Online Applause

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44.

In the last decade, social media has exploded. We now have the ability to blog, post, tweet and like to our heart’s content. Facebook has 1.23 billion users. Twitter has 319 million. Millions of photos, status updates and videos are posted every hour of the day. It gives people a platform to broadcast their latest accomplishments, vacations, purchases, meals or selfies. But that is not why we post, we are looking for validation. So we go back every few minutes to see how many likes, comments, shares and retweets we have received. We tend to do these things to get the approval of others. But it is important that we consider whose approvals we should actually be seeking.

Instead of seeking the approval of others or trying to impress them, we should be seeking God’s approval. Do we seek God’s approval of what we say and the way we live, or the approval of our friends on social media? It’s very easy for us to care more about the opinions people have of us over the opinion God has of us, or what God knows about us. Are we living for the world’s approval, trying to impress people through social media or our friendships or whatever else we’re doing. Or are we trying to make choices that help us become the person that God created us to be regardless of whether that’s who other people think we should be.

If you are seeking validation, seek it from one person alone: God. Ask Him to show you what He thinks about you. And live your life for His approval, not anyone else’s. After all, everyone else is the same as you: a flawed human being. What difference does it make whether they retweet your tweet. In this world, it’s all about where you stand with people, but with God it’s all about where you stand with Him. We need to live beyond the opinions of others and live for God and at the end you will never regret wasting a second worrying about whether or not you only had 12 likes on your Facebook post.

There is nothing wrong with social media. Social media can be a valuable tool, as long as you seek approval from God and not Facebook. It is understandable that we desire a few accolades. It is our nature. Just don’t forget that the divine accolade—as C. S. Lewis calls it—is coming. And that’s the accolade you were created to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  (Matthew 25:23).

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the biggest challenges that you face personally with using social media? In what ways does social media help you connect with others?
  2. Does social media provide real validation? Why or why not?
  3. What can we do this week to move our approval from social media to God? 

Would You Please

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!  For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:8-10.

Did you catch the last sentence in the passage above? “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” What does it mean to live a life that pleases God? If you are like most people, that simple question may leave you tongue-tied. It’s likely that you never thought about the question in such simple form. But, if you were pressed for an answer, you would probably list a number of external behaviors as those things necessary to please God: There would be any number of “do’s” and any number of “don’ts”. But is that how to please God?

This week we talked about seeking man’s approval and applause rather than God’s. Most people would probably believe that it is far easier to get the approval of friends relatives, co-workers and spouses than God. Yes, we feel some degree of forgiveness and maybe acceptance, but to think that the Lord is actually pleased would seem to be a tall order. So tall, it may not seem worth the effort since you will ultimately fail. That is what the devil would have us think.

Satan used to accuse me by saying, “What makes you think God will use you?” The truth is that none of us are perfect – we don’t deserve the blessings of God. But when you put your faith in Jesus, God is pleased with you even though your actions don’t measure up. Your life may be a wreck, but God is still pleased with you. When God looks at you, He doesn’t see your abilities or goodness  — He sees Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we just sit on our laurels the rest of our life. We need to mature in the faith.

For example, think about serving God out of love rather than obligation. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has set you free from the impossible task of trying to earn God’s love and connected you to God as a gift.  We can respond to that wonderful gift by freely expressing our love back to God.  We should serve Him. God’s great love for each of us should motivate us to serve Him daily.   

Christians want to work for God, we want to build His kingdom here on earth. But before you concentrate on doing His work, invest your time and energy into your relationship with God. Whenever you have to choose between spending time and energy on developing a closer relationship with God and doing good work to serve Him, choose to invest in your relationship – that is the first and most important step. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you tend to think of God more as a loving parent or a tyrannical rule-giver? Explain. How has your view of God affected your relationship with him?
  2. What’s the difference between having a relationship with God and just having religion?
  3. Pray for the strength and courage to deal with any changes you need to make in your life as a result of this week’s message.

Two Jumps Ahead Of The Enemy

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.” –  Matthew 4:5-7.

Jesus was tempted as we see in Matthew 4. How He responded to Satan’s attempts to tempt Him can teach us a lot about how to beat the temptation we see on a daily basis. One of the most common temptations that we face as humans is the temptation to define our value by other people’s acceptance or approval of us rather than by what God declares our value to be when we are a Jesus follower.

Look at Matthew 4: 5-7: First look at Satan’s phrasing: “If you are the Son of God…” Then he tells Jesus to jump off (the highest point of the temple). The temptation for Jesus to throw Himself off the highest place on the temple is, at its root, a temptation for Him to do something extraordinary to gain the applause and approval of an audience. It’s a temptation to find His worth in what people thought of Him, instead of in His identity as the Son of God.

It’s normal for us to seek appreciation from others. In fact, it’s healthy. We are called to be servants to others, and if we didn’t care what anyone else thought of us, we’d be too self-centered and focused on ourselves. It becomes an issue when we feel a need to seek approval from others and derive our identity and value from what they think. We have to be careful we don’t have an unhealthy need for approval and acceptance. 

When we crave approval, we end up becoming the person that we believe will earn that approval. We don’t become the person God wants us to be. If we try to be who everyone else wants us to be, we miss out on what God has for our lives. If we are obtaining our approval and identity from people, we are not getting those same things from God. We need to remember that the true value of anything is typically defined by two things: who made it and what people are willing to pay for it. We know that we were made by a perfect Creator and that He was willing to give up His Son to rescue us. That gives us a level of approval that beats any recognition or applause we get from people in this life. 

So instead of believing Satan’s lie that we need everyone’s approval to be happy and that our worth comes from the acceptance of others, we can rest in God’s truth that His approval is the only approval that we truly need. Because when we have Christ as our Savior, then we have God’s approval.

Discussion Question:

  1. What are the signs that would indicate that we crave human approval rather than the approval of God?
  2. Why do you think having approval is important?
  3. What are practical ways you can ensure your approval is not from people but from God? 

Please..No Applause Needed

“Applause felt like approval, and it became a drug that soothed the pain, but only temporarily.” –  Anita Baker

There’s a famous saying that says: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  This seems all too true because no matter what you do, sometimes people will not be satisfied. Yet, we seek their approval, their acceptance and their recognition anyway.

The premise of pleasing people is mentioned in Galatians 1:10, where Paul says, “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Paul is telling us his ministry was never about pleasing people. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 says, “…Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.”

We all love affirmation. We all desire significance and recognition. We all benefit from being encouraged by others. And yet, this silent struggle for approval can often become an over-riding motivation that keeps us on an unpredictable roller coaster of insecurity and instability. We crave the acceptance and approval of men, but we need it from God. We long to know we matter to others, but we forget how much we matter to Him. We desire approval and favor of our peers, but we lose sight of the approval and favor we already have in Christ. While we tend to seek these things from men, ultimately, God is the only one in whom we can find our deepest desires completely fulfilled.

If you want acceptance and approval, you will find both in Jesus. Only Jesus is the living water. Only in Him will we never thirst. Only when we crave Jesus and the cross will we stop needing and craving the approval of other people. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and enables us to find our meaning and purpose in God. 

When we put God on the throne of our heart, when we seek only His approval, we are free: free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), free to be fully satisfied in Christ (Psalm 16:11), and free to wield whatever influence we have, however big or small, for the glory of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you want the approval of others? Is it bad to take pride in yourself? What motives do we have for trying to please people? What do we fear would happen if we failed to please them?
  2. What is a decision you are facing (new car, dating someone, having another child, school options, work decisions, time management, etc.) How can you use this sermon to help you follow God with that decision instead of worrying about what anyone else might think?
  3. What can we do this week to switch our desire for approval from people to God?

Truth or Consequences

“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6.

There used to be a television program called Truth or Consequences in the 1950’s. The contestants on the show were given the responsibility of determining the truth about people, places, events or things by answering questions. At the conclusion of each show they would reveal the truth about the topic of discussion. In a similar way, we as Christians have been given the task of discovering truth or facing some consequences.

Our appetites include shopping, relationships, TV, eating and alcohol to name a few. Only God can truly be ready to meet the deepest desires of our hearts. One of the verses that comes to my mind is in 2 Peter, 2:19 where the apostle says, “… For you are a slave to whatever controls you.” When reading that verse, does anything come to mind that you feel it is to the point that it “controls” you? If there are appetites, desires or cravings controlling you, there are often consequences. 

When you reflect on the appetites that have controlled you in life, it is usually some lies or temptations that begin our path toward harmful appetites. And it is lies that drive our desire to continue to feed them. Before those appetites get out of control, there are stop or go points or guardrails along the way that can stop us in our tracks. Those guardrails are God’s truth and they should move us back onto the path toward God and putting Him above all else.

If there is anything that God wants us to have an appetite for, it is the knowledge of Him. His truth is the antidote to the appetites that control us. What the Scripture does is turn us to Christ by faith and we grow in the knowledge of Him, so we can control those appetites which beguile us daily.   

And that reminds me of the passage in Philippians 2:13 which says, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” So this is not a battle we have to fight on our own. We have the power of God within us giving us the ability to defeat our enemy and our sinful appetites.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read John 18:37: What did Jesus mean when He said He “came into the world to testify to the truth.”?
  2. What happens when our appetites lead us to ignore a truth of God? How do we prevent it? 
  3. How can we practice faith in the truth this week?

Putting The Lies To The Test

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44.

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, He was led by the Spirit to the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. In the wilderness, Jesus teaches us an extremely important wilderness skill: He shows us how to stand against the lies and deceptions of the enemy. ”… For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matthew 4:1-4)

Each of the three temptations by Satan in the wilderness seem to come back to creating one thing: doubt. If you read Matthew 4, you will see that Satan uses the word “if” in all three temptations. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” and “ “If you are the Son of God, jump off!” and “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

Satan uses the same tactics, lies and deceptions on us. When we are in a wilderness season: i.e. hurting, lonely, sad, depressed—you and I make one easy target for his lies. Satan wants to deceive you about who you are. Satan wants to deceive you about God’s character. Satan wants to deceive you about God’s plan and purpose for your life. “If God really loved you why would he give you an appetite for gambling?” “If God is really good why is your cholesterol so bad?” “If you are really a Christian then why do you have that sinful craving?” “If you will worship me, you won’t have all those restrictions and a whole lot more fun.” 

Satan is oh-so subtle and knows when and how to attack us when we are in the wilderness. But in this interchange between Christ and Satan, we see a snapshot of how we should respond when encountering Satan’s lies and deceptions.  Just as Satan said “if” in every temptation, Jesus countered each time with the words “It is written.” And then, Jesus spoke a truth from Scripture in response to the lies of the enemy. Finally, Jesus took authority over and commanded Satan to leave.

 God’s word is truth. The truth is a simple. yet powerful tool. The Bible is our most powerful weapon. But where do we begin? We must start by taking inventory of our thoughts and making certain we aren’t listening to or believing the lies of the enemy, but rather living our lives in God’s truth. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we reject the lie and embrace God’s truth?
  2. Read 1 Peter 5:8. Why do you think it is important we recognize the power of the devil in our lives?  Read 1 Peter 5:8-9: What does verse nine say we are to do with the devil? How do we do this?
  3. Read 1 John 4:4. Why is it so important we understand the truth found in this verse? How can we apply this truth to our lives this week?

Appetite For God's Word

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

We should read and study the Bible because it is literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). In other words, it is God’s very words to us. There are so many thought provoking questions people have that God answers in Scripture. What is the purpose to life? Is there life after death? How do I get to heaven? Why do I struggle to do good? In addition to these “big” questions, the Bible gives practical advice in areas such as: How can I have a successful marriage? How can I be a good parent? What really matters in life? How can I handle the unfair circumstances and bad events of life? And how can I have victory over my appetites?

Most people would agree that the Bible is an indispensable tool for the Christian. Most Christians understand that it is both required and good for them. But unfortunately, we are so busy we have a tendency to put reading and studying the Bible on the back burner. This lands us in that strange place of knowing about, but not consistently taking advantage of a powerful tool in our walk with God.

Reading and studying the Bible helps us see beyond the attractive “bait” to the painful “hook” in the harmful appetites and cravings we all have. Experience is a great teacher, but when it comes to learning from wants and desires, it is often a very tough lesson. It is so much better to learn from other’s mistakes. One thing the Bible makes clear is that although the appetite is always for more, it never really does satisfy. Habakkuk 2:5  says the ungodly appetite is for more. “indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied…”  Davids giving in to the temptation to commit adultery with Bathsheba reveals just how long-lasting and terrible the consequences of an appetite for pleasure can be (2 Samuel 11).  We all know of examples in our own lives or the lives of others on how uncontrolled appetites never satisfy. You try to feed those appetites with more and more, but it is never enough.

You will not find the solutions you seek by reading the Bible; you read the Bible so it can be applied. The Bible is God’s Word. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough just how important the Bible is to our lives. Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort. And the more our lives will be enriched.

Discussion Questions

  1. When studying the Bible, ask yourself these questions: When I do my personal Bible reading, I am going to regularly ask if God might be 1) teaching me something, 2) telling me to stop doing something I am doing, 3) correcting some wrong thinking or behavior, or 4) preparing me to live more effectively for him.
  2. What is a good amount of time to spend in the word each week?
  3. What do I need to change this week to spend more time in God’s word?

Get Up An Appetite

“So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. –  1 Peter 2:1-3.

While the word “appetite” will always mean different things to different people, for the Christian it can be defined as “a strong desire or urge.” Americans pursue endless pleasure, seek distraction in entertainment, buy things to gain status or to become more attractive, and worship sex. Our appetites can dictate the direction of our lives. But for the Christian, the hunger for anything besides God can be an enemy. Our hunger for God — and him alone — is the only thing that will give us a home run life.

How is your appetite for God? How do we better express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God?

In John 7:37-39, Jesus is at a festival. On the last day of the festival, Jesus stood up and said, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” Jesus was explaining to people how they could satisfy the hunger and thirst in their bellies. People had come to the festival expecting to eat until they were full and content. But when their appetite for food was satisfied, a longing remained.

The same is true in our lives when we are so focused on our wants and cravings. Even when we have obtained what we wanted, an emptiness remains. We need an appetite for godliness. Human beings yearn to know God. The impulse to worship is universal. The desire for meaning and purpose in life, to love and be loved, is put in each one of us by God. One does not have to be Christian, to hunger for God. He created us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him. But when sin entered the world, the hunger for God and good, was re-directed towards other gods, towards appetites and cravings that could never really satisfy.

We want to really know Him, to really have a mature faith that is in lockstep with the Spirit. We want to have the Spirit in us, so that we are able to draw on His wisdom when faced with the appetites of this world.   

Discussion Question:

  1. The appetite you feed is the appetite that grows in your life. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Is there anything hampering your appetite for God? 
  3. What are practical ways you can feed the spiritual appetite in your life?

Gospel Truth On Temptations

“No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is….Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means.”  – C.S. Lewis.

Think about the history of foods. God populated the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green & yellow vegetables of all kinds, as well as all kinds of delicious fruits so men and women would live long, healthy lives. Then man created McDonald’s. Then man created the $1 menu with double cheeseburgers. And then man asked if you wanted fries with that and man said, “super-size them.”  So man’s appetite and his waistline began to grow. And man gained pounds. Then man discovered he could bring home his McDonald’s and sit in front of his TV and watch all kinds of programs without moving because of his invention of the remote control. And so his appetite for TV programs grew as well. And man quickly discovered there were other temptations as well.

Appetites and temptations are designed to make us want to trade the favor and blessing of God for something that won’t satisfy and won’t last. The key is to not live for your appetites, but to live for God and trusting in Him. In Matthew 4, we read, “During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Satan attacked Jesus’s identity as the Son of God. The devil was saying, “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread. Besides that, you’ll have something to eat.” Jesus didn’t have to prove His identity to Himself or anyone else – let alone to Satan. We do not have to either.  We can stand in God’s truth and in His power. We don’t have to live for our appetites, and we don’t have to measure up by the standards of others. There is nothing wrong with eating or watching TV. However, we can overdo it.

We must always remember that receiving His truth—not running away from it—is what leads to clarity and victory. The answers and “reasons why” may not always be immediately clear. But if you learn to place His unchanging, eternal truth far above your own appetites and experiences, you will soon begin to understand that truth leads.

Here is the question: Do you have an appetite or do your appetites have you? Temptations will always come. But we need God’s truth to know how to respond.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the essence of Jesus’ first temptation, to turn stones into bread? Which temptations do we face that are similar? 
  2. How does Satan try to get us to either question what God has revealed or twist the truth into what he wants us to do?
  3. What is your biggest “take away” from this message? What are you going to do about it?

Living In Obscurity

“We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” – 1 Chronicles 29:15.

Have you ever felt like there’s this deep burning desire in your soul to live bigger? To play a bigger game out in the world? To share your gifts boldly and proudly with the world? Christians, like everyone else, prize significance. We want to make a difference. We seek recognition partly because of the fame it brings but partly because we have a real fear of obscurity. The dread of being insignificant or unaccomplished is frankly, unnerving. But what if I never achieve any significance? But what if I live my life in obscurity?

Will I be okay as a pastor, if my sermons are never put on a podcast? Will I be okay if I never lead a church to double in size? Will I be okay if traffic on my blog is never more than a few people? Will I be okay without thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers? Will I be okay with serving God even if it means no one ever knows my name? Will I be okay with obscurity?

Every Sunday, there are people who answer that question through their service to Northstar Church. They work tirelessly behind the scenes to make the church function. Before the sun begins to rise, volunteers begin to gather to setup to ensure that if this is the one week someone will visit church, that it will be a good experience. They work hard to ensure that visitors feel comfortable, relaxed, and leave with a smile on their faces. 

A majority of those worshipping this Sunday are unaware of the many faithful servants working each week. The men, women, and students who are leading and serving in obscurity. The nursery and children’s ministry workers. Student ministry group leaders. The audio-visual team. Production workers. But don’t let their obscurity obscure their importance. Leading and serving in obscurity is vitally important to ministry.

The question before me is “am I okay with obscurity?”  My answer is yes, because when we are serving God we are never really working in obscurity. 1 Corinthians 15:58 (MSG) reminds us, “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”  Even the smallest service is noticed by God and will be rewarded. Remember the words of Jesus: “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” (Matthew 10:42).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is obscurity an experience or a frame of mind? Why do you believe one or the other or both?
  2. Are you okay with obscurity? 
  3. What changes would you make as a result of this week’s sermon?