Some Good News Amidst The Bad

“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” – Psalm 112:6-7 (ESV)

Have you ever had to tell someone bad news? It isn’t very fun. It is no fun to let your parents know you got in big trouble at school or to tell a good friend the harsh truth.  We seem surrounded by bad news these days, in our local churches, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

We live in a broken world, and try as we might, we can’t hide from bad news or heartache by turning off the TV, ignoring it, or in a Netflix binge. None of those things will ever bring us peace because peace comes in the form of a Person: Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

That’s the good news about bad news: simply put, when the news seems all bad, there is good news. God is in control of history and anyone who acknowledges his need for God in Christ holds the key to inner peace and security. For in Christ, whether we live or die, we can’t lose. Christ gives us the key to eternal life and living this life victoriously.

God reminds us in His word that peace will not naturally just come our way. Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn away from evil and do good; search for peace and work to maintain it.”  There is no shortage of ideas on how to obtain peace. There are numerous books on the subject. They include suggestions such as – getting away for a few days, relaxing, being happy, taking a vacation, tuning out, just don’t think about stressful stuff, and searching for your inner place of peace. But these are all superficial fixes, that are at best temporary.

The peace of God is different. It’s lasting. Confident. Real. It gives us deep reassurance in the midst of all that we face in our past, present, and future.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace all who trust in, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”

No matter what we go through in this life, or what we’re up against today, we don’t have to be shaken. We’re safe with Him. At rest. At peace. He sent His only Son, the pure essence of Peace Himself, to give us lasting freedom and peace that only He can give.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you react to bad news?
  2. How can you turn bad news into peace?
  3. What are practical ways we can trust God for peace in our lives?

Marriage and the Past

“Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find? The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him! A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes. Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?” – Proverbs 20:6-9.

As you well know, marriage is a subject near and dear to my heart. Marriage is a gift from God that He wants you to fully enjoy. But if the pain you’ve suffered in your past is still impacting your relationship now, you can’t fully embrace the new life God offers you because you’ll be stuck in a frustrating rewind of the past. 

When I married Angela I didn’t know everything about her. Nor did she know everything about me.  Neither of us knew much about married life, but we wanted to figure it out together—the two of us. I was learning how to be her husband, and she was learning how to be my wife. And that included dealing with any issues in our past. The truth is the past isn’t the past until it has been dealt with properly, because our past affects today in a negative manner. Therefore, it is still the present.

We must look back and deal with the past in order to move ahead. Your best bet for a successful future is to own your share of the past. In order to deal with your past, you first of all have to be willing to be blatantly honest with yourself. We need to honestly look at some of our less than stellar qualities and ask this question: “Could I be this way because of something in my past that I haven’t dealt with?”

The answer could be yes because we are the sum of all our experiences. The good things in our past show up in the positive aspects of our lives today. But here is the thing. The bad things in our pasts that we haven’t dealt with can create personality problems, emotional issues, relational difficulties and potentially, trouble in marriage. Those same bad things can also show up as positive aspects of our lives if we give them to God and we learn from them.

Jean Paul Sartre once said “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” So what are we going to do to dissolve the hold the past has on us? In marriage as in very phase of life, the first thing to do is to surrender to Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you anything or anyone in your past you need to deal with. And that includes forgiveness. Forgiveness is an essential part of marriage and when we forgive, we give up the right to punish others. The simple act of forgiveness can set you free from your past and free from your future faster than almost anything else you can do.

When Angela and I stood hand in hand at the altar, promising to stay in this covenant for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until one of us died, we knew little of each other’s past. But it really didn’t matter unless we let it matter.  We were focused on our future and what God planned for us. We were focused on loving God and loving each other.   

Now, after all these years of marriage, we know much more about the past. We have learned to look past what is not important down to the terra firma. And that is one relationship with Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Talk about a time when you’ve seen someone repeat mistakes from the past because that person didn’t take ownership of his or her part of those mistakes.
  2. Why do you think it’s so difficult for people to recognize their roles in past mistakes?
  3. What are some things in your past from which you’ve hidden? In what ways did that make you unavailable for the people in your life?
  4. What is one area of your life where you haven’t owned your part of past results? What can you do this week to begin to own your part? 

In Everything Give Thanks

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” –  Colossians 3:15-17

It is Thanksgiving 2015, 395 years since the first one in 1621. There are a lot of things I like about the Thanksgiving holiday and there are a lot of things I am thankful for. Number one on the list is I am thankful for a God who loves me and a Savior who came to die in my place and rise again for my salvation.  I am nothing without Him. 

I am thankful for the woman God put in my life.  Angela continues to be an incredible blessing from God. I am thankful for my son, Andrew and my daughter Ashleigh. Nothing prepares you for being a father, but there are few things better than being a dad.  

I am thankful I have the opportunity to be a pastor. I thank God for blessing my life with a church family filled with compassion and love; giving me the honor of serving as your Pastor, walking alongside you, working together, laughing together, crying together, in ministry and mission that transforms lives with the good news of Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t trade the Northstar family for the world.  

I am thankful for the church staff. These men and women have dedicated their lives to serve people. Thank you for going to God on our behalf and praying for us daily. 

I am also thankful for our campus pastors. Thank you for walking with us through tragedy, marital troubles, raising children and life’s great challenges. Thank you for the periodic phone calls, texts and emails just to see how we are doing. And most of all, thank you for not quitting each Monday.

I am thankful for all our volunteers. Many of the tasks that need to be done in a church setting happen behind the scenes; in a place where you will not get noticed or applauded. Your love of God shows in your willingness to get involved and in your willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

I am thankful to live in America. To enjoy the freedoms we have is an incredible blessing which all too often I have taken for granted.

If you have a second you may also want to read Psalm 136 which starts out, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever…”

This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks as we reflect upon all of God’s blessings in the past, present, and future.  

We Are Not Statistics

“ For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”   1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Maria Belon, the mother in The Impossible writes: “”They say my name softly. Yell it louder. I’m already walking towards the tunnel. …. ‘Mama, mama, wake up.  Did you get on the same wave as I did?'” Simon is covered in mud. Tomas with his chubby cheeks and tear-streaked face is at his side. He has scratches and blood. He is very sad and very serious. ‘Ma, aren’t you happy to see us?’” Huge swells of love and sadness pool just behind her eyes. She guesses she has always been like that but facing death made it all the more intense.

The tsunami resulted in at least 227,898 fatalities. The Belon family very nearly were additional statistics. But those statistics are people. How do we look at the lost? Are they statistics? Are they simply additional numbers in the total number of people who do not attend church or believe in Jesus Christ? Are those we know just part of that total?  And the still bigger question is, do we treat them as statistics?  Do they become numbers? It is difficult when the total numbers are so large and it seems your efforts won’t make much of a difference. There you are wrong. It is worth the effort to win one person to Jesus. But it often requires more work than we expect. 

You meet someone and after a few conversations – at work, or school or in the neighborhood – you invite the person to church. They explain that they have a lot going on, but thanks for the invite anyway. What they are actually saying is probably something like this: “Since you are not taking an interest in what interests me, how do you expect me to take an interest in what interests you.”

It is great that we invite someone to church but is that as far as our Christian interest extends? It’s almost like we have fulfilled our responsibilities to them.  They probably feel like an obligatory target or worse a statistic. Most people will not drop all their beliefs just to accept yours. We need to show an interest in what’s interesting to them instead of expecting them to be interested in Jesus the first time we mention the Savior’s name.  Some people believe that spending time with non-believers is conforming to the world. (Romans 12:2)   

What was Jesus major secret of being effective? He loved sinners. The religious leaders got upset when He was talking and eating with sinners. But Jesus said that he “…came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Matt. 9:10-13).

In Luke 15: 1-7, answering the charges that if He was really spiritual he would not be eating with sinners, Jesus said, “ if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

People matter to God so they should matter to us.  They are not statistics. God Himself became a man and left us an example of how we should care for the lost, then exhorted us to follow in His steps.  Jesus stated His purpose, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). We should make His mission our mission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view those people you know who are far from the heart of God? How invested are you in your relationship with people you know who are far from the heart of God?
  2. Do you find it difficult to speak to others about God in this day and age? Why or why not?
  3. What has Jesus done in your life that you can share with others? How can you reveal God’s grace and mercy to others?
  4. Pray and ask God to provide you the wisdom to seize on the opportunities and possibilities He provides us with those far from the heart of God.

Work in Progress

The definition of perfection is the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects, the act of making something that can’t be improved. I think we would all like to obtain a level of perfection in something, whether in our work, or sports, in our attitude or in our relationships. The problem is we are flawed. And while we may be highly successful in one of those areas, we are not God, so perfection is an unattainable goal.

Another definition of perfection in the dictionary is “the act or process of perfecting.”

It doesn’t say perfect or a deadline to be perfect. It is a process. As Christians we should be striving to be perfect knowing we will never get there. But that’s not the point. What is more important is that we are making progress. It is easy to shy away from doing things rather than be average or even poor at doing them. What Paul is telling us in Philippians 3 is that we need to get out there and get started on furthering God’s kingdom even though we may will fall short occasionally on the way. Progress is the goal and progress can be slow incremental steps. When we try too hard to be perfect, to get it right, we usually get it wrong. We sometimes try too hard to get it right rather than simply trusting God to guide us along the way.

So just keep moving forward, baby steps or long strides. Keep improving and keep progressing. That is what God wants. God wants our best but he knows it is flawed. If you are ever going to become the person you know you can be, you must learn to accept the fact that failure will be an ever-present part of the process. But even failure often leads to progress.

The Holy Spirit also enables us to commit to the process of moving toward a destination. Running has taught me that when you focus on the progression, the great majority of the time you reach your destination. Many people love getting to the destination, but few do the hard work of progressing toward the end goal. And believe me there have been times when I have stumbled and bumbled my way a few blocks more than the last time. Still, it is progress.

So as you begin this new week, focus on progress and on the things you need to work on to get better. If you encounter setbacks and failures along the way, don’t be discouraged, but take comfort in knowing that what you are experiencing isn’t a bad sign, but simply part of the process.

Discussion questions:
1. Can we become perfect in this world? If it’s not possible, what was Paul shooting for?
2. How does Philippians 1:6, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” give you confidence to continue making progress?
3. Do you think making progress is better than not performing or even trying?
4. Philippians 3:14 says “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” How would your life look different if you pressed toward the call of God in Christ Jesus?
5. Set aside time this week to sit down with your Bible with no distractions. Evaluate your spiritual progress. Make/keep your plan simple. Track your progress. Keep your eyes on the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We Are Rich

One of the more popular bumper stickers you see on cars everywhere reads, “God Bless America.” My immediate reaction to seeing that bumper sticker is to say, God has blessed America. We are being pretty naive when we start to think that our world is “the” world. We are fortunate to live in the United States.

The Worldwatch Institute says that the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, uses about a quarter of the world’s resources. America has more private cars than licensed drivers. Over 92 percent of the people in the world do not have a car, and it doesn’t matter what make or year of car you drive, most of the world sees a car and they think rich.

We have access to clean drinking water. More than one billion people lack reasonable access to safe drinking water. We go the cupboard, pull out a glass, get some ice from the side of the fridge and pour a clean glass of water to drink. Hundreds of millions of people in the world that watch us do that daily task, that we take for granted, must think to themselves –  wow, it must be nice to be rich.

We probably ate more than we should have today. There are countless numbers of people around the globe who won’t eat today. A lot of them are children. People die from hunger every couple of seconds.

We are rich. God has blessed America.

1. Do you feel blessed?
2. Why or why not?