The Pressure's On

The other day I was scanning through the radio stations, which is a rare occasion for me. I came across a Christian station and decided to listen to it, and a song came on whose lyrics caught my attention. The words were, "When the pressures on he's making diamonds out of dust." I know, it's cliché, but it's an awesome picture of God's grace and also how it requires pressure to make dust into something beautiful--into something of great worth.

Whenever we come under pressure and face hard times our flesh immediately cries out for it to stop, simply because it's not easy. When life get's uncomfortable our immediate response tends to be "I want out". We will get all kinds of crazy stuff thrown into our daily lives that may feel overwhelming and at times unbearable that make us want to scream "Uncle!", but we have a promise we can cling to; Jesus promises that he will never leave us. You see, over and over again we find all throughout history God bringing people through things, not taking them out. He even sometimes places people right in the thick of things. Why? Because like the image of pressure creating a beautiful diamond, that is what happens to us.

Some key things we need to always remember and allow to take root in our lives are that God loves us (John 3:16), he is for us (Rom. 8:31), and he has our best interest at heart (Rom. 8:28, Phil. 4:19). He doesn't bring us through pain and suffering just because. It is always to build us up, to refine us, to create something even more beautiful, so that we can bring Him glory.

Take a look at this verse, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." (Romans 5:3-5)

You have permission to believe the next time something difficult shows up that it’s not as an accident, but an appointment from God to take you to new places you could never have gone otherwise.

We need to learn to change our perspective when trials come because they will for sure come. Warren Wiersbe explains, that we must learn to see that the trials we face are not "accidents but appointments." You have permission to believe the next time something difficult shows up that it's not as an accident, but an appointment from God to take you to new places you could never have gone otherwise.

Wiersbe wrote, "At least in the world we know, it takes trials to make something beautiful and useful out of the raw materials of life. The student’s struggle with truth develops his intelligence; the athlete’s struggle with his records and his opponents helps to develop his muscles and coordination; the musician’s struggle with more difficult pieces develops his playing skill; and the soul’s struggle with the trials of life helps to build character.”

What a cool picture of how our life is made up of raw materials just waiting to be cultivated, like clay in the potter's hands we are being molded and shaped. Like a piece of gold we are being refined of in the fire. Like the dust under pressure we are being made into diamonds.

In closing think on these words of encouragement from Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

 
 

Why Kids Ministry

Well to be completely honest with you... it was not in the master plan at all to work with kids... in fact I was once asked to work in the kids area at my old church and the first thing that popped into my head was, "No way!!! I want to do something more exciting than that!"

I worked mainly with the youth group because I wasn't much older than them and it was fun and once I received the word I was to go into full time ministry I was excited and scared, but their was no doubt I was supposed to go to Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Now I was back and forth a little with other schools and whether I was ready or would be ready or what God had in store for me, but Bethel was and is in the plan.  

A full time job opportunity came up as a logistics specialist in a GM warehouse, so I called and got the job. The perfect opportunity to pay for Bethel... but it was a second shift job which meant no more youth group which was a little upsetting, but there was no doubt in my mind that this was a blessing from God. Although now I wasn't serving anywhere. Then out of nowhere a gal from church swooped down and asked if I would shadow her back in the kids area.

Just to clarify, I was still not interested in Sunday School. I've seen it growing up. It's terribly boring. You just run around and chase kids and try to stop them from eating paste, and then get talked back at by the older kids that didn't want to be in there. In my mind I thought that I was just helping her in one drama skit where I pretended to be her shadow...

Well I showed up just to find out that I would sit back and watch everything (not to be a shadow) and decide if I would want to join The League of Children Workers. So I stood in the back watching not knowing what to expect, but what I saw was not kids eating paste or screaming at the teachers. I saw kids excited to be back there, excited to learn about God, and excited to worship Him. I remember the first time I saw them worship! I was just completely overwhelmed with joy and excitement. That started it all for me. Naturally I tried to pull away and go to another country to get ready for Bethel, but God and the Children's Pastor had something else in mind.

Recently I've been on a journey to make my heart unified with Christ. I've been praying things like “Give me a glimpse of your heart! Show me how you feel! Let me into your head! What do you think about certain things? Break my heart for what breaks yours!” I've been getting extraordinary glimpses into the heart of Jesus! I remember one day for worship back there I just sat on the ground and put my hands out and started praying, and Jesus just let me into the moment and showed me how he felt about what was happening, how he felt about the kids pouring their hearts out to Him. I broke out in tears.

Children's ministry is an awesome adventure and not because they’re cute kids or because they are silly, but because they are in love with the father and they know what it looks like to really worship God and to fall in love. Their minds are so open to who God is! There is no box that they put the Father in! Only the ones that people will try and set up for them. I really do believe that God is so complicated that only children can understand Him.

So when are we going to stop trying to figure out who God is and start to think like the kids do? When are we going to break those walls down and say, "God show me who you really are!" and be as dependable on Him as a child is with his parents?

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” - Jesus, (Mark 10:14-15)

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Opportunity to Love

opportunity_Community_header.jpg

I realized after moving out of my childhood home that it can be really easy to start thinking in terms of a singular perspective. We have certain paradigms that we grow up with that aren't always going to be the same for everyone, and I just recently became fully aware of this idea while talking to a coworker/friend.

We had been talking about our lives growing up, and we soon both came to realize we had been raised in completely different environments. It was a good conversation with stories of childhood foolishness, good family times, and of course food. The conversation ended with my coworker jokingly saying I was just a "rich kid". I have never wanted to be completely broke financially until that moment in my life.

It wasn’t said in any demeaning way. It was simply said to show I had just been more blessed and privileged than he was. It made me think of how much we oftentimes disregard people because they aren't the same as us, how we think less of someone just because of their situation they are in that we have no understanding of. We put people at different levels of importance to us and our lives. Either one of us could have given the cold shoulder, but instead we simply didn’t care about where we came from. We both instead decided to value the fellowship and community we had with one another.

Just listen
to their story.

It's become clear to me from this situation and the last couple months, just how important love is. How important it is to just listen to other people speak for a minute and gain a new perspective. Just listen to their story. Its important to make friends with the community of people around you; that’s what makes it a community. We are all people, we all have problems, and we all need one another. There isn't one person who is better than the other, I mean I feel like I am repeating myself, but how many times do you put yourself above the various people around you? It's a big problem in our culture to try and make ourselves the center. To make what we are and have done seem like the best or the only way to do it, when there is actually no 'set' way. We are so narrow minded and don't put down our defenses long enough to gain a new perspective. I find myself doing this a lot with certain societal issues that I've had opinions about for a long time. But that’s just the problem, a lot of what we think to be the right way are just opinions we've decided to build our lives on. That is why I believe it is hard for people to actually listen sometimes.

We are all people, we all have problems, and we all need one another.

Romans 12:9-10 says, "Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other." 

Jesus stressed love so much in his ministry. Its sometimes hard for me to look around at fellow brothers and sisters and not see love being demonstrated the way that it should be. Paul talks about love in Corinthians and says it is so many things, but I think it's important to just remember love has to start with us, by making the choice to love people and seeing it as an opportunity and not a nuisance.

- Preston

 

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Community: Simplified

Jesus says a lot of good stuff in the Gospels. So much so that even when breezing over a few pages in your Bible reading plan or checking out a blog, you may still pick up some truth-packed goodies while drinking coffee and waking up. In this blog, we’ll unlock a few gems from a familiar verse: "...and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31, NASB).

Love God. Love people. Mean it. Jesus made following him pretty simple. Definitely not easy, but simple nonetheless.

Love God. Love people. Mean it. Jesus made following him pretty simple. Definitely not easy, but simple nonetheless. The complications of following Jesus come as a result of good, old-fashioned human brokenness. We fumble around in prayer with some shallow “hallelujahs” and then stumble into our families and friend groups with deep fears and insecurities. For many, the pain of seeking to simply follow Jesus and falling embarrassingly short is exhausting. The sting of those failures can leave us running into dark isolation and unhealthy spiritual independence; or spiritual co-dependence and worship of religious constructs. Gross. How do we get out of those cycles?

Jesus came to establish a Kingdom. Kingdoms are comprised of individuals. By nature, individuals flock to groups and small communities based on appearances, interests, stages of life, occupation, etc. (Pro-Tip: one commonly overlooked factor in understanding community is location. People can gather, be recognized, and appreciated best by those in proximity). The Kingdom Jesus came to establish is best known as the Church and within it are communities illustrated with age, color, economic portfolios, etc. The solution to what feels complicated in following Jesus (specifically related to loving people) is embracing that Church right where you are. The answer is Jesus-centered Community.

The way we understand community is often under-defined, worshipped, or misrepresented.

It is under-defined in the sense that it is frequently left up to personal interpretation. When someone says the word “community” it brings hundreds of pictures and nuances to mind. We all come to the table with tons of ideas about what community could and should look like and often we’re disappointed when it doesn’t turn out like we thought.

It is worshipped in a sense that once the ideas of community is solidified in our minds, we won’t be persuaded into revising those ideas. We can’t just manufacture our imagined (or preferred) communities based on what we’ve seen, read, or listened. It may not apply where we are and it may not be what we actually need.

Community is misrepresented in the fact that most of us have seen some of that good, old-fashioned human brokenness firsthand. We’ve seen mistakes made and people hurt time and time again.

All of these issues affect our opinions and preferences on community and likely come as a result of putting Jesus on the sideline. Community is very simple. Not easy; simple. We could define it using the template that the early disciples embraced, "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42, NASB).

Community is simply seeing and believing that the people within our reach are worth pursuing because Jesus pursued them. The way we chase our communities is like a gauge for how well we can love Jesus.

They understood where they were, the culture surrounding, and the mission at hand. They were a family, on a mission, at war. Our friend groups, families, and local churches didn’t just happen to us. They’re not coincidental, they are gifts from Jesus. Waiting behind the way they dress, look, talk, and even think is an opportunity to fall more in love with Jesus. It’s even the way we’re identifiable as believers. (see John 13:35)

Community isn’t an obstacle to Mark 12:30-31. It’s the means. Community is simply seeing and believing that the people within our reach are worth pursuing because Jesus pursued them. The way we chase our communities is like a gauge for how well we can love Jesus (see 1 John 4:21). With Jesus off the bench and at the center of our relationships, we begin to define community by the love we share, the God we worship, and the Gospel we represent. The rest is history.

Don’t dream of a group who looks like you and talks like you. Embrace the group that loves you and will help you look more like Jesus.

Take Action:

  • Discover Jesus’ passion for community in the gospels. Fall in love with his leadership and commitment to the growth and development of his friends.
  • Talk to leader in your life about how to get more involved in your church. If you’re a loner, don’t be. Get off your couch and go meet people. Let them push you to greatness. If you’re a social butterfly, take another look at your friend list. Who actually knows you? Who’s asking about your spiritual health? Go deeper!
  • Allow the mission to define the team. Jesus understood his mission to give the world “life and life abundantly” as the means of gauging success in his community. Don’t let your community “win” be just a board game and some snacks. Press on to know Jesus and make him known.

 

Much Love, Zac Lovelight
Children’s Director, City Life Lansing

 

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The Messiness of Community

Community is a word that is comforting yet terrifying to many. We long for community, to be surrounded by others with a common goal and heart, to love and be loved, to laugh with others and cry with others. Yet, there is something that holds many of us back from true community, and that is vulnerability.

Why? Because we are afraid. Afraid to be completely known. Afraid of being rejected. Afraid of judgement. Afraid of getting our hearts broken.

Honestly, these are all things that can happen, and many times do happen, when we are vulnerable with people, but if we do not allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable, we can never FULLY experience love. If we’re not open and honest, how can we expect to grow? If something is worthwhile there will almost certainly be some sort of risk involved, and I think experiencing love and growth are definitely worth the risk!

C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Being vulnerable is one of the bravest and most necessary things we can do as human beings.

I believe that being vulnerable is one of the bravest and most necessary things we can do as human beings.

Jefferson Bethke said, “To be truly human, is to be truly known.”

You may read that and say “Yes!”, yet still hide behind things like social media. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but how many of them know that you spend your days worrying about how you’re going to pay the rent? How many of them know that you eat your dinner alone in front of the TV every night? How many know that you dream of becoming a doctor, but can barely pass your classes? How many know why you bow your head and thank God for every meal?

I am not saying that we need to broadcast everything about our lives on social media. I am saying that we need to get into a community of people who we can interact with face-to-face-- a community of people who love each other, who believe in each other and desire to see each other grow. Paul encourages us in Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” When we’re in a community it is harder for us to hide behind false intentions and pretty masks. It’s so awesome because then we know we are kept accountable. We know that there will be someone to encourage us when we fall, and we can trust that when we are corrected it is for our good.

I’d rather take the messiness of community and possible joy, than the cleanliness of isolation and sure despair.

Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” When you take a deeper look at the word community, the prefix com- means “with” and -unity means, well, unity--oneness, unit, agreement, sameness. So community means literally “with unity” just like that psalm says, “to dwell together in unity.”

Jefferson Bethke said, “I’d rather take the messiness of community and possible joy, than the cleanliness of isolation and sure despair.” You see, we were not made to live in isolation. We were made to live WITH others. We were made to love and be loved, and the only way we can experience the true depth of that is to be vulnerable.

 

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Being who God created you to be

Being who God created you to be and settle for nothing less.

I love art.  I  love everything about art.  I love drawing and creating.  I love designing things.  I love stories, poetry, and music.  I love architecture.  I love movies, and currently I am loving photography.  I have always had a passion for the arts ever since I was little.  I loved writing and making things up!...  I remember one time lying to my parents about having to write a creative story for school so they would help me.  When I got to 4th grade, I was inspired by one of my favorite kids book authors, Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants.   So, I began to make goofy stories and added drawings to them then sold them at school.  In fact, once this started I had a hard time paying attention in school because I was so focused on drawing that I didn't really care about anything else.  I wanted to go to art school, not math school.  Then when I got out of highschool, I started to fall in love with Jesus and for some reason, I felt like I needed to give up my passion to focus on all the things of the Kingdom.  So, I put all of my drawings aside which I know now was a huge mistake...  God was never calling me to give up something He created me to do and to love.

I started an internship under a kids ministry which was a lot of fun and got me back into my creative flow.  One day the kids pastor sat me down in front of a computer and opened up photoshop and told me to design a postcard for a new curriculum we were going to use, and boy was that a challenge... but that challenge threw me into a whole new world of art that I quickly fell in love with: Graphic Design.  It was great because I could be creative and do it for God.  Now, I'm in an internship in Costa Rica where I have gotten to experiment with a lot of different ideas like websites, logos, emails, business cards, and more, but art still wasn't a big focus of mine, more like a side talent that I could use.  But then my best pal, Preston sent me a video of a photographer named, Jeremy Cowart and his story and all the amazing things he was doing in the world.  It gave me a whole new mind set on my gifts and coming back to who God created me to be.

It inspired me to dream big on ways to use my talents for the Kingdom.  A film director by the name of Darren Wilson, Creator of Finger of God, once said, "Be who God created you to be and then own it."  I heard a message from a speaker in my ministry school talking about how we label what's important in Christianity and what's not.  We are all called to give God our all, but then just jump into the most talked about things... like being a pastor or fighting against human trafficking or being a missionary.  Don't get me wrong these are important things, very important things and it's our duty as a church to do these things, but my fear is that we will have people who were created for and have specific talents for something else but they want to be recognized or feel like they're doing something "important" but God does not look at things that way.  He created everyone with a purpose…  If you love painting, paint for the glory of God, if you love dancing, dance for the glory of God, if you love drumming, do it for the glory of God, and do it because you love it.  It's not bad to love doing what God created you to do.  You should love it and be passionate about it.

Someone once said, if you are created to be an author but never write a book because you don't think you're  good enough, in heaven you'll still be called an author.  Why?  Because an apple tree is still an apple tree even if doesn't produce fruit.  Let’s be known on Earth for what we are in Heaven.

To sum it all up what I’m trying to say is that we were created with passions and for purposes and I think the best thing to do is to lean into those with everything you are.  Fully become who God created you to be even if it doesn’t seem “important”, because it is important!   I recently have had a desire to go around the world and help out missionaries by creating their designs and taking photos for them…  I feel like this will be an amazing way to use what God has given me and what I take pleasure in for the Kingdom.  I don’t know how to get there or when that will happen but what I do know is that God created me with gifts and passions and I intend on pursuing them and you should too.

 

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Way Too Many Compromises

I think I'd be ok to say that we all live pretty selfish lives. We think about ourselves before almost anything else. This isn't necessarily bad, it's just human nature. It is bad though when we don't let ourselves get past our first initial self centered thoughts.

There have been so many times where I've been in situations and all I can think about is me. The situation I keep finding myself doing this is when I am walking by the homeless. I try not to make eye contact with them. I walk briskly by and sometimes even ignore them when they try and make conversation. I know, I know, I'm a jerk. But I've now made it a point to just embrace the opportunity to show love to anyone at anytime. What could I possibly have that is more important than spreading Christ's love?

The big idea here is that we make way too many compromises. Let's look at this in a big picture way. Throughout life we make excuses when situations come our way. We start to think certain things are more important than the Kingdom. We are too old or young to live out the desires God has placed in our hearts, the list goes on, but God has given us specific gifts and tasks to do and they bring glory to Him.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
— John 17:4

It can be hard to stay focused on the work that God has given us. But that is the whole point to our existence. I've noticed that It's always pretty easy for young people to have big goals and dreams that seem impossible, but are willing to work hard and not let the odds mean anything to them. And I've seen and experienced myself, the reaction older people have to young dreamers. It's a mixture of excitement and jerkiness. To me it shows that maybe they had dreams that they compromised so they could do "life", when in reality compromising your dreams takes all the life out of living. This isn't a bash on the older generations, it's more of a callback to your dreams. It can be hard to look back at your life and realize you didn't really do what you wanted. It can be paralyzing, but it doesn’t have to be.

God wants a generation of elderly people who are willing to change, even though they are told they cannot.
— Francis Chan, You and me Forever

If it's hard for young people to find themselves and what they love, and express that with their life, it has to be a million times harder for older people who compromised themselves for an "ordinary" life. It's never too late to make a change though. We have to think selflessly and remember that the dreams God has put in us are our jobs, the work that will bring Him glory.

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