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


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Awe of God: The Feast of Firstfruits


And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

This verse has weighted heavily on my heart this past week. The principle behind this text has starkly awakened me to my responsibility as a Christian. The reality is, an absence of faith makes it impossible to have a relationship with God.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were presented with the challenge of living a faith-filled life by giving their first fruits (Leviticus 23:11-14). Specifically, they were asked to give their first harvest to God regardless of impending drought or famine. Quite literally, they were asked to trust God with their lives.

In the New Testament, this charge is echoed. As 1 Corinthians 15:20-21 states, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” In other words, Jesus is the resurrected king who is the foretaste of our resurrection. He was the “firstfruits” of God’s promise to His followers. As we [followers of God] trust Him faithfully with our lives, He will remain faithful to us.

In seeking to grasp this concept deeper, I have been challenged by its application to my own life. If I am being honest, there are several areas in which I am not fully trusting God. I often struggle to set aside my own power in order to surrender my thoughts, plans, and worries to God’s strength. I have come to the realization that when I am not trusting God with my future, my finances, my relationships, my health, and my joy, I am NOT giving God the honor He deserves. Furthermore, I am not living out the call He has given me.


This week, I challenge you to examine your own life. If you find yourself in a similar position as me, I encourage you to hold tight to the promises of God’s faithfulness. While it can be easy to fall into the trap of relying on human strength, let us remember that God has greater plans in store for us than we could ever imagine. His faithfulness goes beyond our lives on earth. While the challenges of today may be tough and the future may be uncertain, God’s plan supersedes and overwhelms all that is lacking.   

Written by: Tamara Sturdivant
Edited by: De Ann Sturdivant

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Star

 
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’” Matthew 2:1-2

Christmas is a mixed bag for most of us. Complicated emotions permeate the season. Hopes are high. Time is sparse. And traffic is atrocious.

It’s easy to get lost along the way. So, we can be thankful for the star.

Last Sunday, we talked about the star mentioned in Matthew 2. We learned that the star illuminated the way, created concern from enemies, declared that God is with us, created excitement and brought protection for the journey.

As we focus on the way the star can light our way to Christ this season, it’s my prayer that we approach Christmas with great expectation – the same expectation with which the Magi approached Jesus.


Written by: Jaime Hlavin
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

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

Complacency

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