God’s Answers to Big Questions

Our identity determines much about how we speak and act. Recognizing who we are is a critical piece of knowing how to respond to the various humbling challenges, mind-bending obstacles, heartaches and heart-breaks that arise in our lives.

This is true about other critical answers to big questions in life, not just the question, “Who am I?”

There’s destiny. Where am I going in life?

There’s purpose. Why am I here?

There’s possibility. What am I capable of?

And there’s community. Who will join me and support me on this journey?

All the answers to these questions can give us greater confidence and hope in our lives. Or the answers we have can demolish us and break our will.

If I’m “nobody” that will inform all my actions. If I believe my life is “going nowhere” that will affect my energy and my drive. If I’m sure that there is no end goal, no real purpose to my life, it can be pretty hard to even get going in the morning. Life becomes just one endless series of meaningless tasks.

If I think I have no gifts or talents, and no promise from a loving God to powerfully be with me, I will easily give up when obstacles arise. If I believe I’m alone is life, with no allies and no friends or family to support me, I will isolate myself and be subject to loneliness, frustration and spiritual attack.

That’s why I’m so grateful that God is clear about his answers to all these big questions. In the love that he has lavished on us, he has responded on our behalf to all five questions. He’s supplied those answers in Jesus Christ, and in the good news of his gospel promises.

Identity? By faith in Christ, we are called children of God, and that is what we are.

Destiny? Jesus is coming, and we know that when he appears, we shall be like him.

Purpose? The world does not know him, but God definitely wants us to let the world know about him! We have a Great Commission given us by Jesus!

Possibility? All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure. Our sins have been forgiven and  it is now possible for us to live a Christ-centered life to the glory of God.

Community? We have a Father, we are his children, and that means we have — through faith in Jesus Christ — many brothers, sisters and friends!

Don’t let anyone commit “identity theft” on you! Or destiny theft. Or purpose, possibility or community theft either. Make no mistake, that’s what the devil and all his “criminal forces” want to accomplish.

Secure your ID by leaning on gospel promises like this. And hold on tightly to what Jesus has given you!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your Son, Jesus. Through your gospel promises, help me to hold on tightly to my God-given identity, destiny, purpose, possibility and community. Keep the devil far away, and prevent him from stealing any of these from me. Help me to glorify you in all I do by meeting challenges in my life on the basis of my gospel-given answers to the big questions in life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 2, is Daniel 8:15 – 9:19, 1 John 2:28 – 3:10 and Proverbs 29:10-18.

Header image based on "Identity Theft" by GotCredit, CC By 2.0

The Power of One

God works through his people. And sometimes it simply takes one willing person to turn the tide.

In the days leading up to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, God was searching for that one person. God’s people had abandoned their faith. Abandoned their God.

Someone was needed to draw the people together and lead them back to God.

But no one could be found. Not one person could be identified who had the faith, the courage, the passion for God and the love for God’s people to stand in the gap of the wall. This “wall” was not a wall of stone, but a wall of people united as living stones to stand for God and resist Satan. No leader could be found to stand up to evil and stand strong for God.

The priests and spiritual leaders were to teach God’s people to rest in God’s promises and live according to his laws. The princes and officials were to protect the people and insure justice and peace in the land, pointing the people to God as their true King.

But not one could be found who was ready to do his work. Just the opposite, in fact. Instead of doing the Lord’s work, the princes devoured the citizens with conspiracies, blatantly looting the common people. And the priests violated the law and profaned the holy things entrusted to their care.

Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference in God’s kingdom. One person to change the broken culture. One person to help a church to achieve its mission. One person to serve on a ministry team. One person to lead a growth group. One person to visit the sick, or the prisoner. One person to care for the widow, the orphan, the person stricken by need or poverty.

One person filled with the Spirit, standing in the gap, can make all the difference in the world.

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, NIV).

Lord, you have been so kind to me. You “stood in the gap” through the cross, to reconcile the world to yourself. Make me willing to stand in the gap for you, and for your people. Fill me with your Spirit, and with the courage and willingness to serve you wherever I am needed.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 11, is Ezekiel 22:23 – 23:49, Hebrews 11:1-16 and Proverbs 27:15-22.

Header image based on "Gap" by Les Chatfield, CC By 2.0

Tribal Faith

Seth Godin, author of the book Tribes, gives us an excellent definition of what a tribe is: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

What better word to describe the people of God than “tribe”? We possess all the characteristics of that term. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are deeply connected to one another because we are all members of the family of God. As Christ-followers we have a strong connection to our leader, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And we are firmly connected to an idea — an idea that the Bible calls the gospel.

We are definitely a tribe.

And if we follow what Godin says next, then there are two things we need to be a tribe. We need a shared interest and we need a way to communicate.

Our shared interest is to love, thank and honor the God who first loved us and gave his Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. And our way to communicate with God is through worship. We listen to God as we hear the preaching and teaching of the word. We speak to God in prayer.

Perhaps that’s why the two concepts — tribes and worship — are connected by the author of Psalm 122. As the Psalmist writes, “the tribes of the Lord” go up to Jerusalem, they ascend to the temple, the house of the Lord. And why do they do this? To praise the name of the Lord.

Every Sunday we have a chance to “go tribal”… to show our connection to one another, to our Lord Jesus, and to God’s brilliant idea, the idea called the gospel. We have the opportunity to show that we are part of a cause, a “shared interest” in honoring God. And best of all, we have a sacred time set apart to communicate with our God, and to have him communicate with us.

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ …That is where the tribes go up—the tribes of the Lord—to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel” (Psalm 122:1, 4, NIV).

Lord, help me to see that I have a huge privilege in being able to worship you together with all my brothers and sisters in the Christian “tribe.” I thank you that you have included me in this tribe, and I pray that you will instill in all of us a joy in going to the house of the Lord — and a deep desire to praise your name.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 10, is Ezekiel 19:1 – 20:44, Hebrews 10:1-18 and Psalm 122:1-9.

Header image based on "Worship Cafe" by Sentinelle de mattino International , CC By-SA 2.0

Ambitious for a Quiet Life

Albert Einstein hit on one of the most important benefits of living a quiet life. It creates the right kind of environment for stimulating creativity: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Einstein would seem to be the best advertisement for his own dictum. One would struggle mightily to find many people who would qualify for being more creative than he was.

But Einstein, brilliant as he was, was not alone in recognizing the beauty and the benefit of the quiet life.

The apostle Paul also knew the value — before God — of the quiet life. In fact, he says, a quiet life is something to make our ambition, our life’s goal. That may come as a bit of a surprise to some who view Christianity as a “loud faith,” and Christians as a group who are bent on “shouting their way” into people’s hearts and minds.

But in today’s world, even apart from our Christian faith, it’s tough to live the quiet life. We live in a 24/7 world. So what are some of the obstacles that get in the way of you living the quiet life? Paul brings them out nicely, even as he encourages us to overcome them for the sake of reaching our goal of a quiet life.

  1. Selfishness gets in the way of the quiet life. When life becomes all about getting what we need and want, it usually heads in the opposite direction of “quiet.” Paul’s antidote to this obstacle is to put the focus on others (and for believers, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ), and to improve that focus every day. That’s what Jesus did. He focused on you in love.
  2. Being up in every one else’s business gets in the way of the quiet life. Instead of focusing on picking the tiny splinter out of our neighbor’s eye, we can focus on the “logs in our own eye”. We can recognize the repentance and forgiveness we need. Daily receiving God’s grace and forgiveness by taking time to confess our own sins will help a lot with this. Frequently looking to the cross of Christ is a great way to stop looking judgmentally into the affairs of others.
  3. Ironically, boredom gets in the way of a quiet life. Keep your hands busy. A quiet life is not a lazy life filled with boredom. Don’t equate these. You can live quietly while living actively. Paul says that working with our hands is one of the most effective ways to achieve the quiet life. You can be motivated to do this by remembering the immense love that Jesus showed you by “working with his hands” — stretching them out to be nailed to the cross.

Einstein had it right. So did Paul. One of the best ways to live creatively for the glory of God is to be ambitious to accomplish a quiet life. Such a life wins the respect of others. And such a life is the result of being fully sufficient in Christ.

“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, NIV).

Jesus, send me your Spirit, and inspire me by your love and forgiveness to make it my ambition to lead a quiet life. Help me to mind my own business, work with my hands, and most of all, keep on loving others more and more.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 11, is Jeremiah 23:9 – 25:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 and Proverbs 24:23-34.

Header image based on "Quiet" by Paul Mison, CC By-SA 2.0

God-Given Disabilities

Paul was one of the most well-educated and brilliant scholars of his day. He had a gift for leading and communicating. He was energetic and hard-working. He was a man with a huge heart and a passion for people.

And he loved God deeply.

So why would God allow him to be imprisoned in a Roman cell, locked up and left to rot? Why would the God he loved disable him that way? Why sideline him?

It’s a great question. And the answer is that our disabilities play an important role in God’s kingdom. Our weaknesses can allow others to step up and grow stronger. Sometimes our being on the sideline can allow someone else to step on to the playing field.

That’s what happened when the apostle Paul was put in prison. Others had to step forward. They had to be strong and confident. As Paul had been doing, they would now need to get past their fear and proclaim the gospel. They had to act daringly, by faith in Jesus.

So yes, God gives us both our abilities and our disabilities.

Because he doesn’t want any of us thinking we’re indispensable to the work of the kingdom, or that we can do it all on our own. Our disabilities persuade us to work together with those whose abilities match our disabilities.

And so the church functions together as one for the glory of God.

“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” (Philippians 1:14, NIV).

Lord, help me to be content with both my abilities and my disabilities. Lead me to see that my disabilities can be part of your plan to include others in the vital work of your kingdom. Lord, thank you that you have built the church in such a way that we all need each other to function.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 29, is Zephaniah 1:1 – 3:20, Philippians 1:1-26 and Proverbs 23:29 – 24:4.

Header image based on "There's an Injured Player Down on the Field" by Ron Cogswell, CC By 2.0

Team Sport

Christianity is a team sport.

Because we are teammates, we keep each other accountable. But we do that in a humble fashion. We put our teammates back on the right path in a way that shows we recognize that we could easily fall into the same temptation. Our accountability has a gentle touch because we are nothing more than fellow sinners with our teammates.

Because we’re teammates, we watch and make sure that our teammates’ load is manageable. And when it’s not, we willingly help them carry that load. We know that’s the Christ-like thing to do. After all, on the cross Jesus bore the entire burden of our sin.

Because we are teammates, we pause before we come to any conclusions about our contribution and value to the team. We’re careful because we know how easy it is to delude ourselves into thinking our importance is much greater than it really is. It’s so easy to begin to think we are indispensable to our team.

Because we are teammates, we test our own actions. We examine ourselves for the “log” in our own eye before we try and remove the tiny “splinter” in our brother’s (or sister’s) eye.

Because we are teammates, we don’t compare ourselves to others. There’s no need to. Because we take responsibility for our own actions. We’re already filled with confidence because we carry our own load. We take care of business.

Just as Jesus first took care of business for us.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load” (Galatians 6:1-5, NIV).

Lord help me to remember that Christianity is a team sport. I repent of the times when I have tried to be independent and felt I didn’t need help from others. I repent of the times when I have thought that I was excused from the responsibility of helping others who are my “teammates in Christ.” Forgive me. And help me be confident, knowing that you have born the burden of all my sins, and I am declared completely innocent in the sight of God.

Our Bible reading for Monday, September 21, is Isaiah 49:8 – 51:16, Galatians 6:1-18 and Proverbs 23:10-18.

Header image based on "Arizona Cardinals WR Michael Floyd" by Greg Buch | FFSwami.com, CC By-SA 2.0

Stick Together!

As he readies himself to bid farewell, Paul sets the bar high for the Corinthians. They have been given something that is immeasurably valuable. To be granted the ability to know Jesus as their Savior from sin and to trust in him as their life-changing Redeemer is the most precious gift in the world. Jesus had called it “the pearl of great price.”

So Paul reminds the Corinthians to stay vigilant, remain true to their convictions, overcome their fears, and persevere. It would be horrible, unimaginably tragic, to lose that pearl.

The Corinthians are also to recall what Paul had told them several chapters back about love. As critically important as vigilance, courage and perseverance are, without love it all really becomes worthless.

So, Paul reminds them, cover everything you do in love. The people that God has placed around you need that reflection of Christ’s love that emanates from you, child of God.

But most of all, know that neither you nor they are meant to go it alone. The church, and the work of the kingdom, require us to have each others’ back. And Paul makes sure the Corinthians don’t forget that others have had their back. He mentions by name just a few of those who have stepped up to insure that they had been well-served with the gospel.

Paul knows with certainty the importance — and the blessing — of the brotherhood and sisterhood of faith. Hanging together is the only option. We believe deeply we have to work as one. Or should we say, we believe deeply we get to work as one?

Because it can be — at times — a long, difficult journey. Because we need each other. Because, brothers and sisters in Christ, what we are is family.

For us, togetherness is the only way!

When we do stick together, good things result. Despite the difficulties and hardships life brings, our spirit stays refreshed. And the work of the kingdom gets done.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition” (1 Corinthians 16:13-18, NIV).

Lord, help us stick together and have each others’ back in the church so that our spirit can always be refreshed by the gospel, and so that your kingdom work of sharing the gospel can continue to move forward.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 25, is 2 Chronicles 24:1 – 25:28, 1 Corinthians 16:5-24 and Psalm 102:18-28.

Header image based on "family hike" by woodleywonderworks, CC By 2.0