Jesus Was Never Too Busy

“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.” –  Matthew 9:35.

The Advent season has quite the ironic twist. It’s the time of year we most intend to reflect on our Savior’s birth, yet it’s the month we have the least time for reflection. We’re already busy, but we find ways to add holiday activities to our busy schedule: Christmas decorating, shopping, parties, traditions, crafts, events, and whatever else it takes to make it the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Our intention for these activities is to focus on the “reason for the season.” But it’s easy to lose sight of that goal. Christmas can quickly become the most stressful time of the year. And it might be the time in which we are most distracted. We live in a culture that wears busyness like a badge of honor. How do we practice the presence of the Lord in a season where there doesn’t seem to be any margin for more of God?  We want to show up for everyone in our lives, but there’s not enough time in the day.

Jesus gets it. Jesus had a full day too. Jesus was busy too. But one thing is clear: Jesus, both God and Human, didn’t handle the busyness the way most of us do.  For example, read Mark 1:21-45. In these several verses, a lot happens. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue; He heals many people, and crowds gather around Him. But it is also the pace of the events. In those verses, you’ll see the word “immediately” or words meaning the same thing used repeatedly. Reading those verses prompts you to want to catch your breath.

The bottom line is this. Jesus didn’t look at His watch until 5 pm when He could punch out and head to His car. He was busy. But His mission never ended. He believed every interaction with another human is important, powerful, and necessary. When the crowds arrived waiting to be healed, Jesus didn’t barricade the door. He continued to heal.  

When we allow ourselves to get too busy, we don’t take the time to slow down and remember our relationship with God. God wants us to spend time daily to renew our relationship with Him.  He wants to know about our failures and victories, strengths and weaknesses, and joys and disappointments. If we fail to remember Him daily, we get caught up in the distraction of pleasing other people. 

We need to worship the Lord this advent season. The Bible says that God inhabits the praise of His people. Sometimes we get so busy that it’s easy to forget that. We forget that we belong to Him and need to put Him first.

God already values us more than anything. We don’t need to earn it. So as we go about following schedules today, let’s listen for God’s voice. 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you look at the Christmas Season and feel peace and joy for what Christ has done, or do you feel overwhelmed?
  2. When you look at your Christmas and holiday calendar, what do you need to do, and what should you eliminate to ensure you don’t miss Jesus again this year?

It Is Your Choice?

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” – Luke 2:13-14.

How does the old song go? “Forget your troubles and just get happy Ya better chase all your cares away.”  I can hear Ella Fitzgerald’s cheerful voice in my ear now, but most of us know that simply snapping our fingers and trying to get happy is easier said than done, even when tis’ the season to be merry. Christmas should be a season of peace, but the advent season can often make us feel like our life is a tangled-up string of Christmas lights.

While we may love the Christmas season, worry, busyness, family conflicts, and unmet expectations can take their toll. We are faced with a choice. We can choose to get bogged down with stress or we can choose to bow down in worship.

Scripture gives us a beautiful picture of praise in Luke 2:13-14. That’s not the only place the Bible records angels worshipping the Lord. In Hebrews 1:6 it says, “And when he brought his supreme Son into the world, God said, ‘Let all of God’s angels worship him.‘” And Revelation 5:11-12a says, “Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus.

Angels are a model of worship. They bow down before Jesus. They shout with incredible joy as they sing songs of praise. Angels intentionally and deliberately spend time praising God. Keeping Christ in Christmas is more than just a cliché. It is an intentional act of worship. It requires a heart of adoration, much like the angels had. When Jesus is the focus of our holiday, we’re focused on His love, peace, and joy.

When worship fills our hearts, it makes our choices for us. When our hearts are filled with worship there is no being annoyed at the long lines at the gas station. It also eliminates the stress that is often a part of the season. When we focus on what Christmas is truly about—the amazing gift of a Savior—we won’t stress out about what presents to buy. Rather we will exhibit the grace of God to others. Worship turns our attention to giving thanks to Jesus for all He has done and leaves little room for less important matters.

There will be lots of choices to be made during the month of December: where to serve, what gifts to buy, and how many events to attend. The most important choice we can make is to worship and sing praises to our Lord. For His gift. For His love. For His peace.

And when our hearts are at peace, our holidays can be too.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the way I worship say about God? What does my worship say about how I see God?
  2. We have choices to make this Christmas season: what can we do to make godly decisions? 

What We Can Learn About Worship From The Magi

“He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:4-6.

Scripture offers us many important journey stories. From Abraham being told to go to the land that God will show him. To the Israelites traveling through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. To Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem before the birth of their Son. And we have the Magi.

The Magi were on a journey to find and worship the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Fast forward thousands of years and ask yourself this question: Are you on the same journey to find and worship the Savior, who is Christ the Lord? So, what we can learn from these wise men, who traveled to find the newborn king?

Many lessons can be learned from the actions of the wise men. For example, they made it a priority to pursue the Lord. These men came from a great distance to encounter the Savior. They were committed to having a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we make it a priority to pursue the Lord and spend time in His presence? Secondly, they came to worship Him. Matthew 2:2 says, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” When they found Jesus, they bowed down. They were overjoyed. Because when they met Jesus, the search was over. They started as seekers, but when they found Him, they became worshippers. They have come all this way for one reason, and one reason only: To worship the newborn King of the Jews. They didn’t come with any kind of agenda. They weren’t looking for the answer to the meaning of life or trying to court favor with a king early in His life. They simply came to pay homage to Him, and to offer Him gifts. Fast forward several thousand years: do we come without any kind of agenda? Is our goal simply to worship Jesus? Do we offer Him gifts?   

They saw the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Their search was over. Their lives were changed forever. Will we respond like the Magi?  Seeking after God, humbling themselves, giving themselves, and obeying the Lord.  They were true worshippers.  That is the story of the gospel.  Jesus came to save sinners.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came for tax collectors, prostitutes, rejects, and sinners.  Jesus came to save whoever would trust in Him.  He is the Savior of the world.

Bethlehem was not the end for the Magi.  It was the beginning for them.  May today mark a fresh beginning, a change, in our worship, our passionate pursuit of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Worship and joy are inseparable.  Will you worship Him?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the child Jesus?
  2. What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?

Wise Men And Worship

“Though many kings of the Jews had been born and died, none of them did the Magi seek to adore. And so they who came from a distant foreign land to a kingdom that was entirely strange to them…But they had learned that such a King was born that by adoring Him they might be sure of obtaining from Him the salvation which is of God.” – Saint Augustine.

The Magi or wise men from the east had come to Jerusalem. We don’t know how many came, we don’t know how they made the trip, or specifically from where they came.  We do know that they made a long journey from the east in search of the rightful King of the Jews. Clearly, the Magi understood that this king would be more than just an earthly king.

These wise men went to Jerusalem and began inquiring where the new king was.  It must have come as a shock that nobody knew anything about the king. Herod got wind that a threat to his throne may have been born among the Jews.  He calls together all the experts.  Everyone knows what is going on.  The experts in Scripture know about Bethlehem and the prophecies of the Messiah. But no one from Jerusalem goes to find out anything, except the wise men.

The Magi followed a star to a place in Bethlehem where they find Jesus. And when they found Jesus, they fell down before Him and they worshipped Him.  They humbled themselves and they fell down before this baby, they now called king and worshipped as God. They gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had found the Messiah, the King of kings, the Savior of the world and they worshipped Him.

These wise men were seekers.  It was in their seeking that they saw something.  They saw something of God in creation in the star, then in Scripture through the prophecy, then they saw God in the person of Jesus Christ.  They found the Savior.

It wasn’t just lip service to them. They obeyed God.  They didn’t just give their gifts and then do whatever they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. When God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, they didn’t.  They obeyed. Their worship was authenticated by their obedience.

They had great joy as well. The Scripture says that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  There is no stronger way to say that they had joy.  They were full of the greatest joy.  Worship brings joy.  Worship of the King of kings brings joy, unspeakable joy, hope, and life.  Worship and joy are inseparable partners.  And the Magi discovered it in Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it surprise you the sacrifices the wise men made to see the baby, Jesus? What do you think motivated the wise men to journey so far from home and their refusal to be diverted from their mission?
  2. The wise men were led by a star to Jesus. What are various things in your life that lead you to Jesus?
  3. The wise men went to great lengths to worship Jesus. But Jesus went to greater lengths to love them. How will you respond to God’s love for you this Christmas?

Are You Content This Thankgiving

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-8.

Paul is certainly on the Mt Rushmore of the greatest Christians. But we can’t forget Paul was a regular human being, with access to the same not-so-super-secret Christian tools (the Holy Spirit, prayer, the Bible) as you and me. Through the soaring highs and devastating lows of his life, God taught Paul to keep his eyes on the prize: the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Nothing else mattered.

Contentment is confidence in God’s providence and learning to be satisfied with relatively little, and equally important, it’s a sense of independence from circumstances.  Contentment and a spirit of thanksgiving have less to do with getting what we want, and more to do with wanting what we already have. The promise is not that God will make you wealthy, but that He will give you strength.

So where does that leave us? Frustrated? Often disappointed? Worried? Lacking joy? But, if you can look past all that you can have, you can be content. The forgiveness God provides for our failures and transgressions gives us a deep and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness. Resting in the security of Jesus allows us to turn our focus away from how much we can accumulate for ourselves and toward how much we can serve Him and further His kingdom.

Paul tells us as much in Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Thanksgiving is a season of being content. Thanksgiving reminds us of all the things to be grateful for. One reason that we fail to thank God now for what we have is that we want more – we want the next step. We fool ourselves into thinking that when we get more or when we get to the next step then we will stop to thank Him. But that suggests we should not be grateful for what God is doing in our lives as part of His plan for each of us. And that means being thankful even when we are facing setbacks.

We should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him because “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…” (James 1:17). Expressing thankfulness helps us remember that God is in control. Thankfulness, then, is not only appropriate; it is actually healthy and beneficial to us. It reminds us of the bigger picture, that we belong to God, and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

All of us have a lot to be thankful for this time of year. But not only should we give thanks during the holidays, but we should also give thanks to God every day of the year.

This Thanksgiving, leave your worries about tomorrow with the Lord and you will accept every situation as God’s wise classroom for your growth and development. And when this happens, you will find that in good times or bad, pleasant or painful . .. . you will be content.

Discussion Questions:
1. What is the difference between joy and contentment?

2. What is the secret of being content in every circumstance?

Do You Have A Minute

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do..” – Ephesians 5:16-17.

There are moments in life when time seems to stand still. That proud moment when you receive your college diploma or that moment when the past and future meld together when you stand at the altar with the person you will spend the rest of your life with or that incomparable moment when you hold your baby for the first time or when you stand next to the coffin of somebody you loved. These Hallmark moments lend themselves to reflection and introspection. These minutes are so important that they stick with us for the rest of our lives and in the midst of these moments, we pledge to make every minute, every hour and every day count.

What about an ordinary Wednesday? Is it possible to live this day as if it were one of those special days? More likely we spend our minutes trying to check off those empty checkboxes on our to-do list while trying to cover the ground between us and our goals. And then there are the interruptions. Unlike life-altering events where we savor every minute the ordinary day ends with us wishing for more.

The reality is that time is precious. We are fragile. Life is short. Eternity is long. Every minute counts. The goal is to be a faithful steward of the minutes that God has given us. The Bible talks about that very subject. Ephesians 5:16 (ESV): “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  

I wonder if time stood still for Jesus on the last night before His death. Instead of rushing around to heal more sick people or giving a last-minute sermon, we find Jesus sharing a meal with His disciples. He set the stress and rush of ministry aside for the most important thing. “When it was evening, he reclined at the table with the twelve.” (Matthew 26:20 ESV) Jesus spent His last hours of freedom with His disciples, teaching them how to remember Him and sharing the foundations of the gospel with them. He prayed for them (John 17) and then prayed for the strength to walk the difficult journey to the cross (Mark 14:32-36). Jesus made every minute count by doing the will of His father and spending time with His disciples.

Jesus spent His whole life choosing to do the most important thing at any given moment. He stopped to heal the sick when they crossed His path. He sat on a mountainside to speak life to a waiting crowd. He prayed for children, even as His disciples scolded the people for bringing them to Him. He looked a bleeding woman, a blind man, and a beggar in the eyes and gave them personalized hope.

Our time on earth is short. We should want to make every moment count—not only because we aren’t guaranteed the next one, but also because this is exactly how our Savior spent His time here. We don’t want to waste a single one.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you live out the hope of the gospel every minute?
  2. What can you do to make God a priority today?

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?

True Happiness Can Only Be Found In God

“Yes, joyful are those who live like this! Joyful indeed are those whose God is the LORD.” – Psalm 144:15.

Human history is the story of mankind’s search for true and lasting happiness. Some find it, some don’t. Even billionaires who appear to have it all and want for nothing can’t seem to find true contentment and joy.

We are probably not one of the approximately 3,311 billionaires looking for happiness. While we are in a different place financially, we still look for happiness: often in the wrong places. We focus on what is not important rather than what is. We all experience happiness at different times in our lives. But if our happiness is found outside of God, then it is temporary.  True happiness cannot be found in relationships, wealth, status, or accomplishments because all of these things can be undone or disappear rather quickly. When that happens, we are giving away our joy, nobody is stealing it.

Happiness is a choice.  Randy Alcorn says, “Those who sit around waiting to be happy shouldn’t hold their breath—it will likely be a long wait.” True happiness comes from having a relationship with God, our Creator, and Jesus His Son. That’s where true and lasting happiness comes from—not in stuff we build up here on earth. When we know, love, and serve God, His peace invades our hearts and we can see life in a different way.

God is eternal, His purpose is perfect, and we are forever His. He gives us all things and works all things for our good. What makes God’s gifts so special is not the thing given but the One who gives it. If we are going to be happy, truly happy, then we have to look behind the gifts we enjoy when days are easy to the God who gives them. And when days are dark we have to look beyond our painful circumstances to the God who loves us and strengthens us.

Being “joyful always” doesn’t mean we have to walk around with a fake smile on our face all the time, ignore reality or suppress every negative emotion. This verse simply implores us to intentionally let our faith, not our feelings, dictate our joy. The secret to real happiness isn’t really a secret at all.

To find true happiness you must look to the Lord Jesus, find beauty in His character, fall in love with His work, and stand in awe at what He has done for you and the future you have in Him. In Him, we have real joy. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe joy is a feeling or a choice?
  2. Remind yourself of the importance of rejoicing by searching the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—for God’s instructions in this area. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us it’s God’s will that we “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3 (ESV). 

Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of the most extensive and significant collections of His teaching that is recorded in the Bible. This foundational message begins with a series of traits or ways of thinking called Beatitudes, which, when practiced, yield joy and peace of mind. The first is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Since Jesus is the one giving the sermon on the mount it is no accident that the first beatitude is about being poor in spirit. This is a primary trait for a Christian—a fundamental requirement to following God’s way of life. A humble spirit enables us to develop the rest of the characteristics that Jesus lists in the sermon on the mount.

When used in the spiritual sense, “poor” refers to someone who is humble enough to recognize how powerless he or she is compared to God and someone who is willing to submit to that power. Compared to God, we are nothing. The poor in spirit don’t compare themselves to others: “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). After looking at how insignificant one is compared to God, it’s impossible not to feel humbled. Psalm 39:4-7 says, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”

After God gave Job a glimpse of His greatness through the creation, Job declared, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6 ESV).  

There are many reasons God requires this deep humility. An example is Psalm 25:9 which tells us that the humble are teachable: “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” The humble are repentant: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)  And the humble acknowledge and accept their dependence on God and recognize His greatness: “Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe a time when you felt especially poor in spirit—a time when you were keenly aware of your need for God. How did He meet you?
  2. Where do you especially need to grow in humility? (at work, as a parent, in your marriage, in the way that you approach church, etc)

I Surrender All

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” – James 4:10.  

You are probably thinking, “Surrender. Ugh.” I get it. In the eyes of the world, surrender equates to humiliation. No one wants to give up and wave that white flag of surrender. So, no wonder the idea of surrender is often deeply resented. But here’s the irony and the paradox of the Christian faith: Surrender is the beginning of the victorious Christian life. Jesus was all in for you, He wants you to be all in for Him.

Fulfilling our purpose in life and creating the future we desire can be frustrating.  But we have a choice. We can give up or give in, or we can surrender it to the Lord. Surrendering isn’t the same thing as giving up — not when God is involved. Surrendering to God means letting go of our plans, and letting God have His way in every aspect of our lives. Allowing Him to guide our steps and direct our decisions. As Christians this means we surrender our will for His perfect will, and follow God.  As Christians, we are called to turn over every aspect of our lives to God’s control. There is no one-step way to surrender to God, it’s a daily, moment-by-moment choice to give it to God.  

As we surrender to the Lord, our giving up is replaced by His lifting us up: “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7). When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we begin to see His mighty hand at work.  

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?