Being Impartial

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:1-4 (ESV)

You’d think that the church would be a place where class falls away and we are all equal as children at the feet of Jesus. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so in the New Testament days and it isn’t always so in our own era. In James 2:1-4 we see the difference shown in the Church between the rich and the poor; Christians demonstrating their perception between the wealthy and the poor, thinking wealthy are more spiritual than the poor. Coming to that conclusion is easy: rich people have possessions so God is listening to their prayers and blessing them more than others.

The Sadducees and Pharisees demonstrated this dynamic because they thought that as men of God they were more spiritual than others. But Solomon, one of the wisest and richest men in history cleared this all up in Proverbs 22:2: “The rich and poor have this in common: The Lord made them both.” This clearly shows that no matter what your social status is, what God cares about is who you are in Christ Jesus.

The bottom line is that all Christians are equal in the sight of God, no matter your status, culture or background, 1 John 3:1 says; “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” Since we are all children of God we should remind ourselves now and again that the mercy that has been shown to us by Jesus Christ should be extended to others. If we would constantly remind ourselves of the “grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2), we would be less prejudiced and not be quick to pass judgment on others.

in Romans 2: 6-11 Paul says, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;… For God shows no partiality.”

“For God shows no partiality.” There is a universal respect that God shows all His children. After all, “he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45). This is something fundamental about God. He is not moved by irrelevant external appearances. He sees through them and goes to the heart of the matter and is not partial to appearance and circumstance. And since God is impartial we should be impartial as well. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God being impartial mean to you?
  2. What does God being impartial mean in our daily walk with Him?  

I Don’t See Real Change In My Life…Why?

When we wrap our minds and hearts around God’s gracious work in the gospel and root ourselves in Jesus, we find the strength and power to change, because the power to change comes from him alone.– Matt Eachus, Gospel: Encountering and Remembering the Good News of Jesus

Change sometimes seems so arbitrary. Why do some grow quickly and move ahead in the Christian life, while others drift or always seem stuck in neutral? Why do two people profess faith, get involved in church life, have the same discipleship opportunities, and gain new friendships—and yet one flounders while the other flourishes?

Certainly one of the miracles we see routinely is a changed life. Not only can people change, they do. Every year, around the world, untold millions of lives are delivered that seem irredeemable because of bad choices they made in their life: delivered from substance abuse, alcohol abuse, self-destructive habits, emotional wounds, etc. Real change happens because people experience the real power of God that accompanies a new life in Christ.

Jesus came so that human beings who were stuck would not be stuck anymore. His work on the cross targets our hearts—our core desires and motivations—when our hearts change, everything we do changes too. One of God’s primary tools for affecting change is the Bible. But what is it about this collection of writings that empowers lives to be changed in such amazing ways? The key to understanding this power is to realize that the Bible is the Word of God and not just a collection of inspirational writings. The Bible is distinct from every other manuscript in history in that it is indeed the Word of God to man. ( 2 Timothy 3:14–16) When you read the Bible consistently amazing things start to happen. You begin to change and as you change you not only look at things differently you start to do things differently. You begin to be more patient. You get better at relationships. Your desires change. You can’t wait to learn more at church and in a small group. You see things in a whole new light. You are seeing your life through the clarifying, edifying, purifying lens of God’s Word.

God’s Word is still powerful today. It has the power to change lives. It is still the bedrock of our Christian faith. Invest in your relationship with Him. If you have not spent time in the Bible lately, maybe it is time to jump back in: open it up, read with, discuss it with people, chew on it, and let it change you. Not just because it’s the thing to do as a Christian. Do it because you must, because we all desperately need to know God in a more personal, intimate way. You will never be the same again.

“Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.”  (Proverbs 30:5).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can Scripture change your life?  
  2. What can you do this week to spend more time in God’s Word?  

Walk The Talk

“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it..” – James 1:22-25  

As a Christian, it is pretty easy to talk about what I believe. I can talk about grace, I can talk about loving my neighbor, raising my kids in church, the importance of forgiving people who hurt me, etc. Scripture reminds us, however, grace needs to be at work and worked out in our lives in order for us to truly reap the benefits of grace. In other words, walking the talk. 

James contrasts doing with hearing. Hearing without doing, he says, is like looking at your face in a mirror and then walking away and forgetting what you look like. In other words, “hearing” equals looking in the mirror, and “not doing” equals walking away and forgetting. The point here is that hearing the Word isn’t the same as obeying it. If all we do is hear, and do nothing, James says we are fooling ourselves. 

James is telling us to pay full attention, listen as if your life depends on it. Then immediately incorporate what you hear into your life. Adapt every aspect of what you’ve heard into your thoughts, into your hearts, your words, character and conduct. Live out what you’ve heard.

When Jesus was asked what’s the greatest commandment, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) They go together. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor. You can’t have God-talk without God-acts. James says it’s not an either or situation. We don’t earn our salvation by doing good works. Salvation as a gift from God; salvation is something given freely by Him rather than something we earn. James isn’t saying, “if you do good deeds then you’ll be saved.” He’s saying “if you’ve been saved, then you’ll do good works.”

Let people see your faith through your actions, not your actions through your faith. Let your actions be real and intentional, filled with grace and love, through the power of Jesus. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the talk. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does putting your faith into action mean to you?  
  2. What can you do this week to better put your faith into action? 

A Strong Foundation During The Pandemic

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” – Luke 6:46-49. 

As Jesus comes to the end of a sermon He drives home the necessity of obeying what He has taught. He asks pointedly, “why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” This question set the stage for the well-known parable of two men building separate houses. The first lays a foundation on the rock, so that his house stands firm when the flood bursts against it. The second foolishly builds his house without the proper foundation, so that it is destroyed by the flood. 

Just as hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural disasters are common occurrences on planet earth, disasters can also occur in all of our lives. If we want to survive these storms, steps must be taken and homes must be built which will stand strong in the storms of life. Christ tells us how to do this in Luke 6:46-49. This passage of scripture makes perfect sense: Of course one can’t just think about Jesus’ commands, you’ve got to follow through. Jesus is saying, “If you want to protect your life from damage, you’ve got to be wise and obey my commandments and my rules for your life.” Just standing on the Rock isn’t enough. A committed relationship with Jesus means we will trust Him completely. We must obediently follow His commands. We must live our lives seeking to learn more about Him and becoming more and more like Him. 1 John says it best: “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)

What about the person who builds a house without a foundation. No foundation means it will suffer damage in a storm. Why? Because he heard Jesus speak and did not put Jesus’ words into practice. His life is not firmly grounded on living a life that follows Jesus. There is no rock-solid trust in the security God provides. He is missing the enduring love and care God has for him. When the storms come,  Jesus says it will “collapse into a heap of ruins.” If the skies are blue and the winds are calm, any house will stand. But when the storms arrive in the form of troubles, pressures, suffering, and pandemics, they will destroy a house with no foundation.  

The one sure foundation to build on is Jesus himself. Hearing and doing Jesus’ words builds a sure foundation so that when difficulties arise, they will be unable to shake the sure foundation of our lives. 

“But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide.” (Psalms 94:22)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you building your life on? How do you know?
  2. What changes do you need to make in order to build your lives on the rock?

Humbly Accept the Word

“So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” – James 1:21. 

The Book of James is filled with practical wisdom for Christians. In his letter to Jewish believers living outside Jerusalem, James reminds us that faith doesn’t only change what we believe. It changes what we do.  

While reading the first chapter of James, the phrase “humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls” kinda jumps out at you.  It makes things a little simpler. When faced with trials or negative circumstances, you don’t need to read another book, attend another seminar, or ask another friend about this. You need to humbly accept the Word God has planted in your hearts and do what the Bible tells you to do.  

Stop for a moment and consider how often you are exposed to God’s Word. Every time you open up the Bible, God speaks. Every time you go to a small group and discuss a passage of Scripture He is speaking. When you quote verses in your head that you have memorized, He is talking. The Bible tells you who God is, how we are to live, what people are like, and what to expect in the future.   

Bible study was never meant to simply increase our knowledge. God’s Word is meant to be more than informational, it is meant to be transformational. Studying, reading, researching, remembering the Bible is useless if we fail to put what we learned into use. The apostle James says “ .. don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22). Jesus says both knowing and applying the Word creates the foundation for our lives: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Matthew 7:24)  

When God speaks, your life will be transformed. But that can only happen by making the Bible the authoritative standard for your life: the compass you rely on for direction, the counsel you listen to for making wise decisions, and the benchmark you use for evaluating everything. The Bible must always have the first and last word in your life.  

The Word planted in us that can save us is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave and that through faith in Him we can be forgiven and have a relationship with God. Should our lives look the same if this Word is planted and growing in us? We must come to the word ready to listen and ready to be changed because nothing can change us but the word of God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does “humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts” mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this week to not only accept the word but act on it as well? 

Hearing Not Access is The Problem

“For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.” – Matthew 13:15.  

God still communicates with His people, in special ways, on an individual level. God’s voice can be heard all the time, everywhere. He speaks externally to our eyes and ears, and internally to our hearts, minds, and spirits. The question is whether we are listening? The need to hear His voice and feel His presence is desperate, and we all feel it, so then, what’s stopping us? 

It isn’t resources. We live in a time that is literally called the “information age”. We have access to more Bibles, commentaries, preachers, teachers, schools, retreats, Christian book stores, internet sites, blogs, songs, radio stations, than any culture in history. Often, the problem isn’t hearing from God…but our willingness to trust what He is saying and actually do it.Remember, God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we hear Him speak, it may not always make make sense…in fact, it may seem a little crazy. If it was always easy and understandable, it wouldn’t require faith.

The Bible story on the four soils found in Mark 4:3-9 sheds some light on the subject: “A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” 

I hope that today, you are able to say that you are fertile ground, accepting the seeds that God is saying casting onto your heart. I hope you’re tuned into His signal. It is my deep prayer that you are receptive, listening, not distracted, and embrace what He is saying and do what He is asking you to do.

There will be times in our lives where we have chosen not to listen, been too distracted to let it take root, or allowed negative thinking or our own desires to become more important than God’s voice. There will also be times where we do not listen carefully or long enough. It isn’t that we didn’t have access, we just weren’t listening because during these times I really want to hear from God, He is always there to tell me something, show me something, or let me experience something that tells me more about who He is, explains something I’m going through, or where He simply allows me to know that He is near and draws me closer to Him.

God will speak if we will listen.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe you can hear God’s voice? What is required to hear God’s voice? 
  2. What can you do this week to be a better listener?  

When Will All This Be Over?

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.” – Psalm 13.

“Are we there yet?” Chances are you’ll hear that more times than you can count if you’re in the middle of a road trip or any long drive in the car with your kids. Sitting in the car for hours is boring, even for adults, so it’s no surprise kids get antsy and whiny. Kids have it much better today than when I was a kid: they’ve got lots of movies loaded up on the iPhone or iPad, a nice set of headphones, books, stuffed animals, a pillow and blanket, a notebook and colored pencils, and some snacks and water. Basically, the child moves into the back seat. You would think this would keep them totally occupied, it would be smooth sailing. Not. Eventually, the inevitable “I’m boooooooooooooooored” reverberates from the back seat followed by “are we there yet?” In many ways we have the same feeling about the COVID-19 pandemic: “is it ever going to end?” As a result, we are stressed and worried. 

This is when faith is so important. This is when we need to trust God. We don’t have to know what is happening tomorrow. We can only live each moment, each hour, each day individually anyway. We are asked to trust only in Him for all of our needs. When God saved us, He promised that we would spend eternity with Him. He didn’t tell us long we would be here on earth, what troubles we would face or whether we would be worried or anxious or even stressed. Sometimes that makes us angry and confused. We keep asking when this pandemic or other trials will be over; “are we there yet?” The answer is sometimes no answer so we tend it to go from weary and tired to angry and bitter. When we ask God if we are there yet, we would do well to remember “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” It would be nice to know all the things God is doing behind the scenes and the reasons for them. But that is not how it works. 

The good news is that God has a plan for this journey we call life. He won’t tell us everything which is why we need to trust Him with the details of our lives. Trust His leading in the coronavirus and every other aspect of your life. He will get you where you need to go.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What areas of your life are you stressed about?  
  2. What can you do this week to trust God with those areas? 

The Criminal

“Two criminals were led away with Jesus, and all three were to be executed together. When they came to the place that is known as The Skull, the guards crucified Jesus, nailing him on the center cross between the two criminals.  While they were nailing Jesus to the cross, he prayed over and over, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” – Luke 23:32-34 (TPT).  

His name is known only to God. But we know his character—and apparently he was quite a character. We know very little about his past, other than he is described as a criminal. When we are introduced, his story is in the final pages of its final chapter. We find this man – sentenced to death – hanging on a cross within earshot of Jesus. Luke describes the scene in chapter 23. 

 Luke 23:35 says: “A great crowd gathered to watch what was happening. The religious leaders sneered at Jesus and mocked him, saying, “Look at this man! What kind of ‘chosen Messiah’ is this? He pretended to save others, but he can’t even save himself!” The soldiers mocked, “Hey! If you’re the king of Jews, why don’t you save yourself?” (v. 37). Eventually, one of the men crucified beside Jesus joined in as well, “What kind of Messiah are you? Save yourself and save us from this death!” (v. 39).

There was only one person who came to Jesus’ defense. The other criminal. In vs. 40-41 he says, “Don’t you fear God? You’re about to die! We deserve to be condemned, for we’re just being repaid for what we’ve done. But this man—he’s done nothing wrong!” It was clear that this man had a correct view of reality and a correct view of himself. He saw himself as a criminal who was rightly condemned for the deeds he had committed.  He correctly realized that he deserved death.  Further, he had a correct view of Jesus. He had made too many bad choices, succumbed to too many temptations, done too many bad things. His only hope hung on the cross next to him. So in an act of desperation, he cried out, “I beg of you, my Lord Jesus, show me grace and take me with you into your everlasting kingdom!” (v. 42). While he was on his way to receiving exactly what he deserved. Jesus responded (v. 43)

Think about that for a second. Every word Jesus spoke from the cross cost him physically. Every breath caused unimaginable pain as he pushed and pulled on nail-pierced extremities to exhale. But Jesus answered him anyway: “I promise you—this very day you will enter paradise with me.” (Luke 23:43).” Jesus, God in a body, promised a man who was as opposite Him as opposite could be, “Where I’m going, you’re going.”  That is grace. 

While we will be tempted and yes, we do not know what the future here on earth holds, we do have the assurance of spending eternity with a Savior who died that we might have life.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you think of the criminal on the cross? 
  2. What can we learn from this story and more importantly how can we put it to use this week?   

The Lure Of Temptation

“And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” – Matthew 6:13. 

In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis surveys the state of his own heart and finds “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.” Although we may not express it in such terms, we all face similar temptations, weaknesses, and struggles. 

The raw fact is that Christians throughout church history have done battle with temptation. Many people have gone to great lengths isolating themselves from others with the hopes of never being tempted. But unless you find a way to be completely isolated, you will be tempted.  

There is a powerful verse that will help us as we wrestle with temptation. That verse is Hebrews 4:15: “ This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” Think about that for a second. It says Jesus was tempted as we are. That is a powerful verse. Jesus was tempted. It changes how we should look at temptation. 

Temptation is something we face every day. TV commercials and print advertisements are designed to thrive on temptation. They want to play on your desires in order to convince you that you need something by tempting you. For the average person, 99 percent of the advertisements mean nothing to you; they go in one ear and out the other because you aren’t interested.  However, over 1 percent makes a connection. The product or service appeals to you. When you accept the lure of those advertisements that is temptation as James describes it. James 1:14 says, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.”

What James is saying is that temptation is a lure. We are being lured all day long by temptation. Temptation is not a sin. You don’t have to feel guilty about temptation. Temptation simply means you are human. Remember, Jesus was tempted.  Yet, Hebrews 4:15 also tells us Jesus didn’t sin. It’s not temptation that is wrong, it’s what you choose to do with it that matters. It’s not until we give in to the lure that we will be captured by sin. In that moment of temptation, you also have a great opportunity to show what you value; the world or Jesus. Temptations are battlegrounds to demonstrate what our heart desires.  The key to fighting temptation is not only to avoid the temptation but to desire Christ above everything else.

Know that if you give in to temptation, the Lord still loves you. God knows you aren’t perfect, and God still wants you near Him. Know God’s grace is new for you every morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness;  his mercies begin afresh each morning.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you protect yourself from the lure of temptation? 
  2. What can you do this week to escape the lure of temptation? 

Overcoming Temptation

“Temptation may even be a blessing to a man when it reveals to him his weakness and drives him to the almighty Savior. Do not be surprised, then, dear child of God, if you are tempted at every step of your earthly journey, and almost beyond endurance; but you will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and with every temptation there will be a way of escape.” – F.B. Meyer

Maybe you have heard it said that opportunity only knocks once, but temptation knocks continually. It never stops trying to find a way into our lives. We all face temptation, the question is how effectively do we deal with it. There are some very simple and effective things we can do to grow stronger and smarter in our struggle against sin. 

First, recognize your tendencies in your struggle against temptation. James 1:14 explains that we are tempted when we become enticed by our own natural desires. The first step toward overcoming temptation is to recognize where, when, and how we are most vulnerable. The temptation to sin is a given, so don’t be surprised by it. Expect to be tempted daily, and be prepared for it. The apostle Peter reminds us to stay on the lookout: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Secondly, avoid what tempts you. When you come face to face with temptation, look for the way out—the way of escape—that God has promised. Then skedaddle. Avoid it like the plague; flee. Run as fast as you can. Thirdly, resist temptation by leaning on the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations in the wilderness with the Word of God. While it can be helpful to read God’s Word when you’re being tempted, it is better still to practice reading the Bible daily so you are ready whenever temptation strikes. If you are reading the Bible regularly, you will start to have the mind of Christ.  

Finally repent from sin. When we fail to flee temptation, eventually we will give in and fall. Temptation is not a sin in itself, but giving in to it is. We need to acknowledge the sins we committed and repent of them before God so that He will forgive us. We can’t ignore the wrong we did and act as if nothing happened – God won’t forgive them unless we confess them as sin. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What times in your daily or yearly calendar are you tempted to sin? Who in your life tempts you to sin? What places or practices offer you more temptation? 
  2. Why do you give in to your temptations? What are some things that you could do or strategies you could use to resist temptation?