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?

Compelling Belief

“ For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:”  2 Corinthians 5:14-18.

We live with a real family that has real problems and real conflict. But why should we care if they are not our problems? Why should we put our own self-interests aside and forgive the other person? Why should I reconcile with somebody who is to blame for the conflict? The answer is found in the passage above: “For Christ’s love compels us…”

What would be different if love compelled your life?  What would our life be like if Christ’s love compelled us? What if the love of Christ requires, drives, obliges, urges, surrounds, and resides in us. It would be like we didn’t have a choice. “I love you so I have to forgive and reconcile with you. I had to speak to you. I had to find a way to share your burden. I had to put the past in the past.” It’s not just any love in us. It’s Christ’s love.

It was love that made Jesus perfectly obedient to the Father. Love was how Jesus summed up all of the law of the Old Testament. Matthew 22:37-40 says, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love caused Jesus to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free. (Luke 4:18)  Love caused Jesus to heal many who had various diseases. (Mark 1:34)  Love caused Jesus to give sight to the blind. (Matthew 9:27-31)  Love caused Jesus to weep for Lazarus. (John 11:35)  Love caused Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-17)  And love caused Jesus to humble himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

What would my life look like if love had the first and last word in everything I did? What if every word, every thought, every act was compelled by the love of Christ? I find that my actions are compelled by a variety of motives: fear, duty, pride, ignorance, apathy…I could go on. But what if the love of Christ was my primary motivation? What would my life and my family life look like? Would there be any conflict in the family> 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much you love and obey God depends on how much you believe He loves you. Agree or disagree?
  2. How does Christ’s love compel you?
  3. Do you think that the phrase “Christ’s love compels us” is for all followers of Jesus, or just some?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you grow in love. 

Who Really Cares

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

To say family relationships are enigmatic is to say that seven is a prime number or that the earth orbits the sun. When someone asks you about your family relationships, answering that question is like one of the relationship status options on Facebook: It’s complicated. In those complicated moments, anger, stress, or a simple “I don’t care” attitude can be the end byproduct.

Our lives are inundated with being both practical and productive. We come to believe early on that if there’s no purpose to something, there’s no point in doing it. So if you are working your way through complicated family relationships that seem to serve no purpose, why keep banging your head against the wall. Why not invest your time, energy and sanity in more constructive purposes. That seems logical, doesn’t it? But God has different standards.

Throughout life numerous relationships are broken or breached. Trust is hurt, sometimes because of a perceived wrong, other times because of a real offense. No matter the reason, or who was wrong, or we experience breaks with friends or family, the love of Christ compels us.

There are many stories of family difficulties in the Bible. One is Jacob and Esau who were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah and the first twins mentioned in the Bible. The twins grew up very different. One day, Esau returned from hunting and desired some of the stew that Jacob was cooking. Jacob offered to give his brother some stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:27-34).

When the time came for Isaac to bestow his blessing on his sons, Jacob and his mother contrived to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob in Esau’s place. When Esau found that his blessing had been given to Jacob, he threatened to kill his brother, and Jacob fled (Genesis 27:1 – 28:7). The brothers did not care much for each other, but then we read this in Genesis 33:4: “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”   

We see brothers reconciling, removing every barrier and running to embrace and weep. Not an alliance. Not a negotiated settlement. No face-saving theater. The real thing. Honest and deeply felt. That is how real reconciliation works. 

The apostle Paul said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  He didn’t say he had “moments of reconciliation now and then.” He said God gave him “the ministry of reconciliation.” In other words, “reconciliation is what we do. It is standard operating procedure for followers of Jesus. There is no room for “I just don’t care” or “why not just move on.” 

Sometimes it seems that giving up or not caring is the way to go. We shut down and hope God fixes what needs fixing. Remember what Jesus did for you through his life, death, and resurrection. God has poured an unlimited amount of grace, forgiveness, love, commitment, security, and commitment into your life. The love of Christ puts all of the slights, unmet expectations, and hurts of family in a totally different perspective. It doesn’t mean you ignore or don’t feel the hurts, but they pale in comparison to what you have been given in Christ. Because of who you are in Christ, you don’t have to be overwhelmed and dominated by the sins and failures of your family. Instead you should care about them as God cares about you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it easy to just not care anymore?
  2. The key to reconciliation is your attitude. Agree or disagree?
  3. How can we forgive when we don’t feel like forgiving? 
  4. Are there any relationships that you need to reconcile this week?