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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Luke 15:3-7

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Prayer:

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


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


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How to Stop Judging People:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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


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


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

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

Acts 1:8:

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

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

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

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

 

Acts 15:4-12:

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

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

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

 

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

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

So, how do we do this?

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

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

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

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

Prayer:

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


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


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What to Do About Worry.

21 Days of Prayer: Day 21

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

Peace and freedom.

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

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

That’s it. That’s all there is to it.

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

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

Maybe we need to stop.

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

We can’t, but we don’t have to.

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

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

Sometimes we need to pray for freedom.

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

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

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

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


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


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The Importance of Humility.

21 Days of Prayer: Day 20

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

  • S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

What is pride?

Many would define pride as the “sin of sins” or the root of all sin, or the rejection of the wisdom of God because you think you might know better.

In James 4:6, James writes, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. You should not be prideful because this sin will kill you forever.  This sin will keep you from having an intimate relationship with Christ, and sin hurts God.

James continues in verses 7-10:

7So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  8Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.  9Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy.  10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

These verses are instructing us to live a life where we have a relationship with God and resistance to Satan. God is not the only force that is trying to work in our lives.  We must not compromise with the enemy of our souls; we must resist him and submit to God.  It is human nature to drift away from our faith and blame God for the bad things that happen to us.  God is always trying to teach us something, and if we put our faith and trust in him, he will draw near to us.  When we resist Satan, he will pull away from us.  We should also repent and confess our sins.  We cannot live both a Christ-like life and a worldly life. We need to be broken-hearted for the distance that our sin has caused between God and us. Just imagine if you go to heaven and God asks why you should be admitted. The prideful person would say that I did this and I did that; I did, I did, I did. That is not being humble. That is saying that we did all the good things we could do to earn our own way to heaven. We do good works because we are children of God, but our salvation is based on grace and grace alone. He needs us to get down so that he can lift us up.  The ultimate show of humility is that we believe in the one whom God sent.

Matthew 23:12:

1But those who exalt themselves will be humbled; and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

What struggles in your spirit or circumstances in your life you can attribute to the Evil one?

We’ve all heard the word “hypocrite,” when discussing Christians. Does your life reflect the life of humble Jesus, or does it look more prideful? What step can you take toward humility?

It is important to show the next generation that God is the controller of our lives. We can make plans, but ultimately God is in control of every circumstance. They are the future of the church and should be shown the importance of humility. At the 2017 Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels stated that leaders must set the example without demonizing. I am in a previous generation, and it is my responsibility to show the next generation how to win, and winning is entering the kingdom of God.

Prayer:

Dear Great and Glorious God, thank you for the gift of salvation.  Help us to release all our anxiety and go to Christ for rest.  Give us wisdom that you are the way to eternal life if we accept Christ as the Savior that died for our sins. Help us to fight pride in every way we can and to know that we are not in control. We realize we need to confess our sins and feel remorse for them because they separate God from us. Please forgive us of these sins.  It’s in your precious name we pray, Amen.


This post was written by Jenn Macke, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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When You Don’t Want to Forgive.

21 Days of Prayer: Day 19

Ah, forgiveness. Do we really have to do that? It’s certainly not something that comes easy for the majority of people.

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked, two of which crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City. As a result of the horrific events on that single day, more than 3,000 people died, and many more lives were forever changed.

I’ll never forget that moment. I was in class in Dam Neck, Virginia at the Navy Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center (NMITC), when someone turned on the news, and we watched as the second plane collided with one of the towers.

I was shocked, burdened, and sick all at the same time. How does someone even begin to forgive something like that?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14-15:

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Ouch!  Jesus is saying that if we can’t forgive others, then he won’t forgive us. While this doesn’t mean that we lose our salvation, it does mean that we will experience the negative results of our choice to withhold forgiveness from someone here on earth. When we choose not to forgive, we are ultimately hurting ourselves. Bitterness eats away at our hearts. It festers and oozes out of us like foam from the mouths of rabid dogs.

We start to talk and act like Mama Fratelli from the Goonies. We just can’t let go, and eventually, it takes a toll on us.

If we really want to understand forgiveness, we have to look at the life of Jesus. His only mission was to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He knew how wretched our hearts were going to be, and he knows all of the things we are still going to do, and he forgave us anyway.

Chris Tomlin sings these lyrics in his song “Indescribable”:

You see the depths of my heart, and You love me the same

When we choose to forgive, we might see or understand the depths and destructiveness of what a person is capable of and choose to love them anyway.

At the end of Jesus’ life on earth, he said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

Even on the cross, after being beaten, speared, nailed, betrayed, cursed and asphyxiated, he still wanted us to be forgiven.

When we see forgiveness through the eyes of Jesus, then we can forgive.

Today, think about the people in your life you need to forgive. Spend time praying for them.

Prayer:

Lord, you are the author of forgiveness, you designed us for the capacity to love others as you love us, and to forgive others as you forgive us. Help me view others through your eyes. Amen.

Last weekend, Josh Whitlow challenged us to think about how we – depending on our generation – can either step up, or show up. On top of the prayer above, pray for God to reveal to you how you can do one of these two things.


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


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Living Free Requires This:

21 Days of Prayer: Day 18

Have you ever tried to lift weights that were too heavy for you? So heavy that you couldn’t even get them off the ground, or caused you so much trouble that you needed someone to help you? Well, that is what it is like to carry around your sin. Without confession, we can feel trapped under the weight of our sin, unable to move, unable to lift.

Growing up Catholic as a child, my experience with confession included the dread of having to tell a priest all the things I had done wrong and then waiting for my penance, which to a 10-year-old boy seems a lot like a punishment. My perception and understanding of confession changed drastically once I entered into a relationship with God.

Confession is the acknowledgment of our sin – the recognition that we have done something we should not have done. It is simple but often terrifying. When we sin, the last thing we want to do is tell someone about it. Many people live in fear of someone else discovering the wrong they have done because of the consequences that may be associated with it. They carry their burdens like a weight around their neck, dragging them down and preventing them from living the life God has given them.

The thing is, God already knows what we have done. We can’t hide it from him. Fortunately, he doesn’t dwell on those wrongs because he loves us, but he also wants us to understand that we have gone against his will.

Romans 10:9-10:  

9If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Professing our faith goes beyond saying that we are Christians or going to church, or even telling others about Jesus. It includes the confession of our sins, both to God and to others. In the same way, we can’t lift heavy weights alone, and we can’t carry the burdens of our sin alone.

James 5:16:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Living this command out from James can have incredible results. I attended a men’s retreat several years ago with 30 men I had never met. It was well out of my comfort zone even to go to an event where there would be no familiar faces, and I quickly realized this was a weekend getaway unlike any I had ever attended. In 48 hours, I grew closer to many of those men because we spent a majority of the time confessing our sins to one another and praying for each other. We told complete strangers things we had never told anyone else. Grown men cried like children, not out of sadness, but out of the joy that comes with freedom from captivity to sin.

How does confession affect future generations? As Josh taught from Psalm 78, each generation is called to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” so that “they would not be like their ancestors – a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”

Exodus 34 refers to the “generational sin” where unconfessed and unforgiven sin has an effect not only on that individual but their children and grandchildren as well. (For more on this, click here to read John Piper’s teaching.) By admitting that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we are welcomed by our Creator with open arms. Jesus did the hard work through his sacrifice, and now we can reap the benefits. But it does require us to deal with our sin and bring it into the light by telling someone else, or even through an audible prayer to God.

Today, we are praying prayers of confession:

Prayer:

God, I confess that I have sinned against you. I have done what is evil in your sight, and I was wrong. I have done unspeakable things that I am ashamed to admit, and even more afraid to tell anyone about. But you already know that, and you love me anyway. Amen.

Last weekend, Josh Whitlow challenged us to think about how we – depending on our generation – can either step up, or show up. On top of the prayer above, pray for God to reveal to you how you can do one of these two things.


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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What You Should Pray Each Morning:

21 Days of Prayer: Day 17

Protection Prayer is so powerful and so necessary to our walk with God, especially these days with so many distractions and diversions to help us stray off of the righteous path. There is so much lying and deception, so much wrong, impure, ugly, and deplorable behavior in this world, it is easy to fall into it without really realizing it. I mean, if everyone, including many of the world’s leaders, is behaving this way, why shouldn’t we?

One of the things I love the most about reading the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to the early churches is that so often they prove to me that we are not much different than those early believers! Even though we have changed a lot since Paul wrote this letter, and we differ from generation to generation, all in all, we are still fighting the same demons, and we need God.

In these verses from Philippians Chapter 4, Paul tells us that one of the best ways to protect ourselves from the evils of the world is to fix our thoughts on the positive. In verse 4:7, he says that if we pray these prayers of protection, God will guard our hearts and minds.

When we focus on what is good, our perspective improves because the God of peace will be with us. To keep that focus, Paul gives us a clear list. When I find myself worrying or brooding over some problem, I can turn to this list and ask myself if it fits. If not, I need to give it to God and let go. Moreover, if I find myself talking about someone, or talking to someone about events in my life, I can use this list. If my speech does not line up with it, I should be quiet! Before I do or say anything, I can look at this list for guidance.

When I start my day by praying a prayer of protection, it helps me to move forward positively. When I look at this list from Philippians throughout the day, I can realign my thoughts if they start to turn negative. I have written out Philippians 4:8 on sticky notes and posted them in places that I can see throughout the day.

Philippians 4:8-9:

8And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

The other directive Paul gives is to put into practice all the other things that he taught, “everything you heard or saw me doing.” This is the role of the church now –  to show the love of God to everyone we encounter. We do that not only through the weekend message but by helping people to connect with each other on a deeper level. That is why we talk so much about serving, not just because the church needs volunteers to run well, but mostly because it is a great way for people to connect.

This is why we all need church! From generation to generation, there are lessons we all need to learn to live a better life. We need church to help remind us of the lessons in the Bible and to help us hold one another accountable for those lessons. But we also need it as a community of fellow believers to connect us in deeper, more meaningful ways.

 

What action can you take to realign your thoughts if they start getting negative?

 

How can you remember to pray prayers of protection to start your day and guard your heart and mind?

 

What next step can you take to become more involved with the church body and to serve out God’s purpose for your life?

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us your word, for the instruction that it contains and for helping us to live a better life. Thank you for your Son, who lived out your word perfectly as an example for us to follow. Father, thank you for your church that gives us community with one another, helping each other live out your purpose for our lives. Help us to remember to pray prayers of protection when we are feeling negative or overwhelmed by the evils of this world. Help us to focus on the positive, to be a light for your glory. Amen.

Last weekend, Josh Whitlow challenged us to think about how we – depending on our generation – can either step up or show up. On top of the prayer above, pray for God to reveal to you how you can do one of these two things.


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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Weapons of War Are Not What You Think.

21 Days of Prayer: Day 16

Religion and warfare make strange bedfellows, or at least they should.  Unfortunately, religious fervency has been at the root of most of many atrocities. However, God’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) is clearly in direct opposition to the very notion of waging battle against our fellow man.

The motives and merits of earthly war are topics for another time (and forum). But the subject of spiritual warfare is front and center in this week’s portion of our 21 Days of Prayer journey.

Yesterday’s edition of LivingItOut introduced the topic of spiritual warfare through a discussion of the Armor of God. In Ephesians 6:13-17, the Apostle Paul employs the metaphor of a soldier’s armor as a means of helping us “resist the enemy in the time of evil.”  Donning the Armor of God, Paul suggests, helps us to appreciate the existence and value of God’s many protections against the evils we face every day.

God’s armor – the belt of truth, the body armor of God’s righteousness, the shoes of the Good News, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit – provides a worthy defense against our enemies. Today, we pivot from defense to offense as we consider God’s mighty weapons.

In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Paul exhorts the people of Corinth to use God’s weapons to defeat the forces that seek to derail us from our walk with him:

2 Corinthians 10:4-5:

4We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

The weapons Paul references are not weapons of man, but spiritual weapons to defeat forces such as pride, human reasoning, and false arguments that can undermine our faith in God.

The Life Application Study Bible suggests that these spiritual weapons – prayer, love, faith, hope, God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit – are both powerful and effective:

“We, like Paul, are merely weak humans, but we don’t need to use human plans and methods to win our battles.  God’s mighty weapons are available to us as we fight against the devil’s ‘strongholds’… When dealing with people’s proud arguments that keep them from a relationship with Christ, we may be tempted to use our own methods.  But nothing can break down these barriers like God’s weapons.”

When I step back to consider the obstacles that I encounter in my own walk with God, a number of items quickly become apparent.

First, I must acknowledge that spiritual warfare is, in fact, real.  This is to say that many of the issues with which I contend – pride, spiritual laziness, temptations, and other obstacles – are not merely the result of my own failings; they also involve forces beyond my earthly experience.  This is not always an easy, or even natural, step for me.  I can be too easily drawn into thinking that the worldly issues I face are my responsibility and thus mine alone to solve.

In her Bible study titled, “The Armor of God,” Christian author and evangelist Priscilla Shirer examines the reality and the deceitful ways of Satan, the enemy. “The enemy’s attacks are always wrapped in the packaging of deception, always designed to manipulate the truth about God, and about your value in him,” she writes.  “He [the enemy] desires to lead you into sin so that fellowship is broken between you and God – this way you’ll be disconnected from the source of true power and strength.”

In acknowledging that the spiritual battle is real, I must also recognize the identity of the enemy.  I will freely admit that I find it disturbing to even consider the existence of Satan and his forces of evil.  I find it far more appealing to devote my thoughts and energies to worshiping and serving a loving God.  This is not surprising as my God has given me life in this world and the salvation to be with him eternally in the next.  At the same time, I must realize that I cannot hide from the enemy.

And this leads me to a final, and more comforting reality: I am not alone in this battle.

The 2015 faith-based movie, “War Room,” explores the power of prayer in virtually every aspect of life.  The movie’s central character, Miss Clara, is an elderly woman who constructed a prayer closet, or “war room.” in her home to help deepen her relationship with God and combat the forces of evil. One of the movie’s pivotal scenes involves a conversation between Miss Clara and Elizabeth, a younger woman played by Priscilla Shirer (as mentioned above), who is experiencing struggles in her life and marriage. In endorsing the power of prayer, Miss Clara tells Elizabeth, “God showed me that it wasn’t my job to do the heavy lifting.  No. That was something that only he could do. It was my job to seek him, to trust him, and to stand on his Word.”

As we trust the 21 Days of Prayer experience is demonstrating, prayer is not only an invitation to dialogue with God but a powerful weapon for overcoming challenges in both the physical and spiritual worlds.

Author Max Lucado drives this latter point home with emphasis in his book Before Amen.  “Prayer slaps handcuffs on Satan,” Lucado writes.  “Prayer takes problems out of the domain of the devil and into the presence of God.  Prayer confesses, ‘God can handle it.  Since he can, I have hope!’”

Prayer:

Father God, I thank you for granting me the gift of this life and the accompaniment of your love and companionship. As I walk with you, I ask that you give me the ability to recognize the enemy when he crosses my path and the wisdom to call on your mighty weapons of prayer, love, faith, hope, your Word, and the Holy Spirit to prevail on your behalf. Help me also to leverage the gifts you have afforded me as I seek to make an impact for your kingdom and to serve as a worthy example for the next generation. Amen.

Last weekend, Josh Whitlow challenged us to think about how we – depending on our generation – can either step up or show up. On top of the prayer above, pray for God to reveal to you how you can do one of these two things.


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


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To Live a Life of Faith, You’ll Need This:

21 Days of Prayer: Day 15

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

  • Uncle Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is a series of letters from one demon to another explaining how they interact with a human – the patient – in attempts to draw him away from God. The “attacks” the demon levels against the human aren’t what we’d imagine. Instead, this “warfare” seems to be a subtle one. While it is a work of fiction, it interestingly explores what spiritual warfare might look like.

While many have different thoughts about what “spiritual warfare” means, what we can know is that Scripture clearly teaches there is a sort of spiritual battle going on that we can’t necessarily see, and it’s important that because of this truth, we seek God and ask for his help. This will be our focus for the third week in our 21 Days of Prayer.

This week, we’re going to be looking at different prayers that help us stay focused on God in the midst of the many struggles, spiritual or otherwise, that we will face on this earth. Some might call these “warfare prayers.” Today, we are going to look at a passage from the book of Ephesians. In chapter 6, Paul writes:

Ephesians 6:13-17:

13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

In this passage, Paul describes what he calls “The Armor of God.” Here’s what the pieces of this armor include:

The belt of truth

The body armor of God’s righteousness

The shoes of the Good News

The shield of faith

The helmet of salvation

The sword of the Spirit (the word of God)

No matter what we might face in life, these are the elements of our “armor” we need to “resist the enemy.” When we are tempted to sin, we can know the truth that it is not our righteousness that saves us, but God’s. When we feel like we’re stuck, we can take one step forward knowing the Good News that Jesus died and rose for us to live in his kingdom is true. When we feel under attack, we can rely on our faith in God to protect us, our salvation to guide us, and the Word of God to defend us.

This past weekend, Josh Whitlow spoke about the different generations and how whether you are the current generation or the next generation, you play a pivotal role in the church. For those of us in the “current” generation, we can live our lives with this armor, showing the next generation that no matter the situation, we rely on God and his promises to guide us in our lives. It doesn’t matter what stands against us, we are fully covered in the love of Jesus and have all that we need. For those in the next generation, when you want to step up, you’ll need to rely on the armor we talked about today and the examples that those ahead of you have set.

Today, we are going to pray that we would live our lives with this armor, that we would all don the elements of the godly armor so that we can live out the faith that God has so graciously given to us.

Which element of God’s armor do you need to lean on more (do you need to remind yourself of the promises of God, or the salvation he’s given you, etc.)?

 

Prayer:

Gracious and Heavenly Father, you are so good to me. I know that you’ve given me all I need to do your will here on earth, and I also know that there are forces outside my control that want to stop me from following you. Help me to wear your armor and rely on your promises so that I can grow closer to you and help others to do the same. I ask all this in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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


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