Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God > Your Wildest Dreams

On Monday, I had the opportunity to spend a large chunk of time alone in the car with my oldest daughter after a dentist appointment. During this time, she told me all about a friend of hers from school that is currently obsessing about the classes she’ll take in college (mind you, these girls are winding down their seventh grade school year). This friend wants to be a lawyer/neuroscientist so that she can have a lot of money and power in order to address and dismantle a particular hot-button issue.

Hey, it’s good to have dreams. But my daughter and I were both a little overwhelmed by her friend’s particular dream. Nonetheless, it served as a great launching point to revisit the message we’d heard the day before: God > Your Wildest Dreams.

A pang of wistfulness jabs at my heart every time I hear a message on “dreams.” I wouldn’t categorize myself as a dreamer – and that bums me out. Whenever, I sit with a dreamer (which is pretty much every night because I’m married to one) and hear the passion in their voice as they talk about “all the things,” I’m amazed. And exhausted. And frustrated.

Exhausted because “all the things” will take so much time and effort to do! Frustrated because I just can’t make myself think and dream like that! It’s been a point of defeat for the bulk of my adult journey.

Here’s the thing: while I’m not much of a dreamer, I am an excellent planner. Tell me your dream and I will generate lists, spreadsheets, timelines, and files – and then compile it all nicely into a binder. However, I will express to you how many rules have been broken, which timeframes are ridiculous, how costs are exorbitant, and that manpower is non-existent. And I’m pretty sure that’s where my exhaustion comes in.

And yet, Sunday’s message about dreams didn’t bum me out. I came away extremely encouraged and excited because for the first time the idea of “dreams” didn’t feel exhausting and overwhelming. My desperate striving and planning can sit in the passenger seat while “trust” drives the car.

Being a dreamer is possible if I trust God. Because NEWSFLASH: I don’t have to make it all happen! The key is trust. Trusting Him is greater than any dream I could imagine – or dash, for that matter.

Amy presented four key points of trust (for more on this, I would highly recommend listening to the podcast if you missed it):
  • Trust God with your dream
  • Trust Him with your treasure
  • Trust His promptings
  • Trust Him with your balance

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 12:1-2 from The Message encapsulates this so much better than anything I could write. So I’ll leave you with this, and I hope that it’s as liberating for you as it was for me:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)

Written by: Jaime Hlavin

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

This Is Us

While I was going through a rough patch at work a few years ago, I tried a different approach to prayer on my regular runs at the city park.  My life group at the time was facing various personal challenges, so I decided to devote the run time to interceding for those people (and a few others in the church). My regular prayer time could be about me, my family, worship, or ministries where I felt called to serve, but the time on the track had to be just for those other people. 

I figured this would yield two results: first I would be too preoccupied to consider my fatigue or how much farther I had to go, and then I would be forced to take my mind off of my own anxiety. As it happens, my relationship with God felt closer and more alive than it had in years, and my own problems of the time became so inconsequential that they soon fell far behind me. It was transformative to focus on others, and I’ve recently taken up the practice again.

It hadn’t occurred to me that those prayer runs were an act of humility until hearing the message on Sunday. Then, of course, thinking that I was living out a godly virtue without even realizing it made me feel proud of myself, which probably defeats the whole purpose. But that’s OK – if I’m danger of pride I’ll just take another run.

Jeremiah 31:21 tells us to “Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Mark well the path by which you came,” (NLT). We heard about four metrics to consider on the pathway we’re traveling and what makes us ourselves, as children of God.  These were humility, hunger, heart and health. For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to focus on the first one. We have all thought about what humility is not, but how often do we really think about what it is? Moreover, what markers tell us we’re within its boundaries?

C.S. Lewis once wrote that, “Humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and (demons) have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves.” Even when we are trying to adopt a humble outlook, our thoughts and efforts are focused inward. Instead, humility is the intentional and directed effort to focus on God and others. And while it doesn’t come easy, we are much healthier when we seek humility.

You may not be a runner, and honestly I’m not much of one either, which is why I needed to adopt a distraction technique. But somewhere in your daily routine, you likely do things like cooking, sorting through mail, hitting the weight machines at the gym, or other tasks that don’t require all your concentration. During this time, I would challenge you to ask God how the man you met during the greeting at Sunday service is faring this week, or if he would bless that life group member who is awaiting word of a loved one’s surgery. Some tasks may be better suited to this than others, but you succeed so long as you stop thinking about you. And if you stop trying to be so humble all the time, you just might arrive there now and again by mistake.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Home- Part 2

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9

When I first encountered this passage of scripture, I sort of glazed over it because it seemed to be geared towards parents. However, the more I reflect on this excerpt and this week’s sermon, the more I am realizing the relevance it has to my own life as a follower of God. In its original context, Moses was challenging the Israelites to take the command “Love the Lord with all your heart” directly into the home. He insisted that followers of God express their love for Him by honoring Him in all things and passing this love onto their families.

While I may not have children to “impress” my love for God onto, this passage still has significant meaning to me. It challenges me to love God and honor Him with everything that I have. To me, the example of generational transference suggests that loving God should be something that trickles down to every other aspect of life. Loving God should expand my capacity to love others and should change the way I act. It should be evident to those around me, and should be reflected in all of my relationships.

Through finding new meaning to this portion of scripture, I am challenged to determine whether or not my life actually reflects this concept. Does my love for God trickle down to the way I treat others? Does it push me to act in a way that is more like Christ?

Ultimately, letting God take the first place in our hearts and loving him with everything we have is something that can be life-changing. Not only can it bring us closer to God, but it can also direct others to Him.

I challenge you to examine your heart this week. Does God have the first place? Does loving him change the way you see and treat others? If not, I encourage you to open yourself up and make the necessary changes you need to put God first. It is my prayer that as you “love God with all your heart,” you are able to make a life-changing impact on those around you.   

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant
Edited by: De Ann Sturdivant

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Cross- Part 3

You didn't want Heaven without us
So, Jesus You brought Heaven down
My sin was great Your love was greater
What could separate us now?

“What a Beautiful Name,” Hillsong Worship

Reconciliation is one of my favorite words because it’s fun to say and it has so many syllables.

Also, I love what it means: to be brought back into relationship after being estranged.
When I was very young, my parents separated. My father moved out. Shortly afterward, my mom moved a friend and her three young children into our home. The friend was going through a separation as well and the two of them relied on one another for support.

Mom took a job outside of the home for the first time that I could remember. The roommate was understandably deeply depressed, and therefore slept most of the time. At the age of 7, I became the caretaker of the three young children plus my 4-year old brother.

That stretch of time is indelibly marked in my memory in spite of my very young age at the time.  It lasted about a year. Then one morning, before school, my mom sat down at the breakfast table with me and my brother. She informed us that our roommates would soon be moving out and Dad would be coming back home to live with us.

I had cried a lot that year – in confusion, sadness and frustration. The tears came again in that very moment. But I was overjoyed. That was my first experience with reconciliation. Even at a young age, what stood out to me was that it didn’t “just happen.” There had to be an active party who reached out to bridge that gap. My dad decided that enough was enough and that he didn’t want to live apart from my mom.

Over a decade later, I would experience reconciliation in a very different way.

Shortly after my parents reconciled, my family began attending church. The years went by and I was the Sunday School Superstar. I obeyed the rules. I memorized the verses. I attended all the church services. However, my faith never truly became my own.

By my senior year in high school, I was very far from the Lord. Estranged, I spent my college years in a very dark place.

As my junior year of college began to wind down and the autumn leaves began to fall, I was involved in a car accident. That wreck got my attention. I began to evaluate where my life was headed, the poor decisions I had spent the past several years making, and what I wanted my future to look like.

That following Wednesday – November 12th, 1997 – I decided to set foot into church again for the first time in who-knows-how-long.

My brother had left early to attend worship practice. My parents weren’t home. It was just me and my “trusty” 1994 Dodge Neon. Of course, the car wouldn’t start. So much for my plans of going to church that night!

Then the phone rang. 

It was my brother’s best friend, Ronnie.

“Jason already left for church,” I told him.

“I know,” he replied. “I’m calling for you. Do you need a ride to church? I feel like God wants me to drive you tonight.”


He picked me up. We drove to church.

Jesus changed my life that night. I was estranged and He actively sought me out in order that I might be reconciled. He was the active party that reached out to bridge the gap. (And I thank God daily for Ronnie’s obedience and part in my story).

Is Jesus reaching out to bridge the gap in your life today? Is there someone in your life that God is prompting you to help bridge the gap?

It is my prayer today that we would never forget our own moments of reconciliation, and that we would listen to the voice of the Lord as He prompts us to be part of His plan of reconciliation to those around us. 

Written by: Jaime Hlavin

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Cross- Part 1

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More than ten years ago, I was channel surfing late at night and came across a reality TV show where, for reasons I don’t recall, a young Christian man from some rural Bible Belt community was sent to live and work for a while among a group of young gay men in a trendy coastal neighborhood. It was supposed to unfold like an Odd Couple style pairing, I think, though the Christian and his new compatriots were mostly agreeable and found their lives had more commonalities than differences.

Of course, people who get along don’t make very riveting television. So at some point the group staged a dinner table talk over the Christian’s homespun values and his views on sin. He had tried, in a ham-handed way, to explain that his church viewed all sin the same way and that certain kinds of sex were no different than murder. He could as easily have said “no different than lying” or “no different than pounding your thumb with a hammer and shouting the Lord’s name in vain.” Once the group heard their sexual expression equated with murder, tempers flared and civil discourse mostly shut down. The next several minutes of the program were a mix of venting and cringe-worthy apologies. Around then I remembered I was a grown-up with better things to do, and shut off the TV for the night.

What remained with me, though, was a sense that our group values often align by which issues we face personally and which issues we don’t. It’s probably easy to get a large group of evangelicals all on the same page about robbery, violence, or a kind of sexuality no one in the parish deals with personally (or discusses publicly if they do). The sins of others, as it were. It might be tougher to get everyone in a congregation to unite against gluttony, online pornography, or prescription drug abuse – the struggles that tend to get more representation in our own church pews. And yet, as the reality TV star tried to explain, all sins hold a common value. Ultimately, they all separate us from God.

Even in New Testament times, we heard this week, it was easy for believers to lose sight of the enormous redemptive power of the cross. We can try to devalue or justify our own sin, but grace does something entirely different. Grace doesn’t diminish or erase our debt. Rather, it pays our debt in full

 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us,” (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV).  

In Ephesus, a city characterized by slave trade, redemption could carry the commercial connotation of being bought out of servitude. But understanding the value of redemption also requires having sober attention to what sins and struggles hold sway over us. We can’t practice forgiveness, be gracious ourselves, or learn to cope with the flaws of others if we don’t believe ourselves to be flawed.

The good news, though, is the reverse is also true. You will be amazed at how much transformative love and healing you can bring into the lives of others when you realize what Jesus’ own grace has done for you.

The magnitude of that realization will almost start poring out through your skin. Despite the times I have failed to witness to those around me, I have often found that people have known where I stood for years in my faith just by observing my general demeanor. I like to think that’s the power of walking through life feeling forgiven.

If you find yourself becoming cynical or lackadaisical in your approach to Christianity, I challenge you to be reminded of the grace that saved you. Although we did not deserve it and were all guilty of sin, Christ redeemed us and set us free.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Product of a Mission

Why I am a product of mission—not missions.

Something has happened along the way in the culture of the church. Perhaps not Freedom Christian specifically, or perhaps it has happened to us too—at least in our hearts. We all know that as a group, Christians are pretty prone to “Christian-ese”, a language that is technically English (or whatever the native language of your area is), but is beyond understandable to those outside of our group. While most “Christian-ese” is relatively harmless, there is one word in our vocabulary that has morphed just enough that we need to talk about it.

That word is “missions”. MissionSSSsss.

The difference is so subtle I’m sure it’s completely evaded many of us. We have taken the heartbeat of the gospel, the very thing that brought us all together and continues to move us out to the world, beyond ourselves, and categorized it in a way that allows us to separate it from ourselves without much concern. While having a “missions” category is effective for things such as church budgets, referencing intentional living, and ministering to those around us as “missions” and not simply as the way we live—it has also caused us to detach from the work God is doing around us. Categorizing missions puts a distance between the way we perceive ourselves and the way we perceive those we send out officially into other countries to spread the gospel.

It’s true, those two lives are very different ones, however, neither are called to anything besides THE mission. Though it might look different or sound different, it is the same God whose will we are called to be a part of.

Though my ‘missions’ giving supports different, specific people and purposes around the world, their objectives are no different from what mine should be. While a missionary meets with a friend for noodles on the other side of the world to talk about the gospel, I might drive down the street to a coworker’s house to do the same. In this way, we cannot categorize the call of God to mobilize the message of hope, of peace, love, joy, or any of the things that drew us to Him for the first time.

This week, I challenge you the same way this past Missions Sunday challenged myself—to think about “missions” differently this year. Not as something that can be categorized, or put into a box. But a fluid, necessary, integral part of all of our lives that cannot be confined to a word or a financial pledge. Ask God this year how to be a part of mission, and to reveal the way He is moving all around you.

Written by: Brianna Vanderveen
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

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