Stand For Something Rather Than Stand Against Something

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” – John 15:19. 

Peter Marshall said that ”If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” Sometimes, however, we spend more time and energy on what we are against, rather than what we are for. One of those areas is the culture we live and work in that is becoming less and less “Christian.”

Should Christians be counter cultural? It is easy to define yourself by what you are against, or what you see as having negative influence in your life. It’s figuring out what you are for that presents a real challenge. Northstar Church is an example. When we started Northstar, we wanted a different approach to church. We didn’t define who we would be by other churches. We did not focus on what other churches were or were not. Rather we invested our energy and passion on the church we wanted to be.  So instead of reacting to something or standing against something, we learned how to live for something. That something is Jesus Christ. And that includes interacting with the culture of today as Jesus did in His time.

In the 24 hours surrounding Jesus’ execution, Judas, one of His disciples, betrayed Him, Peter denied even knowing Him. The religious elite were determined to find a reason to kill Him. The Romans carried out the execution and those who passed by mocked Him. But in that moment, Jesus showed humanity what it means to be for something.  

We spend so much time trying to avoid culture and its influences. But what if instead of avoiding culture we focused on drawing closer to Jesus? I am not advocating that we let culture impact our walk with God. Obviously, we shouldn’t advocate or approve of anything that impacts our relationship with God. What I am saying is that our best defense or stance of against culture or sin in general is not to focus on what we’re against, but what we are for. It is simply keeping the first things first. Jesus, and nothing else, must be our “main thing” at all times. Our main emphasis must always be on the person and work of Christ. Even Paul the Apostle decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The closer we draw to Jesus, the more we begin to be molded into His likeness and the less culture will impact our relationship with Him. 

  Discussion Questions:

  1. When and how should Christians react to popular cultural notions that contradict Scripture?  
  2. Luke 15:1-2 says plainly that “sinners” made a habit of hanging around Jesus. Jesus was unapologetically a true friend to the least and the lost, to all who were alien to the religious communities of His day. He seemed to prefer parting ways with religious folks if that was necessary in order to get close to sinners. The one who “welcomed sinners and ate with them” now insists that His followers assume the same posture. How does that change our view of culture? 
  3. What can we do this week to be more for Jesus?

Praying With Paul

“We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth. We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature.” – 2 Corinthians 13:7–9.

If I asked you to list the attributes of Paul, would prayer be one of them? Probably not. When we reflect on this remarkable man we would probably list things such as: an apostle, church builder, missionary, pastor, preacher, and teacher. We would point out his character strengths of persistence, patience, his courage, his humbleness, and his uncompromising and unyielding commitment to the gospel and cause of Jesus Christ. But how about being representative of a great man of prayer — would you put Paul on that list? Would Paul be top of the mind when it comes to prayer? 

It is more likely we would gravitate to people like Moses interceding on Mount Sinai for the children of Israel. Or we may think of David with his psalms or Elijah who stood alone before an altar drenched with water at Mount Carmel. How about Daniel who opened his window toward Jerusalem and prayed every day even though he lived in a hostile land. The Lord Jesus was the Man of prayer, so much so that one of His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1). But what about Paul? With all of his other qualities, we seldom think of Paul as a man of prayer, yet this is the field in which he excelled.

While preparing for the Prayer Matters series, I spent some time with some of the letters and prayers for those to whom Paul wrote. It was convicting and uplifting at the same time. I think every person who is a follower of Jesus would benefit if they spent the time to study and reflect on the prayers of Paul. 

Most of us limit our prayer requests and praises to those things associated with day-to-day life for ourselves and others we know. That is not a bad thing and the importance of offering such requests and praises should never be minimized. But the prayers that we find in the writing of Paul demonstrate an understanding and depth of faith that we all should aspire to possess. He prayed for specific areas in which he desired the people reading his letters to grow and draw closer to God. 

We should all desire the kind of life to which Paul referred in these prayers for both ourselves and others. We should seek to follow Paul’s example as we grow in our own faith and prayer. I still have a great deal to learn, but I have realized the exceptional value of enhancing my own prayers with Paul’s teaching and example. 

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one way that you are encouraged or challenged by Paul’s prayer examples we discussed in this series? 
  2. Consider your current prayer habits. Do you have a plan for regular, intentional prayer?
  3. Whom do you regularly ask to pray for you? What sort of prayer requests do you share?
  4. Do you have a current plan to regularly and intentionally pray? Do you have a particular system for praying for the specific needs of other people that you have found to be helpful?
  5. What is one way you are hoping to grow in prayer as a result of this study?

We Need Each Other

“Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:13.

The moment you become a Christian, many wonderful and amazing things occur.  You are united forever with Christ, you are declared righteous before God, you are placed into God’s family as an adopted child, and God begins a work in you of setting you apart from sin to Himself. What about your relation to other Christians though? Do you need them? Do they need you? If you are a Christian, you do need other believers. God expects believers to grow in their faith and to do so by growing together in God’s Word. The growth and protection Christians need to experience occurs as believers assemble together as a local church. Christians and Christian families need each other to grow in their Christian faith. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you  is a separate and necessary part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) If it is just Jesus and you, you will never grow into the person God wants you to be. Christians and Christian families need each other to grow in their Christian faith

1 Corinthians 12:24-26 says, “…while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less visible, are all critically important.

Christians need the support of other believers if they are to grow in their faith. Recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were encouraged to ‘think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works, to “encourage one another.”’ (Hebrews 10.24-25). Encouragement and support is best provided through a variety of people.

When I was much younger, I loved the story of the Lone Ranger. What is there not to love?  The Lone Ranger was a resourceful, smart, and courageous person, but in every episode he needed the help of townspeople, a posse, and certainly Tonto. While the Lone Ranger had to strategically and carefully enlist the help of others, God has provided for every possible need we could have on this earth through His Word and His people, the church. If you are going to take on the bad guys, you will need other believer’s help and they will need your help.  That is because God built us, not only to need Him, but to need each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever wonder if you really need to go to church or spend time with other believers? What are the consequences for you trying to live for God on your own? What are the consequences for the body when you make that choice?
  2. What are some ways in which the church operates like a body?
  3. How often do you consciously think about how well you understand the fact that, you are part of the body of Christ?  What about your role in the body?

Love And Unity

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13

Nothing will derail vision faster than disunity in the ranks. It is true of a business, sports teams, a family, and a church. How many times have we seen where a less talented but determined team pulled together and toppled the more talented, better financed, more popular, but ego-centered team? The Bible places an extraordinary emphasis on the value of “unity.” But Jesus makes it clear that love is the single most important commandment. An expert in religious law tried to trick Jesus in Matthew 22 by asking Him “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Verses 37-39 give us Jesus’ reply: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Colossians 3:14 (NIV) says, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Paul’s command would not be unnecessary if love were automatic or standard operating procedure for believers. It doesn’t work that way. There will always be disagreements and conflicts. If there is love in a family or in a church, it’s the result of deliberate effort to work through disagreements and hurt feelings. Unity is worth the effort. In the Colossians passage above, Paul assumes that in the church, there will be complaints against one another. Life in the church will not be perfect. We will need to work at maintaining and restoring loving relationships with one another. Love is not a luxury, but a Biblical necessity.

There are at least 55 direct commandments in the New Testament telling us to love one another. John 13:34-35 says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 15:12, 17 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you…This is my command: Love each other.” And Romans 13:8, 10 adds, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law….Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”  Ephesians 4: 2 says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”  And 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

The love talked about in these verses is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment which shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved. The core of love is not emotion, but commitment. It’s not a commitment to make the other person immediately happy, but rather to seek the person’s best interests. Glorifying God is the highest good for every person. Thus, sometimes love has to gently confront the other person, seeking to help him or her grow to be more like Christ. Remember that unity flows from love and love unites the church in it’s mission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is loving others more than a feeling?
  2. Demonstrated love for one another reveals a love for God. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What are some practical ways for you to give others a taste of what the love of God is like?
  4. What’s one change you can make in your life to put more love into action?

All For One And One For All

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

Remember the Three Musketeers. There have been numerous movies made about the three heroes and they all have one thing in common: the “All for one and one for all” motto. The obvious meaning was that each member of that group of men would fight for the group or for any of the others. In other words, they were vowing to stand together in their common fight. I believe that the Lord expects us, as a church family, to walk together in absolute unity for His glory by being “all for one and one for all.” 

That can be a challenge. We all come here today from different cultural foundations, different economic backgrounds, different lifestyles, etc. How can we possibly find any common ground?  Paul’s prayer is that God will “help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.” Paul’s prayer is that the church in Rome and Panama City, and Panama City Beach and Callaway and everywhere else live in harmony in the way and manner that Jesus taught. We’re to do everything we possibly can in the church to live in harmony according to how Jesus teaches us to live and treat one another.

A united church is a powerful tool. Unity is powerful everywhere it is found, not just when it’s found in a church. A lack of unity is highly destructive wherever it is found, not just in a church. Paul says we exist as a church so, “…all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6) If we’re going to be successful doing that, it’s going to take everyone making that our goal. All for one and one for all. That’s what winning looks like for us as church. In football, you can tell who is winning by simply looking at the scoreboard. As a church, winning is each of us making every effort to live in harmony as Jesus taught us to live, working for unity in church, in our families, workplaces, etc.

When the world sees this kind of love and unity it is a powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel. Let us work even harder to both improve our unity by the love we show in the communities we serve. All for one and one for all. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is living in harmony?
  2. How would you describe the power and impact of unity? When or where have you experienced that?
  3. What can you do to become more of a force for unity?

 

Unite For Something And Someone

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:5-6. 

It was Charles de Gaulle who said that, “Only peril can bring the French together. One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese.” Unity is difficult when you have so many different types of people and viewpoints. But the Bible tells us to be likeminded with Christ and renew our minds to the endurance and encouragement the scripture offers us. We should make an effort to have unity between believers; there should be no divisions or arguments among us. We should live in mutual harmony out of love for each other. The Bible has a lot to say on this subject.

Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called…” (Ephesians 4:1-4 ). It is not easy to be united. But the simple truth is we that what we have in common is what sets us apart. The challenge is to recognize this and to live in harmony in Christ Jesus.

David said in the Psalms, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” ( Psalm 133:1 ) This is because there is power in unity. When we have unity then we can help the whole world find and follow Jesus. The opposite is also true, if there are fights and quarreling among us, then we reduce or eliminate our ministry’s effectiveness. 

Look at what happened on the day of Pentecost. The Bible says that the disciples were all together in one accord, and suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came down from heaven and filled the house where they were staying. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues. The sound drew a large crowd from the town and they heard the disciples speaking to them, each in their own language. The crowd marveled as Peter addressed them with the good news of Christ. Three thousand people were added to their numbers that day (Acts 2). All of this happened because they were together in one accord or in unity among themselves and the power of God was present and able to work among them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does unity mean? Why is it important to have unity in the home/family? In the church?
  2. How do we stay unified as a church, considering all the differences? How does our common experience in an uncommon God unify us?
  3. How do you go about the goal of unity in your home, marriage, family, church? What practical steps do we need to take?

We’re Looking For A Few Good Men

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

The challenges that men are facing in our culture today are staggering. Many men feel lost, without a solid moral compass. They feel helpless as to what position they are to play in a society that is constantly changing. It has become increasingly more difficult to be a warrior for God. It has been said that the church is the hope of the world. If that is true, then men are the hope of the church. This is not a chauvinistic sentiment. It is a question before every church today and one I asked on Sunday: “Will we as men be warriors for God?”

Even a cursory reading of Scripture reveals that God is looking for good men. Consider the following passages: Ezekiel 22:30 “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” 1 Timothy 3:1 (NASB) says, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” And 2 Timothy 2:2  (NASB) says,  “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

When Jesus came to this earth, He chose 12 men: Peter, James, John, Matthew. . . we know their names well. But how well do you know them. We should learn about them because they changed the world. And yet they did not seem like people capable of changing world history.  They didn’t have modern technology to help them. No iPhones, iPads, internet, texting, or elaborate sound systems. They didn’t even have the printed page. No,Thomas did not tweet, Peter did not have a Facebook page, and Andrew did not Instagram. It was all done by “word of mouth,” person to person. Yet these hand-picked disciples, in a relatively short amount of time, shook the ancient world.

You know what? God is still looking for men and women to shake the world today. God is looking for men with humble hearts; men who will sacrifice everything for the cause of Christ and who will stand in the gap as servant-leaders for their families and for the church. It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow Him. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Men were to be His method of winning the world to God.

My prayer is that the we will be those type of men, warriors for Jesus Christ. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a warrior today?
  2. How do you define manliness? What in your mind constitutes an ideal man?
  3. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NASB) says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” What did Paul mean when he said, “act like men?”
  4. What can we do this week to move a little closer to the man God wants us to be?

Sometimes You Turn A Cheek

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. ’But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” – Matthew 5:38-39. 

How well do we understand the “turn the other cheek” verse in Matthew 5? This passage has been relegated to the the following spiritual dynamic: be a good servant, be generous with your time, don’t fight back,  put your head down, be quiet, don’t make a scene, and don’t fight back if people take advantage of you. What we are taught to do is to be forgiving, loving and to kill others with kindness. The turn there other cheek passage can easily be misconstrued as being a pushover, a doormat. Jesus is not saying be passive. And He is definitely not saying violently resist. He is saying that there is another way, a kind of non-violent resistance.

I believe when the Bible tells us to turn the other cheek it means just that. It, however, does not tell us to cower or turn and run away. It says to stand there in the face of whoever it may be that keeps delivering blows to you. When Jesus and His Apostles “turned the other cheek”, it was not in weakness, but rather an act of defiance in the face of persecution. Paul’s example is perhaps the best we have: Acts 23:1-7 says: “Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: “Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!” Instantly Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. But Paul said to him, “God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite! What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?” Those standing near Paul said to him, “Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?” “I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,” Paul replied, “for the Scriptures say, ‘You must not speak evil of any of your rulers. Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” This divided the council—the Pharisees against the Sadducees…”

There is no easy short explanation on how and when to turn the other cheek. Nor are there any quick answers. So how do we live this kind of life in the world? The reality is that we can’t sit down and work out every situation we face. But we can face all of them with the same attitude. An attitude that is willing to resist evil. An attitude that is willing to take hurt, risk ridicule and disadvantage ourselves to resist evil and to glorify God. An attitude that is unwilling  to stoop to evil’s level. An attitude that is determined to follow Jesus. An attitude that loves the evil doer and is willing to love and accept the person, while doing all we can oppose their actions. All of these are not easy options. It’s challenging and worthwhile, but it is not easy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Matthew 5:38-42: What is accomplished by turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, or giving your “cloak”?
  2. How do you typically react to an observed injustice? What is your instinct when you have been wronged?
  3. Who do you find most difficult to love? Why?
  4. How can we apply this week’s message to our lives?

Pick A Fight

“Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.”  1 Timothy 6:12.

When we hear the word “fight” or reflect on past fights or dwell on current fights, it tends to conjure up thoughts of hardship, contention and even pain. We’ve all been through a few fights in our lives and because of those life experiences, we’ve associated mostly negative attributes to the meaning and understanding of the word “fight.” It is a situation we don’t really want to be involved in, and we will most likely avoid if we can. 

But the New Testament suggests over and over again that fighting is a part of the Christian life. Of course, there’s a deeper spiritual dimension to this word. 1 Timothy 6:12 says, “Fight the good fight for the true faith.” For some reason, many Christians believe that the walk of faith is supposed to be just an easy, breezy walk in the park. Everything is supposed to fit together and flow just right. Satan, however, has a different idea. He fights to win. His strategy and his punches are calculated. Like a boxer spends months learning every move of his opponent; watching every fight over and over to learn his style, the devil knows every rock-bottom moment, every insecurity, every hole we’ve dug ourself into and every regret we have ever had. So sometimes, we need to fight, sometimes we need to be a warrior. But, we need to fight at the right time and in the right way.

That does not mean we engage in fisticuffs at the slightest provocation. Rather I am saying that there are times when you must fight a spiritual battle. We have a spiritual enemy who hates us and who’s coming after us and everyone we love. Sometimes, we may need to stand up and fight to step to protect our children from the wrong crowd. Or to fight to maintain your integrity in business. Throwing a punch is to be on the offensive. So look around today. What are some ways you can rush into battle and meet the enemy head on?

Prayer is an effective weapon in any fight. Our prayer time is our personal time with God. This is the time when we block out the distractions of the world, and concentrate our attention strictly on our Savior. By connecting with God in this way, every day, we put ourselves in a better frame of mind to deal with everything we will face in our day-to-day lives. This is something we should look forward to as well. After all, it is the Holy Spirit who equips us and protects us to go out to the world and fight the good fight. It can help us know when to fight and when to walk away. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you consider the Lord is a warrior? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think God created us with a Warrior’s heart? In what ways do you see this in others? In yourself?
  3. How do we know when to fight and when not to?
  4. What can we do this week to make prayer part of our fight preparation?

The Root Cause

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.” – Colossians 3:23-25

If someone walked up to you on the street and asked you “what is your cause,” how would you respond? You probably would want some sort of clarification. You would probably want to know if the individual was referring to the purpose of your life, what you are pursuing or what you are passionate about. 

I believe that there are a lot of people who have forgotten what they are really looking or working for. We are forever searching for something. We search for true love, but like the country western song says, we are “looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces”. We search for peace, but this world has no real peace to offer. We search for happiness but it seems to elude us at every turn. We look for satisfaction but we find that nothing in this world really satisfies. We look for something that will give meaning to life but then go to bed every night wondering why we are here on this earth? Is there nothing more to life than just the daily grind of waking up, going to work, coming home, watching TV, and then sleeping? What we have to realize is that life has no real meaning until we are committed to a cause, and that cause must be worth the price of our commitment.

Jesus knew His cause for coming to the world. “Pilate said, “So you are a king?”Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (John 18:37) Jesus did not come to earth to maybe do something big. He did not come to earth to hopefully change the world. Jesus was born for a cause, that cause was to restore this world back to God. In 1Timothy 1:15 we read, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.” 

The greatest cause you can commit your life to is the cause of Christ. Jesus is looking for those who will surrender their will to His. God is looking for someone who will say, “Here am I, send me.” He is looking for a man or woman who will say, “Mold me, make me, use me, fill me with your presence, and make me what you want me to be.” Serving pays off in dividends of an eternal reward. It’s more than worth the price. It’s a cause larger than life itself, and when you come to the end of your life, you will be able to look back and say, “I’ve lived for a purpose, and I’ve made a difference.” 

That is a cause worth fighting for. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you hear the word cause, what comes to mind?
  2. Is a cause a true cause, if you are not interested in fighting for it?
  3. What can we do this week to further the cause of Jesus Christ?