Consider the Source… – Wonder

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Joy doesn’t have to be elusive. Last weekend, Findlay Campus Pastor Chris Baney shared three disciplines: prayer, gratitude and controlled thinking to help us grow in our capacity to be joyful—because Jesus cares more about producing a joyful heart than a joy-filled experience. Today we’ll unpack the concept of controlled thinking and how you can implement this in your own life.

At one point in the 1986 movie Short Circuit, a robot named Johnny 5 was seeking “input.” In 1986, Johnny’s input sources were pretty much limited to TV and books. Today we are inundated with input from 24-hour news stations, the internet, and of course, the “quality information” that we unearth on social media.

If Johnny had access to all the input available today, I’m guessing he might have … well … short-circuited. Did you know that each day, the average person touches their phone over 2,500 times and spends 142 minutes on social media?

I know that when I rely on these modern sources of input for too long, I become grumpy, anxious, and cynical about the world around me. Joy is nowhere to be found. And no wonder! Much of what is floating around out there on the internet wouldn’t pass the Philippians 4:8 litmus test of being true, excellent, or worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

If I’m not diligent at taking my thoughts captive and fixing them on Jesus, they tend to run amok and take my emotions right along with them. I begin to ruminate on things I can do absolutely nothing about. Perhaps you can relate. As Chris Baney pointed out, we can’t always control what’s going on around us, but we can control how we think.

One way to live with more joy is to change our source of input. The psalmist David reminds us who that source should be.

Psalm 43:4
There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!

Did you catch that? God should be the source of our joy, but we need to seek him and put him first. The apostle Paul instructs us how:

Hebrews 12:2
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

Joy is available to us, but we need to control our thoughts and what we fixate on. I encourage you to consider ways you can shift your source of input to Jesus, so that you may be strengthened with all his glorious power and be filled with joy and gratitude.

Colossians 1:11-12
11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.

Questions:
What zaps your joy?

What are your typical sources of input?

What is one thing you can do to help keep your eyes on Jesus?

Next Steps:
Carve out 15 minutes each day to read God’s word, pray, or just be still.

Set your radio default to K-Love or create a playlist with your favorite Christian songs.

Download RightNow Media or a Bible App, like YouVersion, and head to that on your phone when you have free time instead of social media.

Start preparing for 21 Days of Prayer by looking over the prayer and fasting resources at cedarcreek.tv/21days.

Prayer:
Dear Jesus, thank you for being the source of our joy. It’s so easy to get distracted and allow my thoughts and attention to be diverted. Help me redirect my attention to you, Lord, and to focus on thoughts that are true, excellent, and worthy of praise. Amen.


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


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Giving Thanks for Fleas – Wonder

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If despair had a face, it was these barracks. Dirty women crammed together on platforms instead of beds, foul straw for bedding, and backed up pipes choking the air. These were the new living quarters for sisters Corrie and Betsie ten Boom. Unspeakable horrors were a daily routine, as was dehumanizing cruelty. The location? Ravensbrück, Germany: the infamous women’s concentration camp.

Yet, in the middle of that squalid dormitory, Betsie leaned over to Corrie and suggested they praise God. She began listing everything they could be grateful for, including the fleas. Corrie couldn’t believe it—even the fleas?—but she skeptically followed suit, thanking God for those pests.

I’m sobered whenever I think of this story. When I look at my own life, I don’t show anywhere near the level of gratitude those women had. I think most people can relate. We don’t actively try to be ungrateful or to complain—we just coast without stopping to pay attention to our blessings. We eat a warm breakfast without a second thought, get irritated over inconveniences, and take for granted the freedoms we have. We’re passive about thankfulness, so it evades us.

The Apostle Paul, however, urges us to live differently.

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Gratitude isn’t just for when life is easy or pleasant. It’s for all circumstances. Since, realistically, we don’t feel happy in all circumstances, then thankfulness must be more than an emotion.

Last weekend, Findlay Campus Pastor Chris Baney talked about the discipline of gratitude. Discipline denotes training, practice, or a habit—something we do even when we don’t feel like it. It’s more than just a reaction to a good event—it’s a choice we make. We can decide to look for joy no matter our surroundings.

The verse above reveals it’s God’s will for us to be thankful. He wants us to have joy. What’s more, when we choose to be grateful, it opens our eyes to see God’s fingerprints in our situations. Suddenly, we notice the tiny details he is weaving together in our lives. Practicing gratitude gives us spiritual vision.

We can see this in Corrie and Betsie’s story. A little while after their move into the new barracks, Corrie noticed her sister seemed pleased. Betsie explained that she’d learned the reason their dormitory received more freedom than the others.

The fleas.

Because of the fleas, the guards didn’t want to enter, allowing the prisoners a small measure of relief. Corrie was stunned. What had first seemed like a curse was actually a blessing. She had given thanks for the insects before, even though she hadn’t felt like it, but it soon became a true thanksgiving.

Psalm 9:1-2
1 I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done. 2 I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.

Practicing gratitude often turns to real gratitude, and it lets us see where God is working in our lives. All it takes is that first, small step of daring to give thanks and practice thankfulness.

Even for fleas.

Questions:
How often do you praise God for your blessings?

What in your life seems like a curse that might actually be a blessing in disguise?

How can you intentionally practice the discipline of gratitude?

Next Steps:
Make a list of ten things you are grateful for. Challenge yourself to not only think of the obvious blessings but the hidden ones too.

Take time to reflect on the way you see God’s fingerprints on your life. Praise him for that.

If you’re interested in hearing more of Corrie and Betsie’s story, read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.

Prayer:
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings you have given me. You are so generous, and you weave together the details of my life in such beautiful ways. I confess that I’m not always grateful for what I have, and I get lost in the hustle instead of stopping to give thanks. Please help me practice gratitude. Allow me to see your hand in my life. In Jesus’ name, 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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A Closer Walk with You – Wonder

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Findlay Campus Pastor Chris Baney spoke about joy last weekend and how God is the source of it. But is joy the same as happiness? Not at all. So what is it?

“Happiness is merely external, fleeting, and is only achievable on earth. Joy, on the other hand, is internal, selfless, sacrificial, and a spiritual connection with God.” -Glory Dy

In other words, our joy comes solely and directly from the presence of God the Father and Christ, his only begotten Son, in our lives, and it becomes more influential the more we seek a relationship with God.

But how do we grow that joy? Well, as Jesus’ brother James wrote:

James 4:8 (NIV)
Come near to God and he will come near to you.

In Monday’s LivingItOut, we were reminded that God’s joy is relational. The best way to grow a relationship with anyone is to spend significant amounts of time with them. The more time spent together, the deeper the relationship.

Is prayer a significant part of your focus in life? Ask yourself, “How much time do I spend praying?”

I used to make excuses like, “I’m not a morning person” or “I have to get ready for work.” I would promise to pray later, but that rarely happened. What was the result? A stale and shallow relationship with the one who loves me most, because he wasn’t important enough for me to put my relationship with him first.

You can’t grow a relationship you don’t focus on. God is the master and maker of all things that ever existed and will ever exist—and he loves you more than you can understand. He wants to share his joy with you!

Joy isn’t held captive by your circumstances like happiness is. Joy lives in you and continues to grow because of what God will teach you from your circumstances. You will be given an eternal perspective of your trials and hardships as the time you spend with God in prayer grows your relationship with, and understanding of, him and his word. It is time well spent.

Philippians 4:6-7
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Questions:
How do we know God hears us? Why would God care what we have to say?

Next Steps:
Trust God and learn more about him by becoming a daily Bible reader. His Word will answer your questions about just how much he loves you and seeks a relationship with you. Stick with it and see God working in your life as you begin to focus on him instead of your problems.

If you are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Bible reading, ask a campus staff member to get you started on your journey. Come to the monthly Prayer Night held the first Monday of every month at each of our Campuses.

Attend a Group focused on prayer. Groups begin January 22 at various Campuses. Sign-ups start January 8 at CedarCreek.tv/groups.

Participate in the 21 Days of Prayer from January 10-30. For more information go to CedarCreek.tv/21days.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for caring about me and offering ways for me to grow closer to you and find the joy Christ emulated so beautifully when he was on Earth. Please make me more like Jesus as I begin my journey with you through your Bible and in prayer. 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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Joy Beyond This Place – Wonder

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In the summer of 2020, my father’s father passed away. I had only seen him and that side of the family twice since 1998, and we only had a few phone conversations during those years, but something pushed me to go see my Grandma Camp and the rest of the family. Only twenty people were permitted to attend the burial because of Covid, so I paid my respects at the house the following day. Everyone was friendly, but I felt like a stranger. The odd thing for me was how my grandmother pushed the conversation as if time had stood still, and the subjects of the discussions were shared experiences.

I wasn’t mad about the situation. I listened to my grandmother’s stories. After about an hour, a pen and notebook found their way into my hands for taking notes. Other family members made comments expressing their joy that I had come home because, for years, my grandmother had praised (my father) Stevie’s kids. Before long, a few hours turned into twelve. The death of someone I barely knew turned into a joyous occasion for the person who would miss him the most and for me.

God’s joy is not dependent on your circumstances.

Philippians 4:4-5
4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

The above verse is Paul the Apostle’s words. He wrote letters to the Philippian Church while he sat in prison.

Paul understood that his situation didn’t stop God’s joy. The Philippians proved to be Paul’s most significant supporters, and he wanted to express to them that the dangers they faced wouldn’t stop God’s glory.

My time with my Grandma Camp that day was the longest time we had spent together since I was 8 years old. She was called home that December, and our last moments together were filled with joy. The joy of the Lord is our inheritance.

Questions:
How often do you avoid moments because you don’t see the joy in them? Do you think of joy as the only emotion you should experience?

Next Steps:
Continue reading the words of encouragement from Philippians 4. Think about someone who doesn’t find joy where they are at, and invite them to attend a service. Join one of the CedarCreek Groups or invite someone to join a Group with you. The new semester starts January 22, and the directory opens January 8.

Prayer:
God, I am blessed to find myself continuing my journey in 2022. Thank you for loving me, even as I have sometimes struggled to give love during these past few difficult seasons. I am here in this life. Let me never forget that it is truly a gift. 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.


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God’s Joy – Wonder

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“Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King!”

I hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy New Year’s Eve. I love that New Year’s is just a week after Christmas. There’s so much build-up to Christmas that afterward, it feels like I’m not really done celebrating—like it’s too soon to end the joy of the season. Fortunately, I tell myself, there’s still New Year’s Eve!

But now that both Christmas and New Year’s are behind us, you might catch yourself thinking, “Now what?” Maybe you’re excited to get back into regular routines like I am, but for a lot of you, I’m sure the thought of going back to “business as usual” feels a little dull and mundane. Maybe you’re dreading the remaining months of winter ahead. Sure, the holidays are bright and cheery, “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s such a small portion of the year.

I want you to know, God didn’t send his Son for us to experience joy and wonder just at the holidays. He wants us to experience his lasting joy all year round.

John 17:13
“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.”

John 10:10
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

The bottom line from the weekend’s message was this: Jesus cares more about producing a joyful heart than a joy-filled experience. Jesus makes it possible for us to experience joy in our lives.

Of course, it can be hard to feel God’s joy all the time—I guarantee, whatever this new year brings, there will be parts of it that aren’t joyful. There will be parts of 2022 that are wonderful, but there will also be parts that are challenging and painful. How are we supposed to be filled with joy during times when our lives aren’t?

Over the next few days, we’ll look at a few truths about joy and discuss a few disciplines to help us grow our joy. But it starts with realizing the joy we receive from God is relational. It is not dependent on our situations—it comes from our relationship with him, from experiencing his love, which our circumstances can never take away from us.

Over the next few days, we’ll look at a few truths about joy that will discuss some different disciplines to help us grow our joy when we understand them.

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.

John 15:9

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.”

As we look over a new year, wondering what it will bring, I pray that we would choose to live out of God’s love, so we can experience his joy in all things—and so we can share his joy and love with others. Here’s to 2022.

Questions:
When you picture God, do you see him as joyful? Do you believe he wants to give you joy?

How difficult is it for you to find joy in challenging situations?

Next Steps:
Start cultivating joy now by building your relationship with Jesus—make time for him in your daily life. Now is the perfect time to create, recommit to, or build on healthy spiritual disciplines, like spending time in the morning reading your Bible and praying.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I praise you for your joy—the joy you offer me through your Son. Thank you for making your unlimited joy available to me through my relationship with you. This year, help me to grow that relationship and lean into you, so I can experience your joy no matter what 2022 brings. May I live out of the fruits of your spirit, and may your will be done in me and through me. 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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