Thursday, December 31, 2015

What are Your Personal Convictions?

Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

The process of continually developing personal convictions is vitally important in the life of a Christian. If you're single, this can be of great help to you before you take the plunge of marriage. If you're already married, it can work to shape and refine your unity as a couple.

Over the years, I have discovered many people (singles and couples) who have unspoken personal convictions. They're unspoken, because they really don't know what they believe until someone steps on their toes. The result? Boom! Their convictions functioned as landmines located just below the surface of life that can, and often do, randomly explode, because people didn't actively know what they were. They have been the cause of damage in relationships to people of all walks of life. Do you really know your convictions?

My convictions have been forming and developing for years. I actively base them on doctrines and principles found in the Bible. Why? Because it is there that God has revealed His perfect design for life. I have many more than these listed below, but here are my top ten. All of them can easily be defended throughout the Bible.

Here are my Top 10:
          1. Jesus saved me, because I couldn't
          2. I have been saved from sin and for Him 
          3. Christianity is an "all-in" life of worship 
          4. His Spirit is shaping me into Christ's likeness
          5. My time, skills, stuff, and money are His
          6. Parents are primary disciple-makers
          7. The local church is God's plan for His mission
          8. Prayer and peace go hand-in-hand
          9. The Bible is God's relevant Word to humanity
          10. Judgment, Heaven, and Hell are very real  

If you don't know your convictions, take some time to figure them out. Here are a few resources to help you in this important effort:
 - The Bible: this is by far the most important!!
 - What should Christians do when convictions violate a tolerant society?
 - Blog: Moral Convictions Must Emerge Out in the Open
 - Blog: Mental Growth means Growing into More Definite Convictions

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Advent Challenge! (part 4 of 4)

The Challenge: Dedicate 60 minutes a week to deeper exploration of God's Word. 

Step 1: Pray for clarity and understanding

Step 3: Read the Notes in your Study Bible for the Luke passage  
     * If you don't have one, you can create a free account with FaithLife by following the directions on the right side of the screen located in "Step 2". This site is rich with great resources! (Don't have a Study Bible, buy one here.)

Step 4: Dive into deeper exploration by reading: 

* ...this excerpt from "Mary: Devoted to God's Plan"
Historical & Cultural Background. Under normal circumstances, there would have been no reason for Mary to give birth in Bethlehem instead of at her home in Nazareth. Yet world events demanding a cross-country trip intervened at a most inconvenient time. Luke records that a decree from Caesar Augustus required all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire to register for the census, undoubtedly to facilitate the collection of taxes.
Following Jewish custom, the people registered according to their ancestral property divisions. For Mary and Joseph, this meant traveling to the territory of the clan of David, which was in the southern region of Judah in the area of Bethlehem—about 80–90 miles from Nazareth, which was located in the northern region of Galilee. Luke skims over the details of the couple’s arduous journey, saying only that Joseph “went up” from Galilee to Judaea (Luke 2:4). We can presume that they most likely traveled with a caravan of people making the same trip (see Chapter 2). Mary may have been required to register as well since she was Joseph’s wife, or Joseph may have brought her with him simply because he did not want to miss the important event of the birth. Even without the exact details, we can imagine Mary’s discomfort and anxiety in traveling during the late stages of her pregnancy.
As Mary trekked down the long, dusty road to Bethlehem beside Joseph, feeling more discomfort each day from the growing child, thoughts of giving birth to God’s Son—the long-awaited Messiah—on the roadside likely plagued her. Although God prevented her fear from becoming a reality, the circumstances under which He brought His Son into the world still fell short of Mary’s—and all of Israel’s—expectations. Following the glorious manner in which she had learned of her pregnancy, Mary may have held hopes for an equally incredible birth. Knowing that her son would “reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:33), she may have expected His delivery to be a time of great celebration or coronation. When she went into labor in a stable, Mary was probably shocked to realize that she would give birth to this promised King in such lowly and lonely circumstances. Yet this was God’s will for the birth of His Son.

* ...this excerpt from "The New American Commentary: Luke"
Several Lukan themes are found in our passage. The Christological description of Mary’s firstborn son is clearly one. Luke taught his readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish messianic hopes by showing that he was born in David’s town (2:4, 11). Although he did not quote Mic 5:2 as Matt 2:6 does, the account of the birth in Bethlehem is clearly meant to demonstrate that Jesus is David’s legitimate offspring and the promised Davidic King/Messiah. Thus Luke 2:4, 11 picks up the theme of 1:27, 32–33, 69. Mary’s child is also referred to as a Savior, is called the Christ in a way that indicates that Luke’s readers were already aware that this title had become a name for Jesus, and is called the Lord (2:11). Although the child’s work as Savior and full authorization as Lord was still future, he was proleptically referred to as such. Later the church would proclaim that Jesus is the only Savior, for salvation is found in no one else (Acts 4:12). Luke also continued the John the Baptist—Jesus parallelism in this account. Once again the greater nature of Jesus is evident, for whereas John the Baptist was the prophet of the Most High (1:16, 17, 76; 7:26), Jesus is Savior, Christ, and Lord. And whereas at John the Baptist’s birth Zechariah uttered a prophetic pronouncement, at Jesus’ birth an angelic host sang a doxology to God.
Another theme that appears in this passage involves God’s sovereignty over history. The historical description in 2:1–3 is to be understood not simply as an accidental quirk but rather as showing how God, who rules over nations, directed Caesar Augustus to issue the census decree in order to bring about the fulfillment of what God had decreed centuries earlier. Thus in God’s providence while they were there (2:6) David’s greatest Son was born. God’s sovereign rule is also emphasized in 2:20, where Luke remarked that all took place “just as they had been told.”
A final Lukan theme is the divine visitation to the poor and humble of Israel. God’s visitation of salvation comes to the humble (1:48, 52) and hungry (1:53), not the proud (1:51–52) and rich (1:53). Thus those present at the birth of God’s Son were not this world’s rulers or its religious leaders. Rather the angelic invitation was extended to shepherds on the fringe of society, and they were present to see the birth of the Lord Christ.

Step 5: Consider the following:
     - How has your understanding of the Christmas story grown over the years?
     - Have you ever wondered why God has involved you in His redemptive plans?
     - Do you believe you have responded obediently to His invitation to follow Him?
     - In what ways have you experienced peace in your journey of faith in Christ?

Everyone is invited to come to Advance Community Church this Christmas Eve and Sunday at 5:00pm where this passage will come to life.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Advent Challenge! (part 3 of 4)

The Challenge: Dedicate 60 minutes a week to deeper exploration of God's Word. 

Step 1: Pray for clarity and understanding

Step 3: Read the Notes in your Study Bible for the Luke passage  
     * If you don't have one, you can create a free account with FaithLife by following the directions on the right side of the screen located in "Step 2". This site is rich with great resources! (Don't have a Study Bible, buy one here.)

Step 4: Dive into deeper exploration by reading: Understanding Sin & Substitutionary Atonement? 

Step 5: Consider the following:
     - What stands out to you as significant concerning the story of John's birth?
     - Why was Elizabeth so adamant about naming her baby "John"?
     - Zechariah addresses redemption from sin in verses 76-79. 
          - How dreadful is your sin? Do you grasp its darkness?
          - How amazing is God's provision of forgiveness through Christ?
          - How thankful are you for the grace of God in providing redemption?
     - Peace only comes through Jesus Christ. Do you believe in Him? 

Everyone is invited to come to Advance Community Church this Sunday at 5:00pm where this passage will come to life.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Friend like Elizabeth, Worship like Mary

It's amazing to me how every time I read through Scripture something new jumps off of the page. This is especially true of familiar passages surrounding the story of Christ' birth. Last night, the sermon was based on Luke 1:39-56. Here we find two detailed stories involving Mary.

Story #1: Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)
Story #2: Mary and God (Luke 1:46-55)

For us to experience deep and lasting peace, we can learn the importance of great relationships and true worship.

Marks of a Great Relationship (as seen in verses 39-45)
1. Words and Acts of Encouragement
2. Growth during difficult times
3. Leading of the Holy Spirit
4. Spiritual Transparency
5. A unified awe of God

Marks of True Worship (as seen in verses 46-55)
1. "Vertical" overshadows "Horizontal" (Mary prioritizes God and His will over everything else)
2. Soul-rooted magnification of God (Her inner being was consumed by God)
3. Humility in spite of circumstance (She had every reason to be proud, but she chose adoration of God instead)
4. Awareness of God's work on Earth (She saw the big picture of God's work - past, present, and future)
5. Specific and overflowing gratitude (Her thankfulness was in no way general or superficial)

Follow-up Resources:
Learning to Love: Encouragement
A Prayer about True Worshippers, not Great Worship

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Advent Challenge! (part 2 of 4)

The Challenge: Dedicate 60 minutes a week to deeper exploration of God's Word. 

Graphic by Tim LePage
Step 1: Pray for clarity and understanding

Step 3: Read the Notes in your Study Bible for the Luke passage  
     * If you don't have one, you can create a free account with FaithLife by following the directions on the right side of the screen located in "Step 2". This site is rich with great resources! (Don't have a Study Bible, buy one here.)

Step 4: Dive into deeper exploration by reading this excerpt from Mary: Devoted to God's Plan which was published by Lexham Press. Good Read!

    The themes of Mary’s Magnificat reflect those of Hannah’s song in 1 Sam 2:1–10. Hannah was married to a man who had another wife—one who had given him children (1 Sam 1:1–2). Although her husband loved her, Hannah was relentlessly taunted by the other wife for being barren (1 Sam 1:6). When God answered her prayer for a son (Samuel), Hannah rejoiced by exalting God’s goodness and provision (1 Sam 1:20). Although Mary and Hannah were in very different situations, both women praised God for remembering the desperate plight of His people.
In rewarding Hannah by providing her with Samuel, God also satisfied Israel’s need for a great leader—something the nation lacked since the death of Moses (Deut 34). As God’s prophet, Samuel would bring Israel out of spiritual darkness and back into a proper relationship with Him (1 Sam 7:3–6). Israel also lacked a great leader in Mary’s time. Yet Mary’s son would accomplish far more than the salvation of Israel, just as Gabriel proclaimed (Luke 1:31–33). Mary’s son was born to fulfill God’s plan to save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).
Quick Bit The Jews in Mary’s day eagerly anticipated the coming of a messiah. They longed for him to set them free from the Romans’ imposed rule, purify temple worship, and establish a just utopian society: the kingdom of God. The birth of Jesus, as predicted by Gabriel, offered hope in the midst of darkness, much like Samuel’s birth in 1 Sam 1–2.
Both mothers knew that their sons—Samuel and Jesus—were destined for greatness, and they expressed their thanksgiving to God with songs of praise. Both songs open by praising God for revealing His salvation. Hannah’s song declares “I rejoice in your salvation” (1 Sam 2:1), while Mary sings that her spirit “rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). The praises reflect the source of their joy and strength: God Himself. Both songs elevate God’s holiness, with Hannah exclaiming that “there is none holy like the Lord” (1 Sam 2:2) and Mary rejoicing “holy is His name” (Luke 1:49).
Hannah and Mary both describe God as a God of action. They extol His sovereignty and the strength by which He elevates the humble and needy (1 Sam 2:7–8; Luke 1:48) and abolishes the proud (1 Sam 2:3; Luke 1:51). Mary testifies that God has “done great things” for her personally (Luke 1:49) and shown His mercy to His people “from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). Hannah declares “The Lord makes poor and makes rich” (1 Sam 2:7). She describes Him as a God who defeats His enemies and guards His people (1 Sam 2:9–10).
Each woman’s song concludes with hints of coming salvation. Hannah proclaims that God will “exalt the horn of his anointed (or Messiah)” (1 Sam 2:10). Hannah’s son, Samuel, helped pave the way for the Messiah by anointing David as king of Israel (see 1 Sam 16:1–13)—the king from whom Jesus would descend (see Matt 1:1–17). Hannah’s song ultimately points beyond her son to Mary’s.
Through both Hannah and Mary, God sovereignly intervened to save His people. In Mary’s elegant Magnificat, she identified her situation with God’s great redemptive work of the past—namely what He had accomplished through Hannah and Samuel. Through her song, Mary also gave new voice to her willingness to embrace her role in God’s plan.

Step 5: Consider the following:
     - What can we learn from Mary and Elizabeth's relationship?
     - Who is in your life that reinforces and confirms God's plan and call for you?
     - In what ways do you show praise and gratitude to God?
     - Do you know God's call on your life? What are you doing about that? 
     - In what areas of your life do you lack peace? 

Everyone is invited to come to Advance Community Church this Sunday at 5:00pm where this passage will come to life.

Still shopping? Links to 3 amazing gift guides...

We were in Texas for most of November attending the Acts 29 North America Conference and visiting family and friends. As a result, I am way behind with Christmas shopping. Lucky for me, there are three incredible gift recommendation lists that will help me find the perfect gift while making an impact around the globe!

1. Kristen Welch created an amazing gift guide on her blog. "Every item is made by women who are being empowered in Jesus' name." I am part of Fair Trade Friday which I love! It is like getting a Christmas package every month in the mail.  You can find the gift guide here...

2. The Gospel Coalition partnered with Every Square Inch to create a gift guide that celebrates products made by companies with Christian founders. It is also a fun list that allows you to see how God is working in the business world. You can find it here...  (You might notice that Noonday is on this list with a special coupon code.)

3. Jamie Ivey created a list of organizations that are changing the world. It includes places that you can feel good about buying from and has many coupon codes.  Love many of her suggestions and think you will too!  You can find it here...

Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Follow-up & New Christmas Favorites

Quote from Sunday night:
"If we minimize God's promises of the past, we'll lack peace in God's promises for our present and future."

In response to the biblical stories of Christmas, we tend to fall into one of four categories: 
1. Those who are Ignorant - people who have genuinely never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ
2. Those who Reject it - people who have heard it and choose to reject it
3. Those who are Ungrateful - people who believe but live as if it never happened
4. Those who "Take it for Granted" - people who believe but have lost the awe and wonder of the incarnation

* Sure, there's a fifth category: People who are captivated in awe and wonder. These followers of Jesus Christ can't get enough of Him and are passionate about the realities and implications of His miraculous birth. Sadly, these people are few and far between - even within the church. 

The Truth: Peace, deep and lasting, comes from knowing Jesus came to conquer sin and death AND will come back again to establish the New Heavens and New Earth. Amazing peace will be our reality - forever!

Resources for further growth:
- Gospel Coalition Article: Which Promises are for Me?
- Gospel Coalition Article: The God of Peace
- Verge Network Article: Holiday Lessons (Redeeming Christmas & Other Celebrations)

New Christmas Favorites: Check out the playlist here!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Advent Challenge! (part 1 of 4)

The Challenge: Dedicate 60 minutes a week to deeper exploration of God's Word. 

Step 1: Pray for clarity and understanding

Step 3: Read the Notes in your study Bible 
     * If you don't have one, you can create a free account with FaithLife by following the directions on the right side of the screen located in "Step 2". This site is rich with great resources! (Don't have a Study Bible, buy one here.)

Step 4: Dive into deeper exploration: Amazing OT Prophesies about Christ  

Step 5: Consider the following:
     - What are the supernatural events of this passage?
     - Compare the responses of Zechariah and Mary. What was Gabriel's reply to each?
     - Who do you most relate to in this story?
     - Where is your faith being challenged? How are you growing? 
     - In what areas of your life do you need peace? 

Everyone is invited to come to Advance Community Church this Sunday at 5:00pm where this passage will come to life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Tuesday - Organizations We Love Supporting!

It is Giving Tuesday! Kind of ironic, after the biggest days of shopping. Giving Tuesday is a global day where we are asked to give back. Here are a few of the organizations we love to support. Granted my list could go on and on. Please share your favorites with us as well!

Heart for Africa - My sister has traveled to Swaziland with this organization twice. They are currently caring for 103+ orphaned and vulnerable children in a country where the life expectancy is only 29! They also employee 250+ people from the local community in jobs such as farming, jewelry making, and caring for the children.

Mercy House - Mercy House supports maternity homes located in Africa. They exist to support and  provide alternative options for pregnant girls living on the streets in Kenya. They assist the girls with nutrition, housing, prenatal care, counseling, and job skills for sustainable living while sharing the Gospel. I participate in Fair Trade Friday which helps to support Mercy House.

Sole Hope - Sole Hope is located in Uganda. They help create jobs for people in the community while creating shoes to prevent jiggers. I have hosted a Shoe Cutting Party and it was super easy and fun!

The Lighthouse Foundation - The Lighthouse is located in Butler, PA. Our church has partnered with them to provide Blessing Bags at Thanksgiving, teach healthy cooking classes, volunteer with the toy shop at Christmas, and providing the items for Easter meals. The Lighthouse is a Christian organization that meets the needs of improvised families and individuals in Northern Allegheny and Butler counties.

Acts 29 - Acts 29 is a global, diverse family of church-planting churches. Advance Community Church is part of this network. It is Gospel-centered with a focus on advancing the mission of Jesus through planting churches across the globe.

IF Gathering - IF exists to gather, equip, and unleash the new generation of of women to live out their purpose. IF is a disciple-making organization that works with local churches. I love IF! We hosted a simulcast of IF in 2015 and are looking forward to hosting again in 2016. Check out IF:Equip and other resources!

My Eternal Refuge - This organization has helped to provide a school, medical clinic, and a water purification plant in a community in the Dominican Republic. Our church's mission trips work in the school and clinic. You can learn more about the work Advance Community Church is doing in the Dominican Republic at the church website.

Please consider how you might support ministries like these - today and even in the future. They all are working to meet the needs of people around the world for the glory of God.