Reading Is Not Optional

“To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?” – Queen Elizabeth II

Americans have a positive view of the Bible. However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. It was not always that way. If you are like most followers of Jesus, you had a season when you couldn’t get enough of God’s Word.  You had your head stuck in a Bible making notes about key passages that seemed to jump off the page or screen. It seemed every day you were adding a new translation or a new commentary or some other resource. The local Christian book store knew you by name. And the weird thing is it was as if the Bible was written for you. It was uncanny. It talked about your struggles, your ups and downs, your yearnings, etc. And best of it all, it had the answers. It was a truly amazing time.

But at some point other priorities seeped in and the Bible faded into the background. The connection was disconnected. The desire to learn more and more wane. Because of other time restraints, you no longer had the time to enjoy the Bible as you once did. If that is true of you, you are not alone.  Research indicates that most Americans face that challenge in their life. And as a result of that challenge, many Christians are not as oriented to the Bible as they could or should be.

For example, the Bible is not a traditional book—written by a single author and divided into chapters. The Bible could be described as a compilation of 66 individual books written by different men over about 1,500 years. Although about 40 men wrote the 66 books of the Bible, in another sense, there is only one author. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” The books are of different lengths and different literary styles. Yet through it all, the Bible is the story of God pursuing a relationship with people. It is a story of God working to restore a broken relationship between himself and humanity.

Secondly, the Bible is two testaments, the Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books) because the Old Testament described the history of the people that God chose to be the ones through whom the Messiah would come. Therefore, it contains the history of God’s people (Jews) and also includes prophecies of the coming of Jesus the Messiah. The New Testament was written as a demonstration of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus as well as letters written to various churches and individuals informing them of proper Christian behavior. 

Studying and understanding the Bible can be a lifelong adventure. It contains both simple and practical insights, but also profound and moving insights that will help Christians of all kinds grow in their faith. Bible study should never become just an academic task. Rather the overarching point of studying the Bible is to know God better so that He may be glorified. Along the way, you will be edified, challenged and changed for the better. Learning to correctly handle “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ) through Bible study begins with an orientation and ends in putting it to use in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How well do you believe you have been oriented to the Bible? What can you do to fill in the gaps?
  2. Bible study is not the same thing as Bible reading. How are they different?

Humility In Action

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:11.

Most Christians have heard the story of Nehemiah. On the surface it looks like a long list of names of people doing work, but it is so much more. But if we look a little closer and read a little slower we might find something that’s insightful and has something to teach us, even in a book that looks like a list of names of people doing work. Names like Berechiah and Meshezabel, Zadok and the daughters of Shallum to name a few. Nehemiah was building a wall. The goal of the wall was making the city of Jerusalem defensible.

Organizing that effort and deciding who worked where was quite a job for Nehemiah. The book of Nehemiah is full of people you would not expect to see working on a building site. But they did their bit. They got involved and did what had to be done. For example, we read in Nehemiah 3:14: “The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, the leader of the Beth-hakkerem district. He rebuilt it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars.” You have to have respect for Malchijah. Who would want to build the dung gate? It’s hard to imagine people waving their hands saying to Nehemiah, “dude, I want to do that job.” But somebody had to do it and Malchijah humbly takes on this objectionable task for the overall good. 

Another section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” (Nehemiah 3:5 NIV) They decided not to get involved. We’re not told why. They clearly resented being told what to do by their supervisors. The nobles want the benefit of the project without being willing to contribute or help to make it happen. That kind of attitude: being uncooperative, selfish, and unwilling to do one’s part to make things better is because of pride.

Who do we want to be, the nobles of Tekoa, or Malchijah? The answer is choosing humility over pride.  Augustine gave the following advice to people who are faced with that decision. “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is the difference between the nobles of Tekoa and Milchijah played out today in what we will or won’t do?
  2. Are there any ways you are actively seeking to become more humble? Are there strategies, approaches, or attitudes that have helped you in the past? 
  3. What is at least one way you can practice humility in the coming week?

Super Humility

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” – James 4:10

It seems like there is a new superhero movie hitting theaters weekly. There are things that every superhero movie has in common; one, they have some extraordinary power and the second one is, every one of them has a weakness. It makes sense, because if you have no weaknesses, you couldn’t be defeated and there would be no drama in the movie. And that doesn’t make for good comics or movies. I mean if the hero is unbeatable, what’s the point?

So Superman has his kryptonite. For Green Lantern, it’s the color yellow. Even real life heroes like Samson have their weaknesses. For him it was his hair. We each have a weakness as well. For most people it is pride. But we also have a power to overcome that weakness, humility. As Christ followers, we are called to be like Jesus including His humility. We’re called to be much more than typically humble people. If we are to be like Jesus, we must practice super humility. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” ( Philippians 2:3-4)

So then, what does it mean to have an attitude of super humility? The simplest way to describe real humility is: know who you are in Christ, know who you were or who you would be without Christ, and then treat everyone as though they are just as important in God’s eyes as you are because they are. Humility is about doing things for others because you know that God loves them just as much as He loves you. Humility is about putting the Lord and His people first and yourself second. Humility is about seeing other people as valuable not as obstacles in your way.

Jesus is the perfect example of humility. He never for a moment thought of seeking His honor, or asserting His power for Himself. Jesus, the Son of God, would voluntarily accept the path of humility. “he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)  He would even embrace the most abhorrent death of all, a sin-atoning crucifixion. In spiritual agony, He would pray, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39).

My prayer is that we will be humbled by the humbling Jesus Christ accepted in coming to this sinful planet to save sinners.  As God, He deserved all honor and glory, yet the Son of God was willing to become a lowly, human servant. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you nurture humility in your life?   
  2. What benefits and promises are there to those who walk in humility? 

The Humility Of Love

“When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me. Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” – John 13: 6-9. 

There is so much that is unique and radically different about Jesus Christ. He was unique, first of all, because of who He was: God in human flesh. Throughout history tyrants and megalomaniacs have claimed to be divine—but only Jesus Christ truly was God, coming from Heaven and then returning to Heaven. He proved it not only by His miraculous deeds, but by His resurrection from the dead. Jesus rightly declared, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30). He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the World and He demonstrated a never seen before humility of love.    

That fact is made clear when the Son of God washed the disciples feet. When Jesus gathered His disciples for the Last Supper they were discussing who was the greatest. This wasn’t the first time that the twelve had gotten into this sort of silly debate. They had argued about the same matter while they walked at some distance from Jesus at Capernaum, thinking that He couldn’t hear what they were discussing (Mark 9:33-37). But He knew what they were discussing and used the occasion to teach them about childlike humility. On another occasion, the mother of James and John had come to Jesus to ask that her sons could sit on His right and left in the kingdom. The other disciples were indignant (Mark 10:35-45). What right had these two brothers to claim the top spots in the kingdom? Jesus taught them that the greatest should become the servant and the one who wished to be first should be the slave of all, adding, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

But in spite of these repeated lessons, here they were again, right on the eve of the Lord’s death, showing their human pride by arguing over which of them was the greatest. This shows us that although we can have this lesson in our heads, it takes a while to put it into practice. The greatest in God’s sight are those who humbly serve. And that point is clearly made sometime during the Supper, when Jesus got up, grabbed a towel, took a basin of water, and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus faithfully served although He was the Son of God.

By example, Jesus was teaching his disciples that those who want to be great in God’s eyes allow themselves to be less in the eyes of man. A true servant leader offers to perform tasks no one else will do. To serve as Jesus did for the benefit of another shows the deepest level of love and humility. That is the humility of love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the humility of love mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this week to have a servant’s heart?   

The Pride Of Life

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” – C.S. Lewis 

How often have you heard the response, “Well, I have my pride!” That statement is so true because pride shows up in the lives of every person, sometimes without us even recognizing it. In Luke 18:9-13 we read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

In this parable, Jesus gives us the reason for His sharing it: “Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else.” There are two characters in this story. One of them a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. These two men couldn’t be any more different. The Pharisee was very pious and took stock in his attempt to keep the law. The tax collector in his own eyes and as well in everyone else’s, was an outcast. Both approach the Lord in prayer. The Pharisee boasts about his own-self sufficiency. The other begs for mercy because he knew he was a disappointment to himself, the people he worked for and his God. 

Remember the reason Christ presented the parable.? It was for “those who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else.” The Pharisee’s prayer was exactly that—a self-serving attempt to tell God how righteous he was. It reeked of vanity and ego. Jesus then tells His audience what they needed to learn from this story: “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.” (Luke 18: 14).

The lesson is that this tax collector went to his home justified (the Pharisee did not). The tax collector was not justified by any of the deeds of the law, but by his repentant, humble approach before God, by his acknowledgment of sin, and by his faith in God demonstrated by calling upon His mercy for forgiveness. At the end of verse 14, Christ reminded the audience that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  God does give grace to the humble. The apostle James wrote: But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” (James 4:10).

The apostle Peter reiterated the same thoughts: “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. “(1 Peter 5:5-6).

The Pharisee and the tax collector were figurative of typical attitudes that are common even in our age today. One man was full of pride and was quite self-righteous. The other was humble; he recognized his sins and asked for God’s mercy and was justified. Which one will you be?

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God give grace to the humble?
  2. What can we do this week to practice humility?

The Perils Of Pride

“All who fear the LORD will hate evil. That is why I hate pride, arrogance, corruption, and perverted speech.” – Proverbs 8:13.

Pride is one of those things that we don’t like to talk about. Pride is dangerous. Like blood pressure, pride can lurk below the surface, undetected, causing all kinds of damage. But unlike high blood pressure, pride is a spiritual disease that we all have in one degree or another. Often, we don’t even realize it’s there, and by the time we head down that slope, we don’t even know how to get back up.

It was C.S. Lewis who once said that the source of all vice is pride. Other sins are birthed out of pride. The reason why we lie is because we want to keep a good image, make a great showing. That is pride. The reason why we gossip is because we want you to know what we know; pride. I decided not to wait on God because I believe I can get this done; pride. Sin was introduced into the world when Adam and Eve acted independently of God, believing that they could become like him; pride. The Scriptures, C.S. Lewis, and my experience shows me that pride is one of the main catalysts for every sin. Jonathan Edwards said that “pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. It is the most difficult sin to root out, and the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts.”

The heart of pride brings devastating consequences:. Take the example of King Nebuchadnezzar. He became prideful and consequently was humbled by God.  We can read the story in Daniel 5:20-21: “But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” King Nebuchadnezzar lived like an animal until he came to his senses and repented of his sin. God then restored the kingdom to him.

Pride can appear in every facet of our life and is one of those areas where many people struggle.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways pride shows up in your life? When it comes to pride, how much is too much?
  2. There is a difference between confidence and pride. Under what circumstances do you tend toward pride? Have there been times where you have experienced humble confidence? 

Our Lives As An Act Of Worship

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” – Philippians 1:20.

Jesus does not ask us to die for Him, but to lay down our lives as an act of worship. Peter said to the Lord, “…“I’m ready to die for you.” and he meant it (John 13:37).  Peter had a sense for the heroic. Today we are asked to lay down our life day in and day out for God.  In other words, dying to self and living for Christ.  Is Christ your life? Is He your daily passion? Is He your hope for the future?   

So what does living our life in Christ mean? It means to worship and advance Christ in everything we do. In Philippians 1:20, we see that Paul’s attention was focused on one thing and one thing only.  While in prison, unsure of what his sentence might be, he maintained that laser focus. He expected that Christ would be exalted in everything he did. His one focus was glorifying Christ in everything. And he meant everything. In fact, he taught this in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That is how we can use our lives as an act of worship.

One of the ways that people see Christ is by looking at the lives of those who are truly living for Him. Because fair or not, the world judges Christ by His followers. Our life is about magnifying Christ’s name and helping people come to know Him more. When a Christian is really alive to Christ, they have a passion and a purpose in their daily lives. They are daily demonstrating His goodness and grace. Their lives are a daily act of worship.   

Certainly, we see this with Christ and His life on the earth—His desire was to glorify God. Not only was He consumed with doing God’s will, but He also only said God’s words:”I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49). The works that He did were the Father’s (John 10:37). He came to give glory to the Father.

The way that you live, let that be worship. Cherish God in all His works and all His ways. Reckon the old self dead and offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice.  Worship Him with your life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Romans 12: 1-2: What does verse 2 of the passage add to your understanding of true worship?
  2. In your own words, what is the difference between attending worship and living in worship?
  3. What can we do this week to live our lives as an act of worship?   

Is Reverence Relevant Today?

“It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:1-4.

When Isaiah comes into the presence of the Lord, it is obvious how he feels about the Lord. He saw the Lord sitting on a lofty throne and his response was one of absolute conviction and a sense of the awesomeness of God. The seraphims in verse 3 were saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s armies.” The Bible says that the primary reason we come together is to worship God, to experience the presence of God, to acknowledge the authority of God. We come together to encounter the living God. We come together in reverence.

The word reverence is used throughout the Bible beginning in Leviticus: “Keep my Sabbath days of rest, and show reverence toward my sanctuary. I am the Lord,” (Leviticus 19:30) and ending in Hebrews 12:28: “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.  To reverence God means to show loving respect for Him and His Word. You do not show reverence for God when you approach God lightly or when worship is hollow.

God is holy and He deserves your reverence. Proverbs tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. This type of fear is not being scared, or fearful of what will happen, nor is it distrust or terror of God. Rather, it is reference and awe that fuels our worship and faith. It is the understanding of the wonder and majesty of our incredible God, who transcends time and space, and who is bigger than the entire universe He created. He personally knows and loves us with deeper and more love than we could ever comprehend. Reverence is taking the incredible knowledge of His majesty, and applying it to our lives and giing God the glory that is rightly due Him in our worship. Psalm 49:1 says, “How great is the Lord, how deserving of praise, in the city of our God, which sits on his holy mountain!” Daniel 9:4 says, “O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define reverence? Is it fear of God?
  2. What happens to your relationship with God, with others, and with the opportunities God gives you, when we are disrespectful?
  3. What issue is in your life that would improve with more reverence?

Great Is The Lord And Worthy To Be Praised

“How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you!” – 2 Samuel 7:22.

Have you ever just been dumbfounded by the greatness of God? Have you ever looked back at what God has done in your life and couldn’t help yourself from praising God for everything that went into and came out of this adventure? Me too.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined God’s love, faithfulness and grace. What I have seen, heard, did, and received is nothing short of amazing. It gives me goosebumps when I think about it and I want to find a better way to praise and worship our incredible God. 

And why not? We have all been bought with a price. God saved an unworthy people by giving His only Son. And the Son of God dying on the cross becomes even more incredible  if we consider the sin in our life, the sin in the church, and the sin in the world. We are unworthy of His incredible love. God is worthy to be praised.

In addition to what He has done, we should also praise Him for who He is. He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last, beginning and the end. He is the lion and the lamb.  He created all, yet He humbled himself to be clothed in human form. He is the king of all, yet became a servant for our sake. God is worthy to be praised.

God is a mighty God. Nothing is impossible with Him. He can move mountains, make the sun stand still, and heal the sick. In Joshua chapter 4, we read how God completed the mighty task of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. God led the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom just as He had promised. Because of the magnitude of what He did, God did not want the Israelites to ever forget what He had done for them. God wanted the Israelites to forever remember the miracle He performed for them and what a mighty and powerful God He is. God is worthy to be praised.

Think back for a moment. God has done some amazing things in your life. He may have healed a relationship or healed your body, He may have saved you from an addiction or gave you the spouse you always prayed for. Take time today to remember the mighty things God has done for you. Praise Him and commit to Him that you will never forget the amazing things He has done for you. 

Thank you Jesus for blessing us with immeasurably more that we could have ever dreamed of on this adventure.  You are worthy of our praise.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How big is God? How powerful is God? How loving is God? In your life, how do you praise God for who He is?   
  2. Because of what God has done in our lives, how should we respond? 

In Awe

“Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.” – Hebrews 12:28. 

Have you ever just stopped to breathe in the awesomeness of God?  God’s jaw-dropping, beautiful creation surrounds us, testifying to that awesomeness. He created the sun to keep us warm and give us light. He created all those millions of stars, all in immeasurable sizes, temperatures, and brightness. He created the cool breeze that blows against our skin on our beautiful Emerald Coast beaches. He created the food and water that sustains us. He created life itself, so we can have a personal relationship with Him. His glory is so stunning, so spectacular, so remarkable, so extraordinary, so amazing that we need to periodically just sit back and take it in; to worship God in awestruck wonder.

How often do you stop to think about that? How often do we stop and reflect on how much bigger God is than our circumstances?  How often do we pause to just worship our awesome God who created everything by His command. (Hebrews 11:3)

Yet often, rather than immersing ourselves in the wonder of who God is, letting him captivate our imaginations with his majesty, we are becoming too familiar with who God is. Many people today have no fear of God and have easily taken God for granted and our worship of Him reflects that. It’s almost looking at the Cosmos with a “shrug” and settling for a passing knowledge.

We should never lose our awe of God. We cannot give God hollow worship. Rather we should honor His name, honor Him by worshiping Him in reverence and awe. God is not interested in empty words sung on Sunday from less than enthusiastic people. God is too good for half-hearted, hollow worship, too awesome for empty words. He wants our worship. He deserves our worship.

Each weekend at Northstar and churches across the world, we have the opportunity to learn about and worship God. We have the opportunity to seek Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Why would you settle for “just doing worship” when you could stand in awe?  The one true God is inviting you to see Him and stand amazed.

I believe we can do exactly that if we consistently take time out just for the purpose of admiring our great and wonderful God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How we can avoid familiarity with God in our lives?
  2. What can we do this week to pause and worship our awesome God?