The Value of Life

Interesting fact: The Dead Sea has fresh water flowing into it and none running out, and yet, it is shrinking. On the other hand, the Sea of Galilee has many rivers flowing out of it, including the Jordan River, and it is thriving. The analogy is that to thrive, we have to give ourselves away. If we constantly take and consume without giving back, we will live small lives and shrink away to nothing.

For example, you never go to a funeral and hear about how great it was that this guy sat in front of the television for 8 hours a day, right? Usually people that lead that kind of life have a very small and short funeral. In contrast, the person who spent his life pouring into others has a well-attended funeral with lots of tears, but a whole lot of laughter, too. That person lived a life full of the fruit of the Spirit and touched many people, and it shows.  The way to measure the value of life is by measuring how much of it was given away.

When Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, he is giving us the secret to a well-lived life. These fruits — Love; Patience – your pace, not mine; Kindness – thinking of others before yourself; Goodness – doing the right thing, even if it costs; Gentleness – leveraging my power for your benefit, and Self Control – are the keys to happiness. Although it may not be natural for us to behave this way, this is how God designed us. Selfishness is natural, but it is not by design. God made us to live in the fruit of the Spirit. It may not be intuitive, but the more we choose to live in this way, the happier we will be. When we finally realize that it’s not all about me – it’s about God and others, we will become happier. Jesus tells us just that when he says the law can be summed up this way: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In Matthew 22:40, Jesus continues to say that all the laws and demands of the prophets hinge on these. He is saying that when we love, we will automatically do what is right and follow the laws and demands of the prophets.

In essence, Paul is saying the same thing in Galatians 5:23. This is the real kicker, and it is often overlooked. He says, “against such things there is no law.” What does he mean? If we live in the fruit of the Spirit, there would be no need for laws.

We were made for this. Here is where we flourish. We were designed to live in a community characterized by these traits. There would be no need for any law because when I’m committed to your best interest, and you’re committed to mine, we can all live without fear. Imagine how happy we would all be.

So, what does this look like? It’s more than a couple of hours at the animal shelter. It’s more than an outreach organized by your work that you feel obligated to attend. It is a conscious effort to put other people first in your life. It is the choice to get out of your comfort zone and give your time and energy to make the world a better place. There are so many ways to get involved, so many things that you can do! Make the decision to open your hands and let God show you what he wants you to do. Take a step. And remember, nothing is written in stone. You may try something that isn’t a good fit for you. That’s okay! Try something else. But try. I promise it will be worth it!

Galatians 5:22-23

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Have you ever thought about your funeral? What would you like people to say about your life?

 

Look at the fruit of the Spirit. Are these words that people would use to describe you?

 

What is the next step you need to take to start giving your life away?

 

Prayer

Father, thank you for designing me to live for more than myself. Help me to choose to think of others and give my life to others.  Help me to be like the Sea of Galilee, where you flow in and through me and then out of me to everyone I come into contact with. 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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To Live a Happy Life, Give it Away

The extent and consequences of mankind’s selfish nature are well-documented in scripture – and abundantly evident in our own life experience.

We’ve all encountered people who place their wants and needs before those of others.  And when we dare to look inward, we are quickly reminded that we, too, fall prey to these behaviors.

It can be downright daunting when we consider the pervasiveness and permanence of this condition.  In her novel,” Mansfield Park,” author Jane Austen famously wrote, “selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

But while there may indeed be no hope of a cure for selfishness, this should not suggest that we must merely surrender to it.

In the final week of the “What Makes You Happy” series, lead pastor Ben Snyder dug into a counterintuitive reality: As long as we are all about ourselves, we will never be happy. In doing so, he also shared God’s desire (and design) that we take conscious steps to move from selfishness to selflessness.

On its surface, the idea that focusing on ourselves reduces our happiness appears laudable but illogical.  After all, if we spend our lives tending first to our own needs and wants (albeit not something many of us would openly advocate), shouldn’t we move closer to the sense of comfort, satisfaction, and happiness that we all desire?

God’s answer is an emphatic “no!”

As is so often the case with his glorious truths, God offers a solution that is rooted in love.  God’s divine design for us is to live with open hands.

On a personal level, the most dramatic illustration of my capacity for selflessness occurred when I became a father for the first time.  As virtually any parent will attest, the first moment you hold your newborn child lays to rest the last moment of life as you previously knew it.  And this is a beautiful thing.  Looking back, I now know that this was God transforming me – giving me the ability to genuinely cherish caring more for another being than myself; to be willing to forego, give, and do anything for the betterment of someone else, my child.

As God’s children, we are the beneficiaries of similar love and devotion – from him.

While we are perpetually tempted to live in the flesh (our sinful nature), God created us to live in the Spirit.

As we learn from the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:19-21, 19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul continues, 22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!

God’s desire is that we live in the Spirit.  He yearns for us to be happy and flourish by giving our lives away.

Imagine, for a moment, a world in which mankind was truly selfless – a world in which we extended love, kindness, grace, and mercy, and genuinely loved our neighbors as ourselves.

Imagination aside, there are illustrations of the inarguable benefits of selflessness in our world today.  Subverting our selfish consumption and desire for convenience contributes to a more sustainable planet.  Foregoing material wants supports a healthier financial condition, which enables us to support our family and give more generously to others in need.  And there are countless examples of the value of occupational selflessness.  Men and women in the armed forces, firefighters, police officers, social workers, educators, and members of the clergy all contribute to the greater good of our world by putting the needs of others before themselves.

Selflessness also generates invaluable relational benefits.  As Pastor Billy Graham once said, “True love is an act of the will – a conscious decision to do what is best for the other person instead of ourselves.”

One of the most impactful messages I’ve experienced at CedarCreek was delivered during the “Meant to Be” series in early 2015.  In a message titled, “Go First,” former CedarCreek staff member and now Lead Pastor of NorthRock Church in Ann Arbor, Jason Tucker, spoke of going first and giving the better half in our relationships.  “Giving the better half means considering the needs of my spouse above my needs,” he said.  “If you think of something nice to do, do it… if you have something nice to say, say it,” he added.  It’s so remarkably obvious, and simple, but the “go first” mindset has served as a relational mantra for me.  (I even carry a small card in my wallet with the words “go first” written on it to remind me of its importance!)

As Ben said last weekend, we were designed by the giver of life to give our life away.  “The value of a life is always measured by how much of it was given away,” Ben said.  “Giving your life away is what makes you great.”

If you aspire to be great, give your life away.

Are you living more in the flesh, or in the Spirit?

 

In what ways can living more selflessly make you happier?

 

What can you do today to “give your life away?

 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the divine design of this earthly life you have granted me.  I ask that you help me to be mindful of my selfish impulses and to understand and act upon your desire that I give my life away for the betterment of others – and your kingdom.  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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You Can Serve Your Way to Happiness

“Love Jesus, serve others, and tell the world about Christ.”

Sound familiar? That’s CedarCreek’s basic mission statement.

Most Christians will agree that loving Jesus and telling the world about Christ are both central to what the Bible teaches. Serving others, however, sometimes seems to fall between the cracks.

It’s a shame really, considering that serving others is a great way to show your love of Jesus and to start conversations with others about Christ. But do you know what else serving is great for?

Improving your overall health and happiness.

Sure, it sounds counterintuitive. Many of us feel like we don’t have enough time or energy for ourselves — how is investing these things in other people supposed to help us? This is what the Bible teaches. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:4, Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others as well. Even Jesus, our Lord, and Savior, came to earth to be a servant.

The Bible is not the only source saying we’re designed to serve others; studies have also proven it.

Yep. Research into over 40 different studies on the relationship between helping others and happiness lead to this conclusion: serving others improves one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. More specifically, volunteering regularly was shown to decrease depression, stress, and even heart disease.

You might be thinking, “Well, I don’t really feel like serving. What if my heart’s not into it?”

While I hope you can find a way to serve others that you enjoy, but either way, it doesn’t matter. Studies show that even volunteering with a “bad attitude” positively affects your health.

Not convinced? According to studies on job satisfaction, it’s not how much you make that determines how happy you are; it’s what you’re doing. Want to know what this study determined were the “most fulfilling” careers?

Jobs that involved caring for others, teaching others, protecting others, and creative pursuits.

Noticing a trend? And beyond being able to provide for basic needs, this study found no correlation between increased income and greater job satisfaction. In other words, “Money can’t buy you love…” or happiness.

Obviously, you sometimes need to take time for yourself. Rest is important. But if you’re having plenty of “me time,” yet still find yourself wrapped up in your own problems, try taking the time to help someone else with their problems instead. Believe me, it helps.

As Ben said, “One of the best things you can do for yourself is to not focus so much on yourself.”

Mark 10:45

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

 

Prayer

Lord, give me a heart of service, and a passion for the things that bring you glory. Show me the opportunities to serve and volunteer, and allow me to use my gifts to help others. Amen.


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


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Frankenstein’s Monster

Michael Scott, from the television show “The Office,” once pondered the existence of fictional animals like “a giant buffalo or some sort of monster like something like the body of a walrus with the head of a sea lion. Or something with the body of an egret with the head of a meerkat. Or just the head of a monkey with the antlers of a reindeer with the body of a… porcupine.”

We do this with our own lives, looking around at seemingly happy people and create a “composite person” – our own Frankenstein’s monster – out of whatever parts of other people’s lives we find attractive. We want their house, his car, her beauty, their kids, his income, thinking that we can create a happy life for ourselves, but this requires us to create a fictional character that will never exist. As great as it would be to see an egret-kat or a monk-upine, they are as likely to exist as the perfect, happy person we create in our minds. Creating your “Frankenstein” makes it all about you, which won’t make you happy. And remember, as Ben said, “As long as you are all about you, you will never be happy.”

Even if you could choose to be someone else, you would have to take all of the good and all of the bad. When athletes want to be recruited to play sports in college, they assemble a highlight reel of their best plays to make themselves look as good as they possibly can. They don’t include the game when they struck out four times or threw an interception to lose the game. When you go to a job interview, you talk about awards you’ve won or significant accomplishments. You neglect to mention the time you were fired for repeatedly being late.

The Lord told Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

When you look at someone else’s life, it may appear to be something you want, but you have no idea what is going on inside their home or their heart. The same applies when we look at our own lives. We put our best foot forward because we want other people to think we are happy, or smart, or rich, or healthy. We live our lives like a movie preview, showing just enough to entice people to want to see more. (How often have you watched a movie only to remark that they showed all the good parts in the previews?)

I seem to be writing about comparison a lot lately, as it is something I have struggled with for a long time. I spent a lot of time constructing my monster, only to be left empty and unsatisfied with the person I had become. I was the person described in James 1:23-24: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” I was deceiving myself by not listening to the words of God about how much he loves me for me, instead, falling into a trap I made, building a monster I didn’t even like.

James continues: “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:25) God looks at your heart. He created you just the way you are. He knows what is on the inside, and he loves you anyway. Don’t forget what you look like in God’s sight.

What does your highlight reel look like? What parts of your life, or qualities, do you allow others to see, and which ones do you leave out?

 

Prayer

God, I don’t want to forget what I look like. I don’t want to use other people as my mirror anymore. Let me rest in your love, knowing that you created me just the way you want 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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It’s Not About You, and That’s the Best News

This past weekend was possibly the most controversial week of our “Happy” series.

There is an especially defining statement to which we need to tune our attention:

“As long as you are all about you, you will never be happy.”

There are three key points from Ben’s message:

  • You cannot fulfill you
  • You are not enough for yourself
  • If we make it all about us, we will be unhappy

You cannot fulfill you

We certainly live in a “Me, Me, Me” culture. Just drop into Facebook or Instagram for a few minutes, and you will see that people take pictures of their food, themselves, their bodies, their cars, their houses, their new gadgets, etc.

Want to know what’s crazy though? We eat it up. Why? Because we want to know what others are doing. We tend to get a little envious when we see them doing or having things that we would like to do or have. We think to ourselves, ”I wish I could do that.” or “It must be nice.”

  • We want what others have: food, money, cars, spouses, houses, bodies, etc.
  • We want it, but it doesn’t make us happy.
  • The people we see and want to be like are probably trying to be like someone else too.

There are things such as self-improvement, which are often good. Don’t confuse that with selfishness. Selfishness is when we only look out for our interests. Everything that we do is a means to an end for us. We want to know “What’s in it for me?”

Those desires come naturally, but that is not how God designed us.  We weren’t made to be self-focused. We were made to be selfless and to live with our hands wide open.

Key Passage: Galatians 5:19-23

19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

It comes naturally to be selfish; it doesn’t have to be taught. A child gets upset when he sees another kid playing with a toy. Sometimes they don’t even want to play with it; they just don’t want anyone else playing with it.

We are the same way, just on a larger scale. We want what others have because we think it will make us happy.

It doesn’t.

You are not enough for yourself

In Luke Rhinehart’s iconic novel, “The Dice Man,” there is a psychiatrist who decides to give his life over to the rolling of dice. In other words, if he rolled certain numbers, he would do one thing, and if he rolled others, he would do something different. Either way, they were both things that he wanted, and it was his pursuit of pleasure.

Similar to him, I think we roll the dice every day, too, with our own desires. Maybe not a literal set of dice, but we act on our selfish desires, looking for ways to benefit ourselves. No wonder we feel unsatisfied.

“You cannot acquire, consume, or exercise your way to happiness.”

We do not have the capacity to be everything for ourselves. We think if we just get in great shape, we will be happy. Not true.

Well, if I just had as much money as that person, I would be happy. Also, not true.

If I could just get that promotion at work, I would be happy. Again, not true.

We will never be enough, and there is nothing that will ever be enough, except Jesus.

If we make it all about us, we will be unhappy

In the song, “Message in a Bottle,” by The Police, a man feels alone, like a castaway, an island lost at sea. He decides to put a note in a bottle and throws it out into the ocean.

A year goes by, and then one day, he discovers something:

“Walked out this morning

Don’t believe what I saw

A hundred billion bottles

Washed up on the shore

Seems I’m not alone at being alone

A hundred billion castaways

Looking for a home.”

No man or woman is an island. Everyone needs other people, and if we make it all about us, then we will miss the greatest opportunity in this lifetime: loving, and serving others.

When I was in boot camp, I had what we called a “rack mate.” We did everything together, and if he got in trouble, I got in trouble. However, we had this thing where we would help each other make our beds, fold and launder our clothes, and every night he would spray my feet so that I didn’t get athletes foot.

We enjoyed serving each other. For me, it was always about him, and for him, it was all about me.

When we have a close relationship with our Heavenly Father, it becomes easier to take the focus off ourselves. Jesus promises us that he will take care of our every need. If we really believe that, then we can focus on serving others.

Do you find it easier to serve others or do something for yourself? Give an example.

 

Read Psalm 139:23. Ask God to help you see areas in your life that you might be blind to.

 

List three ways that you can serve, care, or teach others this week. Pick one, and do it.

 

Prayer

Lord, make my heart more like yours. Make your desires my desires. Ignite your spirit within me, and lead me into your righteousness. Amen.


This post was written by Stephen Dull. Stephen is a Continuous Improvement Engineer, Triathlete, and Blogger. He is passionate about Faith, Finances, Fitness, and helping men to discover their God-given dream. He has a lovely wife and 2 beautiful daughters. You can follow him on twitter @360manproject or on his website: www.the360manproject.com


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Joy is Staring You in the Face, Don’t Miss It

What makes you happy? At this point in the series, you’ve probably had plenty of time to think through some answers to that question. We all have those things that bring pleasure into our life for a short stint.  The thing that brings me deep, soul-satisfying joy and pleasure, at least for a moment, is the smell of new running shoes. There is nothing, nothing, like cracking open that shoebox, pulling out a brand-new shoe, and just immersing your nose in the smell of perfect newness. Unfortunately, as all my fellow athletic shoe connoisseurs know, after a few wears, the smell of those shoes no longer brings pleasure. In fact, they become repulsive. The only way to get that smell back is to buy new shoes… or spend extended periods of time at the shoe store.

Andy Stanley pointed this principle out in the message this past weekend. He stated, “when we prioritize any pleasure over the principles of happiness… as Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount, at the end of the day, all pleasure loses its pleasure.” Just as a shoe will lose its smell, any earthly pleasure will eventually lose its ability to produce the soul-satisfying pleasure we try to find in it. This idea is why Andy pointed out that we must prioritize the pursuit of true, lasting happiness over the quest for pleasure. Then, as we discussed on Tuesday, obedience to God leads us into a right relationship with God. If we follow this idea to its end – God wants a relationship with you; a relationship comes from obedience; obedience results in happiness; therefore, God wants you to be happy.

What an amazing truth! Unfortunately, for many who grew up in very strict religious circles, or who grew up with a stereotypical view of the church, this doesn’t sit well at first. The reason is that some very well-intentioned church people have turned an unbelievable truth — obedience to God — into what feels like a constricting, soul-sucking, anti-fun, command from God. This “legalistic” view of God is that God says “no” to all earthly “pleasures.” Obedience is ultimate, and obedience feels like having to shut oneself in a closet to avoid anything that could be “fun.” The reason this has become a common stereotype of Christian obedience is that we have a misconstrued view of God’s love. If following God is nothing but a bunch of rules, then we begin to follow in begrudging submission, lacking passion and heart. If, though, following God is partaking in a life-giving, soul-satisfying, open-handed relationship, then obedience becomes freedom. (Romans 6:22)

King David in the Old Testament certainly understood the idea of God’s wanting him to be happy. The Psalms ring true with this idea. In Psalm 16:11, David rejoices, saying, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Earlier in the book of Psalm, David writes, “You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.” (Psalm 4:7 NLT)

The thing I love about David saying all this is that Jesus hadn’t even come and died on the cross yet. He sees something bigger and greater through God’s words in the Old Testament than most of us see while having the words of Jesus right in front of us! The call to a relationship with Christ through obedience is not a life-sucking call, but a beckoning to the “abundant life” of John 10:10. In obeying Christ, we are being aligned with the way things are created to work. Jesus is the Creator, so he knows how this life is meant to be experienced. When we obey him, we are stepping into the fullness of life now and ever-expanding joy into eternity. Christ loves us so much that he asks us to submit our life to him in a relationship that will ultimately lead to our happiness and his glory in this world.

Pursuing nothing but earthly pleasures will lead to disaster and regret. Pursuing Jesus brings us to the ultimate pleasure, a relationship with God. In the book, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis sums up the amazing truth that the pleasures of this world are a horrible trade for the happiness that can be found in Christ as he writes, “We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

In what pleasures have you been hoping to find happiness?

 

Do you believe true happiness is found in a relationship with God?

 

Is there something you need to give up so you can more fully pursue the happiness found in a relationship with Jesus?

 

Prayer

Dear God, you know me better than I know myself. You created this world and everything in it. You know how this life is supposed to operate. Forgive me for trying to find pleasure in things and areas other than you. Thank you for wanting my happiness. Help me realize you are enough. Help me to obey you and find the happiness that can only be found in a living, breathing relationship with you. I need you; my happiness is dependent upon it. Amen.


This post was written by Alex Woody. Alex is the Director of Students at the West Toledo Campus of CedarCreek Church. He has an amazing wife and two joy-filled daughters who can regularly be found filling the West Toledo lobby with laughter and smiles.


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We Were Enslaved, and We Still Are

You are free.

If you are a Christ-follower, if you call yourself a Christian, if Jesus’ death and resurrection have covered your sins and saved you from an eternity separated from him, you are free.

Free to live as a slave to Christ.

Sounds paradoxical, right? How can you be a slave and free at the same time?

Over the past few days, we’ve been talking about what it’s like to be enslaved to our pleasures and how we instead should be slaves to Christ. When we take a step back, however, and think about what we’re saying – what Paul was saying – it sounds absurd!

Sure, we say this often. We know, as Christians, that we are “slaves to Christ,” but have we thought about what it means to be a slave to Christ? Does this mean that he controls our every move? Does it mean that we can’t physically do anything without his permission first?

Of course not. Our personal experiences prove this to be untrue. So, what does it mean?

Let’s look at what Paul wrote to the church in Rome.

22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23 NIV)

We have been set free from sin.

What are we set free to do?

We have been set free, by Jesus, to be slaves of God.

This enslavement to God is the deepest desire of our heart. It provides for us benefits unlike anything we’ve ever experienced through the pursuit of pleasure. The benefit is holiness, which results in eternal life.

The deepest desire of our heart – the thing we were created for – is relationship with God. As we know, our sins have fractured this relationship, and the only way to renew it is to be perfect, to be holy.

Jesus has done this for us. He has made us new again. He has made us holy.

We are slaves to the one true God in that we rest in his provision and we rest in the fact that we have nothing to prove. We are free to prove nothing to God.

Now, we are set free to live like we are holy, because we are!

We follow the commands of God – the two most important being loving him and loving others – not because we need to prove something to God, but because we have been set free to do so!

 

Why is it so difficult for us to understand the concept of being “slaves to God”?

 

How have you experienced the freedom of being a slave to God?

 

What can you do today to live as a slave to God?

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you so much for your mercy and your grace. I know that I was once a slave to my former desires and pleasures, but I also know that you’ve freed me from that enslavement through the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus. Help me to live a holy life, as you’ve already declared me. I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Andy Rectenwald. Andy is the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study. 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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Ever Feel Like You’re Hanging by a Thread?

The band “Rush” has a song entitled “Freewill.” In this song, there is a lyric that says:If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Profound. We all have a choice, and when we do nothing, we still make a choice. There is no way out of it, no tiptoeing around it. This is truth.

We learned yesterday that we can choose to obey or choose not to obey. If we choose neither, then we have chosen not to obey.

As Christians, we have the choice to follow God or follow our own path, and we should thank God for the ability that he gives us to obey. Without him, we would be stuck in our pattern of sin with no way of ever changing.

17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18 NIV)

It’s interesting that Paul chose to use the imagery of slavery.

In the movie “12 Years a Slave,” a man named Solomon Northup is kidnapped and placed into the very real and very tragic slave trade. There is a moment in the movie where his neck is placed into a noose in preparation for hanging. However, when he is hung, he can touch the ground with his tiptoes and manages to stay alive for hours standing on them while his hands are tied behind his back.

Paul used the language of slavery to explain to us our predicament. The only difference is that slaves didn’t have a choice, we do.

Metaphorically, the noose is our sin; it chokes us and has a death grip on us. We try and fight to get away from it, but it will not let go of us, and we struggle and struggle to break free, only to be dangling on our tippy-toes with our hands tied behind our backs. Hopeless.

We cannot provide our own righteousness. We are not capable.

Jesus offers us freedom and righteousness. Only he has the power to release that noose around our neck and the bindings around our hands.

We all have a master; it is either sin or Christ. Christ is the master of the righteous. When we choose sin more than we choose righteousness, we become enslaved to sin. It becomes easier to sin. On the contrary, when we seek God and follow him, it becomes simpler to live righteously.

What does it look like for someone to seek righteousness? How does that play out in the Christian’s life?

  • David hid God’s word in his heart. We need to learn scripture and do the same. (Psalm 119:11)
  • Seek God and his will daily. (Matthew 6:33)
  • Live by the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22)

We can only have freedom through Christ. Without him, we are chained to our sins, with no hope of ever breaking free.

Only Christ has the power to defeat sin and death. When we became Christians, our sinful nature died, and it no longer has power over us. We, too, died with Christ, and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

 

What pattern of living are you following – sin or righteousness?

 

Read Psalm 119. Highlight or write down all the ways David seeks righteousness.

 

Is there something in your life that is preventing you from living a righteous life?

 

Have you ever felt like a slave to your sin? Explain.

 

Prayer

Lord, you are the only one that can help me to lead a righteous life. I ask for your wisdom and guidance as I seek you in all I do. Give me a desire for you and the strength to live that out. Amen.


This post was written by Stephen Dull. Stephen is a Continuous Improvement Engineer, Triathlete, and Blogger. He is passionate about Faith, Finances, Fitness, and helping men to discover their God-given dream. He has a lovely wife and 2 beautiful daughters. You can follow him on twitter @maxxdull or on his website: www.the360manproject.com


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Shoes and Jesus

I love shoes! I love the fact that Andy Stanley titled his message from last weekend, “Shoes.” I have lots of shoes – certainly, more than my long-suffering husband thinks I need (but don’t ask him about his golf shirts!). I have had to put a condition in place for my shoe purchasing. I must give away a pair to buy another (except for athletic shoes – I am a daily exerciser!) Now, I don’t have as many shoes as Imelda Marcos, the wife of the deposed president of the Philippines, had. In a quote from the Christian Science Monitor dated September 24, 2012, Jim Gomez of the Associated Press wrote, “Imelda Marcos left behind at least 1,220 pairs of shoes, along with a vast collection of clothes and accessories, when she fled with her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, during a 1986 uprising.”  Gomez continues, “they left behind staggering amounts of personal belongings, clothes and art objects at the palace, including Imelda Marcos’ shoes, which have come to symbolize her extravagance amid crushing poverty in the Southeast Asia country.”

If you look at Imelda’s history, you find that she didn’t start out thinking that she needed 1,220 pairs of shoes; in fact, she experienced many hardships at a young age. Her mother died when she was 8, and her father’s law practice tanked around the same time. She had five younger siblings as well as many half-siblings from her father’s first marriage. She left that poverty and moved to Manila, where she met Ferdinand and married him after an 11-day courtship. In their rise to power, they took advantage of every move to improve their circumstances. Just as no one wants to believe that Imelda and Ferdinand set out to rob the people of the Philippines with their selfishly extravagant spending, it isn’t difficult for any of us to talk ourselves into the thought that we are entitled to have whatever we think we want or need.

At what point does our desire for pleasure become an obsession or an addiction?  These days, it seems most of us cannot stop thinking of the next purchase, the next drink, the next fix, the next meal, the next look at pornography.  In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16 NIV)

When we repeatedly give in to pleasures, it becomes easier to give in to them, even to the point where we no longer have the power to say no.  But the verse also indicates that if we choose to obey God, this obedience leads to righteousness.

If you are a Christ-follower, you have a power that lives in you to bring you victory when those pleasures become sin for you. Romans 6:2 says, “We (Christ-followers) are those who have died to sin.” Romans 6:6-7 says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” Think about the significance of those statements. If someone dies, that person is no longer plagued by the sin they battled in life. Our sins’ death — and our spiritual life — come through our identification with Jesus Christ, who died in our place on the cross to satisfy sins’ judgment by a holy, righteous, and just God.  In verse 11, Paul writes, In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ.” Our sinful appetites no longer master us; we lean into the power of the Holy Spirit, the power God used to raise Christ from the dead. In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need to live a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” That means we have the Holy Spirit’s power to live in a right relationship with God. We can choose obedience because we have died to sin, and live for Christ. And the verse indicates that the more we choose obedience, we desire to be more obedient because that righteousness brings life and joy and happiness. This is a daily decision: choose to die to self and selfish desires or choose obedience.

We find true happiness in our obedience to God because he loves us – he is good in a way that makes us want more of him, not the “good” stuff that brings us pleasure one minute, only to be tossed aside for the next new thing.

What, if anything, in your life has crossed over from pleasure to obsession?

 

In what ways can you choose to be obedient to God this very day, this week, in your finances, in your relationships, in your spending?  See if it gets easier to say “yes” to God and “no” to self and excess.

 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, give me the courage and wisdom to acknowledge where I have substituted pleasure for the joy of knowing and obeying you. Give me the courage then to ask for help in finding the first steps I need to take to put you first. I know the plans you have for me are better than anything I have tried to substitute for the joy of your presence. Amen.


This post was written by Lauri White. Lauri is one of the 25 people who God used to start CedarCreek 21 years ago, and was on staff until 2013. She and her husband Mike love to travel the country in their motor home with their kitties Jane & Mary. Lauri is passionate about prayer, and about helping women discover who they are in Christ. She doesn’t tweet but you can follow her and Mike’s adventures on Facebook here.


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Insanity, Slavery, and Following Jesus

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. -Albert Einstein.

No, it isn’t.

And Einstein probably never said it.

In fact, if you search any online – or print – dictionary, you’ll realize that definition appears in none of them.

While Einstein may not have provided an official definition of insanity, it is a good description of “utterly foolish or unreasonable” behavior.

What is it you do, that, according to this “definition,” is insane?

It might be eating far too much ice cream, knowing you’ll end up feeling ill. It could be saying yes to one more episode even though you know you’ll regret it in the morning.

It could be any one of many silly behaviors, or it could be something more serious and far more damaging than occasionally overeating ice cream or watching too much television.

This past weekend, Andy Stanley talked about happiness and pleasure. He said that many times, our lack of happiness is due to our pursuit of pleasure.

While pleasure, in and of itself, is not bad (God designed certain things in a certain way to give us pleasure), our pursuit of pleasure at the expense of our happiness is bad. In fact, it is most likely sin.

As Andy said, it’s not pleasure that’s bad; it’s the fact that we prioritize pleasure over our happiness. We say yes to certain things over and over again, even to the point where we no longer have the ability to say no. We are, in essence, enslaved to this pleasure.

In Romans 6:16 (NIV), the Apostle Paul wrote, Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

We wouldn’t say that we are slaves to anything. Those bad behaviors, those pleasures we pursue, might be difficult things with which we struggle, but we aren’t enslaved to them, right?

According to Paul (Romans 6:16), we are.

Andy used a striking metaphor to explain our enslavement to these pleasures. He said that it’s not that when the doorbell (the temptation for that pleasure) rings, you answer it. It’s that you’re staring at the window waiting for it to show up.

This is enslavement to pleasure.

This is what Paul was talking about in Romans 6:16.

Jesus, in John 10:10a, talks about this when he says,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

In the context of this passage, the thief is not Satan. Instead, the thief seems to be people who led many others astray, ultimately destroying their lives. However, aren’t we also thieves? Andy Stanley argues that often when it comes to our happiness, we are the thieves. We usually don’t need someone to come in and destroy our happiness. Instead, we do it on our own by pursuing pleasure first, thinking it will ultimately make us happy.

The pursuit of pleasure does not ultimately provide happiness… it enslaves us and steals our joy. Jesus offers us something much better:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:10b-11, NIV)

What is this “full” life? It is a life of following Jesus, or as the ESV Study Bible says, it is “a rich, full, joyful life, one overflowing with meaningful activities under the personal favor and blessing of God and in continual fellowship with his people.”

Why don’t we choose this?

Because we’ve confused pleasure with happiness.

Ultimately, our happiness can only come from this life with Jesus. When we pursue closeness with him, real pleasure follows. As Paul wrote, when we are slaves to obedience – to God, righteousness – a right relationship with God – follows.

Are you currently choosing a pleasure over your ultimate happiness?

 

If so, identify it.

 

What can you do today to turn to the good shepherd and find pure joy in him?

 

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I know I’ve chosen the pleasures of this world over a good relationship with you. I’ve said yes so many times, that it has become impossible for me to say no. I need your mercy, and I need your help. Help me to break free from this enslavement and help me to follow you. I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.


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


Did you enjoy today’s post? Consider sharing it on your social media pages so others can read it!


Want to be a part of the LivingItOut team?

We are always looking for people who are passionate about writing and proofing to serve on the LivingItOut team. If you are interested, email LIO@cedarcreek.tv today!


Printable version of this week’s LIO study:

Click Here


More Resources

Memory Verses
Weekly Discussion
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