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?

Nehemiah And The Wall

“But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.” – Nehemiah 2:17-18 

The city of Berlin will be forever famous for its infamous Wall. It was a wall that separated East from West Germany. The Berlin Wall has gained fame as a wall that divides, but the city of Jerusalem is also famous for its walls. In Nehemiah’s time, it was a wall that united the people together.

Nehemiah had a burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem. He had a vision of what could be, but he didn’t immediately pack up and race off to Jerusalem and try to get things fixed. He didn’t start developing a strategy or plan. He didn’t communicate with the populace in an attempt to get them on board. Instead, he went to the Lord and prayed. Nehemiah understood that he needed God to be successful.

“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4) He begins his prayer after days of fasting and mourning. He mourned how his people had turned their backs on God. He mourned how nothing was right. He mourned the lack of dignity God’s people had. He mourned his sins. All the while he was talking to God. He was pouring out his heart and soul to God. Nehemiah’s relationship with God teaches us we ought to walk and talk with God not just in the little things, but the big things too. God wants us to bring our worries, anxiety, dreams and hopes to Him. That is when God will direct us. That is when God will set us on our purpose. Prayer helps us to find strength for today and hope for our future.

Nehemiah needed to get the consent of the king to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall.  You can imagine him, standing there, rehearsing what he was going to say to the king. As a servant of the king, he was not supposed to serve the king and he was about to present a request to the king on behalf of God’s people. You can see him standing there silently praying to God for the right words, for strength or wisdom. It makes me see the importance of giving my anxieties over to God in the midst of adversity.  Saying, “God you got this, help me, Father”.  What an amazing gift we have that our Almighty God hears us when we talk to him.  He comforts us and strengthens us in times of need.

As we read on down through Nehemiah 2, we see that king Artaxerxes was pleased to send Nehemiah to Judah. He sent him along with the letters to grant him safe passage and letters to the managers in charge of the royal forest. These letters telling him to provide the materials needed to rebuild the walls. The goal of the wall was to make the city of Jerusalem defensible.

God uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places to change the culture, revive hearts, and build His Kingdom. God has placed you where you are for a purpose.  God wants us to remember: “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God were to answer all of our prayers from just last week, how would our lives and the lives of those around us look different? Would it make any difference?
  2. What steps can we take to become people who are marked by big, bold, and faith-filled prayers?

Is The Church Still Relevant?

“Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” –  Dwight L. Moody

How do you feel about church? Some people think it is full of hypocrites? Others, view it as a self-righteous, religious club.  There is some truth to both those accusations. After all, churches are made up of people, and people are not perfect. Imperfect people make for imperfect churches. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. It’s a place where people go to improve their spiritual health. It’s a place where people go for encouragement, and to get their spiritual batteries recharged. For newer Christians, it is a place where they learn what it means to follow Christ and how to have a relationship with God.  

There was a time in America when the church was the focal point of a community’s culture and calendar. Families would make it a priority to attend church services and functions almost every time the church’s “doors were open.” Sundays featured several hours of church programming. The day started with age-segregated Sunday school classes, followed by the church’s morning worship service. Sunday evening culminated in an evening service. Most churches also hosted mid-week services, like prayer meetings in the church auditorium where everybody got together to pray. 

Times have certainly changed, due to a variety of reasons. But what has not changed is the critical importance of going to church. Why? The most important reason for God’s people to attend church is that the church is God’s idea, “… upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18). 

The church is how God is accomplishing His work on earth today. The Bible is clear, from the narrative in Acts through the Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John, that God’s work in the world today is being completed through His church. One only has to review the words God uses to describe His church to get a glimpse of how important it is to Him: the bride of Christ, the body of Christ. 

In addition, God’s Word instructs us to be involved in the church. It’s clear from passages like Hebrews 10:25 that God wants His people to be actively involved in the church. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another,…” Reading the Bible makes it pretty obvious that church involvement is important. 

God’s Word teaches the importance of active participation in a local church. Believers must make church attendance a priority in their personal and family schedules and put going to church ahead of other seemingly beneficial activities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Someone once said, “Church is something we are.” What does that mean to you? 
  2. How might your life look different if you lived as though church wasn’t a destination or an event, but something you are? 

The Difference Between Involvement And Commitment

  “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” –  Ephesians 5:10.

There is some confusion between involvement and commitment. To be involved typically means staying as long as you are happy.  Commitment is entirely different. Commitment is not a promise, it is the point when the promise is kept. Commitment requires planning, perseverance, and sacrifice.  

What would have happened if Noah had not been fully committed; if he had completed only ninety percent of what God asked him to do?  Imagine if he had left part of the hull unfinished, choosing instead to use the time for other things.  

God wasn’t asking for an imperfect being to create a perfect product out of imperfect material, but He was asking Noah to stay committed and complete His request.  Noah could not afford to be indifferent to God’s will, and neither can we.  Noah had to complete the Ark because it was God’s will.  His salvation, his family’s chance of surviving catastrophe, and the fulfillment of God’s will were all dependent upon his complete and total willingness to trust God.  The same is true for us.  We need to trust God completely.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Real commitment is certainly difficult, yet we are asked to do it every day.  We’re asked to commit to spouses, children, jobs, church, communities, and countless other things.  Many of these types of commitments require balance. Work-life balance means we have to balance the time and effort from one commitment to another.  While this is important, it doesn’t work with our commitment to follow Jesus.  God does not expect us to manage everything perfectly, but He does expect our first commitment to be to Him.  

Much of our spiritual life is a process of letting go of old habits and embracing our new life as a follower of Jesus.  We won’t always get it right and we will make mistakes, but we will keep moving forward if we remain steadfast in our commitment to God.  “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

A life serving Jesus requires total commitment.  Galatians  6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” God doesn’t leave us alone.  He gave us His Holy Spirit to walk and climb right next to us, giving us strength. God will remind us of how He guided us through difficult paths in the past so we can persevere now.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your commitment to Jesus? Why did you pick the number you did?
  2. Who or what has the most influence on your day-to-day decisions? Where does Jesus fall in the order of influential voices in your life?
  3. What step do you need to take this week to make your relationship with Jesus your No. 1 priority?

Discipleship Matters

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16. 

Growing in Christ is the key to growing a church. This is all about being a good and effective witness of who Christ is and what He has called your church to be and do. Following up, teaching, and mentoring new as well as seasoned Christians are the keys to spiritual growth. In a word discipleship. 

While the “church” is called to organically develop and grow other members within the body of Christ,  making disciples doesn’t just happen. It’s an intentional process that takes a relational and spiritual commitment to provide the necessary elements that will both prosper the individual, as well as the body of Christ.

The goal of discipleship is to help people grow to become more like Jesus. Helping Christians live out their faith is the main purpose of discipleship. Successful discipleship should teach believers how to share the faith they are living by testifying to what God has done in their lives and through sharing the gospel. You may be the only Bible anyone ever reads.  

Discipleship is not mentoring. The two may look similar, but in reality, are different. As the disciples followed Jesus from place to place, they saw Him live out His faith and demonstrate the responsibilities and authority of His ministry. Jesus showed them how to do ministry. That is the picture of healthy discipleship.  

Paul puts it like this, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Thus, the missional goal of the church is disciple-making. Something our Savior masterfully demonstrated among the ministry to His disciples and left as an edict for His church to foster until He returns. 

God wants to reveal Himself to those around you by working mightily through you. He wants your family to see Christ in you each day. God wants to express His love through your life. Christ expects His disciples to follow Him — to learn from Him and to stay close to Him. That’s what He wanted from His followers during His earthly ministry and that is what He wants from His disciples today.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What defines us as disciples in your opinion? 
  2. What happens in the life of a disciple when they think of others instead of themselves? How does putting others first build character?

Loving God and Loving Others

Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:36–39.

If you have been a Christian for any time, then you have heard that the entire law in the Bible can be summed up in these two commands: love God and love others. If you want to grow deeper with God, get on mission with Jesus. Do more than just go to Bible studies, read books, or listen to podcasts. Apply what you’re learning about God by loving Him and loving other people. 

The application is important: As we begin loving others, we are also learning just how much God loves us. If we are able to forgive and give grace to people who are hard to love, then just how deep is God’s love for us? It is easier to love others when we realize the endless, astonishing love of Christ. Ephesians 3:18–19 (MSG) says, “ My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”   

The more we begin to love, the more we begin to change from within. All of a sudden, we don’t find it as hard to love others anymore, and we get a better picture of what it means to love God—and how deeply He loves us! When we truly, actively begin loving others, we also learn how to love God better.

A struggle for many people is that they think they can’t love others until their heart motive is “right.” So they spend a lot of time checking their heart, asking God to make them more loving. There are so many creative ways to love others, and you don’t have to wait. Venture out in faith and loving feelings will follow the loving actions.

Let’s make it our prayer today to ask God to help us actively love others – to actively walk across the street to help our neighbors, to actively cook a warm meal for a friend in need, or actively visit a nearby nursing home to love on the elderly. Let us ask Him to lead us to places where He wants us to shine His light and ask Him for the courage and strength to share His love with all who surround us in our daily lives.   

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does it mean to you to reflect God’s love to others? What are some practical ways for you to give others a taste of what the love of God is like?
  2. Is loving others loving as God loves? Is this even practical?  

Love God Completely

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’” – Mark 12:30 

Is it possible to love the Lord from our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength? Yes, we love God to some extent, but do we have the ability to love Him with our whole being? He’s not the only One we love, and sometimes He’s not the One we love the most. Many other things tug at our heart. So how do we obey the Lord’s command to love Him with all our hearts?

The Lord is well aware that we aren’t capable of such love by ourselves. We need to realize that when God makes a demand, He intends to meet that demand for us. So in 1 John 4:19 we can see our love for God originates from God Himself: “ So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first.” (TLB) God is the actual source of our love for Him. He loved us first, and He infused us with His love. Because the love of God in us is the love with which we can love Him in return.

Love isn’t merely a feeling. God is love. God loves us and became a man named Jesus Christ. He demonstrated His love for us to the uttermost by dying on the cross. No wonder when we heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, our hearts responded to His love, and we opened to receive Him as our Savior. From that day on, we began to love the Lord with the love He infused into us.

Loving God completely starts with thinking about Him. The more we think about Him, the more we will fall in love with Him. He is the Creator, our Savior. Think about how incredible it is that the God of the universe cares about each of us.  

Spend time in His presence. No relationship can grow without time spent together. The same is true with our relationship with God. When we determine to set aside a specific time for prayer, our love for Him will start increasing.  

Choose to do everything out of love for Him. From our church ministry to our mundane chores, our motives make all the difference. When we choose to do a task out of love for God, our love for Him grows. It’s just a mental task of consciously giving the activity to God as an offering.  

Such love is beyond our ability to grasp with our minds, but it is not beyond our ability to experience with our hearts. The more we study it, the more we understand it, and the more we realize, we will move steadily beyond our understanding. But it does not mean that we cannot have confidence in the fact that God unconditionally loves us. Know it, cling to it, and remember it; don’t underestimate the love of God for you.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If love is to be the defining mark of believers, how would you assess where you are as a believer? Are we a “display window” for the supernatural love of Christ?