Putting Out The Welcome Mat

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9.

If you are a Christian long enough, you will hear people say that they don’t go to church anymore, usually coupled with the reasons why; they were offended, ignored, view the church as money hungry, they see the church as out-of-touch with the times or hypocritical. While those reasons have taken a life of their own, the reality is people have had bad experiences because the church is far from perfect. 

The devil wants people to have bad experiences at church. 1 Peter 5: 8–9 tells us the devil is an enemy, which is plural. It means that not only do we have a personal enemy who hates us but one who ultimately wants to oppose the work of God in every church. He will harass, seek to bring division, seek to offend people, do all in his power to keep people from learning about the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ. 

Many people think Christians should be perfect. Nobody is perfect in any church and that should surprise no one because Jesus started the church with imperfect people. But imperfect people can do some incredible things when coupled with God’s incredible grace. That God would use all us imperfect people is pretty amazing when you think about it. Ephesians 3: 10-11 says, “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The idea that God would use you and me is pretty amazing. He has unlimited options. He could have spoken to the world directly, but instead chose to use imperfect people to make the impossible possible in so many people’s lives.

I want to be clear that we don’t get everything right every time. But I do believe that part of the reason God’s allowing us to have the influence we have in the Florida Panhandle is that is everybody is welcome, nobody is perfect and anything is possible. The best way to defeat the devil is by telling and living the greatest story of the world: the story of redemption and hope in Christ. It’s the heartbeat of the Gospel and I believe it needs to be the heartbeat of the church as we work to save those far from the heart of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been at a meal or an event where you feel noticeably out of place? What was the experience like? Do you think people coming to church for the first time can have that type of experience?
  2. How does the devil work to undermine the church?
  3. What can you do on Sunday to ensure everybody is welcomed?

Whom Shall I Fear

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Ask many Christians whom should you fear and the answer may be the devil, especially after reading 1 Peter 5:8 that says “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”   

Knowing about Satan and understanding his will and works is important, but as Christians we must begin by remembering that Jesus is Sovereign over all things and that includes Satan. “Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 10:10) We have no reason to fear Satan, but we have every reason to be aware of him and his evil intent and works.

The devil is real, and nothing irritates him more than people waking up from the limbo he has crafted to keep us from being a light for Jesus. The devil wants to get his hands into every good thing in your life. He wants to create doubts. He wants to create offense and the disapproval of people you really love. He wants friends betraying you or you betraying them, he wants your kids to have behavior problems in school, and he is always sending out-of-the-blue temptations that had never previously been issues. He wants you to fight with your spouse, or at least have regular disagreements, with the priority of splintering marital unity. He wants us at odds with each other.

We should not under estimate the devil. We need to be aware that he has evil designs on our lives. He hates us. It is then that we remember John 10:1 which says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  We need to remember that God is bigger. God will win. Remember that the “one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) With Christ, we will defeat the devil in our daily encounters. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). And we need to remember that God is with us today and forever; even if we can’t see Him, He is there.

So whom shall we fear?

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the greatest sources of fear in your life?
  2. What is your normal pattern for responding to these fears?
  3. How can God help you overcome your fears?
  4. What can we do this week to seek the Lord in a time of fear?

The Devil Is In The Details

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44.

The devil is always looking to do harm to those who are followers of Jesus. The question is this: how much harm does he really have to do when it comes to relationships. That is because marriage and other relationships can be pretty messy. In spite of our best intentions, we make mistakes. We hurt one another. We make bad assumptions, we miscommunicate, we manipulate and we are often offended. When we make a mess out of relationships, Satan has a front row seat watching all of it unfold. He is happy to be an observer when things are bad, but quickly becomes more than an observer when things are going well. The devil does not want us to experience what God intended for us in relationships.

We should never underestimate the enemy and his tactics. When married, it is easy to start focusing on the ways your spouse is letting you down or you are falling short. God has put husband and wife together and the devil wants to pull you apart. First Peter 5:8 states it vividly: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”   

One of the devil’s top strategies to rob you of your joy and peace is to trap you into becoming offended. And it is not a matter of if the devil will be looking for ways to get you to set off his offense trap, it’s a matter of when. No one can offend us quicker than our spouse or someone we have a close relationship with. The devil knows that all too well and will try to use it to offend you or your spouse.   

What every Christian needs to realize is that they always have a choice in becoming offended or not. We make the choice whether we take Satan’s “offense bait.” The point being made is that no one forces us to become offended. We make that choice all by ourselves. As Christians, we can master the ability to not get offended and not take everything as offensive. The less we are offended, the more difficult it will be for Satan to use that strategy against us.

Start by praying that you will not be offended and pray for the one who offends you. Prayer is one of the best ways to move from anger to peace and to give the offense to the Lord.   

Discussion Question:

  1. What and how does the devil steal, kill, and destroy in your life?
  2. How can we accurately identify common lies of the devil in our lives?
  3. Does the devil use offense as his major tool? Why or why not?
  4. What can we do this week to be less offended? “

A Guide To Self Offense

“throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” – Ephesians 4: 22-24. 

Let’s be totally honest for a few seconds. We’ve all got some narcissistic tendencies. No one’s exempt. That being said, I don’t want to offend anybody by suggesting that all people are self-absorbed. What I am suggesting is that having hurt feelings and being easily offended is almost always a result of being too preoccupied with “self”: “He didn’t like my idea.” “She was too blunt for my liking.” “They totally ignored me.” “He didn’t thank me.” “My wife doesn’t appreciate all I do.” “My husband takes me for granted.” Being offended is often produced by self concerns.

Offense seems to be an obligation. A natural response to someone else. When we see things that we do not like, we feel we have no choice but to become upset. And express it adamantly. Being constantly offended can do significant harm to relationships. The solution is to change the central focus of our lives off ourselves and onto others. It’s hard to become offended if you are valuing others better than yourself.   

As Christians, it is not about the person offending us, it is about how we choose to respond. When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, we might wonder what that really means in practice. Surely, we’re not going to get all warm and fuzzy when we think about those who have hurt or offended us. But that is exactly the kind of robust, challenging love envisioned by Jesus, a love that is more about action than about feelings.  Making this choice to love and not be offended, however, is difficult. Here are a few ways to help you change how you respond.

Ask yourself these questions: What would happen if you didn’t allow yourself to go there? What if you stopped and said – “Why am I getting mad about this…does this really warrant getting offended?”  What would have happened if I didn’t allow myself to be offended? What if we sit back and consider the fact that being offended does not mean it is offensive. While that is the goal, it is easier said than done to be sure.

Small issues can grow larger when we are perpetually offended. Offense has a subtle way of creeping into each relationship we have in life. One or the other person gets upset or gets in a funk, that can spiral into resentment and bitterness. 

I’ve said it before. Loving our enemies is not easy. Nor is it easy to not be offended. But this is the way of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you change your focus from yourself to others? Would that help you be less offended? Why or why not?
  2. Have you ever prayed or forgiven someone who was speaking poorly of you? How did it feel? What happened inside of you when you did this?
  3. Have you ever prayed for those who hurt you? Are there people in your life right now who are seeking to harm you, for whom you need to pray?
  4. What keeps you from not being offended? 

Are You Offended?

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.“ – Proverbs 12:15. 

What if we sat down with a friend or relative and asked them one question. But, before you posed the question you make one stipulation. You want them to be completely honest with you. With that said, you ask them, ”do I offend you in any way?” Then you brace yourself for what you may hear next. The friend pauses, reflecting on the question for a few seconds. And then the answer: “Well, since you asked, let me think: I would have to say your appearance, politics, bad habits, and your idea of what constitutes good music have all offended me at one time or another.”

You are surprised the list is not even longer. It doesn’t take a lot to offend people. Americans have cornered the offended market. It has become our default setting. And what’s more we are multi taskers, typically balancing more than one offense at any given time. Being offended is an all skate because just about everybody will discover a provocation somewhere and be offended, and that includes our relationships. 

Some of you could give examples of where it would be easy to be offended. Some people have had real harm done to them. There is a time to express being hurt or troubled by something. But if we get offended by every little thing, how will we ever interact with others, much less reach the world? If anyone had reason to be offended, it’s Jesus. 

We serve a God who chose to come in the lowliest form and share meals with the very people society rejected. Rather than being offended by their lives, he chose to love people as they were—broken, imperfect and in need of the Father’s unconditional love. 

Our goal is to stop being so easily offended. A Christian who is not offended is a person who wants grace for him or herself and wants to extend that grace to others. That means we are always focused on reconciliation. Now that does not mean that nothing should bother us, convict us to action, or require confrontation? Of course not. But our goal in any situation is seeking to find avenues of reconciliation. To bring peace, healing, and compassion to the world around us. Our job is simple: Love God and love others.

Many of us spend our lives trying to make progress in this area. Choosing to not be offended will make our life better. Giving up our perceived right to hold an offense will make us happier and healthier and ultimately improve our relationships.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think it is possible to work so hard at relationships that you can prevent offending others? 
  2. How do you deal with the tension created when you offend others.
  3. Should we forgive those who hurt or offend us?
  4. What can we do this week to be less easily offended?

What Is Your Worth?

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” – Psalm 8:3–4.

Have you ever questioned your worth? I’m sure that all of us have felt at times that our energy, confidence and attitude is the currency that adds value to the place we work or to the relationships we are in. But there are other times when we feel worthless. It is not uncommon to wonder if who we are and what we do has any real value. 

Whenever I have such thoughts I think of Psalm 8: 3-4 (above). David arrives at a dilemma in verses 3–4 that many of us have come to at one time in our lives. He is stunned by the beauty and vastness of God’s world. He realizes that the universe stretches out to infinity, and that he is just a small part of all that exists. He begins to wonder why God would pay any attention to him at all. He asks, “what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” We are totally insignificant – a temporary speck on the canvas of history. Any visit to an ocean or mountain range will quickly confirm our smallness.

The fact is, God does care for us. The fact that God loves us should launch us into worship and praise. It should stagger us. He had every right to leave us in our sins, but He chose to give us grace and His love and die on the cross so we could be His sons and daughters. There has always been a struggle to understand God’s love. Some people believe that God can’t possibly love us while others think that God is obligated to love us. Neither is true. No one is beyond God’s love and affection. God has shown the depth of His love by sending His son to die on the cross for our sins.  This shows us all the more how wonderful it is that God is mindful of us. He is mindful of us as Creator, as Savior, as Father, and as Lord.

So what is our worth? What is the worth of our spouse? Or relatives and friends we have relationships with. The Bible explicitly tells us that God loves and cares about each of us deeply. And even if your emotional connection with Him isn’t always there, God is still near.

One of the most touching verses in Scripture that perfectly captures this truth of God’s heart toward us is found in Zephaniah 3:17, which states: “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” If God cares about everyone, how much more should we care about those He puts into our lives as spouse, brother, sister, parent, child, relative or friend. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever wondered why God would choose to care about us? How does that fact motivate you?
  2. Does your marriage/relationship have worth in God’s eyes? 
  3. How do you define God’s love? How has God’s love been manifested in your life?

A Successful Marriage Is An Achievement

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” – Colossians 3:12-15.

If you were like me, you wished you had the answers to a test before you walked into the classroom? Some classes were simply harder than others and having the answers would have simplified things. In college, a professor would typically give you some insights, or at least some parameters before a test. But even with some basic guidelines concerning the test, more often than not, a problem or question would appear on the test that you were not prepared for. It soon occurred to me that the professor did not intend for the overview of the test to be comprehensive. It was simply not possible to include everything from the required readings, class notes, and lectures in the capsulation of the test. 

The same is true with the relationships. The Bible gives the foundation for all our relationships. It is an effective guide. But there are some things on the test I did not learn until marriage or our relationship began. But I think I can give you some answers that would help you pass the marriage/relationship test.

The first to remember is that spouses do not complete us. If you are empty, broken, or insecure, and you believe a spouse is the silver bullet to your problems, think again. That is expecting something that our spouse is incapable of doing. Your husband or wife cannot fill every void in your life. Only God can fill those voids. You will never be able to enjoy the beauty of marriage if your spouse’s job is to complete you.

The second thing is to remember how different the wedding ceremony is from marriage itself. Let me explain what I mean: A successful wedding day is one where everyone serves you, but a successful marriage is one where you serve your spouse. The wedding day is a day where the spotlight is on you. Marriage has no spotlight. The wedding day is about reciting a bunch of words that most couples view simply as a tradition. Marriage is about putting the words into action. The wedding day is joyous and celebratory. Many seasons of marriage are about hard work, putting the needs of your spouse before yours and and not letting go of each other through the storms. After your 20 minutes of fame, the spotlight is gone. It is no longer about you, it is about becoming the person God intended you to be and loving your spouse as God intended when He created the institution of marriage.

Third, a successful marriage does not just happen. A good marriage is never an accident. It takes hard, intentional work over a long period of time. You can’t just throw a piece of paper on the ground, and pour two paint colors on it, and expect it to look great. If you want your marriage to be great, you cannot ignore it. It takes investment and effort to create a marriage you love, just like a work of art.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you believe are three common symptoms of a “Me-Marriage?” 
  2. A “perfectly compatible person” does not exist. How do you feel about this statement? What are the implications for working at marriage and/or relationships?
  3. Marriage, next to our relationship to God, is the most profound relationship there is. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
  4. What can we do to improve our marriage/relationships this week?

In Focus: Stuck In The Past

“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” – Isaiah 43:18.

Regardless of our season of life, we all carry something with us wherever we go. It is part of our conversations, it shows up in our attitudes, and it can significantly impact our life and our relationships. It is our past. We all have a past.  Almost everyone of us is haunted by his or her past in one way or another. And just as many of us believe that our past challenges and/or difficulties is somehow related to our present. And unfortunately, that past continues to influence our relationships today because when we are bound to the past, we cannot fully live in our present.

The past can often be a prologue or preamble to relationship difficulties. That is because we enter into marriage with false or unrealistic expectations. It is easy to believe that marriage will solve any past problems that they bring into their marriage. It is not that easy. Marriage takes hard work and sometimes the hardest work involves dealing with the past. The past is hard to let go of, and it affects us emotionally. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. The past is there to train use, shape us, and mold us, so we  become who God wants us to become now. If I don’t learn from the past, I may repeat it in the present and into the future. 

The solution to the past is to see God, not yourself and all your mistakes or the mistakes of others. If I don’t learn from how God has moved in the past, and if I don’t trust God with the future, I will waste the present by being unfocused and reactionary. The challenge of the present is to focus on God. Having faith means believing God has a great future in front of us, and he uses the past to shape us for the future that lies ahead. 

Yes that makes it sound easy. And sometimes it is not and often it is a lengthy process. It won’t happen overnight. But if we are committed to trust God and obey His Word, He will be faithful to give us the grace and strength we need to do what we can do and experience the present He has for us. The key is for us to focus on God and the here and now. 

Think about it this way. Life is like a marathon. Anybody who has run a marathon or a half-marathon will readily acknowledge the race is very hard to race even running forwards. But people who get stuck in the past can be equated to running a marathon backwards. It’s counterproductive to move in one direction while looking in another. If you are trying to run in both directions at the same time I would encourage you to turn around and run in the present.  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) 

Discussion Question:

  1. In what ways does worry keep you from healthy relationships?
  2. Read Matthew 6:34: Does “don’t worry” mean “don’t plan?” What does God expect of us then?
  3. “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” What does that mean to you? 
  4. What can I do this week to put the past in the past?

Finding Versus Becoming

“ For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” – Ephesians 5:25. 

It is a familiar story: Guy meets girl. Guy likes girl. Girl likes guy. They spend a lot of time in person and text each other throughout the day. While they do have differences, they find they have much more in common. Everything is falling into place. The relationship moves from the budding stage to the bloom stage. This is the real deal.  All that is missing is overcoming the concern that this is the right person for me. “I need God to tell me he or she is the right one before I go any further.”

But finding the right one is not easy and often can cause problems. Finding our “soulmate”  often means we put them under the microscope, and that typically continues after marriage. We evaluate whatever our spouse says, what he or she does during her spare time. What about their dating history? Does he or she like the same kind of movies and music I do?  What about their political views? Or spiritual views. Nobody can measure up to that kind of scrutiny.

Every marriage is built and shaped by two different, sinful people adjusting to one another. You simply will never find a human being who is pre-packaged to fit your every personality, quirk, preference, or lifestyle particularity. Basically, we would need to clone ourselves. Every couple will have differences and will need to make adjustments for one another. Every healthy marriage will require sacrifice, adjustments and selflessness. So while no one will ever be everything you want, our spouse can be what we need if we are willing to put the work into our marriage. Marriage can be everything God intended it to be. But it starts with you. 

God continues to work on us, sanctifying, shaping, molding, and creating the person He wants us to be. You see, none of us has arrived yet. We are all unfinished products. God is still working on us, sometimes it is apparent and sometimes He works behind the scenes. But God is working on us in all our relationships.

At some point, we need to realize that we should probably spend a lot less energy finding the right person, and more on becoming the right person. We will find that when most of our attention is focused on our spouse, we are neglecting some great opportunities for the Lord to develop us. 

So, are you too narrowly focused on finding the right person instead of becoming the right person? If so, begin working on becoming the person God created you to be. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would a “becoming” life that pleases God look like?
  2. How do you go about changing your focus from your spouse to yourself?
  3. What can we do this week to fix our focus on God?

Finding The Right Focus

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! “ – Isaiah 26:3.

When you talk to married couples, they often suggest that part of the reason they are having a hard time focusing on their marriage is that they don’t seem to have the time to focus on God. This is the secret to Godly relationships that can be overlooked. Paul, however, understood it and often wrote about it. Jesus practiced it daily and taught it to His disciples. It is the discipline of maintaining a fixed focus on God.

Focus is a way of life. If you want to be a pastor, your focus should be on attending a Bible college and maybe seminary. If you want to be a pilot you should focus on learning to fly. Regardless of your focus, it is easy to get distracted. Marriage and relationships are no exception. 

Relationships include friends, parents, siblings, spouses, girl/boy friends, children, co-workers, bosses, etc. We can allow any of these relationships to distract us from God. It is our relationships that are our connection with the world, and it is our human nature to have them, but when any of these relationships threaten to become more important to us than God, they can quickly become a distraction. Remember, God calls us to love one another (1 John 3:11), so when we do, it is an act of obedience to God. But when we love others, we need to be fixed on God. 

Marriage has the greatest potential of becoming a distraction from our walk with God. Marriage demands the most time, and that is why it is extremely important that married couples stay centered around God. Most Christians would agree that when your focus is fixed on the bumps and difficulties of life, your focus will usually be diverted away from God. But here is where we get into a catch-22 situation: Apart from Jesus Christ, nothing has the power to heal what is hurting or to correct what has been damaged, but we don’t experience that healing and power because our focus is somewhere else. 

Having played some golf, I am impressed with how professional golfers can not only shape a shot, but hit it the distance required to get to the green. When the pros are asked about their secret to their success they most often say, “keep your eyes fixed on the ball.” 

Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus is the secret to a happy marriage. When you trust Him with the entirety of your life, you can rest in the fact that God has the ability to take care of your every need. He loves you and will keep His promises throughout your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does having fixed focus on God mean to you? What is the practical application?   
  2. When we focus more on finding God and less on our trials during the tough times, we grow closer to Him. Agree or disagree and why? 
  3. We can choose to make God the most significant relationship in our lives.  What are the benefits?
  4. What can we do this week to limit the distractions and keep our eyes fixed on God?