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

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