A Recipe For Success

“For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. 5 Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! 6 As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.?” – 1 Thessalonians 2: 4-6.

We are encouraged, from birth, to be winners. It becomes ingrained in us. Kids want that trophy at the end of the season and we want that recognition, promotion or bonus that exemplifies our success. Steve Jobs was the poster child for success. He was a billionaire who ran one of the most successful companies in the history of business. He is an inspiration and a legend to many people. God’s standard for success is nothing like the world’s standard. 

What God requires of you is not success, but faithfulness. We may not be a billionaire but God still expects each one of us to be faithful in whatever God has called us to do. Here is the thing: God can do more with one act of faithfulness than we could accomplish in many lifetimes on our own. Faithfulness starts with the questions, “Where can I make the biggest impact?” and, “Where does God want me?”

Faithfulness is defined as being loyal and dependable. Therefore, to be faithful means to be worthy of trust. A faithful person does what he says and finishes what he starts. Faithfulness begins with the little things in life. It is seen first in your routine and in your everyday chores and activities. It should also be seen in your home, on your job, and at your church. Your spouse and your children need to know they can depend upon you and that you will keep your word. Your employer needs to know that you will show up and do an excellent job. Your employees need to know that you will provide them with the opportunities to be successful.

Worldly success can be difficult to achieve. But there are opportunities for faithfulness all around us. At work, it means choosing integrity when everyone else is cutting corners, or using your skills to further the Kingdom rather than just enhancing the company’s bottom line.  If you’re a parent, it means being a reflection of Christ because the kids are always watching. The bottom line is that God can and does give us these small acts of faithfulness in the lives of others.

God is looking for faithful people to learn His ways and recognize when He is leading them. If we will be faithful in these areas, then we will see the acts of God in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and our churches. Faithfulness will produce lasting results.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are we doing here in your opinion?
  2. How does your answer to what are we doing here compare or contrast to what was said in this article?   

A Matter Of Time

“One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” — Mark 10:13-14

Consider the following statement: Your family matters, but your time with your family also matters. When the end of his life drew near, Steve Jobs expressed little regret or dissatisfaction with himself. His repeated wish was that he had spent more time with his children.

We are only going to have our kids for a few more years and then they will be gone. And we don’t want that time to pass by and say, “Why did I give my time to everyone else, but not my kids? Why did I think it was so important to be at work one more hour? Why didn’t I watch their school programs? Why didn’t I read them Bible stories? How did I miss out on so much?” James writes in 4:14, “…Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” The only time we have is right now. 

If you want to see how to make good use of your time, study the life of Jesus. Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. You never saw Jesus running, or rushing around, trying to make up time. It was the opposite, He made time for all people. He made time to consider the flowers and the birds in the air. He had time to put his hands on the children and bless them. He had time to heal people and feed thousands. He had time to stop and talk to the woman at the well, the centurion whose daughter was dying, and a man born blind. Time was His friend.

Our time is our life, and how we spend it shapes our character, our happiness, our success and our future. Spending time with each child may be difficult when you have a few children and you are busy and tired after a day’s work. Nor are we suggesting that you spend every minute staring into your children’s eyes telling them they are perfect. It’s not possible nor do they need that. But they do want your time.

Talk to parents and they will remember the quality time they spend with their parents. The year that their dad coached their soccer team. Or that special family vacation.  Or the conversations around the dinner tables, or the time mom made that Bible story seem a little less scary. Not only will they remember the events, they will remember the willingness and the commitment in finding time for the kids. 

Every dad who has ever braided his daughter’s hair, knows that it is not as easy as it looks.  And often when done, the child refuses to go outside. But here is the point: It’s not about the quality of the braid, but about the quality of the time spent with your little girl. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What constitutes quality time with another person in your mind? 
  2. What can we do this week to spend more quality time with those you love?   

Think Different

“To model yourself after Steve Jobs is like, ‘I’d like to paint like Picasso, what should I do? Should I use more red?”’ – Larry Ellison

Before his death and even after his death, you read and heard a lot about Steve Jobs. So many products and so much innovation is connected to this one man. The man that people compare to the titans of American industry – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Sam Walton – was not interested in profits, instead he was focused on being “insanely great.” He was first and foremost, a great explainer of technology–a charismatic leader and visionary. He was a symbol of ruthless perfectionism. He was the embodiment of the famous “Think Different” Apple iconic advertising campaign. He is a legend and a success by anyone’s definition. Walt Mossberg said, “I think Steve Jobs is a historic figure. He’s not only a historic figure in business, but really in America.”

But here is the question: How do you define greatness? Is it talent and abilities, or accomplishments, or power? What Steve Jobs did in building Apple into the first trillion-dollar company, coupled with numerous accolades and a 10.2 billion net worth fulfills that criteria for greatness in our culture. But when Jesus stepped on this earth, He completely redefined what greatness is, serving others to the glory of God.

The world has a hard time understanding how you can be considered great and be a servant at the same time. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Yet, He had the attitude of a servant. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,” (Philippians 2:6-7)

How often do you see a CEO be a true servant of those that they are called to lead? Yet that is what the Son of God did. Think about it this way—have you ever had a boss in the past that cared so much about your success, cared so much for you as a person, that you didn’t want to work for anybody else? That boss is being a servant! To care and to show love is what greatness it all about. And it begins with serving God, because our love for God will be expressed in our love for others. And that, is the Biblical definition of greatness.

Our goal should be to develop God’s kind of greatness. It was Oswald Chambers who said, “I have chosen you! Keep that note of greatness in your creed. It is not that you have got God but that He has got you.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of greatness?
  2. What can we do this week to be greater in God’s eyes? 

Are The Things You Are Living For Worth Christ Dying For?

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” -Philippians 1:21” 

It was Woody Allen who said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” In the movie Collateral Beauty, death is one of the three people that visit Howard trying to make sense of what happened in his life. Howard tries to figure out how love, time and death all work together in life.  People have been trying to get their arms around life, love and death for centuries, especially death. The word “death” sounds so final when you say it.

Guaranteed we’re all going to die someday. Some of us deny it as if we can somehow cheat death while others fear death and take no chances in life. The Apostle Paul identified his life for Christ. His burden was to preach Christ and Him crucified. Death to Paul was just a delay until he could be with Christ.

In the delay, however, he knew he could serve others best by preaching Christ. He knew that anything he accomplished in this life was “rubbish” compared to gaining Christ (Philippians 3:8) The question is not that we will die, but what are we living for. There is an English evangelist named Leonard Ravenhill who had an unusual inscription on his tombstone: Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for. 

What a timeless question. Yes we will all face death and those who accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior will spend eternity with the risen Savior. But what are we doing now? As a Christian, God gives us an abundant life and we should be living like that. Is anything you and I living for worth Christ dying for? It’s truly a matter of priorities.

Being a Christian is about action as much as it is in prayer.  We are meant to be the salt of the earth and a light unto the nations. How can we do that if we make no effort to spread God’s love to those who are hurting? Are you helping at a soup kitchen? Are you volunteering at a homeless shelter? Are you leading a small group or serving in the church?  

Action takes all forms, large and small. If some of the bigger things seem out of reach, start small, offer to buy someone a cup of coffee, open the door for someone that has their arms full.  Show the love of Christ to others so that they want to see what this is all about. You never know how many people you can affect by your one action.  We are the pebble in the pond that causes the ripple affect to others.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you afraid of dying? Why or why not? 
  2. What is one thing holding you back from doing more for the kingdom?   

Who Are We?

“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. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” — Ephesians 4:1-4.

How do you define yourself? A lot of people use their job description as a self-description. “I am a firemen,” or “I am a physical therapist.”  Other people use their success, bank account or resume to define them. “I graduated from Yale” or “I have just been named a partner in my firm.”  Still others use their belief system: “I am a Christian, or “I am am agnostic” or “I am on the fence.” 

But what Paul tells the church in Ephesus is true for us as well: If you are a Christian, the truest thing about you is that you are in Christ. There may be a lot of true things about you, but the truest thing about you, the lens through which you see everything else, your identity, should come from who you are in Christ. In Collateral Beauty, Howard cannot find the answers he seeks, nor can his friends, so he questions his identity and his future. Howard doesn’t know where to turn or what to do.

Paul gives us the answer to who we are in Christ, and then tells us what our lives should look like. He gives us the answer to who we are and what we are to do. We are those who belong to Jesus. In Ephesians 4:1-4,  Paul talks about what our lives should look like because we are in Christ. He is talking about behavior and that our identity results from our behavior.  Our identity in Christ is who we are. In other words, the term Christian should not just be a title. It is to be your identification, just like your name. Being a follower of Christ is the essence of who you are.

Our identity in Christ impacts how we treat people. We need to remind ourselves periodically who we are in Christ and what Christ has done for each of us on the cross.

Our identity in Christ should make us imitate God in all we do. “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” (Ephesians 5:1)  The question is, what should we be doing differently if we lived out this identity.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways does your identity in Christ shape your behavior, decisions, actions toward others, and relationships. Be specific.
  2. In what ways is your behavior not matching up with your true identity in Christ? What steps can you take to “validate” your identity?

What Are We Doing Here?

“….But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:9b.

This Sunday, like last Sunday, millions of people across the world will attend church. And many of them will ask a simple question, why? Why do I come to church every Sunday? 

There will be different answers to that question. Some started going because of a parent. Maybe you have always gone to church and that is simply what you do on Sundays. There was no discussion or negotiations when it came to church. One or both parents said you had to and that was that. If you attended church to appease a significant other or relative, it can be really easy to become a fan rather than a follower. There is nothing wrong with going to church, but until you have a personal and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ you could easily become numb to real faith, and comfortable with a few songs and a few favorite verses, none of which answers the question of what are we doing here. 

So what are we doing here? About now people reading this are waiting for a deep spiritual, existential answer on “Why are you and I here?” Why have we been placed here on earth? What is our purpose in life? I don’t have the answers, but here are my thoughts:  I believe the reason for our existence is essentially the same as the reason why the church exists. And I believe the church exists for the the glorification of God, the edification and sanctification of believers and to fulfill the great commission. 

The church exists to bring glory to God. That is not only true of us in a church worship service, but it is also true of us in life. We are here to bring glory to God – in our careers, in our marriages and in the choices we make in life. This means we need to get our eyes off of us.  When we are focused on our own self—our problems, our issues, our worries, our fears—we forget to look at God.  In Collateral Beauty, Howard was so focused on his circumstances that he was overwhelmed. Stuck. Alone. 

The church also exists for the instruction and improvement of the believer’s spiritual walk.  We are here to follow hard after the Lord every day and let Him renew us and shape us into the person we need to be. We are here to grow ever closer to God. We do that through personal time with God, Bible study, small groups, reading books, etc.

The church also exists for the great commission and it is another reason why we are here. The great commission is for every believer, not just the staff of Northstar and a few missionaries and pastors.  Every Christian is commanded to be involved in helping to reach the world for Christ. Each of us has an important, God given role to play in helping to fulfill the Great Commission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are we doing here in your opinion?
  2. How does your answer to what are we doing here compare or contrast to what was said in this article?   

Resolved And Resilient

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” — Romans 12:2

Collateral Beauty is somewhat reminiscent of the classic, “A Christmas Carol”, with the visiting of three spirits to awaken a deadened soul. Viewers are brought back to the themes of love, time and death through the supporting characters and the visitations Howard encounters. As Howard’s three friends try and make meaning of his pain, I was also reminded of Job in the Bible and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who wanted to share his grief, offering empty words, always coming up short. Like Job’s friends, Howard’s friends come up empty when trying to deal with the harshest realities of life. 

In addition to love, time and death, this movie exposes us to our discomfort with feeling unresolved. Howard’s friends personify our natural desire to quickly get past hurt and disappointment, especially when it’s unexplainable. Collateral Beauty attempts to find meaning in the hard things of life by suggesting there is residual “beauty” in all things. Unfortunately, this does not resolve anything. So what do we do as Christians when things seem to go unresolved? Look at the story of Lazarus found in John 11.

Lazarus was sick. Really sick. In fact, he was close to death. So Mary and Martha called for the one man that could resolve the problem by healing Lazarus – their friend Jesus. But when messengers gave Jesus the message about Lazarus, Jesus stayed where He was for two more days. But it is not what people thought. Jesus intentionally delayed going to help, saying “… it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). Jesus had a plan to resolve the situation. But all Mary and Martha knew was their brother had died and Jesus didn’t come in time. They were disappointed and they both told Him so. 

Jesus knew their pain. He felt it too. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus wept with them. After they made their way to the tomb, and when they arrived, Jesus requested that the stone in front of the opening be removed. The sisters were worried about the smell and reminded Jesus that their brother had been dead for four long days. 

Have you ever been disappointed with God’s apparent lack of response or lack of resolution? It’s disheartening when you know God could immediately change the outcome of your circumstances, but He seems tardy or even absent. So there you sit, in the pain, grief and fear while God delays. That is how Martha felt, but a few minutes later a dead man walked out of the tomb. (John 11:44) The reality is that Jesus had never ignored their cry for help. He didn’t disregard their pain. He hadn’t abandoned them. He had a plan that included a delay.

What we can learn from this story is to not give up, to not accept grief as our lot in life and to expect God to turn our mourning into joy, right on time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you encourage someone who feels that God has forgotten his or her needs?
  2. When God answers our prayers in a way other than we desired, how do we know He still hears and loves us? What will you do when God’s answer to your prayers is different from what you desired?

A Collateral Condition

“Let God have your life; He can do more with it than you can.” – Dwight L. Moody

If you have seen the movie Collateral Beauty, you may have cried. It is understandable. It is a pretty emotional movie. When the movie opens you immediately meet a man named Howard who is the main character.  In the very first scene you hear Howard ask the central question in the movie; “what is your why? What is your reason for living? What gives your life meaning and value?” These are questions we love at Northstar. What is your answer to those questions? What gives your life meaning?  What gives your life value when difficult, unexpected things happen?

Howard has it all, but everything changes when his daughter dies. His marriage ends up in divorce, he checks out in life and his business is failing. So in the midst of his circumstances, Howard’s answer to that question is life is defined by three abstractions: time, love and death. These three abstractions connect every single human being on earth, everything that we covet, everything that we fear not having, everything that we ultimately end up buying, is because, at the end of the day, we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death. The conclusion in the movie is that time is a gift, love is best and death is coming. Should you get knocked down in life, should you lose a loved one, find the collateral beauty in life. That is it. That is the answer.

Unfortunately, there is no comfort in that answer when life is hard. Even if life is pretty good right now, if all you do is pretend that your life has meaning, then all the meaning you have in life is pretend. As Christians we have a different worldview. Our answer is in Christ. Through Christ, God stepped into our everyday human lives and demonstrated a love that is beyond all measure. And while we don’t fear death we should maximize our limited time. David prayed in Psalm 39: ”Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” But God responded to our limited time with the answer of His eternity; and He forever defeated death to give us life. In John 19:30, we read, “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.”

What is finished in death is replaced with eternity. What is paid in full is the price for humanity’s sins, our sins, that brought death to the world in the first place. All of this comes to us as a result of God’s eternal, unflinching, unshakeable love for us. We need no longer fear death or wish we had more time, for all of this is paid in full out of God’s love for us.

The movie is right in that uncertainty is certain. But as Christians, hope comes from the promises of God rooted in the work of Christ. The meaning of life isn’t pretend, it’s a loving God who is passionate about you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your why? 
  2. What do you think about the claim that we are motivated by love, time and death?   

Only Jesus Can Fill Us With A Sense Of Belonging

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” – I Peter 1:3

The movie Lion is an affecting, yet life-affirming human drama about a young Indian boy who finds himself thousands of miles from home. Separated from his family for more than 25 years, the boy eventually finds his way to his birthplace in India. Lion serves as a reminder that while the human experience may appear vastly different on the surface, we all universally have the need to belong. The need to belong was not our idea, it was God’s idea. God did not hard wire us to be isolated robots, but relational people with the need to belong. And when that need to belong is met, it can change our lives.

That is why we nag, cajole, and try to entice you to join a small group. After all, is that not what we all want. We want a place where we find love, encouragement, reassurance, acceptance, validation and the occasional dose of accountability. A place where we feel at home, included, affirmed and supported, a place where we just know that we fit, that we belong. But we can also never lose sight of the fact that we belong to God.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus ministered to people who never felt like they belonged—lepers, tax collectors, outcasts, notorious sinners—and he assured them that they belonged to God. On one occasion Jesus put it this way, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me,” (John 10:27-28).  Paul’s wrote in Romans 14: 7-8, “For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” In other words, we belong to God. 

Just a few weeks before he was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following poem that talks about the something that matters much more than who you are: Whose you are:

“Who am I? They often tell me. I stepped from my cell’s confinement. Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders. Freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune, equably, smilingly, proudly
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself? Restless, and longing, and sick, like a bird in a cage. Struggling for breath as though hands were compressing my throat. Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance. Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the Other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!” (from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prison Poems).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does belonging mean to you?
  2. How does the fact that we belong to God change how we live our lives?

The Least Of These

“Come and talk with Me, O my people.” — Psalm 27:8 (TLB)

It is hard for most people living in America to imagine the hardships of children born into poverty in India. “Lion” solidifies just how difficult it can be.For five-year old Saroo and his teenaged brother Guddu, life in the small village of Ganesh Talia proves hard. They scavenge so they won’t go hungry.The two boys steal coal from atop a moving train to have something to sell for milk. Dangers lurk everywhere, but they have to do whatever they can to survive.

We don’t need to go to India, however. to find people in need, people who could use some help. God is calling for our help with people He calls “the least of these.”  (Matthew 25:40) This passage is primarily about how we treat those the world seems to think are the least, but whom Jesus loves. The least, the last, and the left out become the primary ones who come to Jesus and find life, love, and lasting hope. Jesus’ promise is that as we care for those in Jesus’ community, no matter their circumstance, we are caring for Him.  As Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it, “When we look into the face of one of them, we see the face of Jesus.”

During His earthly ministry, Jesus and His followers constantly pursued those who seemed far from God and forgotten by society. He invested a lot of His time into the “least of these:” the poor, the hungry, the broken, the weak and the people who had absolutely nothing to offer Him. As His followers, He calls us to do the same today. We can choose to ignore those people in the world around us and miss an amazing opportunity to experience Jesus. There is life, love and opportunities to become just a little bit more like Jesus today and serve the least of these.

To encounter a person who otherwise might be ignored or disregarded is truly to encounter the living presence of Christ. Jesus is entrusting the poor, the most vulnerable in society, to our care. Our task is simply to reach out and show Jesus’ love. My prayer is that the Lord will open your eyes to see His face in the faces of people who are down and out, disadvantaged, or challenged in other ways. And pray for a willingness to reach out and bring out the “lion” in all of us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are the least of these in your community?
  2. How do you personally respond to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, and imprisoned?