Easter’s Over. Now what?

“I was a stranger…..and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35 (Amp)

This Easter, across all our Northstar locations, we celebrated Jesus, His death, resurrection, and the hope that He has given us all who believe in Him. On Good Friday the world said, “No” to Christ. On Easter morning God said, “Yes” to the world. During the Easter weekend, a total of 253 people said “yes” to accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now the work really begins. Because as you already know, not all of those who come during Easter return the following week. And not everyone who gets saved during Easter services grows spiritually either.

So how do we make sure those who attend our Easter services return, become active in our churches and grow as a Christian? Helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ is as important as winning them in the first place.

One way is to look at what the early church did after winning large groups of people to Jesus. For example we can look at Acts 14:21-22: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

“And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.” (Acts 15:32-35).

“And (Paul) went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:41). “After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.” (Acts 18:23).

Two important phrases come up over and over again when looking at how the early Church in Acts responded after reaching people for Jesus. They are strengthen and encourage. After reaching people for Christ—as we did on Easter—the early church focused on assimilating those they had reached. The definition of assimilate is to include into a larger whole; to involve; to make one. Ephesians 2:19 (TLB) says, “Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.”

It is easy to assume that new Christians will automatically connect to a church. It is a bad assumption. The process of making them a part of God’s community rests with the church, not the new Christian. It begins when they accept Christ and it is ongoing from that day forward.

If you invited someone to church, my hope is that you will follow-up with them. Let them know what the church is doing the following weeks, whether it’s a particular sermon series or starting point classes. I would ask that you follow-up, whether the individual just wanted to be in church on Easter, or made a lifetime commitment to Christ. Whether or not visitors return to Northstar has a lot to do with the contact you make with them.

Then try to get them involved in a Northstar Group. New Christians need to be connected to a small group of people. We can’t know everyone in the church, but we need to know someone. If someone comes to your church and they know six to 10 people, the chances are better that they will stay and grow. People come to church for many different reasons. They stay because of relationships within their own stage of life.

Last, see if you can interest them in serving. Nothing’s worse than feeling lost and left out at church. Make a concerted effort to match people’s skills, gifts, and interests to ministries within the church. Try to connect new people to some of our entry-level ministries.

Don’t allow the momentum of the Easter season to fizzle once the baskets are emptied and the chocolate has been eaten. Even a small effort at connecting with newcomers will go a long way in establishing lasting relationships and helping others grow spiritually, which will result in a thriving church community.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What causes people to assimilate into the church? What is your role?
  2. What reasons can you come up with for people not returning to church after the first visit? What can we do corporately and individually to improve in those areas?
  3. Pray and ask God to connect you with those who made a decision for Christ to connect to a church.
  4. Pray for our church for the remainder of the year that God will use us to further His kingdom.

The Power of God

“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God,” – Psalms 62:11

With all the movies out these days such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, you have to wonder what it was like to live in those times and experience in real life what is now CGI computerized special effects. For example, in the story of Moses, God did amazing miracles over and over again right before their eyes, and yet the Israelites still struggled to believe. God turned the Nile to blood, sent all kinds of plagues, boils, darkness all over the land and the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. Yet, the Israelites are slow to learn and quick to grumble. It would seem virtually impossible for them to miss God’s power, goodness and guidance. But it didn’t end there.

When the Israelites reached the Red Sea, they were stuck with the Egyptian army closing fast.  God miraculously parted the Red Sea. Can you imagine what that must have been like? Could you ever forget such a moment? After crossing the sea and finding themselves hungry, God provided manna every day for forty years. When they were thirsty, water flowed from a rock. Yes, a rock. And, yet, still their hearts struggled with unbelief. At various points they thought it prudent to return to slavery in Egypt. Apparently, they thought the security of slavery was better than being out in the wilderness with God. The hope of the Promised Land was eclipsed by a fear of giants and battle odds stacked against them. More discontentment and grumbling.

How could they miss the power and miracle when it was staring them right in the face? But before we judge the Israelites too harshly, we need to evaluate our own trust and faith in God. I would hope that if I saw what the Israelites saw, I would both trust God and be in awe of His power.

Then I am reminded of my occasional wandering in the desert. Or my own deeper need and hunger for more of God. Like the Israelites, we are in need of the power and direction of God in our lives. When we try to do everything under our own power, and in the messiness and mundane moments of life, we need the power of God. Easter should remind is anew of God’s power and the impact it can have on our lives.

What I do know is that God called us to live out our faith. He called us to walk by faith, to take a risk on His power and His  promises to always be faithful. He called us to step out of our comfort zone and live the life we are supposed to live.

The promises given by Jesus about receiving power from God in Luke 24:49 says: ” And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then there is Acts 1:8:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

No matter what we’re facing, God promises to show up in our difficult situations in a way that declares and reveals His power, glory and grace.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ so important?
  2. How do you tap into the power of God? How does the power of God show up in our daily lives?
  3. Do you have seasons of life where you feel you are going it alone?
  4. How might knowing that God is present with you in the here and now impact your life? What are some of the implications of God being very present in your life?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you tap into His power.

The Love of God

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” – 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.

Easter demonstrates the power of God’s love. The power of God shows us that God is not a fairytale for grown-ups but a wonderful reality. Without the power of God, Christianity is empty. If all we have is theory, philosophy, theology and other intellectual arguments, we will never have a faith that changes the world. God is not a theory, He is real, He is love and power. The love of God must be the foundation for our faith.

The cross is the love of God. The resurrection is the power of God. But what if someone was to ask you what is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for you? According to the Apostle Paul, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for you and I is found at the Cross of Christ. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

There are people who believe that if God really loves us, He will give us that dream job. Or give us money. Or good health. Or a perfect spouse. Or possessions like a new car or a new home. But what happens when we lose that job, or spouse, or bonus, or our possessions or we get sick? Will we become cynical? Worse yet, will we doubt God’s love?

Even though everything else may be falling down around you; the Cross of Christ will always stand tall. The Bible says, “He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me— God sends forth his love and his faithfulness” (Psalm 57:3 LB). That’s what Jesus did on Easter. He sent Himself down from heaven to save us because of His love.

God’s power was demonstrated in His great love for us through Christ. Though we were helpless in our sin, Jesus willingly came and took our sins on Himself on the cross. He died, but He rose again. That same power that would willingly redeem the entire world through love, that would conquer death, went through the grave and out the other side to dwell inside each of us who are saved.

God’s love is a powerful force, wider than any chasm between enemies, waiting longer than you would ever run from it, going deeper than you would ever fall from it, lifting you higher than you could ever go without it. When you receive the spirit of Christ by faith, His power changes you from the inside out, allowing you to know a love that is unknowable.

During this Easter season my prayer is that you will understand that while we are flawed, God loves us perfectly and completely. And that the power of His love is always available to us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the unique characteristics of God’s love shown in Scripture?
  2. How is Jesus’ death an act of love?
  3. What is the best way to respond to God’s love?
  4. Why do you think that some people have such a hard time accepting God’s love? How can we ask God to help us in our ability to love?
  5. Why do you think the world is much more comfortable in thinking about love as a noun, rather than a verb?

Easter Could Change Everything

“Our hearts were made for you, O God, and they are restless until they find their rest in You.” – St. Augustine.

Can you think of a day that changed your life? Most of us probably can. Maybe the day that changed your life was a great day, or maybe it was not so great. One of my favorite “life-changing” days was the day when I married my beautiful wife, Angela. We spent a lot of time preparing for that day. It was a great day, filled with happiness, joy, tears, laughter and celebration. But, it wasn’t that one day or that one event that changed my life. Rather, getting married changed everything from that day forward.

This weekend, we remember the most important life changing day in history. The day that Jesus died on the cross and the day He rose from the dead. We will reflect on the painful, horrific death He experienced on our behalf. And we will reflect on the resurrection because Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is alive. The Resurrection is all about assurance, confidence, and boldness. It’s about where we are in life, where we are headed, and where we are going to end up—in the presence of the living God instead of eternally separated from Him.

Many of us will invite family and friends to join us. Easter is the day when people desire to go to church. It is also one of the best opportunities for people who are far from the heart of God to have a life changing experience by hearing and accepting the gospel message. In fact, Easter should only be the beginning. It could be the day that changes every part of their lives for the rest of their lives. James 5:20 says, “…that person who brings him back to God will have saved a wandering soul from death, bringing about the forgiveness of his many sins.” (TLB)

The day that Angela and I were married was incredible. Every year on our anniversary we take time to look back and remember that wonderful day, but our marriage is much more than a wedding day and a series of anniversaries. We spend the other three hundred and sixty-four days a year loving one another and fulfilling the promises that we made on that day. With each anniversary that passes I love her more. Not because of the anniversary, but because that day marks another year that I have spent learning about her and loving her. When we love each other well, anniversaries are celebrations of that love.

The same can be said of the unchurched people we invite to Northstar on Easter. An invitation could have a major impact on their lives. They may have a need right now for which only Jesus is exactly what they need. Maybe they have been searching for answers. It could be the start of a relationship with the risen Savior, one that grows day by day, year by year. We believe God is doing something powerful now in the days leading up to Easter.  And, this weekend could be one that changes everything for you and the people you invite.

As we approach Easter, let’s make a deliberate effort to lift our focus away from our own concerns and to allow the Holy Spirit to show us what moves the heart of God. Who is a person around you that is on your mind or that you are concerned for? Talk to God about them. Is God stirring your heart for the people around you? Let’s trust God for their salvation and for our church to make ‘God-connections’ as we share the Easter message this weekend. Because people can only experience real life change if we invite them. Easter changes everything and my prayer is that it changes everything for thousands of people at all our campuses.

Let’s pray and believe together that God will reveal Himself to us in a fresh way as we head into Easter. And, that He would allow us moments with others that would be like the spark that begins a fire of Salvation in the lives of people all over the Panama City and the Pensacola areas.

Discussion Question:

  1. Pick one or two people to invite to Easter services.
  2. Pray that the results of the Easter services will continue to be evident in the days, weeks, and months to come.
  3. Perform acts of kindness with several people.
  4. Pray that lives will be touched in a special way this Easter.

Zero Days Till Christmas

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens

Christmas is over. We can put away the hustle and bustle, and the stress for another year. All over the world children are playing with their Christmas presents, the Christmas services at church are in the real view mirror and the Bing Crosby Christmas CD is put on the shelf, with the elf, for another year.

There is a collective sigh of relief on the day after Christmas. After all the presents have been wrapped, bought, opened and enjoyed, the Christmas decorations can soon be taken down and stored. The Christmas cards have all been delivered. All our obligations have been met and attended.  And we sang Joy to the World and Silent Night and shouted “Merry Christmas” to those who pass us in the streets for the last time. That is until next year.

Here is something I know. When the Christmas season comes around in 2015, we will again be totally committed to become more giving, loving and focused on our Savior’s birth. During Christmas we seem to be kinder, happier and more forgiving. We think about those in need and actively do things to help them. We throw a little extra in the offering at church or volunteer to help in Christmas outreach programs. Maybe we pray more, read scripture more, praise God more in song or watch our favorite movies celebrating Christ’s birth. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” after all. The bottom line is Christmas is one time of the year that seems to bring out the best in us.

But why do we limit so many positive God honoring actions to one time of year? I ask myself that same question. Yes, it is Jesus’ birthday and the birth of the Son of God coming to save the world is grounds for major celebration and praise. But do we celebrate His birthday throughout the year? If not, why not?

Jesus should be celebrated every day. Not only the Nativity story, but the reason why God gave His son. I mean, think about the impact of Jesus’ birth. Think about the whole point of His life. The impact of Jesus’ whole life lasts throughout the year, every year, and it will continue to do so until the end of time.

We should maintain the Christmas spirit all year. We should be the best we can be throughout the calendar year, not just during the Christmas season. We should be giving, loving and forgiving regardless of what time of year it is. Jesus’ gave us an amazing lesson on how to treat people.  We should try to emulate His example year round.

We talked a lot about joy in the last two teaching series at Northstar. If we have joy at Christmas, why can’t we have joy year round. Yes, I agree that the joy of Christmas is definitely unique. And granted, it’s not an easy one to maintain throughout the year. It usually doesn’t feel like Christmas every day when those around us resume the normalcy of life. But to have a continuous joy in the heart is necessary in order to reflect the love of Jesus Christ to those far from the heart of God.

I want to make one thing clear. You don’t have to have a Christmas tree year-round or give gifts every day in order to celebrate Christ’s birth all year. Just remember the virtues represented in the Christmas season and the magnitude of Christ’s birth on a daily basis.

Discussion Questions:
1. If Jesus is not central to the celebration of Christmas can He be central the rest of the year?
2. Research has shown that you live a better life when you forgive others. Is it easier to forgive at Christmas than any other time of the year? Why or why not?
3. We have a bright future with Christ to look forward to. Does it look brighter at Christmas? Name the thing(s) that worry you the most and ask God to help you in those areas during the entire year.
4. Challenge yourself to have joy, hope, love, forgiveness, and peace throughout 2015. Pray to The Lord for the strength and courage to  have those qualities year round.

A Christmas Message From Marty Martin, Lead Pastor

This time of year I usually write a personal letter to all of you and believe it or not, I look very forward to it. It is an opportunity to honor each of you and to wish you a merry Christmas.

During this season, we have been celebrating Christmas Classics, songs that have the messages of hope, peace, love and joy. I pray that our reflection on the classic Christmas songs would provide you with opportunities to reflect on your own faith and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. Whatever it is that our hearts and souls desire, whether we realize it or not, our ultimate desire is Jesus Himself. For this reason, we are filled with joy at Christmas to know that all that we hoped for has been fulfilled in the person of the Christ Child.

In 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, we read: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” That is my prayer for myself, my family and I pray the same for you. That we will stand firm and let nothing move us in our mission of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord this year, we also celebrate that the Lord brought all of you into our lives. This Christmas we thank you for being our family and our friends, and showing us relationally the power of God’s love. It is an awesome sight to see His love in all of you.

Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment to Northstar. As I look back over the year, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I’m grateful just to be a part of this community and to get to walk this journey with you. I feel so privileged to be part of a group of people who are honestly and passionately taking on the challenge to follow Jesus in all the trials, joys and complexities of modern life.

Thank you for serving sacrificially again this past year. Whether it’s leading groups; shepherding children; serving coffee; setting up for worship; playing music; or any one of the countless other (usually unseen) tasks that keep our church running, I am grateful. Thank you so much for all you do!

Thank you for giving sacrificially as you always do. Your generosity has enabled us to pursue our mission of helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

And I just cannot praise God enough. This Christmas, as in all previous years, we celebrate “Emmanuel” (God with us). Without Christ’s presence among us we would be in trouble. Through God’s presence gently, sometimes not so gently, working within us, we are being transformed, made bold and seeing lives changed by His gospel. How can we praise Him enough? How can we contain God’s love without going out and sharing it?

From our family to yours, Angela, Andrew and Ashleigh and I wish you the very best that life has to offer, a life grounded and rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May this be a Christmas that brings hope, peace, joy, love, and Christ richly and abundantly into your family. And may the grace and love of God surround, nurture, and keep you this Christmas Season.


Discussion Questions:
1. Pray for our church leadership that God will continue to guide us.
2. Pray for our church as we move into 2015.
3. Thank God again for the gift of His son.

Realistic, Constant, Overflowing Joy

One of the most popular Christmas anthems is “Joy to the World.” But how in the world is joy possible? Literally, how in this world that is filled with such sorrow and pain do you experience true joy? That’s the question that needs to be answered. Because the perceptions of Christianity is that you must eliminate all joy and fun before you will be accepted into Christianity. But those myths and perceptions are so wrong.

Joy is very realistic. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples, “you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20) Jesus doesn’t ask you to pretend that suffering doesn’t exist; he asks you to look at the suffering in a different way. Jesus gives the example of a woman going through labor pains. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21) The pain is real, but there’s something that happens that changes everything – the outcome of the pain. When that little baby is presented to the mother, the pain is not exchanged for joy. The pain is literally transformed into joy because the mother holding the baby in her arms sees what all the pain was for. It’s the same thing with the death of Jesus. It caused him and his disciple’s great pain and sorrow, but now the cross is celebrated across the world. Why? Because you see its purpose. The sufferings of Christ have brought about complete forgiveness and eternal life for all those who will believe in Him. The cause of the sorrow has been turned into the cause of joy. So Christian joy is not the absence of sadness or sorrow, it’s the absence of despair.

Joy is constant. The joy of Christianity is a constant joy as compared to the unstable joy that the world offers. The only type of joy that the world can offer is a joy that is contingent upon good circumstances. It’s a joy that’s based on having your health, money, beauty, or success. Therefore, it’s unstable because all of those things can change in an instant. But Jesus offers a joy that nothing and no one can take away. Your circumstances may change, but God’s perfect love, faithfulness, mercy, justice, promises and grace never will. Christian joy is a deep satisfaction in the unchanging goodness and sovereignty of God.

Joy is overflowing. “May the God of hope fill you with great joy and peace so you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13) What a magnificent verse. It is such a beautiful expression.  All the great words of the Christian faith appear here: hope, twice (once it is called “overflowing hope”) and joy, great joy, peace, calmness, confidence, trust, and belief in a living God. And finally, the power of the Holy Spirit, the invisible force that can open doors and no man shuts them, and can shut and no man opens — the power of God released among us.

Jesus brought joy to the world, the type of realistic, constant and abundant joy that only He could bring.

Discussion Questions:

1. I Thessalonians 5: 16 (NLT) says, “Always be joyful.” Is that realistic? How do we turn sorrow into joy?
2. Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Is expecting joy to be constant in our lives realistic? If joy in hope is what enables this patient endurance, how do we apply that in our lives? What is the value of constant prayer?
3. Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” What is the difference between hope and joy? Have you experienced overflowing joy in your life?
4. Pray that God would make joy a realistic, constant and overflowing part of your life.

Where In The World Is Joy

Walking around this Christmas season has convinced me of something. Joy seems to be missing. People are wandering from place to place with the look of “there’s got to be more to life than this,” on their faces. Even when Joy to the World is playing in the background. The truth is that whenever there is trouble in our lives or in our relationships, the first thing that seems to go out of the window is joy. It’s like we go to the hospital and get a joy bypass done so that we are appropriately distressed until the trial or problem is over.

This was certainly true of David. Many times in Psalms we find him crying out to God in his trouble, asking for a recovery of the joy he once knew. We see this in Psalm 51, which is a song of repentance. David had sinned. His sin had created a distance between him and the God he once worshiped so freely. And now with a broken heart, he turns in repentance, crying out for God to restore the joy.

But what is joy and will I recognize it when it appears? We often confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is a matter of pleasant circumstances or events, like payday, or a nice back rub. While it brings happiness, all too soon it is over, or the money is gone. In short, happiness at best is arbitrary, subject to individual whims, is shallow and often fleeting.

Joy, on the other hand, is deep and lasting, and it’s not dependent upon pleasant circumstances. The source of joy is not what happens to us, but Who is present with us. The only source of joy is God. David writes about God as the source of joy in Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

I draw your attention to two words, path and presence. The path refers to the ways of God. Certainly there is much happiness to be found in following God’s Word and living in obedience. But the word “presence” refers to a personal relationship with God that will result in real joy. This is the joy for myself, my family and all those who attend Northstar.

Joy is a result of the relationship we have with God, even when our situation and circumstance are bad. Why? Because Joy springs from God’s love and activity in our world. Joy springs from knowing God. Joy springs from worshiping God. In fact, Joy is not the absence of difficulty in our world, but the presence of God with us in our difficulty. After speaking of remaining in Christ’s love, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11). Joy exists from being in a loving relationship with God and sometimes that relationship walks us through persecutions and hardships, trials and testings, all of which seeks to perfect us in the faith.

So my definition of joy is this: Joy is the satisfying confidence that comes from knowing, trusting and serving God. I hope you find happiness, but I really hope you discover joy this Christmas.

So where in the world is joy? It’s found in Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1. How can we have the joy the Bible talks about when we feel unhappy?
2. Suppose a stranger asks you why Christians make such a big deal about joy. In 90 seconds, how would you describe real joy?
4. Read Luke 1:50–55. What is the greatest area of stress in your life right now? What would it look like to respond with joy? What is the desired outcome of a tested faith?
5. Pray and ask God for patience and the wisdom to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.

Christmas in an Iranian Prison

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:3

Once in a while I read something that really moves me.  This devotional reflects one of those cases, which explains why I am deviating from my normal routine.

American Pastor Saeed Abedini – a U.S. citizen imprisoned for his Christian faith – has written a heartbreaking letter from his prison cell in the Rajai Shahr Prison in Iran. This letter reminds me of our previous study of Philippians where Paul writes to the church in Philippi from a Roman jail. I am going to excerpt parts of the letter.  If you wish to read the entire letter you can find it here: http://media.aclj.org/pdf/Christmas-Message-2014.pdf

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God….It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy. Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah! So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Paul said, all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution in 2 Timothy 3:12. And 1 Peter 4:12-14 adds: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” And Jesus gave us our reward for persecution in Matthew 5:10: ”Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

1. Pray for Pastor Abedini that God would be with him and that God’s grace will be sufficient for anything he will face.
2. Pray that God would bless and protect all those serving Him in dangerous places around the globe?
3. Pray that Northstar can help connect the dots in God’s grand design and pull us in the direction He would have us go in helping the whole world find and follow Jesus.

A Call To Action

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Most people like Christmas. What’s not to like. Yes, there are people who because of memories, or relational pain or for any number of other reasons tend to dread the holidays. But most people generally have a warm feeling about Christmas. Maybe it’s the collection of everything from the music, the anticipation, or the idea of thinking about yourself less and others more, due to gift buying. People just seem more merry and bright. As a pastor, I do know that more people seem open to church, religious activities and events than they do at other times of the year, some even feeling like it’s not really Christmas if we don’t go to church. Yet all this “good cheer” seems to only last for a few weeks around Christmas and then disappears for another year. The question is why.

My answer is simple. We live in an era of short shelf life and even shorter attention spans. Very little, if anything, has staying power. So sustaining something, especially something that’s seasonal, is hard to do. The reality is that for us to be really changed, we need to more like Jesus. And we need to be more like Jesus year round.

And that means giving ourselves to others. That means taking action. Jesus said in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I would suggest Jesus is not only talking about money, it is how you give your life to others in any form. During this season, who is it that needs forgiveness, encouragement or gifts of time, money or help? As Christians we need to find a way to give it.

A generous person gives grace to those who don’t earn it, don’t deserve it and without measuring whether they will return the favor. How we give out, is how we receive. How we “measure” our giving is how it will be “measured back to you.” How can we give more?  To see God work beyond what you can see. To go out of your way to express your love for God and others by making some person’s Christmas more bright.

Instead of leaving God’s gift under the Christmas tree, let this be the year you share this gift with others. I encourage you to get involved in giving back this Christmas.

You can help others this Christmas in so many ways. First, recognize the blessings that God has given you and use them rather than wasting them. Use what you have to help others and show them that God loves them and came to earth to die for them.

Discussion Questions:
1. Pray and ask God to let this Christmas time be a reminder to you of the importance of grace and giving. Think of some ways to give to others through acts of kindness and love.
2. There are opportunities to share the good news of Jesus. Some people see them as interruptions. Why do we not like God’s invitations? What do they interrupt?
3. God’s purposes do not always line up with our plans.  They are greater than our plans. How do you feel about this? Would you respond different this Christmas knowing this?
4. If with God all things are possible, why do we not think “bigger” when it comes to giving of our time, talents and money during Christmas?