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Christianity 101: Personal Disciplines

[This is actually a bonus lesson! I didn’t teach this lesson at Crossroads because I was at my Grandma’s memorial. The incomparable Pastor Ashley Jennings filled in for me. These are the notes I would have taught from. Enjoy!]

Last week, we talked about holiness.God is a God of holy love, and He wants us to lead lives that please Him. That starts with our confession of Christ: accepting Him as our Lord and Savior. Then, the Holy Spirit indwells us, lives within us and changes us from inside out. He helps us to let Jesus truly be the Lord of our lives.

To be honest, it takes us the rest of our lives to work out, and we’re not even really done until we die. And as we discussed, that’s okay. God expects us to keep moving forward, though. We’re expected not to just stop growing. We should be secure in where we are with God, but not satisfied enough to just get comfortable and quit striving. Does that make sense?

To that end, God has given us tools to cultivate our own personal holiness. He wants us to engage Him, to cooperate with the changes He’s making in us. Let’s talk about some of those tools. I’ll also refer to them as disciplines. Read the rest of this entry

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New People, New Places

Below are the notes from today’s Bible study.

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Today doesn’t have to be just another yesterday. God wants to transform us into new people, and take us to new places — and He can do it.

To illustrate, I want to look at Paul today. He’s one of the prime examples of the type of transformation God can bring about in us. To recap, Paul was one of the fiercest opponents of the church when it was just starting out. Then, he had a dramatic encounter with God, and became one of the founding fathers of the church. It’s like Red Skull had a vision and suddenly joined the Avengers.

I want to look at some of the details of Paul’s transformation because as we do, it’ll give us hope for our own personal growth and change. If God can make an apostle out of Saul of Tarsus, He can make anything out of anybody. Read the rest of this entry

Holiness is a Superpower

The second XLM Bible Study was a lot of fun. Thank you so much to Avrom at Adventures in Comics and Games for welcoming us!

Our next event will be in early December. Details soon. For now, here are my notes from the lesson.

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Last time, we talked about the power of the cross. Some people stop there when they talk about Christianity. Thing is, that’s just the beginning. Jesus was clear about that.

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
-John 14:15-17

Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, and not just that we could pray to Him or know about Him, but that He would live in each of us. Now, make no mistake: the Holy Spirit is God, just as Jesus and the Father are. So what we’re saying is, God Himself lives in us as Christians.

That’s what we’re talking about today. Christianity doesn’t end at the cross. The Holy Spirit lives in us and helps us accomplish what we could never do otherwise. Read the rest of this entry

The Point

Christians, pray for tomorrow morning.

There are two days a year that non-churchgoers go to church. Tomorrow is one, and for good reason.

Easter Sunday is a celebration of the only hope for humanity. Of the reason that we can have joy. Of the fact that, in the end, it will all be okay.

We fast for the 40 days of Lent because Easter is that big a deal. We need that much time to adequately prepare. Tomorrow is a day worth celebrating, perhaps more than any other.

Tomorrow is a great chance for people to meet Jesus.

Pray that they will.

Don’t Pray Like You Vote

Sometimes, it makes sense to lower your expectations. You get disappointed enough times, and you learn to accept it.

During the last few elections, I’ve had trouble getting excited about any of the candidates. For anything. After years of watching politics, I find it harder and harder to believe that the next person we elect to [insert political office here] will be the one to finally straighten things out.

I’ve had a few opportunities to look at my ballot and see nothing terribly inspiring. To realize that whatever box I mark will probably just lead to more of the same.

Don’t let that outlook affect the way you pray.

A quick survey of the miracles in the Bible reveals a God that doesn’t care about the odds. God parts rivers and seas so His people can cross. He shows mercy to His enemies, and some start following Him. He raises the dead.

There was a time in my life when I stopped believing in romance. I’d tried it and gotten burned enough times that I was ready to just move on and try something else. Then, when I prayed for God’s guidance and committed to what He said, He changed everything. He slew my loneliness.

My friend prayed for a man to be healed from his pain and watched it happen before her eyes.

At Crossroads, we prayed for several people to get jobs. Almost all of them were employed within a few months. In this economy.

Never pray for the lesser of two evils. God is way bigger than that.

Have you ever prayed for something big and crazy and had it happen?

Achievements Aren’t

I admit, I get a little thrill when I hear that little pa-pluck sound.

There are several websites dedicated to these things. I even instituted an achievement system on a forum I moderated for my friends, and they went nuts. “I can haz?!”

They’re addictive though, aren’t they? I really like being told I just achieved something. Even if it’s something mediocre.

Really?

It becomes a problem when we start making them a priority over our real purpose.  Achievements, unlockables and other milestone reward systems are just there to tickle our sense of accomplishment. If we were doing something important, I daresay they would be utterly irrelevant.

Thing is, doing important stuff is not always fun.  We have a definite sense of purpose, but we like to be entertained.  Someone in the game industry had a stroke of genius: capitalize on our innate sense of purpose within games.    They developed a something-important simulator.

We like achievements because our lives have actual meaning.  We were designed by God for great things. (Ephesians 2:10)  I guarantee you your life is about more than your gamerscore.  Games are fun.  Achievements are definitely fun.  But really?

They’re not important at all.

(Related note: achievements feed our desire for instant gratification. The last thing we need is for anything else to feed our desire for instant gratification. It seriously hinders our ability to get through life.  For one thing, it makes it harder to pray. If we get stuck in a mindset free of patience, we get frustrated and disheartened if God takes more than 12 seconds to give us what we want.  For those keeping track, it usually does.)

There is No Prayer Gauge

My wife and I were discussing a tough conversation she was praying about, and she wondered aloud if she had prayed enough.

I immediately thought of Street Fighter.

In order to unleash your most powerful moves, you’ve got to get in a few good hits first (or take a few, depending on the game).  With each hit, your Special meter goes up.  Watch the little line crawl across the bottom of the screen bit by bit, wait for the meter to fill up, half-circle-back+HP+HK and KA-SHIIIING! Cascade of blue fireballs.

Prayer doesn’t work like that.  Persistence is good, yes.  Definitely keep at it.  But there’s no point system to determine whether or not you’ll get what you ask for.  Not that simple.

Watch as God suddenly grants some requests and lets us wait for others.  Maybe He’s waiting for us to step forward in faith.  Maybe He’s waiting for the circumstances to fall into line with His plan.  I can’t say, but He knows what He’s up to.

It’s not like He’s looking down on us, going “Mmm, sorry.  Would have introduced you to your soulmate if you had just prayed for ten minutes instead of nine.”

I say that because in Jen’s case, she was praying and listening in the midst of her circumstance.  Do likewise, and don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out how you’d like right away.