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For The World To See

I suspect that many of us have heard the story of Peter denying Jesus three times and probably thought, “I can’t believe he did that!” Have you ever had that thought? I know I have.

I mean really, how could you deny Jesus? Weenie!

In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” (v.32-33).

It is pretty simple the way Jesus explains it. If you acknowledge me, then I will acknowledge you. If you deny me, then I will deny you.

I remember the Christian band DC Talk had this lyric in one of their songs that said, “you acknowledge me with your lips, then deny me with your life.”

We have all probably done just that. We say we know Jesus and then do whatever we want.

I think this statement by Jesus is pretty sobering. He expects us to live out our faith, not in secret, but publicly. He wants the world to hear and see his followers. This seems like a reasonable request for someone who died so that we might be reconciled back to God. Don’t you think?

I honestly can say that I don’t want Jesus to deny me before His Father, so my only proper response is to acknowledge Jesus in everything I say and do.

Pretty simple, right?

Consider:

We acknowledge Jesus when…

  • We aren’t afraid to SHARE our faith with others.
  • We lead our family in morning or evening devotionals.
  • We start a lunch time Bible study at work.
  • We won’t cheat at work or at home.
  • We vote our principles.
  • We love and help people.
  • We refuse to compromise our sexual purity with anyone.
  • We STAND UP any time there is an injustice.
  • We won’t allow the government to take away our FREEDOM.

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 8 + 9

I remember playing strange and even dangerous games when I was younger. I had a friend, who would always play these dangerous games with me.

On this particular day, we were playing a nice game of Spears.

The object of the game was to find spears made of wood and throw them at each other. (cool game, huh?)

Back and forth we would hurl these spears at each other, seeing if we might hit the other person. I guess we never thought it could go really bad.

We were wrong!

I hurled a spear at my friend, and as it traveled through the air, it headed right for my friend’s head.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you wish you could take something back? In your mind, you are thinking “Oh….crap!” This was one of those moments.

The spear found it’s target…my friend’s eye.

I was mortified. I had just thrown a spear into my “former best friend’s” eye.

There was blood everywhere.

In Mark 9:43-47, Jesus tells his disciples to do something strange and very dangerous:

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…”   

Let the chopping and gouging begin!

If we followed this teaching literally, I suspect there would be a lot of people walking around with no hands, feet, or eyes.

I don’t think Jesus was being literal, but I absolutely believe he was being deadly serious. There is nothing in this teaching from Jesus that is intended to be watered down and soft on sinful behavior. If it cause you to sin, get rid of it. Period!

THREE BODY PARTS

HAND

Our hands are very important and help us do many things. Without them, we cannot function at our highest capacity.

Our hands also help us do many things that aren’t necessarily good for us.

Perhaps you use your hand to drink too much, eat too much, flip someone “the bird,” hit someone across the face, shoot someone with a gun, etc. The list could go on and on.

Perhaps you even throw spears at your friends (Okay…maybe that is just me!). You are getting the point I’m sure. What are you using your hands to do that is clearly sinful? Jesus says, “CUT IT OFF!”

FEET

We need our feet as well. However, what is true of our hand is also true of our feet. Perhaps you use your feet to carry you places that you shouldn’t go: to the strip club; to the person’s home you are committing adultery with; to the store to spend money you don’t have.

What are you using your feet to do that is clearly sinful? Jesus says, “CUT IT OFF!”

EYE

I don’t have very good vision. I take my contacts out and I can’t hardly see anything at a distance. I wish I could, but I can’t. My eyes are very important to me.

I’m sure they are to you as well. We need them.

Once again, what is true of our hands and feet, is true of our eyes.

We live in a culture and everywhere you look, someone is trying to sell you something through visually appealing images and objects. Our eyes can be easily led into all kinds of sinful behavior.

Perhaps you use your eyes to lust after women, men, food, or even material things; or maybe your eyes are used to view pornographic material, violent images, or one too many Go Daddy commercials.

Whatever it is, Jesus calls us to use our eyes for good. Our eyes are a doorway into our heart and mind. Allowing unholy, impure, or sinful things into our lives isn’t living according to Jesus’ standard.

What are you using your eyes to do that is clearly sinful? Jesus says, “CUT IT OFF!”

This is a tough teaching, but don’t get discouraged.

God wants better for you. God wants to take you higher today!

If it feels overwhelming, just take a deep breath and ask Jesus to help you conquer your hurt, habit, or hang up. Take one step at a time, one day at a time, and allow Jesus to transform you into the person he wants you to be.

You aren’t alone and if you need help, please email me at prayer@elevationSTL.com.

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 3 – 5

I love it when the Bible gives us a glimmer into the emotions of Jesus.

Mark tells us that Jesus “looked around at them [the religious leaders] angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.” (Mark 3:5)

It hurt the heart of Jesus that the religious leaders didn’t understand that healing a man’s hand (or doing good) was not in conflict with the Sabbath. The regular rhythm of the Sabbath was intended to encourage good deeds and life-giving actions. However, the ritual had become a dead and lifeless routine that didn’t lead people to the right outcomes.

This was very upsetting to Jesus. So what does Jesus do about it? He heals the man right in front of their eyes, just to make his point. You might think that the religious leaders would respond in worship to this miracle. This is not the case. Instead, they begin “to plot how to kill Jesus.”

Why?

Jesus already told us. Their hearts had become hard to the things of God. They had allowed their religiosity to cloud their vision. They were unable to see the miracles happening right in front of them.

How’s your heart?

I know this to be true: a soft [pure] heart before God is essential to recognizing the activity of God.

We are told to “guard our heart” because our heart is the wellspring of life. In other words, if our heart isn’t pure, “death” is just around the corner. There should be a river of life-giving “spiritual water” flowing through our hearts, so that we might be soft and pure before our holy God able to recognize his voice and act accordingly.

2 WAYS TO AVOID A HARD HEART

1). Honor the Sabbath.

Jesus isn’t doing away with the Sabbath. On the contrary, he’s helping to properly define it for the reader. It is designed to create regular space in our lives to allow God to speak, affirm, or even correct our behavior through a dedicated time of reflection and worship. This is essential to maintaining a soft heart before God. Do you have a regular Sabbath? If not, the Bible is very clear that you are living in sin before God. This is probably your first step to getting back on track.

2). Help people.

Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. Why? I believe he did it to help us all see that doing good unto others is always the right thing to do. Withholding goodness from people only puts a lid on the possibilities of God to release his power in our life or the lives of those around us. Helping people will keep us soft before God. Jesus modeled this for us. When we get the focus off of ourselves, we give the Lord space work in our heart.

I could say much more on keeping your heart soft before God, but let’s start with these two.

If you are looking for a way to help people, SERVE 2013 is happening this Saturday. Why don’t you come out and help some folks!

If you are looking for ways to honor the Sabbath, start by attending worship this weekend and then taking some time during the day to get alone with God and ask a few questions:

  • Lord, how did I honor you this week?
  • Lord, how did I dishonor you this week?
  • Who do I need to make amends with, or seek forgiveness from, for my behavior this week?
  • What can I do this week to love God and love people?

-Pastor Daniel

Mark 1 + 2

I love how Mark just gets right down to it. He doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. He jumps right into the story of good news. The only context he gives is found in Isaiah 40:3, “Look I am sending a messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”

John the Baptist has the honor of preparing the way for the Son of Man. He is the forerunner to the Messiah. His job was to announce that there is a guy coming, who is GREATER than he. John is saying, “I am not the guy, but I know the guy and he is coming. I can’t hold a candle to this guy. He is the stuff.” What a great job!

Mark does spend any time on how Jesus got here, he simply lets the reader know he is here. The ministry of Jesus has begun and it doesn’t take long before he is surrounded by large crowds of people, even though he asked people to keep quiet about the miracles he has done.

So many things are happening in chapters 1 and 2: Jesus is baptized, He is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He gathers his first disciples, He casts out some evil spirits, He heals Peter’s mother, He preaches, He heals a man with leprosy, He heals a man who is paralyzed, He dines with sinners, He stands against the religious leaders by challenging their understanding of fasting and the Sabbath. Whew! All in a days work, right!?

Jesus is on the job and he is wasting no time advancing the kingdom and proclaiming the gospel. Mark tells us that Jesus proclaimed to the people, “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) NLT.

The Kingdom of God is near and Jesus tells us to do 2 things:

1). REPENT OF YOUR SINS

Literally, repent means to turn from, to do an about face, a 180 degree turn from sin and walk in a different direction. It also has the sense of having a different thought.

2). BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS

Literally, have faith in the good news. Many times we assume, wrongly, that this simply means to ascend to a certain idea or ideal. It is much more than that. It is truly a belief that leads to action. Perhaps a better way to understand this idea is not just faith in the Good News, but FAITHFUL to the Good News.

Consider:

Are there sins you need to repent of today and seek God’s forgiveness?

Perhaps you BELIEVE the Good News, but have not remained faithful to it. If this is the case, REPENT and ask God to help you live out the Good News today.

Jesus got started working for the Kingdom right away.

How about you? Are you serving? Are you helping? Are you funding? Are you supporting?

If not, why not? If you need help finding a way to get involved, check this out: Fuel For Your Faith brochure.

-Pastor Daniel

Small Seeds. Big Trees.

I used to hate reading the Bible.

It just seemed so random. So boring. So big and unapproachable.

And this is how I felt as a Christian. Maybe you can relate.

It’s funny how we as Christians base our entire lives and destinies on something we don’t read. On a book we haven’t read cover to cover.

That was me six years ago. Thankfully I had a pastor who called me on it. He challenged me to read the entire Bible in ninety days.

I did it in eighty-eight.

And out of that challenge, I gained a framework for the entire story. Where the characters fit in the timeline. How the story plays out.

It wasn’t so random anymore. It actually started to make sense.

But that wasn’t enough. NOW came the time to go back and start taking smaller bits of scripture in at a time, but understanding it better.

I came across an acronym that has been helpful in structuring daily time in the Word:

S – Scripture; I read a passage of scripture and land on the verse that seems ‘neon’ to me – that stands apart from the rest
O – Observation; What do I see in this verse/passage? Are there words that are repeated? Any contrasting ideas? Any words that seem strange to me?
A – Application; What in the world does this have to do with me? What is God teaching me?
P – Prayer; Just a short one or two sentence prayer to God about this verse.

It takes me about thirty minutes to do this.

Thirty minutes a day times six years? Well, I know a lot about the Bible now. More importantly, I know a lot more about the God I’ve put my faith in and given my life to.

I know that the God I used to think was so angry is actually “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6) and that he is “faithful to all of his promises, and loving toward all he has made” (Psalm 145:13).

Have you checked out yet? Don’t have thirty minutes to spare?

Okay, well start by taking five-ten minutes each morning and read one verse. One verse.

Memorize it. Write it down. Come back to it throughout the day.

Start small. It’s better than doing nothing right? You can’t do nothing and expect to know the Bible better simply by osmosis.

However, if you start planting even small seeds, in time you’ll be amazed at the big trees it’ll produce.

-Dustin

From Abstract to Must-Have

Up until several years ago, I never read the Bible with much expectation of it “speaking” directly to me. Scripture was just an assortment of stories, poems, and advice from millennia ago:

-Don’t run from God or you will be vomited out of a whale.
-Stick with the Lord, be wise, and the Queen of Sheba herself will compliment your riches with a raised brow.
-Be prepared to see some bonafide, wacky stuff come Armageddon, what with all the horsemen, seals, edible scrolls, and such.

Scripture didn’t talk to my individual situation. Or at least I didn’t believe it could.

When I began getting serious about Jesus 4 years ago, reading the word started becoming less of an intellectual, abstract exercise, where I would torch through several chapters, not even registering the letters passing through my eyes, to more of a sit-down, immediate conversation with incredible impact. A conversation that went from one sided (the Bible telling me things about the Lord, myself, and the world), to participatory (journaling my thoughts about what I was reading, asking questions, cross-referencing scripture with scripture). These more immediate, personable practices were game-changers in my walk with Jesus.

Keeping a journal while reading through a book of scripture has had the biggest impact on my experience with the word. Reading a chapter a day and recording my thoughts, ideas, and questions on paper helps to put order to the internal dialogue ricocheting around my mind. It’s transference of my heart and mind onto a medium that I can work with, that I can study, that I can learn from.

Words get put to paper. Questions don’t get forgotten. Connections don’t get lost. Passivity isn’t allowed to linger. The heart enters into this focused dialogue…and this dialogue is ripe ground for the Spirit to start doing work.

Over time, my written meditations on the word BECAME PRAYERS…not prolonged, eye-numbing snooze fests that I had to perform before I felt like God was satisfied. Digging into the word led me to CONVERSING WITH GOD.

Another breakthrough occurred when I began placing myself as a character in the story. Not necessarily a main role like Abraham, David, or Peter…but as a common passer-by, a bystander in a synagogue, a merchant in a market place, a pilgrim on a highway.

For instance, what would I do if I was present during the gospel of John, when Jesus was speaking with the religious leaders of Jerusalem? Would I feel safe when Jesus tells these Pharisees that they are of the devil, that he himself is God, and they react by searching for stones to throw at him?

No, no. Livid hypocrites looking for hard things to legally throw at alleged blasphemers isn’t a calming activity. I most assuredly would have soiled my tunic.

Entering into John 8 in this manner, I discover that Jesus was bold…he didn’t pull punches. He didn’t passively stroll by with his head down, hoping to not step on anyone’s toes. He intentionally picked a fight with evil. Our God didn’t leisurely lay around eating bunches of grapes and talking about windmills and sunsets all day. He tossed grenades into people’s religiosity. He brought people face to face with their sin. He showed them the God they had forgotten. I didn’t appreciate this until I stuck myself in that crowd and saw faces and reactions…furious, darting eyes…snarled mouths…clenched fists.

These were no longer words that died after reading. They were actions that breathed. Not static. LIVING. They stuck around…to this day.

Does reading scripture seem dead to you?
Enter into the word. Look at faces. Notice responses. Ask questions. WRITE THEM DOWN. Visit them again. Listen and speak.

-Nate

Word Up

I think out of all the spiritual disciplines, studying the Word is the hardest for me.

I mean, I don’t read that often. Not because I don’t like to, but mainly, if I’m being honest, because I don’t let myself rest. I don’t let myself sit and be still.

But, as I have begun training, and growing, and working on doing better, I have picked up a few tips that help me when studying the Word…enjoy!

JOIN A BIBLE STUDY.
This creates an environment where a “small group” of people learn scripture together. It makes you feel like you’re not alone. It lets you know that it’s okay to ask questions or learn new things.  For me, it’s been the best way to initially dive-in. And at the same time, you are building community. A group also creates accountability; in loving and genuine ways, you help keep each other on track.

USE AN ACTUAL BIBLE.
“But my iPhone has an actual Bible”….ERRRR….I have found that I am much less likely to study the Word when I only use my phone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great tool to have when you are on the go and need to look up something quick. But there is something about having a tangible Bible in your hands. I feel like it makes the Word come even more alive. (there is an App called “YouVersion” that is a great mobile download)

WRITE IN YOUR BIBLE.
Some people think that because it’s the Bible, you can’t write in it. So not true! I love underlining and writing little notes to myself in the margin. Maybe you hear something in a sermon, or read something that really has an impact on what you are dealing with at that precise moment. This is why it’s so essential to have a tangible Bible that you can mark up and love on.

READING PLAN.
Reading plans are great because they already lay out a ‘plan’ for you; they tell you what to read each day.  There are tons of plans to choose from. You can buy a book that has a reading plan. Or go online, or use an app like YouVersion. They can range from a month-long plan all the way to reading the Bible in a year.

Pick one that fits best for you.

Start small, achieve it, and then set the goal a little higher. I think one other hugely helpful part about reading plans is having them in front of you. I have a hard time when it’s on my phone because I end up not thinking about it and then I fall behind. Write it down and put it on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, your steering wheel, your computer…you get the idea.

I hope these help! I would love to hear what you guys think. Maybe things that help you out! Or if you try some of the stuff we suggest, let us know what’s working for you!

Happy Reading!

-Jen

The True Wellspring

well·spring
noun
1. the head or source of a spring, stream, river, etc.; fountainhead.
2. a source or supply of anything, especially when considered inexhaustible: a wellspring of affection.

There it is. The definition of wellspring. To me, it is also the definition for the Word of God.

Without question, the word of God has changed my life more than anything. It transforms. It breathes life. It refreshes. It corrects. It instructs. It leads. The word of God is powerful and true.

My time with God’s Word is always one of the highlights of my day. It is my friend. It sets the course for my day.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was not always the best with making time to be in Bible. I used to put it off until the end of the day, when I would be too tired. I would make goals with how much I would read per day that were not reachable. I would do things that would be discouraging and would just quit trying.

The whole Bible “process” can be quite intimidating. I mean, even going to get a Bible can be overwhelming. Walk in to any local Christian bookstore and you are faced with a ton of options. Which version? Which color? Study Bible or not? The list goes on and on.

Then, when you finally choose your Bible, you are faced with reading it. Will I do a reading plan or not? If so, which reading plan?

The bottom line is this, the whole process can get intimidating and can keep us from doing what we should be doing. We need to be in the Bible!

Over time I have been able to become disciplined in reading scripture. I look forward to it. Here are a few things that have helped me. I hope they can help and encourage you:

Find a group of people, or one other person, that will hold you accountable to reading the Word. You can meet with them and read it together, or they can just check in with you to make sure you are spending time in the Word.

PLEASE NOTE: ACCOUNTABILITY DOES NO GOOD IF YOU ARE NOT HONEST!

Find a time that works for you. Make it a sacred time. Don’t budge from it. It is just like anything. You will find time for the things that are important to you.

Don’t create unrealistic goals.

Sometimes reading less and meditating more is a good thing. Check out http://life2getherblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Meditation.-Daily-Schedule1.pdf

“Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, ’til it saturates your heart!” – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Don’t neglect the Old Testament. Read this from Tyler Kenney:

“The more I read the OT, the more I see how indispensable it is for fostering the encouragement and faith I need to thrive in my walk with God. And my challenge to you in writing this post is that you would approach the OT as a complete,competent,and relevant work for you in its own right.
The OT is not a deflated sail that needs NT air to get moving. Sure,there is more revelation beyond Malachi, and yes, we shouldn’t try to just forget the NT when reading the prophets. But let’s not use what we know from the apostles to reinterpret or silence what the prophets themselves have to say to us. They were writing for us in the first place, you know (1 Peter 1:12).

Again, don’t make the prophets punt to the apostles. Read them for their own strong messianic and gospel hope, and let that set the stage in revelation history and in your heart for Jesus to come and prove the Father right and gloriously fulfill all of his great and precious promises.”

Well, I hope this helps a bit. I pray that your time in the Word becomes a time you look forward to. A time that is like hanging out with your best friend. A time that is refreshing, and is like a mighty river running through your soul.

Let’s dive in.
-Pastor Tim

Washed By The Word

There is never enough time to share all that I would like to share in my messages. I heard a preacher say once, “We prepare a dump truck full and deliver a wheel barrel full.” In other words, there is always more that can be said about any given subject. This is one of the reason I am excited about posting during the Training Days series. It gives me opportunity to share more.  So hear goes…

Here are a few summary statements:

–It isn’t about trying harder, it is about training more.
–You must do today what will allow you to do tomorrow what you can’t do today.
–The goal is to become like Jesus.
–The Bible is the Word of God. (Memorize: 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

A few passages from the Bible that I didn’t really get to spend too much time on or didn’t really get to share at all and a few observations: Hebrews 4:12-14, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 5:26

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)

The word of God is “alive” and “powerful” and basically reads us like a book. We are exposed and laid completely bare before God.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)

The key word in this passage is “transform.” This is the goal, right? We are called to be transformed into the image of Christ. We are called to have the mind of Christ. We are transformed into men and women that reflect the life of Jesus.

“…to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” (Ephesians 5:26 NLT)

Paul is talking about the Church and Jesus in this passage. He is actually comparing the love Jesus has for the church to the love a husband should have for his wife. Jesus gave us the example of sacrificial love through his death and resurrection. Jesus gave his life up and presented his church as “holy and clean,” and right in the middle of all this is this beautifully crafted phrase, “washed by the cleansing of God’s Word.”

Jesus cleans us up.

He does so through the Word. In other words, the Word (The Bible) cleans us and makes us pure. We are transformed by the Bible. This way it is so critical that we get it in us.

Here are a few practical tips on meditating on the Word: (These are taken from John Ortberg’s book entitled “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”)

1. Ask God to meet you in the Scripture.
2. Read the Bible in a repentant spirit.
3. Meditate on a fairly brief passage.
4. Take one thought or verse with you through the day.
5. Allow this thought to be set in your memory.

Spiritual Exercise:

Take one of the passages I listed above and meditate on it. (Remember: There is a difference between reading the Scripture and meditating on Scripture. Use the guide above.

Benediction: (A Blessing, or literally, The Good Word)

“May the Lord transform you by the renewing of your mind on the WORD of God. May you be transformed and washed clean. May you meditate on God’s Word this week and discover the ‘power’ that is released in your life to be more like Jesus.”

-Pastor Daniel

All Day Long

Romans 10:21 But regarding Israel, God said,
“All day long I opened my arms to them,
but they were disobedient and rebellious.”

“All day long”…

God has been revealing himself to Israel over and over again.
He has welcomed them into his loving arms “all day long”.

What was their response?
They were “disobedient and rebellious.”
They didn’t listen.
They didn’t respond properly.
They rejected the LORD’s invitation.
…They said, “NO!”

In the same way, God is welcoming us in his arms of grace.
So, what will be your response today?
Will you respond by turning towards God and receiving his embrace?
Or will you turn away from God and continue trying to do it on your own?

God is standing with his arms open wide and very clearly telling you and me that we don’t have to do it alone.

Whatever your situation looks like today…turn towards God, run into his loving arms, and feel his warm embrace.

He loves you and wants the best for you. You are not alone.

You don’t have to live another day without Him.
You don’t have to live without his guidance and peace.
Don’t just stand there, RUN to him.

How do you do that?

It’s simple.

Get on your knees, right now, and simply pray:

Dear God,

I need you in my life and in this situation. I can’t, but I know you can. I am running towards you today will you, please, embrace me in your arms. Forgive me for the times that I have been disobedient and rebellious. I turn from that way of living and ask for your power to live differently. I need you. Please, receive my prayer as a fragrant offering and change me from the inside out. Be LORD over my life, my circumstance, and my future. In the strong name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen!

-Daniel

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