#MyStory :: My Struggle and Jesus' Grace

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It’s easy to think that some people are “immune” to sin, or at least more resistant to it, based on outward appearances. Some people just seem to have it all together, and it feels like they couldn’t ever do anything wrong. The truth is that this is as far from the truth as it possibly could be. We all sin, even the people who don’t appear to on the outside. To show you what I mean, here’s my story…

I grew up in church. I was a Pastor’s Kid, and I spent a large portion of my childhood entrenched in everything Christian. I had loving parents who were devoted followers of Christ, and as I said, my dad was a pastor for many years. I remember playing in the church all the time as a kid. I went to Sunday school every week. I went to summer camps and VBS every year. I went to youth group at church. I did all the things that a “good Christian” should do. Life was perfect, right?

Wrong!

In many ways, I’m very thankful that I grew up the way I grew up. It definitely planted some seeds in my life that are integral to where I am right now, but the thing is, in my teenage years and early adulthood these seeds were dormant and never really grew into much of anything. In many ways, the seeds planted felt foreign to me. I knew everything I needed to know. I knew what the seeds were supposed to grow into, but I never cared to feed or water them of my own accord. Jesus was someone I knew of, but not someone that I walked with personally. I easily fell back into my old ways.

In 2006 I joined the military, got married, and moved to Germany. This is when my life really started to take a dark turn. Now that I was far away from almost everything I knew, I really had zero connection to a life that resembled anything touched by Jesus. I still knew what I knew, but it was distant and it barely had any effect on my thoughts and actions. The only thing that stuck with me through all the years was my conscious. There were many times where I did things that I knew were wrong; things that I knew I shouldn’t be doing, but I oftentimes did them anyways.

My wife and I had our first child in 2008. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend together before Ava arrived, so it was a bit of a shock to me once she was in our lives. We were happy, but things were very different. My wife, Rachel, changed. She used to be very lovey and attached to me. She used to be very physical, which I loved because one of my love languages is physical touch. But after our child, things were very much different. She didn’t like to be touched as much, and we certainly lost a lot of our intimacy. While I loved her and our daughter very much, this change was hard on me. And being that I was still growing as a man, I didn’t really know how to handle this change productively. I turned to pornography to fill the void in my heart. Of course, it never filled the emptiness in my heart, but it continued to be a problem for me for many years.

I also engaged in some very inappropriate behaviors at work. I would swear all the time, and I would not act in any way that a Christian should. I poured a lot of junk into my mind, and all these things just made it worse. It got so bad that at one point when my wife was gone on a trip back home, I spent some personal time with a friend’s wife and her friend, and I essentially cheated on my wife with my neighbor’s friend. Fortunately, I did not make the worst mistake I could have made, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted to. Needless to say, it was a close call, but ultimately I had committed adultery no matter how far it had gone. And this wasn’t the last time either.

In 2010 we moved to Guam. We got pregnant with our second child, which wasn’t planned, so this one was really strenuous on our marriage. Neither of us were in good places, and the tension almost ruined us. I was working nights for a long time, and was using pornography as an outlet even more. I also had someone I worked with there who I started chatting online with and developed a relationship. I eventually got to the point where I went on a date with this girl, and intended to be intimate with her. I remember being at home after I had gone out with her, and I was chatting with her. She gave me the option to come over to her place. Again, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted to, but something inside me wouldn’t let me go. I knew that it was wrong. As much tension as there was in our marriage, I knew that I couldn’t do this to my wife. I’m pretty sure that God was watching over me that night, even though I had completely turned my back on him. I thank him to this day that I did not go over to that girl’s apartment.

However, I was still in a really bad place. Luckily, I cut off relations with that girl, but my heart was still very hard. There were a few other occasions where I almost made some really bad decisions, but each time my conscious (aka, God) kept me from doing it. I attribute that to the seeds that had been planted in my life so long ago, even though I was still neglecting them.

In 2013, I changed jobs in the military, and had to go to school in Monterey, California. This was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. We found a church there that reminded me who Jesus was, and it brought me back from the depths and breathed new life into my soul. I probably would not be where I am today if we had not gone there.

It took some time, but slowly my heart softened as I found forgiveness for my illicit convictions and stopped pouring darkness into my heart. I even ended up telling my wife all the things I had done, which was an incredibly hard thing to do. I knew it needed to be done, but I struggled with actually doing it for several months. Finally, I did, and by the grace of God she forgave me. I certainly didn’t deserve it, but I suppose that’s how grace works isn’t it?

I’m still not perfect. I still struggle with keeping my eyes focused on God and not on beautiful women. Of course, I still struggle with temptations, but I’m very proud of the fact that it’s been many years since I’ve searched for pornography or given a woman other than my wife more attention than she deserves. Our marriage is better for it, and my relationship with Jesus is stronger than it’s ever been. I still have a lot to learn, and I still have many ways in which I can grow, but for once in my life my faith is real, and it really makes all the difference.

 


We’re supposed to pick one woman and that’s the one that God meant for us to be intimate with. When we play with the idea of intimacy with any other woman, even a virtual one, that’s when the devil can get a foothold in our lives that will easily tear us down if not removed. It’s very common for men to struggle with this temptation. If that’s you, know that you are not alone, and you can overcome it with help from the Father. Allow his healing in your life, and you will find that EVERYTHING will be all the better for it.

If you struggle with addiction to pornography, please use these resources to get the help you need.

 

#MyStory :: Vicki Delair on Why I Lead a Small Group

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I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating in because I had a fear of not fitting in. Then Sean (my husband) and I joined one because of a specific financial study they were doing. It is something that to this day I look back on and I am so grateful we decided to try it. It grew our faith and relationships in so many ways, and it was the furthest thing from being weird!

So, when the idea came up about starting or leading one myself, I thought, “Ugh, now people are going to think that I am weird too!” But, I also knew that if I was willing to be okay with that and put myself out there, God would use it to bless me and other people through authentic relationships. Of course, I also thought a lot of other negative thoughts as well, like most of us tend to do when the enemy wants his way. Things like;

  • “Am I qualified?”
  • “Who am I to want to start or lead a group?”
  • “Who in their right mind would want to hear what I have to say?”
  • Or, “Who in the world would want to hang out with me?”

Those were a lot of things I had to work through by remembering that it wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, and that if he had a hand in it, people would get what they needed from it. So, I did it!

When I first felt a small tug from God to lead a group, I think I did want to do it, but I was hesitant because of fear. I’m sure I am like a lot of people when it comes to opening myself up to others because most people just don’t like being vulnerable. I had a fear of being unqualified, a fear of failing, a fear of not knowing enough Bible verses, a fear of not knowing how to lead a group, or what I was supposed to do. But, what I have learned is that you can’t let things like fear and hesitation stop you from doing what God has called you to do. That’s called disobedience, and that’s not something I wanted to be to God after what he asked Jesus to do for me. After all, it repeatedly says in the Bible that we are supposed to be in community, that we are supposed to be relational, and that we should look after the interests of others. So, who am I to tell God “no” when I see verses like 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.” Or, in 1 Peter 4: 10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”

Of course, even once we decided to take the plunge, I would get all in my head with things like imagining opening my home and having no one show up. I also would play out scenarios about what I would do if this or that happened and even found myself worrying about seating, or if they’d be hungry or bored. So, as a result, I over planned, over bought, over prepared, and prayed a lot for God to help me figure it out. I also had this ridiculous fear of praying out loud, and I had to work through that as well, realizing it was the enemy, once again, trying to psych me out, getting me to play his games, and stop me from doing what I knew God was telling me to do.

But you know what? I was amazed that after the very first small group meeting, everything came easier! It was like I just had to get that initial hurdle over with and from there I was good to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still get nervous or worry about things too much (which I think is silly now), but I also got a taste of God’s joy and peace just from being obedient and connected to others for God’s glory, and that completely outweighed any of the other stuff.

In general, I think that we all hesitate at some point to put our “true” selves out there for fear of judgment or rejection. But, what I have found instead is that when I am at my most transparent, people are most willing to hear me. When I am the most vulnerable, people feel the most trusted by me. When I am willing to walk out my faith in real life ways and I am not content to stay the same, the more people want to be a part of that journey too. Even today, after years of leading small groups, there are studies that Sean and I do that are out of our comfort zone, or sometimes the size of the group gets big and I worry about all those “Martha”-type things (Luke 10:38-42) that make me think people are not going to enjoy themselves. But that’s when I remember that there is nothing “special” about me or Sean that make our group or our leadership something fantastic and wonderful, except for our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to be his disciples. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2nd Corinthians 3:5). The key is the Holy Spirit, just like we see in the book of Acts, where he goes before us and apart from him, or without his blessing, nothing we do will bear fruit.

We also must remember that spiritual warfare is a real thing. The enemy wants us to stay on the surface with relationships and keep us superficial and putting up a front like we’ve got it all together, because when we aren’t truly connected with other believers he can keep us isolated and alone and it is in those isolated places that he can do his best work. He uses things like guilt, shame, or embarrassment to prevent us from making bold moves in our lives for Christ, and if we aren’t careful we tend to believe those things and avoid stepping out because we feel we have to “protect” ourselves from the ridicule we believe we are going to receive instead. The craziest part is that the complete opposite is true- because when you do put yourself out there for Jesus, you get to truly experience the joy, comfort, and peace that comes along with it, and it is something not worth giving up on.

Despite things getting better, there still have been (and continue to be) some hurdles to get past. Like most people in our area, the biggest challenge for me is time. I’m a wife, a mom of three active kids, I work two jobs, I serve and volunteer when I can, my husband owns his own business, and we have very big extended families that are all close as well. If we aren’t careful, and praying, and working together to keep it prioritized as something that is important in our lives, it would be easy to push it to the wayside or not give it much thought. Add to that, we live in such a busy time, and such a busy area of the country, that it is difficult to find the time, energy, and sometimes even desire to keep it on the schedule. But the funny thing is that we have taken breaks in the past and I can honestly say that during those times life feels a little bit harder, and we really miss the connection with other people.

But despite all the difficulties we’ve had, nothing can compare to the eternal friendships, life change, and growth we’ve experienced. Not to mention, what a tremendous impact it has had on us personally with our own faith and family! To see friendships and bonds form, to see marriages restored, and families transformed is an amazing thing to witness. We have had people become believers by coming to our group and have watched so many people grow and mature in their faith. We have had the privilege of walking beside people who were down in the deepest valleys of life in a variety of different ways, and I can’t even put in to words what it feels like to see them persevere and stand firm and come out on the other side. And, to be able to witness to one another about all we are seeing happen in each other’s lives and how the blessings of God are visible in one way or another, it’s just an amazing experience. Just think… when we are really doing life together then we’ll have the opportunity to make friends right now in this broken place; friends that we’re going to also know in heaven where everything is perfect. Isn’t that cool?

Vicki wanted to offer two things to those people out there who might be considering becoming a small group leader. Here’s her advice:

First, pray! John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Ask God to show you what you are supposed to be doing, and once you know what that it is, you need to act. Don’t ignore what he is telling you to do because you will miss the blessing in it.

Next, don’t do it alone, after all, life is better connected! Ask for guidance from people who have started them in the past or from the connect group leader. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and other leaders can be a good resource for helping you narrow down your vision or purpose for your group.

Also, I can’t stress enough for you to be obedient in putting your armor on daily like it tells us in Ephesians 6: 10-18, because I can guarantee you that as soon as you step out and act boldly for Jesus, the enemy will attempt to push you back down.

Finally, C.S. Lewis once said, “Remember that He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted –i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep looking at it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3).

If you are letting God direct your path, there’s nothing to worry about. Be courageous and step out in faith! God has a plan and you are part of it, and what is he going to say if you refuse to do your part? If you really do believe you are going to meet God face to face one day, do you want him to ask you why you wouldn’t serve him? Or, do you want him to say “well done”?

 


If you want to get involved in a group, or lead a connect group, contact Amber Adams on our Connect Page.

 

Bring on the Blankets

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As she walked around the corner at the train station, a man who appeared to be homeless, made eye contact and began moving toward her. He seemed to be inebriated. As he mumbled to her she heard, “I wan’t to be delivered from my addition today.” Walking to him, she placed her hand on his shoulder and felt God move.

 

Jill Poldervaart was at Union Station in the heart of Washington DC. She was handing out blankets to the needy and offering prayer to anyone who would accept it as part of her Blanket the City ministry. Over the years she had meet and spoken to many people living on the street. She knew immediately that this encounter was different than any she’d had in the past.

It begin in Colorado with a lunch-hour invitation. It seemed innocent enough. A co-worker invited her to join their group serving the needy and homeless that day simply by handing out food and offering prayer.  On one particularly cold and raining day the group was heading out at usual.  Jill considered not going due to the elements. The warmth of the office was inviting and comfortable. Despite the taunting in her mind, she choose to go. As they handed out food one of the recipients made it clear, it’s not just food that he needed, it was cold, he needed a blanket. He laid out where he’d be should someone such as Jill be willing to return later with a blanket. Circumstances as they were, a long drive home and a long drive back all while not knowing if the man would be traceable, made it impossible to  fulfill with the request.

That’s not where it ended as it was through this man, Filling the Void Ministry was launched. An annual event lead by Jill and her family to reach out to those who were cold and living in the streets. With a few volunteers to help procure and deliver, new blankets began being gifted on an annual basis to those in need living in the Colorado cold. Although the blanket is a tangible gift, some may recognize the gifts that are given of even greater worth - a conversation, an exchange of names, and a look into the eyes of the recipient with an offer of prayer.

The ministry in Colorado continued and impacted numerous people over the years. God then moved Jill and her family to Maryland. Not knowing the area, their first winter in their new home left Jill wondering if the ministry could continue not just in Colorado but could it come to this area as well? During the second winter, the Holy Spirit prompted Jill encouraging her to take a step into a new ministry in the area she now lived. This lead her and her family into Washington DC. January easily created a homeless population at Union Station of people needing blankets. People needing conversation, People needing prayer. Jill, along with volunteers from her connect group, boarded a train to their destination seeking out those in need.

It was on one of those trips that as she sought out people to gift with a blanket that she encountered the addict needing deliverance that day from his addiction. And that was the day, the power of God reach through Jill and into the man. Jill could feel the Holy Spirit move through her and into the addict. Jill’s husband who witnessed the event was certain he’d never seen anything like it.

A huge smile came across the addict’s face. He appeared to relax immediately and it seemed as though something had left him. They exchanged a few words and parted ways. Had God healed him? What became of the man? This we will never know, but God does know. There’s peace and confidence in believing that God has healed and that he has provided for the addict touched by the Holy Spirit through Jill.

Through this experience and many others Jill sees clear evidence of God's agape or unconditional love. God's love that is always giving and impossible to be taken away."God loves everyone and we should treat every person we meet in the same way,” explains Jill.

Blessed. Righteous. Selfless. These are just a few words that describe taking to the streets and gifting those in need. In Matthew 25:35-46, Jesus reminds us that when we take the time to feed, clothe, give drink, and visit the “least of these” we are doing these things to and for him, Jesus Christ. To those righteous followers, the Bible tell us in verse 46 that they will be rewarded with eternal life. Jill, her family, and the volunteers of Blanket the City are touching the lives of the needy.

Not only is this act of service changing the lives of those being served, it is changing the lives of Jill, her family and each person who participates. They are witness of God’s great love while being his hands and feet. As Jill explains it, "Those in need are more than the people who appear homeless…we are all in need, we are all broken."

 

Want to get involved? People can support the ministry by donating small, new, inexpensive blankets easily carried. Jill will also tell you, "If any other group would like me to take them out to do a Blanket the City they can rally their folks together and I will be happy to show them the way!"

For more information, reach out to our offices at The Church at Severn Run @ 410-551-6654 or  find ways to serve on our website at http://severnrun.com/serve/.

 

JW

#MyStory :: Pam Zangardi - VBS Changed My Life

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At the tender age of 10 Pam walked into a VBS all on her own and heard the very first and only Bible verse in her life, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever should believe in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” She memorized those words and clung to them for the next 30 years. “VBS is what started it all, its when the seed was planted,” Pam said.

Fast forward to July of 2009. Pam brought her children to VBS at the Church at Severn Run. “I didn't really care if they learned about Jesus, I really just wanted them to go somewhere for the day so I could get a break, but God got my attention.”

As Pam walked her kids into the doors that day the verse for the week was displayed on the screens...John 3:16. She knew right then and there that God was calling her back, calling her to have a personal relationship with him. Pam began coming to church and the following year she signed up to be a leader at VBS. “I was terrified that I didn't know enough, that I wasn't qualified or ready to lead children in the discussions, but God showed up every time and I realized that he doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”

Pam looks forward to leading at VBS now, and does it every year. “I don't only find satisfaction in seeing the kids grow and learn, but I grow and learn so much by teaching the kids and listening to them.” She tells anyone and everyone about how important VBS is.

“If you can speak into their lives when they are young and plant a seed, it could change their whole life.” She hopes that one day a child will look back 30 years from now and say, “My life was changed because of that week at VBS.”


If you would like to participate in VBS this year, you can get more information here.

Praying for your Pastor

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Every day I open up my favorite phone app. This app allows me to stay in touch with friends, family, and distant memories. Facebook is a friend to everyone. It is the first thing many do in the morning, keeping up with trends, reading the news, and sharing life's main events.

There is one thing on Facebook that continues to amaze me; it's the amount of my friends and loved ones asking me for the same thing at least once per week. PRAYERS.

No, it is not a specific call to me, but a call to their list of friends to do what Christians aim to do everyday when they pray--have a group of believers, their circle, all believing, desiring, and praying for the same thing at one time throughout the day. I know that every time I see a friends, acquaintance, or loved one type “just asking for prayers”, I respond and immediately say a prayer. This is easy, this is virtual, this is friendship.

Looking at the way we so easily intercede for others makes me think, wouldn't it be just as easy to pray for the one person who prays for us everyday, without fail, without ceasing? Why don't we pray for our pastor more often? He spends time talking to us, counseling us, and guiding our souls to eternal life in the kingdom.

Who has been tasked with the job of praying for the church's head?

The easy answer is, YOU.  

Jeremiah 3:15 says, “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Shepherds need many things in order to accomplish their jobs and those are the things we should pray for. Reminding ourselves that for one, our pastor is a man first. He is human and therefore needs to meet the basic human needs. After, he is a man of God, which requires strength, focus, love, patience, kindness, and a spirit of unbelievable faith.

The next time you see that request asking for prayers for a friend, also think about the one person who doesn't always ask. The one person who sees, hears, and responds to your every prayer request and is challenged by God himself to pray for you everyday. Know that he is strong because he has to be, but we can pray for that extra push.

Are you the one? Are you the person who will respond “prayers sent” when the leader of the church needs extra support?

You can start at any time, it only takes a moment.

Here are some ways you can specifically pray for your pastor:

  • Pray that he will be continually guided by the Spirit
  • Pray that he will hear God’s voice clearly
  • Pray that he will clearly deliver the message God has laid on his heart
  • Pray that he will be strong and avoid temptation
  • Pray that he will seek wise counsel
  • Pray that he will continually find rest and peace in Jesus

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior…” -1 Timothy 2:1-3

 

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