Seek Godly Counsel

“Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance” – Proverbs 1:5.

Making God honoring decisions is an adventure. It is a challenge. Fortunately, God has given us a valuable tool to help us make wise decisions, the counsel of other Christians. Acquiring and using Godly counsel must be important because the Bible is full of verses talking about that very subject. In fact, the following is a few of the examples from the book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 11:14: “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” Proverbs 12:15: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” Proverbs 15:22: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” Proverbs 20:18: “Plans succeed through good counsel; don’t go to war without wise advice.” Proverbs 24:6: “So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.”

Seeking advice may be the most mentioned subject in Proverbs. It is obvious that the wisdom is coming from one of the wisest men in history – Solomon. He speaks of success coming from having advisers or counselors. When you have trusted counselors, you can weigh the various counsel and then make your decision with God’s help. The key is finding the right counsel. The right counsel is a godly counselor, a committed believer in Jesus Christ. Paul is talking about that very thing when he tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10:  “But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.”

When you seek someone’s counsel or advice for your life, make sure you can trust them. You have to have had conversations with them, prayed with them, eaten with them. You can’t get to know someone by watching them on television or seeing them speak in a huge auditorium. 2 Timothy 3:13-14 says, “But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived. But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.”

At Northstar, you can get to know other committed believers on a first-hand basis. Get involved in a small group. You’ll get to know others with godly character who can give good counsel. Don’t try to make major decisions without the counsel of other believers. Another believer can be led by the Spirit to give you insight into your situation. But when you receive instruction or counsel from others, you must evaluate it against the principles of God’s Word. “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15) God’s word will give you wisdom and the ability to more effectively evaluate the teaching, advice or counsel that you may receive from others. 

Be prepared to receive both encouraging and corrective counsel. Good counsel will equip you to make good decisions. God will help you to receive the good counsel that you need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the words Godly counsel?
  2. How do you determine who is Godly counsel?
  3. How can you best use those you trust to give you good advice?

Pray First. Decide Second.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Every day each of us are faced with numerous choices. Decision-making can be difficult. There is often a lot at stake. Our decisions have the power to change our lives for the better or for the worse. Making a decision often means taking a risk. They can be hard choices that deserve a great amount of thought. We may fear not succeeding, experiencing disapproval from family or friends, or being ultimately disappointed by our choice. Regardless of the consequences, we still have to make decisions.   

So the question is: How do we choose wisely? What criteria do we use to evaluate, to discern the best course of action? Gathering all information necessary to make a wise decision is essential. We need the kind of wisdom that comes from above and that wisdom begins with prayer.

We know that God is sovereign. God is above all things and before all things. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. God created all things and holds all things together, both in heaven and on earth.  God knows all things past, present, and future. God knows everything completely before it even happens. God can do all things and accomplish all things. Nothing is too difficult for Him, and He orchestrates and determines everything that is going to happen in your life, in my life, in Panama City, in Florida, in the U.S. and in the world. Nothing is impossible with Him. That being the case, God can help us with our decisions if we ask him in prayer. In his timeless plan, God has conceived all possible scenarios and has thought of every possible contingency. There has never been an event that took God by surprise, and there never will be.

That should be comforting to every follower of Jesus faced with a decision. Pray and tell God that you are worried about a decision. Pray that God would give you a heart of wisdom. Pray that you will make wise choices; and when two paths seem to be equal, pray God will help you to trust even as you make the decision. Pray  if the decision is the right one that God would open the door wide. And if it’s not what God has for you, that God would close the door tightly.  And at the end of this decision, pray for continued guidance. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe every decision should begin with prayer? Why or why not?
  2. We will plan, but we trust God to order our steps. What does that mean to you?
  3. What can we do to make prayer an integral part of the decision-making process?   

This Way Or That Way?

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

Every major corporation has values. A company’s core values are the operating philosophies or principles that guide an organization’s internal conduct as well as it’s relationship with it’s customers, partners, and shareholders. The question is do they hold any weight at all or are they meaningless words on a wall in the lobby of the company headquarters. Values are meant to have teeth and be more than a poster on the wall. Roy Disney said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” 

In the same vein, when Christian values have teeth, when they are more than just words in the Bible, the decisions we make become a lot easier. One of the core Christian values is having God first in our lives. This means continuously seeking His righteousness and totally relying on Him. As humans we have the freedom of choice to decide what to do or not to do, but if we value God, we will look to Him as the foundation for all decisions. We value God when we acknowledge that He knows better than we do on what we need in our lives. Matthew 6:33 advises us to seek God and value God above all things. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Our job is not to assume that we know better…but to trust that God does what is best for us.

So when faced with a decision, we must evaluate what is the wisest choice. This is a time to decide the wisest choice based on your knowledge of Biblical values and your desire to put God first in your life. Is it putting God first if I do this deal that will call into question my integrity? Should I take this job, will the time restraints enable me to have enough time to be a good husband and father? Is there a part of this decision what will prevent me from keeping God first.

This is not a good or bad decision process. It is a question of what is best for you spiritually. How can you best use the gifts and opportunities God has given you? Think of Romans 12:2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” 

Decisions are sometimes quick and easy and other times very hard. So be wise. Use your mind, use the Bible, use the cumulative wisdom of your brothers and sisters in Christ and make wise decisions. Of course after thinking through the wisdom of a decision you may find that you still have questions. Maybe you look to the Bible and you pray and you talk to friends and you look for counsel from your pastors. Let Biblical values and principles help you make those decisions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some Christian values? How can we use those values to inform our decisions?
  2. How can you make wiser decisions?
  3. What can we do this week to feel more confident in our decisions?

When God Is Silent

But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil. Will you wink at their treachery? Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1:13

There are times when it seems as though God has packed up, moved far away, and left no forwarding address. In those times, it is difficult to sense His presence. It can feel like you have been abandoned: In those moments, you are confused and alone, and frustrated. 

If you are experiencing one of those times when God is silent, do not believe the lie that you are a second-tier, second-rate Christian. It is possible, even probable, that it means quite the opposite. God is silent for a reason. We may not see the reason and that is where faith and trust come in. Will we continue to trust God in His silence?

The Bible is full of examples of people who continued to trust God in their circumstances. One example is Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis, chapters 12–18, we learn that Abraham and Sarah experienced nearly twenty-five years of God’s silence. Abraham was seventy-five years old when God asked him to leave everything he knew to follow Him. God promised Abram, “I will make of you a great nation.” (Genesis 12:2). Imagine you are in Abraham and Sarah’s shoes. Years had passed since God’s promise that your descendants would become a great nation. For many years, God had been silent regarding how and when His covenant with you would be fulfilled. Suddenly, God appears to you (see Genesis 15:1–6) and you find yourself standing outside, gazing at the night sky as the Lord compares your future and immeasurable offspring with the innumerable stars of the sky. Abram “believed the Lord” (Genesis 15:6). Here we see that even after many years of God’s silence, and having absolutely nothing to show for it, Abraham trusted in God’s faithfulness.  Fast-forward to Genesis 17, Abram is now ninety-nine years old.  After sixteen verses of God proclaiming His might and power (see Genesis 17:1–16), Abraham responds in a most human way: he laughed which was an expression of disbelief and doubt. Genesis 17:17-19 says, “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?”  So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you.”

“The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would.” (Genesis 21:1-2)

God’s silence is not always a bad thing. So here is the key application: when the silence is real in your life, you must recognize that you are not alone in the stillness. Although God may seem silent regarding a specific request or petition, remember that He is always in a constant state of communication with us. Just because God seems silent doesn’t mean you should doubt Him or stop praying. God’s silence isn’t a license for us to turn our backs on Him. Instead, it’s an invitation to press forward and seek Him even harder. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often is God silent in your life?
  2. What is your reaction to the silence? What should our reaction be?
  3. What should we do in the silence?
  4. What can we do differently this week as a result of this series?  

God Is Not Hard To Find

”From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.” – Acts 17:26-27

Where is God? Have you ever asked that question? Most of us have at one time or another. Maybe it was years ago, or maybe it was just a few minutes ago. Asking that question suggests that God is hiding, unavailable, unresponsive, busy, or disinterested. Is that the case, or is it simply our inability to understand, to get God?

After all, God is not easy to get. Isaiah 55:8 tells us that: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” God is not easy to get because we often don’t get what we want when we want it. We have encounters with Him where He connects into our lives with power and answers our prayers and wins our trust and praise. And then there are those times when bedlam and general craziness dominate our lives and we are left wondering “what just happened?” We cry to God in our confusion and there is silence. God seems absent. He seems hard to find. But is He?

Most Christians will find themselves on the mountain top and in the valley at one time in their life. But God is not absent, nor is He distant. And He is not hard to find. Acts 17:28 says, “ For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” In reality, God is not absent or silent or indifferent at all, it is just how we perceive it at the moment. When we feel forsaken by God we are not forsaken. “…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5). We are simply called to trust the promise more than the perception. If we seek God, we will find Him.

Some of the most promising and spectacular words ever spoken by God are found in the book of Jeremiah: “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord(Jeremiah 29:13–14).

We won’t be able to get that true connection with God unless we’re able to let down our walls and open our hearts. He is always there, whether we are aware of it or not, just waiting for us to find Him. As we search for God today, with all of our hearts, we will find Him, and He will help us find our way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you seek God but not “see” Him?
  2. In what ways have you been disappointed by God seeming to hide when you have been seeking him?
  3. What heart adjustments do you think you need to make to “find” God?

God Is Present In Your Pain

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” – Matthew 4:23-25.

What jumps out at you when you read the passage of scripture listed above? To me it is all about inclusion. Jesus showed compassion for all and helped them: the poor, the despised, the outcasts, anybody in pain. Jesus healed them all. He could handle any kind of pain. He could handle any kind of person. He could meet any kind of need. He was present in their pain. No wonder people heard about him from all over the region. 

If Jesus healed everybody in Matthew 4, why can’t He take away my pain, problems and troubles? This question is sometimes asked by people with a genuine desire to understand what seems impossible to understand. Other times it’s asked by people who have suffered or whose loved ones have known grief and loss. They honestly want to know: How could God let this happen to me and to mine? Why wouldn’t God stop this pain and help me? The critic of Christianity would respond that God is either not all-knowing, not all-powerful, or not all-good.

The Bible leaves many of our questions about suffering unanswered. However, what it does do is tell us the story of how God is close to us in the midst of our suffering, who actually suffered for us, who will one day destroy suffering forever. When Jesus hung on the cross, He suffered one of the worst deaths imaginable, because He took on all the sins of humanity. Despite His innocence, He died for our transgressions. At its heart, the Bible is not a book of advice or moral principles to help us deal with suffering and have a better life. Fundamentally, it is the story of what God has accomplished for us, how He is repairing a broken world; it is a message of hope in light of His suffering for us.

God cares very deeply about you, and is attentive to every detail of your life—even those things that burden your heart. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” It may seem like your life has been shaken to the core, but His love for you is never shaken. “‘For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54:10).

No matter how bad things may seem, God is in control. Nothing happens without His knowledge. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it…So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” If God’s eye is on the sparrow, He’s most certainly watching you. In the midst of sadness and uncertainty, His hand is there to guide you; His strength is there to support you. You are never out of His reach. He is present in your pain.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does God allow pain and suffering?
  2. Have you seen an example in your life, or in the lives of others, how hardships have led to
    maturity and transformation?
  3. Have you ever seen hardships cause a person to grow bitter, disillusioned, or self
    contained? How so?

For All Intents And Purposes

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.” – Psalm 57:2.

Watching the news is so discouraging. Tragedies abound. The deadly explosion during an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in England yesterday is the latest example. The tragedies seem arbitrary and unnecessary. The same thing can be said about, on a much smaller scale, our individual lives.  Even though we are serving God with all our heart and spending more time in His word than ever, circumstances can seem to be getting worse not better. 

From our perspective, tragedies look meaningless and senseless and chaotic, but God knows how to take even tragedies and bring good out of them. The Bible reminds us that everything happens for a reason. The Bible says that God, “… makes everything work out according to his plan.” (Ephesians 1:11). This means that every event that occurs does so after God’s plan. God is not arbitrary. God specializes in taking evil and bringing good out of it.

Romans 8:28 tells us that “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  But do we truly believe God has a purpose for the tragedies we didn’t expect or planned for? When tragedy or suffering strikes, we intuitively wonder how God is going to help us. And we wonder how God is possibly going to work things together for good. And sometimes we wonder if God cares. 

The truth is God really does have a purpose for your pain because I believe that God can take everything in life and use it for His glory. I realize that hindsight truly is 20/20, and just because you don’t quite see the “good” in the bad in your life doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or won’t exist down the road. In fact, it may take years. God is trustworthy. We simply need to trust Him. 

Like so many things in this life, how we deal with heartbreak and with suffering, is often a heart issue. It is not the circumstance, but the condition of our heart that matters. God can work in our hearts through good times just as easily as bad times. It is not necessary for God to cause us tragedy in order to develop our character. Godly character can be developed through any kind of event, if we are willing to let God lead in our lives.

We all experience pain in life, whether emotional or physical pain. No pain is alike, we must all walk the journey and path that God has for our lives, yet God promises that there is a purpose in all pain, even if we have yet to realize it. He can redeem all things because He is the one who created all things. God can take our pain, our brokenness, our frustrations, our failures, and use them as the testimonies in which we help others.

Wednesday: God is Present in Your Pain.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you see as the main purpose in your life? What can God do that you can’t concerning your purpose? (This is where the faith comes in.)
  2. How is God glorified when you are following your purpose?
  3. How will following your purpose force you to trust God more?
  4. What is God asking you to do today?

Is God Heartless?

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” – Zephaniah 3:17

Bad news dominates the news. Every day we read or hear about some tragedy, perhaps afflicting hundreds or thousands of people, perhaps touching just one child, one family, one circle of loved ones. Each of these tragedies ripples unseen through people’s lives, and all are forever changed. If you are directly impacted, the questions are immediate and insistent: Why me? Why us? Why, God? Even if you are not personally impacted by a tragedy, you cannot help but wonder: Why would a loving, all powerful God allow such things to happen? Is God heartless?

After all, how could the mass destruction of a tsunami be good? How could the brutal murders of innocent school children be good? Of course they were not good. They were devastating and heart-breaking. As a pastor, I am expected to have answers to these hard questions. Let me say the upfront: I don’t have answers. I have the same questions you have. I wonder and my heart breaks too. I don’t understand God or the world any more than anybody else. “For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice?” (Romans 11:34) But I do know some things.

I know we can’t look at life through rose-colored glasses. The world can be a tough place. It was in Biblical times. It is today. But I also know that in the midst of all the darkness of this world there is light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5) 

I know that God is glorious, majestic and perfect. He is infinite, without beginning or end or any limitation at all. I know God is consistent and unchanging, and always remains dependably the same.  I know God is utterly pure and perfect and therefore utterly against evil, deceit, injustice and wrong doing. And I know God is loving, merciful and compassionate. I know God mingled His tears with ours and with those who have lost so much and suffered such great pain. In other words, God didn’t remain in heaven unmoved by the tragedy and pain of the world. He came and suffered as we must suffer. He wept at open graves as we weep at open graves.  He was lonely and afraid as we are lonely and afraid, and He died as we must die. God didn’t give us words or philosophies for our  questions. He did a whole lot better than that. He came and gave Himself. He died on the cross for our sins. That doesn’t sound heartless, does it? 

Tuesday: For All Intents and Purposes

Discussion Questions:

  1. In a sentence, how would you describe God? Did you use words such as heartless, uncaring, indifferent, etc.?
  2. Is salvation a cold, heartless transaction?
  3. What was your takeaway from the sermon this week?

Joy and Sorrow

” All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Mother’s Day is about love. But it’s not a day of joy for all women, including some mothers. For some, it’s also about loss and longing. We must recognize that joy and sorrow are part of Mother’s Day. Everywhere in the world there are women who are hurting today for any number of reasons. Some have lost children. Some grieve for the babies they could never bear. Some weep for children gone astray, or for children who face difficult and life-changing challenges. There are women who have suffered miscarriages. They endure the anguish of feeling their bodies begin to change to make room for a growing baby only to lose the child. There are women who made the brave and loving decision to place their baby for adoption, but now aches for the baby she carried and feels judged for the painful choice she made. Somewhere a woman is staring at yet another single line on a pregnancy test, while another realizes the infertility treatments were unsuccessful. Still others continue to wait out the process of adoption. Everywhere there are young women whose heart is aching, fighting back the tears wondering if they will ever have the chance to have a child. We all know women who are filled with joy on Mother’s Day and we all know women who have sorrow on Mother’s Day.  

No matter which side of motherhood you are on, Romans 12:15 is applicable for you today: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”  When we see our circumstances in view of God’s mercies, we unite with others through their seasons of joy and sorrow, of rejoicing and of weeping. Because Christ experienced both rejoicing and weeping, He knows the intertwining of joy and sorrow deeper than we ever will. We can hold fast because we are being sanctified through gifts of joy, trials of sorrow, and experiences that bring us pain. And because God himself dwells in us, He also guides us, protects us, and cares for us. 

To those who endure grief on Mother’s Day: I am deeply sorry. It is hard. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t hard. The only thing I know for sure is that Christ loves you. He really does sympathize with you. You can read God’s words for you in Hebrews: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:15-16). I think God has a lot to say to you in these verses. He is reminding you that he isn’t far-off. He wants to comfort you. He wants you to find His grace.

I hope you are touched with love this week and beyond, somehow, through the pain. I hope you feel that your sorrows are seen, and that your love and your losses are honored. Our prayer is that you will be truly blessed this and every day. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it that grief and healing take time? How is our faith in God strengthened through suffering and sorrow?
  2. Why is it important to remember that God is at work, even in the midst of suffering? How does this bring you comfort?
  3. What can we do to help those we know who mourn and grieve?

God Is My Co-Parent

I believe that if an angel were to wing his way from earth up to Heaven, and were to say that there was one poor, ragged boy, without father or mother, with no one to care for him and teach him the way of life; and if God were to ask who among them were willing to come down to this earth and live here for fifty years and lead that one to Jesus Christ, every angel in Heaven would volunteer to go. Even Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, would say, ‘Let me leave my high and lofty position, and let me have the luxury of leading one soul to Jesus Christ.’ There is no greater honor than to be the instrument in God’s hands of leading one person out of the kingdom of Satan into the glorious light of Heaven.” – Dwight L. Moody

Some of the greatest joys you’ll ever experience on this planet will have to do with your children and some of the greatest challenges and sorrows you’ll ever experience on this planet will have to do with your children. Being a mother, or parent for that matter is both exciting and terrifying, rewarding and draining. Sometimes things seem to fit together nicely and sometimes parenting is utterly confusing. Mothers can feel like they are on an island as they try to give their children the right ingredients, while keeping out all the potentially harmful ingredients and influences. 

Successful parenting is not that complicated, yet is is very difficult to do well. At the end of the day, it involves giving up control to God. To mother well, we need God as a co-parent. God’s plan for mothering was never meant to be one we carry out without Him.

That doesn’t mean moms don’t work at their craft. As a pastor, I cannot count the number of selfless mothers working to be the best parent in the world to their kids. Their kids success and their health and happiness is every mother’s chief concern and chief goals. But they are not on their own. God is the shepherd of the sheep.  God will guide the child. God will help them in difficult times and when facing difficult decisions. God will seek them and keep them from straying.  

I know this to be true because God has done all these things and more for each of as children and as adults. God has been with me long before I knew it or was grateful for the fact. God has brought me back to the right path when I had wandered so far that I could not have found it on my own. God has been working in my life. He gave us our children. God is at work in them to protect them, to guide them, to teach them, just as I am.

We will make mistakes in bringing up our kids. Fortunately, however, we are not asked to do everything perfectly as moms and dads. Our children usually manage to survive our mistakes and failures and turn out better than we have any right to boast about. God will be our co-parent when the children are small and their co-pilot as they begin their journey as an adult. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What prevents you from speaking about God to your children in the course of the day? 
  2. Why is it absolutely necessary to talk about God within your family? 
  3. How will we know if we are being successful parents?