The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” – John 1:5.

The habit of consuming a half-gallon of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough after a hard day might seem like a good idea in the moment, but it would be wise to consider the implications for tomorrow instead of the temporary pleasure of indulging today. Bad habits always have consequences and are hard to overcome which explains why it is often challenging to do so.

So what keeps us stuck doing the same thing over and over, stuck in a perpetual déjà vu?  What do we need to do to escape the grip of bad habits in our life so we can become the person God created us to be? The first step is to identify the triggers that cause the bad habit. By discovering the “cue” that ignites the habit, you place yourself in a position of power over the temptation. When you are nervous, you bite your fingernails; when you are bored, you open up your smartphone and disconnect from the world around you. By understanding the triggers behind your habits, you can begin working on a strategy to overcome them.

One of the ways we can deal with bad habits is to replace them with new ones. Repetition is the key to forming habits, either good or bad. So, for you to overcome old bad habits, you need to form new ones and continually repeat them until they overshadow the bad habits. John 1:5 reminds us that good has more power than bad: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” The devil always wants us to form bad habits, while God wants us to form good habits. So it makes sense to replace bad habits with good ones.

It is easy to convince ourselves that a solution is unlikely or impossible. We have made so many unsuccessful attempts to overcome their habits that we have resigned ourselves to failure. We may have lost a few battles, but we have not lost the war. In spite of our previous failures, that does not mean we can’t achieve ultimate victory.

It won’t be easy. Breaking bad habits takes a strong commitment, an investment of time, a lot of hard work, and a willingness to be uncomfortable while you change a bad habit into a good one. For example, Samson. When Samson grew up, he developed a bad habit of always doing the opposite of his parents’ instructions. He developed over time the habit of drinking and running after women. Eventually, he met Delilah, (Judges 16:4-30), who brought about his downfall.

Start with small changes: Big changes are made by taking small steps – one at a time. If you repeatedly try and fail to change a bad habit, perhaps you are biting off too much. Rather than make a 180-degree flip, is there a way that you could make a gradual transition into a better routine?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on who you want to become, what habit do you want to break?
  2. Think of the last time you broke a habit. What worked? What didn’t work?

The Lessons We Can Learn From Daniel And The Lion’s Den

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” – Daniel 6:4-5.

The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the most familiar lessons in the entire Bible. It is a story that has direct application to our lives today.

Daniel wakes up and a new day is streaming in through the open windows. Daniel kneels humbly at the window and sends an earnest prayer up to his only Lord. He does this three times a day, and today is no exception. But now he is bending his knees at an entirely different risk than before. It is actually life-threatening to kneel before anyone other than the king today. Like everyone else in the land of Babylon, Daniel had read the latest decree sent out from the king. Those who worship anyone other than the king during the next thirty days shall be cast into the lions’ den. It is truly an awful fate.

Daniel could have avoided this entire situation. Just a little adjustment in his commitment, and you could have avoided this entire thing. He could have set aside his daily routine for a month or so. Or he could have gone someplace where nobody would see him praying. But he will not bend or postpone his commitment to God. Very simply, Daniel’s commitment to God was not altered by his circumstances… whether good or bad. Daniel’s unwavering stance for God caused the trip to the lion’s den. God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was not harmed.

One of the chief lessons we learn from this story is gleaned from the confession of King Darius himself: “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26). Hebrews 11:33 says, “By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,   

There’s no doubt: prayer does not come naturally. It is something that we all need to strive for. If we are not careful, we might slowly come to a point where our conscience does not bother us anymore when we fail to pray

The life of Daniel offers us the clearest example of how to cultivate a life of praying. Daniel went through just about every situation we could imagine. He was captured in war and was subjected to great danger as he was abducted and sent off as a prize to the winning side. In these trials and through the next decades there was one common denominator in his life: the habit of prayer.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Most believers believe it is difficult to pray if you don’t spend time in the word. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What keeps you from the habit (routine) of praying? What can you do this week to overcome those obstacles?

This Can Be Habit Forming

“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” – Daniel 6:10.

At some point in our life, we long for a mentor: somebody who can widely mold and shape our thoughts and habits, and give us the insight we need to help us find our way through life. You may not have a mentor now but there are plenty of them in the Bible. Daniel is a great example of a mentor. His story is truly remarkable because he had an excellent spirit. “Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” (Daniel 6:3 ESV)

But he also had courage. Daniel’s courage was not summoned in a moment of need: his courage was developed through a lifetime of small yet brave decisions. One of those decisions was choosing to pray when self-preservation would prompt a different action.

Daniel’s habits of prayer were known to the people around him since he practiced the habit of prayer in the open. There was no question of where Daniel’s allegiance centered. The king himself commented about the God whom Daniel continually served. “Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” (Daniel 6:16 ESV)

Spiritual habits can also be helpful disciplines—powerful practices to reorient our hearts to God in the midst of life’s chaos. Regular routines are helpful for keeping us centered on God. We often need a break from busyness, and quiet time with God helps us reconnect with Him as the source of our strength and encouragement.

Based on his spiritual foundation, Daniel was able to take a stand and maintain a steady commitment to the Lord.  Daniel was a young man when he said in Daniel 1:8, “But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king.” Other versions say, ” He made up his mind,” (NASB) “he resolved” (ESV), and” he purposed. “(KJV)

The purpose of engaging in and putting spiritual habits into practice is to become more like Jesus, to become holier, or even to become healthier. Those are all results, outcomes, and byproducts of spiritual habits. But the purpose for them, the reason we devote ourselves to these practices and develop these habits is much greater.

The great end to the means is knowing Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior more and more each day and enjoying Him. It’s finding ourselves drawn deeper into the One in which we find our identity, belonging, and purpose. The true purpose, final joy, and end goal of each habit or discipline are so perfectly stated by the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8 (NIV): “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a habit you would like to break? What can you do to start breaking that habit this week?
  2. What are some spiritual habits you would like to start?

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” –  Matthew 5:6.

The word “blessed” is tossed around on a regular basis. Often the word “blessed” is associated with earthly prosperity and happiness. But what does it biblically mean to be blessed?

Many think that if they had abundant wealth, an absence of regret and suffering, excellent health, good employment, unending gratification of their desires, and kind treatment of everyone, this would mean they are blessed. But in the Beatitudes, Jesus turns this kind of thinking upside down. In this passage (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus sets forth characteristics of the ideal person of His kingdom: being poor, mourning, humility, hunger, thirst, rejection, and persecution, all qualities that were present in the life and character of the Man who spoke them. Through these experiences, Jesus says that the disciple would be blessed. To be blessed means that we receive God’s favor. We receive His endorsement and approval.

In verse 6, Jesus speaks these words, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” Hunger and thirst represent the deepest desires we have. What is your deepest desire? What do you hunger and thirst for? Is it control? Maybe it’s comfort? But here’s the thing, none of these things bring blessings to our lives. We are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

But have we ever had a hunger and a thirst for God? The answer is yes when we face a health crisis when nothing else mattered but experiencing His peace. There are other times that I’ve clearly needed the Lord in huge ways and hungered for His presence.  But how often have I really hungered and really thirsted for righteousness?

The hunger and thirst described by Jesus in this beatitude are not some kind of hunger that could be satisfied with a mid-morning snack or a cup of coffee. This is the hunger and thirst of one who is desperate, one who will risk everything to be satisfied. How much do you hunger after God? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?” In the 63rd Psalm, David expressed his desire for God: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

When we’re thirsty, we crave water. Our daily need for water acts as our reminder to drink deeply of Jesus every day. He doesn’t have what we need. He is what we need. Knowing this, we can also rejoice in the fact that Jesus doesn’t just give us a drink to satisfy us at the moment, but He gives us an eternal fountain of living water. We will never run out of His grace, His love, and His freedom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you felt distant from God because of something you did (sin, busyness, etc.)? How did it impact your relationship with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to thirst after God?  

The Value Of Relationships

 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” – James 1:19-20.

Relationships play a vital role in our lives, and oftentimes they are a constant source of heartache and frustration. Chances are, all of us have some type of relational brokenness in our lives. If you thought about it for a few seconds you probably would think about specific people and situations. But relationships provide us with friends and family to share our lives with and people who can help us out in tough times.

We were made for relationships. We were made for healthy relationships. Surviving in the world today requires deep relationships. But those relationships do not just happen, they require effort. We have to do more than just reach out to others, we have to share our lives with others as well. Relationships can be a tangible expression of God’s love for people through how we interact with, connect with, and care for them through our relationships.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus recognized the importance of building lasting relationships. Lasting relationships are those that stand the test of time and create a deep sense of personal commitment on the part of both participants.

Take the story of Jesus walking on water. He displayed His divine command of the natural world while using the experience to show Peter the importance of where he placed his trust and faith.“Why did you doubt?” Jesus asked Peter. Jesus knew that respect and trust were the essential ingredients in building lasting relationships.

Did this mean that Jesus was always successful in maintaining relationships on His terms? Surely not. Some people never trusted Him or turned their backs on His efforts when challenged to change. Others (like Peter) became fearful and struggled with doubt at many points. Still, others turned on Jesus and betrayed Him.

Having healthy relationships is central to being a part of the body of Christ. These are to be healthy, loving, and forgiving. And this is true not only within our immediate circle of other Christians, but also with our neighbors, business acquaintances, and even those people you find annoying. Are we willing to keep building them, even after some have failed and others have turned against you? Despite the actions or failings of others, Jesus continued to commit His life to creating lasting relationships – with leaders, with servants, with individuals, and with communities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your most important human relationship (marriage, parent/child, friendship, etc.)? What do you treasure most about this relationship? How do you nurture this relationship?
  2. Can you think back on a time in your life when you began to more deeply understand the importance of relationships? Maybe it took a hike in the woods, or maybe it was a relational rift, but has there been a time in your life when you felt the significance of relationships?

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.   

The Difference Between Involvement And Commitment

  “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” –  Ephesians 5:10.

There is some confusion between involvement and commitment. To be involved typically means staying as long as you are happy.  Commitment is entirely different. Commitment is not a promise, it is the point when the promise is kept. Commitment requires planning, perseverance, and sacrifice.  

What would have happened if Noah had not been fully committed; if he had completed only ninety percent of what God asked him to do?  Imagine if he had left part of the hull unfinished, choosing instead to use the time for other things.  

God wasn’t asking for an imperfect being to create a perfect product out of imperfect material, but He was asking Noah to stay committed and complete His request.  Noah could not afford to be indifferent to God’s will, and neither can we.  Noah had to complete the Ark because it was God’s will.  His salvation, his family’s chance of surviving catastrophe, and the fulfillment of God’s will were all dependent upon his complete and total willingness to trust God.  The same is true for us.  We need to trust God completely.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Real commitment is certainly difficult, yet we are asked to do it every day.  We’re asked to commit to spouses, children, jobs, church, communities, and countless other things.  Many of these types of commitments require balance. Work-life balance means we have to balance the time and effort from one commitment to another.  While this is important, it doesn’t work with our commitment to follow Jesus.  God does not expect us to manage everything perfectly, but He does expect our first commitment to be to Him.  

Much of our spiritual life is a process of letting go of old habits and embracing our new life as a follower of Jesus.  We won’t always get it right and we will make mistakes, but we will keep moving forward if we remain steadfast in our commitment to God.  “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

A life serving Jesus requires total commitment.  Galatians  6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” God doesn’t leave us alone.  He gave us His Holy Spirit to walk and climb right next to us, giving us strength. God will remind us of how He guided us through difficult paths in the past so we can persevere now.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your commitment to Jesus? Why did you pick the number you did?
  2. Who or what has the most influence on your day-to-day decisions? Where does Jesus fall in the order of influential voices in your life?
  3. What step do you need to take this week to make your relationship with Jesus your No. 1 priority?

Discipleship Matters

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16. 

Growing in Christ is the key to growing a church. This is all about being a good and effective witness of who Christ is and what He has called your church to be and do. Following up, teaching, and mentoring new as well as seasoned Christians are the keys to spiritual growth. In a word discipleship. 

While the “church” is called to organically develop and grow other members within the body of Christ,  making disciples doesn’t just happen. It’s an intentional process that takes a relational and spiritual commitment to provide the necessary elements that will both prosper the individual, as well as the body of Christ.

The goal of discipleship is to help people grow to become more like Jesus. Helping Christians live out their faith is the main purpose of discipleship. Successful discipleship should teach believers how to share the faith they are living by testifying to what God has done in their lives and through sharing the gospel. You may be the only Bible anyone ever reads.  

Discipleship is not mentoring. The two may look similar, but in reality, are different. As the disciples followed Jesus from place to place, they saw Him live out His faith and demonstrate the responsibilities and authority of His ministry. Jesus showed them how to do ministry. That is the picture of healthy discipleship.  

Paul puts it like this, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Thus, the missional goal of the church is disciple-making. Something our Savior masterfully demonstrated among the ministry to His disciples and left as an edict for His church to foster until He returns. 

God wants to reveal Himself to those around you by working mightily through you. He wants your family to see Christ in you each day. God wants to express His love through your life. Christ expects His disciples to follow Him — to learn from Him and to stay close to Him. That’s what He wanted from His followers during His earthly ministry and that is what He wants from His disciples today.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What defines us as disciples in your opinion? 
  2. What happens in the life of a disciple when they think of others instead of themselves? How does putting others first build character?

Love God Completely

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’” – Mark 12:30 

Is it possible to love the Lord from our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength? Yes, we love God to some extent, but do we have the ability to love Him with our whole being? He’s not the only One we love, and sometimes He’s not the One we love the most. Many other things tug at our heart. So how do we obey the Lord’s command to love Him with all our hearts?

The Lord is well aware that we aren’t capable of such love by ourselves. We need to realize that when God makes a demand, He intends to meet that demand for us. So in 1 John 4:19 we can see our love for God originates from God Himself: “ So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first.” (TLB) God is the actual source of our love for Him. He loved us first, and He infused us with His love. Because the love of God in us is the love with which we can love Him in return.

Love isn’t merely a feeling. God is love. God loves us and became a man named Jesus Christ. He demonstrated His love for us to the uttermost by dying on the cross. No wonder when we heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, our hearts responded to His love, and we opened to receive Him as our Savior. From that day on, we began to love the Lord with the love He infused into us.

Loving God completely starts with thinking about Him. The more we think about Him, the more we will fall in love with Him. He is the Creator, our Savior. Think about how incredible it is that the God of the universe cares about each of us.  

Spend time in His presence. No relationship can grow without time spent together. The same is true with our relationship with God. When we determine to set aside a specific time for prayer, our love for Him will start increasing.  

Choose to do everything out of love for Him. From our church ministry to our mundane chores, our motives make all the difference. When we choose to do a task out of love for God, our love for Him grows. It’s just a mental task of consciously giving the activity to God as an offering.  

Such love is beyond our ability to grasp with our minds, but it is not beyond our ability to experience with our hearts. The more we study it, the more we understand it, and the more we realize, we will move steadily beyond our understanding. But it does not mean that we cannot have confidence in the fact that God unconditionally loves us. Know it, cling to it, and remember it; don’t underestimate the love of God for you.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If love is to be the defining mark of believers, how would you assess where you are as a believer? Are we a “display window” for the supernatural love of Christ?

Is There An Energy Shortage?

“Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” – Mark 12:29-30

The Message translation says, “love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” How well do you manage your energy? In a time when a hectic schedule is normal, we need to not only manage our time but manage our energy. 

The longer you live, the more you can appreciate the natural strength and vigor God makes available to sustain your life. People with high levels of energy tend to brighten a room and make life seem easier. Their natural enthusiasm and vibrancy radiate and inspires others around them. On the other hand, folks who are weak with little strength can sap vitality from others—especially if they are down or have negative attitudes. 

God gives each of us certain talents and abilities, and therefore, we glorify God when we use those talents and abilities in church, in our career, or in relationships with others. Loving God with all of our energy, with all of our abilities, and with all of our spiritual gifts, is a way of expressing our love to Him. It means holding nothing back when it comes to our energy level in showing our love for God. It means that when we’re using all that energy to do our very best at everything we do, we’re pleasing God.

As he worked harder than anyone, Paul shared “the secret” of his remarkable energy and contentment “in every situation” (Philippians 4:12). In Colossians 1:29, he says “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  Philippians 4:13 explains how: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” 

A quick turn to 1 Timothy 1:12 confirms that Paul indeed has Christ Jesus specifically in mind as the supplier of his strength: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work.” Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:1 makes the same connection between spiritual strength and Jesus as the source: “be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul must have understood this truth because look at how he prayed for his brothers and sisters: “… so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy;” Colossians 1:10-11.

Are you striving to please God in your own power, or, like Paul, are you struggling with God’s energy? The life God has planned for you is designed to require constant dependence on Him. You cannot do it alone; and if you try, you will find yourself weary and defeated.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can you do to better spend your time and energy on spiritual matters this week?