Monday, November 24, 2008

Planting a Thanks-Living Tree

Based on Psalm 71

Quick, name 10 things you are thankful for—


Was it easy? Difficult? Was ten a stretch? Or can you keep on going?

The problem with celebrating Thanksgiving one day a year is that the fourth Thursday of November catches us at a different place in life each year. Some years things are going great, some years life has taken a nasty turn. That’s life.

It’s easy to praise God, to give thanks, to have a thankful heart, when things are going well. But what about when things aren’t going well? How easy is it for you to give thanks when things don’t look good?

Jesus gave thanks to God even when there wasn’t much to give thanks for—a very small amount of food to feed a very large amount of people—

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.—Matthew 14:19

Where do you feel like you don’t have very much to be thankful for? What is the “little bit” that you can thank God for?

A danger of ignoring God’s basic gifts and not thanking Him is that this kind of lifestyle results in clouded, futile thinking and causes people to become fools—

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…
—Romans 1:20-22

Where have you stopped giving God credit for your life and the gifts He has given you? How has that affected your thinking and attitude?

Thanking God even in the midst of anxiety allows God’s peace to transform our perspective—

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:4-7

What difference do you think focusing on thanksgiving when you are anxious could make in your life?

What are you anxious about? What do you want God to do about these things? What can—and will—you thank Him for in this situation?

The Next Step is easy—begin a practice of thanking God as a way of life. Use the Scriptures above and the categories Jeff suggested in the worship celebration to guide you.

Each day, thank God for—
Who you are
What He has done for you
What He is doing for you moment-by-moment

As you read Scripture—
• Look for descriptions of God’s character and thank Him for who He is. Look for His promises and thank Him that His promises are true and dependable.
• Look for descriptions of His power and thank Him that His power is more than enough to meet your needs.
• Look for instances of His protection and care for His people and thank Him that He protects, sustains, and cares for you in ways of which you may be unaware.
• Thank Him that all that He is, He is for you.

Allow this habit of thanksgiving to transform your life into thanks-living, 24/7/365.

Why not start now by continuing that list you started earlier?

To view the Worship Celebration related to this study, click

Saturday, November 22, 2008

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape”

Based on John 21:15-21

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.”Proverbs…oops!

Oh yeah, this isn’t a scripture reference, it’s one of those pithy sayings that you know is true the moment you hear it, whether you’ve ever chased a rabbit or not. Ask Elmer Fudd and he’ll tell you that chasing one rabbit is enough to keep you busy for a lifetime.

(Permit me to start with a personal confession, if you will. I’ve owned a rabbit, two of them, actually, just not at the same time. I know that chasing one rabbit alone is a challenge, they’re quick and they turn on a dime. And I’ve actually chased multiple rabbits at once, given that once upon a time I worked as an attendant for an Easter promotion called Bunnyland. I’m guessing you can figure that one out.)

John 21:15-21 isn’t about rabbits. The passage recounts Jesus’ conversation with Peter after the cross and Jesus’ resurrection. Take a listen—

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

Jesus is very specific with Peter. Loving Jesus is an all-consuming activity that shapes a person’s whole life.

There is no looking for success (although there were successes in Peter’s life). There is no looking around at other people to compare your life with theirs. There is no room for self-promotion.

There is only loving Jesus so much that your life begins to be shaped by the things that are central to Him—loving God and serving others on the Father’s behalf.

How has your love for Jesus reshaped your focus in life?

From the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 through His final talks with the disciples before the cross, Jesus speaks of living life with the single focus of loving God and serving others. (See Matthew 6:19-24; 31.)

In Matthew 22, Jesus inseparably links loving God and loving others.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40

After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus gives them a new command

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

Jesus’ words cut across our very human and self-centered natures. He asks us to take all the energy we spend on our own lives, focusing on our personal needs and wants, and aim it upward to God and outward to others, as He did.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”—Mark 10:45

New Testament writers continue this theme

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love….You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.—Galatians 5:13

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.—1 John 3:18

Where is your faith and love for God spilling over into action so that others actually experience God’s love through you?

Serving others took Jesus into the messy reality of people’s lives. Serving others took His first followers out of their comfort zones. Servants don’t get to chose the who, what, when, and where of serving.

While serving others on Jesus’ behalf is a noble cause, it is often less than glamorous. Even Jesus’ most noble and significant moment of serving us on the cross was filled with agony, sweat, pain and tears.

Jesus’ servants serve as He did, where God sends them, as He needs us to serve.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”
John 12:26

How does your love for God enable you to keep serving when the going gets tough?

Keep your focus on the single focus that Jesus calls us toloving God and loving others as an expression of our love for God. Allow Him to pour His love into you so that you can draw from the inexhaustible wells of His love.

People are difficult to love. Jesus knows that. You aren’t limited to loving and serving others out of your own supply of self-centered love. As you allow God’s love to permeate your life, it will begin to reshape you, to saturate you, and to overflow from you into the lives of those closest to you.

How are you deepening your love relationship with God, to allow His love to permeate your life, so that He can love others through you?

Who do you need God’s Spirit to empower you to love? What would that look like?

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 of God.—Ephesians 3:17-19

Jesus is askingDo you love me?

Who are you serving and loving in Jesus’ name?

To see the worship celebration linked to this Bible study, go to

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Half Time Talk

Based on Acts 1

What’s your favorite halftime speech? Was it one you heard as a player on a sports team? Maybe a scene from a sports movie comes to mind.

Halftime talks come right in the middle of the game. Whether your team is up or down, you’ve been struggling to achieve a goal, to win, and there’s more to come. You aren’t done yet, this is just a brief break in the action to help you catch your breath and regroup before heading into the next phase of the game.

Acts 1 is that halftime place between Jesus’ victory on the cross and the viral spread of His message through the followers He commissions to go back onto the field. They’ve experienced tremendous things as they walked with Jesusmiracles that defy human explanation; teaching that amazes, astounds, and confounds human logic; and love and forgiveness that creates an intimacy they’ve never known before.

After Jesus’ amazing and seemingly unbelievable resurrection from the dead, they’ve spent 40 days in His presence. It’s been a time unlike any other they’ve ever experienced. As Jesus points them to the future, He promises them power from on high, supernatural power, the ability to do even more than He has done.

Now comes the bombshellHe’s leaving. He won’t be with them in person as they move out of the locker room and back onto the field. Initially, they misunderstand.

“So, is it time, then? Are you calling the game? Is it time for the post-game party?”

No, that’s not the plan. The game will continue. With the score unchangeably in their favor, they need to go out and play, giving it all they’ve got, confident that they will prevail.

Where are you in the game of life, in the struggle to live out your faith in God in the midst of your personal circumstances?

Are you sitting on the bench, waiting to get in the game? Maybe you’re dirty and bruised, limping a bit. Maybe you’ve had some great plays and you can’t wait for more. Maybe you’re tired, even discouraged.

Halftime is a time to pull aside and hear what the coach has to say. He’s committed to you, he knows your strength and ability, and he has a game plan. He wants to motivate you for what’s to come, to get you re-energized so you can give it all you’ve got until the very last second of the game.

Discouragement always steals hope, energy, focus, and courage. Discouragement is never from God, it is a tool used by the enemy of our souls to cause us to doubt God’s love and ability to work in and through us.

Jesus had times of discouragement and fatigue that caused Him to turn to the Father for the encouragement He needed to keep going. Because He received encouragement from God, He was able to pass on that same encouragement to His disciples.

What tends to discourage you?

I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the word courage is at the heart of the word encouragement. When I am encouraged, I find the hope and resolve to move forward, to commit myself anew, and to see the possible steps I can take to move ahead as I envision a future characterized by life and hope.

How does encouragement affect your ability to live life?

How does God encourage you when you’re discouraged?

Where do you need encouragement right now and how do these Scripture passages encourage you to get back in the game?

John 14:16, 17

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to 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.

Romans 1:11, 12

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

Romans 8:26, 27

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

Romans 8:34

Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Romans 12:6-8

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Romans 15:4-6

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Philippians 2:1-4

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

If you’re in need of a halftime talk, I hope you’ve found words of encouragement here, words that reinvigorate you and give you the courage you need to get back in the game.

One final word of encouragement

Great halftime speeches are meant to be remembered and shared. Ask God to send someone your way who needs encouragement, and then encourage them with the encouragement He has given you. Point them to Him, the Great Encourager.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Whatta Comeback!

Based on 1 Peter 5:10

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Peter’s two letters in the back of the New Testament are often overlooked. It’s easy to do, I guess. They’re short, hard to find, and they are, after all, near the end of the Bible, tucked away between Hebrews and Revelation.

Peter himself has a larger-than-life reputation, mostly centered on his early days. We remember him as a fisherman, bold and confident, proclaiming Jesus as Messiah before contradicting Jesus’ plan; walking on water before sinking and calling out to Jesus to rescue him; refusing Jesus’ offer to clean his feet before asking Jesus to wash his hands and head as well; proclaiming his loyalty before denying and deserting Jesus…and the list goes on. (Try doing a word search at on “Simon Peter” to skim through Peter’s life in the New Testament.)

Peter’s successes are recorded for all to see, along with his failures. As hard as it is for us to have others know how we’ve failed, Peter’s failures help us relate to him.

Where do you identify with Peter’s failures?

We find common ground in the shared reality of knowing that, even with the best of intentions, we all fail—and sometimes we fail spectacularly, as Peter did.

When you stop to think about it, Peter’s failures, in and of themselves, aren’t really what draw us to him. I think it’s actually the way Jesus meets Peter in the midst of his failure that gives us hope.

While we might be tempted to write off someone who fails as often as Peter did, Jesus never does. Jesus doesn’t overlook Peter’s failures, nor does He abandon Peter in the midst of his failure; rather, Jesus confronts Peter’s failures and restores Himtime and time again.

Where are you in need of a comeback?

God’s restorative nature is revealed early in His relationship with His people. In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve disobey God in the Garden of Eden, God comes looking for them, refusing to leave them isolated and trapped in their sin. His question to themand to usreveals His heart: “Where are you?” God’s desire for relationship with His people is so great that He humbles Himself to meet us at the point of our need.

The theme of restoration stretches throughout the Old Testament, finding some of its most poignant expression in the Psalms.

Which of the following Psalms speaks to your need for restoration today?

Psalm 23 speaks of the LORD’s intimate care of us

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Psalm 51 is a heartfelt cry for mercy and restoration

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Listen to the last part of Psalm 71 as the writer declares his hope that he will see God’s restoration in the midst of the troubles in his life

19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God,
you who have done great things.
Who, O God, is like you?

20 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.

21 You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.

22 I will praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—
I, whom you have redeemed.

24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
have been put to shame and confusion.

Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, God’s anointed one, spoke of one who would bring restoration for God’s people, which many of Jesus’ followers interpreted as political restoration for the nation of Israel. In contrast, Jesus brought restoration to individuals, restoring withered bodies and sight to the blind, restoring dignity and worth to those who had been cast aside, and restoring broken relationships with God.

What kind of restoration are you longing for today?

As a follower of Jesus, Peter experienced His restoration firsthand. Peter wrote to brothers and sisters in Christ in 1 Peter 5:10, sharing his personal testimony that God will not leave us at our point of failure, that there is hope beyond failure, that God is a God of “comebacks.” He meets us in our brokenness, restores us, and calls us to move forward in faith, living out of the overflow of relationship with Him, in the power of His Spirit.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

What personal testimony of restoration can you share with others to encourage them?

Timothy, one of Peter’s contemporaries, reminds us that Jesus is wholeheartedly committed to us

if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
—2 Timothy 2:13

Our brokenness, the point at which we acknowledge our failure, is not the end of the road, it is the starting point for the restoration and hope that Jesus offers us. Let your brokenness lead you to hope in Christ, not your own efforts; then let that hope find its fulfillment in Him and let your life become a living work of restoration that draws others to Christ.

It’s never too late and you’re never too far gone. Just ask Peter.

Brokenness is realizing He is all we have.

Hope is realizing He is all we need.

Joy is realizing He is all we want.

—Larry Crabb