The Skinny on Fasting

“At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” – Daniel 10:2-3

Northstar Church will start our 21-Day Daniel Fast on March 15 and end on Easter. We are so excited to see what God will do during our fast. Entering into a period of extended prayer and fasting is like pushing the “pause button” on life so you can draw nearer to God. The Holy Spirit joins you in this experience as you open your heart to receive from the Lord. The Daniel Fast is based on the fasting experiences of the Old Testament prophet.

I will be sharing a lot more information in the weeks leading up to March 15. In this post, I want to give you the Biblical background for the Daniel Fast.

The concept of a Daniel fast comes from Daniel 1:8-14. The short version is that the king’s food was against dietary laws. Daniel and his friends had vowed against wine. The king’s food had been offered up to idols/demons. But Daniel had found favor with the king. The story picks up in verse 10:”…but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[a] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.”

Daniel and his three friends had been deported to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians conquered Judah (2 Kings 24:13-14). Daniel and his three friends were put into the Babylonian court servant “training program.” Part of the program was learning Babylonian customs, beliefs, laws, and practices. The eating habits of the Babylonians were not in complete agreement with the Mosaic Law. As a result, Daniel asked if he and his three friends could be excused from eating the meat (which was likely sacrificed to Babylonian false gods and idols).

The result of the 10 day test is recorded in Daniel 1:15-16. “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”

In verse 17 we read: “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kind.”

Fasting is a very important part of having a healthy relationship with God. It helps put our spiritual and physical life in perspective. God gives us specific ways to worship and honor Him in the Bible and He instructs us to fast in many scriptures. Joel: 2:12 says, “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

We believe fasting opens our hearts and minds to receive what God is saying and perceive what God is doing in our lives and the lives of our church as we pursue our vision of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

Stay tuned for more information.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you believe that is it important for every believer to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting? Why or why not?
2. If you are going to participate in the Daniel Fast, what are your specific aims? What do you foresee your challenges to be as you take part in the Daniel Fast? How might you use prayer to help you overcome them?
3. Do you have any fears or apprehensions about beginning the Daniel Fast? What wisdom can you glean from Daniel’s story that could help put your fears to rest?
4. Share about a time you fasted and prayed. What did God reveal to you during that time? What might you do differently this time around with the Daniel Fast?
5. Pray and ask God that He will bring you closer to Him through your fasting.

What is Influence?

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” – Galatians 5:7-9

What is influence? The dictionary defines influence as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

But a lifetime of experiences has taught me that it is not so easily defined. For Christians, it often seems that God’s greatest moments for us are never for us alone. These pivotal moments in our lives are always about our lives touching the lives of others or someone touching ours. A life touched by God always ends in touching others; whether it be a spouse, brother, co-worker, neighbor or any other relationships, or maybe it is a complete stranger.

This is evident throughout the Bible, where ordinary people are empowered by God to affect the world in extraordinary ways. The fact that 12 men, largely untrained, with sorted pasts could change the world is proof of that statement. It is also proof that we too can influence people whether it be in someone’s inner circle, or in a relationship, in our Northstar Group or with someone we met in the mall. And those people can influence us just as easily when they are members of our inner circle or in our Northstar Group.

So how can we be a Godly influence on those we are in relationships with? Let me share a few general thoughts with you.

1. Pray for the people in the relationship and the relationship in general. 1 Timothy 2:1,8 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people…Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

2. Walk the walk. Be a Christlike example to others. Titus 2:7 says, In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.  1 Peter 2:12: ”Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

3. By working at the relationship enthusiastically, as to the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

4. By faithfully enduring, through God’s power, the inevitable bumps and valleys that come along in any relationship. 2 Corinthians 4: 7-12 says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

And finally, by loving others. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

These are some of the attributes that enable us to influence others and others influence us.

Discussion Questions:
1. How do your peers influence you? Do you act differently around certain people? Explain.
2. Do your views and opinions influence your friends? Why or why not? How are your beliefs and values respected by your peers?
3. How do you positively influence your friends? How do you negatively influence your friends?
4. Is it difficult to do something that opposes what your friends think that you should do? How do you handle those situations?
5. Pray and ask God that you be a positive Godly influence with those you are in relationships with.

Choosing Wisely

“Celebrate the people in your life who are there because they love you for no other reason than because you are you.” ? Mandy Hale.

When Aristotle was asked, in the 4th century BC, what defines a friend, he had no doubts. A friend is “one soul inhabiting two bodies”, he said, adding: “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

We all desire good friends. We all desire strong relationships. But, how do we decide on who our friends are and how do we develop strong relationships? And once we have those things, how do we decide which of our friends make it into the inner circle and which do not? What is the purpose of your closest relationships?

Is your best friend at work? The guy in your neighborhood? A girl you grew up with? Somebody in your Northstar Group? Your wife? Your boyfriend. Your dad? Your sister? Your therapist? Your piano teacher?

Regardless of who the person is, there are some common sense attributes the person should have to make it into your inner circle.

First, are they headed where you are? Amos 3:3 says, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Which way are they going: spiritually, vocationally, financially or physically? It is difficult to plan to share your journey with someone that is going in an opposite direction. How do you plan to share a journey going in different directions? In the same vein, do they have the same clarity, vision and purpose in their lives? If they don’t know what they’re doing – or why – will you trust them to stay the course?

Second, how long have you known them? It takes time to build a trusting relationship? If you choose somebody for your inner circle too quickly, chances are you’re going to disappoint each other? It takes time to know the real depth of the relationship. Another question to ask is does the other person have any other trusting and honest friendships? If they have no long-term, trusting and authentic friendships, shouldn’t you ask yourself, “Why?”

Third, what do they believe about God? Are they Christ followers? 1 Corinthians 2:16 says: “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” We are to have Jesus’ thoughts, feelings and purposes. Is that attitude or perspective reflected by the members of your inner circle? If we build our lives on differing foundations, what happens? Will they carry you to Christ and encourage you to follow Christ?

As it involves your inner circle and the people closest to you, these notions deserve some thought. Give them some consideration.

Discussion Questions:
1. What is your motive for picking your friends? What is your mission for picking your friends?
2. What are some other questions you should ask yourself before allowing someone into your inner circle? What qualifies the person to be in your inner circle other than familiarity?
3. Jesus would not allow Himself to be controlled by other people’s priorities or problems. He chose to surround Himself with people who had His vision and were capable of fulfilling it. (Luke 14:26)
4. Jeremiah 23:18 says: “But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?” Inner circle or group of confidants can be substituted for the word council in this verse. What does this verse say about people in your inner circle?
5. Pray and ask God to show you the people He would have in your inner circle.

Arrows Of A Friend

If you want to know someone who deserved to be in the inner circle, and an example of a strong relationship, one of the best models in the Bible is David and Jonathan. Jonathan was the son of David’s enemy, King Saul. Saul was out to kill David because he was jealous of him and knew that he would replace him on the throne of Israel. Saul’s son, Jonathan, knew this and was such a loyal friend of David, that he alerted David of the danger and saved his life when he found out that his father, Saul, wanted to kill David. 1 Samuel 20:4 says, “Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”

The remainder of the story is in 1 Samuel chapter 20. “So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.” (verses 16-17)

Jonathan devised a plan to warn David on whether he could come to King Saul’s table or whether Saul would kill him. In verse 18-22, he outlines a signal to warn David. Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away.”

Jonathan risked his life for David. Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!” “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.” (verses 30-33).

Jonathan knew that he would be next in line for the throne if David was killed. He could have easily betrayed David and secured the throne of Israel for himself. But, Jonathan’s love and loyalty for his friend David was evident by his selfless act of saving David’s life. Jonathan was willing to risk his own life for his friend David, even though by doing so Jonathan would sacrifice his chance to rule Israel. David’s friendship was more important than the throne of Israel to Jonathan.

So, Jonathan sent a messenger boy to shoot arrows for the signal that it was not safe for David to return to King Saul’s presence for he would surely be killed. “After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most. Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.” (verses 41-42).

That is the person that you want in your inner circle.

Discussion Questions.
1. Is Jonathan being disloyal to his father, Saul? Why or why not?
2. Describe your best friend? How do you decide to be someone’s friend? Would you consider yourself a good friend?
3. In your inner circle, have you experienced a David-Jonathan loyal relationship?
4. Who in your life is traveling alongside you? Who are you intentionally traveling with? Do they know how important they are in your life?
5. Pray and ask God to help you choose a Jonathan in your life and at the same time look for ways to be a Jonathan in someone else’s life.

Show Me Your friends, And I’ll Show You Your future.

“The people you surround yourself with influence your behaviors, so choose friends who have healthy habits.” – Dan Buettner

We often misunderstand the influence that people have in our lives. The two words that most accurately describe influence are powerful and subtle. The influence of others can be powerful because we all desire to have people like us, therefore, we may start acting like others to gain their approval. Their influence is also subtle because we may think it has no effect on us. Often, we don’t know we’re being influenced until it is too late. People we spend the most time with will influence the quality and direction of our lives.

This is why corporate and government leaders must be intentional about having the right inner circle of people around them.But how do you arrive at the right inner circle? What qualities and behavior should you look for as a Christian. In Sunday’s message and in the devotionals for this week, I will discuss some essential elements to consider when it comes to who should be in your inner circle.

You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. I have seen the damage done time and time again by people who started attending church, but chose to still hang out with their old friends. In most cases, they found themselves pulled back into the world. If you are a new believer, you cannot hang out with the old friends like you used to and think you will not be affected. It just doesn’t work that way. That doesn’t mean to imply all your friends are bad. What it does mean is to make sure your inner circle is taking you in the direction of maturing as a Christian.

1 Corinthians 15:33 is pretty blunt: “Bad company corrupts good character.” God saw fit to warn us about this because the people we let into our lives, is who we become. Let me clear up something I’m sure many people are either asking or at least thinking at this point. Yes, we can still love people, accept and forgive them. And yes, they can be our friends. But, be careful who is in your inner circle that will influence the quality and direction of your life.

As I said on Sunday, because I was so positive, accepting and forgiving, I allowed just about anyone into my innermost circle of friends. And as I said Sunday, a series of experiences over time gave me some hard learned insight into the importance of choosing friends wisely. Friends have the ability to help you grow into the best person you can be, but they also have the ability to stymie your growth.

Proverbs 13:20 says “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” This verse is telling us if we choose righteous and godly friends, they will help motivate us to seek after and pursue a relationship with God. But if we choose wicked and ungodly friends, they will ultimately lead us to harm. It is a true principle that we become like those we spend the most time with.

Since I gave my life to Jesus Christ, there have been any number of people who have guided and mentored me. But there were only a handful that have had a profound influence on me. If I were to list their names, you probably would have heard of several and several would be people you have never heard of. But the one thing they have in common is they had an uncommon walk with the Lord that allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to flow through them. Their words echoed the truth of God’s word because they faithfully spent time with the Lord. That’s because people that genuinely spend time with the Lord are genuinely changed and they make the best inner circle.

Tomorrow’s devotional: Bible Best Buds.

Discussion Questions:
1. Identify people that you are currently walking through life with; your friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, etc. What makes some of them stand out?
2. Do you have an inner circle of people in your life? How many people make up that inner circle? What are some characteristics or qualities of your inner circle people? How has having an inner circle allowed you to better move forward?
3. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” What is that saying to you?
4. Amos 3:3 says, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Does someone have to be of like mind to be in your inner circle?
5. Pray and ask God for wisdom on who should be in your inner circle.

Spiritual Maturity = Relational Maturity

People don’t have relationships. They are the relationship. The quality of a person’s life is a direct reflection of the quality of their relationships. Conflict is inevitable and how we handle those conflicts will strengthen or weaken our relationships. The ability to function in healthy relationships is predicated on our spiritual maturity as much or more than it is our relational maturity.

Spiritual maturity is not so much about “what we know” as it is “who we become.” It’s about learning to live and love like Jesus. Most people equate spiritual maturity with knowledge of the bible. An understanding of scripture is always a good thing, but spiritual maturity comes from putting that understanding and knowledge to work. So no matter how many verses of the Bible you know and where to find them, – book, chapter, verse – the question remains; are we living out the verses and applying them in our daily walk?

In fact, it is fairly easy to see a person who is maturing in their walk with God because they are living it every day. It’s easy to see God shining through them in how they serve and how they give themselves to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. My guess is that the spiritually mature person is successful in relationships as well. I am not saying that they don’t have some bumps in the road, or some challenges, but overall I believe being mature spiritually translates into being mature in relationships. Let’s look at some benchmarks of spiritual maturity. I won’t comment on the relational side. I want you to decide whether these hallmarks of spiritual maturity that will help our relationship with God would would help or hurt your other relationships.

First, a person who is spiritually mature is positive under pressure. They handle problems well and see them for what they are based on James 1:1-2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Second, a person who is spiritually mature is sensitive to people. They know how to have empathy, to listen, to find common ground and to have a servant’s mentality. They seek to demonstrate God’s love. Matthew 22:39 says, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Third, a person who is spiritually mature knows how to curb his or her tongue. They know how to control what they say. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” – James 1:26.

Fourth, a person who is spiritually mature is a peacemaker. They have a calming effect on people. They look for solutions that will mend the relationship and stop the conflict. James 4:1 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” And Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Fifth, a person who is spiritually mature is a person who prays. They talk to God every day. They seek a relationship with Him and help in their daily lives through prayer including our relationships on earth. They depend on God for guidance and wisdom. “…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

Let me leave you with one more passage of scripture. Hebrews 13:20-21 says, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Discussion questions:
1. What would you say is the number one indicator of a spiritually mature Christian?
2. Do you agree that the mature Christian will also be mature in his or her relationships and be better able to handle and resolve conflict? Why or why not?
3. Do you believe being able to handle pressure would help in your relationships? What about being sensitive to people? Or the ability to control the tongue? Or being a peacemaker? Or praying?
4. What changes would you have to make in your life today in order to grow more spiritually?
5.. Pray and ask God for his guidance on your spiritual journey? Pray about joining a Northstar Group if you haven’t already done so. Pray about joining the church and pray about taking the discipleship classes available at Northstar.

We Put The “Fun” in Dysfunctional

Cities tolerate crazy people, Companies don’t. – Geoffrey West

Most people have at least one crazy person in their lives. It can be just about anyone. It can be someone in one of our relationships, but it could be your spouse. “The longer we are married, the crazier he or she seems to get until we put a plaque on our wall that says ‘But as for me and my crazy household, we will serve the LORD.’”

We hear things like: “home is where my crazy husband lives.” Or  “families are a like sundae, they have a few nuts like my wife.” Or “weirdness doesn’t run in my family, it gallops.” And “I don’t have a favorite child, they all annoy me equally.”  Then there is the “I check the kids into Kids programs at Northstar. Too bad I can’t check my husband into one as well.” And finally, “but remember when we get to church, or as far as anyone knows, we are a normal family.”

Ah, the wonder of marriage. The dirty socks on the floor. Being late. The way he chews. Putting his feet up on the furniture. Honey, it was on sale.  Finishing her sentences. He sits on the couch watching sports and pretends he’s listening to you by saying “uh huh” every once in a while. Crying and then the occasional wailing. The wet towel left on the bathroom floor. The snoring. Constant criticism.

Like the relentless drip of a leaky faucet, those small, more typical than crazy things erode the goodwill that underlies all relationships and in its place conflict grows like crazy. Gradually, you begin looking for evidence that your spouse is a little wacky—and of course you find it. Irritations are inevitable in relationships. It’s just not possible to find another human being whose every quirk, habit, and preference aligns perfectly with yours. We each have differing values and ways of looking at the world, and we want different things from each other. You don’t just live with your spouse in your home, you also have to live with them in your head. It is a matter of perspective. The same can be true of other relationships as well.

It was actor Chris Pine who said, “The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” That makes sense to me. It requires some thought and asking the question: Do you you need to change your perspective on conflict? The answer is yes if we don’t factor God into the equation.

When we are involved in conflict, we must decide whether or not we will trust God. If we do not trust God, we will inevitably place our trust in ourself or someone else, which ultimately leads to the conflict deepening and remaining unresolved. On the other hand, if we believe that God is sovereign and that He will never let anything into our life unless it can be used for good (Romans 8:28), we will see conflicts not as accidents, but as assignments and opportunities.

This kind of trust glorifies God and inspires the faithfulness needed for effective resolution of relational conflicts. When we invest time in our relationship with God, He will pour out His love on us and at the same time gently convicting us that we need to change and that Jesus is our life-changer. John 16:8-11 says, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

This week, pull the focus off of the conflict itself and develop God’s view. It will make sense of all the crazy around you.

Discussion Questions:
1.  Do you experience conflict from little crazy things?

2. Do you trust God or yourself in the midst of crazy moments?

3. What is the first step you can take to begin trusting God in the midst of conflict?

4. Pray and ask God to lean on Him in every conflict.

Conflict And The Bible

Benjamin Franklin is known for famously saying, “but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” To that we can add conflict.

Conflict is inevitable. Whenever people are involved, there will be conflict. Normal relationships, even healthy relationships, encounter conflict occasionally. That is true whether the relationship involves family members, friends or co-workers; and even within the church. We are often surprised when conflict develops among believers, but because a church is made up of people, conflict is inevitable at times.

Conflict is never fun, and it never gets easier no matter how much practice we get at trying. No relationship is immune. We are afraid to confront our mother-in-law about undermining discipline with our kids. Or we think it would weird to tell our brother about drinking less. Or it is potentially damaging to tell the boss you don’t approve of his lack of ethics. Resolving conflict can harm relationships. Fortunately, we have a guidebook, a set of guardrails, a source of solutions and wisdom, and a general guide for life’s journey; the Bible. Here are a few verses that speak to the subject of conflict:

You are more willing to listen to them than speak to them. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”– James 1:19

You regularly pray for them. “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Corinthians 1:4

Your speech builds them up. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

You quickly repent when you are harsh to them – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

You are quick to guard your tongue so you do not hurt them. “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” – Psalm 141:3

You speak wisdom to them so you can serve them. “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction.” – Proverbs 16:23

You are selective in your speech so you do not sin against them. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” – Proverbs 10:19

You carry them in your heart. “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Conflict is a part of relationships. The more intentional we are at allowing conflict to promote and maintain healthy relationships, the greater our success will be in dealing with conflict. Rather than viewing all conflict as a painful part of life, let’s begin to see it as God building stronger, God-honoring relationships.

Discussion Questions:
1. How would you rate your ability to handle conflict? What is your biggest weakness?
2. What is ultimately the root cause of conflict?
3. What differentiates biblical conflict resolution from worldly conflict resolution?
4. So how should Christians respond to conflict? Why?
5. Which of the above verses would help you most in resolving conflict today?
6. Pray and ask God to give you the wisdom to deal with conflict.

Abraham And The Art Of Conflict

In the last devotional, I talked about the fact that there are battles to fight and battles to let go of because at the end of the day, it is not a case of having conflict, but how we handle conflict.

God’s word contains many opportunities and many solutions for resolving conflict. One such place is in Genesis 13:1-18. In this passage of Scripture, we see a conflict brewing between two family units: Abram (Abraham), and Lot, who is Abraham’s nephew. The conflict concerned the right to land use. It seems the shepherds working for Abraham and Lot were arguing over whose flocks should have precedence when it came to grazing.

Abram, being more interested in having a relationship with his nephew, suggested that they separate and that Lot take his choice of the land. Abram considered Lot before he considered himself. Some would call that commendable, while others would suggest that was not a wise decision, because the other party could easily take advantage of him.

This passage of scripture gives us several tips on how to resolve our relational conflicts. One is maturity. Immaturity in a relationship will cause conflict rather than solve it. In this story,  Abram said, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me.” These words are a picture of maturity and what maturity should produce in a believer. Humility arises in the heart of a Christ follower and asks: What is God’s way of solving this? What is the MOST important thing here? What is the greater answer to this conflict?

Second tip. Who wins in this story? Some would say Lot because he was given first choice of land. Sometimes the best option is to put aside our interests and allow the other person to have his/her way. Yes, it is natural to hold out for what we want. When conflict occurs, even when trying to preserve relationships, we tend to think, “If I don’t look after my own interest, who will?” Compromise can be an option. In fact, when we consider the interest of others, we can receive the greater benefit. Abram considered Lot before himself and, as a result, received the greater blessing. Abram let Lot have first choice of which land should be his. God was pleased with Abram’s unselfish choice and told him all of that land would someday belong to his descendants. In contrast, Lot’s selfish choice meant that he moved near the wicked city of Sodom.

The third tip is having faith. In the Bible’s hall of fame in Hebrews 11, candid pictures are given of great men whose faith stands out in Old Testament history. Most are descendants of Abraham. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Faith in God means that Abram didn’t need to worry about who won and who lost, or whether his ox was getting gored. He left it to God because of his faith.

So can we.

Discussion Questions.
1. Why were Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen quarreling? Who chose first?
2. Did Lot make the best choice? If you didn’t know the outcome, would you choose as Lot did? Why or why not?
3. Genesis 15:1:” After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 22:17 says,”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.” Would holding onto God’s promises make a difference in how we handle conflicts? Why or why not?
4. What does it mean to live by faith? How does this affect our relationships?
5. How do you live in faith? So often, we live as if faith means bringing God into our little story when it’s convenient to do so. How do we elevate our faith?

Conflict And Confrontation: Who Wants That?

In 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was trying desperately to end the looming conflict between his country and Hitler’s Germany. His policy, one of appeasement, was to give Hitler what he wanted in order to avoid war. In reality, Chamberlain’s appeasement policy made war more likely because Hitler thought he could get away with anything. Could he have prevented the war if he took a different course of action? History suggests war was inevitable. But it does prove what each of us instinctively know; that resolving conflict is not simple and running away or ignoring it is never the answer.

The word conflict often stirs up negative emotions in us. Our comfortable, compartmentalized little world where we just get along in total harmony with those around us is suddenly littered with a pothole or two. A great day at the office or home suddenly becomes a day full of fear, pain or anger as conflict interrupts our perfectly self-designed environment and plans.

Neville Chamberlain must likely realized that whatever position he took, the conflict was inevitable. So should we fear conflict? Should we avoid conflict at all costs? Common sense suggests that there are some conflicts we should avoid if at all possible. For example, if you are driving your car and suddenly someone cuts you off, it is best to avoid the conflict especially if it involves retaliation. Tempers and egos may flare, accelerating an emotional situation out of control and jeopardizing your safety and the safety of others. Also, it is probably a good idea to avoid conflict and argument when a gun is pointed in your direction. In most cases, discretion is surely the better part of valor in those instances.

But what about conflict between husbands and wives or in other relationships. Should we avoid conflict at all costs in those instances at the risk of a short-term peace that might fester and cause serious damage in the future? Or should we embrace conflict in hopes of resolving the issue?

Jesus was often in conflict with the Pharisees. He was also often in conflict with His disciples, who had a hard time understanding His teachings and why He came to earth. Jesus always had not only the perfect answer, but being God, He knew the perfect way to deliver His message of love and truth. Unfortunately we as humans are not the Son of God. So we must move forward as best we can in facing conflict and seeking a resolution that honors God and those we are in conflict with whether it be husband, wife, brother, daughter, neighbor, Northstar Group member, etc. .

During this week we will be talking about conflict. Let’s start with what I consider the basics. First, when a conflict arises, we first need to gauge its importance. Christians have arguments over when Jesus will come again. Yes, Jesus coming again is a very big deal. Matthew 25:13 tells us: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” That verse tells us this is not conflict worthy. There are little annoyances in every relationship that is not worth jeopardizing the relationship by starting a conflict. In those cases, we should let it go.

But if the issue rises above the insignificant, we must determine if our motive is improving the relationship or just getting our way. In other words, is the discussion one where both parties in the relationship are open to gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom? Or are we simply out to prove how smart and right we are? These conflicts where we want our way or want to prove we were right don’t often end well.

To end well, humility needs to be present. We must state our case with grace, realizing that communication is more art than science. If you disagree with something you hear from your spouse, sibling, neighbor etc., approach the conflict with an open mind and heart. Tell them what you heard and give them the opportunity to explain what they meant to say—it may differ from what you think you heard. Go in with an attitude seeking clarification, not justification.

Lastly, is your motivation in the conflict one where both parties can benefit from the discussion and one where God is glorified? Are you open to an exchange of ideas and interpretations that will build each other up? Or is your goal to prove your “superiority” in spiritual or practical matters?

We shouldn’t always shy away from conflict. Rather let us pursue it with wisdom, humility and grace—along with a willingness to learn. Every conflict is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken our relationships.

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 are in 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.