Crushed in Spirit – Letters in Red

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I fell in love, really in love, with Jesus when my father passed away in 2000. I cried out to Jesus for comfort and reassurance that my dad was safely in heaven with him. I asked him for a sign, and then turned to the only place I knew to look—the Bible. I just opened it. On the page was John 14:1-4 (NIV): Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

At that moment, I accepted God as my new Father. I began to live my life in a way that would please him. I attended church regularly. The pastor became a mentor and encouraged me greatly, and I made some great friends.

We started a contemporary worship service, and I started leading worship on alternate Sundays. We used a projector with transparencies and accompaniment CDs. I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life!

Then I started wanting more. Maybe I didn’t love Jesus the same way I did in the beginning. Maybe I began to deflect God’s unconditional love. My behavior outside of the church caused the leaders to ask me to step down from leading worship. I was crushed in spirit.

I was unable to get past that hurt for years. It separated me from the sunlight of the Spirit of God, as well as the fellowship of people who really loved and cared for me. I wasn’t able to make any lasting changes until I was willing to forgive and repent. I thought I wanted to be right, when I really just needed to be loved.

The thing is, we are all human, flawed beyond belief! Yet God loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only Son on the cross for our sins. No, we are not perfect, but we worship a perfect God. God’s grace allows us to get back on when we fall off track. If I were perfect, I wouldn’t need that grace, and neither would you.

Questions:
Have you been hurt by someone close to you? Perhaps you were even hurt by the church? Have you asked God to help you find forgiveness?

Next Steps:
Look for hope in the Bible. Read Revelation 21:4; Psalm 34:18; Romans 12:19; Matthew 18:21-22; Matthew 11:28-30. Pray and ask God to reveal what it is he is saying to you.

Prayer:
Father in heaven, I would pray that no one would be closed off from your Spirit simply because they are unwilling. I pray that the willingness will come. I pray that each of us will let our light shine as Christians and not be paralyzed by our inadequacy, that we would be open to exchange ideas and understanding of the book you have so eloquently placed your word in. Help us to love one another as you have loved us. In Jesus’ name, amen.


This post was written by Julie Estep. Julie loves her husband John and their combined five adult children and four grandchildren. Her favorite activities are walking their two dogs and golfing. She loves sharing her faith and is grateful for the chance to be a LIO contributor.


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Pray For God’s People – Letters in Red

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“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.” I love that movie quote. It has danced around my head for the last twenty-one years. I used it when my mother passed twenty years ago and when my uncle passed last week. The difference between then and now is, I don’t need to use it for myself. Unrest is a feeling of disturbance and dissatisfaction in a person. It’s the turmoil that keeps you from the calm within the storm. Many of us deal with unrest, but for Christians, we get through it because we know who we belong to; we know that we are loved. What about non-believers?

Luke 15:7
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!

God loves us all equally, but what excites heaven? We know that prayer matters to us, but it also matters for those who don’t know God and those who have turned away from God. Help rest the unrest in a non-believer by showing them, “heaven blessed the day God sent you here,” but it also celebrates the day you return. God invites us to participate in that adventure, which is why our spiritual work feels out of whack when it’s a “me” mentality. A journey for one is more lonely than fruitful.

Think about when you were lost, felt unloved, or stopped believing. Do you think your prayers alone returned you to God? I think that’s doubtful because we often stop praying or pray for the wrong things when we turn from God. Someone continued to pray for you and me when we were suffering. So pray for the lost sheep. Remember that they are people worth remembering.

Questions:
Do you feel like your spiritual growth includes people outside of your circle? Are you consciously praying for non-believers instead of waiting for them to figure things out?

Next Steps:
Include everyone on your spiritual journey. Use the My Top Five Cards by going to cedarcreek.tv/mytop5 and choose four people in your life you can pray for. Leave one spot open for someone God brings in your path. Don’t be afraid to let others know you pray for them.

Prayer:
Father God, thank you for loving me enough to invite me to actively help others find their way back to you. I am grateful for the people who prayed for me when I was lost, and I appreciate the strength you give me to forgive and pray for those who have wronged me. I pray that we all work together to share your truth. 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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Guiding Light – Letters in Red

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Sometimes we are more worried about making our point to someone than we are pointing them to Jesus.

In a confusing world, where people struggle to find the truth and a sense of balance in their lives, it’s important to remember that the choice to follow Jesus is the most critical decision someone can make. If we don’t keep this truth in mind when we disagree about much less important matters, we can do a lot of good and still lose our way.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10, God calls us to function in love, unity, and agreement—“to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.”

Paul is explaining that we must join together, that God would not have division. If we are truly in Christ Jesus, then we will live our lives together as in him.

When this happens, God showers blessings upon us and uses us to bring more people to Christ. We are carrying the lamp, because we, as believers, are the light and must become more attentive to those who don’t know Christ.

Sadly, sometimes we are more worried about making our point to someone than we are pointing them to Jesus.

You cannot force your opinions on others, despite how justified you believe you are. God made each of us unique, with unique wiring, skills, strengths, and experiences. Since we each have a unique perspective, it’s normal for us to disagree—but love should guide us in our disagreement.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didnt love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of Gods secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didnt love others, I would be nothing. 3If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didnt love others, I would have gained nothing.

We, as believers, should show agape, or unconditional love. We should show people we care about them and want them to know the love God has for them.

According to 1 Corinthians 13:5-7, someone walking in love does not seek to dishonor anyone. Love is slow to anger and does not rejoice in anything evil. A person who works in love always looks for the truth and keeps no record of wrong.

1 John 4:8
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God has chosen to be known to us as the Father. He loves you more deeply and powerfully than any earthly parent ever could.

John 13:34-35       
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

Jesus is telling us that this great unselfish love for each other will set us apart from the rest of the world. The greatest love anyone could have would be to give his life for his fellow man, and that is just what Jesus did.

Questions:
Are you missing out on God’s love? Do you feel that, as a believer, you have nothing to offer? Do you let what others say direct your path in life?

Next Steps:
Now is the time to light your lamp, let it shine for all to see, reach out to others, show them you care, and offer compassion. Read the Bible, learn Scripture, join a Group, and be a part of a DreamTeam, because God’s hands are open now to receive YOU.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I pray through the power of the Holy Spirit that I will develop Christlike love in my life, so that you will be glorified and others will be drawn to your unconditional love. Help me be the lamp you shine light through, so your love may flow to reach many people. 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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Paralyzed by Perfectionism – Letters in Red

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I’ve seen t-shirts commemorating what a struggle 2020 was, but I think we need similar ones for perfectionists: Perfectionism, 1 out of 5 stars, would not recommend.

Often we downplay perfectionism as merely striving for excellence, but we have all felt the pain it can bring—shame over messing up again, frustration when things aren’t exactly right, and, above all, the paralyzing fear of failure. Imposing unattainable standards on ourselves is easy, especially when it comes to our spiritual lives. But God offers free grace and relentless love. This frees us from needing to scrutinize our own life, so that we can focus on loving God and others.

God knows all you’ve done, your thoughts, your fears, your hopes—and regardless of your real and/or perceived failures, he still loves you tenderly. You cannot earn that love and grace. Jesus alone carries the weight of your redemption, making it futile to attempt to garner God’s love by torturing yourself with self-ridicule and perfectionism. There is also deep reassurance in realizing there is nothing you can do to lose God’s love. The apostle Paul explains this in Romans.

Romans 8:38-39
38And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because we are fully loved by God, we can show love to others without getting entangled in the need to get our lives, or theirs, completely together first. Perfectionism is ultimately inward-focused—the priority is our own expectations for ourselves and others. Yet, that completely misses the selfless life God calls us to live.

Galatians 5:13
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

Jesus has given us freedom from sin and a righteousness more perfect than we could ever attain through our own efforts. As a result, we should devote our attention to serving others. Give up the endless race for perfection, rest in God’s perfect love, and shift your focus toward being the hands and feet of Christ to other people.

Questions:
Where do you find perfectionism creeping into your life? What is one way you can recenter your focus on loving God and others?

Next Steps:
Memorize a Bible verse that reminds you of the love you’re called to show others. Find one practical way you can serve another person today and every day.

Prayer:
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for the love and grace you freely give. Because of these gifts, I can quit striving for perfection on my own strength and focus on loving you and others. You call me to serve those around me, so please make me aware of the needs I can meet. Give me your heart for others. Amen.


This post was written by Sarah Pagel, a regular contributor and editor or the LivingitOut.


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The Barbarian Way – Letters in Red

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“But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized.”

-Mick to Rocky,
Rocky III

Sixteen years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference in Chicago where Pastor Erwin McManus, from Mosaic Church in California, gave a talk that I still remember today. It was based on his book, titled, The Barbarian Way.

With his words, he painted a picture of a younger version of himself that was new to following Jesus. There was a lot that he didn’t know about being a Christian, but he did know that he loved Jesus and was experiencing a new and full life because of Jesus’ love for him. As a result, he found his love for others growing, and he wanted them to experience the joy, forgiveness, and purpose that he had found.

Sharing Jesus’s love with others became a young Erwin McManus’ drive and passion. Filled with enthusiasm, he set out to know God more and make Jesus known to others. He didn’t always have the most eloquent words, and his actions were sometimes abrasive, but he was in love with Jesus and wanted to tell the world. McManus called this courageous mindset the Barbarian Way.

As time went on, though, something happened. McManus became more “civilized.“ As he surrounded himself with like-minded people, his focus turned more towards his interactions with them. Eventually, his enthusiasm to share Jesus with individuals outside of his group lessened. When he did have a chance to share Jesus with others, he found himself worried about saying things eloquently. He, in essence, had lost his way.

This weekend, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder shared that you can do a whole lotta good and still lose your way. In McManus’ case, he realized he was still doing good things, but he had stopped doing the work he did at first. My guess is that many of you who are reading this can relate to this story. It is easy to turn our focus inward and stop seeing the opportunities we have to show God’s love to others. The good news is, Jesus tells us how to get back on track and begin loving others like we once did.

Revelation 2:4-5
 4But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.”

This verse plays out in Erwin McManus’ book The Barbarian Way. In it, McManus reflects back on what it was like when he first started to follow Jesus. He remembered who he was and what he did when God’s love was made known to him. He recognized his need to repent for losing his love for others and made a commitment to return to doing the things he did at first.

Perhaps you can relate to this story. Maybe you are doing a whole lot of good, but you have lost your way. If that is where you find yourself today, you are not alone. We have all been there and will be again. The good news is we can get back on track by remembering, repenting, and returning to God.

Questions:
Read Revelation 2:1-7. What was the Church of Ephesus doing well?

What was God’s complaint against them?

Read Revelation 2:5. In order to regain what was lost, what steps did the church need to take?

What were some of the things you did when you started following Jesus?

What is something you did at first that you are no longer doing?

NextSteps:
Ask God for a renewed love for others and for your eyes to be opened to the opportunities you have to share Jesus with them. Write down the names of five people you can invite to church this Easter, and look for opportunities throughout your day to invite someone you encounter.

Prayer:
God, thank you for being patient with me and for always making it possible to return to you when I lose my way. Today, I want to say thanks for loving me. It is because of your love for me, that I am able to love those around me. Help me to remember this truth as I share your love with others today. In Jesus’ name. 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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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.


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