Posted tagged ‘faith’

Essential Practices of the Small Group Leader #8: Point People to Jesus

May 4, 2009

Let me ask a question of those that teach Sunday School or lead a small-group Bible study – If someone were to attend your class for, say six weeks, would they have encountered Jesus?

No, I’m not speaking of a vision or audible voice. But would that person have understood that Jesus is at the center of who we are, what we do and why we exist as a church? Would that person know that the gospel message is all about Jesus? Would that person have any idea how to have a relationship with Jesus, or sense that such a relationship made a difference in the life of the group leader or other members of the group?

I ask these rather blunt questions because the answers tell us whether we’re pointing people to Jesus or to something else – “church-ianity,” moralism, legalism, or perhaps an inoffensive Jesus who was a nice teacher and said some nice things but didn’t really mean all those things about being the only way to the Father.

I’ve become convicted of the urgency of Christ-centered teaching of late, so if you sense that I’m pointing a finger, rest assured that four are pointing back at me. Although I do not teach a small group every week, I teach on a fairly regular basis as a fill-in. I often wonder, especially if someone is present for the first time in a class, whether the lesson I teach ultimately points a person to Christ – or at the very least, helps them along the way to meeting Him.

Yes, I believe in teaching the “whole counsel of God,” in the sense that I believe all of the Bible is God-breathed and serves to teach us about God’s character and our need for redemption. But I fear that we sometimes miss the bigger picture in our teaching. Do we connect the dots between the fall of man in Genesis and our need for a redeemer in the gospels? Are we helping people see the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that clearly point to birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ? Is our first priority, as Paul proclaimed, to “proclaim Jesus, and Him crucified?” If that is not at the forefront of our teaching, then I believe we neglect the central message of scripture.

If our mission is to be about kingdom business, then it behooves us to introduce people to the King. The person of Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – is that King. He is the one who humbled himself, taking on the form of a mere man – born in a stable, worked as a carpenter, healed the sick, raised the dead, ate with sinners, taught with authority, confounded the religious, lived a sinless life, gave his life willingly on a Roman cross, paid the penalty for our sins through His death, overcame death and the grave when he rose again on the third day, appeared to many, ascended to heaven, promised the Holy Spirit, gave the great commission, and promised to return one day. That is the One we point to.

Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Without Him, everything else is meaningless – just empty ritual and dead religion. As Paul said –

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 10-11.

There are many wonderful priniciples to be found in the Bible. We should teach them all. But let’s make sure that we let people know that Jesus is at the center of it all. If we do not, all of our doctrine, beliefs, practices and effort are meaningless. Above all, the world needs Jesus – undiluted, undiminished and without apology – the risen Savior and Redeemer for all mankind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“But what about you?” he (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:15-16

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:35-40

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Godliness with Contentment

February 3, 2009

Unless you have been living on a remote desert island, you are aware of the world-wide economic meltdown that has been underway for the past few months. It seems that the primary focus of the new administration and congress is to address this problem. Politicians, pundits and every average Joe has an opinion on this financial crisis, but no one really seems sure how to “fix” it.

Christians are not exempt from the economic downturn. We all know people who have lost jobs, retirement accounts devalued and stores that have closed or are on the precipice. Perhaps you’ve been hit particularly hard yourself. It’s a trying time for everyone and we are left wondering, “What next?”

In the midst of the upheavel, we need to be reminded that our source of peace and security does not lie in the hands of the government or Wall Street. Our hope and security lies in Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8:35-37 reminds us: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The implied answer to “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” is – No-one and no-thing! Although we are not exempt from hardship or trying times, our circumstances cannot separate us from Him. We all need to cling to that promise.

So, how do we face such uncertain times? How do we live out our faith as followers of Christ when the world is in an uproar?

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words to his young protoge’, Timothy, who was facing similar trying times:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. – 1 Timothy 3:6-7

Godliness . . . with contentment. The two go hand in hand. And therein lies our security – the peace of Christ in our hearts – NOT financial gain (despite what the prosperity gospel advocates say). As we adhere to the teachings of Christ by living godly lives of obedience, we discover great contentment – in spite of the chaotic circumstances that surround us. Living godly lives does not exempt us from trials. Far from it. Paul shared his own experiences thusly . . .

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. – 2 Timothy 3:10-13

Did you catch that? Godliness does not exempt us from trials. In fact, it opens us up to persecution! Today, most of us are struggling over financial issues and the future as a result of the actions of such “evil men” who have done much damage to our financial system. But don’t miss what Paul also said in the middle of this passage – “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” Our Lord is in the rescuing business. We may face difficult times for the foreseeable future. Our savings may dwindle and our retirement accounts evaporate. And we may endure even further financial setbacks. Yet, in the midst of it all, the people of God are called to live godly lives with contentment. That contentment is a sense of peace and gratitude for how the Lord has blessed us and the provision for our needs – both now and in the future. It is confidence in the One who knows what tomorrow holds.

Followers of Jesus are not exempt from hard times. But neither are we exempt from remaining faithful to Him. In fact, in times of uncertainty we have a tremendous opportunity to be both encouragers and servants as people see foundations made of sand washed away. This is not a time for God’s people to point fingers of blame; it is a time for us to extend a cup of water in Jesus’ name and point toward Him as the way, the truth and the life.