You Have the Power to Change a Life this Easter

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Today’s guest post is by Poncho Lowder, a college pastor at City Bible Church, cofounder of the Bible and Journal App Company, and author of Pursue God: How Do You Develop a Thriving Relationship with God?, which, for a limited time, you can get for only 99 cents!

For many people, Easter is the one day they set aside each year to be with Jesus. Some people are bothered by this fact, but I’m inspired and motivated by this! My hope is that this one encounter could catapult them into a deep relationship with Jesus like what happened to Peter in Luke 5. This one encounter stirred up a new passion in Peter; so much so that he chose to walk away from everything to follow and serve Jesus.

One encounter with Jesus can change your life

The story goes that Peter and his crew had just finished a long night of fishing. A fisherman by trade, Peter had experienced an exceptionally bad night. They had caught nothing and undoubtedly, he was exhausted. It was most likely shaping up to be one day he’d rather just forget about. We’ve all had days like this, where we fail to be productive and nothing seems to go as planned. But sometimes, even amidst these failures, Jesus intervenes.

Luke tells the story like this:

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat” (Luke 5:1–3).

One can only imagine Peter’s frustration at Jesus’ request. He’d just finished an unproductive night of fishing and was most likely ready to go home. Now, he not only had to sit through a sermon, but Jesus had the audacity to tell him to go fishing again! “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” Jesus said after he finished preaching. In this moment, Peter had to choose between heading home and getting some sleep like a rational man after a hard day’s work or responding to Jesus’ request. He chose to respond.

“Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:5).

This response led Peter to a supernatural experience. The nets that had been empty all night began to burst at the seams because the catch was so large. Not only was his net full, but his friends’ boat was overflowing as well!  This natural catch of fish opened his spiritual eyes to the supernatural reality of who Jesus was. It was this one experience that caused him to leave everything and pursue God!

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:8–11).

Immediately, Peter was awakened to who Jesus was and also his own flaws. He saw himself as unworthy, but Jesus pulled him closer and proclaimed purpose and destiny over his life. Imagine witnessing such a miracle and then being told that you would do even greater things! Jesus awakened Peter to the plan he had for his life.

It’s up to you: invite someone to Easter Sunday

Jesus wants to do this for you, your neighbors, friends, and enemies! This is what I’m hoping for as people step into church for the first time this year for Easter Sunday. I’m inviting everyone I can to church Easter Sunday. I pray that they have an encounter with Jesus that leads them into deep water, and ultimately causes them to pursue God wholeheartedly.

Take some time today and ask God if there is anyone in your life that you should be inviting to church Easter weekend. Read Luke 5 and let your faith be stirred for the people God puts on your heart. Unsaved people are very open to going to church on Easter if invited by someone they know. Let’s not pass up on this awesome opportunity we have to introduce people to Jesus!

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God Sightings: How Often Has He Passed through Your Life Unnoticed?

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Today’s guest post is by Don Cousins, trusted teacher, leadership coach, and author of Unexplainable: Pursuing a Life Only God Can Make Possible—an intuitive resource designed to help people find true fulfillment by shifting their life view from outside-in to inside-out. Discover how to pursue a joyful life that can only be found in Christ—download Unexplainable on Vyrso today!

Did you make note of God when he passed by your life today? I would bet he gave you several chances to spot him. He may have shown up in the form of an answered prayer, or in a conversation that went in a very different, but wonderful direction than you expected. He may have provided wisdom, direction, or discernment for some matter that’s been puzzling you, or maybe a word of encouragement at just the right time from an unexpected source. God is making appearances in, through, and around our lives on a regular basis. Unfortunately, we all too often fail to see him.

God longs for you to see him

It was August of 1998, and I was seated at our dining-room table having my morning time with God. It was early, and MaryAnn and our three kids were still sound asleep. I opened my Bible to Mark 6 and began reading. It turned out to be a very familiar chapter, filled with familiar stories. Jesus summoned the 12, gave some quick instructions, and sent them out to do ministry. They returned at the end of the day, and Jesus suggested they get away to a “lonely place” where they could rest and catch dinner. Mark tells us it had been a long and busy day and that they hadn’t had time to eat. As their boat came ashore, they discovered that their “lonely place” wasn’t so lonely. Word of their ministry that day spread and a crowd of people wanted more. What unfolds is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.

I asked God for some fresh insight as I read and reread the story of the feeding, but nothing new came to mind. Hoping to get something more out of my time in God’s Word, I read on to when Jesus walks on water:

“And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified” (Mark 6:48–50).

I was struck by the words “He meant to pass by them,”—why would he pass by them? Why wouldn’t he just get in the boat? What came to mind was this: he wanted to see if they truly knew who he was. Sadly, they didn’t “get it.” They saw him, but concluded it was a ghost; after all, real men don’t walk on water. The cultural beliefs of the day led them to believe that evil spirits dwelt in the sea and came out at night. They were frightened.

Jesus got in the boat and the wind stopped and they were greatly astonished. Why would they be astonished? They had just watched him feed 5,000 men (the crowd including women and children was far greater) with five loaves and two fish. Certainly, he was capable of walking on water. Verse 52 in Mark 6 provides the explanation: “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Jesus had displayed his true identity to his disciples at least twice that day. God made an appearance, yet they failed to see him. Oh what a difference it would have made that night with the wind and the waves against them had they seen the one who controls the wind and the waves. Fear would have turned to peace.

Take note of your God sightings

As I sat at my dining-room table, I asked myself: how many times has Jesus passed by my life unnoticed? I made a commitment that morning to a new practice that I’ve done every day since then, and will do for the rest of my life: I take time every few days to consider the events of my life—all of them—and make note of all my God Sightings, writing them in my prayer journal.

When the wind and the waves of life come against me, and my fist is clenched in frustration with God, I often go to that section of my journal and read through my God Sightings. And upon doing this, my fist opens and my palm is raised heavenward in worship. Oh what a difference it makes when we see God in everyday life. I call this the “Unexplainable,” apart from God life. This is the life I want to live.

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Learn more about noticing God every day and discover how to pursue a fulfilled life only found through Christ: download Don Cousins’ Unexplainable: Pursuing a Life Only God Can Make Possible on Vyrso today!

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Today Only: Get 70% Off the Inside-Out Transformational Bundle

The Jesus Life

For one day only, get 70% off the Inside-Out Transformational Bundle! With this bundle, get The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning, Unexplainable: Pursuing a Life Only God Can Make Possible by Don Cousins, and Stephen Smith’s latest book, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity!

The Jesus Life offers eight compelling ways to help us rediscover what it really means to follow Jesus, even amongst the busyness of twenty-first-century life. In today’s guest post by Stephen Smith, he explores the consequences of seeking the life Jesus never offered.

The busy life we’re living—running on empty and spinning and spinning on the proverbial hamster cage—is not the abundant life. To put it simply, the exhausted life is not the abundant life. We’ve lost our idea and notion about what it looks like to live the abundant life that Jesus promised. We’re clueless, and we feel trapped by all our appointments, agendas, and schedules.

In my work with thousands of leaders throughout the world, I’ve discovered that most leaders feel imprisoned by their lifestyles. They feel like they can’t make changes that would help them navigate the whitewater they’re experiencing.

We violate the words of Jesus because we have not understood them. We live in a state of perpetual breathlessness—moving on, hurrying there, and scurrying here. It’s an awful way to live.

In my book, The Jesus Life, I talk a lot about rhythm. I explain that living in rhythm works, while trying to live in balance doesn’t work. Balance is bunk! The word balance can’t be found in the Bible, which means many people are trying to live the life that Jesus never actually offered. He never offered us balance. He offered us rhythm—the key is learning to live our lives in a rhythm that sustains us rather than drains us.

If you’re tired, worn out, and burned out, I highly encourage you to try the ideas I lay out for you. It’s not rocket science, and you don’t have to have a PhD to understand the words of Jesus and his promises. But it does require a paradigm shift in how you look at balance and rhythm.

Here’s to the life Jesus offered us—the life that you and I can foster, nourish, and actually live.

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Today only: get Stephen Smith’s The Jesus Life, along with The Furious Longing of God and Unexplainable, for 70% off with the Inside-Out Transformational Bundle!

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A Dinner Party with Lazarus, Mary, and Judas: What Role Would You Play?

Dinner PartyToday’s guest post is by Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church since 2004. Prior to that, he served as the founder, speaker, and director of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M University. What started as a Bible study with 12 participants in his apartment grew to a weekly gathering of more than 4,000 students each Tuesday night. Download his powerful book, Finding God’s Will: Seek Him, Know Him, Take the Next Step on Vyrso today!

Imagine showing up to a dinner party with John 12:1–8’s guest list: Lazarus, the one listed in the obituary column; Martha, the hospitality guru; Mary, the worshipper; Judas, the scoundrel; and Jesus, the son of God. You pull up a chair and sit down, just listening to the conversation trying to throw in a story or interesting fact when the chance presents itself. Martha has made sure everyone is comfortable, but she isn’t going overboard like before when Jesus reminded her to enjoy him and not frantically pick up the house. This time, serving is still her gift, but Jesus is her focus. The food is good, the home warm, but what is that lovely smell? Hot apple pie? No, it hasn’t been invented yet. A Glade PlugIn? Still a few centuries away from that too. Ah perfume—beautiful, costly perfume.

As you turn around, there is Mary at her favorite place, Jesus’ feet, anointing his feet, wiping them dry with, of all things, her hair. Her love has blossomed so brightly that others’ opinions, poor finances, and having a bad hair day dim in comparison. Conversely, Judas stands in the wings questioning and stealing. His question seemed valid, “What about the poor?” At first glance he appears to be taking this issue to a higher plane. But the “spiritualizing” of it actually was a thin veneer of a selfish heart. Isn’t that exactly how Satan deceives? He doesn’t come with horns and a pitchfork, but as an angel of light; the misdirection sounds correct and even appears to be biblical, but the true target is missed by a country mile.

As I read this passage, I was struck with a couple thoughts:

1. What perfume do I possess that should be poured at the feet of Jesus? The words that popped in my mind were time, faith, fear, trust, money, and hope. What are they for you? Our deepest desire as Christians isn’t sin or the toys of the world, but to pour ourselves at his feet. The intimacy of that love is unimaginable and, truthfully, seldom experienced in our lives. But such joy comes in pouring out. Martha poured out service, Mary the aroma of love, Jesus his blood, Lazarus a new appreciation for life, Judas deception, and you and me with ______. (I’m not sure yet either. But I’m listening for his requests and staying at his feet.)

2. No cost is too great. She poured out the best and the costliest. It seemed crazy to “waste” such a perfume, but isn’t the essence of love to be a bit crazy? Deep, grateful love has a hint of craziness to it. It throws caution to the wind while taking responsibility to heart, and goes for broke. That we would love Christ with such a heart. We live cautiously with God, keeping him safely at arm’s length, and choosing our ambiguous guesses over his sovereign plan. Mary visibly showed the true aroma of her heart’s love for Jesus as she poured the perfume. Then the room was filled with a lovely new smell that gave testimony of the Messiah’s feet and Mary’s faith.

What a dinner party! What a guest list! What an aroma! What a savior!

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” —Romans 10:15

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Discover how to find God’s will and better serve him: get Gregg Matte’s Finding God’s Will on Vyrso today!

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Get 70% Off Today’s Soul Shaping Bundle!

Soul Shaping

Today we’re kicking off Vyrso’s Journey to the Cross. Through April 22, we’ll feature seven 24-hour bundles, all about growing closer to Christ and strengthening your spiritual walk. For the next 24 hours, get Stephen Smith’s book, Soul Shaping: A Practical Guide for Spiritual Transformation, along with Floyd McClung’s Follow: A Simple and Profound Call to Live Like Jesus and Hugh Halter’s Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth for 70% off with our Soul Shaping Bundle.

Stephen W. Smith is the founder of Potter’s Inn, a Christian ministry devoted to the work of spiritual formation and care of the soul. Smith has pastored and planted churches in both the United States and Europe. Today, he’s walks us through the four main steps of soul shaping, and how discovering how our soul has been shaped in the past can lead us to a brighter Christ-focused future.

The image of the potter and clay is a timeless one that helps us understand the spiritual journey. As long as there have been human beings, there have been potters who form pots.

The Bible is clear—we come from the clay of the earth. I have North Carolina clay in my soul. I was born there, lived there most of my adult life, and worked there. My wife is from the clay of Africa. Her parents were missionaries, and she was born there and lived there throughout her childhood.

I wrote Soul Shaping to help people see and understand their spiritual journey. It’s a practical workbook, specifically designed for individuals and groups. As you begin the workbook, you’ll see lots of creative ways to explore your history and story. The exercises are designed for different learning styles and folks who think in a more linear fashion and those of us who are visual.

Soul Shaping explores the four basic movements in our spiritual formation:

First, we are formed.

Second, we are reformed.

Third, we are transformed.

Finally, we are conformed.

As you walk through each of these phases, you’ll be given the opportunity to think about your beginnings—your start on the spiritual journey. Who helped shape you? Where did you first experience the love of God? Who helped you grow in your walk with God? To remember is a good thing. We reflect, remember, and become aware of how God has been working in us all along.

As we are reformed, we think about mistakes, hard times, failures, and disappointments that have happened to us in life. This section helps you remember and explore what you learned—what you “got” from these challenging seasons in life. In this phase, we learn to trust the Potter’s hands as they work gracefully and sometimes firmly in our lives and on our clay.

As we experience transformation, we learn how God is at work to bring about change. Deep change is God’s goal for us, but we must always remember that God’s love does not rest upon our ability to change. God loves us too much to allow us to remain the same. Transformation is the process we experience as we change. The Potter presses here, squeezes there, pounds here, and gracefully touches there. It’s all a process. It’s how the Potter brings about change.

We are finally conformed. Being conformed means that there is an ideal goal for us. God is up to something in our lives throughout our life. It’s all for a reason, and in this book, we explore what the ultimate goal and plan for our life is all about.

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Soul Shaping is an invitation to see yourself as you really are and imagine who you can become: download Stephen Smith’s powerful book on Vyrso today.

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AHA: The 3 Key Ingredients to True Spiritual Transformation

Kyle Idleman

Today’s guest post is by Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky—one of the largest churches in America. He’s also the author of two best-selling and award-winning books, Not a Fan and Gods at War, and he regularly speaks at conferences, events, and churches around the world. His new book, Aha: The God Moment that Changes Everything, draws on Scripture to reveal how three key elements can draw us closer to God and change our lives for good.

The word “aha” is defined this way: “a sudden understanding, recognition, or resolution.” For our purposes it’s “a sudden spiritual understanding, recognition, or resolution that brings about lasting transformation.” Instead of self-help we’re asking for God’s help.

In some ways AHA can’t be explained; it must be experienced.  For that reason it’s best understood through stories. AHA is the moment in someone’s life when there is a beautiful collision. At just the right time there’s a God moment and their life collides with God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Everything changes in that collision, which is why watching it happen is one of my favorite parts of being a pastor. I love witnessing AHA. I see it almost every weekend at the church where I serve. I listen to people as they tell about the spiritual awakening that they’ve experienced. They were lost and now they’re found. They were blind and now they’re able to see.

One woman told me about her impulsive eating habits. For her, there was nothing a day could throw at her that she couldn’t eat away. Facing anxiety from an upcoming project, she would preemptively bring home two or three desserts and eat them all in one evening. Despite trying every diet and exercise fad, she reached 325 pounds. This seemingly unstoppable weight gain put her at a point of absolute depression, which only furthered her eating habits. After months of the vicious cycle of depression and binging she realized, food is never going to fill the emptiness in my heart. She had been trying to satisfy her soul by feeding her stomach.

When she came to church she heard a message from John 6 where Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life.” She suddenly realized in that moment that she had been turning to food to do for her what only Jesus can do. That was four years and 170 pounds ago. But the outward change is really just a byproduct of the inner transformation she experienced when she started to look to Jesus to fill the emptiness of her heart.

AHA.

Another couple told me their AHA story: “My husband and I both had an AHA moment about two years ago when we realized we were living as fans of Christ instead of completely committed followers. We decided then to totally surrender our lives to God. Soon after that we felt led to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia. We didn’t know at the time that God’s plan was actually for us to adopt a sibling group of three! Our lives have never been crazier, but neither have we ever felt more joy or fulfillment!”

AHA.

3 essential ingredients

So what is AHA? My wife has this cookbook at home, a gift from our wedding. It’s called The Three Ingredient Cookbook. She would want me to tell you that she doesn’t really use it. When she cooks there are typically more than three ingredients involved. The truth is I’m the one who uses The Three Ingredient Cookbook. On the rare occasions I’m allowed in the kitchen, this cookbook is my go-to cooking companion, because honestly, three ingredients is about my capacity.

One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is that when using The Three Ingredient Cookbook,  all the ingredients are necessary. Apparently when making _____, _____ really is necessary.  This is the downside to The Three Ingredient Cookbook. You can’t cheat it. If you only go with two, it doesn’t work out very well for you.

The same is true for AHA. I have listened to the AHA experience of hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years and I’ve studied numerous transformation experiences of biblical people. With striking consistency, AHA always has three ingredients. If any one of these is missing, it will short-circuit the transformation process:

1. A sudden awakening

2. Brutal honesty

3. Immediate action

If there is an awakening and honesty but no action, AHA doesn’t happen. If there is awakening and action but honesty is overlooked, AHA will be short lived. But when God’s Word and the Holy Spirit bring these three together, you’ll experience true AHA in your life.

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Have you had your “aha” moment? Understand the reality and power of spiritual transformation with Kyle Idleman’s Aha: The God Moment that Changes Everything—get it for just $9.74.

 

This article was adapted from AHA, 2014 by Kyle Idleman. Published by David C. Cook, www.davidccook.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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Robert Morris on Living in God’s Economy: 3 Keys to Financial Freedom

Rober Morris Headshot

Today’s guest post is by Robert Morris, the founding and senior pastor of Gateway Church—a multicampus church with more than 26,000 members. His weekly television show, The Blessed Life, is broadcast to 90 million US homes, and he’s also the bestselling author of The Blessed Life: The Simple Secret of Achieving Guaranteed Financial Results. Discover how to trade in selfishness for generosity, and get the secrets to living a truly blessed life: download The Blessed Life on Vyrso today!  

As a nation, we’re going through some pretty tough economic times. But I want to remind you of a simple yet profound truth right up front—God is bigger than the economy. He will always provide for his children. Psalm 46:1–2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.”

When living in uncertain economic times it’s difficult to have hope, but here are three principles guaranteed to help you develop the proper perspective and walk in financial freedom.

1. Put God first

The Bible says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;” (Proverbs 3:9). Do you honor God with the firstfruits of your finances?

You can claim God has first place in your life—but by observing where your money goes, I can tell you who really has first place in your life. Maybe it’s the mortgage company, the electric company, or even Visa, MasterCard, and American Express!

When God is first, he blesses the rest. This principle is seen throughout the Bible. The first check I write every month is the tithe check. Not the second check, third, or eighth—the first. I want to give God the first part of all my increase, not the last part.

Please understand me. This isn’t law; it’s love! This is expressing love and gratitude and honor to the God who has given us everything.

2. Learn to wait

When Egypt experienced a season of great abundance, Joseph made the Egyptians store up, store up, and store up. Maybe some of the people said, “We’ve got enough grain stored up by now! Why can’t we just use some of this grain, instead of storing it up?” Joseph most likely replied, “No, you don’t understand. If you don’t store it up now, you’re not going to have it later when you need it.”

When it comes to wealth, the Bible teaches us to wait, be faithful, and be good stewards (see Proverbs 28:20). Sometimes people try to get rich quickly because they aren’t willing to live as they should financially. They want to have what they want and have it now!

Before you make a purchase, look at your budget and ask God if this is his will at the moment. In an “instant gratification” society, it’s all too easy to fall into the pattern of buying whatever we want at the moment without being patient or seeking God’s counsel about it.

3. Live below your means

This principle is very important. Truly living below your means dictates that you use less than 70 percent of your income. So, if you tithe 10 percent, put 10 percent in savings, put 10 percent in retirement or other investments, and give something in offerings above your tithes, you’re going to be living on 60 to 70 percent of your income at the highest level.

When my oldest son was away at college, his accelerated academic schedule made working a part-time job unfeasible. So I provided nearly all of his support. Before he went off to school, we sat down and drew up a budget for him based on a set amount I’d send him each month. I was pleased to discover he was doing a great job living below his means. He was being a good steward.

So, as a loving father, I rewarded him! I increased the amount of money I sent him each month. A few months later, he called me and mentioned moving into a new apartment could lower the costs even more. We checked into his idea, and helped him move into the less expensive apartment. Shortly thereafter, he called and shared his costs were indeed lower and he needed less money. But I kept sending him the same amount. He had been a good steward, and I wanted to reward him.

Why don’t we expect God to be as gracious and responsive as I was to my own son? Why are we so surprised to learn that God rewards and blesses us for being good stewards and living below our means?

Where are you investing?

It’s good to save, make investments, and be a good steward financially. But I wonder how many people have an ERA—an Eternal Retirement Account.

Although we’re going through tough economic times, each of us has the unique opportunity to place our trust in our Father who owns it all, knowing that he can provide for all of our needs. I urge you today: be a good steward, give generously, and continue to make eternal investments into God’s kingdom.

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Get more powerful financial and spiritual tips from bestselling author, Robert Morris: download The Blessed Life: The Simple Secret of Achieving Guaranteed Financial Results today!

 

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Does Anyone Fit In at Church? What We Might Be Doing Wrong.

Keith Robinson

Today’s guest post is by Keith Robinson, first-time author of You Found Me: God’s Relentless Pursuit to Find You. By the time Robinson was 17, his record included a DUI, possession of narcotics, and intent to sell drugs. After a life-changing visit with a stranger, Robinson went from an at-risk youth to someone consumed by spreading the good news that rescued him from a life of sin. Robinson is a charismatic speaker, founder and president of Emerge, Inc., and the lead pastor at Bethel Church in Evansville, Indiana.

Growing up, I didn’t belong to a church. I can honestly say I never really saw myself ever belonging in any “church.” From my experience, church was boring and a waste of a Sunday morning. Most of my friends in high school were forced to go with their parents and I found the whole routine to be superficial at best.

All of that changed for me when I was 17. I was invited to attend a church by a woman who’d visited my house to pray for me while I was on house arrest. When you’ve been on house arrest for several weeks, even going to church sounds fun. It’s also not that hard to get permission from your probation officer to leave your house and attend a church service.

God took that opportunity to reveal himself to me that day. He found me. He’d been looking for me for some time apparently. In fact, he was relentless in his pursuit of me. I was just too busy running. From that day forward, I learned to experience the power of God in the context of community. Today, I couldn’t imagine not belonging to a local church.

The shocking truth about “church”

Because there are so many confusing ideas in our generation about what “church” is, I believe we should reclaim the meaning and purpose of the “Church” (capital “C”).

One of the most shocking things I learned early on was discovering that the Church was not a building. You may think of the “Church” in that way, but steeples, crosses, pews, and parking lots full of cars with little fish on the back are not the real essence of the “Church.” I also thought most, if not all, churchgoing people were hypocrites. Admittedly, many are, but I determined years ago to not let the hypocrisy of some ruin the beauty of the God who found me.

The apostle Paul used the Greek word ekklesia for the word “church,” which means “called-out assembly” because of the word kaleo (to call) with the prefix ek (out). In those early days, Christians would meet often, eating together, praying together, and talking about how to live according to God’s pattern and plan. That small group grew one by one until eventually they had such a tremendous influence in their culture that the changes they envisioned became a reality in the world around them. Church was truly transformative!

Sadly, many students and young adults have a difficult time making connections in today’s churches. “Church” in America, it seems, has become a lot about “don’t do this,” “make sure you say that,” or “be sure to wear this.” Church was never meant to be based on where we’re from, what we do or say, or how we’re dressed. Belonging in the “Church” is based on what Christ has already done for us and who he’s created us to be.

Why community matters

When I started going to church, I certainly didn’t look the part. My very appearance said outcast. But my church said welcome. I had a much easier time believing in myself when surrounded by people who kept telling me how important I was to God, and to them.

Over a decade ago, I joined this network of “called-out ones.” In a world full of put-downs and stereotypes, I have chosen to believe that God desires to bring every person into a healthy expression of community: the “Church.”  Everywhere I go now, I’m compelled to perpetuate this message. The Church of Jesus is the agent of hope in our world because it’s a tangible expression of his heart.

The need for belonging is a universal one. Sadly, we often search for belonging in the arms of those who will never fill that void. Our endless pursuit of acceptance by others often leaves us feeling even lonelier.  God wants to fill that longing for belonging. He finds us, often when we least expect it. Then he does something even more extraordinary and scandalous. He calls us family! He doesn’t rescue us and simply abandon us. Instead, he calls us sons and daughters! Soon we discover that here, we belong among his people.

The longing of your heart to belong somewhere can be filled the moment you join the chorus of the “called out ones.”  Let us help you find your song again!

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However lost you may feel, know that God is pursuing you. Discover Robinson’s powerful story from tragedy to redemption, and learn how to let yourself be found: get You Found Me: God’s Relentless Pursuit to Find You for just $8.44!

 

This blog post’s content was adapted from You Found Me: God’s Relentless Pursuit to Find You with permission by Regal Books (Gospel Light).

 

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40 Days to the Cross: Celebrating Lent with the Great Church Thinkers

40 Days to the Cross

Today’s guest post is by Jessi Strong, coeditor of the new book 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers, which for a limited time, you can get for 25% off! Strong is also the senior writer for Bible Study Magazine, and has also developed content for the Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary.

I grew up in a large, loving, nondenominational church that didn’t  celebrate Lent or the liturgical calendar. I knew that Lent involved giving up something: my family’s cranky next-door neighbor became even crankier those weeks before Easter when his wife enforced his cigarette fast. But it wasn’t until I started attending chapel my freshman year at an Evangelical Free university that I experienced congregational readings, Advent Sundays, and Lent. My parents’ generation considered these traditions “tired,” but they breathed new life into my understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

While we’re called to meditate on Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, the 40 days of Lent prompt us to a season of confession, repentance, and renewal. This 40-day period echoes the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. It allows us to focus our attention on Christ and his suffering, and prepares us for the celebration of his resurrection—the very center of our faith.

Many nontraditional churches now adapt Lent traditions for their own congregations. Mine does a 40-day group fast, asking church members to sign up to fast for a single day over the period of Lent. Some go on social-media fasts in an effort to break away from the distractions of modern technology. Others restrict their diet in some way. The idea isn’t that God will be pleased with our fasting, but that we’ll recognize that our lives are full—so full that we may not notice the void that only Christ can fill.

Reflections from great thinkers

Lent is a season of confession, repentance, and renewal. For me, an important part of Lent is reading through one of the Gospels—reflecting on Jesus’ journey toward the cross, his revelations of divinity, and my need for a savior. In 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers we’ve paired readings from the Gospel of Mark with reflections from some of the most important thinkers in church history. During the 40 days of Lent, you’ll reflect on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection with confessions from the Psalms, readings from the Gospel of Mark, and reflections from great thinkers. Response questions will help you focus your devotional time. We hope this book helps guide your study as you reflect on Christ’s work during the season of Lent.

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Through March 5, get 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers for just $8.99—that’s 25% off! Get your copy today! 

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Preaching like Tozer: 3 Ways He Broke the Mold

My Daily Devotions

Today’s guest post is by Dr. James L. Snyder, author and curator of My Daily Pursuit—a new collection of previously unpublished Tozer content that offers inspirational devotions for every day. Dr. Snyder is an award-winning author who has written or edited 27 books and whose work has appeared in more than 80 periodicals. Dr. Snyder’s first book about the life of Tozer won the 1992 Reader’s Choice Award by Christianity Today. Get My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every Day on Vyrso for just $10.19!

Whenever someone asked my uncle what pie he liked best, he always responded with whatever pie he was eating at the time. I feel the same about Tozer’s work. When anybody asks me which Tozer book I like best, I always respond with the one I’m  working on at the time. Unlike works by any other writer I know, there’s something about a Tozer sermon or book that speaks straight to the heart.

People who know A. W. Tozer know him as a conference speaker, writer, and editor. At his heart, however, he was a true pastor. His best preaching was in his church, either Chicago or Toronto, and he truly had a pastor’s heart.

Here are three aspects of Tozer’s preaching that made him one of the greats:

1. He thought through everything

Even as a young man, Tozer was well read. Although he never finished high school, let alone college, he was well acquainted with theological books. It would be safe to say that he far exceeded the number of books the average college and seminary graduate ever read.

His boys, who were going to college at the time, always tried to spring a new book on their father. Some new book or author that he was not acquainted with, but they never were able to do it; he seemed to know every writer and every book that had any kind of significance.

Not only was Dr. Tozer well read, he also  thoroughly considered what he was going to say or write about. He was never superficial in his preaching or writing, making him completely unique from his contemporaries. He bypassed the passing trends and fancies touted in Christian circles of his day and focused on the everlasting truth that never changes from one generation to the next.

As you listen to him preach or read some of his essays, you come away with the idea that he was very concentrated in his thinking. He  thought through what he wanted to say to the point of absolute truth. He did not just spout off to spout off; he was a thinker who poured through doctrine and theology.

2. He always put Christ first

He often said that if you read the Bible, but haven’t truly encountered Jesus Christ, you haven’t  really read the Bible. I think the same is true for Tozer’s preaching and writing. If you listen to him or read from his books and you don’t really encounter Christ, you’re  not really reading or listening. The whole focus of his preaching and writing was Christ.

His preaching was not technical in any sense of the word. He wanted to convey not mere information, but the presence of God. Before he would step on to the pulpit, he would pray this prayer: “O God, when I preach, make Thyself so present that the people will know You are present.” Only those attending his services would understand how God marvelously answered that prayer.

You couldn’t  help but feel the presence of God as Dr. Tozer  preached. One listener said, “Tozer out-Davided David.” It was his way of saying that there was an anointing on Dr. Tozer’s preaching that hungry souls could feel.

3. He was passionate

Some people might think that Dr. Tozer was a traditionalist, but he vehemently denied that. A traditionalist, according to him, was somebody who did something because they did it before—they had no thoughts or appreciation of what they were doing, they just went  through the motions. Tozer was anything but that.

Tozer always had something good to say to the heart hungry for God. Those looking for something to puff themselves up with never found anything in Dr. Tozer’s ministry. His preaching went to the heart of the person who was “panting after God.”

Everybody knows that preaching is quite different from writing. My challenge in this Tozer collection was to bridge the gap between his preaching and his writing. This is not always easy to do, so I set myself up on a special discipline to be true to Tozer’s voice.

Every day I would listen to an audio sermon of Dr. Tozer, then read a chapter from one of his books, the three primary ones being: The Pursuit of God, The Divine Conquest, and The Knowledge of the Holy. This really helped me wrap my head around the voice of Tozer.

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Draw closer to the Holy Spirit as you’re guided by one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and inspiring theologians: get A. W. Tozer’s devotional, My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every Day, on Vyrso!

 

 

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