Find Your Why

First, a quick reminder of the Daniel Fast

The Daniel fast is a great model to follow and one that is extremely effective for spiritual focus, and discipline. It is probably one of the most commonly referred to fasts, however, within the Daniel fast there is room for broad interpretation. In the book of Daniel we find two different times where the prophet Daniel fasted. Daniel 1 states that he only ate vegetables and water, and in Daniel 10, while the passage does not give a specific list of foods that Daniel ate, it does state that he ate no rich (or choice) foods, as well as no meat or wine. So based on these two verses, we can see that either of these, or combinations of the two, constitute a Daniel fast.

The foundation of the Daniel fast is fruits and vegetables. Your goal should be to seek God in prayer about this and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. Just remember: find your personal safe fast zone. Your Daniel fast should present a level of challenge to it, but it’s very important to know your own body, know your options and, most importantly, seek God in prayer and follow what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. Remember, the goal of fasting is not just to do without food. The goal is to draw nearer to God.

Find Your Why

“Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you.” (Psalm 37:5 NLT)

Like New Year’s resolutions I always start out a fast well and with the best of intentions. But by 10:00 a.m. I usually have seen several foods that I have given up and suddenly my resolve starts wavering. That is when I remember the “why” and my motivation for fasting and prayer.

For everyone this is different. We all have different issues and desires in our life. That doesn’t make one person better or another worse, simply different. But everyone needs an answer for the why question. Keep your motivation, the answer to the why question handy as you progress through the 21 day fast.

You need the motivation because you’re going to have to put some effort into becoming all God has for you to be. God will always do the impossible, but He also asks us to do the possible. The “possible” is the work we must do. You have to equip yourself each day with God’s Word, with prayer and with your motivation. It’s important at the beginning stage of the Daniel Fast that we have a firm resolve. No turning back. No giving up. Remember, the rewards far exceed the temporary discomfort.

So stay committed to our time of fasting by staying focused on our motivation and on God’s Word. Each day we’re going to wake up and decide afresh to be firm and resolved putting God before all other things. Also, don’t under estimate the power of God’s Word during this time. Allow His presence to pour over you and speak directly to you through His Word. The biggest reason we fast is to respond to God’s love toward us. It is as if we are saying to God: “Because You are righteous and holy, and loved me enough to send Jesus to die for my sins, I want to get to know You more intimately.” Jeremiah 29:13 says. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” We want to take extra time to seek and praise God by abstaining from certain foods during the Daniel Fast. When we deliberately set aside time for fasting, we are showing we want to seek God.

There are other benefits, however. One of the benefits is that we eat healthy. Without a clear sense of motivation, it is harder to stay the course. But once you know why you care and must be healthy, your motivation fuels you to stay focused. Ask why you want to be healthy. Is it to live in God’s will? To have more stamina? Or to be a great role model for someone you love? Fitness is another important piece that will help you make progress, record your health numbers. Find out and record your basics: height, weight, blood pressure, and activity level (sedentary, light, regular, active, vigorous). Over the fast you can see the progress you make and that becomes motivation as well.

Discussion Questions:
1. What is your “why” for participating in the Daniel Fast? What do you do to keep it in the forefront during the 21 days. What are your goals?
2. What aspect of your attitude toward God do you want to see improve during the fast?
3. Is eating healthy motivation? What about fitness?
4. Pray and ask God to give you the right motivation, the right mindset and the right goals during the 21 day fast.

Fast and Furious

As you know we as a congregation have embarked on a 21-day fast called the Daniel Fast.

The concept of the “Daniel Fast” comes from the commitment that Daniel and his Hebrew friends made while in Babylonian captivity to eat only fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while abstaining from meat, desserts, caffeine, and wine. The Bible does not give us specific details on the “Daniel Fast” but rather says Daniel refrained from the king’s rich food and requested only vegetables and water. In spite of this lean menu, the Scriptures say they emerged with their features appearing better than all those who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.

It is important to remember that the intent of any fast is to deny yourself something that you would normally do in order to focus more specifically on the Lord. The discipline and grace of fasting shifts our attention away from our hunger only for food to a fresh awareness of our hunger for God.

It is amazing to see what God does when He aligns your spirit with the Holy Spirit of God. Nothing does this like fasting. Your mind, will, emotion, and body fight against fasting. But when God leads you to fast, your spirit comes alive. You are automatically more in tune with God and His Spirit. You begin to see what He wants you to see, feel the way He wants you to feel, and sense what He wants you to sense.

As you immerse yourself in the Word of God during a time of fasting, you become alive to His will. You begin to see and sense what God is saying to you. As God speaks to us through the Word, it is prayer and fasting that can prepare us to hear and embrace the Word of God.

My hope is that your prayer life will deepen through the 21-day fast. We always want to be in prayer, but today God continues to give us opportunities and the only way to deal with them and seek His will in our lives is through prayer. Pray and ask God for wisdom as we seek to further His kingdom. Pray for wisdom in how we plan. Pray for the leadership of the church. And pray that God will show you and Northstar the path He would have us go.

One last thought. I would encourage you to let God decide what He would do through your fasting. During the 21 days, allow God to determine the results of your fast. It is easy to have a sense of entitlement. “ I fasted for 21 days so I should win the lottery.” Or “I fasted for 21 days so my soul mate should appear today.” When we fast we are not forcing God’s hand nor earning God’s favor. We are using God’s appointed channel to worship our Lord and Savior.

Discussion Questions:
1. Read Matthew 6:16-18. In verse 16 Jesus assumes that Christians will fast, yet few American Christians do. What factors do you think contribute to this?
2. In your mind, what is the difference between abstaining and fasting?
3. Before refrigeration and microwave ovens, one purpose of fasting was to free the person from the need to prepare a meal in order to spend time with God. What are some contemporary activities from which we might abstain for the same reason?
4. Under what circumstances might fasting be a helpful spiritual discipline for you? See Exodus 24:18; Nehemiah 9:1; Acts 14:23.
5. Pray together as a group for the changes God wants to accomplish in your heart and life regarding fasting.

KiD'S Stuff

The following is written by Michelle Ferrell, a leader in Northstar KiDS.  I think it could my story or your story as well. 

Marty Martin often talks about being transparent during a sermon. I am going to try to be equally as transparent when I tell you my motive and reasons for volunteering to work as a leader in the KiDS program at Northstar.

I originally signed up to be a substitute because of the guilt I felt when I attended a luncheon at church. During that luncheon we were told that help was needed in the KiDS ministry. When hearing the ministry needed more leaders, I decided I just could not ignore the request for help. I decided to give it a try. But right on the heels of that emotional decision, I started to second guess the wisdom of offering to help. My pragmatic side was asking in a very loud and convincing voice: “what were you thinking?” My two daughters were seven and five. I had just survived raising two small children and I has just volunteered to teach other people’s children. Am I crazy was a reoccurring thought in those first few days.

But I had signed up and decided to see it through. I was asked to be a substitute. I subbed a few times, having no clue what I was doing. The reality was that being fairly new to the church, I was concerned that I would be teaching kids the Bible that I did not know that well myself. How was I going to teach what I didn’t know yet myself?

After 6 months I was asked to be a permanent leader along with another leader. I said yes again and the whole process of second guessing myself started the spin cycle all over again. I had a great leader and mentor working with me. I learned a great deal from her on how to interact and teach the kids.

That wonderful leader was moved to another class, so I found myself teaching with the aid of a teenage assistant. I was scared. After all, the parents trust me to take care of their children for an hour, trust me to augment or start teaching them about God and His love for them. Now, I am a big girl, and have handled bumps in my life, but this big responsibility weighed on me to be sure.

But, here is the bottom line. The kids would come in each week and one by one they stole my heart. The kids evolved from being scared and yelling and crying, or standing like little statues in the corners of the room. The went from cling ons to confident, walking into the room without looking back. The crying was replaced by smiles and laughter. And the shy little girl, who took a year to open up and talk, is now talking and laughing and saying her memory verse to me each week. I can’t even tell you my favorites as they are all favorites now. I look forward to seeing them each week and I think they look forward to coming to church each week as well.

I want our kids to have more fun than ever at church. And I want our kids to fall more in love with Jesus. It is always an honor and a privilege to be a part of what God is doing. I look forward to seeing them each week and it is so easy to get attached to them. The hardest part now, is seeing them leave my class and moving up to the next level class. My reward is the big hugs I get from each one when they see me.

I learned that what I thought was pressure to do something, was God steering me where He wanted me to go. Fear is normal, and God gave me a mentor to learn from to take that fear away. I don’t fear what I don’t know anymore. The kids and I learn together. I view that hour each week as an opportunity to have some fun, to act a little crazy and hope that I have succeeded in planting a seed that will begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. I also hope I make the parent’s life a little easier getting to church as their kids want to come to church and spend an hour with me.

 Discussion Questions:

1. 2 Corinthians 4:15 says, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” How do you think God can use you to extend his grace to more and more people?
2. Northstar encourages each of its members and regular attenders to participate by serving. Do you believe that you are gifted to serve? What gift(s) has God entrusted to you? How are you using your gift(s) to serve others? What are some additional ways or places where you could exercise your gift(s)? I would encourage you to attend the Ministry 301 class.  In this class you will be given the opportunity to discover your unique S-H-A-P-E for ministry and how God can use you to serve others.
3. Research indicates a direct correlation between spiritual contentment and using our God-given gift(s). Have you experienced that? If so, did you find that statement to be true?
4. I hope you carefully read Michelle’s story. For a long time she saw herself as a leader in kids ministry by default. She didn’t set out to be in children’s ministry. However, as you look back, I believe you can see God ordering her steps by overcoming the natural apprehensive she had. Today, she believes the KiDS Ministry is where it’s at. Are you experiencing the same fear that Michelle did? I encourage you pray and ask God to show you where you should serve and to give you the courage to do so.

Not To Worry

“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” – Mark 8:18.

Americans tend to make a national sport of being anxious. And we as Christians are no different. We stress, we panic, we fuss, and we fret. We act as though the sun will not set unless we get everything done on our agenda for that day. And when something doesn’t get done in a timely and productive manner, we freak out in direct proportion to how important the project/task is.  The Psalmist said it this way, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 43:5).

I think the reason behind being anxious is that amidst all the activities of the day, we forget that God’s promises, God’s power, God’s grace, God’s providence applies to every situation. The rest of that verse from the Psalms says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” God’s salvation, of our hope in Him, is the best cure for anxiety, stress, and panic. God is in control.

The Bible is full of stories that remind us that this is not a modern phenomenon. The Israelites, less than a week after walking through the Red Sea, complained that they couldn’t find water, and worried that God would let them die (Exodus 15:22-25). Elijah, having just conquered 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, immediately ran into the wilderness and asked to die when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 18-19). The disciples, having just witnessed Jesus feeding 4000 people, started arguing amongst themselves because they forgot to bring along any bread (Mark 8:14-21). They were in the boat with the One who had just fed 4,000 people; and yet they were worried because they forgot to bring along any bread.

I think that this is the fundamental reason why we stress, fret, and worry. We forget what God has done. We think that our problems are greater than God’s vision, our troubles are too much for Him to bear. We worry that God might just not be watching, or is distracted.

Then we read the story of Daniel in the first chapter of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was a man of great military and political power. He ruled the nation (Babylon) with an iron fist, and Babylon dominated all other world powers of that day. He was the commander who defeated and destroyed Jerusalem and who led most of the Jews into Babylonian captivity. The people of Judah seemed insignificant and impotent against such a great man as Nebuchadnezzar, and indeed they were. Despite his youth and the obvious pressures to conform, Daniel “purposed in his heart” to uphold the law of God, no matter the cost. Because of his willingness to put God first, God granted Daniel favor in the sight of others.

God has proven His faithfulness, time and time again. We need to remember this at all times. Maybe that’s why Paul, in his encouragement to Timothy said, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). We need to constantly remember that He is risen, He is alive, He rules and reigns over us and for us, He holds all things in His hands.

And while everything may not end up well as did Daniel’s resolve in chapter one, we can trust God to work it all out for our good.

Discussion Questions:
1. What are some of the reasons Jesus gives for trusting in God, rather than worrying?
2. Regarding yourself, what do you worry about most? What keeps you awake at night?
3. When do you replace your faith in God with worry?
4. For what specifically are you trusting God? On what basis are you trusting him for these things?
5. Read Matthew 6 which s a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. In verses 25 – 34, Jesus lays out the stark contrast between living a life of worry and living a life in total dependence on God the Father. It is a choice between trust in ourselves and trust in God. Pray and ask God to help you depend on Him in your life.

The Fast Track

“Do you have a hunger for God? If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. If we are full of what the world offers, then perhaps a fast might express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God. Between the dangers of self-denial and self-indulgence is the path of pleasant pain called fasting.” – John Piper

Fasting is a common subject in the Bible. The Bible gives examples of God’s people occasionally combining fasting with their prayers so as to stir up their zeal and renew their dedication and commitment to Him. King David wrote “and humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm: 35:13). Fasting is a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting helps us realize just how fragile we are and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves.

The Bible records that great men of faith fasted so that they might draw closer to God. First, Elijah: “So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” (1 Kings 19:8) Exodus 34:28 says, “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” Daniel 9:3: “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” And Daniel 10:2-3: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”

James tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James:4:8). Constant prayer and occasional fasting help us to do this. We are not to fast to have people feel sorry for us or to think we’re pious.(Matthew 6:16-18) Isaiah 58 gives both bad and good examples of fasting, contrasting wrong attitudes and actions (Isaiah 58:3-5) with the right approach. (Isaiah 58:6-10) Nehemiah set the example of having a repentant frame of mind. (Nehemiah 9:1-2)

Why is fasting mentioned so much in Scripture? Because it helps us discern the will of God. And, it destroys strongholds. Now, you may be thinking, “Marty, that may be true for some people, but not me. There aren’t any strongholds like that in my life.”

Well, that could very well be true. But have you thought about the stronghold of fear? Or the stronghold of bad habits? Or the stronghold of anger, jealously, rebellion and resentment?

Think about your relationships. In our series Sabotage, we talked about the things that can cause the most damage in those relationships? If you can think of a behavior pattern or habit that’s had a history of hurting the people you love, that one thing could very well be a stronghold that our enemy is using to trip you up.

Fasting gives you God’s focus for your life. It is a major key to hearing God’s voice. We need focus from God more than anything. The world we live in is working overtime to distract us, to entice us, to win our hearts and minds, our focus, and to determine our vision. Fasting cuts out the world so we can tune into God. If we are obedient to God, fasting will make us catalysts for revival and awakening.

So why not pray about whether or not you should commit to the 21-Day Daniel Fast that Northstar is starting on March 15. Sure, you might have to skip some of your favorite foods and yes you will eat differently. But, if it will help you deny yourself, defeat your enemies, discern the will of God, and destroy strongholds, why not give it a try?  My prayer is that you will join us as we fast and seek God’s will and direction for our future.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you believe that is it important for every believer to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting? Why or why not?
2. If you are going to participate in the Daniel Fast, what are your specific aims? What do you foresee your challenges to be as you take part in the Daniel Fast? How might you use prayer to help you overcome them?
3. Do you have any fears or apprehensions about beginning the Daniel Fast? What wisdom can you glean from Daniel’s story in the message this week that could help put your fears to rest?
4. Share about a time you fasted and prayed. What did God reveal to you during that time? What might you do differently this time around with the Daniel Fast?
5. Pray and ask God that He will bring you closer to Him through your fasting.

Culture Shock

If you travel internationally, you will find some culture shock to be sure. Every culture has their own customs and rituals. Some of them would make us scratch our heads and maybe even wince a little at the very thought. For example, I cannot watch a Spanish bullfight. There are festivals in Thailand where participants in the festival cause all kinds of bodily harm to themselves. One man was slicing his tongue with a knife. Another man was jabbing his cheeks with sharp objects. Most travelers and tourists would probably be quite horrified to watch this festival and wonder “WHY?”.

Did you know you can eat rat on a stick in some countries like Thailand and Africa? Not city rats but wild field rats on a stick. In China and in many Chinese restaurants around the world, chicken feet is served regularly. It all boils down to what you are used to and then to what you can expect.

Culture affects each one of us in profound ways. It influences what we wear, what we eat, how we think about others and ourselves, and even how we perceive and interpret the world around us. Culture is relentless and powerful and has the ability to shape our attitudes, expectations and what we accept as normal.

Daniel was no doubt suffering from culture shock. All the threads tying them to the past had to be broken. That life back in Israel and the values of God’s people, which they had brought to the Babylon were dismantled one by one. In their place were strange rules and practices and different food. In chapter 1 of Daniel we read about how he was required to eat foods that perhaps had been offered to a pagan god. He chose to remain consecrated to God and not participate in those meals. Another way to say it is he made a choice, a deliberate decision to stand with God.

Daniel lived in a culture that was contrary to the values of The Kingdom of God and that the consequences of resisting that culture were serious. Daniel was under tremendous pressure to conform to the culture around him. Remember he was on foreign soil, dealing with the culture shock and knowing that the king had the power of life and death over him. Still Daniel was willing to take great risks. He was willing to sacrifice important things for himself. He was was even willing to sacrifice his career for the values of The Kingdom of God.

Are we willing to sacrifice great things for the Lord? Are you willing to lose your job for the Lord? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort and your dreams of success for the values of the kingdom of God? Those are the choices Daniel was making.

Daniel understood and knew the will of God. To know that eating that food would have been against the Word of God, he already understood the Scriptures. He knew that the Scriptures of that time prohibited eating food offered to idols.  We need to know the word of God to deal with our culture today. Rather than thinking of it as a debit account, where you are putting in your card and taking out the emotional boost you need for the day, to instead regard studying the Bible as a savings account where you make small deposits on a regular basis. And these small deposits are so that you are growing in your knowledge of the Scripture in such a way that you are building a more comprehensive knowledge. Gaining Bible literacy requires allowing our study to have a cumulative effect — across weeks, months, years — to build greater knowledge of the Bible, but really, when we study the Bible, we are looking for greater knowledge of God himself.

Daniel, again and again was willing to take risks, to put himself on the line, and trust that God would make up for his own deficiencies and come through in the end, regardless of the culture around him.

Discussion Questions.
1. How have you experienced our culture trying to change you? Why is it impossible for Christians to escape or avoid culture?

2. Identify some of the ways culture shapes our attitudes about Christianity. What kind of a list did you come up with? Were there any surprises?

3. Our culture elevates what is new and trendy. How does this shape the way we view faithfulness and perseverance?

4. What dangers exist for Christians as we become more involved in our culture?

5. Pray and ask God for wisdom to deal with our culture and knowing when to take a stand.

Drawing A Line In The Sand

When you read the first chapter of Daniel, you quickly realize that while Babylon had already conquered their country, the king wanted to conquer the minds of Daniel and his friends.

Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to be Babylonians in heart and spirit, body and soul. He wanted them alienated from the Lord, and utterly immersed in Babylonian ideals, assimilating the culture’s whole way of life and values, forgetting all their past. All the threads tying them to the past had to be broken. Their life back in Israel and the values of God’s people, which they had brought to Babylon were dismantled one by one. What they laughed about, and what they would lay down their lives for would henceforth be Babylonian. They would dress in Babylon, and speak as they speak in Babylon, and behave as they behave in Babylon, and even eat what they eat in Babylon. As the Borg on Star Trek often said, “Resistance is futile.…you will be assimilated.”

The assimilation included even their diets. It was at this issue of the food that Daniel drew a line. Some people would think food is not something to take a stand on. Verse 4 says “He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.” No protest from Daniel. Verse 7 says, “The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” No objection from Daniel here either. But when Daniel was put on a new diet (v.8) he resolved not to conform.

Christians are going to meet many things at work or school or in our neighborhoods which we will not agree with. But it will get very old and very ineffective if we protest every single thing we disagree with. Not every issue is a “resolve” or a “no surrender” issue is it ? We need to pray to God for wisdom to know the issues over which they are going to take a stand. The probable reasons for Daniel’s sensitivity to defilement are that the food may be “unclean” by the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 11) or the food served at Nebuchadnezzar’s table may have been associated with the worship of heathen gods, similar to the problem described in 1 Corinthians 8-10.

We can learn a lot from this passage about how to solve problems. When the world wants us to do wrong too often we simply just give up and do it or flaunt it. Instead, we can try to think of a proposal that will work out to all side’s satisfaction. We can try to stand firmly on the word of God without offending others. Sure, this will not “work” every time. Daniel wasn’t pigheaded or surly. He wasn’t arrogant. He didn’t make any demands. He simply asked permission not to eat, and he did so graciously. Daniel went to see the proper man. He took his courage into his hands and as a teenage boy he asked if they might be excused from partaking in the appointed food.

The chief official’s initial response was that it would cost him his life. In verse 10 we read, “but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

But Daniel wouldn’t be put off. Daniel then said to the guard, whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” The man thought, “Well, there’s no harm in that. They are going to be here three years. I can give them ten days.” “All right,” he says. It was just as easy as that.

Daniel was willing to test his faith by taking this stand. The value of his faith is seen in the results. First, as we read in Daniel 1:15-16, it affected the lives of others. In verses 17-20, we read that God blessed Daniel and his three friends even more. God gave them knowledge, skill, and wisdom, and to Daniel He gave understanding in visions and dreams. They became the best of the young men who had been trained, and served in the presence of Nebuchadnezzar. The king found them better than all his magicians and astrologers. Daniel continued in the court of Babylon for nearly seventy years. Even to the first year of Cyrus of Persia, eventually becoming provincial ruler and chief administrator over all others (Daniel 2:48)

Discussion Questions:
1. When have you taken a Christian stand in a non-Christian setting?
2. If you were Daniel, what resource would you have appreciated the most? (The helpful official, his three friends, God’s sustaining power, Jewish dietary laws, knowledge and understanding from God)
3. What do you feel when you stand up for something you believe in (confidence, power, peace, elation, fear, freedom)?
4. What often keeps you from taking a stand (lack of confidence, apathy, ignorance, time, fear, possible bad consequences)?
5. What is your greatest resource for taking a stand (God’s power, family support, financial resources, others who share the same interest, prayers of your small group, encouragement from Scripture, other)?

Through The Roof

Core Statement: We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ. To reach people no one else is reaching, we’ll do things no one is doing.

Do you remember the story of Jessica McClure? Jessica McClure Morales, also known as “Baby Jessica,” became famous in 1987, when, at 18 months old, she fell down a 22-foot well in her aunt’s backyard. She remained trapped in the well, 22 feet below ground and only 8 inches wide. For the next 58 hours, frantic rescue crews attempted to save her life and the entire nation watched transfixed, as the drama played out on television.

While crews began the difficult process of drilling a horizontal tunnel between the two wells about two feet below where Baby Jessica was trapped, rescue workers pumped oxygen into the well and attempted to maintain constant communication with the toddler. The entire nation watched literally, around-the-clock, as a dramatic news story unfolded live on television, as hundreds of workers and volunteers worked around the clock to save the little girl. It was captivating, and an example of the human spirit. I’ve never seen such a dedicated effort from a whole community. Today, Jessica is a mother of two and living close to the very spot where she became famous.

How far would we go to save someone? To what lengths would you be willing to go? Because as we have said so often, people matter to God. So, if they matter to God, they better matter to us.

In Mark 2, we find the story of the paralytic. You probably remember this story if you were raised in church. Jesus had returned to Capernaum and as the news spread that He was back, the house where he was staying quickly filled up. It was so crowded, there was simply no room, even outside the door. Four men carrying a paralyzed man on a mat arrive at the house and quickly discovered that they could not get through the crowd. So they dug a hole through the roof and lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The men in this story thought their friend’s soul was worth the effort, whatever effort it took, which included not giving up at the first sign of difficulty. They gave generously of their time and energy. They invested in his future. What about us? Are we ready to invest in our friends/relatives/neighbors the way the men in this story did? Are we willing to continue on even when the path seems blocked?

Northstar as a community of believers has an unquenchable passion for those far from the heart of God. We never stop praying for them. We never stop loving them because we have a genuine heart to see the lost saved through the restoring power of Jesus Christ. And we will do just about anything to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if we are doing things that nobody else is doing.

Discussion Questions:
1. Jesus ate with sinners. What are some ways you can get more involved in the lives of people who are far from Christ?
2. What do you see as your role in winning those far from the heart of God as a member of Northstar?
3. Is the workplace off-limits? Talk about how you feel like your faith could play a bigger part in your work relationships?
4. How could you start a dialog with an extended family member, or long-time friend who you haven’t shared Jesus with before?
5. What have been obstacles for you in the past for not being more passionate about reaching others for Christ?

 

I Go To Church! I Am The Church!

Core Statement: We are not spiritual consumers; we are spiritual contributors. The church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world.

It is clear that in every church we have two types of people who attend; the consumers and the contributors.The obvious question is what exactly do you mean by that. In the next few paragraphs, I will try to explain the difference between the church consumer and the church contributor.

If I approach church as a a consumer, I view interacting with others as a necessary evil, or an inconvenient necessity. I don’t usually hang around when the service ends, or if I do, it is because I saw someone in my small circle of friends I am uncomfortable with, or Northstar groups because they involve participation, scrutiny and close personal contact.

If I approach church as a contributor, I come to church expecting to be part of a community. While at times I find it challenging, I count it a privilege to be part of a fellowship of diverse people with whom I can share my life. I welcome the accountability and scrutiny that comes from close contact with members of my Northstar group, and I seek to be an active participant in one, praying for and pastoring others.

When I approach church as a consumer, I attend, but I don’t commit. I prefer the fringe to the core. I prefer to spectate rather than participate. I pick and choose the meetings I attend. I cannot be relied upon to show up. I just don’t have the time to volunteer, take on responsibility or contribute to church life.

If I approach church as a contributor, I commit myself to the community and this shows by my attendance and servant’s mentality. I embrace my calling to be a partner and co-worker with others for the gospel and I do whatever I can to support church initiatives. I therefore give sacrificially of my time, energy and money.

If I approach church as a consumer, I would like to be ministered to. I expect to be served.

If I approach church as a contributor, I show up at church on Sunday expecting to minister to others. I recognize that I have a responsibility to care for others and so I am proactive in watching for opportunities to minister to other people.

Zig Ziglar said that nothing great happens until someone sells something. I believe that nothing great happens until someone serves. That is certainly true of Northstar. We want to part of something that makes a difference.

There is a principle in business that 20 percent of your customers give you 80 percent of your revenue and profits. A recent survey shows that the 80/20 principle is a fact of church life as well. Only 20 percent are heavily involved, while 80 percent are minimally involved and attend infrequently at best. They act more like like spectators than members. Think of that for a moment.

Ask yourself which group do you fall into. The fact is, we need more spiritual contributors. Why? Because the church does not exist for us. It exists to reach people with the saving message of Jesus Christ wherever in the world they live. The church is people using gifts to make a difference in the lives of others. God calls you to serve as His church. Not only do we serve in His church, you serve as if His church is the world.

Our vision is that Northstar will be a group of people where each member is a minister and each home an extension of the church in order to win over our generation for Christ. Where we are not spiritual consumers, but contributors.

Discussion Questions:
1. Would you fall into the consumer or in the contributor camp? What caused to you being in either one?
2. Who are some spiritual contributors you notice? What makes them stand out?
3. Serving, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, kindness, prophecy — which gifts has God given you?
4. Share how you have been served and loved by our church. How will you match or surpass what you’re receiving?
5. Pray and ask God for wisdom on where you can best make contributions to the church.

Creating a Culture of Generosity

Core Statement: We will lead the way with irrational generosity. We truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.

This week we are looking at different values for our church. On Tuesday, we talked about being faith-filled, big thinking, bet the farm risk takers and today we are talking about irrational generosity.

What makes this value so important to me is because it was something I had to learn. As I have mentioned on multiple occasions, I grew up with a scarcity mindset. That means that you have this feeling that there’s simply not enough to go around and you’d better get yours while you can. As I learned what tithing was, I was afraid to do it because of that scarcity mindset, the fear of letting go. Now I look back and wonder what I was thinking. God created a universe that’s bigger than we can imagine. So how big is God, exactly? He is so huge that he is not bound by time or space, not needing or wanting for anything, and capable of creating our entire universe. Yet he is personal enough to have created us in his own image.  The Psalmist said: When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalms 8:3-5) So blessing my generosity was not a big problem for God. In reality, I had seen over and over again the miraculous provision of God and I started to understand that 90 percent with His blessings goes a whole further than what I could accomplish by holding onto all 100 percent. I now default to being more generous, rather than less.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to the church in Corinth about the Macedonians who were dirt poor, yet gave a big gift. Paul was bragging on them: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” – 2 Corinthians 8:2. They simply gave from what they had. They were honored to give to the mission of Jesus Christ. First, they gave their lives to Christ. And then they gave of themselves to others.

He continues in verses 4, 5 and 7 in Chapter 8: “They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do…Since you excel in so many ways—in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us — I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.”

We want to be a church of irrational generosity at Northstar. We truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive. The fact is we have of hundreds of crazy people out there looking for opportunities to be irrationally generous. If you are a follower of Jesus, I want to encourage you to be irrationally generous. It becomes a mindset. It becomes who we are. Isaiah 32:8 says, “But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity.” (NLT)

When all of culture says “consume,” a generous person stands firm and says “give.” Giving isn’t what we occasionally do, generous is who we are.

As followers of Jesus, we should be irrationally generous because we serve a generous God.

Discussion Questions:
1. When is the last time that you gave as much as you were able, and maybe even pushed it beyond that?
2. Think of someone who’s irrationally generous. Describe what has caused them to earn that reputation. How can you make generosity something that you plan for and stand firm for?
3. Share a time when you felt blessed from giving to others. How does it compare to other things that bring you joy?
4. What keeps you from giving more? What are you trying to protect when you choose against greater generosity?
5. What’s one change you need to make in your life in order to become more intentional or generous in your giving?