Under The Influence

“I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” – 2 Timothy 2:5.

A little boy forgot his lines in a Sunday school program. His mother was in the front row to prompt him. She gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it did not help. Her son’s memory was blank. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered the cue, “I am the light of the world.” The child beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice said, “My mother is the light of the world.”   

Billy Graham once said, “The influence of a mother upon the lives of her children cannot be measured. They know and absorb her example and attitudes when it comes to questions of honesty, temperance, kindness, and industry.That influence exists regardless of the the age of the parents or the age of the children.   

Throughout history, uber successful men and woman give the credit for their success to their mother. Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Lincoln also said, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” Maya Angelou said, “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.”  And Henry Ward Beecher said, “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” That is the kind of influence that mothers can have. So how can you use that influence? How can your influence make Jesus even more beautiful to your children? What are some ways that you can influence their spiritual lives even more?

To answer those questions, let me suggest that you work as hard as you can to live a godly life. Even kids know about walking the walk. They will quickly discover when you fail to practice what you preach. Nobody expects you to be perfect. But we should try to be more like Jesus. A mom’s words and actions carry more weight than anyone else’s. Use both to show your children what a godly life looks like. Read the Bible, pray, trust and obey God. Showing them that you still place your trust in the Lord will help them want to find the same strength in Him. Forgive and love God and others unconditionally. Every mom will make mistakes. But what you teach your child about God will often stay with them the rest of their lives. 

Raising godly children does not happen by accident. It requires intentionality. Begin by focusing on what matters most—your Christian example and the godly influence of other adults. Keep in mind that your children are children for a very short time. Enjoy those days and make the most of them.

Moms are an almost perfect picture of God – wanting the best for her children and trying to instruct and guide so that the child can live a full and purposeful life. At the end of the day, mom and God want one thing – their children to come home.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do we get from a spiritual/mother relationship that we can’t get from anywhere else?
  2. What does influence as a mother mean to you?
  3. What can we do this week to use our influence to help our kids grow spiritually?

Mom Needs A Time Out

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

Before the kids arrive, every future mother has a blueprint in their mind of the kind of mother they will be. They would keep the house spotless, serve delicious and nutritious meals, raise well adjusted, smart, respectful kids while taking three months out of every year to delouse children in Laos. They wanted to be in a word, supermom. But that blueprint usually gets scrapped when the kids arrived. Today, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and depressed at a mom’s unmet expectations. Don’t get me wrong, kids are great. And moms create a unique bond with their kids. Yet there are times when it becomes overwhelming. Elijah was not a mom, but he knew something about feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Elijah on the surface seemed to have it going on. He was the prophet who was fed by ravens, raised a boy from the dead, called down fire from heaven, led in the destruction of 450 prophets of Baal, and ended a 3 and a half year drought. But the threat of a wicked queen sent him scurrying for the wilderness. Elijah is physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted. He is also running for his life and wants God to end it:”… I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” (1 Kings 19:4). In this moment of great need, God provides refreshment beyond comparison. God first meets Elijah’s physical needs: food, water, and sleep. Then God fortifies Elijah for a forty-day journey and an encounter that meets his spiritual needs. After Elijah has been restored physically and spiritually, God gave Elijah his next assignment.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “…those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” On our journey of faith we too need refreshment. We need God to provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. If you are a mom, there will be times in your life where you will need to be refreshed and restored just as Elijah did. Your plate is so full you don’t have the time to do the things that will help you deal with the feelings of being stressed out and overwhelmed. You need to find something that will refresh you. That is part of the problem. You add to your full plate by becoming the source of your own refreshment. You see yourself as the solution. You need God for refreshment. God is watching over you. No matter what is going on in your world, you have access to true life from the Life Giver. You need to be connected to Him to make it through the day. You may not see a big difference immediately, but you should be encouraged because God will refresh you when you most need it. The wonder of the walk of grace is that God does just that—again and again.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes being a mom challenging? Are there days you are overwhelmed and stressed?
  2. How do you think God refreshes us?
  3. What can we do to help refresh others this week? 

Rooted And Grounded

“God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” – Numbers 23:19. 

This week we have been talking about feeling God, sensing His presence. But God’s presence “feels like” different things to different people, and even different ways in different circumstances. I don’t want to describe it as a feeling, because it can be so much more than that. To me, it is the basic knowledge that something greater than us makes His presence known to us. It can be a supernatural event than only God could have accomplished, or it could be hearing His still small voice. I’ve been in hospital where God’s presence is palpable. But it is not always like that,  which makes defining the presence of God difficult. People are often burdened down by the expectations of what His presence should feel and look like.  Too often, we are looking for manifestations, rather than simply seeking Him.

In this week ending devotional,  I would like to remind everyone that the Christian faith is not grounded in subjective feelings; rather, it’s rooted in the Word of God and who Jesus Christ is. We can become too focused on what we are feeling. When we let our feelings lead the way, when we make decisions on sensing the presence of God, we tend to make some bad decisions. If our feelings and experiences don’t match up with God’s Word—the fault lies with us, not Him. “But I prayed for such-and-such, and God didn’t come through for me!” is a common response, “and now I can’t trust Him or believe His promises.” (On demand God)  Or, “I was expecting a whole lot more good times, but what I’ve experienced is only bad times.” (Killjoy God) 

God cares deeply about each one of your painful past experiences and each one of your current struggles. The answers and “reasons why” may not always be immediately clear. But if you learn to place His unchanging, eternal truth far above your own feelings and experiences, you will soon begin to experience a level of faith you never thought possible. 

So ground your life in the scriptures. Live your life upon the belief that God’s Word is the perfect revelation of fact. Once you have settled it in your heart that Scripture is Truth and that the Bible is reality, emotions will play a much smaller role. Set aside some purposeful time each day to study and meditate upon God’s Word. Learn how to explore Scripture and delve deep into God’s meaning behind every verse. Ask God’s Spirit to make His timeless Word truly come alive to you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the Bible help you live out your faith everyday?
  2. The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What can we do this week to live by God’s truth rather than our emotions?

Far and Near

”The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.”- Psalm 145:18.

There are approximately 85 Bible verses that instruct us to seek the Lord: Acts 17:27; 1 Chronicles 16:11; 1 Chronicles 22:19; Psalm 14:2; Hebrews 11:6; Jeremiah 50:4; Matthew 6:33; Romans 2:7-8, to name a few. And there are Bible verses about seeking God’s presence: Exodus 33:14; Matthew 18:20; 1 John 4:16; Genesis 28:15; Psalm 16:11; Psalm 23:4 and Revelation 21:3

Paul prayed that we might grasp the depth, width, length, and height of Christ’s love for us. God has a deep, penetrating, and transformational love for everyone. That love has never changed, but often along the way we change. We don’t feel as near to God-  His presence seems missing. God is as willing to get as close to us as we are willing to get close to Him. Drawing close to God requires effort on our part. If you feel separated from God, it is you that have moved and not God. All those verses on seeking God indicate some action on our part. 

Martin Luther King Jr once said, “The belief that God will do everything for man is as untenable as the belief that man can do everything for himself. It too, is based on a lack of faith. We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition.”

It can seem as if the Bible is telling us to sit back and let God do His thing. Psalm 138:8 says, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” And Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” But authentic trust in God doesn’t mean that we should take no action ourselves. We play a role in drawing nearer to God.

It reminds me of the annual tradition of New Year’s resolutions. The goal of New Year’s resolutions is to take some kind of action that ensures that we don’t end up in the same place, as we did when the year started. Year by year, we fail because we did not take the action we needed to make the resolutions successful. The same is true of drawing closer to God. Good intentions are fine, but if we do not take action we will end up spiritually in the same place we started.

Without some real effort on our part, we will not memorize more scripture. We will not confront sin in our lives. We won’t invite people we know who are far from the heart of God to church. Instead of New Year’s or any resolutions, we should sit down with God and ask “How will I grow more in love with you this year?” Or “how can I draw closer to you?”

It we do our part, God will do His. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should we expect God to do all the heavy lifting in our lives? What is our role?
  2. Read 1 Kings 19:12: What does it mean to listen for God’s still small voice. Read 1 Kings 19:13: What does it mean to draw near to God’s still small voice. Read 1 Kings 19:14-18: What does it mean to be led by God’s still small voice.
  3. What can we do this week to draw closer to God?

Hard Heart

“So Moses left Pharaoh’s court and went out of the city. When he lifted his hands to the Lord, the thunder and hail stopped, and the downpour ceased. But when Pharaoh saw that the rain, hail, and thunder had stopped, he and his officials sinned again, and Pharaoh again became stubborn. Because his heart was hard, Pharaoh refused to let the people leave, just as the Lord had predicted through Moses.” – Exodus 9:33-35. 

The showdown between God and Pharaoh over the fate of the enslaved Israelites is an intense story. Pharaoh is a man with a closed mind and a hard heart. It starts with God explaining the mission to Moses: You are going back to Egypt and do all these wonders and Pharaoh’s heart is going to be hardened.

The wonders begin: The Nile turned to blood, frogs covering the land, gnats covering everyone, and then biting flies; the livestock in the field died. One plague after another and Pharaoh hardens his heart each time. Pharaoh will not yield to God. He may be forced to give in to His demands, but he will never yield his heart.

The next plague is boils, sores breaking out on man and beast. The plagues are now very personal. Every Egyptian individual and animal was afflicted. More plagues ensued. Yet, Pharaoh refused the command of God again and again. Plague number seven was hail like they had never seen. The eighth plague is a locust swarm that will devour everything not destroyed by the hail. Once again, Pharaoh pleaded for mercy and promised to let the people go. Once again he went back on his word. His heart was too hard. He relents for a moment and then his pride kicks in and he goes back on his word. What will it take?

What does this mean to us today? Have you ever found yourself in a position where you don’t sense God’s presence. If you can’t hear the voice of God, or if you can’t experience Him, it could because we have hardened our heart. We shut down our heart to the still small voice. Remember that the heart is the place where God lives. It is the place where you meet. It is the place where you make all of your decisions, where all of your thoughts and emotions originate.

Ask yourself a question: Does God seem distant because there are parts of your heart that you have hardened? Pray and ask God to open up every part of your heart to Him. Pray that your heart will be fully open and alive.

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Pharaoh was so stubborn? 
  2. Read Isaiah 42:18-25: Notice in verse 20 God says, “You see and recognize what is right but refuse to act on it. You hear with your ears, but you don’t really listen.” In what ways can we be guilty of hearing God, but really not paying attention to him?
  3. What can we do this week to open up the parts of our hearts closed off to God?

Getting Goosebumps

“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” – Romans 9:19-21.

How many times have you been in a situation where you’re talking about something spiritual? Or you just finished serving somebody, and then it happens; chills run all up and down your arms, or even your entire body. Goosebumps appear. Or is it a tingling sensation? Or electricity? Or joy? Or an aha moment? You pause to reflect and you wonder to yourself; did I just experience a God thing or a God moment?

Often, Christians find themselves in a spiritual rut. They feel like God just isn’t there? At some point in our spiritual walk, we all become discouraged and feel this way. So what is the antidote, what can you do? What should you do? There is no simple answer to those questions. Everybody is different and experiences God in different ways. From my experience, one way God makes his presence known in powerful ways is while serving on a short-term mission trip.

Many people go on these trips as a means of feeling good about themselves. They spend a few days, do some good things, have some good experiences, then go home and continue their normal life. Sometimes people go on the trip in hopes that God would show Himself to them. God seems distant and they hope that this trip would rebuild the connection that had once been so strong. And then something happens, usually in the first day or two; God shows up. There’s a dynamic that takes place when a bunch of people are tired, worn out, and exhausted from a day’s work in serving together on a mission for something far greater than themselves.

When I attended a trip to Kenya, I was ready for Jesus to transform lives, but little did I know, he would use people of Kui and these experiences to change mine. We were doing what God created us to do. Love others. Serve others. Sacrifice for others. That produces goosebumps that will stay with you for a long time.

Everyone told me before I left that they could not wait to hear all about it when I got back, and when I got back, I had a hard time putting into words how I felt about my trip. Words simply just do not give justice to God’s presence through the mission experience. I got a glimpse into a small piece of what God’s love truly looks like and how I should try to love. I learned that I need to love more like the people of Kenya, where actions really do speak louder than words. I need to love complete strangers more freely in a reflection of God’s true love. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways we can sense the presence of God? What are some areas that we can expect goose bumps?
  2. What in your mind is the real value of short-term mission trips? 
  3. Is there a missionary or local ministry reaching the lost that you can pray for regularly? Is there an unsaved people group, locally, or globally, that you can be praying for regularly?

Feeling God

“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” – Psalm 73:28   

Have you ever felt like God was a long way off, like there was a chasm between Him and you that you just can’t cross? I don’t feel Him in my circumstances. My prayers are not answered.  It is in these times I want to feel His presence pass over and through me, I want to hear His voice and His direction for my life. So I pray. I spend time reading and meditating on scripture. But nothing. Not even a whisper. What gives?

Our relationship with God isn’t based on a feeling. It is easy to imagine that following Jesus results in an endless series of miracles, burning bushes, still, small voices, warm fuzzies, goose bumps and sensations of peace that pass all understanding.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. 

Many of the most renowned Christians have admitted to walking through some trials in their life where they could not feel the presence of God, where heaven seemed quiet. David wrote this in Psalm 13” “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?” And then there is the prophet Isaiah who was wondering, “When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you,”  Isaiah cries out in dismay, “you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. ( Isaiah 64:1-7)

Many Christians assume that silence from heaven means something has gone wrong, that the inability to “feel” God’s Spirit means God has turned His face away. But this is not what God’s word tells us.  I don’t know the full answer, but I know that part of it has to do with the fact that He wants us to walk by faith, not by sight; and walking by faith means sometimes pressing on even when we can’t feel or see Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think when God feels distant?
  2. What do you do to think of God, remember Him, or feel Him with you during your daily activities?
  3. What can we do this week to better feel God’s presence?   

More Not Less

“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

God has taken any number of bad raps throughout history. He has been labeled and ridiculed as being unfair, bizarre, foolish, preposterous and absurd. Yet, I reckon one the most unfair assumptions of God is that He is some sort of “comic killjoy” sitting up on His towering throne high above the heavens – throwing lightening bolts at us when we dare make mistakes, laugh or even giggle. Too many people think that God is anti-fun and look at the Bible as just one big rule book – where we have to be super religious, pious and totally bland and boring. Given all of that, the quality of life for the Christian must be bad, really bad. 

Christians are often portrayed in print and film as joyless robots who have settled for a flavorless life. They promote the lie that an abundant life is out of reach. They trumpet the idea that Christians are all too happy to settle for less. Non-Christians see the Christian life as a kind of clearance table. Things on this table were discounted because they were not as good as the other stuff. So the Christian life is less, not more.

I could not disagree more.  The Christian life is more, not less, and for any number of reasons.

First, there is God. None of the bad raps and labels given to God over the centuries has changed the fundamental fact that the gospel is that Christ has brought us home to God. “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18). Only in God can we have a home run life.  This is not less than ideal – it is the ideal.

We see differently. Watching a football game in high definition for the first time was a whole new visual experience. When we become a Christian we see the world in light of God and experience His blessings in light of grace. Eyes formerly blinded by sin become illuminated by grace. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 says, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News…. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” Seeing myself in God’s light is not a second rate life, it is true life.

Finally, what on this earth can compare to knowing, loving and becoming like Jesus? Our life as Christians is about growing more in our knowledge of and fellowship with Jesus. What joy to have a Savior who knows you intimately—all of your failings and foibles—and yet He loves you infinitely—even through your sin. That doesn’t sound like a killjoy God nor does it sound like a life that belongs on the clearance table. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you see the Christian life being more? Less?
  2. What keeps the Christian life from being more?
  3. What can we do to ensure we never lose our awe of who God is and what He did for us? 

Faith Stew

”Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”  Saint Augustine

How do I know if my faith is growing?

If someone asked you that question, how would you answer it? It is an ageless question with no easy answer. In Sunday’s sermon we made a statement: Being right with God comes by faith in Christ. I would like to talk about faith from a somewhat different perspective. Faith, as defined by the Bible, has two components: 1) a belief in something that is historically true and 2) a subjective trust in that fact. It is similar to gravity. Once you understand the concept of gravity, you change your life to accommodate that knowledge. For example, you don’t jump off the roof of your house. Faith has the same effect on your spiritual life.   

Back to the question – how do I know my faith is growing. As Christians, we want to keep our faith strong and to also increase it. We believe that the Lord is calling all of us who love Him into a deeper relationship with Him. He doesn’t want part of us, He wants all of us. We want to be mature today if possible, tomorrow if today is not practical. Faith is a gift of God. But there are times during seasons of doubt that we often feel it is difficult to have faith. Because we start encountering this messy thing called life, with its doubts, missteps, and sin. And together the messy parts of life are not a puddle that we can step over or around. No, we step into it. We start to wonder if our faith is shrinking rather than growing. At best, our faith is stagnant. So how can you increase your faith when you see no evidence for it?

This tendency to get discouraged and doubt the process happens to all of us at one time or another. The problem is that we want results quickly, we want change overnight. We don’t want the trip to take several weeks, we want to jump into hyperspace jump light speed (Star Wars) or warp factor 9 (Star Trek). We can’t microwave our faith. Faith is a stew that needs to be marinated and cooked, low and slow. After all, Jesus used the mustard seed to talk about the kingdom advancing. I’m not a expert, but I know enough that you don’t throw a seed in the ground, add some water and you have a tree the next day. Faith takes time. It takes patience. It takes persistence. It takes prayer. We put ourselves in the best position to see God grow it by exposing ourselves to God’s Word, involving ourselves in the local church, praying for our faith to grow.   

If you wonder if your faith is growing, just stay the course. God will grow His people. God will grow your faith. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Faith is not something you can manufacture. Agree or disagree? Why?
  2. A faith journey often gets worse before it gets better. Agree or disagree?
  3. What challenges have you experienced after taking a step of faith?
  4. Is there a step of faith you need to take this week?   

The Law Demands – Grace Supplies

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

In Sunday’s message, we talked about the fact you cannot earn God’s acceptance by obeying the law. We pointed out that no matter how hard you try, no matter how religious you are, no matter how many good works you do, or bad works you avoid, you cannot earn God’s acceptance by obeying the law. In this devotional, we will delve a little deeper into what God’s law and His grace mean in our lives today. 

The Bible contains laws that God gave “for our good.” (Deuteronomy 10:13; Romans 7:12) They are the rules of engagement that show us how to love God the way He wants to be loved and how to love others. God’s laws are not a burden, but a blessing. (1 John 5:3) There is a significant “but,” however.

The “but” is that no one has ever, except our Lord Jesus Christ, perfectly obeyed God’s laws. Consequently, our inability to comply with God’s laws creates a rift between us and God. God is separate, or cut off, from everything that is sinful and evil-He cannot tolerate sin: “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.” ( 1John 1:5) So sin must be removed in order to have a relationship with a holy and just God. God’s grace, His love and mercy, makes reconciliation and a relationship possible. Grace does not remove the laws but pays the penalty of sin because of God’s sacrifice.

We are saved by grace, through faith. Ephesians 2:8–9 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” The keeping of the Law cannot save anyone: ”For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (Romans 3:20) Titus 3:5 adds, “he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…” 

The purpose of the Law was basically to bring us to Christ: “Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.” (Galatians 3:24). Once we are saved, God desires to glorify Himself through our good works.  Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” And Ephesians 2:10 adds, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Therefore, good works follow salvation, they do not precede it.

So it is not a case of law vs. grace. God’s revelation is that law and grace work together.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Romans 3:20: What does this verse mean to us today?
  2. Read Romans 7:4-6: What effect did the law have on us before we came to Christ? What is your relationship to the law now that you are a believer? What is the difference in how we serve God?
  3. Based on what you have read about the law in this devotional, how would you describe the purpose of the law? Grace?