He is faithful.

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There’s a space on my bookshelf lined with patterned, leather, and wire-bound books with pages and pages of stories, prayers, and my heart poured out on paper. I don't know when or how it started, but I’ve been a journaler for as long as I can remember. For years, I hadn't had the desire (or been brave enough) to pull them off the shelf and actually relive those years—until just a few months ago.

One Saturday, I sat on the side of my bed with stacks of dusty, mismatched journals in my lap and began to wade through over 15 years of my life. Within minutes of flipping through the pages, I couldn't help but cringe, and so wanted to tell my 21-year-old self: “What the heck are you doing, Honey!?” I could hardly keep reading, but I hunkered down and read through the seasons of my life scribbled down on paper. The "college and single" years when I was such a mess and so apathetic towards the Lord. The "newlywed" years full of selfishness and pride; with lots of growing up to do. The years in the trenches of being a "new mom", with self pity and exhaustion on repeat. I read it all.

As weighty as it felt and as frustrated as I was with my younger self, I sat there Not able to escape the overwhelming theme running through my life:

God was always patient, always compassionate,and always faithful in my life.

He never stopped pursuing that mess-of-a-girl in those pages, and He never stopped loving me.

With each page, I saw my heart slowly (and I mean slowly) grasping more of The Gospel. I could see my heart changing towards people, towards my husband, and towards God. I started recognizing my sin quicker and began to see my weaknesses as a way for The Lord to be strong in my life.

 

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.Philippians 1:6

 

Throughout this sermon series, Embracing the Tension, we’ve explored different topics of grace and truth—some harder than others to discuss, but each week we looked to God’s Word and waded through topics that cause a little pull in all of our hearts. Some of us might have left some Sundays feeling weighty and frustrated that we “just can’t pull it together” in some areas Or even struggled with some of the hard truths of what God has called us to.

I bet, just like me, if you looked back over a broad view of your life you’d see the same thread I do — Jesus patiently working and moving in your heart in ways you may not have always seen. God revealing truths to you that, although once hard to grasp, are now a firm foundation in your life.

Think about it: Looking back, what areas or seasons of your life have you seen the Lord’s faithfulness? His patience towards you as you’ve grown in your faith? Thank Him for His faithful pursuit of your heart and that He promises He will continue the good work He has begun in you.

Prayer: Father God, your love and patience blow me away. Thank you for your faithfulness in my life and that even when I’m a mess, you never give up on me. God, help me trust and believe your promise that you will continue the work you have begun in my life until Christ Jesus returns. Amen.

 

/LCrabtree/ 

The sin talk.

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For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was invited by a senior boy I had a crush on to a Young Life club. What started out as a way to see “the boy” more—ended up changing my life. After the crazy games and fun mixers slowed down, things got a little calmer and quieter as we sat down on the floor to hear someone speak. 

If you don’t know what Young Life is, it’s an outreach ministry that focuses on meeting kids where they are— incorporating crazy, fun elements funneling into one purpose—sharing the Good News of Jesus.

I came back time and time again, and as the weeks progressed the “Talks” (preaching portion) began to change. What I didn’t know then, but know now, is the pattern and format was completely on purpose. The talk progression walked through the Gospel—Our Need. Sin. The Cross. Resurrection. 

I remember the night of the Sin Talk feeling weighty and heavy and not understanding why the guy was such a buzz-kill. I preferred hearing about the fun stuff—God’s love, His kindness, His grace.  

But that night, I remember sitting in the tension of what sin and hell actually meant for me.

For the wages of Sin is Death

The next week, we piled back in my friend’s living room and heard the rest of the story—The Cross changed everything, and because of Jesus we are saved from our Sin and Hell.

My husband and I went on to work with Young Life for 8 years and got the privilege of seeing lives changed over and over again by the power of the Gospel—souls going from darkness to light from hearing that weighty, not-so-fun-to-talk-about truth that sin separates us from God, for eternity.

Knowing I had to write on this topic made me think about hell more than I probably ever have. Like really dwell on it and mull over its reality and horror. I opened my Bible to remind myself what the Word says about. The more I studied, the reality rang true—Jesus talked about Hell far more than he did Heaven…

It about brings me to tears as I write, because the reality is, because of Jesus’ love for us, He couldn’t stop talking about what He so desperately wanted to save us from! Because of His compassion, he just couldn’t shut up about it!

 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

 John 17:24 

I wonder if in a lot of ways we need to shift our thinking from speaking of sin and hell as “too harsh,” to quite possibly the most compassionate, loving thing we could ever talk about with our lost friends. 

Think about it:  Have you sat in the weight of what Jesus has saved you from lately? Whom have you held back from talking about eternity with? Ask the Lord today today to give you the boldness to speak the truth in love to a lost friend, family member, or co-worker about their life in light of eternity.

Prayer: Lord, give me your compassion for my friends. Fill me with your boldness to share The Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are so lost and do not know the truth of their eternal life.  Thank you for the Cross and thank you for the people in my life that were brave enough to share the Gospel with me so that I can know where my hope lies. 

More about YoungLife in the Upper Cumberland area HERE!

 

/LCrabtree/

Putting Away

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A Minnesota boy by birth, cold weather is definitely some of my favorite weather. Now - lets not get crazy. When the temperature drops to -22 and the wind chill puts it at -40, that is just insane. Minnesota is half full of winter days that fit that "insane" definition. However, Fall begins at the beginning of September in Minnesota. Like, real Fall. Leaves start changing, temperatures start dropping. 50 and 60 degree days start to become a reality and I start to love being outdoors. Fall can run into the beginning of November, and then after that it is best to stay in doors for about 5 months. I never thought it could be better than a Minnesota Fall, until I experienced the long, drawn-out, Tennessee Fall that often times stretches into mid-December. 

The Fall represents the passing away of a season for me, the "putting away" of the toil. The old is dying away and rest is coming. The fruit bearing plants have all sung their song and harvest is finishing off the labor they created. Fall is like nature closing the door, kicking back in the comfy chair and untying the work boots. Things are ending, but things have to end. The ending can be beautiful. When the year has been pleasant, the Fall becomes a celebration of success. When the year has been rough, then many times the Fall is a celebration that the rough has been well endured. 

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NLT)

There will be a "putting away" in our lives. Some of us have Minnesota Falls that come early and leave quick. Others have Tennessee Falls that come later, but linger much longer. God is clear throughout his word though - the season of putting away, harvesting, is going to fade away and give into the season of rest. Eternity is something that has already begun - but it continues to progress towards a physical end, but a spiritual continue. The harvest we put away is what will sustain us through the winter. We can't ignore the time of harvest and we can't lose track of ourselves as we "put away". At the physical end we will come face to face with what our harvest has given us. Our only hope is that we have Christ beside us to celebrate and rest in the harvest we have finished. 

Think about: There are spiritual consequences to our work and toil, our harvest and putting away. Are you prepared for that? Have you sought out the Hope we have been offered through Christ? Jesus, the one who winters with us and brings us comfort at the end of a successful or hard season?

Pray: Lord, you are the one who who created Fall, modeled for us in nature the "putting away" of life and work and toil. I reach out to you and ask that as I start to put away for my physical winter that is approaching, that you will help me to "put away" for my spiritual winter that is also approaching. Help me to "harvest" well in the relationships you have given me this week by sharing of your goodness and love.

 

 

/LRamey/

The Here and Hereafter

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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

 

One of my favorite Christian bands is Rend Collective Experiment.  I love both the unique sound of their music and the thoughtful lyrics in their songs.  The first time I ever took notice of this band was when I heard their song “Build Your Kingdom Here” on the radio.  It immediately captured my rapt attention because the message of the song rang so true in my spirit.   Here are the lyrics from the chorus:

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

 

The song is about what happens when God’s power is released in God’s people to bring His rule and reign to earth.  It’s about restoration, renewal, healing, and victory over the darkness.

But my favorite aspect of this song is that it’s a timely anthem for us in the present.  It’s NOT a song that points longingly to some abstract point in the future.  Instead, it’s about what God can do through us right now to bring his kingdom rule to the atmosphere around us here and now. 

When we think about Heaven as believers, we often consider it as primarily an abstract thing a long way off from us that we will experience at some point in our future.  We know from Scripture that it will be wonderful because we will be with Jesus, and we won’t experience any more sin or sorrow.

But did you know that our eternal life has already started?  The moment you became a believer, you were born of the spirit (John 3:5-8).  It is this spirit life that Jesus is talking about when he said that he came so that we can have life and have it abundantly.  He is referring BOTH to life here and in the hereafter

This vibrant life in the spirit has the power and ability to impact the physical atmosphere around us.  Our spirit life is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it can and actually should influence our physical world.  More lyrics from the song, “Build Your Kingdom Here”:

Unleash Your kingdom's power
Reaching the near and far
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
Oh, and we are the hope
On earth

 

Starting today you can bring God’s abundant life into your family, your workplace, your activities, and your appointments.  Wherever you go, you have the opportunity to bring hope and joy.  Your very presence, because of the Holy Spirit inside of you, can cause the darkness to flee and allow God’s beauty to change hearts.

Think About:  Do I believe God wants to bring me abundant life? Am I fully embracing all that Jesus came to bring me?  Are there dead places in my spirit and heart that I could allow God to bring back to life?  Does this heavenly joy in my life impact those around me? 

Pray:  Father, thank you for this vibrant life that you have given me.  Please help me to walk in all the fullness of your joy, hope, and love.  Empower me to change the atmosphere around me with your kingdom power.  I want to build your kingdom here and in the hereafter. 

 

**Link to Rend Collective's music video of "Build Your Kingdom Here".

 

/JGreene/

the lost boy.

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I was on the capped-ice floor of the, then named, BiLo Center in Greenville South Carolina and I could feel the emotion rise up within me. It was that emotion flood that builds pressure and only an extreme cry could release. I had just received a call from the person watching Andrew, they were backstage eating lunch in catering while I was out getting my booth set-up on the concourse of the arena. This was a typical day for me - but it was also a treat because my son was joining me for the event. The voice on the other end of the phone was frantic - "He's gone... I turned around and he was just gone. I can't find him anywhere."

I dropped what I was doing and ran down the stairs to the floor of the arena - trying to cut past all the production set up in hopes of getting to his last known location as quickly as possible. It felt like a decade passed by. As I spun around to scan the room to see if possibly he was lost in the main room - I heard: "There he is!" A co-worker had found a little blonde haired boy roaming around completely lost. When Andrew was asked where his parents were he said "My dad is counting shirts and he probably needs my help." That was enough information to help identify both who Andrew was and who his dad was. I was overwhelmed with joy to know where my son was and his first words to me were: "Where are all the shirts?"

To be direct, our loved ones don't know they are lost, but we do! When we grasp the heaviness of eternity and the reality that there are only two options given in scripture, we should be instinctively moved to run to find our loved ones and make sure they are safe. Andrew didn't know he was lost and he didn't realize that there was danger involved in a 4 year old boy running freely in an arena. Chances are good that we all have friends and family who don't know the dangers of eternity without Jesus.

With Andrew, I didn't need to find him and explain all the dangers he faced roaming free. At four years old, driving fear of what could happen isn't likely the best option. With your loved ones - driving fear in them isn't likely the best option - but ignoring eternity isn't either.

Think about: Here are 3 ways to talk about eternity this week:

  1. Remember a lost loved one, and share that memory with a friend. Many times when someone can talk about eternity in the light of a different person facing it - this helps them to form better and less emotional conclusions. 
  2. Realign a light-hearted comment about Hell. Like Steve shared on Sunday, helping people understand that Hell isn't a joking matter helps to realign the view of eternity and cause people to think about it more seriously.
  3. Talk about the good, talk about the good, talk about the good. For the Christ-follower, there is infinitely more "better" to talk about. Don't be shy to major on how heaven is better than what we have now. Often times these conversations can lead to talking more about the "why" behind the decision to follow Christ.

Pray: God, thank you for taking care of my future. As I interact with friends and family this week - help me to talk about how you have taken care of my future and how you are interested in taking care of their's as well. Give me courage. Give me desire to share my faith. Amen.

 

/LRamey/