A Balancing Act

He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” – Daniel 11:32 

We Christians can sometimes be a walking contradiction: do we sit, watch, and listen to Christianity or do we live, do, and demonstrate Christianity? In other words, should we be spectators, passive observers who watch without doing and have no say in the ultimate outcome of the event they are watching. Or should we be participants that have active roles that impact the outcome? Yes, God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role. 

Our first inclination when faced with a situation or circumstances that we are concerned about is to pray.  And that makes perfect sense.  When we pray, we are demonstrating our dependence upon God.  But the key moment comes after we have prayed.  What do we do then? This is the critical point where many believers sit back waiting for God to meet their need. And sometimes God does exactly that. But sometimes faith requires action. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1John 3:18) 

If you are praying for God to help you get out of debt, pray, but then take action. Sit down and put a game plan together to help you meet your financial needs and achieve your financial goals. Create a budget. Live within your means. If you are praying for your marriage or for a relationship, pray, but then act. Seek out Godly counsel from your pastor or some other qualified Christian counselor, then put your faith into action and do all you can to have a healthy marriage or relationship.

Galatians 6:4 tells us, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.”  And Jeremiah 17:10 says, “But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.”

Prayer is not a passive exercise but an active one. We are active participants in God answering our prayers. It requires action on our part. It is God who is answering our prayers, but our faith requires us to be involved in that process. James 2:14 tells us, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” No doubt there are some things we pray about that are completely out of our control and we must simply trust God to move on those needs.  But much of what we pray about we have the ability to put action to our prayers. It is still God who is answering our prayers, but He is working through our actions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do actions require faith? Why or why not?
  2. How do I decide when to take action and when to wait on God?

What, Me Worry?

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” – Revelation 1:17.

The first four words of Revelation 1:17 are “When I saw him…” John must have been totally awestruck by the awesome, Lord Jesus Christ….and terrified. He falls at the feet of Christ. Jesus sees that John was overwhelmed and tells him directly “Don’t be afraid.” The grave could not hold Jesus and He now holds the keys of death and the gravel. God is in control, even though many people want to have everything under control, or at least believe they do. Having control seems more predictable and it certainly seems safer.

But reflect for a few minutes and determine if you are in control of any part of your life right now. Do you have control over your future? Your children? Your daily schedule? Can you control your daily commute to work and home from work? What do you control and more importantly, how much stress do you put on yourself by trying to achieve that control? It is a burden that most of us could probably do without.

Instead of spinning around out of control, we can choose to turn to God. We can ground ourselves in the truth that He is sovereign. He is the One who holds all things together. Nothing escapes His notice. We can rest assured that He is far more concerned with our well-being than we are. And He loves us more than we can possibly fathom.

Yes, bad things happen. We want to control everything in our life instead of merely resting in God’s presence, remembering that God sees us, God loves us, and God has us. But in the midst of crazy seasons of life and the worry that results, the Bible reminds us that we do not need to be in control of it all. One example is found in Psalm 139. “Lord, you have examined me and you know me.You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts. You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions. Even before I speak, you already know what I will say. You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.” (Psalm 139:1-6 GNT)

Remembering these verses doesn’t mean that my to-do list will go away, or even that my anxiety will evaporate. But they remind me that my stress is a small part of the bigger picture and that God’s reality is bigger than my own.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you handle control issues?
  2. Why should we trust in God rather than seize control of our lives?
  3. What can we do this week to put the control of our lives where it belongs, with God?

Wrestling With God

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1.

It was Corrie Ten Boom who said, “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.” Worry results from us seeking to wrestle something from God that doesn’t belong to us. Basically, we seek to have control of something we have no power to control.

Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau? The father Isaac was tricked into giving Esau’s blessing to Isaac. When Esau returned, Jacob had already received the blessing—which guaranteed him a double portion of inheritance. Esau was furious and vowed to kill him, so Jacob fled. (See Genesis 27) After years of living apart, Jacob decided to return to his home and hoped to make peace with his brother. One night on the journey, he sent everyone ahead of him while he stayed behind. What follows is an interesting story. The account of Jacob wrestling with the angel is found in Genesis 32:22-32. The account includes the renaming of Jacob as “Israel”, literally “He who struggles with God.” The account is also regularly described as Jacob wrestling with God.

Through a long and difficult struggle, God taught Jacob to bring his fears to Him, and to cling to His promises. And it seems Jacob finally “got it,” returning to Bethel once more to obey his promise to worship God there (Genesis 35:6-7). 

I find it hard to imagine what it would be like to wrestle with God, until I realize that we wrestle with God all the time. We wrestle with Him on seeking His will for our lives. We wrestle with Him to give us peace and clarity. And of course we wrestle with Him for control of our lives.  We wrestle with Him until we come to that place that we give Him control of our lives. 

Maybe you are in a wrestling match with God right now. I understand it is difficult to give up control and I understand the fear of letting go of control and turning over every aspect of your life to God. But I also understand the peace that comes from releasing control to God, knowing that He has promised to take care of you. Turn over your concerns and worries and leave the rest to Him. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you wrestle with God?
  2. What can we do this week to turn over more control of our life to God?

First Love

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” – 1 John 4:18-19.

Like many of you, I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that God loves me. He is the God of the universe, the grand Creator, the author of beauty and wonder. How can we not marvel at His love, to be awestruck by His holy presence each day. If I really grasped God’s love, if I really seized it and took hold of it in the whole of who I am, it would impact my life much more greatly than I can even imagine. 

God loved us while we were enemies. God sacrificed his Son for us while we were enemies. Romans 5:10 says, “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.” Ephesians 3:18-19 reminds us His love is great. It’s wide, long, high, and deep. It surpasses knowledge. The early Christians endured persecution, hardships and unbelievable suffering. Yet Paul wrote to them:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” 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. 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 8:35-39)

Such love is beyond our ability to grasp with our minds, but it is not beyond our ability to experience with our hearts. The more we study it, the more we understand it, the more we realize, we will move steadily beyond our understanding. But it does not mean that we cannot have confidence in the fact that God unconditionally loves us. Know it, cling to it, and remember it; don’t underestimate the love of God for you.

Rejection. No one is immune to it. Everyone will experience it to some degree. And no matter who you are, your life is changed because of it. God is our hope. His love which is undeserved is a beautiful reminder that rejection from man never means rejection from God. 

The question is, will you seek the approval of man or seek the approval of the audience of one, God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of “unconditional love”?
  2. How often do you try to grasp the love of God?

Despised and Rejected

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!” – Isaiah 53:3-4

Jesus was and is the most rejected person in all human history. Yet Jesus was perfect. There was no sin, no personality or character flaw in Him that caused Him to be rejected. Yet He suffered undeserved rejection all His life. Jesus was rejected by His peers, by His nation, by the Gentiles, by the world He had created. In the hour of His agony He was betrayed by one friend, denied by another, and abandoned by all of His disciples. He experienced loneliness, suffering, grief, and rejection. He even felt rejected by God, His Father. Remember His cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46).

So how did Jesus deal with rejection? “One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Luke 3:21-22)

The rejection of man had little affect on Jesus because He was completely accepted by His Father. Since He was secure in His Father‘s acceptance, the praise or rejection of others had no power over Him. Jesus knew that regardless of how people would respond to His teaching or actions it held no pull over Him. He didn‘t have to prove or defend anything. He was laser-focused on His Father’s business  “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”  (Luke 2:49 KJV)  The words convey a strong commitment. This is no option. This is what He is about. 

That begs a questions: Are we about our Father’s business rather than worrying about the approval or rejection of man? Is being about our father’s business reflected in how we live our lives?   

If He is Lord, really Lord, then we will want our lives to mirror His.  We will want what He wants, do as He does, go as He goes, give as He gives and live as He lives. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does being about my father’s business mean to you?
  2. What can we do this week to focus more on doing our father’s business?

Rejection Just Ahead

“Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” – Galatians 1:10.

The fear of rejection is one of our deepest human fears. Biologically wired with a longing to belong, we fear being seen in a critical way. We’re anxious about the prospect of being cut off, demeaned, or isolated. Rejection confirms our worst fear — perhaps that we’re unlovable, or that we’re destined to be alone, or that we have little worth or value. We may feel like a failure. So how do we overcome the fear of rejection or more specifically, the rejection of others?

The first thing to do is realize that people will let you down. It is not a case of if, but of when. That coupled with the fact that we place far too much value on the opinions of other people is what causes fear. People are going to let us down.  We fear people whose opinion is temporary rather than fearing God whose rejection is eternal.

In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel goes to the house of Jesse to anoint the new king. Samuel assumes it is the tallest of the sons.  But the Lord tells Samuel he has rejected the tallest of the sons. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” That is good news. That is the constant theme in the New Testament: Jesus doesn’t care what people look like and how religious they look. He looks into the heart.

That is the main difference between people and God. When people look at us, they look at us externally. They look at our appearance. They look at our homes, our position, our salaries, our car. God doesn’t care about that. He looks at our heart. God sees us different than the world. And that’s good news.

He knows everything about you. He sees our weakness. He sees our insecurities. He sees our failings. He sees our fears. He sees our inadequacies. And He loves us. Some of you have a really hard time with this.  God loves you unconditionally. Fall back on that love. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18) 

We can live in this trap of wanting the inconsistent and false approval of other people or we can resign the game and fall back on God’s unconditional love. I like to think it’s this unconditional love that stops our head from moving side to side and seeing what other people think about us and it stops our head and focuses our eyes on the only one who really matters anyway and that’s God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What difference does it make when you “open your life to the love and acceptance of God in Jesus Christ?” How does this help reduce the fear of rejection in your life?
  2. How does “living by God’s rules”—knowing what He approves and living to please Him—bring a sense of security to your life?
  3. What practical steps can you take to think and care more about God’s approval than the approval of others?

Fall Into A Trap

“Keep me from the traps they have set for me, from the snares of those who do wrong. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, but let me escape.” – Psalm 141:9-10.

We all want others to believe in us, to love us, affirm us and value us for who we really are. We all love affirmation. We all desire significance and recognition. We all benefit from being encouraged by others. And yet, this silent struggle for approval can often become an over-riding motivation that keeps us on an unpredictable roller coaster of insecurity and instability.

Seeking the approval of others or being under the influence of others is often a trap. Most of us have been there. There are different reasons that we fall into this trap. There is only one sure way out of this trap. however.

In truth, we crave the acceptance and approval of men, but we need it from God. We long to know we matter to others, but we forget how much we matter to Him. We desire approval and favor of our peers, but we lose sight of the approval and favor we already have in Christ. While we tend to seek these things from men, ultimately, God is the only One in whom we can find our deepest desires completely fulfilled.

Satan wants to trap us with our need for acceptance and affirmation. He wants us to spend our time in self-promotion. It is easy to get caught in this trap of being motivated by the approval of others. This is when we need to remember that we are already accepted by God so we don’t need to gain acceptance.

The approval of man seems futile when you consider that someone will always be better at something, more beautiful, or more talented, creative and successful than we are. Rather, we ought to enjoy what God has given us to seek His purpose to the best of our ability and to God’s glory. Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  When we come to the point where we view everything as an act of worship to God, we will finally ignore the approval of man. When what God says is the only verdict that matters, man’s opinions won’t matter any longer. Only God can enable us to stop worrying about what others might think if we do what is right. Look at it this way: the tendency to work for others’ approval is a lifelong battle. And learning to rest in our acceptance in Christ is a lifelong growth process.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you handle rejection?
  2. Why should we trust in God rather than worrying about the fear of rejection?
  3. What can we do this week to put our dependence on God rather than the approval of man?

Living On Approval

“For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:4

Most people today try to be people pleasers. A basic definition of people pleasers is: “People pleasers yearn for outside validation. Their personal feeling of security and self-confidence is based on getting the approval of others. They worry how others will view them. They fear they’ll be disliked and rejected by a person or group, whether it’s friends, family or co-workers.  People pleaser’s happiness is based on other people’s perception of them.” That sounds like most of us to one degree or another since our culture is built around pleasing people.

You try to keep your spouse happy, and your boss and your customer. Whoever your employer is you work to try and make your boss happy and your investors. if you are a parent, you are trying to keep your kids happy and if you are a kid you are trying to keep your parents happy. If you are a TV show or a politician, you are looking for approval ratings. And if you participate in social media, you want likes, comments, posts, re-posts, re-tweets, followers, hits and views. Everyone is trying to please someone. In Galatians 1:10, Paul writes, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” 

Is the approval of God better? Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  God knows the very worst of us and yet loves us anyway. We never could win His approval and yet He sends His only son to die for us. Now that is approval. No approval can ever match it or compare to it. God’s approval is so far superior to anyone else’ that it’s just plain off the chart. One, because we didn’t do anything to earn it. 

This sermon series is not so much about who to fear as it is who to trust. We should not focus on people rejecting us because their opinion is temporary, we should be focusing on how God sees us. We can live in this trap of wanting the inconsistent and false approval of other people or we can resign the game and fall back on God’s unconditional love and grace.

The  approval of God is what we really want and what we should work toward. Then we don’t care so much about other people’s opinions, because we know that as long as we have God’s approval, that’s all that matters.  We get freed from trying to please men and become servants of God, who live for an audience of one, God.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Whom would you say you’re trying to please on a daily basis? God? Your co-workers? Spouse? Friends?
  2. How much more of your potential do you think you could reach if you sought the approval of God and no one else?

The Wonder Of It All

Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” – Matthew 15:30-31.

There is a song by Bethel Music entitled “Wonder.”  It is a wonderful song. The opening chorus begins with three repetitions of the phrase “May we never lose our wonder” and the chorus goes “Wide eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child, staring at the beauty of our king.” We should be filled with wonder: from the humble wonder of the nativity birth to the blinding glory of the transfiguration to the fact that God came to earth to restore us and this world to a right relationship with Him.

May we never lose the wonder of God. The more we learn the more we should be dumbfounded and the more we should be in awe. Jesus gave up everything for you and for me, walked where we walk, felt what we feel, and took our sin, not just a part but the whole. He bore our shame, our punishment, carrying our cross, being pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and hung on a cross all so that we have the ability not to simply be forgiven, but know Him personally and intimately and know all the riches that there are in Christ Jesus. It makes one wonder how we could forget the wonder and awe of who Jesus is. And it is no wonder why we should want an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior.

If you and I ever get to the point that we are casual about what happened on the cross, if we ever begin to take it for granted, we need to get on our knees and stay there until we recapture the wonder of it all. We should always remember the price that was paid for our salvation. Ask God to search your heart and reveal to you His glory if you have lost that wonder in who He is and all that He has done in and through your life.

When we slow down from our busy lives long enough to truly gaze at the face of our Creator through prayers, serving others, etc., we can’t help but be brought to our knees in the face of God’s holiness, goodness, and majesty.  

No matter how many lives we see changed, no matter how many people we baptize, I urge you as I urge myself, never lose the wonder of it all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the last time you were filled with complete awe and wonder of who Jesus is?
  2. When was the last time you were alone with Him, lost in His presence?

Finding Intimacy In Community

“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” – Colossians 3:16.

One of the core values of Northstar is to foster community with others.  Community is more than just people getting to know each other and spending time together. We believe that community is – as described in Hebrews 10:24 – a group of people who “…motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”  We join up with others in community because we need intimate relationships: discussion that goes deep, friendships that reach beyond the surface, and support that can help us navigate through troubled waters. 

Small groups provide a valuable opportunity to connect with other believers outside the Sunday morning worship. But small groups are more than a program or ministry. Rather, our hope is that small groups become a way of life, extending our Sunday-morning relationships beyond our time together on Sunday morning and outside the walls of our buildings. Small groups have the potential to be a springboard for even deeper relationships. Smaller groups are a safe space for vulnerability, honesty, curiosity, support, encouragement, forgiveness, laughter, accountability, transformation, connection, and a whole host of other things that are not easy to do in a big crowd. In a small group, you have the chance to mentor and be mentored, pray and be prayed for, teach and be taught, laugh and be laughed with, cry and be cried with, a chance to connect with a smaller group of people over months and years and ultimately build some deep, intimate relationships with other believers. 

The alternative is dealing with distractions by yourself. Distractions include relationships which are not healthy. Surrounding yourself with negative people who lead you into temptation and don’t respect your faith. Another one is the “I can do it all on my own” distraction. Whether it’s not making church a regular fixture in your life because you don’t understand how necessary it is or pushing yourself to a breaking point before even considering asking for God’s help, trying to convince yourself that you can do this all alone is a big distraction and will distance yourself from God. Not only are you distracted by the never-ending to do list that accompanies this kind of attitude, you also lose focus on God’s greatness to do more than you ever could. Another distraction are other people’s opinions. The big decisions that you have to make in life are hard enough without adding a chorus of voices that conflict with your faith and prevent you from hearing what God has to say on the matter.

All those distractions and the distance they create between you and God can be solved in a small group.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does an intimate small group look like to you?
  2. What can we do to develop more intimate relationships in our small groups?