Being Thankful

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.             

What emotions do you feel as you mull over the approaching holiday season? Peace, joy, and thankfulness? Or does the Thanksgiving and Christmas season equate to exhausting travel, hectic schedules, and wondering where to hide the Elf on a Shelf.  It starts with Thanksgiving where people who are preparing the Thanksgiving feast hope that everything will turn out good and that there will be enough food for everybody. As a result, we can forget that it is a time to give thanks; to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness to God in our life.  

When we give thanks, we bring to mind God’s gifts to us. This, in turn, reminds us of God’s gracious nature. We think, not just of what God has done, but also of who God is. Thus, giving thanks is a beginning, not an end in itself. In the language of Psalm 100, we enter God’s gates with thanksgiving so that we might go into His courts with praise. There’s no biblical rule that states that thanks must always come before praise. But, for many of us, thanksgiving for what God has done leads us to praise God for who He is.

Thanksgiving is a season of being grateful. Thanksgiving reminds us of all the things to be grateful for. One reason that we fail to thank God now for what we have is that we want more – we want the next step. We fool ourselves into thinking that when we get more or when we get to the next step that then we will stop to thank Him. But that suggests we should not be grateful for what God is doing in our lives as part of His plan for each of us. And that means being thankful even when we are facing setbacks.

We should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him because “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father,”  (James 1:17). Expressing thankfulness helps us remember that God is in control. Thankfulness, then, is not only appropriate; it is actually healthy and beneficial to us. It reminds us of the bigger picture, that we belong to God, and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). 

All of us have a lot to be thankful for this time of year. But not only should we give thanks during the holidays, but we should also give thanks to God every day of the year.

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?

Telling Your Story

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. ”  – 1 Peter 3:15-16. 

We all love stories, especially ones that give us an “inside look” into someone else’s life. As a child of God, you have a powerful story to tell. Sharing how you came to Jesus and the difference he’s made in your life can help others discover how they too, can know God personally.

Your story — regardless of how “spectacular” or “ordinary” you think it is — is a story about God’s character. It is your eyewitness account of how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ and changed your life as a result. When we share our story with others we help them get to know what God is like and what He can do.

Being used by God to share His love and see someone receiving Him as their Savior is one of the greatest blessings you will encounter in this life. And although it’s the prompting of the Holy Spirit that draws man to Christ, believers often play a critical role in sharing God’s word: in most cases, the catalyst for their spiritual transformation was honest conversations with a believer.

Acts 1:8 reminds us of our responsibility to tell others the Good News: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He told us to be witnesses. He wants us to tell people what happened to change our lives. He wants us to tell our story of what Jesus did for us. Telling our story is a far cry from preaching to people. Preaching is telling people what to do and that will typically be a turnoff. In contrast, telling your personal story connects with people because we all share many of the same goals, desires, challenges, etc. We all want to be loved. We all want to love. 

Your story about when you received the love of God, you knew for the first time in your life what it means to be loved and to love. But it didn’t stop there. He gave your life meaning and a purpose. Your story is how God changed your life. So look for opportunities to tell people your story. Even if it’s just bits and pieces. People are interested. God will use your story to change their lives, just like He changed your life.

Also, remember that a testimony should never be preaching: Stay humble; never talk down, argue or use high-pressure methods to persuade people to make decisions for Christ. But do look for openings. Ask God to give you opportunities to tell your story. People you meet may say that there’s something different about you or even ask you why you’re such a “religious” person. Such situations are windows of opportunity to tell your story of faith.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Crafting your story: What were the final struggles that went through your mind just before you accepted Him? Why did you finally decide to accept Christ (or give Him complete control of your life)?
  2. How is my life different now? List some specific changes in your character, attitude, and perspective on life.

Why Not Julie?

“I believe if God doesn’t give you a miracle, you are a miracle of God for somebody else’s salvation.” – Nick Vujicic. 

Julie is the person next to me at Starbucks trying to decide what to order: “May I have a grande blonde, iced, sugar-free, cinnamon dolce latte with soy milk, half-sweet, 10 pumps vanilla and no foam, please?” Or Julie is a colleague or a fellow student. Julie is a relative, friend, acquaintance that you spend time with or a complete stranger who crosses your path for a few moments. Julie is all the broken, hurting people searching for meaning and hope in all the places except for one: the peace that can only be found in Jesus and the forgiveness He offers.  We all have Julie’s in our life. We may not be able to change them, but we can tell them that God loves them and let God do the rest.   

Every Christian wants to make a difference. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. We know the Julie’s in our lives need the good news, but we have a hard time opening our homes and opening our mouths to make the gospel known. There is a fear of evangelism. We dread the thought of confrontation. We fear rejection. We don’t want to be labeled religious fanatics or Jesus freaks. We don’t want Julie to be angry.  And many simply don’t know how to share their faith. If that is you, consider slowly hacking away at those obstacles. For instance, you might be fearful of what people think of you or how they will react when you talk about God. It’s probably not doable to just stop being fearful. What you could do, however, is to start with something small—say, working up the courage to give your testimony in your small group. Having done that, you will feel more at ease on this issue in your life. If you are wondering how to “start the conversation ” about God with Julie, just ask her if they would like to attend church with you.

As Christians, we all long for Julie to know what we know: Jesus Christ is Lord. We’ve been made to know and love God. All of us fall short and deserve eternal punishment. But God, in His love, made a way of escape. Jesus lived a perfect life and, therefore could die as a perfect sacrifice in the place of all who would turn and trust in Him. His resurrection proves He really is the Son of God, and now all are called to follow him. That is what we want Julie to hear and believe. If Julie doesn’t hear it from us who will she hear it from?  

We should want to share Christ with our Uber driver, our barista, and anyone that crosses our path. That is probably not feasible. But we can be faithful to the Julies that God has planted in our life. These are our colleagues, friends, relatives neighbors, and we have the responsibility to tell them about Christ.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Take some time to ask God to open your eyes to the people who are in your life that need Christ…and then be patient and persistent with them looking for ways to share the good news with them.

Why Me?

“I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:1-2.

Every day, there are children being adopted into loving families all across the country. Others continue to hope to be adopted someday. Imagine sitting in a foster care facility wanting more than anything to be part of a family and wondering when your turn will come and you will be chosen.  

I was chosen by God as John 15:16 says, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you….” That prompts an obvious question: “Why? Why would God choose me? What goodness or merit did God see in me that He would choose me? I don’t see anything really unique or special within myself that makes me deserving of being chosen. We are all sinners.  “…We all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23). He knew us inside and out. He knew my messes and your messes. The book of Romans says, that He chose us and died for us even while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) He knew my passions and your passions, everything about us, and I believe that God chose us, not because we are good, or because we are more holy than another person, but because He loves us. 

God chose you because He wants to do something with your life. You aren’t here by chance, nor are you here just to live for yourself without any thought of God.

God chose you and me to bear fruit. The last half of John 15:16 says, “…I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” The last command Jesus gave to His disciples was this: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) 

The most important thing that Christians can do to change the world is to tell others about Jesus. The only way to change the world is to change individuals. Changed people, in sufficient numbers, will produce changed campuses, changed communities, changed cities, states, and nations. We can help to change the world by introducing people to Jesus Christ.

Discussion Question:

  1. God chose you to demonstrate His character. He chose you that you may know Him and love Him. He chose you because He is love, He is gracious, He is merciful, and He has a glorious plan for you. Agree or disagree and why?

I Once Was Lost

“When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” ― Luke 15:6-7. 

Ever since socks were invented, we have experienced the mystery of what happens to the missing socks. You are getting ready for the day, but when you try to find a pair of socks, you discover that the ones you have don’t match. Over the years many of your socks have found themselves in the Bermuda Triangle of socks and you are left with a sad pile of lonely, orphaned socks in a variety of colors, lengths, and stages of life. You feel a moment of regret that you did not spend some time locating them, especially the more valuable ones. But now it is too late. 

 That’s what Luke 15 is all about. We see the context in the first two verses: “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” In other words, Jesus got into trouble with the Pharisees because He hung around sinful people. And it was in response to that accusation that Jesus told these three stories: the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin, and the story of the lost son. Jesus was using these three stories to illustrate why He hung with sinners. Jesus gave the reason in Mark 2:17: “…Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Clearly, Jesus didn’t view his hanging out with sinners as fun or just hanging out. We don’t go to the doctor to hang out, do we? Of course not. We go to the doctor to get healed. We go with purpose and intent. And doctors don’t go to work to hang out. They go to heal the sick. He sought them out, met them where they were, and extended grace to them in their circumstances because He wanted them to be saved. 

Jesus saw the individual, not the label. And each one was important to Him. The way God values people is seen in all three of these stories. In the first story, the story of the lost sheep, we are likened to a sheep that a shepherd has lost. In the second story, the story of the lost coin, we are likened to a coin that a poor widow has lost. In the third story, the story of the lost son, we are likened to a son whom a father has lost. If you are a father, you know how important your children are. Their preciousness is far beyond value. You can only imagine how painful it would be to lose one of them. Some of you may know that pain from experience. God is saying that you are as precious to Him as a child is to its father.

In Luke 15 we are introduced to a God who is a Father. As a Father He loves everyone. But the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost son make it clear that when you are away from Him when you are lost, He wants you to be found.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What do the three lost parables mean to you? 
  2. Take a moment of silence and think of the people in your life that might be far from God, and make a shortlist. Commit to pray for them, commit to include them in your life in a welcoming way, and commit to inviting them to church where they can hear the good news of God’s love for them and the adventure awaiting them if they choose to follow Christ. 

The Glory Of God

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”  – Acts 7:55.

If you are like me, there are times when a worship song just hits me. The music is powerful, uplifting and glorious, all at the same time. It evaded my understanding, but the presence of God seemed so real at that moment. I didn’t want the song or the chills to end. In those moments, I felt like I had experienced the presence of God in all His amazing glory. But then I was reminded that the song and that emotional moment captured is less than a drop in the never-ending ocean that is the glory of God. Glory isn’t a part of God; it’s all that God is. Every aspect of who God is and every part of what God does is glorious; even God’s glory is glorious. it gives me goosebumps to even think about it.

Defining the glory of God is impossible because God’s glory lives above and beyond any type of description or definition. The answer is as infinite as God’s glory itself, so the question can never be answered exhaustively. Now when Isaiah 6:3 says that one angel is crying to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” the next thing he says is this: “The whole earth is filled with his . . . ” People could guess that the next word would be “holiness,” but he doesn’t say that. He says, “glory.”  2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 1:3 adds, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.”  

The scriptures tell us: ”[He] has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. [to Him] …[He] spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them.” (Isaiah 40: 12, 15, 22). The prophet is attempting to give God’s glory some scale through word pictures, but even these very picturesque and helpful descriptions fall miserably short of capturing the awesome glory of God. God’s glory encompasses the greatness, beauty, and perfection of all that He is. There is none like Him; He has no rivals, and no valid comparisons can be made to Him. He is beyond our ability to estimate, understand or describe. 

There is one activity that Scripture associates far more than any other with glorifying God, and that is worship. At its heart, worship ascribes all glory to God alone. We can glorify God in many ways, but Scripture indicates that nothing we do delights God more than calling on His name with sincere hearts and declaring that all glory belongs to him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The definition of glorifying God is: To honor God by our lives showing His splendor, love, and perfection, that His presence is seen in us. In what ways does the believer do this in everyday life?
  2. What can we do this week to glorify God? 

Please Give Me A Sign

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9.  

Have you ever asked God to give you a sign?  Most of us probably have at one time or another. Maybe we have done so in times of desperation, frustration, confusion, or even isolation.  We want a physical, tangible, obvious sign that God is with us and for us. There are Christians who are in constant fear that they’re not “really saved.” They are looking for some sort of confirmation or visible blessing. So, we look for verification of being saved in something we can measure: for example, are we more humble this year than last year, were we more consistent in our daily devotions and did we tithe more this year? The Israelites needed a sign after leaving Egypt. 

The Israelites faced another threat in their desert trek from Egypt. The threat was a lack of water. “So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded…Moses named the place Massah (which means “test”) and Meribah (which means “arguing”) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?” (Exodus 17:2, 7)  The people wanted another sign from God.  They had seen sign after sign, but when the water ran out, they needed another sign. Psalm 95:7-9 addressees this: “for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.” 

The Israelites had forgotten all God had already done for them in the past and His promises to them in the future. “When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” (Deuteronomy 20:1) 

It is easy to want some sort of proof that God is there when we face hard times or difficulties. But faith isn’t like that. Faith is believing God accepts you in Christ Jesus on the basis of His Word, not on the basis of what you did better year to year.  The Apostle John wrote an entire chapter to assure God’s people that they are indeed God’s people. “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13). The word know means absolute assurance. It is possible to be saved and know it.

We all struggle with seasons where we long for a sign that we are on the right path, that we are doing what God wants us to do. And in some cases, God may give us that sign. But we don’t need a sign to surrender and to get engaged in the mission of God. Nor do we need a sign to offer our time, talent, and treasures as a blank check to him. We just need faith. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are one or two areas of your faith where you are experiencing doubt? 
  2. Read Ephesians 2:8-9: Your salvation is not determined by your good works or even by the amount of your faith.

How To Be An Intentional Grandparent

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:9. 

Grandparents, you’ve done it! Your kids are adults! They have their own careers, and they are starting their own families. The many years of relentlessly leading and guiding your kids are paying off, and it may appear your job is done. It’s tempting to celebrate; to kick back and enjoy this new season of your life. Well, you definitely deserve some much-needed rest…but don’t celebrate too early. You’re not done yet. 

Parents influence, but grandparents have an opportunity to leave a legacy with their grandkids. Grandparents have a joyful responsibility to be as involved and engaged in the spiritual formation of our grandchildren as it’s possible for us to be.

After many decades, grandparents have learned a lot about life.  In fact, grandparents’ lives are encyclopedias of knowledge and lessons learned in all those years. These experiences and wisdom can be passed along and help mold and shape grandchildren. Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren…” Solomon told his son. (Proverbs 13:22)  Giving grandchildren an inheritance does not mean money alone. You can give them the gift of unconditional love. You can give the grandchildren your testimony of God’s faithfulness throughout your life. You can support your grandchildren through your prayers.  

Grandparents who see their role as a responsibility and work to do it well will quickly realize the truth of Proverbs 17:6: “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged…” Leave your grandchildren a spiritual legacy; decades later, after they are grown and long after you are gone, they will continue to draw from the memories of love, inspiration, direction, encouragement, and wisdom.

Grandparents have an incredible potential to influence the next generation — and a Biblical mandate to do so. As grandparents, we want to know that our legacy of faith in Jesus Christ will outlive us in our grandchildren and the generations that follow.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What does leaving a spiritual legacy mean to you? 
  2. Do you see non-Christians as potential friends or simply as people God wants you to tell about him? With how many non-Christians do you have mutually beneficial relationships?

Just A Matter Of Time

“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” – Psalms 127:3.

Every child is a gift from God. Parents have a responsibility to develop that gift – to mold and shape, to shepherd and nurture – this precious life. How can we be effective parents in a defective world? That is the million-dollar question. Are we equipped to raise godly children in this age? Because it takes more than good intentions to raise a godly generation who lives boldly for Christ.

While parents are different in many ways, they are similar in their love for their children and their desire to see them flourish. Christian parents have the same wishes, coupled with the great responsibility to raise them to know and love the Lord. Today’s culture makes that task increasingly more difficult. We need to be intentional. And intentionality is often a matter of time. One of the ways we can be more intentional about time is to cut out these five words: “…for a couple of minutes.”

The pressure that society is placing on parents is to spend all their time working for our family, rather than being an intentional part of the family.  It can seem that the plan for the day will unravel if you stop to spend time with your child. So when your son wants you to kick a soccer ball with him or your daughter wants you to play hide and seek with her our reply is, “for a couple of minutes.” If we are not careful, we can hear ourselves saying those five words more and more often in an attempt to deal with too many different things at the same time.

The cold reality is our kids grow up quickly. It’s sobering to realize how quickly time with our children is passing by. Most parents have regretted or will regret saying  “for a couple of minutes.” To be intentional means we don’t take the time with our kids for granted and that we are intentional about how we use it. We need to remember that our time with our kids is precious but short and that eternity is long. We can invest in things that produce an eternal dividend or in things that end next week. The question here is, how are we investing the little time we have with our children? Is it used up by numbing entertainment so we can get other things done or are we being intentional about how they are doing spiritually?  

When we look back at all those times that we spent quality time with our children, we were creating something beautiful by intentionally investing in them.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes intentional time for you? 
  2. What can you do this week to be more intentional about your time with your children? 

Intentional Parenting

Show your children God’s love by loving them and others as Christ loves you. Be quick to forgive, don’t hold a grudge, look for what’s best, and speak gently into areas of their lives that need growth.” ― Genny Monchamp. 

Parenting today takes intentionality. As parents, we want to impart a godly legacy to our children. We want them to experience the joy of a vibrant, deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But then life happens as it often does. The days get busy and then the next thing you know weeks and months and years have gone by and we wonder what happened to the time. Life teaches us that it takes years and years of unrelenting effort to train up a child in the way he or she should go. Good intentions are the beginning of the journey. Along the way, you’ve got to avoid a lot of wrong turns, go around a lot of curves, endure a lot of problems, fix a few flats, and keep pressing on. 

When life gets complicated we tend to look for the quick fix when it comes to parenting. We just want a quick fix to a problem or issue with our kids so we can move on to something else. Quick-fix parenting may temporarily ease a parent’s stress level, but it does little to positively impact a child’s future. Nor is is it necessarily a good fix or a healthy fix or an empowering fix, and it’s definitely not an effective long-term strategy to fix the problem. But right now we have to put out a fire. Looking for a quick fix is reactive and spontaneous and is the polar opposite of intentional parenting. Intentional parenting is a way to raise children to become healthy, independent young adults. It’s based on solid principles that, applied over time, actually, result in happier, better-adjusted, and more successful kids. Intentional parenting means you’ve got more than good intentions; you’ve got a plan.

Intentional parenting cannot be farmed out. There is no outsourcing for this. And so if you have children in your home, then God means for you to be the central means of their education, especially their spiritual education.  For Christian parents, the goal of intentional parenting is to help our children want to walk in the footsteps of parents who are living God’s way of life, and who are working to be more like Jesus.  

One of the keys to intentional parenting is demonstrating to our children that God’s way works for us. We need to be an example of what they want us to be…If children experience a parent who gives unconditional love, has clear-cut rules that are consistently reinforced and genuinely displays the fruits of God’s Spirit, it will not be difficult for them to want to do the same things. 

Successful parenting is not that complicated, yet it is very difficult to do well. At the end of the day, it involves giving up control to God. To parent well, we need God as a co-parent. God’s plan for parenting was never meant to be one we carry out without Him.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Everybody falls into quick-fix parenting now and again. When is this most likely to happen for you?
  2. When do you most often doubt you have any influence in your children’s lives at all?
  3. Have you ever considered having an intentional plan as a parent? What has held you back?