Give us this day our daily bread.

Sermon Overview
Most kids who are taught to pray learn to pray either before bedtime or at the dinner table. They might say something like “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” Jesus teaches us to pray about our need for food, yet this prayer follows the first three requests – that God’s name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, that his will be done. Praying then for what we need, after we’ve settled the matter in prayer of who God is and what God wants, is the right thing to do. 
While “Give us this day our daily bread” was spoken to a primarily agrarian society, in which people felt a more direct sense of dependence on God for what they need, we can hear these words and feel like we are not sincere in asking this. Our fridges are often full. Our pantries are usually stocked. If not, food isn’t far from reach. But Scripture teaches us that we depend on God’s generosity for absolutely everything. God gave all the good things we have for food when he created the world. We did not invent our favorite foods. We found them already here. Nor did we give ourselves the ability to work, whether with our brains or our bodies, but we must certainly act on those abilities. Even that action is by God’s design, so we ultimately owe him all the praise when our daily needs are met.
Jesus also refers to himself directly as “the bread of life.” He means for us to understand that the kind of satisfaction we find from eating physical food should be an example of the greater spiritual satisfaction we enjoy through faith in Jesus alone for all that he promises to do for us. Jesus saves. Jesus forgives. Jesus heals. Jesus changes our character. Jesus protects us. When others try to claim our worship, Jesus alone satisfies as the one worthy of worship.
Questions for Discussion
Read Matthew 6:11
Have you ever felt really, really hungry? Could you imagine that as a known possibility on a near-daily basis? How might that affect the way you pray for daily bread?
What aspects of life are covered by this model prayer? Is there any need we shouldn’t bring to God?
Do you ever see your physical needs as unspiritual? Why or why not?
Read Matthew 6:25-34
How does this help you think about your needs in the future?
Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
If we pray for God to give to us, what should we be doing with our own gifts?

The Lord’s Prayer: Part 2

Sermon Overview
The Lord’s Prayer features six requests. The first three expressly magnify God as Father in haven. He is entirely holy, and so we pray that more people will become aware of his holiness, as no one can truly know God without knowing him as entirely perfect beyond description, free from corruption, and absolutely good. This is the essence of Matthew 6:9. Matthew 6:10 contains two more requests: “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” then adds “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The kingdom of God is a reality that found its first expression in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, made in God’s image, were commissioned to multiply (have babies) and to exercise God’s authority over creation by proxy, in a much more limited manner. But when they succumbed to temptation, the whole world with them entered into a state of disarray and corruption. The world that was once only beautiful and enjoyable now become unpredictable and at times terrifying. God remained king over the earth, though. He chose to pursue his kingdom purposes through the family line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the nation of Israel. With this nation he made a covenant in which he promised his abundant blessing and love for their humble obedience to him. Other nations could then take note of the relationship between God and Israel and turn from their false gods to the true God. Along the way, God promised David, the first king from the tribe of Judah, that his throne would endure forever. 
This was quite a promise, given that kings and kingdoms often rise and fall with wars and infighting. The promise held true even through Israel’s exile and into the Roman Occupation, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that Jesus, the Son of God who would come to her womb in a one-time miracle, would possess the throne of David. When it came time, Jesus began preaching that the kingdom was at hand (Matthew 4:17). This kingdom would not be like those of the world (John 18:36). One must be born again by the Spirit of God to see it (John 3:3), and yet it would one day fill the whole earth.
We live in the time in between the kingdom’s beginning and it’s fulfillment. When we pray along the lines of “your kingdom, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking God to do things both right now and in the future. Right now, we want people to be saved. We want ourselves to be more like Christ and less like the world. We are asking for churches to be strong, on mission, worshipful, and free of scandal and corruption. The kingdom now is essentially God’s rule and reign expressed in the lives of obedient believers who do increasingly do his will. But the kingdom to come is going to be a remaking of reality. Following other events at the end of the age, God will judge all evil, gather believers to himself, and establish a perfect government once and for all – one in which the King reigns in pure glory and perfect love. This coming reality is clear to those already in heaven, but we pray that more on earth will realize it too.
Read Matthew 6:9-13
Which part of the Lord’s prayer do you find yourself most naturally praying?
Do you pray much about the coming kingdom of God? Why or why not?
Do you pray much about God’s will being done? 
How do you understand God’s will? (What he decrees, what he desires, or both?)
When you read Scripture, what kind of connections do you sense with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others who received kingdom promises long before you?
How does anticipating the kingdom affect your sense of citizenship on earth?

The Lord’s Prayer Part 1

Sermon Overview
Prayer is, in Jesus’s view, a way of life for the Christian, which is why he begins his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount with the words, “And when you pray….” For our Savior, prayer is assumed. And yet we must admit that prayer is a challenge, at least as we often think of it. Every Christian knows prayer is important and that our daily lives should be marked by more prayer, not less. Admitting that much is good for us. It gives us something to begin praying about: “Father, I know you’ve made me for fellowship with you in prayer, and I would like more of that. Please help me to be more faithful in prayer.” 
How would he begin to answer that request? Perhaps by drawing your attention to the Lord’s Prayer, as we know it, in Matthew 6:9-13, and Jesus’s broader teaching about prayer. Jesus tells us not to pray (and for that matter, not to do any spiritual activity) from the motive of impressing others. Our most faithful and rewarding prayers must be our secret prayers (Matt. 6:5-6. Nor do we pray to impress God, like those who pile up empty phrases (Matt. 6:7-8)! One of the freedoms Christians enjoy is the freedom from trying to make God want to answer our prayers. He knows what we need before we ask, yet he still loves to hear us ask, and he gives as he sees fit. Over the course of life, those who pray faithfully and often will be able to note answers to prayer, even “no” answers, which are good for us to note.
When we pray, we pray to the God who names himself. We don’t decide what to call God. Jesus says, pray “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” God’s name is the summation of who he is and what he has done/does/will do. We could call God, “Almighty,” “Judge,” “Lord,” “Healer,” “Creator,” and “King,” among other biblical names, but Jesus draws us to the beauty of prayer by noting that God is Father to the one who believes. And while he is Father, he is not like any other father. He is in heaven. He is close enough to be Father but distant enough for us to stand in awe of Him. Remember, throughout Scripture those who encounter God personally experience a rush of holy fear (see Isaiah 6:1-8, for example).  So God is Father in heaven, and his name is holy. Holiness is hard to understand because we’re all sinful. We come short of holiness (Romans 3:23). But God’s name – his whole person as he has revealed himself – is not a throwaway name. It’s not a name to be used lightly. It’s a holy name. It’s the holy name.And it appears to be especially holy when we live like God’s holiness matters in our lives (1 Peter 1:16).
For Discussion
Read Luke 11:1
1. Does knowing that the disciples had to ask for help with their prayer life encourage you or surprise you?
Read Matthew 6:5-8
2. Are we tempted to do religious or spiritual things to impress other people? Do we ever think we need to impress God in order to get his blessing?
3. When Jesus says “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you,” what kind of reward might he have in mind? Is it always an answer? Can it ever be anything else?
Read Matthew 6:9-13
4. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the expression “Our Father.” What does this tell you about your own relationship with others who also believe? Can we experience God as he intends without sharing that experience with other believers?
5. How would setting your heart and mind on God first help guide your prayers that follow? How would rushing to first bring up your needs and concerns change your approach toward God in prayer?

Sustained Through All Seasons: James 4:13-17 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Sermon Overview
This Sunday we looked at one of the foundational elements of Christianity: trust in God’s goodness and sovereignty even when life hurts and there seem to be few if any answers. 
James, the half-brother of Jesus, became a pastor in leadership among the Christians in Jerusalem. He saw himself as a servant of Jesus, a far better claim than he might have had in bragging about a family connection to Jesus. Servants of Jesus will have the mindset that in all they do, God is sovereign and trustworthy. In James 4:13-17, we learn that life plans are to be made in view of God’s will. God’s will is not always clear to us when it comes to the details, but this much of God’s will is clear: that we do the right thing we know to do, and that we honor Him in our endeavors. Living life, however productively, without humbly remembering that when it goes well, it’s because God willed it to go well! When it doesn’t go well, we ought to trust Him no less and keep doing what we know is right.
Solomon lays out a picture of life in chapter three of Ecclesiastes, declaring that there is a time for every matter under heaven. This picture begins with birth and death and goes on to include many details of life on earth, from laughing and weeping to war and peace. The poem of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 has captured the attention of believers and nonbelievers throughout recent times, and we should reflect on the timing of our lives as God carries us through. In fact, believing that God carries us through the chapters of our lives according to his will can give us solid hope when life is hard, and humble joy when life goes well.
Solomon follows the poem with some observations in verses 9-15 where we find that 1.) God is working this all together from beginning to end, and 2.) that we have a deep desire built into our souls to know that there is more than this life, and 3.) That we should enjoy what we can, even as many things about God’s bigger plans seem mysterious to us. For example, what good is there in some of the wars we’ve had? How do periods of terrible suffering bring about any good? Is the chaotic culture we live in today still under God’s good control? When it seems he has taken his hand off the wheel, we need to remember that God has already dealt with the biggest problem we have – how to relate to him even though we are sinners. There’s a time for every matter under heaven, including the suffering and victory that Christ went through for our sakes. The question we must answer is this: are we content to embrace the greatest thing God could do for us without having all the answers right now for the things that perplex and even hurt us?
Read James 4:13-17
Is it easy to make plans and live out daily live without humbly submitting to God’s rule and reign over all of life? Why so?
What does James say here that keeps us from being fatalistic about the fact that God is in total control?
Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
How have you lived through parts of this poem? Does part of this poem speak to your life right now?
Did Jesus himself do or experience any of the things we see in this poem about life?
Read Ecclesiastes 3:11
What is more surprising – the fact that we often don’t understand God’s ways or the fact that we expect to understand God’s ways?

Enjoying Your Sandcastles: Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 & Other Scriptures

Sermon Overview:
In the first twelve verses of Ecclesiastes 2, we read of a life lived to the full as far as pleasure, possessions, and productivity are concerned. God cares about how we work, and God gives us good things and good times. However, when our focus on the good things in life does not account for God’s promises, purposes and His presence, we will find even the best of things to be unsatisfying in the end. While there is much about King Solomon’s test of absolute pleasure that we would not agree with (700 wives, 300 concubines), there is much that we can relate to. We generally like to feel good, to gain satisfaction from our work, and to enjoy good things, be it family, food, friendships, hobbies, or anything else!
But this world is not meant to provide the kind of absolute satisfaction that is accessible only by a grace-through-faith relationship with our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. This is a world in which we will soon be forgotten. We will soon leave every good thing behind. This applies to those who live well and those who live foolishly. Whether we die with a million dollars or a pile of change to our name, we cannot stop the tidal wave of death from crashing onto the shore that we stand on today. In that sense, our life is like a sandcastle. However beautiful or tiny, all sandcastles wash away when the waves come to shore. Unless the Lord Jesus returns during our time on earth, a wave is marked out in the future for each of us, rolling somewhere out in the ocean of the future. Some of us have the opportunity to see this tidal wave coming, and others are suddenly surprised by it. 
You can deal with this fact, and the fact that you will leave all good things behind, by either despairing, which Solomon did at first, or by concluding that life can in fact be enjoyable, which Solomon did after he hit rock bottom. God is gracious to us right here, right now. The conditions of that grace are that we please Him, which of course we could never do in our sin, and so we instead rest our hope in the only one who could please God – the God-man named Jesus. By belonging to Jesus, every good experience becomes a glimpse into the heavenly future that we long for. In fact, we come to see that the good things of earth grow brighter, while the bag things of earth grow dimmer, in the light of Jesus Christ and his salvation. The best days here are just a foretaste of eternity to come. And so Solomon says that we should eat and drink and find enjoyment in what we do, as this is from God’s hand.
Questions/Discussion Points: 
Read Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
Hear this statement: “God wants you to really, truly enjoy good things.” Do you find that hard or easy to accept? Why?
What are some of your favorite things to enjoy? What do these things reveal to you about who God is?
Joy is meant to be shared (remember Philippians?). How does hoarding good things for self actually decrease our joy in life?
Do you truly believe that your place and position in life are from God’s hand and part of his plan for you? How could this affect your approach to your work and other callings?
Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19
In the end, we are rewarded with more than we can imagine, most of all the presence and love of Jesus forever. How might our best times on earth shape  our view of heaven?

Life Group Discussion Guide: Ecclesiastes 2 – Let the Good Times Roll

Sermon Overview
In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon test drives a life devoted to work, play and possessions. He uses the first person pronoun almost 40 times in the first half of the chapter, which tells us that this lifestyle choice was all about himself instead of God and others. He tries substance use, multiple relationships, large work projects, and even collects some of the finest pieces of foreign treasure. This “test” paints a picture of the lifestyle that many people choose over a life devoted to God’s ways and God’s work in the world. In the end, Solomon decides that since the pleasures don’t last forever, these things are also vain. Remember that the word behind “vanity” refers throughout the Bible to a vapor or smoke-like substance that doesn’t last for long. It has no enduring substance.
People all around us, and even many in churches, are looking for a good time. Some try to find it in substances that change their mood or deliver a short-lived high. Others are never satisfied with their relationships, so they pass through relationships in an attempt to find the right one, worried they’ll miss out on something better if they decide to commit. Still, and often more acceptably in the church, many throw themselves like workaholics into their jobs or the pursuit of more and more for themselves. Sometimes we mask our pain and anxiety by what we do. At other times, we simply do what feels good. The Bible certainly speaks to our circumstances through the book of Ecclesiastes.
God is no killjoy or spoilsport, though. Jesus lived, died and rose from death on our behalf so that we would have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). The fruit of the Spirit (or you could say, the character qualities that belong to you because you are saved) are love, joy, and other life-giving qualities (see Galatians 5:22-23). So when you think of God calling you to change, to give something up for your own good, or to take up new Spirit-led habits and practices in life, know that he is eagerly calling you to change, and he is excited for you to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:1).  Our view of possessions, of work, and of fun will only be better when we let these things be what they are – part of God’s good world that he made for his glory and for us to enjoy. These things make poor Saviors, though. Don’t get your soul tied up in what you have, where you work, or what feels good. Rather, have Jesus Christ be the keeper of your soul.
Discussion Questions
Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
How does Solomon’s experience seem different than your life experience?
How is Solomon’s experience similar to your life experience?
Do you see in this Scripture any reflections of the values of the world that we live in?
If you could wake up tomorrow and have any one thing change about your position in life or possessions, what would you want to change? Have you talked to God about this and asked for his wisdom?
Read 1 Timothy 4:4-5 and 6:17
How should Christians relate to the good things God has made?
Have you ever gotten the idea that Christians cannot have a good time or enjoy good things? How does Scripture correct this perspective? Are there still risks involved in having many things?

Ecclesiastes 1 – All Smoke: Life Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes is an often misunderstood Old Testament book. When you hear “Old Testament,” do your best to think of those books as being as important and as helpful for you today as New Testament books, by the way.
The book of Ecclesiastes has gone through multiple interpretations by biblical experts, Hebrew Rabbis, and faithful Christians who seek to understand and apply its message. We should at least understand this book to be one man’s journey to grasp the sum and substance of life, at times apart from God’s ways and wisdom. This man – the Preacher – points us to Solomon, son of King David, who as a boy prayed for wisdom from God to know how to lead the nation he had inherited (see 1 Kings 3:1 and following). God indeed gave him wisdom beyond any who had lived before, then, or since, except for Jesus Christ (see 1 Kings 4:29 and following).
Ecclesiastes is a book that acts like a “back door” for the Christian to deal with the frustrations of life. It’s also an invitation for the curious, concerned, or critical minds to see that the Word of God really speaks to their felt and lived experiences, and offers a simple solution: accept that the world is flawed and live well in it by looking to God alone to supply what matters most – eternal hope.
Questions/Discussion Guide:
Read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 and Psalm 111:10
How would you describe biblical wisdom?
How would you begin to make sense of life apart from God’s ways and wisdom if you had to?
Do you know people right now who are trying to make sense of life and the world apart from God? What would a wise Christian lifestyle say to them?
Read Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
What aspects of ordinary or routine life do you find frustrating or challenging?
Do you find that these frustrations and challenges drive you toward God? If not, how could this change?
Do you find it surprising that the Bible is so honest about life in a broken world?
Read Colossians 3:1-3

What are the “things above” that these verses refer to?

Practically speaking, what makes it difficult to think of “things above?”