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.”

Whoa.

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 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Forward- Part 3

Image may contain: one or more people and textIt’s possible that the roster of a professional sports team makes a good microcosm to study life in the career world. There is a player in almost every batting rotation or starting lineup who is one or two more bad plays away from getting traded or farmed out to the minors, and he knows it. He shows up early and puts in extra time at practice or the gym, always listens to the advice of his coach, and reads the latest research on performance improvement. He does all of this because he wants another season for himself and his family, and he isn’t sure his player averages will pass muster.

On the same team, there is often a superstar recruited directly out of high school who skips practices and spends more of his time among supermodels and at wild parties than at team events. He might show up hungover when he does show up, and squabbles publicly with the manager and team owner. But for all his histrionics, he can still take the field and put the ball into the bleacher seats or the end zone every time.

I would like to tell you that when it comes time to set the team roster, the first player’s loyalty, commitment, and diligence will matter more. And on some level, the team manager probably wants that first player to find the secret to raising his game. But sadly, character is not a substitute for ability – and team management is about getting results.  We have all seen this script play out before, and we know the second player will win more games and fill more stadium seats.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let’s take a look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As we heard on Sunday, Colosse was a struggling town filled with slave labor, and the apostle advises those Christians to “obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:22-23 NIV).

Why in the world should we push ourselves so hard when it won’t amount to anything? Well, because we aren’t doing it for the glory of one more season in the majors, or even for team spirit. It’s dangerous to fall into the trap of thinking hard work will be rewarded all the time, or that the result is justification for the effort. We are to leave it all on the field even if we know we are going to lose, to please the Lord, knowing that “you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.” (Colossians 3: 24-25).


The earthly result of our work is not our goal, and is not even important. It doesn’t really matter if the master frees or rewards the slave or elevates his status, or simply tasks him all the harder to compensate for his less productive laborers. We aren’t working for that master, or even ourselves for that matter. We work with our whole heart to be a testimony to our Savior, who uses our zeal for his righteousness to transform us.

Written by: Chad Halcom
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Forward

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“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A l little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
Proverbs 24:30-34

This set of verses strongly encourages us to be diligent.  This past week at Freedom, we applied Proverbs 24:30-34 to so much more than keeping up our yards. The neglect of any area of our life results in ruin.

Let’s talk about how “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” when we neglect the important things in our lives in exchange for the easy way. I’ll go first…

Historically, I have been extremely non-confrontational and tended to choose the path of least resistance. So when things were okay, I was good with okay. I didn’t feel much pressure to make them great. After all, moving toward greatness was hard and it could rock the boat and make things really complicated.

There are many examples in my life of this: relationships, projects, career-related things, etc. I have to fight really hard against this tendency in my life in order to move things that are simply good to great.

The matriarch of my family was the glue that held us all together. She was our “relationship facilitator.” If there was something I needed to talk to my other family members about, she would say, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll handle it.” I very rarely needed to have any conversation – let alone important ones that define relationships – with any of them because she’d do it for me.  

Then one day, when I was 32, she was gone. Within a matter of weeks, I realized that scarcity and poverty abounded because I had spent years sleeping and slumbering when it came to various family relationships. Weeds had overtaken the vineyard and I didn’t know how to be a daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter without my mother to facilitate. The walls were in disrepair specifically regarding one particular relationship. I felt helpless. And eventually I felt angry. I didn’t even know where to begin.

So I chose not to begin at all. There was a stretch of time that I was so unhappy that the awkward tension in the room was palpable when I was with the person. I was miserable and unpleasant and it made for very awkward family birthday parties and holidays.

I couldn’t stand it anymore.  At age 36, I had to make a decision: Either fester in resentment for the rest of my life or begin pulling weeds and create the relationship that I wanted. The pain of staying the same had finally become more difficult than the pain of changing.

So, little by little, I made steps toward fixing the disrepair. Some of the weeds were harder to pull than others. The difficult weeds included altering my unrealistic expectations, choosing not to be stubborn, and adjusting the perpetual “thirteen year old girl attitude” I seemed to be stuck in. But the actual rebuilding of the wall was remarkably easier than I anticipated! I began making regular phone calls when I didn’t want to, sending texts regarding times of baseball games and band concerts in spite of what I thought the answer would be, having difficult conversations even though I knew I’d cry, and scheduling time together to just hang out.

The relationship is far from perfect. I still have some things that I need to decide what I’m going to do about. But I’m tending to the vineyard of our relationship more diligently now. And the difficulty of the hard work of rebuilding serves as a vivid reminder to be careful not to not let this happen again in the other areas of my life.   

Now it’s your turn: What little weeds can you pull today in an effort to begin changing the areas of your life that have gotten to a place of scarcity and poverty? I’ll be praying that the Lord will give you the strength to make the necessary steps toward weeding and rebuilding this week!

Written by: Jaime Hlavin
Edited by: Tamara Sturdivant

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