The Wonder Of It All

Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” – Matthew 15:30-31.

There is a song by Bethel Music entitled “Wonder.”  It is a wonderful song. The opening chorus begins with three repetitions of the phrase “May we never lose our wonder” and the chorus goes “Wide eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child, staring at the beauty of our king.” We should be filled with wonder: from the humble wonder of the nativity birth to the blinding glory of the transfiguration to the fact that God came to earth to restore us and this world to a right relationship with Him.

May we never lose the wonder of God. The more we learn the more we should be dumbfounded and the more we should be in awe. Jesus gave up everything for you and for me, walked where we walk, felt what we feel, and took our sin, not just a part but the whole. He bore our shame, our punishment, carrying our cross, being pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and hung on a cross all so that we have the ability not to simply be forgiven, but know Him personally and intimately and know all the riches that there are in Christ Jesus. It makes one wonder how we could forget the wonder and awe of who Jesus is. And it is no wonder why we should want an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior.

If you and I ever get to the point that we are casual about what happened on the cross, if we ever begin to take it for granted, we need to get on our knees and stay there until we recapture the wonder of it all. We should always remember the price that was paid for our salvation. Ask God to search your heart and reveal to you His glory if you have lost that wonder in who He is and all that He has done in and through your life.

When we slow down from our busy lives long enough to truly gaze at the face of our Creator through prayers, serving others, etc., we can’t help but be brought to our knees in the face of God’s holiness, goodness, and majesty.  

No matter how many lives we see changed, no matter how many people we baptize, I urge you as I urge myself, never lose the wonder of it all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was the last time you were filled with complete awe and wonder of who Jesus is?
  2. When was the last time you were alone with Him, lost in His presence?

Finding Intimacy In Community

“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” – Colossians 3:16.

One of the core values of Northstar is to foster community with others.  Community is more than just people getting to know each other and spending time together. We believe that community is – as described in Hebrews 10:24 – a group of people who “…motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”  We join up with others in community because we need intimate relationships: discussion that goes deep, friendships that reach beyond the surface, and support that can help us navigate through troubled waters. 

Small groups provide a valuable opportunity to connect with other believers outside the Sunday morning worship. But small groups are more than a program or ministry. Rather, our hope is that small groups become a way of life, extending our Sunday-morning relationships beyond our time together on Sunday morning and outside the walls of our buildings. Small groups have the potential to be a springboard for even deeper relationships. Smaller groups are a safe space for vulnerability, honesty, curiosity, support, encouragement, forgiveness, laughter, accountability, transformation, connection, and a whole host of other things that are not easy to do in a big crowd. In a small group, you have the chance to mentor and be mentored, pray and be prayed for, teach and be taught, laugh and be laughed with, cry and be cried with, a chance to connect with a smaller group of people over months and years and ultimately build some deep, intimate relationships with other believers. 

The alternative is dealing with distractions by yourself. Distractions include relationships which are not healthy. Surrounding yourself with negative people who lead you into temptation and don’t respect your faith. Another one is the “I can do it all on my own” distraction. Whether it’s not making church a regular fixture in your life because you don’t understand how necessary it is or pushing yourself to a breaking point before even considering asking for God’s help, trying to convince yourself that you can do this all alone is a big distraction and will distance yourself from God. Not only are you distracted by the never-ending to do list that accompanies this kind of attitude, you also lose focus on God’s greatness to do more than you ever could. Another distraction are other people’s opinions. The big decisions that you have to make in life are hard enough without adding a chorus of voices that conflict with your faith and prevent you from hearing what God has to say on the matter.

All those distractions and the distance they create between you and God can be solved in a small group.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does an intimate small group look like to you?
  2. What can we do to develop more intimate relationships in our small groups?

Pursuing Intimacy with God

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.” – Acts 17:27.

Have you ever found yourself starving for real intimacy with God? The idea of intimacy is difficult to get your arms around. How can I be intimate with someone I can’t see, hear, or touch? God and I can’t text with each other or meet for lunch. Yet we know that God created us for an intimate relationship with Him. But what does that mean and more importantly what does it look like in real life? There is no standard formula for developing an intimate relationship with God. Yet there are things we can do to invite the Lord to draw near to us. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Intimacy with God means God is not a priority; He is the priority. David wrote in Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask of the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple,”  Paul stated his priority by saying everything in my life is garbage compared to knowing Jesus (see Philippians 3:8).

There is a story in Luke 7 about a Pharisee named Simon and a sinful woman.  Simon invited Jesus to have dinner with him. An immoral woman from the city heard that Jesus was there and brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Verse 38 says, “Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.” Simon was in the same room with Jesus. He sat at the same table. But because he was wrapped up in his piety and good works he completely missed the heart of Jesus. 

But the sinful woman did not. She fell at His feet, no act of devotion was too big for her; overwhelmed with love and affection, she worshiped Him with all she had: her most precious perfume and her hair. And Jesus accepted her devotion. When to it comes to a relationship with Jesus we want to be the sinful woman, but sometimes we end up being more like Simon by spending all our energy trying to do great things for God instead of worshiping Him and developing a real intimacy with our Savior.  Intimacy means we, like the sinful woman, want more of Jesus, in our life.

There will be times in our lives when we have a real hunger and a desperation for God. There will be times when we just can’t get enough of Him. There will be times when we feel His presence in tangible ways. At times like these God will feel close and there will be the intimacy we seek. But real intimacy means we do those things even during times of trial or when bad things just keep popping up and it is a labor of love to pray, to spend time in the word and to serve.  But always, I want to seek him. The deepest growth in intimacy in my personal walk with God began when I want to seek to worship and serve God regardless of the circumstances. 

Augustine said, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; To seek Him, the greatest adventure; To find Him, the greatest human achievement.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What keeps you from having a more intimate relationship with God?
  2. What role does fear play in developing an intimate relationship with God?
  3. How can we improve our relationship with God?

Intimacy And Relationships

“Falling in love in a Christian way is to say, ‘I am excited about your future and I want to be part of getting you there. I’m signing up for the journey with you. Would you sign up for the journey to my true self with me? It’s going to be hard but I want to get there.” – Tim Keller

God cares about how we relate with one another which is why we talk about relationships all the time at Northstar. Talking about relationships makes sense to us because all of our life is about relationships. From beginning to end, we spend our lives relating to others. We want to know and be known, to understand and be understood, to care and be cared for. And we want to love and be loved. But our relationships are often marked by tension, misunderstanding and distance rather than by the security, acceptance and the closeness we desire. Even our most intimate relationships are at times anything but what we want them to be. While it can sometimes seem like a stretch goal, intimacy in our relationships is the goal. 

In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus seeks to impress upon His disciples the importance of relationships. Jesus is referring to the importance of His relationship with them and with their relationship with one another.  1 John 1:3,7 says, “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….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 gave God’s definition for intimacy. We cannot have one type of relationship with God and another type with people. Intimacy with God is the foundation. Intimacy with God creates intimacy with others.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible reveals that our relationship with God affects our other relationships. As Christians, we want to experience intimacy with God. Psalm 73:28 tells us, “for me it is good to be near God.” And we want to hear and act on what James tells us in Chapter 4 verse 8: “Come close to God, and God will come close to you….” (James 4:8). We serve a living God, the original Father who’s heart aches for His children to have intimacy with Him. God wants to draw near to us. Sometimes we have a hard time drawing near to God which is why we should be thankful He works in ways that draws us, even when we don’t draw near on our own. In the same vein we can have intimacy in our relationships when we make it a point to draw near the other person even if they are not drawing near to us.

Intimacy with God is foundational for marriage, parenting and all relationships. A person cannot have an intimate relationship with God and not love his or her spouse and children the same way they are being loved by God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What causes a relationship to be classified as intimate?
  2. Intimacy is a risk. But it’s a risk worth taking. You can only experience the fullness and meaning of love when you take the risk of moving closer. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What can we do this week to improve our relationships?

The Illusion of Intimacy

“O God, you are my God;  I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land…You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” – Psalm 63:1-8

There is a huge difference between finding real intimacy with God and talking about intimacy with God. It is easy to talk about something without really experiencing it. Yes, we can talk, write, teach, and preach about our relationship with God, but that does not mean we have a genuine intimate relationship.

Intimacy takes work, time, effort, sacrifice, and vulnerability. And it takes Jesus. You can’t substitute those ingredients and expect success. Intimacy with God seems like a daunting task. Most people would probably say, “I want an intimate relationship with God, but it feels like a massive obligation in an already complicated, overwhelmed life. I have enough trouble pulling off an intimate relationship with my spouse and kids, let alone God.”   

I understand that viewpoint. Our relationship with God.often revolves around doing the right things and maintaining the right image. We go to church on Sunday, and small group during the week. We have a long prayer list that we do our best to go through daily so we don’t leave someone or something out. We read our Bible as much as we can. Those and other things are part of a theological formula, or specific action steps that we need to take or follow to draw closer to God. But is that what an “intimate” relationship with Jesus all about? Those things are great and we should be doing them, but having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about what you do, how long you do it or where you do it. Its about knowing who God really is.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus demonstrates with His own life that a relationship with God is not about rules, rituals,or man made religions. These things are not bad, but do not necessarily help us attain a real knowledge of God. In Luke 11, we read that even the disciples struggled with really knowing God. One day when they were observing Jesus’ deep communion with the Father while He prayed, they noticed how He spoke to God intimately. He wasn’t caught up with following certain rules or rituals. The disciples wanted to have that same connection so they asked Jesus to tell them His secret to having close communion with the Father. Jesus revealed the answer to them in an parable, which is summed up in verses 9-10: “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

God wants an intimate relationship with each of us. So keep seeking and praying and you will find Him.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define intimacy with God?
  2. What are some ways that our hunger for God dissipates?
  3. What can we do to strengthen our relationship with God?

Redefining Failure

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32

In Luke 22, Jesus continues to teach and prepare His disciples, even during His last precious meal with them. Jesus warns Peter of a danger that lay ahead of him. In verses 33 we read, “Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” Jesus responds in verse 34, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” We all know that Peter denied the Lord three times that very night.

But remember what Jesus prayed for In Luke 22. He prayed that when Satan tempted Peter, his faith would not fail. He didn’t pray that Peter would not fall in temptation, but that when he did fall, his faith in God’s perfect love would not fail him That is faith, that no matter how many mistakes and failures we make, God still loves us, just as we are.

Do you ever wonder why Jesus didn’t say “Simon I have prayed that God will give you to courage not to deny me at all, let alone three times?” I find it interesting that the Lord did not pray for Peter not to fail. After all, Peter’s failure on the night of Jesus’ trial was pretty bad. In the hour of his Lord’s greatest anguish, Peter had denied even knowing him. This sin shook Peter to the core of his being. In Jesus’ worst moments, Peter was denying he had any connection with the Lord even though a short time before his denials, he had been unshakable in his belief that he would never turn away from the Lord.

When Jesus chose you and I to be His disciple, He expected our future failures as He expected Peter’s. We may not want to believe that we could deny Jesus, but Jesus knows what is in us. So he exhorts us along with Peter to “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41)

The key is not to let our failures define us. And, don’t internalize a failure until it starts to ferment into regret. Own it. Learn from it. Pain can be a great teacher. As C.S Lewis said, “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” Just because you’re down doesn’t mean you’re out. Not by a long shot. Even in our failures, God can still accomplish His purpose. It’s through our weaknesses that He shows himself strong. Peter’s failure did not define him. And ours will not define us. They are humbling stumbles along the path of following Jesus, who paid for them all on the cross. Jesus specializes in transforming failures into rocks of strength for His church.

Discussion Questions
1. Read Hebrews 12:11-13: How do these verses apply to failure? What hope do they give?
2. What is the most significant thing about failure you have learned this week? How can we apply what you have learned to your life?


The Risk Reward Equation

“Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both.” – Ecclesiastes 11:4-6

In Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon warns us against becoming so cautious that we do nothing, that we take no risks, until all the pieces fall into place. In verse 4, Solomon writes, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.” This verse is directed to people who are overly cautious. The farmer who waits for the most opportune moment to plant, when there is no wind to blow away the seed, when there is no rain to ruin a ripe harvest, will never do anything but sit around waiting for the right moment. Nothing happens because perfect conditions never happen. Yes, rain and wind could harm or even destroy the crops. And yes, the work that you did may have to be redone. But even if you have to redo it several times, having a harvest is better than doing nothing and having no harvest.

I’m sure you see the application to our lives today. Stepping out in faith is better than waiting for the perfect moment. There is no perfect time to have kids. We never have enough money, energy, or patience. Once you have children, don’t wait for the right time to spend time with them. Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up. If you are married, don’t wait for your husband or wife to be all that you want. Begin pouring your life into your spouse now. Don’t wait until you have spare time, more money, or better health. If you are not currently serving in the church, get involved today. If we wait until we’re less busy, until we feel right, until just the right moment, we will never serve, and we will never see results. Solomon is telling us to represent God in all that we do and with all that we have. To do that, we can’t play it safe, we must take some risks.

What types of risks can you take? There are many possibilities. Every Christian’s life is marked by windows of opportunity that require radical steps of faith in order to follow Christ and fulfill His purposes for your life. And what makes that step radical is that it can and often does involve significant risk.  And that risk can create the fear of failure. And that fear of failure can have you saying, “wow, if this doesn’t work out, the impact on my life could be…well pretty bad.”

But where there is no risk, there is no faith.  And where there is no faith, there is no power.  And where there is no faith, there is no joy.  And where there is no faith, there’s no intimacy with God.  And where there is no faith, there is no reward. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)

Discussion Questions
1. Why do you think God asks us to take risks? What do we learn about ourselves, and how do we grow by taking risks?
2. What is the opposite of taking risks? What happens when we never step out in life and take risks?
3. What are some of the obstacles to stepping out of our zones of comfort? Which of these obstacles could we work on this week?

Failure Is The Opportunity To Succeed

“My mother always taught me never to look back in regret, but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running all the Virgin businesses–so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.” – Richard Branson

One of the most well-known stories in the Bible is the first encounter between Jesus and Peter. Peter and his friends had fished all night, but they had caught nothing. The next day, Peter was washing his nets, probably tired and discouraged. Jesus comes along and tells him that He would like to use his boat as a platform from which to speak. So Peter allows Jesus to use his boat. After Jesus finishes he tells Peter, “Let us go fishing.” Peter reacted and said, “Master,” …“we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” Peter went fishing and caught so many fish that he was astonished.

This story teaches us about failure and success. On their first fishing trip, their work netted them nothing. On the second trip, they caught so many fish their nets began to tear. It was the same lake, the same boat, the same nets, and the same people fishing.

So what made the difference? Jesus was in the boat the second time.The second time, Peter was not going it alone. Jesus made all the difference. When the fishermen saw what Jesus had done, they were amazed. Luke 5:8 tells us: “When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 

“For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” (Luke 5:9-10)

If you’re reading this today and feel as Peter did, then you need to remember that It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or how far you’ve wandered or how many failures you have experienced along the way. God is always actively pursuing us to bring us back to Himself. I want you to know that He will break every possible barrier to reach you. Today, you can meet with Jesus, bring Him your failures and mistakes, and allow Him to work in your life. With Jesus in your boat, the fear of failure and worry about the results fades away.

Peter and the other disciples had a lot to learn, and there would be failures, but from this point on they followed Him.

  1. Discussion Questions:
    1. What emotions might Peter have felt in that moment when he pulled up the nets with so many fish? Have you had a moment like this in your life?
    2. A failure is an opportunity to grow. Agree or disagree and why?
    3. What can we do this week to prevent our failures from defining us?

In The Final Analysis

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

When was the last time you blew it? I mean, really, really blew it? The “this is the final straw, I’ll never get out from under this failure” blew it. You may have been there in the past, you may be there today. What we need to know when we think we have really blown it, is that failure is not permanent, it is not final. 

Psalm 23:6 tells us, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.”  Good news for sure. When we make mistakes, we sometimes come to the conclusion that we finally did it this time. But we learn from Scripture that favor with God doesn’t depend on us and our wisdom, or goodness, faithfulness, or thankfully our ability to prevent failures. God isn’t waiting for you to get your act together, to try again and get it right this time. He created us and He knows we are far from perfect. He knows we will be over our head and we will fail. 

In the midst of our failures it is comforting to know that God “has my back,” that He will never allow me to get outside His grace. We all have had our wrong turns we would do differently if we had it to do over. But God can use our wrong turns to somehow get us to His desired destination. God can use our successes and failures for His glory.

The lesson for us is that even if we have failed, we can’t let fear of failure paralyze us and keep us from following where God leads us. God will equip us and empower us to do what He is leading us to do. Success is not up to us, it is up to God. What is up to us is being willing to get up after failure and going where God leads. Failure is not final. Look at Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  I wonder how many of us let the fear of failure keep us from getting back up and causing us to give up too quickly.

When you think failure is final, remember that God is for us. He is always here for us, always here to guide us, teach us, help us to turn in the right direction. He will always love us . God wants us to be a part of what He’s doing. Of course God can accomplish everything in spite of us, but He’d rather accomplish it with us. He invites us to be a part of what He’s doing no matter how many failures we experience along the way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you think of a time in your life when you were scared to do something you knew you had to do, but you went through with it anyway? How did you feel afterward?
  2. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?

If All Else Fails

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9.

Winston Churchill said that “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” The truth of that statement is demonstrated in so many people:  Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times. Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Behind every success story is an embarrassing first effort, a stumble, a setback or a radical change of direction. The reality is that it is in our failures where we can often find success in our spiritual life.

The fear of failure can become so pervasive that people stop doing or trying something they might fail at, so they don’t fail. They protect themselves by only doing the things that they consider “safe”, where they know they have no chance of failure. If we attempt to limit our exposure to life, we put ourselves and God in a box. God’s plan is always outside the box.

There will be people around you that tell you that what you are doing is destined for failure. Ignore them and trust God to lead you in life. God teaches us through our failures. Many times we are so paralyzed by fear of failing that we do not step out in faith, believing that God is there beside us. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.”  The greatest failure is the failure to try. The trouble with many people is that during trying times they just stop trying. We fail when we don’t have the faith to trust God. For the glory of God, you’ve got to take risks. That’s what brings maturity. That’s what brings success in life. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal. Try again. 

Revelation 3:8 says, “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.”  The Lord is always opening and closing doors if we are following and trusting Him. Failures will come, but we must recognize them for what they are, so the future can open up for us. Recognize the open door God has placed in front of you, and walk through that door. The safest place to be, is where the Lord is leading. So don’t be afraid of failing because God is with us. “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 )

Discussion Questions:

  1. Living in fear keeps us from experiencing our God-given potential. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Was there a time when you were fearful of the future and acted out on that fear (i.e., leading to anxiety, etc.)? What happened?