grandpa’s Using Your Credit Card: Why the National Budget is a Moral Issue by Ron Sider
“… basic economic facts underline the importance of a governmental role in combating poverty. Tens of thousands of private programs provide important food assistance each month. But altogether they only provide 6 % of the total monthly food assistance; government provides 94% each month. There are five major federal government poverty-fighting programs. If the 325,000 religious congregations nationwide decided to take over these five programs, each congregation would need to increase their annual budget by $1.5 million.”
Oil & the Keystone XL pipeline: When This Oil Spills, It’s ‘A Whole New Monster’
“‘I learned that this is a whole new monster than what folks in Texas are used to dealing with. … This is not a regular crude oil pipeline. This is something completely different. It’s not being treated differently.'”
Perspective: Celebrating Our Somersaults by Rachel Held Evans [required reading]
“The Olympics reminded me that sometimes we just gotta step back for a minute, catch a glimpse of the big picture, and celebrate one another’s somersaults.”
Sharing faith: * New Research: Churchgoers Believe in Sharing Faith, But Most Never Do by Ed Stetzer; * Three Reasons We Should NOT Share the Gospel by Chad Hall
* “… 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month, believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.”
* “I believe there are positive and poor motivations for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. In this post, I want to focus on three poor reasons that might stir us to share our faith. … Insecurity … Arrogance … [and] Narcissism …”
Speech & action: There Are Consequences to Demonizing Those You Do Not Like: Reflections on the Family Research Council Shooting by Ed Stetzer
” … if the left calls everyone who disagrees with them on homosexuality ‘haters’ … the loss of credibility is substantial. … [And] if those who support a traditional view of marriage remain silent as gay teenagers are bullied into suicide or suffer physical violence and act as if nothing is happening, they should not expect to be taken seriously when they decry violence against one of their own.”
… let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. (1 John 3.18)
This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:14-26. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: replacing the emptiness of foolishness with the fullness of faithfulness. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.
My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.
Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:14-26 CEB)
1. What statement in this passage is most striking to you? Why?
2. Make a list of what this passage specifically says faith without faithful activity is good for or like.
3. “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.” (vs.15) What does this passage have to say about the common teaching today known as the “health and wealth gospel” (i.e. prosperity gospel, name-it-and-claim-it gospel, etc.)?
4. Who is responsible for meeting the physical needs of the Christian poor?
5. What other passages in James come to mind when you read the illustration of benevolence? (vs.15-16)
6. “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!” (vs. 16) What are some modern, roughly equivalent statements you use when you say something to, but do nothing for, someone you see in need?
7. “Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (vs. 17), but is faith necessarily alive when there is activity? Suppose a very active Christian friend confides in you that while they’re doing many good things in Christ’s name, their faith in Christ has faded and at times even appears to be nonexistent. They’re deeply troubled by this. In light of this passage in James, what can you say to them?
8. How are you guilty of sometimes hoping for or expecting faith to be seen without your actions (vs.18)?
9. To what does James have reference and what does he mean by the phrase “God is one?” (vs.19a)
10. Should we, as Christians, “tremble” as the demons do (vs.19b)? Why or why not? As you answer, consider the fact that this is the occurrence in the NT of the Greek word translated here as “tremble”.
11. Aside from James’ statement here that “the demons believe …” (vs.19), what other NT texts would lead you to believe such?
12. “… faith without actions has no value at all.” (vs. 20b) Honestly, is there a part of you that disagrees with this statement? Why or why not?
13. Are you “righteous?” Are you “God’s friend?” (vs.23) Interact at heart level with these statements.
14. Recount as much as you can of the story of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar. Having done so, compare your recollection with the Biblical account in Genesis 22. What parts did you leave out, forget, or get wrong?
15. As you did with the preceding question, do the same with the account of Rahab receiving the spies (Joshua 2).
16. Compare and contrast Abraham (vs.21-24) and Rahab (vs.25).
17. Many Biblical personalities expressed obvious faith again and again. And so, of all the personalities James could have drawn from, and of all the incidents in their lives, why do you suppose he selected Abraham and Rahab to drive home his point that faith without works is dead? What personalities would you have selected and what incidents in their lives?
18. Some say what James says here about faith contradicts what Paul says about faith in Romans and Galatians. What is your impression?
19. Responding from this passage, how would you respond to someone who read this passage and said, “So then, if a person does what’s good, God owes them salvation?”
20. “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?” (vs.14) In what areas of your life do you keenly sense you need to do a better job of showing your faith? How can we pray for you in these areas?