Keep Running

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:13-14.

In Philippians 3, Paul was clearly looking forward rather than dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that Paul had suddenly developed amnesia in the Roman jail. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he did not let his past discourage him or defeat him. He was determined to press on and to keep running the race. Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life.

We are accustomed to viewing our lives in the order of “past, present, future.” The Bible suggests we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting the past.

I often wonder if we realize just how mired down in the here and now we have become. Sometimes it’s dark and scary and you’re fumbling around because you feel like you have lost control allowing all kinds of noise and potholes in our lives. Things like broken relationships, money problems, illnesses, and so on. None of those things will matter in eternity. What will matter is whether we lived lives that pleased God.

Paul was completely focused on just that. He was pressing toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul uses the image of a race to describe the Christian life. In verse 12 Paul says, “I press on.” In verse 14 he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race”  The idea of the word press is to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. Pressing when running means that you have to give it a little more effort in order to overtake another runner. Basically you are running, not just for the exercise, but with a specific goal and purpose in mind. A runner who keeps his or her “eyes on the prize” will stay on track.

Maybe somewhere for some reason you lost your joy or passion for running. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re temporarily sitting on the sidelines, I encourage you to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize of an eternity with Him to be won.

Discussion questions:
1. How well are you running the race? Faith is just the beginning of the race we run as Christians. How can we better exercise our faith and put it into practice?

2. How can we start thinking future, present, past rather than the current order of past, present and future?

Run The Race With Endurance And Discipline

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1.

Discipline and endurance go hand in hand for the Christian because the Christian life is more like a marathon than a short sprint. Whether we have a few years left or many in our journey of life, we need good decisions in order to run with endurance the race God has set before us. Paul says in Philippians 3:14, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Professional runners do not become winners by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books or cheering at races. They become winners when they enter a race and with discipline and endurance, win the race. Likewise, if you want to be a winner in this race of Christianity you must have a spirit of discipline and endurance and be willing to run the race. 

That all sounds complicated and exhausting, doesn’t it? It does take a lot of effort. Christ-centered discipline and endurance doesn’t just happen, any more than making good decisions, getting out-of-debt or having a good marriage just happens. It requires a good plan, good decisions and some discipline mixed in. It requires looking at your present, at the future and a whole lot of help from God.

So how do we run the race? What does it mean to endure?  As Christians, we know that we are building the kingdom of Christ. We can contribute to kingdom-building as a waitress, mother, accountant, teacher, or soldier. Making contributions requires endurance. The beauty is that you can advance the kingdom regardless of who we are and what we do. You don’t have to be a CEO or a pastor.  We can make eternal contributions in the often mundane tasks of life. By being the best fireman, homemaker, realtor I can be, I can add my part—and in some ways, I will never know exactly what my part was this side of heaven. It takes endurance, and discipline which leads to decisions that make sense now in light of eternity,

We must consider our work in the bigger context of kingdom-building. We must remember that we will endure hostility from many angles. God knew that we would feel weary and discouraged at times. We have hope because we are not just waiting out our time until we get to heaven. With Christ as our model, we are actually contributing each and every day to the eternal future.

Perseverance, faith, and endurance will carry us through. Recognizing that we have important contributions to make through our work can bring us great joy and fulfillment in the “already…not yet” time in which we live.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you when the Bible says love others?   
  2. What can we do this week to be better at loving others?    

Decisions Last For Eternity

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” –  Ecclesiastes 3:11.

How do you make your toughest decisions? Trust God? Write a pro/con list? Go with your gut? Have your own system that you’ve perfected over the years?  One of the best ways to look at decisions is through the lens of eternity. It is a matter of seeing the big picture of how decisions will impact you today, tomorrow and for all eternity. Culture is bombarding us with messages to “live for the moment” and “it’s all about the here and now.” But living for the moment effects much more than the moment itself. The decisions you make in the next few years will have an impact on the rest of your life.

In the same way that the decisions you make in the next few years will impact your life, the decisions we make in our lives on earth have an impact on our lives for eternity. Eternity is a hard thing to grasp, and for many people is a long way off. But is it? The Bible says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

There is nothing quite as grand as a fireworks display. You can’t help but be impressed by the beauty and colors of the starbursts erupting in an aerial display illuminating the night sky. Fireworks serve as a metaphor for our lives. When each individual firework is lit and shot into the air, suddenly there is a beautiful starburst that dazzles the eye for a few seconds, and then disappears from sight. It then falls to the earth as a useless spent cartridge. Our lifetime on this earth, when compared to eternity, is but a split second. Our lives on earth can be dazzling and we can achieve great success, but we will be a bright light for only a short time.  Everything in this life has limits. But God is unlimited. 

At some point in time, we all have to choose how we are going to live our lives today.  Will we choose the pain of discipline now or the pain of regret in the future.  If we do not chose discipline today and start something new and move in a new direction today, then it might very well be the biggest regret you will have tomorrow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does one make decisions with eternity in mind?

The Tools of Discipline

“But have nothing to do with irreverent folklore and silly myths. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness [keeping yourself spiritually fit].” — 1 Timothy 4:7 (AMP)   

As a Christian, you will experience pain. That is inevitable. But, in some cases – you can choose which pain you’ll experience. You can choose immediate gratification with no long term payoff or you can choose to have current pain for greater returns down the line.

Choosing the later requires discipline. Self-discipline is doing what you know you have to do to accomplish your goals whether you feel like it or not. It means reigning in your appetites, emotions, and inclinations to help you achieve something that’s farther down the line. Self discipline is part of just about every undertaking: It takes self-discipline to start a profitable business, to finish what you started, to honor the guardrails you set up in your life, to avoid temptation, to forgive people and to resist immediate gratification.

We need discipline but that doesn’t mean we always embrace it. Having discipline in your life can put a damper on your fun because most people would rather do what they feel like doing. While it may not be popular, ignoring it can result in disaster. Proverbs says 1:7 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 6:23 adds “For their command is a lamp and their instruction a light; their corrective discipline is the way to life.” The Book of Proverbs is an excellent book to guide us in the necessary disciplines for a fulfilling life. Proverbs 1:2 sets the stage:” Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”

Discipline is not a glamorous topic, but it certainly is critical to our everyday lives. The longer we fail to put needed disciplines in our life, the harder it is to do and the more that lack of discipline causes problems in our lives. Take a few moments to evaluate what areas in your life that you can use more discipline. Maybe it is something practical like you have a tendency to procrastinate. Or maybe it is being faithful whether in your personal or professional life. Maybe it is a unwillingness to forgive a relative or friend. Or maybe you are lacking the discipline of spending quality and quantity time with God each day. We think our lives are so full that we can’t possibly put another hour into the schedule. This discipline is so very needed in our lives. And it is discipline. 

Where is your discipline weak? In what areas are you dying for lack of discipline? The good news is that discipline can be learned.  Any one of us can be disciplined if we want to be and we go to God for strength and help. But it will take time. I want to encourage you not to give up easily, because new disciplines simply take time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can self-discipline help unlock God’s will for your life?
  2. Why is self-discipline needed?
  3. What can you do this week to improve your self-discipline in one area?

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

“Don’t fear failure. Fear faithlessness. Don’t fear attack. Fear apathy. Don’t fear rejection. Fear regret.” – Steven Furtick.

Every day we make mistakes, and most of the time we just ignore these failings and move forward. But every so often, there is one that makes us pause and take notice and ultimately becomes a regret. Most people struggle with regret – big and small – and some regrets take root and have to be dealt with.

Being a Christian would seem to make regret irrelevant. After all, as Christians we hear stories about bold faith and celebrate stories of dramatic transformation. These are uplifting, but they can create the perception that we no longer have to deal with the effects of lingering regrets we accumulated before we came to Christ or after for that matter. Becoming a Christ follower undos all the worst mistakes we ever made.The gospel of Christ grants us freedom from the condemnation that still haunts us daily. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). So it makes sense that we would feel a little uneasy about regrets all the while wondering why our regrets from the past are still part of our lives today.

Christ does indeed make all things new. And He is at work to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose every single one of our regrets as we submit ourselves to His work in our lives. But it means facing those regrets prayerfully and with courage, not denying they exist. Denying that our regrets exist will not make them disappear.  Only God can do that. And He will. Regrets are one way to come to grips with our humanity, as well as the depth of Christ’s redemption of all that we are, and all that we’ve done. 

But let’s also have an eye toward the future. This week’s sermon on “choosing discipline over regret” is not about going back in time for a do over.  It is about eliminating future regrets by our actions today. Work harder in your relationships so you will not have the regret in the future.  Spend more time with your children and grandchildren so you don’t have the regret of misplaced priorities in the future.  And don’t regret that you missed the mark in your relationship with Jesus Christ. You can manage your time, your money, your emotions and your energy in such a way that you live and die without any regrets. Regrets can be avoided if we make better choices today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How easy is it to cruise through a day and not even think about the choices we make? Why is it so easy?
  2. How can making the right choices and doing what God loves make your life better? What can we do this week to start making the right choices?

Parental Control

“It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.” Hebrews 11:23.

There comes a time in every child’s life when he or she crosses the threshold into adulthood. Once this line is crossed, the parent-child relationship is supposed to change in some basic ways. Your child is then on the road to becoming your peer and equal rather than a dependent minor. He or she will be graduating into a position of self-responsibility, in which they become accountable to a higher authority – the authority of God Himself.

No matter how good the parent is, they cannot control the child’s future. The child’s personal decisions will have to be something more than a matter of simple “submission” to mom’s and dad’s orders. They will be on their own. And in that moment, our slipping sense of control will inevitably produce anxiety and a desire to find some way to maintain some level of control. That does not make you a control freak, it is more of a fear of surrender. There isn’t much more we as parents can do, but surrendering is not easy. As parents, we sometimes struggle with what surrender really means. Surrender does not mean that you stop loving or counseling your children when needed, it simply means surrendering them to their heavenly Father.

In Mark 14, Jesus knew that He would soon take on the sin of the world and bear the wrath and shame for the entire human race. Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (v. 36). In that prayer we see surrender. Surrender is acknowledging God’s power, submitting to His will, and trusting in His plan for each one of us. When we fret over losing control over our children’s lives, we should pray like Jesus: “Your will be done.”

We have a profound role to play in our kid’s lives and we can continue to pray for them and love them unconditionally, but it is God who is the originator and orchestrator of our kid’s lives. God can be trusted with the kids He has entrusted to us.

What comfort and peace it brings to remember God is always in control and ever present in our children’s lives, even when we can no longer be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How surrendered are you to God? Is it any different to surrender our kids to God?

Love In Control

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. 

The Bible is full of specific instruction on how we should treat each other. But nowhere does it talk about forcing other people to do our will. Nowhere does it talk about controlling one another. Rather it takes lot about love; it includes loving our enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5: 43-48) and loving without expectation of receiving love in return (Luke 6: 27-36). But the most challenging call to love is the great commandment to love God with all of our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 34-40).

To truly love, we must first know God. Love starts with God and ends with God because God is love. We see this in 1 John 4: 7-8 when he writes:  “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” All God does is out of love. He loves perfectly. Our goal is to love as God loves. Love isn’t something that is derived from within us. It is radical. For the kind of love that God calls us to – the love that loves our neighbor as much as we love ourselves –  must come from Him. This command to love is important. It is not something to take nonchalantly; if you feel like loving, then love. We are required to demonstrate a genuine love regardless of how we feel about a situation or a person.This means putting others above ourselves, our perceived needs, and our wants. That includes people who are trying to control or influence us as well as the people who support us on a daily basis.

Imagine for a second if they did a “most interesting man in the world” commercial on Christian love. It would go something like this: “I don’t always want to love, but when I do, I love as Jesus loves. I thank Jesus who died on the cross for my half-hearted love. He loved perfectly in my place. Grow thirsty for loving others.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you when the Bible says love others?   
  2. What can we do this week to be better at loving others?    

When The Controlling Get Controlled

“When doubts filled my mind,  your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” – Psalms 94:19.

It is always an interesting, if sometimes frustrating experience when interacting with a control freak. But controlling people often find themselves being controlled. A perfect example of that is the story of Laban. The relationship between Jacob and Laban is a fairly lengthy relationship that takes up more than four chapters of Genesis (29 – 32). This is an unusual relationship where Laban is in control and Jacob is along for the ride. But in the end, the controller gets controlled.

Jacob is looking for a wife. He immediately falls in love with Rachel which establishes his connection to Laban. Because Jacob is poor, he pledges seven years of labor to Laban to secure Rachel’s hand in marriage. (Genesis 29:16-20)  After the seven years, Jacob asks the agreement to be fulfilled. But Laban deceives Jacob by giving him Leah instead. Before Jacob realizes what has happened, he is married to Leah but still loves Rachel. So, he commits another seven years of work for Laban in order to marry Rachel, as well. (Genesis 29:23-27)

Jacob fulfills his second 7-year commitment to Laban and tries to leave. However, Laban is reluctant to let him leave because Jacob has made him successful. He asks Jacob to stay. Jacob agrees as long as he is paid a wage, and says he will accept only the spotted, speckled and striped livestock in payment. (Genesis 30:31-33) Laban thinks Jacob negotiated a poor deal and readily agrees. 

But God is in control and God blesses Jacob. The number of livestock set aside for Jacob far outweighs the number going to Laban through God’s blessing. (Genesis 31:12) Laban’s son became angry so through a dream, God tells Jacob to flee with his household. (Genesis 31:13) Jacob does as he is told and heads back to his land in Canaan. Laban catches wind that Jacob’s household has left his land and pursues them. But he quickly realizes that he cannot control Jacob any longer. Clearly, the Lord is with Jacob and Laban cannot control or fight that. In the end, the controller got controlled. 

God is in control of everything that happens in the universe. He is in control of everything that happens in your life no matter how hard you try to control everything. We need to play a role, but all our efforts at control do not loosen God’s grip on the direction of your life at all. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you try to control and what do you let God control?
  2. What is your first step and next step in surrendering to God rather than trying to control everything by our selves? 

Be Still

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” — Psalm 46:1.   

There are people who seem to be in complete control of their lives. They appear as this cool and composed person who has this laid back and on top of everything persona. Their friends are impressed, commenting that “they never worry about anything, do they?” In most cases, they are fooling others and themselves.

Behind the “all together” exterior is a stressful balance of keeping all the balls in the air, while organizing and trying to schedule and compartmentalize everything that is happening on a daily basis. And it never stops. Life is found in an abundance of activity and commitments. You could probably power a small electric power plant with the energy the person spends trying to keep it together. When we finally admit that we don’t have it together, we realize that we don’t have a hectic life problem, we have a “trust in God” problem.

Jesus promised an abundant life, but also told us there is an enemy plotting our downfall: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV). 

The abundant life Jesus offers isn’t filled with to-do’s. It is filled with trust. God’s promise us that it will work out for our best in the good, the bad, and the ugly. God always knows what is best for us. We need to look to Him to fill our days, instead of an endless to-do list. That means we trust God enough to relinquish control to Him rather than trying to continue doing “life” on our own.

Trusting in God is a lifelong process. Like many aspects of the Christian faith, it’s a choice that we make every day. We have to learn to let go knowing God is in control and understands more than we ever could. 

God holds the world in His hands — but we’ll never fully grasp the power and extent of those hands if we’re not tuned into and focused on Him. When we surrender control, wait and trust in God’s plan, we can know that He will be faithful to lead us where He wants us to go. Jeremiah 29:13 says “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”. Seek God and He will direct your steps.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What evidences do you see of nature being “surrendered” to God’s control? What about your life?
  2. What fears do you have about fully surrendering every aspect of your life to God? 
  3. What can you do to give God more control?

In, Out Or Under Control?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” – Proverbs 3:5-6.

There is a control freak lurking somewhere in each one of us. It may surface when we try to control our circumstances, or our spouse or our kids or our friends or our future. Some people are better at controlling things than others, but nobody can control everything in their life.  Not even close. Eventually we all learn the same lesson: You are not God, and you are not in control. Some of us learn this the hard way, but we all learn it at one time or another.

Whenever we try to control something that’s not ours to control, we’re trying to be like God. And that’s a problem. We try to control everything because we fear being out-of-control. The more we try to control, the more we’re afraid of losing control and the more afraid we are of losing control, the more we try to control. The only way out of this Catch 22 situation is to relinquish control by surrendering and trusting in the Lord.

But choosing surrender over control is not easy. But it can be done. A good place to start is not sweating the small stuff.  In every area of life, we must differentiate between what is important and what is just simply not worth our time and worry. Jesus taught this lesson 2000 years ago. Matthew 6:25, 32-33 says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?…These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Food and clothing are important, but they represent many issues in life to which we give too much weight. Jesus calls us to consider our priorities. That thing you are trying to control right now… is it even worth it?

We do need to take responsibilities in some areas. A life of surrender to Christ is not about sitting back and letting God to do all of the work. There are many issues in life where God calls us to take ownership for our choices and actions.  Working hard to do our part results from trusting God’s work within us. But we don’t act self-sufficiently. As we surrender to God to do what He has given us to do, we also trust God for the desire and the power to do those things.

Finally, leave the God stuff to God. There will be problems in our lives that we simply can’t control or even handle. When there are God-sized issues in our life, we should release or surrender them to God with the knowledge that an all-powerful and all-loving God is in control and that what He brings or allows into our lives only is for His glory and our good.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is this worth your time, attention, and energy to try to control unimportant things?
  2. What can we do this week to surrender control to God?