A Successful Marriage Is An Achievement

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” – Colossians 3:12-15.

If you were like me, you wished you had the answers to a test before you walked into the classroom? Some classes were simply harder than others and having the answers would have simplified things. In college, a professor would typically give you some insights, or at least some parameters before a test. But even with some basic guidelines concerning the test, more often than not, a problem or question would appear on the test that you were not prepared for. It soon occurred to me that the professor did not intend for the overview of the test to be comprehensive. It was simply not possible to include everything from the required readings, class notes, and lectures in the capsulation of the test. 

The same is true with the relationships. The Bible gives the foundation for all our relationships. It is an effective guide. But there are some things on the test I did not learn until marriage or our relationship began. But I think I can give you some answers that would help you pass the marriage/relationship test.

The first to remember is that spouses do not complete us. If you are empty, broken, or insecure, and you believe a spouse is the silver bullet to your problems, think again. That is expecting something that our spouse is incapable of doing. Your husband or wife cannot fill every void in your life. Only God can fill those voids. You will never be able to enjoy the beauty of marriage if your spouse’s job is to complete you.

The second thing is to remember how different the wedding ceremony is from marriage itself. Let me explain what I mean: A successful wedding day is one where everyone serves you, but a successful marriage is one where you serve your spouse. The wedding day is a day where the spotlight is on you. Marriage has no spotlight. The wedding day is about reciting a bunch of words that most couples view simply as a tradition. Marriage is about putting the words into action. The wedding day is joyous and celebratory. Many seasons of marriage are about hard work, putting the needs of your spouse before yours and and not letting go of each other through the storms. After your 20 minutes of fame, the spotlight is gone. It is no longer about you, it is about becoming the person God intended you to be and loving your spouse as God intended when He created the institution of marriage.

Third, a successful marriage does not just happen. A good marriage is never an accident. It takes hard, intentional work over a long period of time. You can’t just throw a piece of paper on the ground, and pour two paint colors on it, and expect it to look great. If you want your marriage to be great, you cannot ignore it. It takes investment and effort to create a marriage you love, just like a work of art.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you believe are three common symptoms of a “Me-Marriage?” 
  2. A “perfectly compatible person” does not exist. How do you feel about this statement? What are the implications for working at marriage and/or relationships?
  3. Marriage, next to our relationship to God, is the most profound relationship there is. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
  4. What can we do to improve our marriage/relationships this week?

In Focus: Stuck In The Past

“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” – Isaiah 43:18.

Regardless of our season of life, we all carry something with us wherever we go. It is part of our conversations, it shows up in our attitudes, and it can significantly impact our life and our relationships. It is our past. We all have a past.  Almost everyone of us is haunted by his or her past in one way or another. And just as many of us believe that our past challenges and/or difficulties is somehow related to our present. And unfortunately, that past continues to influence our relationships today because when we are bound to the past, we cannot fully live in our present.

The past can often be a prologue or preamble to relationship difficulties. That is because we enter into marriage with false or unrealistic expectations. It is easy to believe that marriage will solve any past problems that they bring into their marriage. It is not that easy. Marriage takes hard work and sometimes the hardest work involves dealing with the past. The past is hard to let go of, and it affects us emotionally. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. The past is there to train use, shape us, and mold us, so we  become who God wants us to become now. If I don’t learn from the past, I may repeat it in the present and into the future. 

The solution to the past is to see God, not yourself and all your mistakes or the mistakes of others. If I don’t learn from how God has moved in the past, and if I don’t trust God with the future, I will waste the present by being unfocused and reactionary. The challenge of the present is to focus on God. Having faith means believing God has a great future in front of us, and he uses the past to shape us for the future that lies ahead. 

Yes that makes it sound easy. And sometimes it is not and often it is a lengthy process. It won’t happen overnight. But if we are committed to trust God and obey His Word, He will be faithful to give us the grace and strength we need to do what we can do and experience the present He has for us. The key is for us to focus on God and the here and now. 

Think about it this way. Life is like a marathon. Anybody who has run a marathon or a half-marathon will readily acknowledge the race is very hard to race even running forwards. But people who get stuck in the past can be equated to running a marathon backwards. It’s counterproductive to move in one direction while looking in another. If you are trying to run in both directions at the same time I would encourage you to turn around and run in the present.  “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) 

Discussion Question:

  1. In what ways does worry keep you from healthy relationships?
  2. Read Matthew 6:34: Does “don’t worry” mean “don’t plan?” What does God expect of us then?
  3. “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” What does that mean to you? 
  4. What can I do this week to put the past in the past?

Finding Versus Becoming

“ For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” – Ephesians 5:25. 

It is a familiar story: Guy meets girl. Guy likes girl. Girl likes guy. They spend a lot of time in person and text each other throughout the day. While they do have differences, they find they have much more in common. Everything is falling into place. The relationship moves from the budding stage to the bloom stage. This is the real deal.  All that is missing is overcoming the concern that this is the right person for me. “I need God to tell me he or she is the right one before I go any further.”

But finding the right one is not easy and often can cause problems. Finding our “soulmate”  often means we put them under the microscope, and that typically continues after marriage. We evaluate whatever our spouse says, what he or she does during her spare time. What about their dating history? Does he or she like the same kind of movies and music I do?  What about their political views? Or spiritual views. Nobody can measure up to that kind of scrutiny.

Every marriage is built and shaped by two different, sinful people adjusting to one another. You simply will never find a human being who is pre-packaged to fit your every personality, quirk, preference, or lifestyle particularity. Basically, we would need to clone ourselves. Every couple will have differences and will need to make adjustments for one another. Every healthy marriage will require sacrifice, adjustments and selflessness. So while no one will ever be everything you want, our spouse can be what we need if we are willing to put the work into our marriage. Marriage can be everything God intended it to be. But it starts with you. 

God continues to work on us, sanctifying, shaping, molding, and creating the person He wants us to be. You see, none of us has arrived yet. We are all unfinished products. God is still working on us, sometimes it is apparent and sometimes He works behind the scenes. But God is working on us in all our relationships.

At some point, we need to realize that we should probably spend a lot less energy finding the right person, and more on becoming the right person. We will find that when most of our attention is focused on our spouse, we are neglecting some great opportunities for the Lord to develop us. 

So, are you too narrowly focused on finding the right person instead of becoming the right person? If so, begin working on becoming the person God created you to be. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would a “becoming” life that pleases God look like?
  2. How do you go about changing your focus from your spouse to yourself?
  3. What can we do this week to fix our focus on God?

Finding The Right Focus

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! “ – Isaiah 26:3.

When you talk to married couples, they often suggest that part of the reason they are having a hard time focusing on their marriage is that they don’t seem to have the time to focus on God. This is the secret to Godly relationships that can be overlooked. Paul, however, understood it and often wrote about it. Jesus practiced it daily and taught it to His disciples. It is the discipline of maintaining a fixed focus on God.

Focus is a way of life. If you want to be a pastor, your focus should be on attending a Bible college and maybe seminary. If you want to be a pilot you should focus on learning to fly. Regardless of your focus, it is easy to get distracted. Marriage and relationships are no exception. 

Relationships include friends, parents, siblings, spouses, girl/boy friends, children, co-workers, bosses, etc. We can allow any of these relationships to distract us from God. It is our relationships that are our connection with the world, and it is our human nature to have them, but when any of these relationships threaten to become more important to us than God, they can quickly become a distraction. Remember, God calls us to love one another (1 John 3:11), so when we do, it is an act of obedience to God. But when we love others, we need to be fixed on God. 

Marriage has the greatest potential of becoming a distraction from our walk with God. Marriage demands the most time, and that is why it is extremely important that married couples stay centered around God. Most Christians would agree that when your focus is fixed on the bumps and difficulties of life, your focus will usually be diverted away from God. But here is where we get into a catch-22 situation: Apart from Jesus Christ, nothing has the power to heal what is hurting or to correct what has been damaged, but we don’t experience that healing and power because our focus is somewhere else. 

Having played some golf, I am impressed with how professional golfers can not only shape a shot, but hit it the distance required to get to the green. When the pros are asked about their secret to their success they most often say, “keep your eyes fixed on the ball.” 

Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus is the secret to a happy marriage. When you trust Him with the entirety of your life, you can rest in the fact that God has the ability to take care of your every need. He loves you and will keep His promises throughout your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does having fixed focus on God mean to you? What is the practical application?   
  2. When we focus more on finding God and less on our trials during the tough times, we grow closer to Him. Agree or disagree and why? 
  3. We can choose to make God the most significant relationship in our lives.  What are the benefits?
  4. What can we do this week to limit the distractions and keep our eyes fixed on God?

“God Can’t Use Me”

“But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”? Exodus 3:11-12.

In Exodus 3 we read the famous story of Moses and the burning bush. There are times we all feel like Moses did that day. We view ourselves as inadequate for God’s purpose and plan for me. We are unprepared and unskilled. That’s when God tells him in Exodus 4:11-12: “Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”

God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways for His glory. At first it may seem that that statement isn’t quite right and you may not believe it. After all aren’t only “super spiritual Christians” used by God?” You may be thinking, “I’m just a pretty ordinary guy or gal, what can God do with me?” Rather than thinking in terms of whether or not you have a seminary degree or extensive ministry experience I want you to go back to the Gospels. Remember the Apostles were uneducated and had no formal theological training before they met Jesus. They walked with Jesus for three years day and night, watching Him perform miracles and hearing Him teach them personally and as He taught others. Jesus is not concerned about titles after one’s name? Now before you stop reading, let me say this: college degrees are great and often necessary to compete in today’s world. God can use you whether you have a college degree or not if you are willing to be used of God for His kingdom. God took a shepherd boy and made Him King of Israel. God used a donkey after all to deliver a message. God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways.

Jesus has one focus. He is completely focused on building his church, the hope of the world. That was true in the past, it is true today and it will be true in the future. One of the greatest privileges in all of life is when Jesus taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey Marty, I have a critical role for you as I am building my church in this world. And I’ve been preparing you your whole life for it.” How do you say no to that? How do you say “I’ve got my own thing going on” or “check back with me in a few years when life is not so hectic.”   

I agree with Bill Hybels that the church is the hope of the world.The hope of the world is not government, academia, business, but the church because it is to the church that God has entrusted the message of salvation. Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can God use ordinary people for His purposes?
  2. Do you believe that you need to be extraordinary to have a passion for the lost? Why or why not?
  3. What can you do this week to be more available to be used by God?

Ground Rules

“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” – Acts 6:1-4

There are unwritten rules that people have been following for centuries. In 2017, we have many such rules that everyone knows need to be followed. They are seen as necessary for our well-being and are common to all. It is both irritating and frustrating when people break these rules: things like cutting in line at a restaurant, or talking during a movie, or people who block the fire lane while they run into Walmart real quick. Then there are safety rules like don’t drive through red lights or not following too close to the car ahead of you. As a pastor, I try not to break the rules, unless following the rules hinders my ability to reach people with the love of Christ.

Jesus broke the traditional rules on a regular basis. Touching lepers, gathering grain on the sabbath, healing on the sabbath, talking to a  Samaritan woman, letting a prostitute wash His feet with His hair to name a few. Then there were the tax collectors. The tax collectors in Jesus’ day were reviled because no one likes to pay money to the government, especially when the government is an oppressive regime like the Roman Empire.  Tax collectors in the Bible were Jews who were working for the hated Romans. These individuals were seen as turncoats, traitors to their own countrymen. Rather than fighting the Roman oppressors, the tax collectors were helping them—and enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow Jews. Yet there was Jesus, eating with them. This was a no-no.  This was ignoring rule number one. Ignoring rule number one and most others got Jesus into a lot of trouble with the rule keepers.

But it just wasn’t the rule keepers. Think about it from the perspective of Jews living when Jesus walked the earth. I doubt we can imagine the shock waves these rule breaking actions sent through the people of that time. But we are talking about the Son of God. Yes, Jesus broke some societal taboos. But His rule breaking demonstrated that He looked beyond culture to people’s hearts. Whereas the Pharisees wrote people off simply because of their profession or their past, Jesus looked past all that and saw their need. Jesus is usually breaking some rule – cultural, social, even religious – when he is offering the most grace.

Which raises the question, can I love people, really love people, if I’m not breaking the rules?

Would I have second guessed Jesus when He went to a tax collector’s house? Am I more afraid of breaking the rules or failing to love people?

Loving people is messy. Sometimes, in order to love someone with the grace-upon-grace love of Jesus it means breaking the rules. People are dying, literally, as they wait for us to break some of the rules in order to love them and by loving them point them to the cross. The question should always be before us. Do we love our rules more than we love our fellow Christians or those far from the heart of God? 

Discussion Questions

  1. Are you a rule follower or a rule breaker? Why do you fall into either category?    
  2. How do rules and people’s expectations go togther?
  3. Do you believe you need to break rules to: Strengthen your relationship with God? Fight the battles Jesus fought? Experience the true purpose of your life? Boldly pursue your God given dream?

Burden Bearing

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

Albert Schweitzer was one of the most famous missionaries of the modern era. He set up a medical clinic in French Equatorial Africa. A friend came to visit him. One morning, this friend Schweitzer and some others were walking up a hill. It was extremely hot. Suddenly the 85 year old Schweitzer walked away from the group. He made his way toward an African woman struggling up the hill with a large load of wood for use in cooking. Schweitzer took the entire load of wood from the woman and carried it up the hill for her. The rest of the group was surprised and concerned that a person of Dr. Schweitzer’s age would strain himself so they asked why he did it.  Dr. Schweitzer looked at the group, then pointed to the woman and said, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.”

Life does not become easy just because you are a Christian. We still have our burdens as you no doubt can attest to. People still hurt you, bosses still exist, tragedies happen to us or the people we love and you can still get tired and depressed. The world will tell you to “suck it up” or other some inspirational advice. But the truth is, we do not need to bear our burdens alone. 

The Bible has approximately 55 “one another” statements. One of them is “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 ESV) The NIV version says “carry” while the NLT says “share each other’s burdens.” God encourages us to help bear one another’s burdens, to help one another overcome the pressure and challenges of life.

There is no instruction on what exactly to do or how to “help carry one another’s burdens.” (GNT)  But thankfully we have the Holy Spirit.  I think in the simplest of terms, bearing another’s burdens means not walking away. Bearing another person’s burdens means we ask questions and we go beyond the  “I’m fine” answer. Sometimes the thing to do is just be there, sometimes it’s offering prayer, or to take a task off their hands, or tell them that you care, or to take the time to listen. The Holy Spirit knows what is needed. When we bear one another’s burdens, we are showing others the love and compassion we have been shown and is an indication of what we are about and more importantly, who we are.

What better way to exemplify love to one another, than by helping each other, as we walk together in Christ.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do you define burden? How do you define sharing?
  2. What are the potential “benefits” of bearing one another’s burdens? 
  3. What can we do this week to lift the burden of someone we know?

The Prelude To Evangelism

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15. 

It is difficult to watch the news these days. On inauguration day, Washington D.C. was flooded by the supporters of the new president. Throughout the weekend those supporters were replaced by unhappy protestors. With D.C. as the hub, both the support and the protest spilled over across the country. It’s not exaggerating to say that many Americans are sharply divided and our society has become more polarized and argumentative than ever. We need to find a way to tear down the walls that keep us from coming together and finding common ground. 

We have some of the same challenges when it comes to evangelism. These are tough times for the church with so many misperceptions and urban myths about the church. In this climate, we need new thinking and ideas in developing best practices of evangelism for the 21st century. God is still the only One who can save, but He still uses people and community to achieve His purpose. One of the best practices we can use today in the area of evangelism is pre-evangelism.

Your first question is most likely, “what’s that?” If “evangelism” is telling people about the good news, then “pre-evangelism” is what you do before you tell people the good news. Pre-evangelism is the tough work of tearing down objections and obstacles to people being receptive to the message of the gospel. Some people have walls in their minds and hearts that simply will not allow them to give an open ear to the claims of the Christian faith. It takes time, effort and a lot of prayer to scale those walls.  Pre-evangelism seeks to meet people where they are. When we do pre-evangelism, we may not be “sharing the gospel” with someone, but we are doing the necessary work of helping them clear hurdles that stand in the way of being receptive and really hearing the gospel.

I have said in church many times, people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Establishing relationships with people requires us to get to know them and to have a genuine interest in their lives. Conversations that consist of asking questions in order to learn more about them and then actively listening and asking follow-up questions is an excellent way to start a relationship. As we get to know people, we can then ask more personal questions along the lines of, “Do you believe in God?” or “What do you have faith in or believe in your life?” This can help lay the groundwork as we seek to share the good news with them when the opportunity presents itself or to invite them to church. 

To effectively reach people with the gospel requires followers of Christ to live out our salvation with such joy, hope, and peace that the people with whom we come into contact daily can’t help but see Christ in our lives and want the same thing in their lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does pre-evangelism mean to you? 
  2. How can we be the kind of Christian unchurched people have never met before?
  3. How does the Christian’s hope, passion for life, strong purpose, or inner peace impact evangelism?
  4. What can we do better this week in the area of pre-evangelism?

Whatever It Takes

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” – Daniel 12:3.

At Northstar, we will do whatever it takes, short of sin, to find people far from God and lead them to life in Jesus. That’s one of our core values. and it’s the one that probably creates the most tension for Christians. It’s a value that is drawn straight from Scripture: “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” – 1 Corinthians 9:22-23. The idea that we will do “whatever it takes, short of sin to win the lost” requires some explanation or better still, some clarification. 

Anything short of sin means we will communicate in a manner that people can understand, especially those without a religious background. We will produce the type of music that people listen to. We will remove the myth of stuffiness and holier than thou that many people who have not been to church have. We don’t expect people to look or act like us. We will remove the awkwardness and uncertainty of meeting strangers. We will listen and we will address the questions they are asking, and the issues they are wrestling with. We will spend time with people who have a past and are dealing with serious issues, regardless of how much time it requires. We will love and serve people around us whether or not they ever become a part of our church. We will devote resources to missions locally and internationally to find the lost. We will always make room for someone else. We will go all-out when it comes to kids ministry to serve and help parents. We will find the lost rather than them finding us.

All that is quite an undertaking, but it is not an all inclusive list. Any option that is not against the law or against biblical teachings are on the table. We will do whatever it takes.

Having a passion for His people means that whatever you do in the body of Christ will be done in a way that Jesus would have done, and so you will be more effective in the kingdom of God.

Millions are looking for this and we have the answer, Jesus says clearly “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” So what we need to do is to find people who are looking for some answers in their lives and we can show them the answers by pointing them toward Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define a passion for the lost? 
  2. How do we complement what God is doing? What is the human role in helping people come to God?
  3. Identify a particular person in a situation who has real needs that you can serve.

Right On The Money

“Here’s a scary thought: What if God called you to give beyond your comfort level? Would you be afraid? Would you try to explain it away or dismiss it as impractical? And in the process, would you miss out on a harvest opportunity for which God had explicitly prospered you in the first place?” – Andy Stanley, Fields Of Gold. 

“Why do pastors talk about money at church?” 

It’s a question I’m asked every now and then when someone finds out I’m a pastor. If I made a list of subjects that I would prefer to preach on, money or giving would not be high on the list. Money sermons can be awkward for everyone involved, from the pastor to the people listening. Even if you’ve given, or heard, a biblically sound money sermon that earned you a few “well-dones” or “attaboys”, you’ve probably also sat through, or given one, to be kind, that was below average. In full disclosure, I have been the speaker and the listener for both.   

So why do pastors talk about money? Is it meant to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty? The answer is no. Does God need the money? Again, the answer is no. There are several answers to that question, but let me simply say this: pastor’s should preach on money because they are communicating God’s Word. The Bible has a lot to say about money. The Bible references money and possessions more than 2,350 times. That must mean God thinks it’s pretty important. And if He does, I do as well.    

As a pastor, I understand the perception people have when money is preached too often. And I understand the struggle to give faithfully in difficult times. But I speak on money, giving and generosity because where you spend your money will set the direction of your heart. Billy Graham said, “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.”  

Let me give you another way of looking at it: We can do deep spiritual dives and debate what we believe about the Trinity, the sovereignty of God, or whether the end times perspective is “pre-tribulation,” or “post-tribulation.” Discussions on these topics are a wonderful and a worthwhile exercise, but they don’t often have a practical application. But, how I earn, spend, give, and save money – that’s a much clearer barometer of my core beliefs and how much I trust God. Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:21)  Systematically breaking down the book of Hebrews and understanding all the richness of this book is great, but it does not measure up to the action of emulating Jesus’ commitment to feeding the hungry. Periodic messages on giving and generosity are intended to strengthen our faith as we place a greater reliance on God, helps us invest in the things of God and not in the things of this world because it loosens our grip on earthly possessions and reminds us to focus on things that offer true eternal results.   

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe how we handle our money is a indication of our theology? Why or why not?   
  2. Is the way we handle our finances an indication of our trust in God? Why or why not?