How to Identify the Thieves in Our Lives.

I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons at my grandparents’ house. One of my favorites was Mickey Mouse. I remember laughing at the antics of poor Donald Duck as he battled the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil was red and had sharp pointed horns and sometimes a pointed tail and trident. He was always trying to get Donald to do the “fun” thing (the wrong thing), while the angel sat on other shoulder with his halo and white robe trying to convince the wayward soul to do what was right. I always laughed when the character looked from one to the other, sometimes in hyperspeed, trying to decide what to do. Since it was a cartoon, he usually ended up doing the right thing and all ended well. However, in our daily lives, the thief, or devil, is not so apparent and obvious. Many times the thieves that infiltrate our lives are obscure, or even disguised as a good thing.

A thief is defined as a “person who steals, especially secretly or without open force.” According to this definition, a thief is someone who quietly sneaks into your life and takes something from you. You do not see the thief while he is at work. We’ve all seen surveillance videos of someone who is stealing something. He looks around and carefully takes the desired item and slips it into his bag or pocket. A thief does not usually rob a house in broad daylight; he waits for the cover of night when everyone is asleep or out. If we knew a thief was lurking outside our homes, we would lock the doors and stay awake. We would put up all of our defenses. We would protect ourselves and do everything we could to keep them out. However, when a thief strikes, we are often unprepared.

So what does this look like in the life of a Christ-follower? Some thieves are obvious: a blatantly sinful image that pops up when we are searching for something on the internet, an opportunity to cheat on a test, or a chance to take something that does not belong to us. However, as the definition of a thief reveals, many of the thieves in our lives are not obvious. A thief can be the seed of resentment that is growing toward the co-worker who got the promotion we deserved, the way your spouse squeezes the toothpaste tube, the bad attitude about your children waking up before the crack of dawn raring to go (ask me how I know about this one – no matter how much I love my children,  I don’t want to play with them at 5:30 a.m.). A thief can be the old high school friend who randomly contacts you through Facebook, seeking to reconnect, but instead ends up sucking you into the vortex of social media and thus away from your family and your real world connections. It could be the idea that there is some “perfect plan” that you can activate to guarantee the results you desperately want (for your health, children, or marriage). Many times a thief looks like a good thing, but it ends up keeping us from living the life God has planned for us. We spend our time working toward all these “good” ends and miss the best that God wants for us.

According to John 10:10, the thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.

Satan is the ultimate thief. His sole purpose is to pull us away from God. He uses whatever he can to accomplish this aim: distraction, insecurity, and sometimes even blatant sin. Satan knows our weaknesses and will capitalize on them to continually drag us away from God’s best for us. He knows that you really want that quiet uninterrupted time in the morning before everyone is up, so he will use that cute two-year-old to interrupt those plans and sour your mood for the day. He knows that certain friends can cause you to drink a little (or a lot), so he bumps up their latest Instagram so you reach out to them for a night on the town. He knows that you are insecure about your role in the office, so he stirs up some water cooler gossip that you happen to overhear. These little thieves can destroy us, but they don’t have to.  Our job is to stop them before they get into our house and rob us of our joy. Most of these thieves can be stopped before they take our most precious possessions if we just acknowledge them and change our responses to them. So next time that chubby face peeks around the corner at 5:30 a.m., invite him to join you while you read your Bible. When that friend calls and asks you to head out for the night, invite her over for dinner or coffee in the morning. When you feel like you are failing at everything, try calling a friend that can give you honest feedback and encouragement. Don’t allow the thief to rob you of joy. Use those times to build up your defenses.

 

Questions:

What are some thieves in your life right now?

 

What can you do to protect yourself from being destroyed by these thieves?

 

Prayer:

God, thank you for always having our best interests in mind. Give me the strength and wisdom to identify the different areas of my life where I am susceptible to the thieves that seek to destroy me. Help me fight against them and live the abundant life that you have prepared for me. Bind Satan, the ultimate thief, in my life. Amen.


This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her four young children.


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Be Aware of Those Who Are with Us but Not for Us.

My very first job was working at my father’s business. I was around 12 years old when I started going into work with my dad. My main duty was to wash and wax cars that had recently been delivered to the local Lincoln and Ford dealerships. It may be hard to believe that a twelve-year-old was any good at detailing cars, but I have to tell you, I was pretty good at it. After all, I wasn’t working for the paycheck. I was working for my dad and doing my part to help make his business a success. Making a difference and contributing to my family made me feel good about going to work.

Years later my dad had to close his business, and I eventually took a job as a car porter at one of the local dealerships. As a car porter, I was responsible for helping the auto dealerships run as smoothly as possible. It was my job to clean and fuel vehicles that were being sold – making them look as good as I could for their new owner.  I also was tasked with parking the cars. At a dealership, this is not easy because each row has to be in perfect alignment. The worst part of the job, came in the winter time when there was a snow and ice storm. If you don’t like clearing snow and ice off of the windshield of your personal car, imagine scraping ice and snow off of 100 windshields.

While I loved this job and I enjoyed my co-workers, this job was much more about the paycheck then when I worked for my dad’s company. That’s probably why I didn’t ask too many questions when the used car manager, that I directly reported to, asked me to run errands for him or had me help him with personal tasks. I actually kind of liked going to the hay auctions for him. Where else was I going to get the chance to throw hay bales around a barn?

When I think about that job, the more I realize that I was like the character of the hired hand in John 10:10-15. While I did the tasks that I was asked to do and I did them fairly well, I never thought about how I could make the dealership better. If that job would have become a burden or if I would have stopped enjoying it, I would have left without a second thought. And I did. When I found a job that was going to pay me more, I left. The reality was that I was only working for the money and not for the dealership.

John 10:10-15:

10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.

It’s important to take note that the hired hand is not the villain in this story.  It’s also important to notice that the hired hand isn’t the hero. He falls in between. The hired hand’s commitment to the sheep was similar to my commitment to my job at the dealership. The commitments were about self-improvement. It wasn’t about the improvement of others.

While the hired hand is not someone that needs to be eliminated, he is someone that we need to be aware of. So, who does the hired hand represent in our lives? Who is it that we need to be aware of? It could be a co-worker, it could be a friend or a family member. Anyone in our lives could be a hired hand.

They are the individuals in our lives that run away under pressure. They are the people who are with us, but not always for us. We should not expect more out of them then they are willing to give. And we would be foolish if we thought these individuals in our lives would make our lives better.

We should also realize that we are the hired hands in the lives of others. While we would love to think that we could be more than that to everyone in our lives, we only have the capacity to stay and help fight off the wolves and thieves for a few.

Questions:

Are there hired hands in your life that you are expecting to make your life better?

 

Is there anyone in your life that is expecting more than you are able to give?

 

Prayer:

God, thank you for this story. Thank you for the wisdom that we receive from it. Lord, I know that there are hired hands in my life, and today I ask for help. God, please help me to be aware of the hired hands in my life.


This post was written by Ben Bockert, the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Who Will Come Running When You Call?

I grew up listening to the “oldies” with my mom who had a particular fondness for James Taylor, so I have heard his version of “You’ve Got a Friend” more times than I can count. As a boy, if I had trouble sleeping, I would listen to that song, which had a calming effect as much from the melodious sounds as from the comfort of the words.

“When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand and nothing, whoa, nothing is going right… You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again.”

Is there anyone in your life who will stop what they are doing, regardless of where they are or what time of day it is, and come running to be by your side? Is there anyone you would be willing to do that for? I attended a men’s retreat several years ago, and almost as soon as we arrived, we were asked to name two men who would answer that call for us. Out of forty men, fewer than ten were able to name even two men who would do so. Because of the events that transpired during that weekend, by the time we went home, each man had 39 phone numbers that they could call and know the person on the other end would come running. We continued to forge those relationships by meeting together regularly.

I have since moved away, but there are still a handful of men from that group whom I know would answer my call in a time of need. I am fortunate to still have two men in my life now who would do the same thing. Those relationships were not formed overnight, and for men it seems more difficult to achieve that kind of depth in a friendship. We aren’t typically as willing to open up, to talk about our feelings, or to share our darkest secrets. But when we do, we know we have an authentic relationship, built on a foundation of trust, that will stand the test of time. Those people will help us to navigate the pressures we all face every day, the wolves that sneak past the shepherd and creep into our lives.

I knew I had found these trusted confidants when I opened my life to them, and their response was not only to accept me, but to genuinely want me to succeed and grow. These people want more for me than they want from me. The same goes for Jesus. When I listen to James Taylor sing those words, and I ask who would come running when I call their name, I can’t help but think of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We can learn a lot about what it means to be an authentic friend to someone from just a few verses in the Gospel of John.

John 10:11-15:

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The good shepherd will not abandon his flock in times of need. When things aren’t going well, and the wolves are attacking, the shepherd does not run away. He actually runs into the field of battle to face the wolves head-on and protect the sheep, willing to give his life in place of the sheep. In addition to protection, the shepherd offers guidance to the sheep, leading them to greener pastures to find food and providing them with the essentials of survival. Jesus offers the same for us. While wolves may get inside the sheep’s gate, and life’s pressures will take hold, Jesus offers his protection. He already laid down his life so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” With a promise like that, “Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend?”

Prayer:

God, thank you for loving me enough to give your Son as a sacrifice for me. Thank you for the Good Shepherd who protects and guides us. I pray that you will provide two people in my life with whom I can grow and connect on a deep and authentic level, who will support me and help me to become the person you created to me to be. Amen.


This post was written by Ryan Cook. Ryan is the business director at Chick-Fil-A in Toledo. He enjoys spending time with his wife, son, and daughter, and watching Cleveland sports as much as anyone can. Follow him on twitter @cookfila


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Could Something in Your Life Be Better?

In Ben’s message this past weekend, he kicked off our new series “Better” by asking this question, “Could something in your life be better?”

Go ahead and answer that question right now.  For many of us, that question did not take long to answer. I know that I was able to think of very specific areas in my life that I wish were better. Chances are that you too were able to quickly identify something in your life.

For some of us, we wish our jobs were better. Others may wish for a better marriage. Maybe it’s the relationships with your parents, children, or friends that you wish were better.  Perhaps you are thinking that if your car was more reliable, or if your house was just a little bigger, then life would be better.

The reality is we all have areas that we wish were better. You may be thinking if you could just eliminate a few pressures, then your life would be better. That’s a misconception though. Pressure is not necessarily the enemy of better. We know that no matter how great life is, we will always have pressures.

So, what’s the solution? Since we will never be able to eliminate all the pressures in our lives, we need to learn how to respond and navigate through them.

In Ben’s message this weekend, he shared from John 10:10-15:

10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So, I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

This passage points out that there are wolves and thieves that are looking to destroy and disrupt the sheep. You and I are the sheep in the story, and the wolves and thieves are looking to destroy and disrupt our lives. The wolves are the predators that attack the better in our life. As Ben mentioned in this weekend’s talk, the wolves are not consequences. They are events or tragedies that happen to us throughout life that are outside of our control. The thieves are not like the wolves; instead they come in quietly to steal, kill and destroy the better you.

Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

This verse in Ephesians tells us that we are God’s created masterpiece. It also tells us that he made us with a purpose. He created us to “do the good things he planned for us long ago.” But the thieves and the wolves in our lives try to keep us from realizing God’s best. They attempt to keep us from discovering the purpose that God has for us, and they too often succeed.

So who in our lives can help turn the pressures we face into a catalyst for growth? And who can help eliminate the wolves and thieves?

We see in John 10 that there are two characters in the story who are there to help us. There is the hired hand. But the hired hand thinks of himself before he thinks of you. Ben pointed out this weekend that the hired hand is with you, but not always for you.

The other character with us is the Good Shepherd who guides us. He is the one who helps us to navigate and respond to pressure. He protects us. He provides us with a rich and satisfying life. The Good Shepherd knows us and will sacrifice his life for us. He wants to see us live out our purpose, and he keeps us safe from the destruction the thieves and wolves wish to cause us. The Good Shepherd wants the best for us.

Throughout this week’s LivingItOut, we are going to be looking at the characters in John 10. Each character represents something or someone in our lives that is either helping us move toward a better life or keeping us from the better life. I am excited for you as you dive into these verses this week and discover God’s best for you.

 

Questions:

When you look at your life, what would “better” look like?

 

How are you pursuing the “better” life?

 

Who is helping you get there?

 

Prayer:

God, thank you for your provision. Thank you for creating me and calling me your masterpiece. I know that you have a plan for my life and that your plan is better than anything I could ever dream of because when you created me, you created me with a purpose. Help me as I pursue “better” in my life. Guide me and direct my choices as I follow you. Amen.


This post was written by Ben Bockert, the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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It’s Not Your Job to Clean Up Everyone Else’s Life, and That’s OK.

One of my daughter’s favorite foods is pancakes. She has them almost every morning. She’ll try any kind – whether they’re blueberry, chocolate chip, M&M, or just plain – she loves them.

The problem with pancakes, as any parent will tell you, is they are typically served with a sweet sticky substance called syrup. My daughter – usually a clean eater – always manages to get syrup on her hands and face. This, however, is why God gave someone the idea to invent baby wipes. These magical pieces of wet paper towel-like objects are a great tool for the parent of a pancake loving two-year-old. It takes roughly 15 seconds, and the sticky two-year-old is back to normal.

As gross as cleaning up your kid’s mess can sometimes be, it is one of the things I love about being a parent – cleaning up my kid. It is one of the things she cannot properly do, though she tries. I love being able to clean up both my son and my daughter, but I know that the day will come when I no longer need to do that. This is evident to most parents, and when this time does come, most don’t even want to clean up their children anymore.

Why, though, as adults, do we feel the need to clean up other adults? Obviously, it’s not their after-eating mess we desire to clean, but instead, their behavior. We, as Christians, tend to have very earnest desires initially. We want – like God – for everyone to come to faith in him (2 Peter 3:9). But it seems over time, we forget how we came to faith in Jesus, or how we were as baby believers, and we expect those in our lives who don’t know him to accept him and become just like us right away.

If you’re like me, you didn’t first stop all your sin and then come to know Jesus. No, instead, you came to know Jesus personally, and over time he helped you to  overcome the sin in your life.

In his message last weekend, Ben taught from Acts 15:9, where Peter says, “He made no distinction between us [Jewish Christians] and them [Gentile Christians], for he cleansed their hearts through faith.” Notice, he doesn’t say the Jews cleaned the hearts of the Gentiles. He doesn’t say that it was the Jews who convinced the Gentiles that what they were doing was wrong. Instead, he says that God cleansed the hearts of the Gentiles through faith.

You might be thinking, “This is obvious, I know I’m not supposed to cleanse people of their sins.”

Most of us probably know this.

However, many times, we don’t act like this.

Instead, we want those who watch certain movies, listen to certain music, talk a certain way, hang out with certain people, or do certain not-so-legal things to immediately drop all that before they come to know Jesus. We shift from being the bearers of our stories to the writers of theirs – a job we were never meant to take.

Jesus told us our job, and it was not the author – or editor –  of everyone else’s story:

 

Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 

As Ben said last weekend, God’s job is to cleanse an individual’s heart through faith, and not works; our job is to witness.

We are to be Jesus’ witnesses about what he has done in our lives to other people, not to try to clean them up so they’re presentable to him.

Our message to others should  not be, “You should stop doing all those things, because…” But something more like, “When I didn’t know God… and then he…”

Today, let’s look at a passage from 1 Peter 3:15-16:

15Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

 

What is the main point Peter is trying to get across in this passage?

 

How have you suffered a guilty conscience by not being gentle and respectful?

 

What can you do today to be more of a witness and less of a “cleanser”?

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, you are more than good to me. You have blessed me with so much mercy that I cannot put it into words. Help me, Father, to know how to interact with people who don’t know you. Help me to be a witness, and help me to resist the temptation to always try to clean up people who don’t know you. Today, Father, help me to take one step in this direction. I ask these things in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


This post was written by Andy Rectenwald. He has a passion for bringing the Bible to life for people, for Christian Apologetics, and for the Cleveland Indians. He is married with two young children. You can follow him on twitter @andyrectenwald.


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How to Know When You’re Hurting a New Christian’s Faith:

Us and them.

As a sports fan, my first thought when I hear this is, “us versus them.” Cleveland against Pittsburgh, Ohio State against Michigan. But in today’s society, terms like “us,” “them,” and “those people” have very different meanings. Even in biblical times, separations existed between tribes and ethnicities. Initially, new Gentile-converts were welcomed by the church, but as news spread, divisions occurred as the Jewish Christians demanded that they be circumcised. After much discussion, Peter explained that God accepted the Gentiles, just as he accepted them.

Acts 15:9:

He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith.

 

The Jews made a distinction between themselves and the newly converted Gentiles. They placed unrealistic expectations on their brothers and sisters in Christ. We can be guilty of this as well. When someone first becomes a believer in Jesus, we sometimes think they should be in church every Sunday, join a LifeGroup immediately, go on a mission trip, and tithe. As God makes no distinction between us and them, neither should we. Our job is to remove those burdens (or our expectation that new converts should immediately do everything right) rather than place them on others, especially those new to the faith.

Acts 15:10:

So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?

 

Remember learning to ride a bike? I’m currently teaching my son to ride a bike without training wheels. He is understandably nervous because he has never ridden a two-wheeled bike before. Knowing this, I talk him through the process, explain how to get started, and what will happen when he falls. If I treated him the way the Jews treated the Gentiles, I would send him off without a helmet, maybe even tying one hand behind his back, and making him carry a backpack full of weights. That would certainly make it difficult to ride a bike, even for an adult. Those are akin to the barriers we create by placing certain expectations on other people.

If we expect anyone, especially new believers, to be at church every Sunday, we will be disappointed (true confession: I wasn’t at church last week because I was out of town.) It might be unfair to judge others by their outward behaviors because we don’t know the intentions of their hearts. We can also make it far more difficult than it already is for people to connect and open up about their struggles. The truth is, once we come to know Jesus, we begin a journey, we haven’t arrived at a destination.

We don’t have to just accept the poor choices others make; we need to hold each other accountable. So how can we remove these burdens instead of building up walls? The best example we can be to believers at any stage of their faith is outlined by Luke in Acts 2:42-47, which describes the ways early Christians welcomed others into their community: they ate meals together, shared their possessions, and invited others to live life together. To whom in your life should you be more welcoming? Is there someone you can invite to your house for dinner, or include in a LifeGroup activity? How can you encourage a new (or mature) believer?

 

Prayer:

God, help me remove the barriers in my own life, so I can stop building walls for others. Forgive me for judging others and setting unrealistic expectations for them to live up to. Show me who in my life I can encourage in their faith. Amen.


This post was written by Ryan Cook. Ryan is the business director at Chick-Fil-A in Toledo. He enjoys spending time with his wife, son, and daughter, and watching Cleveland sports as much as anyone can. Follow him on twitter @cookfila


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How the Church Can Hurt and How the Church Can Help.

One of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had is to be involved with CedarCreek’s baptism team. There is nothing like the experience of watching someone go public with their faith and actually see the Holy Spirit working in their life. When someone gets baptized at CedarCreek, we ask them to write a little bit of their story, what brought them to God, and why they want to get baptized.  I have read some of the most incredible life change stories, and I feel so grateful to be able to get to know people and see what God has done to change their hearts.

Maybe the reason I am so affected by them is because my journey was long and hard, and my story is a lot like many of theirs. For a long time, I stayed far away from the church and God because I was hurt by a church as a kid. I thought that God would never accept me.  And if that was how his people behaved, I didn’t want anything to do with them anyway.

The love and acceptance that I have felt at CedarCreek has definitely changed the way I feel about church in general and God as well. When I came here, people started telling me that God loves me no matter what, and that although people aren’t perfect, my church family loves me, too.

For so long, I felt like I had to get myself together before God would love and accept me. I had some major abandonment issues, and my idea of God was based on an absent father. My church family helped me realize that God is so much bigger than that! When I began to understand that God loves me even though I sin, that he sent his Son to die for those sins, and that he gave me the Holy Spirit to help guide me through this broken world, it helped me to love the way God loves.

When I think about that perfect love, I love God even more. When I love God, it’s easier for me to obey his commands (like loving my neighbor and my enemy). God tells us not to judge other people, especially those outside the church. We are to be kind and understanding toward them in order to make our faith attractive to them. I know when I was judged by my church as a teenager, I didn’t go back. We must make everyone feel welcomed and loved. We must show the love of God to everyone we encounter. I don’t know about you, but I certainly have no room to judge. Jesus says “let him who has no sin cast the first stone,” and I am definitely not picking up any rocks!

When I read those stories of life change, or when I talk to someone during weekend services who has had an encounter with God that has changed their heart, I celebrate! I rejoice, just as I know God and the angels are rejoicing in heaven.

 

Luke 15:3-7

3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

 

This passage points to the importance of celebrating and rejoicing when the lost is found. In verse six the shepherd says to his friends, “Rejoice with me” and in verse seven, we see that all of heaven rejoices when one lost sinner returns to God. It can be easy for us to focus on the negative or to focus on the ways that the newly found still don’t think, talk and act like us. Instead we should place our focus on what God has done and rejoice in the life change that has happened.

 

How can you take a step back when you find yourself judging others and, instead, find something good to celebrate about that person?

 

Think about the ways that your life has changed since accepting Jesus. Did you ever consider the fact that we celebrate with you as your church family? Did you ever think about God and the angels rejoicing in heaven?

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for your mercy and grace, for loving me while I was still a sinner, and for sending your Son and Holy Spirit to me. Help me to remember to show love wherever I go and to accept the guidance of your spirit to help me in this world. Help me bring honor and glory to you in all that I do. Amen.


This post was written by Kelda Strasbourg, Kelda is a grateful member of the LivingItOut writing team. She has a love for Jesus and the desire to help others find that same love. She has her own business and a border collie named Emily.


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How to Stop Judging People:

Among the greatest challenges in our walk with God is complying with his directive that we resist the temptation to judge others.

Most of us understand God’s reasoning on an intellectual level, particularly as it is presented in Matthew 7:1-2:1Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

But despite these cautions – and our own best intentions – we too often traverse our days leveling a series of judgments on the world and people around us.

Sometimes, our judgments are merely the result of transforming our experiences into assumptions.  For example, if a motorist speeds past us on the highway, we may judge him as reckless or immature (or worse).

In other cases, we fall prey to unconscious biases.  While each of us wants to believe that we are objective and ethical, it’s clear that we are often driven by – and make judgments based upon – the things we expect to be true or want to be true.

And then there are darker situations involving judgments that are more contrived, judgments that create a sense of superiority and separation.  In these cases, we effectively raise ourselves by lowering others who do not think, talk, or act as we do.  Sadly, news reports today all-too-often involve situations in which people make harsh or hateful judgments based purely on superficial factors such as skin color, gender, ethnicity, or orientation.

In reality, each of the above situations is equally flawed.  This is because as humans, we cannot truly know the hearts of our fellow man.  And for this reason, it is not our role to judge one another.

It’s God’s job to know the heart.  Ours is to trust God.

Throughout Scripture, we are presented with examples of Jesus’ teaching that we are to consider our own sins before daring to cast judgment on those of others.

In Romans 2:1-3, the Apostle Paul makes this point emphatically: 1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  2Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  3So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”

In this fourth week of the “Who Needs Church?” series, CedarCreek Lead Pastor Ben Snyder leveraged the Scripture of the Book of Acts (Acts 15:4-12) as a means of helping us to appreciate our opportunity – and duty – to make our church more inviting to others.  This means leaving judgment to God and welcoming, accepting, and seeking to know all of those whom he accepts.  From a practical standpoint, this enables us to step into our mission of helping spiritually restless and unchurched people love Jesus.

Written by Luke, Acts 15 describes the travels and travails of Paul and Barnabas as they sought to spread the Good News through a series of missionary trips nearly 2,000 years ago.  This quest led Paul and Barnabas to enroll Jews and Gentiles alike in the Word.  As Ben Bockert shared in yesterday’s edition of LivingItOut, the diversity of these encounters led them to confront several thorny questions from the Pharisees: Would they accept those who were not like them?  And if so, would they accept these individuals as God accepts them, or would they subject them to the religious rules that were once requirements of God’s law?

The answer to these questions is effectively delivered in Acts 15:8: “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.”

This verse reveals a clear set of facts supporting God’s authority and our opportunity to grow his kingdom: Only God knows people’s hearts. And if he accepts them, so too should we. It’s not our role to judge others, but rather to understand them. And judgment shall be left to God, whom we can always trust.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to resist the temptation to judge others.  I pray that you will help me to always remember that it is you alone who knows the hearts of others and that by trusting you, I am better able to accept, love, and welcome them into fellowship with you.  Amen.


This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd is a regular contributor to and editor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Here’s how we can be the Church that Jesus intended us to be:

If you could know what it is that God wants you to do, would you want to know it?

Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

This is the last thing Jesus told his disciples, and the mission he gave to them and the church as a whole. 2,000 years later, the church is still attempting to live out this mission. Theologians call it “The Great Commission.” It’s clearly important, as it is actually captured in all four gospels and the book of Acts.. These last words were both a command to be followed and an encouragement that his followers wouldn’t be alone. Jesus entrusted his followers with the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the task given to them.  In spite of this, they found themselves stuck.

Roughly 20 years after Jesus’ death, in AD 50 on the cross. The disciples found themselves quarrelling amongst themselves, debating the terms under which the Gentiles would be accepted into their church family.

In the book of Acts, we get a glimpse into a meeting of the early church leaders, a meeting that is referred to as the Council of Jerusalem.

 

Acts 15:4-12:

4When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

6So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. 7At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. 8God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

12Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

 

While Paul and Barnabas were excited to share the news of what God had done, others were not so excited. Paul and Barnabas were moving forward with accomplishing the mission that God had given them, but they were encountering people who were not like them. This ultimately brought to the forefront a question that the early church had to answer: would they accept those who were not like them? Would they accept them as God accepts them, or would they subject them to the religious rules that were once requirements of God’s law?

Today, we have to ask ourselves similar questions. As Ben said this past weekend, our temptation is to accept people who think, talk, and act the way we think, talk, and act. We tend to accept people who are like us, and we resist people who are not. However, if we want to be a church that reaches this city, we need to be the church that Jesus intended it to be. It is important we be a church that is attractive and not subtractive.  If God accepts someone, then we are called to do the same.  We should not create challenges for new believers or for those investigating their faith in God by burdening them with rules or unreasonable expectations.

So, how do we do this?

We do it by staying in our lane. We let God do his job, and we do ours. Over the next four days of the LivingItOut, we will be discussing exactly what that looks like. We will be breaking down Acts 15:4-12. I am so excited for the journey God is about to take us on as we seek to be the church that God has called us to be.

Place yourself at the Council of Jerusalem. What are some of the thoughts and feelings that you would have had during this debate?

Describe a time when you accepted someone who was not like you.

Describe a time when you resisted someone who was not like you.

Prayer:

God, thank you for accepting us and sending your Son to die on the cross and pay for our sins. You covered a debt that we could never pay. Thank you that no matter what our past is, or where we came from, we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of our Lord Jesus. Help us to accept people as you accept them, and not resist people who are not like us. Lord, help us be a church that honors you by being attractive and not subtractive to those seeking you. Amen.


This post was written by Ben Bockert, the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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What to Do About Worry.

21 Days of Prayer: Day 21

Philippians 4:6 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” During the past 21 days, we’ve prayed as a church for a lot of things. This week alone, we’ve prayed for the next generation, for strength, for protection, and for humility; we’ve prayed to resist temptation, and we’ve prayed for forgiveness. What’s left for us to pray about?

Peace and freedom.

Philippians 4:6-7 continues, “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”

We’ve prayed for what we need and should continue to pray for these things as needed – our walk with God is, of course, a journey rather than a race and requires constant care as we traverse the hills and valleys. But once we’ve prayed for what we need and asked for forgiveness, all that’s left is to thank God, trusting that he will handle the rest.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it.

Of course, sometimes it doesn’t feel that simple, because we worry.

Yes, I prayed for strength, for protection, for humility. But what if I stumble? I prayed to resist temptation, but what if I fail? I prayed for forgiveness, but has God really forgiven me? Is it really that simple? Isn’t there anything else I need to do?

Maybe we need to stop.

The point of prayer is to place our struggles in God’s hands. When we worry, we try to take all our struggles back into our own hands, but it’s more than we can hold. When we worry about our failures and whether we’re forgiven, we forget the price paid for salvation and who paid it. We’re placing our trust in the law and in our ability to uphold it.

We can’t, but we don’t have to.

As Galatians 5:1 says, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”

Yes, we should try to follow God’s commands out of love for him. But if we fail, after we have prayed for forgiveness from him, sometimes we need to pray for help forgiving ourselves. Even when we’re following all the rules, sometimes we need to pray for faith that goes beyond playing the part.

Sometimes we need to pray for freedom.

God wants us to be free, both from sin when we break his law and from loveless devotion to the law. Once we find this freedom, placing our problems in God’s hands, we can experience the peace that “exceeds anything we can understand.”

Many Christians wonder why the younger generations are leaving the church. Although this is a complicated question with no simple answer, part of the reason is that these young generations are searching for something: authenticity. When we display a caricature of Christianity that emphasizes obedience to the law over a relationship with God, we hide this authenticity from the generations after us.

This can come in multiple forms. We can hide the true message of Christ by displaying an enslavement to the law in our own lives and thus set a hollow example for those looking up to us. We can also hide the truth by expecting those younger than us to follow the rules perfectly. By doing so, we forget to teach them that the message of Christianity is not about being perfect, but about a God who loved us so much that he saved us from our imperfections.

So please, be authentic with your children, your students, your younger coworkers, and so on. Don’t be ashamed to show them your faults, and don’t shame them for their faults. For only when we’re honest, do we show the authenticity of Christianity, and only when they see the authenticity of Christianity will people of any age come to Christ.


This post was written by Payton Lechner, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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