Grace Is Still Amazing

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ..  – John 1:16-17 (ESV).   

One way Jesus demonstrates His love is through pouring out “grace upon grace.” This means literally that He pours out His grace to us again and again and again, in ways we never expected or anticipated.  

Think about that for a second. God is a holy and righteous God, completely void of sin. He is perfect in all his ways. Nevertheless, when his children sin and grieve His Spirit, He calls us to repentance with open and loving arms saying, “Come home, child.” His knowledge of who we really are will never undermine His love for us. God’s grace is simply overwhelming. Every time I think of this reality, I’m brought to tears because I serve a God whose love and grace floors me over and over again.

Throughout the Scriptures, the message of this grace is proclaimed. “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin…” (Exodus 34:6–7). God doesn’t give me grace because I’ve earned it.  He gives me grace because He is gracious. God’s grace has absolutely nothing to do with me earning it.  “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Maybe you’ve heard sermons about grace. Or even read books about grace. But my hope is that you will look at grace in a completely different way from now on. Grace is one of the those topics that can be discussed at great length, but is best understood through real life experiences. Otherwise, it really won’t have as much effect. I have heard multiple sermons, podcast and read countless articles on grace. I’ve memorized Bible verses that describe grace. But at the end of the day, what has taught me the most about grace is my experiences and the stories of others who have experienced grace.

It’s my prayer you will powerfully experience the grace effect in your life — and no matter what you have done, no matter what has been done to you, you will personally experience the truth that grace is greater.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can grace be summarized?
  2. What is it easy to believe we can earn God’s grace? 

How Can I Be Perfect?

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48. 

The crowd listening to the Sermon on the Mount did not expect what they got. The audience came away surprised, and you can understand why. The Sermon on the Mount is full of radical teachings like loving and praying for our enemies. But to sum it all up, Jesus concludes with one line: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” Perfect? Me? Certainly not a simple, or realistic command.

Perfection is just impossible. Even the best of us fall far short of that goal. Christians included. We can strive to be a perfectly good, moral rule-abiding person, but we quickly stub our toe or fail miserably. No matter how much effort we invest, or how good our intentions are, our sin nature will eventually surface and sabotage our quest for perfection.

God created life, He alone gets to define it. So we need to find out what exactly Jesus meant by “perfection.” The perfection Jesus prescribes for us is somewhat of a paradox; in that, it is already complete and yet still developing. Complete in Him; still at work in us. Colossians 2:10 says, “So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Isaiah 64:8 adds, “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” We are still a work in progress.

Perfection is referring to spiritual maturity.  Jesus doesn’t care so much if you have a big house, or a nice car or straight teeth. He’s interested in our spiritual maturity. As John writes in 1 John 3:18-20, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.”

In other words, Jesus focuses not on us being perfect, but on loving. And even though apart from Jesus, no one is capable of living a morally perfect life – our focus is to be fully, completely, and perfectly devoted to a relationship with God. God’s love should overflow into our interactions with others. And that includes our enemies who wrong us. 

We should not be discouraged when we fall short of perfection. Our goal should be to love God as He loves us – not to live perfect lives. And as we walk with God in relationship, we will see God begin to transform our lives, and love other in a Christlike way.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider Matthew 5:48 as an ultimate challenge. Being “perfect” means to be mature or complete in Christ. What would it take for a person to meet that ultimate challenge? 
  2. What kinds of behaviors do you demonstrate to other people to let them know that you love them? 

Somebody Needs You

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” – Galatians 5:13. 

The movie Wonder is told from the perspective of Auggie, but it also includes the perspective of Auggie’s sister.  Her name is Via or Olivia.  It turns out that she had a very rough first day at school as well.  Her best friend Miranda seemed to dump her for no apparent reason.  And because she is Auggie’s sister and is in this fragile family system that has had to focus so much attention on Auggie, when she is finally asked how her first day was, she simply responds by not revealing the whole truth. The reality is that she too needed some support and empathy from her parents. 

The natural tendency is to think of self, not others. People tend to focus almost exclusively on their own needs and wants unless they look around.   If we look around we tend to discover that people need us for one reason or another. And in some cases, they need us desperately. Our family needs us to love them and cheer them on. But it is not just family. Those far from the heart of God need to see the love of God, lived out through us. They need to know God loves them. They need to know their life matters. It is safe to say that someone desperately needs you today. It may be obvious, like Auggie, but it may be someone who is wearing the mask of having it all together. Or it maybe somebody less obvious like Olivia.

They need you to send a note, make a call, text, comment on social media. Some need to hear the life-saving good news of Jesus. Or maybe they need to hear some affirming words at work. Others may have to be told of their true value. Still, others that they have a purpose. There are people all around us that need to be encouraged, prayed for and loved. We can have a significant impact on the lives of others when we remember the line from Wonder: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”  

Each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose. That purpose is furthering the kingdom of God.  What would happen if we had the mindset that we were needed by others and put that mindset into action?  What if we opened our eyes to the great needs around us and become the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need? 

Discussion questions 

  1. If you were to guess, how many people need you today? How do you define “need?” 
  2. What are your motivations in your heart for helping others that need you? 
  3. What can I do this week to seek out ways in which to serve others joyfully?

You Are Fearfully And Wonderfully Made

“and I praise you because of the wonderful way you created me. Everything you do is marvelous! Of this I have no doubt.”– Psalm 139:14 (CEV). 

Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? What thoughts zip through your mind when soaking in your reflection? Are they kind or critical, praiseworthy or full of condemnation? Do you wish some things were different?

This Psalm 138 verse gives us an inkling of our value from God’s perspective. He designed us with care. As the verses immediately following verse 14 say, “Nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together deep in the earth below, but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything I would do.” (Psalm 139:15-16 CEV). In other words, your existence, your features, and your abilities are not a mistake. God doesn’t make mistakes. He made you and thoughtfully placed you in a body, a family and a place on this earth. You are perfect. 

Not perfect in the sense of a an IQ off the charts, perfect features and unmatched charisma. But perfect for the plan God has for your life. Perfect for being the feet and hands of Jesus: choosing to be kind rather than dismissive, praying for a friend who is going through a difficult time, sending an encouraging text, being a good listener to those who need a friend.  

Not perfect in the sense that you do everything right the first time, or that you aren’t tempted to sin. But perfect because God sees what you can become if you continue to choose what is right and good. I wonder if we truly understand how valuable we can be to God’s work and the kingdom of heaven. You are perfect for the work of salvation that God wants to accomplish in you.  

Max Lucado says in Cure for the Common Life, “Da Vinci painted one Mona Lisa. Beethoven composed one Fifth Symphony. And God made one version of you…We exist to exhibit God, to display His glory. We serve as canvases for His brushstroke, papers for His pen, soil for His seeds, glimpses of His image.” 

Our bodies are magnificent works of art. Our heart, brain, kidneys, lungs, blood system—all work together every day to keep us walking and talking. It’s a miracle that only a loving and omnipotent God could create and sustain. God made you and me–in His image and uniquely different from anyone else so He could carry out the plan He has for our life and no one else’s.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some advantages of God knowing everything about you? How could this be a source of motivation in your life?
  2. How do you feel about God’s total knowledge of you? Do these verses make you feel uncomfortable or bring you comfort? Do you feel restricted or protected by this?

Take Off Your Mask

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” ― R.J. Palacio, Wonder.

Wonder is the inspirational story of Auggie Pullman that shows us what it looks like to overcome fear and grow through challenges. Auggie was born with a rare condition that left him with severe facial deformities and the need to endure dozens of surgeries throughout the years to help him to breathe, to eat, to hear and to try to help him look a little more ordinary as well. 

When faced with attending school for the first time, after years of homeschooling, he admits he is “totally and completely petrified.” For Auggie, the fear of people seeing him with his unusual facial features and scars is scary so he wears a helmet. The helmet has become his escape, his safe place, a security blanket.  He’s grown comfortable in it.

Maybe you have too. You grab your mask out of the fear that you will be rejected, so you don’t allow anyone to get close to you. You come to church and want everyone to think you’ve got it all together. You end up concentrating on the exterior more than the interior. On the surface you look great, but you’d never want others to know of some of the struggles you experience and so, like Auggie, you reach for the mask.   

Psalm 139:13-14.says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” God knows the journey will be difficult. But just as it was best for Auggie to start school, God knows what is best for you. And what is best for you may require you to take off the mask. He may even ask you to take off your mask and depend solely on Him.

Here is the good news: If you believe that Jesus sees you, but loves you in spite of your scars and faults because he died to forgive you, then you’re life will be forever changed. You don’t have to lie to yourself about your flaws, faults, and sins. You no longer have to be afraid of what others would think if they truly knew you, either, since the Person who matters most of all has already loved and accepted you in spite of your sins. This means we no longer have to conceal our true identity from others.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Fear should never be a stop sign for the plans God has for your life. Don’t let your fears determine your destiny.  That’s God’s job. Take a risk.  Like Auggie, face your giants. It is faith that will enable you to overcome your fears.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How/when do you find yourself hiding your true self from God? What would it look like for you to live openly before God? 
  2. What are the obstacles to taking off our mask? What are the benefits? 

Out Of The Ordinary

“That’s why we have this Scripture text: No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—What God has arranged for those who love him. But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.” – 1 Corinthians 2: 9-10 (MSG).

The 1 Corinthians passage is based on Isaiah 54:4 which says, “For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” What’s being said here is that we can’t comprehend by our own physical senses what God has put together for those who love Him. God has always had a plan for His creation which He will accomplish. “But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.” (Psalm 33:11) 

These words paint the picture of an unimaginable and extraordinary life. You may think this idea applies to heaven but they were penned for our life here and now. Paul tells us in verse 10, “But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  Ephesians 3:9-10 (MSG) sheds even more light on the subject: “…My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!”

 The truth is, God not only desires you to live a life full of fulfillment, but He has also equipped you to do so. A remarkable, fulfilling life is not for the select few. It doesn’t matter where you have been or where you are. It doesn’t matter if you own beachfront property or whether you are living in a tent because of Hurricane Michael. You were created for a life that is complete and fulfilling.  

But that doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect.  Life doesn’t work that way. We may experience success and all the perks that come with it.  And like P.T. Barnum we will also experience challenges and trials in our life. Sometimes, things will go south.  But that does not mean we can’t experience a extraordinary life. The best way to change the world is to live extraordinarily in what looks like an ordinary existence—to radically love and serve those around us every day, no matter where we are. The way to live a fulfilling life is to find fulfillment in serving God where he puts you. 

Discussion questions 

  1. How do you define a fulfilled life? 
  2. What are some of the first steps we can take in living a fulfilled life in Christ? “ 

There’s No Place Like Home

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”  –  Robert Frost 

“There’s no place like home.” This iconic line was spoken by Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Most people have a fond memory of  home as a safe, warm, comforting place that we can always return to for unconditional love. Quotes like “there’s no place like home” or “home is where the heart is” reinforce this notion. There is a Bible story that illustrates why there is no place like home. 

Jesus was surrounded by people. The news that Jesus was coming by generated large crowds. People were talking about how Jesus had healed people, making life possible for them again. It made people believe that things could be different, that life could be different, that one could have hope of a better tomorrow. Jesus regularly dealt with people no one else wanted to deal with. Zacchaeus was one of those people. Zacchaeus was a tax collector; he was hated because  he collaborated with the hated Romans, and got rich by taking advantage of his fellow countrymen. No one wanted anything to do with a tax collector.

That day, people lined the streets of Jericho. Jesus was coming. Zacchaeus had heard the stories about Jesus and wondered if the stories were true. He wondered if Jesus is the one person in his city/country who will accept him as he is. But finding that out was problematic. There was little hope of standing out in the crowd. Zacchaeus was too short to see over the heads of the people and trying to maneuver through the crowd to the front of the line as a tax collector was ill-advised and probably impossible anyway. But Zacchaeus is determined, so he climbs a tree. The noise in the crowd gets louder as Jesus approaches.  Jesus makes his way over to the tree and says, “Zacchaeus!…Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” (Luke 19:5)  

Imagine for a second that you are the person up in the tree. It is you looking down the road, hoping that what you’ve heard about Jesus is true. That whatever it is in your life that sets you apart, that makes you unwanted by your family and friends, that Jesus can change the course of your life for the better.  You hope there is a place where you belong, a place where people accept you as you are. Imagine that Jesus would come to your house.  

The transformation of Zacchaeus began when Jesus came to his house. Zacchaeus became a very generous person and a person of integrity. Jesus put it this way: “Salvation has come to this home today…” (Luke 19:9)

Zacchaeus’ story reminds us of a stark reality. His story reminds us that someone is always in the sycamore tree, hoping and praying not to be an outsider anymore, hoping to find meaning and purpose in life. Zacchaeus’ story reminds us to look for those individuals. As followers of Jesus, we are called to invite them down from the tree, to travel to their home as Christ’s representative, and to invite them to find a home as a follower of Jesus and as a brother and sister in Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the first things you would do if you knew Jesus was coming to your house? Would you take more time preparing your heart or house?
  2. What can we do this week to better come home to God? 

Love Without Boundaries

“David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. Finally, King Achish said to his men, “Must you bring me a madman? We already have enough of them around here! Why should I let someone like this be my guest?”” – 1 Samuel 21:12-15. 

After a rocky first attempt at drawing crowds to his museum of oddities and a little inspiration from his daughters, P.T. Barnum starts posting ads calling for “unique persons” who would audition to become a part of a live variety show. Among the unique persons to join Barnum’s team of performers: a bearded lady, an abnormally tall man, trapeze artists, and many others.  What they all had in common: these were people who were not accepted or valued by the society they were in. They were different. And because they were different they were hidden from society.  

P.T. Barnum brought them into a family.  He saw the gifts in them overlooked by others.  He gave them a platform for purposeful service that brought meaning not just to their own lives but to the lives of others as well.  He challenged the norm that said you can’t value or have meaningful relationships with people who are different from you.

 Isn’t that just like what Jesus does?  And what’s more, isn’t that what he asks us to do: “…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” (Romans 13: 9-10) When society viewed women as inferior and as property, Jesus fought for them and included them.  He welcomed them into His community of disciples and made them participants in the work of His Kingdom. (Luke 8:1-3; John 8:1-11) When the culture saw children as a distraction, Jesus brought them near and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16) When society built barriers of relational conflict between ethnic groups, genders, and socio-economic classes, Jesus broke down those barriers and made them one family through faith in Him. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Jesus loves without boundaries and so should we.  Jesus takes the “you’re not like me, therefore we have to be divided” mentality of our flawed human nature and shows us a better way to live and love. We are called and empowered by Him to genuinely love, value, and befriend people who are different from us.  Christ-like love brings people together and welcomes people in, even if they’re different. Christ-like love loves across barriers, not within them. Christ-like love loves people into the fullness of life that God has for them.

Romans 17:6-7 says, “Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Your devotion to God is illustrated, demonstrated, and authenticated by your love for others. Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  2. What is one group of people that is different from you and that you find it difficult to love? Consider the words of Matthew 25:31–40 in light of that group. What are some obstacles you would have to overcome to love that group of people?

Never Enough For Me

“You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are! I praise the Lord, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me.”– Psalm 16:5-8 (GNT). 

Through one show-stopping number after another, we watch P.T. Barnum go from a child living in poverty to a successful ringmaster of a circus. And along the way, the movie addresses several themes. But there’s one theme that really drives a lot of the story – the lure of wealth and success. One of the songs in the movie captures that period in his life: Towers of gold are still too little…These hands could hold the world but it’ll….Never be enough

And that’s the lure of wealth and success. It’s never enough. You want more. You want it all. Unfortunately, Barnum didn’t learn that until he had lost almost everything. He could have saved himself learning things the hard way if he consulted his Bible. The Bible has a lot to say about the lure of wealth and success. King Solomon had everything a human being could wish for, yet he gave a warning in Proverbs 23:4-5: “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.” 

King Solomon was striving to experience “life to the full.” But he retained some wisdom and perspective in examining what he was investing his time and resources in. “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11). His possessions and pleasure amounted to nothing, because they produced nothing of lasting value. Some look for success in status, power and position, rather than in wealth. The mother of James and John—two of Jesus’ disciples—came to Him with a request: “…In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking!’” (Matthew 20:21–22).  

Jesus then shared a great key to true success, in contrast to pursuit of power and wealth; the desire to have it all.“…Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28). True success comes from a servant mentality.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we invest so much time and energy in pursuing wealth and power? 
  2. What can we focus on for a Christ-centered life rather than things of this earth?  

The Great And The Not So Great

“Men suffer more from imagining too little than too much.” – P.T. Barnum

The Greatest Showman is based on the story of legendary circus creator, P.T. Barnum.  Even as a young boy, P.T. Barnum had visions and dreams about his future. He had this longing, this drive, to make something more for himself and family. And that’s the theme that drives a lot of the story – the lure of wealth and success. Eventually he found some success with a troupe of performers. But he really hit it big when he launched a tour of one of the best singers in Europe, and that’s when everything started to change. He was making millions. He was hobnobbing with the upper class. He had finally made it. But then he learns the hard way that you can’t have it all and sometimes what you think you want is not what you need.   

If we are being honest, we are not all that different. Many of us have learned from painful experiences that we were looking for love, joy and fulfillment in all the wrong places. We have all spent time searching for a sense of significance and security. Whether we find it or not depends where we are looking. We need to look no further than Jesus Christ. 

The problem is sometimes we treat Jesus like an app on our phone. When we’re not getting what we think we need from Him, we close Him down. We look for fulfillment in another app. But there is no alternative app. Jesus is the operating system to a fulfilled life. He needs to be at the center of your life, directing everything. That’s how your focus shifts from you and what you want, to God and His incredible plan for your life.  

When we follow His plan, we will fulfill the purpose for which we were made. Nothing can bring more joy, peace, and satisfaction tthan this. The reason so many people are plagued with problems, addictions, and regrets is because they were created for one purpose, but are attempting to live for another purpose as the Greatest Showman illustrates.  

No matter what else we do with our lives – even good things – if we miss knowing, loving, fearing, and obeying God, we will have missed His plan and our purpose. It is an amazing thing to discover your purpose and live a fulfilled life in Jesus Christ 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define a fulfilled life? 
  2. What obstacles are keeping you from living a fulfilled life in Jesus Christ?