Think Higher Thoughts

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:8-11

This week we are looking at the the general idea of our thoughts and how to make them more pleasing to God. We also talked about taking small steps at first and building on those small steps over time to make a big difference in our life. In this devotional, I want to look at a famous and important passage of scripture that is referenced almost every time the subject of thoughts is discussed.

In Isaiah 55, God makes a declaration that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours. That is a very easy premise to believe and accept. He is God and we are not. But here is the rub with that statement. Yes, it is easy for me to accept that as theory, however it is more difficult sometimes to accept it as reality in every facet of our lives.

The thoughts stored in my heart are what determines my thoughts and how I view life. If I can replace my thoughts with His, I can change my heart. But Marty, we all readily agree that His thoughts are higher than ours. So how can I think His thoughts? The answer is yes, you can.

God’s thoughts are higher than ours, but thank God He wrote his thoughts down. Just as our minds contain rational thoughts we think every day and “heart” thoughts that make up the underlying pattern of how we think, the Bible contains what God thinks about any subject as well. So no, we cannot instinctively think God’s thoughts, but we can read His thoughts.

God’s thoughts from His written word have the ability to impart life to us and transform our thoughts to be more like His. Jesus said His words are spirit and life. (John 6:63) Hebrews 4:12 says the Word of God is a powerful living thing. The Word of God has been given the power by God to change how we think.

It does not happen overnight, but it does happen if we give ourselves to it. Step by step toward your heavenly Father. God doesn’t expect you to know how to live a perfect Christian life. But God does want us to try. Just try to take a few new steps every day. Start to read the Bible a little each day, and ask God to help you do what it says. Talk to God and tell Him you need help to make His thoughts your thoughts. When you mess up (which you will, we all do) quickly ask Him to forgive you. As you seek God and obey Him, you will see some big changes. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Discussion Questions:
1. How does a bigger, more accurate picture of God help us gain perspective on ourselves and our limitations?
2. What is comforting about the fact that His “thoughts are not (our) thoughts, neither are (our) ways (His ways)?” What is, at the same time, unnerving about that statement?
3. How can we align ourselves with God’s ways, when His ways seem elusive or unclear?
4. What is an area in your life where you are struggling (or have struggled) to align your thoughts with God’s? How did you fight for control?

Think On These Things

“What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things, are his history.” – Mark Twain

In yesterday’s devotional I talked about dealing with negative thoughts. Paul exhorts us to develop a Christian thought life in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Let’s look at the list briefly.

Whatever is true.” Truth is the first test. Before you react. before you say something that may be harmful, ask a simple question. Am I speaking the truth? The first place to turn for truth is God’s timeless, matchless word. The psalmist wrote, “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” (Psalm 119:160). And Jesus prayed for his disciples saying, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Is it noble? Or is it honorable? We could also ask when we are alone with our thoughts, “Is it noble? Does it aim for the highest possible moral ground? Does it bring honor to the name of Jesus?”

Is it right? Not that it is right in man’s eyes, but is it right in God’s eyes? Right means a good deal more than just being right or wrong ethically. We’re to meditate on things that God would approve, that God would call “righteous.” If we are able to run our thoughts through that filter we are well on our way to living out Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Whatever is pure. Pure is one of those words that pushes me back a step. Who could ever manage such a thing? Then I remember Paul was encouraging believers to think on such things. Fix our gaze on them. Turn our attention toward them. Make a habit of meditating on them. And then don’t panic because only God can “purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Whatever is lovely. When someone cuts you off in traffic, are your thoughts beautiful and lovely?

Whatever is admirable. That is, is it worthy of study and reflection? This question asks us to focus on the things that are positive not negative, constructive not destructive, things that build up, not the things that tear down.

All of this list from Philippians 4:8 reminds me of our teaching series Small Change Big Difference. It is a tall order to do what Paul is asking us to do in that verse. Each segment of that verse in and of itself is a large goal. But we can take small steps. We can made progress thinking about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.

Discussion Questions:
1. What do you think most about? Are you still hanging on to thoughts that haven’t helped you very much in the past?
2. In what ways is Philippians 4:8 a reality for you? What would you have to give up to start thinking more consistently with Philippians 4:8?
3. Is it possible to change without first changing your thinking? Can you name some improvements in your life that do not first involve changed thinking?
4. If you were going to make small changes in managing your thoughts, what would they be?
5. How could you use Philippians 4:8 to help discipline your mind?

Who Would Have Thought?

Early in the computer revolution, the experts quickly discovered a universal truth that still applies even today. If the raw data entered is bad, the computer can’t do anything good with it. What you put into a computer determines what comes out. That reality coined a new phrase – “garbage in, garbage out.” What you put in determines what you get out. If your input is garbage, then your output will be as well.

This principle also applies to the human mind. The human mind has often been compared to a computer, although the mind that God created is far more complex than the most advanced computer ever designed. But the basic principle of garbage in, garbage out is still true. What you put into your mind determines what you get out.

Did you know that the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day? That works out to be 3.5 million thoughts a year. If you live to be 75, you will have over 26 million different thoughts. If you live to be 75, you will have over 26 million different thoughts. You have had at least 2,000 thoughts by the time you take your morning coffee break and another 8,000 before you fall asleep. Then the cycle starts over the next day.

But are your thoughts really so unimportant? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Beware of what you set your mind on because that you surely will become.” Here is the point. The choice is ours. God gave you 10,000 thoughts today, but it’s up to you what you do with them.

I would not tell you how to handle all 10,000 thoughts well, because I can’t do it myself. But I would tell you to guard against the negative thoughts that could impact the way you think about God and yourself.

For example, feeling sorry for yourself. We all fall into this trap sooner or later. Life can be hard. Some rain will fall into every life. And it can seem unfair when everyone else is basking in sunshine, and you’re living in a perpetual downpour. When we encounter rain, we tend to blame someone else for our problems, to find a scapegoat. Someone is the source of your problems. It might be your husband or your wife, it could be your children or your parents. It often is a friend, a neighbor, or your boss or someone at church. We play the role of the victim because we don’t want to change. And our unwillingness to change reinforces itself over time because our behavior is not our fault. “God made me this way so it’s not my fault.” And eventually there is anger and bitterness. You remember every miserable thing ever done to you or against you. You stew over what people said to you or did to you.

OK, Marty, what’s your solution? Positive thinking by trusting God. I know that sounds both simplistic and naive. But it is a start. We just finished a study of Philippians written by Paul, who was the original positive thinker. At the end of his letter to the Philippians, he gives a prescription for positive thinking that if followed has the power to transform your life. Listen to his practical advice in Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

In tomorrow’s devotional I will give you a few thoughts on how to apply what Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8.

Discussion Questions:
1. Are you a negative person or a positive person? Did you make a conscious choice to be negative today?
2. Are you living in God’s peace or are you constantly churning?
3. Do you think you may be jumping to conclusions ahead of the facts?
4. Where do your thoughts go when you have some idle moments? How do you think God would view this situation?
5. I can’t imagine that there isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t need a little improvement here.  Pray and ask God to help you in this area.

Collecting My Thoughts

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. ” – Colossians 2:3.

Psychologists suggest that there are two mental laws that impact our well-being mentally. One is the law of concentration and second, the law of substitution. The law of concentration states that whatever you dwell upon grows and expands in your life. This law says that the more you think about something, the more of your mental capacity is assigned to think about that issue. Eventually, if you are not careful, it eventually dominates your thinking and affects your behavior. The law of substitution says that your mind can only hold one thought at a time, either positive or negative. If we apply this to our thoughts and we wish to have positive experiences in our life, we must keep our minds focused on the positive.

The Lord understood these principles when He inserted a couple of scriptures into the Bible. For example, Proverbs 23:7a says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” And Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you”

I think you can draw the same conclusions from academia and the scripture. If we have become a bitter, resentful, person who questions their lot in life, it is because you have allowed a steady stream of bitter, negative feelings to get through your mental firewall and take root.

1 Corinthians 6:17 says. “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” He desires that union so He can talk to each of us heart to heart. God wants you in this harmony with Him so that His thoughts can become your actions. And so those thoughts will become actions and we become His hands and feet and fulfill His purposes on earth.

Controlling our thoughts is not an easy task. One approach is the idea of replacement. Instead of seeking revenge on that person at work that seems to trying to undermine everything you do, replace those thoughts with godly actions: we do good to them, speak well of them, and pray for them. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44. The same principle applies if your eyes are wandering, or you are tempted to cheat a little, or a hundred other areas our thoughts can take us to. The Bible often speaks of “putting off” wrong actions and thoughts, but then “putting on” godly actions and thoughts (Ephesians 4:22-32).

Another way to help manage your thoughts is through other Christians. Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Christians that we trust, who will encourage us in the changes we want to make in 2015, who will pray for and with us, who will ask us in love how we are doing, and who will hold us accountable in avoiding or eliminating, or growing whatever it is we wish to change, are more valuable than you may know.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you agree with the law of submission: if you think about something often enough it will eventually impact your behavior? Why or why not? Can you give an example of this law in your life?
2. Do you agree that you can have only one thought, positive or negative, in your mind at one time? Why or why not?
3. Have you ever tried the idea of replacement to manage your thoughts? Did it work? If not, why do you think it failed?
4. Do you have other Christians you can confide in? Do you use them as an accountability partner? Can they be used effectively to help you manage your thoughts?
5. Pray and ask God to help you in the area of thoughts in 2015.

Food for Thought

“How precious to me are your thoughts, God. How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.” – Psalm 139:17-18

The psalmist is telling us that God’s thoughts toward us even outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. Since most of us live near the beach that is quite an image. The God of the universe, who created you and who numbered all your days, is thinking about you and me all the time.

I must be important to God for Him to be so intentional about the details of my life. The more we understand His ways, His plans for us and His purposes on the earth, the more we understand the position we hold in His heart.

God loves us more than we could ever comprehend. His love for us is greater than anything we could ever hope for. Yet, when it comes down to it, many of us have a hard time balancing what God says about us and what we believe about ourselves.

As Pastor, I have days when I feel God’s presence as if He is sitting right next to me. Other days when my thoughts drift to the problems and circumstances of life He doesn’t seem as close. My prayer is that through this series, God will work in each one of us on the whole issue of I how I think of myself and how I think of Him.

I have come to fully understand that all the promises written in His Word personally apply to me. They apply to you as well. They apply to us as they did to Peter, Paul, or John. God has excellent plans for you, just as He had for the disciples; you are important to Him, and in the same breath, you play an important role in His plans.

In order to align our thoughts with His thoughts, we must understand His word. Study the scriptures. Write down the verses that jump out at you and ask Him why your heart stirs as you read them, and what He is saying to you through them. We cannot come in contact with God’s living Word and fail to see God’s thoughts on virtually any subject.

This incredible God we serve designed you for this day, for this era of uncertainty. He designed you to be a solution in a time of stress and turmoil and to have faith when others are struggling. You are where you are for a reason, and whether or not your emotions agree with this, God is with you.

He will do everything He promised. He will bring about big things through the small changes you make in 2015. Psalm 84:11 says, “ For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

Discussion questions:
1. How are God’s thoughts different than our thoughts?
2. Do you believe God is the authority, even for our thoughts? Why or why not?
3. God’s voice is not the only sound clamoring for attention in our head, so how do you know if it is from God?
4. Pray and ask God to help you keep Him near the forefront of your mind throughout each day. To say it another way: “think God’s thoughts.” When you do this, it quickly becomes a habit.
5. Read His word. It’s amazing how, once you’ve done even a small amount of Scripture memory, God will bring to your mind passages He wants you to apply in a particular situation.

Change Your Life With One Word

What are the words we use most often? They are probably words such as “the, of, and, to, in and is” to name a few. Our kids would probably answer that question with the word “no” as the one word parents use most often. Yes, these are little words, but, you can’t typically make a sentence without them. And when the right words are put together they can be powerful. And they can effect change in our lives.

In Sunday’s message kicking off the Small Changes Big Difference teaching series, I challenged everyone in attendance to pick one word to focus on for 2015. Much like we do when we make resolutions at the beginning of the new year.

I asked that we choose one word that God will do in or through us and then focus on it for 2015. Here’s why. Willpower and self-effort only get us so far, especially when we’re overwhelmed with a long list of things we want to work on. My experience is that personal change and spiritual growth is more successful when we attempt to move the needle in one targeted area, rather than trying to tackle an overwhelming list of help needed areas each year.

Let me give you a few practical steps that will help you arrive at your word. First, what kind of spiritual growth do you want to make this year? In what area of spiritual growth will I get my greatest return? What about the condition of the heart? What small step(s) can help you become the person God created you to be? Second, what characteristics define this type of person? Is it faithfulness? Or generosity? Or a servant? Once you have a picture of that person, translate those characteristics into individual words.

Third, choose the one word from that list. Pick the word that resonates with you most. Some of the most popular choices include trust, patience, love, discipline, and focus. Even though each of them are worthwhile words, it’s important to choose just one, and resist the temptation to work on them all.

Fourth, choose a Bible verse that speaks to you about your chosen word and memorize it. And fifth, while we still at the beginning of the year, outline your expectations for the impact of your word for the remainder of the year. Also think of the ways to keep your word at the forefront during the coming year.

The thinking behind the one word is pretty straightforward. Instead of focusing on the long list of resolutions—all your sweeping promises to change—invest your time and efforts to make spiritual improvements in one area. It is far better than trying to do something about everything and giving up because impacting everything at one time is completely unrealistic.

Focusing on one area will force clarity and concentrate your efforts. As you focus on your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to work on your character at a deep, sustainable level. I believe growth and change will result.
Discussion questions
What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself or accomplish this year? Is it something you need to take out of your life? Or is it something you need to add into your life ?

Evaluate yourself. In what ways did you grow last year and in what ways did you struggle? What is the one word that represents that one change you wish to make?

What is a key verse or passage that will help you with what you have chosen?

What’s the first step you need to take to live out this change?

My Personal Mission Statement

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ? C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Every church has a vision and mission. When we identify our vision and mission, it focuses our influence and resources to take us where we want to go. Our vision at Northstar is to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. It just makes sense for us as a church to have a vision for where we want to be in the future and a blueprint to get there. It also makes sense for each of us who are followers of Jesus to have a personal mission or vision statement.

A what Marty? A Personal Mission Statement answers the pivotal question: “When you get to the end of your life and look back, what would define for God and yourself a life worth having lived?” It’s the reason for why we are here and the foundation for evaluating all our future priorities and plans.

Yes, it sounds complicated. And yes, it can sound a little cerebral, especially for newer Christians. But if you break it down to its basic components, it is simply the small steps you will do to get you to your desired destination. If you know where you want to be on your spiritual journey in a few years, start with the small step(s) that will get you there. St. Francis of Assisi gave somewhat of a personal mission statement when he said, “In all things go and preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” An example of a vision statement: “To become the fulfillment of what we are called to be through Christ, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by Grace through Faith.”

If you don’t have personal goals, it doesn’t mean you’re not accomplishing some very good things in your life. Most of us are serving God and others, trying to raise our children right, working in a meaningful job, volunteering in our churches and communities, giving, and worshiping God. In short, trying to be good citizens and good Christians. But are we using our gifts, our influence, our time as well as we could be to glorify God and further His kingdom? And if not, how do we do that and where do we start?

Think about it in this way. We want to build a new church in Kui, Kenya. We would begin with the most important objectives in mind first. What do the members and attenders want and need? What do the members and attenders want their new church to look like? Will it work for them 25 years from now? What are their resources? What can they afford? Then we begin with the end in mind. Once the members and attenders have given us an idea or vision for the church, we can work with an architect to begin work on the more specific details to make the dream a reality.

We, you and I belong to God. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but God owns you and me. As you let God reveal to you his design for your life, you’re letting God be both the member and architect, and will guide you as you put your personal mission statement on paper.

Let me give you an example.You are a newer Christian, so in the next year your main goal and point of emphasis is to be consistently faithful in praying, having quiet time with God for your devotions and serving in some capacity at the church. The barrier to doing those things is finding the time. You have a lot going on these days. You could just jump in and wing it. That is often a recipe for frustration. A better option or first step may be to become better at time management. Take a class. Read a book. Pray and seek God’s help in making time with Him a priority. God may want you to just jump in and by doing so, it could change your life. But if not, having a plan to achieve your objective may be the best option.

On Sunday, I asked you to think about and decide on the one word that will guide you in 2015. That one word would be part of your Personal Mission Statement. I will discuss the one word in the devotional tomorrow.

Discussion questions:
1. Do you have a personal mission statement or the idea of one? Do you think it is important? Why or why not?
2. How might a personal mission statement make a difference in your life?
3. Jesus gave several mission-type statements throughout his life.For example.”For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10. How should these statements and others (Luke 19:10; John 12:47; Luke 19:10) affect our personal mission statement?
4. Would you be interested in hearing more on this subject?

The Next Big Thing

I am about to contradict what I am teaching in our latest series. Our current series is about the small changes that can make a big difference in our lives. In this devotional, however, I am getting off the reservation for a moment and talking about something I consider big: discipleship. I am doing so because the new year has begun and with it the opportunity for new beginnings, for changes in our lives.

Discipleship requires actions. For example: Read the Bible, worship God and hear from His word by regularly attending worship services. Participate in a Northstar group consistently to help develop relationships with other Christians. Find other Christians that help you grow in your walk with Christ. Attend discipleship classes occasionally to grow in areas of need or areas of interest. And serving others. Serving can range from helping in preschool, or students, to going on a mission trip, serving coffee, or helping set-up the worship center.

Anytime we help someone meet Jesus or grow as a follower of Christ, we are making disciples. Anytime God’s people open His word together, pray together, and share life in and around his gospel, we are making disciples. From gathered worship to small groups to one-on-one relationships—at every level and in each relational context, where the gospel of Jesus is brought to bear on people’s lives in a transformational way, we are making disciples.

At Northstar Church we have a number of training classes that are structured to help you on your spiritual journey in an understandable and doctrinal way. It starts with 101 Membership class. This class is a basic introduction to the Northstar Church family and will help you understand church membership.

201- Maturity is a class that guides you through the essential beliefs every Christian needs to find success in their walk with Christ. We will cover the practical ways to begin spiritual growth and how to continue growing throughout your life.

301- Ministry is a newer class that will help you discover how your personality, gifts, passions, and life experiences work together to fulfill God’s plan for your life.

401- Missions is another newer class about being on mission with God wherever you are. We want to help you learn how to share your story with others in an effort to help others come to know Jesus.

501- Worship is a class that addresses the common misconception that worship is just singing in church on Sundays but it is way more than that. This class is designed to equip you with biblical knowledge of worship in regards to your everyday life and when we gather as the church.

I encourage you to take a big step as you take some other small steps by taking advantage of the next big thing, the classes our church offers. Every one of these classes will help you grow in your walk with God. For information on the classes, talk to your campus pastor, or visit our website at northstar.cc.

Discussion Questions:
1. Have you taken a class at Northstar? If not, why not?
2. Do you understand the process of discipleship?
3. How do Northstar groups play a part in your spiritual development?
4. Which class or classes should you take in 2015?

Small Things Cumulative Effect

If you don’t think that small things can and do make a difference, consider that one of the most powerful forces is the splitting of the smallest thing. In the splitting of the atom, a succession of explosions can be set off to cause the biggest explosion the world has ever known.

I have known and watched successful people from every walk of life. They all have at least one thing in common. The things some people view as trivial, they view as meaningful. The non-essentials seem to be essentials. We can learn from that viewpoint as Christians. Because with God there are no little churches. There are no little people. There are no little tasks.

In doing the little things one becomes Christlike. You must remember that Jesus never pastored a large church. He was never a president, governor or mayor. He took time for little children. He told simple stories about a flower, a bird,  a lost coin, and a boy who ran way from home. His Father and our Father takes note of a bird that falls. He clothes the lilies of the field. He is even interested in each hair on our heads. Hence, if we would be Christlike, we too must be willing to do the small things.

In Sunday’s services I talked about reading your bible and prayer. I often talk about the importance of a daily quiet time. Those small, daily things can have a big cumulative effect if we do them consistently. Here is what I mean by consistency.

One of the New Year’s resolutions I hear every year is the desire on the part of one or both parents to have dinner with the family every night. They want that time with their family to communicate, to share, to catch up with what is happening in their respective lives. That is a worthwhile goal to be sure. However, there is no real value in having one dinner and checking off that resolution. The real value comes from doing it day after day after day. The channels of communication will be restored as will trust because your family will know that you are committed to a daily dinner with them. There is real value in cumulative deposits of your time in having dinner. Same thing with exercise. If you exercise one day you will receive no benefit. But if you make daily deposits of exercise day after day you will see the cumulative effects.

The same is true of reading your Bible, quiet time and prayer. Every time you read the Bible, you make small deposits to your spiritual bank account. These add up, because God gives compound interest. If you make daily deposits of time in those areas over a period of time you will see the cumulative effects in your relationship with God. If you do those things once every six months you will not see the same benefits. Conversely, there is also a cumulative effect in neglect. If we do not have a daily quiet time or read our Bible, God may seem distant at a time you need Him most.

So, if you are going to start with the small things we talked about in 2015, I encourage you to be committed and make those daily deposits of time that are necessary to reap the full benefits out of these small things.

These little things will make a big difference. And someday they will give you the character of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why is it so easy to neglect the small things in life?
2. In what areas have you seen the cumulative effects of daily deposits of time? In what areas have you observed the cumulative effects of neglect?
3. Can you make up for lost time in these areas?
4. Pray about and identify the one area that you can begin doing consistently by making daily deposits of time.

Little Things Add Up

“To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

There is a story on John Piper’s Desiring God website which I believe illustrates the importance of seemingly small things. Arnie and Olive Nelson faithfully operated Bethlehem Baptist Church’s tape ministry as volunteers when John Piper was pastor. Arnie would come to the church every week to duplicate tapes from the previous Sunday. Every week, Olive manually typed every tape label and she and Arnie would label each tape by hand. Olive would also hand-type all the mailing labels and the two of them would package and mail the tapes to people around the world, often including a personal note to the recipient. Olive’s database was a black 3-ring notebook where she meticulously hand-recorded every transaction for every person.

When Arnie and Olive decided to retire from the tape ministry in 1994, it prompted John Piper to ask about doing something with the tape ministry. The Desiring God as we know it now sprung out of that request. The thousands of John Piper’s sermons that are now listened to every month on the internet or CDs grew out of Arnie and Olive’s ministry. And had they not carefully cataloged and preserved all of John’s sermon tapes for 14 years, Desiring God’s online audio library might be half its size.

But I don’t think Arnie and Olive ever imagined that something like Desiring God would result from the tape ministry. They just labored quietly and diligently because their Lord had given them a stewardship and because they loved their church family and because they wanted others to hear the sermons. But God intended to do more with their labors than they foresaw.

God simply loves to do this. He loves to take something small and use it for his glory in ways we cannot imagine. We are easily impressed with people and organizations that are uber successful and quick to evaluate what God has given us to do as insignificant in comparison. We must be very careful. God is often not impressed with what impresses us.

We never know what God might be growing in what you choose to do in 2015. What might God do through the 15 minutes you spend reading the Bible every day, or the time you spend seeking His will in prayer. Or the smile you give to someone walking in the door, or in the diaper you changed, or the Northstar Group member you prayed and supported, or in the person you invite to church. We can be confident of this: He is doing more than we can see. He always is. Someday we will be amazed at how God can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

So I encourage you to make a commitment to do the small things we will talk about in our series, Small Things, Big Difference. Start right where you are. Our prayer is that it will help you hold fast to this promise God gives us through the Apostle Paul: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you believe small things really count? If not, why not?
2. What small things have you seen God do in us?
3. What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself or accomplish this year? Is it something you need to take out of your life? Or is it something you need to add into your life?
4. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Pray and ask God to help you construct a list of the small things that He has been preparing for you to do in 2015.
5. What’s the first step you need to take to start a small new beginning?