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Living Fully Alive

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It’s incredible the perspective you receive by watching young children grow. Watching life go by through their eyes shows us such a level of innocence and purity. They see things without the filter of a broken world and find joy in almost anything! I see that in the hearts of my three little ones. Over the past few years as my children have been discovering the love of Jesus Christ, I can see their perspective on life soar to new levels! They ask exciting deep questions about God’s creation and His plans for their lives. They want to know how God fits into our every day routine and how He handles the hard stuff of life. It’s challenged me as I try to answer all these wonderings but it’s so fun to watch them discover His love.

In a few short weeks we are going to have an incredible opportunity to minister to many young hearts from our church and community. Vacation Bible School (VBS) is fast approaching! This year’s theme is AMPED; AMPED VBS will bring to life true stories from the Bible and capture a kid’s imagination. AMPED will help kids understand God is with us, God has a plan for us, Jesus is alive and and we are part of a bigger story. We will do that by looking into the lives of people like Joseph, Esther, Paul, the early church and Jesus himself! We are confident God is going to show up in a big way during our week and many hearts will be touched and changed as His Word and promises are brought forth! Please join us in prayer for this amazing event and for the young hearts that will be joining us as we discover the love of Jesus together!

– Paula Adams

Where Are All the Nations?

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“Go and make disciples of all nations” – Jesus in Matthew 28:19

Shortly before Jesus ascended back to heaven, He gave His apostles a clear commission. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Then on the day that He actually departed, He made the commission very specific to His first followers, when He said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!” (Acts 1:8)

It wasn’t long before the apostles did what Jesus commanded. With some persecutors pushing them, they went from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria, and then on to the ends of the earth as they knew it. Paul went west to Italy, while tradition says that Thomas went east as far as India. To make disciples of all nations, they went to all the nations. Many centuries later, missionaries from Europe went to a new nation that they discovered, now known as the United States of America!

By God’s grace, many of our ancestors received the gospel message. Then they received the same commission that the apostles received, to go and make disciples of all nations. So the churches of America, including the Federated Church, began sending missionaries out to the ends of the earth. For over 75 years, we have been making disciples in many nations.

But in the 21st Century, something amazing is happening in America: the nations are coming to us! People from all over the world are coming to the United States to study (international students), or to escape from persecution (refugees), or to live and work in our country (immigrants). So where are “all the nations”? They’re all over the world and they are here!

Building Bridges in Our Relationships

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God is relational and due to the fact that we were made in His image we are also “relational beings”. Our calling in life is to pursue a deepening relationship with God and a deepening relationship with others. I believe that when Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments, (Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength – and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37)), He was encouraging us to make the pursuit of a deepening relationship with God and a deepening relationship with others a top priority. In order for us to “deepen” relationships though, effort and energy are required. Much like the construction world, you can work hard at building a bridge but you must also take steps to maintain that bridge or it will eventually deteriorate and collapse!

So it is in our most important relationships. We can begin a relationship with God by faith in Jesus, but we must work at deepening that relationship through spending time with God in prayer, solitude, and in the daily intake of His Word! And in our human relationships, we can have many casual friends (or acquaintances might be a better word), but in order to deepen our relationship with at least a few to the point where “iron sharpens iroonn” (Proverbs 27:17), we must invest time and effort.

This month in our worship services we will take a closer look at the importance of various relationships and how we can deepen them. But since this is Valentine’s month, allow me to share just three tips for maintaining one of the most important human relationships in life – that of “marriage”.

  1. Speak Up – in a healthy relationshship, if something is bothering you, it is best to respectfully talk about it instead of holding it in. In our marriage we must “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and if you are on the receiving end of something you may not like to hear, remember that “wounds of a friend can be trusted.” Proverbs 27:6)
  2. Compromise and Sacrifice – usually when we end up compromising with our spouse, that’s what it feels like – like we are sacrificing what we want in order to give them what they think they need or want! But “giving of ourselves” is what Christ did for each one of us and we are called to exhibit this kind of self-denial and sacrificial love toward the one whom we said “I do”! (Ephheesians 5:24-25)
  3. Love your husband or wife deeply but love God supremely! Our relationship with the “love of our life” can never deliver to us all that we need – and it wasn’t meant to do that! Only God can be “all things” to us – no human being has the capacity to fill the deep needs and longings that can only be satisfied by a deepening relationshipp with God. I think that’s why Jesus suggested this particular order in Matthew 22:37: Love God first and supremely and then, out of the overflow of that love, love others deeply as well. You will never “squeeze” out of your spouse all the deep needs and longings that are in your heart – only as you love God first and supremely will those needs be met. The amazing thing is however, that out of the abundance of both loving God and receiving His love, you will be empowered to love your spouse more deeply than ever before!

Resurrection and Reward

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“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in  that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:22-23)

Jesus was very clear that to be a true follower of Him would mean trouble and persecution. Jesus warned his disciples that “…all men will hate you because of me…” (Matthew 10:22) and “If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first – if they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:18, 20) The Apostle Paul reinforced Jesus warning when he told Timothy “…everyone who wants  to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Timothy 3:12)

Jesus says “blessed are you” when we endure persecution for the sake of being obedient to Jesus…but who really wants this blessing? Well, I don’t think Jesus told His followers this so that they would go out “looking” for persecution! But Jesus also knew that if they were to be truly obedient to His will and commands there would be hardship and rejection. So Jesus gave His disciples something to hang on to – something to help them endure the suffering they may encounter in following Him. Jesus gave them a reason they could “leap for joy” in the midst of their persecution – “great is your reward in heaven!” There is in the life to come an eternal reward and joy that will far outweigh any rejection or suffering that we might have to endure for the sake of following Jesus!

While I don’t believe Jesus wants us to only be motivated by the thought of rewards, I do believe Jesus talked about rewards to motivate us to continue to be faithful especially in the midst of suffering, injustice, and opposition. In Matthew 16:27 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.” Paul also talks about “…each one being rewarded according to his own labor.”  (I Corinthians 3:8) Now, while I believe that Jesus Himself will be our “great reward”, I also think that the Scriptures teach that there are greater rewards for those who endure through persecution and remain faithful to Christ. The question is: Do we really believe this? Are we willing to suffer now and to face rejection now in order to receive a greater reward in eternity? Who would really believe that the reward and joy that Jesus promises in the future is infinitely worth more than whatever it may cost to be obedient to Jesus now? And the answer is – only those who really believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! The Resurrection of Jesus assures us among other things that Jesus can and will keep His promises. Jesus said in John 2:19 “Destroy this temple (His body) and I will raise it again.” Who could promise such a thing and keep their promise – only Jesus! And if He kept that promise, we can be sure that He will keep this promise as well; that those who endure suffering and persecution because of His name will be greatly rewarded! You can believe it so much that, as a follower of Jesus, you can “leap for joy” over it!

“He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6)

A lesson from Job

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Remember one lesson from our study of Job…all of us as followers of Jesus will face trials and adversity. How we respond to those trials will either harden our hearts towards God (like the egg!) or soften our hearts towards God (like the potato!). “Blessed is the man or woman who perseveres under trial, for when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has PROMISED to those who love Him!” (James 1:12)