Crumbling Foundations

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27.

Living near the Gulf gives me ample opportunities to watch children and adults of all ages build sandcastles on the beach. Some are small children who come prepared with containers of all shapes and sizes, shovels and pails. They jump right into the sandcastle project with high hopes of creating something truly unique. Then there are some teens and adults who look like they went to MIT and majored in sandcastle structures. When the sandcastle is completed, everyone admires the size and design with all of its creativity and engineering expertise.

However, upon returning the following day, both the magnificent and the more ordinary sandcastles are usually gone. It could be that the rains washed it away, the tide moved in and carried it out to sea, or other beach occupants demolished it for the pure fun of tearing something down. The first inclination is to feel bad for the people who invested so much energy creating a sandcastle, but it really is not a shock because you simply can’t build anything in sand and expect it to last.

It quickly reminds me of the parable Jesus shared with His disciples to teach the consequences of the choices made by the wise and the foolish builder in Matthew 7:24-27. (above)

Jesus was referring not only to the importance of believing, studying and teaching the Word of God, but also living and practicing it’s truths in our everyday lives. A rock-solid foundation can only be built on a personal relationship with Christ. Every other foundation will crumble if it is not built on that essential relationship and of course, that includes the human relationships in our lives.

Let’s examine our personal relationship with Christ and how that influences all that we do. It is imperative that we stay closely connected to Him and allow His Word to speak into our hearts and to change us on a daily basis. With that foundation, we can build healthy relationships with family, friends and those in our church that will make an eternal difference in our lives. A marriage or any relationship is not unshakeable until our relationship with God is unshakeable. 

I want you to stop and think about the relationships in your life. If I asked you to describe them you would tell me about compatibility, friendship, personality, warmth, etc. But you probably wouldn’t tell me about the foundation. You probably don’t think in those terms, but the foundation makes all the difference. 

Discussion Question:

  1. What are the things that distract us from digging deeper and founding our lives on a strong foundation?
  2. In your life, what would represent a foundation made of sand? What would represent the rain, streams and wind?
  3. What does it look like to build your house on the rock (a solid foundation)?
  4. What can we do this week to strengthen our foundation?

A Relationship Game Plan

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.“ – Proverbs 16:9

It is usually when we are 20-something that we make some critical decisions and as a result do most of our planning. We decide where to college or if college is not for us, where do we go next as a career. In college we have to pick a major. And then whether we attend college or not, we choose who we will be in a relationship with both short and long-term.

We want the relationship to go somewhere. We want to learn and grow with someone who also wants to learn and grow. If a relationship is to grow in the right direction, we need a purpose and a plan. If you have a plan, then you can be proactive together as a couple. If you don’t have a plan, then you will be reactive and not progress. Or so we think. There are times in every person’s life where we plan and plan, and expend a whole lot of energy, thought and planning into big life events such as dating and marriage. And as we imagine and focus on a fairy tale ending, we don’t consider if that is what God intended for us or if we are following the plan He set for us.

God knows each and every one of our hearts better than anyone else ever will. He carefully created each one of us. So even if we carefully planned very detail of every relationship, our life will never be as fulfilled as giving our plans all up to God. But how scary is that? Letting go of everything that you have dreamed and worked for or letting go of a relationship you know that God did not intend for you to be in, or entering one you have concerns about. Giving everything up to God and losing control can be scary, but as Christians, how can we be following God without following His plan for us?

It is all about trusting God. If God showed you a spreadsheet with a step by step overview of the plans He has planned for each of us, we would be blown away. All the things that you accomplish, the relationships that change your life completely would make perfect sense. You would throw away your plans and goals and immediately endorse and follow God’s plan. But that is not faith. 

Faith is about believing in God even when you cannot see how all the dots connect or how all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. Faith is seeing past your circumstances, good or bad. Faith is believing that every obstacle in your life molds us into the person that God meant for us to be. God’s plans for our future are far greater than any of our fears.

There is nothing wrong with planning, as long as we remember the most important thing is to pray to Jesus to guide you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we make plans? So we can know what is going to happen; so we can be prepared; so life will be easier?
  2. How do you feel when everything goes as planned? Satisfied; in control; like I accomplished something good?
  3. How do you feel when things don’t go as planned? Frustrated; totally helpless; it doesn’t bother me too much?
  4. What role does God have in your plans? How can we know what God’s plan for our relationships are?    

The Legacy We Leave

How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Their children will be successful everywhere;  an entire generation of godly people will be blessed.” – Psalms 112:1-2.

What kind of legacy will you and your spouse leave? Will it be lasting? Will it be imperishable and eternal? Or will you leave behind only tangible items—buildings, money, and/or possessions? The apostle Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 to “…teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”  What are we passing on to the next generation? How does God want married couples to invest the time they have been given.   

In the day-to-day grind of life, we all have the potential of getting caught up in life’s hectic details and demands and can easily lose sight of whether we are leaving a Godly legacy to our children. Leaving a Godly legacy is our purpose as parents. 

In Exodus 20:6, God tells Moses: “But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” What we do matters because it can affect generations. When we as parents really understand that the things we do today affect the way our children remember their childhoods and mold who they are and how they see life – that’s when we get serious about making changes that create a Godly legacy.

A Godly legacy begins when we are intentional parents who create a home that honors God. Children thrive best in an atmosphere of genuine love and giving. As we have talked about all week, you will reap what you sow.  If you want your children to be truthful, then you need to be truthful. If you want them to serve others, let them see you serving. If you want them to have an authentic relationship with Jesus, show them what that looks like in your life. 

Giving and receiving is a fundamental part of life itself, so it applies to relationships. If we wish to receive, we must first give to others. The more we give, the more we will receive.

In order to reap the benefits of giving and receiving, you must enjoy the act of giving. Giving to your spouse and other relationships will build a lasting legacy.

Think and pray about it. We hope you will make it a goal to live your legacy as a spouse who constantly gave to a marriage without any expectation of return from your spouse. That way, you will leave behind a legacy of a godly marriage.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there someone who has inspired you through their legacy? How did they impact your life? 
  2. What is the legacy you inherited from your parents? How would you like to either pass it on or change it for the next generation?
  3. Gaining a vision and a direction in life will yield significance to your mate’s life as well. Agree or disagree and why?
  4. What are the top two or three steps we can take to build Godly relationships?

Watering Your Heart Soil

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”- Matthew 13:3-9.

I am one of those people who have a black thumb. I say this because even with the best of intentions and effort, plants do not last long under my care. But I do know you need good soil, good seed and a skilled, and more importantly, attentive farmer/gardener. If you don’t have those things, you can’t expect to have a healthy crop. 

That is the message Jesus gives us in the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus compared the condition of our hearts to soil types. The hard path represents the heart hardened to God’s Word. The rocky soil represents a shallow heart unable to withstand trouble or persecution. The soil choked with weeds represents a heart distracted by worries and prosperity. And the fertile soil represents a heart that produces a fruitful life. How can you take care of your heart soil today?

Both soil and hearts need plowing to allow seed to settle deep enough to grow and to create paths for roots. Sometimes God plows our lives with trials and tough times that the soil – our life – can turn upside down. The Bible clearly teaches that God loves those who are His children, and He “works all things together for good” for us (Romans 8:28). So that must mean that the trials and tribulations He allows in our lives are part of the working together of all things for good. Therefore, for the believer, all trials and tribulations must have a divine purpose. That purpose is to help us grow more and more into the image of His Son.

Soil and hearts also need proper fertilizing. For plants, the proper balance of water and nutrients leads to the greatest growth and highest yield. Likewise, our hearts need a constant and balanced diet of prayer and Bible study, fellowship and worship. Then we can yield the fruit of service and giving, ministry and outreach.

Our goal should be for the garden of your heart to be so healthy that it can grow more fruit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the “soil” of your heart and soul at this time in your life?
  2. What might help break up hard soil? Get rid of rocks? Pull up weeds?
  3. What are the weeds that prevent growth and fruitfulness in a person’s life?
  4. What can you do this week to fertilize the soil of your hearts? 

Sow The Seeds of Giving

“For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does.” – Psalm 33:4.

When Luke 6:38 is talked about, it is most often in the context of money. But it’s a mistake, in my opinion, to think that Jesus is only talking about money in this verse. I believe He is revealing a principle that applies to every area of our lives.

For the purpose of context, it helps to back up and read verses 36 and 37: “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then, in verse 38, Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you.” Yes, the verse does apply to money, but it also applies to forgiveness, mercy, understanding, and patience. Jesus is simply talking about the broad principle of giving. Whatever you give is going to be given back to you in “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”

The terms “good measure,” “pressed down,” “shaken together,” and “running over” don’t make a lot of sense the first time you hear them. But they make perfect sense to the people Jesus was talking to in Biblical times.   

According to instructions in the Old Testament, farmers in Israel were to leave the grain in the corners of their fields for the poor. So, each year at harvest time, the poor people worked in the corners collecting the grain in order to feed themselves and their families. The poor people most likely walked some distance to get to the field. They needed to maximize what they brought back to feed their families. They would press it down to create more room, shake it to remove any air and then pour more grain into the basket until it began to spill over the sides. It is one thing to receive a basket of free grain. It is a far better thing to receive a good-measure, pressed-down, shaken-together, and using every inch of space in the basket of free grain.

Jesus used these terms because He wanted to communicate that whatever you give, you’re going to get a lot more of the same in return. If we are critical of others, then it’s likely we will receive criticism. But if we treat others graciously, generously, and compassionately, these qualities will come back to us in full measure.  Jesus used these terms because He wanted to communicate that whatever you give, whatever the “it” is, you’re going to get a lot more of the same in return.

James 3:2 lays out the human condition as clearly and as succinctly as anyone can: “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” Think about the impact of the words “all” and “many.” Some negative is inevitable in most relationships. No one of us is “on our game” every day. The spiritual challenge is to give even when your spouse or other person in the relationship is having a bad day.  Because when we give, we get more back in return.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does give and it will be given you mean to you?
  2. What are some of the things you can give in a relationship?
  3. How can we improve our give versus get ratio this week?

Reap What You Sow

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” – Proverbs 3:27.

Research indicates that most Americans say that family and personal accomplishments and possessions lead their list of what determines success, rather than faith and spiritual wholeness. Historically, like today, people would rather get than to give. The Bible has a different perspective. 

Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you.” The basic principle that Jesus is teaching is that if you want to change what you are getting then we must begin by giving what you want to receive whether that is love, time, energy, commitment, teaching, intercessory prayer support and whatever else we want to get. This is a Biblically based promise, “…you will always harvest what you plant.” (Galatians 6:7) And 2 Corinthians 9: 6 adds, “Remember this–a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.”

It is not easy to put yourself out there by always giving while not expecting anything in return. However, Jesus assures us that whatever we give, will be returned to us in greater measure. Be assured that with the measure you give will be the measure that you will receive. If you give much then you will receive much from the hand of God in a way and in the time frame that He deems proper. He who sows generously, will also reap generously. That covers all areas of life so we should not hesitate to give because we have a complete underwriting guarantee.

In relationships we should consider giving the gifts of the spirit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control in every situation. (Galatians 5:22-23) These fruits contain the essential nutrients that can build up, and enable relationships to thrive. The fruits of the spirit never spoil or grow stale. So give of yourself, it will make a difference. Give even when you don’t feel like it because your relationships are worth it.  Give because God will give in return.

All this giving without expecting anything in return is counter cultural to be sure. But you will not regret trusting God. You will not regret obeying Him. God keeps His promises – He is absolutely trustworthy. He loves us much more and far better than we love ourselves, and He will “return to us “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” 

Discussion Question:

  1. What does “give” mean to you in the area of relationships?
  2. God promises to return in kind what you give. How have you seen that in your life? In the life of others?
  3. How can the fruits of the spirit be used to help make your relationships thrive?
  4. What can we do to be better givers in our relationships this week? 

God’s Return On Investment

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“ – Luke 6:38

Relationships can be compared to starting a career or entering college. It is relatively easy to begin, but it is almost guaranteed to be a challenge to stay with for the long-term and make it a success. There is a lot of thought on whether the ends justify the means and is the risk worth the reward. And probably most importantly, am I getting a return on my investment, or in other words, am I getting more out of this marriage/relationship than I am putting into it. 

People often view relationships, especially marriage as a 50/50 proposition where each partner should be willing to come half the way to compromise and make things work? While that makes sense on the surface, it is not what the Bible says is necessary to make a relationship work. Throughout the Bible we’re told to “go the extra mile,” “serve one another,” “die to self,” and “submit to one another” … We are to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” There is no 50/50 equation involved in any of those statements.

Plus the whole 50/50 thing takes too much monitoring and way too much measurement. It is impossible to determine if your spouse has met you halfway. Because neither of you can agree on where halfway is, each is left to scrutinize the other’s performance from a biased, often selfish perspective. How do you determine who faces the most pressure, or who had the worst day, or who needs encouragement more? A husband would give affection to his wife only when he felt she had earned it. A wife could be concerned about a husband’s weaknesses. The Biblical way is to give, serve and love the other person without keeping score and waiting for the other person to do something in order to get something in return. In other words, the 100/100 percent plan.

The 100/100 Plan goes like this: “I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return.” If you concentrate on giving rather than receiving you will have a relationship that is ” pressed down, shaken together and running over.”  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the 50/50 rule mean to you? What if you went to 75/25, would that work?   
  2. Is the Biblical standard of giving without receiving practical?
  3. In the area of relationships, what do you stand to get when you give?
  4. What can we do this week to live the 100/100 percent plan? 

Putting Out The Welcome Mat

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9.

If you are a Christian long enough, you will hear people say that they don’t go to church anymore, usually coupled with the reasons why; they were offended, ignored, view the church as money hungry, they see the church as out-of-touch with the times or hypocritical. While those reasons have taken a life of their own, the reality is people have had bad experiences because the church is far from perfect. 

The devil wants people to have bad experiences at church. 1 Peter 5: 8–9 tells us the devil is an enemy, which is plural. It means that not only do we have a personal enemy who hates us but one who ultimately wants to oppose the work of God in every church. He will harass, seek to bring division, seek to offend people, do all in his power to keep people from learning about the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ. 

Many people think Christians should be perfect. Nobody is perfect in any church and that should surprise no one because Jesus started the church with imperfect people. But imperfect people can do some incredible things when coupled with God’s incredible grace. That God would use all us imperfect people is pretty amazing when you think about it. Ephesians 3: 10-11 says, “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The idea that God would use you and me is pretty amazing. He has unlimited options. He could have spoken to the world directly, but instead chose to use imperfect people to make the impossible possible in so many people’s lives.

I want to be clear that we don’t get everything right every time. But I do believe that part of the reason God’s allowing us to have the influence we have in the Florida Panhandle is that is everybody is welcome, nobody is perfect and anything is possible. The best way to defeat the devil is by telling and living the greatest story of the world: the story of redemption and hope in Christ. It’s the heartbeat of the Gospel and I believe it needs to be the heartbeat of the church as we work to save those far from the heart of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been at a meal or an event where you feel noticeably out of place? What was the experience like? Do you think people coming to church for the first time can have that type of experience?
  2. How does the devil work to undermine the church?
  3. What can you do on Sunday to ensure everybody is welcomed?

Whom Shall I Fear

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Ask many Christians whom should you fear and the answer may be the devil, especially after reading 1 Peter 5:8 that says “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”   

Knowing about Satan and understanding his will and works is important, but as Christians we must begin by remembering that Jesus is Sovereign over all things and that includes Satan. “Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 10:10) We have no reason to fear Satan, but we have every reason to be aware of him and his evil intent and works.

The devil is real, and nothing irritates him more than people waking up from the limbo he has crafted to keep us from being a light for Jesus. The devil wants to get his hands into every good thing in your life. He wants to create doubts. He wants to create offense and the disapproval of people you really love. He wants friends betraying you or you betraying them, he wants your kids to have behavior problems in school, and he is always sending out-of-the-blue temptations that had never previously been issues. He wants you to fight with your spouse, or at least have regular disagreements, with the priority of splintering marital unity. He wants us at odds with each other.

We should not under estimate the devil. We need to be aware that he has evil designs on our lives. He hates us. It is then that we remember John 10:1 which says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  We need to remember that God is bigger. God will win. Remember that the “one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) With Christ, we will defeat the devil in our daily encounters. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). And we need to remember that God is with us today and forever; even if we can’t see Him, He is there.

So whom shall we fear?

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the greatest sources of fear in your life?
  2. What is your normal pattern for responding to these fears?
  3. How can God help you overcome your fears?
  4. What can we do this week to seek the Lord in a time of fear?

The Devil Is In The Details

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44.

The devil is always looking to do harm to those who are followers of Jesus. The question is this: how much harm does he really have to do when it comes to relationships. That is because marriage and other relationships can be pretty messy. In spite of our best intentions, we make mistakes. We hurt one another. We make bad assumptions, we miscommunicate, we manipulate and we are often offended. When we make a mess out of relationships, Satan has a front row seat watching all of it unfold. He is happy to be an observer when things are bad, but quickly becomes more than an observer when things are going well. The devil does not want us to experience what God intended for us in relationships.

We should never underestimate the enemy and his tactics. When married, it is easy to start focusing on the ways your spouse is letting you down or you are falling short. God has put husband and wife together and the devil wants to pull you apart. First Peter 5:8 states it vividly: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”   

One of the devil’s top strategies to rob you of your joy and peace is to trap you into becoming offended. And it is not a matter of if the devil will be looking for ways to get you to set off his offense trap, it’s a matter of when. No one can offend us quicker than our spouse or someone we have a close relationship with. The devil knows that all too well and will try to use it to offend you or your spouse.   

What every Christian needs to realize is that they always have a choice in becoming offended or not. We make the choice whether we take Satan’s “offense bait.” The point being made is that no one forces us to become offended. We make that choice all by ourselves. As Christians, we can master the ability to not get offended and not take everything as offensive. The less we are offended, the more difficult it will be for Satan to use that strategy against us.

Start by praying that you will not be offended and pray for the one who offends you. Prayer is one of the best ways to move from anger to peace and to give the offense to the Lord.   

Discussion Question:

  1. What and how does the devil steal, kill, and destroy in your life?
  2. How can we accurately identify common lies of the devil in our lives?
  3. Does the devil use offense as his major tool? Why or why not?
  4. What can we do this week to be less offended? “