Thursday, October 27, 2011

Days 17, 18, & 19

Much of the essence of American society today is centered around success at the expense of others, independence, individualism and entitlement. All of these things are contrary to what our focus should be as Christians. We are created to be interdependent. Today's culture has created many spiritual orphans, those who have no commitment to a church body, without any identity or accountability. Therefore, Warren urges Christians to return to the Biblical basics in the practice of church membership.

1. The church is a body, not a building; an organism, not an organization.

2. Our "family responsibilities" that God expects us to fulfill through local church membership include: loving one another, praying for each other, encourage, admonish, greet, serve, teach, accept, forgive, submit, and honor one another....

3. The church was created to meet our 5 deepest needs: a purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out, and power to live on.

4. Every time you understand and affirm someone's feelings, you build fellowship.

5. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don't think of themselves. You can develop humility by: admitting your weaknesses, being patient with others, being open to correction, and by pointing the spotlight on others.

The Biblical practice of church membership gives one many opportunities to practice fellowship and humility. Perhaps then, we can learn to love...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Days 15 & 16

The most important thing of all is LOVE. Time after time after time, the Bible tells us to show love. It is unfortunate that this characteristic is so hard for us to master. Our human nature is naturally self-centered. So, we must PRACTICE.

1. "Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) Jesus' wording makes it clear that love should result in visible evidence.

2. "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:6) Showing love is an action, an expression of faith.

3. "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14)  In this statement, Jesus acknowldges that our human nature is selfish. Therefore, we should understand that in order to show love to someone else, we should treat them as we would naturally treat ourselves...

4. The other part of that commandment is to love God. Visible manifestations of that love can be seen through our obedience. One very tangible action that expresses our obedience, is baptism. It symbolizes our participation in the fellowship of God's family, it declares your faith, symbolizes death to your old life and announces your new life in Christ. Baptism doesn't make you a member of God's family, only faith in Christ does that. Baptism shows you are a part of God's family.

Our life should be about PRACTICING love. Can others see that in your life?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Day 14

Today Warren focuses on those times when God seems distant. And while sin in our lives can definately make us distant from God, Warren also reminds us that there may also be other reasons for God to appear distant, as evidenced in the book of Job, that may be for reasons beyond our human knowledge. So, today's study reminds us to practice our faith despite how we "feel", as spiritual maturity is based on trust in God and his unchanging characteristics.
V. Raymond Edman said, "Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light." So, during those dark times, remind yourself of what you know to be eternally true...the promises laid out in God's word.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Day 13

Today's focus was on worship that pleases God. Many wonder what denomination has it right, what style is most authentic, why some churches do this and others do that. Well, before today, my answer would have been, "God created us differently, so there are different denominations and worship styles to accommodate those differences." And while I think this position is still valid, today's study is helping me to refine it.

1. First of all, in the book of John, Jesus explains that the time, place, and style of worship is not as important as WHY you worship.

2. And yet, the bible says that there is a right and a wrong way to worship. Jesus says that the first commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30) And in John, He says that, "True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth..." (John 4:23)
What does that mean?

1. To worship in TRUTH: We cannot just create our own comfortable or politically correct image of God. That is idolatry.

2. We must recognize that we are a spirit that resides in a body and worship is our SPIRIT communicating with God.

3. If worship is MINDless, it is meaningless, "vain repetitions," using the words found in First Samuel. We were given a mind, and we are expected to use it to think, be specific, to ponder.

4. And when Jesus said, "with all your STRENGTH," he is recognizing that it takes effort and energy. It is part of being a willing, living sacrifice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 12

1. Bitterness is the greatest barrier to friendship with God.

2. In James it states that God resists the proud, but when we "draw close to God, God will draw close to you." (James 4:8)

3. You will be as close to God as you choose to be. What is it worth to you?

4. "You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

God desires honest authenticity.....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fans of South Carolina, Charleston, and it's social structure, will enjoy Sunrise on the Battery by Beth Webb Hart. This story details the lives of the Scoville family, a rags to riches couple, who is able to rise to the social elite and provide everything they didn't have for their girls. And then, radical changes take place when Jackson discovers God and goes "all in." As their social status crumbles, Mary Lynn has to deal with the ramifications and decide whether this is a blessing or a curse.

For me, this novel was just "okay." I was somewhat bored by the emphasis placed on describing the South Carolina scenery, both physical and social. The major conversion event of the story did not happen until the final quarter of the book, and I would have preferred that it occur early on. I was more interested in the effects of the conversion, rather than the superficial social scene, on which the story focused. However, while I was not totally sold on this story, I see the merit for fans of South Carolina fiction.

Thanks to Booksneeze for providing a copy of this novel in return for my honest review.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 11

 I Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." I have often heard people scoff and claim that this is not possible. And others trivialize it by turning it into a type of game, challenge, or childish duty. I like the way it is presented in this day's study. It is referred to as "Practicing the Presence of God" a practice written about in the seventeenth century by a French monk.

I always like using the term, "practicing," when referring to challenges of my faith. We are not perfect and never will be in this life. But I can practice. The key is not changing what you do, but changing your attitude and mindset. Practicing the presence of God is a skill, a habit you can develop. And just as a musician or an athlete practices their skills, it is necessary to intentionally practice and train our minds to be unceasing in our conscious awareness of God's presence.  This leads to a lifestyle of worship.

Warren will present a total of 6 ways in which we can intentionally practice this lifestyle, but today's lesson only covers the first two: prayer and meditation.

Prayer lets us speak to God.

Meditation, or simply focused thinking and listening, lets God speak to you.
Days 9 & 10

1. "God is pleased with those who worship him and trust his love." (Psalm 147:11)

2. "We please God by what we do and not only by what we believe." (James 2:24)

3. Just as we parents enjoy watching our children enjoy the gifts we give them, God enjoys watching us enjoy the gifts He gives us.

4. Worship is a lifestyle..."a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer." (Romans 12:1)

5. Sacrifice, or surrendering, of your life is not resignation, fatalism, giving up rational thinking, or repressing your personality. Surrender is warring against our self-centered nature. And it is never just a one-time event. Being a living sacrifice is a lifelong practice of surrender.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 8

God has emotions, too! Well...I must admit that I don't think I really considered this before. It's not that I didn't know it, I just never really considered it. Isn't it just like a child to have this mindset? How often do we tell our own kids, "Hey! I have feelings, too!" I think I just thought of God as being above emotions. So, now that I am taking this into consideration, let me catalog what insights I gained from Rick Warren's study, today...

1. The Bible records a wide variety of emotions of God: He grieves, gets jealous, angry, has pity, feels sorrow, sympathy, and compassion, as well as happiness, gladness, delight, pleasure, and satisfaction. He even laughs!

2. So, is it any wonder that He would feel pleasure as he watches over His children? I feel immense pleasure when I watch my children, and we are created in His image. So, as a child of God, my actions are observed by Him. Do they bring Him pleasure? Embarrassment? Grief?

3. Anthropologists have noted that worship is a universal urge...we were made to worship. And if we fail to worship God, we will always find a substitute.

4. Worship is not something you do, it is a lifestyle. It is not about singing, performing ritualistic church traditions, ecstatic experiences, etc. It is the expression of your heart. Every activity you engage in reveals who or what you worship, whether it's conscious or not. Wow...

5. So..."Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Colossians 3:23)