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?    

The Value Of Preparation

‘Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual….Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.” – Luke 2:41-42; 52.

When most people think of Jesus Christ’s time on earth, they either think of a helpless baby lying in a manger or the Son of God dying on the cross and resurrected on the third day.  Few picture in their minds a growing boy. Few imagine God-in-the-flesh as a young man learning His human father’s profession. Luke 2:41-52 is the only story in the gospels about Jesus between his infancy and his public ministry.

The Bible does not tell us exactly what happened in the years leading up to the start of Jesus’ ministry. He did a lot of normal things like work and visit the temple. Jesus obviously was intelligent because he amazed even the teachers. 

But for the sake of discussion let’s say that Jesus prepared for 30 years for 3 plus years of significant ministry. Contrast that with today where people go to seminary for 2-4 years to prepare for 30 years of ministry. Here is what we do know. Just about anything meaningful that is achieved is preceded by intensive and thorough preparation (often behind the scenes). Things just don’t happen. In fact, in business and in life, the better the preparation, the more significant and lasting the impact. The same is true of the Christian life.

God prepares each of us in unique ways. God will use numerous methods to prepare us. Some of the preparation only makes sense looking back; some — like seminary made sense beforehand. And not all of the preparation will be, shall we say, fun or positive. But it is necessary. It is necessary because maturity in the Christian life does not just happen.  Ministry happens over time and sometimes in obscurity. It comes with failures and and any number of misses that God uses to develop us over time and through many life experiences.

So be content wherever God has placed you. In your obscurity God is working. He is preparing you for your calling and your purpose and that purpose may never be public ministry or where you will be noticed. It may be faithfulness as a real estate agent, as a truck driver, or a manager. He loves you right where you are and even when we are in the wilderness of obscurity, God is increasing us in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man. Remember what Philippians 1:6 tells us: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

As a final thought, we need to remember, that God works in decades and lifetimes, not days and weeks like we want. And obscurity is preparation for the day when God will use us to accomplish His purpose for our lives.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is obscurity one of the ways God prepares us to better serve Him?
  2. How is God preparing you today?
  3. What can we do this week to participate in our preparation so that can better use us to accomplish His purpose for our lives?

Rewriting Your Story

“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”  –  Michael Crichton.

The real art of writing is rewriting. I have discovered over the years the importance of revising, or rewriting what I have written. If I am writing a letter, a sermon, a devotional, or a blog, I revise it to improve it and then revise it again to make sure it effectively communicates what I am trying to say. A sermon, for example, is a work in progress that I craft and then polish as I go. I try to get input from several people and as a result, the sermon you hear on Sunday has been reviewed, analyzed, revised and tweaked or even overhauled several times. In my experience, you rarely produce your best work without some revisions. And this whole process of making writing better, making better sermons, preparing effectively, takes place behind the scenes in relative obscurity.

If you had the ability to talk to the great writers throughout history, I would think most of them worked behind the scenes to hone their craft. But in order to hone their craft the writer has to be patient and cognizant of why this process is necessary and productive. It is hard to be patient and develop your skill in obscurity when you would much rather be basking in the bright lights of the New York Times best seller list. It was Taylor Caldwell who said, “It is human nature to instinctively rebel at obscurity or ordinariness.”

I’m sure you see where I am going with this. Christians would prefer not to be honing their craft any more than the writer would. As a Jesus follower, it’s easy to get caught up in wondering when God is finally going to bring us out of the shadows. It is easy to become discontent with where God has us. Sometimes, we may even think that God is punishing us when we are asked to continue to hone our relationship with Him in obscurity. The writer will eventually understand the value of honing his or her writing skills, and likewise, the Christian will eventually see the value of obscurity. It is always a challenge to wait; in fact, it goes directly against the grain of our human nature. It may be that discouragement is ready to pounce as you are left to wonder whether or not the obscurity will ever end. It may be that you lack the depth necessary for the next step, the wisdom for the next decision, or the experience for the next phase, but God is at work in you. He is developing you while you labor in the shadows. There are no shortcuts. We tend to forget that God is just as interested in doing something in us as He is in doing something through us. There are valuable lessons that are best learned in obscurity.

God is showing us the open book of our life; the first half of it was filled with writing whereas the second half was blank. He wants to write on the blank pages because He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He wants our lives to be best sellers, to produce fruit. Obscurity is not the storyline. God is rewriting your story. Obscurity is tapping into God’s insight into your life, about learning to write a better story with your life. Don’t fear obscurity, nor neglect the transformative work that Jesus does in your heart when no when is looking.   

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe that much can be accomplished in obscurity? If not, why not?
  2. Does obscurity require vulnerability? Humility? Patience? 
  3. What can we do this week to make obscurity a more effective learning experience? 

A Voice In The Wilderness

“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”” – Matthew 4:1-4.

Ever sit back and evaluate your life, both the highs and the lows and those humdrum periods we all experience from time to time? It’s those times when you wonder if your hard work will ever pay off. It is those times when you are so immersed in the day-to-day grind that your larger goals seem out of reach. You haven’t done the math, but it seems there are more boring days when life is spent in relative obscurity, than spectacular ones. The normal you experience in life is not the normal you envisioned, but it is the normal nonetheless. And let’s face it, normal doesn’t exactly give us butterflies. Or your life may be anything but normal, and you wish for normality when you seem to always be wandering in the wilderness.

We will all spend some time in the wilderness as Jesus did when the devil tempted Him. But not all that happens in the wilderness or obscurity is bad, because it is in those places that God is working. It is the place where we can better tune our heart to the small voice of the Spirit. 

Being in the wilderness is not punishment. God draws people into obscurity, into the wilderness, not because He’s angry with them, or because they aren’t “successful” enough, but because He wants to go deeper in His relationship with them. The wilderness, or obscurity is the place that reveals the depth of God’s love for us, every bit as much as it spotlights our enemy that constantly seeks to tempt us. We should not be afraid of the wilderness because it is there that the Lord shows us the things He has for us in it; the people He might have us love, the battles He has asked us to fight, and the wounds He has yet to heal. The wilderness is a prequel for things yet to come.

And the wilderness or obscurity can be a place of new beginnings. After their 40 year stay in the wilderness, Joshua let the people of God cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. In Hosea’s day, God led Israel through the wilderness to bring the nation back to Himself. “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.” (Hosea 2:14).  John the Baptist marked a new beginning for Israel by introducing God’s people to their long-awaited Messiah in the wilderness. “In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” (Matthew 3:1-3)

Your wilderness or obscurity experience is the place where God prepares you for “His purposes.” You may feel that the darkness of the wilderness will never cease, but the time will come when the Lord will bring you out of obscurity to the place He desires for you. 

Discussion Question:

  1. What can we do when we are in the wilderness?
  2. Read James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5: What is the purpose and benefits of being in the wilderness?
  3. What can we apply to our lives from the message this week?

God Is At Work Behind The Scenes

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint. Then the Lord said to me, “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” – Habakkuk 2:1-3.

If we had the ability to write and direct our own life, the plot lines, the twists and turns of life, would be significantly different. The times we spend in the wilderness or in obscurity would be reduced if not eliminated. The hurts, habits and hangups in our life would never materialize. Our expectations would increase, our plans would always come to fruition and our dreams would always materialize. The only problem is we are not writing the biopic of our lives, God is.

Which is why when we face trials of time in the wilderness or obscurity we can become frustrated with God. He could make my life a wildly successful story, but it is far from that. In fact, there are times when He seems to abandon me. When plodding through the wilderness, life doesn’t always make sense. But God has a purpose for it, and is working behind the scenes.

The wilderness obscurity experience is very much God-initiated. It is all part of God’s design. It is in the wilderness or obscurity that God will help you realize you are not abandoned. When in the wilderness, when in the moments where we don‘t understand the plot lines, the twists and turns that are happening in our lives, when nothing around us seems to make sense, God is working behind the scenes. In each and every area that we cannot see, from the past up through the future, God is there, working out His will in our lives. It is in the wilderness that we often learn how to better follow Him. 

Obscurity is a place between you and the fulfillment of God’s promise in your life. Until we embrace and enjoy the wilderness, our ability to handle God’s best for us is obscurity. It is only those who are sweetly broken by God in the obscurity who understand, appreciate, and truly know His love, power, and grace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we fight the natural inclination to get out of the wilderness and become frustrated with God?
  2. What are some indications in your life that God is working behind the scenes?
  3. How can the wilderness elevate Jesus and put Him into focus?
  4. What can we do at a practical level to increase our spiritual benefits from our time in the wilderness or obscurity?

Do You Want To Make Something Of It?

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8.

In Sunday’s message we talked about what type of marriage and/or relationship we want to create. What should we be aiming for when we are looking for a wife or a husband? What should we be looking to accomplish once married? Building a godly marriage takes more than saying wedding vows and then living together. It takes determination and intentionality to live out your wedding vows. And it takes love. When thinking of relationships and marriage, 1 Peter 4:8  is a verse that should be highlighted, written down, meditated on and recited over and over no matter if you are dating, newlyweds or celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary. 

There is a major difference between what the world considers love and God’s view of love. Culture’s view of love is transitory, dependent on circumstances. God’s love perseveres no matter what the circumstances, no matter the obstacles. When a couple is rooted in God’s principles for marriage, they can endure all that life throws at them. Love conquers all obstacles. 

1 Corinthians 13:3 (MSG) says life without love is worthless and wasted: “…no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

Most people would agree that love is critical if we are to be successful in marriage and in our relationships. But if it is really about love, why don’t we have time for the people we love? Because we’re busy. We focus our time and effort on other causes and put our relationships on the back burner. But nothing can take the place of love. Life is not about achievement or balanced schedules or recognition. It’s about love. 

When you are in the process of planning what you want to create in your marriage, remember 1 Peter 4:9. Love your spouse like Jesus, not how the world does. That means to forgive. That means loving unconditionally, not to love based on works and expectations. Love covers over a multitude of sins and if we want to create a godly relationship with all our faults, expectations and past, we need that statement to be the central theme of any relationship.  The verse will make you stronger, it will make your relationships stronger.

People starting their marriage or a relationship usually have several questions: “Who do I want to be, what do I want out of this marriage or relationship, and how do I get it?  When answering those questions remember 1 Peter 4:8 and the importance of love. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe love is the most critical element in marriage? If not, what is?
  2. In what way does “love cover over a multitude of sins” in your relationships with others?  Is there a relationship in your life right now that would benefit from practicing this command?
  3. Think back through what you have learned in the Mr. and Mrs. series. What will you change in your life as a result of this series?

Spending Quality Time Together

“Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyard of love, for the grapevines are blossoming!” – Song of Solomon 2:15.

“We never do things that I want to do; it seems like you prioritize other things over me.”

There isn’t a lonelier place to be than married and feeling alone. Real true connection doesn’t come from wishing and hoping for a fulfilling, passionate, devoted marriage. It comes from working at it. Because marriage is hard work. Marriage will shape and transform you in a hundred different ways. And it requires change, compromise and learning from each other. Marriage takes quality, undistracted time with your spouse, open lines of communication, love, forgiveness and a whole lot of grace.

“We never do anything together, we do everything separately.”

How many times have you and your spouse arrived at the end of a busy week, and neither of you feel like you’ve had a real conversation? Being busy with daily tasks is a part of life.  But when it starts consuming every aspect of your focus, your marriage and your life — it’s time to rethink priorities. You need time together to unwind and decompress and to talk and reconnect after a tough day. Having consistent, devoted, undistracted, un-rushed time with your spouse is critical to a successful marriage. 

“We lost a little spark in our marriage.”

When a couple gets lazy in the amount of quality time they spend together when each person is fully present (not on our cell phones, etc.) their relationship will be okay instead of great. To be great requires quality time: it can be talking, laughing (sometimes disagreeing), and just absorbing time with each other. It can be dinner at home or a dinner and a movie out on a weekly date night. It can be while driving, or walking or sitting. It can be during skydiving, fishing or doing the dishes. You get the idea. 

Having alone time with a spouse is important, but it’s less about quantity and more about quality. Making a relationship succeed takes much time, effort, and patience. Because life is a lot more complicated when you are married does not mean you don’t need to continue scheduling time to spend together.  On the contrary, when so much of your life together becomes about finances, jobs, childcare, etc., spending quality time together becomes even more crucial.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel that you’re simply too busy to share enjoyable and meaningful time together? If so, are you satisfied with the status quo?
  2. What would it take to enable you to spend enjoyable time together on a more regular basis? Babysitters? Schedule readjustments? A different approach to balancing work and family life?
  3. Do you have regular date nights? If so, what can you do to keep them from becoming “routine” and “boring?”
  4. What one thing can you commit yourself to do this week in an effort to free up more time to spend with your spouse?

“What We've Got Here Is Failure To Communicate”

“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.” – Oscar Wilde

Communication matters.

The trait that is most closely linked to the success or failure of marriage and most relationships is the ability to communicate. There are a variety of bad communication tactics. They include: talking too much about yourself; being disagreeable or argumentative; being distracted by your phone, not staying on the other person’s topic; stating negative things about the other person; attacking them; and not reciprocating the other person’s effort. There are others. Communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced in order to have a successful marriage.

Communication is the mortar that holds a relationship together – if it breaks down, the relationship will crumble. The power of communication is especially important in the context of marriage. When spouses no longer communicate, a marriage nurtures no one. By our words, we can develop a beautiful and prosperous marriage that glorifies God. And, by our words, we can destroy the very gift and mission God has given us in marriage.

When communicating in a relationship, tone is very important. In fact, our tone might actually be more important than what we say. Ask anybody who listens to you. Growing up, we all were probably told, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me!” Based on how we say something — our inflection or emphasis on certain words — and our body language and facial expressions, our tone conveys our attitude, whether we send a message of humor, anger, sarcasm, jealousy or sincerity. Our tone tells the truth even when our words don’t. We can even say “I love you” in a way that provokes bitterness. The tone of voice you use indicates whether you care or not.

Respect is also very important. True communication involves respect for the other person. We often immediately reject another’s perceptions, especially when our views differ. We find ourselves ready to dispute the things our spouse has to say, to challenge them, or to hear them as threats.  The first step to improved dialogues is to respect your partner. Consider and value your spouse’s perspectives or suggestions. Let your partner know that your respect and value for him or her supersedes the specific issue you are discussing. God makes it very clear that we should never dishonor our spouse or other individual through our words. So be cautious when choosing your words. You might be saying the right thing, however saying it in the right way and using correct words is more important.

Imagine how Jesus would react and communicate if He were in your shoes. What would be His tone and His level of respect? If you think in those terms, you will be more successful in your communication and in your marriage. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How often do you sit down as a couple simply to talk to one another? Do you set time aside specifically for this purpose? Why or why not?
  2. What do you need and expect from each other in terms of openness and depth of communication? How do your needs and expectations differ? Do you feel that you understand each other? If not, what can you do to improve the situation?
  3. How does your current communication differ from before you got married?
  4. What can we do this week to improve communication in our marriage/relationships?