A Strong Foundation During The Pandemic

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” – Luke 6:46-49. 

As Jesus comes to the end of a sermon He drives home the necessity of obeying what He has taught. He asks pointedly, “why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” This question set the stage for the well-known parable of two men building separate houses. The first lays a foundation on the rock, so that his house stands firm when the flood bursts against it. The second foolishly builds his house without the proper foundation, so that it is destroyed by the flood. 

Just as hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural disasters are common occurrences on planet earth, disasters can also occur in all of our lives. If we want to survive these storms, steps must be taken and homes must be built which will stand strong in the storms of life. Christ tells us how to do this in Luke 6:46-49. This passage of scripture makes perfect sense: Of course one can’t just think about Jesus’ commands, you’ve got to follow through. Jesus is saying, “If you want to protect your life from damage, you’ve got to be wise and obey my commandments and my rules for your life.” Just standing on the Rock isn’t enough. A committed relationship with Jesus means we will trust Him completely. We must obediently follow His commands. We must live our lives seeking to learn more about Him and becoming more and more like Him. 1 John says it best: “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)

What about the person who builds a house without a foundation. No foundation means it will suffer damage in a storm. Why? Because he heard Jesus speak and did not put Jesus’ words into practice. His life is not firmly grounded on living a life that follows Jesus. There is no rock-solid trust in the security God provides. He is missing the enduring love and care God has for him. When the storms come,  Jesus says it will “collapse into a heap of ruins.” If the skies are blue and the winds are calm, any house will stand. But when the storms arrive in the form of troubles, pressures, suffering, and pandemics, they will destroy a house with no foundation.  

The one sure foundation to build on is Jesus himself. Hearing and doing Jesus’ words builds a sure foundation so that when difficulties arise, they will be unable to shake the sure foundation of our lives. 

“But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide.” (Psalms 94:22)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you building your life on? How do you know?
  2. What changes do you need to make in order to build your lives on the rock?

Humbly Accept the Word

“So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” – James 1:21. 

The Book of James is filled with practical wisdom for Christians. In his letter to Jewish believers living outside Jerusalem, James reminds us that faith doesn’t only change what we believe. It changes what we do.  

While reading the first chapter of James, the phrase “humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls” kinda jumps out at you.  It makes things a little simpler. When faced with trials or negative circumstances, you don’t need to read another book, attend another seminar, or ask another friend about this. You need to humbly accept the Word God has planted in your hearts and do what the Bible tells you to do.  

Stop for a moment and consider how often you are exposed to God’s Word. Every time you open up the Bible, God speaks. Every time you go to a small group and discuss a passage of Scripture He is speaking. When you quote verses in your head that you have memorized, He is talking. The Bible tells you who God is, how we are to live, what people are like, and what to expect in the future.   

Bible study was never meant to simply increase our knowledge. God’s Word is meant to be more than informational, it is meant to be transformational. Studying, reading, researching, remembering the Bible is useless if we fail to put what we learned into use. The apostle James says “ .. don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22). Jesus says both knowing and applying the Word creates the foundation for our lives: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” (Matthew 7:24)  

When God speaks, your life will be transformed. But that can only happen by making the Bible the authoritative standard for your life: the compass you rely on for direction, the counsel you listen to for making wise decisions, and the benchmark you use for evaluating everything. The Bible must always have the first and last word in your life.  

The Word planted in us that can save us is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave and that through faith in Him we can be forgiven and have a relationship with God. Should our lives look the same if this Word is planted and growing in us? We must come to the word ready to listen and ready to be changed because nothing can change us but the word of God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does “humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts” mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this week to not only accept the word but act on it as well? 

Hearing Not Access is The Problem

“For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.” – Matthew 13:15.  

God still communicates with His people, in special ways, on an individual level. God’s voice can be heard all the time, everywhere. He speaks externally to our eyes and ears, and internally to our hearts, minds, and spirits. The question is whether we are listening? The need to hear His voice and feel His presence is desperate, and we all feel it, so then, what’s stopping us? 

It isn’t resources. We live in a time that is literally called the “information age”. We have access to more Bibles, commentaries, preachers, teachers, schools, retreats, Christian book stores, internet sites, blogs, songs, radio stations, than any culture in history. Often, the problem isn’t hearing from God…but our willingness to trust what He is saying and actually do it.Remember, God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we hear Him speak, it may not always make make sense…in fact, it may seem a little crazy. If it was always easy and understandable, it wouldn’t require faith.

The Bible story on the four soils found in Mark 4:3-9 sheds some light on the subject: “A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” 

I hope that today, you are able to say that you are fertile ground, accepting the seeds that God is saying casting onto your heart. I hope you’re tuned into His signal. It is my deep prayer that you are receptive, listening, not distracted, and embrace what He is saying and do what He is asking you to do.

There will be times in our lives where we have chosen not to listen, been too distracted to let it take root, or allowed negative thinking or our own desires to become more important than God’s voice. There will also be times where we do not listen carefully or long enough. It isn’t that we didn’t have access, we just weren’t listening because during these times I really want to hear from God, He is always there to tell me something, show me something, or let me experience something that tells me more about who He is, explains something I’m going through, or where He simply allows me to know that He is near and draws me closer to Him.

God will speak if we will listen.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe you can hear God’s voice? What is required to hear God’s voice? 
  2. What can you do this week to be a better listener?  

When Will All This Be Over?

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.” – Psalm 13.

“Are we there yet?” Chances are you’ll hear that more times than you can count if you’re in the middle of a road trip or any long drive in the car with your kids. Sitting in the car for hours is boring, even for adults, so it’s no surprise kids get antsy and whiny. Kids have it much better today than when I was a kid: they’ve got lots of movies loaded up on the iPhone or iPad, a nice set of headphones, books, stuffed animals, a pillow and blanket, a notebook and colored pencils, and some snacks and water. Basically, the child moves into the back seat. You would think this would keep them totally occupied, it would be smooth sailing. Not. Eventually, the inevitable “I’m boooooooooooooooored” reverberates from the back seat followed by “are we there yet?” In many ways we have the same feeling about the COVID-19 pandemic: “is it ever going to end?” As a result, we are stressed and worried. 

This is when faith is so important. This is when we need to trust God. We don’t have to know what is happening tomorrow. We can only live each moment, each hour, each day individually anyway. We are asked to trust only in Him for all of our needs. When God saved us, He promised that we would spend eternity with Him. He didn’t tell us long we would be here on earth, what troubles we would face or whether we would be worried or anxious or even stressed. Sometimes that makes us angry and confused. We keep asking when this pandemic or other trials will be over; “are we there yet?” The answer is sometimes no answer so we tend it to go from weary and tired to angry and bitter. When we ask God if we are there yet, we would do well to remember “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” It would be nice to know all the things God is doing behind the scenes and the reasons for them. But that is not how it works. 

The good news is that God has a plan for this journey we call life. He won’t tell us everything which is why we need to trust Him with the details of our lives. Trust His leading in the coronavirus and every other aspect of your life. He will get you where you need to go.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What areas of your life are you stressed about?  
  2. What can you do this week to trust God with those areas? 

The Criminal

“Two criminals were led away with Jesus, and all three were to be executed together. When they came to the place that is known as The Skull, the guards crucified Jesus, nailing him on the center cross between the two criminals.  While they were nailing Jesus to the cross, he prayed over and over, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” – Luke 23:32-34 (TPT).  

His name is known only to God. But we know his character—and apparently he was quite a character. We know very little about his past, other than he is described as a criminal. When we are introduced, his story is in the final pages of its final chapter. We find this man – sentenced to death – hanging on a cross within earshot of Jesus. Luke describes the scene in chapter 23. 

 Luke 23:35 says: “A great crowd gathered to watch what was happening. The religious leaders sneered at Jesus and mocked him, saying, “Look at this man! What kind of ‘chosen Messiah’ is this? He pretended to save others, but he can’t even save himself!” The soldiers mocked, “Hey! If you’re the king of Jews, why don’t you save yourself?” (v. 37). Eventually, one of the men crucified beside Jesus joined in as well, “What kind of Messiah are you? Save yourself and save us from this death!” (v. 39).

There was only one person who came to Jesus’ defense. The other criminal. In vs. 40-41 he says, “Don’t you fear God? You’re about to die! We deserve to be condemned, for we’re just being repaid for what we’ve done. But this man—he’s done nothing wrong!” It was clear that this man had a correct view of reality and a correct view of himself. He saw himself as a criminal who was rightly condemned for the deeds he had committed.  He correctly realized that he deserved death.  Further, he had a correct view of Jesus. He had made too many bad choices, succumbed to too many temptations, done too many bad things. His only hope hung on the cross next to him. So in an act of desperation, he cried out, “I beg of you, my Lord Jesus, show me grace and take me with you into your everlasting kingdom!” (v. 42). While he was on his way to receiving exactly what he deserved. Jesus responded (v. 43)

Think about that for a second. Every word Jesus spoke from the cross cost him physically. Every breath caused unimaginable pain as he pushed and pulled on nail-pierced extremities to exhale. But Jesus answered him anyway: “I promise you—this very day you will enter paradise with me.” (Luke 23:43).” Jesus, God in a body, promised a man who was as opposite Him as opposite could be, “Where I’m going, you’re going.”  That is grace. 

While we will be tempted and yes, we do not know what the future here on earth holds, we do have the assurance of spending eternity with a Savior who died that we might have life.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you think of the criminal on the cross? 
  2. What can we learn from this story and more importantly how can we put it to use this week?   

The Lure Of Temptation

“And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” – Matthew 6:13. 

In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis surveys the state of his own heart and finds “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.” Although we may not express it in such terms, we all face similar temptations, weaknesses, and struggles. 

The raw fact is that Christians throughout church history have done battle with temptation. Many people have gone to great lengths isolating themselves from others with the hopes of never being tempted. But unless you find a way to be completely isolated, you will be tempted.  

There is a powerful verse that will help us as we wrestle with temptation. That verse is Hebrews 4:15: “ This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” Think about that for a second. It says Jesus was tempted as we are. That is a powerful verse. Jesus was tempted. It changes how we should look at temptation. 

Temptation is something we face every day. TV commercials and print advertisements are designed to thrive on temptation. They want to play on your desires in order to convince you that you need something by tempting you. For the average person, 99 percent of the advertisements mean nothing to you; they go in one ear and out the other because you aren’t interested.  However, over 1 percent makes a connection. The product or service appeals to you. When you accept the lure of those advertisements that is temptation as James describes it. James 1:14 says, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.”

What James is saying is that temptation is a lure. We are being lured all day long by temptation. Temptation is not a sin. You don’t have to feel guilty about temptation. Temptation simply means you are human. Remember, Jesus was tempted.  Yet, Hebrews 4:15 also tells us Jesus didn’t sin. It’s not temptation that is wrong, it’s what you choose to do with it that matters. It’s not until we give in to the lure that we will be captured by sin. In that moment of temptation, you also have a great opportunity to show what you value; the world or Jesus. Temptations are battlegrounds to demonstrate what our heart desires.  The key to fighting temptation is not only to avoid the temptation but to desire Christ above everything else.

Know that if you give in to temptation, the Lord still loves you. God knows you aren’t perfect, and God still wants you near Him. Know God’s grace is new for you every morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness;  his mercies begin afresh each morning.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you protect yourself from the lure of temptation? 
  2. What can you do this week to escape the lure of temptation? 

Overcoming Temptation

“Temptation may even be a blessing to a man when it reveals to him his weakness and drives him to the almighty Savior. Do not be surprised, then, dear child of God, if you are tempted at every step of your earthly journey, and almost beyond endurance; but you will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and with every temptation there will be a way of escape.” – F.B. Meyer

Maybe you have heard it said that opportunity only knocks once, but temptation knocks continually. It never stops trying to find a way into our lives. We all face temptation, the question is how effectively do we deal with it. There are some very simple and effective things we can do to grow stronger and smarter in our struggle against sin. 

First, recognize your tendencies in your struggle against temptation. James 1:14 explains that we are tempted when we become enticed by our own natural desires. The first step toward overcoming temptation is to recognize where, when, and how we are most vulnerable. The temptation to sin is a given, so don’t be surprised by it. Expect to be tempted daily, and be prepared for it. The apostle Peter reminds us to stay on the lookout: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Secondly, avoid what tempts you. When you come face to face with temptation, look for the way out—the way of escape—that God has promised. Then skedaddle. Avoid it like the plague; flee. Run as fast as you can. Thirdly, resist temptation by leaning on the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations in the wilderness with the Word of God. While it can be helpful to read God’s Word when you’re being tempted, it is better still to practice reading the Bible daily so you are ready whenever temptation strikes. If you are reading the Bible regularly, you will start to have the mind of Christ.  

Finally repent from sin. When we fail to flee temptation, eventually we will give in and fall. Temptation is not a sin in itself, but giving in to it is. We need to acknowledge the sins we committed and repent of them before God so that He will forgive us. We can’t ignore the wrong we did and act as if nothing happened – God won’t forgive them unless we confess them as sin. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What times in your daily or yearly calendar are you tempted to sin? Who in your life tempts you to sin? What places or practices offer you more temptation? 
  2. Why do you give in to your temptations? What are some things that you could do or strategies you could use to resist temptation?

Trials And Temptations

“And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.” – James 1:13-16. 

Though they may feel the same, there is a distinct difference between a trial and a temptation. Discerning between moments of trials versus moments of temptation is an important element of the Christian life. The Book of James provides one of the most concise definitions of a trial. In James 1:2-3, the Bible says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” So a trial is a testing of our faith. It is a moment used by God for our growth, and to draw us closer to Him. Trials come in many forms, but they typically come in the form of an outside force beyond the individual’s control. Illness, fire, accidents, and job loss are easily recognizable as bad moments in life. The Bible makes it clear to us that we will face the duality of both trials and temptations.  

Temptation, by comparison, is internal. Individuals can only be tempted with that which is individually tempting to that person. Some struggle with stealing, some with lust, others with lying. Once again the book of James clarifies in chapter 1 verse 14, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.” Temptation strikes where someone is weakest. God never tempts us: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.” (James 1:13). The devil is behind every pull and persuasion toward temptation.

There is the promise for the tempted in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” The first step to victory over temptation is your attitude towards it, not to fear it, but by faith to accept it; the second step is this: to realize that in God there are limitless resources and power to overcome. Now, why is that so important? It is important because I know, as well as you do, that when the devil comes along with a tantalizing temptation that you remember that nothing is more powerful than your God. When you’re in Christ, sin shall no longer have dominion over you.

It can still be difficult to discern when we are being tempted, and when we are being tried. Sometimes the temptation comes in the trial, wanting to respond in anger, rather than in a Christ-like fashion. Go to God with your trials and temptations, and He will guide you best.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you differentiate between trials and temptations? 
  2. What can you do this week to avoid temptation in your life?  

Resting In Times Of Unrest

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to relieve me of this. But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (TPT)

Paul was a great man of God. But Paul had something that was bothering him.  It bothered Paul so much that he prayed three times for a “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. Jesus’s response: “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” Paul concludes, “So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.” 

Said a different way: because of my weakness, God can vividly display His divine power. As with Paul, His grace supplies more than we need to endure whatever it is that threatens us. His grace is more sufficient than your strength. His grace is sufficient to carry you through whatever your own unique “thorn” may be. When Paul surrendered, God could shine brightly through him— which wouldn’t be seen when he relied on himself. But with all that is going on today, how do we do a good job at letting Jesus take over when we are weak. How do we find rest during the COVID-19 pandemic?   

During this pandemic, many us of us deal with the daily temptation to put our faith in hand sanitizer and public policy rather than in God. With all that is going on in the world and in our individual lives, is there a place to turn for rest and stability? These are days when we need to rest in God, the one constant. “Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!” (Isaiah 44:8)  God is always there. He can be counted on. God can give us peace of mind through Him, setting our hearts securely at rest. Remember Jesus’ words: “My grace is always more than enough for you.”  Jesus’ favor, or blessing, for me is undeserved and enough to get me through anything. And more, when I am weak, His power rests on me and I can rest in Him. 

One truth we’ve seen proven over and over as we trust God through hard times: God is faithful. He has provided and will continue to provide for us in difficult times. But the good news is this: when we are weak, He pours His strength into us, which gives an entirely new perspective on pain and suffering, hardship, and pressure. Those stresses and strains drive us to our knees. It’s at that point our God comes through, takes us by the hand, and by His grace lifts us up.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to find rest in God? 
  2. What can we do this week to find rest in God during these uncertain times? 

Jesus And Levi (The Tax Collector)

“Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s home to share a meal with him. Many other tax collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples. When those known as the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant, and they kept asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why would your Master dine with such lowlifes?”When Jesus overheard this, he spoke up and said, “Healthy people don’t need to see a doctor, but the sick will go for treatment.” – Matthew 9:10-12. 

If you lived in Capernaum in Biblical times and asked the people to name a lowlife, they would most likely have pointed to the man sitting in the tax collector’s booth—Levi (Matthew). Back then, you did not want to be a tax collector. They bunched the tax collectors together with the criminals, with the murderers and the thieves. In New Testament days, a tax collector would buy his job and then use all the tricks of the trade: lying, fraud, extortion, cheating, bribery to make a handsome profit. Tax collectors. including Levi were notorious for squeezing the little guy and swindling the government. And Levi chose to be a tax collector. When the Pharisees saw Levi, they would turn their heads and spit. They hated sinners. They hated Levi. They thanked God that they were not like this tax collector. 

What does the fact that Jesus was attracted to sinners say about Him? Over and over we find Jesus, God in a body, interacting with people who were far from God. Yet there they are, face-to-face with righteousness personified.  

Jesus’ first response to sinful people, other than some religious leaders, was not judgment, condemnation, or even a counseling session. He offered something infinitely better. The account of the sinful woman at the well in John 4 is a good example as is the woman caught in adultery in John 8 or even Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) to join His entourage and dining with sinners and tax collectors in Matthew 9.  

Jesus sees value in all people. That’s why He came to earth to redeem as many as would respond to His rescue plan. Jesus saw beyond race, gender, cultural divisions, and especially sin. The spirit of Christ indeed dwells in all those who follow Christ. John 1:14 (ESV) tells us “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

Full of grace and truth, Jesus did not come to strike a balance between grace and truth. He brought both. John had seen this firsthand. He had watched Jesus apply the perfect blend of grace and truth to each individual He encountered. Jesus doesn’t just love sinners in some generic, abstract way. He extended His customary grace-filled invitation to the most unusual candidate imaginable: a tax collector named Levi, and to each one of us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What in your mind is the difference in loving and liking someone? 
  2. Since God is gracious to undeserving sinners, what can we do this week to do the same?