Christianity: Plain & Simple

This study was written as a congregational study that followed my pastor’s sermon series. Small groups would work through the study throughout the week, then hear the sermon, and then discuss both the homework and the sermon during the next small group meeting.

In that model, here is Christianity: Plain & Simple

plain & simple: Endnotes…

It is common that a person going through a study such as this makes commitments—to themselves, to God, to those around them.  And the next week, those commitments become a fading memory as the busyness of life presses in and takes over.

Do not let that happen this time.  Write down each of your commitments here.  They may be fresh on your heart, or you may need to flip back through the lessons to refresh your memory.  Regardless of the method, take the next few minutes and commit those commitments to paper.

Then, ask someone to help you remember.  In this age of technology, we have electronic reminders for everything.  I have a friend who set their phone to remind them to ask me how my writing is going—every Wednesday, I get a text of some sort or fashion, asking the question.  And I respond, every Wednesday, with the good, the bad, the motivation, or lack there-of.  It is not an exhaustive report, but it is just the little bit of accountability I need each week to keep going.  Knowing I will get that text makes me want to be able to share something.  And sometimes, it is the humility of admitting I hadn’t made much progress.  Regardless of my answer, that tiny little phone is used so my friend remembers to ask.  And because they ask, my writing progresses.

It doesn’t take much.  But it does take the commitment to a) actually commit to what you say you want to do, and b) asking for the help you need to do so.

With that, write out your commitments.

plain & simple: Week 10, What’s next? Life after death…

This may be one of the more difficult aspects of faith—or rather, of sharing our faith.  For those not drawn to pressuring others, proclaiming the eternal truth of the gospel can be difficult.  We do not want to tell people that if they do not believe in Jesus, they are going to hell.  We want to pat their hand and tell them that we know the truth, but that they’re okay.  Don’t rock the boat—and do not, under any circumstance, say something that will offend someone.

In a world proclaiming every perspective but Jesus’, it seems that Christians have become willing to be the only silent voice.  And yet, we are the ones with the truth.  So we proclaim the truth of heaven, but leave out the truth of hell—to the point where we start to question whether it is a reality at all.

Eternal separation

This is not about fire and brimstone or threatening people with hell.  This is about understanding the truth so we can more lovingly and realistically communicate the whole truth of Christianity.

Read the following passages and write out what you learn about the alternative to eternal life.

  •  Matthew 8:12
  • Matthew 22:13
  • Matthew 25:46
  • Luke 13:28
  • Psalm 16
  • Psalm 18
  • Psalm 86:13
  • Psalm 116:3
  • Isaiah 5:14
  • Isaiah 14:11-15
  • Isaiah 28:15-18
  • Isaiah 38:18
  • Proverbs 1:12

With this many passages about eternal separation and punishment, how can we continue to ignore the reality of what happens if someone does not choose to follow Christ?  In a society that screams and pushes and protests in loud and angry ways what they believe, how can we approach communicating the reality of Hell in a different way?

Read Ephesians 4:25-32.  What stands out to you with regard to how we should treat one another?

What does it say about what we should be putting aside?

Review the last verse: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Using this as a foundation, how can you share the truth of eternal punishment with those with whom you are trying to share the gospel?

There may be certain people on your heart or that God is bringing to mind right now with whom you may have to have this conversation.  Each of them have different personalities, different struggles with life, and different hesitations to the gospel.  For each of those people, prayerfully brainstorm different approaches you might take to addressing this difficult subject in a loving way.

The truth of God’s holiness requires an eventual judgment for wrong-doing.  We cannot let our fear of offending someone stand in the way of our love for their eternal soul.  It is a difficult situation, but a heart of love can cover the bumps and bruises along the way.  As Proverbs proclaims:

“Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.  A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” –Proverbs 27:5-7.

Concealing the whole truth is worse than stumbling through a difficult, even offensive, conversation.  If love abounds in your life to this person, then the wounds that may come from the conversation can be repaired.  Their life looks like it does because their very soul is hungering for the truth that will satisfy.

And God may have put you in their life, caring about them so much, so that you could be the friend to show them the way to the only Source of soul fulfillment.

Eternal life

The flip-side of eternal punishment is eternal life.  Both sides offer eternality for the soul.  Only one side is really all that preferable.  Make sure you are on the right side!

Read 1 John 5:11-13.  What do you learn about eternal life in this passage?

What reason is given for us to be assured of eternal life?

 

It is the heart of God that we are assured of the eternal reward of following His ways.  He knows we are human, and so He reminds us again and again that there is reward for choosing Him and His ways.  And He does so, so that we can keep believing in Him.  That belief spurns more obedience, which spurns more assurance, and then back to more belief.  Our God is the God of righteous growth.  Keep following Him and you will find the growth in your life unimaginable.

Read 1 John 2:24-29.  What stands out to you about our confidence and eternal life?

We can confidently rely on Him because He is truth, and as this passage says, no lie can be part of truth.  But why would God spend so much time reassuring us?

Read John 3:13-17.  Why did Jesus come?

He did not come to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.  Saved from the humdrum of this life, saved from the darkness of sin, and saved from a sense of hopelessness and purposelessness that pervades society.

He came to give us life—and in that life, purpose.  And when this life is complete, He came that we might have the ultimate retirement.

Read Revelation 21:1-7.  Describe the new heaven and the new earth.

It is sometimes hard to imagine such a reality.

Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.  What comparisons are made between now and “when the perfect comes”?

The pictures of heaven being us in wings with a harp riding on clouds is so inaccurate—unless that is the way you worship.  The best I can describe is that those moments in this life where you feel God’s presence, where you feel Him moving, and when you are the most sure of His hand—those moments will be mere glances of the overwhelming reality of His presence.  The struggles of this life will seem worth it to reach the glorious experience of His eternal, intimate, immediate presence.

The choice is yours

The context of this week’s lesson has been life after our physical death.  However, the battle between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of darkness happens every day in our lives.  Though it may seem cliché, truly your eternal life begins now.

Read Colossians 1:9-14.  What stands out to you?

What qualities are discussed with regard to the people of faith?

These are things promised to us today.  Choosing the ways of the Lord leads to greater and greater wisdom and understanding.  Though we may struggle with the mortal-ness of our experience and though we may still battle our sinful selves, we can have a taste of what is to come.

plain & simple: Week 9, What now? Love…

As a follower of Jesus, you are on a stage.  People are watching to see what you do—and whether they want to be part of that.  You are on a stage, and people see everything you do.

Love God

Read Mark 12: 28-34.  What stands out to you?

We often read the first part of this account and memorize Jesus’ words as to the greatest two commands.  What we often miss is that not everyone in the crowd was skeptical.

Review the passage again.  How does the man who asked the question respond to Jesus’ answer?

And how does Jesus respond to that?

Isn’t that what we all want?  We just want a little taste of the kingdom of Heaven.  We just want to know what is expected of us.  This man answered correctly, not because of “knowledge”, but because he honestly sought Jesus’ response and he was willing to accept the answer.

In that same passage, how did the people respond to this interchange?

When the kingdom of God is near, suddenly the people have no more words.  They saw a man “get it right”, saw the Savior’s approval, and instead of clamoring on, they stayed their questions.

“You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.  And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” –Mark 12:32b-33

Love one another

Read the following passages and write out what you learn about loving one another.

  • John 13:34-35
  • John 15:12-17
  • Romans 12:10-13
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
  • Hebrews 10:24-25
  • 1 Peter 1:22-25
  • 1 Peter 3:8-9
  • 1 Peter 4:8-10
  • 1 John 3:11-12
  • 1 John 3:23
  • 1 John 4:7-12
  • 2 John 1:5-6

We are the body of Christ.  We are His people and His light to the watching world.  How we treat each other is a foreshadowing to the unbelieving world as to how they will be treated if they, too, become a follower of Christ.  It is not just good family dynamics to love one another—it is a proclamation to the world that grace, love, and accountability are the norm here.

What is God asking you to do right now?

Love others

Read Matthew 5:13-48.  What stands out to you?

Reviewing that passage, what specific commands does Jesus give regarding our behavior toward others?

I submit that each and every one of these is rooted in love.  If we have a heart of love for the people around us, we can more easily turn the other cheek, we can more easily share the grace bestowed on us with the one in front of us.

A heart of love changes everything.

Go back and now read Matthew 5:1-12.  What stands out to you?

What rewards are listed in this passage?

A heart of love is poor in spirit, is meek, is hungry for righteousness, and all of the other things listed there.  If you put on a heart of love, if you follow through with the commands of this chapter, you will experience the love of God in a measure you have not known before.

What is He asking you to do right now?

plain & simple: Week 8, What now? Morality…

Morality seems to be a hot-button topic in any group.  Extreme views are given, arguments are had, and fingers are pointed.  Some believe that hiding from the world keeps us away from temptation.  Others believe that God is not terribly interested in our day-to-day lives, thinking that as long as the human mind can justify the action, then God must think it is okay as well.

What is moral behavior?  What is the point of it?  And who is right in all of it?  I submit to you that the answer to each of these questions is this: God.  Any time you try to justify yourself apart from God, you are in serious trouble—that applies to both the legalistic standpoint as well as the relativistic approach.

God is clear on what He expects of our behavior.

What is it?

We are saved.  We are forgiven.  So should we really be worried about our lapses?

Read Romans 6:15-23.  What stands out to you?

What does this passage say about sinning just because we are under the grace of God?

This passage of scripture tells us a truth we often find uncomfortable.  Whether it be because of our country’s history with slavery or not, we are uncomfortable with the notion that we are slaves to anything.  We like to think that we are the ones in control.  However, this passage is clear—we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.

According to this passage, what is the result of righteous living?

Read Ephesians 5:8-14.  What stands out to you?

According to this passage, what is the fruit of the Spirit?

What does it say about the relationship we are to have with unrighteous deeds?

Examining your own life, what deeds need to be exposed to the goodness and righteousness of the Spirit?  In exposing these deeds, we can then be honest about the struggle and gain help from God in our weakness.

Spend some time now exploring the depths of your heart.
Read Philippians 2:5-16.  What stands out to you?

In verses 5-8, what attitude did Jesus have in his life on earth?

According to verse 12-13, who does the work in you?

If He is the one doing the work, then exposing our darkness to Him is a humble act, admitting our weakness and letting the strength of God be made known in our lives.  The longer we arrogantly believe that we can handle it all on our own, the more lonely our existence will be.  If you want the power of God in your life, you must first come to the place of admitting that you need Him.

What stands in the way of you admitting this now?

What would you like in place of this in your life?

In verses 12-16, scripture has very specific commands for how we should live.  Write those commands.

“Do everything without complaining or grumbling” (vs. 12).  Reflecting on your own life, how often is this true?  James 1 tells of how the tongue is like a fire, setting a forest aflame with a single spark.  Our words are powerful.  Not only do they help to shape our attitude each day, words leave a distinct impression on those around us.

What impression do your words leave on those around you?  Do they tell of the greatness of God?  Or do they describe more the grumbling state of your heart?

Commit today to reframe your life reference—no more grumbling.  No more complaining.  Not only will you experience a more joyful life, you will actually leave a better impression on those around you.

Why is it important?

We know that scripture tells us to be righteous.  We can see it’s fruit in our lives, but still, there is that piece of us that questions if morality really matters.  Here is the issue that may make some eyebrows furrow: your faith is not all about you.

Yes, we discuss at length the benefits of faith.  Studies like this are written so you can examine your faith, your life, and continually push yourself to be more like Christ.  Yes, God imbeds benefits in faith.

But here is the kicker.  The spotlight of your faith is not on you.  In a time filled with “myspace” and “facebook” profiles—where it literally is all about us—we have a hard time grasping how we are just one little piece in a much bigger picture.

So you may not be terribly concerned with your partying ways—yes, you love Jesus, but what’s a good “buzz” every now and again?  People are watching you and judging whether faith makes a difference based on your actions.

You may not be concerned with your vicious tantrums—after all, if that person hadn’t annoyed you or done something you didn’t like, you wouldn’t have screamed at them.  Really?  How attractive is that to someone questioning God?  Why would they want to join a congregation when someone is screaming about Jesus at the top of their lungs?

Or maybe it is an attitude of doing the bare minimum—just sliding by has always worked before, why should you change now.  Really?  People are watching you.  They see you walk into work 5 minutes late every day, they see you take long lunches and leave a few minutes early.  They see you do just enough to get a project done, but not more than that to make it really good work.  And they are used to cleaning up your messes.  Yet taped to your computer screen are verses about Jesus—really?  They spend their time cleaning up your messes, covering all those minutes you are away, and you wonder why they also turn you down when you ask them to attend a function at your church.

They see you flirt with the waitress.  They see you hoard things for yourself.  They see your lack of generosity.  They see your grumpiness, and they see every time you roll your eyes.  They hear your gossip, your complaining, and your rude comments.

And yet, we wonder why people are not coming to the faith.

The spotlight of faith is upon you.  You claim that Jesus is the answer and yet you do so little to represent what He is all about.  Our churches are rife with in-fighting and an unwillingness to hold ourselves accountable for the wrong we do—yet we will turn our finger and point to the world, proclaiming loudly how evil they are.  Really?  Because you aren’t behaving much better than they are.

I know a man who owns a business.  And every single weekday, he goes out to lunch.  He started doing it when his business was small and money was tight.  His business is located in a very poor part of town.  His theory is that if he expects the people in that area to spend money at his place, why wouldn’t he be putting money into theirs?  Once a week, he takes his entire staff out to lunch.  None of them live in that area, yet as the man brings his business to the people he wants to serve, he gets to know them.  And his business is miraculously blessed.  Yet if you ask him what he believes, he will say, “I believe nothing.”  There are reasons for that unbelief—but what strikes me most is that this man, scorned by the church for believing “nothing”, is behaving in a far more Jesus-approved way than many Christians.

Ask a waiter or waitress what shift they hate most, and they will say Sunday afternoons—because that’s when the church people go out to lunch.  And church people tend to be high maintenance and low tippers.  Now, you can blame the waitstaff’s “greed” and you can justify your low-tipping ways, but the truth is this: if you go out to lunch, part of the expectation is that you tip, just like part of the expectation is that you will behave yourself and not throw food across the restaurant.  Yet, the one that actually costs us something is the one we refuse to do.  The one that actually makes a statement that we care about the people around us, that we see how hard a wait-staff job can be—that is the action we become stingy with.  If you cannot afford to tip, then you cannot afford to eat out.

The world is looking at Christians every day and wondering why we think we have the answers when it is clear by our behavior that we are no different than anyone else around us.  And in many ways, we are worse.

And as the excuses are raging in your head, the point is proven.  We demand so much grace and understanding for our own behaviors, and we rain so much judgement down on the behavior of others.

Just like every other area in our lives, we demand the best piece for ourselves and we leave the scraps for everyone else.

The importance of morality is that it sets us apart.

Read Genesis 17:1-14.  What does God promise to Abraham in this covenant?

What does God ask of Abraham as a sign of the covenant?

Read Joshua 5:1-9.  How well did God’s people do at holding up their end of the covenant while in the desert?

What happened as a result of Joshua following God’s command to circumcise the men?

In scripture, the event that immediate follows this second generation of circumcision is the angel appearing to Joshua and speaking to him about the “battle” of Jericho.  I put “battle” in quotes because if you know the story, you know that the people only walked around the city.  God did all the fighting.  It was not a battle by the people—it was God showing His majesty.

Interesting, how God shows His majesty AFTER the people show humility and obedience.  How often do you demand that God show Himself and then you might be humble to Him?

Back to circumcision—Circumcision was a sign, not only a physical reminder that the peole were set apart for God, but also an outward sign to the nations surrounding Israel that they were different.  Imagine the faces as word spread that those Hebrews did WHAT?!?!  All because their God asked them to?!? Really!?!  And then those same nations see the deliverance of the Lord time and time again.

They can see the lengths to which the Hebrews would go to show commitment to their God.  And they would see the mighty power of that God.  Maybe the significant, and in that time disfiguring, pain of circumcision is really quite small compared to all that God has done for His people.

Maybe the significant and disfiguring-to-your-pride sacrifice God is asking of you really is quite small compared to what He wants to bring about in the lives of those around you.  Maybe He is asking you to lay down your pride and apologize to that person you have decided to hate.  Maybe He is asking you to speak kindly to that person who seems to always speak harshly to you.  Maybe He is asking you just stop complaining already.

Maybe He is asking you to do what you say and actually believe that He is, and that He will deliver, provide, and protect.  Maybe He is waiting for you to stop arguing and start believing.

Read Deuteronomy 30:1-6.  What stands out to you?

What does God ask in this passage?

What does God promise?

What is standing in your way to humble yourself and follow Him?