Thursday, March 16, 2017

Forward- Part 4


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Have you ever found yourself saying, “I wish there were more hours in a day so I could just get everything done?” I know I have said this phrase many times. So often, I find myself drowning in homework, work, church activities, and trying to maintain a social life. While working hard, aspiring for excellence, and building relationships are all things God encourages, there is another activity God commands His people to do that is markedly overlooked. Just as God commands His followers to do everything with excellence (Colossians 3:23), He also instructs that rest be a habit incorporated into daily life (Exodus 20:8).

Personally, I know I have been guilty of diminishing the importance of stopping amidst the busyness to reflect and rest. I have often viewed rest as a sort of “time waster.” If I’m not doing anything, it feels like I’m not being productive. However, I am learning that rest is not a time waster, nor is it unproductive. Rather, it is an essential ingredient to health that cultivates productivity. In fact, when the human body goes without rest for an extended period of time, it begins to shut down. God designed humanity with a necessity to rest. Therefore, it is vital that we honor His creation and command by setting aside time to rejuvenate.

As we learned from Sunday’s sermon, rest is something that we must intentionally incorporate into our lives. If it seems that our schedule does not allow for a single moment of free-time, perhaps the first thing to do is cut out some activities. Once a time frame for rest is established, it is important to make sure that the time set aside is truly restful. If your time of rest is spent worrying about the next thing that needs to get done, perhaps you are going about rest in the wrong way. While identifying a restful activity may look different for each person, it is necessary to find something that works for you.

If you find yourself struggling to make time for rest, or simply feel like nothing you do is restful, I challenge you to start by opening a time slot for rest this week. It could be something as simple as taking 20 minutes in the morning to drink coffee and read the Bible, or could be taking a day this weekend to hang out with family and have fun together. Instead of viewing rest in a negative light, let us remember that rest is a healthy, Biblical principal that is essential for life.

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant
Edited by: De Ann Sturdivant 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Forward- Part 3

Image may contain: one or more people and textIt’s possible that the roster of a professional sports team makes a good microcosm to study life in the career world. There is a player in almost every batting rotation or starting lineup who is one or two more bad plays away from getting traded or farmed out to the minors, and he knows it. He shows up early and puts in extra time at practice or the gym, always listens to the advice of his coach, and reads the latest research on performance improvement. He does all of this because he wants another season for himself and his family, and he isn’t sure his player averages will pass muster.

On the same team, there is often a superstar recruited directly out of high school who skips practices and spends more of his time among supermodels and at wild parties than at team events. He might show up hungover when he does show up, and squabbles publicly with the manager and team owner. But for all his histrionics, he can still take the field and put the ball into the bleacher seats or the end zone every time.

I would like to tell you that when it comes time to set the team roster, the first player’s loyalty, commitment, and diligence will matter more. And on some level, the team manager probably wants that first player to find the secret to raising his game. But sadly, character is not a substitute for ability – and team management is about getting results.  We have all seen this script play out before, and we know the second player will win more games and fill more stadium seats.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let’s take a look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As we heard on Sunday, Colosse was a struggling town filled with slave labor, and the apostle advises those Christians to “obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:22-23 NIV).

Why in the world should we push ourselves so hard when it won’t amount to anything? Well, because we aren’t doing it for the glory of one more season in the majors, or even for team spirit. It’s dangerous to fall into the trap of thinking hard work will be rewarded all the time, or that the result is justification for the effort. We are to leave it all on the field even if we know we are going to lose, to please the Lord, knowing that “you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.” (Colossians 3: 24-25).


The earthly result of our work is not our goal, and is not even important. It doesn’t really matter if the master frees or rewards the slave or elevates his status, or simply tasks him all the harder to compensate for his less productive laborers. We aren’t working for that master, or even ourselves for that matter. We work with our whole heart to be a testimony to our Savior, who uses our zeal for his righteousness to transform us.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Forward

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“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A l little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
Proverbs 24:30-34

This set of verses strongly encourages us to be diligent.  This past week at Freedom, we applied Proverbs 24:30-34 to so much more than keeping up our yards. The neglect of any area of our life results in ruin.

Let’s talk about how “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” when we neglect the important things in our lives in exchange for the easy way. I’ll go first…

Historically, I have been extremely non-confrontational and tended to choose the path of least resistance. So when things were okay, I was good with okay. I didn’t feel much pressure to make them great. After all, moving toward greatness was hard and it could rock the boat and make things really complicated.

There are many examples in my life of this: relationships, projects, career-related things, etc. I have to fight really hard against this tendency in my life in order to move things that are simply good to great.

The matriarch of my family was the glue that held us all together. She was our “relationship facilitator.” If there was something I needed to talk to my other family members about, she would say, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll handle it.” I very rarely needed to have any conversation – let alone important ones that define relationships – with any of them because she’d do it for me.  

Then one day, when I was 32, she was gone. Within a matter of weeks, I realized that scarcity and poverty abounded because I had spent years sleeping and slumbering when it came to various family relationships. Weeds had overtaken the vineyard and I didn’t know how to be a daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter without my mother to facilitate. The walls were in disrepair specifically regarding one particular relationship. I felt helpless. And eventually I felt angry. I didn’t even know where to begin.

So I chose not to begin at all. There was a stretch of time that I was so unhappy that the awkward tension in the room was palpable when I was with the person. I was miserable and unpleasant and it made for very awkward family birthday parties and holidays.

I couldn’t stand it anymore.  At age 36, I had to make a decision: Either fester in resentment for the rest of my life or begin pulling weeds and create the relationship that I wanted. The pain of staying the same had finally become more difficult than the pain of changing.

So, little by little, I made steps toward fixing the disrepair. Some of the weeds were harder to pull than others. The difficult weeds included altering my unrealistic expectations, choosing not to be stubborn, and adjusting the perpetual “thirteen year old girl attitude” I seemed to be stuck in. But the actual rebuilding of the wall was remarkably easier than I anticipated! I began making regular phone calls when I didn’t want to, sending texts regarding times of baseball games and band concerts in spite of what I thought the answer would be, having difficult conversations even though I knew I’d cry, and scheduling time together to just hang out.

The relationship is far from perfect. I still have some things that I need to decide what I’m going to do about. But I’m tending to the vineyard of our relationship more diligently now. And the difficulty of the hard work of rebuilding serves as a vivid reminder to be careful not to not let this happen again in the other areas of my life.   

Now it’s your turn: What little weeds can you pull today in an effort to begin changing the areas of your life that have gotten to a place of scarcity and poverty? I’ll be praying that the Lord will give you the strength to make the necessary steps toward weeding and rebuilding this week!

Written by: Jaime Hlavin
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Awe of God: The Feast of Pentecost


Can you name these three waterfalls?

Don’t worry, there’s no test later. If you’ve been a Michigan resident a while you almost certainly know one, while you might have to be a dedicated backpack hiker to have seen all three (hint: one is in Ontario and another in Washington state). They can become a breathtaking spectacle or a reward after an arduous hike – sort of like the awesome presence of God after a strenuous session pressing into Him in prayer.

I’ve sat under each of these falls at least once, and several rate worthy of return visits. What strikes me about them is their constancy. They each continue to pour 6,000 to 10,000 gallons of water from their crests every second. And while they will strike you with wonder as you take them in, I find it even more notable that they remain there in their glory and in testament to the Creator the rest of your time. Every second that you are in your office, stuck somewhere in traffic, sleeping, or hanging out with your friends, they continue to cascade in majesty – a little less when the snow flies in November, and a little more when spring brings the snow melt streaming down the river. The awesomeness of God is that constant as well, even when you and I are being less than our best. And the Lord is there around us too, just waiting to pour over us and be rediscovered.

But don’t go chasing waterfalls (yes, I did, and with apologies to hip-hop trio TLC). Chase instead the wonder and awe of God as our constant Creator and Savior.

That was what resonated with me after this week’s message – all the feasts and ceremonies that we studied the past several weeks, each a call to remind us of our deliverer and his awesome might, are in the end merely a foretell of the sacrifice Jesus himself made for us.

We don’t think that much of the cross as a display of power. That almost seems to be the point, doesn’t it? The creator of the universe became a baby in a stable, then a man of no particular means or standing in his community, and was humbly led away by Romans to execution for sedition. But a 60-foot high, 4-inch thick veil was torn open by more than human hands to represent the freedom to press in for the Holy of Holies, where our Maker is seated. The very act of being led by a Gentile soldier follows on a tradition centuries earlier with the Israelites and the sin goat of Azazel, and fulfills prophecies from millennia ago. All the feasts foretold of our chance to dine with our Lord.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Hebrews 10:11-14

May we never lose our sense of wonder at who God is. May the majestic and even heroic way Jesus came to fulfill prophecy be ever new for you. And when you press into Him, may the torrent of His love pour over you like a refreshing waterfall at the end of your long trail.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Awe of God: The Festival of Trumpets


How long has it been since you’ve been bothered by the sin in your life? –Pastor Aaron Hlavin

This question, which was asked at the opening of this week’s service, is still ringing in my ears. Granted, there are blatant sins I have committed that have prompted me to repent and turn from my previous ways. However, this question forces me to examine my sin on a deeper level. Are there areas of my life where I have simply become so comfortable that I don’t even recognize my sin anymore? Have I blurred the lines of what is right to justify my wrongs?

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were faced with a similar awakening. Through the Festival of Trumpets (Leviticus 23), God commanded the Israelites to set aside time to rest, reflect, and repent. The start of this festival was indicated by the blasting sounds of trumpets (Leviticus 23:24). Notably, this was a powerful sound. It symbolized more than just a beginning. Beyond that, it was a warning sign, a call to action, and a sign of what was to come. As the Bible indicates, the Israelites were told to “Hold a sacred assembly and deny [themselves] and present a food offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:28). If anyone failed to do this, the punishment was made clear that God would “destroy” them (Leviticus 23:30). Finally, the text goes on to say that this command would “be a lasting ordinance for many generations to come” (Leviticus 23:31).

While the structural aspect of this festival may not be relatable to you and I, there is a clear principle in this portion of scripture that can be applied today. God was calling His chosen people to repent. He was directing them towards self-denial and atonement. He was setting up a reminder for the Israelites to recalibrate their focus on God.

As I think about what this meant for the Israelites at that time, I am challenged to identify the areas of my life in which a trumpet may be “sounding.” In the day-to-day happenings of life, it can be so easy to drown out God’s voice and the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It is often easier to magnify the sound of my own thoughts. Nonetheless, it is so important that I hold onto the principle that was taught to the Israelites. I must be intentional about responding to the convicting call to repentance.


This week, I challenge you to think about what God may be uncovering in you. In what areas of your life is the trumpet sounding? How long has it been since you’ve been bothered by your sin? If your answer is that it has been a while, what are you going to do to change that? 

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant
Edited by: Brigit Edwards

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Awe of God: The Feast of Weeks


This month at Freedom, we’ve been talking about the various feasts and festivals mandated by God to the Israelites. What has been most fascinating and “goose bump-inducing” for me is the way each of these celebrations ties into the work Jesus completed in the New Testament. Jesus’ work is so obviously the fulfillment of the things God had begun to do through the nation of Israel.

The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, was to take place 50 days after Passover:

“Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord our God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you.”
Deuteronomy 16:9-10

It was a time of focus. The Israelites were to look “upward,” to God, in gratitude.  Their gratitude was to be in proportion to the blessings they received.  Gratefulness is crucial in maintaining true awe of the Lord. When we are constantly thinking about “where our stuff comes from,” it’s hard to forget the amazing provision of God.

Also, the Israelites were to focus “outward” during this time by extending the blessings to those outside their circles:

“ …your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you.”
Deuteronomy 16:11b

The Lord instructed the Israelites to invite the “outsiders” to celebrate the goodness of God alongside them.

Generations later, Jesus would tell His disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit – the Advocate. (John 14:26; Acts 1:4). This happened on the day of Pentecost, which the Jews had already been celebrating for hundreds of years. The disciples were gathered together looking “upward,” expecting something from the Lord. The Holy Spirit filled them and gave them boldness to preach the Gospel – which resulted in many coming to know Jesus that day. That’s the “forward” focus – generations of people who would come to know Him!

I love how God brought it full circle.

And I love how He’s continuing to work through His people today. We live in tumultuous days and yet God’s using His Church to draw the “outsider” to Him. Let us not forget that He wants everyone to come to the celebration – the foreigner, the orphan, the widow, those who are outside our “circles.” Let’s set aside our differences and expand the upward, outward and forward focus. Let’s expand the awe of our God to a world that so desperately needs Him. 

Written by: Jaime Hlavin
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Awe of God: Feast of Passover


Lately I have been preoccupied with minutes. Each one passes by us as inconsequentially as a raindrop, and together they collect into unstoppable rivers. You spend, on average, around 1,000 minutes out of bed every day. Every son or daughter you bring into the world comes with about 10 million minutes of childhood -- to spend with you or someone else. It's been just over 1 billion minutes since the last books and letters of the New Testament were written. And the total US labor force earned about $31 million combined per minute last year (that's another average -- daytime minutes were more than seven times as costly as graveyard shift minutes, by man-hours worked).

What's my point? Well, we never know which few of those minutes that drift by us will change the whole course of our lives. The Israelites lived through four hundred years of enslavement in Egypt with no change in sight -- never knowing when their deliverer would come. And then, one night, freedom was coming so quickly they didn't even have time to leaven their bread. "Eat the meat roasted over a fire, with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast...," the Lord commands, "with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover." (Exodus 12:9,11). For centuries, the months passed by in futility on the calendar. Then, the Lord gave his people a whole new calendar ("This month is to be the first month of your year," (Exodus 12:2).

It is sobering to think how quick and how awe-inspiring those minutes of transformation are when they come along. They remind me of other Bible passages like the parable of the wise and foolish virgins who never knew when exactly the bridegroom would be visiting. On a personal level, I am reminded of the random times a loved one has asked me to pray the sinner's prayer with them, or has asked me to lift up their needs in prayer during a trying time to the God they have seen sharing my life with me. I can't tell you I rise to the occasion each time, but I know I need to strive to "be prepared in season or out of season" (II Timothy 4:2), and try to inhabit a sense of constant expectation. Because I'm starting to think that the kingdom of God doesn't operate much on lead time.

As we heard this week, you are a new person with an old history. That's because when you come to know Christ, your redemptive process is both instantaneous and lifelong. And lifelong changes don't come at a uniform rate. We can spend months or years preparing for one moment with no signs of progress until, suddenly, we turn a sharp corner.  But those moments come along so powerfully for ourselves and those around us that only God can take credit for them.

We often hear that adage, in this church, that you have the relationship with God that you want. Too true. But the good news is, if you're willing, that relationship could change for the better at any minute.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant