We live in a broken world. We all know it and see it every day. We all want something to be done about it but we often fail to see that WE, the community of Christ, are the only group with the strength and support to make an eternal difference. Though we've all been called to serve (Romans...
Showing items for 'Spiritual Growth'
I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a...
In that moment when hate was overcoming me the Lord broke through and began to work on my heart. I felt as though He was asking me, "Why is your heart so wicked?" I began to place the blame on the individual who's words hurt me. I felt that my feelings were justified. I felt the Lord speak again...
The end of August is synonymous with back to school. This one event affects a vast majority of the population. Children, teens, young adults, teachers, parents - everyone jolted from the ease of summer to the demands of the school year. There are a whirlwind of activities that surround this...
In the next 15 seconds, name as many ways as you can think of that other people show they love you. Ready? Go… What did you come up with? If you are like me maybe things like, they are kind and considerate, they do things for me, they say they love me, they give hugs, they bring...
If you are a young adult, you are probably finishing up some kind of school or beginning a new career. You may have grown up in church like my wife, who felt like going to church was “what you did” and rarely thought about what she would do when given the option of how to spend her...
We all want to be at peace, but we allow many things to come between us and that peace that we are looking for. Let's turn to the Bible for answers to those things that separate us from peace. 1) 1 John 3:1-2 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called...
In less than a year, God has completely turned my life upside down. My family and I began attending the Church at Severn Run about two and a half years ago. Though I missed my old church, I tried to get in the swing of things, participating in the college-age Connect Group, SMASH, and working...
When Jesus responded to the question regarding the greatest commandment, he states in Matthew 22:39, “And the second is equally important, love your neighbor as yourself.” This verse puzzled me, yet it had a profound impact on my life for years to come. It was a...
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...
We live in a broken world. We all know it and see it every day. We all want something to be done about it but we often fail to see that WE, the community of Christ, are the only group with the strength and support to make an eternal difference. Though we've all been called to serve (Romans 12:1), here I am, in particular, challenging and encouraging men to take the lead in serving.
Men are called to be the spiritual leaders of their families (Ephesians 5:23) and that includes leading through serving (Matthew 20:26-28). In order to explore this idea further let us consider Nehemiah and his example of leadership after he saw his home of Jerusalem broken and in ruin.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. - Nehemiah 1:3-4
Nehemiah listened when he was told about the fall of the wall of Jerusalem. He did not wonder about how wicked the world is and how this could be allowed to happen to his people. He did not wish that someone else would do something about it. He turned to God and confessed his sins and the sins of his people. Nehemiah prayed to God for direction and for favor as he began to plan how to rebuild the wall and the hearts of the people of Jerusalem.
I pray that men would listen to the broken and respond as Nehemiah did to the seemingly overwhelming problems they faced. We need to recognize the hard truth that the fall of our communities is entirely due to our absence, because we failed to lead and love as Jesus sent us to do (John 20:21-23). We have to step up and respond to the darkness and despair that we see in the world today by serving in our community with the Spirit that lives in us.
Nehemiah went on to use the resources available (and probably some that he didn't think were available) as cupbearer to the king to do God's work in rebuilding his community. Likewise, we all have been gifted by God with talents, resources, and opportunities to build up our community. We must be willing to use them.
When Nehemiah took on a leadership role, the people of Jerusalem followed. Scores of people (listed in various chapters of Nehemiah) volunteered to rebuild their community because one man stepped up to lead. Not everyone got on board though, the Samaritans and Ammonites ridiculed the Jews. The Jews themselves began to question themselves and their mission. Likewise, evil will try to tell us that we are wasting our time and that the world is too far gone to be saved, but we know better.
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” - Nehemiah 4:14
Pray that God would reveal to us all the resources that he has given us so that we may use them to serve and rebuild our communities. Humble ourselves in recognizing the part men have played in allowing brokenness to exist unimpeded due to an absence of leadership. Understand the part we have to play in living out the gospel of Christ. Pray that we would be courageous to stand up and take the lead in bringing the love of God to his people. Let's step up!
I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a drastic difference between a life lived in the darkness, and a life filled with the light. I want to show you this difference--the Jesus Difference--in my life.
In order to tell my story, I have to go all the way back to before I was even born. My mother and father were both raised in strong Christian families, and not just religious families, but they had parents who really loved Jesus and served in various ways, especially my father’s parents. My grandparents on my father’s side were extremely active in the Church. My grandmother was cherished by all, and led many people through hard times via her counseling. My grandfather has written many books and has been in leadership roles in churches for as much of his life as I’m aware of. Looking at my father, it’s obvious that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He met my mom while at seminary, and for about two-thirds of my life he’s been a pastor, or at least involved in ministry in some way. So yes, I guess that means you can call me a PK (pastor’s kid). But honestly, what does that have to do with anything???
Maybe not so much anymore, but back when I was in high school there was a certain perception about what a PK should be, and what they shouldn’t. Let’s just say that I did not fit the mold; at least, inwardly I didn’t. On the outside, I was the perfect pastor’s kid. I spent a lot of time at church, I served and helped my dad out a lot when he was pastoring several churches that he had started himself. And, I behaved (for the most part). However, internally there was no real relationship with God, and in fact I tried to keep whatever was there hidden from the rest of the world. I was ashamed of my faith, if we could even really call it that. I’ve always believed in God, but he was never truly real to me.
Because I had no real faith, I was just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. And sometime around 2007 I finally exploded…
In late 2006, I joined the Air Force. In truth, it was a good move for me, and honestly it was the only way that my wife Rachel and I could get married and not struggle financially. And where did we get sent? Only a few thousand miles away to Germany…
So, off we went to start our new life in a place where we knew no one, and where I had no real connection to the life I was previously living, except Rachel of course. I still had my morals, which were instilled in me by my parents, even if the faith part never really stuck. So, luckily, I at least had that, and in reality, it probably saved me from going down some even darker paths than I did. But, to be honest, I was already lost. My heart was not in the right place, and my thoughts were not thinking on Godly things. I did some things that I’m not proud of, and I hung out with people that only brought me down. I did not go to church, and in fact I didn’t really even want to. This lasted through three years in Germany, and got even worse our three years in Guam.
After the birth of our second child in Guam, which was not something we had planned, things got pretty grim. I almost made the worst mistake of my life, and made dozens of others that I really wish I hadn’t. I still wasn’t going to church. I was swearing as much as the worst sailor you’ve ever met (no offense to my Navy brothers and sisters). I was not being a good father, I was angry a lot, and I treated my wife poorly. However, again, my morals, as weak as they were by now, still kept me from tipping over the edge. I thank God to this day that he was watching over me, even before I was born. I know that the choices my parents made, and the way they raised me, was just so that I could survive through these trying times later in my life.
So, there I was living my life in the darkness, with no way that I really knew of (at the time) to get out. But then, everything changed…
Just as the dust of an explosion eventually settles, things in my life finally started to become just a little clearer. I was able to get back on my feet and begin to heal from the wounds, though it took time.
In 2013, I changed jobs in the Air Force, which took us to California for several years. For nearly 7 years I’d hardly stepped foot in a church, but when we arrived in California I felt the tug to look for a local church to attend. We tried one, which ended up not being the best fit for us, so I started looking for another. I don’t remember how I heard about Shoreline, I think it was through an online search, but when we tried it out we really liked it there. And for the first time in years I finally started to feel something. It started deep within my soul, and it was a very slow change, but God spoke to me in profound ways over the next year or so. At times, it kind of felt like going to the dentist - it was uncomfortable, but I needed to remove the dead and decaying parts of my life so that I could fully heal and recover. I don’t really remember a specific moment when everything changed, though perhaps Rachel could tell you if you asked her. It was not some big light that opened in the sky and unleashed Heaven’s full glory down on me, burning away all the bad parts of my life. It was just a slow process of change as my mind began to be reformed – old habits and interests slowly faded away, and new ones took their place.
You won’t ever hear me say that I’m wholly complete, but I can tell you that the difference between now and then is night and day. As Nathan "Nate" John Feuerstein, the artist known as “NF”, so wonderfully put it, “Christian is not the definition of a perfect me.” Christian only defines who I strive to be, and who I look to as an example.
So, what’s really different about me? Besides most of the bad stuff that’s gone (yes, I do still sin), I’m passionate about things that I used to not care abiyt. Take this blog post for one. The old me would never have considered sharing all my shame on the internet. The old me would never have freely volunteered to write something meaningful so that in some small way, others might find the courage or the strength to allow change in their own lives. Besides that, the way I think has changed a lot. I see people differently. I judge less, and love more. I treat people differently, and my anger is under control. Of course, I do still have some small outbursts when I have to drive in Maryland traffic, but anyways…
One of the other ways that I’ve changed is in my desire to serve others, which as you know if you’re a Severn Runner, is something that we’ve been talking about recently. I know that I still need to do more, but even that feeling of ‘I need to serve more’ is something I NEVER would have thought about a few years ago. I lived for myself, and that was apparent. Now, though I’m still a selfish human by nature, I consider others more often and have more of a desire to help them.
I know that there are many of you out there right now who are reading this and possibly needing to do some reflections on your own lives, even if it’s only mirrored through my own distant experiences from yours. We all have different lives and experiences, and that’s what makes us unique. God speaks to each of us in different ways. So, it’s my hope that at least through sharing my story you’ll take a moment to listen and see what he has to say about yours.
Is he calling to you? Is he asking you to come discover this Jesus Difference that we’ve been talking about? Or, perhaps he’s asking you to share your own story of the Jesus Difference in your life, so that maybe, just maybe, someone you can uniquely reach might find the courage to allow the change that they’ve been desperately searching for their whole life.
You never know just who your story can affect. You never know just who your story can reach. And you’ll never know unless you share it.
There are a million stories out there of people who’ve come to understand this Jesus Difference, and who will probably tell you that it has been the biggest and best difference in their lives to this day. There are millions of stories through the ages of lives that have been changed – lives once lived in darkness, that are now bathed in the light.
Will yours be one?
I am a broken person living in a broken world. Like many of you, I've been mistreated, used, abused, and hurt by others. Often times Christians. For a long time I held onto bitterness, anger, hatred, and I even blamed God for the way people treated me. It hurts, it's unfair, it doesn't make sense, and it's quite lonely. I get it. But, what I failed to realize was that the people who I was hurt by, were also broken people living in a broken world. You see, you can't add brokenness to brokenness and hope that it will magically be made whole again.
Not very long ago there was an incident where someone's words and tone where very hurtful. In the moment I was full of rage and anger and all I wanted to do was lash out. In fact in my mind I wanted to grab the individual at their throat.
Luckily, I kept my cool and fled the scene. Still full of rage I sat on the edge of my bed thinking of all of the hateful things I should have said or done. In that moment when hate was overcoming me the Lord broke through and began to work on my heart. I felt as though He was asking me, "Why is your heart so wicked?" I began to place the blame on the individual who's words hurt me. I felt that my feelings were justified. I felt the Lord speak again and ask me "Joe, why is your heart so wicked? Don't you know that's my child too?"
In that moment I felt paralyzed. I really didn't know what to do or how to respond. I was the victim here, so why weren't my emotions and response justified? Didn't I have a right to be angry? That's what I began to ask the Lord. After crying, praying, and yelling, I felt God say "No your emotions and response weren't justified and you don't have the right to hold onto this bitterness and anger."
You see, the enemy will tell you that your emotions are justified and that you have every right to be angry and bitter, but that's because the enemy wants you to live in bondage.
When Jesus was murdered on the cross He didn't only die for our sin, but He also died for our offense, our anger, our bitterness, our rage. He died for it all. In that moment of trying to justify my rage I began to examine my heart and all of the wickedness inside of it.
For so long I was holding onto bitterness that I was never designed to hold onto in the first place. Christ didn't die to bring partial freedom to our lives. He died to set us totally free! I had never realized the bondage I was living in until that evening when hatred was flowing through my veins. I began to realize the weight of the offense that I had been carrying around for far to long. I had a choice to make. Do I choose to live in the bondage of offense and anger or do I choose to live freely and give it to God?
About an hour after the incident I didn't have any hard feelings, no bitterness, no anger, and no rage. I even began to pray blessings upon the individual and others who had hurt me in the past. I was free. Don't get me wrong, I still get upset, and angry, and bitter just like any other broken person out there. It is a daily struggle to not hold onto offense, but, I've learned that I am not suppose to hold onto that garbage anymore. Besides, when we hold onto offense it's not hurting anyone but ourselves. Take a step towards freedom and begin to let go of your offense and offer forgiveness.
The end of August is synonymous with back to school. This one event affects a vast majority of the population. Children, teens, young adults, teachers, parents - everyone jolted from the ease of summer to the demands of the school year. There are a whirlwind of activities that surround this event. Once the flutter of initial activity begins to lull there is one thing that remains. The delight of studying. It does not subside or end if success is in the student’s future.
“Study hard!” “Don’t forget to study.” These are just a couple pieces of advice we give students.
The same could be said to all of us. This is especially true when looking at the most important book on the bookshelf. This book is more than just classroom material but instead something we consider a way of life. Do you see the Bible like this? If so, you too need to study.
How can the Bible be studied effectively so it is not just academic but a personal and applicable to our lives?
- read to receive inspiration
- examine with a group
- listen to a podcast
- take in a video series
- read, researched, and review
- read Scripture, Observe the culture and activities, Apply to life, bath in Pray (SOAP)
So many ways, so little time! Each approach may be of benefit to you or maybe just one is in your wheelhouse. Test them out and see what’s best for you and your way of learning.
Read to Receive Inspiration:
This is just what it says - jumping into reading, pondering, mediating on Scripture anywhere in the Bible. Then listen, gain insight, and be inspired. You may need to be patient. Some hear the voice of God sharing his insight… others often have to wait. Mediate on what you have read. What resonates could be the inspiration God has for you.
Investigate with a Group:
When we have a difficult topic to master at school, in college, or at work, we often try to get with others as a group. Investigating the Bible is no different. Its okay to not understand and to lean on insight from others. Gather some people together and read. You can then discuss what it means, how it makes you feel, how it applies, and why it’s important. Need a Connect Group? For more information, call the church office at 410-551-6654 or go on line at http://severnrun.com/connectgroups/.
Listen to a Podcast:
Although this may seem high tech to some, its not difficult to tap into and learn from podcasts. There are many great speakers that produce podcasts to educate on the the Bible. Google “Bible study podcasts” and you will get a plethora of choices. Well liked Biblically based teachers include Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, Ravi Zacharias, and Frances Chan, to name just a few. (If you are unsure about the Biblical beliefs of a podcaster, see if you can find a statement of their faith on their website or in the podcast description.)
Take in a Video Series:
Many women (and some men too!) love Beth Moore. Woman love her energy and excitement and most importantly her love for God and women. She brings excitement and energy to any space she enters whether physically or via technology. She and others teach using video series along with the study guides available for purchase on line or on dvd. Other Bible teachers include Pricilla Shrier, and Anne Graham Lotz. You can find these resources (and more) at lifeway.com.
Read, Research, Review:
The Bible is comprised of 166 books and two separate testaments. Where does one begin? The book of John is an often recommended starting place. This book is John’s account of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. After reading each chapter, take the time to consult with various resources such as study guides or internet searches that speak to the meaning of the passage. Go back and read again, determine from the text and your research what it means to you and applies to your life.
This is another approach to reading Scripture a section at a time. While you read, Observe the culture of the time and activities of the chapter. Move to Apply the principles of the text to your life. Finally bathe in Prayer what you have learned and how you will apply it each day. Additional reading on this approach available at www.soapstudy.com. Want to go deeper with this method? Read “The Devine Mentor” by Wayne Cordeiro.
All these sound great but one thing is missing…YOU! What’s most important is that your study is an intentional and planned out process. Good intentions are only as good as the plan behind them.
It may be necessary to:
- Set aside time
- Put on your calendar
- Give up an activity (TV or device time)
- Get up earlier
- Go to bed later
- Ask another to hold you accountable
- Be patient!
This is a process. What works for one person may not work for another. God is faithful and will reward you regardless of which method you try or decide to use. Study his word. Take notes. Open your heart. Stretch your mind. See what happens.
In the next 15 seconds, name as many ways as you can think of that other people show they love you. Ready? Go…
What did you come up with? If you are like me maybe things like, they are kind and considerate, they do things for me, they say they love me, they give hugs, they bring comfort, share words of encouragement, listen when I talk about my day, and they take care of me when I am sick or grumpy.
Not bad…its all good stuff. A bit self-centered, but good stuff.
But still, a list like that can leave us asking, is there more? Or is that it?
Some would say, yes, that’s it. End of story.
The Bible would tell you a different story.
How about a love that loves us even when we don’t deserve it? While we committed one sinful act after another, we are loved.
How about an unconditional love that sacrifices everything for us, even unto death? Ponder for a few moments Roman 5:8: “But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Really, who does that?
But why? Why would God do that?
The answer becomes clear to us in one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Often this is the first verse memorized when a child attends Sunday School or an adult begins studying the Bible. John 3:16 says, “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Pure and simple.
Not because we earned it, bought it, or deserved it.
Its because he loves us.
How does one respond to that? What is it we are to do?
The expectation is simple. It is to accept it.
Then we are to live it.
We are to be thankful for it.
We are to give it away.
Ultimately we will bathe in it for an eternity.
In the words of the Psalmist, “Give thanks to the God of Heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalms 136:26
Amazingly, his love doesn’t end there.
Not only did he love us first and will for an eternity, he has given us a gift. A gift that lives in us. “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5b
The Holy Spirit is our guide, comforter, and helper. He is with us and in us. He is an example of God’s love. He is God.
The prophet Zephaniah also explains, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud song.” Zephaniah 3:17
You might be thinking, that’s all well and good. Sounds wonderful. But, is it really THAT big of deal? Life is good. I got it.
It is a choice, there is no doubt about that.
We can choose to live our lives in the status quo, same old, same old.
Or instead, we can choose to live our lives in the new. New life with a new beginning that is given to us when we admit our sins, believe in Jesus, and commit our lives to him.
There’s no promise of a fairy tale ending but instead we can have a life filled with…
A love that began before us.
It is the never-ending love of our Lord and Savior.