Start With “Who” Goals Not “Do” Goals

“But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand.” – Isaiah 32:8 (NIV).

It can be very difficult to figure out what you want to do in life and what your purpose is. We were all put on this earth for a reason and to make a difference. We often have a hard time finding our purpose, but God has one for each and every one of us. We tend to think that our purpose is to do things, and in some cases, it is, but not at the expense of becoming who God wants us to be.

When people accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, our first instinct is to teach them what to do and why they should do it: we teach them to read and study the Bible, attend church, become part of a small group, give, and so on.  Those things are very important but we can’t miss the importance of becoming more like Christ. Those are the do’s and don’ts. God has given us the rulebook for living together on this planet. But those are still not His ultimate expectations for us. So, what does God expect of us? God expects us to accept His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Savior. He expects us to give our lives to Him, and in so doing, develop the character of Christ. God wants us to become more like Christ.

When we give our hearts to Jesus Christ, the work within us has begun. Rick Warren said, “Much confusion in the Christian life comes from ignoring the simple truth that God is far more interested in building your character than he is anything else. God is far more interested in who you are than in what you do. We are human beings, not human doings.”

So how do we become the person God wants us to be? The most valuable example that the Bible offers us is our Lord Jesus Christ. Probably you tell others that Jesus is your Savior. Perhaps you think of Him constantly as your Lord. Did you ever play “follow the leader”? One person does a series of actions—jumping, bending, walking— and the others have to do their best to copy the leader’s movements. If you cannot copy him or her, or are the slowest to do so, then you lose. That game is built on imitation.

The idea of imitation is throughout the Bible. Paul writes, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). in Philippians 2:5. 8 Paul advises “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: . . .he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

We are on a journey that has not yet reached its end. God has started work on us but the work is ongoing. We are a work in progress not work completed. The reality is that we haven’t arrived at complete maturity. We still stumble and fall. We let ourselves and others and our God down. The goal is to be a little more like Jesus each day. The good news is that one day the journey will end. The One who launched us on the journey and who accompanies us on the journey will take us across the finishing line.

One day, we will be the people God made us to be, and we will be those people forever. No more work in progress, just work well and truly done.

Discusion Questions:

  1. Have you ever asked yourself, “how on earth are we humans supposed to follow Christ, the Son of God?” What was your response?
  2. What can we do on a practical level to be more like Christ this week?

Attributes Of God: Transcendence And Immanence

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. Attributes of God are the foundational beliefs about who God is and what He is like that come from Scripture.  You can’t worship a God fully if you only know Him partially. This week, the transcendence and immanence of God. Transcendence is that aspect of God’s character that recognizes His position above and beyond all that He created. He is great, impenetrable, and matchless. His immanence recognizes that He graciously enters into His creation, working and acting within the world that He has made.

“God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.” – C.S. Lewis

It has become normal to hear people refer to God as the “Man upstairs.” The user may not intend it this way, but such references reveal a lack of understanding about who and what God really is and diminish His character to only slightly higher than us. We were made in the image of God.  God was not made in the image of us.  People wrongly assume that God’s worth is just slightly higher than ours. This is not what scripture tells us.

Psalm 113:46 tells us, “For the Lord is high above the nations; his glory is higher than the heavens. Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high? He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth.” The psalmist praises God for His transcendence — placing God in his rightful place “above all nations,” filled with authority, and independent from His creation.  God is infinite, omnipresent, and sovereign over all. God is past the limits of our finite understanding. This is no small God, able to be pacified or distracted. Our only right response is reverence, awe, and humility.

We need to remember, however, that God’s transcendence does not contradict His personal interactions with us: it increases the value of that relationship. The next verses in the same psalm paint a picture of an immanent God. “He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, even the princes of his own people! He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother. Praise the Lord!”

The grace and mercy of God are evident in this passage. Even the most invisible and devalued in our society are treasured and sustained by the God who is present with us; the God revealed in the gospel of Matthew as “Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.” (1:23).

Take a moment to ponder these truths. God is immanent. He sees you—your struggles, your pain, your sickness. Because He is personal and intimate with you, you can come to Him in need and He can sympathize with your weakness (Hebrews 4:15). God is also transcendent. He can do something about your needs. Our prayers will not return void because the God who is with us is also the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is able to change both our circumstances and our heart.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel like God is just too big or too far away to care for you?
  2. It has been said, that we have exactly as much of God as we ask for. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. God is transcendent, which means he is highly exalted. He is in his own category, above and beyond us. God is also immanent, meaning He is ever-present in a personal and intimate way. What does that mean to us in daily life?

The Prodigal Father

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” –   Luke 15: 20-24.

In Luke 15, we find one of the most compelling stories about God in the Bible and the greatest short story ever told anywhere: Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In this well-known parable, a son asks his father for his inheritance, then squanders it recklessly as he lives a life of indulgence. With nothing left of his fortune, he is forced to work as a hired hand for a pig farmer. He is so destitute that he longs to eat the food of the pigs. Realizing that his father’s servants have better working conditions, he resolves to return to his father, beg forgiveness, and ask to be his servant. 

You’d think after all that, when the son decided to go back home, that the father would be standing, waiting on the deck, arms crossed, foot-tapping, a frown spreading across his forehead, impatiently listening to the whole speech the son had prepared, maybe making him grovel a little bit more before consenting to take him back to the worst job in the house. At the very least, you’d expect a severe reprimand and some sort of punishment. But that didn’t happen. Instead of a bitter reception, he got a warm welcome, with hugs, kisses, gifts, and a party. The father immediately welcomes his son back into the family, lavishing his love on him in every way he can.

In this story, Jesus gives us an unforgettable picture of God as a loving Father beyond our wildest imagination.

Ephesians 1:3-8 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 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. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” 

The story of the prodigal son is a picture of God’s love for us as His children. God’s love for us does not depend on our faithfulness; it is unconditional. He loved us while we were still sinners. Though we are demanding and do not remain faithful, God is still our faithful and loving Father.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What aspect of God’s character does this parable display?

How Spiritually Resilient Are You And Your Children?

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.” – Proverbs 24:16.

One of the reasons for the popularity of comic book superheroes on the movie screen is that they constantly demonstrate resiliency in the face of challenges. A spouse leaves us. A client sues. Unemployment strikes us. Our dreams fail to come true. How can we live a resilient life—a life that can weather these storms, and even grow stronger after them? 

The believer in Jesus Christ is upheld by God’s power and so is naturally resilient. “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). The key to resiliency is faith in the Lord: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  (Psalm 37:23–24).

Paul showed great resilience after his life-altering encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). When he was transformed from religious Pharisee to radical Christian, many were not happy with his message. He was beaten, stoned, criticized, jailed, and nearly killed many times (2 Corinthians 11:24–27). One incident especially shows Paul’s exceptional resilience. In Lystra, he was stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead, but, when his enemies left, Paul simply got up and went back into the city (Acts 14:19–20). His missionary endeavors continued unabated. Godly resilience enables us to be undeterred from our mission, regardless of the opposition. But what about our children?

The definition for resiliency is the same for a child as it is for each one of us: resiliency is having a faith foundation that is so strong it can withstand anything the world throws at it.  Spiritual resilience isn’t automatic. There are building blocks to create a strong foundation upon which spiritual resiliency can be built. Your kids will need your help if they are to become spiritually resilient. First, they need Bible knowledge and understanding. In order for your kids to bounce back easily when encountering trials, they need to know what God wants them to know about life and how He wants them to live it. They need to understand God’s commands and principles. They need to know God’s character and His promises. No matter how great your church is, your kids will not learn everything they need to know at church. You have to also teach them at home. Don’t forget to help them develop independent Bible reading habits. They will need to read scripture for the rest of their lives to stay spiritually resilient.

They need to pray. To be spiritually resilient, your kids need to be in constant communication with God. They need a thorough understanding of prayer. Your children need to understand that prayer isn’t merely submitting an order to God for the things they want, but sharing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns with God. While praying as a family is wonderful, your kids need to also have personal prayer lives – even when you aren’t there to remind them to pray.

Raising children to be spiritually resilient takes time and effort. Without spiritual resiliency, however, your children will find it difficult to be who God created them to be for their entire lives. It is worth taking the extra time and effort to help them develop it.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does being spiritually resilient mean in everyday life? 
  2. What can we do this week to become more spiritually resilient? What can we do to help our kids be more spiritually resilient?

In Character

“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.” – Psalm 15:1-5

Baseball is our national pastime and as such is a big part of culture in the United States and across the world. It is commonly said that baseball, and sports in general, build character. But the reality is that we hear more and more accounts of un-sportsmanlike, unethical, and even illegal conduct at all levels of baseball and sports competition. It seems that character and integrity are secondary to the winning at all costs mentality.

As Christians, we understand the importance of character the minute we open the Bible. If you were asked to reread Psalms 15:1-5 and come up with one word to summarize that passage, what would that word be? I would boil that passage down to one word – character.

Character is that part of us that’s either growing, is stagnant or deteriorating. And when life is hectic and you are trying to keep multiple balls in the air, it can be hard to know which direction it is going. That’s because during the day when we are making decisions, we don’t stop and ask: ”I wonder how this business or relationship or financial decision or course of action will affect my character?” There are not too many character development majors offered in college or even any character development classes for that matter.

Yet, character will always show up in our lives and it will determine our response to failure and pain or even success. Most people only work on their character when it needs to be worked on, which usually happens in hard times or when we mess up. Fortunately, we always have access to God’s presence. You can enter God’s presence, but how do you stay? If you want to have total access to God’s presence in your everyday life, then you must learn to live the Home Run Life and that starts with being connected and then moving to first base and character.

Here’s a critical point. Character will reveal whether you are actively pursuing the Home Run Life. It means I want to proactively try to connect to God and my character will reflect that. The Home Run Life requires more than working on the connection to God when we’re experiencing hard times or if we’ve messed up. Our character must be more than just the pinnacle moments of life. It must become embedded throughout life. It must become part of you, part of your daily routine. We must think about it. We must focus on it. Why? Because our character development in our life is the prerequisite to the power that only comes from being in God’s presence and the Home Run Life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did Sunday’s message change or alter your understanding of your character? If so, how?
  2. What is it about your character that makes it difficult to live the Home Run Life?
  3. When your character does not reflect the character of God, who suffers and how do they suffer? When your character reflects the character of God, who is blessed and how are they blessed?
  4. Are there areas of your life where you have not surrendered to the wisdom of the Lord, but find yourself struggling with fear, temptation, or sin? Please describe them.