Is Going To Church All That Important?

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20

We have more and more people who believe that church is irrelevant because they believe all that the church once provided can be provided by modern society. From community service projects to feeding the poor, from self-help and support groups, they provide the modern person with what the Church used to (and occasionally still does) provide.

So is church still necessary? Is is that important that I go? The simple truth is that there are valid reasons for needing to miss church. And the truth is missing one Sunday every once in awhile is pretty harmless. Just as missing exercise once in awhile is not a major issue. But when you consistently miss your workouts, is when you stop receiving the benefits. The same is true of attending church. You miss one Sunday with the flu, no problem. But then you miss to go to the beach. Or cut your grass. Or maybe you just want to chill out by attending bedside community church. The fact is that it is easy to move from skipping community worship on Sundays “just this once” into “oh I can skip, no big deal” and suddenly you are only attending on Easter and Christmas.

As a pastor, you probably can figure out where I stand on this issue. But for the record, I believe, as Bill Hybels does when he said, “the local church is the hope of the world.” The local church is the hope of people who are far from the heart of God. In addition, I believe attending church regularly is vital to spiritual growth. It’s the one habit that can strengthen all other Christian habits combined.

So why go to church? First, scripture tells us to. Going to church is not just a suggestion, it is God’s will for believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we should “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. The author of Hebrews says that’s not a good idea. We need the spiritual encouragement that church attendance affords.

Second, you may hear something that will motivate and convict you to make changes in your life. I have heard pastors use the phrase, “The service you miss is the service you need.” Each service is tailored and designed to maximize your Sunday worship so that you can leave with the best possible spiritual experience. You can praise and worship God and you can learn things that you didn’t know before. You will be challenged. You’re going to be motivated. Church is where you will be inspired to go higher than you’ve gone, to live a life that is godlier and greater than you’ve been living. And to sync your life up with Jesus and His purpose and plan a Home Run Life.

Third, be a part of the change you are looking for. As the world searches for positive models to follow, you have the opportunity to be that model. When you go to church, others take notice. You are setting an example that other people notice. Examples inspire so why not inspire others. People want to do better, live better, and be better. For the people around you, whether it’s your friends or your co-workers, whether it’s your family, when they see that you have a commitment that is leading you to living a better life – that is a positive example that other people can follow.

So is church attendance still importance? Nothing does more for your spiritual health than regularly being in church. Being in a church service is irreplaceable. It is a moment in time and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. There will always be competition for your time and other things that you could do on a Sunday.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you really need to attend church? Why or why not?
  2. Do you believe being part of a church satisfies our need for belonging and acceptance.
  3. Does church give you the ability to minister to others? Is church one of the ways to exercise the ministry gift God has given you to be a blessing to someone else.
  4. Does the church minister to you? You have questions. There’s no better place to find the answers and comfort and support you need than a church of people who genuinely care about you. Agree or disagree?

The Secret To Significance

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.” – Rick Warren.

There are a certain number of questions that seem to haunt our lives at different times and in different ways. What real difference does my life make? What real contributions have I made or will I make in this world?” Do I dare to ask the question, “how much do I matter,” for fear of discovering the answer. These questions are at the heart of the basic fear of living and leading lives of significance.

Some years back, Cal Ripken Jr. broke fellow Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig’s long-standing record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game in 1995. Ripken did not just break Gehrig’s record either. He smashed it. Ripken ended his streak at 2,632 games more than three years after breaking the record. It was a significant streak and gave putting on the uniform and playing each day additional meaning. Today, that record continues to have significance in baseball.

We all want to do something of significance for our community or at least for our families. Often, however, we find significance in temporary things like power, wealth, prestige, position, etc.

Paul talked about the subject of our significance: ”I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Paul declares that only in what Christ has done and has made us to be can we see ourselves as being significant. Paul is pointing us to an entirely different way of measuring our significance and importance. Our worth is not rooted in our possessions, our position, our power, or our prestige.  Our worth and significance are not found in anything we have done or in what the world sees as significant. Our significance is rooted in Christ’s love towards us. Our worth in Christ also is something that is permanent.

As we have received God’s love, we will also want to reflect this love. People should see in us Christ himself and then notice that God sees us as significant. If we use Christ as our mirror in understanding our importance and worth as a person, something interesting takes place. If we understand that we are in Christ, we begin to mirror Christ to others around us. And if we mirror Christ to others, we find that Christ has given us purpose and meaning to our lives. Our significance lies not in ourselves, but in Christ. The result is that we can and will make a difference in the world and in the lives of others.

When we see ourselves in Christ, we are given not only significance, but a purpose. We are given something that will enable us to make a difference, to make an impact on the lives of others around us. If Christ lives in us, we have His love, His presence, and His compassion living in us. We are then enabled to share His love, His presence, and His compassion with those around us. And that makes for a life of significance.

Discussion Question:

  1. Do you ever feel like you will never measure up? Or that you must meet certain standards to feel good about yourself?
  2. What is preventing you from living a life of significance?
  3. Take the time to consider what God is trying to teach you this week. What can you do this week to better or reconnect with God?
  4. What does the Bible say about our significance: Psalms 34:17-20; Genesis 1:27; Psalms 139;13-16: Ephesians 2:4-9; Matthew 10:31; Romans 8:32. What is God telling us in these verses? Do they change how we view our significance?

Life In Compartments

“When there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the spiritual is apt gradually to be lost.” – Flannery O’Connor

There is a slogan commonly used when describing a trip to Vegas: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” The idea is that when people go to Las Vegas, they get license to do things they would never normally do, to act like they would never normally act. This is Vegas! So what if you lose a whole lot of money? This is Vegas! So what if you…?

The problem is many Christians are living their faith this way. When we compartmentalize our faith the slogan becomes, “what happens at church, stays at church,” or, “what happens away from church, stays away from church.” Often, our response to the all that is happening around us is to segregate these various areas of our lives into compartments like a super-organized California Closet: house, marriage, kids, family, schedules, friends, food, hobbies . . . and Jesus. Our attempt at order by compartmentalizing or controlling our lives, people, and tasks is really a heart issue. We have to ask ourselves what we believe. Do we believe that God is Lord over all, attentive to us in everything?

Christians are called to be Christians, not just some of the time, but all of the time. We are called to be Christ-like in all of our actions, not just some of our actions. When Christians live a compartmentalized life, they do a great job at being Christians some of the time, but the rest of the time the bets are off.

With the sacrifice of Jesus as our foundation, and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we are called to worship God 24/7. The scriptures don’t say anything about us putting aside our faith in compartments when we don’t want God to interfere with certain parts of our lives. We aren’t called to worship God just when it is convenient. We are called to trust and believe in Him even when it is inconvenient. The world might be pressuring us to compartmentalize our faith in Christ, but what the world desperately needs is for that faith to unify and integrate every aspect of our lives.

So how do we get rid of the compartments? Handing the reins over to our attentive God is the first step. We can acknowledge the propensity to compartmentalize and pray for wisdom to eliminate those areas of our life where God does not play a principal role. We need the Holy Spirit to help us (John 14:26) to see how we have pushed God aside as we “do” our lives.

The bottom line is this. It is turning our focus from our agenda to His, seeing Christ made great in our thoughts, actions, feelings, in fact, through all the details of life. The Bible says that we can be recognized by the fruit we produce in our lives. What kind of fruit are you producing? More than that, what kind of fruit are others noticing you are producing when they see you on a daily basis? Are you producing the fruits of the Spirit that are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

The challenge is being a Christian not just when everyone is looking, but also when no one is looking.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you desire Jesus Christ to be first in your life? Do you see every aspect of your life and work as service to God. How does that manifest itself in your life?
  2. Many people are tempted to compartmentalize their faith rather than allow God to influence every aspect of their lives. Discuss some of the reasons for this. In what ways can materialism be the enemy of single-mindedness?
  3. Which area of your life (relationships, finances, work, family, etc.) is hardest to submit to God’s will and guidance?
  4. How have you experienced the benefits of a single-minded focus on God?
  5. How has “seeking first the kingdom of God” brought God’s blessing upon your work, relationships, family, and finances?
  6. Pray and ask God for the wisdom to occupy all the compartments in your life.

Caution: God at Work

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him…And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” – Isaiah 30:18, 21

I love these verses because they demonstrate an active, loving God: He longs, He rises, He speaks. God did not give us an instruction manual, the Bible, and then sit down on His throne and watch what transpires from heaven. Instead, He is there when we have problems. He is working behind the scenes. The Holy Spirit tells us which way to turn so we don’t get lost.

I know that God does not sit idly, watching our life take place. And that is a good thing because there will be times in all of our lives when we simply don’t understand how God is working. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t align with what we can grasp with our minds. It doesn’t fit into the way we believe things happen in this world. But remember this. God keeps His promises, God gives you the right instructions according to His perfect will and He won’t mislead you. No matter how much you don’t understand life as it is right now – no matter how uncomfortable it may seem or how hard it gets, don’t worry. The same God who spoke life into you, the same God who is and knows the beginning and the end, the same God who knew you before the foundation of this world is with you. Knowing that, what can stand against you?

Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” I believe that when you come to the place where you trust God, you will rest in the knowledge that He has everything under control even when life seems to be out of control. Trusting God will get you to the point where you make a decision to trust in Him and not in your own logic and understanding.

God doesn’t expect us to understand everything He’s doing. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to want to know more. It’s normal to think what’s happening just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And we will experience a whole variety of emotions along the way.

The reality is, we will never fully grasp all God is doing this side of heaven. But, He does want us to really know this with all our hearts: He loves us and He’s working on our behalf in ways beyond what we can even comprehend.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you sometimes feel that God is stringing you along? Why or why not? Why is it difficult to not be afraid? Or anxious, because it will all be worked out in the end?
2. How would you rate your trust in God?
3. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way? What do those two verses mean to you?
4. Pray and ask God to give you courage to completely trust in Him, even when you can’t see or understand what is going on around you.

Not To Worry

“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” – Mark 8:18.

Americans tend to make a national sport of being anxious. And we as Christians are no different. We stress, we panic, we fuss, and we fret. We act as though the sun will not set unless we get everything done on our agenda for that day. And when something doesn’t get done in a timely and productive manner, we freak out in direct proportion to how important the project/task is.  The Psalmist said it this way, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 43:5).

I think the reason behind being anxious is that amidst all the activities of the day, we forget that God’s promises, God’s power, God’s grace, God’s providence applies to every situation. The rest of that verse from the Psalms says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” God’s salvation, of our hope in Him, is the best cure for anxiety, stress, and panic. God is in control.

The Bible is full of stories that remind us that this is not a modern phenomenon. The Israelites, less than a week after walking through the Red Sea, complained that they couldn’t find water, and worried that God would let them die (Exodus 15:22-25). Elijah, having just conquered 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, immediately ran into the wilderness and asked to die when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 18-19). The disciples, having just witnessed Jesus feeding 4000 people, started arguing amongst themselves because they forgot to bring along any bread (Mark 8:14-21). They were in the boat with the One who had just fed 4,000 people; and yet they were worried because they forgot to bring along any bread.

I think that this is the fundamental reason why we stress, fret, and worry. We forget what God has done. We think that our problems are greater than God’s vision, our troubles are too much for Him to bear. We worry that God might just not be watching, or is distracted.

Then we read the story of Daniel in the first chapter of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was a man of great military and political power. He ruled the nation (Babylon) with an iron fist, and Babylon dominated all other world powers of that day. He was the commander who defeated and destroyed Jerusalem and who led most of the Jews into Babylonian captivity. The people of Judah seemed insignificant and impotent against such a great man as Nebuchadnezzar, and indeed they were. Despite his youth and the obvious pressures to conform, Daniel “purposed in his heart” to uphold the law of God, no matter the cost. Because of his willingness to put God first, God granted Daniel favor in the sight of others.

God has proven His faithfulness, time and time again. We need to remember this at all times. Maybe that’s why Paul, in his encouragement to Timothy said, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). We need to constantly remember that He is risen, He is alive, He rules and reigns over us and for us, He holds all things in His hands.

And while everything may not end up well as did Daniel’s resolve in chapter one, we can trust God to work it all out for our good.

Discussion Questions:
1. What are some of the reasons Jesus gives for trusting in God, rather than worrying?
2. Regarding yourself, what do you worry about most? What keeps you awake at night?
3. When do you replace your faith in God with worry?
4. For what specifically are you trusting God? On what basis are you trusting him for these things?
5. Read Matthew 6 which s a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. In verses 25 – 34, Jesus lays out the stark contrast between living a life of worry and living a life in total dependence on God the Father. It is a choice between trust in ourselves and trust in God. Pray and ask God to help you depend on Him in your life.

A Risk-Taking Vision For The Road Ahead

Core Statement: Northstar is a faith-filled, big thinking, bet the farm risk takers. We will never insult God with small thinking or safe living.

In the book of Ruth, Naomi hatches a plan to see her widowed daughter Ruth get a husband who can give her children. She tells Ruth to spruce herself up and present herself to Boaz, who would be sleeping next to and guarding his pile of grain. She told her to uncover his feet, lie down next to him, and wait for him to tell her what to do. It was risky for a young woman to cross town alone at night. It was a huge risk to lie down next to an older man in the dark. Would he react appropriately? But Ruth makes her way to the threshing floor, and in the darkness manages to locate Boaz asleep by his grain. She gently lifts his garment back exposing his feet, then lies down.

In the middle of the night, something startles Boaz, he turns over and – there’s a woman at his feet! In the darkness he can’t see who it is so he cries out “Who are you?” “And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9) Spread your wings over your servant meant spread the edge of your garment over me, which was a commitment of marriage. Ruth didn’t wait for Boaz to tell her what to do as Noami had advised, but blurted out a marriage proposal. This was another huge risk on Ruth’s part. How will he respond? Read Ruth chapter 3 and 4 for the complete story. Spoil alert –  her risk pays off.

I believe God is calling us as a church to be faith-filled and do big things for the Kingdom. But doing big things for the kingdom is a risky business. We should never insult God with small thinking. Because you cannot play it safe and please God. We cannot be static and content with the status quo because God is not.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, if you can do everything though your own power and you never need God then you are living without faith. There are people who think that failing means you’re missing God. I’ve discovered that failing is often the first step to discovering God. We believe the fear of failure should stop us from stepping out in faith and see where God takes us. I think we should step out of the boat and see where God does take us.

That all sounds good, but by now you are asking what all that means to me. It is all about stepping out in faith. And that doesn’t mean selling all your earthly possessions and moving to China to start a church. It could mean that, but in most cases, as our series Small Things Big Difference suggested, we can start with small steps. You decide to tithe, even though things aren’t going well economically. It makes no rational sense, but you’re going to do it. And then you see the wonderful work of God through that step of faith. You start a Northstar Group and you may wonder if you can do it. But then you look back and see the Northstar Group as one of high points in your life. You decide to serve in Kids Ministry, even if you are unsure if you can connect. Then you get in there and do it and see that you are impacting future generations. You make a commitment to have a quiet time with God. That investment brings you closer to God. Some of you are afraid to try the 21 Day Daniel Fast because you are not sure you have that level of discipline. But, you decide to honor God with your sacrifice and find that God has never seemed more present in your life. There is risk in every one of these examples. But, there are also opportunities that God will honor and bless. We just need to step out in faith.

Faith is not the outcome that we want, because our faith in the faithfulness of God is what we are seeking. And as you grow your faith, we as a church community grow in our faith. We as a church are not going to sit back, we are thinking big. God did not give us a small commission, but a Great Commission and we are going to take the risks needed to help the whole world find and follow Jesus.

So what are we? We are faith-filled, big thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers. We will never insult God with small thinking or safe living.

Discussion Questions
1. What is the vision of Northstar?
2. Think about it a few seconds and then answer the following two questions: What does God believe I can do? What does God expect me to do?
3. Did you ever attempt something so bold that couldn’t have come through without God?
4. Is there something about risk that scares you? What specific fears or doubts hold you back from complete faith in God? What could help you strengthen that trust?
5. What are some things you’ve learned in the past when you stepped out in faith?
6. Our culture teaches us to avoid risk because of the pain it can bring and in the name of safety, seeking to control all the details we can. Pray and ask God to help us as a church and each of us as individuals to be willing to take risks and be more bold for Him in the remainder of 2015.

 

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?.

What Do You Want Most?

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”  – Samuel Johnson.

What do you want most out of life? Or let me ask ask the same question a different way. What do you treasure most? If I asked that question of everyone who is a member or regular attender of Northstar, I would get a variety of answers. A preponderance of the answers, however, would be success in long-term goals involving: my relationship/walk with God, family, home, financial success, community, generosity, integrity, and wisdom to name a few.

But if we are honest, we may also want to deal with the negative in our lives. The things in our life that are in the crevices we try to ignore. Most of us have things that are buried in hidden crevices. We try to ignore them, but if we’re honest, we have to admit they’re there. We’re not even sure what those crevices contain. Is it a lack of faith? Is it doubt? Is it the memory of a time when we didn’t do what we know was right? They are always there, lurking in the background.  We can work and try all our lives, but we can’t seem to reach them. What we want most in life is to rid ourselves of these things that we believe could be impeding our relationship with God. The reality is we can’t fix these things on our own.

The reason I believe this series, Small Changes, Big Difference was so important is that we can clean out the crevices, whether they are habits, or lack of discipline or whatever, and get what we want most. Wherever you are in your walk with God, it is the end of a chapter not the end of the book. There are more chapters in my life to be written. And where you now is not how the story really ends. It is a lifetime process. It is never complete in this life. God won’t stop until the job is done.

What happened in the past is in the past. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. Today, you can turn the page and take the small steps to improve your relationships on this earth and your relationship with God. So, today, strike up a conversation with God. Tell Him what you want most, and ask Him for His help to get you there. And then trust Him to unfold His plan as He sees fit. I remember the Garth Brook’s song about how some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. Remember that God doesn’t answer prayer our way, He answers them His way which is always better. He will address your habits, good and bad. He will help you with your lack of discipline or build on the discipline you have. He will help you clean out those crevices.

“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Note the last four words: “He will do it.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, based on the complexity of our habits or the depth of our crevices. There is no hesitation, or doubt of any kind. Not “He may do it” or “He might do it” or “He could do it” or “He will do it if he feels like it.” Not even “He will do it if we do our part or we are worthy.” Just a simple statement that God will do it without the slightest reference to anything on our part. Change happens when God has a strong hold on us.

We may chafe, doubt and even worry about our lack of progress. We may even think of giving up. But God does not change. God is at work in your life. He will not stop until the job is done. He will do it.

Discussion Questions:
1. Am I failing at this Christian life? Am I succeeding? How do you measure success or failure?
2. Do you believe “He will do it” as 1 Thessalonians says? How has that belief manifested itself in your life? Where have you seen real change in your life since becoming a Christian?
3. How would you rate yourself in being a disciplined person?
4. What do you want most? What do you need to do now to have what you want most?
5. What habit would you change if you could? Why?

My Personal Mission Statement

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ? C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Every church has a vision and mission. When we identify our vision and mission, it focuses our influence and resources to take us where we want to go. Our vision at Northstar is to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. It just makes sense for us as a church to have a vision for where we want to be in the future and a blueprint to get there. It also makes sense for each of us who are followers of Jesus to have a personal mission or vision statement.

A what Marty? A Personal Mission Statement answers the pivotal question: “When you get to the end of your life and look back, what would define for God and yourself a life worth having lived?” It’s the reason for why we are here and the foundation for evaluating all our future priorities and plans.

Yes, it sounds complicated. And yes, it can sound a little cerebral, especially for newer Christians. But if you break it down to its basic components, it is simply the small steps you will do to get you to your desired destination. If you know where you want to be on your spiritual journey in a few years, start with the small step(s) that will get you there. St. Francis of Assisi gave somewhat of a personal mission statement when he said, “In all things go and preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” An example of a vision statement: “To become the fulfillment of what we are called to be through Christ, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by Grace through Faith.”

If you don’t have personal goals, it doesn’t mean you’re not accomplishing some very good things in your life. Most of us are serving God and others, trying to raise our children right, working in a meaningful job, volunteering in our churches and communities, giving, and worshiping God. In short, trying to be good citizens and good Christians. But are we using our gifts, our influence, our time as well as we could be to glorify God and further His kingdom? And if not, how do we do that and where do we start?

Think about it in this way. We want to build a new church in Kui, Kenya. We would begin with the most important objectives in mind first. What do the members and attenders want and need? What do the members and attenders want their new church to look like? Will it work for them 25 years from now? What are their resources? What can they afford? Then we begin with the end in mind. Once the members and attenders have given us an idea or vision for the church, we can work with an architect to begin work on the more specific details to make the dream a reality.

We, you and I belong to God. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but God owns you and me. As you let God reveal to you his design for your life, you’re letting God be both the member and architect, and will guide you as you put your personal mission statement on paper.

Let me give you an example.You are a newer Christian, so in the next year your main goal and point of emphasis is to be consistently faithful in praying, having quiet time with God for your devotions and serving in some capacity at the church. The barrier to doing those things is finding the time. You have a lot going on these days. You could just jump in and wing it. That is often a recipe for frustration. A better option or first step may be to become better at time management. Take a class. Read a book. Pray and seek God’s help in making time with Him a priority. God may want you to just jump in and by doing so, it could change your life. But if not, having a plan to achieve your objective may be the best option.

On Sunday, I asked you to think about and decide on the one word that will guide you in 2015. That one word would be part of your Personal Mission Statement. I will discuss the one word in the devotional tomorrow.

Discussion questions:
1. Do you have a personal mission statement or the idea of one? Do you think it is important? Why or why not?
2. How might a personal mission statement make a difference in your life?
3. Jesus gave several mission-type statements throughout his life.For example.”For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10. How should these statements and others (Luke 19:10; John 12:47; Luke 19:10) affect our personal mission statement?
4. Would you be interested in hearing more on this subject?

Small Things Cumulative Effect

If you don’t think that small things can and do make a difference, consider that one of the most powerful forces is the splitting of the smallest thing. In the splitting of the atom, a succession of explosions can be set off to cause the biggest explosion the world has ever known.

I have known and watched successful people from every walk of life. They all have at least one thing in common. The things some people view as trivial, they view as meaningful. The non-essentials seem to be essentials. We can learn from that viewpoint as Christians. Because with God there are no little churches. There are no little people. There are no little tasks.

In doing the little things one becomes Christlike. You must remember that Jesus never pastored a large church. He was never a president, governor or mayor. He took time for little children. He told simple stories about a flower, a bird,  a lost coin, and a boy who ran way from home. His Father and our Father takes note of a bird that falls. He clothes the lilies of the field. He is even interested in each hair on our heads. Hence, if we would be Christlike, we too must be willing to do the small things.

In Sunday’s services I talked about reading your bible and prayer. I often talk about the importance of a daily quiet time. Those small, daily things can have a big cumulative effect if we do them consistently. Here is what I mean by consistency.

One of the New Year’s resolutions I hear every year is the desire on the part of one or both parents to have dinner with the family every night. They want that time with their family to communicate, to share, to catch up with what is happening in their respective lives. That is a worthwhile goal to be sure. However, there is no real value in having one dinner and checking off that resolution. The real value comes from doing it day after day after day. The channels of communication will be restored as will trust because your family will know that you are committed to a daily dinner with them. There is real value in cumulative deposits of your time in having dinner. Same thing with exercise. If you exercise one day you will receive no benefit. But if you make daily deposits of exercise day after day you will see the cumulative effects.

The same is true of reading your Bible, quiet time and prayer. Every time you read the Bible, you make small deposits to your spiritual bank account. These add up, because God gives compound interest. If you make daily deposits of time in those areas over a period of time you will see the cumulative effects in your relationship with God. If you do those things once every six months you will not see the same benefits. Conversely, there is also a cumulative effect in neglect. If we do not have a daily quiet time or read our Bible, God may seem distant at a time you need Him most.

So, if you are going to start with the small things we talked about in 2015, I encourage you to be committed and make those daily deposits of time that are necessary to reap the full benefits out of these small things.

These little things will make a big difference. And someday they will give you the character of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why is it so easy to neglect the small things in life?
2. In what areas have you seen the cumulative effects of daily deposits of time? In what areas have you observed the cumulative effects of neglect?
3. Can you make up for lost time in these areas?
4. Pray about and identify the one area that you can begin doing consistently by making daily deposits of time.