Gods of the No Testament

How many of us in the room “grew up” in church?

How many of us came to Christ later in life?

Can you/did you identify in any way with the below quote from Karen Armstrong?

Karen Armstrong, “The Case For God”
“Many of us have been left stranded with an incoherent concept of God. We learned about God at about the same time as we were told about Santa Claus. BUT, while our understanding of Santa Claus evolved and matured, our theology remained somewhat infantile. Not surprisingly, when we attained intellectual maturity, many of us rejected the God we had inherited, and denied that He existed.”

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Church Burn

Are you an Orchard Church Partner? Why don’t you investigate what it means to partner with us, meet our leadership, and discover where you fit in the story?

Partnership at The Orchard

Sunday’s message was about “Church Burn.” I tried to spend a lot of time during the message identifying with people who have experienced it, and received quite a bit of feedback. In fact, this topic seems to have touched a nerve for some people. Why do you think that is?

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Do We Even Need God, Part 1

Would you consider yourself blessed with regard to your finances? Why or why not?

How would you describe your relationship with money and possessions? Do you find these things ever create a barrier between you and God, or is this something you don’t struggle with often?

The average American living today is among the wealthiest people who have ever walked the earth. As a nation, we are exceedingly blessed. While many people around the world struggle for basic needs and die of preventable diseases, we live in comfort and ease. While there is nothing inherently wrong with earning a decent living, we must always make sure our decent living doesn’t become an idol for us. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows how easily money and possessions ensnare our hearts and define our identity. Today we will look at the barrier one man’s wealth created that stopped Him from following Jesus and examine our own hearts to see how to let Jesus, not possessions, shape our identity.

Mark 10:17–20 (NLT)
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

Why did the man in these verses approach Jesus? What was he hoping to gain from his interaction with Jesus?

What makes the man’s question such a popular one to ask? What would your answer be if someone asked you this question? How can we be sure our answers point seekers to a relationship instead of routine or rules?

The man in these verses has become known as the “rich young ruler” because of the added details we are given in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels (Matt. 19:20; Luke 18:18). In Middle Eastern culture it is undignified for a man to run, so him running up to Jesus shows a measure of youthful passion. The question that was so pressing on this young man’s heart was, “How can I be sure I’m going to heaven?” Many people around us every day are asking the same question and finding answers in all the wrong places. Jesus’ response to the young man helps us to identify the insufficient places where many people we know (and maybe even some of us) are searching for eternal life.

What did Jesus do to test the young man’s heart? What do you notice about the commands Jesus listed in verse 19?

How did the man answer Jesus? What does the statement in verse 20 reveal about the man’s heart?

The Ten Commandments are split into two parts. The first half deals with our relationship with God, while the second half deals with our relationship with other people. Jesus only asked this man about the second half. In response to Jesus, the man believed he had obeyed all of these commands since the time he was accountable before the law. To put it another way, he thought he had been “good enough.” However, there are a couple of problems with the man’s response. First, it is arrogant of him to think he could have kept the standard of the law. Second, the rich young ruler made an error many make by thinking about eternal life in terms of a routine rather than a relationship with Jesus.

Mark 10:21–23 (NLT)
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Why is it significant that Jesus looked at the man and loved him? How does Jesus do the same thing with each of us?

What does Jesus say is the real answer to this young man’s question (in the following verse?)

John 17:3 (NLT)
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

When did you first realize the answer to the man’s question for yourself?

This account is the only one in the Gospels were someone seeks Jesus and leaves without being filled. What implications does this have about the dangers of an identity based on wealth?

What is the reward for giving up possessions to follow Jesus?

Clearly Jesus loved people, but this is the only incident in the Gospels where Jesus is explicitly stated as loving someone. For Jesus, love came before the command. Jesus saw this man’s heart and knew the chains his wealth and rule following had built around his heart. Wealth is so dangerous for our souls because it keeps us from feeling our need for Jesus. The majority of our physical needs are taken care of, so it’s hard to not feel in control of our own lives. However, the man’s possessions possessed him, which is the inherent danger of wealth.

2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)
You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.

Why should we give our riches instead of hoarding them for ourselves?

We give because of all Jesus has given us. Though it is possible for Christians to be physically poor, and many Christians do live in poverty, a Christian is never spiritually poor. We have wealth beyond anything this world can provide through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must be diligent to keep riches and routine from taking over our heart’s affections. We give to what we love. If our supreme love is for Jesus, our relationship with our possessions will take a backseat to our identity in Christ.

Is there any area in your heart where your relationship with finances or possessions is choking out your relationship with God? How can we protect ourselves from building a financial kingdom here instead of working to build God’s eternal kingdom?

How has the gospel freed you from rules and given you a relationship with Jesus where you obey rules out of love?

The cost of following Jesus was too great for the rich young ruler. Do you know anyone in a similar situation today? How could you point them away from their riches to a relationship with Jesus? What would a conversation like that look like?

Be Wasted?

Welcome back to lifegroup!

Our groups are all in the process of ramping up for the season.  Some groups have met one or two times already, and others are starting this week. I hope the new season of lifegroup is a real blessing for you, and that all of us become better and better at loving others.

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Created For Community

Our big community pool party was rained out last weekend, so we have RESCHEDULED it for September 8!  Last year we had WAY more people partying with us than we expected. This year, Gilmer County will open the pool AFTER the season ends just for us!  Bring a friend and have one last swim before the fall.

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Fall Startup

Now that school is back in full swing, we’re eager to get going on our fall classes. We host these to help you become more and more of a disciple of Christ.

Financial Peace University is the best tool we have found to help you pay off debt, save money, and plan for your future!  It is all about being a good steward of what God has given you.
Get Info Here

Making Sense of God is our study of deeper theology, forming right ideas of who God is, and how he works in our lives. Susan Farnham is leading this 12-week deeper class.
Sign Up Here

I hope you will take one of these two classes this fall.

If you missed this week’s message, I will post it here so you can catch up.


Worship is for God… And for you.

Have you ever thought about worship as a discipline? Is that a valid idea?  Why, or why not?

Psalm 95:1-2 NLT
Come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
Let us sing psalms of praise to him.

When you read the above Psalm, does it feel more like a command, or an invitation? Does God force people to worship him?

When you think about worshiping God on your own, what specific acts come to mind? How does that compare with the things you associate with corporate worship?

What value is there in participating in different means of worship?

The psalmist described God as “the Lord,” a translation of the Hebrew name “Yahweh,” the covenant name of God. The covenant name of God stresses His loyal love and faithful care of those who trust and follow Him. By using this name, the psalmist not only praised God for who He is but also for what He had done for His people. God is further described as the rock of our salvation. God is the One in whom our deliverance is secure. Scriptures often use the term “salvation” to refer to God’s deliverance from the hands of enemies. The term also can describe spiritual salvation. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord has provided the one and only Rock to whom we can look for salvation.

How does the psalmist tell us to approach God?

Why is thanksgiving an important part of our worship? What does it communicate to God?

One would not come before a king empty-handed but with a gift that indicated respect. The psalm calls on us to approach the throne of God with thanksgiving. The word literally pictures an extension of the hand, a way of expressing a public commitment as well as adoration. This verse portrays not a solitary figure but a congregation of worshipers lifting their hands before the Lord in gratitude and praise.

Psalm 95:3-7 NLT
For the LORD is a great God,
a great King above all gods.
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
and the mightiest mountains.
The sea belongs to him, for he made it.
His hands formed the dry land, too.

Come, let us worship and bow down.
Let us kneel before the LORD our maker,
for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
the flock under his care.
If only you would listen to his voice today!

Why is God worthy of our worship, according to this passage?

What response to these facts is invited? How does it help you to worship by recalling who our God is?

How does the psalmist’s invitation to worship challenge you today?

An important part of worship is focusing on God. What are some specific things you could do to help focus on God during your corporate worship times? your family worship times? Your times of private worship?

What attitudes or other distractions need to be eliminated so you can focus on God in your corporate or personal worship?

Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

How can we make our group gatherings a more intentional time of worship?

Why Are We Even Doing This?

Why Are We Doing This?

You might think this is sort of a redundant question.  We need to relocate, don’t we?  BUT, it is the question our staff has grappled with this week.  Our building campaign consultant, InJoy, has us building our case for “why build” as they help us put together a plan. InJoy is asking us questions like,  “what types of ministry will you be able to do in this new facility? How will this change who you are? How will this reposition you in relationship to your community?”

It turns out it was a great exercise.

Apparently, for many churches, these questions aren’t asked on a regular basis… So the “why build” question is met with blank stares of pastors in declining churches who somehow believe that “if you build it, they will come!”

For our staff, this is only galvanizing us around our mission.. We are realizing how LOCKED IN we are to the very specific focus that God has called us to right here.

We have very little interest in adding new ministry categories. We are just called to make the gospel relevant to our community, and we do that by loving God, loving others, and making disciples.  

All we are really after is a greater capacity to be used by God even more.

This past week alone, 187 individuals OUTSIDE our church were in some way impacted by our simple vision.  Backpacks were filled and distributed. Meals were served to teachers and administrators. People were prayed for and loved on.  That is ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SEVEN people that this church reached out and touched in some way.

And it wasn’t that busy of a week.

What if we were an even larger group of torch bearers?  What if we had the capacity to grow our group beyond 500 to 600, 800, or even a thousand regular attenders?  What could that group of people do?  How many lives in Gilmer County and beyond could we begin to impact, and how many might just come to Christ as a result?

Introduction to Wonder

Can you believe it is August?  Most of our lifegroups aren’t getting back into the full swing until the next couple of weeks, but I thought I would try to get back into the pattern of producing lifegroup discussion questions with the beginning of this series, and get a little head start.  I’m running really late, though, but I doubt anyone will notice.

Financial Peace University

This is the single most life-changing course we have ever offered at The Orchard. Even if you’ve been through it before, it is worth going through again.  I did it a second time!
You will be amazed at the difference this small investment can make in your finances. Stop living in denial!  Turn your financial life around now!  Take the class!

Details and signup here

If you missed Sunday’s message, you can listen from our podcast feed here:

You can also always watch and listen to past episodes on our website’s “watch and listen” page.

On Sunday, I tried to make the case that most believers do not experience “wonder,” as Jesus defined it (experiencing “abundance,” having open doors, walking in authority, and unlimited “possibility.”)  Instead, we tend to spend our spiritual lives in “wander.” Do you agree, or disagree?

Jesus resorts to reposession?

It seems that Jesus takes this new life pretty seriously… In fact, he describes people who “see, but don’t really see…” who “hear, but don’t really listen or understand.” He says that there will be consequences for being only partially tuned into this new life;

Matthew 13:12 (NLT)
To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

Clearly, He doesn’t throw out the WONDER indiscriminately.  What do you think this means?

Why did Elisha respond that way?

Elisha could hear every move the king of Aram was planning to make, right? He reported their every move to his own king, so the Arameans were basically unable to attack… Until that one night…

2 Kings 6:11-14 NLT
The king of Aram became very upset over this. He called his officers together and demanded, “Which of you is the traitor? Who has been informing the king of Israel of my plans?”
“It’s not us, my lord the king,” one of the officers replied. “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!”
“Go and find out where he is,” the king commanded, “so I can send troops to seize him.”
And the report came back: “Elisha is at Dothan.” So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city.

Yet, the night they came to get Elisha, he was sleeping in his own bed.
Could he not hear those plans?
OR, did he know?

As far as we can tell, he was sleeping peacefully while his town was being invaded.

If I had been in his place, and if I had known they were coming, I would have run and hid. I would have made sure I was OUT OF THEIR WAY. AND, no matter where I ended up hiding, I would have been up all night, sick to my stomach, not getting a bit of sleep.
Yet, Elisha seems to have had a calm night.
Was Elisha just that confident in God? Was there that much wonder in Elisha’s life?

Contrast Elisha’s ability to sleep peacefully during the advance of the enemy with the way we all respond to the crises of our lives.

Why it’s our response to a crisis so different than Elisha’s?

What about the servant? Elisha is known as the prophet of miracles… God did amazing things through this man. And the servant was there all along, attending Elisha’s needs. Undoubtedly, the servant had heard Elisha’s teaching. He had witnessed miracle after miracle. He had seen first hand how God worked through the prophet.
Yet he did not expect wonder.

Is it possible for you and I to be so close, but miss out on it? Is it really that possible for us to see, and not see? To hear, and not hear?

The servant had the natural response… The wander response. He panicked.
Isn’t it true that the WONDER response makes no sense to wanderers? The spiritual response is incomprehensible to the natural man?

1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT
But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.

So, when you respond in faith to one of life’s crises, by walking confidently into the midst of the enemy forces as Elisha did, it makes no sense to the non-spiritual wanderer.

What keeps us in wander, and keeps us from wonder?

God Wants Me To Be Happy?

The “Hot Seat” is coming!

Next month’s message series is going to be awkward!

I believe that church spends way too much time answering questions that nobody is asking, so I want to deal head-on with real questions from REAL PEOPLE.  This is a GREAT opportunity for YOU to give your skeptical, doubtful friend or co-worker the chance to ask their real questions, and to watch the pastor squirm!

So, have your friends go to hotseat.church, submit their anonymous question, and be present with you on Sundays in July to see how I handle the “Hot Seat!”

Sixteenth-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.” Do you think that is true? Why or why not?

What do people in our culture think will bring them happiness?

Share about something you thought would bring you happiness, only to discover it did not. Did you learn anything from that experience?

Why do you think so many of the things we seek in life never truly satisfy us?

Psalm 16:1–6 (NLT)
Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge.
I said to the LORD, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.”
The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!
Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods. I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood or even speak the names of their gods.
LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!

What does the Psalmist David observe to be the difference between Godly people and people who “chase after other gods?”

How might desiring other gods cause our troubles to multiply?  (Hint: How did this happen to David in his life?)

Despite David’s desire to lead the nation of Israel to follow after and worship God, the nation of Israel was not exactly godly during his reign. Immorality and idolatry began to creep into the nation, and David bears some responsibility for this decline through his adultery with Bathsheba. After David stole Bathsheba from Uriah and then had him killed, we begin to see trouble multiply in David’s family. David’s daughter Tamar is raped by one of his sons by another wife. This leads to Absalom’s rebellion and civil war. The kings who come after David allow idolatry to take deeper and deeper root in Israel, and Israel finds itself more and more in debt to the nations around it.

How has seeking after “happy,” rather than “joy” caused YOU more trouble?

Psalm 16:7–11 (NLT)
I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Why was David so confident that he would not be “shaken?” What did trusting in the Lord (joy) produce in David’s heart?

What did David find in the presence of the Lord?

Philippians 4:4 (NLT)
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Why do you think God’s Word tells us to “be full of joy in the Lord?”

When David says “you will not leave my soul among the dead,” what is he referring to?

Both Peter and Paul saw this passage in Psalms as a reference to the resurrection from the dead. David is looking forward to the messiah who would make us rise again to be with Him forever!  How should our joy IN CHRIST be better than David’s joy in Psalms?

What good things in your life tend to be more important to you than Christ?  How do your troubles multiply when you prioritize these things over Him?

What keeps you from delighting in the Lord?

Do you serve God more often out of duty, or out of delight? How might meditating on God’s Word help you to delight in Him?