If you are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty if it does not make us faint and can in, it rouses us to overcome.” Oswald Chambers.

There is a passage in Mere Christianity in which C.S. Lewis talks about whether the Christian life is hard or easy. “It’s both”, Lewis says. “It’s hard as death in the beginning, and then as his life begins to worth within us and transform us, it is relatively easy, because he does the work of transforming us.” The question could be slightly rephrased as does living as a christian make life easier or harder? You can answer that question both ways; it is harder and easier.

Luke 14: 28-30 says:”But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ Jesus’ appeal is for those who would follow Him to reflect on the serious demands of discipleship. But does that make Christianity hard?

To believe irrefutably that Christianity is hard is a little bit tricky because it risks belittling the atoning work of Christ—making it sound as if salvation depends upon man’s effort. On the other hand, if Christians say following Jesus is easy, they risk downplaying the cost of discipleship. So how exactly does Scripture depict the life of a Christ-follower? Is it easy or hard to be a Christian? The answer is both.

Take a minute to read Matthew 11:29-30. Jesus breaks the easy/hard question down in extremely practical terms. “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” But read  Matthew 7:14 and you get a contrasting image of discipleship: “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

So Jesus’ yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30) while the way is hard (Matthew 7:14) While christians’ spiritual burdens may be easy, their path is difficult. It’s a trail that leads believers into the hard sayings of Jesus such as the command to love one’s enemies (Luke 6:27), forgive others “seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22), and regularly assume the role of a servant (Matthew 20:26).

The Christian life is not always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Jesus didn’t come to confuse us. He came to love us and to show us the way to peace. He’s our ultimate example, and what’s more, He told us that we would do even greater things than He did.  Easy or hard? Yes, it is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion is it hard or easy to follow Jesus? 
  2. What can we do this week to love God and love others a little better?  

The Lessons We Can Learn From Daniel And The Lion’s Den

Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” – Daniel 6:4-5.

The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the most familiar lessons in the entire Bible. It is a story that has direct application to our lives today.

Daniel wakes up and a new day is streaming in through the open windows. Daniel kneels humbly at the window and sends an earnest prayer up to his only Lord. He does this three times a day, and today is no exception. But now he is bending his knees at an entirely different risk than before. It is actually life-threatening to kneel before anyone other than the king today. Like everyone else in the land of Babylon, Daniel had read the latest decree sent out from the king. Those who worship anyone other than the king during the next thirty days shall be cast into the lions’ den. It is truly an awful fate.

Daniel could have avoided this entire situation. Just a little adjustment in his commitment, and you could have avoided this entire thing. He could have set aside his daily routine for a month or so. Or he could have gone someplace where nobody would see him praying. But he will not bend or postpone his commitment to God. Very simply, Daniel’s commitment to God was not altered by his circumstances… whether good or bad. Daniel’s unwavering stance for God caused the trip to the lion’s den. God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was not harmed.

One of the chief lessons we learn from this story is gleaned from the confession of King Darius himself: “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end.” (Daniel 6:26). Hebrews 11:33 says, “By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,   

There’s no doubt: prayer does not come naturally. It is something that we all need to strive for. If we are not careful, we might slowly come to a point where our conscience does not bother us anymore when we fail to pray

The life of Daniel offers us the clearest example of how to cultivate a life of praying. Daniel went through just about every situation we could imagine. He was captured in war and was subjected to great danger as he was abducted and sent off as a prize to the winning side. In these trials and through the next decades there was one common denominator in his life: the habit of prayer.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. Most believers believe it is difficult to pray if you don’t spend time in the word. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What keeps you from the habit (routine) of praying? What can you do this week to overcome those obstacles?

What is a Disciple?

“ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:11-16.

Most jobs have a job description. A job description is a broad, general, written statement of duties, purpose, responsibilities, and scope. If God gave you a job description for the Christian life, what do you think would be on it? If you started with core responsibilities, discipleship would certainly be included.

We read this clearly in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

First, a definition. A disciple is a learner and a follower of Jesus who strives to faithfully follow Him in every area of their lives. Many Christians are intimidated by the concept. It seems above their pay grade and better suited for pastors and church staff. The reality is that it is fundamental and applies to everyone. 

I do understand the confusion. There are more than a few paradigms about discipleship. Some people view it as reading the Bible. Others see it as digesting as many spiritual books as possible. Others view it as attending a small group. Still others pray. While all these aid the work of discipleship, they are not a prerequisite or the end of discipleship. It is not easy, but it is not complicated either. When Jesus commands us to make disciples, He intends for us to live our lives in obedience to Him in the presence of other people. This intentional living seeks to show others the worth and the power of Christ. In short, we let people in to see how we live out the Christian faith.

In 2016, our vision is to see our church step out in it’s faith and become passionate disciples of Jesus.  Our Goal is to offer more resources, curriculum and teaching to grow and mature into disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to build solid foundations to become a life-long follower of Jesus.

I encourage you to avail yourselves of these opportunities beginning with small groups, Growth Track classes, and maybe consider a short-term mission trip.

If you want more information, talk to your campus pastor. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your  definition of discipleship? What motivates you to be a disciple?
  2. Where would you like to grow as an individual and a follower of Jesus? What area is most challenging for you?
  3. How do small groups play a part in our church’s discipleship ministry?
  4. What areas concerning discipleship would you appreciate getting resources for and discussion about?   

Found People Find People

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15: 4-7.

There is a story of two brothers that is hard to believe. After years of trying to find each other, two long-lost Newfoundland brothers discovered they live just yards apart. Tommy Larkin, 30, and his brother, Stephen Goosney, 29, were adopted as children by separate families. Both Larkin and Goosney spent years searching for their biological family but had no luck. Little did they know, they had spent the past seven months living almost directly across the street from each other. The unusual thing was, despite living across the road from each, they couldn’t really ever remember seeing or speaking to each other, until an unlikely encounter. Since reconnecting, the brothers said they have been spending a lot of time together. 

Jesus and His Word makes our mandate pretty clear. Our mission, the driving force, the thing that should get us up and keep us up and that we should be expending our energy on is people who are far from the heart of God whether they are across the street or across the planet. Matthew 28:19-29 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”  He reveals that our understanding must be that found people find people.

Jesus drives this home with words, but also His actions! Jesus was constantly on a mission to find people. In John 1:43-45 He found Philip. The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, were from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

He found Philip. Jesus was about finding people. And then He expects us to in turn find others.

So the question is who are we finding? Who have we gone out of our way, purposely set out, planned, to find? It is impossible to really love Jesus and not be concerned about people who are lost and haven’t come to Christ!

Are you found? Who will you find? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do we have a willingness to find others?
  2. What does finding others mean to you?
  3. What is preventing us from inviting others to church? Is it our schedule? Is it fear? Is it comfort? Is it apathy?
  4. Read Romans  2: 6-11: What does Paul mean when he states, “For God shows no partiality.”
  5. Pray and ask God for the courage and the opportunity to invite people to church and to talk about your faith.

You Asked For It – What is Christian Discipleship?

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8: 31-32.

From the moment we start school, from kindergarten through college, we are required to memorize information, and then take a test to see just how much of the information we retain. If we pass the tests, then we move on to the next grade and start the process all over again.

We’ve adopted this learning pattern in our Christian walk. We’re trained to learn biblical concepts, principles, and key scripture passages. And the more biblical information we know, the greater disciples we are presumed to be. But is that the key element in discipleship? My answer is no. Knowing the Bible doesn’t give us eternal life; knowing Jesus does. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Let me say for the record, I have no problem with Biblical education. I went to seminary and I try to learn something new about Jesus every day. My point is if we all that learning does not produce more love for Jesus, myself, and people, then it is a poor investment of my time. If all that learning doesn’t cultivate more love in my heart, then I wouldn’t be a disciple—I’d be nothing more than a Biblical fact sheet. A well-researched fact sheet can’t transform the world; disciples do. I want to be a disciple.

The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT), “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God. The “fruit of your salvation” is the fruit of the Spirit.”

When our minds are fixed on Jesus and we are filled with His love, we become the hands of Jesus by serving people because we love them. But we need to remember this is a long journey. Maturity takes time and is not linear. It would be great if there was instant maturity in faith and in life, but it doesn’t work that way.

Christian maturity has never been about you or me anyway. It is certainly not about how awesome you are compared to others, how smart you are, how righteous you are, or how holy you are. It is all about Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a disciple? What is a good definition of discipleship?
  2. What does an mature Christian look like? What does he/she believe, and how does he/she act, especially in his/her relationships?
  3. What are some obstacles/circumstances to becoming a mature disciple?
  4. What role do you play in your own discipleship? How do small groups/church play a part in your discipleship journey?
  5. Read John 17:6-19 (Jesus’ High Priestly prayer to His Father). What do these words tell you?
  6. If you haven’t done it already, sign up for the discipleship classes at Northstar.

You Asked For It

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C.S. Lewis

  • What does it mean to be in Christ?
  • What is the Christian life supposed to be like?
  • How can we recognize the voice of God?
  • What is Christian discipleship?
  • How can I know when God is telling me to do something?
  • How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?
  • What is true worship? How can I worship the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24)?
  • How can believers be in the world, but not of the world?
  • What is spiritual growth?
  • Why does God allow us to go through trials and tribulations?
  • How are we to submit to God?
  • How do I get a passion for Jesus and keep that passion burning?
  • How can I experience joy in my Christian life?

I believe C.S Lewis is exactly right. If you want to be comfortable, then Christianity may not be your thing. Once you have asked all your questions, weighed all the evidence, and tested all the arguments, and accepted Jesus as your personal savior, you have embarked on a journey of living as a child of God. This will involve a growing in maturity, sometimes slowly, as we grow in our love, knowledge and service of God. Having said this, there is also the reality of living in our broken world, with the bombardments of that world coming at us from every angle. We will have additional questions. Nearly everyone does–believers and unbelievers alike. Have you ever wished for a concise, understandable response that will satisfy both the mind and the heart?

It is amazing how many times people ask questions that they think no one else has asked and certainly no one has ever answered. During the month of July we will look at some of the questions you have based on a survey we did. The series, You Asked For It, started this week with the question – “how can I know God’s will for my life?”  I will address the question of knowing God’s will over the next few days, but in this devotional I want to give you my thoughts on some very basic questions.

First, why am I a Christian? Ultimately, because Jesus Christ showed and persuaded me that what He did on the cross perfectly met my need before God as a sinner. Jesus showed me that His resurrection from the dead meant that he could supply me with all the power I’d need to be his follower. And that means through thick and thin, through the trials and joys of this life. Jesus showed me that I could trust his promise that, in spite of all that’s wrong in my heart and life, He would keep loving and forgiving me and bring me safely through this life.

Second, why am I still a Christian? As you heard me say many times, a life with Jesus is so much better than a life without Him. He helped me to grow. I’m not what I ought to be – but I know that I’m not what I was. I know that there’s nobody else like Jesus. Why would I not want to be a Christian? Where else would I go, either now for a relationship with the living God, or in eternity?
We are continually faced with questions that challenge our belief systems. This isn’t a bad thing, and much of Jesus’s ministry revolved around asking questions. In the end, thoughtfully examining our faith promotes a spirituality that is healthy, honest, genuine, and mature.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have questions? Where do you go for the answers? Did you get your questions answered?
  2. How would you answer the question, “why am I a Christian?”
  3. How would you answer the question “why am I still a Christian?”

Keystone Habits

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” –  Charles Duhigg

In the message on Sunday, I referenced a book by Charles Duhigg entitled “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” Duhigg studies the science of behavior, focusing particularly on habits. His premise is that in essence, our entire lives can be summed up by our habits, those things we do incessantly, day in and day out. From brushing our teeth, to the places we shop to the way we eat, sleep, work and play, our habits define us. Good habits, done over a long period of time, have incredible results. Bad habits, even little ones, done over a long period of time have the power to destroy us.

It is hard to argue with Duhigg’s assertions. I would suggest that the key to changing your life is to change your habits, but this is easier said than done. In the book, researchers studied people who underwent radical and enduring lifestyle changes and found that the secret nearly always boiled down to what is known as a single keystone habit.

As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, a keystone habit is a single habit which, when implemented, has a ripple effect or compounding effect on other areas of life. In other words, we change the most when we change one habit that will ultimately impact other areas of our life. Sounds a lot like the series Small Changes Big Differences, doesn’t it?

As we have said through this whole series, don’t set far flung and overly ambitious goals. I would like to be like the apostle Paul, but that won’t happen this year or even in this decade. Instead, we need to focus on one goal, that if we accomplish over time will have a ripple effect in other areas of our lives. In other words the small steps we take this year should be focused on a keystone habit. Don’t look for quick wins because they don’t bring about lasting change.

OK, Marty, what are the keystone steps in your mind. I will answer that, but if you thought about it for a few minutes you would have probably come up with the same list. Here are the habits which I believe will make a big difference in our lives:

1. Attending church and Northstar group weekly.
2. Spending time with God in His Word and prayer daily.
3. Serving in a weekly ministry.
4. Giving back to God at least 10 percent of my income.
5. Going on a short-term mission trips.

These five habits are so much a part of me I take them for granted. They have shaped who I am and what God has done in my life. However, they didn’t become habits overnight. It took time, in fact years. So, I would suggest you concentrate on number 1 on that list until it becomes a habit. If it is already a habit go on to number two and so on. Do that and I believe your life in several years will be radically different than it is today and bring lasting spiritual growth and change in your life.

Discussion Questions:
1. What are the keystone habits in your life? What should they be? How do those keystone habits intersect with discipline?
2. How would your life be different if you developed the daily habit of reading the Bible?
3. Do you attend Northstar Groups whenever possible? Do you tithe? Do you pray as frequently or as fervently as you would like? How do we develop the discipline to make those things a habit?
4. One of the keystone habits for church members is inviting unchurched members to attend church. Is that a habit of yours? If not, why not?

Change Your Life With One Word

What are the words we use most often? They are probably words such as “the, of, and, to, in and is” to name a few. Our kids would probably answer that question with the word “no” as the one word parents use most often. Yes, these are little words, but, you can’t typically make a sentence without them. And when the right words are put together they can be powerful. And they can effect change in our lives.

In Sunday’s message kicking off the Small Changes Big Difference teaching series, I challenged everyone in attendance to pick one word to focus on for 2015. Much like we do when we make resolutions at the beginning of the new year.

I asked that we choose one word that God will do in or through us and then focus on it for 2015. Here’s why. Willpower and self-effort only get us so far, especially when we’re overwhelmed with a long list of things we want to work on. My experience is that personal change and spiritual growth is more successful when we attempt to move the needle in one targeted area, rather than trying to tackle an overwhelming list of help needed areas each year.

Let me give you a few practical steps that will help you arrive at your word. First, what kind of spiritual growth do you want to make this year? In what area of spiritual growth will I get my greatest return? What about the condition of the heart? What small step(s) can help you become the person God created you to be? Second, what characteristics define this type of person? Is it faithfulness? Or generosity? Or a servant? Once you have a picture of that person, translate those characteristics into individual words.

Third, choose the one word from that list. Pick the word that resonates with you most. Some of the most popular choices include trust, patience, love, discipline, and focus. Even though each of them are worthwhile words, it’s important to choose just one, and resist the temptation to work on them all.

Fourth, choose a Bible verse that speaks to you about your chosen word and memorize it. And fifth, while we still at the beginning of the year, outline your expectations for the impact of your word for the remainder of the year. Also think of the ways to keep your word at the forefront during the coming year.

The thinking behind the one word is pretty straightforward. Instead of focusing on the long list of resolutions—all your sweeping promises to change—invest your time and efforts to make spiritual improvements in one area. It is far better than trying to do something about everything and giving up because impacting everything at one time is completely unrealistic.

Focusing on one area will force clarity and concentrate your efforts. As you focus on your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to work on your character at a deep, sustainable level. I believe growth and change will result.
Discussion questions
What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself or accomplish this year? Is it something you need to take out of your life? Or is it something you need to add into your life ?

Evaluate yourself. In what ways did you grow last year and in what ways did you struggle? What is the one word that represents that one change you wish to make?

What is a key verse or passage that will help you with what you have chosen?

What’s the first step you need to take to live out this change?

The Next Big Thing

I am about to contradict what I am teaching in our latest series. Our current series is about the small changes that can make a big difference in our lives. In this devotional, however, I am getting off the reservation for a moment and talking about something I consider big: discipleship. I am doing so because the new year has begun and with it the opportunity for new beginnings, for changes in our lives.

Discipleship requires actions. For example: Read the Bible, worship God and hear from His word by regularly attending worship services. Participate in a Northstar group consistently to help develop relationships with other Christians. Find other Christians that help you grow in your walk with Christ. Attend discipleship classes occasionally to grow in areas of need or areas of interest. And serving others. Serving can range from helping in preschool, or students, to going on a mission trip, serving coffee, or helping set-up the worship center.

Anytime we help someone meet Jesus or grow as a follower of Christ, we are making disciples. Anytime God’s people open His word together, pray together, and share life in and around his gospel, we are making disciples. From gathered worship to small groups to one-on-one relationships—at every level and in each relational context, where the gospel of Jesus is brought to bear on people’s lives in a transformational way, we are making disciples.

At Northstar Church we have a number of training classes that are structured to help you on your spiritual journey in an understandable and doctrinal way. It starts with 101 Membership class. This class is a basic introduction to the Northstar Church family and will help you understand church membership.

201- Maturity is a class that guides you through the essential beliefs every Christian needs to find success in their walk with Christ. We will cover the practical ways to begin spiritual growth and how to continue growing throughout your life.

301- Ministry is a newer class that will help you discover how your personality, gifts, passions, and life experiences work together to fulfill God’s plan for your life.

401- Missions is another newer class about being on mission with God wherever you are. We want to help you learn how to share your story with others in an effort to help others come to know Jesus.

501- Worship is a class that addresses the common misconception that worship is just singing in church on Sundays but it is way more than that. This class is designed to equip you with biblical knowledge of worship in regards to your everyday life and when we gather as the church.

I encourage you to take a big step as you take some other small steps by taking advantage of the next big thing, the classes our church offers. Every one of these classes will help you grow in your walk with God. For information on the classes, talk to your campus pastor, or visit our website at

Discussion Questions:
1. Have you taken a class at Northstar? If not, why not?
2. Do you understand the process of discipleship?
3. How do Northstar groups play a part in your spiritual development?
4. Which class or classes should you take in 2015?