Spiritual Makeover, Making The Old New

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18.

God never changes but wants to change us; God wants to transform our lives. God wants to do a new thing. He wants to teach us new things and lead us in new directions. When God does a new thing, it frequently catches people off guard and causes them to pump the brakes. Many of us use the past as a predictor of the future, so the new creates unease. Whenever we grow accustomed to things being a certain way, our comfort zone is shifted. It is hard to adjust to a new pattern. So, year after year, we get the same old thing, we naturally prepare for more of the same, when God’s about to do a new thing.

This is a good time to remember the potter and the clay.  “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18: 1-6)

Our life rests in God’s hand. Like a skilled potter, He knows how to apply precise pressure, when to relax His grip, how to nudge all of which I signed on to improve the vessel. At times, the Master Potter will do something new in order to mature, develop and conform us into His image. 

In these times, we forget that we may need to go down to the potter’s house and let Him do something new.  When God is doing something new we may only see our needs, and we forget our provider. We lose sight of Him making a way for us, and we forget that He is  “… about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) 

When God is doing something new we don’t have to struggle or fret, but rather we can rest easy. He is in control. We just need to let go of the steering wheel and hand over our life. He’s doing something new, and instead of fear, feel excited. For the fact is, He adores you with such a special love that always has your best interest in mind. So when He’s doing something new, it’s to make you better. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does doing something “new” mean to you? 
  2. Was there a time when life’s difficulties forced you to trust God or seek him in a new way. 

Let’s Talk About Potential

“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. For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:12-13 

Throughout the ages, the deep, innermost desire of mankind has remained unchanged. Man wants to obtain the success that will create within him a lasting satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. And certainly, the start of a new year and a new decade is the natural time to reflect on both our potential and our performance at reaching that potential.  

Paul tells us that “… I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) The Passion Translation says, “And I find that the strength of Christ’s explosive power infuses me to conquer every difficulty.” Do you really believe that you can do everything through the strength of Christ’s explosive power? It is a life-changing statement for those who are willing to live life as if that statement is true.  “I can do anything” is the true potential of every man and woman. While we all have different talents and callings in life, we all have potential. And in this year and in this decade, God is ready to reveal that potential to you if He has not already done so. He wants you to know exactly what He has equipped you to do in 2020 through 2029 and take full advantage of the possibilities in those years. 

Potential is in you. Like faith, God built it in your DNA. Hebrews 11:1-3 says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”

There is not a person alive today who has not been gifted by God. No one but Him knows the potential – the untapped ability and unused strength – that is inside you. It simply needs to grow and be developed. Your potential is empowered by faith. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. Faith is needed to release our potential.  

Embrace the change you are trying to make in your life as a process. Don’t beat yourself up for not changing perfectly, succumbing to your fears, or taking baby steps. Allow it to be a process – with ups and downs – until you get to your finish line. Make 2020 the year that you surrender fully to Him, exercise your faith and realize your potential.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Getting stuck is a vicious cycle. Fear keeps you from taking action. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Consider the changes you wish to make in 2020 and identify a simple step you can take this week to move you closer to it.

Imitate God in 2020 And In This Decade

“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” – Ephesians 5:1-2. 

The Passion Translation expresses those same verses this way: “Follow God and imitate all he does in everything you do, for then you will represent your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance in heaven and earth.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 TPT)

Paul is telling us to be imitators of God. In other words to “be godlike.” The goal of Christianity, after all, is to produce people who are godlike in an ungodly world.  But that is a pretty tall order. It is such a tall order that it towers over us and we can easily dismiss it as being impossible. It is an impossible challenge to be like God.  However, Scripture commands it. Jesus says, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Peter says, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). God calls us to be just like Himself.

This is certainly worthwhile, but a seemingly impossible goal for 2020 and the next ten years. But how do I do that exactly? The task won’t be as daunting if we break it down into chunks. Let’s start with love. 

“Live a life filled with love…” Paul is asking us to imitate God’s forgiving love into action in our lives. And then, to strengthen His instruction, Paul pointed us to the individual who can be an example of what walking in love looks like for us: Christ Jesus. A life that is like the love of God, will be a life of love. Imitating the love of Christ means we don’t love others part of the time, or as an exception to the rule or as a religious duty on Sundays. We are to love our neighbors, whether they live in our home, sit in the next cubicle or live miles away. We are not to love others once in a while, or as an exception to the rule, or as some kind of special religious duty. Rather, love is to be our way of life, our daily pattern of behavior. Imitation means loving as God loves.  

In the new year and new decade, becoming an imitator starts with asking God to help me discover more of what that means, with a hunger to know more of the purpose for which I have been made and asking how I can grow more fully into God’s image. When I love Him, I will be like Him. When I am like Him, I will love like He loves and be a reflection of Him to those around me.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we imitate God? What aspects of God should we imitate? Why?
  2. How can we walk in love? What standard should we try to reach? 

When Faith And Fear Collide

“ Faith prompted the parents of Moses at his birth to hide him for three months, because they realized their child was exceptional and they refused to be afraid of the king’s edict.” –  Hebrews 11:23 (TPT). 

There is a story in the Bible that illustrates the intersection of fear and faith. Could there be anything that would scare parents more than what Moses’ parents were experiencing? Pharaoh, who was fearful of the rapidly growing slave population, had previously ordered the death of all male Jewish newborns. It was a death sentence for Moses. His parents hid Moses for three months, but their baby was still in danger. If Pharaoh’s guards had caught them, they would have executed the entire family. 

Imagine how carefully they had to live. If the baby cried at any time of the day or night, they had to muffle him while they tried to calm him down. They couldn’t risk having their children play with other children in the neighborhood, for fear that they would let something slip about their baby brother. If Pharaoh’s soldiers roamed the neighborhood looking for newborn baby boys, the family sat in silent terror. The circumstances of everyday life could not get worse for Moses’ parents; they had every reasonable right to be terrified. But their faith never weakened, and they were not afraid.

Could we live with such confidence? Could we live with such faith? We can live with faith if we remember that while our faith is tied to our daily circumstances, God’s promises, and provisions are never altered by daily circumstances. No matter your circumstances God is still the same. He will deliver on His promises. His provision is still more than we could ever expect. In the most terrifying moment of life, Moses’ mother and father believed by faith that God never changed. And they held on to this truth with every nerve-wracking, restless day.

Should we view the parents of Moses as being extraordinary? I don’t know. I do know, however, that the Bible is full of ordinary people with real fears and real pain that placed their faith in God, rather than placing their faith in their ability to navigate the rollercoaster of daily circumstances. Moses’ parents feared God more than men, had incredible faith in the midst of overwhelming odds.

The reason we need faith is that we will be scared.  It is in those times that we realize how much we need God. We lean on God, we depend upon God. You see, fear is always going to be a part of this thing called faith. But when faith and fear collide, faith wins the day.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that faith overcomes fear? What would change if we believed that it did?
  2. What are some of the fears we may have when it comes to following Jesus? How does the Scripture answer those fears?

Face Your Fears With Fear

“I have never known more than fifteen minutes of anxiety or fear. Whenever I feel fearful emotions overtaking me, I just close my eyes and thank God that He is still on the throne reigning over everything, and I take comfort in His control over all the affairs of my life.”-  John Wesley.

The benefits of a life without fear hardly have to be stated. Most people would agree that the benefits of living in peace would be incalculable. But fear is a constant obstacle to living in peace. But rather than looking for suggestions and solutions to overcoming your fear and anxiety, what if you replaced your fear with fear. Yes, it sounds contradictory. But is it? 

There are several types of fears: fear that builds you up and a fear that tears you down, a fear to gain and a fear to lose. The fear that you want to gain is what the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord.” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, and 14:27; Job 28:28; Deuteronomy 10:12; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 2:17 (all ESV)) The fear that you want to lose is the fear of anything and anyone else.

You could probably make a list of fears you would like to lose: fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of the future? Growing in the fear of God gives you the strength and wisdom to face your other fears. Our current sermon series is New You For A New Decade. Starting a new year and a new decade can strike fear in our hearts because we don’t know what the new year holds, let alone the next ten years. Yes, it is great to plan and even set goals, but the reality is we don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring. The fear of the new, however, should not replace the fear of the Lord. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 1:7 that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge…”

To fear the Lord is to approach Him with a reverent attitude of worship that regards Him as omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present). Everything we see declares the existence of the unseen God. All that we know reveals the reality of the unknown. Creation reveals a God of wonder and boundless creativity. If no one ever told us there was a Creator, nature would demonstrate His existence. Our God alone is supreme. He is the Lord thy God, the alone and the above all. How often do we stop and reflect on how much bigger God is than our circumstances and our fears? In short, to fear the Lord sets Him in His rightful place in our lives as not only being greater but our source of hope, adoration, and wisdom. What then should we fear? 

Again, I don’t know what 2020 holds, but regardless of what comes your way this year, remember to fear the Lord. There will always be fears to face, but the fear of the Lord will help you face and overcome yours by focusing on the one who is greater than anything you could face in this life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you fear and how does it affect the way you live?  
  2. How would a renewed fear (awe, reverence) of the Lord encourage you to face your fears? And walk in a manner worthy of the gospel?  

Reality Check

“Lower your expectations of earth. This isn’t heaven, so don’t expect it to be.” – Max Lucado.

For some unexplainable reason, getting a driver’s license or passport photo is one of life’s traumatic experiences; one that stays vivid in the psyche long after the photo was taken. You know the drill. You stand in front of a backdrop trying to ensure the photo has a semblance of normalcy. You make the facial expression that you practiced at home, but the picture is taken before you can complete your preparations. As a result, your smile is half baked and your eyes are crossed. Resigned to your fate you take a seat and wait for your name to be called and the photo to be unveiled. You hope for the best but nothing quite prepares you for what happens when you pick up those photos and take a look. Aaaaagh! That can’t be me, you think, as you examine the full horror of this so-called “likeness.” In a state of shock, you make your way out of the building.  

We can apply that lesson in the spiritual level. Remember the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Many people have memorized the serenity prayer, but it would be prudent to really come to grips with accepting the things that we can’t change.  We should consider that some people, some situations, or some things in your life require you to go to God for the peace of mind to accept them because there isn’t anything you can do to change them. Everyone has those permanent ink circumstances in their life that no amount of angst or effort will change. What you need is the peace that passes all understanding — that comes from what you believe, not from your current reality. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3)

But what about “the courage to change the things I can?” There are things we can change. Christianity is not a passive religion; it’s an act of faith. The Bible is full of verbs that demonstrate a very active faith. The Bible uses words like choose, defend, fight, forgive, love, plant, seek, teach, train, visit, and worship. God’s design for us is to be intentional in taking these verbs and living them out. There can be a very positive change in our reality when we are intentional. Accepting personal responsibility should cause us to have the courage to change by facing reality as it is today, resulting in actions that will glorify God and bring benefit to ourselves.

“And, the wisdom to know the difference.” Wisdom is a gift that God promises to give to those who ask for it. James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you…” You can grow in wisdom each day and make better decisions as you spend time reading the Bible and communicating with God through prayer. God will tell you, through his Word or answers in prayer, when to accept things and when to have the courage to change them. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your idea of Serenity?  Is this a type of peace you want?
  2. Read James 1:5.  Do you believe God will answer your prayer for wisdom?

The Gift Of Discernment

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” – Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV).   

Discernment is a word that is not used very often these days. But that does not mean it is not important.  Life is full of choices. Sometimes those choices are momentous: deciding on a career path, choosing a marriage partner, having children, or retiring from full-time work. Other choices are not quite as momentous, but they are important nonetheless because they give shape to our life: moving to another place for a new job, pursuing further education, finding a new church—all these decisions shape who we are and who we are becoming. Discernment is about making the right choice.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong, it is knowing the difference between right and almost right. There is so much that sounds right and feels wrong. Spiritually speaking, cultivating the habit of discernment means we lean on God’s Spirit to know what is right from what’s almost right.

1 Kings 3:9 says, ”Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil…” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV) Discernment is a quality of attentiveness to God that, over time, develops into the ability to sense God’s heart and purpose in any given moment. We become familiar with the tone, quality, and content of God’s voice.

We develop discernment by spending some quiet, unhurried time absorbing the truth of His Word and listening to God. We can pray for discernment as the Psalmist did in Psalm 119:25 (NIV): “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.” Then we can apply what we have learned when we “have trained …to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14). The Scriptures open our eyes to see all of our experiences from God’s perspective so that we are able to make wise choices.

God is always ready to impart wisdom to his children. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”  Wisdom is critical to making the right choices. 

Our challenge for today and every day is to make it a priority to spend time with the Lord in His Word. We may have to reorganize our schedule or wake up earlier. But it’s well worth the effort—discernment and wisdom await us if we put into practice the truths we absorb daily.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If someone asked you to summarize discernment in one sentence, what would your summary be? 
  2. How do you define Biblical wisdom? 
  3. How do you put discernment into practice?

Finding Strength In The Strength Of God

“David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” – 1 Samuel 17: 45-47. 

Who doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath? One protagonist is a shepherd boy, the other protagonist a mighty 6’9″ Philistine warrior. Goliath is a big guy by modern standards, and he would have been absolutely colossal in Biblical times. Yet, the underdog chose to fight. He chose the weapon. He swung the weapon with deadly accuracy. But the main thing David did not do was to rely on his own strength or his own armor. His strength came from the strength of God. He relied on God’s strength. Psalm 89:17 says, “You are their glorious strength. It pleases you to make us strong.”   

In David’s case, relying on God’s strength didn’t mean sitting on the side of the hill and waiting on God to take care of the Philistine. David trusted God’s strength and providence enough to take action. To the casual observer, it may not have looked like God was doing anything. But David was able to do what he did because he was actually relying on God’s strength.

If we want victory over the giants in our lives, we too have to learn to rely on God’s strength. We can experience His power. The power to change. The power to endure and persevere. The power to love the loveless. This power is available to every man, woman, and child who would put their trust in Him. If we want change in our lives, it won’t be by your power, but by the power of God. God never asks us to carry our burdens and fight our battles in our own strength. He asks us to give our burdens to Him. Psalm 55:22 says, “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” God is always in control.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. Instead of worrying about our strength for the future, we need to rely on the strength we are given today. Just think for a second: if it was up to each one of us to make ourselves like Christ, if we had to work out our salvation and our circumstances on our own, most of us would have given up years ago. But God is in control. He has a plan for us, and even our weaknesses and failures can’t stop the One who is in control of all things from fulfilling His plans for our lives. This doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing. Instead, we trust the God who controls all things for His perfect purpose.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a way to measure the strength of God in your life? If not, how do we determine if God’s strength is part of our lives?
  2. What can you do this week to trust God and His power?    

The Power Of Forgiveness

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” –  Luke 6:37.

“I want to forgive him, but I just can’t get there. What he did to me is inexcusable and unforgivable. You would agree with me if you knew the circumstances.” You have probably heard those same words in some variation. Forgiveness is hard to do, but we as followers of Jesus are called to pardon those who wronged us. In essence, we are to no longer blame or be angry at those who did us wrong.

Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Clearly, Jesus is saying that our horizontal forgiveness of others is related to our vertical forgiveness from God. The absence of horizontal forgiveness translates into the absence of vertical forgiveness.

In many cases, we are looking for some action from the people who wronged us.  We want them to change or apologize before we forgive them. The Bible suggests an alternate strategy. Colossians 3:12 tells us to “…clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Philippians 2:4 says to “…look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Ephesians 4:32 instructs us to “…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  

God’s forgiveness is now our standard. Forgiveness is a precious gift we’ve received…and one we’re called to give others. But sometimes people get stuck by thinking that if we forgive it’s as if we’re saying that what the other person did, didn’t matter. That is not true. After all, we can only forgive when there’s something to forgive. Forgiveness acknowledges that the other person has done something wrong, and is truly at fault. When Christ uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34), He knew all too well the depth of the deep offense against Him. But we need to remember that Jesus didn’t die for a select group of people. He died for everyone. That includes those who have been good to us and those who have harmed us. Understanding what God did for us is the best way to learn how to forgive.

Rick Warren summed it up in this quote: “And you know when you’ve experienced grace and you feel like you’ve been forgiven, you’re a lot more forgiving of other people. You’re a lot more gracious to others.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is forgiveness to you?
  2. Is there power in forgiveness? Why or why not?
  3. What happens if I don’t forgive?

The Power of Prayer

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” – 1 Timothy 2:1. 

How important is prayer?  The Bible would seem to indicate that it is very important. Take the early church: Acts 2: 42 says, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper and to prayer.“ And in Acts 4, when Peter and John were wrongfully arrested and then set free, the church prayed. “When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God…After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4: 24, 31)   

When most people think about prayer, they often think of a big list of things they want to ask God to do for them. Or maybe they think of those long prayers that sound grand. Prayer is simply talking to God: it is simply talking to God in order to grow in our relationship with Jesus and to grow in our love and loyalty to Him. If Jesus himself spent time in prayer when He was here on earth, how much more do we need to open our hearts to commune with the Lord?  If such times of communion have been missing from your life, you can begin today.

So when and how do we pray?  First, have a set time and place for where you will pray. This helps you to stay consistent and to create a habit of spending time with God and making space to grow in your relationship with Him. The reality is we make time for the things that are important in our lives. We should fight to make time for God on a daily basis. You may also want to consider a prayer list.  A prayer list establishes what and who to pray for. 

We need to remember not only what God has done but who He is. God is a loving Father, who loves to see you grow and doesn’t expect you to be perfect on day one. He loves every time that you come to Him, He loves every moment that you sit and spend time with Him, so when you know that, it changes everything. 

Prayer is a privilege. But that privilege is not limited to a morning quiet time. Don’t underestimate the power of a 10-second prayer where you are just thanking Him and talking to Him throughout the day.

When we pray, God moves on our behalf. Prayer must be the foundation of everything we do if we desire to see God move. It needs to be ingrained in our daily lives, becoming our first response and not our last resort.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever needed to pray about something but just didn’t know how? How did you overcome this obstacle? 
  2. God cares most about our prayer attitude. Think about a time when you came to Him with an attitude of desperation, repentance, or humility. How did God respond?