True Happiness Can Only Be Found In God

“Yes, joyful are those who live like this! Joyful indeed are those whose God is the LORD.” – Psalm 144:15.

Human history is the story of mankind’s search for true and lasting happiness. Some find it, some don’t. Even billionaires who appear to have it all and want for nothing can’t seem to find true contentment and joy.

We are probably not one of the approximately 3,311 billionaires looking for happiness. While we are in a different place financially, we still look for happiness: often in the wrong places. We focus on what is not important rather than what is. We all experience happiness at different times in our lives. But if our happiness is found outside of God, then it is temporary.  True happiness cannot be found in relationships, wealth, status, or accomplishments because all of these things can be undone or disappear rather quickly. When that happens, we are giving away our joy, nobody is stealing it.

Happiness is a choice.  Randy Alcorn says, “Those who sit around waiting to be happy shouldn’t hold their breath—it will likely be a long wait.” True happiness comes from having a relationship with God, our Creator, and Jesus His Son. That’s where true and lasting happiness comes from—not in stuff we build up here on earth. When we know, love, and serve God, His peace invades our hearts and we can see life in a different way.

God is eternal, His purpose is perfect, and we are forever His. He gives us all things and works all things for our good. What makes God’s gifts so special is not the thing given but the One who gives it. If we are going to be happy, truly happy, then we have to look behind the gifts we enjoy when days are easy to the God who gives them. And when days are dark we have to look beyond our painful circumstances to the God who loves us and strengthens us.

Being “joyful always” doesn’t mean we have to walk around with a fake smile on our face all the time, ignore reality or suppress every negative emotion. This verse simply implores us to intentionally let our faith, not our feelings, dictate our joy. The secret to real happiness isn’t really a secret at all.

To find true happiness you must look to the Lord Jesus, find beauty in His character, fall in love with His work, and stand in awe at what He has done for you and the future you have in Him. In Him, we have real joy. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe joy is a feeling or a choice?
  2. Remind yourself of the importance of rejoicing by searching the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—for God’s instructions in this area. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us it’s God’s will that we “rejoice always” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Having The Heart Of A Servant

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”- Matthew 20:28.

It is not all that unusual to be driving along and encountering a person on the corner of the street holding a little cardboard sign. If you live in a city then you probably have seen people with cardboard signs on a regular basis. The fundamental question is what should we do when we pass by them on the street? 

The fact of the matter is that our hearts should break in compassion for those who are struggling. The Bible is also very clear about helping the poor. We are to have compassion for those who are suffering and show them grace. Proverbs 14:21 says, “It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor.”

Our calling is clear, we need to be gracious. But people with cardboard signs present us with a dilemma. How do we know that the person asking is actually in need? And how do we know if they will use our money the right way? Will they buy liquor or cigarettes?  If I give this person money will it help them for one day or will it help him or her at all? 

We sit in the car weighing the possibilities. Questions fog up our heads. We become conflicted by sometimes equal yet opposite views of the choices in what to do. We could give the person some money. But too often we often find ourselves torn and unable to make a choice. So we choose not to make a choice at all. In other words, our fear of doing the wrong thing stops us from doing anything, which precludes us from serving anyone at all.

We can serve others well when we actively decide to take on the role of a servant. When we study the life of Jesus, we find countless examples where He took on the role of the servant. From choosing to wash the feet of His disciples to the very decision of coming to earth and living as an ordinary human, Christ continually humbled himself for the sake of others and switched places with people in the lowliest of positions. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to remember that, in God’s eyes, everyone else is just as important as us.

By simply taking the position, what can I do today to serve, we’re opening ourselves up to a world of needs, not just the ones that are convenient or fit nicely into the time we’ve allotted to help. But the act of caring might not always require big, dramatic action. Caring for another person might mean going against what’s on the planned agenda or stopping to give a homeless man or woman a few dollars. The more time we spend examining what it means to serve others well, it comes down to having a servant’s heart. Serving others means seeing them as valuable and worthy to serve and be served, simply because God views them that way even if they are standing on a corner with a cardboard sign. 


Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of servanthood?
  2. What hurdles do you have serving others?
  3. What must you do, beginning today, to acquire an authentic heart of a servant?

What I Learned About Forgiveness

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

Remember the book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum? The book is predicated on the idea that all I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten; how to live, what to do and how to be. His premise is that wisdom is not found in an ivy league university, but there in the sandpile at school. It was there that we learned to share everything, play fair, not hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that are not yours, and say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Now forgiveness is not something we learn early on. It is not intuitive and is not natural. While I may not have learned much about the subject when I was five, I have learned a whole lot about the subject since then. I certainly have not mastered it, but I do know a whole lot more than I did back in my early school years.   

For example, I have learned that forgiveness is not always fair. There can be a pretty big dose of inequality in forgiveness. I have learned that forgiveness is not easy. In fact it is hard. Another thing I have learned is that forgiveness has little to do with how deserving the person is or whether they have asked to be forgiven. God expects us to forgive even the unforgivable. C.S Lewis summarizes this idea when he said, “ To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” And that means forgiving somebody who has wronged you even if they are not sorry.

Another thing I have learned is forgiveness is an act of faith: trusting God to work in every situation, knowing God has greater plans and knowing God will handle any justice, mercy, or grace that needs to take place. Still another thing I have learned is that forgiveness is a choice; a choice I make. And I have learned that forgiveness is not about “letting go” pretending we can “just get over it” without addressing the heart.  Moving on without addressing the heart accomplishes little.   

There is one last thing I have learned. We know we should forgive, not only from the Bible, but also because of our relationship with God. Because He forgives us, we should strive to forgive others in the same way. 

Tomorrow: Why Should I Forgive?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your initial reaction to the concept of forgiveness? Do you react in denial, anger, self-righteousness, or judgment? 
  2. What have you learned about forgiveness in your life? Are you seeking relief or release?
  3. What characteristics in your life might indicate that you haven’t fully forgiven past hurts, even if you know in your head what you need to do?
  4. Read Luke 5:17-26, the healing of the paralytic. What does this passage imply about the relationship between forgiveness and healing?

Who Am I Becoming?

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,” – Isaiah 61:1-2.

As you have probably guessed, I am not following my typical pattern of using the devotional to explore the week’s message in more detail. Rather, I have been using this week’s devotionals to write about general subjects that have been on my heart and mind. In this devotional, I am asking each of us a question: Who are you becoming?

How long did it take to prepare for your career? The responses will vary widely depending on what your occupation is. In most cases it took some time. The Bible teaches that the goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus? How long does it take to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ? If you want to be a person that God can use, a person who is becoming more like Jesus, then it will take time. It is going to take time spent with God. It is going to take days and weeks and months of journeying with other Christ followers. It is going to take years of participating in God’s mission, praying for God’s heart and obeying God’s words. It takes time, but with time comes progress.

The ultimate goal in life is to be more like Jesus. Are you more like Jesus this year, than you were last year? As a Christian, I yearn to not only know more about the Bible but to become more Christ-like to my family, friends, and people I meet. I want them to see something different in me, something uncommon, I want them to see Jesus in me. I fail more often than I care to admit. Perfection is a difficult target to say the least.

But If you just keep with the same old, same old you will typically get the same results you had before. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to our faults, but if we continue to do that, we will never grow. Ephesians 4:13 tells us, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

So what needs to change in your life? God has put you on earth for a purpose, but have you discovered it yet? William Barkley said, “There are two great days in a person’s life, the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

If you are a Christian you know why and how. The question is are you open to change and transformation? We all have obstacles in life; they can be stepping stones to new heights or they can seem impossible to climb. The good news is, you can change. Jesus is in the business of changed lives.  We have heard the stories of people whose lives have been radically changed by Jesus. Their stories are about normal people, from normal backgrounds, who have decided to serve an extraordinary Jesus.  

My prayer is that you will challenge yourself in 2015 to be committed to becoming more like Jesus. So the answer to the question “who am I becoming” is more like Jesus.

Discussion Question:

  1. Who do your actions say you belong to?
  2. In what areas of your life has your culture crept in and watered down your view of Christianity?
  3. How do I judge my progress at becoming more Christ like?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you in becoming more like Him.


What is Influence?

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” – Galatians 5:7-9

What is influence? The dictionary defines influence as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”

But a lifetime of experiences has taught me that it is not so easily defined. For Christians, it often seems that God’s greatest moments for us are never for us alone. These pivotal moments in our lives are always about our lives touching the lives of others or someone touching ours. A life touched by God always ends in touching others; whether it be a spouse, brother, co-worker, neighbor or any other relationships, or maybe it is a complete stranger.

This is evident throughout the Bible, where ordinary people are empowered by God to affect the world in extraordinary ways. The fact that 12 men, largely untrained, with sorted pasts could change the world is proof of that statement. It is also proof that we too can influence people whether it be in someone’s inner circle, or in a relationship, in our Northstar Group or with someone we met in the mall. And those people can influence us just as easily when they are members of our inner circle or in our Northstar Group.

So how can we be a Godly influence on those we are in relationships with? Let me share a few general thoughts with you.

1. Pray for the people in the relationship and the relationship in general. 1 Timothy 2:1,8 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people…Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

2. Walk the walk. Be a Christlike example to others. Titus 2:7 says, In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.  1 Peter 2:12: ”Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

3. By working at the relationship enthusiastically, as to the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

4. By faithfully enduring, through God’s power, the inevitable bumps and valleys that come along in any relationship. 2 Corinthians 4: 7-12 says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

And finally, by loving others. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

These are some of the attributes that enable us to influence others and others influence us.

Discussion Questions:
1. How do your peers influence you? Do you act differently around certain people? Explain.
2. Do your views and opinions influence your friends? Why or why not? How are your beliefs and values respected by your peers?
3. How do you positively influence your friends? How do you negatively influence your friends?
4. Is it difficult to do something that opposes what your friends think that you should do? How do you handle those situations?
5. Pray and ask God that you be a positive Godly influence with those you are in relationships with.

Small Changes Can Change Everything

“Real contentment must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.” – Warren Wiersbe

“Marty, I have enjoyed this series, but as much as I have tried, the small changes don’t seem to be making much of a difference in my habits or in my words. I just don’t see much change.”

I understand. We often look around and things seem static. The task seems too large and the journey too long. The preliminary steps we take in that direction don’t seem to make a difference. We feel like we make little to no progress. It is easy to get discouraged and begin asking yourself “why bother?”

Isaiah 55:10-11 tells us: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Isaiah is reminding us that God is at work. Wherever the people of God go, change happens. Sometimes it is slow. I heard a quote that said basically, “We don’t wait well. We’re into microwaving. God, on the other hand, is usually into marinating.” Change is not always so slow, although it can seem that way.

In Sunday’s message, I talked about the analogy of life to a race. You can train hard and thoroughly prepare for a race, but when the gun goes off, you never know how you’re going to feel or what will happen. Chances are you might get to a point when the “race” isn’t going the way you thought it would and you wonder why you would ever do something like this. The Bible uses the specific metaphor of a long distance race. The nature of the Christian life is not run in a sprint, but it is run with a steady and strategic pace over a lifetime of endurance. Running requires faith that holds onto God’s promises despite life’s circumstances. Though circumstances can be bleak and seem fruitless, with this metaphor believers are encouraged to press on with an anticipation that there is a finish line with rewards.

Many of you have been running the race since the beginning, some of you have just joined, some of you are going at an incredible pace. And some think your not really prepared for the race ahead. We are here for a reason; to be committed to being the people that God wants us to be. This is where faith and trust comes in. T.F. Tenney once said, “Lets keep the main thing… as the main thing.” The main thing is to lean on and to trust God. Regardless of where we are or what we may think at the moment, God is working. The Spirit is moving. Change will happen if you stay the course you have started.

I find it helpful to capture my “focus for the year” in a word, so that I can stay focused on one main thing all year. This year, my word was “small” based on Matthew 25:21 which says: ”The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (NLT)

After praying and seeking the Lord, this was the word that kept sticking out in my mind. So I went with it. It really helps me to keep me focused me on doing the small things well. When things get a little busy or overwhelming it is the word I can return to and find clarity and direction. As you focus on your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to form your character at a deep, sustainable level. It’s not the size of the ability, but the faithfulness of the servant that is most important.

Discussion questions:
1. Do we have a hard time accepting God’s timing? Does it seem too slow or too fast?
2. What can we do to accept God’s timing?
3. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” What are some of the impediments that cause us to take our eyes off of Christ and entangle us while running the race? Can habits distract you? What about a lack of discipline?
4. Is there anything from this series you would like to talk more about? Anything you didn’t understand?
5. How can we as a Northstar group strive to persevere in this race together? How can we be praying for you specifically?.

Going All In

The fifth card in the hand you have been dealt is the most important. This fifth card is choices. Everything in life is a choice. Every second of every day we are choosing one thing or another. The choices card has the power to change all the other cards, because it controls all the other cards. If we learn to use this card correctly, it doesn’t matter how bad the previous four cards seem, you can win the game of poker.

As human beings, we are given a great gift, and that gift is the ability to make choices; to have a free will. Free will is a gift that God gave to us out of his love and his respect for us. Free will was the best thing we were ever given. It is also the worst thing we were ever given because free will, by it’s very nature, means you have the power to choose. And because you have the power to choose, you have the ability to make good and not-so-good choices.

You and I did not choose our chemistry, but we do choose what we do with our chemistry. I didn’t choose my family, but I do choose which relationships to build and invest in and which ones to get rid of. Same thing with circumstances and consciousness.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do with the cards you have been dealt and life is demanding an answer? This situation and question perplexes many people every single day of their lives. And it often comes down to a choice.

Ever since the garden of Eden; the choice to obey God or choose our own way, has existed. And just as in the Garden, our choices don’t always take us where we want to go. The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 reminds us of that. After leaving the security and restrictions of his father’s home, he began to live in an undisciplined spending spree. Eventually the money ran out and so did the friends and good times. He found himself in a pig pen feeding hogs. This was quite a change from the high life he had been living. Did God put him there? Absolutely not. His choices brought him to this point. Yet, it was in the pig pen where God found him. The scriptures tell us that “when he had come to his senses,” he returned to his father.

This is a reminder to us that even though we are suffering for our wrong choices; God is still desiring to reach down to us and move forward beyond our bad choices and past failures to a new life back in the protection of our Father’s house.

Proverbs 19:21 says, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.” (NKJV)  God’s unchanging counsel is always perfect. As you seek His guidance and stay committed to doing what He says, you will find yourself becoming more consistent in making wise choices. Keep in mind that no one makes right choices every single time, and there are bound to be times when it becomes readily apparent that you have made a poor choice. When this happens, be quick to set aside concerns about the cards you have been dealt. Simply pray, and ask God to move you froward in the right direction.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20, (NLT) says, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

When all is said and done, and you look back on your life, what will you be proud of, and what choices will you regret? What choices will have contributed to making things better, and what choices will add to the problem. To use a poker analogy, it is moving “all in” and betting it all on Him and betting that the cards you were dealt are the perfect cards for you.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do an honest evaluation and ask yourself this question: How effectively do I use the choices card in my life today? If you wish you made better choices, the following questions will help you in the decision making process. Ask yourself the following questions when faced with a choice.
2. Does my choice line up with scripture? If the answer is “no,” you don’t need to go any further because God will never lead you to do something that goes against scripture.
3. Will this decision bring you closer to the Lord or will it draw you away from Him? Will this build you up?
4. Will the result of this choice bring pleasure to God, or are you doing it to please someone else? Every decision you make reflects who you were serving at the time you made it.
5. Will the action that results from this choice clearly show God’s love, or will it reveal that the decision came from a different motivation? Will it promote unity, or will it result in dissension?
6. Ask yourself: will this choice bring glory to the Lord or will it in some way dishonor or discredit Him?