The Meaning of Courage

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12.

James Cameron’s “Titanic” is an epic, action-packed romance set against the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic; the pride and joy of the White Star Line which ultimately carried over 1,500 people to their death in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912. While this is not our movie this week, there is an example of “20 seconds of insane courage” you won’t see in the movie Titanic. That example is Jack Harper.

John Harper was aboard the Titanic when she set sail from Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage. An evangelist originally from Glasgow, Scotland, he was well known throughout the United Kingdom as a charismatic, passionate speaker who led many to Christ. In 1912, Reverend Harper received an invitation to speak at the Moody Church in Chicago. 

Some of the wealthiest people in the world were aboard. While many passengers spoke of business deals, acquisitions and material desires, John Harper was diligently sharing the love of Christ with others.

On the evening of April 14, John Harper put his daughter to bed and read his devotions as he did every night. At 11:40 pm, the Titanic struck an iceberg. The “unsinkable” ship was doomed. Chaos ensued. It all happened so fast. But John Harper’s response left an historic example of courage and faith. Harper awakened his daughter, picked her up and wrapped her in a blanket before carrying her up to the deck. There he kissed her good-bye and handed her to a crewman who put her into lifeboat 11. Harper knew he would never see his six year old daughter again.

Harper then gave his life jacket to a fellow passenger, ending any chance of his own survival. From a survivor we learn that he was calling out, “Women and children and unsaved people into the lifeboats.” So he understood that there was a more important thing than surviving that terrible disaster. He understood that there were those who were unprepared to face eternity. Survivors reported seeing him on the upper deck on his knees, surrounded by terrified passengers, praying for their salvation.

At 2:40 am, the Titanic disappeared beneath the North Atlantic. John Harper was fighting for his life in the icy water. He managed to find a piece of floating wreckage to hold onto. Quickly he swam to every person he could find, urging those about him to put their faith in Jesus Christ. John Harper was moving around as best he could, speaking to as many people as possible. His question was, “Are you saved?” then as rapidly as he could he explained the gospel.

Soon John Harper succumbed to the icy sea. But even in his last moment, this tireless man of undying faith continued his life pursuit of winning lost souls. This is an example of thousands of seconds of insane courage driven by a love of the Savior and his fellow man. 

The story of John Harper aboard the Titanic is told in the book, The Titanic’s Last Hero, published by Moody Adams.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can rob us of 20 seconds of insane courage? 
  2. When something awful happens in your life, do you most commonly assume that the experience is primarily for your benefit or development?  Is your first question, “how is this struggle/hardship making me better/holier/deeper?”
  3. The John Harper story should be a reminder to care for all around us. Everyone matters to God. Everyone’s life has value.  Everyone you see is someone the Son of God felt was worth dying for. This should motivate us to care for the marginalized around us. Who in our life do we need to talk to?
  4. Pray and ask God to give us a heart and a passion for those who are far from the heart of God.

God Of Change

Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” – Acts 27:23-26

There are several takeaways from the movie We Bought a Zoo.  One of them is that change is hard. Familiarity is so much more comfortable, even if what we are experiencing is unpleasant. God, however, is all about change.   

It is not that we are against change. In fact, we believe we can change. But it still seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. So is real change possible? Is change that lasts – change that really matters – really achievable? You may be saying, “I can change.” You reference our new technology, our ingenuity and our inventions. Finally, you point out that we can manipulate or change any facet of our life if we want to. 

Change that’s real and that lasts comes from God. God is our change agent. Things can change beginning with our relationship with God. It starts with changing our behavior. Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Verse 7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

But breakthrough change requires courage and also often requires taking a step of faith. We can’t achieve breakthrough change the way we normally handle problems. It requires us to trust God. As I looked back over my years leading up to today, I can see a clear pattern. God had been at work for as long as I could remember to bring me to Himself, guiding choices I made, friendships I developed. His hand had been on me. He never imposed nor compelled, but waited patiently for me to see my need and respond. Even though I had no idea how my life would be different, that step of faith – when I released myself to God and to his care – was a turning point in my life. 

All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. I love that line from We Bought a Zoo, however, if taking a step of faith, the “what” truly does not matter. We can step forward with enthusiasm and confidence not because of thorough analysis or favorable probabilities but because God has promised, over and over again, that He himself will go before us, and will never leave us nor forsake us.  Because we know God and His character, we know He loves unfathomably and unconditionally. For that reason, and that reason alone, we can step into the future and what God has promised without fear. 

Therefore, don’t always ask God to change your circumstances. Instead, view each as an opportunity for God to change you, making you “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

God can change impossible situations. He sometimes moves mysteriously, but will provide what you need in miraculous ways. And it is going to be far better than you can ever imagine.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you are honest with yourself, what area in you is very hard to give to God?
  2. Do you retain “veto rights” in case God asks you to do something unreasonable?
  3. Do you believe God makes unreasonable demands from you? Does God force you to do something that will make you unhappy. Will God take everything in your life that you enjoy? Is God demanding, and it feels like such an obligation to surrender?
  4. Often it feels like we surrender to God and then months later realize that we’ve retaken ownership of that area of our lives. Is that true?
  5. How do we fulfill the command in Romans 12:1 where we continuously present our lives and everything in them as an ongoing sacrifice to the Lord?

Under New Ownership

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”Isaiah 43:19

Looking for a fresh start, Benjamin Mees goes house hunting. Unfortunately, the only place he likes also happens to be part of Rosemoor Animal Park, a working but dilapidated zoo. He buys it hoping the zoo will bring his broken family closer. The zoo is under new management.

How often do you see a business put up a new sign that says, “under new management” or “new ownership”? There are various reasons for putting up a sign new management, but the inference is that the service will be better because the new management team is better. The new owners want you to know things are different so your experience will be different. The bottom line is that being under new management does not guarantee a better experience.

Unlike Benjamin Mees, however, it is rare to get a do-over, a reboot, a get out of jail free card and thus a chance to rewind and have a fresh start.  Often it seems that our original course and direction in life seems to be the long-term course and we are stuck under the old management. The beauty of the message of Jesus Christ, however, is that you can stick up a under new management sign on your heart and it will make a huge difference in your life. 

And when we are under God’s management, He wants to do new things in our lives.  He wants us to forget about our past failures and disappointments and look to the future with anticipation of what He is going to do. God desires to work in our lives as never before, but we must surrender to Him. There are great benefits to be derived from being where God wants you to be and doing what He wants you to do. 

God not only wants to do a new thing in our lives. He wants to clarify our focus so that we can discover what God wants for us. The question is do we see the possibilities or the problems in change? In Isaiah 43:19 God says, “I am making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God is able to transform the wilderness and desert areas of our lives.

God has already set into motion a new direction and a new purpose for your life — will you follow Him? When God says that He is going to do a new thing, you can be sure that He will follow through with His promise. God does have a plan for your life, but it’s not your job to sneak into his back office and try to find your file that lets you in on all the “secrets”. God’s not hiding something from you. We have the God-given abilities to think through options, assess the cost and dangers, pray for wisdom and direction … and then use 20 seconds of insane courage to prove that we are indeed under new management. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Are we more concerned about God’s mission and less concerned about our mission?
  2. If you had the ability, which part of your life would you like to put under new management?
  3. What’s one thing has God asked you to do that you are too scared to try?
  4. What can God do that I can’t concerning a new direction?
  5. Whom can I lean on to support my purpose? How can I reach out to support a friend’s new direction in life?

Develop Deep-Rooted Relationships With God and With Each Other

“So often, it’s others around us who can see where God wants to grow us even before we see it ourselves.”  – James MacDonald,

I believe the old adage is correct that says: The five most important words are “you did a good job.” The four most important words are, “what is your opinion?” The three most important words are, “let’s work together” The two most important words are, “thank you” and the single most important word is, “we.” Yes, this is another pastoral request that you join a Northstar Group if you have not already done so.

In Acts, the Bible tells us we need to be in relationships for our personal and spiritual growth. Paul and the early Christians taught and received teaching from house to house. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:42) “…how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) Why did they do this? Because they needed a way and place to do as Christ modeled and taught them, the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches so that God’s Kingdom will be built and glorified. And they needed a way to be connected.

You may be thinking that was great for them, but not so good for me. They didn’t have my schedule. A schedule that is overfilled with the things I am responsible for in life. I do understand and we have talked about that subject often at Northstar. We all struggle with the demands of our career and all of the frustrations and stress resulting from goals, deadlines, work flow and trying to get ahead. Then there are the family obligations, taking the kids to school, picking them up here and there, dealing with all of their activities and needs. Maybe you are already volunteering at Northstar. Add all of those together and it is hard to find an additional minute to invest in anything else.  There is simply no margin. But here is the irony. If you are the person I just outlined, then you are the person who needs to be in a small group the most.   

I know you think I have slipped my moorings a bit. Yes, it does sound counter intuitive. But, don’t stop reading for another minute or so and let me explain my logic. It is God’s plan for you to be in quality relationships to Him and then to others within the confines of a loving community. Because, we all need a place to belong and work through the issues of life, to be loved and to give our love. As a Christian, our primary goal is to know and grow in Christ. How can this be accomplished when all aspects of our life are riddled with stress? The answer is…by learning spiritual disciplines and receiving the discipleship, relationships and encouragement that small groups offer. We need a place to grow and we grow best in community with people who love and care for you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Small groups are the perfect place to understand and practice authentic relationships to feel a part of God’s family. Agree or disagree?
  2. Small groups are the perfect place for spiritual growth to make God’s truth come to life in our lives. Agree or disagree?
  3. Small groups are the perfect place to unwind, release your stress and reprioritize your life. Agree or disagree?
  4. Small groups are the perfect place to have our needs met and dealt with and fulfill those burdens with others in a stable community. In this way we can handle stress, crisis, changes and the pressures of life better.  Agree or disagree?
  5. Small groups are the perfect place to develop our skills, leadership and ministry so we can be better servants of our God. Agree or disagree?
  6. Please take the initiative and get yourself plugged into a group.

Real Love. Real Life.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32-35

Captain Phillips gave some leadership lectures after the film bearing his name came out. The film is about Captain Phillips and a Somali pirate named Muse. One is trying to hijack a ship for ransom, the other is trying to keep him from doing it. In that lecture Captain Phillips gave several bits of wisdom from the entire experience. First, we can’t solve new problems with old solutions. Secondly, successful leaders are flexible. Third, you are stronger than you think you are and fourth, vow to never give up, never quit, and sooner or later your situation will get better. While these are not novel or original ideas and they are also easy to say, it is so much harder to put into practice in a situation such as he faced off the coast of Africa. When faced with a difficult situation it becomes messy and exposes all our flaws. It is anything but easy.

I can draw the same conclusions about love.  It is easy to talk about love. Why not, love make sense to us. And more importantly we are commanded by God to love one another. But when we try to love one other, it seems to get a little messy and exposes our flaws. It is anything but easy. 

It is not surprising then that God would challenge us to be faithful in our love. When we read any number of passages in the New Testament we find ourselves with that expression you make when somebody says something you were not expecting. “Wait, what? Can you run that by me one more time? Do I get any credit for making the attempt?”

Here’s the bottom line: the kind of love that God models and requires is not intuitive, or natural. It’s not easy. God also wants us to love the people who are unloving and unlovely. This is the kind of love that reflects Christ’s love in the gospel. 1 John 4:7-11 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

God has lavished us with His love. He then surrounds us with people who need that love. are just as needy of that love, and tells us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  We should be willing to help the whole find find and follow Jesus by showing that love to others.   

The love that God requires from us is not natural; it takes work and it looks different. It is not the stuff that you read about in a magazine, or pick up in a romantic novel. It is different. And it is hard regardless of the circumstances.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it hard to love one another?
  2. What difference does it make whether a person believes or doesn’t believe that God loves him or her?
  3. What are the unique characteristics of God’s love shown in Scripture?
  4. How does love take us beyond ourselves? Describe some of the stages that love goes through in becoming complete and mature.
  5. How can this duty to love others be a joy?

God of Peace

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.” – 1 Corinthians 14:33.

In the movie Captain Phillips, we first see the Captain and then the U.S. Navy trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Somali hijackers. We are accustomed to reading of politicians and diplomats working hard to resolve conflicts and bring about peace. But what happens after the peace treaty or agreement is signed. Even after the treaty is signed, suspicious countries/parties wonder if the other party will live up to its agreement, or is it just waiting until the time is right to violate that treaty. History gives us many examples that proves peace is as elusive as it is desired.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”   

There are several types of peace. One is when we are riding the crest of a wave and everything is going our way. But the peace Jesus gives us is a totally different quality of peace. It is a peace that passes all our understanding. “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) It is peace even when a group of Somali pirates is ready to board your boat or when a pirate points a AK-47 at you. 

You are probably thinking the following: “C’mon Marty, who wouldn’t be freaking out in that situation. You couldn’t help yourself.” You are right. Most of us would be sweating bullets and calling on God in every breath.  While you are probably not going to face the situation that Captain Phillips did, there will be times when we seek peace and it is just not there.

It is easy to blame others or our circumstances whether it be our parents, our education, our personality, our friends, our background, etc. But we can’t let a lack of peace impact our present and our future.  We need to learn how to live with the peace Jesus gives.

Our enemy, the devil, is persistent and will do whatever he can to wear us out and keep us from having the peace of God. The reality is that we will have trials in our lives. We should plan ahead to stay peaceful during trials. Everything is not going to go our way all the time, and when it doesn’t, we can be prepared to stay in peace in the midst of it all. The ability to maintain that peace in troubled times can be one of our greatest testimonies to a troubled world.

If we want God’s peace we need to learn to bring all our requests to Him. Paul tells us (Philippians 4:6) to be anxious for nothing.  To not let anything stress us.  God’s peace is actually God’s remedy for stress.  Paul indicates it is possible to live a life completely free of stress.  He said be anxious for nothing.  How can that be possible?

A promise is attached to this action. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. If we choose to bring all things to God and do it with thanksgiving we have the promise that God’s peace, which passes all understanding, will guard our emotions and keep us in peace.

Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 13:20, that God is the God of peace. “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.” God is the source of peace, maker of peace, and the one who gives peace. There is no true and lasting peace outside of him.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do you describe God’s peace?
  2. How do you personally respond to this challenge, “Be anxious for nothing.” Do you think that includes very difficult times?
  3. Do you believe God’s peace can really be obtained?
  4. How has God brought you peace and joy when you’ve been worried?
  5. Pray and ask God to give you His peace.

The Devil Made Me Do It

“ Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.””  Job 1:6-11.

More than thirty years ago Flip Wilson kept America in stitches with his television characters “Reverend Leroy,” the friendly, pompous pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now,” and “Geraldine Jones,” the sassy woman in a miniskirt. Whenever Geraldine would do anything wrong she would excuse her actions by uttering the line she made famous, “The devil made me do it!”

America laughed and “The devil made me do it,” became the rage all over the country. Of course, we all know that the devil wants us to sin, and it is convenient to have someone to blame it on. If we are honest, we have to admit that we have been blaming others for our actions and sins going all the way back to the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  Adam blamed his wife, but then confessed, “I ate.” Eve blamed the serpent, but then confessed, “I ate.” It’s always easier to point the finger at someone or something else when we sin. But, blaming someone else does not wash the sin away. The devil wants us to do something that will weaken our walk and relationship with God. 

But in reality, the devil doesn’t make us do anything. We make the choices. We choose to go the opposite direction and we love to shift the blame on others, including the devil, to escape having to take responsibility for our own actions.       

On the moment of temptation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil.  Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God…The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness.  The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.” 

So what shall we do?  Romans 13:10 states it this way: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” The term “make no provision for the flesh” is our goal. Make no provision is to immediately show the enemy the door. It is saying you are not welcome; you are not staying; in fact, you are leaving now; and don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Whether it is receiving or giving gossip about someone you know, or a second longer look at the opposite sex; lowering your ethical standards to finalize a deal; reacting in anger with your children; a sarcastic remark supposedly made in jest; listening or viewing something on your computer that is not uplifting. The list is endless. Whatever it is, whenever it is, if it does not glorify God, then show it the door of your eyes, mind or heart. This way, the devil will not get a foothold or start you down a path you don’t want to go.

So the next time something comes your way that is going to harm your relationship with God, remember to show it the door immediately as though you had just found a poisonous snake inside your house. Do not let it get comfortable or take root. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What have your thoughts about the devil been? How does the Bible’s description of him differ with your assumptions? Ultimately, which is right?
  2. What is the difference between sin and temptation?
  3. The enemy will tempt you when you can be effective for God. The enemy will tempt you when you are vulnerable.The enemy will tempt you in a way that’s customized to you. In what ways has the devil tempted you?
  4. Read Romans 8:37–39. The passage says that nothing will be able to separate you from God’s love? Why is that mentioned in this passage?
  5. How can you start opposing Satan this week?

The Invisible War

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  – Ephesians 6:12. 

The movie Captain Phillips is about a band of four Somali pirates who manage to board the huge cargo ship armed with AK-47s and palpable desperation, and the Alabama crew, most of whom have taken refuge in the engine room. They begin resisting the takeover of their ship by any means available. What unfolds is an escalating game of cat and mouse, in which each side is defined more clearly by its weaknesses than its strengths. The crew of the Alabama have the numbers, but not the weapons. The pirates have the weapons, but no sense of the ship and—once it becomes clear to them that the crew does not intend to cooperate cheerfully with their $10 million ransom demand—no real idea of what to do next. The pirates advantage lies in their desperation and the fact they are willing to die.

The Christian life is one of great peace as we see in the beginning of the movie as well as times of conflict such as the rest of the movie. A Christian is someone who is at war with three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The devil is the Christian’s great adversary. But what should Christians know about him, and how do they overcome his attacks?

In the Rolling Stones’ song, Sympathy For The Devil, it says, “Pleased to meet you, I hope you guess my name, but what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.”  The devil wants us puzzled but God doesn’t want his people to be puzzled. The devil’s main weapon is lies, and his lies take the form of schemes. When you think of the Devil we need to think of the most sophisticated cunning liar ever to exist. Yet, the good news is that Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “…so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

Remember, our foe is not human or physical: he is spiritual and he has spiritual forces that possess unbelievable power. He uses his personality and powers to carry out his plans. Therefore, we must remember, we cannot fight him on our own, with our own methods, with our own strength. You must realize that there is a real enemy who has a real mission to really destroy you. So, this week ask yourself, do I really know my enemy? It’s hard to win the battle when you don’t know who you are really fighting.

Satan, wants to hijack the lives of every Christian in an effort to keep them from reaching our destination of growing into spiritual maturity. Dealing with this is so intense and so strenuous that Scripture describes it as fighting a man-eating lion or waging warfare against an enemy. The devil is a liar (John 8:44), a deceiver (Revelation 12:9), a tempter (Matthew 4:1-11). He comes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). What can we do to prepare for the attacks of the enemy?

In order to stand against and resist the temptations, deception, and accusations of Satan and his powers, we need to prepare ourselves for action. This preparation includes knowing and internalizing the truth about who God is and how He has worked in our lives. 

It is important for us to understand that our enemy is already defeated in every sense of the word. Jesus defeated Him once and for all at the cross. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has your view/understanding of the devil changed over your life?  What helped shape your most current view of him? 
  2. Knowing our enemy is a big part of the spiritual battle we all fight. As we learn more about the devil, we’ll be better prepared to understand his schemes and be able to resist him. What do the following verses tell us about who the devil is and how he likes to operate? John 8:44; Isaiah 14:12-15; Acts 13:9-10 and 1 Peter 5:8.  What insight from these verses is most helpful to you in fighting the spiritual battle?
  3. What do the following verses tell us about the limitations and certain end of Satan?  Romans 16:20, 1 John 4:4, James 4:7
  4. How familiar are you with the armor of God?

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.