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? 

Some Things Are Worth Fighting For

“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.” – Hebrews 11:35-37. 

Not many people like confrontation. As a result, we tend to give up easily, not because we are lazy necessarily, but because we just don’t see the point in fighting or putting massive amounts of energy into something when we could easily sit back and let life happen. After all, “going with the flow” is a less stressful attitude to have about life and requires less fighting.   

But there are times when fighting for things is the whole point of living. There are times when fighting is necessary and the right thing to do. There are times Christians should stand and fight. Fighting in the Bible can be physical or spiritual. Either way, the conflict is intended to beat the opposition. That opposition can be other people, Satan, or sin. Fighting requires effort, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Jude 1:3 says, “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.”  Defending the faith can require us too take a stand and in some cases fight.

If the opposition is evil and the cause is good, there is nothing wrong with fighting, according to the Bible. Fight for causes that are greater than yourself. God is looking for men who are willing to join His redemptive work in this fallen world, and God hopes that you’ll be one of them. Look beyond the immediate concerns of your own life and take advantage of the opportunities God has given you to fight for causes that have far-reaching implications.

Listen to what Ronald Reagan said in a speech on October 27, 1964 entitled A Time for Choosing: “If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain.…You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, ‘There is a price we will not pay. There is a point beyond which they must not advance.’”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is worth fighting for in your life? 
  2. What is our role in fighting in spiritual terms?
  3. What can we do to be wise and discerning on when to fight and when to turn the other cheek? 

Don’t Make It Personal

“So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22. 

 We all have things in our life which are personal. We all have personal goals. We have personal values. We have things that we are personally responsible for. We have feelings and attitudes that are personal. We employ a personal trainer to help us shed pounds and get that coveted beach body. We open a personal bank account to manage our finances. We also desire a personal, ongoing personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

But, how do we do that? How do we move closer to the prize and live a life of joy that Christ has for us? How can we have the faith to put our trust in Him? How do we live a life founded on the belief that God will fulfill His promises? My answer to those questions, in part, may surprise you a little bit. God never intended for any of us to live the Christian life alone. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not really that personal. Before you call for my ouster, let me explain. Yes, we can know Jesus personally, but that personal relationship is best nurtured and grown in a community of other believers. 

It’s a process that is revealed in the “each other” language of the New Testament: Love one another, forgive each other, regard each other more highly than yourselves. Teach and correct each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and bear each other’s burdens. Be friends with one another, kind, compassionate, and generous in hospitality. Serve one another and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This list just scratches the surface, but it is enough to remind us that we need the community of faith to grow our relationship with Christ.

We have been talking about prayer the last few weeks. The only prayer that Jesus taught us to pray begins, “Our Father,” not “My Father.”  Jesus calls us into a living, active, worshiping community that regularly meets together. We partake in communion together. We sing together, pray together, confess together, grieve and heal and eventually die together. God gives us pastors. He gives us small groups. He gives us brothers and sisters in the faith. He gives us mature Christians to emulate and He gives us those far from the heart of God that we can share our faith with.  

The church embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary. Christianity is not a solo endeavor. We believe that personal, deepening, supportive, faith-building relationships with God are best developed in a community of other believers.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Church is something we are. What does that mean to you? 
  2. You may wake up on Sunday mornings and decide to go to church. But is church simply a place you go? Is church a destination or is it something more? 
  3. How might your life look different if you lived as though church wasn’t a destination or an event, but something you are and where your relationship with God is developed? 
  4. What can you do this week to make the church a bigger part of your relationship with Jesus Christ? 

You Know My Name, Not My Story

“No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him.” – Luke 8:39.

Remember the story of how Thomas reacted to the news that Jesus had risen from the dead? John 20:25 tells us: ‘”But he replied, (to the other disciples)“I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Thomas had difficulty believing in something he had not seen and touched. Contrast that to what John said in 1 John 1:3: “We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” John is saying that he believes so strongly in Jesus (this Jesus that he’d seen and touched and heard) that he wrote that he was proclaiming “to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us….” 

It would be a whole lot easier to convince people about Jesus if we ourselves had actually seen and touched and heard Jesus. Even so, people still want to hear about what you’ve seen, what you’ve touched and what you’ve heard.  They want to hear about your experiences and how you handled those experiences. They want to know how you become a Christian? They want to know if Jesus really works in your life. They want to know your story. You can invite others to Jesus by your story and by your life.

There is a story of a demon possessed man in Mark 4:1-20. Jesus casts out the demons from this man and we read in verses 18-20: “As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.”

This is a story that shows Jesus’ power to overcome evil and change a life. But it also teaches about the power of story. The man in this story wanted to go with Jesus on His mission trip, so he asked to come along, but Jesus wouldn’t let him. Instead Jesus told him to “…go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” Jesus needed that individual to stay right where he was, at home among those who knew him for what he was and could see what he had now become in Christ. So the man went to his home as Jesus told him and proclaimed how much Jesus had done for him. I love the way the story ends. “And everyone was amazed.

We have talked about how important it is to develop friendships with people, become people-focused, and discover their stories as we build these friendships. What I’ve discovered is that, after you’ve listened to someone else’s story, typically they will eventually ask you about your story. Therefore, it is important to be ready to tell your story of what Jesus has done for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you told your story to other Christians? To non-Christians?
  2. Is there something that keeps you from sharing your story with others? If so, what can you do this week to remove that hurdle? 
  3. What can you do this week to be more ready to share your story when opportunities arise?

Level Up

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” –  Philippians 4:13 

When we became Christians, it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of God’s work in us. As a result, our constant goal should be to grow more into the plans and purposes God has for us. There are always new levels of faith, and growth that can help us mature in our relationship with God. That growth is a biblical imperative. The challenge of these days, when times are not hospitable to spiritual growth, is how to nurture, feed, heal, restore, and renew the soul. The following are two things that can help us reach the next level.

Our current series is prayer matters. And that statement is so true. You are as close to God as you choose to be; and like any relationship, communication is needed to thrive. When we’re disconnected from God, it is nearly impossible to maintain your current level much less reach the next level. Having an active prayer life keeps us in His presence and aligns us with His Spirit. Prayer is where we can ask God to show us what step to take next. When prayer is absent from our life, we leave a void between us and God that hinders our spiritual growth.

Next is sharing your faith. Philemon 1:6 says, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Philemon 1:6) There is a level of the Christian life that happens when we are actively engaging others in the spiritual side of our lives. There is something that happens in the life of a Christian, when we share our faith, that doesn’t result from any other activity in the Christian life.

Most of all, it’s important to realize that no one’s mission ends here. No one has reached the level God called them to be. And with that being said, we are excited and hopeful for the future and how God continues to use all of those who have been a part of Northstar. We have prayed for all of you. We know that God will complete the work He has begun in you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. God desires that we become like Jesus (Ephesians 4:13, 15). What might this look like? See also Galatians 5:22-23.
  2.  God accomplishes all spiritual growth. What are some of the means He uses to bring about growth? Which of these do you find most helpful?
  3. What steps can we take this week to move toward to the next level of spiritual maturity in our lives? 

Your Life Is A Ministry

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” – Isaiah 61:1

One of the best ways to share your faith is simply by being an example for Christ. Your life can be a true ministry. But it works both ways. People will only be interested in what you say when they see it evident in your life. People will quickly spot whether your spiritual life is authentic or phony. The absolute worst thing you can do as a follower of Jesus is to say one thing and do another. If you aren’t committed to applying Christian principles in your own life, you will not only be ineffective, but will be seen as insincere and phony.

One the best ways to show Jesus in your life is by loving others. Jesus taught us to how to share the gospel by showing our love to others in John 13:34-35: “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.” Everyone responds to love. As you walk in love, you will be seen as genuine; that you are not simply trying to win an argument or promote a cause; and that you have taken time to talk to them because you truly love them with God’s love. When you love people you will treat them with respect and dignity, no matter the circumstances. Whenever you have the opportunity, show how you won’t change how you treat people, no matter what. When that happens, people around you will wonder how you’re able to show this kind of respect for others.

Another way to show the presence of God is how you handle a crisis in your life. Remember the story in the Bible about Peter walking out onto the water when Jesus called to him? He kept walking above the water as long as he stayed focused on Jesus. But once he focused on the storm, he sank. When the people around you see the peace in your life, especially when it seems like you’re surrounded by storms, you can bet they’ll want to know where your peace comes from. 

Another indicator of a God-filled life is in the area of forgiveness. The ability to forgive quickly is a very powerful way to show how Christianity really works. Become a model of forgiveness. Nothing creates division, hostility, and turmoil more than an unwillingness to forgive the people who hurt you. Of course, there will be times when you are absolutely right. But being right doesn’t give you a free pass to punish, humiliate, or embarrass someone else. And it most certainly doesn’t eliminate your responsibility to forgive.

How you live your life can be a ministry and an effective tool for sharing your faith with others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you think about today’s devotional? What stood out to you?
  2. How can you tell if your life is a ministry and an example? How does prayer figure into being an example?
  3. What can we do this week to make our life more of an example?