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?

In Greed We Trust

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:20-21

Jesus is in the middle of a sermon in Luke 12, when he is suddenly interrupted by a man who is dissatisfied over what he considers to be an unfair division of his father’s estate between himself and his brother. The man says in verse thirteen, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus uses this particular question to address the heart attitude through the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Jesus knew that this family feud over inheritance was only a symptom of a greater problem, greed. Jesus tells him that the most important thing is not for him to solve his inheritance problem but that his heart be changed. But if we are honest, how often have we gone to God asking him to change our situation rather than asking him to change our heart? I would dare say that most of our prayers are that God would solve a problem in our lives. 

Then in verse fifteen Jesus uses the occasion as a “teachable moment” and says, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”  Proverbs 21:26 speaks to this very problem when it says, “Some people are always greedy for more, but the godly love to give!” The writer of Ecclesiastes says about the greedy (5:10), “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!.” But is that not exactly what we think? Greed tries to convince us that life does consist in what we own.

God has promised to take care of all our earthly needs, not all of our wants, but all our needs. In our culture we often confuse the two. Matthew 6:25-34 tells us, ‘‘That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?… “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is greed a problem? How have you seen examples of greed in your own life?
  2. Greed puts too much value in things that are temporary. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. Why might greed be harder to deal with as you get older?
  4. What is the solution to greed?

 What Do You Value?

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21

For the next few moments, I want you to imagine you are are sitting in a corporate meeting room. Your manager walks in, sits down, and places a large folder directly in front of you. She greets you and explains that she has an important project for you. She goes on to explain that if this project goes well, it will lead to bigger and better things for you in the company. She then walks over, sits next to you and looks you in the eye. You are getting a little uneasy. After a pause, she reveals to you that your next big project is you. She wants you to transform your life to the guidelines set in Romans 12: 1-2, Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 12:15. She pauses again and asks, “What is important to you? What do you really want to gain or accomplish in life? What do you think would really make you happy? What motivates you? What do you value most?

That would be some project. It is a project that most Christians have taken on in one time or another. If we can look at this hypothetical project through the lens of the future, try to think what your life is going to be like in ten years time, twenty years, and thirty years. Look at it from the perspective of eternity, and ask this question, “what is going to last?  What’s going to last ten years from now? Twenty years from now? For eternity? How much of what I’m doing right now is going to matter in 100 years?” The things that don’t matter, maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time on them. Maybe I shouldn’t spend any time on them. If you do that, the project, will you have a much greater chance of success. 1 John 2:17 says, “And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” What does John mean by “world”? He does not mean the physical world or the world of humanity; he means the values and priorities of a world hostile to God.

C. S. Lewis appropriately wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” He continued, “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Where is your focus? Where is your aim? As Hebrews 13:14 states, “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does your value system reflect that transformation that you are seeking? What things do you value the most in this season of your life?
  2. How do we focus on the future rather than the present?
  3. What and how is God calling you to transform in this season of your life?

The Call of Duty

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.”Deuteronomy 10:12. 

It is fairly easy for us as Christians today to lean toward the receiving end in our relationship with God. We reason that God loves us and will bless us and help us through life. But we should also recognize that there is a giving end as well.  In a quiet reflective time ask God: “Lord, what do you want from me?” Jesus put it plainly: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) And Luke 9:24 adds, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

The implication is clear – there will be sacrifices.  Doing the will of God will mean we have to count the cost. And that’s what we see everywhere we turn in the New Testament, following Jesus calls for sacrifice.  People left behind businesses, homes, families, wealth, position, status and power.  They sacrificed security, comfort and control in order to walk into a completely uncertain and unknown future.  

Look at Peter, Andrew James and John: The Bible says they left behind their boats which meant their livelihood and business. Following Jesus could not have been easy for them and again, they had no idea where they were going or what they were getting themselves in to. They didn’t know what the future held for Jesus or for them so part of the sacrifice was giving up control. Matthew was a tax collector which meant he had a lot of financial security. Matthew would have been comfortable because working for the Romans came with connections, status and power. But like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew was leaving behind a lot.  He was sacrificing a lot.

Following Jesus means sacrifice and so the question we have to ask ourselves is what have we sacrificed in order to follow Jesus?  What have we left behind in order to follow Jesus? When I asked myself that question this week and looked back at my own life, I realized that I’m not sure I have really sacrificed much or left much behind to follow Jesus.  I left a promising career to attend seminary. When I stepped out to become a pastor and came back to Panama City it was a step of faith but not into a completely unknown situation. So looking back I’m not sure I have had to sacrifice very much which makes we wonder if we make following Jesus too easy? Have I not pushed myself enough?  Have I not given enough?  Have I not stepped out in faith more? Have I not trusted God more in situations where he has been calling me to follow him?  The answer to all of those questions is probably yes and what it tells me is that I need to think about what God might be calling me to let go of so I can more faithfully follow him.  If at its core following Jesus calls for sacrifice, then I need to ask myself am I sacrificing and giving all that God is asking me to give?

Following Jesus is not like following someone on Twitter because at its very core it means leaving behind one way of life to live differently.  It means sacrificing some of those things the first followers of Jesus sacrificed like security, comfort, control, family, friends, finances and even our future.  What sacrifice will we make?  What sacrifice will you make?  What sacrifice will I make?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What sacrifices have you made in following Jesus?
  2. What sacrifice is God asking you to make today in order to follow Jesus?
  3. Christians around the world are sacrificing everything to follow Jesus.  Spend some time in prayer for those who are being persecuted and find ways to support them. 

Is Serving God A Sacrifice?

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2 Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”  Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.”  – Isaiah 6:1-4. 

A pile of dirty dishes looms in the kitchen. It’s your spouse’s night to wash, but you know he or she has had a long day so you grab a sponge and step up to the plates, literally and figuratively. It’s just one of the minor daily sacrifices you make in the name of love. Sacrifice is often necessary in relationships, but what about in serving God. 

Christians frequently talk about making sacrifices to serve God. A church employee remarks, “Secular salaries are twice as much, but I’m sacrificing to serve.” A successful pastor mentions that if he were in the business world he would be earning a six-digit salary, “But, God called me to the ministry so I’m happy to make the sacrifice.” A volunteer says, “Even though I am sacrificing a lot of time, it is worth it to do God’s will.” Is serving God a sacrifice? When thinking about this I was reminded of Isaiah 6 where Isaiah has an exhilarating, inexpressible and unforgettable encounter with God.

The great King Uzziah had died which was a definitive time in the history of Israel. King Uzziah’s reign was comparable to the glory days of Solomon. So what would the nation do now that their revered and respected king was dead. But here’s the scene that’s described in Isaiah 6. Isaiah walks into the temple very sad and very worried about the state of his nation, and maybe his personal safety as well. Or maybe he just felt the need to talk to God. The Bible doesn’t say this but I wonder if Isaiah was saying something most of us would say in times of crisis: “God, I need you. I’m just an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and I want to be able to continue to get up and go to work in the morning, to earn enough to take care of my family, and maybe have some fun and relaxation on the weekends. So I came in here God to talk to you about the death of the good king (or whatever is going on on our lives).” 

Suddenly God shows up… in person. Not in a still small voice. Not through an angel or another prophet. But in a mystical and powerful way, Isaiah finds God’s presence filling this gigantic temple. God is accompanied by very powerful angels. It’s such a powerful image to Isaiah that he just starts yelling, “It’s all over! I am doomed for I am a sinful man.” (Isaiah 6:5) !” Not because he isn’t glad to see God, but because when God actually shows up, He is so much more majestic and so much more wonderful than Isaiah has ever imagined, that he just realizes by comparison that he himself is just a speck of dust, and an unworthy one at that.

When God shows up, Isaiah suddenly realizes the larger scheme of things. Isaiah saw God’s glory, and that made him see his own finiteness. Isaiah heard God say what God is continually saying, “Who will go for me?” God called for a volunteer. And Isaiah volunteered. He said, “Here am I, send me!”

It is human nature to worry and focus on the wrong things, depending on the wrong resources and trusting in unreliable things. It is human nature to fret about sacrifices. But all that changes when we see God, when we come to grips with all His glory and grace, because then, no sacrifice will seem too great. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do we need to see God as Isaiah did to understand God’s glory?
  2. How should we view the sacrifices we make for others? For God?
  3. What can we do this week to make the glory of God more real in our lives?