The Thing That Refreshes The Soul 

 “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23.

 What do you find most refreshing? A cold drink on a hot day? An afternoon nap? Listening to praise and worship music? No doubt everybody has something in their life that refreshes them. And sometime during the average week, we will need to be refreshed.  

 When life is piling up and wearing you down, God offers to refresh us and renew us. However, we can’t get that refreshing by focusing on what’s going on in our lives. We get the refreshing from the water of God’s Word. When we put God’s Word into our hearts and minds, then meditate on it, we become refreshed because we start thinking of heavenly things. It gives us a new perspective and allows God to speak into our situation.

 The Bible says we can have spiritual refreshing. Acts 3:19 – 20 says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that he will forgive your sins. If you do, times of spiritual strength (refreshing in AMPC) will come from the Lord” (GNT).  Isaiah 44:3 (ESV)  says, “ God is the refresher and provides nourishment by pouring out His Spirit on us. The Holy Spirit is able to fill up our hungry and dry hearts. When our souls are refreshed it’s like water is being poured onto a thirsty land.“

Reading scripture can refresh our souls and can touch and change our lives. For example, every time you read King David’s words in Psalm 23, the words seem to become active and alive and refresh the soul. There are lessons in these words of hope and an unmistakable and unyielding truth in this Psalm: He gives me all I need. (v1) He lets me rest. (v2) He leads me. (v2) He renews me. (v3) He guides me. (v3) He keeps me company. (v4) He is close beside me. (v4) He prepares a meal for me. (v5) He honors me. (v5) He pursues me. (v6) He will spend eternity with me. (v6)

 It is hard to read those words and not have your soul refreshed. God’s Word has power. Each time we read the words penned many centuries ago they come to life over and over again. His Word is still active and alive.   

There is no better way as believers to experience a time of refreshing by quieting our hearts in a devotional time of prayer and Bible reading. When we spend time alone with the Lord, we can experience His peace and joy and feel renewed.

 Discussion Questions:

1.     Have you experienced a time of refreshment from reading Scripture?

2.     What can you do this week to find refreshment in the chaos of life?  

How Has Your Faith Changed Over The Years 

 

 “Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” – Mark 11: 22-24. 

 What do you want to be when you grow up?

 If you ask ten different children that age-old question, you’ll likely get ten different answers–all delivered with the determination and optimism that comes with the innocence of childhood. As adults, swept up in the hectic demands of work, family, and endless obligations, we’re faced with the realization that we are not living the life we thought we would live.  

 It can spring into your mind in an instant. You are doing life when a neighbor tells you about her life-defining accomplishment. Her accomplishment gets you thinking and with that thinking comes the realization that any significant accomplishment is missing from your resume and sadly, you are not living the life you imagined years ago. The reality of life is often different than what we imagined. Is our life spiritually different than what we imagined as well? 

 At some point in our life, we became a follower of Jesus. From that point, our faith grew as we grew in both understanding of and dependency on Him. Our faith, our understanding of scripture, and our idea of God himself should change and grow over time.

Think about the relationship with your wife or husband. Over the years it has changed. You have both grown as individuals and you have also grown in your understanding of each other. Perhaps some of the early romance or unpredictability has gone, but then so has much of the minor things that cause arguments. You may have new shared interests and find yourself on the same page more often than in the early years. Or think about your relationship with your parents. As we grow older this changes as we transition from dependency to an acknowledgment that they are a whole lot smarter than we gave them credit for and we find ourselves being more like them than we could have imagined.

 Over the years, your faith has changed–and your faith has changed you. Maybe you have learned to control your temper more, to love other people more, to understand your circumstances better, and so much more. God will widen your horizons and will make your heart bigger. He restores what we had lost, and He replaced it with something even better.

God himself is unchanging but our understanding of Him must change. The only way our understanding of God and His word could never change is if it was perfect, to begin with. But the only person in this universe who has a perfect understanding of God is God Himself. We are not God. As we grow God shows us more of Himself, and importantly, more of ourselves. This will change us, as will the triumphs and tragedies of the life we live.

Discussion Questions:

1.     How has your faith changed or evolved over the years?

2.     How can we ensure our faith continues to grow? 

What Spiritual Lesson Would You Like To Learn? 

 “Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth.”  – Rick Warren

If you asked a group of Christians what the hardest spiritual lesson they had to learn, you would probably get a variety of answers. The answers would probably include the usual suspects of faith, trust, self-discipline, understanding scripture, forgiveness, finding our purpose. It would most likely also include dealing with our attempts to control everything and trusting God and giving Him control. Letting go is not always easy. It is easy to forget that we are giving control to the One who has control over all things. 

 At one time or another, we all come to the conclusion we have this whole life thing figured out. We become pretty adept at making a beeline for God and giving control to Him when we’re met with challenges that we can’t solve. The question is why in some moments in life it was easy to go to God, while in others, while we count on ourselves for other moments when we should ‘trust in the Lord with and not depend on your own understanding.”(Proverbs 3:5)   

Letting go and letting God take control is difficult because we don’t fully know the character of God. We believe we can trust God, but only to a point; the point we are faced with a challenge that requires more than we are comfortable giving. If we truly believed that God was good, that He loves us conditionally, and that He has a good plan for our lives, why would we hesitate to give Him complete control?  Why wouldn’t we be letting go and letting God take control if we actually, truly knew and believed in who He said He was?

 Most people believe having some control is a good thing. But when you are in control God isn’t. It is that simple.  So we need to decide every day who’s going to be in control of our life — us or God. There are things in our lives that we want to control. We want to set the rules and be the final arbiter of what is right and wrong. Psalm 46:10 says, “Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. I rule the nations. I rule the earth” (GW). 

Let God be in control.  Instead of trying to make situations what you want them to be or manipulating things so you’ll feel better, trust that God has you right where He wants you. Everything goes through God’s hands first before it even reaches your life. We must remember that nothing takes Him by surprise. (Psalm 139:1-6) Let go, breathe, and let God take control. He knows what’s best for each and every person—much more than we could ever understand.

There is so much joy to unlock in the Christian life, so much potential each of us has for doing His work in the world, so much opportunity to be the salt and light in the world. We don’t want to forfeit the abundant, purposeful life Jesus died to provide simply because we are bogged down by trying to control what we can’t control.  

 Let go and let God be in control.  

 Discussion Questions: 

  1. Responsibility is God’s gift to us. As long as we never assume responsibility for ourselves, our choices, and our actions, we will remain stuck. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. What area of your life are you struggling to control?  What can you do this week to give it to God?  

Making Disciples As Jesus Made Disciples

 “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” – 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Living things grow. That’s what they do. All believers are defined by a common desire—a desire to grow in the understanding of Christ and His Word. This desire for a deeper, growing knowledge of Christ is so basic that Peter compares it to an infant’s natural desire to be nourished by his mother’s milk. 

New believers have an immediate need to be nurtured and trained as soon as they initially trust Christ and then as they grow in their faith. The term discipleship is used as a catchall term for anything from mentorship to small-group discussion, to meetings at a coffee house, to the title for a conference. However, it is best to understand discipleship as the deliberate process of moving Christians forward spiritually.

Jesus is our model for creating God-honoring, life-changing disciples. When He began His earthly ministry, He could have spent all of His time preaching to thousands. This might seem like the most efficient method of gathering followers. Instead, Jesus invited twelve ordinary men into a community to learn and grow together as they followed Him. Rather than mass-producing disciples, Jesus chose to invest deeply in a handful of people, thereby developing committed followers. Since it is Jesus who has given us this command to “make disciples” and since disciples are followers of Jesus, I think the important question we need to consider is “how did Jesus go about making disciples?”

Jesus was a mentor to the twelve – a personal trainer, tutor, and teacher. He lived and traveled with the twelve; His life was intertwined with theirs, and theirs with His. Essentially, He lived life with a group of people for several years. He taught them all the time, not simply in formal settings, but also in how He modeled life for them in their day-to-day interactions. He focused on going really deep with a smaller group (of 12) and especially with an even smaller group of 3. He certainly taught large groups, but the bulk of His time seemed to be spent pouring into the twelve. He also sought for His disciples to live transformed lives of love and submission to God. Ultimately, Jesus made disciples who multiplied. Jesus’ followers multiplied from several dozen men and women meeting in a room after His death to a global movement spanning 2000 years and unknown millions of people.

We should actively seek out new believers in the Christian faith and make ourselves available to help them grow in their faith. Help new believers understand not only the essentials of the Christian life but also develop an understanding of the Christian faith by helping them to understand the assurance of God’s salvation and forgiveness, the significance of prayer, the life-changing power of the Word of God, and the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. 

Discussion Questions: 

1.     What is the role of the believer in disciplining others? 

2.     What would we need to do differently to disciple like Jesus did? 

Passing It On

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” – 2 Timothy 2:2. 

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban is considered by many the greatest college football coach ever. Whether he is or not, his accomplishments are significant. One of the things that stand out, in addition to the national championships, is the number of successful coaches that were a part of his programs. The list includes Mark Antonio, Jimbo Fisher, Lane Kiffin, Will Muschamp, Jeremy Pruitt, Kirby Smart, and Steve Sarkisian to name a few. In a very real way, his career should be judged not merely on the number of the wins and losses of the college football team he coached, but by all the men he trained and sent out to coach in his footsteps.

This is the mindset we need to adopt as Christians. Being a disciple of Christ is not just about each of us following Jesus personally, but also involves passing our commitment on to the next generations of disciples. 

But that process begins by becoming a disciple ourselves. The standard definition of “disciple” is someone who adheres to the teachings of another. It is a follower or a learner. It refers to someone who takes up the ways of someone else. Applied to Jesus, a disciple is someone who learns from Him to live like Him — someone who, because of God’s awakening grace, conforms his or her words and ways to the words and ways of Jesus. Basically, discipleship is a lifelong experience of learning the mind of Christ and following the will of Christ, submitting ourselves in complete obedience to His lordship.

Making disciples is important because it is the Lord’s chosen method of spreading the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. During His public ministry, Jesus spent more than three years making disciples—teaching and training His chosen twelve. He gave them many convincing proofs that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. He spoke to the crowds, but often He drew the disciples aside privately to teach them the meaning of His parables and miracles. He sent them out on ministry assignments. He also taught them that soon He would be returning to His Father following His death and resurrection.

Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2) because you are a disciple, and you have heard and learned these things from me, now I want you to go and share these things with others: “entrust these to faithful men.” Paul is asking Timothy to do for others what he had done for him: “entrust” to them the doctrines and practices of the faith which he had learned from Paul. Because Timothy had been a disciple, he wanted him to now go and make disciples too.

So, how do we make disciples? In the example of Paul and Timothy, Paul was going about his mission, and came across Timothy, pulled him aside, and poured into his life. This is a model we can follow: find a person in the course of your life and ministry who is receptive to spiritual things, and spend some special time with them, investing in their life. Jesus also exemplified disciple-making, which should say a lot to us.  He ministered to the crowds for sure, but He always had the 12 with Him whom He was investing special time with, and taught them things that the multitude was not ready for yet. 

We should look for opportunities to do these same types of things. As you go about your life and ministry, find a person or two who are receptive to growing spiritually, and spend time with them, investing in their lives in a special way. That is discipleship.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Who has poured the life of Christ into you? How did that person invest in your Christian life?
  1. What is the responsibility of one generation to share Christ with the next generation? 

Waiting For Things To Change

“One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath.”  – John 5:5-9.

Thirty-eight years is a long time to sit on your mat. Every day is the same. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Sitting on his mat has become a way of life for the man in John 5. He sits by a pool where people with diseases and disabilities wait for the troubling of the waters, because healings happen in this pool. People believed that an angel of the Lord would come and stir the waters, and that whoever was the first to enter the pool after the waters were stirred would be healed of his or her malady. The problem is his circumstances: he can’t get off his mat to be the first one in the pool. So he sits there and thinks, “As soon as the water bubbles then I will get up off my mat. As soon as I get to the water my life will be better. As soon as I get into the water my problems will be fixed.”

At one time or another, and in one severity of another, we all face a pool of Bethesda; that time when we are convinced that our life is nothing more than our circumstances. So we wait for our circumstances to change. As soon as I get that job, life will be better. As soon as my husband changes his attitude my life will be better. As soon as I get to retire, life will be better.   

There are many “as soon as” possibilities that people are dealing with. But while dealing with them, life has been put on hold and we sit on our mat. That is not to suggest that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant or have no effect. That’s just not true. They do affect us. People are coping with difficult circumstances daily. We are, however, more than the circumstances of our life. Life is not to be found outside our various situations or circumstances but within them. it is not our circumstances that define our reality. Rather, it is the truth of Christ’s love and life in us.  

Jesus does not help the man get into the water. He comes to him on his mat, the same mat and situation the man so wants to escape, and says, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Jesus doesn’t change our outer circumstances. He changes us. He calls us into a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking, thinking. We discover the circumstances have somehow changed. That doesn’t necessarily make life easy or mean we no longer have to deal with the circumstances of life. It makes our circumstances more manageable and we engage them from a different place and position.

The life Jesus offers us does not happen “as soon as ….” It happens today in our circumstances. We simply need to trust God,  “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a “as soon as “ circumstance? If so how is it affecting your life? 
  2. Why is it important to remember that God is at work, even in the midst of our circumstances?  

What Does God Think Of Us?

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Have you ever had someone say. . . “I’ve been thinking about you?” While we assume those thoughts are good. . .we have no idea what they’re thinking or how long they thought about us. We spend a lot of time thinking about what others think of us. But how much time do we spend thinking about what God thinks about us? Just for a moment, let’s consider what God is thinking when He is thinking of you.  Is He disappointed or maybe even angry over some of your choices? Does He roll His eyes at the mention of your name? Does He smile when He looks down on you?

In order for that to be a productive exercise, we need to know what God said about us. In fact, when you strip all the noise away, it’s knowing and believing what your Heavenly Father says about you that matters most. The question defines the way we view ourselves, the way we interact with others, and the way we live on a daily basis.  

Too often our view or perception of how God thinks about us is all wrong. That’s because society’s ideas about God are wrong. Too often we think that God is like the worst of ourselves: someone who is harsh and judgmental, unforgiving, and just looking for excuses to punish and torment us. But that isn’t who God is at all. There is a proper response to all of this. As God thinks of you, think of Him. 

God has a lot to say about what He thinks about us — a whole Bible full. Verse after verse which spoke powerfully about what God thinks about you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) You are the salt and light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-14) You are complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10) You are loved with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3) God takes great delight in you and sings over you. (Zephaniah 3:17) You are forgiven and redeemed. (Ephesians 1:7) You are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27) You are chosen, holy, and dearly loved. (Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 1:4) You are worth fighting for. (Exodus 14:14) God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) to name a few.

We know God didn’t have to love us, God chose to love us. It wasn’t an obligation; it is a joy and delight.  Believers have value and worth not because they are something special in themselves, but because Christ has died in their place. We matter to Him. He loves us. He is delighted to call us His own. 

When you think about you….does your thinking match His? It should.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are we more concerned about what people think about you then what God thinks? 
  2. Should we look down on ourselves when we consider how God thinks of us? 
  3. What would you change this week knowing how God thinks of you?  

Old Testament vs. New Testament

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” – Romans 7:21-25.

Throughout the year, many people join in on a Bible reading plan. Reading through the Bible in one year is a great idea for so many reasons.  It’s challenging, but not impossible. And it builds a positive habit and gives you a deeper understanding of faith and church history. But once the exciting days of Genesis and Exodus are behind you, you’ll find yourself moving into Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. “Oh man,” you might start thinking, “I don’t know if this was such a good idea” as you read stories of battles—horrible battles—and lots of stories of death and killing and the earth swallowing up families in the Old Testament.

For many Christians, this is a little disturbing to read considering what we know of the God of mercy and love that we read about in the New Testament. 

The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is in the way God dealt with sin. When God commanded the Israeli army to eliminate the people of Jericho, for example, He was dealing with the people’s sin. And sin, whether in the Old or New Testament, deserves death. So how do we account for responses that are so different in the Old and New Testaments? How can we understand these harsh judgments written about in ancient times?

The answer is Jesus. The Old Testament and New Testament are unified in God’s overall revelation to us. They are distinctly separated by the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The New Testament is all about Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins. Jesus died on the cross – in our place, for our sins. You see, the consequence of sin is the same. It is always death. The difference is Jesus, taking our place. And when we choose to believe in Jesus Christ, God cleanses us of our past, our baggage, our mistakes, and our sins.

God is the same. His judgment of sin is the same – but thanks to Jesus, God gives us a way to be forgiven from our sins and live a fulfilling life. A life lived to the fullest is a life that is characterized by being in relationship with Jesus, because He is the definition of life.  John 14:6 says, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about the Old Testament versus the New Testament?  

Our Personal Vision

“A common vision can unite people of very different temperaments.” – Tim Keller

Most church and business websites include mission and vision statements.  They help us understand their purpose and why they do what they do.  For example, at Northstar our vision and passion haven’t changed over the past two decades: we still exist to “help the whole world find and follow Jesus.” But we also believe that God has a personal mission for individuals, not just organizations.

God created you with a personal mission to fulfill during this life. Ephesians 2:10 tells us about this divine design. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” He lives in you to love you and live through you to fulfill His purpose for your life.

In the first part of Proverbs 29:18, we find a familiar portion of Scripture. Most people are familiar with the King James Version (KJV): “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” The translation in the NLT gives us insight as to why people with no vision perish: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…” In other words, where there is no vision, no direction from God, people will “do their own thing” and “go their own way,” which often does not go well. 

Vision requires asking some tough questions: Do we as Christians have a sense of vision? Do we have a God-given dream? De we believe God is directing us? Leading us? We need the answers to those questions because we need God’s direction for our lives.

The idea of having a plan for the future makes perfect sense. But developing that plan sounds like the province of a corporate think tank.  But is it really that complicated? We can simplify it by looking at our lives and asking what changes do we need to make going forward that we live our life so radically different that we are seen as people who are living their life “on mission” for Jesus Christ.  

Think about it this way: what would your life be like if you were not afraid to believe God and your faith reflected that? What if you believed God’s promises? How different would you view your vision of the future? Would you dare to dream bigger dreams? The Bible says,  “God . . . is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20 TLB). God is capable of the impossible, but it begins with a vision.  

Ask God, “What do you want me to do? How do you want me to do it? And when do you want me to do it?” Pray and ask God to bless what you are doing. Pray and ask God to begin experiencing Christ more intimately.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How long has it been, if ever, since you asked God, “How am I doing?” What might be some of the ways God would use in your life to answer that question?
  2. How can a personal vision help you to know Christ and to know and experience His power and direction for your life? 

Casting The Vision

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” –
Luke 4:18-19.

 In August of 1964, under the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his enormously powerful “I have a dream” speech. It focused people. It inspired people. It served as a seedbed of social change. His dream has fueled a thousand other dreams and many of those dreams have become a reality. This is the power of vision. Every movement begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents and helps create the future.

The church needs a vision as well. The goal of a vision is to get the church on God’s program and off their own. God already has a plan for every church. He is not confused about where your church should go in the next 5 or 10 years. The focus on vision disciplines us to think strategically. The vision is the framework for leading the journey. We want a vision for your church that brings meaning, momentum, fruit, and spiritual growth? It’s possible – and likely – for you to see those things when the church is united behind a compelling vision. It’s worth figuring out because God has great plans for you.

Our vision is to be real in our love for God and real in our love for others. A church that depends on the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. A church that connects, inspires and motivates people to mature in God. A church that connects people in doing life together. We also want to be a church that welcomes, accepts, and loves all people knowing God has great plans for every person. A church that effectively communicates the life-changing message of Jesus. Our vision is to be a church committed to continually doing whatever it takes to impact the community and world. A church that never tires of seeking the lost and building disciples. 

Catching the vision is ultimately more important than casting the vision. To catch the vision is to be aligned with the vision. To do that, we must take it from the hypothetical to the real. This can’t be accomplished by simply writing down the vision. It must be put into action. To do that we must all have a common purpose in capturing, defining, and implementing the vision. The crucial last step is to take action: “what does God want from us right now, right here? Or what must we do right now in order to best achieve and fulfill our God-given vision?”To bring about significant change requires each of us to own the vision.

Vision can be inspiring and be energizing but ultimately vision must filter down to what people do differently because of the vision.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What goes into a successful vision in your mind?
  2. What gifts/skills do you have that will contribute to achieving our vision?
  3. How can we overcome our fears and reluctance in getting engaged?
  4. Pray and ask God to show you where you should be engaged in the vision.