AWANA

Love Does (AWANA Kid’s Talk)

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Love Does

When I was asked to speak here this evening, I grabbed onto a theme that I’d already spoke to another group about. They’re going through a book called “Love Does” and discussing what it means to love people in a real, hands-on, practical, concrete, expressive, applied way. I really appreciate that theme and was excited to do a little studying about it – and want to share what I found with you guys.

I’m sure you’ve already talked about the importance of living out what we say we believe. That’s the opposite of being a hypocrite, right? A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another – or for that matter who says that they believe something, but it doesn’t change anything about their life that shows they really believe it. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Someone says, “Wow, I really need to study more. I just failed a test, I’m failing my classes, the teacher has called my parents, and I’m in serious trouble if I don’t get myself together and start to study.” What do you expect them to be doing with themselves after school for the next while? Studying, right? But if they leave school and have no books, no backpack, and have made plans to play every day after school – and then when you talk to them they tell you about all the movies and games they’ve been playing  – do you think they really believed that they needed to study?  Of course not. Their behaviour – what they are doing – isn’t lining up to what they’re saying.

Or here’s another one. You’re picking teams for basketball, and a guy stands up and yells, “Hey! I want to be on your team! Pick me, pick me! I’m really good! I’m great at basketball!”. So you pick him – and when the game comes, he’s wearing the wrong shoes and is eating a box of doughnuts and a big pop right before the game. When he gets onto the court he keeps getting fouls for not dribbling, doesn’t know how to shoot, and keeps tripping over people because he’s out of position. So you go to him and say, “You said you were really good at basketball, but you’re terrible!” and they say, “Oh! Well, I watch it on TV all the time, know all the teams and rules, and even play it on the Playstation all the time.”

What do you think of that guy? He’s a hypocrite, right? For all he knows about basketball, it doesn’t mean he actually plays, does he?

Would you trust a doctor that has only ever studied the books but has never actually seen a sick person in real life? Would you trust someone to paint a picture for you who says they are an “expert in art”, but has never picked up a paintbrush? Would you call someone an expert chef if they’d only memorize a whole bunch of recipes, but had never actually been in a kitchen?

Of course not! That’s why your theme of “Love Does” is so important. It’s a reminder that a Christian isn’t someone who merely talks about loving people – but is someone that actually, practically, expressively, really takes time, effort and energy to love people. Let me show you a few verse about where we find this in the Bible – because we find the importance of love doing things all the way though.

Love Obeys God

When God was giving the Law to Israel he said this: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut 10:12-13)

In other words, God says, “The way that you are going to show that you are my people and that you love me isn’t only with your words – it’s with your obedience to what I’m telling you. It’s all for ‘your good’, but it’s also how you and I will know what our relationship is like. If you’re not obeying my commands, then I know you don’t believe me, trust me, obey me, or love me.” In fact, Jesus says the exact same thing to His disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

One way that we show love to God in a practical way is to keep his commandments. That’s something love does.

Love Loves Others

We read it in another place a little differently in the prophet Micah. Micah speaks for the people of Israel who seem to be very confused about how God wants to be worshipped and loved. He says this, “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

What do you want God? How can we love you? How can we show that we want forgiveness? How can we get you into our lives?

And the very simple answer comes in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  It’s almost like he says, “It’s not that complicated, guys! I don’t want your religion and your oils and festivals and feasts – I want your hearts.”

And how do you how God that He has your heart? By loving others in practical, real, ways. What does the Lord require? “DO Justice” –Love fights for people’s rights. “Love kindness” – Love shows people compassion and treats them gently. And then, simply “WALK humbly with your God.” Love walks with God. Those are all action words!

1st John, in the New Testament says this again. The actions of Love are all through scripture! 1 John 3:17: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” James 2:14, says it simply this way, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?… Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”

What good is it to say you know you love God, but don’t show it when people need loving? What good is it to say you’re a Christian if you don’t love people like Christ? What good is it to say you love God’s word, if you don’t read it and obey it?

It’s like we said before? What good is it to say that you are great at basketball, if you have no idea how to play and never try? What good is it to say that you want to be a good student, but then never study? What good is it to say that you’re a great chef, if you never cook anything?

The answer is, “it’s no good.” There’s no point! That kind of faith – the kind that has no connection to what we do is dead! And that’s the point.

Known by Our Love

On the night before He is arrested and sent to the cross, Jesus looks at His disciples and tells them some extremely important things. One of the most important was this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus told his disciples a lot of things that night – and continued to for a long time. He told them about how to get help from God, about the gift of the Holy Spirit, about the need to stay connected to Him, and about the dangers of following Him.

But He made a special point to tell them that if they want to be known as His people – Christians – then the number one way that the world would know, would be that they would love one another.

Our relationship with Jesus starts as we ask Him to be our saviour from sin, because we realize we can’t save ourselves. But our relationship with Him is seen by others –NOT by our fancy churches, or our cool Christian t-shirts, not even mostly by our words – but in how we love each other.

That’s what will make us different. That’s what attracts people. That’s what everyone wants. They want to be part of a group that truly loves one another – no matter what. A group that treats each other with justice, kindness, mercy, and patience. That forgives wrongs and puts others first. That serves people that can’t help themselves or ever pay them back. That goes out of their way to demonstrate love. That group is call the church of Jesus Christ.

That kind of love is what makes the world thirsty for Jesus. When they see His love, worked out practically in our lives, in big and small ways, every day.

Children’s Message: Jesus Loves Kids

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Every now and again I get a chance to speak to a group of AWANA children or at a local Christian school. It’s such a blessing to be able to talk to them about Jesus. What I often do is take a sermon I’ve written for adults, rewrite it and add some more fun and interesting graphics so it will make more sense to children. This is one of those. The original is here.

AWANA - Jesus Loves Kids

Podcast Audio:

Jesus Loves Kids!

favI want to play a game today. I call it “Favourites”. I’ll give you some choices and you tell me which one is your favourite. (CandyLand/BattleShip, AngryBirds/Cut-The-Rope, Chocolate/Vanilla Ice Cream, Sprinkles or No Sprinkes, Dora or Diego, Minions or Elsa). Now, let’s talk a little bit about favourites.

Here’s something you’ve heard many, many, many times: “Jesus Loves You!” Have you been told that before? Probably lots of times, right? Well, let me tell you something else you may not have heard too many times: “Jesus Loves Kids!” Have you heard that before? It’s true! Jesus has a special place in his heart for children just like you. In fact, did you know there is a story in scripture where it shows that Jesus’ favourite people are kids like you?

It’s true! Let me read it to you from Mark 10:13-16:

“One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”

Only Important People

how_F2G13PA.p-P2.tiffSo, I want you to get the picture here in your mind of what’s happening. A bunch of parents are bringing their children to Jesus so He could bless them, talk to them. This has probably happened to you, right? Have you ever been brought somewhere special to meet someone? Maybe you dress up to visit a relative far away, or go to the rink and see a famous hockey player, or have a missionary over to your house. Well, that’s what it was like for these kids. They were being brought by their dads and moms to see Jesus.

Except, what happened when they got there? The disciples looked at their parents and said, “Go away! You’re bothering Jesus with all these children! He has more important things to do than talk to a bunch of kids!”

I’m sure that’s happened to you, right? Have you ever been told to be quiet because the adults were talking? Have you ever been told to go sit at the kid’s table? Have you ever been given a baby sitter so that the parents could go and do something special? Have you ever been stuck in the Sunday school room so the adults could have a big meeting?

Let me tell you a secret: Most of the time, sitting at the kid’s table is BETTER, because the adults are talking about boring things like the news, the weather, the government, their money, and other booooring things. (Actually, there are times that I’d much rather be sitting at the kid’s table with you guys talking about toys and cartoons than with the adults.)

And the disciples were doing exactly the same thing. They thought were helping Jesus by only letting the important people come through. Only the people who were really sick, or town leaders, or other adults who wanted to talk to Jesus. In fact, the Bible says that the disciples were “scolding” the parents! That’s a pretty intense word!

Have you ever been “Scolded”? It means to get in trouble and be yelled at! Think of the last time your mom or dad raised their voice because you got in trouble – that’s what the disciples were doing to the parents who were bringing the kids! “Go away! Get these kids out of here! Adults only!”

Jesus Responds

But look at what Jesus does! What does it say, “When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples.” Now look who’s yelling! It’s Jesus! The disciples are in trouble! Jesus looks at Peter and James and John and the rest of the disciples and says, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!” “Get out of their way! Get these adults out of here, I want to talk to the kids!”

You see! Jesus doesn’t see you guys as less important than adults. In fact, Jesus says here that He wants to be around the kids more than He wants to be around the adults! How does that make you feel? Pretty special, right?

I can just imagine the look on some of the children’s faces when Jesus looks at the adults and tells them to get out of the kid’s way! Can you imagine what that would be like? Having Jesus move everyone else aside – the prime minister, the mayor, the famous people, the teachers, the police men, the really important adults – push them all aside, and bring you and the rest of your friends up to Him. “Get out of the way adults! I want to see the kids!”

Jesus Hugs

And what does Jesus do with them? It says Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.”

Every one of these kids got to talk to Jesus, got a hug from Jesus, and He prayed for them. Each one, in turn. All the adults having to wait quietly while Jesus takes the littlest ones on his knee, talks to them, gives them a big hug, and then prays for them. This is the only place in the whole Bible that I read about Jesus giving someone a hug! And it’s given to children – just like you!

Who do you hug? Do you hug strangers? No! Do you hug people you don’t like? No! You hug people you love, right? You hug friends and family members. I don’t hug very many people, but I love hugging my kids and my wife because I love them in a special way! Hugging is a way we show a special kind of love – it’s only for certain people. And here we see Jesus hugging all of these kids. He didn’t hug the adults! He didn’t hug the disciples! The only people we ever read about Jesus hugging – is when He hugs kids just like you.

Jesus Protects

Let me show you one more other place in the Bible that talks about how Jesus feels about kids like you. It’s from Matthew 18 and it says that as Jesus was teaching a group of adults one day, He brought a little child over to Himself and said:

“…anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me…. Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:2-10)

So Jesus looks at these adults and says, “Kids are very, very important to me. Welcome them like you would welcome me! Treat them with respect and love. Treat them like you would treat me! And be careful how you treat kids – I love them and I have given a special task to the angels to tell God exactly how people are treating the children in this world!”

That’s a big deal, isn’t it! Jesus love you kids so much that He has warned the adults to make sure they love you, respect you, and take care of you. And He’s made sure that all your prayers will be heard, and that anyone who messes with you won’t get away with it.

He loves you, protects you, and has told all of us adults to do the same.

For the Troubled Kids

Now, maybe some of you don’t feel this way today. Maybe you don’t feel like Jesus loves you. Maybe you don’t feel very protected. Maybe you’re going through a hard time, and there have been some adults that have let you down. Maybe you’ve even been hurt or lied to by some adults. Let me tell you that I’m very sorry – that makes me sad.

But let me also tell you that Jesus is there and He loves you. Jesus will never lie to you. He’ll never let you down. I don’t know how it’s all going to end up, but Jesus says He hears all of your prayers and no one will get away with hurting you. In fact, God knows exactly what’s going on and will deal with it. And He’s surrounding you with adults right here who love Jesus, love you, and want the best for you. This place is safe and you can tell your leaders about what’s going on in your life. They will pray for you and try to help. They know that you are Jesus’ favourite people – because you are their favourite people too!

Three Reminders

So let me remind you what I’ve said today, ok?

First, Jesus loves kids and you are one of His favourite people! You may not feel His hug right now, but He is always with you, and if you believe in Him, He will greet you with a big hug someday.

Second, even though some adults will let you down, there are others who have listened to Jesus and believe you are special and worth loving and protecting. These loving adults are a gift from God, and there are many in this room today.

Third, even when you go through tough times, Jesus will always be there to take care of you. He doesn’t think you’re unimportant just because you’re small and young. In fact, He thinks your extra important because you’re small and young! He died on the cross for your sins too – because He loves you. He has special angels looking out for you, and will never forget about you.

Be the Background (Life is Better There)

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AWANA - Be the Background

Every now and again I have the wonderful privilege of speaking to a group of AWANA children. Here’s a talk I gave recently (based on this previous post).

Podcast Audio:

Background is Important

Cartoon BackgroundsCartoons wouldn’t be the same without the background, would they? You’d see the characters doing things, but you wouldn’t know where they were. Why is that guy doing that? Where did that come from? Are they in outer space? Are they in a restaurant? Are they at someone’s house? It’s important to have the background so you can understand what’s happening in the story.

Have you ever thought of that? The importance of the background? We love looking at the main characters, but the background is pretty important, isn’t it? I would say that it is just as important as what’s happening in the story!

Camera’s that Face Us

1016969Well, here’s the problem today – there are a lot of people who want to be the main character in the story, they want to be the superhero, the funny guy, the important person – but they don’t want to be the background. The Bible calls that pride. People who refuse to be in the background, and let other people be up front, are prideful.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  How many of you have a camera, or maybe an iPod with a camera? On a regular camera, the lens – the part that takes the picture – faces outward, away from you. But iPhone or iPod, has a camera that faces you! It’s a camera built for one job – so you can take pictures of yourself!  Did you know there is such a thing as a Selfie Stick, so you can take a picture of yourself from far away? You don’t even need to have anyone else around! Now you don’t need to take pretty pictures of sunsets and cool cars and friends and nature and bugs and stuff – now you can take pictures of yourself and show everyone how cool you are.

That feeds our pride. We don’t just a picture of something. We don’t even want to be people in a picture anymore. We want to be the picture. It’s called a “selfie”, right? That’s pretty close to “selfish”, isn’t it?

And it’s all a way of saying, “I don’t want to be in the background. The background isn’t important. I want to be the main character. I want to be who everyone sees. The background Only losers are part of the background.”

But here’s something that you’re not going to hear from anyone other than a Christian teacher – everyone else will tell you to try to be the main character – only a Christian teacher will say this. Are you listening?

Life is better in the background. (Tweet this quote.)

It’s All About Jesus

That’s how God designed the world. There is one main character, Jesus Christ. He’s the whole story and everyone else is in the background. Even the people who take pictures of themselves and get a million hits on their YouTube video, who are rich and famous and everyone knows their name… they’re all background. And the more they try to be in the front, the more they try to take the place of Jesus, the more miserable they become, and the further they get from God, and who God created them to be.

Why? Because God designed people to worship Him, bring Him glory, sing to Jesus, talk about Jesus, and take care of each other in Jesus name. Jesus is the main character.

John the Baptist

The best example from the Bible I can think of – of a person who knew this and lived it – is John the Baptist.  Have you heard of Him? He was a really cool guy. There’s two things you need to know about him. First, he ate bugs. And second, he had a special job. He was chosen to be God’s megaphone, He was the announcer to Jesus, the person whose job it was to tell everyone that Jesus was coming!

He was chosen before he was born to do this. An angel told his father that “many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.”  And though his life was going to be special, he knew that he was never meant to be the main character.

I Must Become Less and Less

I want to read you a story from the life of John the Baptist found in the Gospel of John 4:26-30 which shows that John lived in the background so Jesus could be the main character.

“…John’s disciples came to him and said, ‘Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.’”

Do you see what happened there? A bunch of John the Baptist’s followers were worried because more people were following Jesus than John! People were talking about Jesus more than John. “Oh no John! Jesus is more popular than you! More people are going to see Him! People like Him more!”.

In other words, “Oh no John! You’re in the background! What are you going to do? Jesus is more special than you! You need to do something to get back into everyone’s view! You don’t want to be in the background, do you?”

Now let me read to you what John the Baptist said to them: “John replied, ‘No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

If there is one line that John the Baptist lived by it was that one: “[Jesus] must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” John new what life is all about, and where he would be most happy – and that was when He was lifting up Jesus’ name, giving Jesus all the praise, and letting others see Jesus. He knew that life was better in the background, because Jesus is the main character.

Missing the Point

Let me ask you a question, but first let me tell you a story:

Imagine you took a friend to the movies. You pay for their ticket, get the popcorn, give them the 3D glasses, pick the seat, and get ready for the movie. So you’re sitting there – ready to go – and what comes on first? The movie trailers right? The little previews to show you what kind of movies are going to be coming soon.

Now imagine if your friend watches the movie trailer for three minutes, gets up, and leaves the theatre. You think he’s going to the bathroom, but as you wait you realize he’s not coming back. Now it’s half way through the movie – it’s been an hour and your friend isn’t coming back. So what do you do? Well, you eat all the popcorn, and you drink your drink – and then you drink their drink – and the movie is so good that you don’t leave until the movie is over. And you realize – your friend never came back!

So you rush down the stairs and into the foyer looking for your friend – they’re not there.  So you rush outside and there’s your friend, sitting on the steps waiting for the car to come and get him.

What would you say? “Where were you?! Where did you go?!” And then your friend replies – “Well, I watched that little movie and I liked it, so I left. I thought that was why we came. That was such a good movie! It’s a shame it was only 3 minutes long. I’m just so glad we came today. And I’ve been sitting outside thinking about that little 3 minute movie for this whole time.”

What would you think? You’d think they were crazy, right?! You missed the movie! You missed the whole point of being here! You missed out on the real move, the whole experience, the whole reason for coming to the theatre! Why would you think the little trailer was the whole movie?! Why would you leave before the movie even starts?!”

It’s All About Jesus

it's all about jesusWell you know what? That’s what we do when we forget that this life is all about Jesus! He’s the reason the whole universe exists. He’s the reason we exist. He designed you! He’s the greatest Saviour. He’s the one who makes everything work. He’s the highest authority – the biggest boss – the king of kings. He’s the one that loves people most. He’s the one who is worshipped and adored. He’s the one who knows everything and is perfectly wise. He’s the one that died on the cross to save everyone from their sin so they could be with Him forever.

And that’s why Christians make such a big deal of Jesus. We’re happy to live in the background because we know it’s all about Jesus. And when we try to take his place – and let our pride get out of hand, thinking that we’re the main character – we get frustrated, sad and lost.

It’s all about Jesus.

Jesus is the movie, we’re just the trailer.

Jesus is the hockey game,we’re just the pregame show.

Jesus is the message, we’re just the phone.

Jesus the letter, we’re just the envelope.

Jesus is the power, we’re just the bulb.

Jesus is the light, we’re just the mirror.

Jesus is the internet, we’re just the computer.

Jesus is the picture, we’re just the frame.

It’s all about Jesus.

You Are AMAZING! (But What if You Don’t FEEL Amazing?)

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Last week I gave a talk to an AWANA group to help them understand that no matter how different they feel, God made them special, with a purpose, and doesn’t make mistakes.

AWANA You Are Amazing - TITLE BANNER

Podcast Audio:

People Can Do Amazing Things

Did you watch the Olympics this year? What’s your favourite sport to watch? Mine is hockey, but I watched a lot of the events this year and each one reminded me how amazing God made people. Just look at them! See how fast, and far, and high they can go. How strong they are! What they can do is truly special, truly incredible! And as amazing as these people are, they only scratch the surface of what people can do! Check out these other amazing things.

Amazing Snowmobile Flip, Amazing Trampolinist, Amazing ToasterAmazing StairsAmazing Wheelchair FlipAmazing SkateboarderAmazing Going to Bed

More Amazingness

That’s pretty cool, but that’s not the only way that God created people to be amazing. Think of all the smart scientists who have cured diseases and made telescopes that can see to the other side of the universe. Think of the engineers who created machines that could blast a human to the moon! Maybe some of you are going to become scientists one day.

And that’s not all. Think of how amazing the people are who God created to be able to make art! Right out of their brains they can come up with movies that make people laugh and cry, sculptures from wood or stone that make people think in new ways, paintings that look like dreams or nightmares or something never seen before, they take pictures of places we’d never be able to visit, write music and create instruments that can make us feel happy or sad or excited or even concentrate better on our homework. Maybe some of you will be amazing artists one day.

Or think about the amazing writers and thinkers who help us see what’s going on in the world or explain things ways that everyone can understand. Some people are amazing thinkers who come up with mathematical formulas, hilarious jokes, write books and stories that change the world. Maybe some of will grow up to be great thinkers.

I’m also amazed by how tough God made us. Think about it — humans have the ability to live through some pretty crazy stuff. There are people living in Arctic cold and in desert heat. We build homes on land, in trees, on mountaintops, in caves, and even and floating on water. We can live without food for days. We can suffer great pain in our bodies, minds and hearts, and still keep on going! Maybe some of you will live lives where you get to use the strength of your body to help people.

God Created Us to be Amazing

Why am I telling you this? Because I want to remind you that God made you to be amazing! Genesis 1:26 says that God created us in His “image”, in His “likeness”. That means that He didn’t just build robots that do whatever He wants, but created us to be partners with Him. He gave us creative, ingenious, unique, imaginative minds… strong, delicate, graceful, careful, explosive bodies… deep, powerful emotions… and a Spirit inside of us that has an echo of the Spirit of God. People are amazing because God is amazing!

When You Don’t Feel Amazing

But what about when you don’t feel that way? Some of you might not feel very amazing right now. You’re not the biggest, or the strongest, or feel like you’re the smartest or the most helpful. You try to remember things, but you still forget. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work out. You try to make something and it doesn’t work, so you feel frustrated. Sometimes you break things accidentally. You try really hard to set the table, or help with dishes, or take care of your doll or your special toy, but it accidentally breaks. Sometimes you cry and you’re not sure why — or get really angry, more than other people and you feel embarrassed – or it seems like everyone around can do more than you and you feel left out.

Or, maybe God made you different – you need glasses, or you were born with a part of your body that doesn’t look like or work like some of your friends. Or maybe you have a hard time concentrating and homework is hard, or you are shorter or taller than other people your age.

Sometimes we don’t feel very amazing and maybe during those times you wonder why God built you that way – that maybe you were an accident, or He wasn’t trying as hard when he designed you, or that you did something wrong to deserve to be different. Do you ever feel like that? Sometimes I feel like that sometimes.

I need glasses and I’m always itchy. When I was your age I was shorter, younger, and smaller than any of my classmates. And when I grew up a bit, I had lots and lots of zits and people made fun of me. My family moved around a lot, so I didn’t have very many friends. I was a Christian and I loved computers, but no one else did, and that made it even harder to make friends. Sometimes on the way home people would throw rocks at me and call me names.

I often wondered why God built me the way He did, and sometimes I wished He would have done it differently. But today, I understand that He made me special, and I want to share with you the part of the Bible that taught me that.

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

Psalm 139:13-16 says,

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

Do you hear what God is saying in these verses? Let me tell you.

First, it says that that God designed you to be exactly the way you are and made no mistakes. He “knit [you] together” and He “saw [you] before [you were] born”. That means He put you together the same way an artist paints a picture and a scientist makes an invention. He chose every little piece of you exactly the way He wanted it. When you do something amazing, God cheers for you because He built you to do that! And when you have a tough time, God isn’t disappointed or surprised because He built you that way.

Second, it says that God made you “wonderfully complex” – that means he made you special, with millions of parts, unlike anyone else, because He wanted you to be that way. From how you brain works, to how fast you can run, to the colour of your eyes and hair, the sound of your voice, to your fingerprints and the things that make you excited – God designed every part. So, when you look at all your parts, no matter how different they are from other people, you can think “That’s there because God put it there, on purpose – and it is wonderful!”

Third, it says that God’s “workmanship is marvelous”. That means that when God looks at you He sees something He specially built with His own hands, and He think’s it’s really, really good. You’d never look at a bouquet of flowers and think, “Those all need to be exactly the same”, right? In the same way, God doesn’t want all of us to be exactly the same!

Maybe you can’t sing, or maybe you can’t jump. Maybe you can’t throw a baseball, or maybe you can’t read very well. Maybe the words on the page are all jumbled up for you, or you don’t see colours the way others do. God never ever, ever thinks, “Oops, I made a mistake! I should have done that better.” He always thinks, “My child can’t do that because I didn’t need them to. I have something else planned that’s just for them!”

How do I know? Because the Bible says, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” What does that mean? That God knows exactly what your whole life is going to be like.

Before you were born, God knew exactly how long you would live, what you would look like, gave you the parents and family you have, knew every tear you would cry, everything you would build, every good deed you would do, and every sin you would commit. He knows you better than anyone, and He loves you, very, very much.

How We Should Live

So, knowing that… let me share with you a few things to remember:

1. Know that Everyone is Special. Every baby in every mommy’s tummy is special. Every old person, even when they are tired or sick, is special. Every person is special – even the ones that are mean or rude. Even if they aren’t listening to God, since God made them, they are still special and deserve our love.

This also reminds you that no matter what, you are special too. You are deeply loved. Not because of anything that you do, or any good deed, but even when you were a baby, God loved you very, very much.

2. We should listen to our Creator. If you make up a game, and you write all the rules, then people should listen to you when you tell them how to play it, right? If you make a piece of art, then you know which way it hangs on the wall, right?

It’s the same with God. If God knows us best, loves us most, and has the perfect plan for our life, then it only makes sense to listen to Him, right? That’s why we need to read His book, the Bible. That’s why we need to talk to Him all the time. That’s why we spend time with people in His Church. So that we can hear what God wants to say to us.

3. We should Give our life to Jesus. People are amazing. And we are all pretty amazing when we are born, but God says we have a sin problem. When we are born, we don’t have everything we need to be who God wanted us to be.

So in order to fix that, we need to know Jesus. We need to ask forgiveness for all the times that we have gone against what God wanted, against who God created us to be – and God promises that because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, that He will forgive us. Jesus was extra-super-amazingly-perfect and He never sinned! He obeyed God perfectly, every day. And that means only He could take the punishment for our sin – He didn’t have any! He makes it so that we can get back together with God.

And when we ask His forgiveness for all our sin, and make Jesus our Lord (which means our Boss), then He comes and lives in our hearts, guides us, teaches us and helps us be the amazing person He created us to be.

Why Should I Love My Enemies?

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I gave a talk to a group of AWANA kids this week. It was “Heart Night” (celebrating Valentine’s Day) and I spoke on Love. I used some animated gifs in the powerpoint, which is where all the giggling at the beginning comes from. I linked to a few if you want a giggle too.

Here’s the audio (12 minutes):

AWANA Love Your Enemy - BANNER

How many of you are good at opposites? Let’s start off with a quick quiz.

What is the opposite of: UP – DOWN, AWAKE – ASLEEP, ANGRY – HAPPY, FRIENDSENEMIES, LOVE – HATE.

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day I want to talk about some of those opposite words.

Jesus taught a lot of things that seem opposite to us. He said things like: Help people without telling anyone (Matthew 6:3), lend things generously but don’t ask for them back (Luke 6:35), if someone hits you, let them hit you again (Matthew 5:39), if someone steals your shirt, you should give him your jacket too (Matthew 5:40), and He even said to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27).

That’s a little confusing isn’t it? It’s not what we hear from most people. It’s easy to love our friends, but how can we love our enemies? The whole problem with an enemy is that they are someone who is trying to harm us! They trip us when we walk down the hallway, take our things, break our stuff, pull our hair, blame us for things we didn’t do. How can we love them?

The Fox and the Scorpion

Beautiful art, but I can't find the artist. Please let me know so I can give credit.
Beautiful art, but I can’t find the artist. Please let me know so I can give credit.

Let me tell you a story about someone who trusted their enemy. It’s the story of the Fox and the Scorpion.

Once, long ago, in the vast lands of the desert, there was a great river that had to be crossed for so the animals could get food and water. One day, Fox came to the river and was looking for a place where it was safest to cross. As he searched, Fox’s lifelong enemy Scorpion crawled up on a rock near him and began to speak.

“Fox, I’ve been walking along this river bank, looking for food, and I noticed a very easy place to cross the river – where the water is not so deep and not so swift. I would like to cross over myself, but I am so small it would be impossible! Would you be willing to take me across if I show you the place?” asked Scorpion,

Fox replied, “Why would I take you across!? How could I trust you not to sting me since we are lifelong enemies?”

“Why would I sting you? For if I stung you it would mean that we would both drown!” said Scorpion.

Fox thought it over, keeping a distrustful eye on Scorpion, but eventually said, “Show me where this place is, and I will take you across.”

When they got to the place, Fox bent down to allow Scorpion to climb on his back. And as Fox was swimming across, when he reached the middle of the river, he felt a sharp STING on his back! As the poison filled his veins Fox cried out, “How could you sting me? Now we will both drown!”

Scorpion replied, “It is better that we both should perish, than that my lifelong enemy should live!”

The Problem

That’s the problem isn’t it? Many people would hear this story and think, “Yeah, once I have an enemy. If I don’t like someone, or they prove that they don’t like me, then I shouldn’t ever be nice to them. I should stay away from them. If they are in trouble, I should walk away.” They make us mad! We want to hurt them back. We want to cry. We want to punish them.

But Jesus says that we need to love our enemies! Why? Why would He say that? Does Jesus want us to keep getting beat up? Does Jesus want us to be wimps? Does Jesus want us to be cowards? Doesn’t Jesus want the best for us? Of course He does! And He knows people a lot better than we do.

The Solution

So, may I share with you three reasons why I think Jesus wants us to love our enemies?

1. Love Conquers Hate (Romans 12:17-21)

The first reason is that love conquers hate. Have you ever heard someone say, “You have to fight fire with fire”? What that means is that when someone does something bad, you should do something bad to them. But what happens when you fight fire with fire? You only get more fire! Everything gets burned up.

 What should you fight a fire with? A fire extinguisher! Put out the fire! Hating and hurting our enemies won’t defeat our enemies. It will just create more, and stronger, enemies. When we love our enemies, it’s like pouring water on a fire, or blasting it with a fire extinguisher. We put out the hatered.

Romans 12:20-21 says, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Can you imagine what would happen to your enemy if you helped feed them when they were hungry? If you shared your lunch with them when they didn’t have one? If you gave them your juice-box when they were thirsty? What would happen then? They might become your friend! At the very least they would change how they think about you. You don’t overcome evil with more evil… you overcome evil with good!

2. Love Changes People (Luke 6:27-28)

Here’s another reason to love our enemies instead of hating them. We can’t change them – only God can. And the way that God changes people by us loving them and by His Spirit working inside of them.

If we do good to people who hate us, God can use our love to change their hearts. And if we pray for them, then God promises to answer prayers and change the world for us. He promises that when we pray, He will answer. Maybe He will make that person kinder. Maybe He will give you more patience when talking to them. Maybe He will help you know what to say next time they do something, or help you be strong and kind when they do something mean again. God does amazing things when we love people and pray for them.

That’s why Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

3. Hate Is Like Poison

Here’s another reason Jesus taught us to love our enemies instead of hating them.

Have you ever felt angry with someone, and you wanted to hurt them and get back at them – and you had hate in your heart – and you felt so upset that you ended up treating people that you love badly? They didn’t do anything and now you’re mad at them too!

Maybe you have a bad day at school, or fight with your brother or sister, or someone said something mean to you – and instead of forgiving, you decide to stay upset and let hate into your heart. What happens when later? You yell at your mom. You’re grumpy with your friends. You are angry with yourself and stomp around. Hate has become like a poison in your heart.

The Bible says in Hebrew 12:15 to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (NLT) If someone hurts us, and we choose not to forgive them, not to pray for them, not to do good to them, not to love them… the hate inside of us acts like a poison – and that poison gets bigger, and can hurt many people.

Love Comes from Jesus

So, how can we do this? Loving our enemies is really hard, isn’t it? Here are two things to remember that I use to help me love my enemies, and I think they will help you too.

First, pray about it. Remember when Daniel was in the lion’s den, surrounded by hungry lions? What did he do? He prayed! So what should we do when we are surrounded by enemies? Pray! You’ve probably memorized lots of Bible verses about asking God for help. You are learning these because they are true! If you are having a hard time forgiving and loving, ask Jesus for help and He will help you.

And second, remember that love comes from Jesus. This is what Jesus did for us. The Bible, in Romans 5:8-11, says that even though we are sinners and enemies of God, that God sent Jesus to come and die for us! Jesus traded his life for ours because He loved us, even when we were his enemies. And then 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us!” So, since Jesus loved us, even when we were His enemies, and once we become His friends by believing in Him, He will teach us and give us the strength to love our enemies too.

I’m Angry With My Toothpaste!

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I gave a little talk to some kids at AWANA last night and wanted to share it with you. It was intended to make the kids laugh and think. The older kids seemed to get it, but it might have went over the heads of the little ones. It’s adapted from a post I wrote a long time ago.


Here’s the audio if you want to listen to it.


Slide2

I’m so ANGRY with my toothpaste! I’m so upset with my toothpaste that I wrote a note to it and I want to share it to you. Is that ok? Can I share the note I wrote to my toothpaste with you?

Dear Toothpaste…

No, wait… you’re not “Dear”… I don’t like you. Let me start again:

Oh toothpaste, I don’t like you anymore! You’ve really let me down! You made some pretty big promises to me, and you’re not keeping them!

When I’m watching TV I see your commercials and you tell me that I need you so badly. You say that if I don’t buy you, and use you, and keep using you all the time… people won’t respect me, or love me or enjoy my company. You say that no one loves a person who doesn’t have super shiny, glowing, white teeth. Everyone in the commercial is so happy, so successful! Surrounded by minty, bubbly wonderfulness! They have great jobs, and nice cars, and beautiful people around them… and you say that it’s all because of you, toothpaste!

I look around myself and I don’t have that. I don’t feel beautiful all the time. I don’t feel successful all the time. And you told me that the reason for all my problems is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my incisors, canines, bicuspids and molars were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular, have a more positive attitude, have more friends and a happier life.

Slide6And it’s not just the good stuff that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, there are also the fearsome negatives of not having perfectly white teeth… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills and the sugar-free gum (the… d.d.d.dentists…) have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth.

“BEWARE! Your tooth-enamel will never, EVER grow back! If you drinking pop or coffee, you may as well be drinking battery acid! If you forget to brush before you go to sleep, right after you wake, after yoy eat, or snack, or chew a little too much… you will contract all sorts of terrible, horribly, scary maybe-even-fatal diseases like tartar buildup, gingivitis, periodontitis, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or maybe even cancer!!!”  (Scream!)

Slide8“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better! I will save you! I will take away all the bad things in your life and give you all the good things!”

And I try to follow your ways, I really do! I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 8 hours since my last brushing! Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me clean from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.

In truth, when I think about it Toothpaste, the reason I need you is because I’m scared! I live in a world which is more concerned with how I look, how fresh my breath is, how clean my teeth are, what kind of things I have —- rather than who I am, what I love, or even my talents. People judge me by how I look on the outside far more than what is on my insides – so I’ve convinced myself that I need you. I need you, o Toothpaste, to make me right with the world. I need you, o Toothpaste, because without you no one will like me.

Slide10And then I turned on the TV, and I saw another commercial, and I realized, to my everlasting shame, that I had been using an old kind of toothpaste! The toothpaste I had been using has been surpassed and is not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks. This must be where I went wrong. This must be why my life isn’t perfect. I though that for sure, this Toothpaste must be where I need to go to get peace, and love, and friendship, and hope, and happiness!

And so I gave my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste! I don’t know what it means, but it’s iso-active. It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens all the sugar-bugs and plaque buildup away.

And I brush. Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush! Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls. Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel full of elements, compounds and lofty promises will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence! Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!

But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more friends, fortune, success or adulation than I did before. And so I am writing this note to you Toothpaste. I’m angry with you, Toothpaste. I am turning my wrath unto the giver of these great promises… you, O toothpaste. You have let me down. I don’t know what to do now. (SIGH)

So, Toothpaste, I’m going to go to AWANA tonight and I’m going to ask them for some help.

AWANA I'm Angry With My Toothpaste

So what do you think, everyone. If toothpaste doesn’t work to make me feel safe, happy, joyful and loved… maybe I should try some new things to make me feel better.

I think I’m going to try video games first! They make me feel smart. They make me feel like a hero, like an explorer. I can spend hours on them and never have to talk to any real person who might say something bad to me. Hmm… I wonder if that will work? Do you think I’ll feel better for the rest of my life if I play more video games?

Hmm… maybe not…

Ok, what about shopping? If I change my clothes, buy fun things, use all my money to impress the people around me by buying things I don’t really need, do you think I’ll feel better?

No… Hmmm… this is tough…

Well, what about sports? What if I get really, really good at sports, and win all the games and get all the trophies, and get my face on a cereal box? Will that make me happy? Hmm… maybe for a while. But if I make my happiness comes by playing and winning at sports, then what happens if I lose some games, or get hurt, or get too old to play?

Yeah, that’s no good…

Wow, this is hard! Can you think of someone I can count on that will never let me down, that will show me how to know happiness and joy for the rest of my life, that will help me not be afraid, that loves me from the inside out, that tells me the truth all the time, that never needs anything from me except for me to love Him? Can you think of someone that loved me so much they were willing to give everything up for me, even their own life, and then showed how amazing they are by even conquering death so I would have nothing to fear?

Yeah… Jesus!

Maybe I don’t need to worry about all that other stuff. Maybe all I need is Jesus.

Intentional Discipleship: Building Endurance (3 Steps of Maturity)

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(Click here for the video)

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Building Endurance

Praise for AWANA

Have you heard of AWANA? Essentially, AWANA is a biblical, discipleship program for kids aged 2-18. Each week they play games, memorize scripture, hear the gospel, have a small group discussion, and participate in local and global missions. It’s been around for around 60 years and today more than 16,000 Canadian kids participate in the program. Globally, there are more than 20,000 churches are involved.

My kids have been part of a very well run AWANA program at a church in Ottawa. I’m consistently amazed by how intentional this ministry is at proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (every event, every week, the unvarnished gospel is presented) and getting kids involved and excited about their own discipleship process.

My children have been working hard to get through the books and earn their awards. They’ve had to sit through special teaching times, write their testimony, find and interview a missionary, and lots of other great exercises, but the core of the book is all about memorizing, studying and understanding scripture.

They are, essentially, going through a catechism. Catechism is simply a summary of the principles of the Christian religion that is taught in the form of questions and answers. The AWANA curriculum presents concepts to the children and them gets them to reflect on, study, and learn the answers to some important theological questions. My son Edison is in a book right now where he’s learning “How do we know the bible is true?” and “What do I need to know about God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit?” Each week they memorize an answer to the question, define important terms, study and memorize the scriptural evidence to support it, and then put it into action. And they love going because it’s also a lot of fun!

My Own Lack

I am so thankful for this program because it is giving them a love for God, a great understanding of theology and salvation, a passion for worship and service, and helps them practice memorizing scripture. It has opened up a world of new insights, new conversations, new convictions, and new hope as they learn to put more faith into Jesus Christ. I can see that my kids are getting the tools to become strong Christians, and as they progress will be challenged to teach and lead others to the Lord and in scriptural study.

I didn’t have this. I actually went to AWANA as a kid, but I didn’t really memorize much, participate, and didn’t last for more than a year or two. My knowledge and experience with the Christian faith came later in life and I still feel like I’m playing catch-up for all the years that I wasted my time with other, lesser things.

I didn’t practice memorizing scripture and I struggle with it today. I didn’t get a good biblical grounding with a decent catechism so I’ve had to go searching on my own, missing huge portions of teaching because I simply didn’t know it existed. I didn’t have a good model of discipleship in the Christian faith while growing up, partly because I didn’t pay attention, and partly because my church had a fairly useless youth group and an uninspiring Sunday School program. Sure, I went to everything, but I can’t remember one thing I learned about Jesus there.

I tell you all of this because I’m sure that many of you have gone through the same thing. We talked a few Wednesdays back about our own journeys of discipleship and the story from each person was the same: “I got saved and that was it. No one told me the next steps. I had to figure them out on my own. I had no mentor, no spiritual father or mother, no process, no intentionality.”

That story is played out all the time in thousands of churches. People come in, get saved, and don’t know what to do next. Their excitement wears off and they either leave the church, bounce around looking for spiritual experiences, or join the throngs of nominal believers who are overcome by temptation, live in secret sin, turn in to consumer Christians, pray only when things get tough, read their bible when they feel guilty, or slip into a funk and just keep doing same devotional book for years and years – that’s it. Millions of nominal Christians who have not grown in their faith, but are just repeating the same learning and experience over and over and over. They are stuck in their maturity process, or never really entered into one in the first place.

It is my deepest hope, and the passion of my life, to change that. I want you each to be passionate disciples of Jesus Christ who have the tools and inspiration you need to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God. You might recognize that as the tag-line on the blog I write. That thought is the driving force of my life and ministry.

If I am to Love and Follow Jesus, I Must Know Him

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Love Follow Choose

It all essentially comes down to this thought: If I am to love and follow Jesus, I must know Him. I must know who He really is, how He thinks, what He’s done, how He plans, what His relationship with different people at different times has been like, what He expects of me, what He intends to do with me, to give me, to take from me, to do to me. I need to know Him.

Open up to Romans 15:4-6 and let’s take a look at a theme verse for what I’m talking about here.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If I am to know Jesus, find my “hope” in Jesus, live “in accord” with Jesus, “in harmony” with the body of Christ, “glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”, I must know the Scriptures!

Let’s consider what Romans 15:4-6 says:

“Whatever was written in former days…” – that’s the Bible. For the folks who originally read this, it would have been the Old Testament, but we can extrapolate it out to include our whole scriptures today. They were “written in former days…” why? “… for our instruction.”

This reminds me of another passage in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We have been given this book, the Bible, to instruct us. It was “breathed out” by God so that we would be taught what we need to know, rebuked for the wrong actions and thoughts we have, corrected and restored – a word which also means improved in our life and character, and trained – which is a word that means educated and instructed – a word used for cultivating the mind and morals of children. Herein are commands and admonitions for taking care of the body and soul. It has been given to us so we may know the story of Jesus and know how to live a Christ-like life.

Read Romans 15:4 again,

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

There’s a key word there that I want to pull out and examine. It’s important to understand when we are talking about the steps to Christian maturity that it will require something very important of us: The word is “endurance”. Something sadly lacking in the Christian church today, and is the reason why we don’t have enough mature believers.

Endurance

Let’s talk about this word “endurance” for a moment.

1. Endurance Comes from God

First, let’s note this: endurance comes from God. Endurance is a gift from God. I’m not about to tell you to pull up your socks, get to work and white-knuckle your way into a better relationship with Jesus. I’m not going to call you lazy or tell you to try harder to read your bible more. It’s not about getting up earlier, staying up later, gritting your teeth and making it happen. Yes, there will be some times where you will need to use some discipline, and it will require some effort, but running the race of Christian maturity isn’t about the effort you exert – it is about depending on the resources God gives you.

Look at Romans 15:5, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you…”. The endurance that I’m talking about comes from God. It starts with Him working in our heart, and then continues on to where we begin to pray for endurance, and then it comes as a gift as we work it out over a life-time of faith. He starts it, He finishes it.

Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God begins the work, God completes the work. In the meantime, we lean on Him and ask Him for the endurance we need to accomplish what He has set out for us to do.

2. Endurance Comes Over Time

Second, let me say this, we gain endurance over time, not all at once. I’ve told you this before, but I want to repeat it – There are phases to Christian maturity, steps on the process. In scripture, at different times, believers are called babies, children, young men, old men, soldiers, civilians, athletes who are running a race, and those who have finished the race who are now called witnesses. There are phases in spiritual development, and with each phase comes a need for new skills and training, new temptations crop up, and new perspectives.

I put together a little chart of the kind of phases, or steps, that an average believer will go through. This isn’t perfect, but it’s an idea. I wish I had a cute name for each of these steps, but I don’t yet, so you’ll have to bear with me. Check these out:

Step One

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Step 1

The first steps of a Christian include Repentance, Baptism, Prayer, Studying Scripture, Church Attendance, Serving in the Church. That’s what the average new believer is going to experience.

They hear the Gospel, meet Jesus, and then they want to get to know Jesus more. They are now face to face with their life of sin so Repentance, Forgiveness and Faith is a huge part of their walk – it’s almost all encompassing as they feel forgiven, know Jesus loves them, thanks Him for dying for their sin, and then turning their backs on the sins that are getting between them and God.

Each Christian is then presented with a step of obedience that each must take – a public declaration of their salvation before others, and the ordinance (the order from Jesus) to be baptised.

The four most important things that new Christians need to do is to pray regularly, study scripture, attend church (in other words, be with other Christians and under good Christian teachers), and work out their faith by serving others in simple ways. This is the life-blood of their faith, the very core of their obedience.

This never changes at any level of Christian maturity. Prayer, study, attendance and service are the most essential ways that we meet Jesus, learn about Jesus, learn about our faith, and obey what Jesus says. For the rest of our lives, everything we do will be built on these four disciplines.

If I am to Love Jesus and Follow Jesus, I must Know Jesus – and I get to know Jesus best through these four disciplines.

Step Two

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Step 2After obeying Jesus in those four areas for a while God will begin calling us to get more involved and to give more of ourselves to Him and His church. We will begin needing answers to deeper questions, hitting sins that we can’t overcome by ourselves, needing conversations that need more time that we get after church, we will desire Christian friends to replace the ones we lost when we became a Christian, we will need more information about Jesus, more experiences with Jesus, and a better understanding of the person and work of Jesus.

This is what comes next: Joining a Small Group, becoming a Member of a Church, begin Tithing, study Apologetics, being Discovering our Spiritual Gifts. These seem to be the next logical steps in Christian development. Again, this isn’t perfect, and isn’t universal, but it’s quite standard.

Joining a Small Group and becoming a Member of a Church are natural and important part of progressing as a believer. You love Jesus, are learning to relate to Him, and as you pray, study, attend and serve, God naturally calls you into a deeper relationship with Him and His church. I’ve talked about that before, so I don’t need to belabour it.

It is also around this time when the person starts realizing that there are areas of their life that they haven’t turned over to the Lordship of Jesus – and the biggest one is almost always their money and posessions. They realize that scripture tells them to be generous and to contribute financially to the work of the church. This is a huge step for some people, and is a very simple one for others. It’s a step of necessary obedience that happens when a person desires to go deeper with God and give a greater portion of themselves to Him.

Another thing that happens around this time is that a bunch of really tough questions come up like: “Why does God allow suffering and evil to exist?” “How reliable is the Bible?” “Do science and the bible conflict?” “How can we know for sure that God exists?” “What about all the other religions?” – some of these can be earth shaking, faith challenging, confusing, and even painful questions which expose the cracks in a person’s faith in God and understanding of scripture. This is where it is so important that the church, the mentor, the small group, and the individual Christian, start to look into studying Apologetics – which is the logical and rational defence of the Christian faith. This is where the Christian really solidifies their faith and finds good answers to those deep, important questions.

As a sort of bonus, after studying, one of the amazing things that starts to happen is that hymns and spiritual songs start to come to life. Consider the words of “Before the Throne of God Above” which is chock full of scriptural imagery and theological language.

“Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea.

A great high Priest whose Name is Love, Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands, My name is written on His heart.

I know that while in Heaven He stands No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free.

For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb, my perfect spotless righteousness,

The great unchangeable I AM, The King of glory and of grace,

One in Himself I cannot die. My soul is purchased by His blood,

My life is hid with Christ on high, With Christ my Savior and my God!”

After some time studying the Bible, this song really starts to come alive. Studying the word not only fills our head with knowledge, but informs our heart and deepens our worship times.

At the same time, as they study,  believers also begin to discover their Spiritual Gifts. Up to this point they have been serving in general areas in the church, or perhaps working out of their natural talents – like computers or music – but now they discover that God has given them something they didn’t have before they got saved, something special to use for His Kingdom. This is where they do a Spiritual Gifts inventory, start to explore other areas of service, where they start to hone in on their life’s mission and are encouraged by other believers to live it out.

Step two is a very exciting time for many Christians because they really start to come together with who God has created them to be.

Step Three

12. Intentional Discipleship 3 - Step 3Step three is where things start to get harder, because this is where the need for “endurance” really kicks in. This is where the chinks in the armour really show up. Moving from Step Two to Step Three is a seismic shift, and it is very challenging. Most Christians don’t make the leap. Instead, they stay in Step Two, or slide back to Step One. If you haven’t been consistent in prayer, study, attendance and service, Step Three will be too big a leap. If you haven’t gotten past the big questions, don’t have the support of a small group and a committed church, and have not begun to realize the cost of following Jesus even in tithing, then Step Three will seem impossible – only for super-Christians and trained professionals – not to be tried at home.

Step Three is where a Christian really moves into action. In hockey terms, this is really where they get the ice-time – which means they get more goals, more skating, see more intensity, and learn lots about the game – but they also get hurt more, suffer more injuries, and discover the weaknesses in their game.

Step Three is where the Spiritual Disciplines get put into practice, the Christian starts practicing Spiritual Warfare, where they practice Stewardship of their Time, Talents and Treasures, and where they start learning how to practice Leadership and proactively Disciple others.

Technically, the Christian has been doing this all along, but now they really kick it into high gear. I used the word “practice” over and over, because that’s what they are going to do now. They are going to really practice Spiritual Disciplines in a way they haven’t before. They learn the arts of meditation and fasting. They begin to practice the disciplines of simplicity and solitude. They learn the power of confession and worship. New levels of maturity lead to new experiences in discipline and spiritual power.

They also begin moving away from general areas of service (which they are leaving open for the Step One Christians) and specifically serving in the area of purpose that God designed them for. They discover their greatest, God-given purpose purpose as husband and father, a wife and mother, and as a teacher or preacher, evangelist, missions worker, or administrator. They enter into mercy ministries, start giving away their stuff to provide for others, or leading teams to greater effectiveness. This is where their life, their family, their ministry, and their church really start to thrive as they serve Jesus with their gifts.

They also start to experience what it means to practice Spiritual Warfare. Certainly all along they have realized that they are tempted by demons, that Satan is real, and they have been praying against his works and effects – but now they start storming the gates of Hell as Jesus calls them to go on the offensive. There is a lot of study and spiritual development in order to do this, but it’s amazing to experience.

And certainly, all along, they have been turning more and more of their lives over to Jesus, but there seems to be a point where Jesus says, “Ok, now I’m going to do something extra…” and He starts asking for things that are more difficult to give up. He wants more Time. He wants us to reevaluate how we see and use our possessions and wealth, even our hobbies and collections. The little stuff that we never thought about before suddenly becomes a big deal – how long we spend watching TV, what kind of movies we watch, the books we read, what kind of car we drive, our commitment to other clubs, organizations and teams… everything seems up for grabs at this point! Jesus really starts to stretch us and prepare us for something greater. We talked a lot about that last week.

Step Three is also where we start to realize that we have come a long way – maybe it’s only been a few years on the calendar, but our former life feels like an eternity ago. God has really changed us and has made us something new, and we look around and see a bunch of non-Christians, new Christians, or nominal Christians who are floundering in their faith and need guidance. For the first time you realize that God is telling you to walk with one of these folks, listen to them, guide them along a path, help them in a special way – to be their mentor, their leader, their guide. And this requires some skills, some training, some time, some emotional energy, and some spiritual maturity. This requires humility and perseverance, and a strong core of faith and dependence on Jesus Christ.

Step Three is a place most Christians never get to experience, but it is a truly wonderful adventure. It’s never boring, and is a place where you really get to see what God can do. You meet a Jesus you never knew before.

3. Endurance Comes Through Suffering

One final note on endurance, and this is, I believe, the reason that many people don’t get to Step Three of their maturity process – because in order to build endurance, you must suffer.

 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

The Christians you look up to, the ones who have great character, who exude hope, who love Jesus, who know Jesus, who listen to Jesus, and who don’t live with shame, who know God’s love, who overflow with the love He is pouring in their hearts, who have a supernatural power by the Holy Spirit – the Christians we want to be like and who amaze us – have suffered.

God wants great things for you, and wants you to follow His steps toward Christian Maturity, but the journey will always involve suffering. He says, “I want to build your character, use you in special ways, build something unique in you, teach you how to worship, build your fellowship, make you a force for missions and outreach, help you serve others, and make you a passionate disciple of Jesus, and the only way I can do that is to teach you how. And sometimes the lessons will require suffering in order to learn them well.”

Many of us will look at God and say, “I’d rather have comfort than character” and we miss out on taking the next step of maturity. I don’t want that for you. I want you to learn to love scripture. I want you to love Jesus. I want you to love God, and love growing in Him. I don’t want you to be afraid of suffering, but embrace it and even rejoice in it, to trust God’s path and keep walking because God is doing something great in you and will use you greatly for His glory, your good, and the good of those around you.