The Great Commission

“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20.

The Great Commission is one of the most significant passages in scripture. First, it’s the last recorded personal instruction given by Jesus to His disciples. Last words are always important. People at the end of their days typically talk about what is closest to their heart. Second, these words are the blueprint for what Christians are to do until He comes again.  

If this is the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior, then this ought to be our great commission as well. If this was His top of mind thinking, then it should be the top of our mind thinking as well. We are called to fulfill the great commission, and to be on mission with a church that is laser focused on those who are far from the heart of God. 

Because the true health of a church is not the number of satellite locations, the size of the budget and staff, the technology, the facility or the worship band. The real mark of a church is winning people to Jesus Christ and then equipping them to be disciples. In Matthew 18:19, Jesus says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is nor singling out those who went to seminary or those who have large portions of the Bible mesmerized.  He is talking to everyone Jesus calls all His followers to act and share the good news of salvation. It could be in Lithuania, it could be in Lynn Haven. The places and people who need to hear the Gospel are everywhere.

It could be sharing with less fortunate kids down the street or spreading the Word in a town two hours away. Wherever we go, every faithful Christian is compelled through obedience to share the Gospel. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, where has He called you to go? Who has God put on your heart to share the gift of salvation? What small or large steps can you take, with the knowledge that Christ will be by your side, “to make disciples of all the nations?”

Jesus have His church a difficult, but not impossible mission. Sharing the gospel becomes a lot easier when you have a clear idea of how and why you’re doing it. There are many resources to do just that and Northstar will conduct some training over the next few weeks to help you explore what sharing the gospel is all about.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, where has He called you to go? Who has God put on your heart to share the gift of salvation? 
  2. What small or large steps can you take, with the knowledge that Christ will be by your side, “to make disciples of all the nations?”  

The Greatest Commandment

Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”‘Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40. 

In Matthew 22, we find Jesus engaged in a conversation with a Pharisee, an expert in the Law. He asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” “Jesus replied: ‘“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

God calls us to love Him with all that we are and have—heart, soul, and mind. This is more than a feeling, an act of willpower or a decision.  If we love only with feeling, it will inevitably have peaks and valleys, fluctuating with what is going on in our lives. But when we make an intentional decision to love, when we commit to love God above all else, that love is woven into our DNA as a person. So when trouble arrives, we know what to do.  

David loved God with this kind of love and, in the midst of running for his life, David poured his love out in prayer: “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer.” (Psalm 63:1-4).  

The second part of the greatest commandment is to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself‘” (Matthew 22:39)  1 John 4:19-21 says: If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer,[b] that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

Loving God empowers us to love other people.  The focus on love helps us not to settle for a casual concern for neighbors, but to reach out to them.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to love God with all of your heart? How about loving God with all of your soul? What about with all of your mind?
  2. What happens if you obey the greatest commandment—love God with all your heart, soul, and mind—without obeying the second greatest commandment—love your neighbor as yourself?

Where Is God Leading Us?

“From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” – 1 Chronicles 12:32. 

These men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32 were wise because they “understood the signs of the times;” they understood the importance of the days they were living in. We live in troubled times where there is little understanding of the times. There is probably even less wisdom to know how to deal with these times. What sort of direction should the church take in the midst of the confusion of our days?  How can we as the people of God know where we are going, and how to effectively spread the gospel to the world around us? How can we speak with a strong prophetic voice to our society?

Change is a natural part of life. The question is not if change will occur but how will we respond to change when it does occur. The story of the men of  Issachar is the right way to respond to change. We as a church can learn from their example if we are going to connect and be relevant with our culture today.

It says in this passage that the men of Issachar understood the times. In other words, God was moving in a different way than He had in the past. King Saul had died in battle along with his son Jonathan. For many years Saul had been king but a growing number of people recognized that God had appointed David king. The men of Issachar saw that God had selected a new king and they aligned themselves with David. What about the church today? Are we following God’s direction, even if it is new and different, or are we stuck still following a different king? Do you understand how God is moving today or are we trusting only in things that have worked in the past? We can’t assume that God will not change. We can’t assume that His methods won’t change either. The way He responds to each generation does change because the needs of each generation are different.

The biblical text, however, does not end with the men of Issachar merely understanding the times. They also knew what Israel should do. This adds wisdom to knowledge. Knowing information is one thing. Having the wisdom to know what to do with that knowledge is immensely valuable. The first step for many of us is to pray this simple prayer: “Lord, please help me to understand the times in which I live. May I not be dependent upon others’ opinions but always seek after your accurate perspective on what is happening in my world.”

We need to see where and how the Lord is moving today and to embrace the fresh movements happening all around the world. We need to get out and get going because there is a world that desperately needs to hear the good news about Jesus Christ.

Discussion questions:

  1. How well do you think we understand the times? How well do we understand where our culture is going? 
  2. How well do you think we apply the truths of God’s Word to the issues of our day?
  3. What can we do in the short term to be the kind of spiritually sensitive, discerning people that understand the times?

Can We Really Help Ourselves?

“But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat. For the oppressive acts of ruthless people are like a storm beating against a wall.” – Isaiah 25:4. 

As a kid, perhaps the greatest words you could hear from an adult was “help yourself.” Hearing that phrase meant that you had permission to help yourself to another piece of pie, or candy or treat. Grandma was especially fond of saying those magical words, “help yourself.” There was nothing like having carte blanche to indulge in things that were typically rationed. Self-help books are available in virtually every subject. In the library, they have their own section. There are online education opportunities. There are numerous ways we can help ourselves.   

You have probably heard the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” There are people who believe that phrase comes from the Bible. Trouble is, the Bible does not say that. 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” The Bible does not give pre-existing conditions for generosity.  

If someone is struggling with addiction, telling them to help themselves does not work. There are trials and circumstances in our lives that we have little chance of changing by ourselves. Fortunately, God has a tender spot for those who can’t help themselves. Fortunately, is the right word when you consider it is impossible to do anything good apart from Him.

We all have things we want to do. God knows this; indeed. He created us with certain skills, abilities, desires and dreams. Isn’t it good to know, though, that it isn’t all on your shoulders, that it isn’t all dependent upon your cleverness and intelligence and resources and connections? Sooner or later we run into a brick wall that we can’t get around or over. It is in those times we discover our abilities are finite. God however is not finite, or limited at all.  

God doesn’t sit back and wait to see how much you’re helping yourself before He will come to your aid. We do need to be working out our salvation, but it can’t be done without God’s help. Some things are too much for us to take on and the good news is that God helps those who can’t help themselves, those who have no control over situations in this life, and those who are weary and worn. It is at these times that we can lean on Him to guide us through each and every circumstance.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think of the phrase God helps those who help themselves? 
  2. How does this phrase affect how you look at helping others less fortunate than we are? 

To Give Or Not To Give

“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” ― Romans 12:13. 

Living a generous life is not easy. Jesus set the standard that we can’t match. That’s because God is a giver. Generosity is a reflection of God’s nature. People, on the other hand, not so much. We tend to lean toward self-interest and self-preservation, and self-promotion. Giving to others, is not natural or instinctive. it has to be learned. We learn from our Heavenly Father. God is always giving his eternal resources to others. Matthew 7:11 says,“so if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

So when deciding on whether to give or not, the question is not “where should I give” or “how much,” but “why do I give.” In Philippians 2, Paul said, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Do you hear what Paul’s saying? Here’s a whole new way to be generous. Consider others better than yourselves. Look at the good of the whole, not just what’s in your best interests. Share tenderness and compassion. These are all gifts and ways to practice generosity in addition to money. 

It’s not just our words, it’s our actions which make such a huge difference. Look at the early church. They were persecuted and killed and ostracized. The world had a low view of Christians. But that didn’t stop them. They kept on trucking.  

It’s not enough for us to talk about generosity, nor is it enough for individual Christians to simply commit to being generous. What makes generosity a real and powerful witness for God is our actions. Generosity results from the conclusion that all we have or will have is not ours, it belongs to God. Because God has shared His wealth with us, we should share what God has given us with others. 

Our money and possessions are more than a luxury or responsibility. It’s an opportunity to witness to the love and grace of God who freely gives salvation to all who accept it. Generosity is the fullest expression of the life of one who receives, one who has been given a gift, a gift that must be used wisely and for a purpose, bringing glory to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most generous gift you have ever received? How did it make you feel?
  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?

Sending It On Ahead

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” ― Matthew 6:19-20. 

If you have ever dabbled in the stock market, you have discovered that some investments simply don’t work out; they decline in value or lose all of their value all together. The Bible tells us that earthly wealth will ultimately lose all of its value unless it is converted into something of eternal value.  Randy Alcorn in his book, The Treasure Principle, says “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” The idea is we are to use everything God has entrusted to us here on earth to store up treasures in heaven. Generosity is the investment vehicle of eternity. Of course we are talking about money and possessions, but we are also talking about being generous with affirming words, quality time and the gift of our talents.

Let me be honest. When you first choose to be generous, there is more apprehension than joy in the decision. It can seem risky. It can seem scary. Joy is in the act of faith when you give. And in what you receive. God wants us to use our money to tell the world the good news of Jesus Christ. “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere.” (Mark 16:15 (TLB) We invest in eternity every time we use money to bring others to Jesus whether in Panama City, Florida or Panama City, Panama. 

When you save to go on a mission trip, that’s an investment in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus. When you help others go on a mission trip, that’s an investment in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus as well. This also includes using your money to encourage your friends to trust in Jesus. Luke 16:9 says, “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home”  

You will never know how many people experience a life-changing relationship with God because of your generosity. Imagine when you die and get to heaven, you will encounter friends who say, “Thank you for investing in me. I’m in heaven because you cared enough. You bought me a Bible. You made it possible for me to get some counseling and for me to attend a life-changing event. You made it possible for a missionary to come to my little town and tell me about Jesus. Because of your generosity, I became a follower of Christ. I’m in heaven because you sent it on ahead instead of taking it with you.”

We should be completely humbled at what God is working in and through His church. By giving, you are investing in the eternity of lives in our community and around the world. So send it on ahead; invest your life – your treasure, your time, your talent – in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do we we stockpile in this life what is valuable in Heaven? 
  2. What can we do the week to send ahead our treasures to Heaven? 

Jesus And Generosity

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace…However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:1-3, 7.

When we think of God’s attributes and characteristics, we don’t typically think of generosity. But we should; God is the author of generosity. James 1:17 tells us that “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…” God gives us everything we need. The planet we live on makes that statement irrefutable. Everything works perfectly for us to have air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat.  

The Bible is full of examples of Jesus’s generosity. In Mark 5:21-43 we have two examples. Wherever Jesus went, people clamored around Him to hear His words of wisdom, to ask for healing, or just to be near Him. Wouldn’t you? One day He was making His way through the crowds when one of the local synagogue officials, a man named Jairus, came up and asked Him to come heal his dying daughter. Jesus went with him. Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt. He had renewed hope that his daughter, his only child, would be healed. Once they started a woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Jesus sensed it and asks who did it.  The woman who did it probably did not want to cause a scene but that’s exactly what happened anyway. Jesus stops and deals with her tenderly. She thought she was healed because she touched His clothes, but Jesus tells her faith healed her. Another wonderful, generous healing, the crowd sees it and is once again impressed and inspired by Jesus. No wonder they were all wanting to hang out with Him. But Jairus was impatient, hoping Jesus would get to his daughter in time. 

He didn’t. Word comes that Jairus’ daughter is dead.  Jesus says simply, “Be not afraid, only believe.” When they finally arrive, the weeping and wailing of the mourners greets them. But Jesus made a simple declaration that broke the spell of grief. He said, “She’s not dead. She’s only asleep.”  Mark 5:41-42 says, “Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.” Jesus’ attention to such detail reveals His characteristic kindness and sympathy. Just one story that demonstrates the generosity, grace and love of Jesus. 

Jesus is truly the ultimate example of unselfish love and generosity who has set a standard we need to imitate. God is not stingy or reluctant in His giving. He loves to give and is happy to bless. He takes great delight in providing for His children. In the gospel, we are recipients of God’s lavish generosity. The cross is the standard of God’s eagerness to give. It is the guarantee that He is willing and able to provide all that we need. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. 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?  
  2. How can we we be more like Jesus in the area of generosity? 

A Spirit Of Generosity

“I want you to know about (the church at Philippi’s) generosity… Even while suffering in severe trials and extreme poverty, their lives have overflowed with joy because of their amazing generosity. I personally witnessed their giving not simply giving what they could afford. But giving even beyond their human ability! No one told them to do it. It was due to their own generous hearts. In fact they begged and pleaded for the privilege of giving to serve God’s people. And they gave in a way we did not expect: They first gave themselves to the Lord and then to us. That is what pleases God!” 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

What exactly counts as generosity? Should generosity be the average Christian’s goal? Where is generosity at work in daily activities? How do we become generous? Answers to these questions might seem straightforward. Generosity is giving others something extra beyond what they are due. Ordinary Christians should be generous, relative to their means. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 is the famous passage about how God loves a cheerful giver. In verses 10-12 Paul says, “For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.”

What Paul is saying is that the material gift also has spiritual implications. Being materially generous to the ministry of Paul was also being spiritually generous to those to whom Paul and his team were ministering. It is still the same today. Generosity really is the gift that keeps on giving. It is important that we not only be materially generous to the ministries God is leading you to give to, but also to be spiritually generous.  

Take a few minutes and take stock of your life. Specifically, document how much Christ has given you spiritually, how He has been gracious to you. Also take note of those who have been spiritually generous to you? How have they impacted your life? How has what they did encouraged you in your marriage or influenced the way you parent your kids? How have they helped you understand the gospel in deeper ways? Now consider how you could do some of the same things to bless others spiritually. Take what God is teaching you every day and share it with others.  

Yes, we should strive to be materially generous, But let’s also work on being spiritually generous with the wealth that God has given to us.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you tend to think in terms of spiritual generosity? Why or why not? 
  2. What are some steps we can take to be more spiritually generous? 

Worry About The Unknown

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

We have all heard the term the “Christian walk.” It refers to an individual’s personal, spiritual journey. Many times we have false expectations of what the “Christian walk” should be like. As Paul tells us in Acts 20:22, “…I don’t know what awaits me.”  In other words, the Christian walk is really a journey into the unknown. We need to learn to be OK with that. We need to learn that God does what He does for reasons we can’t always see or understand. We need to learn to believe that God is good, even when the unknowns of life creep in. Paul tell us in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” 

That is a tough environment to be in. Talk to any business manager and they will tell you that it is very difficult to be successful when unknowns pop up and surprise you. Christians feel the same way about the unknowns in their walk with God. We want all the blanks filled in. All the gaps closed. All the details disclosed. And the why questions answered. But that’s not how life works. There will be questions for which there are no apparent answers. There will be unknowns.   

Without blanks, we would have no room for Him to write in His answers. Without gaps, there would be no way for Him to become the Way when there is no way. Without unanswered questions, there would be no way to show us that He is the answer. Our God is not fickle, forgetful or fragile in anyway. He does not make mistakes. He has a purpose for our gaps. He has a divine purpose behind all the blanks and the unanswered questions in our life. He wants us to have faith. 

What is most pressing in your life right now? Whatever that is, replace that worry with the truth of God’s love and power. We can trust that God will do as He says: “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7)  It is possible to experience God’s peace. When we learn to cast our cares on God and trust Him to handle them, faith replaces fear. Worry sees unknowns, but faith sees the God who can handle any unknown.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think that God does not give us all the details?
  2. Do you find comfort knowing that God is in the midst of your uncertainties?  Why?

Think On These Things

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8 

Is it impossible to stop thinking? Try to shut down your mind and you will soon realize that it is impossible to stop streaming thoughts through your mind. It won’t be long before your thoughts will be reminding you of the jobs you haven’t done, anxious thoughts about the future, fragments of memories, images of people you know, and portions of songs you’ve recently heard. The question is are we simply thinking without control of what we think? Are we simply a victim to outside forces, or can we control our thoughts?

There is a famous scene in Peter Pan where Peter is in the children’s bedroom; they have seen him fly, and they wish to fly too. They have tried it from the floor and they have tried it from the beds and the result is failure. “How do you do it?” John asked. And Peter answered: “You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they lift you up in the air.” The same is true for the believer. The only way to defeat evil thoughts is to think on different things.

The apostle Paul understood this principle. He gave us a list of things we should focus our time and energy thinking about: “fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.” (Philippians 4:8 GNT) The human mind is a wonderful creation of God … it cannot think of two things at the same time. So while you are thinking positive thoughts, you cannot be thinking negative thoughts. When you are thinking about things that are true, honest, just, pure, and lovely, you cannot think about those things that are false, dishonest, unjust, impure and ugly.

For me the take away from all this is that we can truly adjust a lot in our own lives simply by changing our focus. Focusing on the positive in all situations strengthens our belief which leads to increased faith. On the flip side, when we focus on negative things it weakens our belief, or gets us believing stuff that isn’t true. And that not only erodes our faith, it actually will increase fear in our lives.

Fortunately God has given us control over that by putting a choice in front of us. All we have to do is decide what we are choosing to focus on? 

Jeremiah 33:3 ESV says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways is Philippians 4:8 a reality for you? What would you have to give up to start thinking more consistently with Philippians 4:8?
  2. Is it possible to change without first changing your thinking?