”I’ll play these…”

“We are all dealt a hand and we have to decide how to play it.” – Voltaire“

“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” This was a Quote by a man named Randy Pausch. He died of cancer a few years ago, but he said this quote in his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. There are five cards you are dealt in 5 card stud poker. We will look at each card this week.

The first card is chemistry. Each of us has a chemistry card and it is not because we know the periodic table of elements or we can conduct chemistry experiments without blowing the building up.

There are so many examples. People are born with bad eyesight because his or her parents had a deficiency in their eyes. People have diabetes, high cholesterol, flat feet, and are introverted. And some people are born Auburn fans…OK, I am kidding on that one. I am serious when I say that your chemistry helps make you unique. Chemistry is part of your custom design, and God planned them for his purpose and glory.

Have you struggled with the way the Lord made you in some way? Maybe you have physical traits that you feel are not as pretty as another person’s. It could be that your mental capacity is not as high as people you go to school or work with. You need to remember that God made you in a special way and because of that you should be full of awe and respect for the body or mind He has given you. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:14

Here is something we need to remember. These are not spiritual problems. The fact you were born with a low tolerance for pain doesn’t mean you are bad. The things you can’t control, are in God’s control and He knows what He is doing. God understands the chemistry and it’s effect on us. The best thing we can do is to understand that God is in control and accept the chemistry He gave us. I know that is not easy.

But you will never be able to make a change in your life or fulfill God’s purpose for your life until you understand that you are wonderfully complex and uniquely flawed for God’s glory. The question then, is this: What will you do with the chemistry card you’re dealt?

Discussion Questions

1. In your mind, what is the difference between your chemistry card and an ideal chemistry card? How did you determine how and why the card needed changing?
2. In your opinion, how well have you used your cards to date? How can you use the chemistry card better?
3. Despite some people’s opinions, everyone has flaws. How can you use your flaws to bring God glory?
4. Read the following paragraph: Because God is Himself the highest and greatest good, He is also the source and fountain of all other good. He does good things. He extends His goodness to others. It is His nature to be kind, generous, and benevolent, to demonstrate good will toward men, and to take great pleasure in making them happy. Because God is good, He wants us to have what we need for our happiness and He sees that it is available. Does that change how you look at your chemistry card?

Zero Days Till Christmas

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens

Christmas is over. We can put away the hustle and bustle, and the stress for another year. All over the world children are playing with their Christmas presents, the Christmas services at church are in the real view mirror and the Bing Crosby Christmas CD is put on the shelf, with the elf, for another year.

There is a collective sigh of relief on the day after Christmas. After all the presents have been wrapped, bought, opened and enjoyed, the Christmas decorations can soon be taken down and stored. The Christmas cards have all been delivered. All our obligations have been met and attended.  And we sang Joy to the World and Silent Night and shouted “Merry Christmas” to those who pass us in the streets for the last time. That is until next year.

Here is something I know. When the Christmas season comes around in 2015, we will again be totally committed to become more giving, loving and focused on our Savior’s birth. During Christmas we seem to be kinder, happier and more forgiving. We think about those in need and actively do things to help them. We throw a little extra in the offering at church or volunteer to help in Christmas outreach programs. Maybe we pray more, read scripture more, praise God more in song or watch our favorite movies celebrating Christ’s birth. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” after all. The bottom line is Christmas is one time of the year that seems to bring out the best in us.

But why do we limit so many positive God honoring actions to one time of year? I ask myself that same question. Yes, it is Jesus’ birthday and the birth of the Son of God coming to save the world is grounds for major celebration and praise. But do we celebrate His birthday throughout the year? If not, why not?

Jesus should be celebrated every day. Not only the Nativity story, but the reason why God gave His son. I mean, think about the impact of Jesus’ birth. Think about the whole point of His life. The impact of Jesus’ whole life lasts throughout the year, every year, and it will continue to do so until the end of time.

We should maintain the Christmas spirit all year. We should be the best we can be throughout the calendar year, not just during the Christmas season. We should be giving, loving and forgiving regardless of what time of year it is. Jesus’ gave us an amazing lesson on how to treat people.  We should try to emulate His example year round.

We talked a lot about joy in the last two teaching series at Northstar. If we have joy at Christmas, why can’t we have joy year round. Yes, I agree that the joy of Christmas is definitely unique. And granted, it’s not an easy one to maintain throughout the year. It usually doesn’t feel like Christmas every day when those around us resume the normalcy of life. But to have a continuous joy in the heart is necessary in order to reflect the love of Jesus Christ to those far from the heart of God.

I want to make one thing clear. You don’t have to have a Christmas tree year-round or give gifts every day in order to celebrate Christ’s birth all year. Just remember the virtues represented in the Christmas season and the magnitude of Christ’s birth on a daily basis.

Discussion Questions:
1. If Jesus is not central to the celebration of Christmas can He be central the rest of the year?
2. Research has shown that you live a better life when you forgive others. Is it easier to forgive at Christmas than any other time of the year? Why or why not?
3. We have a bright future with Christ to look forward to. Does it look brighter at Christmas? Name the thing(s) that worry you the most and ask God to help you in those areas during the entire year.
4. Challenge yourself to have joy, hope, love, forgiveness, and peace throughout 2015. Pray to The Lord for the strength and courage to  have those qualities year round.

A Christmas Message From Marty Martin, Lead Pastor

This time of year I usually write a personal letter to all of you and believe it or not, I look very forward to it. It is an opportunity to honor each of you and to wish you a merry Christmas.

During this season, we have been celebrating Christmas Classics, songs that have the messages of hope, peace, love and joy. I pray that our reflection on the classic Christmas songs would provide you with opportunities to reflect on your own faith and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. Whatever it is that our hearts and souls desire, whether we realize it or not, our ultimate desire is Jesus Himself. For this reason, we are filled with joy at Christmas to know that all that we hoped for has been fulfilled in the person of the Christ Child.

In 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, we read: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.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.” That is my prayer for myself, my family and I pray the same for you. That we will stand firm and let nothing move us in our mission of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord this year, we also celebrate that the Lord brought all of you into our lives. This Christmas we thank you for being our family and our friends, and showing us relationally the power of God’s love. It is an awesome sight to see His love in all of you.

Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment to Northstar. As I look back over the year, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I’m grateful just to be a part of this community and to get to walk this journey with you. I feel so privileged to be part of a group of people who are honestly and passionately taking on the challenge to follow Jesus in all the trials, joys and complexities of modern life.

Thank you for serving sacrificially again this past year. Whether it’s leading groups; shepherding children; serving coffee; setting up for worship; playing music; or any one of the countless other (usually unseen) tasks that keep our church running, I am grateful. Thank you so much for all you do!

Thank you for giving sacrificially as you always do. Your generosity has enabled us to pursue our mission of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

And I just cannot praise God enough. This Christmas, as in all previous years, we celebrate “Emmanuel” (God with us). Without Christ’s presence among us we would be in trouble. Through God’s presence gently, sometimes not so gently, working within us, we are being transformed, made bold and seeing lives changed by His gospel. How can we praise Him enough? How can we contain God’s love without going out and sharing it?

From our family to yours, Angela, Andrew and Ashleigh and I wish you the very best that life has to offer, a life grounded and rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May this be a Christmas that brings hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ richly and abundantly into your family. And may the grace and love of God surround, nurture, and keep you this Christmas Season.


Discussion Questions:
1. Pray for our church leadership that God will continue to guide us.
2. Pray for our church as we move into 2015.
3. Thank God again for the gift of His son.

Looking For Joy?

The song Joy to the World reminds me of our mission to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. One of the things we have attempted to do over our years here at Northstar is connect God’s unchanging Word to our ever-changing world. That’s our job. We have worked hard at inviting the unchurched, de-churched and over-churched to become developing followers of Jesus and as a result find the joy of living a life dedicated to God.

Along the way I have learned some undeniable truths; God’s dreams are way, way bigger than our dreams. I believe that God’s dreams for us are way, way better than our dreams. God has chosen to bless Northstar in so many ways. Many people have found Jesus and joined our church over the last few years. So how do we help each one of these people grow in the Lord and find joy in their relationship with Him. I have one possible answer to those challenges, but it is probably not what you are expecting.

Have things gotten a little less exciting than they were when you first started coming to Northstar? This is somewhat common among some believers, especially if you weren’t raised in the church and don’t have a church family. Psalms 92:13 tells us, “They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.”

It’s great to want to be part of a church that’s healthy and has longevity, accountability, a pastoral leadership team and Biblical doctrine. We need to see those things as important, but also that we need to serve. Joy does not come from “going to church,” but when we become “the church” and to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

As pastor, you begin to see how valuable each person is. Every person and volunteer matters. Your presence matters. Your help and the time you give is so valuable. You may think your church is fine with people who are on staff, but you would be surprised to find out just how much help we need. And that doesn’t include our future outreach programs.

What I’m trying to explain is that joy comes from a mentality of serving others, not from being served. It is a joy to serve and to set up chairs or coffee, or be backstage setting up for the worship. Whether greeting people, or singing on the stage, every person in the body of Christ who is serving matters. I encourage you to reread 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, the passage on one body and many members.

Without the volunteers at our church right now, we wouldn’t have a service. We all have different gifts, so volunteering may not be of interest to you, but I pray God will show you where you too can serve in your local church. Just ask the Lord to show you what your part is.

I believe if you step out of your comfort zone and serve—rather than just go to receive—it will be a wonderful, joyful experience for you.
Discussion Questions:
1. How would you answer the following question: What is the Christian Life?
2. Luke 12:48 says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” What does this mean to you? Can “much” include spiritual gifts?
3. Do you find joy in serving? Why or why not?
4. Pray that God will show you where you can best serve others in the local church?

Realistic, Constant, Overflowing Joy

One of the most popular Christmas anthems is “Joy to the World.” But how in the world is joy possible? Literally, how in this world that is filled with such sorrow and pain do you experience true joy? That’s the question that needs to be answered. Because the perceptions of Christianity is that you must eliminate all joy and fun before you will be accepted into Christianity. But those myths and perceptions are so wrong.

Joy is very realistic. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples, “you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20) Jesus doesn’t ask you to pretend that suffering doesn’t exist; he asks you to look at the suffering in a different way. Jesus gives the example of a woman going through labor pains. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21) The pain is real, but there’s something that happens that changes everything – the outcome of the pain. When that little baby is presented to the mother, the pain is not exchanged for joy. The pain is literally transformed into joy because the mother holding the baby in her arms sees what all the pain was for. It’s the same thing with the death of Jesus. It caused him and his disciple’s great pain and sorrow, but now the cross is celebrated across the world. Why? Because you see its purpose. The sufferings of Christ have brought about complete forgiveness and eternal life for all those who will believe in Him. The cause of the sorrow has been turned into the cause of joy. So Christian joy is not the absence of sadness or sorrow, it’s the absence of despair.

Joy is constant. The joy of Christianity is a constant joy as compared to the unstable joy that the world offers. The only type of joy that the world can offer is a joy that is contingent upon good circumstances. It’s a joy that’s based on having your health, money, beauty, or success. Therefore, it’s unstable because all of those things can change in an instant. But Jesus offers a joy that nothing and no one can take away. Your circumstances may change, but God’s perfect love, faithfulness, mercy, justice, promises and grace never will. Christian joy is a deep satisfaction in the unchanging goodness and sovereignty of God.

Joy is overflowing. “May the God of hope fill you with great joy and peace so you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13) What a magnificent verse. It is such a beautiful expression.  All the great words of the Christian faith appear here: hope, twice (once it is called “overflowing hope”) and joy, great joy, peace, calmness, confidence, trust, and belief in a living God. And finally, the power of the Holy Spirit, the invisible force that can open doors and no man shuts them, and can shut and no man opens — the power of God released among us.

Jesus brought joy to the world, the type of realistic, constant and abundant joy that only He could bring.

Discussion Questions:

1. I Thessalonians 5: 16 (NLT) says, “Always be joyful.” Is that realistic? How do we turn sorrow into joy?
2. Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Is expecting joy to be constant in our lives realistic? If joy in hope is what enables this patient endurance, how do we apply that in our lives? What is the value of constant prayer?
3. Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” What is the difference between hope and joy? Have you experienced overflowing joy in your life?
4. Pray that God would make joy a realistic, constant and overflowing part of your life.

Where In The World Is Joy

Walking around this Christmas season has convinced me of something. Joy seems to be missing. People are wandering from place to place with the look of “there’s got to be more to life than this,” on their faces. Even when Joy to the World is playing in the background. The truth is that whenever there is trouble in our lives or in our relationships, the first thing that seems to go out of the window is joy. It’s like we go to the hospital and get a joy bypass done so that we are appropriately distressed until the trial or problem is over.

This was certainly true of David. Many times in Psalms we find him crying out to God in his trouble, asking for a recovery of the joy he once knew. We see this in Psalm 51, which is a song of repentance. David had sinned. His sin had created a distance between him and the God he once worshiped so freely. And now with a broken heart, he turns in repentance, crying out for God to restore the joy.

But what is joy and will I recognize it when it appears? We often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is a matter of pleasant circumstances or events, like payday, or a nice back rub. While it brings happiness, all too soon it is over, or the money is gone. In short, happiness at best is arbitrary, subject to individual whims, is shallow and often fleeting.

Joy, on the other hand, is deep and lasting, and it’s not dependent upon pleasant circumstances. The source of joy is not what happens to us, but Who is present with us. The only source of joy is God. David writes about God as the source of joy in Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

I draw your attention to two words, path and presence. The path refers to the ways of God. Certainly there is much happiness to be found in following God’s Word and living in obedience. But the word “presence” refers to a personal relationship with God that will result in real joy. This is the joy for myself, my family and all those who attend Northstar.

Joy is a result of the relationship we have with God, even when our situation and circumstance are bad. Why? Because Joy springs from God’s love and activity in our world. Joy springs from knowing God. Joy springs from worshiping God. In fact, Joy is not the absence of difficulty in our world, but the presence of God with us in our difficulty. After speaking of remaining in Christ’s love, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11). Joy exists from being in a loving relationship with God and sometimes that relationship walks us through persecutions and hardships, trials and testings, all of which seeks to perfect us in the faith.

So my definition of joy is this: Joy is the satisfying confidence that comes from knowing, trusting and serving God. I hope you find happiness, but I really hope you discover joy this Christmas.

So where in the world is joy? It’s found in Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1. How can we have the joy the Bible talks about when we feel unhappy?
2. Suppose a stranger asks you why Christians make such a big deal about joy. In 90 seconds, how would you describe real joy?
4. Read Luke 1:50–55. What is the greatest area of stress in your life right now? What would it look like to respond with joy? What is the desired outcome of a tested faith?
5. Pray and ask God for patience and the wisdom to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.

Christmas in an Iranian Prison

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:3

Once in a while I read something that really moves me.  This devotional reflects one of those cases, which explains why I am deviating from my normal routine.

American Pastor Saeed Abedini – a U.S. citizen imprisoned for his Christian faith – has written a heartbreaking letter from his prison cell in the Rajai Shahr Prison in Iran. This letter reminds me of our previous study of Philippians where Paul writes to the church in Philippi from a Roman jail. I am going to excerpt parts of the letter.  If you wish to read the entire letter you can find it here: http://media.aclj.org/pdf/Christmas-Message-2014.pdf

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God….It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy. Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah! So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Paul said, all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution in 2 Timothy 3:12. And 1 Peter 4:12-14 adds: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” And Jesus gave us our reward for persecution in Matthew 5:10: ”Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

1. Pray for Pastor Abedini that God would be with him and that God’s grace will be sufficient for anything he will face.
2. Pray that God would bless and protect all those serving Him in dangerous places around the globe?
3. Pray that Northstar can help connect the dots in God’s grand design and pull us in the direction He would have us go in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

Just Do It

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” – Ecclesiastes 9:10.

When Solomon says, “Whatever your hand finds to do,” he means that there is always work to be done. There is always something to do. Famous British preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “One good deed is worth more than a thousand brilliant theories.” I believe this verse challenges us at Christmas time and any other time to grab hold of the day-to-day responsibilities we face, and do them to the best of our ability.

Some of us grow bored with the ordinary. Many of us dream of greatness, of someday being someone important, someone respected for their accomplishments. Here’s the rub: we live in the here and now. I believe it is better to take this day in hand and “do it with all your might” than to waste hours dreaming about what we would rather be doing.

Reformer Martin Luther said, “A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God. If your job is shoveling manure, than do your best and shovel that manure for the glory of God.” Luther’s point is that if we do our job well each day we honor God just as much as the brain surgeon who extends someone’s life.

Even though none of us wants to hear that we are going to the grave, it is a fact we all need to face sooner and later. This life is not a dress rehearsal. We only get one chance to do whatever we’re going to do here on planet earth. Our time on earth will be over sooner than most of us care to admit. Nobody wants to have a legacy of “I was fixing to do that” or “my intention was to do that soon”or “I wish I had dome more to show the love of God to others.”

“Whatever your hand finds to do . . .” Judges 9:33 reads, “Then in the morning, as soon as the sun is up, rise early and rush upon the city. And when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may do to them as your hand finds to do.” In 1 Samuel 10:6–7 Samuel tells Saul, “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.”

The idea expressed here isn’t to do whatever we want to do. But at some point, we have to entrust ourselves to the Lord and do what our hands find to do. Another way of understanding this phrase is to do “whatever you are able to do” with what is right in front of you. If you’re a student, apply yourself to your studies. There are many other examples. As Christians, there are opportunities right in front of us to make others Christmas a little more merry and bright. We just need to do it.

It is not easy, but don’t worry if these acts of giving seem unappreciated or unrewarded. We don’t have to make sense of it all, because we know God works all things for the good of those who love and wait for Him. In this way, Paul writes in Colossians 3: 23-24: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Discussion Questions:
1. Read Ecclesiastes 9:10: how should we treat everything we do ?
2. Who is your ultimate master, boss, employer? To whom do you give your best energy, time, and resources?
3. Pray that the Lord might enable you to “work at it (God’s calling on your life) with all of your heart… as you are doing it and giving it for the Lord?

4. What can we do this Christmas to make a white Christmas for others?

Seize the Moment

“You’re never guaranteed about next year. People ask what you think of next season, you have to seize the opportunities when they’re in front of you.” – Brett Favre

Having watched quite a bit of football, I have come to the following conclusion about prevent defenses: it prevents you from winning the game. Somehow it seems playing it safe, playing without risks, is the surest way to lose the game. The defense becomes vanilla, unimaginative, and does not take advantage of the opportunities the short clock provides them.

God does not want us to play it safe. In fact, the life of a Christian is an adventure. The journey with God is full of surprises. It is based on the fact that you never know what is around the next bend. Nor do you know that in the next minute you will have the opportunity to change your life or someone else’s life for all eternity. The most important decisions of our lives will require us to stop being invisible and risk becoming visible. A little dramatic? Maybe. But, we must never underestimate the importance of one moment, one word, one deed in the life of another human being. And these moments seldom come at a convenient time and they never come if we tend to stand on the sidelines.

Basically, we can either seize the moment to give of ourselves, or to walk on the other side of the road as we learned in the parable of the good Samaritan. Seizing the moment is simply stepping up and God stepping in. How often do we start the day with this question: What can I do today to make a difference in the world? Like the prevent defense, if we don’t seize these defining moments, we will miss the opportunities that come with them. And those opportunities can be anything from listening, to praying, to giving somebody a ride to work, to buying some groceries.

Seizing these moments is not simply about opportunity, it’s about the kind of life you live as a result of the Christian you are becoming. The early disciples in the book of Acts seized the moment. Acts 16 tells the story of three very different individuals that God saves in very different circumstances. The conversion of Lydia and her family, the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his household, and the casting out of the demon in a slave girl, are three different yet defining moments. I encourage you to read Acts 16 and see how Paul and Barnabas seized the opportunities that God provided for them.

Discussion Questions
1. How would you rate your ability to recognize and act on defining moments?
2. From your experience, do seizing the moment ever fit the script and are they usually outside the box?
3. Write several defining moments that changed your life because you saw it and acted on them. Write several defining moments that you probably missed and the consequences.
4. How does your personality impact your ability to seize the moment?
5. Pray and ask God to open your eyes to the opportunities that He presents to you and then pray for the wisdom on how to seize the moment to give this Christmas season.

Tell Me, What Do You See?

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston.

According to CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organization), spending on marketing research across the globe is in the $18.9 Billion. That is the money spent to collect data from people like you and me, either via phone surveys, or online paid surveys, or any other number of means.That is a lot of money, but it is well spent. It is impossible to sell products or services that customers do not want. Research gives the company actionable data into the needs and wants of the customer.

The church needs market research as well. We want to connect to people right where they live, and we love them too much to leave them there if they are far from the heart of God. The question is how can we better serve the people who live by one of our campuses? Titus 3:14 answers that question: ”Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

Everywhere around us are broken and dying people. There are people abusing drugs, there are children begging for food, widows needing help, homeless people in torn and dirty clothes. There was a mother with two babies—she was sitting at a laundromat weeping, her tears falling down on the faces of her hungry children.

Here’s the sad part. Most of those people live within a short distance from a church. Jesus identifies Himself with the least of these—He says I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison. We see it throughout the life of Jesus; He always had time for the least of these. In fact, most of the miracles that Jesus did was when He was just out and about. He didn’t plan outreach events with the disciples. He just did what He saw the Father doing, and that was loving  people.“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19.

If we sing about things like God’s love, His heart, drawing closer to Him and wanting more of Him, we are going to inherit more of His heart. His heart is for you and me, and it’s also for the “least of these.” Yet do we see them? Do we cross paths with them? Can we do everything for every need. No we can’t. Can we do more? Yes, I believe we can. And that begins with opening our eyes to see the needs of people in our community.

We cannot open our eyes if we seldom wander outside the walls of the church. Nor will we meet urgent needs if we ignore it, treat it exclusively as a spiritual problem, or refer people to professionals and wash our hands of their trouble. We have a responsibility toward those who are, as Jesus says, “the least of these.”

Discussion Question:

1. Do I see the need around me, even when the need is minor?
2. What is my/our responsibility toward those who are, as Jesus says, “the least of these?”
3. Pray and ask God for wisdom in how to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives this Christmas.