Just checking in

When is the last time you reached out to an old friend or acquaintance you haven’t talked to in a while and checked to see how they were doing?

It can be something that is hugely beneficial to not only the person you’re checking in on, but also to you!

I had a friend check in on me yesterday and it was just so good to hear from him and catch up on life. I believe God wants us to have relationships with people where we can help them in their walk through the daily grind of life.

Sometimes people just need to be encouraged. And sometimes by encouraging others, we find encouragement and strength out of that ourselves.

Hebrews 10:24-24 says:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Reach out and reconnect with people today!

Who is Jesus?

Have you ever heard people talking about Jesus and wondered to yourself “Who is he? What’s the big deal?”

That’s ok. You’re not alone in that by any stretch of the imagination. When you hear people talking about the “gospel”, here’s the basic gist of what that means:

In the beginning, God created everything in the universe, including the earth and all that inhabits the earth. Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God and ultimately disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is significant because it introduced sin into the world.

Because of that, everyone after that had to deal with sin. In order to live a perfect life and avoid the punishment of sin, which is death and exile from God, one would have to live a flawless life in accordance with God’s Law. However, no human ever could or will be able to do that.

That’s a pretty big problem, huh?

That’s where Jesus enters into the equation. He came to earth and was born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary. The Holy Spirit moved in her and Jesus was born. That’s what is celebrated at Christmas time.

Jesus came and lived a perfect life. He performed many miracles, including raising people from the dead, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind and walking on water. He was the epitome of righteousness. He is the Son of God and he ultimately was betrayed by one of his disciples named Judas Iscariot to the Sanhedrin and was given to the Romans to be crucified on a cross.

He had done nothing wrong but willingly sacrificed himself after living a perfect life. Because of that, he took the place on the cross for you and I and died for our sins. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. He lived a life you and I could never live and because of his sacrifice, he provided a way for us to have a real relationship with God through him.

And because he is Lord, he rose from the dead three days later and came back to life. Shortly after that, Jesus ascended into heaven and he will come back to earth one day!

If you put your faith in Jesus and admit to and repent from your sins and confess them and your need for Christ, believe that he died for your sins and was raised from the dead and is Lord of all, you will be saved.

That means you will be a child of God and will be able to serve his will while you’re on earth and take the gospel to all nations. You will not be separated from God when your life is over in a place called Hell. You will spend eternity with him in heaven! It doesn’t get any better than that.

So hopefully this has helped some of you discover who Jesus is and why Christians believe what they believe. The most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16, reads:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

What does it mean to have true faith?

What does it mean to have true faith and trust in God?

This question came to mind for me when I was reading in the Gospel of Mark. Let’s start with a little background information for context in Mark 11 and we’ll pick up with Jesus’ comments on having true belief:

As Jesus was leaving the town of Bethany to head back into the city of Jerusalem, which was nearby, he was hungry. He saw a fig tree in leaf off in the distance and went to find out if it had any fruit.

When Jesus got there, he found nothing but leaves because it was not in season for figs. He said to the tree, within earshot of the disciples, in Mark 11:14: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

The very next morning, after Jesus had overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves in the previous day, he and his disciples were walking along and saw that same fig tree withered from the roots.

Peter said to Jesus: “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

That’s where we will pick up in Mark 11:22-25 with Jesus’ response:

“Have faith in God.” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.”

That’s a powerful illustration of what true faith in Jesus can do in your life. Jesus said that if you truly believe that you have received what you’ve asked for in prayer, and do not have doubt in your heart, that it will be yours.

When you really study and analyze that, it should completely change the way that we view prayer. I think most of us view prayer, particularly when we are asking something of God, as something we HOPE that He will do rather than BELIEVING that he will do something.

There’s a major difference in those two thoughts. How many of you have prayed for something and hoped that God would respond? What kind of a difference would it make in our lives if we had the kind of faith to truly believe that God will supply us with what we need and what we ask for?

As followers of Jesus Christ, faith is really the name of the game for us. When you made a decision to follow Jesus, you put your faith in him and believed that he was the son of the living God who lived a perfect life, died for the sins of all, rose from the dead and will return one day.

From the world’s perspective, that probably doesn’t make a ton of sense. But from our perspective, it’s about faith and trusting in the Lord and believing that he is who he says he is.

Sometimes I think we all, myself included, unintentionally put limits on what we think God can do in our lives because our human brains simply can’t wrap our minds around how great his power truly is. But if we truly believe the same God who created the entire universe and everything in it and has performed countless miracles is who he says he is, shouldn’t it stand to reason that we can fully have faith to trust in him and watch him work in our lives?

I think we should all strive to get to the point in our prayer lives where we present our concerns and requests before God and truly believe that he’s going to take care of us and direct our lives to what we truly need.

Putting all of your faith in God means putting all of your trust in him also. The more we can adopt that all-in mindset to God and what he commands us to do, the more fruit we’ll see in our lives.

Love is always the way

Bullying is something that has gone on for ages, but it just seems like it’s more prevalent nowadays.

That may or may not be true, but I do know that social media has certainly made it more visible to the general public. Social media itself can sometimes be a cesspool where bullying is at the most extreme.

It breaks my heart to see some of these videos that are floating around out there of kids, or even adults, being bullied and harassed.

My first thought is always “How could somebody do this to someone?” And not only how can they do it, but how can they do it AND record it while it’s happening?

Here recently, though, I’ve been having a follow-up thought as well:

“Surely I didn’t participate in this kind of behavior when I was growing up……right?”

The fact is that I don’t specifically remember a time where I bullied someone mercilessly and intentionally, but I’m also sure there were times where I was bullying someone, maybe without even knowing what I was doing. Maybe sometimes when I even did know what I was doing.

Lately, when I hear of these instances or see these videos, I just can’t help but try to think about what that must feel like….To wake up and just dread going somewhere or being around a specific group of people because you’re either afraid of what they might do or say to you or that you’re unable to do anything about it. To feel like you’re all alone.

Like I said before, it’s just heartbreaking.

Admittedly, bullying has never really been something I’ve had to deal with or work through. It happened from time to time growing up through school, but for me they were isolated incidents and I usually dealt with them there in the moment. As old as this may make me seem, it was a different time.

I’m not naive enough to think that’s how it is for everyone. Bullying exists and it’s a problem. And it’s not just a problem that kids deal with either. There are adults around us all, maybe even some of you who are reading this, that have to deal with a form of bullying every day.

It’s one thing to recognize what bullying is and that it’s an issue. But what can we do about it?

I’d like to address three groups of people in order to try and answer that question.

If you are the one being a bully or are a part of a group being a bully……why? That’s probably the first thing you need to ask yourself. Why am I doing this? What purpose does it serve? Is it really worth making another human being feel this way?

Particularly if you claim to be a follower of Jesus and you are bullying someone, which does happen……why? In 1 John 2:9 it says: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.”

Jesus was all about love and kindness. If you profess to be a follower of him, it would stand to reason that you should strive to be the same way.

Secondly, if you witness somebody being bullied, lend a helping hand. That doesn’t necessarily mean go flying in there and physically fight off the bully, but it does mean that you can do what you can to stop them.

More importantly, it means making sure that the victim knows that they aren’t alone. That there are people out there who do care about them and who do value them. Sometimes standing up to a bully on behalf of someone else or befriending someone who is “uncool” isn’t the popular thing to do, but it’s always the right thing to do.

Jesus wasn’t about popularity. He did what was right. He healed the sick, ministered to the lost and hung around tax collectors, included women (which was abnormal at the time), gave his time to the poor and unclean. The least we can do is to be a friend, which is easy. And it could end up being one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

Finally, I want to speak to those who are being bullied. The simplest comfort I can give is that no matter how much it may seem like it, you are not alone.

There are people who care. There are people who you can reach out to. But most importantly, there is a Heavenly Father who knows you, loves you and created you.

There’s a passage in the New Testament that we call “The Great Commission” where Jesus said his final words before ascending into heaven after his resurrection.

It can be found in Matthew 28:18-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Those final words are just so encouraging to me. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is always with you and will not leave you.

Bottom line…..respect those around you and treat them according to that respect. It’s easy to be a follower and give in to peer pressure and be a bully. Sometimes it’s hard to be a leader and stand up for and stand with somebody else.

Do the hard thing.

Quick hits: Enter into the peace of God

Just some food for thought heading into this weekend….maybe you’ve got some stressful issues going on in your life right now and you need some encouragement.

Take a look at this passage written by Paul from Philippians 4:4-9:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Following Abraham’s lead

What would your response be if God asked you to do something that was way out of your comfort zone?

Sometimes God tests us and our faith that we have in him. And sometimes he does that by asking us to step out in faith and show how far we are willing to go for him and his will.

It’s hard to imagine much more of a challenging test than the one God gave Abraham in the Old Testament. God had made a covenant with Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that he would be very fruitful.

God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14 proclaimed:

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner — those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

The Lord was faithful to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and bore a son to them at a very old age named Isaac. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Isaac was to be used by God to fulfill the promise he had made with Abraham.

And then God tested Abraham in an incredible way in Genesis 22:2:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love — Isaac — and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Imagine how difficult this must have been for Abraham. God had delivered on his promise to provide him with Isaac, his only son. And now God was instructing Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice to him.

In Genesis 22:9-18, Abraham remained faithful:

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” 

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

God asked Abraham to go way out of his comfort zone and do the most difficult thing any parent could do: Sacrifice their child’s life. Abraham was willing to do this because God had told him to do so.

If Abraham can do that, what is stopping us from stepping out of our comfort zones and doing what God is calling us to do? Most of the time what God is asking us to do is not going to be as extreme as offering up your child as a human sacrifice. So there’s really not an excuse for us not to follow him and listen to what he’s commanding us to do.

Spend time with God in prayer and ask him what he wants you to do with your life. Listen to how he speaks to you, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone like Abraham did.

 

Be ready to act for others

How many times do you think we’ve all had opportunities to help other people and show the love of God but have failed to act?

So many times I find myself praying to God and asking him to help a person get through a situation they’re going through without stopping to think and pray on what I can do to help them through that situation.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing in the world wrong with prayer and it’s a vital part of building your relationship with God. But sometimes I think we fail to consider that perhaps part of God’s answer to a prayer can be to use us!

Sure, it’s great to pray and rely on God to help a family struggling with financial hardship. But wouldn’t it also be good to bring that family a meal ourselves during a time of need?

Sure, it’s great to pray and ask God to comfort someone who has experienced loss. But what could you do to help those people during hard times?

God wants us to pray and communicate with him constantly, and he’s proven that he will be faithful and he will guide us when we seek his help. I also believe there are times when God wants us to be the instruments by which he performs his miracles and his help for other people.

I’m sure some of you are familiar with taking prayer requests for people at church or maybe in your small group of friends. How much of a difference could be made if we prayed to God and asked for his help but also asked for his guidance on how we could best help meet the needs of those prayer requests?

As you go out this week, be on the lookout for ways that you can minister to other people through your actions. Never hesitate to pray and ask God for help, but never fail to realize that sometimes God calls us to action to help meet other people’s needs.