Focusing On Christ Puts Everything Else In Perspective

“I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” — 1 Corinthians 7:35.   

People have always had trouble staying focused.  And that includes Biblical times. Jesus told His followers that spiritual distraction begins with hearts that have grown dull, ears that are hard of hearing, and eyes that are closed (Matthew 13:15) We live today in an age of unprecedented distraction; jobs, kids, activities, houses, family, cars, hobbies, entertainment, recreation. In many ways we have become numb to distractions. We’ve become conditioned to expect and accept some level of distractions in our lives.

It’s not like we roll out the red carpet for distractions. They seem to find a small opening and work their way in. It usually happens when we lose focus. When we lose our focus we can lose sight of our purpose. So how do we maintain our focus? One way is to fine tune it every day.   

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are[a]being renewed every day.” The fine tuning of our faith is a daily process. Most people would put Paul on the Mt. Rushmore of saints, but he wasn’t without his challenges. In Romans 7,  he confesses his ongoing battle with temptation. In Timothy 4:9-13 he talks about his loneliness. For Paul, all of it was the “fine-tuning” process that happened every day.

It would seem to be easy to pilot a boat across St. Andrews Bay. But it is not as easy as you may think. Once you stop on your journey, all the course corrections will be made in very small, safe increments in the form of rudder adjustments. In many cases you are simply fine-tuning the direction you are already on.

Proverbs 4:27 says “Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” You cannot eliminate all the distractions in life, but what you can do is to focus on Jesus. What are His priorities?  Is the distraction taking you away from time with Him? If it is, what fine-tuning do you need to do to get back on the right path. Our goal is the same, to not be distracted by anything that pulls us away from what’s supremely important—knowing Christ. God calls us to a life where distractions fade and His voice becomes the One we listen to first and foremost.

Proverbs 4:15 (MSG) “Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What kind of distractions do you have in your life? Do you surround yourself with distractions intentionally or unintentionally?
  2. What can you do this week to fine-tune your focus on God?   

Purpose Of Life Or Life Of Purpose

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” – Acts 17:27-28.

If you would ask some people on the street what their purpose in life was, you would get some of the usual suspects as answers. Some would suggest our purpose is to find happiness. Others say our purpose is to love others, to become the best version of ourselves, or to follow God’s will. Still others would argue there is no purpose to life at all. Acts 17:27-28 provides the answer for those who are followers of Jesus: Our purpose originated and is being transformed through the person of Jesus Christ and God’s infallible and unchanging Word.

Each one of our lives are driven by something; success, fame, money, possessions and in some cases by guilt, worry or fear, insecurity, anger, or greed. God wants us to be purpose driven people, driven by His plan, His purpose for our lives. That’s where meaning and significance come. Psalm 57:2 says, “I cry out to God Most High,  to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.”

Before God even planned the world, He planned you. When He planned you, He planned your purpose even before you were born. When you fulfill your life purpose it honors God. Jesus was a purpose driven person. He said in John 17:4, “I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” Ephesians 1:9-10 adds, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” Add to that 2 Timothy:1:9: ”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.” 

At the end of the day trust God. Trying to discover your life purpose can be a stressful, overwhelming thing. It can seem like such a big, confusing, frustrating subject. You want to move forward, but you’re not sure how. You want to find your purpose, but you feel like you’re aimlessly wandering.

But you can trust God to lead you where he wants you to go. As Psalm 23:2-3 says, “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.”

You may feel confused, but God isn’t.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you believe is your purpose in life?
  2. What distractions or influences are keeping you focused on your problem and not your purpose?

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?