A Passion For Righteousness

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.. . . . The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” —  Proverbs 10:7, 11 (ESV)

With each beatitude that makes up the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues to prove that He is concerned with the position of our hearts. The fourth beatitude, says, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.”

If we want to understand the Fourth Beatitude, we need to know what Jesus means by the term righteousness. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are those whose goal is righteousness, for they shall attain their goal.” Nor did He say, “Blessed are those who have a desire for righteousness, for they will have their heart’s desire.” Rather, He spoke in everyday terms regarding intense hunger. We are not simply to seek righteousness or have righteousness as a goal; we are to hunger and thirst after righteousness. He pronounced a blessing on the ones who are hungry for it. Blessed are those whose thirst for righteousness is a consuming passion.

Sometimes athletes that have signed huge contracts lose some of their passion and are content to rest on their laurels. When pundits see this happening they usually comment by saying, “they’re not hungry like they were before they were established.” As always Jesus is the example in which to follow. The New Testament talks a great deal about how the zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him: “Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.” (John 2:17). This language means that Jesus’ passion for the affairs of His heavenly Father consumed Him.   

Jesus promises in this beatitude that if we strive for righteousness, we will be filled and satisfied. This is the distinguishing factor between Christianity and so many other religions. Jesus wants to know us, and He wants us to draw near to Him and seek His presence. Jesus tells us that if we truly desire a right relationship with Him, then that is exactly what we will have.

In the final analysis, we want the approval of God—but the applause of men can be deafening, and it can cause us to turn our attention toward achieving everything else apart from what Christ set as the priority for His people: to be righteous. Being righteous is not all that complicated; it means having a passion to do what is right.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define righteousness?  
  2. What are some advantages of righteousness? 

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” –  Matthew 5:6.

The word “blessed” is tossed around on a regular basis. Often the word “blessed” is associated with earthly prosperity and happiness. But what does it biblically mean to be blessed?

Many think that if they had abundant wealth, an absence of regret and suffering, excellent health, good employment, unending gratification of their desires, and kind treatment of everyone, this would mean they are blessed. But in the Beatitudes, Jesus turns this kind of thinking upside down. In this passage (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus sets forth characteristics of the ideal person of His kingdom: being poor, mourning, humility, hunger, thirst, rejection, and persecution, all qualities that were present in the life and character of the Man who spoke them. Through these experiences, Jesus says that the disciple would be blessed. To be blessed means that we receive God’s favor. We receive His endorsement and approval.

In verse 6, Jesus speaks these words, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” Hunger and thirst represent the deepest desires we have. What is your deepest desire? What do you hunger and thirst for? Is it control? Maybe it’s comfort? But here’s the thing, none of these things bring blessings to our lives. We are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

But have we ever had a hunger and a thirst for God? The answer is yes when we face a health crisis when nothing else mattered but experiencing His peace. There are other times that I’ve clearly needed the Lord in huge ways and hungered for His presence.  But how often have I really hungered and really thirsted for righteousness?

The hunger and thirst described by Jesus in this beatitude are not some kind of hunger that could be satisfied with a mid-morning snack or a cup of coffee. This is the hunger and thirst of one who is desperate, one who will risk everything to be satisfied. How much do you hunger after God? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?” In the 63rd Psalm, David expressed his desire for God: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

When we’re thirsty, we crave water. Our daily need for water acts as our reminder to drink deeply of Jesus every day. He doesn’t have what we need. He is what we need. Knowing this, we can also rejoice in the fact that Jesus doesn’t just give us a drink to satisfy us at the moment, but He gives us an eternal fountain of living water. We will never run out of His grace, His love, and His freedom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you felt distant from God because of something you did (sin, busyness, etc.)? How did it impact your relationship with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to thirst after God?  

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 …”

Hitting For The Cycle

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40: 29-3.

Here is some baseball trivia. Who was the last player to hit for the natural cycle? The answer: Texas Rangers outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. on September 13, 2006. Matthews started with a single in the first, added a double in the second and a triple in the fourth, and then finished it off with a home run in the sixth.

If you are not a baseball fan, hitting for the cycle is the accomplishment of one batter hitting a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in the same game. Collecting the hits in that order is known as a “natural cycle”. Only 14 players have ever hit for a natural cycle in a major league game. Statistics indicate the probability of natural cycle is once every 52,600 games.

God is asking us to hit for a natural cycle. In other words, start at home by connecting with God. Hit a single and get to first base, which is our character. Hit a double to get to second base which is community. Then a triple which is competence. And finally hit a home run life by circling the bases in our next bat. Easy? No, it is not. But it is the pattern that God established and the path to a Home Run Life.

Staying with the baseball theme, let me add a few thoughts to summarize the Home Run Life series. First, we are on a team, so we need to be a team player. A baseball team can only be successful when they work together. We are not running the Home Run Life by ourselves. We are in this thing together, so it doesn’t matter whether you are the pitcher, the catcher, first baseman, second, third, fielder or whatever. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are the pastor, an elder, KiD’s teacher, park cars, or serve coffee. Romans 15:1-2 says, ”We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” In other words, let’s do things that help, bless, build, and encourage one another in the areas of character, community and careers.

Second, living a Home Run Life is a lot easier when we listen, learn and obey the manager or coach. It seems pretty basic and  self-evident to listen to the Lord of Lords, the Son of God.  Yet we do not always play the game according to His rules. Luke 6: 46 says “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” We need to listen to the coach if we want to live a Home Run Life.

The third thing is you may get hurt, but that should not stop us from trying to improve our character, connect with community and place the creator ahead of our career. Lou Gehrig is called the “iron man of baseball” for a very good reason. For 15 years in the 1920’s and 30’s he played first base for the New York Yankees. He played 2,130 consecutive games. And after he retired they took X-rays of both of his hands and found that every finger had been broken at least one time, yet he never missed a game. That says something about his character and his commitment to baseball.

Every Christian will experience hurt and pain in some form or another and for one reason or another. The apostle Paul lived the Home Run Life, yet he endured a lot of hardship most of us will never face. “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13) Yes, we may get hurt, but I encourage you to continue to run the bases, trusting in God.

My prayer is that you will not be content in just being a spectator, someone who doesn’t care if they are playing on the team. Someone who just wants to be there. That is enough for some. Some people would much rather sit back and just watch anyway, content just to be at the game. Like the Christian who loves being at church, but doesn’t really want to make a commitment to Christ. They would rather just sit and watch. Just being at church is enough for them.

My prayer for this series is that we will have a renewed passion and love for being on the team and living a Home Run Life. That we will do whatever it takes to become a better baseball player. That we will set our sights on the Hall of Fame.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is my connection with God where it needs to be? What do I need to do differently?
  2. Is my character reflective of my Christianity? What do I need to do differently?
  3. Am I an active member of the community?
  4. Is my priority my creator or my career? Am I waiting until the later innings before I start running the bases?
  5. Do I tend to be a spectator or benchwarmer rather than an active participant in the Home Run Life? Is just being at church enough for me?

Through The Roof

Core Statement: We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ. To reach people no one else is reaching, we’ll do things no one is doing.

Do you remember the story of Jessica McClure? Jessica McClure Morales, also known as “Baby Jessica,” became famous in 1987, when, at 18 months old, she fell down a 22-foot well in her aunt’s backyard. She remained trapped in the well, 22 feet below ground and only 8 inches wide. For the next 58 hours, frantic rescue crews attempted to save her life and the entire nation watched transfixed, as the drama played out on television.

While crews began the difficult process of drilling a horizontal tunnel between the two wells about two feet below where Baby Jessica was trapped, rescue workers pumped oxygen into the well and attempted to maintain constant communication with the toddler. The entire nation watched literally, around-the-clock, as a dramatic news story unfolded live on television, as hundreds of workers and volunteers worked around the clock to save the little girl. It was captivating, and an example of the human spirit. I’ve never seen such a dedicated effort from a whole community. Today, Jessica is a mother of two and living close to the very spot where she became famous.

How far would we go to save someone? To what lengths would you be willing to go? Because as we have said so often, people matter to God. So, if they matter to God, they better matter to us.

In Mark 2, we find the story of the paralytic. You probably remember this story if you were raised in church. Jesus had returned to Capernaum and as the news spread that He was back, the house where he was staying quickly filled up. It was so crowded, there was simply no room, even outside the door. Four men carrying a paralyzed man on a mat arrive at the house and quickly discovered that they could not get through the crowd. So they dug a hole through the roof and lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The men in this story thought their friend’s soul was worth the effort, whatever effort it took, which included not giving up at the first sign of difficulty. They gave generously of their time and energy. They invested in his future. What about us? Are we ready to invest in our friends/relatives/neighbors the way the men in this story did? Are we willing to continue on even when the path seems blocked?

Northstar as a community of believers has an unquenchable passion for those far from the heart of God. We never stop praying for them. We never stop loving them because we have a genuine heart to see the lost saved through the restoring power of Jesus Christ. And we will do just about anything to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if we are doing things that nobody else is doing.

Discussion Questions:
1. Jesus ate with sinners. What are some ways you can get more involved in the lives of people who are far from Christ?
2. What do you see as your role in winning those far from the heart of God as a member of Northstar?
3. Is the workplace off-limits? Talk about how you feel like your faith could play a bigger part in your work relationships?
4. How could you start a dialog with an extended family member, or long-time friend who you haven’t shared Jesus with before?
5. What have been obstacles for you in the past for not being more passionate about reaching others for Christ?