Learn God

Posted: May 21, 2012 by Rob Vanasco in Blogroll, Message
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Below is the written transcript of Rob’s message from Thursday, May 17, 2012…

A few years ago I started coming to FUSE. What I didn’t know when I first got here was that there was this guy who used to be a student at FUSE who had graduated and moved on to be an adult leader. When I arrived here he was off in India doing missions work. I heard Blake talk about him and he announced to everyone that he was keeping a blog of his travels. I read a couple entries and thought I had a pretty good idea of who this person was. He seemed cool, but probably too ‘Christian’ for my liking. I hadn’t even seen a picture of the guy, but I had already managed to decide whether or not I would like him.

Then he came back to FUSE one night and I got to meet Mike DeVore face to face. In an instant my opinion changed and I knew that this kid and I were going to be friends.

Tonight, I want to talk about friendship; about relationships, really.

When I was a sophomore in high school there was a girl in my geometry class who was a senior. We were all sitting around talking one day and she said something I never forgot. She said that when you are in 10th grade you meet and make your group of friends. When you are in 11th grade you hang out with that group all the time. But, by the time you are a senior, you are lucky if you have one or two really good friends.

Now, this was coming from a girl who was a senior, in a sophomore geometry class. It wasn’t gifted, or even honors; just a regular old basic geometry class. My first instinct was to write it off. What did this girl know about how my high school life was going to go? In my head, I figured that you just kept meeting new people in high school and so by your senior year you had the most friends you’d ever had in your whole life. This came from me, the 10th grader who just started in a public high school after 4 years in private school. I walked into high school knowing maybe 5 people, and most of those were because my brother had graduated from that school the year before.

As it turns out, that girl was right. I met a bunch of new people in 10th grade, and they all happened to know each other. Eleventh grade was awesome. We had a great group. We hung out all the time. We had our designated spot where we all met up after school, and we all parked around the same area so we could hang out in the parking lot. We knew each other’s families. We had car wash parties, and went jet skiing together. We T.P.-ed houses together, and snuck on golf courses late at night together. We went to parks on weekends to play football, or Frisbee, or whatever. We did all kinds of stuff. And then something happened.

A couple guys found girlfriends outside the group. A couple girls found boyfriends outside the group. A few people from the group started dating each other. Most of my senior year was spent with 2-3 people who I considered actual friends. By the time I graduated, I couldn’t stand to be around most of the people in that group.

What that experience taught, at the time, was that friends come and go. Relationships, many times, are temporary, which is true, but living life this way can also hurt relationships. If you can find those few people on this earth that you can spend year after year in fellowship with, then hold on to those people tightly.

Let’s talk about Mike some more.

If any of you have had the opportunity to spend any time with Mike you know that he is a little different. He has a different perspective on life, and the world, than most ‘normal’ people. He doesn’t respond to questions or comments like you would assume most people would. You know he has a huge heart for God. And you know that he is one of the smartest people you will ever meet.

And these are just some of the reasons why I like being around him.

I went to Mike a couple weeks ago to try to brainstorm ideas for what to talk about tonight. He asked me some questions that got me thinking in the right direction. We discussed a few ideas and it was clear that regardless of the ‘topic’ I chose, it was all going to come back to Jesus dying for our sins so that we could have a  relationship with God..

As we were texting back and forth I was thinking about relationships. I was thinking about how God is in constant pursuit of a relationship with you and me because he loves us so much. I wanted to give you some idea of how God does this. I wanted to show you, specifically, how God is pursuing you. But I can’t, as Mike reminded me, because I’m not God. His pursuit of a relationship with you is unique to you. That’s how special you are to him. So, I kept walking, and thinking about all the things Mike had said in our texts. And then I started thinking about my friendship with Mike.

While Mike and I hit it off pretty quickly, it took some time to really get to know each other. In fact, we are still in the process of getting to know one another. But, because Mike is different than most people I have met (which is one of the reasons I like him so much), it took some time to ‘learn Mike.’

I could have gone off my original assumption of Mike and carried on with my life. But instead, I chose to learn about who he is, about what he has done, what he likes, what he dislikes, what he loves, and what he hates. I’ve learned his strengths, and his weaknesses. And, through all this I have come to know him, and to appreciate him for who he is. If I would have stuck with my original assumption about who Mike is, then I would have missed out on finding someone who has become a brother to me.

Likewise, I could have picked up a Bible and read a few pages in Deuteronomy and decided that this God guy was too strict. He asked too much of people. There were too many rules. It was too closed minded. It wasn’t for me. And, if that were my only exposure to who God is, then I would have completely missed the point. So just as we learn each other, we must also learn God. Fortunately, regardless of if you know God or not, you are still in a closer relationship with him than you are with most of your friends.

Why? Because God learned you already. In fact, he designed you to be just the way you are.

Genesis 2:7 (NLT)

7 Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

He knows every hair on your head. He knows everything you have ever done right in your life, and he knows every single mistake you have ever made. He knows every thought you have ever had. He knows your fears, your strengths; everything.

Psalm 139:1-17 (NLT)

1 O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.4 You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD.5 You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!

He knows you pretty well.

And you know him a little bit too. You can feel him. Sometimes you hear him. Deep down, you know that he is out there somewhere.

Romans 2:14-15 (NLT)

14 Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it.15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.

That’s why you are here, right? Because you know, in your heart, there is something about this God guy. There is something you need from him, but maybe you just can’t quite figure it out. And that’s ok. God is cool with that. He’s just excited you are seeking him out. When you seek God, you find God. So if you are here tonight and you feel like you know him, but you want to know him better, then you are in the right place. And if you are here tonight because you don’t know him, but you want to, then you too are in the right place. Or maybe you don’t want to believe in him, but you have this nagging feeling that he is there; you’re in the right place. And maybe you knew him, but you feel like he screwed you over somehow. He dealt you a crappy hand in life and you are pissed off at him. Guess what? You’re in the right place too.

By the way. Regardless of how much you think you might have pissed him off in your life, you’re wrong. He still loves you. He still wants to be with you. He sees you as his perfect creation.

We are all seeking truth in our lives. We want to know that our life means something. Sometimes we feel worthless. Sometimes we feel like we can do nothing but mess up everything in our lives. We are useless. We are failures. We are phonies. But then there’s that little tiny, distant voice in the back of our heads saying that there must be more to life than this. “I’m meant for more than this. My life should mean something. There is something greater out there for me.” We are seeking truth. We want that vision of something better, something greater, or just something different.

When you seek truth, as you all are. It will lead you to Jesus. Because Jesus is truth.

John 14:6-7 (NLT)

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit are one truth. And the truth is that God designed us in his image and wants to love us, and wants us to choose to love him. He is truth. He never changes. He never gives up on you. He will always forgive you – He has forgiven you. He has forgiven you for every wrong you have ever done and every wrong you will ever do. He will always accept you. He will always love you. That’s the truth!

Why is he so hard to find of some of us?

Because there is this thing called sin. And there is this guy called the Devil who Blake talked about a couple weeks ago. And the Devil hates you. And he wants to keep you from having a relationship with God.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (NLT)

1 Listen! The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you,

nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.

Because of your sins, he has turned away

and will not listen anymore.

When we sin, we push god away.

Satan will do whatever he can to ruin your relationship with God. Many times, he will do this by trying to ruin your relationship with the people around you. He will attack your relationship with your parents, your best friend, your boyfriend or girlfriend. He will do whatever he can to make sure you suck at relationships so that when you try to have one with God, it fails too. (And if you are wondering – yes. He tried to attack my friendship with Mike too.)

Satan has taken the time to learn you, but not out of love. He has learned you out of hate. He knows how to manipulate you. He knows what lies you will believe. He knows just what buttons to push to make you think you are stuck in the life you have always had, and that there is nothing you can do to change your fear, your pain, your misery, or your depression. He knows how to keep you down, to keep you from the truth that God is right there for you; that God can be the strength you need to overcome Satan. He cannot control you, but he can lie to you. He can plant ideas in your mind. That’s called temptation. And it is up to you to choose what to do after that. When you follow Satan, you give him strength. When you deny him, you take that strength away.

Satan cannot keep you from God. He can damage your relationship with God, but he can’t severe it completely. All you have to do is believe the truth. When you believe that God has healed you — when you believe that he died for you so you could have a relationship with him for all eternity; when you live your life the way God designed — then you are protected from Satan. You put on the armor of God. And, you go boldly into battle. That’s what you get when you accept God’s love. That’s what you get when you give God your love.

Romans 8:35, 37-38 (NLT)

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

You can hit the reset button on your relationship with God tonight. You can kick Satan in the face and tell him to go somewhere else. You’ve got God in your corner and there is nothing the enemy can do to beat him. The battle for your soul was already fought, and won. All you have to do is to accept the truth and live your life knowing that your God, the one true God, is victorious; now, and forever.

I’m not going to ask you to stand up, or raise your hand or anything like that. I want you to sit there with your eyes closed and think. I want you to listen to your heart; get passed all the stress from your life, the text messages that are waiting for you, and the facebook status updates. Forget about the homework you have waiting for you at home, or that thing with your parents that you are going to have to deal with. Forget about your boyfriend, or girlfriend, or that person you like that is sitting in here tonight who you want to talk to. This moment is between you and God. Clear your mind and answer these two questions. Do you want to have a relationship with your creator, God? And, are you honestly willing to take the time to seek the truth and learn God?

If you answered yes, then I want you to pray this prayer in your head. And, take the time when we are done tonight to talk to Blake, or myself, or one of the other leaders with whom you have built a relationship.

Let’s Pray…

Lord, thank you for this day. Thank for this opportunity to hear the message you have for us. Please forgive me of my sins. Wipe me clean so that you may hear my prayer.

I come to you today, confessing that I am lost – that I have ignored your call, run from your embrace, and hidden myself from you through my sins. Help me to know you Lord. I choose today to begin a new relationship with you, to seek you, and to trust in your will for my life. Help me to give up my old ways of thinking, to ignore the lies that Satan would use to keep us apart, and to overcome my fears and doubts.

Lord, you promise that everyone who calls on your name will be saved, and I am calling. And, whoever confesses with their mouth  that Jesus is Lord and believes in their hear that you raised him from the dead will be saved, and I believe.

Today I choose you because you love me. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for humbling yourself, coming down to this earth, and dying for me so that I can spend eternity with you.

From today, forward I ask that you guide me to a closer relationship with you. And I commit to putting by faith, and my trust in you, and only you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


We had our second session on Wednesday night and discussed God’s word. Last week’s class was cancelled because no one showed, which worked out for the best considering I was speaking this week at FUSE and needed the extra time to prepare.

One of the things from these chapters was just how meticulous the scribes of the old testament were in keeping accurate records. It was amazing to see the processes they had to follow and learn just how much the dedicated themselves to keeping records.

Here is the list of guideline the Masoretic Scribes had to follow when copying the text:

  1. the scroll must be written on the skin of a clean animal

  2. each skin must contain a specified number of columns, equal throughout the entire book

  3. the length of each column must extend no less than 48 lines or more than 60 lines

  4. the column breadth must consist of exactly 30 letters

  5. the space of a thread must appear between every consonant

  6. the breadth of nine consonants had to be inserted between each section

  7. a space of three lines had to appear between each book

  8. the fifth book of Moses (Deuteronomy) had to conclude exactly with a full line

  9. nothing – not even the shortest word – could be copied from memory; it had to be copied letter by letter

  10. the scribe must count the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurred in each book and compare it to the original

  11. if a manuscript was found to contain even one mistake, it was discarded

It’s pretty clear that these guys took their jobs very seriously.

And then, just as amazing, to learn just how much information there was supporting the new testament scriptures as well. We talked about how historians use both the number of remaining manuscripts and the expanse of time in between the actual events and the oldest manuscripts to judge the validity of a historical text. Here are some examples:

  1. Homer’s Illiad

    1. time gap: 400 years

    2. # of copies: 643

  2. Plato

    1. time gap: 1300 years

    2. # of copies: 7

  3. New Testament

    1. time gap: 50-400 years

    2. # of copies: 24,600+

So when people say, “well they just found a new gospel and it says Jesus was married… blah blah blah” you can ask about how many copies of that manuscript there are and when it was written in relation to the actual, factual, events of the new testament. The text that we have is the text that has been tested and is known to be true. And now, we have more and more archaeological evidence to back-up what we read in the text.Though it was a small group, just 3 of us, we had a very positive, in depth conversation regarding the validity of God’s word and the truth, and joy, that it brings to our lives. We talked about the provision and protection we are promised when we follow the word of God. And, we agreed that it was one of the greatest ways to improve our personal relationship with our creator.

Next week (this week) we will be discussing Original Sin!

Unshakable Truth

Over the next 12 weeks our high school small group will discuss the book, Unshakable Truth, by Josh & Sean McDowell. Each week we will cover 1 truth that Christians believe and why we believe it.

The 12 truths we will cover are: God Exists; God’s Word\The Bible; Original Sin; God Became Human; Christ’s Atonement for Sin; Justification Through Faith; Living the Transformed Life; Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection; The Trinity; God’s Kingdom; The Church; and the Return of Christ.

There is a DVD that goes along with the book so while I read the book, the students will watch the DVD each week, and I will go over the highlights from the book, answer questions about the DVD, and engage them in conversation to get them talking about their faith and try to help uncover the reasons why we are Christians. Not only will this help them connect to their faith, and God, on a deeper level, but will also help them when talking to their parents, friends, co-workers, and classmates who might not have taken the opportunity, yet, to accept God’s gift of salvation.

While I think this series will be helpful for a lot of the students at FUSE, I am hopeful that the group will remain small so as to promote deeper conversation, and deeper understanding. Although, I am leaving it totally up to God. He will use it as He sees fit and I am just going to be here to facilitate the class. Pray that I can keep my pride/ego out of it.

God Exists

Wednesday night we had our first session. There were 4 of us and we had a great discussion.

We began the night in prayer. I explained the format of the sessions, and then we watched an overview of the DVD series, followed by the ‘God Exists’ portion of the DVD. Sean and Josh McDowell spend about 15 minutes on each topic. I had outlined the chapters associated with the topic and after the DVD portion was over we discussed what they went over.

I think we are all looking for signs of God’s existence. We either want to see him, or want to be reminded that he is there. And then there are those who want to not see him.

We discussed three main beliefs about the existence of God; 1) that he is nature, and we can become one with him and achieve God-like status, 2) that he is creator, but is not involved in our day to day lives, but rather works from a distance, and 3) that he is creator, that sin separates us from him, that he came down in the form of man and died so that direct relationship could be re-established, and is desperately trying to connect with us on a personal, and intimate level.

We discussed the evidence for his existence. We talked about the complexity of the human body, the world we live in, and the universe as a whole – the idea that there is just too much precise information needed for each of these things for them to have happened by chance. We talked about time and space itself and how it was started – the idea that something could not have been created from nothing and that there has to be the existence of something outside space and time as we know it that was able to set it all into motion. And, we talked about our personal experiences with God. As far as I am concerned, my personal experience is all the proof I need.

I have seen God work in my life. I have heard his voice. I have felt his hand on me, and watched him work in the lives of the youth around me. But, other people, non-believers mainly, need more. They need tangible evidence. They can’t get that from a book. They can’t get it from a conversation with me, regardless of how smart I am, or how much biblical knowledge I have. The only way anyone can truly know God is to truly seek God. Seek truth, and you will find Jesus. Because, as the DVD points out, Jesus is truth. The problem that I see is that most people aren’t truly seeking truth. They like to say they are ‘looking’ but only in an attempt to put it off – to not have to make a decision, to not find truth and be shown the sin in their life.

When we go seeking we not only find God, we find out that we need to change the way we live; not because our faith is a list of rules in regulations, but because when you are in love with your creator, you find the desire to live the way you were designed to live. And, when you strive to live that way, you find a freedom that you never thought possible. I may have only tasted a small piece of this freedom so far, but I can say from personal experience that it is way better than trying to live life ‘my way.’ It’s not without pain. It’s not without suffering. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:39 that if we cling to our life, we will lose it, but if we give up our life for him, we will find it.

If it is truth you are seeking, then look no further than Christ. But, don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.

Most of what we discussed Wednesday night was about relationship with God. I think that will continue to be the underlying theme of this series. In the end, it is all about how we accept God’s love into our lives and how we choose to have a relationship with him. This will also dictate how we relate to our environment, and the people in our lives.

So far this has been a fascinating series and I don’t want to communicate to much of the message of the book here because I really feel that people should read it on their own…or attend our next session when we will discuss ‘God’s Word.’

Colossians 2:7-9 (NLT)

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.

Last night, a group of 8 of use from the To Save a Life group, met up to enjoy some fellowship time and eat some sushi at Hook’s, in St. Petersburg. We spent a couple hours enjoying each other’s company, trying different rolls, and building atop the foundations of our friendships.

And now, as I look back over the last 7 weeks, I have fond memories of the time we spent together. We learned a lot about each other and about what the Lord commands from us as His followers. We learned that we can’t wait for God to bring us the hurting and the lost, but we must reach out to them. We learned that we are all hurting in some way. We learned the importance of having a group of people in which we can open up, and expose ourselves to, in order to heal.

I think the most important thing we can take from this class is that God loves us. It seems like such a simple thing and people will say, if you ask them, “Oh, I know God loves me.” But, I don’t think we as humans can really comprehend the immense love that He has for us. We can read about it, and talk about it all day, every day, but until you experience it, you cannot begin to understand the depths of His love. Until you feel His arms wrapped around you in your darkest, most painful moments, you have no idea. Until you look back at an experience in your life and see how God had his hand on your shoulder, you’ll never know. And until you give into God, and accept His love, then you will always be left empty, and wanting. You will try to find that love in other ways – ways that will most certainly lead to more pain, and more emptiness.

Non-believers want us as Christ followers to show them God. If they see God, then they will believe. But, the world has corrupted our thinking so much that this just isn’t possible (that I know of), and non-believers have a very hard time with the truth; believe, and then you will see. Live for God and God will reveal Himself to you. Die to yourself so that you may live eternally for Him.
Now I can’t sit here and say I have 100% given myself over to Him. I wish I could, and I am working towards that, but the world still has a grip on parts of me. Jesus would look at me and say, “why do you have so little faith?” and I wouldn’t be able to respond. But the more I give over to Him, the more I feel His love. And the more I feel His love, the more I want to give of myself. And I think that is what we have to do.

Some might be able to jump in full force and leave themselves behind and charge on towards heaven in glorious victory over the adversary. But most people, I think, have to take baby steps. God loves us all the same, full-fledged believer, casual Christian, or non-believer. He wants the same for us all. It is just that some of us have already accepted that free gift. Some of us chose to believe and can now see. And it is our responsibility to return a portion of the love that God gives us, and show others that God’s love is available to them as well  (Luke 10:27).

To those of you who believe, I say move forward. Always move forward. Some of you will take giant leaps forward, and some of you will move an inch. But if we are all moving forward, and we are all helping each other along, then one day we can look to our left, and look to our right, and see that we have locked arms with a mighty nation of believers who all stand for one common purpose – and in doing so we find a an adventure, a sense of brotherhood, and the confidence to be bold in our beliefs.

We are moving forward then, on to our next adventure. We will start a new group at the beginning of April and go through a 12 week series on Josh McDowell’s book, The Unshakable Truth. In our new journey we will uncover more about what it means to experience Christ, what it is we believe, and the truth behind those beliefs.

Please continue to pray for us. I will be inviting more students from FUSE to join us and am looking forward to seeing who God calls to the group.

Stepping Into the Bigger Story

Group Stats:
11 students

  • 11 returning
  • 0 new

We had a bit of a rough start last night. We had some slight technical difficulties. And, as a result of our close bond, we had a room full of people that just wanted to talk/fellowship. We quickly reviewed week 5 and a couple students shared stories about people they had talked to over the last seven days.

One student heard God calling him to speak to a girl at his school whom he found sitting alone in a stairwell. He shared with her how God had transformed his life. In the process, he planted a seed that god can now use to begin moving in this young woman’s life.

Another student approached one of his teachers whom he had trouble with almost 4 years ago and asked for forgiveness. The two shook hands and we able to talk. I am sure the teacher was deeply touched by the gesture.

A third student shared how she had invited her friend to FUSE last week and it completely opened his heart to attending church again. He had a bad experience as a child and didn’t think church was a place for him, but after hearing the speakers last week and witnessing the FUSE family, he got hooked and will be attending youth group on a regular basis now.

I don’t know why I am surprised by these stories. I feel a bit like the disciples watching Jesus calm the waters. Still, the fact that these students are taking what they have heard in group and applying it to their everyday life is amazing. Thank you for your prayers, and praise God for using this time to impact the lives of each of these students.

After ‘story time’ we prayed for the evening. Things began to calm down a bit.

We watched our clip from To Save a Life for the evening. It the clip, Jake, and the other students from the youth group, begin meeting together in the quad during lunch. Some kids laugh and make fun of them. Other kids look on and wonder what they are doing. Some kids even walk over and sit down with them. As a result of this, Jake sees Jonny sitting off by himself. Jake walks over and invites Jonny to join them, but Jonny declines. Later, Jonny ends up joining them and makes new friends and finds a reason to live as a result of feeling wanted by the group.

So the purpose of the community was to come together as believers. As a result of this, non-believers found their way to the group. And, it gave the believers a reason to talk to the lost and hurting. Jake didn’t have to go over and try to save Jonny. He didn’t have to prepare some big speech and ask question after question until Jonny admitted that he was broken and needed a savior. He didn’t have to argue with Jonny about the existence of God. He just wanted to invite him to come eat with him and his friends. The community made it easier to reach out. God could use this small gesture to make a big difference in Jonny’s life. The montage in the film is very reminiscent of the early church, and something we need more of today.

I decided not to write/deliver a message for this week. Instead I wanted to have a real discussion with the group about community — as a community. We read Acts 2:42-47 as a primer for our discussion:

The Believers Form a Community

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”

We talked about the importance of coming together as a community of believers and how that would make it easier to reach out to others. We aren’t in this alone. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t need a degree in theology. We just need to be able to build relationships and love.

I prepared a series of questions to get the students thinking/talking about community:

  1. What is community?
  2. What could you do at your school to increase the level of community and reach out to the lost and hurting?
    1. How do you keep this going?

We spent quite a bit of time on question 2. Half the students in our group go to the same high school so we focused on it. They had different ideas about meeting up at lunch or before school. However, each idea was met with a, “yeah, but….” There kept popping up a reason why their ideas wouldn’t work.

I so wanted to come up with some great ideas that we could work on implementing, but God had different plans, and I could see that we weren’t getting anywhere so I simply asked them, “If there was a vehicle for you to be a part of a community of believers who met to encourage each other, uplift each other, and grow spiritually together, would you want to be a part of it?

It was unanimous. Everyone wanted to be a part of it. So, that’s square one. The desire it there, now we just need to find the vehicle.

I also let them know that when we do find the vehicle that they would have a huge responsibility to not just talk the talk of a Christ follower, but walk the walk as well. All eyes will be on them, waiting for them to mess up so that someone can scream, “hypocrite.” But I don’t see that happening. I have faith that God will direct the community and they will find themselves, as the early church did, adding to their numbers daily.

In order to help them deal with this responsibility, I asked them to think about the following questions and either answer in the group or speak to me privately:

  1. Where are you spiritually?
  2. Where do you want to be spiritually?
  3. How can you get there?
  4. How can I help you get there?

Those who spoke felt that they were doing well spiritually, but could do better. They all want to be ‘better Christians’ and will do that by going to church, being a part of small groups, praying, and getting into the word. I feel like they have a good grasp on the ‘what to do’ and we just need to work on actually doing it.

The discussion naturally shifted towards what the students would like to be doing to grow. One student wants to start going door to door, talking to people and telling them about God’s love. Another student said he would go with him (which was pretty cool because the two students hardly know each other). A couple students talked about getting a booth at the local flea market; someplace where there is a lot of foot traffic and people could stop and ask questions and the students could minister to them which lead to talk about organizing fundraisers. We talked about doing a car wash at the church…

We ended up having a great discussion on community. The students respected each other as they spoke (after a while) and those who chose to speak had the opportunity to do so without feeling like someone else in the group was going to put down there idea.

All the students have a strong desire to get out into our local community. We will be actively seeking out ways we can do local missions trips and really make and impact on the city of St. Petersburg, as well as participating in over-seas missions.

One of the students prayed and we ended the evening.

So that was it. We are done with this series now. Next week we will meet as a group and go out to eat together. After that, we will take a couple weeks off while I look for another series for us to do together and we will get started again in April.

Pray that we can find a way for these students to have a community group at their schools. And, pray for our high schools as a whole. There are so many students walking around, desperately looking for help, but afraid to ask for it. There are students who honestly believe that they are screaming out for help by staying silent, but that no one sees them. We pass by people every day that are contemplating suicide or dealing with some sort of addiction and who assume that they are alone. Pray that God puts those people in our path and gives us the courage to open our mouths and do something small that God can use to save a life.

Stepping Into the Bigger Story

This will be our final week in the To Save a Life series. I will write another post on my thoughts on the series as a whole. I want to make sure to keep the focus on the lesson this week and not get distracted by my reflections on the last 6 weeks.

We will be discussing community this week. Our main focus will be Acts 2, or what I always think of as the golden era of Christianity. This was a time when people were working together for a common purpose. The Holy Spirit was guiding the community. People were getting saved. A strong sense of community was built. Life was exciting. They were on an adventure. But, somewhere along the line, the excitement went away.

I think we see glimpses of that feeling of adventure in the church today. Someone gets an idea to start a new small group, or community group, and they drum up some excitement in a circle of friends. A few outsiders join the group and they go out and do their thing for a few weeks or months. It seems great, much like the group of students that’s involved with this series. A family unit is formed and things are exciting. And then something happens. Life gets in the way. Family, jobs, and responsibilities take over and the group dwindles or changes in a way that the original group sees and thinks, “man, this sure was a lot better when…” and before you know it the group is done and gone. On to the next new thing. I suppose that these flash in the pan groups serve a purpose. After all, God uses all things for good and if one person chose to follow God, or felt God’s love as a result of that group, then it was a success.

But what happened to the church? We are all supposed to be one body working towards one goal. We are supposed to be breaking bread together and helping each other stay the course. We are supposed to be adding to our numbers daily. But I don’t see that happening.
ImageThe first person I blame is me. I’m not doing enough. I’m not saying enough. I’m not creating the very thing I am looking for. I get caught up in my own issues. I look back and say, “man, things were a lot better when….”

I’m rambling here, I know. But, I am trying to work through a thought on community. How do we come together as one body when we can’t even agree on what the Bible means? We get caught up in semantics. We argue about which translation of the bible is the best. We spend hours discussing what Jesus may have meant. And in all our disagreements we are divided.

The world doesn’t look at us and see the body of Christ. They see a house divided, and crumbling. They see Catholics, Protestant, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and so on. They see denomination, not community. What happened to our common goal? How are we supposed to create community when most of us don’t even want to live in the same neighborhood? The world can just sit back and watch us fade away.

I don’t have the answers. But I think we can all agree (oh, I know…we can’t) that if we are to have a true revival; if we are to stop ourselves from fading away and save the truth, then we have to come together and remember what it was we were commanded to do – to be His witnesses, to tell people about Him everywhere.

So this week we are going to talk about how the students can come together in their schools. We will discuss ideas for bringing people together and creating something that might last long after they are graduated and gone…a grandiose idea, for sure, but if we don’t dream big then we don’t give God the opportunity to do big things.

How to Save a Life

Group Stats:
11 students

  • 3 new
  • 8 returning

It was nice to see some new faces this week. And I loved the fact that they were willing to jump right in and share. That shows that the other students have created a comfortable, friendly, loving environment for visitors. They aren’t some exclusive club sectioning themselves off from the rest of the population to learn about how to be Christ followers in private. Ha! If they were, then I failed them, and this course was a waste of time.

We kicked off the night with a review from last week. I asked a few questions to make sure they were paying attention to the message last week and responses were favorable. There was a lot of energy in the room and just about everyone was eager to share something (whether it pertained to the question or not).

We also took a few minutes to discuss the recent school shooting in Ohio. One or two of the students were not aware of what happened and we filled each other in the best we could. The young man who entered the school with a gun is exactly the kind of lost and hurting soul that we have been discussing throughout this class. We agreed that his family situation and the bullying he faced at school was no excuse for him to do what he did, but that it was clear that there were some big hurts in this child’s life that he didn’t know how to deal with.

The whole situation proves that what we are learning about is not just stories or movies that some religious leaders made up to scare kids into believing what they want them to believe. Rather, these are real life situations. These are real people. What we are learning matters and we really can positively affect the lives of the people around us!

That’s what I wanted to say to the group anyway, but it didn’t quite come out that way.

I prayed for the evening and we settled in to talk about this week’s topic.

We didn’t have the TV/DVD player to watch the clip from the movie (my fault, I forgot to request it), but we did briefly discuss the scene we would have watched where Jake reads a letter from Jonny near the end of the movie. We discussed how Jake’s small acts of kindness are what really save Jonny and how, in our own experience, just being there to listen to someone talk, to compliment someone, or even how just smiling at someone can make a big difference to them whether we realize it or not.

I then asked the students what they had gotten out of this series so far. I was very pleased with the feedback. The students talked about different activities we had done like the ‘crossing the river’ exercise and re-writing each other’s log lines. They talked about how great it was that they could be so open and honest with the group and the reason we could be so open was because we all had this common purpose in our desire to be closer to God and to help others. It warmed my heart to listen to them talk. They’ve actually been listening! They’ve actually gotten something out of this experience. God has been able to work here! Good stuff.

I was also able to share with them what this class has meant to me so far. God has really used it to make some big positive changes in my life and I can feel Him preparing me for something bigger.

This led us into the message for the week on How to Save a Life. I felt pretty good about the message, especially since after I finished writing it, I read Romans 12 and found that Paul’s letter and my message were pretty similar. I considered using Romans in place of what I wrote, but instead gave it to them as homework. What it boils down to is that we are called to love God, and love our neighbors. If we are obedient in these two tasks, then God can use us to change people’s lives and thus, change the world.

Their challenge this week is to go out and show God’s love to someone. They are a great group and this is probably something they do anyway without even thinking about it. I want them to be aware of it this week and to report back to the group.

Next week will be our last actual week of the course. The guide says week 6 should be a big pot-luck meal. The students are to invite people from their schools who are lost and hurting. After giving it much thought/prayer and listening for an answer, I felt like this idea was too forced. The students should be taking what they learned out into the world and loving on other people. If that means inviting them to FUSE, or to church on Sunday morning, then fantastic. If that means they are a good friend to them at school and make it a point to help those students feel less lonely and more loved, then that is fantastic too.  But having a party for these people just doesn’t feel right. So we are skipping the pot-luck and will move joyfully into week 7; the final session of the class.

Please don’t stop praying for us! We need as much as we can get right now. Pray that our eyes and our hearts are open and able to see the lost and hurting around us; to see past the walls and masks that people build and wear. Pray that God uses us to touch the hearts of these people and show them what it really means to follow Christ.