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The Chains Are Already Broken: Choosing Grace

Sometimes it can be pretty tempting as someone saved by grace to become a little self-righteous and prideful when we look at others caught in sin. I think sometimes we forget what it was like to be in the grips of sin and death, to be caught in the addiction. Or, maybe by the grace of God you never had that one “big” sin struggle – but let’s be real, we all have a struggle with sin, hence the grace of God.

If I’m honest, there have been times that I have looked at others caught in certain habitual sins that I have been saved from and become angry, or hard-hearted, or anything but compassionate. Now, there is a place for righteous anger, don’t get me wrong, but there is a place for compassion, too! It’s as though I had forgotten that my escape from those sins was by the grace of God. I had no reason to be proud.

But I think our sense of pride can sometimes come from a forgetfulness of the snare of sin. Now, words are a funny thing. Sometimes they can be used so much they become “Christianese” or so cliché that we forget the weight of their meanings, but there is a reason we use those words! Let’s look at two words for a second: caught and snare.

Caught – past tense of catch; intercept and hold (something that has been thrown, propelled, or dropped).

  • capture (a person or animal that tries or would try to escape).

Snare – noun; a trap for catching birds or animals, typically one having a noose of wire or cord.

  • a thing likely to lure or tempt someone into harm or error.

Those are pretty strong words. Neither portrays exact willingness on the receiving end, but that is no mistake on Satan’s part! The Lord wins us with His loving kindness; the devil is conniving and has to manipulate us into what is essentially quicksand.

I was recently humbled – God is pretty good in that arena. Although God is good and faithful to keep us in His grace, I was reminded how once we choose sin one time, it becomes all the easier to choose it again, and again, and before you know it, it seems as though sin is grabbing you. Even when you know how bad, how wrong, how hurtful it is – to you and God – it consumes your thoughts and you feel almost like an addict feeding a fix. Sin is obsessive and completely insane. That is why we say people get “caught” in the “snare” of sin, because it truly does grab a hold of you making you feel powerless.

But there is hope for the sinner. Like Judas and Peter, there is the gift of grace and the offer of whether we accept it or mourn our sin in worldly grief. Judas chose the latter and it killed him – literally. He was so consumed by the guilt and shame of betraying Jesus that he hung himself. Peter was also extremely distressed by his denial of Jesus BUT Peter remembered the message of his friend and Savior – the message of forgiveness of sins. He remembered the grace that Jesus said was available. Peter’s sorrow was met with repentance and the acceptance of grace.

Accept God’s grace! Choose to use the power that is waiting for you in Jesus to overcome your sin. The chains are already broken; we need only to believe it.

 

Chelsea Prevosto – Intern

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Seeking God While The Rest Of The Women Are Seeking Men

People know me as a go getter. I have a business mindset, I’m driven, confident, and have finally found a sense of belonging when it comes to my social status and most importantly my relationship with God. People have said that college will be the best and most terrifying years of your life, and they were right. I have experienced highs and lows but through it all, I’ve had the privilege to see what God can do in someone’s life no matter the circumstance.

Over the years, I have had my doubts and insecurities, one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve had to overcome is being 20 and never having a boyfriend. Having always been told it was because I was “too intimidating,” gets a little old when you’ve heard it for 20 years. In the back of my mind I began to think that maybe it is me and maybe it’s something that needs to change. My grandmother tells me to this day I need to “dumb myself down so the man can feel like a man”. I have since then taken these excuses as more of a complement. I know that the reason I’m “too intimidating” is because God made me that way. Don’t get me wrong, I have my flaws and need to be guided at times but I don’t find my identity in men, material things, or success, if there’s one thing that college has taught me it’s that if you don’t find your success in God then you will not find success at all.

Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” Reading this verse allows me to see that regardless of how many times I see my friends get boyfriends, or I get called “one of the guys”, become too stressed over whatever my day entails, or feel unworthy of someone to intimately love, I have the blessing and the wonderful opportunity to look to God. Expanding and deepening my relationship with Him has allowed me to feel a sense of belonging, love, and security. I have the ability to cast my burdens to God and ask of him amazing things. He is the creator, beginning and the end, there is nothing He cannot do and I have the astounding opportunity to be in relations with The Creator. I could not ask for anything more.

College has taught me many things:

  1. Don’t pull an all-nighter, it will never be as beneficial as you think.
  2. Don’t avoid your workouts, they may not be fun, but once you’re done you’ll be thankful you did it.
  3. Smile at everyone your walk past.
  4. Don’t sit on your cell phone all day, engage with those who are with you physically.
  5. Find friends who love you, encourage you, and help you grow in your faith.
  6. Challenge yourself and what you believe.

And most importantly…

7.    Ask great things of God, He is capable of so much more than you could ever imagine and don’t be afraid to trust Him and the wonderful things He can do in your life.  -Morgan Buhrow, intern

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Getting In Shape…Spiritually!

Think of someone you know who is in really good shape. What did they do to look that way? It probably took countless hours of running, strength training and eating a healthy diet. Often, we are inspired to work out and get fit when we see athletes and people in really good shape. (I know I am!) We may even ask a friend who is in good shape if they will go with us to the gym because they are knowledgeable and know how to make the most of a workout. Some people will even hire a personal trainer because he or she has good tips, will help you be effective and would correct you if you are doing an exercise improperly.

In our culture, even in the Christian culture, so much emphasis is placed on the external and “getting in shape”. Yes, we should take care of our bodies because they are the temples of the Holy Spirit, but have we taken the time to think about what it looks like to become “fit” spiritually?

1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.”

“So where do I start?” Well, much like you will not turn into an Olympic athlete overnight, you will not become an expert on God right away. Training is not always easy. It’s hard to find time to get to the gym in the midst of a busy schedule. Similarly, we may think, “I don’t really have time to have a 30 minute quiet time with God every day!” That is an excuse. You will always have time for what is important to you. I have friends who are dedicated, college athletes and they wake up at 4:30am to go to practice for 3 hours before starting their classes. If people can be that dedicated to a silly sport, we can be that dedicated to the God of the universe! We must be focused and determined!

Make time to read the Bible daily—this is how you hear from God and learn about Him. Start small and work your way up. If I wanted to run a marathon, I would start by running a mile here, 2 miles there and slowly work up to it. Most people cannot just sit down and read through the whole Bible in one day. Read a chapter (or less) and really soak in the truth and then maybe try a couple chapters the next day.

Grow your prayer muscle! Make time to just be still in the presence of God. Confess your sins to Him and let Him take away your anxiety and fears. He loves you and is eagerly ready to hear from you.

Fellowship with other believers (which can be in a church setting, but doesn’t necessarily have to be) is a great way to get helpful tips from other “fit” Christians who are further along in their walks with the Lord and can give you godly advice. They can also help you become aware if you are “exercising” wrong. Often times, pride and self-centeredness can creep in and we need someone to call us out on it in a loving way.

This idea of becoming “spiritually fit” is especially important for anyone who is a leader in the faith. I would never ask for training advice from someone who is lazy, never goes to the gym and eats ice-cream sandwiches every night. If you are in a place of leadership you need to be “working out” spiritually every day! You are a spiritual trainer which is a bazillion times more important than a personal trainer—so take it seriously!

When I think of someone who is spiritually fit, I think of our founder, Autumn Miles. She is devoted to God. She doesn’t make excuses. She has a deep, intimate relationship with Christ. She works hard because she is filled with vision and purpose and God has refined her and shaped her to become a strong and effective leader. She has inspired me, more than she will ever know, to keep pushing on and never give up.

-Karinna Johnston, intern

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God’s Plan > My Plan

 Great things never came out of comfort zones. 

This is a quote that I have heard repeatedly within the last couple years, and for some reason, it has really stuck with me. I have been crawling my way out of my many comfort zones for the last several years and to be honest, it is downright scary sometimes. There is a passage within the book of Isaiah that I have always clung to and it is in chapter 41:10-13.

            “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

            I have clung to this passage for several years because of the peace that it has brought when worry, doubt, anxiety, and fear have consumed me in various circumstances. I have recently graduated college, but I can recall my sophomore year so clearly. Having already changed my major twice by the fall semester, I was beginning to feel the pressure of getting my life together. People always tell you college is the best years of your life, but at that point I was beginning to wonder what the heck I was doing. So as I sat in my education major classes and felt absolutely no passion for the work I was doing, I knew I needed to change my major (yet again). I felt like I was going through a quarter life crisis–people have those right? I began combing the degree completion plans to see if anything really fit me. I dreaded to tell my parents because after all, they were paying for me to get a degree in something. I didnt want them to think I was wasting their hard earned dollars. I began to pray, and pray, and pray. I begged for answers because I honestly just wanted to know the direction the Lord wanted me to go.

            It was uncomfortable. The not knowing what I was doing and the struggle of wondering whether I should stick it out haunted me. Throughout the process of praying and waiting on the Lord for the next step, I realized that the only reason I truly wanted to teach was because I thought there was security in it. I thought that at least when I would graduate I would know exactly what job I was looking for. Crawling out of this comfort zone was difficult. I had to let go of my idea of job security and embrace the Lords right hand in this season of my life and allow him to show me the path He wanted for me, not the one I was trying to force.

            From a young age, I had loved art. I enjoyed arts and crafts at camp and I liked doodling and drawing. While I never took many art classes in school I took one in high my senior year and loved it. I never considered a degree in the arts because I did not think one could make a decent living out of it. Looking back now, I see how foolish I was to put God in a box. I stepped out of the comfort zone of the major I felt was correct and into the unknown major of Graphic Design. My family was a little skeptical at first, especially since this was my third major. I cant say I blamed them, but I felt the Lords presence over the whole circumstance. It was scary to step into a brand new degree plan and start all over. It was scary to step into something that I felt no real security in. That being said, it was comforting to know I had stepped into something that I felt the Lords hand all over. Just as the Lord says in end of that passage, Do not fear; I will help you He helped me in the same way.

            That was two years ago. I had never used a Mac computer, and didnt even know how to turn it on in my first class. I had no idea about photography, or hand lettering, or what the Adobe programs were. All I knew was that the Lord had put me in this degree program and wanted me there. Now as a recent college graduate with a degree in Graphic Design and job that uses those skills I am grateful. I am grateful for the Lords provision. I am grateful for his prodding to step out of a comfort zone and into the unknown because it didnt just change my degree path, it change my life.

 

-Molly Hitch

 

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Getting Serious About Scripture

I have yet to read an article or hear a sermon on the unimportance of the Bible. No one is saying, “Actually, reading your Bible isn’t necessary!!” Why? Because we all know that it is important. The Bible is our sustenance, our source of comfort, the foundation for our values and beliefs as Christians. It’s the very place where we learn about Jesus; who he is, what he’s done. If we want to follow Jesus, reading the words of Jesus is a sure way to do it. Knowing all of this, why don’t we do it more? Why don’t I do it more?

I’m preaching to myself, here. People expect me to have it together already. I’m a pastor’s kid, an intern for a women’s ministry, I went to a Christian school, and I sing on Sunday mornings. But I can admit that I do not have it together. Not even close. There are people in my life that I am ashamedly guilty of envying because of how strong their faith is. I see the posts of people’s seemingly perfect lives- lovely Instagram pictures with Bible verses and stories of the Lord moving attached to each one- and I sit and wish that my faith were as strong as theirs. Meanwhile, I don’t make reading my Bible a priority, and I don’t run to the Lord when I’m in a crisis. I can admit this publicly because I want to change this behavior pattern that I have had for too long.

I want to get serious about chasing after the Lord. I know that God has so much more joy and hope and freedom for me, and it can be found within the pages of His word. I know this because it is perfect (Psalm 18:30), it’s true (Psalm 33:4), and it’s forever (Isaiah 40:8). These three qualities can only be used together to describe the Lord and His word, and I want to know both of them a lot better. So if you can relate to any of this, join me. I have a plan. I’m going to start in Matthew and read all the way through the New Testament. And by reading 3-4 chapters a day, I’ve found I can get it done by the end of 2015. So join me in making the Bible a priority and seeking the Lord on a daily basis. Join me in attacking the root of jealousy and getting real with Jesus and others around me.

 

-Taylor Hughes

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Are You Willing To Fight?

Are you willing to fight? I recently came across the hostage story of Kayla Muellar and could not help but think what I would do in that situation.

It also reminded me of how incredibly lucky we are to have freedom and how freedom, much like grace, isn’t free. It comes with a price. Also, it makes me think about our son whose job is to protect and serve our country. I think about how I’ve always ended our correspondence with the words KEEP PUSHING.  See, we decided that in our family we are going to fight; we are going to keep pushing no matter what because when we feel as though we cannot go on anymore, we know that we have a father in heaven that will take over. We know that no matter what GOD WINS and all that is required of us is to GO and KEEP PUSHING. Keep trying and to never give up.   As I was reading the story of Kayla Muellar and came across a letter she wrote her family, I saw how Kayla never gave up. Daily, she would look forward to the day she would be reunited with her family.   It kept her going knowing that her family would try and keep pushing through. It also mentioned how Kayla would try her hardest to be kind and spark conversation with those that held her captive. This reminded me of Philippians 1:12-14:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,  so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,  and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”

Although Kayla never actually made it home, I am confident that God used her to impact those around her. I am sure we will never hear the stories of love and kindness she showed or even forgiveness she may have given but I guarantee you someone’s life was change because of her situation.

I am also encouraged to be stronger and love deeper by her story and as I sit and visualize what I might do in that situation, I have to say that she has ignited a flame within me because of her sacrifice; reminding me yet again that Jesus did not die in vain, Grace came with a price. Freedom does as well. It’s time for Christians to stand up even if it means risking it all, to love as Jesus did. Justly. We can no longer sit back and allow evil to prevail especially when the victory is already ours. ARISE brothers and sisters, equip yourself as Ephesians 6:10-18 says:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”

-Laurie Graham

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Bearing Fruitful Branches

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” –John 15:2

Something I have been learning lately is that the Lord is constantly pruning me. After reading John 15:2 one day, I thought to myself, “I want to be even more fruitful, but why do I feel like I’m stuck? What do I need to change?”

The answer was simple. I needed to get rid of my branches that stopped bearing fruit. Like the Word says, the Lord cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. Working in a ministry minded environment though, it’s easy to think that I am always bearing fruit, so I didn’t see the branches I needed to give up to the Lord.

That’s when the Lord started to show me the branches I needed to give up to Him. Anytime I got annoyed at my sister and lashed out in anger, Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Let me cut off that branch of anger.” Anytime I had a judgmental thought or even started thinking too highly of myself, Jesus would tug on my heart and say, ”There is another branch you need to let me cut.”

I was full of branches that weren’t bearing fruit! It was time for me to allow Jesus to work on my branches. This is the part where the Word of God gets really good! The Word goes on to say that every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes so that I can be even more fruitful! Once I was willing to let go of the bad branches that I was holding onto, He was able to prune my good branches so that I could be even more fruitful.

A pastor from my church once said, “I want to look so much like Jesus that when people look at me, they see Him.” When we allow Jesus to cut off the branches that aren’t bearing fruit and prune the ones that are bearing fruit, we start to look more and more like Him to the people around us.

My question to you is what branches are you holding onto? What branch is Jesus urging you to give to Him so He can cut off the bad branches and prune the good ones? Don’t you want to look so much like Jesus that the people around you can see a reflection of Him in you?

Start asking God where in your life your branches need to be cut and allow God to prune the branches that are already bearing fruit so you can be even more fruitful for Him.

-Abigail Trent

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Your Identity in Christ

It happens to all of us. That moment when you step back and realize that this life goes by really fast. You feel like before you know it, it will be over. “Is 2015 really three-fourths of the way over already? How did that happen?” Last night I was eating dinner with my family and looked at my younger brother who just turned 11 and thought, “I remember when I was 11… It felt like yesterday!” As the waves of memories and nostalgia hit me I started thinking, “I’m 20 now and what do I have to show for my life? There’s so much more I want to do and so much I want to see! What if I run out of time to do everything?” I was sharing my thoughts with a godly friend of mine and after I began to settle down from my “mid-college-crisis” he helped me remember some important things: What is most important to me? Having a good time?—that’s selfish. Having a life that others look at and think, “Wow, she sure is cool!”—that’s prideful. Your life is an idol if having a noteworthy, fun or comfortable life is what matters most to you. The problem isn’t having goals, ambitions or things you desire to do. The problem is when you cannot be satisfied unless you can reach those goals. When we surrender our desires to Jesus we’re saying, “God, this is what I want, but I want You more so even if it never happens, You are still good and I still love you.” Dear friend, your identity is not being a beautiful person, it’s not being a smart person, and it’s not being a creative person or a talented person or the best player on your sports team. Some (or even all) of these things may be true ABOUT you, but they are not who you ARE. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” As a Christian, your identity is in Christ and Christ alone! You are His beloved child and you have nothing more to prove. I know I constantly need to be reminded of this, but when I start to grasp the meaning of it, a huge flood of peace washes over me. I am not defined by my past. I am not defined by how good of a person I am. I am not defined by my accomplishments. Jesus loves me and you just as we are. It has NOTHING to do about what we do an EVEYTHING to do with what He did!

Do you know what this means?

We can live fearless.

 

~Karinna Johnston

 

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How to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable World

If you are living anywhere besides under a rock, you undoubtedly know that this world is feeling anything but comfort right now. It’s as if there is a re-opened wound of hurt and hate that is gushing out into the streets. There is chaos all around, but I’m not naïve enough to think that all of the world’s problems are the ones we see in the news. There are real things that you are going through that I will never hear about from this side of Heaven.  There are real struggles that are keeping you from feeling comforted by any means. If you feel unsettled, confused, unsure, even afraid of your current situation of your life and the world, crack open a Bible with me to Isaiah 40 because the Lord has something for you to hear.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (ESV) reads:

Comfort, comfort my people,

Says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

And cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the

LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

I’m gonna let you in on something really cool here.  You are Jerusalem. It doesn’t matter what your name, age, ethnicity, race, political stance, or financial status is.

Your warfare ends with Jesus.

Your iniquity is pardoned.

But let’s go back to that first line. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” The Lord of Heaven and Creator of the universe is speaking comfort over you.  Where are you looking for your comfort? In all the chaos where or who are you running to? Jesus is the one who gives true comfort and peace and He is not sitting in Heaven withholding it to watch you squirm. That is NOT a picture of our God. He is gracious and loving, giving of all things when we ask. So let the Bible be your stronghold, your firm foundation so that when things feel out of control, you have the Word of GOD to remind you that the Lord is good and He comforts us with His love.

Let’s look back at Isaiah for a moment, though, because somehow it gets better.

Verses 3-5 say,

A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the

way of the LORD;

make straight in the desert a

highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

And every mountain and hill

be made low;

the uneven ground shall become

level,

and the rough places a plain.

and the glory of the LORD shall

be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it

together,

for the mouth of the LORD has

spoken.”

I typed out these verses exactly how they appear in my Bible and I know that they look like some kind of poem or lyrical phrase but these words are truth. The Lord is going to come to us and look at how badly He wants to. He will literally lift up every valley and He will literally bring down every mountain and hill to make the ground level so that His glory can be revealed. I don’t know about you, but that comforts me.

We have a God that can do all of these things, and yet He is so relational and loving that He cares about how we feel. You can look at Isaiah 40 as see what the Lord is capable of doing and yet He will take your burdens away and pardon your sins! He will make the ground flat in your life so that the walk is easier and HE can get the glory.

My prayer is that you would go to Jesus for comfort. Don’t ignore the brokenness that is filling our country; that’s not the solution. This is possibly the worst time for Christ followers to back down and hide from the issues we’re seeing unfold. This world needs the same comfort that we have in our Lord and it’s our job to let them know where it is. Fill yourself so that you can fill others, because when you know the truth of the Gospel, how can you be anything but comforted?

-Taylor Hughes

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The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 34:11-16 says, “For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.  And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord GOD. I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away.”

The Lord our God is our Shepherd. He is our protector and our guardian. In all our trials, he is there watching over us. He will seek us out and save us from our sins and comfort us in our defeated moments. We are never alone; he is always by our side. Throughout your life, remember you can always call to your Shepherd. He will hear your cry and come to your rescue. It is so reassuring to know that we will always have Christ to save us from ourselves. I find comfort in knowing that no matter the deep hole I find myself in, I will always have my Shepherd there to pull me out, comfort me, and guide me home. Ezekiel 34:16 says, “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away.” He will always be our good Shepherd, He will always be our protector, He will always, no matter how far we’ve been driven away, bring us back to where we’re supposed to be with Him.