The Need For Horizontal Relationships

“When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.” – C.S. Lewis. 

Many people seem to think of Christianity solely as their own personal relationship with God. That personal relationship with God is essential in true Christianity, but it is also not the whole story. Our goal in life should be knowing Christ above everything and from there letting Jesus affect our relationships. Basically, we should work on our vertical relationship and then let the love of that relationship influence the horizontal relationships we have with those around us.

Jesus told us that the Great Commandment is that we love God. “…‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38) The vertical aspect is indispensable to our faith. We must be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Knowing and loving Him is the primary goal. But Jesus also said “ a second is equally important”:“love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)  Here He reminds us that our faith is not only about our vertical relationship with God, but also very much about our horizontal relationships with others.

As we read the Bible we see God reinforcing this idea that we need horizontal relationships. Face-to-face relationships are so important that God sent Jesus to be like us, among us, as Emmanuel, God with us. And in a prophetic promise of this plan and purpose, He said through the prophet Isaiah: “I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide the nations. You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)

Christians need to focus on both the vertical and the horizontal if we are to become what God intended us to be. Statistics are staggering of the number of people who don’t have someone they feel they can confide in. In other words, they don’t believe they have people they can be authentic with.

Christianity is very much about loving God — but it is also very much about loving His people. Be a blessing to somebody this week.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is everything in my horizontal life the overflow of a vibrant vertical love relationship with Jesus?
  2. What would my life and ministry look like if I focused on my vertical relationship first and then learned to adapt that relationship to my horizontal relationships?

Blessed To Bless Others

” I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. The orchards and fields of my people will yield bumper crops, and everyone will live in safety. When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 34:26-27. 

There is an old hymn written by Daniel Webster Whittle in 1883 entitled, “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings.” Whittle wrote this hymn and many others. The words are based on Ezekiel 34:26-27.

God truly does shower us with blessings: deep compassion, amazing love, kindness and grace, His forgiveness, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and His multitude of promises to name a few. God doesn’t simply bless us just so we can say we are a blessed people. God blesses us because He loves us, and so we can be a blessing to others. He instructs us, so we can instruct others. He comforts us, so we can comfort others.

The Christian faith proves to be way bigger than just me and you. His blessings are not meant to be totally consumed by us. Blessings flow from God, but they should never stop with us. They come to us and then flow through us. Every blessing we have received from God, whether material or spiritual, is to be used for the benefit of others. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we were created anew in Christ Jesus for a purpose to “…do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God is all about blessing people. In fact, God gave His people a blessing that we still use today: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’” (Numbers 6:24-26). 

Psalm 20: 2,4,5 says, “May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem…May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed…May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.”

God blesses others through the blessings we have received. In a way, we keep those blessings moving forward as we partner with God and share our blessings with others. We do it for the common good instead rather than for personal gain, worth, or recognition.

Look around you at your neighbors, the people you work with or go to school with, the person sitting next to you at church, or the person in your small group. Are there opportunities to share your blessings with them? You will never regret a moment of helping someone else. And, you might just find that you are blessed as much as those you set out to help. 

  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has God blessed you?
  2. How are you passing on to others the blessing God has given you? 

God Is Love

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8. 

As Christians, we should understand and appreciate how unconditionally, irrevocably, and ridiculously loved by God we are. Just imagine: You are already loved by God. No conditions. No qualifications. No ifs, and, or buts about it. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done in the course of your life, you are already loved and accepted. 

When John wrote 1st John, he seemed overwhelmed with the reality of God’s love. Why else would he talk about it over 30 times? John discovered that God’s love is pure, the perfect motivation. His love has power. It casts out fear and overcomes worry, doubt, and anxiety. This love is forgiving and kind. It is practical and applies in every situation we face. Accepting God’s love transforms our lives.

God’s desire is to completely overwhelm you with His love. The love of God will guide you, establish you, empower you, and fully delight you. His love will free you, compel you, and sustain you. He longs for you to live a lifestyle of love because He knows that’s the absolute, most fulfilling, purposeful, and peaceful way of life for you. He longs to set you free from the burdens of living for your own gain. He longs to lead you to the path of abundant life. But it all starts with simply receiving His love.

Take a moment and read what Paul says in Romans 8: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?… No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

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

If we understand God’s love, we realize that He is love. Motivated by that love, we love to please Him and fellowship with Him. We love to know His Word and show love to others around us.  

Focus your thoughts on God right now. Love Him, unconditionally. Thank Him for His love. And let that love flow you to people all around you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of “unconditional love”?
  2. How often do you try to grasp the love of God?

Every Moment Matters

“If you can’t fly, then run, If you can’t run, then walk, If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of us live life at breakneck speed. If our life was a Nascar race, we would not pit for more than 15 seconds before we were back on the racetrack of life. But life isn’t lived on a racetrack, nor will we experience the green flag when the race is finished. It is pretty much the opposite. 

The book of James tells us that “how do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” The problem with living your life like it is a Nascar race is that you are going too fast to embrace the moment.  What’s special about this moment right now? Every moment has an inherent specialness simply because we’ll never have this moment again.

Have you ever thought of your life as a series of finite fragments that are here and gone? Do I appreciate my moments? How well am I spending those moments? How well am I using those moments to follow God’s plan for my life? In this moment God has given, how can I spend it well? Follow Jesus’ example and His saving sacrifice. 

Sin and the enemy will threaten to steal our moments or insert roadblocks as we follow God. In these moments, let’s spend them wisely by looking to Jesus as our guide.  He was fully man and God and fully understands how life’s moments can be less than blissful. Yet, He always chose to spend every moment well. Romans 12: 2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

The obvious question is what should we focus on for the remainder of 2022? The short answer is, everything, but specifically, how do we love God and love people in the various areas and categories of life? We cannot do this without being intentional. Imagine waking up every single day convinced that the twenty-four hours ahead of you are a precious gift to be used wisely. Now imagine that you know exactly how to spend them to be a force for God’s good. All too often we wander through life without appreciating the gift of every day we’ve been given. That leads to an unsatisfying life, missed opportunities to experience the joy of being in sync with God, and days marked with apathy instead of passion. 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 moment?
  2. What can you do to make God a priority today? 

The Attributes Of God – God Is Love

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 love.

“Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is.” – Ephesians 3:17-18. 

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. 

God Is Love. God is the source of all love. Love permeates all of His attributes. God’s love is unconditional. It is not based on how good you are or what you do to please Him. He loves you because He is God and you are His creation. God’s love never fails. The psalmist proclaims, “The LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever” (Psalm 100:5) God doesn’t love us because we are loveable or worthy but because He is love. When you believe it and receive it, His love transforms your life.

John says this in 1 John 10: “This is real love — not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” Jesus gave His life on your behalf. He could not have sacrificed anymore. We, in turn, are to love God wholeheartedly. Jesus declared: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37- 38)  God, in His sovereignty, has created us to find our greatest joy and fulfillment in loving Him. God also enables us to be examples of His love.

When you fully understand the love of God – you will be loved as you’ve never felt before. It will change the way you think and act. Remember God’s promise to you – nothing can ever separate us from His love. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

If there is ever a moment you are feeling unloved or questioning or doubting God’s love for you – look to the cross. God’s love pursues us, heals us, frees us, sacrifices for us, and makes us whole.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you try to grasp the love of God?
  2. What is your definition of unconditional love? 
  3. In which ways can you show love to the people around you?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Just And Merciful

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 just.

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 30:18 (ESV). 

We have been talking each Friday about the attributes of God. The problem is there are not enough Fridays in our lifetimes to talk about the attributes of God, the glories of God, and the perfections of God. “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 146:3) Try as we will, we will never unwrap the glories of God as revealed in Scripture.

In Isaiah 30:18 we see two characteristics of God: His mercy and His justice. God is powerful and just. This verse reveals so much about God’s character and how good He is. This verse gives us direction in how we are to live and reveals that God waits. He waits to be gracious. Let that sink in for a moment. The Lord waits to be gracious to you. He longs to pour out His favor and show you mercy. Isaiah 30:15 reveals why He waits, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…”

But God is a God of justice. He is absolutely just. God cannot be fooled. Because He is all-knowing and ever-present, He has all the facts at His disposal. He knows the circumstances and motives, so His decisions are always based on absolute truth. God is also a perfect judge. “Everything He does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright He is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4)  

Justice is one of the pillars of society, but there are times when justice is compromised by people seeking personal gain. But while it is possible to manipulate justice in our courts, we cannot manipulate God’s justice. Because He is a just God, His verdict will always be right. King David said, “For the righteous Lord loves justice…” (Psalm 11:7)

Because God is just, He will always treat you fairly. However, as the holy and righteous creator and sovereign of the universe, God cannot ignore any act of sin. The psalmist writes, “You spread out our sins before You — our secret sins — and You see them all… Who can comprehend the power of Your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear You deserve.” (Psalm 90:8,11)  

“God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Has there ever been a time when your idea of justice and God’s idea of justice were different? How did you reconcile those feelings? 
  2. Does justice mean forgive and forget? Why is it important that God confronts evil and sin and holds people accountable?

Living The Generous Life

“ But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne…Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” – Matthew 25: 21, 34-36. 

Generosity is commonly associated with tithing to a church or an organization. When we look at the generosity of the Bible, though, we see it goes deeper than just the amount of money we’re willing to donate. It starts with the generosity of God. 

Many people do not view God as generous. Somehow we got the idea that if we begged God for help and if we were good enough, He might show us a little mercy. The opposite is true, God is amazingly generous. He made the first move of generosity toward us. And the second move and the third. God was the first and is the most generous Giver of all.  

He went above and beyond anything we could have imagined.  God loved people so much that He gave. He gave His best (John 3:16). He gave His Son for you and for me. This act of generosity began in His heart first. He loved so He gave. Titus 3:4-6 says, “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Jesus sees the love in our giving. Jesus was in the home of some friends when a woman came in and poured very expensive perfume over His head. Her generosity was significant because of the value of her gift: it was a great sacrifice and it revealed the depth of her gratitude. Jesus pointed out that this kind of generous gratitude and worship was to be forever connected to His followers.

We are most like God when we are generous and that generosity is tangible. Instead of speaking about money in Matthew 25, Jesus mentions food, water, clothes, and love. In 1 Kings 17, a widow offers the prophet Elijah her flour and oil, even though it’s all she has. It is a tangible, sustainable gift—not a financial one. In the same way, we can volunteer our time and resources in place or in addition to our finances.

Biblical generosity is also cheerful. God doesn’t want gifts motivated by a sense of duty or obligation. He wants us to give out of joy and compassion. If anyone knows generosity, it is God—who gave His Son to us freely, even when He knew we would abuse the gift. Our generosity should be founded in love, not duty.

No one is more generous than God. He’s the greatest giver of all time. And we should acknowledge that fact every day. “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)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?
  2. Can you remember a time when your resources were very limited, and God provided for you?
  3. Identify one practical way you can be more generous in the weeks ahead. 

Earning Respect From Others

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them…Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching….” – 1 Timothy 4:12-16. 

Timothy is said to have been acquainted with the Scriptures since childhood. God had called Timothy to the gospel ministry. He was the protege’ of the Apostle Paul, but he was young. Would people follow his leadership? Would they respect him enough to listen? Through the Spirit’s inspiration, Paul taught Timothy how to overcome the liabilities of youth and earn respect.  And it starts by living a Godly life. 

Proverbs 11:27 says, “if you search for good, you will find favor; but if you search for evil, it will find you!” What does Solomon mean by good? He means mercy, not cruelty, righteousness, not wickedness, doing what pleases God, not what displeases Him. Think of the people in your life that you genuinely respect: chances are most of them will be very godly people. If you want to earn the respect of others, you must live with godliness.

To live a godly life means we walk in humility. Proverbs 29:23 says, “Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.” Humility is not denying your accomplishments. It’s realizing God gave you the ability and the opportunity to realize those accomplishments. 1 Corinthians 4:7 tells us “For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?  

Make loving people a priority in your life. Love people eagerly and faithfully. As you become the example, you create a pattern for others to follow. This visible transformation earns respect and influence, regardless of your age and experience. You can act in a way that generates respect regardless of age or experience.

Titus 2:7 sums it all up pretty well: “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.“

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Living a godly life generates respect. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. Treat others with humility. The more you lower yourself, the more others will respect you. Agree or disagree and why? 

With All Due Respect

“Stop! Right now! Take a deep breath in and exhale. Remind yourself that you are loved, you are cherished, and you have value. Remind yourself that nothing that anyone does or thinks or says to you will diminish that value. Remind yourself that every person you meet today is loved by God just as much as you are and is worthy of respect and is worthy of being seen as a person of value. Now continue to make decisions today based on those truths.” – Katherine Walden.  

Throughout the Bible, we see that God’s intention is focused on man, and His heart’s desire is set upon man. Man is not an afterthought; man is not merely a creature – man is very important, and God’s intention and desire are related to Him. The Bible doesn’t tell us why, but God loves man, and created humans in His image.  As such, we are treasured by Him. 

That is true of the person in line at the grocery store, that face on social media, the person who picks up the garbage; all are made in God’s image and are His precious property because they are His creation made in His image. We must look at every man and woman as God views them. He loves each person so much that He sent his only Son Jesus Christ to die a criminal’s death on a cross to take the punishment of our sins. Because God cherished every person, they are worthy of our respect. They are all human beings and creations of God and thus worthy of our respect. John 13:34-35 tells us that “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10) Honoring others is another way of saying respecting others. Why should we bother to respect everyone? After all, some people don’t deserve it. I know—it’s a challenge. But here’s the rub: respect should not be based on a person’s achievements or abilities, but solely because they’re made in the image of God.

Knowing that we are all made in the image of God should prompt us to see value in others. Seeing value in everyone is not the same as agreeing or being best friends with everyone. Instead, it means showing all people the love of Christ through what we do and how we treat them. We all have a purpose, and we should treat all people mindfully and with great respect because God loves them all.  

Treating others with dignity and respect entails treating others as worthy. Sometimes Christians may be perceived as judgmental or hypocritical by people with different beliefs. This is one reason it is important to honor others and not look down on anyone — so others can see a good witness for Christ, and we do not contribute to a bad reputation for the Christian faith.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. You can be kind to everyone, you don’t have to avoid and insulate your life. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. When we honor Jesus with our lives we’ll be kind to others, we’ll love others, and we’ll be humble around others.  Is this the best way to respect others? Why or why not? 

What Is Involved In Living The Christian Life?

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16 (NIV).

Our current sermon series is entitled Building a Better Future. It is difficult to build a better future without a sense of purpose and an understanding of the “why” as well as the “what.” What do we live for in the Christian life and why are we doing it?

We probably all have some ideas about how Christians should live in order to please God. We may think we need to try our best to do the right thing, do good works, or live up to some kind of moral or ethical standard.  The Bible tells us that Jesus encourages all believers to grow in relationship, commitment, and obedience to Him. This is the essence of how to live a Christian life. Our relationship, commitment, and obedience are done out of love. John 14:21 says, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Any discussion of how to live a Christian life should focus first and foremost on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The entire Bible is full of insight into who God is, our sinful predicament, God’s plan to redeem us, and how we should live in light of these realities. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says,  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Though Jesus taught about many topics, everything comes back to that ultimate goal of loving God and loving our neighbor. The best place to start when seeking to live the Christian life is to prioritize loving God above all else. If at the end of the day we can look back and feel like we loved God well, then we’ve accomplished the most important purpose for which we were created.

One practical thought in seeking to love God is to ask the question, “What does God find most loving?” That question can be a great driving force behind seeking to love God as best as we can every day.

If you want to follow the teachings of Jesus to live a Christian life, don’t overcomplicate things. Focus on loving God and loving others and let them guide the way you live each day.

God didn’t mean for us to live Christian lives in isolation. He calls us to community with other Christians. Together, we can help each other live grace-filled lives that bring glory to God. We need to help each other as we figure out what it means to live a Christian life in this crazy world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the key to living a victorious Christian life?
  2. Read Philippians 1:18-26: Paul says, “living means living for Christ.” How does for me to live is Christ impact my daily activities.