You Asked For It: How Important Is Religion?

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. ” – 1 Timothy 6:12-16

People often ask me “How important is religion?”  There are a lot of religions out there. There are so many versions of the Bible. They find that confusing. Which religion is the right religion? How can I be sure that I picked the right religion?   

Those are very good questions. But I would like to answer the question of which religion is the right religion by ignoring what the religions are all together. That requires some explanation so let me start with the bottom line: It is not about religion, it is all about a relationship. God sent his beloved Son to earth so that he could die for our sins and we could have a relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is that relationship we should be pursuing not a religion. And that is not easy. I think most people would agree that it is easier to practice religion than it is to be in a close and intimate relationship with Christ Jesus.

There are numerous biblical passages on having a relationship with God and with each other. One example is John chapter 15. In that chapter, Jesus seeks to impress upon his disciples the importance of relationships. Throughout God’s Word, God is depicted as a God who wants a relationship with His people. God loves us and wants us to have a personal relationship with Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Read also Romans 8:31-32;  1 John 4:19; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:18; and Romans 8:14-17. You won’t find anything about religion in all those verses. It is all about relationships.   

John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It doesn’t say, “They will know you are a follower of Christ if you carry the right Bible,” or “if you go to the best church,” or “practice the correct religion.” Our unique distinction should be our love for one another.

1 John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”  He created us for relationship with Him. Not a forced – “you will love me” – relationship, but rather, one established by our own free-will choice to accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior.

The reality is that practicing religion will not necessarily lead to a close and intimate relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  There is no doubt that the religious authorities who lived in the time of Jesus were faithful to their religious practices, but their relationship with Jesus was anything but close and intimate.   

So let’s take our example from Christ, the one we follow. Jesus cared about people, not about being right. If he had only cared about being right, he would never have allowed himself to be crucified. Jesus looked into the hearts of men and women and had compassion for their needs. What would happen in today’s world if every Christian would follow his example?

It is all about the relationship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think religion is all about? What is Jesus all about?
  2. Do you agree that it is all about a relationship and not about religion?
  3. How do you tell the difference between Jesus and religion?
  4. How can your relationships in church and/or small groups help you in your relationship with God?
  5. How do we intentionally pursue a relationship with God? What barriers will we face? How do we overcome them?
  6. Pray and ask God to help you build a better relationship with Him?

You Asked For It: Do I Really Need To Read My Bible All The Time?

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth;  hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” – Psalm 119: 17-24.

Let’s look at an all too common scenario. Pete accepts Jesus as his personal Savior. He quickly comes to the conclusion that if he wants to grow he has to read his Bible regularly. He downloads the read the Bible in a year app on his phone. Pete tears through the Gospels, enjoys the drama of Genesis, the wisdom of Proverbs. But soon he also runs into deeper books like Romans and Hebrews as well as the very confusing Leviticus. His interest starts to dissipate just a little. And then a little more. It’s so easy to drop reading the Bible down the list of priorities just a little bit. There are simply too many things going on. Psalm 119:18 tells us “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”  There are wonderful things to be seen in the Word of God that will transform you deeply if you really see them and treasure them in you. But only if you read it and then act on what you learned.

Let me give you the bottom line. If you take nothing else from this devotional, my prayer is that this will be it: It is not important that you master the Bible as much as you are mastered by the Bible. Do you see the difference? Just reading the Bible, or even memorizing key scripture, while beneficial, is not as important as what you do with the information. Simply reading the Bible for information is not enough if we want it to have an impact on our lives. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:22-24)

The Bible is full of verses that contain some kind of direction from God on how we can change our lives for the better and open up to His transformation in our lives. The Bible is applicable to situations we go through on a day to day basis, from dealing with stress to loving those around us. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)  It’s a huge temptation to only read the Bible with the purpose of gaining more knowledge. And while there’s real value in that, you are missing the point if you never once sit down and read it with the intent to let it guide you to change something in your life. “So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in Him, If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (AMP)

The words in the Bible can dramatically change your life and heal any hurt, habit or hangup. When we go to the Word of God, we should go with the understanding that we are going to study and apply whatever we read to our own life. It takes time to study the Word of God and understand it, but we will get out of it what we put into it. It’s up to us how much we want to understand God’s Word.

One final, somewhat unconnected thought on reading the Bible. Some people look at the Bible like God’s version of Apple’s “Terms and Conditions” agreement. That’s where Apple dictates what you can or can’t do. The Bible doesn’t lay out before us God’s terms and conditions, where failure to adhere to one clause in the middle of page 176 will cause a breach in the relationship and banishment from God’s kingdom and grace. It outlines the path to God and how we can have a relationship with Our Lord and Savior.

The Bible is not just words, but God’s words at your fingertips. Reading the Bible enables you to hear from the God of the universe, the very One who created us and died for our sins. Not to study it more deeply means not knowing who God really is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think is the best way to read the Bible? Why?
  2. Read Matthew 4:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11-12, and Hebrews 2:1: What do these verses mean to you?
  3. Read Ezekiel 36:26-28: What does God promise in these verses?
  4. Is there a passage that encourages you? How? Is there a passage that inspires you? Is there a passage that challenges you to change? How does it challenge you?
  5. Make a commitment to study your Bible regularly.

You Asked For It – Is Being A Christian Boring?

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:12

As a side note, I hope you have enjoyed the You Asked For It series as much as I have. And I hope this was a time of reflection, discovery and open discussion as we have delved into the questions you submitted on God and Christianity. What I wanted was for us to discover together a deeper love for God and His word and the encouragement and excitement that can be found as we study and look at these questions in the Word. Through this devotional and our interactions, I also want us to search our hearts to find ways to better serve God.

With that said let’s look at the question: Is the Christian life boring? I’m not surprised that people think you have to have a personality and fun bypass done when you become a Christian. Everybody either knows or has known a Christian who is prim and proper with no sense of humor. The general perception of Christians is that fun is forbidden and smiling is measured. Most people believe that if you were not boring before you became a Christian, chances are you will become boring once you are a Christian. They see the transition as mandatory.

But are we boring? Is serving God boring. Think about Jesus for a minute. Jesus was God’s Son, living in God’s world, God’s way. If Christian life is boring, then Jesus logically has to be really boring. The complete opposite is true—people couldn’t get enough of him. He got invited to parties with some undesirable people—prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors. And it wasn’t because he behaved like them. No, it was because he loved them, he listened to them, and he wanted them to know how life with God could be enjoyed to the fullest.

Jesus Christ was anything but boring. He was national news. When Pilate handed Christ over for death it wasn’t for spreading gloom and hopelessness. He was too dangerously fascinating, created too much excitement. “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19) said the jealous Pharisees. “The large crowd listened to him with delight.” (Mark 12:37). Guards came to capture Him but were captivated by Him. They explained, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (John 7:46)

Boring? Only God in the flesh can make an event that happened thousands of year ago seem like it just took place. No person ever encountered Jesus willingly or unwillingly that their lives remained the same. Jesus and following Jesus is anything but boring.

Some people assume that being a Christian is boring because they’ve heard that Christians have to give up all the “fun” things in life. It’s true that Christians give up some things, but it’s not the fun. Christians give up their sin. In return, they receive “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17). They “live as children of light” in a dark world (Ephesians 5:8). The mistakes of their past no longer have a stronghold in their lives. They serve others and make a difference. They are becoming everything that God created them to be. It is virtually impossible to be bored in such a life.

The only thing in this world that has eternal value is a relationship with Jesus Christ. A growing, committed Christian will find that life is never boring. There’s always another step of faith to take, another relationship to build, another person to serve.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How many people can you name in the Bible whose life was boring? How many can you name whose life was anything but boring?
  2. If your main goal in life were to have fun, what would you do with your time right now?
  3. What do you think God wants you to do with your time right now? Why do you think He wants you to do that?
  4. Do you think Christianity is boring? Do you think Jesus was boring? Why or why not?
  5. Do you think heaven will be boring?

You Asked For It – Is It possible To Know When Jesus Is Coming Back?

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” – Acts 3:19-21

The notion of an “end times” and “last days” is the cause of much speculation, even among believers. Remember Harold Camping a couple of years ago, predicting the end of the world several times? It made the network news, and I’m sure a few people were wondering if he could be right. Harold is not alone, there is a cottage industry of people predicting when Jesus will return.

But let me answer the question of whether it is possible to know when Jesus is coming back. The answer is no. Matthew 24:36-44 declares, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only…Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.…Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” These verses provide a clear and explicit answer to the question.

In addition, there is Acts 1:7, which states, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” This was said by Jesus after the disciples asked Him if He was at that time going to restore the kingdom to Israel. This would seem to confirm the message of Matthew 24. It is not for us to know the timing of Jesus coming back.

We do not believe that God has revealed to anyone when Jesus is coming back, and we see nothing in Scripture which indicates that God will ever reveal to anyone when Jesus is coming back. Matthew 24:36-44, while spoken directly to the people in Jesus’ time, also contains a general principle. The timing of Jesus’ return and the end of the age is not for us to know. Scripture nowhere encourages us to try to determine the date. Rather, we are to “…, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (v. 42). We are to “…be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (v. 44).

The key points are (1) the Bible nowhere encourages us to attempt to discover the timing of Jesus’ return and (2) the Bible gives no explicit data by which the timing of Jesus’ return can be determined. Rather than developing wild and speculative calculations to determine when Jesus is coming back, the Bible encourages us to “keep watch” and “be ready” (Matthew 24:42-44). The fact that the day of Jesus’ return is unknown should motivate us to live every day in light of it could be any day. In other words, live today as if Jesus is coming tomorrow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think people should predict when Jesus will return?
  2. Would it make a difference in how you lived if you knew the date of Jesus’ return? If so, how?
  3. Read Titus 2:12-13; 2 Peter 3:10 -11; and Mark 13:32-33. What do you think it means to be “watching” for Christ’s return? What all is involved in watching?
  4. Pray and ask God for His help in living as if Jesus would come back today?

You Asked For It – Are We Living In The End Times?

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31

In a Peanuts cartoon, Peppermint Patty reminds Charlie Brown, “You heard what that speaker said, Chuck. He said we’re in the last days!” Charlie Brown responds with: “I know. I heard him say the world is coming to an end.” In the third frame, Peppermint Patty continues with: “Marcie said the world can’t end today because it’s already tomorrow in Australia.” In the final frame, we see this final interaction, as Charlie Brown begins with: “Maybe we should go to Australia.” Finally, Peppermint Patty retorts: “Don’t make jokes, Chuck.”

For many, the end times is understood no better than it seems to be by Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty. Nor does it help when you have people making predictions over the years. “I think the world will end on Tuesday.” It can all be confusing but fortunately, there are timeless truths to which we can cling to in the end times.

Here is the bottom line. Whether you stand before God next week, or whether you stand before Him 60 years from now, is not important in the scope of eternity. The important thing isn’t when you stand before God; it’s where you stand with God. Someday, maybe soon, one way or the other you will be facing Jesus. He’s warned us He’s coming. The warning lights are on. So what do we do?

We go to the source and look at the instructions Jesus gave us on the end times? First, he put an end to all the speculation. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) More importantly, Jesus tells us what we should do while we wait for the end. After telling his listeners that they don’t know the day or hour, Jesus goes on to a series of parables in Matthew 25.  These speak to how we should live as people who live between the time of Jesus’ first and second comings. The first tells the story of bridesmaids waiting for a wedding to begin, half of them are wise and wait fully prepared, the other half are foolish and find themselves unprepared when the groom arrives. (Matthew 25:1-13) The parable is pretty straight forward. The question is which group do we fall into?  Are we prepared? Sunday’s message was on how we can be prepared. If you missed it, I would encourage you to listen to it by going to

The second parable is also pretty straight forward. (Matthew 25:14-30) A man goes on a journey and gives his servants various gifts. He is gone for a long while and when he returns he sees what his servants have done with what they have been entrusted with by Him.  Like the previous parable there is a waiting period. We live in the waiting period, so what do we do? We don’t speculate on when the end might come, rather we focus on using the gifts we have been given. We have been gifted and are called to use these gifts. The question is what are we doing with the gifts and abilities God gave us?

If you haven’t done it recently or at all, I would ask that you take a moment to do a self-evaluation on the person that God created you to be. Ask yourself the following questions: What am I good at? What do others say I’m good at? What am I passionate about?

Those can be your gifts. Now reflect on how well you are doing taking that particular gift and using it to do the work Jesus has laid out for us? Now ask yourself one more question; Where am I needed? Reflect on that and put it all together and you’ll see how God can use your gifts right now to advance His Kingdom so that His will can be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How high is the end times on your priority list?
  2. Why do you think so many people try to predict the day Jesus will return?
  3. What does being prepared for the second coming mean to you? What can you do short-term to prepare for Jesus’ return?
  4. What comes to your mind when someone says, “Spiritual Gifts?” Why do some Christians fear this? Do you? If so, why? Did you ever wonder why you are given a gift? How are gifts a responsibility?
  5. How would spiritual gifts help you serve God? Do you see needs in your church community that you could meet?
  6. Pray and ask God that we go about His business with a sense of urgency as we await His return.

You Asked For It: Why Is It So Hard To Follow Jesus?

“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9: 23-24.

Jesus said some difficult things. I wonder what today’s public relations and spin doctors would do with something like “if you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me – because if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it” Or how would they make Matthew 19:21 a little less gloomy: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

When taken in its entirety, there is no way to spin that following Jesus is easy. In fact it is anything but easy. While it is hard at times, it is not unexpected. That’s exactly what Jesus promised it would be. And it doesn’t help that the devil is always lurking, whispering in our ears: “Is this what you signed up for. It’s just too hard. You will never measure up. It is not worth the continued effort. My road is far easier.”

Anyone who’s ever followed Jesus through the tough, dark, lonely places of life has heard that call. But the thing the devil somehow forgets to tell us is that God has a plan. James 1: 2-4 tells us: ”Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We will have trials in our life. Chances are, maybe you just had one, or you are in the middle of it or you are about to have one. And often they are far from easy. But James tells us that all trials should be viewed as a test of our faith. This testing is not a pass … fail of our faith but more about making us complete, or mature. When we turn our problems and our trials over to Him again and again our faith is strengthened. And we learn to trust Him in all circumstances. Our relationship with Him becomes stronger.

James says to count it joy in suffering or when life is hard. It is not the suffering that makes us rejoice but the knowledge that God has a purpose in the trial. We may never know the outcome, but God is in the business of making things work out for our benefit and His glory. He knows what He is doing with the trial and that brings joy to the believer.

The Christian life is not always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Few things that are worthwhile are easy. Paul, who was a rising up-and-comer in the Jewish faith, gave it all up for Jesus, and never expressed a moment’s regret. He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).

At one point many of Jesus’ disciples left him because of a “hard teaching” that He gave. Jesus asked Peter if He and the rest of the twelve would leave him also. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). When things become a bit difficult I think of this passage, “Lord, where else can I go?” Whatever the difficulties of the Christian life, I cannot imagine leaving it for a life without Christ. Because Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel like following God is too hard?
  2. Give an example of a time when doing what God called you to do wasn’t easy.
  3. Are you going through a difficult season right now? Is it hard to consistently make good choices in some area of your life?
  4. Does it help you to know that you will ultimately, in Christ, be victorious over sin and death?

You Asked For It: What Is The Difference Between Church And Community?

“Just as Christians should not be constantly feeling the pulse of their spiritual life, so too the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow from day to day as God pleases” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

There are significant similarities as well as significant differences between the church and a community of believers. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. Let me explain. If you asked random people what pops in their mind when they hear the word “church,” the answers would probably be things like Sundays, or sermon, or music, or offerings. You might also hear things like rituals and rules and maybe things like rigid, stale, and out-of-date. What you probably would not hear are comments such as deep and meaningful connections with people, sharing burdens, helping those who need help, love, etc.

The healthy church is a community of believers where hearts are knitted together, people share a common purpose, they have passion, all the while finding ways to love Jesus and others while serving God and others. Real community is not about making people happy. It is about inspiring and energizing people. It is a place to share our faith and life journey. It is place of generosity. It is place of faith in action. Their goal is to glorify God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” To glorify God means to magnify, elevate, and draw attention to Him. We do this by inviting Him into every segment of our lives, by telling others of His greatness rather than grabbing His glory for ourselves, and by nurturing our relationships with Him. We meet with Him often, admitting to others our struggles with pride, and continually asking ourselves, “will this bring glory to God or to me?” This is the primary purpose of the church and the community of believers who make up the church.

The church is seen as a haven or a firewall for Christ followers to hide behind. But a church that is a real community works to make our world a better place by living out our faith in our homes, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, and schools. The Church does not exist to ride out the storm until Christ returns. Rather we exist to join Christ as He brings those far from the heart of God to Him.

The church is seen as out-of-touch. But the church that is a authentic community of believers understand that we live in a constantly changing environment. The Gospel never changes but the methods of delivering the Gospel is most effective when we talk to people where they are in life. The community must remain flexible, agile, and ready to change to more effectively minister to this community.

The first step in finding true community is look to Jesus. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Jesus is saying that the way we find life in anything, especially community, is to give of themselves. What we are looking for from community or relationships is life, because we were created to experience life through community. Many people know there is life in community and relationships; they are just going about finding this life in the wrong way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does church mean to you? Community?
  2. In what situations do you find yourself moving toward community or towards isolation from community?
  3. What is needed to cultivate an authentic community where relationships are sustainable?
  4. Do you view serving as a necessary component in community? Northstar Group participation? What about Growth Track classes?
  5. Pray and ask God to help us build a community that glorifies Him and helps the whole world find and follow Jesus.

You Asked For It – Is Christianity A Crutch For The Weak?

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him[b] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.

Each of us know people who have a problem with Christianity. There are several reasons for this.  One of the reasons is that Christianity is just a crutch. It’s for those people who can’t face the world without something to prop them up. Or in other words, Christianity is an invention designed for people incapable of coping with life’s pressures. Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” The view is some people use alcohol, some drugs, others Christianity, to get themselves through this difficult world.

When I hear someone comment that Christianity is a crutch, I tend to agree. I would have a hard time standing up for what I believe in without Jesus. I need that crutch. Christianity is something that all people need. This is the message of Romans 5:6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

When we were at our weakest, God rescued us at the appointed time. This is the gospel. This is good news invading our lives. It allows us to stop looking inside of ourselves to solve our problems—because we are the problem. It allows us to accept the fact that we are weak. We can stop thinking of how much better we can get. We can’t do it. Yes, we can read our Bibles, pray, help those in need, share our faith, tithe and grow in maturity. On our best day, however, we will fall woefully short of God’s expectations. Yet God has intervened on our behalf by sending Christ to die for us.

This realization should create humility. It should eliminate any arrogance. Or Christian swagger. Or pride in what we have accomplished. We didn’t save ourselves. God saved us. We didn’t pull ourselves out of sin by our bootstraps. God pulled us out of our sin. We were helplessly stuck. He unstuck us.

God alone gets the glory. When we understand that, we stop leaning on the crutches of work, family, money, possessions, skills, abilities or ministry that we use to make us seem strong. Everything we do should be focused on glorifying Him. We don’t need validation, because God validated us in Jesus Christ.

That’s why we say Nobody’s Perfect at Northstar. It is Ok to be OK. God doesn’t leave His people in their weakness. He begins to lead them out of it. He gives strength to the weak.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it trouble you to be considered weak? Does it take more strength to live life by God’s standards than to live your life any way you choose?
  2. Read 2 Corinthians 12:9: What does God’s strength in our weakness mean to you? What does weakness mean in this passage? Why is God’s power made perfect in weakness?
  3. Do you ever try to compensate for your weakness with work, good deeds, etc?
  4. Describe some ways God has been strong in your weakness?
  5. In what ways do you need God to be strong in your weakness at this time in your life?

You Asked For It – The X Factor

“You know, in fact, that any attempt to talk things over with X will shipwreck on the old, fatal flaw in X’s character. And you see, looking back, how all the plans you have ever made always have shipwrecked on that fatal flaw–on X’s incurable jealousy, or laziness, or touchiness, or muddle-headedness, or bossiness, or ill temper, or changeableness. Up to a certain age you have perhaps had the illusion that some external stroke of good fortune–an improvement in health, a rise of salary, the end of the war–would solve your difficulty. But you know better now. The war is over, and you realize that even if the other things happened, X would still be X, and you would still be up against the same old problem. Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag, or your son would still drink, or you’d still have to have your mother-in-law live with you.” – The Trouble With X, C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis wrote a thought-provoking essay called “The Trouble with X,” in which he describes the struggles we all have with certain people who have a “fatal flaw” in their character that causes us difficulty and frustration. But by the end of the essay, however, Lewis turns the tables on you, with the reminder that, “you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character.” Ouch. The day that fully sinks in will be sobering and humbling. And convicting.

We are X in Lewis’ essay. This is not to say there are not specific issues which require our examination of others. Lewis is simply stating that we tend to take the exception and make it the rule. So we talk about, criticize, and get angry at the difficult people in our lives. But this essay points out what we know to be true intuitively: It may not seem a problem today, but reacting negatively to difficult people can quickly become our default position. We will wait for them to fix what needs to be fixed rather than looking within at what we need to fix.

“We must love ‘X’ more,” Lewis writes, “and we must learn to see ourselves as a person of exactly the same kind.” But it is difficult to turn our gaze from other’s faults to look at our heart and our lives. It’s always easier to point to others, but this is only to miss the point of God’s grace working in us. “Of all the awkward people in your house or job,” Lewis says, “there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. And really, we’d better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.”

Some people would push back by saying that C.S. Lewis hasn’t met my Uncle Joe or Mike the co-worker, or Amy the neighbor. In the essay Lewis says, “But why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you go to your wife (or husband, or father, or daughter, or boss, or landlady, or friend) and have it all out? People are usually reasonable. All you’ve got to do is to make them see things in the right light. Explain it to them in a reasonable, quiet, friendly way.” And we, whatever we say outwardly, think sadly to ourselves, C.S. Lewis doesn’t know X. But we do.  We know how utterly hopeless it is to assume that X will be reasonable. We know that because we have tried until we are blue in the face, only to realize that it is a complete waste of time. And besides if we attempt to have it out with X, there will be a scene, or X will simply look at us like we are aliens and say,  I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about.” Even if they agree to work the problem out they will soon return to their old difficult self because a leopard cannot change its spots.

The essay also adds: “It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as ‘of course, I know I have my faults.'” It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about–like the advertisements for bad breath where the only person who doesn’t realize they have bad breath is you. The real trouble with X is the trouble we see every morning in the mirror. And the day to start working on this problem is today. Let us turn our attention to where it is needed most. “The matter is serious,” Lewis reminds us, “let us put ourselves in His hands at once—this very day, this hour.”

“Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.” – Lamentations 3:40


Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a “fatal flaw?”
  2. Why is it more difficult to look inward at ourselves, than outward at others?
  3. What can we do to make us less difficult to others?
  4. Do we pray for ourselves as well as for the difficult people in our lives?
  5. Pray and ask God to give you the self-awareness to look upward and inward for anything that would be a difficulty in the lives of others.

You Asked For It – Dealing With Difficult People

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:23-26

Life is full of difficult people. People who anger us, or rub us the wrong way, or are insensitive, or ill-mannered or loud or the one person who drives you completely crazy. Maybe they say sly insults, tell bad jokes, invade our personal space or are flat out obnoxious. They can be family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, even people in your small group. Whatever they do or however they get under our skin, they can cause damage to our walk with God.

As Christians, do we need to change or cope with difficult people? Christ calls us to love selflessly and ceaselessly. Does that include difficult people? Are we supposed to make nice, force a smile, while inside we want to be thousands of miles away with anybody but this person? How can we love somebody who is making it as difficult as they can to love them. How can we show genuine love when there is anger and disdain percolating just below the surface?

The answer is we can’t. At least not on our own.We occasionally have trouble loving even those who are dearest to us. So you can imagine how we could fall short when it comes to loving difficult people. The only true source of compassion, strength, and love is God. If we rely completely on God’s love and forgiveness for us, we can then draw from his infinite grace to love the difficult people in our lives. If you know you’re about to enter into an interaction with a difficult person, appeal to the Holy Spirit for strength, compassion, and patience. Through him, you have the power to represent Christ—even in the most trying of circumstances. Remember that your kindness and empathy could portray the gospel to someone who needs it.

The Bible has all sorts of practical advice about how to interact with people. Sometimes we may feel as though the Bible is distant and unrelated to today’s culture, but upon closer inspection, we can see that human nature hasn’t really changed. The Bible remains and is still relevant to our lives.

It is hard, but try not to take everything personally. Let things go. Pray for discernment about whether to confront an issue or let it go. It’s difficult to know when we should call out an offense or drop it. We don’t want to seem upset or ruffled all the time, but we also don’t want to bottle up all our frustrations until they erupt. We can become so caught up in proving a point or keeping our pride intact that we start to forget that we are as human as everyone else. A humble attitude admits to faults and views others as equals, instead of inferiors.

As I said on Sunday, don’t gossip. There’s nothing more tempting than blowing off steam with a group of understanding friends after an encounter with an obnoxious coworker or acquaintance. We want their feedback and sympathy or maybe we just want to talk it out. This is natural and often helpful for our peace of mind. But we must be careful not to indulge in slander or gossip. Venting should be about healing our wounds and being encouraged, not about dragging the difficult person’s name through the mud in order to feel superior to them.

Ephesians 4:32 puts it best: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Jesus is the reason we can each love deeply, joyfully, and freely.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it possible to love people you don’t even like? Could you find something to love in difficult people?
  2. How do you define love when it comes to difficult people?
  3. Do difficult people determine your actions?
  4. What makes loving difficult people consistently so hard?
  5. How can we let things go rather than dwell on them?
  6. Pray and ask God to help you love someone you don’t like this week.