GOD’S WILL CANNOT BE THWARTED

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” – Job 42:2 (ESV).

Job 42:2 is a verse that anchors our faith. Perhaps no Bible character has suffered more than Job. Job had everything — a good family, a good name, and plenty of wealth. But then Satan went to God and asked for permission to alter Job’s good fortune. Then tragedy strikes, and Job loses everything: his children, his wealth, his livestock, his crops, his health, and even his relationship with his wife and friends. And what did Job do? Not curse God, as Satan had thought he would. Instead, he praised His name. He did not sin in his thoughts or words when all the rapid-fire cataclysmic events took place.

Like Job, we are all created in the image of God to glorify him. Everything that He has allowed has His purpose stamped on it.  He will never give us a purposeless trial. He masterfully orchestrates every aspect of our lives. We may not understand our trials on this side of glory, but we can rest assured that he is using them to accomplish His purpose that will never be thwarted. Thwarted means to be twisted or wrenched around or messed up or squashed. God’s plans cannot fail, and nobody can stop Him from accomplishing His will.

We may question “Why…” but is it more helpful to ask with a “What” in mind? What does God want to accomplish in my trial or in my circumstances?  Isaiah 14:27 says, “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has spoken—who can change his plans? When his hand is raised, who can stop him?”

Have you ever watched a football game and heard someone shout “Interference!?” If the quarterback throws the football to the receiver, and somebody from the other team grabs the receiver or knocks him over before he can catch the ball, that is called “interference.” The catch is never completed like it was supposed to be because the receiver was “interfered with.” Human beings always interfere in each others’ lives, and everyday circumstances can thwart our plans, too. Our plans get changed all the time. Cars break down at the wrong times. The trip to the beach gets rained out. Your best friend moves out of state. Your spouse wants a divorce after 15 years of marriage.

Change is a part of human existence so we get used to interference and thwarted plans. We can’t manage everything. We are not all-powerful and all-knowing. But thankfully, God is. We can rejoice that God is sovereign and is in control of what happens in our lives – and not only that, but He cares about what happens in our lives. Many promises in the Bible speak of how God intends to do things for His glory and for our good. He knows His plans, and we can know for sure that no one and nothing can hold Him back from carrying them out.

God’s purposes can never be messed up, and we can trust Him to do whatever He sets out to do.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since I know that God can do everything and none of His plans can be messed up, how should that change my attitude when my own plans get messed up?
  2. Is there ever any cause for me to worry, fear, or get angry if I believe God is sovereign?

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

“Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake” – 2 Corinthians 4:5 (GW).

Sometimes, we like to do what we want, when we want, how we want. Yes, we love Jesus, and our heart’s desire is to serve and honor God in all we do and say. But sometimes, the me occupies center stage. It is not easy to cease saying, “What about me?” in exchange for, “it’s all about you, Jesus!”

It is sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around the realization that our lives would be in vain if not for Jesus Christ.  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.”  It isn’t about me.  It isn’t about what I accomplish.  It isn’t about my wants and desires.  It’s all about Jesus Christ in me.

It is wise to reflect that we were alienated from God by our behavior and sin. Fortunately, God decided to do something about it. God took the initiative. He decided to give us an inheritance and rescue us from darkness by forgiving us for our sins. How did He do this? Through His Son, Jesus Christ: “always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).

In Verse 15, Paul expands on the identity of Jesus. He is “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and God’s fullness dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is God. He is all-powerful, and through Him, everything in creation has been made—things on earth as well as in heaven, things we can see and things we can’t see, every source of power and authority, every king or prime minister or president, were all created through Christ. He has authority over life and death since He existed from the beginning and conquered death. Nothing and no one can escape His power and authority.

Mary was twice criticized for her zeal for Jesus: once because she sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister served and once because she seemingly wasted expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The criticism did not come from Jesus. Mary understood that listening to Jesus was more important than a clean house. Mary understood that no gift was wasted if it was lavished on Jesus. She had her priorities right in a world that was way out of sorts. She knew it was all about Jesus.

We will always have to deal with the temptation to orient everything and everyone around us.  At those times, we need to remember that it is all about Jesus. Loving Him, Seeking Him, Trusting Him

Discussion Questions:

  1. What things in your life are you responsible for, and how well do you feel you are in control of those things? 
  2. What areas of your life have you truly let God take control, and what areas are you still trying to hold onto the wheel yourself?

I WANT WHAT I WANT

You can’t always get what you want…You can’t always get what you want…You can’t always get what you want…But if you try sometimes, well you might find…You get what you need” – You Can’t Always Get What You Want, The Rolling Stones.

There are times we’re called to do something and we’d prefer not to do it. Perhaps for you, it’s a medical procedure. For a parent, it may be changing another diaper. A person might wish to stay in bed rather than go to work. We may not want to do many things every day, but what do we do when what we don’t want is what God wants for us?

How often do we try to fight against God’s will because we don’t like it? The move we weren’t expecting, our life blueprint that changed, that job we don’t like, whatever it is – while it may not be what we want, it may very well be what God wants.

God wants us to have a moldable, shapeable, humble, kind, gracious, and loving heart ready and willing to be used by God.  It is a Catch-22 situation because getting to that place isn’t easy because what we want doesn’t always align with what God wants.

There are those times when what we want is what we know we cannot or should not have, when we want to both get what we want and what God wants for us, but at different times. That is why it requires faith, trust, and reliance on God, knowing that it is going to work out—even better than you could ever imagine—when what we want aligns with what God wants.

We cannot control our lives, and we cannot control God. Thankfully, God cannot be controlled. Thankfully, it is because God wants more than you want for yourself.

We tend to think small. We focus much of our thinking on our wants. I want a loving spouse, a good-paying job, a nice house, and a long retirement. These questions are important and deserve careful thought, but is that all there is to life? Of course not.

God is working with the big picture in mind. He is more interested in your spiritual heart and your level of intimacy with Him because He knows nothing else will ever satisfy you the way He can. He knows that a relationship with Him is not a means to an end but the greatest end.

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 wants to work with you. He wants your life to matter. He wants you to be rewarded for what you do here on earth.

His wants should be our wants.

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?

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9 (ESV).

There are some misconceptions about peacemakers. Peacemaking is not the absence of conflict, pacifism, putting our heads in the sand, hoping that the conflict will disappear, or the “peace at any price” mentality. A working definition of a peacemaker is someone who is actively seeking to reconcile people to God and one another. A peacemaker is someone who brings peace to others. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker.

Jesus came to establish peace; His message explained peace; His death purchased peace; and His presence enables peace. Isaiah 9:6 prophesies that Jesus will be called the “Prince of Peace.” The angels announced His birth by singing, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Several times Jesus tells people to “Go in peace. ” Just before he was crucified, Jesus’ said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Jesus’s life was saturated with His mission to bring God’s peace and initiate healing relationships with God. He paid an enormous price for us to experience peace.

To be a peacemaker means actively working towards reconciliation and unity, even amid conflict and disagreement. It means choosing to forgive, love, and extend grace to those around us. It means being willing to listen to others, understand their perspectives, and find common ground.

Being a peacemaker is not easy. It requires us to set aside our own egos and desires, humble ourselves, and put the needs of others before our own. It requires us to be patient, persevere, and never give up on the pursuit of peace. When we are peacemakers, we reflect His character and His heart for the world.

Peacemaking will not be easy, maybe not even possible. However, we are still called to seek it. We remember Paul’s words for peacemakers in the Bible, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a “peacemaker” mean to you? 
  2. How can we be more of a peacemaker this week? 

I AM WHO I AM

God replied to Moses, “ I Am Who I Am . Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” – Exodus 3:14.

Knowing God by His names is one of the greatest privileges for followers of Christ. The word God is found throughout the Bible, but the Lord reveals Himself more personally through the names with which He introduces Himself in Scripture. No single name can describe all that God is. In fact, God uses each and every one of His names to reveal a different part of His character to us. As shown in the Scripture, each of these names has great significance.

I Am Who I Am is the name by which God wished to be known and worshiped in Israel — the name that expressed His character as the dependable and faithful God who desires the complete trust of His people. “God replied to Moses, “ I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).

The Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt for four centuries. Moses had fled Egypt and lived in Midian for forty years. Moses encounters a burning bush while tending his father-in-law’s flock in the desert. The bush is on fire, but the flames do not consume it. Moses goes to investigate, and God appears to him in the flames. God tells Moses that He has seen the suffering of the Hebrews, who are being held as slaves in Egypt. God has chosen Moses to lead them out of bondage. Moses recognizes the sheer weight of this call from God and he is hesitant. He looks for a way out by pointing to his insufficiency while God assures Moses that He will be with him.

Moses wanted to know God’s character and attributes, so he asked, “What is your name?” In the most profound yet simple way, Moses was to find His answer: “ I Am Who I Am.” In this phrase, God disclosed to Moses that as the self-existent God, He was all His people would ever need.  Revelation 1:8 says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” This is true of Him today and in Moses’ time.

Moses and Aaron delivered the message to Pharaoh: “…This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.”“Is that so?” retorted Pharaoh. “And who is the Lord? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:1–2).

Pharaoh was not willing to concede that there was a power higher than himself. He was saying “I am who I am, and therefore I will not yield to another.” He found out the hard way how wrong he was.

Fast forward to today. God is still all we need. He is the only true and living God. He alone is God. He has no equal in the world. He stands out from all others. For that reason, Christianity is both the most exclusive and inclusive religion of all. “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the name I Am Who I Am a revelation of God’s utter and complete self-sufficiency? Why or why not?
  2. This name expresses His character as the dependable and faithful God who desires the full trust of His people Agree or disagree and why?  

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?