Pratt Presbyterian Church
By: Alan Luttrell
CL texted me a week ago Friday, asking if I would be willing to preach on September 16th. Initially I ignored his text, hoping he would move on to the next person on his list. Yet, I had a feeling this was not going to happen. That feeling came from how his text was worded. It read:
Alan … CL here…I’ve exhausted almost every avenue for pulpit supply for next Sunday the 16th…do you think you could pull together a sermon on short notice? Thanks
Then he called & left a voice mail asking if I would do the sermon. Well, in a moment of weakness, I said yes. I sensed a sigh of relief in his voice.
Yet, when I hung up, I had an anxiety attack. What was I going to preach on? What is the purpose of a sermon? Am I to entertain, no not entertain, yet I don’t want to bore people. It needs to be something with a message that will get people thinking about how they live their lives. Maybe it should have some interesting fact to get them thinking.
So to start off I’ll ask a question to get you thinking: What part of the body burns 20-30% of your calories, yet you hardly ever see a diet or exercise plan on it? Ponder that a while. I’ll give you the answer later.
I knew that I needed a sermon theme real quick, because Jennifer does the bulletins by midweek and needs the sermon title & scripture to do the bulletin. So as usual, I ask God for some inspiration. Something I can get a theme and scripture on early in the week & then I can work on the sermon next weekend. This is because I’ve got a lot going on at the office & am working a lot of hours during the week & wouldn’t have time to work on it until the next weekend.
So, I grabbed about 5 books off of my bookshelf & started going through them. It was in the book “Jesus Calling – Enjoying Peace In His Presence”, a book of daily devotionals Jan had given me at the beginning of the year. The book is by Sarah Young and is a great book to help keep your life centered.
In reading through the introduction I came across a passage which I found interesting about her journey from having a one way conversation with God to having a dialogue with God. She even had a scripture for me. So I felt inspired to go with that & even had a thought of reading some of the devotionals as part of the sermon. With that, I came up with the Sermon theme and scripture.
Sermon theme: Our relationship w/Christ, from monologue to dialogue & the Scripture of Psalm 46:10.
This sermon did not end up where I thought it would. It was a real serendipity in life. Let me share these thoughts.
If you distill life down to its bare essence – Life is about relationships. In the end, relationships are what matter.
All relationships require giving & sharing by both parties to develop a great relationship. Relationships must be a two way street to develop. With that in mind let me read the passage from the introduction in Sarah Young’s book which led to this sermon.
…, I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for many years, but this was one-way communication: I did all the talking. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God might want to communicate to me on a given day. I decided to “listen” with pen in hand, writing down whatever I “heard” in my mind. As J. I. Packer wrote in his book Your Father Loves You: “God … guides our minds as we think things out in his presence.” This is how I was listening to Him – by focusing on Jesus and His Word, while asking Him to guide my thoughts. I was not listening for an audible voice; I was spending time seeking God’s Face (Psalm 27:8 NKJV).
My journaling thus changed from monologue to dialogue. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day. Of course, I knew my writings were not inspired – as scripture is – but they were helping me grow closer to God. This became a delightful way to encourage myself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6 NKJV).
As I was learning to seek God’s Face, “Be Still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) became a life changing verse. Alternate readings for “Be still” are “Relax,” “Let go,” and “Cease striving” (NASB). This is an enticing invitation from God to lay down our cares and seek his presence.
As Sarah changed her relationship with God from a monologue to a dialogue with God, her whole mental process changed. She went from just talking to God, to not just listening to God, but actually having a dialogue with God. That is a true relationship of giving & sharing.
In Steve Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he talks about the great revelation he had when he read that there can be a space between a stimulus & your response. He said this was one of the greatest discoveries he made when writing the book. That when something happens, or when you know you should make a decision on something or take an action on something, you can actually widen the gap between that stimulus and your response. In doing so you can actually think through your response before you give it.
In Andy Stanley’s book: “The Best Question Ever”, the author says when making a decision you should stop and ask the question: What is the wise thing to do?
If you ask the wrong questions, such as:
- Is there anything wrong with it? With the assumption that if there is nothing wrong with what you’re doing, it must be okay, or
- How close can I get to the line between right and wrong without actually doing something wrong? or
- How close can I get to sin without crossing over?
You’re really asking: How unethical, immoral, or insensitive can I be without suffering any manageable outcomes? Just because there isn’t a “Thou shalt not” attached to a situation does not necessarily mean it is a “Thou Shalt.” What’s morally and culturally permissible is often not what’s best for us.
After asking the right question: “What is the wise thing to do?”, then, as the scripture says – be still, relax, let go, cease striving & listen, have a dialogue with God & deep down inside you will find the answer & know what to do or what you shouldn’t do. The next step is to make the right decision. Don’t ignore the right answer just because it’s uncomfortable, causes you to go outside your comfort zone or is something you want to do and are trying to justify it all along knowing you shouldn’t do it. That’s how you grow to be a better person which leads to a greater life.
I was at a seminar a few years ago where a fellow by the name of Dave LaRue was speaking. Dave was my mentor at the time. He said:
Where you are in life & more important where you will be in the future is based on the decisions you make. If you make great decisions, this will lead to a great life.
Let me repeat that last sentence. If you make great decisions this will lead to a great life.
So how do you & I have a great life? We do so by making great decisions. What is the basis for making great decisions?
I believe it starts with having a great relationship and dialogue with God. Then making that gap between the stimulus and response big enough to ask: “What is the wise thing to do?” Then searching deep inside for the answer. A decision is not made until action is taken. Let me repeat that. A decision is not made until action is taken. So we must take action. It will probably require getting out of our comfort zone, doing things we don’t want to do at the time or not doing something we shouldn’t do. Yet, God doesn’t want us to be stagnant. God wants the best for each of us. He wants each of us to not only grow, but to make great decisions & take action so we can have a great life serving him.
Let us pray. God guide each of us to have a dialogue with you, asking: “What is the wise thing to do?”, so that we can make great decisions resulting in the great life You want for us. Amen
Now who has the answer to the question: What part of the body burns 20-30% of your calories, yet you hardly ever see a diet or exercise plan on it? The brain.
by: Jennifer Barten
I’ve got this,’ you’ve all heard me say it after offering to help me with some project or task. Most of you, after hearing me use that phrase, still persist and try to help. A few of you go as far to lecture me about how I need to accept help so I don’t get burnt out or overwhelmed.
I hope most of you know me well enough to know and trust that when I say I’ve got this, the job will get done and it will get done by deadline.
As long as I don’t have to be in two places at once and can do it on my own, I normally do. I like to be independent and I don’t like relying on others or feeling like I am burdening someone by asking for help.
I know I could ask any number of you for help often and you would help, not thinking a thing of it but trust me, I’ve got this.
I recently realized though, there is one problem with my I’ve got this attitude. Bigger than that I need to learn to rely on others. Bigger than that I have independency issues and bigger than I might someday get burnt out.
I’ve been lying to myself and to you. You see, the truth is, I have recently realized, I don’t have this.
Every time I tell you and myself that I have this…whatever this is…I take God out of the equation. I am telling you I can do it on my own and I can’t.
God created me to be organized, energetic, positive and gave me my work ethic. That all makes me feel like I’ve got this. Like I can do things on my own but I can’t. I must remember he gave me attributes that make me able to multitask and have energy to keep going longer than most people think I should in order to do his work and not mine.
Along with giving me the attributes, I must remember that he is with me each and every step of the way. And while I’ve been focusing on me, even if you haven’t said the words, ‘I’ve got this’ at some point in your life, you have said something similar: I’m almost done so will just finish myself; it’s easier if I just do it or it’s quicker for me to just do it than to teach someone else.
All these phrases and so many more, imply that we got this. That we haven’t talked to or consulted God and that he isn’t helping us every step of the way.
Pricilla Shirer said “God wants to help you to grow by allowing you to see what He can do when you admit you can’t.”
Throughout the Bible we see places where the people think they’ve got this and don’t. The first bad girl of the Bible is a great example. Giving Eve my personality, this is what I think happened in the Garden of Eden. Eve gets bored of being friends with just Adam and decides to become friends with the only other talking creature in the Garden. Time and time again Adam tells her not to be friends with the serpent, that he just can’t trust the creature and that there is something off about him. Eve refuses to listen though, saying ‘what harm is there in being friends with a talking lizard? I will be fine, Adam. Stop worrying so much. I’ve got this.’ That ended well for her…
David though, took a different approach. No matter if he was fighting a giant, figuring out how to best be king or living his daily life, David always knew God was right there with him. Many times in the Bible, you can find David giving credit to God for his victories in battle and his prosperous life.
In the scripture that Shawn read for us today, we find Jesus saying that people must give up everything in order to make it into heaven. He tells his disciples this after a young man had came up to Jesus and asked what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus names a few of the commandments saying you shouldn’t live in adultery, steal or give false testimony. The young man gets excited, saying he has done all these things and ask what else he must do. At that point Jesus tells him he must give up all of his wealth and come follow Jesus. The man walks away sad because he is unwilling to do this.
Jesus then says to the disciples that all things are possible through Christ and we see just that in the very next chapter.
The start of the next chapter is Zacchaeus’ story. We all know the story…he’s a tax collector. He goes around and takes additional money from the people so he can pocket some for himself. The people know this is happening and hate him because of what he doing to them and because of his riches. He hears Jesus is coming to town and wants to see him but he’s little so climbs a tree so he can have a look. When Jesus walks by he hollers at Zacchaeus to come down. While the people are all mumbling about how horrible Zacchaeus is, he has a change of heart and promises to give half of all his wealth to the poor and pay everyone back four times the amount he owns them.
I love that these two stories are just one chapter apart. I love that in the first we see a guy who thinks he can’t do something and probably thinks it’s impossible but the very next chapter, we see someone able to accomplish it because of God’s help.
Going back to the story about the young man, I often wonder what the disciples were thinking as they heard Jesus talking.
Perhaps the disciples were thinking, “This guy seemed like he was doing everything right except one thing and he’s not getting in. That seems unfair.” Jesus highlights that it is impossible for man to save himself; only God has the power to save. The man thought he could do something to be saved.
I think people often have that same misconception today. They think we’ve got this and can help themselves and work their way into heaven. But there’s only one person who can save us and it isn’t us- it’s Jesus. He did everything because we can do nothing.
If we believe, ‘God helps those who help themselves’ then we have a pride problem. We give ourselves an I’ve got this attitude, making ourselves out to be self-sufficient, able to do things on our own.
However, with that said, the statement does hold some truth. God won’t help those who are unwilling to do what he wants them to do. He isn’t going to reward laziness. If we ask God for help finding a job but am unwilling to look for one it’s unlikely he will drop one in our lap.
That works in a practical way as well as in spiritual growth. If we think spiritual growth is just going to automatically happen without any effort on our part we are sadly mistaken. If we expect God to just automatically remove sin from our life or just snap his fingers and make us more wise and patient and loving then we have a wrong understanding. Out of his great mercy God may do some things without any effort on our part but most of the time these things involve a partnership-God doing his part and us doing our.
While nothing God calls us to do is easy, we are quicker to hear God’s voice and stay calmer when we use the power of prayer.
There once was a famous missionary named Taylor Hudson that was going to China to carry the gospel.
He was on a ship in an area of the ocean that ships had trouble getting through. One morning the Captain of the ship knew they were in trouble. So he ran to the man of God’s room and knocked on his door. When Hudson opened the door and could see alarm on the Captain’s face. The Captain explained: “We have no wind and are drifting dangerously close to the Island of Cannibals!!”
Hudson replied: “OK, I will pray for wind but you must go immediately and set the sails.”
The Captain said: “Sir, the sailors on this ship will say I am crazy, if I give the orders to set the sails and there is no wind.”
Hudson demanded: Before I pray you must set the sails and prepare to steer the course. The Captain agreed to set the sails if Hudson would pray. About 45 minutes later the Captain was running and returned to Hudson’s room. The Captain said: “Sir you must stop praying, we have more wind than we can handle!”
When we pray according to God’s will and trust in him all things are possible. Perhaps our problem when we pray is we often put limits on what God can do. Often we can think our problem, circumstance or situation is beyond the scope of God’s ability or we pray to specifically telling God what we want or need thinking we’ve got this and are in control. God can do more than we can ever imagine and when we put limits on God, we are putting limits on what he can do in our lives.
If we think that our problems are bigger than God is able or willing to handle, then we show a lack of faith in the God who loves and cares for us.
As disciples of Christ we need to stop our doubts and focus our faith on what God is able to do in and through us. We need to trust God more, instead of thinking God might answer prayer we need to be confident that God always answers prayer. We have a simple choice to make, we can pray, believe and receive or we can pray, doubt and go without.
There once was a chicken and corn farmer going through a drought. The farmer was raising chickens to sale, along with their eggs to pay off the debt on his farm. The corn was dying and all the crops were failing because millions of grasshoppers were destroying everything green. At dinner time the farmer told his wife they were going to lose everything they had worked so hard for.
His wife said: NO! God will provide a way. God always has, and He always will and she had them get down to pray.
Awhile later the farmer was on his tractor driving over the farm and he saw the damage was getting worse with the grasshoppers roaming at will.
The man turned the tractor off and climbed down and fell to his knees. He began praying with all his heart. He said: Now, Lord we have trusted you and your plans since we were married. Our family is going to lose the farm and we will be hungry and we may face death as a slow and painful process. We have always trusted you but now the grasshoppers seem to have defeated us. Our chickens are dying and they are laying no eggs. We have nothing but our hope in you and it looks like that is going to die also.” As the man was kneeling by the old John Deer and he thought he heard a voice?
He listened very closely and he heard a voice very plainly. “Let the chickens out of the house!” The man quickly replied: “God we can’t let the chickens out of the house, they will run wild and we will never be able to catch them.”
The old man heard the voice again: “Trust me and let the chickens out of the house.”
At dinner time the man told his wife what the crazy voice had told him.
The faithful wife responded: “Why not? They will die anyway if we don’t give it a try? Why not trust the Lord as we always have!” At 4:30 the next morning the old man went to the huge hen houses and just flew open the doors. Slowly the chickens wander out and they began eating the grasshoppers. The skinny weak chickens thrived on the grasshoppers and each evening the chickens returned to roost in the house.
It is so often easy to look at a situation and not understand it, like the farmer did. Thinking we know better and that we have got this so we don’t listen to God. We always need to be the faithful wife though, who trust even when something doesn’t make sense.
In her daily devotional book, Sarah Young writes through God, “Since I am infinite, ‘impossibilities’ are My specialty. I delight in them because they display My Glory so vividly. They also help you live the way I intended: in joyful, trusting dependence on Me. The next time you face an ‘impossible’ situation, turn to Me immediately with a hopeful heart.”
At certain times we all do better about going to God than others. Most of us go to him when we are thankful or when someone is sick asking him to heal them or us but most us don’t do as well going to Him when life is going good and we’ve got this. We don’t do as well going to him with our daily issues and thoughts.
Many studies have shown that American’s don’t think they need to rely on God because majority of the time our daily needs are met.
According to pastor and writer Francis Chan, because we don’t usually have to depend on God for food or money to buy any of our main needs, we don’t feel needy. In fact, because of this we often think of ourselves as fairly independent and capable. Even if we aren’t rich, we are doing just fine and have got this figured out.
If 100 people represented the world’s population, 53 of those would live on less than $2 a day.
Even if we don’t have as much as many Americans, we are financially rich compared to most of the rest of the world, making it easy for us to think that we don’t need to depend on God for many things.
In one episode of the Simpsons, Homer asked Bart to pray before eating. Bart then bows his head to pray saying “Thank you God for nothing since we paid for all of this ourselves and got it at the grocery store.”
Even though we would never say that and none of us are that ungrateful, how often are we ungrateful without knowing it? How often are we lost in our own thoughts and don’t take time to appreciate whatever it is that God has put right in front of us?
Part of being faithful is listening when God speaks, taking time to pray and spend time with God. Another part of being faithful is giving God credit for all the wonderful things he does in our lives and remembering that at no point do we got this.
By: Joseph Loomis
On April 5th, 2015—Easter Sunday—I stood before you all and professed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Admittedly, my motives for doing so were selfish: I wanted to go to heaven because I was afraid of hell…and Jesus said He was the way, so I wanted Him in my life, but I really didn’t own it or act like it. I was as forgiven then as I am now, but I was a spiritual infant—I had a relationship with God, but it was very weak; in need of nourishment. In the three-plus years since then, God has drastically changed the posture of my heart. And I say God, because it couldn’t have been anyone else. Three years ago, I had zero plans to be telling a group of people about my relationship with God, and negative plans (if that’s even possible) to forsake lab work to attend an 8-week program in Florida just to grow my relationship with Jesus. I also didn’t plan this whole facial hair thing, but you know…God is sovereign.
Anyway, by the preposterous grace and mercy of God, I’m here. Mainly, I would like to share my story—or testimony—with you. Then, I’ll briefly overview my time in Florida (note for web version: I did this extemporaneously; for brevity, I’ve omitted this here. If you’re interested, I’d be delighted to talk with you). Finally, I’ll elaborate on one lesson God taught me while I was there.
Before I begin, I’d ask for your patience; it has been very difficult for me–a very…wordy person–to condense these three years into a coherent message less than a half-hour in length. God has just shown and taught me so many things, and I want to talk about them all, but I just can’t.
Alright, we’re burnin’ daylight; let’s go.
This is NOT a complete account; for that, come find me, and we’ll talk. Also, I share this with you because, as we heard from Revelation 12:11 and from David a few weeks ago, our testimonies have power. And while I have a moment, I just wanted to say thank you, David, for sharing how God has given you a selfless desire to live for Him. As one who has recently been challenged by his own self-centeredness, I was quite encouraged by God’s work in your life.
Freshman Year: Fall 2015—Spring 2016
When I came to KU, my priorities list was school, lab work, running club, singing, and then friends and God/church, in that order. I was still searching for concrete, convincing proof that the Bible was true and had any application to my life. I thought that relationships—both with God and others—were a frustrating distraction from my focus on school and science. I thought this because, throughout high school, I had built my worth on my academic success and accolades…everything else was fun occasionally, but ultimately, I thought it wasn’t worth my time. Another reason I devalued relationships was because I thought that, since science was my “passion”, I must love it more than anything else. So, when I moved in to 618 Templin Hall, I intended to live out my college years in much the same way as I had high school: in pursuit of good grades and accolades. But God placed me in a room with some cornhusker named Cameron Bretsen, and we quickly became good friends due, in part, to our studiousness and our common interest in sports. Cam, however, was a few steps ahead of me in his walk with Jesus, and he really wanted to join a campus ministry AND a local church. Within a month, we joined Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church (“GEPC” for short) and the Navigators, an international campus ministry whose mission is “To know Christ and make Him Known”. God has used GEPC in my life, but most of my story today involves the Navigators.
That fall, I joined my first Bible Study with the Navigators—ok, the truth is, Cam coaxed me into going many times. Looking back, this—the first time I consistently opened God’s word–was crucial. In Isaiah 55:11, God promises that His word will accomplish His purpose. If God’s purpose then was to convince me that His word was truthful and applicable, it didn’t take long before He accomplished that. We read 2 Timothy 3 sometime in mid-semester. In verses 16 and 17, I read this:
“16All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17, ESV)
God used this verse to help me realize that the Bible was more than a collection of writings from random old guys long ago with little relevance to my “modern” life. No, the Bible was His; he breathed it into Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and many others; they wrote, but he was the author. And ultimately, I was never going to find concrete, empirical, scientific proof of this supernatural occurrence…so I was faced with a leap of faith. I chose to believe.
I also met Brian Eddings, a silly goober from Gypsum, Kansas, through Navs that fall. Cam, Brian, and I grew closer throughout the following spring due in part to our shared love for basketball, or as we called it, “ball is life”, and our regular interactions at Navs events. While I didn’t know it yet, God would radically transform Brian’s life the following summer at some…rando Navs program in Jacksonville, Florida. Then, God would draw Cam, Brian, and I into deep, meaningful friendship as brothers in Christ.
One last important detail from my freshman year: in the spring, I was approached by my Bible Study leader about joining something called KU Navs Leadership Community, and after some deliberation, I decided to apply because…well, I came up with some good-sounding reasons, but the real reason was because Cam and Brian were doing it.
Sophomore Year: Summer 2016—Spring 2017
I stayed in Lawrence to do research the following summer. While Cameron was enginerding (yes, you read that right) in Omaha and Brian was being transformed in Florida, I was living with another good friend, Jayden. I still thought I had to love science above everything else, in part because it hadn’t let me down yet. I decided to read through Romans and attend the Navs’ summer Bible study, but I ultimately learned more from the extreme disappointment I experienced with research. Lab work went awfully. My experiments ran into unforeseen problems, and I spent almost all of my summer troubleshooting…only to encounter another issue. I felt devalued by my coworkers’ lack of communication with me. I had promised my professor that I would be diligent, but his lack of investment in me stifled any enthusiasm I had for his research. I counted the days until the next time I got to come back home to see my mom. I seriously considered leaving the lab. To compound things, Jayden was swamped with taking Calc. III over the summer, and when he had free time, he spent it–wisely–on growing his then-new relationship with his now-fiancé, Kendra. So there I was, frustrated, alone, and perhaps worst of all, wrong. Wrong to think that scientific achievement or shiny pieces of metal or paper would ever bring me lasting joy. Wrong to think that I didn’t need people, much less friends. Wrong to think that anyone/anything other than Jesus would permanently satisfy.
So I entered my first Leadership Community Retreat that fall—over Labor Day weekend—thinking I was unqualified to lead, fearing I would be an embarrassment to the Navigators and to God, and convinced that my hesitancy to pray in front of others would expose me as an imposter. Now during the retreat, we had something called extended time alone with God, or ExTAWG, and I happened to be reading Romans 8:28-39. Interestingly, I did not read verse 26, which would have spoken directly to my consternation about prayer: “26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Nope, didn’t read that verse. Instead, I fixated on the words of verses 38-39:
“38For I am sure that neither death nor life, no angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)
I read this and realized that only God and his love, proven in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, could satisfy whatever I was looking for in school and research. I didn’t really have words at the time for what I needed, but I knew that the promised certainty of God’s love met it. So I decided I would trust Him with my life. This sounds instantaneous, but in reality, it was a process.
Fall 2016 was the most difficult semester I’ve had. I took 18 hours, had no lab time, and worried constantly about my grades. On a Thursday in early October, I found out I was rejected from the University Scholars Program. I was devastated, in part because I still clung to my idolatry of grades and accolades, but also because it felt as if once again, I had given my life to something—school—that failed me. Two days after this rejection, I was at a major Navigators conference called Main Event in Ames, Iowa. I can’t remember what the Friday night message was about, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. I was tired of pursuing grades and other earthly things that could not guarantee that I would be valued or loved. So I took another step of faith and prayed “Lord, my grades are yours.” Again, what I said did not become a reality overnight—in fact, I am still convicted of idolizing good grades—but God was steadily deconstructing my old life and inviting me to come to Him.
As fall 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, I became really convicted—for the first time—of the extent of my own sinfulness; of my pride, selfishness, lust, and envy. Nobody else knew—I tried hard to keep it a secret—but I knew; and I was sure God knew. These realizations drove me to self-criticism and shame. I wondered if God was begrudgingly choosing to love me, because I didn’t see how anyone would want to. It made no logical sense. Then, at another Navigators conference in January, the speaker pointed us (the audience) to Micah 7:18-19.
‘18Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19, ESV)
Then, the speaker said, “The worst about you didn’t keep Jesus away.” This shocked me. I believed in Jesus, I had trusted Him with my life, and yet I did not expect that the almighty God of the universe would look at the most dark, defiled part of my being and say, “I’ll die for that.” It made no sense, but it was true. That’s when I understood the staggering extent of God’s mercy and the great depth of his love for me. I resolved to know more about who God was. So after the conference, I started spending time with the Lord daily, Brian and I began memorizing verses for Bible Study, and I began meeting with a Navigators staff member named Aaron Trent weekly.
During one of our weekly meetings, I shared that I frequently found myself praying Ezekiel 36:26 to God: “26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”. I remember two reasons for praying this: 1) I wanted to love God, because I realized he loved me, and 2) I wanted to love other people, and I realized how bad I was at it. Admittedly, I was also influenced by a weird, never-before-encountered desire that had crept in to my mind: finding and dating a girl. But I wasn’t going to seek a relationship until I was certain I could love another person and treat them in a God-honoring manner. In response, Aaron asked me to recite 2 Corinthians 5:17, one of the verses Brian and I had memorized, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Aaron then looked at me and said, “Do you realize that if you are in Christ, God has already given you a new heart?” More flabbergasted speechlessness. How could God give such a gift to person who didn’t deserve it?
I ended my sophomore year having understood, for the first time, that I needed God more than I could have imagined, but at the same time, he was more loving, merciful, and gracious than I dared hope. Around Spring Break, Brian wrote me a letter encouraging me to go to Jacksonville, Florida, and attend the program that had transformed him into a fervent follower of Jesus. I decided against going, but the seed was planted.
Junior Year: Summer 2017—Spring 2018
I gave research a second shot last summer, and things were much better, in part because God had shown me that my relationship with Him–and my relationships with others—were more important than work. Then, another unexpected twist happened: Aaron asked me to lead the KU Navs’ summer Bible Study in Lawrence. After a fair amount of persuasion, I agreed to lead. But my old fear of being an imposter returned. What if I couldn’t answer people’s questions? What if I said something wrong? Our first study was Genesis 3; not exactly the ease-in passage for a first-time Bible Study leader. Midway through the study, Cara—who was my friend at the time—asked, “So if God knew Adam and Eve would eat the fruit, why did He put the tree in the Garden?” Inwardly, I panicked, because I didn’t have an answer at the time; outwardly, I said, “Good question…I don’t know.” Luckily, another guy in the study, Eleazar, was able to answer Cara’s question in a thorough and eloquent manner. God showed me that it was ok to not know all the answers, because He did, and He would answer people’s questions in the way that would glorify Himself most. As I continued leading Bible study through the rest of the summer, I grew more confident in my ability to depend on God; as long as I was faithful to lead, he would guide others’ hearts and minds.
In September and October, God guided me to realize—through conversations with Cameron and others—that Cara and I were becoming too close to be “just friends”. At our fall conference in the Ozarks, Cara admitted that the workshop she attended had led her to realize that, for the previous 10 months, all she had wanted was a boyfriend, when she should have been seeking God. It took everything I had to avoid saying, “For the past two months, I have been planning to ask you out, but I haven’t had the courage to do it.” I asked her out a week later. At the same conference, the speaker put words to the mysterious needs that I felt God meet when I read Romans 8: significance and security.
This past spring, I led an upperclassmen’s Bible Study on Galatians, in which Paul really articulates that we are not made right with God because of our works, but because of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. While I enjoyed leading the study, I was struck by my lack of faithfulness in spending time to get to know my study members outside of Tuesday evenings. I compared my actions to those of other student leaders, and my inner critic made a comeback. I was simply discouraged with my own lack of faithfulness. Then one week, Lamentations 3:22-23 was my memory verse:
“22The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV)
Around the same time, I read the following words in Tim Keller’s The Reason for God: “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.” These words helped me realize that the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father is greater than my own unfaithfulness. Shortly thereafter, I decided to attend the Navs’ program in Jacksonville that Brian had raved so much about. I did so because I wanted to overcome my self-centeredness and move into making disciples; into guiding other men my age towards Jesus.
Jax STP Program Info
I extemporized this portion of my message. For the sake of brevity, I have not included the information here. But if you’re interested, please contact me; I’d be more than happy to share with you!
Before I arrived at Jax STP, I began reading Ezekiel. I don’t know if y’all have ever read the first half of Ezekiel, but it ain’t a happy time. It’s basically God telling Ezekiel how he will expend his wrath on the unfaithful Israelites. Ezekiel is not spared, either. Again and again, God repeats the purpose of his wrath, saying, “And they shall know that I am the LORD…”. When I was thinking about how in the world I was going to tie together my reading Ezekiel with what I learned about my relationship with Christ and about reaching others with the gospel, I kept thinking of this phrase. That led to me realizing what God wants for my life and yours. God desires to be known; in us, and through us. When he is known, he receives the love, glory, and honor that He is due. For this to happen, we need to have trusted Jesus with our life and made a commitment to follow after him.
God is known through us by our witnessing, which includes our sharing of the good news of Jesus and our investing in the lives of other people so that they might know Him as Lord. To be honest with you, I have found these disciplines difficult. They require an others-centeredness that only the Holy Spirit can provide. Philippians 2: 3-8 has been of great encouragement to me as I continue to ask God for daily others-centeredness.
In order for God to be known through us, he must be known in us. This can seem a bit ambiguous, and I think it’s perhaps easier to think about the opposite situation. God is not known within us when we believe Satan’s lies, and there are many. Some people think, “I don’t need God, I have ___”. That was me. Others think, “I am beyond God’s help”. That was also me. And a final lie I recently encountered was, “I have no excuse to not obey God—my parents loved me as well as any parents could, I’m not destitute, God has graciously blessed me with several talents…I don’t have any excuse. So my disobedience must mean that I’m faking this whole thing.” I wish I had time to pick apart each of those, but I don’t. Suffice it to say, returning to the gospel daily is an excellent start. I’ve used several verses to summarize God’s good news in the past, such as Romans 3:21-26, but recently I’ve gravitated towards Colossians 2:13-14.
“13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14, ESV)
I hope you can see what this means if you have given yourself to Jesus. It means that when God looks at you, he sees Jesus—you are justified; just as if you had never sinned. And this means Satan and his lies are irrelevant and powerless…they are nailed to a cross. But more than that, Paul says in Ephesians 1 that you are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who will guide your sanctification as you walk with Jesus in this world. Now honestly, I’ve found that the Holy Spirit is, most of the time not a magic, instantaneous fixer-upper. Sanctification is hard: we’re sinners living in a fallen world, and if you’re like me, you’ve been increasingly challenged by that. Even though Satan is powerless, there are times when he seems powerful. You increasingly see how much of a self-centered, prideful, wretched sinner you are and wonder if God really knew what he was getting into.
But there is hope that will never go away, because we serve a faithful God who “is not man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind” What he says, he does; what he speaks of, he fulfills. And our hope is that a day will come when that record of debt and Satan’s lies nailed to the cross will be gone; when God will wipe away every tear, and death shall be no more; when every tongue, tribe, and nation will proclaim that Jesus is Lord; when God will restore this broken world to glory; when we will see Jesus, face-to-face, and He alone will meet the desires of our souls.
By David Loomis
Scripture Reading (Ephesians 4:1-6) – 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
What a difference a year can make. A year ago, I was lying in bed waiting for 10:00 to come. Not to go to church, but for my parents to leave so that I couldn’t be dragged out of bed and made to go to church. I wasn’t tired or anything and I have never been a big fan of sleeping in, but I selfishly decided that church wasn’t worth my time. In addition to becoming disinterested in church, I didn’t view others equal to me. I would rarely ask others how they were doing or go out of my way to help anyone. Although I would’ve never considered myself selfish at the time for my age, I was more selfish than I thought because I was basically all about sports and getting through school. I can’t count how many Saturday KU basketball games that we went to and missed church because of that. I always believed in a God, but I never thought that you had to go out of your way and listen to what he had to say. I’ll try to keep it short but bear with me as the that I attend church at Hastings can last for over an hour and a half with a 45-minute sermon.
In my elementary years, I would go to church and would never listen to sermons. I would sit on the right side of the church and either read books or do word searches for most of worship, including during prayer. I would feel forced to go down for time with children even though I didn’t really feel a need for it. I would go downstairs for Sunday School and would learn things from the scripture via crafts or figurines describing parts of the bible. Even though I heard all of this, I never considered that God would want to teach anything to me. Whenever my mom offered to read things out of the bible, I would either decline because I thought that it was boring or give in and practically fall asleep as my mom seemed to drone on with the message.
In middle school, I continued to walk down a similar path. I was confirmed into the church during my sixth-grade year, although I can’t say that I remember a thing from that class, not even that Pastor Steve was leading the class. To my memory, I only remember being at one class and receiving my confirmation. This has troubled me a little bit because in addition to not remembering learning anything from confirmation, I never went to youth group, which to this day, is my biggest regret. I think about how I could’ve grown with Christ then. Would he have spoken to me then? If I had even given youth group a bit consideration, I’m sure that he would have spoken.
Through middle school and into high school, our class was so dominant in sports, specifically basketball, that all we really thought about was the thought of winning a state championship. I played tennis as well, but never fell in love with it the way that I did with basketball. If I were to rate my priorities in life at that point, family, school, and sports would be way up at the top and faith would hardly have any consideration. Like many people seem to be in high school, if athletics weren’t going well, life wasn’t going well. During basketball seasons, I was at church even less because I thought that I needed rest from the practices and grind of the season. I was under the assumption that I was given a free pass from church. I battled through many injuries in high school and I never once asked for God’s grace, though I didn’t deserve it. For some reason though, he blessed me with being healthy through my senior year. Although we didn’t have the dreamy and smooth season that we were hoping for in basketball, we still somewhat achieved our dream by finishing second at state. Keep this in mind as I’ll get back to it later in my testimony.
Backtracking to the start of my senior year, I started visiting colleges. In addition to that, my dad had convinced me to play college tennis as well. I visited six schools from Kansas and I assumed that I was going to pick from one of those. At the end of those visits, my dad asked me to look at Hastings College, a school in Nebraska about four hours away where a couple of college tennis coaches had recommended me to look at. I decided to visit half-heartedly, mostly just so that my dad would stop talking about it. After my tour and talk with admissions, I had to admit, this was the best visit that I had had, so I decided to put them in the top four. On my second visit, I stayed with a sophomore and visited with a senior (now our head coach), who were also on the tennis team. I don’t know where I would be if I had met with anyone else because that night, they took me to an FCA, or Fellowship for Christian Athletes, bible study. While I can’t remember anything that was read, I remember how amazed I was the way that they were analyzing the bible and asking all of these questions about how to live their lives. At that point I was pretty sure that I was going to Hastings, as the academic side was also much better than other colleges in my opinion. This was the first time, although unknown at the time, that God was calling me.
I went back to visit Hastings again in late December to meet with the head tennis coach. On the visit, it was below zero, snowing, and very icy. After talking for about 45 minutes, we played on probably the crappiest indoor courts I had ever played on. Hastings had to drive twenty minutes just to host an indoor match because the courts were not safe. Thankfully, they re-did them before I went there for freshman year. I was struck by how encouraging the coach was and seemed to care about each player just as much. Even though it wasn’t a given that I would come, he was the only coach that offered advice on how to improve my game.
Fast-forward to freshman year, I met my roommate, a tennis player from Minnesota who is obsessed with hockey. It definitely helped that he was also a Christian and had seem to have had the same type of visit that I had. At the sign-up fair for clubs, we both signed up for FCA and Cru, or Campus Crusade for Christ, which I was advised by multiple people to join because of the continuity and similarities. I started going to bible studies and FCA and Cru nights. Without having much more than a thought of just trying to make friends, I was spending anywhere from 3-5 nights a week with the Lord. I listened to many of my friends give their testimonies and I came to realize how everyone has their own unique story and how they came to know Christ. As you heard recently from Don Peters and his story of getting though his illness, imagine being in a room of about 10 people who all are sharing their testimony. Some were Christians from the start, but most had to get through obstacles to get to Christ, including pornography, drunkenness, and selfish ambitions.
That started to rub off on me a little bit as I went to a Weekend of Champions, an FCA event in Grand Island, as it was described to me as a life-changing experience and they were right. As I was in college, me and a college student from Nebraska helped lead a small group of high school kids for a weekend. We heard from multiple speakers, sang songs, and played games. What I most got out of it was the small group conversations. I grew so much in my faith by hearing other people’s stories. The message of a testimony is so powerful, and it is one of the best ways to get closer to the Lord. You get to realize how powerful he is and realize that everything has a reason for happening.
Our head tennis coach, who is possibly the strongest believer that I have come to know, hosted a bible study once a week and talked almost nonstop for two hours from 9-11 at night and took each verse and talked about pretty much every word in the verse. This drove my roommate and I to the point where we would rant for up to half an hour about how long it was. I have two memories that greatly stand out. The first is when our coach told us that our priorities must be as follows: God, then family and friends. I went back to my dorm that night thinking that he was absolutely crazy. However, a couple of months later, he was more correct than I could’ve ever imagined. My second main memory is at one point, we were reading Colossians 1:15-20. In this part of the bible, Paul talks about the Supremacy of Christ and who Christ is. We didn’t get through the first verse. Not even a sentence. We spent two hours looking at 4 powerful words which were ‘He is the image.’ Our coach went back and forth through different books of the bible and explained what it meant to the extreme detail.
During the end of the first semester, I started to hear about Cru Winter conference. There are seven conferences each year and we were set to attend one in Colorado. My friends told me that it was the best five days of each year. Naturally my response was, have you forgotten about March Madness? After a month of persuasion, as it meant sacrificing some of my winter break, I decided to go, and this was when my life truly started to change because I started hearing God talk to me. There were about 800 students and insightful speakers. These speakers caused so many questions, including when they asked us to give something up in our lives to give to Christ. We had many great conversations amongst our groups and got closer to God by talking about our feelings and ways to improve our spiritual lives.
I was called to go to the Weekend of Champions and Cru Winter Conference, but the next calling was very convicting. At Cru Winter Conference they talk a lot about the impact of mission trips, but make for sure that you are called, not just going to these places out of selfish ambition and the enjoyment of the vacationing. After they talked about it, we went into a separate room and talked to people that were in charge of the trips and signed up if we were interested. My thought process at this time was simple. I was not interested in a mission trip and did not want to go on one. My plan was to go in the room for two minutes and get out. I asked a few of my friends if they were going on mission trips and they were all open, if not committed to doing so. They said that even if I wasn’t interested, I should at least talk to a couple of people in to find out what the trips were like. I then talked to a few people in charge of the trips, then left after about 10 minutes.
Over the next couple of months, I was still pretty closed to the idea of a mission trip. However, as I began to give my life to Christ, he would never stop telling me to go on a mission trip. The reason God said to go, was not just to help others, but to learn how to help others. An important tip that helped me a lot was hearing these words over and over, ‘you gain your salvation through faith, not by works.’ In other words, if you are trying to please people for yourself to look better, you’re wasting your time. If you do everything because of God, then you will be rewarded with eternal life. God called on me to gain information from the trip and to come back to the Pratt area and get to know people on a more spiritual basis.
While I heard this, I also heard some impactful messages. The first is from a speaker that came during second semester and shared this message from Luke 9:57-62 titled ‘The cost from following Jesus.’ In this, it describes a man who has just lost his father and has told the Lord that he will do what God tells him to do. God tells him to follow him. The man told him he would after he buried his father. God again said to follow him and proclaim the kingdom of God, and again the man said that we would follow him after he buried his father. God then ends the conversation by telling the man that ‘no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’ This convicted me so much thinking about my life, specifically the things that I idolize. From that moment on I started pinpointing things in my life. I heard God telling me things to rid myself of. One of the reasons for sending me on the mission trip was that it was at the same time as the NBA Finals. God wanted to see if I was willing to serve him and miss something that I truly loved.
The other important message that I heard was from Philippians 2:3-4. It says, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ This was important to me because I thought about how others need help. This was when I truly realized how selfish I was and that I needed to make an immediate change. I started talking more to others and opening up more. I began to do things for others with joy that I wouldn’t have done in the past.
These two messages played a big role in deciding to go on the mission trip as it was apparent that God was calling me to go. As he had also told me to come back to Pratt and share my faith here, I decided to go on a 10-day mission trip to San Diego with 25 other students who I didn’t know. On the mission trip, we received a lot of training on how to talk with people about their views. The biggest thing is to be polite and always ask for time, not just forcing them to talk or listen. You want them to talk more than you especially in San Diego, where only about 16 percent of them go to any church. We went over the book of Philippians and had small group discussions. I want to encourage you all to have about a 30-minute period each day to have your own time with the Lord. In addition to praying, you should either read the bible or just think about what the Lord is convicting you to do.
We spent two days on the campus of University of San Diego, talking to students about their faith. With many of the students being foreign, it was interesting hearing their views on their spiritual thoughts, especially when a group of two people had completely opposite views. We walked along the beach and tried to engage in conversations, although we didn’t have as many conversations as most didn’t want to be bothered at the beach. On the last two full days, we visited the Encanto Southern Baptist Church, which is primarily African-American. We talked to a few people around the neighborhood, as well as toured the homeless area. Unfortunately, the homeless had been struggling with severe illnesses so we weren’t actually able to talk with them. We went to Church the next day and it was fascinating how short the songs were. As I expected, the service was much louder with the more than occasional ‘amen’ or ‘preach it’ chants.
It wasn’t a message from God, but a moment that happened for a reason was when the player that I stayed with on my second visit to Hastings, won the tennis match that sent us to Nationals. He said after the match that while that moment of triumph was awesome, it was an even greater feeling know that the feeling of meeting God after we die will be so much greater. It was then that I realized that whatever the prize that we were fighting for in
high school wasn’t really worth it. I was living that championship feeling then and felt like my high school goals were so small, selfish, and foolish. I knew at that moment that God put me on the tennis team for a reason and it was then that I knew that no matter many championships we won, my greatest purpose with tennis had already been fulfilled. I’ve never liked tennis much, certainly not as much as basketball, but I’ve grown so much in my faith that has made it all worth it.
My latest calling was to come speak at the church which I have done today. I was first called by God with about two months left with school. Then, about a month ago, God sent members of our church and asked me to give a message. I started thinking of all that I had learned and what message would be most powerful. To me, the power of personal testimonies and callings are hard to be beat. As far as Christians, everyone is called in Gods’ own unique way. I’ve talked to some people and they say that they’ve never heard God speak to them. Even if he hasn’t spoken you should still follow everything that the bible says. If you have soft hearts and are open to what the Lord has to say, he will speak with you, whether it’s through scripture, prayer, song, etc.
Realize this, in life we have one main job and multiple other jobs. Our main job as Christians that will never change, is to serve others and take interest in their views. We should question them about their spiritual views because even if we don’t persuade them to be Christians, we’re doing our job. Spirituality is not talked about enough in this world in my opinion. Our job is to initiate the conversation and to try to move their needle from a negative 10 to a negative 9. That is our main job. Everything else, like working as a CEO at a bank or working the drive-in at McDonalds, that is a whole different job that is entirely less important. That is, if life is about giving your life to Christ and following his word.
By Jennifer Barten
During Miss Kansas week, I had the opportunity to meet the CEO of the Miss America Organization and hear him speak twice. At each speaking event he said something that stuck with me.
During one speaking event, he met with Miss Kansas contestants and board members. At that time he told us to make two list. One with everything we like about ourselves and a second list with things we would like to improve about ourselves. He said to be brutally honest because no one would ever see this list but us. He then told us to pick one thing to work on improving from the side where we want to improve and once we feel that we have accomplished that starts on another item and that eventually we would become the person we want to be.
The other speaking event was on Thursday evening, which was just two days after my interview for this job. Many of you were at the galla where he spoke and got a little longer winded than needed. The one thing that stuck with me during his time speaking was when he spoke about how he became the CEO of the Miss America Organization. When he was asked, he was going to turn it down until his wife quoted the book of Ester asking him ‘what if you are here for such a time as this?’
As I said at the time I was two days past my interview for my current position here. I was obsessing over each question asked, how I answered the question and what I should have said.
The question I was just sure I screwed up the worst was someone had asked what part of the job I thought I would have the most issues with. I don’t even remember what I said but after I answered Alan then said ‘so you won’t have issues preaching on Sunday if Steve is ever gone?’ When Alan said that I said something about well I’m sure I can but I have nothing to say the congregation doesn’t already know. You always do a great job Alan. Alan then talked about ANTS, which is an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. Him giving me that talk during my interview, convinced me later that I said the exact wrong thing and that I wouldn’t get the job.
Going into the interview, even though I was nervous and a little scared about it, I was pretty sure it was where God wanted me. I was sure enough that I had turned down another job just days before that I was more qualified for and was in my field.
After the interview though, as I said I let the negative thoughts work through me and the longer I waited for an answer, the more nervous I got.
On Thursday night though, hearing the CEO talk and him quoting Esters uncle, I knew if offered the job, my time was now.
Since that Thursday night in the Dennis Lesh Sports Arena, I have heard the verse said many times, in many different situations and I have realized God is telling me my time wasn’t just then to take the job but that my time is NOW. Daily. As is yours. It is our time to be a better friend or family member, to be a volunteer, to step out of our comfort zone and do whatever it is God is calling us to do now.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Esther, it is unknown who wrote it though, many believe Esther’s uncle, Mordici wrote it around 470 B.C.
Ester became queen to Xerxes of Persia in 464 B.C. after Xerxes has his first wife banished. Missing his wife, it is decided that a beauty contest, of sorts, will take place.
Esther, who was raised by her uncle had to go.
When they come to take her to the palace, Mordechai, a Jewish leader, insightfully instructs her not to reveal that she is a Jew or who her family is and after a lengthy process Esther is deemed the fairest of them all.
While Mordechai does not reveal his relationship to the new queen, he frequents the palace gates to hear news of Esther’s well being. One day he overhears two men plotting to murder the king and he quickly sends word to Esther, who reveals the plot to the king in the name of Mordechai. The plotters are caught and executed, and Mordechai ‘s name and deed are written in the king’s Book of Chronicles.
In the meantime, Xerxes appoints Haman as Prime Minister, who issues a decree that all should bow to him. Mordechai refuses to bow down before Haman.
Mordechai’s refusal infuriates Haman and so he goes to the King and asks for permission to destroy the Jews.
Mordechai quickly sends word to Esther that she must go to the king and stop this horrible decree from becoming reality. Esther, however, is afraid to approach the king. It is known that anyone who approaches the king without being summoned faces the chance of death. But Mordechai sees the bigger picture and tells Esther that maybe this is why she was put in this position and that her time is now.
Summoning all of her courage, Esther agrees to go to the king but she first asks Mordechai to request all the Jews to fast for three days and repent for their own sins while praying for the decree against them to be reversed.
After being granted to see the King she request dinner and eventually ask that the decree be lifted, which not only does the King agree to lift the decree but after reading the Book of Chronicles makes Mordechai the Prime Minister and hangs Haman.
There is so much more to this story and if you don’t know it, I suggest you read the Book of Esther. It is a quick read.
The story has many different lessons but in my opinion the heart of the story lies in these echoing words “Perhaps you have come to this place, to this moment, to these people, to this challenge, for just such a time as this.”
Since these words were said by Mordecai, many people have said words similar to help motivate people. Martin Luther King Jr. wanting equality, Susan B. Anthony when she was helping women gain the right to vote and so many more.
While you may never be a name everyone knows or fighting a law or discrimination, we can all be a change in the world.
When Mordechai first goes to Esther she doesn’t think she is has enough power to change the decree, even though she is queen she doesn’t have right to go to talk to her husband, unless she is called upon. It takes her gaining courage and strength to decide to stick up for what she knows is right, even though she knows she could die for doing it.
We’ve all had that moments like this. Where we know God is calling us to do something but we are afraid for some reason or another. The question is how did we respond? Did we respond with an open heart saying ‘Yes God! I am ready to serve’ or did we tentatively say ‘ok God if this isn’t too hard, I can help you.’ I know I’ve been both those people at some point.
We are all told to serve God and let him work in our lives. Allowing him to use the gifts and talents he has given us but sometimes that is more difficult than it sounds.
Along with it taking her courage, it also took her asking for help. She asked the people to pray and fast before she went to the King. We often think we can do things on our own and forget that we have many people in our lives willing to help. God put them in our lives for a reason. All we have to do is ask and they will tell us if their time to step up and help us is now.
Job knew better than most about his time being now, even though he didn’t know what the situation was besides that he had lost everything. He had no idea that God told the devil, take everything from him and that Job will still worship and praise God.
After losing everything, Job did just that. He turned to God with an open heart and mind and said he was ready for a new beginning because he knew God would provide for him. And that is where we are at, a new beginning with the new year so open your heart and mind and ask God what you can do to walk like Job and Esther.
Maybe God won’t say it’s your time to face a king or prove to the devil that you will turn to God in all situations but will say that you should read the bible more or connect with an old friend or spend more time on you.
No matter what he says this new year remember that each of us has a purpose and that your time is now. Daily.
By Jennifer Barten
When Jesus got to heaven after being on earth one of the angels eagerly asked to speak to him, telling Jesus he was fascinated with the humans.
Hearing that, Jesus made time for the angel asking what he wanted to discuss.
“The humans didn’t get them,” said the angel. “They looked at you like you had two heads when you spoke in parable, didn’t understand what you were saying when you spoke on the mound and every time you performed a miracle they acted like it was something they had never seen before, even though many of them had watched you do it so many times! Then even after seeing all of this and knowing you were special, they still killed you. I just don’t get it and it makes me sad that you were down there doing all this work for nothing.”
“For nothing?!” Jesus exclaimed, “how can you say it was for nothing?!”
“Well you are gone,” said the angel. “They killed you. They obviously didn’t take you seriously enough to save you so it was all for nothing.”
“It wasn’t done for nothing,” said Jesus. “Look at the earth. Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene and so many others are down there proclaiming my word right now. If all goes as planned they will get others to believe and in 2000 years people will still be spreading my word.”
The angel looked at Jesus confused at this and spouted “The people! The people! You expect the people to spread the word?! They didn’t understand what you were saying! They killed you and you expect them to keep you alive through your word! This is never going to work. What’s your backup plan?”
To that Jesus replied “there is none.”
When Jesus died on the cross for us, He left us to spread the word.
Before dying, Jesus called on Peter and Paul. Paul called on Timothy, who helped Paul call on many. Because of one of those many, we were eventually called on and it’s now our turn to call on others, if the Word of God is to live.
Since the Vivid Vision team has started and made it a priority for us to bring others into the church, I have heard many people say that all their friends have a church and are believers so they don’t have anyone to invite to church. I am going to disagree with this statement. It isn’t just about bringing your friends into the church, but all.
In the short story Light of the World by Evelyn Underhill, she says “It is easy for us as devout Christians to look what others are doing and think they have no religious sense at all. Think of what people must have thought of three men wondering around looking at the star and bringing a baby such odd gifts. Had that happened today people would have said, they are not the sort of people we want in our church. But remember the child who began by receiving those wondering pilgrims and odd gifts had a women of the streets for his faithful follower and two thieves for his comrades in the end. Looking at those two extremes let us try to learn a little of his love and apply that to our lives.
Since coming to church here, I have heard Steve ask more than once, if you are the only Bible someone reads, what will they learn? I think when Underhill told her story, that is what she was asking. Are we just trying to invite those to church who we want to be friends with that are like us or are we inviting everyone to church?
I think Underhill needed to add to her thoughts though and go deeper. Once inviting people to church and getting them in the door, what will they find? Will they find that Christians are people who go to church on Sunday, gossip behind each other’s back, cuss often and speak down to each other or will they find open people who love everyone and are trying to make a positive difference in the world by volunteering and helping others?
In the book God’s Country by Brad Roth he says in order to make people want to connect us to God, we must first make a connection with them on a personal level. Only after we do that can we have them connect us to the church and to God. Roth then went on to say that living the gospel is less about doing and more about becoming. Our job isn’t to go out and quote scripture telling everyone what the Bible says but to go out and live the Bible on a daily basis.
While we have all heard this before, it is usually easier said than done. I know at many points in my life I have been pushed by God to go do His work and had excuses as to why I couldn’t. I didn’t feel worthy to do what He was asking, I didn’t know the scripture well enough, I wasn’t sure I heard Him right or understood exactly what He wanted. We all can find excuses and shortcoming to prevent us from being all that He has asked.
In the book “The Broken Way” by Ann Voskamp she says “God does great things through the greatly wounded. God sees the broken as the best and he calls the best in the broken. He calls the wounded to the be the world changers.”
We see what she is saying all through the Bible. After Moses sees the burning bush he tells God to send someone who is smarter and speaks better. God didn’t listen. The women at the well who had many flaws from the outside, Jesus used her to tell so many people his story. David, Elijah and Hannah were all broken and yet God used their weaknesses to help build up his kingdom.
Through the first part of Paul’s life, he did many horrible things and yet at the end he was one of God’s most faithful servants telling others that if they wanted to know what a Christian looked like, to see how he lived.
God gave each of us many gifts and though we may see ourselves as broken and flawed, God plans to use the gift He gave us, just as he used all the people previously mentioned.
When we go out and tell people about God and share the good news, are we doing it not only when talking to them but through all our actions?
In November of this year Christianity Today posted an article about how Christians used to say media portrayed us badly and that is why we got a bad reputation. It went on to say, the media no longer pays attention to Christians and yet we still have a bad reputation, only now it is Christians faults. The article discussed how people are getting online and posting mean and negative things or posting badly about other people. We, as Christians, the article said, are no longer just saying these things to a few people but throwing it online for the whole world to see, showing everyone that we aren’t living a very Christian life and that we are often the hypocrites the outside world thought we were. The article went on to say that before we can expect others to change, we must first change ourselves by not talking about others, not posting our dirty laundry online and not judging others for their actions but by loving others, no matter their background or situation.
I have heard it said that we were born 2000 years too late to give room to Christ. I disagree with this statement. We have been given the opportunity to have faith without seeing Jesus perform the miracles firsthand, without hearing him speak on the mound and without seeing his face. Even without all of that, we have been given the chance to do what those who knew Him in the flesh did. We do it, exactly as they did. By offering a hand to those in need, a smile to a stranger and a hospitality to all we meet. For a Christian, duty shouldn’t be why we do any of these things. It is not a duty to do as Christ asked, but a privilege.
Part of the privilege is knowing that Jesus had so much faith in us, He didn’t have a backup plan for how to get His word out.
When most people don’t have a backup plan or plan b, they are confident their original plan is going to work. They trust that whatever they have planned will workout logistically and they don’t need to come up with an alternative. Which means that Jesus trusted us so much when he was on earth that he didn’t come up with a backup plan to spread the word around him.
Along with not having a backup plan for how to spread His word, God doesn’t want us to have a backup plan. He wants us to trust in Him so fully that we don’t one.
In order to do this we must put God at the center of all things we do and trust that no matter what happens He will take care of us. If we are truly doing this, others will see how we are living and we will start to fulfill what He had in store for us.
A gentleman once spoke to a group about going from Muslim to Christianity. The gentleman humbly explained to the group there is a compelling contrast between the way he was taught as a Muslim to view faith and the way he sees faith being perceived in the lives of many Christians. He drew a circle and a small dot inside the circle.
Then he told the group that since he’d become a Christian, what he sees is that the circle of the Christian seems to be his life, and the dot is his faith. The contrast is that when he was a Muslim, he was taught that the circle was to be his faith and the dot his life.
How often do we all make our lives about us and the dot about God? I know I have been struggling with this in my life. Awhile back I came to realize that I volunteer on a ton of committees, for multiple organization and events but have no idea if this is how God wants me spending my time. I always say yes, without asking God if it is really what I should be doing with my time and energy.
As I thought about it, it wasn’t just my volunteering but all of my life. I love to read but rarely ask God what he wants me to read. I don’t ask God about the little stuff in my life near enough, just the big stuff. I spend my few hours with God during devotionals and prayer times during the day, but often get caught up in my running around and don’t turn to him for everything as I should.
If we are truly trusting in God, we won’t make decisions before praying, no words will leave our mouths without thinking first and no snap judgements will be made.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon says we are only remembered for three generations so we need to do what we can with the time we have. Even though Solomon says we are only remembered for three generations, he Jesus and others in the Bible have managed to be remembered for so much longer because Jesus’s plan worked.
In order for it to keep working though, we must take steps to keep it moving in the right direction.
Both Moses and Jonah experienced amazing things. Moses saw a burning bush and Jonah was in a whales belly. Neither of them made the Bible for those reasons though. Both made it into the Bible for what they did next. They trusted in God and did the impossible. Moses saved thousands from slavery and changed the way Egypt was ran because of it and Jonah turned the biggest city the world back to God. Will our story be one of Moses’s and Jonah’s of what we did next or will our story be forgotten in three generations because we were unwilling to take the next step?
By Jennifer Barten
My mom is obsessed with salt and by obsessed, I mean obsessed! She buys more salt in a year, than I think I will in a lifetime. Before she takes a bite of anything, she adds extra salt to it. Somehow, she heard that they didn’t allow salt in nursing homes. Most 50-something-year olds wouldn’t be phased or bothered by this. Not my mother. She informed me that I will sneak the little salt packets into her nursing room and hide them around the room. She then told me if I didn’t do this, I would be out of the will.
Apparently, my mom isn’t the one that is on to something, thinking that salt goes with everything. Anytime you sit down at a restaurant salt can quickly be found, ready to add to any dish and is the number one food enhancer in the world. Over 1 quarter of a billion pounds of salt are produced each year for people to use in their dishes.
Today salt is mainly used in our everyday lives as a food enhancer, but it used to be used as so much more and because of that, it is no surprise that Paul, who wrote what Mark just read, found it important to say that every conversation needs to be seasoned with salt.
In Paul’s time, salt served primary as a preservative, keeping meat from spoiling. It was valuable enough to be used as a form of currency and then, like now, it changed the flavor of whatever it was added to. When you look at it that way, Paul’s use of this metaphor has more than one meaning. A believer’s words are to preserve the message of Christ, helping it effectively reach as many people as possible. In order to do that, not only do Christians have to know the message but we also need to be able to add value to the conversation; our words should be uplifting or helpful.
As Christians, we are to serve others and one way to do that is to bring out the best in them. Salt doesn’t serve itself; it serves the foods it’s sprinkled upon.
We are supposed to do the same. We are supposed to help others by being flavor that brings out the best in them. As believers, we aren’t supposed to be bland and tasteless, we are supposed to bring out others sweetness, boldness and great attitudes.
This doesn’t just mean that we are supposed to be nice but it also means we are to be an inspiration, full of joy and someone that others want to be around. As Christians we shouldn’t be the most bland people in the room, but the most flavorful, bringing out the best in everyone.
Karen Ehman, writer of the 40-day challenge book Zip It, reminds everyone on that adding salt sweet items is just as important as other foods.
On day 15 she writes “When we are told our speech should be seasoned with salt, perhaps it means we should ask ourselves if we are bringing our sweetness in both our choice of words and in our conversation with others. We must make sure that we are bringing out the sweetness by sprinkling in the flavor of Christ and not adding in a bland or bad flavor, that could hurt others.”
When thinking of how our speech can affect others, I think of Karen Carpenter’s story. Karen was a part of the ‘70’s rock duo ‘The Carpenters.” Karen and her brother were the two leads in the band, until Karen died unexpectedly of heart failure at the age of 32. While the heart failure was unexpected, her death wasn’t. When she died she was 5”4 and weighed less than 110 pounds. After a magazine reviewer called Karen “Richard’s chubby sister” Karen struggled with her weight to the point of becoming anorexic. Those three words brought Karen to her death.
While we would love to judge that reviewer for saying that because he or she should have known better, our speech is not naturally gracious. We all find ourselves in the midst of gossiping with friends, saying mean or unnecessary things when we are upset and try to bully others with our words into thinking our way. Even after we become Christians we can still totally misuse our tongues.
Our tongues and our speech give us away in a lot of different ways. How much we speech positively to and about others, shows if we are a true Christian, living as God would want us to.
As the saying goes: “The cleverest person is one who never speaks. A wise man rarely speaks, but a foolish man is always talkative.” The more we talk, the more we prove we are foolish, because we expose ourselves more and sell ourselves cheaply. On the night that the Lord Jesus was betrayed, Peter was put on the spot. A servant girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean,” but Peter denied it before all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about!” This happened a second and then then a third time, some came to him and said, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech also makes it clear that you are.” I wonder if when Peter denied it the third time after that accusation, if he tried speaking with an accent to cover who he was. Just like when Peter spoke to the servant and everyone knew where he came from, we’ve all heard an Azzie, Texan and Englishman speak and knew where they came from.
In a similar way, if you do not speak one word, no one will know how much you have experienced and gained Christ and what the measure of Christ is within you, but if speak for only five minutes, people will know.
In James 3:9, James complained about how some Christians used their speech to curse others.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father,
and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.
My brothers, this should not be.
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?
Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
In today’s reading and in Ephesians, Paul writes that our words should be full of grace. In Ephesians 4:29 Paul goes as far to say that we cannot let any unwholesome speech come out of our mouths. We must build each other up and listen in order to help others. Paul said only once we have accomplished these things are we living in God’s grace.
We’ve all had conversations with a friend, coworker or church member that we have walked and away and felt good after because of the kind words they said. We have all also had the opposite happen where we walk away after a conversation feeling frustrated, annoyed or mad because the person didn’t say such nice things. It doesn’t matter if they did it on purpose or on accident. The feelings are there and we have to deal with them. Sometimes one conversation has changed our views on a person. We have the ability to make people feel good or bad about themselves and us.
With God’s grace we should want to make people feel good about themselves and us. God’s grace has changed us. We are now to be people who are a blessing to others. We need to realize this and change our speech.
According to Pope Francis the easiest way for the devil to work in us, is through our speech. The Pope said it’s easiest for the devil to work in us that way because we often speak without thinking and our words can cut through others quickly.
Cindy McArther, religious writer, added on what the Pope was saying when she said that when speaking to unbelievers Christians have said things to make it easy for unbelievers to think there is no difference between themselves and Christians. The devil has had Christians say things without thinking that are mean and not Godly, making the devils work easy.
I know I fell into this trap often at the college. Think back to when you were raising one, two or even three 18-20 year olds and how frustrated you got. Now imagine living with 356 of them. I often was lacking on sleep, eating little and putting up with a lot of attitude. My mouth got the better of me on many occasions and I ruined relationships with more than one student because of the harsh things I said.
God wants us to be holy mouthpieces for Him – people who heal and help with our words. But Satan’s words come out more often than many of us would like to admit, especially during times when we are not getting along, lacking sleep or in difficult situations. A few critical words here, a few complaints there, some profanity mixed in with a little gossip on the side and we have given him permission to make us people who tear others apart and sound no different, and sometimes worse, than unbelievers. Satan knows we can cause much damage with our mouths if we do not bring them under God’s control.
Over the next few months, we are going to be at the church alone. We are going to have a gap where Steve has been. He was the one we went to when we had issues, he built us up when needed and told us when we needed to be put in check. We now have to do that for each other.
We are going to have to build each other up and be there for one another. The enemy of God, however, hates this. He would do everything he can to damage our church family. Since starting Vivid Vision, many of us on the team have noticed Satan trying to work against the church, which has been reassuring that we are doing good things that makes Satan mad but we are going to have to be sure that we continue to push him away. The easiest way for Satan to stop our amazing momentum that we have going is through careless speech. This is why in the last chapter of Colossians, the apostle Paul points out this one matter saying that our conversation, speech, and words must be always filled with grace and seasoned with salt.
In the book of Philippians two ladies are mentioned by name in Paul’s letter to the town. He tells them point blank to stop bickering and arguing and ask other members of the church to help them when needed. In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon writes that no one will be remembered for more than three generations. I think worse that not being remembered after three generations, would be being remembered forever and written about in the Bible or elsewhere because you were fighting with someone and let the devil take control of your mouth.
In order for us to live life as God intended us to, we must be willing to watch our speech and make sure that we are speaking in God’s grace. In order to this, speech expert Jonah Berger said before speaking we must ask ourselves: is what we are going to say necessary, fair and kind.
Before I end today, let me leave you with this poem by Paul Gilbert:
You are writing the gospel for others to see, a chapter a day,
By the things you do and the words you say,
Others will read what you write weather faulty or true,
Say, what is the gospel today according to you?