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?

Is There An Energy Shortage?

“Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” – Mark 12:29-30

The Message translation says, “love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” How well do you manage your energy? In a time when a hectic schedule is normal, we need to not only manage our time but manage our energy. 

The longer you live, the more you can appreciate the natural strength and vigor God makes available to sustain your life. People with high levels of energy tend to brighten a room and make life seem easier. Their natural enthusiasm and vibrancy radiate and inspires others around them. On the other hand, folks who are weak with little strength can sap vitality from others—especially if they are down or have negative attitudes. 

God gives each of us certain talents and abilities, and therefore, we glorify God when we use those talents and abilities in church, in our career, or in relationships with others. Loving God with all of our energy, with all of our abilities, and with all of our spiritual gifts, is a way of expressing our love to Him. It means holding nothing back when it comes to our energy level in showing our love for God. It means that when we’re using all that energy to do our very best at everything we do, we’re pleasing God.

As he worked harder than anyone, Paul shared “the secret” of his remarkable energy and contentment “in every situation” (Philippians 4:12). In Colossians 1:29, he says “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  Philippians 4:13 explains how: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” 

A quick turn to 1 Timothy 1:12 confirms that Paul indeed has Christ Jesus specifically in mind as the supplier of his strength: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work.” Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:1 makes the same connection between spiritual strength and Jesus as the source: “be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul must have understood this truth because look at how he prayed for his brothers and sisters: “… so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;” Colossians 1:10-11.

Are you striving to please God in your own power, or, like Paul, are you struggling with God’s energy? The life God has planned for you is designed to require constant dependence on Him. You cannot do it alone; and if you try, you will find yourself weary and defeated.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can you do to better spend your time and energy on spiritual matters this week? 

Facing a Mid-Life Crisis?

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” –  Isaiah 46:4.

It happens sooner or later. One day, you turn around and your children are adults. Suddenly, they are no longer discussing skateboarding or arguing over wanting to go to cheerleading practice. It doesn’t seem possible that they could be my kids. I’m not that old. Everything passed by with blinding speed.  I now realize that a huge chunk of my life is behind me. Sigh. Is this a mid-life crisis? 

It was Bob Hope who said, “you know you’ve reached middle age when your weightlifting consists merely of standing up.” 

The realization that more of life lies behind than ahead causes some people to panic. The “midlife crisis” simply represents a crisis of identity, significance, and purpose. God built us for those things so He has a solution.

God reminds us more than once in His Word that growing older is an honor. “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life” (Proverbs 16:31) The more years we live, the more experiences we’re given to learn from, and the more wisdom and perspective we gain to see life in new and beautiful ways.  

Yes, the media and advertisers lead us to believe that youth somehow has more value, the truth is, we are treasured by God at every age. Not only that, but He gives us specific gifts to share with the world in every season of our lives. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul reminds the older women of their great purpose: “Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” The generations depend on our willingness to share what God has given us.

No matter what age we are, we can align our goals with God’s goals for our lives. No matter our age, God has a purpose for our life. Ephesians 2:10 says,  “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” God has a purpose for your life, but in order to fulfill that purpose, you need to grab hold of that for which He grabbed hold of you. Walk with God, and He will lead you where you are supposed to go even in middle age. 

 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is it possible to grow older, but not old? 
  2. Should middle-age change our spiritual lives? 

How Do You Make Good Decisions

“Self-leadership begins with this discouraging realization: you have participated in every bad decision you have made.” – Andy Stanley. 

Have you ever thought about the process of making decisions, specifically what ultimately makes the decision? Is it your knowledge? Intuition? Your experience? Is it important people in your life?  Is it contemporary culture? Is it a church, or a popular spiritual leader?

There’s no doubt about it. Today we’re faced with more decisions than ever before. We live in a multiple-choice culture. Some decisions have life-or-death consequences, while others, like choosing a toothpaste, are not really all that important. There are people who are good at making decisions. But even those people make bad decisions here and there. How can we as Christians make fewer bad decisions and more good decisions?

The Bible gives perfect principles we need to know in order to make the best decisions–those that are pleasing to God. We need to ask ourselves two questions.

The first question is this: Will this decision draw me closer to God or further away from Him? As you think and pray through a major decision, evaluate how it will impact your relationship with God. Will this decision draw you closer to Him? Is there a different decision that will draw you even closer? Or will this decision move you away from God? You probably will not make the decision that draws you closer to Him every time. I won’t tell you that you always have to pick the choice that draws you the nearest to Him. When you make a bad decision remember that God is still sovereign. 

The second question is this: Will this choice make me more dependent on God or less?  We all desire to be self-sufficient. This is especially true for business leaders and business owners.  This quality is what makes them successful in business. That concept is inverted when it comes to spiritual matters: last is first and first is last. What works for us in the business world can work against us in our Christian journey. Our independence is exactly what God does not want from us in our relationship with Him. As we are making decisions in life, we need to be mindful of whether we are seeking independence from God or dependence on Him. Decision-making is a huge part of dependent living. God the Father wants you to use your mind and heart to evaluate the options and then remove the decisions that are not lined up with His way of doing life. Once you have done that, ask Him to show you which good option to choose. 

Trusting God in making decisions always leads to the best outcome. “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God!” (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What seemingly insignificant decision in your life has ended up being like a small hinge that swung open a giant door?
  2. Think of one particular decision you need to make. Spend some time looking through God’s Word and see what He has to say about it.

It’s All About Focus

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” – Psalm 16:8-11 (NIV). 

The start of this passage sets up our daily challenge: “I keep my eyes always on the Lord.”  Peter quotes King David’s words in Psalm 16:8–11 in Acts 2:25–28 (NIV). “David said about him:“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;  my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life;  you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ 

It is all about focus. Focus is an interesting thing. A powerful thing. It is a primary factor in making change possible. I think that’s also why the Bible spends so much time teaching us to keep our eyes on Christ. Because our focus determines our direction.

If you read through the book of Exodus, you will see numerous times the Lord reassures Moses that He will deliver the children of Israel from bondage.  Exodus 6: 1 says, “Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!” Verse 4 adds: “And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners.” And finally, verse 8 says, “I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

They had been in bondage for many, many years and they had lost all hope of ever being free. They were too focused on their situation; and not on what the Lord said He was going to do. All too often we mirror the children of Israel and forget that God really does have a plan and He is in control. There is no reason to lose our focus because we can trust Him, His way, and His timing.  

This quote about gratitude by Ann Voskamp in the book “Faithful” sums it up: 

“Sing, heart, sing your thanks,

Grow your gratitude muscle,

Grow in thanks to God.

Grow strong in God

and trust there is no calamity,

agony, enemy, or catastrophe

that can change this certainty:

Mercy meets you

and grace names you

and hope holds you

and courage carries you

and the King of Kings claims you

so no past can ever shame you,

no scar can maim you,

no choice could ever stain you,

more than His love faithfully sustains you.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are you focused on today? This week? How should your focus change? 
  2. It’s not uncommon to doubt God when life gets hard. What does this imply about what we believe about God?

When You Are Overwhelmed

“When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” – Psalms 61: 2 (KJV).  

We often long for a more simplified life, free of mess or clutter, and struggles. Yet most days we strive just to keep our heads above the demands of work, family responsibilities, and all that calls our name. It’s hard sometimes, feeling like we can never get it all done. Our minds are in a constant mode of “go” from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning. Sometimes we are simply overwhelmed.  

We feel overwhelmed for all sorts of reasons, and the typical response is to run away. We want to run from seemingly big and intractable problems. We want to run to Starbucks for a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino. 

Yes, we will have trouble. God longs to be right there in the center of it all. In the mess. In the full days. In the craziness and times when we feel overwhelmed. Because the truth is, the reality that we can ever get everything done we feel like we need to do, is not even a reality for most of us. And that’s not where true success is found anyway. It’s found in God.  

God wants us to run when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But instead of running away from what overwhelms us, He wants us to run to Him. To run to His Word which settles us and shelters us. Because whatever is causing you to be overwhelmed is still diminutive to God.  

When I run to God’s Word, I find that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) When I run to Him, I am reminded that my strength doesn’t come from me and my stamina or drive. My strength comes from the Lord.

What we need to do is adjust our focus, placing it solely on God and trusting that He has everything under control. Only when we make God the center of our focus will we begin to experience the truth of Isaiah 26:3, which says: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Shifting our attention will enable us to experience His peace, joy, and mercy even in the midst of the chaos surrounding us.

He’s always the best option and is delighted when you seek His face. So, no matter how many people, piles and projects need your attention, you can rest knowing peace can be found by simply keeping your mind stayed on God.

  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are we focused on today? This week? How should your focus change? 
  2. It’s not uncommon to doubt God when life gets hard. What does this imply about what we believe about God?

The Absolute Truth – Part 2

    “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 8:32

In Part 1, we talked about a claim that Jesus made that was and is considered to be somewhat outrageous.  The second claim Jesus made about Himself is, “I am the truth.” Many people believe that there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Yet Jesus is saying, He is the truth. In other words, Jesus is saying that truth is not found in knowledge, religion, or philosophy, but in Him. So, when it comes to God, is there such a thing as absolute truth? If Jesus is telling the truth and is truth personified, then the answer is, “Yes.” He is both the way to God, and He is the ultimate truth.

After Jesus had been arrested, He found Himself standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. He had been accused of blasphemy, of stirring up the people to revolution, and it was rumored He called Himself a King. In speaking to Him, Pilate found no evidence of any crime worthy of death, but was fascinated by His talk of a Kingdom that was “not of this world” (John 18:36).  Pushing back on the idea of whether this lowly carpenter from Galilee truly considered Himself to be some kind of King, Jesus replies, “…“You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” Pilate’s response comes in the form of a question, the same question that humanity has been asking for centuries, the same response to Jesus that keeps so many from faith: “Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?'”

Jesus can testify to the truth and teach the truth because He Himself is that truth.  In Him, there is nothing false, nothing misleading, and nothing fake or uncertain.  Each of us is capable of knowing the truth, but none of us can claim to actually be truth.  There are too many things we don’t know, and too many things we get wrong throughout our lives. Yet Jesus claims to be truth, and in doing so claims to be one with God.

The third claim that Jesus made is that He is life. Jesus uses the shepherd analogy of John 10 where He is not only painting a picture of how he defends and leads his sheep but also foreshadowing His death on the cross. Jesus is teaching us that what we are to really be concerned with is not this life, but eternal life.  The Scriptures speak often of the life to come after our life on this earth, and as we follow the voice of our shepherd, we can live this life in such a way that we are not chasing things that don’t last but chasing the things that do last and have eternal significance. This type of life has an eternal impact not only on us but on untold others around us.

When Jesus refers to Himself as the way, the truth, and the life, He is giving us a better way to live our lives through Him. He is showing us that through following Him daily in faith, He will lead us to a better, richer, more meaningful life than we could ever find on our own.

Discussion Question:

  1. Jesus didn’t say that He would teach them the truth; Jesus said that He is the truth.  Jesus didn’t say that He would offer them the secrets of life; Jesus said that He is the life. What does that mean for our lives today?

The Absolute Truth – Part 1

“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 8:32

Jesus’ statement in John 8 is pretty shocking. It was shocking in biblical times and it is shocking to people in our inclusive, politically correct culture of today. It raises questions like, “Is this true” and “why do Christians feel like they have the only way to God?”

The first claim that Jesus made in this verse is that He is the way. He is the way to what? He is addressing our very human instinct to know where we are going before we start a journey.  The disciples wanted to know the next step, the next turn, the ultimate destination of where this journey in faith would lead them.  When we have a long trip ahead of us, we want to turn on our GPS and get an idea of how long it will take and the roads we will travel on to get there.  We determine the best, fastest routes and then start our journey.

However, Jesus makes it clear that they (disciples), or we won’t know the defined way we are supposed to travel in life.  We are instead tasked with simply knowing and trusting in Jesus daily, and walking in faith that He is the way.  When we abide in Him, we will not know a defined course, but we can rest in the comfort of faith – that He will lead us exactly where we need to go as we walk in Him.

Take a look at the context of Scripture in examining Jesus’ claims. Right before He made this claim, Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

It’s pretty clear that Jesus is talking about Heaven. When Jesus says, “I am the way,” He means that He is the way to Heaven.  Jesus tells us it is about trusting Him enough to follow Him to Heaven.

We need to remember who said those words. Jesus is the one who made this exclusive claim. And I don’t know about you, but anyone who predicts His own death and comes back to life is worth believing.  Yet, as exclusive as this one and only one way to the Father statement was, Jesus is the most inclusive man who ever lived. He came to give His life for all so that all might know the Father. Yes, there is only one way, but everyone is invited to know the way. It’s a matter of choice.

 

Discussion Question:

  1. Jesus didn’t say that He would show them the way; Jesus said that He is the way. What does that mean for us today? 

How Resilient Are We?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9

With so many people experiencing the twists, turns, and transitions life’s journey presents them, we need a spirit of resilience. Resilience is best displayed when a person is following God’s plan, purpose and path even though opposition seeks to set up roadblocks along the way. Despite the shifts, schemes, and distractions that one has to deal with on a daily basis, resilience serves as the foundational trust in God’s promises.  

Do we exercise resilience? Are we resilient in our calling? Or resilient in our God-given roles? Are we resilient when we are weary? Are we resilient even when giving up appears to be the most comfortable option? Are we resilient when no one acknowledges us?

Like any skill, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience can be learned. It starts by redefining setbacks as something greater. Tune out the critics and focus on doing your best. Learn from failure, and remember the many times you’ve succeeded. Refuse to dwell on the past or worry about the future; today is where you have the most influence. When things look hopeless, remember “with God all things are possible.” Pray for guidance when you’re in over your head. and remember you “can do all things through Christ” when you think you can’t. To do these things, we need to get better acquainted with our resident helper and guide, the Holy Spirit. 

Is this a little mysterious?  Yes, But the Holy Spirit is the One who gives us resilience. He is the one who compels us and empowers us to keep trusting, hoping and moving, forward. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to rise up every time our circumstances get us down.

Here is how the apostle Paul explains it: “But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:10-11) The Holy Spirit gives us the power to rise up every time our circumstances get us down.

Just like the inflatable clown punching bags many of us had when we were kids, life sometimes knocks us horizontal. But because the Holy Spirit is within us, we have the means to get back upright again and again, no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How would you define resiliency in your life?  How have you bounced back from a failure, loss, or disappointment? How did God help?

The Resourcefulness Of David

The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid before, and wait there by the stone pile.I will come out and shoot three arrows to the side of the stone pile as though I were shooting at a target. Then I will send a boy to bring the arrows back. If you hear me tell him, ‘They’re on this side,’ then you will know, as surely as the Lord lives, that all is well, and there is no trouble. But if I tell him, ‘Go farther—the arrows are still ahead of you,’ then it will mean that you must leave immediately, for the Lord is sending you away.” – 1 Samuel 20: 19-22. 

Life is full of unexpected problems, obstacles, and setbacks. Things don’t always go as planned. To successfully overcome many of these difficulties, you must have resourcefulness. Resourcefulness is the ability to deal promptly and effectively with difficulties. In an emergency, it’s keeping calm, quickly assessing the situation, and taking the right action. It often involves devising a creative, ingenious, or unique solution. David is a good example of resourcefulness.

One example is his battle with Goliath. King Saul and the Israelites were fearful, not knowing how to successfully respond to Goliath’s challenge. David quickly came to the conclusion that he could not face Goliath burdened down by Saul’s heavy armor. He was not used to wearing the armor, so the traditional method of fighting in armor was not an option. A new approach was needed. David decided to use his own tried and tested weapon — a sling. He boldly and courageously confronted the giant and slew him with one well-placed stone that sunk deep into his forehead.

Another example of David’s resourcefulness is fleeing from King Saul, who viewed him as a rival to the throne and tried to kill him on numerous occasions.  It required imagination, daring, and resourcefulness for David to remain hidden from an army combing the countryside in search of him. Each time Saul was about to capture him, David used his wits to escape the life-threatening crisis.

Then there was David and his friend Jonathan devising a clever and ingenious method to communicate a message when direct communication was dangerous. (see I Samuel 20:1-42. 

Another example of resourcefulness is Paul. In Philippians 4:12, he says this, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” He’s saying he is resourceful. And people who are resourceful, who don’t have to have everything just right are the people who get ahead in life. They’re the people who change the world.  

But no matter how intelligent, alert, or resourceful a person may be, he or she still needs God’s help to be truly successful. The real-life heroes of the Bible were not only resourceful, but they also relied on God to help them surmount the sometimes humanly insurmountable obstacles they faced.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How would you rate your resourcefulness? What about your children?  
  2. How can we model resourcefulness for our children?