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Archive for the category “Thoughts from Our Life Group Discussions”

Running the Race of Faith (Rigo Mercado)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The moment you surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and made Him your Savior, you entered into the great race of faith. It is a spiritual race we are to run until we reach the finish line at the end of our lives and see Jesus face to face.  It is a race that is defined by endurance, faith and victory.  Are you running that race well? Or have you become fatigued, distracted, or even feel like quitting the race all together? If that is the case you are not alone.  There will be seasons in your life where you are going to get tired spiritually and feel like going back to the life of sin Jesus has delivered you from. There are going to be seasons where you feel like giving up on your ministry, marriage, and your faith. Don’t do it! We cannot win this race of faith in our own strength. The Bible declares in Ecclesiastes 9:11 that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…” We are to rely on the strength and power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  Without Him we will never make it to the finish line. Apart from relying on the Holy Spirit helping us, there are some practical things that we are responsible for as well to ensure we run a race of victory.

Laying Aside the Weight

Hebrews 11:1 instructs us to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  Let’s take a close look at some of that weight and sin in our lives.

  1. Returning to the sins of your past.

Going back to the sins Jesus delivered you from will keep you from running the race successfully. Do you find yourself tempted into going back into alcoholism, outbursts of anger, sexual immorality and foul language, for example? Jesus declared, “He who the Son sets free is free indeed.” Don’t return to the sins that once held you in bondage like a dog returns to his own vomit. Repent and turn from those things. The blood of Jesus has cleansed you and redeemed you from your old life. You are a new creation. Your old self has been crucified with Christ. Walk in the newness of life Jesus purchased for you by His death and resurrection.  Sin no longer has dominion over you.

“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Proverbs 26:11

 

  1. Distractions

One of the enemy’s primary tactics to ensnare us in the race of faith is to distract us from the purpose and plan of God for our lives.  He distracts us by the cares of this world. He wants us to focus on natural things and his desire for us is for us to keep living in the realm of fear, unbelief and worry. He doesn’t want us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Another way he distracts us is through toxic relationships. Are you fellowshipping with people that are drawing you away from God?  Are your friends helping you get closer to Jesus or influencing you to go astray.

“Do not be deceived: “Evil Company corrupts good habits.”  I Corinthians 15:33

 

  1. Disconnecting from other believers.

When you disconnect from your community of faith you become vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. It is a dangerous place to be. Isolation breeds apathy to the things of God. Wolves never attack a flock of sheep because there is safety in numbers and their shepherd is there to protect them from danger.  Wolves attack when one sheep goes astray and they are left vulnerable and defenseless. Stay connected and you will have encouragement from others to finish your race.

“not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:25

 

Running the Race with Endurance

            We are going to face hardships, setbacks, fatigue and temptations along this race, but we are to run with endurance. We endure by keeping our eyes on Jesus: the author and finisher of our faith. Jesus is our example of endurance. Hebrews 11:2 tells us that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. What was the joy set before him? You and me. He saw us beyond the cross. Although He knew He was going to suffer on the cross and die, He endured because His eyes were set on you and your salvation. We, in like manner, are to endure because our eyes and love are set on Him. Jesus is the source of our strength and ability to succeed. He is the only One that can help us finish the race of faith.

Finish the Race

            I don’t know about you, but when I’m lying on my death bed surrounded by my family, I want to be able to look into their eyes and utter with confidence the same words the Apostle Paul uttered at the end of his life,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2Timothy 4:7

 

Desiring Love (Rachel Hansen)

I want you more than you want me.
It’s a line in my journal I wrote years ago when I realized one day the imbalance of a relationship in my life. Here I was wanting this person to love me so badly, and for whatever reason, choice or inability, they weren’t. My longing for that relationship took center stage in my life for years… decades maybe. It was a constant ache, my nearest thought always. Like the Psalmist writes in chapter 88, “darkness is my closest friend.”
I felt like I had a right to be loved. And don’t we all feel that way a lot of times? It even sounds bad typing it out I. Don’t. Have. A. Right. To. Be. Loved. Ouch. I’ll admit, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around still. 
But.
I was mulling on the line from my journal the other day and feeling very sad for myself. I don’t mean to make light of it, I was hurting terribly. As I sat staring at the words I suddenly remembered a Bible verse that I’ve heard a handful of times, “…[O]h have I longed to gather your children around Me, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… but you would not.” (Luke 13:34)
I thought about all the reasons God Himself has to say to me, “I want you more than you want Me.” And I wondered if God feels sad that so many times I give an excuse to that statement… I know but, I’m busy… I don’t want to do it that way… I’m tired… I’ll do it later… It’s boring.
The crazy thing is God never walks away because we do. And He doesn’t sit there pounding His fists and demanding that He has rights to us because well… He MADE us. No, He laid down His rights. He took away any reason for us to be indebted to Him in any possible wayso that our love is an expression of FREEDOM towards Him (Romans 5:18, Ephesians 3:12). 
If God Himself can give up His “right” to be loved…
So the journey I am on is giving up whatever rights I have to be loved by any human and placing my desire to be loved on Christ instead. I wish I could say it’s easy. It looks a lot like forgiving every time I remember how much I am not loved by the people I feel owe me their love. It’s taking a deep breath, and reminding myself that the Creator of the Universe knows how I feel and He loves me more than any human possibly could. And it’s accepting that I won’t always get it right and I will have those bad days when I lose it and focus on people instead of God, and knowing that He will love me in spite of all that.

Embrace Your Role (Chris Francis)

We have 60-something people signed up for a life group right now. 


That means that there is a lot of potential for discipleship to happen through authentic community. 


I say “potential” because it’s never a guarantee. Not even with great leaders. Not even with a great study. Discipleship and authentic community only happen when each person in the group embraces the role that they play.

So if you’re in a life group, YOU have a role to play in your group. Even if you’re brand new to this life group thing and think it’s weird. 


So I just want to encourage all 60-something of you to ask the Lord, “What’s Next? What’s my next step in my life group?” If you ask it sincerely, and patiently listen, I believe God will put something on your heart. 


It might be to:


– Get someone’s phone number (not just the leaders of the group)

– Invite someone from the group over for dinner

– Take a risk and share that part of your story that you are embarrassed about

– Admit that you don’t understand something in scripture that the group has been talking about

– Start praying regularly for someone in the group that rubs you the wrong way

– Invite your neighbor to join you at your life group

– Invite some people in your life group to join you for a neighborhood bbq

– Challenge someone about an unhealthy mindset that you’ve observed

– Confess a temptation that you battle regularly

– Stop talking so much and listen more. 

– Follow up with someone who’s been AWOL for a few weeks and make sure they’re okay (and then ask them to tell you the truth). 

– Support someone else’s passion by offering to help them act on an idea they have


You get the idea. 


God is at work in your life group —  forming deep authentic community, drawing people closer to himself, transforming hearts. And YOU get to be part of it. That is an awesome privilege. 


Embrace your role.

Do Not Take Up Another’s Offense As Your Own (R. Kainosktisis)

When I was a boy, I had many family members who simply did not like each other.  My problem was that I liked them all, no matter how they felt about each other.  But when two warring relatives learned that I refused to take sides with one against the other, they both ended up not liking me.

Being a people pleaser, that turned me into a liar and a hypocrite.  When I was with one, I would agree with him when he became critical of the other.  Then when I was with the other, I would agree with him about the first one.  I didn’t like doing that, but it gave me the illusion of peace.  I didn’t realize that I was letting their conflict hold me hostage and keeping me from being at peace within myself.

That deceitful hypocrisy followed me well into adulthood.  Then I went to a Christian seminar where the speaker taught a lesson which basically said it was sinful to take up someone else’s offense against another person as if it were my own.  And I began to realize that anyone who tries to manipulate me into joining them in their conflict with another was abusing me and sinning against the Lord.

The proper way to handle conflicts which other people have against each other was modeled by our Lord and described in Luke 12:13-14.  “And someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’  But He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?’”  In other words, Jesus refused to take up the offense of one brother against another.

That one person I care for doesn’t like another person I care for is not my problem.  My only concern is to do my best to remain at peace with all people, no matter whether they can get along well with each other or not.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”  I cannot fulfill that when I allow myself to be drawn into others’ squabbles with each other.

Organized AND Organic Gatherings (Chris Francis)

A few weeks ago I heard someone make a great point about the importance of having a balance of both organized & organic gatherings in order to really embrace the “family” nature of church.

Think about your own family. You probably have organized times of hanging out (weekly dinners, annual summer vacations, monthly date nights, birthday parties, etc.).

But then you probably have more organic & spontaneous things that happen each day (son and mother have a conversation over breakfast, father and daughter hanging out on the way to school, big brother and big sister making fun of little sister, mom and dad having a moment while doing the dishes, etc.).

Point is ­-  healthy families have both.

And healthy church families have both as well.

At True Life, our organized church gatherings include Sunday mornings (perhaps the most organized), life groups, the birthday party that we just had, the Labor Day pool party at the Mercadantes’ house.

But then there should be organic, more spontaneous, more non­-promoted gatherings between everyone (game nights with a handful of people, guys grabbing lunch, girls grabbing coffee, double­dates, and play dates). These are things that are not announced on Sunday mornings, are not put on the website, and are not included in my mass emails. Instead, these are things that require people to have each others’ phone numbers, to be creative, and to take initiative.

As a whole, I personally think our church has a good balance of both. But when it comes to individuals, it seems like everyone tends to drift toward one over the other.

And so here is my question to you: Which type of gathering do YOU need to embrace more fully?

Below are my own theories about why we avoid the different types of gatherings.

Reasons we avoid the organized gatherings:

­ Fear of commitment. What if I volunteer to serve on a Sunday morning, only to get free tickets to a concert Saturday night? I won’t want to come in Sunday morning.

­ Loss of control. If I sign up for a life group, I might end up having to deal with one or two people that I find really annoying. I want to be in full control over who I hang out with.

­ Bad experiences in the past. Anything that a church organizes just feels too “legalistic” to me. I don’t even know what that word means, but it seems to fit.

Reasons we avoid the organic gatherings:

­ Fear of rejection. What if I invite someone to hang out and they reject me?

­ It’s messy. If we invite Ted & Tina over for dinner, they’ll probably ask us about our marriage. It’s safer if we just see them at church.

­ Laziness. I don’t want to take initiative. I don’t want to have to think about this. Can’t Pastor Chris just organize it and tell me what to do? Then if it’s lame I can blame it on him.

What do you think? Are you guilty of any of these mindsets? I’ll admit that I have been guilty of all of them at various times in my life.

But whether you can identify with some of these reasons or you think I’m way off in my theories, the point is — ­­ are you embracing both kinds of gatherings? Do you see the value in being a part of our organized gatherings AND also initiating more organic forms of hang­outs?

Do you value your own role in our new and growing church family?

I hope so.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14

The Funny Thing About Community (by Jessica Francis)

Growing up, my mom used to always say that God gave me good eye sight to make up for my poor sense of direction. Now, I’m not entirely sure that’s the way God was thinking about things, but that thought has always stuck with me. When I’m lost (which is very common for me) and frustrated with my (lack of) sense of direction, I am actually more grateful for my eyesight.

Just recently, I have begun to think about how this way of thinking applies to my understanding of community. The bible tells us that we are to live in community with one another.  Romans 12:5 says “… so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” If our community (or church) represents one body, then we are supposed to function in light of each others’ differences and flaws. And we are meant to function in a way that shows the love of Christ to the world, for it says in John 13:35 that “your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Now as selfish individuals, it can be extremely difficult to appreciate the differences, be they strengths or weaknesses, that exist between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in our church community. But I think that if we are grateful for our differences, then they actually strengthen our love for one another… thus exemplifying Christ’s love to the world.

Think of it this way. I am an introvert. I love people, but people wear me out. Because of that, I can become frustrated with extreme extroverts and my tendency might be to distance myself from people who are not introverts just like me. But if I‘m focused on being part of my community, rather than my own personal agenda, I am grateful for my brothers and sisters that are extroverts. I can see how our differences, when combined, form a strong body.

This shift in perspective is uncomfortable, especially in light of the individualism that is worshipped by our US society. But when I can embrace this new perspective, I am so grateful that God has chosen my brothers and sisters to fill the roles that I cannot fill. And because I am so grateful for their uniqueness from me, I am better able to love them the way that I am supposed to. I can see them as one body, of which I am just one part, and only by functioning together can we show the love of Christ to the world.

Idolatry In My Life (by Jessica Francis)

What is an idol? Essentially it is a God other than God himself. It is something that we consume ourselves with and base our life’s meaning upon. If it is taken away, we will lose our sense of peace and joy.

As Christians, we worship God himself, and as a result we can’t have idols because it would mean that we aren’t worshipping God. We can’t worship God how we are meant to if we are worshipping something else at the same time. It would mean that we have more than one God. It seems so simple. But every time I talk about idolotry I come away with some new understanding or perspective on the subject. And I realized recently that it’s because idols can be tricky and subtle; and even as someone who loves God with my whole heart, I’m prone to finding alternatives to consume myself. As soon as I get over one idol it seems that I’m battling a new one. And I would bet that I’m not alone in that.

There are the obvious ones like money, status, and recognition, but even those aren’t always obvious. Let’s take money, for example. We all know the guy (or girl) who works long hours day after night and is consumed with moving up the corporate ladder for the sake of bringing home more and more money. He has a goal to get that extra $20K so he can add that extra room to the house. Once he gets it the goal turns into an additional $40K, and so it continues. But then there’s the girl (or guy) who has reached the fiscal point that she has worked toward and now just sits back and enjoys the money she has made. She and her family spend their time booking vacations, enjoying the finest restaurants, and having get-togethers at their beautiful home. In either case, if this is the whole story money could be considered an idol.

But what about the rich family that takes vacations, enjoys the finest restaurants, and has frequent get-togethers in their beautiful home — all while worshipping God? If all of their money gets stripped away, they continue to worhip God. So it might look the same on the outside as the situation described prior, but it is completely different. So how do we know when someone has an idol? We don’t, unless we know their heart. But it’s not our job to guess other people’s idols. We can, however, learn what our own idols are if we are willing to dig deep into our own hearts.

So I understand that idols are complicated and what might be an idol for one person can look exactly the same for another person without actually being an idol. But after pondering on the subject of idolotry lately, and recognizing the need to dig deep into my own heart, I came across a really tricky one that was consuming me. Rather than having just one thing that consumes me (i.e. one thing that I worship), it’s the combination of several of God’s creations that has become my idol. It’s the combination of my husband, my child, my relationships, my career, my income, my education, my status, my appearance, and my comfort. They are all simply God’s creations that he has chosen to give to me, but my tendency is to hold them so tight as if they are my own. So quickly I forget that they are merely on loan to me.

What makes this idol so complicated is that they are all good things, and none of them alone consumes me. But taken together, they consume my attention and shift my focus away from God himself. If I were to lose one of them, my world might not be completely rocked. I would probably still have my joy. But what if God decided to take all of them from me? Would I still be able to worship him? It would be really hard, and that is my clue to idolatry.

There’s a scripture that says,“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). For me, this passage makes it clear that nothing is to take a close second to God. We are to worship God far beyond anyone or anything else. If we find that there is anything that consumes us, or that we would be unwilling to give up for our Lord, or that would cause us to stop worshiping God if we lost it, then it probably is an idol that is stripping us of the joy that we get from worshiping God alone.

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