Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our Superiority Complex

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. James 4:11

This chapter in James starts with a question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1) It’s followed by a rhetorical question: “Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?”

The opposite of encouragement is slander. Our nature is to bad mouth other people, to point out their flaws for ill, and somehow to enlarge ourselves by belittling them.

There’s an old adage that asks, “How do you keep crabs in a basket? You don’t need a lid. You just need two crabs. One will make sure the other doesn’t climb out.” Boy, sometimes we can certainly be crabs. Unless we’re the star, unless we get the attention, unless we stand head and shoulders above the rest, we’re not satisfied.

James points out that slandering other believers doesn’t just damage our relationship, it damages the Faith. To put another believer down is to say that we believe God values us more than them, that our contribution is more significant than theirs, and that God’s plan for them is not as important as God’s plan for us. God doesn’t see things that way.

God has purposed for each of us to have part of His plan. He has gifted and equipped every believer to fulfill His calling on their lives. When we criticize other believers, we are actually slandering God’s work in their lives. If we love them and seek to help them, then we should talk to them and not just about them.

Who have you found yourself bad mouthing lately? Why do you feel superior to them? Why do you want to put them down? What do you think God thinks about this?

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Absence Makes the Heart Grow…Forgetful

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13

There’s an old phrase that says “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I don’t know that it’s true. From my experience, it seems that absence makes the heart grow forgetful. There’s a story about a college girlfriend in there, but I’m not going to bore you with that.

The writer of Hebrews penned this letter to Jewish Christians who were leaning toward abandoning Christ and returning to the Old Covenant (Hebrews 4:1-11). What was familiar to them was overcoming their newfound faith. The writer’s job was to show them how much better the New Covenant was. (It’s an interesting study just to count the number of times the writer uses “better” in the book of Hebrews.)

Meeting together and encouraging go hand in hand.
When believers are together faith is renewed. Lives are refocused on Christ. Fears are eased. Courage is gained to face what is next.

Left to ourselves, we don’t do so well. The cares of this world creep in. Even those of us who pride ourselves as “good soil” (Matthew 13:1-23) find that there are more thorns growing up than we care to acknowledge. We were not meant to live our lives alone. God intends for us to do life together.

Now, our faith can be encouraged by meeting together with several thousand fellow believers on Sunday morning. We sing together. We receive powerful teaching. We might even have a few brief conversations in the concourse. But, the early church added one more element to their weekly meeting.

According to Acts 5:42, they met in temple courts (think: Sunday mornings) and they met house to house (think: small group). Meeting people on Sunday morning is like drinking out of a firehouse. It could happen, it’s just a challenge. There are many ways to connect at Brookwood Church: small groups, BrookwoodU, Brookwood Rec, BWomen, MOB (Men of Brookwood), Singles, Brookwood Young Couples, Impact for Young Adults, Praise Choir, Serve Teams, and the list goes on.

How are you intentionally connecting with other believers on a weekly basis? I mentioned in my message a few weeks ago that I am an introvert. Left to myself, I tend to seek quiet and aloneness. But, what is comfortable to me does not help me grow spiritually.

So, I intentionally started a small group two years ago. We meet every Wednesday for lunch. I didn’t know any of the guys in my group before the group started. Today, you couldn’t pull us apart if you tried.

Over the next two Sundays (September 5 and 12) at Brookwood Church, you will have the opportunity to join a small group. The small group leaders and new hosts will be in the concourse after each service. Find a group that you like and sign up for the 5-week study. If you like the group, stick with them. If you don’t like the group, we’ll help you find a new group. If none of our groups are to your liking, then gather a few friends and start your own group. Find me in the concourse; I will have a curriculum kit with a teaching DVD for you.

How can you encourage someone today? Do it. Right now.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our Responsibility of Provoking Others

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24

A spur is not a gentle suggestion. The author didn’t say, “Let’s consider how we may nudge one another or egg each other on.” He said “spur.”

We associate spurs with the cowboys of the Old West. Their spurs were a means of motivation. They didn’t hate their horses. They just wanted to get the most out of them. They wanted to get the best out of them.

So, why would the author of Hebrews apply the verb “spur” to human beings? Sometimes we get stuck. Have you ever had one of those days when you just wanted to throw the covers over your head and wallow in self pity just a little bit longer? Does a loving spouse tuck us in or pull the covers back and tell us to get up and get over it? Which option sounds like a spur?

What about the friends in your life who are stuck on the same issue? You have had the same conversation with them over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day. Do you patiently listen once again or do you tell them, “I love you, but it’s time to move past this.” Which is a spur?

Some translations use words like “provoke” or “stir up” or “incite.” These are powerful words. The church today has become rather meek in comparison to these words. But, I’m not sure that “meek” is an accurate description.

We have actually become apathetic toward our fellow believers. We have enough of our own stuff to deal with. Why would we enter the danger with someone else? Well, because we’re called to.

The instances where I have avoided bringing something up to someone had more to do with not wanting to make me uncomfortable rather than not wanting to make them uncomfortable. In these situations, I simply loved myself more than I loved the other person. This is not right or appropriate in the body of Christ.

While I don’t think this passage gives us license just to go out and tell everybody off, it does spur us toward helping the people that we are in relationship with see things about themselves that they are completely blind to. What is so obvious to me is hidden from the other person and vice versa. They need my perspective, and I need theirs.

So, how do we spur one another on without it backfiring? Well, we don’t necessarily get that guarantee. But, here are a couple of things I would suggest before we strap on our spurs:

1. How well do I know this person and their situation?

2. Do I understand the cause of their behavior? This is not to make an excuse, but to give context.

3. How have I built into this person’s life? How well have I helped and encouraged them so far?

4. Have I prayed about how to address the situation?

5. Am I eager to lower the boom or am I reluctant? If you’re eager, then repeat #4. If you’re reluctant, then most likely you are ready.

If we know someone well and have a good relationship with them, what’s holding us back from spurring them on? Maybe we don’t want to rock the boat. Some boats need to be rocked. Maybe we don’t want to experience the discomfort. Maybe we don’t want to risk losing the relationship. Both of these are selfish reasons.

If there is someone in your life that you are reluctant to confront, I would encourage you to read all of Matthew 18, not just the “church discipline” part. Your spurring on another believer could very well win them over.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some Days I Feel Like Just Giving Up

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Every person you see is a person in need of encouragement.” – Chuck Swindoll

Today, you will rub shoulders with people who are on the verge of giving up. Some are ready to quit their jobs. Some are ready to walk out on their families. Some are about to leave the church. Some feel like giving up on everything for good.

You don’t know who this person is. It’s not just the person with the frown on their face. Sometimes it’s the person with the smile on their face. You just don’t know what hell that they are going through emotionally.

Right now, stop and ask: “God, who do I need to encourage today?” What name just came to mind? I’m not trying to get spooky on you. I’m trying to help you hear God’s voice.

Now, find a piece of paper and write them a note. Tell them something that you appreciate about them. Tell them something that you admire about them. (Don’t substitute paper for email here). Now, find an envelope and a stamp (do you remember those) and drop your note in the mail today.

Now, the next person that you see (that you know), say something good about them. If you’re having trouble coming up with something, remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Now, keep this up today. Encourage someone once every hour. People will wonder what’s wrong with you, but they will appreciate it.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Equality in Christ

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21

Mutual submission creates sort of a funny image. You picture two people standing at a double door. Each is holding a door open and telling the other, “After you.” “No, after you.” “No, after you.” Ad infinitum. How do you make any progress if you’re stopping to allow another to go ahead and vice versa? It’s reminiscent of teenage couples asking: “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” It’s a maddening cycle.

Submitting is the admission that “I am not over you. I am submitting myself to you.” Scripture’s request that we submit to one another also shows that our submission is a choice. And, we do have a choice, so we are not submitting to someone who is over us. We are not over them. They are not over us.

In the body of Christ, we are equals. Equals don’t deserve submission from another, and they choose to submit to each other. The “higher” up you go, the more people you serve. Now, I don’t mean “serve” in the sense of politicians who serve the people meaning that “since the people are stupid, they need the ruling class to think for them.” That’s not service or submission.

The motivation for our submission is out of reverence for Christ. Jesus is the Head of the Body (Ephesians 5:23) and yet, Jesus is the servant of all (Mark 9:35). He willingly set aside His rights and privileges as God to become one of us and to serve us all by dying for our sins (Matthew 20:28). Christ’s greatness stems from His humility. No one else can compare.

Where are you on this submission issue? Do you expect others to do for you, but you don’t do for them? Have you gotten to the place where there are things that are beneath you? Things that you don’t feel like you should have to deal with anymore.

Sometimes the best thing for the high and mighty is to come home and take out the trash or clean up after the dog. What are you having trouble submitting to these days?

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Neighborhood Bar and the Local Church

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, Ephesians 5:19

My first response to this verse is “What the heck?” Are believers supposed to sing to each other like some sort of off-key, demented opera? If you look at the verse more closely, you’ll discover that the singing is only directed to the Lord. You and I are to “speak to another…” If we are to literally quote lyrics of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to each other, then here goes…nevermind.

Context can help us a great deal with this “spoken song one another”:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-20

Rather than getting drunk and joining together in revelry and the subsequent stupidity that it brings, believers should seek the filling of the Spirit, which leads to joining together to thank God. This is the significance of corporate worship. Believers gather together on a Sunday morning and in unison sing about the most important part of their lives: their relationship with God.

Before we look down our noses at inebriated bar patrons crooning “Danny Boy,” we must realize that we both want the same things. We want the camaraderie of like-minded people. We both want an experience that elevates us above our circumstance. One group just gets to avoid the hangover.

This passage points out something else about the believer’s relationship with God. We get so caught up talking about our “personal relationship” with God that we forget that it is impossible to serve God apart from Christian community. Now, I know that author Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire) just gave up on the church and any kind of organized religion calling itself Christian. There are days that I am tempted to side with her.

But to separate ourselves from the Body of Christ is equivalent to performing some sort of spiritual appendectomy in which we are the appendix. There’s not much use for a detached appendix filled with old gum (that’s where my mother used to tell me my gum went if I swallowed it).

There’s an old reformed tradition where if a family was facing grief or hardship, their fellow church members would file into the family’s house, gather around the piano, and sing hymns to the family. No sermons were given. No prayers were prayed. They just sang and left. The music spoke to the deep parts of the family’s wounded emotions.

I don’t know if we should start a “sing and run” ministry necessarily or just send folks a favorite from iTunes. The gist of all of this is how we express our thankfulness and lift each other up. So, sing it up, until the cows come home.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Bible Verses I’m Tempted to Delete

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

I almost wish that this verse wasn’t in the Bible. Almost. This verse feels completely counter to who I am. I’m a driven, task-oriented guy. I don’t really have time for a verse like this. Seriously.

I’ve always thought it was a bit of a joke that God would take a guy with the personality of Attila the Hun and give him the spiritual gift of pastor. I mean I can try to live out this verse for like five minutes, then I need to go lay down.

Then, one day, the light bulb went off. This verse doesn’t say, “Thou shalt be kind and compassionate…” If you read it with a legalistic voice in your head, it might sound like, “You’d better be kind and forgive, because God did forgive you after all. If you keep screwing up, He might revoke His forgiveness.”

This verse doesn’t point to my worthiness for Heaven. I’m not worthy for Heaven, except for the last phrase, “just as in Christ God forgave you.” The verse doesn’t say, “God forgave you, now get with it.” Our forgiveness, our ability to forgive others, even kindness and compassion flow from our relationship with God. Our nature is fight or flight, do or die, dog eat dog. God wants to elevate our nature by developing His character in us.

Those who are close to me are quick to remind me that I’m not the curmudgeon that I make myself out to be. Every time I go to a concert, I end up sponsoring another child in a third world country. I’ve had to stop sponsoring new ones or else my children will end up on those World Vision cards for another family to sponsor. I sometimes cry at sappy movies on television. Now, I need to go eat some hot wings or something.

I’m not trying to become the Humanitarian of the Year. That would be laughable to most people. But, I am trying to allow God to work in me to develop my character. Nothing is impossible with God. Little by little I’m getting there.

And, it’s probably good that no one has ever let me edit the Bible anyway.

How’s your compassion these days? How is your kindness showing? If these things seem impossible or at least unlikely, ask God to do this work in you. He might just surprise you.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

How the Mighty Fall

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham, chose an interesting epitaph for her tombstone. “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” She saw this message on a highway sign and thought that it just summed things up.

We are all works in progress. When we are trying something new, when we are trying to figure something out, or when we’re trying to get our act together, we would appreciate if people would “bear with us.” Their patience and gentleness when we are under pressure is both welcomed and necessary.

Paul turns this thinking around a little bit. Following the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), the apostle instructs us to treat others like we would want to be treated. Have you ever made a mistake? Then, be humble toward others. Have you ever been treated abruptly? Then, be gentle in your response. Have you ever been treated rudely? Then, be patient with others. Have you ever felt the pressure? Then, bear with one another in love.

Jim Collins, an author and Stanford University professor, has written a number of books on successful organizations including Built to Last, Good to Great, and his latest, How the Mighty Fall. I heard Collins speak recently at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. It is interesting that he attributes the failure of many leaders to a lack of humility.

Arrogance says, “I’ve made it. I did it myself. I am so great that I don’t need to listen to anyone else, depend on anyone else, or give anyone else credit.” The arrogant leader’s attitude is “my way or the highway.” They are locked in a bubble of self. People stopped telling them the truth long ago, because these leaders already know everything, they think.

Collins argument is that no one is invincible and no one has ever succeeded by themselves. The antidote to arrogance and the source of humility, according to this business author, is to count your blessings. When we take out a sheet of paper or open a blank document and begin to recount all of the blessings that we’ve received and all of the people who’ve helped us get there, we suddenly realize that we’re not as big of a deal as we think we are. Humility kicks in. And, here’s the beauty of this: humble leaders are successful. Arrogant leaders tend to implode, even when everything is going up and to the right.

When God chose to gather a people to call His own and use them to perform His will, He didn’t imagine developing a better class of people who are above sin. God knew exactly what He had to work with: us. The hope for success is that God works in us, not to make us perfect, but to make us better.

God knows that when we think we’re more important than others that things will fall apart. When we mistreat others, the task might get accomplished, but there are bleeding wounds in our wake. When we work with others, we tend to be forgetful about how patient God is with us, and we tend to deny others the same courtesy.

The only way that this God-envisioned enterprise called the Church will work is if we bear with one another in love. Otherwise, how is the Church different from any other enterprise in the world?

If Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of possibly the greatest evangelist in history and mother of five, was a work in progress until she was completed on the other side, what stage are we at?

I would challenge you today to take five minutes and jot down the first 50 blessings that come to mind. Remember the parents, the teachers, the coaches, the friends, the employers, the opportunities, the education, the lenders and everyone else who gave you a leg up in life. If it wasn’t for them, you would have nothing to be proud of.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

When 'Godly' Behavior Leads to an Ungodly Attitude

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. Galatians 5:13-14 (The Message)

Paul was prompted to write to the Galatians because the believers were headed back toward legalism. Even Peter was embracing legalism. Paul had some choice words for Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Having embraced the freedom of Christ, it made no sense at all to return to the bondage of legalism.

The allure of legalism is a sense of security. If I follow a list of rules, then I will be in right standing with God. If I violate the rules, then I deserve to be punished. If I obey the rules, I will be blessed. So, here’s the problem: sometimes rule followers face difficult circumstances and sometimes rule breakers are successful. Here’s what’s worse: if following the rules causes me to become self-righteous, then “godly” behavior has led to an ungodly attitude.

An expert in the law asked Jesus: “What is the greatest commandment?” (Matthew 22:35-36). The expert’s goal wasn’t to become a better Pharisee. He was setting a trap.

Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

In the words of Gomer Pyle: “Shazam!” There are only two rules worth keeping:

Rule #1: Love God with everything you’ve got.
Rule #2: Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

That sums up all of the teaching of the law and prophets. No loopholes. No bureaucracy. No red tape.

According to Paul’s teaching, the antidote to legalism is serving one another. When we focus on the needs of others, we don’t have time to pour our energies into rule following or rule breaking. As we invest in others the allure of sin and legalism dissipate.

How well are you loving others these days? Have you let your friends know who you feel about them lately? Do the people you know have their basic needs met? Is anyone going through a hard time? A call, a helping hand, a cup of coffee might just be in order.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Could 38,000 Christian denominations be wrong?

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10

How many churches were in Corinth? One. There was one church in Corinth. You could go to any church you chose, as long as it was the Corinthian church. If you left the church of Corinth, you didn’t go to church. Laodicea was too far to commute.

Today, we have many choices. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are about 38,000 Christian denominations in the world. There are about 400,000 churches in the United States. There are 75 churches within 10 miles of Brookwood Church. If I don’t agree with you, I have plenty of other choices. If you don’t agree with me, then I’ll just find another church who does.

The Corinthians didn’t have this choice. I would daresay that they were better off. Why? It was essential for the believers to work out their differences so that the mission could be carried out and so that the work of Christ could flourish in their lives. The significance of unity stems from our willingness to lay aside our stubbornness and pride and to show humility. That doesn’t mean that we simply agree with what everyone else wants to do, but it also doesn’t mean than we become obstinate. We actually try to work things out.

The church is not the place for people to lord it over each other (Luke 22:24-26). The church is to be different from the world. It’s not just the powerful or the wealthy that have a say. It’s a place where everyone has a say. And, it’s a place where we give others the same consideration than we expect from them.

Unity takes effort. Unity takes time. If it’s “my way or the highway,” then no wonder the highways are so crowded.

What should we be united on? We should be united on the things that are essential to our faith: God, His Word, His Son, His salvation, His work on this earth, and His return. When it comes to methods, we need to be flexible. When we don’t understand something, we should take the time to gain understanding.

It’s not wrong to disagree. But, it is wrong to create division. Humility says that “I’m not right about everything all of the time.” Ego says, “I’ll never back down.”

Where are you at these days? How are you tempted to create division? Where might you need to back down? After all, it may be more important to be humble than to be right.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Kissing Is Optional

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. Romans 16:16

Greeting one another with a holy kiss is the most mentioned “one another” in the New Testament (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26), so pucker up.

We don’t live in a kissing culture, except for a couple of creepy single guys and old aunts. We often see world leaders from European and Middle Eastern cultures kissing on both cheeks as a greeting. Americans prefer to shake hands, knuckle bump or high five, except for Donald Trump. He’s a germaphobe.

So, are we somehow disobeying the holy writ by avoiding the sacred smooch? I don’t think so. When we look at a passage like this, we have to decide what is universally relevant and what is particular to a culture. “Greet one another” is obviously universal. The kissing is cultural, unless you’re a Hollywood-type wearing big sunglasses with a sweater tied around your neck.

Really, what’s the big deal? We say “hi” to people. We ask how they’re doing. They politely tell us that they’re good whether they are or not. We shake hands. This is an easy one.

Let’s go the other way. Have you ever experienced a person who won’t talk to you? They don’t say “hi.” They don’t ask how you’re doing. They never shake your hand. How does that feel? You really end up in one of two places: either they are a big snob or I’m a big loser. Either they are too good to acknowledge you or you’re not worth being acknowledged.

A greeting seems like such a simple thing, yet Paul gives this instruction four times to three different churches. And, it’s been passed down for 2,000 years to us. It’s significant.

In the membership class, Perry tells a story about the early days of the church when a woman asked him if he would touch her husband. At first, it seemed like a strange request. But, then he realized that he had changed how he walked into the auditorium. He used to walk through a particular door and this man would be sitting there. Perry would touch him on the shoulder and greet him. When Perry changed doors and directions, he didn’t have this exchange with this man. Something so simple was very meaningful to this fellow.
People want to be noticed. They want to be acknowledged. They want to know that they matter to you. And, you want that too.

Greet one another! Kissing is optional.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Inside Story on 40 Days of Purpose at Saddleback

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Romans 15:14

I used to work for Brett Eastman at Lifetogether.com. When Brett was the Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, they launched the first 40 Days of Purpose campaign. Brett is an idea factory. He doesn’t just think outside of the box. He’s in denial that the box even exists.

On the eve of the first 40 Days of Purpose, Brett brought a new idea to Rick Warren about creating small groups. Instead of recruiting leaders, they would ask Saddleback Church to host groups in their homes by inviting their friends and using a DVD curriculum. Rick was game for it and invited people to open their hearts and their homes to host a group. Two thousand people signed up to host.

Then, by his own admission, Brett took the scariest survey of his life. Who were these people? Where they Christians? Did they live in their cars? What was their story?

So, when you think about Saddleback Church and the over 20,000 people that they have baptized in the last 30 years, how long do you think most of these new small group hosts had been Christians?

Do you have a number in mind? How many years do you think? The average for the 2,000 new small group hosts was 14 years. They had been Christians for 14 years and had attended Saddleback for 10 years, and this was their first time out hosting a small group.

Theirs wasn’t a lack of knowledge. If they had attended 40 Sundays per year, at a minimum, they had heard 400 sermons plus other classes and groups over their 10 years at Saddleback.

How long have you been a Christian? How many sermons and lessons do you think you’ve taken in over the years? It’s a staggering amount. I mean, I had about four lessons/sermons a week for my first 18 years alone.

Paul told the Romans that they were “competent to instruct one another.” How long had the Roman Christians been believers? Think about this: the book of Romans was written around AD 56-58. No one is sure when the Roman church was established. We do know that Peter, Paul (and Mary, sorry) didn’t establish the Roman church. Most likely Jewish Christians started the church without the help of an Apostle. By the best estimates, the Roman church was 15-20 years old when they received this letter.

So, let me fill in the gaps: without an Apostle, without a Bible college or seminary, without a building or formal organization, and facing significant persecution, Paul says that the Romans are competent to instruct one another. And, the church thrived.

So, what about you? How much have you been given over the years? My guess is that you have a much better grasp of things than you give yourself credit for. I know your objection, “But, I feel inadequate.” Well, join the club. Here’s the secret: our adequacy is in Christ, not in ourselves. As we make ourselves available for God to use us, He uses us. I’m never surprised, but I’m always amazed at how God uses me.

So, here’s the challenge: Perry is starting a new series with a small group study in September. I want to challenge every reader to gather a circle of friends and host a group with an easy to use DVD study. To find out more information, plan to attend a Host Briefing on Sunday, August 29 after each of the three services in Pod I. If you can’t be there, let me know. We’ll arrange something.

God wants to use you to help others. Are you willing? It’s a 5-week commitment, not the rest of your life. The teacher is on the DVD.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:7

A while back my folks were in town, so we decided to go out for lunch. Someone had told use that kids could eat for 99 cents at the S&S Cafeteria on North Pleasantburg, so we decided to give it a try. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. A realtor would say that it has “historic charm” (read: old). Guy Fieri might feature it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives or not.

When we walked into the building, we didn’t see a dining room. There was just a long hallway. We walked down the hallway, turned the corner, then walked down another hallway. This was the line. We finally reached the trays. Then, seven of us tried to figure out what to eat. I chose what I wanted to eat, but then was told that it would be extra and it wasn’t part of the deal. Apparently, some items were the “loss leader” and others were the “premium” items (using the broadest sense of the word).

After much conversation, we were met by the angry stares of the regular patrons, who probably hoped that we were at McDonalds rather than blocking their path. They were on the inside track of this place. We were outsiders, and it was obvious.

The experience was awkward. It was frustrating. It was a little intimidating (and I don’t get intimidated by much). And, we’ve never been back. After all, there are easier places to order fried chicken, and the kids eat free.

Walking out of that restaurant, I wondered if this is how people feel the first time they go to church. They don’t know the system. They feel like they have to figure it out on their own. And, they are met with the angry stares of the regular patrons. Will they come back?

Acceptance is a basic human need. Often we relegate the need for acceptance to the awkward junior higher trying to fit in with their peers. We give them lectures on biblical self-esteem and finding their identity in Christ. That’s all great, but how does that help with the bullies on the school bus?

Acceptance is everyone’s need. It’s not like we decided in our teen years to identify with the jocks, the nerds, the debs, the freaks, or the geeks, and then it stuck for the rest of our lives. (The nerds, by the way, ended up making the most money.) As soon as we figure out where we belong in junior high, there’s high school. Then, we graduate and face finding our place in college or in the workforce, then it’s finding our place as a young adult, a spouse, a parent, an empty nester, and then an active senior. Life is a constant game changer.

Acceptance in and of itself is a good thing, a desired thing. Acceptance’s partner in crime, however, is the fear of rejection. Every person longs for community, yet the fear of rejection often overcomes the desire to connect. We can find ourselves surrounded by people, yet feel lonely and disconnected.

Now, before I launch into a rant on overcoming fear, because perfect love casts it out (1 John 4:18), let’s look at the other side of the coin. How well do you accept others? Do you connect with people who were different than you? Do you make an effort to befriend that person in the concourse with that deer in the headlights look on Sunday morning? Do you make an effort to welcome the newcomer in your group or do you just hang out with your friends?

We can be very cliquish. It’s not because we’re bad people. It’s because we’re comfortable. Our reluctance to welcome the newcomer stems from our fear of rejection by them.

Here’s the deal: while it’s great to have friends, the goal of your life and mine is not to be comfortable. It’s not about me. (A famous pastor said that). Our goal is to become like Christ, and Jesus accepted everyone, including you and me.

Think about the last awkward social situation you faced. When was the last time you were the new guy? How did it feel? Who helped you? Who opened their arms to you the first time at church?

In your workplace, your neighborhood, your small group, your sports club and your church, who is that new person that needs to be accepted? You don’t have to make them your new best friend. But, how can you make them feel welcome? Your effort could make the difference between life and death for someone.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Registration is Closing

If you are considering a BrookwoodU class for Fall 2010, the deadline for registration is this Sunday, August 15. To register: http://brookwoodchurch.org/brookwooduclasses

If you have any questions, please contact Lora.catoe@brookwoodchurch.org.

Thanks for reading,

Are You the Judge?

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. Romans 14:13

“Judgement” comes from more than one word in Scripture. We are instructed to “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1), but also that the “spiritual man judges all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). So, which is it? We can’t judge everything and judge nothing.

One Greek word for judgment is the idea of sizing things up. This is the thought behind judging all things. The spiritual person sizes things up. The purpose is not to condemn the other person, but to help them. If we see something that is out of line in the life of another believer, it is our responsibility to point that out to them (Matthew 18). The result could be that we win our brother over (Matthew 18:15).

The other side of the coin is that we also have spiritual folks who are sizing us up. In turn, we should also be open to their insights. What is obvious to others is not necessarily obvious to us. It’s wise to listen to the insights of others.

The judgment that is prohibited is pronouncing final judgment on someone. “See that’s just the way he is. He will never change.” We don’t know that. Only God knows whether or not a person will ever change. It’s only God’s place to judge people in any sort of final sense. He’s the only one with all of the information. God knows our thoughts and our motives (1 Corinthians 4:5).

In the family of God, we are not allowed to write other people off based on their past performance. That doesn’t mean that we continue to allow their bad behavior. But, we do extend grace and patience to them much like we would want to be treated.

Judgment creates a stumbling block. Who are we to reject the same people that God accepts? Some of us have been deeply wounded by religious people who were so busy policing the boundaries that they forgot to show us the love of Christ.

If we are truly concerned about our brother’s behavior, then we need to sit down with our brother and try to figure out why he does what he does? We need to help our sister figure out why she gets involved with the people that she does? Not because we are better than they are, but because we are the same.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does God Encourage Debt?

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8

Paul starts this chapter actually talking about financial obligations. “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7). Financial obligations should be paid off. If you struggle in that area, then let me recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University which will be offered this Fall as part of BrookwoodU.

Paul goes on to say that the only debt that we should continue to make payments on is the “continuing debt to love one another.” That’s the one debt that should never be paid off.

Debt and love are a funny pairing. If we feel indebted to someone, then the motive for love stems from obligation. It doesn’t seem freely given. It seems more like those little green Martian toys in the Toy Story movies who are eternally grateful to Mr. Potato Head for saving their lives. Their gratitude comes in handy in Toy Story 3 (I won’t spoil it for you), but their debt of gratitude doesn’t seem like love.

So, we’ll take “debt” as a metaphor here. We know that Jesus paid our debt (Luke 7:36-50). If we take the idea of debt too far, then our love would stem from legalism and our relationships would resemble a chart of accounts. That doesn’t seem warm or fuzzy.

The gist of this is that we never reach a place where we have sufficiently loved another believer. We can’t say, “You know I spent all of that time talking to them five years ago. They should be good.” They’re not, and neither are you.

Do you see any deficits in your love relationship with other believers? Do you have insufficient funds or could you be hording? Fortunately, your Father has an unlimited account. You can draw from Him.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Porsche Allen versus Mazda Allen

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:16

Harmony seems like such a Hippie word. In fact, a student at my college was raised by Hippie parents in the Northwest. Her name was Melody. Her sister’s was Harmony. Harmony is reminiscent of that old Coca-Cola commercials, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” (Let’s all sway together.)

I don’t know that our focus is so much harmony as avoiding disharmony. You do your thing. I’ll do my thing. As long as our things don’t interfere, we sort of have harmony. Avoidance or tolerance would be better terms.

In music, harmony is any simultaneous combination of tones. Every instrument doesn’t play the melody in unison, but all of the different tones fit together. Harmonies can be beautiful. Disharmony can be painful.

According to this passage, the issue of harmony revolves around pride, conceit and snobbery. The problem comes down to how our possessions make us feel important.

I love cars (and I didn’t say like). Over the years, I have owned the following vehicles: Porsche, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Mazda. In high school mine was the only Porsche in the parking lot. I loved that little Porsche. I could break the speed limit with elegance. There weren’t a lot of Porches in Topeka, Kansas in the early ‘80s. But, when another Porsche saw me, I got a little wave. I was in an elite club of Porsche owners. It felt good.

Then, the Porsche fell apart. After a two year hiatus from any car, my parents gave me a 1974 Cadillac Coupe deville. It was huge. It could sleep six. It was rust colored which fortunately matched the rust. It got nine miles per gallon, which fortunately my folks bought the gas. I wasn’t proud of that car. It got me from point A to point B without having to beg my college friends for a ride, but that was the best of it. It had a very smooth ride probably because it weighed 8000 pounds.

Shortly after college, I traded up to an Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais. Now, I was back in business. A few years later, I upgraded to a Honda Accord. When the Accord turned 12-years-old, I got a free car from my father-in-law, so it was a Ford and a Toyota. Both were respectable cars.

Today, I am driving a 12-year-old Mazda that was a godsend in a time of vehicular need. It gets me from point A to point B. And, at this point in my life, that is all that I need. The reality is that Porsche Allen would not have associated with Mazda Allen. Fortunately, Mazda Allen is mature enough to realize that our significance comes from God, not from what we drive.

Jesus didn’t drive anything. In fact, Jesus was basically homeless (Matthew 8:20). He was on the fringe of society. Jesus didn’t put up with the conventional wisdom of the day. As the Firstborn of All Creation (Colossians 1:15), Jesus knew that a person’s place in this life had no bearing on their place in the next. In fact, the opposite was true (Mark 10:31).

How has disharmony crept into your life? Who are you uncomfortable being around? Who do you feel “better than”? I would encourage you to repent of those thoughts and see the true worth of God’s children.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

My Sixth Grade Sunday School Embarrassment

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. John 13:14

In my sixth grade Sunday school class, our teacher, Dallas Satterfield, decided to demonstrate feet washing as part of the lesson. He didn’t ask for volunteers. He just asked me to come to the front of the room and sit in a chair. Dallas proceeded to explain foot washing while he brought over a pail of water and removed my shoe.

As he took the cloth and began to wash my feet, I began to wonder if this was a carefully crafted plot to improve my pre-teen hygiene. But, I thought better of that. The reality was that I would have much rather been the washer than the washee.

Having a grown man kneel in front of me was more than a little uncomfortable. Maybe if he wore a lab coat that would be okay, but here in church with my naked feet exposed. I thought, “I’m never going to live this down.” I have no recollection as to the condition of my socks or toe nails that day. I am assume that I was in good shape.

In Jesus’ day, foot washing was a welcomed and necessary thing. Sandaled feet and Palestinian dust didn’t create a comfortable situation. The wealthy had people to take care of these feet. As Jesus met with his disciples, there were no “people” to take care of this, and there were no volunteers. So, Jesus volunteered.

Just like He volunteered to take on the humble form of a servant (Philippians 2), He took the towel and the bowl. The one that should have been the most honored among them took the position as their servant.

Then, Jesus told them to wash each other’s feet. This might have involved actual feet washing, but the meaning was clear: “serve each other.”

Today, there are churches that still practice feet washing. It might not be a bad idea to review that actual practice and remind ourselves that we’re not such a big deal after all.

But, with shoes on or off, how can we humbly serve each other? When a fellow believer casually mentions a need, do we engage that or do we turn a deaf ear? Whose feet can you wash today?

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Can You Be Devoted to 6000 People?

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

I’ve known many devoted fans over the years. You know them. These fans go to every game or at least watch the game on TV. Devoted fans wear their team’s jersey and decorate their cars and houses with their team’s memorabilia.

Shortly after moving to Greenville three years ago, our family spotted a car with four flags (one for each window), a team magnet on the back, a team license plate, and a tiger tail hanging out of the trunk. Someone asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a Clemson fan.” Devoted fans take this seriously.

But, what if the qualification of being a devoted fan wasn’t just devotion to the team? What if the qualification was devotion to all of the other devoted fans? We can feel a certain connectedness with other fans of our team, with other members of our political party, or with other devotees of our hobbies. But, to be devoted to other people in the sense that we’re devoted to our team, do you know how many thousands of fans there are?

So, here’s the question, how can you be devoted in brotherly love to thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ at Brookwood Church? We can’t remember 6000 names let alone show any specific devotion.

In a general sense, we can honor others above ourselves even in a large church. Greater love has no man than to give up his parking place or his favorite seat… We can certainly be courteous to everyone. But, devoted, I’m not so sure.

The early church had the solution to this. They met in temple courts and they met house to house (Acts 5:42). The Sunday morning service is our “temple court” if you will. We gather to worship and to learn. But, it’s challenging to connect, and “sharing” is discouraged during the service.

But, “house to house” is a different story. Here the early disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Devotion is possible in a small group.

Who’s your small group? Whether you’re in an official small group or not, you have a small group. It’s not your hundreds of Facebook friends, but it is the handful of people that you keep up with. Who do you connect with regularly? Who’s on your speed dial? This is your small group. Now, the question is what are you intentionally doing to express brotherly love and honor each other? Do you pray together? Do you encourage each other with God’s Word?

I would like to challenge all of my devotional readers to meet with your small group as a Small Group this Fall. Brookwood Church is doing a 5-week study starting in September. It’s easy to use and comes with a teaching DVD. You don’t need to be a Bible teacher. The teacher’s on the DVD. You don’t need to be a leader. You just need to invite your friends.

If you are willing to try this study and take a further step of devotion in your personal small group, shoot me an email. We’ll have a brief meeting after all three services on Sunday, August 29 to fill you in on the details.

“Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle” (Romans 12:9-10, Msg)

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Always, Forever and No Matter What

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35

What does it mean to love completely? I don’t know if many people have actually experienced it. Who are those people that no matter what we’ve done will always accept us? They may not agree with us or like what we’ve done, but there’s something about their love that those disagreements don’t seem to get in the way of it.

Our families would be a likely place to experience unconditional love. At least, so it would seem. For some, a family gathering is a warm reassurance that they’re fully loved and fully accepted. Nothing will cause their families to turn away. For others, a family gathering is a test of their endurance. How much can they take? When do they get to leave? Yet for some, family is such a painful and distant idea that they just don’t want to go there physically or emotionally.

Some of us will look back on our childhood and realize that our parents did the best they could based on what they had and what they had been given by their family. Others detest that idea simply because their parents didn’t do the best they could. For some, their parents did the worst they could. That’s a very painful thing.

People tend to let us down. Most people have been disappointed by the prospects of love in some way. Even a glimpse at perfect love brings about feelings of disappointment and discouragement. Unconditional love seems unattainable.

Yet, Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another. Not just when they felt like it as in the case of eros. Eros is passionate or sensual love. While the New Testament writers don’t use this word, the idea is a love for the worthy. It’s a love with a desire to possess. We can find the idea of eros in the book of Proverbs: as something that “is never satisfied” (Proverbs 30:16) and “let's enjoy ourselves with love!” (Proverbs 7:18).

Another Greek expression of love is philos or brother love, thus Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love.” The disciples were indeed brothers. This type of love seems to fit. But, you can also “philos” wisdom (sophia) and end up in philosophy. It’s a liking kind of love.

Jesus instructs His disciples to “love one another [unconditionally].” This is Agape, unconditional love.

Agape love has no if/then statements. If you do _____, then I will love you. Agape love says, “I will love you always and no matter what.” No conditions. No expectations. No limits.

Agape love is not a human invention. Unconditional love is supernatural. Jesus told the disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The disciples could give unconditional love, because they had received this love from God Himself.

The proof of unconditional love is “by this all men will know that you are my disciples.” Caution: Potential Legalism Alert. Don’t take this as “If you want to be Jesus’ disciple then you must put up with everybody else’s, uh, stuff, accept them as they are, and just love them anyway. If you don’t, you’re out of the club.”

Love doesn’t mean that we put up with everyone’s bad behavior. Sometimes the loving thing is to sit down with someone and say, “I noticed _______ the other day, this seemed out of character for you, what’s going on? I love you too much to just let this go.” That’s not an easy conversation to have. Often we avoid such conversations because we “don’t want to hurt their feelings.” The reality is that we don’t want to be uncomfortable. Interpretation: We love ourselves more than we love the other person.

How does God love us? Think about how patient God is with us. Think about how God is always there for us. Think about God’s grace and how He forgives. Think about how God understands and cares.

Now, how do we allow God’s love to course through our veins? How do we offer unconditional love to others? Knowing that we might be hurt, we might be rejected, and we might be taken advantage of, how can we love the others around us always, forever and no matter what?

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Study

We are beginning a new study of the "One Anothers" of Scripture starting on Thursday, August 5, 2010. These are instructions given by Jesus and the Apostles about how believers are to treat each other. I hope that the devotional series this month will challenge and motivate you as it is me.

What Has God Put in Your Hand?

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Tell Archippus: "See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord." I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:15-18

Paul singles out two people who will be reading the letter: Nympha and Archippus. The church at Laodicea met at Nympha, which would mean that she had considerable means and influence in the town. Paul’s greeting to her was appropriate, since his next instruction was that the letter would be read to the Laodicean church that met in Nympha’s house.

Archippus is a relative and possibly the son of Philemon and Apphia (Philemon 1-3). A church also met in their home. Paul’s instruction to Archippus is to complete the work God gave him. Archippus might have been an officer or leader in the church.

Nympha had a home and had influence. Archippus had a role and a work. What do you have? What has God given you that you can use to help others?

Yesterday, I stopped by Jared Emerson’s studio at Art Crossing. I marvel at how Jared can paint and draw. My pencil doesn’t do what his pencil does. So, Jared says to me, “I don’t know how you write.” We all have different gifts.

How has God gifted you? Do you have an ability that God can use? Do you own something that God can use? Pray about how you can serve in our community. Pray about opening up your home for six weeks this Fall to host a small group.

What has God put in your hand? How does He want you to use it?

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Partners in Crime

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Colossians 4:10-14

Paul lists quite a cast of characters here in his closing to this letter to the Colossian church. Paul’s ministry was always a team effort. While Paul is the most mentioned in the spread of the Gospel to Asia and Europe, he had many partners along the way. Paul couldn’t do it alone.

Aristarchus met Paul in Ephesus. As a result, Aristarchus and Gaius were arrested (Acts 19:28-30). He became Paul’s traveling companion from Troas to Jerusalem and then Jerusalem to Rome. He shared Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Aristarchus was truly a ministry partner to the end.

Mark, also known as John Mark, was not always on the best of terms with Paul. In fact, in Acts 15:36-40, we see that Paul chose not to travel with Mark because Mark had abandoned them on a previous journey. In this letter, however, it appears that Paul and Mark had reconciled, and that Mark was back on the team.

Jesus called Justus, his Greek name, looked after Paul during his first imprisonment. We really don’t know much else about him.

Epaphras was actually the founder of the Colossian church. He had traveled to Rome to give Paul a report of the work in Colossae. But, during the visit, Epaphras was arrested and found himself imprisoned with Paul.

So, imagine this: our founding pastor, Perry Duggar, goes on a trip and then doesn’t ever return. We find out later that he’s in prison. The church would be in distress. Perry would be in distress. This was the situation that Epaphrus found himself in.

The Colossian church had to depend on mature believers to guide it along. Epaphrus’ constant role was to wrestle in prayer for them. Yet, look at how the Colossian church prospered. Paul began his letter by saying, “We always thank God…when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4). Christ, indeed, does build His Church (Matthew 16:18).

Dr. Luke is the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. He joined Paul on his second missionary journey and accompanied Paul on the third journey as well.

Demas was in prison with Paul, but Demas’ story does not have a happy ending. According to 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” There is no record that Paul and Demas were ever reconciled.

It’s amazing to see all that Paul accomplished despite the fact that He was imprisoned. Some of us can barely function when we’re having a bad day, let alone finding ourselves behind bars. Yet, there is much hope in a passage like this.

Outcomes depend on God. It’s not all up to us. That certainly takes off a lot of pressure. Now, God expects us to be diligent and to work hard, but God is the one who produces the result
(1 Corinthians 3:6).

Through a very difficult period of Paul’s life, God provided faithful co-workers and friends to stand by him. They encouraged Paul. They helped to continue the work. They prayed.

God’s work will continue. If our attitude is right and our hearts are open, God will continue to use us despite our situation.

What do you feel like solely depends on you? What do you think would be greatly handicapped if you weren’t involved? How much do you find yourself depending on God? How much do you depend on yourself? Who do you need to accomplish what is in front of you?

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