“In this world you will have trouble. But be encouraged! I have won the battle over the world.” -John 16:33
There are a lot of catch phrases about trying to stay positive when things are hard . . .
Is the glass half empty or half full?
Always look on the bright side of life.
Where one door closes, another one opens.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Some of those sayings are more helpful than others. When you are frustrated, they can be down-right aggravating. Nevertheless, the intention is always the same – look for the good. When we look for the good, we can usually find it. For example, rain brings life.
But life does have its share of disappointments, mistakes, bad news, tough relationships. Not every day is the best day of my life. Some days the shadows make it tough to look on the bright side. A lot of days are a mixed bag of good and bad with things that are amazing and sad.
Jesus even reminded us of this. “In this life you will have trouble,” John 16:33. Bummer. It would be nice to be exempted. Right?
In the dark times, when it is hard to find the light, we can’t always understand why some things happen. But we can believe in a God who keeps His promises. We can have hope, even in the toughest times, because we know He can make something good out of something bad. Remember the rest of John 16:33. “But be encouraged! I have won the battle over the world.”
These are not empty words from Jesus. He has already overcome the world – even death!
In John 11, Jesus spoke the words and his friend Lazarus was resurrected from the dead. “Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
Jesus also brought a little girl back to life in Mark 5. “While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore’… (Jesus) went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).”
Jesus came back to life himself. In Matthew 28, the angel says to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
The next time you are having a difficult day or it is hard finding the positive, pause and be still. Think about how God can make something beautiful. Remember how powerful God truly is, that He has already “won the battle over the world.” And for the fun of it, open your Bible and find some of the many, many times God came through for His people. -Lia
It seems appropriate to think about St. Patrick and his prayer during this time of Lent. I’m always intrigued by the concept of praying without ceasing and two of the figures who have helped me think through the issue are St. Patrick and St. Francis of Assisi. Since March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed like a good idea to look at the poem attributed to the fifth century missionary to Ireland.
If you don’t know, young Patrick was kidnapped by pirates in Britain. He was taken to Ireland where he took care of animals for a few years before escaping back to his family. Eventually, he returned to western Ireland and is considered responsible for converting the island to Christianity from Celtic polytheism. This was all around the fifth century.
The poem may have been written by him, or it could have been a collection of anonymous hymns he drew together as bishop. Here is part of the "Lorica" of St. Patrick:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
A simple refrain fills the verses and it is not hard to memorize. I believe, when we pray without ceasing, we make our lives all about Jesus. Although the full "Lorica" of St. Patrick is written like a druidic prayer which would have used magic, Patrick used the language of his day to bring people to Jesus. We do not have to think there is magic in what we say to still see the usefulness of this poem.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 we get, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing." (NIV) The context is rich here. If we go back to verse 12 and read through 25, we get a picture of living and working in a faith community.
When we work with people things are not always perfect. We have expectations related to perfection though. This could be because we assume the goodness of God will automatically filter through into people’s lives or that we think the Holy Spirit will work in the same way in all people. Generally, we want to assume most people are good and so we think the church will be especially good. But that can be a form of works-based righteousness.
The reality is: some people are lazy, some people are judgmental, some people work hard with little thanks, others are just not sure what they believe anymore- all these people and more make up the church. Our responsibility is to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our own lives. Go back and read St. Patrick’s "Lorica" again. What binds us together is Christ. As I wrote previously, we must find our identity in Jesus. Our service to one another, our preaching, our teaching, our fellowship, our singing, and our opening of our homes must all be about Christ.
We preach a dead man raised from the dead! Let’s keep the absurdity in front, behind, beside, and before us as we live. This is our living prayer (cf. Romans 12:1-2). -Christopher
Pastor and author Bob Goff recently Tweeted, "Next to grace, I bet God thinks having us need each other was one of His best ideas." (twitter.com/bobgoff)
Bob has a knack for putting such deep theological concepts into simple to understand phrasing. But I'll be honest, this one took me a bit to process. Perhaps it's society seeping into my mind, convincing me I don't "need" anyone, or it's my occasional, and always irrational, fear of transparency. Relationships are difficult, we all know that, and it often feels like life would be far easier if we didn't have to deal with people. We've all come home from a long day at work or a frustrating night out and have said the words: "I'm sick of people."
And it's true. Relationships are hard, exhausting, and frustrating. But they are also a part of God's intention for his greatest creation: us. In fact, relationships are at the very root of God's purpose for us, as first and foremost we were created to be in a committed and intimate relationship with him.
But we can't just stop there. We weren't the only human created on that sixth day detailed in Genesis. We were put here with other people. God wanted us to live life with other people, to work alongside other people, not just deal with them. Adam was able to accomplish some things alone, but God knew that to accomplish all that God needed him to, Adam needed Eve.
God created us to work best together, a reoccurring theme found in Scripture, stemming back to Genesis 2.
"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'" (Genesis 2:18, New Revised Standard Version).
Eve wasn't just a friend, a fellow human among the animals and plants. Someone Adam "put up with". Eve was a partner, placed in the garden to help God's creation flourish.
Psalm 133:1 sums up this idea of God-ordained fellowship among humans beautifully... "How good and pleasant it is for God's people to live together in unity!" (New International Version).
As we are journeying through this Lenten season together, our deepest intention is to grow in our relationship with Jesus, as it should be. However, I have often found in my own walk with Christ, that in my pursuit of a deeper relationship with Jesus, I often seclude myself from, perhaps even becoming oblivious to, the divinely appointed relationships all around me. The "Eves" to my "Adam", if you will.
Now, this is simple to do. As we intensely focus on one thing it is almost expected and unavoidable that our attention will drift away from other things. And that can certainly be a blessing, as us growing closer to Jesus can take away our desire for unholy actions and priorities, but it can also be an issue. I fully believe that Jesus' intention is that as we grow in our relationship with him, we would also grow in our relationship with others. We would confide in other brothers and sisters in Christ about this spiritual journey we are taking, seeking their guidance and fellowship along the way. We would encourage them with the convictions and truths God is laying upon our hearts during this time. That as Paul says in the book of Hebrews, we would "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24, NIV). As we grow closer to Christ, Christ's nature should grow within us, overflowing to those we do life with.
Our "need" of others isn't that we need them to save us, complete us, or fulfill us, as we have the saving grace of Jesus Christ that has made us whole, "lacking nothing". Just like Adam, we have responsibilities here below that we can accomplish on our own, but we must not be surprised when God calls us to higher things that require an Eve.
There is a day coming soon when all believers, from every tribe and tongue, will be gathered and worshipping our Lord and Savior, together. If God saw fit that we would spend eternity together, surely he has a purpose for our relationships in the here and now.
So, that's my challenge to you today. As we keep putting one foot in front of the other during these 40 days, keep your focus on Jesus, but don't neglect what he has already clearly begun in your life. He's placed people in our lives for a reason, just like he has placed you in someone else's life for a reason. As brothers and sisters in Christ, our end goal should be the same. You should want what I want, as I want what you want: God's goodness to be known, and we should link arms, following in each other's steps, as we seek for this goal to be fulfilled.
Maybe this looks like reaching out to a friend today, encouraging them with some truth over a meal or coffee. Or maybe you need to gather with a group of friends this weekend and just enjoy that time together. So much of what we long for is already at our fingertips. All we have to do is reach out in faith. -Taylor
Bunches of thoughts are swirling through my head as I write this. Sometimes I'm able to filter out all other thoughts and ideas and hone in on one particular topic that can be unpacked, filtered through the truth of Scripture and distilled into an applicable action for my life and hopefully yours as well.
Today is not one of those days. Over the last few days God has been speaking to me about a few areas that I have not yet fully processed or by any means completely wrapped my mind around. Therein lies one of my favorite aspects of following God, He hands out pieces to the puzzle as He sees fit. As frustrating as that can be and as much patience as it requires I love the journey that God has me taking. With that said, these are not complete thoughts. These are bits and pieces of truth that I believe God is speaking to me. How they connect, if they even connect at all, what I'm supposed to do with them or if they're even valuable to anyone besides me is yet to be determined. I'm going to throw them out there, let them simmer for a bit and see where God moves. Here goes.
Community. Christian community is vital for our development as believers. We require others for a successful journey. Our walk with Jesus is personal but it should not be private. We often have reason for our lack of Christian community but let's be honest, most if not all of those reasons are just excuses. Scripture is clear in Hebrews 10:24-25, "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." Too often we couch involvement in a small group in the context of what it does for us. While this is true, involvement in a group has as much to do with what it does for others as it does for you. You have a responsibility to encourage others, spur others on and to stimulate others. Am I doing my job? Are you doing your job?
Desert Experiences. I have been doing some reading on the this topic and was reminded of both the experiences of Jesus and John as they spent time in the desert. I wrote about this more extensively in a week long devotional entitled, "The Temptations of Jesus" but I've recently been challenged to create more desert experiences in my own life. Often when we think of desert experiences, we assume those are involuntarily thrust upon us. What if instead we chose to create those experiences for ourselves in an effort to draw closer to God? Im unsure exactly what that looks like in my life but that's where God is currently working on me.
These are my incomplete thoughts. These are the real time areas where God is speaking to me. Perhaps you resonate with some of these as well. My prayer is that you are encouraged and will keep moving forward.
When I hear the word peace, I think of the sound of the ocean. I picture the beach, in the early morning hours when it’s just me, the seagulls and the sound of the waves breaking. One of the things I look forward to on vacation, is my early morning walks, where I can think, pray and just be at peace.
I’m confident we all have that place we like to go to that gives us an overwhelming sense of peace. Some might call that their “Happy Place”! That wonderful destination where you are away from it all, able to simply relax and be at peace.
Jesus talks about having peace many times throughout the New Testament. He greets people and sends them off with “Peace be with you!” or “Go in Peace!”. Jesus understood the importance of peace, Jesus had peace and he knew people were seeking & needing peace.
Are you familiar with this verse, “To find peace, take your family to the beach, forget about everything for a week, take walks, lay on the beach, read books- there, there you will find peace. Peace be with you!”?
Have you heard that one? No, I made that up. I’ve searched the Bible front to back, the verse isn’t there. Bummer. Jesus speaks about a different kind of “Happy Place”. Jesus teaches us that our source of peace doesn’t come from getting to a certain destination, Jesus teaches about a peace that comes from Him.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
What “things” was Jesus referring to when he said, “I have told you these things”? At this moment in scripture, He was speaking to his disciples, he was summing up all he had taught them, all the promises he had made. The disciples knew him, they had walked with him, they had ministered with him. Jesus is reminding them about all of these “things” because He knows trouble is coming, He know things are going to be difficult, but He wants, so desperately, for them to know they can still have peace.
It’s kind of like a coach on the sideline right before a big game. The coach says, “Don’t forget guys, don’t forget every practice, don’t forget everything I have said, everything I have taught. This game is going to be difficult, but you’re ready, you’ve prepared for this!”
Jesus doesn’t promise peace because life is going to be a “walk on the beach”. Jesus promises a peace which co-exists with trouble, a peace which is experienced in and through conflict and struggle.
Is this where you experience peace? This is the exact opposite of my peaceful walks on the beach. Trouble, conflict, and struggle are a great big, ugly part of life. If you’re not in it now, it’s coming. I apologize if this seems all doom and gloom, but the Bible doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Things are going to get hard, days are going to be difficult, there will be conflict.
“Yes, but.” I will repeat those two simple words. “Yes, but." “Yes” Things are going to get hard, “but”, we can have peace in Him, He has overcome the world!
How cool would it be for a coach to look at his players before a game and say “Hey! This game is going to be hard, but you can have peace, because we have already won this game!” Can you imagine the confidence and peace those players would feel? They would play their hearts out, they’ve already won!
Y’all, we have already won. We already have victory. It doesn’t matter your circumstance, it doesn’t matter the size or scope of your trouble. You can have peace in Him, because He has already won.
For me, yesterday was one of those days that just knocks you on your backside. For real, have you ever heard someone say, “that threw me for a loop!” Well friends, I feel like I’m on a roller coaster stuck on that loop. Trouble came my way yesterday and I woke this morning thinking it was all a bad dream. I share this with you because I am, in real time, experiencing peace in Him in the midst of conflict and struggle. I’m claiming victory over these circumstances right now. Thank you Jesus for a peace that doesn’t make sense, but is such a real, in your face peace, it is undeniable!
Are you in the thick of the struggle? Are you currently facing conflict or trouble? I pray right now that you would know & experience the peace that passes all understanding, I pray you would know the peace that is found in Him.
Peace be with you! -Sarah
If you are familiar with the typical Bible study or Sunday School format, you are likely very familiar with what many of us refer to as “Sunday School Answers”. You know, the Christian lingo that will correctly answer 99.9% of questions asked in church. Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, faith, Bible, pray, Chris Tomlin. (That last one may have been too far. Nothing but respect, Chris.)
Another popular one that I want to unpack with you today is “hope”.
My fear with hope, along with Bible, Jesus, Father, Son, Spirit and Pray, is that we get a little too comfortable with these words. Certainly, these are powerful ideas and do in fact answer so many of the questions our wandering human minds come up with, but I don’t want us to forget the sheer power embedded within these words and what they mean for us, in the here and now. And if I’m being completely honest with you, while “hope” is a facet of the Christian walk that I know I’m called to embrace, I rarely do. In order to really understand this idea, let’s turn to God’s word. I believe that hope can best be summed up by the following passage from Revelation.
Revelation 21:3-5 says, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (New International Version).
Man. Sign me UP for some of that. No more tears, pain, death, or mourning. This is the hope that we can cling to, right now, in this very moment. As Christians, we can find rest in the hope of the above words because they were written, delivered, and sealed as God’s very own word. I could talk for hours on the importance of regular Scripture studying, but friends, one of the most powerful aspects of the Bible is that it indeed is God’s story. From the beginning, to where we stand now, to the end. It is God’s plan, but more importantly, it is God’s finished plan. That’s not to say God is finished working, but instead, the outcome of the work He is continuing within His creation is already determined, and it’s right there in our passage from Revelation. And that’s hope. Hope is knowing that He knows.
As glorious and crucial as hope is in our faith journey, it is also brutally difficult to cling to. In "It Isn’t Supposed to be this Way", popular Christian author/teacher Lysa Terkerust touches on this. Lysa beautifully sums up why this is so hard, why even though we know the outcome is good, the here and now doesn’t always seem so good. Lysa paints this metaphor of us being “between the gardens”. In Genesis, we read that God created a perfect world, a garden filled with unity, harmony, peace, and completely oblivious to any pain. 66 books later, in Revelation, we read that God is going to restore that garden and we will get to taste that complete perfection, for the first time in our lives. But we aren’t there yet. We are here. We are here where there certainly is pain. We have a hard time identifying with that first garden experience, and we have a hard time holding to the hope of the forthcoming garden restoration.
Friends, I get it. I see cancer, abuse, trafficking, death, divorce, addiction, depression, and violence. I understand that even imagining a place absent of these things is difficult, much less clinging to the fact that we will experience that perfect place.
The thing about hope though… future hope does not promise the absence of current pain. But current pain does not equal the absence of God.
Do you get that? When God asks us to look towards things unseen, the hope awaiting us, He isn’t being naive to the pain we are experiencing here in the middle. He sees it too. But unlike us, burdened and buried underneath miles of heartache, God can see that day to come. God can see the very last tear you will cry, the last death of a loved one you will have to mourn, the last time your earthly body fails you. And He sees the moment that you will stand before Him. Whole. Perfect. Flawless.
The middle is worth the fight. Hope is worth the fight. Because hope is God’s promise. And if I’ve learned anything about God… it’s that He is the best promise keeper. Revelation will come to be. You will be restored. You’ll be with Him.
I pray this encourages you. Through whatever the trial is right now. I know you have one, we all have one. But we all have a future, and a promise, and if we are willing, a God who loves us. -Taylor
The practices of Lent should be useful for Christians. If something is useful to Christians, it brings us to the person of Jesus. Rather than being pragmatic, we are seeking Messiah Jesus. So, is Lent useful?
Lent originally served to help prepare candidates for baptism. It became an important part of discipleship as lives were set aside for kingdom consecration. Lent provided a formative season in discipleship before ultimate commitment. As the church grew into a world-wide movement, practices of fasting and observance spread to help believers solidify their identity in Christ. How fares the identity of the church in the United States?
Most churches in the United States are facing decline today. Individual churches as well as denominations struggle to attract and even keep members. Young people are leaving the church. For me, three things come to mind as I think about this struggle for identity.
First, gatekeeping seems to be one of the problems in the last few decades. If you aren’t familiar with gatekeeping, it’s the process or manner in which individuals decide with their practices and actions who is allowed to be a part of something. These people try to decide who can or can’t be part of the church community.
Second, the idea of evangelicalism needs addressing as part of our identity. Even for those from other Christian traditions, evangelicalism has had an impact. According to an article in The Atlantic, evangelicalism has the following characteristics:
Personally, I think this is both a good summation of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has brought the church some positive things, but it is also fraught with problems.
To be clear, I have no problem with proselytizing or evangelism. For some people, those are dirty words. I do think they can be used in the wrong times, in the wrong ways, for the wrong ends. Proselytization can be abusive when it is about control.
We need to reclaim evangelism from hero worship and the idol of emotionally charged decision making – i.e. revivalism has not done the church any favors in making disciples. Christian identity should not be wrapped up in charismatic preachers or authors. Evangelicalism has encouraged an identity crisis as regional and national followings have emerged for individual leaders. This adds one more reason to believe evangelicalism has failed as a project, even if it is not yet dead.
Third, we need a new way forward. Evangelicalism has inexorably tied itself to politics in American culture. Whether it be politics or celebrity preachers, we fixate on gifted and moving rhetoricians. We have let American culture become embedded in Christianity. This leads to devastating effects in our local churches and in our national identity as Christians. Preachers feel lost while calling people to Christ. Leadership fails in matters of integrity. Denominations succumb to struggles of sin. Our mission cannot be fulfilled if we are not living as called out people.
When I was younger, I would have probably identified with evangelicalism without hesitation. After all, the word is associated with the share and spread of the Good News. American religious culture obscures, obfuscates, and obstructs this message. We don’t know our identity. We don’t know to whom we belong. It doesn’t bring us closer knowing and following Christ.
As we approach Lent, we should be reminded of what it means to be a Christ follower. We are disciples. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 will always be important along with its parallels in Luke 24:44-53, Mark 16:15-20, and Acts 1:1-11. Evangelicalism has lifted proclamation while admiring its smiling preachers. Proclamation will never be enough though.
Disciples live a mixed-up life as we follow the Risen Messiah. Our clarity doesn’t come in the form of statements, credos, or mission statements. Our view of the Bible must be one bringing us to Jesus Messiah. As we give up the things we hold dear culturally, we may better be able to know and share Jesus.
In Luke 7:34, Jesus quotes his critics as saying he is a “glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (NIV).” One of the most interesting things about this passage is the context. In the narrative, Jesus almost immediately after breaks cultural taboos by allowing himself to be anointed by a woman who the religious elite consider sinful. He then makes it clear to Peter and the other disciples his message is about grace.
Look back at what evangelicalism is known for as a movement: Biblicism, Crucicentrism, Converionsim, and Activism. Does it have grace as a central tenet? And yet here is Jesus showing us what must be central to following him, to knowing him. I’d rather be known as a friend of sinners than an evangelical.
Lent is useful. Lent brings us back to our roots and calls us to cast aside the things which distract. Maybe it’s time to lose some of our religious trappings and focus on Jesus. He is our identity. -Christopher
Think back with me to the moment of your salvation. Not the general phase of life or the rough age you found yourself at, think back to the exact moment. If pressed you could probably describe in pretty vidid detail what that moment looked like, who was there and what you felt.
I remember my moment pretty well. My mom had been watching a tele-evangelist that evening. I had been in and out of the room, not consciously watching, not consciously listening. As the program was ending, I remember crawling up in bed with her and consciously tuning in for the first time. I don't remember the exact words that the preacher was giving for the altar call but I do remember the choir beginning their song and my eyes inexplicably welling up with tears. I couldn't figure out what was happening. Why was I crying? Where had this emotion come from? My mom, the most tender hearted, obedient woman of God I had ever known immediately diagnosed my sudden rush of emotion. She looked at me and asked, "Why are you crying?" When I failed to come up with an answer that made any sense, she responded with, "I know exactly why you're crying."
There by her bedside, we knelt and my mom walked me through what I had heard a thousand times before as a church kid, but for the first time understood for myself. I was a sinner in need of a Savior. God loved me so much that He sacrificed His only son to be that Savior and that upon my confession of faith, my dirty, filthy slate would be wiped clean and God would grant me forgiveness. I didn't deserve it. I hadn't earned it but still God was making this offer and it was mine for the taking. That night, by my mother's bedside I took that offer.
I remember rising up from my kneeling position and feeling as though a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It wasn't a weight I had ever identified or recognized before but I now knew that it had been there but it was now gone. I remember the phone call that I made to my grandmother only moments later, telling her of my decision and hearing her tell me how proud she was of me and the life I was choosing to live from that point forward.
As I think back on that moment, I'm disappointed that I over complicated my relationship with God over the years. Things got messy, I lost my focus, I stopped being intentional, I allowed other things or people to sit on the throne of my heart. I never stopped claiming Him as Savior but I often stopped short of fully embracing Him as Lord.
At times I wish I could go back to that moment and tell myself to watch out for apathy. I wish I could tell myself about the importance of discipleship and the importance of immersing myself in Scripture and prayer. I wish I could warn myself about the pitfalls that seemed like a million miles away at that moment. In that moment, nothing mattered more to me than the decision I had just made. I was His and He was mine. I wish I had fully understood what my role in the relationship really was.
Paul says it like this in Colossians 2:6-7 says, "And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."
My job, your job is to continue to follow Him.
My job, your job is to let your roots grow down into Him.
My job, your job is to build your life on Him.
I'm challenged to return to the simplicity of truly following Jesus. I'm challenged to get rid of all the extra. I'm challenged to go beyond the trappings of Christianity and to return to Jesus Himself. Following Him. Growing in Him. Building my life on Him. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
This past weekend was an exciting one in my life. I have the privilege of helping to provide oversight for a student leadership conference for students from Ohio and 3 surrounding states. 3SLI is a multi-year training program comprised of three levels, each with a separate leadership focus. Students who complete all three years have the option to receive scholarship money from some of the most well-known Christian Universities in the nation. In the close to 20 year history of this event, 3SLI has helped to provide leadership training to countless students and has played a part in shaping the mind and character of countless Kingdom builders.
In addition to my involvement on the leadership planning team, the event also happens to be hosted at my church so I spent much of the weekend wearing two hats, planning team member and host. Thankfully I was surrounded by a fantastic group of other planning team members and volunteers from my church who all came together to make the weekend a huge success.
I find it both encouraging and challenging to be in a leadership setting. Watching students come to a greater understanding of God's desire for their leadership lives is encouraging. To know that the next generation of Kingdom leaders have been taught what Biblical leadership looks like leaves me feeling hopeful for the future of God's church, my local church and the 3SLI event itself. Surrounding myself with sharp leaders motivates me to step up my game. I can be guilty of resting on my laurels but when I'm placed in the mix of strong leaders who expect strong leadership, I can't help but desire to rise to the occasion, I find it challenging.
I'm reminded of Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." Watching students spur one another on towards avid note-taking, participatory worship and an openness to what God was leading them towards is the real life manifestation of this verse. My desire to be a stronger leader for those other leaders gathered around me is no different. The reality is that we often adapt to our surroundings. If someone has high expectations, we generally rise to meet them. If everyone else is participating, we tend to participate. If everyone is griping and complaining we tend to join them.
For better or for worse, this comes with momentum. We either find ourselves soaring through the clouds with our brothers in arms ready to take on the world or commiserating with the other miserable wretches we've surrounded ourselves with. It's why we leave church feeling like a million spiritual bucks and why we feel spiritually broke at the end of a long and taxing week. We become the product of our environment.
I'm asking myself easy questions like:
Let's be courageous enough to ask these questions, honest enough to answer them truthfully and disciplined enough to make the needed changes. We were created to sharpen one another as Christ followers. Be sharp. Stay sharp. Be encouraged and keep moving forward. -Andy
Genesis 1:26-27 says, "Then God said, “Let us make human beings so that they are like us. Let them rule over the fish in the seas and the birds in the sky. Let them rule over the livestock and all the wild animals. And let them rule over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created human beings in his own likeness. He created them to be like himself. He created them as male and female."
Most of the time my personal study and reflection centers on what I am preparing to teach for the next month. So, say I’m studying individuality. A quick internet search pulls this up to define individuality: "the quality or character of a particular person or thing that distinguishes them from others of the same kind, especially when strongly marked." Merriam dictionary defines it as, "a total character peculiar to and distinguishing an individual from others." The definition I will be teaching the kids is this, "individuality is deciding who you are meant to be."
What does that mean for each person? How am I uniquely made? What am I uniquely called to do and be? Just as there are no two snowflakes the same, or fingerprints the same, there are no two people the same. So that has to mean something, right? A good place to start is in the beginning, when God created the very first humans.
When God created people, He did something special. He created them in His image. But, that doesn’t mean we are gods. God is all powerful, and we are not. God can be present everywhere, and we cannot. God knows everything, and we certainly do not. God has no sin, but we do. God is perfect, and we are flawed. So what does it mean to “make human beings so that they are like us?” (Genesis 1:26)
To be made in the image of God means, as we mirror who God is we can… sacrifice, love, show kindness, care for others, be compassionate, be creative, be honest, be faithful, use wisdom, have courage, have integrity, solve problems. And this is not a complete list. There are other aspects of God’s character that can be reflected in people? I’m sure you can think of a few.
To be made in the image of God means each person has value. Have you ever had a bad hair day? Been dissatisfied with yourself? Wished you could be more like him/her? When God looks at us he sees someone created in His image. He sees someone worthy, amazing, and wonderful. He sees someone who matters and has a purpose; someone who can make a difference. “How you made me is amazing and wonderful. I praise you for that. What you have done is wonderful. I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)
How can knowing we are created in God’s image help when we mess up or fail? How about when we are unsure or feeling insecure? When we are struggling with someone who is annoying or frustrating, why is it important to remember they are also made in God’s image? How should the fact God made everyone in His image affect how we treat others?
We are individuals with certain talents, tastes, desires, and goals. And, we are made in God’s image. I truly believe we wake up each morning and decide who we are going to be – albeit it is probably a subconscious decision. Today, I choose to spread love and cheer or be a grouch. Today I choose to use my talents to make the world a more wonderful place or be too busy to make a difference. Today I choose to be a friend and neighbor to everyone or spread ill will and hurt. Today I choose to be wise or be foolish. My challenge to us is to stop letting it be a subconscious decision. Make it a deliberate choice.
I just love these next few words; I think they are beautiful, and I want to share them with you. “There is a part of you that is like God. There is a part of you that is beautiful and strong. There is a part of you that is true and lasts forever. There is a part of you that is made to love and be loved. That is true about each and every one of us no matter how different we look, no matter what we had for breakfast, no matter what clothes we are wearing.” (252 Kids Family Experience)
Enjoy discovering who God has made you to be. And, I pray your mirror image of God is more of a reflection of Him each day. -Lia