The Prelude To Evangelism

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15. 

It is difficult to watch the news these days. On inauguration day, Washington D.C. was flooded by the supporters of the new president. Throughout the weekend those supporters were replaced by unhappy protestors. With D.C. as the hub, both the support and the protest spilled over across the country. It’s not exaggerating to say that many Americans are sharply divided and our society has become more polarized and argumentative than ever. We need to find a way to tear down the walls that keep us from coming together and finding common ground. 

We have some of the same challenges when it comes to evangelism. These are tough times for the church with so many misperceptions and urban myths about the church. In this climate, we need new thinking and ideas in developing best practices of evangelism for the 21st century. God is still the only One who can save, but He still uses people and community to achieve His purpose. One of the best practices we can use today in the area of evangelism is pre-evangelism.

Your first question is most likely, “what’s that?” If “evangelism” is telling people about the good news, then “pre-evangelism” is what you do before you tell people the good news. Pre-evangelism is the tough work of tearing down objections and obstacles to people being receptive to the message of the gospel. Some people have walls in their minds and hearts that simply will not allow them to give an open ear to the claims of the Christian faith. It takes time, effort and a lot of prayer to scale those walls.  Pre-evangelism seeks to meet people where they are. When we do pre-evangelism, we may not be “sharing the gospel” with someone, but we are doing the necessary work of helping them clear hurdles that stand in the way of being receptive and really hearing the gospel.

I have said in church many times, people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Establishing relationships with people requires us to get to know them and to have a genuine interest in their lives. Conversations that consist of asking questions in order to learn more about them and then actively listening and asking follow-up questions is an excellent way to start a relationship. As we get to know people, we can then ask more personal questions along the lines of, “Do you believe in God?” or “What do you have faith in or believe in your life?” This can help lay the groundwork as we seek to share the good news with them when the opportunity presents itself or to invite them to church. 

To effectively reach people with the gospel requires followers of Christ to live out our salvation with such joy, hope, and peace that the people with whom we come into contact daily can’t help but see Christ in our lives and want the same thing in their lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does pre-evangelism mean to you? 
  2. How can we be the kind of Christian unchurched people have never met before?
  3. How does the Christian’s hope, passion for life, strong purpose, or inner peace impact evangelism?
  4. What can we do better this week in the area of pre-evangelism?

Whatever It Takes

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” – Daniel 12:3.

At Northstar, we will do whatever it takes, short of sin, to find people far from God and lead them to life in Jesus. That’s one of our core values. and it’s the one that probably creates the most tension for Christians. It’s a value that is drawn straight from Scripture: “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 9:22-23. The idea that we will do “whatever it takes, short of sin to win the lost” requires some explanation or better still, some clarification. 

Anything short of sin means we will communicate in a manner that people can understand, especially those without a religious background. We will produce the type of music that people listen to. We will remove the myth of stuffiness and holier than thou that many people who have not been to church have. We don’t expect people to look or act like us. We will remove the awkwardness and uncertainty of meeting strangers. We will listen and we will address the questions they are asking, and the issues they are wrestling with. We will spend time with people who have a past and are dealing with serious issues, regardless of how much time it requires. We will love and serve people around us whether or not they ever become a part of our church. We will devote resources to missions locally and internationally to find the lost. We will always make room for someone else. We will go all-out when it comes to kids ministry to serve and help parents. We will find the lost rather than them finding us.

All that is quite an undertaking, but it is not an all inclusive list. Any option that is not against the law or against biblical teachings are on the table. We will do whatever it takes.

Having a passion for His people means that whatever you do in the body of Christ will be done in a way that Jesus would have done, and so you will be more effective in the kingdom of God.

Millions are looking for this and we have the answer, Jesus says clearly “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” So what we need to do is to find people who are looking for some answers in their lives and we can show them the answers by pointing them toward Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define a passion for the lost? 
  2. How do we complement what God is doing? What is the human role in helping people come to God?
  3. Identify a particular person in a situation who has real needs that you can serve.

Right On The Money

“Here’s a scary thought: What if God called you to give beyond your comfort level? Would you be afraid? Would you try to explain it away or dismiss it as impractical? And in the process, would you miss out on a harvest opportunity for which God had explicitly prospered you in the first place?” – Andy Stanley, Fields Of Gold. 

“Why do pastors talk about money at church?” 

It’s a question I’m asked every now and then when someone finds out I’m a pastor. If I made a list of subjects that I would prefer to preach on, money or giving would not be high on the list. Money sermons can be awkward for everyone involved, from the pastor to the people listening. Even if you’ve given, or heard, a biblically sound money sermon that earned you a few “well-dones” or “attaboys”, you’ve probably also sat through, or given one, to be kind, that was below average. In full disclosure, I have been the speaker and the listener for both.   

So why do pastors talk about money? Is it meant to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty? The answer is no. Does God need the money? Again, the answer is no. There are several answers to that question, but let me simply say this: pastor’s should preach on money because they are communicating God’s Word. The Bible has a lot to say about money. The Bible references money and possessions more than 2,350 times. That must mean God thinks it’s pretty important. And if He does, I do as well.    

As a pastor, I understand the perception people have when money is preached too often. And I understand the struggle to give faithfully in difficult times. But I speak on money, giving and generosity because where you spend your money will set the direction of your heart. Billy Graham said, “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.”  

Let me give you another way of looking at it: We can do deep spiritual dives and debate what we believe about the Trinity, the sovereignty of God, or whether the end times perspective is “pre-tribulation,” or “post-tribulation.” Discussions on these topics are a wonderful and a worthwhile exercise, but they don’t often have a practical application. But, how I earn, spend, give, and save money – that’s a much clearer barometer of my core beliefs and how much I trust God. Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)  Systematically breaking down the book of Hebrews and understanding all the richness of this book is great, but it does not measure up to the action of emulating Jesus’ commitment to feeding the hungry. Periodic messages on giving and generosity are intended to strengthen our faith as we place a greater reliance on God, helps us invest in the things of God and not in the things of this world because it loosens our grip on earthly possessions and reminds us to focus on things that offer true eternal results.   

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe how we handle our money is a indication of our theology? Why or why not?   
  2. Is the way we handle our finances an indication of our trust in God? Why or why not?   

The Not-So-Small Matter Of Groups

“So often, it’s others around us who can see where God wants to grow us even before we see it ourselves.” – James MacDonald.

We talk about small groups a lot at Northstar, and rightly so. When we look at the early church, we get a picture of small communities of people who followed Jesus together. The Book of Acts, especially Acts 2:42-47, gives us a great picture of the early church and the components of biblical community, both at the temple and in homes. 

These believers engaged in life together through teaching, fellowship, communion, prayer, miracles, radical generosity, and corporate worship. They spent time together eating, learning, celebrating, proclaiming the good news, and supporting each other. I want to make another push to get people who attend Northstar and have been hesitating to join a group, to take the plunge.  You won’t regret it.   

Small groups connect us to one another. They aren’t a new-fangled concept. As I said, they date back to the very beginnings of church thousands of years ago. In small groups, we get to form friendships, to know and be known, offer support and encouragement, and to grow closer to God. We get to ask big questions and wrestle with tough topics. Most importantly, we get to be together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We aren’t meant to live life alone. We are meant to journey through it together.

Healthy spiritual growth is a deeply relational process. There are hundreds of moving stories that have been shared with me on the impact of small groups in people’s lives. 

Small groups are about life change. On Sundays, people listen to the message; in small groups, people talk about the message. Small groups allow the opportunity for the congregation to respond to the conversation started in the message. This conversation can change people’s minds and hearts. And that can change people’s lives.

Because all people are different and have different needs, we have a lot of different small groups. There are small groups that meet in homes and even at the church. Some are specific to men or women; some are for couples or singles; some share commonalities of life stage or geographic area. Others are a eclectic mix of people. Bottom line, we have a group for you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the biggest advantage of being in a small group?  What are the obstacles to joining a small group.
  2. Do the obstacles of a small group outweigh the benefits?
  3. Pray about joining a small group.   

Give And Take: Be Refreshed By Refreshing Others

“Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:24-25.

How do we explain what we see in this world? Terrorism, slavery, racism and hunger are all a part of the world we live in. Subconsciously, we probably ask ourselves this question on a regular basis. But consciously we rarely do, simply because we have enough in our lives that we rarely stop and wonder why. We’re tired. Stressed. Frazzled. We feel depleted. We wonder how or why we can guarantee that life will be pain-free or at least better. How can we be refreshed and find rest?

Proverbs 11:25 says those who refresh others will be refreshed. Jeremiah 31:25 says, “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” The Bible speaks clearly about the value of refreshing others in the work of the Lord. Whether it is due to a personal difficulty or to a disheartening circumstance, there will always be the need either to refresh others or to be refreshed ourselves in our service for Christ. 

Paul commented on this in 1 Corinthians 16:18: ”For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.” In writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul again stated the hope that he with them may be refreshed in the Lord in Romans 15:32: “so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.”  His desire was that when he came to them, they would be refreshed. The ministry of refreshing others in the Lord is often a mutual blessing.

How can we refresh others so we too will be refreshed? How can we in a practical way be a refreshing influence to the Lord’s people? Perhaps it could be through being a good listener, or taking the time to pick up the phone, or tell somebody who is struggling that you are praying for them. Maybe it is buying some groceries or taking them to lunch. 2 Kings 4, the women of Shunem provided Elisha with a “home away from home” – a “get away” that refreshed him in the midst of his regular ministry. She was amply rewarded for her kind deeds to Elisha as you will see when you read the story. There is a multitude of means by which we can refresh one another in the Lord – all motivated by one main ingredient – love for the Lord and for His people.

Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving, as long as we are serving Christ, there will always be the need to be refreshed or encouraged in the Lord. Each day is an opportunity to spend time, talent and money to make life a little better for those around us.

The way to be refreshed is to refresh others.  Today I challenge you to refresh someone. The gospel was not designed to be hoarded; it was designed to be shared. 

Discussion Question:

  1. What does it mean to be refreshed?
  2. How well do we use our time, talent, and treasure to refresh others? 
  3. How generous are we with patience?
  4. What can we do this week to refresh somebody in our life?

The Scarcity Problem

“The people rejoiced over the offerings, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord, and King David was filled with joy?” – 1 Chronicles  29:9. 

Imagine that two people are walking down the street. They both need oxygen to survive. But there is no worry about running out of oxygen.  Oxygen is not scarce. In fact, it is abundant. But if those same two people are scuba diving and one tank malfunctions, that changes the equation completely, doesn’t it? Suddenly air becomes a precious commodity. It’s scarcity makes the two people wonder if there is enough for both of them.   

Many people operate through the lens of scarcity. They are afraid of having enough money to enable them to live as they desire. And more importantly, will they have the money to provide for their family? The Great Depression in 1929 and all the downturns since then, have contributed to this scarcity mentality. The scarcity mentality contributes to “what if” scenarios such as “what if I lose my job” or “what if I get a chronic illness?”  People worry about running out of time, resources, and money.

All that could be true from a cultural, worldview. But as Christians, we should not look at life from a purely physical vantage point. Several weeks ago we talked about Jesus feeding the 5,000. (Matthew 14:13-21) The disciples viewed life through the lens of scarcity. From a practical standpoint the resources at the disciples disposal was pretty scarce compared to the need:  “But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.” (Vs. 16-17)

A similar story is told in I Kings 17:7-16 where Elijah encounters the widow of Zarephath. She is about to run out of food, but because she submitted to Elijah’s request to feed him, her small amount of flour and olive oil never ran out.

If we view life through the lens of scarcity, we will always be fearful and anxious. We are human. We fail to remember what God has done and therefore what he is capable of doing presently. It is important to remind ourselves over and over how God has provided in the past.   

God is the greatest giver in the universe, and He won’t let you outgive Him in any way. The questions for us are: Do we realize that He gave His only Son for us, that He wants us to test His generosity, that we can trust a giving God, and that we will reap a great harvest if we sow generously? I believe it. Do you?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever have a scarcity mindset?
  2. Americans are some of the wealthiest people in the world, but do you think Americans are generous with their wealth? Why or why not?
  3. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?

Is Giving Better Than Receiving?

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:25.

Imagine for a second putting a group of people in a room and asking them to debate whether it is truly better to give than to receive. It would be a spirited debate. One group may well suggest that regardless of income, studies show that those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not. The other side would probably look confused and say, “the giver is happier than the getter…I don’t buy it.  Surely some mistake. That goes against all our intuitions and instincts.”

It is more blessed to give than to receive when we have the option of doing either. That is because God’s ultimate goal for all of us is that we be saved and then become increasingly more like Jesus. Giving should be a delight when we realize that in giving we are acting like Jesus. One of the things that we strive for in the Christian life is to be more like Jesus. We love the Lord Jesus Christ, we see His grace at work in our lives, we see areas where we’re growing — but we also see those areas where we fall short of being like Jesus. Those areas will always exist, but when we give, we are following His example. We get to emulate the Lord Jesus Christ. We get to act like Jesus. Jesus gave the greatest gift that’s ever been given: Himself.

Paul reminds us of that in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”  When you give, you get to act like Jesus. Don’t take that for granted. I pray that we never underestimate the blessing of that, being able to be like the Savior through sacrificial giving. Because He who had everything gave everything, that we who had nothing might share everything with Him.

Giving in a right spirit is an act of worship. It is rendering Him a tribute of praise. It is saying. “You gave me everything and here is a small expression of my gratitude and praise for all your good gifts. It’s only a token, a sample of what I really feel, but you know the heart that lies behind it.” As David said: “What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me?” (Psalms 116:12).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Do you believe that giving yourself to God is the most important step in learning to become more generous? Why or why not?
  3. List some of the available time, talents, treasure, and things that God has given you. In what way could you give more in those areas?
  4. What is the greatest benefit or insight you have gained from this week’s message?

Why Should I Serve In The Kids Ministry?

“One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.” – Mark. 10:13-16.

Many of you have at one time or another probably asked yourself this question: “Why should I serve in the Kid’s ministry?” Without generalizing, most people don’t serve in children’s ministry because it’s a stepping stone to something else, because it’s not really. You probably don’t serve in Kid’s ministry because it’s a ministry that is for everyone, because it isn’t. And you probably would not volunteer in the children’s ministry because you want to be a babysitter.

You should serve in the Kid’s ministry because you get to teach kids the Bible and be a part of making disciples. Children are born with an innate sense of wonder and faith that is real and authentic. As teachers and leaders our role is to provide a foundation of experiences on which children build a life of learning and growth toward a mature and vital faith.

You should serve in the Kid’s ministry because there are few ministry opportunities that allow you to impact the future in such a direct way. When you love and teach kids on Sunday, you are also influencing generations to come. These children will one day become parents and church leaders themselves. If you want to change the world long-term, then you should serve in Kid’s ministry.

You should serve in the Kid’s ministry because it’s been proven that most people who will come to Christ do so when they are young. The childhood years are the years of greatest opportunity for the Gospel.  And you should serve in the Kid’s ministry because while other avenues of church service may be beyond your abilities; you may never sing a solo or preach a sermon in church. Serving in the Kid’s ministry is open to almost all Christians. If you love God and His children, then there are many different ways for you to become a contributor.

Can you think of anything greater than having a child come walk up to you and say, “Thank you for teaching God’s Word to us.”

That, friends, is why you should serve in children’s ministry.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why should you serve in the Kid’s ministry?   
  2. Why is teaching God’s ways to our children so important?
  3. Pray about serving in the Kid’s ministry this week.

Opportunity Knocking

“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:10.

You have probably heard the name Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker was a management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation. He once said that “Progress is obtained only by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. When you solve problems, all you do is guarantee a return to normalcy.” Now before you stop reading, let me say this: problem-solving is important, even crucial, but it is not always progress, it is usually returning us to here we started before we had the problem. Real progress usually comes from coupling opportunity with initiative.

I have never met anyway who did not miss at least one opportunity. The most common reason for missing opportunities is because we are overly cautious, or risk adverse and prefer a wait and see attitude. We choose to be a spectator. The problem with remaining on the sidelines is you cannot take advantage of the opportunities God gives you. We have the power to make a difference in other’s lives– it’s just a matter of getting off the sidelines and getting involved.

 In 2 Chronicles 15 we read the story of King Asa.  2 Chronicles 15:17 says, “Although the pagan shrines were not removed from Israel, Asa’s heart remained completely faithful throughout his life.” That is a very rare and difficult compliment to achieve from the Bible – yet Asa achieved it. But right in the next chapter we can see that Asa made some wrong decisions. 2 Chronicles 16:7 says “At that time Hanani the seer came to King Asa and told him, “Because you have put your trust in the king of Aram instead of in the LORD your God, you missed your chance to destroy the army of the king of Aram.”  The back story is that King Asa defeated a much bigger army with the help of God, but rather than go to God again when another problem arose, he turned to the king of Aram for help. Simply said, he “missed his chance.” He missed an opportunity.

Opportunities do not wait around for the overly cautious nor the slow to move. They must be seized. Opportunities are being presented to you on a daily basis. You will either seize them or you will let them slip by.  Many times the reason we let them slip by is because we are not interested in them. It’s work. “There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:9) The Amplified Bible says it this way, “For a wide door of opportunity for effectual service has opened to me there; one great and promising and many adversaries.”

Don’t let the fear of falling short deter you from trying. You will make mistakes. You will mess up. You may have to admit defeat. Keep going. Use them as opportunities to discover what doesn’t work, but always persevere. Because despite the risks and messiness of it all, my hope is we become fearless and dare to take the plunge, even when it means risking failure. Philippians 4:13 reminds us: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” 

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you define opportunity? 
  2. Was there a time when you felt that God wanted you to act and you failed to do so? How do you feel today about that lost opportunity? Did God use someone else to do His work?
  3. What are some of the promises of God that you can trust as you embrace the opportunities that God gives you? 

Does God Really Need Our Help?

“These are just the beginning of all that he does, merely a whisper of his power. Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of his power?” – Job 26:14. 

Does God need our help? In a word, no. We can’t even begin to comprehend the power of God. We have an omnipotent God. He has the ability and power to do anything. God’s power is unlimited.

The Bible says that the faith of any believer should not be founded in religious reasoning, but on the power of God: “And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)  God does not need us, yet the Bible has numerous stories of how ordinary people participated in His purposes. In fact, God went to amazing lengths to include people in His purposes.

God rarely did anything by Himself. It would have been much easier for God to do everything on His own. Instead, he involved people in almost everything He did. God regularly turned spectators into participants. God did not afford people the luxury of sitting back and watching God do stuff. The Bible is full of examples.

Right from the start, God put Adam in the Garden of Eden and gave him a job: naming the animals. (Genesis 2:19) God could have named the animals Himself. But He chose to give Adam that assignment. When God wanted to get His people out of Egypt, He drafted Moses at the burning bush to pry the people away from Pharaoh. Moses dug his heels in and resisted taking on such a risky project. God persisted until Moses became a participant.  Why didn’t God simply give Goliath a heart attack? It would have been easier. But instead, God sent David into the valley to kill him with a slingshot. When Jesus wanted to start churches, He knocked Saul of Tarsus off his high horse on his way to Damascus and shaped Paul into a church-planting machine.

The list is endless. All through the Bible, God relentlessly involved people. He turned them from spectators into participants. God can use us if we choose to move from the sidelines into the game. It is simply being open to what God wants us to do. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God chose to involve people rather than simply doing everything Himself?
  2. Why do you think God designed for us to serve and give rather than simply consume?
  3. What is the biggest challenge in moving from a spectator to a participant?
  4. What can you do this week to get involved in the local church?