Team Up

When you think of church, what comes to your mind? Is it a place where you feel discouraged or alone, or is it somewhere you feel at home and encouraged?

God didn’t design humans to do life alone. We’re made to have relationships with other people. And the Church—God’s set apart people—should be the most encouraging and most hospitable people on Earth. But the reason so many of us feel discouraged even at church is because we’re either not using the gifts God has given us, or we’re trying to take over other people’s gifts.

He never intends for you to be just a face in the crowd. We are all uniquely designed by God to play a significant part for His purpose and His plan. And every part is just as important as the next. So don’t spend your life just being a spectator, watching everyone else play the game. Get up and take action with what God has given you.

Others of us have what we often call Type A personalities—we want to control every little thing that everyone is doing. But by doing that, you’re keeping others from receiving the blessings of doing their part. Have a humble heart and give others the chance to experience the blessing that comes from using their gifts for God’s Kingdom.

The Church needs to be unified together for one purpose, the purpose of fulfilling God’s plan here on Earth. We have to be careful not to divide ourselves. Saying things like, “That’s not my job, it’s your job,” doesn’t help anyone get anywhere. Whether you’ve been a Christian for 20 years or 20 minutes, whether you’re on stage in front of thousands or behind the scenes where no one sees you, and whether you’re a staff member or volunteer, it doesn’t matter. There’s no volunteering for God—there is only fulfilling your destiny and the plan God has for your life.

Don’t just be someone who watches everyone else doing the work and receiving the blessing. Be a person of action and use whatever is in your hands to build up the Kingdom of God.

Watch the full teaching from week 1 of Manage the Monkeys.

 

Celebration / Concentration

For 21 days in January, we fasted together as a church so that we could begin 2017 with our hearts and minds set on God. Now that the fast is over, I want you to remember that God is not finished with us yet!

Ephesians 4:1-10—“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”

However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, ‘When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.’ Notice that it says ‘he ascended.’ This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

Having oneness and unity is the direction we need to go. The Enemy wants to isolate you, and the way out of isolation is to come together. Our gifts are to work together for one purpose, and that is to fill the entire universe with God’s name.

What God does in you, whether through a fast or during any other time in your life, is always part of His plan to distribute Himself throughout the world. He gives little breakthroughs to show us that He wants to do even bigger breakthroughs in the grand scheme of His plan.

So while we are celebrating all that God did and is doing through us as a family, be sure to remember the reason for everything we do. The purpose of Jesus saving us is so much greater than just getting to go to heaven. True worship is doing your part for the Kingdom so that as many people as possible can experience the freedom Jesus offers.

Watch the full teaching of Celebration and Concentration.

The Peak

Often we think of a person’s “profession of faith” as the end-all-be-all of their Christian journey. But the Christian life isn’t about just saying, “I believe in Jesus.” It’s about having an obsession with your faith.

God doesn’t want just your professions and confessions. He wants your heart. He wants everything in your life to be about Him and the purpose He has placed on your life.

When we believe in God, He delivers us from the bondage of sin in our lives—that’s something we can’t do on our own. And He takes us on a journey with our faith to drive out the enemies of our soul, making small tweaks to our soul so that we can reach the peak of the mountain.

After God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He brought them into the wilderness. They had a goal to reach—the Promised Land, a land of abundance. Those who had the faith to trust in God reached this land and experienced its fullness. And it is the same with us today; if we have faith in God and let Him guide us on our journey through life, we’ll be able to experience the abundant life.

But just because we get there doesn’t mean the war is over. The Israelites had to fight city after city in the Promised Land, and it’s for the same reason that we have to fight spiritually every day. Ephesians 6:10-12 says, “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” We don’t fight against people—the fight is against the enemy of God for their souls.

We have to remember that the object of our salvation isn’t just so that we can be saved. It’s so that we are saved so that we can help others also experience the love of Christ and let Him salvage their lives.

Right now, we live in a world without peace. But, by working towards the peak of the mountain and keeping God’s purpose at the forefront of our minds, we can have peace in our hearts that we are doing everything we can to help people meet God and find the same peace.

Watch Small Tweaks to Great Peaks

Treasure Jars

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most famous verses in the entire Bible. It says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” But many people don’t realize that this verse isn’t talking about getting a free ticket to an easy life without pain or struggle!

When they received this letter, the people of Israel were in exile and slavery under the Babylonians. Jeremiah wanted to encourage them, but he was also blunt. In Jeremiah 29:10, he wrote, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.’” Can you imagine reading that? “In seventy years, when your children and maybe grandchildren are all grown and you are very old or dead, that’s when I’ll fulfill my promises to you.”

Jeremiah wanted the Israelites to know that they would face tremendous pressure, but that didn’t mean God’s promises weren’t still true. And the same is true for us—even when things don’t happen like we want them to, we can know that God’s ways are higher than our ways. He knows the big picture.

But what does that have to do with us?

Jeremiah 29:5 says, “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

The success of an apple tree isn’t just in whether or not it produces apples. A successful apple tree is one that produces apples that go on to produce more apples, that go on to produce more apples, and on and on. If this didn’t happen, eventually we wouldn’t have apples anymore.

God has a plan that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. And we all have a part to play in that plan. He wants all humans to belong and find success in their lives. 2 Corinthains 4:7-8 says, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” Everyone who is a believer in Christ has a purpose as a jar full of treasure. And this jar can always be refreshed with new blessings from God, so it’s our calling to use the treasure to multiply. Bring life and hope wherever you go. Be so full of the treasure of God that it can’t help but spill out wherever you go!

Watch the full teaching, “Blessed to Be A Blessing.”

Praise Goes First

Our God is an illustrative God—He doesn’t just tell us things, but instead uses real people and real events to show us who He is and who we are.

Israel was made up of twelve tribes, all named after Jacob’s twelve sons. God used these tribes to illustrate to us how He moves with His people into new places. One of the tribes was called Judah, and Judah represented praise. They would lead whenever Israel set off to a new land, and they would be the first to march out towards a battle. The tribe of Judah camped on the east, because they would be the first to see the sun rise up every morning, and Israel would begin its day with praise going first.

The atmosphere can shift when the hearts of God’s people start to praise Him. Numbers 10:13-14 says, “When the people set out for the first time, following the instructions the Lord had given through Moses, Judah’s troops led the way.” In their history, Israel had hundreds of years of slavery. But God didn’t just promise to bring them out of that slavery—He promised that He would be their God through the entire journey.

Israel didn’t stop praising God after He delivered them from captivity, and neither should we. We all experience spiritual captivity due to our sin, which is missing the mark of God’s standard for our lives. On our own we can’t deliver ourselves from sin, but Jesus came to set us free and take us back into a relationship with God.

Just like praise took the nation of Israel into victory, let your praise take you into the promises God has for your life. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sinner’s death on the cross, and resurrected to conquer the grave so that we can rest in His freedom. And it doesn’t end there—He stays with us through our entire journey. God dwells among His people now just as He did back in the Old Testament.

God doesn’t want to just bring you out of slavery, out of the darkness—He wants to adopt you into His family and bless you so that you can be a blessing to others. He will do the journey with you; just let your praise go first!

Briars

If you live in the southern United States, you’ve experienced briar patches. They’re sharp, painful thorns that can pop up in your grass overnight. You can’t get out of a briar patch alone, because you’ll just cause more and more damage. Once you get caught up in them, you need help to get out. Like briars, our sin entangles and traps us. There is no way to get ourselves out from under the grip of sin unless someone else comes along and helps us out.

Luke 2:8-12—That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Jesus was born as a real human—He felt and experienced the same senses and emotions that the rest of us do. But He never allowed Himself to get trapped by the briars. He never sinned—missed the mark, the bullseye, of God’s glorious standard.

God created humans to reign over the rest of the world, but the first humans chose to sin, and separated themselves from God. We now live in a fallen world where bad things happen all the time. Briars and thorns are all over the place. All of us have missed the mark. But He didn’t want humanity to stay that way forever, so He provided a way out of the briars—Jesus.

In John 18:37, Jesus said, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” Then, in John 19:1-3, soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. They intended to inflict pain on Jesus and mock Him, but Jesus know that He was going to defeat every thorn of sin in the world. He was going to all our sin and turn struggles into blessings.

God is more powerful than any briar and any thorn you will ever come across. Not even the demons in hell can keep you away from His love. He loves us so much that He sent Jesus, the King of the world, out of majesty and into a manger to provide the way for us to get out of the briar patch.

Manger to Majesty

Many people are afraid of reading the book of Revelation, but it’s not there to scare us. Its purpose is to give us hope and blessing. Revelation is like that tiny gift under the Christmas tree—it may not seem like it’s that important, but inside there is a great blessing.

Think about baby Jesus—He was born in a manger, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph to give Him what He needed. But look at the majesty He grew up to take hold of:

Revelation 1:12-19—When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.

The writer of Revelation, John, got a snapshot of his majestic King. Jesus started out His human life as a little baby, and eventually died on a cross to pay the penalty for all humanity’s sins. But His story doesn’t end there. He resurrected from the grave and is now in heaven as the eternal, living King.

Jesus holds the keys to eternal life in His hands, and He openly offers them to every single human being. Missing the mark of God’s standard separates us from God, but it does not separate God from us. Even though we couldn’t come to Him on our own, He came to us to provide us the pathway we needed to get back to Him. Jesus came as a liberator to set us free, and a leader to help us focus on eternity.

The baby in the manger may seem so small and sweet that He melts your heart, but let the risen King who conquered death magnify your future. No matter what happens in your life, no matter what is going on in the world, remember that when we place our hope in Jesus, the future is bright!

Watch the teaching.

How to Know God

2 Timothy 3:15-17—You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Jesus is the beginning and the end. Everything we need to know about God is in His Word, the Bible. This is how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us so that we can learn the story of redemption He set into motion at the time of Creation. He shows us who He is and who He created us to be.

Luke 2:41-47—Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.

When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Knowledge is great, but it’s not just about knowing all of the right answers. When Jesus was twelve, He sat in a temple with many religious teachers, asking questions and giving answers. He wasn’t a know-it-all, but was curious and engaged with them on the things they were talking about. Knowledge by itself will puff you up and destroy you, but combine it with love, and it will build up not only you but also those around you.

The Bible teaches us the truth about both God and ourselves. It helps us realize that we have missed the mark of His glorious standard, and how we can get back into a right relationship with Him. It shows us that God has designed every human uniquely so that His wisdom can be displayed not just to those of us on Earth, but to all of the spiritual powers as well.

We can’t know Him outside of His Word; let Him be the one to shape you, rather than any of the other influences on your life. When we take the knowledge we can gain from the Bible and apply it to our lives, we allow God to be the one who shapes our soul.

Watch the teaching.

Depending On God

Jesus spent much of His time teaching on dependency. Our tendency is to lose the humble hearts we had as children, and stop depending and learning. But God wants to reveal more about who He is, and to do this we have to be open and willing to receive this.

Matthew 17:24-27—After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

In these verses in Matthew, Jesus used Peter’s culture to teach him that God is a good king, who doesn’t take from His children, but instead provides for them. We need to ask ourselves if we depend on God, or upon ourselves. But relying on ourselves only leads to pride.

We are in God’s Kingdom to produce, but He doesn’t expect us to just create a harvest on our own! He gives all of us the tools necessary to do what He created each of us to do. But He also expects us to depend on Him instead of trying to do it all on our own.

One of the ways we can demonstrate to ourselves that we trust God as our provider is by tithing—that means giving 10% of what we earn back to God. This isn’t for His benefit, but for our own; God is God—He doesn’t need our help! But He tells us to tithe so that we can see in our own lives the trust and dependency we have in Him like children trust and depend on their parents.

Tithing isn’t about giving because you feel like you have to, or because God might not give you what you want if you don’t. That isn’t dependency or trust—it’s bargaining. God is the provider of all good gifts, and He wants us to humbly trust in Him as our heavenly father.  

It’s only because of God that we have air in our lungs. God doesn’t just see our physical lives, but our eternal lives. He wants us to be fully dependent in our temporary lives here on Earth so that we can fully depend on Him for the next life.

Watch the teaching.

Be a Contributor

At Christmas time, we always hear that we should be more generous. The holidays are about giving, not receiving. And that attitude comes from Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus displayed incredible generosity while He was here on the Earth. But it’s not just His actions that matter, but the heart He has for all of humanity.

Even before time began, Jesus decided that He would go on a rescue mission for humanity. He knew that humans would sin and that our sin would cause a separation between us and God. None of us deserve the gift of eternal life that He offers us, but Jesus’ heart, His attitude towards us, was one of love and mercy.

Like Jesus, when we give, it shouldn’t be out of compulsion or because we feel like we have to. When we give, it should be out of our heart. It’s who we are. We are excited that we get to give! By taking on the attitude of Jesus and looking upon humanity with love, we will begin to see opportunities to be generous everywhere we go.

There is nothing we can give to God that will equal the gift He gives us. He knew from the beginning that we would never be able to make it up to Him. And as the Church, God’s representatives here on Earth, we should be willing to be generous towards those who won’t give anything in return, or who are unable to give anything back to us.

When we have a heart to see people turn away from their old ways and to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we will begin to take on the attitude of Christ and give generously in His name. Christmas doesn’t have to be the only season of giving in our lives. We can make every day about giving generously when we take on the attitude that Christ had of contributing rather than taking.

Christ is calling His Church to have a heart that reflects His majesty, and that includes being generous in all ways. Giving like God is not based on status. He gives us amazing, amazing things even though we can never give Him anything of equal value in return; we can’t outgive God! Giving with the same heart as Christ is about giving to people who can only receive, and doing so with a heart to see them come to believe in Christ and enter into His eternal Kingdom.

Watch the teaching.