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Starting New Chapters

This past weekend, a number of Ignite Monmouth members walked across the front lawn of Monmouth College for the last time. Amid the clapping and picture taking, tears and goodbyes, these former students are now college graduates.

They started a whole new chapter in their lives.

They said goodbye to the place they called home for four years, to venture out into the unknown.
They are leaving dorm rooms for apartments.
Cafeterias for kitchens.
School work for desk work.
And security for the hope of employment.

A new chapter has begun.

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With You

This past weekend as my girlfriend and I were leaving church for the 45 minute drive to Monmouth, a warning came over the radio. There were tornado watches in our county as well as all of the counties surrounding ours. She asked if we should turn back. Looking out the window, however, I noticed a rainbow in a blue sky. “Let’s keep going, but take a moment to remember God’s promise.” We continued.

Before long we heard another radio broadcast, this time informing us that there had been a tornado touchdown leaving massive destruction in its wake. After hearing this, we decided to pray for those affected by the damage. Yet before we could even finish our prayers the clouds opened and we found ourselves driving through blinding rain, hail, lightning, and winds. A semi was forced off the road. The car was only moving 20mph in a 65mph zone. We rounded a corner and found a truck completely engulfed in flames. My girlfriend started praying frantically for God to get us to Monmouth safely. The radio had no reception. We didn’t know what weather was still coming. We didn’t know how safe we were. The rainbow we had seen, the proof of God’s promise, seemed like the farthest thing away at that moment.

And then, for just a moment, the radio broke through. Love & the Outcome’s song “He Is With Us” come flowing through the speakers, but only long enough to get a few lines through. But for those few seconds the radio blasted the lyrics, “He is with us, He is with us – Always, Always, He is with us, He is with us, Our God is with us.” And then I started laughing.

I wasn’t laughing because I had finally snapped. The storm had not made me crack up in a fearful panic. I was laughing for joy – joy that our God was with us. He had heard our prayers. Though we were frightened and unsure about the future, God came down and whispered through the radio, “I Am with you.”

In the darkest, scariest moments of life, God is there. He does not leave when the road is tough or the path is hard to see. When the rain comes, and calamity strikes, God remains steadfast. Though the winds blow against you, and destruction looms on every side, God stands by your side. Do not get so caught up in the chaos of the moment that you forget about the peace that God offers.

It can be hard to find it. The wind and rain did not make it easy to hear past the radio static. The lightning and fire did not make it simple to stay calm. But when you put your hope in God’s hands and trust Him, He will rush in to deliver you. And, true to His promise, He will be with you until the end of the age.

Read it for yourself: Matthew 28:16-20, Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 139

Résumé

This past weekend, the students from Ignite Monmouth went out into the local community and served at the Jamieson Center. They were actively heeding the call of Christ to serve the needs of the hurting and needy in their local area, the surrounding community, and in all the world. They were the hands and feet of Jesus.

But why were they serving?

Some were there to rack up service hours – three hours on a Saturday morning will help with a semester’s required service hours. Others were there because they were hosting it; if they did not show up then they could not expect others to either. Some may even have been there just out of a desire to help others.

What all of the students may not have realized was that they were building God’s résumé in the local community. God brought each of those students to Monmouth College for various reasons, and over the weekend He chose to include them in His plan to reveal Himself to the city of Monmouth. Because these college students woke up early on a Saturday and served at the local community center, God has been glorified. People who ask will now know that the hands and feet of Jesus have worked at the Jamieson Center. The résumé of the Holy One has been updated.

To do so, the only thing these students did was reach out.

Where do you need to reach out?
Who in your city needs healing, food, or shelter today?
What are you doing to address that need?

Do not let another day go by. Step out and start helping the hurting in whatever capacity you can. You can talk about Jesus and prove God all you like, but people are looking for healing. People will believe in God when they feel His healing hand upon them, and they will trust in Christ when they feel His arms wrapped around them. Hearing, “God loves you” is hard to believe if He does not seem near.

So start serving. Enable God to work in your community through you. When employers look for a new hire, they do not look for someone who can talk a big game – they look for someone with the experience to do the job. In the same way, people are not looking for someone to tell them about God, they are looking for someone to SHOW them God.

And now the only question left unanswered falls on you.

Where will God work next?

Read it yourself: Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 1:8

Just Pray

Praying is one of the most difficult struggles for Christians today.

Reading the Bible can be tedious, but when we see the Bible sitting on the table, it reminds us that we need to read. Sin is a huge challenge, but we KNOW that we are not to participate in it, so we fight to stay away from sin.

It’s different with prayer. There is no physical reminder to call us to pray, and forgetting to make time for prayer is a very easy.

Even still, the biggest issue we have with prayer is that we do not know how to do it. Jesus taught us one prayer, but sometimes that prayer can seem rehearsed and ineffective. Other times, we have specific needs and thanks to offer God, but we are unsure how to do it. Worse still, there are times we feel as though God is not answering our prayers – either He is not listening or He feels distant and unconcerned. Our prayers go unanswered and we feel as though God never heard them in the first place. Prayer is hard!

But it does not have to be.

God wants us to call out to Him, and He does not care how we do it. He just wants to hear from us. Your prayers do not need to be eloquent pieces of work; they just need to be heartfelt. Your prayers do not need to cry out for the salvation of all souls; they just need to be an honest presentation of your heart to God. He is waiting to hear your voice today, and when He does, He will rejoice that you contacted Him in the first place (Ps. 141:2, Matt 6:7).

Even if you do not know WHAT to pray, God still wants to hear from you. Just open your heart and start talking. If you can think of nothing else to say but Jesus’ name, then cry, “Jesus!” with all you can muster, and trust God. The sweetest prayer comes not from the best words or asks for the nicest things, but from the heart that earnestly seeks to touch God.

Do not believe the lies any longer. God is waiting on the edge of His seat to hear from you. He longs to hear your voice. He looks forward to when you contact Him, you just have to start talking.

Remember: God HEARS every prayer and rejoices, He just does not answer all of them the way we want. So start now. Have a discussion with the Lord of Creation and see what He has to say to you.

Just pray.

Read it yourself: 2 Chronicles 7:14, Romans 8:26, Psalm 141:2, Matthew 6:7

Why Me?

Back in January, I was at a retreat for my Seminary education, and I was in the valley. I had realized that my relationship with God, despite being six years in the making, had become superficial and stale. I had gone through the motion of being a Christian, including prayer, preaching, and learning about God, all without building up my relationship with Him. I felt hopeless and lost. For years I had thought that I was growing towards God, and suddenly I realized that I had missed the point all along. I was at a rock-bottom place spiritually.

So I did the only thing that I could think of to do. I prayed to God. I asked Him to show me where I had gone wrong, where I needed to be, and how I could get there. I asked Him for a sign that He had not abandoned me in my superficial faith. And then I waited.

For two days I waited without a single notice from God. I was desperate, and was looking for any kind of indication that God was still hearing me. I knew that I was loved by God – the Bible had told me so, and I had read about it countless times, but that was not enough anymore. God HAD to love me – after all, He was God. But why me? Why had God decided that I personally was valuable enough to send His Son to die? What about me had attracted God to me before I was ever created?

I had to know, so I asked. I asked God to tell me why He had been drawn to me. I knew why I had been drawn to God – Revelation and fear of judgment had evolved, at one point, into a love for my Creator. But I did not know what made me special to God. So again I waited.

Finally, I received my answer. God told me why He loved ME. Thus began my slow climb back out of the valley.

Have you ever asked God why He loves you in particular? Do you know what it is about you that makes you so special to God that He was willing to send His son? There is something, and God wants to tell you what it is. He loves you dearly – enough to come and die for you. Because He loves you, He is not going to stay silent forever. Just ask.

“Why me?”

He is just waiting for you to ask.

Jesus Pooped

Fully divine. Fully human.
That’s how we describe Jesus.

It’s been the popular way of understanding our Savior for over 1,900 years, and for good reason: it fits. Jesus was both God AND man.

For most of that time, we humans have been struggling to understand what this statement about Jesus really means. Battles over orthodoxy and heresy were fought on this point, and the challenge remains today.

The difficulty is not in the first half. Jesus IS God. He could have turned stones to bread, overthrown the Romans, or called angels to take Him down from the cross. We know that he had this power. We call on Jesus to rescue us from our sins, from our temptations, and even death because we know that He has the power to overcome all of these things. He did it once, and He promised to do it for us. Jesus has the entirety of the divine power of God in Him.

But Jesus was also fully human. It is this half of the statement that gives us trouble. To say that Jesus was fully human means that Jesus had weaknesses. Even thinking something like this feels like we are cheating Jesus out of His divinity – it feels almost blasphemous!

Yet, Jesus DID take on the weaknesses of the human condition. Throughout His ministry Jesus experienced intense cravings, powerful emotions, and all of the weaknesses of the human body – all so that He could fully redeem us.

He grew tired and needed rest.
He felt happiness, grief, and anger.
He became hungry and thirsty.

And if Jesus ate food, then Jesus pooped.

These two facts have many implications: Jesus got indigestion, stomachaches, headaches, muscle cramps, and all of the “minor” pains we experience, purely out of love for us.

Jesus DID come to take our sins and redeem us on the cross, but He also came to experience what we experience so that He could feel our pains, and through that feeling redeem us as well.

It is for THAT reason why we are able to offer ALL of our troubles to God – because through Jesus, God has experienced them first hand. God sees and comforts us when our hearts are breaking and our faith is weak. When our world comes crashing down, He wants us to turn to Him and allow Him to heal us.

He also cares about our little problems. When your stomach hurts, God wants to send healing. When your body aches from a workout that was too intense, God wants to send comfort. If your teeth hurt because you ate too much candy, God wants to ease the pain. We just never seem to offer it to Him. But He DOES want to help.

So, next time your stomach hurts, just remember: Jesus knows what you’re going through. Jesus pooped.

Read it yourself: John 4:6, John 19:28, Matthew 4:2, Luke 23:26, John 11:33-35, Galatians 3:13

The Faith of Joshua

What is faith? Before my trip to Czech, I had never found a satisfying answer. I had asked around – I knew what my friends and elders said faith was. Faith was, “believing in what is unseen” or, “knowing despite all evidence something was true.” Sure, these definitions worked, but they always seemed to leave something out. I never could figure out what that something was, though.

As a result, I came to understand faith in God as, “I believe that God exists, so I have faith in God.” Faith went no farther than a belief in God’s existence – it had no effect on my actions except as a constant caution not to disobey. Faith rested solely on my shoulders…and it left my definition of faith dead.

The Czech Republic changed how I understood faith completely. When I was in Czech, my group and I were stuck in the middle of Cesky Tesin with about 20 minutes until dinner and outreaches in the local neighborhood started. It was pouring rain, and we were huddled in a tunnel waiting for it to stop. It did not look like it was going to subside. Naturally, Joshua asking God to stop the sun came to mind. After mulling it over, which involved plenty of questioning if I had enough faith, I asked God to stop the rain so that we could get back to the Church for His glory…and then I stepped out into the rain. A few seconds later, there was not a drop falling. My faith was redefined.

In an instant God had showed me that faith was not all about me. Faith is a team effort. It started with me, of course. I had to believe in something, such as God’s ability to stop the rain, but then I had to take that belief a step further and trust that God would step into the rain with me. THAT was faith – a belief that if God chose, He could do the impossible, then ACTING as if He already had.

This was the recurring theme for me the rest of the trip. The Ignite Cesky Tesin group from the church there constantly set up events without a spoken doubt that people would come. No matter how many came, they were convinced that glory would still be given to God. The administrators of Kristfest, the national youth camp, allowed Americans they did not know to preach to a crowd of 300, trusting that God would use them. A two hour car ride to Prague became a test to see how far our trust was willing to go. Time after time God reminded me that faith was no longer just a belief – it was a relational trust.

Yet through all of this, one warning stayed strong in my mind – this new faith was not a tool to justify any action or desire. God would only act in the way that would bring Him the most glory. That day in Czech, stopping the rain brought Him glory, but not every storm is opposed to our God. Only if God sees it fit to act will He act. We just need to be prepared for the outcome, whether it is what we wanted or not.

How has God expanded your idea of faith lately?

Greater than You Know

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20

It’s difficult for us to see the impact we have on people’s lives.

Sure, there are those we can easily point to and see the impact we’ve made.

The friend who came to Christ after your conversation.
The coworker who is now going to church because you invited him.
The young person who is beginning to like how God created them because of your mentoring.

Those are easy to see. We can point to the fruit in their lives and know the difference we’ve made.

But what about the people we pour into once or twice and don’t see again?
What about the friends who don’t change right away?

That impact is much more difficult to see.
But it doesn’t mean an impact wasn’t made.

Every seed of God we plant in people’s lives, every time we point them closer to Jesus, every conversation, prayer, interaction has an impact.

We just don’t always get to see it.

Take a look at this video from Igniter Media to see just how deep and wide the impact you have on someone’s life really can go:

The impact you make on someone’s life today has the potential to impact another life, and another, and another.

You may not see the impact you’ve made. You may not even be around when the seed you planted takes root in their hearts and brings change.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Every impact you make has the potential to grow exponentially – leaving you clueless of the lives you truly impacted until you get to meet them in heaven.

How have you seen God expand the impact you’ve had on someone’s life?

No Other Gods

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:3

God’s choice of words is quite interesting when He gives Moses the first of the ten commandments.

He doesn’t say that there are no other gods.
He doesn’t say that He is the only god.
He doesn’t blow past the idea that there could possibly be other gods.

God says we shouldn’t put any other god before Him.
In doing so, He implies there are other gods we could put before Him.

Gods of entertainment.
Gods of fashion.
Gods of beauty.
Gods of acceptance and achievement and worth.
Gods of money, success and career.
Gods of family.
Gods of spouses.
Gods of food, drugs and alcohol.
Gods of education, wealth and knowledge.
Gods of possessions.
Gods of fortune.
Gods of bigger offices, faster cars and fancier homes.

There are many gods in our lives, vying for our attention, seeking our devotion, calling out to be the god we choose to worship.

All of us have worshipped these gods at some point in our lives.

We all have created idols in our hearts.
We all have lifted up false gods before the True God.
We all have made something more important than God in our lives.

Our idols may not be made of wood or stone with their own altars we bow down before, but they have become more important to us than God.

What we talk about the most, what we spend our time and money on, are all indications of the idol in our heart.

When we put the little gods of this world before the One True God in our hearts, we create an idol.

And an idol will always stop us from serving the True God.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you look to serve the One True God, may you find the courage to dethrone the idols in your life. May you do the hard work of putting God before your plans, your desires and the acceptance you long for so much. And may you, as you put the True God as number one in your life, find that every other god in this world falls in line underneath Him.

What idols do you need to dethrone in your life?

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Removing our Masks

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy”
Proverbs 28:13

We all wear masks.
We all have those facades we hide behind.

We tell people we’re doing great, when really, it feels like life is falling apart.
We pretend we have everything together, when really we’re clueless as to what is going on.
We act as if our finances are in order, when really we wonder how we will pay this month’s bills.
We show acceptance and love to those who have hurt us, when really, we’re dying from the pain inside.
We go to church, small group, help with the youth ministry and act as if we are close to God, when really He feels a million miles away.

We don’t like people to see where we’re broken.

We make a mistake, we sin, we step outside God’s plan for our lives and our immediate reaction is to hide.
Cover it up.
Pretend everything is okay.

It’s something we’ve been doing since the Garden.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, when the disobeyed God and followed their own longings, when their eyes were opened and they saw what they had done, they sewed fig leaves together and covered themselves.

They didn’t want God to see their flaws.
They didn’t want Him knowing their failures.
They didn’t want Him seeing their shame and nakedness.
They didn’t want to hear that they messed up, disappointed God and had consequences to face.

So they hid.

We do the same today.

We don’t want people seeing our weaknesses.
We don’t want others to know where our lives are falling apart.
We’re afraid to share our shame and guilt and sin.

So we hide.
We keep people at an arm’s length.
We cover it up with religious obligations.

And try to work out our weakness on our own.

But covering up our sin doesn’t change it.
Hiding our weakness won’t make it go away.
Pretending we have everything together doesn’t fix our lives.

It’s only when we confess, only when we share, only when we remove our mask, open up about our faults and flaws and brokenness, and let others see what is really going on, that we are able to find hope and healing.

We need others to help overcome our sin.
And it starts by taking off our masks.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you come up against sin, may you remember that hiding it doesn’t help heal you. May you find a handful of people who you can open up to and share your weaknesses. And may you, as you remove your masks and reveal your brokenness, find healing and hope to change.

How do you try to hide your brokenness?

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