First in 2015

25 11 2014

Where’s your focus? Are you focused on God? Are your thoughts fixed on your Creator and His love for you?

Your focus determines your direction. Your focus affects your quality of life. Whatever your heart is focused on your life will be focused on and this will determine much of what becomes of your life!

Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God”. My heart focus is to be on the things of God first. They are of greater value, they are more important than anything else in my life.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 “seek first”

How you start each day has a direct impact on how you will respond to what comes of the day. How you start 2015 may have a significant impact on how you live throughout the year.

How do I “seek the Kingdom of God above all else,”?

When Jesus said, “seek first,” He was also describing that a person following Him would do three things: give, pray, and fast (not for show but as a personal “Thank You” to God). We find this talk in Matthew 5-7 and in chapter 6 Jesus is saying, “when you give, when you pray, when you fast,”

The results are a life where we can reasonably choose to not worry, knowing that God will provide for us and reward us. See Matthew 6.

“When you give,”

We believe that God gave us his best, in Jesus, and so as a “Thank You” to God we choose to live in courageous generosity. We choose to live on less of our own time, energy, and money so that we can give of ourselves to the needs of others and the purpose of God in our homes, neighborhoods, and beyond. Jesus challenged us to be sure that we are not doing this for a good reputation with others, but as a personal “Thank You” to God. See His specific instructions in Matthew 6.

“When you pray,”

We believe that Jesus knew we would need help in this life and so He taught us how to talk with and listen to our Father God. Jesus challenged us to be sure that we are not doing this for a good reputation with others, but as a personal “Thank You” to God. Find Jesus’ specific suggestions (a power tool really) in Matthew 6 and Luke 11.

“When you fast,”

The practice of fasting means – going without to focus on God. Setting aside time to focus on God is a perfect way to check your focus! Using the practice of “going without” is extremely helpful to that end.  “This practice removes distractions, concentrates your life on God, cleanses your soul, deepens humility, intensifies prayer, feeds your faith, and it produces self-control.” – Pastor Frank Damazio

Biblical Fast – Going without food in order to focus yourself on God. You are trading your meal time for prayer time. You do not fast to obtain merit from God or to atone for sin. In contrast you are going without food, for a spiritual purpose. To this time of fasting you are adding prayer, meditation, Bible reading/memorization, and a seeking God for your life. Then prayer and fasting works something into you that prayer by itself would not.

For best results, this includes changing your normal schedule and going without some of your normal activities so that you have more quality time for God. This may mean that you spend less time on the internet, watching TV/movies, playing games, or doing other stuff in favor of investing more energy into your spiritual life.

At the beginning of every year as a church we are going without meats & sweets for 21 days to be focused on God through prayer & fasting. We are choosing to go without normal food and entertainment so that we can start the year more focused on God than anything else.

It’s a conviction, that starting a new year by seeking God brings us to right focus. As a church, we begin the New Year by setting aside a time of “sacred assembly” to dedicate ourselves to God afresh. As individuals, we set aside time for prayer & fasting to allow the Holy Spirit to deal with us personally (about our lives/homes/work) – to make sure that anything that should not be in our lives is cut out & anything that should be in our lives is put in.

For each person this may be different. You may choose to go without certain activities, particular foods, or go without food entirely. Medical research actually shows that periodic fasting is good for your overall health and Hippocrates recommended medical benefits of fasting, including the fact that it slows the aging process. Recent research shows that giving your digestive system a break has many health benefits. Please consult your Dr before making any changes to your diet.

Personal spiritual disciplines…are just that “personal spiritual disciplines”. Please consider making a plan for how you choose to respond to Jesus, “When you pray, when you give, when you fast” (in Matthew 6). If this is a meaningful and personal commitment for you, it will mean something to God. If it doesn’t mean anything to you please don’t participate. How you choose to participate is personal, and yet you can benefit from the group “water level” of your friends and family doing it at the same time you are.

Please consider joining us by starting your 2015 with three weeks (January 5-25) of being more focused on God than anything else. Pray, between now and New Years, and ask God what He would have you do during those three weeks. Please take time to write out a personal purpose for this time of prayerful focus.

Please consider writing down your answers to these questions:

  • What do I want to be focused on?
  • Why am I choosing to “go without” over January 5-25?
  • What food, drink, activities, music, TV/movies, social media, or activities will I be doing without?
  • What will I be praying about?
  • What days and times will I be in prayer and Bible reading?
  • What is most important in my life?

Here’s an opening prayer:

God, you are more important to me than anything else in this world. Thank you for taking away the guilt of my sin through Jesus. This January 5-25 I’m going without ____. I am doing this because _____. I will be more focused on you than anything else. I choose to live for you. Please speak to me God. Thank you!

Here’s a few books to consider:

  • Fasting – Jentezen Franklin (also “The Fasting Edge” same author)
  • 101 Reasons to Fast – Dr Bob Rogers
  • Toxic Relief – Don Colbert MD
  • Purple Book (Bible studies that every believer should go through with a friend) and Wiki Church Steve Murrell
  • Crazy Love – Francis Chan
  • The Jesus I Never Knew – Philip Yancey
  • No Perfect People Allowed – John Burke

January Prayer Focus – Lent?

In the spring we will enter the ancient Christian calendar season of Lent, the 40 days leading to Easter. It’s good to learn from our history. Three major themes of this practice are self-control, prayer, and reflection. It certainly brings great joy in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus! It also honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in prayer & fasting, Matthew 4. For more resources on Lent, click herehttp://bit.ly/YBOuXf

For the past couple of years we’ve chosen to not observe Lent directly. We follow the principles by starting the year with a prayer and fasting focus on Jesus (January 5-25). Then during the weeks leading up to Easter we set aside time to consider, reflect, and celebrate the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of Christ.





Give Thanks

19 11 2014

Want to feel less stressed, healthier, and more energetic?

Research shows that there are many benefits to exercising gratitude. Here’s a post with several links http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=1541

In fact, this research shows that people who wrote down 5 things that they were thankful for, once a week for 10 weeks, experienced less stress and felt happier as a long term life change. Sound good?

When I Give Thanks my Faith Produces Joy

The practice of giving thanks reminds us of all that is good and produces a focus on God.

Here’s some great verses to read this week:

Psalm 100:1-5  “I will enter into your gates with thanksgiving, be thankful,”

Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and shield. Songs of Thanksgiving,”

Psalm 30:11-12 “mourning into dancing, give you thanks”

In Psalm 103:1-5 we find a contrast to before and after God’s love, a gratitude list:

  • Sinful                                     Forgiven
  • Sick                                        Healed
  • Doomed                                Redeemed
  • Ashamed                              Crowned
  • Dissatisfied                           Satisfied
  • Decaying                               Renewed

What are you thankful for?

I’ve noticed social media posts that many of my friends have made this year, listing what they are grateful for. It’s truly powerful.

In Philippians 4:4-9, Paul writes about the specific steps we can take to experience more peace:

You may be familiar with the phrase, “Be anxious for nothing, but in all things…with thanksgiving make your requests known to God……the peace of God which passes understanding will guard…” These are powerful words to live by. It works!

  • Be full of joy
  • Don’t worry about anything
  • Pray about everything
  • Fix your thoughts on what is good
  • Put into practice what Jesus and Paul taught
  • God of peace will be with you

Result: Joy, Peace, Faith state of being that
– guards our hearts and
– guides our lives in Jesus.

What to do?

  1. Take time to think about what you are thankful for, in every area of your life.
  2. Write lists of 5 things, once a week, for the rest of the year.
  3. Thank God with your words and actions.
  4. Tell someone else, your list or fill in these blanks: “my _ may be_, but I am _ because God _ me.”

Here’s a previous post I wrote about the “Thanksgiving Prayer”. http://bit.ly/UTvoud





Bible Studies

13 11 2014

This month many of our friends are experiencing the loss of a loved one or other challenging life circumstances. Rebecca and I are standing with you in prayer. It’s wonderful to see the way that people are loving on each other, providing help.

Our God loves you and sees what you are going through. He is a “very present help in time of need.” God is real. He is a real strength. We are not meant to be alone. God provides us with relationships to be a strength and source of encouragement.

God always provides us with truth to be a strength when we suffer or face a challenge. Reading the Bible, focused on a topic, is a huge help at all times. It’s best to do this with a friend to talk and pray about it. I just wanted you to have these focused Bible studies available to you.





60 seconds

17 09 2014

If you asked me, “Why would you start a church in Baltimore? What does that mean? How will it look?” and I had 60 seconds to respond, here’s what I would say:

 

Forgiveness and healing are found in Jesus. People need Jesus.

We are helping people connect with Jesus, grow in faith, & share his love.

We connect by gathering on weekends for worship, to receive and respond to his love.

We grow by meeting in small groups for prayer, learning, and sharing life.

We share by living like Jesus and sharing his love, everyday and everywhere.

We see a church:

  • Loving Jesus in a way that people talk about.
  • Where people find salvation & healing in Jesus.
  • Helping people find careers & peaceful homes.
  • Where everyone can find a place that they fit.
  • Serving the city with love that works.

 





Hope after a Hit

11 09 2014

How a punch from Ray Rice became like any other Baltimore violent crime and why we have hope:

If you’re reading this, you have seen the shocking video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator. Most likely you have also seen the recently released video of what happened inside that elevator.

It’s a horror show of domestic abuse. They’re engaged in an argument, he appears to accelerate the dispute, and then he hits her with a punch that lifts her up off her feet.

What if I told you there was hope?

There is hope and healing for the victims of abusive relationships. Healing can be found in Jesus.

If you are in an abusive relationship, stop reading this and talk to someone now. You can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.7233 or visit www.TheHotline.org or you can call Emergency Services at 911. You can call myself or one of our team members at the church, 410.929.1619.

Rice_Ray

Violent crime is a reality if you live in a farming community or a city. The TV Show COPS began with many stops in the neighborhood I grew up in Portland, OR. Having lived in Baltimore City the past four years, I am often now unaware of a police helicopter circling over our neighborhood.

Violent crime is no little thing. It’s no joking matter. It is something that I’ve been thinking about and giving time to find answers for.

I believe that one reason Ray’s punch and Baltimore’s crime carry such emotional violence is that it is so unexpected. Ray Rice has done more than what was expected of him to serve the community. He’s suffered violence to his own family in his childhood neighborhood. He had served the community and done a lot to help pass anti-bullying legislation and raise awareness about bullying. We might have expected this violent event from another football player, but not Ray Rice.

In Baltimore City, violent crime has been personally shocking to many who moved here. They expected it to be a safe place to live and raise a family. This is not the time and place for the data, but I’ve been doing research going back to the 1800’s and over and over I read that this was the case. Thousands of families have moved to Baltimore with the expectation of it being a safe harbor city to settle in. Today this has changed. Thanks to Baltimore’s current reality, The Wire, Homicide, and Drugs Inc our beautiful city’s reputation is rough at best.

In the accounts of victims of violent crime, you often hear the trauma of emotional pain over just how shocking the event was. They didn’t see it coming.

Now we see violence from “Lil’ Ray” and it hurts. It’s shocking because of the video. Because we can see exactly what happened.

Baltimore City is a football town. It has been a blue collar, proud, football town. From the Colts of the 50’s, to the CFL and minor league teams, to the Ravens…it has been a championship football town.

Now it’s bruised.

Would it have been different if Ray had confessed in complete detail, right after the event, and asked for forgiveness then?

I don’t know.

Honestly, I have no idea what was going on inside Ray Rice that night. I think we can all agree that we would not want our worst mistake to be broadcast on video for the world to see. But to throw a punch? What?!?

ray-rice-press-wifeThere must be more going on inside Ray. “Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish… Whom have I in heaven but you?” Psalms 73:21-26

Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Pastor said this, “We must accept finite disappointment but we must never lose infinite hope.” Pastor King knew and preached that God is the source of that hope.

I believe that hope can be found in Jesus.

Abusive relationships are one of the worst forms of evil in our world. Sadly I have seen many first hand. In many cases, the victims of abuse choose to stay in those relationships.

There is hope and healing for the victims of abusive relationships. Healing can be found in Jesus. Each of us is created in the, “image of” the Creator (see Genesis 1:26). Regardless of our educational, economic, ethnic, cultural, or sexually unique traits we are all created with a God-likeness. No one should live in fear or pain. Our world would be a better place if we all pay attention to possible abusive relationships and have the courage to offer a helping hand.

Ray failed. Integrity is seen when who you are in private matches who you are and what you say in public.

You may have given up on Ray. I get it. But I’m glad that God hasn’t given up on me.

There is hope for Ray and there is hope for any perpetrator of violent crime.

There is hope in Jesus. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 1:9

The truth is that when we take personal responsibility by confessing our mistakes to God, turning away from them, and receiving the grace of Jesus – we are forgiven.

This brings us to one of the most difficult questions, “With evil in our world, how can a loving God exist?”

In much the same way that: cold is the absence of heat, dark is the absence of light…evil is the absence of God’s love.

When we struggle to understand how God’s love can be involved in a situation like this, I believe that we are ready to grow stronger in two of the most important ultimate truths of our history: God’s Grace & Our Responsibility.

God’s grace goes beyond our expectation. It forgives what we believe to be un-forgivable. The truth is that God’s healing and forgiveness are complete. They go beyond human comprehension. At times they are instantly complete and in other occasions the process takes a while.

Yet each of us has a personal responsibility.

Martin Luther wrote, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that remains alone.”

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul writes a letter to friends explaining our personal responsibility to thank God with our actions.

James wrote, “Faith without works is dead.”

 Let’s not get this mixed up. Let’s not be religious people.

A religious person says about God, “I obey; therefore I’m accepted.”

A person following Jesus says, “I’m accepted; therefore I obey.”

A religious person says, “I obey God in order to get things from God.”

A person following Jesus says, “I obey God to get God – to delight and resemble him.”      (Thank you Tim Keller for the quotes.)

Each of us bears the responsibility to confess our mistakes, receive the forgiveness of Jesus, and respond to His love by following Him, see Matthew 9:9-13. This may include us taking action to right our wrongs.

Yes, a punch from Ray Rice became like any other Baltimore violent crime.

Yes, there is hope.

Yes, there’s hope for “Lil’ Ray” and we would welcome him in our home and in our church.

…and we welcome both the victims and people who make mistakes (including the perpetrators of violent crime) into our home and church as well.

There’s hope in Jesus! Hope that includes a life without violence, a life of peace and laughter, a life of becoming who God designed you to be, a life of doing good that God planned long ago!

 

 

 

One more note about Baltimore crime:

Please let me be clear, there is nothing in this world like the tragedy of a parent burying their child. Worse yet, the horror faced by roughly 300 families each year in Baltimore City of burying a loved one lost to murder. We serve those families with Baltimore’s Mother’s Cry. I’ve met the mothers. Raising two children in Baltimore City, I simply cannot imagine anything worse than suffering a stray bullet like the parents of three year old McKenzie in a neighborhood near us recently. Domestic abuse can lead to murder. It must stop. My purpose here is not to comment on the issue of murder. No one should live in fear and pain. God’s design for us is much better! Grace and peace to you today.

 

 





A city where they could settle

1 09 2010

This summer we move to Baltimore.  Our friends, the Talaiver’s, are already in Baltimore and the Wheelers will follow us there.  As a team, we are launching a new City Bible Church in Baltimore.

We look forward to meeting people and finding out where we can connect.  We want to serve the city.  Baltimore has a long history of people serving the community.  We hope to join that effort.

City Bible Church Baltimore will serve the city of Baltimore with a vision to connect people with Christ, help them grow in Christ, and inspire them to share Christ.

We want City Bible Church Baltimore to be  “a city where they could settle.”  Psalms 107:4,7.

People need clarity of vision and simplicity of mission to connect with something larger than their own lives. Jesus provides this purpose for life.

But to connect with Him, first you must ask: Who is Jesus Christ? What has He done for me? Why does this matter? How do I respond?

We are looking for the momentum of more prayer, team members, and money.  Please feel free to contact me with questions.

If you would like to donate: please visit www.citybiblechurch.org

You can click on Donations, Online Giving, when you click on “Categories” you will see “Other” select it and then “Baltimore Church Plant” will be an available option.  Thanks in advance!

Stay tuned as we build our team, move across country, and launch a church!

Check out:

www.cbcbaltimore.com

www.cbcbteam.com

…search for the Facebook Group “City Bible Church Baltimore”

follow benmalmin on twitter: http://twitter.com/benmalmin