Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bouncebackedness: The Crushing

Once I took a spiritual gifts test that supposedly showed me one of my two spiritual strengths was mercy. I was relieved to see it because I figured I could avoid confrontation. After all, if I’d had discernment I’d know when my brothers and sisters needed correction, and I’d have an obligation to confront them. And who needs that drama?

I had the good sense to know it isn’t over when you deliver a (hopefully) loving rebuke because you’ll spend forever worrying that your words weren’t received the right way.  Maybe someone is even watching you just for the opportunity to show you up and call out a hypocrite?  And then, when do you know if you’re expressing your discernment to others, versus a less spiritual arrogance or discomfort? What if you bring condemnation and division instead of restoration because you didn’t have enough discernment about your own discernment? Yeech. Pass, on that burden. Mercy it is, for me, because I assume it’s hugs all around and nursing the wounds for people, once the big standard-bearers come through with their needed rebuke.

Ruminating might be the right word for Paul’s tone in much of II Corinthians.  In Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian Church, he gave a frank dressing-down of shameful behaviors. That’s tricky to deliver long-distance, and Paul had agonized that he “wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice,” and “that even in Troas where the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind… .” (II Corinthians 2:3, 12) This concern followed him back through Macedonia until he is finally assured that the local church has bounced back in a godly way from his words. “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed… .” (II Corinthians 7:8-9).

Just a few years ago, the word “bouncebackability” was added to a new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary – and I have never had the ability to bounce back from it, since resilience has an identical meaning with the added perquisite of being an accepted, real word. I can recognize that, in Christ, Paul was able to bounce back from his own anxiety over his correction to the Corinthians. Helping him, I’m sure, was the Holy Spirit allowing him to discern that It had inhabited his words, and they reaped healing. But that is perhaps the challenge of operating in discernment, or any spiritual gift: knowing when to properly use it, and having to wait in faith for your spirit-directed actions to bear fruit.

Maybe like Paul, when we bounce back from second-guessing ourselves our faith is restored and rewarded. But it’s also good to make sure we bounce back in God, not in ourselves, and remember where to place our confidence.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: De Ann Sturdivant

Thursday, September 8, 2016


For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 1 Chronicles 16:9a

Commitment is a big word. In marriage, it is a promise of faithfulness and partnership. In the workplace, it is illustrated by doing a job with excellence. In sports, music, and many other facets of life, commitment may be demonstrated by persevering amidst challenges or dedicating oneself to a set goal.  Regardless of its application to life, commitment can be a daunting task. In particular, it can be quite intimidating to take responsibility for future choices when there is no clear picture of what the future holds. Nonetheless, God has called all of mankind to a lifetime of commitment, and the way in which we respond to this call is a direct reflection of how we value Him.

The reality is, every day we make choices. God did not create us as robots. He gave us the freedom to choose to give (or not to give) our lives to Him. As Christians, we have made the verbal “commitment” to accept Christ as Lord of our lives. Granted, with this commitment there is an expectation to eventually enter into eternity with Jesus. However, what we sometimes may lose sight of is the fact that before reaching eternity, we must choose to commit each DAY to God.

On Sunday, Pastor Aaron highlighted five vital choices that reflect our commitment to God.

1.       I choose to take responsibility for my spiritual growth. (James 4:8).
2.       I choose to practice contentment in all areas of my life. (Philippians 4:12).
3.       I choose to serve with regularity in my church. (John 12:26).
4.       I choose to invite one person a month to church with me (Colossians 4:2-6).
5.       I choose to bring the full tithe to God each week (Deuteronomy 10:14).

These five choices are simple in theory, but take effort to truly carry out. It is one thing to say we are committed to God, but to live a lifestyle of commitment is powerful. When we truly own our faith by studying the Bible and praying, expressing gratitude in all things, giving freely to others, sharing the gospel, and giving financially to grow the Church, we are backing our promise. We are honoring God. We are living faithfully.

In 1 Chronicles 16:9, it states that God strengthens those who are fully committed to Him. Not only has God offered eternal life to those who commit their lives to Him, but He also offers strength. He doesn’t neglect us as we walk through challenges on earth. Rather, He walks with us and empowers us.

This week, I challenge you to examine your commitment to Christ. Have you settled into a habit of partial or wavering commitment, or are you fully devoted to God? Let us all strive to choose commitment in all aspects of life, even when it may be difficult.

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant
Edited by: Jenelle Kelly

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Freedom Christian: Washington Launch

Wow, this past Sunday was an epic day at Freedom Christian. The commissioning of the Washington Launch Team was both powerful and emotional. And now we’re on our way to September 18th, the official launch of the Washington Campus. There are still many details to work on, things to think about, and adjustments to make.

One of those adjustments will be the use of video for preaching. We’ll be looking at Pastor Aaron’s mug (sans makeup?) on a video screen most Sundays, and perhaps a few of us wonder what the video experience will be like. You may even be asking: “Why video?”

Here are some thoughts to the question of “why?”

Video allows us to:

·         Promote a unified vision—Connect-Grow-Serve across two campuses (and multiple cities).

·         Reach and disciple more people.

·         Expand local community involvement of the Freedom Christian folks who live in the Washington area.

·         Provide excellent pastoral care – the campus pastor, the leadership team, and Life Group leaders will be an extension of Pastor Aaron and the great pastoral care he provides.

“OK John, but a video sermon still seems uncomfortable to me.” Well, here’s what I know:

·         Most of us get the majority of our info from a screen these days.

·         When attending any church that uses screens to make it easier to see the preacher, most people end up looking at the screens and not at the pulpit. When I was at District Council in Grand Rapids earlier this year, I found myself watching the enhancement screens instead of looking at the preacher behind the pulpit. Pretty sure I’m not the only one who does this.

·         We’ve been blessed with some awesome video teaching in the past – Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson and Francis Chan, just to name a few. The anointing of those men was not diminished by the video. People attending those sessions at Freedom were moved to action as though those men were physically in the room.

So… here we go! Laura and I are excited to take the journey alongside you!

Written by: Pastor John Opalewski
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Treasures in Heaven

Right around the turn of the century – when we youth pastored the greatest group of kids you’ll ever meet – a tall, awkward, hyper young man made an indelible mark on All Access Youth Ministries. He vibrated with constant energy; a never-ending source of ridiculous stories, spot-on impersonations, hilarious accents and outrageous antics.  

While it’s closing in on almost two decades ago, I can remember like yesterday, squeezing into a full elevator during Youth Convention. Suddenly, I feel something large and heavy on my shoulder. He placed a large, lifelike rubber spider on my shoulder. I freak out a little. A lot. My physical reaction may or may not slam him hard into the wall – which causes the elevator to lurch to a stop. Of course, the passengers erupt into screams. I sigh heavily thinking that we’d be trapped there for hours (it was already 3 o’clock in the morning), and that I was being punished for all the things I’d done wrong in my life. Thankfully, the elevator groans back to life only moments later.

We enjoyed full and exciting years of youth ministry with this young man. Then, one day, he introduced us to a young lady he met at work. I first became truly acquainted with her on yet another weekend retreat. Late one night, a group of us girls wound down the events of the day in our hotel room. She sat cross-legged on the edge of the bed as we chatted. At one point, she became so animated in telling a story that she completely somersaulted backward off the bed – meanwhile flailing her arms and legs and long, long curly hair. I still giggle when I think of it.

 I loved those “kids.” Those kids grew up, got married and answered the call of God.

I was in awe, admiration and thankfulness to God for his faithfulness that I sat next to the two of them at lunch last Sunday and watched them converse effortlessly in Mandarin Chinese with two exchange students. From my vantage point, the conversation seemed easy and rich – and generous. It would’ve been simple for them to just selfishly enjoy lunch with old friends. But they used the opportunity to be generous with their time, their words, and their God.

I watched the natural overflow of the message Geoff had spoken to our Freedom Family last Sunday. He was truly practicing what he had preached. As I watched them so graciously give to those students, I was reminded of the words he spoke on Sunday to our Freedom family.

 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:21

Geoff talked about what it means to be rich, or “generous” towards God. When we are generous with our time, talents, words, creativity, physical bodies and our silent times, we glorify God. We aren’t storing things up for ourselves. We’re pointing to Him. We’re magnifying eternity with our perspective of the present.

Since Sunday, I have been intensely evaluating the ways I can be generous toward God:

With my time

More often that I care to admit, I waste time. I spend too much time on Facebook and Instagram. I binge watch Netflix. How can I utilize that time more effectively in magnifying eternity?

With my talents

I’m really good at planning and organizing. But often, I wait till the last minute or I don’t distribute and delegate well. How can I use my planning and organization skills to orchestrate ways to point people to Jesus?

With my words

I am not generous enough with my words. In fact, I’m pretty stingy with them. Sometimes, I know I should encourage someone or speak life into a situation. But I just don’t. I think it’s because I’m afraid that a full-blown conversation that I just don’t have the emotional wherewithal to have will ensue (it’s an introvert thing). Lord, help me offer life-giving encouragement on a regular basis whatever the cost.

With my creativity

I write. But sometimes writing and sharing it with the world scares me because people generally feel very free to criticize the creativity of others. I don’t like that. But my creativity can be a way to show someone eternity with Christ. That’s worth any amount of criticism I may receive.

With my physical body

I don’t like to exert myself. I hate sweating. Therefore, I am out of shape and tire easily. How much more could I accomplish for the Lord if I’d just get myself a little more physically fit? What’s a half hour earlier in the morning for a run on the treadmill in light of someone’s eternity?

With my silent times

 Introverts covet their silent times. On my commute to and from work I want to be entertained and numbed by the music and podcasts I listen to. But am I being generous toward God with those times?

So, to that tall, gangly kid who, on the aforementioned retreat (right before the fake spider incident), rolled up the huge floor mat and pretended it was a giant cigar (and knocked over a garbage can in the process – he left that out of the story on Sunday), I say “thank you.” Thank for reminding me to magnify Christ with my generosity toward God and others. You did so powerfully last Sunday with your words; but even more so with your actions. 

Written by: Jaime Hlavin
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Friday, August 19, 2016

Steps- Part 5

In my lifetime, I have witnessed Christians pull out all the stops in the name of evangelizing. Thousand dollar lights, highly skilled musicians, massive, stadium-style events with nationally renowned speakers, entire carnivals, huge giveaways, and Starbucks gift cards galore. We LOVE finding ways to make church the hottest thing around, in hopes that our hospitality and enthusiasm will draw those around us into meeting with Jesus.  

I’m not knocking these strategies. I think it’s an incredible thing when people come together to invest into the lost as a way of reaching out. However, I think in our daily lives, we overlook an opportunity for ministry with just as incredible of a shock factor. That thing is grace.

I’ve come to learn over the past few years that no one expects grace anymore. In a high-demand world with a rapidly growing “look out for yourself because no one else will” mentality, grace is a foreign concept. Not only is it unexpected to give it, but also to receive it. The idea that I can mess up or wrong another and receive grace for it sounds like something out of a sermon because that is the only place we hear that idea anymore. Though it can emotionally be tempting not to do so, meeting the failings of those around you with the same grace God provides to us every single day catches our culture off guard, and grabs the attention of their hearts.

Working in the service industry, I can tell you that mistakes met with humanity that looks you in the eyes and extends compassion beyond a “victim’s” capacity can change the course of an entire day. It’s a breath of relief. These people officially have my attention, my interest, and my openness to listen to what they have to say. And that’s only over a couple dollars of food. Imagine receiving the same grace over something serious: a betrayal, a bad attitude, or a personal conflict. To have someone’s attention, interest, and willingness to hear what you have to say because of the place of safety you have created is to have them in the perfect spot to hear the gospel. It’s like a free sample. You think me having mercy on you for bumping my car is great? You should try permanent grace over everything you do forever. It’s fantastic.

On Sunday, Pastor Aaron shared the final part in the story of Joseph. The manner in which Joseph handles the final reconciliation with his brothers is a perfect model of the grace with which God wants us to be able to extend to others. The dignity of keeping it between those involved (“Make everyone go out from me,Genesis 45:1), the very real vulnerability and intimacy of the moment (“Come near to me please,Genesis 45:4), and the humanity displayed by Joseph in relating himself to those that betrayed him as family (“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt,Genesis 45:4) show a value for Joseph’s brothers as whole, complete individuals and not simply as categories, or occasions in time. The end result, as we know, being peace and unity as Joseph is laid to rest by those who once betrayed him.

This week, I pray you all take stock of your own attitudes and reactions to those in your life. Let us not seek to be justified, but to be extraordinary, and to use grace to grab the attention of the hearts we come into contact with. 

Written by: Brianna Vanderveen
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Doorstep and Lamplight

I encountered the wrath of God on a doorstep facing Gratiot Avenue at 12:29 am.

The time was memorable because my first shift was starting in one minute as a volunteer for MCREST, the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team that hosts the homeless in various churches of the county. I was trying to find my “shape,” or my ministry specialty at here Freedom Christian, and a friend told me where to come get a sense of the program. I was trying several doors to find the right building entrance, when I approached one where an overhead lamp wasn’t working and found a man sleeping by the door.

He looked like a dog curled up at the foot of his master’s bed, throwing a coat under his head and trying to be comfortable. I had already read up on the statistics of mental illness rates in this population, and since this was the women and children’s shelter, it was not a good sign that a man was lingering out here. So I didn’t engage him, and reported it to the other volunteers when I came inside. They weren’t aware of him, but I was told that families often enter the program together but cannot be admitted at the same time. Men and women are admitted and housed separately, for safety reasons, and if a wife gets a bed before her husband he has to fend for himself until an opening comes.

I couldn’t shake the sleeping guy from my mind. I want to say one of the volunteers I relieved might have taken some bread or a small bag of crackers out to him, but memory is tricky and I can’t vouch for that. Since the women and children in the building were asleep for most of my shift, I kept picturing a man sleeping there, as close as he could be to the family he could not take care of anymore, with no one but the Lord to care about him.

I often tell people on the MCREST team that Jesus takes this kind of ministry seriously – in fact, he takes it personally. In Matthew 25:41-45 we get an account of Him talking to the people who didn’t help the downcast, and he is not just mildly clucking his tongue and wishing they had done a little better. No, instead he says,

Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, and I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ And He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

I used to think this passage was just an admonition to believers not to get complacent in your faith – not to become afterglow lunch Christians, who socialize and exchange favors without facing the needs outside your church doors, when you should “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). And the Matthew passage does work that way. But it’s more, I’m convinced of it. We get to see how strongly he feels for and identifies with those to whom society ascribes no value. I don’t need to put myself into that man’s place, because Jesus has already done it. Even now, when I can’t drum up volunteers or one of the programs I participate in runs out of money, I can picture Jesus sitting on a doorstep, half visible in rim light from one of the exterior lamps, watching over man 34 (when there is a 33-bed capacity in the men’s shelter) at 12:29 am.

Maybe he will be out there tonight. Standing watch. Feeling heartbroken. Maybe cracking a smile as He remembers when this man was a child and his mind was a little clearer, or when times weren’t so hard, while he studied a box turtle one of his brothers had fetched from the creek – the little critter always makes his head and flippers go in and out through the same holes in his shell, and never messes that up. Then thinking about the long path from that day to this one. Simmering about the calloused ex-coworker from this man’s old job who wouldn’t take his wife and kid in when things started going bad.  Because charity begins at home, don’t you know, and she didn’t want her family to become “part of this guy’s issues.” Raging about every other church on this block who has more time for a building fund bake sale, or a craft fair, than to figure out where this man can sleep, or if he’s hungry or cold. Taking all of this very personally, because when we don’t have time for the least of these, we don’t have time for Him.

I am not a fire and brimstone guy. As Christians go I’m in more danger of being called a sensualist than a legalist, and I generally think wrath of God sermons are highly theatrical and bring only a temporary repentance. But my perspective is different now.  I don’t know about you, but I kind of like this wrathful Jesus, sitting stalwart in the lamplight and caring enough to cry and rage and plead for help.

I once heard a college ministry pastor at the Faholo Conference Center in Grass Lake preach that God’s wrath only burns against the things that become a barrier to God’s love. When I picture him there on the doorstep I can see that. There's something beautiful about that kind of wrath, and it makes me love Him even more. Let’s just hope that the next time He’s sitting out stewing by the lamplight, He’s not thinking about you or me. 

Written by: Chad Halcom

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Steps- Part 3

We live in a culture consumed by instant gratification. When we want something, we certainly don’t want to wait for it.

I distinctly remember a day in Sunday school when my teacher, for some reason, decided to use the “marshmallow test” as part of her lesson. If you are unfamiliar with this experiment, the objective is essentially to give each child a marshmallow and tell them to wait to eat it, with the promised incentive of an additional marshmallow for waiting patiently. My teacher asked us to hold onto our marshmallows throughout her entire lesson, waiting till she had finished teaching to eat it. The reality is, although I succeeded in not eating my marshmallow, I could not tell you a single thing she said that day because all I was thinking about was eating the marshmallow.

The reason I share this story is because sometimes, I think even as adults, we can fall into the trap of fixating on a specific goal or desire. Although having goals and desires can be a good thing, it becomes a problem when we become blinded to all that is happening around us. While, in my marshmallow example, I simply missed out on what the teacher had to say, the repercussions of fixating on a desire in the grand scheme of life have the potential to be much more detrimental. When we become so consumed with seeing the end of a trial, or reaching a big goal, we run the risk of missing an opportunity to be a part of what God may be doing in that moment.

Over the past few weeks, we have been studying the story of Joseph. Long story short, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and had 11 brothers who were very resentful towards him. He had a gift from God to interpret dreams, and jealousy of this gift was one of the many contributing factors that led his brothers to sell him into slavery. During his time in slavery, it would have been a natural response for Joseph to fixate on coming home, meanwhile disregarding anything else that may have been going on in other people’s lives around him. What is so interesting, however, is Joseph remained faithful AND attentive to the Holy Spirit in this long-term delay of returning home.

In particular, the story we touched on this Sunday about Joseph just blows me away.  In Genesis 40, we find Joseph in prison with a few other people who have close relations to the king: one who was the king’s chief cupbearer, and the other who was the king’s chief baker. One night, both of these men had memorable dreams. By faith, Joseph declares that God has the power to provide an interpretation, then shares what he believes God meant through the dreams (Genesis 40:8). Through all of this, Joseph is given an opportunity to capture the king’s attention by his prophetic interpretation of the dreams, particularly through the cupbearer who was soon-to-be released from prison. However, this hope of getting the king’s attention (with the eventual goal of being released from prison) was contingent on the participation and concern from a third party—in this case, the cupbearer.

The unfortunate reality is, the cupbearer did not remember Joseph after he was released from prison (Genesis 40:23). In fact, it is not until two whole years later when Pharaoh asks for a dream interpretation that the cupbearer remembers Joseph (Genesis 41:9). Can you imagine faithfully serving the Lord, then having to wait two years in prison to be released? That makes my marshmallow feat look pretty pathetic!

What is so remarkable about the story, however, is how it ends. When Pharaoh asks Joseph if he can interpret dreams, his response reflects a consistency in his character. Although he may have been getting a little impatient, he still responds with the humble statement, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires,” (Genesis 41:16).

I think we can all learn something from Joseph and this major delay he experienced. Joseph had a great hope of returning home. Certainly, being in prison for two years and interpreting dreams were not on his agenda. Nevertheless, he allowed God to use him in this challenging time. Furthermore, he gave God all the credit.

Are you currently waiting on God for something? If so, I encourage you fix your eyes on Him. Do not become so distracted by your end-goal that you lose sight of all that God is doing around you. Whether we realize it or not, God has our best interest in mind. Therefore, let us be willing to be used by God, even when circumstances don't go as planned.

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant