Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Faithful Fasting

Have you ever been guilty of making the statement that God isn’t speaking to you? For a stretch of time in my relationship with God, I felt very distant from hearing His voice. I desperately wanted to feel closer to Him, but just couldn’t seem to figure out why I was stuck in such a rut. On a Wednesday night in youth group several years ago, I heard a message that dramatically shifted my perspective. I am not even sure what the particular sermon was about, but I distinctly remember feeling convicted by God to be more generous with my time to Him. I felt as though He was telling that if I wanted to hear His voice, I needed to fast. I needed to sacrifice. I needed to approach God more in worship. I needed to spend more time reading His Word. I needed to be more faithful in the day-to-day rhythm of life.

This Sunday, Pastor Aaron taught on the subject of faithful fasting. As I listened to this sermon, I was challenged once again to make a greater effort in setting aside my desires and time to reflect on God’s Word. As we learned on Sunday, the Bible has a countless number of instances in which followers of Christ fasted. Daniel fasted (Daniel 9:3). Esther fasted (Esther 4:16). Paul fasted (Acts 27:33). Nehemiah fasted (Nehemiah 1:4). These are a few among the many occurrences mentioned in the Bible in which God’s people spent time in prayer, sacrifice, worship, and meditation.

In the busyness of life, it can be so easy to forget or overlook this basic principle that is a constant theme throughout the Bible. It is so important, however, that we do not neglect this practice. Giving our attention solely to God prepares us better for the challenges in life. Fasting allows us to find deliverance, seek repentance, and align more closely to the Spirit. Furthermore, it is a way in which we may show God our faithfulness, gratefulness, and adoration.

This week, I challenge you to examine your life and pray about what may be an appropriate fast for you. Whether it be something as simple as fasting Facebook, or is a traditional Daniel fast, I challenge you to sacrifice something significant. God gave us the greatest sacrifice of all in His Son, Jesus. Let us devote our time and attention to the One who has given us everything and the One who directs our paths. 

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Meditation Mandate

Keep this book of the law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8

The word "meditate" is often associated with emptying one's mind to achieve a particular state of thinking more clearly. Conversely, Biblical meditation involves actually focusing on scripture and thinking deeply about it. Doing this in turn helps us to apply and live out the truths within the Word of God.

Here are some practical steps to implementing biblical meditation in our lives:

Prepare - Ready yourself to meditate on His word. That may look different for each person. For me this involves a cup of coffee, a comfy chair and/or blanket, my bible, a good journal and a pen.

Rewrite - Write the verse down on paper. Write it in several translations. Write it in your own words. The physical act of writing helps lodge the verse in your mind.

Pray the passage - Literally use the words of the verse as prayer. Ask the Lord to help you do what the verse says.

Look for applications - Throughout your day, look for specific ways to incorporate the scripture into your life.

Be patient - Learning to meditate on scripture takes time. Don't hurry through the process. Take your time and let the Lord speak to you.

Will you take time with me this week to truly begin to learn to meditate in His word? I'm looking forward to life change through doing so!

Written by: Jaime Hlavin
Edited by: Brigit Edwards

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs--who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing either good or bad.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.
Zephaniah 1:12-13

I’m going to be honest here – sometimes I come out of a Sunday message thinking it’s mostly directed at other people. While I might not be thinking of any one person or group specifically to which the message would apply, it’s not always clear where the personal application is supposed to be. But maybe the best course then is to keep looking.

I have a number of flaws to which I’ll readily admit, but I don’t consider complacency one of them.  After all, I spend a great deal of time and mental energy most days trying, and more often than not failing, to improve myself. I’m not satisfied with my work habits and productivity, the depth of my relationship with God, how often I exercise, how often I pray, and how I respond to the needs of others. Most of the time, I consider this striving to improve an asset. Though what this effort leaves with me, instead of wisdom or character improvement, is an abiding discontent.

But discontent is almost the opposite of complacency, isn’t it? Complacency at a glance seems like being content when you shouldn’t be – not recognizing where you need to improve, ignoring a lingering problem or even an imminent threat, or living at lowered awareness. It’s being unteachable when there are vital lessons to learn.

That’s all true enough, but maybe there’s more to complacency. As we heard in the message, complacency invites correction. It often begins with a mindset that becomes a belief, but more to the point, it diminishes God. The complacent, like those in the verse from Zephaniah above, picture God as neutral and detached from their own lives, leaving them to their own devices. And I’ve been there. It’s on my go-to list of explanations whenever I pray and don’t hear an answer from God right away. I try to convince myself that maybe God isn’t resolving a problem in my life because He expects I can fix it myself. God’s purpose is not to coddle me, after all, and my prayers might be more effective and faithful if I know I’ve exhausted every other possibility and the answer will have to come from Him.

When I rely on my own efforts to resolve a situation, I diminish the chance for the Lord to be more active and bear more fruit in my life. I make Him a kind of last resort – and so in any struggle where I’m not quite there yet, I don’t involve Him enough. And that can have consequences.

As a friend reminded me after the service, the opposite of complacency is not discontent – it’s intentionality. It’s purposing to bring God into every aspect of your life, great and small, and to make Him Lord. It’s resolving to be Spirit-directed, and embracing the notion that God is for us – which is a far cry from neutrality. And then, when we actively intend to bring everything to him in prayer, these other things are added to us. And the peace of God (which is a terrific analgesic for discontent, by the way) will go forward with us always.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Double Lives

When I read the Bible, I tend to assume that my thinking and understanding of the Gospel is beyond the Pharisees’, but the more I read, the more I realize that I can actually relate to many of pharisaical shortcomings. In Matthew 23, Jesus warns the Pharisees about the danger of living a “double life.” As He states in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Yikes! This verse is convicting. In this portion of scripture, Jesus is NOT amused with the façade that the Pharisees have created. Obviously, Jesus is not fooled by it, and He is cautioning that there are consequences of living this double life.

Personally, I know there have been instances in my faith journey that I have made my relationship with God appear better than it is. The reality is, I am not ever going to be perfect. However, my goal should not be to make sure I look perfect, but to work towards becoming more like Christ. Furthermore, I must be willing to be honest with myself and others when things are not good.

On Sunday, Pastor John Opalewski offered four consequences of living a double life:
  1.      It hardens our hearts
  2.      It messes with our heads
  3.      It makes us miserable
  4.      It jeopardizes our future
As these consequences suggest, living a double life can be very taxing. We can become slaves to keeping up the name of our fictional “self.” This avoidance of vulnerability can wear us down, and ultimately can hinder us from ever truly addressing our faults.

However, there is good news! Jesus welcomes repentance, and He desires that we seek restoration. In response to finding oneself living a “double life,” Pastor John provided three solutions:
  1. Repentance
  2. Re-engagement with God
  3. Re-connection with people
This week, I challenge you to self-assess the gap between how you portray yourself to be and where your heart truly lies. In areas that you find you are struggling most, I encourage you to seek repentance. Vulnerably submit to God and be genuine with those around you. Remember the fact that Christ welcomes repentance and seeks to guide us in becoming more like Him. 

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant
Edited by: De Ann Sturdivant

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bouncebackedness: Overcoming

DISCLAIMER:  I’m about to share a very personal story that includes lot of medical information. While it may be new to the reader, this road and the medical support we’ve received over the years is not new to us. You’ll probably read this and have all kinds of questions and ideas that come from a place of love and concern. Please know that this isn’t written to garner sympathy, but rather to show the surpassing grace of God and how good He’s been on this journey. If you have any questions or suggestions, please refrain from bombarding Aaron with them. He doesn’t let this situation define him. You can contact me, if you’d like and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. Thanks! Love you!

“…I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7b-8

We were young as we sat across the table from one another in October of 1998 – 24 and 22, on the precipice of building a life together. Engaged for two months, our plan for the evening was to finalize our wedding guest list over dinner.

Halfway through our meal Aaron dropped his fork suddenly and said, "Something's not right. I need to go the ER."

What started out as leg cramps turned into a three day stay in the hospital hooked up to IV fluids in an effort to flush his system. He was in danger of kidney failure.  Scary phrases like "astronomically high levels of muscle enzymes in your blood" and "you shouldn't even be able to walk" shook the world we were building for ourselves.

The weeks to come were a blur of tests and biopsies and words like “neurology” and “metabolic” and “disorder” and “quality of life.”

But soon, a diagnosis was in sight. The team of neurologists had narrowed it down to one of two possible maladies - one of which was ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). If that was the case, the prognosis was bleak. Aaron sat me down and told me that if the final test came back positive for ALS, he would break off our engagement. Chances were that he'd be dead inside of a decade and didn't want me to spend my 20s and 30s caring for a dying man. 

The diagnosis finally came:
Myophosphorylase partial deficiency - an extremely rare glycogen storage disorder. His body is unable to store energy (glycogen) and therefore when immediate sources of energy are depleted, his muscle tissue breaks down as his body attempts to use it for energy. This in turn thickens his blood into an enzyme-rich slurry that his kidneys can’t filter.  It’s genetic. There’s no cure. It had remained dormant until he went on a no sugar/low carb diet to drop a few pounds for our wedding.
Thankfully, the prognosis was so much better than we originally thought. We moved forward with our plans of making a life together.

His doctor told him that he is to constantly stay hydrated to keep his kidneys flushed because his body will most likely always be breaking down muscle tissue to some extent. To minimize that, he was instructed to avoid activities that isolate muscle groups. And exercise designed to build muscle would have the exact opposite effect on him. He is only allowed to do cardiovascular types of exercise – no weight training. Other than that there's no real treatment other than vitamin B supplements. His doctor also said that a factor he had working in his favor was that at the time of his diagnosis he was very strong and had significant muscle mass.

But he’d suffer with chronic pain for the remainder of his life.

It took him several years to fully grasp how to manage this disease. For the first three years after his diagnosis, he landed himself in the hospital once a year because he was 20something and invincible and didn’t follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter.

For over 17 years, each morning as I’ve laid next him, I’ve heard him sigh deeply as he prepares to gather the strength to hoist his aching body out of bed. Hunched over, he shuffles toward the shower like a man twice his age with his hands balled up into cramped fists. The hot, running water of the shower slowly loosens the knots throughout his body.

But on any given day, if I run my hand over his back, I feel a large, solid clump of muscle. It’s never in the same place. The pain and cramping migrate daily. Sometimes it’s in his calves or thighs and sometimes it’s in his arms. 

He rarely complains and he doesn’t “look sick.”  He plans the physical activity of his day around the pain. And yet, he’s the hardest-working, most productive person I know.

On really bad days, he doesn’t say a word, but I can see it in his eyes – they are puffy and sad. And on those days, when I lay my hand on his arm, I can feel the muscle vibrating below the surface of his skin. It’s not visible to the eye…only to touch.

As he said on Sunday, we all have a “something.” For some it’s physical. For others it’s emotional or spiritual. A thorn in the flesh can easily become a point of defeat, doubt and disillusionment. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast from Sunday, I would encourage you to go do so. Right now. I’ll wait. J

I pray for his healing with regularity. We know that he’ll be healed one day – in this life or eternity. As believers we are promised that. But in the here and now – in the weakness – when he could feel really sorry for himself or get angry at God he remains in awe of Him. I’ve never met anyone who loves Jesus as much as Aaron does. He exemplifies what a “relationship with the Lord” looks like. They talk to one another regularly. God speaks to him, encourages him, and gives him insight, wisdom and discernment in unbelievable ways. He weeps with emotion at the goodness of God and the potential of what God can do in the lives of others.

I know that the thorn in his flesh – although he’s prayed for God to take it from him on numerous occasions – has brought 2 Corinthians 12:9 to fruition in him:

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.”

Often in the agony of the unanswered prayer, God uses our "something" – our thorn – to further His purposes and perfect His will.  If you’re suffering with a thorn in the flesh today, I would encourage you to ask for His grace to allow His power to be made perfect. You are loved. You are seen. You are not alone.

Written by: Jaime Hlavin

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bouncebackedness: Generosity

I have an ambivalent relationship with the game of soccer. My family loves it, my stepfather was a coach for years, and my brother played well into adulthood, while my own grade school years playing were mostly a struggle. After a year or so, my first coach talked extensively with my family about joining an expansion team in the league the following season. Only after the fact did I learn the endgame: I would know no one on the new team, the practices were much farther from home, and the move had served primarily to help my old coach open a slot on his own team for a better player. That taught me a lot about soccer and life which had nothing to do with ball control or goalie distribution drills. Mostly, however, it taught me about myself. Amid my resentment and hostility with my new teammates, I came to realize that I spent more time thinking about the soccer team than anyone else in the uniform did. And I wasn’t much better for it.

In my soccer experience, negativity and turning inward were a natural response to the challenges I faced. However, there was an alternative response that I could have pursued. As we have learned in this teaching series, people who are suffering can still retain some capacity for kindness and generosity. By doing so, they look beyond their own pain, and move their attention elsewhere. 

Paul gives the Corinthians the example of the generous Macedonian church to the north, who “in the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty, welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).

It’s probably not lost on his audience that Macedonia was a rural region of the Roman Empire at the time, where Corinth was a bustling and affluent port city and cultural center. Maybe it's not coincidental that we don’t seem to have any epistles in canonical scripture for the churches in Macedonia, Antioch, or Smyrna (which gets only a passing admonition among the churches in Revelation chapter 2, to “not be afraid of what you are about to suffer”). I strongly suspect that the churches in these places of suffering and hardscrabble perseverance didn’t develop the vices that required the writings of Paul and the other apostles. They got over their baggage – maybe because physical necessity forced them to, or maybe because grace moved them beyond their own ability.

What if the grace of God empowered you to give beyond your own ability?

It never occurred to me that giving to others was a measure of resilience, but the more I pray and meditate on it, the more it makes sense. The enemy would like nothing more than for our suffering to turn our thoughts inward, make us overlook our neighbors and reduce our capacity to love. It’s reasonable to assume the best lesson to learn would be the opposite. In so doing, we show ourselves and our Maker that darkness hasn’t diminished our light in the world.

And if you don’t believe me, think back on some of your darkest hours and thoughts in life. Isn’t it ironic that, even in the moments when you are miles from boasting or loving yourself, you are still entirely focused on you?

Maybe, as we heard this week, our struggles come from being in awe of something else more than of God’s grace, and needing to be slammed with the magnitude of grace one more time. Sometimes I wonder if the greater gift of grace is deliverance from hell, or deliverance from self. Sometimes I wonder if they are two gifts, or one and the same.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bouncebackedness: Part 4

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

Sunday morning was that time as a kid when your mom or dad said something to you about yourself that you knew was true, but you were hoping wasn’t.

“You’re hurting your little sister/brother.”
“You know how to act better than this.”
“You are looking for attention.”

We all know the feeling: the feeling when you hear out of someone’s mouth what you haven’t yet gotten the courage to come to grips with in your own heart. While the instances above are familiar and pretty mild, this isn’t always the case for many of us now, and certainly was not for me listening to Pastor Aaron’s speaking and Paul’s writings on self-reflection and apology.

These two things are practically inseparable in our quest to become better representations of Jesus on earth. I used to be terrible at being sorry. I don’t even mean just apologizing, I mean being and feeling apologetic for any negative input I had placed in the world around me. Or any negative input I had inside myself, whether it made an appearance to anyone else or not. I did not grieve in the spirit of Heaven, I didn’t have godly strife—strife that searches for holiness and purity for no other cause than that of God and His will. My wrongs and flaws sat untouched so long as I could keep them contained under wraps.

In the world, I grieved heavily about my flaws. Do you know what I’ve come to discover time and time again? Grieving in the world is guilt. It is festering and clingy and it latches on to you. And ironically enough, it is self preserving. Guilt will keep you from being free because you feel too guilty about having guilt to receive any freedom. Grieving in the world in this way will turn your face to all the ways you could let others down, but never will it turn your face towards the cross.

Only the type of self-reflection that we lack so often, that turns our grief to Heaven, towards a hope for being better today than we were yesterday, leads us to repentance. I know, that word sounds stuffy and boring and traditional. It’s the epitome of having to identify our shortcomings in a moment of humility—something we’re never fond of doing. It doesn’t feel good at first. But perhaps it’s time we stopped feeling so good. I’m not advocating for wallowing or being ashamed—quite the opposite. I’m suggesting that perhaps, if we look at our culture today, and our nation, might what we see be the result of feeling ‘good’ for too long? Might we all benefit if we took time to self reflect, to strive and ache over the things God wants for us and our character, to humble ourselves to the reality of the things we could be doing better in our individual lives, and feel good not about ourselves in those moments, but in the hope we have inherited, and the magnificent grace that flows so freely to us?

This week, this month, I give you a challenge possibly more comforting than usual in the midst of all that is happening. Do not grieve in the world, do not give your strife to the things that pass and will pass again. Instead, spend some time looking within. Without gain or promise from the world, grieve for Heaven, repent with a heart of pure motive, and do not wait for the healing of the world around you to receive your own.

Written by: Bri Vanderveen
Edited by: Jenelle Kelly