STAYING CLOSE

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How does a couple stay close over time? How do parents remain close while raising their children and how do adult children stay connected with their parents? How do you remain close friends with those you have known for a lifetime? When you experience different seasons in life and relationships begin to drift, how do you respond?

Relational drift can happen with regard to our faith and relationship to God just as easily.  Why does it happen and how do we change the dynamic when we recognize we’re not as close as we once were?  Jesus talks about the importance of remaining close to Him, comparing the relationship of a vine to a branch.

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STRONGER OR WEAKER?

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Years ago I sat across the aisle from my 3 oldest children while we were flying a transatlantic jumbo jet. My children were probably around the ages of 5, 7 & 9 and I recall watching their reactions when we encountered severe turbulence. My eldest daughter Courtney felt the bumps and laid her head against the window. She was asleep in a matter of minutes as that was her way to deal with some things. My son Murphy was seated across the aisle from me and he ...began nervously asking me questions, “Are we over water?” “If we crash now, how do we get the life jackets under our seats?” “Will we survive?” His questions may have rattled a few people sitting close by. I looked as he dug his fingers into the arm rests. In stark contrast, my youngest son Connor put his hands up as though he was on a roller coaster. “This is fun!” he exclaimed. Three children from the same family with such drastically different responses to a storm.

John 12:37 says, “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him.” Imagine that many saw the amazing things that Jesus did and were strengthened in their faith, while others found ways to question Him and it made their faith weaker. How do you respond to trials or positive circumstances? Do they strengthen or weaken your faith in the One who created you?

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SHEEP LOOKING FOR A SHEPHERD

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Between chapters 9 - 11 in John's Gospel account, Jesus refers to Himself or is described as one of many titles and descriptions: The Good Shepherd, the Gate, the Light of the World, the Son of Man, the Way to Salvation, The Shepherd who knows His sheep, the Son who knows His Father, the Resurrection and the Life, the Messiah... In the same 3 chapters, He opens the eyes of a man born blind and raises the dead. Who is Jesus in your life?

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DROP YOUR ROCKS

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If you have ever watched an episode of Modern Family then you may have heard Cam ask with a flamboyant accent, "Who hurt you?" Allow me to ask you that question, "Who in your life has caused you pain?"  Jesus confronts an angry, self-righteous mob, poised and ready to hurl rocks at a woman caught in sin. He issues a challenge to those about to end her life, "Only those who have never sinned can throw stones." Their sense of entitlement to exact justice is met with the hard truth that they are also guilty. Is there anyone on the planet who you believe should pay for what they did to you?

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A LOT WITH A LITTLE

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There are a few accounts covered by ALL 4 Gospels and the Feeding of 5,000 is one of them. The followers of Jesus believed that it was a good idea to send everyone home, before the masses grew hungry. However, Jesus made a simple request, "You feed them."  Philip commented, "Eight months salary wouldn't be enough money to purchase food for these people." Why would Jesus ask his disciples to do something beyond their budget?

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AN UNLIKELY CONVERSATION

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Jesus began speaking to a foreign woman at a local watering hole. His conversation was not socially acceptable in that day, and yet He engaged regardless of what others may think. Why do you think He did that? Why would Jesus take the time? Her people group was considered low class according to the Jewish customs and heritage, so Jesus ignored her status as a Samaritan, not to mention that women were considered a lower class than men at that time in history. Why would He ignore the social norms and do more than talk and offer her living water?

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JOHN'S ACCOUNT OF JESUS (week 1)

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This week we kick off our study of John's account of the life of Jesus. Of the 4 gospels, John's is the most unique. He has a great deal to say about IDENTITY. Who is Jesus and who are we called to be in relation to Him? As you read through the daily passages, look for identity statements with a fresh perspective. Invite God to speak to you through the Scriptures about who He is and who you are meant to be.

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LAZARUS, COME FORTH!

How do you imagine Jesus calling out that particular phrase when standing beside the occupied tomb? I once heard a pastor say, "Jesus needed to call Lazarus by name, for if He had merely said, 'Come forth', every dead man and woman within an ear shot would have rallied the call!" That would have been something to see, perhaps a bit like Michael Jackson's Thriller video. It's important to keep in mind that Jesus has resurrection power! He has the power to raise the dead and to breathe life back into situations, relationships, finances, children, marriages and any other area of life that we may deem beyond repair. Do you believe that? How would we live life if we truly believed that on a daily basis?

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NOBODY IS HOME

How many world religions have a shrine or memorial to commemorate their life? They visit the tomb of a unique individual to pay homage. If you want to do the same with Jesus, you can visit the top locations where Jesus was believed to be buried, yet nobody's home! What is more remarkable than resurrection is the fact that Jesus predicted that this would be the case while He was alive and interacting with His closest followers. It was even prophesied before His birth.

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THE CROSS

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"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit."  This is the time of year when we remember the price Jesus paid for our sin. He went willfully to the cross for one reason: LOVE. He loves us and was willing to pay the ultimate price to remove the barrier of sin.

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SIN

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"If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is SIN for them." (James 4:17)  Our culture seems to be confused these days about what SIN actually is. Try telling someone from your school, neighborhood or office that certain practices and behaviors are sin and see how they respond. You may be called judgmental or closed minded, but what can people agree on regarding sin? If we are not clear about sin and try to justify all human actions, then there is no need for the cross.

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CREATION

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Concerning God and creation, David once wrote, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, for what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4)
Have you ever considered the fact that you have been made by a God who thinks of you and cares about you? How does that concept impact your life?.

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SHAKE IT OFF

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Long before Taylor Swift wrote her 2014 hit single "Shake it Off," the Apostle Paul already understood the concept. After being imprisoned and then shipwrecked on the Island of Malta, he was still a captive in route to Rome, awaiting trial with Caesar himself. When asked to build a fire, a deadly viper slithered from the woodpile and fastened its fangs onto Paul's hand. Natives watched and waited for him to drop dead. Paul merely shook it off. The snake fell into the fire and Paul kept loving and serving those around him. When he showed no reaction or ill effects from the poison, the natives thought he was a god. Paul was quick to point the locals to the One true God and reason for his miraculous reaction.

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COMMON GROUND

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Have you ever met someone who you felt you had nothing in common with? Where do you begin or is it best to just walk away? Paul found himself amongst foreigners who had many strange beliefs. He walked through their garden full of idols set up as false gods for worship. He stumbled upon one altar with an inscription to an "Unknown God" (Acts 17:23).  Rather than walk away and judge the Greek citizens for their misguided beliefs, Paul managed to establish Common Ground. He said, "The God you are confused about is the one I am going to proclaim to you." Then he used this as an opportunity. Instead of burning bridges with people he had very little in common with, he built a bridge and shared the love of Christ with those who had never heard about it. How do you and I build common ground with those we do not share much in common with?

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ACTS OF GOD (Pentecost and Power)

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Most people refer to the Book of Acts as the "Acts of the Apostles", while a more accurate description is, "The Acts of God through the Apostles." The Book of Acts is packed with amazing stories of the first believers attempting to follow God during a time in history when following Jesus could cost you your life. The promised Holy Spirit was unleashed on the pioneers of the faith to empower ordinary men and women to do extraordinary things.

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FIGHT FOR IT!

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Numerous television episodes of "Seinfeld" are centered around relationships - many had to do with relational breakups. One such episode, Jerry found a woman who was beautiful...that is until he saw her hands, which he described as "man hands." He stayed in the relationship until it seemed unbearable, and then he dumped her. Commitment and relationships never lasted long in that show when it came to dating, and yet the 4 primary friends were inseparable. What relationships would you fight for? How deep is your commitment?

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LET'S TALK ABOUT LOVE

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What does a healthy love relationship look like?  How would you describe two people who are in love? We have so many mixed ideas of what LOVE should look like based on the movies and television, music, our families of origin and any dating we may have done or not done. How do you think God would answer these questions?

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COMMUNICATE LOVE

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"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6) Does this verse describe your average conversation with those you love? Would those who know you best say that you are "full of grace"? How do you speak to others when you are tired or in a bad mood? Our words carry great power to impact others and are a valuable tool God has given us to communicate love.

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WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

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"I just fell out of love and no longer want to be with her." Those were the words a friend told me recently concerning his relationship with his wife. What's LOVE got to do with it? The question Tina Turner raised in her 1980's hit is still a relevant question in today's world. What does the Bible have to say concerning the intersection of love and feelings? Join us over the month of February as we discuss this subject, as well as marriage, communication, lust and love.

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