Easter Changes Everything

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” – 1 Corinthian 15:3-4

Fortunately, we know the whole story, but have you ever considered what the disciples must have felt on Good Friday? They had given up everything to follow Jesus. They had left their jobs and their families. They had completely changed their ways of life in order to follow Him. The journey had never been easy, but they trusted the one whom they were following. So it must have been hard to imagine the grief and fear that they must have experienced on Good Friday.  Saturday probably wasn’t any better. Today, we celebrate Good Friday as good because of what happened on Easter Sunday. 

1 Corinthians 15 is a beautiful reminder of the resurrection and all that it accomplished. Paul understood the essential nature of the resurrection. He knew that if Jesus didn’t arise that first Easter morning, nothing really matters. Absolutely nothing—has any meaning at all. Any good work we accomplish will either decay or quickly become obsolete. When our life has passed, any impact we leave will be washed away instantly. Paul said it this way: “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19. 

But because Christ has indeed risen, we have every reason to live well, to worship God, and to savor his love, mercy and blessings every day.  Because those things are only a taste of what is to come. Because of the resurrection, our lives have purpose beyond the eighty-or-so years we spend on earth. And why we are living on this earth we have hope. 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV) says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”

We have hope that our  mistakes and sins can be forgiven. There is hope that we can have joy, peace, assurance, and security in the midst of the despair of this age. And we have a connection and a confidence with the living God. We can move past our past, we can start fresh and finish strong.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus’ resurrection proves that He is God and gives us power over sin and death. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. Does the resurrection give you an unshakable hope and confidence that we can overcome our past and our fear of starting fresh? 

Lead Me To The Cross

But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” –  Isaiah 53:10 (NIV)

The cross has become an icon. It’s everywhere, on everything. It’s on steeple tops, on book covers, on ornaments, jewelry, and clothes. The cross is omnipresent in our culture, but do we truly grasp the power and implications of the cross? Chances are that we don’t and that is to be expected. How can we get our mind around what Jesus had so generously done for a wretch like me so I could experience His grace, love and mercy?

It is not surprising that I am awed by the cross and at the same time surprised by how much of the cross I don’t understand. There is a line in the song “Here I am to Worship,” written by Tim Hughes where it says, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.” Yes, we know Jesus is our Redeemer, but do we truly know the magnitude of the cost? I don’t think we can even ever come up with a figure or currency to match that price, and that price was paid for you and for me. Could you or I give up our only son for the sake of others?  The answer is probably no.

Isaiah 53:10 reminds us that “it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.…his life is made an offering for sin …” That’s right: God the Father wanted “crush him and cause him to suffer,” (NIV) Not only was God the Father willing to crush His Son, the Son was also willing to be crushed. Why? Because the atoning death of His Son would bring salvation to His children. Our staggering debt of sin was paid on that cross. That means salvation to you and to me and to all who know Him as Savior and Lord.

Philip Yancey said, “Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to – because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.”

So understanding the cross fully is close to impossible, but if that’s making you worry, don’t. It’s just meant to show how an indescribable God lavished an indescribable love on us by hanging Himself upon a cross so that we would be set free.  

Fortunately, as we know, that is not the end of the story. There’s so much more. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is the hardest part of the cross for you to understand? Why?
  2. What can we do this week to better understand and appreciate the significance of the cross?

Be All You Can Be Right Where You Are

“Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches.” – 1 Corinthians 7:17. 

God repeats things because we need it and so we “get it.”  Take our calling in life. Three times Paul tells the Corinthian believers to stay where put because God will use them right where they are: The first is 1 Corinthians 7:17. The second is 1 Corinthians 7:20: “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you.” and the third is four verses later, “Each of you, dear brothers and sisters,[h] should remain as you were when God first called you.” (1 Corinthians 7:24)

God wants to use us in the here and now. God doesn’t just call those we put on a pedestal. God doesn’t move just through those that better fit the spiritual stereotype. The body of Christ is far bigger than that. The Holy Spirit moves without labels. God is ready to use you and call you and welcome you just as you are. You may not think you’re qualified. The world may not think you’re up to the task. But God does. God has placed us where we are. My calling is to know, love, and live for Jesus, and to be faithfully obedient to do whatever God leads me to do, wherever He leads me to do it.  And that is the exact same calling you have as a Christian: to know, love, and live for Jesus, and to faithfully serve Him and His purposes, right where He has you. 

Tim Keller puts it this way: “Your life is not a series of random events. Your family background, education and life experiences–even the most painful ones–all equip you to do some work that no one else can do.  Ephesians 2:10 says, ‘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.’”   

We can make a difference when we serve where we are planted. In Ezekiel 22:30 God says, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” God is looking for that one who can make his or her mark. 

 Whether you where you are today by choice or by circumstance, God called you to the place where you are right now. He has a purpose for you there. Every corner of our culture is in need of people who will reflect the beauty of God’s kindness, love, truthfulness, justice, and grace to the world, and who will share the truth about Jesus with those who are broken and lost.

 It means trusting God that you are exactly where you are meant to be, and being faithful right there.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is is possible to be what God wants you to be where you are now? Why or what not? 
  2. What can we do to better serve God right where we are this week? 

Rain And Shine

“God’s voice is glorious in the thunder. We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.“He directs the snow to fall on the earth and tells the rain to pour down.” –  Job 37:5-6.  

Weather often determines where people decide where to live. If you want to live in the college town of Marquette, Michigan, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you can expect as much as 200 inches of snow each year. If you choose to to live in New Orleans, Louisiana, expect a total of 62 inches of rain a year. And if you choose to live in sunny Florida, you have to deal with hurricanes and tornados as we found out in 2018.   

In the Job 37 reference, God “directs the snow to fall on the earth.” We are reminded that God is in control of everything and that snow has one job…to fall. And then God “tells the rain to pour down.” Basically God is telling rain to do the thing that He created it to do. Fall.  

Yes, rain and snow accomplish other things once it falls, but don’t lose the simplicity of the message. God is asking me to be the thing He’s already created me to be. And He’s asking you to be the thing He’s already created you to be.

God wants us to trust Him in rain or shine and to serve Him where He plants us. He is in control and has a purpose for our lives. The snow is only meant, created, commanded to fall. Rain is meant, created, commanded to pour down. You were only meant, created, commanded to be who you are. That all sounds similar to a question people asked Jesus: “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” And do you remember Jesus’s answer? “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28–29). Jesus is not looking for people who are trying to measure up; He is looking for people who will trust him.

In Psalm 131:1, David said that there were some things that are “…too awesome for me to grasp.” Trusting God means that we patiently wait for God to unfold His plan for our purpose. We don’t try to run ahead of Him, but serve where He has placed us; to be part of a local church because that is where we receive biblical teaching and pursue authentic community.  

I hope the devotionals this week will encourage you to not neglect gathering together with other believers if you are not in the habit of doing so. We all have a need for connection and community with God and others who are walking out the Christian life. We cannot do it alone. Gathering together is just like charging your cell phone. We have to plug into the charger in order to make it through the day of use ahead. This is no different than charging our spiritual batteries. We can charge our “spiritual battery” by reading God’s Word, prayer and attending a local church where we recharge, get guidance, and counsel from others. Get plugged into a church  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can we know if we are doubting the person God created us to be?   
  2. If not, what changes do we need to make? 

Image By PlayTheTunes

Where I Am And Where God Wants Me To Be

“If someone had told me that someday I would settle on the far side of the sea, eat bugs, poison myself, hold over a dozen scorpions in my hand, stand barefoot by a tarantula and allow a wall spider to spend the night above my pillow, I would have laughed. Those antics are for people who compete for prize money on television! No amount of money could entice me to do such things!”  – excerpt from Bloom Where God Plants You, (Reflections of a mission mom living in Malawi, Africa) by Rebecca Wendland. 

This is a pretty common question among believers today: How do I get to where I need to go from where I am now. It’s an amazing and fulfilling thing to live life in line with God’s design and calling on your life. But it can seem difficult and overwhelming to discover it. The simple answer is trust that God has placed you where you are. 

We are not placed on this earth coincidently. God will bring people and situations in our lives in His perfect timing. Our task is to love the best we can with what we’ve been given. When we pay attention to the people and the work God placed in our lives, the journey becomes more enjoyable. Sometimes, we’ll pick others up. Other times, they will pick us up. Our job is to embrace our place in life because we are right where God wants us to be.

And wherever you are, make a commitment to your local church. Minister within your local church.  Ask what you can contribute to the Body of Christ through your involvement. Remember, “a spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:7). It isn’t enough to know we have spiritual gifts, we need to use them.

God has a purpose for your life. He desires to grow you so He can use you for His glory and purpose. That means we must be content and bloom wherever we are planted and try to see it as a lesson we need to learn, and time that we need to grow. So what soil has God planted you in today?  Will you grow where you’re planted?

I challenge you to reevaluate the importance of the local church in your own life. God’s desire is for His people to commune with each other in the local body. Do you? Now is a good time to begin planting your roots deeply into the local church. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the idea of being “planted” mean to you? 
  2. What can we do this week to better serve the local church? 

Bloom Where You Are Planted

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:4-7.

There was a time when generations of the same family lived in the same general area. Not so much now. Today, people are less likely to put down roots, at least not immediately. Our culture is knee-deep in discontentment. We are constantly searching for the next relationship, adventure, assignment or job. We want to experience what other cities, even other countries have to offer. So we put off the decision on when and where to settle down. There is nothing wrong with wanting a nomadic lifestyle nor is there anything wrong with experiencing other cultures and environments. But just because we have not put down roots in one place yet, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t serve God where we are at the moment. 

The Jeremiah passage talks about that very subject. The context is God’s people are in exile in Babylon, a place they hate. This is not where they wanted to put down roots. This is enemy territory, so they asked, “…how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?’ (Psalm 137:4). God’s answer in Jeremiah must have floored them. They were probably expecting an end-of-captivity date or at least some encouragement that this exile would soon be all over. Instead, God tells them to “…Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.” The Bible does not say this, but I have to wonder if people were asking if that message could be repeated for confirmation. 

God calls His people to put down roots (including spiritual) wherever He’s placed us. If we only wait for the call to “go”, we may neglect what God has plans for us where we are, even if that is not where we plan to be long-term. Jeremiah 29 changes the way we relate to the place we live in.  Jeremiah 4:7 takes it one step further: “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”  We are not to remove ourselves from the community in which we have been planted, but to seek its welfare. Ultimately, the welfare of the city is the advancement of the kingdom of God within the city. God has placed us in our specific community for His purposes, and we are to seek to live out those purposes each day. His return is certain, but for now, we are to live faithfully for Him and the benefit of those around us.

As we seek to make a difference in the place where God has planted us, we need a vision for what God can do when we get engaged and commit to serve the people we live among.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where have you sought to remove yourself from the community around you in a way that may be self-serving instead of God-honoring?
  2. How would our city look different if we were people who continually sought the welfare of the city for God’s glory?

Wide Open Doors

The thing that has hindered the progress of the church is not so much our talk and our creeds; but it has been our walk, our conduct, our daily living. We need a revival of Christian example, and that can only come when professed followers of Christ begin to practice Christian discipline.” – Billy Graham.

You don’t hear it as much these days, but years ago, you heard it pretty often: “Don’t forget where you came from.” And if it was from a parent, they probably said it with some emphasis. And if you worked in a business with a long history, you probably heard “ don’t forget our history and our culture…don’t forget where we came from.”  We’ve seen tremendous changes and tremendous growth since we started Northstar some 20 years ago. One of the reasons we’ve grown is we’ve tried not to forget where the church came from.

God’s Church started as a radical, spiritually intimate gathering of believers that ultimately changed history. There were no observers or spectators. There were no people that walked away from the church when things were not going well. The early church was full of people who would risk anything and sacrifice everything to be the dynamic, world-changing church of Jesus Christ.

 In his letters to the first century church, the Apostle Paul commended each for excelling in the graces of God. Specifically, these first century churches were known for their faith, love, zeal, giving, knowledge, and intolerance for sin. The first century churc was a conduit for the power of God. The gospel spread like wildfire, at tremendous cost to the early followers of Christ. The first century church was beset with persecution, torture, and martyrdom. In spite of this, Christian churches were being established throughout the Mediterranean region, Asia Minor, and into Europe. 

The early church was devoted together to God, to one another and to all.  They were devoted together to the teaching of the apostles and first-century the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They were devoted together to the needs of each other and first-centuryothers. They were engaged. They were all in. 

But God has created us for a great purpose. He has created us to be a kind of co-worker, a partner, somebody who will be here on earth to execute His plan. When a person is committed to God, they also become committed to the things of God. This does not mean that if a person is committed to a church, they are automatically committed to God, but the other way around is true.

If you appreciate God, and want to help make a great difference for His kingdom, decide to have a committed relationship with Him and then serve in the local church.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is the major difference between the Acts 2 church and the church of today? 
  2. What are some different ways that you can take growth steps in your relationship with Jesus Christ and the church?   

Keep the Faith

“Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.”  – C.S. Lewis. 

On a November night in 1873, a ship was struck by another and sunk within minutes. Some 232 people perished in that disaster. Among the dead were the four young daughters of Chicago lawyer Horatio Spafford. The crew managed to rescue a few fortunate souls, including a young woman draped over some floating wreckage, alive, but unconscious. When the crew finally succeeded in reviving her – Horatio Spafford’s wife, Anna – she cried out for her children–four girls, one just a baby, torn violently from her arms by the roiling sea.  Once ashore, Anna Spafford sent her husband a brief but poignant telegraph: “Saved alone.” It is a story that has been used over the years to illustrate a strong faith in God during difficult times.

There are many examples of such faith in the Bible. One of them is the Roman Centurion. The Roman Centurion had a servant that was gravely ill. Jesus is asked to heal the slave. “The servant is beloved. “ …they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” (Luke 7:4-5 ) Jesus agrees and states that He will come to the Centurion’s home. 

Luke 7: 6-8 says, “When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Basically, he is saying that he is not worthy of the visit and Jesus has the capacity to heal the servant by His command. Jesus marvels at the faith of the Gentile Centurion and grants his request. The Centurion recognizes Jesus’ power and authority; he sees Jesus for who He is. The question is do we have the faith to see Jesus as who He is? 

My prayer this Easter season is that we will see Jesus more clearly. We will know Him more intimately. Sometimes this can make us nervous. We begin to wonder, “Do I have enough faith?”  Certainly, we can always improve. But if you look back over the last days, weeks, or even years of your life, you’ll likely see a time when you dared to live as if God is real instead of reacting to what seemed real at the moment. Maybe you followed God’s calling to a church or job when that choice seemed counterintuitive. Maybe you dared to love an unlovable person. Maybe you gave your all to a task that others did not want to do: half-heartedly, if at all. Maybe you stepped out in faith and invited people to church not knowing how they would react. These successes teach and remind you that God gave you the grace to act faithfully then, and He can help you live with deep and vibrant faith today. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is your faith built on if and how God answers your prayers or on who He is? 
  2. What steps can you take this week to reflect on who God is rather than what He does?

Grief and Grace

“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3.  

There are many things in this world to celebrate, but there are also moments that cause us to pause and ask, “is this pain and grief really necessary Lord?”  One way or another, grief will take up temporary residence in our lives: A relationship gone awry. Abuse. Financial troubles. But none compare to losing a child. Horatio Spafford, the writer of It Is Well With My Soul lost five children. Five. Can you imagine?  There are people in our church that have experienced losing a child. One of them talks about the experience of losing a child. 

“I was born and raised in the church by strong Christian parents. So you would think that someone who has been a believer for as long as I have would never lose sight of the realness of God’s love and grace for us. Yet the tragedy of losing a child made me struggle to think straight, and the lies that Satan was feeding me made it worse. But it is times like this where you learn the value of the church body and small groups. People rallied around me and helped me to remember to cling to God and rest in the assurance of His love and grace.”

“The Bible was a source of hope. ‘Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? …No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.’ (Romans 8:35,37)”  

“It seems counterintuitive, but grief and grace co-mingle pretty well together. The impatience, anger and variety of struggles I faced dealing with the loss of a child did not cause God to throw up His hands and say, ‘I’m done with Him. Where is his faith?’  I imagine God saw me as His son who had lost a child, and said, ‘I love him.  I will not run out of grace for Him. Psalm 94:18-19 reminds us, ‘I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.’”

This is speculation, but I think Horatio Spafford, like the person who lost a child in our church, found that the journey towards re-grounding himself in God’s grace was truly incredible. The lyrics in the song seem to indicate  that God’s grace encouraged him. It gave him reason to put pen to paper and provided healing for his grief. The reality is that God’s grace is there for each one of us, no matter what we are grieving about.  “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

In the midst of grief, it is critical for us to remember that God does not sit aloof in Heaven. He does not leave us to figure out how to handle grief on our own or how to cast about for resources to get through it. He walks every step of the journey with us.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can you tell your grief is affecting you more than you thought it was? 
  2. Have other people suggested that you need “to get on it” and move on? Is this good advice? What do you need to say to them when they tell you this? 
  3. What does it mean to lean into God in your grief? How do we effectively do that?  

No Pain. No Gain.

“Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took that so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.” –  C.S. Lewis. 

J. Oswald Saunders said. “We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. True, there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved.” There is a price to pay for following Jesus. Sometimes that price is pain and trials in our lives. There is no way to escape that fact. 

The Bible is full of stories that illustrate that fact. There are numerous stories of people going through trials and how those experiences drew them closer to God. God could have kept Joseph out of jail, kept Daniel out of the lion’s den, kept Paul from being shipwrecked, and kept the three Hebrew young men from being thrown into the blazing furnace, but He didn’t. He let those problems happen. Not exactly what any of those people had in mind when they decided to follow God. But, each of those people were drawn closer to God as a result.

Trials and problems force us to look to God and depend on Him instead of ourselves. Paul testified to this benefit: “In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9). 

Does this mean it is God’s will for me as a Christian to suffer? At first glance, the answer seems simply . . . yes. But, there is more to it than that. God is not letting us suffer aimlessly, randomly, or mindlessly but that you suffer for the purpose of doing good and, more importantly, that you grow from that suffering.  To put it another way: there is always a bigger story encompassing the painful place in which we find ourselves. God is always up to something much bigger. And while we may not focus on or even be aware of the bigger God-story in the midst of our suffering, the God-story is still there.

Nothing testifies to the deep, authentic reality of God’s presence in the life of a believer like watching that believer keep their eyes on Jesus while enduring trials in this life; it is perhaps the greatest testimony for the Christian faith some people will ever see.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can we see the benefits of pain in our lives?  
  2. Is it possible to be a better witness through trials of this life?