Holiness Is Next To Godliness

“Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2.

There are numerous Bible verses about the holiness of God and the goal of living holy lives before God. Exodus 15: 11 says, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” I Samuel 2.2 says, “No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” Leviticus 20:26: “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” Then there is Hebrews 12:14: “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”

God has called every Christian to a holy life. There are no exceptions. It is not the responsibility of pastors, missionaries, and the elders in the church. Rich or poor, learned or unlearned, influential or totally unknown, if you are a Christian you are called to be holy. The Christian electrician and the Christian real estate agent, and the Christian homemaker are all called to be holy.

This call to a holy life is based on the fact that God is holy. Because God is holy, He requires that we be holy. God has called us to be like Himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God. 

To be holy means to be separated to God. Being set apart to God makes us holy. We are not made holy by doing good things. We are made holy, or sanctified, by faith in Christ, just as we are saved by faith. Little by little, as we grow and live with the Lord, we will become more like Him. Paul said, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In order to cultivate holiness, we need to hate sin as much as God does. Hatred of sin lies at the root of all true holiness. We must cultivate the attitude of Joseph, who said when he was tempted, “How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” (Genesis 39:9). 

The holiness of God is an exceedingly high standard, a perfect standard. But it is nevertheless one that He holds us to. He cannot do less. In 2nd Timothy 1:9, we read these words: “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.”

Study Jesus, pray to Jesus and seek to follow His example are ways we become more like Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the idea of holiness impact your daily life?
  2. What can we do this week to become more like Jesus? 

Don’t Worry About Tomorrow

“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4

Some of us are anxious by nature but then suddenly we are caught up in a national panic by an invisible enemy that has the ability to destroy us. Everything around us seems to be crumbling. New anxieties about the economy, our job, our nest egg, our future, and health are the byproducts of COVID-19.  And then to top it off, we have to worry about having enough Charmin.  So what does Jesus say to us in a temporarily upside-down world filled with so much anxiety? 

God guarantees you mercy today for trouble today, and mercy tomorrow for trouble tomorrow. Jesus says in Matthew 6: 34, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” These words from Jesus are life-changing if we will grasp them, and live by them. Not one of us knows what the news is going to be tomorrow or the next day. No one. And not knowing what will happen tomorrow causes fear and anxiety, especially if we believe that things will only get worse. 

The reality is we are already weighed down with enough worry today, without worrying about the possibilities of tomorrow. But there is the dilemma: the mercies God gives today are not designed to carry the burdens that may come tomorrow. God’s mercies today are designed to carry our troubles today. And when tomorrow comes, if new trouble comes, new mercy will come with it. That’s the promise of God.   

 Look at 1 Samuel 7: 12: “Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” The God who had delivered God’s people in the past is the same God who will help in the future. We need to remember God’s faithfulness and be encouraged to know that He will be faithful today and in the future. In the midst of our worries, we would do well to take stock of the Lord’s blessings in our lives “up to this point.” 

We can find great encouragement and optimism, recalling the words of Jesus: “…Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The God who has delivered you “up to this point” won’t quit now. God knows what we need and is waiting on us tomorrow.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds in my life, in your life, or in this world. But I do know this: tomorrow’s mercy from God will be sufficient for tomorrow’s trouble in this world. Therefore, you and I have no reason to worry about what tomorrow holds. When we get there, new mercy will be waiting for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you face a worrying situation, do you tend to take action or to be more passive? What are some advantages and disadvantages to the way you respond to worry?
  2. What are some of the costs of spending your time and energy worrying about those things?  
  3. Are you worried about COVID-19? What can you do this week to declare your trust in God, relabel your worry as “tomorrow,” and participate in what God is doing today?

Living One Day At A Time

“Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough. powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what is happening in our lives.” – Francis Chan.  

In times of trial, when someone asks, “How’s it going,” we often say, “I’m taking it day by day.” During the Coronavirus crisis, many people have responded by saying, “I’m taking it one day at a time.” We as Christians should have that perspective all the time, not just during trials. Even when things are going well, we should be taking it one day at a time.

In times of crisis, it easy to fall into the worry trap, especially in times of trial. We often get out ahead of ourselves and ahead of God as we attempt to predict the many ways this crisis may pan out. The typical human response to uncertainty is to move automatically to a state of worry and anxiety. God clearly tells us: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)

Most of us don’t want to worry, but the fact is we are not a “one day at a time” person. We are future-oriented. We want to know what is going to happen, how it will happen, and how long will it take to happen. Then we try to predict every potential outcome so we are prepared for every eventuality and circumstance that may arise. And because we are so strategic we will try to take on the Coronavirus along with everything else that is happening in our lives. It is no wonder we have a lot of anxiety and fear in life. 

Fortunately, when we work ourselves up with the what-if’s and maybes, God pulls us back down to earth and reminds us of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God knows what our future holds so we can rest in Him. God wants you to live — fully live — one day at a time, relying on Him to provide all your needs, physically and spiritually. Matthew 6:34 says, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Psalm 68:19 ‘says, “Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.” The future can often seem very overwhelming. God graciously divided it up into 24-hour segments so you don’t get all the future at once. You get it 24 hours at a time. If God gave you all the future at one time, it would overwhelm you but you’re not there yet. You’re not ready for it. God gives it to you in 24-hour increments. We simply have to trust Him and focus on His direction for today?

“The Prayer of Serenity” is one of the most well-known prayers in the world.  This prayer is appropriate for all seasons but it is especially appropriate for those encountering difficult challenges:

 God, grant me the
          Serenity to accept the things
          I cannot change;
          Courage to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference.

          Living one day at a time;
          Enjoying one moment at a time;
          Accepting hardship
          As the pathway to peace.

          Taking, as He did,
          This sinful world as it is
          not as I would have it.

          Trusting that He will make
          all things right
          If I surrender to His will.

          That I may be reasonably happy
          in this life,
          And supremely happy
          With Him forever in the next.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Isaiah 43:1-3, 13: What do these verses tell you about God being with us? 
  2. How can we live our lives in a way that confirms that we believe that God is with us? 

Be Anxious For Nothing

Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ” —Philippians 4:6-7 (TPT). 

Anxiety is part of life. Those of us find anxiety an occasional confederate. The Bible does not tell us that believers will have no anxieties. Instead, the Bible tells us how to fight anxiety when it strikes. For example, 1 Peter 5:7 (ESV) says, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” It does not say, you will never feel any anxieties. It says, when you have them, cast them on God. The Coronavirus has reminded us anew that we have to learn how to react to stressful circumstances. 

The Bible is full of characters who were anxious and that felt unworthy to do what God was asking them to do. Elijah was discouraged and afraid, Jonah wanted to run away, Jon suffered through great loss, Moses felt inadequate, and David was often troubled to name a few. Gideon was a man who knew something about anxiety because he lived when Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites as a result of their rebellion against God. Conditions had become so desperate that Gideon was threshing grain in a winepress so the enemy wouldn’t think to steal it. (Joshua 6:11) It was at this low point in his life that the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and told him to deliver Israel from the Midianites. I imagine that request made him a little anxious. He didn’t see himself as a great warrior and felt totally inadequate for the task. He suggested the reasons why he was not the one to deliver Israel. But the Lord again responded by saying, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (Judges 6:16)

Like Gideon, we too can think of a thousand things to worry about instead of remembering God’s past faithfulness and the certainty of His future promises.  Maneuvering through anxiety is easier when we know God, believe His Word, and trust Him completely; anxiety is outweighed by His peace.

Ultimately, your hope in dark times depends on Jesus. He’s holding onto you even when it feels like you’re free-falling. You may be in the dark, but your Savior is walking right beside you. He knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by grief and swallowed by bleakness. You may become anxious and feel like your grip is slipping, but you have nothing to worry about.  His grip will never fail you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does living one day at a time mean to you? 
  2. How can we trust God one day at a time on a practical level? 

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?