Experiencing Advent

By Chad Allen, Lead Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church

The word “Advent” comes from Latin word meaning “coming.” The message of Advent in its most simple form is that Christ has come, and He is coming again. It has a dual nature; combining the reflection of God’s people past waiting for the first coming of the promised Messiah with God’s people now waiting for the second coming of the promised Messiah. Advent is a season of waiting, expecting, and hope.

The message of Advent in its most simple form is that Christ has come, and He is coming again.

Advent traditionally begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. For hundreds of years Christians have used an advent wreath to symbolize their hopes for the coming of Christ. The evergreen wreath usually symbolizes eternal life and God’s unending love and mercy. There are various interpretations and views as to the color of the candles used in the advent and their meaning, but there is no one “right way” to practice the advent lighting.

The basic practice of lighting a candle each week for Advent centers around a stated understanding of the past and present waiting on Christ. Along with a reading, Scripture verses, and a prayer, the candles are lit as a symbol of remembering Christ’s birth and reflecting on His future coming.

For this advent season, we have selected the following themes for each week as we light our advent candles:

  • 11/26 — ‘Tis the season to be Grateful
  • 12/3 — ‘Tis the season to be Generous
  • 12/10 — ‘Tis the season to be Patient
  • 12/17 — ‘Tis the season to be Hopeful
  • 12/24 — ‘Tis the season to be Worshipful

As we embrace the season of Advent as a caring community. Here are some our of top picks for downloadable Advent guides to consider for your personal and home life.

Free Downloadable Advent Devotionals

  • Family Pick
    This guide is designed to help you point your family toward Jesus throughout this Christmas season. Use these devotions, activities, and discussion questions to interact with your kids as we celebrate the birth of Christ.
    LifeWay Kids Family Advent Guide
    –  Weekly Family Guide to Advent
  • Focused Pick
    To help you focus your attention on the heart behind this special season, Ekklesia 360 created this four-week devotional guide to walk you through Advent. Each week focuses on a specific aspect reflected in the birth of King Jesus—hope, peace, joy, and love. As you journey through this devotional, take time to think through the questions, spend time in prayer, and make time to participate in the activities that involve your family. Our prayer is that as you turn your eyes to the coming Savior this Christmas season, your hearts will be transformed as you remember the birth of the King who came to save us.
    Born the King –  Weekly Guide to Advent
  • High-Intensity Pick
    Created by the Village Church, this book will walk you through the entire Church Calendar. It’ll walk you through the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Through readings, prayers, songs, fasts and other practices, these seasons reorient our hearts and minds toward the Christian story.
    Seasons: Enter the Story of Jesus – Daily Guide to the 2017-2018 Church Calendar

Tears of Joy and Grief

By Rica Allen

She was weeping tears of joy and had a beautiful look of shock on her face as she looked at the baby inside her belly on the screen through ultrasound. This was a rare case in our pregnancy resource center, as most women coming through our doors are not hoping for the pregnancy they find themselves in.  This woman had been told her whole adult life that she was infertile, not only that, but her boyfriend was also told he was infertile.

As a client advocate, I was in the sonogram room with them and joined in her tears of joy but also cried my own selfish tears of grief, being an infertile woman myself.  My heart ached as I wondered why the Lord would choose to heal this woman’s infertility and not mine.  After all, she was having premarital sex and I am a married woman serving the Lord… some pretty self-righteous thoughts were swirling around in my head.   This was a very painful moment that made me want to run and never go back.  In fact, the only source of comfort I felt in this selfish moment of mine, was from the crafty enemy.  I kept hearing this soothing voice in my head say “you don’t have to keep doing this… it’s too painful, just stop coming”.  It was as if the enemy was rubbing my shoulder and comforting me with this lie.  I would soon learn that satan was desperately trying to thwart God’s plan for 2 young women waiting to be seen.

I am a married woman serving the Lord… some pretty self-righteous thoughts were swirling around in my head.

I tried to pawn off this next client to a new client advocate I had been training… she said no, she wasn’t ready.  So off I went feeling I had nothing to offer this next hurting young woman.  I prayed and asked God to do His thing because I had nothing, I just wanted to go home and never return.  Well God did show up and did do His thing!  This 2nd client came into the counseling room extremely abortion determined.  She was very rough and intimidating, as was the friend she brought in with her for support.  As we proceeded through the intake interview, I thought I would shy away from sharing the gospel and just kind of rush this woman through the process so I could leave.  But God in His goodness, had other plans.

As I proceeded to share out of obedience to Him, I discovered my client (nor her friend) had ever heard the gospel.  As I began to share the “3 Circles” with them, they also informed me they had not even heard of Adam and Eve.  This was shocking to me!  Much to my amazement, both of these women chose to place their faith in Christ that day.  Not only that, after a few weeks of follow up with this client, she shared that she had decided to choose life for her baby!!  She said she felt she had been seeing signs that lead her to this life decision.  I was able to remind her that we prayed the day she was in the center that God would reveal Himself to her in the days to come!  He was faithful to do so for sure!!

But God in His goodness, had other plans.

My point in sharing this is that it goes right along with Joe Valenti’s sermon a few weeks ago.  The idea of “what thing that makes us the most mad, is the thing we are made for.”  For me, this would be abortion, which causes me to respond by serving in a pro life ministry.   Obviously in the flesh, the last place an infertile woman would want to serve, would be counseling women who want to terminate their babies.  But that’s the beauty of this… as beloved children of God, we serve in the Spirit, not the flesh.

God has called me to serve and love these women through a Holy Spirit empowerment.  This is not something I could do on my own.  So, to God alone be the glory!  There is however, an act of obedience we must be willing to take.  Serving comes at a great cost to those who serve.  There is a dying to self that we must be willing to undergo.  I have heard it said that “if it doesn’t feel a little bit like dying, it’s probably not the gospel” we are sharing.  When others can see a willingness to embrace difficulty and pain that results in joyful service, they can get the slightest glimpse of what God has done for us through Jesus.

He left the comforts of Heaven to pursue us needy people.  He came to absorb all the burden, pain and suffering on humanity’s behalf in order to restore us into relationship with God.  He calls each of us to die to self and embrace what we are made for, specifically those things that make us the most mad.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus and that is what we must do, whether painful or not.   The joy that results in serving on Christ’s behalf far out ways the pain that can exist in the midst of that service.

Celebrating Unleash

This past weekend we celebrated Commitment Sunday—a major milestone in our UNLEASH campaign. It will go down as a memorable day in the history of our church! God is doing something wonderful among us as He moves us to a whole new level of ministry to our Neighbors, the Nations, and the Next Generation.

As we reported previously, some of our church family members led us off with over $960,000 in advance commitments. Many of you responded at the services this past weekend (THANK YOU!) and many more will respond during the next week or two.  It is up to all of us if we are to reach our potential in making this a reality.

God is doing something wonderful among us as He moves us to a whole new level of ministry to our Neighbors, the Nations, and the Next Generation.

If you missed the opportunity to turn in your commitment card this past Sunday, it’s not too late!  There are four ways you can still turn in your commitment card:

  1. Place it in the offering during the service.
  2. Put it in an envelope and drop it off at the Front Desk, ATTN: Finance Department.
  3. You can mail it to the church, ATTN: Finance Department.
  4. You can make your commitment online at cvconline.org/UNLEASH.

Choose the manner most convenient for you.  Please know that every gift counts—regardless of the amount—and EVERY person in our church makes a difference! Participation in the UNLEASH campaign is about equal sacrifice, not equal giving.

We are encouraging all of our members to engage as we move forward together as a church family to UNLEASH the gospel and reach further in the next season of our church.  Please help us keep the momentum going by turning in your commitment card before Sunday, November 19.  We’ll celebrate the total amount of commitments made toward the campaign during the worship services on that day.  November 19 will also mark the beginning of the 2-year giving period, so that Sunday we will take our first “kickoff” offering toward the UNLEASH campaign. We’re hoping that this will be the largest offering in the history of our church!

Thank you for your enthusiastic participation in this effort to make Christ known in our community and around the world! It is an honor and a privilege to serve with you.

See you at church this Sunday!

Live New,
Chad Allen
Cuyahoga Valley Church | Lead Pastor

UNLEASH – Personal Study #5

Realigning

Read Jonah 4.

For those who have not read Jonah before or if it has been a while, are you surprised when you see that Jonah was angry with God? Why was Jonah so twisted up inside?

How have you seen anger play out in spiritual conversations? How has anger maybe even prevented you from sharing your faith?

Going from Jonah’s home (Gath-Hepher, a few miles north of Nazareth) to Nineveh (about 500 miles northeast) wasn’t free. We don’t know what resources Jonah had to use, such as food, drink, clothing, money for travel and additional food, supplies, and housing but we can be sure this trip took personal investment. All to take a trip he didn’t want to take, in order to reach a people with a message he was grateful for himself, but did not want the cruel Ninevites to experience.

  • Why do people get so defensive, maybe even angry, when it comes to conversations of using our resources for ministry? What does our reaction to the church asking for money to do God’s work of sharing the Gospel and equipping others to share the Gospel reveal about our heart and our thoughts?
  • What are valid fears or reasons people may have to be skeptical of giving to a church?
  • What are unwarranted fears or excuses people may have about giving to church ministry?
  • How do these verses encourage a healthy and mature view of giving to the Lord?

(2 Corinthians 9:7-10; Proverbs 11:25; 1 Chronicles 29:14; Proverbs 3:27)

What principles can we draw from Jonah’s reasoning and God’s responses in Jonah 4:6-10 when it comes to (A) reaching people and (B) having wrong views and attitudes of God’s provisions? How does this reveal that Jonah’s heart was not aligned with God’s?

God’s answer to Jonah in 4:11 should be such an encouragement and motivator for us in unleashing our personal resources for God’s work – That God has great pity/compassion on the lost.

  • How do you find yourself daily thanking God for His great compassion on you?
  • How does your management of God’s resources reflect that?
  • Who are 3 people that you want God to show His great compassion for? Pray for them by name that they will sense God’s love and compassion for them and to come to know Christ.

Also ask God to sift your heart for known or hidden anger that is stunting your effectiveness to live for Him and to share the Gospel with others, and to remove it. Ask God to realign your heart where you have strayed.

To Halloween or to not Halloween?

by Chad Allen, Cuyahoga Valley Church Lead Pastor

As a child, I grew up in a secular home and fully embraced Halloween. In fact, I think I was Dracula for several years in a row!  As a young Christian, I became aware of some of the occult history and practices of Halloween and then pushed my pendulum the other way and became legalistic about abstaining from Halloween.  As a youth pastor, I then went on the offensive and rallied teams to provide an annual harvest festival for the community with themes such as “the beach” or “the 70s,” etc. and presented the Gospel and rejoiced as teens came to the Lord.  Those were exciting times. Now, in a season of being a dad, and a person passionate about reaching my neighbors for Christ, I see Halloween as a unique opportunity to interact with my neighbors.  There are parts of Halloween that still rightfully disturb me, but I get excited about the unique opportunity this night brings me to love my neighbors.

Every year I have several people ask my opinion on Halloween and whether Christians should celebrate it or not.  Unfortunately, this is one of many non-fundamental topics that has caused much division and infighting in the church rather than unity and agreement.  In short, I encourage followers of Jesus to engage Halloween but not celebrate it.

We can study the pagan, superstitious, and religious history of Halloween and have cause for a distaste of the night.  We can become aware of how this is a high holy day for those in the occult and practice appropriate wisdom and prayer for what is revealed.  We can avoid the sinister and sensual immorality that some feel a license to express on this day by being fun, but with Christ-honoring integrity.  We can also get disgusted at the gross consumeristic nature of this second largest money holiday in the U.S. and ensure that we use good stewardship.  We can have innocent fun on this day without giving an indictment of evil behavior upon parents who dress their child up like an M&M and are excited about getting a little candy. And we can definitely get excited about the unique opportunity that Halloween brings us to be in the world and not of it. Here are four suggestions to help you do this:

  • Be Redemptive.  Yes, Halloween has superstitious, pagan, and occult influences in its traditions, but so do other holidays including Christmas and Easter.  Therefore, we engage every holiday with a redemptive effort to honor Christ and participate in ways that can bring glory to God.  The devil doesn’t own this day.  Every day belongs to the Lord (Psalm 118:24; 1 Corinthians 10:26)
  • Be salty and shiny.  Jesus has called us to be the salt of earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16).  On a day that emphasizes death and darkness, find ways to counter it by bringing life and light.  This means you will refrain from some traditional elements and find fun and creative ways to start your own Gospel-driven traditions.
  • Be a good neighbor. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31).  This includes our immediate neighbors.  Be super intentional on Halloween and take advantage of the one night a year where you can interact with your neighbors as you knock on their doors and they knock on yours.  Connect, learn names, get to know your neighbors.  Walk the neighborhood with them, visit with them, follow up afterwards to get to know them more. #LifeHouse
  • Be Spiritually mature.  Halloween is one of the topics that leads us to study and practice Romans 14:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 8 where we see that we need to live with what the Holy Spirit impresses on our conscience.  Some Christians have views, beliefs, and backgrounds that will lead them to disengage from Halloween.  Some Christians feel the freedom to engage Halloween in a way that dodges the sinful and dark offerings of the day and to find ways to participate with integrity to their devotion to Christ.  Mature believers may find themselves on different pages of that scenario but can respectfully disagree or honor the other without condemnation or argument.

In addition to the verses mentioned above here are some additional Scriptures that I encourage you to pray and think over in the effort to engage Halloween without celebrating it:

Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

1 Peter 2:16 – Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

1 Corinthians 10:30-31 – If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

3 John 1:11 – Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

Romans 12:21 – Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

And for those who need just a little more specificity, here’s how we try to live this out in our home: We don’t celebrate or promote Halloween.  We don’t say “Happy Halloween” to our kids or others. Other than some harvest decorations, there are no traditional Halloween decorations in our home.  We try to teach our kids everything that I mentioned above, although I have to admit that this can be difficult because selfishness, immaturity, and the world can be difficult obstacles to maneuver around.  And we try to be fun and creative at our home by experimenting with ambiance that is more about life, light, and community (music, fire pit, coffee, conversation, fun ways to get candy, etc.).  Hope this is helpful!  Feel free to share below any examples or ideas you have as well!

Additional Resources:

Here is a link to a small interview I recently did on Moody Radio on this topic:
Moody Radio Cleveland

Here a  few other links I recommend it you want to look into this further:

UNLEASH – Personal Study #4

Reaching

Read Jonah 3.

In the first few verses, we see Jonah finally obey God, and in courage and obedience he preaches repentance in Nineveh. What would you say is your top reason for reluctance (maybe even disobedience) to share your faith/share the Gospel with others?

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your evangelistic engagement in this life (1 is never sharing your faith and 10 is trying to share your faith daily).

We see here that the Word of the Lord told Jonah to go and preach in Ninevah. Review these verses that are some of the cornerstone instructions from the Lord on sharing our faith: Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, Luke 12:8; Matthew 12:30; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Circle the one that stirs you most to share your faith. Why?

  • We see in the Jonah verses that people respond. What actions do you see among the Ninevites that show us they truly believed?
  • What happened in your life when you came to the place to truly believe in Jesus as Savior? What were some instant changes? What changes have taken time?
  • How do our resources play a part in evangelism?
  • How do we use our money to connect with people who need Christ?
  • How do we use our money to help the church connect with those who need Christ?

As we dedicate ourselves to unleashing our resources for more evangelistic impact among our neighbors, the nations, and the next generations, how has God been stirring you in a greater motivation to use money in order to reach others with the Gospel?

Have you ever had someone respond to you sharing the Gospel by believing in Christ? If so, you know how exhilarating it is. Someone coming to faith in Christ is our greatest joy. In order for you to experience this joy more often, check the top 2 action steps you feel need to happen most in your life:

  • Get myself in a place where I have repented of a plaguing sin in my life so I can preach authentically.
  • Learn to share the Gospel more effectively (remember the 3-circles conversation guide is our recommended tool).
  • Learn to better share my own testimony (this is one of the best ways to get to a spiritual conversation and create spiritual dialogue and curiosity).
  •  Pray for greater sense of urgency, compassion, and awareness of unbelievers around me.
  • Be more courageous when God opens a door.
  • Increase my consistency and generosity with the money God allows me to steward toward more evangelistic efforts.
  • What practical next step will you take to engage growth from this exercise?

UNLEASH – Personal Study #3

In Christians circles, people talk about times when they were “broken,” broken in their self-sufficiency, their dependence on self and turned to God dependence. Have you ever had a time where you were “broken”? Think about that time. What did God do in your life through that? How did that season change you as a friend, parent, child, co-worker, neighbor, other?

Spend some time right now thanking God for the brokenness and the fruit that has come from it.

Jonah repented in the belly of the fish. Charles Spurgeon defines repentance as “a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved.”[1] Martin Luther, the 16th century Reformer, said “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”[2] The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word for repentance is metanoeo, which literally means “to turn around.” It assumes a turning away from something and a turning toward something.

Read Jonah 2. This was Jonah’s response in the belly of the fish. It seemed like he was repentant for his resistance, but we will see that it doesn’t appear that this repentance was long lasting or went down deep enough into his heart. Think of your own life. What is true of you when you truly repent of a sin? What is true of you when you are sorry you were caught but not quite repentant? What can you do to make sure that you are repentant and not just sorry for the consequences?

It has been said that God sent the fish not to pay Jonah back, but to bring him back. What does that say about God’s heart? About God’s way? About sticky places you may be right now that are very difficult?

Read Psalm 51. This psalm was written by David after being found out as an adulterer. Describe what a heart of repentance is, based on this psalm.

Read the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. Knowing that Zacchaeus was not an honest or moral man, Jesus still offered salvation to him. What is true of Jesus’ heart for those who are not part of his family?

What was the personal, family, and community impact of Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus? What is the personal, family, and community impact when we are able to lead someone to Christ?

Our UNLEASH campaign works to unleash Cuyahoga Valley Church to reach our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation. This will require a greater effort on our part. It’s easy for us to be lethargic and even lazy when it comes to doing the work of Jesus.

What do you need to repent of when it comes to our neighbors, the nations, the next generation? Is it prejudice? Neglect? Selfishness? Pride? Lack of compassion? No urgency? Greed? Lacking a heart for the lost?

Spend some extended time of prayer asking God three things.

  • First—To grow your awareness of embedded sin in your life.
  • Second—For legitimate repentance like Zacchaeus.
  • Third—To grow your heart for the lost, just like Jesus’ heart.

UNLEASH – Personal Study #2

Running from God

Spend some time praying the P.R.A.Y acronym. Praise God for who He is and what He is doing in your life. Repent of your sins before Him. Ask God for the things you need. Yield to him areas of your life that you need to yield. Set a timer and pray for 15 minutes.

Read Jonah 1:4-16

Jonah refused to believe God and resisted God’s leading and guidance. Jonah ran from God’s presence (which was a silly thing to think he could do). We can often do the same time. Review some of the reasons you listed last week as to why we run from God.

The contrast of Jonah, a man who knows the Lord, asleep in the boat while the unbelieving sailors on the deck of the boat are crying out to the gods of their tradition or choosing is stunning.

How has God woke you up to the realization that you, as a person who knows Christ, were sleeping on the job?

As you read through the verses in Jonah, it becomes very apparent he comes to that moment of realization that he will need to sacrifice himself to save others.

How has God use the sacrifice of others to reach you?
How has God been calling you to sacrifice to reach others?

It is easier for Christians to run from God in private and personal matters. It’s much more difficult to run from God when others can see what we are doing. We realize that money is a very personal and private matter for many people, but it is something that God is deeply interested in. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21).” What does running from God in relation to our money look like? What does it look like in your life?

What does the Bible teach about giving? Read these verses and write down observations: Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Mark 12:41-44. Write out some observations.

Who do you consider to be generous? Write out the qualities of that person:

For you to consider a person financially generous, what percentage of their income would they need to give away?

An exercise of sober realization – Spend some time looking at your financial records for the past six months.

  • How much have money have you given away?
  • Take that number and divide your income during that time. That gives you the percent that you have given in the past six months.
  • Are you proud of that number?
  • Would you consider yourself a generous person?
  • What is keeping you from being a generous person?
  • What are you missing out on when you aren’t as generous to the capacity God has given you?

Spend some extended time asking the Lord to show you and help you realize areas in your life where you are running from him. As he shows you, remember to repent of that sin and turn toward him.

Now ask God to wake you up to where you need to sacrifice to help save others and commit to follow through with what he puts on your heart as you exercise your faith in Him

 

UNLEASH – Personal Study #1

by Chad Allen, Cuyahoga Valley Church Lead Pastor

During the UNLEASH Series, we will provide five weekly personal studies – one for each week – that will coincide with the UNLEASH sermon series and LifeGroup Study Guides. These personal studies will help you assess your own life, look for and act upon applications you can draw from, and encourage you toward extended times of focused prayer.

Each devotion does not need to be done in one sitting. Rather, you can break it up into chunks and even spread it out through the week depending on your schedule and available time. We encourage you to spend about an hour, including the prayer time, on each devotional.

Spend about five or ten minutes praying the A-C-T-S acrostic…

  • A – Adoration: tell God your love for him and his great worth
  • C – Confession: confess sins and ask for His strength to turn away from those sins
  • T – Thanksgiving: thank God for Jesus, what he has done in your life, the things he has given you
  • S – Supplication: ask God for things.

unleashwebpage2

Read through the book of Jonah once.  As you read, capture some of your observations about Jonah’s heart toward God and toward others.

Jonah clearly heard God’s command to go to Nineveh and share God’s message. But, he turned away and did the opposite. We do the same thing. Is there anything in your life that you know God wants you to do or stop doing but have not obeyed? Why have you turned from God’s command?  Is it because of fear, laziness, disbelief, insecurity, difficulty, or something else?

Jonah ran “away from the presence of the Lord.” When we run from God’s command, we run from God himself. But this is silly because there is nowhere that we can go from God’s presence (Psalm 139). But, we can run from experiencing God’s presence through the Holy Spirit. Sin dulls our senses to God’s love and faithfulness to us.

  • On a scale of 1-10 (ten being highest), how much have you been experiencing God’s presence in the last month?
  • Do you have any idea why this is the case, either positively or negatively? Spend some time right now in prayer asking God to show you how to experience God’s presence and power, and where you may be running from Him in your life in a way that is hindering your relationship with Him.
  • Where have you been running from obedience to God in your personal life?
  • Why have you been running?

For Jonah, it was a lot easier to believe about God than live for God. But, we can only live for God to the level that we know about God. Do you think you need to grow in biblical knowledge (knowing about God) or living for God (loving and obeying God)? What is one game-changing action step you can take starting today to help you grow in this area?

UNLEASH is about unleashing Cuyahoga Valley Churchto reach our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation. We want to do this by freeing the church of the financial burden of our debt so that we can maximize our resources better, especially toward the next generations, to also resource the translation of the Bible for the SOLI people, and to prepare to invest more significantly in Northeast Ohio through launching future campuses. When you think about these three purposes, what excites you the most?

  • How have you been running from God when it comes to reaching your neighbors?
  • How have you been running from God when it comes to reaching the nations?
  • How have you been running from God when it comes to reaching the next generations?

Ultimately, UNLEASH is about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We respond because He gave of His life so that we could be forgiven and unleashed to love others. Slowly read through Isaiah 53. Thank God that he gave us Christ, who was willing to go through what He did on the cross. Write out why you are thankful for Christ.

Spend some extended time now praying.  Confess the area you have been running from God and declare your repentance to Him and ask for the heart to obey. Pray also for the UNLEASH campaign and how God wants you to fully engage and participate these next two years.

 

 

Walking Honestly With Your Darkness

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

My passion for Christ, the glory of Jesus in me AND my pathetic selfishness, my ugly darkness within, are both true about me.

If I am honest, I must admit  that I have both.

I shared a quote in a Sunday message from Edna Hong in her book, The Downward Ascent, wrote, “My self does not live in a sweet, sunny, one story rambler but in an old ancestral Gothic house of many floors and rooms and hallways, of dark passageways and spiral staircases, of damp and gloomy cellars and cellarages. The maze of subterranean corridors go downdowndown and eventually converge in one dizzily winding and descending th that dead-ends at the Room of Riddle, the Fall, Original Sin, Original Guilt.”

Deep down inside, we are messed up!

Are you willing to take a long, honest look at your dark side? Am I? Oh, we know we are flawed. But we want to ignore it, minimize it, or dull it somehow.

When we are most deeply aware of our fallen nature, it’s not a bad thing. Perhaps at that moment, on this side of heaven, we are never closer to true joy and a sound mind.

Around Cuyahoga Valley Church, we say we want to live new. If that’s to be true, we must recognize that darkness, that fallenness, that depravity that still lives in us and we must constantly stand at the foot of the cross and receive the gift of forgiveness through the precious blood of Christ that flows so that we can be born again and again and again.

Edna Hong writes, “I feel quite cheerful about my cheerless view of me.”

See, that’s what makes us run to Christ. Forgiveness of sins is why Jesus came. It’s what the gospel is all about. It is good for us to sense the guilt of sin. Because without sensing the guilt of sin, we will never humble ourselves and repent. It’s repentance that makes forgiveness possible. And when we receive that forgiveness, our gratitude for Jesus will grow. And that gratitude to Jesus will arouse in us a desire to serve, sacrifice, love, and work for justice.

If we can’t be sorry for not being sorry for our sins, we are in trouble. If we cannot sorrow and bring ourselves to say “Wretched man that I am!” then we cannot rejoice and say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We must maintain this tension – the conviction that our fallen sinfulness is far worse than most of us realize AND that our redeemed humanity is more amazing than we will let ourselves believe.

Let’s be equally distrustful of our fallen selves AND thankful for our redeemed humanity. Let’s be equally sorrowful for our sinful pride AND rejoicing in our great salvation.

This is what it means for us to die to self and live new.

Don’t get used to the grace of God in Christ. Be amazed by grace. Bruce Marshall in Vespers in Vienna wrote, “What one really needs is a new little conversion every day, a fresh bright light inside oneself to make one anxious to like fresh bright lights in other people.”

Yes, I am a forgiven son. I rejoice in my reconciliation with my Father. I’m newborn, a new creation, a new Adam. I can live new. But I am still a human fallen son of a fallen Adam, as well as of a heavenly Father. And my chief enemy is still the I of myself. The I of myself as my own worst enemy, for in the self of me there is still a fallen sinner.

I will break my loving father’s heart again and again. As I live out this life in Christ, I will understand His will more and more. And I will also see more and more subtle and secret ways in me that I disobey. I will have to face the consequences of the symptoms. At the same time, I will recognize that he loves me just like I am. There is nothing I can do to make him love me more and nothing I can do to make him love me less. Therefore, how could I not continue to run to Jesus. Again and again.

There is no sin that cannot be forgiven when we come to the foot of the cross. When do we know that we have found and have rested in forgiveness? Soren Kierkegaard said, ” A person rests in forgiveness when the thought of God does not remind him of sin but that he is forgiven, when the past is not a memory of how much you trespassed but how much he has been forgiven.”