Bigger Than I Thought

God is bigger than any struggle we face. This weekend, we sang “Bigger Than I Thought” by Sean Curran.

Today, spend time listening to this song again and remember these words throughout the day.

Sean opens up the song by singing, “Speak to me when the silence steals my voice.” Throughout history, silence has plagued humankind. It cripples our minds and blinds us to the truth of our surroundings. Author and poet Clint Smith said, “Silence is the residue of fear.” Faith frees us from the danger of silence.

The Oxford Dictionary defines faith as “trust in someone’s ability or knowledge; trust that someone or something will do what has been promised.”

The definition of faith may seem simple, but all of us struggle with our faith from time to time. We put too much stock into the things we see, hear, touch, or smell. We focus on our humanity, but where do we turn when humanity fails us? What do we do when we lose faith in our humanity?

Hebrews 11: 1-3 (NIV)
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith, we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Our belief doesn’t make us exempt from the struggles of life, but our faith in God will help and guide us through the tough times even when we lose focus. Sean sings, “I believe but help my unbelief…help me reach the faith that’s underneath.” God knows that fear will silence our voices, minds, and hearts. Our trust in him will restore the sound.

Questions:
How do you struggle with keeping your faith? Do you have a go-to Bible verse when you are feeling afraid?

Next Steps:
Find time throughout the week to strengthen your relationship with God. Go deeper into the LivingItOut studies, and find time to pray and have a conversation with God.

21 Days of Prayer:
Day 5 – Connection with God relationally (Romans 8:15)
Father, I come to you in prayer today, thankful that I am your child. You have forgiven me and adopted me as your own. You have made me righteous and restored our relationship. I am so grateful that you are my Father. Thank you for loving me. I love you. Amen.

Day 6 – Faith in God’s ability (Jeremiah 32:17)
Father God, nothing is too hard for you! Through your great power, all things are possible. All authority is yours, all might is yours, and I know that your victory will be complete. You are amazing, and I worship you. I praise you for your power and presence in my life. You are my God, and you are worthy of all praise. Amen.

Day 7 – Worshiping him (Proverbs 18:10)
God, I am in awe of you. Your name is a strong tower, a place of protection and safety for me. I praise you as my healer, my shepherd, and my banner of victory. You are my peace, my provider, my righteousness, and my sanctifier. Your name is great, and I worship you. Amen.


This post was written by Jaron Camp, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Turning Your Focus to God

Like most popular idioms, the phrase “the struggle is real” is rooted in a shared reality: we all face undesirable circumstances and challenges on a daily basis. A quick internet search delivers scores of related memes and urban dictionary entries because it attaches a wink of irony to the real-world problems with which so many of us wrestle.

But taken more literally, this phrase speaks to the fact that many of us really do struggle with fixating on life’s challenges. And it is within this context that “The Struggle is Real” is therefore the title for our first series of 2020.

As Ben Snyder noted during his weekend message, the best way to address our difficulties is to stop fixating on the struggle and start focusing on God.

To be certain, many of the challenges we face involve a matter of perspective. One of my favorite quotes, most often attributed to the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, is, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.” What Montaigne is saying, of course, is that we are the architects of many unfounded worries.

At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that some struggles are undeniably real—and an unavoidable part of our life journey. While it would be unwise to suggest that we should minimize or ignore our problems, fixating on our struggles is entirely avoidable.

1 Peter 3:18
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

The wonderful reality is that God wants to relieve us of these burdens. Indeed, when we stop trying to manage life on our own and surrender our troubles to God, we find that he is ready and waiting to help. The gift of his spirit, which Jesus made available to us through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, gives us clarity and strength to face what we cannot face on our own.

When we surrender our life to Christ, we are able to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit. And when we prioritize spiritual vision, we find that over time it grows and further empowers us. Put simply, what we come to realize is that God’s Got This.

Last weekend, attendees at all services received a “God’s Got This” bracelet. We encourage you to wear your bracelet as a physical reminder of the incredible power available through the Holy Spirit.

Finally, on behalf of our team, thank you for being a LivingItOut reader. As Ben noted last weekend, regularly reading the LivingItOut devotional is a great way to unpack and extend the impact of the weekly messages. If there is someone you believe would benefit from this daily devotional, direct them here to subscribe.

Questions:
Do you find that you too often tend to “go it alone” in dealing with life’s struggles? If so, what are some practical examples of how turning your focus to God can ease this unnecessary burden?

What does the phrase “God’s Got This” mean to you? How can you apply it to your thinking on a more regular basis?

Next Steps:
This week, CedarCreek embarked on its 21 Days of Prayer initiative. If you haven’t already done so, join in this expression of spiritual discipline in which we pray and forego physical comforts to heighten our spiritual connection to God. For more information on the 21 Days of Prayer, visit this online resource: CedarCreek 21 Days of Prayer.

21 Days of Prayer:
Day 4 – Placing my trust in God (Psalm 62:8)
Father, in your word you invite me to pour out my heart to you. You are my refuge, and I know that anything I think, feel, or do is okay to bring to you. Knowing that you are a safe place for me, I come to you and give you everything on my heart. (Talk to God about the specific things that are on your heart today.) From what is worrying me to what is delighting me, what I hope for to what I’m afraid of, I bring it all to you because I know I can trust you. Help me and guide me in every area, in Jesus’ name, 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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The Struggle in Three Dimensions

The struggle is real. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, it is inevitable that we will experience it. In Monday’s LivingItOut, we defined struggle as the tension of wanting what we don’t have or having what we don’t want. We all experience struggle, and chances are this is a truth you know well.

In the message from the weekend service, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder shared three dimensions where we experience this struggle. We struggle physically, mentally, and spiritually. The physical dimension relates to our body, while the mental dimension relates to our thinking and emotions. These first two are easily recognizable. Once identified, we then begin working to correct them, and in doing so, we grow tired, and we may miss the most critical dimension namely the spiritual dimension, which relates to our eternal being. This causes us to lack the spiritual vision it takes to see the next steps we need to take.

Awareness of the spiritual dimension is the first step toward gaining spiritual vision. The story of Nicodemus shows us the need for our spirit to be made alive through God’s spirit. Jesus described this coming to life as being born again.

John 3:5-6
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.

Merely being aware of the spiritual dimension and our need to be born again isn’t enough though. We need to trust God’s spirit and the vision he provides.

Without trust, all that God freely gives us won’t make sense. It will all seem foolish. But when we trust God, we can begin to see things the way God sees them. Our struggles won’t go away, but we will see them differently and recognize the next steps that we need to take.

1 Corinthians 2:10-14
10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 13 When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.

John 3:16
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Questions:
In which dimension do you notice yourself struggling: physical, mental, or spiritual? Which is your life lacking, and how is that affecting your spiritual vision?

Next Steps:
Stop fixating on the struggle and start focusing on God. Read the full story of Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus in John 3: 1-18. If you haven’t taken the step of trusting Jesus, make a decision to follow Jesus today. If you take that step today, let someone know. Tell a friend, tell someone in your Group or at church. Or email us at LIO@cedarcreek.tv. We would love to hear from you.

21 Days of Prayer:
Day 3 – My heart (Psalm 139:23-24)
Father God, I ask you to search my heart. If you find anything in me that is offensive, please show me and help me remove it from my life. Lead me to live a life that draws people to you. Help me live my life on Earth in a way that impacts eternity. Amen.


This post was written by Ben Bockert. Ben is a proud husband and father of three beautiful daughters. He is honored to serve as the Director of the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Spiritual Vision

Around 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. We have such good intentions, but we always seem to run out of willpower. We’re offered tips like these:

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”

“Your life is up to you.”

“You have control of your own life.”

How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

“Behind every successful person is a relentless work ethic, the ability to block out distractions, and a well-defined six-pack of self-control. Find creative ways to work your self-control and keep making it stronger.”

F**k It Therapy: The Profane Way to Profound Happiness by John C. Parkin

“…the key to healing is in the very phrase ‘self-doubt.’ What’s the opposite of doubt? Trust? So replace self-doubt with self-trust. Start to trust what you feel more.”

One big thing I’ve learned from my walk with Jesus is that we sometimes must reassess our instinctual beliefs.

We say: “Do whatever makes you happy.” and “Take control of your life!”

Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

We say: “It’s up to you to exercise self-control” or “Hustle, and then hustle harder.”

Matthew 19:25-26 says: “The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.””

We say: “Follow your heart” and “Trust in yourself.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Instead of creating goals and searching for ways to achieve them (focusing on physical and mental vision), allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in setting your goals (focus on Spiritual vision). If we allow the Holy Spirit to guide and shape us, we can achieve the very things we’ve been trying to get on our own through New Year’s resolutions and self-help books.

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Conventional thinking:
Set goals -> Make a plan -> Work REALLY hard -> Success

Biblical thinking:
Know/love/trust God -> Let go of control -> Invite the Holy Spirit into your goal setting -> Seek to listen -> Prayerfully do what he is prompting you to do -> Begin to see the fruits of the Spirit in your life

Questions:
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, do you feel it is a God-ordained plan for you or simply a plan you have created for yourself?

How might focusing on a spiritual vision instead of a physical or mental vision change the way you approach 2020?

Next Steps:
If you are beating yourself up over failed goals, open your Bible. Search specifically for examples of God’s love for you, his creation. Ask God to reveal to you where he wants to see changes in your life. If you are having trouble, just keep reading. He is very good at revealing things when we first seek to know him.

21 Days of Prayer:
Day 2 – My love for God and others (Matthew 22:36-39)
Dear God, you said that the greatest commandment for me to follow is to love you with all of my heart, soul, and mind. Equally important is to love my neighbors as much as I love myself. Over these 21 Days of Prayer, as I connect with you, grow my heart so that I will love you more. And as my love grows for you, help me to love those around me more and more each day. Amen.


This post was written by Ashlee Grosjean. Ashlee is a blogger at GratefulSheep.com and a stay-at-home mom and wife. She loves writing for this team, and she hopes to help convey God’s message through this study.


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The Struggle

I love New Year’s Eve more than Christmas.

I feel like I’m not allowed to say that, but it’s true. Sure, I do love Christmas—the time with family and friends, good food, thoughtful gifts—but there’s also a lot of pressure that comes with the holiday. The New Year, on the other hand, feels like nothing but pure potential to me. Like so many others, I find myself looking forward to the next 365 days and wondering, “How can I make this year better than the last?”

Of course, as Lead Pastor Ben Snyder mentioned last weekend, reality starts to set in around halfway through January — or, if you’re like me, two days into January. As much as I want to be consistent with exercise, Thursday night was cold and dark, I was tired, and I did not want to go to the gym.

The struggle is real.

We struggle when we want what we don’t have, or when we have what we don’t want. Sometimes we’re even afraid of struggling itself. We know that the life we want—making a difference, growing, improving—usually comes with difficulty and discomfort.

I know that if I go to the gym tonight, my muscles will be sore, which is a guilt-ridden reminder of all those times I skipped going to the gym. It would be so much easier to stay home and settle for where I am. It would be easy for me to settle in most areas of my life — including spiritually — by avoiding anything uncomfortable.

However, in the end, discomfort is a part of life. It can’t be avoided.

John 16:33
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

God never says that there won’t be struggles. In fact, Jesus guarantees in this verse that we will have trials and sorrow. If the verse ended there, it would be pretty disheartening. Instead, it’s uplifting, because it says that Jesus is with us, and he has overcome the world.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll give me supernatural strength at the gym tonight. But it is a reminder that, spiritually, we can lean on God for whatever we need: patience, self-discipline, wisdom, and so much more. As this month’s theme verse states, the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in us!

Romans 8:11
The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

The struggle is real, but so is our God. The trials and sorrows are great, but Jesus is greater. You can trust in him.

Questions:
How do you feel about the New Year 2020? Why do you think you feel this way?

What struggle are you currently facing? Have you presented this problem to God and asked for his help?

When faced with difficulties or discomfort, do you avoid them, try to handle them yourself, or turn to the Holy Spirit?

Next Steps:
Reorient your focus from yourself and your problems to God and his strength through 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting.

The next time you find yourself struggling, instead of looking to your own strength, wisdom, patience, etc., ask him to supply what you need.

If you have not surrendered your life to God and received the Holy Spirit, there is no better day than today.

21 Days of Prayer:
Day 1 – Drawing close to God (James 4:8)
Dear God, you have promised that if I draw near to you, you will draw near to me. I need more of your presence today, and I am drawing near to you through prayer, worship, and reading your word. I open my heart to you and ask you to be near to me, changing me to be more like you. Amen.


This post was written by Payton Lechner. Payton is currently the apprentice copywriter at CedarCreek. In her spare time, she freelances as a writer and editor. Besides the English language, Payton loves swimming, cats, and a good cup of tea.


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Your Prayer Life in 2020

A couple of years ago, my dear niece Ellen bought me a planner that included both weekly and monthly calendars. It is so beautiful. It is a pretty green color and has the verse Song of Solomon 4:1: “Behold you are beautiful” on the cover. It has Bible verses throughout the planner.  I came up with the idea to turn it into a prayer journal.

On each day of the monthly calendar, I write three things I am grateful for and thank God for his provision. I am instantly filled with joy and gratitude. On each day of the daily calendar, I write out a prayer. I am not good at journaling, but this was something easy for me to do and stick with. I will be starting my third calendar this January. I love this planner so much that I bought one for each of the ladies in my life group. They loved it! Now, my dear friends are making trips to the store and buying them for their loved ones. The store can barely keep them stocked. Praise God!

Prayer is such an important part of our spiritual journey through life with Jesus! CedarCreek will start 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting on Jan. 6.The Bible frequently acknowledgesJesus praying. He prayed by himself, he prayed in front of people, he prayed for his disciples, he prayed people would be healed, he prayed people would believe, and he prayed for many other things. Here are a couple examples of Jesus praying:

Mark 1:35
Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went to an isolated place to pray. 

Jesus loved us so much, he prayed during his crucifixion:

Luke 23:34   
Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” 

If Jesus, the Son of God, felt it necessary to pray, I know we all need to pray. Prayer is simply talking to Jesus and pouring our hearts out to him. Prayer is how we build a relationship with Jesus.

This is how I pray based on Beth Moore’s book “Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruits of the Spirit”. I have the steps written on an index card, and I keep it in a devotional book. Go to a quiet place. Take a few breaths and clear your mind. Ask Jesus to help you stay focused.

  1. Begin by showing respect and reverence to God. Pray, “today I will serve the Lord, not myself.”
  2. Worship God. I like to think of the characteristics of God. I do this by a simple method called the ABC’s. I voice his attributes in alphabetical order, for example Almighty God, Beautiful, Compassionate, Deliverer,  etc. Listen to a praise and worship song and sing your praises to God.
  3. Abound in his presence. Sit quietly and enjoy the peace of God.
  4. Ask him to rid you of all self. Repent. Ask him to cleanse you and help you to yield to him. Ask him to fill you with the fruits of his Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control.
  5. Thank God for his blessings. I ask that I am able to see his blessing throughout my day.
  6. Ask God for your personal request.
  7. Pray for others.
  8. Ask for his wisdom, guidance, and strength.
  9. Review Bible verses that mean a lot to you. I meditate on them. A verse I am using now is Isaiah 26:3-4: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you. All whose thoughts are fixed on you. Trust in the Lord God always, for the Lord God is the eternal rock.”
  10. Close your prayer.

I pray that you will make prayer a priority in your life.

Questions:
How often do you pray?

Why is prayer important?

Is there anything stopping you from praying?

Next Steps:
Pray daily. Participate in CedarCreek’s 21 Days of Prayer. Google about Jesus praying and read the verses. Find a method of prayer that works for you and do it. Check out more prayer resources at cedarcreek.tv/21days.

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you for showing us how important prayer is. I am so grateful that the Almighty God of the universe wants to have a relationship with me. I love that you want me to pour out my heart to you in prayer. Help me to serve you and not myself. Change me, Lord. Fill me with the fruits of your Spirit. Help me obey and serve you. Please help me to make a difference and bring glory to your precious name. Amen. 


This post was written by Marsha Raymond. Marsha has been happily married to her husband, Jeff, for 30 years. They have two grown sassy and fearless daughters. She loves spending time with God, her family and friends, reading, riding bicycles, yoga and walking.


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The Gentle Whisper

It’s not what you say to everyone else that determines your life, but it’s what you whisper to yourself that has great power. The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts. The mind is your battleground and the place where the greatest conflict resides.

In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah fleeing for fear of his life from Jezebel after killing the prophets of Baal. Elijah found refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb before being called out by God and speaking, “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (verse 10).

1 Kings 19:9
There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

God speaks to us through his Word, his spirit, and his people, and our desire to hear him is inadequate by comparison to his desire to speak to us. We pray while we drive, listening to the radio and changing lanes, always multitasking in our lives, but he’s focused.

1 Kings 19:11-13
11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Remember that Elijah looked for God in the wind (confusion), the earthquake (uncertainty), and the fire (pressure), but he heard him in the whisper. When Elijah heard that still, small voice, he stepped out of his cave and listened to what God told him.

Most of us will never see the fire fall like it did on Mount Horeb, and if we only look for God in those things, we may miss him in the quiet, ordinary, and unseen gentle sounds in our life. Maybe that’s why so many missed the birth of a carpenter’s son in a cow stall.

David first heard God whisper when he was a young shepherd and he then heard God’s voice everywhere. He described God’s voice as the “most gentle whisper.”

Questions:
What really caused Elijah to run away (1 Kings 19:1-3)? What causes us to run and hide away? What is God saying to you today? What are the benefits of listening?

Next Steps:
As you begin each day, be mindful and take a second to think about what a privilege it is to simply be alive and healthy. We must quiet our lives, voices, and our thoughts so that we can hear. The problem is not God’s failure to speak but our failure to listen.

Prayer:
Abba, Father, thank you for surprising us with your love and grace. Help us to quiet our voices, our hearts, and our lives so that we can hear your gentle whisper and listen. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.


This post was written by Gary Schnabel, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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Present in the Present

Happy New Year!

The New Year is a great time to look back and reflect on the previous year as well as look forward to the year ahead. Certain seasons of life also cause us to reflect on the past and anticipate the future. For example, my hubby and I are on the cusp of an empty nest. With that drawing near, we have reflected on the years with our kiddos—great experiences we’ve had and what we would have done differently. At the same time, we have a wide-open future ahead of us with a lot of unknowns.

It would be easy to dwell on the past, but Keshia Maybee, from the Church at Home talk, pointed out that when we focus too much on the past, it can lead to depression, lack of motivation, regret, or guilt. Instead, it is better to live in the present. While we can’t change the past,  it is completely within our control, to live in the moment and be PRESENT in the present.

In addition to looking back on the past, the upcoming empty nest will create a new dynamic in our home, flooded with uncertainties of what the new normal will be going forward. It would be easy to waste my time worrying about what’s to come; however, Keshia also mentioned that too much time spent worrying about the future can lead to anxiety, discontent, and even numbness.

This paradox of time that we’re in has really taught us to live in the present. Our family time, while not as frequent, is more intentional. When balancing roles of wife, mom, teacher, church member—I make a conscious effort to be present wherever I am. All are important roles to me, and I try to make each moment matter—because all of the people I interact with in these roles matter.

It’s helpful to remember, when we’re reflecting on the past or anticipating the future, that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  He covers our past, and he is with us in the future. We are reminded in Matthew 6:34 to “not worry about tomorrow.”  I repeat—do not worry about tomorrow. Finally, Philippians 3:13-14 says to “focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” to “press on to reach the end of the race… through Jesus Christ” day by day, moment by moment.

Questions:
Do you find yourself living more in the past or in anticipation of the future? What would it look like for you to be present in the present?

Next steps:
As you start off this New Year, one great way to be present in the present would be to commit to being in the word each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. God’s word is alive (Hebrews 4:12) and present. It brings comfort, help and wisdom right at the exact time that we need it. Reading this LivingItOut devotional is another way to be in the word. Joining a group (signups will be available soon) is another great way to be in the word. Each group, while they may have a different focus, will have a Scripture focus in some way.  Make a conscious effort to be present in 2020. Happy New Year!

Prayer:
Dear God, thank you for this new year. As I start this year, I want to offer it to you. Help me take steps in knowing you more and more. Help me find freedom and discover purpose this year so that I can make an eternal difference for you. I love you God. In Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Kendra Grubinski. Kendra is passionate about her relationship with Jesus and loves studying and sharing God’s Word. During the week, she is a Spanish Teacher at Findlay High School. She also enjoys spending time with her family and pups, reading, traveling, drinking good coffee and being active outdoors.


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Share the Good News

Today’s Scripture: Luke 23 & 24

As 2019 comes to an end, we come to the end of Luke and to the end of our year-long journey of reading through the Christian Bible, a.k.a. the New Testament. These two chapters contain two of the most important accounts about Jesus: the thief on the cross and the road to Emmaus. They are important because they embody the heart of the gospel, the good news that Jesus came to tell!

Luke 23: 32-33 and 39-42
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him (Jesus) to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” 

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

When I look at this passage, I see God’s love for me so clearly on display. Just like the second criminal, we have to come to the realization that Jesus is our only hope. At that point, this man has nothing but his new, feeble faith that Jesus is who he says he is. The thief isn’t able to get down from the cross and try to make up for all the bad things he’s done. It was too late to get baptized, take communion, or do any of the other things people often believe must be done to earn their way into God’s good graces. There is only one way to earn salvation: “to openly declare that Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9).

Immediately, when the criminal verbalizes this faith, Jesus tells him, “today you will be with me in paradise.” This fills me with such hope, especially for my loved ones who are not yet believers! While I would love to share my faith journey with them for the rest of our days on earth, even if they don’t acknowledge Jesus until the very last moment, they will be his. I have to trust in his plan and purpose for their lives as well as for mine.

Luke 24: 13-19, 25-27, 28-32
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?”

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…

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.  And at that moment he disappeared! 

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”
This story gives me hope for the people in my life who know who Jesus is but haven’t recognized who he must be for them to have life with him for eternity. Many people have been “inoculated”  against a saving faith in Jesus. They have heard of him. They have gone to church. They say they believe, but their “devotion” to following Jesus doesn’t match the fruit of their lives. These guys knew all about Jesus, had most likely spent three years with him. Yet they still did not understand who he was. But God (love that phrase, you know!), in his mercy, opened their eyes! They finally were able to put it all together! This is God’s work, calling people to himself. The men were faithful to tell their story. God was faithful to show them how he is the focus, the reason, and the purpose for their story.

This is our story! This is the story we get to tell—of a faithful, loving, saving God, who sent his son to redeem us. He sent Jesus to show us how much he loves us and wants to be with us! Everyone! Anyone! You! Especially you!

 John 3:16     
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Best news ever!

Question:
Whom are you sharing this good news with?

Next steps:
If you have never invited Jesus to lead your life, today would be a great day for it! If you have, pray that God would put people into your life with whom you can share the best news ever!

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, how can we ever thank you for Jesus? As 2019 ends, I pray that you would give us hearts that burn for sharing this news to people in our lives who may know of you but don’t have a personal relationship with you. Give us the opportunity and courage to tell of your amazing grace! In Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Lauri White. Lauri is one of the 25 people that God used to start CedarCreek in the Fall of 1995, and was on staff until 2013. Lauri loves Jesus, and loves helping people, especially women, live out of the truth about who we are in Christ. She and her husband Mike live in Oregon, but now spend winter months in Florida near daughter Kelda and her family.


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Sit Down, Be Humble

Today’s Scripture: Luke 21-22

Is it wrong to be pleased with yourself when your finances make a difference in the lives of others? Perhaps it depends on how you look at your finances. When you give, is it with your heart, or are your intentions to showcase your money?

Luke 21: 1-4 NIV
1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Your motives for giving are more relevant to God than the amount. God doesn’t need your money. He wants your heart.

Do you use your societal status to serve your community, or do you use your seat at the table to keep others serving your wants? Sometimes, we see our money, education, or our race as a reason to expect more from those who we see as the lesser person. Some of us use our status to serve but only for all to see our “good deeds.”

Luke 22: 24-27 NIV
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Our service shouldn’t depend on receiving accolades, and our titles shouldn’t keep us from serving. Jesus, the KING of Kings, washed the feet of the disciples after the last supper. Stop if you feel the need to boast about your giving and serving. Instead, sit down, be humble, and do it again from your heart.

Questions:
Do you think about other ways you can give without using money? Do you know that serving the community helps to keep it growing?

Next Steps:
Be mindful of the feelings and privacy of those you help, who are in need. Think about your intentions before you post about your giving and serving. Ask community organizations how you can be helpful rather than just donating money. Consider leading or joining an outreach group at your campus.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for showing me the importance of being humble in my actions to serve. Guide me as I continue to take steps toward growing in my service to the community. Thank you for putting people in my life who exemplify how to give and serve with proper intentions. Amen.


This post was written by Jaron Camp, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


Leave a Comment?

We would love to hear how the LivingItOut is making a difference in your life. Let us know how today’s post inspired, challenged, or encouraged you by leaving a comment here.


Want to be a part of the LivingItOut team?

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


Printable version of this week’s LIO study:

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Memory Verses
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