merry christmas

Merry Christmas

May you and your family experience anew the hope, love, joy, and peace that first came over 2,000 years ago when God did the unthinkable — when He stepped down and was born in a manger.

Merry Christmas to all of our students, partners, and readers of our blog!

What is Theology?

Theology. It tends to have a negative connotation for many Christians. It conjures up images of stuffy old men spending hours studying scripture just so they can tell people when they are wrong about God. It’s often tied to those who are judgmental, hypocritical, and angry.

For many Christians, just the mention of the word makes their eyes gloss over. We simply don’t understand what theology means.

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Jesus is Here

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27

Christ in you.
It truly is the hope of glory.

We don’t serve a God who lives somewhere out there — beyond the clouds in the depths of the universe so far away it seems as if He’s impossible to find. He isn’t lounging on a cloud somewhere while cherubim feed him grapes.

That’s what a lot of us picture when we think of God.

He’s in heaven.
We’re on earth.

He’s somewhere out there over the rainbow. Sure, we can come to Him with the big things of life. Troubles. Strife. Sickness. Direction.

But the little things? The every day, drag myself out of bed and go to work things? He’s far too distant, far too important for those things.

At least, that would be true if we served a distant god.

But our God isn’t distant. He isn’t over the rainbow. He isn’t lounging on a cloud and impossible to get to.

Our God, Jesus, is in us.

It’s the wondrous mystery only found in Christianity.

Jesus is close enough to know everything about you — your first thoughts when you wake up, your last thoughts before you go to sleep, the insecurities you have about yourself, the fears, doubts and worries you struggle with, your deepest desires, your darkest secrets, what you really wanted to say to that person who hurt you.

He knows everything about you.
And He cares about it all.

The beauty of serving a God so close is that He cares about everything in your life. Tweet this

You don’t have to reach Him. You don’t have to find Him. You don’t have to strive to achieve some level of perfection to get His attention.

Jesus is here. He is in you.
And He cares about everything in your life.

How would truly believing that Jesus is here change how you see yourself? Leave a comment below.

Tools to Study Your Bible

A few months back, I wrote a post listing some tips to studying your Bible. It even included a nifty downloadable workbook you could use to grow in your Bible studying skills.

It was a pretty popular post, but I kept getting a single question from readers after that post published: What tools do you use to actually study your bible?

It’s a great question, and one I asked when I started studying my Bible.

The right tools can help you make the most of your time studying, and make it easier to find scripture verses again later on. Read more

A nice entry

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5 Tips to Thrive in Your Faith the First Week of College

Millions of students around the country will venture off this week (or some week very soon) to college. They will pack their bags, make the journey to the college they chose, and settle in for an amazing adventure. It will be an exciting, scary, sad, and exhilarating week.

But the first week of college also holds some pitfalls.

Statistically, 60-80% of incoming college freshmen who were actively involved in a Christian youth group during high school will walk away from their faith, many in this first week. That’s alarming.

Tips to Thrive

So how do you avoid being one of those statistics? Here are a few tips to thrive in your faith on campus:

  1. Get Involved in a Christian Group on Campus You might have to do some digging to find one, but most college campuses have at least one Christian organization on campus. It will help you connect with other believers, build friendships, and continue actively pursuing God. Can’t find a group? Consider starting an Ignite group on your campus! Contact us to learn more.
  2. Spend Time with God Daily Being on your own for the first time can be overwhelming. Make sure you set aside time every day to spend with God. The pull to get involved with everything on campus will be strong – and try to eat up any time you have to pursue Christ. Schedule your time, especially during the first week when you’re trying to figure out your schedule.
  3. Be Careful Who You Spend Time With Typically, within the first month, you will have started the friendships that will carry you through your college career. Choose wisely. There may be some lonely moments if you choose not to drink and party, but the people you surround yourself with will be an indicator of who you become. Who do you want to become?
  4. Get Involved Find organizations on campus you’re interested in, and get involved! Like to write? Join the newspaper. Like to plan events? Join the student programming association. Gifted to lead? Run for student body or dorm leadership. Like sports? Join a team or play in intramural leagues. Getting involved in activities you like will help you meet new people and enjoy your time at college.
  5. Be Yourself The temptation will be strong, especially during the first week, to do whatever it takes to fit in. Don’t give in. Be yourself and you’ll find those people who like you for who you are, not who you pretend to be. Trust me, it will save you a lot of heartache and pain later if you learn to just be yourself and not worry if people don’t like you.

These 5 tips will help you to not only survive your first week of college with your faith in tact, but also to thrive. Getting involved in a Christian organization as soon as possible will help your faith grow as you surround yourself with other believers and reach out to those who don’t know Him.

Resources to Help You Grow

Looking for ways to grow your faith while in college? Check out our resources section for a number of devotions, how-to manuals, and more all designed to help you passionately pursue Christ and transform your college campus for Him.

What other ways can you thrive the first week of school?

Background photo credit: Sewanee: The University of the South via photopin cc

A Far Greater Purpose

 This post was written by Justin Holden. Justin is an American missionary with WME living and working in the town of Liberec, Czech Republic. Our Czech trip team was privileged to meet him during our time at Kristfest. You can learn more about Justin and the work he is doing in the Czech Republic on his website – justinholden.me.

Before going to Kristfest I was told I was going to be the only American there.  There was a mix of excitement and fear when I heard that – excitement that I would have so many opportunities to speak Czech, fear because I would have so many “opportunities” to speak Czech.

So I got to Kristfest, and I found out that I was not going to be the only American there.  What wonderful news!  I was looking forward to meet the other Americans, but I was also a little “iffy” about it, because sometimes Americans can be a little high-maintenance.  I soon found out how high-maintenance Jason was! (Just kidding, Jason!  You know I love you!)

But really, it was great getting to meet the Ignite team – incredibly great, really.

Just to rewind for a moment, living in Czech has been a dream come true.  As a missionary, you get to see a lot of things, come to know a lot of people, and really see lives changed.  I have known for a long time of the call of God on my life to be a missionary, but in the waiting period it felt like God kind of forgot about me.  Moving here reaffirmed in me that God didn’t forget about me, and that he wants to do big things, even with a person like me.

Being on the mission’s field has a price, though.  Part of that price, for me, is being so far from my family.  Just a week before Kristfest, I came back from visiting my family back in America.  My family isn’t perfect by any means, but we love each other.  Actually, we have been through so much together, and we have formed some deep bonds through all of the trials we’ve faced together.  Being in America was wonderful, but leaving never gets easier.  In fact, just the opposite, it gets harder and harder to leave my family behind.

Fast-forwarding back to Kristfest, the Ignite team couldn’t have known how I felt, or what it was like for me.  I did the ministry thing and let there be “less of me and more of [Jesus],” and that was the attitude I had throughout Kristfest.  No matter how I felt, I know that God has me here, and I will follow him, despite how hard it might feel at the moment.

Getting to know them was so easy; we all just clicked.  Looking back, it was kind of a nice “half step” to getting back into the groove of things here.  The team was so accepting and so encouraging.  We didn’t do anything particularly spiritual together – we just acted like “home”.  We had fun, laughed at each other, got sick together, played card games and totally freaked out some Slovaks that have no idea what it means to have a good ole, American time together. (Seriously, that night I think we laughed so loud the entire camp heard us!)

It’s worth mentioning that God obviously had some plans for all of us meeting.  One night while we were praying for other people, we ended up getting prayed for and prophesied over by Correy, the speaker from Australia that preached that night.  Correy started praying first for Ian, and as we saw that we kind of all gather together to pray for Ian at the same time as Correy.  I didn’t hear much of anything that was said to Ian, but I felt the presence of God.  Then Correy moved to Jason, so naturally I moved behind Jason to pray for him as well.  I wasn’t planning to have Correy pray for me, though.  Honestly, I don’t consider myself very important when it comes to response time after a preaching.  I usually have the focus of praying for other people that need God to touch their lives.

As I was praying for Jason, Correy reaches right over him to prophesy some things to me as well.  The crazy thing is that the prophecy was for both Jason and myself.  One of the things that stuck out to me was when Correy said, “You aren’t meant to just be in the background.”

That sentence got to me; it opened my mind to how narrowly I look at the plan of God.  I see myself in the Czech Republic and I see that he has me working with a local church in a city in the north.  That’s a great honor, but it isn’t something “glamorous” to me.  That’s totally fine with me; I don’t need the glamour or the fame – I just want to serve him.  In fact, I love serving in general; I’ll do whatever I can to help and serve someone else.  Where I was off, though, was that God has so much more in store.  He wants to start a movement in the Czech Republic, and he brought me here to be a part of that.

It is amazing how God speaks during times like that.  If Correy had just been praying for Jason at that moment, I could totally understand it.  Of course Jason isn’t meant to stay in the background.  Of course he is meant to be a key part in touching this nation and influencing the Body of Christ in this country.  Even the least spiritually sensitive person can glean that information just from talking to him about Czech.

God wanted to remind me, though, that he has a greater reason for me to be here.  The things he has called me to do and he has gifted me in will be put to use, and it will further his kingdom.  Essentially, God was putting a challenge to me, and that challenge is to trust his purpose in my life.  It’s not always easy, and the cost is often high, but following the call is always worth it.

Throughout the entire week, the Holy Spirit kept bringing the verse from Mark 10:29-31.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (ESV)

After Kristfest, I went to Prague to spend as much time as I could with my new friends.  When it came time for me to leave, Jason gathered the team together to pray for me.  That was a second blessing, because it was so good to be looked at and have the value in me called out once again by people I had only just met.  Not only did they bless me with their prayers, but they also reaffirmed (yet again) the things that God has been speaking to me for years.

So, I’ve never been to Ignite, and I have no idea where Monmouth, Illinois is, but I know that God is doing some great things in that place.  The team that came was so wonderful, and I am so proud to be able to say that I met them.  I’m so proud to know that we are all a part of the same family, and that God is uniting his children in amazing ways to encourage, lift up and to call out the potential he has placed inside of each one of us.

I just want to leave you all with this one thought:  No matter where you are in life, and no matter what you are feeling, God wants you to know that he has a purpose and a plan for you.  You are not forgotten, but you are loved, and with him, you are a part of something far greater than yourself.

 

 

Set on Fire

This post was written by Christina Durante, a member of our Czech 2014 mission trip. This is her story.

Going to Czech this year with Ignite was my first missions trip, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I knew (well, hoped!) that I would be able to have a huge positive impact on the lives of those I was serving, but I didn’t actually think God would move in me in the immense way that He did.

During the second week we were there, we were able to participate in an amazing worship night (led by Rivers and Robots, a band from Manchester…if you don’t know them, definitely check them out!). One of the songs that was played said, “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain and I can’t control; I want more of you, God.” These words stirred something up inside of me that I can’t explain, but I had a sudden desire for God that was stronger than I’ve ever felt before. I felt like there was nothing I could do that would get me as close to Him as I wanted to be at that moment (believe me, I tried – I even attempted to stand on a chair during the song just to be two feet taller). Before the trip, my faith was drained, and I was kind of just “going through the motions” as a lot of people call it. In that very moment of worship though, I had never sang anything truer: I could honestly say that I wanted more of God than ever before, and I wanted Him to totally overwhelm me with His presence.

The sequence of events that happened is all kind of a blur now that we’ve been “back in reality” for a week or so. However, it was around this same worship night that Jason gave a message about what it truly meant to be a disciple of Jesus – following so closely to Him that the dust from His feet would kick up on you as you walked behind Him. The combination of this message with the worship night we experienced prompted me to rededicate myself to God, sincerely asking Him to set me on fire for Him because I can’t get enough of Him. I can honestly say that I’ve never been on fire as I am for God now, and the years during high school and college that I lost Him and was searching for Him have finally ended. This trip showed me that God had been reaching for me the whole time; I just had to reach back. I’ve always known “God has a plan for me”, but there’s a huge difference between knowing this and believing it. After this trip, I can say that I not only believe it, but am excited for it too.

The trip wasn’t all about me though like I’ve made it sound so far. During this same week, we spent lots of time praying for people at Kristfest. I’m not the most comfortable praying out loud for people, especially people who don’t speak my language (thank God for Lucie, our translator!), but sometimes God puts us in the places we feel least comfortable to reveal Himself the most. That’s exactly what happened one night while I was praying for a girl during worship. She had told our translator that she felt like God didn’t love her. When the translator told me this, all I said to her was: “You are good enough.” She immediately broke down crying, and continued to cry into my shoulder while I prayed for her to believe that she deserved God’s love and He loved her no matter what. I’ve never felt used by God in a way that had this big of an impact before. Being able to tell someone that she is good enough for the Creator of the universe to love is something that can totally change someone’s life, and there was something powerful that happened during this night of prayer with this girl. I can’t really think of the words to say to describe it…but it was everything I imagined a “God moment” to be.

This trip has left a lasting impact on my life. There aren’t enough stories to tell or pictures to see that explain the way God changed me during this trip. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to go on this trip, and to anyone reading this, thank you for your support and prayers in sending a team to Czech. You have had such a powerful influence on the lives of those who went and those who were served, and that influence will last longer than a lifetime.

 

 

My Faith is a Rom Com Cliche

This post was written by Jill Turley, a member of our Czech 2014 mission trip. This is her story.

You know that moment in a lot of romantic comedies where two complete strangers happen to literally run into each other for no reason other than the plot calls for it and these two strangers end up falling completely in love with each other and become more important than life itself? When you see it as a viewer, it’s really corny, completely cliché, you absolutely see it coming, but if the movie’s good enough, you don’t even care and you find it really beautiful? That’s my faith.

When I first heard about the trip to Czech and was considering going, it didn’t really seem like that big or hard of a decision. I’d been out of the country before, and I’d been on missions trips before (a very different kind, but missions nonetheless). My biggest concerns were: would the job I was applying for at the same time interfere with the trip, would I be able to eat the food, and would my parents go for the idea of going to a random country with a guy I’d known for 6 months (I’m very much an adult, but seeing as I still live in their home, they do have some say in the matter). Well, I didn’t even complete the job application, I was confident in my ability to eat new foods when I know I have to, and after a little convincing my parents were on board too. At that point, I was genuinely happy that I would get to go on this trip, but I didn’t really feel the excitement that other people did, and I didn’t fully comprehend the impact the trip would make on my life. Now that I’m a week into being home, I realized, like a rom com character, how naïve I was. When we first arrived I felt completely like a fish out of water. I was in a strange country, with a strange language, with all these people that I was just trying to remember names, I couldn’t understand signs or even the currency we were using, I had gone over 30 hours without any real sleep, and I was just overwhelmed and tired. I didn’t entirely know what to say because I didn’t know how much each person could understand. I didn’t know how to start a conversation with someone from halfway across the world that I just met. I didn’t know all these things, and yet I was supposed to be some sort of spiritual inspiration in these people’s lives? Looking back, I know I had an impact. I know because a room of 30+ people raised their hands to say that our team made a difference to them in some way, and I know that statistically I had to have contributed to those hands. I know because I prayed with people and felt something within me, as I know they did too. I know because I felt strong walking around completely exposed in a circle of people talking about insecurities and pointing out my own, and that shouldn’t be possible. I know because, through Christ, talking about my life and the lives of others and having faith during the hardest of times, I made almost everyone in a room of 59 people cry and feel something strong and moving. I didn’t make an impact because I knew the language or had this deep spiritual wisdom that no one else I encountered in Czech had. I made an impact simply because I was myself. I talked and prayed with and got to know the people I would anywhere else: the people I could relate to. The teenage girls that I could understand because I was in their shoes a short time ago. The young women my age that if we went to the same college, I know for a fact that we would be friends. The women frustrated at their families (particularly some men) for not embracing faith and God the way these women feel that their families should. The ones searching for reason for all the messed up stuff going on in their lives. The ones that don’t feel like they’re worth it for insert inaccurate reasoning here. The guys that were easy to talk to and you just want to have fun and interesting conversations with. I know that I probably didn’t greatly affect any men in their 30’s, and that’s alright, because that’s not who God called me there to impact. I didn’t expect to make that many friends when we arrived in Czech. Even throughout the trip, I didn’t think I would have that many people I really held close to me. There were moments throughout the trip when I had seen a lot of people tearing up at the thought of leaving. I had remained oddly calm at these times (especially because the best thing that tends to make me cry is seeing people I care about crying) for the majority of the trip. It wasn’t until our very last night in Prague, mere hours before we needed to wake up at an unholy hour in the morning and make our way to the airport and start our journey home. We said our last goodbye to our last friend we had made in the country, and it finally hit me: all these wonderful people that were doing amazing things were gone. At the very least, the next time I would get to see any of them in person would be in a year’s time. That’s if I even got to go again next year. The teams are small, there might be people who haven’t gone at all that get to go instead of me, I might have a job that won’t allow me to take the time off. The possibility of not getting to see these people in person again absolutely terrified me. I more than teared up, I full on started weeping (much to the concern of my poor teammate/roommate who was trying to sleep like a normal person). I normally don’t completely miss people, it’s one of my character flaws. I’m sitting here REALLY missing my Czech friends right now. Now while the idea that I might not get to see them in person again still scares me, I know that that’s not going to stop me from making an impact on them, and them making an impact on me. I have dozens of new Facebook friends that I get some sort of message from every other day. I have every intention of staying in touch, and doing whatever I can to be able to go back. Even though there’s a lot that we don’t have in common, there’s a lot that we do, our faith being the biggest thing. We all run to God in our times of need and our times of rejoicing (not all the time but we all make the effort) and that’s an amazing and beautiful thing to share. We were all brought together to support each other, to open up to one another, to trust that a complete stranger can become a great friend, to love each other. Like a rom com cliché, Czech and I ran into each other out of nowhere and formed a bond that can’t be broken. And to me, that’s the most beautiful way it could have happened.    

Sow & Water

As I went back to the Czech Republic for the second year in a row, I had high expectations for the entire trip. Last year I had seen God perform miracles, seen lost come to hear about Christ, and countless people recommit their lives to Christ. I had seen God move powerfully, and I was fully prepared to see Him move again.

It became clear soon after we landed, however, that this trip was not like last year’s. During the first week I found myself scrambling to keep up with changing plans, missed my devotions, and did not talk to one person from outside the Church about Christ.

Things seemed to only get worse during the second week: the camp we stayed at had multiple issues, transportation was difficult, and my spirits fell. I looked at what had happened during the trip and all I could think of was how this trip had not lived up to last year’s trip. I had failed. Even worse, God had not shown up.

But then, the night before we left to come back home, I found myself reading 1 Corinthians 3, and suddenly I understood. Last year’s trip had been a year of planting, in which we had preached to the lost, prayed for the broken, and cared for the hurting, but this year was a year of watering.

I had encouraged a girl who gave her life to Christ after our visit last year.

We led a retreat to bring the youth of the local church into a closer relationship with God.

We had even been the prayer team for a worship night featuring a band from Manchester and a preacher from Australia.

I had forgotten that sometimes, God sends us to strengthen those already in the Kingdom. New Christians are always a good thing, but all Christians need care, and this year we had been the love of God to Christians who needed it.

This trip had not been a waste, it had simply been different. I had spent the entire two weeks trying to plant new seeds and bring new people to Christ, and in doing so I had almost missed all of the watering and growing of experienced Christians that God had been doing. Last year we had planted. This year we watered.

I can hardly wait to see what God will harvest.

Read it for yourself: 1 Corinthians 3:5-9