Give God Control

“We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters are. The Author knows. ― C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays. 

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we think we are captains of our fate and masters of our destiny. We do what we can to control our circumstances, sometimes thinking about the fact that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass:“Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.” (Ephesians 1:11).  

The fact of the matter is God is in control. It sounds like a pretty simple and obvious statement as most of us have prayed for God to take control of various aspects and situations in our lives. The trouble is too often we attempt to veto his decisions when He does something that we don’t like; especially when it involves something we want. We want to be happy, to be successful, to find our soulmate, to raise wonderful children. There are certainly additional things we want and we don’t want God to say no to something we want. That line of reasoning doesn’t make a lot of sense, but either does wrestling with God in an effort to take control of our lives. After all, it would not seem very wise to have a power struggle with the omnipotent, omnipresent, almighty God of the universe. The simple fact is God is not going to arrange our lives according to our exact specifications, 

The bottom line is when we are in control God isn’t. It is that simple.  So we need to decide every day who’s going to be in control of our life — us or God. Letting go and letting God take control is not difficult when we understand the character of God.  If we truly believed that God was good, and believed from the bottom of our hearts that the character of God was selfless and had our best interests, why would we not be giving up control to Him all the time? And why wouldn’t we be letting go and letting God take control if we actually, truly knew and believed in who He said He was?

As Christians, we have a hope that even when God doesn’t give us what we want, He is giving us what we need. That can be a difficult thing to accept, especially in the midst of heartbreak, trauma, and trials. But it is true. God creates beauty from ashes and He can use all things for His good.

God is in control. He has a plan for your life. And if we can keep ourselves from interfering long enough, He will bring that plan to pass.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does fear of the future and wanting to be in control relate?
  2. What area of your life do you find yourself consistently fearful of what might come or what won’t come? Why do you think it’s hard to let go of control and trust God for your future?

Are You Running On Empty?

 “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,  but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.”  – Isaiah 60:1-3. 

Many people put off going to the gas station as long as they can count on the car to warn them when it is time for a refill. But then you put it off even when the red light is flashing on the dash because it is more fun to see how far you could get on “empty.” You are merrily driving down the road, humming to the tune on the radio, when you notice that the readout on the dash says 1 mile to empty. Now it has time to panic. You pledge to keep the car full of gas in the future so you don’t have to go through this again.  

The same is true in your spiritual lives. Many times you try to see how far you can get, unintentionally, without spending quality one-on-one time with God. You think this Sunday’s worship service or a small group gathering will hold you over until next week’s spiritual refill. But sometimes the light comes on, which is the Holy Spirit, reminding you that your tank is low and that it would be a good idea to stop and refuel before you are running on empty while trying to face life’s ups and downs with your own strength, your own power, your own knowledge.

This is why we are sometimes running on empty spiritual tanks. Other things get in the way of the ever-present Holy Spirit that is seeking our attention. Meanwhile, we keep rolling down the highway filling our tank with everything but what is necessary to function.  

All of us go through times where we feel spiritually empty. David likened it to a deer panting after water (Psalm 42:1 ESV). In the book of James, we find where our dependence, our source of strength, should come from. We need to be completely, solely dependent upon Him. Jesus leads us on a journey of becoming fully alive. He is our model, our Living Blueprint. He is also the fuel for our journey. Remember that we are loved. Beyond measure. Beyond comprehension. Fully. Completely. Steadfastly.  

When we let our spiritual tank run low, our energy and inspiration disappear. Our desire to live for Christ decreases, and soon, we are just getting by. Jesus wants more for us than just getting by. He isn’t satisfied with us walking through life thinking “I’m fine.” He wants abundance for each one of us. In the small wee hours of the night, in the midst of your struggle and hardest trial, God is waiting and wanting to fill your spiritual tank.  

 Make an effort to fill your tank today. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you to overflowing. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can you tell when your spiritual tank is running on empty? 
  2. What can you do this week to keep your spiritual tank full?

The Hope Of The Advent Season

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” – Luke 2:25-32.

Imagine waking up on Christmas day and finding a special gift under your tree. You notice the tag has your name on it.  Beautifully wrapped and tied with a gorgeous bow, you are reluctant to open it. You slowly start to open the gift trying not to tear the beautiful wrapping paper. Once you open the box you find it is filled with the hope of Christmas. The Hope of Christmas is a precious and beautiful gift. 

Biblical hope is to look forward to something with such certainty that you believe it will come to pass. Most people believe there are few if any sure things in life. One of those sure things is God’s promises. God is the only unchanging constant and the only real source of hope. The Bible talks about two people who demonstrate the unshakable certainty of biblical hope. In Luke 2, Joseph and Mary go to Jerusalem and encounter two people, Simeon and Anna. Simeon was righteous and devout. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:25-26) When he saw Jesus as a child he said, ‘Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:27-32)

Anna, a prophetess, was advanced in years.  She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

No matter how bad your year has been, no matter what kind of problems and struggles you are facing right now, no matter what kind of season of darkness or pain you are in, never abandon hope. During the Advent season, look for hope in the birth of Jesus. Draw hope from God’s faithfulness in His long-awaited promise of the Messiah. Focus on the hope we have in Jesus. In the midst of whatever life is throwing at you, you can experience the hope of God because God is with us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a hope filled life look like?
  2. Through Christ, we have hope. How can that be evident in your life this week?

Being Thankful This Thanksgiving

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” – Psalm 100: 4-5.             

There are times that, because of God’s extraordinary goodness, we just overflow with thanks. But there are other times when we choose to praise God only after He has answered our prayers. And while there’s nothing wrong with thanking God for answered prayer, that should not be the only time we praise Him.  

One of the more famous stories in the Bible is Jesus visiting Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died. Even though Jesus went there after Lazarus was already dead, there was a purpose in His visit.  John 11:41-42 says, “So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” It is interesting that Jesus thanked God for hearing His prayer before Lazarus took one step. The bottom line is that God is worthy of praise. We don’t have to wait to see if God delivers on something we ask Him before we thank Him. And if God chooses to say, “No,” that doesn’t mean God is less worthy of our praise.

God is worthy of praise. It pleases God when we praise Him ahead of time because we’re saying, God, whether or not you choose to answer my prayers, I praise you for who you are. I thank you for all you’ve given me. And Lord, even when you choose to say “no” to my requests, I know you have your reasons. You know the beginning from the end. Your thoughts are much higher than my thoughts and your ways are higher too (Isaiah 55:8-9). And Lord, if you withhold something I’m asking you for, then maybe the thing is not good for me, or the timing is not right.  I know it’s not good because you’ve said you will not withhold any good thing from me (Psalm 84:11). God, I trust you.

Ephesians 5:20 says we are to “…give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..” And Psalm 92:1-5 says: “Come, let us sing to the Lord!Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.”

Five minutes of thanksgiving and praise has the power to change the direction of each day. It has the power to stir our hearts and make us open to and aware of God’s will for us in every situation.

Take time to practice thanksgiving very day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is it possible to give thanks even in hard times?
  2. Does thanking God lead to praising God in your life?
  3. For what are you most grateful today?

A Life Of Repentance

“Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” – 1 Acts 3:19.  

There is this idea in some circles that repentance is a unique, one-time activity that occurs when accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. But is repentance a one-time event, or do you discover that the further you travel in the Christian journey, the need for repentance continues. Repentance has been described as, “a radical change in one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart, a complete reorientation of the whole of one’s life.” It is a gift from God. And it is a learned but necessary skill that takes a lifetime of practice.

Repentance is more than psychological catharsis, it requires a true feeling of remorse. If one is not genuinely offended by one’s sin, there is no repentance. It demands brokenness of heart but always with the goal of healing and restoration and a renewed vision of the beauty of Christ. 

In David’s psalm of repentance (Psalm 51), he reminds us that God does not delight so much in the outward signs of repentance which included making a sacrifice, He wants a change of heart. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17). David knew he could not fix the problem of his heart. He did not draw a line in the sand and make bold promises about what he could do for God. He threw himself on God’s mercy and grace. He prayed in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” because he realized he could not make his own heart pure. In verse 12, he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.…” Repenting brings us to the end of ourselves and back to God’s grace.  

For the rest of our lives, we as believers must turn away from sin and towards knowing, loving and obeying Jesus. The reality is we are going to stumble and fall short. We are going to mess up.  There will be times when we don’t do what we are supposed to do. All of which means we need to keep repenting, keep turning back to Jesus.  The truth is we don’t ever arrive. You will never get to the place where you no longer need to repent and turn back, obey and follow Jesus.  We must be conscious of our sin precisely so that the forgiving, renewing, refreshing reality of God’s grace can empower our daily living.

In order to be whole, we must recognize how far short of God’s standard we fall, and be ready to seek help. Daily repentance will reveal our broken hearts and the areas in which we need the most help. 

True repentance is a heart change and the determination to no longer follow after the flesh but rather turn toward Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you know if repentance is real? What is the result of genuine repentance?
  2. Is there one person in your life that you think truly understands what it means to repent? What kinds of things characterize their life?

What Are You Trying To Teach Me Lord?

“And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” –  Luke 10:39 (ESV). 

“Is God trying to teach me a lesson?” 

“Is God trying to get my attention?” 

“Is God try to punish me for the all the wrongs in my life?” 

God is teaching us at all times, but when we see bad things as God’s hand in our lives, we need to examine and adjust our view of God. We serve a loving, caring God.  It is easy to interpret difficulties in life as “lessons” from God. It makes God out to be someone who toys with His people, who purposefully sends trouble into the lives of those He loves in order to “teach” them something. 

Jesus called attention to this way of thinking when He said, “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 9:7-11) 

That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t allows bad things to happen to good people or that He allows the wicked to prosper at the expense of the suffering of righteous people. We’ll never know why God, who is complete and total love, allows bad circumstances to invade our lives. It doesn’t mean there won’t be negative in our lives. But it does mean God doesn’t randomly teach you a lesson by giving you a hard time. God is not proving you are meaningless. He is not pointing out your flaws.  His gifts to you are not based on your actions and behavior on a particular day. But God may well be teaching you that you are loved and that your life has purpose, even when it feels pointless.

When something unexpected happens in our life, or in our world, it’s easy for us to ask God why it happened. We want to live the blessed “abundant life” (John 10:10 ESV) that Jesus said He was bringing, and we forget that He also told us that “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33)  The question is this: are we asking the right question? Maybe the question should not be “why” but “what” Lord, what do you want me to learn from this journey? What good do you want to come from this? What testimony will I have from this?”

By asking “what” instead of “why” it puts God back on His throne. Asking “what” suggests humility, trusting God. Asking “what” requires a mindset shift, an intentional decision to trust God. It makes the hard times a little easier to bear, knowing that there is something to learn during our hard circumstances and our struggles. His plan isn’t always what our heart wants. We want to understand right now why this has happened. We want to know the reason for it. We want to know what good will come of it. But Scripture continually reminds us that God is God and we are not and that He has a plan that we cannot see, but we can learn from.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are some things that God is trying to teach you?
  2. How would your week be different if you changed the “why” to “what”? 

Focus On What Never Changes

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” – Psalms 90:1-2.

We live in a world of constant change. People change. Seasons change. Relationships change.  Circumstances change. Things change. But amid all the changes, God never changes. The circumstances or influences that cause change in your life have no effect on God. Life and its uncertainties may shake you, but God does not move. Unlike His creation, God is immutable—He does not change.

The Bible is clear that God does not change. God himself says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6)  James writes, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17) Psalm 102:25-27 says, “Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth and made the heavens with your hands. They will perish, but you remain forever; they will wear out like old clothing. You will change them like a garment  and discard them. But you are always the same; you will live forever.”

We should find extreme comfort in God’s unchanging nature. Every created thing in this life will let you down at some point in time. Whether it is circumstances, relationships, health, career, children, technology, etc. However unstable I or the circumstances around me are, God never changes. The God we serve today is the exact same God we served prior to COVID-19. He is the same God today as He was the day He raised Jesus from the grave. He is the same God today as He was when He spoke the world into existence. He is the God who saves and He is the God in whom you can place your hope. If God never changes, then that means His love is forever. His forgiveness is forever. His salvation is forever. His promises are forever. Yet, we have a tendency to focus more on outcomes and results than on God.

Outcomes can and do change. Our perceptions of outcomes can change. If we’re focused on anything other than God, we can expect shifting and instability. That is why we can’t let our perceptions and expectations overwhelm our focus on God. If your world is spinning, think about riding a carousel as a child. While you are circling about and moving up and down and the world seems to be moving, every few seconds you looked over and saw your parents standing still in the same spot and it comforted and reassured you.

Life is constantly changing and often bumpy. Whenever we have questions, fears, trials, temptations, sufferings and problems to solve, God is always there for us. Don’t let your fears, your heartaches, or troubles overwhelm you – focus on the One who has control over everything. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. When you are facing relentless change, what do you focus on? 
  2. How can focusing on God’s love, God’s truth, and God’s plan and purpose provide you with hope and peace.

What Is On Your Faith Bucket List?

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth..” – 1 John 3:18 (NIV). 

Life is short as we discover daily. It’s a popular trend these days to create a bucket list; a list of things we would like to do before we die.  The usual suspects that make up these bucket lists include running a marathon, going skydiving, dive at the Great Barrier Reef, hiking through the Himalayas, going on a wildlife safari, or meeting a certain celebrity to name a few. Some have philanthropic goals added to their lists but most lists are made up of things to bring personal pleasure or thrill to your life while you still have it.   

It brings up the question, what is on your spiritual bucket list? There are plenty of things that God has told us to do before we die and there are certain other things that would be good for our spiritual development. People have all kinds of things on their spiritual bucket list: Go on a short-term mission trip; read the whole Bible; be bold, be selfless, be loving to name a few. What about you? Do you have such a list?

One item that should be on our list is to show Christ through your actions. If people want to know what we believe, they look at our actions. What we do speaks with a powerful eloquence about what we believe.

So what are our actions saying? What do you do when you are alone, or when your plans are interrupted, or you are disappointed, or your weakness is exposed, or you’re tempted to fear, or someone else prospers or excels you, or you’re called on to help meet someone else’s financial need? When those who are closest to you are honest, those who observe you in your unguarded and unexpected moments, what do they hear from your actions?

1 John 3:18 is such an important verse to know, which says, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  According to this verse, the best way to love someone is by loving them through actions. This verse shouldn’t diminish the fact that words have power and are important, but it does point out that it isn’t all about words, because it takes actions too. Practically speaking, in addition to loving someone by words, it means making sacrifices by meeting the needs of others, being generous with your time, helping financially, and serving others when it is needed.

The Message translation says, “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”  Don’t be all talk and no action. And don’t be all action and no talk. Love others as the bible has called you to do. Don’t just love others by speaking in love, but love with actions too. Make it part of your bucket list if you are not already doing it. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some things on your spiritual bucket list? 
  2. What can you do to “practice real love” today?

What Questions Would You Ask Bible Characters?

“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” – Genesis 6:8-9.

It would be fascinating and highly educational if we could ask Biblical characters some questions. There are so many choices. For example, can you imagine asking Adam and Eve what they were thinking when they were hiding from God? Or ask Methuselah what kind of aches and pains he had in the latter part of his 969-year life? Or ask Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego what it was like in the fiery furnace? Or ask Peter how he balanced his faith with his impetuousness. Job, Abraham, and Joseph from the Old Testament are others. Then there was Noah; so many questions come to mind. 

When God called Noah to build an ark, think of the questions he was asking himself.  Can I pull it off? Just think of the complexity of what God was asking him to do. He would have to source the right trees, prepare them to be worked, measured, cut, and sealed by the skin of his hands to build a 137 meters long (450 foot) boat. Don’t forget Noah was 600 years old when the flood came.  He would have had to become a designer, engineer, carpenter, and zookeeper that has never been or ever will be matched throughout history. The boat would contain two of every animal; lions, tigers, snakes, scorpions, spiders, wolves, and the list goes on. What was he thinking when he started? Not only did he have to gather at least two of each animal, but he also had to look after them, feed them, water them and clean up after them. How was that all going to work? It took Noah somewhere between 55 years to 120 years to build the Ark.  

Even though I could guess the answer I would love to ask Noah how he reacted to the people around him. You can imagine that people were looking on and mocking him. Can you imagine the jeers, the laughter, the strange looks at year 60? Aren’t you done yet, Noah? The water is that way? “Here it comes now!” Despite the strange looks, the laughter, the jokes, even when people would mess with him, Noah “…did everything exactly as God had commanded him…” Everyone else was living large and doing whatever they pleased, Noah was spending his days working hard and sawing wood. I would ask Noah how he had so much faith, that in a time in history it never rained that he was building a huge boat inland because God had told him to do it.

I wonder if Noah ever got discouraged and what he did to encourage himself? It must have been disheartening at some point that no one wanted to listen and believe what he was saying. It took courage to keep on preaching for all those decades when the only people who believed his message was his family (see 2 Peter 2:5). Nevertheless, Noah’s faithfulness to God’s calling saved his family and ultimately the human race.  

Many stories in the Bible come to a crossroads because of a decision to obey God at all costs. Noah’s relationship with God gave him the faith to trust God and build the ark. Noah feared God and chose to listen to God rather than ignore him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What Biblical character would you like to ask questions? 
  2. How can we apply Noah’s faith to our own lives this week? 

A Letter To My Younger Self

Note: If you wrote a letter to your younger self, what would you say? What advice would you give? There are so many things you would want to tell your younger self, that it would be hard to know where you start. Would you confront your mistakes, write about what bothered you, what you wish you had done, and where you ended up in life. Maybe the letter would be something like this:            

Dear younger me,

May I say you (me) are looking good in that suit. You may not realize it, but you are about to embark on an amazing journey where you will learn to live the faith-filled, joyful life God has planned for you. You are loved. God accepts you as you. He loves you even at your worst. And trust me, some worst has already occurred but some worst lies ahead. 

You must wake up every morning with the right sense of purpose. Your purpose is not to compete with others. Your purpose is not to bring down others. Your purpose is to touch lives with the talents you have. Your purpose is to give as much as you can. Your purpose is to love unconditionally. Your ultimate purpose is to draw people to God through everything you do. Remember that you are part of God’s unfolding story. 

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) The Holy Spirit needs to be a big part of your life. His work is good. His acceptance and counsel will set you on solid ground. It will prepare you for truly loving others. His work is good for you today and in the future. Get to know God through prayer and talk to Him often.  Don’t forget to listen to Him, too. Prayer changes our hearts and allows us to be in the presence of the Lord wherever we may be.

God is still in the business of changing lives, but it is a process.  As Christians, we are forgiven immediately when we invite God into our lives, but old habits can be hard to break.  Give yourself grace and trust that God will grow you to look a little more like Him. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  The more we grow in faith, the more questions we have.  

Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. You will fall short of your potential if you will not leverage the wisdom and insights of others who are further down this path than you are. Seek out older, wiser mentors and those who are modeling the life you want to live. Seek them out and ask for their guidance. You will be amazed how many will jump at the chance to pour into someone like you. Follow their advice, regardless of the discomfort or difficulty. Living life with friends who are like-minded Christians will help spur you on and lead you towards God in your walk with Him.

Always remember that being a Christian, a follower of God isn’t easy. It takes effort, failures, struggles, setbacks, pain, and a lot of prayers, but I can promise you that you will never go through any of that alone. God will be with you every step of the way and lead you in the direction you should go.  

See you in the future. You may want to bring a mask and some hand sanitizer. 

 Discussion Questions: 

  1. What would you include in a letter to your younger self? 
  2. What would you include in a letter to your future self?