Christian Lifestyles 2006

We are on a journey to move closer to the life Jesus taught us about. Each Sunday, we will discuss another small step and hopefully throughout the week, we will all have a chance to join in and continue the discussion until we meet again.

Just a note before you begin. This is in chronological order, so please read from the bottom up and then feel free to comment and join in.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Week 6: Next: What Do I Do Come Monday Morning?

Our class and discussions have been very lively and have brought us to this final episode in the class. Starting next week, we will begin another John Ortberg video presentation called, God is Closer Than You Think."

Our scriptures for this Sunday's discussion are:

Matthew 10 (Jesus Sends Out the Twelve)
Matthew 19:23-26
Romans 8 (Life Through the Spirit)

See you on Sunday morning.

Week 5- Support: What will Help?

This week's lesson lets us know that we do not have to do this alone and gives us some ideas for help and support. As I explained at the class, I am a little behind, so my comments for the class will follow the scriptures, below.

Our scripture readings are:

Ephesians 6:10-20 (The Armor of God)
Matthew 25: 31-46 (The Sheep and the Goats)
Galatians 6:1-10 (Doing Good to All)
Matthew 6: 25-34 (Do Not Worry)
Luke 1:46-55 (Mary's Song)
Luke 1:52-53
Matthew 6:20-36 (Store up treasures in heaven)
Luke 5: 1-12 (The Calling of the First Disciples)
Acts 2 (The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost)

See you Sunday morning.

Tony tells us that we have 4 places we can get help with our "Affluenza."
  • Spirituality- ask God to take charge of your life. Ask, and He will help us become "sensitive to the sacredness of other people." Remember, Jesus told us that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25: 40 NIV).
  • Transformational Travel- Live among the people of Haiti for a week and you will get a feel for how great is our "affluenza" and what we could be doing with our prosperity.
  • Support group- Get together with others, pray, talk, share, create a "plausibility structure." We are called to live a radical life for Christ. Remember that Jesus had his group. They were with him when he needed help the most, in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36). With a group, we can ask, "Is there a Plan B," and help "carry each other's burdens" (Galatians 6:1-3) as Paul reminds us to do.
  • Get into the Bible- What the Bible says makes having a simple life so obvious. "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24 NIV). It is a prescription for a revolutionary lifestyle. Reading the Bible is revolutionary. It radicalizes your life. The gospel is not the gospel of today's America! We need the poor to help read the Bible.
Video Discussion:

Jesus' main job when he walked the earth was to tell of "man's connection to God and to one another." He came to speak about what gets in the way of that.

Why do you think The Lord's Prayer says we should "forgive our debts" (Matthew 6:12)? What would you think of a National Jubilee Day (Leviticus 25) where the U.S. forgives all the debts of the third world countries and gives them a chance for a fresh start?

How to change within the context of the family? Start bringing the entire family into the decision-making process. Have a family budget meeting- make it a part of your family life. Make the decisions together- how much for toys, how much to the church and how much to support a child in the third world.

Tony says that every family should support a child in a third world country. It doesn't cost very much and makes a tremendous difference in that child's life. He jokingly(?) adds that on Judgment Day, it would sure be nice if at least one person would stand up and say that you affected their life in a positive way!

How do you negotiate when there are differences in interpretation of what a Godly lifestyle is? Tony says to give in. Over time, you may be able to win them over, but it may be wrong to impose our sacrificial lives on others.

In-class Discussion

We had a lively discussion on a number of these topics.

Marian shared about her trip to Haiti and how that transformational travel affected her outlook.
We heard about a family who lost everything but whose life work and blessings are repaid in their hours of need by people who gave financially. We discussed that sometimes the only way we can do what is right is when we "stroke out a check."

A final comment is that we should remember that we may be the only Bible our friends may ever "read."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Week 4: Stuff: How Much Can I Have?

This week we are going to look at how much we can keep, what we can have for our own pleasure and how we should respond to people in need.

Our scripture references are:
We will see you on Sunday.

May God be with you and may you make the time to hear Him treading alongside.


Tony tells the story of going to Haiti with his mission group, setting up a facility that will be a true sanctuary for children living on the streets there. These are the "throw away" children that no one wants nor cares for. He asked the local leaders how many children should they plan for and was told 50. Like a good North American church leader, he raised the money and made sure an excellent facility was built that could house, care for, teach and otherwise give life to 50 children. When he went to the middle of town with a bus for the city's children, over 200 appeared. He had to make the difficult decision on who could go to the facility and who would have to remain on the streets and return to a very perilous (and probably deadly) lifestyle.

We have too much stuff, Tony says. In fact, it is obscene what we have as a nation. It is so bad that we go into debt at Christmas just to give each other more stuff. His family now exchanges only gifts they have made. He gives poems, his children make things. It s a better way to live.

He tells of another time in Haiti where he was having dinner in a restaurant with another person and some of the local children were peering into the window watching the food and them eating. The waiter came by and pulled the blinds and remarked that he hoped they had not been disturbed by the children. He says that, of course he was disturbed. Disturbed at the all the stuff he sees at home and all that needs to be done elsewhere.

Video Discussion:

Stuff is pervasive. Children want things they see on TV, the stuff of popular teenage life. However, Tony reminds us that our stuff is not us.

How does a country with 5% of the world's population consume 43% of the world's resources to produce "stuff" no one needs?

But what about art and beauty? Some things that cost a lot of money are essential and beautiful. The world around us is beautiful- it is God's work. Some of the cathedrals of Europe- Notre Dame and Chartre are two wonderful examples- were built from the resources of the church at the expense, presumably, of feeding the hungry or doing other of God's work. Is this a waste of money? Can something like this be worth the money?

Remember, the disciples asked a similar question about expensive perfume being used to anoint Jesus' head (Matthew 26:6-13) and that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus said that the poor will always be around, but that He would be with them only a short time. This extravagance glorifies Him.

How does beauty play into the lives of the poor? We heard of a story where local artists were commissioned to paint a mural on the side of a drab, gray administration building. We learned of nuns who raised money to finance a symphony in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, among the poorest of the poor.

Does God approve of these things? Does God want our life to be boringly utilitarian or does God do things with a flair? How can we do it without being obscenely extravagant? How to respond to the needs of the poor and needy- sacrificially. We must bring extravagant joy to the people.

Leviticus 25 tells of tithing for a party that God wants to throw for his chosen people.

How to help those that come to you, personally?

Are we all working on the same moral value? One of the participants spoke of giving blankets out to the children and the next day the same ones would show up for their blankets. What do you say to them?

"Hey, buddy, can you spare a dollar?" You know in your heart that that money will go to drugs or alcohol. Getting money out of your pocket may or may not even be safe. If you are approached by someone in need, asking for money, carry a packet of McDonald's coupons.

When the chips are down, give them the money. It is our responsibility to respond to their request. It is their responsibility to use it in the way God wants them to.

An old spiritual says, "I been strugglin' so long, I must be alive."

Celtic Christians say that the walls between God and us are strong, but there are"thin places" where God can maybe break through. Have we found those places God has broken through?

Tony's convicting final comment is, "How much stuff can you keep without losing your soul?"

Week 3: The Ultimate Demonic Instrument

Tony stated that children in the inner cities are failing at school because they watch an average of 8 hours of television each day. At the cost of 8 hours a day, the kids are lost. That is 40 hours a week. Hey, that's a fulltime job!

Okay, the kids are lost. What about us? Hmmmm. I get home about 5:00 pm, and camp out in our oh, so comfy reclining sofa until bedtime. Sometimes I peel myself away to attend an Adult Ministry committee meeting and there is praise team rehearsals. But still, there are a lot of opportunities to gain back time from watching television.

Of course, I need some "downtime." I need to relax after the stresses of driving to work, working (having lunch), and driving home.

I don't' watch that much TV. Of course, I have to watch 24 because it is a true action adventure show that is an "edge of the seat" experience. But that is only one hour a week. Except when they have the special two-hour episodes. Those great young singers on American Idol are to be admired for their talent and to watch the growth that each who survive make. Speaking of survivors, that only takes an hour....

The Parenting 101 class we had at the beginning of the church year called the media- and TV especially- the Dark Star (that's kind of Star Wars-ish. Finally a movie tie-in, John). This Dark Star's gravitational pull (or force field) keeps us from following our true direction (our Christian values and lifestyle), the North Star. It seems like a good analogy, to me.

Remember what the woman on the video said, "If we weren't present to any "reality," the next day, we have no past." If we did not experience life (because we are sitting around theTV campfire), we would never be able to know what is was like.

The Amish don't bring electricity-and television- and the telephone into their homes. The Amish bishop said that, "It changes the rhythm of life." You don't sleep when you should, you don't wake up when you should.

The telephone always rings at the worse moment- when you and someone in your family is having an important discussion. Even if we don't answer it, the loud ring and its sudden intrusion interrupts any rapport that was built during the course of conversation.

[Why do we answer it automatically? The answering machine can screen the call, caller ID can let us know if it is a call from Grandma, yet we stop everything to pick up the call and be mad because the State Trooper Association needs more money. Don't even get me started on cellphones!]

The accoutrements of our culture change our life. Thank you, Mister Demonic Instrument. Life is changed. No one talks to each other anymore.

When we watch TV, how much communication occurs at your house. "Quiet, this is the good part." "Can you believe he did that?" "Who do you think will survive to the next round."

Are these the conversations we should be having as a family. Once we retrieve our lives, then we can add back our time for God. I think that is what Tony is trying for us to see.

He has questions for us:

  • What do you not have time for that you want to add. What will you drop to allow time for the addition?
  • How much discretionary time do you have? If you had more, who besides you would benefit?
Final thought: Tony mentions that a man wanted to follow Jesus, but asked for some time to go home to finish some business. Jesus said that the man didn't have time for that; he should drop everything and follow Jesus.

If we are saying we want to follow Jesus, what will we have time to do?

Comments, please.

Week 3: Discussion- The cost of being too busy.

I admit it, I am too busy.

  • Mother Teresa found time. She certainly seemed very busy in her life but found the time. She used her time to be with God, one-on-one. She remarked that when she prayed, she didn't say anything, just listened. If we pray in our car, can we listen? If we pray as we fall asleep at night, can we listen?
  • Forty percent of us are too busy to eat lunch (I am helping to keep the score close for the rest of you too busy).
  • One of the video group said that he is so busy that the only "downtime" he gets is that hour or so that coincides with when he should be in church. How much is that costing him in the long run? [We are talking about the long run, here, aren't we]
  • How about the quality of our time shifting from that time we spend on things that are sacred and those that are not (Tony calls them "profane"). In the video, he mentions that the "profane is squeezing out the sacred."
  • Is our church a time robber? Do you spend so much time at all the gatherings of the church- Sunday worship, Sunday School (a very fine use of your time, if I say so myself), Wednesday Night Live, small group, bible study, retreats, session/deacon meetings, committees meetings and on and on.
  • Our culture feeds this hectic busy-ness. Remember the woman, new to the area, who was asked if she was "plugged in yet," meaning if she was already engaged in the soccer leagues, ballet classes, school functions and all the rest of the things that today's family tends to get involved with.
    • If our culture glorifies those who are on the go- DVD players in minivans and SUV's make the go-go-going easier, don't they?- what do we say about the downsides- sleep depravation, exhaustion, being too tired for the intimate time of being a family.
    • What do you say to those who believe that most people are absent even when they are present? We're not paying attention to all the "life" flashing past us each day!
      • Is it a case of being over-commited time-wise? Or is it something else?
  • If we get too busy, thus too tired, too disconnected, how do we find time to feel God. Tony asks, "Can you feel God when there is no time for it?" He adds that Paul writes that we should "redeem the time." We need to cash-in our hectic hours for some peaceful, God-filled ones.
Becoming less busy is difficult. Where will this "extra" time come from?

Week 3: Discussion- The Great Banquet

I want to apologize for getting so far behind. Again, it is ironic that this week, where the discussion is about freeing up time for others and for God and I seem to have less time for either. But now, the refrigerator is repaired, the car is fixed, Robin (and our employees) is feeling better and perhaps we will have a better week. During the week, I was reminded of what Job said during the beginning of his trials, "Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" (Job 2:10 NRSV)

Tony once again brought it to us regarding what we do with this precious gift God gave us: our time.

He begins with "The Parable of the Great Banquet. " If you go to this passage, you will see that it starts with Jesus eating supper on the Sabbath at the home of a prominent Pharisee. During the course of the meal and during the conversation, someone at the table remarked, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God." (verse 15).

From there, Jesus tells this story of folks who are too busy to attend this grand feast. After receiving excuse after excuse, the master of the house then sends his servants out to scour the countryside for the poor and otherwise disenfranchised. These people were invited- actually it sort of sounds like they were dragged- to the feast and the master at the end says, "I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet." (verse 24).

The morale of the story is do not be too busy to miss the invitation to God's party.

Are we, on a day-to-day basis, "giving our regards to God whenever we replace something we should do for Him with something we do for us?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Week 3: Time: Discussion

As you might guess, after our spirited discussion- and a renewed interest in simplifying our life and then finding more time for God, church and family on the Sabbath- I simply ran out of time to get this prepared on Sunday. I will be back to complete this.

Ironic, isn't it???

If you need it, I'll prepare the entire list of where the time went.

I think it is part of God's disciplining us (Ralph spoke on that today). If he's not doing that, he doesn't love us. So we are feeling quite loved today.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Week 3: Time: How Much Do I Have to Give Away?

After last week's lesson on how much money do we have to give away, I am afraid to find out about time. This week's lesson explores spending our time in keeping with our values.

Our scriptures for this lesson are:

Luke 14:15-24 (The Parable of the Great Banquet)
Mark 6:30-31 (No time to eat)
Ephesians 6:12

Monday, March 06, 2006

Week 2 Discussion: Ralph's Message Ties Right in

Link to Ralph's sermon and the website (in case the link gets updated).
Ralph's text: Romans 12: 1-8
Title of the message: Could you do it now?

The three things it tells us to do:
  1. Offer ourselves as living sacrifice
    1. We are always worshipping, not just during the Sunday services
    2. How we live, day to day, is what God will see and judge us.
  2. Do not conform to the pattern of this world (the "American Dream"???)
  3. Think of yourself with sober judgment
We then must find our spiritual gifts and use them for God's purpose (a lot like giving everything up to the poor/needy and following Jesus, isn't it?). What are the gifts?
  1. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
  2. If it is serving, let him serve;
  3. If it is teaching, let him teach;
  4. If it is encouraging, let him encourage;
  5. If it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously;
  6. If it is leadership, let him govern diligently;
  7. If it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
How do you know what your gifts are? What is that thing that you do which:
  • Everyone around you always remarks that "you have a gift for that?"
  • Whenever you do it, things seem to work out and you perform it easily and well.
  • Whenever people say, "give it to him/her because they are good at it" and you secretly thank them because you really like doing it, too.
  • You find a place or other opportunity to do it just because you like to (remember Ralph talking about preaching to himself within his closed car?)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Week 2 Discussion: Our discussion

As we begin to wrap up the summary of our lesson this week, lets remember what was said after the video (paraphrased. I hope I captured it correctly- add a comment or expound as a contributor).
  • As we focus on the "sell everything" aspect of what Jesus said, don't forget that he added, "...and follow me."
  • Perhaps it is tough to get into heaven as a wealthy person because "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:16-50 New King James Version)"
  • Are being asked to actually give it all away or simply be willing to give it all away when asked?
  • It is a giant leap of faith to believe that "God will provide." Not everyone can internalize that we do not "earn" what we have, but God provides it to us.
  • Are we grateful enough for what we are provided?
  • How do we know what it is that we need versus what we "deserve?"
  • How can we "square today's lesson with"
    • Living the American dream?
    • Saving for our future, providing college for our children?
    • Keeping from being a burden for our children in our old age?
  • How can we better serve our community (either our church community or our geographic community) with the resources God has provided?
One final thought. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) included Jesus' last instructions to His Apostles. Among other things, he told them to "... go and make disciples of all nations." We are the result of that.

In addition, we at GBPC accept that as part of our charge. Last year, we studied about the Marks of a Disciple: a heart for Christ alone, a mind transformed by the Word, arms of love, knees for prayer, a voice to speak the Good News, a spirit of servanthood and stewardship.

When Jesus went out to select His first disciples- first Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and then James and John, in turn- all left everything they had and followed Jesus (see Matthew 4:18-22, for one version of the story).

As disciples of Christ, perhaps that is what Jesus meant for us all along?

NOTE: One definition of disciple is a "complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ" (Growing True Disciples, by George Barna, WaterBrook Press, Copyright 2001, page 17).

Week 2 Discussion: The Church's role

When looking at this from the angle that Tony has presented, one of the video participants expressed the thought (I had it too) that "did Jesus mean that we all should be poor?" Tony brought out the idea that the church of the New Testament did the kinds of things he is talking about. In Acts 2: 41-47 there is a description of the early church and that they were "selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need" (verse 45). I added the italics to show that it was not a matter of simply selling their possessions, but giving them to the poor/needy. Compare this to the rich young ruler (Matthew 19: 21) ," sell your possessions and give to the poor."

Some notes about this section:
  • The question is raised, "when is the church going to be the church of the Bible?" Not some consumer oriented affair where people go to "feel good." For instance, if the pastor is a great speaker, it is okay to stay, but if you don't feel challenged by the pastor's oration, change churches.
  • One commented that the church was institutionalized around the consumer market and not an alternative to consumerism.
  • Tony says that we are not filling our needs with all our wealth but gratifying "artificially created desires." Our needs are met and other's needs should be met. The church is filled with sinners. We are saved by grace. If we give all of our wealth away to the poor, but do it without grace, we are still lost.
  • Christianity is a growing process. A new convert is a "radical" and willing to take great risks, to use whatever measures necessary to move closer in their walk with Christ. As they "mature" though, things change. It is these people who have been buying into this American dream lifestyle.

Week 2 Discussion: The "American Dream"

The American dream is to get the good job, make lots of money, buy a home, raise a family, send the kids off to their great jobs, retire and live out our years in an RV or traveling the world or fishing. Isn't that right? How does that match up to what Jesus has told us?

How about using what we have been given (we didn't truly earn all this, did we?) to raise Christians? We could then say that we could use our education, and the education money we are saving for our children, to help meet the needs of others. Is this what Jesus meant?

Are our churches (even GBPC) urging us to continue to venture into the American dream? What about the churches who say that God wants his people to prosper? Tony says that it is wrong to be rich. He says that living by the law (as in the Old Testament) has been trumped by living by the grace of God, taught by His Son, Jesus Christ.

Tony mentions that there are 900 verses in the Bible- more than about any other topic- about how we deal with our wealth. They all say we should give it away. Otherwise, are we following Jesus?

Are we Christians if we don't "follow Jesus?"

Week 2 Discussion: Really sell it all?

This week Tony has truly convicted us when he insists that Jesus meant what he said when instructing the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19: 21, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Wow, that is powerful stuff!

So how do we know he really means everything? Tony tells us how Jesus described Judgment Day. Jesus will separate all the people into two groups (Matthew 25: 31-46 ). The one group he welcomes "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." the others he sends to the "eternal punishment" (verse 46).

Those he welcomes he tells them that when "...I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (verses 35 and 36). When the people wondered when they did these things to Jesus, he reminds them that "... whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (verse 40).

I think that what Tony is saying that this means is that if there are those who are hungry, thirsty, alone, sick and in prison and we are not, then we have a job to do.

Any thoughts on this?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Week 2: Money: How Poor Does Jesus Want Us to Be?

Last week we looked at how we can have an abundant life by concentrating on what a reasonable life is. This week we will look at what Jesus tells us about wealth and how we can take his teachings seriously in our 21st Century consumer society.

Our bible references for Sunday are: Matthew 19:16-24 (The Rich Young Man); Matthew 25:31-46 (The Sheep and the Goats); Matthew 5, 6, 7 ; Matthew 16:24; 1John 3:16-18; James 5; Acts 2:41-47 (The Fellowship of the Believers); Phillippians 3:13-14 .

After reflecing on these words from scripture, consider this:

  • What "owns" you. What are the material and non-material things that keeps you from the simple (the reasonable?) life?
  • How is affluenza a burden to us?
On Sunday, let us come together in praising God and doing His will.

See you there.