I Don’t Need This…Or Do I?

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer.” – Acts 2:42.

Some people try to live a Christian life by themselves, away from any regular Christian friends or a church. They believe they are self-sufficient and tough enough to fight the battles that need fighting without the help of others. After all “why should others fight my battles?” The problem is it just doesn’t work very well — either for their own growth or to accomplish Jesus’ mission here on earth.

Christians need the support of other believers if they are to grow in the faith. Recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were encouraged to ‘think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” to “not neglect our meeting together”  and to ”encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10.24-25). 

A story that highlights why we need others and others needs us is David and Jonathan. You are probably familiar with the story. David and Jonathan are friends. But David’s military success creates ungrounded paranoia in Saul, who tries to kill David or have others kill David. 1 Samuel 18:3 says “And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself.” They were available for each other. Do you have a 2 a.m. friend? Do you have that kind of friend in your corner that will be there for you no matter the situation – even a crisis in the middle of the night. Jonathan and David definitely had this kind of friendship. When Jonathan’s father Saul tried to assassinate David, Jonathan found his friend, who was in the midst of his darkest hours, and said, “Tell me what I can do to help you.” (1 Samuel 20:4)

Did David, a man’s man need Jonathan’s help? This is the guy who defeated Goliath. David was a man after God’s own heart. He was a great warrior. He was no doubt superior to Jonathan in strength and intelligence and depth of theological understanding. But 1 Samuel 23: 16 says “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

Needing others is not for new Christians. It is for every believer. We never grow out of our need for others in our corner. Don’t ever think that a man is so strong that he does not need to be strengthened in God. And don’t ever think that someone is so far above or below you, that you can’t be God’s instrument to give strength.

Someone may need your help, your love, your support, and one day you’ll discover that you need them just as much as they need you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Besides your immediate family, who is in your corner that helps you get up when you are knocked down in life?  
  2. Who needs you in their corner?
  3. What can we do this week to be in the corner of others? 

Can We Be A One-Man Band?

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

You have probably encountered a one-man band at one time or another. These agile musicians play a number of instruments simultaneously using their hands, feet, and limbs. They are entertaining, amusing, and impressive, often sounding like several instruments. But it is still one person and the difference becomes evident when you hear an orchestra play. As Christians, we are not meant to be a one-man band. We all have unique gifts and something magical happens when we all find our part and play together as an orchestra. The challenge is to discover our part in the bigger picture.

In the Ecclesiastes passage above, Solomon lists the advantages of community and working together. In the movie Creed and In these verses, we answer the question-how is two better than one? Solomon is highlighting that when two people work together they accomplish more than if there was only one. Or as we say it today, “two heads are better than one.” When we’re facing a difficult situation, we need each other for support and advice. When you are in a fight, you benefit from different perspectives, insights and experiences. We need others to share the burden with us. Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” 

The Bible reveals that God designed people to live in community and fellowship with one another. From the early stages of creation, God said that it was not good for man to live alone. Even in the New Testament, the Bible declares that believers should not forsake meeting together. Mark Twain said; “to get the full value out of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.”

The ministries of Jesus and the New Testament church focused in great measure on relationships with people. Paul revealed to his disciples that they had become so dear to him that he not only shared the gospel with them, but he also shared his life with them. The best way to connect with others is to join a small group. If you are not presently a member of a small group, I encourage you to join one and start “doing life together.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did you say yes or no to a small group? What excites you about joining a small group?
  2. Why is it important for Christians to be intentional about doing life together?
  3. In what ways can small groups help you find people in your corner, as well as opportunities to be in the corner of others?

Goodbye Past. Hello Future.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.Ecclesiastes 3:11

Fasten your seat belts. The future is coming fast. Too fast. We barely have time to reflect and learn from the past when new challenges cloud our present and our future. In Moana, Moana is concerned about the future on their island. As Christians, we wonder about the future. What will it hold? How can God use us to a greater degree? We are intrigued about the future and always want to know as much as we can about it. But as we often discover, the future is always unknown. Fortunately God understands this dynamic all too well. So when we come to the end of our ability to control that future, God is ready to step in. The fact that God controls the future, should give us comfort and hope even in uncertain and troubling times. 

But how do we prepare for the future? It is easy to feel like “the sky is falling.” It is easy to feel the pressure to try to something, anything, which may help make the future we desire and fix the problem. But this is a challenge that has no easy solutions, if there are any solutions at all. Or we may resort to wishful thinking. We have become pretty good at wishing. Wishing is about something we want and desire, such as a bright and successful future.

But hope is different. Hope is deeply connected to faith. Hope comes from God. It is rooted in what God is up to. Wishing is rooted in what we are up to. Wishing is about my will being done. Hope is about His will being done. Hope is the humble acknowledgement that the future is in God’s capable hands. It is trusting in Him because He’s sovereign. He knows the future. “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:7)

It was Billy Graham who said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” And Corrie Ten Boom added, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” The point being that God is in complete control of the future. The Bible will still have the answers. Prayer will still work. The Holy Spirit will still move. The gospel will continue to be spread. There will still be room at the cross. Jesus will still save the lost. And Jesus will still love you.

It is important for us to seek God’s vision and will for our future. Trying to control and manage the future is a recipe for misery. We can let go and trust that the God who has been faithful throughout the ages has our future in His hands. And knowing that, that we live our lives with a new energy, confidence, and joy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view the future and what impact does it have on your daily lives?
  2. What gives you hope in the future?
  3. What can we do this week to think long-term and trust God?

Does Not Compute

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37.

Have you ever felt there must be something more like Moana did? Something beyond merely existing? There is. Take a laptop computer. A laptop makes our lives easier. It can solve complex equations, enable long distance communication, provide entertainment, and can control just about anything in the world when necessary. But what happens when the laptop sits in the bookcase and is never turned on. It is not serving any useful purpose. 

But now imagine that same laptop with a soul, a self-consciousness.The laptop instinctively knows something is wrong; he has a purpose and he isn’t being used for that purpose. He wants to be used for the purpose he was created for.

Then one day somebody pulls him out of the bookcase, turns him on and starts creating some sophisticated Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint slides to go along with the spreadsheets. Suddenly the lights come on.  He knows what his purpose is, and although there will most likely be other uses, he now knows what he is meant for. He has a purpose. Fyodor Dostoyevsky said “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD has made everything for his own purposes…” God has never made anything without a purpose. He doesn’t just make stuff for no reason. God made you for His purpose. So what is my purpose? 

I think that it’s important for us all to be reminded that we have a higher calling as followers of Jesus Christ, to live and love as He did; selflessly. We should show and give love and compassion with real passion. We should also do everything we do for the Glory of God and not our own. Most of us would agree with that, but it is far easier said than done. We would like to fulfill our purpose as we see it, at the same time we are fulfilling God’s purpose.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in Romans 6:1-4: ”Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” 

Each day we are given is another day to fulfill our purpose, a purpose found in Christ and Christ alone. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In spite of all the advertising around us, how can we remind ourselves that life is really about living for God, not ourself?
  2. What can we do this week to start fulfilling our purpose in Christ this week? 

The Journey

 “But one day, the Heart will be found by someone who will journey beyond our reef, find Maui, deliver him across the great ocean to restore Te Fiti’s Heart and save us all.” – Gramma Tala. 

Moana has an insatiable urge to get off of her island. She’s not quite sure why, but she just feels pulled towards the ocean. She knows that there must be more out there and that she has a journey to go on. However, her dad is constantly stopping her and pointing her away from her dream. She is told that the village of Motunui has all she needs. She feels like there is more that her tribe of people should be doing, that they should be more than island dwellers. She feels like something isn’t right. She feels she must act.

The story of Moana reminds us there’s something about a journey that’s exciting and invigorating. A promise of new horizons, new possibilities and new challenges. Some of the most interesting journeys happen when you know where you are going, but not exactly how to get there. Being a follower of Jesus is that kind of trip. We know where we need to go, but how to get there — and where to go first — is the challenge before every believer.

What we do know is that we’ve been called to step out in faith. And that by walking together, with the Spirit leading and guiding us, we will reach the purpose and future that God desires for us. By knowing our purpose and our passions and spiritual gifts, and by asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, we can map out our unique routes that we will take on our spiritual journey. Some of us are just beginning the journey of faith—just taking those first steps. Others have traveled this way for a long time. Our backgrounds and experiences differ, but we’re all the same in one respect. We all want and need more of God. 

It’s a challenging undertaking, as Moana found out. Fortunately our hopes are not tied to what we can do. Rather, in the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.”  Hebrews 12: 2-3 tells us, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.* Because of the joy* awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;*then you won’t become weary and give up.” My prayer is that we will stay focused on our journey and become the people that we hear God calling us to be. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What part of your spiritual journey do you find most difficult? Why? 
  2. Are there any areas of your journey that are off-limits to Jesus?
  3. What can we do this week to depend more on God in our journey?

Living On Purpose

So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:11

In many ways, Moana is the classic “follow your heart” story. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear she is really obeying–not disobeying–a higher authority and “calling” on her life to accomplish something that is bigger and more important than her life or her heart’s impulses. She is obeying this calling for the sake of others, not herself. 

In this way “Moana” has a general compatibility with a Christian’s calling to follow Christ. We are to lay aside our desire to satisfy our wants and surrender to a quest story and purpose that God has written for us that is bigger than our lives and is more about saving and helping others than it is about helping ourselves.

Serving others can be contagious. Once we work service into our schedules and see the benefits, it becomes a way of life. Serving others usually requires no special talent or ability. It does take a servant’s attitude to want to serve others coupled with looking for opportunities to serve. If we have the servant attitude, we will see opportunities. The reason most of us do not see the opportunities to serve is that we are continually thinking about ourselves instead of others. “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:4)   

The starting point of being of service is to realize that we have things to contribute and so we should contribute them to the greater good. While we may not change the whole world as Moana did, we can change our small part of it. Limitless possibilities exist all around you.

There may be an elderly neighbor who would appreciate a meal, or leaf raking, or simply a visit. Nursing homes are usually welcoming of people — even entire families — who would like to give help and companionship to their residents. Volunteering at a children’s hospital can boost the spirits of not only the small patients, but of yourself as you bring joy to a sick child. Meal programs, soup kitchens, women’s shelters and homeless shelters always seem to be in need of workers and donations. Regardless of how or where we serve, the most important element is to remember our obligation as Christians to bring Christ to others. We should be reminded of Matthew 25:40: “’I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is Moana a hero? Name a hero you had growing up. What made you want to be like him/her? 
  2. What would helping others look like in the life of a believer?
  3. What can we do this week to make more of the opportunities we have to help others? 

Serving The Purpose

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” – Romans 8:28. 

Moana is an adventure story about a girl who is trying to find her purpose in life. She loves her home, but she also longs to leave it. Her father wants her to stay close. Her mother is trying to keep the peace. Her grandmother is encouraging her to follow her heart. Moana is caught in the middle, trying to please her family, but also trying to understand why she feels she has to leave. Furthermore, the ocean called her, chose her, to fix what was broken in the land—a calling her parents didn’t know about. As Moana struggles to find her identity and fulfill her destiny, she has a lot to teach us.

Finding your divine purpose does not have to be a mystery. Most of us are deeply concerned with living meaningful, purposeful lives, trying to answer the question, “what is God’s purpose for my life?” And we spend a lot of energy trying to figure out if we are doing it. We want to know what God wants for our lives, and we want to know today. Understanding our identity in Christ gives us purpose. God has a specific purpose for each of us, a unique calling for every individual. Our shared and primary purpose is to become disciples of Jesus Christ. 

This scripture says there is a sense of purpose that God has planted in each and every one of us, and we can’t separate ourselves from it. Your purpose in life is an important part of who you are; it gives you meaning and helps you understand why you are here. It is the beginning of who we are destined to become, the influence we are destined to have, and the dreams we are destined to fulfill.

God has a daily blueprint for your life that He is unfolding before you. Nobody else can fulfill your specific purpose. The Lord’s specific purpose for your life has a twofold nature: It will further His kingdom on earth, and it will transform you. Not only will you grow closer to Him as you rely on His ability, but discovering your purpose will make your life more fulfilling.   

“Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do–then do it with all your strength.” ― George Washington

Discussion Questions:

  1. What seeds of purpose has God planted in your life?
  2. What impact do you think God wants you to make with your life? How does he want you to contribute to making Panama City or your area a better place?
  3. How could He use your experiences, strengths and weaknesses to accomplish His purpose for your life?

The Promised Land

“Then I said to Baruch as they all listened, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Take both this sealed deed and the unsealed copy, and put them into a pottery jar to preserve them for a long time.’ For this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Someday people will again own property here in this land and will buy and sell houses and vineyards and fields.’” Jeremiah 32:13-15. 

Land purchases are risky ventures. Although land used to be an excellent long-term investment, the sharp drop in prices all over the U.S. and especially in Florida during the recession has changed all of that. Which brings us to a story of Jeremiah purchasing land found in Jeremiah 32:1-17. Although the risks are different today than in Jeremiah’s time, land purchases then were still radical financial investments. Based on the timing and the circumstances, Jeremiah’s land purchase looked like the selling of Florida swampland to gullible purchasers.

First, a little background. The army of Nebuchadnezzar had laid siege to Jerusalem. It was clear that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Israelites would be taken as captives to Babylon. Jeremiah is in jail, in a city under siege, in a country fairly full of enemy troops. This is the context in which he decides to buy real estate which has already become enemy-occupied territory. This seems like a truly epic fail  – an investment that has no chance of providing any returns. But Jeremiah heeded God’s instruction and bought what was to be the Promised Land in nearby Anathoth. From that jail cell, Jeremiah was exercising his faith more than exercising his need to be conservative or rational. He invested in the land because he believed God’s promise.

This act declared that there would be life after Babylon captivity, and that captivity hadn’t even begun for many of them. The deeds for the land are put “… into a pottery jar to preserve them for a long time.” (Jeremiah 32:14). Jeremiah’s action only makes sense if the future is more than just wishful thinking.

We, like Jerusalem and Jeremiah, sometimes find ourselves in situations where it is hard to see any hope. We may not be in jail or in exile or an outcast like Jeremiah, but we know what it is like to be in places where hope for the future is hard to see, let alone act upon. Maybe you’re worried about getting a job, or keeping your job, or making ends meet. Perhaps you are looking for a mate, but you just can’t seem to meet the right person. Maybe you are struggling through a divorce. Proverbs 23:18 reminds us that “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”

Our own personal experiences can make us feel helpless and hopeless, that whatever we would do in anticipation of the future makes no difference. But that is not true. Hope is for now, it is for today, and it is for tomorrow too.  Jesus clearly says He will never leave us, never forsake us, and will never, ever reject us (John 6:37).  This promise is for tomorrow morning, next week, and next year.  This hope is the believer’s hope that covers their entire life.  It is without end and will stay with us until Jesus comes for us. “Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” (Psalms 131:3)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Jeremiah 32: 1-17. What is your reaction?
  2. What gives you hope in the future?
  3. What can we do this week to think long-term and trust God as Jeremiah did?

First And Foremost

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:33.

Suppose you had the opportunity to do life over. If you could ask the Lord Jesus Christ how to make the rest of your life the best of your life, what do you think He would say? I think a good starting point would be Matthew 6:33. Or in other words, put “first things first.” Now I know that sounds simple, but I want to tell you that I believe if you would consciously, continuously, constantly, and consistently put first things first, it would absolutely transform your life.

It boils down to priorities. If your priorities are not in order, your life will not be in order. If your priorities are not right, you won’t be right. You don’t have to pray about what your number one priority in life ought to be. You don’t have to think about it, evaluate it or even look for it. Because Jesus has already told us what our first priority ought to be, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else.”

The pivotal word is kingdom. In order to seek the Kingdom, you must first seek the King. Because you cannot have a kingdom without a king. Jesus does not want a place in your life. Jesus does not even want prominence in your life. Jesus wants preeminence in your life. Jesus wants the first moments of everyday. Jesus wants the first day of every week. Jesus wants the first part of every paycheck. He wants to be first. Jesus is not interested in being the first runner-up in your race. He is not interested in being vice-president in your corporation. He is not interested in being second trumpet in your orchestra. He wants to be the King on the throne of your heart, not a co-tenet in a duplex.

From the first time I heard a message on Matthew 6:33 I understood it as a summons to give Jesus first place in my life. I had in mind a “priority list” where He is first in the list, family is second, work is third, etc. But to make Him part of the list, is to make Him just another part of life. But He is not just part of life. He is life. Everything centers on and revolves around Him. He is not just a part of the list. He determines the list.

The outcome of your life is determined by what you seek first.  Do you want to be Christlike? Seek Him first. Do you want your family to be Christ-centered? Seek Him first. Do you want to have the best work ethic and stand out in the office? Seek Him first.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do we allow tasks to define us and control us? In what ways can we start putting first things first?
  2. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33 ) What does it mean to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else?”
  3. What can we do this week to start putting God first in our lives? 

The Least of These

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:40. 

Something unique and most often positive happens when we help someone. I’m not talking about running a friend to the airport and then that friend reciprocating by giving you a lift home from the office. That is exchanging favors. I mean when you help someone who has no ability to repay you. Scripture says that help given to the poor is actually a gift given directly to God as is pointed out in Matthew 25:40.

So when we see a need, we should view it from two angles. One: the poor need our help. And two: God Himself is asking for our help.  Jesus is calling for our help with people he calls “the least of these.” The person who is mentally or physically challenged; people who are homeless, or hungry, or refugees; people in prison; people who might need just a little help to live productive lives—all are among “the least of these.” While Jesus wants us to be compassionate and caring to all people, this passage is primarily about how we treat those the world seems to think are the least, but whom Jesus values as His disciples. The least, the last, and the left out become the primary ones who come to Jesus and find life, love, and lasting hope. Jesus’ promise is that as we care for those in Jesus’ community, no matter their circumstance, we are caring for Him.  As Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it, “When we look into the face of one of them, we see the face of Jesus.”

During His earthly ministry, Jesus and His followers constantly pursued those who seemed far from God and forgotten by society. He invested a lot of His time into the “least of these:” the poor, the hungry, the broken, the weak and the people who had absolutely nothing to offer Him. As His followers, He calls us to do the same today. We can choose to ignore those people in the world around us and miss an amazing opportunity to experience Jesus. There is life, love and opportunities to become just a little bit more like Jesus today and serve the least of these.

To encounter a person who otherwise might be ignored or disregarded is truly to encounter the living presence of Christ. Jesus is entrusting the poor, the most vulnerable in society, to our care.  Let us respond to this call. Our task is simply to reach out and show Jesus’ love. My prayer is that the Lord will open your eyes to see His face in the faces of people who are down and out, disadvantaged, or challenged in other ways. And pray for a willingness to reach out and bring out the hero in all of us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are the least of these in your community?
  2. How do you personally respond to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, and imprisoned?
  3. How do you think our response to the least of these reveals whether we’re truly part of God’s kingdom?