Wisdom From Above

“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.  

Have you ever thought about mankind’s endless search for truth in this world? Think about it. Even in the twenty-first century, in a time of the greatest knowledge in the history of man with all the technological developments that have accelerated the rate of acquiring knowledge, the restless mind of man still struggles with discovering the reason for his existence.

Part of the trouble is looking for that answer through worldly wisdom versus Godly wisdom. Worldly wisdom leaves you empty and a bit cynical. But Godly wisdom is different. “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. God’s wisdom gives us focus and direction when we have to choose between what looks good, what feels good, and what is good.

Living out a life of wisdom was never designed to demonstrate our wisdom, but to demonstrate the wisdom of God. The biblically wise admit they aren’t enough, but realize that in Christ they have more than enough to equip them to live bigger, bolder, and fuller lives. When we embody biblical wisdom, we cease striving for self-sufficiency and let God take control of our lives. This requires a willingness to elevate others rather than attempting to prove ourselves to the world. 

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 is telling us that humility before God translates to humility toward others. 

To gain God’s wisdom, we must pray for it, while studying and living out God’s Word. So many distractions in this world threaten to pull us away from God. If you need clear, precise answers—direction for where to go, what to do, and when or how to do it—God has the answers for you. When you do, you’ll not only find the answer, you’ll grow in your relationship with God as well as grow in wisdom. Your life will be transformed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define “wisdom?” How is it different than knowledge or experience? What are some ways that you can recognize someone who is truly wise?  
  1. If this week your wisdom came exclusively from your relationship with Christ and not from your accomplishments, resources, or connections, what difference would that make?    

Loving God With All Your Heart, Soul, Mind, And Strength

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” –  Mark 12:30-31

Nobody wants to live passive, inactive lives. We want the opposite. We want a captivating life that brings a sense of fulfillment. When Jesus lays out the most important commandment for mankind, He starts with loving the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Since we are told to love the Lord with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, that is exactly what we should do. But how do we go about doing it?  

Loving God with your heart means to love Him with your life. Love God with your heart by living a loving, faith-filled, and purpose-driven life. This requires letting God lead the way. It means living each day in close connection with Him so we can recognize our calling. Once we do this, once we let Him lead, lives will be changed. We will experience joy. And sharing that joy with others and loving God with our whole heart will become our primary mission. It’s hard to love someone you know nothing about, so it’s important to make an effort to get to know God. By spending time in prayer, reading Scripture, we learn about who He is, what He cares about, and why He is so deserving of our love. God sent His only Son to die for us. He forgives us. He knows all of our faults and still loves us with an everlasting and relentless love. This dimension of love is especially important for the times when we are feeling unenthused, discouraged, or even when things seem hopeless.

Loving God with your soul means to love Him for eternity. When our hearts stop beating, our souls keep living. And God wants our relationship with Him to last forever. Loving God with your mind means to love Him unconditionally–because we know that He is worthy of love–even when we don’t feel like it. Even when we feel like life is unfair or when we think He’s abandoned us: even though He never leaves our side. 

Loving God with all my strength means stepping out in faith. It means stepping out of my comfort zone. It means stepping out to help someone. Faith without works isn’t worth much. But faith with works can change a piece of the world for the better. Like the other concepts, loving God with all my strength is simple to say but not always easy to do. We need to remember that we don’t work any of this out by ourselves. We have a strength working within us that enables us to keep on going forward. In reality, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is simply a response. For we love because He first loved us.

As followers of Christ, we are called to fearlessly love God with all our hearts, all our souls, minds, and strength. Fueled with that complete and perfect love, we are empowered to take that love and share it with the world. And our broken, lost world desperately needs His love.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do this week to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Getting Involved

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him…. Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” –  Luke 10: 33, 36-37

The story of the Good Samaritan is a story of compassion.  But it is also a story of getting involved. A man is robbed and left for dead on the side of the road when three people pass by. First up is a religious leader, soon followed by a teacher of the religious law. Arguably both Jewish leaders should have stopped to help, but they don’t. It’s the third man, a Samaritan, who stops to help. Only one of the three got involved. 

The best part of this story is that the man lying in the road didn’t have to earn anything to be given grace by the Samaritan. This parable is actually a picture of what Jesus has done for us because Jesus is the ultimate “Good Samaritan.” It’s Jesus who steps right into the middle of our mess, who walks into the midst of our deepest need and does for us what we could never do for ourselves. From our stranded, beaten and broken state, Jesus picks us up, binds our wounds, and offers us new life. But it doesn’t stop there.

Jesus takes it one more step. He takes our place. Jesus became the one beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. He was stripped and robbed of all His glory, bearing our sin and shame all the way to the cross. While others pass you by, Jesus will always see you and stop. Jesus will get involved. When this really begins to sink in, we should be gladly be on mission with Jesus to show the world the love and mercy Jesus provides. Out of compassion, Jesus swapped places with us. Jesus is the mercy of God freely given for you and for me.

God doesn’t want His people to simply follow a list of rules; He’s after the heart, and He wants His followers to love others as He does. We are to respond to others as God would respond to them, just as the Samaritan responded to the half-dead man on the side of the road; the same way God responds to us when we are dead in our sins and in need of radical grace. This kind of change can’t come from following the law and that’s what Jesus was pointing out to the man. When you serve others, you’re joining the Lord in the work He’s already doing. He’s always working. We simply need to open our eyes, direct, and see the opportunities to be a blessing to our neighbors.

What can you do to help make a difference in the lives of your families, neighbors, or co-workers? How many times do we walk by someone’s troubles without even giving a thought to rolling up our sleeves and getting involved? When’s the last time you shed real tears for the people around you? When did you last get involved. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the story of the Good Samaritan? 
  2. Since God is so involved in our lives, what can we do this week to get involved in the lives of people in need?

A Passion To Serve

“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:17.

The church was once the workshop for the greatest art the world has ever known. Wander through an ancient cathedral. Rest in front of a Renaissance painting. Listen to a 19th century hymn. All of this art evolved from a passion to lead creation toward its Creator. Nothing great is ever accomplished in life without passion. Nothing great is ever sustained in life without passion.

The apostle Paul accomplished an astounding amount in two decades of ministry. What made him tick? What drove him to carry out the work that he did? We find the secret in Philippians 3:7-9: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.”

This passage clearly exhibits Paul’s passion for his calling. Leaders, like Paul, are people who have figured out what they stand for. They have identified their purpose and pursue it with a passion.  So what gets you out of bed in the morning? What is your purpose or mission in life? Most people would probably have trouble crystallizing a clear purpose for their lives. In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, He sheds some light on our journey while on earth. “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.” 

This passage outlines God’s unique purposes for our lives, and reminds us to develop an eternal perspective so that we will have a passion to give our lives in exchange for the things that God tells us will endure. The word of God and people are the only things that will endure in this world. So we need a passion for both. Serving brings purpose to our lives. I’ve discovered that I’m the most fulfilled and content when I’m serving others, and not just my own self-interests. 

Passion is a driving force. Passion makes our life worth living and gives us a purpose to live and die for. It compels you to act: it forces you to get out of your comfort zone.

In order to find your passion and purpose, you need to look inward and see what truly inspires you – what makes you feel alive.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one need that you are personally passionate about meeting in people?
  2. What are your abilities and gifts that could help make a difference in the lives of people around you?

The Good And The Indifferent

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” – Luke 10:33

One of the many great stories in the Bible is the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus is asked a question by a lawyer: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) He answers his own question by saying, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (vs.27) He then asks Jesus another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (vs 29) Jesus replies with the story of the Good Samaritan. 

Most people have read or heard the story of the Good Samaritan any number of times. But it is the type of story that can change your perception and your awareness every time you read it.  It forces some hard questions:  Am I truly a Good Samaritan? And how often do I cross the road to avoid someone in need? Do I see a need when I encounter people I meet on a daily basis? Do I see the opportunities to serve? Or do I unintentionally walk by?  Am I rushed or distracted? Am I indifferent? When I read the story of the Good Samaritan I wonder how the priest and the Levite could walk on the other side of the road and ignore the plight of the injured man.  But am I not capable of doing the same thing?  

“Loving your neighbor” doesn’t have a qualifying caveat like when you have time, or when you are in a good frame of mind, or when it’s a person you like or at least comfortable with. Loving your neighbor does not come with any conditions. There is no small type. God calls us all to care for His children. There are no boundaries, no rules, nor qualifiers that limit this command.

The message is clear. Our neighbors are everybody we have contact with. We need to open our eyes and see. Beaten, bloodied, and bruised people aren’t hard to find. Maybe not in a literal sense. But there are people in need. Homeless people are all around us. So are people who lost their jobs and have basic needs. These are the people that need a Good Samaritan and people who look through a lens of compassion.

Real compassion makes it more personal. Real compassion leads to involvement. It leads to commitment. Compassion does not allow us to watch from a distance. Compassion makes it difficult to watch and wait. You want to help, you want to do something. When we are hurting and when we face trials of life we want someone to walk beside us, share our burden, and say, “I love you. Let me help.” This is what love and compassion does.  

We need to see the broken and wounded, the weak and the lost. We need to get out of our comfort zones and remove our fears, our judgments, our daily distractions. We need to cross the road. 

Discussion Questions

  1. When you think of serving others what is the first thing that comes to mind?   
  2. In what situations is it difficult to cross the road? Why?
  3. What can we do this week to be of service to people in need? 

The Hurt Of Rejection

“And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” – Ephesians 4: 26-27.  

Most people have felt the sting of rejection. It’s called the sting of rejection because that’s exactly what it feels like: You reach out to embrace what you see as an opening only to receive a surprising and upsetting brush-off that can feel very much like an attack. It’s enough to make you think twice about putting yourself out there again. And the emotion that often results from rejection is anger. 

We believe we have a right to be angry and we are justified when we don’t forgive. But giving in to those emotions tends to steal your peace and ability to be happy. Because we are consumed by what has been done to us, it makes it nearly impossible to have positive thoughts and feelings, much less enjoy life. James 1:19 reminds us, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” In this passage, James is imploring God’s people to understand the damage negative thoughts and emotions can cause. Culture will tell us we have every right to be angry, but God’s word says our anger and unforgiveness will hold us captive.  

James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  In every area of life, including managing strong emotions and practicing forgiveness, God calls us to be “doers” of His Word, not just “hearers” — even when nothing in us wants to.

We can be rejected for our faith or when sharing our faith as well. People avoid you, leave you out of the clique, or even make fun of you because you are a Christian. It will happen to every committed Christian at one time or another. Jesus wants you to know that when you are rejected by others or shown hostility for your beliefs, you are not the one being rejected. People are hostile at Jesus, not you. They are rejecting Jesus, not you. 

And that is where we need to follow the example of Jesus most of all. When you are rejected due to your devotion to Christ, you need to respond just as Jesus did when He was rejected on the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

If you are rejected, face hostility, or even persecuted, you need to forgive as Christ forgave on the cross.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you respond when you have been rejected? 
  1. What can we do this week to show the love of Christ to others?   

Life On Mission Through Hospitality

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!…And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” – Hebrews 13:2,16.  

Think about Hebrews 13:2 for a second. It is an interesting concept. By showing kindness to strangers, you could be showing kindness to a messenger of God. Buying an extra burger to share with a homeless person, helping someone change a flat tire on their car, offering a ride to a colleague who needs one—in these ways and more, God often gives us opportunities to show hospitality and compassion for someone who has a need.

It is not by accident that the writer of Hebrews urges readers to love each other and to look out for the needs of strangers. It’s easy to overlook the unusual or the unfamiliar. It takes the love of Christ to reach out to the stranger who might just bring a unique blessing that you never saw coming.

During the last year of masks and lockdowns, quarantine, and distancing, many found it easier to brush off the idea of practicing hospitality. Of course, we need to be safe and consider the health of others, but this can easily become our excuse to turn inward and lose sight of our mission to love others. Hebrews 13:16 has direct application during the COVID-19 pandemic. This verse reads as follows: “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” This verse is about being helpful. Being helpful is a willingness to give assistance, render service, or share what we have when someone else is in need. Not surprisingly, being helpful requires that we be willing to sacrifice for others. 

When Christ told us in the second part of the greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, He meant we should be helpful to others in need. That is how Christ defined the term “neighbor.” Anyone who is in need is our neighbor. The pandemic is one of the best opportunities we will ever have to show our neighbors the love of Christ through our actions and our attitude. How we conduct ourselves during the crisis may well be the best sermon our neighbors ever hear. For some, it might be the only sermon they ever hear.  

With God’s grace, mercy, and help, we will weather this storm. In the meantime, the pandemic is presenting us with unprecedented opportunities to obey Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can be on a mission by being helpful to others who are struggling during these difficult times.  

So as you go about your day, even wearing a mask or looking through a plexiglass window, on the phone or on a computer screen, think about how your presence can impact another person in a positive way. Ask God to give you eyes to see neighbors, colleagues, and strangers the way He sees them. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you practice hospitality during the pandemic?  
  2. What can you do this week to reflect Christ to others?   

What Will You Be Known For?

“There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.” – Luke 7: 2-6. 

The Bible has a story about a Roman centurion who had a sick slave. Luke does not tell us the name of the centurion, but a centurion was a Roman military officer who had 100 soldiers in his charge. Roman centurions were powerful people and were respected because of their position and title. 

This particular centurion was compassionate. Slaves were disposable, so if one fell ill, you simply replaced them with another slave. While we don’t know the reason, the centurion valued this slave. The connection was such that the centurion used his power and influence to help the slave. The centurion was also resourceful. The centurion probably heard about Jesus healing the sick. So Jesus became the answer to helping the sick slave.  So some ancient networking starts. Just like today, personal connections go a long way. The centurion sent some Jewish elders to Jesus requesting to come and heal the slave.  That itself is odd. Roman soldiers and Jewish elders don’t mix. 

Then he sent a group of his friends.  They conveyed a message from the centurion.  Basically, the centurion said, “thanks for all you are doing. I am not worthy of a person of your stature to come to my house. Simply say the word and my servant will be healed. That’s how it happens in my world; people come when I tell them to come, and people go where I tell them and do what I tell them.” When he gave orders, individuals listened. (Luke 7:6-8) The centurion trusted Jesus with the same authority. 

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.” (Luke 7:9-10)

The compassion for his sick slave speaks volumes about the character of the centurion. Do we want to be known for our compassion for the least of these? Can others talk about our compassion? Like the centurion, do we have the type of connection/relationships with people that enable us to truly know them?  Do we have the kind of faith that inspires us to action for the needs of our neighbors? Or do we remain complacent and unmoved by the needs of those around us? James 2:17 says, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” 

As the world continues to navigate life during this global pandemic, ask yourself what you want to be known for when this crisis is finally behind us. When the news or uncertainty sparks fear, turn to God. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide in every decision – no matter how big or small.  In this way, Jesus followers around the world will be known as people who connected in love with others during this uncertain time.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one takeaway from the story of the Roman centurion?
  2. What will you be known for? 
  3. What can we do this week to connect to others? 

Making A Connection

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13..  

Matthew was a tax collector. That means he’s a Jewish person who decided to sell out to the Roman government and collect taxes from his people. In those days, the way they collected taxes was Rome said, you go collect this much tax and whatever you get above and beyond that is yours. It was completely illegitimate. Tax collectors were basically stealing. They would put up a gate with a booth or tent, and say, “You can’t cross here until you pay the tax.” They were hated..despised may be a better word. 

There is a parable of the Pharisee and tax collector found in Luke 18: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ (Luke 18:10-13) 

That would have been the only way that a tax collector could have ever felt about himself because at the end of the day he knew that he was a crook, he knew that he was a sell-out to Rome, he knew that he was a bad guy, so the only thing he could do was say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” That’s all he could do. In Verse 14, Jesus says, “ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

The tax collector knew he needed God.  The reason we need to connect with people who are outside of the church is that they know deep down that they need God. We all have self-doubt. We all know that we’re not all that good. The farther a person is away from God, the more they need Him.  

That’s what should make Matthew 9 so incredible to us. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Now, imagine you’re the disciples and you’re walking along the road and all of a sudden you see this tax booth and you’re thinking, “I hate those guys. I can’t believe we’ve got to pay more taxes.” But instead, you hear Jesus say, “Follow me.” It’s the last two words you would expect Jesus to say to a tax collector. 

Jesus was a friend of sinners not because He ignored sin, or enjoyed having a little fun with sinners. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that he came to save sinners and was very pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him. 

By doing the same, you will give great meaning to your own life, and help many others in the process.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from the story of Matthew? 
  2. Since God is gracious to undeserving sinners, what can we do this week to do the same?  

Building Relationships

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:5-7. 

It’s human nature to connect and hang out with like-minded people, isn’t it? As a result, all too often in our Christian lives, we find ourselves connecting and hanging out only with other Christians. It’s our comfortable place. We can pray together, support each other and talk about things on a personal level. Jesus did that but He also was constantly surrounded and connecting with people who didn’t believe in Him.  

What do we mean by “connecting”?  Connecting with others means more than a superficial relationship. It’s more than just saying “hi” to your neighbor when you pull out your trash cans or walk to your mailbox. It’s more than just chatting for a few seconds with other parents at your child’s soccer game. Connecting means inviting them into your home, having dinner with them, making a deliberate effort to get to know them and connect on a more personal level, asking them questions about how they are doing, listening to their answers, and interacting with them. Over time you will get to know them more deeply. 

When was the last time you had dinner with some non-Christians that you know? Or go for an outing with them? Even went away with them camping or on a holiday? For many of us, it happens rarely if at all. So when you next see a neighbor or friend who you know doesn’t know the Lord, take a moment to ask the Lord for guidance and make a point of beginning to draw that person into your life. Help them see the difference that Jesus has made to you. Our love for God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.  

Connecting with people in this way convinces you to get involved in their lives as a witness, because you feel their need for Jesus so much more deeply. That’s exactly what happened when Jesus connected with people. The Bible says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Matthew 9:36-38). Jesus was all about connecting with those far from God.

Paul says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” Christ gave up His glory in heaven and humbled himself to become a human being. As a result, we have a Savior who“understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do…” (Hebrews 4:15).  Our goal is to be like Jesus in connecting with others. 

Discussion Questions

  1. When you think of connecting with others what is the first thing that comes to mind?   
  2. What can we do this week to be more intentional in pursuing relationships and scheduling time with unbelievers?