Community God’s Way

by Sam Knaus

The successful Christian life cannot be lived apart from community.  This point was driven home to me a couple of years ago.  I thinned out a couple of acres of pine trees behind my house so that they would grow taller and straighter.  A couple months later a big ice storm hit and those unsupported, spindly pines bent over with the weight and began to snap.  Too often we are like those pine trees all by ourselves and ready to snap from the weight of the world on us.  The support of your brothers and sisters in Christ in the church is God’s answer to our need for fellowship, accountability and support.  God said early on that it isn’t good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).  We need to get into community with the family of God.

Probably the best example of the type of family love was the first Christian community (church).  We find the way they kicked things off for us in Acts 2:42.  Luke tells us that they, “devoted themselves to … fellowship, to the breaking of bread.”    They built their fellowship on the apostles teaching and prayer too, but it was all done in the context of relationship.  These early Christians were devoted to fellowship. The Greek word “koinonia,” translated fellowship in this verse, goes way beyond pot-luck suppers and small talk in the fellowship hall.  It means sharing or a partnership. Those who walk in the Spirit share a common road. Those who receive Jesus Christ become partners with each other in fulfilling the mission of the church and in spiritual growth.

It was a tough time for that small band of believers, but they shared their resources and got through it.  One of the reasons they were able to make it was they really believed that they were a family.  Of course if your brother, sister, dad, mom, son or daughter needed food, shelter, clothing you would help. That is just what they did.  This is not some form of communism that takes your resources from you and ends up impoverishing everyone in the end.  It is family love that passes stuff around, meets needs and picks people up when they fall.  We need to remember we are family too.

They were devoted to the breaking of bread.  This means they shared meals. One of the best ways to build fellowship is to invite people over.  You both have to eat.  Don’t stress. Your mess helps you build a bridge to them.  Your perfect dinner and sparkling house can actually build a wall when you pretend you have it all together. They shared the Lord’s Supper too. There is no greater symbol of the unity we have with our brothers and sisters than the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.

One of the greatest things we can learn from this thriving, struggling group of early Christians is they didn’t give up on each other.  Luke said they devoted themselves. Satan wants you to be quick to throw the baby out with the bath water when fellowship is tough because he knows that you will only learn the best things (love, forgiveness, humility) in relationships.  Sometimes the more organized a church gets the more like a business and less like a body it becomes.  Just like growing up, even real-deal brothers and sisters can be jerks sometimes.  The answer is never to isolate yourself.  The writer of Hebrews warns us not to forsake (literally abandon) the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:24-25). He said we need to be in community to provoke or stir each other up to love and good works, and we need to be in community so we can cheer each other on as we see the Day that Jesus is coming back approaching.

Maybe the reason that you are about to crack right now is you don’t have anyone around you holding you accountable and cheering you on.  Let’s not be like the poor pine trees I left standing by themselves.  When we isolate ourselves everyone loses. Let’s get into fellowship with our family of brothers and sisters in Christ. The only way to live a successful Christian life is to get into community with the family of God.

To learn how to become a part of God’s family,  please click here.

To find a Bible believing community in your area, please click here.

Total Commitment

by Bobby Lamb

In the past few weeks we have been exploring what it takes to be a successful God’s way. We have seen that even though the idea of success may be different, we all have the desire to be successful. With this series we are setting out to discover God’s definition of ultimate success.  The definition and ideology that God has set before us is the end all of success. He wants nothing less than the best for His people.

Tim Leahy explained that the first step to having success God’s way is salvation. We can’t be successful if we are separated from God. (For more on this click here.)

Now that the platform has been set, and we have a starting point, we know that salvation is not the end but just the beginning. From this point on we will build on this as a prerequisite. Alan Redpath summarizes this well: “The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime.”

The next step in moving toward a successful Christian life is unyielding faith. Eddie McDonald brought us the understanding of trusting God in even the most extreme circumstances, showing us how we can put our faith into action. A.W. Pink once said, “Daily living by faith in Christ is what makes the difference between the sickly and the healthy Christian, between the defeated and the victorious saint.”  (For more on this click here.)

So as we continue to build on the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. acrostic, adding yet another layer to the successful life God has for us as believers, we are going to look at commitment. You can look on just about every page in the Bible and see an example; so as we consider what commitment means to the Christian, I would like to look at three forms: man’s commitment to man, God’s commitment to man, and man’s commitment to God.

  • Man’s commitment to man

We can all see the value of being committed to another person whether it is in a marital relationship, work relationship, or a friendship. One friendship that comes to mind is that of David and Jonathan. David grew up as a country boy with sheep and the simple things of life. Jonathan, on the other hand, grew up with the comforts of the royal courts of the king, who happened to be his father. This relationship, however unlikely, was a strong one. King Saul (Jonathan’s father) was removed from the throne in God’s eyes because of a great sin in his life (1 Samuel 13). Saul was set to kill David, the Lord’s next anointed king. Although Saul was still on the throne, he knew that his time was limited. The hard truth that David was chosen by God to be the next king was not a secret, even to David’s friend Jonathan. With the inheritance of the throne in the balance, Jonathan was faced with a decision that could not be easy. You see, on the one hand he could have simply stayed out of the way of his father and let him pursue David to death; but on the other, Jonathan had made a commitment to David. This was not just any commitment; it was a covenant between him and David. This was something to be taken very seriously. This form of commitment was founded on something they both had in common………knowing God. They both had the love of God in their hearts and the desire to be committed to Him and His plan. It was because of their love and desire for God that they formed the covenant between each other. So we can see how Jonathan may have had a choice to make, but the decision was clear (1 Samuel 20). As Jonathan and David had a conversation about Saul’s intention to kill David, Jonathan even remembers and re-declares his total commitment. This is the commitment that is self-sacrificing.

  • Gods commitment to man

When I think of God, the Master and Creator of the universe, it absolutely humbles me to think He is committed to me!!!! He has provided a way for me to be forever in a relationship with Him. His commitment can be seen in many different actions taken by Jesus. The greatest display of God’s commitment to man is the cross.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

  •  Man’s commitment to God

In John 21 we see a great conversation between Peter and Jesus. As the conversation begins, Jesus asked Peter a question, but he did it in a strange way. He didn’t say, “Peter, do you love me?” he said, “Simon son of Jonah, do you love me?” You see Jesus reverted back to the old name for Peter. Can you imagine how this felt to Peter? It’s bad enough that he is carrying the weight of the denial; not once, not twice, but three times he denied Jesus. But now Jesus is even calling him by his old name……that had to sting. Jesus asked Peter twice using the same word for love, agape. That’s the truest love, a kind of supreme love. And Peter answered back with the word phileo, and this word is a lesser love, one meant for a strong affection. Put yourself in Peter’s shoes now. Jesus is asking him “do you love me supremely?”  Peter, knowing that Jesus knows the thoughts of all men, can’t honestly answer yes to that because his actions don’t match up and he knows it. So he gives Jesus the closest thing he can, “I really like you”. This happens two times, but something happens on the third time that really hits Peter hard. Jesus turns things around a little and asked Peter, “do you really like me?”…….Peter is floored by this; now Jesus was even questioning his honesty of that lesser level of love. Peter quickly answers, “Jesus you know all things, and you know I do”. What Jesus has done with Peter is made sure he was completely empty of himself, just like the boat was empty of fish. It is impossible to be filled with Jesus if we are full of ourselves.  Man’s commitment to God has to be completely pouring out who we are, all the prideful self-determination, and being full of Jesus. It was in this moment that Jesus restored Peter and was able to put him in the place where he could be committed.

We have to be willing on all fronts to be empty of ourselves. Peter in his early life was self-willed and hard headed (he’s is often referred to as the apostle with the foot shaped mouth). He went about boasting that he would never deny Christ and how much he loved Him, but his determination was not commitment. His point to prove was to himself and others around him, not to God. But Jesus saw the commitment ready to work in him, only in time. He would be so committed he would even lay his life down for Jesus. Peter, even knowing that he would one day die for the Love of Jesus, was willing to commit to Him.  This is what Jesus meant by His statement in John 21:18-19: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’”  It should be so with us as well.  Woodrow Kroll says it like this: “When it comes to God’s commands, the issue is not clarity; it’s commitment.”

If we’re going to be successful God’s way we must be committed to each other, we must understand God’s commitment to us, and in-turn we must be committed to God His way.

If you haven’t taken the first step in being successful God’s way, please click here.

The Matrix for Unyielding Faith

by Eddie McDonald

In last week’s post, Tim began our 7 week Successful Life Series by establishing the reality that God defines success differently from the world.  In fact, salvation is the gateway for success as God defines it.  Be sure to read last week’s blog by clicking here if you missed it.

Now, once this first rung of success is reached, you’re ready to wrestle with the second.  “What do you mean?” you ask.

We think that, having now been reconciled to God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that all will be footloose and fancy-free.  Nothing shakes our faith more than this fact: that not only is the world a mess due to sin (yes, even our own) – but that mess oftentimes seems aimed at us!

But Surely God’s plan is not for us to be dashed upon the rocks of doubt and despair once we’ve placed out trust in Jesus and repented of our sin, is it?  I’m here to say, unequivocally, “No!”  Why?  Because God’s matrix of success not only begins with Salvation, but also includes “Unyielding Faith”.

Various things cause us to struggle with faith.  In his book, The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel identifies what he calls “The Big 8” – objections to Christianity that Christians, at various times, wrestle with.  Let me list a few, and see if there are any of these with which you can resonate:

  • Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot.
  • Since Miracles Contradict Science, They Cannot Be True
  • It’s offensive to Claim Jesus Is the only way to God.

Any one of these can keep us up at night, can’t they?  They force us to recon with the reality of a fallen world and reconcile that with the God whom the apostle John declares “is Love” (1 John 4:7-8).  So how do we do it?  How do maintain an unyielding faith in the midst of a fallen world?

Let me point out what unyielding faith is not first, then look at what it is.

WHAT UNYIELDING FAITH IS NOT

Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt is a miraculous story of God’s grace.  God led the nation to the border of the land He had promised to them hundreds of years before.  However, in Numbers 13-14 we read the account of twelve spies going in to the land to scout it out.  All praised the location, only two believed it could be taken – Caleb was one of those.

You may know the rest of the story – after forty years wandering through the desert because of their rebellion, a new generation enters into the Promised Land with the faith their parents and grandparents lacked – and among them: Caleb!

Stu Weber in his book Tender Warrior highlights Caleb’s faith as a model for men to emulate, but clearly this is for all God’s people.  Read Joshua 14:6-12.  In it we see, through the life of Caleb, three things unyielding faith is not.

  • Unyielding Faith is never separated from God’s Word. Caleb wasn’t speaking out of his head or (as pop culture will tell us) from the heart (definitely a bad idea – see Jeremiah 17:9-10).  He was basing his faith on the word God spoke.  That is huge!  Unyielding faith is rooted in the Word of the Lord – the Bible – not emotionalism or one’s best guess.
  • Unyielding faith is not limited by age or circumstances. Again, Caleb was no longer 40 years old – yet the faith of his youth had only increased – that’s what we should be busy about.  Also, Caleb’s faith remained regardless of the odds.
  • Unyielding faith never dictates, it always submits. Now, please understand that the hill country that he is requesting is the hardest terrain and filled with the very giants that freaked out the people 45 years ago…and the dude is now 85!  But the key phrase to this last point of what unyielding faith is not is in the phrase “It may be…”, or in some of your translations “Perhaps”.  Stu Weber writes the following:

“That ‘perhaps’ is full of wisdom.  Caleb knows he has no corner on the future.  God is neither his pawn nor his errand boy.  Caleb is simply God’s servant… As a wise and mature believer, Caleb is not into any ‘name it and claim it’ theology.  He understands he could very well get the slats kicked out of his life in that hill country…But, he also knows God, and he’s able, even eager, to invest himself in God’s intentions – even at the cost of his own life, if it should prove to be so.”

Mick Yoder, a friend of Stu’s said after burying his 10 year old son after a plane accident, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.”  So true!

WHAT UNYIELDING FAITH IS

In the conclusion of Strobel’s The Case for Faith, he summarizes his findings to shoring up a wavering faith in the midst of seemingly unanswerable questions.  Three additional things to remember for us as we seek to have an unyielding faith:

  1. Find Perspective. Often we focus on the problem (whatever it is) and it looms large and in charge, sneering at us and seeming to claim victory in the midst of our doubts.  What we need is perspective.  In other words, there are so many other pieces of evidence beyond the problem itself that point to a God with answers which, when taken with the whole, though we may not have all the answers at that very moment, we can rest assured that the God of the Bible does!  Simply put, evidence abounds in the 21st Century and is at our fingertips, allowing us to give an account for the hope that lies within us.  (Yes, you heard right – evidence.  Christianity is a reasoned faith, regardless of what the skeptics say.)
  2. Making a Choice. The second key to unwavering faith is determining in your heart that you will choose God, no matter what comes.  Consider the traditional marriage vows given at a wedding.  Isn’t it interesting that we expect God to remain faithful to our “worse” but at times we’re tempted and are ready to throw in the towel and the hint of tough times?  You see, it’s a predetermined choice (which, of course, is rooted in God’s grace).  Strobel states, “Faith is about a choice, a step of the will, a decision to want to know God personally.  It’s saying, ‘I believe – please help my unbelief!’”
  3. Changing a Life. This one is the evidence in the mirror, as well as the brothers and sisters who surround you.  I say it a lot: The grace that saved you is the grace that sustains you.  This is why, in this third step to maintaining an unyielding faith, it’s key to go back to the foundation: go back to the Gospel.    You see, no matter how small a time-span, all Christians have a “B.C.”, that period of time of living for self before embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The question for us is, “Has there been a change?”  People can argue about all sorts of evidence, but nobody can argue with the change in your heart and life that God has wrought!  That’s where He gets the glory, because left to our own devices…well, some of us might even be dead.  James said “Faith without works is dead”, right?  If there is truth faith, then we’re going to see fruit in your life as a result of having the Holy Spirit indwelling you, guiding you, teaching you, convicting you.

The matrix of unyielding faith: Being grounded in the Word; remember age nor circumstances are obstacles but opportunities; humbly submit to God’s divine and perfect will; find perspective; make a choice; and reflect on your changed life.  With this matrix in place, by God’s grace, you, too, can have an unyielding faith!

To begin your faith journey, please click here.

“God Created Us To Be Successful”

by Tim Leahy

A time honored high school tradition is the “most likely list.” The most likely to succeed, the most likely to get married first; the most likely to … The truth is that nobody sets out to be the most likely to be unsuccessful. That’s because God has created us with the desire to be successful.

This past week we began our 7 week Successful Life Series at The Gathering. Our intent is to accurately communicate how God defines success.  Throughout the series we’re using the word “success” as an acrostic to convey what success is.

Logically you would think the One who created us would define success for us. Gratefully He has! However, there are many definitions and ideologies competing to define what success is.  Some of these are: The one with the most toys when they die wins.  If you’re happy you’re successful.  If you’re doing what you want to do you’re successful. If you accomplish what you set out to do, you’re successful. While some of these ideologies have some truth to them, they fall short of God’s definition of success.

God says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”  (Matt 16:26 – ESV) God’s point is that it is of no profit to gain everything this world offers if you live, die and spend eternity separated from Him.

The first S in the word Success is “salvation”. So what is salvation? Simply put, it’s understanding that God loves us and created us for Him; that we’re separated from Him because of our sin; that He fixed our separation problem by sending His Son Jesus to die in our place to pay the penalty for our sin, so we could know God and be with Him now and for eternity.

This salvation is obtained when we “believe” (John 3:16) which means to “trust and commit”. To trust that Jesus died for our sins to reconcile us to God, and because of this, we commit our life to living His way.

Salvation is the beginning of a successful journey not the end. How we live after trusting and committing our lives to Jesus determines the level of success we experience during our time on earth and in eternity.

It’s important to understand that success is not a destination, but a journey. It’s the movie of our life, not the snap shots. We all fail and fall, but getting up, learning from it and moving forward God’s way determines the rapidity of success during our journey. Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

It’s also important to note that having money, possessions, fame, etc… isn’t a problem; it’s how we use them that can be the problem. All things come from God and should be used for His glory and the good of others. As God’s Word says: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48 –NIV)

To learn more about living successfully God’s way, please click here.