DAY 1 – Hebrews 11:30; Joshua 5:13 – Joshua 6 – Pray for the Character of our National Leaders
DAY 2 – 2 Chronicles 20 – Worship God in the face of your enemies
DAY 3 – Psalm 149 – Pray for God to provide singers, musicians, and directors for our musical worship at Oakland
DAY 4 – Acts 16:16-40 – Pray for incarcerated Christians in the U.S. and abroad
DAY 5 – Ephesian 6:10-20 – Pray for Strength to get up again
While we were not
gathering in our building every week, many of us had to take responsibility for
our spiritual lives in deeper way than ever before. We have to intentionally
feed ourselves spiritually if we want to PERSEVERE.
When has God saved you from one enemy only to another roadblock? When have you run into an “unconquerable” foe?
What made Jericho so formidable? Why was it so important to conquer Jericho?
What weapon did the Israelites use to defeat Jericho? What weapon will you use in your battles against bigger foes? Why did they march in silence except for the music? What does this teach us about music and silence?
How do you feel about God putting everyone to death in Jericho?
What similarities are there between Jericho and 2 Chron 20? Who does the fighting in 2 Chron 20? Who’s fighting your battles? When threats arise, what do the Israelites do? When threats arise in your life, what do you do? Who can stand before the Lord with you and your family? What group can you call to gather around you?
When do the Israelites worship? When do you worship?
What do we learn about worship in Psalm 149? What does worship do to us? To God? To God’s enemies? How have you experienced these things?
What amazes you in Acts 16? How would you respond if you were Paul and Silas? What would you have done in jail? When have you seen people sing under oppression and jail? When have you?
Why would God give us spiritual armor? What are these pieces and how do we use them? How do we put them on? What are we supposed to do once we put them on? How are Standing and Persevering related?
The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is called Holy Week. During this time, it is tradition to reread the story of Jesus’s betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, death, burial, and resurrection. We will join this ancient tradition following Luke’s story.
What does Passover celebrate? What might we intuit from this time of Jesus’ death? How is Jesus death like Passover?
Why do you think Judas betrayed Jesus? What might his motivations be? How do you think he justified it? How are you like Judas?
What can we learn from the Last Supper Jesus shares with his disciples? What part of the story stands out to you?
Jesus is talking about his death; how do the disciples turn the conversation into a greatness contest? How do we do the same?
What does Jesus pray? How does the Father answer his prayer? How do we know what God’s will is? Practically, what are ways we turn our will over to God’s will?
Why are the disciples so exhausted? How is this related to the temptation they will encounter? When are you most vulnerable to the Devil’s tempting?
What is Peter doing? Why? How would you feel in that moment if you were Peter? How are you like Peter?
Why is it so tempting to mock Jesus? How is it possible for us to mock Jesus today? What unites Pilate and Herod? How does utilitarian thinking get us into trouble?
What words does Jesus say from the cross? What do they mean? How are they true of you? Which criminal gets it right? What has he done to earn Jesus’ paradise? Have you made the same request of Jesus?
Why are Joseph’s actions courageous? What does he risk? Why does he risk it? What have you to risk?
Isaiah 53 was written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. What amazes you about how the pieces fit together?
My December was overwhelmed with a single thought and a single life changing encounter. You’ve heard it before, but do you really believe them?
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE WITH GOD.
THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE HOPE OF THE WORLD.
The Monday after we canceled church for snow, I ran into Joe David, Joy, and Brittany at Ugly Mug Coffee Shop. Joy and Brittany are both educators, so our conversation turned to difficult children in school.
As a special needs teacher, Brittany explained how she’s learned to love difficult children even when they hurt her, push her away, and curse her. She’s seen that if she can love them more than they fight her, love will change them, soften them, and transform them. Love will overcome their fear, anger, and poor coping mechanisms.
Love that loves even when I fight back. Love that keeps loving even when it is rejected. Love that keeps coming even if it involves being rejected, despised, and injured. Love that risks rejection for the sake of redemption. THAT SOUNDS LIKE JESUS DOESN’T IT?!
In the church, we call that kind of undeserved, unconditional love, “GRACE, AMAZING GRACE,” and we are given grace upon grace in Jesus who chases us down while we kick, bite, scream, pout, and crucify to get our own way.
Brittany has learned to replicate Jesus’ grace even though she’s only been following Jesus in church for a little over a year. It’s so cool, how the Holy Spirit has been teaching her GRACE and using her to give GRACE for years. Grace before I know what Grace is, is called “Prevenient Grace” by theologians.
Brittany told me about this specific boy who cusses her and attacks her and other kids when he doesn’t get his way. Still, her relentless GRACE is changing him. Then she said, “It just makes me so sad, cause you know he’s learned that behavior from somewhere. Gotta be from mom and dad cause he’s not learning it at school.”
And my heart broke. It broke because you’ve taught me to empathize like Jesus rather than judge like the old me always did.
I almost cried as I said, “Brittany, I’m so thankful God put you in that little boy’s life to GRACE him as he learns a different way to communicate and a different way to get his needs met. But what about his mom and dad. Where do they learn this stuff? That boy can go to school and be changed by GRACE, but what about his mom and dad, where can they go to learn how to communicate, to love, to forgive, to be moms and dads, to be husbands, and to adult? Where they can go even where they’ll be GRACED and LOVED even while they still cuss and fight back and resent? Where can they go? Where will they learn how to love and be loved?”
Joe and Joy and Brittany all looked at each other trying to think about where in this world grown people can go to learn honesty, integrity, spirituality, forgiveness, gentleness, love, joy, peace, self-control. Where can they go to be liberated from harmful habits and unhelpful coping mechanisms? Where can their character defects be removed and lives redeemed?
There are only 2 places I can think of, and the second grew out of the first. The Second is Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Step Groups like it.
The first is the Church. A place for difficult people to be loved over and over again. Even when they try to push us away, we keep loving them. Even when they curse us, we bless. Even when they sin, we forgive. A place where train wrecks are welcome and loved even as they are transformed. A place where the only requirement is a desire to know God and let God change you. A desire not a dress code or decorum or diploma or accomplishment is the only requirement. A mustard seed of faith in God and hope for healing.
The Church is the only such place. The Church is the only hope for such families and such people. They didn’t learn it from their parents, they didn’t learn it in the Army, or on the job. They won’t learn grace and be transformed by grace by watching TV or going to counseling, but by following Jesus with other sinners. The church is the only place where the transformative power of grace can reach them FOR FREE. The only place so wonderfully, gracefully stubborn enough to put up with difficult, needy people until God’s love transforms them.
It is the only hope for them because it is the only hope for me.
It is the only hope for them because it is the only hope for me. I am one of those unlovely people who came into a church with a pile of regret and a suitcase of resentments. I owned suits and spoke refined English, but I was full of deceit, cowardice, people-pleasing, selfishness, and fear not to mention covetousness, lust, and anger. Where am I going to learn to trust Jesus not just with my eternal salvation, but my daily life and my inner character. Where am I going to learn gentleness, forgiveness, honesty, empathy, and grace? Friends, the only hope for my marriage, for my parenting, for my character defects, for my past sins, for my future failures is a real connection with Jesus and Jesus’ people because I cannot figure out how to follow Jesus without you. You are the ones teaching me how to listen to my wife, to settle disagreements civility, to subjugate my wants to others’ needs, and so much more.
the only hope for my marriage, for my parenting, for my character defects, for my past sins, for my future failures is a real connection with Jesus and Jesus’ people because I cannot figure out how to follow Jesus without you.
Church is where the prideful learn humility, where the vindictive learn forgiveness, where the greedy learn generosity. This is where the person with no friends learns to make friends, the person who has never been loved learns to be loved, the person who’s always right learns to be a sinner, the person who’s never been good enough learns to belong, the person with cancer learns to persevere, the person with an unplanned child learns to parent, where emotionally absent dads learn to be present, where the spoiled learn to serve, where the shy learn to talk to strangers, and where the blabbermouths learn to shut up.
The encounter reinvigorated my whole ministry. It reminded me and convinced me practically.
Anything is possible at Oakland, because anything is possible with God.
Oakland is the hope of the world.
In God’s Church, in Oakland, transformation is always possible. No one is too far gone to repent, too unlovely to be loved, too broken to be mended, too rebellious to be the prodigal, too drunk to get sober, too sick to get healed, too lost to be found, too addicted to be liberated, too deceived to get honest, too cynical to meet Jesus, because OAKLAND is a place to meet Jesus and learn to follow him, because Oakland is a place where the grace of God must be as tangible and visible as the wind in the trees and the sun on our skin. If we always point to Jesus and love one another like Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
We are the hope of the world. Not government, not PBS, not better education, not better rules. ONLY JESUS AND HIS CHURCH. Only the church. Only the church can teach people not to blame, hide, lie, or practice self-righteousness, but to surrender their wills and lives to the care of God, who has proved his love by sending Jesus to save us.
The greatest threats [to my relationship with Jesus] are the constant BUSYNESS AND FRANTIC HURRY THAT DEMAND MY ALLEGIANCE. - Fil Anderson.
On Sunday I read you several quotes, but this one could not be more important to us:
"If you live in North America, you are a prime candidate for slow death by overstimulation. Your environment is busy depleting you with noise, distractions, and the compulsion to always be in a hurry.If I had set out to destroy my identity as a beloved child of God, I couldn’t have done better than living in America at the start of the 21st century. The greatest threats I’ve encountered are not the arguments of skeptics or the lure of drinks, drugs, or sex. The greatest threats are the constant BUSYNESS AND FRANTIC HURRY THAT DEMAND MY ALLEGIANCE…We rarely are grounded in the present moment (where God is to be encountered) because we’re always rushing out beyond it or replaying in our minds our disappointing past. Shame and sadness over our dark past drive us to strive for a brighter future, which generally winds up being busier rather than better." - Fil Anderson in Running On Empty.
In her book, The Overworked American, Juliet Schor points out that the United States now leads Japan as the longest-working nation in the industrialized world and is the most vacation-starved country in the world. Americans in general work longer hours with less vacation for more years than any other industrialized culture.
According to Tim Keller, in his sermon "Work and Rest", there are 4 things that coordinate to create this dynamic:
a.) Work security is very low. Whole departments can be shut down if they’re not profitable. There are hostile takeovers on the regular. New technology is making jobs and skills obsolete overnight, making thousands of jobs unnecessary. The pressure to be profitable is stronger than loyalty to employees, and so companies will fire anyone. So we’re staying at our jobs shorter time and we’re not guaranteed to keep our job. Knowing we live precariously, we work harder and harder to prove our value to our employers to increase our job security. Taking time off lets my boss see if she can live without me. Missing deadlines line me up for a dead end. This is exacerbated among the 10,000s start-ups, which operate with a skeleton staff and the risk of failure.
B.) Income Distribution – Those at the top of companies used to make 20-30 times what the lowest employees made, but now that number is 200-500 times. This means that the people at the top are making such astronomical sums of money, they are expected to put in ridiculous hours. If they don’t put in the hours, there is a long line of people waiting to take their job in order to avail themselves of the huge paychecks. At the bottom, people are making less than a living wage, and so they have to take multiple jobs to make ends meet, meaning they are putting in more hours. To justify their paychecks, the people at the top work all the time. To make their bills, the people at the bottom work all the time.
C.) Technology – We can now work anywhere, so we work everywhere. We set up our laptops on vacation. We even carry our cell phones into the bathroom. Do you remember the first time you heard of someone installing a telephone in their bathroom? I learned to fish with a real estate agent at the beach, and I remember the first time we fished together, he was taking calls and answering emails out in the middle of the salt marsh, while wrestling flounders. I thought he was insane, until this summer, I found myself coordinating volunteers and speakers for the ARISE retreat, from a boat in the salt marsh, while wrestling a flounder.
D.) Identity Crisis – More than any civilization in the history of the world, we have dissociated ourselves with that traditional sources of identity. In traditional cultures, your identity comes from your relationship in a family or the community – You are so and so’s son. You are a dad or a mom. You aren't just a blacksmith, but you are THE blacksmith in Clayton or the Barber in Smithfield, forcing you into community and accountability. Now, we are the first civilization in the history of humanity to say, you need to look deep inside you and find your true identity and then your success, your worth, your approval is based on your ability to accomplish that. If you feel like you should be a singer, but you can’t cut it on Broadway or the Billboard charts, then you are a failure and you have no secondary source of worth to fall back on. You have no foundation of self-value to lean into. If you are good at your job, then your worthy, but if not, then you have no value and no secure worth. So we look more and more to our work and our professional success to prove our worth. This is true even of those of you who do not work professionally. Stay at home parenting has turned into a competitive sport in the United States thanks to social media and Pinterest. Retirement competition is a growing fight.
But what is the cure?
The cure is to rest in Jesus. To rest in Jesus is to be completely satisfied with his finished work on the cross. Trust his work, rather than trying to impress him with yours. Get your identity from Jesus not from work. When you do that, you will rest as an act of trust and an act of liberty.