Saturday, February 28, 2009


Based on 2 Kings 7

It’s interesting to me how God frames some of His most amazing work in desperation. It’s like the darkness of life’s circumstances become the setting that allow His work to be showcased. That’s the way it is throughout the Scriptures, and poignantly so in this story.

Read it in your Bible or at (Check out 2 Kings 6:24-33 to get the background.)

Samaria, the capital of the renegade tribes of Israel, is besieged by an enemy; the people are dying from starvation, to the extent that a woman agrees to kill and eat her own child in order to live for one more day; the king has given up hope and instead of calling out to God, is looking for someone to blame, and God’s representative Elisha is the perfect target.

Desperation rules the day.

As desperate as it is within the city, where the city walls built to protect them have become the bars on their prison cell, outside the walls is a community of contagious people who aren’t even afforded the protection of living within the city walls. Excluded and cast off by the people in their community, they are open to attack by any and every enemy.

They have no control over the disease that has come upon them, no control over being rejected by others, and have accepted the reality that they are unfit for human contact, unwelcome, and unprotected from the enemy that surrounds them.

They are trapped, with no place to go.

What “un-[fill_in_the_blank]“ word describes your life?

What circumstances in your life have you feeling trapped?

But God is on the move.

Their point of desperation becomes God’s opportunity to showcase His activity.

What’s interesting when you stop and think about it is that these lepers don’t demonstrate much faith, as we tend to think of it. There is no record of them calling out to God, believing that He will intervene, counting on His character or His promises. They actually think that perhaps their enemies will be merciful to them.

Funny, isn’t it, how we long for God’s mercy and look for it in other places, while we are quick to accuse Him of not being merciful? But that’s for another time…back to the lepers.

Their actions are a simple act of survival, born out of the desperate nature of their circumstances. It’s a “something is better than nothing” attitude, an “anything is better than this” decision that prompts them to move.

What they don’t know in the moment is what the outcome will be. And so, their act of desperation becomes an act of faith. They choose to move, without visible evidence that God is anywhere in the picture.

What desperate circumstances have you feeling like your back is up against the wall?

What seems like the only way forward?

Do you dare to believe that God is somewhere in the mix, that He is the one moving, drawing you forward even if you can’t see Him past the enemy that blocks your view?

What they discover is that God is in the mix.

Their desperate circumstances, the very things that brought them to the point of deciding that now is the time to do something, is their doorway into discovering God’s power and provision, for them and for others.

Because God was on the move.

He used a sense of desperation to move the lepers forward. He used desperation, a fear of imminent danger and impending doom, to cause the enemy army to scatter.

The enemy uses desperation as a strategy to trap you, to immobilize you. God uses desperation as a tool to move you into the future He is creating.

What if God wants to use your feelings of desperation to get your attention, to open your eyes to see the situation in front of you from His perspective?

What if God wants to use your feelings of desperation to bring you to the end of yourself so that you’re ready to move beyond hopelessness into a place where you can discover His plan?

What if desperation is really the doorway to the future that God has planned?

An interesting thread in this story is the words of the prophet Elisha. As God’s representative, he dares to say out loud—and to the person in charge—that even in these desperate circumstances, God is at work.

His words frame the story:

Elisha said, "Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says:…—v. 1

…as the LORD had said…And that is exactly what happened…—v. 16, 20

What words of hope and confidence is the Lord giving you in the midst of desperate circumstances?

Who needs to hear them?

Are you looking for God in the midst of the desperate situation that surrounds you?

Jesus said—

"My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working."—John 5:17. God is on the move.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."—John 16:33. There is hope for us when things are desperate.

Jesus’ words to Paul when he despaired, were—

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9. Jesus chooses to use desperate people who turn to Him in their weakness, and depend on His grace to keep moving forward. Look how he used Paul!


To view the worship celebration related to this Next Step, visit

Can I Be Held Responsible for My Irresponsibility?

Based on Nehemiah 1-2

As you read through the beginning of Nehemiah’s story (check the Table of Contents in your Bible or go to
to find it), you find a man who holds a responsible, trusted position, serving the king.

Kings and queens today often hold symbolic, ceremonial positions and responsibilities. Kings in Nehemiah’s day held absolute control over their people and were often served by slaves from the nations they had conquered. This was Nehemiah’s case.

Nehemiah was a Jewish man serving in the court of a foreign nation that had taken God’s people captive. When God moved in the heart of Cyrus (see 2 Chronicles 36:20-23 and Ezra 1:1-10) to allow the Jews to return to their homeland after their captivity, Nehemiah was one of the Jews who remained in captivity. Yet, when Nehemiah hears about the state of Jerusalem and its people, his heart is overwhelmed with the news of their need.

Nehemiah begins to pray and look for opportunities to become part of the solution for his brothers and sisters in need. He takes his personal concern and grief to the Lord, humbly seeking God’s intervention.

Although he has no pertinent skill or expertise to offer, Nehemiah makes himself available to God, willing to be used however God sees fit. While he waits for God to make the next step clear, Nehemiah devotes himself to prayer and to serving the master who has the authority to release him or keep him serving in his current position.

Where is God calling you to make yourself available to respond to the needs of others?

Throughout the Bible, we see stories of men and women remaining faithful in their current life circumstances, seeking God in those circumstances, and being willing and ready to respond when God calls.

We also read stories of people who used their current circumstances as excuses to avoid God’s call.

Which group do you fit into?


1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management (often fol. by to or for): He is responsible to the president for his decisions.

2. involving accountability or responsibility: a responsible position

3. chargeable with being the author, cause, or occasion of something (usually fol. by for): Termites were responsible for the damage.

4. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action: The defendant is not responsible for his actions.

"responsible." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 14 Feb. 2009.>.

Scripture is clear that both men and women were created to respond to God’s call and response + able for God’s world. The fact that God gave us this responsibility means that we are accountable to God for how we use our response + ability to respond to the needs around us.

How does this definition of responsibility as “response + ability” change your perspective on what it means to live responsibly?

Are you pursuing God’s direction in living response + ably?

Redeeming Response + Ability

Sin has twisted our understanding of responsibility.

We may refuse to accept responsibility for our lives, and play the victim.

We may twist our understanding of responsibility and try to control things we were never meant to control, like God or other people.

We may run from responsibility, shoving it off toward others and burdening them with false responsibility and guilt.

We may hand over our responsibility to others, choosing to blame them for our inability to live the lives God calls us to live.

We may consciously or unconsciously take on more responsibilities than God asks us to take on, over-scheduling our lives, making us ineffective, and keeping us from being response + able to God’s voice when He speaks.

Which of these distorted concepts of responsibility tempts you or describes you?

Response + Able to God

God, as the one to whom we are first and ultimately response + able, has the right to determine the area and extent of our response + ability. When we pursue God and respond to our circumstances by depending on Him, our responses reveal His life-giving power.

For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord… For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written:
" 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
'every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.' "

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.—Romans 14:7-12

What do you need to give up in order to live response + ably from God’s perspective?

Ultimately, in the midst of the people and needs that call for our attention, God is the one who deserves first attention, sets our priorities, and gets the final word. Are you asking Him to show you where He wants you live response + ably?

This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”Isaiah 48:17

For whom and for what has God already given you response + ability? Nehemiah continued to be response + able where he was until God’s power and timing opened the door for him to do more. Centuries later, Paul’s words echo Nehemiah’s mindset and role model for us

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.—Colossians 3:15-17, 23, 24

What longing to make a difference is God placing in your heart as you pursue Him?

What obstacles are you trusting God to overcome so that you can live your life response + ably?

To view the worship celebration related to this Next Step, visit

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shipwrecks and Snakebites

Based on Acts 27-28

Shipwrecks and snakebites…can leave you disoriented. They tend to occur (as does the subsequent disorientation) when things don’t go as planned, or as we planned, at any rate.

Skim Acts 27:1 – 28:10 with the following questions in mind:

  • How many course corrections did Paul and his travelling companions have to make?
  • What kind of obstacles did they have to overcome?
  • How did God show up along the way to encourage and protect Paul?
  • How did God use Paul throughout his journey?
  • When all was said and done, what do you think stood out most to Paul from his experience?

Now it’s your turn:

How many course corrections have you had to make recently?

Maybe you feel like you’ve been struggling to make headway, fighting to stay on course. Paul certainly experienced that.

Listen to some of the words Luke recorded:
  • · The winds were against us
  • · We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty
  • · The wind did not allow us to hold our course
  • · We moved along the coast with difficulty
  • · Much time had been lost
  • · Sailing had already become dangerous
  • · Paul warned them, ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous’
  • · A wind of hurricane force
  • · The ship was caught in the storm
  • · So we gave way to it and were driven along
  • · We took such a violent battering from the storm
  • · Neither the sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging…

What kind of obstacles are you trying to overcome?

In addition to the seemingly unending, violent weather, don’t forget that Paul started out on this journey as a prisoner, bound for his trial in Rome. And that was just the start.

His warnings of danger were ignored by those in charge.

A change of wind turned out NOT to be the good news they had hoped for. The lifeboat, and even the ship itself, were in danger of capsizing. The cargo had to be thrown overboard to help them survive, along with the equipment for sailing the ship. They had to destroy the lifeboat to keep the experienced sailors from abandoning them.

They were all in constant suspense, to the point that they didn’t eat for 14 days. The soldiers guarding them planned to kill them. The ship began to break up and they had to abandon it to save their lives.

The storm continued as they reached land, and when they built a fire to warm themselves, a deadly viper was in the branches! People judged him wrongly, condemned him, and ignored him.

Have you ever had a stretch like that?

How is God showing up to encourage and protect you along the way? How is He using you in other people’s lives during these times?

God caused Paul’s Roman guard to show kindness to Paul. God allowed Paul to reconnect with friends, friends who cared for his needs. God used Paul to warn the crew of the difficulties ahead.

When they went ahead anyway, God sent an angel to encourage Paul and to offer words of hope, courage, and a promise that they would be safe. The Roman guard listened to Paul’s warning when the sailors were going to abandon them. Paul ministered to the sailors, feeding them, and encouraging them to stay strong and not give up hope. God preserved their lives when the ship wrecked on the sandbar.

God kept the Roman guards from carrying out a plan to kill Paul, and he supernaturally protected him from the viper’s poisonous bite. God provided a home and a warm welcome with the island’s leader.

Finally, God gave Paul a platform for ministry. He opened the door for Paul to heal many people in Jesus’ name.

When the time came to leave, the bedraggled prisoner who first arrived on the island left in high honor, with all his needs supplied for the journey ahead.

What an amazing story of an underdog battling against the odds of circumstance, nature, and man, yet being used by God in the midst of the struggle. In the midst of it all, God protected Paul, preserving him for the purposes God had in mind for him. He guided Paul through the storm, encouraging Paul, and using Paul to pass on the wisdom and encouragement he received from God.

What about you? Where is God calling you to keep focused on Him in the midst of the storm? How are you passing that encouragement along to others?

When all is said and done, what will you focus on—the hardships along the way, or the grace of God that carries you through, gives you opportunities to minister to others, and opens new doors to reveal His grace as a direct result of the journey you’ve taken?

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. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.—Paul, writing to the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 3-11

To view the worship celebration Bible study on which this Next Step is based, visit

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Crowing Over Failure

January 25, 2009

Based on Luke 22:54-62

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."

But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.

A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them.”

"Man, I am not!" Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."

Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!”

Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Crowing over failure. Peter certainly was not crowing over failure at this particular moment. Failure was crowing over Peter.

Perhaps you know the rest of the story. Perhaps you know that Jesus restores Peter, perhaps you know the patterns of Peter’s life, perhaps you know his successes as well as his failures, perhaps you know how God used him.

Perhaps, though, you (or someone you know) are struggling with the word failure, like Peter was at that moment. When knowing that he had just let down his best friend, his God, and all of his other friends, was the overwhelming reality of his life. And he wept. Bitterly.

Some people shrug off failure like the proverbial water on a duck’s back. Others allow it to define them…or others. They seem to want to live in the failure, to be perpetual screw-ups, reliving the moment(s) of their failure, forcing others to relive failure, bowing down before failure as if it is the only thing that matters, as if failure is God’s last word to us.

For those of who don’t live in rural settings, the image of crowing over something relates more to Peter Pan than to roosters. We think of crowing over something as boastful, arrogant, brash, a mark of immaturity.

Yet Jeff painted an incredible picture of Jesus redeeming even the rooster’s crow in Peter’s life, infusing that daily sound with grace, replacing memories of failure with memories of restoration, renewed hope, and purpose, as a way of reminding Peter that each new day is a new opportunity to live for God. A picture for us of how Jesus wants to restore even the very reminders of our failures.


Where have you failed?

Have you faced the reality of your failure, as Peter did? Owning responsibility for our behavior, for our failures, opens the door to forgiveness. (Luke 22:52-64)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.—1 John 1:9

Have you spent time with Jesus, reconciling your relationship with Him? (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:4; John 21)

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.
—Psalm 103:11-13

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.—Hebrews 4:15, 16

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.—Revelations 3:20

Have you been reconciled to those who were impacted by your actions? Are there steps you need to take to be reconciled with others who have been wounded by your failure? (Peter reconnected with the other disciples. See John 20 and 21.)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God….Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”—Matthew 5:9, 23, 24

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.—James 5:16

Are you ready? Ready to move on? Ready for God to redeem your failures? To restore your life? To recast even the memory of your failure?

"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.”
—Isaiah 43:18, 19

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
—Lamentations 3:22, 23

Are you willing to offer the same forgiveness, reconciliation, human encouragement, restoration, and hope to others who have failed?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”—Matthew 18:21, 22

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."—Mark 11:25

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.—Philippians 2:1-4

To view the worship celebration related to this Next Step, visit

Knocking Holes in the Ceiling

January 18, 2009

Based on Romans 4:18-21

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, there are some great scenes of Gandalf the Gray, a wizard, visiting the home of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit. Hobbits are small beings, resembling humans, who live in nicely furnished burrows dug into the sides of hills. Wizards, on the other hand, are tall and slim. Imagine then, Gandalf stooping to enter Bilbo’s dwelling, ducking under doorways and past chandeliers, as he follows Bilbo from room to room. It provides some humorous moments!

I sometimes wonder if that’s how God experiences it when we invite Him into our lives.

Where He wants us to expand our hearts, minds, and souls to grasp the wonder, mystery, and power of Him, we try to compress Him to fit into our pre-existing framework.

We don’t understand what He is doing, so we pray for Him to stop. When He doesn’t stop, we beg Him to stop. When He keeps going, we demand that He stop.

How do you respond when God bumps into something you’ve placed in your life that gets in the way of what He wants to do in you and through you?

Do you ignore it so that you won’t have to talk about it with Him?

Do you complain about Him touching your things?

Do you ask Him to stop?

Do you question His authority to move around freely within you?

Do you want Him to make Himself at home in you?

What if He knocks a few holes in the ceiling to let some daylight, some God-light, into your life?

What if He wants to rearrange your priorities?

What if He wants to throw out some of the trash?

What if He has a better idea?

What if He wants to rip the roof off of your house or tear it down completely before He begins rebuilding?

What if the rebuilding process goes on for months, years, or even decades?

What if God’s re-creation of your life is a lifelong process?

Is that what you signed on for when you invited Him in?

Thoughts from God—

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
—Isaiah 55:8-12

Allow God’s Spirit to roam freely within you. Let Him knock holes in the ceiling of your understanding and faith, so that He can reveal God’s truth to you and give you peace as He rearranges your life until God lives fully within you and you develop the very mind of Christ—

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.—John 14:26, 27

However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” [Isaiah 64:4]—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned... "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 2:9-16

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!—2 Corinthians 5:17

I’m reminded of a Christian classic Your God is Too Small, by J. B. Phillips. And I wonder if God isn’t using the things that shake me so that I will come to know that He is the God of Abraham, the God who loves to knock holes in the ceiling of my life and do what I think can't be done!

To view the worship celebration related to this Next Step, visit