Having A Sense Of Urgency

“Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.” – Mark 6:45-46. 

“Immediately” is an often used word in the gospel of Mark. The word is designed to convey the urgency of Jesus’ message and mission. God wants us all to have a sense of urgency, not hurry, about living the life He created us for. Jesus modeled this urgent lifestyle flawlessly. He knew that there was a mission that He had been sent to accomplish and that His time was limited to do so. We see this emphasized in John 4 when Jesus refused to stop and eat as He saw the opportunity to minister to a Samaritan village. 

His disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest….” So when the Samaritans came to him…because of his words, many more became believers.” (John 4:30-35, 40-41 NIV)

Jesus recognized this as an opportunity to do exactly what God sent Him to do. Jesus was never hurried. He was flexible, present, and sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. His eternal mission was His focus. His apostles were human and as a result, were hurried. They were preoccupied with the cares of life. They were trying to manage numerous tasks and obligations which is why Jesus’ response was so different. 

Did Jesus have a full schedule sometimes? Yes. Were there more people that wanted His attention than He had time to see?  Yes, again. But none of those things drew Him off course. He was never overwhelmed or hurried to the point where He lost His focus and stepped outside of His mission.

Nothing mattered but being in the center of His Father’s will. Thus He was ready to minister to the Samaritans. As a result, an entire community heard the gospel, and by the way, nobody starved in the process. We as Christians can learn that busyness is not a badge of honor. It usually means that our attention is divided across more responsibilities than we can effectively deal with. This is not what it looks like to live with urgency.

We look at a sense of urgency differently today. Urgency is stressful. It’s often addictive as we find ourselves constantly reacting to outside demands. Urgency can temporarily appeal to your sense of worth and purpose and create a sense of “getting things done.” But that is temporary because living a hectic life while constantly abandoning your goals to keep multiple balls in the air can sidetrack you from your real purpose. A sense of urgency comes from a clear understanding of one’s purpose. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What does having a sense of urgency for the lost mean to you? 
  2. What can you do this week to seize the opportunities God gives us?

Do We Need To Be Lifelong Learners?

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” – Philippians 1:6.

Lifelong learning has grown in importance over the last few years. Rather than restricting education to college or formal training, lifelong learners continue to grow knowledge and understanding over time. The idea of lifelong learning should be no surprise to the Christian. Centuries before this way of thinking became in vogue, Jesus told his followers to become lifelong learners of him. He called it discipleship.

Our purpose, as Christians today is the same as in biblical times. We must never stop learning about and from Jesus. Paul said, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)  Another translation puts it this way, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (ESV)

We will never follow Jesus perfectly, but day by day, month by month, year by year, we learn from Him and become more like Him as He transforms us by his Spirit. Philippians 1:6 is comforting: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished. . .” Yes, we have the great promise of completion, but there is an additional line: “…on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” The loop of learning doesn’t close today or tomorrow but could well last a lifetime.  

The focal point and center of our lifelong learning is the person and work of Christ. All things are in Him, through Him, and for Him. “He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” (Colossians 1:17).  The heart of lifelong learning for the Christian is not merely digging deeper into the seemingly bottomless store of information there is to learn about the world and humanity and history. The center of lifelong learning for the Christian is knowing God Himself through the gospel word and the written word of the Scriptures. But you can’t say you have a high view of scripture and then ignore it. You need to put it into practice.

Lifelong learning of God’s Word is something God commands us to do, but it is not a burden. Instead, we are to abide in God’s Word in our habits, thoughts, actions, and words in a variety of ways throughout life. Never stop learning. Nourish your relationship with God every day. Keep on growing in His grace—and your lifelong learning of His truth.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does lifelong learning mean to you?  
  2. What can we do to ensure that we never stop learning?

Abigail And Taking Risks

“David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.” – 1 Samuel 25:32-35.

When you hear “risk-taking” does your adrenaline start to flow? Do the butterflies in your stomach take flight in anticipation? The thought of facing a tough challenge or taking a risk is simply not as exciting and adventurous as movies would have us think. In reality, we find a certain safety in remaining in our comfort zones, protected and secure.

As followers of Christ, we will be called to step out of our comfort zones. When the Holy Spirit calls us to step out and take a risk, how do we respond? The Bible teaches us a lot about ordinary people at that critical moment when a decision had to be made, they chose to take the risk. One such story is Abigail found in 1 Samuel 25. 

David came to Nabal (Abigail’s husband) requesting food for his army. Nabal rejected the request, by saying “Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:1-11)  David was angry and felt his only recourse was retaliation. He set out to kill Nabal and all his men. When hearing about what happened Abigail jumped into action even though Nabal would have never consented to her actions. 

She presented gifts to David in the most submissive, respectful way. She bowed down in his presence to ask forgiveness on behalf of Nabal. (1 Samuel 25:23) David was so moved by Abigail’s eloquent speech, he thanked God for sending her. Abigail risked her relationship with her husband to defuse a deadly situation. Her safety, her home, and her heart were saved because she trusted God.

What if we were in Abigail’s shoes? Would we exhibit the same kind of bold faith God wants to see in us? The kind of faith that makes a difference in our lives and our world. Bold faith happens when we learn to take risks for God.

 If we are facing a seemingly insurmountable problem–a situation that we believe we are powerless to influence–we should be still and wait on the Lord. But there will also be times when action is required, where we may be asked to take bold steps, and yes, to take some risks. Faith is simply doing what God tells you to do whether you feel like it or not, and in fact, especially when you don’t feel like it, regardless of the circumstances because God will see you thru.

 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God asks us to take risks? What do we learn about ourselves, and how do we grow by taking risks?
  2. What are the obstacles to stepping out of our zones of comfort and taking risks?
  3. Is there an area of your life where you’ve sensed God nudging you to take a step of faith? Have you been holding back, questioning the outcome of taking that step? 

Are You Ready For Some Football?

“ Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. 

The college football games have started. While it is a new season, some things don’t change.  For example, there are a few elite teams that will be elite in 2022. Then there are the other schools who look to the football season with anticipation and hope. The hope is that the team and players will have a breakout year and compete for a championship. Each week while watching the game of your choice the announcers and analysts will praise various athletes for their constant display of courage, dedication, perseverance, strength, determination, will, and passion. The young men playing college football are incredible athletes, but no one person can do it on their own. Teams win because they function as a team because the players execute the coach’s game plan.

We as Christians are part of a team. We are a group of people who are called by Jesus to work together with the common purpose of carrying out His will on the earth. Just like in college football, playing on God’s team takes sacrifice, dedication, relentlessness, courage, and passion. Since we as Christians are indeed a team, then we have a Coach that never makes any mistakes and ultimately wins everything.  The game schedule for Christians is tough and a lengthy one, basically 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. We never stop playing because life never stops happening.  

To play well in the game of life, we need to give our spiritual head Coach everything we have. We need to put all of our efforts into doing what He asks of us as a player on His team. Jesus will never fail and will perfectly do His part. It was up to us to do our part as players. As you accept your part of God’s team, your part in the body of Christ, you will not only find your place in the world but also purpose and meaning because you’re finally doing and being who you were created to be. You have a certain role to play, the others are dependent on you to do your part. That’s why it is important to do your part and pull for team God. Every part affects the functionality of the whole. It really does matter what you do or what you leave undone.

At times, we are going to get tired and want to give up. But the same way a team feeds off the energy of its fans, we can draw strength from one another. Paul reminds the church in Rome of the special power that comes through unity in Christ. “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 15:5-6)

Discussion Questions

  1. God designed you to be a team player: agree or disagree and why?  
  2. What are some of our responsibilities when we play on God’s team? What does being on God’s team look like in real life? 

What Is Your Calling?

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Have you discovered your calling?  The word “calling” is often misunderstood or used only when talking about people in the ministry. Christians view God as the source of our “calling” so the idea of it seems a little too daunting.

But is it? In Mark 10:46-50, we read the story of an ordinary man who was blind. Bartimaeus was sitting on the roadside begging when he heard Jesus was going by. He began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” While many told him to be quiet, Jesus said to call him. So Bartimaeus jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

Bartimaeus wasn’t anyone special. In fact, he would have been considered second-class by a culture that mistakenly prejudged his blindness as sinful. That could have been a barrier, yet when Jesus called, Bartimaeus rushed to Jesus’ side. Bartimaeus didn’t let anything deter him from Jesus’ calling.

What barriers or obstacles have kept you jumping to your feet when Jesus calls? It could be doubt. It could be that we wonder if we are hearing God or just assuming we are. Maybe we don’t see how God can use us. Maybe our job takes up too much of our time. Or maybe, we put our calling on the back burner because of circumstances.   

Is figuring out our “calling” that complicated?  Fundamentally, our calling is not a job we do, a title we earn, or even a check we write. Our calling is to respond to Jesus and go to Him, just like Bartimaeus did. Your calling is the vehicle by which you fulfill all that God calls you to be. It is not the reason for your existence, nor the basis of your happiness. God and God alone is the basis of our existence and our ultimate happiness. Once we recognize that and accept it in our hearts, we are liberated to pursue our calling with a focus that is clearer than ever.

We’re called to have a more intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior.  When we do, Jesus draws us near and calls us His brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:50). He erases the divide between our humanity and His divinity by calling us friends (John 15:15). While our faith leads us to accomplish good works, our first and highest calling is simply to be near Jesus. When we are, everything else will begin to fall in place.

“You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think following God’s calling often involves going through difficult circumstances? When we neglect to follow God’s calling out of fear or uncertainty, what does that say about our trust in Him?

What Do We Do When We Face Barriers In Our Way?

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” – Helen Keller

We often live life under the illusion that everything depends on us or on those around us. But it doesn’t. Everything depends on God. But, each day there can be at least one barrier we face, and whatever it is, can come suddenly, without warning, and we’re faced with a decision. How do I handle this issue? Can I overcome this barrier with any degree of confidence? 

Seal training is intense. BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training is the most intense. During BUDS, you have to survive “one-hundred-ten hours without sleep.” You have to carry a log over your head for hours. Countless swims, endless runs, jumping out of planes, and then the “pool comp.” In “pool comp” you are put underwater with all your scuba gear on, the instructor yanks your regulator out of your mouth, he ties your air hose in knots, he mocks you constantly as you struggle for air. What your mind is naturally telling you at this point is simple: You are going to die, but if you want to pass “pool comp,” you have to calmly follow all protocol to pass. It’s not hard to see why there’s a 94 percent attrition rate. Those who pass had to overcome some seemingly impossible barriers.  

We can survive the obstacles even when life is hard. Of course, we can throw in the towel and never attempt anything—but God expects us to take control of our own lives and trust Him. It can be hard to put into practice, but all negative experiences are opportunities to learn and take control of our own lives. Have you listened to many of the stories of people that have become successful in life? Usually, they came from humble beginnings, and, against all odds, they overcame their situations. 

We all, at times, experience circumstances that create obstacles that block our ability to believe what God has promised in His word. James 1:6-7 says, “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

God has called each of us into service. You will have failures, obstacles, rejection, disappointment, hindrances, difficulties, and refusal. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming the person God created you to be.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do you anticipate the barriers you may face when planning? 
  2. How do we better trust God to overcome those barriers? 

It Takes Planning

“So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.” – Nehemiah 2:11-15.

As Christians, should we plan for the future? If God is in control, then should we plan at all? The Bible talks a lot about the future and whether or not Christians ought to prepare for it. The Bible demonstrates that God is not only concerned for our earthly future, but also for our eternal future. So as Christians, we ought to prepare for the future. An example of that was Nehemiah. 

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Persia. For him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls was not a step he would take randomly. For four months Nehemiah prayed and fasted about his plan before he approached the king for permission and help. His prayers paved the way for him to receive the king’s favor. Nehemiah knew his project required the king’s resources, so he was prepared when the king asked him what he needed. Because of Nehemiah’s preparation, the king granted his requests.

Nehemiah needed to understand the circumstances of the project he was about to undertake. Initially, he was not physically in Jerusalem, so his early assessment was made from discussions he had with people who saw first-hand the destruction and were knowledgeable about the current state of the walls and gates. Once on-site, he spent three evenings personally examining the damage to the wall and the gates before rebuilding. For our plans to be effective and complete, we need to invest time upfront—thoroughly assessing the project we are about to undertake.

Nehemiah began seeking God’s vision for rebuilding the wall. For Nehemiah to rebuild the entire wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days, it took an effective strategy (overall, long-term plan), tactics (short-term, specific actions that support the strategy), and God’s favor. When we seek God’s favor towards our work, we need to first seek God’s vision. Be prepared that it may be different from our own.

There are many ways Nehemiah could have tackled this challenging project. However, a key strategy he used was to develop effective teams that could address the needed repairs. At the same time, Nehemiah developed a strategy to overcome their enemies. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.”

Plans are meaningless if they’re never executed. Nehemiah was a man of action. He developed his plan, but he also knew when it was time to act. He formed his team, delegated responsibilities, and then called his team into action.

Planning is important, but we must be diligent to move the plan forward.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Read Nehemiah 2:17-20: How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for many decades? What are some troubling realities you have become accustomed to over the years?
  2. Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” and the words, “they began the good work.” What good work has God given you to do, and what was your response to it?

Living In Light Of Eternity

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14:

Paul was clearly looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that Paul has suddenly developed amnesia. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he did not let his past discourage him or defeat him. He was determined to press on and to keep running the race. Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life.

We are accustomed to viewing our lives in the order of “past, present, future.” The Bible suggests we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting the past.”

Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.” Do we realize just how mired down in the here and now we have become? Sometimes it’s dark and scary and you’re fumbling around because you feel like you have lost control allowing all kinds of noise and potholes in your lives. Things like broken relationships, money problems, illnesses, and so on. None of those things will matter in eternity. What will matter is whether we lived lives that were pleasing to God.

Paul’s was completely focused on the future. He uses the image of a race to describe the Christian life. In verse 12 Paul says, “I press on.” In verse 14 he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race…” The idea of the word press is to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. The goal is to reach a certain distance at a certain time, or if you are in a race, to overtake another runner. Basically, you are running, not just for the exercise, but with a specific goal and purpose in mind. A runner who keeps his or her “eyes on the prize” will stay on track.  

You may have started the race a few days or a few weeks ago. Or maybe you started the race a long time ago, but somewhere along the way, you stopped running. Perhaps you lost your joy or passion. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re temporarily sitting on the sidelines, I encourage you to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize of an eternity with Him to be won.

Discussion questions:
1. How can we start thinking future, present, and past rather than the current order of past, present, and future?

2. In Philippians 3:13 Paul said “… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, …” What do you think he meant, and how does it relate to our “pressing on toward the goal …”

Who Am I Becoming?

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,” – Isaiah 61:1-2.

As you have probably guessed, I am not following my typical pattern of using the devotional to explore the week’s message in more detail. Rather, I have been using this week’s devotionals to write about general subjects that have been on my heart and mind. In this devotional, I am asking each of us a question: Who are you becoming?

How long did it take to prepare for your career? The responses will vary widely depending on what your occupation is. In most cases it took some time. The Bible teaches that the goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus? How long does it take to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ? If you want to be a person that God can use, a person who is becoming more like Jesus, then it will take time. It is going to take time spent with God. It is going to take days and weeks and months of journeying with other Christ followers. It is going to take years of participating in God’s mission, praying for God’s heart and obeying God’s words. It takes time, but with time comes progress.

The ultimate goal in life is to be more like Jesus. Are you more like Jesus this year, than you were last year? As a Christian, I yearn to not only know more about the Bible but to become more Christ-like to my family, friends, and people I meet. I want them to see something different in me, something uncommon, I want them to see Jesus in me. I fail more often than I care to admit. Perfection is a difficult target to say the least.

But If you just keep with the same old, same old you will typically get the same results you had before. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to our faults, but if we continue to do that, we will never grow. Ephesians 4:13 tells us, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

So what needs to change in your life? God has put you on earth for a purpose, but have you discovered it yet? William Barkley said, “There are two great days in a person’s life, the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

If you are a Christian you know why and how. The question is are you open to change and transformation? We all have obstacles in life; they can be stepping stones to new heights or they can seem impossible to climb. The good news is, you can change. Jesus is in the business of changed lives.  We have heard the stories of people whose lives have been radically changed by Jesus. Their stories are about normal people, from normal backgrounds, who have decided to serve an extraordinary Jesus.  

My prayer is that you will challenge yourself in 2015 to be committed to becoming more like Jesus. So the answer to the question “who am I becoming” is more like Jesus.

Discussion Question:

  1. Who do your actions say you belong to?
  2. In what areas of your life has your culture crept in and watered down your view of Christianity?
  3. How do I judge my progress at becoming more Christ like?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you in becoming more like Him.

 

How Good Is Your Word?

“It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.” – Ecclesiastes 5:5 (NLT)

We all want to be people who keep their word.  We all want to be people who possess basic honesty, integrity, people who don’t just talk a good game but are striving to be dependable and trustworthy.  Keeping our word is foundational to  relationships, to community and to the Home Run Life.

What is it about keeping our word that is so difficult for people? So many people are finding it a challenge to be where they say they will be and do what they say they will do. Some look for loopholes, when fulfilling their word means having to give of their time, energy or resources. At times, our attitude is that if we can possibly get out of it, we will look for a way to do so.  What if God took the same approach in His relationship with us? What if His promises were conditional and He fulfilled His word only when He felt like it.  Fortunately, God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and He keeps His promises. But here is the reality for us who are followers of Jesus. People are always watching to see if your actions match your words. We  all want to be people who keep our promises.

Imagine what life would be without people who keep their word and their promises. Imagine if you went to buy a new car, only to discover several months later that the salesman had lied about the car’s mechanical history. Imagine if you went to buy a new home only to discover that the realtor mislead you about how many repairs the home really needed. Imagine if you entrusted your kids to a school bus driver who was covering up a terrible driving record? The Bible gives us examples of people who kept their word.

One of them was Moses. God calls Moses a trustworthy or faithful person. “But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.” (Numbers 12: 7). Whenever God told Moses to do something, Moses did it immediately. Trustworthy people receive instructions, carry them out immediately, and do it well, to the best of their ability.

When trustworthy people say they will do something, they usually do it. They do not overbook, or over extend themselves. Nor do they give up easily.  Many people have every intention of living up to their obligation until the first obstacle appears. When that happens they give up and make up an excuse for not keeping their word. This is true of Christians as well. If God gives us something to do, are we easily sidetracked or stalled? How do you deal with obstacles when you are given a task to accomplish?

God wants us to be trustworthy. So do the people we are in relationships with. So, if we make a promise to be at our kid’s ballgame, we ought to be true to our word. If we sign a contract at work, or give a customer our word, or make a business deal, or make a promise to a coworker, we need to keep our word. If we sign up for a ministry or responsibility or make a pledge to the church, it makes sense that we should follow through on it until our obligation is fulfilled no matter how small.

Discussion Question:

  1. What do you do when you give your word? Do you go out of your way to fulfill your promises, or do you look for a way out?
  2. Does your life demonstrate that you count God’s Word to be wholly trustworthy? If not, why not?
  3. Would your clients testify in court that you are trustworthy in all your business dealings? Would your family testify in court that you are trustworthy in all your relationships?
  4. What do you need to work on most in becoming more trustworthy in word and in deed?
  5. What one area can you do a better job of keeping your word? Pray and ask God for the ability to keep your word in that area in the coming months.