Looking For Answers When Tragedy Strikes

“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” – Hebrews 4:14-16.

Being stranded on Mars would be a scary thought.This turns into reality for astronaut Mark Watney when he becomes stranded on Mars after an intense storm hits the planet. Presuming that he is dead, the remainder of Watney’s crew safely escapes Mars leaving him to fend for himself. Watney doesn’t waste time pondering life and death or his place in the universe. Rather, as he says, “You can either accept that (death) or you can get to work.”

We may never know the reason why some things happen in life. A friend dies in a senseless auto accident, a loved one suffers with a terminal illness, a child dies from a rare, incurable disease. We wonder how any good could possibly come from such heartache. There are times when God reveals the purpose for our suffering. Other times He doesn’t. It is in those hidden times that our faith is tested and stretched.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.” This passage provides the key to dealing faithfully with painful and unjust situations. God may not tell us everything we want to know about the painful event of life, but he has already told us all we need to know.  

There is a mystery to tragedy, but it is not mysterious to Jesus. He knows the plan. He may not always provide all the answers you want to hear, but there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment therefore, when His care falters. Revelation 21:4 reminds us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  We may not know the individual and specific reasons for pain and loss and death, but we know the big picture: the cross and resurrection has defeated these enemies and that is God’s answer to sin and death. 

We don’t know if tomorrow is going to be a good day or a bad day but we do know that the Spirit abides with you and will be in you.”Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:19)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel alone facing your circumstances? How so?
  2. How do you balance taking action with trusting God? Do you have any guidelines for how much effort is too much (or too little) in any given situation? 
  3. In what areas of your life do you need to trust God more? 

Friends In High Places

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family. – Proverbs 18:24 (MSG).

It is sometimes easy to think that God is concerned with doctrinal manners and thus is not all that interested in our friends or what type of friend we are. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ died in our place, not only to restore our relationship with God, but also to firm up our relationships with other people. In fact, the Bible has just as much to say about interpersonal relationships as it does about theology and doctrine. The Bible has some timeless wisdom on the subject of friends. The Bible also gives us a blueprint for our responsibilities to others when we choose to be in their corner.  

Proverbs 12:26 says, “The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.” The reason we need to be careful is because we often become just like the people we hang around. Proverbs 13:20 reminds us not to necessarily emulate the people we associate with: “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” The apostle Paul picked up on this when he wrote: “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

So what do we need to do when we are in someone’s corner? First, we need to be loving. Proverbs 17:17 sums up this quality: “A friend loves at all times…” A faithful friend loves at all times, even when we make mistakes. A faithful friend lets you know that you’re a valuable member of God’s team. A friend who loves hangs in there with you even when you feel like all is lost. The second trait is forgiveness. The true test of a friendship is the forgiveness factor. If we spend enough time with somebody we will inevitably hurt them, either intentionally, or unintentionally. A faithful friend is someone who will cut you some slack and forgive you for what you’ve done. Proverbs 17:9: “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”

Third, a true friend is one who helps you become who God has made you to be. Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Someone once said, “a friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become and all the while helps you to grow.” We all need friends who will sharpen us by giving us advice and counsel: “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.” (Proverbs 27:9).

And lastly, a faithful friend is aware of the needs of others. They know when to give space and when to offer grace. Proverbs 25:17: “Don’t visit your neighbors too often, or will wear out your welcome.” 

A faithful friend is a real blessing. But such friendships must be cultivated and maintained in order for them to last. If I want to have a good friend, I must work at being a good friend.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes a great friend in your mind?
  2. How can you be a better friend to your friends?
  3. What can you do this week to heal wounded friendships?

Make A Difference In Someone

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” – Hebrews 10:24

In this week’s at the movies film, Creed, we see the difference one person can make in the life off another when he or she is solidly in your corner. I believe every one of us are trying to live lives that will make a difference in the lives of others? Living this kind of life is not about preaching to others or trying to control them. It is about living a godly life as an example to others and a willingness to help others in their spiritual journey.

John Piper said that “people that make a difference in the world are not people who have mastered a lot of things. If you want your life to count, you don’t have to have a high IQ, or good looks or graduate from a prestigious school. You just have to know a few basic, simple, glorious, majestic, obvious, unchanging eternal things and be gripped by them. It is what you are gripped with, or what we care deeply about.”

When we commit to following Christ, we are making a commitment that will influence every part of our life. We are expressing a desire to get to know Jesus and to be gripped by the things that grip Him. But because the journey can sometimes be challenging, having the wisdom and experience of other Christians can make the journey a lot smoother. Christians do need other believers in their corner. God expects believers to grow in their faith and to do so by growing together in God’s Word. We need to have others gripped by the things of God in our corner and we need to help others by being in their corner. And that starts with putting their interests ahead of your own.

Most of us have any number of friends. We have best friends, childhood friends, occasional friends that all have different purposes, expectations and boundaries. The question is this: are we playing a special role in any of these friends lives? Are we making a difference? And lastly, given how significant those relationships are in our lives how effectively do we nurture and grow them? These are the type of friends who are able to drop everything and care for the other’s children during an illness, attend the funeral of the other’s loved one, or plainly bring some sense into the other’s life. This level of friendship is rewarding and usually requires knowing someone for that long to be able to accept and trust guidance at a difficult moment.

Who doesn’t desire this type of deep and lasting friendship? I want it for me and I want it for my friends. That means we have to move past the “hi” and “good to see you” exchanges. We need to look for opportunities to help others.

The change in a person’s life can be a small difference or it could be a large difference, but all that matters is that we be in the grip of Jesus’ while not losing our grip on the real value we can add to other people’s lives. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be in someone’s corner? What responsibility comes with being in their corner?
  2. Can you be in someone’s corner and not make a difference?
  3. What can we do this week to make a difference in someone’s life?   

Who Is In Your Corner?

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” –  Luke 22:31-32.

Whenever someone says, “I am in your corner,” it is their way of telling us that we can be assured of their help and support. It tells you they can be trusted to be there when times are good and when times are not so good. Nothing incredible is accomplished alone. You need others to help you, and you need to help others. We’ve all had voices in our lives that have influenced us. Those ordinary people can help us do extraordinary things. It would be hard to estimate just how many times someone has come alongside of me to be right there when I needed them. And it would be equally hard to estimate how much those people have enriched my life.    

Soon before Jesus would be betrayed, forsaken and crucified, Peter was boasting that he would be in the Lord’s corner and would never abandon Him. Jesus reminded Peter that we are in a fight with a diabolical adversary. He told Peter that Satan had his sights on Him specifically. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.” Satan has his sights specifically on you and me as well. He wants to stop or weaken our ability to do the work God wants us to do. He wants to sidetrack you from serving God. He doesn’t want Jesus in your corner.

But Jesus reminded Peter that we have someone in our corner: “But I have pleaded in prayer for you.” It should bring us hope and comfort to know that Jesus takes time to pray for us. Jesus knows our weaknesses. He knows our need before we even ask. But He remains in our corner. Jesus is in your corner when you need Him and you cannot see beyond today’s circumstances. Jesus is in your corner when you are misunderstood and mistrusted. Jesus is in your corner when you feel lonely, discouraged and lacking for answers.

True friendship is rare. I have had many friends in my life, but finding one that stands the tests of time—that’s a true friend. If you have ever gotten in a bind, had a major failure, or somehow lost your way, then you realized just how rare true friendship really is in our lives. True friends show up at your doorstep ready to help. They come when you call, even if you are in trouble. Having fiends like that is a blessing, but nothing compares to having the Lord Jesus Christ in your corner.  There is no better friend.  In fact, He’s a perfect friend. Jesus loves us better than we could ever love Him, love others—or even love ourselves. He guides us, showing us how to live and how to love in a way that brings glory to God and fulfillment in life. And He forgives us our sin though we don’t deserve it—sacrificing His life so that we can live. We can rest in the knowledge that we never have to face any challenge alone. God is always in our corner and in the ring with us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What part of your spiritual journey do you find most difficult? Why? 
  2. Are there any areas of your journey that are off-limits to Jesus?
  3. What can we do this week to depend more on God in our journey?

I Don’t Need This…Or Do I?

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer.” – Acts 2:42.

Some people try to live a Christian life by themselves, away from any regular Christian friends or a church. They believe they are self-sufficient and tough enough to fight the battles that need fighting without the help of others. After all “why should others fight my battles?” The problem is it just doesn’t work very well — either for their own growth or to accomplish Jesus’ mission here on earth.

Christians need the support of other believers if they are to grow in the faith. Recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were encouraged to ‘think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” to “not neglect our meeting together”  and to ”encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10.24-25). 

A story that highlights why we need others and others needs us is David and Jonathan. You are probably familiar with the story. David and Jonathan are friends. But David’s military success creates ungrounded paranoia in Saul, who tries to kill David or have others kill David. 1 Samuel 18:3 says “And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself.” They were available for each other. Do you have a 2 a.m. friend? Do you have that kind of friend in your corner that will be there for you no matter the situation – even a crisis in the middle of the night. Jonathan and David definitely had this kind of friendship. When Jonathan’s father Saul tried to assassinate David, Jonathan found his friend, who was in the midst of his darkest hours, and said, “Tell me what I can do to help you.” (1 Samuel 20:4)

Did David, a man’s man need Jonathan’s help? This is the guy who defeated Goliath. David was a man after God’s own heart. He was a great warrior. He was no doubt superior to Jonathan in strength and intelligence and depth of theological understanding. But 1 Samuel 23: 16 says “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

Needing others is not for new Christians. It is for every believer. We never grow out of our need for others in our corner. Don’t ever think that a man is so strong that he does not need to be strengthened in God. And don’t ever think that someone is so far above or below you, that you can’t be God’s instrument to give strength.

Someone may need your help, your love, your support, and one day you’ll discover that you need them just as much as they need you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Besides your immediate family, who is in your corner that helps you get up when you are knocked down in life?  
  2. Who needs you in their corner?
  3. What can we do this week to be in the corner of others? 

Can We Be A One-Man Band?

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

You have probably encountered a one-man band at one time or another. These agile musicians play a number of instruments simultaneously using their hands, feet, and limbs. They are entertaining, amusing, and impressive, often sounding like several instruments. But it is still one person and the difference becomes evident when you hear an orchestra play. As Christians, we are not meant to be a one-man band. We all have unique gifts and something magical happens when we all find our part and play together as an orchestra. The challenge is to discover our part in the bigger picture.

In the Ecclesiastes passage above, Solomon lists the advantages of community and working together. In the movie Creed and In these verses, we answer the question-how is two better than one? Solomon is highlighting that when two people work together they accomplish more than if there was only one. Or as we say it today, “two heads are better than one.” When we’re facing a difficult situation, we need each other for support and advice. When you are in a fight, you benefit from different perspectives, insights and experiences. We need others to share the burden with us. Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” 

The Bible reveals that God designed people to live in community and fellowship with one another. From the early stages of creation, God said that it was not good for man to live alone. Even in the New Testament, the Bible declares that believers should not forsake meeting together. Mark Twain said; “to get the full value out of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.”

The ministries of Jesus and the New Testament church focused in great measure on relationships with people. Paul revealed to his disciples that they had become so dear to him that he not only shared the gospel with them, but he also shared his life with them. The best way to connect with others is to join a small group. If you are not presently a member of a small group, I encourage you to join one and start “doing life together.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did you say yes or no to a small group? What excites you about joining a small group?
  2. Why is it important for Christians to be intentional about doing life together?
  3. In what ways can small groups help you find people in your corner, as well as opportunities to be in the corner of others?

Goodbye Past. Hello Future.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.Ecclesiastes 3:11

Fasten your seat belts. The future is coming fast. Too fast. We barely have time to reflect and learn from the past when new challenges cloud our present and our future. In Moana, Moana is concerned about the future on their island. As Christians, we wonder about the future. What will it hold? How can God use us to a greater degree? We are intrigued about the future and always want to know as much as we can about it. But as we often discover, the future is always unknown. Fortunately God understands this dynamic all too well. So when we come to the end of our ability to control that future, God is ready to step in. The fact that God controls the future, should give us comfort and hope even in uncertain and troubling times. 

But how do we prepare for the future? It is easy to feel like “the sky is falling.” It is easy to feel the pressure to try to something, anything, which may help make the future we desire and fix the problem. But this is a challenge that has no easy solutions, if there are any solutions at all. Or we may resort to wishful thinking. We have become pretty good at wishing. Wishing is about something we want and desire, such as a bright and successful future.

But hope is different. Hope is deeply connected to faith. Hope comes from God. It is rooted in what God is up to. Wishing is rooted in what we are up to. Wishing is about my will being done. Hope is about His will being done. Hope is the humble acknowledgement that the future is in God’s capable hands. It is trusting in Him because He’s sovereign. He knows the future. “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:7)

It was Billy Graham who said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” And Corrie Ten Boom added, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” The point being that God is in complete control of the future. The Bible will still have the answers. Prayer will still work. The Holy Spirit will still move. The gospel will continue to be spread. There will still be room at the cross. Jesus will still save the lost. And Jesus will still love you.

It is important for us to seek God’s vision and will for our future. Trying to control and manage the future is a recipe for misery. We can let go and trust that the God who has been faithful throughout the ages has our future in His hands. And knowing that, that we live our lives with a new energy, confidence, and joy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view the future and what impact does it have on your daily lives?
  2. What gives you hope in the future?
  3. What can we do this week to think long-term and trust God?

Does Not Compute

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37.

Have you ever felt there must be something more like Moana did? Something beyond merely existing? There is. Take a laptop computer. A laptop makes our lives easier. It can solve complex equations, enable long distance communication, provide entertainment, and can control just about anything in the world when necessary. But what happens when the laptop sits in the bookcase and is never turned on. It is not serving any useful purpose. 

But now imagine that same laptop with a soul, a self-consciousness.The laptop instinctively knows something is wrong; he has a purpose and he isn’t being used for that purpose. He wants to be used for the purpose he was created for.

Then one day somebody pulls him out of the bookcase, turns him on and starts creating some sophisticated Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint slides to go along with the spreadsheets. Suddenly the lights come on.  He knows what his purpose is, and although there will most likely be other uses, he now knows what he is meant for. He has a purpose. Fyodor Dostoyevsky said “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD has made everything for his own purposes…” God has never made anything without a purpose. He doesn’t just make stuff for no reason. God made you for His purpose. So what is my purpose? 

I think that it’s important for us all to be reminded that we have a higher calling as followers of Jesus Christ, to live and love as He did; selflessly. We should show and give love and compassion with real passion. We should also do everything we do for the Glory of God and not our own. Most of us would agree with that, but it is far easier said than done. We would like to fulfill our purpose as we see it, at the same time we are fulfilling God’s purpose.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome in Romans 6:1-4: ”Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” 

Each day we are given is another day to fulfill our purpose, a purpose found in Christ and Christ alone. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In spite of all the advertising around us, how can we remind ourselves that life is really about living for God, not ourself?
  2. What can we do this week to start fulfilling our purpose in Christ this week? 

The Journey

 “But one day, the Heart will be found by someone who will journey beyond our reef, find Maui, deliver him across the great ocean to restore Te Fiti’s Heart and save us all.” – Gramma Tala. 

Moana has an insatiable urge to get off of her island. She’s not quite sure why, but she just feels pulled towards the ocean. She knows that there must be more out there and that she has a journey to go on. However, her dad is constantly stopping her and pointing her away from her dream. She is told that the village of Motunui has all she needs. She feels like there is more that her tribe of people should be doing, that they should be more than island dwellers. She feels like something isn’t right. She feels she must act.

The story of Moana reminds us there’s something about a journey that’s exciting and invigorating. A promise of new horizons, new possibilities and new challenges. Some of the most interesting journeys happen when you know where you are going, but not exactly how to get there. Being a follower of Jesus is that kind of trip. We know where we need to go, but how to get there — and where to go first — is the challenge before every believer.

What we do know is that we’ve been called to step out in faith. And that by walking together, with the Spirit leading and guiding us, we will reach the purpose and future that God desires for us. By knowing our purpose and our passions and spiritual gifts, and by asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, we can map out our unique routes that we will take on our spiritual journey. Some of us are just beginning the journey of faith—just taking those first steps. Others have traveled this way for a long time. Our backgrounds and experiences differ, but we’re all the same in one respect. We all want and need more of God. 

It’s a challenging undertaking, as Moana found out. Fortunately our hopes are not tied to what we can do. Rather, in the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.”  Hebrews 12: 2-3 tells us, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.* Because of the joy* awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;*then you won’t become weary and give up.” My prayer is that we will stay focused on our journey and become the people that we hear God calling us to be. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What part of your spiritual journey do you find most difficult? Why? 
  2. Are there any areas of your journey that are off-limits to Jesus?
  3. What can we do this week to depend more on God in our journey?

Living On Purpose

So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:11

In many ways, Moana is the classic “follow your heart” story. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear she is really obeying–not disobeying–a higher authority and “calling” on her life to accomplish something that is bigger and more important than her life or her heart’s impulses. She is obeying this calling for the sake of others, not herself. 

In this way “Moana” has a general compatibility with a Christian’s calling to follow Christ. We are to lay aside our desire to satisfy our wants and surrender to a quest story and purpose that God has written for us that is bigger than our lives and is more about saving and helping others than it is about helping ourselves.

Serving others can be contagious. Once we work service into our schedules and see the benefits, it becomes a way of life. Serving others usually requires no special talent or ability. It does take a servant’s attitude to want to serve others coupled with looking for opportunities to serve. If we have the servant attitude, we will see opportunities. The reason most of us do not see the opportunities to serve is that we are continually thinking about ourselves instead of others. “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:4)   

The starting point of being of service is to realize that we have things to contribute and so we should contribute them to the greater good. While we may not change the whole world as Moana did, we can change our small part of it. Limitless possibilities exist all around you.

There may be an elderly neighbor who would appreciate a meal, or leaf raking, or simply a visit. Nursing homes are usually welcoming of people — even entire families — who would like to give help and companionship to their residents. Volunteering at a children’s hospital can boost the spirits of not only the small patients, but of yourself as you bring joy to a sick child. Meal programs, soup kitchens, women’s shelters and homeless shelters always seem to be in need of workers and donations. Regardless of how or where we serve, the most important element is to remember our obligation as Christians to bring Christ to others. We should be reminded of Matthew 25:40: “’I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is Moana a hero? Name a hero you had growing up. What made you want to be like him/her? 
  2. What would helping others look like in the life of a believer?
  3. What can we do this week to make more of the opportunities we have to help others?