Glory of Our Past Success – Final Stretch

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We all want to make a good impression and show people our best side. For me, this desire often manifests as focusing on my past successes—the achievements and victories that I think represent my finest qualities. After all, that pesky voice of pride likes to whisper that I’ve done some pretty impressive things. Even if I don’t voice these self-satisfied thoughts, they come to mind far too frequently. Essentially, this mentality declares “my past accomplishments are what define and guide me.” However, Paul writes some eye-opening words on this very topic.

Philippians 3:7
I once thought these things were valuable, but I now consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.

That impeccable resume Paul once thought valuable … is worthless. When compared to Christ’s display of overwhelming grace and love as he hung on the cross, our promotions, performances, and creations mean nothing. But Paul doesn’t stop there.

Philippians 3:8-9
8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Though it’s initially shocking to hear our feats called “garbage,” this verse reminds us that knowing Jesus is the true treasure. I’m not sure about you, but for me, it’s uncomfortable to set aside the (false) glory of my past successes. It feels like taking off the training wheels, and it is unnerving to wobble as we learn to trust who grace says we are—and to whom we belong. Yet, verse 9 reminds us that we are free to set aside our accomplishments, because it’s our faith in Christ that makes us righteous—not the grueling effort to be impressive.

Matthew 6:21
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

When our treasure lies in worldly accomplishments, our hearts reside there. If we reject the flimsy rewards of our own achievements to embrace the identity and direction God gives, we store up treasure in heaven. Notable accomplishments aren’t inherently wrong, but it is wrong to let them define you.

You are more than your impressive resume, large income, unique ability, or beautiful face. You are worthy because you are a child of God—and that is where you should seek your identity, value, and direction. Purposefully surrendering the value you have placed on your achievements will provide the freedom necessary to grow your faith.

Questions:
Do you look to your achievements for your worth and guidance? If so, why?

Which past successes are you hanging on to that should be surrendered to God?

Next Steps:
Make a list of the accomplishments that you allow to define or guide you. Then, prayerfully surrender them to God.

Prayer:
Dear Father, thank you for giving your Son so that I could be saved through faith. You have blessed me with skills and talents to accomplish wonderful things for your kingdom, but I confess that I sometimes place too much value in them. Help me look to you alone for my identity and direction. Amen.


This post was written by Sarah Pagel, a first-time contributor to the LivingitOut.


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One Foot in Front of the Other – Final Stretch

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If I asked you to list the struggles or difficulties you’ve faced in 2020, I’m sure the list would be exhausting. In addition to all the regular 2020 “stuff” on my list, my mom had a major health event this fall and has a long journey of healing and restoration ahead of her. Her sister, my aunt, recently suffered an injury that has been a major setback, and the road ahead of her is a mountain of rehabilitation. While chatting on the phone with both of them, the theme that emerged was taking it one day at a time. The mountain ahead of each of them is immense. Looking at the entire mountain can be overwhelming. Over the weekend, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder discussed a mountain that he recently climbed and reminded us that focusing on the next step, putting one foot in front of the other, is often what it takes to tackle the enormity of what lies ahead.

This same concept applies to us spiritually. Our theme verse for this message series is from 1 Timothy 4:8: “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” The day-to-day fundamental spiritual training in our lives is what strengthens us as we climb the mountains we’re facing. The good news is, as we come into this final stretch of 2020 and turn the corner into 2021, the steps that we take now to grow spiritually will give us the strength to endure any new challenges that we encounter.

Taking steps to KNOW Christ a little more every day is the training that will result in supernatural endurance.

Philippians 3:10-11        
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

This week we’ll explore this and more as we strive to have “spiritual amnesia,” knowing that sometimes we have to let go of our past to grow closer to God. Ben said it this way: “You can spiritually focus when you purposefully forget.” In other words, we may need to forget what is behind us so that we can focus on the future God has for us. Over the next few days, we will put one foot in front of the other and unpack areas in our lives where we would benefit from spiritual amnesia.

Philippians 10:13-14     
13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (emphasis added).

Questions:
Do you have an immense mountain that you’re facing? What is the next focused step that will help to get you up and over it?

Next Steps:
Knowing Jesus better each day is what produces endurance and strength. There are many ways to do that. One is to be in the Word through a devotional (like this LivingItOut). Another is to complete a Bible reading plan. (It doesn’t have to be Jan. 1 to get started.) The YouVersion Bible App also has devotionals by topic or book of the Bible and is a convenient tool to grow in your relationship with Christ. Don’t forget to check out all the amazing Bible study offerings on RightNow Media. You can learn more about RightNow Media and sign up for your free subscription here.

Prayer:
God, the mountain before me is immense, and yet, thanks to you, I’ve miraculously endured. Thank you for the grace and strength that you’ve given me. May I be disciplined and diligent to continue training for godliness, taking steps to know you more every day. Help me to forget what is behind and look toward what is ahead, trusting you every step of the way. In your precious and faithful name, I pray, 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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You Want Me to Do What…? – Final Stretch

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James 1:27 (AMP)
Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.

Huh? What does this verse from Jesus’ brother James mean for us? Well, in Jesus’ day, wives and children had only their husbands and male relatives to keep them safe, fed, and out of terrible poverty. If their husbands died, they were completely helpless. James adds that we are to stay uncontaminated by the outside world that doesn’t recognize God as Lord.

The following verses in Deuteronomy tell what God commanded his people to do for those who could not care for themselves.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29
28 “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. 29 Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.”

James explains the concept of religion and faith as two sides of the same coin. Faith is our deepest core belief that God’s love now lives in us because we have accepted his gift of forgiveness for our sins and eternity with him. This gift was only made possible because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. In other words, Jesus took the punishment we deserved for our sins, in our place. Accepting that gift saved us from an eternity in hell. On the reverse side of that coin, God calls us—his children—to show others his love by serving our fellow man, selflessly, and in his name.

Thankfully, as we grow in our faith, God grows our desire and ability to help others in both small and large ways. For example, on a nasty winter day walking home from school, the sidewalk was icy and treacherous. I noticed three adults standing around looking down at an elderly man lying on the sidewalk pleading with them to help him up. They stood there debating whether or not they should! I bent down and helped him up. As I walked him back home, he told me he left unescorted and had fallen only a block away. I rang the bell, explained our adventure, and said farewell. During that 10-minute encounter, God taught me to always be prepared for opportunities to show Christ’s love through my actions and words.

There are so many opportunities here at CedarCreek to grow your serving muscles. You can become a world-class example of Christ’s love any day of the week. We have a bed-making and delivery ministry for children without beds and a car care ministry. We join with other churches to feed folks who don’t have enough. At the South Toledo Campus, we host a medical team from UTMC every week to attend to the medical needs of the neighborhood. So many more ways to help are available! Check out our website at CedarCreek.tv/serve or ask your campus pastor for more opportunities to live out your God-ordained mission with us.

Why? Because by sharing our faith with and caring, serving, and providing for people in need, we emulate Christ’s great and perfect love for us all. Grow your faith—start right now by becoming the hands and feet of Christ every day. You will never be bored, you will grow in love  and relationship with God, and your life will definitely be a blessing to others.

Questions:
What excuses do you make for not leaving your comfort zone to show and share with others the amazing love God has shown you?

Why do you think you succumb to fear or indifference when it comes to serving?

Next Steps:
Want to dig deeper? For more on James 1:26-27 watch https://www.crossridgechurch.ca/podcasts/media/2016-11-20-james-1-26-27. It’s a sermon on this very topic recorded on Nov. 20, 2016, by Church Planting Apprentice Matt Glezos from Crossridge Church in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

Take a tiny step out of your comfort zone—even if you have to “do it afraid,” do it for Christ. Serve someone, anyone, with your only motivation being to bless that person and show them God’s love in action. Then thank the Lord for allowing you to be in the right place at the right time.

Prayer:
Lord, I am so sorry it has taken me so long to become a consistent blessing to others. You are such a kind and patient father. Thank you for all the lessons you put in my path in order to show me this is your gift to me as your child—to help, lead, and bless others in your name.  I thank you in Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Martha Smith, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study. Martha describes herself as a lover of Christ who likes to share faith with others.


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Living it Out by Leaving it Out – Final Stretch

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The first week of the Final Stretch series focused on the scripture of James 1, which speaks very directly to the hypocrisy that arises when we fail to put our faith into action. The necessity of living our faith is an underlying theme in the book of James. Even if we identify as followers of God, attend church, and read our Bibles regularly, James warns that our religion is rendered worthless when we fail to live it out in our actions.

We’ve all heard the adage “actions speak louder than words.”  While this may be true, it should not suggest that the words we speak are without consequence.

James 1:26
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.

This election season has presented a sobering reminder of the damage our words can inflict. People professing to be “of faith” reside on all sides of the political spectrum. But so many of the words they utter—whether audibly or via social media—are in opposition to God’s teachings. We’ve all seen and heard the judging, blaming, and name calling; the unhealthy arguments, false accusations, and threats. This ceaseless tongue wagging has weighed heavily on many of us.

James actually had quite a bit to say on the topic of tongues. In James 1:19, the author famously instructs us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” In James 3:5-6, he speaks to the power—for good or bad—of the tongue. “The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches,” he writes. Or, if used with wicked intent, “it can set your whole life on fire.”

In setting up the Final Stretch series, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder spoke of our opportunity to gain spiritual vision for the rest of 2020 and beyond. Living out of our faith—following the spirit into action—is certainly at the heart of that vision. The lesson from James 1:26 is that living it out often requires that we leave it out by controlling our tongue.

Questions:
Do you catch yourself speaking (or writing) words that betray the principles of God’s word? If so, what can you do to be more mindful of the power—and gravity—of your words?

In James 3:8, we are told “no human being can tame the tongue.” Do you find this comforting or confounding? What can we do, as humans, to move closer to fulfilling the message of James 1:26 while also understanding that we are imperfect beings?

Next Steps:
This week, dedicate some quiet time to considering how you can leverage the challenges this year has presented to fortify your spiritual vision moving forward. Think about what you’ve experienced, what you’ve overcome, and where you’ve fallen short. Use what you’ve learned to strengthen your vision and faith during this final stretch of 2020 and beyond.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I am so grateful for your love and your word. Help me to always be mindful of the importance of living my faith and the value of harnessing my tongue. Grant me the wisdom to live—and speak—in concert with your desires. 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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Step into a Healed Heart – Final Stretch

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My 4-year-old sister, Mary, loves to pray. She prays for her paper cuts to get better, for Christmas to get here sooner, and for play dates with her friends. But it is my favorite when she prays for other people. Often, Mary will pray for God to “heal their hearts.” She not only wants God to help them become healthy or happy but also wants their hearts to be healed.

Last weekend, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder said that spiritual depth is a faith-filled step away. If you want to have a closer relationship with God, you need to trust what he says. He shared an important verse in James.

James 1:25
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you’ve heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

Mary, at only 4 years old and without truly understanding the meaning of what she was praying, asked for something very profound. A “healed heart” is a heart that has been set free and blessed—just like the verse says. In addition to praying for others’ hearts, we should also take a step of faith in healing our own!

A great step toward a fully healed heart is reading the Bible regularly. When I take a little time to read, I am trusting that God will reveal to me the message he wants me to hear. God’s Word is full of wisdom and truth for a heart that wants to be healed.

John 8:33
Now you know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Not only am I set free, but when I obey what the Bible says, I am also blessed. For the past few weeks, my family and I have been meeting with volunteers from The Tabernacle and passing out groceries to people in the surrounding neighborhood. The Bible talks about how important it is to serve others, and now I understand—serving feels good! As I share God’s love with others, I receive a blessing in return. Serving to others heals my heart.

Luke 11:28
Blessed are those who hear God’s word and obey it.

Our hearts won’t be fully healed until Jesus comes back. But taking steps of faith will grow our relationship with God, and that is the best way to heal our hearts until that time comes. Take a faith-filled step today toward freedom and blessing.

Questions:
How can you take a faith-filled step right now? What areas in your life can you grow to have a deeper relationship with God?

Next Steps:
If you haven’t done so already, take a step toward God by reading Scripture every day for the next week. Try to set a goal for the week—maybe 15 minutes a day or seven chapters a week. Find other ways to take faith-filled steps, like joining a group or attending GrowthTrack.

Prayer:
Father God, I know that my heart is broken because of the sin of this world. Please heal my heart and give me the courage to take a step of faith. Help me grow in you, becoming closer to you every day. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get to know you better. In Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Lydia Snyder. Lydia has been a story-lover for as long as she can remember, often found reading books or writing. She is thrilled to be making a difference by inspiring others to take part in the best story ever – God’s story. Lydia lives with her three wonderful siblings and two amazing parents.


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What’s Your Story? – Final Stretch

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Seeing my words in print for the first time changed something inside my mind (although seeing them now makes me cringe). What I had once only imagined became reality, and I felt driven to further develop my skills. Before that moment, my writing had only served me. My ideas and words filled pages that no one was allowed to see.

For years, I wanted to be a writer, but my actions told a different story. Wanting without doing something to purposely obtain what I desired only continued the cycle of merely wanting.

The same goes for growing my faith. For years, my spirit was as strong as possible from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays, with the occasional Bible study during the week. But my love for God fell on deaf ears. How could I share my faith if I only listened to the word when it served my purpose? Such selfishness couldn’t reach others.

James 1:22-24
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 

Once I stopped fooling myself, the church became my family. My want for religion turned into a faith walk to grow my spirituality. My struggles are less because my focus is more. I look forward to the day when all of my brothers and sisters can stop fooling themselves and say, “I’m done pretending. I want the real thing” (lyrics from “Real Thing” by Dante Bowe).

Questions:
Are you actively pursuing God throughout the week? Do your actions reflect the story you’re trying to tell?

Next Steps:
Make a daily plan to grow your faith and understanding. Start your morning with prayer. Read the LivingItOut. Live life with others and learn from their differences. Join a small group.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for giving me life and opening up my heart. Help me to find new ways to reach those who want to know your love. Thank you for blessing me with people in my life who were patient enough to share their faith with me. May I never lose sight of your purpose for my life. Amen.


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


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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The Final Stretch – Final Stretch

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Over the weekend, we began a new series titled Final Stretch. Lead Pastor Ben Snyder talked about how we are in the final stretch of the year. I’m not usually one to enjoy a big New Year’s celebration, but I think many of us will joyfully welcome 2021!

It seems like just yesterday, we were watching a clip of Barbara Walters saying, “Welcome to 2020!” None of us knew what was coming though.

In 2020, we have seen and experienced excessive change, uncertainty, chaos, and fatigue … so much new. Some of the changes are good; some are not. Some will be the new normal, and some won’t.

Despite what this year has been, God continues to invite us to grow. He invites us to know him more, find freedom in every area of our lives, discover our purpose, and make a difference. God has a desire to do work in us and through us. This final stretch is an opportunity to refocus and to seek God.

James chapter 1 teaches us how we can approach this final stretch.

James 1:21
So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

As the pandemic began to take hold, we literally tried to get rid of all filth in our lives—we cleaned and washed everything to the point where Clorox wipes and paper towels became impossible to find. Our hands became, and are still, chapped from frequent washing and use of hand sanitizer.

Similar to our physical world, it is equally important to get rid of the filth in our spiritual world. It is an important step we can’t ignore if we want to experience spiritual growth.

In addition to getting rid of the filth in our spiritual lives, we also need to humbly accept God’s word to grow. To accept it, we need to know it. And that can only happen by going to church, reading and studying the Bible, and talking to others about what we are learning. It doesn’t happen by accident; it takes effort. But as you know it and apply it, you will see the power it has to save you.

As we enter the final stretch, commit to God’s word and watch him work.

1 Timothy 4:8
“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

Questions:
As you look at the changes this year has brought, how have they positively changed your spiritual life? What steps will you take to train in godliness?

NextSteps: Read more.. Learn something new. Share it with someone. Apply it to your life.

Just do it!

Prayer:
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for getting us through each day of this year. Help us to embrace the changes that bring us closer to you! Help us think of these changes positively and appreciate how they have changed our lives. Amen.


This post was written by the LivingItOut Team.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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