Stand Out From The Crowd

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10

Most of us like to fit in. There is something in our wiring or in our programming as we grow up that makes us afraid to do anything that would make us stand out as being peculiar or different from the crowd. Mostly it is fear. In some of us this fear is stronger than in others. It is definitely easier to go along with the crowd than to stand out. So what does it take to cause one of us to be willing to stand out as Daniel did? And not only to step out but to walk a different path consistently.

We have begun a 21 Day Daniel Fast as a church and as individuals as we seek God’s will for us as a community and as individuals for the remainder of 2015. I have talked a lot recently about our vision to help the whole world find and follow Jesus. To that we need people willing to serve in the church, people that want to step up and stand out.

I would like to point out the difference using the story of the ten lepers found in Luke 17. In Luke 17, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when ten lepers call out to him to have pity on them. Jesus tells them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. All ten of them called out Master and each one did what Jesus said. Yet only one realized he was healed and went back to throw himself at Jesus’ feet in gratitude. He stands out. Let’s delve a little deeper in this passage of scripture.

First, let’s talk about initiative. Only one took the higher road and went beyond the instructions. In serving each other in our lives and in church, we need to do more than just the basics. Our service is not a “spiritual to-do list” that we can check off. Instead, to stand out we need to go beyond “the right things” and do the best things. We need to look to Jesus and show initiative. We need to see what has to be done, and do it.

Second, we need humility. The healed man went to Jesus, fell at His feet and thanked Him. He was bold, yet completely humble. Sometimes we may think we’re too good to do certain acts of service. At other times we don’t think we’re good enough. The opportunity to serve is all around us if we’re willing to do anything that’s needed. Let’s not seek opportunity; let’s seek to serve. When it comes to our serving Jesus, nothing should be too high or too low for us to do.

Third, we must choose Jesus. The nine other lepers were no longer outcasts of society. They could have been thinking about re-establishing families, careers and their future. But the one turns back and throws himself at the feet of Jesus. In response, Jesus tells him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” All were healed, but one was saved.

The irony is that when we decide to step up and stand out in our initiative, humility and choosing Jesus constantly, opportunity does come. And better still, others see us at the feet of Jesus and will want what we have.

During the 21-Day Daniel fast I hope you will pray and ask God where He would have you serve at Northstar. Then I hope you will take a stand and choose to serve where God places you.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why did Jesus serve people? Based on Mark 10:45, what was Jesus’ greatest act of servanthood?
2. In what way is Romans 12:11 a challenge for how we are to serve the Lord?
3. Do you think it is important to serve others who are in need? Why or why not? Whose responsibility is it to serve people that are in need?
4. How much time do you typically invest in serving the church on a weekly/monthly basis? Does this include people outside the church?
5. Pray and ask God for the heart of a servant.


“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” – Luke 10:25-28. 

In Luke 10, we read about a conversation between Jesus and an expert in the law. This was common for Jesus as His teachings attracted scribes, Pharisees, and Jewish scholars. In this interaction, the expert asked Jesus “what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response gets him to answer the question by referencing what the expert already knows. Jesus says the response is correct, and if the expert does this, “You will live.”

But the expert goes a little further. He wants to know how far he must go. He asks Jesus, “…And who is my neighbor?” (vs. 29) In other words, are there limits or other criteria to use to determine who is a neighbor? Jesus tells the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan is one of the last people the expert would consider a neighbor, yet he still did the right thing to help someone.

Jesus gets the expert to admit the Samaritan did the right thing and says, “…now go and do the same.” He is expanding the expert’s definition of neighbor to include everybody because loving people is always right.

Doing the right thing for people should be our mindset as well. This passage of scripture charges us to live life by doing the right thing. Love your neighbor, who is everyone and anyone. Work to keep your eyes open to be able to see them clearly. 

The challenging part about loving another person is looking at things from their perspective. This is so hard, especially when our side of things makes so much more sense than what we can see of their side. But when we prioritize loving them even if we don’t fully understand or agree, that’s when Jesus comes to life in us.

Francis Chan notes: “How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as Christ—the person driving painfully slow in front of me, the checker at the grocery store who seems more interested in chatting than ringing up my items, the member of my own church family with whom I can’t seem to have a conversation and not get annoyed? If we believe that, as Jesus said, the two greatest commands are to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself,’ then this passage has aplication to every part of our life.

Do this and you will live.


Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Do you see everyone as a neighbor, as Jesus defined it?
  2. If you can see them as neighbors, are you loving them well?
  3. Where are instances that you have/have not loved?


“We were created for the purpose of giving God’s invisible character a glimpse of visibility.” – Beth Moore

We believe that not only does God exists, but He is all around us. But as John tells us “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12 ESV) The immediate problem with this is how do you love what is not seen. How do you manage to love something or someone who is invisible, who is not evident to the senses?

To answer that question, it is necessary to ask a question first: how do we know anything? Much of what we know is taken on faith. How do I know the woman wearing the brown UPS uniform is not wearing a costume and is a burglar scouting my house? In the same vein, it takes faith to worship the God who I have never seen. Therein lies the challenge. How many times, when I was in distress, did I ask for a tangible visitation and didn’t get it? Well, this is the reason. God is invisible. He is not playing a game of cosmic hide-and-seek with me. He is present, just invisible.

The fact that we can see God is well attested to by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen.…” (KJV)  How do we see God? We see Him by looking around at His creation. Psalms 19:1-6 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat.”

Jesus came into the world to show us what God the Father is like. He is the visible representation of the Father, who is invisible. Jesus embodies the characteristics of God. Through the miracle of the incarnation, He took upon Himself the nature and form of man. In doing this, He gave expression to the qualities of God and communicated these qualities to man. Jesus said, “…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9). Hebrews 1:3 adds, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God…”

All of us should make God “visible” to the world in which we live, “ For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). The bible is the story of God on a mission to bring heaven and earth together. It’s also the story of how God invites Christians to join Him in His mission. As we work to make the invisible God visible, we are not doing anything except revealing who He already is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes the Bible so unique in your mind?
  2. What can we do this week to spend more time in the Bible?   


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? 

Investigate Jesus in 2023

“The story of Israel as recorded [in the Bible] is filled not with abstract ideas or scientific discoveries but with events of profound and dramatic import, with ‘mighty acts of God’ and thundering words of the prophets.” – Roland Stromberg, A History of Western Civilization.

Most of us grow up accepting the things we are taught as being true. In school, we learned that there are seven continents and that the universe around us is made up of tiny particles called atoms, even though we had no way of verifying that fact unless we have an electron microscope in our house and know how to use it.

If we had the good fortune to grow up in a Christian home then we learned the stories of Abraham, Daniel, John The Baptist, Jesus, and others. We accepted those stories as historical narratives. In addition, we were taught that there is a God, that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, and that Jesus is God’s only Son who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead, thereby offering eternal life to those who follow Him. But whether we grew up in a Christian home or came to accept the beliefs of the Christian faith later in life, at some point we’ve probably wondered whether what we’ve been taught is all indeed true.

Perhaps you’ve been challenged with, or have asked yourself, such questions as, “Can I believe there was a talking donkey or how do I know Jesus rose from the dead?” Or other questions, like  “How do I know the Bible is true and not filled with errors or the made-up ideas of individuals from the past?” These are common questions that have been asked of the Christian faith for generations. And these are the types of questions every believer should be prepared to respond to, both for themselves and for others. (1 Peter 3:15)

In His book, Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace examined the testimony of the Gospel writers. He explored the New Testament to determine if there were reliable witnesses to Jesus. His background experience as a police detective specializing in cold cases has always added a fascinating dynamic to Wallace’s investigations of Christianity. He found out that the Bible and the person the Bible is about, Jesus, are investigable.

Think about it: Jesus is the center of all of history, and it is impossible to erase Him from History. The life of Jesus Christ was predicted and prepared for. The Apostle Paul put it, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6) Jesus impacts virtually every leader, artist, educator, and religious figure. As Wallace points out, Christianity failed to morph around anyone who came after Jesus Christ, but almost every major religion adapted to incorporate Him.

Take the time in 2023 to investigate Jesus. Discover why we live in a world that has been so thoroughly shaped by the life and death of Jesus. You will find out that you don’t have to believe based solely on a collection of ancient manuscripts. The foundation of our faith is anchored to something far more substantial and sustainable.

Discussion questions:

  1. Have you ever spent time investigating Jesus and your faith? What questions did you have?
  2. Does the fact that the Bible (Jesus) is investigable change you views on Christianity?

There Is A Great Wall

Did you know? In Biblical times, any city that had a great wall around it was considered to be a great city. The city of Babylon became known worldwide as a great city. Ancient writing suggests that the walls were 56 miles long, 80 feet thick, and 320 feet high.

The Great Wall of China may be one of the most iconic man-made structures in the world and is a must-see for most travelers. Construction began over four hundred years before Christ and was completed in the 1600s. It’s built over some of the toughest terrain imaginable. You could stretch it from Atlanta to London and still have some wall left over. Think of the time, resources, and sweat it took to build the Great Wall all in an effort to stay separated from their enemies.

As big as the Great Wall is, it’s minuscule compared to the wall that separates man from God. Sin causes this wall and no one can overcome this barrier on their own. Fortunately, we don’t have to be a modern day Joshua wondering initially how we are going to tear down the walls of Jericho. God removed the barrier through Jesus.

“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) God sees our stumbling and tripping. We can’t walk the road ourselves; we can’t remove the obstacles, walls, and barriers, so God does it for us.

God the Father sends Jesus the Son to be pierced, crushed, punished and wounded so that you can be healed. Jesus has been God from all eternity, yet He comes to earth and gets His hands dirty knocking down walls and barriers.  Jesus was constantly surprising and even shocking people as He broke cultural barriers all around Him.

By dying on the cross Jesus becomes the Way to enter God’s presence.  Isaiah 57:15 tells us, “The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.”

If you have a healthy relationship with God, then you will want to eliminate any walls between you and God. If we are truly willing to follow Jesus, then we too should be tearing down any barrier which separates us from one another and building bridges so that all can sit at the feet of Jesus.

Discussion questions:

  1. How often do you think about the walls (barriers) that stand between you and God?
  2. What can you do this week to start tearing down the walls?

Christmas Is Over, Now What?

“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.” – Corrie Ten Boom.

It’s the day after Christmas and all through the house there are piles of junk, cast-off toys, and piles of unwanted gifts to be returned as soon as possible.  Perhaps you’re hoping to exchange the flannel shirt Uncle Pete gave you. The kids have already found that the cardboard boxes their toys came in are more interesting to play with than the items which the boxes originally contained.

You’ve already made the decision to put the tree out on the curb for pickup tomorrow and get ready for the new year. Maybe this year should be different. It is the time to pause and answer a question: “Is there any correlation between the focus of the Christmas holidays—and what drives and motivates your life after the Christmas decorations are gone and the poinsettias have wilted?

Yes, it is Jesus’ birthday, but it is also the beginning of the gospel story. We are not just celebrating the fact that Christ came as a baby. We are celebrating that He came and brought redemption to our world. In other words, He came to redeem everyone who believes in His name.

Here is how Paul answered that question in I Timothy 1:15: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.” Paul was thinking about the grace of God shown to him. He could not get over it. We too should be amazed. We too should not be able to get over it. We too should be in awe of God with us. We should be in constant astonishment at God’s grace and mercy that began for each of us on that first Christmas night.

Some people want to put Christmas behind them until next December.  But others bask in the reality of the meaning of Christmas, the Incarnation.  For them, Jesus is not a babe whose manger is getting pretty old and dusty.  He is the living Savior, the One who became flesh at Bethlehem, the One who wants to touch the lives of people today. He can be pushed aside by packing up the Christmas decorations. Moving on after Christmas should include the risen Lord who will someday return from heaven. May we enter the New Year with our eyes focused on the risen Savior.

Take the time and the step of remembring the Christmas story during the year. Try to understand what “God with us” and “unto you is born a Savior” really means all year long.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think about Christmas year-round?
  2. What would you suggest are a couple of practical ways to help refocus on the true meaning of Christmas during 2023? 

A Gift Too Wonderful For Words

Emmanuel. God with us. He who resided in Heaven, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, willingly descended into our world. He breathed our air, felt our pain, knew our sorrows, and died for our sins. He didn’t come to frighten us, but to show us the way to warmth and safety.” –  Charles Swindoll.

Wondering about the wonder of God is always worthwhile. But the wonder of wonders is God with us. Two millennia ago in a small, rugged Bethlehem barn, God the Son became Immanuel, “God with us”—God incarnate. He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, died as we die, yet without sin. And He overcame the power of death in order to give us eternal life.

At its heart, Christmas is the celebration of a promise God had made to provide a Savior and King. That Person is His Son, Jesus—God-Man, conceived miraculously, taking on human flesh, living among us in order to die in our place.  God becoming flesh.

God becomes human to walk among us, teach us, and love us in radical and liberating ways. The beauty of God with us is that God didn’t come to us in the form of a Hercules-type Demi-god, almost human, but stronger, faster, richer, and better in every way. No Emmanuel came to dwell among us, as one of us. God with us came to be in the midst of two ordinary people. God with us came to be in human form through Mary and Joseph. There wasn’t anything special that Mary and Joseph had done, just as there’s nothing we can do, to make ourselves more worthy of God with us. God is with us in spite of our imperfections and our struggles and our sin.  God became like us so that we could become like Him.

Hopefully, we will walk slower and think deeper this Christmas.  Hopefully, we will take a few minutes to wonder as the shepherds wondered and to worship as the wise men did. And hopefully, we will take a few moments to imagine the infinite God in the body of a finite baby. The best gift we have ever received came on that first Christmas—delivered in a Person from God the Father . . . to us.

“Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you explain “the Incarnation?” Why do you think it’s important?
  2. Do you see grace and truth at work in your relationship with God? How can you experience more of it?

The Prince Of Peace

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6.

Peace is something we all long for. It is one of humanity’s greatest needs and desires. We struggle with fear of the future, conflicts in relationships, financial stress, health problems and so much more. In this day and age when anxiety is at an all-time high, peace can seem like an impossible dream. Good thing God specializes in doing the impossible.

Jesus came as our Prince of Peace. He is the only reason we can truly live peacefully with God and others. The peace Jesus brings is one that is beyond comprehension. It is a peace that comes from knowing that God has everything well in hand, even when it doesn’t look like it. It is a sense of well-being, knowing you are perfectly safe in the middle of trials and storms because you have something to anchor you. It is knowing that you are a child of God and as a result are safe, loved, and receiving grace. This peace comes from knowing your identity is secure in Christ and your destiny is sure.

God gives us the blueprint for dealing with our fears. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”  We should not deal with fears on our own, but rather hand our fear over to God and He will do the rest. During the day, keep God foremost in your mind. Remember that He is with you wherever you go. Don’t let your fears influence you. Rather, build your faith.  I challenge you today, instead of worrying about what may happen, to begin to replace those fearful thoughts with scriptures of God’s promised protection. The next time you are faced with fear, make a decision to remain in the peace that God has already given you.

The peace that Jesus offers is perfect, lasting peace. The night before He died, Jesus promised His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27). He also said to them, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Often, living a peace-filled life comes down to a choice. Choosing to rely on Him, choosing to trust Him no matter what, choosing to pray in all that we face, choosing not to be anxious, choosing to believe that He’s always with us and in control, and choosing to set our thoughts on the peace that only He can give.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Take some time to think back over your life. Do you notice any correlation between your submission to God and the peace that you have had? What is the peace that Jesus gives that is not like the world’s peace?