Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Because He First Loved Us: Love God, Love People

Posted By: Noelle Thompson
Loving God and loving people sounds easy, right? Sure we don’t always get along with or particularly enjoy other people. But we love others because Christ first loved us, so we carry out his love for us to our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends and family members. Or so we think.

I would hope that these messages would convict you as much as they weighed heavily on my own heart. I would consider myself shy and quiet, but friendly and generally loving towards others. We are all given spiritual gifts, but what we may not realize is that certain characteristics aren’t trademarks of ourselves – they’re trademarks of the church.

1 John 4:19-20 "We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen."

The rebellious church kid in me doesn’t always understand this, especially when I let my pride overtake me and stubbornly think, “But I don’t feel like it…” I grew up in church, I went to Sunday school, and I knew the church elders and did everything in my power to please them and God (in that order). But that’s not the kind of church Paul wrote about in Acts.

Acts 2:42-47 "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

When I think of this church Paul describes, I think of how much enjoyment and delight everyone takes in the Lord and each other (in that order). My love for the church is an outpouring of gratitude for Christ’s love for me. I revel in his joy when I see others reveling in his love for them. It’s a cyclic relationship that begins the day we accept Christ into our life. It only ends the day we choose to follow our flesh; our earthly desires that feed us lies. We are not called to follow leaders blindly; we can certainly hold each other accountable. But something to remember – something that took years for me to understand – was that we don’t become members of the church of our own strength. Not that we don’t have to submit any energy whatsoever, but the nature of Christ’s love will be evident in us as we grow in our relationship with him. We don’t bear one another’s burdens without a God-given pile of patience; we don’t honor one another above ourselves a servant’s heart; we don’t build one another up without God’s zeal; and we certainly don’t submit to one another without a heaping dose of humility. If we attempt these things without God, we are only fooling ourselves and we make ourselves out to be liars. God never commanded, “If it’s something you’re good at, then love others,” or “If you feel like it, love other people,” or “If it’s easy and convenient for you, love others.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to live in the church Paul described, and I would hope and pray that everyone else would as well. The blessed thing is that this is not some unrealistic expectation God has for his people – it happened. It’s happening right now. And, with great prayer and zeal, it continues.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Salvation Costs Nothing. Discipleship Will Cost You Everything.

Posted By: Steph Albright
As a little girl, I told Jesus I wanted a relationship with Him and wanted to give Him my life.

I understood, to the extent a five year old could, that Jesus loved me, I was (am) a sinner in desperate need of someone to save me from myself. That Jesus came to earth, died a terrible death that He did nothing to deserve and rose again to save me from my penalty- Hell, and to give me a purpose and relationship with Him in this life, and Heaven in the next.
But, honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. No idea the weight of that moment. The reality that Holy Spirit had just come to live inside me. Changed everything about who I was. The commitment that He made to me, all His promises suddenly applied to me. Promises He made that He would never break. Promises that He'd never leave me. to complete His good work in my life. Promises of desire for me, desire for my affection and blessings, if I just trust and follow His will. Promises of eternal life, a place He was preparing that I would see when this life passes away. He gave the ultimate sacrifice of dying for me two thousand years ago, and yet Jesus commits Himself to me daily.


The God of this universe condescends to my level. my world. Commits Himself to a sinful, often rebellious, petty, human being and steps into my life. Isn't that crazy!? But just like any relationship- any good, healthy, exciting, fruitful relationship, it must not just be one sided. If its going to work, there must be commitment on the other side as well. We don't get to just take salvation and peace out, doing whatever we want till we die, expecting Jesus to make good on all his promises, while having done nothing to hold up our end of the relationship. So often we treat God like a pinata instead. We expect him to give us anything we want, beat him with prayer and requests for our lives and if we hit him enough, He's required to spill out blessings on us, fulfill requests, follow our every whim, while not doing anything ourselves.

I've been thinking about this subject a lot the last few weeks. I've given my life to Christ but what does that look like. Am i really doing it? Living totally for Jesus? Because, really, I do know what it looks like. I know what the Bible says about what my life should be. seen it lived out in the godly people that are around me. But can I say, in absolute honesty, confidence, that I've walked in a manner worthy of my calling (Ephesians 4)? as a bondservant of Christ? I was so convicted by a sermon I listened to the other day. This is a paragraph from the transcript. It hit me in a way no other analogy has talking about giving your life to the Lord:

"Do not quit. Do not quit. Otherwise, you’re like a woman who is all about a wedding, but not about a marriage. You’re like a woman who really enjoys her wedding day, and then once it’s completed, tells her groom, “We’re getting a divorce today.” The groom’s bewildered. “What do you mean?” “Well, I look good in white, I really enjoy getting my photo taken, I have an affinity for cake, and it was nice to see everyone, but fifty years seems like a long time.” And see, the metaphor of the Bible continually is that we’re like a bride and Jesus is like our groom, and some of us just want to have a wedding, but we don’t want to have a marriage. Getting married is easy. Fifty years is hard. Right? You raised your hand for Jesus at youth camp, you came forward, got baptized, you prayed the sinner’s prayer. Great, you got married. Now it’s fifty years of working it out."

Dang, thats crazy! I dont want to give up. I dont want to quit!
I'm so thankful for the grace of God in my failures.
He's faithful when im faithless (2 Timothy 2:13)

There are a million ways this can be applied specifically to my life. but basically i think it comes down to being committed to discipleship. Being a disciple (follower, bondservant) of Christ and discipling (serving, loving) people.

But this commitment is not to be taken lightly.
I thought Mark Driscoll put it so well. He said,
"Salvation costs you nothing, but discipleship will cost you everything. Salvation occurs in a moment, discipleship takes a lifetime. Salvation is something God does for you, discipleship is something you do with God." [Watch the Message Here]

This discipleship thing, it will cost you your life. Everything. It's hard and frustrating - full of suffering and trials but also so full of joy, excitement and purpose. A life spent with the God that loves you and who has given us a mission to do while we're here. If God is who He says He is, done what He says He's done, loves us the way He says He does, I believe He is worth giving my life completely to and for.

First, we must give our lives to Christ. Become followers of Him. Jesus bought us to make us free. The ultimate servant giving the ultimate sacrifice - we must recognize He served us!

Philippians 2:5-8 says:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

It's for this reason Paul, over and over in the New Testament, calls himself a bondservant of Christ. For years bondservant has been one of my favorite words. It's crazy! It's the perfect picture of what the life of a Christian is supposed to look like. Back in biblical times, slaves were required to be released after 7 years and at the time of release if a servant had been treated well, had formed a relationship with the master, loved his master, he could choose to stay and serve the kind master for the rest of his life. When the decision had been made the master would take the now bondservant over to the door and pierce his ear with an aul. From the moment someone would walk into the master's house they know who was there out of love. out of devotion. The Greek word for bondservant is δούλος (doulos) it means the lowest scale of servitude but highest devotion of one bound by love; one who gives himself wholly to another's will.

Man, I want that said of my life. Bondservant. I've been set free but I chose to stay and serve my loving, perfect master for the rest of my life, with all I have. Not because I have to but because I'm so in love with Jesus for what He's done in my life.

The second part of this life of a disciple is giving your life to people. To take part in the mission of telling people about what Jesus has done and then to build them up in the faith. encouraging, loving, serving those around you.

This world daily tells us what success it, what greatness should look like, but Jesus had the real answer. The true definition of greatness. In Mark 10:35-45 the disciples are arguing over who will be greatest in the kingdom of God. and this blows me away. Jesus doesn't rebuke them! Never says their desire for greatest is wrong. Instead, He redirects it to what godly greatness looks like. It's countercultural not only back then but today!

"But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He tells them the standard and sets the example for them to follow. This is true greatness! Laying our lives down for one another. For people who need to the hear the gospel and our fellow believers. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 that "though i am free from all i have made myself a servant to all, that i might win more of them." Why?? To win people to Christ! He goes on to describe how he became like a Jew, a Greek, he became like the weak, why "that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel..." Convicting much?? I want that said of my life. But the thing is, it's not easy. Making yourself a slave... to all? That requires inconvenience, laying aside preferences, giving up time, money, comfort. It takes humility. Giving up your very life to serve the lost. Sounds really difficult, huh? But when our eyes are on the goal, on reality - that people need to hear about Jesus, that people are dying and according to the Bible, will spend eternity in Hell if they don't place their faith in Him - seems worth it. Seems necessary. Makes us really understand 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 when Paul says that it's Christ's love that compels us. Makes us feel as Peter did in Acts 4 when he tells the council that "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." That reading about all that the disciples went through to spread the gospel, the mockery, the torture, beatings, and eventual murders of these men and possibly our fate if we truly give ourselves to this mission was/is a small price to pay for the souls of men.

Not only should we serve the lost but also serving and loving those standing with us in the cause of Christ, for the unity of the body. Paul says in Romans 12:9-13, "love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor... contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality." I love that. Outdo one another in showing honor. I just picture all of us literally tripping over each other to serve the other. How awesome! Think, if that's how we really sought to serve, love, build up, encourage in our bible studies, in our churches. I feel like things would radically change. and in the cycle that it is how much greater our testimony of God's love to the lost by our crazy love for each other.

This is a commitment. a life given to the Lord. so difficult but so worth it.
When it gets hard, don't turn around and quit.
Do NOT quit!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Sprinting Toddler

Posted By: Graham Gardner
In recent weeks, I've been giving a bit of thought about what it looks like to really be 'in the Spirit'. I spent some time, found some verses, and asked around to get a full idea of how "Walking in the Spirit" is truly carried out. Being that my brain is wired the way that it is, I came up with the title above for this installment. An awkward picture, right? A tiny little baby just movin' their chubby legs as fast as they can to get to the finish line. This would strike most as odd, being that toddlers most likely wouldn't have a ton of experience getting places upright. Not exactly an awesomely descriptive and meaningful picture, but hey, I'm no Daniel. No metal and clay mixtures in this example.


In thinking about walking in the spirit, a few things came to mind. In Proverbs 19:2, it says "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way." In a lot of ways, when I decided to follow Christ, that initial decision was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as it's been to follow moment by moment, day by day. In looking upon what has taken place in my walk with the Lord so far, I see a lot of times where I have been hasty, and subsequently...missed the way. The battle here is that when I miss the way, I historically have struggled to accept grace, praise God for who He is, and keep on walking. In Galatians 5:26, Paul says "Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow(walk in, keep in step) with the Spirit." It's interesting that Paul says walk. Not run, not crawl, not sprint, not roll (ok, that'd just look funny)...but walk. I've had a number of conversations lately where in the midst of difficulty, the only advice I've been able to give is "Keep going. One front of the other..repeat."

I read this recently from Francis Chan: "That's why I find the concept of walking by the Spirit so helpful. There's nothing about the term walking that suggests speed, style, fluency, or consistency. You just have to put one foot in front of the other. If you stop walking, all you have to do is take another step to get going again. If you fall down, you can keep walking. You just have to get up and take another step. Like a young child learning to walk, walking by the Spirit is something that becomes more natural over time."

I find the times it's hardest for me to walk in the Spirit is when I've been leaving an area of my life out of submission to God, or when I draw away from community. It's almost as if I go "Hey, crawling requires a lot less about just a day or two of crawling?" If you've ever done this, you know it's way harder to get used to walking again if you've been taking the snail's pace approach. The good thing is, God doesn't forget His promises. Invariably, as we step out in faith to do things we've never done before..there will be opportunity for..well..refinement. I struggle to see the work God is doing when I'm really having to push through something. Paul says this in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." Fear and trembling are a part of this. God is at work. He will fulfill His good purpose.

What I'm driving at is there is a time where we are just beginning to learn how to walk. If we were to try and jog, run, or sprint as an infant..we'd probably fall. If we're not super experienced in walking, it might be best to start hanging with someone who is. When we want to know how to run, it's a good idea to take notes from those who run well..and eventually join the race with them.

In Galatians 5:16, Paul writes: "I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." He goes on to talk about how the Spirit and flesh are opposed to one another so that we don't do what we want. This strikes me as pretty wild. Our natural behavior is not to walk in the Spirit, which implies we have to make a decision. If you read on in Galatians, Paul goes on to specifically name the fruit that will come as a result of (the choice of) walking in the Spirit. So, it seems we have two choices. Give into our flesh..or..walk in the Spirit. As a result, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self control become more and more a part of our lives.

Which of these do you wish you had more of? Which ones have you seen the Lord grow like crazy? What verses really push you through the times where the next step is the hardest yet?

I know I could use more patience and love to freely give in my walk. I think that in conjunction with aiming to see this chunk of Galatians 5 applied more in my life, I've often referenced this from Philippians 3:12-14 as a piece of encouragement.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. "

I pray that we'll see these things change in each others lives, and that we'll be able to build one another up when it comes to taking the next step. Here's to marching on.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Praying on Rocks, Hills and Mountaintops

Posted By: Robin Wadle
I‘ve been thinking a lot about prayer the last few weeks and what a great thing it is.  I just first want to say that God is so good and he is so faithful in answering prayers. How do I know this? Well… I pray. Am I perfect? No. I have learned that if you really want to see the goodness and the faithfulness of God you must pray. Pray specifically, pray often and pray expectantly. Now has God answered all of my prayers exactly as I have prayed them in the exact way that I want Him to. No. Hardly ever does that happen but what I see the most is God answering prayers in better ways. Sometimes this leads to more difficulty in my life but it also leads me to love Him and know Him more. I have my go-to verses for prayer that have drastically shaped the way I pray and what I pray for and who I pray for. 

If you know me you know that I have some struggles with anxiety. Prayer is a way that helps me to deal with anxiety (see Phil 4). But it has also been a struggle to see God the way he is and not be anxious that He is going to answer some prayer in the worst way possible. A good friend of mine shared this verse with me a couple years ago and something just clicked. 

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. (NIV)

This verse helped shape my view that God is NOT out to get me. I know this may sound basic but I have found myself being scared to pray for certain things thinking “oh no what is God going to do to me?” The thing is, God loves me so much and sent his Son to die for ME. He took on the punishment. Now that I have accepted the gift of salvation through Christ Jesus and put my faith in him., that punishment is gone. Now all God wants to do is make me into his son! (see 2 Cor. 3:18)

Another thing God teaches through prayer is how to be faithful with something. My natural personality is not faithful. Naturally I don’t really care about much but God has used prayer as a way to teach me to be faithful. (again… I am not perfect). Because God is faithful he wants us to be faithful. Just like how God is loving, he wants us to be loving. Now I am NO expert on the ins and outs of how exactly prayer works and how it works with God’s will or what not but something I do know is that God uses prayer one way or another. 

At the end of Philemon Paul states “One more thing- please prepare a guest room for me, for I hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon.” (v.22) I think it’s so cool that Paul wanted to act in such a way that lined up with their prayers. By preparing a guest room they were acting in faith that Paul might one day come back to them. 

I LOVE the verse Colossians 4:2 - "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." Isn’t that amazing? God wants us to watch to see him working AND to watch for things and people to be praying for! All with a thankful heart towards God no matter what happens."

Also in Ephesians 6:18-19 it says - "Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Pray Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain the mysterious plan that the Good News if for Jews and for Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching the message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should."

So those are some of my thoughts on prayer. I could go on but I have found these verses to be an encouragement in my prayer life and I hope they can encourage you too!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Hero of the Story

Posted by: Katie Robinson
I need some reminding as much as anyone of the fact that if the Bible really is the word of God, then it's way bigger than anyone gives it credit for. 

Here's how the story goes. We all know it.

God creates man, man commits cosmic treason and brings death into the world, causing separation between man and God. Boom, the world as we know it now comes to existence, and we are completely screwed.

Everyone knows there is something wrong with the world, so people throughout history have tried to explain the conflict between that fact and the fact that we also have an innate knowledge of our own value. So humankind has created stories to explain it. The thing about stories is that the authors almost always write themselves into the main character - maybe not even in any obvious way, but in some way or another, they are the hero of the story.

Take Pandora's box: the "gods" (really only idealizations of humanity - human in nature, flawed like the rest of us, but with the power any man would fantasize about) created a box to contain all the evil in the world, but Pandora got curious and opened the box, and evil became a permanent fixture in the universe. But curiosity is forgivable - barely even a minor character flaw. This is a story that people would write to explain why the world is bad without having to explain why people are bad.

God's story is different. He is the hero, not us. Sin wasn't a mistake, it was treason. He creates the universe, we destroy it. True, we are uniquely valuable as human beings, but only because he has put his own image inside us. This is his story, not ours.

It could have ended there - he could have completely written us out of his story. But he didn't. Because God is not an idealized picture of a flawed human created by the human mind - he is something else entirely. We did not create God to explain the human condition - God created us with his own character written into us, and then was gracious enough to enlighten us on not only the history of it, but also the plan to get us out of it.

The great part is, he knew how he was going to fix things from the beginning. The world had just collapsed - God had made a perfect world and humans had destroyed it all in a moment. And right at that moment, God stepped in with his plan. He gave his fearful, naked, and wretched man and woman the bad news first: Death, pain, conflict. But then he gave the good news: All of that death and pain and conflict would one day be defeated by a Savior. God had no good news for the serpent. The particular passage is called the Proto Evangelion, or something like "the first gospel". 

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers - he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Genesis 3:15

And there's the thesis statement of the entire Bible. 

I know it sounds cryptic at first, but what's happening here is that God is setting the stage for the rest of the future of mankind. He is saying to Satan: from here on out, it's going to be me and my people vs. you and your people, but in the end, I am going to win out - my savior will come from the offspring of my beloved you just defeated, and while he will feel death's sting, it will only be as a man crushing the head of a snake after being nipped in the ankle. 

Every single line following is an outworking of this. Looking at the Bible with the big picture in mind makes it read in an entirely different way. From here on out, it's God foretelling the coming of his Savior, and God's people, meanwhile, going head-to-head with their enemies. Cain vs. Abel, Isaac vs. Ishmael, Jacob vs. Esau. Once the descendants of these guys grow into entire nations, familial conflict becomes all-out war. But all of the stories, while they have a particular moral lesson much of the time, are much more than that. 

The book of Ruth is one of my favorites. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that it presents two strong female leads that God uses in really unconventional and unexpected ways. It is also a spectacular story of God's love and provision. But is it the only time God acted to provide for people who loved him at the time Ruth was written? Of course not. So, why zero in on Ruth's story? Here's why:

"So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son... So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David." Ruth 4:13,17

Yeah, like THE David - King David. A fact repeated almost verbatim in the Gospels: "Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king" (Matthew 1:5-6). This story is here in large part because it's one more step in God bringing about his grand design of providing a Savior, his Messiah. One of Jesus' most frequent titles for himself was "the Son of David" to reiterate this fact, to remind people that he was the fulfillment of their history. 

I get really excited about genealogies - probably a lot more than the average person. Usually the genealogies in the Bible are something that people feel pretty okay about skipping over when they read, but if you check out the genealogies in Matthew 1 or Luke 3, you notice that most of the names listed in the first chapters of the New Testament are the same people you just got done reading about in the Old Testament. I get pumped about genealogies because the thing is, you can't manufacture history. Maybe you can kind of manipulate what your kid does with his life. Maybe even extend your influence to a grandkid or two. But after a few generations, you can't make this stuff up - you can't just make a decision about what your descendants are going to be doing four thousand years from now, it just doesn't work that way.

But God not only wrote the Bible to record history, he is sovereign over history itself. That is why the Bible is living and active - because he continues today to work out his plan from the beginning. He has fulfilled the Gospel, pt. 1. The climax was Jesus at the cross, holding his foot over Satan's head as the snake nipped at his heel. At the resurrection, his heel came down and Satan's power was destroyed, a process which will finally be completed at the final resurrection of humanity. 

The Bible is by far the single most influential, miraculous compilation ever to be recorded. Most people see the Old and New Testaments as two completely different things. I've known several people who have expressed belief that God created the old sacrificial system as a means to manage the morality of his people, but then when it wasn't working, he actually changed his mind and decided to try something different by going the Jesus route. This couldn't be more untrue.

The Old Testament isn't just a bunch of random stories put together to piece together the history of an obscure people. It is all about Jesus. The New Testament isn't just compiled works of instruction put together to morally and structurally guide a fledgling religion and its people. It is all about Jesus. It's another chapter in his story, his cosmic plan for the redemption of mankind. And Jesus is the hero.

Here is the video Derek tried to show at Bible Study last week:

Bible Did You Know from Robert Murphy on Vimeo.
Here is the video from last week. Hopefully it's not blocked on your computer too. 
I swear it's appropriate. -Derek

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Talking to God

Posted by: Megan Griffith
If you were to ask me how I felt about my spiritual life, I would tell you I read my bible regularly, I listen to all kinds of podcasts to immerse myself in knowledge, I love worship time and make church a priority in my life, I spend countless hours actively getting involved in women's lives and involved in fellowship and I set aside part of our weekly income for tithe. It looks good. But the part that's missing, the most important piece of the whole puzzle, is prayer. Because my prayer life is... meh.

It's hard.

I pray. But I feel like I get so wrapped up in the formality of it all and worrying about if I'm doing it right that I just skip over that part some times. Or if someone asks me to pray for them, I'll do a quick, "Hey God- you just heard what they asked me to pray for, so uh... ditto."

I have a brother that is one semester away from a Master of Divinity. Not only is that quite possibly the coolest degree name you could ever put on a resume, but the guy just EXUDES righteousness. Blessing the enchiladas includes eloquently praising God for his sovereignty over our lives and the glory of the cross, which sure as heck knocks, "rub-a-dub-dub thank for the grub. Yay God!" out of the water. In my less-than-righteous days, I would roll my eyes every time we bowed our heads because I knew it would be a sermon before I got to eat meatloaf. Now, it's kind of intimidating because I don't talk like that, and I'm kind of afraid that God will be less satisfied with my prayer.

In recognizing this fault in my walk with the Lord, I did what any normal obsessive compulsive person would do: I researched the crap out of it. I studied blogs, sermons, podcasts- you name it. The number one thing I found is that prayer is communication- it's conversation, and like any conversation, it's motivated by relationship. I'm not going to have an intense conversation with a total stranger, and I'm not going to be affected by someone who I don't talk to on a regular basis. Reflecting this in my life, I realized when I'm faced with a problem, the first people I call are my husband, my mom and my friends, in that order. It's always under the guise of being wise and seeking counsel, but God is rarely the first phone call I make. I may talk to Him about it, but only after I've had conversations with my go-to people and tried to work it out for myself.

Really, it should be the polar opposite. Steele Crosswhite said, "prayer is an overflow response to our relationship with God." I think the most important word here is "relationship." Through Jesus we have the freedom to belong to God as children and not be enslaved by our sin (Galatians 4:21-31). It isn't about talking to a distant deity. God is our Father.

This changes everything.

I don't talk to my dad like this: "Dear wonderful father of mine who art in McKinney, Texas, seated in a recliner, master of all things Tivo; if it would be to your glory, may I have $20?"

No, I say, "Hey Dad, can I borrow 20 bucks?"

Likewise, God is our Dad. He WANTS us to talk to Him, whether the stuff is big or small. He loves us and He LIKES us. He wants to be part of our lives. It doesn't really matter if we speak to Him eloquently or if we groan because we don't know what to say (Romans 8:26). He doesn't only require the big prayers, like asking Him to spare someone from death, He wants the small prayers, like asking to help find a parking spot at Target. The point is it's a conversation that expresses the relationship that the Father has with His kid. He is a part of everything and wants to be a part of your everything.

Something I've also discovered on this journey to understand the conversation between God and me is that you can't outscream God. It's an intense idea when you think about it. A lot of times I'm only ready to go to God when I'm calm and at peace. But that's not real life- sometimes I'm ridiculously angry about what life throws at me. I take it out on my husband, I call my mom crying and venting, I freak out on my friends. And I'm back at square one. God is not the first phone call I make. But at my weakest, most terribly painful moments, my husband failed to soothe me, my mom kept saying the wrong thing and my friends didn't even know what to say. But God was there. He knows better than anyone and He wants to be the one I vent to. At those moments, it's not pretty and it's not eloquent, but it's real and it's passionate. Relationships are not all happy and springtime, sometimes they are digging through the mud, and that goes for the relationship with God too. He can take it. He WANTS to take it.

I love Psalm 116:2- "Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!" It's amazing when you really think about it- the God who created the entire universe and is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-being, wants to listen to us. He wants to be in conversation with us. When faced with that logic, it's crazy that people (myself included) wonder why we have to pray to God if He already knows what we're going to pray for and what's going to happen. The truth is, we GET to pray to God. We have the unique privilege that no other creature on Earth has to be able to actively hang out with the Creator and be best friends ALL THE TIME. When faced with that perspective, my prayer life turns from being an obligation, to being something I want to do before hanging out with friends, before sand volleyball, before going on a date, before walking the dog- anything. Thanks, God, for giving me this pizza that I'm about to eat. Thanks, God, for giving me this phone I'm about to text on. Thanks, God, for giving me this breath that I'm going to use to make a bad joke with. Hey, God, what did you think about Glee last night? Hey, God, can you help me find my car keys? He's prepared to revolutionize my life, and all I have to do is keep up the conversation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thoughts on Death to Life

Posted by: Jenny Schreiner
Until recently, when I read verses like Luke 14:25-33 asking me for my life, I had these highly romanticized notions of what God was asking of me - skipping college to be a missionary in Thailand, creating health clinics in poor latin american countries, or starting a church in Spain. I often even told God that He could take me early if it meant others would come to know Him. None of these ideas/dreams/desires are bad, they come from a heart to please God. And for many people, God asks these things for their lives. But in my dreaming of living adventurously for God, I missed out on an important possibility: denying yourself, taking up your cross & following Christ may not be an exciting adventure involving learning a tribal language to translate the Bible, it may "only" require daily living a mundane, unexciting life in obedience to God.

Let me explain. At times, with being a stay at home mom, I struggle with the repetitiveness of diaper changes, laundry, dishes, babies crying & lack of being able to do a lot of evening activities. However, the past week God has been kindly reminding me that when I told him he could have my life it included the unglamorous. I still live for the gospel; however, it's played out differently than I imagined it would be. I've been learning its so important to not have conditions for what you're willing to lay down your life. Seems obvious. But its taken me quite a while to actually learn... and I have so much to learn. *sidenote - I love, love, love Owen & Eden. It is a blessing to stay at home. Even though I have times that I cry & have to work through my attitude, I would not change how God has orchestrated our lives.*

Along with this, as we lay down our lives to become disciples, I've been reminded that it begins with our normal, daily lives. This past week I was reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (thanks for mentioning the devotional in your post Julia it has been good for me to read it). Here are his exhortations on being a disciple (from September 11th):

Ministering in everyday opportunities that surround us does not mean that we select our own surroundings— it means being God’s very special choice to be available for use in any of the seemingly random surroundings which He has engineered for us. The very character we exhibit in our present surroundings is an indication of what we will be like in other surroundings.

The things Jesus did were the most menial of everyday tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels, dishes, sandals, and all the other ordinary things in our lives reveal what we are made of more quickly than anything else. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the most menial duty as it ought to be done.

Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (13:15). Notice the kind of people that God brings around you, and you will be humiliated once you realize that this is actually His way of revealing to you the kind of person you have been to Him. Now He says we should exhibit to those around us exactly what He has exhibited to us.

Do you find yourself responding by saying, “Oh, I will do all that once I’m out on the mission field”? Talking in this way is like trying to produce the weapons of war while in the trenches of the battlefield–you will be killed while trying to do it.

We have to go the “second mile” with God. Yet some of us become worn out in the first ten steps. Then we say, “Well, I’ll just wait until I get closer to the next big crisis in my life.” But if we do not steadily minister in everyday opportunities, we will do nothing when the crisis comes.

So for me, my surroundings give the menial tasks of caring for two kids under two. For you, it may look like answering that phone call in corporate america, driving alone for countless hours, working on relationships with roommates, however it looks your life provides many opportunities to deny yourself & respond like Jesus.

Finally, God has been redirecting my attitude towards dying to myself. "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) In context, this verse is referring to financial giving, but I believe the concept applies to giving of your life. I want to be someone who joyously, not grudgingly, gives my life over to God to do as He chooses. I have been reflecting over the words of a man named David Linvingstone, a missionary in Africa. After having many illnesses, the death of his wife, and a lack of response to the gospel, he remarks that he "never made a sacrifice." I don't think he means his life was without difficulty, he is referring to fact that in light of all God has done for him it is not a big deal to give back his entire life. I am learning to delightfully hand over my life to God & joyously accept his lot for me. Furthermore, in Mark 10:28-30 there is a promise connected with leaving everything to follow Christ - It says we will receive a hundredfold back in the time & the age to come. So not only has God saved us from hell, but he also promises to give back 100x what we give up. Wow. What an amazing God we serve! I pray that we each can come to a spot where with open hands we can say, "This is no sacrifice, here's my life."

Friday, September 9, 2011

A New Me

Posted by: Brian Griffith
I often think about what my new identity in Christ means for me. When we accept Christ into our lives, we are given a new heart, and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. I often think about my new heart; and how even I can see the difference from less than a year ago.

A year ago, even though I was exploring the truth of christianity, I was not a Christian  A year ago I was a very hard hearted and selfish person.  While I loved my wife dearly at that time [and love her even more so now], I found it difficult to serve her. I promised her a few years earlier that I would quit smoking- a year ago I was still breaking that promise. I'd tell her I would do something and then not do it. I would get mad at her quite often if I didn't feel like she was doing her end of the house work.  Between all that and my tendency to go full on drama queen when I'd get drunk, it's only by God's grace that she ever married me at all. But about 11 months ago I met Jesus, and my life began to change.

The week of or the week after coming to Christ, I can't remember exactly, I learned my grandfather had terminal lung cancer that was essentially untreatable. It could be treated but the best it would do is extend his life a few months- there was no hope of recovery. The old me would have simply distanced myself from him, preparing myself for the inevitable, so that when it did come, I wouldn't feel so bad about it. But the new me wouldn't let that happen. I shared my testimony with my grandpa, and tried to get him to meet Jesus. Unfortunately that didn't happen and he passed without knowing Him, and something happened to me that hadn't happened in years: I cried.  I'm 28- the last time I remember crying was when I was a freshman in high school. Knowing my grandfather's fate, I broke down in our kitchen and cried. My heart was [and still is] absolutely broken for my grandfather. Then a few weeks ago when I tried sharing this story with our bible study, I broke down and cried again. I'd had a point in telling it- that point being don't make a half hearted effort in sharing the gospel- but that particular week it had been weighing so heavily on my heart that I just could not help myself. I cried in front of people that I'd only met that night.

I think anybody from our bible study who was around a year ago when I first started coming around can testify that I NEVER would have broken down like that in front of other people, apart from Christ. My pride never would have allowed for it; furthermore, my emotions toward my grandfather wouldn't have either. Sure, I loved him before I was a Christian, but I didn't love him as strongly as I did after coming to Christ. And something that occurred to me after bible study that night, was if that's how heart broken I was, having only known Christ for a few months- how does God feel when one of his children turns his back on Him? How does God feel when he has to judge one of his children to spend eternity in Hell? I can only conclude that God feels much, much worse than any of us can understand or comprehend.

Next month I'll have been a Christian for a year; and I can already see one relationship that my choice to follow Christ may cost me. See, a lot of people who follow Christ will lie to you. "You're sick? Come to Jesus, he'll heal you." "You're depressed? Come to Jesus, he'll make you happy." You get the idea. And I'm not saying that Jesus doesn't heal us or that Jesus doesn't make us happy, or rather help us find joy. But too many people promote this idea that following Jesus makes your life perfect and that you'll never experience suffering again and this can be just as bad as telling people you shouldn't worship Jesus at all. Because then your friend meets Jesus and not everything is perfect and your friend is left confused. The bottom line is, Christ suffered and died for our sin- you should EXPECT to suffer for Christ. It doesn't mean that you will, but expect to, and prepare your heart for it; so that when the time comes you're not one of those people who questions why God is "punishing" you when in reality, he's giving you the opportunity to glorify Him.

The relationship I speak of is the one with my brother. He's not blood but I love him just the same. He's never known a good father; so he hears God is our father and he runs away. He has questions, or at least tells me he does, but won't ask them. He shows little regard for anybody but himself. He's very proud and desires to be the center of attention. When I first became a Christian he was happy for me. But as I've continued to share what I'm learning with him, he's pushed farther away. When I do get any kind of response from him, it's usually very hateful. Not towards me, but towards God and Christianity. I've prayed for him nearly every day since coming to Christ, that he would meet Jesus as well; but lately I've been praying that my heart be prepared for the possibility that he will never come to Christ and furthermore, that my decision to follow Jesus may cost my lifelong friendship with him. I question if I'm ready to suffer in that way; but the reason I'm preparing to face it is because I know that what Jesus offers me is much more valuable than clinging to a dead relationship with someone I love.  It's not that I wish our relationship to end, but I'm not who I used to be, and Jesus is now the hope for my life.

This is how I know that I am a new creation in Christ. A year ago I never would've been prepared to end my relationship with my brother. A year ago I never would have told my grandfather how much I love him. A year ago I wouldn't share the gospel with total strangers who I pick up on the side of the road. A year ago I wouldn't have invited a prostitute to church.

With my new heart has come new desires. Those desires are anchored in Christ, who I strive to please. No, I'm not perfect. No, I'm not sinless and in fact, some days I am deliberately sinning. Not because I feel God owes me but because I still get selfish sometimes. But over the past year I know my heart has changed because I love people who, even after knowing them for more than a year, I would not love apart from Christ. I know my heart has changed because I desire to serve Christ and the people I love; and I want other people to meet Jesus and experience the life that he gives. I know my heart has changed because I want to manage money better so that I would be a better steward of the resources that God has entrusted to me [and my wife].

Who or what you live for determines your identity, both for yourself and for the people who look at you. If you live to save the planet, your life will reflect that. If you live to serve others, your life will reflect that. If you live for yourself, your life will reflect that. Make no mistake friends, living for Jesus is the best life. It's not always the easiest life, it's not always the most glamorous life, it's not always the wealthiest or happiest life; but it is the best life, because in truly living for Christ, you will rejoice in Christ and the opportunities He gives you. And your life will reflect that to others; and by God's grace, they will want to meet Jesus as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grace in Weakness

Posted by: Julia Rude
I was really encouraged by the bible study we had on Wednesday night - something that I have been praying the past few years is that the gospel will never become “old news” or unimpressive to me - this I feel is a danger to being a PK. God is so faithful though - once again I was encouraged and amazed by God’s love and unbelievable grace, it’s truly amazing! Believing that we are saved by grace and not by works goes against my flesh. My natural tendency is to work for whatever I want, or to work to win other peoples approval, but God is constantly reminding me of my wickedness and how the only way I have a right standing before Him is by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Understanding that salvation is a gift and it can’t be earned, that this is the way God set it up so we are completely dependent upon him for joy, peace, hope, peace and life. I am reminded every day of my sin and my desperate need for his grace in my life, recognizing that without him I can do nothing. God’s grace is wild to me - that He has given me so many good things, none of which I was deserving of. As I understand God’s grace more and more my hope is that I am able to extend that to the people in my life so Christ can be glorified.

My friend Liz and I get together pretty frequently to talk about what God has been teaching us and about what’s going on in our lives. She is super wonderful and has been a great example to me in the area of faithfulness, I am super thankful for her! Anyways, after about a year or so of her talking about Oswald Chambers' “My Utmost for His Highest” I realized that there is probably more than one copy of it and I should get my own and read it for myself. If you’re unfamiliar with this devotional all you need to know is that it rules. Reading a passage of scripture and his thoughts about it has been incredibly encouraging and challenging. Each day I have read it the past few weeks I have felt like I understand the Christian life a little bit better. Last week I read one entitled “Usefulness or Relationship?” and it went along with Luke 10:20 “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” This devotional was especially encouraging in that we shouldn’t get so excited about our service to Christ, but that as Christians we have a right relationship with him. He went on to talk about how God isn’t so concerned about the measure to which we are useful to him but how much we value our relationship with him. I was talking to a sister this morning about how we sometimes fall into the mindset that we have to do, do, do or have a Martha-like attitude thinking that God is really pleased with us when we are constantly worrying about how “useful” we are being for Christ, while in all reality He doesn’t need us at all but chooses to use us for His own glory. This sister and I were also talking about 2 Corinthians 12:9 which says “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” She asked me when the last time I rejoiced in my weakness, and I just laughed. Naturally we just want to hide or deny our weaknesses; we have this pride that we can get by on our own while in reality that pride is standing in the way of God’s power in our lives. I just hope to grow in my understanding of how God is the one who makes us adequate for his service and I don’t have to feel like I have to be perfect or something to be used by Him. I have been reading the gospel of Luke lately and these verses have been on my mind:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10

I just want to have this attitude that Christ has done so much for me and giving my life and all that I am is really appropriate and makes perfect sense. In order to have this I need to be reminded of his grace and love in my life and to see myself as his servant rather than acting as if God owes me anything.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Building Up Walls

Posted by: Derek Wadle
I've been thinking a lot about vision lately. Not so much about the fact that I wish I didn't have to wear contacts or glasses, but about vision for my life. I think this is something that gets so overlooked in our world today. It's all about doing what you want, when you want, when it feels right.

But what about when it doesn't?
What about when it's hard? What about when the pleasure is gone?
Well, we stop. Right? Isn't that what happens these days? If I don't want to do it anymore, I don't have to. It's my right. It's really just my short life to live exactly how I want, come what may on the other side of this life.

So we see people with multiple jobs, moving to multiple cities, severing multiple friendships and entering multiple relationships and often experiencing a multitude of hurt. Hurt is sometimes the motivator to move. If you're hurt some where, move on, avoid hurt. If you could potentially fail somewhere, move along.

But I believe the word of God has something entirely different to say.

"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained..." Proverbs 29:18a
"Like a city that is broken in to and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit." Proverbs 25:28

It's kind of hard to think about a city with walls today. We don't have those. It's pretty easy to get in and out of Des Moines. But think about it, imagine if we didn't have the defense systems we have today. The only thing protecting us from those crazies in Ankeny from getting to us would be a giant wall. And the integrity of that wall is dictated by the people living near it.

How that played out in OT times was you were responsible from the portion of the wall behind you and on each side of you. Same with your neighbors. So you see, at anytime, there were 3 people working to maintain the wall that protects the city from the invaders, thieves and anyone who's aim is to destroy your city.

Now, if I lived near a wall, for sure the part of the wall next to my house would be the toughest wall ever. But what if I only took it that far? What if my only aim was to maximize the integrity of the wall behind my house and I neglect to help my neighbors? What if my neighbors were lazy slobs and never touched there wall and I said 'It's your life, do what you want?'

The Ankenites (Ankonians? Ankistines?) would break through my neighbors wall and destroy them, and then who's the next closest target? I am.

So what does this have to do with vision? Everything.

We have to think of the vision of our lives like these walls. At least that's what I think. I need to build up my wall in the best possible way, and surround myself with people of the same vision. Practically, I want to set my life up in such a way that God uses and protects me to the glory of His kingdom. I want to avoid the hurt that the world gives as much as possible, but I want to be effective in reaching people for the sake of the kingdom, in a sense, protecting them from the world and from an eternity in hell.

So I build my wall. I read my bible everyday. I pray. I work hard at my job. I get discipled. I seek counsel. I receive correction. Pefectly? You bet. (not really)

But I've also determined to build my neighbors walls up. I pray for people. I serve people. I commit myself to the Downtown Church. I share the Gospel. I disciple. I love. I suffer with others. I appeal to others when I see sin destroying them. I seek to meet the needs of people.

Please know, my aim is not to boast. My aim is not to show anyone how sweet I am. I'm not. I struggle with all of this. I'm not perfect, I never will be.

Practically, if you haven't laid out a vision for your life or really thought about it. You can think about this.

What 10 things do I do every day or almost everyday without fail? I'm not talking about brushing your teeth or eating. I'm talking about watching tv, reading your bible, praying, reading entertainment news, spending hours on facebook and things like that. How are you using your time.

You see, if you say that you want to live life for the Lord, that requires self control. And a simple "I'm for Jesus" without any sort of thought about how that practically is going to play out will leave you scrambling day to day and can often lead to a life full of guilt. You can find yourself beating yourself up because you don't read God's word or pray or you spend hours watching TV and can develop the "I'll start tomorrow" attitude. But how many times has tomorrow come and gone and you haven't started? (I'm talking to myself here).

The vision of your life determines your exact lifestyle and helps you exercise self control. If there is no vision for the Gospel, it will be hard to have passion for the Gospel.

Look at Jesus's vision:
 "Therefore, since we have so great s cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and  the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

Jesus had a vision that He saw through to the end. He considered the end, and set up his life in such a way to achieve it. At any moment, He could have said "No" and then where would we be? If our attitude is "to each his own", can we really be mad that He changed His vision before the end and the affect that would have on us? Nope.

But He didn't. He set aside His own preference and adopted the vision of God the Father. He endured the cross for our sin, so that we could spend an eternity with Him.

So let's really think about this. What is my vision? How and for who am I going to live my life?