“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” – Philemon 1:17-21.  

Have you ever asked yourself who Christianity is for?  Are there certain people who the rules and promises of Christianity apply to? And what about laws, consequences, and accountability?  Are there those who are simply too broken or too lowly or messed up too much to experience the grace of God? How many times can a man be forgiven before he is unforgivable?  How many bridges can you burn before there is absolutely no way to get back home?  The answer to those questions is no. If Onesimus were standing in the foyer of Northstar today, those are probably the questions he would be asking.

We discover part of Onesimus’s story in the book of Philemon. He was a slave who had run away from his owner, Philemon, a friend of Paul’s from his journeys. And you know what else is said about him?  He was a useless slave.  Does it get any worse?  It is bad enough to be a slave, but you are at the bottom of the barrel when you are a useless slave.  This was Onesimus.

Evidence suggests he made his way to Rome probably hoping to find someplace where nobody could find him. Onesimus was clearly in the wrong and was clearly a criminal who had violated his master’s trust. Paul knows that Philemon has a clear case against Onesimus, but that’s not what is important. Onesimus has become a believer and now that he has experienced a change of heart and character and conduct, and decided to return to Colossae and face the master he had run away from. In preparation for Onesimus’s risky return, Paul sent Philemon a letter, thanking him for being a faithful brother in Christ, and pressing him to further exercise his faith by extending brotherly love and acceptance to Onesimus. Paul urged Philemon to recognize and welcome Onesimus no longer as a slave, but more than a slave—as a dearly loved brother” (Philemon 16).  Legally, Philemon could punish Onesimus or even kill him for running away. No one would expect him to treat his runaway slave with kindness, let alone regard him as kin. But the gospel calls for forgiveness even when none is justified.

Philemon 19-20 says, “PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL! Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ.”

When Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus and forgive him those old debts, he reminded him that he too was once a man with a terrible debt that had also been forgiven.

All believers in Christ are family. No one is superior to another and at some time each of us has been on the run and in need of forgiveness. Each of us has been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus and set free. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11), and He welcomes us into a loving, eternal relationship with Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Philemon 3–7. How does Paul describe Philemon? How does remembering his character and faith encourage the right response toward Onesimus?
  2. Read Philemon 8–11. Why is it important for us to not only make the right decision but to do it from the right heart? 


“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!” – Deuteronomy 30:19.

In the garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented the possible choices people could make to do the right or the wrong thing. Adam and Eve’s choice to eat from that tree is a prologue to all the times God’s people would make sinful decisions in the future.

There is a sign at a high school that says the following. “You are not born a winner, You are not born a loser, You are born a chooser.” Like Adam and Eve, we will experience choices. Every day brings new challenges and decisions for you and everyone around you. Every day is a new day, and every day means we either choose to live for God, by the standards He lays down in scripture, or we live for ourselves by our own standards of right and wrong, as in the days when “. . . the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25).

When you make a choice against one thing, you make a choice for something else. When you make up your mind to abhor evil, you make the choice to cling to what is good. When you choose to ignore the prompting of the Lord in an area, you are making the choice to do something that opposes His best plan for your life. Choosing to do right isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

Following God is determined not only by the one big decision we must make at the time of our conversion but also by the many small decisions that we make throughout each day. Perhaps the most profound act of worship is not found in a worship service where we corporately praise God and offer our prayers, but in private when no one is watching, and we choose to obey God rather than fall into temptation.

What do we want to change in the next six months? What do we hope to change in the next year? Are you going to be healthier, stronger, and more mature? Are you going to be less in debt? Are you going to be more like God wants you to be? The change will only happen if you choose to change.

Change requires making choices. It’s not enough to dream of changing. It’s not enough to desire change. In order for you to change, you will need to make a decision. You must choose to change. You can only muster the faith to embrace and choose change by knowing His love, knowing His character, and trusting Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever seen someone’s life change so much that you couldn’t deny it was God changing them?
  2. What can you do this week to change an area of your life that needs changing?   

How Do You Make Good Decisions

“Self-leadership begins with this discouraging realization: you have participated in every bad decision you have made.” – Andy Stanley. 

Have you ever thought about the process of making decisions, specifically what ultimately makes the decision? Is it your knowledge? Intuition? Your experience? Is it important people in your life?  Is it contemporary culture? Is it a church, or a popular spiritual leader?

There’s no doubt about it. Today we’re faced with more decisions than ever before. We live in a multiple-choice culture. Some decisions have life-or-death consequences, while others, like choosing a toothpaste, are not really all that important. There are people who are good at making decisions. But even those people make bad decisions here and there. How can we as Christians make fewer bad decisions and more good decisions?

The Bible gives perfect principles we need to know in order to make the best decisions–those that are pleasing to God. We need to ask ourselves two questions.

The first question is this: Will this decision draw me closer to God or further away from Him? As you think and pray through a major decision, evaluate how it will impact your relationship with God. Will this decision draw you closer to Him? Is there a different decision that will draw you even closer? Or will this decision move you away from God? You probably will not make the decision that draws you closer to Him every time. I won’t tell you that you always have to pick the choice that draws you the nearest to Him. When you make a bad decision remember that God is still sovereign. 

The second question is this: Will this choice make me more dependent on God or less?  We all desire to be self-sufficient. This is especially true for business leaders and business owners.  This quality is what makes them successful in business. That concept is inverted when it comes to spiritual matters: last is first and first is last. What works for us in the business world can work against us in our Christian journey. Our independence is exactly what God does not want from us in our relationship with Him. As we are making decisions in life, we need to be mindful of whether we are seeking independence from God or dependence on Him. Decision-making is a huge part of dependent living. God the Father wants you to use your mind and heart to evaluate the options and then remove the decisions that are not lined up with His way of doing life. Once you have done that, ask Him to show you which good option to choose. 

Trusting God in making decisions always leads to the best outcome. “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God!” (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What seemingly insignificant decision in your life has ended up being like a small hinge that swung open a giant door?
  2. Think of one particular decision you need to make. Spend some time looking through God’s Word and see what He has to say about it.

By Accident or Design

“ For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14.

I did not decide to do the No Regret series because I wanted each of us to realize how much we have messed up in our walk with God by languishing on our mistakes. This series is not about how many times we we got off track or how many things we would do differently. This series is not about hopping into our Delorean time machine to go back in time to avoid mistakes, stop from making bad decisions and looking before we leap. And it is not about feeling disappointed, sad, guilty, remorseful or even ashamed, because we failed in our eyes and more importantly in God’s eyes. 

This series is about living a life without regret as God intended us to live, which means we move past the regrets and wishes. We can do so by first remembering that there are no accidents with God. He has a perfect timing for everything He does. Isaiah 46:9–10 tells us, “…remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”

God has a perfect plan and there are no accidents with Him. The family you were born into was no accident. The country you live in, the language you speak, the friends you have, your weaknesses, mistakes you have made, poor decisions—none of them are accidents to God. Failures with your spouse and children, things you wish you had done differently, painful experiences—none of them are accidents to God.

Ruth is a short story that teaches us there are no accidents with God. Everything has a purpose. Everything has a reason. Our seeming chance decisions are not chance. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” Ruth shows us that truth played out in the everyday happenings of very ordinary people.

We all have decisions we regret. We have done things that did not turn out the way we intended or hoped. We all wish we had done things differently. So we all have regrets. And we may feel stuck. But in those times when we experience regret we need to remember there are no accidents with God. 

God overrides our sins. Even when we really blow it. Even when you feel what you have done has ruined your life. Even when we miss the opportunities God gives us. Even when you are still experiencing the long-term consequences of a bad mistake. Remember there are no accidents with God. God in His sovereignty can work out everything for our good.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What thought or idea expressed in this devotional resonated with you? Why?
  2. Was there anything in this devotional that you found to be comforting? Why or why not?
  3. Read Isaiah 45:7 and Proverbs 19:21: What do these verses say about how God directs people, circumstances, and events?
  4. Read Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20:  What do these verses tell you about God using bad things for good purposes?

Why Should I Follow Jesus?

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34.

You have a friend that you invite to attend one of the Northstar services with you. He has a simple question, “why should I follow Jesus?” You tell him, “Because Jesus said, ‘I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.’” You go on to explain that God will give you peace and your life new purpose and meaning.

He finally agrees to attend. He thinks some of what is going on is weird, but he enjoys the music and the friendliness of the people. When the invitation is given, he hesitates, but then puts his questions and inhibitions aside and prays to accept Jesus as his savior. He is excited and anxious at the same time. He feels new and vibrant. But then life begins again. Soon he is struggling with getting out of bed on Sunday mornings. He is struggling with the concept of tithing. But he joins a small group of 20 somethings and things seem okay again. So far being a Christian isn’t all that bad. It is working for him.

But then there is a bump in the road. A close friend has a million-to-one type of leukemia. He prays and he asks his small group to pray. But the friend doesn’t get better. He watches as his 23 year old old friend painfully sinks lower and lower until he dies. He doesn’t understand why God didn’t answer his prayers. About this time, he runs into an old friend who offers him some marijuana. He is reluctant, but gives in. For the first time since hearing about the cancer, he feels really good. Old friends tell him to go out with them. He does and the alcohol also makes him feel good and helps him forget the pain of his friend’s death. His Christian experience fades into the background as his old lifestyle moves back into the center of his life. When you talk to him about his faith, he says, “I tried Jesus and it helped me for a while. If it works for you, that’s great. But right now, it’s just not for me.”

Why did that young man decide to stop following Jesus? What was behind his spiritual defection? In this hypothetical example, the young man saw his commitment to Jesus Christ as a good thing as long as it is advantageous to him. You can almost hear this young man saying, “I’ll stick with it until something else works better. If I find something that works better for me I will try it.” Basically, the test for spiritual truth is how it makes you feel and whether it provides you with perks.

The other reason for falling away is that personal happiness is the most important thing in life. God exists to make me happy. If Jesus can make me feel good, I’ll give Him a try. If following Jesus doesn’t make me feel good or if it seems too hard, then I’ll try something else. Happiness, not serving the risen Savior is what matters most. Before we judge that young man too harshly, I wonder if we are all honest, if we don’t have a little bit of his attitude in all of us. “I follow Jesus because I am hoping that He can heal my broken marriage, or get me that promotion, or help my kids to respect me, or get me into that school, or a thousand other reasons.” God can and He may do those things. But that is not the reason to follow Him.

So why should I follow Jesus? I get that question quite a bit. To me, the answer is pretty straight forward. We should follow Jesus because He is Lord, not just because of what He can do for us.

The main reason to follow Jesus is because He created you for His purpose. And because God loves you and wants a personal relationship with you.  He is the gracious Lord of salvation, who gave His life so that all who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

When the apostle Paul faced hardship and suffering, he wrote to Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy. 1:12). Paul’s faith was based on the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want a faith that perseveres in the trials of this life, trust in Jesus because of who He is, not just because of what He can do for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is following Jesus a one-time decision or a daily decision? Why?
  2. Do we have the tendency to look at God as some cosmic genie that fulfills our wishes? How can we guard against that?
  3. What are some things that make it difficult for you to follow Jesus?
  4. What does the phrase “we must follow Jesus because of who He is, not because of what He can do for us” mean to you?
  5. What is one thing you can do this week to begin to follow Jesus or to follow him more closely?