The Winds Of Change

“Relying on God has to start all over everyday, as if nothing has yet been done.”  –C. S. Lewis.

The final days of the year are one of my favorite times of the year for several reasons. One is Christmas, the indescribable wonder of God with us as well as spending extra time with family. The other reason that this time of the year has become one of my favorites is because it is a time of reflection and preparation for the new year.

If you have not already completed the task, the Christmas decorations you put up a few weeks ago, will soon make their way back in the closet as the Christmas holiday quickly starts to fill up the rearview mirror.  But before Christmas fades from view it transitions us to preparing for the new year and considering new goals. We, as Christians, have been given the greatest reason for living in the world. Yet, we so often live as directionless people because our attention is in the wrong direction. What I mean is that we may miss the direction God wants us to go in life and how He intends to help us get there because we are still dealing with where we’ve been. That is never been more true than moving from 2018 to 2019. 

Where we have been in 2018 is Hurricane Michael. Hurricane Michael is a reminder to those of us who like things predictable and under control that neither predictability nor manageability are promised to us. Wind speeds, rainfall totals, and storm surges can be measured, but they cannot be reined in no matter how many advances we make. It is hard to look forward when we are fighting with insurance companies, looking for contractors, looking for a place to live, or a place to work. But given all that, we need to look ahead to 2019 as a church and as individuals. Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you”

2018 is history and 2019 lies before us unwritten. We will determine what happens in 2019. If we want to make positive changes it will take some effort on our part. 2 Peter 1:5-8 says, “ In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The message is obvious; it is not the same ole same ole. It will take intentional effort on our part to be everything God wants us to be next year and beyond. We simply need to remember His sovereignty, His power, and His presence as we move into a new year. And when we do, look out 2019.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why is easier to focus on the obstacles in life rather than the possibilities?
  2. Pray and ask God to provide you the wisdom to seize on the opportunities and possibilities He provides us in 2019.

Jesus Will Come Again

“Looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.”– 2 Peter 3:12-14.  

There are people who question whether Jesus was born on or about December 25. Whether our Lord and Savior was born on the 25th is irrelevant. That He actually came from eternity into time and space is what really matters. We needed a real Savior, not a metaphor, myth, fable or great story.

Any other king would’ve come with pomp, circumstance and great fanfare, accompanied by a royal entourage. But not the King of Kings. “There was no place for them in the inn” wasn’t an affront to Him. Jesus defied conventions because He was Lord over them. But through it all, He had a single focus. From the cradle of His birth, to the cross of His death, to the crown of His resurrection, Christ came to be our Savior. And He is coming again.

For the Christian, Christ’s return is not something to be confused by or frightened of, it is something to be excited about. 2 Peter 3 confirms that Christ’s return is a very good thing. In verses 12-14, Peter uses the words “look forward” several times. And why not. Jesus will be back. This day will be all about Him. This will be the day, as Philippians 2 10-11 says “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Titus 2:13 adds “while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” The day when everybody recognizes Jesus as He deserves to be recognized: as the rightful king and creator and owner of the universe. And everything will be made perfect.

We will soon start another year. While only God knows when Jesus will return, we have specific instruction for what we are to do while we wait. We are called to live “godly” lives…lives devoted to pleasing God out of our love for Him. We are to love God with all our mind, heart and soul. Every area of our life is focused on seeing the world through His eyes and loving out of the overflow of His heart. My prayer is that realizing Christ is returning should make us stay focused on what is truly important in this life and not get sidetracked by “things” that won’t go with us into eternity. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What will happen when Jesus returns? How do you think the world will respond to this event?
  2. Read Titus 2:12-13: What do you think it means to be “watching” for Christ’s return?  
  3. How should our lives be impacted by the knowledge that Jesus could return at any moment?

God Is With You, Closer Than Ever

“I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!..If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” –  Psalm 139:7, 9-10.

Viewing the news coverage, watching Youtube videos and reading online articles on the devastation of Hurricane Michael was in a word heartbreaking. From October 10th until today, I have heard stories of people whose lives have been altered or shattered. If only we had a solution, but we don’t. That is, we don’t have an earthly solution. The solution for dealing with the storms of life is knowing that God is with us. And when God is with us, that makes all the difference.  

Psalm 34:18 has never rang more true than it does right now.  It says: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” There are no words to describe what it feels like to have God near. But it is tangible. It is real. Although we can’t see or feel or touch Him, He is close, very close. So when you feel alone in a storm or trial, you are not alone at all. God is with you and He loves you. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted. When we are at our weakest, God is our strength to begin anew.  When we are at our lowest, God gives hope to rise again.  When we are at our saddest, God is working with us. We cannot see everything God is doing in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, but we can trust that God is with us, that He is in full control and that our story is not fully written yet.

God does not have to remove us from a situation to deliver us from it. We know that our God is Sovereign and He has all power and is able to do any and all things. We can look at creation and ourselves as proof of that.

John Ortberg in his book God Is Closer Than You Think, said: “The greatest moment of your life is now. Not because it’s pleasant or happy or easy, but because this moment is the only moment you’ve got. Every past moment is irretrievably gone. It’s never coming back. If you live there, you lose your life…This moment is God’s irreplaceable gift to you.” 

Isaiah 41:10 sums it up: “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.”

God is near, we simply need to draw nearer to Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways have you felt close to God? 
  2. What can we do this week to draw closer to God? 

Peace Of The Season

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). — Matthew 1:22-23

It’s Christmas and there always seems to be something magical in the air. Most of us wake up early with anticipation of a great day. We are excited for the gifts that we will give and receive. We are excited for the people we will see and the time we will spend together.

As we celebrate the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, let us take a moment to remember that He is our true source of peace. The prophet Isaiah, years before Jesus’ birth, called Him “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) My prayer is that you have experienced His peace in a new and profound way.

In spite of the hurricane or other trials in your life, Christ has been born, and His peace is available to you today. In the last several weeks, we have learned that “in Jesus” we can have: peace in the valley, peace in the wilderness and peace in storms.

That first Christmas, peace came in the form of a baby. Can you believe it? The Bible says in John 1:1, that “in the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word (that’s God) became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  When Jesus “moved into the neighborhood, He became fully accessible to us all. That means that the little baby born into a manger was the embodiment of God Himself, rushing into our human existence to save us from our sins. 

Jesus told his disciples just before going to the cross, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27) Thus, we can live our lives today with the kind of peace that “transcends all understanding.” Phil 4:7 (NTake a moment during your Christmas meal or other Christmas activities to reflect on those moments in your life when you’ve experienced His peace. And in those times of storms and trials in your life, remember that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define “peace” in your life? 
  2. What can we do this week to be at peace? 

850 Strong

“God certainly can use natural disasters to speak to us—just as He can use other difficulties and tragedies to turn our hearts toward Him.” – Bill Graham. 

Hurricane Michael, one of the most intense hurricanes to ever hit the United States, slammed the Florida Panhandle area with winds as high as 155 mph, leveling buildings and structures, flooding streets, and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Most people were in total shock as they looked at the vast badly damaged areas of Panama City. Northstar Church, like many churches, was not exempt. The Northstar Panama City campus was badly damaged. But it is just a building. We can rebuild a building. 

As devastated as this area is, God can be found here, not in the destruction, but in the response. In the midst of all the devastation and despair, good things were happening. People banded together in droves to help those who were affected by the storm. The Body of Christ quickly mobilized to help people who were feeling both helpless and hopeless. There are so many uplifting stories, both inward and outward of people being the hands and feet of Jesus. What made it all worthwhile? It was seeing a smile on the face of people.

God was at work in the midst of this tragedy. God is the eye of our storm. With God there is hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13) That has been our message since the hurricane; we cannot lose hope.  As a Christian, we must believe that out of destruction, new life comes, that’s the Gospel. We believe as a church that we will come out of this stronger than ever.  

God is with us and is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ever hope for, and with God’s help, we will not only survive but thrive. To move beyond shock into restoration. We are willing and ready to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. We are in this for the long haul.  

It is our prayer that we never neglect or lose the close relationships built in crisis. Being the hands and feet of Jesus should not be temporary.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do as a church to grow stronger as the Body of Christ as a result of the hurricane? 
  2. What can you do as an individual to grow stronger as a Christian as a result of the hurricane

The Indescribable Gift

“Jesus answered, ’I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said, ’Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ’Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’”— John 14:6-10 (NIV)

Christmas is a time of investigation and inquisition when you are young. A child uses the tactics of Mission Impossible and CSI in an effort to determine what gifts are hiding behind all that wrapping paper. It often requires peeling back a corner of the wrapping to see what is inside. Even though you are told that the anticipation and the unwrapping of the gift is the best part, most kids just don’t buy into that. They want to know what it is. But determining what the gift is before Christmas is not what Christmas is all about. Christmas is so much more because the gift is God is with us.  

In Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV) we read, ”Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, …” Jesus Christ reveals God perfectly. There is no characteristic which they do not share. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. 

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul commends the church in Corinth for their eagerness to help, and reminds them that those who sow generously will reap generously. Then he shifts his attention from human gifts to God’s gift of sending Jesus to earth for us. And he cannot find words to describe that. In 2 Corinthians 9:15, he simply says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

How do you describe Jesus? Isaiah said He would be called Emanuel, “God with us.” How do you describe that? How do you describe the love and grace of God? How do you describe the indescribable? We can’t. But God is with us. God can be known. He isn’t just a supernatural being out there who is above us and thus unapproachable, incomprehensible. He is real, and we can have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  

Christmas is much more than Santa and seeing the Xbox label behind the wrapping paper. It’s more than children and family and good will and the Christmas spirit. Christmas is a miracle. A miracle where God became man and dwelt among us.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a child did you try to get a sneak peak at your gifts before Christmas? How successful were you? 
  2. How do you describe Jesus? 

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!”– 2 Corinthians 9:15.  

This is the time of year when we are concerned about choosing just the right Christmas gifts to give to the special people in our lives. But let me ask you, have you ever received a gift too wonderful for words? Have you ever received a gift that was beyond description? God with us is such a gift. 

In the sermon series “God With Us” we have been talking about God’s ultimate gift to us, Jesus Christ.  God packaged the gift of Himself in human flesh.  Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate gift to mankind.   

The gift of God with us is not limited to the holidays, however.  It is a gift that keeps on giving. If I were to ask you, “How are you planning to enjoy this coming year,” the answers would equal the number of people asked. But how would you answer the question: How do we enjoy the gift of God with us year round? 

It starts with scripture. If we want to experience the power of God with us, we must love, know, embrace, memorize, quote and use the word of God.  In the final book of the Bible, Revelation 1:3, John tells us that there is “blessing” for anyone who reads God’s word. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” If we want to experience God with us all year long, then we need to immerse ourselves in Him through immersing ourselves in His word. 

Secondly, we experience God with us when we mix our lives together as the people of God in church and in small groups. In other words, when we do life together as believers. Doing life together is far more than just sitting next to each other on Sundays and engaging in some small talk before or after the service. It is actually connecting our hearts and lives together in ways that enable us to experience Jesus Christ through our relationships with each other.  

This year look for ways to do life together. One day it might be a quick phone conversation.  It might mean a minute, an hour or a day of prayer together with others.  It might be a shared cup of coffee or lunch. Whenever we experience a touch of God through the life of a brother or sister in Christ, that is enjoying God’s ultimate gift of Himself. 

Make the ultimate gift of God with us a gift that keeps giving year round.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you put the gift of God with us in perspective? 
  2. What can you do in 2019 to make this gift year round?    

The Polar Opposites Of The Christmas Story

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”– Matthew 2:16-18. 

The Christmas story has a hero and a villain and they could not be more different. They share a few sentences in the Christmas story and that is all they have in common. 

The villain is King Herod. There is not a lot known about King Herod, but what is known is not good. Historians tells us that King Herod (Herod the Great) was a cruel, power-hungry ruler who feared the loss of his power and ruthlessly destroyed all potential rivals with incredible cruelty and no remorse. Herod saw the baby Jesus as a threat and wanted to murder him.  

The hero of course is Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus sought first to do the will of His Father in heaven; to please, honor, and glorify Him. Jesus also came to bring people abundant life, which required Him to die on the cross, be resurrected before returning to heaven.

Jesus was perfect, sinless; Herod, was far from perfect and a cruel tyrant. Jesus gave his life and ministry as a sacrifice so that the world would know God. Herod’s life revolved around sacrificing others in order to protect himself.  

Ultimately, Herod’s glory and strength were forgotten. Few people remember the accomplishments of this king. He is remembered only as a paranoid tyrant, the man who committed mass murder in an effort to save his power.  The legacy and influence Jesus had on the lives of people has never been surpassed. No other person or leader has inspired so many positive changes in the lives of His followers. People who encounter the risen Christ are totally transformed. Their outlook on life is changed forever. They devote their lives to serving others, minimizing their own needs and desires.

The child in the cradle that King Herod tried to kill became the king on the cross. And because He did, there is salvation and grace. And regardless of the enemies I face or the storms in my life, God is present in my life. God is always near us. Always for us. Always in us because “Immanuel” means “God with us.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there’s a bad guy. What lessons can we learn from the life of King Herod? 
  2. How is the story of Christmas the story of God’s relentless love for us?

Words To The Wise

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”  Matthew 2:1-2.

The wise men are a staple of the Christmas story. The wise men were from a distant country, but God had given them a sign in the heavens—a special star—telling them of the birth of a new King. They went to Bethlehem, found the young child, and gave Him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Bible says they, “bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11).

The wise men did not have the news told to them by angels, they sought out the Christ. They traveled for two years without even knowing what they would find at the end or how long it would take. They followed the direction God called them to follow. God showed the wise men what direction they would go, not what they had to do. They followed the star in faith. Should we not do the same?  

It would seem logical that during their journey, the wise men were constantly looking up because they were guided by a star. “We saw the star as it rose…And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” (Matthew 2: 2,9-10)  Again, should we not do the same? Should we be consistently looking upward seeking the Lord and His presence?  Seeking the Lord means seeking His presence. “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”  (Colossians 3:1-2) We will never get our bearing unless we are looking up. And we will never find our way out of the storms of life without the presence of God with us.   

Think for a moment on the sacrifice the wise men made. Not only did they receive a message from God, they acted on it. And in the process, they invested a great deal of their time, talent, and treasure to find a baby they had never met. Why would they do such a thing?  Because finding and worshipping Jesus is worth it. It begs the question, what have you invested in in order to worship Jesus?  How much of your time are you giving to find Jesus, to spend time with Jesus, and to worship him?  Are you using your gifts for Jesus? Why should you make all those sacrifices today? Because, wise man still seek Him and because He is worth it. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does the wise men’s action surprise you? What is most amazing about how they responded?
  2. What can we do this week to look up even in the storms of life?

The Calm In The Storm

“Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.” – Matthew 8:24-26.

Storms have a unique way of revealing truth about God, while at the same time revealing how little we know about Him. They leave us shaken and exhausted and weary. We turn to Him in our chaos. We cry out for Him to intercede.

One of the best stories in the Bible is Jesus calming a raging storm while with His disciples. Jesus needed a rest from teaching the crowds near the Sea of Galilee. He decided to take a boat with His disciples to the opposite shore (Mark 4:35–36). Once on the boat, Jesus fell asleep, and a treacherous storm arose (Luke 8:23).

Terror gripped the men. We know that some of the disciples were professional fishermen and made their living on the water. Professional fishermen would know how to react to a sudden storm if they spent their lives in the occupation. We can gauge the storm by how frightened these fishermen were. They even thought they would drown. (Luke 8:24).

And yet Jesus slept in the back of the boat (Mark 4:37–38). He slept peacefully and restfully because He knew that God was with Him. Proverbs 3:24 tells us that “You can go to bed without fear;  you will lie down and sleep soundly” and Psalm 4:8 adds, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” These verses tell us that we can sleep peacefully because God is near. Jesus was awakened by the disciples and He said, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

This story is an example of how Jesus’ disciples were not all that different than you and I. They saw Jesus perform countless miracles and walked with Him day to day, but they still thought that they would drown. But is their lack of faith any different than our lack of faith?  We can never misplace our faith when we put it in Christ. When the waters of life appear to loom over us, threatening to crash, find Him in the midst of the storm sleeping at the stern of the boat. Come to Him. Rest in Him. Recognize His presence with you. As He moves and calms the storm, praise Him and learn more about Him. He longs to reveal more of Himself to you. He cares for you. He is completely in control.

If you seek and find His presence in the midst of the storm, you will find His presence is enough.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways can you identify with the fearful disciples? Are there areas where you are running to safety or wanting to go back to the shore/solid ground?
  2. What is the purpose of the “life storms” we experience? How have you reacted to the “life storms” you’ve experienced?
  3. What does having faith look like in your life?