“Watch your step when you enter God’s house. Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice, Doing more harm than good.” – Ecclesiastes 5:1.

How to listen to a sermon? Interesting question, but the answer is obvious. Listening to a sermon is a passive activity because you only have to listen as someone preaches to you. Watching TV is much more complicated than listening to a sermon because you have to deal with the multitude of different channels and that overly complicated remote control. It is active, while listening to a sermon is passive.

Yes, it is easy to drift through corporate worship week by week, distracted and drowsy, listening but not really hearing; the Bible has a lot to say on the subject: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.”

So, what is the right way to listen to a sermon?  Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor walks out on stage on Sunday.  It starts during the week when we pray for the person who will speak to us.  We should pray for opportunities to share the gospel message, and the wisdom and grace to share it in the right manner. Listen to the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” Twelve verses later, this same author states the most simple and profound way to do this: “Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.” Churches generally get what they pray for.

We need to have our minds right to hear God’s word. Good preaching appeals first to the mind.  After all, it is by the renewing of our minds that God does His transforming work in our lives.  So when we listen to a sermon, our minds need to be fully engaged. Listening to sermons is part of the worship that we offer to God.  It is also a prime opportunity for us to hear His voice.  God is speaking, and we should listen.

Listening to a sermon can never be merely an intellectual exercise. It also requires hearts that are receptive to the influence of God’s Spirit.  Something important happens when we hear a good sermon: God speaks to us.  Through the Holy Spirit, He uses His Word to calm our fears, find joy in our circumstances, uncover truths, heighten our faith, and reassure us of our salvation. We need to receive biblical truth in our hearts and minds.

The last byproduct of sermon listening is applying what we learned to our daily lives.  How we live is the best way to tell if we are listening.  Our lives should repeat the sermons that we have heard. There is always something God wants us to do in response to the preaching of his Word.   As the apostle Paul wrote to some people who listened to his sermons, “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Consider asking yourself the following questions after hearing a sermon on Sunday: What is God seeking to communicate to me? Through this sermon, did God encourage me in some way?  What is God seeking to do in my life through this sermon? Does this sermon make me uncomfortable? If so, why?


Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” – Ephesians 5:2 (MSG).

It does not matter if you are a new Christian or a seasoned believer, it is very likely you will ask this question: “How do I really know and feel God’s love for me? Answering that question requires us to reflect on how Christ loves us. His love was not cautious. In fact, it was extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. We are to love like that.

Loving like Jesus is the best way to live or as 1 Corinthians 12:31 says, “… the most excellent way.” When we love like Jesus, we’re lifted outside ourselves. We shed self-interest — with our spouse, our kids, friends, everyone. If we love like Jesus we can be over the walls of resentment and rise above petty demands and a sense of entitlement.   

But can anyone really love like Jesus? Really? That is an extraordinarily high bar. Love your enemies? Walk the extra mile? Turn the other cheek? Can we bring perfect love into our imperfect lives? Yes, the bar is high, but if seeking a reasonable level of love, you’ll miss out on extraordinary love.  If you want to love like Jesus you have to be more approachable and less detached. You need to be more patient and less in a hurry. You will need to exhibit more grace and be less judgmental. You have to be more bold and less hesitant or fearful.

If you’re thinking that is a pretty tall order you are right. It is impossible for us.  Our human nature gets in the way.  We judge others’ faults and can act selfishly and spitefully.  We store our hurts away until those hurts lead to resentment. Even with our best efforts to love like Jesus, we fail. Jesus knew this, and He generously provides us the key to our problem and some encouragement: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:27

The power to accomplish the impossible comes only from God. We need the power of God to love as He does.  The power comes from the Holy Spirit living within us.

We can become better at loving like Jesus. This love isn’t illusive. It isn’t pie-in-the-sky. It isn’t out-of-reach nor relegated to untouchable saints. It’s real. Is it difficult, yes?  Will you and I fail in living them out? Absolutely. But don’t be discouraged. For it’s in our failed attempts that we learn to love as Jesus loved.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Jesus demonstrate His love for others? What things did He do? Can we show this type of love?
  2. What can we do this week to live more like Christ?


“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” —  Matthew 3:16-17.

Admittedly, the Trinity is probably one of the most mysterious concepts in our faith. But God is at one time, three persons; the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God, with all the attributes of God, but each person is distinct from the others. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. However, they are all God. We need to remember that this isn’t just God showing up in a different form at different times. Each person of the Trinity has always existed and has always been fully God. We will never understand the Trinity by human investigation, logic, philosophy, or science. The only way you can begin to grasp the Trinity is through what God says in His word.

Matthew 3:16-17 tells us that Jesus (the Son) getting baptized, the Father speaking, and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. If each Person of the Trinity is distinct and yet fully God, then should we conclude that there is more than one God? Obviously, we cannot, for Scripture is clear that there is only one God: Isaiah 45:21 is just one example: “Consult together, argue your case. Get together and decide what to say. Who made these things known so long ago? What idol ever told you they would happen? Was it not I, the LORD? For there is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. There is none but me.” 1 Kings 8:60 adds, “Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other.” God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one.

What difference does it make whether God is one person or three? Is this really going to impact our lives at all? Actually, the three Persons of God matter a great deal: The three Persons show God is totally committed to us: All three Persons of God are fully involved in and committed to making us His children.

Paul explains it like this: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . he chose us in him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will . . .  when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” — Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)

Scripture shows how each member of the Trinity fulfills His specific role and how those three roles interrelate. In simple terms, The Father creates a plan, Jesus Christ implements the plan, and the Holy Spirit administers the plan.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are the persons of the Trinity distinct?
  2. How much do we need to know about the Trinity? 

The Gospel Changes Everything…Including Me

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” – Romans 10:9-11. 

You may be thinking that the gospel is pretty abstract. Yes, it applies to me but it doesn’t seem tangible, practical, or applicable. The gospel is all those things. The gospel comes to life in the stories about people who were heroes of the Kingdom. We want to be brave like David, who slew the giant with a stone. We want to be as faithful as Abraham, who did not hold back his only son. We want to be righteous like Noah, as wise as Solomon, and unwavering like Paul. But if we spend too much time reading stories of the heroes of the Bible, we may miss the greater story those heroes are pointing us toward.  

Throughout the Bible, God is telling one story: God’s plan to rescue His people from sin through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the gospel. And the gospel changes everything. 

 Somewhere along the line, we underestimate the role of the gospel. The gospel is words – we need to use words, and the word of God, to explain the gospel. But they are powerful words. God-breathed words. But the gospel is more than merely religious words and ideas that we get out and admire in church on Sunday, then we put them back on the shelf till next week. The gospel is a message of power, a message used powerfully by the Spirit of God, to convict people of their need for Jesus. The gospel message has the power to change lives.

We believe that it is just about us and Jesus and our external home. But the gospel is so much more. The gospel transforms societies, renews families, and heals relationships. It is a message of action. The gospel is not to merely inform but transform. The gospel should change our lives. Otherwise, we are left with mere words, mere facts, and mere formality.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says, “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you.”

We know that God not only loves you but has selected you for a special purpose. The gospel in action to the world is simply being real in love towards all men, women, and children: smiling, looking them in the eye, giving way to them, being truly kind, telling them God loves them, and praying for them. This is the gospel in action. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think of the gospel on a daily basis? If not why not?
  2. What can we do this week to make the gospel a part of our daily lives? 

Abigail And Taking Risks

“David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.” – 1 Samuel 25:32-35.

When you hear “risk-taking” does your adrenaline start to flow? Do the butterflies in your stomach take flight in anticipation? The thought of facing a tough challenge or taking a risk is simply not as exciting and adventurous as movies would have us think. In reality, we find a certain safety in remaining in our comfort zones, protected and secure.

As followers of Christ, we will be called to step out of our comfort zones. When the Holy Spirit calls us to step out and take a risk, how do we respond? The Bible teaches us a lot about ordinary people at that critical moment when a decision had to be made, they chose to take the risk. One such story is Abigail found in 1 Samuel 25. 

David came to Nabal (Abigail’s husband) requesting food for his army. Nabal rejected the request, by saying “Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:1-11)  David was angry and felt his only recourse was retaliation. He set out to kill Nabal and all his men. When hearing about what happened Abigail jumped into action even though Nabal would have never consented to her actions. 

She presented gifts to David in the most submissive, respectful way. She bowed down in his presence to ask forgiveness on behalf of Nabal. (1 Samuel 25:23) David was so moved by Abigail’s eloquent speech, he thanked God for sending her. Abigail risked her relationship with her husband to defuse a deadly situation. Her safety, her home, and her heart were saved because she trusted God.

What if we were in Abigail’s shoes? Would we exhibit the same kind of bold faith God wants to see in us? The kind of faith that makes a difference in our lives and our world. Bold faith happens when we learn to take risks for God.

 If we are facing a seemingly insurmountable problem–a situation that we believe we are powerless to influence–we should be still and wait on the Lord. But there will also be times when action is required, where we may be asked to take bold steps, and yes, to take some risks. Faith is simply doing what God tells you to do whether you feel like it or not, and in fact, especially when you don’t feel like it, regardless of the circumstances because God will see you thru.


 Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God asks us to take risks? What do we learn about ourselves, and how do we grow by taking risks?
  2. What are the obstacles to stepping out of our zones of comfort and taking risks?
  3. Is there an area of your life where you’ve sensed God nudging you to take a step of faith? Have you been holding back, questioning the outcome of taking that step? 

How Resilient Are We?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9

With so many people experiencing the twists, turns, and transitions life’s journey presents them, we need a spirit of resilience. Resilience is best displayed when a person is following God’s plan, purpose and path even though opposition seeks to set up roadblocks along the way. Despite the shifts, schemes, and distractions that one has to deal with on a daily basis, resilience serves as the foundational trust in God’s promises.  

Do we exercise resilience? Are we resilient in our calling? Or resilient in our God-given roles? Are we resilient when we are weary? Are we resilient even when giving up appears to be the most comfortable option? Are we resilient when no one acknowledges us?

Like any skill, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience can be learned. It starts by redefining setbacks as something greater. Tune out the critics and focus on doing your best. Learn from failure, and remember the many times you’ve succeeded. Refuse to dwell on the past or worry about the future; today is where you have the most influence. When things look hopeless, remember “with God all things are possible.” Pray for guidance when you’re in over your head. and remember you “can do all things through Christ” when you think you can’t. To do these things, we need to get better acquainted with our resident helper and guide, the Holy Spirit. 

Is this a little mysterious?  Yes, But the Holy Spirit is the One who gives us resilience. He is the one who compels us and empowers us to keep trusting, hoping and moving, forward. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to rise up every time our circumstances get us down.

Here is how the apostle Paul explains it: “But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:10-11) The Holy Spirit gives us the power to rise up every time our circumstances get us down.

Just like the inflatable clown punching bags many of us had when we were kids, life sometimes knocks us horizontal. But because the Holy Spirit is within us, we have the means to get back upright again and again, no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How would you define resiliency in your life?  How have you bounced back from a failure, loss, or disappointment? How did God help?

Remarkable People Serve A Remarkable God

 “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,‘The stone that you builders rejected  has now become the cornerstone.” – Acts 4: 8-11.

Were you ever the kid who got picked last for a team, or didn’t get picked at all? Jesus did the exact opposite when He picked His disciples. In fact, Jesus meticulously picked twelve men so ordinary it seemed unlikely that they could change the world.  It’s an example of how God can use unremarkable people to accomplish remarkable things.

In Acts 4, we read that Peter was infused with the power of the Holy Spirit. The difference that caused this boldness, this confidence in Peter is that he had been with Jesus. He wasn’t educated or accomplished. He had no influence. Nor did he possess great wisdom. Peter and the rest of the disciples were constantly asking Jesus for clarification on what He meant. They often didn’t get it, they didn’t understand. Every one of them swore they would never desert Jesus and yet they did.  

The point is that Jesus has intentionally picked men so ordinary, so unremarkable, people, like us. Jesus chooses people who are unremarkable so that when they do something that is very remarkable, God gets the credit and the glory. What made the disciples so remarkable and what will make each one of us is not what we do for Jesus. It’s what Jesus does for us. 

Catherine Hamlin was a remarkable Australian surgeon, who with her husband established the world’s only hospital dedicated to curing women’s injuries that result from childbirth in the developing world. Still operating at the hospital when she was ninety-two years old, and still beginning each day with a cup of tea and Bible study, Hamlin told curious questioners that she was an ordinary believer in Jesus who was simply doing the job God had given her to do. Her remarkable life exemplified scripture’s encouragement to believers to live their lives in such a way that even people who actively reject God “…may see your good deeds and glorify God…” (1 Peter 2:12).

You know, most of us are just pretty unremarkable, and yet God has chosen for whatever reason to allow us to lead out, to do things that are remarkable so that He can get the glory.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How would you define a remarkable life? 
  2. What components need to present for you to consider a life remarkable?

Pray For Easter Services

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” – 1 Peter 1:3-4.

Spring is a time of rebirth, when everything outside comes alive in vibrant colors. There is no greater picture of this new life than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. At Northstar, we can’t think of a better time to visit for a first visit, or perhaps to return after a season away. Easter Sunday gives us a unique opportunity to bring the Gospel to our families, neighborhoods and cities. I ask you to join with us in praying for churches across the country and the world that God will do some incredible work within the hearts of people in the areas we serve, as well as all over the world. 

Our Easter services are for everyone, no matter where you are on your journey with God. At each service, you can expect a thought-provoking and engaging message based on the Bible, high-energy music, and more. A lot of planning and praying goes into our Easter services. We try to pull out all the stops and for good reason. Easter is one of the few times of the year when many semi-churched and unchurched people come to church. These services are going to be joyful celebrations of our resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. We really want to encourage everyone to be inviting friends and neighbors to come to one of our services. 

The Easter story has real meaning and continues to capture people’s imagination. It is an opportunity to reach people who are far from the heart of God, to hear the gospel preached and let God work in their lives. Our goal is to have every parking space filled, every chair occupied. We want people in every crevice of every campus we have. Many will have their perceptions about church changed. Many will have a completely different church experience then they imagined or experienced before. Many will find Jesus. Many will become regular church attenders. You might be inviting them to the place they truly belong. You inviting them to Easter could be the most important invitation they ever receive.

The six-day challenge is to pray for our Easter services. Pray that the people we invite will hear and respond to the gospel on Easter. But remember it is not about numbers. Metrics are valuable and big attendance days can help us envision what our church will look like in the years ahead. But don’t forget that every person is loved by God. And that every person needs the new life that God offers each of us.   

Pray for:

  1. A spirit of joy and celebration in our services.
  2. Boldness in inviting neighbors and friends.
  3. Strong turnout for Easter services on all campuses.
  4. Clarity in presenting the gospel.
  5. Pray in faith that the Holy Spirit will work in people’s hearts.
  6. Hearts to be transformed and for people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. 

As The Spirit Moves You

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27.

Just like you need physical food for physical strength, your spirit must be fed the things it needs and removal of the things that limit or hurt the spirit.  If somebody asked you whether your spirit is is being fed, what would your answer be?  But here’s the thing: just as the body needs food so does our spirit. We rarely think about the diet our spirit is getting. Taking a close look at what you have been feeding your spirit will likely reveal why you are not living the life God intended you to live.

Are we sensitive to the influence and suggestion of the Spirit of God? Do we ever think, yes, I should do this or that—and ignore that? Do we display an unwillingness to yield to the Spirit as it leads us? So what determines whether God is able to perform His work in us? For all practical purposes it boils down to how well we are being led by the spirit. Your effectiveness as a Christian is determined by how well you are led by the Spirit. And how effectively we are led by the spirit is determined by what we feed and starve it.

In many ways, this is where the rubber meets the road in our daily Christian lives. Certainly God leads us by educating us through His Word and through His ministry. But for God to be able to guide and direct our lives as a Father, He also must be able to lead us directly through His Spirit. Although I covered several things we need to feed the spirit for this devotional, I would like to concentrate on God’s word.

God tells us in His word what will fill the craving in your soul like nothing else can. Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 2:2: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation…”: That deep craving is for God’s Word. 

Take one week and pay close attention to God’s Word. Read it, think about it, write out a verse or two that stands out to you. Make an appointment to spend time with God just as you would make any other appointment. Pray, read and listen. Let God’s Word penetrate your heart. It will feed your spirit and fill you in ways you have forgotten. 

Note this profound statement Paul made to God’s people in Rome: “ For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). We are only sons of God when we are led by God through His Spirit.

As powerful as the Holy Spirit is, it never forces, impels, commands or controls us. It leads us. It influences our thinking—it suggests. We must be willing to yield to that influence, to follow, to obey those suggestions. And it begins with how well we remove the toxins in our spirit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What am I feeding my spirit? What do I need to starve?
  2. Is my entertainment feeding me things that actually rob my spirit?
  3. Do I spend enough time in the Word each week?
  4. What steps can I take this week to remove any toxins in my spirit?

Defining The Future

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  Psalms 139: 14-15.

The truth is that we define ourselves in relation to something or someone else. As a child, we define ourselves in relation to our parents and extended family. As we grow older and enter the workforce, we began defining ourselves by what we do. Many people believe that our vocation in life defines us. When we meet someone, the first question we ask is “what do you do?” When I tell people that I am a pastor they immediately make some assumptions about me. We can also define ourselves by where we live. And don’t forget about our vices. These are the things we try our hardest to hide from those around us and the outside world. Ironically, these are often the things that consume us the most. You can be defined by your religion. Our religion defines and identifies us in terms of who we will serve and worship. The list of things that we use to define ourselves can go on and on. All these things determine who we say we are, who we think we are and who the world perceives us to be.

So who are we and how do we define ourselves? There is only one possible basic answer, Jesus. The early believers at Antioch were called Christians. “and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) The early believers were called Christians, because Jesus Christ was clearly at the heart of who they were and what they did.

Ephesians 1:4 tells us that Christ “…chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” In Ephesians 1:13 Paul adds that “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Once we have believed in Christ, our labels from the world become invalid. We are now a child of God. Being a child of God gives us the opportunity to understand the identity of those around us, to see beyond the skin colors and the dollar signs, the skills, or education and to see people for who they truly are. “In Christ” means all can come, leaving behind their sins, and join together to be identified once and for all as children of God. This is why our identity is found in our Savior, not in other peoples perception of us.

In 2016, my prayer is that you discover who God created you to be and what plan He created you to fulfill. This discovery of you should shape the way your view yourself and shape and influence the decisions you make in the new year. It doesn’t really matter how others view or define you when God is transforming you into His image.    

Discussion Questions:

  1. What areas of your life defined you in 2015? How would you like to be defined in 2016?
  2. If you were completely honest, would you say you are more bored or exhilarated with your life as a Christian? What do you need to change to be more exhilarated in 2016?
  3. If we became more familiar with God’s character, how would that help how we define ourselves?