Living A Purpose

“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” – Romans 12:3.

The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is a movie adaptation of a beloved book series. In the first movie, Lord Elon of Rivendell told the fellowship as they are ready to depart on their quest, “hold true to your purpose.” Every one of us who are followers of Jesus have had our ups and our downs and even some flat times. But one thing is constant; the need to evaluate our relationship with Jesus. We need to assess where we are and what changes we need to make if we are to hold true to our purpose of serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

You can’t make progress if you don’t have a starting point. We need to assess so we don’t follow our plan, or our purpose. We want to follow God’s purpose and His plan for our life. Our purpose is to serve God. But to do that, we must answer this question: “How is my relationship with God?” And that requires us to hold up a spiritual mirror. Spiritual mirrors are not normal mirrors. They are not a tangible piece of formed glass hanging on a wall. Spiritual mirrors help us assess the real state of our walk with Jesus.

An honest spiritual evaluation requires humility. We need humility to say I’ve got it wrong, I know what I should be doing. None of us are perfect; we constantly mess up. We have an anger problem. Or an ethics dilemma. Or an addiction. You don’t have to shout it to the rooftops, but you have to be totally honest with yourself, to stand in front of the spiritual mirror and humbly assess your current state. Then seek the help of God. Until you do, nothing will change. Remember that, as we talked about last week, God is a master of taking the bad and making it into the good.

The other thing about humbly assessing our current state is to assess your faith. Trusting God is the secret to any change. We have limits; God does not. With limited faith we have limited options. With unlimited faith we have unlimited options. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you do spiritual evaluations? What does this evaluation involve?
  2. How can we make spiritual evaluations more valuable?

Be Transformed

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2. 

I believe everyone wishes that they could somehow wake up tomorrow and magically make the changes needed to be transformed into the best version of themselves. Of course this is unrealistic. Everything evolves through a strategic process and carefully plotted steps of transforming the heart and the mind. 

In Proverbs 23 it says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” ( Proverbs 23:7 KJV). Our actions are a result of what we think. Intellectually we may believe something to be true, but the real litmus test is in our actions. This is why it s so important to renew our minds with the word of God. To know, understand and follow what God has said to the point when we will act on that belief system. 

Peter said, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises…”  ( 2 Peter 1:3-4 ). In Romans 12:2,  Paul urges us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

This is amazing, not because this change comes with anything we do, but because it comes by knowing God and His word. We can experience effortless change in life simply by renewing our minds to the truth of God’s word. Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” ( 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ). The Word is what equips us and prepares us for this life. But to be effective in our lives, it has to change us and transform the way we are living.

Life change is not about trying; it’s about training. Merely trying to experience life change can never bring about life change. I can try very hard to hit a golf ball 300 yards, but I won’t be able to do it until I train the body and mind to do it. Training requires discipline. To truly live a Christ-like life, we have to order our lives around those activities, disciplines, and practices that were modeled by Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can you do to be more aware of what goes into your mind? 
  2. What would a mind decorated with things that remind you of God look like? What practical thing(s) can you do to focus your mind on the Father’s love?
  3. What’s one change you could make this week to secure your mind more?

Change For The Better

“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?” – Romans 7:24 (MSG).

What do you think when you read Romans 7:24? If you are like most of us, we understand exactly what Paul is telling us. “Amen, yes, that’s right, that’s true, that’s me. I can see myself in that verse.”  Why, because when it comes to change we are often our own worst enemies.

There are things we would like to change about ourselves. But the reality is, we often can’t change them, not in our own power. We need an outside power source. You are probably thinking to yourself, “wait a second Marty, I can change.” But can you?  Certainly we have the best intentions. And very often we put in the effort. But at the end of the day, real change requires real power, the power of God.

We need a Savior – someone who can make the changes we can’t make ourselves. The apostle Paul felt that way. Paul says he tried everything and nothing helps. He adds that when you find yourself at the end of the rope, you wonder if there is anyone that can truly help. Fortunately, Paul gives the answer in Romans 7:25: “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”

Paul gives us the key to change in Romans 12:1: “…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”  In other words, give your life to Jesus and He will change you. When we first become Christians, our priority is not to change ourselves. Our priority is to love Jesus and learn about Him through Bible study, by attending church, by serving, joining a small group and having a quiet time to talk with our Savior. Doing those things creates a beneficial byproduct; Jesus changes you. He changes your attitude, your thoughts, your motivations and desires. 

Change is always difficult. But, it becomes almost impossible without the involvement of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What area(s) of your life would you most like to change? What are the barriers to making those change(s)?
  2. What can we do this week to involve God in the changes we wish to make? 

The End Of Pain

“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” – Romans 8:16-17. 

If this is your first time visiting the Northstar Daily Devotional this week, we have been taking a look at and trying to gain a theological basis for pain and suffering. What we’ve been trying to do is simply open up the Scriptures with some key passages and ask, “Lord, what is your purpose in suffering? What are you trying to do? What are you trying to accomplish in this? And what should our response as a Christian be to God in the midst of suffering?” 

We want to see our pain and trials, not through a lens of necessarily anger and contempt towards God, but rather to look at them through a lens of joy as an act of faith.  We talked about the fact that God is seeking to produce in us something we could not produce on our own. As a result, as we come in these situations where we don’t know what to do, we don’t know where to turn, we don’t know why this is going on, we don’t know how this is going to get any better, and we don’t know what the light is at the end of the tunnel. In the midst of it, we can look to the future and an eternity with the risen Savior. 

As we endure the seasons of suffering Christ has ordained in our lives, we can long for the day with hope that Paul described in 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”

So do not fear the pain that comes into our lives. God has a purpose for your pain. In Romans 8: 14-16,  Paul says we we have been adopted by God as sons and daughters, as children of God. The fact that we’ve been adopted says we are His. Verse 17 goes on to say, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”   An heir is a child whose father says, “Son or daughter, everything I have one day is going to be yours.” 

What Paul is saying here is as God’s children we are heirs. Not only heirs, we are coheirs with Christ. But we are not there yet. And until that day there will be pain and suffering. 

In Revelation 21:1-2 John in a vision tells us what heaven is going to be like: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does heaven change your perspective of pain and suffering? If so, how?
  2. What does it mean to you that we are heirs with God? 

Pain Has a Purpose

“ I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.”  Psalm 77:1-3. 

The Apostle Paul said this in Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Most Christians know this verse, but do we truly believe it? Do we believe this when we are facing real trials in our life?  Do we really believe God has a purpose for our pain, sorrow, and despair? It is not always easy to accept, but that doesn’t mean the words of Paul to be any less true.

There is no such thing as a pain free life even for a believer. Brokenness and pain seem to be quite popular lately for Christians. They’ve all encountered tragedies they didn’t expect nor could they have really planned for. And now all of these people are stuck in the middle of a storm and wondering how God is is possibly going to work things together for good.

God does have a purpose for your pain. God can take everything in life that’s been thrown at us, redeem it, and use it for the glory of His name. That is if we surrender our circumstances to Him. We need to trust God. The purpose of your pain may not come immediately. In fact, it may take years. But as God’s Word says, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” and we have to stand on this truth. It could be one of the hardest things you encounter in life. But it can also be one of the most renewing, strengthening and encouraging times of your life, especially when we help others through our pain. 

Who can better help walk with someone who has an addiction than someone who once had an addiction and lost everything? Who can better walk next to someone who is currently mourning the loss of a loved one than someone who has been through a similar experience? God can take our pain, our brokenness, our frustrations, our failures, and use them as the testimonies in which we help others.

God has a purpose for our pain even if we have yet to realize it. He can redeem all things because He is the one who created all things. Take some time to meditate on the wisdom of God as He works out His perfect will through our suffering. No wonder James, the brother of our Lord, commanded us to. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” (James 1:2)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does pain in your life shape or strengthen your image of Jesus?
  2. Sometimes short-term pain can bring about long-term joy and peace. Have you ever felt like the pain you went through was worth it because of the end result?  Are you willing to endure short-term trials, knowing that there is long-term joy coming in the future?

The Power of Good

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 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 5:3-5.

Joseph is one of my favorite characters in the Bible for a number of reasons. One of them is seeing God in the midst of tragedy. You know the story: As the favored son of Israel’s patriarch Jacob, Joseph had dreams of a bright future. But all that changed when his brothers sold him as a slave.The slave traders took Joseph to Egypt, where he suffered through some painful years. 

Joseph could have become bitter because of what his brothers had done to him and the injustice of his imprisonment. Instead, he worked diligently and grew in wisdom and responsibility. The authorities found him faithful and promoted him to positions of authority. In time, Joseph became second in command to Pharaoh and coordinated efforts to sustain the nation during a seven-year famine.

Through this experience, Joseph learned to see his enemies, who had evil intentions, as instruments in the hand of God. Not only did Egypt and other nations benefit from Joseph’s life, but his own family did as well. When Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to find food during the famine, they repented of the evil they had done to Joseph, and their family was reunited. Joseph explained a key to forgiveness when he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20).

God is an expert at bringing good out of bad. The pain and trials are often the very things that God is using to shape you and make you into the believer of character He wants you to be. He wants to use the bad for good in your life. Here is one of the “good things” that come out of crisis and suffering. You turn to God with a dependence like you have never had before. And when that happens, God is there waiting for you with the strength, peace, and love you need. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you have reacted if you were in Joseph’s shoes?
  2. Have you seen good come out of bad in your life?
  3. What can we do this week to trust God to turn the bad into good in our lives?

Recycling Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

Recycling is a daily activity for more than 100 million Americans and a great way to protect our environment. Recycling saves resources, prevents pollution, supports public health, and creates jobs. It saves energy, money, avoids landfills, and best of all, it’s not all that hard. In short it just make sense for the community in general and for all of us as individuals. But did you know God is in the recycling business; He recycles our pain,

There are real advantages to recycling your pain. If you are an average person you have pain in your life. Maybe it is a lot of pain. Maybe you have been carrying the pain around with you for years. God uses pain to get our attention. Now pain is not the problem. Pain is a wake-up call; pain is a warning light. God will often use a painful experience to cause us to change our ways. God uses pain to teach us to depend on Him. There are some things we can only learn through pain and there are ways we can recycle that pain. The key is not to let your trials be wasted only on you. If you keep all of that pain and hurt to yourself you will be wasting it. God wants to use your pain to help other people.

God allows pain to give us a ministry to other people who are hurting. Who would be better to help an alcoholic than someone who has struggled with it already? Someone who has already gone through recovery? Who better to help someone dealing with the pain of abuse than one who has suffered abuse?

One of the best ways to recycle your pain is by sharing your story. It’s simple and it’s difficult at the same time. Share what you have been through, how you dealt with it, and the role God played in the experience with those who need to hear it. Maybe there was nothing that you could have done better to change the situation. You learned how to deal with your pain in a more constructive and positive way. Recycling your pain doesn’t mean that the struggle isn’t real, and reoccurring, it means that you’re aware of it and able to focus your energy on letting go of the life you thought you should live, and embracing the one you are living.

Yes, pain can feel very private. But consider this: we grow when others grow through our experiences; most likely there are others with a similar story that need help or maybe just some perspective. They may be a work in progress. You are too, but you may have made more progress than they have right now.

I challenge you to view pain in a different light, and give it to God for recycling.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can pain be recycled? Why or why not? 
  2. How can we determine what we should recycle (pain) and what not to recycle?
  3. What can we do this week to share our experiences with others and recycle our pain effectively? 

Tough Sledding

“Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

Living the life of a committed Christian is in a word, challenging. The task of living a fully God-centered life is no walk in the park. A quick read of the Bible and the lives of the early saints will prove that. The lives of Christians since then will attest to that fact as well. The Christian life involves struggle, grief, disappointment, hurt, and tears. 

Then you add this whole pain thing and the Christian life is some pretty tough sledding. Most of us have probably at one time or another had this mental conversation with God. The conversation starts with a statement of the problem:“Lord, I could really use less pain in my life. Could you please ease up a little in the pain and hardship department?”

We let that sink in and then continue: “Lord, I know you never promised to make my life easy. I remember you saying in Luke 9:23 that I had to take up my cross and follow you. I understand that following you isn’t a walk in the park, but I really don’t understand why you can’t give me a break when it comes to the whole pain and hardship thing. You could snap your fingers and no more pain. You could intervene and my struggles would be over, yet You choose to allow my pain and struggles to continue. You could make my life pain free, consisting of soft pillows, warm blankets, marshmallows and rainbows.”

But in a moment of reflection the conversation shifts: “But Lord, I also know I do not want to turn you into a vending machine. I can’t assume that I can insert a prayer into the slot and You relieve my problems. If life were like that I wouldn’t search for You or seek You. I need to be serving You rather than convincing You to serve me.”

Then you look at the ESV Study Bible app on your iPhone: “Lord, I remember discussing Job in our small group. I admired Job for sticking with You even though everything he had was taken away from him. He wasn’t even given a good explanation as to why. I remember that Moses was once offered the chance to go into the promised land, but You said You were not going with him (Exodus 33:3). Moses responded by saying that if God wasn’t going to personally lead them, then Moses wasn’t going either. (Exodus 33:15). I find it amazing that Moses would rather stay in the desert with You, than go to a better place without You. He decided that knowing You was more important than an easy life, Lord.”

“Lord, I still don’t understand why I have this pain in my life, but maybe I don’t need answers or explanations. I want to trust and follow you as Moses did. I know you are more interested in making me like Christ than you are in making me comfortable. I want to be more interested in a growing relationship with you then having an easy life. I don’t know why I struggle but I know who I want to struggle with.”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think it is hard to be a committed Christian? Why or why not?
  2. What does the Christian life teach you about processing painful experiences? 

Towards Transparency

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18.

 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that “are being transformed into his [Christ’s] image” while Romans 8:29 states that God “predestined [all believers] to be conformed to the image of his Son.” But transformation does not happen automatically or miraculously. If you want to change, you will have to challenge yourself. Two of the most challenging hurdles to transformation may well be honesty and transparency.

They may sound like two sides of the same coin, but transparency is different. Transparent people are real in the sense they do not mask what is going on inside. In Matthew 16:13-20 we read Peter’s declaration about Jesus. Jesus pins Peter down and says “who do you say I am?” Jesus made it personal to Peter. He has to decide just like every person has to make the same determination for themselves. Peter’s answer found in verse 16 is “…you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In the remainder of Matthew 16 Jesus tells them what is in front of Him. He doesn’t try to hide what is about to happen or to sugar coat it or make it palpable for them. He tells it to them straight. Jesus is transparent about what He is about to face. He is preparing them for what is to come.

In the same way we should be transparent in our lives. I have learned that when I am transparent with people, both about my past, and about what I am struggling with in the present, it releases the power of God to encourage them. In the same way others have encouraged me. It is encouraging because when God does something about my situations, and in the situations of others, it demonstrates the fact that God is working in our lives. When we are not transparent, we potentially weaken God’s ability to work within us in a powerful way.

Jesus shared with the disciples what He was facing and the fact that He could face it and that He was willing to walk forward into such a situation showing a faith and dependence on God that had never been seen before. It was and still is powerful.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a “transparent” Christian to you?
  2. Why is becoming transparent difficult?
  3. What can you do this week to be transparent about yourself with others? 

Be Honest with God

“ I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.”  –  Psalm 77:1-3. 

This week we have been talking about honesty in the daily devotional. We have talked abut being honest in all of our dealings. But as we strive this week to be honest with others, we need to spend some time being honest with God. Maybe that sounds ridiculous. God knows everything about us yesterday, today and tomorrow. He knows what I need, what my wants are, He even knows I want what I don’t need. He knows everything. He sees me as I am. You can’t get more honest than that.

Of course, you are absolutely right. But I want you to think about it in a different light. We need to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with God. But we are usually blind to our own faults and selfish ways, because what we do seems so normal and so obviously right. It is akin to Adam and Eve running around frantically, trying to cover up their shame by haphazardly sewing together fig leaves. We tend to think as if God won’t know or mind what’s really in our hearts as long as we say and appear to do the right Christian thing. When you say it, yes it sounds silly doesn’t it? It is silly to think we can keep a secret from God. But we all try to do it on some level or another and that’s what we’re doing when we aren’t totally honest with ourselves or Him.

That’s a much more constructive way of doing things. We can dialogue with God about how we feel, about what we think or what we are dealing with. We can be totally honest with God. When we give voice to our complaints, our worries, our bitterness, or our fears, we aren’t telling God anything He doesn’t already know. What we are doing is laying ourselves open before Him, holding nothing back, and asking Him to work in our lives. 

Listen to what Psalm 77:23-26 says:”Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.”

In Psalm 62:8, God uses David to give us permission to tell Him everything: “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.” 

If we desire God more than anything on this earth, then we need to be honest with ourselves and with Him.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are we still sewing fig leaves together today in a feeble attempt to not be honest with God?
  2. Have you experienced the freedom of just being honest with Him?
  3. What can we do this week to be more honest with God?