The Value Of Relationships

 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” – James 1:19-20.

Relationships play a vital role in our lives, and oftentimes they are a constant source of heartache and frustration. Chances are, all of us have some type of relational brokenness in our lives. If you thought about it for a few seconds you probably would think about specific people and situations. But relationships provide us with friends and family to share our lives with and people who can help us out in tough times.

We were made for relationships. We were made for healthy relationships. Surviving in the world today requires deep relationships. But those relationships do not just happen, they require effort. We have to do more than just reach out to others, we have to share our lives with others as well. Relationships can be a tangible expression of God’s love for people through how we interact with, connect with, and care for them through our relationships.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus recognized the importance of building lasting relationships. Lasting relationships are those that stand the test of time and create a deep sense of personal commitment on the part of both participants.

Take the story of Jesus walking on water. He displayed His divine command of the natural world while using the experience to show Peter the importance of where he placed his trust and faith.“Why did you doubt?” Jesus asked Peter. Jesus knew that respect and trust were the essential ingredients in building lasting relationships.

Did this mean that Jesus was always successful in maintaining relationships on His terms? Surely not. Some people never trusted Him or turned their backs on His efforts when challenged to change. Others (like Peter) became fearful and struggled with doubt at many points. Still, others turned on Jesus and betrayed Him.

Having healthy relationships is central to being a part of the body of Christ. These are to be healthy, loving, and forgiving. And this is true not only within our immediate circle of other Christians, but also with our neighbors, business acquaintances, and even those people you find annoying. Are we willing to keep building them, even after some have failed and others have turned against you? Despite the actions or failings of others, Jesus continued to commit His life to creating lasting relationships – with leaders, with servants, with individuals, and with communities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your most important human relationship (marriage, parent/child, friendship, etc.)? What do you treasure most about this relationship? How do you nurture this relationship?
  2. Can you think back on a time in your life when you began to more deeply understand the importance of relationships? Maybe it took a hike in the woods, or maybe it was a relational rift, but has there been a time in your life when you felt the significance of relationships?

I Am A Self-Made Individual

“Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” – Psalm 100:3. 

“Self-made man” is a classic phrase coined on February 2, 1842 by Henry Clay in the United States Senate, to describe individuals whose success lay within the individuals themselves, not with outside conditions. But in reality, there is no such thing as a self-made individual. It’s a myth. The fact is we are all indebted to someone.

 Think about this for a few moments: if you were to be stripped of all modern convenience, could you single-handedly reinvent things like the light bulb?  Penicillin?  The internet?  Most of us can’t fully explain how this stuff works let alone be able to reinvent them.  No; our greatest creative achievements are built on the achievements of others and all are utterly dependent on the world that God alone created.

We ought to thank God daily in our prayers for our great grandparents, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, pastors, coaches, fellow believers, the Body of Christ, the Church, our nation’s forefathers, the soldiers of our nation and so on. Who among us is not the product of the contributions and influences of others? The fact is no one can really call himself or herself self-made.  

Any good thing in our lives is because of God’s goodness to us. We are more likely to make a mess of our lives. We caused most valleys in our lives. Every good thing was given to us by God. 

Paul said it best: “…What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great, and as though you have accomplished something on your own?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 MSG) In his first letter to Timothy, Paul gives this young minister a warning to pass along to his congregation that is still relevant today. He says, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)

Psalm 100:3 leaves no doubt about the order of life. God made us. We belong to God. He created us in the beginning. He shapes us all along. He will form us into His perfect image someday. 

 This is what the Lord said to Israel. But in an indirect and more general way, this applies to all mankind: “He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ 18 Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you the power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

It is God who has given us our minds and our hands to work with. So it is He who is ultimately deserving of all credit for our ability to work hard and prosper.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you tend to be overly responsible and self-reliant? Or do you think everything is up to God and throw up your hands and do nothing? 
  2. When we try to be a self-made individuals we tend to get stuck. Where are you stuck and what can we do this week to get unstuck.  

What We Do With Our Forgiveness

by Angela Martin

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

Pastor’s wives are often placed on a pedestal high enough to trigger altitude sickness. People can assume that Genesis 17:1, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless” was written for Pastors and their wives. Actually, Acts 10:26 is probably more befitting: “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!”

The truth is that Marty, my two children and I are not perfect. I face challenges and temptations. I fight with my husband, get frustrated with my children, and struggle to forgive some people. I am not super-human. I have feelings and insecurities. I make mistakes. But I care. I want to be approachable to you. I cannot live up to perfection or balance on a pedestal. God is working in my life in the areas of influence, and as I mentioned on Sunday, in the area of forgiveness. Rather than cover what I talked about on Sunday, I would like to summarize a powerful story of forgiveness.

It is the story of Corrie ten Boom. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. She was imprisoned for her actions. She was speaking in a church in Munich in 1947 when she saw him. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where Corrie and her sister, Betsie, had been sent.

There he stood in front of her, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fräulein. How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” Corrie was not sure how she recognized him, but she remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt.

He admitted he was a guard at Ravensbruck. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulen, –  again the hand came out—will you forgive me?”

Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply by asking? She stood there with a coldness clutching her heart. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. And so mechanically, she thrust her hand into his. As she did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in her shoulder, raced down her arm, sprang into their joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood her whole being, bringing tears to her eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” she cried. “With all my heart!” Corrie later said that “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover the prisoner was you.”

For some people, like Corrie ten Boom, the changes in their lives are drastic. For others, they start out with small changes like forgiving slights, or actions in the past that have been blown out of proportion. But, start somewhere and start now. Things will not work well, when your mind is filled with vivid pictures of times when it hasn’t. If you’re wondering how to heal the past and get some forward momentum going, the answer is without a doubt, forgiveness.

How about you? No doubt there are countless people who have injured you; they have said false things about you; they have wounded you with their actions and reactions. Maybe the hardship came from a supervisor at work, or a neighbor across the street, or a teacher in school, but regardless of where it came from, the fallout from unforgiveness is more harmful, to you.

My prayer is that you learn to forgive.

Discussion Question:

  1. What if I cannot forgive myself?
  2. How do I know if I have forgiven?
  3. How quickly should I forgive? (Matthew 5:25)
  4. Women often ask, “What if the offense was a grave one and I am still hurting? Shouldn’t I wait to forgive until I can be honest about it? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to do otherwise?”
  5. What does the cross have to do with our ability to forgive?
  6. Pray and ask God for the courage and strength to forgive those who have wronged you.

A Tribute To Mom

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands…She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family…She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night…She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue…a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:10-30.

There are so many things to say about mothers that it is nearly impossible to do justice to the special, unconditional and unwavering love a mother feels for her child. When we are happy, sad, anxious or just need a listening ear—for many of us—mom fills the bill. The simple truth is no matter how far we go in life or who we know, mothers always hold a special place in our hearts.

Sure mothers get frustrated, disappointed, annoyed and even angry at times. And why not? They are often the disciplinarians, nurses, psychologists, chefs, housekeepers and the voice of reason who have loved us when we were not lovable, stood up for us, encouraged us, cried for and with us, buoyed our spirits, punished us, rewarded us, and stayed up all night praying for us. It is always amusing how as we grow older we have an increasing appreciation for the sacrifices, uncommon love and wisdom of our moms.

On Sunday, May 10, we will recognize and honor all our moms. We know your mother is special, ours are too. That’s why on May 10th we are going to show and express our gratitude for one of God’s greatest gifts to the family. Make plans right now and invite your mother to be with you in a service on this special day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Growing up, what was your favorite thing about your mom? Growing up, what was the craziest thing about your mom?
  2. Instead of honoring the women in our lives only once a year, what are some ways that we can live in constant respect and honor for them that makes them feel valuable, appreciated, and thought of throughout the year?
  3. How can we best pray for the mothers in our church? With motherhood more challenging than ever, what do they need in the way of prayer support?
  4. Pray for God to renew and strengthen our mothes and give them hope. Pray that they would flourish, that they would reach their full potential, and for their gifts and abilities to rise to the surface. And pray that they would carry the grace of the Lord to speak life into people they influence.

Philippians, Paul And Your Pastor

Philippians is about Christ in our life, Christ as our goal, Christ as our strength, and joy through suffering. It was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, about thirty years after Christ’s ascension.

You may be wondering why I chose Philippians to be one of the two teaching series where we use a more expository method to work our way through the book. Since my first reading of Philippians, now many years ago, I have always loved this particular letter. When I read it I sense Paul’s joy, and now, as your pastor – his joy and love for the church is something I aspire to emulate.

This letter talks about things that are close to me, not the least of which is the gospel itself. It also reflects something that is near and dear to me, the love of the local church. The Philippians Christians were not perfect, but they did serve a perfect God. Paul loved them, gave praise for them, but wanted more for them.

In chapter one of Philippians, we see that Paul’s obstacles in ministry did not diminish his love for the church. In chapter 1, verses 3-6, we see that Paul continued to have the church in his thoughts. In verses 7-8, we see that Paul continued to have the church in his heart. In verses 9-11, we see that Paul continued to have the church in his prayers.

Philippians teaches me that even in our bleakest days of ministry, we must never lose our love for the local church. Paul didn’t. Even chained to Roman soldiers while sitting in a dungeon, his love for the church was still clear, Paul, who is suffering in prison, pleads with the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (verse 6). Paul is also an optimist. Paul is convinced in God’s ability to work powerfully and effectively within individual people, and within the church. And he is convinced that God’s work will be accomplished.

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago says. “when the love of God flows through us to others in our church family, masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited and tenderness grows. In a church where this kind of love abounds, people become like brothers and sisters. They gather to share from their hearts on the deepest levels. They walk compassionately with each other through life’s problems and pain. Churches where members tap into this source of love are happy, joyful places.”

That is the church we strive for at Northstar and another reason I chose Philippians as the book for this series. Working hard to be the kind of church where we can find Jesus and then experience abundant, joyful life.

Today, we are a pretty good church, maybe not always and in every circumstance, but certainly on most days. That is a reflection of God’s grace and the faithful commitment of our members and regular attenders. And as I was preparing this series, I too was “thanking my God in all my remembrance of you.” And like Paul, I want more for all of us as we serve Him faithfully here.

My prayer matches what Paul said in Philippians 1:10 (MSG) “that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.”

1. How do you define love for the church?
2. Who is God calling you to love?
3. How well do you keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to demonstrate love to people you meet at work, at church, or in your neighborhood?
4. Is joy a necessary component of loving the church?
5. Pray for the church that God will continue to bless our ministries. Pray for the church leadership. And pray that God will show you where you can serve in the church.