What Are You Afraid Of?

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” – Exodus 14:13-14

We all have fears. Some people may be afraid of rollercoasters, sharks, spiders, or the dark. However, there are also fears that seem to follow us around on a daily basis. Whether they be fears of the future, financial trouble, health concerns, failure, or disappointment. On our own, we can find it difficult not to let anxious thoughts occupy our minds and ideas. However, when we rely not on our own strength but on God’s power, we can find that our anxieties and stresses do not overtake us.

In the Bible, and the Psalms especially, we can find many references to having faith over fear and trusting in God in difficult times. “The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)  Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid…?” God has a plan for our lives and did not create us to be fearful: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7). When we have God on our side, we need not be afraid. With Christ in our lives, we know that there is hope for the future.

Look at the events that take place in Exodus 14. God has brought the Israelite people out of slavery in Egypt and is guiding them to the promised land. There’s just one small problem. They barely make it to the edge of the Red Sea before the pharaoh changes his mind and starts to chase them down. Naturally, the people are terrified. They begin to cry out against Moses, saying they should’ve never even left Egypt.  It was in this moment that Moses stands before God’s people and delivers perhaps the GOAT of motivational speeches: “…Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Moses had faith in God and His promised deliverance. He was reminding the Israelites that when God begins something He will see it through to the end. No king or people or group is a match for God. In the midst of their terror, Moses encouraged the Israelites to have faith in the power of God.

What does that have to do with our fears today? Even when everything around us seems to be falling apart and we can’t imagine how anything good could come from our present circumstances, God still moves, still provides, and still makes a way for His name to be glorified.

While you probably won’t completely rid yourself of fear, not this side of heaven anyway, it doesn’t have to control your life. Your reasons to trust God are so much greater than your fears.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Max Lucado says, “The presence of fear does not mean you have no faith. Fear visits everyone. But make your fear a visitor and not a resident.” How does one go about doing that?
  2. What can you do this week to diminish fear and increase your faith? 

I Can Trust God With My Grief

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress, my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing”Psalm 31:9-10 (ESV).

In times of grief, it is hard to keep trusting in God — and in His plan for our life. There are things that happen that completely take the starch out of the present and seemingly our future. A heartbreaking loss seems like it will take years to truly recover and heal.   

You are not alone. Nobody escapes this life without battle scars. No matter how strong your faith or deep your love for Jesus is, you will experience pain. But if you choose to trust God, you’ll also experience deep joy, peace, freedom, and hope. Learning how to trust God’s plan for your life will get you through your loss, no matter how heartbreaking it is.

So, as we search for something to grab hold of in the midst of grief that will bring comfort, or as we search for words to say to someone else who is grieving, we want to make sure that what we’re grabbing hold of, or offering to someone else to hold onto, is profoundly, fully, and eternally true.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

It seems counterintuitive, but grief and grace co-mingle pretty well together. When we are grieving God does not throw up His hands and say, “I’m done with him or her. Where is their faith?”  God loves each one of us and His grace will never leave us.  Psalm 94:18-19 reminds us, ‘I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.’”

You can read God’s words for you in Hebrews: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:15-16). God is reminding us that He isn’t far off. He wants to comfort you. He wants you to find His grace.

Trust God in hard times. Even when times are hard and grief seems to be a constant companion, trusting God is possible. In a time of loss, choose to trust that God is still with you and has a glorious plan for your life. As David said in Psalm 31:14, “But I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you tell your grief is affecting you more than you thought it was? 
  2. Have other people suggested that you need “to get on with it” and move on? Is this good advice? What do you need to say to them when they tell you this? 
  3. What does it mean to lean into God in your grief? How do we effectively do that?  

True Happiness Can Only Be Found In God

“Yes, joyful are those who live like this! Joyful indeed are those whose God is the LORD.” – Psalm 144:15.

Human history is the story of mankind’s search for true and lasting happiness. Some find it, some don’t. Even billionaires who appear to have it all and want for nothing can’t seem to find true contentment and joy.

We are probably not one of the approximately 3,311 billionaires looking for happiness. While we are in a different place financially, we still look for happiness: often in the wrong places. We focus on what is not important rather than what is. We all experience happiness at different times in our lives. But if our happiness is found outside of God, then it is temporary.  True happiness cannot be found in relationships, wealth, status, or accomplishments because all of these things can be undone or disappear rather quickly. When that happens, we are giving away our joy, nobody is stealing it.

Happiness is a choice.  Randy Alcorn says, “Those who sit around waiting to be happy shouldn’t hold their breath—it will likely be a long wait.” True happiness comes from having a relationship with God, our Creator, and Jesus His Son. That’s where true and lasting happiness comes from—not in stuff we build up here on earth. When we know, love, and serve God, His peace invades our hearts and we can see life in a different way.

God is eternal, His purpose is perfect, and we are forever His. He gives us all things and works all things for our good. What makes God’s gifts so special is not the thing given but the One who gives it. If we are going to be happy, truly happy, then we have to look behind the gifts we enjoy when days are easy to the God who gives them. And when days are dark we have to look beyond our painful circumstances to the God who loves us and strengthens us.

Being “joyful always” doesn’t mean we have to walk around with a fake smile on our face all the time, ignore reality or suppress every negative emotion. This verse simply implores us to intentionally let our faith, not our feelings, dictate our joy. The secret to real happiness isn’t really a secret at all.

To find true happiness you must look to the Lord Jesus, find beauty in His character, fall in love with His work, and stand in awe at what He has done for you and the future you have in Him. In Him, we have real joy. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe joy is a feeling or a choice?
  2. Remind yourself of the importance of rejoicing by searching the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—for God’s instructions in this area. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us it’s God’s will that we “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

The Attributes Of God – The Wisdom Of God

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, the wisdom of God. On a human level, we learn wisdom through experience, usually by the wrong application of knowledge. We may act wisely from time to time, but we also act rashly or foolishly at other times. The wisdom of God, on the other hand, is perfection. God must act wisely in everything He does, not because He has wisdom, but because He is wisdom.

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” – Romans 11:33

Like Solomon, Christians have prayed for wisdom. James 1:5 speaks to God’s promise to give wisdom any time we ask for it. This powerful assurance is comforting since we need wisdom. We may be sometimes wise, but God is always wise.

Trying to wrap our arms around the wisdom of God is impossible. Man cannot, through his own wisdom, knowledge, and learning, come to an understanding of the wisdom of God. His understanding is infinite, and so there is no earthly comparison. His knowledge is immutable, for He knows all, and is all in all. Mankind will never understand the solitary, unending, limitless, established wisdom of God. 

Indeed, when we see wisdom like this, we realize just how much our limited, finite wisdom compares with the limitless, infinite wisdom of God. The fact that God can never be wiser means He is always doing the wisest thing in our lives. In God’s perfect way and God’s perfect time, He continues with His perfect plan. No plan we could make for our lives could be better than the plan He has already crafted and is carrying out for us. We might not understand His ways today, but we can trust that because God is infinitely wise and is working all things out in the best possible way.

The fact that God is wisdom, that He knows all and knows how to use all, should make us trust Him more. Living out a life of wisdom was never designed to highlight our handling of things, but rather when we realize that we aren’t enough on our own. We realize that in Christ we have more than enough to equip us to live bigger, bolder, and fuller lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what area of your life have you asked God for wisdom recently?
  2. What is one way you could use the knowledge you’ve been given to impact the world around you?

Blessed To Bless Others

” I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. The orchards and fields of my people will yield bumper crops, and everyone will live in safety. When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 34:26-27. 

There is an old hymn written by Daniel Webster Whittle in 1883 entitled, “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings.” Whittle wrote this hymn and many others. The words are based on Ezekiel 34:26-27.

God truly does shower us with blessings: deep compassion, amazing love, kindness and grace, His forgiveness, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and His multitude of promises to name a few. God doesn’t simply bless us just so we can say we are a blessed people. God blesses us because He loves us, and so we can be a blessing to others. He instructs us, so we can instruct others. He comforts us, so we can comfort others.

The Christian faith proves to be way bigger than just me and you. His blessings are not meant to be totally consumed by us. Blessings flow from God, but they should never stop with us. They come to us and then flow through us. Every blessing we have received from God, whether material or spiritual, is to be used for the benefit of others. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we were created anew in Christ Jesus for a purpose to “…do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God is all about blessing people. In fact, God gave His people a blessing that we still use today: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’” (Numbers 6:24-26). 

Psalm 20: 2,4,5 says, “May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem…May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed…May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.”

God blesses others through the blessings we have received. In a way, we keep those blessings moving forward as we partner with God and share our blessings with others. We do it for the common good instead rather than for personal gain, worth, or recognition.

Look around you at your neighbors, the people you work with or go to school with, the person sitting next to you at church, or the person in your small group. Are there opportunities to share your blessings with them? You will never regret a moment of helping someone else. And, you might just find that you are blessed as much as those you set out to help. 

  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has God blessed you?
  2. How are you passing on to others the blessing God has given you? 

Focus On Jesus

“Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”- Matthew 14:28-31

Matthew’s account of Peter walking on water is one of the most widely known stories in the Bible. How crazy must that have been to witness? But some people criticize Peter because he began to sink. But none of the critics, or anyone for that matter, have repeated his feat. Peter was willing to put it all on the line. He and the other disciples had been straining against the waves and wind all night long when Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. Peter was willing to literally step onto the water because He was looking at Jesus. That gave him confidence and courage. Peter’s eyes were locked on Jesus and for however long it lasted, Peter walked on water.

You might think that Peter should have enough evidence now that he has walked on water and gotten close enough to Jesus that He could reach out a helping hand that he could trust Jesus to sustain him, but he sank in fear.

No matter how far out on the water a person may be, how much they seem to have trusted Christ with their life, they are still liable to fear.  They are strong wind and high seas away from sinking in doubt. The problem was Peter stopped looking at Jesus. The focus of his attention shifted from Jesus to the storm – he saw the wind the waves and panic and feelings of inadequacy took over. “He was terrified and began to sink” The takeaway is clear: look for Jesus and keep looking to Jesus.  

Peter demonstrated how most Christians respond to fear and uncertainty. First, we are afraid. Then, we sense that God is in control and will take care of us and we are emboldened. We step out in faith. But then as trials and circumstances swirl around us, we begin to take our focus off the Lord and focus on the perils around us. As a result, we start to feel overwhelmed. 

The Christian life is a step-by-step process that requires our focus to remain upon Christ. If we start looking around and becoming distracted by worldly things, we will fall. And often, it does not take very long, sometimes just a matter of seconds, to go from confident faith to overwhelming doubt. In the end, though, God is there for us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you imagine what it must have been like to walk on water? 
  2. What can we do this week to better focus on Jesus? 

The Attributes Of God – God Knows Everything

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is He? It is important to study and know God’s attributes so we can grow closer to Him. How we view God impacts everything. So when we understand and embrace who God is, it gives us a firm foundation for our faith. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God knows everything. 

“Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are His wisdom and knowledge and riches! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be His counselor and guide?” (Romans 11:33-34 TLB)

Today’s smartphones are extraordinary in many ways. There is nothing you can’t ask it. It will have answers to most of your questions. You can ask for movie times, driving directions—even a recipe—and up pops the information on the high-resolution screen. Your phone has more computing power than the mainframes of just a few years ago.  But you wouldn’t ask this technological marvel for advice or guidance for living. It provides you with information but really doesn’t know you. Artificial intelligence, no matter how sophisticated, lacks wisdom. As Romans 11:33 tells us: “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!”  

The fact that God knows everything is another one of His attributes. Psalm 139 celebrates this aspect of God’s nature. God doesn’t just know all things; He knows everything about each of us. We have no secrets from Him. He is the one who created us—“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. He knows our lives from start to finish; our days were written in His book long before we existed.  King David writes, “O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place Your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” (Psalm 139:1-6) 

God knows everything—much more than we could ever imagine. Our Creator knows everything and is the source of all true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. His knowledge is undefiled by any distortions or wrong perspectives. It is totally true and accurate. God knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Unlike us, God is never surprised or bewildered, because He is always completely aware of all events past, present, and future. He also knows everything about you — your desires, motives, and thoughts. God knows more about you than you will ever know about yourself. 

We can never escape God’s attention, so how should we respond? Do we fear? Do we quit?

Just as David did, we ask God to search us, to know our hearts, test us, and lead us (Psalm 139:23-24). We respond with praise and gratitude knowing that God who knows everything is guiding us through life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does it make you feel to know that God knows every detail of your life and still loves you?
  2. How does the fact that God knows everything changes the way you live your life?

Is It Time To Rethink The Value Of Community?

“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” – Colossians 3:16.

There is a big difference between what we want and what we need in every aspect of life. For example, we all want friends that agree with us, share the same interests, and make us feel good. But what we need are friends that celebrate our victories, mourn our losses, and walk with us spiritually. Friends like that are not a luxury, they are a necessity. We need them because they support and motivate us to run the race that God has set before us.

God created community as a support system that helps us make and keep Christ as our first priority, protect and encourage us. People are there to fight for us…in person, on the phone, and through prayer, in good times, and in bad times.  

Maybe you are one of those people who see the value of community but don’t get involved. You have your family. You go to church. You read your Bible. And you have Christian friends that you can“hang out with” should the need arise. Those are all good things, but eventually, you will need a deep, God-centered community around you when a relationship goes sour, you are going through spiritual doubt, or when health issues sap your resolve. We need people to pray for us when we find it difficult to pray. We need people to listen to us and encourage us when we are in the valley and celebrate with us when we are on the mountaintop. We need people to pick us up when we are down.  

Maybe it is time to rethink joining a small group. One of the core values of Northstar is to foster community with others.  Community is more than just people getting to know each other and spending time together. We believe that community is – as described in Hebrews 10:24 – a group of people who “… motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”  We join up with others in community because we need intimate relationships: discussion that goes deep, friendships that reach beyond the surface, and support that can help us navigate through troubled waters.

Small groups provide a valuable opportunity to connect with other believers outside the Sunday morning worship. But extending our Sunday-morning relationships beyond our time together on Sunday morning and outside the walls of our buildings. Small groups have the potential to be a springboard for even deeper relationships. Smaller groups are a safe space for vulnerability, honesty, curiosity, support, encouragement, forgiveness, laughter, accountability, transformation, connection, and a whole host of other things that are not easy to do in a big crowd. 

We all need this type of community. Maybe it is time to rethink the need to surround yourself with people that help you live life to the fullest.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do we need other people to watch over us and speak into our lives? 
  2. How might your life be different if you were a member of a small group?   

The Attributes Of God – God Never Changes

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is He? It is important to study and know God’s attributes so we can grow closer to Him. How we view God impacts everything. So when we understand and embrace who God is, it gives us a firm foundation for our faith. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God never changes.

“Remember God is the same, whatever is removed. Your friends may be disaffected, your ministers may be taken away, and everything may change, but God does not. Your brethren may change and cast out your name as vile: but God will love you still. Let your station in life change, and your property be gone; let your whole life be shaken, and you become weak and sickly; let everything flee away—there is one place where change cannot put his finger; there is one name on which mutability can never be written; there is one heart which never can alter; that heart is God’s—that name love “- Charles Spurgeon. 

That sermon from Charles Spurgeon is approximately 167 years old, yet it speaks to the human heart today. Life on the Emerald Coast over the last few years has taught us that change is inevitable. But amidst all the change, we still long for a love relationship that is secure enough for us to attach our hope to it without fear it will falter or ultimately fizzle out. Our God is unchangeable because He is perfect. Nothing can be added or taken away from Him. Everything He does is consistent with who He is. God’s promises are the same, and His ability to keep them will never waver. Malachi 3:5 says “I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed.” God is immutable. 

In short, God’s immutability means we can count on Him, no matter what.  God is unchanging in His character, will, and promises. The influences that cause a change in your life have no effect on God. His knowledge and wisdom will not increase or diminish. God does not compromise or change His values. Life and its uncertainties may shake you, but God does not move. 

If you cling to Him, His strength will sustain you. Psalm 33:11 states, “The LORD’s plans stand firm forever; His intentions can never be shaken”  God’s plan is unchangeable. It existed at the beginning of creation and remains the same today. And we are part of His plan. Paul explains, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10) Psalm 18:30 states, “God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true.”  

God’s commitment to you is as strong as He is eternally constant. The storms of life are continually changing, but God remains the same. He is consistent and reliable. He is your anchor. You can count on God because He never changes. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Nobody likes change all that well.  What life changes were difficult for you to navigate?  
  2. Read Numbers 23:19. How have you personally experienced God’s consistency lately?
  3. How does the fact that God is immutable change how you live your life?

Abigail And Taking Risks

“David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.” – 1 Samuel 25:32-35.

When you hear “risk-taking” does your adrenaline start to flow? Do the butterflies in your stomach take flight in anticipation? The thought of facing a tough challenge or taking a risk is simply not as exciting and adventurous as movies would have us think. In reality, we find a certain safety in remaining in our comfort zones, protected and secure.

As followers of Christ, we will be called to step out of our comfort zones. When the Holy Spirit calls us to step out and take a risk, how do we respond? The Bible teaches us a lot about ordinary people at that critical moment when a decision had to be made, they chose to take the risk. One such story is Abigail found in 1 Samuel 25. 

David came to Nabal (Abigail’s husband) requesting food for his army. Nabal rejected the request, by saying “Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:1-11)  David was angry and felt his only recourse was retaliation. He set out to kill Nabal and all his men. When hearing about what happened Abigail jumped into action even though Nabal would have never consented to her actions. 

She presented gifts to David in the most submissive, respectful way. She bowed down in his presence to ask forgiveness on behalf of Nabal. (1 Samuel 25:23) David was so moved by Abigail’s eloquent speech, he thanked God for sending her. Abigail risked her relationship with her husband to defuse a deadly situation. Her safety, her home, and her heart were saved because she trusted God.

What if we were in Abigail’s shoes? Would we exhibit the same kind of bold faith God wants to see in us? The kind of faith that makes a difference in our lives and our world. Bold faith happens when we learn to take risks for God.

 If we are facing a seemingly insurmountable problem–a situation that we believe we are powerless to influence–we should be still and wait on the Lord. But there will also be times when action is required, where we may be asked to take bold steps, and yes, to take some risks. Faith is simply doing what God tells you to do whether you feel like it or not, and in fact, especially when you don’t feel like it, regardless of the circumstances because God will see you thru.

 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God asks us to take risks? What do we learn about ourselves, and how do we grow by taking risks?
  2. What are the obstacles to stepping out of our zones of comfort and taking risks?
  3. Is there an area of your life where you’ve sensed God nudging you to take a step of faith? Have you been holding back, questioning the outcome of taking that step?