God Is The Source Of My Joy

“Let joy be your continual feast.Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (TPT). 

How often do you experience the joy of the Lord? When the Bible talks about the joy of the Lord being my strength, I have a hard time relating to it. I think a lot of it has to do with my circumstances. I struggle with finding joy in the negative. My rose colored glasses often have a grey tinge to them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to experience the joy of the Lord that He wants me to experience. As David said in Psalm 43:4: “There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!” David said that God was his exceeding joy and I want the same thing.  

First, we need to understand what the joy of the Lord is, and what it is not. The joy of the Lord is not primarily a feeling of happiness.  It’s not the warm fuzzy feeling you get when watching a sunset on the Gulf Coast. It’s more than a feeling. A feeling will not get you through life’s negative circumstances. No, the joy of the Lord is much more sturdy and unbreakable.

Ultimately, this joy comes from Jesus himself. I experience the joy of the Lord specifically because I am united to Jesus Christ. John Piper had this to say on the subject: “The reason your joy can now be as full as it is and moving toward perfect fullness when all our battle with sin is over is because in union with me, the branch in the vine, you no longer enjoy merely your joy. You now have my joy in you and you enjoy what I enjoy as your joy, as you abide in me.” 

The joy of the Lord is the firm, unshakeable belief that God loves me and the unbendable belief is working everything for my good. So again, how do I experience and grow in the joy of the Lord? First we experience the joy of the Lord through prayer. Prayer is our lifeline to Jesus. When I come to the throne of grace, I am filled with the joy of the Lord that is my strength. We also experience the joy of the Lord through scripture. If I want to be able to say, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” then I need to go to the fountain where that joy is found. I need to immerse myself in God’s word. To drink deeply of it and savor the fellowship with God I experience through it.

And finally we experience the joy of the Lord through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who reveals Christ to us. The Spirit opens our eyes so that we can comprehend the glorious things to which we’ve been called. And when the Spirit opens our eyes, we truly are filled with the overwhelming joy of the Lord. How can we not be bursting with joy when we’re filled with all the fullness of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, what do they usually mean?
  2. What can we do this week to trust and accept God’s plan for the future?

Read The Bible In 2021

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” -Charles Spurgeon

The Bibles we have in our homes and hold in our hands are nothing less than divinely-inspired, revelations of God. Every story, every Psalm, every historic event, law and prophetic word join together to paint one picture of the God who set the world in motion and orchestrated this present reality. But while we know some of the more famous verses and stories, we should not miss the opportunity to read this mysteriously living and active revelation of God in its entirety. Is 2021 the year you read the bible from cover to cover? 

You have your favorite parts of the Bible. We all do. The Gospels teach us about Jesus, Paul’s epistles deepen our theological understanding, and the historical books provide insight into the lives of real people as they followed God. But other parts of the Bible are important. When we read the Bible in a year, it naturally takes us to the places we may not usually go, allowing us opportunities to reflect upon the full counsel of God. Reading the Bible cover to cover also enables us to see the big picture of redemptive history. 

Taking a year to read the Bible in its entirety allows us the opportunity to see the big picture, the full story. We see the larger story of creation, fall, and redemption develop in all the stories and context of the complete Bible. It enables us to connect what we learned in Genesis with what we learn in the book of Revelation. You will glean insights that you might have missed without the full story.  You will learn some new and unexpected things about God. 

Regardless of what season of life you are in, there is still so much to learn about God. Reading the Bible reminds me that my knowledge of God is insufficient and can always be improved. Reading the Bible completely forces us to reflect upon all aspects of God’s character and allows us to know Him in new ways.  

Reading the Bible cover to cover enables you to experience the gospel in a new way. God will meet you each and every time you read through the Bible in a year. Some days, the Psalm for that day helped me to pray for a friend in need. Other days, the passage convicted me of sin and led me to repentance. The Lord will meet you in surprising ways as you place yourself in His word.

One of the best things about reading the Bible through in a year is that it builds a regular habit of daily Bible reading. Having a certain amount apportioned for the day makes it easier to pick it up and read. Following a yearly plan also acts as a built in accountability marker. If you have never read the Bible through, let me challenge you to make 2021 your year. There are many great resources to help you out.

Discussion Question:

  1. So what is keeping you from committing to a Bible plan in 2021?  

Let’s Talk About Submission

“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you.” – Job 22:21.

Submission is one of those subjects that make Christians uncomfortable, even squirm a little bit. In it’s most basic context, submission means trusting God; Trusting God with my whole life and trusting God has a plan for my life. Trusting where I am in my life, at this moment, is where God wants me to be. And trusting to the level that we are not continually trying to take control back from God.

Biblical submission does not mean checking your brain at the door and becoming a robot. True biblical submission as I understand it is this: willfully allowing the desires of another to dictate my behavior and attitude. Biblical submission always involves the full use of a person’s will. Consider the fact that a few of God’s most ardent followers disagreed with Him or asked Him to change His mind. Abraham for example. 

 Genesis 18:20-21 says, “So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” in verse 23-24. Abraham asked God , “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? In verse 26 we get the answer: “And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.”

Remember that Abraham is the person who was so willing to submit to God’s will that he was ready to kill his own son Isaac as a sacrifice when God asked him once to do it. This same Abraham is considered righteous and faithful to God even when he begs God to reconsider the judgment on Sodom. And of course there is Jesus’s submission.  In the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was taken from the cross, he pleads with his Heavenly Father to if possible take away the cup of responsibility before Him. “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” — Luke 22:42. This passage accurately depicts what biblical submission really looks like. Even though Jesus fully expresses His own desires, He makes a willing choice to put the desires of God above His own.

Submission is not easy. We run from it. We try to ignore it. But because of the submissive example of Christ, I should submit all that I am to Him and allow Him to work in me, through me, and around me. The bottom line is that God deserves our submission, the world works better when humans submit to God, and God wants the kind of loving loyalty that the Bible sometimes calls submission.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is God the hardest to submit to in your life? Why or why not?
  2. What are the benefits to submitting ourselves to God? Obstacles?

What Is Your Exit Strategy?

“It’s time to begin righting the story of your life.” – David Jeremiah

Regular fliers don’t typically pay attention to pre-flight safety announcements. The “we request your full attention as the flight attendants demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft” goes in one ear and out the other. So we typically don’t know where the exits are in this particular aircraft and as a result, we won’t know instantly how to evacuate a plane. The solution is to listen to the pre-flight safety announcements or familiarizing ourselves with briefing cards after boarding the airplane and before takeoff. If there is going to be a mass exodus from the plane, you don’t want to be the one left behind because you didn’t know where the exits are. 

It makes one think about all our plans for the New Year and whether we need some exits. We spend all our time on the entrance strategies in the form of New Year’s resolutions and don’t pay enough attention to putting exit strategies in place. Exit strategies demand that we be prepared. We also have to be observant and make mental notes of the exits we have in mind. And we have to be aware of our surroundings. Now that you are probably confused, let me give you a few examples of exit strategies:  

First, submitting to God: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7) What does submitting to God look like at the end of the year compared to the beginning of the year? Have a strong prayer life: “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) What will my prayer life look like when I exit 2021?  Know God’s Word: “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.” (Hebrews 4:12)  And be more like Christ. “Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:14) What will be different when 2021 ends? 

As we go through life, there are so many things that we get overly focused on, or that we spend so much time and effort on that really aren’t going to count when it comes to eternity. If there is any good news in 2020 it is this: Crisis brings focus. The pandemic reminded us of what’s most important. We used this year to stop doing the things we didn’t need to be doing. This new year is the opportunity to take what we learned and make any necessary changes.  

It would be pretty easy to follow those things if we could see the red lights in the aisles or the exit signs flashing the location of the exits. When spiritual emergencies arise, we just need to run to one of the exits and make sure they are predominant in our lives.

So, what are your exit strategies for 2021?

Discussion Question:

  1. In what areas do you need to have an exit strategy?
  2. What can you do this week to develop an exit strategy for that area?

Are You Listening?

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God…” – John 8:47 

Hearing God’s voice happened in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean it happens today. If we were to hear someone say they “hear from God” or “have conversations with God”, we might smile outwardly but wonder if they had all of their faculties. Prayer, for the vast majority of us, is a one-way conversation where we submit a request to God in hopes that He hears us and answers it with a yes. 

The truth is, our Heavenly Father loves to speak to His children. We see this throughout the Bible. Psalm 85:8 says, “I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people…” Jeremiah 33:3 adds, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” The reality is that God is always there, available and welcoming, to guide, reveal, comfort, and speak the truth. The question then becomes, how do we hear His voice? 

The first step is to believe that God speaks and that His voice is for everyone. The enemy wants us to believe God is distant, that He is too busy to talk to us, that hearing from God is reserved for just a few. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is always present and is delighted when His children seek Him and enter into conversation with Him.  

Not only does God want to guide us specifically, He wants to communicate with us directly. He desires to speak into our hearts; encouraging us, shaping us, convicting us, inspiring us. The question is are we listening? The first step in hearing God speak is to be still and listen. We need to create margin in our lives to simply be still and quiet before God, listening for His voice speaking into our hearts. We strengthen our connection with God by spending time in fellowship with Him.   

We must train our hearts to hear our Father’s voice, just as a child can discern their parent’s voice out of a crowd of other voices. (John 10:3-4) God speaks to us internally through his Holy Spirit; using a feeling, an impression, an image, a prompting, a single word or thought. God can speak through many sources. God can be attempting to communicate with us in every part of the day and through a variety of means. He may speak through a song, through a conversation with a friend, a counseling session, through scripture, in a sermon, through “coincidences”, an advertisement, through someone in your small group, etc. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (John 16:13) The more you seek God’s voice, the more easily you will recognize it when He speaks.

If we get close enough to the Lord, we will hear Him speak to us.  God is speaking…are we listening?

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is the biggest challenge to hearing God’s voice? 
  2. What can we do this week to overcome that challenge? 

God Has A Plan

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:13-14. 

As soon as Christmas ends, we anxiously await the words “Happy New Year.” Especially this year. We had outbreaks and the challenges that come with a pandemic in addition to our normal challenges. Doors closed as churches across the country tried to balance risk with the very real need to worship. Individuals fared no better. So it is no wonder why people were ready for the New Year to roll in. After all, we should see a return to life back to normal, so we get back to making plans for the future.     

Good plans are important. And necessary. So are New Year Resolutions. However, statistics indicate that a large number of plans fail. Statistics indicate that 75 percent of all resolutions will be broken before January ends. Plans must be more than declarations if they are to succeed. After all, how can we think, pray, and plan for the whole year in the first week of January?  We can’t. Doing so is often a blueprint for disappointment and failure. The only sustaining plan is God’s plan for our lives. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, they often mean that God will help them achieve their dreams. God’s plans for our lives are far superior to our ambitions, so sometimes the answer to our prayers is not what we are looking for because God has a better plan. Isaiah 64: 4 says, “For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” God’s plan for our lives begins when we receive Him as Lord and Savior and ends in eternity. 

While it would be hard to argue that God’s plan is better than our plan, it usually takes a few failures, and some complaining before we realize God’s plan is the way to go. It also usually takes repairing of our self-inflicted damage before we get with God’s plan and we become useful for His purposes.  The key to any plan is to take it one step at a time and God’s plan is no different. Ecclesiastes 3:1-17 tells us there is a season for everything and that God has made everything beautiful for its own time. In additions, plans have destinations. God’s path for me is the plan.  It is an eternal path. And obstacles are often part of the plan.  It is the part that grows our faith and trust in HIm.  Many of us waver in our path when it is blocked by obstacles.  We sigh and chalk up this plan as something that was never going to happen. No barriers are too big for God. We need to trust Him and find a way over, through, or around the blockage. 

My prayer is that we learn to trust God with the future. He has a plan for each of our lives and He will bring good from our choice to trust Him.  Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, what do they usually mean?
  2. What can we do this week to trust and accept God’s plan for the future?

2020 Is Finally Over

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” -Hebrews 13:8.

“I can’t wait until we can back to normal.”  

How often have we each said that over the last year?  Never in a million years would we have expected 2020 to be the way it was. We lost loved ones. Many lost jobs. We quarantined. We cried. We shook with fear. We sat depressed wondering if we would make it through. Yet here we are. Still standing. Still moving. Still living. Life is not the way it was and it may never be the same again. But there remains One who is faithful and true: Jesus – He is our unshakable foundation when the “new normal” changes day to day. He is our hope that anchors our soul as we put our trust in Him.

Hebrews 13:8 states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Jesus does not change. Jesus, the all-powerful God, will never change. Jesus, our Savior who has taken our sins away, will never change. Jesus, who knows and helps us through all our weaknesses and trials, will never change. Jesus, who is everywhere… listening to every concern we have, will never change. Jesus, who has promised to one day return to bring us home to heaven, will never change. Yes, the world keeps changing, but Jesus never changes. He will not recant His words. He will not revoke His offer of unconditional love and grace. This verse reminds me that amongst the craziness of this year and the uncertainty of next year, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for all future ages. This is an encouraging word for us whose entire faith and hope rest on Him.

Scripture tells us over and over that God will not change His mind, “…I am the Lord, and I do not change.” ( Malachi 3:6 ) James also spoke of this, “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 ). He does this to make His intentions very clear to us so we can rest in those promises. In fact, in Numbers 23, when Balaam was paid to curse Israel, God did not allow it, instead He pronounced a blessing on them:“God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” ( Numbers 23:19 ) What was meant to harm them, turned out as an encouraging word to them because God wanted them to know He will not change.

In the same way, we can let this truth penetrate deep into every thought process as we put 2020 in the rearview mirror and prepare for 2021.  Jesus is the same, He will not change.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”

Discussion Question:

  1. How does Hebrews 13:8 affect how you look at 2020?
  2. How does Hebrews 13:8 affect how you look at 2021? 
  3. How does Hebrews 13:8 affect your daily walk with Christ? 

Show Me Your Glory

“And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:17-18. 

This prayer of Moses is one of the greatest prayers in the Bible. Just five words, “please show me your glory.” It is a simple prayer, and like Moses, who amongst us does not yearn for God to show us more of His glory. But hadn’t Moses already seen all that? Up to this point, he had experienced supernatural physical manifestations of God’s presence in the miracles in Egypt, the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, the thick smoke-filled cloud on Mount Sinai. He had engaged in intimate conversations with God in the Holy of Holies.

Yes, he had experienced all those things but apparently Moses wanted more. The intimate relationship Moses had with God gave him the courage to ask. And as much as God probably wanted to grant Moses what he asked, He couldn’t. His brilliance, His radiance is too much for human eyes. But our loving God found a way to give Moses a taste of what he asked. He hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, covered his face with His hand, and allowed Moses a glimpse of His glory.  

What’s so remarkable is God intended for us to experience that same glory in our midst. So when the time was right, God sent His glory to earth in the form of His Son, Jesus. Jesus’ very name, Immanuel, means “God with us.” What God has given us is truly extraordinary.   

Too often today our thoughts of God are puny, limited, finite, and so unworthy of God.  We have made God compatible with our image of Him. But God is not like anything we’ve ever experienced or anyone we’ve ever known. We need to go to the Word of God and shape our view and our opinion of God based on what He has revealed to be true of Himself. Scripture enables us see Him, behold, ponder and meditate on Him.  

We know that if we saw more than that, the sight would kill us. God’s glory is so weighty, so impressive, His beauty, His majesty, His splendor—it’s so resplendent that we can’t look upon it in full view. But He gives us glimpses of His glory. And when He does, what He shows us is who He is, His character, His acts, what He’s like. Isaiah 6:2-3 says, “Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

I pray that we will want to see God for who He is.  That we will see His face and His glory. That we will hunger for more of His presence: Lord, show us your glory in 2021. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you believe you have seen the glory of God? If not, why not? 
  2. Can God show His glory to us today? Why or why not?
  3. What steps can we take to get closer to God in 2021?

Obedience At The End Of A Spear

“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” ― Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control.

Elisabeth Elliot was a young missionary in Ecuador when members of a violent Amazonian tribe savagely speared her husband Jim and his four colleagues as depicted in the movie, End of the Spear. Incredibly, prayerfully, Elisabeth took her toddler daughter, snakebite kit, Bible, and journal and lived in the jungle with the Stone-Age people who killed her husband. Compelled by her friendship and forgiveness, many came to faith in Jesus.  

Elizabeth went on to write dozens of books, host a long-running radio show, and speak at conferences all over the world.  For Elisabeth, the central question was not, “How does this make me feel?”  The question was, “what do I need to do about it to obey God?” How effective are we at obeying the will of God in our lives? 

If we want to obey the will of God, that means we have to know what His will is for our lives. To know His will we need to know scripture.  Many people want to know God’s plan for their lives, but they overlook the fact that 98 percent of His will is already spoken carefully through His Word.  God is very clear about many aspects of what He expects from His followers. He tells us that we should love Him and that we should love our neighbor as our self.  There are other things we should do and things that we should not do. The only way to know those things is by reading His Word.

The Word reveals His will for our lives. The Word may not tell you that you’re supposed to pack up and move to Africa but it does reveal the heart of Jesus and His character.  The Bible can help us check to see if we’ve modeled his holiness, love, goodness, justice, and mercy. Have we given grace, been bold in our faith, and patient? His Word reveals the image and character of God and we can choose to reflect His image through all of the decisions we make in our lifetime.

In addition to His word, we’ve received the gift of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus, living inside of us. As we walk in step and submission to the Spirit’s leading, He reveals the steps we need to take. He gives the thumbs up or the thumbs down. The bottom line is we need to be aligned to the Spirit and to His Word if you desire to know His will. 

“Then Jesus came close to them and said, ‘All the authority of the universe has been given to me. Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And teach them to faithfully follow all that I have commanded you. And never forget that I am with you every day, even to the completion of this age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 TPT)

Discussion Question:

  1. How did you react to the Elizabeth Elliot story? Is it possible to have the faith that she had? 
  2. What can we do this week and in the weeks to follow to better know the will of God? 

I Love You, Lord Jesus

“I love You, Lord Jesus…Look down from the sky…And stay by my side…Until morning is nigh” – Chorus from Away in a Manger. 

Love they say makes the world go round. More songs and poems have been written about love than just about any other subject. And yes – love is absolutely essential in our lives. From the moment we’re born until when we die. So … why is it that so many people don’t experience love in their lives? Real love – the sort that God talks about a lot. Saying the words “I love you” is easy, but do you love so deeply that you have absolutely no expectations of receiving something in return. We are talking about the kind of love that is unending; the type of love that is unmerited because it is not deserved and unconditional because it is not based on actions. We are talking about the kind of love that is supernatural because it is not something that can be done in your own strength. We are talking about the love of God. 

God loves you with unconditional love. To know God is to know love in its truest form because He is love. Love isn’t just something He gives. It isn’t just something that He feels. It is who He is. God’s love for you is limitless and has the power to set you free from every wound, thought, sin, and broken relationship that causes you to live anything less than a joyful and content life.

This unconditional love will inspire you to respond to others in the same way. The love of God is forever. It never runs out no matter how bad a day you are having or how far you wander away from Him. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “ Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

God’s love is sacrificial, leading to the point of death on the cross. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” ( John 3:16) The love of God is inseparable, it will be with us through thick and thin. We can’t run away from it. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?…And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 35, 38-39) 

It is expansive, beyond what we can grasp or imagine. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”  (Ephesians 3:18)

So how do we experience that love? There is only one way and that is Jesus. The love of God for me is there. And nothing can separate us from His love.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. If you meditate on the depth of God’s love for you, how do you think it would change your perspectives? What keeps you from experiencing God’s love? 
  2. This week, allow God’s love to renew within you a longing to spend more time with him. Rest in His presence. Spend time with your heavenly Father just letting Him love you.