Don’t Neglect to Meet Together

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25.

Most people would assume that “let is not neglect our meeting together” from Hebrews 10 is talking about gathering corporately for worship on Sundays. It would seem to make sense. Meeting on Sundays for worship is certainly important. But the verse also talks about motivating one another toward love and good deeds. With our Sunday service times, space constraints, and time restraints, it is hard to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. We need additional avenues and opportunities for building community within the church.

One of those ways is small groups. It is very difficult to live the life God intended us to live without the help and support of people we trust. If you are finding that difficult to believe consider for a moment what Galatians 6: 2 says: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. The NIV says “carry” while the ESV instructs us to “bear one another’s burdens.” The Bible also commands us to love, pray, encourage and serve each other.  

Small groups are the most effective tool we have to fulfill the commands I just listed. Small groups are a way to offer Christian love and support to others. People are in search of meaningful relationships. With Christ as the center of small groups, they can find those meaningful relationships. Small groups can provide the environment  where we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 

Small group ministry is not a new concept. Jesus and his twelve disciples are a paradigm for Christian community. Jesus’ regular meetings with his twelve disciples are a clear example of a small group at work. Not only did the disciples benefit from this experience, but Jesus also received close fellowship with this group. “Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach,” (Mark 3:14).  

Join a group today if you are not a member of a group already. 

Discussion questions:

  1. What is the principle reason you have not joined a small group? Is it enough of a reason to not participate in deep, sustained connections with other believers?
  2. Do you believe you can experience authentic biblical community outside of small groups
  3. Pray and ask God to guide you to the best group for you.

Make A World Of Difference

“You can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.” — James 5:20. 

It seems a contradiction putting “power” and “small” together because we are conditioned to believe that the power is always in the big things. The bigger things are the more powerful they are, right? In some cases that is true, but not in the case of small groups. The sum of the small groups can make a bigger difference than the whole.

I’m sure you are wondering why we talk about small groups as much as we do.  We talk about it all the time because we believe that people grow best when they participate in meaningful small group relationships. Jesus showed us the way when he chose 12 disciples to change the world. Northstar is, therefore, a church whose primary focus is to connect every person to a small group family which in turn reaches out to touch others. Small groups are a great place to connect with other churchgoers, but that is not where it ends. There is more than sitting in a living room talking, there is the opportunity to change people’s lives and make an impact on their communities.

Let’s talk about numbers.  How many people do you think you will meet in your lifetime? The average American lives for slightly over 78 years. Starting at age 5, we interact with 3 new people daily. So the total will be (78.3 – 5) x 3 x 365 = 79,935 people. That is a lot of people. But what if each small group member changed one person and then they change one person per year and so on. We would quickly change every person living in the Panhandle. A good small group helps you to apply the Bible to every area of your life. The key is application. How does this passage apply to my life today and tomorrow? The small group discussion time helps you to make that application in your life and in the life of others.

At the heart of our church is the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. As a church, God has called us to be a catalyst to transform the Panama City area and to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. The reality is you can’t get to really know other believers unless you are in a small group. And other believers can’t get to know you better unless you are in a small group.   

What our world needs is not more Christians, but more people who are living like Jesus. And the best way to study Hebrews, acquire writing tips, learn to run or bowl or to be a better grandparent is to do so in the company of a small group of other like-minded folks. The best way to become more like Jesus is no exception: it happens most powerfully in a small group.

God can often do more through a few people than he can do through many. Maybe today God is speaking to you about becoming a member of a small group

Discussion Questions:

  1. How could you make a difference as part of a small group?   
  2. What can we do this week to make a difference?    

Lonely In A Crowd

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”   Isaiah 41:10

Loneliness was the first thing that God named not good. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  God recognized Adam’s need for contact with another human being — a need God had built into him.

Loneliness is not a unique concept. Most people know and are known by hundreds of people. And yet they can feel isolated. While that seems counterintuitive, a lack of meaningful relationships can often result in loneliness. Shallow relationships do not cure loneliness. Because in shallow relationships, the conversations rarely go beyond the story of the day, sports, weather and business. In shallow relationships, people never talk about their fears and their failures. If you are content with shallow relationships, you will never have people who listen and share far more deeply.

Each one of us was created for community, for the kind of companionship that touches our deep need to know and be known. Where people will help each other in their daily walk with God. We were made for relationship. Scripture promises that we are never alone. God has said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) That is an incredible promise that we should never take for granted. But while we need God, we also need one another.

So, how are your friendships? Are they fulfilling? Honestly? If not, I want to challenge you to take a few moments and evaluate the quality of the relationships. Do we have the kind of relationships that will enable us to grow as followers of Jesus. Because at the end of the day, when we grow in our relationships with others, we’re growing in relationship with God. The best way to do that is in a small group. If you’re not in a small group, consider getting into one or starting one. 

In a small group we can be a part of what God has intended for us all along: deeply committed relationships of unconditional love, which mirror His love for us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think of five of the closest relationships in your life right now. How do you feel like they “mirror” God’s love to you? In those same relationships how do you “mirror” God’s love to them? 
  2. What can you do to improve one relationship this week?   

Building Relationships

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – Hebrews 3:12-13.

Everyone has a picture of friendship in their mind. I’m not sure what yours looks like. But certainly the idea of friendship, as well as relationships, has changed over the years. Today, acquiring a friend has been reduced to a mouse click. Relationships can be as virtual as they are real. Friends on social networking sites cannot be a substitute for real friendships, because real friendships cannot be easily replaced by internet chats, comments and posts.

Contrast virtual relationships with relationships that are personal, deepening, supportive, faith-building relationships of love that are highly valued as expressions of our passion for the supremacy of God’s love. We want relationships that are deepening. That is because superficial relationships where we are content to know a few things about the person and periodically asking them how things are going in their lives will not help us to grow. It would seem to be very difficult to fulfill Galatians 6:2 through superficial relationships: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

Deeper relationships often happen in small groups because small groups help build relationships by connecting people who would not otherwise connect. Deeper relationships means there is a love for another and a willingness to help lighten people’s loads. A deeper relationship means helping, praying for, encouraging, and strengthening others. Growing relationships set the scene for deep discussions and life change.   

Effective relationships are a two-way street so as we bless others we will be blessed as well. Acts 20:35 says, “And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Deeper relationships thrive when we try to outdo each other in supporting others than waiting to be supported. 

Everyone has a need for close relationships. We thrive in healthy friendships and find great fulfillment there. To have these type of friendships, we need to realize it is our responsibility to find and build healthy relationships. To do so, we must reach out to others and treat them the way we would desire to be treated by a friend — looking out for what is in their best interest.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Deeper relationships often happen in small groups because small groups help build relationships by connecting people who would not otherwise connect. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What can you do this week to begin developing deeper relationships? 

Getting There Together

“As the church, we are in community together trying to fulfill this Great Commission that Jesus left us with. As we gently press into each other, we form one united thing, His church. As we work together, sharing the space God gives us to do His work, we all become shaped a little different. We all become a little more like Him.” ― Jennifer Lane.

I don’t know a single person who thinks he or she has arrived as a Christian. Philippians 3:12 says, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” Becoming more Christlike is not so much a destination that we must reach, but a process that we go through. Colossians 2:6 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” Walking with Jesus shows us that our spiritual journey is not so much a one-time transforming experience, but a progressive and transformational process as we are changed to be more like Him. So how do we improve our walk?

One of the best ways is to join a small group. Small groups are places where community is found, lives are shared and responsibilities are divided. They are places where we can be open and share our experiences. They are a place where you can be heard and where you can experience Jesus. Small groups is an environment where people can be real with each other and get closer to God together.

Small groups have a place for everyone and everybody. Everybody knows your name and where you can share something about yourself that you never thought you would ever share. Small groups provide opportunities to really learn about God and His word. They provide opportunities to dig in and go deeper in study. They allow you to have the chance to see what the Bible says about relevant issues that affect your lives.

Small groups help you feel like a part of God’s family.

Small groups provide a place where you can belong and be yourself while being part of God’s family. If you are reading this and never joined a small group, I encourage you to find a group that is located near where you live or work, or that reflects your current life stage or special interest.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there anything that a small group can do to help improve your relationship with God that you can’t do individually?
  2. Join a small group this semester and see how you can get there together.

Everyone Matters To God

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16.

People matter to God. All people. The key word in John 3:16 is “everyone.” So that means everybody matters to God whether God matters to them or not. Desmond Doss did not choose who to help based on who was good or who was bad to him. He helped everyone he came across because everyone matters.

As Christians we believe that everyone matters to God so everyone matters to us. Everyone. That includes the people we agree with and people we have a hard time having a civil conversation with. People on “our side” and those who are on the opposite side. It means that the elderly, the young, the disenfranchised, the widows, orphans, and the poor matter. In our culture today, it is easy to love those we agree with, those who do us no harm, who don’t need anything from us, and those who don’t offend us. It’s so much harder when we have to love those that may seem unlovable. 

The Bible tells us that even the one who wanders away is important. In fact, the wandering one is so important that the shepherd leaves the other sheep in search of the one that is lost. And when the shepherd finds the one missing sheep, he kicks up his heels and celebrates.   

If that is how God thinks and operates, that is exactly how we should think and operate. If God cares for every person, even the one who has lost his or her way and is far from the heart of God, then we should as well. Jesus had a passion for the lost. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10) 

The people not only heard Jesus teach about the worth of each person, but they also saw it demonstrated by his actions. The next person Jesus met was the most important person in his life. There are numerous times in the Bible where Jesus ministered to one person. Sometimes he was occupied in travel or teaching when someone would either cry out for help or touch him as an act of faith. He would stop and minister to that individual before proceeding. That’s how he met blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), one widow among the throng giving her offering in the temple (Mark 12:42) and heard the prayer of a desperate sinner. (Luke 18:13)

By His life and illustrations, Jesus is still teaching us that regardless of the size of the multitude, God still places a high value on each person. He cares about the smallest details of our lives, our potential, our failures, our hurts, our health, our fears and our destiny.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt like your life wasn’t important? What made you feel this way?
  2. What can we do this week to show people that they matter to God and to us?

A Sense Of Urgency

“You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” – John 4:35.    

“I can’t hear you Lord,”  [loud explosions all around and total chaos] “What do you want from me?” A distant cry for help… “Help me save one more.” And when he saved that one, he prayed to save one more. As Desmond Doss discovered on Hacksaw Ridge, we are surrounded by lost and wounded people all around us. It is our job as Christians to help God save one more. 

Who is your one more? Who can you pull to safety? Tucked away in Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy, is a request for urgency: “…to preach the Word of God urgently at all times, whenever you get the chance, in season and out, when it is convenient and when it is not. Correct and rebuke your people when they need it, encourage them to do right, and all the time be feeding them patiently with God’s Word.” (2 Timothy 4:2 TLB)

It did not take long for Desmond Doss to find a person who needed his help. Nor did Jesus have any difficulties finding the lost. Luke 15:1 says, “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.”  It should not take us long either because people far from the heart of God are everywhere around us. 

How do we view those far from the heart of God? Many of the soldiers that Desmond Doss was helping were the ones who persecuted him in basic training. He could have looked at them with disdain, as an irritation, and a burden not worthy of his help. But he didn’t. He felt a personal sense of urgency and responsibility to get them out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.  Luke 15:3-4 tells us about personal responsibility and the need for urgency: “So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?”

The wounded soldiers on Hacksaw Ridge needed the attention and help of Doss. They could not have gotten off that ridge without his help. The lost around us need our attention and a sense of urgency as well. They may just need an invitation, a few kind words, a testimony, or a few Bible verses to find their way home to the Savior that loves them. And when they find Jesus there is great joy. “And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, 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!” ( Luke 15:5-7)                                   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does having a sense of urgency for the lost mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this week to save just one more?   

Love Conquers All

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Private Doss was on a mission during the battle taking place on Hacksaw Ridge. His mission was to save as many soldiers around him as possible. Doss rescued 75 soldiers wounded by heavy enemy fire at the top of a 400-foot cliff during the battle for Okinawa in spring of 1945. He risked his life to bring the injured men back to the ledge, one by one, and lowered them by a rope ladder to safety. Some of those soldiers had mocked and beaten him for not wanting to kill. He also showed kindness to an injured enemy soldier. This is a pretty good example of unconditional love.

Love is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied words in our vocabulary. Over the centuries, love has accumulated a whole lot of conditions, baggage, and confusion. Adding unconditional to love makes it more confusing and more difficult at the same time. The only place you will probably hear the words love and unconditional are in a church. Those two words make sense when we remember and reflect on the voluntary sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. Because of the cross, everyone has the ability to have a personal relationship with God and experience His unconditional love. 

But is unconditional love possible for us? We see unconditional love in Desmond Doss, but unconditional love is uncommon. While it is not common, it is not impossible. The good news is that God wants to do uncommon things through His people. When unconditional love is introduced into the equation everything changes. Nothing stays the same. But we need to understand that unconditional love doesn’t come with any pre-existing conditions, expectations or strings attached.

Unconditional love heals the broken, empowers the timid, motivates the hesitant, and gives people a glimpse of God’s love to those who may not have experienced it yet. 

You can be an agent of change. It will look different than what you might think. But there is great power in letting go of conditions, and loving as God intended us to love. Choosing to share unconditional love with others in the same way God has done for us. 

Rick Warren had this to say:“Love leaves a legacy. How you treated other people, not your wealth or accomplishments, is the most enduring impact you can leave on earth.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are we doing here in your opinion? In the list of things that describe God’s loves for you, what encourages you the most? What makes you feel separated from God’s love?
  2. Who do you need to show unconditional love to this week?

Live With Passion

Hacksaw Ridge is a raw movie. It contains realistic battle scenes that accurately depict the horror of war. The movie also accurately depicts the difficulties for people who passionately stick to their faith. Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Pfc. Desmond Doss, an American soldier who served in WWII. Doss entered the army as a medic because he wanted to save lives rather than take them; he also was a conscientious objector and refused to carry a gun. In the movie, Doss is quickly branded a coward, and ostracized and abused by his fellow soldiers for his religious stance. In the Battle of Okinawa, however, Doss shows his true colors.

After his division had retreated from the ridge, he worked tirelessly through the night to save men who had been injured and left behind during the previous day’s fighting. By the end of the battle, Desmond Doss had risked his own life over and over again to save 75 men – without firing a single shot. His story is wonderfully inspiring, but not because he was a particularly impressive person. He didn’t have a lot of money or charisma or connections. He was, in fact, pretty ordinary in every way, except one. That one thing that set Doss apart was his passion for his convictions. And he stayed passionate even when everybody around him valiantly tried to dismiss that passion.

So, what do we get fired up over? What are we passionate about? And how do we grow our passion? Increasing our passion is a worthwhile goal. God has given each of us a unique passion — a special ability and a specific place to serve His kingdom. It is never too late to discover that passion. Because when  we do what God wants us to do, truly amazing things can happen.

We simply need to start moving. God will do His part to increase your passion, but He also expects you to do your part. William Wilberforce knew his passion. He resisted it, but this passion held him captive as he became completely captivated by Jesus. He met God and wanted nothing more than to begin working in the ministry which he was convinced was the best way to serve God. But the passion that kept him up at night was the unacceptable injustice of the slave trade in England and he worked tirelessly to abolish it.

So what is your passion?

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you determine what you are most passionate about? 
  2. What can we do this week to put that passion into action?    

A Hero

“Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” – Judges 5:14-16.

Desmond Doss would have seemed the most unlikeliest of heroes. The movie Hacksaw Ridge features the true story of Pfc. Doss, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss, a Christian who wouldn’t touch a weapon or work on the Sabbath, enlisted in the Army as a combat medic because he believed in the cause, but had vowed not to kill. The Army wanted nothing to do with him. His fellow soldiers constantly harassed him.  His commanding officer tried to get him transferred.  But in a bloody battle called “Hacksaw Ridge” Doss saved 75 men—including his captain, over a 12-hour period. The same soldiers who had shamed him now praised him. Veteran Carl Bentley, who was also at Hacksaw Ridge, said, “It’s as if God had his hand on [Doss’] shoulder. It’s the only explanation I can give.”

In Judges 6, we read about another person who wasn’t a hero by any stretch of the imagination. That is until God used him to do the impossible. If you grew up in church you probably heard the story of brave and strong Gideon.  But when reading Judges 4:14-16 you get a different picture. Gideon would not appear to be a good candidate for the job God wanted done. The Bible doesn’t say this of course, but you have to wonder how Gideon reacted when the prophet the Lord sent said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” (Judges 6:12)   Gideon didn’t recognize that his calling was rooted in the strength, wisdom, and ability of God. Gideon thought he was going to be responsible for the success of this mission, and when he looked at himself and at the size of the calling, he panicked and replied “My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

Most of us have been there and done that. We forget the providence, promises and power of God. Instead we jump to situational conclusions forgetting that we’ve been empowered by the Spirit of God. Gideon isn’t a hero, nor was he called to be.  We aren’t called to be heroes either. We have no heroic qualities within ourselves. But we still can act with faith, courage, and hope, because like Gideon and Desmond Doss, it’s the Lord who sends us and the Lord who will be with us every step of the way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do we need to be a hero to share our faith with others? How is God with us when we share our faith with others?
  2. What would we do different this week if we were absolutely confident that God is with us?