Acts preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

All In Study Notes: Acts

Acts is the story of the movement Jesus began—the Church—recording the years from Jesus’ ascension (around 28-33 AD) to around 62 AD.  It was written by Luke as a sequel to His Gospel (He mentions his friend Theophilus as the recipient at the beginning of both books).  Luke was a doctor, probably a Gentile, and a travel companion of Paul. He does not mention himself in Acts, but beginning in 16:11, he uses the pronoun “we,” which probably means that is when he joined Paul’s group.

There is a theory that Luke wrote this as a defense for Paul in his trial in Rome.  We know from 2 Timothy (Paul’s last letter) that Luke was with Paul at the end.  The ending of Acts is abrupt, which makes us think it is a story in progress.  And some think that Theophilus, because Luke calls him “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3) may have been a Roman official or Paul’s legal counsel.  A more widely held theory is that Theophilus was a Gentile believer or a “God-fearer,” and that Luke wrote to his friend to help build up his newfound faith. At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he gives his purpose (Luke 1:4): That you may know the certainty of the things that you have been taught. 

 

Themes of Acts

To the ends of the earth:  This is a book about missions: the mission of God in the world and our part in it.  The story starts in Jerusalem, but shows how a mix of missionary work and persecution brought the Gospel ultimately to Rome (the most important city in the ancient world).

The risen Christ:  For the apostles, the resurrection was the key event in history.  They didn’t preach a new morality or new religious rituals.  Their main message was that God had sent His Son into the world to save us, and that this was proven by the resurrection.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it (2:32).  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed (4:10).  If anyone had offered evidence that the tomb was not empty, or that someone had stolen Jesus’ body, the Christian movement would have died.  But no one could contradict this revolutionary message.

The Holy Spirit:  Some say the name of the book should be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  He shows up in chapter two, and the apostles are never the same. He empowers the previously timid men to preach powerfully and work miracles.  He calls new men and women to do amazing things in His name.  He pushes the first Christians to take the message outside the Jewish world.  He calls Saul and Barnabas to the mission field.

The Church: In Acts, we see the Church at its best.  In spite of challenges from outside and within, the people of God love each other and represent Christ boldly in a hostile world.

Unhindered:  The last word in Acts is appropriate (28:31).  Throughout the book, people try to stop the Gospel from spreading through legal maneuvers, riots, torture, imprisonment, and murder, but nothing works.  The Gospel is unstoppable.

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Matthew preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

Matthew is one of the four Gospels (from a word meaning “good news”) or records of the life of Jesus. Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are called “Synoptic” Gospels, because they tell primarily the same stories about Jesus in a similar order.  (“Synoptic” is from a Greek term that means “seeing everything together.”)  The Early Church believed this book was written by Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles.   Matthew’s given name was Levi. He was a tax collector.  Both Mark and Luke refer to him as Levi, but in this Gospel, he is called Matthew (which means “gift of God”).  Perhaps Jesus gave him this new name, which would explain why he chooses to call himself Matthew instead of Levi.

This Gospel begins with a genealogy, to show that Jesus is descended from Abraham and David, as the Israelite Messiah.  It tells the story of His birth from the point of view of Joseph, includes the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), and ends with the Great Commission (28:18-20).

Themes to look for in Matthew:

Jesus the Messiah: Matthew points out many ways in which Jesus fulfills the OT promises.  For example: 1:22-23, 12:17-21, 27:9-10.  See also 5:17.

Israel and the new people of God: Matthew is often seen as the most “Jewish” of the four Gospels, because of the many OT quotes and other features.  But it also shows how most of His own people would reject Jesus (see especially Ch. 23, with its “seven woes” against Israel’s leaders).  This had to be a painful truth for Matthew to record.  However, he also shows how Jesus knew He was Savior of all humanity, not just Israel.  From the foreign magi who come to His manger at the beginning, to the words “make disciples of all nations” in the final story, Matthew wants us to see Jesus came to save anyone.

Jesus the King: He is called by the magi “the King of the Jews” (2:2).  At the beginning of His ministry, He is offered the chance to rule the world by Satan (4:8-9), but refuses.  Several times, He talks about the Kingdom of the Son of Man (His favorite term for Himself).  In 22:41-45, He tells the Pharisees He is greater than simply a Son of David.  In 27:42, while He is on the cross, He is mocked by the High Priests as “the King of Israel” while a sign written by the Romans calls Him the “King of the Jews.”  Ironically, it is at this exact moment He is fulfilling His destiny as our King.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

 

Psalms preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

All In Study Notes: Psalms

 

Psalms is the longest book of the Bible, and the only one entirely made up of songs: 150 songs, to be precise.  It has been called “Israel’s hymnal.”  The Jews sang these songs in corporate worship, in traveling to Jerusalem, and in times of personal devotion or crisis.

Most of the Psalms were written by King David.  Other authors include Asaph, Korah, Jeduthun, Ethan, Heman, Solomon, and Moses (Psalm 90).

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible.  It is broken into sections that each begin with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Psalm 118:8 is the “center verse” of the Bible: It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.

The Psalms fall into five categories:

  1. Hymns of Praise: Ex: Psalm 8:1-4.
  2. Lament or complaint: Ex: Psalm 12:1-2, 74:1-3. This is actually the most common Psalm.
  3. Imprecatory: These are Psalms which pray for judgment upon one’s enemies. To “imprecate” means to curse. Ex: Psalm 69:1-4, 22-25.  You can find a great article about how as Christians we should see these difficult Psalms here: http://timothytennent.com/2012/11/01/imprecatory-psalms-are-all-the-psalms-suitable-for-christian-use/
  4. Royal: Ex: Psalm 20:7-9. These Psalms are asking a blessing on the King and therefore, the nation.
  5. Wisdom: Ex: Psalm 1. These Psalms give us wisdom about how to live.

Themes to look for in Psalms:

Worship: The fact that the longest book of the Bible is a hymnal should tell us how important our worship is to God.  The Psalms teach us so much about the greatness of God.

Prayer: We think of prayer as asking God for things.  But the Psalms show us how to talk to God about all of life.  One way to grow in closeness to God is to re-write a Psalm in your own words.

Raw honesty: The Psalms say things to God that make us uncomfortable.  We’re used to “pretending” in our Christianity.  But God is not afraid of how we really feel.  We should talk to Him about our sorrow, our disappointment, our anger and doubts.

Comfort: The Psalmists compare God to a shield, a rock, a fortress, and a protective shepherd.  These words brought them comfort in times of stress, and they can do the same for us today.

The Gospel: All of the Psalms ultimately point to Jesus, either directly or indirectly. Psalm 22 is the Psalm Jesus quoted from the cross. Psalm 118:22-23 is the Psalm most often quoted in the New Testament.

 

Genesis preview

As we read through the Bible this year, it’s good to have some information about what we’re reading.  The Bible isn’t like other books we read: Each separate book of the Bible has a backstory and a cultural context that is critical to understanding.  It’s also good to know how the Bible fits together; specifically, how the Gospel (the main message of Scripture) is found in each book.  I’ve written these short previews so that you can have some basic information as you read.  I hope it’s helpful.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have!

 

All In Study Notes: Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible.  Its name comes from the Latin word meaning “origin.”  The Jews called it bere’shith or “In the beginning.”    In Genesis, we read of the world’s creation, the fall of humanity, a worldwide flood, and the creation of a new people who will redeem the world.  There are several genealogies tracing the lines of Adam, Noah and Abraham.

Themes to look for:

  1. We matter to God. We are made in His image, hand-carved from the dirt. In 1:26-28, He gives us a purpose: we are meant to bear His image and rule the world in His name.
  2. We have a sin nature. “East of Eden” is a common theme: Adam and Eve went East, Cain went East, the people who built the tower of Babel migrated East, Lot chose the land to the East. This is the Bible’s way of showing how we tend to run away from God and His will.
  3. God defies our expectations: In the ancient world, the oldest child was considered most important, and was made head of the family. Yet in Genesis, several times God chooses younger siblings over the older ones: Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over His brothers. Ephraim over Manasseh.
  4. Our God sees us. See 16:13. A rejected slave girl (Hagar), a barren woman (Rebekah), an unloved wife (Leah), and a forgotten prisoner (Joseph) all testify of this.
  5. God is in control, wait for Him. Noah waiting patiently in the Ark, Abram and Sarai waiting 25 years for their child, Joseph’s understanding of God’s plan in 50:20.

Hints of the Gospel in Genesis:

  1. The first messianic prophecy in Scripture: 3:15. Jesus is the Son of Man who was wounded, but crushed the head of our enemy.
  2. God clothes Adam and Eve, takes away their shame, just as Jesus would one day clothe us in His righteousness, taking away our shame.
  3. Noah and his family are rescued from the floodwaters by Ark, just as we are rescued by a cross.
  4. In Genesis 12, God’s promise to Abraham is that in Him, “All nations will be blessed.”
  5. In Genesis 22, one of the most difficult stories in the entire Bible, we see this note of grace: “God will provide a lamb, my son.” God provides a lamb in place of Abraham’s son. Later, God will provide His son as the lamb in our place.
  6. Judah goes from being the one whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery, to the one who offers to give His life to save Benjamin. Book closes with a surprise: 49:10, God will use Judah, not Joseph, to bring redemption.

All-In Challenge: Read the Whole Bible

At First Baptist Conroe, our theme for 2019 is All In.  We want to challenge our members to pursue Christ like never before.  I’ve already written about the All In theme itself (click here to read that post).  But now I want to give you some encouragement and tips to help you complete the first challenge: Read the entire Bible this year.

Most Christians I talk to have a strong reverence for the Bible as God’s inspired Word.  They also admit they don’t know it as well as they should.  Many feel guilty about this.  They’ve tried reading it straight through, but got bogged down and quit somewhere in the middle of Leviticus.  Some think they’re not smart enough or spiritual enough to understand the Bible.  They content themselves with the bits of Scripture they pick up from sermons and devotional books.  So why should you commit to such an awesome task?

  • It’s how we know God.  (See Jeremiah 9:23-34, Philippians 3:8)  The Bible is a letter from God to us, telling us the history of His dealings with humanity; letting us know who He is and how we can live with Him.  If there was a newfound letter from a loved one you hadn’t seen in years, would you want someone to tell you the highlights?  Or would you want to read it for yourself?  Reading the whole Bible assures that you learn all about God, not just the truths that we tend to find more comforting or easy to grasp.
  • It’s how we know ourselves.  (See Hebrews 4:12)  We tend to be lousy at seeing ourselves realistically.  We need someone from the outside, someone who knows everything about us and loves us totally, to tell us truth about our lives.  That’s what God’s Word does.
  • It’s how we know how to live.  (See Joshua 1:7-8, Psalm 119:105)  The Bible is not a rule book or an instruction manual for life.  But it does show us how to make decisions that keep us in step with God and His plan for our lives.

Tips:

  • Don’t read the Bible so God will love you.  He already does!  That’s true whether you read His word or not.
  • Reading the whole Bible is difficult, especially the first time.  We’ll all be doing this together.  Stick with it!  You’ll be glad you did!
  • The Bible raises some difficult questions.  God’s ways are different than ours, so reading His Word will shake you up at times.  Don’t hesitate to ask your Life Group or one of our ministers about things that confuse or trouble you.
  • Prepare: It only takes, on average, fifteen minutes a day to read the entire Bible in a year.  Decide now what time of day and where you’ll do your reading.
  • Pick up a copy of our reading plan.  (or download it here) We chose this plan because it allows you to read a little bit from four different parts of the Bible each day.  It also has only 25 readings per month, so if you miss a day, you can easily catch up.
  • You can also read on your smartphone through the Youversion app.  It’s free!  Once you have the app, go to the “plans” tab at the bottom of your screen. Then press “find plans.”  Search for “Discipleship Journal Reading Plan” (not “Discipleship Journal 5x5x5” or “Discipleship Journal Book-at-a-time”).
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you understand His Word, and that He would help you stick with this new discipline in your life.
  • Keep a record of the things you learn.  Each day, write down one thing that stood out from your reading.  Pray and ask God to help you apply that truth to your life.  Go back periodically and see what God has been teaching you.
  • Talk about what you’ve learned.  This is a great way of reinforcing God’s truth, and sharing it with people around you!

I’m so excited about 2019!  I can’t wait to see what God will do in our lives as we go All In on seeking Him through His Word!

FBC Vision for 2019

Here at FBC Conroe, we’re on a journey together.  We’re a church with a wonderful history, amazing people, and we’re sitting in the center of a growing region, led by a God who never stops seeking the lost.  But when our current ministry staff took our first retreat in the Fall of 2016, we knew our church needed a DNA transplant.  We wanted to see God bring us back to being a church that transformed ordinary people into world-changing disciplemakers.  In other words:

–Instead of seeing the church as a place we go to hang out with others like us, we will begin seeing it as a group of people who are called to transform our city through the power of Christ.

–Instead of seeing Sunday mornings as a time for us to get fed, encouraged and comforted, we will see them as a time to get equipped for God’s purpose in our lives.

–Instead of thinking of the church in terms of programs, we start thinking of it in terms of people—the people Jesus wants to reach through us.

–Instead of seeing ourselves as a minority group holding on to some important traditions, we will begin seeing ourselves as missionaries to the places we live, work, and go to school.

We’ve been praying that God would make this change in us over the course of three years.  We’ve been focusing on connecting people to God, helping them to grow into His image, and equipping them to reach others in His name.  We’re now two years into that vision, and we’ve seen some exciting changes in us already.  But in this third year, we want to strive for more of Him than ever before.  We want to challenge our people to make the greatest commitment to Christ they’ve ever made.  In other words, we want to be All In.

So this year, we are challenging every FBC member to commit to four actions:

I will read the entire Bible.

I will pray daily for the people in my life who don’t know Jesus.

I will engage in mission work outside the church walls.

I will commit to greater generosity.

Don’t worry, the details are coming; we’ll provide you with a Bible reading plan, a specific way to identify and pray for people in your life who need Jesus, mission opportunities, and a specific challenge regarding generosity.  But for now, consider this: We believe a church full of people who are pursuing these four goals will be a church that grows spiritually like never before.  We can’t wait to see what God will do with such a church.  Will you join us?  Are you All In?

“I’m worried about my church’s future. What should I do?”

People sometimes ask me, “Is it hard being pastor of a church where most of the people are older than you?”  Truth is, I don’t know any other reality.  Since I started pastoring full-time 22 years ago, I have never led any other kind of church.  So when people ask, I tell them it’s a joy.  These people are some of my closest friends and most faithful servants of Christ. They inspire me.  I and my church would be in a world of hurt if they all suddenly left.  That has been true for all 22 years of my ministry.

Of course, some things have changed in those two-plus decades.  When I first started, I was pastoring mainly people from “The Greatest Generation,” who lived through the Great Depression and World War II.  Now, the largest single demographic group in my church is Baby Boomers, who are in their 70s to late 50s.  Senior adults in churches used to be stubbornly old school, but now they have smart phones and send me emails.  One thing older Christians then and now have in common: They are concerned about the future of their churches.  I’m no psychologist, but I believe something happens in the mind of a devout believer sometime between the empty nest and retirement, and continues for the rest of life.  They feel a consuming burden for the ongoing health of their church.   They express worry about things like, “Why don’t we have as many young families here as we used to?”  “Who’s going to fill all these ministry roles after we’re gone?”  “I sure wish our church was out of debt.”

Of course, you don’t have to have gray (or color-treated) hair or be eligible for Social Security to be worried about the future of your church.  So I as a pastor feel led to share some advice.  If you fear for your church’s future, here are seven things I advise you to do:

  1. Pray. I hope you do this already. But beyond just a vague, “Lord, bless our church,” there are more practical ways to seek God.  Pray for the leaders of the church, as Scripture commands us to do.  As a church leader, I can tell you we need wisdom, courage, humility and spiritual power…to name a few.  Pray for their families as well.  In the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles show that they are very concerned about our unity and our faithfulness to the truth, so pray those things for your church too.  Jesus told us to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into His harvest field.  I think that’s still a great prayer to pray.  Know the needs of your community and pray that God would show your church how to meet them.  Pray that He would raise up men and women to serve in all those key roles that keep a church going. Most of all, pray that your church would keep Jesus at its center.
  2. Invest in the next generation. Last year, our ministry staff read a book called Growing Young, by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin. The authors identified 363 American churches which were doing a great job reaching youth and young adults.  One of their findings was that these churches have older adults who invest in the lives of those younger than them.  They don’t just pay a youth minister, they have tons of adults who hang out with teenagers, text message them during the week, and attend their sporting events and recitals.  They practice “keychain leadership,” making it easy for young adults to use their skills and expertise in the church; whereas too many traditional churches have an unspoken code that says, “Wait until you’ve been here a few decades, then you can lead.”  If you’re worried about your church’s future, a great place to start is to find a random young person (or couple) on a Sunday and invite them to lunch.  Get to know them. Find out how you can pray for them.  Follow up later and see how they’re doing.  It’s so much easier to spend all our time with our own tribe.  Get out of your comfort zone for a change.
  3. Plan for after you’re gone. One concern I hear often from older Christians is “Young people don’t give like we do. What’s going to happen to our church when we’re gone?”  That’s a very good question, and one which many pastors and churches are anxiously pondering.  If you are concerned about your church’s financial future, have you considered naming the church in your estate?  In his book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, J. Clif Christopher writes, “Every one of us will die one day…most of us will be richer on that day than we ever were while alive.  First the bad news: You can’t take it with you.  Now the good news: You won’t need it. YOU ARE, HOWEVER, STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR IT.”  He goes on to suggest that we put a tithe into our wills; in other words, a sentence such as, “After all my bills are paid, please give ten percent of what’s left to ________ church.”  He suggests that if we did that, churches would benefit for years to come.  Have you made a plan for what happens to your stuff after you’re gone?
  4. Guard unity. The night before He died, Jesus uttered the magisterial prayer found in John 17. Did you know He included you and me in that prayer? Here’s what He prayed for us: “…that all of them may be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you.” When you read on to the letters of Paul, he constantly urges each church, “Be of one mind…Count others more important than yourselves…Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Yet there always seems to be some low-level tension in any church, that boils up occasionally into full-on battle mode.  Why?  Because we’re sinners, period.  When you add the emotional stress of people concerned about the future, you have a recipe for complaining and conflict.  I do NOT believe it is wrong to criticize a church leader or to disagree with the direction your church is headed.  But I also believe there are biblical, gracious, God-honoring ways to do those things.  Come and speak to your pastor if you have concerns.  Confront him with significant flaws you see in his character.  If he responds badly, he’ll answer to God for his lack of humility.  And when you hear negative chatter, ask yourself, “How would I feel if I overheard someone talking this way about my spouse or my kid?”  You would step in, wouldn’t you?  Well, the local church is the Bride of Christ.  When we run her down, it hurts our Father.  So step in—graciously of course—to say things such as, “I’m not sure that’s what actually happened.  Why don’t we talk to the people who made that decision to find out for sure?”  Or, “I don’t think us saying these things is helpful at all.”  Or even, “I don’t always like change, either.  But sometimes you have to try something new.”
  5. Don’t retire from serving God. Years ago, when my parents retired, an interesting and unexpected thing happened. We didn’t see them anymore.  In their working years, Mom and Dad would often drive out to spend a weekend with us. Now, if we wanted to see them, we had to drive to them.  What had changed?  They got busier.  Now that my parents no longer had to work for a living, they chose to work for the Lord.  Mom volunteers at a Food Pantry.  Dad teaches a Bible study class.  They’re involved in tons of other stuff they wouldn’t have had time for during their careers.  That’s what I mean by, “Don’t retire from serving God.”  In my time in ministry, I’ve known many people my parents’ age (and older) who had this same mindset.  Their wisdom and life experience combined with more time to give make them the backbone of some very important ministries.  On the other hand, I’ve known others who said, “Now I have time to focus on my bucket list.  I’d better hurry and do it before I’m too old.”  Look, if you take a cruise to Alaska or a bus trip to New England, that’s great.  If you play Pebble Beach or visit the Louvre, I will rejoice with you.  But please understand something: Our true retirement comes when we walk the New Earth alongside our Savior and King.  We will enjoy experiences there that will put any earthly bucket list to shame, and we’ll have unlimited time to enjoy them.  In the meantime, we have a VERY limited time to reach those who don’t know Christ.  Don’t waste the years and strength God has given you.
  6. Don’t idolize the past. I talked to a man once whose church had just started using drums in worship. He complained to the interim pastor (His church was between pastors at the time) and was told, “Friend, you need to accept the fact that the church you grew up in is never coming back.”  The man told me, “It made me so mad I almost punched him, even though I knew he was right.”  That pastor should have spoken more gently to my friend, but he told him the truth.  One of the most frequent sins of religious people—of all ages—is when we put our preferences on the level of God’s will.  We take a tool, experience, or person God used to grow us in the faith, and we idolize them to the level of believing God cannot reach people in any other way.  That is idolatry.  In my opinion, it causes more division and wasted energy in churches than anything else.  Consider how many times you have heard (or thought to yourself) things like:

“That just doesn’t sound like church music to me.”

“When we used to knock on doors every Tuesday night, that’s when we had people getting saved.”

“I guess no preacher will ever measure up to Brother Tommy in my mind.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with that youth minister now.  When my kids were teenagers, we had 200 kids there on Sundays.”

“I liked it better when the pastor wore a coat and tie.”

In Acts, we see the first Christians build a huge, vibrant church in Jerusalem. But God doesn’t stop there; He raises up Paul, who takes the message to people outside the Jewish nation.  Some Christians who hear of Paul’s success are overjoyed, but many are upset.  After all, the Gentile converts didn’t know or respect their traditions.  Everything was going to be different.  They tried to stop Paul.  Thank God, they failed.  Paul would later write of his philosophy of ministry: I am all things to all people that through all possible means I might save some.  That is the mindset that changed the world.  No one likes change.  But we can’t stay where we are and go with God. We can’t serve the Lord and idolize the past at the same time.  Don’t let your love for “the church you grew up in” keep you from joining God in His work.

  1. See outsiders the way Jesus does. When I was entering the ministry, conventional wisdom assumed the best way for a church to reach people was to hire a great ministry staff, build great facilities, and start excellent programs…then wait for people to come to church and hear the Gospel. I don’t know if that ever really worked, but it certainly doesn’t today.  If a church does that kind of attractional ministry really well, it might grow a little, but only by stealing sheep from the churches down the street. Irreligious people (the fasting-growing group in the nation) aren’t looking for great preaching, choirs and youth programs.  God isn’t on their radar screen.  If we want to reach them, we must go to them, not wait for them to come to us.  Unfortunately, many Christians know very few irreligious people well.  That seems to be especially true after retirement.  So we have to go out of our way, make it our mission to make these friendships.  Take a look outside your front door; how many of your neighbors do you know by name?  How about other people you see on a semi-regular basis: Your barber, the waitress at your favorite restaurant, your grandkid’s soccer coach, the checker at the grocery store?  Do you know them well enough to know how you can pray for them?   Do you know their hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties?  Start those conversations.  Get to know these folks well enough to pray for them regularly, and you’ll start to see them through the eyes of the One who created them…the One who died to redeem them.