No Worries

“.. soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” – Mark 4:35-41.

If we were in the situation above, I think that would have been ample reason to worry. That was not irrational or unreasonable fear. The NLT version of the bible calls it a “fierce storm.” The Passion Translation calls it a “ferocious tempest.” The boat was filling with water. There was real danger. There was cause for worry. 

Fast forward several thousand years and you have COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus. This virus has created national fear in a way most people have not witnessed in their lifetime. Ball games are canceled; the beach and restaurants have shut down; schools are closed; travel is restricted, people are fearful for their jobs, the stock market is on a crazy, wild rollercoaster ride and people are sheltering in place in large parts of the country. We are caught up in a national panic by an invisible enemy that has the ability to destroy us. Certainly, this is also cause for fear and worry. This is a virus to be taken seriously. But there is also cause for hope. 

You can’t help notice that Jesus was “sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion.” It is a picture of peace in the midst of pandemonium. The disciples were in a life and death struggle and Jesus seemed oblivious. When Jesus woke, His question is one we must all answer, “Why are you afraid?” It is a question we must ask ourselves as the Coronavirus pandemic makes us worry more and more. 

What does this all mean? It means that when discussing coronavirus, the answer is not merely to “not fear.” It is to redirect that worry and fear and trust in God. We live in a world where God is in control of everything including the coronavirus. As the Lord is in control of every falling sparrow, so he also is in control of every virus molecule. As Jesus said, “So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10:31). He’s got this.

If there is an action you can do to protect yourself, do it. Use wisdom and listen to sound advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered many ways people like you and I can do our part to slow the spread of this disease at www.cdc.gov.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. If worry is irrational and unhelpful, what are some spiritual disciplines we might undertake to minimize worry in our lives? Name one or two practices you already exercise that would help in this process? 

Bring God Into The Crisis

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” – Daniel 3:16-18.

Who doesn’t like the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? It is a classic story about bringing Christ into the crisis. King Nebuchadnezzar had summoned every leader from his far-flung empire to honor the gods of the king. Nebuchadnezzar had erected a huge, golden image ninety feet tall that everyone had to bow down and worship or face death. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow. When he heard about the three Israelites, Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage. He thought, “How dare anybody disobey.” They were thrown into an oven, a fiery furnace. You probably know the rest of the story.  

Today, we do not have to worry about being thrown into a fiery furnace, but we face trials and tribulations. Hurricane Michael in 2018 and the coronavirus today are two prime examples. We all know Christians who are facing deep troubles that threaten to overwhelm and ruin them. It could be spiritual, financial, mental, or physical. It could be your marriage, your job, your business. It can get so serious, only a miracle can get you out of what looks like a hopeless situation. When you are in such a crisis, you need Jesus to come into it and walk through it with you. So how do you and I bring Christ into the crises we will face. 

“Nebuchadnezzar said to them,..if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” (Daniel 3:14-15). We bring Christ into the crisis when we make the same commitment that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego made in Daniel 3:16-18. They basically said that it looks hopeless, yet we believe God is able to deliver us from this fiery crisis. But even if He doesn’t, we still will not quit on Him. Live or die, we will trust Him. This is the kind of faith that brings God into a crisis. It is the kind of faith that trusts the Lord no matter what circumstances are swirling around us. It is the type of faith that even if you do not deliver us, we will remain faithful and true.  

This is what brings Christ into our crisis – the full confidence that He is able to rescue and deliver us out of any crisis. It is a confidence that, no matter what comes, we are in His hands. We can hold onto the promise that God will come into your crisis. He will take you by your hand and lead you through the fire.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to bring God into a crisis?   
  2. What can we do this week to bring God into the coronavirus crisis?

The Lord Is My Shepherd

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely  goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell  in the house of the Lord  forever.” – Psalm 23:1-6

Psalm 23 is probably the most well known and beloved of all the Psalms. Maybe it’s so well-loved because it is so personal and individual. The Lord is pictured as our Shepherd and we as His sheep. Many Christians know it by heart. It is often heard at funerals and murmured to people in their hospital beds. It has provided comfort and hope to millions of believers over the centuries. It still brings hope to us today as we deal with the coronavirus and other difficulties in life. 

Its author, King David, wrote it from his own personal experience when he was put in charge of tending his father’s flocks. He knew sheep. He knew their needs, their value, their vulnerabilities, and their many weaknesses. Sheep are needy. They need a shepherd. So do we, especially in times of difficulty. 

In this passage, we find “I shall not want,” and “I will fear no evil,” and, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord  forever.” These are statements of confidence at any time and especially in times of crisis. David’s been in danger, he’s been in a crisis, and somewhere along the line, the Spirit of God has revealed to David the secret of having unshakable confidence, even in the midst of the most devastating crisis. That secret is the Shepherd.  David is basically saying that I’m not going to be fearful or anxious, because of my Shepherd. He’s all-knowing, He’s all-powerful, and He loves me, and He wants me to know He will meet every need. Not on my terms, not by my agenda, but He promises to meet my needs all the days of my life. Wow. Let that sink in for a moment. David knew fatigue, hunger, fear, harsh living conditions, and intense disappointment. But he found that God always got him what he really needed when he needed it.

The coronavirus is a valley we have to pass through. Here’s God’s promise: His presence. He will be with you.”So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) Hebrews 13, 

God promises that whatever you are facing, He will be with you.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Psalm 23:1-6 mean to you?  
  2. How can this passage of scripture give you hope in times of trouble?

Self Versus Sacrifice

For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. ~ Ps 51.18-19

The world is not a big fan of selflessness and personal sacrifice. It goes in the opposite direction and encourages selfishness in the name of self-interest. Proof. We pose for selfies, edit our images to make us look better, and self-promote the best parts of our lives to the point of false advertising and measure success by the number of “likes” we get. We tend to think of ourselves more than we think of others. But then a crisis like the Coronavirus hits us and we are asked to make personal sacrifices to help others. 

Hopefully as Christians, we don’t need a hurricane or the Coronavirus to make us think of others. Jesus says to think of our neighbors with the same affection as we think of ourselves. We are commanded to care for others, to give to others and to address the needs of others. Paul explains this command even further: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

The Coronavirus has made the last few weeks a time of high anxiety, and while we are taking seriously the science and the facts of the situation and keeping the best interests of the community in mind, we are still committed to trusting God, remaining calm, and doing what we can to serve the people in our community as the hands and feet of Christ out in the world. We want to help as many people as we can.  The people who are at the highest risk, the shut-ins, people who need some sort of assistance. That assistance could be going to the grocery store for an elderly couple or to the pharmacy or delivering a meal or just giving them a call to see how they are doing.  Even though we are not meeting in the building we are still the church. And thinking of the benefit you can give others before you benefit yourself is vitally important in showing God’s love to the world.

After all, in this current crisis, we should take practical precautions like washing hands, covering sneezing, and social distancing. But let’s not distance ourselves from the least of these that need our help. Romans 12:10 tells us, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”  

Hopefully, over the next few weeks, we look less at our needs and wants and more at the needs and wants of others. Our prayer is that we as a community “…always try to do good to each other and to all people.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).  

As we seek to serve those in need, may the grace of God that reached us in our need move us to reach out to others in theirs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What type of sacrifices do you think we should make during the Coronavirus pandemic?  
  2. What are some of those sacrifices we can safely make this week? 

Live By Faith Not By Fear

“Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly.” – Psalm 112:6-8

The Coronavirus has the world on edge. The outbreak is now a global pandemic. The number of reported cases keeps climbing and with it, the nation’s collective uncertainty.  Coast to coast, large public gatherings and major events have been canceled. Employees have been told to work from home, universities have moved all classes online and schools have closed. The stock market has seen unprecedented crashes. And store shelves are being emptied. These are fearful times. 

When fearful, anxious times hit, we usually do not immediately default to resting on the promises and goodness of God. No, typically our response – our default response – is to panic or at least fret a great deal before we have even thought about finding peace in the truths of God. But instead of listening to our fears, doubts, and worries shout at us, we can begin to experience a real change of perspective if we take the time to remember the promises of God from scripture. There is good news in scripture that will help change the way we respond to even the most seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

Look at Romans 8: 38-39:”And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Life can be pretty grim. We Christians will face a host of troubles in the world. And then along comes the Coronavirus. Paul recognizes this reality. But in the midst of all this, he has a word that will reassure us: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?“ Neither fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow; not death, nor life, nor angels, demons are able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God wants us to know today that His love for us is inseparable. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus is proof of that. Take heart and take hold of that promise during the fear and anxiety surrounding the Coronavirus and other fearful times in life. Remember that God is holding on to you, and He will never let go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This is a time of anxiety and fear: What can we do this week to give those fears to God? 
  2. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?

Coronavirus Update

“My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!” – Psalm 56:9 

We made the decision to suspend services with a heavy heart last week. The reason the decision was so difficult was based on several factors: First, we are only 32 days from Easter; second, Hebrews 10:25 tells us “to not neglect meeting together” and third, there’s something intangible that happens when we worship God – out loud – with hundreds of people who share faith in Jesus. Sundays are an irreplaceable opportunity to take a step back from the busy day-to-day and directly praise the God that loves us and is incredibly worthy of our worship. But we felt this decision was essential if we are to protect those vulnerable to COVID-19 and the health system that will need to care for them.

Until it is clear that transmission of the virus has stopped and the curve has bent definitively in the other direction, the right choice was to cancel our services. We have every reason to trust that this epidemic will pass.

Obviously, there’s no substitute for meeting in person, but we know that’s not wise. So what do we do in the meantime? The obvious answer is to stay involved. We are strongly encouraging people to worship with us online. Then pray. Pray for our church. Pray for the sick. Pray for our leaders. If you cannot participate in the worship service in person unite yourself with God in prayer.

And be creative. Do some research on the message by consulting a podcast or Bible commentary on the subject, or call your small group or friends to share your thoughts and experiences on the subject. Reach out to the seniors in our church to see how they are doing and if there is anything you can help them with. Reconnect with people you haven’t talked to in a long while. Reflect on the Small Group Questions based on each week’s sermon found at northstar.cc under the connect link. Remember that Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Remember too that the church is not a building. It is the community.

There will always be emergencies. We live in a world that is replete with emergencies: some big, some little, some important, some less important. When life’s emergencies have our backs against the wall when confounding circumstances have us going around in circles when perplexing problems have us pondering which way to turn, when fear, doubt, and dismay cloud our hearts and minds, we must call on the One who is well-able to solve all our problems and rescue us from every dilemma.  

Jesus understands all the fears and worries that you have. Jesus understands you, not only because He is divine and understands all things but because He was human and experienced all things. Go to Him in prayer. And trust that He hears you and is with you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does worry/fear reveal a lack of faith? Why or why not? 
  2. In your mind, what should our reaction to the coronavirus be?

Is My Relationship With God Where It Should Be? 

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines, even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” – Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Is my relationship with God where it should be is a question that we all have had at one time or another. In other words, is there some way to know how good our relationship with God really is? Is there a way to know if we’re on the right track? 

It is good to take stock of our relationship with God periodically. In the midst of all that is happening around us these days, somehow we lose touch with the personal relationship with the living Christ. Communication becomes more infrequent. Prayer takes a back place. And when that happens our relationship with Christ doesn’t disappear, but it can cease to flourish the way we want it to.  

Building your relationship with God is “sanctification”, the lifelong process of being made holy. Holy can seem like a mystical term incapable of definition, but it simply means “to be set apart.” Sanctification is a process of going from what you used to be, to being far more reflective of the character and nature of Christ. More humility, less pride. More love, less indifference. More kindness, less harshness. Those are the components of sanctification.  

We have an idea in our minds that God uses people that have the relationship we are striving for. But if you read the scriptures you know that premise is false. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He uses improbable men and women who have nothing of their own to offer, but their faithfulness and willingness to say, “yes.”  Scripture is full of stories where people are called by God to do something special for Him. These people are just like you and me, just common, ordinary people.

So look at your relationship with God and evaluate the current condition of your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Is it growing? Is it a deeper relationship than it’s been in the past? Is communication better? A deep relationship with God is the heart of all Christian living. Don’t ignore it. There’s really nothing more important and valuable than your relationship with God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What part of your relationship with God would you like to strengthen? 
  2. What part of your relationship with God should you focus on this week?  

Radical Relationships Require Radical Commitment

And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” – 1 Kings 8:61. 

Most people reading this have probably made some radical commitments. Some of you have been in the military where you offered years of your life to your country.  There was even the risk of sacrificing your life for your country. Every parent is radically committed to their children. Every marriage represents a radical commitment. Most couples don’t want an ordinary, boring, routine relationship. They want excitement, fun, closeness, love. Facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God will challenge every married couple.

We can find some insight from Solomon. First Kings chapter 8 records the dedication prayer of the house of the Lord. Solomon turns and then prays a blessing over the people of Israel.  In verses 56-57 he is telling the people to remember God’s faithfulness.  He is the one who brought them out of Egypt, He gave them the Promised land, and He is the one that protected them from their enemies.  Then Solomon prayed that God would remain with his people (v. 57).  Second, he prayed that God would guide their hearts towards God and they would walk in obedience (v.58).  And thirdly, he prayed that God would remain faithful so that the nations would learn of God (v.59-60).  At the beginning of the prayer, he reminded them of how God has been faithful to them, now he is telling them to be faithful and committed to God.  (v.61).

Jesus shows us what it means to live a life filled with a radical commitment. Jesus was committed to go where He was not wanted. Jesus was committed to suffer for a people who rejected Him. Jesus was committed to die for a lost world. Jesus was committed to the ultimate victory. What Christ has done for us, what Christ does in us, what Christ will do for us—all these should motivate us to commit our lives to Him. 

Jesus talked about the cost of commitment: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). Total commitment to God means that Jesus is our sole authority, our guiding light, and our unerring compass. It means having a servant mentality and loving others. Philippians 1:21 sums it all up: ”For to me, living means living for Christ…”

May God inspire and empower us to make a radical commitment to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has your failure to stay committed to something taught you about commitment?
  2. What does it mean to be committed to Christ?

A Radical Relationship With God

“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”– John 1:10-13.  

If you conducted some street interviews and asked people what comes to your mind when they think of religion, what do you think their answers would be? I think you could expect to hear answers like: “religion is a set of rules, regulations, and obligations” or “religion is a group of trying to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing” or “religion is an organized system of beliefs and ceremonies used to try to get right with God.” I wonder how many people would believe that religion is basically a “deep, intimate relationship with God?” 

We need to put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ.  I believe our Lord died so we could have a living, vital relationship with Him, not just to institute a bunch of rules and regulations. That’s what separates religion from a relationship with God. Jesus came to set us free and give us the opportunity to live in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. No hoops. No checklist. No religion required.  

For some Christians, a relationship with Jesus consists of praying to Him and going to church on Sunday. They allow Jesus to be a sacrifice for their sins, but the relationship with Him stops there. They don’t really expect to have much of a relationship with Him, and therefore, in fact, do not. Such relationships with Jesus can, at best, be described as “distant.”

Christianity is about living a vibrant, exciting life in Christ. Growing in your relationship with Jesus means to know Him better and to love and obey Him more. When the Holy Spirit directs your life, you experience a deeper relationship with God and you will grow in your ability to trust Him.  Not only that, your growing love for God will lead you to obey His commandments.

To that end, I encourage you to take a fresh perspective on your relationship with God. Take inventory and ask yourself why you do what you do. Is it out of obligation? Or is it because you love the Lord and desire a radical friendship with Him? A radical relationship with God is one that is rich, meaningful, and life-changing. 1 John 3:1 says, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” 

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? 

Friends With God

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” – John 15:15.

Making friends these days is as easy as clicking on “friend request” on your Facebook page, but is that the true measure of friendship? For Christians, Jesus has many names in scripture, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, The Messiah, Son of God, Emmanuel, but one we sometimes forget is Friend. He is also our perfect example of friendship. If you were to list all the qualities of your best friend, Jesus has those qualities; Jesus was loyal, brave, humble, honest, compassionate, protective, encouraging, dependable, faithful, kind, loving, forgiving and completely sacrificial just to name a few.  

There are those in the Bible that were called friends of God. Abraham was called a friend of God. (Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) The Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face, as one speaks to a friend. (Exodus 33:11)   

Think about that for a second: having the infinite, all-powerful, holy God of the universe as a friend. The staggering truth is He wants you to know Him personally and to discover what it means to walk with Him every day. He wants you to know He is with you, and He wants to have communication with you through His Word and through prayer. He has a specific, unique destiny for you. God’s purpose for you is bigger than your mistakes. No matter how many mistakes you make, God will not stop guiding you. Most friends will fail you but God never will. God’s power, knowledge, and love are unending, yet it amazes me that God wants to be my friend. 

In the Garden of Eden, there was a simple loving relationship between God and the people He created. Adam and Eve delighted in God, and He delighted in them. But the fall changed that. But what has not changed is God’s will for us to live in His presence. Jesus came to make that friendship possible again by dying for our sins. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul put it like this, “All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.”(2 Corinthians 5:18 GNT) And John 15:13 adds, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

We become a friend of God through faith and love, by reading and meditating on God’s word and through continual conversation with our heavenly Father and then living for Him. Intimate friendship with God is a choice, not an accident. We become friends with God when we choose friendship with Him above all other friendships, above all other friends, above all else. We all need a friend like Jesus.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe your closest human friendship. What characteristics make it strong? 
  2. What stands in the way of deepening your friendship with Jesus this week/month/year?
  3. The friendship we enjoy with Jesus is meant to be shared by loving others. What specific ways will you reach out to others in friendship this week?