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Winners and Losers – The Way Up Is Down

True SuccessKey Bible Verse: So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. 1 Peter 5:6

Bonus Reading: James 4:6-10

In walked the next customer: a long-haired hippie male, stoned to the max. Fueled more by competition than compassion, Mac walked up to the guy and said, “Hey, pal, God loves you and so do I.”

Mac’s words hit the hippie like unidentified flying objects—weird somethings that came out of nowhere and were too strange to believe.

“Do you mean that, man?” asked the hippie.

Mac glanced at the Old Man and knew it was time to get real. He told the hippie that, actually, he knew little about love. He spilled his gut to this complete stranger.

The hippie had never experienced anything like this. Before the evening was over, he’d made a commitment to Christ and flushed his drugs down the coffeehouse toilet. He’d also told Mac what happened before he walked into the coffee shop: Feeling hopeless, he and a buddy had made a suicide pact. His buddy was already dead.

Mac gave up the business world and went full-time into youth ministry at a large California church. He helped build a fledgling ministry into a youth group that attracted hundreds of young people. And he was firmly in control. [continued tomorrow]

—Bob Welch in A Father for All Seasons

My Response: When did I last get real with another guy about what matters in my life?

Thought to Apply: Those who have failed miserably are often the first to see God’s formula for success.—Erwin Lutzer (Illinois pastor)

Adapted from A Father for All Seasons (Moody, 1997)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, move me beyond the world’s definition of failure and success to the only one that counts—Your definition.



Winners and Losers – The Old Man’s Dare

True SuccessKey Bible Verse: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”Matthew 20:26

Bonus Reading: Matthew 20:20-28

Out of the ashes of despair came Harold. He was an 80-year-old who volunteered at a church youth group that Mac had been working with. Harold’s up-front brashness would be abrasive if it wasn’t leavened with so much compassion. “Do you know what love is?” he asked Mac.

“Sure,” said Mac.

“Do you know what agape love is?” he asked Mac.

Mac shrugged.

“Meet me at the coffeehouse tonight,” said the Old Man, which is what Mac had come to call him.

The coffeehouse was an outreach ministry of the church. Over a Coke, the Old Man explained to Mac that agape love was sacrificial love—love that expects nothing in return. “But that,” he told Mac, “is tough for macho guys like you to experience.”

Mac scoffed. He was a winner. He could hit any shot that came over the net, even if it was a hot spinner like this.

“Fine,” said the Old Man. “I want you to go up to the next person who walks in that door and tell them God loves them and so do you.” Mac almost spit out his Coke. But the Old Man was serious. And Mac’s will to win didn’t allow retreat.

“Fine,” he said. [continued tomorrow]

—Bob Welch in A Father for All Seasons

My Response: Have I considered myself too macho to embrace agape love?

Thought to Apply: We mount to heaven mostly on the ruins of our cherished dreams, finding our failures were successes.—Amos Alcott (New England philosopher)

Adapted from A Father for All Seasons (Moody, 1997)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, move me beyond the world’s definition of failure and success to the only one that counts—Your definition.



Winners and Losers – Trial by Fire

True SuccessKey Bible Verse: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth … Store your treasures in heaven.”Matthew 6:19-20

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

Besides being a young golfer who shot in the low 70s, and an ace basketball player, Mac McFarland was one of the best high school tennis players in California. He rarely lost in four years. Performance is everything, he was taught. Forget the process; results are what count. The world has no room for losers. His father’s motto? Never let ’em see you sweat. “After a big match, my father would come up to me and say, ‘Ya gotta work on that backhand.’ He could never just say, ‘Nice match.'”

Sports became the essence of who Mac was. Teachers cut him slack because he was a talented jock. Fellow students accepted him because of how hard he could hit a tennis ball. After college, Mac transferred his winning-is-everything philosophy to the world of work. He went into business with his father, and the two of them—both compulsive workers—made it a lucrative one. Mac bought the trinkets of success: a red Alfa Romeo and a plush house with the best electronics.

He was 28, married, and had two small sons when in just seven minutes his house was burned to the ground. Although the family escaped unharmed, everything was gone.   [continued tomorrow]

—Bob Welch in A Father for All Seasons

My Response: Has some form of performance become the essence of who I am?

Thought to Apply: Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure.—Kenneth Boulding (economist)

Adapted from A Father for All Seasons (Moody, 1997)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, move me beyond the world’s definition of failure and success to the only one that counts—Your definition.



Winners and Losers – John, the Enigma

True SuccessKey Bible Verse: God deliberately chose … those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 1 Corinthians 1:27

Bonus Reading: 1 Cor. 1:26-31

Our success-centered enterprise system has little room for failure. It is ideal for the successful but devastating for the loser. In an effort to create winners, we also create misfits.

Though John was born in a $300,000 home, he was a penniless drifter. Though he’s the son of a successful oil tycoon, John quit more things than he finished. Though his parents are gregarious and social, John is introverted, reclusive. John attended college on and off for seven years, but never graduated. His brother and sister made it, but he didn’t.

We don’t know what emotions stirred within John. Anger at a society that only reminded him of his inadequacies? Guilt? Painful reminders that “I let everybody down”? But we do know their result.

John Hinckley Jr. had every intention of killing President Reagan. For the love of a stranger and the lack of a name, he emptied a revolver into the bodies of four men. Placed in a federal prison, John tried to overdose on Tylenol—and failed.

Jesus had a place for misfits. In His book the last became first, and even the loser had value. It is our responsibility to be like Christ, to intercept a life like John Hinckley’s and fill it with value.

—Max Lucado in Shaped by God

My Response: An odd-man-out to whom I should reach out is ____.

Adapted from Shaped by God (Tyndale, 1985)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, move me beyond the world’s definition of failure and success to the only one that counts—Your definition.



Winners and Losers – Scoreboard

True SuccessWho Said It…Victor Santa Cruz

This son of a U.S. marine played linebacker for the University of Hawaii Warriors, then went into sales with a sport supply company. “My heart was always in coaching, but I thought coming out of college you needed to make money to be a success. I fell into that trap.”

Victor says his wife, Jamie, “saw how miserable I was,” and urged him to take up coaching. He did—and was named head coach of Azusa Pacific University’s Cougars in December 2005.

What He Said…Scoreboard

The scoreboard is a clear-cut way to determine playoff selections, but a dangerous barometer for measuring personal worth.

Feeling down after a losing season, I sought out a coaching mentor to discuss my disappointment. He asked if I knew his win-loss record from the past season. I apologized that I hadn’t followed his season. To my surprise, he informed me of his 11-1 record and a junior college bowl championship! He then asked if I cared about him, since I hadn’t followed his team’s record during the past season.

“I certainly do!” I responded. My respect for him was based on who he was as a person, not his football success.

“Then why are you in a funk because of last year’s losing season?” he asked.

The rewards of a winning record can be taken away by one “bad” year. But true success—an intimate relationship with God through Jesus—can never be taken away, because of the cross. We all are successful if we’re in Christ!

Adapted from Heart of a Coach (Revell, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, move me beyond the world’s definition of failure and success to the only one that counts—Your definition.



One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – The Unity of the Spirit

The Unity of the SpiritJohn chapter 17 records the real Lord’s Prayer, in the sense that this ending to the upper room Passover observance isn’t a pattern prayer for His disciples, but Jesus’ own conversation with His Father.

The disciples listen in as He expresses deep longings for Himself, for the disciples gathered in that room, and for all who would join this family in the future.

Interact with God’s Word:  John 17:11; John 17:20-23

  1. Can you picture a stronger union (v. 11) than that of the triune Godhead?
  2. What does that say about the strength of unity that the Son desires for His disciples?
  3. If Jesus prayed for the unity of His future disciples while still on earth (vv. 20-21), what may you be sure remains a primary topic of His intercession for you (Hebrews 7:25) today?
  4. What actions by individual believers diminish the sense of unity in Christ’s body?
  5. What actions intensify the perception of unity?
  6. If you’re united with Christ, and all other believers are as well (v. 22), what does that say about your relationship to each other?
  7. What (v. 23) will a demonstration of unity cause outsiders to observe? What should it lead them to understand?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make you a willing part of the answer to Jesus’ upper room prayer for unity among His followers.

John 17:11; John 17:20-23

11Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.



Central Church’s Red Doors

This week, our dedicated Trustees restored our main doors with fresh coats of red paint, matching the red flame in our UMC “Cross and Flame” insignia.

Why do many churches have red doors?

The tradition of red doors dates back centuries. There are several meanings associated with red doors.

Red symbolizes the sacrificial blood of Christ that saves those who come to him. Red is also a reminder of the Passover and a sign of the Holy Spirit. Church doors began to be painted red as a way of remembering the ultimate sacrifice that others had made for their faith.

The red doors of churches traditionally signaled a place of sanctuary, refuge, and safety. Those in need would not be captured or harmed inside the holy walls of the church, which offered physical and spiritual protection.

Some believe that the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral, where Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, were red. Red doors on Protestant churches indicate their roots in the Reformation.

Whatever the meaning, many churches today, including Central Church, are recognized by their distinctive red doors.

What is The United Methodist Church’s view of Halloween?

Did you know that Halloween began as a church holiday, or holy day?

Halloween (or All Hallows’ Eve) means “the evening of Hallows.”

“Hallows” is simply an older English way of saying “saints” — so, the Evening of Saints.

But why “the evening?” The ancient Jews understood the day began at sunset rather than sunrise, just as we see in Genesis 1: “And it was evening, and it was morning, day one.” (Genesis 1:5). So the first worship service of the day would be in the evening.

Put it all together and Halloween refers to the first worship service on All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1 in the Western Christian tradition), held on the evening of Oct. 31.

So how did this observance get connected to jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night? That connection comes from early cultural festivals between autumn and winter, a time between warmth and cold, harvest and dormancy, between life and death, so to speak. Some cultures understood this as a transition time where the lines between realms thinned and spirits of the dead returned to earth.

Christian missionaries and bishops, particularly in England and parts of Western Europe, had concerns that these practices and beliefs ran counter to the Christian understanding of the resurrection of the dead. In the 8th century, the church added prayers to Christian masses remembering the dead and anticipating their resurrection. These were some of the first prayers connected to All Saints’ Day celebrations.

Cultural Halloween celebrations have continued to evolve alongside the church celebrations. Some churches now offer alternatives to traditional activities, choosing events that celebrate life rather than death, offering safe fun for children or making the day one to “treat” or give to others.

Because of Halloween’s association with death and darkness, some Christians have concerns about it.  But it can be a time to acknowledge our fears knowing that Jesus’ resurrection overcame death. Our hope is for the resurrection of the dead and the fullness of life in the new creation in the age to come.


One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – A Match Made in Heaven

The Unity of the SpiritKey Bible Verse: Be … full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds.  – 1 Peter 3:8

Bonus Reading: Colossians 2:1-2a; 3:14b-15a

[continued from yesterday]  Dave swung open the side door of his van. The passenger seat was out because he’d been working on the engine, accessible only from the inside. So the pastor had to sit on the carpet amid the crushed beer cans. I laughed nervously as I helped with his luggage. As they drove off, I envisioned the two enduring the worst night of their lives.

The next morning the host families one by one dropped off the pastors at the church until all were present except—you guessed it—Dave and the conservative little pastor. Just as the meeting was to start, Dave’s van came roaring into the parking lot. Through the glare of the windshield I could see the faces of Dave and the pastor—laughing uproariously! As they got out of the van, they exchanged addresses like two kids who’d become best friends at summer camp.

I remember feeling embarrassed about my fear the night before. I’d sold both men short. Wondering at the power of the Holy Spirit to create a near-miraculous bond of love between the least likely people, I realized I’d sold God short too.

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response: How could I interact with a believer who is unlike me?

Thought to Apply: As we draw nearer to Christ, we shall be drawn nearer to His people; and in our search for unity with the members we shall be drawn closer to the Head.—G.T. Manley (British theologian)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.



One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – … Meets Mr. Brown Suit

The Unity of the SpiritKey Bible Verse: So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified. Romans 15:7

Bonus Reading: Romans 15:5-6

[continued from yesterday]  One year the church hosted a two-day pastors’ conference. It required that our congregation provide beds and breakfast for the 60 pastors who would attend. I asked my people to sign up. Soon every pastor had a host family.

At the end of the first day of the conference, cars began arriving to pick up their guests. Soon every pastor was gone except one. He was a little man from a farming town in the central valley of California. He wore thick glasses and a conservative brown suit with a thin dark tie, and he carried a large Bible. Everything about him said rectitude, provinciality, control. He stood smiling and waiting patiently for his host to appear.

I checked the list to see who he had been matched with. It was Dave! Surfer Dave! Dos Equis Dave! I gasped in alarm. This was not a good match at all. For a moment I considered calling Dave to tell him we didn’t need his help after all, and checking this man into a local motel. I may have done just that if Dave had not at that moment careened into the parking lot, tires squealing. So I had no choice but to introduce them to each other.  [continued tomorrow]

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response: Would I have shared this pastor’s apprehension about this match-up?

Thought to Apply: Paul’s vision is of a unity which is not denied by diversity, but which would be denied by uniformity—in a word, the unity of a body, the body of Christ. —James Dunn (theologian)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.


One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – Mr. Flip-Flops …

The Unity of the SpiritKey Bible Verse: Don’t try to act important but enjoy the company of ordinary people. Romans 12:16

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:4-5,; 9-10, ; 15-18

As I preached, I saw Dave standing, with arms folded skeptically, in the back of our Irvine church, wearing a wetsuit, his hair matted from surfing earlier. Our parking lot was full of Mercedes and BMWs. Most of our members were professionals. They were casual southern Californians, but their attire was on the nice end of casual. Dave clearly didn’t come from Irvine.

When we met, I learned that he’d never been in a church before that day, and had grown up on the streets in a nearby beach town. His van was plastered with bumper stickers advertising Dos Equis and Corona. Its interior was green shag carpet, with surfboards stacked on one side and crushed beer cans scattered about. Dave was a total anomaly in our good, pleasant little Christian community.

But God wanted to make us better and more pleasant. In the months that followed, Dave was embraced by the church and soon became a Christian. He was with us for years, never dressed in anything more formal than sandals, gym shorts, and a T-shirt that advertised a beer, a raceway, or a surfboard manufacturer. But now he was carrying a Bible. I loved this guy.  [continued tomorrow]

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response: How could joy coexist with sorrow for me?

Thought to Apply: There are times when we discover that God has called us to be together as a source of life for each other.—Jean Vanier (founder of Homes for Impaired Persons)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.



One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – Soul in the City

The Unity of the SpiritKey Bible Verse: Then the world will know that you sent me and will understand that you love them.  – John 17:23

Bonus Reading: John 17:11,; 20-23

As double-decker buses and black taxis drove busily around Trafalgar Square, 15,000 enthusiastic British Christians of all ages stood shoulder-to-shoulder doing a “wave” for Jesus. This was the climax of “Soul in the City,” an outreach I attended in the summer of 2004. In a concentrated two-week window, 772 churches participated, selecting and performing 432 service projects in their communities.

Soul in the City caused local churches that hadn’t previously done so to network and share expertise and resources—sparking a hunger for increased cooperation.

The Metropolitan Police of London gave thousands of pounds to the churches to use on their projects. Why? Because 18 months after a similar 2000 event done by churches in Manchester, juvenile crime had dropped by 48 percent over the previous year. The police realized that when churches work together on this scale, it has a significant positive transforming impact on the entire community.

Soul in the City changed many people’s perceptions about Christianity. They saw the Church getting its sleeves rolled up with energy, enthusiasm, and commitment—on their very own streets.

—David Macfarlane in FaithToday

My Response: Can I pray for the spirit of this event to be sparked where I live?

Thought to Apply: I may worship in a different building or different style from you, but all we hold dear is God’s gift in Christ Jesus, who is our Unity.—Michael Davis

Adapted from FaithToday (1-2/05)

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.



One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – Restore the Citywide Church?

The Unity of the SpiritKey Bible Verse: They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.  – Acts 2:42

Bonus Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Most of us have stopped noticing that the Book of Acts and the Epistles never mention more than one church per city. So far as we can tell, the believers in Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, Rome, and Thessalonica were unified as a family.

Granted, the people didn’t meet under one roof; they gathered in private homes all across the city. But they were a “body” nonetheless, under unified leadership, caring for one another and supporting each other’s walk of faith. They belonged to each other.

Some contemporary pastors are working to reclaim this identity. On a citywide basis, they meet for prayer and mutual encouragement. They’re speaking among themselves and to their congregations about the idea of “the Church at Denver” or “the Church at Indianapolis,” meaning all of God’s people in that locale, regardless of which specific theology they embrace or which building they use.

Were we to work together across denominational lines for common causes in evangelism, ministry to the poor, guidance to troubled youth, or other needs, the watching world would see more of what unites us and less of what divides us.

—Dean Merrill in Damage Control

My Response: One way believers could work together in my community is ____.

Adapted from Damage Control (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.



One Lord, One Faith, 31 Flavors – Refocusing for Worship

The Unity of the SpiritWho Said It…George Barna

George Barna started out as a political pollster. During grad school at Rutgers University, he was introduced to Jesus Christ. He shifted to media research.

Then in 1984, George and his wife, Nancy, founded the Barna Research Group to analyze cultural trends and the Christian church.

He enjoys time with his three daughters, and playing basketball and the guitar.

What He Said…Refocusing for Worship

The rampant individualism of so much of our society clearly undermines unity. But we need to realize that this me-first-and-me-only attitude is also an obstacle to genuine worship. Paul reminds us (in Romans 15:5-6) that it is only in the context of our harmony with God and His disciples that true worship occurs.

It’s rare to find a congregation defined by true unity and accountability among all the believers. So many churches remain bastions of internal politics, gossip, judgmentalism, and relational factions. Certainly, one of the cornerstones of the life-changing worship experienced by the Early Church is revealed in Acts 2:42-47: the constant fellowship, sharing, serving, accountability, and resulting worship that distinguished the Church from the rest of the religious world.

People whose eyes are riveted on themselves can’t focus upon God. How are we helping people to see beyond themselves? What will it take for us to develop a united family of believers whose first and deepest desire is to worship God rather than get their own way?

Adapted from Inside-Out Worship (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach us, Lord, how to create bonds of cooperation and fellowship that invite others instead of erecting walls of self-preservation and competition that repel.



The Righteous Warrior – Faith in Action

Faith in Action 2The religious leaders were in a bind. They thought they’d put an end to Jesus. But now his disciples claimed their miracles were performed in the power of the resurrected Jesus. Peter and John’s bind was different. They’d been arrested, held in jail overnight, and called on the carpet by the Sanhedrin, the nation’s highest Jewish ruling body.

Interact with God’s Word:  Acts 4:7-22

  1. Do you think the authorities arrested Peter and John for healing the crippled beggar or for their witnessing afterward?
  2. Did Peter back off at all here (v. 10) from his impromptu message to the curious after the healing (3:9-26)?
  3. Why (v. 13) were the council members amazed by Peter and John?
  4. How did the Sanhedrin respond (vv. 17-21) to their defense?
  5. How did the two respond (vv. 19-20) to the Sanhedrin ruling?
  6. Why (v. 21) were Peter and John let go instead of being sentenced?
  7. Would their response have been different if the outcome had been more drastic? (See vv. 29—31.)

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the wisdom to know when and how to take a stand, and the courage to carry it out.

Acts 4:7-22

7 They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. 15 So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

16 “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. 17 But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” 18 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

21 The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God 22 for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.


The Righteous Warrior – Showdown

Faith in Action 2Key Bible Verse: The Son of God came to destroy these works of the Devil. 1 John 3:8

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 6:19-20

Five gringos approached the Chiapas, Mexico, maximum-security prison to encourage 80 wrongfully incarcerated brothers. Ten years earlier, local mob bosses, angered by the Christians’ refusal to pay for pagan rituals, had had them framed and convicted.

Guards searched us and inspected our gifts: toothbrushes, soap, and toilet paper. Steel doors were unlocked and relocked as we were escorted inside and told to wait. A half hour later, a warden’s assistant announced we could only visit ten inmates at a time. Time constraints, we realized, would prevent us from visiting half the men. This was spiritual warfare!

We fired back that we represented these prisoners’ families, demanded to visit all 80 together, and insisted on seeing her boss. She disappeared; we prayed. Ten minutes later, the warden appeared. He was new, it turned out, and unaware of these men’s histories. We filled him in. “I’m an evangelical too,” he replied. “Come to the main courtyard. All the prisoners may meet with you!”

Keys clanked, doors slammed, men in orange jumpsuits emerged, weeping and hugging us. A throng of curious prisoners hung on every word as Alan, Hector, and I spoke, reminding these Word-starved brothers that nothing can separate them from Christ’s love.

—Kenny Luck in Dream

My Response: I’ll stand up for the gospel or justice by …

Thought to Apply: When good people cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.—Pearl Buck

Adapted from Dream (WaterBrook, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.



In Memoriam: Terry Davis

We regret to announce that Terry Davis, the husband of our pastor, Jan Davis, died last night at 12:15 am after more than 130 continuous days in a series of area hospitals.



1. Viewing and Calling Hours:
Sunday, October 20, 3-8 pm
Spratt Funeral Home
1901 7th Ave
Beaver Falls, PA 15010
(724) 843-1234
2.   Funeral Service:
Monday, October 21, 11 am
Central United Methodist Church
1227 Sixth Avenue
Beaver Falls, PA 15010

(724) 846-3474


True Jesus Church Razed to the Ground in China

true jesus churchMonths after the fact, a report has surfaced that True Jesus Church in China’s Henan province, worth about $1.4 million, has been forcibly demolished by Chinese authorities.
The report comes from the religious persecution watchdog group, Bitter Winter, and highlights the speed with which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) moves as it continues to arbitrarily wipe out places of worship across China.

“The Communist Party will resort to any means possible to achieve its goals,” a believer connected to the True Jesus Church in Henan province, told Bitter Winter. This person compared the CCP’s demolition of the church to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Fortunately in this instance, no one was killed. However, two elderly believers were injured when they were forcibly dragged from the church property. Additionally, eight leaders of the church and 13 members were charged with committing the “unlawful detention” of the director of the Religious Affairs Bureau. These people tried to convince the director not to close the church and repurpose the building. Obviously, their pleas were ignored and the church was eventually razed to the ground. Some of those who petitioned the director were also arrested.

The Demolition of the True Jesus Church

The demolition happened in two phases. On the morning of June 22, 2019, as about 200 believers were gathered at True Jesus Church, the church’s electricity supply was suddenly cut off. Officials climbed over the church’s courtyard wall and broke the gate lock to let about 60 officials inside the church property.

Officially, the church was being charged with raising funds illegally and therefore the church building itself was deemed illegal. The director of the Religious Affairs Bureau ordered a church leader to vacate the church and said the building was to be converted into a nursing home. However, those gathered for the church meeting refused to obey. Although the officials didn’t force anyone out of the church that day, they did continue to surveil the activities of the church, including recording its services.

Then, on July 26th around 3 a.m., approximately 1,000 government employees covertly assembled at a school nearby as they planned to demolish the church. Congregants, who suspected such an action might take place, were guarding the church overnight and were present when police officers came inside. The officers dragged the congregants outside, which is when the two elderly members were injured. The police searched the church and took away a piano and four air conditioning units, while leaving other valuables inside. The crew then began demolishing the church.

It took just a few days for the crew to raze the church and plant a new lawn with saplings in its place—making the plot of land look as if nothing was there before.

The True Jesus Church Movement

The True Jesus Church in Henan province, in the town of Caidu, is part of a network of churches by the same name. The original True Jesus Church started in Beijing in 1917 by Paul Wei (also known as Wei Enbo), who was a cloth merchant that converted to Christianity.

 Bitter Winter’s article reviewing a book about the True Jesus Church contains more detail about the movement and its ongoing scuffles with the Communist Party.

The True Jesus Church does not belong to the state-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Chinese pastors of churches belonging to the TSPM have been forced to sit through lengthy training conducted by the CCP to teach them in what to say during their sermons as well as what songs to sing during services.

The training, many warn, is just instructing pastors to spread communist propaganda and to turn worship services into patriotic ceremonies. The government has also directed a new translation of the Bible which attempts to make it more sinicized.

Other churches that don’t belong to the TSPM, like Early Rain Church in Sichuan Province, are facing raids and similar claims that their buildings and gatherings are illegal.

The Righteous Warrior – Risk Factor

Faith in Action 2Key Bible Verse: “I will go into to see the king. If I must die, I am willing to die.”  – Esther 4:16

Bonus Reading: Esther 4:5-17

Speaking out carries a risk. But sometimes not speaking out carries the greater risk of violating one’s integrity. Bill, a division manager of a Fortune 500 company, faced such a choice. He was deeply concerned about succession plans at his company. The man who’d been groomed to be the next CEO had failed to gain the respect of several senior people in the company, including Bill.

After soul-searching and prayer, Bill decided he must take his concerns to the current CEO, a forceful, and at times volatile, leader. To his relief, the meeting went remarkably well. Bill’s years of effective service, coming up through the ranks, had earned his boss’s admiration. But the seed of caution planted was only a first step. It took more analysis, more meetings—some confrontational and most requiring Bill’s direct involvement—and ultimately a board no-confidence vote.

In the end, another leader was appointed, a person who brought the right balance of competence, knowledge of the company, and rapport with others. In the years since the decision, he’s proved to be an ideal CEO. Bill, with great courage, grace, and tact, had quietly guided his company through its most critical decision moving into the twenty-first century.

—John Beckett in Mastering Monday

My Response: How can I build credibility now that could give me a future hearing?

Thought to Apply: Moral courage is the rarest ingredient of character.—Felix Frankfurter (U.S. Supreme Court justice)

Adapted from Mastering Monday (InterVarsity, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.



13th Street Ramp Door Restored!


Our 13th Street ramp outside door has been scraped and repainted with the same Sherwin-Williams’ “Real Red” shade used on our outside “Cross and Flame” medallions.  (The only difference is that oil-based gloss enamel was used on the metal medallions, while latex paint (three coats) was used on the wooden doors.)

See the difference the sun can make over many years in washing out the red color on our doors!  Now those doors have been renewed for years to come.

You can see the difference is stunning – not even taking into account that the Before picture was taken on a clear, sunny day and the After photo was taken on a darker, overcast day.  (Take a look at the reflections of the sky in the door’s windows.)

A big thanks to our dedicated Trustees for always looking for ways to maintain and improve our Church!



The Righteous Warrior – …and Keeping It Up

Faith in Action 2Key Bible Verse: Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety.  – Proverbs 29:25

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-17

[continued from yesterday]  The teachers lounge became a hostile place for weeks. Someone would begin a sentence, stop, look sidewise at me, and say, “I guess I shouldn’t say anything; spiritual Mr. Ingram is here.”

My colleagues seemed to turn on me. When approached alone, these teachers knew they had been way out of line. They had agreed privately. But because of the way they’d responded to me publicly—with criticism, ridicule, and rejection—I lowered my flag and fled. I stopped going to the teachers lounge.

But I began to realize that the biblical challenge to be salt and light comes with no assurances like “Be salt because the world will enjoy the way you taste,” or “Be light because people will immediately thank you for pointing out their sin.” Jesus’ words, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), suddenly had a personal ring.

So what if they don’t like me, I thought. I can’t control that. But they do need to respect me. After ten days of avoiding the teacher’s lounge, I decided to return and live with the ridicule and criticism so that there’d be a believing teacher in that school.

I went back. I didn’t have to flap the flag of my faith in their faces, but people knew I had boundaries.

—Chip Ingram in Holy Ambition

My Response: When have I sensed profound respect behind surface ridicule?

Thought to Apply: When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.—Billy Graham

Adapted from Holy Ambition (Moody, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.


The Righteous Warrior – Running My Flag Up…

Faith in Action 2Key Bible Verse: The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John.  –  Acts 4:13

Bonus Reading: Acts 4:7-22

My first teaching job also involved coaching. One day, I walked into the teachers’ lounge and overheard three or four coaches and one teacher huddled around a table after lunch was over and the women had cleared out. They were talking in a crude way about some of the more attractive female students of our school. I could not believe what I was hearing. I thought, How can they sit here and make explicit sexual comments about 16-and-17-year-old girls they teach?

Finally, as calmly as I could, I said, “Hey, gentlemen, I know that I’m the brand-new teacher here and the youngest in the room. But what you are saying is absolutely unprofessional and uncalled for. Imagine being a father of one of these girls listening to how you are talking about them! I think this needs to stop and stop right now.” It got very quiet. Before anything else could be said or done, the bell saved me and I left the room.

Later that day I went to each teacher and, trying my best not to come across as self-righteous, said, “I’m not down on you personally, but I think this was inappropriate. I have real convictions about this.” [continued tomorrow]

—Chip Ingram in Holy Ambition

My Response: Have I ever moved from privately held conviction to taking a stand publicly?

Thought to Apply: It is important that people know what you stand for. It is equally important that they know what you won’t stand for.—source unknown

Adapted from Holy Ambition (Moody, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.



Apple Dumplings

After a thoughtful review of our apple dumpling sales over the past few years, the decision has been made to take a break from making our apple dumplings this Fall. 

The folks of Central Church have enjoyed making our delicious apple dumplings every year for more than 40 years, and we will revisit whether to make them again in 2020, so stay tuned next year!

New Fall Flower Urns

New Fall Flower Urns

Tonight, we received 2 new urns full of beautiful, bright yellow mums grown by Trax Farms in the South Hills of Pittsburgh to spruce up our 6th Avenue entrance for Autumn.

Our thanks to our anonymous donors for adding a little Fall color to the outside of our building!

The Righteous Warrior – I Blinked

Faith in Action 2Key Bible Verse: For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that causes me shame, but that I will always be bold for Christ. Philippians 1:20

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 11:24-26

Shutting my office door behind him, my boss said, “I think Mike has a nose problem. I heard that he’s heavy into cocaine. I want you to get some dirt on the guy and fire him.”

I was taken aback. Mike had been one of my best salespeople for years. My first reaction was to do the right thing: I wanted to talk honestly to Mike. If, in fact, he did have a problem, I wanted to help him get his personal and professional life in order.

But when I mentioned this approach to my boss, he blew up, saying, “I don’t care how you do it, just get rid of him. I want him out of here now!” I was caught between a rock and a hard place: I could do what was right and risk being fired myself, or choose not to make waves by being a “team player,” as my boss would call it, and do the dirty work he had demanded I do.

Well, I copped out and made the easier decision, the wrong one. I saved my job by unjustly taking the job of another. My boss’s ego and my fear of unemployment hurt the entire staff. Not only did we lose a good employee, we also lost the trust of our sales team. The decision may have saved my job, but I lost a piece of my soul.

—Larry Julian in God Is My CEO

My Response: When has fear kept me from doing the right thing? How would I respond differently now?

Adapted from God Is My CEO (Adams Media, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.



The Righteous Warrior – No Flinching

Faith in Action 2Who Said It…John Piper

John Piper was raised in South Carolina and majored in literature in college (he’s now a prolific author who still writes poems).

He proceeded with biblical studies at Fuller Seminary and the University of Munich, and taught courses at Bethel Seminary for six years.

But sensing “an irresistible call to preach,” John shifted to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where he’s been senior pastor since 1980.

What He Said…No Flinching

Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the earthly cost, because God promises to help you and save you on account of Christ. An act takes courage if it will likely be painful. The pain may be physical, as in war and rescue operations. Or the pain may be mental, as in confrontation and controversy.

Courage is indispensable for both spreading and preserving the truth of Christ. Running from resistance in evangelism or teaching dishonors Christ. There’s a kind of cowardice that tells only the truths that are safe to tell.

Martin Luther put it like this: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Adapted from Taste and See (Multnomah, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.



Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Effective Prayer

Prayer 11Along with the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels (Matt 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), James’ letter also offers practical instructions on how to pray effectively.

Covering hardship, healing, happiness, and confession of sins, James gives us a glimpse into what vibrant prayer within the church community looks like.

And while personal, private prayer is essential to a healthy walk with Christ, these instructions make it equally clear that a healthy church depends on believers praying together and for one another.

Interact with God’s Word:  James 5:13-18

  1. What “hardships” were these Christians experiencing? (See Acts 11:19; James 1:1-3, 5:10.)
  2. How does prayer help believers through hardships?
  3. James encourages us to “sing praises” when we’re happy (v. 13). Why is it important to offer praise as well as prayers expressing pain?
  4. Verse 15 says “prayer offered in faith will heal the sick.” But what are important “stipulations” for answers to any kind of prayer? (See James 4:2-3; Mark 14:36).
  5. According to verse 16, what two qualities produce “great power” and “wonderful results”? How can we make sure we have these qualities?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for being a God who listens to the prayers of his people and ask him to help you pray more consistently and effectively.

James 5:13-18

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.



Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – No Frills, No Flair

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. Psalm 139:1

Bonus Reading: Psalm 139:2-18

There was a time in my life when it seemed as if everyone wanted me to pray aloud at group gatherings. So I would pray, in properly respectful yet down-to-earth tones, choosing my words carefully.

I found myself mimicking my public “performances” in my private times with God. It was during one of these times, late at night, that I felt God speaking to my heart: Mike, exactly who are you praying for?

For months I had been so bent on shaping my prayers for audiences that I’d forgotten I was whispering directly into the ear of God.

I learned something that night: When we come to God in prayer, we must come as we are. No amount of flowery words will impress God. He knows our sinful thoughts and secret desires better than we do. We can’t fool him with impressive praying.

No, if we want to be people who passionately pursue intimacy with God, we must first and foremost have the courage to approach him honestly, completely revealing who we are, what we’ve done, and how we feel each time we call his name. To do less than that is an insult to God and to the miracle of prayer he’s given us.

—Mike Nappa in The Courage to Be a Christian

My Response: When I pray, am I always aware that I’m “whispering directly into the ear of God”?

Thought to Apply: In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart—John Bunyan (British writer & preacher)

Adapted from The Courage to Be a Christian (Howard, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.




Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Noteworthy Distractions

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Bonus Reading: James 5:13-18

For a long time I had been disturbed about the problem of a wandering mind during my time of prayer.

I would be trying to pray and suddenly my mind would jump to a business appointment I needed to make or something else I had to do.

For years I had forced these things out of my mind to get back to “spiritual things.” But now, thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Donn Moomaw, I began to keep a notebook by my side; and when the thought came to me to call someone, to make an appointment, or to do something for the family, I would jot it down and then go back to God.

I was at last realizing that God is interested in my total life and that these things which came into my mind during my time of prayer might be significant things for me to do, or places for me to go. This also made it easier for me to get my mind immediately back to my other prayers.

Sometimes a vision of someone I resented would come floating into my prayers. Instead of trying my best to suppress it, I began to ask God to make my thoughts about this person more like his. Before I knew it, I discovered that God was touching more and more of my life through this time of prayer.

—Keith Miller in The Edge of Adventure

My Response: I will strive to include all aspects of my life in my prayers by …

Thought to Apply: I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is.—Charles Spurgeon (British preacher)

Adapted from The Edge of Adventure (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.



Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Just Stammer Away

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: We don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  – Romans 8:26

Bonus Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

We don’t like to stand speechless or stammering before God, but that doesn’t mean God holds it against us when we do.

I remember a vacation with my parents in France when I was in high school. I had just completed two years of French, hardly enough to make me fluent.

Still, there we were, tourists wanting to make the most of our time. So when we needed a bathroom, when we wanted to find a cafe, or when I lost my eyeglasses on the steps of L’Eglise du Sacre-Coeur, I falteringly used my butchered French.

I was trying—to the politely suppressed laughter of others—to speak the language. But I remember more than the townspeople’s bemusement. I remember how they warmly received my efforts. They strained to hear past my fractured sentences. They honored me by responding.

Is God any less generous?

He hears all that arises from us—the words of our mouth, the longings of our hearts, the thoughts of our minds, the intentions of our wills. Regret, grief, thanksgiving, hope—God hears our emotions, not just our grammar. Because of his grace, not our eloquence, we can pray. Even if we stammer.

—Timothy Jones in The Art of Prayer

My Response: I know God hears my feeble words and stammered prayers because …

Thought to Apply: Prayer is weakness leaning on omnipotence.—W. S. Bowden (Methodist bishop)

Adapted from The Art of Prayer (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.



Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Guilt Free A to Z

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.  – 1 Timothy 2:1

Bonus Reading: Daniel 9:1-19

Have you ever created a massive prayer list and then broken it down for each day of the week? If you have, you’ve probably discovered that this approach works well—at producing a whole lof of guilt!

The first day you miss your prayer time, you decide to double up the next day so that no name gets skipped. But this requires that tomorrow you pray for a boatload of people. Eventually, you’ll let dropped days stay dropped—and then feel guilty about all those people for whom you failed to pray.

Let me offer you a guilt-free approach. I keep an A to Z list of friends on one page, front and back, in a notebook I use to record my daily insights from Scripture. I stick a little Post-it note under the person’s name I last prayed for.

Some days I have the time to pray for five or six people. Other days I’m in a hurry and may get to only one or two names. And occasionally I miss interceding for others altogether. I just pick up where I left off and continue down my list. It may take a few weeks to cover everyone, but there’s a steady thoroughness to this approach that gives me a sense of deep satisfaction.

—James Nicodem in Prayer Coach

My Response: Without increasing guilt, how might I improve my own intercessory prayer times?

Thought to Apply: Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men!—Phillips Brooks (American clergyman & author)

Adapted from Prayer Coach (Crossway, 2008)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.



Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – At a Loss for Words?

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: Never stop praying.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Bonus Reading: Psalm 86:1-7

Some Christians may dismiss written prayers as leftovers of a formal church style they’d just as soon bury.

Yet when we feel down or dull, reading a prayer may get us going when otherwise we wouldn’t pray at all. When we read the prayer and truly pray it as we read, the written prayer becomes our own expression to God.

The largest source of written prayers is the book of Psalms. With 150 to choose from, we can always find one to start off our prayer (like today’s Bonus Reading).

We have psalms of praise, comfort, and encouragement. Most of all we find laments—over a third of the Psalms begin with complaints. (People are often surprised to discover that God actually lets us complain to him.)

Psalms of lament start with expressing sadness, frustration, or even anger to God. Then they generally progress toward finding hope and comfort in God. They’re a great example of dumping our problems on God and turning to the path of faith and optimism.

Reading written prayers can also stimulate our own prayers when we internalize the words and express them as if they were our own. This gets the flow of our thoughts going. Then we can set the written prayer aside and go on praying.

—Peter Lundell in Prayer Power

My Response: How might written prayers enliven my own times of prayer?

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.



Effective Stewardship – Month #14

The primary way we are to obtain money is to work for it.

“ . . . to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs,

and to work with your hands” (1 Thes. 4:11).


What comes to mind when someone mentions “work”? Is your initial tendency to moan and groan, wishing you could avoid work?

It might surprise you to learn that God described His creative acts as “work” and that he brought “work” into being shortly after He created man. Adam worked in the Garden before and after his fall due to his sin. Cain worked by raising vegetables. Abel worked by tending sheep. Throughout Scripture, people worked. Even the Lord Jesus worked while He was on earth, and He described God the Father as having worked. Work has always been part of God’s nature and eternal plan for mankind.

Wait a minute — If God created and owns everything, why should we His children have to work? Couldn’t He just provide for us in some supernatural way that would enable us not to have to work? Surely, God could do that, but He doesn’t do so. According to the admonition in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, one of the primary benefits from working and providing for our needs is to be able to lead lives marked by integrity and a healthy self respect. And God’s plan is that we are best able to accomplish these worthy goals by working.

God also knows that by utilizing our talents and abilities through work, He will be able to minister to others through us in an effective way. Work, then, is one of the primary avenues by which we can demonstrate our Christian faith, particularly as we do our tasks to God’s glory. Work is also the primary way through which we obtain money to give to God.

What should be the Christian’s response to work? First, thank God for work and for the ability to work. As Solomon observed, this is a “gift of God.” Second, view your work as a means of bringing glory to God. Third, whatever you do — no matter what your vocation or occupation — do it “with your might,” as unto the Lord. And finally, remember that by providing work for us to do, God enables us to give to Him and to His ministry at Central United Methodist Church.

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Crank Your Engine

Prayer 11Who Said It … Peter Lundell

Peter Lundell is a former missionary to Japan and currently pastors Walnut Community Church in Walnut, California. Along with publishing articles in numerous magazines, he’s the author of Armed for Battle, When God Bursts In, and the recently published Prayer Power.

Peter’s hobbies include woodworking and surfing the Pacific with a specially designed “surf kayak.” He has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Peter and his wife, Kim, have one daughter.

What He Said … Crank Your Engine

When the automobile was first invented, no one had conceived of a starter. So while one person sat at the wheel, another person stood in front of the car and cranked a handle connected to the engine. Round and round they’d heave the crank until the engine started. This led to phrases like “crank the engine” and “crank it up.”

Sometimes prayer may feel like a dead engine, and it takes deliberate cranking to get the communication started.

Too many times I have experienced the truth of Jesus’ words: “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:38). I may sit or stand or walk while I try to talk with God, but my mind is like a dead engine. These are times when I “start in the flesh and end in the Spirit.”

Starting in the flesh and ending in the Spirit means that we may not feel like praying, but we go ahead and pray anyway. As we do this, our prayer starts to flow naturally.

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.



Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends

FriendsToday’s Bible study looks at only four brief verses from Proverbs. But like all of the adages found throughout this wisdom-filled book, these tersely crafted verses are jam-packed with powerful, practical, and timeless insights.

And in keeping with this week’s theme, the insights go straight to the heart and soul of what it means to be someone who seeks to bring out the best in his friends. So, dig into these four short verses and then put them to work in your friendships.

Interact with God’s Word:  Proverbs 27:5-6, 9, 17

  1. When have you been grateful for a friend’s “open rebuke” (v. 5)? Why was this rebuke helpful to you?
  2. How does a wound from a “sincere friend” (v. 6) differ from a wound from an insincere friend?
  3. Why are wounds from a “sincere friend” better than “kisses from an enemy”?
  4. When was a time “heartfelt counsel” (v. 9) kept you from making a mistake or gave you the courage to do what was right?
  5. Who is a friend you could “sharpen” (v. 17) through an encouraging word, a piece of timely advice, or a loving rebuke?
  6. Take time to memorize one or two of the verses from this week’s study.

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for friends who offer you encouragement and who seek to bring out the best in you; ask God to guide you and give you wisdom as you seek to encourage and challenge your own friends to greater godliness.

Proverbs 27:5-6, 9, 17

5 An open rebuke
is better than hidden love!

6 Wounds from a sincere friend
are better than many kisses from an enemy.

9 The heartfelt counsel of a friend
is as sweet as perfume and incense.

17 As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend.

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.



Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – We Need Each Other

FriendsKey Bible Verse: I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Bonus Reading: Romans 15:4-6

Mark (not his real name) took the courageous step of joining a church group that encourages men who want to grow out of destructive patterns. I had been urging him to take advantage of this group.

When he did so, I told him how my respect for him had risen. But as I looked with the eyes of God, I saw a shadow in his face, a touch of discouragement, even a hint of fear. He needed some encouragement.

“But you know,” I added, “when you read the classics, they stress how once a believer begins taking God more seriously, Satan is likely to unleash his most fierce temptations against that person.”

The relief that flooded Mark’s face was immediate. “Thank you for sharing that,” he said. “It helps me understand what’s been going on.”

Just hours before I talked to Mark, two of my friends had spoken to me, ministering God’s presence and wisdom. If they hadn’t lifted me up, I don’t know if I would have been available to encourage Mark. True transformation is a community effort. We need each other.

—Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight

My Response: Who is a friend I need to thank for being there to encourage me?

Adapted from The Beautiful Fight (Zondervan, 2007) .

Thought to Apply: A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.—Arnold Glasgow (writer, humorist)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.



Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – Get Real, Go Deep

FriendsKey Bible Verse: Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:14, The message

Bonus Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

If you were to share with a trusted friend that you struggle with watching television shows you know you shouldn’t, your friend could react in a number of ways. The reaction you receive will most likely reveal the depth of your friend’s commitment to you.

Your friend could say to you, “Well, just turn off the TV and pray about it.” In this case, your friend probably can’t really relate to your problem, but he thinks telling you this will help. He might be truly concerned, however, even though he doesn’t really understand. Or he may simply practice doling out spiritual-sounding advice.

On the other hand, imagine the difference if that friend makes a committed effort to help you. Think how you’ll feel if your friend says, “Let’s talk about your problem some more. Why do you think you’re having this struggle? Let’s pray about this together.”

The two of you spend some time talking over the struggle you’re experiencing—and then you spend some more time beside each other in prayer. Your friend is committed to helping you—as long as it takes—until you get through this problem. Now that’s a committed friendship.

—David Wardell and Jeff Leever in Daily Disciples

My Response: How can I best demonstrate empathy toward a struggling friend?

Thought to Apply: We are born helpless. … We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.—C. S. Lewis(British scholar, Christian writer)

Adapted from Daily Disciples (Promise, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.



Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – Was It Worth It?

FriendsKey Bible Verse: When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.   – Romans 1:12

Bonus Reading: Philemon 7

To encourage the guys in a Bible study I recently led, I telephoned each of them every week, asking how things were going and how I could pray for them. One of the men was reticent on the phone, often answering my general questions with one or two words. Our typical conversation lasted for only a minute or two.

Was he uncomfortable talking with me? I wondered after each call. Was I annoying him with my repeated phone calls? Did he not even like me? Perhaps I should just stop calling him.

Before making any decisions, though, I needed some expert advice. I talked to my wife.

“I wouldn’t give up,” she said. “Those calls probably mean more to him than you think.”

I took my wife’s advice and called that man again. As usual, he shared little and offered no prayer requests. As I began to wrap up another uncomfortable conversation, he said something that stunned me.

“Jon,” he said, “I just want you to know that I really appreciate your calls. It’s encouraging to hear a friendly voice every week.”

With tears forming in my eyes, I thanked him for his kind words. I hung up the phone and looked forward to calling him the following week.

—Jonathan Wakefield

My Response: How do I react when guys don’t seem to respond positively to my attempts to reach out and encourage them?

Thought to Apply:Q: How can you tell if a person needs encouragement? A: If they are breathing.”—Truett Cathy (founder of Chick-fil-A)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.



Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – A Team of Huggers

FriendsKey Bible Verse: Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Hebrews 10:24

Bonus Reading: Acts 4:36, 11:22-24

Coach Peacock’s team had just won a state championship. They were celebrating in the locker room, and Coach was hugging his players right and left. As the congratulations continued, the coach noticed one player in particular sitting alone on a bench, watching him.

Coach Peacock knew that the young man’s parents were divorced and also that his dad was an alcoholic who never attended any of his son’s games. So he walked over to the player and asked if he was okay. The young man responded, “Yes, Coach, but I was just wondering … could I have another hug?”

The experience was a milestone in Coach’s life, leading him on a campaign to become a “team of huggers.” Starting with the coaching staff, Coach Peacock wouldn’t settle for a wimpy hug. It had to be a “bear hug.” Soon, the coaches began sharing hugs with their players.

Most of us would agree that hugs encourage us and remind us that someone cares about us. Of course, there are many ways to encourage others. Hebrews 10:24 says that we are to consider how to stimulate and encourage one another to good deeds. Let’s consider all the ways that we might encourage our fellow coaches, teachers, players, family members, and neighbors.

—Bill Burnett in Heart of a Coach

My Response: How do I feel about hugging my guy friends? Why do I feel this way?

Thought to Apply: There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else.—George M. Adams (writer)

Adapted from Heart of a Coach (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.