Taking It For Granted

All except you. Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is God speaking to you!” –  Malachi 1:12 (MSG).

Staying focused on God in today’s ever changing world is not easy. Life happens so fast in the 21st Century.  We have so much competition for our time reading the Bible that sometimes we wish for “the good old days,” when life was slower and more simple. The truth is that this hectic rush of life we experience isn’t unique to our generation, although it probably seems that way. 

You have good intentions to spend regular time in the Bible, but then there is that project at work that has you stressed, or your daughter walks in to ask you something, or you are having a hard time concentrating because you slept only 4 hours last night. You rub your eyes, refocus on what you are reading in Isaiah and doze off. Upon waking you look at your watch and run toward the shower to get ready for your day. It was not what you intended, but you did have your morning devotional…well kinda.  In today’s fast paced world it is very easy to have other things take precedence, or supersede the time you spend in the Bible. There are days where the Bible sits on the nightstand unopened. It is all too easy to take God and the Bible for granted.   

The Malachi passage above is pointing out that there are things we no longer appreciate as we once did. We treat God as ordinary when we treat Him and our worship of Him as just another activity in our week. And we do this when we make God just another thing on our list of to-dos this week. Nothing should take precedence over spending time with God. Again, it is easy to presume on His love and grace and take it for granted.

Now I don’t think any of us mean to take God for granted. Those of us born and raised in America have come to expect a nice place to live and plenty to eat and drink. Unfortunately when that happens, we begin taking them for granted. That’s just what happens with us and God. When you think about it, God deserves so much more than being taken for granted.  At a time like this it is wise to remember who God is. He is God. He loves us and that is evident in the details.  Jesus wasn’t mildly embarrassed; He was publicly humiliated. He wasn’t teased; He was mocked and scorned. He wasn’t just put up on a cross and left to die; He was brutality beaten within an inch of his life and forced to carry an unbearably heavy piece of wood. Executioners drove stakes into his palms and feet, and He hung there naked as His beloved people mocked Him some more. Finally, his lungs collapsed. He cried out in agony, feeling forsaken and alone.

And yet, because He deeply loved people, and because He is the God of wonder and power and glory, He literally came back to life, and restored us all to the righteousness. I hope we never take what God did for us for granted. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel like you take God for granted? Why or why not?
  2. How often are you spending time with God right now?
  3. How much time would you like to be spending with God each week?

Being A Yes Man

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.” –  2 Corinthians 1:20

“Yes” and “no” are typically the first words we use when we are small children. And even as adults, we make countless decisions each day stemming from a simple “yes” or “no.” Yes, I will get up and get ready for work. Yes, I will spend time in the word this morning. No, I won’t go over the bridge because there is construction on it. No, I won’t be late for small group tonight. There is a whole lot of choices we make on a daily basis.   

The Bible is often seen as a book of “no’s:” a long list of dos and don’ts, mostly don’ts that prohibit any fun in life. But is that true? Is the Bible a bunch of nos? There are certainly nos in the Bible, but behind every “no” from God is a greater “yes.” God doesn’t just say “no” to selfishness, he also offers us the great “yes” of generosity. God doesn’t create an arbitrary boundary by saying “no” to sex outside of marriage; He offers us the greater “yes” of intimacy. And God doesn’t just say “no” to stressful living; He says “yes” to a fulfilled life.  If you look at it that way, it will revolutionize the way you look at the Bible and the Christian life.

But here is the question: Have you said yes to all of God’s yes’s to you? Or is there some part of God’s yes to you to which you are saying no or maybe next year when things are better. We often find it quite difficult to say yes to God, especially when there is much at risk. God knows that we have our struggles, that we are not perfect. He knows that it’s so hard to say yes to Him at times. After all, saying yes to God usually means saying no to ourselves and to the things we want. But He loves us all the same, and His son, Jesus, calls us to be disciples, saying, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

This might sound next to impossible to you, but remember that Jesus called ordinary people like you and me to be His disciples, and we can learn from so many different examples of people saying yes to God in the Bible. Moses said yes when God told him to ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Mary said yes when the angel asked her to carry Jesus, the only Son of God. The disciples said yes when Jesus asked them to leave everything behind and follow Him. These people were not superheroes with great stamina and strength. They were normal people who suffered, struggled, and cried but still said yes to God.   

So what does saying yes to God give us? More than you can dare to dream. God is sending you a special invitation to a fuller, happier life. He is asking you to share your very unique talents, whatever they may be, for His great glory and for the good of others. If you say yes to God, you are saying to Him, “You are the most important part of my life. I trust you. I love you, and I believe that you have so many wonderful things in store for me.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does saying “yes” to God mean to you? 
  2. What can we do going forward to say “yes” to God more often?

Seeing God All Around You

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. Here is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind, both large and small.” – Psalm 104:24-25.

How often have you had the experience of stepping back from your busy life and finding yourself on a beach, in the woods, fishing on a lake, or even a quiet stroll through a park and suddenly felt the nearness of God? There’s just something about seeing the beauty, creativity, and complexity of what God has made. There is wonder all around us in all of its shapes and forms. And that wonder of creation is further proof of God’s sovereignty and reliability. 

We need to spend some time in God’s creation. It could be watching sea turtles make their way to the water, or hiking though forests, or visiting the Grand Canyon, or scuba diving in the vast oceans.  Maybe it is watching the spectacle of a thunderstorm or the splendor of a rainbow. We owe it to ourselves to have an appreciation for His creation. Romans 1:19-20 states that “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” And Scripture tells us that God is at work maintaining and facilitating His creation. Psalm 147:8-9 tells us:

“He covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, and makes the grass grow in mountain pastures. He gives food to the wild animals and feeds the young ravens when they cry.”

Nature reaffirms to us that God has and will provide for us all of our days. Nature shows us not to worry because God is both powerful and near. Nature demonstrates to us that God is creative, practical, brilliant, loving, and full of mystery and wonder. 

Whether you live in the city or miles outside a city, look upon God’s creation and listen and feel His presence and hear His voice. Listen to God today and allow your heart to be stirred as you discover his unwavering desire to speak to you through His creation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your best place to experience the presence of God? What are the reasons for that being the best place?
  2. Do you spend much quiet time in nature? Where do you encounter nature in your everyday life?
  3. How often are you silent without the distractions of mobile phones, tablets, computers or TVs?

Tried, Tested, and Trusted

“But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.” – Deuteronomy 18:21-22

We live in the information and disinformation age seemingly at the same time. For every factual story we read there is a story that falls into the “you-don’t-really-believe-that’s-true-do-you” category. The bottom line is that the old adage handed down from generation to generation, “you can’t believe everything you read” still rings true.

So if you can’t believe everything you read, why should you trust the Bible? What do we know about its historical reliability? What is known about its trustworthiness? After all the Bible is a book that claims something extraordinary happened thousands of years ago; something concrete, real, and historical. The Bible claims that a man named Jesus was born to a virgin, claimed to be God, did miracles like walking on water and raising people from the dead, was crucified on a Roman cross, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Can we conclude confidently these things are true without simply assuming the Bible is “the Word of God”?  The answer is yes. For starters, we can trust the Bible because it is historically accurate.

The Bible is historically accurate: We know that the Bible is historically accurate first, from eyewitness accounts.  The Bible is primarily eyewitness accounts.  That’s why it’s good history. The other test of history by which we know the Bible is accurate is the extreme care with which the Bible was copied. The Old Testament copyists, the scribes, when they would copy these scrolls from one to the other, they would copy like a Xerox copy.  It had to be exact. They had this long list of rules they had to go by to make sure it was exact. In the case of the New Testament, we have thousands of complete manuscripts and multiple thousands more fragments available. There are more than 5,000 copies of the entire New Testament or extensive portions of it. In addition, we have several thousand more fragments or smaller portions of the New Testament. If these numbers don’t seem like a lot, compared to other works of ancient history, the manuscript evidence and copies for the New Testament far outweigh manuscript evidence for other works. So when it comes to manuscript evidence, the New Testament definitely has numbers on its side.

Another proof is in archeology.  Many critics who brush off the Bible as a compilation of folklore and legends, do so overlooking the fact that thousands of archaeological discoveries over the past century have verified the historical reliability of the Bible. No archeological discovery has ever controverted [overturned] a Biblical reference. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have trouble with the Bible being historically accurate? Why or why not?
  2. If the Bible is truly the Word of God and can be trusted, what are we going to do with it? 

Why I Trust The Bible

“As we trust God to give us wisdom for today’s decisions, He will lead us a step at a time into what He wants us to be doing in the future.” – Theodore Epp.

Do you trust the Bible? If so, why? If you asked that question to a large group of people you would get a full spectrum of answers. Some would say “yes,” others would say “no” and others would be somewhere in the middle.  So why should we trust the Bible? 

In this devotional, we will use a broad brush to talk about the evidence for the reliability of the Bible. We start with the early testimony for the Bible. There are 5,800 or so full and partial copies of the Greek New Testament. An original was written, and then it would be sent off somewhere and then someone would copy it and send a copy off, and those copies would be copied, and this is how the documents spread around  Couple that with the eyewitness evidence. Luke 1: 1-2  says, “ Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us.They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.”  Luke knew that to write an accurate account, he needed to talk with the people who were there. Acts 3:15 says, “…God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!”

Another factor that lends credibility to the Bible is all the embarrassing stuff that puts many of the authors in a bad light. In other words, why would you fabricate stuff to make yourself look bad or get yourself killed. Self -respect and self-preservation were just as strong in Biblical times.  For example: Before Jesus goes to the cross, He’s in the garden of Gethsemane. He tells His disciples, “Pray for me,” and they fall asleep. Twice. Yet they write it down and preserve it for us to know about their lack of devotion. If the disciples were making up stories, it is highly unlikely the details that put them in a bad light would be included. The disciples lost their social standing, physical comfort, material possessions, and social structures to follow Jesus. Add to that that the disciples died for what they claimed to have seen. Many people will die for something they believe to be the truth, but no one dies for something they know is a lie.

There are people today dying, believing that they’re dying for the truth, but the disciples, contrary to them, were in a position to know with complete certainty. They didn’t follow cleverly invented stories. They walked with Him. They ran after His death and they came back and were converted to a strong faith because of seeing Jesus after His resurrection. That’s the best explanation for the evidence. Many people will die for something they believe to be true, but no one dies for something they know to be a lie.

The Bible is the word of God. We should strive to have a view of Scripture that’s the same as Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe the Bible is a relevant guidebook for life in the 21st century? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think the Bible can be trusted in its description of Jesus’ life? Are there errors? Are there important things about Jesus left out of the Bible?

Rekindle Your Love For God’s Word

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

One of Yogi Berra’s many Yogi-isms is, “You can see a lot just by looking.” Although he was talking about something else it is true of Bible study. By reading a passage a second and third time, we can often catch something we miss the first time we read it. By studying the text again, it helps us understand what it meant to the original readers. You can’t apply a text that you do not properly understand. When you understand a passage, you can ask how it applies to your life, not just outwardly, but on the heart level.

The challenge is our attention span. Marketing and advertising managers know you have only a few seconds to attract a person’s attention before it is lost forever. Forty years ago, the newspaper was read daily in homes across America. Today we skim RSS feeds and if something doesn’t attract our attention we do not go any further than the headline.

Unfortunately, the same phenomenon is happening in the church. When I ask people how much time they spend reading their Bible, they look surprised. They tell me in all sincerity that they need to do a better job of reading their Bible, or they need to make it a bigger priority. But, when I ask them why they don’t read their Bible more, their answers are “I don’t have time” or “I’m not sure how to do it effectively.”

It may be a challenge of passion. If you do not regularly read your Bible, I would encourage you to ask God to help you start or rekindle your love for His word. Then we should read. And read some more. We know that faith comes from hearing the Word of God. So read, digest, dwell, meditate, and grow in your faith in God through the Bible. Take the Bible with you everywhere you go. Remember a passage and try to apply it to your life. If there is something you don’t understand, read a Bible commentary and ask someone who can help you find the answer.

The Bible has incredible power to transform your life. It should be your daily resource. Dwight Moody said it best: “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.”

Get in your Bible today and let God’s Word get in you. Because as Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Do you believe the Bible, as God’s inspired Word, can be trusted fully to teach us truth and shape our lives?
  2. How much time each week do you spend reading your Bible? How much time do you think you should spend?
  3. Pray and ask God to give you the discipline to spend time in His word every day.

Hearers and Doers

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.” –  James 1:22-25,  (MSG)

An elderly lady who had been a member of the church for decades, stopped to shake hands with the pastor after the morning service. “That was a wonderful sermon pastor,” she exclaimed, “just wonderful.”  “Everything you said applies to someone I know and I will pass it along to them when I see them.”

In the passage above, James is not talking about applying scripture to others. Nor does He want us underlining all the commands in the Bible to pass on to others. He is talking to each one of us. Simply hearing or reading the Bible only gets us so far. We can mark up our Bible but the question is whether the Bible marks us. If a person thinks he is spiritual just because he hears the Word of God, not because he does the Word, he is deceiving himself. The value of the Bible does not consist merely in knowing it, but in obeying it.

The Word of God commands us to take action, but many people seem to be waiting for some great spiritual experience to jumpstart them doing what the Bible tells them to do. The Bible tells us to take responsibility for ourselves. It tells us to not wait for a feeling.   

Being a doer is taking the Word of God and allowing it to have an impact on our life, so it changes us. It changes the way we speak, think and live. It changes the way we treat our spouse. It changes the way we act in business. It changes everything about us. If we are to use the mirror of God’s Word profitably, then we must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. No quick glances will do. We must examine our heart and life in the light of God’s Word.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so hard to move from a hearer to a doer?
  2. What can we do to move further into the doers column this week?

Great Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

If you want to be great, a man of God, you need to communicate.  A case in point: A father and his son are meeting in private. No other family member is present. They are talking about some plans they are making. The mother listens in on the conversation. She doesn’t like what she hears so she grabs the other son and tells him what she overheard. The mother and other son devise a plot to counteract what the father and other son are planning to do.

The mother and other son’s plot is to deceive the father and steal the other son’s inheritance. The one son finds that his inheritance has been stolen. He is not happy and threatens to kill his brother when the father dies. The mother realizes they have a serious situation on their hands and so she sends the other son away. She says, “When this thing calms down a little bit, I’ll send for you.” The truth of the matter is that she never saw that son again. If you have not already guessed, this is the story of Isaac and Rebekah and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob. To be great, men must learn how to communicate.

That doesn’t mean we have to be a talker to be great, rather it means we need to be a communicator. Because marriage requires communication. And parenting requires communication. And friendship requires communication. Do you take the time to clarify? Do you take the time to make sure that the person you are speaking to truly understands you?  If we say something without thinking about it first, we may actually hurt that person without knowing it.

God is the best example for incredible effective communication if you really look at the magnitude of His skills. His words to us are specific and deliberate. There are reasons why He says things, where He says things and how He says things. He’s very direct in His speech yet has our hearts in the forefront of His thoughts in everything He says and does.

To be a great communicator, we must think before we speak, choose the right time to speak, exhibit the right attitude when we speak and what we say is constructive rather than destructive.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is communication in being a man of God?
  2. What can we do this week to improve our communication skills ?

Dare To Be Great

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 

What does it mean to be a man of God or a Godly man? It probably depends on who you ask. Some would say that being a man of God is a drab existence, while others would consider a godly man to be weak. While still others would suggest the exact opposite. 

Being a godly man is being a man of strength. Not the Arnold Schwarzenegger muscle-rippling kind of strength, but a strength of mind, heart and spirit. A strength that comes from a man who knows what he believes and stands firm for what’s right. A strength in recognizing right from wrong and confessing when he has given into the latter. A strength that is confident enough to do right, choose right and be right. If you want to be a man that is great, be strong enough to stand your ground and hold on to your values, beliefs and, most importantly, your God. In other words, don’t give in when you are challenged, attacked, or criticized. “For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.You will stand against the whole land— the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19

Men of God also have compassion. You can always evaluate a man of God by his heart. Does his heart move for the things that move God’s heart?  Is he moved by struggles in the lives of loved ones? Is he affected when things are not as they should be in life, in situations, in relationships? A man of God allows his heart to be moved and then allows his actions to follow his heart. A great man is full of compassion and love because he has the heart of Jesus. 

Finally, men of God have humility. A man of God doesn’t need to talk up who he is, because his walk does that for him. A man of God puts away his “rights” for the right to be selfless, loving and full of grace. As we so often point out, the greatest example of humility is found in Jesus. A man who laid down his rights and made Himself nothing in order to be an example of undying love for all people, Great men seek to do the same. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read I Corinthians 15:58: What does this verse mean to you?
  2. What can we do this week to be a person of compassion and humility?

Transformation Not Information

“Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9. 

A. W. Tozer once said that “Unused truth becomes as useless as an unused muscle.” He is right. Information is good, but application is everything. It’s like an app on our phones – they can get us organized, they can monitor our health and track our diet, but they are useless unless we use them. 

James says we should not merely listen to the word, we have to put it into practice. If we don’t we deceive ourselves. We are deceived because just listening to God’s word is like joining a health club and never actually going. Just coming to church doesn’t make our faith stronger. Staying awake through the sermon isn’t living a life that pleases God. Even being part of a small group learning all we can doesn’t make the difference. If we listen and learn and think that we are growing in our faith and living the life God wants for us – we are being deceived.

God has always been interested in how His people apply His word. If we go back to the Old Testament we see that just listening and being in worship brought God’s people a false sense of security, in other words they were deceived. God was not calling His people to listen –he was calling them to obey and be faithful. Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

But the people weren’t faithful and they didn’t follow the principles God gave them or apply the word of God to their lives. Their deception eventually led to the destruction of the Temple and the defeat of their nation. What happened to them is exactly what James is talking about here; they only listened and so were deceived. They forgot the one thing we can’t forget and that is that application is everything.

Listening is not enough, we have to live out God’s word if we want to experience the blessing of freedom and life. Application is everything. Jesus said it best in Matthew 7:24-27: “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the ways that we can apply God’s truths in our lives?
  2. What can we do this week to make the Bible more actionable?