1 Thessalonians 2:9-3:13

Q: What did it cost you when you first decided to follow Jesus? What is it costing you today? Paul combines encouragement and prayer to call the believers to purity, community and faithfulness in the face of opposition. Who do you know right now that is facing overwhelming odds or circumstances? Write a prayer for them below. Then do something today to practically encourage or support them.

A: Well, I can’t say that it has cost me nearly as much as it should have to first become a Christian. I was raised in a strong Christian home, I had strong roll models that showed me true Christian love. Today, I don’t see much of any cost, actually I see things more as what I’m gaining. I know some people facing some seemingly overwhelming circumstances, but most of them actually know that what seems impossible or unsurmountable is possible with God running your helm. I think I need some more time to write a prayer, and I’m very tired right now so I will work on it later when I’m not tired. G’night.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:8

Q: Write down the name of someone who served as a role model for you. Then write down the name of someone who might be looking to you now as a role model for their own life. Paul didn’t just share the Good News of Christ, he and his co-workers shared their “own lives” as well. Write down the names of one or two people that God is asking you to invest your life in so that they might know the fullness of God’s love and God’s plan for them.

A: I’ve had lots of role models over the years, but one I like to think about as important besides my parents is my old Sunday school teacher from high school, Dave Moore. He was important to me because he was the biggest influence on me as far as my Biblical intellectual development goes, and he influenced me by how he lived his life. Also he was the first person who said “I will respect you as long as you respect me.” And for four years we respected each other almost every Sunday morning. He made me feel like a real person with real opinions and thoughts, and he taught me how to return to the Bible for an answers to almost every question I have. I don’t know who is looking up to me, I’m sure there is someone out there. My folks say my younger brothers look up to me, but I don’t know how far that goes because they are my brothers. Right now I don’t have a specific list of people that I can share my “own life” with, but I try to share my life with most everyone I meet instead. I think that my desire to be friends with almost everyone I meet goes a long way to showing people God’s love. I think that it is important to befriend people for the sake of gaining friends and growing in relationships and relational skills. I think that doing that shows people God’s love in a real way. I have lots of friends who aren’t Christians and I don’t expect to “convert” or “save” them, but if I can show them changes in my life maybe that will be a way to show God’s love. Alright, with that, I’m out.

Colossians 3:18-4:18

Q: Paul tells us to be wise and gracious in how we share our faith with those that don’t yet know Christ (4:5-6). (In other words, don’t be stupid and obnoxious!) What does it mean for you to graciously share Christ this week in your everyday world of work, school and/or your neighborhood? Discuss this with your small group members the next time you meet.

A: I think sharing Christ is about showing people love. I think that walking up to people and telling them that they are going to hell is not a good way to accomplish this. If you stand on the quad and tell people that…..this is for you….YOU ARE NOT HELPING ANYONE, GET A DAY JOB, GET OUT OF MY WAY, I’M LATE FOR CLASS. Ok, now that I’m done with that, I think that people should just try to give up some of themselves in order to serve people as Jesus did. But I’m going to keep this answer short because I’m tired and need to go to work after I write the answer for todays too.

Colossians 3:1-17

So, I got too busy this week to catch up on the weekend, but I’m back, I had my test yesterday and it went OK, and the rest of the week is much more tame so I should be actually keeping up and maybe even catching up from this weekend.

Q: What is God inviting you to take off? What is he calling you to put on? When the New Testament speaks of spiritual growth, it usually talks about our relationships with other believers just as it does in this passage (vs. 12-16). At this point in your life, do you have relationships with other Christians where you can “teach and counsel each other” (vs. 16)? If not, what is the next step for you to enter more deeply into genuine Christian community?

A: I think that I really have found a spiritual community at the Vineyard. It has a been a great place to meet people who actually care about other people, and want to see them grow. I like the people that are around me at church and in my small group, and I like learning and growing with those people. I like meeting in accountability groups because it is a great way to seriously accept and give counseling. I think that it is important to be in good Christian relationships with people around you. I think good relationships are important in general, but to grow as a Christian you must have people around you who are also trying to grow as Christians. I think to have good relationships God calls us to give up a lot of our “old self” by stopping the things that Paul talks about in vs. 5-9 (lying, anger, rage, malice, slander, and greed). It sounds simple, but in practice it isn’t’ as easy to rid yourself of all these things, but it is good to try because the harder you try the more likely you are to succeed someday. Anyway, I think God is asking me to get rid of some of these things Paul is talking about. I think it is about time I started paying a little more attention to some of these things, also I think God wants me to listen more. I feel like sometimes I’m just ignoring what he is saying, and that is not good. So I am going to try to listen better and actually act on what he is telling me. So anyway, I am done with this because I’m tired of writing now.

Later.

Philippians 1:27-2:18

Verse 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Wow, that is silly kinds of difficult.

Q: How does considering Jesus’ humility and love encourage you and challenge you personally? What is one area of your life (at work, at home, at school) or one relationship where God is asking you to have a humble, giving attitude?

A: I once read a quote that said “Christianity is the only religion to have its central event the humiliation of its God.” This really put the versus in Philippians in a new context for me. I already knew this, but somehow it made me think “wow” all over again. So Paul tells us to be humble like Christ. Can we even be that humble….how can we as humans humble ourselves in any measure that compares to a God choosing to humble himself by becoming one of his creations, and then suffers and dies. So can we do that? I know I want to try to humble myself like that. Man, it is hard though. Sometimes your so like “Why are you still talking, not only are you not even in my league, you don’t even belong in this ballpark,” I mean, I hate when people try to jump in a conversation like they know what they are talking about, and they have no clue. But God tells us to be humble and to consider that person better then yourself. Even if I think people are rude and conceited, I still have to be humble. Humble like Jesus on the cross while he was being mocked. I think that God wants me to be humble in a lot of ways. One is not to get a big head just because I’m leading a small group. Sometimes it is easy to focus on the fact that I know more about the inner workings of churches then the average person my age who doesn’t have a strong desire to be in full time ministry, and that makes me feel like I’m cool, cuz I know something that other people don’t. Then I remember that I’ve been thankful that I haven’t seen the behind the scenes look at Saddleback and Vineyard, because I hated knowing all that stuff. It just made it hard to figure out who God and Jesus are apart from church politics. Also, I like running things. Lauren does to, she just won’t admit it, but sometimes I need to be more humble in how I speak as a leader, so that I don’t make myself seem distant. I hate pastors that seem unapproachable. I mean, leaders are people to. Gods gift of leadership doesn’t make them better then you, so why can’t you talk to them like you would a person you just met, or a friend if you know them well. So definitely being humble in how I speak as a leader is a big issue, and remaining humble when dealing with problems in the church and it’s authority. No one at the Vineyard cares that I grew up in the Methodist church and I know how it works better then most people, because you know what, the Vineyard isn’t Methodist. And I like that….not knowing what is going on behind the scenes has been a blessing for me in the past. So I have to remain humble that way. Sometimes it is also hard to be humble when listening to other peoples opinions. It is important to acknowledge that you may not be right all the time, and it is also important that you might both be wrong, and I think to truly accept that is humbling yourself.
I have gone on long enough, so goodbye.

Philippians 1:1-26

This passage has one of my all time favorite verses in the Bible. It is 1:6 “Being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This is a great passage and has met a lot to me over the last year and a half. The first time I ever remember hearing this passage was at Saddleback Church which is really where I started to kick off a new segment of my life. That was a weird time, I had moved out to California, I wanted to find a church so I had some people to hang out with since the guys at work were all older then me and went out to bars or spent time with their families. And God started working on me here…first in worship, where it felt like I was back at workcamp, and then I went to crave, the young adult service and small groups, and I made friends. In fact if you are reading this and don’t know one of them we need to have a little talk to catch up, becaus this is where I met Lauren. But it was later that I felt like I heard a little voice say “OK, youv’e had your fun, it’s time to listen to me and what I have to say.” I almost seem to remember God saying it more then once. I think one was while I was walking from the parking lot to main building at the church and then agian during worship, so I’m pretty sure now that God wanted to drive this point home. But I digress, Saddleback was awesome for me. I know Jeff isn’t too fond of what he calls the “guilt letter” that comes out of Saddleback (and you can’t blame him since that church is freakin’ huge and has it’s fingers into more ministries then the local vineyard has members), but if you want to know something about the place other then the “Purpose Driven Church” model that almost every church that is growing is using some derivative of, talk to me or Lauren, because we can tell you a little more then just about how great Rick Warren is. More importantly we can tell you how we met. So I have fond memories about that place and I can go on for a long time about it, but most of what you need to konw is I read Ephesians and Phillipians straight through for the first time while I was attending this church and it really opened my eyes to a lot of things. So, on to the questions.

Q: Why do you think Paul was able to be positive in the face of difficult circumstances? What difficult situations are you facing in your life right now? How might God use these? What can you choose to thank him for?

A: Paul was able to be positive in these circumstances because he new the gospel was being spread even while he was in chains. He also knew that since he was being persecuted in the name of Christ he was blessed. I have recently felt very persecuted for trying to extend a hand to people. God taught me that it isn’t always for naught the other day, by answering a prayer of mine, but none the less that doesn’t make it easy to deal with. One of the things that comforts me is that I know that I am blessed for trying to reach out to people and introduce them to the word of God, and subsequently being persecuted for it. Also, it is good to love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you, (Luke 6:27 my paraphrase) so Paul was praying for his enemies, i.e. the people that locked him up, and this is what I plan to do. If Christianity was easy everyone would do it, which I think is summed up in Luke 6:32-36 says “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” So I figure if I can do this, I can be happy about being in Jail, and for now I can just try to do what this passage says and try to be happy about it. Especially since I think that God can use a joyful follower, even in bad circumstances, to produce good things where if a person is bitter God just moves on to someone else because the only seeds that person sows are bitter ones. I choose to thank God for allowing me a time to develop my character in a way that will make it easier to persevere in the face of ridicule and mocking. I thank God for showing me how to pray for people that I don’t think deserve the time or energy. I thank God for reminding me about some of my own faults so that I can remain humble, and so that I can see where people are about to, or are stumbling where I have in the past. And I thank him for allowing me to learn how to pick those people up after they fall, and for showing me when it isn’t my job to jump in and help those who stumble, but it is his job and he can handle it better then I can on my own. So anyway, I’m tired, and I’ve gone almost into ranting mode, so I will sleep now.
Ben

Ephesians 6:1-24

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (vs 11) I always liked this, the analogy is totally awesome. I like the idea that we not only have protection against the forces of Satan in this world but we have weapons to help us spread the word and come against the darkness. Anyway, if you didn’t know I have a hard time picking between Philippians and Ephesians as my most favorite of Paul’s letters.

Q: Can you think of some times when God has answered your prayers or the prayers of people you know?

A: Just recently a friend who I’ve been praying for for a very long time showed some progress. He had left here angry at me, angry at the world. Every time I talked to him, or tried to help him out with his struggles, he would just balk at me, or try to say something hurtful. But I had all but given up hope….so I prayed for him, and avoided him, a tactic I’m beginning to find fairly effective at keeping me from killing things and most successful at effecting change. At any rate, he wrote me, which is huge, and said that he knew he didn’t leave on the best of terms but being where he is makes him realize what he had that he had been ignoring when he was here, and he had found a church where he is. So, this is God answering my prayers for that situation, and hopefully it will continue through till he is happy in his faith and happy with life. But that was great, so I am confident that God does in fact answer prayers.

Ephesians 5:1-33

This is the passage the contains the infamous passage about wives submitting to husbands. Now a lot of people don’t like this passage this day in age, they say it is sexist and it puts woman down. I would say, yes, Paul is somewhat sexist, and yes this day in age it can be easily read as if Paul is putting woman down. But, it is important to say that if this passage is read in the context of the time it is actually brining woman up. The second part of this sections says “husbands love your wives like Christ loves the Church.” This is really important because at the time this woman were lower then second class. This passage is actually saying that wives cannot rebel against their husbands because they have found Christ, and likewise husbands should treat their wives like human beings. These seem counter intuitive to new Christians for a variety of reasons, but mostly I think the cultural significance of Paul telling husbands not to treat woman as second class anymore is what I find significant. I believe that he is saying that marriage is a relationship not a male dictatorship which is not the trend of the day. Anyway, that is enough of that….I have lots of interesting thoughts about the context of this passage, but I have written enough on this…on to the questions.

Q: How have you been doing with listening to God each day? What makes it hard for you to hear from Him?

A: Man, this is hard. I sorta suck at this….I try to pray and listen to God, but a lot of times, it just ends up with me talking. But I have been trying to listen more carefully later, and I’ve had some success. People have told me that they believe that God wants to give me a vision for the where I’m going. In general after this weekends John Paul Jackson conference it kinda made me jealous of the gifted people around me. Now I know that according to the Bible anyone can hear from God, but it has always been a struggle for me. I’ve always been second guessing myself, and wondering what is God and what is me thinking stuff up in my head, so lately I’ve been listening about as well as I possibly can, and it is pretty good stuff. But now I must go to class.

This entry is late, I should have posted yesterday, but I’m tired and sick, and I had to work on tech team at church, so later today I’ll post the one for today, sorry this one is late.

Ephesians 4:17-32

Paul says in this passage to get rid of “all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander”, and says instead to “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as Christ has forgiven you.”

Q: Which, if any, of these areas do you struggle with?

A: Man, I so have issues with most of this stuff. It is hard not to be easily angered with so many stupid people and bad drivers in this world. I think being kind to each other is, and forgiving one another is the key here. Everyone is prone to bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander at times and what we should do is work to minimize these times by allowing the love of Christ to flow through us. If we are walking around trying to fool ourselves by thinking that these things are absolutely inevitable and we can do nothing to change it we will just end up angry and bitter speaking harsh words about everyone. In life, we don’t have to look far to find a reason to dislike someone….like take my hatred of bad drivers. It is easy to hate someones actions when you don’t have to see them for very long, so bitterness is unlikely, cuz it is like bam, and then I’m over it. But for the longer lasting kind of stuff we have to turn to Jesus, and forgive people as he forgives us. I’ve seen many Christians that are always looking for a reason to dislike the pastor, or dislike the church, or dislike someone around town. Those are typically very bitter and angry people, these are also always the people with all the dirt to dish. So if you are reading this and you typically are looking for information to hold against people, if you want to know things about people because it makes you feel powerful…if you are the one who has to know all the rumors, you might want to take a look at the rest of your life. Are you angry, do you feel like people purposefully stop talking when you walk in a room, do you give people a chance to seriously get to know you or do you judge them based on a select few of your encounters with them. If you fit any of these descriptions you might want to read this passage again and really really think about what you are holding in your heart. For everyone else, you still should re-read this passage too, because there is an area here that we could all do better at. And all of us will not reach our maximum tenderheartedness and kindness without the help of Holy Spirit in our lives.

OK, that is enough….I need to sleep, it is stupid that I am still up, I should have slept to hours ago…..stupid stupid stupid……OK, I’m done with beating myself up…on to bed.

Ephesians 4:1-16

I’m wet, it is wet outside….and I had to walk to the bus stop, got very wet, then I had to walk from the next bus stop to home….got soaked. Just wanted you to know that I’m wet while I’m writing this…..and my basement will probably flood, but now I’m just being pessimistic.

Q: What are some ways that God has used you to bring his love and grace to others? What is something specific you can do to use your special gifts or abilities to serve someone today?

A: God is currently using me as a small group leader, which is really good because I feel that my skills lend themselves to gathering people together, and I like to talk about the Bible and learn new things. Specifically I could use my gifts to identify with some people that normally fall by the wayside. That could open up all sorts of doors for serving people in ways that I like to do. I like inviting people to my house for good times and food, I’ve always been one of those people with an open door.

But now I must leave for the John Paul Jackson thing…..Later.

Ephesians 3:1-21

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness.” (Eph. 3:17b-19) Before I go on with the questions I would like to say that this part really spoke to me. There was a point when knowing with my head was most of what was going on in my spiritual life. But knowing love in my heart is what makes the difference. I know there are a lot of people that were like me. They have heard the message, they understand in their heads that there was a guy who died and it was so some sins could be forgiven or something, and that is good. But what is lost is the peace in their hearts that this is something that you can benefit from. I knew that the eternal was important, but the right here and now benefit is the reason I am trying to move toward Christ. It used to be an insurance policy type of thing. I knew in my head what the Bible said I understood what you were supposed to do and why, but that didn’t sound very fun, so I did my own thing. But after a while I started trying to change how I dealt with people, and I realized that the solution to changing my relationships was already in the Bible. I tried everything else, but only when I forgot myself and focused on the other people around me did things actually change. So, what I’m saying is that knowing who God/Jesus/Holy Spirit really is isn’t in your head, it is in your heart. This is the difference between Bible stories and wishing to grow in knowledge so that you can be moving in the will of God…this is also the difference between singing songs and truly praising God because he is worthy and that is what he desires, and when you truly know God in your heart you can be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. I spent far too much time being overly cynical and thinking that God wasn’t trying to reach me, but my feelings and thoughts were the product of an over-active imagination and/or being caught in a moment. There is a certain amount of healthy cynicism, i.e. not constantly being caught in a moment, but being open to what God is doing and not writing off constantly….that is a change for me that has happened over the past two years. This is the difference now as shown in Mathew 13:14-15, “You will be hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Now, off with the ranting about thoughts on that verse, and on to the question.

Q: In what ways has God dissolved relational barriers in your own life? How are your relationships today – at home, at work, at school, in your neighborhood, with others in the church? Bring to God any strained relationships in your life and invite him to work through you to bring peace and reconciliation.

A: Over the past several years I have learned a lot about relationships with people around me. God specifically has taught me over the last year or so that the answers that I have arrived at on my own in the past were in the Bible all along. Specifically I have been shown that the first place I should go is the Bible, don’t asses people, don’t make assumptions about anyones motivations or intentions, but instead go first to the Bible, and see what God tells me to do whenever a relationship is stressed. Today I do pretty well with my relationships at work, at school and at home. I would like to have done better before some of my roommates moved out, that was a stressful time, and I ended up being so stressful that I needed to remove myself from the situation which resulted in me just not talking to a roommate for more then three words at a time for a period of a couple months.

Class, need to bail….later
Ben

Ephesians 1:1-23

The beginning of Ephesians is focused on the Holy Spirit moving in the church. I like the book of Ephesians, it is one of the only books where Paul doesn’t rip into the church for screwing up. But with that, on to the questions.

Q: Have you experienced the Holy Spirit moving in your life? If so, what have your experiences been like?

A: I’ve seen people experience a broad range of visible effects as well as seen outward expressions of inward changes from the Holy Spirit, but I tend more toward inward the inward experiences. I’ve felt overwhelming peace, joy and even sorrow when from the Holy Spirit. I’m not one that is big on emotions, I don’t become easily emotional over much of anything, and I don’t particularly like getting all touchy-feely. But, I know that it is in fact the Holy Spirit that brings emotions to the surface with the understanding he brings. A while back I was overwhelmed by sorrow because a full blast realization of what Jesus did for me when he died on the cross occurred to me. That is sad, I screwed up my life and Jesus paid for it. I’ve also felt the warm tingly sensation, and I’ve gone weak in the knees before, but God has yet to put me on the floor (knock on wood). Sometimes it is a sense of peace I get, almost like a wave washing over me. That is usually when I’m stressing about something, but sometimes just when I’m happy I will get a sense of peace like that. There are other specific examples of the Holy Spirit moving in my life, but I could write about that for a long time, so I will spare you and say that you can ask me later in person if you want to know that bad.
Later, Ben

Galatians 6:1-18

Reflect
Paul told the Galatians, “I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus” (6:17). He experienced many joys but also a great deal of resistance as he told people about Jesus, prayed for the sick, cast out demons, and served the poor. What struggles have you faces as you have done these same things?

A: It is hard for me to not feel like I’m not doing any good. Often I think that I’m ill equipped to do some of these things. I know that it is never me that is doing anything, except serving the poor, and it is in fact God doing things through me. I have prayed against demons, with little to mild success. Once I was praying for someone and my arm felt like it was simultaneously burnt, froze and electrocuted, and I saw something in my mind like a dark figure. After some discussion it was decided that it was in fact a daemon and I didn’t really have any success praying against that to leave, but I was pretty freaked out by then, and my arm still hurt. So that makes it tough sometimes because when I pray for people with demonic problems it is hard not to remember that pain in my arm. I’ve never prayed for someone for healing and seen it happen, so sometimes that makes it tough not to question myself when praying for healing. So anyway, that about sums it up. Next we are moving into Ephesians, a great book.