Self Versus Sacrifice

For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. ~ Ps 51.18-19

The world is not a big fan of selflessness and personal sacrifice. It goes in the opposite direction and encourages selfishness in the name of self-interest. Proof. We pose for selfies, edit our images to make us look better, and self-promote the best parts of our lives to the point of false advertising and measure success by the number of “likes” we get. We tend to think of ourselves more than we think of others. But then a crisis like the Coronavirus hits us and we are asked to make personal sacrifices to help others. 

Hopefully as Christians, we don’t need a hurricane or the Coronavirus to make us think of others. Jesus says to think of our neighbors with the same affection as we think of ourselves. We are commanded to care for others, to give to others and to address the needs of others. Paul explains this command even further: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

The Coronavirus has made the last few weeks a time of high anxiety, and while we are taking seriously the science and the facts of the situation and keeping the best interests of the community in mind, we are still committed to trusting God, remaining calm, and doing what we can to serve the people in our community as the hands and feet of Christ out in the world. We want to help as many people as we can.  The people who are at the highest risk, the shut-ins, people who need some sort of assistance. That assistance could be going to the grocery store for an elderly couple or to the pharmacy or delivering a meal or just giving them a call to see how they are doing.  Even though we are not meeting in the building we are still the church. And thinking of the benefit you can give others before you benefit yourself is vitally important in showing God’s love to the world.

After all, in this current crisis, we should take practical precautions like washing hands, covering sneezing, and social distancing. But let’s not distance ourselves from the least of these that need our help. Romans 12:10 tells us, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”  

Hopefully, over the next few weeks, we look less at our needs and wants and more at the needs and wants of others. Our prayer is that we as a community “…always try to do good to each other and to all people.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).  

As we seek to serve those in need, may the grace of God that reached us in our need move us to reach out to others in theirs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What type of sacrifices do you think we should make during the Coronavirus pandemic?  
  2. What are some of those sacrifices we can safely make this week? 

Live By Faith Not By Fear

“Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly.” – Psalm 112:6-8

The Coronavirus has the world on edge. The outbreak is now a global pandemic. The number of reported cases keeps climbing and with it, the nation’s collective uncertainty.  Coast to coast, large public gatherings and major events have been canceled. Employees have been told to work from home, universities have moved all classes online and schools have closed. The stock market has seen unprecedented crashes. And store shelves are being emptied. These are fearful times. 

When fearful, anxious times hit, we usually do not immediately default to resting on the promises and goodness of God. No, typically our response – our default response – is to panic or at least fret a great deal before we have even thought about finding peace in the truths of God. But instead of listening to our fears, doubts, and worries shout at us, we can begin to experience a real change of perspective if we take the time to remember the promises of God from scripture. There is good news in scripture that will help change the way we respond to even the most seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

Look at Romans 8: 38-39:”And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Life can be pretty grim. We Christians will face a host of troubles in the world. And then along comes the Coronavirus. Paul recognizes this reality. But in the midst of all this, he has a word that will reassure us: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?“ Neither fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow; not death, nor life, nor angels, demons are able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God wants us to know today that His love for us is inseparable. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus is proof of that. Take heart and take hold of that promise during the fear and anxiety surrounding the Coronavirus and other fearful times in life. Remember that God is holding on to you, and He will never let go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This is a time of anxiety and fear: What can we do this week to give those fears to God? 
  2. Knowing God and His Word allows us to face our fears with faith. Why? How can you do this in practical ways?

Coronavirus Update

“My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help. This I know: God is on my side!” – Psalm 56:9 

We made the decision to suspend services with a heavy heart last week. The reason the decision was so difficult was based on several factors: First, we are only 32 days from Easter; second, Hebrews 10:25 tells us “to not neglect meeting together” and third, there’s something intangible that happens when we worship God – out loud – with hundreds of people who share faith in Jesus. Sundays are an irreplaceable opportunity to take a step back from the busy day-to-day and directly praise the God that loves us and is incredibly worthy of our worship. But we felt this decision was essential if we are to protect those vulnerable to COVID-19 and the health system that will need to care for them.

Until it is clear that transmission of the virus has stopped and the curve has bent definitively in the other direction, the right choice was to cancel our services. We have every reason to trust that this epidemic will pass.

Obviously, there’s no substitute for meeting in person, but we know that’s not wise. So what do we do in the meantime? The obvious answer is to stay involved. We are strongly encouraging people to worship with us online. Then pray. Pray for our church. Pray for the sick. Pray for our leaders. If you cannot participate in the worship service in person unite yourself with God in prayer.

And be creative. Do some research on the message by consulting a podcast or Bible commentary on the subject, or call your small group or friends to share your thoughts and experiences on the subject. Reach out to the seniors in our church to see how they are doing and if there is anything you can help them with. Reconnect with people you haven’t talked to in a long while. Reflect on the Small Group Questions based on each week’s sermon found at northstar.cc under the connect link. Remember that Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Remember too that the church is not a building. It is the community.

There will always be emergencies. We live in a world that is replete with emergencies: some big, some little, some important, some less important. When life’s emergencies have our backs against the wall when confounding circumstances have us going around in circles when perplexing problems have us pondering which way to turn, when fear, doubt, and dismay cloud our hearts and minds, we must call on the One who is well-able to solve all our problems and rescue us from every dilemma.  

Jesus understands all the fears and worries that you have. Jesus understands you, not only because He is divine and understands all things but because He was human and experienced all things. Go to Him in prayer. And trust that He hears you and is with you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does worry/fear reveal a lack of faith? Why or why not? 
  2. In your mind, what should our reaction to the coronavirus be?

Is My Relationship With God Where It Should Be? 

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines, even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” – Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Is my relationship with God where it should be is a question that we all have had at one time or another. In other words, is there some way to know how good our relationship with God really is? Is there a way to know if we’re on the right track? 

It is good to take stock of our relationship with God periodically. In the midst of all that is happening around us these days, somehow we lose touch with the personal relationship with the living Christ. Communication becomes more infrequent. Prayer takes a back place. And when that happens our relationship with Christ doesn’t disappear, but it can cease to flourish the way we want it to.  

Building your relationship with God is “sanctification”, the lifelong process of being made holy. Holy can seem like a mystical term incapable of definition, but it simply means “to be set apart.” Sanctification is a process of going from what you used to be, to being far more reflective of the character and nature of Christ. More humility, less pride. More love, less indifference. More kindness, less harshness. Those are the components of sanctification.  

We have an idea in our minds that God uses people that have the relationship we are striving for. But if you read the scriptures you know that premise is false. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He uses improbable men and women who have nothing of their own to offer, but their faithfulness and willingness to say, “yes.”  Scripture is full of stories where people are called by God to do something special for Him. These people are just like you and me, just common, ordinary people.

So look at your relationship with God and evaluate the current condition of your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Is it growing? Is it a deeper relationship than it’s been in the past? Is communication better? A deep relationship with God is the heart of all Christian living. Don’t ignore it. There’s really nothing more important and valuable than your relationship with God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What part of your relationship with God would you like to strengthen? 
  2. What part of your relationship with God should you focus on this week?  

Radical Relationships Require Radical Commitment

And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” – 1 Kings 8:61. 

Most people reading this have probably made some radical commitments. Some of you have been in the military where you offered years of your life to your country.  There was even the risk of sacrificing your life for your country. Every parent is radically committed to their children. Every marriage represents a radical commitment. Most couples don’t want an ordinary, boring, routine relationship. They want excitement, fun, closeness, love. Facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God will challenge every married couple.

We can find some insight from Solomon. First Kings chapter 8 records the dedication prayer of the house of the Lord. Solomon turns and then prays a blessing over the people of Israel.  In verses 56-57 he is telling the people to remember God’s faithfulness.  He is the one who brought them out of Egypt, He gave them the Promised land, and He is the one that protected them from their enemies.  Then Solomon prayed that God would remain with his people (v. 57).  Second, he prayed that God would guide their hearts towards God and they would walk in obedience (v.58).  And thirdly, he prayed that God would remain faithful so that the nations would learn of God (v.59-60).  At the beginning of the prayer, he reminded them of how God has been faithful to them, now he is telling them to be faithful and committed to God.  (v.61).

Jesus shows us what it means to live a life filled with a radical commitment. Jesus was committed to go where He was not wanted. Jesus was committed to suffer for a people who rejected Him. Jesus was committed to die for a lost world. Jesus was committed to the ultimate victory. What Christ has done for us, what Christ does in us, what Christ will do for us—all these should motivate us to commit our lives to Him. 

Jesus talked about the cost of commitment: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). Total commitment to God means that Jesus is our sole authority, our guiding light, and our unerring compass. It means having a servant mentality and loving others. Philippians 1:21 sums it all up: ”For to me, living means living for Christ…”

May God inspire and empower us to make a radical commitment to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What has your failure to stay committed to something taught you about commitment?
  2. What does it mean to be committed to Christ?

A Radical Relationship With God

“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”– John 1:10-13.  

If you conducted some street interviews and asked people what comes to your mind when they think of religion, what do you think their answers would be? I think you could expect to hear answers like: “religion is a set of rules, regulations, and obligations” or “religion is a group of trying to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing” or “religion is an organized system of beliefs and ceremonies used to try to get right with God.” I wonder how many people would believe that religion is basically a “deep, intimate relationship with God?” 

We need to put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ.  I believe our Lord died so we could have a living, vital relationship with Him, not just to institute a bunch of rules and regulations. That’s what separates religion from a relationship with God. Jesus came to set us free and give us the opportunity to live in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. No hoops. No checklist. No religion required.  

For some Christians, a relationship with Jesus consists of praying to Him and going to church on Sunday. They allow Jesus to be a sacrifice for their sins, but the relationship with Him stops there. They don’t really expect to have much of a relationship with Him, and therefore, in fact, do not. Such relationships with Jesus can, at best, be described as “distant.”

Christianity is about living a vibrant, exciting life in Christ. Growing in your relationship with Jesus means to know Him better and to love and obey Him more. When the Holy Spirit directs your life, you experience a deeper relationship with God and you will grow in your ability to trust Him.  Not only that, your growing love for God will lead you to obey His commandments.

To that end, I encourage you to take a fresh perspective on your relationship with God. Take inventory and ask yourself why you do what you do. Is it out of obligation? Or is it because you love the Lord and desire a radical friendship with Him? A radical relationship with God is one that is rich, meaningful, and life-changing. 1 John 3:1 says, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What stands in the way of deepening your relationship with Jesus?  
  2. What can you do this week to begin to overcome those obstacles? 

Friends With God

“I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” – John 15:15.

Making friends these days is as easy as clicking on “friend request” on your Facebook page, but is that the true measure of friendship? For Christians, Jesus has many names in scripture, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, The Messiah, Son of God, Emmanuel, but one we sometimes forget is Friend. He is also our perfect example of friendship. If you were to list all the qualities of your best friend, Jesus has those qualities; Jesus was loyal, brave, humble, honest, compassionate, protective, encouraging, dependable, faithful, kind, loving, forgiving and completely sacrificial just to name a few.  

There are those in the Bible that were called friends of God. Abraham was called a friend of God. (Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) The Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face, as one speaks to a friend. (Exodus 33:11)   

Think about that for a second: having the infinite, all-powerful, holy God of the universe as a friend. The staggering truth is He wants you to know Him personally and to discover what it means to walk with Him every day. He wants you to know He is with you, and He wants to have communication with you through His Word and through prayer. He has a specific, unique destiny for you. God’s purpose for you is bigger than your mistakes. No matter how many mistakes you make, God will not stop guiding you. Most friends will fail you but God never will. God’s power, knowledge, and love are unending, yet it amazes me that God wants to be my friend. 

In the Garden of Eden, there was a simple loving relationship between God and the people He created. Adam and Eve delighted in God, and He delighted in them. But the fall changed that. But what has not changed is God’s will for us to live in His presence. Jesus came to make that friendship possible again by dying for our sins. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul put it like this, “All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.”(2 Corinthians 5:18 GNT) And John 15:13 adds, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

We become a friend of God through faith and love, by reading and meditating on God’s word and through continual conversation with our heavenly Father and then living for Him. Intimate friendship with God is a choice, not an accident. We become friends with God when we choose friendship with Him above all other friendships, above all other friends, above all else. We all need a friend like Jesus.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe your closest human friendship. What characteristics make it strong? 
  2. What stands in the way of deepening your friendship with Jesus this week/month/year?
  3. The friendship we enjoy with Jesus is meant to be shared by loving others. What specific ways will you reach out to others in friendship this week?

It’s All About Relationships

“A rule I have had for years is to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. It is not a creed, a mere empty doctrine, but it is Christ Himself we have.” —D.L. Moody.

Life seems to constantly teach us the lesson that it’s all about relationships. The most important relationship is with Jesus Christ. Regardless of where you are in your relationship with God, you are wondering how to grow closer to God in a meaningful way. You were created to know God and have a close, personal relationship with Him–a life-changing experience that will affect every aspect of your life and bring you joy, hope and purpose like nothing else in your life will ever do. 

A loving and intimate relationship with Jesus is something we all long for. For some Christians, a relationship with Jesus consists of praying to Him and going to church on Sunday. They allow Jesus to be a sacrifice for their sins, but the relationship with Him stops there. For others, Jesus is an example to follow, and they try their best to live as He did. But since Jesus is not present, the relationship can seem distant if we are not connecting to Him. 

The Bible speaks about an intimate and dynamic relationship with Jesus. He is, after all, the light of the world, not a “theological concept;” not someone who once lived on the earth and now is far away, but a person who is alive and present wherever you are. Your relationship with Him can be full of life because He Himself is alive! “I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:18)

The fact is that you, yourself, decide what relationship you want to have with Jesus. You must first choose to believe that an intimate relationship with Jesus is possible and then work on it on a daily basis.  Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, they will obey me. Then my Father will love them, and we will come to them and live in them.” (John 14:23 CEV) Just think that God wants to come and make His home with you like a beloved friend, whom you can have fellowship with on a daily basis. He will not be far away from you, but rather lives and speaks in your heart and mind through the Holy Spirit.  

Relationships with people are dynamic. They change with time and can grow deeper. So it also is with your relationship with Jesus. Your relationship with Jesus can also be new and alive every day.  D.L Moody also said, “Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all.”  

Discussion Question:

  1. What is one goal you have to strengthen your relationship with God? When we seek a relationship with God for friendship, what does it mean to do something “with all your heart?”

Little House On The Freeway

“It seems like only yesterday our grandfathers were plowing the lower forty, walking to school, going to town once a week, and getting to bed by eight o’clock. Millions of people who made their debut on our planet in the early part of the twentieth century remember when their towns looked like a chapter from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie.” – excerpt from Little House On The Freeway, Dr. Tim Kimmel  

In his book, Little House On The Freeway, author Tim Kimmel talks about how Walnut Grove has changed a lot since the Little House On The Prairie days. It is harder and harder to remember the peaceful family life from years ago in the hectic schedules of today.  The busy life has become the norm. The crazy part of it all is that most of the things we are doing in our lives today aren’t bad in and of themselves. But trying to do all of them at the same time is causing us to miss family life for a full schedule and we have the frazzled nerves to prove it.

The Bible teaches us another way to live: to keep our hearts and our minds focused on the things that really matter in our lives. The Psalmist said, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered –  how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4). Being aware that our days are short will help us remember to focus on the things that bring real happiness, peace, and purpose to my life: my relationship with Christ, my family, and my relationships. When we stay focused on the big things in life, we will be better at protecting our time from the little things that creep in and make our lives crazy busy.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve felt the demands of all those little things that seem so urgent in life. You want to finish that conversation with your wife, but those emails won’t answer themselves. Or maybe you want to spend some quality time with the kids but those papers sitting on your desk won’t grade themselves. The struggle for meaningful family time is real.

Life will never again be like it was when people lived in their quiet little houses on the prairie. Decades of innovation and progress has changed all of that. And besides, we enjoy all the benefits and conveniences of high-tech, high-speed living. When things get hectic ask yourself a question: How can you have the family you want in the fast-paced times we face today?

You’ll be amazed by the connection you have with your family when you start making quality time for them.

In the book, Little House On The Freeway, Tim Kimmel describes seven marks of a hurried family. They are: 

  1. Can’t relax
    This family’s schedule is always full with no time for anyone else.
  2. Can’t enjoy quiet
    This family lives in the midst of constant and conflicting sounds of entertainment.  
  3. Never satisfied
    This family always wants to have more and to be more than they are.
  4. An absence of absolutes
    With no set standards, this family isn’t sure of themselves.
  5. Suffering servants
    Craving approval from others, this family does good, but for bad reasons.
  6. A storm beneath the calm
    While appearing calm, this family is trapped in constant concern and worry.
  7. World-class overachievers
    Only happy when they are succeeding, this family lives in constant competition.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there more “me” time or more “our” time in your family experience?
  2. In what way can we invest more time in our marriage/relationships this week? 

Residing In Oldsville

Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you” – Deuteronomy 32:7. 

Having children was the ultimate game-changer and even though I treasured every moment with my children, they are now grown and don’t need me to survive or thrive. As a result, I find myself standing and watching from the sidelines now. It would seem we can turn that page of our life…but can we?  

The Bible would seem to suggest the answer is no. We are treasured by God at every age. Not only that, but He gives us specific gifts to share with the world in every season of our lives. For example, in Titus 2:3-5, Paul reminds the older women of that fact: “Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. …Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands…” The new generation depends on those of us who are older to share what God has given us. And that includes the family. 

So what are you doing with all the wisdom and experiences you’ve accumulated over the years? It’s true that you can be wise at any age, but there’s something about reaching age fifty and up, that allows for wisdom. Yes, we still have a lot to learn and yes, we will still make missteps but we still can use what we have already learned to help others make sense of what doesn’t make sense to them at this point in our lives. We can help them see what they can’t see at this early stage of their lives. 

In addition, accumulated life experiences and insight give a new perspective when reading scripture. The Bible has always rung true for me, but as I get older the better I understand why it rings true to me. Rather than dwell on what God didn’t do the older I get, the more I dwell on what God has done. 

So as we get older, I hope we bridge the family gap between the generations by giving access to our lifetime database of knowledge, insight, and wisdom. Growing older does not necessarily mean growing irrelevant. In fact, giving back to the family and others may be the segue to your best years ever. 

Similar to money, wisdom is a resource God asked us to steward. If we waste wisdom, it is worthless; but if we use it for good and God’s glory, it can change lives. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one way you could use the knowledge you’ve been given to impact the world around you?
  2. What wisdom could you share with your loved ones?