Dear God: Thank You.

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Every person wants to experience joy. Every person wants to be happy. The question is what do you do when those things seems to be out of your grasp? Joy and happiness can be obscured by the common feeling that happiness is found in wealth and success and possessions. So how can we experience joy? In short, it’s thankfulness. Giving thanks is so much more than saying “thank you” when someone does something nice for you or working up feelings of gratitude. Giving thanks is directly tied to your relationship with God.

We see this exemplified time and time again in the New Testament. From the “sinful woman” who put oil on Jesus’ head and poured perfume on his feet as an expression of her thankfulness (Luke 7:40-47) to Zacchaeus paying back fourfold from what he took from others (Luke 19:3-6), thankfulness and gratitude became a hallmark of their life. Then there is Paul. Paul had a lot to be be forgiven for, so one of the common characteristics we find in the apostle Paul’s letters is the number of times he gives thanks to God in prayer. The opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an example of this: “I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly,” (Ephesians 1:16)  And Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”

Psalm 136 stands out as it repeats a continual refrain, “Give thanks to the Lord,” and then lists many different things for which the psalmist was thankful. Can we say the same about our own prayers? 

When we pause and reflect on all that God has done for us, a mere “thank you” doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t seem enough. How can we ever be thankful enough for the cross?  How do you respond to the general grace that God gives all of us? How do you respond when God blesses you specifically – when He answers a prayer? How do you respond when He provides healing, or He supplies your needs in a way only He can?  While our thanks may seem unworthy, we should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him because every “… good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…”  (James 1:17).  

A thankful heart can be cultivated, but cultivation requires intentionality. Be intentional this week. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is something you are most grateful for this week?  
  2. What can Christ-followers uniquely/be thankful for? How can we stay mindful of this in our daily actions and prayers?  

God Is Speaking. Are We Listening?

“The Bible reveals the Father’s overall plan for the world and provides general guidelines for life. But how can we know His specific plans for us? Listening to God is essential to walking with God.” – Charles Stanley. 

Sometimes people need to get our attention and they blurt out, “listen.” When that happens our response is, “I need to hear this.” It could be listening to a teacher’s instructions, or listening to your parents or maybe a friend sharing something they want to make sure we hear. Sometimes we are so busy talking to God through prayer we forget that God wants us to listen because He wants to speak to us. When it comes to hearing from God, often the main question that we need to answer is the most basic one: Do we want to hear from Him?

It is easy to look at prayer as a one-way communication. If we look at prayer as us talking to God, we will miss God talking to us. We all know what it is like to talk with someone who talks but who never listens. It is frustrating. Likewise, God wants us to learn to listen to Him. God has no problem communicating.  Over and over God interacts with people in a variety of ways. God spoke to Daniel through visions, Balaam through a donkey, Peter through a rooster, and of all things, he spoke to Moses out of a shrub. He is a God who says in Isaiah 28:23, “Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech.” And Proverbs 3:6 (MSG) adds, “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.

When we are talking to God in prayer remember to give Him a turn. Give God a chance to speak and when He speaks, listen to Him. Learning to hear the Lord’s voice isn’t complicated. But it does require some discipline to find a quiet place and to allow some time just listening.

Have you ever been in a crowded room where everyone is talking. Your spouse is in the room and if you listen very carefully, you can make out her distinctive voice.  To everybody else who does know her, her voice would have blended into the cacophony, but because you know her, you would recognize her voice. This is how we recognize God’s voice as well. Because we know God, we will recognize His voice even above life’s noise. The more we pause and listen for His voice, the more we will become familiar with it and the more our ears will tune  in to it.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How often should you talk to God? 
  2. Friends don’t talk the same way and same time every day. How will you refresh your prayer routine this week?

Now You’re Talking

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” – Ephesians 6:18. 

Prayer is you simply talking to God. No flair. No technicalities or qualifications. No special formulas. Sounds pretty simple. Yet, many people don’t find it simple at all. They want to pray, or they feel because they’re believers, they should pray, but they don’t know how to go about praying to the Creator of the universe. They ask things like, “How do I pray to God correctly?” Or, “What do I say when I pray?”  We are making it more complicated than it needs to be. Prayer is actually simple. It’s just talking to God.

Just talk to God. We all know that our earthly friendships thrive with communication and conversation. God speaks to us through the Bible. We should think of Bible-reading and prayer not just as spiritual disciplines, but as the blueprint to relating to God as a friend. It shouldn’t just be a once-a-day kind of thing; we should talk to God on a regular basis.   

We talk with God as we would talk to a very respected friend. Don’t worry about using heady words or spiritual phrases or even using the right inflection.  Just talk openly, honestly, and sincerely from your heart with your heavenly Father. That would include just discussing things. Just visiting. Just “hanging out” together and having a conversation with God. Talk about your day. When something scary or exciting happens, tell God how it makes you feel. There is so much to talk to God about than “thanks for this” and “help me with that.” You don’t have to sit cross legged for 20 minutes and meditate. Just you and Jesus on the prayer line 24/7. 

Nothing that concerns you is unimportant to God. God is not too busy to hear about every detail of your life. It doesn’t matter if you want to talk for hours, God will hear you. “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” (Jeremiah 33:3) 

Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions when you don’t understand something about the Christian life. After all, God wants you to come to know Him more and more each day. Jesus’ disciples repeatedly asked for His help, and so should we. On one occasion they said, “…“Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1). 

God wants us to talk to Him. So, why  wouldn’t we want to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity? Prayer should not be a spiritual exercise you have to get through. It’s a conversation with Someone who loves you, and wants a relationship with you. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How often should you talk to God? 
  2. Friends don’t talk the same way and same time every day. How will you refresh your prayer routine this week?

Our Forever Friend

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” – C.S. Lewis

Everybody wants friends, especially good friends. You share everything with good friends, from the good times to the bad times, to the craziest times of your life. Through all of the struggles and disagreements, you create a strong bond with a group of individuals you laugh, share secrets and celebrate life with. A friend shares, gives, lends, loves, listens and helps. The Bible reveals your ultimate best Friend who will never let you down; a Friend who will always be there for you tomorrow in spite of your imperfections and who is always willing to help in your times of need. Jesus Christ is the prime example of a friend.“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13-14)

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings, loves you personally and desires to be your friend. He wants you to walk with Him and talk with Him and live in His presence all of your days.  This is the kind of fellowship God wants with all of us as the Bible repeatedly points out: “…he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)  2 Corinthians 13:14 (MSG) adds, “The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.” 

What better friend could we have? Jesus is steadfastly loyal. He forgives our every fault. He supports and encourages us when we need it most. He is a tireless listener. Jesus loves us as a friend who wants to see us grow to our full potential. God wants only the best for us.

With Jesus as our friend, we are simply never alone. We are always cared for, tended to, desired, wanted, fought for and being rooted for. God roots for us every day. He delights our joy. He delights when we trust our circumstances, all of it, into His hands. “And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”He was even called the friend of God.”  (James 2:23)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does being a friend of God mean to you? 
  2. What could you do on purpose to be more of a friend of God?

What A Friend We Have in Jesus

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis.  

Worship music has the unique ability to testify to our love for, and appreciation to the God who saved us from being eternally separated from Him. Music has the power to move us.  Music can capture a moment in time; when you hear a certain song you can instantly be transported back to that last day of Christian camp where you first heard that song, and the moment you gave your life to Christ. A song that moved generations of generation of Christians is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven.

Some of our best-loved hymns were written in times of great sadness. What a Friend We Have in Jesus is one such song. Despite the pain, hymn writers were able to find comfort in the arms of Jesus and point others to this source of unshakable joy with their music. 

When a young man, Scriven was engaged to be married. All preparations had been made for the wedding ceremony and the date had been fixed. But on their wedding day his promised bride was accidentally drowned, and he was plunged into the deepest sorrow. From this sad experience came a deep sense of his dependence upon Christ and of the great truth so helpfully expressed in his lines: What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. This song emphasizes that Jesus not only understands our feelings, but also offers us strength and hope.

What a friend we have in Jesus all our sins and grieves to bear

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer

Oh what peace we often forfeit of what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer

Jesus is the greatest friend to great sinners. He draws near in our suffering, and He remains committed even in our stumbling. He lets us all the way in, and loves us to the very end. Friendships, like all relationships depend on communication. They thrive when there is good communication and they wither when there is little or no communication. As we read, receive, and remember God’s word, we hear Him address us as friends. And then we pray — we thank Him, we confess our sins to Him, and we share our burdens with Him. We do this throughout the day, not reporting as servants, but relating as friends.

What a friend we have in Jesus.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you like best about the song What a Friend We Have in Jesus? Which parts of the song do you especially identify with? Why? 

The Amazing Grace of Easter

“Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” – John 11:25-26. 

The tomb is empty. What an overflow resulted from that single event. After His death on the cross, Jesus rose, conquering sin, satan and death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in all history, for this event is the earthly culmination of God’s atoning work on the cross.  

Easter is about a month away. We all know the statistics concerning Easter and Christmas. People are more open to coming to church on Christmas and Easter than at any other time of the year. Because of that, we look at these holidays as great opportunities for outreach. Opportunities to share the gospel while giving people an opportunity to experience first hand our church environments.  While it is important to “put our best foot forward,” I don’t believe this is enough to bring people back after Easter. What people want is to meet the risen Savior.

During Easter season, it is hard to not be impressed with the grace of God. Especially when we think of Jesus, specifically his suffering in the place of all sinners. Or when we think of Jesus, the one who is due all glory and honor, bearing all of my shame and dishonor, so that I might be forgiven.  

During this Easter season 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.”

So our mission over the next few weeks is to find that one person that you can invite. That person can be 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 campuses. 

Take some time over the next few weeks 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. 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. Make a list of people you want to invite to church on Easter? 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

A Study In Grace

“A Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks; a heart through which Christ loves; a voice through which Christ speaks; a hand through which Christ helps.” – George Mueller. 

Every Christian touched by God’s unconditional love and amazing grace wants to be the mind, heart, voice, and hand of God to those around us. We want to reflect God’s unconditional love and amazing grace. Grace is defined as undeserved acceptance and love received from another. It is a word that is truly as deep as it is wide and any discussion on grace should begin and end with God. Grace is who God is and what He does. But how does a person practically live out grace in their own lives? What does a man who is practicing and portraying grace in everyday life look like?  One example in the Bible is Stephen. His story is found in Acts 6-7. 

Acts 6:5 says, “…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…” Several verses later we read, “So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. (Acts 6:7-8) That didn’t sit too well with the religious leaders.

As a result, Stephen was on trial for his life. He was accused of preaching that the sacred institutions of the nation were to be destroyed, that is, the land, the temple, the law, and the customs. Stephen defended himself by reviewing Israel’s history. In essence, Stephen was preaching the gospel to the court.

“The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

That didn’t go over too well with the religious leaders, so they stoned him. In the very process of being executed, he responds with forgiveness. Acts 6:8 says, “As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.”

Acts 6:8 (MSG) reads  “Stephen, brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.” God help us that by the end of 2019 that we are “brimming with God’s grace and energy.”  That we would live a life of grace. 

Discussion Question: 

  1. Which of the character qualities that Stephen had do you most need to work on? How will you go about working on it?

The Amazing Grace Of Jesus Christ

“We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 15:11. 

John Newton, the man who penned Amazing Grace, said that when we get to heaven, there will be three wonders: (1) who is there (2) who is not there, and (3) the fact that I’m there. Basically John Newton was saying grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything. And that grace came through Jesus Christ.  

God’s grace is not an abstract concept or a thing. The Bible is very clear that saving grace comes through Jesus Christ alone. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 ESV). Acts 15:11 adds, “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”And Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.” Jesus is the only source of saving grace. “ Acts 4: 12 (ESV) says “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 ESV). Through Jesus, “…we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) 

It is obvious that Jesus was full of grace. You can’t read about the life of Jesus and not come to that conclusion. There are many examples of that fact in the Bible. A woman is caught in in adultery (John 8). Others wanted to stone her, but Jesus cleared her. The woman washing His feet. Others wanted to cast her out but Jesus offered entrance. The woman at the well. Others wanted to avoid her and He detoured to get to her. Peter denies Jesus 3 times but Jesus gives him a mulligan.  And the thief on the cross. Stop and think about the pain Jesus was in. Jesus is hanging there as an innocent man being asked for grace by a man who deserves what he is getting. When we are hurt it is so easy to justify hurting others. And yet in His pain, Jesus offered grace. Jesus’ entire life and ministry was marked by grace. It seems Jesus always went out of His way to give grace. No one Jesus offered grace to deserved it. He gave it anyway. This was Grace undeserved but also unreserved.  

Hebrews 2:9 says, “What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.” And Romans 5:21 says “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did you become aware of the grace that God has shown you? 
  2. How is that grace of Jesus Christ manifested in your life today? 

What Is Grace?

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” – Hebrews 4:16. 

The search for the perfect gift can be a maddening one. There’s always at least one person who either seems to have everything or doesn’t want anything. And a gift card just won’t do. But in spite of the difficulties there is still that one expression of our love and creativity that will earn us a nomination as gift giver of the year. It is especially gratifying to find that one special gift when the person we are buying the gift for deserves our time and commitment. We are fortunate that God did not measure our worthiness before giving us the gift of His Son. “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15) The NIV says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” The ESV calls it an “inexpressible” gift. 

It is all of those things. The gifts we receive at Christmas or our birthday, even the most creative ones are describable. Some may seem too wonderful for words, but only the gift of Jesus Christ is one that couldn’t be truly put into words. How does one describe that which is indescribable?

In Psalm 103, there’s a laundry list of just some of the things God does in our lives by grace. The psalmist says, “may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things…The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins;” Is that grace? It certainly is. 

It is grace and grace alone that God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but rather gives us what we need. We should be eternally grateful for the grace of God. We were basically in pretty bad shape before we met the Savior. We will never be able to answer what we did to deserve a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Before grace our life had little meaning and little hope. We were headed for an eternity separated from God. There was nothing we could do about it. We would never be good enough to earn our salvation. But God changed all that when He died on the cross for you and me. And although the song Amazing Grace is an amazing song, it cannot fully capture the infinite inexhaustible grace of God.  

God’s grace is truly indescribable. I hope that each day we see, understand and are overwhelmed by His grace as we were when we accepted Him into our life as Savior. And I hope we not only understand God’s grace, but live it and give it to others.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can grace be summarized?
  2. How can God’s overcoming, or irresistible grace be part of our lives this week?

Amazing Grace. Saving Grace.

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” ― John Newton, Amazing Grace.

Why is “Amazing Grace” the most-performed hymn in the English language? It just is. This song has the enduring power that has carried it to continents and through time. It is the most recorded song in history. But how many people know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story?” 

The boat had been thrashing about in the north Atlantic storm and was in pretty bad shape as a result of the pounding it had taken. The sailors had little hope of survival, but made every effort to keep the boat afloat. John Newton was one of those sailors. As the situation turned even more bleak and hope was quickly dissipating, Newton reflected on his life. His life was in a bad way.  His life has been taking on water for some time and like the boat he was in, there was little hope of being able to turn it around. But his thoughts turned to Christ and the Lord delivered him out of deep waters. 

Newton became a slave ship master, bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips. He admitted that he sometimes treated the slaves badly. In 1754, Newton abandoned the slave trade, and his life on the sea and devoted his life to God’s service. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and gained some popularity as a preacher and hymn writer, penning some 280 hymns, including Amazing Grace in 1779.  Amazing Grace was written by John Newton in 1779, some 240 years ago. Amazing Grace is a song about one man’s real and ugly sin — the sin of slavery. At the same time it is a song about the power of forgiveness, a song about looking into the depths of very real evil and, even there, especially there, finding grace that is bigger than all the hate. When you know the back story the lyrics make sense: 

 I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.


Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.

Newton would most assuredly not have written “Amazing Grace” if not for his past. And many of us would then be without these lovely words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God’s grace in our lives:

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. About what percentage of the song Amazing Grace do you think you could recite from memory? Look up the lyrics to the song Amazing Grace. Which parts of the song do you especially identify with? Why?