He Isn’t Here! He Is Risen

“When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”- Mark 16:5-7.

Every year, pastor’s all over the world struggle to help people soak in the significance of Easter and to fully appreciate the gift Jesus gave to us when he walked out of that dark tomb. While we can never do justice to the resurrection, it is our aim to draw attention to and exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ on Easter and every day. It is a daunting task. Is there anything that we should esteem more than the resurrection of the Savior? Easter is the most glorious and infinitely wonderful reality that could ever be celebrated. There is nothing close throughout history.  Easter means I have a friend who understands long, lonely nights filled with questions. There is Jesus in a dark Garden of Gethsemane, facing an impending, horrific death with tears. He was desperate for friends to stay close, to help him stay strong; but they couldn’t even stay awake. He had a night of lonely prayers and tough questions. There are many of us that can relate. When we have a sleepless night, we can be assured that God understands and is with us. God will not fall asleep.

Easter means I have a Savior who knows the agony of physical pain. So when I have pain in my life I remember the Son of God endured inhumane physical suffering by choice. Even more astounding, He did it for you, and for me, so those who suffer would know they are not alone. 

Easter means I have a Savior who faced death so I would no longer need to fear it. Most people fear death. Many of us are too young to think about death. But as we grow older, and the fear of death creeps up on us, we should remember the Savior who left heaven for one reason: to defeat death once and for all. We will all face death but Easter means Jesus went first, and He beat it.  Jesus’ victory over death enables those who have accepted Him as Savior to spend eternity with Him.

Easter means I have a Savior who will never leave, who will hold my hand through whatever may come. Behind every twist and turn in the Easter story, behind the long night in the garden, the horrible trial, and the climb up Golgotha to the cross, is the Son of God who rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever ponder what Easter means? What does Easter mean to you?
  2. Who can we invite this week to hear the Easter story? 

It Only Takes A Spark

“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, And soon all those around, can warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you’ve experienced it; It’s fresh like spring, You want to sing; You want to pass it on.” – Christian Song

It only takes a tiny spark to ignite a fire and it only takes one individual filled with the Spirit of God to ignite others into becoming followers of Christ. It was one man, John the Baptist, who saw Jesus passing by and proclaimed, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! ” (John 1:29) Two of His disciples, Andrew and Peter responded to Jesus’ call and began to follow Him. Jesus eventually had 12 disciples. Those 12 developed into seventy disciples which went out to the villages. From the 70 (Luke 10:1) came 120 (Acts 1:15) and on the day of Pentecost that number burst through the roof to 3,000. (Acts 2:41)  In Acts 4:4, we read 5,000 came to believe. 

The Christian gospel is the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the two thousand years since, the account of Jesus’ victory over sin and death has been embraced by hundreds of millions of people.  Each of us who are followers of Jesus are beneficiaries of this ripple effect of the gospel.  We are asked to do our part to continue the ripple. It only takes a spark for God to cause a ripple through our communities. That spark to be ignited in each one of us can start with inviting someone to Easter services.

In our lives, we all know people that from the outside appears that they will never turn to God. However, on the inside, they are desperately longing for someone to tell them about Jesus. This Easter could be the perfect time to invite them to church to learn about the hope we have in Jesus. With one invite their lives could be changed forever.

We have heard the following story from many people. They came to church because they were invited by friends. In many cases, they didn’t know that their invitation came at a time when the person was struggling or searching. They attended church and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They attend church, get baptized and tell us how God is changing their life.  But it would never have happened had they not been invited to come. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Make a list of people you want to invite to church on Easter.  Do you have a relationship with that individual(s)? Have you prayed for that individual(s)?
  2. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to invest in the lives of others in a way that draws them to Him.

Waiting in Silence

“The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.” – Matthew 27:62-66

The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday was a day of waiting and reflection for Jesus’ supporters following His execution. They were dealing with a new reality. After the shock of the death of Jesus they had to begin living with “what next.” 

Put yourself in the shoes of one of the first disciples on that Saturday—Peter, John, or Mary or Martha. Can you imagine their reaction to the cross? Their sense of loss at Jesus’ death, their sense of uncertainty, or feel the unknown that lay before them.

As followers of Jesus, we too live, from time to time, on Saturday. We experience the stark pain of Good Friday, and the jubilation of Easter, but we also have those times of uncertainty, wondering what is next. It is the valley of grief and uncertainty, for us and for Jesus’ first disciples. On those days, we don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t know if the cancer can be cured or if we will love again or find the job that we need. Saturdays are those days when we live with an uncertain future.

The difference between us and the first followers of Jesus is we know how Saturday ultimately plays out. We know that there’s a happy ending; Christ is risen. We know the good news. We know that Sunday is on the way. This luxury wasn’t available to Jesus’ first followers. All they had was the hope that somehow their Savior would live on in their hearts and imaginations.

Life is often a time of Saturdays with no resurrection in sight. But because of the resurrection, we can experience God’s Spirit in the darkest of days. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you view the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter?
  2. Someone has noted that worry is looking into your future and not seeing God there for you. Agree or disagree and why?

The Day Death Died

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.”  – Romans 5:6-10.

Before Easter Sunday there was Friday. Good Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus. We want to embrace the resurrection, but Jesus calls us to the cross as well. If you grew up in a Christian-loving household in the 90’s, then Carman needs no introduction. One of Carman’s songs was “Sunday’s on the Way.” The lyrics included: “So when problems try to bury you and make it hard for you to pray. May seem like that Friday night, but Sunday’s on the way.” The point is that Friday is the road to Sunday. There’s no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without the cross. 

Easter is indeed about the empty tomb. But first, it’s about the cross. We should not be in such a hurry to rush Jesus up to Heaven? We do so because the cross can make us uncomfortable, and doesn’t fit into our picture of how things ought to be. It didn’t fit into anyone’s picture back then, either. Those who had seen Jesus’ power wondered why He seemed powerless at His greatest need. Others wondered how He could miscalculate so badly. They simply missed missed what Jesus and His Father were saying: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)  Friday is the road to Sunday. It was the road for Jesus; it is the road for us.

On the cross, we have a God who sees you and me at our worst, and yet still loved us, and was willing to come, in some mysterious way, in the person of Jesus to suffer on our behalf, that we might know him. Think about that for a second: He knew exactly who we are and He still suffered the horrible death of the cross.

This is why, even though there is nothing inherently good about that Friday, that we call it Good Friday. On this day when death died, we see the love of God revealed in Jesus’ suffering. We find a God who truly knows us and yet “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

Discussion questions

  1. What can we learn from Jesus’ willingness to embrace the suffering He would endure? Why did He do it?
  2. Have you contemplated the truth that Jesus’ suffering was in part because of your sin, so that you could be forgiven and made right with God? Does it shape your daily life? 

Invite and Invest

“ The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” – Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s hard to believe, but Easter 2018 is nearly here. We are gearing up for a great Easter weekend.  We have been praying for and planning for this weekend for a long time and or good reason. It is one of two opportunities (Christmas the other) where people will come to church that normally do not attend. This is a witness to the truth that the Easter story has real meaning and continues to capture people’s imagination. It is an opportunity to reach people who are far from the heart of God to hear the gospel preached and let God work in their lives. So we want every parking space filled, every chair occupied. We want people in very crevice of every campus we have. Many will find Jesus. Many will become regular church attenders.

But, only if we invite them. If studies are correct, then over 80% of your friends who are not Christians or do not attend church are at least open to and likely to respond favorably to your invitation to church for Easter. Let me encourage you to push out of your comfort zones and fight through the doubts to invite your neighbors and friends to our Easter services.

Remember that this is God’s story, not our story. We get to play a small part by simply inviting someone to come to church. Most of the time, we have no idea what God’s doing in people’s hearts. All we need to do is love that person enough to get through a potentially uncomfortable conversation.

Inviting someone to church is important, but whatever the outcome, it’s only one step of loving our neighbor. Jesus tells us in Luke 15:7, “… there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” 

Let’s love people enough to endure some awkwardness, embarrass ourselves a little (or a lot), and even risk offending someone for the sake of the Gospel. Remember that 100 percent of the people you don’t invite will not attend. God can use your invitation to radically transform a life.

I’m praying for you as you invite your friends and people you cross paths with this week. And, I am praying that the people we invite will hear and respond to the gospel on Easter. Let me leave you with Hebrews 6:10: “For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Ready to take the plunge and invite someone?  But what if they say no, what if they punch you in the face, what if they ridicule you to others, what if inviting them hurts your friendship, what if… How do we overcome the what if’s?

If Each One Can Reach One

“Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” – John 12:23-25.

Easter is upon us. We all know the statistics concerning Easter and Christmas. People are more open to come to church on Easter and Christmas than at any other time of the year. Because of that, these two days are real opportunities for people to discover the risen Savior.

Easter Sunday is a glorious day for all those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ. It’s a day that announces when things seem darkest, God works deepest. It’s a declaration that God is in control and that our sin is not. The Resurrection means everything.  At this point in my life I am more impressed with Jesus Christ and the grace of God than ever before. During this Easter season, take another step toward Jesus. Make the effort to help someone far from the heart of God encounter our Lord who stretched out his arms on the cross to save them, and who still waits for them with open arms.

So here’s my challenge, but I issue it only to those of us who are followers of Jesus, whose lives have been changed, and who believe that Jesus can change other’s lives just as he did ours. There is someone around you who is sincerely wondering “who Jesus really is.” They honestly don’t know, or what they think they know are myths and perceptions. But they have an open mind and are willing to listen. Remember that the majority of people who don’t attend church, give the same reason when they’re asked why: “No one ever asked.”

Your mission, if you would prepare for Easter in a way that will bring glory to God and transform lives, is for each one of us to reach one, to find that one person that you can invite. I can’t tell you who they are; but God knows, and you probably do, too: your neighbor, your colleague, maybe a brother or sister, a mother or father, maybe a close friend. Someone who hasn’t yet experienced the forgiveness, the deliverance, and the peace, that comes when you experience new life through faith in Jesus Christ. Invite him or her to one of our Northstar Church campuses.

Take some time over the next week to feel what Jesus feels, by letting your heart be broken for those who are hurting, those who are wandering, those who are searching for answers to this life. I can tell you what will happen if you let yourself feel what Jesus feels: it will bring a flood of compassion for those far from the heart of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Pray for the Easter services.
  2. Make a list of people you want to invite to church on Easter? Do you have a relationship with that individual(s)? Have you prayed for that individual(s)?
  3. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to invest in the lives of others in a way that draws them to Him.

Opposition Is An Opportunity

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:3-5.

At some point in our lives we will face opposition. We could face opposition in just about any part of life. It could be at work, at school, at home, on an athletic field. As followers of Jesus we will face opposition when it comes to living a life that imitates the life that Jesus lived. These oppositions come from within and from without. The question is do we walk around discouraged or in defeat in light of opposition, or do we see that opposition as an opportunity? 

There is a passage in Luke 4: 14-28 where Jesus is rejected at Nazareth. Jesus came to worship and reads Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Jesus rolls the scroll back up and tells them that this scripture has come true today in their very presence. In other words, Isaiah is talking about yours truly.

Initially, the people are thrilled as they see the opportunity Jesus’ claim brings to them. Nothing drew the attention of the Jews more than the fulfillment of prophecy. The Jews were subject to the Romans, who ruled the known world of their day. As emperors changed, treatment of the Jews changed. They were in a precarious position – dangerously unstable – and they hated it…as you and I would.

However, their joy soon turns to anger, hostility and opposition to his message. What are the odds that the Messiah would be a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, anyway?  Basically, He did not meet their “expectations” for a Messiah. The Messiah would be a powerful, intimidating, forceful human being. Regardless of the opposition, Jesus’ ministry goes forward.

The bottom line is God will give us opportunities. But with these opportunities will come opposition from those around us. Some will oppose us because as with Jesus in Luke 4, they want to keep us in our place. Or they want us to act in a way they expect us to act; or go along with everyone else, or because we, like Jesus, in Luke 4, are not what they expect. 

The opposition wants you to be held back, but God says; the opportunities I have for you are much greater than you hope for or imagine. Allow God to use the opposition in your life to spark opportunities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one closed door, disappointment, or obstacle in your life that God has used to set you up for a future opportunity?
  2. What can you do to demonstrate your trust in God when it feels as if He is letting you down? 

Is It Time To Be Bold?

“The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” – Proverbs 28:1.

It was Catherine Booth, the co-founder of The Salvation Army, who said, “If we are to better the future we must disturb the present.” When’s the last time you took a few days to figure out what you’re doing, where you’re going, even who you are—a few days to dream about the future and make decisions about how to make a difference today and a difference tomorrow. 

Making a difference today often requires boldness. Most of us wish we could be more more bold in displaying the love of Christ. But so often when we come face-to-face with God-given opportunities to be bold, we find ourselves trembling. We don’t feel bold and we justify not acting on opportunities because of these feelings. 

Because of this, we will miss out on opportunities to display the light and life of Christ to those who are far from the heart of God. In Acts 4, followers of Jesus are gathered together praying after Peter and John returned from speaking to the Pharisees. They had been threatened not to speak about Jesus anymore, and in verse 29, they prayed, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.” They knew they could not do it on their own. They needed continual grace to be able to speak the truth with boldness.

Many people view boldness as a feeling, but is it? Boldness is doing something out of confidence and belief that it is true no matter how we feel. We can be bold even when our knees are shaking if we focus on Christ.  God has given each one of His children the Holy Spirit, and it is through Him that we have the ability to speak boldly when we don’t feel like we can.

Boldness goes hand-in-hand with faith. The more faith we have, the more confidence we have. And the more confidence we have, the more boldly we will be. But this, like a muscle, has to be exercised and built until it becomes strong. This will only come through obedience, not by just sitting back passively and waiting for it to happen. The more we obey, the more we will see God’s faithfulness to grant us everything we need to do His will!

“ For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” ( 2 Timothy 1:7) 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does being bold mean to you?
  2. What can we do this week to prepare ourselves for opportunities to share our story?

Silent Persecution

“The apostles went away rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ, that they were graced so far as to be disgraced for the name of Christ!” – Thomas Watson

The 2016 movie Silence asks the question: what does it really cost to follow Jesus. The movie is based on a fictional novel by Shusaku Endo that portrays the suffering of Japan’s persecuted Christians in the 17th Century. The film and the book is about a time when Japan was closed to outside religions, especially Christianity. The government actively persecuted those who practiced the Christian faith.

The movie prompts deep questions about faith, mission, and suffering. Set in the seventeenth-century, the movie tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira, and to minister to the persecuted Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) community in secret. The missionaries are prepared to risk their lives in the name of Christ. They are ready to be hunted, tortured, or killed. If caught by feudal lords or ruling samurai, they must renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death. The two priests faith is tested as the grand inquisitor forces them to denounce their faith or watch Christians be tortured and killed.

Silence is a gory, difficult, unsettling movie to watch. As Americans, it is hard to believe that such things went on, but they did. It is hard to believe that during the reign of emperor Nero, Christians were rounded up and put to death in the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome: Christians were nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. And it is hard to believe that in modern times Christians are still being persecuted, but they are.   

Today, persecution is still a reality for many Christians all over the world. Pray for those in the midst of persecution. “Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.” (Hebrews 13:3) Pray that God would help every man and woman, boy and girl that is going through some form of persecution today. Pray that God would give them the strength to remain firm in their faith, despite any physical, emotional or psychological pain they may have to endure for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Pray that these believers will not only stay committed to the call of Christ, but also will respond in love to the evil shown by their aggressors.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there ways that living as a Christian opens you up to persecution?
  2. Read Hebrews 13:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:26: Discuss what Christ wants us to do when we are aware of those who are persecuted for Him.

Don’t Be Shocked When You Are Persecuted

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-12.

No one enjoys suffering. No one. No one likes to be persecuted either. The Bible regards suffering as normal. The Bible very definitely tells the growing Christian to expect persecution. 1 Peter 4:12 emphatically states that we should not be “don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through,” or think that “something strange” is happening to us when we are persecuted as Christians. Acts 14:22 says, “where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Philippians 1:29 adds, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” And finally 2 Timothy 3:12: “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”   

In the book of 1 Peter, God tells us a lot about persecution. In fact, this book of the Bible could be called a handbook on suffering persecution. It was written just before the outbreak of the Roman persecutions under Nero in 64 A.D.  But of course, 1 Peter 4:12 is applicable to Christians of all time. Christians of the 20th century should expect to be persecuted for their faith as were the Christians of the 1st century.

Although persecution of the believer is to be expected and is “according to God’s will” (1 Peter 4:19 NIV), let us remember that this is a family matter. We are the children of a “faithful Creator” (v19) who always has our best interests in view. We should rejoice because God is being glorified. Peter says, “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (Vs 16) In the book of Job, Job’s friends insisted that he was suffering because he had done evil, because he deserved it. Job was suffering because God had determined it and because Satan was bent on it. As Job was shown to be blameless, and as Job refused to curse God, God was glorified. Throughout history, we have seen God glorified in times of persecution. As they suffer they tell others about him. As they suffer they sing his praises. As they suffer they prove themselves blameless. God is glorified in persecution.

The bottom line is this: the Christian who understands God’s reasons for allowing persecution not only expects to be persecuted, but is willing to suffer persecution.

Discussion questions

  1. Persecution can make you more like Jesus. Persecution can deepen your faith. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. The first thing we need to do when facing opposition for our faith is to not be surprised. Read 1 Peter 4:12 Why do you think opposition to our faith often catches us off guard?
  3. The second thing we need to do when facing opposition for our faith is to NOT be afraid. Where/who does fear come from? Read 1 Peter 3:13­-16. Circle the word “worry” and “worship”. Scripture makes it clear that we have a choice. Which is your natural tendency?