“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” – Revelation 1:17-18.

The book of Revelation opens with the apostle John exiled to the island of Patmos. “It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast.” As he turned to see who had spoken, he beheld the Lord and was terrified and fell toward the Lord’s feet. Christ sought to comfort him in verses 17-18. Focus on one statement in that passage: “the first and the last.”

Jesus emphasized the reality of His eternal being again and again. He is, was, and always will be God the Son. All things begin with Him, all things end with Him, He is all and in all, He is timeless, He is from everlasting to everlasting, from eternity to eternity.

We are Christians first and last which is a clear statement about our identity. The identity is stated clearly. It does not say that I am a father first, or a businesswoman first. In Christ, we find our identity. We are no longer defined by our past mistakes, our failures, or our insecurities. Instead, we are defined by His love for us. We are His beloved children, and He has a perfect plan for our lives.

When you see yourself as Christ sees you, others may begin to see you that way too. If you are steady and secure in your identity in Him, your actions, speech, and life will express God’s love. You may find more opportunities to love others and Christ will be all the more glorified.

How can you do that? You just remember how God has loved you in all your imperfect, rebellious, stubborn, and challenging ways. God pursued you and put His love upon you despite those things. The Lord would call you to pursue others, set your love upon them, and forgive them when they sin against you and hurt you. When you practice these things, you will know what it means to live in harmony with God and people.

Having an understanding of our identity in Christ means you will never have to work to fit in or be someone you’re not.  Jesus has rescued you, redeemed you, and brought you into His family forever. God has the answer to our identity issues. It is all about who He is and what He can accomplish in our lives if we let Him. In all things, at all times, He is with us.  Every problem, every feeling of inadequacy, every painful circumstance- He is there with abundant resources to offer us. His love for us is truly unconditional, for once we have our identity in Christ, we become who we really are: Children of God.

Jesus called us to identify with Him.  Follow Him. Serve Him. Belong to Him. In doing so, we are choosing to find our identity in Him and in no other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The only way we grow in our identity in Christ is by seeking the Lord because He is the one who restores and transforms us. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Our fingerprints identify us as unique individuals with specific identities. According to Ephesians 1:4, what truth should be fully realized in order to find identity in Christ?

How Resilient Are We?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9

With so many people experiencing the twists, turns, and transitions life’s journey presents them, we need a spirit of resilience. Resilience is best displayed when a person is following God’s plan, purpose and path even though opposition seeks to set up roadblocks along the way. Despite the shifts, schemes, and distractions that one has to deal with on a daily basis, resilience serves as the foundational trust in God’s promises.  

Do we exercise resilience? Are we resilient in our calling? Or resilient in our God-given roles? Are we resilient when we are weary? Are we resilient even when giving up appears to be the most comfortable option? Are we resilient when no one acknowledges us?

Like any skill, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience can be learned. It starts by redefining setbacks as something greater. Tune out the critics and focus on doing your best. Learn from failure, and remember the many times you’ve succeeded. Refuse to dwell on the past or worry about the future; today is where you have the most influence. When things look hopeless, remember “with God all things are possible.” Pray for guidance when you’re in over your head. and remember you “can do all things through Christ” when you think you can’t. To do these things, we need to get better acquainted with our resident helper and guide, the Holy Spirit. 

Is this a little mysterious?  Yes, But the Holy Spirit is the One who gives us resilience. He is the one who compels us and empowers us to keep trusting, hoping and moving, forward. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to rise up every time our circumstances get us down.

Here is how the apostle Paul explains it: “But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:10-11) The Holy Spirit gives us the power to rise up every time our circumstances get us down.

Just like the inflatable clown punching bags many of us had when we were kids, life sometimes knocks us horizontal. But because the Holy Spirit is within us, we have the means to get back upright again and again, no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How would you define resiliency in your life?  How have you bounced back from a failure, loss, or disappointment? How did God help?

Some Thoughts On Political Correctness

“Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:13-17. 

We are living in an age of political correctness that goes far beyond being kind and thoughtful. Today’s rules demand that we do our best to never say anything that might possibly offend someone. The result is scores of people walking on pins and needles, striving to be consistent with popular opinion. Political correctness began with good intentions to protect and stand up for the marginalized and the discriminated. In fact. if you take the concept of political correctness at face value, it is a good thing. If being politically correct means that we treat people of different backgrounds with respect and do not stereotype them based on their race or gender, then it is in fact, very biblical.

But somewhere along the way, simple, foundational truths that are central tenets of the Christian faith—treating others as you would like to be treated, loving your neighbor—suddenly became muddled and full of conflict. 

We need to remember that the culture of political correctness is nothing new. In Jesus’ times, political correctness was demanded. For example, if anyone dared to speak differently about the traditions of people, or about the kingdom of God, what the official authorities had prescribed, they would be sanctioned. Jesus faced oppressive man-made rules from the Jewish religious leaders of His day. They were a man-made morality, created with good intentions. In a world desperately searching for truth, Jesus reminds us He is the only truth.

Before the politically correct crowd was ever born, believers loved one another.  We didn’t love because we were pressured by society to do it. We loved because Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35). We must continue to declare to the world that God does not judge us for our political correctness, He judges us based on our faith in Him.  

Christians are called to prioritize God over everything—elected officials, political parties, laws, and even our own self-interests. Doing this is often irrational and nearly always countercultural, but this is what it means to be a follower of Christ.  


Discussion Question:

  1. How do you balance political correctness with what scripture tells us? 

Comfort In Times Of Trouble

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:2

As Maria and Lucas were wading through the debris of this horrible storm in their life, they were faced with a decision. To think only of themselves, or to help others who were suffering in their own storm. At times like these it is easy to look inward, to look at what is happening in our lives. But it is these times when we should be comforting others. Maria and Lucas chose to help others. 

Many of us have had times in our lives when everything seems to be going well, everything seems to be so “right”, only to experience a catastrophic event that turned your whole world upside down. An event that left us floundering and wondering if life would ever make sense again.

The Bible makes it clear that we will have trouble. Sometimes we bring suffering on ourselves, sometimes others inflict it on us, and sometimes difficulties arise based on circumstances of life. However, in the midst of the affliction, trouble, or suffering – whether it’s emotional, financial, relational, or circumstantial – we will need comfort.

God is our ultimate comforter. While some trouble is unavoidable, there is no hardship for which God cannot and will not supply adequate comfort. And, as we experience His comfort in a tangible way, we are instructed to comfort one another,

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

These are powerful verses. Verse 4 tells us that every pain in life can find meaning when we comfort others.  We are called to give out of what we have been given. In other words we should give out of the love, the mercy, the grace, the forgiveness, the blessings, the finances and the comfort we have already been given. Verse 7 reminds us to help others with all you have, including pain.

Christ’s comfort: it’s always greater than our trouble. It is more than our suffering. Christ comforts, present tense, in that trouble. Christ is comforting, right now, in that trouble. Christ comforts, continually, in that trouble. Christ, the source of comfort, has shared his comfort for you, so you can share it with others. Christ does not want us keeping comfort to ourselves. God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Salvation is no guarantee of a  storm free life. In fact, we are assured that following Christ will be far from a wrinkle free life. However, we can be certain that God does not recklessly subject us to suffering. God always has a purpose because without suffering we could neither know the fullness of God’s grace; learn to trust Him implicitly; or minister to others as God desires.

We can learn from the example of Maria and Lucas and comfort others even when we need comfort.    

Discussion Question:

  1. Describe a time when your life was hit with an unexpected storm. How well did you endure it? What did you do when you felt like giving up? Did you experience God’s comfort during that period?
  2. What does “comfort” mean to you? What comfort do you need? What comfort have you received? What can you do to pass on the comfort of God to others?
  3. What helped Maria and Lucas make the right decision to help others? How can you change your thinking to let those factors move you to comfort others?
  4. Look around to see if there is someone in your life who is going through a storm in their life, and make a list of actions you can take to be a source of help, encouragement and strength. Then do those things this week.

You Asked For It: Why Is It So Hard To Follow Jesus?

“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9: 23-24.

Jesus said some difficult things. I wonder what today’s public relations and spin doctors would do with something like “if you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me – because if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it” Or how would they make Matthew 19:21 a little less gloomy: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

When taken in its entirety, there is no way to spin that following Jesus is easy. In fact it is anything but easy. While it is hard at times, it is not unexpected. That’s exactly what Jesus promised it would be. And it doesn’t help that the devil is always lurking, whispering in our ears: “Is this what you signed up for. It’s just too hard. You will never measure up. It is not worth the continued effort. My road is far easier.”

Anyone who’s ever followed Jesus through the tough, dark, lonely places of life has heard that call. But the thing the devil somehow forgets to tell us is that God has a plan. James 1: 2-4 tells us: ”Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We will have trials in our life. Chances are, maybe you just had one, or you are in the middle of it or you are about to have one. And often they are far from easy. But James tells us that all trials should be viewed as a test of our faith. This testing is not a pass … fail of our faith but more about making us complete, or mature. When we turn our problems and our trials over to Him again and again our faith is strengthened. And we learn to trust Him in all circumstances. Our relationship with Him becomes stronger.

James says to count it joy in suffering or when life is hard. It is not the suffering that makes us rejoice but the knowledge that God has a purpose in the trial. We may never know the outcome, but God is in the business of making things work out for our benefit and His glory. He knows what He is doing with the trial and that brings joy to the believer.

The Christian life is not always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Few things that are worthwhile are easy. Paul, who was a rising up-and-comer in the Jewish faith, gave it all up for Jesus, and never expressed a moment’s regret. He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).

At one point many of Jesus’ disciples left him because of a “hard teaching” that He gave. Jesus asked Peter if He and the rest of the twelve would leave him also. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). When things become a bit difficult I think of this passage, “Lord, where else can I go?” Whatever the difficulties of the Christian life, I cannot imagine leaving it for a life without Christ. Because Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel like following God is too hard?
  2. Give an example of a time when doing what God called you to do wasn’t easy.
  3. Are you going through a difficult season right now? Is it hard to consistently make good choices in some area of your life?
  4. Does it help you to know that you will ultimately, in Christ, be victorious over sin and death?

Walking In His Will

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:1-5.

If I had a five-dollar bill for every time I’ve been asked, “What’s God’s will for my life,” I would be a wealthy man. The frequency with which this question comes up provides some keen insight into just how important it is to many people. It should be important. We all want to know, “Why am I here and what should I be doing?”

The will of God for our lives is not some high-sounding theory; it is reality. Over the next few days we will look at this subject in more detail. The bottom line is that we have to live out His will in the real world.

Knowing God’s will requires patience, and for many of us that is not our strong suit. We want to know all of God’s will at once, but that’s not how God usually works. He reveals His will and His plan to us a step at a time—each move a step of faith—in an effort to grow our trust in Him. Here’s what we need to remember. While we wait for further direction, we need to be busy doing the good that we know to do. James 4:17 tells us: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

In business and in life we know all the specifics: How many credit hours I need to get my degree. How long it takes to drive to the school, what our spouse expects of us, etc. Often, we want God to give us the specifics—where to work, where to live, whom to marry, what car to buy, etc. Free will is in play here. God allows us to make choices, but if we are yielded to Him, He has ways of preventing wrong choices. “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to…” (Acts 16:6–7).

The better we get to know a person, the more acquainted we become with his or her desires. For example, a child may instinctively want to run across a street to chase an errant ball, but doesn’t because he or she remembers the words of caution from their dad. The child will grow, and over time will not need to ask a parent for advice on every situation – they now know their parents thinking because they know their parents very well. The same is true in our relationship to God. As we walk with the Lord, obeying His Word and relying on His Spirit, we find that we are given the mind of Christ. “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16). We know Him, and that helps us to know His will. We find God’s guidance readily available. “The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.” (Proverbs 11:5).

Doing God’s will demands a decision. And that decision requires faith and action. You can’t see the end, so you have to trust Him in faith and then step out. You have to act. Faith and obedience naturally go together.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does what I am doing or planning to do conflict with scripture? With the counsel of others? With my life experiences?
  2. Would you consider yourself a proactive or reactive person in seeking the will of God? Which would you prefer?
  3. How does having the mind of Christ help us discover God’s will for our lives? We have the mind of Christ by remembering what Christ did for us. What steps can you take to stop and reflect and rest in this reality more often?
  4. Read John 14:26 and John 15:26: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in having the mind of Christ?
  5. Pray that God will open your eyes daily to His will in your life.

You Asked For It

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C.S. Lewis

  • What does it mean to be in Christ?
  • What is the Christian life supposed to be like?
  • How can we recognize the voice of God?
  • What is Christian discipleship?
  • How can I know when God is telling me to do something?
  • How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?
  • What is true worship? How can I worship the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24)?
  • How can believers be in the world, but not of the world?
  • What is spiritual growth?
  • Why does God allow us to go through trials and tribulations?
  • How are we to submit to God?
  • How do I get a passion for Jesus and keep that passion burning?
  • How can I experience joy in my Christian life?

I believe C.S Lewis is exactly right. If you want to be comfortable, then Christianity may not be your thing. Once you have asked all your questions, weighed all the evidence, and tested all the arguments, and accepted Jesus as your personal savior, you have embarked on a journey of living as a child of God. This will involve a growing in maturity, sometimes slowly, as we grow in our love, knowledge and service of God. Having said this, there is also the reality of living in our broken world, with the bombardments of that world coming at us from every angle. We will have additional questions. Nearly everyone does–believers and unbelievers alike. Have you ever wished for a concise, understandable response that will satisfy both the mind and the heart?

It is amazing how many times people ask questions that they think no one else has asked and certainly no one has ever answered. During the month of July we will look at some of the questions you have based on a survey we did. The series, You Asked For It, started this week with the question – “how can I know God’s will for my life?”  I will address the question of knowing God’s will over the next few days, but in this devotional I want to give you my thoughts on some very basic questions.

First, why am I a Christian? Ultimately, because Jesus Christ showed and persuaded me that what He did on the cross perfectly met my need before God as a sinner. Jesus showed me that His resurrection from the dead meant that he could supply me with all the power I’d need to be his follower. And that means through thick and thin, through the trials and joys of this life. Jesus showed me that I could trust his promise that, in spite of all that’s wrong in my heart and life, He would keep loving and forgiving me and bring me safely through this life.

Second, why am I still a Christian? As you heard me say many times, a life with Jesus is so much better than a life without Him. He helped me to grow. I’m not what I ought to be – but I know that I’m not what I was. I know that there’s nobody else like Jesus. Why would I not want to be a Christian? Where else would I go, either now for a relationship with the living God, or in eternity?
We are continually faced with questions that challenge our belief systems. This isn’t a bad thing, and much of Jesus’s ministry revolved around asking questions. In the end, thoughtfully examining our faith promotes a spirituality that is healthy, honest, genuine, and mature.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have questions? Where do you go for the answers? Did you get your questions answered?
  2. How would you answer the question, “why am I a Christian?”
  3. How would you answer the question “why am I still a Christian?”

Making Yourself Available

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

Moses is one of the most prominent figures in the Old Testament. Moses was the man chosen to bring redemption to His people. God specifically chose Moses to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt to salvation in the Promised Land. Moses is also recognized as the giver of the Law. Finally, Moses is the principal author of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the foundational books of the entire Bible. His life is definitely worth examining.

When you study the story of Moses you have to ask yourself a question: How did this man become one of the greatest leaders in history? Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s household, but refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter after learning of his rightful heritage. Hebrews 11:24 says, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.”

As Moses grows into adulthood, he begins to empathize with the plight of his people, and upon witnessing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, Moses intervenes and kills the Egyptian. In another incident, Moses attempts to intervene in a dispute between two Hebrews, but one of the Hebrews rebukes Moses and sarcastically comments, “Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14). Realizing that his criminal act was made known, Moses flees to the land of Midian where he again plays the hero—this time to the daughters of Jethro by rescuing them from some bandits. In gratitude, Jethro grants the hand of his daughter Zipporah to Moses. Then he returns to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let his people go.

Moses became what he did, not because of his ability but by his availability and by the hand of God. Moses did not want the job that he was given, and it was a rough one, but God had prepared him out on the backside of the desert. God was not only delivering a people but investing in the man who would lead them. Don’t ever think that what you are going through is not in preparation for much greater service in the future. God is always working things together for your good.

God has always looked for people who would be faithful to Him. People that would walk with God, listen to His voice, obey His Word and carry out His plan in the earth. If God could find people who would be loyal to Him and be willing to act on His Word regardless of how impossible, unreasonable and difficult it may seem, God’s power and ability could flow through them and impact the world with God’s message.

God is much more interested in your availability than He is your ability. Make yourself available. He will begin to manifest His character, His nature, His glory and His Spirit in you. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 says, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

You and I have been designed by God to know Him, fellowship with Him, walk with Him, be a habitation of His Spirit, and to be a holy vessel to not only contain the presence and power of God, but also a vessel through which He can show Himself to the world. Like Moses, we may have some insecurity, some concerns, we may even have some issues we are dealing with. But like Moses, God can and will use us if we make ourselves available.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Moses’ life experiences prepare him for God’s call? What life experience could God use to minister to others through you?
  2. Moses lacks confidence. Is a lack a confidence the reason you are not taking some steps you need to?
  3. What do you think makes Moses a good leader?
  4. Moses is described as a “very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3) What examples from his life illustrate this? How would you rate your humility level?