Matters Of The Heart

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7. 

The Bible mentions the heart almost 1,000 times. Jesus spoke a great deal about the heart. The heart is a metaphor for the inner life.“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

When people think about having a joy filled, happy heart they are usually thinking of what makes them happy. Have you ever stopped to contemplate what it means to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? To please God? Have you wondered how to make God happy? The Bible tells us how to make God happy and live a life that pleases Him. “Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1) Hebrews 11:6 adds, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

Every day we make a decision about what is most important in our lives. There is a throne in each of our hearts with only room for one to sit. It is our choice who will sit on the throne. It is not an easy decision because our desires are tempting and when we let them take the throne of our hearts, things never end well. Say you let your desire of money take the throne of your heart, well next thing you know your bank account is zeroed and you’re left with a bunch of materialistic things.  No matter how many times you splurge, the things you acquire will never fill you and eventually you will be hungry for something new. In fact, we can put a lot of energy and thought into things and people that are supposed to make us happy, just to find out that they can’t.

Real happiness, however, is found in Christ and in His everlasting love. Like the old Children’s song says “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, Down in my heart to stay”, God is the one that provides it.Visualize the happiness God has in store: “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11).

Discussion Questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 = No Joy and 10 = Full of Joy, how would you rate yourself today? What do you think are the reasons for rating yourself that way?
  2.  How can our hearts be changed to be like Christ’s?

Is Age Important To God?

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:22 . 

Years ago most people starting businesses were older; starting on your own usually required experience and capital which took years to acquire. But while experience and capital are still important, there is no age for entrepreneurship. Age matters little; take a look at the new crop of billionaires and you’ll find that out pretty quickly. While there was a time when young entrepreneurs were looked at as failures waiting to happen, nowadays most people look at a potential entrepreneur’s drive to succeed rather than the year he or she was born.

All this begs the question: Is age relevant to God? The answer is no. Age is completely irrelevant to God. It is assumed that older people are wise and young people are less so. However, there are Christians who, in spite of their older age, are still immature. And there are young Christians who, in spite of their youth, are wise well beyond their years. That being said, as a general rule, older Christians still tend to be the most mature because they have spent many years learning and applying the truth of God’s word to their lives. Younger Christians are generally just beginning and haven’t had the time to learn as much. But it is not the age that matters, it is the knowledge and application of God’s word. It is God’s word which matures us and equips us: ”God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17). You can be wise at any age.  James 1:5 does not give an age requirement, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you…”  In other words, you can’t really excuse yourself from serving God by saying you are too old or too young. 

God calls people of all ages. The Bible seems to imply there is no upper or lower age limit for service in the Kingdom. God calls the very young like Samuel and Jeremiah to be prophets when they are little more than boys. David was anointed for service when he was just a boy, tending sheep in the fields. Paul writes to Timothy reminding him not to let others look down on him because he’s young (1 Timothy 4:12).  

God also calls the elderly. Abraham was 75 when God called him to leave his place of birth and set out towards the land of Canaan. Moses was 80 when God appeared in the burning bush and gave him the task of returning to Egypt to lead his people to freedom.

Regardless of your age, God can use you. Whether you are young or old, don’t think of your age as a handicap. Don’t let age be a factor.  You just need to seize the opportunity when it presents itself: “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you believe God can use you regardless of your age? Why or why not?  
  2. What can we learn from older Christians this week? What can we learn from younger Christians this week? 

Blessed Are The Meek

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”  – A.W. Tozer 

Our culture exalts a hero who conquers, who refuses to submit to others, and who challenges anyone who comes against his interests.  He saves the day or he solves the crime, he’s good at what he does and they need him—and he knows it.  Most of our cultural heroes don’t have an ounce of meekness or humility in them.   

To many, “meekness” suggests the idea of passivity, someone who is easily taken advantage of, spineless and wimpy. Meekness is a difficult concept to define, but displayed perfectly through Jesus. But meek does not mean weak. In Revelation 5:5-6, Jesus is referred to as the Lion and the Lamb. The Lion and the Lamb are descriptions of two aspects of the nature of Christ. We are to see Him as not only the conquering King who will slay the enemies of God at His return but also as the sacrificial Lamb who took away the sin from His people so they may share in His ultimate victory. Jesus was humble and meek but He had all the authority He ever needed. 

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of His disciples took a sword and cut off the ear of one of the arresting soldiers in the heat of the moment. In an act of mercy, and meekness, Jesus healed the soldier, then reprimanded His disciple. Jesus knew that it wasn’t time to fight back or insist on His own way. He simply humbled Himself and submitted to the authorities, willingly giving Himself up as a sacrifice on the cross. Jesus could have resisted. He had the power to call the angels for a dramatic rescue. He didn’t submit because He was weak. On the contrary, He was intentionally meek. Meekness is really humble strength under control.  

It may seem counterintuitive, but Jesus’ promise stands—a meek person will be happy or blessed. Jesus pronounces a blessing on everyone who is meek such as in Matthew 5:5 where He said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Psalm 37:11 (ESV) says, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” 

Meekness is being humble and gentle towards others and willingly being submissive and obedient to the Lord. It is not being selfish and arrogant, loud or obnoxious. Rather, it’s having a quiet but confident trust in the Lord and being willing and able to do whatever it is He commands. In regards to how a meek person would treat others, they would definitely be humble and gentle both in their words and in their actions. Meekness means you don’t see others as better than yourselves.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Everyone who has humility has meekness and every person with meekness is likely also humble. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. When you think about meekness, what synonyms come to mind?
  3. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. What does He mean and how does that apply to us today?

What Would Jesus Do?

“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered[a] for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” –  1 Peter 2:21-23. 

Most of us have made decisions with not enough thought put into them. Seldom do we slow down and ask a pivotal question, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” What would Jesus do if Jesus were running this meeting? If Jesus was having this discussion with my spouse, what would He do? If Jesus was handling my finances, what would He do differently? How would Jesus speak into the various problems and concerns that I face today?

Obviously, doing what Jesus would do is a tall order. Jesus prayed constantly, lived purely, labored patiently, and lived purposefully.  These are all things we can and should emulate if we want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and help us when we need to make some difficult decisions. 

Yes, we want to do what Jesus would do, and yes, we want to imitate Him as best we can. But if we truly want to imitate Christ, than it requires more than pondering what He would do when we face a tough circumstance or a difficult decision.  

If we want to imitate Christ we must know Him. If we are to know what it means to follow Christ, then we must seek to study Christ—-his life and teaching and, most importantly, his death and resurrection. It is not only a question of what would Jesus do, but what has Jesus done. Once we understand what Jesus has done, we can best understand how to follow Him faithfully. By focusing on what Jesus has done, we will be able to see the bigger picture of God’s plan to glorify himself through the life, death and resurrection of His Son. 

Asking what Jesus has done moves us to the question of “why?” Why did Jesus “…humble himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) By submitting to the Father’s will, Jesus revealed the Father’s love for His fallen creation. Although we don’t deserve it, God showed us love, mercy, and grace in Jesus’ death.  

What do we do when we realize the Son of God died on the cross for each of us? The appropriate response, of course, is thankfulness, bowing down, and acknowledging Christ as our Lord and Savior. And in the same vein, we look for ways to serve the Lord in our daily activities. So the question every person must grapple with is not only “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What will you do with Jesus?” 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can What Would Jesus Do be part of our daily lives? 
  2. How can What will you do for Jesus be part of our lives as well?   

Are We Paying Attention?

“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.” – Hebrews 6:10.  

I don’t think we would want our attention spans measured. The results would be disappointing, because our attention spans are typically pretty short. We can’t focus when we get up because all we can think about is coffee. Then a second cup of coffee. And while drinking the coffee we wonder why we are still tired. There are enough distractions during the day that we stop paying attention to all that is happening around us.  

We have all seen him. He lies amidst a pile of newspapers in a park field, covered with a blanket that has seen better days.  People shuffle past him and around him trying not to make eye contact. He wasn’t there when we were young, but he is there now. Sometimes enough people complain and the police will relocate him, at least temporarily. But he will come back. And most people simply won’t pay any attention to him and go about their business.  

Such a man was Lazarus. In Luke 16:19-31 we read the familiar story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is sad to think of Lazarus sitting at the rich man’s gate and begging. Lazarus is a mess with the Bible telling us that “As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.” (Vs. 21) We can’t even truly grasp the situation until we pay enough attention to see Lazarus. “Care about them as much as you care about yourselves” (Philippians 2:4)  You see, in this parable, the rich man did not see Lazarus. The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich, but that he did not take notice of his neighbor in need. He was too absorbed in himself to even to see the man sitting as near as his doorstep.

The question is how often have we unintentionally done the same thing. We would gladly help the person if we were simply paying attention. So often fixing a problem only requires us noticing that there is a problem and caring enough to want to help.  Think about when you are facing tough circumstances or you are just feeling low. In those times there is nothing like a phone call from a friend asking how they could help. Or a neighbor walking over to see if you are okay.  When people are paying attention and care enough to reach out to us it always seems to lift our spirits. In the same vein, have we taken notice of someone else whose world is caving in?   

If we want to be more like Jesus, we cannot just step over the person sitting at our gate as if he does not even exist. There are people all around us that need help. People who need us to pay attention and help them if we can.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Am I aware of needs in my community that God might have equipped me to help fulfill?
  2. What can I do this week to pay better attention to those in need around me? 

Be Humble

“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. 

If humility is defined, in Paul’s terms, as “thinking of others as more important than yourself” then humility would appear to be a Christian virtue. Until Jesus Christ came, humility was considered a weakness and not a virtue. It’s not difficult to understand why humility would be frowned upon when pride rules in the hearts of the natural man. It goes completely against the “survival of the fittest” mentality, with the prize and the spoils going to those who are aggressive, assertive, and pursue their own interests, even if this means stepping over others to get ahead. Considering others as more important than ourselves would seem strange before Jesus. 

But, “thinking of others as more important than ourself” is exactly what Christians are told to do in Scripture. We are asked to be humble because Christ was humble. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8).

So what does humility mean in real life? Consider this: Humility is living with the right understanding of who God is, who I am. There is a link between humility and seeing God clearly. Humility is recognizing that everything I have and need comes from God. It’s an attitude of heart that affects everything a person does and says. In Jesus’ words, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me.’” (John 8:28). Jesus understood why He was sent. He loved His Father and came into this world to reveal Him. He recognized that everything in His life comes from His Father. 

Jesus was God and deserved to stay in heaven. Yet out of His great love for us, He chose to come to earth as a human. Jesus even chose to obey God to the point of dying an embarrassing and painful death on the cross for our sins. Jesus is the perfect example of humility, and we are to follow His example. Now, can we follow His example perfectly? No. Only Jesus can be perfectly humble, but because of His humility, He offers us salvation and forgiveness for all the times we’re not perfect. While our imperfect humility can’t bring salvation to others, like Jesus’ perfect humility did, it can help other people want to know more about our God. 

But it’s not easy to be humble, even if you really are. What is there about us that makes us want to receive credit? Why do we tend to compare ourselves to others? Why are we prone to find fault with others? In those times, in fact in all times, we need to remember that Jesus became nothing during His life on earth, and He gives us His example so that we may follow in His steps.  As John the Baptist said, ”He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Read Philippians 2:3-4 . How do these verses describe humility? (not being selfish or trying to impress, thinking of others, taking an interest in others) Why is it hard for us not to think about ourselves first?
  2. What can we do to remember who God is and who we are?  

Has Christianity Become Irrelevant?

“May we be the kind of good faith Christians who shape the future by asking the right questions and then confronting what is wrong, clarifying what is confused, celebrating what is good, and creating what the world is missing.” ― David Kinnaman, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme

David Kinnanon and Gabe Lyons co-authored a book in 2016 entitled Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme. Kinnaman is the president of Barna Group, a leading research company, and Lyons is the founder of Q, a TED-style learning community. With the Barna group involved you would expect a lot of statistics and that is exactly what you get. Based on thousands of interviews they conducted, Kinnaman and Lyons report a growing number of U.S. adults perceive Christianity to be irrelevant and extreme.  

Many people see the church as irrelevant to their day-to-day lives: a dead, empty tradition of the past. So, is the church still relevant? It can seem at times that the church is almost yelling at those who will listen, “Hey, remember me? I’m the church. I’m still here. I still have important things to say.” It’s interesting the lengths we’re tempted to travel in order to be heard when we simply need to stay focused on being more like Jesus. He wasn’t inventing new things. He wasn’t going out of his way to be “relevant.” Mark 10:45 says, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

“The church” is more than just a building on their street corner, and it is more than the Christians they know, and is more than the different denominations. The church existed before those things and will exist long after them. The church is the group of believers meeting in a home in Pensacola and is also the group of believers huddled together for prayer in Pakistan. The church is the teacher taking time off to serve on a mission trip to Haiti and a plumber who is using two weeks vacation time to ensure Kenyan villages have water. It is a whole lot of people who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord.

The C.S. Lewis Institute said that the only thing that is always relevant is the Gospel. God’s word will never be outdated, superseded, or improved upon. Cultures change, laws change, generations come and go, but the Word of God is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Jesus said,”I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”  (Matthew 16:18)

As believers, we belong to Jesus. Sure, we are not the most faithful of servants, but He chooses us just the same. As His servants, we Christians take seriously His charge to share His unchanging and relevant message of hope and love with everybody. The message of Jesus is one of certainty that lasts for all time. And regardless of where you are in life, He has a relevant life-changing message for you.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think the church has lost some relevancy over the past 10 years? If so, how? 
  2. What can we as individuals help to change this dynamic?  

Mission Possible

“So he left Judea and returned to Galilee. He had to go through Samaria on the way.”John 4:3-4. 

This is a powerful verse that many people read through without giving it much thought. Jesus left Judea and departed again for Galilee. This direct route from Judea to Galilee was about 70 miles or two and a half day’s walk. But many of the Jews chose not to go through Samaria. They traveled the hot desert road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and up the Jordan valley. Remember from the story of the Good Samaritan that in Jesus’ day, Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. In fact, they viewed each other as enemies. A Jew would prefer to take the long way and avoid the Samaritans entirely. Thus, because of the enmity that the Israelites had for the Samaritan people, they journeyed almost twice the distance on a much hotter and more uncomfortable road. But not Jesus. Jesus went through Samaria. 

During the journey, Jesus became weary. He had been walking in the hot sun all day. He was thirsty, so he sat beside the well to rest while the disciples went into the city to find something to eat. A Samaritan woman went to the well for water.  So, as he always did in such a wonderful way, Jesus seizes what was right at hand. Here was a thirsty woman coming to draw water, and he said to her these remarkable words, “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)  Her response was filled with surprise as she questioned why Jesus would break social norms by talking with her. As the story continues, it becomes obvious that she finally came face-to-face with the One who could give her value, worth, satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and eternal life.

After this life-changing moment, the woman left her water jar and returned to town to tell the people of this man named Jesus. Due to this woman’s testimony, the town people came to see Jesus, and many believed in Him. It shows that although Jesus wasn’t forced to do so, he “had to go through Samaria.”  Jesus, in his close relationship with his Father, knew he had a job to do. He had to go outside of the expected cultural and traditional norms to offer grace and eternal life to a Samaritan woman, who then shared the good news with her entire town (see John 4:27-32).

When the disciples returned they urged Jesus to eat something. Jesus responds, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:34)  Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks repeatedly about being sent by the Father to do His Father’s will and work; to accomplish His mission. At the end of the day our mission follows from Jesus’ mission and the mission of God even when we have to go through Samaria on the way. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is it possible to have a life on mission? Why or why not?  
  2. As we live our life, what lessons can we learn from Jesus and His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well this week?

Trusting God

“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..

Trust has to be complete. You either trust someone or you don’t. You can’t kind of trust somebody. If you say you trust someone, you trust them with everything. So when it comes to trusting in God, it means you trust Him, without a doubt, without question, with infinite confidence. It sounds easy. It isn’t. 

Even Jesus’ closest friends proved that trusting God is not that easy. In John 13-14, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be leaving them soon and that they won’t be able to follow Him. This bothers all of them and Chapter 14 is basically a back and forth between Jesus and the disciples. In the end, Jesus’s response to their concerns boils down to John 14:1, “Trust in God, and trust also in me.”  We can trust God, especially when life is hard.

In the third chapter of the Book of Daniel we find the story of three men who are unwilling to turn their backs on God by bowing down to the golden statue of the reigning King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Of course this enrages the king who orders them to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Not only are they willing to face death rather than deny their faith in God, but they tell the king in no uncertain terms.  

“… O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

That is trust. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted God whether or not He was willing to intervene and prevent their suffering. The three Israelites were willing to give up their very lives to prove without a doubt their own level of trust in God. Do we have that level of trust in God?  Do you trust in God even when He doesn’t give you the answer you desire?

Whether the unexpected in your life right now is a jolting circumstance at work, a relationship that is not where you want it to be or health issues, trust God. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Which aspect of your life do you struggle most when it comes to trusting God? How can you address that area this week?  

Check Your Attitude

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.  

Your attitude impacts everything. It directs your thoughts, your energy and most of all, the actions you take.  

Charles Swindoll wrote a wonderful paragraph about attitude in his book, Strengthening Your Grip.  He said: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

A man attended a morning church service. He grimaced because the music was too loud. He glared in disapproval at a couple whispering.  He looked repeatedly at his watch. He wondered why the church was asking for so much information on the connection card. He shook his head when the wrong powerpoint slide came up on the screen. He snuck out during the altar call muttering to himself, “well that wasn’t a very good service, why did I bother?”

Another man went to church on the same Sunday. He smiled broadly when he saw how much those serving in the Kids Ministry enjoyed their work. He shook the greeters hand and returned a warm “good morning.” He raised his hands and sang “And I ran out of that grave” when the band played Glorious Day. He smiled when the sermon helped him with a question he had on his mind. He was praying for those far from the heart of God during the altar call and rejoiced when several people made a commitment to follow God. As he left the church, he thought to himself, “How good it was to be in God’s presence today.”

Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, and each had found exactly what he was looking for.  Our attitudes are an outward display of what’s taking place in our hearts. When our hearts focus in the right place, our attitudes will too. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define attitude? Why is it important to realize that we choose our attitudes?
  2. Does having a good attitude mean we have to be Pollyanna, wearing rose-colored glasses or ignoring real-world challenges and being fake?