Can We Really Help Ourselves?

“But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat. For the oppressive acts of ruthless people are like a storm beating against a wall.” – Isaiah 25:4. 

As a kid, perhaps the greatest words you could hear from an adult was “help yourself.” Hearing that phrase meant that you had permission to help yourself to another piece of pie, or candy or treat. Grandma was especially fond of saying those magical words, “help yourself.” There was nothing like having carte blanche to indulge in things that were typically rationed. Self-help books are available in virtually every subject. In the library, they have their own section. There are online education opportunities. There are numerous ways we can help ourselves.   

You have probably heard the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” There are people who believe that phrase comes from the Bible. Trouble is, the Bible does not say that. 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” The Bible does not give pre-existing conditions for generosity.  

If someone is struggling with addiction, telling them to help themselves does not work. There are trials and circumstances in our lives that we have little chance of changing by ourselves. Fortunately, God has a tender spot for those who can’t help themselves. Fortunately, is the right word when you consider it is impossible to do anything good apart from Him.

We all have things we want to do. God knows this; indeed. He created us with certain skills, abilities, desires and dreams. Isn’t it good to know, though, that it isn’t all on your shoulders, that it isn’t all dependent upon your cleverness and intelligence and resources and connections? Sooner or later we run into a brick wall that we can’t get around or over. It is in those times we discover our abilities are finite. God however is not finite, or limited at all.  

God doesn’t sit back and wait to see how much you’re helping yourself before He will come to your aid. We do need to be working out our salvation, but it can’t be done without God’s help. Some things are too much for us to take on and the good news is that God helps those who can’t help themselves, those who have no control over situations in this life, and those who are weary and worn. It is at these times that we can lean on Him to guide us through each and every circumstance.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think of the phrase God helps those who help themselves? 
  2. How does this phrase affect how you look at helping others less fortunate than we are? 

To Give Or Not To Give

“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” ― Romans 12:13. 

Living a generous life is not easy. Jesus set the standard that we can’t match. That’s because God is a giver. Generosity is a reflection of God’s nature. People, on the other hand, not so much. We tend to lean toward self-interest and self-preservation, and self-promotion. Giving to others, is not natural or instinctive. it has to be learned. We learn from our Heavenly Father. God is always giving his eternal resources to others. Matthew 7:11 says,“so if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

So when deciding on whether to give or not, the question is not “where should I give” or “how much,” but “why do I give.” In Philippians 2, Paul said, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Do you hear what Paul’s saying? Here’s a whole new way to be generous. Consider others better than yourselves. Look at the good of the whole, not just what’s in your best interests. Share tenderness and compassion. These are all gifts and ways to practice generosity in addition to money. 

It’s not just our words, it’s our actions which make such a huge difference. Look at the early church. They were persecuted and killed and ostracized. The world had a low view of Christians. But that didn’t stop them. They kept on trucking.  

It’s not enough for us to talk about generosity, nor is it enough for individual Christians to simply commit to being generous. What makes generosity a real and powerful witness for God is our actions. Generosity results from the conclusion that all we have or will have is not ours, it belongs to God. Because God has shared His wealth with us, we should share what God has given us with others. 

Our money and possessions are more than a luxury or responsibility. It’s an opportunity to witness to the love and grace of God who freely gives salvation to all who accept it. Generosity is the fullest expression of the life of one who receives, one who has been given a gift, a gift that must be used wisely and for a purpose, bringing glory to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most generous gift you have ever received? How did it make you feel?
  2. Americans are some of the wealthiest people in the world, but do you think Americans are generous with their wealth? Why or why not?
  3. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?

Sending It On Ahead

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” ― Matthew 6:19-20. 

If you have ever dabbled in the stock market, you have discovered that some investments simply don’t work out; they decline in value or lose all of their value all together. The Bible tells us that earthly wealth will ultimately lose all of its value unless it is converted into something of eternal value.  Randy Alcorn in his book, The Treasure Principle, says “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” The idea is we are to use everything God has entrusted to us here on earth to store up treasures in heaven. Generosity is the investment vehicle of eternity. Of course we are talking about money and possessions, but we are also talking about being generous with affirming words, quality time and the gift of our talents.

Let me be honest. When you first choose to be generous, there is more apprehension than joy in the decision. It can seem risky. It can seem scary. Joy is in the act of faith when you give. And in what you receive. God wants us to use our money to tell the world the good news of Jesus Christ. “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.” (Mark 16:15 (TLB) We invest in eternity every time we use money to bring others to Jesus whether in Panama City, Florida or Panama City, Panama. 

When you save to go on a mission trip, that’s an investment in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus. When you help others go on a mission trip, that’s an investment in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus as well. This also includes using your money to encourage your friends to trust in Jesus. Luke 16:9 says, “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home”  

You will never know how many people experience a life-changing relationship with God because of your generosity. Imagine when you die and get to heaven, you will encounter friends who say, “Thank you for investing in me. I’m in heaven because you cared enough. You bought me a Bible. You made it possible for me to get some counseling and for me to attend a life-changing event. You made it possible for a missionary to come to my little town and tell me about Jesus. Because of your generosity, I became a follower of Christ. I’m in heaven because you sent it on ahead instead of taking it with you.”

We should be completely humbled at what God is working in and through His church. By giving, you are investing in the eternity of lives in our community and around the world. So send it on ahead; invest your life – your treasure, your time, your talent – in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do we we stockpile in this life what is valuable in Heaven? 
  2. What can we do the week to send ahead our treasures to Heaven? 

Jesus And Generosity

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace…However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:1-3, 7.

When we think of God’s attributes and characteristics, we don’t typically think of generosity. But we should; God is the author of generosity. James 1:17 tells us that “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…” God gives us everything we need. The planet we live on makes that statement irrefutable. Everything works perfectly for us to have air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat.  

The Bible is full of examples of Jesus’s generosity. In Mark 5:21-43 we have two examples. Wherever Jesus went, people clamored around Him to hear His words of wisdom, to ask for healing, or just to be near Him. Wouldn’t you? One day He was making His way through the crowds when one of the local synagogue officials, a man named Jairus, came up and asked Him to come heal his dying daughter. Jesus went with him. Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt. He had renewed hope that his daughter, his only child, would be healed. Once they started a woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Jesus sensed it and asks who did it.  The woman who did it probably did not want to cause a scene but that’s exactly what happened anyway. Jesus stops and deals with her tenderly. She thought she was healed because she touched His clothes, but Jesus tells her faith healed her. Another wonderful, generous healing, the crowd sees it and is once again impressed and inspired by Jesus. No wonder they were all wanting to hang out with Him. But Jairus was impatient, hoping Jesus would get to his daughter in time. 

He didn’t. Word comes that Jairus’ daughter is dead.  Jesus says simply, “Be not afraid, only believe.” When they finally arrive, the weeping and wailing of the mourners greets them. But Jesus made a simple declaration that broke the spell of grief. He said, “She’s not dead. She’s only asleep.”  Mark 5:41-42 says, “Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.” Jesus’ attention to such detail reveals His characteristic kindness and sympathy. Just one story that demonstrates the generosity, grace and love of Jesus. 

Jesus is truly the ultimate example of unselfish love and generosity who has set a standard we need to imitate. God is not stingy or reluctant in His giving. He loves to give and is happy to bless. He takes great delight in providing for His children. In the gospel, we are recipients of God’s lavish generosity. The cross is the standard of God’s eagerness to give. It is the guarantee that He is willing and able to provide all that we need. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?  
  2. How can we we be more like Jesus in the area of generosity? 

A Spirit Of Generosity

“I want you to know about (the church at Philippi’s) generosity… Even while suffering in severe trials and extreme poverty, their lives have overflowed with joy because of their amazing generosity. I personally witnessed their giving not simply giving what they could afford. But giving even beyond their human ability! No one told them to do it. It was due to their own generous hearts. In fact they begged and pleaded for the privilege of giving to serve God’s people. And they gave in a way we did not expect: They first gave themselves to the Lord and then to us. That is what pleases God!” 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

What exactly counts as generosity? Should generosity be the average Christian’s goal? Where is generosity at work in daily activities? How do we become generous? Answers to these questions might seem straightforward. Generosity is giving others something extra beyond what they are due. Ordinary Christians should be generous, relative to their means. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 is the famous passage about how God loves a cheerful giver. In verses 10-12 Paul says, “For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.”

What Paul is saying is that the material gift also has spiritual implications. Being materially generous to the ministry of Paul was also being spiritually generous to those to whom Paul and his team were ministering. It is still the same today. Generosity really is the gift that keeps on giving. It is important that we not only be materially generous to the ministries God is leading you to give to, but also to be spiritually generous.  

Take a few minutes and take stock of your life. Specifically, document how much Christ has given you spiritually, how He has been gracious to you. Also take note of those who have been spiritually generous to you? How have they impacted your life? How has what they did encouraged you in your marriage or influenced the way you parent your kids? How have they helped you understand the gospel in deeper ways? Now consider how you could do some of the same things to bless others spiritually. Take what God is teaching you every day and share it with others.  

Yes, we should strive to be materially generous, But let’s also work on being spiritually generous with the wealth that God has given to us.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you tend to think in terms of spiritual generosity? Why or why not? 
  2. What are some steps we can take to be more spiritually generous? 

Worry About The Unknown

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

We have all heard the term the “Christian walk.” It refers to an individual’s personal, spiritual journey. Many times we have false expectations of what the “Christian walk” should be like. As Paul tells us in Acts 20:22, “…I don’t know what awaits me.”  In other words, the Christian walk is really a journey into the unknown. We need to learn to be OK with that. We need to learn that God does what He does for reasons we can’t always see or understand. We need to learn to believe that God is good, even when the unknowns of life creep in. Paul tell us in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” 

That is a tough environment to be in. Talk to any business manager and they will tell you that it is very difficult to be successful when unknowns pop up and surprise you. Christians feel the same way about the unknowns in their walk with God. We want all the blanks filled in. All the gaps closed. All the details disclosed. And the why questions answered. But that’s not how life works. There will be questions for which there are no apparent answers. There will be unknowns.   

Without blanks, we would have no room for Him to write in His answers. Without gaps, there would be no way for Him to become the Way when there is no way. Without unanswered questions, there would be no way to show us that He is the answer. Our God is not fickle, forgetful or fragile in anyway. He does not make mistakes. He has a purpose for our gaps. He has a divine purpose behind all the blanks and the unanswered questions in our life. He wants us to have faith. 

What is most pressing in your life right now? Whatever that is, replace that worry with the truth of God’s love and power. We can trust that God will do as He says: “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7)  It is possible to experience God’s peace. When we learn to cast our cares on God and trust Him to handle them, faith replaces fear. Worry sees unknowns, but faith sees the God who can handle any unknown.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think that God does not give us all the details?
  2. Do you find comfort knowing that God is in the midst of your uncertainties?  Why?

Think On These Things

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8 

Is it impossible to stop thinking? Try to shut down your mind and you will soon realize that it is impossible to stop streaming thoughts through your mind. It won’t be long before your thoughts will be reminding you of the jobs you haven’t done, anxious thoughts about the future, fragments of memories, images of people you know, and portions of songs you’ve recently heard. The question is are we simply thinking without control of what we think? Are we simply a victim to outside forces, or can we control our thoughts?

There is a famous scene in Peter Pan where Peter is in the children’s bedroom; they have seen him fly, and they wish to fly too. They have tried it from the floor and they have tried it from the beds and the result is failure. “How do you do it?” John asked. And Peter answered: “You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they lift you up in the air.” The same is true for the believer. The only way to defeat evil thoughts is to think on different things.

The apostle Paul understood this principle. He gave us a list of things we should focus our time and energy thinking about: “fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.” (Philippians 4:8 GNT) The human mind is a wonderful creation of God … it cannot think of two things at the same time. So while you are thinking positive thoughts, you cannot be thinking negative thoughts. When you are thinking about things that are true, honest, just, pure, and lovely, you cannot think about those things that are false, dishonest, unjust, impure and ugly.

For me the take away from all this is that we can truly adjust a lot in our own lives simply by changing our focus. Focusing on the positive in all situations strengthens our belief which leads to increased faith. On the flip side, when we focus on negative things it weakens our belief, or gets us believing stuff that isn’t true. And that not only erodes our faith, it actually will increase fear in our lives.

Fortunately God has given us control over that by putting a choice in front of us. All we have to do is decide what we are choosing to focus on? 

Jeremiah 33:3 ESV says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways is Philippians 4:8 a reality for you? What would you have to give up to start thinking more consistently with Philippians 4:8?
  2. Is it possible to change without first changing your thinking?

Be Thankful

“There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!” ― Psalm 43:4

We are approximately 130 days from Thanksgiving 2019. For hundreds of years, Americans have been giving thanks for the blessings of the preceding year. But for Christians, every day should be a day of thanksgiving. The regular practice of gratitude is a staple in scriptures: (Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Most verses go on to list reasons why we should thank Him, such as “His faithful love endures forever” (Psalm 136:3), “He is good” (Psalm 118:29), and “His faithfulness continues to each generation.” (Psalm 100:5).  

Today, ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common. It is easy to be thankful when things are going well. But not as easy when you suffer an unforeseen illness, lose a job, or the relationship you have been working on for months just continues to sour. Such circumstances can be tremendously difficult. But even so, we all have much to be thankful for. Just ask Paul. 

The footstep he hears in the prison corridor could be the guards coming to take him to his execution. His daily habitat was a dark, damp, cramped prison cell. His bed was the stone floor. The irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs were his daily companion. If ever a person had a right to complain, it was Paul, languishing in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaints, he was full of praise and thanksgiving.

Imagine if we could emulate Paul by giving thanks no matter the circumstances. What if rather than waiting for Thanksgiving or other special occasions to be thankful, gratitude and thanksgiving was a daily reality.  We don’t have to look far to find countless things to be grateful for. Perhaps we take many things for granted, like the air we breathe or even life itself. Being thankful for our family and friends is natural, but is our gratitude visible?

The Holy Spirit is the substance of it, the source of it, and the strength of being thankful. We are to be filled with the Spirit, and we are to be giving thanks. And that’s the only way we can do it. In Colossians, Paul urges Christians to “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” (Colossians 4:2) He reminds us to “always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:12-15)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is being thankful really our choice? Can we actually decide that we will be thankful people? Where has being thankful ranked on your list of required Christian qualities up until now? 

Talk To Me

“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. 18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” –  2 Peter 3:17–18.  

We can talk to God anywhere, anytime. God wants to talk to us. That may be surprising for some. For many, God seems like a distant father, tolerating us but not really interested in our lives. Believe it or not, quite the opposite is true. God wants to be a part of every detail and wants us to know who He really is. But it takes faith. It takes coming to grips with the invisible presence of our all-present God. God is probably not going to light a shrub on fire in our front yards to get our attention as He did through Moses and the burning bush. Yet, because of Jesus, we can still experience His presence in real terms. 

The important thing is that we’re giving our attention to God – and that we’re talking to Him. This doesn’t need to be out loud, either; of course, God knows our every thought and intention. But it shouldn’t be a “chore” – it needs to be real, authentic and truthful. By talking to God, we’re reminding ourselves that no matter what is going on in our lives – no matter how difficult it might be or what struggles we are going through – the most important thing in our life is our relationship with God. We need to nurture our relationship with Him. After all, when you have a relationship with someone, you want to hear from them regularly. The same goes for God. He wants to hear from us. Psalm 34:15 perfectly sums up the importance of why we need to talk to God: “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; His ears are open to their cries for help.”

Moses, David, Job, Jesus and many more figures from the Bible all expressed their anger, confusion, and dismay to God. “At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) Then there is Job 10:1-4: “I am disgusted with my life. Let me complain freely. My bitter soul must complain. I will say to God, ‘Don’t simply condemn me—tell me the charge you are bringing against me. What do you gain by oppressing me? Why do you reject me, the work of your own hands, while smiling on the schemes of the wicked? Are your eyes like those of a human? Do you see things only as people see them?” The Bible repeatedly shows faith-filled people engaged in frank, direct cries to God’s face.  

The Bible tells us time and time again of the importance of speaking to God. And we also know He is always listening, and answers all our prayers in His own way (even if His answer is sometimes “no” or “not quite yet”). That does not mean that you should talk to God just as you would to a very respected friend. Don’t worry about using any special form of words. Just talk openly, honestly, and sincerely from your heart. (This is what “prayer” is supposed to be.)

Whatever may be going on in your life today, know this: God loves you. He will be in control if you let Him. Speak to Him and then listen for His voice. Expect Him to take over the circumstances and know with great assuredness in your heart that He is going to meet your needs. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are the benefits of talking to God about everything?  
  2. What can you do this week to think about God more often?

Worry-Warts

 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7. 

So you’re a worrier. For some of us, worry is more like a hobby, while others are professional worriers. Some of us are yesterday worriers, while others are someday worriers, while still others are everyday worriers. We know it does little if any good. In fact, we would agree that it is a waste of time. We also know we need to do something different or worry will make itself right at home and become a regular part of our lives And worry not only has physical consequences, but it also has spiritual ones as well. In the end, worry won’t stretch our savings account or keep cancer or job loss at bay and get us accepted into the college of our choice.

Telling yourself not to worry is easy; eliminating worry is much more difficult. Jesus offers help for worriers in Matthew 6:25-34. Worry is futile. To that end Jesus offers a simple test: “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”  No. In fact, worry will most likely subtract hours from it instead. Worry has no productive value. Worry is an indicator of our level of faith and trust in God. Whenever we choose to worry about something, we are in effect saying, “I’m not sure God will do anything about my situation.”

Once we identify worry as a lack of trust, then we can turn it over to God. Trust is the essential ingredient in an authentic relationship with Jesus. God gave us a formula in His Word to help us stop the worry: 

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6-7) 

The very next verse tells us how to stop the worrying, so we can experience that kind of peace that comes through praying about everything: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) 

As we focus on God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s ability to control all that you cannot, there is no room in your mind for fear or worry. All we need to do is to trust God. He can control all you think you must and all you are convinced you can’t. And He knows exactly what He’s doing in your life. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. When have you experienced the greatest worry in your life? How did you deal with it?
  2. How have you learned to give your worry to God?