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

So what is the goal of the Christian life? The purpose of the Christian life is to know Christ and to be like Him.  Christianity is not a religion of rules and rituals that we must work at keeping to climb the ladder to heaven. Instead, it is a personal, growing relationship with the risen, living Lord Jesus Christ that results in our growing conformity to Him. It is living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel isn’t a formula you apply to your life; it’s the story you’re meant to inhabit. So what is your place in that story? 

Becoming a Christian requires that you know some things about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament points ahead to Christ; the New Testament tells us of His life, His death for our sins, and His resurrection and present reign in heaven. It also tells us of His coming again and future kingdom. It expounds on His teaching and reveals His will for His people. We can never know Him fully because He is infinite and we are finite. But we can know Him definitely as Savior and Lord and we can and must spend our lives focused on the goal to be more like Him. ”

As we come to know Jesus, we will become more and more like Him because we know who to imitate because we see Him more clearly. “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 We become like the One who stretched out His hand in compassion to heal a leper, who had mercy on the woman caught in adultery and resist the temptations of the devil.  As we see Jesus submit to His Father’s will—“I want your will to be done, not mine.“—we learn to submit to our wills to the Father’s will. And as we gaze upon Jesus enduring all things because of His love for us, we learn to endure the sins and failures of others out of love for them.

 As we see Jesus empty himself and make himself poor so that He might make us rich, we in turn learn to empty ourselves. As we marvel to watch Jesus kneel before His disciples the night before He is to die and wash their feet, the Holy Spirit grows us in humility.

 But where do you start? Transformation in Christlikeness is a process. Try focusing on one change in character at a time, even if the change takes time. Most of us fail in our efforts to change and become like Jesus because we try hard for a while and then give up. We don’t keep our focus long enough, and we don’t go deep enough; we don’t develop a plan for how we can work with God’s grace to change to become like Jesus on the inside in that one area.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most important step to becoming more like Jesus?
  2. What can you do this week to take that step?  

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?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Absolute Truth

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, God is absolute truth.  Our God is absolute truth. It is impossible for Him to be otherwise. In fact, God is the source of all truth. Our God, who is present everywhere and knows all things, has total understanding of what is real, what is right and what is true.

“Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” – John 18:37-38.

What is absolute truth?  That is a question that has been asked for thousands of years. Pontus Pilate asked a similar question (John 18:38) after Jesus prompted him by saying “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” Earlier, the disciples had asked Him to show them the way, Jesus told him, ” he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  And John 8:31-32 adds: “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus meant that truth is not merely some abstract thing floating out in space that we have to mystically experience or something we have to force our will to follow, but it was a person, Himself. In Colossians 2 we read, “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments…For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” Paul was telling the Colossians not to be deceived by “fine-sounding” logical “arguments” but to find all truth in Christ.

That is the answer to Pilate’s question of what does absolute truth come from and who gives truth? Paul says every truthful thing in the universe is found in Christ as the word, wisdom, and knowledge belonging to God Himself. While many people claim to know the truth, only Jesus could honestly claim to be the truth.

In the book of Judges, it says, “…all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes..” This is still true today; we often believe that our personal truth is the absolute truth. But God’s word was and still is the only absolute truth we should build our lives on. “Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to Your truth!” (Psalm 86:11) John 17:17 says, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” John 16:13 reminds us that the Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.”

What Is Absolute Truth?”  Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. It’s easy to get caught up in a sea of opinions and false truths about the Bible. What can you do to build up your confidence in the absolute truth of God’s word? How can you remain faithful in believing the truth, regardless of the dizzying opinions surrounding you every day?

Blessed To Bless Others

” I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. The orchards and fields of my people will yield bumper crops, and everyone will live in safety. When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 34:26-27. 

There is an old hymn written by Daniel Webster Whittle in 1883 entitled, “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings.” Whittle wrote this hymn and many others. The words are based on Ezekiel 34:26-27.

God truly does shower us with blessings: deep compassion, amazing love, kindness and grace, His forgiveness, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and His multitude of promises to name a few. God doesn’t simply bless us just so we can say we are a blessed people. God blesses us because He loves us, and so we can be a blessing to others. He instructs us, so we can instruct others. He comforts us, so we can comfort others.

The Christian faith proves to be way bigger than just me and you. His blessings are not meant to be totally consumed by us. Blessings flow from God, but they should never stop with us. They come to us and then flow through us. Every blessing we have received from God, whether material or spiritual, is to be used for the benefit of others. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we were created anew in Christ Jesus for a purpose to “…do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God is all about blessing people. In fact, God gave His people a blessing that we still use today: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’” (Numbers 6:24-26). 

Psalm 20: 2,4,5 says, “May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem…May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed…May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.”

God blesses others through the blessings we have received. In a way, we keep those blessings moving forward as we partner with God and share our blessings with others. We do it for the common good instead rather than for personal gain, worth, or recognition.

Look around you at your neighbors, the people you work with or go to school with, the person sitting next to you at church, or the person in your small group. Are there opportunities to share your blessings with them? You will never regret a moment of helping someone else. And, you might just find that you are blessed as much as those you set out to help. 


Discussion Questions:

  1. How has God blessed you?
  2. How are you passing on to others the blessing God has given you? 

With All Due Respect

“Stop! Right now! Take a deep breath in and exhale. Remind yourself that you are loved, you are cherished, and you have value. Remind yourself that nothing that anyone does or thinks or says to you will diminish that value. Remind yourself that every person you meet today is loved by God just as much as you are and is worthy of respect and is worthy of being seen as a person of value. Now continue to make decisions today based on those truths.” – Katherine Walden.  

Throughout the Bible, we see that God’s intention is focused on man, and His heart’s desire is set upon man. Man is not an afterthought; man is not merely a creature – man is very important, and God’s intention and desire are related to Him. The Bible doesn’t tell us why, but God loves man, and created humans in His image.  As such, we are treasured by Him. 

That is true of the person in line at the grocery store, that face on social media, the person who picks up the garbage; all are made in God’s image and are His precious property because they are His creation made in His image. We must look at every man and woman as God views them. He loves each person so much that He sent his only Son Jesus Christ to die a criminal’s death on a cross to take the punishment of our sins. Because God cherished every person, they are worthy of our respect. They are all human beings and creations of God and thus worthy of our respect. John 13:34-35 tells us that “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.”  

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10) Honoring others is another way of saying respecting others. Why should we bother to respect everyone? After all, some people don’t deserve it. I know—it’s a challenge. But here’s the rub: respect should not be based on a person’s achievements or abilities, but solely because they’re made in the image of God.

Knowing that we are all made in the image of God should prompt us to see value in others. Seeing value in everyone is not the same as agreeing or being best friends with everyone. Instead, it means showing all people the love of Christ through what we do and how we treat them. We all have a purpose, and we should treat all people mindfully and with great respect because God loves them all.  

Treating others with dignity and respect entails treating others as worthy. Sometimes Christians may be perceived as judgmental or hypocritical by people with different beliefs. This is one reason it is important to honor others and not look down on anyone — so others can see a good witness for Christ, and we do not contribute to a bad reputation for the Christian faith.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. You can be kind to everyone, you don’t have to avoid and insulate your life. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. When we honor Jesus with our lives we’ll be kind to others, we’ll love others, and we’ll be humble around others.  Is this the best way to respect others? Why or why not? 

What Is Involved In Living The Christian Life?

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16 (NIV).

Our current sermon series is entitled Building a Better Future. It is difficult to build a better future without a sense of purpose and an understanding of the “why” as well as the “what.” What do we live for in the Christian life and why are we doing it?

We probably all have some ideas about how Christians should live in order to please God. We may think we need to try our best to do the right thing, do good works, or live up to some kind of moral or ethical standard.  The Bible tells us that Jesus encourages all believers to grow in relationship, commitment, and obedience to Him. This is the essence of how to live a Christian life. Our relationship, commitment, and obedience are done out of love. John 14:21 says, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Any discussion of how to live a Christian life should focus first and foremost on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The entire Bible is full of insight into who God is, our sinful predicament, God’s plan to redeem us, and how we should live in light of these realities. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says,  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Though Jesus taught about many topics, everything comes back to that ultimate goal of loving God and loving our neighbor. The best place to start when seeking to live the Christian life is to prioritize loving God above all else. If at the end of the day we can look back and feel like we loved God well, then we’ve accomplished the most important purpose for which we were created.

One practical thought in seeking to love God is to ask the question, “What does God find most loving?” That question can be a great driving force behind seeking to love God as best as we can every day.

If you want to follow the teachings of Jesus to live a Christian life, don’t overcomplicate things. Focus on loving God and loving others and let them guide the way you live each day.

God didn’t mean for us to live Christian lives in isolation. He calls us to community with other Christians. Together, we can help each other live grace-filled lives that bring glory to God. We need to help each other as we figure out what it means to live a Christian life in this crazy world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the key to living a victorious Christian life?
  2. Read Philippians 1:18-26: Paul says, “living means living for Christ.” How does for me to live is Christ impact my daily activities.   

How Should The Christian View Cancel Culture?

Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.”– Acts 10:34-35.

Wikipedia describes cancel culture as a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Cancel culture is a “gotcha” system to describe people who do or say something we don’t like or agree with so we choose to disassociate from them or worse cancel them from our lives.   

But what does cancel culture mean for the Christian? As Christians, we’re called to live like Christ, no matter what the culture around us looks like. Can you cancel people and love them at the same time? The apostle Paul also wrestled with this question. In his culture, there were religious leaders who believed they were better informed, better educated, and thus superior. Paul was once one of them. But then things changed. After experiencing Christ, he was different. He became so passionate about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that he wanted the entire world to know about it. Did Paul cancel his old friends? No. He engaged with them. He sought to speak their language and related with them — sharing in ways they would understand. He strived to make a difference, not just a point.

Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”Read that one more time and notice it doesn’t say to live at peace only with the people who agree with you, or the people who are part of your voting bloc, or people who don’t ridicule or insult you. It says, “live in peace with everyone.”  And pray for them rather than canceling them. When you pray for them, don’t just pray that God will change their mind. Ask God how He sees them. Ask God to help you love them as He loves them. Ask God to cancel your anger so you don’t need to cancel a relationship.

To be clear, there may be reasons to cancel people from our lives. But we should ask ourselves: Should we engage instead of cancel? The good news of Jesus is powerful. It transforms the hearts of men and women everywhere. And if we believe it, there must be another way to engage with people. Perhaps the best way to be a witness for Jesus is to love the people we are tempted to cancel.

Remember the challenge that Jesus issued to each of us when He spoke these words, “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Discussion Questions:

  1. In 2 Timothy 4:14–15, the apostle Paul writes: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, but the Lord will judge him for what he has done. Be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said” How do we leave judgment to God and be wise in these kinds of situations? 
  2. Given the instructions in Romans 12:14–19, what is the way forward for the church in a culture that wants to “cancel” those who disagree?

What is Love?

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has often been hailed as the greatest love story ever told. Two young lovers, in their desire to be with one another against the wishes of their feuding families, ultimately take their own lives, each unwilling to endure the cold, hopeless wasteland of a life without the other.

While it has brought tears to many eyes, the problem is that the story takes place over four days. It is hard to believe they could really get to know each other in four days. They marry the day after they meet, and two days later they are willing to kill themselves over the loss of a person who wasn’t even in the picture five days ago. The lines about love in Romeo and Juliet are beautiful: “With love’s light wings did I o’er-perch these walls; for stony limits cannot hold love out,” for example. But did they really know what love is? Do we know what we are saying when we say, “but I love him/her?” 

The apostle Paul wrote a passage in a letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth that has come to be known as the “love chapter.” It provides an explanation of what true, godly love is at its core. Among other things, we are told: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud…Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7, NLT).

Does that sound like what Romeo and Juliet had? By the biblical definition, what they felt wasn’t love. It was something else. What many  people are calling love isn’t love. Our culture has confused love with infatuation and sex with love.  In every media, it views love as something we fall into. Sometimes unexpectantly. Sometimes accidentally. But Biblical love is a conscious choice one makes—an action, not an accident. And it is a choice that takes time and effort.

After we’ve taken the time to get to know the other person, to understand his or her values, personality and character as objectively as possible, to seek and consider God’s guidance as well as input from trusted friends and family members, and after we’ve come before God to commit ourselves to that person for the rest of our days, then there is love and a foundation for marriage. 

So important is true, godly love that Jesus emphasized it as the defining characteristic of Christians everywhere: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define love as it pertains to marriage? What does love look like on a daily basis?
  2. How would you rate love in your marriage? How can you improve the love in your marriage?
  3. Read 1 John 4:7-21: What do those verses mean in marriage or in other relationships?
  4. What would you say are the five most important elements of a marriage relationship?  If you had to rank these elements, where on the list would you place love? Sex? What is the reasoning behind your ranking?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you love better in your marriages/relationships.

Dating Sounds Boring For Christians

“… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10.

“Marty, I enjoyed the message on dating, but I have a question. There is one thing missing from all you outlined on Sunday – fun. It seems like the date would involve keeping track of all the don’ts like –  don’t have sex until you are married; don’t be tempted, etc. So here’s an observation. Christianity can sound like a rule book, which when followed, would make dating pretty mundane regardless of what season I am in.”   

Many people have the perception that religion is nothing more than a bunch of old, stuffy people pushing their moral views on a younger, more enlightened generation. They view faith as a tradition, not something that will change your life. As a result, everything in the Christian world is viewed as boring.

Many people have told me that before they were saved, the idea of going to church put them to sleep. On a surface level, it seems that non-Christians are having more fun because they have so many more dating options because some of those options are sin to the Christian.

But that is the point: We have different priorities and standards. The things many people look at as fun may not be good or right if we are following Jesus. Some of those fun things can damage our relationship with Jesus. As a result, the so–called “fun” often ends up not being fun at all. If we as Christians didn’t understand the big picture reasons behind why we do what we do, many of us would have a different perspective on dating and relationships. We would be a lot more fun at least in the world’s eyes.

I don’t think Christians are boring. Nor do I think they have to undergo a fun and personality bypass when they become Christians. That is not what God intended at all.  The Christian life can be exciting if you are doing it right. Yes, there will be trials and downtimes, but that doesn’t mean that there will not be fun times, and that includes dating.  We all know Christians that have a whole lot of fun and that can include dating. It’s not like you have to just sit there and hum Gregorian chants when you are on a date. 

Christians have cheesy introduction lines just like everyone else: “Now I know why Solomon had 700 wives… He never met you!” Or “Is your name Faith? Cause you’re the substance of things I’ve hoped for.” Christians go to the movies, out to dinner, take classes together, etc. They laugh and cry, share stories and connect just like everybody else. There are just some rules of conduct that God set forth in His word that He expects us to obey. 

Dating can be confusing, exciting, difficult and really fun all at the same time. But it’s time to change the subculture of fear we as Christians have sometimes created around it. It’s time to stop worrying about dating and see it as an opportunity for connection and growth. It’s time to take the pressure off of “finding the one” and instead learn to glorify The One through every interaction that we have with those around us—dating included. And don’t forget the fun. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. If real life were like a romantic comedy or an action thriller, what percent of your life would be exciting?
  2. If your main goal in life were to have fun, what would you do with your time right now? What do you think God wants you do with your time right now? Why do you think He wants you to do that?
  3. Are you willing to be bored for God and others if that’s what you need to do to love them well?
  4. Is there anything you need to accept about life? What can you thank God for in this situation?

A Culture Shock

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:19.

Romans 12: 2 tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” The challenge is disengaging from the culture we live in. Let’s think about dating and relationships for moment.

For better or for worse? Really? With so many mixed messages in our culture that speak to the contrary, it is no wonder that young people don’t think of dating as the means of finding a spouse. Do we really, at a young age, grasp the definition of a commitment for life? We live in a throwaway culture. If it doesn’t click, discard it and move on. We get distracted so easily. 

It is hard for young people to stay focused on what really matters when they are dealing with so much coming at them that while acceptable in society is diametrically opposed to their Christian values and beliefs. The culture can easily become the norm rather than the exception. Those that are dating or contemplating marriage need to realize that it is a spiritual matter. Choosing your future spouse is more than just picking someone you’re compatible with. It’s a faith-filled journey of both joy and pain, but it’s through that journey that God reveals the very person that was created for each of us to fulfill his ultimate purpose for our lives.

By being open to God’s will in all aspects of dating, one can grow in our faith as God helps to shape the relationship. When searching for a spouse, it is essential to be open to God’s will and center one’s life around Christ. When you date with marriage in mind, you are, from the start, shaping a relationship that is built on character—a relationship that helps you to be a Godly partner. After all, it’s got to be much deeper, because we’re talking about for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

A question for all the married people out there: what would you do different if you were dating today? How is the culture different today? Would you make different choices? Would you listen to family and friends who offer advice?  Would you be more purposeful about dating? Would you make more mature decisions? 

We might consider what we can do to help young adults to discover and understand the real purpose of dating. We can help them make wiser choices. We can talk with them about decisions and commitments.  We can help them with questions about their faith in Jesus Christ and in dating and marriage. We can keep them from making the mistakes that so many young people have made before them. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think is (or was) the best part of dating?  What do you think is (or was) the hardest part of dating?   
  2. How does our culture impact the dating experience? How does your relationship with God impact your dating experience?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 15:33: Do you believe this verse includes dating? Why or why not?
  4. Read Song of Solomon 2:7: What does this verse mean to you?
  5. Discuss the idea of a mentor’s role in dating/relationship? Have you been impacted by the example of others?