The Whole Truth

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.” – Acts 5:1-2.

Most people who have spent time in church have heard the story of Ananias and Sapphira. A little background first: The story of Ananias and Sapphira take place when the church was young. One of the notable qualities of the early church was their generosity. Generosity is best measured not by the sum of what was given, but by the sacrifice that comes with it. The Acts 2 church was willing to give the little they had to help others, trusting the Lord to provide for them. Acts 2:45 says, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

The early church realized that everything they had was from God, that it was given to them not for their own exclusive use, but to be shared with fellow believers. There was no coercion involved. Any believer was free to own property if he so chose, and no one would think less of him for it. Enter Ananias and Sapphira. They wanted to be part of this early movement and that is where the trouble began.

We read in Acts 5:1-2 that they sold a piece of land and kept part of the money for themselves. The rest they would give to the disciples. They would not necessarily say they were giving all of the money they received from the sale; they would just let everyone assume that. 

What was so wrong with their plan? They did not really lie to anybody, did they? They just gave the money and said nothing about what percentage of the total sale price it represented. They could not help what other people thought, could they? Evidently they could. Peter called it lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). He explained that they were under no obligation to sell their property. And even after they sold it, they were under no obligation to give all the money to the church. But they were obligated to be honest (Acts 5:4). The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was dishonesty.  Peter said, “You weren’t lying to us but to God!” (Acts 5:4). Ananias died and his wife died 3 hours later.

It is easy to see why God takes dishonesty so seriously.  Dishonesty can destroy marriages, families, churches, relationships and our witness. It hurts us. It hurts others. It hurts God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is telling part of the truth the same as lying? Why?  
  2. What can we do this week to be totally honest?

Honesty Is The Best Policy

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” – Colossians 3:9. 

Most of us have been taught that “honesty is the best policy.” Our parents taught us to be honest to authorities, teachers or anyone else because it reveals our character. Yes, we should practice honesty because of the social ramifications. But, we should also, and more importantly, practice honesty because it pleases God. Honesty is God’s policy. God wants us to be honest at all times.   

As followers of Christ, we aren’t honest because society tells us to be honest. Our society isn’t always honest. In fact, in many cases, the goal is to get away with being dishonest. The thought being that if you get away with it, more power to you. In other words, if you don’t get caught, then dishonesty is okay.

As followers of Christ, we try to be as honest as possible because we have a different standard. When a Christian, honesty is the norm. Honesty is best cultivated, like most virtues, when exercised regularly. When we get into a habit of telling the truth we won’t be tempted to depart from the truth quite as often.   

There is a story in 2 Kings 12. Joash was King of Judah. He noticed that the temple was in need of repair. So he starts a Biblical kickstarter campaign. He places a chest at the entrance door of the temple so people could drop in their offerings for the temple repairs. When the chest was full, the money was given to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. With it they paid those who worked on the temple of the Lord—the carpenters and builders, the masons and stonecutters. (2 Kings 12:10-12) If this was today, some of the money may have skimmed off, or mismanaged or used for other projects.

But how did the building superintendents handle the money in this passage of scripture? Verse 15 tells us: “They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty.”  

God is looking for some honest people. People in whom He can trust. People who will be honest in all their dealings. People who reflect God in their lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does honesty mean to you?
  2. I would challenge you to deliberately be honest for the next day or two. In that time refuse to lie, deceive or speak in half-truths. It will not be easy. It will require your total effort and concentration, and a lot of help from the Holy Spirit.

Trust Me On This

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Ask yourself this question: How can anyone be happy in a relationship without trust? Trust is the main ingredient for all healthy relationships. It is essential for intimacy in marriage.Trust creates security and openness in relationships and makes relationships work. I Corinthians 13:6-7 says, “It (love) 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.”

Trust is critical in relationships. I Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” If you don’t have trust in a relationship it’s not going anywhere because relationships are fueled by the power of trust.

So how do you build trust? How do you build a relationship that answers the age old question: Are you there for me? Will you choose to tell me the truth? Luke 16:10, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” On Sunday, I talked about talking with honesty, respecting his or her needs, understanding their perspectives, starting small and taking time for a relationship to build trust. Let me add a few to that.   

Trust is built with transparency, keeping promises, doing what you said. In relationships, how we respond to each other in the day to day moments defines our ability to build trust. We must be responsive. But when we mess up, and we will, we need to own it. Respect the other person’s needs. Everyone deserves your respect because everyone is a unique creation of God. “Respect everyone, and love the family of believers…” (1 Peter 2:17) Finally, don’t dismiss the other person’s emotions. When we dismiss other’s emotions, we break trust. When you attempt to understand the emotion, listen and empathize. It builds trust.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define trust in relationships?
  2. What in your mind is the key ingredient in developing trust in relationships?
  3. What can we do the week to develop trust in our relationships?

A Steep Price

“ For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-19.

In the marketplace, the price paid for an object establishes it’s value. Thirty-five years ago, the idea of paying $4 for a cup of coffee would be considered ridiculous, yet today, people pay it. And because people regularly walk into Starbucks and pay $4, they have established the value. But how do you establish a value for the price Jesus Christ paid for our sins?

Isaiah 53:4–5 says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

There is no question who Isaiah is talking about here. This is one of the clearest passages in all of Scripture about what Jesus Christ did for each of us. Isaiah tells us that He was punished. He was wounded. To be sure, there is a lot happening here. And during it all, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, that He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His wounds we are healed.

Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all humankind on the cross. Buried in a tomb, He rose again three days later as proof that His mission to conquer sin and death had been accomplished. Jesus appeared to His disciples and then returned to heaven with the promise that He would return again someday. Jesus claimed to be much more than a wise man or teacher. He claimed to be God, willing to die for His creation so that their love relationship could be restored (Romans 5:10). 

So what do we do? We trust Him. We look forward to that day when we will stand before His throne, repeating the wonder that He died for one such as us. Yes, we will trust Him today, and forget about our scars, our imperfections, our failures and our shortcomings. We will stop condemning ourselves for our past. We will relinquish the shame we’ve harbored for so long and we will abandon our self-absorbed efforts to make ourselves worthy. My prayer is that we will remember what Jesus did on the cross and live for Him every day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus’ death paid a price we could never pay on our own. We can never earn God’s love—it is freely, graciously given. Is this a difficult concept for you to understand?
  2. Do you sometimes feel like you have to earn God’s love, or get all the “rules” right?  

Our Value Proposition

“You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” – Psalms 145:16.

The Psalmist asks, “what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:4). You could also ask the question of why does Gods care about the tiny sparrow, yet used it to illustrate our heavenly Father’s watchful care: “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31). If God is concerned about the tiny sparrow, how much greater must His concern be for man who He created in His own image. When you consider your value, remember the following points:

  1. God loves you deeply: It’s good to take a moment and be reminded of just how deeply we are loved. God is love and His love for you has no end. Over and over we are told in scripture and shown in scripture that God loves us. Our doubts do not change God’s love for us. His love is steadfast and constant. When you are God’s child – no matter what you do good or bad – He still loves you.   
  2. God values you highly: Take a good look at Ephesians 2:1-10 and see what it says about our value outside of God. Then see the value God placed on us even though we didn’t deserve it. We have value not because of what we have done, but because of God’s great love for us. Remember, your value isn’t found in who you are or what you do. Your value is only attainable through Jesus Christ.
  3. God provides for you fully: God has the very hairs of our head numbered. We just read of his great concern for just a sparrow that falls to the ground. Take that concern and multiply it one hundred fold and that is just the beginning of His concern for you today. God will provide. Go ahead and trust Him with the needs of your life  God will provide the right thing, at just the right place, at just the right time.
  4. God planned you carefully: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:4-5) In short, God is the one who planned for you and me. He’s the Parent who is eternally committed to working for the fulfillment of His purpose in us, and giving all grace and power from day to day that His plan for us may be fulfilled.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which of those four statements do you think is most true in your life? Why?
  2. If you truly believed in those four statements, how would your life be different? 

Made To Measure

“Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” – 2 Corinthians 10:12,

It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “he (she) just doesn’t ‘measure up’”? When someone doesn’t “measure up” that means he or she is not quite good enough. Most everyone I know wants to feel good about themselves. We want to feel like we are going somewhere, moving forward in life, and accomplishing something. We want to feel we measure up. But that can prove to be difficult when we feel like we are “less than,” rather than “greater than” the people around us. They are smarter, prettier, more athletic, more successful, taller, thinner, wealthier, and more likable than we are. Fortunately, God loves the less than as well as the greater than people.  Galatians 3:28 says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And Acts 10:34 says, “Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.”

For those who believe they don’t measure up remember this: Our real or perceived limitations are not prohibitions to God using us to further His kingdom. You may be thinking, “I can’t do that because of… or I’m not smart enough, I don’t have the spiritual training, I’m not bold enough, or, I don’t know the Bible well enough.”

God specializes in using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. The pages of Scripture are filled with ordinary people. Fishermen, prostitutes, people that are uneducated, people that other people reject. And God specializes in taking ordinary, regular people of average intelligence and average skills and gifts and doing something extraordinary. For an extraordinary thing to happen through an ordinary person like each of us, something has to happen. And it is not dependent on your intelligence, it’s not dependent on your education, your giftedness, your background, your wealth, or your personality. This one thing is available to every one of us.

That one thing is faith. It’s believing God. Faith and trust in God will overcome all your limitations because God is bigger than your limitations and your circumstances.This is the kind of faith we need: a faith that results in a transformed life. The greatest accomplishments for believers happen only by faith. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can God help us measure up?
  2. What is the role of faith in helping us measure up?

The Potter And The Clay

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. f we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts..” – 1 John 1:8-10.

Scars. They tell stories, don’t they? We may have fallen off a bike or you had your appendix out or maybe they are emotional rather than physical scars. We all have them.

The physical scars are often easy to hide. The emotional scars not so much. The physical scars tend to fade over time. If only emotional wounds worked that way. You’re betrayed by a close friend, lose your job, unexpectedly lose a family member, or have a miscarriage. Any one of those leave scars. There is no band-aid to fix these problems, nor does the pain fade quickly.  We begin to think our lives are useless, or broken, that our talents are wasted, and our dreams dashed. It is at this time we need to remember that God can make a masterpiece out of any vessel. “ And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

Not that we don’t need some work. There are many rough edges in every one of our lives, but God can polish away all our imperfections, blemishes, failures and scars through the working of the Spirit in our lives. God starts with crude non-distinguishable chunks of clay and begins to mold us with love and care from His Son. He begins working His grace in our lives and slowly creates the form that resembles a work of art in human form. Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

God has proven by the power of His death and resurrection that He desires to heal us, restore us, and set us free. Be content with your imperfections and your progress, knowing that even if you’re not quite where you want to be, God is not finished with you yet. He is working on making you the masterpiece He created you to be. 

I wish every scar magically disappeared, but that usually is not the case.  Remember that God has the ability to take every scar, and as the Master Potter that He is, He will take it all and make you better than ever.   

Your life in Christ is a thing of beauty that even Michelangelo in all his glory could not even come close to creating.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when you tried to make something out of clay? How did you do? What did you make? How did your project turn out?
  2. What’s the most difficult thing about being the clay?
  3. What can we do this week to be better clay for God the potter. 

Where is God?

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Luke 21:27-28. 

The last few weeks have been traumatic for Americans. We saw in high definition the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. We saw the heart wrenching pictures of Texans wading through water that covers prized possessions. Then we have Irma, a massive hurricane devastating the Caribbean and now Florida.  We have another hurricane striking Mexico. But these hurricanes are only the latest in a long series of other terrible disasters around the world that include earthquakes, tsunamis  cyclones, and volcano eruptions, etc. These are all what insurance companies refer to as “acts of God”. In other words they are events outside the control of man.

All of this leaves us with very tough questions: “Where is God when disaster strikes?” Why did God allow this tragedy? A good and loving and powerful God could have prevented all this suffering couldn’t He? So where was He? Why didn’t He intervene?” This is a question for the ages. People far from the heart of God and those who are followers of God have asked that question. Not surprisingly many great saints in the Bible struggled with this question. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?vWhy are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1)

Job suffered for a long time and had no answers to his questions. The Psalmist sometimes felt overwhelmed and confused. For example in Psalm 69:14-15 we read, “Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.”   

So what are we to do? We need to trust God because God is with us in every storm. As hard as it is to do, turn your attention away from the crisis and focus on God. It does you no good to obsess yourself with things that are beyond your control. The more you focus and obsess on it, the bigger it grows. You gain nothing by setting your eyes on the calamities. You gain everything by setting your eyes on the Lord. The more you look to God, the quicker the problem is reduced to its proper size. This was the strategy of the psalmist: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  (Psalm 121:1-2)

Where is God when disaster strikes? He is right there reaching out in love to all who will turn to Him. He is the God who cares, the One who saves. As Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 46: How does that affect your thinking when natural disasters strike?
  2. What can we do to trust God in time of natural disaster?

Prison and Rhoda

He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison…”  – Acts 12: 13-17. 

In this section of the book of Acts, we encounter a number of important characters. There is King Herod: dark, threatening, ruthless and cruel. He had James the brother of John put to death by the sword and arrested Peter and imprisoned him. Then there is the figure of Mary, the mother of John Mark. It was in her home that the believers met for prayer and to which Peter came on his release from prison. Then there is Peter. He is in prison until an angel visited Peter’s prison cell and miraculously released him. In complete contrast to all of these we have the figure of Rhoda, who is a servant girl.

This passage tickled and surprised me. I wondered why Scripture includes the name of this girl who recognizes Peter’s voice and then runs away from the door instead of letting him in. There are many nameless people in Scripture. For some reason, Rhoda isn’t one of them. But think about the scene for second. People are gathered at Mary, the mother of John Mark’s house to pray for Peter’s release.

Peter, after his miraculous release from prison goes to the house and knocks on the door in the gate.  Rhoda, a servant girl, answers the door. More than likely, she asked, “Who’s there.” Rhoda wasn’t about to open the door in the middle of the night. When Peter identified himself, Rhoda hears Peter’s voice on the other side of the door and turns away from the door to run screaming through the house “Peter is standing at the door!” Their reply was “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Peter keeps knocking and eventually they answer the door and to their amazement it was Peter. Apparently it was easier to get out of prison than to get into this prayer meeting. 

The feeding of the 5,000 and the story of Rhoda remind us that we should expect great things from God. God wants to bless us. God wants to take a little and turn it into a lot. Believing and expecting God to act and move is to be the norm and not the exception. Rhoda had such faith. She knew that God had freed Peter, and he was there at the door. She believed God would work a miracle in Peter’s life. She wanted to celebrate. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has God blessed you? How has God turned a little into a lot in your life? When you have experienced great joy, how did God come through?
  2. What can you do this week to expect great things from God?

The Land Of Plenty

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8.

There are times in most people’s lives when things are scarce. There is little food in the fridge. There is no gas in the tank and there is little money in the checking account. At those times optimism and hope are just as scarce. Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop. It is in times of scarcity that the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 can remind us of a fundamental truth—that Jesus is asking me to simply give my nothing—my little loaves and fishes—and then to stand back and watch Jesus teach a different kind of economy, an economy grown by God’s abundance.

You know the story. There is a big crowd. Jesus tells the disciples “You feed them.” The disciples are puzzled. They have no food. No reserves. They stare out at a hungry mass of people that looks more and more like a hungry mob. They state the obvious: “We have nothing—only five loaves and two fish.” Jesus says, “Bring your nothing to me.” He blesses the fish and bread and proceeds to distribute food to the masses. As Matthew tells the story, “And they all ate and were satisfied.” (Matthew 14:20)  The bottom line: This story of Jesus challenges us to re-imagine our life and live into an economy of God’s abundance. 

Most of the time I operate through the lens of scarcity. I’m afraid of not having enough time or resources. Will I have enough money to provide for my family? What if I get a chronic illness? If we view life through the lens of scarcity, we will always be fearful and anxious. So how do we live the abundant life Jesus promises?

We are serving a God who has abundance at His disposal. But we are human. And being human, we can fail to remember what God has done in our lives in the past and therefore what He is capable of doing presently. It is important to remind ourselves over and over how God has provided in the past. God knows how easily we forget. Our definition and understanding of whatever “scarcity” and “abundance” means is shaped by remembering who God is, what God cares about, and how God does things. And that shapes our trust and confidence.

Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”  And Jesus makes us a promise in Luke 18:29-30: “…I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define scarcity and abundance?
  2. How do we live a more “abundant” life?
  3. What can we do this week to live a more abundant life?