What Does It Mean That God Is In Control?

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10.  

If you’re a Christian, I’m sure you have said at one time or another that “God is in control.” Even when the world seems out of control. God is still in control. But what does that mean exactly? If you lose your job, is God in control of that? How about if you need a parking space, or lost an earring? What about which parts of your yards get weeds. What about the number of stars in the sky? How we answer these questions determines what you really believe when you say that God is in control.

Scriptures addresses this issue: Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command….”  Another passage of scripture that addresses this issue is found in Colossians 1:15-17. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”  

The passage in Hebrews and Colossians tells us that at each moment, Jesus holds all things in the universe together. The reason the physical universe continues to exist at each moment in time is that He wills it to be so, and actively determines that it should be so. And that includes the small things: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33 ESV) 

The difficult thing is not that God is in control but that we are not. We worry that our future depends upon how closely we can manage every detail. In our fear and worry we often see what we didn’t get rather than what we do get from God. We fail to fully understand we have a loving Father who designed His perfect plan for us.  He loves us and has prepared good things for us. 

Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the days is its own troubles.” Consider that God is in control today. Trust God for today. He will take care of tomorrow. God will give you strength for every challenge that comes your way, wisdom for every decision you make, and peace that surpasses all understanding.

Have faith in God today. Live for Him today. It is a daily choice. God’s solution for worry is to put Him in control of your life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God is in control mean to you?
  2. What would we do differently this week if we knew God is in control?  

How Do We Measure Faith?

“Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Just from the title, I suspect that some of you are already trying to construct the criteria in your mind for determining both the quantity and quality of faith in your life. You probably rounded up the usual suspects such as: church or small group attendance, tithe/offerings given, or the various missions and ministries you are engaged in. But is it that simple?  

Simply put, to grow in faith means to grow spiritually. The goal is to grow in both knowledge of God and in godly living; ultimately, it is to become more Christlike. One way of measuring if we are growing in faith is how well are you loving others? How can you know? Ask yourself, “Is my love increasing?”  These two go together, don’t they?  It’s hard to say your faith is growing if your love is not increasing. In other words, spiritual maturity or “going deeper” is evidenced by loving God and by our love for others.

Galatians 5:6 says, “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” What Paul is wrestling with here is the false teaching that getting circumcised will help man merit or earn salvation. He says in Galatians 5: 2, “Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” In other words, if you look to your own merit, or to the merit of the things you can do, then Christ in dying for your sins and obtaining your salvation will be of no use. When you depend on your works, you reject the work of Christ. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love does.

What makes verse 6 so remarkable is that the faith that connects us with Jesus is “faith that works through love.” In other words, it is a kind of faith that proves its reality by producing love. Love doesn’t merit our salvation. Love proves the reality of the faith that results from our salvation. When my faith is in Christ, I can love; I can forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, serve the unworthy. More than that, when Christ rules my heart in faith, I no longer need to be told to love, but love naturally flows from within me; I can take the initiative to do the impossible, to serve others joyfully, willingly, and unconditionally.

Paul is telling us that faith expresses itself through love; love for God, and love for others. A faith that does not express itself in love is dead and worthless (James 2:14-26).

Discussion questions:

  1. How do faith and love work together in your life? 
  2. What can we do this week to be more loving to those around us?

There Is Always Risk

“David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!” –  1 Samuel 17:45-46

How do you react when you hear the words “risk-taking”?  Do you feel the rush of adrenaline or do you feel some butterflies start to take flight in your stomach? We are used to movie superheroes taking risks and coming out on top. But risk-taking is not nearly as glamorous or exciting as the big screen portrays. In reality, we find a sense of security in our comfort zones. We are content in those comfort zones.  But what if God wants to stretch us and that requires some risk? How will we respond? 

There are a lot of people that are simply risk averse. They prefer to play it safe. David was certainly not one of them. The Israelites were at war with the Philistines. Day after day, the Israelites heard the taunting of a giant named Goliath. He mocked the armies of Israel, and therefore mocked the God of Israel. Saul and the Israelites were terrified, not seeing a solution. Given this situation, what kind of boy approaches a giant with only a few river pebbles? Seems pretty risky to me. 

In fact, the Bible is full of risk. Noah building a boat on dry land. Abraham going without knowing where he was going. Moses going to Egypt and telling Pharaoh, This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so they can worship with me. Faith requires risk. Without risk, there’s no faith. But what if? What if I give sacrificially and I don’t have enough money for my needs? What if I embark on this venture on faith and it doesn’t succeed? What if I choose a different path and it leads to disaster? What if I misinterpret what God is telling me to do?  What if I utterly fail? Any of those things could happen. That is where faith and trust in God come in. 

Has God prompted you to take a risk? There is no guarantee it will be comfortable. There is no guarantee the journey won’t be littered with difficulty. There is no guarantee it will turn out the way you expect it to turn out. But will it be worth it: yes it will. Will it bring you blessing even amidst challenging circumstances: yes it will. Will God be glorified and exalted through it: yes He will. 

Risk-taking is not easy but it is a part of our faith journey. As we follow God’s lead we have risk, yet we find comfort in knowing that He first took a risk on us. How will you know what God is going to do in your life unless you take risks? Why not get up there with David and sling a couple of stones at a giant? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. If I’m truly going to walk by faith, it’s going to involve some risk. Agree or disagree?
  2. How does your faith affect the choices you make and the things you do? What have been the results of your greatest steps of faith? How have they caused your faith to grow?
  3. What commitment are you willing to make to put your faith into action? 

Faith In Action

“Faith in action is love, and love in action is service. By transforming that faith into living acts of love, we put ourselves in contact with God Himself, with Jesus our Lord.” – Mother Teresa

Walking by faith and not by sight is a scary proposition sometimes, especially when my exceptions for the end result are different than God’s. Walking by faith means that we bring ourselves into alignment with God, not the other way around. We need faith as we run our race in our pursuit of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

We must hold strong to our faith because it is the very thing that leads us towards the things we hope for. It’s the thing that keeps us moving forward, even if that movement seems in the wrong direction. Why? Because, “just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:26). A better word for “dead” in the verse above might be “dormant,” “unproductive,” or “inoperative.” Actions are needed to bring faith to life because faith is designed to always spur us on to obedience in Christ and to be more like Him.  

Scriptures tell us that it’s impossible for us to please God without faith. Faith does not only mean belief: faith means action. Faith means we do whatever we can to love. To share. To be generous. And to point people to Jesus. We are a people who take action. A people who believe that our tiny little action of giving a sandwich to the hungry, a dollar to a homeless person, or a coat to the freezing is a byproduct of our faith in Christ.  

Remember the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof in Luke 5.  The man’s friends could have taken the posture that our friend will somehow find his way to Jesus. But their action said I will get my friend to Jesus. If the man’s friends weren’t living out their faith, this unfortunate man would have still been laying on his mat unable to walk. Our actions in faith may seem small. But our God is big. And He asks each of us to act on what we believe, trusting that He will do more than we could imagine. 

We will all have those moments in our lives when we are asked to step out in faith. And we all have concerns about that first step because getting out of our comfort zone can produce stress and worry.  Our initial inclination is to question whether we are ready to put ourselves out there. On the other hand, you are excited about what God wants to do through you and and you can’t wait to see what that is, but…you don’t have it all worked, figured or factored out. That is where faith comes in. God responds to our action, not our concerns. So step out even if you have that unsettling combination of wanting to step out in faith but not feeling completely prepared. God didn’t ask you to get ready to go; He just asked you to go. You can get ready along the way. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

Grateful For God’s Mercy

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever….” – Psalm 136 (KJV). 

How good is your memory? It probably depends on your definition of “good memory.” Some people have photographic memories and can remember details from 10 years ago. Others may not remember any details from a week ago. Some people only remember the good in their lives while others tend to remember the bad. Memory is very important. It is what connects what has been to what is and gives us a perception of our world as it actually is today.

Psalm 106 talks about the importance of God’s memory and our memory. Psalm 106:1 (KJV) says, “Praise ye the LORD, O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” We are to remember and be grateful for the mercy God has shown us. We are to thank God for His mercy. Psalm 106 is the memory enhancer for Israel. There are two kinds of memory at play in Psalm 106: one is our lack of memory and the other is God’s never-ending memory. The psalm says in verse 7, “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies.” So, Israel did not understand because they did not remember. They had not taken note of what God had done, so they worried about what would happen in the future. Verse 13 says, “They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel.” Why did they not wait for God? Why were they impatient? They had forgotten that God had always taken care of them before. Verse 21 says, “They forgot God their saviour.”  Fortunately, God did not forget them.

We all deserve God’s wrath. Our actions should torment us, condemn us, shame us. But they don’t. They won’t. Jesus gives us what we do not deserve in this moment like He has done time and time again in the past and like He will again in the future. Instead of receiving what we deserve, He extends His nail-scarred hands and says, “Come to me.”

So, memory matters. When circumstances are tough, when things are not going the way you wanted them to go, remember the forgiveness of Jesus – paid for, complete, and available. And remember the times you experienced God’s undeserved mercy and grace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you say you are grateful for God’s mercy on a regular basis?   
  2. What can you do this week to show more gratitude to God? 

Trust In Times Of Uncertainty

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.  

Maybe you’ve never read A Tale of Two Cities, but you are probably familiar with the popular idiom from the book: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of time.”  This is one way Dickens used to create a parallel between his readers and history.  This line has become so iconic because each generation thinks their struggles are uniquely difficult. 2020 is a perfect example. Many people feel as if we are living in unprecedented times. Yet the world has seen pandemics and hurricanes, and political upheaval before. It’s one thing to read about these events in history books, but when you’re living through them, they are overwhelming and can naturally lead to an erosion of trust in God.

It is much more difficult to trust God in confusing, uncertain times. However, it is even more important to trust Him in times like these. God is our anchor and firm foundation when the pandemics of life are raging all around us. He is trustworthy even if nothing or no one else is. But we have to be careful that our trust doesn’t come with conditions. Too often our version of trusting God comes with expectations. Scriptures tell us to trust God in every circumstance. But that is not so easy when the circumstances are negative. Without intending to, we tend to expect the good not the bad. Real trust is the belief that God has our deepest well-being in mind even when the news from the doctor is bad, or you didn’t get that job you so needed. If we truly trust God, then we will have the confidence that God does all things well, even if the worst we fear happens. 

There is a disconnect between what we want God to do and what we need Him to do. We can have the expectation that God should cooperate with the script we’ve written rather than live a trust-based relationship on His terms and His plan for our lives. The omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) God who loves us as no one else can is the same loving God who so often frustrates our expectations. On His watch, we may not get the job we wanted, or get into the university of our choice, or the medical report we hoped for.  

Can we trust that God is telling a larger and bigger story that is wiser and better and longer-lasting than the smaller story we have in mind with our limited, time-bound perspective? Is it not possible that an infinitely wise, graciously loving, and supremely powerful God could somehow be working a greater good than we can imagine through all the disappointments and difficulties that come our way?  

If we’re to follow Jesus on the narrow road, we must discover a kind of trust that sustains us in our trials, frees us to love others when others fail us, and anchors us in seemingly irrational hope and inexplicable joy, even when it seems like the worst of times. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does your trust in God change in good and bad times? 
  2. What can we do this week to trust God no matter what is happening around us?  

Mercy Produces Happiness

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3-10.

What tips the scales from a situation being motivating and inspiring to being discouraging and deflating? In some ways, it comes down to your role: did you make it worse or did you serve as God’s agent of mercy? Making things worse makes things worse while showing mercy typically brings happiness. Being kind to other people actually blesses you and makes you happier in life. And mercy certainly produces greater joy in those to whom you’ve shown it. The Bible teaches over and over that the more merciful we are, the happier we’re going to be.“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” –Matthew 5:7

The problem with mercy is that the only time you need to give it is when someone has done some sort of wrong to you. And when that happens, retribution, not mercy comes to mind.  You think getting even and seeing justice served would make you happy. Jesus is saying it won’t make you happy. Hurting someone like you were hurt won’t make your hurt go away. It just makes us bitter. And a bitter, happy person is a contradiction in terms. 

Jesus is saying people are going to hurt you intentionally and unintentionally and He asks you to choose mercy. He asks us to show them mercy even when they don’t deserve it. Jesus asks us to show mercy even when it is hard because that’s the pathway to happiness. The happiness you are looking for isn’t found on the other side of revenge. It’s found in being merciful. Too often our lack of mercy, lack of forgiveness is keeping us from happiness.

Jesus makes you a promise that if you will show mercy to others, mercy will be shown to you. And who amongst us does not need lots of mercy. And as C.S. Lewis said, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”

Make mercy your “default” position. Try to understand others first through the eyes of mercy. Instead of judging people for their faults and failings, recognize them as people in need of mercy. You will be the happier for it. 

Discussion questions:

  1. How can showing mercy to others bring happiness into your life?
  2. What can we do this week to be merciful to those around us? 

The Power Of Compassion

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”” –  Mark 8:2-3 (ESV). 

This passage in Mark gives us some interesting points. First, notice that the crowds were so drawn to Jesus that they were willing to spend three days with Him, listening to Him and running out of food in the process  They chose Jesus and His teaching in this desolate place over food and the comfort of their own homes. They simply wanted to be with Jesus. Secondly, this passage reveals Jesus’ deep concern and compassion for people.  

The word “compassion” means to suffer with. It is to feel the suffering of others which moves you to help relieve the suffering. Compassion is the drive to relieve the hurts of others. 

Compassion is the very heart of God. God is compassionate because He is love. It is His character to love even if love is not returned to Him. He will give us good things because of His goodness. Jesus didn’t just feel compassion. Compassion moved him to action. He healed. He taught. He comforted. So should we.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 

How effective are we at showing compassion or mercy to others? If you are like most people you do a pretty good job displaying compassion with relatives and close friends. But what about people that you are not as close with? Spend time with families or single moms to better understand the struggles parents can face. Lead a Bible study of college students, sharing your wisdom, and hearing what it’s like to be a student today. Get involved and make friends with the elderly and the underserved. By getting involved in other’s lives, you’re being intentional like Jesus—not offering compassion from a distance, but moving into others’ lives, developing relationships, and serving them.

Having compassion for others is important. Compassion for others helps create an environment for God to develop a more tender heart in you. This week, think of circumstances that are just right for compassion to develop and to flourish.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does compassion mean to you?
  2. What role can compassion play in our daily walk with God?

God Is Rich In Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-7.

This certainly is a time of uncertainty. The pandemic has created a cloud over most everything. So how do we better deal with uncertainty? As Christians, our relationship with others with God and with uncertain times is almost exclusively impacted by our knowledge of God. In other words, the more we understand and apply the God of Scriptures to our life, the more we are prepared to deal with negative times and circumstances in our lives.  

We start by knowing God. All of God’s attributes are incredible and glorious; His goodness, His compassion, His long-suffering and His love to name a few. But it is hard to overlook the trait and characteristic of God of mercy. In fact, it can’t be overstated.  

Mercy fuels compassion, providing promising glints of light in a darkened world. It’s kindness, forgiveness, and empathy. Mercy chooses not to be offended, and compassionately sees a hurting heart behind hurtful words. God’s mercy is reflected in the cross of Christ, a direct reflection of His love for us. “The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy.” (James 3:17)

Mercy is a display of God’s abundant nature. Mercy triumphed over judgment when Christ died for sinners, to rescue us from the condemnation we surely deserved. That same mercy triumphs still as our Holy Father looks at us and sees the faultless and unblemished image of His perfect Son. It was and still is the most extraordinary display of mercy in history. We are sinful people and we absolutely do not deserve the goodness and love our Father shows us, but each and every time we stray He relentlessly calls us back to Him and shows us incomprehensible grace and mercy.  

Furthermore, God’s mercy for the believer isn’t just a single one-off act. Psalm 23 gives us the assurance that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Whatever situation you’re in today, you can rest in God’s mercy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How effective are you at being a conduit for passing on the mercy God has shown you to other people?  
  2. If you were to incorporate mercy into your own life, how would the next week be different?   

When Things Just Don’t Make Sense

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?…We no longer see your miraculous signs. All the prophets are gone, and no one can tell us when it will end. How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you? Will you let them dishonor your name forever? Why do you hold back your strong right hand? Unleash your powerful fist and destroy them.– Psalm 44:23-24,

“Seriously, God?” I’m sure more than a few people stood watching their TV and wondered what is going on. Troubles seem to be all around us. We have a pandemic. And now we have a devastating hurricane in Louisiana and Texas. Every person who lives long enough will eventually encounter circumstances that are difficult to explain theologically. But sometimes things simply don’t make sense. It is at these times we need to look at God differently.  

Jonah is a prime example of someone who didn’t believe what God was asking him to do made sense. God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh.  Known for its eagerness to expand its boundaries and to cruelly subjugate conquered citizens, Assyria (Nineveh was the capital) loomed as a constant threat to Israel’s continued good fortune. One could assume that Israel’s God, who loved His people and was all-powerful, would take whatever steps were necessary to keep Israel secure. One step was obvious: destroy Nineveh. That made sense. But God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. 

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh; give them a chance to repent. God did not want to destroy them. Jonah viewed them as an enemy so it didn’t make any sense so he went in the opposite direction. We all know the story. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish and went to Nineveh anyway. The story of Jonah reminds us that everything God does or doesn’t do is an expression of His unfailing love. His love makes Him willing to do whatever is necessary to restore people into a relationship with Him. 

It is the same today during pandemics and hurricanes. Until we see Jesus face-to-face, we will never fully see God as He truly is.  When we see God as He is, we will no longer resist His ways when they make no sense. We will no longer run away from Him into a “better” life than God provides. We may tremble, but we will trust. His thoughts and His ways will then be a source of never-ending delight.

Resisting and running will remain a temptation, a “reasonable” option when God’s ways make no sense. But we can trust in His love, grace. mercy and faithfulness: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you do when life just doesn’t seem to make sense?   
  2. What can you do this week to trust God when things don’t make sense?