Peace vs. Turmoil – Irresistibly Free

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In 1984, I accepted Christ’s life-giving, love-filled offer.  I was so excited to realize I could stop trying to be perfect. I could put it all in God’s hands, confidently knowing he would grow me in my faith and, eventually, lead me home to eternity with him.

There have been stumbles and face plants along the way, but thankfully, God has continually picked me up, dusted me off, and placed me back on the narrow path of growing in his will and his way…

Then in February of 2020, my circumstances became exceptionally challenging. My best friend of 39 years unexpectedly died, my brother sustained a traumatic brain injury, my husband and I had COVID for Christmas, and we’ve since lost at least a dozen friends to its ravages. Simultaneously, in my eyes, our beloved democracy was under attack by extremists.

The continuous stress made it extremely challenging to trust God, and far too easy to think I had to fix everything on my own.  Unfortunately, I began to suffer from ever-worsening anxiety, depression, and fear. It pushed me to the brink and, consequently, as a salty, opinionated Irish girl, has led to some less-than-grace-filled discussions.

Thankfully, Ben’s message reminded me that Christian life is not about fixing this ravaged, failing world and worrying about whether Christianity is “winning” the culture war or not. It IS about being the hands, feet, and voice of Christ and spreading his message of salvation through faith in the One True God to save as many lost souls as possible, especially in the midst of chaos. That’s why we’re here.

(In this scripture, Jesus is speaking about his disciples.)

John 17:20-23 NIV
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Ben stated, “Focusing on and obeying Jesus is like a bright light shining in the world, country, and our culture. But when we become politicized, we simply add to the darkness of this lost world.”  So, instead, I suggest we take the apostle Paul’s words to heart and stop worrying about how “wrong” others are and, instead:

1 Corinthians 9:22-24
22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!

Questions:
Ask yourself: Has your need to express your opinions about the state of the world and our country brought anyone to Christ? Or have they alienated them from him and you? And, finally, what is it God tells us is the right path to take as his disciples?

Next Steps:
Put down your fear, anger, and anxiety—they are not from God.

Pick up your Bible daily and do as this song suggests:

Find a Group and connect with other Christ-followers regularly.

Spend time daily in prayer.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for bringing us this message, at this moment in our church’s and country’s history. Thank you for using it to provide me with real and growing relief from anxiety and depression through your Word and this message. In Jesus’ name I pray, 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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Everyone Can Win – Irresistibly Free

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I often ponder the lack of response by individuals engaged in a disagreement, or as Pastor Ben likes to call it, “heated fellowship.” It raises the question—is the lack of response wisdom or cowardliness? Not participating in heated fellowship, out of wisdom, requires enormous self-restraint.

If we were to make a list of topics to avoid conversationally, for the sake of relationship(s), it would be extremely long! Unless you have been living under a rock, you know this is true of relationships—both outside and inside the walls of church. Unfortunately, more than a few people purposefully engage in rhetoric at the expense of others. One-upmanship is the name of their game. It should not be so for the Christ-follower. Our posture, tone, and approach should reflect Jesus—in everything we do and say.

When we accurately portray Christ in our day-to-day activities, we win, as does everyone. One approach is by refusing to participate in placing personal interests above the interests of others. On multiple occasions, Jesus modeled stepping into social issues by lovingly interacting with one-and-all. He offered no preferential treatment, and he had no biases or agendas against any class of people.

In Mark 11, a direct political statement that Jesus made was recorded.

Mark 11:15-17
15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Paul also demonstrated how to operate as an agent of God.

1 Corinthians 9:19-21
19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

When we place others before ourselves, as Paul stated above, we all will win!

Questions:
How do you navigate heated fellowship? How do you manage conflict? Do you purposefully engage and enrage the other participant(s) in order to “win” the battle? What matters most to you—winning or being Christ-like in both word and deed?

Next Steps:
Examine the motive(s) behind avoiding heated fellowship—whether it is wisdom or cowardliness. Pray for clarity in identifying your personal strengths and weaknesses as a Christ-follower. Ask a genuine friend to identify character flaws (hindrances as a Christ-follower) that you possess. Strengthen your character flaws through the daily meditation of applicable Bible verses.

Join a Group.

Participate in our summer text campaign by texting SUMMER to 419-419-0707 to help you draw closer to God and become more like him.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, you know me better than I know myself. Grant deeper understanding to me in identifying self-defeating habits and routines. As I step into the freedom offered through Christ, may your light shine in me and through me, especially in the relationships most challenging. Empower me to offer grace and mercy to those seeking a deeper connection, as I lean into you daily. Nudge me, keeping me from missing opportunities to bring glory to your name. Diminish me as I exalt you. In Jesus’ name, amen. 


This post was written by Karen Peck. Karen retired in March 2018 from Lucas County Information Services. She has been married to her husband, E. Michael, for over forty years. Karen is extremely grateful retirement has afforded her several soul-fulfilling opportunities to engage in deeper, meaningful relationship with Him and others.


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Living in Contrast – Irresistibly Free

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Recently, a coworker commented about an immigration issue that was troubling her. Instead of getting curious and trying to understand her concerns, I got caught up in my own prejudgments on the issue. And rather than meeting my coworker where she was—feeling the need to belong—my reaction caused division. In retrospect, my approach to the conversation should have been focused on living in contrast to the world, to let the light of Jesus shine.  But I focused on winning.

As Christ-followers, we are called to live in contrast to the way the rest of the world lives—we should stick out. The church was never intended to reflect the world. It’s supposed to look different. We should not be focused on serving our own interests but, rather, the interests of the Kingdom of God. When the church comes together for the Kingdom of God, it shines a light on the rest of the world. Winning is never the goal, because the light of Jesus cannot be overcome by the darkness of this world.

John 1:5
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

The church isn’t fragile. We don’t have to live with the fear of losing. The Kingdom of God is stronger than we can imagine because we are under the authority of the King. When we come together, we are free to rely on King Jesus to overcome the darkness. We don’t have to be in it to win it.

Over and over again in the Old Testament, when Israel thought they could win without God, they lost. They did not live in contrast but lived like the people they were trying to conquer, causing the Israelites to lose sight of what they were really fighting for.

When we allow our faith to be superseded by political issues, we can lose sight of the truly important task of reaching people for Jesus.  Unfortunately, that is what happened in the conversation with my coworker. It wasn’t about her comment—I love that in America, there are so many different cultures and backgrounds. I tried to win the “battle” on my own, instead of relying on the King. I was more concerned about being right and missed an opportunity to be a light in her life.

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

We are called to let our light shine through, responding differently than the rest of the world does. It’s an opportunity to represent Christ to others and give him the glory.   By living in contrast, the church shines a bright light that the darkness cannot overcome.

Questions:
What battle are you trying to win on your own?

Why do you think it is important for the church to be the light?

What are you afraid to lose?

How can you be a light for God’s Kingdom?

Next Steps:
Employ these tips when you’re involved in a controversial discussion:

  1. Have a conversation not an argument—the aim should be to get to know someone, not to prove a point.
  2. Get curious and ask questions to better understand the other person’s perspective.
  3. Seek to find common ground.

Prayer:
King Jesus, I believe that it is by your authority that you will overcome the darkness. I am sorry for the moments I have lost sight of the real battle. It is not about the interests of the world but for the sake of your Kingdom. It is not for me to win but to be a light to the world. Show me how to live in contrast to glorify you. In Jesus’ name, amen!


This post was written by Becca Roberts, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut.


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Shine – Irresistibly Free

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I have very strong political opinions. In the past, it was very easy for me to get bent out of shape about things going on in the world that I didn’t agree with. I tend to complain, argue, and become irritated when I am focusing on the wrong things.

My amazing mentor, Zonnie, gently points me back in the right direction. She reminds me where my focus should be—on Jesus. Unfortunately, I am a very slow learner, so she reminds me over and over again. As I continue to read Scripture and study Jesus’ life, I’ve come to realize how right she is. It is impossible to live in Jesus’ peace, love, and joy if I’m focused on the world and offended by everyone who has a different opinion than I do.

Paul similarly talks about the importance of not grumbling and arguing in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:14-16 NIV
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

I don’t know about you, but I am more apt to behave badly when I’m focused on my problems and the problems of this world instead of Jesus. I think when we become angry and let that anger fester, we are more apt to say or post hurtful things on social media, or even make blanket statements about people we don’t agree with. This is very hurtful to others and can easily ruin relationships. As Christians, our behavior is a reflection on Jesus and other Jesus-followers. We can expect this type of behavior from the world but not from followers of Jesus.

Before COVID hit, I realized Jesus was calling me to change. I needed to be more compassionate, loving, kind, and grace-filled, so I made some big changes in my life. I went off Facebook, stopped listening to political podcasts, and stopped watching the news. I started reading the Bible and listening to Christian podcasts more. I started praying regularly, counting my blessings, and praising God. These changes made a huge difference in my life. It’s easy to see now that God was preparing me for what was ahead.

Over the last two years, our country has been divided over many issues. Sadly, many of our churches have followed. As a result, some of us have taken our focus off of Jesus—and let’s face it, that is a horrible way to live. If that’s you, it’s time to adjust your focus back to him and your blessings. It’s important for all of us to show more love, grace, and compassion to those around us. We can shine like stars if we allow Jesus’ light to shine through us.

I admit it is a struggle every day to remain focused on Jesus. It is easy to get irritated and upset. Recently, I had a conversation with someone who has different views than me. We expressed our own opinions and listened to each other. It was hard not to get angry. I wanted to be right, but I knew that’s not what was important. We ended that part of our conversation with, “We just have to trust God!”

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

Questions:
What are you focusing on? Do you trust Jesus? Do you need to change your focus or change any of your behaviors?

Next Steps:
Pray about the things that upset you, and ask Jesus if he is calling you to do something about it. Make a decision to not complain about things—be part of the solution.

Prayer:
Jesus, you are such an amazing God. You love me so much. You have a perfect plan. Help me to focus on you at all times. Increase my faith and trust in you when I struggle with the challenges of this world. Let your love and peace radiate through me to others, and let me shine like the stars in the sky. 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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In It To Win It – Irresistibly Free

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About six months ago, I was talking with a client when the topic unexpectedly swerved to politics. My whole body tensed as I realized she wanted my opinion on a hot-button issue. I fumbled for an answer that wouldn’t lose me business. I knew of my tendency to get swept away in an argument, trying to prove why I was right and win over the other person. But if I let that happen, there would be consequences.

The “in it to win it” mentality is so easy to slip into. We have reasons for our opinions, and we feel there would be a positive outcome if everyone held the same view. The problem is, when we get wrapped up in our stances and try to persuade others that it’s right, the conversation often winds up angry, judgmental, and unproductive. In our vehemence, we can misrepresent our own views and refuse to understand others’ views.

Thankfully, Jesus offers us a different way to navigate political situations with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34), and the Great Conduct (Matthew 20:25-28). Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus step into hot-button political and religious issues with words of grace and truth. We have to focus on Jesus’ example to escape endless political skirmishes.

Ephesians 4:15
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

The more we dig into Jesus’ words, the more we’ll recognize the victory he has achieved. He conquered sin, he conquered death, and he told us how the story ends. Because of that, we can enter every political conversation with hope and assurance, knowing that ultimately God is in control. Jesus’ victory frees us from the anger, anxiety, and despair that a glance at the news can bring.

By focusing on Jesus and living from his victory, we can keep everything in perspective when talk turns to politics. We don’t need to win the argument—our goal is to win hearts for Christ. When we follow Jesus’ example, our mission shifts to match his heart for serving others. We listen with the intention of truly understanding, we seek unity instead of division, and we strive for peace and grace.

James 1:19
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

When I finally provided an answer for my client, I tried to explain my view as calmly and diplomatically as possible. We ended up having a polite and productive conversation about politics (imagine that!), and I walked away relieved.

When we imitate Jesus in our approach to politics, we’ll be amazed at the way God transforms the situation.

Questions:
How do you react when politics enter the conversation?

How do you want to imitate Jesus’ example more closely?

Next Steps:
The next time politics come up while talking with a coworker, at a family dinner, or on social media, take a moment to pray before you respond.

If you haven’t already, join the DreamTeam to show Jesus’ love by serving.

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you for the perfect example you have provided to navigate political situations. I confess that I sometimes let my own emotions and opinions drown out my goal of introducing people to you. Please fill me with your grace and peace, and help me to speak the truth in love. Help me to prioritize glorifying you and spreading the Gospel over my desire to win. Amen.


This post was written by Sarah Pagel. Sarah is passionate about weaving stories pierced with beauty, light, and sehnsucht. She’s an avid reader of everything from dusty classics to modern fantasy. When not living in worlds made of words, she can be found spending time with her family, taking long walks, or practicing yet another Vivaldi piece on her violin.


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