In The Final Analysis

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

When was the last time you blew it? I mean, really, really blew it? The “this is the final straw, I’ll never get out from under this failure” blew it. You may have been there in the past, you may be there today. What we need to know when we think we have really blown it, is that failure is not permanent, it is not final. 

Psalm 23:6 tells us, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.”  Good news for sure. When we make mistakes, we sometimes come to the conclusion that we finally did it this time. But we learn from Scripture that favor with God doesn’t depend on us and our wisdom, or goodness, faithfulness, or thankfully our ability to prevent failures. God isn’t waiting for you to get your act together, to try again and get it right this time. He created us and He knows we are far from perfect. He knows we will be over our head and we will fail. 

In the midst of our failures it is comforting to know that God “has my back,” that He will never allow me to get outside His grace. We all have had our wrong turns we would do differently if we had it to do over. But God can use our wrong turns to somehow get us to His desired destination. God can use our successes and failures for His glory.

The lesson for us is that even if we have failed, we can’t let fear of failure paralyze us and keep us from following where God leads us. God will equip us and empower us to do what He is leading us to do. Success is not up to us, it is up to God. What is up to us is being willing to get up after failure and going where God leads. Failure is not final. Look at Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  I wonder how many of us let the fear of failure keep us from getting back up and causing us to give up too quickly.

When you think failure is final, remember that God is for us. He is always here for us, always here to guide us, teach us, help us to turn in the right direction. He will always love us . God wants us to be a part of what He’s doing. Of course God can accomplish everything in spite of us, but He’d rather accomplish it with us. He invites us to be a part of what He’s doing no matter how many failures we experience along the way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when you were scared to do something you knew you had to do, but you went through with it anyway? How did you feel afterward?
  2. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?

If All Else Fails

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9.

Winston Churchill said that “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” The truth of that statement is demonstrated in so many people:  Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Behind every success story is an embarrassing first effort, a stumble, a setback or a radical change of direction. The reality is that it is in our failures where we can often find success in our spiritual life.

The fear of failure can become so pervasive that people stop doing or trying something they might fail at, so they don’t fail. They protect themselves by only doing the things that they consider “safe”, where they know they have no chance of failure. If we attempt to limit our exposure to life, we put ourselves and God in a box. God’s plan is always outside the box.

There will be people around you that tell you that what you are doing is destined for failure. Ignore them and trust God to lead you in life. God teaches us through our failures. Many times we are so paralyzed by fear of failing that we do not step out in faith, believing that God is there beside us. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.”  The greatest failure is the failure to try. The trouble with many people is that during trying times they just stop trying. We fail when we don’t have the faith to trust God. For the glory of God, you’ve got to take risks. That’s what brings maturity. That’s what brings success in life. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal. Try again. 

Revelation 3:8 says, “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.”  The Lord is always opening and closing doors if we are following and trusting Him. Failures will come, but we must recognize them for what they are, so the future can open up for us. Recognize the open door God has placed in front of you, and walk through that door. The safest place to be, is where the Lord is leading. So don’t be afraid of failing because God is with us. “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 )

Discussion Questions:

  1. Living in fear keeps us from experiencing our God-given potential. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Was there a time when you were fearful of the future and acted out on that fear (i.e., leading to anxiety, etc.)? What happened?

Real People. Real Change.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8. 

Change is something we all need. It is an ongoing part of life. With it’s constant flux, life demands adjustments for our schedules and plans. Essentially, change is the new norm. But people’s spiritual lives call for more than slight changes to the calendar. 

It is not that we are against change. In fact, we believe we can change. But it still seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. So is real change possible? Is change that lasts – change that really matters – really achievable? You may be saying, “I can change.”  But it is never simple.

Change that’s real and that lasts comes from God. God is our change agent. Things can change beginning with our relationship with God. It starts with changing our behavior. Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.”   Breakthrough change requires courage and also often requires taking a step of faith. We can’t achieve breakthrough change the way we normally handle problems. It requires us to trust God. Because we know God and His character, we know He loves unfathomably and unconditionally. For that reason, and that reason alone, we can make the changes that we need to make. Sometimes we simply need to change our strategy. Rather than ask God to change your circumstances, view your circumstances as an opportunity for God to change you. 

The 2007 movie The Bucket List cemented in the popular concept of making lists of things to do before you die. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s skydiving, drag racing and trips to exotic places are typical of many bucket lists, but why not create a more unusual bucket list. Regardless of your age, make a list of the short and long-term changes you want to make in your life. That list might include: loving others. ”Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:4). Or become more active in doing God’s work: “Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:34). Or Matthew 6:33, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you are honest with yourself, what area in your life is hard to change?  
  2. Do you retain “veto rights” when God asks you to change?
  3. What can you do this week to undergo real change in your life? 

The Power of Passion

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” – Romans 12:11 

For the past several days, we’ve been examining the topic of personal change by exploring what the Bible has to say about it. Today we look at the principle of motivation: nurturing our enthusiasm. Make no mistake about it; enthusiasm energizes everyone. Enthusiasm doesn’t come from without, it comes from within and it can be a dramatic change agent. The concept of enthusiasm is clearly taught under such words as “zeal,” “spiritual fervor,” “wholeheartedness,” “joy,” and even “love.” So what is enthusiasm, why is it important and how can it change us for the better? 

Jesus was asked, “which command in God’s Law is the most important?” His answer is well known and life changing. He said: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list.” (Matthew 22:36-37 MSG) That is a powerful statement. 

God created human beings to live in close relationship with Him, and our lives were meant to be shaped by a passion and enthusiasm for who God is. He is meant to be the One that occupies our minds and fills our hearts. He is meant to be what excites us and brings us joy. Today, Christians can be defined by any number of things. What should define a Christian is their personal and enthusiastic pursuit of and passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Enthusiasm or passion isn’t passive. Being passionate about something means you’re going to do something about it. Passion results in action. Passion and enthusiasm enables us to make choices that strengthen our close friendship with our heavenly Father. As you develop a closer relationship with God, your passion will grow, and as it does, making changes in your life will naturally follow.

Proverbs 8:30 says, “I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence.”  When we love Jesus Christ with passion and enthusiasm, our hearts change, we change—we can then love others as Jesus commanded. God will do His part to increase your passion, but He also expects you to do your part. When you have a quiet time set aside to pray and to study God’s word, you are taking the first step toward seeing your passion and enthusiasm increase.

So, how is your enthusiasm and passion? Are you filled with excitement and purpose? If not, today’s the day to begin pursuing an increase in passion. God is filled with so much passion for us that He deserves nothing less than whole-hearted passion from us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When and why did you first fall in love with Jesus? In what ways has your original love for Christ faded? How can you rekindle that flame?
  2. What activity or idea may be replacing your enthusiasm for the Lord?
  3. What can you do to deepen your enthusiasm for Christ this week?

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?