More Than Your Wildest Dreams

“May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13.

In the movie Billy Elliott, a young boy loves to dance. But he has a major obstacle: his father disapproves. Billy has a long, arduous road to travel, but his dream keeps him going despite his challenges. This wonderful movie will encourage anyone who has a dream to keep reaching for it and inspire those who have stopped dreaming to once again imagine what could be.

Our lives, like that of Billy Elliott, are full of obstacles—people and circumstances that try to tell us our dreams are impossible, unrealistic, or, as in Billy’s case, that there is something or someone trying to keep us from fulfilling them. 

When we dream, how big do we dream? How large can our aspirations be? There is a certain fear within a dream and a bigger fear of trusting God with our dreams. We worry that our expectations are too high, that our dream could never happen, or that this dream of ours is too big for us. One of the most common fears as Christians is that our dreams might not lie within the parameters of God’s plan for our lives.

God’s hope and plan for us are pretty simple to figure out. For those who resonate with formulas, here it is: add your whole life, your loves, your passions, and your interests together with what God said He wants us to be about, and that’s your answer: basically that is to love God and love people. Does your dream fall within that?

Loving God is surrendering everything in your life for His glory, and the beauty of loving people is that it could take shape in so many different ways. That is where your dream lies. Within fulfilling the great commandment; loving God and dreaming big for His glory and the love of His people.

God longs for His children to dream. He longs for us to set aside time with Him to wish and wonder about what life could be. I fear that many Christians have lost the art of dreaming with God out of a misunderstanding of His heart. While God most definitely has a will for our lives, He also longs for us to dream with Him so that His desires become our own. While He most definitely has perfect plans for us, He longs for us to want His plans so that we might co-labor with Him. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your dreams? 
  2. What dreams do you feel will never come true? Why? 
  3. What dreams are you sure will come true? Why?

The Attributes Of God – God Is All Powerful

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is He? An attribute of God is something true about Him. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is all-powerful.  

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?…How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!” – Psalm 8:3-4, Psalm 147:5. 

Effective relationships are based on knowledge. You can’t presume to know a person until we have the opportunity to learn more about that person, such as his or her history, personality, likes, dislikes, and desires. The more we know the more effective we will be in developing a relationship with that person. It is much the same with our relationship with God. That relationship needs to be rooted in a firm understanding of who He reveals Himself to be in His Word.  

People have many different perceptions of what God is like. Some see Him as a divine helper, others as a vengeful deity. Some fear God. God wants us to view Him correctly. He wants us to know Him intimately. How you view God touches every facet of your life.  The more accurate your understanding of who God really is and how He is involved in your life, the more highly motivated you will become to excel in the use of your time, talents, and abilities. 

God is all-powerful and the ways He demonstrates that are too many to mention. God merely spoke the universe into being — a universe that astronomers estimate contains more than 100 billion galaxies. But all the power contained in this entire universe is but a small representation of the unlimited power of God. The combined energy of all earth’s storms, winds, ocean waves and other forces of nature do not equal even a fraction of God’s almighty power. 

Because God is all-powerful, He has the ability and strength to do whatever He pleases. His power is not restrained or inhibited by any of His created beings. People and nations are powerless when confronted by His might. No task is too big for Him. He never fails. 

No matter what you might be facing, God can help you. Nothing is too hard for Him. No need is too great for Him to meet. No problem is too complicated for Him to solve. No foe is too strong for Him to conquer. No prayer is too difficult for Him to answer. The Bible promises tells us, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Have you considered that God wants us to reflect His power on earth? As we begin to understand God’s vast and magnificent power, our lives cannot help but be transformed. Everything about us will change – our attitudes, actions, motives, desires, and lifestyle. And as we are transformed, we will light up the world around us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God being all-powerful mean to you?
  2. What would you change in your life this week knowing that God is all-powerful?   

Trust In The Lord With All Heart

 “Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” – John 11:40.

To trust is to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of something. So, when it comes to trusting God, that means believing in His reliability, His Word, His ability, and His strength.  Trusting God is more than a feeling; it’s a choice to have faith in what He says even when your feelings or circumstances would have you believe something different. Your feelings and circumstances matter and are very much worth paying attention to, but they can change at any moment. God, on the other hand, does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and therefore is worthy of your trust.

Trusting God is not about ignoring your feelings or reality. It is not pretending that everything is OK when it isn’t. Trusting God is living a life of belief in and obedience to God even when it’s difficult. If you trust someone, you feel comfortable being honest with them about anything. God is much more reliable than even your most trustworthy friend. 

Because God loves you, you can show your trust in Him by talking about all your feelings and circumstances with Him through prayer. When you trust, you go to God and His word when life is good and when life is hard. You trust that God will ultimately take care of the rest. In trust, you do not look for security in other things; you look to God to hold you securely in difficult circumstances. You won’t do this perfectly, but God is kind and patient with you while you learn to trust Him. In addition, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us.

The Holy Spirit lives in anyone who trusts in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is your constant helper, pointing you to Jesus. When Jesus was telling His followers that He was going to die, He knew that they would be worried. They would feel scared about being left alone. So He shared this with them to give them comfort. “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” (John 14:26)

The Spirit comforts and reminds you of the truth. The Spirit will also lead you in obedience. He will bring direction to you. The leading of the Spirit can ease struggles by guiding you to acts of obedience. He does not always give you the big picture, but He will show you the next step.

Walking closely with the Spirit will not only give you direction but will remind you that you are not alone. God is not distant. He is with you in difficulty. He is making a way for you.

My prayer is that we learn to trust God with the future. He has a plan for each of our lives and He will bring good from our choice to trust Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Proverbs 3:5-6. This passage instructs us to fully trust in God, not on our own understanding. How do we know if God is trustworthy? What are some specific ways we can trust in Him?

What Do We Do When We Face Barriers In Our Way?

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” – Helen Keller

We often live life under the illusion that everything depends on us or on those around us. But it doesn’t. Everything depends on God. But, each day there can be at least one barrier we face, and whatever it is, can come suddenly, without warning, and we’re faced with a decision. How do I handle this issue? Can I overcome this barrier with any degree of confidence? 

Seal training is intense. BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training is the most intense. During BUDS, you have to survive “one-hundred-ten hours without sleep.” You have to carry a log over your head for hours. Countless swims, endless runs, jumping out of planes, and then the “pool comp.” In “pool comp” you are put underwater with all your scuba gear on, the instructor yanks your regulator out of your mouth, he ties your air hose in knots, he mocks you constantly as you struggle for air. What your mind is naturally telling you at this point is simple: You are going to die, but if you want to pass “pool comp,” you have to calmly follow all protocol to pass. It’s not hard to see why there’s a 94 percent attrition rate. Those who pass had to overcome some seemingly impossible barriers.  

We can survive the obstacles even when life is hard. Of course, we can throw in the towel and never attempt anything—but God expects us to take control of our own lives and trust Him. It can be hard to put into practice, but all negative experiences are opportunities to learn and take control of our own lives. Have you listened to many of the stories of people that have become successful in life? Usually, they came from humble beginnings, and, against all odds, they overcame their situations. 

We all, at times, experience circumstances that create obstacles that block our ability to believe what God has promised in His word. James 1:6-7 says, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

God has called each of us into service. You will have failures, obstacles, rejection, disappointment, hindrances, difficulties, and refusal. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming the person God created you to be.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do you anticipate the barriers you may face when planning? 
  2. How do we better trust God to overcome those barriers? 

It Takes Planning

“So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.” – Nehemiah 2:11-15.

As Christians, should we plan for the future? If God is in control, then should we plan at all? The Bible talks a lot about the future and whether or not Christians ought to prepare for it. The Bible demonstrates that God is not only concerned for our earthly future, but also for our eternal future. So as Christians, we ought to prepare for the future. An example of that was Nehemiah. 

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Persia. For him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls was not a step he would take randomly. For four months Nehemiah prayed and fasted about his plan before he approached the king for permission and help. His prayers paved the way for him to receive the king’s favor. Nehemiah knew his project required the king’s resources, so he was prepared when the king asked him what he needed. Because of Nehemiah’s preparation, the king granted his requests.

Nehemiah needed to understand the circumstances of the project he was about to undertake. Initially, he was not physically in Jerusalem, so his early assessment was made from discussions he had with people who saw first-hand the destruction and were knowledgeable about the current state of the walls and gates. Once on-site, he spent three evenings personally examining the damage to the wall and the gates before rebuilding. For our plans to be effective and complete, we need to invest time upfront—thoroughly assessing the project we are about to undertake.

Nehemiah began seeking God’s vision for rebuilding the wall. For Nehemiah to rebuild the entire wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days, it took an effective strategy (overall, long-term plan), tactics (short-term, specific actions that support the strategy), and God’s favor. When we seek God’s favor towards our work, we need to first seek God’s vision. Be prepared that it may be different from our own.

There are many ways Nehemiah could have tackled this challenging project. However, a key strategy he used was to develop effective teams that could address the needed repairs. At the same time, Nehemiah developed a strategy to overcome their enemies. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.”

Plans are meaningless if they’re never executed. Nehemiah was a man of action. He developed his plan, but he also knew when it was time to act. He formed his team, delegated responsibilities, and then called his team into action.

Planning is important, but we must be diligent to move the plan forward.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Read Nehemiah 2:17-20: How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for many decades? What are some troubling realities you have become accustomed to over the years?
  2. Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” and the words, “they began the good work.” What good work has God given you to do, and what was your response to it?

A Little Bit Of Planning Goes A Long Way

God is a God of systems and predictability and order, and God honors planning.” – Andy Stanley

As Christians, should we plan for the future? If God is in control, then should we plan at all?

The Bible talks a lot about the future and whether or not Christians ought to prepare for it. The Bible demonstrates that God is not only concerned for our earthly future, but also for our eternal future. So as Christians, we ought to prepare for the future. First, we should make sure we are prepared for our eternal future. This means getting our relationship with God correct and storing up treasures in heaven. Second, we can work to prepare for our earthly future while trusting it in God’s hands. James tells us, “Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4: 13-15)

Preparation and planning are a part of taking responsibility and practicing good stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. In Nehemiah 2:4-10, we see the balance between these two principles – diligent planning and reliance upon God.  God gives wisdom, but we need to plan. God opens doors, but we must walk through them. Nehemiah asks the king for the resources necessary to rebuild the wall. We wouldn’t consider building a house, room, or anything without planning out our supplies. The work of ministry deserves no less. 

By the time Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he already has two of the essential ingredients of a well-crafted plan. First, he’s got a goal: his objective is to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He’s also gone to Ace Hardware on the way to Jerusalem and compiled all of his building materials.

But there are still unanswered questions. Nehemiah needs to know what exactly needs to be done. So Nehemiah makes a thorough inspection of the wall. Now Nehemiah can then say, “Here’s where we are, here’s what we have to build it with, and here’s what we are going to build.”  All he needs is a labor force. Nehemiah gives an impassioned speech persuading the Jews to throw in with him.

While Nehemiah is a model of planning, Jesus is the ultimate model: If we never witnessed this same planning, strategy, and preparation in Jesus’ ministry it wouldn’t be a priority in our spiritual leadership. But we do. As you read through the gospels you clearly see where Jesus goes, when He goes, what He says and does, and to whom are anything but random happenstance or just “letting the cards fall as they may.” His ministry is brilliantly conceived and executed. 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so important to not get ahead of the Lord, but to wait for His perfect timing? 
  2. What can we do this week to get a little better at planning? 

I Am A Self-Made Individual

“Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” – Psalm 100:3. 

“Self-made man” is a classic phrase coined on February 2, 1842 by Henry Clay in the United States Senate, to describe individuals whose success lay within the individuals themselves, not with outside conditions. But in reality, there is no such thing as a self-made individual. It’s a myth. The fact is we are all indebted to someone.

 Think about this for a few moments: if you were to be stripped of all modern convenience, could you single-handedly reinvent things like the light bulb?  Penicillin?  The internet?  Most of us can’t fully explain how this stuff works let alone be able to reinvent them.  No; our greatest creative achievements are built on the achievements of others and all are utterly dependent on the world that God alone created.

We ought to thank God daily in our prayers for our great grandparents, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, pastors, coaches, fellow believers, the Body of Christ, the Church, our nation’s forefathers, the soldiers of our nation and so on. Who among us is not the product of the contributions and influences of others? The fact is no one can really call himself or herself self-made.  

Any good thing in our lives is because of God’s goodness to us. We are more likely to make a mess of our lives. We caused most valleys in our lives. Every good thing was given to us by God. 

Paul said it best: “…What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great, and as though you have accomplished something on your own?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 MSG) In his first letter to Timothy, Paul gives this young minister a warning to pass along to his congregation that is still relevant today. He says, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)

Psalm 100:3 leaves no doubt about the order of life. God made us. We belong to God. He created us in the beginning. He shapes us all along. He will form us into His perfect image someday. 

 This is what the Lord said to Israel. But in an indirect and more general way, this applies to all mankind: “He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ 18 Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you the power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

It is God who has given us our minds and our hands to work with. So it is He who is ultimately deserving of all credit for our ability to work hard and prosper.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you tend to be overly responsible and self-reliant? Or do you think everything is up to God and throw up your hands and do nothing? 
  2. When we try to be a self-made individuals we tend to get stuck. Where are you stuck and what can we do this week to get unstuck.  

Living In Light Of Eternity

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14:

Paul was clearly looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that Paul has suddenly developed amnesia. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he did not let his past discourage him or defeat him. He was determined to press on and to keep running the race. Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life.

We are accustomed to viewing our lives in the order of “past, present, future.” The Bible suggests we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting the past.”

Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.” Do we realize just how mired down in the here and now we have become? Sometimes it’s dark and scary and you’re fumbling around because you feel like you have lost control allowing all kinds of noise and potholes in your lives. Things like broken relationships, money problems, illnesses, and so on. None of those things will matter in eternity. What will matter is whether we lived lives that were pleasing to God.

Paul’s was completely focused on the future. He uses the image of a race to describe the Christian life. In verse 12 Paul says, “I press on.” In verse 14 he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race…” The idea of the word press is to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. The goal is to reach a certain distance at a certain time, or if you are in a race, to overtake another runner. Basically, you are running, not just for the exercise, but with a specific goal and purpose in mind. A runner who keeps his or her “eyes on the prize” will stay on track.  

You may have started the race a few days or a few weeks ago. Or maybe you started the race a long time ago, but somewhere along the way, you stopped running. Perhaps you lost your joy or passion. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re temporarily sitting on the sidelines, I encourage you to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize of an eternity with Him to be won.

Discussion questions:
1. How can we start thinking future, present, and past rather than the current order of past, present, and future?

2. In Philippians 3:13 Paul said “… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, …” What do you think he meant, and how does it relate to our “pressing on toward the goal …”

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

 “A person would be insane to hear his physician diagnose his ailment as a rapidly growing tumor, and then think that just because he had talked with his doctor, the growth would suddenly disappear. No, he’s going to have to be operated on. Likewise, just being exposed to the truth won’t make us mature. Nor will it alone — without application — solve one problem.” –  Chuck Swindoll, Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back.  

Chuck Swindoll wrote a book titled, Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back. In Ezra 4 we see that idea in action. In Chapter 4, God has stirred up the heart of the pagan King Cyrus to issue a decree for the Jews to return to their land and rebuild His temple. One step forward. Thousands of Jews respond by giving up their lives in Babylon and making the long, dangerous trek back to the land. A second step forward. They rebuilt the altar, gathered in Jerusalem, and laid the foundation for the new temple. A third step forward. 

Then the enemy hit and the work on the temple stopped. One step back. The work ceased for approximately 18  years. Two steps back. They were still in the land (one step ahead), but there was no center for worship in Jerusalem. The people, intimidated by their enemies, settled into a routine of life that got along without temple worship until God stirred up the prophets to rebuild the temple.

Have you ever felt that way, that life seems like it’s one step forward and two steps back? We feel like things are really moving forward and then life happens and we find things are moving backward again.  That is both natural and frustrating. The apostle Paul had arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19. Paul starts doing what he always does, preaching in the synagogues, in the streets, and among the gentiles. Things were going so well for Paul that in verses 11-12 it says, “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.”  Can you imagine that kind of success in your life? Your marriage, work, school, or whatever is going so well that it is spilling over onto other people and the mere touch of something that has touched you is making others better. That is a tremendous step forward.  Paul ultimately had to leave Ephesus. He gathered the church encouraged them and said farewell.

But it doesn’t matter how many times we have fallen or how many steps backward we’ve taken. We need to remember that “…My grace is all you need….” (2 Corinthians 12.9)

What is often needed is a new beginning with God. New beginnings are exciting and filled with hope. By His grace, we can turn back to the Lord and start afresh. But no sooner have we started anew than we experience a setback. The spiritual high that we have enjoyed is followed by a deep spiritual low. Ask God for the grace you need and step forward … one step at a time. And when you fail … and we all do at times … we need to go back to the cross and remember that God’s grace and forgiveness are always available.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What will be your strategy to affirm your identity in Christ when you feel like you’re losing ground after making a decision to move forward?
  2. Why do you think it’s hard to let go of control and trust God for your future?

Planning For The Good Work

“So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.” – Nehemiah 2:11-15.

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Persia. For him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls was not a step he would take randomly. For four months Nehemiah prayed and fasted about his plan before he approached the king for permission and help. His prayers paved the way for him to receive the king’s favor.

Nehemiah needed to fully understand all the circumstances of the project he was about to undertake. Initially, he was not physically in Jerusalem, so his early assessment was made from discussions he had with people who saw first-hand the destruction and were knowledgeable about the current state of the walls and gates. Once he arrived in the city, he spent three evenings personally examining the damage to the wall and the gates before rebuilding.

Can you almost picture Nehemiah secretly riding around the city three nights in a row? I imagine him and a couple of trusted men. They were quiet. He needed wisdom, and he needed to formulate a plan. None of which could be accomplished if he relied on other people to show him their version of the situation, or hearsay commentary from enemies inhabiting the city waiting for him to fail. He wanted to assess the situation, in the dark, without detection.

When he had gathered all of the information needed, he held a meeting with the officials and nobles. Nehemiah stated something these men already knew, they were in a bad situation. Desperate even. Jerusalem abandoned. The walls, crumbling and the gates burned. Yet, Nehemiah told leaders that God had been favorable to him. We don’t have his whole speech, but it must have been stirring because the response was . . . “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”

Nehemiah taught us that vision is a divinely given picture of what could be and should be. Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down. Right away, Nehemiah saw what could be and should be – that the defenses of the city could be restored, and the walls rebuilt. A vision is always a picture of what could and should be from God’s perspective.

There’s nothing more exciting than following God’s leading in our lives. There’s nothing more exciting than sensing and obeying God’s promptings in your life.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What can we learn about the kind of person Nehemiah was by the way he sets out at night to personally inspect the entire wall?
  2. Read Nehemiah 2:17-20: How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for many decades? What are some troubling realities you have become accustomed to over the years?
  3. Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” and the words, “they began the good work.” What good work has God given you to do, and what was your response to it?