Monday, August 2, 2021

Simple, but not Easy

 




Sometimes I think we make our relationship with God more difficult than it needs to be.  In the first chapter of Isaiah, God is basically saying, “You were raised by me and yet you guys are acting like bratty children.  All it’s getting you is a miserable life that you try and cover up with religion. Cut it out!”  He then pivots in a positive direction and provides the solution, “Clean up your act, quit thinking about yourselves, and help the most vulnerable among you.”

Isaiah 1:16-17 - …stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

 

Things to think about:

·       I like to say sometimes that God gives us children so we know how it feels!  He has done everything for us and yet our tendency is to go in the other direction.

·       His formula for living in harmony with Him is pretty straightforward:

o   Stop doing wrong

o   Learn to do right

o   Seek justice and defend the oppressed

o   Look after the fatherless and the widow

·       Stop doing wrong

o   It is impossible to please God while in active rebellion against His laws

o   Religion is man’s attempt to whitewash our misdeeds

o   Why is God so intolerant of religion?

·       Learn to do right

o   Anyone who is a parent knows you don’t need to teach children how to be selfish or stubborn!

o   Like children, we need to learn to do what is right, it does not come to us innately.

o   God says to learn to do what is right.  “Right” according to who?  Why is absolute truth (as opposed to relative truth) the standard?

·       Seek justice and defend the oppressed.

o   While it is good to clean up our act, it is not the end of God’s expectation for you and me.

o   He is commanding us to actively seek to make things right and fair for everyone.  We are expected to call out injustice and inequality when we see it.

o   What does that look like in our times today?

·       Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow

o   God puts an even finer point on what pleasing Him looks like.  He calls out two very specific groups of vulnerable people – orphans and widows

o   One thing that is very apparent is that there is a “male gap” that needs to be filled

o   How can we as men who seek to love God and be His representatives step up to the plate with this command?

God wants us to be in a right relationship with Him, first with salvation, then with sanctification, and finally with extending His grace and mercy to others.  Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Don't Ever Give Up

 



There is a lot to be said for not quitting.  Jim Valvano is famous for his 1993 speech at the ESPYs for exhorting people to, "Don’t give up . . . don’t ever give up."  Even if you are taking one baby step further towards the goal, that is progress.  It may not be all the way to perfection, but thankfully that isn’t what is being asked of us (at least not of our own merits).  Even the great Apostle Paul knew that he had not attained all there was to be had in the Christian life, but he pressed on.  So can I and so can you.

 

Philippians 3:12-14

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Things to think about:

·       Persistence

o   “but I press on…”

o   “I strain towards what is ahead”

o   2 Timothy 4:7 –  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

o   Hebrews 12:3 – “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

o   Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

o   Why is persistence such an important trait?

o   Is there anyone you think of as being persistent?

·       What gets in the way of persistence in the faith?

o   Past mistakes – I’ve messed it up too badly

o   Past efforts – I’ve tried this before, I’ll just fail again

o   The lure of sin

o   Swimming upstream culturally

o   Something else?

·       This is a marathon, not a sprint

o   “Not that I have obtained all this or arrived at my goal…”         

o   1 John 3:2 – “dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

o   We’re not perfect but we know One who is

o   Hebrews 12:2 - Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith

o   1 Peter 2:22 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

·       Everyday we have two choices we can make:

o   Our attitude – Paul says he forgets what lies behind.  This is an active choosing of the will.

o   Our actions – Paul says he strains towards the goal, pressing on toward the prize.

o   Hebrews 12:1 – “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”

o   How do our attitudes and actions affect our ability to persevere in the faith?

·       “To take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold for me”

o   What do you think Paul is referring to? 

§  Redemption

§  Renewal

§  Reward

·       If we persist and do not quit, Paul says we will win the prize that God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.

o   Let us stay focused on the prize

o   If you are getting tired or discouraged, you can:

§  Pray for renewed strength

§  Read stories of saints who didn’t quit

§  Call a friend to talk it out

 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Fragile - Handle with Care!

 


If you heard someone call out in a loud voice, “Be gentle, be gentle!”, what would you think they were talking about?  Maybe a baby, or a kitten, or a person with an injury?  Maybe an antique or something else of great value.  In our verse below, Paul is telling us to be gentle with everyone we come in contact with.

 

Philippians 4:5 – Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 

 

Things to think about:

·       Two thoughts come to mind when considering gentleness: things of great value and things easily damaged.  Both of these are true with all people.

o   Matthew 6:26 - Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

o   2 Corinthians 4:7 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.       

o   What are other ways we know that God values all people?

·       With respect to the fragility of man, there are so many examples:

o   Our physical health

o   Our egos that are so easily bruised

o   Our inclination to sin

o   The scars we bear from previous emotional hurts

·       Given this, it is imperative that we treat others gently.

o   In fact, it is a fruit of the Spirit - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

·       Can you think of a time when someone showed you gentleness when you really needed it (and maybe didn’t deserve it)?

·       When are practical times for us to show gentleness?

o   Resisting the urge to be short-tempered, quick to criticize, rush to judgment

·       You will no doubt encounter a situation today when you can offer gentleness to someone God has put in your path.

o   Remember, God values them so much He sent His Son for them

o   It is the will of God than none perish but all come to repentance (i.e., no lost causes)

o   All of us are but dust and need to be handled with care.

o   The Lord is near.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Stars

 


Light and Darkness is a recurring theme in the Bible.  Light is always associated with good things and darkness is always associated with bad things.  Where we fit in that spectrum is up to us.  When we become children of God, we become children of light.  Sometimes we walk in that truth and sometimes not so much.  It doesn’t change our identity, but it does affect our impact.

 

Philippians 2:15 - Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky

 

Things to think about:

·       What are some examples you can think of where the Bible uses the metaphor of Light?

o   Psalm 119:105

o   John 8:12

o   Matthew 5:14

·       Similarly, what are some that relate to Darkness?

o   Acts 26:18

o   John 3:19-21

o   Proverbs 4:19

·       In Philippians 2:14-16, Paul is exhorting the church to live up to their calling

o   Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.         

o   As we all know, the absence of light is darkness. We see here that our attitude (grumbling and arguing) can dim our light.

§  Grumbling or complaining is telling God you don’t think He is doing a very good job.  How does this make our light not so bright?

§  Arguing is having disagreements with others.  Jesus was clear in John 17 that the world is looking to see our unity as clear evidence of the truth of the gospel. How does arguing dim our light?

·       Our passage also says we live in a warped and corrupt generation (which equals darkness). 

·       The inherent darkness of sin, coupled with grumbling and arguing paints a very dark scene, kind of like a midnight sky with no stars.

o   BUT we can overcome the darkness and shine like stars

·       What is our light source?

o   Our goodness?  Our good works?

o   No!  It is the Word of life.

§  1 John 1:1 - That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 

§  In a word - Jesus

·       Paul tells us we must hold firmly to the Word of life

o   Light requires energy, darkness requires nothing

o   Similarly, we must continually remain diligent and faithful while allowing the Spirit to empower us

·       What is the result of our shining like stars?

o   In the Philippians case, it was proof that Paul did not labor in vain. 

o   In our case, that the godly men and women the Lord has used in your life made a difference for the Kingdom. 

§  Who in your life didn’t labor in vain (who poured into you to help you become the man you are today)?

o   As it says in Philippians 2:13 - for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.  He wants to use you today to bring light into a dark world that desperately needs Him.

§  Your light is shining today on someone who is being inspired by your witness.  Let us be pure and blameless, holding firmly to the Word of life - to the glory of God.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Why is This Happening to Me?

 


If you have a pulse, you have probably asked the age-old question, “Why is this happening to me?”  The Bible is full of stories of people who were mistreated for what seemed to be no good reason.  We can look at the persecution of Jesus, King David, or Job as clear examples of God-fearing men who didn’t deserve the abuse that came their way.  Another example that we will look at today is the Apostle Paul.  In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul gives us three reasons he found while he was unfairly imprisoned in a Roman jail.

 

Philippians 1:12 - Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

 

Things to think about:

·       “It’s not fair!” is one of the most common complaints humans utter.  There is a sense of justice that we all have and when it is violated, we demand to know why this is happening.

o   Are going through a time now where this is the recurring thought going through your mind?

o   If not now, when has this been the case for you?

·       Of course, we all know Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

o   But sometimes we really want to know what that purpose is!

o   Philippians 1 offers us three potential answers

To Advance the Gospel

·       In our verse, Paul says that what is happening to him is serving to advance the gospel

·       He goes on to say in verses 13 and 14, “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”

o   Non-believers could plainly see that Paul was a man of conviction, willing to be in chains for his beliefs.

o   Moreover, believers grew in their confidence to proclaim the gospel

o   Why is it so compelling to see a clear-cut model of conviction?

o   Have you seen examples of this in your own life where someone was willing to endure “unfairness” for the sake of the gospel?

One’s Own Deliverance

·       The second major benefit Paul offers is found in verse 19 – “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

o   Paul said that his deliverance through this time was fortified by the prayers of others and the Holy Spirit.

o   We cannot tough it out on our own.  We need the prayer support of others, coupled with the Spirit to make it through.

o   How have you seen this play out in your own life?

The Benefit of Others

·       Lastly, Paul concludes in verse 25 with, “I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith”

o   In this section, Paul was actually talking about whether it would just be better for him to die so he could be in the presence of the Lord (his preference) or to remain and help the young church grow (his duty).   

o   As a pillar of faith, of course Paul opted to remain for the sake of others.

o   Your perseverance in suffering can propel others along in their own journey and give them joy in the faith.  That is a remarkable outcome to a circumstance that on its surface may seem pointless.

o   How have you been inspired by the faithfulness of another, especially when they have been in trying circumstances?

·       Suffering doesn’t have to be wasted time.  Clearly, God can be actively at work to bring new believers into the kingdom, to minister to you personally, and to grow others in the faith.

o   The trick is to respond as Paul did and not focus on the circumstances (or even the outcome) but on the spiritual process taking place around and in you, to God’s glory.