It’s Your Funeral

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50-57.

Imagine if you could attend your own funeral. I don’t want you to freak out. Just bear with me and imagine that you are about to attend your own funeral. The funeral is held in a location large enough to seat all your friends, your family, your business associates, your neighbors, your college roommate, in fact, anyone and everyone to whom you are important and who is important to you. 

The setting is solemn. The lighting is subdued. People are respectfully dressed. People are talking quietly in small cliques all over the room. Every foot of available space is filled with flowers and floral arrangements sent from friends and loved ones in love and sympathy. At the front of the room is a table, that includes several pictures of you with scented candles casting a glow on each photo. A memorial guest book is signed by all the people who came to pay their respects.   

At the front of the room is a beautiful solid hardwood casket. The wood veneer is stunning. You are lying in the casket. But you are also in the audience as the service starts. Everywhere you look there are sad people wiping away their tears. 

Key people in your life, close friends and family are given 3 minutes to speak whatever is on their heart. You pull out a pad of paper and are ready to take notes. You are wondering what they are going say. You have questions such as: What did they most appreciate about me? Or what did my life mean to them? What impact did it have? What are they missing or what have they lost when you passed?

Would you be satisfied with your answers? Would the answers suggest regret? Would the answers indicate that you didn’t live your life with the end in mind? Would you wish you had more time to heal old wounds? Did you contribute to the Kingdom? Did you love others as yourself? Were you giving? 

We all will have some regrets or some things we wanted to do differently when we die.  But the good news is that we can still change the outcome. You can take the steps necessary to begin shaping your eulogy—and the outcome of your life—now. It may mean healing old wounds with a relative. We may be to love more or be more generous. Whatever is required, it is worth the effort to contribute to the Kingdom of God by leading your life with the end in mind.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it practical to focus on eternity rather than the here and now?
  2. How much does your life impact others?
  3. Our choices will determine where we end up. How have you seen good or bad choices influence where you are today? Why do you think you made those choices?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you live your life with the end in mind.   

Happy Days

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” – Psalm 37: 4-6. 

In a survey, 90 percent of respondents said they have regret in their lives. In the same survey regret is the second most frequently mentioned emotion after love. One survey response on living a regret free life is simply allowing yourself to be happier.  Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end…”  I think if we are honest, we would accept the truth of this statement, especially in the context that God wants us to be happy.   

As Christians, we tend to think about and talk about the sacrifices we must make to be a follower of Jesus. Most Christians understand that it is not easy to be a follower of Jesus. There are things to do and things to avoid. There are do’s and there are don’ts. There are laws and commandments. It’s no wonder many Christians wonder if God really wants wants us to be happy or to simply keep our nose to the grindstone. Having the grindstone mentality may explain why Christians aren’t always the happiest looking people you come in contact with. 

But, the truth is, God wants us to be happy. In fact, our pursuit of happiness is commanded. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Delighting or finding your happiness in God is your chief aim in life. Because when you find your happiness in God,  you are declaring God as more valuable than anything else. John Piper puts it this way, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” God knows that you will be happiest when you find your happiness in Him.

So, what does this have to do with regret? The impact that regret can have on our lives is sometimes difficult to foresee. But regret is an incredibly powerful and enduring feeling that is directly related to our happiness in the end. When we find our happiness in God, we will remember what matters most, what counts and doesn’t count. We won’t be distracted by the petty, the trivial, the things that are not important in life. How much money we make. How popular we are. Not getting into a school, or closing that deal, or giving into that temptation or breaking that rule. 

When you are centered on Jesus we will do less things that cause regret. When we are happy in God, we won’t feel the overwhelming need for other people or things to satisfy our deepest desires. And that is why 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. There are many different ideas of what constitutes happiness. What does it mean to you to be truly happy? 
  2. Besides your faith in Christ, what are some of the things in your life that give you happiness? 
  3. How do happiness and regret go together?
  4.  Ask God to help you seek happiness through Him only.

What Is Love

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – I Corinthians 13:4-7:

Valentine’s Day is over and many wallets are probably a little thinner as we invested various amounts of money in an effort to demonstrate to someone special that “I love you.” But what is love? Not gooey, pulse-pounding sentimentality, but real love as defined by God. We hear a lot about love, but actually see very little of it. We look for it, dream about it, talk about it, and sing about it. But what is it? We think we understand the topic and more importantly we think we recognize it in our lives. But defining it is a different story. The best definition of love I’ve come across is found in I Corinthians 13:4-7, (see above)

This is especially true for Christians. Remember, we serve and worship a God who says that He is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4.8). God is the source and truest expression of love. Everything He does is loving. Further, God has told us that we can actually know what love is by looking at the cross. What then is love?

Let me take a stab at a definition. Love is the willful and joyful sacrifice of ourselves in the service of others. This definition takes into consideration that the love that was displayed in the giving of Christ was willful. That is, it was not under compulsion. “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2) It was also a matter of service. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) 

C.S. Lewis in Four Loves writes: “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing.” There are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”

Love is not just a feeling, or a theory, or a nice word. It’s the way you treat people, what you do for others. Love will always cost you something: time, energy, effort, money, giving up your pride, doing what’s right when you don’t feel like it, keeping a good attitude when you don’t get your way. Loving the way God loves means you love when there’s nothing in it for you; it’s all about giving out and not expecting anything in return. We’re called to outreach, not in-reach. Real love is about dying to self and living to love others.

That is what love is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define genuine love?
  2. How much of your life is characterized by love? What is keeping the percentage from being larger? 
  3. What does your level of involvement in the church say about your love for God’s family?
  4. What steps can we take this week to better reflect the love of God? 

Playing It Safe

“And also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.“  – Ephesians 6:19

If you had one month to live, do you think you would have any regrets when the 30 days were over? Probably not. But most of us live a whole lot longer than that so regrets are part of life. So often we wish we could do parts of life over. We wish those last words said in anger could be undone. We wish we had a second chance at that bad financial decision or relationship. It is normal to be held captive by regret for some of our actions and experiences. 

As we grow older and more fully appreciate the mistakes we have made and the opportunities we have missed, the more there is usually to regret. Some of us hold onto deep and consuming regrets that burden our lives, cripple our relationships and hobble our future. What happens is that we often become risk averse.  By not taking chances, by not putting ourselves out there, we believe we will face less regret later on. But is that true?

Will we deal with less regret down the road if we keep our relationship with God sanitary and safe? Will we experience less mistakes, less failures, if we don’t get involved or if we don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zone?  Is it better if we stick to the knitting and mind our own business as a means of lowering the odds on regret?

To some that is the definition of a mature Christian. Mature Christians are the ones that “have it all together.”  They dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Unfortunately, it is difficult to sit on the fence. We live in a troubled, often messed up world. As a Christian you can expect to get judged or criticized or even laughed at. Along the way we will shed some tears, make some mistakes, some minor some not so minor. But we always have God’s love. 

We need to remember that God is not surprised by our mistakes. That does not mean we are freed from responsibility for our mistakes and sins. But God will turn your mistakes into part of His plan, into spiritual growth opportunities that can indeed turn out for good. (Romans 8.28)

What matters to God is a relationship…not performance. God knows we aren’t perfect, and He’s totally okay with it.  Love is learned, and once learned, it is applied by an act of the will by the Christian who chooses to love others.  Love is not easy, and at times it can be risky because we may be hurt. This is because the objects of our love can be offensive, and at times may harm us.  Mature love overcomes the emotions to love others according to their needs. It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them or whether we are stepping out on a limb. 

We need to stop living in fear of making mistakes, because we will make mistakes—period. And yes, those mistakes can turn to regret. God is not asking us to not make any mistakes. He’s calling us to be bold—fearless in approaching Him, in stepping out in faith, and in trusting Him to lead us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you a little gun shy about the future? If so, what is the first step you can take to change that? 
  2. Are there areas of your life where the fear of mistakes or failure is the strongest? How would your life be different if you confronted those fears? 
  3. How well do you handle failures and regret?  What lessons have you learned from your past mistakes? 
  4. What does God ultimately hold me responsible to do? 
  5. Pray to God for wisdom to know when to step out and when not to. 

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

“Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good.” —  Proverbs 19:8 .

When we talk about loving your neighbor as yourself, I’m not referring to self-worship, the need to constantly look in the mirror or dust off our trophies and or take selfies all day long because we believe we are the real deal. I’m talking about being thankful and appreciative of the person God made in us. The two are radically different. 

If we were hooked up to a lie detector, we would probably admit that we are pretty fond of ourselves. We love to think about us, look out for us, and work for us. We don’t mind success and we don’t have any issue with people who recognize our worth. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have regrets, due to mistakes or failures. Even so, we have to think of ourselves, so thinking of others sometimes takes a back seat. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

If you study the people throughout history that have made contributions to the Kingdom, it is not because they loved themselves. They usually changed the world because they didn’t think of themselves at all. They moved self far down the priority list and consumed themselves with God and furthering His kingdom.   

Jesus also said in John 13:24, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  Jesus would not have gone to the cross if He was thinking about or loving Himself. And I don’t think He would have gone to the cross if that action was based on how people treated Him during His years on earth. No, Jesus was completely selfless. The cross is the greatest act of love in history. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Sacrificing for others, serving others, requires more than loving ourselves.   

In fact, the more we love ourselves, the less we tend to love others. It just seems to work that way. Just as you cannot serve God and money, you cannot love others the way you are supposed to love when you put yourself above them.

It is easy to tell where we stand by our actions. Do we love others enough to take action, to meet needs and put their interests first? Because when we truly are focused on giving and serving and loving those around us, we will have everything we need to be fulfilled, happy, and at peace knowing that we are serving God and loving Him instead of loving ourselves.

It is a receipt for less regret in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you measure loving yourself? How do you measure loving others?
  2. What happens if you obey the greatest commandment—love God with all your heart, soul, and mind—without obeying the second greatest commandment—love your neighbor as yourself?
  3. The law of love in Galatians 5:14 says, “Love your neighbors as yourself.” How does living of a life of love give glory to God? Are there times when it is difficult to do the “loving thing” in relationships? How do you choose to love?
  4. How has your love for God and for others led to real-life actions and deeds?

Love Makes The World Go Round

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. – Romans 12:10.

Sometimes I learn my lessons the hard way. Perhaps you do as well. Sometimes I learn from other people’s mistakes and sometimes I learn from my own. And there have been times where I didn’t learn at all, at least the first time it happened. Bottom line, I don’t have them catalogued or written down in a notebook, but I have I made a ton of often very regrettable mistakes, and thus generated some regret along the way. I still make mistakes. And it’s still how I occasionally learn.

Some of those mistakes and regrets involve loving people as God would have us love them: deeply and unconditionally. And in the same vein, showing love through action to all those on our journey. The familiar story of the Good Samaritan illustrates who is our neighbor. The well-known parable is found in Luke 10:25-37.

This could happen because there was a dangerous road and those who traveled alone were vulnerable. The Priest and Levite were religious people and pillars of society. They were known to work in the temple and be close to God. The Samaritan was generally hated because there was great animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans that went back hundreds of years. Yet he is the one who acted as a neighbor.

Jesus is making the point that to really love your neighbor you have to see beyond race, or economics or any of the other boundaries that we set as a society. Jesus shows that love must transcend these boundaries.

Jesus changed the question from “who is my neighbor?” to “how do I love my neighbor?” The answer was pretty straightforward. You love your neighbor by treating that person, regardless of who they are, the way you would want to be treated. This applies to anyone: your spouse, your boss, a friend, a co-worker, somebody you just met. 

But how are we supposed to do this? This call to love reflects the faith that leads to eternal life because the Samaritan did for the man what Jesus has done for us.

Imagine how much more motivated you would be if you had been the one the good Samaritan helped. You would never forget that kindness. You would always stop to help another person because you had been the recipient of great grace. Maybe that is why this is the example of faith. As Christians we are all the man beside the road. We were all unable to save ourselves and Jesus stopped to save us.

Jesus asks us to love as He loved. We should strive to love deeply as He loves: not as a program or as an obligation, but as a normal part of life. Just work hard to show love to the people in your path and in your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define neighbor? How does Jesus define neighbor?
  2. What is the major difference in your mind between the world’s view of love and God’s view of love? 
  3. How can we all express more compassion and care for one another?
  4. Does loving your neighbor as yourself help explain how Jesus loved?
  5. What can we do this week to love others more deeply? 

Change Of Heart

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-34.

Heart is used in Scripture as the comprehensive term for a person as a whole; his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will. It is the center of the person and the place to which God turns.

It is no wonder that we talk about the heart as much as we do because Christianity is not about behavior modification; it’s about heart transformation. And that transformation means giving your whole heart to God. Charles Spurgeon said that “God is not truly sought by the cold researches of the brain: we must seek him with the heart. Love reveals itself to love: God manifests his heart to the heart of his people.” 

The Bible has a lot to say about the subject of giving God our whole heart. “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart”… “I will extol the Lord with all my heart.”…”I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart.” (Psalms 9:1; 111:1; 138:1)  And in Psalm 119, we read,  “I seek you with all my heart”…”Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart”…”I keep your precepts with all my heart”…”May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees.”

The book of Jeremiah also has a lot to say about the whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

To love God with our whole heart is our goal. We can start the day by turning our hearts to Him. We can practice telling the Lord we love Him every single day. We can also pray, “Lord Jesus, cause me to love You more today than I did yesterday and serve You with my whole heart.”  And then we need to work on those things that divert our attention and our heart away from God.

When it is all said and done, none of us can control the quantity of days we will have on this earth. However, the one thing that we can all control is the love that we have for God by giving Him our whole heart.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to love God with all your heart?
  2. Read Acts 13:22 and 1 Samuel 13:14: What does it mean to have a heart after God’s heart? And what do these verses say about good intentions versus actions?
  3. Read Jeremiah 32:39-41. What are these verses saying to you?
  4. Our greatest fear shouldn’t be of failure, but of succeeding in things that don’t really matter. Agree or disagree?
  5. Pray and ask God to give you the strength and wisdom to give Him your whole heart? 

By Accident or Design

“ For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14.

I did not decide to do the No Regret series because I wanted each of us to realize how much we have messed up in our walk with God by languishing on our mistakes. This series is not about how many times we we got off track or how many things we would do differently. This series is not about hopping into our Delorean time machine to go back in time to avoid mistakes, stop from making bad decisions and looking before we leap. And it is not about feeling disappointed, sad, guilty, remorseful or even ashamed, because we failed in our eyes and more importantly in God’s eyes. 

This series is about living a life without regret as God intended us to live, which means we move past the regrets and wishes. We can do so by first remembering that there are no accidents with God. He has a perfect timing for everything He does. Isaiah 46:9–10 tells us, “…remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”

God has a perfect plan and there are no accidents with Him. The family you were born into was no accident. The country you live in, the language you speak, the friends you have, your weaknesses, mistakes you have made, poor decisions—none of them are accidents to God. Failures with your spouse and children, things you wish you had done differently, painful experiences—none of them are accidents to God.

Ruth is a short story that teaches us there are no accidents with God. Everything has a purpose. Everything has a reason. Our seeming chance decisions are not chance. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” Ruth shows us that truth played out in the everyday happenings of very ordinary people.

We all have decisions we regret. We have done things that did not turn out the way we intended or hoped. We all wish we had done things differently. So we all have regrets. And we may feel stuck. But in those times when we experience regret we need to remember there are no accidents with God. 

God overrides our sins. Even when we really blow it. Even when you feel what you have done has ruined your life. Even when we miss the opportunities God gives us. Even when you are still experiencing the long-term consequences of a bad mistake. Remember there are no accidents with God. God in His sovereignty can work out everything for our good.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What thought or idea expressed in this devotional resonated with you? Why?
  2. Was there anything in this devotional that you found to be comforting? Why or why not?
  3. Read Isaiah 45:7 and Proverbs 19:21: What do these verses say about how God directs people, circumstances, and events?
  4. Read Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20:  What do these verses tell you about God using bad things for good purposes?

With The Best Of Intentions

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.“  Isaiah 54:1-3  

If each of us had to come up with a list of our top ten regrets, it would take some thinking to determine which regrets make the top ten and which fall outside the top ten. We’d have to swim back upstream to the moment just before it all went wrong, consider the magnitude of the regret and then decide if it makes the top ten or not. We would discover that our minds are often orderly memoirs of past moments, past conversations, and past relationships. What if I had done things differently? What if I had said something else? What if I had taken a different direction? Would I have less regrets? But I believe somewhere in this process of ranking our regrets, we would pause for a moment and think to ourselves: “In every case I had the best intentions. I really did. I didn’t set out to create regret, in fact I absolutely intended to do the thing that would have prevented the regret in the first place.”

Good intentions may well express our desired outcome, but usually do not necessarily express the actual outcome. Joyce Meyer said that “Good intentions never change anything. They only become a deeper and deeper rut.” The truth is, intentions are not enough. Yes, they may start something, but intentions will not complete what you started. For example, how many times have we been corrected/confronted by our spouse or friend only to respond, “Well, I did/didn’t intend to….”? What we intended did not change the outcome, much less excuse our actions.

The way to help eliminate regret is to move those intentions into action steps. Take the dormant someday into now. Have we intended to invite someone over for dinner? Invite them. Have we intended to apologize and seek forgiveness? Drive over and ask for forgiveness. Have we intended to learn the Bible and increase in prayer? Set aside time today to start. Have we intended to call a friend or family member? Pick up the phone. Have we intended to invite your neighbor to church? Walk over and ask if they would like to go with you to church on Sunday to learn about living a life of no regrets.

Galatians 6:9 is a verse that I believe applies here: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  You cannot reap good intentions, but you can reap doing good. It will strengthen your resolve to keep pushing and it will help eliminate regrets later on. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are good intentions simply a case of poor follow through?
  2. Have you experienced the cost/damage of good intentions?
  3. Do you believe good intentions can stall or hamper your spiritual life?
  4. Pray for margin in your life that will open up to turn intentions into action.

Is Today Your Someday

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” —  James 2:14-17. Continue reading “Is Today Your Someday”