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.

Serve the Purpose

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:10-11. 

Our volunteers are heroes. They are truly the force behind everything that takes place at Northstar. While we individually have gifts, it is when those gifts are combined with others that amazing things can happen. It is easy to look at the size of Northstar and wonder how big a difference can I make. One person among thousands cannot make that significant a difference, can they? I wish you could see what I see. I wish you could see behind the curtain. You would see just how big a difference that one person who has a heart to serve and use their gifts can make. Our vision for this church is to “help the whole world follow Jesus” and in doing that connect, renew, and grow all people in Christ. We cannot fulfill that vision without people willing to serve in our ministries. It just can’t be done. 

God has used Northstar to transform thousands of lives. Every volunteer had a part in that life transformation process. Yes, you can make a difference. 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT) tell us, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”  Even in the first century church, people were needed to serve. In Acts 6:1-7, we read about finding people to serve tables.

The question I get most often about serving is “where do I fit?” Or, “where should I serve?” I encourage you to take a look around and identify where you might fit best, based on your strengths and personality. Let me give you one example. 

One of our most important ministries is Northstar KiDs. It is made up of programs for babies through kids in 5th grade. We believe that all children are special and valuable to God and that He wants them to understand how much He loves them and wants to develop a relationship with Him. We have built everything we do around those principles. Northstar KiDs is where you will hear a lot of laughter and see a lot of love in action. Our goal is to teach our children about Jesus and help them grow in their relationship with Him. We teach our children in ways that are fun, exciting, and relational. We want to enter into their world so we can then speak to them about the world Jesus wants for them. Anything goes as long as it is fun, safe, speaks the truth from the Bible, and helps us build loving relationships with the kids. If you have a heart and a passion for kids, we can use you. 

Let me leave you with one last thing to consider: Sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift. It is easy to look at changing diapers, holding doors open, serving up coffee or parking cars and be unsure whether this is your gifting. The next logical thought is “maybe I should find something that uses my talents and abilities better.” It is easy to have the mentality of considering that some things in church are more important than others. 

The fact is, however, we are not serving for our own self-fulfillment. We are serving for the the church body. This doesn’t mean my gifts aren’t important. What it means is that sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift. My point is we have areas of need that you can fill, even if you may not have a gift or passion for that area.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to serve God? Is it a position, a role, or a mindset?
  2. Read Ephesians 6:7. What does this verse mean to you?
  3. Sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift. Agree or disagree? 
  4. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8: What is our responsibility to know and serve one another persistently?
  5. What are some things that keep us from serving even when we want or need to?

First Things First

“In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” – Proverbs 3:6 (TLB).

I think most people accept the fact that are all kinds of things that contend for our attention and time; they include our spouse, children, job, interests and hobbies to name a few. None of those things are necessarily bad. They only become a problem when we let them become more important or more of a priority than our relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 5:8-9 (NLT) says, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.”

We have to guard against the things that occupy our time, money, thoughts and attention taking the place where God is supposed to be. We need to ask ourselves, “Is God first in my life, or do I have some idols that have displaced Him? 

Having a deep, intimate relationship requires us to put Him first in every area of our life. First Thessalonians 2:4 (AMP) says, “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as [if we were trying] to please people [to gain power and popularity], but to please God who examines our hearts [expecting our best].”

Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”

I say it on a regular basis: When you decide to serve God with your whole heart and make Him first in your life, your life will be better. I say it that often because I believe the “key” to the Christian walk is knowing how, moment by moment, to put God first and learning to lean on Him. 

Take an honest look at your current priorities. Reflect on your life right now to consider what factors most determine how you choose to live. Where are you investing most of your time, money, and energy? Which relationships and activities do you devote yourself to every day? Where do you currently place God on your list of priorities? If your relationship with God isn’t your top priority right now, consider the changes you need to make God first.

Your life will be better when you make God your highest priority, over everyone and everything else in your life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does God want us to put Him first?
  2. What prevents us from putting God first? Is is pride, greed or fear, or something else?
  3. What attitudes release me to put God first? Is it faith and/or love or something else?
  4. Is there an area of your life where you have put God first? What difference did it make in your life?
  5. What are some things Christians can do this week to put God first? 

Being a Leader

“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity….” – 1 Timothy 3:4. 

Perhaps you have heard the story of a man in heaven who sees two different signs. One sign said: “ALL THOSE MEN WHO HAVE BEEN DOMINATED BY THEIR WIVES, STAND HERE.” That line of men seemed to stretch into infinity. The second sign read: “ALL THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN DOMINATED BY THEIR WIVES, STAND HERE.” Only one man stood under that sign. The man went over and underneath the sign stood one man. He asked the man, “what’s the secret, how did you do it? That other line has millions of men and you are the only one standing in this line.” The man responded, “my wife just told me to stand here.”

No this is not a devotional about who should wear the pants in the family. If the marriage is to deepen with time, the man has to take the lead in some key areas as the song by Sanctus Real says so eloquently. Doing nothing or deferring to your wife doesn’t eliminate our responsibilities as husbands and fathers. 

God placed ultimate responsibility with respect to the household on the shoulders of the husband. But being the head or leading does not mean the man lords over his wife and demands her total obedience. God never viewed women as second-class citizens. His Word clearly states that:  Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Scripture does more than assign leadership in a marriage to the husband, however. Those same passages you just read also provide a model for that leadership. Firs , we must love our wife unconditionally. Secondly, serve your wife. Jesus is our model for this type of leadership. Jesus did not just talk about serving; He demonstrated it when he washed His disciples’ feet. The Son of God took on the very nature of a servant when He was made in human likeness (Philippians 2:7).

One of the best ways to serve your wife is to understand her needs and try to meet them. Do you know what your wife’s top three needs are right now? What is she worried about? What troubles her? What type of pressure does she feel? Learn the answers to questions like that, and then do what you can to reduce her worries, her troubles, her pressures.

My prayer for each husband reading this is reflected in the lyrics of the Lead Me song:

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do would you rate your ability to lead? Is it something that comes naturally? Why or why not?
  2. How would you rate yourself as a servant in your marriage?
  3. What practical steps can you take to better lead your marriage?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you be the leader in your marriage.

What We Have In Common, Is What Sets Us Apart

“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” – Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)

As Christians we are better at doing church than doing life together. And that is unfortunate because Christians always live better lives when we are connected to other believers. Simply put, we are better together than by ourselves. 1 Peter 3:8 tells us God’s intention for us: “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” That verse sums up why we feel so strongly about small groups at Northstar.

On Sunday we meet as a large group to worship and to hear God’s Word. As great as that is – you need something smaller – where you can really get to know others and let others into your world. Yesterday I outlined the advantages of corporate worship and small groups. In this devotional, I would like to give you two more good reasons why you should join one of our Northstar groups:

First, let’s talk about isolation. A couple of weeks ago we discussed the movie Frozen and Queen Elsa’s kingdom of isolation. It is all too easy to become isolated. That is not what God wants because isolation is unhealthy for us. God’s called us to “community.” God created humans to be interactive not isolated. Christians are called to engage others and to add to the lives of others. That’s why small groups in a church are so important. It’s the best laboratory for growing as a believer. In a small group we learn to care about others and share life experiences. We grow together and separately.

And second, a small group gives us opportunities to practice God’s love. As Roy said, there are 100 “one another” commands in 94 verses.  Among many commands we are told to “love each other”, “pray for each other”, “encourage each other”, “serve each other”, “teach each other”, “accept each other”, “bear each other’s burdens”, and be “devoted to each other”. That is hard to do in a corporate worship service. But it is easy to do in a small group. It’s where you can find opportunities to “flesh out” the Bible’s command to practice God’s love for others.

It is my heartfelt prayer that each of you will be courageous and join one of our church’s small groups this semester. I am convinced that once you do, you will discover how much more rewarding the Christian life is when you do it with other believers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your thoughts on the value/importance of small groups?
  2. Have you ever felt isolated, even in a large church?
  3. What are the obstacles to joining a small group?
  4. Find a small group that you find appealing and join today.

You Asked For It – Is Being A Christian Boring?

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:12

As a side note, I hope you have enjoyed the You Asked For It series as much as I have. And I hope this was a time of reflection, discovery and open discussion as we have delved into the questions you submitted on God and Christianity. What I wanted was for us to discover together a deeper love for God and His word and the encouragement and excitement that can be found as we study and look at these questions in the Word. Through this devotional and our interactions, I also want us to search our hearts to find ways to better serve God.

With that said let’s look at the question: Is the Christian life boring? I’m not surprised that people think you have to have a personality and fun bypass done when you become a Christian. Everybody either knows or has known a Christian who is prim and proper with no sense of humor. The general perception of Christians is that fun is forbidden and smiling is measured. Most people believe that if you were not boring before you became a Christian, chances are you will become boring once you are a Christian. They see the transition as mandatory.

But are we boring? Is serving God boring. Think about Jesus for a minute. Jesus was God’s Son, living in God’s world, God’s way. If Christian life is boring, then Jesus logically has to be really boring. The complete opposite is true—people couldn’t get enough of him. He got invited to parties with some undesirable people—prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors. And it wasn’t because he behaved like them. No, it was because he loved them, he listened to them, and he wanted them to know how life with God could be enjoyed to the fullest.

Jesus Christ was anything but boring. He was national news. When Pilate handed Christ over for death it wasn’t for spreading gloom and hopelessness. He was too dangerously fascinating, created too much excitement. “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19) said the jealous Pharisees. “The large crowd listened to him with delight.” (Mark 12:37). Guards came to capture Him but were captivated by Him. They explained, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (John 7:46)

Boring? Only God in the flesh can make an event that happened thousands of year ago seem like it just took place. No person ever encountered Jesus willingly or unwillingly that their lives remained the same. Jesus and following Jesus is anything but boring.

Some people assume that being a Christian is boring because they’ve heard that Christians have to give up all the “fun” things in life. It’s true that Christians give up some things, but it’s not the fun. Christians give up their sin. In return, they receive “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17). They “live as children of light” in a dark world (Ephesians 5:8). The mistakes of their past no longer have a stronghold in their lives. They serve others and make a difference. They are becoming everything that God created them to be. It is virtually impossible to be bored in such a life.

The only thing in this world that has eternal value is a relationship with Jesus Christ. A growing, committed Christian will find that life is never boring. There’s always another step of faith to take, another relationship to build, another person to serve.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How many people can you name in the Bible whose life was boring? How many can you name whose life was anything but boring?
  2. If your main goal in life were to have fun, what would you do with your time right now?
  3. What do you think God wants you to do with your time right now? Why do you think He wants you to do that?
  4. Do you think Christianity is boring? Do you think Jesus was boring? Why or why not?
  5. Do you think heaven will be boring?