Running In The Rat Race

“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12:1

We live in a time-crunch, rat race world. Everything we do seems to be urgent. Stress levels are rising with each passing day if we are not careful. We live under such intense pressure, running from one appointment to the next, that we often overlook some of the most important things in life. 

Tyler and Brittany are a pretty typical couple. Not unlike many couples on the Emerald Coast. They dated and after a year or so fell in love and made the decision to marry. Like most couples, they wanted the good life so they poured themselves into a career, to raising a family. They didn’t worry about the bills piling up. They moved into a new house within walking distance of the gulf. They had a nice SUV and a cool European import. In many ways, they were living the good life, but their debts and responsibilities just kept mounting up. They became discouraged. There were bills to pay, kids to pick up from daycare, quotas to meet, and not much time to enjoy all of the possessions they had been accumulating. Arguments took the place of peaceful evenings; disunity replaced unity. Tension mounted. The marriage was on thin ice.  It was at this time that Tyler remembered the lyrics from a song: “Like a rat in a maze; The path before me lies, And the pattern never alters; Until the rat dies.” ( Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel) 

 The idea of a rat race is a fairly modern tale of materialism, but materialism existed in Jesus’ day. People were caught up in accumulating possessions and wealth above all else, just like today. Is it God’s will for His people to be trapped in this rat race? We often get trapped in the rat race out of fear. We fear that our children won’t get into the right college, or that we will have enough money for today and for the future. We are afraid we won’t have a dependable car or the latest technology to make life a little easier. Francis Chan said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but at succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter at all.”  But the question we have to ask ourselves is this: at the end of the day will all the things we do to win the rat race matter when we stand before God’s throne? 

 The book of Ecclesiastes talks about this subject. In chapter 3 Solomon says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end…And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, 14) Introduce God into the rat race and the rat race suddenly changes.

No matter how hard we try, we can never beat the “rat race” of life through our own efforts. It is only when we stop running; when we learn to be quiet before God and trust Him, that He can show compassion on us and walk intimately with us. All of us who are in the rat race are chasing the same stuff, and most of it rots, rusts, or corrodes. Chase God. Chase eternity. Chase a relationship with Jesus Christ, with God’s family, and you’re chasing something that just gets greater after the grave.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are we so easily drawn into the rat race?
  2. What can we do this week to ensure we are running the right race and not the rat race? 

Is There An Energy Shortage?

“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  – Colossians 1:29 (ESV)

We are living in an energy crisis. I’m not talking about a shortage of gas but trying to find enough energy to deal with the ever-increasing demands of this life. When we take on too much and hit the wall, it is because our energy levels grew too low. Need proof: a lack of energy has spawned energy drinks which are now a multi-billion-dollar industry.

The Apostle Paul, of course, didn’t have the luxury of going to a local market and buying a Powerade or a Red Bull to replenish his energy supply. He depended on a different energy supply. His energy was supernatural. Paul operated under the power of the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to fuel his every action. Paul was not exempt from exerting tremendous effort. He “toiled” and “struggled.” But Paul was never striving in his strength alone. There was a mixture of human labor and divine energy. John Piper said it this way: “God does not work instead of our working but through our working. God does not energize instead of our having energy; He energizes our energy.” 

Picture a wind-up toy. If you wind it up, it will go for a little while – but then you must wind it up again to keep it going. It cannot continually wind itself up; nor can it run forever on an initial wind up. The toy requires constant intervention to continue. The same is true, in a much deeper way, of us. The energy to “go” comes from a source other than us. We cannot continue without God’s power, which works in us through the Holy Spirit. If we are not continually connecting with our power source, we will eventually become ineffective, tired, and frustrated.

Paul must have understood this truth because look at how he prayed for his brothers and sisters: “We pray that you would walk in the ways of true righteousness, pleasing God in every good thing you do. Then you’ll become fruit-bearing branches, yielding to his life, and maturing in the rich experience of knowing God in his fullness! And we pray that you would be energized with all his explosive power from the realm of his magnificent glory, filling you with great hope.” (Colossians 1:10-11)

And so Paul prays that the body of Christ will be strengthened with all might according to God’s glorious power, reminding us that the strength we received is not of ourselves but from God. However, Scripture also teaches that God provides the energy, positivity, and focus that we need, in more than one way.  There is the vertical way: prayer, the Bible, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and surrender to Him.  These are the means by which God sources us directly.  But the second way is horizontal. God provides for us indirectly through people: their love, support, wisdom, and direction. People can be a “delivery system” for the grace of God.  We should be an “energy source” for each other, keeping ourselves and others energized and growing.

Unity is the fuel for optimizing and utilizing the “fuel” that comes from the church.  So look for practical and useful ways to tap into the energy source of God and the church.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the level of your energy? 
  2. What can we do this week to tap into the power of God and the power of the church?  

Unity In The Church

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10.

We live in a culture where passions run high and people have differing viewpoints. That fact is mirrored in our news on a daily basis. Whether we are discussing politics, racism, cultures, parenting, church practices, or sports teams, there is often division and disunity.

While this is normal in society it should not be normal in the body of Christ. Unity is crucial for the sake of the Gospel. In Romans 15:5, Paul writes, “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.” The church body will have differences, so how is unity possible?

Jesus answered this question in His prayer for all believers shortly before His crucifixion.  In John 17:20-22, He prayed, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “ 

Our unity is not based on shared cultures, personal interests, or personal tastes, but on something much deeper and more profound.  It is not what we have in common that matters, but Who we have in common.  There are a thousand ways to splinter church unity and one way to bring it together again.  We need to be walking the same path and headed in the same direction. Sometimes Jesus will be all that connects us, but that connection is critical and will last for eternity.

A united church is a powerful tool.  Paul says we exist as a church so, “…all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6) If we’re going to be successful doing that, it’s going to take everyone making that our goal. As a church, winning is each of us making every effort to live in harmony as Jesus taught us to live, working for unity in the church, in our families, workplaces, etc.

When the world sees this kind of love and unity it is a powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel. Let us work even harder to both improve our unity by the love we show in the communities we serve. A unified church brings glory to Jesus, and when Jesus is glorified, the world will sit up and take notice.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is living in harmony?
  2. How would you describe the power and impact of unity? When or where have you experienced that?

What About Those Expectations?

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” – 1 Peter:1:3-5. 

Society lives and breathes expectations. There is an expectation on children to act in certain ways, employers to treat staff in a particular manner, relationships to cater to people’s needs, and parents to love their children unconditionally. But expectations can be harmful to you, to others, and to the church.  

There is a story of a married man who went to great lengths to plan a birthday party for his wife. He’d planned everything he knew she’d love so that when she arrived home she’d be wonderfully surprised. But when she arrived home she said, “I’ve had a horrible day. I’m not even hungry. I’m going to go take a bath.” The husband was angry, at least at first. Then he realized she just needed to unwind. She failed to live up to his expectations, but that isn’t her fault. The expectations were his; she had no obligation to fulfill them.

All of us had unrealistic expectations when we got married. In the same vein, we bring unrealistic expectations to church. To expect any church to always do everything right, and to minister perfectly to everyone all the time is not realistic.  The church is filled with imperfect people so a group of imperfect people will never be able to create a perfect community.  We also have expectations of God. It is easy to allow our unmet expectations of God to influence our willingness to surrender our lives to Him. And we can also place unrealistic expectations on those around us—family, friends, significant others, co-workers, the church, and so on.

But the reality is, people let us down and things don’t always work out the way that we have planned. Wherever there are expectations there will also be disappointments and our relationships will suffer because of unmet expectations. Sometimes it’s because we don’t meet expectations that others have placed on us. Regardless of the situation, we are called to do everything within our human capabilities to live at peace with every single person. (Romans 12:18) 

Unmet expectations from those around us can be disheartening. But by letting them go, we leave room for God’s love and grace to be shown through us.  We allow others to grow into the people God has created them to be, rather than who we expect them to be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have others in your life disappointed you?  What way would these relationships be different if you reacted in a loving manner? How would your expectations for, demands of, and disappointments with others change?

Trying To Understand What We Can’t Understand

“When we speak of knowing God, it must be understood with reference to man’s limited powers of comprehension. God, as He really is, is far beyond man’s imagination, let alone understanding. God has revealed only so much of Himself as our minds can conceive and the weakness of our nature can bear.”John Milton. 

If you attended church as a child, you probably had Sunday school-type classes in a room that had maps of Paul’s missionary journeys on the wall and an illustration of Jesus looking meek and mild. There was no dust or dirt on His clothes.  His hair was perfect. He held a lamb on His shoulder with a shepherd’s crook in His hand. But this stylized portrait of Jesus is nothing like the real thing.  

Most Christians paint in their minds a highly selective picture of Christ, one that usually makes Him a placid, stoic, passive presence; little more than a silent and smiling spectator who was perpetually kind.  We like this tame, well-mannered, benign Jesus.  But trying to capture an image of God in our minds simply cannot be done. Job 36:26 tells us that: “Look, God is greater than we can understand….” It is essential to understand that we are not talking about abstract or speculative thought concerning God, but about coming alive to God through Jesus Christ and surrendering ourselves to Him. We must also understand that knowing God is not an optional part of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.

Trying to understand God means we are learning more about Him, which is the most satisfying, uplifting, edifying, expanding, and glorious task we can ever undertake. Psalm 100:3 says, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Nothing is more important than learning all we can about God. The more we learn, the more we’re awestruck with the majesty of His being. But this is not limited to intellectual or theological pursuit. It is deeply personal. Fearing God and growing in the knowledge of Him means we’re coming to know Him more deeply in a personal and intimate way.

The good news is we are made to know God, to know about Him and know Him personally, as a Father, as a Friend, and as our Creator and Savior. Our lives are incomplete without Him. The most important thing in life is not what we do, where we go, who we’re with, how high we rise, how long we live, or how influential we become. The most important thing in life is Him.

God, you are greater than we imagine or illustrate. You are greater that we can fathom. We stand in awe of who You are. You are unsearchable, Your ways inscrutable, the depths of Your riches, wisdom, and knowledge unimaginable. We can’t even begin to comprehend Your greatness, Your glory, Your might, Your majesty, Your justice, Your wrath, Your mercy, Your love. None of those can be captured even with the wildest imagination. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it important to lean on God and not on your own understanding?
  2. What can we do this week to grow in our knowledge of God? 

The Trinity

“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[a] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.””- Matthew 3:16-17. 

The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith. It is crucial for properly understanding what God is like, how He relates to us, and how we should relate to Him. But it also raises many difficult questions. The key thing to remember about the Trinity is that we are always more wrong than right whenever we talk about it. It is so outside of our experience that we don’t really have the means to describe it. Any effort we make to describe it will ultimately fail, to some extent. Because of this, we simply do our best to explain the Trinity by using images and models that we humans can wrap our brains around.

How can God be both one and three? The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: First, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons; second, each Person is fully God,  and third there is only one God. We need to remember that this isn’t just God showing up in a different form at different times. Each person of the Trinity has always existed and has always been fully God.

The Trinity is a difficult concept because God is beyond us. God is knowable, but not fully comprehensible. We can know Him, but we can’t know everything about Him. Through the Bible, God has revealed something about Himself so that we can know Him and He can know us. And at the same time, as we want to know Him, we cannot fully wrap our minds around every aspect of who He is. St. Augustan said, “if you understand Him, He is not, God.” 

The Trinity is not something irrelevant as far as our daily lives are concerned. Indeed, it provides us practical examples of how we are to conduct our lives. The Trinity doctrine is not only essential to the truth of the Christian faith it is also tremendously helpful in a practical sense. For one thing, there is complete unity and harmony among the members of the Trinity. Since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three separate gods, we do not have to be concerned that they may have different purposes. They will never disagree with one another or have differing agendas. Therefore, we can rest assured in the promises of God and in the fact that God’s program is going forward as He has planned. This should give us a whole lot of confidence.

There are so many things to learn about God and His desires for us, that getting caught up on the Holy Trinity and explaining it as something scientific can take us away from the His glory. We need to just remember that He is our God. We need to read the teachings of Jesus. We need to listen to His Spirit talking to our hearts. That is the purpose of the Trinity, and that is the most important thing we need to understand about it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are the persons of the Trinity distinct?
  2. How much do we need to know about the Trinity? 

Unity Creates Belief

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:20–21.

On the last night of His life, Jesus prayed a prayer in John 17 that stands as a model for all Christians.  Jesus, knowing the end is near, prays one final time for His followers. But something interesting stands out in that prayer. He didn’t pray for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that they would love each other. As He prayed for them, He also prayed for “who will ever believe in me through their message.” That means each of us who are Christians. In His last prayer, Jesus prayed that you and I be one.

Unity matters to God. Why? Because “…when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.” (John 13:35 TPT). Jesus’ message was I am leaving and you all need to serve, rely on and support each other.   

Unity isn’t just a nice bonus or a Christian buzzword. Unity is something to fight for. Why? Because there are some important benefits of unity in the church. Unity enriches our lives: Each of us stands to benefit from being part of a unified church. We’re weak on our own, but we’re much stronger together. When we’re unified with other believers, we can learn more, grow more and enjoy the type of community God designed us to be a part of.

In addition, unity fosters belief while disunity fosters disbelief. Who would want to go into battle with a group of soldiers who can’t agree on anything? Or race to put out a fire with a group of bickering firefighters. You wouldn’t. Nor would you be interested in hearing the gospel from a group of people that don’t seem to be united on the subject themselves. When Christians are fighting with each other, it can hurt our witness with unbelievers. When we commit to church unity, we create a beautiful picture for the world of what it looks like to love others as Christ does. Shouldn’t unity be the key to reaching the world for Christ? As Paul said, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

A unified church is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of the gospel. This is especially true in a world as fragmented and divisive as ours. When the world can’t seem to agree on anything or bear to be around people who are different, a church where natural enemies become siblings in Christ is a powerful alternative. When we’re unified, we bring glory to our Father who desires to see His people living in close fellowship with each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the power and impact of unity? When or where have you experienced that?
  2. What can you do to become more of a force for unity?

We Need Each Other

“Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:13.

Think back on some of your favorite memories. In most cases, they were probably the best life moments because of the people involved. Let’s face it, life is better with people who care. Life is not meant to be lived on our own. We need other people to share this life with us. God created us as social beings. We were not meant to live isolated, disconnected lives.   

Christians and Christian families need each other to grow in their Christian faith. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) If it is just Jesus and you, you will never grow into the person God wants you to be. We need each other to grow in our Christian faith.

1 Corinthians 12:24-26 says, “while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.”  Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less visible, are all critically important.

Paul tells us how these relationships should look. “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12). Colossians 3:15 adds, “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.”

Years ago, the Lone Ranger was a fixture on TV.  The Lone Ranger was a resourceful, smart, and courageous person, but in every episode he needed the help of townspeople, a posse, and certainly Tonto to take on the bad guys. God has provided for every possible need we could have on this earth through His Word and His people, and the church. If we are going to take on the bad guys, we will need other believer’s help and they will need our help.  That is because God built us, not only to need Him, but to need each other.

God wants us to be one with Him and with each other because He created us to be with others—we need each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever wonder if you really need to go to church or spend time with other believers? What are the consequences for you trying to live for God on your own? What are the consequences for the body when you make that choice?
  2. You are part of the body of Christ.  What is your role in the body?

Unity Starts With Me

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:2-3

In our current day and age, politics have become especially polarizing and divisive. Social media and constant access to the news cycle have only heightened the existing tension. Differences of opinion quickly turn into heated arguments. The question is how can Christians stay unified in our current cultural climate? 

It’s important to remember that unity starts with you and me—each one of us. By our character and actions, we either strengthen or undermine the unity of Christ’s church. Division within our own hearts can contribute to a lack of unity in the church, even when we don’t realize it. Such division leads to nit-picking, where we elevate the unimportant into the important.  

Unity in the church can only happen if individuals are seeking God above all else. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you’re called to live your life with a Christ-like spirit and character. You are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you’ve received from God: “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” (Ephesians 4:1). 

Each person in the church has a role to play; each one plays a part in determining the extent of unity in the church. We can be a conduit of unity or the cause of a chasm in unity. That does not mean we won’t have disagreements. There’s no such thing as a perfect church, organization, or family for that matter. Problems will arise. Tension will mount. Friction is inevitable. But conflict need not command center stage. Despite our differences, we can move forward with sincerity, humility, and love. We can choose to work and worship in unity for the bond that holds us together in love: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)

If we follow Christ, we have a relationship with God that is bound to be expressed in our relationships with other people. But we often forget that. We can easily create barriers in the name of race, religion, gender, churches, communities, families, friend groups, and more. While these differences can help us think about who we are, our sinful nature distorts them in such a way that we put up walls that divide us. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we are united as His peo­ple once and for all. The spirit of unity can spread from one person to another. Unity will, in time, make its way from a few to more and finally everyone. But it starts with each of us.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does unity mean? Why is it important to have unity in the home/family? In the church?

Patience Is A Virtue

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” – 2 Peter 1:5-7. 

Years ago, it was pretty common to see a bumper sticker that read, “Be Patient! God isn’t done with me yet.” This bumper sticker tells us a great deal about our perceptions and expectations: it demands nothing of the driver and subtly shifts the burden of patience to the person following the driver. Patience is something we all want from others but likely don’t desire for ourselves because, after all, who has time to be patient.  

James 5:7-10 tells us to be patient. It says: “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door! For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

One person defined patience as the second and third hour of monopoly. The fact is patience doesn’t come easy for many of us. The Bible says it is important to be patient. Jesus serves as a shining example of patience.  Jesus was very patient with His disciples. They were sometimes thickheaded, lazy, selfish, and slow to believe. We would find that frustrating but think of God Incarnate interacting daily with them. In spite of Jesus’ miracles and words of wisdom, they were often focused upon themselves and wavered in their belief about who He really was. That had to be frustrating for Jesus, yet He never rails at their foolishness or makes fun of their mistakes. That can best be described as self-control and humility.  

We too must be patient with others. And that’s not always easy. Many of the people we must deal with—and sometimes even live with—can be obstinate, frustrating, selfish, inconsiderate, and absolutely impossible to please. They say and do the wrong things at the wrong time. Sometimes, they are standing on our last nerve. At that point, we need to realize that patience flows from understanding. We are too quick to judge, and we are too prone to treat our others harshly. They too have troubles—bills to pay, sick children, spouses to please, bosses to impress, and heartaches to bear. Because God is patient and long-suffering, we need to give the other person a break.   

 We cannot let impatience run our lives. Impatience is a way to blind us. Yes, sometimes it is hard to be patient, but in those times we need to remember who God is and what He has done for us. An important step we can take to develop patience is to give God control of our life. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define patience? In what ways does God show patience toward you?
  2. What can we do this week to show patience to others?