You Asked For It: What Is The Difference Between Church And Community?

“Just as Christians should not be constantly feeling the pulse of their spiritual life, so too the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow from day to day as God pleases” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

There are significant similarities as well as significant differences between the church and a community of believers. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. Let me explain. If you asked random people what pops in their mind when they hear the word “church,” the answers would probably be things like Sundays, or sermon, or music, or offerings. You might also hear things like rituals and rules and maybe things like rigid, stale, and out-of-date. What you probably would not hear are comments such as deep and meaningful connections with people, sharing burdens, helping those who need help, love, etc.

The healthy church is a community of believers where hearts are knitted together, people share a common purpose, they have passion, all the while finding ways to love Jesus and others while serving God and others. Real community is not about making people happy. It is about inspiring and energizing people. It is a place to share our faith and life journey. It is place of generosity. It is place of faith in action. Their goal is to glorify God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” To glorify God means to magnify, elevate, and draw attention to Him. We do this by inviting Him into every segment of our lives, by telling others of His greatness rather than grabbing His glory for ourselves, and by nurturing our relationships with Him. We meet with Him often, admitting to others our struggles with pride, and continually asking ourselves, “will this bring glory to God or to me?” This is the primary purpose of the church and the community of believers who make up the church.

The church is seen as a haven or a firewall for Christ followers to hide behind. But a church that is a real community works to make our world a better place by living out our faith in our homes, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, and schools. The Church does not exist to ride out the storm until Christ returns. Rather we exist to join Christ as He brings those far from the heart of God to Him.

The church is seen as out-of-touch. But the church that is a authentic community of believers understand that we live in a constantly changing environment. The Gospel never changes but the methods of delivering the Gospel is most effective when we talk to people where they are in life. The community must remain flexible, agile, and ready to change to more effectively minister to this community.

The first step in finding true community is look to Jesus. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Jesus is saying that the way we find life in anything, especially community, is to give of themselves. What we are looking for from community or relationships is life, because we were created to experience life through community. Many people know there is life in community and relationships; they are just going about finding this life in the wrong way.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does church mean to you? Community?
  2. In what situations do you find yourself moving toward community or towards isolation from community?
  3. What is needed to cultivate an authentic community where relationships are sustainable?
  4. Do you view serving as a necessary component in community? Northstar Group participation? What about Growth Track classes?
  5. Pray and ask God to help us build a community that glorifies Him and helps the whole world find and follow Jesus.

You Asked For It – Is Christianity A Crutch For The Weak?

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him[b] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.

Each of us know people who have a problem with Christianity. There are several reasons for this.  One of the reasons is that Christianity is just a crutch. It’s for those people who can’t face the world without something to prop them up. Or in other words, Christianity is an invention designed for people incapable of coping with life’s pressures. Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” The view is some people use alcohol, some drugs, others Christianity, to get themselves through this difficult world.

When I hear someone comment that Christianity is a crutch, I tend to agree. I would have a hard time standing up for what I believe in without Jesus. I need that crutch. Christianity is something that all people need. This is the message of Romans 5:6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

When we were at our weakest, God rescued us at the appointed time. This is the gospel. This is good news invading our lives. It allows us to stop looking inside of ourselves to solve our problems—because we are the problem. It allows us to accept the fact that we are weak. We can stop thinking of how much better we can get. We can’t do it. Yes, we can read our Bibles, pray, help those in need, share our faith, tithe and grow in maturity. On our best day, however, we will fall woefully short of God’s expectations. Yet God has intervened on our behalf by sending Christ to die for us.

This realization should create humility. It should eliminate any arrogance. Or Christian swagger. Or pride in what we have accomplished. We didn’t save ourselves. God saved us. We didn’t pull ourselves out of sin by our bootstraps. God pulled us out of our sin. We were helplessly stuck. He unstuck us.

God alone gets the glory. When we understand that, we stop leaning on the crutches of work, family, money, possessions, skills, abilities or ministry that we use to make us seem strong. Everything we do should be focused on glorifying Him. We don’t need validation, because God validated us in Jesus Christ.

That’s why we say Nobody’s Perfect at Northstar. It is Ok to be OK. God doesn’t leave His people in their weakness. He begins to lead them out of it. He gives strength to the weak.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does it trouble you to be considered weak? Does it take more strength to live life by God’s standards than to live your life any way you choose?
  2. Read 2 Corinthians 12:9: What does God’s strength in our weakness mean to you? What does weakness mean in this passage? Why is God’s power made perfect in weakness?
  3. Do you ever try to compensate for your weakness with work, good deeds, etc?
  4. Describe some ways God has been strong in your weakness?
  5. In what ways do you need God to be strong in your weakness at this time in your life?

You Asked For It – The X Factor

“You know, in fact, that any attempt to talk things over with X will shipwreck on the old, fatal flaw in X’s character. And you see, looking back, how all the plans you have ever made always have shipwrecked on that fatal flaw–on X’s incurable jealousy, or laziness, or touchiness, or muddle-headedness, or bossiness, or ill temper, or changeableness. Up to a certain age you have perhaps had the illusion that some external stroke of good fortune–an improvement in health, a rise of salary, the end of the war–would solve your difficulty. But you know better now. The war is over, and you realize that even if the other things happened, X would still be X, and you would still be up against the same old problem. Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag, or your son would still drink, or you’d still have to have your mother-in-law live with you.” – The Trouble With X, C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis wrote a thought-provoking essay called “The Trouble with X,” in which he describes the struggles we all have with certain people who have a “fatal flaw” in their character that causes us difficulty and frustration. But by the end of the essay, however, Lewis turns the tables on you, with the reminder that, “you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character.” Ouch. The day that fully sinks in will be sobering and humbling. And convicting.

We are X in Lewis’ essay. This is not to say there are not specific issues which require our examination of others. Lewis is simply stating that we tend to take the exception and make it the rule. So we talk about, criticize, and get angry at the difficult people in our lives. But this essay points out what we know to be true intuitively: It may not seem a problem today, but reacting negatively to difficult people can quickly become our default position. We will wait for them to fix what needs to be fixed rather than looking within at what we need to fix.

“We must love ‘X’ more,” Lewis writes, “and we must learn to see ourselves as a person of exactly the same kind.” But it is difficult to turn our gaze from other’s faults to look at our heart and our lives. It’s always easier to point to others, but this is only to miss the point of God’s grace working in us. “Of all the awkward people in your house or job,” Lewis says, “there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. And really, we’d better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.”

Some people would push back by saying that C.S. Lewis hasn’t met my Uncle Joe or Mike the co-worker, or Amy the neighbor. In the essay Lewis says, “But why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you go to your wife (or husband, or father, or daughter, or boss, or landlady, or friend) and have it all out? People are usually reasonable. All you’ve got to do is to make them see things in the right light. Explain it to them in a reasonable, quiet, friendly way.” And we, whatever we say outwardly, think sadly to ourselves, C.S. Lewis doesn’t know X. But we do.  We know how utterly hopeless it is to assume that X will be reasonable. We know that because we have tried until we are blue in the face, only to realize that it is a complete waste of time. And besides if we attempt to have it out with X, there will be a scene, or X will simply look at us like we are aliens and say,  I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about.” Even if they agree to work the problem out they will soon return to their old difficult self because a leopard cannot change its spots.

The essay also adds: “It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as ‘of course, I know I have my faults.'” It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about–like the advertisements for bad breath where the only person who doesn’t realize they have bad breath is you. The real trouble with X is the trouble we see every morning in the mirror. And the day to start working on this problem is today. Let us turn our attention to where it is needed most. “The matter is serious,” Lewis reminds us, “let us put ourselves in His hands at once—this very day, this hour.”

“Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.” – Lamentations 3:40


Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a “fatal flaw?”
  2. Why is it more difficult to look inward at ourselves, than outward at others?
  3. What can we do to make us less difficult to others?
  4. Do we pray for ourselves as well as for the difficult people in our lives?
  5. Pray and ask God to give you the self-awareness to look upward and inward for anything that would be a difficulty in the lives of others.

You Asked For It – Dealing With Difficult People

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:23-26

Life is full of difficult people. People who anger us, or rub us the wrong way, or are insensitive, or ill-mannered or loud or the one person who drives you completely crazy. Maybe they say sly insults, tell bad jokes, invade our personal space or are flat out obnoxious. They can be family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, even people in your small group. Whatever they do or however they get under our skin, they can cause damage to our walk with God.

As Christians, do we need to change or cope with difficult people? Christ calls us to love selflessly and ceaselessly. Does that include difficult people? Are we supposed to make nice, force a smile, while inside we want to be thousands of miles away with anybody but this person? How can we love somebody who is making it as difficult as they can to love them. How can we show genuine love when there is anger and disdain percolating just below the surface?

The answer is we can’t. At least not on our own.We occasionally have trouble loving even those who are dearest to us. So you can imagine how we could fall short when it comes to loving difficult people. The only true source of compassion, strength, and love is God. If we rely completely on God’s love and forgiveness for us, we can then draw from his infinite grace to love the difficult people in our lives. If you know you’re about to enter into an interaction with a difficult person, appeal to the Holy Spirit for strength, compassion, and patience. Through him, you have the power to represent Christ—even in the most trying of circumstances. Remember that your kindness and empathy could portray the gospel to someone who needs it.

The Bible has all sorts of practical advice about how to interact with people. Sometimes we may feel as though the Bible is distant and unrelated to today’s culture, but upon closer inspection, we can see that human nature hasn’t really changed. The Bible remains and is still relevant to our lives.

It is hard, but try not to take everything personally. Let things go. Pray for discernment about whether to confront an issue or let it go. It’s difficult to know when we should call out an offense or drop it. We don’t want to seem upset or ruffled all the time, but we also don’t want to bottle up all our frustrations until they erupt. We can become so caught up in proving a point or keeping our pride intact that we start to forget that we are as human as everyone else. A humble attitude admits to faults and views others as equals, instead of inferiors.

As I said on Sunday, don’t gossip. There’s nothing more tempting than blowing off steam with a group of understanding friends after an encounter with an obnoxious coworker or acquaintance. We want their feedback and sympathy or maybe we just want to talk it out. This is natural and often helpful for our peace of mind. But we must be careful not to indulge in slander or gossip. Venting should be about healing our wounds and being encouraged, not about dragging the difficult person’s name through the mud in order to feel superior to them.

Ephesians 4:32 puts it best: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Jesus is the reason we can each love deeply, joyfully, and freely.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it possible to love people you don’t even like? Could you find something to love in difficult people?
  2. How do you define love when it comes to difficult people?
  3. Do difficult people determine your actions?
  4. What makes loving difficult people consistently so hard?
  5. How can we let things go rather than dwell on them?
  6. Pray and ask God to help you love someone you don’t like this week.

You Asked For It: How Can Any Rational Person Believe In The Trinity?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:19

This question fits into the category of what every Christian needs to know but is basically impossible to fully explain. It is one of those topics that will leave you with more questions than answers. But let me take a shot. The Bible teaches there is one God. Yet, the Bible also teaches that the “One God” is a Trinity, not three but still one God. The New Testament clearly distinguishes three Persons who are all simultaneously active. They are not merely modes or manifestations of the same Person. The Father is not the same Person as the Son. The Son is not the same Person as the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not the same Person as the Father.

There is one God, and this one true God exists in three co-equal and co-eternal Persons. They are in absolute perfect harmony. They are co-eternal, co-equal, and co-powerful. This may not be fully comprehensible, but it is not contradictory. I can’t really explain it because I can’t fully explain God. If I can’t fully explain God then how can I explain the Trinity.

If you try to explain this to somebody who is kicking the tires of the Christian faith they will probably roll their eyes and think you have lost your mind. Think about it for a second. If Christianity was man made then there certainly would have never been any concept like the Trinity in it. On the surface it seems so obviously confusing. The Bible clearly asserts, however, that God is one, but that within the oneness of God are three distinct persons.

The better question is why do we have to make it complicated? If we really want to know the character of God, we need to look at Jesus. John 14:6-7 tells us: ”Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Therefore, if we really want to know the character of God, first observe Jesus’ behavior and actions and listen to His words. During his ministry on earth, we can see how Jesus responded to people when they were up, when they were down, and when they were hurting. He was full of mercy, love and compassion, yet he never made excuses for people’s sin or accepted their misperceptions about God.

Scripture shows how each member of the Trinity fulfills His specific role, and it also reveals how those three roles interrelate. Let me express this idea in simple terms: The Father creates a plan, Jesus Christ implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers the plan.

When you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Holy Spirit becomes your inner guide. The Holy Spirit is your controller from within; He leads you, guides you and tells you what to do so that you don’t need a code of conduct to do what’s right. He’s within you, guiding you in specific steps to take, specific thoughts to think, and specific things to do to fulfill the will of God in your life. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Ephesians 1:3-5 tells us that God the Father is the master planner. God the Father is in control. Scripture says He is in charge. He planned our salvation. He has approved of our salvation. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)

Discussion Question:

  1. Read Isaiah 55:8 and Romans 11:33-34. Do you find it comforting or intimidating that you cannot fully understand God? Why?
  2. 1 Corinthians 8: 4 says, “There is no God but one.” What does that mean to you?
  3. Read John 1:1-2, Galatians 4:4 and Titus 2:13. These passages speak specifically about Jesus. What do these passages teach us about Jesus and his relationship to God?
  4. Read John 15:26 and Acts 5:3-4. Here we are introduced to the Holy Spirit. Based on these passages who is He and what role does He play?
  5. How does the doctrine of the Trinity affect your worship of God?

You Asked For It: How Should I Deal With An Uncertain Future?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” – John 10:27-29.

The question this week in the You Asked For It series was “How To Keep From Stressing Out.” It would have been just as easy to ask “How to keep from stressing out due to an uncertain future. We are living in a time when it is hard to predict what will happen today let alone in the weeks and months ahead. You thought you knew where your life was heading. Things seemed to be falling into place and then bang, doors which you thought were open suddenly slammed in your face. You step back, a little bewildered. You wonder if that really just happened. And even more importantly, you wonder what do I do now? Where should I go?

Life moves at a much faster clip than it did a hundred years ago. So amidst that frenetic pace, we as Christ-followers try to live in such a way that we experience God’s peace, joy and love. Our principal goal is to try and bring some clarity to the future. Or in other words, find a way to bring the future into focus. We want to plan the future as a means of hopefully controlling or at least minimizing the uncertainty.

We don’t need clarity. We need trust in God. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations,I will be exalted in the earth!”

Outside of money, I think the most difficult thing to trust God with is our future. But that is exactly what we should do because our future isn’t really our future. But the truth is, I think most of us know we can trust God but we have a really hard time doing it. Especially when we are stressed and the future looks bleak. But let me give you a possible reason. Some of us have a hard time trusting God because we don’t know Him well. Most of us would probably be a little offended because we believe we do know Him well. I spend time with Him, I read His word, I pray, I attend church and Northstar Groups.

But sometimes when life is uncertain, I know I can trust God, but I still have a hard time doing it. So it begs the question: do I truly know God, that I have full confidence in who He is and what He will do in my life. Because only when you fully understand His great love for you, His unending grace, His faithfulness to you, and His plans for you that you will be able to trust Him no matter what comes your way. To trust Him for where that road will take you.

To let Him lead me one step at a time knowing that even if I have no clue what I’m doing or where I’m going, He does. And He will make sure that I reach the end safely. Taking that step forward into the unknown requires that I know Him more. That I trust the One who guides our every step.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:34 MSG)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Worrying about our future, our health, our kids, whether or not we are measuring up at work, school, family life…the list goes on and on. What would you say is your biggest worry?
  2. Have you ever felt like the future was hopeless? What was your stress level?
  3. Read 1 Kings 19:3-11: Verse 4 gives us a dark picture of how Elijah was processing the events he had just gone through. What was Elijah focusing on? What do you focus on when looking at the future?
  4. In verse 10, Elijah has a pretty bleak vision for his future. Have you had a bleak view of your future? What can we do to change our view of the future?
  5. Do you struggle with any “what if” questions? How can you push past them to experience God’s peace in your life? Rather than worrying and struggling through something uncertain, what can you thank God for today?
  6. Pray and ask God to help you trust Him for the future?

You Asked For It – How Can A Loving God Allow Suffering?

“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. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name … ” – 1 Peter 4:12-19.

We are looking to answer a variety of questions in the You Asked For It Series. Some questions are fairly easy to answer, while others require a lengthy and sometimes complicated answer. Still others require faith in God. How can a loving God allow suffering is one of those hard-to-answer, you need to have faith in Him type of question.

This is a difficult topic to address, not simply because it rattles our brains, but because it is usually discussed when our hearts are rattled because of personal loss. The Holocaust, Tsunamis, young people being shot in our streets society and then on a more personal level: why did I have to get cancer? Why did my daughter have to die? Why did I lose my job and now I can’t feed my family? Some people assume that because such evils exist that God must either be 1) not good, 2) not all-powerful, or 3) not real. As Christians we try to react differently to difficulties. When troubles find us, we normally react and respond with the traditional Christian stiff upper lip. And why not, we believe God will work it out. We trust God, and why we can’t see the good that comes out of this today, we believe there is a reason and that is good enough for us. But sometimes, all those words fail us and we wonder if this trouble in our lives was really necessary.

There are many examples of people who suffered in the Bible. The most often cited example is Job. Job had suffered in ways incomprehensible to most of us. And that suffering had left him confused and searching for answers. The searching for answers is instinctual, because when tragedy strikes we want to know why. And what we don’t want to hear is that “God has this so don’t worry about it.”

There are many other examples such as Paul and his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And Joseph. Most of the disciples suffered in life or in death. This is no indicator of divine favoritism. The point is, there is no formula for suffering. There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation.

Though it is human nature to want to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that much of life is a mystery. I can accept that by trusting that God is greater and wiser and has the answers we seek. We may not know the reason for each specific instance of pain and suffering, but we have been clearly shown the bigger picture, and we can be certain that all suffering will pale in comparison to future glory. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

John Ortberg said this in Faith and Doubt: “One man, whose son died climbing a mountain when he was twenty-five, said that what he came to see was tears, a weeping God, suffering over my suffering. I had not realized that if God loves the world, God suffers. I had thoughtlessly supposed God loved without suffering. I knew that divine love was the key. But I had not realized that the divine love that is the key is a suffering love.”

Here is what we know about suffering and what we should cling to: God is impossibly loving. He loves us. He loves our families. God restores things; all of history points to a God who makes sad things right. Look at it this way: faith is less about trying to control God to get what we think we need or to take care of any problems and more about having a companion for the journey.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why do we want an explanation of suffering? Do we believe that an actual theological explanation for our suffering will bring peace and comfort, joy or hope? Why or why not?
  2. What are some reasons why we believe we need to have a complete answer for this question?
  3. How did you initially respond to God in your suffering? Did your reaction change over time? What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself?
  4. If you were God, what would you do to deal with suffering and pain today? If you intervened supernaturally to eliminate evil,where would you draw the line to prevent murder? Child abuse? Evil thoughts?
  5. Do you believe pain can help us grow—though it can be hard to see at times, even in retrospect?

You Asked For It – What is Christian Discipleship?

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8: 31-32.

From the moment we start school, from kindergarten through college, we are required to memorize information, and then take a test to see just how much of the information we retain. If we pass the tests, then we move on to the next grade and start the process all over again.

We’ve adopted this learning pattern in our Christian walk. We’re trained to learn biblical concepts, principles, and key scripture passages. And the more biblical information we know, the greater disciples we are presumed to be. But is that the key element in discipleship? My answer is no. Knowing the Bible doesn’t give us eternal life; knowing Jesus does. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Let me say for the record, I have no problem with Biblical education. I went to seminary and I try to learn something new about Jesus every day. My point is if we all that learning does not produce more love for Jesus, myself, and people, then it is a poor investment of my time. If all that learning doesn’t cultivate more love in my heart, then I wouldn’t be a disciple—I’d be nothing more than a Biblical fact sheet. A well-researched fact sheet can’t transform the world; disciples do. I want to be a disciple.

The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT), “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God. The “fruit of your salvation” is the fruit of the Spirit.”

When our minds are fixed on Jesus and we are filled with His love, we become the hands of Jesus by serving people because we love them. But we need to remember this is a long journey. Maturity takes time and is not linear. It would be great if there was instant maturity in faith and in life, but it doesn’t work that way.

Christian maturity has never been about you or me anyway. It is certainly not about how awesome you are compared to others, how smart you are, how righteous you are, or how holy you are. It is all about Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a disciple? What is a good definition of discipleship?
  2. What does an mature Christian look like? What does he/she believe, and how does he/she act, especially in his/her relationships?
  3. What are some obstacles/circumstances to becoming a mature disciple?
  4. What role do you play in your own discipleship? How do small groups/church play a part in your discipleship journey?
  5. Read John 17:6-19 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer to His Father). What do these words tell you?
  6. If you haven’t done it already, sign up for the discipleship classes at Northstar.

You Asked For It – How To Keep From Stressing Out?

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?. – Psalm 118:5-6

Today it seems like everyone is stressed. Yes, it’s true that we’re built for and we have learned to withstand a certain amount of stress. Stress can make us tougher and better problem solvers when we learn to deal with it. But a little stress goes a long way. There’s only so much we can take.

Have you ever been at a store and taken out a bottle of soda only to drop it and watch it roll on the floor. It has obviously been shaken up. The contents are now under a lot of pressure. Your first and maybe final inclination is to put the soda back in the cooler and take a new one. But you know if someone buys that soda in the next hour they are going to get a big surprise. So you grab another bottle, careful not to mix the two up. You will drink the shaken one later when the pressure dissipates. You wait because there’s no safe way to open the can after it’s been shaken up. It is the same way with stress in our lives.

You and I were also designed to bear a certain amount of physical, mental and emotional strain. When we take on more than we can handle, we eventually get shaken. Stress and worry are a normal part of life. So the question is how should we deal with it? Many people internalize the stress and end up suffering consequences. The good news for Christians is that God gives us a strategy to deal with pressure in a healthy and non-consequential fashion.

“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7.

Of course, it is not that easy. There is some irony at play here. As I was preparing to teach on stress, I found myself, well stressed. I mentioned the reasons on Sunday: Having 7 mortgage payments taken out on the same date and the flooding of my house. Other times I have been stressed over other things, some important and some not so important. But then it dawned on me that worrying never solved anything. And I remember that God is with me. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – ”Deuteronomy 31:6.

So don’t worry. Replace worry with prayer. Let God know your concerns. A sense of God will settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. The ultimate question at stake here is this: “do I really believe God is good and He knows what He’s doing?” You see, much of the pressure we let build up in our lives is a result of not believing that God is in control and has our best interests in life. That’s why prayer and thankfulness to God shifts our perspective off the circumstances and onto the One who can do all things and works all things together for our good. God promises to provide us with the strength needed for daily life in a stressful world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Proverbs 12:25 and John 14:1. How would you rate your current stress level? What is your primary source of stress and how does it affect your life?
  2. Read Philippians 4:6-7. How do you typically manage stress? In this verse, Paul tells us to pray and present our requests to God. Is this normally your first response? What are some ways you can incorporate prayer into dealing with stress and anxiety?
  3. Read Matthew 6:23-34. Most Americans worry about time and money. Do these two top your list? What others are in your top five? How does trusting in God’s provision decrease stress?
  4. How can you gain strength in times of stress or difficulties? Is this something that you practice?

Is the Bible Fiction, Or Urban Legend?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

There are Bible skeptics out there. People who believe the Bible is a once-upon-a-time book, from a long past time of shepherds and scribes. It is not relevant to 21st century life. That story of how the Israelites emerged from their centuries of slavery in Egypt is a gripping account, but does it have any connection to my world of lightning fast e-mails and jet travel? The problems of a fish swallowing a disobedient prophet named Jonah and how to get Daniel out of a den of lions seem pretty far removed from finishing that report or how to pay for college. For a mom racing to get her kids to the dentist, is there any relevance to the story of how Noah built a huge ark? How can we relate at all to seemingly impossible, supernatural events. And more importantly, how do we know they were not just fabrications, or myths.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul explains that Jesus appeared to 500 people and makes a point that many of them are still alive. “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8)

The apostle Peter was a fisherman who traveled with Jesus for more than three years, listening to His teaching and observing His life. Peter was one of Jesus’ first followers. In a letter Peter wrote to churches late in his life, he said, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

The Book of Acts (Acts 10:34-43), records a simple and clear presentation Peter gave about Jesus Christ to a Roman named Cornelius:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Finally, Paul reminds the rulers in Acts 26:24-28, that Jesus’ miracles and ministry were not done in secret. Rather, they were done in plain view as a testimony to who Jesus was and to allow those eyewitnesses to accurately record what they had seen.

Then you have to consider the price paid by the disciples. Despite rebuke, beatings, prison, attempts on their lives, and eventual death, not one of the apostles ever recounted on their story. It is hard to believe that every man in that group would have been willing to be persecuted and eventually die for a lie. Furthermore, the Jewish authorities and Roman officials were concerned with the growth of this “sect” called Christianity. If they had any evidence to disprove the claims of the apostles and disciples, they certainly would have produced it if they could.

For thousands of years people have tried to discredit the Bible and never have. Proverbs 30:5 says it all. “Every word of God proves true…”

Discussion Question:

  1. What is your favorite Bible story? Is it true? Why?
  2. Is it possible to know for certain that God’s Word is true? How?
  3. Isaiah 53 predicts 15 different things about the Messiah that came true in the life of Jesus. Fifteen of these prophecies came true from one chapter. The truth is, there are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus, countries, kings, and world events in the Bible—not one of these has been proven false yet! How do these predictions help demonstrate that the Bible is true?
  4. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” What does that mean for our daily lives?