The Power Of An Apology

“A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged: he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.” ” – G.K. Chesterton.  

In the sitcom of the late ’70s and ’80s called Happy Days, there was a character that was the essence of cool. He established hair combing and leather jackets as standards in the culture—he was the Fonze.  When the Fonze pounded on a jukebox or snapped his fingers, his actions were cool because the Fonze was cool. Nobody could beat the Fonz in a fight and he never had a hair out of place. But there was one thing the Fonz could not do. He could not apologize. Every once in a while, Fonzie would mess up, and while he knew that he should, he couldn’t bring himself to make an apology.

Many people have complicated feelings about apologies, and not all of our thoughts and feelings about apologies line up. Some people feel shamed by apologizing while others feel ashamed until we have done so.

“I am sorry.”  No matter how difficult it may seem to say these words, they are among the most important words in our lives. And once we say them, there’s a sense of freedom and relief. Instead of making us look weak, these words bring us closer to each other. To say “I’m sorry” does not cause us to lose others’ respect. In fact, the opposite is true. Learning to use these powerful words takes us a long way toward healing in our relationships. A good apology demonstrates awareness and an acknowledgment of the pain we caused others. It shows true remorse and takes full responsibility for one’s actions. And it seeks to make amends while committing to change.

But too often we don’t do it or we don’t say it very well.  We become defensive.  Or we offer apologies that don’t seem to be given in good faith. If we are honest, we would have to admit that we have all given them. “ Sorry…I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.” Or “I’m sorry you can’t take a joke.”  Such apologies will do little to heal any hurt or make amends for the hurt we may have caused.

Too often people come to us to apologize or we go to them to apologize even though we are not going to change. It is hard to forgive someone if they are going to make that same mistake next week or next month. The whole I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, I’m sorry I did it again routine gets old and frustrating real quick. It gets to the point where you don’t take the apology very seriously which is why it is difficult to comprehend how God does it. 

It would be hard to calculate how many times the average Christian has said “I am sorry” to God. Or how many times we were sorry, again. And again. Or for that matter, how many times we were sorry and this was the absolute last time we will have to say we are sorry. God forgives us knowing we will sin again. And His “know” isn’t a prediction like ours, He really knows. Yet, He forgives. And forgives. It is truly amazing. 

As difficult as apologizing sometimes is, it helps us grow to be more like Jesus by humbling us and teaching us about grace.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it so difficult to apologize? 
  2. Read Matthew 5:23-24. What does Jesus say about asking for forgiveness? What makes this difficult?

Being Like Jesus For Five Minutes

“Be imitators of God in everything you do, for then you will represent your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance.” – Ephesians 5:1-2 (TPT). 

The imitation of Christ is our goal in 2022 and every year going forward. There should not be a gap between the Christ we proclaim verbally and the Christ we present visibly in how we live our lives.  

But how? What does it look like to imitate God, the incomprehensible, glorious omnipotent God? Well, we certainly can’t imitate God totally; try as we might, we simply cannot become omniscient. What Paul is telling us is we grow as we imitate the love of God.  In other words, true imitation of God looks like loving others just as Christ loved others: loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors.

It is such a tall order that it towers over us and we can easily dismiss it as being impossible. It is an impossible challenge to be like God.  However, Scripture commands it. Jesus says, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). Peter says, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16). God calls us to be just like Himself.

Imitating Jesus all the time is impossible. It is easier to start with small incremental goals; for example five minute increments. Follow Jesus in five-minute increments. Can I obey Jesus 300 seconds in the things that I do and say? And then for another 300 seconds, and another 300. We may think we can obey Jesus for a whole day, but it is doubtful. But when we face tough situations, temptations, or interactions, what if we just ask ourselves a simple question: Could I tolerate this person who is kind of difficult to be around for 300 seconds? Could I stay calm in a traffic jam for 300 seconds? Can I invest 300 seconds every morning for quiet time? Whatever comes next in my life, I just need to obey Jesus for the next 300 seconds. And then I do it again. 300 more seconds. If 300 seconds is difficult at first, start with 60 seconds.

Of course, you aren’t going to find anything about 300 seconds with Jesus in the Bible, but you will read about the love of Jesus. Our love for Jesus grows when we do not allow external circumstances or internal thoughts and desires to distract us, such that our deepest focus and joy come from our relationship with Him. When we learn to love Jesus in this way, we will be able to let His love flow out and touch all our relationships with others.

In 2022, becoming an imitator starts with asking God to help me discover more of what that means, with a hunger to know more of the purpose for which I have been made and asking how I can grow more fully into God’s image. When I love Him, I will be like Him. When I am like Him, I will love like He loves and be a reflection of Him to those around me even for a few minutes at a time.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we imitate God? What aspects of God should we imitate? Why?
  2. How can we walk in love? What standard should we try to reach? 

The Better Way Is Jesus

“Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.” ― David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

We believe that 2022 is going to be a year of impact for the Kingdom of God through Northstar Church. That’s our expectation and our hope. John 16:33 (TPT) says,  “And everything I’ve taught you is so that and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!” 

The words “the peace which is in me will be in you” are as relevant as ever. Some of us have misplaced our hope. We’ve looked to things of this world. But the truth is, when we place our hope in God, we are strengthened and encouraged. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses,” the Psalmist declares, “but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7 ESV). Our hope is in Jesus and our goal in 2022, as in every year, is to become more like Him. 

As we see Him stretch out His hand in compassion to heal a leper, we see how we should be compassionate. When we see Jesus have mercy on the woman caught in adultery, we grow in mercy. As we marvel to read about Jesus kneeling before His disciples the night before He is to die and wash their feet, the Holy Spirit grows us in humility and servanthood.  As we gaze on Jesus hanging on the cross, and not revile His enemies but say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we learn to trust our heavenly Father and forgive our enemies. And as we gaze upon Jesus enduring all things because of His love for us, we learn to endure the sins and failures of others out of love for them.

We see the glory of the Lord in all of Scripture. We see the glory of His holiness and righteousness. The glory of His steadfast love and faithfulness. We see him keep His promises to His people and be true to His word. The Bible is filled with the glory of the Lord, if we only open our eyes to see. 

We want to naturally and routinely bless those who curse you as Paul did. Or overcoming impulsiveness and learning to be faithful to God, as Peter did. Setting aside anxiety and learning to join Mary and sit still at Jesus’ feet and listen.  But where do you start? Try focusing on finding a better way one change at a time, even if the change takes time. Most of us fail in our efforts to find a better way because we try hard for a while and then give up. We don’t keep our focus long enough, and we don’t go deep enough; we don’t develop a plan for how we can work with God’s grace to change to become like Jesus on the inside in that one area.

Transformation to Christlikeness is a process. The learning and growth come from experimentation, failure, thanking God for His mercy, by following His way.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider how Jesus lived. What stands out to you the most about His way of living?
  2. What better ways can we discover through the life of Jesus? 

Finding A Better Way

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. …Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.” – Numbers 20:8-11.

In Numbers 20, God tells Moses to gather up Aaron, the staff, and assemble the entire community to serve as a witness to a miracle which would be God’s response to their grumbling and complaining. These are specific instructions. Moses is to speak to the rock and by Moses’ command, enough water would come forth for the entire community and all of their animals. But Moses is so frustrated with all the complainers that he disregards God’s instructions and what does he do? He smacks the rock, not once but twice. God honors his promise and the water gushes forth…but God’s not happy. Why? Because Moses did not follow God’s instructions.

Every miracle before this required Moses to touch something or do something with the staff; every time God worked through him the staff was directly involved. But this time it’s different. The scripture does not tell us why, but God wants a different approach this time. Moses didn’t accept the different way; instead, he went back to the old way of doing things, and it cost him his right to enter the promised land. (vs. 12) God has a new, different, and better way for each of us just like He did for Moses. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

Sometimes God is wanting to do something “new” or show us a better way and we are stuck in the “old.” It can be hard to let go of the familiar or just seem easier to keep going with the flow rather than try something new that can make everything different. For those who like change – “new” can be exciting. But there is a fundamental truth about the God we serve; He thinks and works outside our way of thinking. He doesn’t always work in the ways that we would have chosen for our “new.” He sees the big picture. He works behind the scenes of life that unfold our every day, in the places where we can’t always see or understand all the “why’s.” He has our best in mind, so our future is secure. It is a better way.

God is not finished with our lives yet. You’re still here. We can rest in His care for us. He knows. He sees. He works in ways we don’t always “get,” but there’s peace in knowing we don’t have to try to control it all. We can let go – of the need to figure it all out, and the striving to make things happen.

In 2022, we are on a journey towards a new and better way together. The world we live in is a whole lot different than what we’re ready for, and we’re going to have to take on some new shapes and abilities if we want to meet it, greet it, and bring it to Jesus. This is our challenge for this year; to become the church God wants us to be.

Discussion Questions:
1. Read Proverbs 14:12. Share about a time when you thought you were doing things the right way, only to learn later that there was a better way. What did you learn from that experience?

2. What area in your life looks most different from Jesus’ life? What’s one way you can start living more like Jesus in that area?

A Passion For Jesus in 2022

 “Jesus answered him, “The most important of all the commandments is this: ‘The Lord Yahweh, our God, is one!’ You are to love the Lord Yahweh, your God, with a passionate heart, from the depths of your soul, with your every thought, and with all your strength. This is the great and supreme commandment.” – Mark 12:29-30 (TPT)

Passion is very chic in our contemporary culture. People are naturally interested in what you are truly passionate about. Passion is what motivates us to do the things we love. What is it that really gets your heart racing? What is it that makes you excited to get up each day?

It could be a certain ideology, social cause, or politics. Perhaps it’s a passion about the theater, movies, or music. Or It could be making starting a business, physical fitness, or watching college football. Today, Christians can be defined by any number of things. What should define a Christian is their personal and enthusiastic pursuit of and passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Enthusiasm or passion isn’t passive. Being passionate about something means you’re going to do something about it. Passion results in action. Passion and enthusiasm enable us to make choices that strengthen our close friendship with our heavenly Father. As you develop a closer relationship with God, your passion will grow, and as it does, making changes in your life will naturally follow.

But do we truly believe that the key to abundant life is the passionate pursuit of Jesus? Because if we truly believed that the key to abundant life was passionately pursuing Jesus, our lives would most likely be dramatically different. Our lives would be simpler, more joyful, more peaceful, and more like the life of Jesus.

Jesus’ life on this earth was the ultimate picture of the passionate life. He embraced children, delighted in doing the will of the Father, healed the sick, loved the lost, helped the marginalized, and gave His all so “…that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV)  

Proverbs 8:30 says, “I was the architect at his side. I was his constant delight, rejoicing always in his presence.”  When we love Jesus Christ with passion and enthusiasm, our hearts change, we change—we can then love others as Jesus commanded. God will do His part to increase your passion, but He also expects you to do your part. When you have a quiet time set aside to pray and to study God’s word, you are taking the first step toward seeing your passion and enthusiasm increase.

Jesus reminds us that when you give your heart to God, you want to maintain that passion and love Him with all your heart. So, how are your enthusiasm and passion? God is filled with so much passion for us that He deserves nothing less than whole-hearted passion from us.

Discussion Question:

  1. Are you filled with passion running your race? What captures your passion?  

What Does It Mean To Live Fully Alive In Christ?

“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-14. 

Many years ago, there was a television commercial promoting beer. The commercial featured several young people precariously perched on a catamaran sailing through the water.  As spray hit the lens of the camera, a dramatic voice announced, “You only go around once! Reach for all the gusto you can get.”  The ad played on two truths that motivate every human being: we have only one life to live and we want to live that life with gusto. Both of those truths are talked about in scripture. 

God wants us to live life with gusto. He so longs to see us flourishing, thriving, truly living. We are His beloved children, and so when we trudge through life weighed down by negative thoughts, or race through our days with stress as our main fuel, or simply exist because we don’t know what more is available to us, we are not living the life God intended for us.  Moses had this to say just before he died: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19) 

What does it mean to be alive in Christ? It does not mean that you must have your life together. Being alive in Christ does not mean that you are happy all the time. It does not mean that your life is as beautiful and put-together as a Hallmark movie.

In fact, being alive in Christ means the opposite. A fully alive life requires a fully-experienced life. Without joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil, happiness and despair, you cannot fully appreciate anyone’s experience. For a life to be fully lived it must be experienced in every extreme. The extent to which we are capable of experiencing great disappointment and pain is also the extent to which we have the capacity to experience the greatest joy. God is at work in the mundane, and the everyday messiness of our lives. Being alive in Christ does not mean we will be in a constant state of smiles and joy. Being alive in Christ means our foundation is so strong that even when the storms come, we can live through them.  

Take a moment right now to remember that Christ invites you to live a life in Him. Know that, in Christ, your feet are firmly planted on an unshakable foundation: Christ’s unconditional love for you. Jesus promised us, “…Look, I am making everything new…” (Revelation 21:5)  

The question is do we choose to be fully alive? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does being “fully alive in Christ” mean to you? 

The Bible Is A Game Changer

“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” –  Theodore Roosevelt.

Most sports have evolved over the years. Feats that seemed unreachable a few decades ago are routine today. For example, golf. Players are hitting wedges into 520-yard par-4s routinely today which is proof that the game has changed since the days of persimmon drivers and balata balls. It would be hard to pinpoint one single thing or event that has led to the significant differences in today’s golf game, but the changes in the balls, the drivers, the shafts, and the physical fitness of the golfers themselves, have resulted in a game that is much different than it was just 20 years ago. For better or worse the game is forever changed. 

Jesus Christ is the ultimate game-changer. Many of the values which society holds as essential for a positive community and which allow people to flourish, find their foundational roots in the life and teaching of Jesus. We become so familiar with our cultural norms that we forget how much the impact of the teachings of Jesus has had on so many areas of our lives. Only One can change the world itself–the One who has power over sin and death. And the Bible is our source to learn more about Him. 

You can never just read the Bible. We should want and need more. Whether you read your Bible before dawn, over mid-morning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, we need to read and listen to what God is telling us. The Bible is one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal to grow closer to God. The more we want to know about Jesus the more we need to read His word. 

Something happens when we study and absorb the Bible rather than just view it as a daily chore. The Bible becomes a source of comfort and understanding. Suddenly, we are reading verses that speak to our circumstances, to our concerns and problems.  So instead of going through the motions, we read with questions, meditate on verses that stick out, write notes and look up cross-references. The more time spent studying, the easier it is to realize and experience the very real power of God’s Word to transform, comfort, and provide real wisdom for real life.

Maybe you’re a new work-in-progress believer who is just starting to study the Bible.  Maybe you have been a Christian for some time but the busyness of life keeps you from studying the Bible as much as you like. Or maybe you are somebody who does read the Bible but wishes that you knew the Bible better. The more you invest your time and energy into studying the Word, the more you’ll experience the abundant Christian life that God has planned for you. 

The power in God’s Word is life-changing when we believe it and are willing to study and follow what we read daily. Treat it like you would any other text that you are going to be studying. Get serious about it this life-changing resource for every Christian and it will be a game-changer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a process/system for studying the Bible? Does it work for you? 
  2. What can we do this week to improve our study habits?

Is The Bible Still Relevant?

“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book.” – Abraham Lincoln.

There are people who believe that the Bible is a relic of a bygone age—an outdated remnant of an ancient society. The French philosopher Voltaire once boasted that the Bible would cease being relevant and disappear from public life in less than 100 years. He was wrong.  

But is the Bible still a source of useful and relevant guidance in the modern world or is it simply a dated document that contains a laundry list of regulations reflecting views that are not valid in today’s culture? Apparently, Abraham Lincoln thought it was in the mid-nineteenth century. But, in fact, the Bible preserves a storehouse of wisdom and explores timeless questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does evil come from? What is the meaning of life? These questions continue to be relevant today as they were in Biblical times. The book of Proverbs, on the other hand, is full of straightforward, practical wisdom that is easy to remember. For example on the subject of how to be a person of influence: “Use patience and kindness when you want to persuade leaders and watch them change their minds right in front of you. For your gentle wisdom will quell the strongest resistance.” (Proverbs 25:15 TPT)

In reality, the Bible presents a realistic and balanced approach to the challenges of life, and the information in the Bible is more accurate and descriptive of the human condition than any psychology textbook. The Bible is also relevant to history and archeology. But the Bible is more than merely a history book, a psychology text, or a scientific journal. The Bible is the inspired Word of God revealed to humanity. Second Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” The Bible is literally “God-breathed,” offering insight into who God is and what His desire is for our lives.  The Bible includes essential information on how we can know God personally.  

Scripture will never be irrelevant because it addresses the universal needs of all people—to know God, to experience forgiveness, and to know how the Lord would have us to live. Times may change, but God’s Word does not. In it, we find principles that change our lives still today.

 Millions of books have been written, but only the Bible provides the ultimate explanation for life on earth, as well as life beyond the grave. God’s Word has been and always will be transformative and life-giving and no other source is even close in terms of relevance. So take a few moments each day to learn about relevance from the One who wrote the book on it?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What challenges have you heard people raise against the Bible? What do you think about the Bible’s reliability?
  2. What comes to your mind when you hear someone talking about the authority of the Bible? The inspiration? 

Cultivating A Christian Life That Works

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” ― Psalm 16:8. 

Your alarm goes off and you hit the ground running. You grab a cup of coffee, slam down some breakfast, and scramble out the door for another day of breathless, non-stop activity. School, family, work, friends, Facebook—all of them demand your time and attention. By the time the day is done, you’re lucky if you’ve spared a thought or two for more heavenly things, let alone gotten through the evening without retreating completely into your phone.

Does this sound familiar? Our culture is obsessed with busyness, and no one is immune. Most people fall into the trap of believing my productivity determines my worth…or worse, that I really can’t spare the time or the mental energy cultivating a Christ-centered life. Living a Christ-centered life is the goal of every Christian, but it is a lot easier to talk about than to live. Because no matter how well-intentioned we are, a lot of other things compete with Christ for center stage in our lives. 

A Christ-centered life begins with realizing that the source of everything we are is the Lord. He created us, He authors our story, and every blessing that we receive comes from Him. James 1:17 tells us that “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens…” Additionally, Christ is the source of our daily righteousness. We simply cannot live up to biblical standards on our own; but in Christ, we have everything we need for godly living. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3).

We want Christ to be known, honored, worshipped, and obeyed, so we submit every other attainable goal to Him. Our decisions are no longer controlled by selfish desires, but instead, we shift our focus to Christ and what He desires. Our battle with self is one that will continue as long as we live in these earthly bodies. That’s why Paul tells us to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted” and to “Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:22; 4:24).

A Christ-centered life is fueled by a love for the Savior. And we learn to know Jesus more intimately through reading, praying, and spending time in His presence. As Christ increases in our mind and heart, we’ll discover that our self-focus decreases and He becomes the delight of our lives; lives which will be better for it.  

What matters is that you love Him, serve Him, and enjoy the joy of your salvation today.  Christ will care for your tomorrows. Isn’t it amazing that when the person of Christ is in full focus, centrally located in our hearts and minds, everything starts to make sense?  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands in the way of deepening your relationship with Jesus?  
  2. What can you do this week to begin to overcome those obstacles? 

2022 Here We Come

“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self — all your wishes and precautions — to Christ.” – C.S. Lewis 

Well, it’s that time of year again. A new year is right around the corner. This is the time of year so many of us start making resolutions to change a certain area or multiple areas in our lives. Maybe we have some extra pounds to shed. We might be committed to changing a specific, harmful behavior. New Year’s resolutions range from simple desires to seemingly full-proof plans for extensive life change. What we all have in common is the hope that something will change, and life will be different and hopefully better in the new year ahead.

But usually, those resolutions are short-lived. This may be our first attempt at making real change in our lives. Or maybe we have been trying for years. This may be the second, third, fourth, or 15th year someone has tried to “kick the habit.” After so many attempts, why would they even want to try again? It is at those times when we need to remember that Christ was born, He Died and He did rise again. That means that the new year is filled with hope for a better future — in Him.  

When we desire change, we have the perfect example to follow: Jesus Christ. When we are ready to implement change, we have the perfect guidebook: His Word. Finally, we have the perfect companion to strengthen our resolve: His Spirit. We truly can experience freedom in our lives today, tomorrow, and forever. With Christ, we don’t have to wait for another New Year to roll around, or for the beach ball to drop in Pier Park. We can pursue our own new beginning right now.

This can be the year when you don’t leave Jesus behind, but instead, you go looking for Him. This can be the year when you make your relationship with God a priority. This can be the year when your relationship with God comes off the “I’ll get around to it” list, and instead defines that list.

Take some time to think about the past year, to think about your relationship with God, and to think about what you want for that relationship in the coming year. And then, think of one or two ways that you will commit to making it stronger.  

May this year be one of great spiritual growth for you. May it be one where you learn to be like Jesus, and never fail to see Him for who He is, and what He is doing. May it be one where God does new things in your life, not just on one day, but on all of them. And may it be one where you resolve to love God and love others.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. New Year’s resolutions typically don’t last too long. What happens? How do our good intentions derail so easily? Should Christians even engage in setting goals?
  2. Why does it mean to put God first in a goal? What spiritual goals should you make in 2022?