Love where you live
Are you a good neighbor or a bad neighbor? I’ll be honest and say that I have not always been the best neighbor. My kids have ridden their bikes on other people’s lawns and my dogs have done their business without me carrying a dodo bag to clean up after them.
Part of the reason our country is so torn apart right now is that people have never learned how to be good neighbors. Instead of building bridges they have built walls. Instead of showing love they have harbored hate. Instead of intentionally listening and learning they have hung out “no trespassing” signs. If you want to build a better community it starts with your heart.
Jesus gave two clear commandments that Mark recorded: “30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-32
Jesus spoke this to his Jewish followers who were really good at neighboring with their fellow Jews who looked like them and talked like them and acted like them but terrible when it came to neighboring anyone who wasn’t Jewish.
The Jews did not like the Samaritans because they were half Jewish and half Gentile. They didn’t like the Romans because they worshiped their emperor. They didn’t like the Greeks because they had their own Greek gods. So when Jesus commanded them to love their neighbors he was referring to loving everyone regardless of their skin tone or ethnicity or socioeconomic status. This was a radical statement back then and it still is now.
You are capable of loving where you live if you choose to see your neighbor as a child of God. Your neighbor was created in the image of God just like you. God designed everyone and every color of human being there is.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
When you choose to see other people as God’s creation it changes your perception of them. You will begin to feel compassion for them, love for them, and forgiveness because God tells us to forgive those who have hurt us. You might not every become best friends, but you can do your part and see them as a human being created in the image of God.
There was a long standing show on T.V. called Mister Rogers Neighborhood. In the late 1960’s segregation had been abolished, but black citizens were still not embraced as equal participants in public life everywhere. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in 1968 and many community pools across the country still refused to let blacks swim with whites. It was in this tense atmosphere that Fred Rogers performed a simple but meaningful act which aired on May 9, 1969.
Rogers invited Officer Clemmons, a black actor who played a police officer on the show, to join him and cool his feet in a small plastic wading pool. When Clemmons sat down and placed his feet in the water, right next to Rogers’, the two men broke a well-known color barrier. When Clemmons took his feet out of the pool, he used Mister Rogers towel to dry his feet and then Mister Rogers used the same towel to dry his. It was a powerful statement. He was teaching the world how to be a good neighbor.
Loving where you live includes loving your neighbors. Do something to build bridges with them. Here are a few examples of bridge building:
Mow the neighbor’s lawn
Watch their kids
Watch their dog
Care about them as a person
Pray for your neighbors by name every day.
Bring the love of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see it.
Maybe it’s that time of year or maybe I am just a little more sensitive nowadays, but in the past few weeks I have heard or seen social media posts from people informing their online friends that they love Jesus but hate the church. I find that statement fascinating and worth digging into. Is it even possible for someone to love Jesus and hate the church? I guess it is possible, but is it right? Sometimes people have a bad experience with a church. Unfortunately, that is a reality for many people. Maybe they had a pastor who didn’t show up when they needed a pastor and this soured them. Or maybe they were victimized by a clergy as a child. Clergy abuse is abhorred and unacceptable and the abuser should be held accountable for their actions no matter how long ago it happened. Sometimes people get into disagreements with others and leave the church. Some people don’t like being asked to give money so they leave the church. Instead of finding a new church where they can practice biblical tithing, they stop giving altogether and blame their last church as the reason why they stopped. There are literally thousands of reasons why people get angry with the church, but does that mean they cause to hate the church in general?
Jesus started the church. He gave birth to it. It’s His baby and he is the chief shepherd of it. Jesus never told his disciples to build a specific kind of church or style of church, he just told them to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Some churches are huge and others are tiny. Some have traditional worship services or sing acapella. Other churches use a full band and an array of singers. Some churches have steeples and others meet in schools. Where a church meets, what worship style it holds sacred or whether it has benches or stadium seating is irrelevant. What matters is that believers get together for fellowship, prayer, teaching, worship, evangelism, and serving are what’s important. Believers are told to get together as the body of Christ which constitutes a church. And on top of that Jesus told his followers to love each other. This is paramount.
So for a person to say that they love Jesus but hate the church is unbiblical. It’s the same as telling Jesus you love him but think his church is ugly and you want no part of it. This breaks Jesus heart and limits the witness of his disciples. The church isn’t perfect because it is run by normal people, forgiven people, but imperfect people none the less. Just because you left one church for one reason or another it doesn’t mean that you should quit going to church altogether. You should find a new church where you can tithe and contribute to the body of believers. You should be a part of a fellowship that exults the name of Jesus and is committed to making disciples like Jesus commanded his followers to do.
Jesus started the church and he will come back for it. Believers are accountable to be a part of the church body and help it to fulfill its mission to make disciples no matter the style of church, age of its members, where it meets, or size in weekend numbers. The next time you hear someone say they love Jesus but hate the church, remind them that it’s Jesus’ church. So by saying they hate the church they are saying they think Jesus was wrong to start it.
I want to encourage you to be a part of a Spirit-filled, bible believing church. You may have had a bad church experience in the past, but that doesn’t change the fact that God still wants you to be a part of His church with other believers. So find a church that fits you and where you can contribute. When believers unite for the cause of Christ, it’s marvelous and powerful and you have the honor of being part of it.
Every time I go to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis I cry. I didn’t use to cry when I went there. To be honest, the first few times I visited people whose children had been admitted I didn’t cry. Since I was a young pastor without any children of my own at the time, I thought that I needed to show strength and I did it by caring without becoming too emotional. And everything worked fine until I had children of my own. Kids do something to your emotions. They tend to rub off the rough edges and unwittingly teach you the depths of love. New parents will do anything for their babies because they are so innocent and precious. My children have certainly helped expose my emotions in ways that often take me by surprise.
The reason I cry whenever I visit Children’s Hospital is because I have spent a significant amount of time there with my kids. When Josh was just over three years old he was diagnosed with leukemia, which flipped my world upside down. Sara was two and Kathi was pregnant with Katie. I cannot even remember how many times we drove back and forth to Children’s, how many scares we had and nights we spent under close supervision while he was receiving chemotherapy. The time I spent in the hospital opened my eyes to a whole new level of people experiencing pain and suffering. My eyes were opened because I was experiencing intense pain and suffering along with Josh and Kathi. Even though Sara was only two she knew something was not right and was able to recall many details of Josh’s battle with surprising clarity. Many family members and friends felt the sting of cancer along with us.
So this week when I visited Children’s to see our close friends and their daughter I cried as I drove through the parking garage looking for a spot. After parking, I wiped away the tears taking a few deep breaths. After checking in at the front desk I took the elevator to the sixth floor. The sixth floor doesn’t mean anything to most people, but to me, it was two floors down from where Josh spent so much time. The same emotional pain that I experienced when Josh was hospitalized flooded my soul and came pouring out my eyes as I walked down the long hallway towards my friend’s room. Before entering their room I had to collect myself again. As I entered their room to see their precious child my heart was overflowing with authentic love and compassion for one of God’s precious children and two loving parents who would do anything to help their child who was in such underserved pain.
In my personal opinion, kids shouldn’t get sick. I could tolerate a cold or tummy ache now and then but when a kid has to fight for their life every day, it just doesn’t seem fair. But life is very unfair when you think about it. Why some people are handed so much and others are handed so little will always be a mystery.
I am sure I will visit someone at Children’s Hospital again. And when I do, I expect to cry and relive our pain and suffering all over again, for just a few moments. That is what makes me human. It also reminds me that I can hurt with those who are hurting and being present means more than saying a thousand words over the phone. You can never replace a real hug with a Teddy Bear or flowers delivered from the hospital store.
Pain and suffering has taught me that it’s OK to be real when you are hurting. It’s also important to comfort others who need you. The greater the pain, the greater the support system you need. You need to share your feelings with one or two close friends. This is true for both men and women. And if you know someone who is hurting, call them or stop by. Chances are, they won’t tell you they need anything, but the fact that you called or stopped by shows them you do care. The author of Hebrews writes: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). It pleases God when you cry with those who are mourning and celebrate with those who are victorious. So don’t avoid someone who needs you, make time to care for them because it pleases God and will bring you joy knowing you did what you could.
What do you declare?
As a leader, I am often under the microscope. People have opinions and feel free to share them whether helpful or hurtful. Some people don’t only share their opinions, they actually intend to hurt and harm with their words and actions. Lately, I have been living under the scrutiny of others whether real or perceived. This scrutiny has impacted how I view myself and my calling. I have elevated my critics to the point that they have enough space in my head to impact how I live my life. This has resulted in my feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and even depressed. Their negative influence has impacted my thinking and the lens through which I view myself. I started to view myself through my critic's eyes instead of God’s eyes. This is not only wrong, but it has also led me down a path of darkness and deceit.
The truth is you have critics just like I do. It could be a parent, a coworker, neighbor, or even a person who lashed out on social media. Your critics impact the way you perceive yourself just like me. The good news is that you don’t have to view yourself as your critics do. You can start to view yourself as God views you. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are a child of God and as a child of God you are loved, cared for, and have a purpose to live out. But that’s hard to grasp if you keep listening to the negativity your critics keep pouring out on you even if they only made a few comments and you let them echo in your head.
In order to silence those critics and their voices in your head, you can write up a series of declarations to recite daily. These declarations will help you to claim the promises of God about who you are in His eyes, and that’s all that really matters. Paul writes: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Understanding that I need to take captive every thought, I came up with these declarations. Each one specifically pertains to a truth that I need to cling to. Here are my ten declarations that I say out loud to myself every day:
1. I am a child of God. I am loved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and wanted by God.
2. I serve a valuable purpose in advancing the kingdom of God helping to make disciples locally and abroad.
3. God has called me to help others grow closer to Christ.
4. I will be transparent and authentic as a husband, father, and leader sharing highs and lows.
5. I will accept the fact that God will continue to bless me and use me for His glory because I honor Him.
6. I will surround myself with quality people and great leaders that will help me to grow.
7. I will forgive others as God has forgiven me.
8. I will seek to follow the will of God every day so that I can be the best leader I can be.
9. I will be the husband, father, friend, and leader that God has called me to be.
10. I will give my best for the glory of God every day.
I encourage you to come up with a list of declarations that you say every day. Your list will look different than mine, but each declaration should be anchored in biblical truth. So, take a few minutes to write out your declarations. Pray over them and rewrite or revise as needed. You will be glad you did. After all, you are a child of God, created with intention, purpose, and grace. You are loved by God and will be used for His glory and His glory alone. May the LORD bless you as you declare God’s truth over your life.
There have been amazing inventions and discoveries throughout history that changed everything, yet all pale in comparison to the amazing discovery that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead after he was beaten, crucified, and buried. His body was even placed under guard to make sure nobody stole it.
After being dead for 3 days Jesus amazed everyone by coming back to life claiming victory over death offering everyone who believes in him a new life. This is what Easter is all about. Easter changes everything. According to Scripture, the resurrection of Christ is the centerpiece of the Christian faith.
Paul wrote First Corinthians to deal with those who were questioning if Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Paul writes:
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [died]. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Without a risen Christ, we have no gospel at all. But because he was raised from the dead, we will also be raised to eternal life and that’s amazing and impacts how we live today. Paul gave three compelling reasons why they should believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
The first compelling reason is the faith of the believers, who were so convinced that Jesus did rise from the dead that they would rather die for what they believed to be true than deny it.
The second compelling reason to believe in the resurrection is the Old Testament Scriptures foretold that the resurrection would take place. Isaiah writes: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5-6
These two verses foretell that fact that Jesus had to die so that all who believe in him may live. There are literally hundreds of prophecies that point to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Some were written thousands of years before he walked the earth.
Jesus told his disciples and subsequently you and I: “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.” That is written in John 3:16.
The third compelling reason to believe in the resurrection is found in the witnesses who saw him after his crucifixion. After the resurrection Jesus was seen by many of the same eyewitnesses that watched him die. Peter saw him and so did the disciples collectively. James was Jesus half-brother and he put his faith in him only after he saw Jesus risen. There were 500 plus other people who saw Jesus alive at the same time. There were eyewitnesses and they shared that Jesus was alive.
Paul tells the Corinthians that unless they believe in the resurrection their faith is a waste of time. “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-14
Jesus is as real as life itself. And he wants you to put your faith in him by believing that he died on the cross and was raised into life on your behalf. That is why Easter is so amazing.
Testifying to Angry People
Angry crowds bring out the worst in people. A riot is a crowd with a mob mentality and it is unpredictable. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul faced in Jerusalem after he had fulfilled his purification vow to show the Jews that he was not demanding that they stop all of their Jewish customs and traditions. While he was fulfilling his vow by ritually purifying himself in a Mikvah [ritual purification tank] someone from Ephesus recognized him and stirred up the whole crowd.
Since Paul was in a very public place and the Jews were adamant to protect their way of life and customs, it didn’t take much provoking to convince people that Paul opposed them even though he did not. The Gospel opponents used three triggers they knew would fire off the Jewish crowd - exaggerations, lies and sensationalism – as seen in Acts 21:27-30: “27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.) 30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.”
“31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
The Roman soldiers chained Paul to themselves to take him away. As they were about to go into barracks Paul asked for and was given permission to speak. Continuing in Acts 22 Paul says,“1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” 2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.”
Paul goes on to tell them his conversion story and they actually listen to the point when he tells them that God told him to go witness to the gentiles. This was another trigger for the rioters and they tried to get at him again, forcing the Romans to bring him into the barracks.
In this section of text, Paul shows us three ways to respond to gospel opponents. First, pray for wisdom. Second, be bold with the truth of the gospel. And, third, share your story.
You don’t have to be eloquent or super educated, just tell others what God has done in your life. Your faith story has three parts to it. Describe your life before Christ, your conversion experience, and your present hopes.
Sharing your faith will encourage you because it will drive you back to the heart of your relationship with Jesus. I think that is why even when Paul faced the angry crowd he could still speak to them with boldness and clarity, because he knew God had him there for a reason.
And, finally, trust God with the results. God never wastes pain and he never wastes a story. God will never waste your story because your story is important. You matter to God and what God has done for you he wants you to share with others.
Are You Facing a No-Win situation?
Have you ever found yourself in a no-win situation? It’s a bad feeling. That is the situation Paul found himself in. He was in Jerusalem and the Lord told him that he was going to face some really big problems. The Jews formed a mob and wanted to kill him. The Roman army saved his life then found out that Paul was a Roman citizen so they had to treat him fairly.
At the end of chapter 22 Paul was sent away for the night and told to come back the next day and explain to the Sanhedrin why everyone was so upset with him. The Sanhedrin was the Jewish governing authority and it was led by the high priest. Members of the Sanhedrin were either Sadducees or Pharisees. The word Sadducee means “righteous one.” They represented the Jewish aristocracy and the high priesthood. The other half of the Sanhedrin was made up of Pharisees. Pharisee means “separated ones,” and they kept themselves pure of any corrupting influence, including Greek or Roman influences, which were considered pagan.
In Acts 23 the Sanhedrin had assembled and Paul was called in to face them. It must have felt like a no-win situation. It was Paul against everyone else. This section of texts gives two life lessons that pertain to anyone who has ever faced a no-win situation.
“1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.”
Paul was a man of strong character. He can say that he has fulfilled his duty to God because he had done God’s will. After he says this Ananias the high priest ordered some other Pharisees and Sadducees to strike him. Such abuse of prisoners violated ancient legal ethics. Striking someone on the mouth was considered a huge insult.
So those who are called righteous ones and separated ones struck Paul on the mouth. These are the religious leaders. “3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” Paul calls the high priest a hypocrite.
The first life lesson is that your actions reflect your character.
A person’s real character always comes out under pressure. If you are living a Christ centered life when you face a no win situation, you will lean into it with faith and conviction like Paul. He spoke the truth even when it wasn’t popular.
What Paul did next is pretty interesting. “6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) 9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
This brings us to the second life lesson, you should pray for wisdom whenever you need it. Paul knew that everyone he was speaking to wanted him dead. So he gets them to argue with each other.
“11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
It was a dark time for Paul. Certainly his hopes of continuing to testify for the Lord in Jerusalem were squashed by the proceedings before the Sanhedrin. Yet in this disheartening moment, Jesus encourages him. Those words gave Paul strength and hope. No matter how discouraging circumstances appear, we can trust that God will be with us.
Whenever God moves, Satan is always close by. John 10:10 records Jesus saying: “10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Satan and his demonic realm want to steal your freedom putting you in slavery to sin and killing your potential so that you aspire for average and never fully follow Christ in every area of your life.
As the church was forming shortly after Jesus ascension, Satan was attempting to silence believers so they would stop making disciples. It didn’t work. The Holy Spirit continued to stir hearts motivating believers to destroy their old way of life so they could embrace their new faith. Their lives would never be the same. Luke writes: “18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:18-20).
You can’t follow Christ with your whole heart if you keep secrets. This is how you can break free from your past behaviors and step into a closer relationship with Jesus, here’s how. First, repent. What is it that you need to repent from? Porn, drugs, alcohol, addiction to whatever? Bad Netflix shows? The list of things that mess up our relationship with God is extensive so I suggest whatever God puts on your heart you deal with.
Second, clean your house of ungodly things. Don’t convince yourself that you should try to sell or use these things until they’re gone; just destroy it and get it off your property or out of your presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to shine in every area of your house.
Third, believe that God has a better plan for you. Believe that God wants to fill your life with goodness and joy. Believe that God will meet all of your needs. Peter writes: “8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9
Satan and his demonic realm are a believer’s real enemy. You might not be able to identify Satan in a crowd, but he is a real, viable, cruel, supernatural enemy that seeks to destroy you by leading his demons in attacks against you. His intent is to steal, kill, and destroy. He’s Powerful, but God is more powerful and Christians can tap into the power of God to fight against the enemy. Jesus was resurrected from the dead to prove that God is more powerful than Satan. The empty cross is an eternal reminder that God has more power than Satan, but that doesn’t mean he won’t put up a fight. Your best defense is to clean house and don’t let Satan get a foothold in any area of your life. If you need to repent, repent. Then remove what needs to be removed and believe that God’s way is the best way. You will be glad you did.
The one thing that every church should do is discipleship. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said “Go and make disciples……” Discipleship is being a student of Jesus and teaching others about Christian doctrine, prayer, Christian living, and worship.
Jesus modeled discipleship. Mark 1:16-22 reads:
“16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. 21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
Jesus made disciples who in turn made disciples. After Jesus ascension, the Holy Spirit came and the disciples made even more disciples, thousands of disciples. Discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit to become more Christ-like. This process requires believers to respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to examine their thoughts, words and actions and compare them with the Word of God.
Four characteristics that identify disciples:
1. Have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A disciple is a Christian. There are a lot of people who are trying to live the Christian life without being a Christian. They are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus without having the supernatural power to do so. You see, a non-Christian cannot be a disciple of Christ because they are not a child of God. Jesus says:
“5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” John 3:5
There is a barrier between us and God, and that barrier is sin. The reason Christ died for you and me is to tear down that barrier. Also, a non-Christian lacks the supernatural resources to be a disciple. You need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, who comes into your life when you’re saved. So first of all, a disciple is someone who has made that foundational decision to receive Christ as his Savior.
You can grow in biblical knowledge without having faith in Christ but you will never grow closer to Christ unless you have a personal relationship with him.
2. Have a growing relationship with Christ. To have a growing relationship with Christ means that you know God better today than you did a year ago. Your relationship with God is not static; it’s dynamic.
You grow by committing to attending church every week. For 2000 years believers have been gathering together for discipleship, encouragement, and to express love for one another.
Make time to read the bible every day. People who read their bible at least four times a week are 228% more likely to share their faith than someone who only reads the bible a few times a year.
Commit to joining a group. At Freshwater we have over 400 people who are currently in some type of growth group whether it’s a small group, celebrate recovery, or other group.
3. Strive to honor Christ in every area of life. Jesus said we are to teach disciples to observe all things He commanded us. A disciple of Jesus is intent on applying all of Christ’s commands to his life. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words” John 14:23–24.
God says to tithe, so disciples tithe honoring God with their finances. Jesus says to love our enemies so we do our best to love our enemies and see them like Jesus. Jesus tells us to forgive so we forgive. Jesus tells us to pray so we pray. Jesus says to be wise so we seek the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in every single decision that we make. This is what it looks like to honor Christ with your life, to put biblical principles into practice in your life every day.
4. Be making new disciples. If you are truly a follower of Jesus Christ, then you will take seriously these final orders from Jesus: go into all the world and make disciples. Jesus made disciples and commanded his disciples to make disciples. That is the process of discipleship.
Why You Should Read the Bible
Did you know that the more you read the bible, the more you will experience personal transformation? Bible engagement transforms lives, specifically your life if you are willing to read it. According to the data, 42% of believers are more generous after reading the bible; 54% are more loving, and 56% are more engaged with their faith. When people were asked if they felt like they read it enough, 57% said they wish they read it more. This data reveals that reading the bible does make a difference, so you should read it on a regular basis.
I am often asked by new believers if they should start reading the bible at the beginning. While Genesis is a great book to read, it can be a bit confusing. Most people who start reading the bible in Genesis quit by the time they finish Deuteronomy. They get hung up on all the Levitical Laws and names and timelines. So my advice to new believers is to start with the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John explains the life and ministry of Jesus. It is easy to read and will help a new Christian wrap their hands around what it means to be a follow of Jesus. Then after they finish it, I offer to meet with them or connect to talk about what they read. From there I encourage them to read the Book of Acts because it gives the history of the church and introduces them to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Growing Christians also ask me how to read the bible. I suggest finding a reading plan online that they like or reading the bible from cover to cover in a year. This takes discipline, but it is worth it. Personally, I like reading through the bible once a year. I use the Youversion (online bible app) chronological one year reading plan. This plan helps me to see the scriptures unfold in chronological order. I highlight verses that stand out to me so that I can go back and reference them. I also like to read my hard copy of the bible. I write notes in the margins, use a highlighter to mark verses, and underline key passages. After using the same bible for more than a decade, it is full of my personal notes and highlights. I often reflect on what I wrote and find encouragement in seeing all the answered prayers.
If you are feeling stuck in your faith right now maybe it is because you need read the Bible more. Reading God’s Word is always spiritually refreshing. God is always revealing himself to us in new ways through His Word. You could read the bible a thousand times and still learn something new about God every time you read it.
The bottom line is that the more you read God’s Word, the more you will know about God, his ways, and his will for you. The Holy Spirit will bring biblical truth to life in you. And when you know God’s Word, you will be able to apply it to your life. The goal of every Christian should be to know God and we know God through His Word as it is written in the Bible. The Bible is not just an ancient book, it is God’s inspired Word given to you. So add bible reading to your calendar today. Make it part of your daily routine and see what God does in you and through you. You will be blessed for it.
(resources: stateofthebible.org, accessed 2/26/2019)