Standing Out In The Crowd

“But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”” – Mark 5:32-34.

Jesus was accustomed to crowds: “Large crowds followed him wherever he went…” (Matthew 4:25) “A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat….” (Matthew 13:2) And Matthew 15:30 says, “A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn’t speak, and many others.”  The Bible often talks about a single person in a crowd. The Gospels tell the story of a woman who was bleeding for twelve continuous years and who was healed by Jesus simply because she touched the edge of His robe.  Religious laws at the time, required to announce her presence by shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” This kept people far from her. She probably kept quiet that day as she walked through the crowds. 

Her plan was to touch His robe. No announcement. No request for healing. No attention is drawn to herself at all. But Jesus noticed that someone touched Him. He could have let it slide and continued on His way. But He didn’t. The Bible does not tell us, but I wonder if He wanted to make a connection with her. To let her know He loved her and that she was not just one person in a crowd. She was special, unique, and important.

Maybe you are somebody who has been following the crowd. It is so easy just to do what seems popular at the moment; agreeing with popular opinions. Following worldly philosophies because they attract attention. Going to places just because other people go there. But just like the bleeding woman, you are special, unique, and important. You may have followed and even copied the crowd. You may have listened to ungodly advice. You may have concentrated so much on your circumstances that you stopped focusing on Christ.  But whether your story is exceptional, average or even below average, God sees you in the crowd. And when you reach out to touch His robe, when you call out in prayer, He feels your touch on His robe. His power in faith is available to you as well. 

If you feel like you are part of the crowd, ask yourself these questions: Will they take you where you hope to go, lead you to be who you hope to become? They won’t, they can’t. Following Jesus is not easy or easier. It’s just better. Jesus models and teaches us a better way to live more in line with how we were created to live. We will find the deepest meaning, purpose and significance in life when we stand out in the crowd as a followe of Jesus. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What connection is there between a person’s faith and whether God heals him or her of a sickness? 
  2. In what way do we need to feel that God is approachable?
  3. What can we do this week to be less crowd oriented and more Jesus oriented?  

Standing On The Promises

“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 1:4.

There are days where I feel like I am in the front lines of a battle where I am outnumbered and outgunned. Then there are days where I am in a boat that is not made to handle the gale-force leading winds of an approaching storm, only to watch it inch toward and then slam into the ship. When we are faced with challenging circumstances, what should we do? We can either grumble, get angry, and stomp our feet defiantly at the circumstances that seem too much to bear or we can trust God as Joshua repeatedly did, or as Paul did when he was shipwrecked in Malta. 

Despite how helpless we may feel in these moments, we are never truly helpless when we remember who God is and the promises He gave those who believe in Him. Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” 1 Kings 8:56 says, “Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses.” You can place your trust in God and believe He’ll follow through on His promises.

God loves us. This is a foundational promise that the enemy does not want us to believe or receive because if we do we could fully receive all of God’s promises.  Romans 8:38-39 says, “ 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.”

Search out the promises of God. His promises are sure. He is your rock and your refuge. Place your trust in his promises as often as it takes until they produce peace in your life. Choose continually to place your hope in God and live a life of faith regardless of your circumstances. 

So when you begin to hear the distant thunder and see the lightening on the horizon, do not be afraid. Hold fast to God, dig in deeper in prayer, study His word and trust in His promises. Hold His hand through the storm, staying focused not on the lightening, but on His ability to lead you through.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you trusting God with today? Are you anxiously or patiently waiting for God to fulfill His promises?
  2. We can trust God, no matter how impossible the circumstances, because God always keeps His promises. Agree or disagree and why? 
  3. Is there one area that has been a hindrance to your living by faith in God’s promises? What can you do this week to remove the hindrance(s)? 

Hope When The Boat Is Sinking

“The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.” – Acts 27:20. 

The last two chapters of Acts are devoted mainly to Paul’s journey to Rome. In Acts 27, Paul was sailing as a prisoner from Caesarea to Rome. He warned the crew of a disaster and was ignored A storm came up that threatened the boat for many days before it finally shipwrecked on the Island of Malta. The people on the boat lost hope. 

We all face storms in life.  There are times we all feel shipwrecked because everything that supported us and made our lives stable has been pulled away.  Storms come in forms of sickness. Or in a loss. Shipwrecks come when jobs are downsized.  Shipwrecks come when we have conflict in our marriage. In all these situations we feel like life as we know it might be forever changed and maybe even over. So how do we handle those situations? Being able to move forward with faith and trust doesn’t just happen, finding the strength and courage to keep going doesn’t just happen. Paul’s shipwreck at Malta provide us some insight on how to not only survive, but thrive.  

The first lesson we need to learn from Paul is to expect the unexpected and be prepared. Being prepared depends on faith. The only way that we can make sense of the trials, disappointments and even tragedies of life is to have a solid relationship with God where our faith helps us make sense out of what we see happening around us. As Paul said, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)   

The second lesson is to remember God’s purpose.  While storms and setbacks come in life, God does have a larger purpose for us that God will work to accomplish.  Paul was reminded of this when during the storm an angel came to him in a dream recorded in Acts 27:23-25. God had a purpose for Paul, he was to stand before Caesar in Rome and talk about Jesus being the Messiah and Savior of the world.  God reminded Paul of this purpose which helped Paul not lose hope but stay focused.  God has a purpose for all of us in life.  The purpose may be specific, like a call to a unique task or plan, but it might also be general – like the call to be a good parent, faithful child or supportive friend.  In times of disappointment and pain, we need to remember God’s purpose for our lives and Jermiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Whether the boat is in full sail or sinking our hope should be on Jesus Christ. It is easy to look at our circumstances rather than looking at and placing our hope in Jesus Christ. Replace hopelessness with faith and trust in God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your first thought when you have that sinking feeling? Your first action? 
  2. What can we do this week to replace that sinking feeling with faith and trust in God?  

A Look At Commitment

 “You Never Hear Jesus Say In Pilate’s Judgement Hall One Word That Would Let You Imagine That He Was Sorry That He Had Undertaken So Costly A Sacrifice For Us. When His Hands Are Pierced, When He Is Parched With Fever, His Tongue Dried Up Like A Shard Of Pottery, When His Whole Body Is Dissolved Into The Dust Of Death, You Never Hear A Groan Or A Shriek That Looks Like Jesus Is Going Back On His Commitment.” – Charles Spurgeon

Commitment is not a popular word these days. Culture tells us you can have all of the “fun” that can be had by keeping your “options open” and meeting an immediate “need”, without worrying about long-term ramifications. In the home, we show that the marriage union is one that can be easily broken if things get too hard, no longer meets our needs, or simply fails to maintain our interest. And what about our commitment to God? For decades, Christians have understood this to mean “say a prayer of repentance and commitment to Jesus, attend church regularly, and live a generally good life.” The commitment to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is a critical commitment, but it does not end there. Once we decided to follow Jesus, we made a life-long commitment to Him.  

Rich Warren said “Nothing Shapes Your Life More Than The Commitments You Choose To Make.” Commitment is not an abstract idea or merely a mental exercise at this point, but a choice. Commitment means you have to stop riding the fence. Commitment means that you make up your mind. Commitment means to drive a stake in the ground and lay claim to one life, one focused goal; following Jesus Christ.   

 So, we need to continually ask ourselves self-probing questions to see if our commitment is what it should be.  Does your life show commitment to Christ?  Does the frequency of your church attendance show commitment to Christ?  Does the way you worship show commitment?  Does the way you conduct yourself when no one is looking indicate a commitment to the Lord?  Does the way you act at work, at school and in public in general demonstrate that you are a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ?  

Sometimes we need to get back to the basics and consider our own commitment to Christ. Jesus is looking for disciples who will follow Him and make him the most important part of their lives so that he is in control of every part. He is looking for commitment. 

When you have a heart that is sold out (committed) to Him and you are fully trusting that God will guide you in the best way possible, that is when you will begin to shine. You have to be willing to do what God wants and want what He wants in your life. As you do that while trusting Him, God will be able to do great things in and through you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In 1 Chronicle 12:33 (NIV), we read: “soldiers prepared for battle with every type of weapon, to help David with undivided loyalty…” The NLT version says, “completely loyal.” And the ESV version says, “singleness of purpose.” How do those statements compare with our commitment to God? 
  2. What can we do this week to strengthen our commitment to God?  

Waiting and Trusting

We depend on you, Lord, to help and protect us. You make our hearts glad because we trust you, the only God.”  –  Psalm 33:20-21 (CEV).

Most people hate to wait. It starts with childhood when the last thing you want to hear from a parent is “not now.” Even in adulthood, we want everything done quickly, and culture today just exacerbates that frustration. We are not used to waiting, and the longer it goes, the less we are willing to wait. That dislike of waiting creates some tension for Christians because God works on a very different timetable. In His mind, nothing is wrong with waiting. In fact, waiting can actually be a positive thing. 

There have been times in my life where waiting was absolute torture. Times when I wanted closure, or to plow ahead to get done what I wanted to get done. I know that God always hears me, and often answers in amazing, unexpected, and sometimes very subtle ways. But, when I am chomping at the bit to get going, it can seem like my prayers are falling on deaf ears. 

Hindsight, is 20/20 however. When I reflect on how I wanted something resolved versus how it was actually resolved, I can see why waiting was a good idea. We need to trust God for the long-haul. It might be scary to give up that control in the short-run, but we can trust that He has a much wider view and perspective on what we really need than we could ever hope to have. Fortunately, God is not as short-sighted as I am.  

Remember the biblical story of Peter walking on water. Peter was fine when he kept his eyes on Jesus. We see all the problems swirling around us when we step out of the boat. And we wonder how in the world are these things going to turn out okay. Like Peter, we need to be focused and patient and keep moving towards the outstretched hand of Jesus. Once we try to do this ourselves, we will sink into the water. We need to continuously ask for God’s assistance in overcoming our fears, in waiting for His guidance. Even when I can’t see what that long-term outcome is going to be, I can be sure that He has the perfect plan for my life and all I have to do is keep my mind and heart open to his guidance, and then take a deep breath, ask for patience and wisdom to embrace the waiting, and trust that God is on the case, even if I don’t specifically see anything happening at any given moment.

God asks me to look beyond myself. True trust begins by acknowledging God, His wisdom, and His ways, and then choosing to act on what we’ve acknowledged. Do I trust God enough to wait for Him?

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you experienced a situation when God was late that still doesn’t make sense? What’s it like to go through that?
  2. God’s delays are not God’s denials. Agree or disagree and why? 

What Are You Focused On?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” ― 2 Corinthians 4:18

What we focus on grabs a hold of our attention and shapes us. As Christians, we are called to focus our attention on God, not circumstances.  We are called to focus on God who never changes, instead of situations or feelings which endlessly change and shift. When our perspective is clear and our focus is sharply on God, we can do amazing things.  

Elisha is a prophet in the Old Testament. (His story can be found in 1 and 2 Kings) He is a great man of faith. Yet, at one point in 2 Kings 6, he is caught in the middle of a battle between Syria and Israel. The King of Syria made plans to ambush the Israelite Army and Elisha spoils it. He warns Israel after God revealed the ambush. The Syrian King responds by sending his army to kill Elisha in the city of Dothan. The Bible says that the King sent a great army to surround the city by night so that they could destroy Elisha.  When the people of Dothan woke up in the morning, they found themselves surrounded on all sides by a powerful evil army intent on destroying their homes.

Elisha is accompanied by a servant in Dothan.  That servant gets up early in the morning to find their city surrounded by the Syrians. This is a huge deal in human terms. It is a powerful enemy army sent to kill the servant, his master and anyone else in the city without mercy.  This terrifying sight causes the servant to focus solely on the enemy and forget who he serves.  His eyes are filled with chariots, swords and thousands of enemy soldiers.  His mind is filled with fear, despair, and hopelessness.  The eternal is nowhere to be seen for him, just the very real sight before him. And his servant said to him, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?”  2 Kings 6:15

Elisha is not worried. Since Elisha is a man of God moved by God to oppose the Syrian King, God will protect him. God will take care of Elisha, his servant and the people of Dothan despite what the situation looks like on human terms.  Elisha simply needs to keep his eyes on the Lord and watch Him work. The servant does not have Elisha’s faith.  This lack of faith causes him to fall into despair.  God is not part of his equation so things just look hopeless. Elisha prays that the servant could see what Elisha could see, God’s perspective on the situation.  God’s view on the situation changes everything. “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.”  (2 Kings 6:16-17)

God’s army was there the whole time. The servant simply could not see it. So, no matter how urgent the problem biting at your heels may seem, God’s answer for you is to look up and focus on God’s provision. God is bigger than any problem you face and can deliver you from any situation, no matter how bad it is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If the goal is to be focused on God’s priorities, in what areas do we need to improve? 
  2. What can you do this week to maintain our focus on God when faced with negative circumstances  

God Is Truth

“ Pilate said, “So you are a king?”Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” – John 18:37-38.

Pontius Pilate is a well-known name in Bible circles. He was Roman prefect (governor) of Judea during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. We know of him because of his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Just before Jesus was crucified on the cross, He was brought before Pilate. After a series of questions by Pilate, Jesus said “… I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (John 18:37) Pilate responded with “What is Truth?” 

Some people think there is no absolute truth. “Truth” for them is simply what they think. People have all kinds of ideas about truth. But is truth just a point of view? Is all truth subjective? Is all truth relative? Truth is not subjective, it is not a consensual cultural creation, and it is not an invalid, outdated, unnecessary concept. People want to find something valuable that they can believe in and trust. People are looking for answers to both their hunger for truth and for the dissatisfaction that results when no answers are forthcoming.

What if truth is a person you get to know and who knows you? This person is Jesus Christ. He is truth.  Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). He said, “I am … the truth” (John 14:6). We find the truth in God’s Word. The Bible isn’t just here to offer us rules. The Bible offers a relationship with the Truth. John 17:17 says, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.”  

Don’t let yourself be fooled; eternal truth exists, and it will forever point to Jesus. His word provides sure footing to the truth as we walk through life. Regardless of what people say they believe about truth, the fact is that every day, we live our lives on the basis of things we believe are true. We step onto airplanes that we believe will fly. We flip switches that we believe will bring desired results. We marry the person we think will bring us happiness. 

Yet in Jesus Christ we have the most profound truth. He is the only One who can bring peace and joy and the total satisfaction you have been searching for.

Discussion Questions:

  1. God’s word is not just a truth but the truth: agree or disagree and why? 
  2. What truth or truths do we need to act on this week?    

Well, That Will Set Me Back, Won’t It?

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20

Sometime in our life, we will experience obstacles in our life. Those obstacles are often found in the form of setbacks. Setbacks can be a minor obstacle or a significant roadblock standing between where we are now and where we want to be.  God often uses a setback to move us forward. There was one person in the Bible that experienced more than his fair share of setbacks only to find out that those setbacks moved him forward in ways he could not have imagined.  

Joseph had to see his brothers selling him into slavery as a setback. That setback made him a slave to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard, a man who was a high-ranking official in Egypt. But Potiphar grew to like the young slave. In fact, the more supervision and responsibility he delegated to Joseph the more the Lord blessed his servant and so Potiphar also was blessed. Joseph ended up as Potiphar’s administrative assistant with full charge of every facet of his enterprises. But Potiphar’s wife propositioned him. Joseph said no repeatedly. So the angry, spurned wife accused Joseph of attempted rape, and into prison he goes. Another setback. He is soon running the prison and interprets a dream for the King’s cupbearer and baker, asking that they remember him when they are released. They forget him until Pharaoh has a dream and Joseph interprets the dream for him. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he made him his right-hand man in charge over all of Egypt. 

Those are some pretty significant setbacks. Yet, In his worst moments, when his life seemed pointed in the opposite direction of God’s plan, Joseph learned to trust in the Lord. Joseph had come to understand that God’s good purpose had been accomplished through the very setbacks he experienced. Not only did Joseph save his family and the people of Israel, but he also rescued the whole of Egypt from starvation. On top of that, Joseph was able to say with unshakable certainty these incredible words of forgiveness to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)

If you are feeling discouraged over a detour, roadblock or setback, remember Joseph. God may be orchestrating something unexpectedly good, despite the circumstances you are experiencing at the moment.

In the Christian life, it often takes a few setbacks and detours before we begin to catch on and learn to trust God for a positive outcome. Let Joseph’s story inspire you as an example of what God can do when you surrender your will to His in times of frustration and disappointment. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would going from chosen son to slave affect your faith in God and dreams?
  2. How does the story of Joseph change how you look at setbacks?  

The Power Of God

So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” – 2 Corinthians 5:9-10.

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, and yet never truly comprehend Him completely. Romans 11:33-34 says, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?” And Psalm 139:6 says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! And Isaiah 55:8-9 says,“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

The reality is that we are dealing with God, whose intelligence, power, and complexity so far exceed our comprehension that we have no metaphor or superlative that can even remotely do Him justice. But His power is on display everywhere. Romans 1:20 reminds us of that fact: “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” And that power can be focused on the church, just as it was in the early church. 

In the book of Acts we find the early church is a small band of timid disciples huddled together in an upper room. This is the group that Jesus assigned the task of spreading the gospel throughout the world. So what is the plan? Are they working on a strategic plan or setting mission goals before they undertake the task Jesus gave them. No, they are “constantly united in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) the spread of Christianity depends on. They know they can’t rely on themselves. They need the power of God. God sends His spirit in power.

This small group started preaching the gospel in whatever language people spoke. The crowds are shocked. Peter stands up to preach about Christ. Peter, who just weeks before was afraid to admit he even knew Jesus, now stands under the power of God in front of thousands of people, proclaiming Jesus. More than three thousand people are saved. People are coming to Christ every hour. In Acts 3, Peter and John speak the name of Jesus, and a forty-year-old man crippled from birth stands up to walk for the first time. In Acts 4, they pray until the building where they are gathered begins to shake. In Acts 5, the apostles are performing “… many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 5:12)  

They were focused on one thing, Jesus. They were loving, serving, and obeying Jesus. Different people with different personalities came together with one accord, one passion, one purpose, to make Jesus known through the power of God.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have you experienced the power of God?  
  2. What can we do this week to tap into the power of God? 

Deeper Waters

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish. “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.” – Luke 5: 4-7. 

I love this story. Peter is frustrated, tired, and weary. A night of fishing has been a complete bust. He and the other fisherman caught absolutely nothing. In the morning, Jesus finds Peter washing his nets. Jesus, seeking a little space from which to speak to the crowds amassed all around Him, commandeers Peter’s boat. Peter apparently is okay with having his boat appropriated. Jesus then tells him to launch the boat into deeper water and let down the nets. Really, a teacher telling a professional fisherman how to fish. Peter tells Jesus in frustration, “Hey, we’ve been fishing all night.  We know fish.  The fish don’t run in the day.” Peter probably wanted to finish cleaning the nets and go home and hope for better luck tomorrow.

So Peter does something that doesn’t make sense, letting down his nets after he’d been fishing all night and caught nothing. But at that moment they hit the mother lode. Can you imagine the expression on the fishermen’s faces as they struggle to haul in this catch, call their friends over to help, and barely get their boats to shore before they sank.

It is easy to stay in shallow water. The shallow water is a safe place to cast our nets. But it is also the place where we may not catch any fish.  How do we respond when we hear God instruct us to move into deeper waters? Do we suggest that we prefer the shallows? Do we theorize that things are just fine in the shallows? After all, I can see the bottom in the shallows. I am comfortable in the shallows.

Sometimes God wants us in deeper waters where we love our enemies, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, forgive completely, minister to the least of these, and spread the gospel. Deeper water is “faith territory.” The blessings are out where you are over your head and Jesus must be trusted to get you through whatever the situation may be. It takes faith and courage to tread into deeper waters. Moving into deep waters requires us pull up our anchor keeping us in place and to turn over our control to God. But it is in the deep water that we catch what God has for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When God instructs us into deepwater: Do we hesitate to answer? Do we linger in the shallows?
  2. What can we do this week to better understand the love and grace of God?