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? 

The Wisdom Of Conscience

“The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.” – 1 Timothy 1:5 

Why don’t we listen to our conscience? Why do we sometimes ignore that inner voice that helps us choose the right thing to do? Maybe because your conscience is a solution in itself. Your conscience basically acts as “stop/go” decision point. It’s a stop sign that you either stop at or run.

But consciences don’t tell you what to do. Your conscience may warn you before you make an important decision. It will tell you what not to do, but it will not tell you what to do. That requires wisdom. Our conscience warns us about the potential danger ahead, but wisdom tells us how to act wisely.

So, what happens without wisdom? What happens when you have trained your conscience unwisely? What happens when you want to do good, but you haven’t lived wisely for your conscience to work like it ought to? It becomes easier to make poor decisions. When we repeatedly ignore the warnings, our conscience will become calloused and ultimately useless.

God has given every person a conscience to guard and guide them. The conscience, along with the Holy Spirit, identifies what is wrong and what should be avoided. Having a clear conscience means we are careful to avoid sinning against God or others with our words, actions, or attitudes.

The Old Testament prophet Samuel is a good example. In 1 Samuel 12 we find Samuel addressing all of Israel as an old man. Samuel made himself accountable to the people. He had fulfilled their request for a king. He had completed his role as their leader. And now he stood before them and made himself accountable to them. In verse 3 he basically requests a performance review on the job he has done as a prophet.  “Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.” They respond in verse 4: “No,” they replied, “you have never cheated or oppressed us, and you have never taken even a single bribe.” 

“The Lord and his anointed one are my witnesses today,” Samuel declared, “that my hands are clean.” (1 Samuel 12:5)  Samuel had a clear conscience. He stood before all of Israel and asked the people who had observed him throughout his life what wrongs he had done to any of them and no one accused him. If we were addressing all the people in our lives would we experience the same result? And if not, would we be willing to make it right.

Our goal is to have a conscience that is clear toward every person we know. And when we stumble we make things right.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. When confronted with questionable situations or opportunities, can you trust your conscience to guide you to make right choices?

Are You Ready To Grumble?

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing” –  Philippians 2:14 (NIV). 

When you read the gospels, you can’t help but notice how often the people around Jesus are grumbling. When tax collectors and other notorious sinners come to listen to Jesus the scriptures say, “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:2 ESV). When Jesus invites Zaccheus down from the tree and invites himself to dinner the crowd grumbles that Jesus would go to the home of a sinner. (Luke 19:7)  When He cures on the Sabbath (Mark 3) or eats grain from a field, (Matthew 12)  the religious leaders grumble. During the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel (John 6:22:59), it says, “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” (Vs 41 ESV) See the pattern 

People always seemed ready to grumble. Yet, Jesus is amazingly patient with His challengers. Jesus doesn’t grumble back. Only one person could – and that was Jesus. But for the rest of us, Philippians  2:14 is one of the most difficult scriptures in the Bible. Who doesn’t complain (NLT), grumble (NIV) or murmur (KJV), bicker or second guess (MSG)? 

We’ve all experienced people who were known more for their grumbling than their gratitude; people who complain about everything. We all have Facebook friends who seem to only post complaints about their lives. And we all know people with an oh-woe-is-me attitude. We have probably been that person at one time or another. It is so easy to start complaining and then before long we are complaining more than we think and we become known as a “grumbler.” 

We want to do everything without grumbling and arguing because we can’t complain and rejoice at the same time. As followers of Jesus, we should be rejoicing. Paul says, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16 ESV). If you are one of those people who are always complaining, you’re also one of those people who are never rejoicing because you can’t do them both at the same time. In addition, you can’t complain and be grateful at the same time. We have so much to be grateful for. Even though we deserve an eternity separated from God, a home is prepared for us in Heaven. We have a relationship with the same Jesus that Paul knew. We can wake up on any given morning and have fellowship with the Son of God. This is something no world religion can relate to. We have the privilege of communing with the God of the universe over coffee. I hope we never stop being in awe of this life-changing truth.

I was at a fast food restaurant waiting for my lunch appointment to arrive. I couldn’t happen to notice an employee who just stood out. He was smiling and quietly singing “Only Wanna Sing” by Hillsong Young and Free. The smile never disappeared nor did the song on his lips as he worked his way through the complete mess a family of five made. He doesn’t complain or roll his eyes when he picks up the trash off the floor and wipes the ketchup smears off the chairs. He says hi to each customer that walks by him. By refusing to grumble he is showing what it means to live like Jesus.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why do you think it is so easy to default into complaining?
  2. How could being thankful mitigate our tendency to complain?
  3. If you really want to stop complaining, what are some first steps you can take? 

Matters Of The Heart

“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 4:7. 

The Bible mentions the heart almost 1,000 times. Jesus spoke a great deal about the heart. The heart is a metaphor for the inner life.“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

When people think about having a joy filled, happy heart they are usually thinking of what makes them happy. Have you ever stopped to contemplate what it means to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? To please God? Have you wondered how to make God happy? The Bible tells us how to make God happy and live a life that pleases Him. “Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1) Hebrews 11:6 adds, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

Every day we make a decision about what is most important in our lives. There is a throne in each of our hearts with only room for one to sit. It is our choice who will sit on the throne. It is not an easy decision because our desires are tempting and when we let them take the throne of our hearts, things never end well. Say you let your desire of money take the throne of your heart, well next thing you know your bank account is zeroed and you’re left with a bunch of materialistic things.  No matter how many times you splurge, the things you acquire will never fill you and eventually you will be hungry for something new. In fact, we can put a lot of energy and thought into things and people that are supposed to make us happy, just to find out that they can’t.

Real happiness, however, is found in Christ and in His everlasting love. Like the old Children’s song says “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, Down in my heart to stay”, God is the one that provides it.Visualize the happiness God has in store: “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11).

Discussion Questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 = No Joy and 10 = Full of Joy, how would you rate yourself today? What do you think are the reasons for rating yourself that way?
  2.  How can our hearts be changed to be like Christ’s?

Is Age Important To God?

“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 . 

Years ago most people starting businesses were older; starting on your own usually required experience and capital which took years to acquire. But while experience and capital are still important, there is no age for entrepreneurship. Age matters little; take a look at the new crop of billionaires and you’ll find that out pretty quickly. While there was a time when young entrepreneurs were looked at as failures waiting to happen, nowadays most people look at a potential entrepreneur’s drive to succeed rather than the year he or she was born.

All this begs the question: Is age relevant to God? The answer is no. Age is completely irrelevant to God. It is assumed that older people are wise and young people are less so. However, there are Christians who, in spite of their older age, are still immature. And there are young Christians who, in spite of their youth, are wise well beyond their years. That being said, as a general rule, older Christians still tend to be the most mature because they have spent many years learning and applying the truth of God’s word to their lives. Younger Christians are generally just beginning and haven’t had the time to learn as much. But it is not the age that matters, it is the knowledge and application of God’s word. It is God’s word which matures us and equips us: ”God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17). You can be wise at any age.  James 1:5 does not give an age requirement, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you…”  In other words, you can’t really excuse yourself from serving God by saying you are too old or too young. 

God calls people of all ages. The Bible seems to imply there is no upper or lower age limit for service in the Kingdom. God calls the very young like Samuel and Jeremiah to be prophets when they are little more than boys. David was anointed for service when he was just a boy, tending sheep in the fields. Paul writes to Timothy reminding him not to let others look down on him because he’s young (1 Timothy 4:12).  

God also calls the elderly. Abraham was 75 when God called him to leave his place of birth and set out towards the land of Canaan. Moses was 80 when God appeared in the burning bush and gave him the task of returning to Egypt to lead his people to freedom.

Regardless of your age, God can use you. Whether you are young or old, don’t think of your age as a handicap. Don’t let age be a factor.  You just need to seize the opportunity when it presents itself: “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you believe God can use you regardless of your age? Why or why not?  
  2. What can we learn from older Christians this week? What can we learn from younger Christians this week?