You Asked For It: How Can Any Rational Person Believe In The Trinity?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:19

This question fits into the category of what every Christian needs to know but is basically impossible to fully explain. It is one of those topics that will leave you with more questions than answers. But let me take a shot. The Bible teaches there is one God. Yet, the Bible also teaches that the “One God” is a Trinity, not three but still one God. The New Testament clearly distinguishes three Persons who are all simultaneously active. They are not merely modes or manifestations of the same Person. The Father is not the same Person as the Son. The Son is not the same Person as the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not the same Person as the Father.

There is one God, and this one true God exists in three co-equal and co-eternal Persons. They are in absolute perfect harmony. They are co-eternal, co-equal, and co-powerful. This may not be fully comprehensible, but it is not contradictory. I can’t really explain it because I can’t fully explain God. If I can’t fully explain God then how can I explain the Trinity.

If you try to explain this to somebody who is kicking the tires of the Christian faith they will probably roll their eyes and think you have lost your mind. Think about it for a second. If Christianity was man made then there certainly would have never been any concept like the Trinity in it. On the surface it seems so obviously confusing. The Bible clearly asserts, however, that God is one, but that within the oneness of God are three distinct persons.

The better question is why do we have to make it complicated? If we really want to know the character of God, we need to look at Jesus. John 14:6-7 tells us: ”Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Therefore, if we really want to know the character of God, first observe Jesus’ behavior and actions and listen to His words. During his ministry on earth, we can see how Jesus responded to people when they were up, when they were down, and when they were hurting. He was full of mercy, love and compassion, yet he never made excuses for people’s sin or accepted their misperceptions about God.

Scripture shows how each member of the Trinity fulfills His specific role, and it also reveals how those three roles interrelate. Let me express this idea in simple terms: The Father creates a plan, Jesus Christ implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers the plan.

When you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Holy Spirit becomes your inner guide. The Holy Spirit is your controller from within; He leads you, guides you and tells you what to do so that you don’t need a code of conduct to do what’s right. He’s within you, guiding you in specific steps to take, specific thoughts to think, and specific things to do to fulfill the will of God in your life. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Ephesians 1:3-5 tells us that God the Father is the master planner. God the Father is in control. Scripture says He is in charge. He planned our salvation. He has approved of our salvation. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)

Discussion Question:

  1. Read Isaiah 55:8 and Romans 11:33-34. Do you find it comforting or intimidating that you cannot fully understand God? Why?
  2. 1 Corinthians 8: 4 says, “There is no God but one.” What does that mean to you?
  3. Read John 1:1-2, Galatians 4:4 and Titus 2:13. These passages speak specifically about Jesus. What do these passages teach us about Jesus and his relationship to God?
  4. Read John 15:26 and Acts 5:3-4. Here we are introduced to the Holy Spirit. Based on these passages who is He and what role does He play?
  5. How does the doctrine of the Trinity affect your worship of God?

You Asked For It: How Should I Deal With An Uncertain Future?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” – John 10:27-29.

The question this week in the You Asked For It series was “How To Keep From Stressing Out.” It would have been just as easy to ask “How to keep from stressing out due to an uncertain future. We are living in a time when it is hard to predict what will happen today let alone in the weeks and months ahead. You thought you knew where your life was heading. Things seemed to be falling into place and then bang, doors which you thought were open suddenly slammed in your face. You step back, a little bewildered. You wonder if that really just happened. And even more importantly, you wonder what do I do now? Where should I go?

Life moves at a much faster clip than it did a hundred years ago. So amidst that frenetic pace, we as Christ-followers try to live in such a way that we experience God’s peace, joy and love. Our principal goal is to try and bring some clarity to the future. Or in other words, find a way to bring the future into focus. We want to plan the future as a means of hopefully controlling or at least minimizing the uncertainty.

We don’t need clarity. We need trust in God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations,I will be exalted in the earth!”

Outside of money, I think the most difficult thing to trust God with is our future. But that is exactly what we should do because our future isn’t really our future. But the truth is, I think most of us know we can trust God but we have a really hard time doing it. Especially when we are stressed and the future looks bleak. But let me give you a possible reason. Some of us have a hard time trusting God because we don’t know Him well. Most of us would probably be a little offended because we believe we do know Him well. I spend time with Him, I read His word, I pray, I attend church and Northstar Groups.

But sometimes when life is uncertain, I know I can trust God, but I still have a hard time doing it. So it begs the question: do I truly know God, that I have full confidence in who He is and what He will do in my life. Because only when you fully understand His great love for you, His unending grace, His faithfulness to you, and His plans for you that you will be able to trust Him no matter what comes your way. To trust Him for where that road will take you.

To let Him lead me one step at a time knowing that even if I have no clue what I’m doing or where I’m going, He does. And He will make sure that I reach the end safely. Taking that step forward into the unknown requires that I know Him more. That I trust the One who guides our every step.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:34 MSG)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Worrying about our future, our health, our kids, whether or not we are measuring up at work, school, family life…the list goes on and on. What would you say is your biggest worry?
  2. Have you ever felt like the future was hopeless? What was your stress level?
  3. Read 1 Kings 19:3-11: Verse 4 gives us a dark picture of how Elijah was processing the events he had just gone through. What was Elijah focusing on? What do you focus on when looking at the future?
  4. In verse 10, Elijah has a pretty bleak vision for his future. Have you had a bleak view of your future? What can we do to change our view of the future?
  5. Do you struggle with any “what if” questions? How can you push past them to experience God’s peace in your life? Rather than worrying and struggling through something uncertain, what can you thank God for today?
  6. Pray and ask God to help you trust Him for the future?

You Asked For It – How Can A Loving God Allow Suffering?

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name … ” – 1 Peter 4:12-19.

We are looking to answer a variety of questions in the You Asked For It Series. Some questions are fairly easy to answer, while others require a lengthy and sometimes complicated answer. Still others require faith in God. How can a loving God allow suffering is one of those hard-to-answer, you need to have faith in Him type of question.

This is a difficult topic to address, not simply because it rattles our brains, but because it is usually discussed when our hearts are rattled because of personal loss. The Holocaust, Tsunamis, young people being shot in our streets society and then on a more personal level: why did I have to get cancer? Why did my daughter have to die? Why did I lose my job and now I can’t feed my family? Some people assume that because such evils exist that God must either be 1) not good, 2) not all-powerful, or 3) not real. As Christians we try to react differently to difficulties. When troubles find us, we normally react and respond with the traditional Christian stiff upper lip. And why not, we believe God will work it out. We trust God, and why we can’t see the good that comes out of this today, we believe there is a reason and that is good enough for us. But sometimes, all those words fail us and we wonder if this trouble in our lives was really necessary.

There are many examples of people who suffered in the Bible. The most often cited example is Job. Job had suffered in ways incomprehensible to most of us. And that suffering had left him confused and searching for answers. The searching for answers is instinctual, because when tragedy strikes we want to know why. And what we don’t want to hear is that “God has this so don’t worry about it.”

There are many other examples such as Paul and his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And Joseph. Most of the disciples suffered in life or in death. This is no indicator of divine favoritism. The point is, there is no formula for suffering. There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation.

Though it is human nature to want to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that much of life is a mystery. I can accept that by trusting that God is greater and wiser and has the answers we seek. We may not know the reason for each specific instance of pain and suffering, but we have been clearly shown the bigger picture, and we can be certain that all suffering will pale in comparison to future glory. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

John Ortberg said this in Faith and Doubt: “One man, whose son died climbing a mountain when he was twenty-five, said that what he came to see was tears, a weeping God, suffering over my suffering. I had not realized that if God loves the world, God suffers. I had thoughtlessly supposed God loved without suffering. I knew that divine love was the key. But I had not realized that the divine love that is the key is a suffering love.”

Here is what we know about suffering and what we should cling to: God is impossibly loving. He loves us. He loves our families. God restores things; all of history points to a God who makes sad things right. Look at it this way: faith is less about trying to control God to get what we think we need or to take care of any problems and more about having a companion for the journey.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why do we want an explanation of suffering? Do we believe that an actual theological explanation for our suffering will bring peace and comfort, joy or hope? Why or why not?
  2. What are some reasons why we believe we need to have a complete answer for this question?
  3. How did you initially respond to God in your suffering? Did your reaction change over time? What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself?
  4. If you were God, what would you do to deal with suffering and pain today? If you intervened supernaturally to eliminate evil,where would you draw the line to prevent murder? Child abuse? Evil thoughts?
  5. Do you believe pain can help us grow—though it can be hard to see at times, even in retrospect?

You Asked For It – What is Christian Discipleship?

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8: 31-32.

From the moment we start school, from kindergarten through college, we are required to memorize information, and then take a test to see just how much of the information we retain. If we pass the tests, then we move on to the next grade and start the process all over again.

We’ve adopted this learning pattern in our Christian walk. We’re trained to learn biblical concepts, principles, and key scripture passages. And the more biblical information we know, the greater disciples we are presumed to be. But is that the key element in discipleship? My answer is no. Knowing the Bible doesn’t give us eternal life; knowing Jesus does. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Let me say for the record, I have no problem with Biblical education. I went to seminary and I try to learn something new about Jesus every day. My point is if we all that learning does not produce more love for Jesus, myself, and people, then it is a poor investment of my time. If all that learning doesn’t cultivate more love in my heart, then I wouldn’t be a disciple—I’d be nothing more than a Biblical fact sheet. A well-researched fact sheet can’t transform the world; disciples do. I want to be a disciple.

The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT), “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God. The “fruit of your salvation” is the fruit of the Spirit.”

When our minds are fixed on Jesus and we are filled with His love, we become the hands of Jesus by serving people because we love them. But we need to remember this is a long journey. Maturity takes time and is not linear. It would be great if there was instant maturity in faith and in life, but it doesn’t work that way.

Christian maturity has never been about you or me anyway. It is certainly not about how awesome you are compared to others, how smart you are, how righteous you are, or how holy you are. It is all about Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a disciple? What is a good definition of discipleship?
  2. What does an mature Christian look like? What does he/she believe, and how does he/she act, especially in his/her relationships?
  3. What are some obstacles/circumstances to becoming a mature disciple?
  4. What role do you play in your own discipleship? How do small groups/church play a part in your discipleship journey?
  5. Read John 17:6-19 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer to His Father). What do these words tell you?
  6. If you haven’t done it already, sign up for the discipleship classes at Northstar.

You Asked For It – How To Keep From Stressing Out?

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?. – Psalm 118:5-6

Today it seems like everyone is stressed. Yes, it’s true that we’re built for and we have learned to withstand a certain amount of stress. Stress can make us tougher and better problem solvers when we learn to deal with it. But a little stress goes a long way. There’s only so much we can take.

Have you ever been at a store and taken out a bottle of soda only to drop it and watch it roll on the floor. It has obviously been shaken up. The contents are now under a lot of pressure. Your first and maybe final inclination is to put the soda back in the cooler and take a new one. But you know if someone buys that soda in the next hour they are going to get a big surprise. So you grab another bottle, careful not to mix the two up. You will drink the shaken one later when the pressure dissipates. You wait because there’s no safe way to open the can after it’s been shaken up. It is the same way with stress in our lives.

You and I were also designed to bear a certain amount of physical, mental and emotional strain. When we take on more than we can handle, we eventually get shaken. Stress and worry are a normal part of life. So the question is how should we deal with it? Many people internalize the stress and end up suffering consequences. The good news for Christians is that God gives us a strategy to deal with pressure in a healthy and non-consequential fashion.

“…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.

Of course, it is not that easy. There is some irony at play here. As I was preparing to teach on stress, I found myself, well stressed. I mentioned the reasons on Sunday: Having 7 mortgage payments taken out on the same date and the flooding of my house. Other times I have been stressed over other things, some important and some not so important. But then it dawned on me that worrying never solved anything. And I remember that God is with me. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – ”Deuteronomy 31:6.

So don’t worry. Replace worry with prayer. Let God know your concerns. A sense of God will settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. The ultimate question at stake here is this: “do I really believe God is good and He knows what He’s doing?” You see, much of the pressure we let build up in our lives is a result of not believing that God is in control and has our best interests in life. That’s why prayer and thankfulness to God shifts our perspective off the circumstances and onto the One who can do all things and works all things together for our good. God promises to provide us with the strength needed for daily life in a stressful world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Proverbs 12:25 and John 14:1. How would you rate your current stress level? What is your primary source of stress and how does it affect your life?
  2. Read Philippians 4:6-7. How do you typically manage stress? In this verse, Paul tells us to pray and present our requests to God. Is this normally your first response? What are some ways you can incorporate prayer into dealing with stress and anxiety?
  3. Read Matthew 6:23-34. Most Americans worry about time and money. Do these two top your list? What others are in your top five? How does trusting in God’s provision decrease stress?
  4. How can you gain strength in times of stress or difficulties? Is this something that you practice?

Is the Bible Fiction, Or Urban Legend?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

There are Bible skeptics out there. People who believe the Bible is a once-upon-a-time book, from a long past time of shepherds and scribes. It is not relevant to 21st century life. That story of how the Israelites emerged from their centuries of slavery in Egypt is a gripping account, but does it have any connection to my world of lightning fast e-mails and jet travel? The problems of a fish swallowing a disobedient prophet named Jonah and how to get Daniel out of a den of lions seem pretty far removed from finishing that report or how to pay for college. For a mom racing to get her kids to the dentist, is there any relevance to the story of how Noah built a huge ark? How can we relate at all to seemingly impossible, supernatural events. And more importantly, how do we know they were not just fabrications, or myths.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul explains that Jesus appeared to 500 people and makes a point that many of them are still alive. “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8)

The apostle Peter was a fisherman who traveled with Jesus for more than three years, listening to His teaching and observing His life. Peter was one of Jesus’ first followers. In a letter Peter wrote to churches late in his life, he said, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

The Book of Acts (Acts 10:34-43), records a simple and clear presentation Peter gave about Jesus Christ to a Roman named Cornelius:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Finally, Paul reminds the rulers in Acts 26:24-28, that Jesus’ miracles and ministry were not done in secret. Rather, they were done in plain view as a testimony to who Jesus was and to allow those eyewitnesses to accurately record what they had seen.

Then you have to consider the price paid by the disciples. Despite rebuke, beatings, prison, attempts on their lives, and eventual death, not one of the apostles ever recounted on their story. It is hard to believe that every man in that group would have been willing to be persecuted and eventually die for a lie. Furthermore, the Jewish authorities and Roman officials were concerned with the growth of this “sect” called Christianity. If they had any evidence to disprove the claims of the apostles and disciples, they certainly would have produced it if they could.

For thousands of years people have tried to discredit the Bible and never have. Proverbs 30:5 says it all. “Every word of God proves true…”

Discussion Question:

  1. What is your favorite Bible story? Is it true? Why?
  2. Is it possible to know for certain that God’s Word is true? How?
  3. Isaiah 53 predicts 15 different things about the Messiah that came true in the life of Jesus. Fifteen of these prophecies came true from one chapter. The truth is, there are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus, countries, kings, and world events in the Bible—not one of these has been proven false yet! How do these predictions help demonstrate that the Bible is true?
  4. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” What does that mean for our daily lives?

Why Should I Follow Jesus?

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34.

You have a friend that you invite to attend one of the Northstar services with you. He has a simple question, “why should I follow Jesus?” You tell him, “Because Jesus said, ‘I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.’” You go on to explain that God will give you peace and your life new purpose and meaning.

He finally agrees to attend. He thinks some of what is going on is weird, but he enjoys the music and the friendliness of the people. When the invitation is given, he hesitates, but then puts his questions and inhibitions aside and prays to accept Jesus as his savior. He is excited and anxious at the same time. He feels new and vibrant. But then life begins again. Soon he is struggling with getting out of bed on Sunday mornings. He is struggling with the concept of tithing. But he joins a small group of 20 somethings and things seem okay again. So far being a Christian isn’t all that bad. It is working for him.

But then there is a bump in the road. A close friend has a million-to-one type of leukemia. He prays and he asks his small group to pray. But the friend doesn’t get better. He watches as his 23 year old old friend painfully sinks lower and lower until he dies. He doesn’t understand why God didn’t answer his prayers. About this time, he runs into an old friend who offers him some marijuana. He is reluctant, but gives in. For the first time since hearing about the cancer, he feels really good. Old friends tell him to go out with them. He does and the alcohol also makes him feel good and helps him forget the pain of his friend’s death. His Christian experience fades into the background as his old lifestyle moves back into the center of his life. When you talk to him about his faith, he says, “I tried Jesus and it helped me for a while. If it works for you, that’s great. But right now, it’s just not for me.”

Why did that young man decide to stop following Jesus? What was behind his spiritual defection? In this hypothetical example, the young man saw his commitment to Jesus Christ as a good thing as long as it is advantageous to him. You can almost hear this young man saying, “I’ll stick with it until something else works better. If I find something that works better for me I will try it.” Basically, the test for spiritual truth is how it makes you feel and whether it provides you with perks.

The other reason for falling away is that personal happiness is the most important thing in life. God exists to make me happy. If Jesus can make me feel good, I’ll give Him a try. If following Jesus doesn’t make me feel good or if it seems too hard, then I’ll try something else. Happiness, not serving the risen Savior is what matters most. Before we judge that young man too harshly, I wonder if we are all honest, if we don’t have a little bit of his attitude in all of us. “I follow Jesus because I am hoping that He can heal my broken marriage, or get me that promotion, or help my kids to respect me, or get me into that school, or a thousand other reasons.” God can and He may do those things. But that is not the reason to follow Him.

So why should I follow Jesus? I get that question quite a bit. To me, the answer is pretty straight forward. We should follow Jesus because He is Lord, not just because of what He can do for us.

The main reason to follow Jesus is because He created you for His purpose. And because God loves you and wants a personal relationship with you.  He is the gracious Lord of salvation, who gave His life so that all who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

When the apostle Paul faced hardship and suffering, he wrote to Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy. 1:12). Paul’s faith was based on the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want a faith that perseveres in the trials of this life, trust in Jesus because of who He is, not just because of what He can do for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is following Jesus a one-time decision or a daily decision? Why?
  2. Do we have the tendency to look at God as some cosmic genie that fulfills our wishes? How can we guard against that?
  3. What are some things that make it difficult for you to follow Jesus?
  4. What does the phrase “we must follow Jesus because of who He is, not because of what He can do for us” mean to you?
  5. What is one thing you can do this week to begin to follow Jesus or to follow him more closely?

God In Our Circumstances

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

As a pastor, some of the most common questions I’ve received have do to with guidance from God. What is God’s will for my life? Is God leading me to take this new job? Does God want me to marry this person? Could God be pointing me in a new direction for my life? How do I know if is God opening a door?

Of course the question of how God guides us isn’t just a pastoral matter for me. Ever since I first put my faith in Jesus Christ, I’ve been understandably eager to do what God wants me to do. That is if I know what He wants. It would be a lot easier if God simply told me what he wanted, especially if He told me what He wanted in a one-to-one conversation. I would get started as soon as the conversation was over. But of course, that doesn’t happen, nor do we get texts, emails or tweets from God either. We can learn to see God’s hand in our lives through both positive and negative circumstances; through open and closed doors. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers explains that not everything that happens to us as Christians makes human sense. “To turn head faith into a personal possession is a fight always, not sometimes. God brings us into circumstances in order to exercise our faith.”

In Acts, 16 the Apostle Paul and Silas were in Philippi, where they shared the good news of Jesus with a man and his family (Acts 16:14-34). The whole household believed the message and all members were immediately baptized. How did Paul and Silas get to the home of this man and his family? Not through intuition. Not through dreams or angelic visions. Not through biblical interpretation. Rather, they got there through circumstances, rather odd circumstances at that. The man was a jailer who had been assigned to guard two prisoners, Paul and Silas.

Here’s the story –  Paul and Silas got in trouble with the authorities when they cast an evil spirit out of a girl who had been making money for her masters. Seeing their source of money taken away, they grabbed Paul and Silas and accused them before the civic leaders of Philippi: “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us.” (vs. 20-21) The officials had the Christians beaten and thrown into prison.

Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and praising God. All of a sudden, a great earthquake shook the prison, knocking the chains off the prisoners. “The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (vs. 27-28) In shock, the jailer fell instead at the feet of the missionaries. He then took them to his home, where they proceeded to convert him and his entire family.

Looking at the Acts in its entirety, it is hard to believe that the visit of Paul and Silas to the jailer’s home was a mere coincidence. Though not identified explicitly in this passage, the Holy Spirit was directing the action of Acts 16, just as the Spirit oversaw the mission of Christ throughout Acts. The Spirit got Paul and Silas into the jailer’s home by manipulating circumstances, some of which were obviously miraculous, others of which appeared on the surface to be ordinary.

The Bible is full of stories in which God’s guidance comes, not by word or vision, but through circumstances. Such stories can also fill Christian communities where people seek God’s direction. God often clearly demonstrates His plan for our lives by lining up circumstances in obvious ways. And He also shows us what not to do in that same way. We often don’t realize the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit until we look back in retrospect. But, later on, we see how God wove events together to accomplish His will in our lives.

Of course, the skeptic would deny that God was involved with such things. “Mere coincidence!” would be the claim. But sometimes the coincidences are so astounding that I find it very, very hard to believe anything other than God is guiding the events. I draw from the experiences of people I have known during my years as a pastor. There is no doubt in my mind that the guidance of the Holy Spirit often comes through the circumstances of our lives.

Discussion Question:

  1. What circumstances brought you into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
  2. Have you experienced God opening and closing doors?
  3. Do you approach God’s will differently depending on positive or negative circumstances?
  4. How can we trust God more in our circumstances?
  5. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to see your circumstances as opportunities in His will.

Walking In His Will

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:1-5.

If I had a five-dollar bill for every time I’ve been asked, “What’s God’s will for my life,” I would be a wealthy man. The frequency with which this question comes up provides some keen insight into just how important it is to many people. It should be important. We all want to know, “Why am I here and what should I be doing?”

The will of God for our lives is not some high-sounding theory; it is reality. Over the next few days we will look at this subject in more detail. The bottom line is that we have to live out His will in the real world.

Knowing God’s will requires patience, and for many of us that is not our strong suit. We want to know all of God’s will at once, but that’s not how God usually works. He reveals His will and His plan to us a step at a time—each move a step of faith—in an effort to grow our trust in Him. Here’s what we need to remember. While we wait for further direction, we need to be busy doing the good that we know to do. James 4:17 tells us: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

In business and in life we know all the specifics: How many credit hours I need to get my degree. How long it takes to drive to the school, what our spouse expects of us, etc. Often, we want God to give us the specifics—where to work, where to live, whom to marry, what car to buy, etc. Free will is in play here. God allows us to make choices, but if we are yielded to Him, He has ways of preventing wrong choices. “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to…” (Acts 16:6–7).

The better we get to know a person, the more acquainted we become with his or her desires. For example, a child may instinctively want to run across a street to chase an errant ball, but doesn’t because he or she remembers the words of caution from their dad. The child will grow, and over time will not need to ask a parent for advice on every situation – they now know their parents thinking because they know their parents very well. The same is true in our relationship to God. As we walk with the Lord, obeying His Word and relying on His Spirit, we find that we are given the mind of Christ. “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16). We know Him, and that helps us to know His will. We find God’s guidance readily available. “The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.” (Proverbs 11:5).

Doing God’s will demands a decision. And that decision requires faith and action. You can’t see the end, so you have to trust Him in faith and then step out. You have to act. Faith and obedience naturally go together.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does what I am doing or planning to do conflict with scripture? With the counsel of others? With my life experiences?
  2. Would you consider yourself a proactive or reactive person in seeking the will of God? Which would you prefer?
  3. How does having the mind of Christ help us discover God’s will for our lives? We have the mind of Christ by remembering what Christ did for us. What steps can you take to stop and reflect and rest in this reality more often?
  4. Read John 14:26 and John 15:26: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in having the mind of Christ?
  5. Pray that God will open your eyes daily to His will in your life.

You Asked For It

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C.S. Lewis

  • What does it mean to be in Christ?
  • What is the Christian life supposed to be like?
  • How can we recognize the voice of God?
  • What is Christian discipleship?
  • How can I know when God is telling me to do something?
  • How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?
  • What is true worship? How can I worship the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24)?
  • How can believers be in the world, but not of the world?
  • What is spiritual growth?
  • Why does God allow us to go through trials and tribulations?
  • How are we to submit to God?
  • How do I get a passion for Jesus and keep that passion burning?
  • How can I experience joy in my Christian life?

I believe C.S Lewis is exactly right. If you want to be comfortable, then Christianity may not be your thing. Once you have asked all your questions, weighed all the evidence, and tested all the arguments, and accepted Jesus as your personal savior, you have embarked on a journey of living as a child of God. This will involve a growing in maturity, sometimes slowly, as we grow in our love, knowledge and service of God. Having said this, there is also the reality of living in our broken world, with the bombardments of that world coming at us from every angle. We will have additional questions. Nearly everyone does–believers and unbelievers alike. Have you ever wished for a concise, understandable response that will satisfy both the mind and the heart?

It is amazing how many times people ask questions that they think no one else has asked and certainly no one has ever answered. During the month of July we will look at some of the questions you have based on a survey we did. The series, You Asked For It, started this week with the question – “how can I know God’s will for my life?”  I will address the question of knowing God’s will over the next few days, but in this devotional I want to give you my thoughts on some very basic questions.

First, why am I a Christian? Ultimately, because Jesus Christ showed and persuaded me that what He did on the cross perfectly met my need before God as a sinner. Jesus showed me that His resurrection from the dead meant that he could supply me with all the power I’d need to be his follower. And that means through thick and thin, through the trials and joys of this life. Jesus showed me that I could trust his promise that, in spite of all that’s wrong in my heart and life, He would keep loving and forgiving me and bring me safely through this life.

Second, why am I still a Christian? As you heard me say many times, a life with Jesus is so much better than a life without Him. He helped me to grow. I’m not what I ought to be – but I know that I’m not what I was. I know that there’s nobody else like Jesus. Why would I not want to be a Christian? Where else would I go, either now for a relationship with the living God, or in eternity?
We are continually faced with questions that challenge our belief systems. This isn’t a bad thing, and much of Jesus’s ministry revolved around asking questions. In the end, thoughtfully examining our faith promotes a spirituality that is healthy, honest, genuine, and mature.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have questions? Where do you go for the answers? Did you get your questions answered?
  2. How would you answer the question, “why am I a Christian?”
  3. How would you answer the question “why am I still a Christian?”