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Easter 2014 – Where Is God in My Struggle?

Where Is God in My Struggle?
by Rick Warren

“Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!” (Luke 24:31 NLT)

Ever feel like God is a million miles away? The truth is, he’s not. Whatever struggle you’re going through, you can rest assured you’re not alone. You have God in your corner.

But you’re not the only one who has ever wondered where God was during a struggle. On the very first Easter morning, right after Jesus’ Crucifixion, the disciples wondered the same thing. In Luke 24, we learn about one particular pair of these disciples who were walking down the road to Emmaus, talking about all that had transpired over the previous few days – Jesus’ arrest, beating, and Crucifixion – and trying to make sense of it all. They thought Jesus was the Messiah; their dream was crushed. They had heard reports that Jesus’ grave was empty. They were very confused.

Suddenly Jesus himself came alongside the disciples and joined them in their journey. Yet they were in so much grief, they didn’t notice him. Jesus asked about what they were discussing, and so the disciples let him in on the discussion. Jesus went on to share Old Testament passages that explained the events of the past few days.

That night, as they ate dinner with Jesus, the Bible says that “Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!” Luke 24:31 (NLT)

Imagine what that experience was like for these disciples. The guy they thought was God was crucified and dead. Then they hear he’s been resurrected, but they don’t believe it. Then a stranger walks along the road with them, eats with them, and suddenly they realize that it’s God himself! And then he disappears.

The disciples couldn’t see Jesus in their grief. They needed God to show himself to them.

You do, too. I don’t know what you’ve lost this year – whether it’s a loved one, your health, your job, a relationship, or a really big deal. But, if you’ve had a loss like that, you may have missed the fact that God has walked through the entire experience with you.

You were never, ever alone during that time. You couldn’t see him, but he was there.

Ask God to show himself to you. He wants you to see him. He wants you to know you were never alone.

Talk It Over

o    How does God show his presence to you?
o    How do you think grief blinds us to the ways that God is providing for us?

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Easter 2014 – Salvation Is Really Free – Come As You Are

Is Salvation Really Free?
by Rick Warren

“All need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24 NCV)

If you were to ask 100 people on the sidewalk, “How do you get to Heaven?” you’d get a lot of different answers that could be summarized by the idea that you have to earn your way to Heaven. You’d hear things like, “Try to be good and do your best” or “Work really hard at being a moral person” or “Do more good things in life than you do bad things.” All of these ideas are based on works, not grace.

But salvation is a gift, and you don’t work for a gift. It’s free! You can’t earn it, you can’t buy it, and you can’t work for it.

This is the fundamental difference between Christianity and every other religion. Christianity is the only religion that’s built on grace. Every other religion is based on works, and you can summarize them in one word: “do.” There are certain things you have do in order to gain God’s approval, to gain bliss, to gain heaven. There are always rules, regulations, and rituals – something you have to do.

On the other hand, if you were to summarize Christianity in one word, it’s the word “done.” Jesus Christ has already paid the price for you on the cross. It’s done!
A guy asked me one time, “Pastor Rick, what can I do to be saved?” I said, “You’re too late!” (That kind of shocked him.) “You’re about 2,000 years too late! What needed to be done for your salvation has already been done, and you can’t do anything about it.”

Jesus Christ already did it. He paid for your salvation on the cross, and it’s now a free gift to you. That’s why when he was hanging on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” He didn’t say, “I am finished,” because he wasn’t. He’s still alive today. The “it” is your salvation. The plan to provide grace for every person is finished.

Romans 3:24 says, “All need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ” (NCV).
You won’t get to Heaven based on what you do. You get to Heaven based on what has already been done for you by Jesus Christ.

When you really understand grace, you will accept it, because it is the greatest gift you’re ever going to be offered.

Talk It Over
o    Why do you think it’s so hard for people to accept a free gift? Why would they rather work for it?
o    What do you think God expects you to do after you’ve accepted his gift of salvation?
o    What effect has the freedom of salvation had on your life?

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Come As You Are
by Rick Warren

“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8 NLT)

Everything that Jesus did for you, he did out of love. The Bible says that God made you to love you. The only reason you’re alive is because you were made to be loved by God.

If God didn’t want you alive, your heart would stop instantly; you wouldn’t even be breathing right now. God made you and wants you alive so he can love you and so you can love him back.

God didn’t just say he loved you; he showed it. The Bible says, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). It says while we were still sinners. Before I even knew God or knew I needed God in my life, Jesus died for me.

There’s a myth that says I’ve got to clean up my act before I can come to God: “I’ve got to get it all together. There are a few things I’ve got to get right in my life first, and then I’ll come to God.” No! You come to God with your problems – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It’s like when we brush our teeth before we go to the dentist to have a teeth cleaning or when we wash the dishes before we put them in the dishwasher or when we pick up the house before the maid gets there. Why do we do this?

God says, “No, no! You don’t have to clean up your act. Just bring it all to me. Bring me all your problems. I have all the answers. Come as you are.”

The Bible says, “He will send down help from heaven to save me because of his love” (Psalm 57:3a LB). That’s what Jesus did on Easter. He sent himself from Heaven to save us because of his love. So you can bring your problems to God, because he has the answer.

If you don’t act on this news, then the death of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection are wasted for you personally. It makes no difference in your life. You may recognize the gift, but you still have to receive it.

“You will be saved, if you honestly say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death. God will accept you and save you, if you truly believe this and tell it to others” (Romans 10:9-10 CEV).

God is not asking you to make a promise you cannot keep. God is asking you to believe a promise that only he can keep.

Talk It Over
What do you need to let go of that you have been trying to clean up so you can approach God?
What does Easter mean to you personally? How does celebrating it draw you closer to God?
How does your life reflect the extravagant love God has for you and that you have accepted?

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Easter 2014 – Today Is The Day To Be Saved!

Today Is the Day to Be Saved!
by Rick Warren

“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NLT)

When the criminal hanging next to Jesus on the cross asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). With his response, Jesus was also giving us four characteristics of salvation that we can trust and believe in.

First, he said “today.”
That means salvation is immediate. The moment you ask Jesus Christ to save you, it is done. When you die, you either go straight into the presence of God or you go straight into separation from God.

Second, salvation is certain. He said, “Today you will.”
Not “You might,” not “I hope.” Not “Let me think about it.” When God says “You will,” you will. When you accept Christ, you can be certain of your salvation.

Third, salvation is a relationship. He said, “You will be with me.”
Salvation is not a religion. It’s not rules or regulations or rituals. Salvation is a relationship. That relationship doesn’t begin when you get to Heaven; it begins here on Earth. Jesus Christ wants to be your best friend, wants to talk to you all the time. God made you for a relationship with him!

Fourth, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Heaven is a real place, and it is forever.

There were two criminals crucified with Jesus, one on either side. Jesus gave them the choice of salvation, and he gives you the same choice. He’s not going to force you to love him. He’s not going to force you to trust him, and he’s not going to force you to accept Heaven. There are two responses. One of those criminals rejected Jesus, and the other turned to him in faith. You can make the same choice.

Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (NLT). If you’re ready to call on the name of the Lord and you acknowledge these truths about salvation, then settle this issue of your eternal destiny once and for all.

“This is the hour to receive God’s favor; today is the day to be saved!” (2 Corinthians 6:2 TEV)

Talk It Over
What is the proof in your life that you are assured of your salvation?
How should the reality of Heaven and Hell change the way we share the Gospel with others?
Ask God to lead you to someone who is calling on the name of the Lord that you can help lead to salvation or disciple. Who is God bringing to your mind?

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How Do I Know I’m Saved?
by Rick Warren

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

In Luke 23:42, one of the criminals hanging next to Jesus on the cross prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (NIV).
Notice that he didn’t ask Jesus to stop his pain, although he would have been in excruciating pain on the cross. By that time, Jesus was famous for doing miracles, but the man didn’t ask Jesus to save him from death, either.

He said, “Jesus, remember me.” Why? Because he knew that his deepest need was salvation from sin - not just salvation to get into Heaven. He believed in Jesus.
The Bible says in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (NIV).

So how do you know for sure that you’re saved? How do you know you’re going to Heaven when you die? How can you be certain? How can you eliminate your doubt?
Your assurance of salvation is not by your works, because you can’t earn your salvation. Your assurance of salvation is not by your feelings, because feelings come and go.

What is your assurance of salvation? The promise of God’s Word. If God says it, that settles it, because God cannot lie. You can trust the promise of God’s Word. You can rest in it.

Jesus replied to the criminal hanging on the cross, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). Your assurance of salvation is the same: God’s promise that you will be in Heaven with him one day if you believe in faith.

Talk It Over
o    How do you know you can trust the Bible and God’s promises?
o    What are the things people try to add to salvation instead of accepting the simple promise of God’s Word?
o    How should you live differently when you have assurance of salvation through Christ?

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A Lamp For My Feet – W181 – Salvation

Salvation
‘What the law was powerless to do…God did by sending His own Son…’ Romans 8:3 NIV

The Bible says: ‘A certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said…”Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.’ (Luke 18:18-23 NKJV)

This man had already achieved the three P’s of success: power, prosperity and prestige. He was a bottom-line guy: ‘What must I do?’ Even the way he worded the question suggests he thought he could get eternal life the way he’d gotten everything else-by self-effort. He mistakenly assumed that Heaven was just a payment away, but it’s not. Only a cold-hearted God would sell salvation to those who can afford it. That’s a hard concept to grasp since we’re rewarded for our performance. But just as you wouldn’t impress Picasso with your crayon sketch, so your character and good works don’t qualify you for Heaven. Eternal life costs more than you can afford. That’s why you don’t need a résumé, you need a redeemer. Money wasn’t this man’s problem, self-sufficiency was. It wasn’t his income that kept him out of God’s Kingdom, but his ego. And it’s not just the wealthy who have difficulty grasping this-so do the educated, the strong, the good-looking, the popular and even the religious.

To receive salvation you must first acknowledge that you’re spiritually bankrupt, your cupboard bare and your reputation worthless. You can’t approach God demanding justice-you can only come pleading for mercy. And if you come today, that’s what you’ll get!

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A Lamp For My Feet – W180 – Allow Christ to Live Through You

Allow Christ to Live Through You
by Rick Warren

“God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13 NLT)
It is the Holy Spirit’s job to produce Christ-like character in you.

You cannot reproduce the character of Jesus on your own strength. New Year’s resolutions, willpower, and best intentions are not enough. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to make the changes God wants to make in our lives. The Bible says, “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13 NLT).

Mention “the power of the Holy Spirit,” and many people think of miraculous demonstrations and intense emotions. But, most of the time, the Holy Spirit’s power is released in your life in quiet, unassuming ways that you aren’t even aware of or feel.

Christ-likeness is not produced by imitation but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us.
How does this happen? Through the choices we make. We choose to follow Jesus in all situations and then trust God’s Spirit to give us his power, love, faith, and wisdom to do it. Since God’s Spirit lives inside of us, these things are always available for the asking.

Talk About It
How has the Holy Spirit been working in your life? Have you ever claimed those works as your own?
What do your recent choices say about how much you want God to produce Christ-likeness in you?

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

This devotional (c) 2012 by Rick Warren. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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A Lamp For My Feet – W179 – God’s Load Is Light

God’s Load Is Light
by Rick Warren

“Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30 TEV)

Expectations are a yoke. Some of you are carrying a yoke – a heavy burden – of the expectations that were put on you by your parents, your husband, your wife, your children, your boss, or your teacher.

But most of us carry a yoke of burden that we’ve put on ourselves because of unresolved guilt and unrealistic expectations. We’re trying to prove that we matter.

We take on a heavy yoke that God never intended in order to prove that we’re important, when God says we’re already important: He created us to be with him and to fulfill a unique mission in life. That makes us important, not all the things we do (or don’t do).

God’s yoke is that we follow his purpose for our lives, and when we do that, things work out a whole lot better. When we go our own way in life, we hit one brick wall after another. In a sense, God says, “Put on my purpose, my plan for your life.”

How heavy is God’s yoke? Jesus says, “The yoke I will give you is light and easy.” You say, “But my Christian life isn’t easy. My Christian life is heavy; it’s like a duty that I have to fulfill.”Then it may be you are out of God’s will. You may be doing something that God never intended for you to do. I can’t say it any plainer than this: It may be that some of the things you think God is asking you to do, he’s not actually asking you to do. Your conscious and your perfectionism are asking you to do them. Jesus did not come to give you a burden but a blessing.

Am I saying the Christian life has no problems? No, not at all! We all will have a lot of problems. The Christian life is full of difficulties. The point is this: To live in the center of God’s will is a lighter load than to live out of God’s will. To live in God’s purpose and plan for your life is a lighter, more relaxing, more enjoyable load than for you to live your own life any old way you choose.

Talk About It
There may be some things in your life that you’re doing that God never intended for you to do. You need to get quiet before God and ask, “What do I need to cut out of my life?”

Discuss this with a friend: To live in the center of God’s will is a lighter load than to live out of God’s will.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

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A Lamp For My Feet – W178 – ‘Take Away the Stone’

‘Take Away the Stone’
‘Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”‘ John 11:39 NKJV

A big stone blocked the entrance to the tomb of Lazarus. And before Christ raised him from the dead, He said, ‘Take away the stone.’ There’s a lesson here. God will restore what you’ve lost-when you’re willing to remove the hindrances that stand in the way. What was behind that stone? A corpse, and it was stinking! John writes: ‘If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.’ (1 John 3:21 NKJV) Your confidence in approaching God comes from knowing you’ve dealt with the stuff that separates you from Him. And it requires courage. But you’ll never experience new life until you’re willing to do it. God can give you back what life has taken. He can restore what you’ve lost. But only if you’re willing to face the truth.

King David caused a big stink: adultery and murder. Now your issues may not smell that bad but before God can answer your prayer you must acknowledge them. A more contrite and consecrated David wrote: ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.’ (Psalm 66:18-19 NKJV)

This is why when you counsel an addict it’s not just about what they’re addicted to, but about what they’re trying to cover up with their addiction. It may take months or even years of therapy, but change begins only when you’re willing to ‘take away the stone’ and allow God to deal with what’s behind it.

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