Knowing Jesus is Not a religion, it is a Relationship.

 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6.

Knowing Jesus is not a religion, it is a relationship. Knowing God doesn’t mean knowing about God. It doesn’t mean accumulating a fact book in your head. Instead, to know God is to be brought into a relationship with Him. To know God, to be able to say, I don’t just know about Him, I know him. I’ve seen Him work in my life. I’ve built my life upon His promises, and I’ve seen time after time He is faithful to me. I’ve noticed that He never fails.

 To know God is to be brought into a relationship with God. The Bible cover to cover is about knowing God. Could you imagine being Adam looking at the One who just made you? You were just created and God looks at you and says I made you. I breathed life into you. You were made to know Me. So you stand there in awe, looking at your creator and walking side by side with Him. Then God creates Eve, and then the two of you are walking in the garden. Nothing can get to you. God is there to protect and love you, to have fellowship with you. Can you imagine? Wouldn’t you want to be in that position? What would it feel like to walk with God? What would it be like to know God in such a way? The good news is we too can know God in an intimate way.

But Adam was just the first of many who had a special connection with God. You have people like Abraham who was called a friend of God and Moses who would go up on the mountaintop and actually be with God. David wrote in Psalm 27:4: “The one thing I ask of the LORD— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.”

There’s nothing more important than getting an accurate view of God. Our hope and prayer are that God will expand our minds and enlarge our hearts as we seek Him and begin to see God as He longs to be seen.

That is our goal: to know God better. We don’t want to be satisfied in just knowing about God….we want you to really know God by having your heart completely opened: to see the world how God sees it.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does a life of intimate relationship with God look like? Spend a few minutes thinking about your relationship with Jesus. Reflect on Psalm 139 and Philippians 3:8. What’s your relationship with Jesus like? Is it more about facts and rules than an intimate, personal relationship?
  2. What might you be missing out on in your relationship with Jesus? What needs to change in order for you to have a more intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Every Number Has A Name

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” – Deuteronomy 32:7,

In Sunday’s message, I gave you some of the highlights from 2014. We had 521 people make first time commitments to Jesus Christ (as noted on their Connection Cards) while approximately 2,300 raised their hand to accept Jesus Christ in our services. We baptized 186 people. Our average attendance was 2,285 people. On Easter weekend, 4,920 people attended one of our four campuses and 52 people were saved. My hope is that you see beyond the numbers and see real people—every number has a name, and every name has a story.

The Deuteronomy passage above tells us that God knew that His children would eventually become complacent and forget their past and what the Lord did for them. The results we achieved in 2014 remind us that God can do so much more than we would ever expect. As we move into 2015, we expect God to continue to do the impossible, as only He can do.

The numbers are not the whole story, however. In 2015, Northstar continues its transition from being a single, centralized church to becoming four congregations, each with their own dedicated leadership, worshiping in and reaching their particular neighborhoods. In the past year and into this year we have continued to see our four campuses thrive. Last Easter, we more than doubled our attendance. This was a huge affirmation that our transition to the smaller campus model is helping us reach more of the city. But the goal goes beyond that, because the vision is for us to continue planting churches in areas that are under served by evangelical churches.

We cannot achieve our vision without you. Without people willing to serve. We believe when people engage in service, it leads to life change. Whether you serve on a ministry team in our church, in our community, or in the world, God calls us to serve one another. It takes many volunteers to make our services happen on all four campuses. There is a place for you to serve. God has placed gifts in your life to contribute to the body of Christ and we’d love for you to use them at Northstar. If you have never served for whatever reason, it is never too late. I simply ask you to try it. I believe it will enrich your life. So let us know if you’re interested in serving and where. We will find a place for you.

My hope and prayer is that as we continue to move into 2015, that you will make it a point to be the person who comes week in and week out, season in and season out. A simple act of faithful commitment offers a beautiful testimony to those both inside and outside the church. Don’t underestimate the power of you being here in faithful attendance. And never underestimate how much you may be needed by someone in the church. This church needs you–someone in this church needs you.

Discussion Questions:
1. Ask yourself this question, “What impact does my life have on my church?” How would the life of your church be different if you were not here? How could your church be even stronger if you commit more of your time and energy to its work?
2. Make a commitment today to pray and ask God what He has in store for you in the life of your church.

”Use Your Words”

Most parents experience the “be careful what you ask for you may just get it” principle in their lives. As much as the cooing of a baby is so cute, we simply can’t wait until he or she starts talking. “Use your words,” we tell them when they are having trouble telling us what they want. Then the chilling reality hits you. As soon as the child learns how to string words together, they chatter nonstop. They become uber inquisitive and ask a million questions. And loudly too. We stop asking them to use their words. Instead, we wonder how their vocabulary got so big so fast. Sit them down with some activity, like coloring or puzzles and let them converse with themselves for hours.

Some of us have brought our fondness for talking into adulthood. And that includes praying. Praying is a conversation, an opportunity to use our words to tell Him about our ups and downs, our triumphs and struggles and our needs. It is a time to ask God to help in those areas where we need help. Chatting with God is as easy, or maybe even easier, than chatting with another person. For those of us who thrive on communicating verbally, prayer is the best of all worlds. We can talk as much as we want and someone who holds the universe in His hands is listening.

Psalm 66:16-20 says: “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”

What we can sometimes forget when we are communicating with God is that communication is a two-way street, even though sometimes it may not feel like it. And we cannot forget that a relationship involves two, not one. Prayer is a conversation. God doesn’t just hear our words, He also responds. So it is more than just talking to God, it’s about listening to Him as well. The bottom line is this: God earnestly desires to talk to us and spend time with us through prayer. And what I discovered is that having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about using the “right” words, spiritual techniques, twisting God’s arm, or trying to live a perfect life. It is about knowing Him. To have that relationship, we have to learn to listen to God, not just talk to Him.

There is a family in the church who lost a child. They never questioned their core belief in God. Rather, they were were clinging to their personal understanding and faith in God and His promises, seeking answers on their knees in prayer. “Why did this happen?” “God, talk to me, show me the good in this.” “Touch my heart, Lord.” They had a longing to experience God—to feel the love, strength, and comfort of Jesus. They were praying using all the words they could think of and it didn’t seem like anyone was listening. There were no answers.

And then they did something that is hard for most people to do. They stopped talking. They became quiet. They tried to clear their mind of all the clutter, emotions and questions and focused on being still. In that stillness, God gently said “I am here.” And there was peace that no amount of words could match. The experience was not supernatural. It was not the loud, deep voice you hear in movies. It was more an awareness of His presence. The family believes God’s presence was there all the time, but was drowned out by all the noise in their lives at that time. The stillness heightened the awareness of God’s presence, His will, and His guidance. The family discovered that when we face turmoil and desperate times in our lives, we don’t just need answers from God, we need God.

So while there may not be many lulls in the conversation when using our words,  there is power in being quiet and listening to God and to allow our prayers to become a dialogue with the one who holds our lives in His hands.

Discussion Questions:
1. Are there times when it seems our prayers/words are not getting through to God?
2. Are we better listeners with people than with God? Do we need answers from God or do we need God?
3. When praying, do we leave God an opening to communicate with us? Do we leave an opening for God to talk about something else that may be more important?
4. What areas of your life have you received guidance from God? Do we thank God for His guidance? Did you trust the guidance and more importantly, act on it?
5. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to hear His voice and His direction in our lives.

What’s The Difference Between Communication And Words

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” – Plato

Have you ever met someone who doesn’t talk with you or to you, as much as they talk at you, over you and around you? Those are just words, not communication.

Real communication is completely different from exchanging words. Because someone constantly talks, it doesn’t mean they are communicating. In some cases, they are simply stringing words together. If you want one of the quickest ways to improve a relationship, regardless of the type, learn to communicate with the other person rather than just talk. Honest, open, heart felt communication is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to our spouse, sister, aunt, co-worker, boss, neighbor etc., and to ourselves. It means we are taking the time to hear others as well as having the confidence that we have been heard.

It means that you have clear understanding of what you expect and what others expect from you. And you have an understanding of the changes you may need to make, the forgiveness you may need for yourself and the forgiveness you may need to offer. Open, honest communication eliminates a lot of the fear and uncertainty that your words, or the words of others, may be causing.

Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about. By the way, these are made up. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of my imagination.  Any resemblance to actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.

Example 1: A Northstar Group leader notices that Jill, in their small group, talks freely with other group members before and after the group session. But she never made a comment during the session. The leader discussed her observations with Jill. She commented that Jill had some unique perspectives and some good ideas. Jill agreed that she was much more comfortable talking in private than in public. After some discussion, and getting to know what Jill’s concerns were, the leader encouraged her to share her thoughts with the group. Her understanding of Jill’s hesitancy to speak, and then working out a solution Jill was comfortable with, made all the difference.  The results make it communication.

Example 2: A father was struggling to stay in touch with his teenage daughter. During one rather heated conversation where he learned something he didn’t know, in a combination of hurt and anger, he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” His daughter’s response hit him between the eyes. She said, “I did tell you. But you were too busy lecturing me to listen.” The father was stunned, apologized and said there will be changes. Rather than immediately trying to solve her problem, he first listens, and calmly discusses the subject with his daughter. And for the first time in years, there is two-way communication between the two of them.

Example 3: Joe just wanted to tell his wife his feelings about a situation in their life and get it over with. His wife, Anne, wanted to talk it out. Joe wanted to confront the conflict straight on, but Anne wanted to avoid it if at all possible. When Joe comes home from work, he wants to make a beeline for the recliner and watch the Discovery Channel. Anne wants to talk about her day volunteering at the hospital. Then one day, Joe realizes that he and his wife communicate differently, and not enough. He decided to make some changes without assigning blame. They got together and talked about their respective communication styles and more importantly their communication needs. They found common ground and a system that works for them through communication.

If you will learn to communicate, rather than just talk in your relationships, you will eliminate much of the harm your words do by never uttering them.

Discussion Questions:
1. Give an example in your life of communicating versus talking? Are we more likely to”fight” or take “flight?” How does that impact our relationships?
2. How do we silence our own inner monologue long enough to really hear another person? Is it hard to be honest about ourselves without being judged?
3. What is it like when our body language conflicts with our words? How does this impact the effectiveness of communication?
4. How would it look if we brought God into all of our relationships?
5. How do we create space for God in your communication with others?

Your Role In The Daily Devotional

Proverbs 1:1-6 says, “for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.”

You may be wondering why I would spend the time to write these daily devotionals. The reason is simple. Our walk with Christ is every day. I will never be all that God intends me to be unless I have daily, quality time with God.

Yes, I write the devotionals. But, you have a part to play as well if they are to be truly effective. It will take some communication on your part. Communication is a two-way street that involves talking and listening. We speak to God through prayer and God speaks back to us through His holy word. If you want to know what God thinks, what God wants, or what God expects of you, then read His word. Ask yourself what God is saying to you in this scripture? Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal Jesus to you. Then take a few moments to personalize what you have read, by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is instruction, encouragement, revelation of a new promise, or corrections for a particular area of your life.

My hope is that you will read these daily devotionals with great expectations that God has something for you somewhere in the text. Take your time and see if you can find and extract extraordinary truths for everyday living as well as in handling difficult circumstances. Pray to God expectantly before you read these devotions. Ask Him to open your eyes to all He wants you to see. Then ask yourself these questions, “What does the text say, what does it mean, and what do I do?”

You’ll be glad you did.