We Put The “Fun” in Dysfunctional

Cities tolerate crazy people, Companies don’t. – Geoffrey West

Most people have at least one crazy person in their lives. It can be just about anyone. It can be someone in one of our relationships, but it could be your spouse. “The longer we are married, the crazier he or she seems to get until we put a plaque on our wall that says ‘But as for me and my crazy household, we will serve the LORD.’”

We hear things like: “home is where my crazy husband lives.” Or  “families are a like sundae, they have a few nuts like my wife.” Or “weirdness doesn’t run in my family, it gallops.” And “I don’t have a favorite child, they all annoy me equally.”  Then there is the “I check the kids into Kids programs at Northstar. Too bad I can’t check my husband into one as well.” And finally, “but remember when we get to church, or as far as anyone knows, we are a normal family.”

Ah, the wonder of marriage. The dirty socks on the floor. Being late. The way he chews. Putting his feet up on the furniture. Honey, it was on sale.  Finishing her sentences. He sits on the couch watching sports and pretends he’s listening to you by saying “uh huh” every once in a while. Crying and then the occasional wailing. The wet towel left on the bathroom floor. The snoring. Constant criticism.

Like the relentless drip of a leaky faucet, those small, more typical than crazy things erode the goodwill that underlies all relationships and in its place conflict grows like crazy. Gradually, you begin looking for evidence that your spouse is a little wacky—and of course you find it. Irritations are inevitable in relationships. It’s just not possible to find another human being whose every quirk, habit, and preference aligns perfectly with yours. We each have differing values and ways of looking at the world, and we want different things from each other. You don’t just live with your spouse in your home, you also have to live with them in your head. It is a matter of perspective. The same can be true of other relationships as well.

It was actor Chris Pine who said, “The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” That makes sense to me. It requires some thought and asking the question: Do you you need to change your perspective on conflict? The answer is yes if we don’t factor God into the equation.

When we are involved in conflict, we must decide whether or not we will trust God. If we do not trust God, we will inevitably place our trust in ourself or someone else, which ultimately leads to the conflict deepening and remaining unresolved. On the other hand, if we believe that God is sovereign and that He will never let anything into our life unless it can be used for good (Romans 8:28), we will see conflicts not as accidents, but as assignments and opportunities.

This kind of trust glorifies God and inspires the faithfulness needed for effective resolution of relational conflicts. When we invest time in our relationship with God, He will pour out His love on us and at the same time gently convicting us that we need to change and that Jesus is our life-changer. John 16:8-11 says, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

This week, pull the focus off of the conflict itself and develop God’s view. It will make sense of all the crazy around you.

Discussion Questions:
1.  Do you experience conflict from little crazy things?

2. Do you trust God or yourself in the midst of crazy moments?

3. What is the first step you can take to begin trusting God in the midst of conflict?

4. Pray and ask God to lean on Him in every conflict.

Conflict And The Bible

Benjamin Franklin is known for famously saying, “but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” To that we can add conflict.

Conflict is inevitable. Whenever people are involved, there will be conflict. Normal relationships, even healthy relationships, encounter conflict occasionally. That is true whether the relationship involves family members, friends or co-workers; and even within the church. We are often surprised when conflict develops among believers, but because a church is made up of people, conflict is inevitable at times.

Conflict is never fun, and it never gets easier no matter how much practice we get at trying. No relationship is immune. We are afraid to confront our mother-in-law about undermining discipline with our kids. Or we think it would weird to tell our brother about drinking less. Or it is potentially damaging to tell the boss you don’t approve of his lack of ethics. Resolving conflict can harm relationships. Fortunately, we have a guidebook, a set of guardrails, a source of solutions and wisdom, and a general guide for life’s journey; the Bible. Here are a few verses that speak to the subject of conflict:

You are more willing to listen to them than speak to them. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”– James 1:19

You regularly pray for them. “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Corinthians 1:4

Your speech builds them up. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

You quickly repent when you are harsh to them – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

You are quick to guard your tongue so you do not hurt them. “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” – Psalm 141:3

You speak wisdom to them so you can serve them. “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction.” – Proverbs 16:23

You are selective in your speech so you do not sin against them. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” – Proverbs 10:19

You carry them in your heart. “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Conflict is a part of relationships. The more intentional we are at allowing conflict to promote and maintain healthy relationships, the greater our success will be in dealing with conflict. Rather than viewing all conflict as a painful part of life, let’s begin to see it as God building stronger, God-honoring relationships.

Discussion Questions:
1. How would you rate your ability to handle conflict? What is your biggest weakness?
2. What is ultimately the root cause of conflict?
3. What differentiates biblical conflict resolution from worldly conflict resolution?
4. So how should Christians respond to conflict? Why?
5. Which of the above verses would help you most in resolving conflict today?
6. Pray and ask God to give you the wisdom to deal with conflict.

Abraham And The Art Of Conflict

In the last devotional, I talked about the fact that there are battles to fight and battles to let go of because at the end of the day, it is not a case of having conflict, but how we handle conflict.

God’s word contains many opportunities and many solutions for resolving conflict. One such place is in Genesis 13:1-18. In this passage of Scripture, we see a conflict brewing between two family units: Abram (Abraham), and Lot, who is Abraham’s nephew. The conflict concerned the right to land use. It seems the shepherds working for Abraham and Lot were arguing over whose flocks should have precedence when it came to grazing.

Abram, being more interested in having a relationship with his nephew, suggested that they separate and that Lot take his choice of the land. Abram considered Lot before he considered himself. Some would call that commendable, while others would suggest that was not a wise decision, because the other party could easily take advantage of him.

This passage of scripture gives us several tips on how to resolve our relational conflicts. One is maturity. Immaturity in a relationship will cause conflict rather than solve it. In this story,  Abram said, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me.” These words are a picture of maturity and what maturity should produce in a believer. Humility arises in the heart of a Christ follower and asks: What is God’s way of solving this? What is the MOST important thing here? What is the greater answer to this conflict?

Second tip. Who wins in this story? Some would say Lot because he was given first choice of land. Sometimes the best option is to put aside our interests and allow the other person to have his/her way. Yes, it is natural to hold out for what we want. When conflict occurs, even when trying to preserve relationships, we tend to think, “If I don’t look after my own interest, who will?” Compromise can be an option. In fact, when we consider the interest of others, we can receive the greater benefit. Abram considered Lot before himself and, as a result, received the greater blessing. Abram let Lot have first choice of which land should be his. God was pleased with Abram’s unselfish choice and told him all of that land would someday belong to his descendants. In contrast, Lot’s selfish choice meant that he moved near the wicked city of Sodom.

The third tip is having faith. In the Bible’s hall of fame in Hebrews 11, candid pictures are given of great men whose faith stands out in Old Testament history. Most are descendants of Abraham. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Faith in God means that Abram didn’t need to worry about who won and who lost, or whether his ox was getting gored. He left it to God because of his faith.

So can we.

Discussion Questions.
1. Why were Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen quarreling? Who chose first?
2. Did Lot make the best choice? If you didn’t know the outcome, would you choose as Lot did? Why or why not?
3. Genesis 15:1:” After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 22:17 says,”I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies.” Would holding onto God’s promises make a difference in how we handle conflicts? Why or why not?
4. What does it mean to live by faith? How does this affect our relationships?
5. How do you live in faith? So often, we live as if faith means bringing God into our little story when it’s convenient to do so. How do we elevate our faith?

Conflict And Confrontation: Who Wants That?

In 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was trying desperately to end the looming conflict between his country and Hitler’s Germany. His policy, one of appeasement, was to give Hitler what he wanted in order to avoid war. In reality, Chamberlain’s appeasement policy made war more likely because Hitler thought he could get away with anything. Could he have prevented the war if he took a different course of action? History suggests war was inevitable. But it does prove what each of us instinctively know; that resolving conflict is not simple and running away or ignoring it is never the answer.

The word conflict often stirs up negative emotions in us. Our comfortable, compartmentalized little world where we just get along in total harmony with those around us is suddenly littered with a pothole or two. A great day at the office or home suddenly becomes a day full of fear, pain or anger as conflict interrupts our perfectly self-designed environment and plans.

Neville Chamberlain must likely realized that whatever position he took, the conflict was inevitable. So should we fear conflict? Should we avoid conflict at all costs? Common sense suggests that there are some conflicts we should avoid if at all possible. For example, if you are driving your car and suddenly someone cuts you off, it is best to avoid the conflict especially if it involves retaliation. Tempers and egos may flare, accelerating an emotional situation out of control and jeopardizing your safety and the safety of others. Also, it is probably a good idea to avoid conflict and argument when a gun is pointed in your direction. In most cases, discretion is surely the better part of valor in those instances.

But what about conflict between husbands and wives or in other relationships. Should we avoid conflict at all costs in those instances at the risk of a short-term peace that might fester and cause serious damage in the future? Or should we embrace conflict in hopes of resolving the issue?

Jesus was often in conflict with the Pharisees. He was also often in conflict with His disciples, who had a hard time understanding His teachings and why He came to earth. Jesus always had not only the perfect answer, but being God, He knew the perfect way to deliver His message of love and truth. Unfortunately we as humans are not the Son of God. So we must move forward as best we can in facing conflict and seeking a resolution that honors God and those we are in conflict with whether it be husband, wife, brother, daughter, neighbor, Northstar Group member, etc. .

During this week we will be talking about conflict. Let’s start with what I consider the basics. First, when a conflict arises, we first need to gauge its importance. Christians have arguments over when Jesus will come again. Yes, Jesus coming again is a very big deal. Matthew 25:13 tells us: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” That verse tells us this is not conflict worthy. There are little annoyances in every relationship that is not worth jeopardizing the relationship by starting a conflict. In those cases, we should let it go.

But if the issue rises above the insignificant, we must determine if our motive is improving the relationship or just getting our way. In other words, is the discussion one where both parties in the relationship are open to gaining knowledge, understanding and wisdom? Or are we simply out to prove how smart and right we are? These conflicts where we want our way or want to prove we were right don’t often end well.

To end well, humility needs to be present. We must state our case with grace, realizing that communication is more art than science. If you disagree with something you hear from your spouse, sibling, neighbor etc., approach the conflict with an open mind and heart. Tell them what you heard and give them the opportunity to explain what they meant to say—it may differ from what you think you heard. Go in with an attitude seeking clarification, not justification.

Lastly, is your motivation in the conflict one where both parties can benefit from the discussion and one where God is glorified? Are you open to an exchange of ideas and interpretations that will build each other up? Or is your goal to prove your “superiority” in spiritual or practical matters?

We shouldn’t always shy away from conflict. Rather let us pursue it with wisdom, humility and grace—along with a willingness to learn. Every conflict is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken our relationships.

Discussion Questions:
1. Have you ever been in seemingly intractable conflict and didn’t know what to do or how to get out of it? If so, what happened? What went well, if anything? What would you have done differently, if anything?
2. When two parties are in conflict, which one should take the first step to initiate the peacemaking process? Why?
3. Pray and ask God for wisdom to handle conflict in a way that glorifies Him.

All You Need Is Love

Permit me to get thoughtful for a moment. Have you ever stopped and reflected on the love of God? Have you ever used your intellect and deductive reasoning to come to grips with the expanse and depth of that love? Have you ever let that fully sink in? Have you ever tried to reconcile how a holy perfect God could love the real me?

You could spend countless day and nights racking your brain and killing a whole bunch of brain cells and never comprehend the love of God. The fact is God will never love you more than He does today, in this second. God won’t love me less when I royally screw up, or love me more when I do right. 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

I’m not saying that behavior isn’t important, I am saying that God’s love is unconditional and isn’t based on whether the good side of my ledger outweighs the bad side. God doesn’t love us because we are lovable, He loves us because He is love and His love never fails. No matter how many times I meditate or think on His love, and bask in its simplicity, it still blows my mind. I will never lose the wonder of it all.

What does this have to do with sabotage and relationships? Everything. Jesus says in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another.” Using God’s love as the standard, it seems a tall task to love others as Jesus loved us. However, it is the solution to most if not all of our relational issues and challenges. As we become to be more Christlike in love, we demonstrate humility, the ability to forgive and forget, and to have patience and kindness. It will be hard to sabotage a relationship, at least from your end, if you love as Jesus loves you.

Let me clarify something: When we say love, we are not talking about the the valentine, mushy, stars in your eyes, dewy-eyed, moonstruck love. I’m talking about authentic love, the kind of love that endures through hardship and is strengthened through trials and over time. The kind of love that mends relationships, brings families closer together and forgives and forgets. A love that is patient, kind, unselfish, and sacrificial.

So how can we do that? How do we love as God loved us? We can start by loving God. What would be your first response if someone asked, “Do you love God?” Think about your answer for a moment. You may say a quick, definitive “yes!” You may be unsure and are struggling with how it would sound to say “no” to that question.

Deuteronomy 6:5 God says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Many years later, when Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment, he simply quoted this verse from the Old Testament, adding that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves too (see Mark 12:28-34).

What does it mean to love God? Part of the answer involves our realization that God loves us. The answer becomes clearer as we experience a growing desire to spend time with God, responding to His love with worship and praise. We can do this alone, but I find that joining others in worship and praise to God can have a powerful effect on our awareness of His presence and love. Another part of the answer comes when we realize that though we can’t see or touch God, we can see and touch and serve other people. We love God back by loving others He loves, including fellow Christians.

Here’s how the apostle John put the issue: “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.” (1 John 4:16-21)

Learning to love God is a lifetime process that starts with an acknowledgment of His love for us and grows as we learn to serve and love others.

If you wish to have more information on God’s love, let me suggest two books. The first one is  “Love Beyond Reason: Moving God’s Love from Your Head to Your Heart,” by John Ortberg. And second, “Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God,” by Francis Chan.

Discussion questions:
1. How do you perceive God? As a loving Father? As a harsh disciplinarian? As a trusted friend? Is it hard to accept the unconditional nature of God’s love because you have only ever experienced conditional love?
2. Do you remember when you first “got it?” That you loved God? What did that moment feel like?
3. Do you have any idea how much God loves you? Does it actually affect how you live? Describe a time when you truly felt the love of God. Do trials and tribulations cause you to question the love of God?
4. At the end of the day ask yourself this question: “Did I show the love of God today?”
5. Pray and ask God that your love for Him would become transformational and that God would be the transforming agent.

The Feeling Is Mutual

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:21

In Sunday’s message we talked about the principle of mutual submission. This principle means that every member of the family should submit themselves to one another, not for the people in the family, but because of reverence for what Christ did for us. This principle actually applies to any relationship.

Paul tells us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Jesus is our model. He came as a servant, submitting His whole life to those He served. Mark 10:45 tells us, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” So out of reverence for Christ, we too are to submit ourselves to one another.

The notion of submission bears no sense of inferiority. Contrary to what some people may think, the Bible is clear that men and women are equal in value. Men and women are equally created in the image of God (Genesis. 1:27). Men and women are given co-dominion over the earth (Genesis.1:28). In regards to salvation, there is no distinction between gender, age, or race (Galatians 3:28). And spiritual gifts are given equally to both genders (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

How can there be a sense of inferiority if Christ is our model? No one is going to suggest that Jesus was inferior to those He came to serve. And it’s mutual submission He’s talking about, not the dominance of one over another.

So exactly how does that work? Let me give you a few examples. For wives that means working together with a husband, not toiling for a master, or seeking to overcome an adversary. For a husband, it will mean not dominating his wife, but sacrificing himself in order to serve the one who is joined to him in unity. For the child, it will mean obeying parents because God has placed them in families. For parents it will mean providing a loving environment where children will grow to independence, loving and serving Christ. For employees, it will mean serving our employers with enthusiasm and commitment, while for employers it will mean treating employees the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.

Mutual submission assumes that the other person in the relationship is of no less value than me. Mutual submission means saying through your actions and words that “I am here for you” and “How can I help you?” Mutual submission means being considerate of one another, caring for one another’s needs, being thoughtful of one another, and caring for one another in a way that puts the interests of the other party first. The byproducts of mutual submission are love, cooperation, loyalty, humility and respect.

The key to mutual submission is found in Ephesians 5, verses 18 and 21: “…be filled with the Spirit” and “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit living within us would help us to change our natural inclinations so we can be more Christ-like in our willingness to serve and to submit.

Discussion Questions:
1. What do you think mutual submission looks like?
2. What does love have to do with mutual submission? What part does love play in your picture of mutual submission?
3. How does the world’s use of power and submission differ from God’s use? Should we use God or scriptures or guilt to make someone submissive?
4. What is one obstacle to practicing mutual submission? How can you overcome that obstacle?
5. In what relationship do you need to ask, “I am here for you” and “what can I do to help?”

The Gift Of Humility

“If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility.” – Augustine

Pride is defined as a “feeling of deep pleasure derived from ones own achievements or from qualities and possessions greatly desired.” In a nutshell, pride is all about me. We know it is there. We also know it can do real damage to our relationships. And add to that the fact that God hates pride and you have ample reason to subdue, and even better, eradicate pride from our hearts. But how? It is not all that easy. And it certainly can’t be done quickly or by reading the daily devotional. But having said all that, let me give you a few points to consider as we work to remove pride from our lives.

It starts with humility. Humility requires change and change requires that we have “the fear of the Lord” in our hearts. Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” According to this verse, every heart that fears the Lord will not entertain any prideful thought or attitude. Whereas pride teaches one to take glory for himself, the fear of the Lord instructs us to give all honor to God. Concentrating on God, in awe and fear of what He has done for us, will help us avoid pride and the behavior that results from pride in our lives. Start this week by giving glory to God for every progress and achievement in our lives.

The next step is to actively pursue humility in our hearts. Pride, in Proverbs, is seen as directly opposed or contrasted to humility. Proverbs 18:12 says, “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” To be “haughty” is to be proud because a haughty person thinks that he or she is better than others, and tries to show off their abilities for personal recognition. On the other hand, a humble person will shy away from self-glory and be submissive to God and others. When a person is not self-centered and focused on humility, it is hard for pride to take root in their heart.

Lastly, cultivate friendships with humble people. Doing life with those who understand humility will help deflect pride. Proverbs 16:19 says, “Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.” When your friends are humble people, you will learn to emulate them. But if your close friends are arrogant, you may emulate them my adjusting your attitudes and actions to suit theirs.

Curing ourselves of our pride will most likely be a painful process. Losing our selfish pride means learning to live only for the glory of God. Losing our selfish pride means learning to live without being in control of our lives. Losing our selfish pride means means becoming more like Him.

All I know is that I cannot overcome this sin on my own, and I will not overcome it quickly. Even in my pride, I recognize the fact that I am too weak to overcome sin on my own, I need to trust in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to strengthen me for this battle.

Discussion Questions:
1. How do you define pride? How does pride show up in a relationship? What are some of the destructive results of pride?
2. Humility is the cure for pride. What is your definition of humility? Why is humility so important in our relationships? How do you know if you are humble?
3. Read the following verses: Proverbs 11:2, 18:12, 22:4; Micah 6:8 and James 3:13. From these passages, what does the Bible say about humility?
4. Read 1 Peter 5:5-7. In this passage, the Bible says to “clothe” yourself with humility. What does that look like? How do you clothe yourself with humility?
5. Pray and ask God for His help in identifying and working on the areas of pride in our lives and relationships.

Pride Goes Before A Fall

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” – Daniel 4:37

Maybe you have heard the stories of Nebuchadnezzar, but in case you have not, Daniel, Chapter 4 details the story of Nebuchadnezzar, king in the land of Babylonia. He invaded and defeated Judah, including the city of Jerusalem, ruthlessly killed the inhabitants and took thousands of people captive back to Babylonia including Daniel. Daniel records a few of the king’s activities, including the building of a golden image. After building the golden image, Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree that his all his people were to bow down to it. The golden image symbolized his invincibility. No other king or kingdom could overpower him.

But this “invincible” king was about to learn a valuable lesson that God is sovereign, a lesson he would learn the hard way.

Nebuchadnezzar, proud of his splendor and majesty, aspired to surpass his God-given position of honor, and decided go beyond it. The king had a dream. His wise men were unable to interpret the team so Daniel, who was successful in the past of revealing the dream as well as the what the dream meant, was called.

The dream is a large strong tree that had leaves and fruit but it was cut down and all that was left was the stump. Daniel interpreted the dream and told the king the tree represented him and for seven years he would have the heart of an animal and would behave as an animal for those years. His kingdom would not be taken away from him, although he would be too incapacitated to govern. Daniel appeals to the king in verse 27: “Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

For a period of twelve months, nothing happened. But in verses 29-30 we read the following: “Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Verse 31-33 tells us what happens next. “Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”

Only when he returned to humbling himself before God and acknowledging God’s sovereignty over his life, was he restored back to the kingdom. And he admitted at the end of verse 36 that “… those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” Even the most powerful person. Even kings.

A study of history will reveal any number of great people who fell victim to their pride. Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and others will go down as major history lessons for all of us to see what pride, arrogance, and a haughty spirit can do to a person and his life.

But what about us? We are not great people or kings. Pride can affect us and our relationships just as easily as the more visible examples in history. We need to ask ourselves if we have blind spots that have been created because we did not recognize pride in my life. And what has been the impact of that pride in our relationships?

My prayer is that God will teach us in the Sabotage series the truth of Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

Tomorrow we will take about the antidote for pride; humility.

Discussion Questions.
1. Read Daniel 4. How would you entitle this chapter?
2. In Verse 4, the king said he was contented and prosperous. When things are going well in your own life, does this make you more vulnerable to pride?
3. Thinking of yourself as a tree, have you ever been cut down to size? What were the circumstances? Do you think that God was involved? How did you feel afterward?
4. Why do you suppose that God allowed a year to pass before fulfilling the dream?
5. If someone were to give you advice as Daniel did to Nebuchadnezzar in Verse 27, what would it be?
6. Pray that God will teach you to listen to his direction in your life.

Me, Myself and Pride

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” – C.S. Lewis

Pride is one of those things that we don’t like to talk about. Pride is dangerous. Like blood pressure, pride can lurk below the surface, undetected, causing all kinds of damage. But unlike high blood pressure, pride is a spiritual disease that we all have in one degree or another. Often, we don’t even realize it’s there, and by the time we head down that slope, we don’t even know how to get back up.

It was C.S. Lewis who once said that the source of all vice is pride. Other sins are birthed out of pride. The reason why we lie is because we want to keep a good image, make a great showing. That is pride. The reason why we gossip is because we want you to know that we know; pride. I decided not to wait on God because I believe I can get this done; pride. Sin was introduced into the world when Adam and Eve acted independently of God, believing that they could become like him; pride. The Scriptures, C.S. Lewis, and my experience shows me that pride is one of the main catalysts for every sin. Jonathan Edwards said that “pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. It is the most difficult sin to root out, and the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts.”

Pride can appear in the most innocuous ways, even in church. We started Northstar in a funeral home with a few dozen people. And now we have five locations, 8 services, not counting online, and several thousand people. I am completely awed by God. We haven’t just made history here, we’ve made eternity. It would be easy for the staff to take some of the the credit. “We worked really hard on our environments.” “We had some good ideas when you look at our success.” The truth is we have a great staff and I would never minimize their contributions, but if we take the credit for what God has clearly accomplished, that is pride. For the record,  the Northstar leadership team knows that God is the reason for our success. There is no other plausible explanation.

Pride affects our relationships with people regardless of what type of relationship we are in: pride makes a husband refuse to admit his faults, but is quick to blame his wife; pride makes a daughter unwilling to change, and is always right; pride makes an employee unteachable and refusing to be open to genuine instruction; pride makes a brother blame others and always has a plan for how it should be done; pride convinces a church member that all his theological beliefs are correct and other people are wrong; pride drives a mom to say that her children will never act like those other kids: pride motivates a neighbor to want more possessions, power, and prestige.

Pride can appear in every facet of our life and is one of those areas where many people struggle. We are always right, always first, always in control, and always the most important. We want everything to revolve around us and to be for us.

For the remainder of this week, we will delve into the subject of pride in more detail and address the most important question: How do we root out the pride that threatens our relationships, including our relationship with God?

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you crave attention, honor, recognition, or reward? Do you become jealous or critical of people who succeed? Do you always have to win? Do you lack ambition for fear of failing?
2. Do you have a pattern of lying about or hiding your failures? Do you have a hard time fully acknowledging you were wrong?
3. Do you struggle more with pride against God or others?
4. Pray and ask God to help identify and help you with the areas of pride this week.

”Use Your Words”

Most parents experience the “be careful what you ask for you may just get it” principle in their lives. As much as the cooing of a baby is so cute, we simply can’t wait until he or she starts talking. “Use your words,” we tell them when they are having trouble telling us what they want. Then the chilling reality hits you. As soon as the child learns how to string words together, they chatter nonstop. They become uber inquisitive and ask a million questions. And loudly too. We stop asking them to use their words. Instead, we wonder how their vocabulary got so big so fast. Sit them down with some activity, like coloring or puzzles and let them converse with themselves for hours.

Some of us have brought our fondness for talking into adulthood. And that includes praying. Praying is a conversation, an opportunity to use our words to tell Him about our ups and downs, our triumphs and struggles and our needs. It is a time to ask God to help in those areas where we need help. Chatting with God is as easy, or maybe even easier, than chatting with another person. For those of us who thrive on communicating verbally, prayer is the best of all worlds. We can talk as much as we want and someone who holds the universe in His hands is listening.

Psalm 66:16-20 says: “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”

What we can sometimes forget when we are communicating with God is that communication is a two-way street, even though sometimes it may not feel like it. And we cannot forget that a relationship involves two, not one. Prayer is a conversation. God doesn’t just hear our words, He also responds. So it is more than just talking to God, it’s about listening to Him as well. The bottom line is this: God earnestly desires to talk to us and spend time with us through prayer. And what I discovered is that having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about using the “right” words, spiritual techniques, twisting God’s arm, or trying to live a perfect life. It is about knowing Him. To have that relationship, we have to learn to listen to God, not just talk to Him.

There is a family in the church who lost a child. They never questioned their core belief in God. Rather, they were were clinging to their personal understanding and faith in God and His promises, seeking answers on their knees in prayer. “Why did this happen?” “God, talk to me, show me the good in this.” “Touch my heart, Lord.” They had a longing to experience God—to feel the love, strength, and comfort of Jesus. They were praying using all the words they could think of and it didn’t seem like anyone was listening. There were no answers.

And then they did something that is hard for most people to do. They stopped talking. They became quiet. They tried to clear their mind of all the clutter, emotions and questions and focused on being still. In that stillness, God gently said “I am here.” And there was peace that no amount of words could match. The experience was not supernatural. It was not the loud, deep voice you hear in movies. It was more an awareness of His presence. The family believes God’s presence was there all the time, but was drowned out by all the noise in their lives at that time. The stillness heightened the awareness of God’s presence, His will, and His guidance. The family discovered that when we face turmoil and desperate times in our lives, we don’t just need answers from God, we need God.

So while there may not be many lulls in the conversation when using our words,  there is power in being quiet and listening to God and to allow our prayers to become a dialogue with the one who holds our lives in His hands.

Discussion Questions:
1. Are there times when it seems our prayers/words are not getting through to God?
2. Are we better listeners with people than with God? Do we need answers from God or do we need God?
3. When praying, do we leave God an opening to communicate with us? Do we leave an opening for God to talk about something else that may be more important?
4. What areas of your life have you received guidance from God? Do we thank God for His guidance? Did you trust the guidance and more importantly, act on it?
5. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to hear His voice and His direction in our lives.