It Is No Small Wonder

“When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!” – Matthew 28:17.“

“I believe,” said Stu looking up from his breakfast. “But there are some things I wonder about.” Stu is a member of the group that believes, but wonders. When asked about what he is wondering about Stu looks back down at his eggs that are growing cold. “What I wonder about is a big thing…maybe the biggest thing. I can’t help but wonder about the resurrection of Christ. It just doesn’t make sense to me that a dead person could come back to life. Everything I’ve ever seen supports the fact that dead people simply stay in the grave.”   

Stu was right. The resurrection of Jesus is a very big thing. And it is not easy to put our faith in a claim that contradicts everything we’ve ever seen or experienced? Unless we are 2,000 years old, we would not have been there in Biblical times to see or experience the resurrection, but there are plenty of people who were and did. In fact, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the resurrection.

Like Stu, we have all wondered at one time in our lives or another. Many people think that wondering or having doubts is unhealthy, but it isn’t always. Actually wonder and doubts can produce some positive side effects if we take steps toward resolving them. God isn’t intimidated by our questions or lack of understanding. When Jesus encounters someone who knows who He is and what He can do, He doesn’t condemn them. He reaches out and asks, “Why did you doubt me?” (Matthew 14:31).

Even the disciples of Jesus had to find their way through this dark, discouraging human tendency. At the very moment when belief should have come easiest to them – when the risen Christ Himself stood in front of them on a mountaintop in Galilee – Matthew records that “some of them doubted” (Matthew 28:17). So Stu is not alone.  Nor are you if you have questions that need answered.

This is just another way God uses answers to tough questions to clear away obstacles and open up a person’s heart for the gospel. Through the years I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen the Holy Spirit clear away questions and doubts, employing logic and evidence to turn a wonder or doubt about Christianity into yet another reason to believe.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would it change things if you saw things you wonder about, or doubts you have, as opportunities to grow deeper in your relationship with Christ and not a reason for alarm?
  2. Read John 11:16 and then John 20: 24-29: Do you think we are too hard on “doubting” Thomas? Does it bring you comfort that Jesus recognizes how challenging it can be to believe for those who haven’t seen (v. 29)?
  3. What can we do this week to get any unanswered questions or doubts answered?

Just The Facts Ma’am

“That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.”  – John 20:19.

Dragnet was a 1960’s television series, enacting the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partner. The main character, Sgt. Joe Friday, frequently implored people to provide “Just the facts, sir or ma’am.” It would probably surprise a lot of people, but we can take Sgt. Friday’s “just the facts” approach to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is possible to show people who believe but wonder, people who wonder how anyone can believe, and people who wonder if it is possible to believe again, plausible evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.  It’s called the “Minimal Facts” approach, popularized by Dr. Gary Habermas. Gary Habermas, a professor at  Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, is a leading scholar on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has studied the resurrection for decades now and has written or co-written 21 books specifically on the topic. There was a time when he had real doubts, 10 years of doubts in fact. But the more he studied the historical resurrection of Jesus, the more convinced he became that Jesus indeed rose from the dead.

There are historical facts concerning the resurrection of Jesus that must be accounted for, no matter what one believes. They are: Jesus died by crucifixion. This is an event of history that is recorded outside the Bible. Many non-Christian historians wrote about it. Second, the tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter Sunday. Both Christians and people who have no affinity for Christianity, agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on Easter Sunday. Third, Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief in the Resurrection.  While many people are willing to die for what they believe is true, no one willingly dies for what they know to be a lie. The Apostles had encountered the risen Jesus in the flesh. The skeptic James, a relative of Jesus, converted because the risen Jesus appeared to him. 

There are many more facts that we could mention, such as the evidence of the appearances of the risen Jesus in his physical body to various individuals and groups, including 500 people at one time.  The only explanation that accounts for all of these facts in such a manner is the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected. And that is just the facts. 

Discussion questions

  1. Do you have confidence that your faith is ground in verifiable facts? Why or Why not?
  2. What type of proof or evidence is offered for the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8?

The Weekend That Saved The Whole World

“As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:17-19.

Easter is another season of the year that presents an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the life of Christ. Easter also represents an opportunity to remember the heavy price that Jesus paid in order for us to have a relationship with God.   

Jesus was betrayed by one of the disciples, publicly humiliated and mocked, beaten beyond recognition, and hung on a cross to die. He gave His body for us and poured out His blood as a sacrifice for us. As a result, we can experience, love, peace, hope, joy, forgiveness and eternal life. At least those are the words that come to mind first. 

But that is not the complete list. If I attempted to add all the words that come to mind when I think of the resurrection, there may not be enough room in this devotional server to contain them all. Because of Jesus, I know that Someone understands, that Someone always cares, and that I am never truly alone. But the reason I would attempt to compile a complete list of words and would never succeed is because on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.  Because He is alive I have love, peace, hope, joy, forgiveness, and eternal life.   

Easter symbolizes the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or Rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final and irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.

Easter also helps me appreciate how much Jesus loved people and got involved in their lives; He ate with them, laughed with them and cried with them. He was compassionate. He provided for, healed and encouraged. He literally touched a man with leprosy and allowed a woman of the night to anoint his feet in public. He wasn’t concerned with what the people thought about Him, His primary concern was doing the mission of His father in Heaven.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Easter change everything for you? How does Easter give meaning to all of our days?
  2. The proper response to Easter is not warm and fuzzies, but awe. Agree or disagree?
  3. Take a few moments and reflect on Easter and the impact of Jesus dying and rising again on your life. 

He Isn’t Here! He Is Risen

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

It Only Takes A Spark

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Waiting in Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

The Day Death Died

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion questions

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

Invite and Invest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

If Each One Can Reach One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Opposition Is An Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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