I Have Arrived

“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

Our goal every day should be to know Jesus a little better than we did the day before. But then life happens, and we have trouble staying focused in an age of unprecedented distraction. Our desire to get closer to God bogs down a little and then a little more. Then one day you realize that the closer you get the farther away you seem to be. Somewhere along the line, you had settled for where you are rather than where you should be in your relationship with God. You feel stuck. And your lack of progress makes you wonder if you have arrived at the zenith of your spiritual development; if this is as good as it gets.

C.S. Lewis said, “The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.” When you have taken the relationship with God as far as you can take it, you have arrived at the point that you turn the relationship over to Him. Remember what you can’t do, He can. God never created a finish line this side of heaven. Thus we are an ongoing project. And like most projects, there will be times we stumble and even fail: to the point where we start to second guess how we can go.  

The Gospel is simple: Jesus died for our sins, was buried in a tomb, and came back to life three days later. If our love for Jesus and our relationship with Him isn’t based on the reality of these events, following Jesus can become a matter of routine. If that is the case we need to change the routine. I think sometimes we can forget that it takes an everyday effort and an everyday surrender. We have to consciously make a choice to choose Him every chance we get. We have to consciously make time with Him our priority and center the rest of our days around Him.

As Christians do we arrive? Is there a time when all of our hard work and efforts will pay off?  The answer is no. We are still a work in progress and will be until we meet Jesus face to face. The life God uniquely designed for us to live and for which our hearts yearn cannot be achieved by our own efforts, no matter how disciplined we may be. In fact, our desperate huffing and puffing to please God, scrambling to win His favor and attempts to fix myself accomplish little. Fortunately, desiring to follow Jesus isn’t about being complete and perfect; it’s about doing my best and trusting God to finish what He began. Its about living with His grace daily, remembering what matters most, getting to know Jesus better, figuring out where we need to grow, and focusing on the future.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Have you ever felt that you have arrived, that your relationship with God was about as good as it gets? 
  2. What can we do this week to keep our relationship with God from becoming routine, or going through the motions? 

Growing In Christ

“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.  Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” –  2 Peter 3:17–18.  

In business, continuous improvement is the best tool for future growth. The external environments of businesses change constantly, so leaders must continually improve to remain successful and competitive. That basic tenet is true in every area of life. Success isn’t achieved by staying idle; you’ve got to adapt and overcome challenges around you. What about spiritual growth? The Bible says our Lord Jesus “kept increasing in wisdom” and the “and the grace of God was upon Him.”  (Luke 2:52, 40 AMP) Shoudn’t we?

True stability in the Christian life comes not from planting two feet and standing still, but from putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.  The term Christian should be synonymous with growth. Growth is really all about improving your relationship with Jesus Christ. The Bible relates God to a father, bridegroom, husband, friend. We often make a relationship with God more complicated than it needs to be. If you look at the best relationships you have it is usually because you care about one another, you spend time together, and you value what the other has to say. The same things hold true for a relationship with God. The challenge is how does one improve his or her relationship with God? People are often unsure how to respond. The promises of grace suggest one answer; the experiences of life often suggest another. In the confusion, we often do the one thing we can’t do: nothing.  

There are multiple approaches to improving your relationship with God, but I want to address one for the sake of this devotional. Successful people work on one thing at a time  That one thing is communication. 

Communication will help grow your relationship with our heavenly Father. Yes, it would be nice if God used email, or Twitter or even a text to communicate with us. But even though we can’t use our typical methods, we can communicate with God and God with us. Start with devotional time with God in the morning, In the same kind of way when we pray more often, there is a knowledge that God hears us and will answer according to His perfect plan. Then there is reading His word. The Bible remains the best device we have to communicate with God. Much of the Bible is about communion with God explaining ways God relates or “communicates” to us and how we respond or “communicate with Him.”  

If you feel that you need to improve your communication with God, just start talking to Him. Tell Him about your day, your adventures and your concerns.  Ask Him to make you better at communication.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Are you content with your spiritual growth? Where would you like it to be? What needs to change to get it where you want it to be? 
  2. What can you do this week to improve your communication with God?

A State Of Grace

“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” Ephesians 1:5-7

Each time I study the biblical subject of grace, I can’t help but be uplifted by it. Grace is “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it”. God is overflowing with pure goodness and kindness.  He has so much love for us that He gives us forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  In Psalm 103, there’s a laundry list of just some of the things God does in our lives by grace. The psalmist says, “may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things…The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins;”

It is grace and grace alone that God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but rather gives us what we need. We should be eternally grateful for the grace of God. We were basically in pretty bad shape before we met the Savior. We will never be able to answer what we did to deserve a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We were headed for an eternity separated from God. There was nothing we could do about it. We would never be good enough to earn our salvation. But God changed all that when He died on the cross for you and me.   

We can all relate to Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:8: “He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.

God’s grace is truly indescribable. I hope that each day we see, understand and are overwhelmed by His grace as we were when we accepted Him into our life as Savior. And I hope we not only understand God’s grace, but live it and give it to others.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can grace be summarized?
  2. How can God’s overcoming, or irresistible grace be part of our lives this week?

How Are You In The Empathy Department?

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ― Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

When we think of empathy we are likely to think “I heard what you said” or work to understand what it is like to “walk a mile in your shoes.”  We view empathy as feeling what another person is feeling, or understanding what he or she is thinking.  We live in a time when we all could use a little more empathy.  

Empathy is woven deep into the fabric of Scripture. Virtually every instruction God offers regarding the way we’re to treat others begins with empathy. For example, there is a story in John 11 that says, “Then Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) The first 40 verses of John 11 is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead so there was no reason for Lazarus’ loved ones to mourn. He knew that in a matter of minutes, their tears would turn to joy. Yet Jesus didn’t try to talk them out of their grief. He didn’t chide them for their lack of faith. Jesus saw people who were hurting, and it made Him hurt, too. He empathized so strongly with those who were mourning that He wept.

Jesus is empathy’s perfect example. He didn’t come to earth to save us as God, detached and gazing down in pity. He came as man, born into the trenches, to live and suffer as a human. His empathy makes Him the perfect sacrifice. The perfect bridge between God and us. The Bible tells us, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). 

But we’re not Jesus. So how can we identify with others going through situations we’ve never encountered face-to-face? It starts with active listening. It’s compassion in words: “I understand your disappointment…I understand that this loss has left you confused and scared”…”I’d like to help, is there anything I can do?” Perhaps more than anything else, empathy should motivate and empower us to love. There is a greater reason for our engagement with people. God may be deliberately placing someone in your life who need not only empathy but the love of Jesus Christ. Who knows how much difference a little bit of empathy can make in somebody’s life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of empathy? 
  2. Reflect on the ways you practice empathy. Has there been a moment recently where you have showed empathy for another person, and they for you? What was the result? 

Is Christianity Too Complicated

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22: 36-40. 

The Christian life can seem so complex, but is it really? John Eldridge in his book Beautiful Outlaw talks about stripping away what he calls a “religious fog” from Jesus and helps us see His real personality. That is what people will fall in love with. You don’t need to be an expert in systemic theology or have the MDiv letters following your name to have a full and fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ.  

We need to remember that Jesus had little use for religious scholars of that day, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus spoke to the common man. He chose everyday people to spread the gospel throughout the world. His message was revolutionary yet simple. Paul said as much to the church in Corinth. “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3 NAS)  

It becomes complicated when we lose sight of a certain simplicity that comes with knowing Him and being known by Him. We make it complicated when we try to interpret, rationalize, find loopholes and make exceptions. We pick and choose what Jesus says really applies to us and to what degree. So we overcomplicate things and lose the simplicity of simply doing what He says.  

We have talked about this on many occasions but in Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus boils down the whole counsel of God into its purest and simplest form: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. Simple. Love God. Love people. Nothing is done in this life that is not directly tied to these two things, and these two things are so interdependent upon each other that Jesus actually presents them as one thing. It’s the first thing that matters, and nothing else matters in its absence. 

This is not to say that the Christian life can’t sometimes get messy. It can and it does. Jesus never once promised that our obedience would always lead to easy or comfortable places. To the contrary, He said “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). But this does not negate that He has been clear and simple with us on the front end. Love God above all today. Love and serve others. Then do it again tomorrow. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you find most difficult about the Christian life?
  2. What can we do this week to keep it simple… love God and love others?  

What Are You Living For?

“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” ― Philippians 1:21

What in your life are you willing to take a stand, even die for? What you have accomplished, created and experienced in living your life…what part(s) were worth dying for? The answer to those questions give meaning to life.   

We all have things we would like to go back and change. Maybe you wished that you had traveled more. Maybe you wish you had taken the plunge and started that business. I wish I had …. [insert your biggest regret]. In Philippians 1:21 (NIV) Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In this verse, Paul reveals his attitude toward the final enemy—death. Paul was saying in essence, “I can’t lose. As long as I live, I live to serve Jesus Christ. And when I die, I get even more of Him.” Paul had lived his adult life for Jesus Christ, but he also had a desire to live with Jesus Christ.  

All Christians feel the pull of heaven and long for an eternity with Christ. Although we cannot truly understand or appreciate heaven, we know we will be present with our Savior and that’s all we need to know: “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

But while we yearn for eternity, we live here on earth. Christianity is not abandoning life by killing time while we focus on heaven. We still have gifts and contributions we can make to the kingdom. To live is Christ. Life can be a showcase where the wonderful, beautiful, redemptive life of God is revealed. Sometimes we yearn for Heaven because this life can be tough and heaven can be pretty enticing: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4) 

Philippians 1:21 (TLB) says, “For to me, living means opportunities for Christ…” We still have opportunities to “…run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) “To live is Christ” means that Christ is our focus, our goal, and our chief desire. Everything that we do, we do by “…keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2). The more you become genuinely and relentlessly available to Christ, the more your Christian walk becomes vibrant and effective.  So as we wait to serve God in the age to come, let us use our gifts and abilities to serve Him now.    

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is your ultimate goal in life? Does your faith in Christ shape that goal?
  2. Can Christ be exalted by your life or death? Explain.
  3. What reasons would you give for wanting to remain here on earth versus departing to be with Christ (or vice versa )?

What Traits/Characteristics Do We Want?

“Few things are more infectious than a godly lifestyle. The people you rub shoulders with everyday need that kind of challenge. Not prudish. Not preachy. Just cracker jack clean living. Just honest to goodness, bone – deep, non-hypocritical integrity.” – Chuck Swindoll. 

If you were asked to name the characteristics of God, you would probably list things like compassion, holiness, righteousness, justice, and mercy, to name a few. If asked about the attributes of God, the answers would consist of how He is faithful, trustworthy and loyal. You could speak from experience on how God can be counted on and how all these attributes work together in complete harmony “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”( Romans 8:28 NIV) 

Every person has his/her strong points and weak points and a unique blend of personality, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Those characteristics all mix together to form our character. If you asked to list some of the most desirable personality traits in women and men, integrity would be on every list. Traits such as hardworking, genuine, disciplined, humble, and generous would also be sought after. Integrity is something we all desire, but what is it?

Integrity is not our reputation, what other people think of us. Integrity is not success, nor is it about our accomplishments. Integrity is not something we do or have, but something we are. Integrity is about more than just doing the right thing, It’s about building the kind of character that can survive all the ups and downs of this life. 

Integrity means what we say and what we do matches. Having integrity means you keep your promises. But integrity is more than just about keeping promises; it’s about keeping your word in everything. Integrity is a critical element of a Christ centered life. Integrity is living and speaking based on what God says is right; basing our words and actions off of His principles and truth.  

Our integrity is put to the test every day, in virtually every situation. We are being watched closely to see how we will respond. The choice of our walk matching our talk, our behavior matching our beliefs, our character matching our confession is left to us.

“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed.” (Proverbs 10:9)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. If people who know you were asked for five words that describe you, would integrity be one of them? 
  2. What can you do to improve your integrity?

Who Is Responsible For My Happiness?

“But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” — Luke 22:60-62. .

It’s great when people believe in us, cheer us on, make us feel valued and needed. We love when our spouse compliments us, a friend is there to give encouragement, a coworker stays late to help us on a project. The problem is when we become addicted to compliments, encouragement, them cheering you on; now, you rely on them to keep you feeling good about yourself, to feel validated. If you rely on people, you’ll be disappointed; people will let you down, get busy, not be there when you need them. Sometimes, people will even turn on you. 

Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus Christ. He was an outspoken and ardent disciple, one of Jesus’ closest friends, an apostle, and a “pillar” of the church (Galatians 2:9). Peter was enthusiastic, strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times, brash. But when Jesus needed Peter the most, when he was about to be crucified, Peter denied that he even knew Christ three times. So many times marriages reach their breaking point because one spouse depends on the other spouse for their happiness. Their whole world including their happiness rises and falls on the actions of the spouse. The solution is to quit depending on your spouse or someone else to make you happy. Only God can truly make you happy. 

No other person can create real and lasting happiness for you. Nor are there any formulas or how-to directions. True happiness that does not depend on what others do. God alone is the only source of all happiness and contentment.  Paul said, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19). Not your spouse, mentor, pastor, or your best friend – but God. Don’t miss understand me.  There is nothing wrong with sharing your concerns or problems with your pastor, or a professional counselor. But ultimately we need to take our needs to the Lord and allow Him to work in your life. Eventually, leaning completely on Jesus is the best thing you can do. God can heal all our hurts. He can heal any relationship. He can wipe away every tear and bring joy, but we simply do not take the time or effort to run to Him in bad times as well as good times.  

You can be happy. You don’t need others to make you happy. That is not to say we don’t need one another. We need the prayer, help and comfort of loving friends and family. But there can be no lasting happiness if we expect others to create it for us. Remember we have a Savior that is waiting for us to run to Him. “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you believe that we rely too much on others for happiness? Why or why not? 
  2.  What can we do this week to ensure that God is the source of our happiness? 

A Culture Of Generosity

“Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered.” –  Psalm 112:5-6.  

The University of Notre Dame conducted a Generosity Project. Generosity as defined by the project is “ giving good things”,  giving “freely”, and giving “abundantly.” The project studied the difference between a few  acts of generosity into a culture of  generosity. This project discovered what we instinctively know: in most cases, generosity doesn’t doesn’t come naturally.   

For the Christian, the issue is not just that we give, but how. “God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving is built on the great why of Christianity.  Why the Son of God would demonstrate the ultimate in generosity in coming to save us. “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). If Jesus is in us, then increasingly His traits should become our traits.  Generosity is one of the great evidences of truly being a Christian. So how do we develop a culture of generosity.   

Romans 12:13 says, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” What Paul is basically saying is that, you have to identify yourself with others in need. In other words, we make the needs of other people our own needs by asking ourselves some questions:  How are they coping? What would I need if I were in their shoes? What would I do?”

The Philippian church took Paul’s needs to their hearts, and he wrote to them; “Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. . . . Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. . . . At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:14, 16, 18). Paul saw their practical kindness to him as glorifying God. It was an offering that was pleasing to the Lord. Galatians 6:10 adds, 

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”

The simple definition of generosity is: using your God-given ability to help those in need and where your time, money, and talents come together to meet the needs of others.

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. Identify one practical way you can be more generous in the weeks ahead. 

Keeping The Christian Life Interesante

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:22 . 

Dos Equis has a campaign about keeping things “interesante.” Advertisers are constantly looking for creative ways to make their products a little more cool, a little more compelling and a little more interesting.  Is there a way to make Christianity more interesante to a culture that often views this 2,000-year-old movement as uncool, untrendy, out-of-touch, and difficult to follow? Is Christianity uninteresting? Is it boring?

Do you ever feel like that? Does it ever feel like there should be more excitement? Does it seem like Christianity is all about not doing things? Does it seem like we are working through a long list of  “do’s and“ don’t’s?” Or is there more to it all? Because, if there’s not, what’s the point? Why not walk away and find something more interesting?

Christianity is far from boring. If the book of Acts and the early church proves anything, it proves that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in power and glory. Jesus is not dead and He is not absent and He is certainly not boring or predictable. Jesus is still changing the world, one person at a time. Look what is happening in short-term mission trips. Our goal is to see lives radically transformed by God. Boring people do not change the world.

But maybe we are right to be bored with our level of Christianity. Maybe our level of purpose, risk, and commitment makes our walk with God uninteresting. But that should not be the case. God didn’t design us to be a spectator, content to be on the sidelines. He didn’t die on the cross so we can spend 5 minutes each morning and several hours on Sunday thinking about Him. He didn’t create us–with our skills, gifts, strengths – to live a risk- free life.  

Following God is not a walk in the park.  There will be times when it will not be fun, and in some cases, it will be painful. There will be other times when it will seem like we are treading water in place. But it will never be boring. It is an adventure that takes resolve and preparation. It takes commitment. It takes faith. It takes a whole lot more than a clever advertising campaign.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you thinking Christianity is boring? Uninteresting?   
  2. What can we do this week to get on this adventure that is the movement of Jesus Christ?