JOIN US IN OUR ONGOING JOURNEY OF GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION!
WE’VE SEEN SUCH GROWTH IN PAST LENTEN SEASONS
THAT WE CANNOT HELP BUT COME WITH ANTICIPATION AT WHAT GOD WILL DO.
FIRST, A COMMENT ABOUT “LENT.”
Beginning this Wednesday, and not counting Sundays, there are 40 days until Resurrection Sunday, paralleling the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before His journey to the cross began.
Traditionally Christians, as they journey toward the cross, have “given something up” during Lent, but we must be careful here. In Abba’s Child Brennan Manning points out that we have a legalistic tendency to make secondary concerns primary. For example, the Pharisees focused on “not working” on the Sabbath, but that was secondary. The primary reason for the Sabbath was to press into God, and not working was a secondary reason to aid the primary reason. But the Pharisees reversed that and forgot the primary reason and were proud of their rule-keeping.
We have done the same for Lent. The purpose of Lent is to reflect on the death and resurrection of Christ and allow God to transform our lives. The reason Christians began to “give something up” (from preparing a meal to watching television) was to give themselves time to focus on Christ or to allow their hunger to make them hungry for God. But eventually the primary reason was lost and people were giving up things without knowing why and feeling proud they were doing so.
Here is what I would suggest — identify what you run to when you are sad, stressed, or bored and find a way to run instead to Jesus. In Idol Lies, Rebecca told of replacing her nightly eating/tv ritual with edifying books that dealt with intimacy with God. Rachael replaced her checking Facebook and coupon deal sites on the computer with God’s Word. For many of you, in order to do the Bible study on this blog, something will need to go or to wait so that you have the time to do it. Others of you may want to memorize, pray through the Word more, or read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp, Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning, or another classic. Ask God and begin where He impresses you to begin.
For Lent of 2015, we want to experience what Brennan Manning calls “the risenness of Christ.” Manning tells of a newspaper reporter interviewing G. K. Chesterton, asking him: “If the risen Christ suddenly appeared at this very moment and stood behind you, what would you do?”
“Chesterton looked the reporter squarely in the eye and said, “He is.”
What I believe Chesterton and Manning were proclaiming is that Christ’s resurrection should not just be seen as a historic reality, but a present power in our lives. I would like you to be alert to where you see Him and His reality in your study of the Word, in your life, and in your world. I’m going to keep asking you where you see Him. It may be through an answer to prayer, through seeing Him at work in a friend or in your own heart, through a passage becoming radioactive, or through circumstances you know where engineered by Him.
Let us press in together through the 40 Days of Lent by doing this study and allowing it to transform our hearts, dying to where we might want to resist, so that the power of Christ might be evident in our lives.
This week will be a review, for some began this journey 6 weeks ago, but we will catch everyone up. Also, on Ash Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, I’d like you to share your plan for pressing in and experiencing the risenness of Christ in your life, so be asking Him to show you.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. Share one way you observed the “risenness of Christ” in your life last week.
Monday: Review and Overview of Where We Are Headed (Read carefully and be prepared to comment)
THE GOSPEL CAN DELIVER US FROM NOT JUST THE PENALTY OF SIN,
BUT THE POWER OF SIN IN OUR DAILY LIVES.
TOO OFTEN, AS BELIEVERS, WE HAVE SEEN THE GOSPEL
AS ONLY THE ABC’S OF CHRISTIANITY, WHEN IT IS TRULY THE A TO Z.
WE THINK OF IT, AS J. D. GREAR PUT IT,
AS THE DIVING BOARD INTO THE POOL OF CHRISTIANITY
One of the most important concepts to grasp is that the gospel of Christianity has the power to rescue us, whereas irreligion and religion do not. Irreligion, we understand, is like the rebellion of the Samaritan woman, moving from man to man, in hopes of rescue.
Religion is personified by the Pharisees who were caught up in rules and rituals but did not have intimacy with God. They too were trying to rescue themselves.
Though many would call Christianity a religion, the Bible doesn’t use that word except somewhat sarcastically when James addresses the hypocrisy of those who claim to be religious but are not controlling their tongues, taking care of widows and orphans, or staying unpolluted from the world. (James 1:26-27) You see pressing the will, as religion does, has little power, but the gospel has dynamite power, the power of the life of God in us. James puts it like this:
Salvation, we must realize is bigger than rescuing us from guilt, but also from the power of sin. And that’s what we are going to ponder and practice this Lent, all the way up to Resurrection Sunday, when we celebrate that risen LIFE!
A. What did J. D. Grear mean when he said “the gospel is the whole pool?”
B. There are three ways of life: Religion, Irreligion, and the Gospel. Explain each with an illustration.
C. Why does religion lack power? Why does the gospel have power?
D. What other comments do you have on the above?
Tuesday: “I AM ACCEPTED THEREFORE I OBEY”
Debbie is a life transformed by the power of the gospel. Though her story began before the foundation of the world, her husband Ron says, “This all started with pickle ball.” My friend Twila and I play pickle ball (sort of an indoor tennis that is less rigorous) and have been befriending people there. Debbie was one.
Debbie came to one of my retreats and approached me afterwards: “Why can’t I stop crying when you talk?”
I smiled. “I think God must be wooing you, Debbie.”
“I think He is!”
Then she came to our Bible study. I could see that she was as close to the light of new life as a baby in a birth canal. But like that baby, she was feeling pressure! As we studied the first chapter of John she said, “My head hurts. How could Jesus have been born at Christmas and yet have always existed?”
A few weeks later I invited Debbie and her husband Ron over for dinner. At one point, Ron, a big man who works with FEMA in disaster relief, leaned over the kitchen counter and pointed a finger at me:
“What you have been teaching my wife is not what I have heard in church all my life.”
“How is it different, Ron?”
“You told her that if she trusts in what Jesus did for her at the cross that she will be forgiven and go to heaven.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“So she doesn’t have to be good?”
“Religion teaches us we need to be good to be accepted by God. But Christianity is different than the world religions. It says there is no way we can be good enough to gain favor with a holy God. Therefore Jesus paid the price for our sin at the cross.”
“That’s too easy.” Ron shook his head and gripped his hands together in frustration on the counter.
Moved with compassion, I covered his hands with mine. “Ron – that’s why they call the gospel amazing grace.”
|I obey, therefore I’m accepted.||I’m accepted, therefore I obey.|
4. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. What does it say and how does this express the amazing grace of the gospel?
Debbie and Ron were confused because they had had false teaching in their past. They began to search the Scriptures to see what it taught. This is so important, for just as there were false teachers in Jesus’ day, there are false teachers today. Jesus said to be careful of them, for they are blind leaders of the blind. “And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.” (Matthew 15:14) Usually these leaders think they are of God, but they are not. Today you’ll get a taste of a typical argument between Jesus and the Pharisees.
5. Read John 8:39-44
A. Why did the Pharisees think they were in?(39)
B. How does Jesus refute their claim in verses 40-41?
C. What is a crucial characteristic of children of God according to verse 42?
D. Why, according to verses 43 to 47, are the Pharisees resisting the truth? Find all you can.
ASH WEDNESDAY: MY IDENTITY IS AS A BELOVED CHILD OF GOD
6. What thoughts do you have on this Lent — on how you might begin to better press into Christ? (If you haven’t prayed about it, do so now, being still before Him. Some find it helpful to choose the same time and place each day to meet with Him. Some find it helpful to read an edifying book. Some find it helpful to give something up, and use that time or hunger to turn to Christ.) I suggest keeping it simple but following through.
Two other differences between religion and the gospel are:
|When I am criticized, I am furious||When I am criticized, I struggle,|
|or devastated, because it is critical||but it is not essential for me to|
|that I think of myself as a “good||think of myself as a “good person.”|
|person. Threats to that self-image||My identity is not built on my|
|must be destroyed at all costs.||record or my performance, but|
|on God’s love for me in Christ.|
|Motivation is based on fear and Insecurity.||Motivation is based on grateful joy.|
7. In what ways can you see the above negative emotions in the Pharisees in John 8:39-47? Be specific.
8. How do you respond when you are criticized and why? What might this show you about where your identity?
Religion presses the will by “putting on morality.” C. S. Lewis said, in Mere Christianity:
“It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”
One day, before Debbie’s transformation began, she said, “I think if it happens for me, it will be gradual.”
“It might be,” I said. “Many cannot tell you exactly when they were found by Christ. It is as if they were driving from Nebraska to Colorado and they don’t know when they crossed the border, but there comes a time when they know they are not in Nebraska anymore. It may be like that, Debbie. Or it may be a dramatic moment. God knocked Paul off his horse.”
A few weeks later I got a text from Debbie:
3:00 P. M.
South of Egg Harbor.
I get it. I don’t have to do anything, do I?
Debbie told me later she had been driving and was so overwhelmed by His love that she had to pull the car to side of the road where she wept to grasp His love for her. The next time I saw her she said, “I don’t have a headache anymore!” She was out of the birth canal and into the light.
9. What comments do you have on Debbie’s story?
10. Read John 3:3 What does Jesus tell the Pharisee?
11. Though the phrase “born again” has been mocked and twisted to mean many things, what do you think Jesus was trying to communicate to this religious teacher?
12. How might this be different from the way Nicodemus might have thought a person changes?
THURSDAY: THE GOSPEL CHANGES US FROM THE INSIDE, FOR HIS LIFE IS IN US
When a baby is born, it is an event! But following the event is the process of that child becoming mature in body and spirit. So it is with the gospel. The gospel produces a new life, and that is an event, but it is followed by a maturing process. As C. S. Lewis says, “Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect – perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality. The change will not be completed in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment. How far the change will have gone before death in any particular Christian is uncertain.”
Debbie’s husband texted me a few weeks after she received new life.
How do I know if I am a Christian or not?
That led to a discussion concerning believing the facts of the gospel, but then also seeing if there was fruit in Ron’s life. When those who had prayed a prayer of salvation asked the Puritans if they were now God’s children, the Puritans would say, “We’ll see.”
Christianity is organic, meaning that if it is real growth will happen, just as a branch connected to a living tree will bear fruit.
Indeed, we are seeing growth in both Debbie and Ron, fruit that indicates that indeed, the life of God is in them, and that inevitably produces joy, peace, and more.
I stopped by to see Debbie and Ron last week. Ron had Mere Christianity, the Bible, and a commentary on Luke by Michael Card open on the table. He said, “I have questions!” I see the power of God working in him because of his hunger.
I also see tremendous gratitude in Him. He is looking for ways to serve and thank God. One way, which certainly pleased me, was to build and hang a deer feeder for me in my yard, for he heard I wanted one. Last winter, which was so brutal, the deer were skin and bones by spring, and it broke my heart. Here is Ron, this week, in very cold weather, getting my deer feeder just right. I see the power AND love of God growing in Ron.
Then we prayed the deer would find it, which they did in a day! Seeing how hungry they are reminds me to ask God to make me hungry for Him. For indeed, the reason we do not spend time with Him is because we are not hungry for Him. So let us pray we will be hungry, that we will love Him more.
13. What stands out to you from the above and why?
14. Read John 15:5.
15. What does Jesus say here?
16. If you have put your trust in Christ, share an area where you see evidence of God working in you. How are you seeing His risenness in you?
Friday: 5 minute Tim Keller video answering, “What is the Gospel?”
Watch and share your comments and insights.
17. What is your take-a-way (what you will remember) from this introductory lesson and why?