Midlife Blues

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” –  1 Peter 1:6-7

Can I be middle-aged already? Really? Middle age” has been described as that period of life that you never want to enter and you never want to leave. Midlife brings new insecurities and awakenings to long-dormant regrets. Many of us face empty nests and the prospect of, in effect, starting over with spouses. Many of us face the reality of aging parents and any fears or worries or responsibilities that come with that. And of course, we daily face the reality of lost youth, waning strength, and more difficult processes for maintaining health. Time moves a lot faster the older you get. Doesn’t sound all that good, does it?

Joshua 13:1 (KJV) addressed this subject: “Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.” The “old and stricken” is not very reassuring, but it does remind us there is a lot left to do regardless of our age. Psalm 92: 14 confirms this: “Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.” In midlife, as in every stage of life, there are things we wish we had done. Fortunately, Christ doesn’t change our past, He redeems it. He is faithful to do that. He does not judge us by our actions but by His own, freely given to us in love.

In midlife, Christ is a companion through all the worries and stresses. As we get more serious about our health each decade we don’t have the strength and energy we did at 25. But Jesus is as strong as He’s ever been, and wherever we have to go or do, He will go with us. He will never leave me or forsake me.

In midlife, we have the opportunity to transfer some of our hard-earned wisdom to those coming along behind us. There are younger people seeking their way in life that we can mentor or minister to. They will benefit from people who can share their life experiences.

If you’re reaching middle age, work to continue strengthening your relationship with Jesus. He’ll be always there, waiting for you. Imagine yourself in those days of thinning hair, stubborn paunch, creaky bones, and joints, callouses of hand, and scars of heart, walking closely with the Lord.  It will make middle age something to savor.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your fears about old age? You can get wiser as you get older. What mistakes do you recall making in your younger days? What did God teach you? What would you do differently now?

What Does Surrender Mean?

“The man or woman who is wholly or joyously surrendered to Christ can’t make a wrong choice – any choice will be the right one.” – A. W. Tozer

In American culture, surrender is rarely seen as a positive idea. It is commonly seen as giving up or losing. But to a Christian surrender is an act of faith: it is the first act for those coming to salvation, and a continual habit of those walking with Christ. To spiritually surrender means to let go of control and trust God with our present and future. Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The returning prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a picture of what it means to surrender to God. The son gives up on his way of life and runs back to the father hoping to be a servant. His surrender is met with rewards beyond his expectations. He is received with open arms, lavish love, and a new life as a restored son.

Jesus lived a life of continual surrender to the Father. ”So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19). And as He said to the Father when the time came to surrender His life, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42).

Walking with Jesus means continual surrender, trusting that the God who made you has a plan for you and loves you. When you surrender to Christ, you aren’t surrendering your God-given identity and uniqueness. We surrender not for fear or threat, but in hope that the One to whom we surrender has a better life for us.  And that hope doesn’t disappoint.

In surrender, God may—or may not—give us what we want. But when we surrender, He always wants to give us Himself. When we surrender, we always receive what is best: the Lord Jesus.

Surrender isn’t about giving up; it’s about giving in to the One who knows what is best for us, to the One who knows us most and has a perfect plan.  Surrender is the only real way to experience His peace. It’s the only way to true joy.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an area of your life that you know you need to surrender to God? 
  2. What might you be giving up if you do surrender that area to God? 
  3. Do you believe that surrendering to God could actually benefit you? How?

God Will Finish What You Started

“At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” – Luke 2:25-26. 

In each of our lives, God has begun a work. A good work. And the work involves more than we know. We see our unfinished projects, goals, and assignments. But the underlying work also includes our transformation, our love for others, and our love for God. Even when we don’t see progress, God is busy behind the scenes. He not only has the will to make it happen, but He also has the power to do it. 

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how impossible it looks. Your mind may tell you it’s too late. You missed too many opportunities. It’s never going to happen. Don’t discount the process just because you can’t yet see the results. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. God will bring His plan to pass.

In Luke 2 we read about a man named Simeon. In Verse 26, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that “…he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.“ That probably seemed far-fetched, but you could imagine Simeon believing that God would fulfill His promise. You can imagine him waking every day believing and expecting God to keep His promise. 

Simeon didn’t see any sign of the Messiah for years. You have to wonder if Simeon became concerned that he had heard God wrong.  But many years later, he saw Christ born. The promise came to fulfillment.   

What God starts, He will finish. People can’t stop it. Circumstances can’t stop it. Medical problems can’t stop it. God is going to complete your incompletions. 

Remember you will always be a work in progress. Day by day God is committed to working in your life to make you more and more like Jesus. Lean into Him on the hard and good days. Read your Bible daily and pray. We can all cling to the truth found in Philippians 1:6. Here the Apostle Paul reminds us to confidently hold onto the promise that God will not only continue but finish the transformational work He has begun in us. Even though this may not be a present reality, we can trust in God who keeps His promises.  

God will finish what he started in your life.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does the fact that God will complete what He started encourage you?
  2. How will this knowledge help you to make changes in your life that you realize should be made?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Faithful

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is He? It is important to study and know God’s attributes so we can grow closer to Him. How we view God impacts everything. So when we understand and embrace who God is, it gives us a firm foundation for our faith. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is faithful.

“O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies! Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O Lord? You are entirely faithful.” – Psalm 89:8. 

What is faithfulness? Faithfulness is the act of being true to your word or promise. There are many hymns and songs based on God’s faithfulness. One of them is Thomas Chisholm’s “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”  

God declared of Himself to Moses that He abounds in faithfulness “ The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6) God’s faithfulness is seen through Scripture and throughout the ages. 1 Corinthians 1:9 tells us, “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Psalm 36:5 further says “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.”  

God is faithful. Faithful is an accurate description of who God is. He is trustworthy, reliable, dependable, and sure. It is who God is. If we would really sit down and think about it we would marvel at God’s faithfulness. It is not something we warrant. His truthfulness, holiness, love, righteousness, and other attributes ensure His faithfulness. He is incapable of being otherwise. 

 Paul wrote, “…God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13) God is faithful to forgive you even when you are unfaithful.

In these times remember God’s promise: “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.” (2 Timothy 2:13)  It is God’s plan for you to become holy and advance His kingdom. And He is faithful to bring this to pass. Paul declared, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6) 

Isaiah 54:10 says, “For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has God shown Himself faithful in your life? How does God’s faithfulness impact the living out of your faith day-to-day? 
  2. How would you answer someone who asks, “Why do you trust God’s faithfulness?”  
  3. What can you do this week to grow in your trust in the faithfulness of God?

God Will Meet Your Needs

“Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing.” – Psalm 34:10

You may have some great needs. You may have emotional needs or you may have physical needs. You may be wishing your kids were better behaved or your relationship with your spouse was better. You may be a senior who is watching his or her retirement nest egg shrink. You may be battling addiction. 

You may be asking, “Why hasn’t God provided for all my needs yet? What’s going on? Can I really count on God’s promises?” God’s promises to take care of you are often based on premises. In other words, they’re not just blank, checks. God says, “If you do your part in following me, I’ll do my part in taking care of you.”

The good news is God is aware of your situation, is working in the midst of it, and gives you what you need to grow more like Him. 

God has made some very specific promises to take care of your needs. One of the greatest promises in the Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”  Philippians 4:19 says, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

God sees me. God sees you. He knows the burdens we carry and what we need to sustain us today. God knows what we need before we even ask Him.

Jesus told His disciples not to worry. He admonished them to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33) This is a promise and commitment, that we can claim. He promises to meet your needs when you faithfully obey and trust Him. When you are walking in step with Him, He assumes full responsibility for the answers to your needs, problems, challenges, and circumstances of life. We need to remember, however, that He will meet your needs according to His will, purpose, plan, and timing. And meeting needs does not necessarily mean meeting every desire that we have.  

God is infinitely wealthy and never lacks the ability to provide for those who trust in Him. His Word says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” (Psalm 37:4)

Romans 8:32 says, “Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32) God gave you the greatest gift He could ever give – the gift of his Son. God will provide for all of your needs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a difference between needs and wants? 
  2. What are some examples of God meeting your needs? 

It’s Not About You

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. 

In his popular book The Purpose Driven Life, author, and pastor Rick Warren makes one point very clear, “It’s not about you.” In cultures where people chase personal comfort and happiness, it is difficult to get your head around the thought of struggle or pain invading our lives. God’s goal is not to make sure you’re happy. Life is not about you being comfortable and happy and successful and pain-free. It’s about becoming the man or woman God has called you to be.

Take the trials and tribulations of the apostle Paul. The very things we dread and run from in our lives are precisely where Paul found his contentment. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, he’s essentially saying: I am content when I am weak. I am content when I’m insulted. I am content when I endure hardships. I am content with persecutions. I am content with troubles. Paul gives us the reason: “…when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Can you imagine anyone today finding contentment in Paul’s circumstances? Paul’s contentment is a clear example of the way we should live our lives content in everything and with the realization that it is not about us, it is all about God. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake” (GW).

When you and I boast of our strengths, we get the credit, and we keep going under our own head of steam. But when we boast about what He is doing in the midst of our brokenness, inability, and inadequacy, Christ comes to the front. His strength comes to our rescue. He is honored.

It’s not about you! God put you on this earth, and He has a message He wants to share the gospel to the world through you. But your life message is not about you. It’s about Jesus Christ.

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we think we are captains of our fate and masters of our destiny. Life is both predictable and unpredictable. We lack the power to make everything go the way we want. The providence of God is the only foundation upon which we find the confidence to act in this unpredictable world. Knowing that the Lord is in control—and that we are not—actually frees us to act, for we know that no failure of ours can derail His plan. That He is in control also gives eternal significance to what we do, for what we do is incorporated into the all-comprehensive plan of the One who gives meaning to everything.

  Discussion Questions:

  1. Let those words sink in: “It is not about you.” How can believing those words transform your presence in worship, at home, at work, or in the grocery store? How can believing those words help you to faithfully build the kingdom of God?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Righteous

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, who is God, what is God like, and what kind of God is He? An attribute of God is something true about Him. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is righteous.

“The LORD is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.” – Psalm 145:17 (NIV).

The righteousness of God, one of the most prominent attributes of God in the Scriptures, is also one of the most elusive. Initially, distinguishing the righteousness of God from His holiness or His goodness seems difficult. God always acts righteously; His every action is consistent with His character. God is always consistently “Godly.” God is not defined by the term “righteous” as much as the term “righteous” is defined by God. Righteousness is part of God’s character. Since He is righteous, that means that there is no other way for Him to act because He must remain true to who He is. 

We live in an age when the distinction between right and wrong is becoming increasingly blurred. Our culture believes that what is morally right varies from person to person and situation to situation. Yet God’s standards do not change; they are timeless. God’s laws are a reflection of His own righteous nature. Through faith in Christ, we are given His righteousness. He bore our sin at the cross, then blesses us with the gift of His righteousness when we come to faith in Him.

Romans 3:21-22 (ESV) says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction.” Romans 5: 17 says, “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 adds, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

Isn’t it amazing that our God would make that kind of trade? It seems beyond comprehension to imagine that a holy, righteous God would take our sin upon Himself so that He could cover us with His righteousness. But if He didn’t do so, we would have no hope. God could have chosen to remain unknown to us, but He didn’t. Instead, He offers us the righteousness of Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you hear the word righteousness, what do you think of? 
  2. From your perspective, how does a person become righteous or unrighteous?
  3. Do you struggle with trying to measure your righteousness against that of others? What about that of Jesus? 

Ever Feel Like Giving Up?

“But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the Lord’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.” – 2 Chronicles 36:16.

Ever feel like giving up? Ever feel like quitting? Ever feel like your situation is so hopeless that the only thing you can possibly do is leave? Just walk away, head out the door and never look back? Or do you quit too soon rather than pressing on and pressing through the circumstances in your life thinking you want to make it stop, even when it is too soon? 

In Joshua 6, we read about God’s unconventional plan for the battle of Jericho. God told Joshua to have the armed men march around the city once each day, for six days. The priests were to carry the ark, blowing trumpets, but the soldiers were to keep silent. On the seventh day, the assembly marched around the walls of Jericho seven times. The plan was very unusual if not strange.

God’s infinite ways often don’t make sense in our finite minds. Sometimes you have to be willing to do the unconventional when fulfilling whatever dream God has given you.  But it is difficult to know if you give up too soon. 

Joshua 6:1 tells us that Jericho was “tightly shut.” Sometimes it can feel like our circumstances are “tightly shut” as well stopping us from moving forward and progressing in our dream. In Joshua 6:2 God says, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors.” God did not say, “I will deliver Jericho into your hands.” He said, “I have given you Jericho.”  It was done. All the Israelites had to do was follow the instructions. But here’s the challenge: What do you do when you see a big wall standing between your promise and your present situation?

There will be times when you’re doing everything you know to do, and you still don’t see any movement. The Israelites walked around Jericho for six days, and as far as they could tell, nothing happened. Not one brick fell. The Bible does not tell us this but you have to imagine that some people wanted to stop walking around Jericho because they didn’t see any progress. I’m sure they wanted to see a few bricks fall so they knew they were headed in the right direction. Just because you don’t see God working does not mean He isn’t. Jesus said, “…“My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17) The writer of Hebrews says: “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

There will be times when you are on lap number 7  on something in your life and wondering if it is time to stop. Every circumstance is different, but the next lap may be the one that results in a blessing from God. Trust God and don’t give up too soon.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever get tired of working on your goal? Maybe you’re trying to lose weight. Or you’re trying to start a new business. Or maybe you’re trying to write a book or start a new habit. How do you keep from giving up?
  2. Life is full of challenges that distract our focus away from God. How do you keep focused on God daily?

The Responsibility Of Stewardship

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV). 

There comes a time in our lives where faith and logic collide; one of those is stewardship. God has created us to be logical thinkers and problem solvers, but He also created us as spiritual beings who trust in His ability to do things beyond what our logical minds can comprehend. When we are on the fence between reason and faith, the Bible is the ultimate arbiter. We are called to be obedient to His word even when logic or reason would determine otherwise. And that includes stewardship. Reason is never too far away, however. If I give a percentage of my time, talents, and treasures to the Lord, then the net result will be that I no longer have access to those that time, talents, and treasures. Whatever I give to the church, I have that less money to use as I see fit. 

Jesus described how God has given each person unique resources, and how He is looking for “the faithful and sensible steward”—people who are faithful with the resources they have been given. Through faith, we understand many things that at first appear quite illogical to us.  Love, for example, is at times most illogical. There are successful marriages where the two people seem polar opposites and there is no logic to them being happy and content together. Through faith we understand. It is also through faith we understand something of God’s plan and purpose for our lives; and by accepting what we do not understand, we rise above the gravitational pull of our old natures and lives.

So what is the secret to stewardship? Paul tells us to start with our hearts, not our heads. True stewardship is a faith thing, not a reason and logic thing. God calls us to move as our heart tells us to move and not as our logical minds might move. Second, he tells us “not to give not reluctantly or under compulsion.” We need to freely give in such a way that the left-hand doesn’t want to pull out of the offering plate what the right hand just put in. We need to give as the Lord is moving us to give.  

 In the process of making giving decisions, we really establish our alignment with God on stewardship. As we continually decide to give, we constantly confirm how much we value our relationship with God. When we truly look at ourselves as stewards, then the decisions to give are as simple as thinking and praying about how He wants us to allocate His resources.

Stewardship is a freeing experience as it connects us more closely to God relationally. The ultimate outcome is that those who give as stewards experience a sense of intimacy with God that all followers of Christ long for. Giving becomes worship. Giving becomes a way of saying thanks to God for His grace and promised provision. Giving becomes a deep part of our personal connection to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you deal with the question of logic versus faith when it comes to stewardship? 
  2. What role does giving play in your relationship with God?

Have The Courage Of Your Convictions

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:5-8.

Dictionaries usually define conviction as a fixed or strong belief. Conviction is really much more than that. Your convictions include your values, commitments and motivations. Many of us, however, live our lives by default or by personal preferences. Default living means that we steer our lives by falling in line with the culture and expectations around us. We are carried along with the current, figuring it is easier to just go with the flow.

Then over time we transition into personal preferences mode. Personal preferences include: What do I like, and want, and choose to name a few. Preferences are often based on the mood we are in. They become rules we live our lives by. But as we grow as Christians we come to the realization that God wants us to step out of the flow, to lay down our reactions, and to live by conviction.

To live by conviction requires that we recognize objective truth as God defines it. Reading the Bible will illuminate the convictions, the core issues of life, in morals, personal standards, lifestyle choices, spirituality, family, and faith. These convictions should guide our life. Jesus radically lived by conviction. A default life could never have led to the cross; a personal preferences life could never have saved others. Jesus lived first with the conviction of His own identity, choosing to lay aside social norms and expectations for the sake of following God’s path. Jesus’ convictions were so strong that He could not be swayed, baited, or tricked, no matter how hard His enemies tried.

If your life is going to make an impact on others, they can’t merely hear our convictions spoken; they must see our convictions lived. When we live a faithful, consistent example of the things we believe, people will seek us out and invite us to share our convictions with them.  Remember that faith without works is dead, as James reminds us; what we do not live, we do not really believe.

So whatever I do I do it for the Lord. If I forgive someone who has hurt me, I do it because I believe it honors God. I don’t cheat on that test because everybody else did, because I believe it honors my Lord. If I serve every week in the church, I do it because I believe it honors my Lord. 

Living by conviction is hard. It will challenge you. It requires reexamination and deliberation. But, it will infuse your life with power and purpose and leave a lasting legacy.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think about your walk with Jesus, and make a list of the convictions you now hold. Are your convictions weak on any major issues?
  2. How have you seen your convictions affect decisions you’ve made? Is there a time when you made a decision that was not based on your convictions?
  3. On what issues do you need to take a stand based on your convictions?