Don’t Push The Panic Button

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10.

Ever feel trapped?  Like you can’t turn in one direction because it will be worse than where you are now. In fact, nor matter which way you turn, there is no escape. Time to reach for the panic button.

The Israelites often found themselves trapped in biblical times. Take the story of Moses and the people of Israel after being slaves in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). We all know the story of Moses, the plagues and the hard heart of Pharaoh. It most have been a happy time when the Israelites left Egypt and captivity.  But that happiness was short lived, because soon after they left, Pharaoh’s army started chasing them with chariots and foot soldiers. They couldn’t go back and they couldn’t go forward unless they walked into the Red Sea. They seemed trapped and they started to panic.  “As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness’” (Exodus 14:10-12)

These people who had just witnessed all the mighty plagues (blood, frogs, locust, darkness, etc) now reverted to normal human reactions of panic, complaining and fear. Couple that with the passage of scripture from Deuteronomy 4:32-34: “Now search all of history, from the time God created people on the earth until now, and search from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything as great as this ever been seen or heard before? Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes.”

Before we judge the Israelites too harshly, we need to examine our own lives. We are no strangers to panic. I wonder if God sometimes looks down on us navigating through life, getting worked up into a full blown panic over minor things and shakes His head. God is faithful. So no matter what happens or the seemingly impossible things you are asked to do, He is always there. He is right there in the middle of your crazy life, He is walking ahead of you, miraculously present there in your need, leading and guiding you.

Imagine if you only took a step after you were sure God had stepped out ahead of you? What if you really believed that nothing is impossible with God and you need to trust Him.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes you panic? Why?
  2. How would life be different if you didn’t take a step until God had stepped ahead of you?

Near To Impossible

“Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” – Matthew 19:26.

People throw the word “impossible” around quite a bit these days. But what does impossible really mean? Is anything truly impossible? On one occasion, when the disciples were faced with something seemingly impossible, Jesus said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26). It is said in several different ways in the Bible but the message is still the same.  Nothing is impossible for God. There is nothing you or I will ever face that is too hard for God. The Word of God is filled with examples, promises, commandments, and principles that reveal our Lord is bigger than any problem we may encounter.  But there are obviously a whole lot of things that are possible with God but are undoable for us

So what happens when we are asked to do the impossible? What happens when you are asked to do the undoable, and as you attempt to do the impossible you come face to face with a wall you can’t get over, a battle you can’t win, or an obstacle you can’t get beyond? What do you do when you are overwhelmed by a challenge that looks impossible to overcome? That’s when we stay cool and run straight to God.

Philippians 4:13 tells us, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” If we obey God and are living within His will, we have the God of the universe, the Creator of the heavens and earth, on our side. God can do the impossible. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!”

Who can help us do what is not humanly possible (Jeremiah 32:17). With God, Abraham and Sarah had a child when it was humanly impossible (Hebrews 11:8-11). The walls of Jericho fell : “When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it.” (Joshua 6:20). The Red Sea parted and then drowned Pharaoh’s entire army (Exodus 14). 

If you are ever asked to do the impossible remember to follow the steps in this week’s message. Ask yourself whether what you are doing is aligned with God’s will, and would it glorify Him? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is “impossible” in your life right now? How do you go about dealing with it?
  2. What seemingly “impossible” things has God already done in your life?

Spoiler Alert: God wins

“Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid….” – Isaiah 7:4 (NIV) 

There are many people that fast forward to the last minutes of the movie to see how it ends. Or they see how a sporting event turns out before they will invest a couple hours watching it. Some people when reading a mystery will turn to the final pages of a book to see if they guessed right on who done it and why. 

If you like stories that end well, you’ll love Christianity. One of the great themes of our faith is triumphant hope—an unshakeable assurance that things will end right. In the midst of struggles and storms, battles and trials, we can focus beyond the present moment. Because in the end, God wins!

No matter what the situation or circumstances, God wins. Whether you like the ending or not, God wins. No matter when it happens, God wins. There is no alternate ending. God will not be worried about ratings, or viewership, or whether the ending is popular or even if it is politically correct. He wins. It is that simple. 

The apostle Paul described the last days as “very difficult times,” in which people “will be cruel and hate what is good.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) That seems to describe the world today pretty well. Listening to the news every night will generally confirm that fact. But amidst all the negative in the world, there is hope, and that hope is found in Jesus Christ.

Think about it for second. All our earthly problems, financial and job pressures, emotional and physical challenges, relationship problems, wars etc., will end. Evil will be no more and we will live with God forever.  

Although we know that to be true it does not stop us from working harder at fixing problems than trusting God who has already won the battle. There is a story in Exodus 14 which exemplifies this fact: God had orchestrated a battle plan for the Israelites that would make Pharaoh think they were confused and an easy prey for capture. They had escaped this king of Egypt because God was on their side. However, as Moses and those in his charge carried out God’s instructions, the Israelites became terrified. In the midst of their God-given advantage, they chose to focus on their circumstances – only seeing the immediate danger of the approaching Egyptian army heading their way. And what did Moses say to them?

“…Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lordr escue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

We just need to be still and let God win the battles for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we know that God wins?
  2. What can we do to live our life as if God wins? 

Get Connected

“Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.”  – Charles Spurgeon

The consumer mentality that is so prevalent in society today has influenced or even changed our view of community. We can easily focus on what we are going to get out of going to church or participating in a small group rather than what God is going to do in us and through us because of our involvement in the church, small group or ministry. We need each other to help us know the truth about who we are, who God is, and how we can live a more fulfilling life. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” reminds us that the relationships we form in church, small groups or ministry, can become a tool for God to use in our character transformation. (Proverbs 27:17)

It is in small groups that people get to know each other and then to care and share, to challenge and support, to confide and confess, to forgive and be forgiven, to laugh and weep together. It is in small groups that individuals can grow together with others. Personal growth does not happen automatically or in isolation. It is the result of interactive relationships. Small groups are one of the ways God uses to generate spiritual growth. It was Charles Kingsley that said, “make it a rule, and pray to God to help you to keep it, never, if possible, to lie down at night without being able to say: ‘I have made one human being at least a little wiser, or a little happier, or at least a little better this day.’” 

We are so used to technology that we believe we are better connected than ever before. But even though social media and other technology have made our world appear more connected, people have far more virtual or digital friends than genuine friends. It is far easier to stay on the surface and interact on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn than to invest in knowing other people at a deep level. Yet when we take the risk of being authentic with a small group of people, we can experience God’s grace and love coming through others in a way social media or technology will never match.

Andrew Murray said that “our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.” The goal of small groups is to create environments where Spirit-driven, life changing experiences can happen. While the type of group or study is important, the real benefits of a small group are found in simply doing life together. The same is true of attending church and serving in a ministry.

Discussion Questions

  1. When you think of small groups what is the first thing that comes to mind?  Has your impression or view of small groups changed over time? If so, how?
  2. Do you feel as connected as you need to be with other believers? If not, why not?
  3. What do you see as your responsibility to other believer’s growth?

Seek After God Through The Bible

“Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” – Charles Spurgeon

Have you ever experienced looking for your Bible, but not being able to find it? The problem is that you have not needed it for some time and you can’t find it even though you looked in all the places you thought it would be. Shrugging your shoulders you continue looking and eventually you find it on a shelf. You take it from it’s place and notice a layer of dust on it. Once the dust was off, you opened it and the marked passages are a reminder of the times you spent immersed in the Bible. You wonder when and how you got away from spending quality time in God’s word.

There is a difference between being steeped in the Bible and occasionally reading it. If your exposure to the Bible happens only in church on Sunday, you will get only snippets. Sometimes those snippets are right on target for what is happening in your life and sometimes the verses covered simply don’t hit home to you. Immersing yourself in Scripture is different than “reading the Bible.” The Bible is something much more powerful than just another book, newspaper, or magazine. This is the written Word of God – God speaking to us. Immersing yourself, however, means experiencing the verse in such a way that it becomes a part of you. 

An example of this is how Daniel Day Lewis immersed himself in Abraham Lincoln. In preparation for playing Lincoln in a movie, Lewis immersed himself in information about Lincoln, reading everything he could find, talking to the foremost experts on the man. For a year he dressed like Lincoln, he walked like Lincoln; he even raised the pitch of his own speaking voice to sound more like Lincoln. Not just when he was on the set, but all day, every day. To the extent that it was possible, Daniel Day Lewis became Abraham Lincoln. But as difficult as it is to become Abraham Lincoln, it is impossible to become God, but immersing ourselves in the Bible enables us to be more like Jesus.

So spend time with God and immersing yourself in His word. Whether it is chapters or one verse, doesn’t matter; the immersion matters. If you want to get closer to God and don’t know how, just get in the Word. If you feel far from God and don’t know how to start again and don’t have much desire to even begin again, read Psalms. Immersing yourself in the Bible will give you that solid foundation for when life is good, when life isn’t so good, and for when people are looking to belittle you for your faith. 

Psalms 1:1-3 says: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does immersing yourself in the Bible mean to you? 
  2. What do we need to do differently in order to spend more time in God’s word?

Live And Learn

“If you stop listening to instruction, my child, you will turn your back on knowledge.” – Proverbs 19:27.

 As with most things in life, we never stop learning. The indication of that is we find ourselves asking questions like, “What does the Bible say about . . . ?” or “How may I . . . ?”  You will never have all the answers so you will never stop learning. 

When people think about “learning” they often default to where they went to college. They also often believe that their education is complete once they graduate from college or graduate school. But education does not end in the classroom. Education is a continuous, life long process. Outside the school’s walls, there are countless learning opportunities from work, friends, circumstances and the  environment. Peter Drucker, the management expert, said that “an educated person is someone who has learned how to learn and never stops learning.” 

Mark 4:21 tells us, “ Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.” This makes perfect sense. The purpose of light is to be seen and to make sight possible. To hide a lamp would be counter intuitive and counterproductive. It would fail to accomplish its primary purpose.  In the next verse Jesus says, “For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.”

Jesus’ next saying is “Everything that is now hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light” (4:22). The hidden things will be revealed, but only to those who take the trouble to listen and seek to learn.

We are asked to “understand the secret of the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 4:11). Jesus was telling his disciples that, in his own coming into the world, there was still much more to be revealed. The disciples, and each of us today, must constantly be open to new discoveries of His plans and purposes. In other words, we must not stop learning.

Jesus promised, ”To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” (Mark 4:25). In other words, those who listen to what Jesus tells them receive even more insight into God’s eternal purposes. God has no intention of leaving the message of the kingdom hidden. He puts it out in the open where Christian disciples never stop learning. 

As followers of Jesus we must become someone who has learned how to learn and never stops learning. But this isn’t just feel good words. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree that we never stop learning? Why or why not?
  2. What can we do this week to learn more about who God is and what He expects from us?

When People Will Try To Belittle Your Faith

“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold…” – 1 Peter 1:7

We all have people in our lives who need or want to bring us down. You may have that one relative who finds pleasure in bringing you down. You could have a boss that is always criticizing you. Maybe you have a friend that is very subtle in tearing you down. And there are always people out there who want to knock Christians down a peg or two. As Christians, how should we deal with people like this?

We should not be shocked when non-Christians seek to belittle our beliefs. Jesus was mocked when He was crucified, and He told us that people would hate us because we follow Him. That is part and parcel of following Jesus. When we embrace Christianity, we give up the idea of being popular with everyone. The Christian does not seek the world’s approval so we can not expect people who have not had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ to respect our faith or applaud our world views.

The key is not to let people diminish your faith because they are belittling your faith. It would be nice to completely disconnect from people who disrespect your God-inspired goals and drain the faith out of you. But that is not always possible. In this week’s message we talk about what to do when someone in authority wants to belittle your faith.

People will have a hard time reducing your faith if you remember one thing. It is not your faith that empowers, but the object of your faith. The quality of your faith is dependent on the source of your faith. If you place your faith in your abilities, strengths, weaknesses, or something other than God, the quality of your faith will go up and down along with your circumstances.

You are only as strong as the object of your faith. If you are trusting in something that someone can take away, your “soul-strength-stability” is dependent on that thing never wavering, diminishing, or vanishing. “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ( Romans 8:37-39)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can people and circumstances influence our faith? 
  2. What is the difference between faith and faithfulness?
  3. What can we do this week to focus more on the source of our faith, God?

Crowd Control

“You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong…” – Exodus 23:2.

It is basically a rite of passage. At one time or another, one or both of your parents, will admonish you to not just “follow the crowd.”  It made sense, who doesn’t want to be blazing their own path rather than following the path of others. Who doesn’t want to be the rugged individualist?

The problem is nobody wants to be that different. There is a sense of normalcy found in being like our friends and peers. It is human nature to want to fit in. Fitting in is comfortable so we often follow the crowd almost without thinking. But as we have seen in the life of Daniel, it is important to tune into God instead of listening to the crowd. But that is easier said than done, because the crowd has a powerful voice.

In Luke 23, we read the familiar story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. In verses 13-16, we read Pilate’s verdict: “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent…Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.”

The Romans had no problem killing people, but Pilate did not want to kill this innocent man. He wanted to set Jesus free and he had the power to do so. How is it then, that the story ended the way it did?

The crowd.

Pilate had to make a choice. Doing what was right or do what the crowd wanted. Pilate asked “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (Matthew 27:16) The mobs reaction was intense. Pilate raised his voice above the noise of the crowd asking, “What crime has He committed?” The crowd roared even louder. Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing so he washed his hands of the matter, literally and figuratively. Pilate was one of the most powerful men in the city, but he allowed the crowd to sway his decision. 

Those who follow the crowd tend to get lost in it. Crowds can make good people make bad decisions. People are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. We can’t escape the negative influences surrounding “the crowd” especially for our kids. There will always be a “wrong crowd” that will attempt to bring our children and us as followers of Jesus down.  It is important that we as Christians are not swayed by the crowd. Instead of listening to the crowd, it is important to tune in to God.

It is His voice we should follow, no matter where the crowd leads.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have you experienced the allure of the crowd in your life?
  2. What can we do to minimize the pull of the crowd in our lives? 

Stand Alone

“About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” – 1 Kings 18:27.

It often takes real character to be the lone man or woman, sticking out in a crowd. It takes courage to speak out when it’s easier to keep still. It takes courage to stand up when you’re standing alone. Daniel was willing to stand for God even when doing so could have real consequences: He ran the risk of being falsely labeled, being misunderstood and isolated. He also ran the risk of offending powerful people. His willingness to stick his neck out could have cost him his life.

There are many other examples in the Bible of people who choose to take a stand and often stood alone.  One of those is the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal found in 1 Kings 18:20-40.  After Israel had gone more than three years without rain as a judgment for their idolatry, the prophet Elijah confronts the evil king Ahab and challenges him to a spiritual showdown. The king was to have all Israel gather at Mt. Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of the false god Baal and the 400 prophets of the false goddess Asherah (verse 19).

I can only imagine what Elijah was thinking. Plan A could go badly and there was no plan B. He was probably thinking “What if I’m wrong?” “What if God doesn’t see fit to answer me the way I’m looking for?”  But even though he probably had his misgivings, he still was willing to stand up and stand alone. And by standing alone, he was running many risks. We run the same risks when we stand alone. When we stand up for God at school, or work, or in our families, or in our social groups, even in our church, we risk standing alone. But Elijah was not alone, nor are we. God is with us.

On Mt. Carmel, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to prepare a bull as an offering for their god—Elijah would do the same—with one catch: they could light no fire on their altar. The God who answered with fire from the sky would be considered the true God (verses 22–25). The people agreed that this was a good plan, and the prophets of Baal went first. The pagan prophets cried out and danced around their altar from morning till noon. 1 Kings 18:29 summarizes the scene: “They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.”

After he repaired the altar of the Lord. Elijah used twelve stones and dug a trench around the altar. He then placed wood on the altar and laid the cut pieces of the bull on it. Elijah then had the people douse the altar with twelve large jars of water. The water soaked the sacrifice and the wood and filled the trench (1 Kings 18:30–35). Once the sacrifice was ready, Elijah prayed and in verse 38 we read “Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!” 

When you stand for God, you are not standing alone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so difficult to stand alone?
  2. What blessings can we expect when we faithfully follow and honor God?
  3. What can we do to remember God is with us when we are faced with difficulties?

Daniel: Seeing God Through His Circumstances

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

There are many people who have a hard time feeling comfortable and moving forward if things are not “just so.”Even after years of experience dealing with large, medium and small hurdles, they still find it difficult to find peace when things aren’t going as planned. Their day, their mood, their energy levels can be impacted by their current status.

If you are one of those people, think about Daniel. Things were pretty good for Daniel in Jerusalem. He was of noble blood and the Bible describes him as a “strong, healthy, and good-looking young man.” Life was probably pretty good. But nothing after that time was “just so.” In fact. much like Joseph before him, things were the opposite of what he imagined them to be. But here is the thing. In the life of Daniel, we learn about seeing God and remaining faithful in all circumstances. He ran into several trying situations that could have caused him to lose faith or bend from his beliefs, but Daniel had the ability to see God in his circumstances.

But God sees us where we are — in “right” circumstances or “wrong.”  Like Daniel, God has a plan and a mission for us in our circumstances. There is no circumstance where we have not been left out of His thoughts, His grace, His love, and His plan. Daniel didn’t need to “find himself” to know God. He knew God because God found him. The same is true of us. 

We may feel trapped by our circumstances. We may feel like we have a limited future when we compare ourselves to others. We may see no escape and worse yet, we have trouble seeing God in all of this. We need to remember that our circumstances do not change how much God loves us.  Our circumstances don’t limit our salvation. What the book of Daniel teaches us is that our circumstances do not need to affect our relationship with God. It is possible to love and serve God wholeheartedly in the middle of pain and broken dreams — a life not going as planned — a world where you never find “just so.” 

The key lies in our ability to see and know God. We must see apart from our circumstances. We can see and trust His character — His faithfulness, mercy and grace — even when things are out of kilter. At the end of the day, our ability to deal with our circumstances will always depend on who He is instead of on our ability to change our situation or gut it out.

If you can’t see God in your circumstances today, the story of Daniel will lift your thoughts about God. Because in the Bible there is no better consistent and sustained example of the many-sided reality of God’s sovereignty in the whole Bible. When you read the story of Daniel, you begin to realize that how we see God, our thoughts and perceptions of God are too small. Or if it seems difficult to rest in God in our crazy world, our hearts need to be drawn to the knowledge of the God of Daniel.

God is big enough for any circumstances, if we just see Him for who He is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you see God in your day to day activities?
  2. “It isn’t a matter of achieving God’s presence, but surrendering to God’s presence that is already within the Christian.” Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  3. What can you do this week to better see God in your circumstances?