Fix Your Eye On The Goal

“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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.– Hebrews 12:1-2.

There is no way to quantify this fact, but the Hebrews 12 passage of scripture may be preached on more than all others (although there are hundreds of candidates). One reason is the comparison between the Christian journey and a race. The other is because it applies to every believer.  Every believer could testify that there are things in our life that distract, hinders, or tangles us from heeding the call of God.  

But this passage will also help us refocus our attention on Christ. Taking our eyes off Jesus is one of the easiest things we do while keeping our eyes on Jesus is rarely an easy thing. Culture and the enemy are constantly conspiring against our efforts to remain faithful to the Savior. We can allow the cares of this world to push us away from the Lord instead of looking to Him in the midst of our trials and circumstances of life. This was the danger faced by the original audience of Hebrews. Their trials and circumstances were seen as reasons to abandon the race.  

That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us to look to Jesus. As we remember our Savior and His endurance for the sake of the prize, we will be enabled to press on and finish the race. Looking to Jesus, however, does not mean we do nothing ourselves. The remainder of the book of Hebrews focuses on those things that can be done to prepare us for the race ahead. As we follow the commands given by the author, the Holy Spirit will work through us and cause us to cling to Jesus.

When you are running a long distance, it is easy to get discouraged and frustrated that you are nowhere near the finish line. Often you cannot even see the finish line from where you are. But as a runner, you need to keep your eyes on the road ahead. When you start to get discouraged and look elsewhere, you slow down, you begin to doubt you can finish, and you begin to struggle.

But when you keep looking forward to the finish, you remain focused. So whenever you get discouraged or frustrated—feeling like you want to quit—fix your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him, and He will keep you right on track to where you need to go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what area of your life are you successful at looking forward and being faithful? What are some practical ways you can apply your approach to an area of life in which you’re tempted to look backward and be fearful? 
  2. What is one thing you can do to fix your eyes on Jesus instead of safety, security, and comfort? How can this group support you?

 

Ezra And His Dream

“He had arranged to leave Babylon on April 8, the first day of the new year, and he arrived at Jerusalem on August 4, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” – Ezra 7:9-10. 

Ezra is the story of how God takes a defeated people and moves supernaturally to send them back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. Solomon’s temple was destroyed and laid in ruin for decades. God raised up a remnant to return to Israel. God moved the heart of the Persian King, Cyrus, to allow the Israelites in Babylon who desired to go back to Israel and rebuild the temple.

The Phrase in Ezra, “the hand of God” sums up what was happening. The Lord was in this return. It was part of His master plan. “This Ezra was a scribe who was well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to the people of Israel. He came up to Jerusalem from Babylon, and the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him.” (Ezra 7:6) Ezra 5:5 says, “But because their God was watching over them, the leaders of the Jews were not prevented from building until a report was sent to Darius and he returned his decision.”

Ezra completed his journey, and the vulnerable exiles arrived safely in Jerusalem, according to “the good hand of his God upon him.” It is evident as you read the entire story that follows in chapters 7 and 8 that God’s blessing was upon Ezra. God’s care, provision, and protection were with Ezra and those returning to Judah with him. “Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.”  (Ezra 7:10)  

Ezra had first, prepared his heart. To set the heart is to determine, to devote, and to dedicate our whole being to something.  He sought the law of the Lord. To seek the Law of the Lord is to invest time and effort in studying the Bible. We seek to know the mind, the heart, and the ways of God through His Word. The hand of God was upon Ezra because he was determined to know and understand God’s Word. Ezra was committed to doing the Law of the Lord. James taught that to be a hearer of the Word without being a doer of the Word is to be self-deceived (James 1:22). The hand of God was upon Ezra because he was determined to obey God’s Law.

The story of Ezra with rebuilding the temple is an example of how obstacles can be overcome when God’s moving hand is behind His people. There is power when the “hand of God” is with His people. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do we need the “hand of God” to fulfill our dreams?
  2. How do we go about rebuilding the temple of our lives? 

Working Together For The Greater Good

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.” — Philippians 1:27.

Casey Stengel made a comment about the challenge of managing a professional baseball team. His observation applies to life in general. He said, “It’s easy to get good players. Getting’ em to play together, that’s the hard part.”

You can place people together in a team, but the true bonds of teamwork form when the individuals work together towards the same goal.  This is true in our faith journey as well.  We can sit side-by-side with people in our congregation every Sunday for years, and yet we don’t start to build relationships until we work together outside the church auditorium.  When we do life together or work with each other towards a common goal, that’s when we can learn from each other and support one another through our faith journeys. While it’s essential for us to take responsibility for our own faith, it’s also essential for us to form bonds of relationship with others, so that we can grow together as God intended.

One of the best-known native textile art in North America is the weaving of Navajo Indian blankets and rugs. Navajo Native American Indian rugs are made from wool using an ancient style where colored threads are woven together in a pattern. On the surface, some threads stretch vertically while others stretch horizontally. In many ways, each thread can appear unique until the elements are woven into a whole. This is similar to the way God knits together His people. We are not the same. We have many personalities and interests. On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be a pattern. We are being knit together in love by God Himself. We don’t oppose each other; we just accomplish different aspects of the same mission.

As He builds the church, God calls each person to focus on the role He gives us as individuals. He wants us to be the thread He has created. We might look different from others. We may not agree. But as we surrender our lives to God, we will realize that He has a special pattern for the whole body, knitting us together according to His design.

As we trust Him, He can harmonize each person with other believers. Seek to fulfill God’s special design for you. Don’t look at other believers as rivals or competitors but as parts of the same fabric knit together by God into something beautiful.

What happens when every Christian goes from sitting on the premises to standing on the promises and working for the purposes of the Lord? This is not something you do alone. We are called together to work together in Christ, connected and united.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you been trying to accomplish too much work on your own? What has been the effect?
  2. How does/should the Church exemplify working together to accomplish more for the glory of God?
  3. How can you get people to help you in the work God wants you to do? Who can you help?

He Is Able

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:36

We’ve seen God do great things in our church, and we know that He’s just getting started. However, with all that’s been going on, it’s easy to feel like it’s a bit chaotic. Which is why I used this Sunday’s teaching to provide you with some information on what is happening in our church.

In the last few years, I have been constantly reminded of God’s ability to do the impossible. Webster’s Dictionary defines able as “having sufficient power, strength, force, skill, means, or resources of any kind to accomplish the object.” When I look back over the 17 year history of Northstar, it becomes all too apparent that God is able to do bigger things than we can imagine.

We see in Ephesians 3:20-21 that our Father is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Think about the future. I believe His plans for Northstar are beyond what we could even imagine. As are His plans for each of us individually. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” – Jeremiah 29:11.  It is for this reason we need to enlarge our vision. To think bigger than we’ve ever thought before and to dare to imagine all that He can, and will, do in us and through us in the remainder of 2015. Our God is truly able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think.

Our success at Northstar is because of what God is able to do. I’m not talking about what we’re able to do. I’m talking about what God is able to do. What could He do through us together as a local church? Does God want to get the gospel out like never before? Does He want us to reach more people than we’ve ever reached before? See more salvations? More people filled with the Spirit? More disciples?  The answer is yes, yes, yes and yes.

Our goal is not to limit God with small thinking. Our prayer is that we will not limit what God is desiring to do.

Here is my prayer for every member and regular attender of Northstar, that you will receive a fresh vision of His plans for you and for our church. That your heart will be stirred.. Job 8:7 says, “And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.” God’s saying to you that no matter where you’re at right now, no matter what you may be facing at the moment, there is hope for your future. He has a plan for you.

Dare to believe that He is able to do things that you’ve never seen before.

Discussion Questions:

  1. John Wesley said, “Our responsibility is to give the world the right impression of God.” How well do we do?
  2. Do we do enough to glorify God?
  3. What traits of a church glorify God above all else?
  4. How is God  at work within you on a day-to-day basis?
  5. Pray and ask God to show you your role in the vision of the church.

Serve Like Jesus

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.  – 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Some of you remember those World War II posters of a stern Uncle Sam pointing out at you and saying, “Uncle Sam wants you!” or “Your country needs you!” Many folks responded to that challenge, going to work or to fight for their country even though they knew it would mean personal sacrifice and change of priorities. They responded because they believed in the cause they were fighting for.

As Christians, we are challenged to discover that same kind of commitment to step up and serve God and the church.  Doing so contributes to a Home Run Life. I don’t want anybody to think I am not grateful and humbled by the hundreds of people (just like you) who have stepped up to share their time and talents on one of our incredible teams. We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers.

But, at least once a week somebody who attends Northstar tells me that I am doing a good job. While I appreciate the feedback and the support, I am concerned that many people believe it is permissible, even expected, to leave the work of the church to the pastor or church leaders. It is their job after all. That is what they are paid to do. And yes, things are going pretty well at Northstar as it is, so why change anything. Success sometimes can breed complacency. The wonderful things that God is doing at Northstar has made many people comfortable, but I wonder if some of us have been too comfortable for too long.

Here is my point. The mission of our church is too important to leave to everyone else. The moment you begin to believe that our church can be healthy while you sit on the sidelines, you have forgotten that God has a plan for you. And to accomplish His plan, God made you to be exactly who you are, and His Spirit has empowered you with unique spiritual abilities, or “gifts.” God placed you in your unique situation because He wants you to minister to and with the other Christians He has placed around you. Paul’s vision for the church included every Christian: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15–16)

The goal of the church is to grow up in every way into the likeness of Christ. But the church will never reach this goal unless “each part is working properly.” This doesn’t mean that we will all function in exactly the same way, but it does mean that we all have a responsibility. Together, we function as one body. Until every person in our church is actively ministering to the people around us, people in our area won’t experience what the church was created to be.

Now I understand that we have plenty of people who serve outside the walls during the week. This is not an indictment against those who are serving somewhere, rather an encouragement to those who aren’t serving anywhere. If you are one who tends to sit back and let everyone else meet the volunteer needs of the church, I ask that you pray about where you too can be used.

If you’re not serving, it’s never too late to start. Look at the things that you have a natural talent for. What are your skills? Are you an organized person? Are you great with numbers? Do you have an ear for sound? Your gifts and skill sets – whether they’re hobbies or vocational – can be used to serve Northstar. What is your passion? Do you love kids? Love talking to people? Love one-on-one discipleship? The things that make your heart beat a little faster can be used for ministry. Pray about filling an area of need? We have a number of need areas: Babies that need to be rocked. Cars that need to be parked. Coffee that needs to be served.

I encourage you to jump in and see how life change happens through the simple act of serving others. Don’t underestimate the blessing that you can be if you will lay aside your fears and inhibitions and allow God to use you. Most people are not going to criticize genuine works of love, even if not done perfectly. And as you begin to serve in small ways, you will begin to be more confident and see more ways that you can practically serve others.

If you attend Northstar, talk to your Campus Pastor today (or shoot him an email) and tell them you are ready to get started. The whoosh you hear will be him leaping on the opportunity.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to serve God? Is it a position, a role, or a mindset?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to serve people that are in need?
  3. Read what Jesus had to say about being a servant in this context in Luke 17:7-10. How does this show us how Christ wants His followers to serve? How does that compare with how we view service?
  4. How do Christ’s beatitudes about Christian service, particularly in Matthew 5:40-41, reveal the type of service Christ is looking for? Why do you think most Christians find it hard to serve in this way?
  5. Pray and ask God to direct you in where to serve in the church.