Can we shift the atmosphere this Holiday?

3 words come to mind when I think about going home for the holidays:

food,

fellowship,

and family.

For many of us, we get excited about the holidays and about spending time with loved ones, but may have apprehension about the conflict or tension that often naturally arises when you gather half a dozen or a dozen adults together that live very different day to day lives.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Many of us have ourselves or have seen other people shy away from spending time with loved ones because of deep seated conflict, relational tension, or disagreements that have been allowed to fester in our hearts, contributing to roots of bitterness towards our loved ones. 

I've been praying for breakthrough in a handful of familial relationships in my life for a few months now, but have recently struggled with the question of: What does it look like to hope for change, breakthrough, restoration, and reconciliation in these relationships? When I think about trying to dig into these issues, I almost automatically shy away, believing that this is just the way it's “meant” to be. It's as if the promise that the Lord gives Habakkuk in chapter 1 -

“For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.”

- is not a good enough promise to be true in my life. It's as if I’m telling the Lord that He is not trustworthy to bring breakthrough in the area of familial reconciliation.

In discipleship last month, we were digging into Romans 4:13-25 which is a passage about Abraham’s faith when it comes to the Lord’s promise to give him and Sarah a child. Verse 18 says: 

“Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping.”

Abraham was nearly 100 years old, well past the “be fruitful and multiply” years, yet he kept hoping because

“he was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises.”

Abraham clung to God’s promise, knowing that God is the God who creates new things out of nothing. Our God is a God who breathes hope into hopeless situations.   

So, my perspective is shifting in this season from being one of hopelessness, believing that the familial relationships in my life were too far gone, to a place of declaring hope, especially when there is no reason for hope. My prayer has become, "Lord would you give me a glimpse of heavenly hope and bring Heaven to earth through reconciliation of familial relationships?"

The Challenge:

Go into the holiday season with proclamation of the Lord’s promises over your life and over your family. As the Bryan and Kate Torwalt song says, “Our Champion, You fight for us. You made a way, where there was none…We will shout it out, from the mountain tops, that our God is good, He has overcome.”

The Practicals:

How can we practically engage with those relationships in our families that seem to be too far gone? 

Last week in the discipleship school, Ted (our discipleship school director) challenged us to be thermostats during the holidays instead of thermometers. You see, thermometers rise and fall in temperature based on their atmosphere. Thermometers are driven by their circumstances. On the other hand, thermostats set the atmosphere. Thermostats drive the environment instead of being driven by the environment. When conversations turn towards conflict or situations are filled with tension, stop and call out the gold in someone. It can be as simple as saying, "hey I just want to let you know that I really appreciate your smile and value the way that you served us at dinner last night." 

Try it out. You may be surprised how powerful it can be to be a thermostat, one who shifts the atmosphere, instead of being a thermometer, one who allows themselves to be shifted by the atmosphere. Let's believe together this holiday season for breakthrough in our families and pray for Heaven to come to earth in our familial relationships.

About the Author: Christiana thrives on saying "yes" to new adventures, connecting with people on a deep relational level, and eating Saturday morning brunch. She works locally as a Physical Therapist and also serves at Antioch Ann Arbor as the Production Director. Christiana is passionate about partnering with individuals to prepare, equip and mobilize them to operate best in who God has made them to be and accomplish the purpose that the Lord has set upon their life.

Is this Righteous Anger?

*Published with the happy permission of my father and myself, who are now in a place of peace and unity.

I was angry at my dad.

I went for a four mile run in the brisk spring air. Snow and ice was melting all around, and it caused rivers of water to drain down the sides of street. I ran, sprinting between pockets of pavement and ice.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

It seemed as if it was the hundredth time my dad and I had tried to have a civil discussion to smooth out our differences. He tried; he honestly did. I think I could believe that. But how did he still fail to understand or respect how I thought differently than him? It was as if my political views were the only thing worth talking about; not anything else I did. I was summed up in what I believed politically. I felt like a project he needed to fix.

It had been two years after I went to college and came home excited by new thoughts and conversations, and we still hadn’t figured out how to talk. My dad seemed to not understand me or respect what I was thinking about, and so I struggled to feel that I and my convictions were valued by him.

I prayed as I ran. Was there anything we hadn’t tried yet? My dad and I were both committed to Christ. We prayed. We cared about our unity and the peace between us. But we just seemed unable to get it.

As I neared the last quarter mile of my run, exhaustion set in and I stilled myself by the road, staring down at the streams of water flowing past me. It was cold and I started to shiver, but I knelt down and put my fingers into the cold, crystal water.

“If your father never changes, will you love him?”

I heard the question clearly, and tears sprung into my eyes.

I don’t want him to not change, I told God. I don’t want this to be my lot for the rest of our time as family.

“It doesn’t have to be.”

It was clear now to me what God was asking, and I started to cry more. It had been a long time since we had started to try to settle our differences. I tried to learn different argument techniques to explain myself. I tried different listening techniques to open myself to hearing him better. But we still just felt aggravated.

It was time to forgive him.

I tried to argue with God. I don’t want to settle, I told him. I don’t want to give up on this.

But that was exactly what I needed to do.

Anger is an emotion of injustice. “Hate what is evil,” God says, “and cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Anger at racism is an appropriate response. Anger at mistreatment, at lying, at the oppression of others or ourselves. Anger motivates us to keep going and press in and right wrongs.

If I never accepted my dad for not understanding me, though, I would be treating him exactly as I felt he was treating me. I had to give it up. Then there would be peace.

Throughout this process with my dad, I had often wondered if I was unnecessarily clinging to anger, and I tried to offer my anger to God regularly to take it away. It wasn’t until this moment, though, that God was calling me to lay it down. He was ending the battle.

The Bible calls us to “be angry and do not sin.” Right after that it says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Right before this it says, “Put away lying. Let each of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25-27).

See that order?

  1. Speak truth.
  2. Be angry and do not sin.
  3. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.

Do you have anger in your life?

Have you tried all of these steps? Have you tried telling someone about your anger? It doesn’t have to be the person or people that cause the anger at first. Seek insight from someone you trust: someone in your Life Group, your discipleship group, your spouse.

Have you just let yourself be angry? Have you accepted that, and cried out to God about your pain? Have you let yourself be angry but committed to not acting out of vengeance or aggression?

Is God calling you to let go of that anger? Have you asked him recently what he thinks about it? Is He calling you to let go of it?

The comfort is that when God is calling us to give up anger, we will know it - if we are staying close to him. Like Jordan was saying this week, God is not looking to demand a list of rules from us. He’s looking for relationship, and He is for us. If we say the same as the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” we place ourselves right in the center of God’s heart to be safely comforted.

If we regularly submit our emotions, our rights, and our anger to God, this will keep bitterness out of our soul and keep us pliable to the direction God would lead us in. Then we need not fear anger getting a hold of our lives. We need not fear anger at all.

About the Author: Allison is a massage therapy student at Schoolcraft College and waitress at Zola Bistro. When she isn't doing these two things, she's probably doing something around Antioch. She loves prayer, worship, and spending time with her connect group!

Do we walk in victory?

Last Sunday, we stood together and declared: “Hallelujah, you have won the victory. Hallelujah, you have won it all for me.” But what do these words really mean? And do we really believe them?

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Let’s face it. We often walk around feeling defeated. Defeated by our own sin. Defeated by the world’s sin. By spiritual darkness. Depression. Anxiety. Loneliness. Defeated by apathy, lethargy, or complacency. (Now, to be clear, facing these things is different than feeling defeated by these things.) Maybe you have accepted defeat by shelving dreams the Lord has put on your heart or accepting “good enough” as your calling.

To walk around feeling defeated (as a follower of Christ) is to walk in a lie. Let me say that again.

To walk around in defeat is to live outside of reality.

Let’s take a look at what scripture has to say.

Psalm 3: 2-3, 8
Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain…From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.

If I may, allow me to paraphrase the first part of that passage…

“I could believe what I’m hearing, that I am defeated and will not be delivered. But that’s a lie. You guard me, Lord. You are my victory and honor. And with you, I don’t walk with a downcast expression and my eyes lowered in defeat, because you lift my head up high.”

Furthermore, in John 16, Jesus tells us to have hope and courage when we face the hard things. Why? Because he’s already overcome them.

John 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

If we already have the victory in Christ, why do we so often feel defeated?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know in my life, it’s often because I allow lies to reign. I don’t combat them with truth. I accept that whatever I’m facing or feeling is “just how it is” and forget that I don’t have to walk in what I feel is my this moment-reality, because I’ve obtained an eternal victory through Christ. And even when the lies, or the complacency, or whatever brokenness it is feels crushing, I won’t be crushed, because I have a firm foundation of victory. Even if I’m sitting on the floor feeling a little shattered, I sit on a foundation of victory, and it’s sturdy and constant and full of hope.

It may also be a faulty understanding of what victory is that prevents us from walking in it. We assume victory feels one way, when it really doesn’t. We assume it feels like power and joy and rainbows. We assume that because we face resistance and repetitive battles that we don’t have victory. But Proverbs 24:16 says,

...for the righteous falls seven times and rises again...

Maybe the victory isn’t necessarily in the not falling but in the getting up again, in having the power to get up again and again and again until you reach that place where you aren’t knocked down. And before you go thinking you don’t have that power…

1 John 5:1, 4
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God... everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world...

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As we sang about victory this past week, God reminded me of dreams he’s placed in my heart, dreams I had labeled as idealistic “maybes” for the very distant future, and he spoke victory over them: “I have already won the victories for these. You just have to walk in them.”

What victories has God won for you that you need to walk in?

1 Corinthians 15:57
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

About the Author: Ana is a Michigan native who likes putting honey in her coffee, singing in the car, and dancing when walking would do. She currently works in the Ann Arbor area as a dance teacher and as a receptionist at Arbor Woman Pregnancy Center. Her heart is for every person to know the deep love, identity, and mercy that can be found in the Father.

The Strangest Thing

So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people generally are pretty self-interested. We have a culture in America that not only tolerates but promotes it. It’s “right” to do what we want, which is usually in the interest of ourselves. And, though we're told this is how we should live, is that even Biblical?

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

 

Here are some examples from my daily thoughts—you’ll get the idea.

  • “I don’t want to interact with my classmate, I have homework that I could be doing and I don’t think we’d have things in common.”
  • “I don’t want to have to give her a ride in my car so I just won’t invite her.”
  • “Man, I have a whole day free, what can I do that will be fun?”
  • “I need to get to work on time, why is everyone driving so slow?”
  • “I need help myself, I am not going to offer help.”
  • “Why haven’t I heard back from the UofM about my application, I deserve an answer.”

I’m sure you get the point.

A lot of my day (maybe yours too) is me-centric (I think I just made that word up). Okay yes, so, I am so me-centric. But this attitude is in no way biblical. It’s man-made. In fact, Philippians 2:3-4 offers quite the opposite perspective:

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

The message that was given last week by Jordan Ogden addressed the Nicene Creed. What is that? Essentially in 325 AD Christians across Europe met together to combat a heresy that was spreading rapidly. The blasphemy was that Jesus Christ was not divine, he was made by God like Adam, Noah, Seth, David, me, you, etc. By the way, this is the only time in history that the ecumenical church came together to agree on a creed.

Here’s where I am going with this whole thing, if Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are of one—in perfect union—then they didn’t have to invite humans into their life. It wasn’t critical to their existence to create woman and man, but they did! They did in order to bring us into their perfect, united circle.

This is the strangest thing. Get ready. So, the last month I have been letting go of my needs and trying to look for the needs of others. If you’re reading this, know me, and think I am pretty selfish…awkward. But really, I have! So, I have been actively seeking out the needs of others and it is actually more satisfying than serving myself. Strange, right? 

So, to sum this up. God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit invited us into their lives of fullness, which enables us to do that for others. They sacrificed for us; we are to copy their example for others. The strangest thing is that it is worth it.

That’s a wrap.

About the Author: Gabby Sines is a student at Washtenaw Community College and is studying the history of the Near East. Her favorite animal is the giraffe, and she strives for her primary aspiration to be to glorify the Lord in everything.

Can risk change the world?

As a new graduate student at University of Michigan, I am learning much more about the culture of the unchurched and the formerly churched and angry. The school that I am a part of is filled with students who have a very negative view of Christianity, seeing many Christians as narrow-minded, judgmental, racist, homophobic and the symbol of power and status quo in the United States. Often times, this attitude stems from deep pain caused from interactions with Christians that have been a poor reflection of the love of Christ and the transformational power of the Good News.

Now that I have experienced a small glimpse into campus culture as a student, I understand why many students are so surprised by our Encouragement Café outreaches. When students say with genuine shock “Wow, this is the most positive interaction that I have ever had with a Christian,” I’m less taken aback.

The prevalence of this perspective of Christianity requires me to wonder at church culture and the hearts and actions of Christians. Is this negative outlook of Christianity simply the perverted thought process of unsanctified individuals, or are their deeper issues at foot that Christians should reflect upon more deeply?

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Jason spoke about taking risks as Christians. As Christians, he said, we are God’s Plan A for the world as those entrusted with really good news: that no one is too far from God’s grace. The flip side is that when Christians fail to take risks, fail to look beyond the walls of their own church community, the world loses an important force to combat evil. As the Bible says in Ephesians 6:12 “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We, as Christ followers, were not meant to be bound up in the safety of people who think, act, and look similarly to us, but to go and preach the good news near and far, to heal people, love people, and see people break free from the bondage of sin and darkness.

I have been reading a book on rest days called Eternity in their Hearts by Don Richardson. It depicts missionary work in places around the globe among many minority ethnic groups, and describes how within folk religions is knowledge of the unseen God who created everything. Many have an oral tradition that tells the story of how people once followed a Creator God, but just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, went astray. However, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11). With patience, humility, deep observation and study, missionaries discovered the Eternal God story woven into the culture of many different peoples, and when those people found the way in which to know that God, revival happened.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

As missionaries in this field of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, we are the ones discovering the God story embedded in the culture of the people that we live among. Eternity is written in the hearts of man, and no man is too far from the grace of God. One bridge that I’ve found in my field of study was through one of my readings in a diversity class on social theory. George W. Allport developed a theory called Contact Theory, regarding what contact must occur between rival groups to overcome prejudice and stereotypes. The theory fascinated me because as I read the five criteria for contact that breaks down walls of prejudice and discrimination, I was immediately reminded of the Church. The descriptors are as follows:

  1. sustained contact between people who are different from one another,
  2. individuals interacting with each other must be of equal status,
  3. individuals need to be working toward common goals,
  4. there must be sufficient resources to prevent competition for these resources and
  5. there must be institutional support to implement the other four conditions

(Marsiglia & Kulis 92)

Based on Contact Theory, the Church can be a mechanism for social change to break down the walls in our society that divide people, such as race, socioeconomic status, gender, physical ability, sexuality and even religion. The Church as a body of believers can be a means for people who are different from one another to interact on equal footing, where individuals can work toward common goals, supporting each other by meeting each other’s needs, within an institution that supports these conditions. That is the ideal, and while the reality can be far from that ideal, when I see Church at its best, all of these criteria are met and far more.

I believe in the Church, and our own church body. As those who are followers of Christ, we persevere through challenges and face the odds, because we know that our reward surpasses momentary troubles. When we risk in Christ, as Jason said, there is great reward. We just need to keep looking towards the Kingdom of God.

“Do not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

About the Author: Gabby hails from Waco, Tx, but she calls herself a Michigander and a Wolverine, now, as she pursues her Masters in Social Work at U of M. Geography is her favorite subject, and as the American daughter of Filipino immigrants, she is no stranger to a diversity of food, culture and travel. You can often find her at the local rock wall, hitting the pavement around Ypsi/A2 or, her favorite, getting quality time with good friends.

Love Prays

Last Sunday, Jason Sudan, one of our pastors, spoke on the theme “Love Prays”. He briefly mentioned Nehemiah of the Old Testament, and how Nehemiah was moved with compassion for God’s holy city of Jerusalem after hearing how the Jews were faring in Jerusalem (of Judah) after returning from exile.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about Nehemiah lately, even prior to this past Sunday’s talk. What strikes me the most about him is just how faithful he was. Jason called him a “praying man.” This is true from the very beginning of his story. Nehemiah weeps over the fact that the Jews are living in a fallen city filled with destruction, and he turns to God in response: 

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. 

“Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ 

“The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” 

Nehemiah 1:4-11

After this (sort of) heavy introduction to Nehemiah, we learn that he is a cupbearer, which is someone who would serve wine in a royal household. It was an esteemed and honorable position only given to those with trustworthy character. It then makes sense why Nehemiah would be asking God for favor with the king, of all people. Why Nehemiah needs favor exactly, we don’t know yet.

As the book continues, we are taken into Nehemiah’s mission of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, (the reason he needs favor with the king). There are many difficult hurdles along the way, and it is not an easy feat by any means - although it was accomplished in an astonishing 52 days. 

But notice how, from the beginning, Nehemiah never prayed, “God, would YOU rebuild this city, and would YOU bring into fullness what you promised”. Rather, Nehemiah realizes the burden in his heart and takes action. He prays to God for help along the way, but never demands some miraculous event to take place while he just sits back and watches. 

I think it’s important to realize how great a deal of courageous and risky work Nehemiah had to put in to accomplish this feat. Some of you may read this and think, “Should I be doing what Nehemiah did in some fashion?” I think the answer boils down to the fact that God’s servants do not have the same gifts, the same tasks, the same success, or the same degree of divine intervention. It is partly a matter of where we fit into God’s unfolding redemptive purposes. Let God be God, and let’s just be faithful with what’s been placed on our hearts. Nehemiah accomplished such an incredible feat in so short a time because it's what the Lord had called him to - he was operating within the purposes God had for his life.

God can operate in the so-called “natural” course of events. Putting aside the idea that God only encompasses the spectacular or miraculous and who shows up only through signs and wonders, we plainly see in Nehemiah a man who was faithful through prayer and action. Equally important, we see a loving and faithful God who was beside him through the grueling process. Like Nehemiah, when we are faithful in prayer and action to what God has placed on our hearts, we will see God's love and faithfulness as we see his purposes lived out in our lives.

About the Author: Jaret is originally from Sugar Land, TX, but moved to Ann Arbor with his wife after graduating from Texas A&M to be an engineer for Toyota. They now live in Ypsilanti and have a puppy for a child. Jaret loves community and making friends, and can’t get enough of these Michigan summers!

Greener Grass

It has been said that the grass is never greener on the other side… Yet, as humans, we tend to always want what we don’t have; we long for the grass on the other side - the grass we think is greener. Our heart longs and dreams for what we think could be. But contrary to this desire, as followers of Jesus, we are called to water the grass where we are planted.

This was a lesson that I learned while in South Africa with Antioch Discipleship School earlier this year. At that time, the Antioch Church in Cape Town was studying the same passage that Jason shared a couple of Sundays ago (Jeremiah 29:4-7). One of the phrases that the Cape Town pastor repeatedly said was:

“Water the grass where God has called you to be.”

Antioch Young Adults "watering the grass" at U of M by serving students through an Encouragement Cafe. (Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines)

Antioch Young Adults "watering the grass" at U of M by serving students through an Encouragement Cafe. (Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines)

This phrase has helped me understand that even though I do not know the timeline that God has for me, I do know that I can have purpose, because I am called to water the grass here in Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti. Let’s take a closer look at what the passage says:

4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)

This passage illustrates how God is calling the Israelites who are in captivity to water the grass where God has placed them. I don't know about you, but if I was in captivity and relocated to a different land against my will, I would not want to contribute to the good of that place. Yet, God is telling the people of Israel to build, to plant, to get married and have kids. He also instructs the Israelites to not just be planted but also to do good in the land that they are in: to water the grass where God has placed them.

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On Sunday Jason called us to be people who do good in the communities that we are in by being people who worship God, share in God’s rescue plan and show compassion to the people around us. This means that every day as we go to work, class, the store, life group, etc we would be people that carry the gospel and share that with the people around us. It means that we go out of our way to do good and water the places where we are called to be.

Maybe for some of you this idea of "watering where you are planted" comes really naturally, but maybe you're not even sure what this looks like. This Saturday, as a church, we are going after this concept in a really practical way through Love Where You Live. We are so excited to love and serve our community and to do good in our city! We hope you'll join us!

You can go to http://www.antiocha2.org/events/ and click on Love Where you Live to sign up. We hope to see you on Saturday!


About the Author: Maribeth has recently discovered a love for writing and communicating what the Lord has put on her heart through the written word. Maribeth currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is part of Antioch Community Church. You might find her drinking chai at a local coffee shop with a good book in hand, working at the local hospital as a nurse, or enjoying her new friends. But one thing is certain, she will probably have on some form of pink attire.

What's in your Joy Bucket?

What do you want right now? What you really desire in this season of life? What’s that thing you wonder about while lying awake at night or before rising in the morning? I’m not talking about world peace, salvation for everyone on earth, and food for all the starving children. Those are great...but no.

I’m talking about your personal desires, goals. What makes your smile waver when you see other people with the thing you want but don’t have? That makes you feel the world as you know it will end if you don’t get it?

bucket.jpeg

Got it in mind? Now answer this:

What do you want life to be like if you never get it?

(Blank stare). "Um, Lis...what do you mean?"

I mean, imagine a life where you would never receive that thing. What do you want your life to look like?

"Why would I waste energy imagining life without it? Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Also - death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), so I’m not going to speak lack over my life!! And besides, God gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11), so...I know I’m going to get what I’ve been believing for."

Maybe you didn’t respond that way to my question. But I did when it was asked of me.

So, what is it that I want?

Eep. Vulnerable moment alert. I’m going to follow the example of my dear friend Mac (who writes so vulnerably on her blog), and I’m just going to close my eyes and jump in.

I want to end my current status of being single.

OhMyGoshISaiditOutLoud. DontLookAtMe.

I’ve been wanting to begin my journey of meeting and getting to know my life partner, forever friend. It’s awkward to admit on a public forum (flashback to nightmares of showing up to class in my underwear) and in a time of life where various precious friends are in beautiful relationships. (I’m genuinely happy for y’all - you know this!). I’m not thinking about the ridiculous “ticking clock,” eggs drying up, or wanting to get married before I have a head full of silver hair (first silver appeared at age 19).

I’ve been thinking about sunsets that would be nice to share with someone. Moments when I want to talk to someone, but I don’t feel like chatting with a girlfriend, or my family, or even God. Wanting to build and grow with someone.

And I’ve felt discontent.

Earlier this month, a good friend of mine told me she is studying the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. Her excitement about what she’s been learning encouraged me to do the same. So far, I’ve covered the first four listed in Galatians 5:22. On my second day of the study, my experience reading verse 22 went like this:

“...But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” Ugh. (Side-eye). God, can you please remove this mirror from my face? I genuinely smile, I feel truly happy for and with others. But I’m discontent when I look at myself. And if I’m discontent, I am lacking joy.

I then asked the logical next question: “How can I get joy?” Right now I don’t feel that same joy I felt when my relationship with Jesus first began.

The phrase “...that your joy may be full” popped into my mind. I immediately asked Dr. Google for assistance, and I was led to John 15:10-13, where Jesus says to His disciples:

"If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." 

Jesus wants me to obey the Father’s command. The Father’s command is: love other people sacrificially. As I do that, I will be engulfed by the love of the Father. And the joy that Jesus has will be the joy that I have. And my “joy bucket” won’t have any empty ounces. It’ll be full to the brim - overflowing even.

Jesus willingly endured great pain for me, and He wasn’t always happy, yet He still had joy. In the words of my dear friend, Jesus endured the pain of the cross, but He went to the cross for the joy set before Him. The joy of making it possible for me to know God as Jesus knows Him, and walk in an eternal, beautiful relationship with the Father. And that same Jesus-joy is accessible to me. Selah.

When I read this article (Single Truths), I was told point-blank I might not get married. Marriage is not a guarantee. But the writer asked me what I want my life to be like if I never got married.

Here’s part of my answer: I want a full Joy Bucket. I want to travel the world. I want to maintain strong relationships with my friends and family and spend quality time with them. I want to live a life that makes people curious and excited about Jesus. I want to learn more languages. I want to see systems enhance life and health outcomes, instead of destroying them. And I want to be an extra on the set of an action movie.

Not being in a dating relationship influenced my joy, not just my happiness. At times I’ve kept myself too busy to think about it. But ignoring the gnawing at my heart didn’t make it go away. Intentionally spending time in God’s Word is helping to reshape my thinking...and revitalize my relationship with God. Actively loving has been giving me opportunities to experience joy in new ways.

I ask you again. What do you want life to be like if you never get that [X]? That job? Career milestone? Salary? House? Grad school acceptance? Grade? Car? Acceptance into a tight-knit circle of friends? Marriage? Child?

What Now?

This week, assess the status of your Joy Bucket. Journal about it. Discuss with a close friend or your discipleship group. Whatever it is, do something. Because we’re not guaranteed everything we want, no matter how good it is. We were not designed for the fulfillment of our desires to determine the breadth and depth of our joy.

About the Author: Elisabeth (Lis) is a recent graduate of UofM’s Master of Public Health program. When she’s not wading through the uncertainties of entrepreneurship as she launches a start-up focused on end-of-life healthcare decision making, making drinks at Starbucks (or doing the non-glamorous aspects of barista life), Lis loves to sit at a piano, blast various international music, or curl up with a good book.

I Love my Microwave - Passion and Purpose II

I love my microwave.

I literally do not think I could live without it. Literally.  I love that it seems to cook my entire meal within minutes. Sometimes I’m a real martyr and have to be super patient when I heat up a Marie Calendar dinner, as those tend to take a good 8ish minutes to thoroughly cook. Those are tough times. But on average, I pop something in there and 2-3 minutes later… Bon apetite!

I don’t think I’m alone when I say this is how I would like the rest of my life to go. I am always in this constant tension of wishing everyday processes would go by just a bit more quickly. I wish this line at Starbucks would have three less people in it. I wish my 12-hour shift at work were only 6 hours. I wish I didn’t have shower every morning…that would save me so much time and inherently make my life better - make me more productive. Am I right, people?!

Better yet - what if there were processes that I could eliminate entirely?! I’d be living my best life for sure!

The catch to all of this ingenuity is that it’s completely counterproductive to the mission of the Gospel. 

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Our pastor, Jordan, delivered a spectacular message of hope this past Sunday. He encouraged us that God uses the process, no matter where along that spectrum you may find your start. He took us to scripture that highlights the modeling aspect of discipleship and then shared story after story of how it’s that very piece that produces life transformation. It’s the friction of running beside someone through different seasons and storms so that what is being demonstrated and lived out by one may eventually be absorbed by the other. I don’t know about you, but I have never really been a quick learner - so bless the Living God that he set up a system that allows time! Because goodness knows some of us (a.k.a. me) need it! (Even though we might not always want it.)

We often despise that which takes a lot of time - it’s cumbersome, tedious, and taxing and we lose sight of “progress.”

Jesus invites us to trust Him with our process.

We diminish the work of the Holy Spirit when we do otherwise. Philippians admonishes us to remember that

“he who began a good work [in us] will carry it to completion.”  

God created us. God created the system to bring us to him and do it with other people. It’s only logical that God would also see it through.

We are His beloved; His chosen. He is changing our families, our city, our nation, the NATIONS with the power of our relationship with him and our relationships with one another. As we bear with one another and seek him and his ways, He’s more than faithful to reveal himself to us and make us more like Him.

Grab someone by the hand today and start walking this thing out. Trust Him with the days. Trust Him with the months and even years - He’s doing His thing even when you can’t see it. Like I said, I love the microwave, but there’s deeper, more tasty magic that is found only in the slow cooker.

About the Author: Larissa is a nurse at St. Joe's Mercy Hospital as well as the college director here at Antioch Community Church. She enjoys reading, listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat and pranking her roommates. She also consumes coffee on a far too regular basis. She will do great things.

Set In Order What Remains - Passion and Purpose I

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Recently, I know a lot of us have done one of the following things:

  • Moved into a new house.
  • Moved into a new church.
  • Moved into a new job.
  • Moved into a new role.

If you haven’t done one of the previous, you’ve probably done one of these below:

  • Returned to the same house.
  • Returned to the same church.
  • Returned to the same job.
  • Returned to the same role.

No matter whether you are moving to something new or returning to something familiar, the calling for all of us, like Titus, is still the same:

“Set in order that which remains.”
Titus 1:5

At the beginning of Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul writes that he left Titus in Crete so that he would “set in order what remains." But what do we do when setting things in order gets tiring? What do we do if things don’t seem to be changing, or that the work is never ending?

Here are three encouragements to remember when considering this call to set in order what remains:

1) We are not accidents; we are chosen.

When Paul leaves, He tells Titus: “For this reason I left you.”

In each area of your life, you have been chosen by God as a cultivator of your house, your relationships, your children, your studies, your job, or your finances - however each of them look now - to set them into more order than how they began. When Paul had to leave Crete, Paul delegated leadership to Titus to care for Crete, but he didn’t leave him alone. Paul still wrote to Titus to encourage him. When Jesus left, he chose for himself a people to set in order what remained, but Jesus has not left us alone. He sent his Helper, the Spirit, to guide us into all things. We are chosen, and we are not left alone!

2) We are not alone; we are in a chain of delegation.

The Christian life isn’t a cake walk! For this reason, God intended us to be in discipleship relationships, where we are spurred on to love and good works by someone above us, and where we can share what we learn with someone under us.

Our disciplers and those put in authority above us are gifts meant to encourage us! Again, we are not alone in our pursuit of setting things in order. Not only do we have God’s Spirit guiding us, but we have each other, the Body of Christ, spurring us on along the way. We are to rely on authorities God sets above us, especially those in the church! They, just like us, have been given divine delegation to be setting things into order.

I have found myself particularly encouraged these past few weeks when I have seen photos of people setting up our new church. My schedule has required me to focus setting into order other parts of my life, but I got to receive the wonderful gift and sacrifice of leaders above me and peers around me setting into order the new church building, which I got to receive!

On days when you’re overwhelmed, remember that someone else is also putting into order areas that impact you. You have gifts to receive from the Body of Christ. Rest in their leadership. Trust it. And receive it as a gift.

Lastly, trust the anointing God has given you as a delegated leader. God will not abandon you at your post. He may ask you wait and stay there, persevering in your calling (Titus 2:2), but He has not left. Paul might have left Crete, but Jesus did not.

3) We are not helpless; we wait.

“If an army has been set out to march into an enemy’s country, and news is received that it is not advancing, the question is at once asked, what is the cause of the delay?

The answer will very often be: ‘Waiting for supplies.’ All the stores of provision or clothing or ammunition have not arrived. Without these, [the army] dare not proceed. It is likewise in the Christian life...we need our supplies from above. And there is nothing so necessary as to cultivate that spirit of dependence on God and confidence in Him.”

Waiting on God, Andrew Murray p. 23-24

As a leader in our own areas of life, it is not shameful to wait on God! In fact, it is the path God intended for us since Adam and Eve.

The Lord upholds all who are falling
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You,
And You give them their food in due season.

Psalm 145: 14-15

Some last truth:

“He will finish in you that which he begun.”

Philippians 1:6

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

Selah

About the Author: Allison is a massage therapy student at Schoolcraft College and waitress at Zola Bistro. When she isn't doing these two things, she's probably doing something around Antioch. She loves prayer, worship, and spending time with her connect group!

We Moved!

We are moving!!! We have a new place to meet!!! Antioch Community Church has a great new home!!! We are now meeting:

Sundays at 10 am at
105 N. Mansfield Rd
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

We are super excited and filled with expectation for the coming years. Moving brings excitement and expectation like few other things in life. Abundant expectation of what God has planned for our church and our city fills us. We are also filled with excitement for what God is going to do in and through us. I am having a hard time putting into words what the church is feeling with this move. So for this blog post I wanted to write out a prayer for the church and our city as the move is happening. Please join me in praying the following prayer as our church is given a great opportunity to steward a building in our great city.

Father thank You for providing a place for our church to meet.

Thank You for giving us a wonderful place to praise Your name in worship. Bring people into our lives that we can invite into encounters with You in worship. 

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Thank You for providing rooms for our children’s ministry to change the lives of children, teaching them the love of their heavenly Father. Bring more families who will be transformed and become transformation leaders in the world. 

Thank You for giving us a space to listen to powerful preaching of Your truth. May we encounter You through the preaching each week, transform our hearts. 

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Thank You for a base for mission sending to the city, region, and world. Father give us opportunities to serve those who need to experience You.  Thank You for teaching us to be Your disciples. Teach us to make disciples of all people.  Holy Spirit come in power and fill us up and fill up this new building. Make this building a powerful base to transform our city with love and service. Teach us to serve and love like Jesus.  We love You and thank You for the great opportunity for a space to experience Your presence as a body, to learn to be Your disciples, and to go on mission to transform the world.  

About the Author: Ted is a father of five, our families pastor at AntiochA2, and helps lead our prayer ministry. He loves Jesus, being a husband, being a father, and loving people. Ted enjoys hanging out with his sons and enjoying God’s beautiful creation. He has a desire to see families wholly following Jesus with passion and being transformed by His love. Ted believes that as we make disciples of Jesus who truly understand their new identity in Him, the world can’t help but be dramatically changed by the local church.  

Stories of Faith: Hamtramck

One evening at the beginning of the summer, I sat with a group of interns from around the United States and listened as they answered one simple question: What brought you to Detroit? Why spend 11 weeks of your summer serving a city of people you've never met? The common thread was obvious. God hand-picked each of them "for such a time as this." To serve this city. This summer. I remember sitting in that upper room in Hamtramck, looking around at these faces and being filled with sure expectancy: God was about to release fresh wind and fresh fire over the city. And these faces were going to be a part of it. 

Join us on today's blog as two of these interns - Heather and Elizabeth - share a bit of what God taught them this summer.

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Jesus' Name Changes Things

- Heather Sullivan -

One of the most powerful things I learned this summer in Detroit was how to pray. Some might say that seems too simple or that it's a small task to fill up 3 months, but it was more than that.

Every time I said Jesus' name in faith, things changed. Whether it was praying for someone to be healed from an injury or for someone to know the Lord, Jesus never failed. A consistent prayer of mine this summer was that people we encountered would know that we were different. I prayed this day in and day out, knowing God had big plans for us. He did.

In our last days in Detroit two mighty miracles happens. The first one was with a restaurant owner that we had been investing in almost daily. Despite this persistence, we had not yet seen any fruit come from it. On our last full day in Hamtramck we decided to eat there one last time to say goodbye. As I was leaving the restaurant, he asked me to pray for him. He told me that he knew that we were different and that when we talked to God, things happened. I prayed for him and knew in that moment that was one of the reasons why I was called to Detroit this summer.

The second miracle was with one of our friends from Bangladesh. Another ministry that we partnered with this summer had been pouring into him for over a year before we met him. He was going through some difficult circumstances and was at a loss for what to do next. We did exactly what Christians are called to do, we loved and prayed for him. We prayed for and loved him every single day of the summer, even when he went back to Bangladesh for a few weeks. We knew God had a really big plan for him, and we got to see it on the very last night that we were in town. That night our friend from Bangladesh gave his life to Jesus.

God showed me this summer that nothing can happen without prayer. Even when we do not see it at first, when we call on Jesus, He moves in powerful ways.

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Faithful to the End

-Elizabeth Macpherson-

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-to bestow on them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

It almost seems unbelievable to share the testimony of how this scripture was shown true and real this summer in Hamtramck, Michigan. From teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Syrian refugees, to pulling weeds, planting seeds, and watering gardens, and to living everyday lives with boldness and love of the Spirit, God showed His promises to us. God never left our side. He guided our every moment. 

But it was more than God just directing us. He gave His heart, His eyes, His vision, and His hands to give and heal in every situation and circumstance. Our God is faithful to the end.

As we put in the effort, God put in the energy for us. On a normal day of ministry, we began at 10:00 am and were out until midnight. It was exhausting, and it definitely pushed us to press into God when we wanted to pull back. It was in those times though that God truly revealed himself and His Father heart for me and all His children. He revealed to me His grace and mercy for me like never before. Receiving His grace and mercy in a new way helped me be able to extend the same to others around me.

His strength came daily through His Word, worship, prayer, community, and through His Spirit. From day one, He continually poured out His spirit and favor to us, and it became evident in the city. By faithfully abiding and walking the streets and praying for people and for His Kingdom to come, God shifted the atmosphere.

About halfway through the summer, people knew who we were! We would ask Hamtramck residents if we could pray for them, and they would respond, “Wait! Are you the group from Texas? We’ve heard about you guys. You guys are changing this city.” That is so praiseworthy! All the glory to God because it was His power, love, and faithfulness, not ours, that transformed lives on the streets of Hamtramck.

Looking back on the summer, I can’t help but proclaim that Jesus is alive and healing His children! From broken toes, to infected eyes, and to hearts that use to be filled with lies, Jesus healed and restored people in a way that we never could have done ourselves. Through the Holy Spirit, people’s heart were healed so that they were able to see the truth of Jesus Christ and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Because of the Lord's faithfulness, the 11 weeks this summer in Hamtramck were an unbelievable and indescribable experience.

I encourage you all to listen and obey the Spirit and go with faith when He speaks, because there are no qualifications for being a missionary. God will equip and provide for you always, and he'll teach you so much as you walk faithfully with him.

About the Authors: Heather hails from Baton Rouge, LA, where she serves on the student council of LSU. Elizabeth is from Tyler, TX, where she is learning to hear the voice of God and lean into him to direct her future. Heather and Elizabeth gave up their summer and said "yes" to all God had for them in Hamtramck.
(Intro by Ana Lossing)

You are Valuable

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”

Matthew 6:25

Anxiety. The word itself makes me feel uneasy.

It was fitting that this last Sunday Jordan used “anxiety” in the context of Matthew 6:25-34. In the Bible translation I use, the word used in that passage is “worry,” and while I’m of course familiar with both words, “anxiety” strikes a chord with far more people in our culture and social context.

I don’t need to show you the stats to tell you what you probably already know. Every day we are inundated with choices: what to eat, what to wear, where to go. Our technology continually presents us with more options and gives us the means to rearrange our plans in a single moment. We look at our government, our economy, our health system, and we feel unstable and uncertain. We look at our own lives and wonder, did I get the right education? Am I in the right field? Will my kids be all right? Will my marriage last? Am I making the right investments for the future? Am I saving enough for retirement? How do I get out of debt? Am I making enough to support my lifestyle? Am I going to be all right?

Feeling anxious? The complexities of our world can get a little overwhelming sometimes. Sometimes we need a simple reminder that we are valued, treasured, and cared for.

Photo by Khürt Williams on Unsplash

You have inestimable value.

Your life is of far more importance than anything you can acquire or put into it. As Jordan reminded us, at the end of the day, being anxious adds nothing of value to your life. It doesn’t add even a single hour (Matthew 6:27).

Why do we do it? We worry, we fear, we get anxious and forget to trust. We turn on ourselves and hate who we are, and belittle the value that has been placed there by our Creator.

But that is not life to the fullest as God has intended through Christ. The passage reminds us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). It’s a reminder for me that no matter what options are presented before me, and no matter the choices I worry about making, God cares for me throughout, and if I set my focus on him, seeking his kingdom first, I will see the things that I worry and fret about fade with each passing day.

If we have the perspective that God does not care for us and does not provide for us, then we will make choices, financially or otherwise, that reflect that belief. When our values are not aligned with God’s kingdom, we find giving challenging and tithing impossible.

But the opposite is true the more that we begin to trust God and seek him out in all that we do. He wants us to be free from anxiety. He also will provide for us like any good dad would for his kids. As we declare that over our lives, and set our focus on who he is and the values of the kingdom, I pray that we will not only see the change in our hearts and minds but that we will also see breakthrough in the area of anxiety.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:7

About the Author: Gabby hails from Waco, Tx where she received her undergraduate degree in social work. She calls herself a Michigander now, and is excited for the next adventure with God in Ann Arbor and Detroit! Geography is her favorite subject, and as the American daughter of Filipino immigrants, she is no stranger to a diversity of food, culture and travel. You can often find her at the local rock wall, hitting the pavement around Ypsi/A2 or, her favorite, getting quality time with good friends.

Money Practicals

The past two weeks we have been talking about money. Why? Because money touches all of us. And God has a lot to say about the topic of money and our heart in light of it. On the post this week, I just wanted to give some practical advice and help in this area.

Photo by Vitaly on Unsplash

Photo by Vitaly on Unsplash

These are things that my wife Alex and I have found helpful, and you might as well:

1. Develop a Vision Statement for Your Money:

“Without vision people cast off restraint”

Proverbs 29:18

This proverb rings so true in the area of money. It's why it is important to develop vision for the way you steward the money God has given you. Maybe you have vision to one day give over 75% of your income away or to save up $1,000,000. Whatever your dream and hope is, if you don’t have vision for it you won’t get there. 

2. Create a Budget:

Whether you are in college or an empty nester, one of the most valuable things you can do in the area of financial stewardship is make a budget. The idea here is to tell your money where to go. Whenever you receive your paycheck, whether irregular, varying amounts or a set amount, take 10-30 minutes to plan.

Here are some great resources for making a budget….

3. Start an Emergency Fund:

One of the biggest hindrances to stick to your budget are unplanned expenses. Car repairs, a broken phone, and emergency medical expense are all things that can happen at any time that we may not have prepared for, and they can destroy our budget. Having $1000 in a savings account that you don’t touch except for emergencies does two things. 1) It gives you peace of mind. If something happens, you have money placed to the side that you can access. 2) It allows you to stick with your budget in the event of an unplanned expense.

If you don’t have an emergency fund, start putting a reasonable amount from each paycheck into a savings account.

4. List Your Debts:

 One helpful thing is to make a list of all debts owed; simply write them out on paper. From small to large, list them out. I’m even talking about the $50 you owe your friend. It is far easier to dig your head in the sand like an ostrich and pretend like those debts aren’t there. But it’s far more life giving to list them out and make a plan to pay them off. Proverbs 22:7 says: 

“The borrower is slave to the lender." 

It’s the real deal. Ask anyone who is debt free. There is something powerful that happens when you get set free from the lender. Once you list out your debts, come up with a plan to pay them off as soon as possible.

 

I hope that these small items have been helpful for you. If you're feeling lost, consider joining our Financial Equipping Course starting in October, where we’ll dive deeper into managing finances wisely. If you are doing really well in the area of finances, disciple others on how to handle money.

Let us be a church who is debt free and outrageously generous!

About the Author: Jason serves as the connections pastor at Antioch Ann Arbor. Jason loves helping people discover who God is and who they are in Christ. He is usually next to one of his four prettiest girls on the face of the earth (his wife or three daughters.)

Suffering to Healing

I failed out of Duke University.

I found out on December 17, 2008. While my parents and congregants from our church were gathered at my house joyously celebrating my parents' 31st wedding anniversary, I was huddled over our computer, fighting hot tears and forbidding them from falling down my face as I reeled in shock from reading an email that shattered my identity.

I'd just ended the first semester of my sophomore year in college, and it was a semester riddled with highs (such as my sister's wedding) and lows, but I mostly remember the lows. The anxiety, thoughts of self-harm, frustration, and fear: fear of failure and fear of others knowing how stupid and helpless I felt. But this day was the all-time low.

I returned to the anniversary celebration and did what I always did: put a smile on my face and acted like everything was fine. The next morning, I sobbed on the phone with Kenesha, who had discipled me fort he past year and a half. After she patiently listened to me, she kindly but firmly said, "Lis. I know this seems like a big deal right now, but it's not really a big deal. God has something He's been trying to tell you, and if you stay at Duke you won't be able to hear Him."

Yes she actually said that.

I was shocked too.

Because it WAS a big deal.

I was Elisabeth Michel. Which obviously meant that academic achievement was a given. Failing out of a prestigious university meant that I no longer was the fiercely independent and intelligent person I knew myself to be. I was no longer somebody that people would want around, or who could make her parents proud.

But over the next 8 months I spent at home and out of school, I learned that Kenesha was right. God was actively speaking to me.

Little by little I began to see God revealing to me that I'd placed all my hope and identity in my ability to achieve - something He'd been trying to show me since I started school my freshman year.

I'd believed that since God specializes in doing the impossible, I had to focus on the possible. And focusing on the possible meant excelling academically, because that was in my power to do.

But my academic dismissal shook this belief, and I had no choice but to learn that life was comprised of more than my academic and professional success. My life didn't end because I was no longer in school. In fact, in the midst of my broken pride and bruised heart, I experienced a newness of life as God brought me freedom.

Photo by Henri Meilhac on Unsplash

Freedom from the heavy chains of feeling that perfection is a requirement for others to love me.

Freedom from the burden of thinking that I had to earn a 4.0 GPA in order to have a successful career.

Freedom from the fear of people knowing that I need help and I can't do it all.

And freedom to receive God's love - a love that enveloped me even though I felt undeserving. Love that I couldn't work for.

I can’t tell you what steps I took for my heart to start receiving healing. My first two weeks at home, all I did was sleep, eat, and watch Grey’s Anatomy online. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon Colossians 1:17 –

“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

And that verse became the mantra for that season (and continues as such – #SorryNotSorry for all the times I’ve repeated it to any of you over the past two years). God pursued me through His Word and through others, and I began to receive comfort in my time of suffering. Family, friends, and mentors extended their love and their support to me, helping me when I didn’t have the words to ask. They spoke words of truth, prayed with me, and prodded me to continue dreaming. They continued to value me when I felt I had no value. Despite the pain, I began to grow and mature in unexpected ways – admitting my weaknesses while honoring my strengths, learning how to ask for help, learning the definition of humility, and learning the feeling of a peaceful heart.

After two semesters of being at home, I reapplied to Duke and was readmitted, but since my pride had been beaten out of me, I returned to school with a renewed perspective - with my hope placed in Jesus instead of myself. My journey taught me that God won’t leave me, even if I try to run away from Him, so it’s safe for me to share my hurts with Him. My journey allows me to encourage others who struggle with academic performance or the pressures of trying to be effortlessly perfect.

Ultimately, my journey of suffering changed (as Artie Sudan shared on Sunday) how I relate to myself, others, and God.

I didn’t want to write this blog on the topic of suffering. I felt like it probably pales in comparison to the suffering you may have encountered in your life. But I remembered Christy Ogden’s words during the response time after the message at Antioch on August 6. She said that suffering is suffering – no matter what it is, no matter how “big” or how “little” you think your suffering is, it all matters to God. He doesn’t compare my suffering to yours, so nor should I.

Nor should you. No matter our suffering, God extends His love and His Word to us, to bring direction, healing, and hope.

Over the next week, I encourage you to think about the following:

  • What has been your journey of suffering?
  • What thoughts run through your mind when you think of your journey?
  • Which of those thoughts are in alignment with God’s Word? Which are not?

Share your thoughts with a friend, and bring them before the Lord. God is waiting to receive your wariness; to exchange your heavy burdens with His yoke that is easy and His burden that is light, and to clothe you in His love.

About the Author: Elisabeth (Lis) is a recent graduate of UofM’s Master of Public Health program. When she’s not wading through the uncertainties of entrepreneurship as she launches a start-up focused on end-of-life healthcare decision making, making drinks at Starbucks (or doing the non-glamorous aspects of barista life), Lis loves to sit at a piano, blast various international music, or curl up with a good book.

 

 

 

In the Beginning

Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

Excuse me if we get a little too deep in scripture for a moment. This is good.

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1

How many people have ever read this and just kind of stood puzzled at what it’s trying to say? I had this experience just last week waiting to catch my flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles. 

First, who or what is “the Word”? And why does this sound so strikingly familiar to the opening words of the Bible? Genesis 1:1-2 introduces 2 characters into the Bible. First is God himself: 

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 

Then, the Spirit of God: 

“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” 

But now, John wants to talk about a third character? Is this character different than the other two? Well, there are a few things we can learn about “the Word” from the Bible. 

Psalm 33:6 talks about the voice or “the Word” of the Lord as the agent of His creation. Other translations use “Yahweh” in place of “Lord”. It’s how the heavens were created, and it’s how the entire universe was created. This same “Yahweh” is used in Isaiah 2:3 when it associates Him with being a teacher, and his word coming from Jerusalem. About whom do we know this to be true? Jesus! (This is also made clear in John 1:17) 

It gets better. John is interpreting Genesis through the framework of Proverbs 8:22-31. Here, the Wisdom of God is described as a person or entity that assists God with creation of the world.  Below I will quote only verse 22:

“The Lord formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else. I was appointed in ages past, at the very first, before the earth began.”

The use of the Hebrew word “qanah” here does not convey conception (i.e., bringing into existence). Rather, it means, “brought forth”.  

With agreement from Paul in Colossians 1:16:

“For through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”

I had to just stop and process this all for a moment. Basically what I realized sitting in that airport were the following things:

Three beings were present from the beginning of time, not two.

Each being is associated with a form of God.

Everything was centered on this one being, Jesus, who was agent and reason for all of creation. 

Jesus is Wisdom itself, who came in the form of a human to earth to die for me so that I could have life.

Now, if being Wisdom means to absolutely know everything and have the best judgment of all, then I cannot deny Jesus, and I cannot deny what He has done for me. If he says “it is finished”, well, then I must trust him. 

And if trusting God himself means that I gain some of this understanding from Jesus by allowing him to transform my heart, well, then I want trust God.

About the Author: Jaret is originally from Sugar Land, TX, but moved to Ann Arbor with his wife after graduating from Texas A&M to be an engineer for Toyota. They now live in Ypsilanti and have a puppy for a child. Jaret loves community and making friends, and can’t get enough of these Michigan summers!

Fresh Wind. Fresh Fire.

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Acts 1:8

In the book of Acts, we see chronicled a movement of the gospel so strong and quick that new people were daily being saved (Acts 2:47). Scripture makes clear that this movement was enabled by one person in particular: Holy Spirit. In fact, in Luke 24:49, Jesus asks his disciples to wait to tell his story until the Spirit comes to empower them.

Our current reality is no different: we need Holy Spirit if we are going to see the gospel take root in our cities. We need to abide if we are going to see fruit.

Two Sundays ago, Jason presented a reality that is all too familiar for many of us: in a moment of high emotion, at a conference or in a worship setting or on a mission trip, we are captured afresh by the reality of God, and we make promises. We promise to abide, to evangelize, to love sacrificially. But Monday comes and the appeal of our vows has faded.

In these moments we often seek what feels the natural course: to search again for that “mountaintop experience”. As Jason put it: “we’re thirsty and asking for a drink, but we’re standing in a lake.” It is as if, in our haste to reach the mountaintop, we forget that rivers flow down to the valley.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

We do need fresh wind and fresh fire. We need the Spirit to empower us to be witnesses to all Jesus has done, but too often we make fresh wind and fresh fire too complicated. Too often we set our stubborn faces to Mount Sinai and think that fresh fire only comes at the top of the mountain (Exodus 24).

But there is no trick to fresh wind and fresh fire.

There is nothing special about particular conferences or mission trips or worship songs or any emotional high that breaks the heavens open. The only thing we need for broken open heavens to let fresh wind and fresh fire through is broken open hearts asking for more. The wonder of the veil-ripped open is that we have constant access to the holy place — where fresh wind and fresh fire are birthed (Matthew 27:51).

Sometimes we search for miracles. We search for miraculous signs and wonders, thinking this is how the Spirit will open the floodgates and empower us to see a gospel movement. But I’m convinced of this: the miracle I need is for Spirit to daily turn my rock-heart to flesh, to push back the encasing stone that I, because of busyness, selfishness, hurt, and complacency, allow to envelop me. The daily miracle I need is for Spirit to mold and bend and conform my heart and will to his.

Thank God there is not an emotional requirement for the holy place. There is no lock at the door that says we must feel a certain way, or even feel anything at all. Sometimes our rock-hearts won’t let us. And the reality is, we don’t always feel thirsty. We don’t always want to enter the holy place. We don’t always desire fresh wind and fresh fire, and we don’t always desire God’s kingdom to come.

In these moments, when our rock-hearts refuse to feel thirsty… what do we do?

I am not always thirsty, but I know that hydration is necessary for life. I know that when I’m dehydrated my quality of life is significantly decreased: I’m tired, groggy, and my head aches. Sometimes I rely on this really simple truth to motivate me to drink: I need to. As anticlimactic and unromantic as it sounds, sometimes we must rely on this truth when it comes to asking Jesus to be present in our lives. Even when we don’t feel as though we need him or even want him; he is necessary for life and for abundant life.

When we drink, we see that the Lord is good:

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him!"

Psalm 34:8

And when we drink, we are satisfied:

"You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."

Psalm 145:16

He is near to those who call on him in truth. Not on mountaintops. Not on emotional highs. In truth.

Whether we are thirsty or not this week, let’s press in. Let’s ask the Lord to send fresh wind and fresh fire. Ask him to do his will in our lives. Ask for his kingdom to come. Let’s drink, and see that he is good. He will satisfy. He will send fresh wind and fire. He will revive us and our cities.

About the Author: Ana is a Michigan native who likes putting honey in her coffee, singing in the car, and dancing when walking would do. She currently works in the Ann Arbor area as a dance teacher and as a receptionist at Arbor Woman Pregnancy Center. Her heart is for every person to know the deep love, identity, and mercy that can be found in the Father.

Abide.

Abide. 

A 5-letter word. A simple command. A word that is often spoken in Christian circles. 

Can I just have a little honesty moment with you? 

I have been really struggling to abide. 

Photo by Maja Petric on Unsplash

Photo by Maja Petric on Unsplash

Prior to moving to Ann Arbor, I lived in Boston, Massachusetts for 2 ½ years while studying for my doctoral degree in Physical Therapy. Outside of the countless hours in class and the seemingly never ending studying that had to occur outside of class, we also had seasons of clinical time where we would work full time under the guidance of a licensed Physical Therapist. For those of you who maybe have not lived in New England or encountered native New Englanders, let me tell you that these people are fiercely passionate about their gardens in the best way possible. I remember multiple patients giving me weekly updates about their tomatoes, their green beans, their lettuce, their peppers… and the list goes on! In fact, I distinctly remember one patient telling me that as the gardener, his job was to intimately know his plants, know what would harm them, create an environment that would foster growth, and prune them to prepare for future growth. Each week when I finished treating that patient, there was no doubt in my mind that this man loved his garden. 

Fast forward to last weekend, when Ted spoke on John 15 and the concept of abiding. I started getting restless in my seat as he spoke. I became like a small child squirming around, and I suddenly forgot how to discipline myself to sit still for 45 minutes. I was uncomfortable and just wanted to zone out. 

Isn’t it funny how the Lord puts things right under our nose when we aren’t walking in His way? 

That’s what Sunday was for me – a strict realization that I struggle with abiding because I often try to find fulfillment in everything (a job, an event, a reputation, a status, a friendship, an accomplishment, etc) other than living in a place of abiding with Jesus. I was convicted of finding contentment in my earthly circumstances instead of finding contentment in the presence of Jesus despite my circumstances. I was deeply convicted of being in a place of complacency, where I was okay with not abiding. 

I was later processing with the Lord as I was cleaning my house and he sweetly reminded me of my patients who were gardeners in Boston. Earthly gardeners long to spend time in their gardens because they want to see their garden thrive. The gardener knows that a harvest does not happen without a life-giving source and does not happen without cutting away the dead parts of the plant to produce more fruit. 

Reality Check: John 15 is about the same thing. 

Our Heavenly Father is the master gardener: He longs to spend time with us. He, as the vine, is the only source that fruit can grow from because without the vine there can be no life.

And by being in a place of complacency, where I was okay with not abiding, it is almost as if I was saying that I am okay cutting myself off from the vine because I don’t think that I need the life from the vine in order to produce fruit (…cue the conviction). 

As I was on my knees a few nights ago repenting of this sour, filthy attitude and nature of my complacency, I asked the Lord to replace this with an unquenchable thirst for the presence of Jesus. To replace my tendency for self-reliance with a total dependence on the presence of Jesus. To fill even the deepest crevices of my heart with a longing to abide, resulting in experiencing the transformative power that only the presence of Jesus brings.

And through it all, the Lord so gently and graciously continues to remind me that His command has not changed -- to be faithful in soaking up, sitting in, and walking in the presence of Jesus – to abide. 

This week, I would encourage you to read through John 15 and ask the Lord to highlight areas that you have excluded His presence or relied more on your independence than the dependence that comes from walking with Him. John 15 explicitly states that apart from Him (the vine), we (the branches) can do nothing. What areas of your life are you operating apart from Jesus and apart from the life giving presence of the vine? 

About the Author: Christiana thrives on saying "yes" to new adventures, connecting with people on a deep relational level, and eating Saturday morning brunch. She works locally as a Physical Therapist and also serves at Antioch Ann Arbor as the Production Director. Christiana is passionate about partnering with individuals to prepare, equip and mobilize them to operate best in who God has made them to be and accomplish the purpose that the Lord has set upon their life.

The Simple Gospel

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 34:8

When the guest speaker Aric Smith spoke two Sundays ago, his message was the message of the cross: simple, effective, and powerful. God wants relationship with us: his creation. He really, really loves us!

He came into our reality and went above and beyond to show his love through great, great sacrifice: his Son, Jesus. Jesus gave his life to cover our mess, our brokenness, our shame, so we can be with a most perfect and holy God. Through the cross, we can truly know that we are safe in the arms of a really good, really perfect, really holy Dad.

Does a good Dad abandon his Son? No, the story did not end with death on the cross. God raised Jesus from the dead, placed Him on the throne, and gave Him all authority in Heaven and on earth. Salvation through the cross, then, is really simple:

“If you declare with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans 10:9

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

When we know the name of the Lord is Jesus, we know the way, the truth and the life; we know the one who saves us from our own inability to be good enough to encounter God.

The point, however, is not simply for us to know in our minds that Jesus is Lord. What God wants is relationship with us. It’s all about the relationship, the daily in and out of knowing him. And we can never fully love someone if that knowledge is all in our heads. We have to know it in our hearts and with every part of our being.

How can we know that the love of God is worth having? We experience God, we see His goodness and faithfulness manifested in the lives of people around us. He supernaturally touches our hearts and overwhelms us. He demonstrates how merciful he is by forgiving us for everything that we’ve done in the past, present and future. He opens our minds to the truth of who he is. He shows us all manner of kindness, even when we think (and know) we don’t deserve it.

God is doing the work to show us how much he loves us. That’s the kind of Dad he is; that’s how good he is. All we have to do is bring our mess to him and lay it at the cross. We can lay all our messiness, all our brokenness before Jesus, and he takes it, and makes us whole and new.

And yes, that takes a little faith on our part. But God can take our little bit of faith and move mountains with it. Or what we think are mountains in our lives.

What do we need to bring before Jesus? What have we been withholding from Him that is hindering us from living life to the fullest? What ways is our pride keeping us from submitting to God and receiving the fullness of his love for us? How can we believe God for impossible things?

If you are wondering if you can truly be forgiven, if you can truly come clean, here is some truth: God is meeting you right where you are. He is patient, kind, and cares about you tremendously. God loves you. He really, really loves you! And wherever you feel that you are, you can turn to him and he will run to you.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

Photo Credit: Tiffany Hines

A simple prayer is this:

“Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139:23-24

As we begin to trust God more and more, and grow in our relationship with Him, as we begin to say yes to what he calls us to, we will discover more and more abundance beyond what we could imagine, for ourselves and for the people around us. The gospel is simple, but incredibly powerful. That is the message of the cross.

About the Author: Gabby hails from Waco, Tx where she received her undergraduate degree in social work. She calls herself a Michigander now, and is excited for the next adventure with God in Ann Arbor and Detroit! Geography is her favorite subject, and as the American daughter of Filipino immigrants, she is no stranger to a diversity of food, culture and travel. You can often find her at the local rock wall, hitting the pavement around Ypsi/A2 or, her favorite, getting quality time with good friends.

Be with God.

Church two Sundays ago was about experiencing the presence of God. Through an extended time of worship, prayer, confession, declarations, and ministering to one another, we cultivated in ourselves the closeness of children coming to the Father.

While service on Sunday was powerful, the question inevitably comes afterward:

How do we cultivate the presence of God in our daily lives?

Sometimes the options are too numerous. There are too many answers. Read the Bible. Pray. Add in a million spiritual things to do. This week, let’s focus on a simple one. Time. 

Psalm 46:10 says,

“ Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

In context, this verse is about acknowledging who God is in a time of desolation, and it specifically highlights that God will be lifted up in all the earth. If we can acknowledge his character and his glory in the midst of chaos, we can acknowledge it in the midst of anything. How do we do this?

“Be still and know that I am God.”

If you break down this beautiful command to it’s most simple form, this is what you get:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

We don’t have to be partaking in a worship service to know that he is God. We simply need to cultivate an awareness of who he is in the midst of being. Playing soccer can be considered being. Reading a book can be considered being. Taking a walk can be considered being. Listening to music can be considered being. Laying still on the carpet or grass can be considered being. In whatever we are doing, we can practice being aware of God’s presence, cultivating an inner stillness that abides with Jesus. This takes practice: to be still and to glorify him in the midst of the chaos of our daily lives. But it is worth it; in John 15:4, Jesus says:

“Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.”

One of the most powerful elements of church on any Sunday is that, for approximately 90 minutes, we are intentional to be. For 90 minutes, we put aside our phones, our chores, our meals, our work, and we sit. Or we stand. We kneel. We listen to a sermon, we sing, we pray, we reflect, we fellowship with the Body of Christ. We are present.

At a store this week, I came across this add on a vending machine:

This can be applied to our quiet times! It might not always be about what we learn or how we confess. Sometimes it’s just the fact that we spend time being with Him. Consider the "snack" as awareness of his presence. It can take time to sink into the moment and encounter God, and it takes time and repetition to learn to do this. "It's worth the wait!" This is why we must be intentional:

Open up your calendar and, in the next day or two, find a time where you can fully be, a time where you can cultivate an awareness of God. Folding laundry. Going for a run. Waking up early. Receive it as being from the Lord. For when we are still in our spirits, then we are opened to know God.

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

1 Timothy 4:4

As we sometimes sing - “Holy Spirit you are welcomed here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.Your glory God is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by Your Presence, Lord.”

About the Author: Allison is a massage therapy student at Schoolcraft College and waitress at Zola Bistro. When she isn't doing these two things, she's probably doing something around Antioch. She loves prayer, worship, and spending time with her connect group!