Keep The Faith

“Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.“Joshua 2:1 (NLT)

I love the story of Rahab because it illustrates the wonder and beauty of God’s grace in a fairy-tale story. Before Israel showed up outside the walls of Jericho, Rahab wore a label. Her neighbors, fellow citizens, and customers knew her as Rahab the prostitute. But regardless of that label, when Rahab was given the opportunity between dying with her countrymen and surrendering to God, she chose God. 

Rahab acknowledged Israel’s God as the most powerful God and then hid his servants. That was it. Rahab’s label was not an obstacle to God. And neither are the labels that we have today.  The reality and the embarrassment a label causes you in life is not an obstacle to God’s grace. You, like Rahab, are invited as you are, label and all. You, like Rahab, have been invited to join God in a relationship initiated by faith.

We don’t know how long it took Rahab to shake her past. We don’t know how long it was before she no longer measured her life based on her past. It most likely took some time.  There were probably bumps in the road as she went. In the same way, it may take you some time before you can put away your label once and for all. Old labels don’t fade fast. And sometimes it takes a while for new ones to stick as well.

It is all about faith. Surprisingly, Rahab is one of two women named in Hebrews 11 as examples of godly faith. The other is Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Few would question Sarah’s inclusion. She exemplified, in most respects, what are generally considered Christian values and qualities. But Rahab? Why would God include the name of a prostitute as one of His faithful saints?

God shows His great mercy and power through human weaknesses. Rehab was made strong through faith. Hebrews 11:21 says, “It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” 

Very few people would willingly risk their lives for family and friends. Rahab risked her life to protect “enemy” spies. Rahab focused on the godly mission of the spies coupled with her realization that they represented the God of Israel. Rahab believed it was He who was bringing Israel into the Promised Land. Risking her very life, she had no more evidence to go on than the reports from others that somehow, in some way, the God of Israel had given His people great victories over more-powerful foes. Rahab was living by faith and not by sight. Though she saw none of these events actually happen, she had faith to believe that Israel’s God was more powerful than all others and would take care of her and her family too.

Rahab’s faith and conviction gave her the courage to look death in the face—and live. As Proverbs 28:1 tells us, “The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.  Courage is born from unwavering faith, as Rahab demonstrated.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Joshua 2: 8-13. How would you describe Rahab’s faith? Think about the decision Rahab reached about God—why was it still such a huge step for her to take the risk of helping the spies?
  2. What are some of the specific ways that God asks us to act on our faith? What obstacles might keep you from following through on these things?
  3. Do you think God cares more about what you believe or what you do?
  4. What do you think God has been asking you to act on, but you have been hesitant to do it? How can you take a step of action this week?

Warning Label

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;” – Psalms 1:1.

We love our ability to put people in boxes. And that process usually starts with labeling someone. We put labels on people all the time. And we as Christians are not exempt from building boxes with labels to put people in. A man loses his job and and we put him in a box and label him “lazy” or “incompetent” or “unproductive” or “dishonest”, etc. And because of the label, we are off the hook to do the hard and uncomfortable work of getting to know and understand that person. Or loving them. 

The question is why do we label people? What compels us to define ourselves and others by certain strengths or perceived weaknesses or flaws? And what motivates us to accept and then adopt the labels assigned to us? When we believe the labels, we more quickly give into temptation. “I’ve always been bad at relationships. It’s just who I am. I might as well stop trying.” Or, “I’ve always been impatient. I can’t help it. I’m always going to be this way so I might as well learn to live with it.” 

But Jesus Christ is in the business of cutting boxes and removing labels and loving people for exactly who they are. The Biblical reality is that we are not our labels.  W.C. Fields said, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Galatians 2:20 (NLT) says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

What Paul is saying is this: when we are crucified with Christ our old, sinful self has been killed. It was crucified with Christ and died. That means that all the labels – deserved or underserved – with our old self also died. As we have talked about on several occasions, Paul was a violent man, but the “violent” label is gone. There is only one label that mattered to Paul: “Christ In Me”.

The same is true for us. We are not ultimately defined by our struggles, but by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our old self, with all its labels is dead and buried. Those old labels don’t apply to us anymore. That does not mean we won’t struggle with the same temptations. It simply means they don’t define us any more.

We are not our labels. We are Christ’s.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when we talk about being labeled?  How have you labeled people?  How have people labeled you?  How have those labels effected you? 
  2. In your mind is labeling someone the same as judging them?  Why or why not? 
  3. How has God labeled you? Blessed, chosen, loved, redeemed?
  4. What steps can we take this week to remove the labeling process from our lives?

The Ideal You

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2.

In the Ideal Family series we have been talking about the ideal compared to the real family. In this devotional I would like to talk to the individual. Do you have a vision of what the ideal you would look like? If so, how does it compare to the real you? G. K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

I hope you realize from this series that the “ideal” is not “the real” and “the real” is not the “ideal”. Yes, that sounds confusing, but only until you consider that the ideal only exists in our imaginations. They are targets to shoot for, but our results are usually short of those targets. We often forget this however, and expect the ideal notions in our mind to have counterparts in real life. They typically don’t because the ideal family doesn’t include those things that make it real: eccentricities, quirks, foibles, and all the other unique and fascinating aspects that make all of us less than ideal, but certainly real.

Should we expect the ideal in family relationships? That usually results in frustration because we expect out of others what we don’t have ourselves. In the ideal world, the pastor is funny, visits each member or regular attendee each day, is never unavailable, and he preaches in a deep, but applicable way. He is never discouraged and has none of the unique quirks, and eccentricities that exist in the tangled real world. That is not me, and not any pastor I know.

You could make a similar list of what it would take to be ideal and avoid being too real. But you would have some things that are less than ideal and some things that are all too real. While our family and we as individuals will never be ideal, there are some things we can do to move towards the ideal. We can start by remembering that, “God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.”  His ways and thoughts are much higher and better than ours. So are His standards.

We can choose our own paths, reach our own goals, and follow our own comfortable way in life. Or, we can choose to trust that our Heavenly Father knows what’s best for us. Following God’s path stores up treasures in heaven, and enables you to reach your full potential in Jesus Christ.

Sure, it may be a difficult path at times.  Sure, life will not always be easy. Just as it is not always easy to deal with the family. But it is so worth it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In life, what are things that you strive after? In your Christian life, what are goals you strive after?  What benchmarks and goals do you use for growth in the Christian life?
  2. How do you view the idea of submitting?
  3. What is the difference in your mind between the ideal Christian and the mature Christian?
  4. Which of God’s principles for Christian households challenge you to change?
  5. What in the Ideal Family series challenged you to change? 

The Ideal Home

“Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” – 2 Chronicles 7:15-16.

Over the years I have talked to numerous couples that were uber excited over buying their first house. New beginnings and a new adventure always seems to generate excitement. But whether you recently bought a house, or have lived in the same house for 50 years, I hope that God—and His purposes for our lives—is truly at the center of every home.

God should be at the center because He designed the structure of the home. Construction workers will transform piles of materials into a house by following the architects plans. But Hebrews 3:4 reminds us of who the builder really is: “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.”

Most people building a house rely on the expert’s knowledge and expertise in the construction process. It just makes sense since most of us are not experts in home construction. In spiritual matters God is the expert. God is the builder of all things and that includes the home and the relationships within the home. It will take spiritual wisdom and understanding to transform a house into a Christ-centered home. And that knowledge can only come from God, who is the architect of the home and family. Colossians 1:9 says, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,”

God’s design for the home also involves the relationships within the home. That means we are asked to live in unity and in submission to each other and to God. “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)

We have a choice once we own a home: we can either take good care of it or neglect it. It can stand the test of time or it can become run down and dilapidated. The spiritual choice is the same. We can chose whether we will use our standards or God’s standards. Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: “… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever gone back to visit a house in which you lived as a child?  How did that go?
  2. How did you feel when you purchased your first home?
  3. What are your thoughts on the idea that God created the structure of the home? What are our obligations to Him as designer of all things?
  4. Does seeking God’s kingdom first before seeking the things of this world apply to the home?
  5. What steps can we take this week to make God center of the home?

Building The Church

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” – Matthew 16:13-18. .

In the above passage Jesus takes his disciples to Caesarea Philippi and asks them a question. “Who do people say I am?” he asks. The disciples respond with a variety of names…”this prophet” or “that prophet” they say. But Jesus presses them. “Who do you say I am?” The bold reply comes from Peter, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” 

Peter’s answer may have been bold, but Jesus’ declaration is shocking. He says “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Jesus informs his followers that he will build his church in the midst of and in spite of the powers of the world. And Hell will nor prevail against it.

There are people who see the church as a business, as an institution whose primary goal is to make sure attendance and budget numbers are up. The secondary goal is to have as many ministries or amenities as needed to keep the attendance and budget numbers rising. There are many perceptions and opinions on what the church is, but only one that matters.   

God has a clear design for His church. The church is not to be a place where believers run and hide and isolate themselves from culture. The Church is not an organization. It is not an institution. It’s not a building. It’s people. The church is to be moving forward on the gates of hell. That means we must be all about communicating the gospel message to those who are far from the heart of God. 

We need be a church that makes a difference. We want the whole world to know and follow Jesus. That is our vision. We do this by engaging, encouraging, and equipping people who go out and make a difference in people’s lives. We want to connect people with like passions and encourage them to prayerfully dream about how they can make a difference and affect change in that area. We want to find new and better ways to invest our church resources, time, and energy into making that happen. Why? Because that is the design that God has for His church. Not a bigger building, but committed people fulfilling the vision God has for their life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is God’s design for the church in your own words?
  2. What would church look like if everyone contributed their gifts?
  3. How can we best allow God’s church design to guide our worldview and even our daily decisions?
  4. Do you believe you should be a member of a church?

In God We Trust

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.”  Romans 13:1-5.

One of the more touchy subjects for a pastor is politics and government. Years ago, Dwight Moody took a strong political stand and was dressed down by a fellow believer who said that “as a Christian,” Moody was “a citizen of heaven.”  The implication being that Moody had no business taking sides on political issues.  Moody’s response must surely go down in history as one of the snappiest comebacks of all time: “I am a citizen of heaven, but at the present time I vote in Cook County, Illinois.”  Mr Moody’s reply was clever and a reminder that regardless of a Christian’s political persuasion, he or she has a solemn responsibility to both his God and his government. 

The Bible is very clear. Everyone must submit to the governing authorities. No exception. 

Peter said this in 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…”  If you have attended Northstar for the Ideal Family series, you know that the Bible has a lot to say about submitting. But most people would not put submission and the government in the same sentence. But here is what you need to know. Every government which has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God. They are God’s servants. They derive their origin, right, and power from God.

We are to submit to government for the Lord’s sake. We submit and support the state, not because we love the state so much or even agree with everything the state does or says, but because we are honoring the Lord.   

We must remember that God is King. We know how it ends, no matter what is happening on the political landscape today. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This world is not our home. So we can engage with profound love for our country while knowing that we were ultimately made for another country, a heavenly one. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a hard time respecting authority? Why/why not? What do you think respecting the government looks like?
  2. Do you have to agree with a government to respect it?
  3. Read Titus 3:1: What does that verse mean to you?
  4. According to Romans 12:1, what is the motivation for living out Romans 13:1-7?   

By Design

This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them;.” – Amos 7:7-8.

Structure does not just materialize out of thin air. Ordered systems or structures do not just happen.  No matter of energy will bring structure out of chaos. There is a reason for every structure. God is the author and organizer of structure and design.

I Corinthians 14:40 is a good idea if you are building a structure.“But all things should be done decently and in order.”  It starts with the structure being straight and level. Builders will tell you that when you are involved in a building project you will have to have a plumb line to make sure that the walls of the project stand perfectly straight. It’s a very simple tool (just a string with a pointed weight on the end of it), but it has an incredible influence on the quality of the structure. Obviously, in order for a structure to be sound, it needs straight walls.

God has given us the Bible as a plumb line to help us set things straight and tell us if the structures in our life are glorifying to Him. We can evaluate ourselves, our choices, our decisions, our thoughts, and our actions to see how they align with the truth of God’s Word. The Bible gives us the ideal and accurate measurement of what is right and what is not. 

The Bible makes it clear that God has a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11). But when it comes to the family, government, the workplace, even church, we sometimes struggle to put it all together and live in accordance withs God’s standards. Often our standards are in conflict with God’s standards as we try to identify and live the specific blueprint God has for us. 

We can lower His standards and bristle at His structures when we get caught in the endless cycle of trying to be better, doing things faster, and having more stuff. We will naturally want to focus on getting a great job, finding the right person to marry, getting the first home or second home, and buying the newer car. We might say we love God but, in reality, our real ambition and drive is about how we can use the structures God put into place to improve our standard of living rather than complying with His design for those structures. We fail to see jesus in the midst of all those structures.

Very clearly in Scripture, God says that He has a unique work for each of us to do. In Ephesians 2:10 it says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you use as a spiritual plumb line?
  2. Do you will view the four structures – home, government, workplace and church – differently after the message?
  3. How do you see these structures fitting into God’s plan for our lives?
  4. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to live by His standards. 

Forgive Me

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner….Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:36-39; 47-50.

It is hard to go through a day without thinking about forgiveness and love. Because nothing is more daily than the call to forgive and nothing is more important than the way that we love.

I think many of you can relate to the “sinful woman forgiven” story found in Luke 7. It is all too easy to be the self-righteous Pharisee. We become Pharisee-like when we see people through the lens of criticism and judgment—especially if their actions have hurt or inconvenienced us. Or if they struggle with things different than our struggles. We can raise ourselves up onto a pedestal and become arrogant and self-righteousness.

We can also be the sinful woman at His feet. There is no illusion, our sins are just as ugly and numerous as hers, maybe just not as public. The woman’s faith saved her and the Bible tells us that He has forgiven all of our sins—past, present, and future.  

We need to forgive others as God has forgiven us. But, you may be thinking, “what if my spouse/relative does something unforgiveable?” Jesus never said forgiving would be easy. But, He did say that we need to forgive, over and over again. There was no caveat that said to forgive only when the other person deserves it or to forgive if they ask for forgiveness. Matthew 6:15 says, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is serious business.

And it is not a one time thing. Matthew 18:21-22 says, “ Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between forgiving and forgetting in your mind?
  2. What might we learn here about approaching Jesus from the sinful woman forgiven story in Luke 7?
  3. Luke 7:47 says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  Do you think this characterizes the lives of those who are believers in Jesus, forgiven by Him? Does it characterize your life?
  4. Pray and ask God to help forgive those people in your life you need to forgive?

There Is No Double Standard

“You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” – John 8:15

Every family is full of flawed people. And flawed people can easily get on our last nerve. God has to tolerate imperfect people, because after all, He is God. But why should I? People can be reconciled to God in spite of their sin. So true. The gospel is that, we are accountable to God, our problem is our sin against him, God’s solution is salvation through Jesus Christ, and you and I can be included in that salvation by faith and repentance. But, you can’t be reconciled to me because of your sin or what you have done to cause the conflict with me. In other words, my standards are higher than God’s standards. God will accept you in spite of what you’ve done, but I won’t accept you because of what you’ve done to me.    

God’s standard is different from ours, and His standard is perfection. The Bible says, “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. (James 2:10). God is holy and He is just, and we are not.

Francis Chan, in his book Crazy love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God said: “God is the only being who is good, and the standards are set by Him. Because God hates sin, He has to punish those guilty of sin. Maybe that’s not an appealing standard. But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards.”

Romans 3:10-17 has this to say: ““No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” Their tongues are filled with lies.” …“ Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace.”

Romans 3:23 tells us, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” So when family conflict occurs there is one standard. We should not allow our standards for holiness and discipleship to be defined by others or even ourselves. 

God’s standards are high and will require some real effort to move toward them. They include the uncomfortable requirements of obedience, humility and love of one’s neighbor. God’s standards can’t be met on our own – it’s impossible. But in order to meet God’s standard, we must seek the power of the Holy Spirit.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you understand God’s standards for life? 
  2. Is it possible to live up to God’s standards?
  3. Have God’s standards changed over time?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you live by His standards this week.

Be Reconciled

“ All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling[a] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

All of us have been through times where we had a disagreement with someone. In many cases we have been able to resolve our differences and continue with a normal relationship. In others, we made the best of the situation and tried to forget about it. However, sometimes the disagreement was never resolved and everyone involved went their separate ways being bitter and without reconciling their differences. That is not the solution the Bible endorses.

The first thing the Bible teaches about reconciliation is that it is not a luxury, but a necessity for the believer. It should be a priority. Matthew 5:21-25 tells us that if we have an unresolved disagreement with someone that we should resolve it as soon as possible, even before we go to church again. 

The Bible teaches that reconciliation should be done privately in a spirit of meekness. Matthew 18:15 (NLT) says, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” The goal is to communicate that you want to resolve the problem, not make the other person look bad or put them in their place. When we take this approach, it communicates grace and love to the other person. This is reinforced in Ephesians 4:2-3 that says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” And In Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love makes up for all offenses.”

Then there is the whole matter of forgiveness which the Bible goes into in great length. Reconciliation means we must ask the other person to forgive us or forgive the other person if he or she asks for forgiveness. Forgiveness involves a two-way transaction:  asking for forgiveness by the offender and the release of the right of the offended to enforce justice.

To reconcile or not to reconcile. Because Christ loves us we are limited on our options. We do not have a choice. Christ did something for you that was comfortable for Him so you could do something for others that may be uncomfortable to you.  To say yes to God you have to say no to you because the love of Jesus compels us.  Christ died for all so we could die to ourselves.  We don’t have an option not to reconcile to others even if we don’t care. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is reconciliation easier with people other than family members? Why or why not?
  2. What does it means to carry on Christ’s ministry of reconciliation?
  3. Why is it impossible to have reconciliation if there is still hostility or estrangement between family members?
  4. Consider the following statement: “Because of Jesus, your past sins and failures no longer define you.” How can this truth be lived out practically in reconciliation?