Learning to Laugh

No one in the the whole world has seen the movie Trolls more often than I have. I know you think you have, but you haven’t. All of the singing, all of the smiles, and all of the laughter. I am pretty much an expert on Trolls now, so I know full well that the entire purpose of this movie is to promote happiness, even in situations that say otherwise.

We can still laugh and experience joy even when it  looks like we cannot. Studies have shown that some people tend to laugh in very unlaughable situations, such as during moments of stress, anger, anxiety, frustration, and nervousness. Have you ever wondered why that is? Could it be God’s way of helping us to know that it won’t be like this forever? God designed our bodies to react to laughter by increasing endorphins (a happy chemical) and reducing stress. We burn calories each time we let out a good chuckle as well. Not to mention that laughter induces a reaction that boosts our immune system, triggering a fight against diseases and infections.  Laughter truly is the best medicine!

 

Proverbs 17:22

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

 

Psalm 118:24

This is the day the Lord has made.

    We will rejoice and be glad in it.

In my wedding pictures, I am smiling and laughing in every shot. Not because I was so unbelievably happy (I mean … I was), but because everything that could go wrong … did! It rained, my dress got dirty, my hair poofed like crazy, and I ended up wearing flip flops down the aisle instead of the beautiful jeweled heels I purchased as I almost broke my ankle trying to walk in them. The minister almost knocked over the unity table, the music skipped during the wedding procession, and my husband was late! During all of these events, the only thing I could do was laugh! Why not?! I knew things were going wrong, but I had to focus on the goal … to marry my husband! I knew all of this stuff would be over soon, and it wasn’t going to last forever!

Even in our MEH moments, let a giggle and a “thank you Jesus” roll off of your tongue! It won’t always be like this!

 

Questions:
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? Who in your life inspires a good giggle out of you? How often during the day do you let yourself laugh … accidentally or on purpose?

Next Steps:
Look for life’s funny moments. Watch a comedy special or your favorite movie, and let your endorphins do their thing! Give yourself permission to let out a big ole’ God-approved laugh!

Prayer:
Dear Jesus, thank you for creating us to laugh! Thank you for loving us so much that you have given us the ability to smile even in the midst of our not-so-happy moments. We know your plan for our life, our day, our moment is good, and we know that you are behind each tear and each smile we share. Please help us to look for you while we go through dreary days and see the beauty in winter as we look forward to the spring.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


This post was written by TreVe Carter. TreVe is a Kingdom kid who fell in love with Jesus at the age of 13. She is a proud housewife and mommy; her mother is her hero. She’s a lifelong nerd and a hard-core Pittsburgh Steelers fan. She’s grateful to be a part of a church that loves God and his people as much as she does.


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Walk to the Mailbox!

If you are struggling more than usual this year with cabin fever, welcome to the world of this former Buffalonian. February “meh” is an annual occurrence there because there is usually five feet of snow on the ground by February first with no end in sight. The wind chill is a stunning -10 or lower on a daily basis, and winter doesn’t end until April. But be of good cheer; this isn’t Buffalo! It will be over before you know it.

The good news is that while you wait, you CAN beat it—armed with some ingenuity and the Bible.

The final step to surviving the dead of winter is Action Forward. It is not enough to just acknowledge the “here” and grow in your awareness of “there.” Your choices are to either wallow in Meh-bruary or get to work. You can change it into an energized, hope-filled month instead of a “gain 10 pounds” month while  binge-watching “The Crown.”

First, deal with the “ations”- the agitation, aggravation, and frustration of being stuck with the choices of cooping yourself up until spring or going outside and freezing to death. Here is a suggestion: layers. No kidding. If you dress for the weather and wear cold-killing clothes, you will be amazed at how powerful you feel when you walk to the mailbox yelling, “Take that Old Man Winter. You can’t stop ME!” Once you get past the irritation of taking 12 minutes to get all those layers on, the joy of being outside and not being miserable outweighs the effort of getting ready. In just a few days, you will be even more encouraged and energized because your walks will actually start lasting longer than your prep time.

Second, stop letting your grumpy inner self feed you lines about what a miserable human being you are, what a lousy job you do serving God, etc., etc., etc. Instead, before engaging in your daily internal dialogue, ask yourself if what you are saying is going to bring life and vitality to your day. Or, is it going to sap you of your joy and hope? Have you ever noticed that when nights are long, days are gloomy, and when something in your life goes wrong, that voice in your head helpfully offers up, “you idiot” to define your worth?  Before it happens again, get prepared.

Psalm 139:14, 17 (NIV)
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well … 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

Memorize these verses while you take that warm walk on a cold day or the next time you start feeling like a loser.

One more action directive from God’s Word:

1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 (NIV)
14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

If you choose to live out these verses daily instead of succumbing to the winter blues, you will be busy and rejoicing all the way to springtime, being blessed and blessing others every day.

 

Questions:
Does your joy and enthusiasm come to a screeching halt this time of year? What do you do to overcome it? If the answer to the previous question is “nothing,” what are you waiting for?

 

Next Steps:

Read Hebrews 12:1-2   
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

As Christ followers, Jesus sets the vision for our life and reminds us that the joy awaiting us is what helps us endure what we are experiencing today.

Take a moment and journal about the vision Jesus has for your life and the joy that is ahead of you. How does that help you endure the difficult aspects of your current season in life? If you have difficulty describing Jesus’ vision for your life, consider attending GrowthTrack. For information about GrowthTrack at your local campus, go to www.cedarcreek.tv/growthtrack.

 

Prayer:
Hello Lord, thank you for loving me more than I can even understand. I am always amazed and humbled that you demonstrated this love for us in that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV).  Please help me to live out that love in all that I do for both myself and others. Please help me to use your Word to change how I think about myself and others.  Please help me to be motivated to fight cabin fever with action and by living out your directives in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.


This post was written by Martha Preckler. Martha loves Jesus and growing closer to him every day. She loves serving on the Sparkle Team and Greeter Team, as a Landing Leader, GrowthTrack hostess, and fill-in writer for LIO. Martha is the grateful mother of two grown sons and one daughter-in-law. Both sons are good writers, but one is a published urban fantasy writer and self-proclaimed grammar dictator, which he swears he picked up from his mother. She has been a Toledo Business Journal contributor, speech writer, as well as creator of dozens of promotional pieces for seniors’ events and programming offer by the YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo.


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Greener Grass

Yesterday, David talked about the principle of Acknowledge Here, answering the question “Where am I?” Today, we will talk about the second principle, Awareness of There. The question for today is “Where do I want to be?” And, as Ben Snyder pointed out, “not here” is not a helpful answer.

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)  
Where there is no vision, the people perish…

If you long for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, are you able to articulate where exactly that is? Do you have a vision for where you want to go?

I lived in Florida for 17 years. I loved it. When I moved back to Toledo, I was miserable! What had I done!? I gave up all that beautiful warmth and sunshine for the bleh and meh of Northwest Ohio. By February, I was crying on a daily basis. Then, summer came, and guess what? There were no fire ants. I could actually walk barefoot and sit on the ground! You cannot do that in Florida. It was great until fall came around. At that point, I started to dread what was coming until I decided to ask God to change my heart. Instead of bringing a feeling of dread into the winter season, I asked God to give me a better vision of what the winter season could be. I prayed that he would help me see the beauty that is really all around me. I prayed all through the fall as the leaves changed and then fell. As the temperatures dropped, I felt an excitement that I had never felt before, even when I was a kid growing up in Toledo when cold and snow meant fun.

That year, we had record snow falls and record low temperatures. I found some really warm snow pants, and I was out in it every chance I got. I had a blast! It was the best winter I can remember. On the days that I was unable to leave my house because of level 3 snow emergencies, I found joy. I would sit with God, look out my window, and just marvel at his power and beautiful creations.

What had changed? My awareness of “there” changed. I grew in my awareness of the good things God had for me instead of focusing on what I didn’t like about the winter season. First I acknowledge  that I struggled in the winter months, and then I created a vision for what winter could be. It could be fun, peaceful and a chance to reflect on God’s beauty.  When I trust that God is good and his plans for me are good, I can know that just because it’s (cold) today, doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.

 

Questions:
What is the worst part of this season for you?

Do you have a vision beyond your current reality?

Do you have others in your life that can help?

Next Steps:
After acknowledging the “here”, pray for God to give you a vision for “there”. Journal some ideas of where you think God might want you to be.

Prayer:
Father, thank you for your amazing love and grace. Thank you for making me aware that your “there” is anywhere because you are always with me. I praise you for leading me to green pastures and ask you to help me be aware of your beautiful creation, no matter where I am. 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 desire to help others find that same love. She has her own business and a border collie named Emily.


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Where Am I?

Where am I? Have you ever wondered that, for example, when you took a wrong exit or stood in a mall parking lot with that bewildered look on your face as you searched for any hint of your car (or one that even looked like it)? What did you do in that moment? Did you pretend you were on the right road, or already sitting in your car? No! That wouldn’t have helped your situation at all. You first had to figure out where you actually were before you could get to where you wanted to be. And, did the fact that you were lost in the mall parking lot mean that you lived there? Of course not.

The same rule holds true in life. Just because you might feel sad at the moment, doesn’t mean you are a miserable person. If you got angry today, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need anger management classes. We experience numerous emotions and emotional states in life, but such feelings don’t have to define us.

Christ, while fully God, was also fully human. He experienced sadness when he discovered his friend Lazarus had died (John 11:35). He experienced frustration with his disciples on several occasions (Matthew 15:16, Matthew 17:17). He burned with righteous indignation when he cleared the Temple (Mark 11:15-17). But, these emotional experiences did not define Jesus. He was not an angry, frustrated, depressed human being. Make no doubt about it: he was the Son of God!

Don’t let the weather, or emotions, or circumstances get you down. You are not defined by these situations. Your identity comes from the God of the universe. If you are feeling “meh,” Acknowledge Here by identifying exactly what it is you are feeling. Where are you feeling stuck? Ask yourself “why” you are feeling that way to identify the real issue.  Once you can answer “Where am I?”, then you can begin figuring out where you want to go, which we will talk about tomorrow.

And remember, don’t confuse your emotions with your identity. Acknowledge who you are as a follower of Christ: a handpicked son or daughter of God almighty with an inheritance greater than you could possibly imagine awaiting you.

Questions:
Where are you in life? How are you feeling? Are you happy with where you are? Do you feel there is any hope for change?

 

Next Steps:
Make a line down the middle of a paper. Over the left hand column write, “What I am feeling.” Title the right hand side, “Who God says I am.” On the left side of the paper, make a list of how you are feeling (sad, depressed, joyful, happy, tired, etc.) Read the following verses of scripture, and write down who God says you are on the right hand side of the paper.

Some references for you if you need them: Galatians 3:26, 29; Galatians 4:5-7; Ephesians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Colossians 2:10; 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 2:9

Prayer:
Holy Father, thank you for choosing me to be your child. I can never thank you enough for saving me from this world. Please fill me with your Spirit and convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt what my true identity is in you. Amen.


This post was written by David Vernier. David enjoys the opportunity to encourage others in their walk with Jesus as a writer for the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Good Meh-dicine

Winter in Ohio. Year after year, it leaves me feeling as though I’ve been visited by an unwelcome guest. I dread its arrival and its company; and by the time it mercifully departs, I am of the opinion that it has long overstayed its welcome.

It’s around this very time each year – with the holidays but a fading memory and spring still a distant destination – that the cold winds seem to blow hardest. The wind chill plummets and the heating bill rises; the days get shorter, and the icicles grow longer. It’s enough to leave many of us asking, “why do we live here?”

Two years ago, a business trip took me to Finland in February. Upon my arrival, I was only slightly surprised to note that the temperature in Helsinki was actually 10 degrees warmer than the weather I had left behind in Toledo. Yep, that’s winter in Ohio for you!

Of course, winter isn’t just a climatic season; the term has also come to symbolize challenging seasons in our lives.  If spring represents birth and renewal, winter is its seasonal counterpoint, often symbolizing darkness, cold, loneliness, and even approaching death.

This past weekend, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder kicked off the (How to Survive) The Dead of Winter series by discussing how we can survive the “meh” of winter. As Ben noted, the dead of winter speaks to some of the places in our life that we don’t want to deal with. And the holiday hangover and bitter cold weather can leave us feeling lonely, depressed, burned out, worried, or just plain “meh.”

Ben pointed out that God wants us to know that just because we feel _______, doesn’t mean that we have to stay that way.

As someone who grew up in Northeast Ohio, I actually recall the winters of my youth with a degree of fondness. Looking back, I remember the snow far more than the cold. It seemed the snow was much deeper back then (of course, that recollection may be influenced by the fact that I was also a little shorter at the time). But winter also had an upside. My friends and I enjoyed rocketing down toboggan chutes, skating on frozen ponds, building snow forts (to provide shelter during snowball fights), and, of course, hoping for the holy grail of midwestern childhood: the snow day.

The point is that our perspective has much to do with how we view – and survive – winter, whether we’re referring to the season or the challenges that it symbolizes.

 

Proverbs 17:22

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

 

As French novelist Victor Hugo once wrote, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”  And while we cannot simply laugh away all of life’s challenges, there is ample evidence that a posture of optimism, appreciation, and faith – in essence, the cheerful heart referenced in Proverbs 17:22 – can make it easier to endure life’s difficult seasons. When viewed through this lens, we begin to see that our perspective really can help shape our reality.

As we read in Matthew 6:25-27, faith is the antidote to worry.  And, as Psalm 118:24 reveals, joy is a natural companion to faith:

Psalm 118:24

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

 

Over the coming days, LivingItOut will unpack three principles for getting the “meh” out of winter:

  1. Acknowledge Here;
  2. Awareness of There; and
  3. Action forward.

 

Questions:

Do you find yourself dreading the Dead of Winter?  If so, what do you typically do to survive?

 

Next Steps:

Take time this week to consider how you can pivot from focusing on what is broken to rejoicing in what is good in your life.  As we learned this week, a cheerful heart is good medicine.  Look for opportunities today to share and enjoy humor as effective medicine for “meh” moments.

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the love and light you provide in all of life’s seasons.  Help me to always appreciate your gifts and be both forever faithful and grateful to you.  Amen.


This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd enjoys sharing life with his wife Jessica and their family and serving at CedarCreek. He is a communications director at Owens Corning and enjoys reading, writing, music, and sports in his spare time.


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Living Differently

In order to be a difference maker, we have to live differently. What exactly does it mean to live differently? It’s easy to see what we, as Americans, value and who we admire. Pick up any magazine, turn on your television, or ask a child what they want to be when they grow up. Our culture values success, fame, beauty, and wealth. We admire celebrities, athletes, and CEOs. We put movie stars on the covers of magazines, interview powerful business owners on talk shows, and want to be professional athletes when we grow up. Do these “American values” align with God’s values?

As Christians, our values should be different than the values of the world. One of the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus with this question in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 22:36-40
36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

The form of the word “love” used in these verses is significant. This form, “agape,” doesn’t refer to romantic love or close friendship, rather it refers to faithfulness, commitment, and action. This type of love has less to do with emotion and more to do with doing.

How is Jesus’ answer different than what our culture says is important?

Dorothy Day, a journalist and social activist used to say, “We should live in such a way that our lives wouldn’t make much sense if the gospel were not true.”

This is a tough concept to embrace sometimes. If you are truly honest with yourself, are you excited about what matters most to God, or are you excited about what matters most to the world? It’s easy and tempting to love money, success, beauty, and fame, but none of these things matter in heaven.

Thinking about heaven should influence our perspective on everything. A new perspective is exactly what we need to make a difference in this world.

Colossians 3:1-2
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.


Questions:
What worldly values do you struggle with the most?

What part of your lifestyle needs to be more “heaven focused” and less “world focused”?

Would your lifestyle make sense if the gospel weren’t true?

Next Steps:
Think about your answers to the questions above. Create one actionable goal (give more, serve more, love more) to make your values align with God’s values.

Prayer:
God, thank you for placing the desire for heaven in my heart. Please help me to stay focused on the things that matter to you and not the things that matter to this world. Please help me to focus on eternity and not my desires of the moment. Show me how I can practice agape love to those around me. Amen.


This post was written by Meghan Yarnell. Meghan is an art teacher and artist. She is married and has a son and daughter.


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Use What God Has Given You

What good is a gift if you never unwrap it?

Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, is famous for saying that the local church is the hope of the world. He has championed the investment in the gift of leadership found in Romans 12:8 through development of the Global Leadership Summit. Why? Because all of us received gifts of the Holy Spirit when we invited Christ to lead our lives. The development of these gifts is our responsibility. It is our privilege to use them to grow the local church, the hope of the world.  We will be asked how we used all the gifts God gave us when we get to heaven.

When I became a Christian, I was able to build on a great foundation I received from the church of my childhood. As I hungered for more of God, I looked for people who could help me grow closer to him. I found two women who mentored me, especially in prayer. As we prayed together, we became part of the prayer team who prayed for CedarCreek when it was still in the idea phase. We dreamed about the church God wanted us to plant. I learned and grew in my trust, obedience, and courage as we believed in God’s plans for our baby church.

Planting a new church was difficult. It required a faith that was challenged, often daily, as we tried to discern God’s will and receive his provision. We had no money. I remember Founding Pastor Lee Powell and Elder Steve Hutmacher (“Hooty”) trying to find people with the means to resource our young church. That big payday never happened. What did happen was that as a core group, we did all we could with the gifts we had. God made it be enough (Ephesians 3:20-21). We grew as individuals and as members of the body of Christ that became CedarCreek Church. God developed in us a resiliency and a never-give-up attitude that saw our young church through many, many challenges that became opportunities, to the place where we are today, 5 (soon to be 6!) campuses, and 8,000-9,000 people in attendance weekly.

As we grew as a church, God brought new people to the work. One of those, while we were still at the Perrysburg Junior High in 1998, was a college student named Ben Snyder. He showed up and began getting involved, praying, serving, and singing (yes, he was part of the worship team for a time!). Then he brought a beautiful young woman, Lauren, who was ‘all in’ as well! God gave us the opportunity to watch as they grew in their relationship with him and each other. Over time, their faithfulness and devotion to God’s mission for CedarCreek Church paid off in marriage, full-time ministry, and leadership. Today, they are our senior leaders. But their story is only one of thousands of those who came, connected, committed, and now serve.

Why does it matter? What if we said it was too much trouble to use the gifts God gave us? What if we had said, “I can’t afford to give, I don’t have time to pray, I don’t have the courage to lead”? The miracle that is CedarCreek Church was built using the gifts God gave to those who were willing to use them. We will have an opportunity in heaven to celebrate the way we allowed God to use our gifts to build his church. Our joy is to join with the people God brings to help all of us grow in love, faith, compassion, and grace. You can be part of the next chapter of the mission God has given our church. That’s why it matters. Matthew West has a song that says, “If not now, then when? If not us, then who? If not me and you, right now! It’s time for us to do something!”


Questions:
Do you know what your spiritual gifts are?

Is there someone you can encourage to use their gifts in our church?

Next Steps:
Attend week 3 of GrowthTrack and take the spiritual gifts test. Week 3 of GrowthTrack takes place the third week of every month.

Talk to someone about how to use your gifts, like your serve team leader or your Group Leader.

Take the next step in developing and using your spiritual gifts by joining a DreamTeam.

Prayer:
O Lord, I am so grateful for the gifts you have given me and for the opportunities you have given to develop and use them. I pray that you continue to give me opportunities to invest in these gifts and in your church. I pray that you give us all the desire and the courage to develop our gifts and use them to further your church here on earth, so that we can celebrate the beauty of your bride, the church, in heaven! 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.


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Buried Treasure

Ephesians 2:8-9   
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

Verses 8 and 9 in Ephesians 2 set the foundation for understanding the following verse.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

The “we” in this passage refers to Christ-followers who have been saved by the grace of God. Those who have trusted in Jesus are God’s masterpiece. It is beautiful to see the work of God in the life of a person that has received grace. Grace has a powerful effect and works from the inside out. Once we have received the grace of God, we will be able to do the work God has prepared in advance for us. We all have struggles that have made us the person that God wants to use; he uses that pain to help others.

 1 Peter 4:10
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.

God has entrusted all of us with gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Our time belongs to God, and we are all given a season on earth to do the good works that God has prepared for us in advance. A talent is a God-gifted ability and should be used to further God’s kingdom.

When we see a need that we have a talent for, we should step up to fill that need. When it comes to our treasures, which could be thought of as our finances, we should remember that God has provided everything we have. It all belongs to God. We are only temporary holders, or stewards, of it. We need to take the philosophy of give, save, and live with our money. This means that we need to first give back to God a portion of what he has given us, so we are faithful stewards of what he has entrusted to us. We should then save a portion so we can help others when needed. The rest of our money should be used for living. We are not owners of what we have; we are merely stewards.  Everything I have comes from God and should be used to minister to others.

Matthew 6:19
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

The biblical model is one of giving, not getting. We are to be generous with what God has given us. The Bible encourages us to seek spiritual riches instead of worldly possessions. When we think about heaven, it should affect our perspective, priorities, and passion about how we spend our money. It is an investment in heaven, in eternal life.    


Questions:
Am I recognizing and being a good steward with what God has entrusted to me?

Am I faithfully investing in things that make an eternal difference?

Next Step:
Reflect on the Parable of the Talents that Ben talked about last weekend. Make a list of the talents you believe God has given you, and journal about on what you are doing with them—investing them or burying them in the earth. Choose one that you have been burying and take a step toward using that gift in a way that glorifies God.

Prayer:
Dear Abba Father, thank you for all the gifts I have been given. Help me to invest them in the furtherance of your Kingdom. Keep me focused on being a steward and not an owner. Through Christ Jesus, Amen.


This post was written by Jennifer Macke. Jenn is the Real Estate Manager for Hancock County. She has a son, daughter, granddaughter, and grandson, and she thanks God every day for them. She feels blessed to be writing for the LivingItOut. She was raised in an Evangelical Church, but her spiritual life awakened when she started attending CedarCreek.


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Do I Really Know Him?

Love. The word conjures countless emotions, thoughts, and ideas in every person’s mind. It appears about 700 times in the Bible, depending on which version you choose. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love,” so using that measure, love is mentioned more than 5,000 times in the New Living Translation. Perhaps the most well-known passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, says, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Now read those verses again, replacing the word love with God. Are those words you have often heard used to describe God? Even so, is that how you view God? Someone who is patient and kind, not jealous or demanding, not easily angered, or judgmental? Someone who never gives up but endures until the very end?

We have heard several accounts of near death experiences from people who admittedly did not believe, or even want to believe, in God. Personally, my friends and family members who don’t believe tend to view God as being selfish, demanding our attention, expecting us to follow specific rules at every moment lest he become irritated and give up on our lost souls. But, the experiences of the people who have “died” and lived to tell about it reveal a different side of God, much more like the God we read about in the Bible. Consider these verses from the Gospel of John:

 

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

God loves us so deeply and unconditionally that he sent his Son Jesus to take our place in death, so that we could experience eternal life in heaven.

 

John 14:6

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

 

We can even experience on earth a glimpse of what heaven will be like, through faith in Jesus. By his death and resurrection, he provides us with the only way to God.

 

John 17:3
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

 

And the enjoyment we can have now is possible through knowing God and loving him.

So, what is our response? Jesus was clear with his followers and with those who challenged him that we are to “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34-35). Jesus went on to say that others will know that we are his followers by the way we love others. Again, in 1 John 4:12, we are told that “if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”

When we imagine heaven, it is easy to think about clouds and angels and harps, and maybe you wouldn’t be all that excited to go to that place. While I have never been to heaven, I want to experience the full expression of God in my life, which happens through love. Which just so happens to be God himself.


Questions:
What is your reaction when you hear that God is love?

How do you show love for others? Not just to people who love you back, but to those you find hard to love?

Does your life reflect the love God has for you?

Next Steps:
Write down the qualities or adjectives you think of when you think about God. Now read 1 Corinthians 13 again, replacing the word love with God. Write down your response to viewing God this way. Reflect on how your opinions may have changed and how this will affect the way you love and act toward others.

Prayer:
God, teach me to love the way you do. I want others to know that I love you by the words I use, the actions I take, and the example I set. I want to experience the eternal life that is knowing you. Amen.


This post was written by Ryan Cook. Ryan is an executive director for two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Toledo, so if you see him at church and think he looks familiar, that’s where you know him from. He is married with a son and a daughter. Follow him on Twitter @CookfilA.


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!


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The Latte Factor

How much is your coffee worth to you? A latte at Starbucks costs $4. If, instead of buying that latte, you invested the $4, and it grew at a rate of 8% annually, in 40 years you’d have over $98. If you save that $4 every day, in 40 years you could just open your own coffee shop and caffeinate yourself all through retirement. This compound effect on saving is known as “The Latte Factor.” The Latte Factor is the idea that small, trivial things we spend money on every day add up to an extremely large amount over time.

The Latte Factor can be applied to much more than just finances, though. For instance, it can be applied to your health. If you make small, positive, healthy choices each and every day, such as avoiding unhealthy foods and exercising a small amount each day, it can potentially add years to your life.

Even more importantly, The Latte Factor can be applied to our spiritual growth. If we invest in our relationship with Christ each day and invest in others by showing the love of Christ to those we interact with, over time we’ll make a huge difference in whatever sphere of influence God has placed us. As a Christ-follower, living life this way is actually what we’re called to.

This past weekend, Ben Snyder taught about the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a parable of a master who gave certain amounts of money to his three servants before he went on a long trip. Two of the three servants took what they were given, invested it, and turned it into more. The master was pleased with the first two servants. The third servant, though, didn’t do anything with what he was given but instead buried the money to “keep it safe.” In Matthew 25, we see the master’s response to the third servant.

Matthew 25:26-27
26 But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

The illustration of the master’s response to the servants in the parable should help reframe our thinking to see all that we’ve been given by God is given in order to invest in the world around us to make a positive and lasting impact. The things that God has given us include time, money, talents, opportunities, strengths, passions, relationships, and so much more.

The master’s response to the “lazy servant” shows that when you use what you’ve been gifted only for this life, you are burying what God has given you. God’s desire is that we would live life with heaven in mind, knowing that there is so much more than just the here and now.

If we lose sight of heaven, we tend to live like the “lazy servant;” our perspective, priorities, and passion will be misaligned to the here and now. When our perspective is adjusted to see what’s coming down the road, we will prioritize the things that will result in the greatest payoff in the long run. So when we realize what heaven has in store, we’ll be passionate about the things of Christ and prioritize using what we’ve been given by God to make a difference each and every day.


Questions:

How has heaven impacted what you will prioritize today?

How are you using what God has given you to make a difference in the world around you?

 

Next Steps:

If you are not using your strengths and gifts by serving on a Dream Team at CedarCreek, attend GrowthTrack and learn where you can begin making a difference today.

If you’re currently serving and using your gifts to make a difference, identify someone you can help take the step to begin making a difference with their gifts.


Prayer:
Dear Lord, you have placed me in a specific sphere of influence for a reason. Help me to discover my purpose and give me the courage and discipline to step up and make a difference where you have placed me. Forgive me for losing sight of heaven and the greater reality that I’m immersed in as I follow you. I don’t want to waste the gifts you’ve given me. Use me today to bring a little piece of heaven to earth. 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.


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!


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