Step Of Faith

“I thought they had taken her away because she had died.  It was the first time that I properly panicked.  I thought I was completely on my own.  For there was no question in my mind that my father and brothers were dead.” – Lucas Belon

Surrounded by her family as she relaxed by the pool on holiday, Maria Belon felt she must be the luckiest woman in the world. But as depicted in The Impossible movie, seconds later, she and her husband and three sons were swept away by a ferocious 30 foot wall of water that devoured everything in its path. Maria was swimming toward Lucas when a large second wave hit. She was dragged through a lot of rubble and hard sharp objects, critically wounding her. After the tsunami calmed down, Belón was then able to swim to land with Lucas (oldest son), only to notice her body was covered with many injuries. Her right leg having been the most damaged as it had been completely ripped open. 

Maria and Lucas continued walking and looking for safety, although she was losing too much blood and her son had to help her walk. She was convinced she was dying. “Not for one second did I believe Quique (husband) and my other boys would be alive,” she said. At that point it must have been difficult to keep going. After all, what was the point of moving forward, was it worth the pain, the suffering, the risk?  She decided that it was. 

Here is my question for you. Is God calling you to do something for Him that makes you uncomfortable? And like Maria Belon, are you willing to step out not knowing what the future holds, what the risks are and the pain involved in the journey. Maybe we are a little hesitant, explaining to God that we are happy to follow Him, but first you need to know His plan. In other words, you need to know how you are going to get me from where you are to where you are going to be five years from now. God wants us to trust Him. Like Abraham, He wants us to step into the unknown and go where He calls us. This is why it’s called faith.

Others are afraid to step out until God qualifies them first. They want their beliefs strengthened and their imperfections cured. They rationalize that there are so many people more qualified than them. I don’t have the right stuff to do what you are asking me to do. Maybe God should choose someone else. God knows we don’t have what it takes, but He does. He wants us to trust Him. It’s all about His adequacy, not ours. 

There will always be a reason not to take action. If you wait for everything to fall in place and line up perfectly to take action, we may never do anything. Without uncertainty there is no need for faith. Risk is essential for reward.

Remember the story of the woman with an issue of blood. “She said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” (Matthew 9:20-21)  She did not wait on God, she didn’t hesitate, or seek approval. She stepped out on faith. She believed in her heart and soul that she was going to be healed and she went for it. The Bible states, “but Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, ‘Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.'” And the woman was made well from that hour. 

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20) All we have to do is tap into it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think believing in something is the same as having faith in something?  How do they differ? 
  2. Read Isaiah 43: 1-3a, 4a: What are these verses telling you?
  3. What is the hardest thing for you to trust God with? Why do you think it’s so difficult? What might be some ways to overcome it?
  4. What are some things that prevent people from stepping out when God calls them? What advice would you give them?
  5. How has your faith journey been like an adventure? What “adventure” might God be asking you to step out in now?

Why Did God Allow That To Happen?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:8-1.

We are looking at the movie The Impossible this week as part of our At The Movies series. No movie can capture or duplicate the devastation of the 2004 tsunami that the film is based on. Over 230,000 people died. Nor can the movie capture the human suffering of  hospitals overflowing with the injured. Or the survivors searching for missing loved ones by studying the walls covered with pictures of the hospitalized. And no film can capture the grief when their worst nightmare is realized and they find their loved ones in makeshift morgues. So many families were shattered on that day.

It is easy to look at the carnage of this movie, glance skyward and ask God “why?”  Why would God allow this to happen? It is hard to grasp that the God of love would be involved in such a horrific natural disaster. We believers try to protect God’s reputation by putting distance between Him and the terrible suffering that occurred that day in 2004. Theologians all agree that nature is fallen and as a result there are faults in the earth that cause earthquakes, and earthquakes cause tidal waves. So, the theory goes that God watches, but is only marginally related to these events. After all, God is good and would not cause such devastation to happen.

But a moment’s reflection will soon make us realize that of course God is the ultimate cause of all natural disasters. During the time of the plagues in Egypt, clearly God sent those plagues. Then you have the time of Noah; the flood obviously was sent by God. It says regarding Jonah, God hurled a storm into the sea.

The tsunami happened because God chose to let it happen. The question is why?  I can’t begin to answer that question, but I will say this. Our challenge is to somehow continue to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of horrendous devastation. When you see children being separated from their fathers and mothers, when you see lives being torn and many thousands of people people dead, it is very natural to ask the question, “Where is God?”

What we need to realize is that God can be trusted, even when it seems as if He is not on our side. We have to point people to the fact that God has intervened in our planet by sending Jesus Christ. There we see the love of God most clearly. The other thing you need to realize is that time is short and eternity is long. Sometimes we reverse that. The values that we have here on this earth, although life is precious, the fact is that earthquakes do not increase death. Everybody is going to die someday. But we also need to remember that God has already dealt with evil – moral and natural (floods, hurricanes) – through the cross and the resurrection. God has acted and evil has been given a death sentence. It’s not as if God allows bad things to happen and that’s his final word. 

Let me close this devotional with this illustration. All of Job’s 10 children died in a natural disaster. There was a wind storm that blew down the house. (Job 1:18-19) Job was confronted with the fact that because of a natural disaster, there are 10 fresh graves on the hilltop. So now what is he going to do?

His wife tells him to curse God and die. But Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:21) Job shows us it is possible to worship God even without explanations, even when we don’t know all the reasons. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. It’s during our “very bad days” that we wrestle with the question of “why does God allow this?”  Why do you think God allows bad things to happen to you?
  2. When we go through difficulties, there is a definite purpose awaiting us down the road. Agree or disagree?  Can a tragedy be a blessing in disguise?
  3. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The “all things” in that verse means exactly what it says. All things. Do you believe that means bad things as well as good things.
  4. Pray and ask God for the strength to trust Him in times of tragedy and trials.

Comfort In Times Of Trouble

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:2

As Maria and Lucas were wading through the debris of this horrible storm in their life, they were faced with a decision. To think only of themselves, or to help others who were suffering in their own storm. At times like these it is easy to look inward, to look at what is happening in our lives. But it is these times when we should be comforting others. Maria and Lucas chose to help others. 

Many of us have had times in our lives when everything seems to be going well, everything seems to be so “right”, only to experience a catastrophic event that turned your whole world upside down. An event that left us floundering and wondering if life would ever make sense again.

The Bible makes it clear that we will have trouble. Sometimes we bring suffering on ourselves, sometimes others inflict it on us, and sometimes difficulties arise based on circumstances of life. However, in the midst of the affliction, trouble, or suffering – whether it’s emotional, financial, relational, or circumstantial – we will need comfort.

God is our ultimate comforter. While some trouble is unavoidable, there is no hardship for which God cannot and will not supply adequate comfort. And, as we experience His comfort in a tangible way, we are instructed to comfort one another,

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

These are powerful verses. Verse 4 tells us that every pain in life can find meaning when we comfort others.  We are called to give out of what we have been given. In other words we should give out of the love, the mercy, the grace, the forgiveness, the blessings, the finances and the comfort we have already been given. Verse 7 reminds us to help others with all you have, including pain.

Christ’s comfort: it’s always greater than our trouble. It is more than our suffering. Christ comforts, present tense, in that trouble. Christ is comforting, right now, in that trouble. Christ comforts, continually, in that trouble. Christ, the source of comfort, has shared his comfort for you, so you can share it with others. Christ does not want us keeping comfort to ourselves. God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Salvation is no guarantee of a  storm free life. In fact, we are assured that following Christ will be far from a wrinkle free life. However, we can be certain that God does not recklessly subject us to suffering. God always has a purpose because without suffering we could neither know the fullness of God’s grace; learn to trust Him implicitly; or minister to others as God desires.

We can learn from the example of Maria and Lucas and comfort others even when we need comfort.    

Discussion Question:

  1. Describe a time when your life was hit with an unexpected storm. How well did you endure it? What did you do when you felt like giving up? Did you experience God’s comfort during that period?
  2. What does “comfort” mean to you? What comfort do you need? What comfort have you received? What can you do to pass on the comfort of God to others?
  3. What helped Maria and Lucas make the right decision to help others? How can you change your thinking to let those factors move you to comfort others?
  4. Look around to see if there is someone in your life who is going through a storm in their life, and make a list of actions you can take to be a source of help, encouragement and strength. Then do those things this week.

We Are Not Statistics

“ For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”   1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Maria Belon, the mother in The Impossible writes: “”They say my name softly. Yell it louder. I’m already walking towards the tunnel. …. ‘Mama, mama, wake up.  Did you get on the same wave as I did?'” Simon is covered in mud. Tomas with his chubby cheeks and tear-streaked face is at his side. He has scratches and blood. He is very sad and very serious. ‘Ma, aren’t you happy to see us?’” Huge swells of love and sadness pool just behind her eyes. She guesses she has always been like that but facing death made it all the more intense.

The tsunami resulted in at least 227,898 fatalities. The Belon family very nearly were additional statistics. But those statistics are people. How do we look at the lost? Are they statistics? Are they simply additional numbers in the total number of people who do not attend church or believe in Jesus Christ? Are those we know just part of that total?  And the still bigger question is, do we treat them as statistics?  Do they become numbers? It is difficult when the total numbers are so large and it seems your efforts won’t make much of a difference. There you are wrong. It is worth the effort to win one person to Jesus. But it often requires more work than we expect. 

You meet someone and after a few conversations – at work, or school or in the neighborhood – you invite the person to church. They explain that they have a lot going on, but thanks for the invite anyway. What they are actually saying is probably something like this: “Since you are not taking an interest in what interests me, how do you expect me to take an interest in what interests you.”

It is great that we invite someone to church but is that as far as our Christian interest extends? It’s almost like we have fulfilled our responsibilities to them.  They probably feel like an obligatory target or worse a statistic. Most people will not drop all their beliefs just to accept yours. We need to show an interest in what’s interesting to them instead of expecting them to be interested in Jesus the first time we mention the Savior’s name.  Some people believe that spending time with non-believers is conforming to the world. (Romans 12:2)   

What was Jesus major secret of being effective? He loved sinners. The religious leaders got upset when He was talking and eating with sinners. But Jesus said that he “…came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Matt. 9:10-13).

In Luke 15: 1-7, answering the charges that if He was really spiritual he would not be eating with sinners, Jesus said, “ if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

People matter to God so they should matter to us.  They are not statistics. God Himself became a man and left us an example of how we should care for the lost, then exhorted us to follow in His steps.  Jesus stated His purpose, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). We should make His mission our mission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view those people you know who are far from the heart of God? How invested are you in your relationship with people you know who are far from the heart of God?
  2. Do you find it difficult to speak to others about God in this day and age? Why or why not?
  3. What has Jesus done in your life that you can share with others? How can you reveal God’s grace and mercy to others?
  4. Pray and ask God to provide you the wisdom to seize on the opportunities and possibilities He provides us with those far from the heart of God.

Lost And Found

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”    Colossians 4:5-6. 

The Impossible is a story of survival. Immediately, the fight for survival is on. Swept away from her husband and youngest sons, Maria Belon emerges from the deluge to the screams of Lucas. As the water pushes them inland, Maria swims to Lucas. After the immediate threat recedes, Maria and Lucas climb a tree and take inventory on their wounds. It quickly becomes clear that Maria needs medical attention. But how are they going to get it?  Who will see their predicament and solve their problem? There is no infrastructure. No communication. There is no app for that.

What if we had an app on our iPhone that measured our engagement with unbelievers? How much activity would it show? And what would we have to show for our efforts? How do we engage with unbelievers. It is always wise to look at what Jesus did.

Jesus’ entire adult life was characterized by a deep concern for the spiritual condition of the nonbeliever. He saw them as desperately lost, and His heart was broken because of that. His compassionate purpose for their well-being was deep-rooted, and He showed this concern specifically in the way He met them where they lived, fed them, taught them, and healed them (Matthew 9:9-11; Mark 1:33-34; 6:30-42; Luke 5:1-11).

The example Jesus set for us is to build relationships with people who don’t know Him. When we meet a person who has not yet experienced God’s saving grace, we are to have the heart of Jesus and extend a helping hand at their point of need. If they are thirsty, we can give them a cup of water; if they’re hungry, we can feed them (Matthew 25:35-40).

We can build relationships by spending time with those far from the heart of God. If you don’t have a relationship, it will be difficult to talk to people about God. And, if you don’t spend time, you won’t have a relationship. And with time, a relationship can turn into friendship and friendship into love. When that happens it is easier to talk to them about Jesus.

Concentrate on family members first. We typically already have a relationship with family members.  Be sincerely interested in what they’re interested in, even if you find it hard to be interested. Know their struggles. Encourage them. Don’t be distant. Lean in and never give up on any of them. Above all else, pray for them.

Pray for the people far from God in your life by name. Ask God to provide you with opportunities to talk to them about God. 

I think it’s clear that we, in countless ways and opportunities, can and should reach out to those far from the heart of God. We can show them love by offering them a meal, a job, or friendship, and most importantly, we can introduce them to Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe or define evangelism? How do you think evangelism should be done? How do you do evangelism in your life now?
  2. Can I witness to others when I have my own struggles?
  3. Do you regularly pray for those far from the heart of God?
  4. Have you attended the 401 Missions class?

Getting Connected

“Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused.” –  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

There are a few misconceptions about P.L. Travers mainly due to the fact that it was hard to know the real Pamela. The movie Saving Mr. Banks tries to peel back some of the story where you find a girl with a colorful imagination who was the product of a strange, stern and seemingly lonely upbringing. I’m not sure all the characterizations about her are fair, but I think there is little doubt she was a difficult and even unpleasant person. But what if? What if something in her past was different. What if Mrs. Travers had joined a Northstar Group early on in her life. We know she didn’t, but if we use a little Mary Poppins imagination, and imagine for a second as the narrator says softly: “Winds in the east, mist coming in. Like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”

So what if Mrs. Travers had joined a Northstar Group? She could have because there is a group for everybody. There is a group that is right for her. She would have found others in the same place, the same season of life – and share, learn and have fun together. She may have been a little surly and withdrawn initially, but over time she would have discovered that studying in community allows Christians to ask questions, learn, and grow together. Christianity is not a religion of isolation. Jesus taught his followers to create a community of believers, and this Christian community keeps each member connected and accountable.

She would be part of a group that sincerely cared for one another and spoke of real-life issues, concerns and the challenges they faced. She would have a group of people who were real and transparent. She would have a group to support and encourage and pray for her. She would find love, caring, and compassion. The group could be her source of development and provide her with a real sense of belonging. She would have friends that would listen as she talked about her fears, her relationships, her past, and how much margin she has in her life. And more importantly they could talk about their walk with God.  I wonder if she ever had that kind of honest and straight forward conversation with other people. I believe Small Groups have the ability to change lives. The cumulative spiritual effect of being in a group cannot be measured. 

If you are not a member of a Northstar Group, you are missing out. You are probably tired of hearing me say that, but I believe it with all my heart. Acts 2:37-47 provides a biblical account of God’s work and blessing when believers share and serve together.  In Hebrews 10: 23-25, Christians are reminded to assemble together to encourage and receive encouragement. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Groups tend to make things better. Mrs. Travers says in the movie, “I opened the door to Mary Poppins and who should be there but Walt Disney.” What will you find when you open the door to a group? If you have never participated in a group, I encourage you to find a group and get connected. If you need assistance getting connected to a group, or have not found the right group for you, talk to your campus pastor.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does Northstar do small groups? What in your mind should the groups do? What should they not do?
  2. Do you believe you will understand the Bible better in a small group? Do you believe you will be able to handle stress and pressure better?
  3. Do you believe there is an open chair for you?
  4. Do you believe you could be a small group leader? If not, why not?
  5. What is keeping you from participating in a  group?

Who Is In Control?

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.” – 1 Chronicles 29:11.

In the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, we get a very clear image on just how much control Mrs. Travers wanted over the movie Mary Poppins. First, Mrs. Travers supplied a story outline or treatment for submission to Disney. She had to give her blessing to every part of the process. She wanted to be consulted on artistic matters like casting.  She wanted final approval of the script, Disney worked on the project for two years without Travers signing the final permission. Well, you get the idea.  Mrs. Travers wanted control over every facet of the movie. 

We as Christians try to control every facet of our lives, and by doing so we limit the access of God. We can’t pick and choose what parts of our lives we want God to be a part of, and we can’t pick and choose which characteristics of God we want to believe in.

Mrs. Travers thought she had everything about making this movie figured out. As we find out she didn’t.  Not many people do.  We have jobs, families, church, hobbies, and other opportunities to spread ourselves thin. We try to give each area of our lives equal attention because we know that they are all important, but it never seems to work out. It feels like something in our lives that we see as important ends up getting the short end of the stick, and when that happens, we feel like we’ve lost control. So what’s the answer?

I’m not sure I have the answer.  But I know this. When we try and balance our lives on our own, we tend to divide our lives into easy to manage and not so easy to manage parts of the whole. The problem with that is we don’t deal with the not-so-easy to manage areas. The easy areas get all the attention. Even the easy areas can seem hard at times so we get overwhelmed. 

The question we need to ask ourselves is where is God in all of this? Has He become someone that we talk to once a week and then push to the sidelines as we continue to pursue a wrinkle-free life? Not only are you going to control, but we ‘re also going to be tired.

When you are wrestling with God for control over your life consider the Serenity Prayer. Most people can recite the first few lines of the prayer:: “To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.”  But there is more to it. Consider these additional lines when you surrender to God the very things you’ve been trying to take control of from Him. 

“Living one day at a time;  Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world. As it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right If I surrender to His Will; So that I may be reasonably happy in this life  And supremely happy with Him Forever and ever in the next. Amen.”

I don’t know what you’re going to face this week. Nobody does. But I can tell you what God wants you to do. Let go of control, and accept God being in control. Let go, and trust. This is the first step to real serenity in your life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about the idea that God wants to guide you through life?
  2. What might we stand to lose by holding out on God?
  3. Have you experienced the cost of resisting God on some particular point, or the blessing you have experienced through relinquishing control of some area of your life to the Lord.
  4. What do you know about the heart and ways of God that should make it easier to trust Him and relinquish control to Him?
  5. Pray for any specific battles for control or surrender issues that you may have.

Happy Endings

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,” – Psalm 107:2.

A good movie is able to grab and keep your attention from the first second until the very end. The same is true of a good story.  We watch movies like Saving Mr. Banks to their conclusion because the plot looks interesting to us. It may have mystery. It may have intrigue. We may see a little or even a lot of ourselves in the characters. We don’t quit mid-story on an author or producer, we stick it out and see how it will end. In fact, we seem to gravitate toward impossible situations because we love great endings, and the more the odds are insurmountable, the better the ending.  We want to see what unfolds. So we give the movie producer or author a chance to finish the story.

There are many examples of movies that captivate us: Rocky and It’s a Wonderful Life to name a few.  We would miss so much if we did not let the story completely unfold.  But we don’t seem to do the same thing with God. We often run out of patience before God – the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) –  finishes our story.

Our lives are a story that God is writing.  And if we are honest, we would have to admit that we often quit mid-story. Why? Because we don’t like how He’s writing it. We want a happy, carefree story that is a romantic comedy or a funny sitcom that is not complicated and has little or no conflict. But God is writing a blockbuster, an epic that has twists and turns that will inspire future generations. We love epic endings, we just don’t want to be part of the hard parts leading to the ending.  But if we don’t let God finish our story, we will miss the good work He is doing in us. 

For 20 years, Walt Disney tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mrs. Travers to let him make a movie. But Mrs. Travers was adamant, refusing even to call him “Walt.” Walt Disney tells Mrs. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks that “George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”  

We may be living the story that we didn’t want. We may have wanted a completely different story, where everything’s finally right, God is blessing us, relationships are thriving, business is booming, and the future is bright. We don’t want a story where cancer suddenly appears, the stock market crashes, your job is downsized, you just got a call from the IRS, and your teenage girls are mixing with the wrong crowd. And when that is the part of the story we are living today, we ask God why. And we think God is behind it all—permitting it, if not actually ordering it. We feel betrayed.

This is where faith and trust enter the story.  How much do you trust His authorship?  His love?  His goodness?  Do you give up on the story He is writing?  Or do you keep reading, curious to see how “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 KJV) Are we willing to wait patiently on the Lord to see how the story ends?

 I never really thought that putting down the pencil and letting God write my story would be so hard, yet so beautiful at the very same time. Putting my pencil, my story, my future in His hands, trusting only He can write the best selling story of my life is not easy. It’s never a best seller without pain, but the beautiful part is a best seller usually has a very happy ending.

Discussion Question:

  1. Are you happy with your story so far? How is the speedometer in your life? What would you change?
  2. Would you honestly say God is in charge of your life? What area is the hardest to give over control?
  3. Can you trust God with the rest of the story?

Seeing Possibilities

“ For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   Romans 8:38-39.

Why do we like the movie Saving Mr. Banks? I think we love this story because the redemption story it tells is one we never tire of hearing. Walt Disney tried for 20 years to obtain the movie rights from P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. Mrs. Travers is a difficult Englishwoman. She fusses over every detail of the script. “No cartoons. Not your Mr. Dick Van Dyke. Laurence Olivier is great. No made-up words.” But over time, she comes to look at her past differently and look at what could be rather than what was. 

God does not look at our past, or trouble as we do, or as Mrs. Travers did. Where we see stress He sees opportunities. Where we see crisis, He sees growth. God’s purpose in times of crisis is to educate, and build us up. And when we learn from them and ride out these storms of life, we will see His promises fulfilled. It is not easy to see the joy and opportunities through times of problems. There is joy to be had if we can view the crisis as an opportunity and grow from it. Seeing the possibilities will help us become the person that we are capable of being for our benefit and His glory.

So when God tests you, or bad stuff happens, or when our past invades our present, we need to see it as a time to learn and to trust Him.  If we are honest, we would admit that we do not like going through trials. And trials often last longer than we care for them to last. I don’t like going through trials and for years my first instinct was to find ways to disentangle myself from them.

But over time, I had to rethink my strategy from what I wanted to viewing trials as a challenge from God designed to help me grow in maturity and strength. And then I was receiving a better blessing than I ever had before. I now see trials as opportunities to gain more strength and maturity. Our past, and our present adversity can and will become our tools to grow and learn from.  “…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Mrs. Travers past kept her from seeing that we need to see life as a series of problem solving and learning opportunities. The same is true of Christians. Because the problems we face will either overwhelm and overpower us or grow and develop us. So it is all about how we respond to them. Remember that God is at work in your life, even when you cannot see Him. You will have far more contentment and joy in your life when you cooperate and allow God’s love to rule in your life, and surrender your fears, desires and past over to Him.

And that is why we love Tom Hanks and Walt Disney and Travers Goff and Mrs. Travers. We want to hear the story of how people pulled themselves together and put their families back together, stronger and better than before. That is the story we never tire of hearing. And that just happens to be the story of redemption and hope, that Jesus seeks to write in each of our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you today to realize God has made you for a specific purpose? How will this knowledge change the way you look at challenges and opportunities?
  2. Are there certain trials that you have a hard time letting go and trusting God? Why is easier to focus on the obstacles rather than the possibilities?
  3. How would the movie Saving Mr. Banks been different if Mrs.Travers had fixated on the possibilities? How would her life be different?
  4. What are the benefits of forgiving someone? To you? To them? What do you give up by forgiving?
  5. Pray and ask God to provide you the wisdom to seize on the opportunities and possibilities He provides us.

Getting Past Your Past

“Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. I rule the nations. I rule the earth”    Psalm 46:10 (GW).

Saving Mr. Banks is a Disney movie about an isolated, lonely, emotionally suffering woman. It is a story about Walt Disney and his efforts to secure the rights to make a movie about the book Mary Poppins by Pamela Travers. As the film progresses, we learn the supposed inspirations for Mary Poppins. And we come to understand why Mrs. Travers is so attached to story details that at first seemed arbitrary or insignificant. In the film, we discover that she has never come to grips with the past and as a result continues to be haunted by it. 

As pastor, people tell me their stories. Some of those stories are about the past. In some cases,  I have a hard time even imagining how difficult these circumstances must have been.  Because these past circumstances were difficult, people carry their past into their present by moving forward the bad memories from those years. You can see the signs. One young man hardly opens up to anyone. Another person shuts off anyone she didn’t trust. Still another harbored hate.  These are people that could be so full of life and joy and laughter, but like Mrs. Travers, their ability to let go of their past made them distant, moody, and cold.

Sometimes we are on a peak, sometimes we are in the valley. That is life. We can let it hold us down, or not. The trauma and trials that we go through are not the worst things that can happen to us.  The worst is when we let it give us permission to be bitter and withdrawn. The worst is when we rehearse our own sad story to the point where it negatively impacts our present and our future.

I can understand why people feel that way, but we cannot define our life by the losses we have suffered. You may have been embarrassed, shamed, stabbed in the back, betrayed, and cheated — no one’s saying this isn’t wrong — but it’s even more reason to find healing and peace. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

This passage provides a vivid description of a life damaged by past hurts – a life that has become a wasteland, a desert. Dwelling upon a record of wrongs weighs us down and heavily burdens us. But the Lord’s instructions to forget those former things and not dwell on them, comes with a promise. Letting go of the past enables God to do a new work in us.

Instead of dwelling on past hurts, we can let go of those memories and forgive the person that hurt us. Although we cannot make ourselves forget the memories, if we stop clinging to them they will fade significantly.

The backstory tells us that Mrs. Travers has been hardened by suffering. But so, too, has Walt Disney. The film’s heart and soul is in the four or five conversations between the two artists—she with her insistence that children must (as she did) face the hard facts of life, he with his belief that everyone should (as he did) transform the pain into happiness with a can-do attitude and a little revisionist history. We can do exactly that when we trust in God to help us let go of our past.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have the past impacted your present? How can you replace those old soundtracks with God’s truth? 
  2. How could letting go of past pain and forgiving those who’ve hurt you help you become more of who God made you to be? What might the new you look like?
  3. What have you been holding onto that’s keeping you from fully experiencing the new life God has for you?
  4. What do you think would happen if you gave your deepest darkest secrets and regrets to God? Why are you afraid to take this step? What’s the worst that could happen if you did?