When Hope Is Lost

I think one of our biggest problems as humans is the gap that almost always exists between what we hope for and expect, and our perception of reality. We expect a certain outcome, and when our perceived reality doesn’t measure up, we lose hope. Notice I say, “perceived reality.” Most times, how we perceive a situation lies on the outskirts of the actuality. My mom used to be a cop, and she would always laugh about taking eyewitness statements because they so seldom matched up. We all see things through our own filters and therefore rarely have a clear view of anything.

This is obvious in the account from Luke, where these disciples have seen all that Jesus can do, and know that he has been killed, but is no longer in the grave. They have seen great things from Jesus. He was a prophet, healer, and teacher, and they had hoped he was more than that. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah. But when he was crucified, their expectations were not met, and their hope died along with him. Now, these travelers in this passage were Jewish. They knew the prophecies about the Messiah, had heard about them literally their entire lives. But when the situation is right in front of them, they misinterpret it because they feel that their expectations for who Jesus was supposed to be have been unmet. They cannot perceive the fact that Jesus is standing right in front of them!

 

Luke 24:17b-24

17b They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

 

Even with this they were skeptical. They didn’t perceive that this was always the plan. A skeptic is a person inclined to question or doubt beliefs. These disciples on the road wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but when events didn’t happen the way they anticipated, they became skeptical. And Cleopas expressed an unfavorable opinion about events and questioned the reality of what had happened over the past three years. They all were harboring doubts about Jesus: what he said and did, and what it all meant.

We all exhibit these behaviors in our lives. We are living in a broken world, and being skeptical, critical, and doubtful is ingrained in us. What we can rely on is the truth of Jesus and the truth of God’s word. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We must have the conviction to step out in faith and believe that God is who he says he is, and that the Bible gives us all the truth that we need to know God through Jesus.

 

Questions:

Do your unmet expectations and hopes leave you feeling skeptical, critical, or doubting?

 

Are your expectations realistic?

 

Is your hope in the Lord or in the world?

 

Next Steps:

Be intentional about reading your Bible regularly to seek out the answers to any skepticism, criticism, or doubt you may have. As you intentionally become more of a seeker, find a guide to help you along the way.

 

Prayer:

Dear Father, thank you for giving us your son and your word. Thank you for loving us just as we are — skeptics, doubters, critics. Help us to seek you for the answers, for you are the way, the truth and the light. 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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Hide and Seek

I am the mother of two young children. Both of my kids LOVE to play hide and seek. Mostly, they like to be the hiders and want me to be the seeker. Being young, they sometimes pick some pretty obvious hiding places; but I always make a big production out of finding them by wondering aloud where they could be. They laugh and squeal and beg me to find them again. In a similar fashion, God is seeking us. And at the same time, we are to seek after him. While we may sometimes be the one hiding, God never is. God promises in Jeremiah 29:13 that “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

 

Luke 24:13-17a

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

 

In the verses above, Jesus’ followers were walking together shortly after his crucifixion. They had seven miles to walk and a lot to talk about. In verse 15, the Greek word for “discussed” means “to seek or examine together” (blueletterbible.org). They did not yet believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they had heard the tomb was empty. They were most likely feeling sad, dejected, confused, and worried. The Greek translation tells us that they had a lot of questions.  They were seeking.

Why do you think Jesus chose these disciples to be some of the first he appeared to after his resurrection? I can’t say for certain, but it seems to me that Jesus wanted to encourage his followers. He saw that they were in need of comfort and answers. He recognized that they were seeking him, and he wanted to be found.

1 Chronicles 22:19 says, “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.”

What does this mean? Setting your mind on something is the opposite of mental coasting. It is a conscious choice and effort to focus your mind on God. Some people seek God because they don’t know if he exists. Some people seek God because they are questioning. When Christ followers talk about seeking God, they are usually referring to seeking the experience of God’s presence. It doesn’t matter why you are seeking God, he only cares that you are actively pursuing him.

At any point in your Christian journey, you can seek God by praying, reading the Bible, participating in a group, singing, journaling, attending a church service, serving others, etc. One of my favorite ways to seek God is to read. I enjoy books by Philip Yancey, Andy Stanley, Randy Alcorn, and Donald Miller. Seeking God in this way encourages me to be a better follower of Christ.

In his book Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey talks about seeking God through prayer. He says, “God is already present in my life and all around me; prayer offers the chance to attend and respond to that presence.”

 

Questions:

How do you seek after God?

 

When do you feel God’s presence the most?

 

Next Steps:

Choose one practical way to make seeking God a priority this week. Start a new Bible study, set aside time to pray, or look into joining a group (cedarcreek.tv/groups). Read a book that helps you seek God in a new way.

 

Prayer:

God, thank you for creating me to seek after you. Thank you for meeting me where I am as a seeker. Please help me desire to seek your will for my life and a relationship with you.  Amen.


This post was written by Meghan Yarnell, a regular contributor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Unbelievable

This past weekend we kicked off an exciting new series entitled “You Asked For It”. We asked you to give us questions that you would like to see answered during the weekend service, and you guys responded in a huge way.

Throughout this series, we will have a chance to dive in and take a look at some very difficult and hard to answer questions. In order to do that though, we need to recognize how we respond to those unbelievable and hard to understand things in our lives.

We all have different ways in which we respond. Each one of us is unique. We have different personalities, passions, and past experiences that form who we are and how we respond to things.

I was raised in a Christian family that went to church regularly on Sunday mornings, often Wednesday nights as well. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be at church two to three times a week. Academically, I attended a private Christian school in elementary and remained in Christian education through high school. On all accounts, I would say that I had a solid foundation to draw from when life’s difficult questions surfaced.

However, the things that I believed as a child did not always hold up to my experiences in adult life. I believed God would answer my prayer, but when my uncle passed away despite my prayers, it was hard to understand. I strived to be a good person and do what was right, but I wondered why my hopes and expectation were not met, especially when the hopes and expectations of others that frankly didn’t care how they lived their life or how they treated others, seemed to come true. Why would God seemingly bless people who didn’t care about him and not bless someone who was following him?

How do we respond to questions like this? This past weekend, Ben talked about seven different responses that we may have when confronted with life’s hard to believe or hard to understand questions in life. Identifying our particular response can actually clarify the next step we need to take that will lead us to the answers or understanding that we are seeking.

Here is the list of common responses that we have to things we don’t believe or understand:

 

CYNIC – believes that people are driven purely by self-interest.

  • They question the motives behind what is difficult to believe or understand.
  • Their temptation is to not trust people.
  • Their next step is to engage in authentic relationship.

DOUBTER/SKEPTIC – expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.

  • They question validity.
  • Their temptation is to become judgmental.
  • Their next step is to bring their criticism pointed at others to their own worldview.

FEELER – bases their beliefs on their feelings.

  • They question what doesn’t feel right.
  • Their temptation is to become fickle.
  • Their next step is to build convictions that they hold even when it doesn’t feel right.

DAYDREAMER – is distracted from the present.

  • They question nothing.
  • Their temptation is to have a careless attitude and go through the motions.
  • Their next step is to build spiritual disciplines that create learning and engagement.

BLIND BELIEVER – speaks with conviction on things they don’t really understand.

  • They believe questions are bad.
  • Their temptation is to live off of the faith of others.
  • Their next step is to dig deeper in an area they are passionate about.

DEEPER BELIEVER – wants more than the weekend teaching.

  • They question the depth of others’ beliefs.
  • Their temptation is to become a biblical consumer.
  • Their next step is to help someone else grow.

SEEKER – is attempting to find or obtain something

  • They question what is their next step.
  • Their temptation is to go alone.
  • Their next step is to find a guide.

 

When I was confronted with these hard to believe and hard to understand issues in life, my default response was to just keep believing. It was easier not to question things and just accept what I had been taught. After all, those principles I learned came from individuals who had more life experience than I did. But just accepting their word for it would have been me living off of their faith and not my own.

I eventually learned that in order to find the answers to my questions, I would need to dig deeper. I had to realize that having questions wasn’t a bad thing; it actually gave me a reason and opportunity to seek God and to know him more.

 

Hebrews 11:6

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

 

Hebrews 11:6 is the memory verse that accompanies the “You Asked For It” series. I love that this verse encourages us to seek him. When we seek, we investigate, search out, and scrutinize. We ask questions; and when we ask questions, it causes us to engage in relationship with the very God we are questioning. In the end, we will be rewarded for seeking, and that reward will come in the form of having a closer relationship with God.

Over the next four days of the LivingItOut, we will look at the story of two followers of Jesus that struggled to understand the events happening around them. Through their story we will see how they were encouraged to be seekers and to engage in conversation. As they engaged in conversation, they found hope through an encounter with Jesus. My hope is that their story will help you seek answers to your questions and that those questions will lead you to a closer relationship with Jesus.

 

Questions:

What are you currently struggling to understand or believe?

From the list of the seven responses, can you identify how you are responding to your struggle?

 

Next Steps:

After identifying your type of response, find the corresponding “next step.” Write out a next step that you can begin taking this week.

 

Prayer:

God, thank you for being a God that encourages us to seek you. You are a God that does not just have answers for us, you are the answer. A closer relationship with you is the reward we receive when we seek you. In my unbelief or uncertainty, help me identify my response and the next step I need to take to grow closer to you. Amen.


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


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Saved by Faith

I lived with a log in my eye for many years, even after making the decision to dedicate my life to Christ. My log was not one of judgment but of comparison, which I think actually is a form of judgment. I would look at what my friends had and wonder why I didn’t have the same things—everything from girlfriends to jobs to houses. I was so blinded by my own lack of self-worth that I could not see the life of fullness and joy that God was trying to give me. I was trapped by my own unfulfilled desires and wants, rather than finding satisfaction in the new life God had given me. Instead of receiving God’s gifts of mercy and love, I was resentful and jealous. I was, as Paul put it, miserable.

Romans 7:24
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?

Even as a professing Christian, I cried out to God, asking him the same question. Why am I angry? Why am I jealous? Why am I afraid? Why am I miserable? These were difficult questions to answer. I was like the people Matthew described in chapter 23, verses 27-28: “For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

From a worldly perspective, I did have good things in my life. I was newly married, and I had a job, a place to live, and a serviceable vehicle. But on the inside, I was wasting away, and I couldn’t figure out why. There were days I didn’t get out of bed, when I said I was sick so I didn’t have to go to work, and times I blamed God for how I felt. I pleaded with God to just let me feel happy. But I was depressed. Now, I have several people close to me who have battled depression in far worse ways than I have, and I even lost a cousin to suicide. I do not want to compare what I went through to the demons some of them have battled; but my feelings of inadequacy and helplessness were very real to me. The difference is that I was able to cling to the hope I have in Christ, the promise of love and salvation and healing and forgiveness. Because of Jesus, I did not have to be dominated by sin and death. Paul continues in Romans 7:25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When we make Jesus the Lord of our life and give him his rightful place in our hearts, we can find that freedom. It is easier said than done, and like I said, I experienced my lowest points even after I became a Christian. For me, I had to remove—or rather, let God remove—the things of this world that were competing for my love and attention. My wife and I make no secret about how difficult the early part of our marriage was. I lost my job. I removed myself from certain friendships. I stepped away from a ministry I devoted nearly a decade to. It was all necessary to bring my focus back to God, the author and perfecter of my faith. I have to make a conscious, daily effort to put aside things that will fade away for the only thing that will last forever—my Savior. My pleas to “feel better” and to “be happy” were not enough. God wanted me to be happy, but not at the expense of my faith.

 

Questions:

What is the conflict within you that is keeping you from living the life God has called you to?

 

How can you remove the barriers in your life that prevent you from growing closer to God?

 

Next Step:
Make spending time with Jesus a habit. Studies have shown it takes 21 days to form a habit, and as a church we recently participated in 21 days of prayer. Whether you completed or even attempted that challenge, I encourage you to do it this time. Find a way to spend time with God for 21 consecutive days. It could be a simple prayer, reading your Bible, listening to Christian music and meditating on the words—whatever works for you to create space to encounter God. If you start today, it will take you to Thanksgiving, which will provide you with plenty to be thankful for.

 

Prayer:

God, thank you that I am not the person I used to be. Thank you for healing me, and bringing me out of a difficult time in my life. Even more, thank you for taking the logs out of my eyes so I can focus on you. I ask that you renew my mind every day, revealing yourself to me in new ways and drawing me ever closer to you. 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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Love means never having to say you’re sorry… or does it?

In 1970, the hit movie Love Story made famous a line that caught the attention and affection of the world. The line was, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” What a great idea, but is it true?  Have you found that to be true in your life? I haven’t. When we make mistakes, a simple “sorry” is sufficient. However, when we sin, more is required to restore relationships with our loved ones, and with our God. In these instances, even saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it!

In a teaching message at NorthPoint Church in Atlanta, Andy Stanley points out the difference between making a mistake and sinning. For us to truly find freedom from conflict in our lives and remove the logs from our eyes, we need to know the difference.

How many of us would say we’ve made mistakes in our past?  All of us, right? A mistake is generally thought of as something that can be easily corrected. It’s just a wrong turn, a misplaced word, an unconscious act, something that can be remedied by a course correction or an apology. No big deal.

How many of us would say that we have sinned? Well, that changes things, doesn’t it? With a mistake, you just correct it. With a sin, you cannot just correct it, because the problem is deeper than what we think of as a mistake. The problem is personal: it’s you, it’s me. It’s part of who we are.  Why can’t we do what we know we should, or why do we do what we know we shouldn’t? (Romans 7:14-20) We cannot change it because… we just can’t. It’s our nature. We know better, but we do it anyway. We have a deeper problem. Jesus identifies it as sin.

The logs that we need to remove from our eyes are bigger than mistakes that we have made. At the root of the conflict is often sin . As long as you think you are a “mistaker,” you will never seek the thing you need most to restore relationships or to resolve conflicts. What is the thing you need? You’ve acknowledged you’ve made a mistake, but “sorry” doesn’t restore the relationship because mistakes do not require forgiveness. Sin does. We must acknowledge and embrace the fact that there was a sin, which makes us “sinners.”  The only way to be restored is to seek forgiveness because you didn’t only make a mistake, you sinned, and it wasn’t the first, or the only, time.

Jesus taught frequently on the topic of sin, and the essence of his message was, “You think you did some bad stuff, but you don’t even know the half of it. I’m here for sinners, but you must acknowledge your sin. God loves doomed sinners. However,  you’ll never know me (or him) unless you acknowledge your sin.” 1 John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

King David, Jesus’ ancestor, knew this first hand.

 

Psalm 51:3-5

3 For I recognize my rebellion;

   it haunts me day and night.

4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;

   I have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what you say,

   and your judgment against me is just.

5 For I was born a sinner—

   yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.

 

Our sin is part of who we are, as David acknowledges, and only our identification with Christ relieves us of that sin nature. Our job is to recognize that we have sinned, not just made some mistakes. Our problem is deeper, much deeper, and we can only trust Christ and his righteousness to remove it from us. When we turn and repent, we find that, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That is cause for rejoicing, because Jesus took our sin to the cross, and we are free!

 

Questions:
Can you acknowledge your “mistakes” as sin before God? How about confessing them to another person? Why or why not?

 

Do you believe that Jesus paid the price for your sin on the cross? If so, how does that make you feel? If not, do you know a Christ follower you trust to talk with about this?

Next Steps:  
In 12 step recovery programs, the 4th step is to take a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Step 5 says we admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs; and Step 6 says we are ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Spend some time thinking honestly about how your actions have affected your relationships, acknowledge those wrongs to God (he already knows, so don’t think you’ll surprise or shock him), and even confess to and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt.

 

Prayer:
Lord God, I ask your forgiveness for the sins I have denied and made light of. I thank you that by the blood of my Savior, Jesus, all my sins are forgiven by you. Help me acknowledge my sin to those whom I have hurt, and I beg that you restore my broken relationships as only you can. Help me accept that I can only do what I can do, and trust you to do the rest. In Jesus’ name, 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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Freedom Through Friendship

At its core, Christianity is about relationships.

We believe in one God in three persons, all in perfect relationship. This same God sent one of his persons to die in order to repair the broken relationship between himself and all of humanity. Not only does he care about having a relationship with humanity as a whole, but he also craves a relationship with each of us as individuals.

You, me, your next-door neighbor, people halfway across the world— everyone.

As Christ followers, we are called to be united as one body, “so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Romans 12:5).

What I’m trying to say is this: anyone who believes he can live a life of social isolation and still call himself a sincere Christ follower is seriously missing the point. While we can do all things through Christ, our relationship with God requires authentic relationships with others in order to flourish. For, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In short, we need authentic relationships with others to grow.

So what does an authentic relationship look like? Authentic relationships are friendships with people who will help you get through whatever you are going through, and whom you will help in return. There is a natural give and take to authentic friendships. This requires, among other things, the sacrifice of time and energy on both sides; a sincere interest in each other’s well-being; and above all else, mutual honesty.

Honesty, like everything else in an authentic friendship, has to go both ways. On the one hand, you must be willing to admit your faults to your friend, and be willing to listen with patience and empathy when they confess their own shortcomings. As it says in James 5:16, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Authentic friendships are some of the safest and most beneficial places to confess your sins to a brother or sister in Christ.

On the other hand, in authentic friendships, you must be able to give—and receive—loving, honest corrections. In other words, if you have a log in your own eye, you must be willing to humbly listen when a friend points it out.

As Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands, explains it, there are four aspects of a relationship: arenas, masks, blind spots, and potential. Arenas are when you know something about yourself and the other person knows this about you as well; masks are things you know about yourself, but the other person doesn’t; blind spots are when they know something about you that you haven’t yet realized, or can’t bring yourself to admit; and potentials are things neither you nor the other person have realized yet.

Having an authentic friendship rooted in trust and honesty can positively affect all four of these areas. As you learn to confess your sins and accept loving corrections, you feel safe enough with this person to take off your masks, and they feel secure enough to alert you to your blind spots. Your growing understanding of each other allows you to realize and maximize each of your potential. The more you learn to share, trust, and speak honestly with each other, the more your relationship will move into the arena, where you can know each other openly and feel known in return. And really, who doesn’t want to feel known and understood?

It is friendships like this that can help us get right side up in conflict by pointing out our logs. They can help us recognize and deal with internal conflicts so that we can see our external conflicts with clarity.

 

Questions:

Do you feel you have authentic friendships in your life?

 

If you do, do you confess your sins to these friends? Do you accept corrections offered by them?

 

If you don’t, what is keeping you from forming authentic friendships within your current relationships? What do you feel is the next step for you in forming authentic relationships?

 

Next Steps:

If you already have authentic friendships in your life, find a safe setting with one of these friends where you can share some of your masks. Ask them if they feel there are any blind spots in your life (after you’ve prepared yourself for their answer; we all have faults in ourselves that we’d rather not see).

If you don’t already have authentic friendships, identify several people with whom you feel you could form an open, honest relationship. Ask yourself what the next step is for you in deepening this friendship. Identify any fears or concerns that are keeping you from being authentic with this person.

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, you designed us for relationships, both with you and with other people. Thank you for friendship, and for the people in our lives who know and understand us. I pray you would give us the courage to be honest with each other and the empathy to be compassionate toward each other. May our authentic relationships mirror the understanding, compassion, and forgiveness that you have shown us. Amen.


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


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Lemonade Stand

Rochelle asked a great question yesterday about whether you have ever received advice from someone who was clearly not following it themselves. And then, I thought about myself. How many times have I done just that … not just in the past but, like, today? In fact, I actually had T-shirts made that said, “Take my advice, I’m not using it.” No kidding, I had them made with a picture of Lucy from the Peanuts Gang with her feet up in her Psychology/Lemonade stand. I wish I would have made more; people ask to buy them all the time! Because, let’s face it, we LOVE to solve other people’s problems. It’s so easy! They start talking, and immediately, we know the answer. We know exactly what they should do, and it’s so OBVIOUS! It’s so SIMPLE! WHY won’t they listen to what we’re trying to TELL THEM!

The problem with us sitting in our psychology/lemonade stand is multifaceted. First, we most certainly do not know the whole story. We sit in judgment of what someone has done or said and have an immediate, visceral reaction to it without any context. Second, we automatically relate it to our own lives and experiences, whether or not it has anything to do with it. Next, we have probably already formed a snap judgment about this person that is far from what God thinks about them, which as Christ followers, is not good. And last but not least, we should probably just keep our mouth shut because we aren’t even dealing with our own problems.

I have recently moved, and it’s been a rough transition. I started going to a new Bible study group with the intention of getting connected, making some new friends, and getting closer to God. Of course, I am nervous on my first day; I know no one, and it’s a pretty big group. Also, they’ve already been meeting for a few weeks, so everyone at least has met before. So, although the previously stated expectations are true, I am also dragging along my insecurities and comparison issues. So when I pull up to this big, nice house with lots of big, nice cars parked outside, and then a Mary Kay Pink Cadillac pulls up next to me, I just want to peel out in my Kia Soul and head on home to my still unfurnished apartment. But, the beauty queen in the cadillac gets out and gives me a sunny smile, and now I’m stuck. See what I just did? I’m not even in the house yet! These are Christian women, who, in theory, I really want to meet and get to know! But already, I have allowed my internal conflict to obstruct my view of the situation.

I would love to tell you that I realized my error right then and there and changed my attitude… but I can’t. Nope. I went into that big, beautiful house and started picking everything, and everyone, apart. Not because of anything that they did wrong, but because of the internal conflict that I had going on. I’m hurting, scared, and lonely, so I’m going to put up these ugly walls to defend myself against… what? A room full of Christian women who have gathered together to get closer to each other and God. Wow!

When I allow my internal conflict to drive my external behavior, it obstructs my view of how God sees me and others. It didn’t take me very long to see what I was doing, but the fact that I did it is enough to tell me I have some work to do. Identifying the internal conflict within ourselves is the place to start. I also need to remember that God sees me AND EVERYONE ELSE as his beautiful child—a masterpiece, lovely and holy and righteous. This takes diligence and patience and perseverance. Not three of my top spiritual gifts, by the way. But nonetheless, I need to remind myself daily that God loves me and thinks I’m great; I need to have faith that this is true. Most times, I can’t do that on my own. I need people in my life who can see past my logs and think I’m great, too. And I need to forgive myself and others when my expectations are not met. Over the next three days, we will look at how we can find freedom through friendships, forgiveness, and faith. I know I needed to hear this message. How ‘bout you?

 

Questions:
Think of a time when you dispensed advice to someone and actually realized that you weren’t taking your own advice. How did that feel? What did you do about it?

 

Next Step:
Take 10 minutes of reflection time today and ask God to show you any internal conflict you may have that is affecting your relationships. Journal your thoughts.

 

Prayer:
Father, forgive us for not seeing the logs in our own eyes. Help us to deal with our own inner conflict and not project it onto others. Show us how faith, friendship and forgiveness can bring us closer to you and bring you glory. 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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Colliding Expectations

Man, if the rest of the world would just get their act together, life would be so much better!  Right?  I mean seriously, these people are driving me crazy!

I’ve heard it; I’ve said it. And sometimes, I have to admit I even believed it. The truth is that as long as there are people on this planet, there will be conflict. Even following the golden rule of treating others the way we want to be treated will not produce conflict-free relationships. Why? Because we have different expectations. And colliding expectations produce conflict. So, what are we going to do about it? How can we navigate conflict in a God-honoring way?

Chris Baney, the Findlay Campus Pastor, unpacked this upside down principle for us this past weekend: resolving conflict with others requires resolving the conflicts within ourselves. Our natural tendency is to blame the other person for the conflict we are experiencing, to point our finger and cast judgment. We focus on the external conflict without even considering what might be going on internally within ourselves.

Let’s look at what Jesus has to say about what to do when we find ourselves upside down in conflict.

Matthew 7:1-5
1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

 

The kind of judgment that Jesus is talking about here is pronouncing a judgment of condemnation against someone without cause (blueletterbible.org). Far too often, when we find ourselves in conflict with someone, we jump right to judgment, pointing out the speck in their eye, while ignoring the log in our own. We may think this is no big deal, until we are on the receiving end of that judgment. Has a friend or family member ever pointed out your children’s missteps and tried giving you advice while their kids are running around like tornados, leaving a path of destruction in their wake? It’s usually not advice we are going to listen to.

Christians are known for this kind of judgment, unfortunately. Jesus lays it right out there: “Hypocrite!” Ouch. It is not our place to judge.  If we want to get right side up in conflict, the best thing we can do is first look into the mirror ourselves. What is going on in my heart with regard to this person/issue? What is the internal conflict (log) that is preventing me from seeing this situation through God’s eyes?

Once we have removed the log, we can see the external conflict clearly and handle it in a God-honoring way. This week we will be looking at how to remove the logs when we find them—through friendships, forgiveness, and ultimately through faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

 

Questions:

Describe a time (without names) when someone attempted to point out your fault (or give you advice) when they too struggled with that same issue?

 

How often do you find yourself focusing on the wrongs of someone with whom you’re in conflict rather than what’s going on in your heart? Why do you think that’s our default?

 

Next Step:

Today, when you find yourself tempted to judge or point out someone else’s faults, remember to find your log.

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I know that my eye is full of logs. I know that even when I have the best intentions, I can make others feel far from you with my judgments. Help me to work on how I handle conflict with others, and help me to recognize my own sinfulness before I point out others’ sins. Amen.


This post was written by Rochelle Sikora, an editor and occasional contributor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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A Celebration of Sexual Love

Over the last four days we have looked at meeting our spouse’s spiritual, emotional, mental and practical needs. Today, we take a look at meeting our spouse’s sensual needs.

When we are meeting our spouse’s sensual needs, we are physically pleasing them. The word sensual is often used in a sexual context, but is not exclusively sexual in meaning. It’s important to know what needs your spouse has physically beyond sex. We all have a tremendous need to be touched in non-sexual ways. Hugs from our spouses, holding hands, and giving back rubs can go along way in meeting our spouses sensual needs. When these touches are given with no expectations of sex in return, our spouse will feel loved and more fulfilled. There is so much power in touch, and it’s important to not neglect it. Whether married or single, be aware of what your non-sexual physical needs are so that you can communicate them to your spouse or future spouse.

When are spouses non-sexual sensual needs are fulfilled, it will lead to a greater fulfillment of their sexual sensual needs. Let’s take a look at the sexual context of meeting our spouse’s sensual needs.

Did you know one of the greatest examples we have of spouses meeting each other’s sensual needs is in the Bible? The example comes from the book of Song of Songs.

Song of Songs has been described as a celebration of sexual love. In it we see a bride and bridegroom seeking each other out. Their deep desire for each other is obvious as they praise each other’s bodies in a song of love and longing. For a time, they are separated from each other; and as they wait, their anticipation for each other only heightens their desires. The lovers eventually present themselves to each other where they experience an awakening of pleasure, meeting the needs of their physical senses.

Song of Songs 7:1-10:
1 How beautiful are your sandaled feet,
O queenly maiden.
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of a skilled craftsman.
2 Your navel is perfectly formed
like a goblet filled with mixed wine.
Between your thighs lies a mound of wheat
bordered with lilies.
3 Your breasts are like two fawns,
twin fawns of a gazelle.
4 Your neck is as beautiful as an ivory tower.
Your eyes are like the sparkling pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is as fine as the tower of Lebanon
overlooking Damascus.
5 Your head is as majestic as Mount Carmel,
and the sheen of your hair radiates royalty.
The king is held captive by its tresses.
6 Oh, how beautiful you are!
How pleasing, my love, how full of delights!
7 You are slender like a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters of fruit.
8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree
and take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like grape clusters,
and the fragrance of your breath like apples.
9 May your kisses be as exciting as the best wine—
Yes, wine that goes down smoothly for my lover,
flowing gently over lips and teeth.

10
I am my lover’s,
and he claims me as his own.

The picture we see in Song of Songs is beautiful. It’s a picture of the gift that God gave us. As Ben mentioned in this past weekend’s message, sex is sacred. It is a sacred gift from God that we receive and we give. It is a very powerful, emotional, physical and spiritual force of bonding. God communicated sex’s importance to us in 1 Corinthians 7 when Paul tells us that it should be a regular part of our marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5:
3 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. 4 The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

I loved Ben’s point this week that often in Christianity there is conversation about going too far sexually, but there really isn’t enough conversation about going far enough.

When it comes to the idea of not going far enough, we are often led to the question of frequency.  1 Corinthians 7:3 tells us to “fulfill the needs of our spouse”, and in verse 5 it says, “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations.” In fact, the only reason given for not having sex is for prayer and fasting, and even that should be limited. God is calling us to have sex often. Going weeks and months without sexual intimacy is unbiblical.

Building healthy sexual intimacy in a marriage takes work, and often there are significant barriers that need to be overcome. So, how can we move to better sex life? When it comes to finding freedom from those barriers, look to your spouse as a teammate. One of the greatest things that we can do to have a satisfying sex life in our marriages is to communicate without fear of judgement. Having authentic and open conversation with our spouse about all of our needs is vital to fulfilling those needs. Be upfront and remember that healthy people ask for what they want. Use this chart to begin the conversation.

If you’re single, find someone that you can begin having conversation with about your spiritual, mental, emotional and practical needs. By beginning to have those dialogues now, you will be more equipped to have them with your future spouse.

There are a number of great books, websites, and videos available to us that will help us have a better sex life from a biblical perspective. We have compiled some of those resources at https://cedarcreek.tv/bettersex/.

Our hope for you is that your sex life improves as you begin to work on these five areas of need. If you’re married, use this as a catalyst to begin the conversation with your spouse. Pray together and invite God into your conversations. If you are single there are resources for you at the same webpage. Our hope is that you grow in your understanding of God’s design for sex. If you begin focusing on your spiritual, emotional, mental and practical needs now, you will equipped you to have a better sex life in the future.

 

Questions:
How are you and your spouse doing in the application of 1 Corinthians 7:3-6?

 

What do you hope to see God do in your marriage through the upside down principle “The more you give the better it gets?”

 

Next Steps:
Have a conversation with your spouse about how you can learn to bring each other greater pleasure in your sexual relationship. If you’re single, who can you begin talking with today?

 

Prayer:
God, thank you for the gift of sex that you have given us. Thank you for the book of Song of Songs and the example of intimacy that we receive from its beautiful story. Your gift of sex is a beautiful thing, yet there are many barriers that get in the way of its true design. Lord, help us break through those barriers. And help us to begin having meaningful, authentic dialogue with our spouse that will lead to meeting each other’s needs. Amen.


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


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Practically Speaking, Love is a Verb

If you’ve seen the 2006 movie The Break-Up, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, there’s likely one scene that immediately comes to mind. After hosting a dinner party, Aniston’s character, Brooke, announces that she is going to do the dishes and suggests that she would appreciate the help of her live-in boyfriend, Gary (Vaughn), who is busy playing a video game. Gary, who just wants to relax, suggests that they tackle the dishes “tomorrow,” to which Brooke responds, “Gary, you know I don’t like to wake up to a dirty kitchen.” As the banter escalates, an exasperated Gary relents, and the couple engages in the following exchange:

 

Gary: “Fine.  I’ll help you do the d— dishes.”

Brooke: “That’s not what I want.”

Gary: “You just said that you want me to help you do the dishes.”

Brooke: “I want you to want to do the dishes.”

Gary: “Why would I want to do dishes?  Why?”

Brooke: “See, that’s my whole point.”

Gary: “Let me see if I’m following this, okay? Are you telling me that you’re upset because I don’t have a strong desire to clean dishes?”

Brooke: “No. I’m upset because you don’t have a strong desire to offer to do the dishes.”

Gary: “I just did!”

Brooke: “After I asked you!”

 

I think you get the idea. If you are in, or have been in, a relationship, chances are you’ve participated in a similar bout of “heated fellowship” at one time or another.

In the third week of The Upside Down series, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder examined the upside-down principle “the more you give, the better it gets.”  Giving and getting inherently involve needs.  And over the course of this week’s edition of LivingItOut, we have been unpacking a series of needs that contribute to turning our relationships right-side up.  So far this week, we’ve explored the importance of meeting the spiritual, emotional, and mental needs of our partners.  Today, we tackle what may at first appear to be a decidedly “unsexy” topic—the practical needs of your spouse.  But, as we’ve learned throughout this series, appearances can indeed be deceiving.

At the core of the above scene is the concept of placing the needs of your partner above your own. On the surface, Brooke wants Gary to share in her efforts to clean the dishes, while Gary just wants to relax after a long day and evening. But the crux of the argument is not whether Gary can be convinced to help with the dishes, but rather his willingness to consider Brooke’s needs before his own. It’s about Gary not considering the fact that Brooke herself had a long day – and cooked the meal. And, it’s about caring enough to want to help with a simple task that will make her feel more at ease.

Of course, meeting the practical needs of your partner extends beyond stepping forward to share in chores. It involves orienting our thinking to recognize what matters to our partner and taking proactive steps to fulfill those needs. When we genuinely put our partner’s needs above our own, we do this not out of a sense of obligation, or as a means of obtaining something in return, but just because we love them.

One of the most insightful quotes I’ve ever read about the topic of love comes from what many consider a business book. In his iconic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey recalls a conversation with a man who was lamenting that the feeling of love was gone in his marriage. Covey replies to the man, “My friend, love is a verb.  Love—the feeling—is a fruit of love, the verb. So, love her. Serve her.  Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

Covey’s bigger point is that reactive people make love a feeling; in doing so, they effectively empower their feelings to drive their actions.  Conversely, proactive people make love a verb. They elevate love from something they feel to something they do.

As we learn in Philippians 2:4, it’s essential that we expand our orientation beyond our own needs and wants: “4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

As this week’s upside down principle suggests, giving to—and for—another enhances what both parties receive from their relationship.  Much like our relationship with Jesus bears fruit in our lives, the caring and feeding of our spousal relationship strengthens the foundation for greater connection, love, and joy with our partner.

I genuinely enjoy doing things that demonstrate how much I love, respect, and appreciate my wife. Whether it’s doing the dishes, making our bed, or simply leaving her a little love note before I leave every morning, I do these things because I know they matter to her, and she matters to me.

So, if you are looking for a practical way to serve your spouse’s everyday needs, treat love as a verb.  Show your partner how much you value them, and you really will find that the more you give, the better it will get.

 

Questions:

Do you have practical needs that are currently unmet by your spouse? Do they know that?

 

Would you be able to identify your spouse’s practical needs?

 

Next Step:

Make a list of at least five practical needs of your spouse or significant other. From this list, choose three things you can you do this week to fulfill the needs you have identified.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the gift of the relationships in my life, all of which encircle my relationship with you. As I seek to be attentive to my partner, I ask that you provide me the awareness and wisdom to consider the needs of my spouse above my own and to proactively serve those needs from a place of love. 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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