Decisions Last For Eternity

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” –  Ecclesiastes 3:11.

How do you make your toughest decisions? Trust God? Write a pro/con list? Go with your gut? Have your own system that you’ve perfected over the years?  One of the best ways to look at decisions is through the lens of eternity. It is a matter of seeing the big picture of how decisions will impact you today, tomorrow and for all eternity. Culture is bombarding us with messages to “live for the moment” and “it’s all about the here and now.” But living for the moment effects much more than the moment itself. The decisions you make in the next few years will have an impact on the rest of your life.

In the same way that the decisions you make in the next few years will impact your life, the decisions we make in our lives on earth have an impact on our lives for eternity. Eternity is a hard thing to grasp, and for many people is a long way off. But is it? The Bible says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

There is nothing quite as grand as a fireworks display. You can’t help but be impressed by the beauty and colors of the starbursts erupting in an aerial display illuminating the night sky. Fireworks serve as a metaphor for our lives. When each individual firework is lit and shot into the air, suddenly there is a beautiful starburst that dazzles the eye for a few seconds, and then disappears from sight. It then falls to the earth as a useless spent cartridge. Our lifetime on this earth, when compared to eternity, is but a split second. Our lives on earth can be dazzling and we can achieve great success, but we will be a bright light for only a short time.  Everything in this life has limits. But God is unlimited. 

At some point in time, we all have to choose how we are going to live our lives today.  Will we choose the pain of discipline now or the pain of regret in the future.  If we do not chose discipline today and start something new and move in a new direction today, then it might very well be the biggest regret you will have tomorrow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does one make decisions with eternity in mind?

The Tools of Discipline

“But have nothing to do with irreverent folklore and silly myths. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness [keeping yourself spiritually fit].” — 1 Timothy 4:7 (AMP)   

As a Christian, you will experience pain. That is inevitable. But, in some cases – you can choose which pain you’ll experience. You can choose immediate gratification with no long term payoff or you can choose to have current pain for greater returns down the line.

Choosing the later requires discipline. Self-discipline is doing what you know you have to do to accomplish your goals whether you feel like it or not. It means reigning in your appetites, emotions, and inclinations to help you achieve something that’s farther down the line. Self discipline is part of just about every undertaking: It takes self-discipline to start a profitable business, to finish what you started, to honor the guardrails you set up in your life, to avoid temptation, to forgive people and to resist immediate gratification.

We need discipline but that doesn’t mean we always embrace it. Having discipline in your life can put a damper on your fun because most people would rather do what they feel like doing. While it may not be popular, ignoring it can result in disaster. Proverbs says 1:7 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 6:23 adds “For their command is a lamp and their instruction a light; their corrective discipline is the way to life.” The Book of Proverbs is an excellent book to guide us in the necessary disciplines for a fulfilling life. Proverbs 1:2 sets the stage:” Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”

Discipline is not a glamorous topic, but it certainly is critical to our everyday lives. The longer we fail to put needed disciplines in our life, the harder it is to do and the more that lack of discipline causes problems in our lives. Take a few moments to evaluate what areas in your life that you can use more discipline. Maybe it is something practical like you have a tendency to procrastinate. Or maybe it is being faithful whether in your personal or professional life. Maybe it is a unwillingness to forgive a relative or friend. Or maybe you are lacking the discipline of spending quality and quantity time with God each day. We think our lives are so full that we can’t possibly put another hour into the schedule. This discipline is so very needed in our lives. And it is discipline. 

Where is your discipline weak? In what areas are you dying for lack of discipline? The good news is that discipline can be learned.  Any one of us can be disciplined if we want to be and we go to God for strength and help. But it will take time. I want to encourage you not to give up easily, because new disciplines simply take time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can self-discipline help unlock God’s will for your life?
  2. Why is self-discipline needed?
  3. What can you do this week to improve your self-discipline in one area?

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

“Don’t fear failure. Fear faithlessness. Don’t fear attack. Fear apathy. Don’t fear rejection. Fear regret.” – Steven Furtick.

Every day we make mistakes, and most of the time we just ignore these failings and move forward. But every so often, there is one that makes us pause and take notice and ultimately becomes a regret. Most people struggle with regret – big and small – and some regrets take root and have to be dealt with.

Being a Christian would seem to make regret irrelevant. After all, as Christians we hear stories about bold faith and celebrate stories of dramatic transformation. These are uplifting, but they can create the perception that we no longer have to deal with the effects of lingering regrets we accumulated before we came to Christ or after for that matter. Becoming a Christ follower undos all the worst mistakes we ever made.The gospel of Christ grants us freedom from the condemnation that still haunts us daily. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). So it makes sense that we would feel a little uneasy about regrets all the while wondering why our regrets from the past are still part of our lives today.

Christ does indeed make all things new. And He is at work to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose every single one of our regrets as we submit ourselves to His work in our lives. But it means facing those regrets prayerfully and with courage, not denying they exist. Denying that our regrets exist will not make them disappear.  Only God can do that. And He will. Regrets are one way to come to grips with our humanity, as well as the depth of Christ’s redemption of all that we are, and all that we’ve done. 

But let’s also have an eye toward the future. This week’s sermon on “choosing discipline over regret” is not about going back in time for a do over.  It is about eliminating future regrets by our actions today. Work harder in your relationships so you will not have the regret in the future.  Spend more time with your children and grandchildren so you don’t have the regret of misplaced priorities in the future.  And don’t regret that you missed the mark in your relationship with Jesus Christ. You can manage your time, your money, your emotions and your energy in such a way that you live and die without any regrets. Regrets can be avoided if we make better choices today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How easy is it to cruise through a day and not even think about the choices we make? Why is it so easy?
  2. How can making the right choices and doing what God loves make your life better? What can we do this week to start making the right choices?

Parental Control

“It was by faith that Moses’ parents hid him for three months when he was born. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king’s command.” Hebrews 11:23.

There comes a time in every child’s life when he or she crosses the threshold into adulthood. Once this line is crossed, the parent-child relationship is supposed to change in some basic ways. Your child is then on the road to becoming your peer and equal rather than a dependent minor. He or she will be graduating into a position of self-responsibility, in which they become accountable to a higher authority – the authority of God Himself.

No matter how good the parent is, they cannot control the child’s future. The child’s personal decisions will have to be something more than a matter of simple “submission” to mom’s and dad’s orders. They will be on their own. And in that moment, our slipping sense of control will inevitably produce anxiety and a desire to find some way to maintain some level of control. That does not make you a control freak, it is more of a fear of surrender. There isn’t much more we as parents can do, but surrendering is not easy. As parents, we sometimes struggle with what surrender really means. Surrender does not mean that you stop loving or counseling your children when needed, it simply means surrendering them to their heavenly Father.

In Mark 14, Jesus knew that He would soon take on the sin of the world and bear the wrath and shame for the entire human race. Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (v. 36). In that prayer we see surrender. Surrender is acknowledging God’s power, submitting to His will, and trusting in His plan for each one of us. When we fret over losing control over our children’s lives, we should pray like Jesus: “Your will be done.”

We have a profound role to play in our kid’s lives and we can continue to pray for them and love them unconditionally, but it is God who is the originator and orchestrator of our kid’s lives. God can be trusted with the kids He has entrusted to us.

What comfort and peace it brings to remember God is always in control and ever present in our children’s lives, even when we can no longer be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How surrendered are you to God? Is it any different to surrender our kids to God?

Love In Control

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. 

The Bible is full of specific instruction on how we should treat each other. But nowhere does it talk about forcing other people to do our will. Nowhere does it talk about controlling one another. Rather it takes lot about love; it includes loving our enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5: 43-48) and loving without expectation of receiving love in return (Luke 6: 27-36). But the most challenging call to love is the great commandment to love God with all of our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 34-40).

To truly love, we must first know God. Love starts with God and ends with God because God is love. We see this in 1 John 4: 7-8 when he writes:  “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” All God does is out of love. He loves perfectly. Our goal is to love as God loves. Love isn’t something that is derived from within us. It is radical. For the kind of love that God calls us to – the love that loves our neighbor as much as we love ourselves –  must come from Him. This command to love is important. It is not something to take nonchalantly; if you feel like loving, then love. We are required to demonstrate a genuine love regardless of how we feel about a situation or a person.This means putting others above ourselves, our perceived needs, and our wants. That includes people who are trying to control or influence us as well as the people who support us on a daily basis.

Imagine for a second if they did a “most interesting man in the world” commercial on Christian love. It would go something like this: “I don’t always want to love, but when I do, I love as Jesus loves. I thank Jesus who died on the cross for my half-hearted love. He loved perfectly in my place. Grow thirsty for loving others.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you when the Bible says love others?   
  2. What can we do this week to be better at loving others?    

When The Controlling Get Controlled

“When doubts filled my mind,  your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” – Psalms 94:19.

It is always an interesting, if sometimes frustrating experience when interacting with a control freak. But controlling people often find themselves being controlled. A perfect example of that is the story of Laban. The relationship between Jacob and Laban is a fairly lengthy relationship that takes up more than four chapters of Genesis (29 – 32). This is an unusual relationship where Laban is in control and Jacob is along for the ride. But in the end, the controller gets controlled.

Jacob is looking for a wife. He immediately falls in love with Rachel which establishes his connection to Laban. Because Jacob is poor, he pledges seven years of labor to Laban to secure Rachel’s hand in marriage. (Genesis 29:16-20)  After the seven years, Jacob asks the agreement to be fulfilled. But Laban deceives Jacob by giving him Leah instead. Before Jacob realizes what has happened, he is married to Leah but still loves Rachel. So, he commits another seven years of work for Laban in order to marry Rachel, as well. (Genesis 29:23-27)

Jacob fulfills his second 7-year commitment to Laban and tries to leave. However, Laban is reluctant to let him leave because Jacob has made him successful. He asks Jacob to stay. Jacob agrees as long as he is paid a wage, and says he will accept only the spotted, speckled and striped livestock in payment. (Genesis 30:31-33) Laban thinks Jacob negotiated a poor deal and readily agrees. 

But God is in control and God blesses Jacob. The number of livestock set aside for Jacob far outweighs the number going to Laban through God’s blessing. (Genesis 31:12) Laban’s son became angry so through a dream, God tells Jacob to flee with his household. (Genesis 31:13) Jacob does as he is told and heads back to his land in Canaan. Laban catches wind that Jacob’s household has left his land and pursues them. But he quickly realizes that he cannot control Jacob any longer. Clearly, the Lord is with Jacob and Laban cannot control or fight that. In the end, the controller got controlled. 

God is in control of everything that happens in the universe. He is in control of everything that happens in your life no matter how hard you try to control everything. We need to play a role, but all our efforts at control do not loosen God’s grip on the direction of your life at all. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you try to control and what do you let God control?
  2. What is your first step and next step in surrendering to God rather than trying to control everything by our selves? 

Be Still

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” — Psalm 46:1.   

There are people who seem to be in complete control of their lives. They appear as this cool and composed person who has this laid back and on top of everything persona. Their friends are impressed, commenting that “they never worry about anything, do they?” In most cases, they are fooling others and themselves.

Behind the “all together” exterior is a stressful balance of keeping all the balls in the air, while organizing and trying to schedule and compartmentalize everything that is happening on a daily basis. And it never stops. Life is found in an abundance of activity and commitments. You could probably power a small electric power plant with the energy the person spends trying to keep it together. When we finally admit that we don’t have it together, we realize that we don’t have a hectic life problem, we have a “trust in God” problem.

Jesus promised an abundant life, but also told us there is an enemy plotting our downfall: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV). 

The abundant life Jesus offers isn’t filled with to-do’s. It is filled with trust. God’s promise us that it will work out for our best in the good, the bad, and the ugly. God always knows what is best for us. We need to look to Him to fill our days, instead of an endless to-do list. That means we trust God enough to relinquish control to Him rather than trying to continue doing “life” on our own.

Trusting in God is a lifelong process. Like many aspects of the Christian faith, it’s a choice that we make every day. We have to learn to let go knowing God is in control and understands more than we ever could. 

God holds the world in His hands — but we’ll never fully grasp the power and extent of those hands if we’re not tuned into and focused on Him. When we surrender control, wait and trust in God’s plan, we can know that He will be faithful to lead us where He wants us to go. Jeremiah 29:13 says “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”. Seek God and He will direct your steps.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What evidences do you see of nature being “surrendered” to God’s control? What about your life?
  2. What fears do you have about fully surrendering every aspect of your life to God? 
  3. What can you do to give God more control?

In, Out Or Under Control?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” – Proverbs 3:5-6.

There is a control freak lurking somewhere in each one of us. It may surface when we try to control our circumstances, or our spouse or our kids or our friends or our future. Some people are better at controlling things than others, but nobody can control everything in their life.  Not even close. Eventually we all learn the same lesson: You are not God, and you are not in control. Some of us learn this the hard way, but we all learn it at one time or another.

Whenever we try to control something that’s not ours to control, we’re trying to be like God. And that’s a problem. We try to control everything because we fear being out-of-control. The more we try to control, the more we’re afraid of losing control and the more afraid we are of losing control, the more we try to control. The only way out of this Catch 22 situation is to relinquish control by surrendering and trusting in the Lord.

But choosing surrender over control is not easy. But it can be done. A good place to start is not sweating the small stuff.  In every area of life, we must differentiate between what is important and what is just simply not worth our time and worry. Jesus taught this lesson 2000 years ago. Matthew 6:25, 32-33 says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?…These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God[a] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Food and clothing are important, but they represent many issues in life to which we give too much weight. Jesus calls us to consider our priorities. That thing you are trying to control right now… is it even worth it?

We do need to take responsibilities in some areas. A life of surrender to Christ is not about sitting back and letting God to do all of the work. There are many issues in life where God calls us to take ownership for our choices and actions.  Working hard to do our part results from trusting God’s work within us. But we don’t act self-sufficiently. As we surrender to God to do what He has given us to do, we also trust God for the desire and the power to do those things.

Finally, leave the God stuff to God. There will be problems in our lives that we simply can’t control or even handle. When there are God-sized issues in our life, we should release or surrender them to God with the knowledge that an all-powerful and all-loving God is in control and that what He brings or allows into our lives only is for His glory and our good.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is this worth your time, attention, and energy to try to control unimportant things?
  2. What can we do this week to surrender control to God?       

Waiting On Purpose

“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” – Habakkuk 2:3.

Most parents believe that their kids have no patience and seem incapable of waiting for anything. Kids do not want to hear the standard two word response to their requests, “not now.” That response usually results in some sort of happiness and energy bypass that turns formally bright and happy kids into sulking and frustrated kids. Adults don’t like to wait any more than kids do. We too want everything done quickly. The truth is we are not used to waiting, and the more our culture and technology caters to the immediate, the less we feel willing to wait.

While society makes every attempt to make our life easier and faster, God works on a very different timetable. Learning to trust God means believing God’s timing is always perfect. God is never late and God is never early. Of course we don’t ever want God to be late, we want the answer right now. But God knows the right timetable.

Waiting can actually be a positive if it makes us more like Jesus. The problem is we don’t think of waiting as possibly being good.  We look it as a negative, as punishment when it is not. Waiting can be a tool God uses to help us become who He created us to be. If you are seeking God’s purpose through prayer and the answer is not forthcoming, it does not mean you are doing something wrong. It may mean that God wants you to sit tight for awhile. Waiting is simply another part of the journey, not a faux pas on your part. Something actually happens while nothing is happening. God uses waiting to change us.

Accepting God’s timing in your life begins with faith. Waiting on the Lord means we are not running ahead of the Lord, or bailing out on Him. It is staying where you are waiting to go – where God wants you to go. God will fulfill His purpose in His time.

The next time you are seeking a quick fix to a problem or circumstance in your life, please consider the following: First, God makes no mistakes. We do make mistakes. In fact, we do so regularly. But God never makes mistakes. Everything He does, He does with a purpose. When we accept and live according to His timing is when we will experience real peace and find purpose in our lives. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. The old adage is true: Timing is everything. Is it true in your Christian walk?
  2. What difficult situations or circumstances in your life do you need to trust God’s timing in?

Purpose In The Pain

“Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” – Hebrews 2:17-18.    

In a “I don’t think they thought this through” moment, a group of men volunteered to subject themselves to pain equal to what women experience in childbirth. The men began the experiment in good spirits, joking and talking about the electrodes that were attached to them. But as the pain began and eventually increased, they started to grimace and recoil in pain—eventually sobbing and screaming and begging to be excused.  

Nobody likes pain. We go to great lengths to avoid it. But what if there is a purpose to pain? There is a side to pain and suffering we miss when we focus solely on our pain rather than on God’s greater purpose. Simone Weil illustrates this point when she said, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” 

Hard times have the capacity to deepen your faith and the faith of those around you. If we can see the purpose beyond the pain, we will understand God’s ability to leverage the suffering in your life for greater things. Consider what Peter said in 1 Peter 2:20-21: “Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.”

The goal is not to suffer aimlessly, randomly, or mindlessly. God does not orchestrate purposeless suffering in your life but rather, on the contrary, redeems your suffering for His purpose. When we stay focused on our purpose in times of pain it serves as a witness to the power of the gospel.  People—our children, our spouse, our friends, our boss, our colleagues at work, even skeptical nonbelievers—will observe the way we handle suffering, and they’ll learn from us.

Nothing testifies to the deep, authentic reality of God’s presence in the life of a believer like watching that believer keep their eyes on Jesus while enduring pain and suffering. Observing a Christian cry out to God in confusion, pain, and anger, while maintaining the faith to reach out in hope and trust, is perhaps the greatest example for the Christian faith the world will ever see. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see benefit or purpose behind the pain? 
  2. What can we do this week to trust God more in times of pain and suffering?