Midlife Blues

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” –  1 Peter 1:6-7

Can I be middle-aged already? Really? Middle age” has been described as that period of life that you never want to enter and you never want to leave. Midlife brings new insecurities and awakenings to long-dormant regrets. Many of us face empty nests and the prospect of, in effect, starting over with spouses. Many of us face the reality of aging parents and any fears or worries or responsibilities that come with that. And of course, we daily face the reality of lost youth, waning strength, and more difficult processes for maintaining health. Time moves a lot faster the older you get. Doesn’t sound all that good, does it?

Joshua 13:1 (KJV) addressed this subject: “Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.” The “old and stricken” is not very reassuring, but it does remind us there is a lot left to do regardless of our age. Psalm 92: 14 confirms this: “Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.” In midlife, as in every stage of life, there are things we wish we had done. Fortunately, Christ doesn’t change our past, He redeems it. He is faithful to do that. He does not judge us by our actions but by His own, freely given to us in love.

In midlife, Christ is a companion through all the worries and stresses. As we get more serious about our health each decade we don’t have the strength and energy we did at 25. But Jesus is as strong as He’s ever been, and wherever we have to go or do, He will go with us. He will never leave me or forsake me.

In midlife, we have the opportunity to transfer some of our hard-earned wisdom to those coming along behind us. There are younger people seeking their way in life that we can mentor or minister to. They will benefit from people who can share their life experiences.

If you’re reaching middle age, work to continue strengthening your relationship with Jesus. He’ll be always there, waiting for you. Imagine yourself in those days of thinning hair, stubborn paunch, creaky bones, and joints, callouses of hand, and scars of heart, walking closely with the Lord.  It will make middle age something to savor.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your fears about old age? You can get wiser as you get older. What mistakes do you recall making in your younger days? What did God teach you? What would you do differently now?

Blessed Are The Meek, For They Shall Inherit The Earth

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”  – A.W. Tozer

The first beatitude—being “poor in spirit”—is about recognizing our insignificance compared to God on a very personal level. The second beatitude is about mourning for sin and its many devastating effects. Together, these two beatitudes set the stage for the third: meekness.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5 ESV) A bunch of meek people gaining control of the earth? Seems unlikely. Most people believe the strong will inherit the earth. Here’s the thing for us who are Jesus’s followers: Jesus took time in His limited earthly ministry to talk about it. He wanted us to know about it on this side of eternity. Logically, meekness is something that God desires and shows favor on. The challenge is understanding the word meek.   

Meekness is a controlled strength that puts everything in the hands of God. It’s founded on a trust of the Lord, and it always denies self. It seeks another person’s interest at the expense of its own, and it’s pure, peaceable, gentle, and open to reason. James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  How counter-cultural is that in today’s world?

There are many biblical references to the word “meek.”  Bible Psalm 37:11 (ESV) mirrors that of Matthew 5:5 by stating, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” Proverbs 16:19 says, “Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”

Meekness should not be confused with cowardice or weakness. It’s not being afraid to stand up to someone; rather it’s having the courage to trust God for justice. In the eyes of God being meek is seen as being peaceful, humble, and clear-minded about what is most important in life. Being meek means that you will follow God’s guidance in this life.  Meekness is a trait that is necessary for a Christian’s life. It is not just power under control, but power under God’s control. For a Christian, meekness is about surrendering everything to God and being completely at His disposal.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Everyone who has humility has meekness and every person with meekness is likely also humble. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. When you think about meekness, what synonyms come to mind?
  3. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. What does He mean and how does that apply to us today?

The Attributes Of God – God Never Changes

What are God’s attributes? Each Friday we will look at an attribute of God. This week, God never changes.  The Bible clearly tells us that God is unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” While everything around us is changing, we can depend on God continually showing us His grace, love, and compassion. All our material possessions may blow away, but God is still there.

“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” –  Psalm 90:2

Just think about that for a moment. How many friends have you had and lost or become distant from over the years because you just “grew apart?” It’s because one of you changed. But God never changes. 

God is unchanging in His existence. There has never been a time when God was not. There will never be a time when He will cease to be. Psalm 102:27 says, “But you are always the same; you will live forever.” All that He is today, He has always been, and forever will be. He cannot improve for the better, because He is already perfect. His power can never diminish and His glory will never fade. His existence never changes.

His Mercy is unchanging. Psalm 100:5 says, “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” The same is true with His sovereignty, holiness, power, faithfulness, goodness, patience, grace, and even His wrath. His attributes never change.

The God we serve is the same God today as He was the day He raised Jesus from the grave. He is the same God today as He was when He spoke the world into existence. He is the God who saves and He is the God in whom you can place your hope.  If God never changes, then that means His love is forever. His forgiveness is forever. His salvation is forever. His promises are forever. And His attributes are forever. 

 We should find extreme comfort in God’s unchanging nature. Every created thing in this life will let you down at some point in time. Whether it is circumstances, relationships, health, career, children, technology, etc. However unstable the circumstances around us are, God never changes. 

A.W. Tozer said, “God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm.  His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hand and cried, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God’s unchangeableness have the power to change us?
  2. How would we live our lives differently if we truly believed all God’s promises will never change?

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?

Nehemiah And The Wall

“But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king. They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.” – Nehemiah 2:17-18 

The city of Berlin will be forever famous for its infamous Wall. It was a wall that separated East from West Germany. The Berlin Wall has gained fame as a wall that divides, but the city of Jerusalem is also famous for its walls. In Nehemiah’s time, it was a wall that united the people together.

Nehemiah had a burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem. He had a vision of what could be, but he didn’t immediately pack up and race off to Jerusalem and try to get things fixed. He didn’t start developing a strategy or plan. He didn’t communicate with the populace in an attempt to get them on board. Instead, he went to the Lord and prayed. Nehemiah understood that he needed God to be successful.

“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4) He begins his prayer after days of fasting and mourning. He mourned how his people had turned their backs on God. He mourned how nothing was right. He mourned the lack of dignity God’s people had. He mourned his sins. All the while he was talking to God. He was pouring out his heart and soul to God. Nehemiah’s relationship with God teaches us we ought to walk and talk with God not just in the little things, but the big things too. God wants us to bring our worries, anxiety, dreams and hopes to Him. That is when God will direct us. That is when God will set us on our purpose. Prayer helps us to find strength for today and hope for our future.

Nehemiah needed to get the consent of the king to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall.  You can imagine him, standing there, rehearsing what he was going to say to the king. As a servant of the king, he was not supposed to serve the king and he was about to present a request to the king on behalf of God’s people. You can see him standing there silently praying to God for the right words, for strength or wisdom. It makes me see the importance of giving my anxieties over to God in the midst of adversity.  Saying, “God you got this, help me, Father”.  What an amazing gift we have that our Almighty God hears us when we talk to him.  He comforts us and strengthens us in times of need.

As we read on down through Nehemiah 2, we see that king Artaxerxes was pleased to send Nehemiah to Judah. He sent him along with the letters to grant him safe passage and letters to the managers in charge of the royal forest. These letters telling him to provide the materials needed to rebuild the walls. The goal of the wall was to make the city of Jerusalem defensible.

God uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places to change the culture, revive hearts, and build His Kingdom. God has placed you where you are for a purpose.  God wants us to remember: “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God were to answer all of our prayers from just last week, how would our lives and the lives of those around us look different? Would it make any difference?
  2. What steps can we take to become people who are marked by big, bold, and faith-filled prayers?

Facing a Mid-Life Crisis?

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” –  Isaiah 46:4.

It happens sooner or later. One day, you turn around and your children are adults. Suddenly, they are no longer discussing skateboarding or arguing over wanting to go to cheerleading practice. It doesn’t seem possible that they could be my kids. I’m not that old. Everything passed by with blinding speed.  I now realize that a huge chunk of my life is behind me. Sigh. Is this a mid-life crisis? 

It was Bob Hope who said, “you know you’ve reached middle age when your weightlifting consists merely of standing up.” 

The realization that more of life lies behind than ahead causes some people to panic. The “midlife crisis” simply represents a crisis of identity, significance, and purpose. God built us for those things so He has a solution.

God reminds us more than once in His Word that growing older is an honor. “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life” (Proverbs 16:31) The more years we live, the more experiences we’re given to learn from, and the more wisdom and perspective we gain to see life in new and beautiful ways.  

Yes, the media and advertisers lead us to believe that youth somehow has more value, the truth is, we are treasured by God at every age. Not only that, but He gives us specific gifts to share with the world in every season of our lives. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul reminds the older women of their great purpose: “Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” The generations depend on our willingness to share what God has given us.

No matter what age we are, we can align our goals with God’s goals for our lives. No matter our age, God has a purpose for our life. Ephesians 2:10 says,  “For 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.” God has a purpose for your life, but in order to fulfill that purpose, you need to grab hold of that for which He grabbed hold of you. Walk with God, and He will lead you where you are supposed to go even in middle age. 

 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Is it possible to grow older, but not old? 
  2. Should middle-age change our spiritual lives? 

How Do You Make Good Decisions

“Self-leadership begins with this discouraging realization: you have participated in every bad decision you have made.” – Andy Stanley. 

Have you ever thought about the process of making decisions, specifically what ultimately makes the decision? Is it your knowledge? Intuition? Your experience? Is it important people in your life?  Is it contemporary culture? Is it a church, or a popular spiritual leader?

There’s no doubt about it. Today we’re faced with more decisions than ever before. We live in a multiple-choice culture. Some decisions have life-or-death consequences, while others, like choosing a toothpaste, are not really all that important. There are people who are good at making decisions. But even those people make bad decisions here and there. How can we as Christians make fewer bad decisions and more good decisions?

The Bible gives perfect principles we need to know in order to make the best decisions–those that are pleasing to God. We need to ask ourselves two questions.

The first question is this: Will this decision draw me closer to God or further away from Him? As you think and pray through a major decision, evaluate how it will impact your relationship with God. Will this decision draw you closer to Him? Is there a different decision that will draw you even closer? Or will this decision move you away from God? You probably will not make the decision that draws you closer to Him every time. I won’t tell you that you always have to pick the choice that draws you the nearest to Him. When you make a bad decision remember that God is still sovereign. 

The second question is this: Will this choice make me more dependent on God or less?  We all desire to be self-sufficient. This is especially true for business leaders and business owners.  This quality is what makes them successful in business. That concept is inverted when it comes to spiritual matters: last is first and first is last. What works for us in the business world can work against us in our Christian journey. Our independence is exactly what God does not want from us in our relationship with Him. As we are making decisions in life, we need to be mindful of whether we are seeking independence from God or dependence on Him. Decision-making is a huge part of dependent living. God the Father wants you to use your mind and heart to evaluate the options and then remove the decisions that are not lined up with His way of doing life. Once you have done that, ask Him to show you which good option to choose. 

Trusting God in making decisions always leads to the best outcome. “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God!” (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What seemingly insignificant decision in your life has ended up being like a small hinge that swung open a giant door?
  2. Think of one particular decision you need to make. Spend some time looking through God’s Word and see what He has to say about it.

The Value Of Wisdom

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.” – Ephesians 1: 16-19

There are many significant moments in Solomon’s life. One of them was when God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” Needless to say that is some offer. And it came from the only One who could really grant it. Of all the things in the whole world he could have asked for, Solomon said: “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” (1 Chronicles 1:8-10)

God was pleased. “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” – 1 Kings 3:10-14

Solomon made a wise choice by asking for wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what is true and right, and having good judgment when making decisions. Solomon knew that he could not rule well without God’s wisdom. Riches and earthly things would not make him a better ruler, just a wealthier one. Only God’s wisdom would make him able to live out God’s plan.

While we may not be Solomon, if we are to live out God’s plan we too must also make good choices. And good choices result when we are connected to God ans when we use the wisdom found in the Bible. The Bible says that if we rely on our own thoughts and feelings, we are foolish, Proverbs 26:12 says, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” God is happy to provide us with wisdom. James 1: 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” God gives freely to everyone. He doesn’t find fault.

Solomon was Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci, and Steve Jobs all rolled into one. He wrote thousands of songs and proverbs, he wrote books and textbooks to teach other people. People came from all the nations to hear him teach because of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34).

We must remember where that wisdom came from. It came from God! God promised to give Solomon wisdom, and kept His promise. God makes this same promise to us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does this account of Solomon’s wisdom teach us about God’s wisdom?
  2. In what practical areas of your own life do you sense a need for more wisdom? Are you willing to ask God for this? What are some of the real reasons we don’t ask God for wisdom, even when we need it desperately?
  3. Why is it so difficult sometimes to know the best choice to make—and then make it?
  4. If you could talk with someone and receive the best wisdom in the world concerning any question, what question would you ask? When have you, personally, really needed God’s wisdom?
  5. Think about a situation in your life where you wish God would offer you more wisdom. What kinds of questions would you like to ask Him about that situation?

Who Am I Becoming?

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,” – Isaiah 61:1-2.

As you have probably guessed, I am not following my typical pattern of using the devotional to explore the week’s message in more detail. Rather, I have been using this week’s devotionals to write about general subjects that have been on my heart and mind. In this devotional, I am asking each of us a question: Who are you becoming?

How long did it take to prepare for your career? The responses will vary widely depending on what your occupation is. In most cases it took some time. The Bible teaches that the goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus? How long does it take to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ? If you want to be a person that God can use, a person who is becoming more like Jesus, then it will take time. It is going to take time spent with God. It is going to take days and weeks and months of journeying with other Christ followers. It is going to take years of participating in God’s mission, praying for God’s heart and obeying God’s words. It takes time, but with time comes progress.

The ultimate goal in life is to be more like Jesus. Are you more like Jesus this year, than you were last year? As a Christian, I yearn to not only know more about the Bible but to become more Christ-like to my family, friends, and people I meet. I want them to see something different in me, something uncommon, I want them to see Jesus in me. I fail more often than I care to admit. Perfection is a difficult target to say the least.

But If you just keep with the same old, same old you will typically get the same results you had before. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to our faults, but if we continue to do that, we will never grow. Ephesians 4:13 tells us, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

So what needs to change in your life? God has put you on earth for a purpose, but have you discovered it yet? William Barkley said, “There are two great days in a person’s life, the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

If you are a Christian you know why and how. The question is are you open to change and transformation? We all have obstacles in life; they can be stepping stones to new heights or they can seem impossible to climb. The good news is, you can change. Jesus is in the business of changed lives.  We have heard the stories of people whose lives have been radically changed by Jesus. Their stories are about normal people, from normal backgrounds, who have decided to serve an extraordinary Jesus.  

My prayer is that you will challenge yourself in 2015 to be committed to becoming more like Jesus. So the answer to the question “who am I becoming” is more like Jesus.

Discussion Question:

  1. Who do your actions say you belong to?
  2. In what areas of your life has your culture crept in and watered down your view of Christianity?
  3. How do I judge my progress at becoming more Christ like?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you in becoming more like Him.

 

What We Do With Our Wisdom

by Angela Martin

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” – Proverbs 19:20

Tyler Perry said: “What I’ve found about it is that there are some folks you can talk to until you’re blue in the face–they’re never going to get it and they’re never going to change. But every once in a while, you’ll run into someone who is eager to listen, eager to learn, and willing to try new things. Those are the people we need to reach. We have a responsibility as parents, older people, teachers, people in the neighborhood to recognize that.”

I believe the same is true of the church. And older, more mature women, have the responsibility to use their wisdom, experiences and influence to mentor and speak into the lives of younger women. A mentor is a godly, older friend who is willing to invest her time and talents into sharing her life, her struggles, and her wisdom with younger women.  Younger women are the 20-somethings with two small children, husband, and a demanding job living hundreds of miles from her parents. She often has few friends, no network of fellowship with like-minded women, yet she has to try and make sense of all that is happening around her. She needs someone who can shape, encourage, and inspire her in her journey as a woman, a wife, and a mother.

Titus 2 talks about how to train younger women in Biblical, simple-to-measure, Spirit-empowered, love-based living. “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:3-5)

For every woman who attends Northstar, there are some older and some younger. To those older, you are to look and see if they are an example of Christ—if they are, ask them to show you what they have learned and how they do it. For those who are younger, try and assist them to help them bring every area of their lives to Jesus. This can occur in informal settings, such as one on one, or in Northstar Groups. We need to remember that many of the young woman who attend our church were not raised in the church.

Having a mentor in your life means you’re going to have some learning to do, because your life as it is now, may be challenged. While that may be a good thing, it isn’t always an easy thing.

My prayer is that every woman in our church will have other women placed into their lives as an example, encouragement, and role model.

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye.” Psalm 32:8

Discussion Question:

  1. Do you view mentoring as ministry?
  2. Do you know someone who you believe you could help? What is stopping you from connecting with that person?
  3. A heart for God, experience in life, a love for people and availability. If you have these characteristics, you can mentor someone else. Agree or disagree?
  4. God placed the first two priorities in the Titus 2 list for women: to love their husbands and love their children. What is keeping us from fulfilling those two responsibilities?
  5. Pray and ask God to put a mentor in your life, or to mentor to someone, who can benefit from your wisdom and experiences?