How Well Do You Know Your Bible?

“Oh, the joys of those who do not  follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” –  Psalm 1:1-3. 

Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with the living God. But effective relationships do not run on autopilot. It’s easy to have an exciting relationship when you first fall in love, but it takes deliberate effort to keep your marriage close and growing as the years go on. The same is true in your relationship with the Lord. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, it’s all-new, fresh and exciting. But if we don’t put in the effort, that relationship can become routine or even stagnant. That is where the Bible comes in. The Bible has all the information we need to build and even strengthen our relationship with God. It is God’s guidebook for life. So, you need to pray with Paul, “asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” (Ephesians 1:17).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) says, “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 complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul is telling us that God’s Word is good for us; it is profitable. Profitable means that there is a great gain on an investment. It teaches – helps us understand and brings clarity to life. It reproves – shows us how we have sinned. It corrects – points us to the truth when we are in error. It trains – shows us how to obey. God left us His word not simply to increase our knowledge, but to influence our character and conduct. God’s Word is sufficient to prepare us for everything the Bible commands us to do.

Jesus made perhaps the clearest statement describing the ultimate importance of Scripture when, as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “…The Scriptures say,‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4). 

Spending time daily in Scripture is an essential component of spiritual growth. The power of understanding what the Scriptures say is not for knowledge only but because they tell us of Jesus. The more we know about the Bible the more we can intimately abide in our relationship with Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why should we study God’s Word? Do we need a different learning style when studying the Bible? 

What Pleases God?

So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” – 2 Corinthians 5:9-10.

The Bible tells us that our main goal should be to please God. There are many Christians out there that try their hardest to do just tha. They have a quiet time every morning. They pray often. They memorize Scripture. And they lead a small group each week. But they never feel like they are doing enough and inevitably they ask the question that Christians have asked themselves for millennia: “Am I doing enough to please God?”

The answer can be found in Ephesians 2:8-9 that says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” The bottom line is that God’s acceptance of us is not based on our ability to do the right things. Because even on our best day, when we seem to be doing everything right, we’re still sinners. We can’t keep God’s commands perfectly. That’s why we need God’s grace in the first place.

God is pleased with us, not because of what we do but because of who we are—His child. Through his grace, we are “hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3). That means when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees the perfection of His Son. In Genesis, we read about Abraham’s “friendship” with God.  His relationship with God shows us what it takes to please God and to be accepted by God.  Abraham’s relationship pleased God not because of what he did, but what he believed. He believed God.  “Now you see how Abraham’s faith and deeds worked together. He proved that his faith was real by what he did. This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, “Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him.” That’s how Abraham became God’s friend. You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.” (James 2:22-24 CEV)  

In the gospel, God reveals the depth of our need for Him. He shows us that there is absolutely nothing we can do to come to Him. We can’t manufacture salvation. We can’t program it. We can’t produce it. We can’t even initiate it. God has to open our eyes, set us free, overcome our evil, and appease His wrath. We are radically dependent on God to do something in our life that you could never do.

As followers of Jesus we must learn to accept His acceptance.  Receive, by faith, His forgiveness made possible by what He did for us, not by what you can do for Him. Thank Him for loving us.  Rejoice in the fact that God accepts each of us by faith.  Through Christ, we are pleasing to God!

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is more important, trying to get to God or acknowledging our desperate need for Christ?
  2. How can we change our way of thinking so we will focus on winning God’s approval, not other people’s approval?

What is repentance?

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” – Psalm 51: 7-12. 

I Can Only Imagine is a film with a powerful message of hope, redemption, and forgiveness. “My dad was a monster. And I saw God transform him.” There, in the words of Bart Millard to Amy Grant is the theme of the movie. It is the story of God’s amazing grace, of the redemption of a lost and broken soul, and of the power of forgiveness to change both a father and a son. It is a story of true repentance. 

The importance of repentance is hard to overstate. After all, Jesus’s first public exhortation was “Repent!” (Mark 1:15)—and if repentance was high on Jesus’s list, we probably should pay attention too. In fact, all throughout the Bible, we see people being called to repentance. Repentance is not just believing in God, but turning from our old ways. We begin to live as new creations and let the old life pass away: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

Repentance is often confused with remorse, but there is a significant difference between the two. Repentance produces change, whereas remorse merely produces sorrow. Repentance is where a sinner is inwardly humbled and outwardly reformed. Essential to the idea of repentance is that it is both internal and external. When Jesus calls us to repent, he is not calling us to beat up on ourselves or merely to work on cleaning up our lives. Instead, He is calling us to a radical change of heart. 

In David’s psalm of repentance (Psalm 51), he reminds us that God does not delight so much in the outward signs of repentance which included making a sacrifice, He wants a change of heart. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17). David knew he could not fix the problem of his heart. He did not draw a line in the sand and make bold promises about what he could do for God. He threw himself on God’s mercy and grace. He prayed in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” because he realized he could not make his own heart pure. In verse 12, he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Not the “joy of my salvation. Repenting brings us to the end of ourselves and back to God’s grace.

True repentance—a heart change and the determination to no longer follow after the flesh but rather turn toward Jesus. Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you know if repentance is real? What is the result of genuine repentance?
  2. Is there one person in your life that you think truly understands what it means to repent? What kinds of things characterize their life?

Forgive And Forget

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”– Matthew 6:14-15 (MSG). 

The idea of forgiveness tends to make people squirm a little. It doesn’t matter if you are a new Christian or one that has walked with the Lord for many years, it is a struggle to get over past hurts. Showing mercy and love to those who have injured us does not come naturally. Once you are a Christian you would think it would be easier to love others, but forgiving someone who has deeply hurt us is one of the most difficult tasks we are faced with as Christians. That is because we want affirmation that the pain inflicted upon us was unfair and cruel. We want someone to pay for their actions. It is at times like these when we need to remember we serve a God who shows more forgiveness to us in a day then we will ever have the opportunity to show someone else in a lifetime.

The movie I Can Only Imagine, shows the reality of forgiveness in a way that so many will relate to. This movie is not only an example of God’s never-ending, all-consuming, redeeming love, but also an example of a man who chose to look to Him as an example of forgiveness when he was faced with two choices: to forgive or to reject. Bart Millard’s father consistently crushed his dreams and physically and emotionally abused him. It was when Millard returned home to find his father a changed man, passionate about loving Christ and asking for his forgiveness that he was faced with the task of truly trusting and forgiving like Christ. The story that unfolds is one that he would never have imagined—a true testament to the love and forgiveness he showed a man who by all accounts, didn’t deserve it.

There are real lessons to be learned from this movie. For example, no one is too broken for forgiveness from God, which means they shouldn’t be too broken for forgiveness from us. Second, if a perfect and all-knowing God can forgive, who are we to withhold the forgiveness that is so selflessly given to us? Forgiveness is not about getting even. In fact, sometimes, the scales will be left unbalanced. Forgiveness is a gift that is genuinely given to someone who has wronged us. And finally, forgiveness opens doors to reconciliation opportunities instead of going through life with anger. Bart and his father were able to mend and develop a relationship that changed both of their lives. Had he chosen not to forgive, the pain of their broken relationship would have followed him for the rest of his life. The redemptive story of his father’s journey to Christ is what inspired the song, “I Can Only Imagine.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What characteristics in your life might indicate that you haven’t fully forgiven past hurts, even if you know in your head what you need to do?
  2. Who do you need to forgive this week? 

I Can Only Imagine

“Isn’t it interesting how some life-changing devastations are actually like the crossover switches on train tracks that take you in a totally new direction, often forcing you onto the path you were supposed to be on all along?” ― Bart Millard, I Can Only Imagine: A Memoir.

I Can Only Imagine is a good movie. It doesn’t try to cram too many themes and sub-plots into a 2 hour movie. Nor is this movie preachy.This is a movie that shares the story of God’s redemption and grace in an inspirational but simple way.  

The vehicle for the story is the best-selling Christian song, “I Can Only Imagine”, by Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe. Millard wrote the song for his father, who represents overbearing and abusive fathers everywhere. There were plenty of confrontations between father and son. Few people would describe the process of confrontation as a joyful one, but the reconciliation aspect is truly one that inspires rejoicing. The story of Jacob and Esau is a story of reconciliation. 

If anyone had good reason to hold a grudge, it would be Jacob’s brother, Esau. Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and his blessing; then he fled because Esau planned to kill him as soon as their father, Isaac, died. Years later, after they both had wives and children, they met again, but Jacob was still terrified that Esau still wanted to kill him. He sent messengers and lavish gifts ahead of him, hoping to appease his brother. But he need not have worried. As Jacob bowed before his ­brother, “Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept.” (Genesis 33:4) Jacob responded, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” (Genesis 33:11 NIV) 

If we have also read the previous chapter, Jacob’s response may remind us that Jacob had just had an experience of seeing God face to face. Now Jacob saw a reflection of God in Esau through their reconciliation.

The Bible instructs us to live in harmony with other people, but we won’t always succeed. We will hurt others, even if we do so unintentionally. And others will hurt us. We will have misunderstandings. We will anger others and be angry at others. When we reconcile with another person after being at odds, we see God’s face, because God is a God of reconciliation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you feel about doing something or going somewhere that might take you out of your comfort zone in order to reconcile with someone? 
  2. Is there a person that we need to reconcile with? 

Grace Is Still Amazing

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ..  – John 1:16-17 (ESV).   

One way Jesus demonstrates His love is through pouring out “grace upon grace.” This means literally that He pours out His grace to us again and again and again, in ways we never expected or anticipated.  

Think about that for a second. God is a holy and righteous God, completely void of sin. He is perfect in all his ways. Nevertheless, when his children sin and grieve His Spirit, He calls us to repentance with open and loving arms saying, “Come home, child.” His knowledge of who we really are will never undermine His love for us. God’s grace is simply overwhelming. Every time I think of this reality, I’m brought to tears because I serve a God whose love and grace floors me over and over again.

Throughout the Scriptures, the message of this grace is proclaimed. “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin…” (Exodus 34:6–7). God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it.  He gives me grace because He is gracious. God’s grace has absolutely nothing to do with me earning it.  “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Maybe you’ve heard sermons about grace. Or even read books about grace. But my hope is that you will look at grace in a completely different way from now on. Grace is one of the those topics that can be discussed at great length, but is best understood through real life experiences. Otherwise, it really won’t have as much effect. I have heard multiple sermons, podcast and read countless articles on grace. I’ve memorized Bible verses that describe grace. But at the end of the day, what has taught me the most about grace is my experiences and the stories of others who have experienced grace.

It’s my prayer you will powerfully experience the grace effect in your life — and no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, you will personally experience the truth that grace is greater.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can grace be summarized?
  2. What is it easy to believe we can earn God’s grace? 

How Can I Be Perfect?

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48. 

The crowd listening to the Sermon on the Mount did not expect what they got. The audience came away surprised, and you can understand why. The Sermon on the Mount is full of radical teachings like loving and praying for our enemies. But to sum it all up, Jesus concludes with one line: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” Perfect? Me? Certainly not a simple, or realistic command.

Perfection is just impossible. Even the best of us fall far short of that goal. Christians included. We can strive to be a perfectly good, moral rule-abiding person, but we quickly stub our toe or fail miserably. No matter how much effort we invest, or how good our intentions are, our sin nature will eventually surface and sabotage our quest for perfection.

God created life, He alone gets to define it. So we need to find out what exactly Jesus meant by “perfection.” The perfection Jesus prescribes for us is somewhat of a paradox; in that, it is already complete and yet still developing. Complete in Him; still at work in us. Colossians 2:10 says, “So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Isaiah 64:8 adds, “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” We are still a work in progress.

Perfection is referring to spiritual maturity.  Jesus doesn’t care so much if you have a big house, or a nice car or straight teeth. He’s interested in our spiritual maturity. As John writes in 1 John 3:18-20, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.”

In other words, Jesus focuses not on us being perfect, but on loving. And even though apart from Jesus, no one is capable of living a morally perfect life – our focus is to be fully, completely, and perfectly devoted to a relationship with God. God’s love should overflow into our interactions with others. And that includes our enemies who wrong us. 

We should not be discouraged when we fall short of perfection. Our goal should be to love God as He loves us – not to live perfect lives. And as we walk with God in relationship, we will see God begin to transform our lives, and love other in a Christlike way.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider Matthew 5:48 as an ultimate challenge. Being “perfect” means to be mature or complete in Christ. What would it take for a person to meet that ultimate challenge? 
  2. What kinds of behaviors do you demonstrate to other people to let them know that you love them? 

Somebody Needs You

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” – Galatians 5:13. 

The movie Wonder is told from the perspective of Auggie, but it also includes the perspective of Auggie’s sister.  Her name is Via or Olivia.  It turns out that she had a very rough first day at school as well.  Her best friend Miranda seemed to dump her for no apparent reason.  And because she is Auggie’s sister and is in this fragile family system that has had to focus so much attention on Auggie, when she is finally asked how her first day was, she simply responds by not revealing the whole truth. The reality is that she too needed some support and empathy from her parents. 

The natural tendency is to think of self, not others. People tend to focus almost exclusively on their own needs and wants unless they look around.   If we look around we tend to discover that people need us for one reason or another. And in some cases, they need us desperately. Our family needs us to love them and cheer them on. But it is not just family. Those far from the heart of God need to see the love of God, lived out through us. They need to know God loves them. They need to know their life matters. It is safe to say that someone desperately needs you today. It may be obvious, like Auggie, but it may be someone who is wearing the mask of having it all together. Or it maybe somebody less obvious like Olivia.

They need you to send a note, make a call, text, comment on social media. Some need to hear the life-saving good news of Jesus. Or maybe they need to hear some affirming words at work. Others may have to be told of their true value. Still, others that they have a purpose. There are people all around us that need to be encouraged, prayed for and loved. We can have a significant impact on the lives of others when we remember the line from Wonder: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”  

Each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose. That purpose is furthering the kingdom of God.  What would happen if we had the mindset that we were needed by others and put that mindset into action?  What if we opened our eyes to the great needs around us and become the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need? 

Discussion questions 

  1. If you were to guess, how many people need you today? How do you define “need?” 
  2. What are your motivations in your heart for helping others that need you? 
  3. What can I do this week to seek out ways in which to serve others joyfully?

You Are Fearfully And Wonderfully Made

“and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me. Everything you do is marvelous! Of this I have no doubt.”– Psalm 139:14 (CEV). 

Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? What thoughts zip through your mind when soaking in your reflection? Are they kind or critical, praiseworthy or full of condemnation? Do you wish some things were different?

This Psalm 138 verse gives us an inkling of our value from God’s perspective. He designed us with care. As the verses immediately following verse 14 say, “Nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below, but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.” (Psalm 139:15-16 CEV). In other words, your existence, your features, and your abilities are not a mistake. God doesn’t make mistakes. He made you and thoughtfully placed you in a body, a family and a place on this earth. You are perfect. 

Not perfect in the sense of a an IQ off the charts, perfect features and unmatched charisma. But perfect for the plan God has for your life. Perfect for being the feet and hands of Jesus: choosing to be kind rather than dismissive, praying for a friend who is going through a difficult time, sending an encouraging text, being a good listener to those who need a friend.  

Not perfect in the sense that you do everything right the first time, or that you aren’t tempted to sin. But perfect because God sees what you can become if you continue to choose what is right and good. I wonder if we truly understand how valuable we can be to God’s work and the kingdom of heaven. You are perfect for the work of salvation that God wants to accomplish in you.  

Max Lucado says in Cure for the Common Life, “Da Vinci painted one Mona Lisa. Beethoven composed one Fifth Symphony. And God made one version of you…We exist to exhibit God, to display His glory. We serve as canvases for His brushstroke, papers for His pen, soil for His seeds, glimpses of His image.” 

Our bodies are magnificent works of art. Our heart, brain, kidneys, lungs, blood system—all work together every day to keep us walking and talking. It’s a miracle that only a loving and omnipotent God could create and sustain. God made you and me–in His image and uniquely different from anyone else so He could carry out the plan He has for our life and no one else’s.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some advantages of God knowing everything about you? How could this be a source of motivation in your life?
  2. How do you feel about God’s total knowledge of you? Do these verses make you feel uncomfortable or bring you comfort? Do you feel restricted or protected by this?

Take Off Your Mask

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” ― R.J. Palacio, Wonder.

Wonder is the inspirational story of Auggie Pullman that shows us what it looks like to overcome fear and grow through challenges. Auggie was born with a rare condition that left him with severe facial deformities and the need to endure dozens of surgeries throughout the years to help him to breathe, to eat, to hear and to try to help him look a little more ordinary as well. 

When faced with attending school for the first time, after years of homeschooling, he admits he is “totally and completely petrified.” For Auggie, the fear of people seeing him with his unusual facial features and scars is scary so he wears a helmet. The helmet has become his escape, his safe place, a security blanket.  He’s grown comfortable in it.

Maybe you have too. You grab your mask out of the fear that you will be rejected, so you don’t allow anyone to get close to you. You come to church and want everyone to think you’ve got it all together. You end up concentrating on the exterior more than the interior. On the surface you look great, but you’d never want others to know of some of the struggles you experience and so, like Auggie, you reach for the mask.   

Psalm 139:13-14.says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” God knows the journey will be difficult. But just as it was best for Auggie to start school, God knows what is best for you. And what is best for you may require you to take off the mask. He may even ask you to take off your mask and depend solely on Him.

Here is the good news: If you believe that Jesus sees you, but loves you in spite of your scars and faults because he died to forgive you, then you’re life will be forever changed. You don’t have to lie to yourself about your flaws, faults, and sins. You no longer have to be afraid of what others would think if they truly knew you, either, since the Person who matters most of all has already loved and accepted you in spite of your sins. This means we no longer have to conceal our true identity from others.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Fear should never be a stop sign for the plans God has for your life. Don’t let your fears determine your destiny.  That’s God’s job. Take a risk.  Like Auggie, face your giants. It is faith that will enable you to overcome your fears.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How/when do you find yourself hiding your true self from God? What would it look like for you to live openly before God? 
  2. What are the obstacles to taking off our mask? What are the benefits?