Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Daniel Chapter 9- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Answered Prayer
Daniel 9

As we continue our study in Daniel we see that the prophecy in chapter 2 is fulfilled; King Cyrus now reigns on the throne and Babylon the great has been disposed. Daniel is reading Scripture and learns about the seventy years of exile. This drives Daniel to prayer and Gabriel comes to visit him with a prophetic revelation. Scholars agree that verses 24-27 are the most difficult verses to interpret and figure out (don’t worry if your group can’t completely understand them as they are a small portion of the entire text and Biblical scholars regularly discuss them).

1) Share about a time in your life where God answered your prayer. It might be something that just happened or a memorable time from the past.

2) Read Daniel 9:2. When times were difficult, Daniel turned to Scripture. What are some passages you regularly turn to when feeling down? What are some things, besides the Bible, you turn to when times are difficult?

3) Read Daniel 9:3-4. We read that Daniel had a vibrant prayer life and dedication to reading God’s word. What does your prayer life look like and how would you like to alter it based on Daniel 9?

4) Pastor Neal mentioned four other men who stepped in to intercede for God’s people. Moses (read Exodus 32:31-32). Elijah (Read 1 Kings 18:41-45). Jehoshaphat (read 2 Chronicles 20:3). Hezekiah (read 2 Kings 19:14-19). Who are others who interceded for God’s people?

5) Daniel prepared himself for prayer. What kind of ways do you prepare yourself for making your prayers effective, not only in getting answers, but also in changing your life and focus?

6) Read Daniel 9:21. God’s word said that Gabriel came in swift flight. it says nothing about him having wings. Bullets fly, arrows fly, and frisbees fly. What do you think angel travel looks like? Where else in Scripture does the Bible talk about angel travel?

7) Read Daniel 9:24-27. Pastor Neal explained the different ‘sevens’ that Gabriel spoke about. What do you think about these time periods?  

Close your time in prayer

Monday, October 29, 2018

Daniel Chapter 8- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Beyond Understanding
Daniel 8

Daniel now shares his second vision, and once more we read that animals are employed to symbolize empires. God’s people also needed to be warned of another crisis that would come in less than four hundred years after Daniel’s lifetime—the persecutions of a madman named Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163 b.c.).  His reign would be one of the most horrible periods of time for those who trust God. Thankfully God knew that for that brief, but dark period, His people would need hope that things will get better.

1) Why do you think God spoke so often in visions in Daniel’s time but that it doesn’t seem to happen any more?

2) Read Daniel 8:1-2. Daniel says that he was taken to Susa in the vision. Pastor Neal said that Susa was the new capital city for the Medo-Persian empire. Why do you think Cyrus moved his kingdom 200 miles to the south?

3) Read 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Isaiah 45:13. Both of these passages explain that God put Cyrus in his role. Name some people in politics who God has used without them knowing it.

4) Read Daniel 8:14. Do you think reference of 2300 evenings and mornings means 2300 days or 1150 days? Does that time period make a significant difference on history?

5) In Daniel 8 there are a number of angelic beams represented. Read Hebrews 13:2 and talk about how we are constantly surrounded by angels. If we are surrounded by angels, does this mean there are demons lurking about too?

6) Read Daniel 8:15-18. Through this interaction we see how much God cares for His people. We read that when Daniel was terrified, God sent an angel to comfort him. In what practical way(s) do you need God to comfort you this week?

7) In the latter half of Daniel 8 we read about how Antiochus outlawed anything regarding the practices of Judaism. If that happened today, how would you take the message of Jesus underground and share your faith?  

Close your time in prayer

Monday, October 15, 2018

Don't Check Your Email First

For years I would walk into the office, sit at my desk, and check my email first thing.

For years I would walking into the office with a long list to accomplish and allow emails to distract me for the first thirty minutes (or more).

For years I would allow other people's priorities to trump my priorities.

It was my fault! I was the one who allowed it. I would even schedule the first thirty minutes of my day to checking email. I would make sure that my team was good. That things were planned and moving forward. I would even "unsubscribe" from a thing or two that I was sick of getting email from.

Over a year ago I stopped checking email first. It has radically changed the way I work. Here are three reasons you should stop checking your email first thing in the morning:

1) It derails your day

Have you ever walked into the office in a chipper mood only to check your email and find yourself shift to irate in a matter of seconds? The email you loathed to read came through. You had a sermon to write, a meeting to prep for, a paper to create and now you are derailed?

You're not the only person. I wish I could count how many times I've allowed my emotions to shift based on an email. There are times my emotions rise, but there are times I see the name of a person and the subject and I know what is going to happen.

When you work at a complex organization this might be more difficult to avoid, but you can set your priorities. Maybe you start small and wait for an hour to check your email. See if anyone notices. See if you get more accomplished. Do a pilot version of not checking your email first and see what happens in your day.

2) You allow others to create your priorities 

This is the second reason I stopped checking my email is that I found myself allowing others to create priories in my life. Someone would email asking for help on a project. I would need to check a letter that was going to be sent. I had to approve a graphic, but it required a 30 minute conversation and now my whole day was thrown off.

You need to know that I like check lists.
I love checking off boxes and accomplishing things. I have ten different "To Do" lists on my phone and all are categorized.

You might be an organized person or unorganized. Either way, email allows others to dictate your time and priorities. Setting a schedule and a time to check emails helps you regain control of your life.

I've begun checking email two to three times a day. I normally check it around 11:30am, just before I take my lunch break. I can see if there is anything I need to do right now. I can delete the eight junk mail things. I can see if people need prayer or my team needs my help. I look for the email I've been waiting for on the idea I'm stoked on.

After lunch I check it again. I do this because I'm already distracted from lunch and have used my most creative time of the day. I can follow up with something I didn't get to. Then I can shut down my email and check once more before the day is done.

3) You loose some of your best creative time 

I'm convinced that when you check your email first, you loose your best creative time. I'm listening to a book right now called Rest and it's helping me to create better rhythms in my life.

You can check email at any time of the day. You can call customers at any time of the day. You can invoice any time of the day. You can order supplies any time of the day. You can.... any time of the day.

Use the morning to do your creative work. Spend a solid three hours to focus on what only you can do. Then check your email in the afternoon.

In fact, I've deleted my work email from my phone completely. It happened on accident when my email required me to reset my password. I had trouble with the app and got upset. I didn't need to check my email that much so I just deleted the app. And guess what, I didn't get fired. I didn't become less productive. I think I'm more productive.

Email causes us to look distraction on other projects, people, family, and to be less involved in the now. Now I just check email on my Mac and sometimes on my iPad if I feel like I have to.

I've gained more creative time and I'm accomplishing more what of what I want (in fact, I'm writing this on Monday afternoon and my sermon for Sunday is already done. I've also written small group questions for next week!)

What would change if you stopped checking email first and less?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Daniel Chapter 7- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Reason to Celebrate
Daniel 7

It would be no exaggeration to say that Daniel 7 is one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament. In this chapter Daniel has a vision of things to come. If Daniel’s God was able to deliver him from the lions den, then He surely has the ability to show Daniel the future. God’s messages through his prophet were of the utmost value to Daniel and his people, for through them God assured the Jews that the nation of Israel would endure. Just as God had great plans for Israel, God also has great plans for Coastline!

1) When you think of a kingdom or nation, what are the images that come to mind. What is needed for a nation to thrive? What are some great aspects of a kingdom?

2) Read Daniel 7:2-8. Daniel shares about the four beasts he saw in his dream. Many scholars think these beasts represent the different metals in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. What do you think these beasts have to do with the past Nations and future nations? Discuss the connection in Daniel 2 and 7.

3) Read Daniel 7:21. When you think about the brutality of mankind, what is something that truly scares you or has impacted you in history? Is there a way God might ask you to bring hope to people who’ve seen such violence?

4) What kind of things do you see in our world that remind you that the kingdom of Satan is alive and well? How does this move you to compassion for people and how might God be stirring you to act?

5) Read Daniel 7:9-10. Talk about the character of God in this scene. Now read Exodus 3:1-4. Talk about God being associated with fire in both scenes. What aspect of God’s character to long to know more? How will you seek God out more?

6) Read Daniel 7:11-14 and Revelation 1:12-20. How do these descriptions of Jesus match? What do you long for most when Jesus returns?

7) There are over 100,000 people in Ventura who are far from God. These people need to find peace in their life through the message of Jesus. What are some creative ways you can reach those who are far from the Lord?

Close your time in prayer

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Daniel Chapter 6- Small Group Questions

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel. For ten-weeks we're walking through the book and talking about living a courageous life. For this series I volunteered to write the small group questions that go along with each sermon. It seemed like a waste to leave them in a file on my computer and not share them with everyone.

Small Group Questions
Big Dreams. Small Decisions.
Daniel 6

Daniel in the lions’ den is one of the most famous Bible Stories. People reference being in the lions den when they encounter a tough situation. Daniel 6 is a story of God’s faithfulness on the night the lions fasted. The events occurred as the new government was being formed and Daniel remained faithful to God. Thus they must have taken place soon after Babylon had fallen to the Persians, likely within the first or second year. History tells us that some Jewish captives had returned to Palestine under the leadership of Zerubbabel, and Daniel was over eighty years of age.

1) Studies show that people who have a daily routine are some of the happiest people in the world. They leave less to daily decision which allows them to follow their plan and not emotion. What is something you do every day?

2) Read Daniel 6:1-5. Talk about how Daniel was faithful in his duties, faultless in his character and fervent in his prayer life. Describe a time when you, or someone you know, experienced difficulty at work for loving Jesus.

3) Read Daniel 6:10. Daniel lived a life of prayer. If he started this practice at 15 (when he was taken into captivity) and was over 80, he would have prayed for 65 years three times a day. That equals 71,175 prayers offered to God. What can we learn from Daniel’s faithfulness in prayer?

4) Daniel’s enemies knew that he would break the newly instated law because he was so faithful. What are you so faithful to doing on a daily basis?

5) When you think about your prayer life, what has impacted your desire, commitment, and faithfulness in prayer? Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Where do you want to grow in your knowledge and application of prayer?

6) Read Daniel 6:11-15. We see the impact Daniel had on the new king. He was faithful the king tried to save his life. What impact do you have on those who are watching your life and how you live it? Would they want to help you?

7) Read Daniel 6:21-22. Daniel was found innocent in the sight of God and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. Talk about the miracle of God intervening for mankind to save us.

Close your time in prayer

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Standing Tall

Not everyone survives the fury of a tyrant. Paul Schneider stood in line with other prisoners at Buchenwald concentration camp. It was April 20, 198, Hitleers’ forty-ninth birthday. In tribute all prisoners were ordered to remover their berets and worship the Nazi flag. All at once men began to venerate the flag, except for Paul. Paul stood tall while the others bowed. Nazi soldiers grabbed Paul, and whipped his back twenty-five times with a leather ox hide whip. He was also punished for failure to worship.

It takes courage to stand up to an evil power. Think of a time in your life when you stood up to a person who was doing something you morally opposed. What was the outcome? I’ve counseled people who lost their jobs when they went to their bosses to talk about unethical business practices. I’ve sat with people who felt abandoned because they wanted to maintain a pure relationship before marriage. I’ve seen the struggle students experience living for Jesus in a world that doesn’t honor that decision. Things don’t always work out the way we think they will when we stand up for what is right.

Our church is currently studying the book of Daniel (it's a great read)! In Daniel 3 we learn about three men who refused to bow to a powerful king.

There were six men in the crowd who stood tall while everyone else bowed (Daniel 3:8-12). We don’t have all the details to accurately reconstruct the seating chart but it appears the astrologers had a line of sight on the six knees that didn’t bow, while the king didn’t. These astrologers might be mad that these three Jewish men took their jobs twenty years ago and they may have been waiting all these years to find something against them. Today is finally the day they will get their vengeance against these men who worship the Lord.

Let me be clear; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have bowed and saved themselves,  but they would have spoiled it for the rest of the followers of God. Their standing tall was out of respect for God. Let me show you how easy it would have been for these men to avoid this situation they currently find themselves in. The music plays, each man drops a coin, they bend down to pick it up, wait for the music to end, and they are fine. But these are men of character and integrity. These are the kind of men who stand to worship God. They are like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who refused to stand around while a tyrant led with fear.

As we all know, tyrants don’t take too well to disobedience (read Daniel 3:13-15). In this chapter we read again that Nebuchadnezzar made the image of gold. He was trying to set up a false god. We also read a third time about the blazing furnace. This is fear-based leadership. Fear-based leadership doesn’t care for others, but uplifts self. But the king recognizes these men. They serve in his royal court. Nebuchadnezzar has some compassion because he offers them a second chance to live.

He offers them another opportunity to bow down to the image. The whole crowd is watching this go down. How will these men respond?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have circled up to discuss the matter. They could have said, “Hey, the furnace looks really hot. Let’s just bow down.”

They could have bowed their knees but not their hearts.

They could have reasoned that everyone was doing it, so they should just do it.

They could have gone with self-preservation over living for God but they refused.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
They basically say, “Save your orchestra fee, we will stand for God.” This was a first commandment principle for them; they were dedicated to putting God first in all areas of life.

Their decision is resolute. They don’t waiver in their commitment to God. They also remain respectful to a king who is furious. Their desire, their longing in life, was to honor God and they couldn’t accomplish that by bowing to a massive gold statue. I think verses 17 and 18 are the crux of the entire story. They know that God has the power to save them from death. They also know that God may not choose to save them. God may allow them to be martyrs and they are comfortable standing for God rather than bowing to an image made by human hands.

Their heart’s desire was to obey God. This should be our heart’s desire too! Our heart’s desire should be to obey God but all too often it isn’t. All too often we bow a knee to the false gods of our day. This week on Facebook I asked people to tell me what distracts them from God. Within an hour I had over thirty responses. People sharing about how social media, their phone, their job, their kids, being busy, work around the house, culture, busyness, TV, confusion, pain, laziness, stress, and bad priorities are some of the things that keep us from God.

I think that many of us echo those distractions. It is easier to check our phone than listen to God. It is easier to watch TV than to read the Bible. It’s easier to sleep in than to wake up and spend time with God. But these three men removed distractions in their lives so they could live fully for God in the face of death. This morning, will you make a commitment to be like these men? Commit to: stand for God when no one else will. There are times it will seem easier to bow than to stand. There are times you might get distracted like the rest of us. But standing for God is infinitely better than bowing to a false God.

Their decision is in defiance to the king. The king asked, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Their response is, the Lord our God.

You might know how the story ends, but listen again about the compassion of God (Daniel 3:24-25). The front facing opening of the furnace gave Nebuchadnezzar a front row seat to the greatness of God. There were four men walking around in the oven, unbound, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.

There is some question as to who the fourth man is. Maybe God sent an angel to protect these men. My heart wants to say, “This is Jesus Christ!” But I don’t have enough Scriptural evidence to say that with complete confidence this morning. We have to remember not to get our theology from king Nebuchadnezzar.

I wonder how many people went home that afternoon and examined their lives. The crowd had to leave thinking, “I want to know more about this God who saved these men.” This story is about a God who can save. Daniel three is about three courageous men who stood for God when everyone else bowed down to the tyrant. We see the care and compassion of God displayed in this story. We see the love, tenderness, and protection that God provides to those who stand for Him. Did you know God has a plan for your life and He wants you to stand for Him today. 

In 1906 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany. He was one of eight children and in his teens decided to be a pastor. He trained in seminary, preached, and taught college courses. He eventually studied in America but when Hitler rose to power, Dietrich was compelled to speak against the Nazi party.

His defiance to Hitler made him a target of the Nazi regime and he was forced to keep his mouth shut. But he refused to be silenced, and he shared secret knowledge with the outside world in attempt after attempt to stop Hitler.

He signed up with the German secret service to serve as a double agent. While traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about these locations but instead he helped Jews escape from Germany. Bonhoeffer was a pacifist but knew that something had to be done about the unfair capture and torture of Jewish people. Because of this, he became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler. Bonhoeffer played a role in two failed attempts to assassinate Hitler.

The secret service began closing in on him and other double agents. Finally, he was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, and then executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, as the Nazi regime was collapsing. He was thirty-nine when he lost his life standing up for God. His body was never recovered as it was thrown into a pile with others who stood up against Hitler’s regime.

There are times it might go well, on this earth, and times it may not. But the goal of our life is to stand for God when no one else will.