BASIC. Communion.

This post is way behind, but I wanted to finish out the BASIC series before starting our new one because it’s been such a fantastic study! Take some time to watch this short video by Pastor Chan on the Lord’s Supper:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42, 46–47)

I imagine that communion looked pretty different back then compared to what it looks like today. While there are good organizational reasons that we practice communion the way we do today in many churches, we can’t let ourselves forget the point of it all. What did it mean for the early church to break bread together? It was about loving each other like a family. It was about stripping away all of the formality and fluff of traditions and just worshipping and fellowshipping together in primitive godliness and simple authenticity. I like the point that Pastor Chan makes in his study guide:

While this type of gathering is more basic, there’s a scary side to it. I mean, in the old way, you could hide. You could attend a service, and maybe help out in the nursery, and maybe even sing in the choir, and then during the rest of the time, you could build your own kingdom and live your own life.

But there’s something about this idea of true communion – of true participation in breaking the Lord’s bread together – that we just can’t get away from. We have to look past the surface of the communion ordinance and really dig into what’s going on there. We have to remember the depth of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and remember that communion should stand out in our time together as a church and be the most sacred of fellowship experiences.

But how can we ever get to this point? How will we ever make this happen???

the beautiful thing is that, by God’s Spirit, He puts this desire in our hearts, where I want this. You want this. Because it’s something that God is doing. Jesus said that He’s going to build His church. The question is, do you want to be a part of it? To stop attending … and to really be the church … the true church. (Francis Chan, BASIC Study Guide)

Are we ready to stop doing church and start being the church?

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)

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BASIC. Prayer.

Hi Friends! We are on our sixth part of the BASIC series. Watch this short video clip on prayer:

Pastor Chan makes some challenging points about prayer, doesn’t he? Do we sometimes approach prayer in a completely wrong way? Today, I want to go through a few passages with you, and let’s ask ourselves some important questions from the BASIC.Prayer study guide. Take some time to read through the following verses and don’t be afraid to confront yourself with the hard questions.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. — John 14:13-14

  • How have we typically viewed what it means to pray in Jesus’ name? Is it simply a formulaic way to end all of our prayers?
  • As Pastor Chan explained in the video, what is the significance of praying in Jesus’ name?
  • Do our prayers always line up with Jesus’ mission in the world? Are we willing to change the way we pray as a result?

Next, we have a passage which we don’t usually pay much attention to in terms of prayer. But I think when we take a closer look, we see that it offers some important words of wisdom – and even caution.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. — Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

  • How do you typically approach your prayer time with God? Do you think of prayer as a time to come into God’s temple — into God’s throne room?
  • Where does listening or even respectful, worshipful silence fit into your prayer life?
  • Have you ever perceived danger in coming to God to make empty promises?
  • How could that change the way we pray?

The Lord’s Prayer

As a final exercise, I hope you will take some time to read and meditate on the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13. How many times have we said the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about what we’re really saying? As you prayerfully read through the passage, I hope some of these questions will give you food for thoughtful contemplation.

Our Father in heaven … 

  • What is the significance of the word our in the Lord’s Prayer? Why does it say our and not my?
  • Have you ever considered prayer as an activity that Christ wanted us to do together?
  • What is the significance of the word Father here? Do you relate to God as your Father?

… hallowed be your name …

  • Do you see God’s name as sacred?
  • Do you see it as an honor to be able to address Him?
  • Do you approach God in such a posture?

… your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …

  • Have you thought through the implications of these words? When we pray these words, do we sometimes forget that we are actually telling God that we want Him to take full control of our lives – that we are asking Him to take the throne?
  • Is this what you really want when you pray these words? Or do we sometimes pray this and then live our lives as if we are on the throne?

Give us today our daily bread.

  • Have you considered that this means that we are asking God to provide for our daily needs and that we are trusting Him to take care of our long-term sustenance in His own way and in His own time? In other words, we are saying that we are okay with not knowing what the future holds…
  • How would you respond to God if He visibly provided for you only on a day-to-day basis? Would you be okay with that?
  • How do these words contrast with what our culture preaches we should expect? Do we often hear that we should pray for “bigger barns” and “larger storehouses” as opposed to day-to-day provision? (See Luke 12:16-21)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

  • When we pray this, do we realize that we are basically saying, “God, I want you to forgive me in the same way that I have forgiven my brothers and sisters”?
  • Have you prayed these words while holding onto anger and resentment toward another person?
  • Do you want God to forgive you in the same way you forgive others? Does that idea scare you?

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

  • Have you ever prayed these words at the same time that you knew you were actually clutching onto areas of temptation in your life?
  • Do you think we could be in danger of being presumptuous or hypocritical when we do that?

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)

BASIC. Teaching.

During the video, Pastor Chan shared some honest memories from his early days as a new Christian:

When I started attending church gatherings, I still remember people would encourage me and say, ‘Okay, you need to read the Bible. You gotta read this thing, and you should read it every day, read it in the morning …’ I still remember trying that. I would just force myself, and discipline myself, and get up early and start reading this book. But as I would read it, I would notice that there was something different about the way they [the early church] studied the Scriptures and the way I was doing it.

Pastor Chan makes a good point. There seems to be a gulf of difference between the way we so often study the Bible and the way the early disciples approached God’s Word. Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (NIV). That word “devoted” means with great enthusiasm and fervent desire!

Why don’t we think of Scripture like that? Why do we not approach the Bible with the same awe and excitement as if we were Moses on the mountaintop, hearing God’s Word proclaimed from heaven? If we could only realize that Scripture is our very life-line to God! That the Bible is God’s own love letter to us. It is the key to our relationship with Him – and that relationship is life. We must come to a place where we long for God’s Word in our lives, that is, the revelation of His Presence through Scripture, with same kind of desire as for our own physical food: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:4, NIV). Peter compares our nourishment from God’s Word with newborn infants who must have their mother’s milk to survive: “And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, NET).

And so now that we’ve talked about the paramount importance of Scripture, what’s next? What do we do with what we learn about God in our time of fellowship and communion in His Presence? We teach. We are called to “go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). But isn’t that what my Pastor is for? Isn’t that the Bible class teacher’s job? Nope! We are ALL given the responsibility to teach. And this idea of teaching doesn’t just mean giving Bible studies and preaching sermons. (After all, we are not all gifted equally in those areas.) But, no matter what your spiritual gifts are or aren’t, we can all teach by the way we live our lives out for Christ! Check out this last video clip, “We all have a responsibility to teach”:

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)

BASIC. Fellowship.

How would you explain the church to someone who has absolutely no knowledge of Christianity? Would you describe a building? Or perhaps an assembly of people who meet to sing songs and listen to a sermon? Or does it go infinitely deeper than that? Click to check out a clip from this week’s video – “BASIC. Fellowship.”

As we grow and mature in God, we begin to realize that the Christian walk goes way beyond our individual relationship with God. We are a part of something much bigger. We are called to be a part of a body – the Church! And when we look at this idea of fellowship in the early New Testament, we see that the whole concept goes much, much deeper than warm, fuzzy feelings for each other:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had… And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. (Acts 4:32-33, NIV)

This is a kind of fellowship that takes action! It’s a kind of fellowship and sharing that makes the world stop and take note! Jesus even says that is this kind of communion and supernatural unity which gives legitimacy to the gospel message – it’s what makes it all believable: “that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23, NIV).

You know, I think that there are times when we all feel that it’s way easier to do this Christian thing on our own. But that’s not how God designed it. As Pastor Chan points out in his message, we absolutely need each other to show Christ to the world: “I can tell you, Jesus forgives you, Jesus forgives you, Jesus is forgiving. But that’s not enough. God says, ‘I want you to show Jesus to the world.’ So that means I need my brothers and sisters around me, and we offend one another, but we keep forgiving. And then suddenly the world looks on and goes, ‘I’ve never seen that before.'”

As we stop and think about the implications of this kind of radical fellowship, we realize that what Christ is calling us to do is be a family – to have each other’s backs 24/7, no matter what comes our way. It’s a hefty responsibility, but it’s not something that we have to try to force. The Holy Spirit, as we discussed last week, is the one who is going to make it happen. We choose whether we’re going to be a part of it or not.

Check out this last video – “Gangs and the Church“:

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)

BASIC. Holy Spirit.

When Jesus left his disciples, He promised them to send a very special Helper – a “secret weapon,” so to speak. In the face of insurmountable obstacles, the straggling little band of believers had absolutely no hope of being able to fulfill the seemingly-impossible commission which Jesus had left them with. But the Holy Spirit would change everything. We are all familiar with the dramatic Pentecostal experience when this Power was unleashed. Within hours, thousands of onlookers repented and gave their lives to Jesus. The struggling little group of believers was transformed into an indomitable, supernatural force – the Church, against which the gates of hell could not prevail. And yet, do we find ourselves believing that same Power simply isn’t available to our church today? Check out some highlights from this week’s video – “BASIC. Holy Spirit.”

You know, we so often look at the spectacular miracles and healings of the early church and we think, “Wow, if only we could get that to happen again!” But I think the real miracle behind the Holy Spirit’s work was much deeper and more profound than that:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

I think we sometimes get caught up into this idea that what the church needs is another outbreak of signs and miracles. We pray for the Holy Spirit to be unleashed, but… do we really know what we’re asking for? It’s as if we all want to be a part of something that’s so dramatically powerful and spectacularly miraculous, but I think we sometimes forget that the real power behind this movement will be – not in the sensational signs and wonders – but in supernatural unity and love for another, in humble submission to each other’s needs, and in self-sacrificial ministry to our fellow brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit calls us to self-surrender.

And maybe that’s why we haven’t seen anything like this in our churches – not because the Power isn’t available, but because we don’t really want it. You see, we like to charge forward with our own plans and our ideas for the church. We try to do everything on our own and in our own way, and then we wonder why the Holy Spirit just doesn’t come through. In contrast, when the Holy Spirit really does move, He doesn’t necessarily move on our terms. His timing is not always convenient for us. His calling is not always comfortable.

I think it’s insightful to look at the model of the Pentecost experience. Before ever setting foot outside of their little upper room, the believers waited and prayed. For days on end, they did nothing. They just prayed and surrendered themselves to the sway of the Spirit’s influence.

Pastor Chan asks some pointed personal-application questions which I hope we’ll spend some time thinking about together: Have you been trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job? What would the church look like today if we really stopped taking control of it and let the Holy Spirit lead? How would the world react to the church if it truly lets go and lets the Holy Spirit lead? Is this something you want to be a part of? What will you do about it?

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)

BASIC. Follow Jesus.

Ever thought much about what it really means to follow Jesus? I mean, I’m sure we’ve all spent time in church talking about what it means to follow Jesus. But, do our everyday lives really follow the steps of our Master? Check out this week’s video preview of “BASIC. Follow Jesus.”

We sometimes look at the Bible as words to build theological doctrines upon, as words to systematically study, or as words to memorize and meditate upon. But do we sometimes forget the most basic application of Scripture as words to do? As a life manual for how we are to live our everyday lives? Christ gives us a sobering reminder in Matthew 7 that God is not impressed with the fluff: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). So what is the will of our Heavenly Father exactly? For one thing, Jesus said, “Go, make disciples.” Are we intentionally seeking opportunities in our lives to live out this command?

Perhaps another interesting insight comes from Christ’s parable of the judgment in Matthew 25:

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” … “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Notice that the Judge doesn’t say, “Because you believed the right doctrines” or “Because you worshiped on the right day” or “Because you tithed faithfully.” It all has to do with whether we live out love for one another. Of course, this parable is not intended to systematically outline the conditions of salvation – salvation comes by faith and grace alone! But this parable reveals the pivotal point that God is very concerned about whether or not we are serving the needs of others. One of the most important ways we follow Jesus, then, is by living out His example to our fellow brothers and sisters in this world. Everything else falls into place after that. “If you love Me, keep My commandments…. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 14:15; 15:12).

You might also enjoy this video illustration, “Clean Your Room”:

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)

BASIC. Fear God.

We decided to change things up a little with our new Stepping Stones series. We’re using a seven-part video series called BASIC by Pastor Francis Chan as a launching pad for our classroom discussion. This series explores some of the basic pillars of the early New Testament church. Check out this shortened version of our first video, “Fear God”:

When we think of some of the basic building blocks of the Christian walk, I doubt any of us would start with “fear” as one of those blocks. It’s an idea we aren’t comfortable with, and yet, we find it absolutely everywhere in Scripture! We often run across these “fear” passages and we sort of brush them aside or even apologize for them: “Well,” we say, “‘fear’ doesn’t really mean ‘fear’ – it’s more like ‘a sense of respect.'” But what if Scripture’s demands to fear the LORD mean exactly what they say they mean? What, then, do we do with this idea of fearing God? How could God actually want us to be afraid of Him? I think it comes down to this: The biblical “fear of the Lord” is the realization and acknowledgment of the fact that God is a Being of infinite, incomprehensible power and supremacy, and we can’t control Him. He is a Creator who simply refuses to be limited by our attempts to define and constrain Him. At times in Scripture, much to our chagrin, He even defies our protocols of “niceness” and “friendliness.” I am reminded of this quote from C.S. Lewis when the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ask who Aslan is. Mr. Beaver responds: “‘Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh’ said Susan. ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion’…’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver …’Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.'”

You see, when we finally realize our Creator God does not fit neatly into our definitions of “safeness” or “tameness,” our first response to this God’s immense, mind-blowing power is, in fact, to fear Him! That’s what we naturally do as humans – we fear things that we can’t fully define, control, and predict. And there is a sense in which we all need to come to that point of fearing God – of realizing that He is Someone infinitely bigger and more powerful than anything our wildest dreams could ever conceive! We need to reach that point so that our arrogance and our stubbornness will disintegrate in that experience! But our God doesn’t want to leave us in that place of fear, does He? That’s why God’s next words are always “Fear not…”

“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Instead of keeping us distant and aloof from God, true biblical fear of God is a force that actually drives us into deeper intimacy with Him: “The secret of the LORD [the secrecy of intimate relationship] is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14). As Pastor Chan points out, once we’ve come to the point of complete vulnerability, complete nakedness – and even complete knee-knocking fear – in the presence of this infinitely powerful Deity, we then realize that there is nothing more to fear! We come to a place where we can simply rest in His awesome strength. Because we realize that this terrifyingly powerful God is, in fact, on our side: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Believe it or not, this same all-powerful God actually wants to call us His friends… He wants to call us His children! When we stop fighting Him, when we stop stubbornly challenging Him, we find ourselves in a place where can accept Him for who He says He is and simply rest in His embrace of unfailing love.

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:17-19)

(Videos and quoted materials taken from http://basicseries.com/)