Flawless but Flawed Forgiveness || John Miller

Do you ever love it when you get something, but hate it when someone else gets it, too?  Especially when you feel they don’t deserve it?

Imagine that you worked really hard this past year at your job.  You killed it.  This was your year! You filed TPS reports like nobody’s business. You made cold calls for hours straight without a water cooler break. You never let an email sit in your inbox for longer than an hour without a reply.  It sounds like you dominated this year.  

You saw your business grow while people like your co-worker, Charlie, floundered in the world of “clock in, clock out.”  

Charlie…oh, Charlie… where do I start.  

He has never showed up to work within 10 minutes of starting time, and the only days he stays late are when he falls asleep at his desk.  He’s a perpetual microwave popcorn burner and has dressed up like “Where’s Waldo” to the company Halloween party for the past 5 years.  We get it, Charlie.  We found you.  

Then, finally, during your year-end review, you get what you’ve been working for all this time.  A raise!  Cha-ching!  This is what you’ve spent the last 365 days a year striving toward.  You’re thinking how you’ll celebrate your newfound riches as you strut out of the boss-man’s office when you hear an almost audible buzz going through the office.  Everyone is excited.  Everyone is happy.  Everyone is smiling.  Then you hear Charlie say from two cubicles down,

“It looks like everyone is getting raises this year!”

Heart = Crushed

Your interest in a celebratory soiree is depleted and you have to drag the heels of your shoes back to your desk, trying not to leave a trench of sadness dug in the carpet behind you as you slowly shuffle along.  

Why would everyone get a raise this year?  More importantly, why did Charlie get a raise this year?  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him sleeping at his desk.  When he’s not sleeping, he’s either commenting on everyone’s Facebook profile pictures with obscure Dr. Who quotes or making lightsaber noises.  I mean, Charlie takes more “lunch breaks” than a hobbit.  How did he get a raise, too? 

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes It’s hard when we see other people getting things they don’t deserve.  Especially when it feels like I’ve been slighted in the process. 

I heard this song on the radio, and it honestly made me angry at first.    Here’s the second half of the chorus, 

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless
(Mercy Me - Flawless)
(
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjLlLPZderk)

 

“The cross has made you flawless” shouldn’t be an offensive phrase.  I love the fact that through Jesus’ death and resurrection my sins have been taken away.  My wrongs are cast to the bottom of the ocean floor.  They’re forgiven, I’m made clean, I can live my life without crushing guilt. 

But what about when someone else, someone who has wronged me, gets to be “flawless,” too.

What do we do when people who has sinned against me is deemed flawless, but in my mind they’ll always be flawed.  Unfortunately for me, God doesn’t do much to help me keep my grudges. 

Jesus tells us that if we forgive those who sin against us then we will be forgiven by our heavenly Father.  However, if we don’t forgive others their sins, we will not receive the Father’s forgiveness (Mark 6:14-15).  Yikes.  

Jesus doesn’t help us hold grudges.  Sure, we are supposed to confront being sinned against.  But we are not supposed use Facebook to call out others who have wronged us.  Don’t use vague tweets or status updates to raise awareness that you’ve been hurt.  Jesus lays out a pretty straightforward way of confronting someone who has sinned against you, and it starts by private conversation.  The purpose isn’t so that they’ll feel ashamed and grovel at your feet, either.  It’s to be reconciled with you and with God.  Conviction leads to the restoration of relationships, not the establishment of a hierarchy.  They don’t “owe you” anything if you’ve truly forgiven them. 

The cross has made them flawless, and I need to begin on the tough task of offering love and forgiveness, mending our relationship without holding onto a grudge.  Unforgiveness is its own dragon to deal with.  It’s ugly and, from what we said earlier, keeps us from God.  

It’s possible that I need to do some searching within my soul in order to break out of my anti-Charlie mentality.  He got something he may not have deserved.  Truth is, when it comes to God’s love and forgiveness, I get something I don’t deserve every single day.  

----
John Miller is the Children's Pastor at Crossroads Church in Avon, Indiana.
You connect with him further on social media here: @JohntheMiller

It's Your Life || Cassie Littel

I proposed a question on all my social media accounts a few weeks ago.

“Can you tell me what you want to be known for when you are no longer around?”

Any person who replied to this question commented that they wanted to be known as a good person who did good things. Whether is was for religious purposes or personal desires; not one person said the following:

“I want to be known as a gossiper, cheater, liar, back stabber, loser, etc”

Not one. This was not to my surprise. No one wants to be known as a person with little to no value. We want to be known as people with value, respect, and people who changed the world.

In the Bible there is a man named Saul. He is a BAD MAN. If Saul was coming to your city- you would be afraid for your life. Saul is known for his murdering, dark, evil, bad ways! Saul left a legacy that made many tremble at his name. If you read in Acts 9:1-22 you will see that Saul has a moment of transformation. God basically stops him in his tracks on his way to kill many people (both man and woman) just because they called themselves Christians. He received permission from authority to kidnap people and so on his way he went! In the middle of those travels, he meets God.

After meeting God, he was completely changed and says “Jesus is the Son of God.” He then turned his traveling for kidnapping into traveling to tell everyone about the goodness of the Lord.

BUT- no one trusted him. Why? Because he had left this legacy of BAD. MURDERER. LIAR.

Saul was faced with a choice, do I let my past control my future or do I push forward even though people are talking about me and dont trust me? If you continue to read in that scripture you will see that Saul didn’t care about the label people put on him, he continued to press on and share his story with all who would listen.

Saul was eventually renamed Paul. And Paul is a man who is known as BOLD. CORAGEOUS. LOVER OF GOD.

I think we all have to ask ourselves this question:
If we want to be known as a person who made a difference then what are we doing to make that difference? 

If your like me, you get caught up in what people may say or think. Sometimes, you might even feel like you deserve that label someone gave you. But I thank God that Saul stopped at nothing, not even the voice of peers, to share what had happened to him that day.

So, what are you going to do when you are faced with a label? Are you going to own the negative label or are you going to push past all that people say and make the difference you want to make today? Join me in pushing past all that may hinder who we want to be.

“The difference between who you are and who you want to be… is what you do.”

 

Laying Down Insecurity || Blake Mayes

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” –Marianne Williamson 

Insecurity is what can keep us from becoming incredible instruments of God. Rather than asking him how we can serve him and walking in obedience to his will, we would prefer to seek the things that would make us happier and more successful. And we then wonder why we’re unhappy with our lives.

Far too often, we want to be seen as a success in the world’s eyes. We seek numbers, popularity and praise as our confirmation that we’re in God’s will. We want to measure our success the way everyone else does. We seek shallow acclaim. Instead of sticking with the source of our satisfaction, we, like Israel, run after other lovers. We seek attention and recognition for our great feats and when we’re left with a sinking, empty feeling, we wonder where it all went wrong. The solution is simple. Instead of falling back to our bedrock, the Lord, we fall back to our own simple measurements. I believe that if we trusted God to be our sole source of approval and sustenance, our lives would improve for the greater.

The story of George Mueller is perhaps one of the most inspiring that I have ever come across. He lived his life completely secure in the will of God. George Muller was a 19th century pastor in England, who was best known for his orphan ministry and his passion for Christian education. In his lifetime, Muller cared for over 10,000 orphans and started 117 schools, which offered Christian education to over 120,000 children, many of them orphaned. 

So what makes Muller’s life so incredible? He never asked a single person for a cent. Yes, the man who cared for thousands of children and brought faith-based education to thousands of children never asked anyone for anything. Mueller relied solely upon God to provide for him and the children. 

Why did he do this? Wouldn’t it have been easier to travel and ask people for money like so many of his contemporaries did? Relying solely on God is extremely scary

Mueller, wrote in his journal, “If I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House, there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessing, might be instruments in strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God. This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the Orphan-House… The first and primary object of the work was (and still is:) that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith without anyone being asked by me or my fellow-laborers whereby it may be seen, that God is faithful still, and hears prayers still.”

What an incredible testimony! The primary reason that Mueller started the orphanage was so people could see how God provides. One can only speculate that the secondary reason was to take care of orphans, but how amazing is that? Mueller, moved by the Lord himself, started an orphanage to be a lasting testimony of God’s faithfulness. How many lives were changed by this man’s faith? 

There were countless examples of the Lord’s provision, but one sticks out among the rest. One day, there was no breakfast for the children, but Muller prayed and gave thanks in expectation. Moments later, after they finished the prayer, a baker knocked on the door with sufficient fresh bread to feed everyone, and the milkman gave them plenty of fresh milk because his cart broke down in front of the orphanage.

If we only had an ounce of his faith and pursued the will of God relentlessly as Mueller did, how different would our lives be? We would no longer wonder where the rent and grocery money would come. We would stop living paycheck-to-paycheck and rather live provision-to-provision. Our mindset would change. The world would change. Our faith, instead of being reduced to rhetoric and logic would become a living, undeniable testimony. Perhaps most importantly, our insecurity would completely vanish.

I believe that the crushing feeling of insecurity is perhaps the greatest tool that Satan uses to snuff out God’s great plans for us. I can’t even fathom how many incredible things that could have been accomplished for the Lord were extinguished because of doubts that crept in. How many ministries, marriages, friendships and were abandoned, never to see the full light of day because insecurity overpowered the call? It troubles my soul. How many times have I doubted God and ran from what could have been a great victory for him? What has the Kingdom lost because of my meager faith?

Think of what God could do through us when we live Kingdom first. It brings a smile to my face, as I’m sure it does to the Lord’s. Be free. Find your security in the Rock.

 

-Blake Mayes
@blakemayes

 

Just Finish || Kyle Littel

I love sports and it doesn’t get much more simple than that. Starting in Second Grade and continuing throughout my life so far I have wrestled, ran track, played football, baseball, tennis, volleyball, softball, racquetball, badminton, you name it I’ve probably played it. But the sport I was always best at and even competed at the collegiate level in, was track.

I started running track in 6th grade.
The only reason that I went out for the sport was because my dad said that it would keep me in good shape for football (my favorite). Unfortunately, in that first year, I wasn’t very good. At first, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do... so I tried multiple events. I tried long jump only to discover that I couldn’t jump very far. I tried hurdles until I pulled my hamstring in my very first race. I tried high jump and then my coach told me that I should “quit while I was ahead." Then eventually I found myself attempting to be a sprinter. In the beginning, I wasn't even good at that. My fastest time in the 100 meter sprint was about 16 seconds (which, if you don’t know, is pretty slow.)

Needless to say, my 6th grade track season didn't leave me with much confidence to stay on the team. There were many times when I wanted to just throw in the towel and call it quits! Most of the time, I disliked track and my coaches. However, the support from my parents and friends helped me stick it out. So I did, I gave track another chance in the 7th grade.

This season was much different than the last.
I knew what events I wanted to do and I was determined to prove to myself (and my coaches) that I could do this! To my surprise, I did significantly better! Remember how I said that my 100 meter time in 6th grade was 16 seconds? Well now, only one year later, I had improved my time and was running a 13 second 100 meter dash! Then, the following year (8th grade) I continued to improve. I ran an 11 second 100 meter dash to win the City track meet. After reflecting over the years, I was so happy that I hadn’t given up. I went from a slow 6th grader to becoming the fastest middle school sprinter in the CITY!

Post middle school:
I made varsity as a freshman, became the team captain, made it to the state track meet in a Division 1 league in multiple events, broke (and still currently hold) records at my high school, and even received scholarships to compete at the collegiate level! Now, I don’t say all of this to boast about myself! The only aspect that I want to highlight about this story was the fact that I didn’t quit! It was in 6th grade that I faced all those hardships while trying new events. I also ran my slowest time and constantly considering quitting. But I didn’t quit! Without the encouragement of others I wouldn't have continued to run and without continuing to run I wouldn’t have had all of that success!

My one and only point is to encourage YOU not to quit!

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” -Hebrews 12:!

Honestly, life can become very hard at times and it can be easy to feel like quitting. So, just as my parents encouraged me to keep going, I want to encourage you to think about all you feel like quitting right now and remind you that: we are called to persevere... to keep on running and NOT QUIT!
I recognize that maybe no one is supporting you and encouraging you to keep going but always remember God encourages us to KEEP RUNNING, even when life gets hard. After we fall, we must choose to get right back up and finish the race! It will be hard, but we must not give up!

Keep running, keep fighting, and FINISH THE RACE!
Kyle Littel
@KyleLittel

Prayer Is Always the First Best Option

There are so many heartbreaking events taking place in the world today. From the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq to racism and mistreatment of our own in Ferguson. We've hardly had time to process innocent girls being abducted in Nigeria, airplanes disappearing over the ocean and being shot down, conflicts in the Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, wars and rumors of wars that continue to rage in other parts of the Middle East, and unrelenting genocide in Syria. It's all coming at us at a dizzying pace, leaving so many reeling, uncertain of the the best plan of action.

Many times now I've seen people posting prayers for these world events: calling on God for his help and mercy and guidance in the midst of our messed up humanity. And several times I've seen well meaning others responding to these prayers saying "and then what?" or "how does that help?" 

As Christians, it's important that we know the power and importance of prayer. We shouldn't call on God as an excuse to do nothing (James 2:16), but we also must realize that God can do more in a moment of believing prayer than we can accomplish in our entire lifetime of striving in human effort.

Creative Commons, Photo by Marco Sama

Faith is, after all, by very definition, believing God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6) For those of us that already believe in God, the next step may be to trust that he hears and responds to us when we call on him, even on a global scale. 

John Bunyan said, "You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed." So when the world rages on, prayer is always our first, best option. Go to God. Trust that he will respond. Call on him on behalf of the world. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand." Prayer is the substitute God has given us for worry and anxiety, so it is important that we pray and trust God to meet our needs.

Here are a few tips on how we can be even more effective as we pray to our God who hears us:
 

1. Pray right away
Don't just say you'll pray for people, really pray for them! In the past year, I've started to pray immediately for people after I say I will. Take a moment right wherever you are, and pray in Jesus' Name for the need. Continue to pray throughout the day as God reminds your heart of the need.

2. Pray with trust in God's mercy and goodness
We can easily pray to God out of a worried heart. But God calls us to pray with faith. (Mark 11:24; James 5:15) If you sense you are praying from worry, begin to ask God to turn your worry into trust. Let the Word of God and past answered prayer build your faith in God's incredible provision. Thank God for all he has done, even while you ask him to meet new needs. (Philippians 4:7)

3. Pray more than once
We don't have to pray a long time for prayer to be effective. One single prayer uttered in faith in God and according to his goodness can move mountains. But Scripture also gives us good examples, encouraging us to keep on praying until we see God answer us. (Luke 18:1-8; Daniel 10:1-14; Colossians 4:2)

4. Turn your praying into worship
Nothing effects prayer so much as faith in who God is, and what he can do. The most powerful prayer is really just worship in disguise. Don't think of God as a genie in a bottle. Yes, he loves to hear and meet our needs, but he is so much more than that. Seek to know him more, and spend your life in worship. God is our treasure. Let's pray with David, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you." (Psalm 73:25-26"Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always." (1 Chronicles 16:11

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)


-Matt Brown
@evangelistmatt

Making Sense of God's Plan for You

I've been trusting Christ for 27 years now, and over and over again it has been the most wonderful thing in my life. 

After choosing Jesus Christ as Lord, one of the most important and intimate parts of our lives is discovering God's calling.

I believe God is working out his calling and purposes for us in several important ways, and I hope this will help you make sense of God's purpose for your own life.

Here are the four ways God calls us.

1. Ongoing calling 

A big part of God’s calling on our lives is the day-in, day-out of being faithful with the “little things” He has called us to.

Oftentimes, God isn’t calling us to new things, but to old things

God wants us to remain in Him (John 15:4), and remain faithful to the work He has already called us to (1 Timothy 4:16).

For me, this means being faithful to posting godly content on social media and blogs all week long, regularly learning from and networking with others, sharing the gospel at churches and live events throughout the year, writing books, and many other ongoing callings.

In this area, you don't need God to speak to you again. You know he has already spoken, and until he guides you to stop, you plod on.

What would this be for you?

2. Next steps calling 

God regularly guides us to take next steps in our lives that require great faith, and to work towards projects that we cannot accomplish without Him.

As we work towards big next steps God has led us to, we live lives filled with the miraculous and it becomes obvious God is with us, and is doing what only he can do.

I've been realizing over the past few years I don't want to come to God with my plans anymore. It doesn't mean I'm not planning, it just means I want to be far more focused on walking closely with God, and hearing his will instead of my own.

It's important to have no agenda, other than God’s agenda. 

It's important to hold our "next step callings" loosely and joyfully in the hands of a God who has bigger and more wonderful plans than ours, and who can surprise us at every turn.

Our journey will be much different, and more exciting than we'd ever expect.

3. Future calling 

Often, when God first calls a person, He gives far-off, future vision of what He has in store.

We see this with many of the Bible heroes:

Joseph had a vision of his family bowing down to him, but it took many years, family betrayal, slavery and prison before he was in the position God had shown him.

David was anointed to be the next King of Israel, but also spent many years running from the current King and amassing a following of mighty men before he took over the Kingdom.

God gives us revelations of things that are far off.

Because a life is life-long, when God calls us to give our life to him, it takes a lifetime to fully do it.

4. Who I really am calling 

It's been said, “God is far more concerned with who we are becoming, than where we are going.”

One of the very first steps to discovering God’s calling on our lives is to start looking to obey the many clear directions God’s Word already gives.

As we align our lives with God's Word, God's leading for our future will grow increasingly clear and bright.

-Matt Brown
@evangelistmatt

If God Loves Us Why Does He Allow Tragedy?

First off, I just want to let you know how completely intimidating it is to tackle such a deep question. Our world is full of so much brokenness and the more technologically advanced our world becomes, the more aware we become of this brokenness.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this thought but it feels like every time I log into Facebook there is a new article that has gone viral about human trafficking, natural disaster, kidnapping, etc. The news is just depressing these days.

But why? If there is a God who loves us why does he allow this kind of tragedy?
Every time I think or hear this question, I am reminded of a Bible verse.

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

I know what you’re thinking right now, probably something along the lines of how this makes absolutely no sense. But let me explain… see there is a underlying message in this verse:

God wants to use His people to help His people.

No I am not saying that God allows suffering so that we can have an opportunity to bless someone. What I am saying is that maybe there is a bigger picture that we can’t understand or see. Maybe this world goes beyond this world. Maybe the outcome can still be great. Maybe just maybe we could believe that in the midst of the storms we can find reasons to dance in the rain.

What if we changed our perspective? Maybe God is moving and that’s the reason there isn’t more tragedy than there already is. Maybe God is saving lives in the midst of these horrific events. If we want to see change, we have to stop blaming God for what’s going on and start getting out there to remove the disaster.

I am well aware of the fact that God could wave his magic wand and fix this world. But I am equally aware that this isn’t the way God chooses to fix things. God wants you and me to rise up out of our seats and do something about this brokenness.

God is not to blame for the actions of other people. God is the goodness in the midst of the brokenness. We need to stop blaming him and starting getting out there and making a difference. Liking and sharing on social media to spread awareness is great; but what are we DOING to remove the pain in this world? What are we doing to ensure that the world will be changed?

-Cassie Littel
@cassielittel

So You Love Jesus, But Hate the Church?

It almost seems as if there is nothing new under the sun. It almost feels as if we've heard this story before: Leaders in the church world, who built their empires and fortunes off of the church who say we don't need the local church anymore - that it's become irrelevant.
It's a common statement in our generation - people who say they "love Jesus, but hate the church." Or at least don't feel very excited about the church. Jesus seems cool. The local churches they've been to seem very boring.
But if the church is Jesus' bride as the Bible tells us, it's impossible to love one and hate the other.
Can you imagine telling your friend - you're awesome, but I hate your wife, she's boring and irrelevant to me. Really?
That friendship would end fast. And while you may still feel how you feel - your friend wouldn't feel very liked at all, because you hated on the most important thing in their life - part of their very flesh and soul, and the greatest joy in their life.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes going to church is difficult, even painful. Here are some vulnerable thoughts on why we must choose to love the church, if we claim to love Jesus:

1. It's just an hour a week
While church is more than just about a weekly service, we are talking only 1 hour a week worshiping and listening to a sermon. Even if the music is really bad, and the sermon is poor, it's just 1 hour.
I can't help but wonder how anyone who really loves Jesus would be unwilling to give 1 hour out of 168 hours in their week to Christ's bride.
If it's important to God (and he says so in His Word), then it should be important to me if God is important to me.

2. It's okay if it doesn't feel ok

There are times for all of us, when church doesn't feel fun or exciting, and sometimes it even feels painful, like going to the dentist. (But all of us know the dentist is important even though it's painful. Same with the church.)
It's okay to not feel okay, but we should go to church anyways - those might be the times we need it the most. Don't base your faith on your feelings. Feelings will come into line by God's power and grace in our life over time, and we will realize God knows best - every time.
Yes, we need to fight for joy in obeying God's commands, but sometimes this is a process. Some seasons church is a great joy to us, and life-giving community, and other seasons it feels like we are carrying a cross.
But shouldn't this happen sometimes? Jesus said if we wanted to follow him, we would have to pick up our cross daily. There will be seasons of our life where following Jesus feels like we are carrying a cross. Dying to self feels that way.
If we cut out or avoid the parts of our Christian life where we feel like we are carrying our cross, we will be immature.
Granted, some people make too much of their Christian life about sacrifice, but that doesn't mean we should avoid it all together. There's no version of the Christian life where we get out of carrying our cross

3. We all play a role
When we accept Christ, we become part of the Church, and we each play a role. This means we don't need to accept church as normal - we can have a hand in changing and shaping it's future - in making it meaningful to our own lives, and the lives of those around us.
That said, church gatherings through thousands of years have been the same - gathering with other believers to worship together and listen to God's word together. These groups of believers did their part to better the world around them.
We live in the most diverse generation of church options ever - it is sad if we generalize two billion Christians around the world who gather at millions of churches of all shapes and sizes as if there's not an option to choose from we would enjoy. As a professor back in Bible college told us, "there are many flavors of ice cream to choose from."

4. It's really a trust issue
Really, going to church is a trust issue. Do I really believe God has my best intentions in mind? When God tells me to do something, do I believe he's doing it to get on my nerves, or to save my life?
Going to church is more than just about community. It is God's lifeboat for a dying world.

It is his bride. 
-Matt Brown
@evangelistmatt

Shattered Pieces

Sometimes life can feel like more of a roller coaster than anything else, can I get an AMEN!? When you think of shattered pieces what comes to your mind? To me shattered pieces is more of a description of our everyday lives. The days where we feel like we cannot go on any longer or those days where you question God and ask “Where are you?” I compare life to a shattered mirror with pieces everywhere at first you see glass everywhere but then piece by piece you pick it up and put it back together. Each piece being an issue or setback in life. Many of us find ourselves saying and asking the same phrases daily. How will I ever make it through this? Where is Jesus at? I am so angry. Why did I deserve this? I could go on and on with the negative thoughts but let’s not dwell on that specifically. I’ve been there, I’ve lived there, and I’ve dwelled in all those questions. And sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to pick up all the shattered pieces.

My year has felt like this many many times. In February one of my closest child-hood friends went home early, his heavenly home that is. After a long courageous battle God decided he had fulfilled his purpose and spared him a lifetime of hospitals and incapability’s and gave him a new heavenly perfect body.  To this day I still dwell on the questions that I mentioned above, why him? Why must we go through this? Where are you Jesus? Also this year I have been faced with several health issues in which caused me pain and worrying. To top is off my best friend/girlfriend moved to a different state to continue her education.  The point that I am trying to make is that every time that I seemed to find peace with one issue another “piece” fell upon me, so I have been right where you are.

God himself daily is fighting for us and helping us pick up and place each broken piece back together again. He hasn’t left us nor will he ever. So even with all the overwhelming feelings and the devil creeping in to try to steal my happiness, this year I have learned that God is always with us and fighting each battle beside us. Friends, no matter what you are going through or how you are feeling know that God is already fighting your battle for you, you have to have faith and patience.  I know I feel hopeless at times but then I see God at work in amazing ways in my life and in lives of others around me.  

Here are a few bible verses that give me a daily reminder of the love our God has for us:

1. Jerimiah 17:13 "God, pick up the pieces. Put me back together again. You are my praise!"
2. Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still”
3. Deuteronomy 3:22 “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you”
4. 2 Corinthians 3:17 “Where the Spirit of the Lord lives, there is freedom”

“You can find hope and strength in Jesus. It too shall pass but it may take a while as mine did. Do not lose your faith. The hope of Jesus lives in you.”
I love that in my darkest days we serve a God that is fighting for you and me and that is always one step ahead of us picking up the pieces of our broken lives. 
-Jarrett Frizzell
@BlessedTeens

Keeping Our Focus on Evangelism

It's always encouraging to see believers who regularly share their faith, because you can tell they understand the greatness of God's love, and long for others to have this hope too.

Even after being an evangelist for over a decade, and studying many books on the subject, I still need to learn to keep evangelism more in focus in my own life. I'm not perfect, just forgiven.

It's amazing because you can preach from a stage to thousands without fear, and still get nervous to share your faith with an individual one-on-one.

One of the Pastors I follow on facebook, Dave Gibson, has been the missions pastor at Grace Church in the Twin Cities for many years. As a church, they give millions of dollars to missions each year. Possibly even more impressive is that Dave, in his everyday life, shares the gospel with people one-on-one like crazy. So I asked to sit down with him and learn what I could do to be more like him in this area

 

Here are some of the lessons I learned:

 

1. Be praying for divine appointments

Dave prays that God will give him an opportunity to share his faith every single day - he prays for a divine appointment that God might have for him to affect someone's eternity.

I wanted to start smaller, so I am praying for a divine appointment each week. In the first few weeks since I started praying for this, God has done it!

2. Be intentional and watch for opportunities 

A big part of a lifestyle of evangelism is keeping evangelism on the top of mind. Praying regularly for opportunities significantly helps you keep it front and center, and then be watching for opportunities where God might want to use you.

Dave is also intentional by carrying a stack of evangelism materials with him that share his personal faith story. He sometimes leaves these with people after he talks with them, and when he runs into them again later, hears how much it has helped them.

3. Be curious and caring about people's lives 

Step out and ask questions. Dave ends up talking a lot to wait staff at restaurants, or taxi drivers on his international trips. 

You don't need to start the conversation on a spiritual note - Dave mentioned that Jesus had 130 personal conversations in the gospels, and only 3 of them started spiritual. 

Just ask people interesting questions about themselves. If common ground is there, share about your life. Most importantly - actually care about people in a way they can sense. 

4. Be gospel centered with spiritual turns in the conversation

We shouldn't feel compelled to share our faith the first time we meet someone (unless God burdens us to do so with someone). We should focus mostly on caring about people in an uncommon way - in the way God has showed us uncommon careor in other words, showing the gospel before sharing the gospel.

One of the easy ways Dave turns conversations spiritual (for instance before eating food at a restaurant), is by offering to pray for people for any of their needs.

Meeting felt needs, like praying for others, or being involved in justice projects is one of the most powerful ways to show people God's care, because they see how you care. This can open an opportunity where they are interested in what you have to say about Jesus.

-Matt Brown
@evangelistmatt

Relationship Advice That Works Every Time

There I was on the couch yet again defeated by the defensiveness that came out of my mouth the second I heard a corrective word from my husband. Three words with great intention and extreme sting; that’s all it took. All he said was “that was mean.”

Let’s rewind about five minutes. There I sat, zoned into my work on the computer, when Kyle had asked me a question, and then asked it again, and then again. I looked over at him and without thinking I said something along the lines of, “you are being annoying right now.” Stunned at my response to his question he says, “that was mean.” Of course rather than saying something like, “you are right babe, I’m so sorry” I said something that defended my statement and proved him to be “annoying.”

It didn’t take long before feelings of defeat filled the both of us. Here we are defending ourselves and it’s getting our marriage nowhere. I started thinking about what it would be like if an NBA team just once decided to play defense with their own team mates. That would be nonsense. I won’t pretend like I know much about basketball, but I think I know enough of the sport to know when a teammate has the ball you don’t try to steal it from them. I know that when someone on your team makes a great shot, you encourage and celebrate with them. I also know that when someone on the team doesn’t make a great shot, you inspire and help them to do better the next time. I truly think that while one can become frustrated with their teammates, they ultimately understand that they are on the same team.

So it hit me… we are on the same team. How could we possibly ever win in our marriage if we are always in defense mode? The answer is simple, we can’t. This isn’t a blog for the married; this is a blog for any person in relationship. Not just a dating relationship, but also a parenting relationship, or friendship relationship. Really, this analogy could be used to bring success to even a relationship in which you are trying to win someone for Jesus.

You know what relationship in your life needs to be worked on. Think about that one. What if you stopped playing defense with that person and started playing on their team; helping them to succeed and encouraging them to flourish? What could your relationship turn into if you stopped boxing them out and started handing them the ball so they could make a shot or two? Nobody likes a basketball show off. You know, the one who is always dribbling the ball in those really neat ways for attention. The one who is always taking the shots. The one who doesn’t seem to know how to pass the ball. Well here’s my challenge for your relationship: let go of the spot light and opposite team mentality & start letting them shine and giving them the ball. I promise, it’ll transform your relationship! It has certainly transformed mine.

My husband, Kyle, and I have vowed not to be ball hogs or treat each other as opposite team members. Since then, our marriage has gone from heading towards losing, to winning. My hope is that you too can experience the beautiful joy relationships are supposed to bring. Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

-Cassie Littel
@CassieLittel

Single No Mingle

So, you are single and ready to "mingle." At least that's what the world says. A single person is supposed to mingle around with other people until they find the right one. Date strangers, sleep with strangers, and all the rest. It's only just a lie our society has drilled into our heads. You might even be one of those people who is desperately praying day and night for God to give you a relationship because you "know" that you need one right now. You just want someone to be with and spend time with, you just need someone. Well, at least that's what you think.

I've been at that point before. I've been stuck chasing strangers on my own without God by my side. You put all your focus on someone new in your life. Meanwhile, you have a beautiful and loving God longing to be close to you. It's a horrible position to be in because you spend all your time either mingling, wishing, or complaining. That's how it goes a lot of the time when you're single. You only think about "what could be" and what you desire, but God has been put to the side. That's pretty stupid of us though, right?

The Bible says, "He made their hearts, so He understands everything they do" (Psalm 33:15). God made us. He knows every aspect of our hearts and what we need day to day. The problem is that we've believed the cultural lie to "mingle," and do it on our own. It's something like a disease. We don't need God to help us look. We've got this, we will find the right person. In the end though, we won't. We need God. All that time that you're searching, looking, and mingling is time you could be spending with Him. You could be hanging out with God every day. He wants to change your heart and wants you to trust Him. As you do that and remain close to Him, slowly He will lead you to the person you keep wishing for.

Another thing, the person God has for you is a million times better than the one you're dreaming up for yourself. The moral of my little story is this....We can't believe the lie to mingle around with strangers when we are single because if we do, we are missing God's best. Stop complaining and just chase God. As time goes on, one day He may just introduce you to the one you've been praying for. Use your time wisely. You can't do it on your own. You need God and His presence in order to get the best relationship. It's not the time to mingle, it's the time to chase God so that in a few days, weeks, months, or even years, He can give you something beyond your dreams.

Honoring God in College

College is the place where temptation is all around you and it’s a true eye opener for Christ followers.  Since I’m in college I can personally tell you that the devil is everywhere and those who want to honor God are few and far between. I’m not going to sugar coat it, I’m just going to speak the truth. Knowing all these things though, whether you’re in college, used to be, or still aren’t there yet, I want you to know that it is possible to follow Jesus and honor God in college.

The 2 Types of People In College

There are two types of people in college, those that follow the crowd and those that don’t. Believe me when I say it, the people striving to honor God are the people who could care less about following the crowd. The only bad part about that is that most people want to take the easy way out. Take a look at Matthew 13 and you’ll see Jesus talk about the narrow gate. It’s the gate that few will walk through, the path that few will walk on and it’s the path that leads to the Lord. That’s one of the most important things you need to know about honoring God in college. You won’t be part of the crowd, therefore you will feel lonely, probably be made fun of, and may even second-guess yourself. I’m here to let you know that the narrow gate is worth it. If it were not worth it then Jesus wouldn’t have preached at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 13 continually that few would walk that path. It will be tough and you will feel like giving up. Don’t lose the faith though. You must remember the God you serve, the life giving power he has, and the love he fills you with on a daily basis. He is good and he is for you. Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who could stand against us?” This is the truth ladies and gentlemen. Whether it’s your so called “friends” hating on you, or your heart confusing itself over your feelings because you feel left out, just know that God is on your side.

Another focus is confidence in the Lord, which will bring confidence in you. It’s a rough world we live in and the roughness is visually evident in college. You will need God-given confidence to keep going through the tough trials that may be put in your way. Be ready for war. Cloudiness of the mind comes from Satan and his tricks. It is war. The devil will never stop tempting you as long as you are following Jesus Christ. This is why you must remain in faith and confidence in our God. Constant prayer and time with him is key as he gives you strength and prepares your heart for any obstacle along the way. Be confident in your walk with the Lord. Your hope is in him; therefore no circumstance can stand against your God. Walk in the peace and grace that he gives you. When you’re with friends, walk in godly confidence. Your faith is strong in him. He makes you stronger. Your God is bigger. Find joy in all these things and no matter the circumstance or comment that you receive, walk with confidence that you have in Jesus.

Complacency as a Christian rules this world. It seeps into our heart making us feel as if we’ve spent the quiet time we need with God, so we are free to walk away from him for a little while. Therefore, it feels like a schedule more than it does love for the Lord. We think we’ve done enough and shortly our faith in God begins to fall away. Beware of this in college. In order to honor him in the highest way, you must continually pursue his heart and goodness in love. You want to lift high the name of Jesus. You want people around you to know him because of what you’re doing. So be on the lookout for complacency in your heart and life. If you feel sluggish and tired, open his word. If you feel like you don’t need God right now and you’d rather go do something else, stop and pray. Let God speak to you and the Spirit fill you. I guarantee your heart will gradually change in that moment. I also believe that when complacency strikes, it is very important that friends are called. Call your friends that you know are full of Jesus and that would encourage you. Call an elder or mentor, this being someone that is more mature in their faith than you. This is incredibly beneficial when it comes to seeking God with constant pursuit. Falling into the nothingness of complacency can rip apart your faith and draw you further away from honoring God in college. Let me end it with this: complacency is at its strongest in college because you’re at such a changing point in your life that the devil will do anything to change your mind about spending more time with God.

Who Are You Hanging Around?

Who are your friends and whom do you constantly hang around? Who are those closest to you? These are important questions that you need to ask yourself while in college and also at any part of your life. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” I believe that Paul writes this to due to its utter importance. Continually putting yourself in situations with people who drag you down and further from God will only hurt you. Let me say, I believe in pursuing people and even friends who don’t know Jesus. That’s part of being a light. What I don’t believe in is making your closest and personal friends those who draw you away from God, don’t encourage you or show no signs of Jesus in their heart. So be careful reading this part. It’s amazing to be a light and to put yourself in certain situations where you can help a friend or complete stranger to be saved by the blood of Jesus, but your closest friends are a different story. If those closest to you aren’t helping your walk with Christ, then it’s going to be very hard to honor the Lord on campus. I believe that you need and that God will provide you with people who help you honor him. As you step out in faith on campus to bring him glory, your close “company” will encourage you and build you up in audacious faith. That’s vitally important. Pray that those that you walk closest with will also walk with Jesus.

This is no easy task. College and life in general is a battleground where evil is constantly trying to break your faith and cut you off from God. I’m here to tell you that by the blood of Jesus and faith in him, you can still glorify God in heaven and lead people on your campus to the hope he brings. Be strong. Be confident. Don’t falter in faith when times get tough. Pursue God and don’t become complacent. Look to see if those closest to you are helping you or hurting you. To everyone, know that our great God is with us and he is fighting for us. With his power and spirit in us, there is no circumstance that can keep us from glorifying his holy name.

-Carson Case
@Carson_Case

The "S" Word

SEX… oh man, I can’t believe I just said that! OK, let me try this again… "SEX! SEX! SEX!!! STOP KYLE... You can’t say these kinds of things, it sounds so wrong!"

So, you are probably wondering right now one of two things; either I am secretly a 10 year old, or someone hacked my blog. Let me tell you that you don’t have to worry, neither is true. What is true, however, is that this is the attitude and view most people within the church have about this hot and heavy topic (pun intended). You see, sex was intended to be a good thing; if fact, I would argue that sex was intended to be a really really really really good thing!

Hebrews 13:4 states that marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure. God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Jesus tells us that marriage should be honored by all. Marriage and “the marriage bed” were intended to remain pure and beautiful. Sex was intended to be between husband and wife, and Jesus reminds us of its sacredness.

God created humans to long for relationship and connection with other humans. One of the ways God intended man and woman to connect was through sex; but, the world turned the beauty of sex, into the forbidden ‘S’ word! Starting as early as 4th grade children learn what the world thinks about sex and the immaturity and laughter begins. But I applaud the world, and yes you heard me correctly, I applaud the world! The world might be teaching an un-Biblical view about what sex is truly about, but at least the world is talking about sex. Teenagers need to be informed about sex, it shouldn’t become some forbidden topic within the church because of discomfort. Sadly it is. Sex has become something to avoid with a thought process that goes something like this, “Maybe if we don’t talk about it, they won’t do it.” To be honest that is far from the truth as you can get.

According to buzzle.com, teenagers are loosing their virginity at the age of 16. If we don’t teach a biblical standpoint on sex, beyond just telling teens to not do it until marriage because it’s bad, teenagers will learn about sex at school, from their friends, or from the media. This isn't good because they will develop a world view of what sex looks like. God intended for sex to be a good thing, to be beautiful. We can not be afraid to speak about the ‘S’ word to the teenagers that look up to us.

-Kyle Littel
@KyleLittel

5 Reasons Not to Give Up on God

1. He loves you, perfectly.
So many people give up on God because they think he is mad at them. God might not always be pleased with everything you do, but that doesn’t take away the love he has for you. Romans 8:38 says, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” The Bible is clear to say that no matter what you do, the love God has for you won’t fade. No matter what is causing you to give up on God… don’t do it. He’s the only one who can love you perfect.

2. He doesn’t see you as guilty.
Many people give up on God because they have made one to many bad decisions. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins- in his body on the cross.” Many run from God because of guilt; however, God doesn’t see people as guilty. When Jesus went to the cross he took on the sins of all people so that we may come to God freely. No matter what you have done, no matter how serious it may be, you are never too sinful for God to handle.

3. He can make bad circumstances good.
Don’t give up on God because he is the only one who can take the worst of situations and make it the best. God is the only one who can turn our mess into beauty. Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him.” God is fighting for you, he is working on your behalf to be sure that all things come together.
I had a friend who traded his life for just about every drug out there. After years of addictions, he turned his life over to God. Now he gets to walk people through the steps of recovery. Drugs were ruining his life, and now he get’s to help others overcome their struggles of addiction by serving as a Drug Recovery Counselor. Only God can turn our mess into beauty.

4. He gives peace in chaotic situations.
Don’t give up on God… he is the only one that when life is going crazy can give you peace. Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When everything around you is falling apart, in Jesus you can still find peace, it is promised to you right here in this verse. It may look like other things,  people,  or stuff can calm the storm but that’s only temporary. Only God can permanently calm the storm your in and give you peace through it.

5. He doesn’t give up on you.
God is the only one who will never give up on you. Deuteronomy 31:8, “he will never leave you nor forsake you.” He never promised to be loud, he promised to be there. Don’t mistake silence for absence. He has never give up on you… even when you give up on you. He has never left your side, even when your spouse, family, friends, teammates did. God is the only one who will go through all seasons of life with you from your first breath to your last, and every moment in between. Don’t give up on God… he never gives up on you.

Share with us reasons you think others shouldn’t give up on God by commenting below.
Cassie Littel
@CassieLittel

How To Be A Good Friend

It is intimidating to write about friendship, let alone how to be a good friend.

But there are not enough people talking about this.

I want to create conversation and spark ideas of how you can care for the people who are important in your life.

I'm not sure if I am a good friend or not. I don't know if my friends would feel I am, but I sure hope so. 

I've been thinking about writing about this for the last six months. It's a topic that touches all of us, that I feel is so important. I asked the question on social media, and heard from nearly 100 of you on what makes a good friend. It was super interesting to see all your responses

Here are my top few ways we can be a good friend:

1. A good friend is there

You can't build a friendship around intentions. Ultimately, you've got to get together. Sometimes good friendships trail off for lack of face-time. Our shared experiences become a thing of the past, and while we are thankful for those memories, there is nothing new to build on today.

A good friend cares enough about the relationship to get back to you whether it's a phone call, text, facebook message or tweet. They check-in, and they honestly want to continue to be a part of your life.

Sometimes they just spontaneously want to be with you - they stop by without planning it in the calendar, and they eat from your fridge without asking.

We can't call someone a close friend if we never show them we want to (and like to) be with them.

2. A good friend sees the best in you

I'm not sure there is much better kindling for the friendship fire than mutual admiration and respect. We like people who like us. If only one side of the two person coin in friendship seems to really like the other, then it is just a "fan" relationship.

It's great to admire people, but for a friendship to be formed and to maintain, both people have to think highly of the other, and hold each other in good regard.

This goes so far beyond your job title, your opportunities and your income. The truest friend rushes in when everyone else rushes out. They like you for you.

The best kind of friend doesn't box you in, or hold you down - they see the best in you, and call it out of you.

3. A good friend is a giver

Good friends are in the friendship for more than just themselves. They know the pleasure in being a giver, rather than a taker. 

This means they don't just do the talking. They ask questions, they take time to listen, and they truly care about your life, your feelings and who you are as a person. 

It also means they don't expect you to always agree with them, or think like them. They honor your opinions and allow for your imperfections. 

They aren't constantly negative about their own life or yours. They do their best to be an encourager, and dream alongside of you.

4. A good friend gives grace

Because we are human, and humanity is messy, good friends don't expect each other to be anywhere near perfect. 

Henry Ward Beecher once said: "Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends." Good friends consistently forgive and forget and continue on loving you, flaws and all. 

Good friends also allow for seasons of friendship in which time and circumstance causes the friendship to become more distant. They don't hold high expectations over the heads of past friends. They are simply grateful for the gift of friendship when it is there, and hopeful for more gifts of time down the road.

A good friend questions their own virtue. They know they too have made a fair share of mistakes and caused an equal amount of hurt feelings without realizing it, so they don't act like they are better at friendship than their friends.

5. A good friend includes you

Cliques are the enemy of good friends. A good friend includes you in their gatherings, and invites you to stuff.

A good friend is sensitive about how they post on social media. They may post a pic of friends without you, but they don't overdo it, and they always weigh if it's worth it - they are sensitive to not make other friends feel left out.

How about you? When you think about your good friends --- what makes your good friends great friends? Share in the comments below.

-- Matt Brown
@evangelistmatt

What Does It Mean To Look Like Jesus?

The ultimate goal of every Christian is to look like Jesus. What I mean by "look like Jesus," is not in physical appearance, but to follow Jesus in both the big and small areas of their lives, in order to be the blessing that He was on earth, and to receive the blessings of obedience to and pursuit of God.

This is what we all want, but so few of us feel we are progressing at the pace we'd prefer.

One the biggest challenges in striving to look like Jesus is starting with the wrong picture of what it means to look like Jesus

For many years I personally thought that being "radical" for God meant being really intense with myself and others, praying for exhausting amounts of time, sacrificing as much as possible simply for the sake of denying myself as much as possible, and other self inflicting practices that would ultimately lead to looking more like Jesus. To me back then, "zeal" was the epitomy of what it meant to look like Jesus.

I thought this because of role models I held in Bible college, many of whom I now see were clearly poor examples of Christlikeness. I remember reading passages in the Bible back then about the importance of a Christian having compassion, love, kindness and scratching my head wondering why I was not seeing these in my role models or myself - it was starting to dawn on me that God had a different picture of Himself than I had of Him.

Larry Osborne in Sticky Teams shares a similar sentiment: "Spiritual maturity is a life that consistently exhibits the character of Jesus Christ. This means character - not giftedness, not Biblical knowledge, not zeal. And that shouldn't surprise us, since some of the most divisive and self-centered people in our churches are those who are highly gifted, know the Bible inside and out, and exhibit a zeal that puts the rest of us to shame. They just happen to also be jerks."

I can't stop thinking about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 lately. God has given us a clear filter of what it means to look like Jesus in all areas of our lives: in our thoughts, actions, words and relationships.

Is what we are saying or doing filled with a whole lot of love, whole lot of joy, whole lot of peace, whole lot of patience, whole lot of kindness, whole lot of gentleness? If not, it's probably not of the Spirit. Scripture tells us "when the Holy Spirit controls our lives," we will show these things in increasing measure.

The fruit of the Spirit in your own life is what helps you be fruitful in the world.

God didn't just give us this clear picture of what it means for us to look like His Son, and empower us by His Spirit to do so, so that we would be a bland personality in the world. The fruits of the Spirit are not simple cardboard cuttouts that we learned about in Sunday School, but powerful life traits that have the abillity to transform every aspect of our lives and relationships, and give us success wherever we go.

These are the aspects of Jesus that we need to hold up as a standard for our own life. These are the characteristics that we need to rejoice in when we see them in our gospel-centered communities and role models. As we allow the Lord to transform our hearts, we pray that we will grow in these traits and see them more and more active in how we act and react to those on our daily path. 

This is what I want more of in my life. I hope you do to. I think it will really help us.

-- Matt Brown
@evangelistmatt