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? 

Is It Time To Be Bold?

“The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” – Proverbs 28:1.

It was Catherine Booth, the co-founder of The Salvation Army, who said, “If we are to better the future we must disturb the present.” When’s the last time you took a few days to figure out what you’re doing, where you’re going, even who you are—a few days to dream about the future and make decisions about how to make a difference today and a difference tomorrow. 

Making a difference today often requires boldness. Most of us wish we could be more more bold in displaying the love of Christ. But so often when we come face-to-face with God-given opportunities to be bold, we find ourselves trembling. We don’t feel bold and we justify not acting on opportunities because of these feelings. 

Because of this, we will miss out on opportunities to display the light and life of Christ to those who are far from the heart of God. In Acts 4, followers of Jesus are gathered together praying after Peter and John returned from speaking to the Pharisees. They had been threatened not to speak about Jesus anymore, and in verse 29, they prayed, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.” They knew they could not do it on their own. They needed continual grace to be able to speak the truth with boldness.

Many people view boldness as a feeling, but is it? Boldness is doing something out of confidence and belief that it is true no matter how we feel. We can be bold even when our knees are shaking if we focus on Christ.  God has given each one of His children the Holy Spirit, and it is through Him that we have the ability to speak boldly when we don’t feel like we can.

Boldness goes hand-in-hand with faith. The more faith we have, the more confidence we have. And the more confidence we have, the more boldly we will be. But this, like a muscle, has to be exercised and built until it becomes strong. This will only come through obedience, not by just sitting back passively and waiting for it to happen. The more we obey, the more we will see God’s faithfulness to grant us everything we need to do His will!

“ For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” ( 2 Timothy 1:7) 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does being bold mean to you?
  2. What can we do this week to prepare ourselves for opportunities to share our story?

Silent Persecution

“The apostles went away rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ, that they were graced so far as to be disgraced for the name of Christ!” – Thomas Watson

The 2016 movie Silence asks the question: what does it really cost to follow Jesus. The movie is based on a fictional novel by Shusaku Endo that portrays the suffering of Japan’s persecuted Christians in the 17th Century. The film and the book is about a time when Japan was closed to outside religions, especially Christianity. The government actively persecuted those who practiced the Christian faith.

The movie prompts deep questions about faith, mission, and suffering. Set in the seventeenth-century, the movie tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira, and to minister to the persecuted Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) community in secret. The missionaries are prepared to risk their lives in the name of Christ. They are ready to be hunted, tortured, or killed. If caught by feudal lords or ruling samurai, they must renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death. The two priests faith is tested as the grand inquisitor forces them to denounce their faith or watch Christians be tortured and killed.

Silence is a gory, difficult, unsettling movie to watch. As Americans, it is hard to believe that such things went on, but they did. It is hard to believe that during the reign of emperor Nero, Christians were rounded up and put to death in the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome: Christians were nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. And it is hard to believe that in modern times Christians are still being persecuted, but they are.   

Today, persecution is still a reality for many Christians all over the world. Pray for those in the midst of persecution. “Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.” (Hebrews 13:3) Pray that God would help every man and woman, boy and girl that is going through some form of persecution today. Pray that God would give them the strength to remain firm in their faith, despite any physical, emotional or psychological pain they may have to endure for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Pray that these believers will not only stay committed to the call of Christ, but also will respond in love to the evil shown by their aggressors.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there ways that living as a Christian opens you up to persecution?
  2. Read Hebrews 13:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:26: Discuss what Christ wants us to do when we are aware of those who are persecuted for Him.

Don’t Be Shocked When You Are Persecuted

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-12.

No one enjoys suffering. No one. No one likes to be persecuted either. The Bible regards suffering as normal. The Bible very definitely tells the growing Christian to expect persecution. 1 Peter 4:12 emphatically states that we should not be “don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through,” or think that “something strange” is happening to us when we are persecuted as Christians. Acts 14:22 says, “where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Philippians 1:29 adds, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” And finally 2 Timothy 3:12: “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”   

In the book of 1 Peter, God tells us a lot about persecution. In fact, this book of the Bible could be called a handbook on suffering persecution. It was written just before the outbreak of the Roman persecutions under Nero in 64 A.D.  But of course, 1 Peter 4:12 is applicable to Christians of all time. Christians of the 20th century should expect to be persecuted for their faith as were the Christians of the 1st century.

Although persecution of the believer is to be expected and is “according to God’s will” (1 Peter 4:19 NIV), let us remember that this is a family matter. We are the children of a “faithful Creator” (v19) who always has our best interests in view. We should rejoice because God is being glorified. Peter says, “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (Vs 16) In the book of Job, Job’s friends insisted that he was suffering because he had done evil, because he deserved it. Job was suffering because God had determined it and because Satan was bent on it. As Job was shown to be blameless, and as Job refused to curse God, God was glorified. Throughout history, we have seen God glorified in times of persecution. As they suffer they tell others about him. As they suffer they sing his praises. As they suffer they prove themselves blameless. God is glorified in persecution.

The bottom line is this: the Christian who understands God’s reasons for allowing persecution not only expects to be persecuted, but is willing to suffer persecution.

Discussion questions

  1. Persecution can make you more like Jesus. Persecution can deepen your faith. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. The first thing we need to do when facing opposition for our faith is to not be surprised. Read 1 Peter 4:12 Why do you think opposition to our faith often catches us off guard?
  3. The second thing we need to do when facing opposition for our faith is to NOT be afraid. Where/who does fear come from? Read 1 Peter 3:13­-16. Circle the word “worry” and “worship”. Scripture makes it clear that we have a choice. Which is your natural tendency?

Different But The Same

“It was obvious to me that I was different, and it wasn’t until much later in my walk with Christ that I grew to understand that in Him I was also the same.” – Trillia Newbell

Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.”  

Trillia Newbill wrote a book entitled “United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.” In the pages of United, Trillia reveals the deeply moving, transforming power of knowing—really knowing—someone who is equal, yet different. The goal of “United” is to open doors for greater awareness and communication about diversity, race and ethnicity because the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks down the barriers of skin color and ethnicity.

Unfortunately, the word diversity has some baggage. To many, the word diversity is equated to diversity training meetings, quotas or affirmative action. But for the Body of Christ, nothing could be farther from the truth. Diversity in the church isn’t about quotas or filling a gap. In fact, diversity isn’t really about diversity, after all. It’s about love. To celebrate diversity, you must first cultivate a love for people—a radical, wholehearted, grace-motivated love for others.

My prayer is that we will always find our unity in Christ as the truest definition of our lives regardless of our skin color, cultural differences, socio-economic backgrounds, family status, or political leanings. Diversity within the body of Christ has been a linchpin of Christianity from the very beginning and continues today. God does not distinguish between races in His saving love. He created man in His own image, sent His Son to save the world, and saves anyone who believes. To be a child of God requires one thing—Christ—and when we place our faith in Him, we are all counted as equal children. 

Pray that God would give you a radical love for people. Pray that we as a church, would demonstrate the reality of Christ’s culture‑transforming love. Pray that your heart would be stirred to take an interest in others, in people who are different from you, in people who are also made in the image of God. And pray that we will look on people as members of God’s family coming together to worship and serve without thinking about one another as Caucasian, Latino, African-American, or Asian. Pray that we will embrace and celebrate diversity.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How has the media influenced or affected your understanding and relationship of interacting with people with different backgrounds?
  2. What kind of conversations do you think that Christians need to have that will lead to diversity awareness in the church?

God Calls Us To Be Holy

Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2.

There are numerous Bible verses about the holiness of God and the goal of living holy lives before God. Exodus 15: 11 says, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord—glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” I Samuel 2.2 says, “No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” Leviticus 20:26: “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” Then there is Hebrews 12:14: “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”

So what does living a holy life mean in practical terms for our life; can we by our own strength make ourselves holy? The answer is no.1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 says, “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” A spiritual, holy life is not produced by our trying or our struggling, but by the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

In 2nd Timothy 1:9, we read these words: “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.”

To be holy means to be separated to God. Being set apart to God makes us holy. We are not made holy by doing good things. We are made holy, or sanctified, by faith in Christ, just as we are saved by faith. Little by little, as we grow and live with the Lord, we will become more like Him. Paul said, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Bible gives us specific, practical instruction for this process of sanctification that we can apply to real life.Things such as refusing to repay evil for evil, rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all things—to name a few. The Bible makes it clear that every Christian should expect to grow in holiness over the course of his or her life.

As we look at Jesus, think about Jesus, study about Jesus, pray to Jesus, and seek to follow His example, we become more like Him. We begin to think like Him and act like Him. We become like Him because we are set apart to Him. This is true holiness.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the idea of holiness impact your daily life?
  2. What can we do this week to become more like Jesus? 

All In And All Out

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1

The definition of all in is “to be totally committed to something.” Being all in as a Christian is a radical abandonment to the will of God and a wholehearted pursuit of Jesus Christ as our only option. There is no middle ground in our relationship with God.  We should be all in. 

As Christians we are called to be all in and all out. We are called to be set apart. Romans 12:2 says, “set apart.” Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.…” But it is not about being holier than thou or self-righteous. Our goal in seeking to be set apart is not to stand on higher ground so that we can look down on people. Set apart means something different. 

It is easy to look at being set apart in terms of what I did or did not do. It was almost like a contest where we are trying to do more of the right things than others. But if we think in those terms we have it backwards. It is not about looking different than the world.

Acts 4:13 says, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13). It does not say they were different from the world. Most followers of Jesus want to be different and they want people to notice they are different. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the goal is not for people to notice that something is different about us, but it’s for them to know the one who made us different. Our goal in being set apart should not be for people to look at us and say, “Wow, look how different they are from the world around them.” Our objective should be for people to look at us and say, “they look like Jesus.” 

Jesus calls us to be in the world, but not of the world. John 17:15-16 says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”  We should not distance ourselves from any contact with our secular culture; we should influence it.

God’s goal in setting us apart is not about taking us out of the world, but about Him taking the world out of us. By pursuing Christ, the things of the world lose their grip on us. He wants to conform us into His image, not distance us from the world.

Discussion questions:

  1. How can a Christian be all in and out at the same time?
  2. What can we do this week to become more all in for Jesus?

Dare To Be Different

“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.

Most of us by nature are conformists. We tend to want to blend into the crowd and desire not to stand out as different. As kids we want to conform. And sometimes that is difficult. Who didn’t want a pair of Air Jordan’s when the first model was released in 1985. Not only was Michael Jordan defying gravity and schooling opponents, but his Air Jordans were sought after because everybody wanted to be like Mike. Only people who could afford over $100 for a sports shoe that would last a couple years could be like Mike. Being cool had a steep price.

Today, as adults, we feel similar peer pressure, but the stakes are higher. Now it is cars, homes, memberships, investments, salaries, résumés, benefit packages, and vacation destinations—not to mention all the latest toys, gizmos, and accoutrements. We may call it “staying in style” or “not wanting to fall behind,” but it is the same urge not to stand out as different.

We Christians have another ingredient to add to the mix: our calling. God’s invitation to His family really complicates matters in terms of fitting into society. He has called us out of this world: “The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” (John 15:19). God wants us to be different. We are set apart from other people in the world, and asked to steadily widen the gap.

In Romans 12:2, Paul makes a very blunt statement.  John is equally as blunt: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.” (I John 2:15). We are called to be different, to be set apart.

To be set apart means that God has His hand on you for a specific purpose. Today the world has a desperate need for people who are different. One does not obtain that kind of distinctiveness except through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the one that issues the drumbeat of the different drummer. He is the one that calls us to stand out of the crowd, to be distinct, separate, unusual. He calls us to be different.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel different as a Christian? How?
  2. What can you do this week to stand out? 

What We have In Common Is What Sets Us Apart

“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  – 1 Peter 1:13-16. 

It is a good idea to periodically remind ourselves of our purpose as followers of Jesus Christ. We are not called to be happy, but to be holy. In the unique way God created us and relates to us, we are not destined to happiness, nor to health, but to holiness.

The 1 Peter passage is a call to holiness. Holiness has gotten a bad rap over the years. People equate it with religious intransigence and outdated fundamentalism. But nothing could be further from the truth. Being holy is being like God. Because just as the Savior who called us is holy, so we are to be holy in all we do.

This is a passage about practical holiness. To put it that way seems stuffy and boring. But it’s obvious that Peter didn’t feel that way at all. To him, being holy is being like God. And that’s the most exciting thing in the world. Holiness means being so much like God that you change the world. Or to be more precise, holiness means to be so much like God that the world begins to change around you.

But if you doubt my words, would you accept the words of C. S. Lewis? This is what Lewis said about holiness: “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing … it is irresistible. If even ten percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end?”

People who think holiness is dull and old fashioned don’t understand what it really means. When you meet a truly holy person, you are naturally drawn to them. We’ve all known at least one person that is filled with a kind of contagious joy. They are working to be like God, and they are filled with this joy. They are different. They have left their old ways and have been set apart.

To be holy means to be full of God in every part of life. We must emulate who He is. We aren’t talking about behavior modification. We are talking about spiritual transformation. Living holy is not the path to knowing Jesus. Truly knowing Jesus is the path to living holy. We need to be a generation that follows Jesus with the courage to be different, to be holy as He is holy.   

Discussion questions

  1. What does it mean to be holy on a daily basis?
  2. Ask Jesus to show you how to grow in holiness, in the fear of the Lord and in the hope of His return.