Quarreling Along The Way

“So Joseph sent his brothers off, and as they left, he called after them, “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way!” – Genesis 45:24.

Looking at the life of Joseph we see that he went through a lot of pain and suffering. In the book of Genesis Chapter 45, he is revealing himself to his brothers for the first time. Instead of being angry at them, he loves them. He even encourages them not to feel guilty or angry at themselves for mistreating him. If you are not familiar with the life of Joseph, his brothers had thrown him into a pit and sold him into slavery. They went back to their father and told him that Joseph was dead.

Now, over 20 years later, Joseph had been enslaved, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned. He also had been criticized, lied to, and basically forgotten. Joseph had a tough life for over 20 years. When Joseph said goodbye to his brothers as they went back home to bring their father and families to Egypt, he said something to them that was quite unexpected.  Instead of saying “safe journey”, or “see you soon”, he instead said, “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way.” 

It makes you wonder what they would quarrel about on the way back. Perhaps they would have a heated discussion on how they would explain to their father that Joseph was not dead but alive. They probably had an interesting dialogue on how they would have to admit what they had done all those years before and even who to blame. Having been promised that the best that Egypt could offer would be available to them, maybe they could have argued about how they might take maximize advantage of Pharaoh’s offer.

Although Joseph hadn’t seen his brothers for many years he knew their characters and temperament and the potential there was for disagreement. His advice was, therefore, well-founded. It is also possible for us to quarrel on the way.  Human nature can result in quarreling at home, at work, or even in the local church. In church especially, we should be in harmony. Scripture gives a very clear indication of the reasons why quarreling takes place:  “for you are living your lives dominated by the mind-set of the flesh. Ask yourselves: Is there jealousy among you? Do you compare yourselves with others? Do you quarrel like children and end up taking sides? If so, this proves that you are living your lives centered on yourselves, dominated by the mind-set of the flesh, and behaving like unbelievers.” (1 Corinthians 3:3 TPT) James 4:1 (TPT) adds, “What is the cause of your conflicts and quarrels with each other? Doesn’t the battle begin inside of you as you fight to have your own way and fulfill your own desires?”

As we embark or continue on our spiritual journey, Joseph gives us some excellent advice. Don’t quarrel along the way. Rather be a peacemaker. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. When we quarrel, we always think “I’m right.” Why do you suppose that is so and how can we learn to regard the other person’s feelings/viewpoint as equally important?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 3:3 and 1 Timothy 6:4-5. What do they tell us about how and why we quarrel?

In Awe

“The Son is the dazzling radiance of God’s splendor, the exact expression of God’s true nature—his mirror image! He holds the universe together and expands it by the mighty power of his spoken word. He accomplished for us the complete cleansing of sins, and then took his seat on the highest throne at the right hand of the majestic One.” – Hebrews 1:3 (TPT). 

We all have times in our lives when God feels distant, when He seems silent, and when we can’t see Him working. These times can last for a day or for a season, and one of the biggest challenges we face during these times is being tempted to humanize God in order to make Him easier to understand. In other words, we have a tendency to reduce God to a human level as we try to comprehend His ways. We should never lose a sense of awe before God, to be overwhelmed by the wonder, the depth of the greatness of God. We should be in awe of God’s transcendence, of His holiness and uniqueness.  We can’t even begin to comprehend His greatness, His glory, His might, His majesty, His justice, His mercy, His love. All of these attributes in Him are beyond our broadest, wildest imagination.

The concept of awe runs in a thread that appears in some of the most significant stories in the Bible. For instance, after Jesus rebuked the wind, the disciples were described as being “terrified and amazed.” (Luke 8:25). The women who found the tomb empty were described as “trembling and bewildered” (Mark 16:8). Those first filled with the Holy Spirit were described as being “amazed and perplexed” (Acts 2:12). Saul’s companions were “speechless” when Jesus appeared, and it would be fair to say that Paul’s conversion to Christianity involved being awestruck (see Acts 9:1-19).

Most of those stories I mentioned refer to the emotion of awe, a powerful and short-term reaction to a particular situation. However, there are many passages in the Bible that teach that people should be generally sensitive to the awesomeness of God. For example, we are told in Isaiah 29:9:  “Are you amazed and incredulous? Don’t you believe it? Then go ahead and be blind. You are stupid, but not from wine! You stagger, but not from liquor!”  Again, we are told to “Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!” (Job 37:14). In the New Testament, believers are encouraged to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians  2:12 ESV). Much of this comes together in the consistent Biblical teaching that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 1:7), the basic idea being that an awesome respect for God is central to leading a fulfilled life. 

We should never let our life become so routine in prayer or Bible reading or in worship. There is an awe that should mark every prayer, every Bible reading and every worship service. Paul tells us in Romans 11:33: “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge!” The Bible puts an exclamation point on that, and the same thing at the end of the next sentence, “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” He’s so beyond our understanding, we can’t even begin to understand the wonders of His ways, His judgments, His riches, His wisdom, His knowledge. It’s unending and we are left in awe. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be in awe of God in a day-to-day way? 
  2. What can we do to ensure we never lose our awe of who God is and what He did for us? 

The Firm Foundation Of Prayer

“Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions. When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  – John 2:7-11.

There is something about 2020 that seems more frustrating than other years. A terrible pandemic, another hurricane, division in our country probably provide the foundation for that frustration. It makes you wonder how to make sense of it all. And better still how do we get through the challenges we are facing. Faith and trust in God are certainly important, but a critical component in dealing with tough times is prayer.  

There is power in prayer. Even in simple prayers. There is an example in the Bible in John chapter 2. Jesus and His mother were attending a wedding in Cana. The wedding was not special and if Jesus had not been there, it would have been lost in time. Sometime during the wedding celebration, the end ran out. That was a big no no and was embarrassing to those putting on the wedding.  

Mary, the mother of Jesus walks over to Jesus and says, “…They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)  Notice that Mary didn’t tell her Son what to do, she wasn’t critical of others or assign blame: she just stated the problem. Jesus’ reply is found in verse 4: “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” But in verse 5 Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

It would seem that Jesus had little interest in saving the wedding banquet. It wasn’t the time nor the place He had planned to reveal His power. But then His mother entered the picture with a genuine need. Jesus told the servants to fill the waterpots with water, and that water became wine the entire party enjoyed. Problem presented. Prayer answered. Crisis avoided. All because Mary entrusted the problem to Jesus.  

In 2020, it seems there is not enough time in the day to take all your concerns and problems to the Lord. But that is exactly what should happen. After all, the writer of Philippians reminds us in our key verse, “Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.”” (Philippians 4:6-7 TPT)

When life throws you a curve, let Mary be your model. She took her problem to Jesus and she left it there. She stated her problem simply, presented it faithfully and trusted Him humbly.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel awkward or uncomfortable in prayer? If so why? 
  2. What problems or challenges do you need to take to Jesus this week? 

How To Handle Conflict

“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:24–25.

You know the feeling. Words are exchanged. Tempers flare. Suddenly, and unexpectantly, you find yourself in the middle of a confrontation. The question is not whether conflicts will come, but how we will handle them. It would seem that peacemakers would avoid conflicts, but avoiding conflict is not the answer because conflict typically worsens when you ignore them.  

The highpoints of the history of God’s people are accounts not of fleeing conflict, but moving toward it in hope, believing God is at work. A few examples are Moses with the stubborn people he refused to give up on; Elijah at Carmel squaring off against Baal; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel brought into increasing conflict with hard-hearted people they were commissioned to serve. And of course, our most compelling example of not shying away from conflict, but turning to take it head-on, is Jesus. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2)

The trajectory of Jesus’s life was toward need, and inevitably toward conflict, not away. He set His face like flint to go to the cross and rescue us from our greatest conflict, eternal separation from God because of sin. Handling conflicts provide Christians an opportunity to demonstrate grace. This is one of the ways that God works in a world like ours. Which doesn’t mean we become headstrong and combative. Rather,  as peacemakers, we should conduct ourselves with kindness, patience, and gentleness. 

Be a determined peacemaker (Matthew 5:9) and allow the words of Paul to be the compass in the middle of the storm: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful…And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:12-15, 17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you handle conflict? 
  2. What can we do this week to reflect God in the midst of confrontation?  

Our Differences Don’t Define Us

“The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” –John 4:9-10

There can be many reasons why it is difficult to be a peacemaker. One of those is we tend to divide ourselves into small groups and see our differences as our only defining traits. At times, we only see our racial differences, our cultural differences, our religious differences, or our economic differences and we allow them to determine how we look at other people.  When we dwell on our differences we can miss out on opportunities to be a peacemaker, while making special connections, and friendships from the rich diversity of people in God’s kingdom.

The story of the woman at the well in John’s gospel demonstrates the importance of being willing to be a peacemaker with people who are different than ourselves. John tells us that Jesus is resting from His travels at a well. While He was there a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well. Jesus asked her for a drink. Her reply in John 4 shows the great division between the Jews and Samaritans. She did not offer him a drink, instead, she replies, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” In that moment, where so many possibilities existed, the woman did not see any commonalities, only differences.  

Thankfully, the story does not end with her question. Jesus continues to talk with her and her time with Jesus becomes a life-giving and life-defining moment for her. Her life was blessed because they did not allow their differences to define their interaction and end their relationship before it even began.

As a lover of Jesus, we want to be known for genuinely loving people first, not for dismissing people in favor of our own opinions or needs. Listening can bring us together and help us to offer a bit more empathy, compassion, and healing to each human story we engage with. Listening well makes us better spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, and leaders. Maybe we won’t always see eye-to-eye, and that’s OK but, hopefully, if we listen a little more, we can become better peacemakers by overcoming our differences.  

I wonder how often we miss out on special moments in our lives because we don’t engage with other people who are different from us. There is real value in our differences.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How should we view our differences?  
  2. Are there any situations in your life this week where you can be a peacemaker? 

To Be A Peacemaker, Don’t Be Critical

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others.The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend,‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5. 

Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” When we stand before God someday, we want to hear Him say that we are His children. His children should be peacemakers, but being a peacemaker is no small task. Not that living any of the beatitudes in the book of Matthew, is easy. But being a peacemaker would be easier if we could stop criticizing.  

Sometimes, asking ourselves “why” is exactly what we need. If you find yourself constantly criticizing others, ask yourself: Am I doing it because I’m noticing an issue and humbly seeking change? Or am I doing it because I enjoy finding problems? The question is are we living a Christlike life if we are criticizing. Christians should be the most loving people around. 

Also, remember the ways your words can impact others. Your comments, even spoken without malice, may hurt someone. Think about this before you spread rumors or listen to gossip. These words can sink into the heart and really cause deep wounds. But there are also times when we will be the recipients of criticism. 

There are many ways to respond to criticism. It can be helpful to pray about what you hear. The perspective you receive may be valid and valuable. As God leads, you may seek to change. But never allow criticism to impact your commitment to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew about criticism. Mark tells us how one day Jesus and His disciples were having a meal with tax collectors, and the religious teachers saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors – and they criticized Him. They failed to understand the work Jesus had to do, with ordinary people who needed a hand up in life, and yet He was rebuked and misunderstood. It was central to the life of Jesus that He mixed with and befriended ordinary people, called sinners. The Scribes and Pharisees often confronted Him head-on and demanded He leave. In Nazareth, His hometown, He was criticized. Men despised and rejected Him; He was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. The Jews mocked Him, but Jesus never retaliated or sought revenge. He withstood the criticism and insults without taking matters into His own hands.

Jesus moved on showing grace and mercy – as we should when people criticize us. Maybe we can learn something and change our ways; but nonetheless remember God is the judge, not you. He will sort everything out in the end.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel when you are criticized? Do your feelings dictate your response to criticism?
  2. What can we do this week to criticize less?  

Do You Have Time To Be Patient?

“Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy.” – Colossians 1:10-11. 

Do you consider yourself to be patient? Our daily lives require us to exercise patience, whether the issues we face are small or big. Receiving a bad grade, dealing with a difficult co-worker, experiencing conflict with a friend, or trying to be a peacemaker are all situations that require us to be patient. It is often easier said than done. We cannot control every aspect of our lives. The way others treat us and the situations we find ourselves in are sometimes simply beyond our control, and we have to find ways to cope with them.

What does that mean to us today?  Most would agree that Christians should be patient, but does that mean we should be tranquil or peaceful? Or does it mean we should be long-suffering? When we think about patience we have to think about God himself. God isn’t patient because we deserve it. He’s patient because it’s who He is. He doesn’t lose patience with those He loves, since patience is His very nature. 2 Peter 3:9 says,  “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” A couple verses later, Peter says: “And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved…” (2 Peter 3:15).

When we are patient in an impatient world, we show people the One who is patient with us. When was the last time you had to be patient with someone? Our culture isn’t exactly keen on patience. We want what we want now, not later. Being patient with others is hard, especially when that person causes delays or raises our blood pressure. 

Read the parable in Matthew 18:21-35. This is a story Jesus told His disciples about two servants who both had debts. The first servant owed his master an exorbitant amount of money; so high a payment that he likely could work his entire life and never fully make the payment. He asked his master to be patient with him, and the master, being good and forgiving, forgave the servant of the entire amount. Can you imagine how the servant must have felt? Instead of relieved and grateful, He went to his friend and asked for the friend to repay his (very small) debt. The story highlights the contrast of the two responses and makes clear how God intends for us to respond to His great patience.

If you want patience then ask God for it. Because when we’re patient, we’re more like Him. Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” In life, we will face trials. However, as believers, we can find hope in knowing that we have a loving God who is in control of our lives. When we put our trust in His perfect plan rather than our own, we do not need to feel anxious, worried or impatient.

Discussion Question:

  1. In your relationships, are you patient? 
  2. Pray and ask God for patience in all your dealings this week.

The Case For Curiosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” — Albert Einstein: Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine.   

“Why?”

The day will come when a child will learn to talk and start asking those much-anticipated questions. Children are curious, inquisitive, and eager to learn.  Curiosity is a nebulous thing to which most of us don’t give much focused, concrete thought. Others are perpetually curious. Today, we have immediate access to more information than world scholars could have gathered in an entire lifetime just a couple of hundred years ago. But what about Christians? 

Should Christians be curious? The answer is yes, we need curiosity. Curiosity is a strong desire to know and to learn. When Christians are curious, they grow in knowledge and their ability to rightly discern situations. “It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them. No one can comprehend the height of heaven, the depth of the earth, or all that goes on in the king’s mind!” (Proverbs 10:11) 

Discernment is the ability to judge what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. Curiosity helps drive us in this process. We wonder and ask because we yearn for the truth. We want to have a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to increase our faith and our actions as a result of that faith. 

We have to be wary of complacency. Without curiosity, we can decide that we know enough of God without over considering His magnificent infinity and the endless opportunity to discover more of Him. You can replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity. Are you curious enough to plumb the depths of an intimate relationship with God? Are you seeking Him more and more each day? 

David in Psalm 63:1(ESV) said, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Didn’t David have the Lord? Yes, because he calls Him “my God.” But he wanted more. He wanted to go deeper. He was satisfied but he wasn’t satisfied. “You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy.” He knew that there was more and his whole being craved it as a thirsty man in the desert craves for water.

To seek after God means that there is always more because God is an infinite person. If you figure that you’ve reached a level of maturity in your Christian life where you can put it in neutral and coast, think again. David had walked with God for years, but he thirsted for more. Curiosity about God anchors us in God’s strength as we learn more, seek more, and see more of Him.  

Discussion questions:

  1. What are you curious about spiritually?   
  2. How can curiosity impact your walk with God? 
  3. What can we do this week to seek after God? 

Don’t Compromise The Truth

“But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? ” – Acts 4:19-20.  

Acts chapter 4 includes the story of Peter and John standing before rulers and authorities giving testimony of the work of Christ and His death and resurrection. When Peter and John were thrown in jail for healing a lame man and warned not to speak or teach at all in Jesus’ name, they refused to compromise instead, saying, “we cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” They lived according to their beliefs whole-heartedly. The refused to compromise. 

We as Christians need to be wary of compromise. Compromising is making concessions or accommodations for someone who does not agree with a set of standards or roles. Although there are some areas in life where compromise is necessary, for example, marriage: there are other areas where compromise is very dangerous and even deadly. James warns the believers about compromise, even when we are trying to be a peacemaker. 

 A peacemaker is “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” Ezekiel 22:30 says, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” God needs someone to courageously stand in the gap and be a peacekeeper that restores and reconciles.  

We should take whatever initiative is necessary to make peace with others. It may take effort and time, but we should make peace.  But that doesn’t mean we will succeed. A peacemaker longs for peace and works for peace, and sacrifices for peace. But Romans 12:18 reminds us that we may not always succeed.  Paul says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” That is the goal of a peacemaker: Do all you can do.   

While we must work toward peace, we must never abandon our allegiance or compromise the truths of God and His word. We must never compromise our convictions. A conviction is a solid, immovable belief based on confidence in God’s Word. It’s being so thoroughly convinced of absolute truth that a person is willing to take a stand for it regardless of the consequences.

Convictions shape not only what we believe but also how we live and even how we die. They define who we are and provide direction with solid straight lines that don’t veer off track to accommodate circumstances or temptations.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the tongue is such an issue? 
  2. What can we do this week to control the tongue?

Be A Peacemaker

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (NIV).

None of us are unfamiliar with conflict.  Disagreements happen. Something is said perhaps in the heat of the moment, and another word is exchanged, and soon there are raised voices and hurt feelings. It happens at school, on the street, at work, even in the church. Peacemakers can make a real difference. 

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? Being a peacemaker does not mean that you avoid all conflict and confrontations. Nor does it mean that you are laidback, easygoing, relaxed, and passive and that you defend a “peace at any price” philosophy.

The idea of a peacemaker is to make peace. Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” James 3:18 adds, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” A peacemaker is a person who is at peace with himself or herself and because they are at ease internally, they are not ill-tempered and abrasive outside. They work to settle quarrels and diminish conflict. Peacemakers are accepting, tolerant, and refrain from being negative.  In the words of Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

Solomon has a lot to say about peacemakers: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1). “Kind words are like honey-sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24). Peacemakers are slow to anger:  “A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.” (Proverbs 15:18).  And peacemakers are humble and trusting. “Greed causes fighting; trusting the Lord leads to prosperity.” (Proverbs 28:25)

In this turmoil-filled world we live in, there is never true peace in a person’s heart until Jesus comes to reign in that person’s life. With the coming of Jesus, real peace became a possibility in our world. Christ is the ultimate peacemaker.

Our world desperately needs peacemakers who know the peace that only Christ can bring. Peace in homes where there is constant fighting and bickering. Peace in churches that are sometimes torn apart by conflict. Peace in cities where violence has broken out. Peace in our troubled hearts.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a “peacemaker” mean to you? 
  2. How can we be more of a peacemaker this week?