What Easter Means To Me – Part 2

“They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.” –  Luke 24:2-3. 

What should Easter mean to you? I hope it is the reason you have hope at all. I believe there is no greater celebration. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are offered new life – full of  joy, hope and the certain assurance of our salvation. I have been a pastor a long time and a Christian even longer and I am still in awe of the Easter story. To me, Easter means everything.

Easter is more than just one Sunday. For me, the meaning of Easter is quite personal: whatever I have done (or left undone), whatever I have said (or left unsaid), whatever ways I am imperfect (in so many ways), there is nothing that can keep God from finding me, reaching out to me, loving and saving me. And I do mean nothing. Not even death. 

Easter is the reason I can say all of that with such certainty. Because death couldn’t contain God’s love from showing on that first Easter morning. Paul said it even better than I can. Here’s the Message version of it: (Romans 8:38-39:31-39) “So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: … I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

I hope you will remember every twist and turn in the Easter story. The long night in the garden. The trial and death conviction. The walk up the Via Dolorosa. And the climb up Golgotha to the nails and the agonizing death on the cross. And I hope you remember that Jesus died; Jesus rose; Jesus lives again and so can we.  That’s the guarantee of Easter. That’s why Easter means everything.

In conclusion, let me say that we love volunteers at Northstar. We love what volunteering means for the church and what it means for you. If you are interested in volunteering with us during our Easter services, I encourage you to talk to your campus pastor.

Discussion Question:

  1. What does Easter mean to you? 
  2. What difference does the reality of the resurrection make in your own life?
  3. What can we do to make Easter more meaningful this year? Do you have anybody in mind to invite to Easter services?

What Easter Means To Me – Part 1

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” –  1 Peter 1:3-4.

A Sunday School teacher asked her class to write one sentence each on “What Easter Means to Me.” One pupil wrote: “Egg salad sandwiches for the next two weeks!” When I think of Easter I think of the first words of Jesus: “… I must be about my Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49 KJV) And His last words “It is finished.” (John 19:30) Jesus’ victory over death and mankind’s hope for eternal life motivates me to get up every morning and say, “I must be about my Father’s business.” 

The meaning of Easter is Jesus Christ’s victory over death. His resurrection symbolizes the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in Him. The meaning of Easter also symbolizes the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or Rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final and irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.

The past 4 weeks we have talked about temptation and how Jesus overcame the temptations of the the devil. Because of Christ’s resurrection, I have eternal life, yes, but I also can have freedom from the power of sin. What does that mean in real life?  It means that I have an obligation to say “no” to my fleshly desires. It means that God has given me the strength to resist temptation. It means that I must die to my selfishness daily and serve God out of love and respect for Who He is instead of going through the motions of Christianity. Christ’s death was the ultimate example of surrender and sacrifice. I too must surrender my desires and will to God and lay all my own pride and wishes on the altar.

So is Easter for you today just another religious story, or is Easter a profound, personal experience for you? Jesus talked about the crucifixion and spoke of the resurrection in Mark 14:26-28: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Jesus told them that He would meet them in the world of the living, not in a tomb of the dead. And this is where the risen Christ meets us—in Northwest Florida where we live. He meets us in our time of temptation, He meets us in our needs, and He meets us in our darkest hours. 

Ask yourself this question: What difference would it make in your life if every day you knew, without a doubt, that you were a part of something that is much bigger than yourself? What would Easter mean for you this year and how can it change your life?

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the Easter story help you to deal with temptation in your life?
  2. Read John 2:19-22. Three years before His execution, Jesus predicted that He could and that He would come back from the dead. What impact does that kind of promise made and kept have on you?
  3. Have you been underestimating who Jesus is? How does the Easter story raise your level of understanding and realization of who Jesus really is?
  4. How did God speak to you through the message this week?

I Want What I Want And I Want It Now

“Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” –  Psalms 27:13-14.

We live in a world that wants what it wants and it wants it right now. There isn’t one of us that does not love a little instant gratification now and then. How do I know that? All you have to do is look at the society in which we live and you can see signs of it everywhere. That is why 4 or 5 people drive through the traffic light even after it turns from yellow to red? That is why we think the world is going to end if it takes more than 30 seconds to exit the McDonald’s drive thru. 

There is a story in Matthew 15 that touches on this subject. Matthew 15:22 tells us, “A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”  This woman’s need was great, the situation grave, so she wanted instant gratification by having the Lord answer her prayer instantly. She didn’t deserve God’s mercy, but Jesus was her only hope and she expected him to give her what she wanted. But Jesus was not going to answer her immediately.

Matthew 15:23 says, “But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

Jesus seemed to ignore her. But she keeps after it, following them and begging. The disciples soon had enough of this woman and her begging and asked Jesus to send her away. In Matthew 15:24 Jesus responds: “Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

The woman tried again and Jesus gave her what seems like a strong answer on the surface: “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” Not only did Jesus tell her that it wasn’t right to give that which was meant for the Jews and give it to her, but he called her a dog too.

Things didn’t look good. She wasn’t getting a timely answer. What more could she do?  I imagine she was discouraged, if not confused. But she didn’t give up.  She put aside impulse or instant gratification for a greater purpose, her daughter. I would call that perseverance.  Matthew 15: 27: “She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”  Matthew 5:28 finishes the story: “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.”

She wanted instant gratification, but she didn’t get it. We must all realize that instant gratification isn’t God’s way of doing business on every occasion. We won’t always get what we want when we want it. We must learn to wait on God and stop looking for an easy way out. You won’t be delivered instantly from every kind of discomfort, pain, or inconvenience. There are no shortcuts in knowing Jesus. We cannot hope to understand God on human terms. We can, however, trust God to answer us in His own time. You will never get God’s best for your life if you only seek after instant gratification.

Discussion Question:

  1. As a Christian should we feel entitled? Should we get faster answers from God? 
  2. We all suffer from the disease of now? How would you rate yourself in this area?
  3. What can we do this week to take the longer view over choosing the here and now?

Everybody Bows To Someone

“Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” –  Matthew 4:8-10.

Sophie’s Choice is the title of a 1979 novel by William Styron, about a Polish woman in a Nazi concentration camp who is forced to decide which of her two children will live and which will die. It is not much of a choice because whichever way she chooses, she will have to live with that decision the rest of her life.

We are faced with decisions every day. Most of them are relatively inconsequential: what to eat for dinner, which route to take to work, whether to root for Florida State or Florida. Some decisions, however, have serious consequences. Every day we are faced with the choice of who we will serve. We will face this decision multiple times each day. And your thoughts and actions will determine whether you are bowing to Satan, or bowing to Jesus Christ, allowing yourself to live your life according to His will. Either way, you bow to someone. There is no middle ground. You cannot have two masters—you must choose. Christ’s words make this perfectly clear: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

In Romans 1:1, Paul calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul fully understood his life was no longer his own, that it belonged to Christ. That is why he told the Corinthian congregation that “God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.” (I Corinthians 7:23). That high price was the death of Jesus Christ to purchase us from Satan. 

Surrendering yourself to Christ is not easy. Satan wants you to bow to him and will try to catch you unaware and steal you back. If you are not careful, you can fall into one of the devil’s snares—taken captive—and unwittingly find yourself once again bowing to Satan. 

You can clearly know whose servant you are—who your Master is—on a day-by-day basis. Here is the formula: Romans 6:16 says, “ Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.”

“When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right.” (Romans 6:20). Then you are bowing to Satan. But if “now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” (Romans 6:18), then you are bowing to Christ. 

Discussion Question:

  1. Do you agree that it is an either or situation? Why or why not?
  2. How can we know whether we are bowing to God or to Satan? 
  3. What can we do this week to live up to God’s standard and according to His design?

Don’t Tell Me What To Do

“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth..” – Matthew 28:18.

In the movie The Blues Brothers, a couple of ex-convict musicians were trying to raise money for an orphanage. Anytime they were asked about their work, they had a standard response: “We’re on a mission from God.” They always said it, as if they believed it. The very idea that two inept, unworthy human beings could be on a mission from God was, of course, the central joke of the whole story.

Here is the story of our life: We are sinful, inept, unworthy human beings on a mission from God. The Blues Brothers encounter a lot of obstacles and resistance to fulfilling their mission for God. We face the same thing, often of our own doing. That is because we don’t like to be told what to do…we resist all those rules and regulations we read about in the Bible. 

Kids don’t like to be told what to do. They think they have it all figured out. And an amazing thing happens as the kids grow older, they look back and realize their parents were right more often than not. And there is that moment when they sound exactly like their parents when they become parents. And inevitably they encounter the same resistance to being told what to do from their kids. Most people simply do not like to be told what to do.  When raising our own kids, we had that moment when we sounded like our parents.

But what happens when God is telling us what to do? There invariably will come a time in our spiritual journey when the Lord will guide us in a new way. His preference is that we would sense His leading, fully cooperate and move in the new direction. However, as is all too often the case, He must intervene in the affairs of our lives due to the fact that we are comfortable and entrenched in our present course of action.

When our plans are interrupted and we seem to have lost our authority, we may experience some anxiety due to a perceived loss of control. Our authority is at best temporary, so as uncomfortable as we may become, we must trust that He is leading us along the best pathway for our lives. “The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” (Psalms 32:8).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you like to be told what to do? Why or why not?
  2. How is it different when God tells us what to do?
  3. What can we do this week to better understand God’s plan for our lives? 

Refresh Your Memory

“…those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:25.

What do you find truly refreshing? It could be an ice cold water, sweet tea, lemonade, a nap or maybe it is the joy of mentally refreshing with a friend. A personal phone call, or having lunch together. Laughter too can be refreshing, so can fishing.  Of all the refreshing experiences we can find, nothing can compare to the renewal of the mind and spirit that is found in the presence of God. 

Life is full of hard times and disappointments. There are little things that drag us down. And big things that can devastate us. And there are lots of things that fall somewhere in the middle. We need to be refreshed and sometimes refreshment comes in the form of approval and applause from those around us.  We need encouragement, we need to feel like we are liked and we are doing things that make us likable. As we have said this week, we need to seek our encouragement from God first. Because when we draw near to God, our minds are refreshed and our strength is renewed.

Jeremiah 31:25 says, “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” Those verses provide each of us the approval, admiration and encouragement we need.

God can do the impossible because His power is like no other. And His word contains His promise to refresh and satisfy. That’s a promise no one else can make and keep. Not our spouses, our co-workers, friends or relatives. But He can and He will. When we need validation, when we need to be refreshed, go to God rather than others.   

Even now as believers, we can experience a time of refreshing by quieting our hearts in a devotional time of prayer and Bible reading. When we spend time alone with the Lord, we can experience His peace and joy which renews us in spirit.  “Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” (John 4:10)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you find refreshing?
  2. How have you experienced God’s refreshing in your life?
  3. What obstacles are there to having a daily devotional time? What can you do this week to remove those obstacles.   

Online Applause

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44.

In the last decade, social media has exploded. We now have the ability to blog, post, tweet and like to our heart’s content. Facebook has 1.23 billion users. Twitter has 319 million. Millions of photos, status updates and videos are posted every hour of the day. It gives people a platform to broadcast their latest accomplishments, vacations, purchases, meals or selfies. But that is not why we post, we are looking for validation. So we go back every few minutes to see how many likes, comments, shares and retweets we have received. We tend to do these things to get the approval of others. But it is important that we consider whose approvals we should actually be seeking.

Instead of seeking the approval of others or trying to impress them, we should be seeking God’s approval. Do we seek God’s approval of what we say and the way we live, or the approval of our friends on social media? It’s very easy for us to care more about the opinions people have of us over the opinion God has of us, or what God knows about us. Are we living for the world’s approval, trying to impress people through social media or our friendships or whatever else we’re doing. Or are we trying to make choices that help us become the person that God created us to be regardless of whether that’s who other people think we should be.

If you are seeking validation, seek it from one person alone: God. Ask Him to show you what He thinks about you. And live your life for His approval, not anyone else’s. After all, everyone else is the same as you: a flawed human being. What difference does it make whether they retweet your tweet. In this world, it’s all about where you stand with people, but with God it’s all about where you stand with Him. We need to live beyond the opinions of others and live for God and at the end you will never regret wasting a second worrying about whether or not you only had 12 likes on your Facebook post.

There is nothing wrong with social media. Social media can be a valuable tool, as long as you seek approval from God and not Facebook. It is understandable that we desire a few accolades. It is our nature. Just don’t forget that the divine accolade—as C. S. Lewis calls it—is coming. And that’s the accolade you were created to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  (Matthew 25:23).

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the biggest challenges that you face personally with using social media? In what ways does social media help you connect with others?
  2. Does social media provide real validation? Why or why not?
  3. What can we do this week to move our approval from social media to God? 

Would You Please

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!  For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:8-10.

Did you catch the last sentence in the passage above? “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” What does it mean to live a life that pleases God? If you are like most people, that simple question may leave you tongue-tied. It’s likely that you never thought about the question in such simple form. But, if you were pressed for an answer, you would probably list a number of external behaviors as those things necessary to please God: There would be any number of “do’s” and any number of “don’ts”. But is that how to please God?

This week we talked about seeking man’s approval and applause rather than God’s. Most people would probably believe that it is far easier to get the approval of friends relatives, co-workers and spouses than God. Yes, we feel some degree of forgiveness and maybe acceptance, but to think that the Lord is actually pleased would seem to be a tall order. So tall, it may not seem worth the effort since you will ultimately fail. That is what the devil would have us think.

Satan used to accuse me by saying, “What makes you think God will use you?” The truth is that none of us are perfect – we don’t deserve the blessings of God. But when you put your faith in Jesus, God is pleased with you even though your actions don’t measure up. Your life may be a wreck, but God is still pleased with you. When God looks at you, He doesn’t see your abilities or goodness  — He sees Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we just sit on our laurels the rest of our life. We need to mature in the faith.

For example, think about serving God out of love rather than obligation. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has set you free from the impossible task of trying to earn God’s love and connected you to God as a gift.  We can respond to that wonderful gift by freely expressing our love back to God.  We should serve Him. God’s great love for each of us should motivate us to serve Him daily.   

Christians want to work for God, we want to build His kingdom here on earth. But before you concentrate on doing His work, invest your time and energy into your relationship with God. Whenever you have to choose between spending time and energy on developing a closer relationship with God and doing good work to serve Him, choose to invest in your relationship – that is the first and most important step. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you tend to think of God more as a loving parent or a tyrannical rule-giver? Explain. How has your view of God affected your relationship with him?
  2. What’s the difference between having a relationship with God and just having religion?
  3. Pray for the strength and courage to deal with any changes you need to make in your life as a result of this week’s message.

Two Jumps Ahead Of The Enemy

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.” –  Matthew 4:5-7.

Jesus was tempted as we see in Matthew 4. How He responded to Satan’s attempts to tempt Him can teach us a lot about how to beat the temptation we see on a daily basis. One of the most common temptations that we face as humans is the temptation to define our value by other people’s acceptance or approval of us rather than by what God declares our value to be when we are a Jesus follower.

Look at Matthew 4: 5-7: First look at Satan’s phrasing: “If you are the Son of God…” Then he tells Jesus to jump off (the highest point of the temple). The temptation for Jesus to throw Himself off the highest place on the temple is, at its root, a temptation for Him to do something extraordinary to gain the applause and approval of an audience. It’s a temptation to find His worth in what people thought of Him, instead of in His identity as the Son of God.

It’s normal for us to seek appreciation from others. In fact, it’s healthy. We are called to be servants to others, and if we didn’t care what anyone else thought of us, we’d be too self-centered and focused on ourselves. It becomes an issue when we feel a need to seek approval from others and derive our identity and value from what they think. We have to be careful we don’t have an unhealthy need for approval and acceptance. 

When we crave approval, we end up becoming the person that we believe will earn that approval. We don’t become the person God wants us to be. If we try to be who everyone else wants us to be, we miss out on what God has for our lives. If we are obtaining our approval and identity from people, we are not getting those same things from God. We need to remember that the true value of anything is typically defined by two things: who made it and what people are willing to pay for it. We know that we were made by a perfect Creator and that He was willing to give up His Son to rescue us. That gives us a level of approval that beats any recognition or applause we get from people in this life. 

So instead of believing Satan’s lie that we need everyone’s approval to be happy and that our worth comes from the acceptance of others, we can rest in God’s truth that His approval is the only approval that we truly need. Because when we have Christ as our Savior, then we have God’s approval.

Discussion Question:

  1. What are the signs that would indicate that we crave human approval rather than the approval of God?
  2. Why do you think having approval is important?
  3. What are practical ways you can ensure your approval is not from people but from God? 

Please..No Applause Needed

“Applause felt like approval, and it became a drug that soothed the pain, but only temporarily.” –  Anita Baker

There’s a famous saying that says: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  This seems all too true because no matter what you do, sometimes people will not be satisfied. Yet, we seek their approval, their acceptance and their recognition anyway.

The premise of pleasing people is mentioned in Galatians 1:10, where Paul says, “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Paul is telling us his ministry was never about pleasing people. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 says, “…Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.”

We all love affirmation. We all desire significance and recognition. We all benefit from being encouraged by others. And yet, this silent struggle for approval can often become an over-riding motivation that keeps us on an unpredictable roller coaster of insecurity and instability. We crave the acceptance and approval of men, but we need it from God. We long to know we matter to others, but we forget how much we matter to Him. We desire approval and favor of our peers, but we lose sight of the approval and favor we already have in Christ. While we tend to seek these things from men, ultimately, God is the only one in whom we can find our deepest desires completely fulfilled.

If you want acceptance and approval, you will find both in Jesus. Only Jesus is the living water. Only in Him will we never thirst. Only when we crave Jesus and the cross will we stop needing and craving the approval of other people. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and enables us to find our meaning and purpose in God. 

When we put God on the throne of our heart, when we seek only His approval, we are free: free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), free to be fully satisfied in Christ (Psalm 16:11), and free to wield whatever influence we have, however big or small, for the glory of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you want the approval of others? Is it bad to take pride in yourself? What motives do we have for trying to please people? What do we fear would happen if we failed to please them?
  2. What is a decision you are facing (new car, dating someone, having another child, school options, work decisions, time management, etc.) How can you use this sermon to help you follow God with that decision instead of worrying about what anyone else might think?
  3. What can we do this week to switch our desire for approval from people to God?