Stay Positive In A Negative World

 “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)

Negativity is nothing new. Since Adam and Eve were first banished from the garden, life has been hard and we have been complaining about it. Too often other people or our circumstances cause us to feel offended, angry, or hurt, and to be reminded of our shortcomings and flaws. It is difficult to find peace and joy in such times. 

Proverbs 4:23 was written by King Solomon. If you read chapter 4 you see that while Solomon was king, he didn’t focus on advising about royal matters.  Instead, he spoke of things such as the value of controlling their thoughts, which determine how they felt and how they lived. Is teaching us to be careful how we think because the quality of our thoughts will always determine the quality of our life.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. from Harvard to discern that we live in difficult times. Certainly “peace” would not be a word that we would use to describe the world we live in. The more likely words we would use would be pandemic, racial division, strife, and political division: The list goes on. It is easy to be discouraged and let negative thoughts run rampant in our lives.

Whatever our minds focus on is what will play out in our lives and eventually shape who we are. King Solomon knew this to be true, and counsels us to be careful about what we think and feel. He knew it’s often our thoughts, not our circumstances, which cause us to be discouraged and negative. When we think negative thoughts, we feel negative feelings, leading us to believe life is negative overall.

The solution is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. When you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, try halting yourself and think of something positive. There are many Bible verses pertaining to our “minds” and “thoughts.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” Isaiah 26:3 adds, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” And finally Ephesians 4:23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ask God this week to help us conquer our negative thoughts and focus completely on Him.

Discussion Questions

  1. What happens to us inside when we overemphasize negative things? How does our negativity influence others? 
  2. What can you do this week to minimize the negative in our lives?  

 

Look Up Into The Sky

“Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” – Genesis 15:4-6,  

Vision is an incredible thing. We have to understand that the idea of vision didn’t come from some get-rich-quick scheme or motivational speaker but it came from God Himself. Vision is adopting an action plan that will enable you to do what God has told you to do spiritually or in service to Him.  Vision is the power to focus on God’s plan in spite of the obstacles. Vision is a character trait that can be stimulated and developed in each of our lives. God’s vision is twofold: He has a vision for what He wants you to accomplish and He has a vision for what He wants you to become.  

Matthew 6:22-23 says, “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is.” This isn’t talking about our physical eyes, but what we see through our eyes of faith: seeing yourself becoming more like Jesus or being a better spouse, being more of a giver, or living the abundant life that God desires for each of us. We need to remember that it doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you’re physically disabled, or even if you’re not the most intelligent or most gifted – it makes no difference…God can mold and use your life in a miraculous way.

When God told Abraham he would have a child and be the father of many nations to Abraham, it seemed physically and naturally impossible. But God told Abraham to do something very unusual. He told him to go outside and look up at the stars. Now, why did God tell him to go out and lookup? God wanted him to have a visual image—a picture of it to see in his imagination. So every night as Abraham looked up, that reminded him of what God had promised. It reinforced it on the inside. He kept seeing it and seeing it. And even though it didn’t come to pass for many years—Abraham saw his future through his eyes of faith.

We too need to stop seeing ourselves for what we are now but for what God wants us to become. And that requires faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” By following our own thoughts and plans we are literally limiting ourselves to what God desires to do in and through us in the ministry. Vision is the God-given ability for you to catch just a glimpse of what God might do through your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define vision? Where does it come from and why is it important to have it?
  2. What can you do this week to discover and follow God’s vision for your life?  

Is Christianity Simple Or Hard?

“Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations, and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart…If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity.” – A. W. Tozer remarks in The Pursuit of God, 

The story goes that English preacher Charles Spurgeon, on his death bed told some of his last visitors that “as time has passed on, my theology has grown more and more simple. It is simply this, ‘Jesus loves me!’”

Christianity was never meant to be complex. On the contrary, there is a reassuring kind of simplicity for the Christian to have a personal relationship with God. You see this kind of simplicity in Scriptures like Psalm 27:4: “The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” Matthew 11:29-30 says, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” At first read, these verses make it sound as if Christianity is both simple and a breeze.

The Christian life is fairly simple. One doesn’t have to be a theologian to be a Christian. One doesn’t have to go around with his head chock-full of deep, theological doctrine on salvation to be saved. One may simply live by such simple philosophies as “love God and love others.” But that does not mean it is easy. We are all called to a simple, even child-like faith. But how is that attainable when our lives feel anything but simple and when we are faced with so many un-child-like things, such as careers, debt, relationships, etc.? A simple faith feels impossible, and frustrating, given all of the responsibilities we have. 

The pursuit of simplicity starts and ends with the Gospel. The God who created the universe did not make it difficult to know Him. Jesus came to earth disguised as a servant, not as a grand, ceremonial religious leader with pomp and circumstance. The hardest part of Christianity is truly receiving God’s forgiveness and love. It feels wrong to accept something that we so obviously don’t deserve. It feels too good to be true, too easy, too simple. But that’s what God is offering each one of His children.  He made faith so simple.  Sin entered the world and made love complicated, but sin cannot distort God’s love. When we accept His love, we can live a simple faith. Though there will be times that we do not understand ourselves, our lives, or the world we live in, we can be confident in who God is and sure of His love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that Christianity is simple or hard? Why? 
  2. What can you do this week to make following Jesus more simple or less hard? 

Easter Is Not A Date To Observe, But A Daily Reality To Live By

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” – 1 Corinthian 15:3-4.

Another Easter has come and gone. The  Easter pictures have been taken and posted on Facebook for family and friends to enjoy. All the Easter eggs, even the gold ones, have been hunted and found. And most likely all the chocolate bunnies, sugar concoctions, and jelly beans have been consumed as well.  Most importantly, Easter services have taken place in churches all across the world and, hopefully, many thousands of people trusted Christ as their personal Saviour when they heard of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Rightfully so because Jesus conquered death and the grave when He arose on the third day. Nothing has changed that and nothing else compares.

Now what? Do we wait for next Easter to come around so we get to do it all over again?  If we allow Easter to remain confined to only a day on the calendar we are allowing the full weight of the resurrection to go unrecognized. Easter must cause us to daily contemplate and celebrate the identity and work of Jesus, the resurrected Christ, in our lives.  Easter ought to live in every Christian heart—new inspirations, a new uplift, new revealing of hope. Death has been conquered. A grave is no longer a hopelessly sealed prison—its doors have been broken. Easter isn’t meant to be a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reminder that, through our faith in Jesus, we each have access to His resurrection power in every ordinary moment of our lives. Jesus is our example, our comfort, our hope, and our peace every day.

As followers of Jesus, we believe in the resurrection because we have encountered the resurrected Christ in our own life.  The resurrection story isn’t one that’s simply an account of what happened. It’s a living, breathing experience that we can share with others in this world who are so desperately looking for some good news; good news that is just as good throughout the year as it is on Easter. 

John Piper said, “No matter how devastating our struggles, disappointments, and troubles are, they are only temporary. No matter what happens to you, no matter the depth of tragedy or pain you face, no matter how death stalks you and your loved ones, the Resurrection promises you a future of immeasurable good. Few people seem to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone to a worldview that provides the perspective to all of life.”

While the tradition of Easter is over for 2022, the good news is that our Saviour is still risen today and will be tomorrow, the next day, the following day, next Easter, and for all eternity. We don’t need to wait until next Easter to celebrate Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus’ resurrection proves that He is God and gives us power over sin and death. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. Does the resurrection give you an unshakable hope and confidence that we can overcome our past and our fear of starting fresh? 

A Personal, Not Casual Relationship With Jesus

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:33

In many ways, we are defined by our relationships. Relationships tell us who we are, whose we are and what is expected of us as well as where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.  Some relationships are simply professional, casual, or superficial and nothing more becomes of them. Some relationships will last for a lifetime, while others last for just a short stint. When all is said and done, the only relationship that defines who we genuinely are is our relationship with God. The question we need to ask ourselves constantly is what is the state of that relationship. Too often that relationship is more casual than it should be.  

We want a personal relationship with God. He has been there for us when no one else could be. He is loyal. He is true. He tells us the truth even when we might rather not hear it. He never fails us. God is so much more than another Facebook friend or casual acquaintance. The word casual means: relaxed, unconcerned, laid back, acting without much thought or premeditation, acting without sufficient care or preparation, temporary, happening by chance, accidental, etc.

God is the exact opposite of casual. He is deliberate, concerned, focused, acting only with thought and premeditation, acting with sufficient care and preparation, permanent, acting by choice through purposeful acts.  

In John chapter 3 we read about a religious person named Nicodemus.  He was a religious leader and a Pharisee.  He watched as Jesus worked incredible miracles, but it wasn’t just His power that was impressive, it was his compassion and love. Nicodemus was ready to take his relationship with Jesus, to another level, but it wasn’t that easy. Being a secret admirer of Jesus cost him nothing, but becoming a follower of Jesus came with a high price tag. It always does. The price tag gets higher as you move from a casual to a committed relationship with Jesus. 

The bottom line is this: It is never a bad time to invest in getting to know God better. You may not always know what you are doing and progress may be slow. But if you are deliberate, purposeful, and determined, you will get to know Him better;  learning who He is, how He works, and how to learn more and more about Him. But remember the relationship is always personal, not casual. And, perhaps the more seriously you take your relationship with Him the more quickly it will grow into the type of relationship that will sustain you through all others because it’s the only relationship with the power you need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define a casual relationship with God? 
  2. What can you do this week to make your relationship with God less casual? 

Are You Confused about Jesus?

” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” – Mark 8:29

The belief that Jesus of Nazareth is both fully God and fully man has invited indifference, intrigue, debate, speculation, mockery, and confusion for roughly two thousand years. However, this belief has also invited worship, devotion, and rejoicing all over the world.  But even among those who worship and adore Christ, there remains a great deal of ignorance, misunderstanding, and error concerning His identity. There are many less-than-precise views of Jesus. 

In Mark 8 Jesus asked Peter, “But who do you say I am?” This has to be the most important question in a person’s life. In Matthew 8:29. we read that the demons recognized Jesus as the Son of God: “They began screaming at him, ‘Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?’ James 2:19 reads, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter rightly answered Jesus’ question with, “You are the Messiah.”When Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah, there was a weight to the words. The Christ was the One who had been expected for thousands of years by the Jewish people. The Deliverer sent by God to redeem His people. The anointed One. The Chosen One. Son of God. The Very Word of God. Prince of Peace. Wonderful Counselor. The Way. The Truth. The Life. The Messiah. And He still is today. Jesus is all those things because He loves us. He loved us enough to give His life for us.

This is important because not understanding who Jesus is eventually leads to a life of wandering. If we don’t believe that Jesus is truly God it will result in lukewarm prayers and halfhearted trust that He can work things out for you and your loved ones.  On the other hand, a vibrant faith that Jesus is truly God leads to bold, confident prayers, passionate service, and complete peace with what happens after earthly death. 

Take some time this week to get to know Jesus. Read the red words in the bible, the words of Jesus. Hear what He has to say, read of His miracles, and travel along with Him until you recognize Him for who He is and live with the knowledge of who He really is in the forefront of our minds. He died for us; let’s live for Him in gratitude and devotion that is a constant presence in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who do you say Jesus is? What difference does this make in how you live each day? How does this affect how you pray and how you live your life?
  2. Spend time with God pondering all that you know about Him. Ask Him to show you new things. See if this doesn’t lead you to praise Him for who He is and what He can accomplish.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

“Your identity is not wrapped up in how right you get it or how perfect you can posture yourself. But, your identity is wrapped up in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Lecrae

Historically, there’s no doubt that Jesus existed. The Bible and many other documents record His life. The belief that Jesus of Nazareth is both fully God and fully man has invited indifference, intrigue, debate, speculation, mockery, and confusion for roughly two thousand years. But even among those who worship and adore Christ, there remains confusion, ignorance, misunderstanding, and error concerning His identity. It requires all of us to answer the question Jesus asked so many years ago “Who is Jesus to you?”

When Jesus first started His ministry, people disagreed about who He was. Everyone had an opinion. In Matthew, Jesus asked His disciples, “’Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

The question of “who do you say I am” has been debated, contested, and misunderstood, over the centuries. It is a question that cannot be ignored because you do so at your own peril.  John refers to Jesus as “the Word” who became human (John 1:14). Thomas confessed Jesus as his “Lord” and “God” (John 20:28). The author of Hebrews had much to say about who Jesus is, saying “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3), The apostle Paul can speak of “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), who is “…the visible image of the invisible God.” These declarations, and the many more we find in the Scriptures, provide us with a rather shocking reality: the man Jesus of Nazareth is no ordinary man, but God in the flesh. So, who do you say that Jesus is?

Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Christ, the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. The living God. Our Savior. Our shepherd. Our counselor. Our comforter. Our healer. Our hope. Our very life. That is not ambiguous, it is not obscure. It is clear, precise information revealed on the pages of Scripture.  In the end, each one of us has to answer for ourselves the central question of life: “Who do you say I am?”

Who do you say Jesus is? This isn’t a question just for Jesus’s disciples 2000 years ago but also for us today. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and Son of the living God. This is the most important topic in our lives.  Why not read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in 2022 to get to know the full picture of Jesus Christ. Because one day, we will all be asked the same question: “And what about you? Who do you say I am?” I hope our answer is like the disciple Peter who said, “You are the Messiah sent from God!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who do you say Jesus is? What difference does this make in how you live each day?? 

The Cross

“If we want proof of God’s love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.” – Jerry Bridges

The Cross defines Christianity, it symbolizes all that we believe in. Why? Because on it Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to, and then after that death, He rose to life again. We serve a living God who suffered a painful death on a cross for us. Ever since that defining moment two thousand years ago, Christians across the world and through the ages have meditated upon, written about, and thanked God for the wonder of the cross.

On the cross, Jesus was mostly silent. The excruciating pain He endured would have made it nearly impossible for Him to speak. Any utterance would have used the strength needed to pull himself up by His impaled hands and feet in order to take a breath. Therefore, the words Jesus spoke from the cross are significant. Among the seven expressions attributed to Jesus during His crucifixion, three were prayers to His heavenly Father.

 As the soldiers divided His clothes and cast lots, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Unsurprisingly, the first words of Jesus show that He was thinking of others until the end of His life. Even while experiencing the horrible pain of crucifixion, He was praying for the very people who caused His suffering. He came to earth for the purpose of forgiving sinners and He loved them and forgave them up until the end.

Another thing Jesus said on the cross was “…My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) This is the most difficult for the average person to get their arms around. The sinless Son of God who had been, from all eternity, in an intimate relationship with His Father, is now spiritually separated from Him.  Some scholars argue that this was the moment when the Son took upon Himself the sins of all humanity, and the Father turned from the presence of sin. Jesus was suffering the pain and separation that we deserve.  Regardless of one’s interpretation, Jesus’ second prayer exemplifies the depth of His suffering on our behalf.

Jesus’ final utterance from the cross is also His third prayer, “…Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” (Luke 23:46). Here, Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5 and announces to all His trust in His heavenly Father to raise Him from the dead. Just a few days later, He did. Jesus had to finish the task the Father had sent Him to earth to accomplish, namely to provide salvation for humankind. By living His entire life without sin, Jesus was able to become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. The way of salvation had now been made complete. Jesus was the supreme sacrifice that satisfied the righteous demands of a holy God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the cross mean to you?
  2. How do you put the cross in the proper perspective?

The Psalm On The Cross

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief….Do not stay so far from me,  for trouble is near, and no one else can help me.” – Psalm 22:1-2, 11. 

The Psalms are must reading for the Christian. Psalm after psalm we see the writers just pour their hearts out to the Lord. No matter what their emotions and attitudes were, they approached their God with their concerns. We see psalms of praise glorifying the Lord for who He is and what He has done for His people, but we also see psalms with emotions and attitudes quite different from the psalms of praise; psalms of lament. In these psalms, we see some of the darkest moments of the psalmist’s lives, where they were the most troubled.

Psalm 22: in many ways this is the most amazing of all the psalms. In it, we have a picture of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus painted by the psalmist David one thousand years before Jesus Christ was born. When Jesus was hanging on the cross in utter physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual torment, what Scripture did He recite? Psalm 22:1. “…My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, “My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.” (vs. 16–18).

In all probability, you will never hang from a Roman cross while being beaten, tortured, and mocked. And you will never have the weight of the world’s sin on your shoulders. But you will face difficult times and trying circumstances. You will feel and face despair. You will wonder where God went. We need to remember that Jesus experienced what we are experiencing, and more. We need to know our circumstances, as bad as they may be, are not the exception that God hasn’t seen before. We need to know we can, and must, run to God during these times.

The psalmist is in a sorry state (Psalm 22:6-8) and it is prayer for God to intervene (Psalm 22:9-13), with the psalmist admitting he is at the end of his rope. (Psalm 22:14-18) His prayer turns to worship and resting in God’s promises (Psalm 22:22-31). 

Jesus turns to Psalm 22 in His moment of utter agony. It’s a psalm that doesn’t deny the agony. It doesn’t sugarcoat it but instead addresses it head-on.  The good news is that the pain doesn’t win. Pain is part of the journey, but the victory is God’s. There is a power and a love beyond the agony, more powerful than the agony.

We need to see Psalm 22 as a pattern for the church and for the individual Christian. The pattern is this: The real and inescapable problems of life in this fallen world should lead us to prayer. Prayer should lead us to remember and meditate on the promises of God, both those fulfilled in the past and those that we trust will be fulfilled in the future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Psalm 22 ends remarkably differently than it began. What details in verses 25-31 seem to contrast with the first half of the psalm?
  2. Why do you think the follower of God can experience such extremes of faith and emotion during their life?

I Want To Want What God Wants From Me

“We can see hope in the midst of hopelessness. We can see peace in the midst of chaos. We have a hope that the world does not have. We can see clearly that all things work together for the good of them that love Him and are called according to His purpose.” – Priscilla Shirer

When you stop and reflect back over the past few years, it is easy to be overwhelmed.  That is because the past few years have seemed anything but normal. Think about it, we have moved to online work and online school. Many people are isolated, and facing medical and financial issues. The old normal seems gone. So what does God want us to do in the new normal we find ourselves in? The same thing He wanted from us in the previous normal and every normal before that. 

Sound fairly simple, doesn’t it? But how are we questioning what God truly wants? What is His purpose? What’s the overall plan? What could the omnipotent creator of an entire universe—a creator that can, literally, have anything He wants—possibly desire? You’re not alone in asking this question. King David wondered the same thing in Psalm 8: 3-4, where he puzzles, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” If he can ask this eternal and important question, so can we.

To find out what God wants, we can look at what He asks of us. In Mark 12:30-32, Jesus explains God’s two greatest commandments: “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 

What God wants, when it comes to you, is simple. He just wants you. C.S. Lewis said, “God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants us.”  He wants a loving relationship with His children. He wants us to take that vertical love for God and make it horizontal by treating our neighbors as ourselves. If you read scripture you quickly come to the conclusion that love is absolutely the foundation of everything God does. 1 John 4:8 says it outright: “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” He created you so that He might love you, and so that you might love Him.  He wants our love. This is the beating heart of Christianity.

The end goal of the Christian life is to become the person that God wants us to be. God longs to use you because He loves you. He’s not selfish. He doesn’t need your help. He wants to work with you. He wants your life to matter. He wants you to have an eternal reward for the things you do here on earth because He’s a good Father who wants an intimate relationship with His children. He wants your time at work, with friends, at church, driving, resting, relaxing, and having fun to be filled with the fullness of life that comes from doing life with Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If someone asked you what God wants from you, how would you answer? 
  2. Does what God wants from us change over time or with changing circumstances? Why or why not?