Trusting God

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” –  Proverbs 3-5-6..

Trust has to be complete. You either trust someone or you don’t. You can’t kind of trust somebody. If you say you trust someone, you trust them with everything. So when it comes to trusting in God, it means you trust Him, without a doubt, without question, with infinite confidence. It sounds easy. It isn’t. 

Even Jesus’ closest friends proved that trusting God is not that easy. In John 13-14, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be leaving them soon and that they won’t be able to follow Him. This bothers all of them and Chapter 14 is basically a back and forth between Jesus and the disciples. In the end, Jesus’s response to their concerns boils down to John 14:1, “Trust in God, and trust also in me.”  We can trust God, especially when life is hard.

In the third chapter of the Book of Daniel we find the story of three men who are unwilling to turn their backs on God by bowing down to the golden statue of the reigning King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Of course this enrages the king who orders them to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Not only are they willing to face death rather than deny their faith in God, but they tell the king in no uncertain terms.  

“… 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)

That is trust. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted God whether or not He was willing to intervene and prevent their suffering. The three Israelites were willing to give up their very lives to prove without a doubt their own level of trust in God. Do we have that level of trust in God?  Do you trust in God even when He doesn’t give you the answer you desire?

Whether the unexpected in your life right now is a jolting circumstance at work, a relationship that is not where you want it to be or health issues, trust God. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Which aspect of your life do you struggle most when it comes to trusting God? How can you address that area this week?  

Check Your Attitude

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.  

Your attitude impacts everything. It directs your thoughts, your energy and most of all, the actions you take.  

Charles Swindoll wrote a wonderful paragraph about attitude in his book, Strengthening Your Grip.  He said: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

A man attended a morning church service. He grimaced because the music was too loud. He glared in disapproval at a couple whispering.  He looked repeatedly at his watch. He wondered why the church was asking for so much information on the connection card. He shook his head when the wrong powerpoint slide came up on the screen. He snuck out during the altar call muttering to himself, “well that wasn’t a very good service, why did I bother?”

Another man went to church on the same Sunday. He smiled broadly when he saw how much those serving in the Kids Ministry enjoyed their work. He shook the greeters hand and returned a warm “good morning.” He raised his hands and sang “And I ran out of that grave” when the band played Glorious Day. He smiled when the sermon helped him with a question he had on his mind. He was praying for those far from the heart of God during the altar call and rejoiced when several people made a commitment to follow God. As he left the church, he thought to himself, “How good it was to be in God’s presence today.”

Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, and each had found exactly what he was looking for.  Our attitudes are an outward display of what’s taking place in our hearts. When our hearts focus in the right place, our attitudes will too. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define attitude? Why is it important to realize that we choose our attitudes?
  2. Does having a good attitude mean we have to be Pollyanna, wearing rose-colored glasses or ignoring real-world challenges and being fake?   

The Lesson Of Contentment

“The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” – Proverbs 19:23 (NIV). 

The one thing that every human being wants, without exception, is happiness. And the most difficult thing for a human being to get, and to sustain, is also happiness. Happiness, or contentment if you will, can often seem like an unsolvable mystery. We pick up a book on contentment and attend a small group that talks about the subject every week. We should be one of the most contented people on the Emerald Coast but we aren’t. In fact, we are discontented with our discontent. 

The book of Ecclesiastes contains the story of a person who calls himself “the teacher,” and who outlines his journey to find meaning in life. He did many and varied things, looking for anything that held inherent meaning.  The teacher who is Solomon, went on a binge and experimented on an epic scale with pretty much everything this world has to offer to find meaning, or contentment in life. For example, Solomon tried gaining knowledge and wisdom, but discovered “… To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.” (1:18b). He tried fun and laughter, but concluded it was meaningless and accomplished nothing (2:1,2). He tried wine (2:3), accomplishing great tasks (2:4-7), amassing wealth (2:8), and entertainment (2:8), but all to no avail. 

He did not know God, and therefore he correctly understood that his final end, no matter what he achieved or accomplished, was the grave, a hole in the ground, and that eventually he and his activities would be forgotten (2:16). In that light, nothing he did could be truly meaningful, because there was no actual purpose for anything he did. With nothing in life that was meaningful, he came to the point he “hated life” and that “…Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind.” (2:17). What Solomon discovered was that the first and most basic step to having meaning in one’s life was to realize that God created his life to have meaning. He says so in Ecclesiastes 2:25: “…For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him.”

I think we can appreciate what the teacher went through. We relate to the journey of Solomon because, for many of us, it is our own. At one time or another every one of us has tried to find meaning and contentment in the pursuit of laughter, or pleasure, in a job, through accumulating wealth, through accomplishment or in looking below the surface to see what really makes us tick. But eventually, we find in each of these pursuits a dead end. 

Erik Raymond—pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska – in his book book, Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age defines contentment as “the inward, gracious, quiet spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence.” Real contentment is found in God. When we believe that, it will dramatically transform the way that we live.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Where’s the balance between being content and yet trying to better your situation or solve certain problems?
  2. How does your life change when you are truly content?
  3. What can you do this week to be more content? 

How Can I Know God?

“But to enjoy him we must know him. Seeing is savoring. If he remains a blurry, vague fog, we may be intrigued for a season. But we will not be stunned with joy, as when the fog clears and you find yourself on the brink of some vast precipice.” ― John Piper.  

Can you truly know someone is an oft-asked question. It could be your best friend, colleagues, siblings, parents, a trustworthy confidante, or your spouse. Can you truly know them because there is a difference between knowing someone and simply knowing about them. It is more than possible to “really know” your spouse. You just have to “really” want to. It means more than being able to recite their birthday and their favorite color and their mother’s maiden name.  

What about God? We have formed a picture of God from impressions we’ve picked up throughout our lives. And yes, we can use our imagination. But God seems unknowable. How can I possibly understand Him? Despite their close physical proximity to God, they had difficulty truly understanding God. Jesus even said to the apostle Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me.” (John 14:9 ESV)  Many of us may have spent years in church but find ourselves in the same shoes as Philip – struggling to “know” God on a deeply personal level. Given all our experiences, influences and viewpoints, can we truly know God? 

The answer is yes, We can know God to the extent He reveals himself to us. The Bible gives us a source of genuine, compelling, and accurate knowledge of God. That doesn’t mean God is a passive object of study for us to put under our limited microscopes. Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend his whole being. One thing is for sure; knowing God is not a spectator sport. Our life and our actions must say to God,  “I want to see you. I long to know you.”

Both the Old and New Testaments address this subject: Jeremiah 29:13 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jesus also describes this process: “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Matthew 7:7 adds, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” God promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him. He also promises to give us the Spirit: “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”  Do we want to truly know God?  Are we seeking Him? Are we asking? Are we knocking? Are we praying, “God, I want to know you?”

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What do you think God want you to know or learn?
  2. What are the benefits of knowing God better? 

Difficult. Dangerous. Illegal.

I would not believe in a Bible if it would not be worth it to smuggle it in everywhere even at the greatest risk and if it would not be worth it to sit ten days and nights alone in the cold in order to be able to read its wonderful pages.” – Richard Wurmbrand. 

During our services at Northstar this week, we asked all of our campuses to stand while I read from Philippians 1. We did this because the Bible is more than an instruction manual for Christians. When we read the Bible we are acknowledging that it has been given to us by the living God. God makes it possible for sinners to understand them and embrace them. And although we take access to scripture for granted, thousands have died to preserve them for us to this day.  There is no book like the Christian Bible—divinely inspired, infallible, and authoritative.

Today in various parts of the world there are brave men and women risking arrest, imprisonment, beatings and even death to get God’s Word into the hands of those who otherwise might never receive it. They are working in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous mission fields. In some of these areas, possessing a Bible could get you 15 years of hard labor in a prison camp, or worse. In restricted nations, believers have two requests: “Please pray for us” and “Please send Bibles!” Believers, as well as those seeking Christ, often wait years to own their own copy of God’s Word, and they do so at great risk. But the requests continue: “Please send Bibles!” That’s how precious it is to them. My prayer is that it is just as precious to us. 

In John 6:63, Jesus says, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” An amazing thing happens when you study the Scriptures. Your mind sees better, and your heart opens up. The Bible is more than just an instruction manual. It creates faith, produces change, causes blessings, heals wounds, transforms character, builds joy, strengthens relationships, and guarantees your future. What book does that? What would we do without it? That’s why Job said, ‘I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food.’ (Job 23:12)

Fortunately, we do not have to do anything difficult, dangerous, or illegal to own and read our Bible.  I hope you stick your nose in it everyday and let it permeate all your thoughts and feelings. Reading the Bible and living what it says will shape you into the kind of person who is grateful for the people in your life, pray for them, see the best in those we have relationships with and love them as Jesus love us.   

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What would you be willing to risk for a Bible? 
  2. Do you know how to study the Bible? If not, what could you do this week to learn how to better study God’s Word? 

How Can We Love Others As Jesus Loves Us?

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” –  1 John 4:7.

Love is a huge and lofty idea, that is hard to clearly define. And when you add love, as Jesus Christ loves each one of us, it becomes impossible for us to get our mind around it. When you ask a group of friends how they would define love, you would get some of the usual suspects: love is a choice or love is a sacrifice or a feeling. Or it may be someone will see it as being embodied in a specific action: “Real love is a run to Steak and Shake for a peppermint shake for my pregnant wife.”   

The kind of love that we all deeply long for is one that simply cannot be explained or satisfied by our vision or definition of love. We will come up without joy and peace time and time again if we rely on the world’s system of love to meet our need that can only be satisfied by a redeeming and agape love. As the scripture reveals to us, God first loved us, when our backs were turned to Him and we had nothing to offer Him. If we are to follow this incredible and somewhat incomprehensible type of love then we must look at love differently. The most loving thing we can do for others is love God more than we love them.  

Jesus loved people. He loved thieves, prostitutes, and tax collectors, diseased and poor people. He loved people who were devoted to Him and those who were different from Him. He even loved difficult and dangerous people. And His love is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. Because we are loved by Him, we are called to love like Him. 

How we love others reveals how we love God. The apostle John says: “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer,[a] that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20). 

Since the greatest and second greatest commandments are involved in these things, we know they are important to God. So perhaps the best thing we can do today is take an honest, lingering look at the way we love others, decide what needs to be changed and ask God for the wisdom and courage to do the most loving thing we can do for somebody today.

Imagine for a moment if we would really love others the way Jesus does. There would be no gossip, no judgement or criticism, no exclusive attitudes that make others feel rejected, and people’s needs would be met much more than they are. Our relationships would be so much better and so would our lives. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think it’s easy or hard for the world to see Jesus’ love when they look at you?
  2. What are some practical ways for you to give others a taste of what the love of God is like?

Intercessory Prayer

The real business of your life as a saved soul is intercessory prayer.” – Oswald Chambers.  

Have you ever felt an unexplained burden on your heart to pray for those who are far from the heart of God in your community or the world at large? Praying that God will renew our spirits, renew our mind and transform our lives and renew our world as we read about in Isaiah 61:4: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations.”   That is intercessory prayer. 

There are many ways to love our neighbor, but intercessory prayer—praying on behalf of other people—is surely one of the most powerful. The Bible is full of examples of intercessory prayers. The prophets prayed for the people of Israel. Jesus faithfully prayed for His disciples. He even intercede for those involved in His crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The book of Hebrews indicates that Jesus will always intercede for us: “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” (Hebrews 7:25).

Jesus often stopped what He was doing to help people whether it was convenient of not. He lived and ministered among the “people.” He did not shy away from interaction with people like tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he wanted them to remember the needs of others, not just their own needs. So He used plural pronouns like  “Give us . . . forgive us . . . lead us . . .deliver us”  1 Timothy 2:1 says, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.”

We are still recovering from Hurricane Michael in large portions of our community. When those around us are hurting or suffering, we offer to ”pray for them.” But then life gets busy and we honor our commitment to pray by offering a quick prayer before moving on.  

If we want to intercede to God for people, then we need to take the time to actually pray. Prayer is significant, vital, imperative, essential, critical, crucial… add your own word. But don’t stop there.  Ask God how you can take action to help this person in need. Maybe it is taking them grocery shopping, or cooking, or babysitting, or just picking up the phone and calling them.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you seen God work through your intercessory prayers? 
  2. Have you experienced blessing in your life as a result of someone interceding in prayer for you?  

Thankful For Others

“I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people.” – Psalm 52:9.  

If you were asked, I am thankful for my (blank), what would your answer be? Probably some big things like health, fame. fortune, wife, children, siblings, and vacations. And there would be some improbable things like: Google Maps, sorting laundry and finding no socks are missing, rainbows, and the seat next to you on a crowded flight is miraculously empty. Or finding cash in a pair of jeans you haven’t worn for a while. Or maybe, it would be a very special thank you to you. You know who you are. That special, unique, amazing person in my life who supports me, lifts me up, comforts me and brings joy to my life. I need you and you need me. That you.

Without exception, everyone I know has been positively influenced by other people. I have seen example after example of people who have succeeded collectively where their solo efforts failed. God desires Christians to live in community, bearing each other’s burdens, striving together, as Paul says in Colossians 1:28,29. We all want an abundant life full of love, joy, and peace. These are noble and worthwhile goals, but nearly impossible to pull off by ourselves. We need strength and wisdom from other believers to fully experience God. We need other people.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 talks about this subject: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Walking with God means community with others. Alone, I just won’t have the same experience or quality of life.

We all need people in our lives and we should be grateful for them. Consider how empty, purposeless, and meaningless our lives would be without relationships. Relationships have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. While it is easy to thank God for the things in our lives, we should remember to be equally thankful for the people God has placed in our lives as well. 

Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” –A.W. Tozer

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why is gratitude an important quality in the Christian life? In what ways do you struggle to be thankful?
  2. How often do we need to reset our gratitude meter? How easy is it to just thank God for things in your life? How easy is it to thank other for the role in your life?   

Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” – Philippians 3:13  

“My Way” is a song popularized in 1969 by Frank Sinatra. Its lyrics were written by Paul Anka. The lyrics include: Regrets, I’ve had a few…but then again, too few to mention…I did what I had to do. And saw it through without exemption. Regrets are part of life. There is no such thing as a life without any disappointment, so there is no such thing as a life without regrets. Maybe you have a lifetime of regret, or maybe you have only a few regrets.

Maybe you’re married and there is something that has caused regret. Maybe God is calling you to take a risk, but you didn’t and you have regret that you didn’t trust God. Maybe you’ve missed some key moments with your kids and you’re just realizing that you’ve spent years chase after that corner office rather than spending quality time with them. 

We don’t need more guilt. It holds a certain power over us. But it is not too late. Because of the Cross, we don’t have to minimize our regret or deny our regret. We bring all of our regrets to the foot of the Cross. We release them because our God is in the redemption business, and at the foot of the Cross, regret can turn into repentance and repentance can turn into redemption. If you’re carrying a weight of regret on your back that you can’t fix, it’s in the past – put it down and clean it out, because it’s time to make room for something new.

In Luke 22. Peter himself went through a tremendous amount of regret. All of us know that on the night in which Jesus Christ was betrayed, Peter boasted too much, he prayed too little, he followed too far, and he remembered too late. Mark says that when he began to realize what he had done, he wept. What hope is there when we blow it? What hope is there when we deny that which we know to be true and live contrary to what we exactly believe to be the case? Our hope is Jesus.

Jesus reached out and touched Peter in a very special way. Mark 16 tells us that after Jesus was raised, there was an angel that was sitting there at the tomb. And the angel talks to the people that come, and then the angel says this: “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” (vs. 7) Just to make sure that he is not overlooked, the angel says, “and Peter.” There is hope in spite of our regrets.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Are you busier letting go of the regret or rescuing it?
  2. What lingering regrets do you have? What can you do today to reconcile them? 

You, Them And The Gospel

If we have got the true love of God shed abroad in our hearts, we will show it in our lives. We will not have to go up and down the earth proclaiming it. We will show it in everything we say or do.” –  Dwight L. Moody

Love is a universal concept with no singular or simple definition. It is word bandied about when it is difficult to truly grasp its meaning. There are no lack of experts and no lack of expert’s interpretations of love. Go to the library and there are almost limitless choices of books on love.   

Jesus emphatically proclaimed love as the most important command to obey. “Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12: 29-31)

Jesus calls Christians to love one another. Half of Jesus’ summary of the law was to love your neighbor as yourself. While we accept that statement as truth, it is not an easy thing to do. Loving your neighbor as yourself regardless if they have wronged you, no matter how unpopular they are, or the fact that very thing they do or say is annoying. It is difficult to do. It is hard because sin complicates things. Our sinful nature makes us unloving and our neighbors seem unlovely.  Sin makes me unloving and unlovely and other’s sin makes them unloving and unlovely.

It becomes easier if we first remember who we are. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have the ability to tap into the ultimate power source. God empowers us to love not from our own resources, but with love from above. Walking by the Spirit is the way to love and serve one another. Then remember who they are: yes they can be difficult. But when we look closer we find they are very much like us: people who need the love, grace, and the mercy of the risen savior. Jesus came to save them just as He came to save us.  When you look at them that way, it is easier to love the unlovely. 

Finally, what is the gospel telling us to do? 1 John 4:19 sums it up: “We love each other because he loved us first.” That is it. The gospel of love bids Christians to love. Remember that this is so much more than liking them. Loving gets to the core of the person. The gospel bids us to love because we have been loved. The gospel does not make it easy to love others, but it makes it possible.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do we go about remembering who we are, who they are and what the gospel is telling us to do?