A Mission To Make A Difference

“And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” – Hebrews 13:16

The gospel is about life and transformation. When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are transformed and have the power to transform the world in which we live. The amazing mystery of God is that He has chosen to fulfill His plan through His Church –  ordinary people who can do extraordinary things through the power of God. “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

God is looking for people who will make a difference in His kingdom. He is not looking for those who have wealth, He is not looking for those who have dynamic personalities, He is not looking for people with great social backgrounds. God is looking for people who He can use. He is looking for people that want to make a contribution.

To make a contribution means we cannot simply be spectators. The gospel of Jesus Christ should inspire us to take action, to get involved. I don’t think God ever intended the pews or chairs in church to be padded. Our lives should consist of a whole lot of action verbs like go, speak, pray, etc. But too often we leave things to God. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  God did not design us to be static or paralyzed.

In Luke 22:39-46, Jesus is spending hours in prayer. Something terrible was going to happen. Jesus knew it. In fact this is His final act, before He is arrested, tried, and put to death. “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine….He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:42,44)  Soon the Son of God walked the rocky road to Calvary.

Jesus so loved the world that He did something. He made Himself nothing for us. He obeyed His Father and He went to the cross. It was no easy task. He was beaten and broken. He was crucified. This was the single greatest contribution in the history of the world. But what if Jesus prayed about going to the cross, but never went? What if churches opted to meet every Sunday, but never to take the gospel outside the walls? What if nobody volunteered to serve at church? What if parents only prayed their children would follow the Lord, but you never did anything to train them? 

Nothing much happens in any walk of life until somebody gets involved, until somebody makes a contribution.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define getting involved? How do you define making contributions to the Kingdom?
  2. How much time do you typically invest in serving the church on a weekly/monthly basis?
  3. What area is God pushing you to serve in the church? 

Is Your Faith Big Enough To Share With Others?

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” – 1 Peter 3:15.

The phrase, “sharing your faith” can bring up all kinds of emotions. It might trigger excitement and gratitude or nervousness and anxiety. We sometime have it in our minds that sharing our faith requires public speaking and extensive Biblical knowledge. And people are concerned that if they couple public speaking with Biblical knowledge, inevitably awkward conversations are going to occur. Sharing your faith may require you to step out of your comfort zones and yes, it may end up being awkward. But let me remind you of a few things to keep in mind as you consider when or how to share your faith with others.    

First, we need to remember it is only through the power of God that people are saved. It simply doesn’t happen through human effort or ability or knowledge. The bottom line is this: if people are not responding the way we want, we are not responsible, God is. That should help take some of the pressure off when we are concerned we are not saying the right things or when we don’t have enough Biblical knowledge.

Success in evangelism is measured not in the outcome, but in your obedience to the command of Christ. The story of Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30 is an example of this point. The young man approached Jesus, interested in hearing about how to get to heaven. You would think that any encounter with Jesus, the Son of God, would have been a sure-fire conversion. This was not the case. After Jesus told him the cost of discipleship, the Bible says, “when the young man heard this, he went away sad.” If Jesus was rejected, we can be as well. But that does not mean it was a waste of time. You could be planting the seeds that God could water and grow in the future.

God will be with you. After He gave the Great Commission to go and make disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus did not leave His disciples alone but said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (v. 20). Going out on your own can be a frightening thing, but that is never the experience of the Christian. Christ promises to always be with you.

Finally, trust God. The journey this person is on will have twists and turns you and I could never imagine. God will bring the right people at the right time. For now, we are privileged to be one person on that journey, telling our story and pointing our friend or relative or even acquaintance to the God who died for them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the obstacles to sharing our faith with others?
  2. What are the risks as you see them? What are the benefits?
  3. In this devotional I said it is not about the outcome, but about obeying God. Agree or disagree and why?
  4. Is there someone this week we need to share our faith with?

Is Your Faith Big Enough To Take Risks?

“ And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6.

Most people who are followers of Jesus will exercise two levels of faith at one time or another. One level is to be inactive and wait patiently for the Lord to move. This level of faith involves believing that God will bring about a solution apart from any effort on our end. It is predicated on being still and waiting for God to act. The second level of faith is being proactive and assertive. We take the initiative to find the answer to a need. And by moving forward, we force ourselves to a dependence on the Lord that wouldn’t be possible if we merely sat still.

In verse 6, the writer of Hebrews says it is impossible to please God without faith. Now most people do not start with great faith. Most people start their Christian journey still in the batter’s box in their Home Run Life. Faith is a work in process. It is fine to start with the little things. The goal is to move around the bases and grow our faith.     

Every Christian’s life is marked by windows of opportunity that demand that you take a radical step of faith in order to follow Christ and fulfill His purposes for your life.  And what makes that step radical is that it always involves significant risk. But listen carefully, where there is no risk, there is no faith. We find so many impressive stories in the Bible of individuals who took great risks. Moses returns to his home to deliver God’s people.  Can you imagine the risk that he felt?  The last time he was in Egypt he had killed someone. David fights a giant that others refuse to face. There were hundreds of other people in the army that looked at that giant about 9 foot tall and they said, “Hmm, yes he’s sure insulting God’s name and character and I wish someone would do something about it.” But not a single person stepped up to the plate and took the risk of his life. Esther confronts evil in the highest position of authority. The last queen had a bad day and she was gone. Still Esther risks her life to save her people.

So when does God want us to operate at level one faith and when at level two? If we are facing a seemingly insurmountable problem–a situation that we believe we are powerless to influence–we should be still and wait on the Lord. But there will also be times when action is required, where we may be asked to take bold steps, and yes, to take some risks. Faith is simply doing what God tells you to do whether you feel like it or not, and in fact, especially when you don’t feel like it, regardless of the circumstances because He said it and His Word is true. 

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 are the obstacles to stepping out of our zones of comfort and taking risks?
  3. As you’ve taken risks of faith, did God’s path seem impractical, at first? In what ways?
  4. What are some of the promises of God that you can trust as you take risks?

Is Your Faith Big Enough To Trust God For Your Needs?

“And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” – Matthew 6:30. 

I think it is safe to say that everyone has a story, everyone has a struggle, and everyone has needs. There will be times in every one of our lives when we will experience a need of some type. Perhaps that need will be material in nature, or it may be emotional and, at other times, needs of a physical nature will arise. Or we may have spiritual needs.

The natural reaction is for us to try to meet our own needs because we live in a very self-sufficient world. But when we have the ability and the power to help ourselves, then we do not really have a need, do we? But what happens when we can’t meet the need? When we have exhausted every resource and we are left with the reality that this is beyond us, what then?

The answer to getting the needs of life met comes from Jesus Himself. His answer was this, “And Jesus answering saith unto them, “Have faith in God.” Mark 11:22-24 says: “Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.”   

In 1 Kings 17 we read the story of Elijah and the widow. Imagine how Elijah felt when his brook dried up and the ravens quit bringing food. So in 1 Kings 17:8-9, “the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”  That didn’t seem like much of a solution. Widows were poor, and had enough trouble feeding themselves, let alone feeding others. But, Elijah knew that God knew more about taking care of prophets than Elijah did and he just went. If we sit around and worry about what’s happening in our life and trying to figure out what God is doing, we will go crazy. We can’t understand God and we can’t figure Him out. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us of that: ”For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  

In 1 Kings 17:14, Elijah gives the widow woman an 11 word promise, “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says…”  In other words the widow had the promise of God to back up her faith. And so do we today. David in Psalm 37:25 says, “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.” If God said that He would look after your need, then you can have trust in Him to meet those needs, protect you, rescue you, be with you, answer you, satisfy you, and give you eternal life. 

What else do we need?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the whole idea of what we want and what God gives us difficult for you to comprehend? Why?
  2. It is important to base our faith on the promises of the Bible rather than on our own feelings, needs and wants. Why is that so important?
  3. Read Philippians 4:9. What does God supplying all your needs mean to you? 
  4. What can we do this week to better trust God to meet our needs?

Is Your Faith Big Enough To Not Be Afraid?

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” – Deuteronomy 3:22-23. 

What do you do when you have a problem that is just too big? Our immediate reaction is to try to fix the problem or at least to make it smaller. It is hard to resist trying to take care of it. But sometimes the challenge in front of us is way too big for us. It is in these times when faith is tested.

The prophet Jeremiah had some hard times. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his people. The difficulties he encountered, as described in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations have prompted scholars to refer to him as “the weeping prophet.” Jeremiah was called by God to give prophesy of Jerusalem’s destruction that would occur by invaders from the north. God kept His promise to bring disaster on His rebellious people.  The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, sacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was there. He saw it with his own eyes. And his eyes were full of tears.

And Jeremiah wrote about his suffering in the book of Lamentations. Lamentations 3:20 says, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.”  Most of us have been in that position once in our lives. Many of the characters in the Bible stand as a stark example that life following Jesus will not be a bed of roses. The Bible paints a realistic picture of life which includes suffering and sadness. But then you come to verses 21-23: “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this… God’s faithfulness is great.

Maybe you don’t feel like that right now and it is affecting your faith. Maybe God seems distant.

Even when it doesn’t feel like it, God’s faithfulness is great. And His faithfulness never fails. Verse 23 says, “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”  Every morning even weekends and holidays, God has promised new mercies every morning. We know they are there. We can count on them. So we have to go looking for them.

Not just on Sunday when you attend church, but every day. God keeps His promises. Whatever He has said, He will do. It may not be in our preferred time period. It may not even be what we asked for. But He is faithful and we need to have the type of big faith.

Imagine how different your outlook on life would be if you had absolute confidence that God was with you? Imagine how differently you would respond to difficulties, temptations, and even good things if you knew with certainty that God was in all of it and was planning to leverage it for good. In other words, imagine what it would be like to to live a faith-filled, big thinking life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your standard reaction when challenges become too big for you to handle alone?
  2. In all the ways that you could respond to God, the most important thing that God is asking you to do is to trust Him. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. Is faith the same thing as trust?
  4. What can we do this week to have a faith filled, big thinking life? 

As Big As Life Faith

But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.” – Psalms 33:18-22

If you were asked to rate your faith, how would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10 (“1” means your faith is hard to find and “10” means it manifests itself in every aspect of your life). Does it depend on your circumstances? Or on your day? Or your feelings? Or does the quality of your faith depend on the object of your faith.

You may rate your faith small as a “2” or “3” but God is infinitely big. He is the one that can move mountains, not us. We may rate our faith as small because of circumstances or feelings. Those things change constantly. But faith is not grounded in the size of our faith, but the size of our God. It is not my faith that resists temptation, obeys God’s will, or moves mountains. It is God working in me. A big faith will not make me believe better. But faith in our big God will. 

Just how big is our God? He has all power. Scripture tells us He hung the moon and stars in the sky (Psalm 8:3). He has measured off the heavens with his fingers and weighed the mountains and hills on a scale (Isaiah 40:12). Nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:17).

Faith is focusing on Jesus and not on the problems we face. In Matthew 14:29-31 we read the famous story of Peter attempting to walk on water: “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  Peter was able to walk on the water when he focused on Jesus, but when he began to focus on the physical situation, he began to doubt and to sink. Fortunately, he knew who to look to when things looked bad. 

Big faith in a big God makes such a difference in people’s lives regardless of their circumstances. For example, God told Noah to build an ark because He was going to bring a massive flood. God told Abraham to go out to a place that he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham took God at His word, left his familiar surroundings, and he went. Faith in a big God is also the reason “soul surfer” Bethany Hamilton got back on her surfboard after a shark bit off her arm. Bethany takes the shark bite as God’s test, and credits her survival to prayer. “From what seems like such a horrible thing, God has just brought glory to Himself,” she says.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe your faith today? 
  2. What circumstances tend to bring out faith in you? What circumstances tend to bring out doubts for you regarding Jesus?
  3. How have you seen the Lord be faithful in the past? In the present?
  4. What can you do this week to grow your faith?

Fast Talk

“Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. our fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? – Isaiah 58:3-7.

Over the last few years we have conducted a fast in January to start the new year. Let me remind you why you should fast, and what the practice is. There are so many misconceptions about fasting, I first want to clarify what biblical fasting is not. Fasting is not merely going without food for a period of time. That is dieting. Nor is fasting something done only by fanatics. Fasting is not to be done only by religious monks or by pastors or religious leaders on special occasions. Stated simply, biblical fasting is refraining from food for a spiritual purpose and is intended to build an intimacy with God.   

There are three reasons starting the year with a fast is a good practice. First, by doing so, you set the course for the rest of the year. Just as beginning your day seeking God sets the course for the rest of the day and covers anything that may happen, the same is true of beginning the year with a fast. You set the course for the entire year by what you do with those first few days of each new year. You can carry that even further to give God the first part of every day, the first day of every week, the first portion of every dollar and the first consideration in every decision.

Second, blessings will happen for you and your family throughout the year because you fasted in January. Even in April, June and August and into November when you have Thanksgiving goodies on your mind, blessings will still be finding their way to you because of your sacrifice to the Lord at the beginning of the year.

Thirdly, when you fast at the beginning of the year and seek God, you release the principle found in Matthew 6:33: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.’” If you seek Him first in the year, get ready for all these “things” to be added to your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the factors that keep followers of Jesus from fasting?
  2. What is the difference between abstaining and fasting?
  3. Under what circumstances might fasting be a helpful spiritual discipline for you?
  4. How has this devotional changed your views on fasting?

Tithing At First Glance

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” – Proverbs 3:9-10

Poverty was no stranger to the first century church, yet their generosity was so great that it continues to be a model for those of us who are followers of Jesus some 2,000 years later.  In Acts 2, the early church is described as having all things in common and one that has a generous heart to give. We read in Acts 2:42-45, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper, and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” In Acts 4:34-35, their generosity is again displayed, “There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” And again in Acts 11:29, “So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could.”

Over the past year, we talked about first fruits. The idea is that this type of giving sets the tone for the rest of the year by showing God how committed we are to giving him the first of everything, from what we produce –  our finances, time, gifts, and resources. First fruit is biblical. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”  “We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree,” according to Nehemiah 10:35.  And Exodus 23:19, “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”

Giving first fruits not only shows God our gratitude for His provision thus far, but shows our sacrificial faith that He will continue to provide and bless our efforts in the new year.

Opportunities for charity are everywhere, and there are plenty of credible places to give. In fact, you might think Northstar is just another one of them. To us, one thing is different. Our giving isn’t about charity, it’s about worship. God instructs us, through the Bible, to give regularly, generously and sacrificially out of all that He gives us—all as part of our worship of Him. What an appropriate response to who He is and all He has done. Giving is an expression of gratitude, obedience, and reverence: worship.

But, why give money to the church? Because it’s “the right thing to do,” or “it’s a good tax write-off” or “God needs it,” or “the church expects it?”  Well, to put it simply, it’s what God says to do. Not because God needs what we have. But because we need to give it to the Savior who died for us.

Discussion Questions

  1. It has been said that our check books reveal our values and priorities. Do you think that is true? Why or why not?
  2. How is setting aside the tithe a good place to place to start when seeking to honor God with our money?
  3. What is the first thing you usually do on payday? Has that always been the first thing? How has your response to getting paid for work changed over the years? Why is that response an accurate measure of our priorities in life?

Pulling Together

“Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods. The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens! Honor and majesty surround him; strength and joy fill his dwelling. O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.” – 1 Chronicles 16:23-31.

Worship is considered to be the singing and praise part of a church service. While that is part of it, worship is truly so much more than that. God is not interested in rote forms of worship; He is interested in a heart that glorifies Him and a life that honors Him. We were created to worship Him. We worship God because he is God. We love God because He first loved us. We worship God because of all He has given us.

But given our connected world, do we really need to go to a bricks and mortar building each week to worship?  We have online streaming, podcast and other ways of hearing what is said in the church. But while listening online is fine when you cannot attend in person, church is much more than the message. It’s community. It’s worshiping with others, praying for others, hurting with others, serving others, and being involved in the lives of others. The local church is where we gather with other Christians and worship God. This does not mean that a church building is the only place we can worship (it’s not), but it is something the church is to do regularly. Regular church attendance also shows support for the work of God in our community and in the world.

In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven. In it there is “a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”  God desires that God’s people from every nation, tribe, people, and language be united around Jesus, worshipping together.

Think of it this way. You can be a Christian and not go to church in the same way that you can be a family member and never visit anyone. But what would be the point of that? Our lives are immeasurably enriched over time by participating in a Christ-centered community such as church and small groups. Going to church opens us up to all facets of the body of Christ. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.

From the earliest days, Christianity has been about community, where Jesus-followers learn, worship and grow together while serving each other and modeling Christ to a world in need of salvation. Give God the first fruits of the week by attending church on Sunday. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your religious experience, how would you define worship?
  2. Is true worship dependent on location? What role does the church play in worship?
  3. Is worship based on the condition of the heart?
  4. What changes could you make as a result of this week’s message?

Morning Glory

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35.

Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Rather, have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!” This is good advice. Sometimes prayer is not what I “feel” like doing. But when I set a regular appointment with God and honor it, no matter what my body or emotions might say, I feel refreshed.

The best time for your appointment with God is early morning – not because most of us love jumping out of bed, but because it is the only time of day when we can be fairly sure of not being interrupted and because it is best to commune with God before you commune with people. Your attitude toward them will reflect your life in Him. Offering to God the first hour of the day is a representation of all of our time.

Scripture puts a high value on waking up early, even before dawn, and giving the first fruits of our day to God in prayer, worship and seeking His face: Psalm 57:8 says, “Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song.” Proverbs 31:15 adds, “She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.”

Jesus Himself set for us a clear example of rising early to seek the Father’s face: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35).

John Bunyan wrote, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” I have found this to be absolutely true in my own life. I found that having a regular time each morning is an opportunity for me to spend time alone with God. I would encourage you to offer the “first fruits” of the day to God by spending time in His Word and in prayer.  It’s an opportunity to declare with our lives, not just our lips, that Jesus truly is our most important priority. It gives the Spirit of God the first say. When I seek Him in my first act of the day, I find that every other area of my life comes into proper alignment.

There’s something to be said about giving God our best, even in treating our daily quiet time as an appointment to be kept and respected. Give God your first thoughts and He will direct your path.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does spending time with God develop our relationship with Him?
  2. What are some other benefits of getting completely alone with God? Where is a place where you can get alone with God? How can you help yourself to not get distracted?
  3. A relationship with God is not one-sided. A lot of times, we view prayer as us talking to God, telling Him our needs and wants, and praying for Him to do certain things. What can we do to better listen to God in our quiet time?
  4. Ask God to show you the practical things you can do to not only guard your daily appointment with Him, but also to make that time as powerful and Christ-centered as possible.