Living Hope

It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s devotion on hope and the purpose of moments of refining is from week two of The Resurrected Life.

In exploring our new life in Christ, we have looked at the future reality of our glorious Resurrection, one whose wonder we cannot even begin to fathom. We do not know exactly what we shall be, but we know that God is faithful to bring it to pass, and we look forward to that day.

Next we looked at the fact that our new life in Jesus isn’t just futuristic. Just as it did for Lazarus, our Resurrected Life begins now.

So, let’s put these two aspect together in what the Apostle Peter calls “a living hope.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (NRSV)

Peter described both the future and the present reality of the Resurrection in our lives. Presently, we have been given a “new birth” into a “living hope.” When we are born again in Jesus Christ, a new life begins immediately. It manifests itself in what Peter calls the “genuineness of faith” (I Peter 1:7). This means that, though we do not right now see Jesus in the flesh, we love Him and trust Him, and are filled with joy because of His future promise of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

So the present new birth and the future inheritance join hands to create in us a “living hope“–a hope that is alive every day and motivates us to seek Him, to love Him, and to live for His kingdom because we are sure of our glorious future. Of course, because we live in a fallen world, the present reality of the Resurrected Life will not be one free of suffering or trials; rather it will manifest itself in the midst of trials. Sufferings and trials form a crucible of refining and testing.

One of the ways to improve gold is to put it through a burning process in which impurities and dross are burned off, leaving only precious metal. Peter compare the trials that we go through in this life to the refining process of precious metal–the metal of our faith. That which is not of eternity will be burned out of our lives. What will be left is genuine faith, shown by its steadfastness and by the love and joy that come by virtue of it.

The apostles considered all of their trials as occasions to rejoice because they knew that such trials would make them more ready to step into their inheritance of Resurrection with the Lord. The trials were occasions to show forth their devotion and love for Jesus and to strengthen their resolve to follow Him no matter what hardships they encountered.

The apostle James says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Between the time that we are born again into the Resurrected Life and the day of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises at the end of the age, we are in a period of testing and refining. The trials, sufferings, and tribulations of this present age work as catalysts to stimulate new growth and to help form the Resurrected Life in us. Jesus also calls this process pruning. In gardening, whenever a healthy plant is pruned, it produces new growth and more fruit.

You may be going through a pruning process in your life right now, feeling the pain of the old being cut off so that new growth and fruit can form. these times can be excruciatingly difficult and extremely painful. Yet the promise of God, as Peter wrote, is that you “are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

If you are in Christ and connected to His Resurrected Life, you will be protected through this season of testing and pruning. Fear not! Instead, persevere in trust, faith, and love, looking forward to the glory that awaits you–your “living hope.”

Ready for more? Get your copy of The Resurrected Life today!

Small Groups and Casting Vision

God is at work around our country through the small group movement, sending a wave of spiritual renewal to the local church. He is using Small Group Ministry to grow His people and equip them to do the work of the kingdom both within the church and in the world around us.

The key to all of this is vision casting. Almost every church wants to grow in numbers and reach out to its community. Vision casting is explaining the dream of Jesus Christ, that every sheep would have a shepherd, meaning that every believer would be connected to another so that the Body of Christ can fulfill its purpose.

Vision casting is also giving your church body easy tools by which they can accomplish this. A Small Group Ministry campaign can do all of this at once. Additionally, such a campaign has some amazing fringe benefits, like growth in church attendance and giving, as well as building an effective network through which the Senior Pastor and staff can communicated to their church body.

These fringe benefits help reluctant pastors, staff, and leadership see the value and purpose of being a church of small groups, not a church with small groups.

Ready to take the next step and align your congregation so that each member can fulfill their role within the body of Christ toward a common goal of furthering the Kingdom? Get your Christian Life Trilogy Campaign Kit today and start planning!

Bury the Hatchet

It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s devotion on reconciliation is an excerpt from week three of The Cruficied Life

We’ve all heard of the famous Hatfields and McCoys, the iconic feuding families of West Virginia and Kentucky. Consider that almost every war on this planet ultimately goes back to identity found in family of origin. For example, the clash between the Muslim Arabs and the Jewish people goes back to their ancestors, Ishmael and Isaac. The fighting in Ireland between Roman Catholics and Protestants stems more directly from tribal and family feuds than anything pertaining to the Christian faith.

When humans go to war, it is often because they find their identities in their natural families or human ancestry. Family divides people into factions and parties. The worst factions of any on earth are factions in and among families.

Blood is thicker than anything else, and bad blood is more dangerous than anything else. It is what often separates Caucasians from African-Americans, Greeks from Turks, Jews from non-Jews, and fuels countless other divisions around the world.

God is calling believers to be one family under one head, to share one Lord, one baptism, one Spirit. To fulfill that call, we must die, in a sense, to our families of origin and to our “tribes,” so that we can be raised up into the restored family of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now, those are strong words. Here is an interesting phrase we sometimes use: “Bury the hatchet.” The origin of the phrase is uniquely American; it is derived from the Native Americans. When a tribe would come to a point of declaring peace with another tribe, they would literally dig a hole and bury their weapons of war in the ground, thus burying the bloody hatchet for the cause of peace.

Listen to how Paul describes a similar feat accomplished on the cross:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Ephesians 2:13-16

Now, Paul was originally speaking of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). God’s plan is not that there should be separate Jewish and Gentile tribes divided by ethnicities and patrimonies, but that there should be one new man from the two, in Jesus Christ, where the dividing wall of hostility is abolished in His flesh. The two sides bury the bloody hatchet at the foot of the cross–creating peace between them.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:17-18

When Jesus said to John and to Mary, “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother,” Jesus began an incredible peace process between all families, tribes, and nations by starting this new family of God. In Jesus, people are united by common faith and spiritual adoption rather than by blood. John writes of this new family: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

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You can sample more of The Crucified Life today–click here for a free preview!

A Hope and a Future in the Christian Life

It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s post is written by the author of the Christian Life Trilogy, Rev. Charlie Holt.

Several weeks ago, our church read an excerpt from Jeremiah’s letter from God to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. It struck me as I was hearing Jeremiah’s words read out loud that they were just as prescient for our day as they were then.

A People Deaf to Warnings

In 597 BC, the Babylonian armies invaded Israel and the Judah and eventually conquered the capital city of the Jewish people in 586 BC. The Fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is one of the great tragedies of the Bible. For, the walls and buildings of the city of Jerusalem was literally disassembled and the Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed to its foundations.  Many people were deported into exile, including the entire royal court.

All of the destruction and deportation was anticipated and foretold through the writings and preaching of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not a particularly popular person in his day with the ruling class. Truth tellers are often difficult to hear.

False prophets rose up. Prior to the exile, they preached a message of denial. After the exile, they preached a “quick fix” approach, promising the exile would be a short few years, and that God would restore things back to the “good ole’ days” quickly. The truth was more severe.

The problems with the nation were deep and they went all the way to the top. Corruption existed at the highest levels—with the king’s themselves, Ahab and Zedekiah. These men would ultimately be judged by God unto death for their spiritual adultery with foreign powers and gods, for their rebellion against God’s commands and for their lies.

Hope, But Not False Hope

One of the most cherished parts of Jeremiah’s writings are his promises of hope to the people of God in the midst of their exile. As severe and devastating the Babylonian exile was, it was not the end of the story. All hope was not lost. However, such hope should not be falsely understood; restoration would not come quickly. There would be no quick fix. The exiled Jews in Babylon needed to take a long, multigenerational view. It would take 70 long years to turn things around and for Israel to be ready to return to Jerusalem. Here is a portion of God’s letter to the exiles. It said:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

The letter encourages the people that they need to take a long view. It is critically important that they live and even thrive in the midst of the exile. In other words, it was incumbent upon them to thrive even though the culture around them was foreign to them—not their home. They should even seek the welfare of the city in which they live so that they can thrive for the long term with the city’s good favor.

Restoration would come eventually. God promised to give them “a hope and a future”, to prosper them with good plans. But, it would take a good long while to see such blessing. By adopting a long view mindset, the Israelites would stay strong for the long haul and stay faithful to God for generations.

Our Day…

The writers of the New Testament considered the secular Roman Empire in which they lived a type of Babylon. The church is the exiled people of God. Peter called the church in the world, “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1). This world is not our home. Even though we are citizens of the United States from an earthly perspective, our true and lasting citizenship is in heaven in a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  We are destined for the New Jerusalem and the heavenly city prepared for the new earth after the consummation of all things. In the meantime, what are the faithful people of God to do?

Some false voices suggest that the problems are not that severe. That one day soon, we can get things turned around. Beloved, if the election of 2016 has taught us anything, I hope that we have learned that there is not a messianic presidential figure in the offing who will lead the United States of America back to the promised land that it once was.

The faithful need to be disillusioned with the pundits and the politicians who preach a message of false hope and quick fix. The problems that this nation has are deep and intractable. The truth is that it will take generations for this nation to be restored. They will not be solved in the short run with government solutions. On the contrary, national restoration of the United States will come from many generations of faithful consistent witness to the Christian life, as well as discipleship by the church.

If the Foundations Be Destroyed…

In Psalm 11, David asks: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” There are times when it seems as if the very ground underneath our feet is coming out from under us. This political season may have shaken our confidence in the very institutions which we rely on for stability. However, David knows that if your trust is not in earthly foundations but in the Lord’s sovereign rule, all is secure.

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

God remains firmly in control of all events happening in the United States of America. He is sovereign over all. So what will the righteous do?

Go on Being Righteous.

No matter how bleak the circumstances are in this land of exile, our hopeful confidence is ultimately not in the government of the United States of America or its elected leaders. As beautiful and wonderful as our nation is, God has truly shed his grace on thee, our hope and help is in the promised restoration that will only come by the sovereign hand of God and in his sovereign timing.

In the meantime, we take the long view. We go on being righteous, in season or out of season. We proclaim the good news. We plant and build churches, we do good deeds that build up the kingdom of God. We build houses and raise families. We study the scriptures together in community, and we seek the things of first importance, Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised.

The Lord is in his Holy Temple and he calls us to live and thrive in the midst of exile. We should always seek the welfare of the nation and cities in which we live as that will be for our welfare and blessing. By getting involved in the affairs of our community and being the salt and light of Jesus Christ, we manifest the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. Elections do matter, and we are called to engage in the affairs of our communities and nation so that the place where we live will be strong and good.

But for God’s sake take the long view, do not be discouraged or lose hope by the affairs of this world. We will remain in exile a good long while. As the Lord promised the people of God of old, his words continue to ring true:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

National Reflections

It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s post was originally written by the author of the Christian Life Trilogy, Rev. Charlie Holt, on July 4, 2014.

As I consider the state of both the Church and the United States of America, I see that there will be no quick fixes or short term solutions to address the besetting challenges. It will take a group of dedicated people who will understand the opportunities for God’s vision and persistently pursue a more faithful, hopeful and free future.

The first step is to pray about what that desired future might look like. Does the Lord desire the reformation and renewal of the Church and the nation? Perhaps….let us pray so.

So many have surrendered the church and nation as a lost cause. Read the book 1776 by David McCullough and you will learn that General Washington and the Continental Army spent most of that year on their heels in retreat. In Christmas of 1776, hope was growing cold. In that moment, Thomas Paine spoke to the heart of the courageous and the freedom loving:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Thomas Payne, The American Crisis, December 23, 1776”

God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. Many in Jesus’ time thought that they had rightly diagnosed the problems of their day, and in doing so their solutions were not God’s solution. God’s way is one of costly sacrifice–Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Our battle is not fought against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6), and so the weapons for the battle will be deeply spiritual in nature requiring spiritual aid. Jesus re-framed the battle lines away from the human vs. human fights of his day to reveal the true battle as between Satan and the spiritual forces of evil vs. himself and the Holy Spirit of God. Matt 12:28 Jesus says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

The critical next step becomes making sure that we are on the side of Jesus Christ in addressing the Goliath challenges that face us in our day. When we join the Lord in his battle, then we tap into the power promised in Acts 1 to be poured out on the Church at Pentecost (see Acts 2).

What do we need to be doing now to move forward toward God’s desired future? Taking inventory of my life…I have 29 more years until I hit mandatory retirement as a priest. If the Lord wills, I am willing to faithfully labor for Him in whatever ministry context he places me–to do whatever needs to be done for the long term future of His kingdom. Some have more time, some have less time. No one of us truly knows the number of our days. The key for all of us is that we make the most of our days now, for the sake of not only the salvation of our souls, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

May those of us who serve Jesus through the ministry of the Church and on behalf of the vision of freedom, work together intentionally for the long haul–“a long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson).  The range of our missionary field is multi-generational and not “my-generational”. Our understanding should discern both the nature of the root challenge and the mighty strength of God for those who believe.  As Jesus promised in Acts 1, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth.” Jesus will use us to the praise his name.

This blog originally appeared on July 4, 2014 on www.revcharlieholt.com.

The Power of Alignment in Your Church

This blog series explores the impact and long-term growth your church can experience through an intentionally aligned, church-wide small group study. Today’s post focuses on the three ways the power of alignment will influence your congregation’s participation and experience.

Coordinating and aligning the elements of the Christian Life Trilogy will impact and produce the kind of spiritual growth that will move your congregation from spectators to active participators in the Body of Christ. Imagine for a moment the impact on your church if every person lived in alignment with God’s will in the areas of serving, growing, and even giving. What if your congregation–leadership to occasional worshipper–lived in powerful community with their small group or Sunday School class? What is, as groups, people began to experience the power of God in their lives as an entire congregation? By making the most of the following three campaign components, you will see the power of God working in your church. These components build from micro to macro, from a narrow scope to the broadest.

1. Individual Participation

This is the real heart of the campaign, and it is the element that will produce the greatest spiritual growth among the members of your congregation. The goal is to get people to read a daily devotional and reflect on God’s Word and consider His will for their lives daily throughout the bampign. By participating in this campaign, each person will be challenged to grow spiritually and experience God’s plan for living a transformed life.

2. Group Participation

A powerful element of the campign is getting people to explore and experience God’s will and their Christian faith in true biblical community. We provide you with curriculum to be used in small groups or Sunday School classes for adults. Individuals bonded to a smaller community of believers within your congregation will enjoy the benefits of sharing life, spiritual growth, and accountability for that growth. These small group experiences are vital to ensuring the greatest personal spiritual growth as well as a commitment to ongoing growth as a community within your congregation.

3. Service Participation

The services that take place during The Christian Life Trilogy journey include Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. These services offer opportunities for the Senior Pastor and worship planning team to further explore the lessons of the small group curriculum for your congregation.

Are you ready to see how the power of alignment can provide an opportunity to experience God moving in your church? Preview The Christian Life Trilogy or Get your Campaign Kit today and start being intentional in seeking God’s will in 2017 and beyond!