A Christian’s Owners Manual

” The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” – Psalm 119:160 (NASB).

Every new vehicle has one. It’s found in the glove compartment of the car. It’s an owner’s manual. If you thumb through it, you’ll see everything you need to know about how to care for your vehicle: what warning signals mean, and how to use the new, hi-tech “infotainment” touch screens. It has the answers to most questions about your vehicle. However, most owners’ manuals are never used as often as they should. Most people don’t make a habit of reading owner’s manuals before they need them. In fact, the most popular time to read the owner’s manual of a car is when there’s a flat tire or a weird light pops up on the dashboard, or some other problem.

Human beings are more complicated than any car. So God, our designer, and manufacturer gave us an owner’s manual. It’s called the Bible, the Word of God. Inside this manual is all we need to know to live life to the fullest. Yet, for most people, this owner’s manual is not read until we have a problem.  By the time we looked in the Bible for answers, something in our lives needed repair. Some days it was a broken relationship; other days it was a bitter attitude or bad decision we made. Focusing on the Bible means we stop using the Bible as a reference book and start using it as a manual on how to navigate this thing called life. In other words, reading and focusing on the Bible is the means of preparing us for life, rather than rescuing us from the storms of life.  

Since the Bible is our manufacturer’s owner’s manual, doesn’t it make sense that we should study it more often and thoroughly than we do? Regardless of what season of life you are in, there is still so much to learn about God. Reading the Bible reminds us that our knowledge of God is insufficient and can always be improved. Reading the Bible completely forces us to reflect upon all aspects of God’s character and allows us to know Him in new ways.  The Lord will meet you in surprising ways as you place yourself in His word.

The writer to the Hebrews 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.” (Hebrews 4:12). So it was then; so it is now. Through the Bible, God speaks, and therefore through the Bible, every generation is confronted with the very word of God. The Bible remains as alive as ever to the needs of the human condition.  

With the Bible at our fingertips, we have a story of God’s faithfulness right in front of us to show us one example after another of who God is. The Bible is the greatest tool we have. We want every believer to have a renewed confidence in understanding the Bible and a hunger to know it more.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to meditate on scripture? How do you practically meditate? 
  2. Simply reading and meditating on God’s Word is not enough.  Agree or disagree and why?

Obeying God’s Word

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.…Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:21, 23-24 (NIV).  

When you were a child, you may have sung a little chorus called “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock.” That song is taken from a parable in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus explained the importance of building our lives on a firm foundation: 

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24–27)

The lesson is quite simple. The wise person is obedient to the Word of the Lord. They choose to build their life on hearing and doing the will of God. When trials and temptations come, they are secure because their foundation is solid. The foolish person, on the other hand, hears the Word of the Lord but does not act on it. They too will face trouble at times and, having no foundation, they will collapse. 

Obedience is literally foundational to the Christian life. No obedience, no foundation. Unless we are living in obedience to what God says, we have nothing to build our lives on or rely on when storms come. Obedience is a positive, active response to listening to the Word of God. “Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28)

We often think of obedience too narrowly—as the way we avoid getting into trouble based on our experiences with rules and rewards. As adults, we often think we can make our own decisions. But a mature response to God involves conforming our thoughts and ways to His desires.  

In simple terms, obedience means hearing the word of God and acting on it. It implies aligning our will to God’s will; doing what God has asked us to do. It is when we completely surrender to His authority and base our decisions and our actions on His Word. Deuteronomy 29:9 says, “Therefore, obey the terms of this covenant so that you will prosper in everything you do.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does obeying God affect our capacity to know God and to experience His love for us?
  2. Does your life give evidence that you love God? In what ways?

Focus On God’s Word

“Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” – John 4:10.

You know you need water to survive, and you feel better when you drink it regularly. The body needs lots of water to carry out many essential functions, such as balancing the internal temperature and keeping cells alive. As a general rule of thumb, a person can survive without water for about 3 days. The bottom line is we need water and we also need Living Water. Jesus speaks of Living Water not just as water, but also as a symbol for the Holy Spirit and what is to come after Jesus’ death and resurrection for His followers who believe in Him. God provides us with everything we need and is the “Living Water” that continues to always give to us.

Reading the Bible should be a regular activity in the life of a Christian. But sometimes we put it off for a few days. We get busy and the challenges of everything getting done each day can erode even the best of intentions. There are so many ways we can spend our free time that we can become paralyzed by choice. But then I remember Jesus and that I need Him like I need water. From the womb to the tomb and on into eternity, I need Jesus. When I open the Bible I hear His voice. The Good Shepherd calls His sheep to himself; gathering and feeding us by His word: “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)  And then it hits you: Reading the Bible is not what I should do; it’s what I need to do. I need time in God’s word like I need that tall glass of water. Matthew 4:4 says, “But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Matthew 7:24-25 adds, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”

We need to hear God speak to us; to be reminded that His grip on us is stronger than our grip on Him. We need to hear that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and that, because of His death in our place on the cross, we have complete forgiveness. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. The same Spirit who speaks by His word lives in us enabling us to receive God’s word and to trust in His Son. He assures us that we are God’s children now; that we belong to Christ and we will share eternity with Him.

Over the course of a lifetime, the living word transforms us and enables us to persevere in our lives lived daily for Him. Just like drinking that glass of water, the immediate effects may be imperceptible, but every day, over a lifetime, you know that water is doing you good: you know that you need it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your studying/reading style? Is it effective in reading the Bible?
  2. What does it mean to read the Bible with expectation?  What in your mind is a critical reading of the Bible?

A Fresh Wind Is Blowing: It’s Time to Raise Our Sails

“Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting”  – Acts 2:2.

Sailors are passionate about their time on the water—buoyed by a sense of empowerment as the wind fills the sails and the boat glides peacefully through the water. This is the lifestyle many have dreamed about after they glimpsed a picturesque scene of a sailboat powered by the breeze gliding across the Gulf.

A sailboat doesn’t get “movement” without the wind. If there’s no wind, you aren’t going anywhere. The wind is the most important element in sailing. The same is true with a movement of God. We cannot make a movement happen. You don’t get movement without the wind of the Holy Spirit. 

If you have plenty of wind but your sails aren’t up, you aren’t going sailing either. You may get a little movement but not the kind you want. You won’t have any idea where you’re going. If you want to go sailing, you not only need the wind, you need to get your sails up. The same is true with movements of God. You don’t get movement without the wind of the Holy Spirit. 

Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit is compared and likened to wind. Acts 2: 2 (TPT) says, “Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear! ” The wind and the Holy Spirit share many characteristics; both are invisible, powerful, and while they can’t be seen with the human eye, the results can be both seen and felt. Both can be unpredictable and often unexplainable. Isaiah 40:13 says, “Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?” The Spirit resembles the wind, a force that cannot be conjured or micromanaged. 

Trimming your sails is not so different from staying connected to God’s Word. We can listen for and feel the wind, but staying in tune with the truth of Scripture will help us not only evaluate what is truth but will also free us to enjoy the journey. Christians don’t have to know all there is to know about faith in God; they just have to know what faith does so they can set their sails. God will send the wind when He’s ready.

Where do you sense the Holy Spirit leading you today? Are you grounded in God’s Word such that when the Spirit blows you are prepared to trim your sails? Wind can bring about unknown adventure and an exciting or unpredictable ride. 

Are you open to the Spirit’s leading even if the journey may be unknown? If so, it is time to raise the sails.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you that the Holy Spirit is the wind in the sails of the Christian life?  
  2. What can we do to increase the wind in our sails? 

A Lack Of Imagination

“The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars” – Francis Schaeffer

“Imagination” is one of those words that inspire us. Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Our collective imagination is what challenges us to take risks and step out in faith. For children, imagining is an easy task, but as we age, that force often is underutilized. Developing imagination is a necessity, and it is crucial to the Christian faith. The key to liberating ourselves from the oppressive tension between this world and the next, Jesus seems to say, is imagination. 

Imagination is the groundwork of progress. It is the blueprint of joy. Before we climb a mountain, we must be able to imagine ourselves at the peak. Before we write a book, we imagine seeing our name printed on the cover. Before we break an addiction, lose weight, or get out of debt, we imagine that change as a reality. God has given us imagination so that we can envision the possibilities in between who we are today and who we were made to be, between the world in its fallen condition and a world where all inhabit life to the fullest.

We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine. When our imagination is biblically developed, we start to see people and things the way God sees them. Christians are called to imagine what could be and what will be, while also living in the present. When you read the Bible, do you use your imagination? I strongly suggest you do. Does that sound surprising? For some reason, we Christians tend to like truth, facts, and well-crafted arguments. Use your imagination on the story where Jesus walks on water in Matthew 14:22 – 33. 

It’s early in the morning. The disciples are in a boat when a furious storm breaks out. Do you think the men are nervous? It’s dark. They can’t tell what direction to steer toward. Then they see what they think is a ghost walking on the water.  Maybe it is the lightning reflected off the water. They are terrified and then they realize it is Jesus. Can you imagine the relief they must have felt? Peter is drawn to Jesus. He decides to join Jesus in this miracle. Jesus smiles and waves for him to come overboard. 

What would you be thinking or better yet, what would you be doing? They watch Peter actually walking on the water to join Jesus. Can you imagine? Would you start to leave the boat to join them?  But things go south and Peter cries out for help as he slowly starts to sink. You imagine the cold water and the fear of sinking and it doesn’t take much imagination to swing your leg back into the relative safety of the boat. But Jesus catches Peter. How does His hand feel as it grasps your arm? What is going through your heart? What would you want to say to Jesus? Can you imagine? 

Imagining a scene in Scripture helps us become part of the story and allows the story to become part of us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you use your imagination spiritually? If so, how often? 
  2. How can your imagination help a Bible story come alive?

The importance of Gathering

” For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20. 

I get it. The church never closed. The church is the people, not the building. But the doors to the church facilities closed. The opportunity to gather for worship in person closed. A lot has transpired over the past 18 months. Covid-19 upended churchgoing in the US as churches faced declining attendance as public gatherings were put on hold. Many believers turned to various forms of technology holding gatherings on Zoom. There is nothing wrong with finding creative ways to minister to one another in times when the church is scattered. The bottom line is that whenever possible we should meet with other believers.

The Bible emphasizes the importance of the local church.  Picture the nation of Israel, rescued from Egypt and gathered together at Mt. Sinai to hear God’s law. Moses later referred to that important moment as “the day of assembly” Deuteronomy 9:10 says,  “The Lord gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the Lord proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly.” At other key junctures in Israel’s history, the nation similarly gathered as an “assembly” before their covenant Lord (Judges 20:2, 1 Kings 8:14, 1 Chronicles 28:8). After the four gospels, almost all of the New Testament is about the local church or directed to the local church. Throughout the New Testament, different local congregations met together and worshipped together. Paul uses phrases like “when you meet as a church” and “the whole church comes together” (1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:23 NIV). Paul and the other Apostle’s letters were actually sent to these church communities that gathered in various cities to be read aloud together.  

We need the community found in the church. All of us long for community and connection with others. God has given us this gift in gathering together for church, and in smaller groups in each other’s homes. It fulfills something inside of us to do life with others, encourage each other and be authentically involved in each other’s lives. Christian podcasts, books, and conferences are wonderful additions to our spiritual lives, but nothing can take the place of a consistent Christian community through the local church. 

We grow more spiritually when we gather together at church, then we can all by ourselves. It can be scary and messy when we step into each other’s lives. We are all human, and no one is perfect. So it requires effort and intentionality and grace from God to do life together, even as believers. Gathering regularly with other believers becomes a refining process where we help each follow Christ more wholeheartedly.  Showing up to church is serving others; to gather is to encourage. How could it be otherwise? You cannot regularly encourage those you only sporadically see.

 The hurricane and the pandemic and quarantine have been transformational moments for our world and our churches. We now have the incredible opportunity to gather and continue our mission of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.  

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is gathering as a church important in your view?  
  2. What changes do we need to make to attend church regularly? 

Connecting With God And People

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Have you ever had a special connection that got you preferential treatment? Everybody is trying to procure tickets to a sold-out concert, but you know the band manager who got you the best seats in the house. There were 50 applicants for the job, but your connections made sure your resume got first consideration.

Having a relationship with God is the ultimate connection. Would we not have the most amazing life if we started our days completely connected to the ultimate of all power sources? The connection that is always reliable, the one that is never subject to error, the one that can’t break down or become obsolete. The one source that can never be hacked, breached, or compromised! The highly functional, trustworthy, miraculous connection that will never fail. 

Developing and maintaining a strong connection or relationship with God requires time, effort, and the desire for closeness. Just as a relationship with other people take work and devotion, so does a relationship with God. Putting forth that effort often leads to a greater sense of self-worth, inner peace, compassion, and love. Choosing to pursue this connection and keep it strong is something anyone can do to improve himself and his outlook on life.  

Our relationship with God should define how we perceive those who God brings into our lives. The people we run across in every circumstance are also made in His image. They are also God’s masterpiece. They can also love Him, serve Him and live eternally with Him right alongside us. When we realize that everyone else can connect to God in the same deeply meaningful way we do, it should be easy to find reasons to deeply connect with them. Our desire for them to know God should encourage a relationship that is significant, selfless, and sacrificial.  

The bottom line is this: God has time for each of us, patience for each of us, and genuinely loves us the same, so we should reciprocate that love in return. When we value people for who they are, we begin to see them as God does. When that becomes our default, our interactions with others will change. When we know the people in our lives are meant to be loved, served, and valued, we begin to see how God loves, serves, and values us.

God is building up His people by joining people together in meaningful relationships. God’s love and grace flow through real people in real relationships. Our role is to discern what we need to do to be open to those God-given connections with others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to have a connection with God? With others? 
  2. What can we do this week to strengthen those connections with others? 

When Jesus Speaks People Listen

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.” – Hebrews 1:1-2. 

The stock firm E.F. Hutton ran a very successful commercial campaign in the ’70s and ’80s.  Usually, it centered on 2 or 3 people in a busy airport… or at lunch… or some other busy place where there were a lot of people. These people were usually speaking about investments. Eventually one of the people would say, “well, my broker is E.F. Hutton and E.F. Hutton says…” At that time in the commercial, all noise would stop, all conversation would stop, all actions would stop, all traffic would stop and everyone would turn in listening to hear what E.F. Hutton had to say. The commercial would end by saying, “When E.F. Hutton speaks…people listen.”

EF Hutton sales skyrocketed because people believed E.F. Hutton was the most qualified firm to invest their money. The author of Hebrews starts his letter with the same idea in mind when he basically says, when God speaks, people should listen.

That certainly makes sense. Jesus is the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is the one of whom it will be said, forever, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” (Revelation 5:12). He’s the one to whom every knee will bow: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:10) So what Jesus says matters.

And beyond that, we’re made alive in Him by grace: ”But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4–5) We are counted righteous in Him because of His work. Galatians 2:16 says, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”  Jesus is our shepherd so we know His voice.

So when Jesus speaks, of course, we listen.

Discussion Questions:

  1. To have a great relationship with God you must have two-way communication. Consider your current relationship with God; would you characterize it as two-way communication? What would you characterize it as?

Disciple: Be One, Make One

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please himself. …May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:1-6.

It is clear throughout Jesus’ life that discipleship was incredibly important to Him. So important, in fact, that it was included in some of His last words to His disciples before He left earth. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We also take seriously the Apostle Paul’s words in Colossians 1:28, “So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.” Simply put, discipleship is the lifelong process of spiritual growth, aided by the Holy Spirit and personal relationships. We see in Scripture that discipleship is the important, joyful, and at times difficult process of learning and maturing spiritually.

Discipleship is more than acquiring head knowledge and memorizing Scripture verses. It is learning to give Jesus Christ total access to your life so He will live His life through you. The goal of discipleship is to help people grow to become more like Jesus. Helping Christians live out their faith is the main purpose of discipleship. Successful discipleship should teach believers how to share the faith they are living by testifying to what God has done in their lives and through sharing the gospel. 

You may be the only Bible anyone ever reads. Are you disciplining people so that they can one day disciple others? When others watch you face a crisis, do they see the risen Lord responding? Does your family see the difference Christ makes when you face a need? What difference does the presence of Jesus Christ make in your life?

God wants to reveal Himself to those around you by working mightily through you. He wants your family to see Christ in you each day. God wants to express His love through your life. Christ expects His disciples to follow Him — to learn from Him and to stay close to Him. That’s what He wanted from His followers during His earthly ministry and that is what He wants from His disciples today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What defines us as disciples in your opinion? 
  2. What happens in the life of a disciple when they think of others instead of themselves? How does putting others first build character?

Are You Teachable?

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.” – Acts 2:36-41

One of the main characteristics of the Christians in the first-century church was their heart for God. That heart made them willing and excited to learn, change and grow as we see in the Acts 2 passage above.  Once the people saw the impact of their sins on Jesus, they became teachable. They wanted to learn how to make their relationship with God right, and so they asked Peter to teach them how to respond the way God wanted them to. 

Would God consider you teachable? That is a question every Christian should ask themselves. Not just once, but on an ongoing basis. Do you have a willingness to be instructed? Are you humble enough to receive wisdom from the Lord and from others?  A disciple is someone who is willing to be taught and is eager to learn more. A teachable heart starts with the acknowledgment that we do not know everything. If we can keep an open mind, we can learn a lot from the people that God has placed in our lives. Proverbs 13:18 tells us, “If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored.”

Life is a learning experience. We never get to a place where you act as though you have arrived and know everything. We can grow and learn together if we are willing to share how God is stretching us. God will teach us through His word, through creation, through life experiences, and through the people that we meet each day. Virtually everyone has something to teach us. God has gifted us with unique gifts and talents and we have all walked through different experiences. We can learn from the lives of others.  

We should not keep what we learn a secret. Demonstrate to your wife, children, relatives, neighbors how you are learning new things each day. Share how what you have learned in God’s word has enabled you to grow spiritually. 

A teachable heart is one that wants to grow, to become more like Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does being teachable mean to you on a practical level? 
  2. What can we do this week to be more teachable spiritually?