Submission To God

“Jesus humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” – Philippians 2: 8-9

People who write for a living know all about submission. That is because, from a writer’s perspective, the process of “submission” is never over. The writer is never done refining, working, or making things better. But even when the writing is the best the writer can make it, he or she must give it all to an editor and expect additional changes to be made. I believe this aptly sums up what the Lord expects from us. Submission is not something we say we have done once. It’s something we’ll keep doing, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. We’ll keep saying to the Lord, “Here I am Lord. I freely submit to you in this situation. Make any changes you deem necessary.” 

Submission is not a weakness, it is acceptance of the will of God for our lives, and our joyful surrender to it. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 ESV) Submission is an active faith in God’s plan and unrelenting trust in His promises, even in the midst of setbacks. Submission says as Jesus prayed, “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)

Then there is Noah. God gave Noah specific directions to follow while building the ark. God told Noah exactly how big it should be and what type of wood to use. God told Noah to cover it with tar to make it waterproof. And God told Noah to make one door—and through that one door, all who entered would be saved. The best part is that Noah listened and submitted to God.  

More than anything, godly submission produces confidence that God knows what He is doing. Is there anything that moves God more than our submission to His mission, especially when it requires surrender amidst the trials and setbacks of our lives? Is there anything that better demonstrates complete trust that God knows what He is doing than submission to His plan? Is there any greater joy, tranquility or stability than knowing and trusting that because of God’s love and grace, things will work out for our good even when it doesn’t look like it?  

When we submit, we must expect the Lord to make some changes. Even when we don’t hear back from Him on time, He is working in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does submission to God mean to you? 
  2. Surrender and submission to the will of God is not always an easy thing. Where do you need to submit to the Father’s will today?

When Faced With Ridicule

“But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the LORD’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.” – 2 Chronicles 36:16.

Ever been put down? Insulted? Ridiculed? Most people have at one time or another. Ever been shamed for trying to do something you believed in? Something you were convinced God led you to do? While the Bible does not say anything about people mocking Noah and his family while they were building the ark, you have to assume given the situation, that people ridiculed what they were doing.  Consider Nehemiah. He got the king to see his point-of-view. He got all the materials he needed. And he inspired the people to get to work. Then came the discouraging insults: “Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)  

Of course, there’s no one more ridiculed by men than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. John 1:11 tells us ”He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” He was hounded by ridicule and accusations, throughout His earthly life, and died a criminal’s humiliating death.   

When people intentionally or unintentionally make comments that discourage you from accomplishing a task or enduring a setback, it gets all the more difficult. If you have been insulted or ridiculed, what do you do?  What should our attitude, as Christians, be when we are called narrow-minded, fanatical, judgmental, puritanical, medieval, etc? How do you pray for those who are hostile to your beliefs so they will see themselves from God’s perspective? How can you ensure that your response will make things better? The answer is to keep our eyes on Jesus especially when the discouragement comes our way. We have all heard that a commitment to Christ requires us to “take up our cross.” Part of taking up the cross is a willingness to be misunderstood, judged, ridiculed, and persecuted by a world that sometimes does not appreciate or understand our values.

Noah’s life can be seen as a model of patience, persistence, and unwavering faithfulness to God in the face of a faithless society. Surely it wasn’t easy for Noah. Noah’s warning and gospel sounded foolish to the people around him.  In the same way, what we say may sound foolish to the people who are listening to us today. We must not be surprised when others ridicule us. If you are mocked for your faith, keep your cool and bite your lip. Don’t let angry people push your button. God will give you wise words to say if you let His love control your tongue.

 Jesus said it best in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” How many of us actually obey that commandment? 1 Corinthians 1:21 says,“ Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. ( 1 Corinthians 1:21) The cross itself is God’s power at work doing what we cannot do. The message of the cross is not first of all a way of thinking or a way of living; it is God’s actual power at work to save those who cannot save themselves.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How should you respond when your faith and beliefs are ridiculed? 
  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?

Walking With God

“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” – Genesis 6:9 (ESV).   

In your mind’s eye, you can picture Noah stopping for a second to relax aching muscles. He is sitting on a wooden beam taking a quick break as he looks over the imposing structure of the ark. From where he sat, Noah could see what had been accomplished while being mindful of the amount of work that still lay ahead. 

The people of the region probably thought Noah and his family were fools. The more the ark took shape, the more the people laughed at the very thought of a deluge that would cover the whole earth. The disaster that necessitated Noah building a boat seemed so far-fetched, so irrational. They could hardly believe that a man would waste his life —and the lives of his family— in such a foolish endeavor. God, however, saw Noah in a different light.  

The Bible says: “Noah walked with God.” Noah obeyed God. So much so that thousands of years later, the Bible said of Noah: “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith, Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7) When we think of Noah we tend to think of the Ark, and two animals of every kind. We don’t tend to think of the faith of Noah.

Faith allows us to hear the voice of God amid the cacophony of other voices. Noah heard God speaking to him and we should do the same today. Faith enables us to discern God’s voice amid all the other voices.  Noah also had the faith needed to obey God when it was completely contrary to human reason and logic. In Genesis 6:14 God tells Noah to “build a large boat…”  It takes whole shipyards months if not years to build a large boat yet God was asking Noah and his family to build a boat “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.” (Genesis 6:15-16) Faith is when God gives you a task and you accept and act upon it however contrary to human reason it may appear to be. 

Faith is doing the will of God even though you are the only one doing it. Noah did what God asked him to do even though he was the only one who was doing so. And faith is going on with God’s work in the face of opposition or setbacks. How many times he must have been tempted to ask, “is it worthwhile?” Or “am I mistaken after all?” Noah probably received some epic criticism from the people around him. But through it all, he remained faithful to God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. We learn from Genesis 6 that God spared Noah because he walked in close fellowship with God. (Genesis 6:9) What does that mean to you?  
  2. What can we learn from the faith of Noah?

In All Things Give Thanks

Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”- Psalm 103:2. 

David is telling himself to never forget the good things God has done. Fast forward thousands of years and we too can sometimes forget all the things God has already done in our lives. So many times we ask the Lord for blessings in prayer and forget to give thanks when we receive them. And we also forget to give thanks for the things we didn’t ask for, but the Lord knew we needed them and gave them to us out of His love for us. When asking for blessings today, we need to remember to thank God for all the blessings we have already received. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

We have so much to be grateful for in this life. But we lose sight of the fact when we face setbacks or trials in our lives. Or we are so busy that we don’t make time to pause and give thanks, for all that God has done, and continues to do in our lives. We’re strengthened by His peace, refueled by His joy.

Do I praise God and give thanks so He gets the glory and others can see His goodness and kindness? We can always be thankful to God in all circumstances. 

“The great difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and it is His blessings that make it difficult. Troubles nearly always make us look to God; His blessings are apt to make us look elsewhere”  ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Jan. 22)

The quote above from Oswald Chambers is a reminder for me to be thankful in all circumstances and not to forget the good ones that I can so quickly take for granted.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it hard for you to be thankful in every circumstance? Why?
  2. What can we do this week to show God more gratitude for all He has done for us?  

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

I can resist everything except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde.  

Perhaps you have heard the idiom that opportunity only knocks once, but temptation knocks continually. Temptation never seems to stop knocking. It never stops trying to find a way into our lives. We have the choice to resist and persevere through them, or we can give into them. And temptations are heightened in the midst of setbacks.  Is it possible to eliminate temptation from knocking on our door?  The short answer is no. Sorry if you were hoping otherwise. 

There is often a disconnect between what we know about God and what it means to truly know Him. As a result, we find it difficult to understand why God does not eliminate or at least reduce the temptations that always seem to be popping up. When we continually face temptations we wonder why God isn’t willing to help us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God wants to help us overcome our temptations. What we need is the involvement of the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit takes everything God has given us in Christ Jesus and makes them a reality in our lives today.  He empowers us to walk in our new lives in Christ. Although God has already given us the Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in us, we will not live in victory here on earth until we walk, or engage with Him. 

When you’re facing some sort of temptation, it can feel like you’re being tempted beyond your ability. If you are looking at your individual ability to deal with temptation, you probably are right. But you are never tempted beyond the Holy Spirit’s ability in you. People will not give in to temptation when you are in tune with the Holy Spirit, seeking His wisdom and strength to help you overcome the temptation you are facing.  Paul said it quite simply: if you want to conquer temptation, walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 (TLB): “I advise you to obey only the Holy Spirit’s instructions. He will tell you where to go and what to do, and then you won’t always be doing the wrong things your evil nature wants you to.”

When Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit,” he’s saying to let everything we do be guided by the Holy Spirit’s influence. The Holy Spirit will empower us to accomplish everything God created for us. The Holy Spirit will not force His desires on us. Although His power is freely available to us, it will make no impact in our lives unless we acknowledge His presence and yield to Him by faith.

Temptations that expose our human imperfections are certainly among the most trying hardships we can endure. To struggle courageously against temptation is one of our biggest challenges. We can only triumph over temptation with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is a temptation different from a trial?
  2. What can we do this week to improve our walk with the Holy Spirit? 

Excuses, Excuses, Part 3

“But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” – Exodus 4:10

The next excuse Moses used was he was neither a gifted or eloquent speaker. That was probably fair. Moses understood that speaking was not a strength of his. In fact, Moses said that he gets tongue-tied and his words get tangled. Given that, Moses had to be thinking to himself, “Why God, would you choose a guy who has a tough time speaking to be your leader? You know how painful it is for me to speak in front of crowds, to pronounce the words correctly, to think and say, just the right thing.” He had real doubts he could pull this off. 

Don’t we all.  Sometimes, we are like Moses thinking, “God there must be someone better than me to lead this small group; somebody who is funny or more intellectual; a deeper thinker; someone who commands the presence of people. I can’t be the best You have.”

But listen to what God says after all the excuses have been given: “Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” God is once again sharing with and assuring Moses that He will be with him. I will help you with the words to say. I will teach you how to inspire people. I will be with you Moses. What do you say, Moses? Are you ready to lead? Are you done with these excuses? Are you willing to trust and put your faith in me? 

Moses decides to summarize his doubts: “…Lord, please! Send anyone else” (Exodus 4:13) God, I am begging you! Please, send anyone other than me to do this job for you. I really don’t want the job. Moses could only see himself as a nobody, a person who lacks answers, a person that is not believable, and someone who is slow to speak. Moses is telling God, I am no leader. I tend to sheep. 

God sees something else. God sees the final product in Moses. God knew Moses was the right choice in spite of his flaws. God had been preparing Moses his whole life from the time he was a baby and was scooped out of the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. Yet Moses gives one excuse after another culminating in his pleading to send someone else. In the end, Moses went and with God’s help did a great job. 

When God calls us to do something, it takes faith and belief on our part. Moses was full of excuses as to why he could not lead. All God wants from us is to put our faith in and believe in Him. Often we won’t have all the answers. But we need to exhibit faith in God to overcome those obstacles. Philippians 1:6 says “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever made excuses to not do what God asks you to do? Why do you think it’s so easy to make excuses to God?
  2. Before we judge Moses, we each need to look inward and ask ourselves how many excuses we have given God the last few days, weeks, months, or years. Are we making some of the same choices that Moses made? Are we making excuses so we don’t have to do what you know God wants us to do? Are you making excuses for why we will not trust Him?

Excuses, Excuses – Part 2

 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” – 2 Peter 2:4.

God answers Moses’ first excuse with “Who am I?” But that doesn’t seem to cut it for Moses. Moses is still worried. Moses is still worried about all that could go wrong. Moses is worried about things going south because of him. So he takes the position he doesn’t have all the answers. How does God respond? Exodus 3:14, “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” 

God’s response to Moses’s second excuse is if somebody asks you who sent you, you can tell them “I AM” sent you. I AM is the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—The Almighty and Eternal God. God is re-assuring Moses that He will be with him. God is willing to answer the questions. God just wants Moses to trust Him and believe in Him. 

It can be difficult in the middle of a setback to feel like God will have our backs. We can focus more on the fear or on our own insecurities rather than on the promises of scriptures.

Isaiah 41:10 says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” This scripture reminds us that God is someone that is here to strengthen us, help us, and give us victories. But staying focused on the Lord can be hard. The flesh prefers to seek security by thinking through all possible angles. Like Moses, our tendency is to weigh what we think could happen against what “experts” say will happen and then to evaluate possible ways of preventing our worst fears from coming true. Instead of becoming more confident, we begin to realize how powerless we are. Thankfully, we serve an almighty God who says, “I will strengthen you.” Through every setback and comeback, there is nothing to fear, no need to be afraid. God is always with us.

Someday when you have some time to burn do a search in the Bible for verses that say: “He is above all things,” and “He is in control of all things” and read them slowly. You will find verses like 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 which says, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”

God is with us and He is a big God. If you have a small God, you will always have big, overwhelming problems and setbacks. But if you have a big God, then little by little, those problems you face — won’t necessarily be less painful — but they will become smaller and smaller.

Discussion Questions:

  1. List the benefits of God’s presence and leadership in our lives.
  2. What can we do this week to trust God in all circumstances? 

Excuses, Excuses

“But Moses protested to God, ‘Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?’ God answered, ‘I will be with you.’” – Exodus 3:11-12.  

People have been making excuses since the beginning of time. Moses was no exception. Moses was one of the top excuse makers of all time. 

Moses is tending sheep and minding his own business, when he comes across a bush that is burning. What made this bush so remarkable was that it was on fire, but it was not burning up. This intrigued Moses and Moses moved forward. Then God called to Moses from within the bush. God shares with Moses His plan; how Moses was going to lead his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something difficult? Something that seems over your head.  Maybe God is calling you to be a small group leader in the church, but you fear talking in front of people and you worry about the depth of your bible knowledge. God may be calling you on a mission trip but you’re nervous about going. What could I possibly contribute on this trip and how am I going to pay for it. God may be calling you to take a promotion at work but you feel like it’s out of your league. 

God is speaking to Moses through the burning bush. God has a plan for Moses. Here is the big problem for Moses. Moses really did not want any part of God’s plan. I can only image when Moses hears what God has for him, it brings back painful memories. Egypt was a place Moses had left on the run. He was running away from Pharaoh. I believe Moses wanted to forget that part of his life, so he starts making excuses.  His first excuse is: who am I? I am a nobody; I am a has-been. I am old and wrinkly; I am past my prime. I am just a shepherd over sheep; I am not a leader of people. God’s response: I personally will be with you – God is giving Moses assurance. Yes Moses, you are the right guy for the assignment. I know you fled from Egypt. But I am calling you. I am calling you, Moses. I want you, Moses. Are you up for the challenge Moses? I know you have insecurities. I know you have a past. I know you are past your prime. I know all these things about you. God is saying, I still believe in you, Moses!

Before we judge Moses, we each need to look inward and ask ourselves how many excuses we have given God the last few days, weeks, months, or years. Are we making some of the same choices that Moses made? Are we making excuses so we don’t have to do what we know God wants us to do? Are you making excuses for why we will not trust Him?

Here’s the bottom line: If we want to be greatly used of God, you must be willing to follow wherever He leads us. And that means that we need to stop hiding behind the excuses, stop resisting and start following.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which times in your life do you find yourself making excuses?
  2. Have you ever sensed God calling you to a task and found an excuse not to respond?
  3. Pray and ask God to help you put away any excuses and trust Him.

The Power Of Faith

“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” – 1 John 1:8-9.

In Matthew 7, Jesus was traveling to the territory of Tyre. He was trying to be incognito. Jesus had been spending all of his time ministering in Jewish provinces, and that ministry was drawing overwhelming crowds, and He was exhausted. So Jesus left the Jewish provinces and went into Gentile territory, Tyre, in order to get some rest.

But it doesn’t work. A woman hears of His arrival and makes her way boldly to Jesus. She enters the house without an invitation, falls down and begins begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. She’s pleading with Jesus—she won’t take no for an answer. She is also expressing a certain amount of faith that Jesus has the power to cast out demons.  But Jesus replies to this faith with a glass of cold water: “…First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)

He basically called her a dog. She could have been insulted and stormed away. But she was not deterred at all. She immediately came back with: “…That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.” First, notice that she addresses Him as “Lord.” She gets His parable and then she goes on to make her own point. Even though the dogs eat later, sometimes the children drop crumbs and thus the dogs eat at the same time as the children.

Her statement demonstrates her bold and persistent faith. She did not allow Jesus’ “answer” to stop her. Rather, she continued to make the case for her daughter. In response to her humility and faith, Jesus heals her daughter. Mark 7:30 confirms the miracle: “ … when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.” (Mark 7:29-30)

This is an interesting story. God is capable of making the impossible possible.  But our fears and doubts sometimes get in the way. We can stop looking at our circumstances through a lens of fear if we have the faith in God to trust Him no matter how bleak the picture looks.  The Greek woman believed that Jesus could change her circumstances. Faith overcame her fears. Faith is the alternative to interpreting our lives and life events through the lens of fear.  Instead, we have Someone in whom we can place our trust and to whom we can submit our fears and anxieties. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways does this woman demonstrate humility? Faith?
  2. In what specific ways can you grow in and exercise faith, humility, and persistence this week?

Blessed Assurance

Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  – John 20:27. 

Several thousand years ago, Thomas was distraught. Jesus, His Rabbi and Messiah was gone. A cross had turned his world upside down. His days and nights were filled with horrific images of Jesus’ wounds. Three days later there was a knock on the door. Peter, James, John, and the others had come to visit. But it was not an ordinary visit. The other disciples told Thomas they have just seen the Lord. He lives.  

Thomas probably wondered if this could possibly be true. He saw the wounds. John told Thomas that this morning, Mary Magdalene came to us and told us she had been to the tomb and that Jesus’ body was gone. Peter and I ran to the garden to see for ourselves. We found the tomb empty.  Later in the day, Cleopas and another person were walking to Emmaus when they were joined by someone who at first seemed a stranger. As we walked, He began explaining how the prophets had foretold all that would happen to Jesus. When they arrived home, they asked Him to stay for dinner, and He agreed. When they sat down to eat, He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it. Suddenly, their eyes were opened. It was Him — Jesus. 

Peter continued the narrative. “We were all gathered together with the doors locked, for fear of what the Pharisees might do next,” he said. Suddenly Jesus was standing right there in the room with us. He said, ‘Peace be with you’ (Luke 24:36). We were frightened, I tell you. Jesus said, “Why are you frightened? Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” (Luke 24:38).

Thomas desperately wanted it to be true. But He was a man of facts. He could not reconcile the horrors of the cross and the crucifixion expertise of the Romans with the news that Jesus was alive. Unlike the others, Jesus had not shown Himself to Thomas. Thomas wanted some proof. He looked at the other disciples and said, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” – John 20:25

On the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples were together and Jesus came and stood amongst them. He said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19) John 20:27 says, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 

When Thomas finally did believe, the words that came out of his mouth formed one of the greatest confessions of faith in the entire Bible. He said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Just as Jesus understood Thomas’s doubts, He understands our questions as well. But rather than admonishing us, He invites us to rediscover him in ways that reassure us. When we turn to Him, He gives us exactly what we need in order to have our faith reconfirmed and our doubts banished.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Thomas’ doubt is somewhat troubling? Why or why not?
  2. How would it change things if you saw your doubts as opportunities to grow deeper in your relationship with Christ, and not a reason for alarm?