No Shortcuts

The movie Hoosiers has always been one of my all time favorite movies. In the movie, Coach Norman Dale of Hickory High School is trying to teach a young basketball team discipline and fundamentals.  He wanted to teach them the things that would make them a better team and better players in the long run.  These teenage guys didn't fully understand or like it at first because they didn't want to put the needed work in to becoming better.

Have you ever taken a short-cut in your personal life? Maybe copied answers off someone's homework when you were too lazy to do your own. Or not put in the necessary effort on your job but yet still got paid as if you did.  Our society today, is all about taking short-cuts.  We want the fast track to money, success, and getting ahead of the next person.  You have young athletes in most sports now that are taking supplements and steroids in order to quickly get an edge on the competition at the expense of both their physical and emotional health. Most people have gotten to the point where they aren't willing to work for things anymore.

The same is true with some people's Christianity.  They don't read or study the Bible, they don't pray, they don't spend time listening to God and because of that they simply coast through their walk with God just waiting for heaven.   As a result, their walk with God is shallow and empty and their life bears no lasting fruit and has no impact for Jesus Christ.  True Christianity is about a growing and maturing relationship that takes work.  Living by faith will never come easy.  Trusting in God in the face of trials will not come without it's share of lumps and bruises along the way.  Closeness to God will never come by wearing a Christian T-shirt, or simply going to church, or listening to Christian radio.  It will come by daily study of the Word of God, fervent and faithful prayer, and willingness to sacrifice the things of the world that get in the way. We as growing followers of Christ must never become satisfied or content with staying still when it comes to our spiritual walk.

The apostle Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:12 when he says, "Not that I have already attained it or am already perfected; but I press on that I might lay hold of that which Christ Jesus laid hold of me."  

What Paul is basically saying here is that even though I am saved, I am far from perfect, and am still a  work in progress so my goal is to press on to work harder to know Christ more and have a deeper relationship with Him.  He knew that their was always room to grow and mature as a follower of Christ, no that he could never just settle or kick back and coast until eternity.

Your Christian walk is a process. There are no shortcuts to being a disciple of Jesus Christ and having a deep walk with Him. Are you moving forward with Him today? Are you pressing on to deeper more intimate places with Him or are you still trying to take short-cuts?

Don't Fade Away

The things we attach ourselves to can affect us in many ways.  Most of the desires and the things of this world can even be our downfall.  Satan wants many people to view "sinful actions and temptations" as normal and harmless. He will whisper things in our ears like "just once wont hurt" or "it's only natural".  I wonder how many people's lives and families have been destroyed by the "just once" moments?  The very real truth of the matter is those actions and sinful desires left unchecked almost always become behavioral patterns, lifestyles, and habits.  The more you hangout in sin's driveway, the more likely you will be to come inside.  If you have a mindset like most of the world, then you will live for pleasure and what you feel is right.  You will validate who you are and what you do by a "worldly mindset" and by popular opinion.  However, the tragedy comes when people knowingly take a cruise on a sinking ship even though they were warned.  Do you think the people aboard the Titanic would have still gotten aboard the ship had they known about the iceberg ahead and the certain destruction to come?  They would be foolish to do so.  So in the same way God warns us about what will happen if we attach ourselves too closely to the things of this world.  If you cling to the things that the world places importance on, then you will perish when those things perish. When this world fades away, your life will fade away with it.   Ultimately, the thing you are clinging to in the end will either save you or destroy you.  Pay attention to the traps and pitfalls of this world and listen for God's warning.  Don't trade temporary "worldly" pleasure for lasting eternal gain. The world is fading away and will be destroyed in the end. The Titanic will sink, it is a given fact.  But you don't have to jump on board. You can stay off the boat.  Don't fade away with the rest of the world.  God offers you a rescue.  It is an eternal life vest in the form of His son Jesus Christ.  If you cling to Him you will never fade away but have the promise to live forever.

1 John 2:16-17 (NLT)- "For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.  These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave.  But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever."

Wake Up

Have you ever tried to wake up a person who is a deep sleeper?  I can remember in college, pulling all night study sessions the night before an exam. Then then the next day I would drift off during the test and the only thing that would get my attention would be when my professor forcefully shook my desk.  It go my attention, startled me, and drastically woke me up to a test covered in drool. 

Sometimes we are guilty of falling asleep in our spiritual lives.  We get too comfortable, kind of just live life on auto pilot.  We are programmed Christians, who are basically good people, who go to church, and claim the name of Christ.  However, there is no real passion for God, no desperately seeking Him, or a life of service for Him that would involve any real sense of urgency or risk-taking.  That is why we need God to step in and wake us up. Sometimes it takes tragedy, or pain, or challenging circumstances to get our attention. But out of the pain comes something beautiful and life changing.  Seems today the world is full of complacent Christians who are sleepwalking through life aimlessly. They need now more than ever for the love of Christ and the power of a Risen Savior to re-awaken them to the life of purpose and victory they were created for.

Romans 13:11 says it this way, "This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed."

So now is the time to wake up. Now is the time to hear God's voice and respond. To live and love passionately.  To make disciples. Don't keep hitting the snooze alarm on your life when God has something for you to do for Him.

 

Just Trust

In this life we all can get overwhelmed at times.  We all need help when the load and stress of life piles on us.  It is not a question of whether storms will come, but rather where we go when they hit us.  As Christians, do we really trust God with every circumstance and detail of our lives'? Or are we relying on our own strength to get us through.

I can remember as a kid trying to learn to ride a bike.  My dad would usually guide me and would hold one hand under the seat to keep me from falling.  However, after a little while, I would try and push his hand away because I honestly thought that I didn't need him.  I was big enough to do it myself, or so I thought. For a split second I would be okay, but a little later on down the road I would wreck, fall off the bike, and get hurt.  Sometimes, I would get mad at my dad because I got hurt and he didn't keep me from getting hurt. Many of us do the same thing with God.  We get to the point in our life where we think we can do alright on our own. We make our own decisions and live our lives' without praying or seeking God on things.  Eventually, we get hurt when life gets hard.  Then we turn around and often get mad at God and point the finger at him for allowing the hurt.  Which is ironic, because we pushed him away and didn't lean on him when we should have all along.

Wanting God to always make sense to us and to do things our way and act on our schedule is not really trust? It is not the complete surrender or humility that He desires from us.  He is God and we are human. He doesn't answer to us or need us. We need Him and we were created in His image for His glory alone.  When we simply trust Him fully, we can let Him be in control and guide us even when we cannot see all the details ahead. We can let Him hold the bike and keep His hand on the seat to guide. We can also cling tight to His strength to hold us through all the stresses and storms of this life.

Proverbs 3:5,6- "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

 

Sold Out

Have you ever been to a drink machine and wanted a certain drink and pressed the button, and all of a sudden this red light pops up saying "Sold Out"?  No matter how many times you smack, hit, or even jump on the machine, you aren't going to get that soda.  It can be a frustrating thing.

Well being "Sold Out "  for God means that no matter what trouble life throws at you, no matter how many times people try to pull you down, or Satan tries to tempt you; you won't budge and you wont give in.  Why? Because you aren't available to anything else because your heart and life belong to God and Him alone.  This will always leave Satan frustrated because he knows no matter how hard he hits you, your faith in God cannot be shaken.

If you are truly "Sold Out " then the rest of the world will no longer have to guess whether or not you truly follow Christ.  You will follow Christ at work, at school, at home, everywhere you go. You will follow the same in both good times and bad times.  The good news of Christ's salvation will have power in your life and it will transform others, who will see it in a bold and real way in your life.

Romans 1:16 says this: For I am not ashamed of the Good News about Christ.  It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes..."

Are you 100% "Sold Out" to Christ alone? Do you live your life unashamed, so that others know that regardless of what happens to you in life, your faith in God will stand?

 

Satisfaction

There was a song years ago by the band The Rolling Stones that said "I can't get no satisfaction...But I try, But I try."  These lyrics seem to sum up many of our lives.  Our lives at times, seem to be this constant search for satisfaction and fulfillment.  We will try by any means necessary to get it too.  But don't you ever just get tired of the chase? It is endless, and it can be truly exhausting.  The Bible says in Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart."  The Bible also tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to us.

Looking to earthly things to fill a God void in our life will always leave us empty.  Making God the main source of your affections and desires will bring true fulfillment.  God loves it when you and I delight and find joy in Him because this is what we were created for. The world fades and is constantly changing, which means our desires will change with it and we will never be fully satisfied.  However, God is forever unchanging and we can have all of His love, all of His forgiveness, and all of His peace.  If we have a relationship with Him it will last forever.  So the question must be asked today: what do you delight in?  Where are you looking for satisfaction ? And does it truly fill every part of you?

Cry Out to Jesus

On October 14, 1987, in the town of Midland, TX, a 2 year old baby girl named Jessica McClure was playing alone in her backyard.  Her aunt had simply left her alone for only a brief moment, when she came back she was terrified to find that little Jessica had fallen down 30 feet into an abandoned well.  While she lay in this well, her leg became wedged alongside her body in the narrow crevice of the well.  As rescuers were dispatched with heavy equipment to free her, she lay helpless in the bottom of this deep dark well.  All she could do was cry out for help, to cry out to be rescued.  For nearly 50 hours she cried out in desperation that someone would reach down and save her.  With time running out, a man named Robert O'Donnell, who was the primary rescuer at the site, was able to get down and cut through the rock just enough to touch baby Jessica.  He was then able to eventually dislodge her and bring her to safety, while all of America watched in great anticipation and her family and friends celebrated a miraculous rescue.

Many of us at different times in our lives', have found ourselves in dark places.  Maybe it is due to a certain sin, or depression, or tragedy in our life.  The pit for us, at that particular time, may make us feel like we are so far down that we don't think anyone could ever reach us or rescue us.  It is in those moments of desperation that we can cry out to God. God hears our cries.  He has compassion for us in our time of weakness. His powerful arms of grace and mercy stretches to even the deepest and darkest places.  So never give up hope and never be afraid to cry out to Jesus in even the darkest times of your life.

Psalm 40:1-2 - "I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire."

God's Word-The Sure Guide

Imagine that you are being rolled into the operating room to remove a tumor on your brain.  The moment right before you get your sleeping gas you lean up and ask the surgeon, "Are you sure you know your way around the brain?"   The surgeon replies "sure" but then he adds, "well to be honest with you I never actually studied my assigned textbooks on the brain, but I am sure I can feel my way through it."  How secure or safe would you feel after hearing that?  Like that surgeon many of us never study or read the Bible like we should.  We are basically left to try and "feel our way" through life and the results are often disastrous.

With God's Word as our guide, as our textbook for this life, we no longer have to guess our way through life just hoping the decisions we make are right.  We can know with full assurance that God is leading us and since He created us and knows everything about us, then He also knows the best way.  The world is dark and full of traps, crooked roads, and pitfalls. God's word enables us to stay straight, secure, and strong in a fallen world of confusion.  Let God's Word the Bible, be your constant guide each and every day so that you can be sure of your decisions and direction in this life.

Psalms 119:105 (New Living) - "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."

Life is Fragile: Handle with Care

Life is unexpected sometimes.  Stuff happens to us and though we would like to stop some of it from happening, the truth is we can't.  Why? It is simply out of our hands and out of our control.  Whether you recognize it on a daily basis or not, you don't control your life.  You don't just get up in the morning and tell yourself to breathe because that power to do so is beyond you and your capabilities as a human being.  Someone else makes you breathe, Some one bigger and more powerful than you are gave you the ability to have life.  We tend to forget in the rush of this rat race called our lives that everyday we have is important, we can't relive or redo any minute or second or hour that has already been completed. So why do we take life for granted?

I think often times it is because we fail to remember that our life is a gift, not a right but rather a privilege granted to us by a great God who breathed His life into us.  Most people would say that they like to get gifts from others whether it's for Christmas or a birthday or other special occasion.  When I was younger, my grandma would always send me the best gifts.  They would usually come in a package from the post office that read: Fragile: Handle with Care.  My grandma wanted it to be known that the gift was special and needed to be handled that way.  God is saying the same thing to many of us about the gift of Life that he gave us. It is very precious and of extreme worth and should be handled with care. Don't waste it.

You see we live in a society where human life has lost it's value to many. We do what we want, when we want, and to who we want without any thought to the consequences. However, there are always consequences maybe not instantly, but they always come.

So Jesus stepped out of heaven, came to this earth, lived, died and rose again to get our attention. It was personal. His death brought us the opportunity to have life and not just any life; but a life that was full of His love, free from our sin, and full of His forgiveness. In John 10:10, He says, "My purpose is that they might have a life, a life that's more abundant and free."

The bottom line is this, that God's purpose for your life is simple. That you live your life, that He gave you, with purpose. With the full understanding that you are not promised tomorrow. Be careful how you live. Make the most of every opportunity. Be full of His love and spread that love to others for as long as you have breath.

 

Taste and See for Yourself

What do you do when something is really good? You let everyone know. Whether it is important news, a movie, or food.  Have you ever been around someone who was starving and ate something really good; and there was no sound or expression on their face as they ate? No, they will let you know the food is good by their sounds and expressions.  Maybe they will even be wearing some of it on their shirt.

Why do you and I worship God? Number one is because that is what we were created for from the beginning. However, we also worship Him because He is good! His ways are always perfect and right and His grace and love towards us never ends!  Our worship becomes our response to our encounter and experience with a good and holy God.  It is our expression of who He is to us.  Often times that response comes out in a song, in our words, in our attitude, and in the way we live our lives. It makes up who we are as people.

Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." .  What this means is that if you've really, truly, experienced the living God, you will find that He is good! You will respond to that goodness. Those that don't respond have either forgotten His goodness, are distracted, or have never truly experienced who He is in their lives.

Psalm 100:1-5 describes how all the earth shouts to God with celebration and comes before Him to worship with gladness.  David begins to reflect in these verses, on the victories of a mighty God and His love and faithfulness toward each generation of people. As David reflects on all of this, he is overwhelmed with thankfulness towards God and responds.

How do you worship? When was the last time you reflected on who God is and what He has done for you? Take some time to reflect on God's unfailing love towards you and respond to Him today.  My prayer is that I would constantly be hungry for God and that I would taste and see that He is good each and every day!

Student Blog Post by Hannah Wade

   On Wednesday, Nate brought a message on idolatry.  For a lot of people, including myself, that hit home.  While we can easily put it out of our minds that we are idolizing something, most of us can't escape the realization that we struggle with it.  I struggle with making an idol out of social media.  I know that I do, but up until Wednesday night, I could let it sit in the back of my mind and promise to myself that I'd start spending more time with God eventually.  Honestly, I think that's how we all are.  When we realize that we are sinning, we want to just hide it or put it where we think God can't see it.  That's where we always run into the problem, though.  We become so ashamed and prideful that we won't come before God and say, "Hey, can you help me figure this out? I can't do it on my own."

   That night, I tried to figure out how to better dedicate my time and to give more time to God.  While I was thinking about that, I realized how ridiculous I was truly being.  We tend to think that the only way we can spend time with God is through reading the Bible and praying.  Although those are very important ways of getting closer with God, there are other things you can do too.  For example, if you find yourself having a hard time understanding part of what you are reading, Google that verse and find it in different translations. You can also read other verses around that verse to figure out what might have been happening.  If you want to find out what the Bible says about specific things, then you can Google verses about *insert topic here*.  You can even do a search on most Bible apps. There is also a topical index in every Bible. Did you even know that your Bible had an index?  You can find all kinds of things from what the Bible says about money, to what the Bible says about family.  There are also tons of websites like www.godtube.com, where you can watch Christian videos (this is where our youth pastor Nate gets some of his videos).  Journaling after reading your Bible also will help you comprehend things (at least for me it does).  Even if you just write something short like what happened or what God told you when you read it.  Christian music also helps and is really easy to find.  You can find a FREE Christian playlist on anywhere from Pandora to YouTube.  Even if you are exercising or cleaning, you can still be worshipping God without having to drop everything (although taking time to spend ALONE TIME with God is important too).

   We have so many opportunities to spend time with God, that there shouldn't be any excuses for why we can't spend time with Him.  We, myself included, have to stop being so lazy and reach out to God.

~Hannah

 

Unleash the Outbreak

 Outbreak, the word usually doesn't have a good meaning. We think of words like virus, flu, Black plague, AIDS, and the list goes on and on.  We might think about the movie Contagion, where this killer deadly flu like virus spreads from person to person. It starts in China, moves to Minnesota, and then California and then all over.  People sneeze, begin to vomit, turn pale and then keel over and die.  All that being said, what if the word outbreak had a positive meaning?What if God's love spread just as contagious as a virus.  What if we who are believers in Jesus Christ spread the gospel and message of salvation with such intensity that others caught it? What if God's love and truth in our words and actions spread passionately like a world-wide epidemic?  In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, Jesus makes the call to his disciples for such an outbreak. He tells them to go into all nations and make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Also, in Acts 1:8, the early church is called to this mission when He says, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

The call is clear, the mission is powerful and contagious, and we are the carriers to the world. It is time to unleash the Outbreak of Christ's Love.

 

Almost Doesn't Count

In life there are a lot of things that you can almost do and still get away with, even though you probably shouldn't.  You can almost study for a test and still pass.  You can almost clean your room.  You can almost work and still collect a paycheck.  You can almost do a lot of different things in your life and fool almost everyone but God.  You see when it comes to following God, almost doesn't count.  A person can't almost follow Jesus, you either do or you don't. A person who thinks they might almost go to heaven still lands in hell.  You and I were not created for living an almost or halfway life.  Jesus says that He came that we might have a life that was abundant and full.  We were meant and designed for impact and to live a life that is LOUD for God.  Does a football team in the championship game get a trophy, even if they almost score the winning touchdown on the final drive?  No. They still lost. It doesn't matter if they finish on the 1 yard line or at midfield at the end of the game because the final score says they lost.  Jesus wants everything. He is calling you to follow Him with all that you are and have. 

In Luke 10:27, He says to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;" .  Nowhere in that verse do you find the words almost or half.  As a true Christian and follower of Christ you are making a commitment to love with all your heart, soul, mind, body, and strength.  There is no room for half-heartedness.  I am glad that Jesus didn't almost go to the cross and almost die for my sin. He was fully committed to the task of paying the price for my sin so I can fully be free from the power of sin and death.

God is not almost calling each of us to live for and follow Him.  He is calling us.  He desires us to respond and be fully committed to follow Him with all of our being wherever He leads.

Product

           

            When I reflect on the current state of youth ministry in the church; I automatically become aware of many red flags and dangers.  Many of our students have this kind of idea that they are following a hip, cool, and flashy Jesus.  Our services are fun and culturally relevant as to not lose this generation, but at what cost. Now I am not saying that our youth meetings should be a drag, but entertainment and drawing students in should never be the focal point.  The method of reaching students may change but the message can never be watered down or diluted for the sake of being relevant.  The bottom line is what are our students following? Are they really following Christ or more of a brand or idea that is not founded in truth.  Do they understand that Jesus was not a popular celebrity or icon and that the crowds shouted to “crucify Him!”?  Truly following and making Jesus Lord of their lives, will never be popular in a world going in the opposite direction. I find that I am frequently asking myself the following question.  Am I as a student minister, leading in such a way that these students will stand on the truth of the Word of God, even if they have to stand alone?

When others look at the product of our labor as youth leaders, what do they see? Is it just some kids wearing Christian clothing or sporting youth group brands with nothing of substance coming from their lives’?  Is there any difference between them and the rest of the world? Are we equipping warriors who use arrows of love and truth to reach the generation around them? Do we teach them and challenge them to walk with God and push them in the truth of Scripture even if they don’t like us? If we as ministers to students care more about popularity than the spiritual state of students; they will do the same.  I pray that as a student minister my life is producing more than an endless cycle of baby Christians who never grow up to be leaders for Christ in a lost world.

Leading Our Youth Out of Egypt

 

             If you take the time to read the first 3 chapters of Exodus you can see that God had a unique and special job for Moses.  First, we must look at who Moses was and what he came from? Then we must also look at what he was doing when God called him.  In the first half of Exodus chapter 2, he was an orphan abandoned as a baby, put in a basket and pushed down the Nile River.  In the second half of chapter 2, he was a murderer and a wanderer.  He had just killed an Egyptian man and fled.  In chapter 3, He has migrated into becoming a sheep- herder.  When God first appears to him, he is tending a flock of sheep on the far side of the desert.  There was nothing at all glamorous about what he was doing.

            You see we are under this impression sometimes that in order for God to use us we have to be this glamorous, energetic, and flashy person.  We tend to think that bigger is better.  If only we had a bigger budget, a larger facility, more students, and entertaining programs; then God could really do something great.  It has taken me a long time in youth ministry to realize that God doesn’t want ability as much as He wants my availability.  The reality is, the same God who spoke and it was, doesn’t need us.  We get to be invited to be a part of what He is doing.  We get to be called by His voice. 

            So God called Moses, this orphan, murderer, and shepherd to be a part of His amazing plan to redeem His people.  Moses definitely was not the most talented and presentable.  When God called Moses out of the burning bush, He got Moses’ attention.  God had to get Moses’ attention because He was calling him to a huge task.  He was calling him to lead the people of Israel, His people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt.

            In the same way many of our youth today are like the people of Israel during the time of Moses.  Many of them are in bondage and slavery.  Just look around and you will see the strongholds of loneliness, depression, addiction, and materialism in their lives’.  Just as God was calling Moses to lead His people to freedom; He is calling us as youth leaders, parents, and mentors to lead today’s generation of teenagers out of their own personal Egypt into the promised land of freedom in Christ. Will you be a Moses and answer the call? Will you rely on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to be used as a vessel for change?

           

Desperation

Desperation and brokenness in our lives pushes us to rely not on the natural things of the world but rather the supernatural things of God.  Desperation by definition means something done out of an extreme urgency or as a last resort.  Most people live like its business as usual with no thought as to the value of every breath of their God-given life. Even many Christians live their lives without any sense of urgency when it comes to the way they talk and act.  If you look at the Christian culture, we have published millions of books, produced many Christian films and music albums, and we market Jesus T-shirts and bumper stickers. We even have mints with Bible verses on them so we can witness to someone while having fresh breath.  I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these things, but if you look at the non-Christian world around you many of it still remains unfazed, even with all of this stuff.  Many who are lost are still rejecting the truth while finding themselves in hopeless and desperate situations.  So what changes things? What changes lives? Desperate times call for desperate measures.  We as believers in Christ need desperation.  We need desperate praying, desperate loving, and desperate living.  We don't need more Jesus branded stuff, more flash, more entertainment, or simply doing things for God.  We need complete desperation for God.  We need brokenness. We need less of us and more of Him and His presence in our lives will automatically bring change, healing, and transformation.  Psalm 51:17 says this, "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and humble heart, O God you will not despise."  May our prayer be that we constantly remain desperate for God and the things of Him and not our own happiness, agenda, or exaltation.

Youth Connect Groups 2014

Exalt youth Connect groups officially launched here at the end of March.  Connect groups are a great way for our students to build relationships with each other and to connect with God in a smaller environment. Connect groups will offer times to hang out, have home bible studies and discussion groups, as well as worship and missions opportunities. They provide an atmosphere that encourages unity, service, and sharing with each other. The ultimate goal of these groups is community and equipping students to walk in maturity with Christ.  Our adult leaders are committed to these groups and will lead, love, listen, and guide.  All groups meet at least once a month and we have groups for middle school guys and girls as well as both high school guys and girls. We will keep everyone posted of dates and times during the weekly Exalt youth worship service. If you are a student or an adult and you would like to get plugged in to a Connect group please contact Nate Malone @ (803)209-5939 or nate@chesterfreedom.com.