THE FAITH OF THE CENTURION

“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” – Matthew 8:5-9.

Jesus, once marveled at the faith He found in a man. It’s the only instance that the gospels record such a response from Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). In other versions, the Bible says that Jesus was amazed, and for good reason. In all of Israel, the people who know of the wondrous works of God, Jesus could not find a more faith-filled person.

This man was not a religious leader, rabbi, or one of the disciples, he was a Roman soldier. It is hard to think of a more unlikely person in those times to amaze Jesus. He was a Roman, who was charged with the responsibility to ensure the Jews subjected themselves to Rome. He was a man of war. He achieved the rank of centurion by distinguishing himself above others in the brutal Roman personal combat arts. He was somebody that you would expect to have faith in his fighting abilities and the abilities of his soldiers rather than faith in the person, power, and authority of Jesus.

The man, wanted Jesus to come and heal his servant, but considered himself unworthy for Jesus would come under his roof. So the request he makes to Jesus is that he should “say the word”, or “Just give the order “ (CEV), for healing.

On hearing the request, Jesus says “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus accepted this as true, active faith; the kind of faith He was looking for, and yet so often did not find. Jesus says “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” Jesus spoke the command and the servant was healed.

The centurion approached Jesus with humility, faith, and love. The centurion didn’t even view himself as worthy enough to go and meet Jesus or make Him walk all the way to his house, instead, he humbled himself and trusted Jesus. He believed in who Jesus was, knowing that his faith gave God room to move and heal in big ways.

How many times have we sacrificed our faith for our pride? It would’ve been so easy for the centurion to hold onto his position and pride instead of exalting Jesus and asking Him for help. Do we have the level of faith to fully believe that Jesus is completely who He says He is?

It will never be our works or worthiness that amaze Jesus, He already loves us endlessly. It’s our faith that Jesus authors and perfects in us that is the platform for His greatness. So let’s let love motivate us to step out in faith, trusting God to work and move through us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is the centurion’s position like our own? Why is that? How is the centurion’s position different from ours? Why is that?
  2. How does our own view of Jesus’s authority compare to the centurion?

WHERE DO I FIND JOY?

“The very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting” – C.S. Lewis.

How do I find joy? If you talk to 100 people you most likely will get 100 different places to find joy. If you want even bigger numbers google joy: over 1 billion results will pop up on your device. If you click on the top sites, you will find list after list of things you can do to try and find the joy you are looking for that border on the practical all the way to the surreal and everything in between. But is joy that complex and varied and is it that difficult to pin down?

Philippians 1:3-5 says, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.”

The Apostle Paul was in prison awaiting a trial and a verdict when he wrote these words. In preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and declaring Jesus as the true king, Paul had broken the law of Rome. But despite Paul’s imprisonment, Philippians is a letter characterized by joy. How could Paul have joy in prison? How could Paul have joy in a time of great uncertainty? Lastly, how could Paul experience joy when he knew that the judgment of death could happen every day?

Philippians 1:3-5 gives us the answer. Read Paul’s words again. He thanks the Lord for the relationships and for the fellowship he has shared with the church in Philippi. God and the church members are the source of joy for Paul. They studied God’s word together, built the church, and shared the Gospel throughout Philippi. While Paul was not able to be with them at this time, he knew that their friendships were eternal. Paul reminded himself of this truth and of the joy of partnership which enabled Paul to give thanks and experience joy even in difficult circumstances.

We can experience the joy of God’s presence today as well as the joy of living with Him in eternity.  In Psalm 16:11, the psalmist writes, “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.”

The joy of the Lord is the firm, unshakeable belief that God loves me and the unbendable belief that He is working everything for my good.

There are many things in this life that can give us happiness or even a taste of joy. Relationships. Nature. A fun hobby. But nothing can give you long-lasting joy like the freedom that is found in the completed work of Jesus.

God loves you. He knows you. And He is working in you.

So, before you do a Google search on where to find joy, remember that the results are already in. All we need is found in Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, what do they usually mean?
  2. What can we do this week to trust and accept God’s plan for the future?

HOW DO WE MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” – Deuteronomy 30:19.

In the garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented the possible choices people could make to do the right or the wrong thing. Adam and Eve’s choice to eat from that tree is a prologue to all the times God’s people would make sinful decisions in the future.

There is a sign at a high school that says the following. “You are not born a winner, You are not born a loser, You are born a chooser.” Like Adam and Eve, we will experience choices. Every day brings new challenges and decisions for you and everyone around you. Every day is a new day, and every day means we either choose to live for God, by the standards He lays down in scripture, or we live for ourselves by our own standards of right and wrong, as in the days when “. . . the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25).

When you make a choice against one thing, you make a choice for something else. When you make up your mind to abhor evil, you make the choice to cling to what is good. When you choose to ignore the prompting of the Lord in an area, you are making the choice to do something that opposes His best plan for your life. Choosing to do right isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

Following God is determined not only by the one big decision we must make at the time of our conversion but also by the many small decisions that we make throughout each day. Perhaps the most profound act of worship is not found in a worship service where we corporately praise God and offer our prayers, but in private when no one is watching, and we choose to obey God rather than fall into temptation.

What do we want to change in the next six months? What do we hope to change in the next year? Are you going to be healthier, stronger, and more mature? Are you going to be less in debt? Are you going to be more like God wants you to be? The change will only happen if you choose to change.

Change requires making choices. It’s not enough to dream of changing. It’s not enough to desire change. In order for you to change, you will need to make a decision. You must choose to change. You can only muster the faith to embrace and choose change by knowing His love, knowing His character, and trusting Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever seen someone’s life change so much that you couldn’t deny it was God changing them?
  2. What can you do this week to change an area of your life that needs changing?   

Depending On The Dependable God

“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:1-2.

Isaiah 43: 1-2 is a scripture that seems relevant for the first few weeks of 2023. In this passage, we read about a promise from God. This promise is there for each one of us as individuals.

God knows me so intimately because He created me.  He knew me before anyone else did and literally no one knows me better than anyone will know me. Then, He reminds me that He “redeemed” me. The one who knows me most intimately, knows my faults, my downfalls, my secret thoughts and fears, and all of the other stuff in my life, and still found me worth redeeming. He calls me by name and calls me His own.

During 2023 we most likely will face difficult situations in life. Regardless of what those circumstances are, God is dependable. You can trust Him with your life and know that it is absolutely safe and secure. You can follow God with your two eyes closed and know that you will not miss the way or fall into a ditch. Think of it in this way: Most of us have held a baby in our arms at one time or another. And we just have likely passed that baby to a child, a brother or sister, to hold for a photo. The baby doesn’t panic but continues to rest or sleep in the brother’s or sister’s arms. The baby trusts whoever was carrying him or she was dependable and up to the task.

It is such childlike faith that is required in depending on God. You should rest in His arms, knowing that He is dependable and up to the task of carrying you. When we depend on God, we get what God can do. Depending on God means we rely on Him and depend on His reliability. Depending on God means that God is bigger, greater, and better than me and you can depend on God to meet all your needs; He has all the resources of the earth. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” When you know that God owns all things, you will not struggle to depend on Him for whatever you need. He said, For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.” (Psalm 50:10-12) You can depend on God because He holds and rules the entire world.

God is dependable because of His track record of faithfulness and success; God has no record of failure. There is nothing He has ever said that failed; that have either happened or are about to happen. He has all it takes to keep His promises, so you can trust and depend on Him for your today and tomorrow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have seen God’s dependability in 2022?
  2. How should God’s dependability impact our lives in 2023? 

What Kind Of Security System Do You Have?

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 12:2-6.

It is time for the college football national championship game. The stage is set as Los Angeles prepares to welcome more than 70 thousand fans downtown for the College Football Playoff National Championship game. As coaches, players, and fans get ready, many security preparations are taking place behind the scenes that include K-9s to search the bleachers, team locker rooms, and club-level suites. All vendors entering the stadium will be vetted and searched. All these measures are to ensure the night goes smoothly and the fans feel secure.

Security is a concern for most people, Christians included. When we give our lives to Jesus Christ, He becomes our safety and our security. Because of Him, we can risk living life to the fullest and be all that we were created to be. He keeps us secure, even when we feel insecure. The prophet Isaiah points us toward the future, showing us a picture of what it means to trust in God. The reality is that our security can only be found in God. We should solely place our confidence and security in God alone. Not in our jobs, possessions, status, and even relationships. Because if God is not your security, then security will always seem fleeting.

Everyone was faced with this reality when the COVID pandemic happened. People were forced to face their fear of losing the things they placed their security upon. Most especially with their careers. The closing of millions of businesses around the world resulted in millions also losing their jobs. Fear of death engulfed nations amidst the realization that our security could be gone in the blink of an eye. God is the only one who can make us feel free from fear and anxiety.

In 2023, encounter the Lord’s presence through prayer, Scripture reading, listening to worship music, in small group conversations.  Each is a means of minimizing the stress of insecurity and increasing our trust in the Lord.

Discussion questions:

  1. How often do you feel genuinely secure? Free from fear or anxiety? Why do you think that is?
  2. Do you believe God wants you to be secure? What can you do this week to trust God a little more?

Preparing For The New Year Spiritually

“Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.” — Proverbs 24:27

Christmas is over. It is certainly a wonderful time of year to worship God incarnate and spend time with family and friends. But now that Christmas is in the rearview mirror, it is time to look forward to the new year.

A new year is a great time to develop new habits. Many people focus their New Year’s resolutions around their health and lifestyle, pledging to lose weight or spend more time with family. However, many people forget to center God in their New Year’s plans.  While many people are quick to take on areas such as health or finances, it is a little more challenging figuring out how to set spiritual goals, whether it’s for the new year or beyond. 1 Timothy tells us, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” Now is always a great time to recenter yourself spiritually as you organize your life and look ahead.

God has provided everything we need, to grow strong spiritually. He provided us insight on how we can properly prepare ourselves to follow His direction in the new year. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 24:27 to “Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.” Before we set forth to perform the work God has for us in the new year, we must pray and seek God’s direction in 2023.“Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:6)

2023 presents us with a new race with a new finish line. It’s a new day, a new year, and a new you. So what changes would you like to make this year? What will you resolve to do differently this year? Psalm 17:3 provides an excellent example of someone that feels he “has” to make a commitment.  He is “determined…”   “You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night. You have scrutinized me and found nothing wrong. I am determined not to sin in what I say.”

The new year seems the perfect time to make commitments and take action. If you are dissatisfied with how you have lived this past year, there will be new opportunities before you. It can truly be a new year for you, with a better and stronger relationship with God.  May this be a new beginning for a new you where you see the Lord move in your life.

As we begin 2023, my prayer is that we are committed to trusting God to work in our lives in a new, and powerful way. So rather than seeing the start of another year as a daunting task to be met or an unknown to be feared, my prayer is that we can trust in God’s sovereignty over every aspect of our lives. There will be new blessings, new trials, new failures, and new victories, but He is all we need.

Discussion questions:

  1. What is your mindset in entering the new year?
  2. What would you like to change in your life in 2023?

When Plans Go Astray

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” – Luke 2:6-7.

Everybody has a friend(s) that plan every single thing. There’s no space for spontaneity. They have a blueprint in place that will help them know how to make the most efficient use of their time and energy. Nothing frustrates them more than when a well-conceived plan falls apart at the seams. Yet life has a way of changing the best-laid plans.

Joseph and Mary were all excited and planning to get married, when all of a sudden, an angel told Mary she was going to have a baby. And not just any baby, but the baby that would later save the world from our sins. Mary isn’t married yet. People, including Joseph, would have a pretty hard time believing she got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Consequences could’ve been pretty dire for Mary if anyone wanted to make an example of her. So, yeah, their plans took an inexplicable turn.

What were Mary and Joseph thinking and feeling as they arrived in Bethlehem and were unable to find the living space that maybe they were hoping for?  While we don’t know their exact plan after arriving in Bethlehem, it probably didn’t include laying Jesus in a feeding trough after He was born.  Regardless of His make-shift crib, Jesus’ birth was no less miraculous.  His arrival on this earth was made no less meaningful.  His first moments and cries no less special.  It was that powerful moment that ultimately changed life as we know it, and it didn’t take everything going according to plan to make it so.

Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s plan, even when it wasn’t their plan. Mary could’ve insisted that having a baby wasn’t in her life plan, and even if she were going to do this, couldn’t God wait until she was happily married? But she didn’t. In the middle of her worries, fears, and doubts, she trusted God enough to know that His plan was better. And because she was willing to trust in God’s plan more than her plan, she played a huge role in His story on earth.

This Christmas, remember that when things don’t go as planned, God has the most room to work. And may this Christmas remind you that in the midst of our unplanned lives, God is with us in the waiting, working to bring the best plans—better plans than we can ask for or imagine.

As you get busy this Christmas weekend gathering with friends and family, orchestrating feasts, and making sure that everyone has the holiday experience they were hoping for, take a moment to stop thinking about what comes next, or perhaps what didn’t quite pan out earlier that day.  Set aside the plan.  Breathe in the hope of a newborn Savior.  Remember the peace that He brings with Him.  Celebrate the joy that His birth offers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Joseph and Mary’s reaction to their plans being changed? When was a time when you really knew you were living God’s plans for you? How did you know?  Or, when was a time when you realized that you were not living God’s plans for you? How did you know?
  2. 2. Proverbs 16:4 says: “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.” What are the implications of this verse for our lives?

Some Good News Amidst The Bad

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” – Psalm 112:6-7 (ESV)

Have you ever had to tell someone bad news? It isn’t very fun. It is no fun to let your parents know you got in big trouble at school or to tell a good friend the harsh truth.  We seem surrounded by bad news these days, in our local churches, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

We live in a broken world, and try as we might, we can’t hide from bad news or heartache by turning off the TV, ignoring it, or in a Netflix binge. None of those things will ever bring us peace because peace comes in the form of a Person: Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

That’s the good news about bad news: simply put, when the news seems all bad, there is good news. God is in control of history and anyone who acknowledges his need for God in Christ holds the key to inner peace and security. For in Christ, whether we live or die, we can’t lose. Christ gives us the key to eternal life and living this life victoriously.

God reminds us in His word that peace will not naturally just come our way. Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn away from evil and do good; search for peace and work to maintain it.”  There is no shortage of ideas on how to obtain peace. There are numerous books on the subject. They include suggestions such as – getting away for a few days, relaxing, being happy, taking a vacation, tuning out, just don’t think about stressful stuff, and searching for your inner place of peace. But these are all superficial fixes, that are at best temporary.

The peace of God is different. It’s lasting. Confident. Real. It gives us deep reassurance in the midst of all that we face in our past, present, and future.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace all who trust in, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”

No matter what we go through in this life, or what we’re up against today, we don’t have to be shaken. We’re safe with Him. At rest. At peace. He sent His only Son, the pure essence of Peace Himself, to give us lasting freedom and peace that only He can give.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you react to bad news?
  2. How can you turn bad news into peace?
  3. What are practical ways we can trust God for peace in our lives?

Promises, Promises

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 13:1-3.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep was one of the common maxims in business. It is wide advice as it was accepted that it is better to turn business away rather than disappoint. Promises are hard to keep, and we will experience unfulfilled promises. It is a pretty common struggle in life.

The Bible confirms that fact. Adam and Eve invite sin and death into our world. Cain kills Abel, even after God warns him about the evil lurking in his heart. And there’s nearly everyone else: “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5). It would be easy to imagine God having enough. But in Genesis 12, God does something tremendously gracious: He chooses to befriend an elderly man and bless him beyond all imagination.

The promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 13, seem too big for reality: descendants enough to replace the stars in the sky and a name known far and wide to name two. These promises seem so removed from our everyday lives that we tend to leave them in the past, there among the tents and flocks of Abraham and Sarah. But the New Testament tells us that these promises are actually ours in Christ.

When we read God’s Word, we find God’s promises. Though it can be difficult to know how to apply them to our lives—or even if we should—the Bible makes an amazing claim that is itself a promise: All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Jesus: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

What are God’s promises? There are too many to list here, but when you hold your Bible you are holding God’s promises to you.  Some of the spiritual promises are the continued forgiveness of sins, our sanctification, supplying us with strength and peace in trials, and preserving us to the end.

It’s easy to become disappointed when we lump God in with humans who can’t keep their every promise, no matter how good their intentions are.  But God wants to, can, and will fulfill His promises to us. No matter how long we may have to wait, they will ultimately come to pass. He never fails in His promises. We need to pray daily for God to fulfill His promises in our lives and we must ask Him to give us the patience we need to wait and trust.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you tend to trust promises or react with skepticism? Why?
  2. How do you think the promises that people have broken in your life have affected your ability to trust God’s promises?
  3. If you completely accepted God’s promises, how would your life be different?   

Blessed Are The Meek, For They Shall Inherit The Earth

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”  – A.W. Tozer

The first beatitude—being “poor in spirit”—is about recognizing our insignificance compared to God on a very personal level. The second beatitude is about mourning for sin and its many devastating effects. Together, these two beatitudes set the stage for the third: meekness.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5 ESV) A bunch of meek people gaining control of the earth? Seems unlikely. Most people believe the strong will inherit the earth. Here’s the thing for us who are Jesus’s followers: Jesus took time in His limited earthly ministry to talk about it. He wanted us to know about it on this side of eternity. Logically, meekness is something that God desires and shows favor on. The challenge is understanding the word meek.   

Meekness is a controlled strength that puts everything in the hands of God. It’s founded on a trust of the Lord, and it always denies self. It seeks another person’s interest at the expense of its own, and it’s pure, peaceable, gentle, and open to reason. James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  How counter-cultural is that in today’s world?

There are many biblical references to the word “meek.”  Bible Psalm 37:11 (ESV) mirrors that of Matthew 5:5 by stating, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” Proverbs 16:19 says, “Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”

Meekness should not be confused with cowardice or weakness. It’s not being afraid to stand up to someone; rather it’s having the courage to trust God for justice. In the eyes of God being meek is seen as being peaceful, humble, and clear-minded about what is most important in life. Being meek means that you will follow God’s guidance in this life.  Meekness is a trait that is necessary for a Christian’s life. It is not just power under control, but power under God’s control. For a Christian, meekness is about surrendering everything to God and being completely at His disposal.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Everyone who has humility has meekness and every person with meekness is likely also humble. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. When you think about meekness, what synonyms come to mind?
  3. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. What does He mean and how does that apply to us today?