Let Your Light Shine

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. —Philippians 2:14-16.

“The Impossible” is a 2012 movie based on a family’s true story of surviving the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck the beaches of Phuket, Thailand. Married couple, Henry and Maria, are separated in the initial wave, caught by the current and dragged apart into a nightmare. The oldest son, Lucas, immediately finds Maria in the midst of the wave. Fearing another tsunami wave, Lucas guides his mother towards higher ground. Maria hears a child crying, and convinces her reluctant son they must find and help that child. “Even if it’s the last thing we do,” we should help others. That is what Maria tells her son before they rescue the crying child.

It’s incredibly easy to turn inward and think of only ourselves during our life’s storms. God calls on us to let our light shine for the world. Compassion is a key characteristic among us as followers of Christ in reaching out for those who are in need. We can pray for those who are hurting, encourage others, send a note, or provide a helping hand. We cannot help everyone in every way, but we can help someone in some way. There are people all around us who need help, and we can be that someone for at least one other person.

While waiting for his mother to recover in a Thai hospital, Lucas found himself helping individuals connect with their families. His efforts brought hope and healing to those who were hit by the wave. God works with us to carry out the impossible to help others. We can be like everyone else and focus on just surviving and taking care of only ourselves, or we can be Christ-like and turn outwards focusing our efforts on helping others who are in trouble.

We are a light that needs to shine before people. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is called “The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone…” (John 1:9). Throughout the New Testament, the followers of Jesus are called to be lights in the darkness. That often means we have to put ourselves out there, because a lamp is meant to be placed on a stand to give light to everything around it. Whether you’re timid or outgoing, you’re called to be a light to the people around you. That’s only possible if you’re taking time to interact with people and cultivate relationships while pointing everyone back to the light source, Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think, or feel, God wants you to help others in times when you are going through your own storms?
  2. How does helping others during your own storm differ from what the world expects of someone experiencing a life storm?
  3. Where, or in what context, do you believe your light shines the brightest? How have you seen God use your “light” in other peoples lives?
  4. Where is God challenging you to let your light shine in a dark place?

The Unexpected Storm

“It will be a shelter from daytime heat and a hiding place from storms and rain.” – Isaiah 4:6.

On December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra. The resulting series of tsunamis killed an estimated 230,000 people, mostly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, and displaced almost 1.7 million. Witnesses to tsunamis report they make a roaring sound as they approach, similar to the sound of a freight train or a jet airplane as the wall of water hits the coast.This is the backdrop for the movie The Impossible.

This movie depicts real life in that sometimes it is sunny and then in the next moment the wind rises, the sky darkens, and we find ourselves in the midst of a terrible storm. Obviously most of us will never experience a storm the magnitude of the 2004 tsunami from the film, but sooner or later we will all experience storms in our lives. Maybe you are in the midst of a storm right now. By that I mean, are you facing some kind of crisis or unexpected tragedy? Maybe you are at your wit’s end. Or maybe you are losing hope. 

I would encourage you to first, trust God. Be confident that in a storm, that Jesus is with us. In a previous stormy trip across the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41), Jesus was with them in the storm. However, this second time He was alone on the land praying. The disciples were left to fend for themselves (or so they thought) against the raging storm. Jesus was teaching them to live by faith.

Many times in difficult situations we feel a closeness to Jesus. However, other times we just feel like He has abandoned us. We feel forsaken. These are times we must trust in His presence. The fact is He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will take us to our intended destination in life.

The other thing to consider, and it is not easy to do in a storm, is to remember that storms can help us see our self and Jesus better. Sometimes God lets us come to the end of our human resources in order to get our attention. Those who quit relying on self, and start to have confidence in God, will discover storms to be more manageable. It is in the middle of the storm that you meet God. Jesus comes in our most desperate moments. If we know that He is personally present with us we can face the storms of life. It is in those times Jesus comes to us, just when we’re swamped and going down and says cheerfully, “Don’t be afraid,”… “Take courage. I am here!” (Matthew 14:27)  As soon as we cry for help, we will feel His hand holding us. 

 Jesus did not promise smooth sailing. But, I would rather be in a storm with Jesus than anywhere else without Him. So, if you are in a storm of life, my advice to you is to remember that Jesus will “get you to the other side.” He will not abandon you or let you down. You have His Word on it. For He Himself has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe a time when your life was hit with an unexpected storm. How well did you endure it? What did you do when you felt like giving up? Did you experience God’s comfort during that period?
  2. What have you learned about God and yourself through the storms in your life?
  3. What helped Maria and Lucas make the right decision to help others? How can you change your thinking to let those factors move you to comfort others?
  4. Look around to see if there is someone in your life who is going through a storm in their life, and make a list of actions you can take to be a source of help, encouragement and strength. Then do those things this week.

I Love My Church Because Of The Church Family

“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans12:4-5

I can’t say it often enough. I am grateful, blessed, excited, and humbled to be part of what God is doing in and through Northstar Church. Every pastor says this, but it is the church family that supports us completely, prays for us, and enables us to do what we do. I love that our church is highly relational. People who walk through our doors know that nobody’s perfect, anything’s possible and everybody’s welcome. As Christians, when we are rooted together in Christ we are able to withstand a lot of difficulties because we are connected together. People who walk though our doors are not a number, they are people who are a part of a bigger family.

And it is in many ways like a family. There are special relationships formed in church because people who attend church share a common bond. That is because in most cases, casual friends may care about you but very seldom do they care deeply about your soul, will pray for you, will encourage you when you are down, will love you unconditionally, and will care about where you spend eternity.  That type of relationship is often unique to the church.

1 John 1:7 says, “But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Christian fellowship is distinct from other friendships and is different from just spending time with friends. Many people have told me that the church and the relationships within the church has made such a difference in their lives. Because we were not designed to do life alone, life is better when we do life together. 

Certainly, there is no better place to do life with others than in small groups. Where else on earth are you surrounded by a group of loving friends who long for what is best for you and are willing to tolerate all your bumps along the way because they see you and themselves as working out of your salvation in Christ?

I also love that we are a praying church. Prayer is so vital, so central to being a Christian and having faithful partners that are praying for our church and for people far from the heart of God is a joy I never take for granted. Few things encourage me more than hearing how many people are praying for our church.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you consider the church a family? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think it is possible to do life alone?
  3. Why do you think it is better to do life together? What differences have other believers made in your life?
  4. Pray this week for your church and your role in it.

I Love The Church Because Of The Changed Lives

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:11.

You know what I love about Northstar more than anything? I have a front row seat to seeing lives changed week after week. I never get over hearing stories of people who have found Jesus and that their lives have been changed for the better. Yes, core values, mission statements, special events, buildings, budgets, and attendance are all valuable, but if lives aren’t being changed for God’s glory, then what’s the point?

The message of Christianity is one of personal transformation.One of the most compelling reasons for people to believe in Jesus Christ is because He promises to change their lives.

The Bible has a lot to say about this subject and makes a few promises. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” 

Probably the most powerful example of the life changing power of Christ is the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Saul was so fanatical and passionate about his religion that he felt duty bound to persecute those who in his opinion, were undermining it. He thought Christians were doing so, so he hunted them down and had them imprisoned. You probably know the rest of the story. Paul wrote most of the New Testament and eventually died as a martyr because of his faith in Christ. Paul had this to say in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Paul lived with a daily appreciation for how Jesus Christ had changed his life. The angry, driven and self-righteous Pharisee was transformed into a humble and influential servant of Christ. Jesus changes lives.

God is still in the business of changing lives and is a reason we love the church.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does transformation mean to you?
  2. Do you believe the church is in the life changing business? Why or why not?
  3. Have you seen real life change in your life? What about in others?
  4. What can we do this week to change our life for the better?

I Love The Church Because Of Jesus Christ

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.” – Ephesians 2: 19-21.

For those of you who know me fairly well, know that my passion is the local church.  I love Northstar. There are several reasons why I love the church, not only as a pastor but as a Christian and I will talk about them over the next few days. But I want to say first, is that I don’t love Northstar just because I am the lead pastor. If the Lord had chosen a different path for me I would still attend church every Sunday. I want to be in a church.  I love the church, and for the best reason.

The only reason I need is that Jesus loves the church. With all that Jesus could have done, might have done in the world, had the power to do, He only built one institution; the church. In Matthew 16: 18 Jesus said, “and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”  No matter how many times I read that verse I am still awed by its power. Jesus never said He would build a better government, or a road system, or schools. “…I will build my church.”

Sure, the church isn’t perfect. The church is full of imperfect people. But if we love Jesus we should love the church.  Each individual member of the church, the body of Christ, has a story of redemption. We constantly hear stories of people of people who lives have been changed by entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It motivates me and I hope it motivates you to get excited about what God is doing through and in His church.   

In spite of some flaws, let us be a group of believers that sees the best of the church and loves her just the same. And more importantly, let us be a contributing factor to church growth by loving Jesus Christ and loving people. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you view as your responsibility to the church?
  2. If you were completely honest, would you say love the church? 
  3. Jesus loves each of us, and he wants to use us to touch the world around us. How does that impact your view of the local church? 

How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways

“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” – Ephesians 5:25-27

Can you remember when you first met your spouse? It probably was not love at first sight, but there was probably a connection; an unspoken, indescribable feeling that this is a person that is supposed to be in your life. Your entire body is telling you, like it’s connected to a magnet, that you have to talk to this person, get to know them, and have them in your life in some sort of capacity. Over time you get that jittery feeling in your belly, your palms sweat and a flutter of electricity runs through your body when you see that special someone. These signs indicate that you may be falling in love. To fall in love with someone is literally the most magical, mystical, and frankly, indescribable feeling in the world.

Did the same thing happen when you started to attend church? Did you feel euphoric, giddy, nervous, exhausted and confused — or, a combination of these emotions? Was it love at first sight or did it develop over time? Over the last five weeks we have been talking the values of our church. I want to ask one question in this devotional: “Do you love your church?”

For some of you, this may seem like a strange question. This may be the first time that you have ever thought about this question in your life. You may have always seen the church as some activity that you do each Sunday morning. You may have always seen the church as a place to be involved. You may have always seen the church as a place, where there are many good activities in which you can participate. But, you may have never considered having a love relationship with the church.

After all you probably don’t love Publix, or Popeye’s or Tom Thumb. You drive up to Tom Thumb, fill up your gas tank and maybe get a cup of coffee. Not all that stirring. Chances are you will not text a friend that “I love Tom Thumb.” Yet, that mirrors the relationship we have with the church.  That seems like I am comparing apples and oranges, but am I?

Every week, you come to church and fill up with some good worship experience and a good sermon (hopefully). You enjoy the worship, feel closer to God and better about yourself. You walk out to your car shaking a few hands along the way. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with any of that. But is that loving the church? 

Look at the Ephesians passage above, specifically verse 25.  What a simple phrase.  “Christ loved the church.”  If something is precious in the heart of Jesus, it should be precious to us as well.” As believers in Christ, we are called to love the things that Jesus loves. And Christ loved the church.

I guess there are a lot of reasons why people don’t love the church, but there are reasons to love the church.

Over the next few days I will talk about some of the reasons I love the church, including why we talk so much about doing life together.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define loving the church?
  2. Does loving the church require courage?
  3. Is there a difference in loving the church and loving God? Is there a difference between loving the church and loving others?

Circles, Not Rows

“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”Acts 2:46-47.

Who do you call at 2 a.m., or anytime for that matter, when your life just exploded? If you are like most people, your list is either short, or nonexistent. No matter how tough you are, no matter how independent or self-reliant you are, and no matter how much you pride yourself in the belief that you don’t need anyone, it just is not true. We all need somebody.

One of the most important things for a Christian is their desire to belong. They don’t just want to be another face in the crowd, people want to be known and cared for. When a group of Christians get together, it creates an opportunity to listen and talk to each other.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” We need each other.

Going to church is important, but you worship in a crowd and fellowship in a small group. That smaller group is what you need. We need to trust, rely on, and depend upon other believers. God gave us each other to walk alongside, encourage, and spur one another on in the faith.

James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” Galatians 6:2 adds, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Romans 12:13 says, ”When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” And finally Romans 12:15 exhorts us to: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”

I wish I could talk to each of you about small groups and community. Unfortunately I can’t. But, I encourage you to join a group if you are not already part of one.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you participate in a small group? If not, why not?
  2. What do you see as the benefits of being in a small group?
  3. Pray and consider joining a small group this fall.

A Culture of Generosity

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35. 

This week we have talked about tithing and about generosity. Living a generous life is not easy. Jesus set standard that we can’t hope to match.  That’s because God is a giver. Generosity is a reflection of God’s nature. Human nature tends towards self-interest and self-preservation, and self-promotion, so we often don’t normally like to give to others. God’s nature, on the other hand, is to always be giving of his eternal resources to others.  Matthew 7:11 says, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

In order to be a generous giver, we need to answer an important question. The question is not “where should I give” or “how much,” but “why do I give.” The answer is pretty straight forward.

We should be overwhelmed when we take a moment to reflect on the incredible generosity of God towards us. God is not reluctant to be generous, He’s not tight-fisted with his generosity, but rather Scripture tells us that He’s extravagant in His generosity. Ephesians 1:7-8 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding.”

Let’s look at the basics of being generous. Romans 12:13 says, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” What Paul is basically saying is that, you have to identify yourself with Christians in need. In other words, we make the needs of other Christians our own needs by asking ourselves some questions:  How are they coping? What would I need if I were in their shoes? What would I do?”

The Philippian church took Paul’s needs to their hearts, and he wrote to them; “Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. . . . Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. . . . At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:14, 16, 18). Paul saw their practical kindness to him as glorifying God. It was an offering that was pleasing to the Lord. Galatians 6:10 adds, “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”

The simple definition of generosity is: using your God-given ability to help those in need and where your time, money, and talents come together to meet the needs of others.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most generous gift you have ever received? How did it make you feel?
  2. Americans are some of the wealthiest people in the world, but do you think Americans are generous with their wealth? Why or why not?
  3. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?
  4. Identify one practical way you can be more generous in the weeks ahead. 

”I Feel So Blessed.”

“But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.. – Galatians 3:13-14. 

Do you ever feel God blesses everyone but you? You pray for the job promotion but it’s given to a co-worker. Your dream school sends you a letter politely telling you to go away. It feels as if your dreams are on the verge of being fulfilled, but are instantly yanked away, sending your emotions on a wild rollercoaster ride. You have a friend who has a job they love, great friends, people who inspire them, a variety of Ivy schools are fighting over them. You run into them and all they can say is that  “my life has been going startlingly well. I feel very blessed right now.”

We’ve all heard someone say, “I’ve been blessed by God,” usually in relation to success, health, family, wealth, or a job. We’ve also heard athletes say they are blessed after winning a big game. We all want to be under God’s blessing.

People often think that people are blessed when they have a nice home, a good job, enough money to be comfortable. Conversely,  if you have had a life full of trials and struggling, it makes you feel like you are cursed. How we view blessings in this life is determined by how we view God because how we view God will determine how we view life and how we live life. It will determine the decisions we make. And it will impact our giving and our generosity especially when we are looking at blessings as a quid pro quo arrangement. 

That is not how it works.  God is not some sky-bound, ATM that we can bargain with for blessings. If that is how we view God then we need to rethink our position. Material good fortune does mean we are blessed. Just as the millions of Christians who live in poverty all over the world are not blessed. If you have been on a mission trip to Haiti and Kenya, you know how untrue that statement is. 

The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. But God didn’t choose me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. The question is what am I doing with what He blessed me with? Will I be generous and use my blessings to help others?

My true blessings are not my house. Or my job. Or my standard of living. My true blessing is being a child of God. A God who gives hope to the hopeless. A God who loves the unlovable. A God who comforts the sorrowful. A God that died for the sins of the entire world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to be ‘blessed’ by God? What are some of the blessings God has given you in your life?
  2. Do blessings and giving go hand in hand? Why or why not?
  3. When was a time that you experienced God blessing others through you?
  4. Write down a list of blessings that God has given to you: material, economic, relational, spiritual, etc. Thank God for these blessings. Consider one way that you could bless someone else this week, whether here or around the world

In Good Faith

“ There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:24-25 NAS

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains an aspect of the Christian faith by comparing it to receiving and giving a gift. The first ‘discovery of faith’ as Lewis puts it, is to understand that there is no way that we can earn our way to God. There’s no exam that we need to take or pass to achieve a certain grade. It’s simply a gift that we can choose to accept or reject. We know this from scripture: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV

Even if we were to spend every waking minute of our life devoted to serving God, we couldn’t possibly give Him anything that wasn’t already His own. I like how C.S. Lewis explains this point with a brief story from Mere Christianity: “So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.”

There is no way that we can ever give God more than He’s given to us. So while we haven’t earned anything, yet God has blessed us with all that we have. We need to remind ourselves that He is the owner of all that we have, and we are only managers. 

Giving our tithes and offerings reflects a grateful heart that wants to give back to God a portion of what He has given us; in reality, what is already His. This is our opportunity to show God that He is first in our lives. The Bible says, the purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives. “ Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 14:23)

Again, the wisdom of C.S. Lewis is appropriate: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give [like the widow] more than we can spare.”

And what do we give? Not just money, but as Jesus requires, our whole being.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does tithing/giving affect your faith?
  2. Take a minute to reflect on a time that you gave of your time, talents, tithe, or offering. It could be big or little. How did you feel about yourself when you gave?
  3. Do you believe we can’t out give God? Why or why not? What examples do you have?
  4. What is one truth that you heard this week that you need to apply to your life?