Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None

“The biggest battle we each might fight is to stay focused on God long enough to learn to abide in His presence. Before we can redeem the world, we must redeem our time. And we would think that with all the time-saving conveniences we have in life, that this would be easy but it is not.” – Francis Frangipane

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a figure of speech used in reference to a person who has dabbled in many skills, rather than gaining expertise by focusing on one. Often it describes us today. We know how to do many things with average ability, but lack the skill to do any one thing unusually well. You can understand why that happens.  Our calendars are so littered with appointments, activities, and obligations, we are usually rushed and behind and unable to focus. We are running, shaky and out-of-breath, and we are ready to collapse.

But how do we pivot? How do we begin to live a focused life? A Christ-centered life begins with realizing that the source of everything we are is the Lord. He created us, He owns us, He gifted us with talents, He authors our story, and every blessing that we receive comes from Him: “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)

If we want a focused life we need to seek Him first. Spend time in the Scriptures. Pour out your heart to God in prayer. Listen for His voice. He will lead you. And as He does, trust Him. Trust Him to fulfill His plan for your life. As we seek God, He will show us where to focus our time, energy, talents, and treasures.  When we focus on God, His impact on your world is going to increase. His transformation in you is going to increase. You will transform the world through acts of love and you will be continually transformed on the inside to become more like Him.

“God is wonderful and glorious. I pray that his Spirit will make you become strong followers and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love. I pray that you and all of God’s people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep. I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is. I pray that Christ Jesus and the church will forever bring praise to God. His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21 CEV)

Will we trust Him in the unseen, unknown, small places? Will we walk obediently — focused on Him? Seeking Him? Trusting Him with the results? What’s holding us back?

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can your relationship with Christ become more intimate and personal?
  2. What can we do this week to be more focused on God?

Cursing The Fig Tree

In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.” ― Matthew 21:18-19. 

The Bible has classic stories that most Christians have heard since they were young—David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, Daniel In the Lion’s Den, The Good Samaritan and Jesus walking on water to name a few. But within the pages of Scripture are many stories that are more obscure. For example, there is a story in Acts 20:7-13 about the effects of long sermons. Paul was preaching in Troas, and a young man named Eutychus decided it would be a great idea to sit on the sill of an open third-story window. Once the sermon ran long, Eutychus fell asleep… and fell out of the window, breaking his neck. Before his family could even start planning the funeral, Paul raised him to life again. Is it a cautionary tale about staying awake in church? Another obscure story is Jesus cursing the fig tree. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem to cheers and acclamation. In the morning, as He travels from Bethany, He spots a fig tree “in full leaf.” Although it is too early in the season for fruit (Mark 11:13) it already has a full covering of leaves. Its foliage signals that it should have early figs. With that expectation, Jesus inspects the tree. He is immediately disappointed. In a shocking turn, Jesus curses the tree and makes it wither from the roots, never to yield fruit again. This action seems stunningly out of character for Jesus, the compassionate healer, storm-calmer and loving Savior. Why not just make the tree bloom? If He could turn water into wine and bring the dead back to life, why didn’t He command the tree to bear fruit?

The next day, as they left Jerusalem and passed by the same tree, the disciples were astonished to find the tree totally withered. “Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!” (Mark 11:21) When Peter expressed his surprise about the tree, Jesus used the opportunity to teach about failure. The empty tree serves as a warning that we cannot pretend to be spiritually alive, for we won’t bear any fruit. It is not about putting on a good show.

Our personal lives can look like they are “in leaf.” Our leaves may look like those of a super spouse and parent; we may look successful in business and in spiritual matters because of an overstuffed schedule of ministry activities. But we constantly need to look at what we are producing from all our efforts and activities. But what will the Lord find upon close inspection? Will he find only leaves? Or will he find figs, too?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does looking for figs on the fig tree actually symbolize? What does cursing the fig tree symbolize?
  2. What can we do this week to kill complacency?  

Where Is Your Excitement Level?

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.” – Philippians 4:4-5.  

When you go to bed at night, are you excited to wake up the next morning? Is there something you can’t wait for? Only to wake up to find that you have nothing to be excited about. We all need to get excited sometimes and there are many things that can do that for us. But are they the right things?  What about our journey with God? Are we excited about becoming more like Him today?

As Christians, we follow Jesus. It is not a duty or obligation thing. It is simply a matter of preferring life with an all-knowing, unconditionally loving, all-powerful, best friend compared to life without Him. It seems a simple decision on the surface. Following Jesus is something to be excited about. 

I pray I never lose the ability to get excited and life becomes so routine that I lose sight of the beautiful things God surrounds us with every day. 1 Peter 1:8 says, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.” Peter does not say, “You should be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” He says, “You are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” When you grasp the full significance of what God has done for you, you will be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. 

Excitement should fill us when walking into God’s house and feeling His presence there. May we always get excited when hearing His word preached. I hope praise is our motive when singing songs of worship. The gospel is the most exciting thing that has ever happened on this planet – better than Super Bowl, falling in love, or any concert you’ll ever go to. When we grasp what we have received through Christ, we will naturally become energy-filled people who bring excitement into whatever we do for the kingdom. 

We need to be excited about Jesus. It is a powerful testimony that can get others interested in Jesus. Perhaps He will then become their Jesus. Get excited about Jesus today. And let that excitement be contagious to those around you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you rate your excitement level for Jesus in the new year?  
  2. What are some of the things we can do to raise the excitement level?  

Is Fear Holding You Back?

“Descendants of Jacob, I, the Lord, created you and formed your nation. Israel, don’t be afraid. I have rescued you. I have called you by name; now you belong to me.” Isaiah 43:1(CEV) 

Do you know anyone that doesn’t seem to have any fear? Probably not. Most people spend part of their life living in fear. Fear of upsetting people, fear of being inadequate, fear of failing, fear of change, fear of death, fear of being alone or failing at your job, marriage, or parenting. Fear is a challenge we all face. And fear can hold us back from living life the way God intended us to live. 

An example is the story of the 12 spies sent to scope out the Promised Land. God’s people were at the very brink of the Promised Land. They had just been rescued out of 400 years of slavery. They had walked through the Red Sea and had watched the Egyptian army drown. They had been miraculously guided through the wilderness, and been promised a land flowing with milk and honey. Miracle after miracle. Blessings after blessings. All they had to do was trust and obey God. But in spite of all they had seen and experienced they were afraid and as a result, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. 

Ten of the 12 spies gave a “bad report” because the obstacles to their occupying the Promised Land were giants. Do we view our challenges and/or problems today, as intimidating and too big to tackle?  The ten spies missed an opportunity. We too will miss opportunities if we don’t view God as bigger than our enemies. We will miss what God has in store for us if we give in to fear rather than trust Him in faith. 

The way to our promised land is not always easy, but it’s worth it. God had promised His people a land that would be full of blessing. It was worth fighting for, it was worth going the distance. But to take the land would stretch their faith and force them to face their fears while depending on God. We too will have to face our fears as God leads us into our own “promised land.” Whenever the Lord gives us “land to take” there will be times when it seems like there are insurmountable obstacles in the way. Unless we clearly see God as big and our problems, in comparison, as small, we will inevitably choose to remain in the wilderness.  

Whatever your giant may be, you can overcome it in the same way David defeated Goliath. The young shepherd boy faced a giant who was nearly ten feet tall probably almost twice his size. Yet David’s eyes weren’t on the size of his enemy, but rather on the size of his God.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are fears hindering you from living the life God wants you to live?   
  2. What can you do this week to start dealing with those fears? 

Giant Faith

“But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge.” – Numbers 13:30-32

After God had miraculously rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, parted the Red Sea for their escape, and led them through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, He gave them His law that was to govern their nation and their worship. From there, He led them across the desert via a cloud of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night until they arrived at the edge of the land He’d promised to give them. At this point, the Lord instructed Moses to send 12 spies to view the land before the rest of the Israelites entered it.  

So, Moses sends out twelve spies (13:3-20). The spies were gone for forty days and while there they observed two things. First, the land was beautiful and fruitful. Second, the people who inhabited the land were huge and powerful (Numbers 13:21-24). Ten of the spies said that the Israelites would be foolish to try and go up against the strong armies that inhabited the land. They’re seeing with the eyes of fear. They can’t go in. They are afraid and as a result, say they can’t go in and possess the land God has promised. However, two of the spies (Joshua and Caleb) said they’d be foolish not to go up and take what God had promised to give them. (Numbers 13:25-33). Because of a lack of faith, the Israelites spent the next forty years wandering in the desert instead of experiencing the power and faithfulness of God in the Promised Land.

The question is are we more like the ten spies or like Caleb and Joshua? I would hope we would be like Caleb and Joshua who had not forgotten all of the miraculous things God had done right before their eyes. “And the Lord said to Moses, How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11) We need to intentionally keep track of what God is doing around us and constantly remind ourselves of what God has done in the past. God’s assignments are always too big for us to handle but, as Scripture and history show us that it is very easy to back down in fear. But fear does not advance the kingdom of God, faith does. Way too often we make decisions out of fear instead of in faith.  

So what is the Canaan in each one of our lives? I want you to possess the next decade with faith.  I don’t want you to get stuck in the wilderness for those years. Is there anything that we are backing down from in fear when God is challenging us to step up in faith and trust His power and faithfulness? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is this story similar to how people respond to news stories today?
  2. Read Numbers 14:11-12: How did God respond to the 12 spies report? 

Overcoming Fear

“The presence of fear does not mean you have no faith. Fear visits everyone. But make your fear a visitor and not a resident.” ~ Max Lucado

While the vast majority of people never receive it, there are plenty of people that do. That phone call when your worst fears are realized. It is the police that your son has been in a serious accident or a friend calls to tell you there has been a shooting on the campus where your daughter attends school. Or the doctor calls with a diagnosis that is completely different from what you were expecting. There is a sense of foreboding. And fear. It is easy to feel like we are living in an age of fear. And it is is easy to feel helpless.

When we were little and afraid all we had to do was run to our parents who were there to reassure us. And all of a sudden it was our kids running to us looking to be reassured about things that go bump in the night.  But in many cases, those kids are no longer kids. They are off in college and starting families of their own. They must deal with their own fears just as we must deal with ours. In today’s world it is easy to conjure up some scary potential scenarios that are all completely improbable, but yet seem very possible in moments of frightening uncertainty. These are the times when we want God to reassure us, clear our heads and remind us of Bible passages that give us step-by-step instructions on what to do. Passages like Psalm 91:1-2: “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”

He is our refuge and our fortress.  He is the place we run to and take refuge.  A refuge is a quick place we duck into to find shelter. A fortress is a place built intentionally for the purposes of exceptional security. God is not just a quick refuge from the storm, but He’s also the place where fear no longer has access to us. Fear can’t affect what it can no longer reach.

It’s not that bad things won’t happen. We live in a broken world where broken things happen every day. But as a child of God, we don’t have to live with fear taunting and terrorizing us. Rather we can make imperfect progress in processing fear by turning that fear into faith. The good news is that while there are times when we will feel afraid, we don’t have to live afraid.

While you probably won’t completely rid yourself of fear, not this side of heaven anyway, it doesn’t have to control your life. Your reasons to trust God are so much greater than your fears.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you fear and how does it affect the way you live? Does it lead to anger, worry, or anxiety?
  2. What can you do this week to diminish fear and increase your faith? 

Faith In Action

“We gotta do much more than believe if wanna see the world change

We gotta do much more than believe if we really wanna change things

We gotta do much more than believe, go on try it, go on try it

We gotta do much more than believe if we wanna see the world change”

― Dave Matthews Band

One of the challenges for the Christian is how to balance trusting God with getting off the couch and using our own efforts to make things happen. There is a spectrum of possible responses. At one extreme there’s the option of trusting in God to the exclusion of action; “I’m waiting for God to direct me as to my next move” or “I can’t do this without God, so I really need to pray about this some more.” The other extreme is based on the “God helps those who help themselves” view. This path would involve me taking action on things that I am passionate about and good at, and think of how I could use them to further the kingdom. Obviously I should still trust in God, but I could say that I’m trusting in the sense that I have faith that God will bless my efforts.

While waiting for God is often the right thing to do, if we are not careful it will become our default position and can lead to a life of passivity: a lack of action, little motivation, and zero responsibility.  It is easy to expect God to live for us rather than to work through us. Waiting on God can keep us stuck and prevent us from moving in the direction that God wants us to go.

Over the years I have heard people say “God will give me a sign…God will close the doors if it’s not meant to be…God will bring him/her into my life…God will take away my desires…” Absolutely He can and He does. But we need to ask ourselves a question: Does God act on our behalf, or does God gives us the strength and power to act on His behalf? God does ask us to trust Him with the things we cannot control, but He also asks us to take action in the things that we can. He asks us to know Him, to love Him, and to honor Him…and then to live confidently in return.

We are called to take action, to make decisions, to live our lives in a way that we glorify God and to be the people He wants us to be. Our connection with God is a two-way street, the good news or bad news depending on your viewpoint is that we have a role in this relationship.  We have a choice.  We have a will.  So we can either say yes or no.  We can stop, or we can go.  We can stay the same, or we can grow.  Live in the old or awake to the new.

It’s important to have faith in God. It is important to give him our worries and our fears and to trust Him with tomorrow, but it’s just as important to allow Him to work in us and through us today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you balance waiting on God with taking action?  
  2. In 2020, do you need to get better on waiting on God, or taking action?   

A Personal Encounter With God

“About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. 31 They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.” – Luke 9: 28-31.  

Society today is taken with celebrities and professional athletes. Their names are common in the households of America. There is so much media coverage of their personal and professional lives that we think we know them. But if the ordinary person ever had a chance encounter with a celebrity they think they know on the street, they would not even receive a nod of acknowledgment. The relationship between celebrities and professional athletes and their fans is a one-way relationship.

Matthew 17:1-9 describes an encounter with God.  The account of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ (parallel passages are found in Matthew 17:1-3. and Mark 9:2-4) is a demonstration to three witnesses, Peter, James, and John, that Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be. The transfiguration of Jesus Christ was a unique display of His divine character and a glimpse of the glory, which Jesus had before He came to earth in human form. Luke 9:32 says, “Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him.” Matthew 17:8 says, “And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.” That is an appropriate scene because it is all about Jesus. Jesus is all we need to see.

The disciples had experienced a literal and figurative mountain top experience. But when they went down the mountain they were immediately plunged into the difficulties of life and ministry on earth.

Although we may envy them for their mountain top encounter with God, the message of that encounter was that in a relationship with Jesus, the encounter with God is always with us. Jesus is God and when we know Him and have a relationship with Him, there is one sense in which we never come down from the mountain. Daily as we live in a relationship with Jesus, we live in a divine encounter.

The Bible is loaded with wonderful words that remind us that we live in a divine encounter every day in our relationship with Jesus and that our Christian life must continue to be lived daily in that relationship with Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, what is an encounter with God? 
  2. Is there something we need to do to facilitate encounters with God?  

Chasing The New Or Achieving Newness

So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to—the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy.” ― Ephesians 4:22-24 (GNT). 

Well, we have set sail on a new year and a new decade. What seemed so remote only a short while ago is now history.  For the next few days, we’ll continue to pinch ourselves saying, “Is this really another year?” The new year promises all things new and that is good because we are fascinated with new. We want the best, the most up to date, the latest in innovation. In some areas of life, we long for newness. We crave the freshness of new.  But seeking after the new does not achieve newness.

Maybe it seems as if there’s nothing new to look forward to. Nothing new to feel excited about. But when we believe in Jesus Christ, no matter the year or decade, there is always something new in store for us. It boils down to our commitment to exploring this idea of newness. What does it really mean to be made new? And how do we achieve newness? 

The new is what God wants to do in you and through you. If you are somebody who is always looking in the rearview mirror, you will never see the plans and purposes of God that are ahead of you. It’s time to set aside former mindsets and failures. It’s time to let go of old hangups, habits, and unhealthy relationships and to subscribe to something new.  In order to live from this place of newness, we must also resist the temptation to return to our old ways. We can’t let past setbacks or painful memories continue to haunt us. When we dwell on those old things we can miss the new things the Lord is doing in our lives. He is the God who loves to make all things new. 

The Lord literally says He makes us a brand new being when we give our lives to Him. “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17) And Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “For I am 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.”  

As we begin a new year, I encourage you to meditate on God and newness in Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does “new” mean to you in 2020” 
  2. What can we do this week to achieve newness in Christ Jesus?

Close Encounters Of The Spiritual Kind

“As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-5. 

What would change in your life if you personally encountered God? If the lives of those in scripture provide any precedent, one God encounter changes everything.  Moses, Saul (Paul), and Dwight Moody are just a few examples. 

Moses’ encounter with the I Am, in a burning bush, changed him from a stuttering back-country shepherd into a bold leader and deliverer of a nation who could confront the Pharaoh of Egypt, the world’s most powerful ruler. Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ—in a vision on the road to Damascus—transformed him from a firefighting persecutor of Christians into Paul, a fire-igniting apostle who carried the gospel of Christ throughout the Roman Empire. Dwight L. Moody’s encounter with the calling of God—during a prayer meeting in a hayfield—changed him from a poorly educated, unconfident shoe salesman into one of the greatest evangelists of modern times.  There are many more examples that prove an encounter with Jesus can be life-changing. 

There is a well-known bible story of the woman at the well who had a real Jesus experience. When she met Jesus, her life was transformed. For the first time in her life, she knew that the details of her life mattered to God and she knew for certain that God loved her.  This real-life encounter with Jesus was life-changing. When she gets back to town, the woman tells everyone she can find that she’s met the Messiah. Picture this – the woman who just a few hours ago was going to the well in the middle of the day to avoid seeing people comes back into town running around, gathering up as many people as she can find. She tells them that He knew everything about her and her enthusiasm for Him makes them want to meet Him themselves. They believed her based on her testimony about Him, but then they encountered Him and believed even more.

So this, I think, is the most important thing we need to remember about a true encounter with Jesus. When we truly know Him and He’s done all this work in our hearts, we can’t possibly keep it to ourselves. We should be compelled by what He’s shown us and by the love He’s placed in our hearts to help other people meet Him and be changed by Him. A true encounter with Jesus sends us out to tell others about Him.

The God of the universe longs for each of us personally. He wants us to encounter Him. Not some of us but all of us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes an encounter with God to you?  
  2. What can we do in the short term to foster a more intimate relationship with God?