If Not This, Then What

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” – Matthew 5:17-18

What if? What if Jesus had not come? What would our lives be like? What realities, beauty and grace we presently enjoy would not exist? What would we know?  We need to realize that it is an impossible question because as Colossians 1:16 says: ”for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.” Without Him, everything comes apart. But we pose the question to help us truly appreciate His coming and all numerous individual blessings we enjoy due to it. 

For example, if Jesus had not come, we would not know God’s complete faithfulness. We would not know the fulfillment of every last promise. If Jesus had not come, we would not know the fullness of God’s love. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13), and “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8).

If Jesus did not come, we would not know the depths of God’s grace and compassion. According to Hebrews 2:17, “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.” God’s love is abundantly displayed in His great grace and compassion for man’s needs. So much did the Lord love the world that, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). In turn, God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, affirms that in His love for man he willingly laid down his life in order that people may believe in and follow him (John 10:11-18). 

Finally, if Jesus did not come, we would not know His atoning death and life-giving resurrection, there would be no salvation for sinners. “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” (Romans 5:10).

Discussion Question:

  1. Imagine yourself involved in a conversation with a neighbor or colleague at work about Christmas when this person says, “I wonder what the world would be if Jesus never came?” What would be your response?

The Message And The Messenger

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 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.

It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a struggling businessman with dreams of greater things but stuck in a situation that will test his patience, his inner strength, and his family’s love. He discovers that without him being born, so many things would have been different. The point is, we have no idea how significantly our lives affect others. But if George Bailey influenced a whole community of people, think of how the world would be different if Jesus had never been born. 

First, we would miss the greatest messenger ever. Jesus was in a league of His own. He was not just another prophet. Or a moral man. He was more than a great speaker and motivator. There are no titles, or tags, or accolades that will do Him justice. Jesus is, as the Father himself said, “…You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Mark 1:11) And as God’s Son, “…radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.” (Hebrews 1:3). So Jesus surpasses every other messenger God has sent, or ever could send.

Secondly, we would miss the greatest message. The greatest messenger brought the greatest life-changing message that has ever, or will ever be communicated. Jesus’s ministry was not disconnected from, or contrary to what God had spoken through his earlier prophets. They were, after all, speaking God’s words. But Jesus is himself the very Word of God incarnate: “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14). His message exceeded the prophets, because it is the fulfillment of everything they had previously promised. 

If Christ had not come—turn off the bells, stop the music, close the church. The world we live in would be vastly different place. But, fortunately as the Bible reminds us in Luke 2:10-11, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would be different if Jesus the messenger never came to earth?
  2. What would be different if the message of Jesus was never communicated throughout the world.

In God We Trust

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” – Psalm 9:10.

Most Christians want to believe they are trusting God with their money. And why not? Who wants to admit they love money more than they love God or that they worry about their future more than they trust God with it? We all want to believe we are trusting God with our money; the only problem is … sometimes … deep in our hearts, we know it’s not entirely true. We know our checkbook does not reflect the life of someone who has given God everything. Giving expresses our trust in God.

Do we trust what God is doing in our human relationships, our careers, and our health? Do we really trust God? How do we develop trust in God? Financial giving is actually one of God’s key training grounds to produce a trust connection between us and Him.

There is nothing more relational than trust. If we trust our wife or our husband it means that we don’t have to check on them. If we trust your teammate, we know they’ll be there when we need them to be. If we trust our friend, we know they’ll keep their promise.

Trust is always based on a relationship. Once we have gotten to know someone’s character, we can predict much of what they will do. But even in the times when we don’t know for sure what they will do, we don’t sweat it, because we know their character well enough to trust them to do what is in our best interest.

Do we know and trust God? Do we know His character? God wants us to know and trust Him so that even when we can’t see for sure what He is doing, we don’t doubt Him. Financial concerns seem to be an area that tests the trust of all people no matter what economic level they are. God wants to use this constant tangible area of life to draw us closer to Him. As we give back to God in sacrificial worship, we are telling God that we really do trust Him. As a result, He is honored and we will come to know the peace of trusting God with our financial situation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you trust God with your finances as much as other parts of your life?
  2. What makes it so difficult to fully trust God?

Investing In Life

“Then Hannah prayed and said: ‘My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in Your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides You; there is no Rock like our God.’” – 1 Samuel 2:1-2. 

The stock market garners a whole lot of attention. No matter what media you follow, the stock market will be a topic at some point during the day. Some people will watch the stock market to see how much money they made, while others will tune in to see how much they lost. But even if you don’t make monetary investments in stocks, you can still be an active investor in many areas of life. Every action, every attitude, every activity is an Investment in something. And it will reap dividends one day, good or bad. 

When it comes to investing money, most of us are pretty careful. If you’re like me, you don’t have more money than you know what to do with, and so you’re cautious about entrusting it to an unknown person or company that promises you a profit. But, it’s amazing that while people are careful about investing their money, they are often very haphazard about investing their lives. They give little thought to investing their lives with God, and in others.

One Biblical character that was a wise investor is Hannah. Hannah was a woman well acquainted with the struggle to become a mother, and the heartache involved, and yet, she was able to come to peace with things well before she gave birth to her first son Samuel. Her faith in God remained the same despite what she was going through.

Hannah chose to give her child back to God. She made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.” (1 Samuel 1:11) This should not be seen as bargaining on the part of Hannah, but she was promising to offer her best to the Lord as a result of His answer to her prayer. Had she prayed to win the lottery, her vow was that she would have given the entire prize back to God, keeping nothing for herself. Her response to God’s answer to her prayer in chapter 2 is key for us today.   

Hannah made a wise investment that paid dividends for years to come as Samuel served God.     

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who or what are you investing in?
  2. What can we do this week to better invest our lives for God?

Broken Dreams

“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” – Genesis 12:2.

The story of Joseph spans many chapters, Genesis 37-50. Joseph had a lot of things going his way in life at first. He was handsome. He was the first son born to Jacob through Rachel, and therefore, he was his father’s favorite son. He had great dreams that made him feel good about himself. But at the age of 17, just when one is supposed to be dreaming dreams about the future and beaming with bright hopes of being accepted into Florida State University, life takes a pointed turn for Joseph. His brothers don’t take him to see the Seminoles play Clemson, or teach him about dating girls. They hate him so much that they throw him into an empty pit. 

Joseph is not at Starbucks drinking a caramel macchiato. Joseph is in a pit. No Internet surfing, no access to email, no Facebook friendship, no Netflix, no texting or tweeting. Life is the pits and his future is in there with him. Or so it seems. 

His brothers sell him into slavery. They are not interested at all in his future. They’re cold and callous and uncaring. After being sold into slavery, he was framed as an adulterer, forgotten in prison and endured seven years of famine.

There will be detours in life and sometimes life may even feel like the pits. In those times, investing in the future seems at best, futile. But God is at work in hidden ways.The Bible describes some dark and difficult times in Joseph’s life. But it also reveals that every time he faced adversity, he used it to develop himself personally and to build trust with others. As a result, Joseph made one comeback after another and proved himself trustworthy.

In Joseph’s case, his future was deferred but it was not ultimately denied. He kept going and eventually became the second-in-command in Egypt. He went from the pit to the palace, because God’s plan can’t be stopped. 

Joseph’s story reveals that setbacks may just be setups for comebacks. You get to decide that you are going to restart your dreams for the future or let them fade away. I encourage you to continue to invest in the future with your time, skills and gifts and trust God to do His part. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. With the injustices Joseph suffered, what sustained him? What would sustain you in those events?
  2. How can you continue to invest in your future when your dreams for the future seem shattered?   

Investing In The Future

“Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

I’m asking you the question, “What do you want in life?” Your answer to the question today is going to determine what your future is going to be. Right now, the stock market has gone wild, seemingly setting a new record each week. But the record highs mean little if you did not invest when stocks were lower and thus more affordable. If you had bought low, you would be looking at some very wise investments indeed. 

There is no use praying to have something better tomorrow if you’re not willing to make some investments today. If you’re praying for better children, what investment are your putting into them. If you’re praying to improve a relationship, what investments are you making. If you’re praying for a better job, what investments are you making. If you’re praying to grow in God, what investments are your making.

There is a story in Luke 19 about a nobleman and his slaves. It is a story on how they increased their power by investing in the future. The nobleman was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he didn’t rest on his laurels or sit at home waiting for more benefits to come his way. Instead, he was seeking to maximize his power by obtaining an even higher royal position. The parable doesn’t spell out the details, but somehow he overcame the opposition of the people. Apparently, he was able to convince them he would make a good king.

Before embarking on his trip, he took the time to summon ten of his slaves, to give them each an amount of money, and to instruct them to carry out his business in his absence. Two of the slaves invested in the future by doing exactly as their nobleman master told them to do. They obediently, resourcefully, and responsibly used his money to do his business. Their positive efforts brought about financial increase for their master, and earned them each a significant job promotion, wherein they would respectively rule over ten cities and five.

The parable tells us that the third slave wasn’t so resourceful or efficient. He believed investing in the future was to do nothing, to be extremely cautious. Whatever his perspective, instead of investing in the future, the third slave did nothing to improve his lot in life and severely limited his future potential.

The question is where do we fit into this scenario. Do we invest in the future or do we we do nothing and hope for the best? Have you thought of ways you can powerfully invest in your business or career? In your retirement savings? We are not talking about money only here. God wants us to be powerful agents of positive change in our world. Are we willing to invest our time and our efforts? Are we investing in the lives of others? Are we investing in the children and youth?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think it’s so hard to save and invest? Do you have any ideas or tips that have made saving and investing more doable for you?
  2. What will your life look like in 30 years if you start saving and investing more now? What if you don’t?   

Shaping The Future

“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 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 4:13-14.

The future can sometimes seem a long way off. Even so, we are always preparing for the future even if we do not think or dwell on the future. We are always preparing for the future even if your mind is focused on the past or the present. This is because your life builds upon itself. What you experience today is based upon what you accomplished or did not accomplish yesterday. And what you will experience tomorrow will be partially built on what you can accomplish today. So how do we prepare for the future today? The first step is to give God your future.

We all have different fears about the future and different needs to be met in the present.  Whether our needs are for financial provision, emotional relief, stress reduction, a change of circumstances, get out of debt, or the ability to make good investments for the future – God will provide for those needs in the best way. It may not always be our way, but it will always be the best way.

Yes, there are unknowns about the future: remember Who holds your future instead of what the future holds.  The future will look a whole lot better if we intentionally choose to trust God instead of worrying. Giving your future to God frees us to live the life that God has given us now.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals for the future. The problem arises when the goal becomes God. Or in other words, when we sacrifice everything to achieve them, including our family and God.

You don’t have to have your life all figured out; you only have to take one step at a time walking with God. And every time you put your hands in God’s hand, you’ll know you’ve got a solid hold on your future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view the future?
  2. How do we best shape that future?
  3. What can we start doing to pave the way to the future?  

Giving And Receiving

“As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.” – 2 Corinthians 9:9-10. 

We all know that everything we have is a gift from God. But sometimes it’s hard to know just how to give back to God. How much is enough? Giving as an act of worship, an expression of faith, and a discipline for spiritual growth. Faithful use of our time, talents, and money starts with a deep, satisfying relationship with the God to whom we belong. When we give gladly and generously out of our heartfelt connection with God, God will give back to us in like measure.

Giving always results in receiving. We have God’s Word on it: Luke 6:38 says “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal [measure] it shall be measured to you again.”

It is a very plain statement that we should take at face value. If I give, something will be given back to me. If this was a friend or business person making this statement, I could be disappointed. But not God. Matthew 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.“

How is it going to come back to me? Will it be given back to me in like kind? I believe that God will give back to us no matter what channel is used. Luke 6:38 tells us that the measure we use to give is the measure that will be used to return our giving to us. However, God uses a qualifier. It will be given back to us, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”

The measure that is used to give back to me will be a good measure. We can rest assured that God will use an accurate measure. We do not have to wonder if we will be treated fairly. If we choose to be givers, we can trust that we will receive at the exact same level that we give. God determines the measure by the heart. You may only have a little to give, but if it is the best gift you can give and it is from the heart, God will give back to you at the dump truck level. Just start where you are. 

Once you have given, trust God to receive. He said he would give back to you. That is our promise from God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has been your experience with debt?
  2. In what ways does debt limit freedom? Can you give personal examples?
  3. What makes is so difficult to get out of debt?

Being Thankful

“There will be joy and songs of thanksgiving, and I will multiply my people, not diminish them; I will honor them, not despise them.” – Jeremiah 30:9.

I want to start this devotional with a question: Am I a thankful person? Is thankfulness part of the discipline of my life?

How much time do I spend each day reflecting on good, positive, praiseworthy things in my life? How often do I go out of my way to recognize people who are a blessing in my life? How often do I thank a friend, neighbor, relative, small group leader or even a complete stranger who has been a blessing to me in some way?

We have so much to be grateful for in this life. Each and every day. But the reality is that sometimes constant life demands, struggles, and worries give more room to gloom and doom than to joy and thanksgiving, Or we simply forget in the busyness of the day to pause and give thanks, for all that God has done, and continues to do in our lives. Are there things that you should be thankful for, or people you should be thankful for now, at this point in time?

Thanksgiving is a season of being grateful. Thanksgiving reminds us of all the things to be grateful for. One reason that we fail to thank God now for what we have is that we want more – we want the next step. We fool ourselves into thinking that when we get more or when we get to the next step that then we will stop to thank Him. But that suggests we should not be grateful for what God is doing in our lives as part of His plan for each of us. And that means being thankful even when life is falling apart around us.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. 

Look at what the Word of God says in Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.”

All of us have a lot to be thankful for this time of year. But not only should we give thanks during the holidays, we should give thanks to God every day of the year.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easier to be grateful or complain? Why?
  2. Is there someone who has influenced you that remains thankful and gives God glory even as life’s circumstances have dealt them a difficult hand to deal with? How did that impact you?
  3. What can we do this week to be more thankful?

Conduit or Holding Tank?

“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” – Genesis 12:2.

If you talk to Christians for any length of time you will hear the word blessing. We tell people that we are blessed, or for them to have a blessed day. We count our blessings, and of course if someone sneezes, we say, “God bless you.” We count our blessings, name them one by one. In fact, the word blessing is used so often that it can become just another word. God has promised to bless us. The question is what are we doing with all our blessings: are we a conduit or a holding tank? 

If you’re simply accumulating more and more rather than giving what has been given to you, then you are a holding tank. However, if you give away the things that God gives you, then you become a conduit through which His blessings flow. God blesses us so that we can bless others.

In Genesis 12:1-2 (ESV) God reveals Himself to a man named Abram and says, “… Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Why does God promise to make Abram into a great nation, bless him, and make his name great? Notice the two words, “so that”. Those two words show us why God blessed Abram and why God blesses us today. God blessed Abram “so that” he would be a blessing to others. In other words, God didn’t bless Abram primarily for Abram, instead He blessed Abram for the sake of others.    

So why does God bless you, or me? He blesses you and me so that we will be a blessing to others. He blesses us so that we will be a blessing for the sake of Christ, so that other people experience His blessings through you. So instead of merely counting your blessings one by one, start giving to others by being a conduit to pass your blessings along to others.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7 adds, “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

These verses are a direct promise from God: If you will sow abundantly with a cheerful attitude, then God will bless you so you can be a conduit to bless others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways can we be a blessing to others?
  2. Does how you live bless others?