Monday, February 28, 2011

Prayer 01: Getting To Know God Through Prayer Follow UP

Prayer, we all know it's important but we also all know that we are not great at it. Listen to the podcast if you have not heard it yet. Then take some time to answer the following questions. The whole thing works even better if you ask and answer the questions with some other folks: friends or family.

Describe a time when God answered an important prayer in your life. How did the way God answered your prayer affect your relationship with Him?
Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
Psalm 5:1-3 (NIV)
On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your time spent talking with God this past week?    Explain.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men... And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Matthew 6:5, 7 (NIV)

How honest are you with God when you pray? What are some reasons that keep us from being totally honest with God?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

Describe how you communicate with God. What ways are most effective and meaningful to you?
•    What types of things do you typically pray about?

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

What keeps most people from praying on a regular basis? What are some specific ways we can overcome those challenges?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:27 (NIV)

What is the biggest issue or need in your life currently? Spend some time praying for those needs by yourself or in a group.

Final Thought: With your group pray God will help you develop a deeper relationship with Him through prayer. Set aside a time each day over the next week to spend time talking with God.

Here are some suggestions you may want to use for your time with God this week:

Day 1—Spend time thanking God for all he has done in your life. Tell Him some specific things in which you are thankful for.
Day 2—Have an honest conversation with God by telling Him your true feelings about Him. Ask for a deeper relationship with Him.
Day 3—Pray for some specific needs in your own life. Pray for both large and small requests.
Day 4—Pray for others. Pray specifically for the needs that were voiced by your group. Pray for each member of your group by name.
Day 5—Listen to God. Present your requests to God from the four previous days and then simply pray, quietly listening for God’s gentle whisper.

For Further Study
To use this resource, simply select one or two questions from each category below that you think will help your group discussion. Alternatively, you can use these questions and scriptures in your own personal devotions during the week.
•    Who has prayed for you in the past? How have their prayers helped you?
•    What role have someone’s words of encouragement played in your life?
Read Philemon 1:1-7
•    Who wrote this letter? (1:1) 
•    To whom was this letter written? (1:1) 
•    What do we know about the church from this brief introduction? (1:2) 
•    What two godly qualities did Paul desire for his readers? (1:3) 
•    What was always a part of Paul’s prayers? (1:4) 
•    What had Paul heard about the readers of this letter? (1:5) 
•    How did Paul pray for his audience? (1:6)
•    What did Paul suggest Philemon would gain by actively sharing his faith? (1:6)
•    What had Philemon done for Paul? (1:7) 
•    What had Philemon done for the other Christians in the region? (1:7)
•    When are the normal times in a day or week that you pray? 
•    What are the subjects or concerns you most often address in your prayers?
•    What do you think are the marks or ingredients of a good prayer?
•    What is your reaction when someone says he or she is praying for you?
•    How does it help a person to tell him or her that you are praying for them?
•    Is there anyone God might be asking you to pray for this week?
•    What are some specific ways you can improve your prayer life this week?


Friday, February 25, 2011

Hope, Traps, Griefs

Our world is constantly on the move, continually striving, always grabbing, but never getting enough. Today look for some perspective on finding true satisfaction in life.

1 Timothy 6:6-12, 17 (New International Version)

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith.


17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Where is your focus? What do you trust? Are you free? What holds your chain?

Boldly live the life you were called to live and Don't Give Up!

- g-ram

Grace, Karma & Bono

Bono Interview: Grace Over Karma

(Excerpt from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas)

Bono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don't let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that's my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that's not so easy.

Assayas: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn't so "peace and love"?

Bono: There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

Assayas: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.

Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?

Assayas: I was wondering if you said all of that to the Pope the day you met him.

Bono: Let's not get too hard on the Holy Roman Church here. The Church has its problems, but the older I get, the more comfort I find there. The physical experience of being in a crowd of largely humble people, heads bowed, murmuring prayers, stories told in stained-glass windows

Assayas: So you won't be critical.

Bono: No, I can be critical, especially on the topic of contraception. But when I meet someone like Sister Benedicta and see her work with AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa, or Sister Ann doing the same in Malawi, or Father Jack Fenukan and his group Concern all over Africa, when I meet priests and nuns tending to the sick and the poor and giving up much easier lives to do so, I surrender a little easier.

Assayas: But you met the man himself. Was it a great experience?

Bono: [W]e all knew why we were there. The Pontiff was about to make an important statement about the inhumanity and injustice of poor countries spending so much of their national income paying back old loans to rich countries. Serious business. He was fighting hard against his Parkinson's. It was clearly an act of will for him to be there. I was oddly moved by his humility, and then by the incredible speech he made, even if it was in whispers. During the preamble, he seemed to be staring at me. I wondered. Was it the fact that I was wearing my blue fly-shades? So I took them off in case I was causing some offense. When I was introduced to him, he was still staring at them. He kept looking at them in my hand, so I offered them to him as a gift in return for the rosary he had just given me.

Assayas: Didn't he put them on?

Bono: Not only did he put them on, he smiled the wickedest grin you could ever imagine. He was a comedian. His sense of humor was completely intact. Flashbulbs popped, and I thought: "Wow! The Drop the Debt campaign will have the Pope in my glasses on the front page of every newspaper."

Assayas: I don't remember seeing that photograph anywhere, though.

Bono: Nor did we. It seems his courtiers did not have the same sense of humor. Fair enough. I guess they could see the T-shirts.

Later in the conversation:

Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?
Bono: Yes, I think that's normal. It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven't heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we've moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn't make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.

Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled . It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?

Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched

Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:

Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s--- and everybody else's. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that's the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

---and he writes cool, stick in your head music.

- g-ram

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another Perspective

No blame game here, but, we're hit with thousands of adds a day telling us we need stuff. According to daily marketing, you can never have enough, right?

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 (New Living Translation)

10 Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! 11 The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth--except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)

6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. 7 After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can't take anything with us when we leave it. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

Philippians 4:11 (NLT)

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.

Just a little perspective.

- g-ram

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Set GPS for Heaven


Where do we look for it? 
How do we get there? 
What is it like?

Make no mistake heaven is an awesome destination. All we are told about heaven lets us know that it is a truly spectacular place filled with the unimaginable. That makes it really hard to imagine.
So hard that we might forget that the essence, the key to heaven is not actually heaven at all, but God himself. The real reason that heaven is all that it is cracked up to be is not because of the shiny streets of gold, but because of the powerful radiance of God. Heaven does not exist without God.

“It is not that where heaven is, there is God, but that where God is, there is heaven” --theologian Gerhard Ebeling

Further then; we may approach heaven and lightly sample it even now, here on earth. If we are earnestly seeking God then His life grows in us and little glimpses of heaven begin to show up where ever we are. Set the GPS for Heaven and then look around to see that you have arrived already...not yet.

God for us.
God with us. 
God in us. 

Live the pursuit!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Forgotten Virtues 05: Gratitude (Follow Up)

Talking through the message during the week helps you turn what God is saying to you into action steps. These talking points, questions and scriptures are designed to help you take the next step. Don’t feel like you have to answer every question. Pick out the questions that will stir up conversation and action among your group.

What is one of the greatest gifts you have ever received from another person?
Why was the gift so special?
How did you show gratitude?

Read Luke 17:11-19.
In this passage, we see what ingratitude looks like when only one of the ten men who Jesus healed returned to thank Him.

What are some of the reasons we aren’t as grateful as we should be?
Are you more like the nine lepers who didn’t show gratitude, or the one leper who returned and thanked Jesus?
How can we become more like “the one” leper?
What does gratitude toward God look like? How often do you show it?

Read Luke 15:11-32.
In this passage, Jesus shares the Parable of the Lost Son. In the story, the youngest son “wanted it now” while the oldest son thought he “deserved more.”
•    Which of these two ungrateful mindsets do you struggle with the most?
•    How has ingratitude influenced your behavior and decisions?
•    In what ways do you feel entitled?

Read Philippians 4:11-13, Ecclesiastes 6:9 and Proverbs 15:15-16.
These verses encourage us to be content in all areas of life.
•    In what areas of your life are you experiencing the most discontentment? How can you become more content?
•    What are some ways to cultivate gratitude in your daily life?
•    Who do you need to express gratitude toward? How will you do that?

next steps
Here are some specific things you can do this week to help you cultivate an attitude of gratitude in your life and keep it from being a forgotten virtue:

This week, take time to express your gratitude to someone. It may be something as simple as a phone call or email, or as elaborate as taking someone to lunch or giving a gift. Any gesture that expresses sincere gratitude is a great place to start!

Express your gratitude to God for all He has done in your life. You can show Him thanks by simply telling Him, by spending time with Him, or by serving Him and/or others in a special way.

Talk It Over with God:
•    Confess the areas where you have felt a sense of entitlement.
•    Ask God to help you cultivate an attitude of gratitude in all areas of your life.
•    Thank God for all He has done in your life! Praise Him and give Him glory.
•    Commit to show gratitude to God and others.


Friday, February 4, 2011

The Blame Game

The blame game--we're all guilty of it. You ever questioned its roots? Well, I'm not pointing fingers, but…

Genesis 3:6,9-13 (New Living Translation)

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.


9 Then the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"

10 He replied, "I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked."

11 "Who told you that you were naked?" the Lord God asked. "Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?"

12 The man replied, "It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it."

13 Then the Lord God asked the woman, "What have you done?"

"The serpent deceived me," she replied. "That's why I ate it."

We are responsible for our own actions. Adam and Eve opened the door to sin, but all of us walk through it. I guess some run through. From an early age we flee responsibility and seek solace in blame. It's not my fault.

There is freedom when we can admit that we are at fault, ask for forgiveness and then allow ourselves to receive it. Blame or freedom, which will you choose?

- g-ram

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dark Past, Bright Future

The Apostle Paul had a pretty dark past. Although he was raised as a very religious guy, his passion for his religion led him to hunt down and kill people who claimed to be Christians. Listen in as Paul tells his story to a man named Agrippa.

Acts 26:9-18 (New Living Translation)

9 "I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.

12 "One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. 13 About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.'

15 "'Who are you, lord?' I asked.

"And the Lord replied, 'I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. 17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.'"

Believe it or not, God is preparing you for your future, even today! He is giving you a story to tell and a mission that will last the rest of your life. And, someday, somebody's going to ask for your story, and you'll be ready.

- g-ram