I WANT WHAT I REALLY WANT

  “Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want…So tell me what you want, what you really, really want…I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. So tell me what you want, what you really, really want” – lyrics to Wannabe by the Spice Girls.

Too often, we as Christians want what we really want and thus do not want what God wants. There’s that moment when we all feel desperate. We’re done waiting, and we want what we want. We want to take control to make it happen.

There can be a tendency for Christians to view the Bible as a how-to book and God as their personal banker. They figure if they can follow the instructions just right, they’ll earn God’s approval, and the money/success will flow. Then, the “rich and satisfying life” mentioned in John 10:10 will finally be theirs. True followers of Jesus, however, look at things differently: they want what God wants rather than what they want.

Luke 12:1 paints a picture of an overwhelming crowd, so vast and eager to hear Jesus, that they were trampling one another just to be near Him. Thousands had come to see His miraculous deeds, and hear His teachings. What’s striking is amidst the sea of followers, those who had witnessed His wonders and hung on His words, Jesus underscores the importance of understanding and accepting the cost of discipleship. He says plainly, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” This call to “bear” your cross is intertwined with the concept of forsaking your life for His. It mirrors the willingness to endure hardship, sacrifice, and even persecution to pursue Jesus and want what He wants.

When Jesus said those things, you have to wonder if people in the crowd started having second thoughts. You have to wonder if they started to waffle, wondering if I wanted to give up my life for the unknown. Those who remained understood that following Jesus meant substituting your will and desires for God’s.

Scripture tells us that if we want to become the person we are meant to be – who God says is the “real you.” You must become like Christ. That’s a tall order to fill. However, the mark of a Christian is our desire to fill it. We want to be more like our Creator and our Savior, and the more we are with Him, the more like Him we become.

The end goal of the Christian life is to become the person God wants us to be. God longs to use you because He loves you. He’s not selfish. He doesn’t need your help. He wants to work with you. He wants your life to matter. He wants you to have an eternal reward for what you do here on earth because He’s a good Father who wants an intimate relationship with His children. He wants your time at work, with friends, at church, driving, resting, relaxing, and having fun to be filled with the fullness of life that comes from doing life with Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you answer if someone asked you what God wants from you?
  2. Does what God wants from us change over time or with changing circumstances? Why or why not?

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO TWIST GOD’S ARM?

Have any of these prophets been in the Lord’s presence to hear what he is really saying? Has even one of them cared enough to listen? Look! The Lord’s anger bursts out like a storm, a whirlwind that swirls down on the heads of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not diminish until it has finished all he has planned. In the days to come you will understand all this very clearly.” – Jeremiah 23:18-20.

Twisting someone’s arm means forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. This idiom is generally used when someone is manipulating the person whose arm is twisted. Although we don’t like to admit it, we twist arms in some form all the time. We use varying degrees of “arm twisting”—from delicate hints to near arm-breaking. The question is, do we ever try to twist God’s arm?

There are several examples in the Bible where people tried to twist God’s arm. In Numbers 32, we read that several tribes of Israel did not want to go into the Promised Land that God had provided for His people. Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh decided that the land on the east side of the Jordan River was more to their liking. So they begged Moses, “please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.” (32:5). Moses explained to them that this selfish request was not only discouraging to the other tribes (32:7), but also added fuel to the Lord’s anger (32:14). The tribes bargained with Moses. They promised that if he gave them their way, they would cross the Jordan temporarily and fight alongside the other tribes until the land of Canaan was conquered, then return to live on the “wrong side” of the Jordan.

Unfortunately, arm-twisting often ends badly. Many generations later, when the Assyrian Empire attacked the nation of Israel, the “trans-Jordan” tribes were the first to be defeated and taken away into exile (1 Chronicles 5:26). If we try to twist God’s arm, then we forget who God is. The Lord is always described in scripture as Sovereign, Almighty, unchangeable, and omniscient, among other characteristics. It is wrong to undervalue God to the degree that He can be manipulated.

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 knows you inside and out. Yet, we often try to force God’s hand or put an unrealistic timeframe on Him when we need something. We cannot twist God’s arm. It will never happen. No matter who attempts to do so or what their motivation is, it is impossible.

We can’t control God, but we should strive to let Him control us. In doing so, our will, thoughts, words, and actions will become closer to His.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever tried to twist God’s arm?
  2. What can we do to let Him control us rather than us trying to control Him? 

RETURN ON THE INVESTMENT OF FOLLOWING JESUS

“Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.”Matthew 19:28-29

Mark 10 tells us the story of a young man with a life full of potential, blessed with riches, living a good life, and gifted with leadership. Yet he went away from Jesus, still young, rich, living a good life, and a leader, but disheartened. Jesus says it is virtually impossible for the rich young man to get into heaven without God’s help.  This gets Peter wondering. The first question that comes to Peter’s mind is, “What about us?” So Peter says to Jesus, “We’ve given up everything to follow You. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27).

Jesus answers, “… everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for My sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life“ (Matthew 19:28-29).  In Philippians 4:19, Paul 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.”

This reward is not specified, but returning your investment 100 times is superior to any normal return. The story of the rich young ruler tells us that the reward for knowing Christ is not necessarily based on being rich or influential as a community leader, being full of potential, or trying to live a moral life. God provides rewards or blessings for those who follow Christ so that we can live the life we were created for and then spend eternity with Him.

We have talked about the cost of following Jesus. Counting that cost in our decision is so important, but we can’t count the costs without counting the rewards. The rewards are too numerous to count; Romans 8:16 tells us that we are children of God, but it doesn’t stop there. It states that if we are children of God, “… his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17). The Christian life is not easy. Jesus told us to count the costs.  But ultimately, faithful followers of Jesus get to spend eternity with Jesus.

The return on the investment in Christ is worth far more than we could ever imagine. Living for Christ now means living an eternal life in heaven later.  As Paul described heaven in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

There is a cost in following Christ, but the inward rewards and resources He provides while we are on this earth more than compensate because they enable us to live the life for which we were created and spend eternity with Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways are you working for rewards on Earth? In what ways are you working for rewards in heaven?
  2. How does knowing life is short compared to all of eternity change how you live?

CONFLICT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW GRACE

“But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

The word conflict often stirs up negative emotions in us. Our comfortable, compartmentalized little world where we get along in total harmony with those around us is suddenly littered with a pothole or two. It is a part of life and virtually impossible to avoid. It’s so much easier to talk about nice things and comment on the weather and the playoffs than to embrace the awkward moment and address the conflict.

Most people tend to believe that if they avoid the conflict, or at least minimize it, it will diminish over time and eventually go away. But that is rarely the case. Interpersonal conflict rarely goes away with inattention.

We tend to forget that conflict can be an opportunity for grace. God can do His best work amidst tension in the most challenging times and complex conversations. There are many examples in scripture where God’s people don’t flee conflict but move toward it in hope, believing God will be at work in the tension and mess. Such is the story of the prophets: Moses with the stubborn people he refused to give up on; Elijah squaring off against Baal; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel dealing with the hard-hearted people they were commissioned to serve.

The disciples dealt quickly with the tensions that emerged in the early church. In Acts 6:1, we read, “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.” So, seven leaders were appointed to tackle the conflicts and troubles.  Paul told the Thessalonians how not cowering from conflict was essential to the gospel coming to them. “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2).

That all sounds good, but depending on the reason for the conflict, there may be a very deep wound or cycle of hurt. It does take both sides to complete conflict resolution willingly, but you can always give forgiveness. And that is precisely what we are called to do. Colossians 3:13 (NIV) says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” It’s not always easy, and one of the biggest myths about forgiveness is that once you forgive someone, those feelings will magically disappear; they will not. Forgiveness is a daily decision to call upon the strength of the Lord to give grace and mercy to someone else the way He did for us. If conflict still finds you, approach it with grace and mercy not anger.

Ephesians 4:3 (NIV) says ”Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been in seemingly intractable conflict and didn’t know what to do or how to get out of it? If so, what happened? What went well, if anything? What would you have done differently, if anything?
  2. When two parties conflict, which one should take the first step to initiate the peacemaking process? Why?
  3. Pray and ask God for wisdom to handle conflict in a way that glorifies Him. 

ARE YOU A HALF-EMPTY OR HALF-FULL PERSON?

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” – Hebrews 11:1-3.

How do you see the glass of your life? Do you think of yourself as a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person? Most Christians start as optimists. When people are first saved, there are endless possibilities. Everything will have a happy ending. But then the twists and turns of life happen. Possibilities become limited. Some things don’t have a happy ending. The glass seems half-full. There isn’t enough time, money, energy, love, cooperation, etc, to do what needs to be done.  God has provided everything we need today, but our focus is not on what we have but what we think we don’t have. Human nature is such that our wants have a funny way of becoming our needs, primarily when we dwell on what that need or want is. As a result, we are not grateful for the things we have.

When most people consider the change process, they start with the negative. What am I doing wrong? Why do I continue to do things that I should not do, and why don’t I do the things I should? The Apostle Paul struggled with this, too. In Romans 7:15, he says, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” In another place, Paul knew his sinful tendencies very well. That is why, in I Timothy 1:15, Paul says, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.”

Paul was not afraid to speak candidly about his struggles. He knew his weaknesses. But this ability to be honest about his sin was grounded in the hope of the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

When you look at your life, do you put yourself on a pedestal or tear yourself down? It is healthy to see your sins, repent, and ask God for forgiveness. But you can’t be so preoccupied with your weaknesses, failures, and sins that you can’t see God’s present grace in your life. We don’t want to ignore either of those things.

When things are going well, God’s love, care, guidance, and protection are easy to see.  But do we see it when our glass seems empty and as dry as the Sahara Desert?  The good news is that our glass is full whether we see it or not.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How does one be thankful for all God has done daily? 
  2. What can we do this week to be grateful to God? 

GRANDMOTHERS ARE GRAND

“Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting.” – unknown.

A little boy was asked about grandmothers in the Kid’s program at church. He described grandmothers like this: “A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own, so she loves everybody else’s.” He went on to say, “If they take you for a walk, they slow down past leaves and caterpillars. They can answer questions like why dogs hate cats and why God isn’t married. When they read to you, they don’t skip parts or mind if it’s the same story again. Everyone should have a grandmother because they always have time for you.”

Grandmothers have an opportunity to leave a legacy with their grandkids. Grandmothers have a joyful responsibility to be as involved and engaged in the spiritual formation of our grandchildren as they can be.

Parents are the most influential people in children’s lives, but grandparents are second. One thing we know is that grandparents are uniquely positioned to significantly influence their grandchildren’s lives, even more so than teachers or even the church. After many decades, grandmothers have learned a lot about life.  In fact, grandmothers’ lives are encyclopedias of knowledge and lessons learned in all those years. These experiences and wisdom can be passed along and help mold and shape grandchildren.  Solomon said in Proverbs 13:22, “Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren…”  Giving grandchildren an inheritance does not mean money alone. You can give them the gift of unconditional love. You can give the grandchildren your testimony of God’s faithfulness throughout your life. You can support your grandchildren through your prayers.

Grandmothers who see their role as a responsibility and work to do it well will quickly realize the truth of Proverbs 17:6: “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged…” In 2 Timothy 1:5 where Paul says to Timothy, “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” And in Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses says to the Israelites, “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.”. Joel 1:3 reminds us to “Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation.

Grandmothers love giving gifts to their grandkids. They buy something special for the next holiday or occasion every chance they get. But there is no greater gift to give a grandchild than to pray for them daily and to pass on a spiritual legacy. Being a genuinely intentional grandmother is the key to creating relationships that will sustain and enrich the entire family’s lives.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What does leaving a spiritual legacy mean to you? 

BE CONTENT

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”   1 Timothy 6:6-10.

Contentment is an interesting phenomenon. By definition, contentment is a state of being in which one is satisfied with one’s current life situation, but true contentment is not all that easy. Whether it’s longing for a new season, an exciting change, or something deeper, contentment can always be on the next horizon. The reality is that even when we finally get that one big thing we desired for so long, it won’t be long before we want something else.

The question is how can we learn to be content. Paul answers that question in Philippians 4:10-11: “How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.”

The secret wasn’t to deny his needs and wants. Contentment wasn’t something he was faking. Nor was he content because his circumstances were perfect. His contentment was found in Jesus. In other words, his contentment was possible independent of his circumstances. But that does not mean Paul didn’t wish some things to be different.  Contentment is an inner sense of rest or peace that comes from being right with God and knowing He is in control. We can find contentment in God.

There are many examples of those who learned contentment in the Bible. Think of Joseph. He was sold by his brothers, wrongfully imprisoned, and mistreated. He learned that God worked all things together for good and was content with his God. Remember Daniel. He was righteous but was taken into captivity by the Babylonians and even thrown into a lion’s den. He affirmed that God rules over all and that all are beneath His sovereign rule.

Do you wish you could say that in any circumstance? The idea is in Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Paul speaks to this issue in 1 Timothy 6:6: “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.”

 Christ will help us learn contentment as we rely on Him through everything we go through. He will show us that He can satisfy our deepest longings and needs as we seek Him and a relationship with Him above everything else. Christ loves us so much and wants to meet our needs. As we lean on Him, we too can say with Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Discussion Questions:
1. Are you content? Would you like to be content?  How?

ARE MOTHERS TAKEN FOR GRANTED?

“Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God may not be something you do but someone you raise.” – Andy Stanley.

If we are collectively guilty of one thing concerning mothers, we take them for granted. We seem blind or at least short-sighted to the load moms carry. Consider Mother’s Day: we honor our mothers and tell them to forget the housework and all the other stuff they do and enjoy their day. It’s their day. But then add, you can also catch up on everything tomorrow.

Think about her example, her support, her humor, her counsel, her humility, her hospitality, her insight, her patience, her sacrifices. Add to that her faith, hope, love, and her never-ending encouragement. Does our appreciation for all that get lost in the shuffle?

On Mother’s Day each year, we acknowledge mothers’ unique contributions to their children’s lives. We want to show our appreciation and gratitude more often than once a year. We recognize that too often, the contributions of mothers are undervalued, misunderstood, and overlooked because so much that moms do is unseen. Most people will never see a mom cleaning spit-up, cooking another meal, responding to another tantrum, picking up the legos before someone steps on them, listening to a teenager’s concerns, or stopping an argument among siblings all while trying to find time to work on that presentation for work.

Mothers sacrifice endlessly. They sacrifice their interests, strength, and time to cheer us on in the bleachers as their kids play soccer. How often do we acknowledge or appreciate it? Hopefully, more than once a year.

There are many different categories of moms: there is the stay-at-home mom, the working mom, the single mom, the adoptive mom, the foster mom, the stepmom, and countless other mother figures, such as big sisters, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, teachers, and friends, who have stepped into this critical role.

So, as another Mother’s Day goes by, be sure to call or stop by to show the mom in your life some extra love and gratitude for standing by your side through all of life’s ups and downs.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you thank your mother? 
  2. What can we do this week to show our gratitude for all our mothers do? Fortunately, that didn’t stop her from always being there. She was  there at all your sporting events. She was there with some good advice when you started dating. She was there in the front row watching you getting married. She was there when her grandchildren were born. She sacrificed and struggled because of love; selfless, sacrificial love is worthy of recognition.

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

“What is less often noticed is that it is precisely the kind of moral instruction (the sermon on the mount) that parents are constantly trying to give their children — concrete, imaginative, teaching general principles from particular instances, and seeking all the time to bring the children to appreciate and share the parent’s own attitudes and view of life.  The all-embracing principles of conduct” ― J.I. Packer, Knowing God

The Sermon on the Mount is considered the most quoted, analyzed, contested, and influential moral and religious discourse in human history. It is easier one of the most notable of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus uses the term “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount, in a section often called the “beatitudes.” In the beatitudes, Jesus throws us a curveball on the general idea of blessings. He shows us how being blessed is much different than everything going well for us. In fact, we can be blessed even when everything seems to be going wrong.

Each of the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–10 describes an attitude of heart and character that the Holy Spirit will produce in believers who allow Him to do so. Each beatitude starts with a blessing. Jesus is giving us ways to live so we can live a happy and blessed life. One of them is the statement, “Blessed are those that mourn.” In essence, Jesus is saying, “Happy are those who are sad.” That has probably caused some confusion over the millennia.

The world does not reward the living Jesus talks about, but God does. The world says you are blessed when all your dreams come true. You are blessed when everything goes your way. Jesus said happy are the sad and blessed are the broken-hearted.

Jesus was “…despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Yet it was the joy that was set before Him that gave Him the strength to endure the cross. Jesus knew that His suffering would purchase our salvation. If we believe that God’s grace and sovereignty are greater than any loss or disappointment, we, too, can experience joy in the midst of sorrow.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 says: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”

Verse 4 tells us that every pain can find meaning when we comfort others.  We are called to give out what we have been given. In other words, we should give out of the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, blessings, finances, and comfort we have already been given.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe a time when your life was hit with an unexpected storm. How well did you endure it? What did you do when you felt like giving up? Did you experience God’s comfort during that period?
  2. What does “comfort” mean to you? What comfort do you need? What comfort have you received? What can you do to pass on God’s comfort to others?

THE ART OF EVERYDAY WORSHIP

 “I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”—John Ortberg.

How can we worship God in our everyday lives? Worshipping the Lord daily can be as simple as remembering God in daily activities like driving to work, washing the dishes, cleaning the garage, etc. It is a matter of glorifying God and practicing an awareness of Him in everything amidst the busyness of life.  The point is this: God is always present, and all that we do can be used as an act to worship Him. The Apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Paul writes in Colossians 3:16-17: “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

With the advancement in technology, most of us have fallen into the routine of checking our phones from the moment we open our eyes. If you attempt to break this habit and instead use your time by spending it with God, you will grow your relationship with Him. Read your Bible for a few minutes, listen to worship music, and thank Him for giving you another day to live. Thank God for His daily blessings.  

Whenever you are outside, take the time to notice the beautiful scenery. Notice God’s creation and everything He has made. He made the earth for us to live on. He cares for every living thing that He created. Take the time to appreciate it more and thank Him for His creation.

The lyrics to the song “Heart of Worship” are simple but striking: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus.”

God created us to worship, and the object of our worship is Him. It should be a daily event.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do to worship God daily?