Keep Short Accounts

“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” – Psalms 130:1-8

“Keep short accounts…”

It’s likely that most anyone who’s been a follower of Christ for any length of time has heard this phrase at least once along the way. But what does it mean? And what is the application for my life.

In general, it means that when we sin, we should quickly make every effort to get alone with God, ask His forgiveness. The same applies to relationships. We should work to make things right as quickly as possible with any other person that we have wronged. And then relegate it to the back of our memory banks. Living daily with a clean conscience is far better for the Christian than living with bitterness and anger hanging over our heads, regardless of the relationships we are in.

Say you are an accountant and your job is maintaining the books for your company. If you spend a little time each week working on reconciling the books, it’s a straightforward, simple task. However if you wait two months to do so, it becomes a monumental task of trying to figure out what to post to where. It’s the same in relationships. Not letting problems pile up makes it easier to balance our relational accounts.

Relationships don’t work very well when we have a sink full of dirty dishes or resentment that has been building over the years. However, if there is one dish in the sink, it is easier to deal with. If we keep letting the dishes pile up, we will assume the problem has become too big to solve. Bitterness and resentment make for dirty dishes while forgiveness reduces the number of dirty dishes.

There are people who believe they have been wronged to the point that forgetting and forgiving is out of the question. That looking past what has happened is too much to ask. Yes, forgiveness can seem costly. But, I would reply that not forgiving costs much more. I would ask you to make forgiveness a habit. Don’t make forgiveness an option or a policy that applies just to people you love. Make it a part of who you are even with people who are difficult to forgive. And forgive even when they’re not looking for it. Keep short accounts.

Remember that when we forgive those who have sinned against us we are only doing what Christ did when he forgave us first.“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matthew 6:14-15.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do you keep short accounts? Why is it hard to forgive?
  2. Why do you think people are content to be angry or bitter when the release of forgiveness is available?
  3. What characteristics in your life might indicate that you haven’t fully forgiven past hurts, even if you know in your head what you need to do?
  4. How should a Christian deal with recurring offenses, especially those that open up old wounds?
  5. Is there a broken or strained relationship in your life that you could or should rectify? What can you do to start the process this week?

I'll Pencil You Into My Schedule

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” – Psalms 5:3

Our time is our life, and how we spend it shapes our character, our happiness, our success and our future. How and in what we invest our time is what is important. How does God want us to spend our time? It’s an interesting question to consider. In Sunday’s message we talked about matching up our time and schedules with the priorities in our life such as our relationships. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” That is the core of what I was talking about on Sunday. Our best intentions means little unless there is action behind them. In other words, are we willing to dedicate the time to do what we say we want to do. In today’s devotional, I would like to expand that thought process to include how much God shows up on our schedule.

Do you ever feel like our Christian walk wouldn’t be so difficult if life didn’t keep getting in the way. That feeling often surfaces on Sunday mornings. Some worship services are the kind where you check your watch every few minutes because they seem to go on and on and on. Yes, the music is wonderful, and yes, the message was spot on for some things you need to live a Home Ruin Life. But at some point, the real world is calling and we have to exit the church and head for home and our schedules. Sure, I want to glorify God, but life is busy, our schedules are packed, there are bills to be paid, projects due at the office.

Many of us are planners. We like to plan out our schedule so we know what we have to do and when. Let’s say we decided to apply this same discipline with God. We take out a blank monthly calendar and after a few moments of thought and reflection say: “Okay, God, I’ll give you two hours on Sunday morning and I believe I can commit to one hour each week for my small group. I will check with you for 15 minutes each morning to set up my day and at bedtime (unless I fall asleep) for a post-day debrief.  I think that pretty much covers it, oh yes, I almost forgot. I will do a brief acknowledgment before each meal. Does that work for you? Outstanding. I’ll pencil you in.”

The problem is that we think that we need to divide or separate God’s time from the rest of our everyday life. Sunday is God’s time, holy and set apart for Him. And the rest of the week is when I get everything else done. The problem with that thinking is we are putting God in a Sunday morning box; that’s when we go to church, pray, worship, and reflect on God.  Starting on Monday, we don’t think as much about God. Not because we don’t love, revere or worship God, because we do. No, it is because we think, “there’s nothing spiritual about going to the grocery store, cooking dinner, meeting with a client, doing laundry or grading student papers.”

God is not a Sunday-only God that wants to limit His interaction with you.  God wants to help you with cooking dinner, driving in traffic, and in your business dealings.  He wants to help you with that algebra problem, help you be more productive at the office and with your role in your small group. But, God will only be involved in as much of your life as you allow Him to be.

Proverbs 3: 6 (TLB) says, “In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success”

In everything you do acknowledge God.  That means when you get up in the morning, acknowledge God;  “Good morning Lord, I love you today. I need your help to live a Home Run Life today.” When you are at work, “Lord, help me to reflect you today by keeping my word and my promises.” Or “Lord, help me be the husband/wife that loves my spouse unconditionally today and every day.”

Here is the bottom line. We don’t have to pull ourselves out of living to glorify God. On the contrary, God doesn’t want designated sections of your day. He wants to be part of every moment of your day. God expects us to make Him a part of our everyday living. Don’t relegate God to a few mentions on your calendar. Let Him infuse your day with His strength, His patience and His love in everything. You will be a different person for it.

Discussion Question:

  1. Do you have faith in God’s presence at all times? Describe a time when you felt God’s presence? Practice the presence of God–take time each day–even for a few minutes to be aware of the presence of God.
  2. What do you need to do to keep God in your schedule?
  3. What, if anything, sounds too difficult about talking and listening to God while you’re doing something else? In what circumstances are you most tempted to stop talking to God? If you were to talk to Him in those circumstances, what would you want to hear from Him?
  4. How would you rate your prayer life?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you be more dependent on Him in every aspect of your life?

 

How Good Is Your Word?

“It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it.” – Ecclesiastes 5:5 (NLT)

We all want to be people who keep their word.  We all want to be people who possess basic honesty, integrity, people who don’t just talk a good game but are striving to be dependable and trustworthy.  Keeping our word is foundational to  relationships, to community and to the Home Run Life.

What is it about keeping our word that is so difficult for people? So many people are finding it a challenge to be where they say they will be and do what they say they will do. Some look for loopholes, when fulfilling their word means having to give of their time, energy or resources. At times, our attitude is that if we can possibly get out of it, we will look for a way to do so.  What if God took the same approach in His relationship with us? What if His promises were conditional and He fulfilled His word only when He felt like it.  Fortunately, God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and He keeps His promises. But here is the reality for us who are followers of Jesus. People are always watching to see if your actions match your words. We  all want to be people who keep our promises.

Imagine what life would be without people who keep their word and their promises. Imagine if you went to buy a new car, only to discover several months later that the salesman had lied about the car’s mechanical history. Imagine if you went to buy a new home only to discover that the realtor mislead you about how many repairs the home really needed. Imagine if you entrusted your kids to a school bus driver who was covering up a terrible driving record? The Bible gives us examples of people who kept their word.

One of them was Moses. God calls Moses a trustworthy or faithful person. “But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.” (Numbers 12: 7). Whenever God told Moses to do something, Moses did it immediately. Trustworthy people receive instructions, carry them out immediately, and do it well, to the best of their ability.

When trustworthy people say they will do something, they usually do it. They do not overbook, or over extend themselves. Nor do they give up easily.  Many people have every intention of living up to their obligation until the first obstacle appears. When that happens they give up and make up an excuse for not keeping their word. This is true of Christians as well. If God gives us something to do, are we easily sidetracked or stalled? How do you deal with obstacles when you are given a task to accomplish?

God wants us to be trustworthy. So do the people we are in relationships with. So, if we make a promise to be at our kid’s ballgame, we ought to be true to our word. If we sign a contract at work, or give a customer our word, or make a business deal, or make a promise to a coworker, we need to keep our word. If we sign up for a ministry or responsibility or make a pledge to the church, it makes sense that we should follow through on it until our obligation is fulfilled no matter how small.

Discussion Question:

  1. What do you do when you give your word? Do you go out of your way to fulfill your promises, or do you look for a way out?
  2. Does your life demonstrate that you count God’s Word to be wholly trustworthy? If not, why not?
  3. Would your clients testify in court that you are trustworthy in all your business dealings? Would your family testify in court that you are trustworthy in all your relationships?
  4. What do you need to work on most in becoming more trustworthy in word and in deed?
  5. What one area can you do a better job of keeping your word? Pray and ask God for the ability to keep your word in that area in the coming months.

A Community Built On Love

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are…” – 1 John 3:1

Baseball is a community activity. You need all nine people helping one another. Everyone has a role and a set of skills they must apply if the team is to be successful. One of the most exciting plays in baseball is the suicide squeeze. The manager gives the sign. The players need to get the sign. The runner on third cannot tip his hand that he is running and the batter can’t tip his hand that he is bunting. The batter gives himself up for the good of the whole. In baseball, you often find your own good in the good of the whole. You find your own individual fulfillment in the success of the community. That sounds very familiar doesn’t it?

No matter how many times I read the Bible, I still can’t fully grasp the love of Jesus. He loved those that did not expect it or deserve it. His love changed everything. The love Jesus showed on the cross restored us to who we were created to be so we could live the Home Run Life we were created to live. His love is something given to us and something He has given through us. God came as man in the person of Jesus Christ to deliver His special message of love and salvation.

This love given to us enables us to do life with and through others. Jesus said in John 13:34 that we are to love others as He has loved us. It is easy to view this verse as another rule that we are supposed to try and follow. The truth is that loving others is an overflow of receiving God’s love and a byproduct of a life committed to Him. When we receive the love God demonstrated for us, then love will come out of our life. We owe people an encounter with the love that has been given to us. We want people to know Northstar for our love.

We are looking at Second Base, how to Win With Others, this week in the daily devotional. As we discuss community and doing life with others I want you to ask the following questions: what is the quality of your love for other believers? For nonbelievers? When you leave first base and have connected with Christ you will love what He loves. The spoke of a bicycle wheel connects with the hub. Jesus is the hub and the spokes get closer together as they connect with the hub. You can’t be close to Jesus and not love others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have I treated my love toward other believers as a commandment, or a suggestion?
  2. How do I practically serve the Christians I am in relationship with?
  3. Do I judge my spiritual strength by comparing myself against others, or by comparing myself to Jesus?
  4. What do you take away from 1 Peter 1:22-23a: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again…”
  5. What happens when Christians carry out Christ’s commandment to love one another? What happens when they do not?

Home Run Life Tip: Don’t Get Picked Off First Base

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

Most pitchers have a pick off move. Some are great at it. It can be a very effective tool. The throw to first base is a key to keeping the opposing team’s running game under control by keeping runners uncomfortable when they are on base. One of the best pitcher pick off moves belonged to Terry Mulholland, who picked off 15 runners with the Phillies in 1992. During the season he allowed just two steals in seven attempts. Mulholland never had more than seven pick-offs after that, mostly because runners just stood on first base; they were simply not willing to take the risk of being picked off.

Getting to first base is important in living a Home Run Life. Staying on first base in preparation for going to second base is also important. The devil wants to make sure you don’t enjoy a Home Run Life so he wants to ensure you don’t make it to first base, let alone around all the bases. But if you do make it to first base, he wants nothing more than to make sure you don’t stay there. This is nothing new. This is what he does and this is what he has been doing. In his mind, the end justifies the means, so he plays by no rules but his own. Hypocrisy, wrong motives, financial problems, criticism, discouragement, and conflicts are all fair game because anything goes. Our adversary will stop at nothing to undermine our character and destroy our hopes, happiness and our need for God.

The devil would like nothing more than to pick you off first base and harm and diminish your relationship and connection with God. He wants to make sure you do not get comfortable at first base. The devil has a variety of pick off moves, but two quickly come to mind.

First there is temptation. Satan wants us to have an unhealthy lofty view of self, and an unhealthy false view of God. Satan wants us to see ourselves as superior, and that we can do whatever we want to do. “We’ve earned it. We deserve it. There is no harm to it.” He wants us to rationalize sin, and to lessen the affects of sin upon our lives. He shows the bait, but hides the hook; gives us a gold cup, but hides the poison.  Satan wants us to view God as an all merciful, loving, gracious, hipster God, a “cool buddy” who wants to do life with us and doesn’t mind letting us do our thing once in awhile.

Second, there is the grim reality. Satan wants us to see ourselves as without hope, without a future, no forgiveness, no restoration, full of guilt, and to walk around in a funk feeling sorry for ourselves. He wants us to focus more on our sin, than on the Savior. Satan wants us to see God as distant. He wants us to think that God does not love us, nor will He forgive us. He is too righteous a God to bless us or give us a future, with all of the mistakes we have accomplished in the past.

In temptation, Satan tries to hide God’s holiness. In the grim reality, Satan tries to hide God’s love. In either scenario, if the devil is successful, we won’t have a proper view of who God is, and who we are.

He tries to pick us off first base using people or without people. He will try to pick us off first base using depression, success, or failure. He is constantly at work, bent on our destruction. In the end, he knows he can’t win. He is playing a wicked game of spiritual chess. He knows he’s doomed, but he’ll get your last man if he can. He knows Christ has already won, but he won’t give up without an ugly, unfair, and continuing fight.

What do we learn from this about Satan? He is the adversary. He is the opponent. And he wants to throw everybody off their game that are followers of Christ. The key is to understand that he will try to to keep us from each base in the Home Run Life and to rest on the power and promises of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does Satan use believers to oppose God’s work? If so, how?
  2. What ways do you think Satan would attack you on first base? Why?
  3. Are you tempted to question God’s plan and design for your life? Is character the easiest area for Satan to attack?
  4. How can you personally use your times of temptation and failure to your own ultimate spiritual advantage?
  5. Pray and ask God for help in dealing with Satan.

In Character

“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.” – Psalm 15:1-5

Baseball is our national pastime and as such is a big part of culture in the United States and across the world. It is commonly said that baseball, and sports in general, build character. But the reality is that we hear more and more accounts of un-sportsmanlike, unethical, and even illegal conduct at all levels of baseball and sports competition. It seems that character and integrity are secondary to the winning at all costs mentality.

As Christians, we understand the importance of character the minute we open the Bible. If you were asked to reread Psalms 15:1-5 and come up with one word to summarize that passage, what would that word be? I would boil that passage down to one word – character.

Character is that part of us that’s either growing, is stagnant or deteriorating. And when life is hectic and you are trying to keep multiple balls in the air, it can be hard to know which direction it is going. That’s because during the day when we are making decisions, we don’t stop and ask: ”I wonder how this business or relationship or financial decision or course of action will affect my character?” There are not too many character development majors offered in college or even any character development classes for that matter.

Yet, character will always show up in our lives and it will determine our response to failure and pain or even success. Most people only work on their character when it needs to be worked on, which usually happens in hard times or when we mess up. Fortunately, we always have access to God’s presence. You can enter God’s presence, but how do you stay? If you want to have total access to God’s presence in your everyday life, then you must learn to live the Home Run Life and that starts with being connected and then moving to first base and character.

Here’s a critical point. Character will reveal whether you are actively pursuing the Home Run Life. It means I want to proactively try to connect to God and my character will reflect that. The Home Run Life requires more than working on the connection to God when we’re experiencing hard times or if we’ve messed up. Our character must be more than just the pinnacle moments of life. It must become embedded throughout life. It must become part of you, part of your daily routine. We must think about it. We must focus on it. Why? Because our character development in our life is the prerequisite to the power that only comes from being in God’s presence and the Home Run Life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did Sunday’s message change or alter your understanding of your character? If so, how?
  2. What is it about your character that makes it difficult to live the Home Run Life?
  3. When your character does not reflect the character of God, who suffers and how do they suffer? When your character reflects the character of God, who is blessed and how are they blessed?
  4. Are there areas of your life where you have not surrendered to the wisdom of the Lord, but find yourself struggling with fear, temptation, or sin? Please describe them.

This Is Where I Draw The Line

…Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” – John 8:6-11

Like every sport, baseball has set boundaries for the field of play. And there are rules for what happens when those boundaries are violated. For example, there are chalk lines or a base path leading from home to first base. If a player runs outside the base paths to avoid a tag and runs more than three feet outside of the base path, the runner is out automatically. The batter must stay in the base path.

The Bible has some very specific base paths that we are required to run in. But sometimes we stray outside the base paths. We have the best intentions, but then some temptation enters our lives. We try to prevent the temptation. We set up boundaries to ensure that a relationship doesn’t become too physical too quickly. We set up standards when we know a potential business deal is a little on the unethical side. We draw a line in the sand when it comes to cheating on tests. And we decide that spending too much time away from home has ended for good.

But then something happens. Even with the boundaries in place we compromise, fudge a little by moving out of the base path more than the allotted three feet. When we fail, we are nervous, guilty, ashamed, sad, and angry, all at the same time. We rationalize and come up with the usual excuses like, “well, everybody else cheated because that test was too hard.” Or “well, at least I was not away from home as much as I was last year.” We try to blame somebody else, but at the end of the day, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We have to accept responsibility for crossing a line in the sand we created and ask God to forgive us.

God does not place us in situations where we are forced to give into temptation. On Sunday, I talked about the areas where I had to draw a line in the sand. In my experience, I found that I put myself in situations and then tried to justify falling to temptation. Here’s the good news. Though I basically tempted myself, the situation allowed God to test me. His testing, and my willingness to be more careful to not run out of the base paths and my increasing dependence on Him has truly refined my faith. We will mess up. We are not perfect. But we can seek harder and harder after God and continue to draw our power and strength from him when we find ourselves outside the lines we have drawn. When I failed, I turned toward God and plugged into His strength, peace, and hope to overcome any temptation. Had I tried this on my own, I believe I would have continued to fail.

Pray for God to help you in building Biblical boundaries. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom, direction, and power to remain within His boundaries. When you draw a line and keep it, it will lead to peace, joy, and love and contribute to a Home Run Life.

Discussion Question:

  1. What are legitimate boundaries? Why are setting boundaries important?
  2. In what areas have you drawn a line in the sand in the last few years? What did it take to overcome the temptation?
  3. Is setting boundaries a matter of priorities? Luke 16:13 says: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Plugged In

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.” – Ephesians 3:16. (NLT)

There are a number of theories on how to generate more power in a baseball swing. Most include the same ideas, but in slightly different applications and theory. The primary ingredients are lower-body weight transfer, hip torque or power, wrists and bat speed. Using the right techniques will generate more power.

As Christians, we have a unique resource. On those days where we don’t feel empowered, or when you feel as if your inner strength has been sapped, God has unlimited power that can take care of all that.

As we studied in our previous teaching series, sometimes it is in our weakness that God does his greatest work. “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT)

Isaiah 40: 28-31 (NLT) tells us: “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

We can use that unlimited power to build our character. First, let me define character briefly. Character is often defined as a collection of personality traits within our behavior that shows who we are. This is shown in our integrity, attitude, moral fiber, disposition, and how we interact with each other. Christian character is not just a personality or our disposition; it is a description of who we are as a Christian, what we are called to be in our life. Our character summarizes the essence of our walk with Christ being exhibited back to Him and then to others. Our character can grow or shrivel as our growth and faith formation in Christ is applied or blocked. That is why we need to be plugged into the power of God.

People are drawn to the manifest presence of Christ. They were drawn to the power that Christ displayed while He walked this earth. Today, people are drawn to the power of Christ within us.

Tap God’s unlimited resources and you will find strength you never knew was available. My prayer is that you will walk in God’s power today.

Discussion Question:

  1. How can we use the power of God to refine and develop our character?
  2. Who has the most influence on your character? How do they influence you? What is the one quality you have seen in others that you would like to have as part of your character? What is one thing you could do to develop that quality?
  3. How does having a good character help a person in life? How did it help you?
  4. Complete the following two questions twice: I used to be…but now I am?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you plug into His power everyday.

Life In The Vine

“and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.” – Colossians 2:19 (NLT)

On Sunday we talked about John 15:5 which says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

When you think about it, that is a pretty dramatic statement and reminds us that we cannot have a little bit of Jesus. He is the source and goal of all we are and do. And we only can live a full life when we are connected to Him.

Imagine with me a vine branch, cut off from the vine and just lying there all by itself on the ground. What’s going to happen? Very soon the leaves begin to turn brown and look withered. If something doesn’t happen soon, that branch will die.

The bottom line is that the wine and branches metaphor suggests a deep and vibrant relationship with God. One that is active. Remember the last part of John 15:5: “You can do nothing apart from me.” This verse tells me that being in an intimate relationship with Jesus day in, day out, hour by hour, week by week, month by month and year by year is the only way to live a Home Run Life. But this metaphor also clearly indicates that you must be connected to God. That’s the only way the spiritual nutrients, chemicals and life are available to us.

Jesus uses the word “remain” a great deal. For example, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me,” (John 15:4 NLT) I counted the word “remain”11 times in these in John 15: 1-17. What does it mean? To remain in Jesus is to be into Jesus. Jesus becomes and is the controlling passion of your life. Everything, every day, revolves around knowing Him, following Him, serving Him, and being influenced by Him. We need to remember that He is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him we can do nothing. Then we need to go and live that out. We need to cultivate hearts that are bent toward Jesus. We need to do things that let the Holy Spirit transform us. We are not the ones in control, we cannot depend on our ability and wisdom.

The longer I live, the more aware I become of how true the statement is that “apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the source of my life and your life. As branches, we don’t exist apart from the vine.

My prayer is that we learn to remain in Him as He remains in us.  Keep asking yourself, what do I need to change in my life so that I am consistently doing things to remain in Him?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did Jesus mean when He said “I am the true  vine” (John 15:1)?
  2. Practically, how can we ensure that we are remaining in Him?
  3. What does Jesus mean by fruit? What is God’s (the gardener) role in fruit being produced in the Vine and borne through the branches?
  4. Pray and ask God to strengthen your connection with Him.

Easter’s Over. Now what?

“I was a stranger…..and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35 (Amp)

This Easter, across all our Northstar locations, we celebrated Jesus, His death, resurrection, and the hope that He has given us all who believe in Him. On Good Friday the world said, “No” to Christ. On Easter morning God said, “Yes” to the world. During the Easter weekend, a total of 253 people said “yes” to accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now the work really begins. Because as you already know, not all of those who come during Easter return the following week. And not everyone who gets saved during Easter services grows spiritually either.

So how do we make sure those who attend our Easter services return, become active in our churches and grow as a Christian? Helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ is as important as winning them in the first place.

One way is to look at what the early church did after winning large groups of people to Jesus. For example we can look at Acts 14:21-22: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

“And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.” (Acts 15:32-35).

“And (Paul) went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:41). “After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.” (Acts 18:23).

Two important phrases come up over and over again when looking at how the early Church in Acts responded after reaching people for Jesus. They are strengthen and encourage. After reaching people for Christ—as we did on Easter—the early church focused on assimilating those they had reached. The definition of assimilate is to include into a larger whole; to involve; to make one. Ephesians 2:19 (TLB) says, “Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.”

It is easy to assume that new Christians will automatically connect to a church. It is a bad assumption. The process of making them a part of God’s community rests with the church, not the new Christian. It begins when they accept Christ and it is ongoing from that day forward.

If you invited someone to church, my hope is that you will follow-up with them. Let them know what the church is doing the following weeks, whether it’s a particular sermon series or starting point classes. I would ask that you follow-up, whether the individual just wanted to be in church on Easter, or made a lifetime commitment to Christ. Whether or not visitors return to Northstar has a lot to do with the contact you make with them.

Then try to get them involved in a Northstar Group. New Christians need to be connected to a small group of people. We can’t know everyone in the church, but we need to know someone. If someone comes to your church and they know six to 10 people, the chances are better that they will stay and grow. People come to church for many different reasons. They stay because of relationships within their own stage of life.

Last, see if you can interest them in serving. Nothing’s worse than feeling lost and left out at church. Make a concerted effort to match people’s skills, gifts, and interests to ministries within the church. Try to connect new people to some of our entry-level ministries.

Don’t allow the momentum of the Easter season to fizzle once the baskets are emptied and the chocolate has been eaten. Even a small effort at connecting with newcomers will go a long way in establishing lasting relationships and helping others grow spiritually, which will result in a thriving church community.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What causes people to assimilate into the church? What is your role?
  2. What reasons can you come up with for people not returning to church after the first visit? What can we do corporately and individually to improve in those areas?
  3. Pray and ask God to connect you with those who made a decision for Christ to connect to a church.
  4. Pray for our church for the remainder of the year that God will use us to further His kingdom.