Weekly theme November 30 through December 6

Elizabeth and Zechariah
 “...because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from
heaven to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
 -Luke 1:78-79
There are many times in our lives when we get sad because it feels like we are in a barren place devoid of life. Have you ever felt like you were in a place that was devoid of life or abandoned?
The sad thing is that many of us feel this way from time to time. In fact the feeling is quite normal because life is lived in the ups and downs. But this time of year only seems to exacerbate the feeling of being abandoned in a desert place. Society tells us that we should be happy and joyful because of the holiday season but for far too many of us the season only brings stress, exhaustion, and debt. It seems hard to think that a season that is so filled with events and decorations could be compared to a desolate place but the truth is that it can be just as much as any other time of the year. Let me ask you this way. How many of you have ever felt alone while still surrounded by people? This season like any other season of our lives can feel like a desert place. 
The trouble is that too many times we forget the hope that we have in the midst of those barren places in our lives: Jesus Christ.  This becomes even more glaring a problem when we remember that the hope we have in Christ is the entire reason for the season.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and
   wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together 
   in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

It is hard to talk about the church’s identity without talking about our identity. Psalm 139 stands as a great reminder of who and whose we are. Reread the scripture is there a word or phrase that speaks to your identity?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Psalm 148:18
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt
loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your
Father in heaven.

As you consider our scripture today, what are some
practical examples of how we can be “salt” (a preservative in the midst of decay) and “light” (illumination in darkness) both within the church (building) and apart from it during the course of the week?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on
toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Philippians 2:14-16
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

Look at both of our scriptures today. What do you think is the relationship between the “gathering” and “scattering” functions of the church as described in these passages? In other words, what are we called to do when we come
together as a church for Sunday service? What are we called to do as a church for the rest of the week?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

1 Peter 2:9-10
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Today we hear that we are God’s chosen people. What does it mean to you personally to be chosen by God?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2 Timothy 2:3-4
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

Today’s scripture describes the church as a soldier. What do are practical implications does this have for the church’s identity?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Revelation 21:9-10
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

Ephesians 5:21-30
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or
wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.

As you read the scripture today, why do you think it is vitally important that we understand the true identity of the church and then act upon that identity? According to these passages, describe the relationship of Christ to the church.

Weekly Theme November 23 through 29

Organic not Institution

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 
—Acts 1:8
 Do we want to know how we are doing as a church?  If we do, then we will need to look at the change in people’s lives and in the community.  The measure of the church’s influence is found in our communities and neighborhoods and in the fabric of society. If the church is truly effective, then change will be found in the streets and homes of our neighborhoods not just inside the walls of the church. 
This might sound strange but it is not the local church that will change the world – it is Jesus.  So, the ultimate question for the church is, are we offering Jesus to a lost and broken world? 
The most effective way to offer Jesus to the world is organically.  We have to stop just saying to people “Y’all come and receive our Jesus.”  We have to be Jesus’ messengers in the world outside the walls of the church. The true work of the church starts when the true believers of Jesus Christ leave this building and start building relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

1 John 4:7-12
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Reread our scripture today. What does it mean to you that through our love God lives inside of you? What do you think about the fact that by loving one another God’s love is made complete in us?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Galatians 6:2-5
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load

Our scripture today is a bit confusing. It is asking us to bear one another’s burdens but at the same time says we need to carry the load alone. What do you think the difference is? How does this change how we interact with one another and share our burdens with one another?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ephesians 4:29-32
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Our scripture today asks us to forgive one another just as Christ forgave us. Take time now to reflect on all the things that Christ has forgiven for you. Then think about someone or something that has made you mad this week and give it to God. Try to forgive them just as Christ forgave you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Romans 15:9-16
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope,
patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

In our scripture today, we have two ‘one another’
statements. What does it mean to you to honor and live in harmony with one another? What does this look like in your life?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Romans 15:3-5
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober
judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

In our scripture today what do you understand the phrase, “and each member belongs to all the others,” to mean ? In what ways can you live this out in your faith

Monday, November 17, 2013

John 15:17
17 This is my command: Love each other.

This week we are talking about our need for community Throughout this week we will look at some of the scriptures that tell us how to live with one another. In the New Testament, the word  that is translated “one another” (allelon in Greek) appears 193 times in 93 different verses. It is important for God that we have healthy relationships. Christ knew our need for one another. In our scripture today, Jesus does not mince words when He commands us to love one another. Is it hard to love your brothers and
sisters in Christ? Why?

Weekly Theme November 16 through 22

Community not Organization

 “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. “
-Philippians 1:3-6

There is a huge difference between a community and an organization.  A community is focused on people and relationships.  Community can and should have some level of organization so that it can function, but maintaining and preserving the organization is not the dominant feature of a true community.  In a community people share life together, they just don’t take care of and service the organization.
A community, particularly a Christian community, should have a mission and a vision but that mission and vision is about people and connecting people to Jesus Christ.  When it comes to the church it should primarily be a group of people who have the common goal of following Jesus and living life together to help one another achieve that goal.  The church should have some organizational characteristics to help it achieve its mission and vision but the organization will not be the central focus. 
Organization is about operations and function.  Christian community is about people, relationships, and transformed lives. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Luke 14:25-27
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus again calls us to leave everything behind and follow him. Is there something that would hold you back from leaving everything to follow Christ? Do not be judgmental with yourself but instead look at the things that take us away from following Christ.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mark 8:34-38
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Here we hear Jesus tell his disciples three things. The first two are deny themselves and take up the cross. How do you think we as disciples can deny ourselves and pick up our cross? The last thing Jesus instructs His disciples to do is to follow. The first two instructions are in a verb tense that they are a one time decision but the verb tense of ‘follow’ is one that tells us that it is an ongoing action. Why do think it is important that following Jesus is an ongoing

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Luke 15:11-20a
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me

At the beginning of this journal we talked about the fact that a disciple is a follower and that we all follow
something. The question we have is are we followers of Christ. Take time to think about how your spend your time. How does the time you spend show you what you love the most?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Matthew 10:24-31
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Yesterday, we heard Jesus speak about the problems that His disciples will face but today we hear Jesus reaffirm the fact that God will take care of Christ’s disciples. How do you think God can take care of His disciples in these situations?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Matthew 10:16-22
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they
arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their
parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

 Our scripture today is Jesus laying out the dangers of being a disciple. Is what Jesus saying  appealing? Why or why not? Reread the passage. Does Jesus give any assurances about this?

Did you realize that these things are happening to many Christians around the world today? And it has happened in every age—beginning with the first twelve disciples! Pray for them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Matthew 4:17-22
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, 
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called
Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Today we hear the story of Jesus calling some of His
disciples. Jesus calls the disciples to be “fishers of people.” What do you think Jesus means by this? What do you think this means for Jesus’ disciples today?

Weekly Theme November 9 through 15

Disciple not Member

 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 
-Acts 1:8

We look to the advantages that we can get in our lives through being members of a vast array of groups and organizations.  The whole point of membership in these organizations are the privileges.  We belong to them because of what we get by being a member.  Sure, we might have to pay dues, but we get so much more in return or so we think.
This idea of privilege, entitlement and, perks that comes with the concept of membership can also enter into our understanding of the church.  After all, almost every church talks about being a part of their group in terms of membership.  Therefore, if we are a member of a church then shouldn’t we expect certain rights and privileges?  Shouldn’t we expect that the main purpose of the institution of the church is to take care of us and do things for us?  One might think so but the idea of membership in the Body of Christ is very different from what we have come to expect from membership in other groups and organizations.
To examine this concept we will look at what Jesus asked of his disciples. You see the truth is that the definition of disciple is a follower. The truth is that we all follow something in in our lives. Is what we follow Jesus? So, this week we will look at what Jesus asks of his disciples. But be prepared,
because the call to be a disciple is quite challenging.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Luke 15:25-32
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

This last section reminds us of what can happen to us who have been followers for a long time. We can look at the lost as the Pharisees did and not want to welcome our lost brothers and sisters home.  When you look at what the Father says to the older son what reward do you think we have being in the presence of God the whole time?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Luke 15:20b-24
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Here we have the Father’s response. The Father without even listening to the repentance of the prodigal son welcomes him home. The Father welcomes his lost child because he has never forgotten his son even though his son removed himself from the family. The Father kept the space to welcome his lost son home. How do you think we, as representatives of God’s work on earth, can keep an open space for our brothers and sisters who have not yet found their way home? 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Luke 15:11-20a
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got
together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  14 After he had spent everything, there was a
severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’
20 So he got up and went to his father.

Our scripture today is the last parable in this section and is the beginning of the story of the prodigal son. The truth is that there are three distinct stories or perspectives in this story, one of which is from the view of the prodigal son.  The youngest son thinks he could do better on his own and sets off into the world as many of us do, until he crashes to earth. But the key here is that by leaving his Father, he essentially removes his place as son and abandons all connection to the Father’s family. This is the experience of many Christians who at some point felt an emptiness or a feeling of being alone and unable to repair our sinfulness on our own. So we like the prodigal son return out of our hunger to the Father. Does the experience of the prodigal son speak to you? Have you felt that spiritual hunger in your life?