ARE WE USING THE POWER AT OUR DISPOSAL?

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.” – Ephesians 3:16.

We are at the beginning of the hurricane system. Power outages are more likely to occur during severe weather that can cause damage to energy infrastructure, such as through falling trees or branches on electricity lines. Life is much more difficult without power, especially when you don’t know when the power will be back on.

When the power goes out, many people panic, while others attempt to find candles. But even a candle’s light does not shine as bright as when the normal, proper power source is connected and working. This is what happens when we are not plugged into the proper power source, which is God.

So, how do we tap into the power of God?  As Christians, we have a unique resource. The Christian’s source of power is a Person. We aren’t tapping into a mystical, invisible power like “the Force in Star Wars” to use as we please. Instead, we find our power in God.   The very word of God is described as power.  Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.”

In the book of Acts, we find that the early church is a small band of timid disciples huddled together in an upper room. This is the group that Jesus assigned to spread the gospel worldwide. So what is the plan? Are they working on a strategic plan or setting mission goals before undertaking the task Jesus gave them? No, they are “constantly united in prayer.” (Acts 1:14). They know they can’t rely on themselves. They need the power of God.

This small group started preaching the gospel in whatever language people spoke. The crowds are shocked. Peter stands up to preach about Christ. Peter, who was just weeks before afraid to admit he even knew Jesus, now stands under the power of God in front of thousands of people, proclaiming Jesus. More than three thousand people are saved. People are coming to Christ every hour. In Acts 3: 1-10, Peter and John speak the name of Jesus, and a forty-year-old man crippled from birth stands up to walk for the first time. In Acts 4, they pray until the building where they are gathered begins to shake. In Acts 5, the apostles are performing “… many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 5:12)

On those days when we don’t feel empowered or feel as if our inner strength has been sapped, God has unlimited power to take care of all that.

Isaiah 40: 28-31 says, “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Tap God’s unlimited resources, and you will find the strength you never knew was available.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do we plug into God’s power regularly?
  2. Pray and ask God to help you plug into His power every day.

“TO WHOM SHALL WE GO”

Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God”  – John 6:68.

Jesus’ popularity reached its peak after He fed the 5,000. Huge crowds followed Him. Many were even clamoring to make Him king. After miraculously feeding them, Jesus turned to address the massive crowds. “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you.” (John 6:53).

The crowds were dumbstruck. What was Jesus talking about? His words were bewildering. Did he want them to eat and drink His body and blood literally? Was this some abstract parable? Was He speaking figuratively? There had to be a less disturbing way of making His point. Unable to understand or accept His words, scripture tells us that many supporters exited stage left, muttering to themselves: “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it” (John 6:60).

Turning to His disciples, Jesus asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Peter, always first to speak, answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68).

There will be times when you may think about leaving Jesus as some of His followers did. Sometimes, you may feel tired of trying to understand and accept the hard teachings of scripture. Or you wonder if you are being naive to hold onto God’s promises that seem too good to be true. In those moments, you need to think about a life without Jesus. Consider Peter’s words: “Lord, to whom would we go?” Peter’s answer is not a bold declaration of his commitment or allegiance. He does not deny wanting to follow the others out the door. He basically says Lord, I have nowhere else to go. There is uncertainty in his voice. But there is also faith.

It’s easy to take Christ for granted. We forget who He is and how much we need Him. We lose sight of the grace He has shown us. Sometimes it takes bluntly facing a reality without Him to see Him again with wonder and awe. Peter doesn’t stop with that question. He says, “You have the words that give eternal life.” Peter does not say he understands Jesus’ words or that Jesus’ teachings are easy to accept. He says Jesus has the words of eternal life. He’s saying, in effect, “I may not understand you now, but I’ve been around you long enough to know that no one speaks with the authority, wisdom, and significance you do, so I will trust you because you are the holy one of God.”

Doubt gives us tunnel vision. But Peter’s words help us to step back and remember the ultimate foundation for our faith. We don’t believe because we’re able to answer every single question. We believe because we’ve become convinced that Jesus, as revealed in the Scriptures, is the holy One of God and holds the words of eternal life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the hard teachings of Jesus you have had to accept?
  2. What do you do when trials and circumstances create barriers to your faith?

THOSE TIMES I’M THINKING OF UNFOLLOWING

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” – Psalm 72:12-14.

Most people have watched a Hallmark movie. If you have watched more than one, you will come to the conclusion that the plots are always the same.  A big city girl must go to a small town, and while there, she meets a handsome man, and the experience forces her to make a choice.  Does she change her ways and stay in the small town or return to the hustle and bustle of the big city?  She always chooses the small town, which always seems to be the right choice.

Our lives are probably not a Hallmark movie. We frequently have to make choices, and sometimes, we choose poorly. When it comes to our faith and to Jesus Christ, there are only two options: to follow Jesus or to go your own way. So, which do you choose?

In the beginning of John 5, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Jesus had compassion on the hungry people by giving them fish and bread but what He really wanted to do was to satisfy their spiritual needs.  To help them understand who He really is, Jesus explains, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”

John writes, “Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” (John 6:60). To put it another way, “This is ridiculous!  How can He say that?  Instead of asking Jesus to clarify or just believing what He said, John tells us, “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.”They weren’t part of the inner circle of twelve, but they were followers.  They had listened to Him preach and had seen His miracles, but now they chose to reject Him.  Jesus looks at the 12 disciples and says, “Are you also going to leave?

The Christian life is not always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Few worthwhile things are easy. Paul, who was a rising up-and-comer in the Jewish faith, gave it all up for Jesus, and never expressed a moment’s regret. He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).

Life is full of choices.  Some choices, like those in Hallmark movies, always work out.  Some choices, like those in real life, don’t always work out.  Sometimes you’ll choose wisely, sometimes you choose foolishly.  Some choices have short term ramifications, some follow us the rest of our lives. The best choice is following Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel like following God is too hard?
  2. Give an example of a time when doing what God called you to do wasn’t easy.
  3. Are you going through a difficult season right now? Is it hard to consistently make good choices in some area of your life?

CHARACTER COUNTS

“The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God-likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit Divine characteristics in your life, not good human characteristics . God’s life in us expresses itself as God’s life, not as human life trying to be godly.” – Oswald Chambers.

A preacher once said, “A person’s character is shown through their actions in life, not where they sit on Sunday.” Character is not what a person claims to have personally. Character is what others testify of you. People of character do the right thing even if no one else does, not because they think it will change the world but because they refuse to be changed by the world.

As Christians, we understand the importance of character the minute we open the Bible. The Bible could easily be classified as a character manual on how to live your life in a Christlike manner. As Christians, we have a code of conduct that we are called to – not because of what we can get out of it – but because of who God is and who we are as His people.

As Christians, we strive to be more like Christ every day because that is what the Bible instructs us to do. When you hear the words Christ-like character, what do you think of? Someone that loves Jesus with all their heart, someone that reads their Bible all the time, someone that prays all the time, someone that goes to church all the time, etc. Well, all those things are great examples of Christ-like character. But our little daily things contribute just as significantly to having a Christlike character.

True character is in the living. Character is walking in integrity, not while being watched, but in our own space when no one of apparent authority is present. True character is acknowledging and living like there is a God who is all-knowing and all-present. You want to be pleasing to God, not just every once in a while, but at all times and not just when it makes you look good.

There is but one standard of true Christian character–likeness to Christ. It is in His image–that we are to be transformed. We are to live as He lived. Wherever in all the world true disciples of Christ are found–they are all trying to reproduce the likeness of Jesus in themselves.

Even the littlest bit of Christ-like character can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It is the little things that make a huge difference. Basketball coach John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

As Christians and the Church, we are to conduct ourselves in a manner that shows our changed hearts, our gratitude for our salvation, and our love for the One who died for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How well do you understand God’s character? How well does your character reflect God’s character?  
  2. What can we do this week to do the little things that make us more Christlike?  

HELPING OTHERS

“Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake” – 2 Corinthians 4:5 (GW).

In our technology-driven post-COVID world, we can spend an entire day without physically needing to see or talk to another person. Thanks to digital devices and the internet, we can work and order our food and just about anything else we need from home. You can go days with your only interaction being with your touch screen or mouse and keyboard. And while technology isn’t inherently bad, it does make it easier for people to be separated.

There are many great things about our modern world—but helping people in it should be at the top. Think back to the last time you helped someone. How did you feel while you were doing it and afterward? It is a safe bet that you would feel happier and more optimistic about life. That’s because the fastest way to feel joy is serving others.

Lending a helping hand is one of the easiest ways to make a difference in the world. Putting other people’s needs before yours also strengthens your relationships. It connects you with the one you’re serving; if that someone is someone you know, it creates a stronger bond with them.

We must pause and remember that we are not saved by serving but for serving.  God is more interested in why you serve others than how well you serve. He’s always looking at your heart, serving willingly and eagerly out of love for Jesus and gratitude for all He’s done for you.

What is the Lord stirring in your heart to do this week? Ask for His wisdom to see things through His eyes. Do you need to be praying for someone? Is God putting it on your heart to send a note of encouragement? Have you wanted to  obey that step of faith to lead a small group? Or maybe it is the gift of hospitality because the dining room or kitchen table in a believer’s home is one of the most impactful locations for ministry. Or maybe He is asking you to serve in the children’s ministry. Whatever the Lord is preparing your heart for, remember that you serve Him by serving others.

When you choose to use your gift of listening to encourage the lonely stranger at the store, you are loving like Jesus to that person. When you use the gift of cooking to provide for a new mother, you serve like Jesus. When you sit with someone going through a season of mourning, you are comforting like Jesus. Whenever you choose to care for someone, that person can experience God through the Holy Spirit working through you.

Max Lucado reminds us, “Haven’t we known the power of a Godly touch? Can’t we offer the same? Think of someone who has a compassionate spirit. How is this spirit expressed through his or her actions, speech, and demeanor? With the Lord’s help, how can you better show compassion?” Take time to provide a Godly touch for someone who needs an act of kindness.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Our devotion to God is illustrated, demonstrated, and authenticated by serving others.  Agree or disagree?
  2. What hurdles do you have serving others?

ARE YOU A TEACHABLE FOLLOWER?

Most of the great leaders in Scripture were made, not born. Happily for us, God is still making them today. Could you be one?” – John C. Maxwell.

Are you a leader or a follower? What would you say if you were asked? Do you identify as one over the other, or perhaps both, depending on your circumstances? A quick internet search and over 15 million quizzes, articles, and resources pop up that will help determine whether we tend to be leaders or followers.

Culturally, leaders have been praised for bold words, brave actions, and boundary-pushing agendas. However, as Christians, we follow Christ, who walked humbly and elevated others. Does scripture encourage us to be followers or leaders? It tells us to engage in both roles, starting with being a follower. Jesus is the ultimate leader, and following Him is always good. It can be hard. It can get scary. It might stretch you to your limits. But following Jesus will always lead to a fulfilled life.

One of the keys to growing as a Christian is always to be a student of Jesus and teachable. Our goal should be to be a lifelong learner.  It makes sense that we will never get to the end of learning about God. The depths of God’s Word and His character are inexhaustible, as Paul proclaims tells us: “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33). The loop of learning doesn’t close today or tomorrow but could well last a lifetime. As we read Scripture, we are indeed gaining knowledge, but the purpose is to grow in our relationship with and love of our Lord. We cherish God’s Word because we cherish God.

The focal point and center of our lifelong learning is the person and work of Christ. All things are in Him, through Him, and for Him. “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” (Colossians 1:17).  The heart of lifelong learning for the Christian is not merely digging deeper into the seemingly bottomless store of information there is to learn about the world and humanity and history. The center of lifelong learning for the Christian is knowing God Himself through the Scripture.

Lifelong learning of God’s Word is something God commands us to do, but it is not a burden. Instead, we are to abide in God’s Word in our habits, thoughts, actions, and words in various ways throughout life. Never stop learning.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does lifelong learning mean to you?  
  2. What can we do to ensure that we never stop learning?

AN EFFECTIVE LEADER IS AN EFFECTIVE FOLLOWER

He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy,  and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.” – Psalm 72:12-14.

When you first read that an effective leader is an effective follower, does it seem like an oxymoron? Do leaders and followers seem to contradict one another? The truth is, we all need to follow someone. Jesus is the perfect leader. We must follow Christ first and, secondly, learn from the earthly leaders God places in our lives.

The Bible makes it clear that people were following Jesus. Jesus had followers before He was born. Thousands of years, before Jesus arrived in the flesh, Old Testament prophets, were committed to following Him. Then we walk over into the New Testament, and we see the same thing. The wise men came to worship someone they had never met. John the Baptist was so committed that preparing a path for Jesus became his life. He was doing all he could to prepare as many people as possible to follow Jesus. That was his mission in life.

And it worked. As a result of his leadership, thousands began to follow Jesus. In John 12, we read about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jesus was at the height of His popularity. He had performed miracles and healings and fed the 5000. People loved Him, and as a result, they followed Him. Now, He rides into town, and the streets are packed with people wanting to see Him. Palm branches are laid on the streets for Him like a red carpet.

But what about today? Is it true that to be a great leader, you must first be a great follower? This is where most of us struggle. We don’t like to follow. As many followers as Jesus had, even more, chose not to follow Him. Many more. There were some who chose to follow Him and stopped along the way. Many chose not to follow from the outset.

The first disciples discovered that the best way to follow Jesus was to walk with him, emulate His obedient life, and apply His wise teachings. These former fishermen did not start out as great leaders, but they grew into great leaders when they finally learned greatness was defined by their service. “The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest [and least privileged], and the [one who is the] leader, like the servant” (Luke 22:6, AMP). If followers want to become leaders, they must learn to take people on the journey. They must demonstrate to others that they know how to follow. To be a great leader, you must first become a great follower.

Fortunately, our leader is reigning now. He died, rose, ascended, took His seat at the Father’s right hand, is alive, and is leading His followers today. We have the leader we want. He still speaks. He is building His church. He guides and leads those who follow Him. Other leaders will come and go, but He won’t.

As you work to be a leader and follower, look through and beyond to the true King.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus Christ is the ultimate leader. How so? From what you know of Jesus’ leadership style, how is your leadership like his? Different from his?
  2. What does it mean to you to be a leader and follower?

SOME THOUGHTS ON CONSECRATION

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” – Joshua 3:5.

In Joshua 3 and 4, we read about the vast army of men and women looking across the narrow ribbon of muddy Jordan river separating them from Canaan. Joshua–the one who had succeeded Moses told the throngs: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5 ESV).

The word consecrated is sprinkled throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. But what is consecration, and who does it?  Consecration is what you do as you spiritually prepare for something God wants to do.  It’s like transferring ownership of your property to God Himself, realizing that He already owns it but wants to use it for a joyous celebration. To consecrate means total surrender to God. It means giving God full power. The word consecrate means to set yourself apart.

Our lives should be consecrated to the Lord. Romans 12:1-2 says: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

So, what does it look like to be consecrated to the Lord?  How can we live that out practically?  It sounds like an ancient, outdated word. But it’s not outdated at all.  A person who is consecrated to the Lord is sold out for Him. They adore their Savior and hold Him dear.

Consecration is giving yourself to the Lord to become “a living sacrifice,” as Paul says in Romans 12:1: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

Today, when we consecrate ourselves to the Lord, we become a living sacrifice. This means we put ourselves completely in His hands. Before we consecrated ourselves, our life was for pursuing our goals and satisfaction; now, it’s for Him. When we present ourselves to the Lord as a living sacrifice, we tell Him: “Lord Jesus, my life is for You. I no longer belong to myself, the world, or anything else. I’m here for You.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to present our bodies as a sacrifice?
  2. What does a consecrated life look like? How do we put this into practice?

FOLLOWING JESUS DAILY

 “If I am to wholly follow the Lord Jesus Christ, I must forsake everything that is contrary to Him.” – A.W. Tozer.

How can we follow Jesus in our daily lives? Is following Him a set of rules? A one-time decision? Sometimes, “following Jesus” can feel like checking a morning devotional from a list.  But if following Jesus daily starts to feel like a checklist item, consider pausing and considering how to be like Jesus and be with Jesus.

Christian culture has many different expectations about following Jesus, so the best way to answer the question of how to follow Jesus is to go to the source: Jesus’s words. More than twenty-four times in the Gospels, Jesus invited people to follow Him. One day, while walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus passed by fishermen caring for their nets. “Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people”  (Matthew 4.19).

For those men, following Jesus meant leaving behind their old lives to go with Jesus. It meant being trained by Jesus, learning to obey Jesus, and coming under Jesus’ authority and leadership. Ultimately, it meant living a life that looked just like Jesus—reflecting His character, priorities, and practices. Jesus offers the same invitation today. He still calls men and women to follow Him.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean physically following Him around. It does mean turning from living your own life and choosing to live a new kind of life with Jesus in charge. Following Jesus requires a vital, close relationship with Him. It is an intimate kind of relationship. Spending time with Jesus and abiding in Him enriches our lives in more ways than we recognize. When we carve out time to be with Him, praising and worshiping, He gives us a love for others that can only come from Him.

Our desire for a life of contentment and joy is hard-wired in our souls. We can only find it through a daily connection with our Lord and Savior. In our life union with Jesus, we stay in step with Him. We encounter Him in the ordinary moments of our days.

Being a follower of Jesus is a daily choice, but maybe one day in the future, others will recognize that you are deliberately choosing to be a follower of Jesus. Not because you advertise or promote that you are a Jesus follower, but because you consistently give up having your own way to follow Jesus’ way, and you daily put to death those things that hinder you from following Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to follow Jesus?
  2. How do we follow Jesus daily?

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

“Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake” – 2 Corinthians 4:5 (GW).

Sometimes, we like to do what we want, when we want, how we want. Yes, we love Jesus, and our heart’s desire is to serve and honor God in all we do and say. But sometimes, the me occupies center stage. It is not easy to cease saying, “What about me?” in exchange for, “it’s all about you, Jesus!”

It is sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around the realization that our lives would be in vain if not for Jesus Christ.  Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  It isn’t about me.  It isn’t about what I accomplish.  It isn’t about my wants and desires.  It’s all about Jesus Christ in me.

It is wise to reflect that we were alienated from God by our behavior and sin. Fortunately, God decided to do something about it. God took the initiative. He decided to give us an inheritance and rescue us from darkness by forgiving us for our sins. How did He do this? Through His Son, Jesus Christ: “always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).

In Verse 15, Paul expands on the identity of Jesus. He is “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and God’s fullness dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is God. He is all-powerful, and through Him, everything in creation has been made—things on earth as well as in heaven, things we can see and things we can’t see, every source of power and authority, every king or prime minister or president, were all created through Christ. He has authority over life and death since He existed from the beginning and conquered death. Nothing and no one can escape His power and authority.

Mary was twice criticized for her zeal for Jesus: once because she sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister served and once because she seemingly wasted expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The criticism did not come from Jesus. Mary understood that listening to Jesus was more important than a clean house. Mary understood that no gift was wasted if it was lavished on Jesus. She had her priorities right in a world that was way out of sorts. She knew it was all about Jesus.

We will always have to deal with the temptation to orient everything and everyone around us.  At those times, we need to remember that it is all about Jesus. Loving Him, Seeking Him, Trusting Him

Discussion Questions:

  1. What things in your life are you responsible for, and how well do you feel you are in control of those things? 
  2. What areas of your life have you truly let God take control, and what areas are you still trying to hold onto the wheel yourself?