#MyStory-Hillary Battle: What Happens When You Share Your Faith

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Why is it so difficult to have real conversation about our personal relationship with Jesus, especially with non-believers?

When given the opportunity, we are quick to say that God has incredible power to transform lives, but we belittle the example of transformed life that we know the most about…our own! What wonderful changes we could make if we were better able to allow others, including non-believers, to see our daily walk with Jesus. We would be able to change lives by introducing them to a faith that is real and alive. One Severn Runner, Hillary, was willing to share her story about how she did just that. 

“I was working as a therapist in a prison. I was ready to make a career move and had applied and accepted a conditional offer for a new position, but was waiting in a holding pattern for almost two years. It was easy to write it off as the pace of the federal governments hiring system, but in hindsight, I think God was keeping me there for a reason. Over that time other coworkers left only me and my coworker, Emily, on our team. Working in prison you find any reason to get out during the day and we regularly began getting afternoon coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. I was under the assumption that Emily was a Christian, not the “I believe in God” type, but the active Christ following type. I am not really sure why I thought this, but I did. Our conversations over coffee were about relationships, family, and daily life. Our conversations got deeper and turned to issues of faith. I thought I was having deep conversations with a person who shared my beliefs and was coming from the same place of faith. I openly shared my thoughts, questions, and experiences. We talked about our churches and I was surprised how little she seemed to know about hers, but didn't think much of it. After several months, Emily shared with me that she had gotten baptized. I was so happy for her, but it was also the first time I recognized that she hadn't been in the same place of faith as me during our conversations. She told me how our conversations had been a part of her journey. Shortly after, I got a start date for my new job and left Patuxent [Institution]. It is hard to think that God didn't keep me there to have that experience with her – to share my faith freely and without inhibition because I didn't know I was sharing with someone might reject it.”

Wow! What a great misunderstanding that turned out to be. But there were a lot of ways that God was moving in Hillary's life to orchestrate the seemingly coincidental relationship she developed with Emily.

“I think God was working through me to share faith with her and draw her into the accepting community of faith. She got into a dating relationship that quickly became an engagement during that time and my marriage, Wes' and my involvement in YMP (Connect Group at Severn Run), and the other Christ centered couples we knew were able to be examples to her of what a Christ centered relationship can look like. Because she was my friend, I shared with her some messy and vulnerable times Wes and I walked through – and I think that realness was impactful for her. God was working through her and the situation to teach me to be bold in sharing my faith – I never would have spoken so openly if I had known there was a risk that she wouldn't be receptive. 

Another thing I think is important is that in sharing with her, I talked about struggles, questions I had, barriers between sharing faith with my family, etc. A lot of times I feel like when sharing my faith I need to have the perfect thing to say or have it all wrapped up in a pretty package with a bow, but real faith is evolving and is sometimes difficult which is just as important to share.”

 

It’s easy to relate to Hillary's feelings on why we hold back when sharing our faith. We are worried about how we will be received, but the person on the other end really just needs to hear Jesus speak through our life's story. When we think we are “improving” our story by focusing on getting everything just right, we are probably just getting in the way.

“My main takeaway from the experience is how differently would I talk about my faith if I was never worried about rejection. I hope that others would hear that too – how differently, how much more frequently, how much more vulnerable would we be talking about our faith if we acted like everyone we talked to was a believer?” - Hillary Battle

Let us know:  How does this encourage you to be more bold about sharing your faith in everyday situations?

For Young Adults: Developing Firsthand Faith

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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 Sunday mornings.

Once she was in college she knew she wanted to have a strong faith, but she didn't know exactly how to live that out for herself. She and I struggled for a while to find our place in the community of Christ, really until we came to understand how important it was to build real and honest relationships with other Christians and to serve alongside them.

To find your place in the community of Christ, you have to get to know what that community looks like. Start by joining or starting a connect group for young adults (like SMASH, Real World, or YMP). Connect groups are where you can build close relationships with people who will understand what's going on in your life and will encourage you in your walk. You will need those relationships when dealing with the ups and downs that come along with college or starting a career.

You may feel a little lost as you transition from being part of your parent’s church activities to having your own church activities and relationships, but trust me when I say that you are not alone. There are many people just like you who are looking for others to connect and share life with. So look around and find some people who are prayerfully going to Jesus and asking him to lead them into developing a community like that described in Ephesians 4. Invite people to join you if you have to!

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

- Ephesians 4:11-16

 

At this stage in life you have a lot of new time and freedom. This is the best chance you will ever have to serve in different areas of the church and find where you fit best.

If you are thinking that you want to have a Christ-centered family that does great things in Jesus name, you don't have to wait. That was a big “aha!” that encouraged me to get more active serving. I realized that I did not have to wait to be the head of the family that God wanted me to be--that I could be a part of something whether my family was just me, or me and my wife.

Here at Severn Run we are lucky because there are many teams and ministries where you can serve throughout the year. This is also a great way of getting to know people outside your small group who will also support you and who you can bond with through serving. This is the mature faith that Paul describes in Ephesians 4, that we would each grow together and support one another as the body of Christ.

What is "First Fruits" and Why Does it Matter?

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As Americans we generally like to be first. (Those of us with competitive tendencies like to be first more than others!)  We are taught to be first and win the race of life starting at a very young age:

  • First to walk and talk
  • Climb to the top of the class
  • Be the first to graduate from college
  • Win the race up the corporate ladder

Why?

So we can be the best and get the best for ourselves and achieve the American Dream, right?

But wait...is there more?

What is God's perspective on this “be first, win the race, get to the top” concept?

The Israelites were farmers.They grew food not just as a livelihood but to survive. The idea of first fruits is seen in numerous places in the Old Testament when the Israelites are instructed to give God their first fruits. For example, in Exodus 23:19a they are told, “Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”

For as important as food production was to God’s chosen people, God’s expectation was that they give back to him the first and the best of their produce. After all, it was God’s blessing that allowed the plants to grow and provide more than sufficient food throughout the growing season.

The majority of us do not plant, grow, and harvest any substantial amounts of food. We work at any number of jobs or have income from various sources. We don’t live as nomadic farmers like the Israelites did so what does the idea of first fruits have to do with us today?

The British dictionary gives us a clear definition on how first fruits apply to not just a crop, but to all forms of production. It defines first firsts as “the first results, products, or profits of an undertaking”. No matter what we do to create income or achieve results, it falls under God’s exception of first fruits.

First Fruits is the top of the totem pole. It's the income that comes in first. It’s not after taxes, heath insurance, the phone bill, the mortgage payment, the trip to the grocery store or a stop at the mall. Its comes out of the first earnings.

Sounds painful and maybe even scary.

Is that really what God intends? I think so. In this way we demonstrate our trust in him and acknowledge that it is through his blessing we received the income. It’s not because we went to college, it’s not because we worked really hard and it’s not because the economy just happened to improve. It’s because God allowed us to earn the income. It is a blessing!

As you ponder the amount to give back to God, remember it’s the first fruits he’s asking for from us. Our first and best. It’s through giving this way that we win in God’s eyes.

 


 

By the way, if you want to set up automatic giving to make tithing your first fruits automatic, please follow this link.

Growing in Faith

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Faith is believing in what we cannot directly observe. Faith is trusting in God instead of our own nature. In Hebrews 11:1, Paul encourages the Hebrews by describing faith and later goes on to provide multiple examples of people who showed tremendous faith throughout the bible. A common theme in these examples is that each person was able to do great things by putting their faith in God instead of putting their faith in their own abilities and circumstances.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Get Uncomfortable

Our faith grows when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones in his name, into an area where we are not in control. That is where God can take over in our lives. 

God has called us to do great things, but these things require having faith in him as they did for those described in Hebrews 11. This means pushing ourselves to get to know other believers through Connect Groups or maybe to start our own Connect Group. This means sharing our faith with others around the world so that they too may come to know Jesus. This means finding our place to serve within the church even though it is easy to just be served by the church. 

Each time I have made myself uncomfortable by obeying what I understood to be God's will in my life, it has been an awesome experience that has grown my faith. I have been terrified to put myself out there, being an intovert by nature, but I consistently felt God speaking to me so I said yes to him even though my nature pushed back. 

God has always given me the strength and the voice when I take the first step, just as Proverbs 3:5-6 suggests, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.

Jesus tells Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness, from this we should understand that it will be uncomfortable when we push our human nature out and have faith in God. This is necessary so that when others see us doing the “impossible,” there can be no doubt that the glory belongs to God and it belongs to him alone. We too will know that it is only through God that we are able to accomplish these things, and this is how we grow our faith.

 

It's Never Too Late To Let Love Win!

let love win
 
We're all masters at missing the point. Almost all of the ugliness and damage that has been done in Christian and church history is because we miss the point. One of the crucial turning points of faith is rejecting the legalism that the human heart longs for. Legalism (religious rules) is a cheap alternative to grace-based living from a broken heart!
 
The truth is, there is something foundational that has to happen before you can ever be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. To be an authentic follower of Jesus, something has to happen in your life that is about brokenness. Whether we can get to Jesus or not, really depends on our brokenness. We all want to find ways around our brokenness but you really can't do it because to be 'unbroken,' means that you're still in control!
 
When I talk about unbroken, I'm talking about us demanding control --that's the issue!
 
To come to Jesus requires a brokenness of surrender where you and I experience the pain of giving up control. Us wanting control is kind of an insanity loop that brings it's own kind of brokenness to life. 

It's kind of like steering the car and pressing on the brake after it goes off the cliff! Yes, you have control of the wheel but you're not really doing a whole lot of good in the situation. So it's like we're in a control that's not working but we don't want to give up control to a God who will make life work!
 
When we move toward Jesus without being broken, we get religion. Religion is based on a lot of things, but in addition to control, religion is based on rules. These rules can be written and unwritten. We come up with all of these rules and rituals and we're just making stuff up. We need to call ourselves out on our own hypocrisy and recognize that legalism is like gravity, it's a downward pull!
 
Part of authentic faith is recognizing that I am broken, that I am in danger, and that I need help. Jesus is the rescuer, and the process of rushing to Jesus is where the healing begins! 
 
Jesus takes our lives and brings us into a relationship where we soar! When we believe, Jesus helps us defy the gravity of earth and its brokenness.
 
If you've been broken and you've come to Jesus and experienced real hope in life, if you're not very very careful, at some point, you will stop soaking in the presence of God and experiencing the warmth and joy of God. If you're not careful in your spiritual journey, you're going to take a step back into the deadly ease of legalism and you're going to give in to the downward pull of rules, of ritual and of empty living!
 
In biblical Christianity we are only justified by faith through grace and our faith is based in the person of Jesus Christ! The justification that you and I have is the same, it is the love of God in the life of Jesus! (Ephesians 2:8-9)

It is a gift! So I cannot be proud of something I did not earn. I received this, and there is a real humility that comes when we understand that our justification comes from Jesus and not ourselves! 
 
Jesus' touch means something --it's a reason to celebrate, a reason to live, and to lift our hands and praise our God! It transforms us from living soul sick to becoming eternally alive!
 
What God said in the Old Testament is true for all of us, "These dead bones of ours can live again!" It's the breath of God --an up close and personal encounter that changes everything! (Ezekiel 37)
 
But Jesus only touches the willing, broken hearted people (Matthew Chapter 9).

If you want Jesus, you've got to run to Him! You've got to be broken and you've got to get on your knees and beg for a life change --that's when Jesus gets real! The rest is just religious garbage and legalistic lies! Until we're desperate in need and willingly loved, we'll die in the distance of legalism! 
 
There are so many of us longing to be loved but we're just not willing. Believe you can be loved! Let love win -it's never too late to let love win! -Dr. Drew Shofner

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