Don’t Compromise The Truth

“But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? ” – Acts 4:19-20.  

Acts chapter 4 includes the story of Peter and John standing before rulers and authorities giving testimony of the work of Christ and His death and resurrection. When Peter and John were thrown in jail for healing a lame man and warned not to speak or teach at all in Jesus’ name, they refused to compromise instead, saying, “we cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” They lived according to their beliefs whole-heartedly. The refused to compromise. 

We as Christians need to be wary of compromise. Compromising is making concessions or accommodations for someone who does not agree with a set of standards or roles. Although there are some areas in life where compromise is necessary, for example, marriage: there are other areas where compromise is very dangerous and even deadly. James warns the believers about compromise, even when we are trying to be a peacemaker. 

 A peacemaker is “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” Ezekiel 22:30 says, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” God needs someone to courageously stand in the gap and be a peacekeeper that restores and reconciles.  

We should take whatever initiative is necessary to make peace with others. It may take effort and time, but we should make peace.  But that doesn’t mean we will succeed. A peacemaker longs for peace and works for peace, and sacrifices for peace. But Romans 12:18 reminds us that we may not always succeed.  Paul says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” That is the goal of a peacemaker: Do all you can do.   

While we must work toward peace, we must never abandon our allegiance or compromise the truths of God and His word. We must never compromise our convictions. A conviction is a solid, immovable belief based on confidence in God’s Word. It’s being so thoroughly convinced of absolute truth that a person is willing to take a stand for it regardless of the consequences.

Convictions shape not only what we believe but also how we live and even how we die. They define who we are and provide direction with solid straight lines that don’t veer off track to accommodate circumstances or temptations.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the tongue is such an issue? 
  2. What can we do this week to control the tongue?

Be A Peacemaker

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (NIV).

None of us are unfamiliar with conflict.  Disagreements happen. Something is said perhaps in the heat of the moment, and another word is exchanged, and soon there are raised voices and hurt feelings. It happens at school, on the street, at work, even in the church. Peacemakers can make a real difference. 

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? Being a peacemaker does not mean that you avoid all conflict and confrontations. Nor does it mean that you are laidback, easygoing, relaxed, and passive and that you defend a “peace at any price” philosophy.

The idea of a peacemaker is to make peace. Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” James 3:18 adds, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” A peacemaker is a person who is at peace with himself or herself and because they are at ease internally, they are not ill-tempered and abrasive outside. They work to settle quarrels and diminish conflict. Peacemakers are accepting, tolerant, and refrain from being negative.  In the words of Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

Solomon has a lot to say about peacemakers: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1). “Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24). Peacemakers are slow to anger:  “A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.” (Proverbs 15:18).  And peacemakers are humble and trusting. “Greed causes fighting; trusting the Lord leads to prosperity.” (Proverbs 28:25)

In this turmoil-filled world we live in, there is never true peace in a person’s heart until Jesus comes to reign in that person’s life. With the coming of Jesus, real peace became a possibility in our world. Christ is the ultimate peacemaker.

Our world desperately needs peacemakers who know the peace that only Christ can bring. Peace in homes where there is constant fighting and bickering. Peace in churches that are sometimes torn apart by conflict. Peace in cities where violence has broken out. Peace in our troubled hearts.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a “peacemaker” mean to you? 
  2. How can we be more of a peacemaker this week? 

The Value Of Wisdom

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” – James 3:17.

Different people have a different perspective on what makes a person wise. When you are a kid, people with glasses can look wise. People with gray hair are wise because of all he or she has experienced in life. People with two or three degrees are assumed to be wise, or somebody who has read all the works of Shakespeare and actually understands it.  

We all have a desire to be wise. We like to understand how things work, to be able to answer questions, to make decisions, and to share what we know. We all seek knowledge. Solomon certainly did.  In 1 Kings 3, we learn that instead of requesting material riches, comfort, or pleasure, Solomon desired to advance God’s kingdom through wise leadership. Because God was so pleased with Solomon’s request, He granted it and gave him much more. Solomon began his royal reign as the wisest man on Earth with great wealth and honor. At some point in his life, Solomon grew to love God’s blessings more than God Himself.  He elevated his earthly wisdom above godly wisdom. Solomon forgot that it is the wisdom of God that answers our every need and gives us a true perspective on life’s deepest questions. In all his wisdom, Solomon discovered that wisdom apart from God, left him unfulfilled and discontented.  

The Bible teaches us a great deal about wisdom and knowledge in addition to showing us that there is a distinction. One can gain a great deal of knowledge, but not have or exercise wisdom. However, one cannot have wisdom without having knowledge first. James tells us that “ If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13) There are two kinds of wisdom: biblical wisdom and unbiblical wisdom. Unbiblical wisdom, James says, is rooted in jealousy and self-ambition and produces disorder. Biblical wisdom, however, bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit abiding in the Christian. James is telling us that humility before God translates to humility toward others. 

“Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” –Proverbs 1:7. If you have been following the Lord for any length of time, you know that the world’s ways do not reflect God’s ways. The world will tell you where to look for wisdom and for happiness. The world will tell you that immediate happiness is the most important goal for your life. The world will tell you there is no absolute truth. However, God’s wisdom surpasses all of the world’s wisdom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of earthly and heavenly wisdom found in James 3:13-18?
  2. How can wisdom help us be better peacemakers? 

God Is Sovereign

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” – Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV).  

It’s hard to fully understand the full impact this pandemic has had and will have on our lives. Yet, one thing is certain: God is sovereign. This is the truth of Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”  God works all things together for His good purposes.

God’s awe-inspiring, miraculous, all-knowing sovereignty means that even while the world is under siege by a deadly virus, we can live knowing that God can use even this for His glory. No matter what happens, God is sovereign and is still able to make these things work together for good.

There has not been much “good news” recently. But there are still opportunities, even in a pandemic. One possible opportunity while we deal with the virus is to slow down and focus on our relationship with God. Before the virus, we were moving faster than ever before. We’re addicted to speed, obsessed with hurry. We are in this continuous struggle to accomplish more things and participate in more events in less time. In addition, we can’t go out as we normally would, so there isn’t as much to do. That makes this time a great opportunity to focus on our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

You see, our relationship with God is like any other relationship in the sense that it requires both parties investing time and energy into it for it to grow. God is invested: Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8 that God was invested in this relationship while we were still sinners. God was so invested that His Son Jesus died for you so that you could enter into a relationship with Him. God is invested and God desires to see our relationship with Him grow. During the pandemic, this is an opportunity to invest in that relationship with Him. 

During this pandemic, spend time in His Word, spend time in prayer, and spend time with other believers. We are not able to be with other believers as normal, but many of us have more time to spend in His word and in prayer. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:7 that when we seek Him we will find Him. Some of the best ways to seek God is by searching His Word and talking with Him in prayer. Those practices may have gotten moved down the priority list due to having so many things to do. But now that we aren’t as busy, we need to take advantage of this opportunity by investing extra time into our relationship with God now.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some steps we can take this week to strengthen our relationship with God?  

Our Words Give Us Away

“… It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” – Matthew 12:36-37 (MSG).  

Our words are very powerful. Our words, often so recklessly spoken, carry more weight than most of us can imagine. In fact, hardly a week goes by in which you and I don’t read or hear about some celebrity, elected official, or admired athlete whose words have gotten them into hot water. But the matter goes far deeper than being “politically correct.” Our words reveal the state of our hearts. 

Scripture is clear that words can be powerful. In Matthew 12, Jesus teaches the connection between our words and our hearts. He says that simply trying harder to be good will not work because the root of the problem is within us. He says: “You must determine if a tree is good or rotten. You can recognize good trees by their delicious fruit. But if you find rotten fruit, you can be certain that the tree is rotten. The fruit defines the tree. …How can your words be good and trustworthy if you are rotten within? For what has been stored up in your hearts will be heard in the overflow of your words! When virtue is stored within, the hearts of good and upright people will produce good fruit. But when evil is hidden within, those who are evil will produce evil fruit.” (Matthew 12:33–35 TPT)

The words we speak show what is in our hearts. If our hearts are evil, then the words we speak and write will be evil too. In James 3:8, God’s Word says: “but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.” Transforming the tongue begins with a change in the heart. Jesus said, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.” (Matthew 15:18) The heart influences the tongue. When it is full of anger, selfishness, envy, pride, it will affect everything we do.

Something needs to change within us. Our focus needs to be transformed. Instead of looking for the bad in a situation, we need to look for the good. Instead of being preoccupied with self-interest, we need to focus on the interests of others. Changing our hearts is a good place to start. The Bible teaches, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” James 1:19-20  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What needs to change to better control the tongue? 
  2. What would we do differently this week if you knew your words were powerful?

The Positive Use Of Words

” The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.” – Proverbs 10:11. 

Tongues can be weapons of mass destruction, launching holocausts and wars. Tongues can also be the death of marriages, families, friendships, churches, careers, hopes, understanding, reputations, and governments. But the tongue can also accomplish a lot of good.  It is not much of a stretch to think that the problems of the world could be solved overnight if people could get victory over their tongues. What if there was no anger, no profanity, no lying, no grumbling or complaining, no unjust criticism? 

Proverbs 15:4 says, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”  However, words not only have the power to crush spirits; they also have a mighty power to lift spirits, to bring strength to the weary, to give hope to the hopeless, to put courage back in, to make souls stronger.  What if we told people you are loved at your best, and you are loved at your worst; you are uniquely gifted. I see potential in you; I value you. I love you. Tongues can make marriages memorable, families strong, and churches healthy. Tongues can give hope to the despairing, advance understanding, and spread the gospel. It just requires us to think before we speak.  

God calls us to cultivate a habit of speaking life-giving words. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”   

Perhaps the greatest outreach the church can offer is to become the kind of community that turns a regular faith into an irresistible one. What if all it took for us to become the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” to our communities was to choose kindness over criticism toward one another; giving the benefit of the doubt over assuming the worst in one another, and building each other up instead of tearing each other down. What kind of difference could we make if tamed tongues only spoke words of love, mercy, grace, and encouragement?   

Psalm 141:3 says, “Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.” God wants us to speak life-giving words.  A loving heart produces a gracious tongue. A faithful heart produces a truthful tongue. A peaceful heart produces a reconciling tongue. A trusting heart produces an encouraging tongue.

Be a person whose words make a positive difference. “And so now, I entrust you into God’s hands and the message of his grace, which is all that you need to become strong. All of God’s blessings are imparted through the message of his grace, which he provides as the spiritual inheritance given to all of his holy ones.” (Acts 20:32 TPT)

Discussion questions:

  1. How have you used words for good?  
  2. What can we do this week to use our words for good? 

The Heart Of The Matter

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

At some point, we will all say something we wish we had not said. You wonder whether you are doing the right thing when you feel the words just chomping at the bit to escape from your lips. They want out so badly. It is just an insult, or a jab or quip, but you just can’t suppress it…you can’t contain the words. They have a power of their own. You know that the words will achieve no positive goal, but you just sigh and let them go. And usually, a few seconds later you wish you could keep your tongue in control. The Bible tells us that controlling the tongue is a heart issue. 

There is a spiritual connection between the heart and the tongue. The heart is your data base and your mouth is your outlet; when pressure comes, whatever is in the heart will come forth. It is not a matter of training your mouth what to say but building and guiding your heart.  

Scripture tells us to guard our hearts because it is the source of our life. It is the essence of who you are. It is your authentic self—the core of your being. It is where all your dreams, your desires, and your passions live. It is that part of you that connects with God and other people. Out of the heart come all our motives, desires, motivations, and our words. We are to barricade our heart against anything or anyone else that seek to claim it because our heart belongs to God. Only God can have permission to lead, guide, and instruct our hearts. That is why we must safeguard it. We must diligently and consciously protect it from invasion other than God. 

It naturally asks the question of what are you allowing to shape it? There is no shortage of people or things that want to lay claim to our hearts. But they can only possess it with our permission. If something or someone has taken hold of it, it is because we have let down our guard and let him/her/it in. As Christ-followers we must become intentional in guarding our heart against anything that is contrary to scripture. Rather, we must focus on what enables us to be more like Jesus.

In Proverbs, Solomon reveals the outcome of pathways chosen. Many of the verses in Proverbs offers us hope as it looks to the desired end of our lives and challenges us to think backward along its logical course. How do we want our lives to end? In what areas do we really want to succeed at all costs? The path we take today will lead us there. It attempts to provide us some perspective. And when you have that perspective, and when your eyes are fixed on the prize, you will better guard your heart.

Guard your heart by sharpening your ability to draw closer to God. These will help you guard your heart because you will be spending your energy on Him. Remember, as goes your heart, goes your life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so important to guard your heart? Why is it important that we address any issues at the source rather than downstream?
  2. Read Matthew 22:37-38: What is the first and greatest commandment concerning the heart?

A Slip Of The Tongue

“…For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” – James 3:2-6. 

James 3:1–12 contains the single most sustained discussion in the New Testament on the use of the tongue. One of the marvelous things about this passage is that it requires virtually no explanation. It almost preaches itself, as James piles up one metaphor or analogy upon another. We hardly need to do anything other than simply read the text to grasp its meaning.

In these verses, James offers us a few revealing insights about the tongue. The tongue has great power. And words matter. A lot. James is not telling us to keep our mouth shut at all times, rather he’s telling us that it is a rare and mature person who knows how to control his or her tongue and use it for good. So rather than say nothing, find the wisdom to know when to speak, when not to speak, and what to say.

We need to get to the heart of the matter. We don’t have a tongue problem, we have a heart problem. Jesus says in Luke 6:45: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” A problem controlling your words is not simply a personality flaw or a product of your environment or your culture. It’s an issue of the heart. When we say something we shouldn’t say, we can use the excuse, “I don’t know where that came from.” Actually, we do. It came from the heart.

Jesus came to give you a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” When God is sitting on the throne of our hearts we start to reflect His grace. In our relationships with other people, words used wisely can heal hurts, unravel misunderstandings, point to truth, express love and affection, show respect, reflect repentance, offer forgiveness, bring joy and laughter, give comfort, help us remember what’s important in life, and inspire us to become not just smarter, but wiser human beings.

Trying to control the tongue is a lifelong endeavor. The emphasis shouldn’t be placed on how far we fall short. Instead we can focus on our progress. When we obey God’s Word to become more like Jesus, we are being perfected. We are getting closer and closer to what Christ is like by using words to speak life into the lives of others. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the tongue is such an issue? 
  2. What can we do this week to control the tongue?

Need A Little Encouragement?

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” – Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV).  

Hebrews 3:13 tells us to “encourage one another daily.” First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” and 1 Thessalonians 4:18 adds, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Throughout the Bible, we see instructions to encourage one another and verses that are meant to encourage us. Encouragement is emphasized in the Bible because it is necessary for our walk of faith.  

There are a lot of things that are discouraging today starting with the pandemic. But we also face the challenges of our bodies breaking down, our plans faltering, our dreams diminishing, and our joy dimming. We should encourage each other because it is an essential way of extending grace to each other.

I encourage you to make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us, encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. Develop a system or daily reminder to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call.  Pray and ask God to show you who you can encourage. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used to bless you personally or an excerpt from something you read in your daily devotional. Find and share riches of God’s grace with others.

Without encouragement, life would soon feel pointless and burdensome. Without encouragement, we can be overwhelmed by the very real pains of our lives. Without encouragement, we feel unloved. Without encouragement, we begin to think that God is unconcerned with our welfare. So, the Bible tells us to encourage one another, to remind each other of the truth that God loves us, that God equips us, that we are treasured, that our struggles are worth it.

Don’t forget about the pastors, the church staff or your small group leader. They need encouragement just as much as anyone else. If your pastor or staff member or small group leader says or does something that God uses in your life, tell him or her about it. Nothing encourages a pastor or staff member or small group leader like hearing specific ways God used a sermon or counseling session or small group curriculum to work in your life.

So, get started. Who can you encourage right now? Who has blessed you recently that you can thank? What verse can you share with them? How might God use it?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you try to encourage people on a regular basis?   
  2. Who can you encourage this week? 

What Does It Mean That God Is In Control?

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10.  

If you’re a Christian, I’m sure you have said at one time or another that “God is in control.” Even when the world seems out of control. God is still in control. But what does that mean exactly? If you lose your job, is God in control of that? How about if you need a parking space, or lost an earring? What about which parts of your yards get weeds. What about the number of stars in the sky? How we answer these questions determines what you really believe when you say that God is in control.

Scriptures addresses this issue: Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command….”  Another passage of scripture that addresses this issue is found in Colossians 1:15-17. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”  

The passage in Hebrews and Colossians tells us that at each moment, Jesus holds all things in the universe together. The reason the physical universe continues to exist at each moment in time is that He wills it to be so, and actively determines that it should be so. And that includes the small things: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33 ESV) 

The difficult thing is not that God is in control but that we are not. We worry that our future depends upon how closely we can manage every detail. In our fear and worry we often see what we didn’t get rather than what we do get from God. We fail to fully understand we have a loving Father who designed His perfect plan for us.  He loves us and has prepared good things for us. 

Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the days is its own troubles.” Consider that God is in control today. Trust God for today. He will take care of tomorrow. God will give you strength for every challenge that comes your way, wisdom for every decision you make, and peace that surpasses all understanding.

Have faith in God today. Live for Him today. It is a daily choice. God’s solution for worry is to put Him in control of your life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God is in control mean to you?
  2. What would we do differently this week if we knew God is in control?