Remain Calm In Times Of Adversity

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

Soccer star Landon Donovan said, “Life isn’t perfect, of course, but we all know it’s how you react to things that count.” Life is not perfect, in fact it is often messy, chaotic, and confusing. There are big, medium and small storms that come our way. It is in stormy conditions that we become confused and plagued with doubt and fear. 

As Christians, we have the comfort of knowing that there is a calm amidst our storms. We have God and when you have God you can have calm and peace. The key is not to put your focus on your situation, but rather on God. Learn to trust God enough to take a stand when on the mountaintop or in the valley. The Bible tells us in Psalms 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of trusting God for the results.

“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.” – Psalm 121:7-8

“But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:3

“…my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies.” – 2 Samuel 22:3-4.

“…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

So stay calm, and trust God. When hardships come your way, you can do one of two things: you can either choose to harden your heart or you can choose to find purpose in your challenges. Although it may be hard to see at times, there is always some good in each storm. In life’s storms, choose to thank God for the good things in your life and ask Him to help you endure whatever you are facing now. 

When life gets hard, remember this special passage from Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. God is bigger than anything we will ever face in our lives. What challenge or obstacle are you currently facing that you need God’s strength to help you endure through it? 
  2. In what ways do you experience God’s presence on a daily basis?

Life And Disappointments

while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” – Titus 2:13-14.

Disappointment. It happens. Sometimes frequently. There doesn’t seem to be a way of eluding disappointment in life. And once disappointment has set in, we immediately look for a cure, a solution to end whatever is disappointing us. That tactic usually ends in more disappointment. Maybe you have been in that position, where you put your hope in someone or something that ultimately was disappointing.

You are not alone. Every day Christians put their hope in different things. It could be a person, or a church, or the pastor of the church. It could be a school, a new job opportunity, a promotion or even a bonus. It could be a vacation, a new relationship, a marriage, or new baby. It could be volunteering or serving. It may seem completely logical to put your hope in something: “When this diet works, I will have more energy for the other parts of my life.” Or “this church will move me closer to God.” But what happens when we put our hope in the wrong place?

Whenever you place your hope in something or someone, you are depending on that thing or person to provide you what you are missing; it could be a better life, a better attitude, a better day, a solution to a problem, encouragement, a way forward, or something similar. You place the weight of your life on this other person or thing. The goal is that (fill in the blank) will lift you out of your circumstances and put you in a better place. Often that simply resulted in new disappointment. Maybe even bigger disappointment. The place to put your hope is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person that provides true hope of life change. The only one who can change your inner heart.

Dick Innes said, “No matter how disappointed you are feeling or how much you are hurting, know that every heartache and loss has within it the seeds of opportunity. Hidden within each disappointment is a peal of great price, that, when found, will totally dwarf your problem. The greatest success stories are written by people who, against seemingly overwhelming and often insurmountable odds, have accepted their trials and turned them into opportunities for personal growth and stepping stones on their pathway to success. With God’s help you can do the same. Trust him and choose friends who will empower you to do so.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your normal “first response” in times of trouble? What steps can you take to make turning to God your “immediate” response?
  2. Read Romans 5:1-5. What do these verses tell you about placing your hope?  

Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5.

It seems obvious to trust God when nothing makes sense. We should feel just as confident that we can trust God when our world is shaken and the ground is moving under our feet as we do when everything is going along swimmingly. It is easy to trust God when things are going well. But often that is the calm before the adversity. Things going well is not an indication it will continue that well. Our peace, our security and our trust comes from God. It is not at all dependent on what is going on around us. Whether things are good or we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, we can and should trust God.   

Adversity in our life is often a faith test. It is a test of whether it is easy or difficult to trust God. The challenge is to maintain that trust when the storm subsides and our circumstances no longer require the same level of faith. We are no less dependent on God when things are going good as we are when we are facing troubles in our life.

When things are going well we have the illusion of security, not real security itself. So many people lost all their savings during the 2008 recession because they assumed things would continue to be good. Good circumstances provide no true security.

It reminds me of the story of Jesus sleeping on the boat during the middle of the storm (Mark 4:35-41). He said, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” But then the weather got dicey. The boat and the disciple’s confidence was shaken. When we read the Mark passage today, we can’t help but think: “They had God in the flesh on the boat with them! How could they really think that they wouldn’t make it? No matter how bad things looked, they couldn’t be more secure.”

But when you are faced with a real crisis, you tend to freak out and they did. They finally woke Him up, frustrating Him with their lack of faith. Jesus told the storm to calm down. They had a very human reaction. They didn’t fully grasp who Jesus was. They could not get their arms around the idea that no matter how bad things got, He was there with them and they only needed to trust Him.

It is no different for us today. We have the promise of God that He will never leave us, or forsake us. It doesn’t matter how bad things look, God is there. When your trust is in God, you could not be more secure.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Regarding yourself, what do you worry about most? When is it time to trust Him rather than lean on your own understanding and strength?
  2. What does it mean to trust God? What is the difference between passive trust and active trust?

The Gift Of Adversity

“Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.” – Shakespeare: As You Like It Act 2, scene 1, 12–17

In this scene, the duke is describing the predicament he finds himself in now that he’s been deposed and exiled by his villainous brother—this is the “adversity” for which he has found “sweet uses.” By “uses,” the duke means “profits.” Still the question remains: should we agree and find comfort in “sweet are the uses of adversity. ” 

You are probably as confused by the idea of adversity being sweet as you are by Shakespeare. After all, no one likes adversity. Especially anybody who has experienced their fair share of it. When in school I had a learning disability. Others have heart problems; still others have lost their job or found a relationship they should have left unfound. Others have economic issues. So adversity is everywhere. Some of it was a result of bad decisions, some of it was out of our control. Some of it was a consequence of a mistake. Some of it lasted a short time, while other adversity lasted for a season or longer. None of it was sweet or a gift.

It is easy to buy into the notion that adversity has no silver lining, no benefits at all. Scripture, however, tells a different story. James 1:2-4 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Adversity may be hard, but it is an important tool that God uses in that transformation process. Suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is “to become like his Son (Christ).”

If you look at adversity as a benefit, as a gift, it will bring you closer to God. I have talked with Christians who have faced heartbreak, surgeries and sufferings, depression and adversity. Yet they will pause for a moment and say, “in all these things, Jesus Christ has been loving and faithful. He’s proved himself capable of handling my problems. I have witnessed His grace and been changed by it and to it. Adversity has been the gift that brought me closer to Him.”

Does this mean that adversity is sweet or easy? Absolutely not. Adversity is painful. We can be the man Shakespeare says, “..is the most wretched of men who has never felt adversity” or we can see adversity as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with the Lord. In every trial, His goal is that we increase in our knowledge and understanding of His ways, and trust in His faithfulness and His plan for our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you view adversity as an obstacle or an opportunity for spiritual growth? Why do you see it this way?
  2. How has God worked in your life through adversities? What sins has He revealed? What lessons has He taught you? How has He trained you for service?

Clean Eating And Clean Living

“God gave these four young men knowledge and skill in both books and life. In addition, Daniel was gifted in understanding all sorts of visions and dreams. At the end of the time set by the king for their training, the head of the royal staff brought them in to Nebuchadnezzar. When the king interviewed them, he found them far superior to all the other young men. None were a match for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.” – Daniel 1:17-19.

What happens when we face adversity? Are we shaken to the core? Do our core beliefs seem less important? Do we compromise? Daniel had to answer all those questions. His answers are found in Daniel 1:1-21.  

In the beginning of this chapter, we find the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, capturing Jerusalem. During this process, King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief of officials to bring some of the royal, Israelite, men into his service. The king wanted young men who were the cream of the crop. They were to be handsome without any physical defect, quick to understand, and knowledgeable. The king gave them a daily amount of food and wine. And he wanted them to be taught the language and books of Babylon (Daniel 1:3-5).

Among the man, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In this new place with these new customs, Daniel made a commitment to himself, not to defile his body. He went to the official and asked him if he could eat vegetables and drink water, instead of partaking in the king’s food and wine like the others.The official was reluctant because of the king, but he agreed to Daniel’s request for a 10 day test to see how the Israelites compared to the others eating the King’s food and wine. For 10 days, Daniel and his friends only ate vegetables and drank water. At the end of 10 days, Daniel and his friends looked better than the other men (Daniel 1:11-13). After seeing this, the official took away the king’s royal food and wine and gave everyone vegetables to eat and water to drink (Daniel 1:14-16).

 When we are faced with adversity in our lives, it could be the perfect excuse for us to give up and to do what we want to do, or what others want us to do. Like Daniel, when adversity has the potential to shake our world is when we should press harder and be more committed to God and our faith in Him. When everyone is doing one thing, Daniel stood out from the others because he was willing to do something different and not fall into the norm of everyone around him. What would we do in that situation?

 In our world today, there are so many temptations and opportunities to stray away from God. But, it’s important for us to be committed to God, even in the small things. Like Daniel and his friends we must make up our minds that we are going to follow God and do His will, even when our world is shaken. That is when we need to choose God over compromise as Daniel chose God over captivity. 

In this chapter, we see that even in unfortunate circumstances God is still there with us. He is working on our behalf, even when it seems that He isn’t. God was right there with Daniel in captivity making a way for them, helping them with the official and the king. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which of the points in Daniel’s story resonated with circumstances you face in your life that need hope verses frustration? How do you overcome frustration in adversity?
  2. Obeying God rather than men doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive and disagreeable. What approach did Daniel use when the overseer wanted them to eat from the King’s table?

Quit Church: For Yourself, Your Church And For Jesus

All this week we have been reviewing a book by Chris Sonksen entitled Quit Church: Because Your Life Would be Better If You Did. In summary, the book is about how the church could be better. The title of the book isn’t necessarily quite what it is made out to be. Instead, Sonksen is encouraging us to look deep within and understand why you are going to church. Go outside of just warming a pew by becoming involved, rekindling your passion for God and His church.

God is passionate about His love for you. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “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.” God is so passionate about you that He sent Jesus to save you. And He wants you to be passionate in your love for Him. 

The passion for God was never higher than when you first gave your life to Jesus. There was excitement, a sense of purpose and joy. Then life’s disappointments and difficulties enter the picture. The passion subsides a little. And then a little more until our walk with God became routine and less passionate. In the book, Quit Church,Chris Sonksen warns against dull, routine, passionless Christianity. He talks about how going through religious motions can dull your spiritual senses and blind you to your own condition. But God can open your eyes.

In Quit Church, Chris is not advocating quitting church, but doing more rather then less. And doing it first for you. He writes, “My prayer for you is that you will learn to quit; that you will learn to stop doing, thinking, or behaving in the ways that go against the spiritual practices that God desires for you; that you will realize how much he loves you and how much he wants to bless your life. “

Do it for your church as well: “Your church will win when you decide to quit. Your church will experience a new level of success as you step out and do what God has called you to do. Your pastor needs you, your leadership needs you, and your spiritual family needs you. If you don’t take action, it won’t affect just you; it will affect many others as well. Being a part of a spiritual family means there are family responsibilities. Do your part, and watch what happens.” (Quit Church, Conclusion)

But most of all do it for Jesus. “Jesus is crazy about you. He loves you and is cheering you on. He is leaning in to see how you are going to respond to this challenge. You are his child. He wants you to win. No doubt he will bless and reward you as you step out, but I challenge you to do this for Jesus simply because you love him. Do this not because of what he will do for you (and he will) but because he is the Lord of your life, the Master of your soul, the strength when you are weak, the hope when you feel hopeless, the rock when you feel unstable, and the shield when difficulty surrounds you. Do it simply because of who He is, not because of what He can and will do.” (Quit Church, Conclusion)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel like you take God for granted? Why or why not?
  2. How often are you spending time with God right now?
  3. How much time would you like to be spending with God each week?

Quit Church: Chapter 6: Quit Your Christian Friends

“We make this mistake quite often in our approach to church. It’s an interesting dynamic. Someone says to you, ‘Where do you fellowship?’ Then you mention the church you attend. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t fellowship there—we attend there. Fellowship doesn’t happen when we show up just barely on time for church, hang out in the lobby for a few minutes afterward, head to our cars, drive home, and then do it again the next Sunday. We come to call this group of people that we see in passing once a week our ‘church friends.’ But the relationship we have with them can hardly be called ‘fellowship’ in a biblical sense. These are not the kinds of life-on-life connections we need with each other. God has so much more in mind. We are designed for deep and genuine friendships. The church is meant to be a place of great connection and community with each other.” – Excerpt from Quit Church, by Chris Sonksen 

The Bible places a high emphasis on growing deep, meaningful relationships in church. That is a big part of why we humans were put on this earth not to walk through this life alone, but to be in community, and to walk together in every area of life. Christianity is about relationships. God loves us and wants us to love Him and develop a relationship with Him. God also wants us to form meaningful relationships with others. Church is a place where we can experience the amazing gift of healthy, meaningful relationships and be a part of something significant as we serve the purposes of God’s Kingdom together. “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)

The church should be known as a place where great friendships can be found, and where those relationships can develop and flourish. The question is how well are we connecting with people in the church. Social media and technology can give us the impression that we are connecting with people more than we really are. Growing spiritually doesn’t happen when we know what Jesus says. It happens when we apply what he says. Application happens best within the context of community. To grow spiritually, you have to be connected relationally.

If you haven’t already done so, consider joining a small group. Small groups meet regularly to study and get to know each other.  Or start serving: When people engage in service, it leads to life change. Whether you serve on a ministry team in our church, in our community, or in the world, God calls us to serve one another. 

 Examine your life and the relationships you are engaged in and answer the question: Am I really connecting with people or am I just scratching the surface? The way we answer this question could very well give us some insight into how effectively we serve the risen Savior. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How many relationships do you have with others in your church? Can you see the difference in your life when you’re in healthy relationships in the church versus when you’re not?
  2. How can you be more effective relationally in your church body?

Quit Church: Chapter 5; Quit Stopping By

“Dependability…the problem is that many people approach church attendance with less and less commitment. When Sunday morning rolls around, if there is a perceived better option than attending church, many people take it. And this puts a lot of pressure on pastors. If your pastors are like many other pastors, they probably deal with the pressure of building a church and creating momentum. Your pastors love the city and want to reach it. They want to create a church that is thriving and growing and that feels alive when people visit. However, they are continually competing with so many other challenges: summertime weather, sunshine, a game on TV, a special event in town, kids’ sporting events, the call of the river or the beach or the mountains. We as pastors want it to be warm enough for you to come to church but not so warm that you go somewhere else and not so cold that you stay home. Funny as this sounds, it is true. I totally understand getting away… but the frequency of church attendance is changing, and it’s not changing for ‘the good.’ Our commitment to the body of Christ is lessening, and it’s not what God intended for His family. He desires for us to be committed to Him and to the spiritual family that we call the local church. He is looking for us to be the type of people who are dependable in this commitment. God rewards and honors our dependability with our worship times together. It may go unnoticed by others, but it never goes unnoticed by God.” – Excerpt from Quit Church, by Chris Sonksen 

1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV) says,“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” What does it mean to you when you think of someone as steadfast? The dictionary defines it as “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” Synonyms include committed, devoted, dependable, reliable, stead and faithful to name a few.

Paul is urging us to be steadfast. He is calling on you to be reliable. You need to be steadfast in the roles God has called you to fulfill in His church. God is asking you to be so dependable that people lean on you, counting on the fact that you will always be there to help keep things together. And when events occur that shake up everyone’s world a bit, God wants people to look to you as one who isn’t easily excited, shaken, or affected.

The obvious question is “can God depend on us?” What do you see in your life that others would consider you a faithful person? Are you reliable, trustworthy, dependable and one that others can count on? “Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?” (Proverbs. 20:6) 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where in your life have you shown dependability, and where do you need to start showing more dependability?
  2. How have you done with being someone your church family can depend on each week?

Quit Church: Chapter 4; Quit Hoping People Will Come

“Hope is a wonderful emotion but a lousy strategy. We can’t simply hope people will show up to church, hope they’ll find Christ, or hope their life will be forever changed by his amazing grace. Some people might think that it’s the church’s responsibility to reach people, but that makes no sense, because, remember, you are the church. Those are all the wrong mind-sets. The right mind-set comes down to this: God has a brilliant strategy to reach your city, and you are it. The strategy isn’t a program or a church building, and it sure isn’t your pastor’s sole responsibility. Jesus cares about the people in your circle of influence, and he is looking for you to reach them. His brilliant strategy is a partnership with you and me. Maybe it’s time we stop and ask ourselves, ‘When was the last time I brought someone to church?’ This Sunday when you go to church, look around: How many people are there because of your efforts to reach them? – Excerpt from Quit Church, by Chris Sonksen 

At Northstar we don’t have to invite the lost, unchurched, or de-churched to join us at church, we get to. There are obstacles we need to overcome such as : “I don’t have all the answers.” “It could risk our relationship.” “They won’t be able to relate and will feel out of place.”

As is so often the case, we can learn from the apostle Paul. In Acts 17:16, Paul is in Athens. He was so disturbed by the widespread idolatry that he goes to the synagogue to talk with them. Then day after day he went to the synagogue and market place and reasoned with anyone and everyone he could. People thought he was just a crazy babbler, but he kept at it. Eventually, he made such an impression that he was invited to come and share the gospel.

Paul didn’t have to drag people out of their comfort zones, he met people where they were. And he did not give up easily, because he understood the value of each life to God. Jesus did the same, and he continues to meet and love people where they are. Most of Jesus’ work was not done inside the walls of the synagogue, but in the streets, the marketplaces, and homes of others.

Let’s make it a point to love people where they are. Let’s resolve to build relationships with our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. And then to use those relationships to invite them to church and to talk about spiritual things. Every effort will not be a success. But it is so worth the effort.

Imagine the day when a friend, or relative, or coworker, or neighbor is worshiping God with their hands in the air as they stand next to you. Can you see their face as they worship the One who saved them, gave them peace, joy, purpose and new life? That picture can be a reality, but it starts with a relationship and an invitation. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you shared your story on how God has changed your life?
  2. What are some of the obstacles to inviting people to church? How can you overcome those obstacles?

Quit Church: Because Your Life Would be Better If You Did

In this week’s devotional, we are looking at a book by Chris Sonksen entitled Quit Church: Because Your Life Would be Better If You Did. In summary, the book is about how the church could be better. We hear sermons about the abundant life Jesus promised, but how many people are actually living it? How many people in our churches are experiencing God’s blessings? Maybe it’s time to call it quits from church. But not as you may think. Chris calls on us to quit our casual, cultural commitment to church as we know it. No more half-hearted attempts to win the favor of God and other people by doing the right thing. No more doing things out of a sense of duty. Instead, Sonksen reveals the spiritual habits that release the blessings of God, both on each individual and on the church.

Chapter 1; Quit Expecting to Wake Up in Heaven

“The reasons for people’s frustration in a church vary. Maybe they are upset because of a style change in the church. Maybe a certain program they love and believe in has ended. Maybe they feel like the decisions being made about finances are not the decisions they would make if they were in charge. Maybe they see a change in leadership that they don’t agree with or don’t understand. Maybe the methods are different than what they would choose. Maybe the church is putting a stronger emphasis on outreach, and in their opinion ignoring discipleship. This list isn’t exhaustive. Not always seeing eye to eye is normal. Having different opinions is normal. But what is sad and breaks the heart of God is that many individuals get frustrated or leave the church…” Excerpt from Quit Church, by Chris Sonksen 

The so-called good-old-days when a person committed to a church, then stuck with it no matter what, have come to an end. Even so, people will commit when they have something worth committing to. There is no perfect local church in this world, but that’s not the issue. There are no perfect pastors, but that’s not the issue either. The basic issue is expectations as Chris Sonksen points out.

Many people enter through the doors of a local church as a consumer. We use many of the same evaluation techniques in “church shopping” we do in other areas of life. We want an effective staff since they will be doing much of the work. The churches worth committing to are the ones where people use their gifts, talents and experiences to serve God, and serve others. It is easy to to complain, point out what’s wrong and observe inconsistencies. What takes real work is agreeing to work toward solutions to the problems that exist in the local church.

Which means the next time we see something that we don’t like, it may be God pointing out how you can use your gifts to solve the problem. When people are part of the solution you won’t create the perfect church, but you will create a healthy church that is worth committing to.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been around a conversation in your extended church family that left you confused, unsettled, or feeling divided? If so, what was your response? How could you have responded better?
  2. Considering that the church is the bride of Christ, what steps can you take in the future to protect, guard, and honor the church?
  3. What can we do to be part of the solution?