Not So Small Changes

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.” – Steve Jobs. 

There is a story told about change. A man named Tyler was unsure about his choice of clothes for church so he sought some counsel from his wife. He asked, “Do you think I should change?” She took advantage of the opportunity and replied, “It depends—are you talking about changing your shirt or making a wholesale change as a human being?”

Ouch. I think we are all open to making small changes in our lives that make us happier and more successful, but few of us think we need to commit to something that’s going to change our lives in a daunting and massive way. Our spouse may disagree.  What’s more important is what God thinks.   

Some changes such as Hurricane Michael seem out of our control. Even so, the hurricane produced some big challenges and even bigger changes for many people. When the challenge is this big, the preliminary, small steps we take don’t seem to make a difference. We feel like we make little to no progress. It is easy to get discouraged and begin asking yourself “why bother?”  Isaiah 55:10-11 tells: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit.It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

Isaiah is reminding us that God is at work regardless of the size of changes in our lives. There is no doubt many people in Northwest Florida face big changes ahead that will impact them in a way like never before. The life that many people have known for any number of years is coming to an end, at least for the near future. Life has its way of working out our faith by trial and fire. It is so easy to worry about what the future will look like. That future coupled with the big changes will make it a challenge for all of us to keep God first.

God has a purpose, and His plans to accomplish that purpose are perfect. Trusting God’s purpose, and seeking to understand that He takes all the events from our life and orchestrates good from them, leads to a changed perspective.

So although it may be difficult to maintain the right attitude with the house needing repair and no contractors available to do the work, look to God for His purpose and it will change your perspective.  We can trust that in the midst of all the things that seem to go wrong, God will bring something good out of it.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do big changes make it harder to trust and wait on God than smaller, incremental changes? Why?
  2. God will work in and through every situation to bring good from it. Agree or disagree and why?

A Different Perspective

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Intuitively we know that to be true. But change is only good when it contributes to growth. Ellen Glasgow said, “all change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” Change for the sake of change isn’t a good thing. It becomes a good thing when change enables us to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of the things that can happen to Christians is the idea that we have no problem with good change (the changes we want) but not when the changes cause painful and uncomfortable times. Maybe we need to look at this from a different perspective. Life is a series of problem-solving opportunities. And that includes the changes in your life. The changes you face will either defeat you or develop you – depending on how you respond to them. And those changes can keep you at arm’s length from God or bring Him closer.

Unfortunately, most people fail to see how God wants to use problems for good in their lives. They react impulsively and resent their problems rather than pausing to consider what benefit they might bring.

God can use change to perfect you. Change, when responded to correctly, can build your character and your faith.  Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

So, while we may see something as pointless, horrible or impossible to change, God sees it differently. And since His thoughts are always the truth, we should attempt to look for them. God is still at work in your life – even when you do not recognize it or understand it. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. The way for us to remain grounded in stressful times is to seek His view. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. How can we better see God’s perspective in the days ahead?

God Will Change Your Life

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” — James 1:17.

Change happens and nowhere is that more obvious than in Northwest Florida. In late September, most people had it all: they had their health, relationships, a job, a roof over their head, money in their pocket, clothes to wear and food to eat. Fast forward a few weeks and many people lost some or all of those things in 130 plus mph winds.

It takes real faith to be willing to let go of life’s reins and hold tight to God when things start to change for the worst. But probably not for the first time. Many of us have made big moves either geographically or making a major change in life. And in those times as now, we tend to bristle at what is happening and fear what those changes will do to our personal and professional lives. But God is in the midst of it all.

He was there when we opened the boxes to move into the new house. He was there in the old city and He is there in the new city. He was there in the valleys of each trial and in the peaks of each success. He was there when we watched Hurricane Michael move across Northwest Florida and He was there when we cried over the devastation. 

Most people don’t love change, but I know that God is always working for my good. So, I can say, “It just can’t get any worse” knowing that God will never forsake me. Exodus 23:20 says, “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.” I know at all times, God goes ahead of me and prepares a place for me. It might not be what I wanted in the short-term, but He is always there in every change in my life.

It is hard to see much good in Hurricane Michael. It was at a time like this that Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

But in faith, we can allow God to guide us through our fears and learn to trust Him in all circumstances. We can trust Him and welcome change, even if it’s hard to say goodbye to the previous chapter of our lives. We simply need to be open to His will and guidance. God always has something good for us in the long run. Even if it means some abrupt change today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it possible to embrace change? How?
  2. How can we see God in the changes in our lives?

Knowledge of the Holy

“The greatest miracle that God can do today is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, and make that man holy and put him back into that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” – Author unknown.

There is no better word than holy that captures the splendor of who God is and the destination to which He has called us. Only once in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.”

Throughout the life and ministry of our Lord on the earth, it became increasingly clear this was no ordinary man; this was the Son of God. Even the demons had to acknowledge Him as the ”the Holy One of God” ( Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34).

Remember 1 Peter 1:15-16 says, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” The phrases “just as God who chose you is holy” and  “you must be holy because I am holy.” imply that we know something about our holy God. As we have said all week, holiness is becoming more like Jesus.  We can never be as holy as God is holy, since absolute holiness belongs to God alone. But we can and should grow in personal holiness as we grow in knowledge of our Holy God.

God has invited all believers to live a holy life. God doesn’t want us to just know about His holiness; He’s inviting us to participate. Through spending time with God and the Holy Spirit, we are realigning ourselves with the holy nature that has been placed inside us. The more we walk and talk with Him, the more knowledge we have, the more we become like Him. The more we become holy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is holiness to you? How much thought, attention, and effort do you devote to the pursuit of holiness?
  2. How can we increase our knowledge of God’s holiness this week?

One Mind. One Accord.

“For,“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:16.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens timeless observation from his book, A Tale of Two Cities, is strangely apropos for us today. Hurricane Michael and the devastation this category 4 storm has brought to our communities made this year the worst of times for many people.  But everyday you see people responding selflessly and compassionately and with great generosity to help family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. It that way, it is the best of times.

Whether you view this as the best or worse of times, or both, our mission as followers of Jesus has not changed. We still seek to be more like Jesus and to be holy as He is holy. Once we accept Jesus as Savior we embark on a never-ending quest to become more like Him. God continuously works within us and transforms us, continually renewing and reshaping us to “…have the mind of Christ.”

The mind of Christ refers to thinking in a way that is consistent with how Jesus thinks. This is sometimes reflected in the phrase WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? This refers to the process of thinking how Jesus might act in a given situation and doing it. This requires the person that is considering this to be able to think like Jesus or have the mind of Christ to accomplish this. There are innumerable benefits to having the mind of Christ. It would be amazing, but it sounds not only improbable, but impossible for “average Joe” Christian to have the mind of Christ. First of all, what does it mean and how can I possibly get there? The simple answer is having the mind of Christ means we look at life from our Savior’s point of view, His values are our values, It means we think God’s thoughts.

In 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, Paul gives us some additional explanation. In this passage, Paul is saying that no one knows my thoughts other than myself. In much the same way, only God can know his thoughts. But since the Holy Spirit is God, He knows the thoughts of God. And since God has given us His Spirit, we too can know God’s thoughts. Paul summarizes this passage with a bold statement, “we have the mind of Christ.”

The reason God wants us to be able to know His thoughts and think like Christ is so we can be more like Him. To have the mind of Christ, we must first learn to think as He thinks and then think as He thinks. If you have the mind of Christ, worry will be offset by trust, anger and bitterness by love, and fear by faith. Having the mind of Christ means we live a life of peace, enjoy great relationships, experience real joy and have the ability to become all God has created us to be. 

Try to pause during the day or when faced with decisions and reflect on what God’s word says on the subject, and how He wants you to live and behave. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you at that moment to have the mind of Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to “have the mind of Christ?” Do you think it’s possible to think of things like God does?
  2. What can we do this week to have the mind of Christ?

Encountering Holiness

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:5.

I think Scottish evangelist Oswald Chambers got it right when he said: “The Spirit is the first power we practically experience, but the last power we come to understand.”  Every pastor tries to explain the Trilogy, the concept of one God but three persons, in a way that people can quickly grasp.  Most use some type of example; i.e., a three leaf clover: one entity, but with three parts. To be fair, it’s really complex, and a concept that few have managed to get their heads around. The Bible clearly explains who the Holy Spirit is and is full of stories that show the Spirit as a vibrant, personal being.   

We learned from Hurricane Michael that life is not always going to be a smooth ride, nor is being holy. Fortunately, we will always have the Holy Spirit with us, working on our behalf. The Holy Spirit gives us the power and the wisdom to follow Jesus. Once we start a personal relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to know Him and become more like Him. When Jesus introduced the Spirit to His disciples, He used the name Helper.”But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26 ESV)

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. ”And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” The Holy Spirit also guides us to truth: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit empowers us to live a life that reflects Jesus no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. In other words, a more holy life.    

So as we strive to be more like Jesus, to be more holy, remember the Holy Spirit. In our quest to be more like Jesus, we can find help in books, online programs, and godly mentors, but the Helper wants us to go to Him first. Ask Him for wisdom, ideas, and guidance on how to be more like Jesus in our daily lives. 

The Holy Spirit has many things to tell you that will help you as you strive to be more like Jesus.  He can give you strength, help, comfort and guidance. By obeying Him, you can live the faithful life that you have longed for. You can have a better relationship with God by being in tune with His voice. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see the Holy Spirit as a real person? Do you believe He is God? Do you speak to Him and hear from Him on a regular basis?
  2. How do you see the Holy Spirit helping you live the Christian life?
  3. What can you do this week to become more open to the teaching and guiding of the Holy Spirit?

So How Do I Become Holy?

They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!. The whole earth is filled with his glory!”  Isaiah 6:3. 

There are people who believe that in order to be holy, you cannot have anything to do with this world.  Others think that you need to be at every church service serving and when you are not in church holiness requires reading your Bible and praying. Others think that you must live in an equal parts mixture of humility, love, tolerance, discipline, peace and faithfulness. Still others think that holiness and fun cannot co-exist, so you can’t enjoy yourself at all.  And lastly people think being holy is adhering to a wide-ranging long list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” But what is holiness really?

One thing that we can all agree with is that we are called to be like Jesus. John tells us in 1 John 2:6, “those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” Jesus was and is the prototype we are asked to emulate. So we are to be holy, like He is holy. Most people would accurately point out that how exactly can we be as holy as Jesus was? He was spotless, blameless, perfect. How could anyone live up to that standard? Besides, doesn’t 1 Samuel 2:2 say “No one is holy like the LORD!” So, if there is none holy but the Lord, how do we fulfill 1 peter 2:9 which says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation…” To be a holy nation, a holy people, Christ’s holiness has to become our holiness.

It is true that Jesus Christ, our Savior, stands alone in perfect holiness. And because Jesus alone is holy and perfect, God does not recognize any other person. So to be received by God, we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. So one day when we stand before Him, we will be received by the grace of Christ and we did nothing to be more holy. “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

But this amazing work of God does not stop when I accept Jesus as my personal Savior. I’m not just left on my own to be holy from this point forward. Good thing. Jesus is working through the Holy Spirit to make me holy—and what God starts, He will finish. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6).

Fortunately, my salvation is not contingent on my being holy in conduct but on the perfect holiness to be found in Jesus Christ, my Savior and my God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is being “holy” just a synonym for moral purity? Why or why not?
  2. How well do you think you mirror and reflect the holiness of God in the world? What can you do this week to improve that rating?

Seeking Holiness

God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7.

In many ways Hurricane Michael has changed our perspective and our priorities. But even in these tough times, when it is difficult to press on, we can’t lose sight of our mission and our purpose; to be more like Jesus. Charles Spurgeon rightly noted, “There will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness.” The Bible talks about holiness a great deal. Take Peter: In Peter’s first letter, he talks about “holiness” a number of times. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 

Once you are a follower of Jesus you have been accepted or adopted into a group of people that Peter calls a “holy nation.” Thinking of ourselves as holy people is a little intimidating to say the least. Holiness is a pretty tall order.  It is a pretty big thing to get our arms around. There are a lot of people who think that holiness is a bridge too far, is out of our reach, and a goal that is unrealistic, given the fallen world we live in. But before you come to that conclusion, we need to remember that the Bible is telling us that holiness is God’s will for us.

Look at Leviticus 11:44: “For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy…” 1 Peter 1:15 says “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy”  There are many of verses that tell us that holiness is one of the key things that God desires for each of us. 

Many people are confused by what holiness is and looks like in our day-to-day lives while others have struggled with maintaining the high standard of holiness. That does not change the fact that we are to be a holy people. That is God’s will.

So rather than try to tackle this broad subject in one devotional, I will try to unpack this subject the best I can during this week’s devotionals. We will look into what holiness is, what it is not, and how we can go about being the holy people God has called us to be in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you define the word holiness in general and more specifically for your life?
  2. Do you believe a person can become holy?

Sign Of End Times?

And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.” – Luke 21:25.

The past two years have been marked by storms of record ferocity, apocalyptic damage and thousands of deaths. The US has now been hit by five category 4 hurricanes of 130 mph plus – Harvey, Irma, Maria (Puerto Rico’s deadliest disaster) Florence and now Michael – in the past two storm seasons, the most in 150 years of records. This storms left billions of dollars in damage and ruined lives in their wake. And lest we forget, an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico in 2017 and the Fiji islands in 2018. We have out-of-control wildfires raging in the west, and we recently experienced a rare solar eclipse. These storms and other events cause people to wonder whether all this is a sign of the end times. Is all this a sign that Christ will soon return?

There is a big difference between knowing that Jesus could return today and knowing that He will return today. While some areas of prophecy are unclear to us, the Bible is very clear on one thing: no one knows the specific time of Christ’s return. Jesus Himself stated, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.” (Acts 1:7) And when referring to his return Jesus said this in Matthew 24:36: “… no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.  So how can we possibly know what the Son Of God does not know.  And even if we knew we were living in the last days, we cannot know how long the last days will last.  

The time of His coming is something God has not revealed to anyone, and so, until He calls us to Himself, we should continue serving Him. In Jesus’ parable of the ten talents, the departing king instructs his servants to “‘Invest this for me while I am gone.” (Luke 19:13 ) Even in the midst of the devastation of Hurricane Michael, we need to continue “investing” in the kingdom of God. We, too, should view every day as a gift and use it to glorify God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the topic of the end times is so interesting to everybody? 
  2. If we are in the end times, how would that change how you live your life? 

Keep The Faith

…“Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight…” – Daniel 6: 19-22

One of the most loved stories from the Old Testament is the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. We love this story because it had a happy ending. God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was not harmed. One of the chief lessons we learn from this story is gleaned from the confession of King Darius himself: “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed,  and his rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26). Hebrews 11:33 says, “By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions.”  Still, it must have been a terrifying night for Daniel, sitting so close to lions. It was a test of faith to be sure.

Many of us in the Panhandle are enduring our own personal “den of lions” right now. Michael has affected so many people. In many ways our faith is also being tested. The best thing we can do at times like this is to have the faith to focus on God and not on our situation. Of course, that is easier said than done when faced with such devastation. The Bible is a constant source of hope and inspiration in times like these.

Psalm 121:7-8 says, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”  2 Samuel 22:3-4 adds, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,  both now and forever.”

Hold on to the promises of God. He is always faithful. “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” – Psalm 18:2. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. God is bigger than anything we will ever face in our lives. Agree or disagree and why?