Practical ways to Worship Fully this Christmas

by Lead Pastor Chad Allen

How can we practically take steps to worship fully at Christmas?  Here are a few ideas for you. 

  • Make sure you are in the Bible each day focusing on God’s word.
  • Check out our Advent Conspiracy resources for a Scripture reading plan, Memory Verses, weekly devotions, and an activity calendar.
  • Make a birthday cake to Jesus and sing happy birthday to Him.
  • Make a playlist of Christ-centered Christmas songs and carols to listen to daily – and sing along with them!
  • Go find a live nativity to experience.
  • Invite others who don’t know Christ into meaningful moments and conversations.
  • Find several ways to bless others who are in need financially with food/resources in the name of Christ.
  • Spend time with those who are hurting this year because of a recent loss.
  • Have your kids read the Christmas story while setting up the nativity.
  • Read the Christmas story first thing on Christmas morning.
  • For one night (or more), unplug from all technology and social media. In a world full of noise, be intentional about quiet time.
  • Give to the CVC Advent Tree, supporting global causes for Christ.
  • Use some of the money that you would spend on Christmas to go to a local restaurant and leave a nice note and generously tip a server working on Christmas.
  • What if we hung around hospitals and gave encouraging notes, coffee, gifts and offered to pray with people in the waiting rooms, and if they let us, in the patients rooms?
  • Serve in a local organization or ministry that directly impacts hurting people on Christmas. One of CVC’s “Big 10” ministries, a mission, a street ministry, Ronald McDonald House, Christmas for everyone, etc.

You can drop your security blanket, too!

by CVC Founding Pastor, Rick Duncan

The late Charles Shultz, in his Peanuts comic script, created a character, Linus, who is known for always carrying his security blanket. In spite of the grief he gets from his sister, Lucy, he takes great comfort from his blanket.

Most of us have our own versions of security blankets, too. Right? Our security blankets make us feel good and safe in this painful world.

What is your security blanket? What do you carry with you that makes you feel better?

Your blanket might be an addiction to work, approval, sex, fitness, alcohol, or drugs. Or you might take comfort in a relationship, entertainment, recreation, or success. We do all kinds of things to comfort ourselves.

Even the most confident among us have some level of insecurity in our lives. In the 1965 TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” we see Charlie Brown being told by a girl that she didn’t send him a Christmas card, being dismissed by Lucy who won’t listen to his problems, and being laughed at by a group of kids because of his “stupid” Christmas tree. Charlie Brown finally yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus confidently says, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He quotes from the original Christmas story found in Luke 2:8–14. Linus concludes, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  Something super-significant happens while Linus is speaking. As Linus comes to Luke 2:10, he says, “And the angel said unto them. Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Precisely at the moment when Linus says, “Fear not,” he drops his security blanket.

It’s a huge moment. Why? Linus always has his blanket, despite the teasing he takes about it. But remembering the birth of the Savior means that he can drop his blanket. And so can you.

Our fears tempt us to cling to what is comfortable – to trust in things we can control. We put our faith in ourselves or others or things rather than in God.But your security is not found in your job, in your spouse, in your friends, in your bank account, or in anything else.

The truth that Charles Shultz taught in the Peanuts special is profound. The hope that comes to us through Jesus Christ is infinitely better than anything a security blanket can give. The birth of Jesus makes our blankets completely unnecessary.

So, we have to choose. Do we want His security or ours?We can be fearless in Christ. But we have to abandon our blankets.

Drop your blanket. Whatever it is. Hold yourself close to Christ. He is your source of security.  Now… fear not. Unto you has been born a Savior. Christ. The Lord.

CVC’s position on prescription medications for mental health issues

Several years ago, disagreements about the appropriateness of Christians in using prescription medications to deal with mental health issues threatened to disrupt the unity of our church. Some believers think that Christians who take medications are not trusting in the sufficiency of Christ for their healing. Followers of Jesus who take medications can feel unwelcomed and shamed in such environments. For this reason, the elders of CVC felt it was necessary to produce a position paper regarding the use of prescription medications for Christians who are experiencing mental health issues.

Prescription Medications and the Care, Mentorship, and Biblical Counseling Process at Cuyahoga Valley Church

The Elders and staff of CVC are sometimes asked questions about whether or not it is biblically appropriate for Christians to use prescription medications in dealing with emotional or psychological problems.

It is our recommendation that anyone seeking help or spiritual care for extreme emotional and psychological problems consult a physician for a complete physical at the earliest time possible while continuing to connect with our church leadership at CVC. After the complete physical, we encourage people to follow the doctor’s recommendation regarding medications while proceeding with their spiritual growth at our church.

Sometimes prescription medications of various kinds are regularly prescribed by medical professionals to treat emotional, mental, and related problems. The care provided at our church is in no way meant to replace or replicate appropriate medical, psychiatric, or outpatient mental health services. Should a referral be needed at any time to one of these services, one will be immediately provided.

When a person who is taking prescription medication enters a counseling, spiritual care, or mentorship relationship through our church, our goal is to use biblical principles to help the person handle the problems of life. It is the responsibility of the one who has prescribed the medication to determine when and if it is time for people to stop using the medication. Our pastors, mentors, and spiritual leaders do not give direction concerning the use or non-use of prescription medication.

The skill of the CVC staff, Elders, mentors, and spiritual leaders is in the application of the Bible to help people deal with emotional or psychological problems. It is NEVER our church’s responsibility to make a determination to prescribe, modify, or discontinue taking such medications. That is exclusively the domain of the medical and mental health professional community.

We also encourage every member and regular attender to participate fully in our community group ministry. Many people have found active participation in a community group can facilitate spiritual growth and maximize the effectiveness of the spiritual care they receive through the church.

A Meditation on Psalm 46

by CVC Founding Pastor, Rick Duncan

Fear not… though the mountains be moved

One of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture about overcoming our fear in life is found in Psalm 46.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present[b] help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3).

Even though we will find ourselves in situations where the earth is quaking beneath us and we are about to drown in a flood of troubles, we need not fear.

Why can we live free from fear? It’s because, as Pastor Josh Stone said recently, “We are needy, but He is mighty!” It’s not about our ability and activity. It’s about God and His supremacy and sufficiency.

We need not fear because of the rest of what this Psalm says. Notice…

  1. The Promise of God. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (Psalm 46:4-5). We can endure the earthquakes and floods because the new heaven and the new earth are coming. We will be safe, secure, and glad in the city of God one day forever and ever. (Read Revelation 22:1-5 about the river in God’s eternal city.)
  2. The Power of God. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utters His voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6). Wherever darkness rules internationally and whenever kingdoms fail and fall in this world, it is God who is in charge. He is sovereign over all. He’s never wringing His hands wondering what He’s going to do. Nothing surprises Him.
  3. The Presence of God. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalm 46:7). We are never alone. He will be with us even to the end of the age.
  4. The Performance of God. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how He has brought desolations on the earth” (Psalm 46:8). We can read the scriptures about the works of the Lord. We can remind ourselves of what God has done in the past to rescue His people. Many times, the scriptures remind us of the Exodus experience when God brought His people out of slavery. And we can remember all the things that He has done for us in the past.
  5. The Peace of God. “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire” (Psalm 46:9). For His sovereign purposes, God sometimes uses wars and hardships to discipline His people. But history is moving toward that day when His peace will prevail. Forever. Count on it!

So, for all these reasons, we can remember that it’s not our activity and ability that make the difference. It’s the Lord’s supremacy and sufficiency. We can cease striving. We can be still. The Lord Himself says to our anxious hearts, “’Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalm 46:10-11).

***

Which aspect of the character of God – His promise, power, presence, performance, of peace – do you need to claim most for your life today? How will you access His ability in the midst of your need? Who can help you with that? When will you start?

 

8 Ways in which Fear Is Actually a Good Thing

by Founding Pastor, Rick Duncan

“Fear not!”

“Do not fear!”

“Don’t be afraid!”

You may have heard that “fear not” occurs 365 times in the Bible – one for each day of the year. But that’s just not true. In the New American Standard Bible “fear not” occurs 4 times, “do not fear” occurs 57 times, and “do not be afraid” occurs 46 times. That’s only 107 times where the Lord tells us to not be afraid.

But that the command “fear not” doesn’t occur 365 times shouldn’t disturb us. God only has to command something one time for His word to be obeyed. Even if “fear not” is not in the Bible 365 times, it is still one of the most often repeated commands in the Bible.

Why is it commanded so often? Because we are so often afraid.

Yet aren’t some forms of fear actually good? Fearing the Lord is certainly a good thing for it is the beginning of wisdom. But could other feelings of fear actually be beneficial for us?

I recently read a book called The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd. It’s about allowing ourselves to feel our feelings.

He has a chapter on fear. Dodd makes a distinction between what one might call “healthy fear” and “unhealthy anxiety.”

He says that when you are boarding a plane, you want to have a pilot who has a healthy fear so he will pursue safety for himself and for all those who are flying. We know as parents, we have a fear of seeing our children being run over in the street or in a parking lot. So, we leverage that fear to protect them. If our teens are running with the wrong crowd, we want to limit their access to the wrong crowd because we are afraid (I think, in a good way) of the influence of those negative friends. If we are teaching children how to hunt, we teach them gun safety because we have a healthy fear of what a gun can do if it’s handled improperly. If you meet a bear in Appalachia, a mountain lion in Arizona, or a tiger in India, you should be afraid!

When God says “fear not,“ He’s not talking about this kind of fear. This kind of fear is actually good.

I made a few notes when I was reading Chip Dodd’s chapter on fear.

  1. A healthy fear of the enemy can help us prepare for future battles. 
  2. Fear can help us look out for the well-being of ourselves and others. 
  3. Fear can cause us to ask others to help us. 
  4. Fear can move us to pray and seek God. 
  5. When a leader has a healthy fear, it will help the people who are following him trust him. 
  6. Fear can prompt us to find more resources and help when we are facing difficulty fear. 
  7. Fear can lead us to courageous acts. 
  8. Fear can cause us to admit our weakness and humanity. 

Dodd does go on to write about how unhealthy anxieties (how the “fear nots” of the Bible) take us away from what is true and makes us distrustful and impulsive. He says unhealthy anxiety causes us to try to control our future in order to prevent the recurrence of painful past experiences.

Dodd maintains that it’s better to admit our healthy fear so we can go ahead and move toward positive solutions regarding the circumstances we are experiencing. Dodd would say that a denial of our fear is actually what makes us anxious and turns us into people who want to control situations that we cannot control.

He writes, “The recognition of our deep limitations that come from admitted fear is the awakening of our need for God and others. This is not a mental acknowledgment; it is a heartfelt neediness. As we discover our neediness, we find a God who is always in charge, in love, and on duty. As our neediness is turned into dependence, the dependence is transformed in the hope for good and trust that goodness is coming. As we allow ourselves to discover goodness, we also discovered faith. This certainty eradicates anxiety. Fear used well is the antidote to worry.”

If a person gets a diagnosis of cancer, I don’t think it would be sinful for that person to experience some form of fear. That kind of fear can cause one to trust God and run to Him or that kind of fear could cause one to doubt God and run from Him.

In fact, in the Bible there appear to be some uses of the word “fear” or “afraid” that support the idea that some forms of fear can be healthy. It was the fear of an enemy that caused Jehoshaphat to call out to the Lord.

“Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:2-3).

Nehemiah had a “healthy fear” that informed his approach to the king and his prayer to God.

“And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:2-4).

The wise men demonstrated a fear of Herod when they did not return to him after they worshipped baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary had a fear of Herod when they took Jesus to Egypt. And after Herod died, fear caused Joseph to take his family to Galilee.

“But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee” (Matthew 2:22).

Jehoshaphat, Nehemiah, and Joseph seem to be displaying a healthy kind of fear that led them to act in prudent ways to accomplish the will of God. So, a fear that fosters wisdom and healthy responses to God and others seems to be a good thing, even godly.

A fear that immobilizes us and causes us to doubt God and His goodness is, to put it bluntly, sin.

If you are still not comfortable using the word” fear” in a good way because of all the “fear nots” in the Bible, maybe “godly caution” is better for you. Or “healthy concern,” “practical discernment,” “prudent vigilance,” “loving watchfulness,” or “heedful forethought.”

So, what fears are producing faithfulness in you? And what fears are producing faithlessness in you? What concerns should you bring to the Lord today? Based on a healthy fear or a godly concern, what’s the wisest course of action for you to take today?

A Reminder to “Fear Not”

by CVC Founding Pastor, Rick Duncan

A way to remind yourself to fear not…

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to take our cues from the news.  These days, the news feeds fear. What we hear from the media is more and more bad news about job losses, cuts in pay, stock market downturns.

Sadly, God’s people can conform to the world and allow fear to limit what God wants to do in, through, with and for them.

But God is calling us to live in faith, not fear. We have the opportunity to learn more of what it means to obey the command “fear not” even in light of troubling news.

We have to figure out ways to remind ourselves that our Shepherd, our Father, our King has promised to take care of us.

It can be the little things you do that can make a big difference when it comes to defeating your fear.

I have a friend who went through some challenging times with his career. He had a good job with a big pharmaceutical company. But cutbacks happened. And he had to ask the big question, “What am I going to do now?” So, he started his own business. And I started doing some business with him.

On a Monday, I wrote him a check. Later in the week, he said, “Hey, thanks for the Scripture.” I’m sure I had a puzzled look on my face because I didn’t remember giving him a verse. He said, “I went home and looked it up and it was meaningful. Thanks.”

And then I remembered. I have developed a habit. For over 40 years, on the memo part of the check, I write, “Phil. 4:13.” It’s an abbreviation for Philippians 4:13.

I started doing that years and years ago because as we started our family I had a lot of job changes and a lot of entry level salaries. And I had to figure out how to fight fear. So, every time I paid a bill, I wanted to remind myself that I have a God who has promised to take care of me.

The verse? “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, ESV).

Maybe I need to develop a new habit or start writing a different verse. Maybe Phil. 4:19 has become vain repetition for me. I didn’t even remember writing it.

But it reminded my friend who started a new business that God is going to take care of him and his family.

How about you? How will you remind yourself that you have a Shepherd, a Father, a King who’s promised to take care of you so that you can “fear not”?

Are You Living in Fear?

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today… The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent’” (Exodus 14:13a, 14a).

The people of God had seen God perform 10 amazing miracles to deliver them from Egypt. Yet here in Exodus 14 they are still afraid that the Egyptian army would overtake and slaughter them.

So, Moses, the leader, gives them a message designed to increase their courage.

1) Fear not.
2) Stand firm.
3) See the salvation of the Lord.
a) He will work for you today.
b) He will fight for you.
4) Be silent.

This silence doesn’t mean that they should stop crying out to the Lord for salvation. Instead, the command to “be silent” refers to how God’s people were verbalizing their worries, their fears, their grumblings, and their complaints.

Crying out aloud for salvation is something that God encourages in many places in the Bible. Psalm 77:1-2a says, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord…” Crying aloud in this way shows dependence. And then when God rescues, He gets glory and everyone knows that our Father is indeed the Lord of heaven and earth.

But verbalizing our fears with in a grumbling, complaining way is something that demonstrates that we do not believe our God is bigger than our problems. And how can God get glory from that?

Our troubles and trials can become our opportunities to live in faith, not in fear.

Question: Where are you most tempted to live in fear – not standing firm, not looking for the Lord’s salvation, and not being quiet in His love?

A prayer:

You, Lord are worthy of trust. You have never let Your people without protection and provision. You are the God who brought Your people out of slavery in Egypt by Your outstretched arm and mighty power.

To lead them, You put a cloud before them by day and a pillar of fire before them by night. You parted the Red Sea. You caused that sea to swallow up their enemies. And You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

If You provided for and protected them, You will provide for and protect me, my family, and my church.

Cleanse me of all godless fear. Cleanse from living like I do not have a mighty God in heaven. Cleanse me from a life that detracts from the glory due Your name.

Thank You so very much for the cleansing blood of Jesus that forgives and for the righteous life that covers me.

Now, help me trust You to provide for me and for my family. Help me to not fear, to stand still, to see Your salvation, and to be silent when it comes to being. a grumbler who sinfully verbalizes my fears to a watching world. I want You to get much glory from my life.

Today, I yield to You as my Provider.

 In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Information + Application = Transformation

by CVC Founding Pastor, Rick Duncan

In this past week’s message, Pastor Chad challenged us to not only hear what Jesus says, but to actually do what Jesus says. The one who hears and does not obey is building his house in a wadi. When the floods – trials and troubles in life – come, that house will fail and fall. The one who hears and obeys is building his house on a solid foundation. When the floods come, that house will stay and stand!

Just calls us to obedience again in John 14.

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” John 14:21

Sometimes, followers of Jesus have differing emphases on two aspects of discipleship. Some emphasize learning the Word of God as the key to effective discipleship. Others emphasize living the Word of God as the key to discipleship. We believe that both are necessary. It is information plus application that equals transformation.

There will never be a time when a believer does not need greater knowledge of the Word of God. And there will never be a time when a believer does not need greater obedience to the Word of God. But the emphasis on each is different in the stages of spiritual growth.

To be sure, early in the process of discipleship, the emphasis for the new believer is learning the Word of God. New believers need a radical reorientation of their minds in order to develop a Biblical worldview. Gaining information from the Bible is absolutely critical all throughout one’s spiritual journey.  But it is especially vital in the early stages of spiritual growth. When we first begin the Christian life, we grow by learning lots and lots of new information.

But we must never forget that as a believer grows, more and more emphasis needs to be placed on living the Word of God – on the application of the Word of God. Growth is more than gaining knowledge about Jesus and His Word. Growth is a result of a maturing relationship with and obedience to Jesus.

With our present-day access to the internet and with the availability of teaching via podcasts and videos on You Tube and Vimeo, getting information about the Bible is easier than ever. While we recognize that there is an alarming lack of Biblical knowledge in the church, we must see that it is possible for believers in America to be in the midst of an information feast and an application famine.

As we begin to master some of the content of the Bible, the emphasis in our growth process must become trusting and obeying, or applying what we know.

The reason many Christians fail to be transformed is because they do not ask God for the grace to “keep” the commandments. If you want your Christian life to be exciting and exhilarating then focus on obeying. Be a radical, revolutionary doer of the word! Getting knowledge without the corresponding application only leads to pride. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

As you live out the Christian life, expect God to challenge you to obey Him more and more. He’ll be asking you to step out in faith to actually do what He is teaching you in His Word.

Go out on a limb for God!  Step out in obedient faith. That’s where the fruit is!

 

How do you know if you love money?

This past Sunday, Pastor Chad asked us to consider several questions to determine whether or not we love money.  Take some time to reflect, talk to God, and consider if this is an area where you need to surrender to the Lord in a greater way.

Some personal reflection/assessment questions:

  • Do I have a hard time being grateful for what I have?
  • Am I obsessed with becoming rich?
  • Do I envy rich people?
  • Do I devalue poor people?
  • Do I feel like I never have enough?
  • Am I living beyond my means?
  • Am I a “show off” with what I have?
  • Have I forgotten God as the source of everything?
  • Am I tempted to sin to acquire more?
  • Do I experience suffering because of financial decisions?
  • Do I make major decisions solely on the financial impact (marriage, children, job, family life, Etc.)
  • Do I feel inadequate, less than, or inferior when I don’t have what others have, or get to do what others do?
  • Do I have a list of reasons and justifications of why I’m entitled to have more than I do?
  • Do I keep putting myself and my family at risk for what I’m chasing in the area of finances and possessions (homes, cars, toys, gadgets, furnishings, etc.)

If you answer “yes” to some or most of these questions, you are probably dealing with a love of money on some level within your heart.  Ask the Lord to help you in this area if you find that it is a struggle for you.

Joni’s Story

In his message this past Sunday, Pastor Chad referenced an article by Joni Eareckson Tada.  Joni is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center and is an international advocate for people with disabilities. A diving accident in 1967 when she was 17 left her a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. During her rehabilitation, Joni spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. She persistently prayed for healing.  To read the full article she wrote on why she praises God for not saying “yes” to healing her, click here.