One Mind. One Accord.

“For,“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:16.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens timeless observation from his book, A Tale of Two Cities, is strangely apropos for us today. Hurricane Michael and the devastation this category 4 storm has brought to our communities made this year the worst of times for many people.  But everyday you see people responding selflessly and compassionately and with great generosity to help family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. It that way, it is the best of times.

Whether you view this as the best or worse of times, or both, our mission as followers of Jesus has not changed. We still seek to be more like Jesus and to be holy as He is holy. Once we accept Jesus as Savior we embark on a never-ending quest to become more like Him. God continuously works within us and transforms us, continually renewing and reshaping us to “…have the mind of Christ.”

The mind of Christ refers to thinking in a way that is consistent with how Jesus thinks. This is sometimes reflected in the phrase WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? This refers to the process of thinking how Jesus might act in a given situation and doing it. This requires the person that is considering this to be able to think like Jesus or have the mind of Christ to accomplish this. There are innumerable benefits to having the mind of Christ. It would be amazing, but it sounds not only improbable, but impossible for “average Joe” Christian to have the mind of Christ. First of all, what does it mean and how can I possibly get there? The simple answer is having the mind of Christ means we look at life from our Savior’s point of view, His values are our values, It means we think God’s thoughts.

In 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, Paul gives us some additional explanation. In this passage, Paul is saying that no one knows my thoughts other than myself. In much the same way, only God can know his thoughts. But since the Holy Spirit is God, He knows the thoughts of God. And since God has given us His Spirit, we too can know God’s thoughts. Paul summarizes this passage with a bold statement, “we have the mind of Christ.”

The reason God wants us to be able to know His thoughts and think like Christ is so we can be more like Him. To have the mind of Christ, we must first learn to think as He thinks and then think as He thinks. If you have the mind of Christ, worry will be offset by trust, anger and bitterness by love, and fear by faith. Having the mind of Christ means we live a life of peace, enjoy great relationships, experience real joy and have the ability to become all God has created us to be. 

Try to pause during the day or when faced with decisions and reflect on what God’s word says on the subject, and how He wants you to live and behave. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you at that moment to have the mind of Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to “have the mind of Christ?” Do you think it’s possible to think of things like God does?
  2. What can we do this week to have the mind of Christ?

Encountering Holiness

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:5.

I think Scottish evangelist Oswald Chambers got it right when he said: “The Spirit is the first power we practically experience, but the last power we come to understand.”  Every pastor tries to explain the Trilogy, the concept of one God but three persons, in a way that people can quickly grasp.  Most use some type of example; i.e., a three leaf clover: one entity, but with three parts. To be fair, it’s really complex, and a concept that few have managed to get their heads around. The Bible clearly explains who the Holy Spirit is and is full of stories that show the Spirit as a vibrant, personal being.   

We learned from Hurricane Michael that life is not always going to be a smooth ride, nor is being holy. Fortunately, we will always have the Holy Spirit with us, working on our behalf. The Holy Spirit gives us the power and the wisdom to follow Jesus. Once we start a personal relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to know Him and become more like Him. When Jesus introduced the Spirit to His disciples, He used the name Helper.”But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26 ESV)

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. ”And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” The Holy Spirit also guides us to truth: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit empowers us to live a life that reflects Jesus no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. In other words, a more holy life.    

So as we strive to be more like Jesus, to be more holy, remember the Holy Spirit. In our quest to be more like Jesus, we can find help in books, online programs, and godly mentors, but the Helper wants us to go to Him first. Ask Him for wisdom, ideas, and guidance on how to be more like Jesus in our daily lives. 

The Holy Spirit has many things to tell you that will help you as you strive to be more like Jesus.  He can give you strength, help, comfort and guidance. By obeying Him, you can live the faithful life that you have longed for. You can have a better relationship with God by being in tune with His voice. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see the Holy Spirit as a real person? Do you believe He is God? Do you speak to Him and hear from Him on a regular basis?
  2. How do you see the Holy Spirit helping you live the Christian life?
  3. What can you do this week to become more open to the teaching and guiding of the Holy Spirit?

So How Do I Become Holy?

They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!. The whole earth is filled with his glory!”  Isaiah 6:3. 

There are people who believe that in order to be holy, you cannot have anything to do with this world.  Others think that you need to be at every church service serving and when you are not in church holiness requires reading your Bible and praying. Others think that you must live in an equal parts mixture of humility, love, tolerance, discipline, peace and faithfulness. Still others think that holiness and fun cannot co-exist, so you can’t enjoy yourself at all.  And lastly people think being holy is adhering to a wide-ranging long list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” But what is holiness really?

One thing that we can all agree with is that we are called to be like Jesus. John tells us in 1 John 2:6, “those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” Jesus was and is the prototype we are asked to emulate. So we are to be holy, like He is holy. Most people would accurately point out that how exactly can we be as holy as Jesus was? He was spotless, blameless, perfect. How could anyone live up to that standard? Besides, doesn’t 1 Samuel 2:2 say “No one is holy like the LORD!” So, if there is none holy but the Lord, how do we fulfill 1 peter 2:9 which says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation…” To be a holy nation, a holy people, Christ’s holiness has to become our holiness.

It is true that Jesus Christ, our Savior, stands alone in perfect holiness. And because Jesus alone is holy and perfect, God does not recognize any other person. So to be received by God, we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. So one day when we stand before Him, we will be received by the grace of Christ and we did nothing to be more holy. “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

But this amazing work of God does not stop when I accept Jesus as my personal Savior. I’m not just left on my own to be holy from this point forward. Good thing. Jesus is working through the Holy Spirit to make me holy—and what God starts, He will finish. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6).

Fortunately, my salvation is not contingent on my being holy in conduct but on the perfect holiness to be found in Jesus Christ, my Savior and my God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is being “holy” just a synonym for moral purity? Why or why not?
  2. How well do you think you mirror and reflect the holiness of God in the world? What can you do this week to improve that rating?

Seeking Holiness

God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7.

In many ways Hurricane Michael has changed our perspective and our priorities. But even in these tough times, when it is difficult to press on, we can’t lose sight of our mission and our purpose; to be more like Jesus. Charles Spurgeon rightly noted, “There will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness.” The Bible talks about holiness a great deal. Take Peter: In Peter’s first letter, he talks about “holiness” a number of times. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 

Once you are a follower of Jesus you have been accepted or adopted into a group of people that Peter calls a “holy nation.” Thinking of ourselves as holy people is a little intimidating to say the least. Holiness is a pretty tall order.  It is a pretty big thing to get our arms around. There are a lot of people who think that holiness is a bridge too far, is out of our reach, and a goal that is unrealistic, given the fallen world we live in. But before you come to that conclusion, we need to remember that the Bible is telling us that holiness is God’s will for us.

Look at Leviticus 11:44: “For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy…” 1 Peter 1:15 says “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy”  There are many of verses that tell us that holiness is one of the key things that God desires for each of us. 

Many people are confused by what holiness is and looks like in our day-to-day lives while others have struggled with maintaining the high standard of holiness. That does not change the fact that we are to be a holy people. That is God’s will.

So rather than try to tackle this broad subject in one devotional, I will try to unpack this subject the best I can during this week’s devotionals. We will look into what holiness is, what it is not, and how we can go about being the holy people God has called us to be in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you define the word holiness in general and more specifically for your life?
  2. Do you believe a person can become holy?

Sign Of End Times?

And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.” – Luke 21:25.

The past two years have been marked by storms of record ferocity, apocalyptic damage and thousands of deaths. The US has now been hit by five category 4 hurricanes of 130 mph plus – Harvey, Irma, Maria (Puerto Rico’s deadliest disaster) Florence and now Michael – in the past two storm seasons, the most in 150 years of records. This storms left billions of dollars in damage and ruined lives in their wake. And lest we forget, an 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico in 2017 and the Fiji islands in 2018. We have out-of-control wildfires raging in the west, and we recently experienced a rare solar eclipse. These storms and other events cause people to wonder whether all this is a sign of the end times. Is all this a sign that Christ will soon return?

There is a big difference between knowing that Jesus could return today and knowing that He will return today. While some areas of prophecy are unclear to us, the Bible is very clear on one thing: no one knows the specific time of Christ’s return. Jesus Himself stated, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.” (Acts 1:7) And when referring to his return Jesus said this in Matthew 24:36: “… no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.  So how can we possibly know what the Son Of God does not know.  And even if we knew we were living in the last days, we cannot know how long the last days will last.  

The time of His coming is something God has not revealed to anyone, and so, until He calls us to Himself, we should continue serving Him. In Jesus’ parable of the ten talents, the departing king instructs his servants to “‘Invest this for me while I am gone.” (Luke 19:13 ) Even in the midst of the devastation of Hurricane Michael, we need to continue “investing” in the kingdom of God. We, too, should view every day as a gift and use it to glorify God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the topic of the end times is so interesting to everybody? 
  2. If we are in the end times, how would that change how you live your life? 

Keep The Faith

…“Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight…” – Daniel 6: 19-22

One of the most loved stories from the Old Testament is the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. We love this story because it had a happy ending. God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was not harmed. One of the chief lessons we learn from this story is gleaned from the confession of King Darius himself: “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed,  and his rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26). Hebrews 11:33 says, “By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions.”  Still, it must have been a terrifying night for Daniel, sitting so close to lions. It was a test of faith to be sure.

Many of us in the Panhandle are enduring our own personal “den of lions” right now. Michael has affected so many people. In many ways our faith is also being tested. The best thing we can do at times like this is to have the faith to focus on God and not on our situation. Of course, that is easier said than done when faced with such devastation. The Bible is a constant source of hope and inspiration in times like these.

Psalm 121:7-8 says, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”  2 Samuel 22:3-4 adds, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,  both now and forever.”

Hold on to the promises of God. He is always faithful. “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” – Psalm 18:2. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. God is bigger than anything we will ever face in our lives. Agree or disagree and why?

What Can I Do?

“If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet!”Deuteronomy 22:4

When others are hurting, we as followers of Jesus pray, worship, and offer well-wishes. We also serve, lend a hand, and meet a need. We try to be proactive and we try to be as effective as we can can be. We as a church looked to see what we could do as a body of believers to help those affected by Hurricane Michael. But what can you do as an individual? 

First and foremost, if you are so led by the Lord, you can donate to the Northstar Hurricane Michael relief efforts by going to this website: https://nstar.ccbchurch.com/goto/giving. But there are other ways to help as our communities start the rebuilding process.

If you have the ability, provide a meal. Take a meal to one who needs a hot meal. Provide food to those living on the street. Buy the meal for the person behind you in the drive-thru line. Or give to the local food bank. Food banks do wonderful work providing meals for men, women, and children who have lost the ability to cook in the hurricane. Donate water. We need clean, safe water to survive. Donations of water to a local disaster relief center, to first responders, or to Northstar are critically important. Donate clothing. There are those who are always in need of clothes. And finally take care of the elderly. We have many senior citizens in our communities and many may find themselves isolated because their families cannot get down to the Panhandle to assist them. If you know of any senior, in that position, do what you can to help them as they may not be able to help themselves. Take them to the store, or go to the store for them. Make sure they have their prescriptions or take them to the Pharmacy. 

Don’t forget to do everything in love. We can make a huge difference in the lives of many, and ourselves, by demonstrating the love of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Of the things I suggested, what is the one thing you could do this week to be the hands and feet of Jesus?
  2. Is there an older person that needs your help? If so, what is stopping you from gating involved?

Tragedy Brings Us Together

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” – 1 John 4:7-11

When tragedy strikes, the best of humanity surfaces. In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Floridans have come together in amazing ways. Whether it’s allowing people to use their phones, giving away free food and water, making meals, or simply lending a caring ear, people are extending a helping hand to those affected by the storm. The ceaseless reports of acts of kindness from strangers – not just loved ones – is evident wherever you turn.

Across the affected area, people have been checking in on sick or elderly neighbors, sharing food and information, driving carefully through intersections without working traffic lights and otherwise supporting each other. There is a sense of cooperativeness that is so good to see. Families are taking people left homeless from the storm. I see people holding hands and praying together. There is a sense of solidarity. And then there is the whole subject of how people are adapting, improvising to deal with the Hurricane aftermath.

Continue to pray for the people in the communities impacted by Hurricane Michael, their families and friends working to rebuild their lives and the thousands of workers who are working to do so.

Helping Others In Need

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” – Psalm 55:22.

Regardless if church doors are open —or if your church is even still standing after Hurricane Michael — God’s people still have work to do. Everywhere in our communities are people who have lost everything. They need help putting their lives back together.

We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus even though in many cases we are putting our lives together at the same time. Not just to one another, but also to the overall community. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)  The Bible beckons us to use our time, talents, and treasure to help the vulnerable (Acts 10:4), and Scripture is rich with examples of people who God used to bring about redemption and recovery in times of disaster. In the midst of the horror of Hurricane Michael, we can demonstrate the real presence of Jesus Christ.

We don’t have all “the” answers. What we have is the ability to humbly serve. Right after the storm, we first asked questions, seeking first to understand, and trying to get a sense of needs of the people, the basic needs, water, food, etc.  But we also want to connect with people and do more. The worst thing that can happen is people finding themselves isolated and withdrawn from others during the rebuilding process. Helping others in the community by loving them and supplying their basic needs is a powerful source of social support and healing.

Hurricane Michael has been a nightmare for so many people, and I would not try to convince you otherwise. But this is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity for all of us who attend Northstar to proclaim the love of Christ in ways we wouldn’t have thought possible,

Discussion Questions:

1. If practically possible, how can you be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ this week?

Some Thoughts on Hurricane Michael

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.” – Isaiah 55:8-1o.

Hurricane Michael, a “monstrous” storm churning with 155 mph winds, came ashore on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday afternoon as the most powerful storm on record. The storm, described by forecasters as “unprecedented,” shattered people’s lives up and down the Emerald Coast of Florida. 

It is easy to look at the carnage of this hurricane, glance skyward and ask God “why?”  Why would God allow this to happen? It is hard to grasp that the God of love would be involved in all these natural disasters. We believers try to protect God’s reputation by putting distance between Him and the terrible suffering that occurred on Wednesday October 10. After all, God is good and would not cause such devastation to happen.

But a moment’s reflection will soon make us realize that of course, God is the ultimate cause of all natural disasters. During the time of the plagues in Egypt, clearly God sent those plagues. Then you have the time of Noah; the flood obviously was sent by God. It says regarding Jonah, God hurled a storm into the sea.

The hurricane happened because God chose to let it happen. The question is why?  I can’t begin to answer that question, but I will say this. Our challenge is to somehow continue to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of tragedy. We need to realize that God can be trusted, even when it seems as if He is not on our side. We have to point people to the fact that God has intervened on our planet by sending Jesus Christ. There we see the love of God most clearly. The other thing you need to realize is that time is short and eternity is long. Sometimes we reverse that. The values that we have here on this earth, although life is precious, the fact is that hurricanes do not increase death. Everybody is going to die someday. But we also need to remember that God has already dealt with evil through the cross and the resurrection. God has acted and evil has been given a death sentence. It’s not as if God allows bad things to happen and that’s His final word. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. During our “very bad days” we wrestle with the question of “why does God allow this?”  Why do you think God allows bad things to happen to you?
  2. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The “all things” in that verse means exactly what it says. All things. Do you believe that means bad things as well as good things.
  3. Pray and ask God for the strength to trust Him in times of tragedy and trials.