God’s Generosity

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

Generosity is a beautiful characteristic in people. We love and admire generosity. We are told early in life to always be generous. But what about God? Do we reflect on and acknowledge the generosity of God? Do we think He could be a little more generous in His blessings or do we think of Him as extraordinarily generous regardless of our circumstances?  Our God is a generous God. Every spiritual blessing you have received you received from the hand of a generous and gracious God. Every material blessing you have received you have received from the hand of a generous and gracious God. That is not to discredit your hard work or your abilities. But the truth is what we have we have from God. God is not a stingy God who begrudgingly dishes out His blessings in small portions. In the following passages of scripture we see different aspects of His extraordinary generosity:

  • “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 
  • And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) 
  • “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) 
  • If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5) 
  • “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (James 1:17-18) 

No one is more generous than God. He’s the greatest giver of all time. And we should acknowledge that fact every day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when your resources were very limited, and God provided for you?
  2. Read through Psalm 103 and make it personal. Remember all the good things God has done for you. Worship Him as you read the psalm.

All That Jabez

“Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” – Hebrews 4:15.

Have you ever met someone who didn’t want God’s blessing on their lives?  I haven’t either. What would prompt you to say, “I don’t want His blessing?” Yes, we all want God’s blessing, but it is not automatic. It doesn’t happen by chance.The Bible is clear that God is ready to pour out His blessing on His people, but only when we order our lives rightly before Him and seek Him first. Psalm 67: 6-7 says, “Then the earth will yield its harvests, and God, our God, will richly bless us.Yes, God will bless us, and people all over the world will fear him.”

Jabez is one of the Bible’s least known characters. I can’t tell you exactly who he was or what he did, but I do know what he prayed. In 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 we read, “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.” That’s all there is, there’s no more about him anywhere within the Bible, but we know that Jabez was blessed and God heard his prayer.

The Bible does not say this, but I wonder if one day Jabez heard about the God of Israel, a true and personal God who did wonderful things for people who dared to call on Him. So Jabez dared to ask God to make his life larger, to extend his territory. He was convinced that God could free him from the his troubles and pain. Five powerful words end the biblical passage about Jabez” ”And God granted his request.”   

My prayer is that we will pray as Jabez prayed. I pray that we will ask God to bless and multiply everything that we do and “be with me (us) in all that I do.” Jabez not only recognized God as the one and only true God, he also acknowledged that blessings come from God alone. Jabez wanted God to be in every moment of his day. He understood the power of God’s hand to protect and to lead in the right direction. And that is the greatest blessing of all. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to be “blessed” by God? What are some of the blessings God has given you in your life?
  2. When was a time that you experienced God blessing others through you?
  3. Consider one way that you could bless someone else this week, whether here or around the world. 

A Little Something

“He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.” – Deuteronomy 7:13

The feeding the 5,000 is one of the best known stories in the Bible. Think about the story for a moment. It has always struck me as important that Jesus did not start with nothing. He could have started with nothing if He chose to. But instead, He chose to start with something. He chose to start with five loaves of bread, and two fish, brought to him by a small child. I don’t think it’s an accident that Scripture tells us about that first, small gift. Because it may not have been much, but it was something.

You know the rest of story. Jesus took that little something, and transformed it into something far greater and better than it could be on its own.

I think that’s what happens when God gets involved in something. We give our “something” and God doesn’t just add to it. God takes what we give and multiplies it into something we couldn’t imagine. It’s not God just giving us more. It’s God creating something new out of what we give, and multiplying it until what we end up with is so much bigger and better than we could imagine.

This applies to anything we give to God including our spiritual lives. When we give God just a small part of ourselves, whether in prayer or quiet time or service, God gives us back something even better; a sense of His presence, and love and grace. 

The key is to let go of the things we hold so tightly, whether our time or our gifts or even our fears, and let God work with them. Too often, we are comfortable with simple addition. We prefer to hold on to the something we have. It’s safer that way. There is less risk. Or so we think.

But what if God is hoping that we won’t just settle for a little something in our spiritual life? What if maybe for too long we’ve been settling for less, instead of believing in the possibility of something better? What if God is waiting for us to give Him something that He will multiply in ways that we could not even imagine. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Luke 9:12-17. There was not much food: 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Have you ever been at a point in your life where you said to God- this is all I have, do with it what you will? What happened?
  2. Read Isaiah 55:8-9. Where do you need God’s wisdom so that whatever you are doing can multiply beyond what you are capable of doing on your own?
  3. What something in your life can God multiply? 

Imagine A World Without Jesus

“ For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors…” –  1 Peter 1:18.

The movie Beauty and the Beast has a happy ending, But what if….? Have you ever wondered what would have happened to the beast had the beauty not arrived? What would the beast’s fate be if Belle had not happened along?

Let’s just say he probably would not have been selected as the Bachelor on the TV series. Who would choose a foul tempered, skulking monster with paws, curled tusks and a constant bad hair day. But let me ask another what if question…one that is relevant to each of us. Where would we be without Jesus? Where would we be if Jesus’ love had not transformed us from what we were.  I have heard hundreds of Christians ask the same question: “How do people make it in this world without Jesus?” The answer Is I don’t know. I can’t even imagine a life without Jesus. 

But let me illustrate what living without Jesus would be somewhat like. Cape York, Peninsula in Australia is a huge expanse of untouched wilderness located on the country’s northern tip. The region has a population of only 18,000 people. It is considered to be one of the largest undeveloped places left in the world. Imagine that you are a farmer. The soils are so unworkable and unresponsive to fertilizers that attempts to grow commercial crops have usually failed. Everywhere you look in every direction is isolation. But each day you rise and try to grow something. You work all day go home, and get up the next day to repeat the process. Nothing changes. And then one day, something breaks inside you and dies. You decide that growing crops and your life are hopeless. You get in your car and start driving to see if your neighbor has some advice or solutions on how to grow something, but after several hours you find nothing but endless road. There is no beauty to be seen. You have no neighbors, and what’s worst you’re completely lost, low on gas and water and the possibility looms that you will die out there in the sheer emptiness of it all. The hopelessness of it all overwhelms you. That is a poor attempt at describing a life without Jesus. I don’t think we could ever imagine life without Jesus. Without Jesus there is no peace. No assurance. No true love. No eternal hope. Without Jesus there is no light in the darkness. The Christ-less life is a lifeless life. But thank God, we don’t have to imagine what life would be without Jesus.

Because of the cross, we have life and hope through Christ. The Apostle John said it best – “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” 1 John 5:12

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would be the hardest part of life without Jesus?
  2. What is the hardest part of living for Jesus?
  3. What are some things we can do this week to better live for Jesus?

Transformers (Not The Movie)

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.” – Romans 12:2.

Toward the end of Beauty and the Beast, most of the characters are transformed into their true human form. The beast is once again the prince. Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, Chip and all the other characters in the castle transform back into their human characters. The transformation of the Christian can be just as remarkable because it is so much more than a perceptible change outwardly in behavior. The changes in our lives should be just as dramatic as those in Beauty and the Beast and require that you love others and be loved in return.

But what does it mean to be transformed? Can one truly be transformed; does transformation actually occur? As Christians, being transformed should be the priority in our lives much as it was in the life of the beast. Romans 12:1 says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”

Paul is urging us to prioritize a personal relationship and that means nothing is off the table. Everything we are is being continually offered and available to use as God sees fit. If we have a deep and thriving connection in our hearts to God, it will naturally produce a desire to serve. Romans 12:2 goes on to say, “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.”

Some of you are thinking God will only love you once you have your issues solved and you’ve reached a stage of “maturity.” That is wrong. God will never love you any more than He already does right now. He will never love you any less than He does right now. God is more concerned with the direction of your life than the perfection of your life. It’s the direction of your heart that says, “God I want to voluntarily submit to the changes You want to make in my life. I want to be transformed. I want to more like You.”

Remember that transformation is a process. This is how growth toward spiritual maturity happens, too. It’s a process, it takes time, and it typically occurs incrementally. 

So, do you want things to be different?  Do you want to experience personal growth?  Does your heart yearn for genuine change?  Is your longing for genuine, inside-out transformation of your heart, your spirit, your attitudes, and your relationships? Then, choose to cooperate with God and let your transformation begin?

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you could change just one thing about your walk with God, what would it be? How can you begin to change it?
  2. What role does the Bible play in spiritual transformation?
  3. What do we need to do this week in the area of being transformed?

My Heart Of The Problem Is The Problem

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. 

In the introduction to the movie Beauty and the Beast, we are told that the prince had everything his heart desired, but was spoiled, selfish and unkind. The beast’s issue was not his appearance, but the condition of the heart. The beast is a microcosm of the human experience. It is evident throughout history or even by picking up the Bible that humanity may try to rise above the evil that is deep in their hearts, but continually fails. “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9) 

It doesn’t take much study in the Bible to realize that Jesus is concerned about the heart. It is also equally obvious that Jesus is not concerned about cleaning up our act on the outside. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23:25)

Jesus is not concerned with outward appearance. The goal of Jesus Christ is to change the hearts of sinners like you and me. That is because the heart is what you are, with no veneer. The heart is what you really are, when nobody is watching but God: what you are, in the secrecy of your thought and feeling. And what you are at the invisible root matters as much to God as what you are at the visible branch. “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). From the heart are all the issues of life.

So the heart is utterly crucial to Jesus. What we are in the deep, private recesses of our lives is what He cares about most. Jesus did not come into the world simply because we have some habits that need to be broken. He came into the world because we have hearts that need to be purified.

God is looking at why you do what you do. That goes to the level of the heart. Given the mess we are in if left to ourselves and our sinful nature, it is amazing that God would love us enough to reach down and offer us a new heart, and a new mind, and new motives. But that is exactly what He does.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God speak to your heart? How does God give us a change of heart?
  2. How can we help God clean up our heart this week?   

The Nature Of The Beast

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15.

This week’s movie is Beauty and the Beast. When the beast looked into a mirror he saw a beast and nothing else. It begs the question, how do you see yourself… really? What do you see when you look into a mirror? Do you see all the flaws, the blemishes, gray hair, and do you wonder where all those lines came from? What do you see when you look into your past? Do you see scars from abuse? Do you see brokenness and loss? Do you see choices you now regret and wish you could take back? And what do you see when you look into the future? Like the beast, do you lose hope because it seems you will be stuck doing the same old, same old?

Fortunately for us, God sees us through the lens of the cross. If you are a photographer you deal with the depth of field in every photo you take. If the subject you are focusing on fills the entire frame, naturally that is all you will see. You can’t see anything else no matter what the depth of field is. That’s how God sees us. He focuses on Jesus and you’re right behind Him but the Father only sees His Son. 

1 John 4:17 says, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”  The “by this,” refers back to the verse above where he says “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16) Isn’t that a wonderful thought? God and us abide in each other. If you stop and meditate on that for awhile, it really boggles the mind.  

But are we becoming more like Jesus? Now all of us struggle with the beast in us, from time to time. We try to hide, the inner darkness that keeps us from God or being what God wants us to be. Sometimes these are character traits or memories that we play for ourselves or sometime there are addictions or patterns that we simply can’t find the strength to break. And sometimes they’re just garden variety sins or maybe more serious sins.

What is my default? It’s not that we’re not going to sin. We are going to sin. But if we have a heart given to Christ, we’re not going to remain in sin. We’re not going to stay in beast mode. We’re not going to be comfortable there. Our default is going to be repentance. Our default is going to be obedience. Our default is going to be humility. Our default is going to be the things that make us more like Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think God sees you?
  2. What can we do this week to become less beast like and more like Christ?

There Must Be More Than This Provincial Life

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14.   

Lyrics from the Beauty and the Beast Song Belle: “There goes the baker with his tray, like always. The same old bread and rolls to sell. Ev’ry morning just the same. Since the morning that we came. To this poor provincial town…there must be more than this provincial life.”

Have you ever said to yourself, “There has got to be more to life than this?” Most of us spend a little of our time being unsatisfied, discontented with our lot. People who are unemployed long to have a job, those in employment long for a better job and those in top jobs long to retire. It is part of the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. We’re constantly seeking for something else, something better. Our lives seem to be a constant search for something. We live in a dissatisfied state even when things are going really well. We have a nagging feeling that there must be more to life than this, whatever “this” may be at the time. You’re certain that there’s more to be had, but you’re not sure what it is. Surely this isn’t all there is? Surely this isn’t it?

That itch you feel when you’re alone and quiet and thinking about life, that hunger for purpose and identity is evidence that deep down you know that something temporary will never be enough. You know that there must be something bigger than you, something eternal. That eternal thing is God. We need something eternal to satisfy us ultimately. If you are looking for more out of your life, the answer is clear and available. You will find what you are looking for when you follow Jesus.

The best, most fulfilling, most satisfying life is found only in following Jesus. There are a lot of things out there that promise you a better life, better friends, better relationships, more fun, and more success. In the end, many of these things leave us empty and dissatisfied. Jesus said, “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) 

Jesus never promised us that life would be perfect or easy. In fact, He said we’d have troubles in this life. But when we face a tough spot we have the assurance that His love will help us change, overwhelming us with His presence and guiding our steps.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever wondered if there is more to life than what we are experiencing? 
  2. “The closer I get to Jesus, the less I care about me, and the more I care about people.” What’s your reaction to this statement.
  3. In what areas of your life do you need to trust God more?

How Much Is One Person Worth?

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” –  Psalm 139:13-16.

One of the most powerful moments in The Martian is when Mark realizes the sacrifices that people made to try to save him—million-dollar missions abandoned, countless overtime hours worked, months spent traveling in space. Watney says, “The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of billions of dollars, all to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?”

The Martian is a story about just how far people will go to save someone who they’ve lost. It reminds us of the incredible lengths that God goes to save us: coming to this earth as a child to show us the way back to God, dying on a cross to pay for the things we have done wrong, and pursuing us in so many big and small ways throughout our lives. When we reflect on ourselves, we might say, oh I’m just one dorky salesman, or student or fireman. Yet Christ saw us as worthy of rescuing, and the cost of our rescue was the life of Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a second. Jesus came to Earth for you and me. “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.” (Philippians 2:6-7) The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “You are not your own — for you were bought with a price.”  There is not an illustration in all the vast reaches of time or space that could properly portray what Jesus did. Sometimes we try to fabricate imaginary circumstances to convey the idea of His sacrifice, but even the most creative of us fail miserably when we try to put the sacrifice of the cross into words. How can we truly understand the real meaning of Christ’s suffering and death on that cross. 

Is one soul worth such an infinite price? The answer is yes. Christ’s love for people is repeatedly dramatized in the Bible in spiritual conversations with individuals. The gospels record some fascinating stories of Jesus’ interaction with people. Each encounter reveals something about the nature of Christ, enabling the reader to more deeply understand His mission. Jesus seemed to relish His conversations with all of these, from a despised tax collector (Zaccheus) to a respected Pharisee (Nicodemus) to the thief on the cross. This series emphasizes the love and compassion of Christ for humanity and His creation and the value He placed on people. 

My prayer is that the immensity of the price Jesus paid for our redemption, stirs you to a greater devotion and commitment to the Savior who loves us so much.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the “redemption” picture help you understand the meaning of the cross?
  2. How can we live our life in a way that understands the price Jesus paid for us? 

Faith Under Fire

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Some 33.9 million miles from earth, Mark Watney, a NASA botanist left for dead, has to figure a way to survive for years in a plastic habitat designed to last days, until the folks back home can work out how to get him back. Mark found himself in the valley of the shadow of death both literally and figuratively. It is this type of situation when even the strongest faith would come under fire. 

You may be thinking that The Martian is a movie, but what I am going through is real. You could tell me about circumstances that are so awful, so soul-crushingly terrible; and worst yet, there seems to be no end in sight. Your world these days consists of words like upheaval, uncertainty, and chaos. You might add that while the Bible tells you “not to worry” (Matthew 6:31) you believe there is plenty to worry about. You may feel like Mark Watney in that you have been left behind and God seems 33.9 million miles away. It is in these situations that our faith is under fire.

It is in times like this that we need to remember how good God is and how much power God has. You don’t know that you can count on God to come through until you reach the end of yourself and you have no one to count on except God. Then you learn something about the awesome God we serve. God is able. God is unlimited. God is all powerful. God can do anything. The Bible says with God, nothing is impossible. God doesn’t always give us what we want, but we do know that he is following His plan which is a better plan than we have. Faith is not about what we see, it is about who we know. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

We are called to be a people of faith. A people who are wholeheartedly committed to the journey that God is taking us on. We are to lay down our own fears and trust in Him. What’s so amazing about this is that God gives us the faith as a gift, He brings the trial, He gives us the perseverance to get through the trial, and then He commends us afterwards. It’s God’s grace all the way.

It brings me back to the movie The Martian. At the end of the film, Watney is speaking to a group of fresh-faced new astronaut recruits. He explains how in space, things will go wrong and when they do you can either choose to give up and die or you can choose to do something. When we face tough times we too have a choice: we can accept what is happening to us or we can do something. And doing something is having the faith to trust God to do His will.

Discussion Questions:

  1. A faith journey sometimes begins with a difficult challenge.  Oftentimes, we are unaware of our need for faith until we face something we can’t control. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. A faith journey often gets worse before it gets better. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What can we do to deepen our faith in tough times?