The Most Forgiven People in the World

And the most forgiving...

In the first session of the Crucified Life I say, “Christians are the most forgiven people in the world, and therefore Christians should be the most forgiving people in the world.” I recently had a parishioner ask me if I would elaborate on that statement.

Christians believe that Jesus has forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future on the Cross. He has paid the price in full for our entire debt and burden.

That is not to say that other people in this world who are not yet Christians do not have that same grace available from Jesus’ work on the Cross. They do. As we say in our Eucharistic prayer, Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross was “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.”  However non-Christians either do not understand the offering of Jesus, do not know about it, or do not believe it necessary or applicable to them. We have our work cut out for us. For, that same grace and forgiveness is available to everyone in this sinful and fallen world, and everyone desperately needs it. And so do we.

As Christian believers, we have seen the depth of our need and called out for grace to the living God. Yet, if a person on one hand trusts in the words of Jesus, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”, then on teh other hand harbors unforgiveness in the heart, we reveal a profound spiritual disconnect. To be forgiven and not forgiving betrays a character that has not truly internalized or comprehended the magnitude of God’s gift. Forgiving others is costly. Forgiving us was costly.

Christians are the most forgiven people on the planet. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people on the planet. As we make the grace in which we stand our character, God reconciles the world to himself through our proclamation and character witness to the Cross. As we forgive those who trespass against us, we loose on earth those bound under the burden of guilt, shame, and law.

No other religion or belief system in the world offers absolute unearned forgiveness and grace for any and all who believe. The price is paid in full by God for us.

As Jesus taught, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The Christian Life Trilogy (Houston, TX: Bible Study Media, Inc., 2014)

The Christian Life Trilogy is a formation tool for the church and individual. At the heart of the Christian faith stands the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ. These three redemptive acts of Jesus shape the character of Christian formation for the church and the individual follower of Jesus.

The Christian Life Trilogy is a 20-week Bible study curriculum that is divided into 3 studies: 

Each study is designed to bring transformational change through in-depth study of what the Apostle Paul calls the “things of first importance.” “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

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The Crucified Life focuses on the Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross, and it is intended for use during the season of Lent. The Resurrected Life is intended to begin at Easter and walk us through all the areas in which Christ brings us newness. The Spirit-Filled Life is intended for use around Pentecost, and it instructs believers in the power that can be found through life in the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the Christian Life Trilogy leadership materials, The campaign kit will include a sample study guide, a daily devotional book, and a teaching DVD for each of the three parts of the Christian Life Trilogy. Order your Christian Life Trilogy Campaign kit today!

Campaign Kit includes:

  • 1 Campaign Training DVD
  • 1 Campaign Manual
  • 1 Crucified Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Crucified Life Small Group DVD
  • 1 Crucified Life Small Group Study Guide
  • 1 Resurrected Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Resurrected Life Small Group DVD
  • 1 Resurrected Life Small Group Study Guide
  • 1 Spirit-Filled Life Devotional Book (Paperback)
  • 1 Spirit-Filled Life DVD
  • 1 Spirit Filled Life Small Group Study Guide

Christian Life Trilogy Campaign Kit

On sale now for a limited time! Click here to purchase your Campaign Kit for only $99! Start now to plan your campaign for Lent 2018!

Training Materials:

The Campaign Manual and DVD provide resources and training as to how to maximize the engagement of your congregation by doing the Christian Life Trilogy as a church-wide campaign. Each of the three titles can stand alone. Many congregations use the Crucified and Resurrected Life for Lent and Easter, and then kick off the Spirit-Filled Life in the Fall season.

The Training Videos provide teaching for the senior pastor and campaign leadership teams, as well as the small group hosts.


SESSION 1: FOCUS ON THINGS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE

SESSION 2:  EXPONENTIAL THINKING

SESSION 3: BUILDING A TEAM

SESSION 4:  PLAN YOUR CAMPAIGN

SESSION 5:  HOW TO RECRUIT HOSTS

SESSION 6:  HOST TRAINING SESSION

SESSION 7:  THE VALUE OF A CHURCH-WIDE CAMPAIGN

Under Guard for Christ and By Christ

In the book of Philippians, both Paul and the Philippians were experiencing difficult situations of persecution in their lives due to their commitment to the Gospel. Paul was imprisoned for the Gospel by the imperial guard in Rome. From an earthly perspective, this could become the occasion of tremendous stress, worry, and despair. Paul used the example of his own sufferings to help the Philippians see a different way of looking at the trials of life.

First, Paul sees the incredible fruit that is being brought forth by his imprisonment (1:12-18). The entire guard is hearing Christ proclaimed; the faithful are being encouraged to boldness because of Paul’s witness; and Paul’s rivals are seeing an opportunity to gain a place in the pulpit for their own selfish gain. Yet, in all of these things Paul rejoices because “Christ is proclaimed” (1:18).

Secondly, Paul has a different way of looking at the sufferings of this life because of the glorious resurrection life to come (1:19-26). In a “to be or not to be” reflection, Paul reveals that whether he lives or dies, he knows that he is blessed in Jesus Christ. He knows that if he dies, it will result in being with Christ. His continued life means more fruitful labor for the church. So either way Paul is filled with joy. Live or die, he simply can’t lose!

In chapter 4:6-9, Paul will encourage the Philippians to lay aside their own anxiety in their struggles by turning their worries over to God in prayer with thanksgiving and by setting their mind on that which is glorious and good. If they will give God their troubles in prayer, God will protect their hearts from anxiety.

Even though Paul is under guard of Rome, his heart and mind are guarded by the peace of God, so he can rejoice in the LORD. The same Peace of God will guard the members of the Philippian Church as they focus their attention away from their trials and onto the Lord and the blessings of their lives:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

As citizens in a fallen world, you are guarded in persecution because of the Gospel. As citizens of heaven, you are guarded for eternal life in the unfathomable peace of God.

Prayer: Almighty God, today I am concerned about many things, yet you are in control of all of them. You are sovereign. Help me LORD that I may rest under divine guard and protection with my heart and mind trusting you for the outworking of your plan for my life. Amen.

This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge.

The Adoption Process

An Excerpt from The Spirit-Filled Life Daily Devotional

Parents of foster or adoptive children will tell you this again and again: Adoption is a process.

The first phase is simply the decision to adopt. Unlike the natural birth process, adoption involves a clear, conscious choice on the part of the parents to bring a new child into their lives. Once a child is identified and chosen, the parents are in for an arduous and challenging gauntlet of paperwork, interviews, research, travel, and financial and emotional expense. What gives adoptive parents the endurance to get through this phase is the sheer love they have for the child and the determination to secure that child against all odds and over any barriers.

We must never forget that the Lord has done the same for us! He knew us before we knew Him:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:3-6

The process of our adoption into the family of God began long ago—before the foundations of the world were laid. The Father has loved you and me from before time and forever. Understanding God’s absolute determination to secure us as His children before we were even born can bring a great sense of self-worth and value.

Once a little girl was playing on the playground with other children. When they began teasing her about being adopted, she responded, “My parents chose me; your parents got stuck with you!” Indeed. You are special because God chose you as His child. He called you to Himself, adopted you, and you are His.

Once a child is brought into a family, there is often a honeymoon phase during which the child and parents enthusiastically embrace their new relationship. Parents receive the adoption papers that confirm the child belongs to them with all of the appropriate legal seals. There is a great celebration when the child is brought home. The child is a full member of the family now. That moment of realization can be euphoric! It also can bring some fear and trepidation as a new reality is born.

There are similarities to our adoption by the Lord:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

You may remember the day when you first heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. How did you receive the news of your adoption into the family of God?

You have the full rights of inheritance as adopted children of God. Your adoption papers are signed and sealed! Your inheritance of eternal life is secure. The guarantee is the abiding Holy Spirit of God.

The challenge of your adoption process now becomes living into that new reality. The Father has called you into His family, yet the challenge to know and trust His love is real. Do you ever struggle with believing that God truly loves you? What is behind that struggle? The Father would have you know His abiding love; you are chosen and dearly loved!

Excerpted from The Spirit-Filled Life: All the Fullness of God, p. 66-71.

I am the Resurrection and the Life

The stage is set for a climactic revelation of Jesus’ glory through the resurrection of a dead man. The disciples are very much aware that a return trip to Judea could result in Jesus’ persecution and death by stoning. Jesus persists in His determination to return to Bethany in Judea because “Lazarus has died.” Jesus hints at some great sign He will perform “that you may believe.” Thomas has his doubts as he girds up to go and die with Lazarus (and Jesus).

The miraculous raising of Lazarus from being dead three days becomes not only a demonstration of Jesus’ divinity but also of His humanity. “Jesus wept” (11:35), is both the shortest verse in the Bible and perhaps the most profoundly compassionate. When He sees Martha and Mary, and Lazarus’ friends and family all weeping, Jesus is described as being “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Not only is Jesus acquainted with human sorrows and grief, He shares in them.

Jesus also is the one who can reverse human suffering and sorrow. One day, He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. In a display of the “glory of God” (11:40), Jesus calls a three-day-dead Lazarus to “come out!” (11:43)

Here, Jesus utters the fifth of His seven great “I am” statements.

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26)

Jesus is God in the flesh; He is the great “I am.” Jesus wept.

He holds the power of life and death in His sovereign hands. He is the bread of life, the only one who deeply satisfies our hungers. He is the light of life who disperses falsehood and darkness. He is the source of living water who heals our hurts and quenches our deepest thirsts. He is the only gate which leads to eternal life. For, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.

Do you believe this?

Martha’s response was, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

What is your response? Do you believe this? Today in prayer, offer your “Yes Lord; I believe” to the Lord and Savior of the World.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.
Featured image: The Raising of Lazarus by Jean Jouvenet via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-Baptiste_Jouvenet_-_The_Raising_of_Lazarus_-_WGA12033.jpg

The Sheep Hear His Voice

I am the Good Shepherd

Sadly, no matter what God does or says, there are certain people whose hearts are so hard to Him that they will never turn and believe. The root source of such hardness of heart can come from many places: prideful arrogance, greed, lust for vain pursuits.

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” – John 10:24

The question and statement at face value sounds like a genuine desire to know Jesus. But as we read deeper into the text we find out He already has told them plainly, and yet they did not believe. By the time we reach the end of John chapter 10, the same questioners are picking up stones to stone Him for blasphemy.

In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is identified as the Creator, the True Light that enlightens all people, the Word made flesh dwelling among us. And yet there is also this concerning line, “He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him.” As we arrive at chapter 10 in the Gospel, we reach a point of climax with some of the Jews and Jesus. Never has there been a more clear confrontation of the deep rejection by unbelief that Jesus received from “his own.”

Yet in spite of those who do not believe, there are also sheep who hear His voice. They recognize the Good Shepherd. They know that the Good Shepherd would lead them through the valley of the shadow of death to still waters that revive the soul.

The difference between those who reject Jesus and those who hear His voice really truly comes down to matters of the heart. For the hardhearted, no amount of logical reasoning or displays of the power of God will convince them to give their lives to Jesus. But those who are the sheep of the Good Shepherd need only to hear His voice, and they respond by faith. Soften your heart and open your ears to the sound of the Shepherd’s voice.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. – John 10:27-28

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you have promised that those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him will never perish but receive eternal life. Speak to my heart, guide me, open my life to receive the abundant life that you promise to those who follow the voice of the Shepherd. In the name of your Son our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.
Feature image: The Good Shepherd 103 Bernard Plockhorst via https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5691907434

Let Brotherly Love Continue

A few things to remember these days...

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3

Abide in Brotherly Love

Continuous mutual love (brotherly love, Gk. phil-adelphia) anchors the heart in the life of Christ. He sacrificed for us as his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11-12) therefore our continual sacrifice is to offer our lives and love to one another as the family of God. Our mutual love is an aspect of the “unshakable kingdom” which we are inheriting. As Paul reminded in 1 Corinthians 13, love is one of the three things that will “remain” after all else comes to an end. At the last hour, the only thing that will matter is our abiding relationship with God and one another. All else is secondary. Our love for one another is eternal; it continues forever; it never ends.

Do not forget to love the Stranger

There is a tension between the life of holiness and the life of love. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are two sides of the same coin.  To “be holy” means to “be set apart”. Does that mean that hospitality to outsiders goes out the window? Are the boundaries to be set so strongly that the Christian should not even associate with strangers or non-believers? Xenophobia is the fear of the stranger. Often an “inside group” can be very concerned about an “outside” group or person. Their cultures and customs are often strange and perceived as a threat to identity and purity.

Quite the contrary, once we are secure in our own relationship to God through Jesus Christ, our identity in him and our manner of life, we can freely relate to the stranger with love (love for the stranger, Gk. philo-xenia). The call is to love and welcome the stranger with a posture of hospitality and grace. Inside the community of the church, the people of God are called to be holy in their relationships. However, we are to maintain a loving holiness that extends out beyond itself. In Jesus Christ, xenophobia is transfigured into philoxenia.

When we are focused on our own familiar relationships, it can be very easy to forget to look around and show care to the new person or the unknown visitor in our midst. As a pastor, I find it heartbreaking to hear from new members to the church how they visited other churches (or even ours sometimes) and no one said a word to them. They walked in and they walked out without so much as a greeting or any attempt to welcome. How do we perceive the stranger in the midst of our assemblies? What does it feel like to be the lone outsider with a group of insiders–can you relate?

The call to show hospitality runs deep in the story of Israel. Abraham is blessed by welcoming three strangers who turned out to be messengers of good news who spoke prophetically as the angels of the Lord.

The strangers and visitors in our midst may very well have been sent by God to bring some missing spiritual gift or to provide for a need where there is lacking. At one time, Jesus came as a stranger to this world, and those “who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Do Christians have a unique role to play with respect to immigrants and foreigners in our country?

Remember the Prisoner and the Mistreated

If we are to not forget to show love to the stranger in our midst, we are to always remember to show love to Christian brothers and sisters out of our presence trapped in prison. In the days of the early church, one could become imprisoned for simply being a believer in Jesus Christ. Just as we see in parts of the middle east today. Christians were persecuted and mistreated for their insistence on singular personal allegiance to Jesus Christ. Many today are trapped in the persecuting prison of their own country, and they would seek refuge if they could.

The preacher exhorts that even though our Christian brothers and sisters are away from us, they are still connected to us as united parts of the body of Christ and the household of God. We must always remember them, pray for them, and if possible, help them.

In 2013 the US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that there 2,220,300 people in state and federal prisons, and county jails.

Christian Prisoners

Chapel Service in the LA County Jail

While it difficult to be exact, researchers estimate that there are between 50-60% of this population that identifies itself as Christian (either protestant or catholic). Jesus joined us in solidarity to our prison to Satan, sin and death:

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Our character of solidarity with brothers and sisters in Christ who are imprisoned or mistreated by persecution reflects the unity we share in Jesus Christ. He came to us when we were in prison. Jesus is the great liberator. When they are imprisoned, we are with them. When they are mistreated, so are we. We are one.

What is your experience of visiting the prisoner? How can the church more effectively care for our brothers and sisters in Christ behind bars? How can we better relate to Christian refugees and those who are persecuted for the Christian faith in other parts of the world?

Epiphany: The Big Reveal

Things into which angels long to look

William Phelps taught English literature at Yale for forty-one years until his retirement in 1933.

William Lyon Phelps.
William Vandivert—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Marking an examination paper shortly before Christmas one year, Phelps came across the note: “God only knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas.” Phelps returned the paper with this note: “God gets an A. You get an F. Happy New Year.”

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, he marvels in what he describes as the “mystery of God’s will”. A mystery is something that “God only knows”.

We all love a good mystery. Mysteries have tremendous power; the unknowns keep us engaged and drive us to seek a resolution to the mystery. As in any good mystery, with the big reveal, we learn who did it and how.

The story of salvation is in many ways an unfolding mystery. There are certain things that we know and have clues about from God’s revelations to Abraham, Moses, David and the Prophets of the Old Testament. God gave a lot of clues.

The Apostle Peter tells us that we now know things even the prophets and angels of God longed to see:

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).

The people of old knew that God had a plan to save the world. They knew that central to the plan was the nation of Israel, and specifically a Messianic king who would be in the line of King David.

But, as Paul writes, there were certain things about the story of salvation that remained hidden in the councils of God until the big moment of revelation. The big reveal is called the Epiphany!

First: who? Who will be the Messiah? We now know that Jesus Christ, the incarnate son of God, is the one who will save the world. No one would have expected that a carpenter’s son from Nazareth would amount to much. Yet everything now points to him and his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.

The big reveal is that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by him ( John 14:6).

How will God save the world? We now know from the big reveal that through the proclamation of the Gospel message about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God will convert the hearts of the people of this world. He will liberate them from the powers of death and darkness, save their souls, and grant them eternal life.

As with any epiphany we can be surprised and shocked at the way things turn out. Who could fathom the sheer magnitude of the salvation of God as he converts the people of the world to Jesus? The Lord continues to surprise and amaze!

You and I have the tremendous privilege of knowing the big reveal to life’s most intriguing mystery. God has shown us how he will save this sinful and fallen world, and who has accomplished it. This is a revelation that is too important to keep hidden and secret. Our privilege, duty and calling is to make known the mystery of the will of God to a world that desperately needs to see the light of the Gospel.

Let your light shine!

Guarding the Faith

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20). As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on the front lines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

The need for Paul’s letter was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city, and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission-critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

In this way, we see the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, guarding the faith carefully so that it can be passed on.

In what ways are you delegating, passing on, and guarding the faith which has been entrusted to you?


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

We Will Not Neglect the House of Our God

Prophet_nehemiahIn the Old Testament, the testimony of the people was to keep covenant and maintain the Temple through faithful worship, offerings, and tithes. They had promised, “We will not neglect the House of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39). In chapter 13, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and finds that they have indeed broken their commitment. They were neglecting the house of their God in their stewardship of four critical areas: space, resources, time, and relationships. We often do the same.

The first neglect was caused when Eliashab, the priest in charge of the temple chambers, allowed a foreigner to dwell in a room which had a specific purpose for offerings to the Lord. Nehemiah kicked him out and restored the chamber for its godly purpose (13:4-9). In our own lives, are there inappropriate things cluttering up key spaces that should be properly devoted to godly use?

A second neglect was caused by a failure to bring the appointed offerings to the Levites, thus forcing them to abandon the service of worship in order to provide for their families (13:10-14). Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Our patterns of giving can reveal a neglect of our relationship with God. Practically, when the people of God withhold their tithes and offerings, the worship of our God and the ministry of His Church falls into neglect.

A third neglect was caused by buying and selling on the Sabbath (13:15-22). If our time is focused on doing personal work on the Sabbath, then we will not be focused on praising God and His work that day. The Lord calls us to devote one day out of the week to worship and work for Him.

Finally, the marriages of Israelites to foreigners were leading the hearts of the people into idolatry and away from God. Paul warned the church about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). The friendships, partnerships, and marriages we make can draw us away from the love of God, thus causing neglect of our primary relationship with God.

Nehemiah led the people to repentance in all four neglects of space, money, time, and relationships. Is there one or more of these areas in your stewardship that requires reform?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, show me any area in my life where I have neglected your house. I repent of my neglect of you with my stewardship of space, money, time, and personal relationships. Please forgive my neglect and restore me to your goodness. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.