Make the Most of Every Opportunity! — Wonder

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It is unfathomable to me that the God of the universe placed each of us on this Earth for a purpose. He has given each of us unique personalities, gifts, and experiences. He wants to use these three things to make a difference in the lives of others. He works in all different places, times, and situations. You don’t have to be a pastor or work at a church to make a difference, you just have to be aware of the opportunities God places in your life and have the courage to act on them.

God will call you exactly where you are: home, work, or school. You may feel a gentle nudge to do something that you never would have thought about doing. Often you’ll never know how God used your act of obedience to touch someone else’s life. Throughout your days, he will lead you to do something—and if you choose to listen, it will truly make a difference in your life, and the lives of those around you.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

God nudged me to start a second LifeGroup during the covid shutdown. I felt called to do this because so many people were fearful, anxious, and discouraged. I planned on the group being very light. I thought we could discuss God’s sense of humor, encourage each other to find the joy of the Lord in all situations, and pray together. The name “Happy Hour” came to me, and I thought it would intrigue people to join. It must have worked because several people joined, even a woman from England! I don’t think most of us would have ever met otherwise.

God reminded me that the book of  Philippians is known as the Book of Joy, so our group decided that was a great place to start. We focused on 2-4 verses at a time and had deep discussions about what we had read.

This group united during a difficult time, and we could only meet over Zoom. Many had other challenges in their lives besides covid: seriously ill family members, caring for aged parents, and the death of loved ones. We formed strong bonds of friendship and love for each other. Each member of our group has wondered how we would have made it through this incredibly tough and long season without each other.

The amazing thing about each of these women is that they all have different personalities, spiritual gifts, and life experiences, yet each woman wants to make a difference in each other’s lives. Each one of us is so different, yet we all fit together so beautifully.

I am overjoyed to tell you that after 20 months, the borders opened, and our member from England traveled to get baptized at CedarCreek, with her beloved friends in attendance. Almost every one of us was at that baptism, elated and praising God. What an amazing and beautiful day! And it all started as a nudge from God.

Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
15 Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Questions:
What are your spiritual gifts? How are you using them? What is God prompting you to do?

Next Steps:
Ask God to help you see the plans that he has for your life and to recognize the opportunities to do good in the lives of those around you.

Complete GrowthTrack where you will create your purpose statement. Pray and ask God to help you to make a difference, and say yes to his promptings.

Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, I am so grateful that you created me with a unique and special purpose. I am overwhelmed with your wondrous love and grace for me. Work through me, Jesus, to make a difference and point others to you. Help me to fulfill your purpose for my life. I love, adore, and praise you. 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 Purpose Behind the Message — Wonder

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I don’t know about you, but even as a writer, I struggle with messages I want to share. Sometimes I doubt the importance of my message. When I do, I often lose my purpose and end up staring at a blank page. Sometimes I wonder what meaningful thing I could possibly share. What have I experienced that would relate to the reader? But when I realize the purpose behind my message, I want to share it.

As Christians, God gave us a common purpose. We all have a message to share—the Good News of Jesus. God invites us to participate in his rescue plan, the plan set into motion through Jesus’ birth that continues today.

Sharing the Good News is a part of our purpose as Christians. It is who we are. When you experience your God-given purpose, you don’t want to keep it hidden. When you know the message and the why behind it, you want to share it with others.

Matthew 28:16-20
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus told the disciples to make others into disciples—followers of Jesus—wherever they went. And they did, even in doubt. Even in the midst of the uncertainty they faced. No matter where they were or what they were doing each day, they knew their purpose and followed Jesus’ commandment. Their first-hand experience of Jesus was invaluable, and Jesus promised them he would be with them, always.

As we begin this new year, remember that your story matters and the message of Jesus is the most important message there is  to share. Then don’t keep it to yourself, share it with those around you.

Questions:
What is the Good News? Why do you think it is important to share it?

Have you ever shared why you follow Jesus with someone? If not, do you know the purpose behind the Good News?

Next Steps:
Go to GrowthTrack to begin to discover your purpose and the importance of your story. .

Challenge yourself today to use your gift or talent to share the Good News with someone.

Invite someone to church.

Prayer:
God, it is a hard season the world is facing during this Christmas season. We are facing different kinds of uncertainty in the world that can cause doubt, but I pray you would show me the purpose of the Good News so I won’t hide it. I pray your Holy Spirit would give me the boldness to share the message of Jesus during this Christmas season. I pray you would put someone on my heart I could share this message with. Even in doubt, I trust in your promise that you are always with me. In Jesus’ name, amen.


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


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


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Forgiveness, Can You Imagine? — Wonder

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God continuously forgives us. It’s a message that many people, even those who don’t follow Christ, have heard before. He loves us despite our shortcomings. God’s truth is sometimes difficult to understand unless you’ve experienced storms and have found yourself lost in a maze with no way out. That’s why we must study the Bible. God knew we needed to relate to the stories of others throughout time to see that we’re not alone in our struggles.

Luke 15:11-32 Parable of the Prodigal Son

Jesus told the story of a father with two sons. The younger son didn’t want to wait for his father to die to inherit his share of the estate, so he asked for “his” money upfront. The son’s wish was granted, but the boy wasn’t ready for the world. Society preyed on his desires, and he ended up far from home as a lost child who forgot his way.

The story serves as a lesson to the parent and the child. As a parent, you hold your child as tight as you can, but quite often,  in our effort to keep them safe, we are keeping them from growing and learning. But if we think about the bigger picture, by letting them fail, we help them secure a spiritual compass that will navigate them in the right direction when we’re not around to protect them. It’s okay to let go physically if we don’t let go spiritually.

In the story of the prodigal son, the younger son believes his mistakes have cost him a place in his father’s heart. How often have you done something outside of how you were raised, but your parents forgave you? A good parent will eventually forgive you from a place of love, but the perfect creator will always forgive you. God wants us to know that his love made it possible for us to always return home.

The story Jesus tells in Luke reminds me of a song from the group Gentri. In their piece, Don’t Let Go, they sing, “When my strength is weak, I can feel you carry me. In the darkness left for blind, I can feel your hand in mine. And your whisper heals my soul … don’t let go.” Close your eyes, pray, and listen closely for God’s whisper whenever you find yourself lost. He’ll forgive you because that’s his promise.

Questions:
Do you struggle to ask for forgiveness? Does shame leave you feeling undeserving? Where do you turn when you’re lost?

Next Steps:
Remember the value in the lessons from your childhood, and use them to find your way home by reading your Bible, asking for forgiveness, and remembering God’s promises. Forgive others as you have been forgiven.

Prayer:
Let the Christmas season be a reminder for us to remember God’s love for us throughout the year. May we do our best to live a life of purpose, but never forget that God loves us even when we fall short of expectations. Knowing that God is always waiting to forgive us should humble our hearts to return home to experience the love he graciously gives. Amen.


This post was written by Jaron Camp. Jaron is a storyteller and a professional ghostwriter who enjoys using his gifts to write for the LivingItOut. When he’s not developing fictional worlds, researching, and writing, Jaron enjoys watching sports, participating in family game night, and spending time with his wife and four kids.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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God Knows – Wonder

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Because Jesus came to Earth, lived among us (Immanuel), and gave his life for our sin, we can know God. Not just know about him but know him personally.

When I’m in a situation I feel I just can’t handle, I rely on what I believe about God, his Son Jesus, and the Spirit that guides us. I think about the people whose lives he touched and how it worked out, and I call on the name of Jesus!

There are many biblical stories of people going through hard times—like being sold as a slave by your brothers (Joseph), being stuck in a desert for 40 years (the Israelites), or beaten and thrown into prison (Paul). In every story and circumstance, God is in control and walking with them in their troubles.

So when I feel stuck, or have a squabble with a loved one, or lose something near and dear to me, I remember these people, and God brings me comfort.

John 17:3    
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

If we believe and proclaim that Jesus is the son of God, and confess our sins to him, he is faithful to forgive us. He sits at the right hand of God and advocates on our behalf. He does this because he knows how real our struggles are, because he lived them. He experienced anger and fear and doubt and joy and peace and love and compassion. The list goes on infinitely.

Galatians 1:4        
Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.

We as Christians were never promised that things would be easy, or that we would be rich, or that we would be exempted from the trials and tribulations of this world. We still have our free will, and sometimes we chose our way or God’s way.  However, we do have a Savior who is with us always, one whom we can call on for strength and guidance and for love when we feel unloved. And, most importantly, for forgiveness when we are willing to admit our wrong choices. God wants you to know him and has made it possible through Jesus.

Questions:
Do you believe that Jesus is your Savior?

What difficult circumstance has God walked with you through?

What is your next step to know God more?

Next Steps:
Know that you are loved and accepted by God. Confess in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, and ask him to forgive your sins. Make a commitment to follow Christ. Tell the church or another Christian about your decision and ask for direction.

For those that have already made that decision, evaluate what you currently doing to know God more. Commit to taking a next step in this area and begin today.

Prayer:
Father in Heaven, we are grateful that you have sent Jesus so we can know you better. We ask that you would forgive our sins and live in our hearts so that we can live a life devoted to you. Help us Lord to do the will of the Father and to tell the Good News to anyone who will listen, and even to those who won’t. Thank you, Jesus, for loving us enough to come to Earth and learn more about us so we can know more about you and have a life eternal to look forward to. 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.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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God’s Love – Wonder-full and Uncomplicated – Wonder

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Merry Christmas!

For many, the Christmas season is filled with so many festivities and preparations that we lose the wonder and real meaning of the holiday.

This past week, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder shared two ways people may approach Christmas—the surgical and the sentimental. I saw these play out in my childhood. My parents approached Christmas from a surgical standpoint with a long to-do list and playing a strategic game of ping-pong between relatives on Christmas Day. I took the more sentimental approach, anticipating the annual visit with cousins, opening presents, and eating my Grammy’s razor-thin, perfectly baked sugar cookies.

In the end, however, both of these approaches miss the real reason—the wonderful reason—for Christmas. The one that the angels announced to the shepherds:

Luke 2:10-12
10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

It’s an incredible story, isn’t it? So amazing that perhaps you’re left wondering if Jesus’ birth really even happened. You’re not alone.  Throughout history, many people have wondered about this. In his message, Ben shared historical references validating that Jesus really came to Earth. CedarCreek is also providing copies of a great book, Is Christmas Unbelievable? by Rebecca Mclaughlin, to help you better understand the reality of Jesus’ birth.

But really, why does it matter if Jesus came? What makes Jesus’ birth so important?

Because, as we learned from Pastor Ben, Jesus came Christmas Day so that we could experience love every day. A well-known verse reminds us of this truth:

John 3:16-17
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. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. 

God sent Jesus, not to point a finger at all we’ve done wrong, but to save us because of his love for humanity. As Philippians 2:6-9 reminds us, Jesus came humbly, experiencing the struggles and challenges we all face before making his ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross.

Philippians 2:6-9          
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names. 

Some may question why Jesus would do this, but the reason is not meant to be complicated. Simply put, God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t need you to be perfect before loving you; he loves you right where you are.  He wants you to know him better and to step into a life-changing adventure with him.

This is the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not just a holiday to “get through,” a series of sentimental traditions, or even just a nice story. It’s the reminder of God’s incredible, uncomplicated love for us each day because of Jesus. However, as Pastor Ben pointed out, this leaves each of us with a choice: will we accept this amazing gift that Jesus offers or resist?

What will you choose?

Questions:
Is Christmas generally a wonderful or un-wonderful time of year for you? What did you learn from Pastor Ben’s message? How does this affect your perspective of Christmas?

Will you choose to accept the amazing gift that Jesus offers and step into a life changing adventure with him?

Next Steps:
Text Book to 419-419-0707 to get your free copy of Is Christmas Unbelievable?

Attend our next weekend service on January 2, 2022 to begin to know God better.

Read one section of Luke 2 each day this week and spend five minutes pondering about the event. Reflect on and rejoice in God’s great love for us through Jesus.

Prayer:
Dear Father, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus, and the uncomplicated love you offer through him. Lord, you could have come with fanfare and royalty, but instead, you humbled yourself as a baby in a manger, so that we could experience your love every day. I praise you for this. Help me draw closer to you, Lord, and live a life that honors and glorifies your name.  Amen.


This post was written by Kelly Pagel, the Director of the LivingItOut.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


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