“Let love be your highest goal!… – 1 Corinthians 14:1.

”My greatest aim in life is…” The way you finish that statement can tell you a lot about yourself.  If your greatest aim in life is to attain wealth, you will likely choose a career that will maximize your earning potential. On the other hand, if you are motivated by having little or no stress, you may simply choose relationships, work, etc., that causes no stress. One thing is sure, however. Whatever the number one aim of your life will influence and impact every area of your life. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, God gives us a simple and direct answer to that question: “Let love be your highest goal!…”

When responding to a question about what Jesus believed to be the greatest commandment, Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer that this is also our greatest purpose in life. Reflecting on Matthew 22:36-40 makes it clear that there is no greater purpose in life than to love the Lord and love others. The command to love God and love people to a higher level than anything else in life. Nothing can be more important. Nothing should ever take its place. Nothing can be a greater purpose in life than to love the Lord and love others.

The Christian journey begins with the recognition that you are unconditionally, irrevocably, and ridiculously loved by God just as you are. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, and whatever you’ve done in the course of your life, you are already loved and accepted. No conditions. No qualifications. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. You are a child of God. We are to love like that.

Love is the deliberate act of valuing someone more than you value yourself. Love is the deliberate act of caring for, and listening to others. Love is wanting others to succeed, to be happy and fulfilled.  Love is truly seeing, and caring, about another human being’s existence and welfare. It is wanting to be there for someone, to support them and help them grow; to make a difference in someone’s life; to share in and care about someone else’s happiness and struggles other than your own. Even when it’s hard. Even, and especially, when you don’t really want to.

Because when everything in life is transient, love becomes the only thing that endures. Indeed, it is the only thing that can endure life. Because regardless of how successful you are, how well-traveled, well-educated, well-heeled, well-fed; regardless of all your accomplishments and accolades and accomplishments, a life without love, without the love of others, without loving others will always feel empty and you will never be the person God called you to be.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you when the Bible says to love others?   
  2. What can we do this week to be better at loving others?

Is There Life On Other Planets?

“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.”    Isaiah 4:26.

In 2022, mankind took unprecedented leaps forward in unraveling the mysteries of the cosmos. We witnessed the first mission to the International Space Station funded entirely by space tourists. There were historic launches of spacecraft and technology by NASA and its international partners that could one day be used to land humans on Mars. As we move farther and farther into the cosmos, will we find life on other planets? How do these new discoveries affect our view of God? Do we need to revise our understanding of Him?

The answer depends on how big your concept of God is. You see, we need to recognize that God is far greater than anything the human mind can conceive. The discoveries of science excite us, but it’s even more exciting when we recognize the greatness of the Creator of it all.

Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion Church wrote a book called “Indescribable: Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe.”  In his book, Louie makes the case that while modern science allows us to see farther into space than ever before, every step draws us closer to the God who breathed each star into existence.

David wrote in Psalm 8:3, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place.” The universe contains objects of incredible size and mass at distances that the human mind cannot fully grasp. When we consider the power of the Lord who made all this, we cannot help but feel humbled.

We should be standing in reverent fear of a God so indescribably powerful that He called it the work of His fingers.  Psalm 147:4 adds   “He counts the stars and calls them all by name.” Imagine looking up on a starry night and counting the stars and giving them a name as you go along. “It was my hand that laid the foundations of the earth, my right hand that spread out the heavens above. When I call out the stars, they all appear in order.” (Isaiah 48:13).

Truly, the God who created this universe is glorious and worthy of praise. As to whether there is life on other planets, we simply do not know. So far, no evidence of life on the other planets of our solar system has been found. Wherever life exists or doesn’t exist, God is still the Creator and Controller of all things, and all things were made for His glory.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you had the chance to observe the night sky and its starry host?  What emotions did you feel?
  2. Read Psalm 19:1-6.  What does the universe communicate to us about God?
  3. Why do we tend to lose perspective on how big God is?  How does this impact how we approach life?

Living In Light Of Eternity

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,  press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14:

Paul was clearly looking ahead rather than dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that Paul has suddenly developed amnesia. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he did not let his past discourage him or defeat him. He was determined to press on and to keep running the race. Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life.

We are accustomed to viewing our lives in the order of “past, present, future.” The Bible suggests we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting the past.”

Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.” Do we realize just how mired down in the here and now we have become? Sometimes it’s dark and scary and you’re fumbling around because you feel like you have lost control allowing all kinds of noise and potholes in your lives. Things like broken relationships, money problems, illnesses, and so on. None of those things will matter in eternity. What will matter is whether we lived lives that were pleasing to God.

Paul’s was completely focused on the future. He uses the image of a race to describe the Christian life. In verse 12 Paul says, “I press on.” In verse 14 he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race…” The idea of the word press is to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. The goal is to reach a certain distance at a certain time, or if you are in a race, to overtake another runner. Basically, you are running, not just for the exercise, but with a specific goal and purpose in mind. A runner who keeps his or her “eyes on the prize” will stay on track.  

You may have started the race a few days or a few weeks ago. Or maybe you started the race a long time ago, but somewhere along the way, you stopped running. Perhaps you lost your joy or passion. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re temporarily sitting on the sidelines, I encourage you to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize of an eternity with Him to be won.

Discussion questions:
1. How can we start thinking future, present, and past rather than the current order of past, present, and future?

2. In Philippians 3:13 Paul said “… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, …” What do you think he meant, and how does it relate to our “pressing on toward the goal …”

The Absolute Truth – Part 2

    “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 8:32

In Part 1, we talked about a claim that Jesus made that was and is considered to be somewhat outrageous.  The second claim Jesus made about Himself is, “I am the truth.” Many people believe that there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Yet Jesus is saying, He is the truth. In other words, Jesus is saying that truth is not found in knowledge, religion, or philosophy, but in Him. So, when it comes to God, is there such a thing as absolute truth? If Jesus is telling the truth and is truth personified, then the answer is, “Yes.” He is both the way to God, and He is the ultimate truth.

After Jesus had been arrested, He found Himself standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. He had been accused of blasphemy, of stirring up the people to revolution, and it was rumored He called Himself a King. In speaking to Him, Pilate found no evidence of any crime worthy of death, but was fascinated by His talk of a Kingdom that was “not of this world” (John 18:36).  Pushing back on the idea of whether this lowly carpenter from Galilee truly considered Himself to be some kind of King, Jesus replies, “…“You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” Pilate’s response comes in the form of a question, the same question that humanity has been asking for centuries, the same response to Jesus that keeps so many from faith: “Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?'”

Jesus can testify to the truth and teach the truth because He Himself is that truth.  In Him, there is nothing false, nothing misleading, and nothing fake or uncertain.  Each of us is capable of knowing the truth, but none of us can claim to actually be truth.  There are too many things we don’t know, and too many things we get wrong throughout our lives. Yet Jesus claims to be truth, and in doing so claims to be one with God.

The third claim that Jesus made is that He is life. Jesus uses the shepherd analogy of John 10 where He is not only painting a picture of how he defends and leads his sheep but also foreshadowing His death on the cross. Jesus is teaching us that what we are to really be concerned with is not this life, but eternal life.  The Scriptures speak often of the life to come after our life on this earth, and as we follow the voice of our shepherd, we can live this life in such a way that we are not chasing things that don’t last but chasing the things that do last and have eternal significance. This type of life has an eternal impact not only on us but on untold others around us.

When Jesus refers to Himself as the way, the truth, and the life, He is giving us a better way to live our lives through Him. He is showing us that through following Him daily in faith, He will lead us to a better, richer, more meaningful life than we could ever find on our own.

Discussion Question:

  1. Jesus didn’t say that He would teach them the truth; Jesus said that He is the truth.  Jesus didn’t say that He would offer them the secrets of life; Jesus said that He is the life. What does that mean for our lives today?

Living Life To The Fullest

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. — John 10:10

When Elsa was a young girl, she used her magical powers for fun.  She and Anna would build snowmen, play, laugh…..but when fear crept in and she saw that she had hurt Anna, her powers began to cause her to freeze things. 

From that point forward, she lived in fear and she let the negative rule her life. At some point in each of our lives, we search for a way to live life to its fullest. For some, this search takes them to the heights of successful business careers, or sports contracts. For others, it takes them to the nursery of their children, or the classroom in middle school. Yet, for many, the surface of a rich and full life is only ever barely scratched. Sure, physical needs are met. There’s a roof over our heads and a car in the driveway and there’s food on the table. But, those things are a small part of life lived to the fullest.

In his new book, Life With A Capital L: Embracing Your God Given Humanity, Matt Heard, presents us with an alternative to an unfulfilled life.  In the book Matt reminds us that Jesus is not only interested in our spirituality but our humanity as well. Many have tried, but it is very difficult to cultivate a spiritual journey that’s irrelevant to the rest of our lives. 

Jesus comes that we might live full of life. That we will enjoy our lives, and not let one facet of our lives ruin the total as Elsa did. Jesus tells us that He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. But in the minds of a lot of Christians today, that life is is in Heaven. In other words, salvation represents a glorious hope for those whose lives are drawing to a close, but has little to do with our day-to-day existence. But what if the abundant life Jesus came to bring us doesn’t begin after we die? What if it begins at the moment of conversion and grows stronger with each passing day? What if the full life begins now?

Matt talks about brokenness and heaven in the last few chapters in his book. Here is a summary: Life is hard. It’s messy. People hurt us. We hurt people. We are all broken in some way or another. Yet, Jesus comes to mend this brokenness. Not to airlift us out of it all, but to walk through it with us. To walk through it as one who understands it. And nothing will be left on the editing room floor of our journey. He’ll ultimately redeem it all, raising beauty from the ashes for our good and His glory. There is no need to run or to let one part of life derail the ability to live a full life. 

Salvation doesn’t fix all of the hurt and pain and brokenness upfront. It’s a process.

Life is lived out one step at a time. Slowly by slowly. Until that blessed day when all is redeemed and all is made new and all is filled to the fullness. In Christ, we’re free to live the life God intended us to enjoy. And this is truly good news. We simply need to pause and resist running like Elsa did.

Discussion Question:

  1. What are you running from? Who are you running with?
  2. Is there something keeping you from being bold or courageous?
  3. What is your definition of a full life? What do you need to do to increase the fullness in your life?
  4. How can you grow this week in your relationship with Jesus?
  5. Do you have a dream for the future of your life? Does the idea of God having a dream for your life mean anything to you? Could the two dreams coincide?

Real Love. Real Life.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32-35

Captain Phillips gave some leadership lectures after the film bearing his name came out. The film is about Captain Phillips and a Somali pirate named Muse. One is trying to hijack a ship for ransom, the other is trying to keep him from doing it. In that lecture Captain Phillips gave several bits of wisdom from the entire experience. First, we can’t solve new problems with old solutions. Secondly, successful leaders are flexible. Third, you are stronger than you think you are and fourth, vow to never give up, never quit, and sooner or later your situation will get better. While these are not novel or original ideas and they are also easy to say, it is so much harder to put into practice in a situation such as he faced off the coast of Africa. When faced with a difficult situation it becomes messy and exposes all our flaws. It is anything but easy.

I can draw the same conclusions about love.  It is easy to talk about love. Why not, love make sense to us. And more importantly we are commanded by God to love one another. But when we try to love one other, it seems to get a little messy and exposes our flaws. It is anything but easy. 

It is not surprising then that God would challenge us to be faithful in our love. When we read any number of passages in the New Testament we find ourselves with that expression you make when somebody says something you were not expecting. “Wait, what? Can you run that by me one more time? Do I get any credit for making the attempt?”

Here’s the bottom line: the kind of love that God models and requires is not intuitive, or natural. It’s not easy. God also wants us to love the people who are unloving and unlovely. This is the kind of love that reflects Christ’s love in the gospel. 1 John 4:7-11 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

God has lavished us with His love. He then surrounds us with people who need that love. are just as needy of that love, and tells us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  We should be willing to help the whole find find and follow Jesus by showing that love to others.   

The love that God requires from us is not natural; it takes work and it looks different. It is not the stuff that you read about in a magazine, or pick up in a romantic novel. It is different. And it is hard regardless of the circumstances.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it hard to love one another?
  2. What difference does it make whether a person believes or doesn’t believe that God loves him or her?
  3. What are the unique characteristics of God’s love shown in Scripture?
  4. How does love take us beyond ourselves? Describe some of the stages that love goes through in becoming complete and mature.
  5. How can this duty to love others be a joy?

Keystone Habits

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” –  Charles Duhigg

In the message on Sunday, I referenced a book by Charles Duhigg entitled “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” Duhigg studies the science of behavior, focusing particularly on habits. His premise is that in essence, our entire lives can be summed up by our habits, those things we do incessantly, day in and day out. From brushing our teeth, to the places we shop to the way we eat, sleep, work and play, our habits define us. Good habits, done over a long period of time, have incredible results. Bad habits, even little ones, done over a long period of time have the power to destroy us.

It is hard to argue with Duhigg’s assertions. I would suggest that the key to changing your life is to change your habits, but this is easier said than done. In the book, researchers studied people who underwent radical and enduring lifestyle changes and found that the secret nearly always boiled down to what is known as a single keystone habit.

As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, a keystone habit is a single habit which, when implemented, has a ripple effect or compounding effect on other areas of life. In other words, we change the most when we change one habit that will ultimately impact other areas of our life. Sounds a lot like the series Small Changes Big Differences, doesn’t it?

As we have said through this whole series, don’t set far flung and overly ambitious goals. I would like to be like the apostle Paul, but that won’t happen this year or even in this decade. Instead, we need to focus on one goal, that if we accomplish over time will have a ripple effect in other areas of our lives. In other words the small steps we take this year should be focused on a keystone habit. Don’t look for quick wins because they don’t bring about lasting change.

OK, Marty, what are the keystone steps in your mind. I will answer that, but if you thought about it for a few minutes you would have probably come up with the same list. Here are the habits which I believe will make a big difference in our lives:

1. Attending church and Northstar group weekly.
2. Spending time with God in His Word and prayer daily.
3. Serving in a weekly ministry.
4. Giving back to God at least 10 percent of my income.
5. Going on a short-term mission trips.

These five habits are so much a part of me I take them for granted. They have shaped who I am and what God has done in my life. However, they didn’t become habits overnight. It took time, in fact years. So, I would suggest you concentrate on number 1 on that list until it becomes a habit. If it is already a habit go on to number two and so on. Do that and I believe your life in several years will be radically different than it is today and bring lasting spiritual growth and change in your life.

Discussion Questions:
1. What are the keystone habits in your life? What should they be? How do those keystone habits intersect with discipline?
2. How would your life be different if you developed the daily habit of reading the Bible?
3. Do you attend Northstar Groups whenever possible? Do you tithe? Do you pray as frequently or as fervently as you would like? How do we develop the discipline to make those things a habit?
4. One of the keystone habits for church members is inviting unchurched members to attend church. Is that a habit of yours? If not, why not?