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Archive for April, 2011

Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Justin says, “Grab hold of the Word!”

April 28, 2011

Rewind: “Bible verses are high-powered doses of truth that mainline God’s wisdom into our reasoning.  They convert the soul, teach the simple, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes (Ps. 19:7-9).  They teach, reprove, correct, and instruct, making us profitable in every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  They fill our minds with the kind of realities that produce prosperity and success in every good work (Josh. 1:8, Ps. 1:1-3)… They are our comfort in affliction (Ps. 119:50), our songs for the journey (Ps. 119:54), and our most valuable asset (Ps. 119:72); for when we read and study God’s Word, we’re cultivating a relationship with Him who made us, who loved us, who gave Himself for us on Calvary, and who rose again that we might inherit eternal life.  As we study His Word, we’re listening to Him, conversing with Him face-to-face, as it were, as man speaks to his friend.” (from Robert Morgan’s 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart, p 25).

Justin Neally, a senior graduating this may with his degree in sport management, shared with us on Thursday night about how important it is to truly grab hold of the power of God’s Word.  For Justin, this concept took root in his life as the result of a friend’s challenge to memorize the entirety of 1 Peter 5:5-11.  As graduation drew nearer and nearer, he was plagued by a myriad off questions: where am I going to live; what am I going to do; where is God leading me; am I making the right decisions?, and he struggled to find God’s peace, but through the continuous study, meditation, and repetition of this passage, Justin was constantly reminded of God’s power, fidelity, and grace…

“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:5-6

How often do you think about humility?  Do you consider yourself a humble person?  Did you just think to yourself, “yeah, actually, I am a pretty humble person,” or something similar to that?  God’s Word talks a lot about having a spirit of humility, one that inspires you to unconditionally serve others, and, of course, to approach the Lord with reverence and awe.  Justin said, in fact, that reverence, or a healthy fear of the Lord and all that He is, is one of three key characteristics of a humble person.  In addition, humility says that you look upon Christ’s sacrifice as one that demands your own life, every single breath of it, in return; after all, once you accept Christ as your King, that life is no longer yours anyway.  Finally, a spirit of humility includes accepting your place and being, if you’ll excuse the cliché, the best you that you can be.  In other words, you take the gifts God has given you, and use them for His glory as the best engineer, teacher, pastor, or librarian possible, because, through it all, you are serving as an image-bearer of God.  Above all else, seek to let Christ’s light shine through all that you do, because all else passes away, but Jesus will remain forever.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Anxiety is dangerous.  Not only is it detrimental for your physical health, but it is also spiritually damaging because it serves to separate you from God.  Here, Peter is quite clear; we are to take our anxieties – our worries and fears – and place them at the feet of our Savior and King.  He alone is capable of rendering them powerless over you.  You have been called to live for a higher purpose.  So, what is it that’s pulling you away from Christ?  Have you humbled yourself at His throne and given Him control over your life?  Will you choose to do so now?  Christ did not come down to earth, live among us, die at our hands, and rise on the third day so that we could walk in chains, slaves to the problems of this world.  No, He died so that you and I can live in freedom.  His arms are spread wide; will you put your worries in His hands?

“Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9

Satan is anything but stupid; in fact, he is ingeniously clever.  He uses our anxieties – ya know, the ones we were just talking about, the ones that are so hard to surrender to the Lord – to effectively pull us further and further away from God, because separation from the Light is his goal.  But, regardless of Satan’s efforts, we are called to stand firm in the peace and knowledge of our faith, and rely on God’s promises of fidelity to His children.  You can rest assured that when you are actively and genuinely seeking God, He will seek to affirm you, because you are running towards Him.  Not even Satan is capable of taking away the hope and love of our Lord.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a long while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To Him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

There is power in God’s Word.  Without that Word to guide and reassure us, we’re all lost.  His Word is an everlasting affirmation of His presence among us.  But, that Word is not passive; it demands that we make a choice.  His Word requires that we humble ourselves before the holiness of God, that we surrender our worries to Jesus, and that we stand firm in our faith in the face of darkness.  When you grab hold of the power of the Word, nothing can take that away from you.

Pause: Humble yourself at the cross; place your worries at the foot of His throne; stand firm in the love and grace of God the Father.

“They came to Capernaum.  When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35

“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.  My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the Enemy, at the stares of the wicked, for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger… but I call to God and the Lord saves me.  Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice.  He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55: 1-3, 16-18

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:13

Push Play: You know those commercials for the Sleep Number beds or the Sertapedic mattresses?  You know how they all say, “you’ll notice the difference in quality right away,” and “once you try it, you’ll never go back”?  Well, if you ask me, scripture memorization is kind of like that.  Your brain is a mine field of negative thoughts, worries, and temptations, and you’re walking around right now, dealing with problems, sorting through all kinds of questions, and (probably) surrounded by darkness, tiptoeing over those mines.  Oftentimes, you end up stepping just a little too hard, or just a little further to the left than you intended, and BOOM!, there goes the mine… It’s unfortunate, but you’ve always lived in this world, and your mind has always been filled with mines, so you don’t really know to expect anything else.  Scripture, though, plays the role of a bomb-sniffing dog in your brain.  When you start storing God’s truth and wisdom away in your heart, you build up a defense against temptation and anxiety.  And, trust me, as soon as you try it, you will notice the difference in quality right away, and you’ll never go back to the way things were before.

*Also, if you’re new to scripture memorization and looking for a place to start, try: Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, John 1:14, and John 3:16.  They are short, sweet, and full of beautiful truth.  (You can also check out Robert Morgan’s book, mentioned above.)

Much love,

Taylor

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Senior Spotlight: Christine Cheng

Each and every member of Axiom holds a special place in the heart of the ministry.  Whether you are a part of the leadership team,serve on campus with us,  join us for retreats, or just worship with us Thursday nights, your presence makes a difference, and when you leave, you are missed.  We want to give our graduating seniors the opportunity to speak their wisdom into our lives, and give our underclassmen the chance to meet, and be influenced by, the students who have come before them.   (If you’re a part of Axiom and graduating this spring, please send us an email!)

*This spotlight is also a little belated – Christine graduated this past December!  She spent much of this semester interning in Chicago, but thankfully she’s back now and will be hanging around, gracing us with her presence, for a little longer!  She may not have left campus yet, but she is still quite capable of blessing us with a little wisdom…

  • What did you study, and why?

My major was accounting with a Certificate in Global Business Culture where my area of specialization is East Asia and Pacific. I got this certificate by taking Mandarin Chinese language classes, international business classes and studying abroad at China. I graduated early back in December 2010 with my Bachelor’s degree and the Certificate. Since my college does not hold graduation ceremonies for December graduates, I will be walking in May as a Bronze Tablet Scholar (highest honors), Chancellor Scholar (campus wide honors program) and James Scholar (college honors program).

I was in a different major before, so some of my reasons for choosing accounting include: (1) I want to go into public accounting which means that I will work as part of a firm consisting of accountants. The firm is hired by public companies who are required by law to have a third party, that is accounting firms, to inspect their financial statements. The public is then able to trust these companies as they invest money. This kind of work requires that accountants have very high integrity, which is something I value greatly. I believe that through accounting, I can help increase the trust between the public and companies by helping companies maintain their integrity. I will also help people with their finances that are usually one of the most important things in life for everyone. (2) I realized that accounting has opportunities worldwide, especially through the “Big 4” which are the top four accounting firms in the world. I interned with one of these this past semester (Deloitte LLP) in Chicago and at Deloitte, they have opportunities that allow employees to work abroad in their global offices. I hope to go in this direction. (3) UIUC gives a good education in this field as well as many resources and opportunities particularly for accounting majors. (4) I hope to someday work through a non-profit organization to help people in other countries, particularly less developed countries, through microfinance that allows people to set up businesses.

  • How did you find Axiom, and how did God use it in your life?

I lived at Stratford Christian Cooperative House all my years at the university. A girl who lived there introduced me to Axiom when I was a freshman. God has done so much in my life through Axiom. I will describe only a few things:

(1) One of the biggest impacts that Axiom has had on me is to increase my interest to work internationally. During my first year at the university and at Axiom, I decided to go on Axiom’s mission trip to Taipei, Taiwan. One day I was looking out over the city while we were prayer walking and I just saw and realized the magnitude of the people who were lost in Taipei alone. At that point, I did not know any Mandarin Chinese as I only knew Cantonese Chinese. During the entire trip, I wished that I knew Mandarin Chinese so that I could speak to the Taiwanese people in their language about God. I had had interest in learning Mandarin Chinese since I was young but it was only after going on the mission trip did I decide that I would take Mandarin Chinese classes. During my sophomore and junior years, I took Mandarin Chinese classes. Then I participated in an intensive language program China last summer (2010). That experience was entirely different form my Taiwan mission trip. Since I had taken classes for two years, I was able to speak to my Chinese roommates and friends in Mandarin and with some, I was able to even talk to them about God. I felt God’s hand writing every moment of my summer in China. As of right now, I’m not sure when I will get the chance to go back to China, but I do hope to continue witnessing to Chinese people here in the US.

(2) Towards the end of my sophomore year, an Axiom member who was a very talented guitarist in the worship band asked if I would want to join the band through playing violin. I had played in many orchestras and ensembles before, so I knew how to play classical style violin. Band playing, which required improvisation, was entirely different though. I knew how to improvise on the piano, but doing it on the violin was strange to me at first. Thanks to this Axiom member as well as the incredible encouragement I got from other members whenever I played in band, I  discovered my love for worshiping God through violin playing. Though I do not major in violin, I realized that God allowed me the opportunity to learn violin in order that I could use it to serve Him and help others draw closer to Him. Now, I try to serve in band whenever possible at Axiom and at church. Recently, I’ve begun serving at the chapel service while volunteering at Salt and Light as well.

  • What are you up to now; do you have any plans in the works for the future?

I will be staying one more year to finish my Master’s degree and obtain my CPA. After that I will likely be working full time in the firm I interned at this past summer. Next summer before I begin working full time, I hope to intern at World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse or another similar organization.

  • What will you miss most about Axiom?  What will you miss most about U of I?

Axiom – the community, worship band, lifegroups, Aaron’s sermons, winter/fall retreats, Much Love, GO nights, being on the servant leadership team, Water on Green…

U of I – living at Stratford House; hanging out with friends through dinner, playing games, watching movies, talking, running; trying out all the different classes and events

  • Favorite college experiences?

Here are some:

– My team placed first in the country in the National Deloitte Case Competition in April 2010 after also placing first in regionals round earlier that year. We were the first Illinois team to ever win at this case competition. I will never forget that moment when the judges announced our school name as the winners.

– Running the Illinois half marathon, I am now training for the Illinois full marathon.

– Participating in the International Business Immersion Program that combined a semester long class that studied the food chain in the European Union with a two week tour after the semester through Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and France

– Studying abroad in China

– Interning at Deloitte LLP this past semester, which is one of the biggest accounting firms in the world

– Leading Axiom lifegroup

– Playing board games with friends late into the night

– Going to Cocomero

  • Advice for incoming students?

If God leads or calls you to do something, just do it. Even if it seems risky or out of your comfort zone or it requires you to give with no guarantee of getting something in return, just obey Him. He will always reward you for trusting Him and He will take you to new heights that you could not have even imagined had you not stepped out in faith.

  • Anything else?

Read Psalm 121, it is one of my favorite psalms in the Bible.

Much Love,

Christine Cheng, Graduated: December 2010


Senior Spotlight: Stephanie Swick

Each and every member of Axiom holds a special place in the heart of the ministry.  Whether you are a part of the leadership team,serve on campus with us,  join us for retreats, or just worship with us Thursday nights, your presence makes a difference, and when you leave, you are missed.  We want to give our graduating seniors the opportunity to speak their wisdom into our lives, and give our underclassmen the chance to meet, and be influenced by, the students who have come before them.   (If you’re a part of Axiom and graduating this spring, please send us an email!)

Put in the simplest terms, God used Axiom to save my faith.

I’m a senior (really?!?!?!?!?!) at Axiom. By now, I’ve been playing on the worship band for almost 3 years and this past year, I had the great opportunity of being the worship and missions intern. Looking back on my college experience, I really can’t imagine what it would have been like without the great community I’ve found at Axiom. I’ve spent amazing weekends learning cool things about God with these people. I’ve had some crazy awesome conversations, lead worship for thousands, handed out water bottles, raked leaves, sat around bonfires, cried, gone on road trips, had coffee, and celebrated holidays….to name a few. And soon, I’ll be experiencing what it is to be Jesus’ hands and feet in Romania with 15 of them. Because of the community I found at Axiom, I have been able to truly transform and grow in my faith in Jesus.

Funny to think that at the beginning of it all, I was pretty hesitant. When I transferred to U of I from Seattle Pacific University as a sophomore, I was running. I’d spent my previous year (at a Christian university) running from Christ’s call to be an active follower. I was struggling with my feelings about the Church that had caused a lot of heartbreak during high school. I wanted little to do with the Church, though I couldn’t reject God all together. Basically, I was trying to live with no convictions and no consequences. I wasn’t failing out of school or partying every night. I just wasn’t living for anything meaningful. And I kinda liked it. I came to Axiom willing to sit in the chairs and listen, but not willing to get up and do something. Funny how things change.

As I started attending Axiom weekly, I was reminded of some important things. I began to remember the value of having community and I started learning exactly why Christians are called to look different than this world. Not long after I started going regularly, I somehow found myself playing piano for the worship band. I was still hesitant to truly engage in worship, still hesitant to really give God my heart in praise or truly plug in to a community, but He found a way to get me to stay. I’ve found that some of my most fantastic moments with God have happened through music. This was completely true of the way God started to work in me. As the year continued, I found myself building community, worshiping God and actually applying his teaching to my life. Much of my Junior year and basically all of Senior year, I joined the worship planning team and began actually designing services. I became passionate again, not only about music, but about making sure that the music we were playing was worship. I’m not sure that there are many things greater than worshiping God with music. And at the end of these few years, I have felt myself being awakened.

So, what’s next? In some recent conversations with fellow seniors, we’ve discussed the difficulty of telling this part of our story. I’m an English major. Why? Because it was the quickest route to graduation. I love literature, but I’m not planning to invest my life into it. As of this moment, I’m planning to head to Nashville for the summer to work with an Anti-slavery organization to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking. I’ll be working specifically with trafficking in Nashville, though it’s a problem everywhere. I am more than excited to begin serving and fighting for justice for the oppressed. This is something Jesus fought for too. As I imagine what this future will look like, I just stand in awe of what God has done to bring me here.

As excited as I am for the next chapter, I’m getting really sad about leaving my Axiom family. They are a group of movers and shakers who are gonna make cool things happen on this campus. I’m just a little jealous that I won’t be around to see it all happen. I also want to echo the advice given by last semester’s Axiom alum, Michelle Husz. If you want to get involved at Axiom, just do it. Axiom is place that relies a great deal on the gifts, time and abilities of its students. If you have gifts you want to share or see a need, fill it! Sharing in that kind of community, and seeing awesome things come from it is seriously one of the most valuable experiences you’ll get from your college experience. And it’s this community that gets me pumped to see what Axiom will look like in a couple years. Can’t wait!

So Much Love!
Stephanie Swick, Graduated: May 2011


Senior Spotlight: Zach Duncan

Each and every member of Axiom holds a special place in the heart of the ministry.  Whether you are a part of the leadership team,serve on campus with us,  join us for retreats, or just worship with us Thursday nights, your presence makes a difference, and when you leave, you are missed.  We want to give our graduating seniors the opportunity to speak their wisdom into our lives, and give our underclassmen the chance to meet, and be influenced by, the students who have come before them.   (If you’re a part of Axiom and graduating this spring, please send us an email!)

  • What did you study, and why?

Nuclear Engineering.  I’ve always enjoyed math and science, so a career in nuclear engineering has allowed me to do something I enjoy, and help the world with its energy crisis at the same time.

  •  How did you find Axiom, and how did God use it in your life?

I was looking online for places to live, and found the Christian Campus House.  It was one of the main reasons I came to U of I, and has helped me to become a better disciple of Christ for all four years that I have lived there.

  •  What are you up to now; do you have any plans in the works for the future?

I will moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I will be working at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory.

  •  Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully alive, and still working in Pittsburgh or another job related to nuclear engineering.

  •  What will you miss most about Axiom?

Definitely the annual canoe trip, one of the funnest Axiom events.  I’ll miss all of the people at U of I too.  No where else can you find so many people that are the same age as you.

  •  What were your favorite and least favorite things about campus life?

Favorite- living on your own; choosing what you want to do; making your own schedule.  College is what shapes people careers and lives, and it’s an exciting thing to experience.

Least Favorite-  Studying and taking finals.

  •  What is you biggest fear?

Causing a catastrophic nuclear meltdown.

  •  Do you have any prayer requests?

For a smooth and prosperous transition into my new life in Pittsburgh.

  •  Advice for incoming students?

Don’t let the whole college atmosphere overwhelm you, it’s really not that big and scary.

Much Love,

Zach Duncan, Graduated: May 2011



Senior Spotlight: Emily Garrison

Each and every member of Axiom holds a special place in the heart of the ministry.  Whether you are a part of the leadership team,serve on campus with us,  join us for retreats, or just worship with us Thursday nights, your presence makes a difference, and when you leave, you are missed.  We want to give our graduating seniors the opportunity to speak their wisdom into our lives, and give our underclassmen the chance to meet, and be influenced by, the students who have come before them.   (If you’re a part of Axiom and graduating this spring, please send us an email!)

I came to the University of Illinois as a transfer student in the fall of 2009. It was always “in the plan” that I would go to the local community college for two years and save some money before going to U of I. The animal science program was what drew me; it’s the best one in the Midwestern states. After graduation I would go to U of I’s vet school and life would start from there. Beyond this plan I had no expectations.

My community college allowed me to live at home and become further attached to my family, so the transition of moving away from them was very hard on me. I knew I wanted to find a campus ministry to plug in to, but never imagined it could have turned out like it did. My suite-mate brought me to Axiom at the very beginning of Welcome Week and I was immediately comfortable with both the students and staff. I felt a connection with God there that I hadn’t felt anywhere else. During that first semester at Axiom, I found a new home and a new family, and God began working in my life like never before. At the start of my senior year I became part of the leadership team, and fell in love with serving people.

I was not accepted into veterinary school, but that’s ok. I have a much stronger faith now, and believe that whatever God wants me to do he will guide me towards it. “The plan” now is to simply follow.

My advice for those of you who are new to the ministry, or thinking about becoming a part of Axiom, is to invest in the ministry and the people there. When I began investing in them, they began pouring back into me to an extent that I never dreamt was possible. The more you invest, the more you will be filled, and the friendships you form will change your life.

I know I will miss Axiom, but I will be living in the Champaign area, for a few years at least, after graduation, so I’ll still be around occasionally.

Much Love!

Emily Garrison, Graduated: May 2011



Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Ben says, “He’s not here. He is risen, just as He said.”

April 21, 2011

Rewind: Christmas is a big deal, and it should be.  Christmas is a celebration of the day Jesus Christ was born; the day our Savior God put on skin and entered the world to live among us, and it gets a whole season full of recognition and tradition.  Almost everyone has a favorite Christmas memory, many of which have to do with caroling, cookie/tree decorating, gift giving, or the jolly old man in a bright red suit who slips down your chimney with a bag full of presents.  Christmas is the celebration of the beginning of our story of salvation and redemption, and it deserves all the hubbub it gets.  But, Christmas is not the climax of the story; it is not the turning point, it is not the true game changer, and it’s not the most important part.

Christmas, and the whole month leading up to it, is a magical time – there is a palpable change in the way the world operates: people, Christians and non-Christians alike, seem to be more generous and forgiving, all that cheery music has you in a good mood all the time, and the food is delicious!  But what about Easter?  Is it just another holiday; something you make an effort to get home for?  Do you have a favorite Easter memory, one that you can recall at the drop of a hat?  As a culture, we don’t have many Easter traditions, or at least not compared to Christmas traditions; there are the bunnies and the eggs and lamb and ham and the wicker baskets filled with shiny plastic grass and candy, but the Easter season itself is kind of understated.  Why is that?  Why do we allow ourselves so often to celebrate Easter Sunday as the end to a forty day fast, rather than the beginning of what it means to be alive?  How do we not realize that Easter is the game changer in our story?

That’s the message Ben had for us on Thursday night: Easter changes EVERYTHING.  Jesus’ birth is the beginning, and His ministry is the rising action, but His death, burial, and resurrection are the climax, the turning point, the message, the game changer.  If you rid the bible of Christmas, you lose a few chapters from the gospels, but if you get rid of Easter, you get rid of the entire New Testament.  You erase the entire foundation for our faith.  Without Easter, without Jesus’ triumph over sin, His victory over death, and His return to Heaven, would Jesus Christ even be worth following?

“After the Sabbath [that’s Saturday, by the way], at dawn on the first day of the week [Sunday], Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

“The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; He has risen, just as He said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him.’  Now I have told you.”

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them.  “Greetings,” he said.  They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”” Matthew 28:1-10

Take a moment to imagine what that would have been like: It’s Sunday morning.  Thursday, you sat at the dinner table with Jesus as He broke the bread and offered the wine, and said that one of the people at that table would betray Him.  Early Friday morning, Jesus, after spending the night in prayer, was arrested in the garden, and handed over to the Roman guards by none other than Judas.  That same day, He was put through a mockery of a trial and crucified while the very people He came to save cheered.  Friday night, He was buried in the tomb, a tomb which was guarded night and day, and His followers scattered.  Saturday, Christ’s body remained within the guarded tomb, and all those who had not yet fled abandoned ship too, because Christ was dead.

And then came Sunday.  The women went to the tomb expecting to anoint the body, but instead were greeted by an angel of the Lord.  And don’t think for a second that this was a casual greeting; the angel’s presence was ushered in by an earthquake, and his appearance was so frightening that the guards were like dead men!  Have you ever been so terrified that you couldn’t even move?  Well, that’s what happened to the guards.  And then this angel, who, by the way, is perched atop the stone that used to block the entrance to the now empty tomb, tells the Marys, “Do not be afraid,” everything’s all good.  In fact, it’s more than good, it’s “just as He said.”  The Marys listen to the angel with a mixture of fear and joy – how strange must that have been? – but they believe what they are told and take off to find the disciples.  Just then, Jesus Christ the risen Lord appears to them on the road.  Maybe He was standing in the middle of the street blocking their path, or maybe he was just chillin’ against a tree, but either way, they see Him and fall to the ground.  They see Him and the only thing they can do is worship at His feet, because that’s what you do when you come face to face with God.  That’s what you do when you realize that the tomb is empty, and Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world, is alive.  Just as He said.

Easter, then, is a celebration of the greatest day in history; it’s the day of our victory!  And, what do you do when you’ve won, when you’ve conquered something significant, when you’ve put your power and glory on display for the world to see, and when you want other people to stand back and take notice?  You put the flags out.

Easter is a celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, that He did what He came to do, and that He is alive.  Easter breathes life into that which was dead and lost.  It means that you and I are no longer slaves to this world, nor do we have the responsibility and pressure of being kings and queens.  Easter proves that Jesus Christ, the God of the universe, recognizes our desperate need to be rescued, understands the temptations we face, and has the power to remove all that separates us from Him.  Easter is a celebration of the day God spread His arms wide and showed us just how much He loves us – way too much to leave us as we are.

It’s time to put out the flags.  It’s time to act like we know who the winner is.  It’s time to start living as if we too have been raised from the dead.  Each of us is capable of living out a story of redemption, whether we realize it or not.  It doesn’t matter whether you have one page, one chapter, or an entire anthology filled with sentences you’d care to erase, Jesus came, He lived, He died, He was buried, and He rose for you.  Your past is what makes a Jesus-filled present make sense.

Maybe you’re confused and hurting; maybe you’ve been to church before and it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences; maybe you’re tired of trying to be perfect; maybe you’re desperately searching for Christ and don’t even know it.  Maybe you’re still not sure about this Jesus guy, but I promise, He’s sure about you, and He’s been sure about you since time began.  He died your death so that you don’t have to, and all He asks in return is that you trust Him with your life… it seems like a pretty good deal seeing as how He gave up His for you.

Do not be afraid.  He isn’t here.  He is risen, just as He said.

It’s time to celebrate.  Jesus Christ lives.

Pause: Want more of the Easter story?  Check out these passages…

Thursday: Last Supper, Luke 22:7-23.

Late Thursday night through Friday morning: Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-42

Friday: Jesus arrested, John 18:1-11.  Jesus’ trial, Matthew 26:57-68, 27: 11-31.  Jesus’ Crucifixion and burial, Matthew 27:32-61.

Saturday: Even the Pharisees were afraid that Jesus was who He said He was, so they guarded the tomb, Matthew 27:62-66.

Sunday: Jesus’ Resurrection (Matthew’s version is quoted above), John 20:1-10

Push Play: Live every day like you know that Jesus Christ has already won.  Put the flags out.  Never stop celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Never forget that Easter changed everything; it’s the turning point in your story.  Jesus Christ lives, and He is raising the dead in you and me.

Twenty-four by Switchfoot – Live differently, every hour of every day, because of what Jesus has done for you.  Don’t cop out when He’s raising the dead in you…

Fire Fall Down by Jesus Culture – I’ll never be the same, because I know that You’re alive.  You came to fix my broken life.  And I’ll sing to glorify You’re holy name, Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter and much love,

Taylor


Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Gary says, “Stay in the water!”

April 14, 2011

Rewind: Thursday night, Gary took the time to tell us the story of Naaman, who was healed of his leprosy by God in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:1-7).  Rather than just reading the verses aloud, Gary chose to paint us a beautiful word picture, transforming the story from something far removed from reality, to an action packed adventure story that continues to play out in each of our lives day after day…

Naaman was a brave and valiant military commander who had led Aram (Syria), his country, to victory over the Assyrians many times.  He was a man blessed with many talents and favored by men.  There was just one problem: Naaman had leprosy, and leprosy is nothing to joke about.  It’s a disease that causes disfiguration, legions and nerve damage; moreover, at the time in which Naaman lived, there was no cure, and it was thought to be highly contagious and passed from person to person through touch.  The fact that Naaman, a respected and valued soldier of the king of Aram, had leprosy was no small matter.

Now, Aram and Israel were not buddies at this point, and bands from Aram had previous raided Israel, bringing back at least one young girl as prisoner.  This girl was given to Naaman’s wife as a servant, and when the girl heard of Naaman’s affliction, she told her mistress of a great prophet in Samaria who could surely heal Naaman’s leprosy.  Of course, Naaman’s wife, eager to rid her husband of this physically and socially crippling disease, told Naaman of the prophet.  Naaman could have chosen to ignore his wife, after all, her information was coming from a servant girl, and, more importantly, the servant girl was speaking of a cure to an incurable skin disease!  This prophet with the power to heal leprosy must have sounded like quite the fairy tale.  Nevertheless, Naaman went to his master, the king of Aram (told you Naaman was an important guy – he answered directly to the king!) and asked for permission to travel to Samaria (in Israel) to see this great prophet.  The king not only gave his blessing, but even agreed to send a letter of introduction on, Naaman’s behalf, to the king of Israel.

Thus, Naaman set out for Samaria, bringing with him gifts of gold and silver, and a letter from his king stating his purpose: “Naaman is coming to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”  However, when Naaman arrived in Israel and gave the king the letter, the king of Israel tore his robes in distress and cried out, “Who do you think I am?  I don’t have the power to do the impossible!”  You see, the king of Israel thought that the king of Aram was trying to pick a fight – that he was intentionally asking for something impossible (to heal Naaman of his leprosy) so that Aram would have an excuse to attack Israel.

Thankfully, Elisha, the great prophet of Samaria whom the servant girl had spoken of, heard of the king’s distress, and decided to intervene.  Elisha asked for the king to send Naaman to his house so that he would know there was indeed a prophet of the Lord in Israel.  So, Naaman left the king’s court and headed to Elisha’s house, but rather than meeting with Elisha, Naaman was only permitted to speak to one of his messengers.  Elisha’s messenger told him, “Go and dip yourself in the Jordan River seven times and you will be washed clean, you will no longer suffer from leprosy.”  But Naaman was not pleased; in fact, he was the opposite of pleased: he was furious!

As he walked away from the messenger, Naaman yelled to his men, “Who is this guy, Elisha?  Why did he not come out and wave his hands over my head, and call out to His God on my behalf?  Why in the world would I submerse myself in the dirty Jordan river even once, let alone SEVEN times?  Have I come all the way to Samaria only to be taken for a fool?  After all, if washing in a river is all it takes to get rid of this horrible disease, couldn’t I at least do it somewhere cleaner and closer to home?”  With that, Naaman mounted his horse and took off back towards Aram, fuming over the words of the prophet.

After a little time had passed, however, his servants approached him humbly and asked, “Sir, if Elisha had asked you to do something great – something truly magnificent and challenging – so that you could be healed, wouldn’t you have done it?  How much more should you be willing to do something as simple as washing yourself in a river?  It may not be pretty, but if it works, it works.”  Naaman considered the words of his servants and decided they were wise; he turned around and quickly rode back toward the Jordan.

When he got to the river bank, he dismounted and slowly walked to the edge of the water.  Behind him, the encouraging words of his servants were drowned out by the skeptical murmurs and quiet laughter of his men.  Naaman let the water wash over his toes and took a deep breath; he asked himself one more time, “Is it worth it?  Will this really work?”  Then he entered the river.

He dipped himself under the water, stood back up and examined his hands – they looked exactly the same, still disease ridden, still infected.  He dipped himself in a second time, and then a third and a fourth, every time checking to see if progress had been made.  Finally, he dipped himself a sixth time.  Still, no signs of healing were visible.  It was at this point, one can imagine, that he must have truly been questioning the power and even the very existence of God.  He could have very easily decided that it was all just a big joke; he could have chosen to leave the water; he could have decided not to trust in the Lord; he could have remained diseased.  But, instead, Naaman chose to stay in the water; he stuck it out, and trusted in God.  He dipped himself in the river a seventh and final time, and when he emerged, his flesh was like new.  There were no more signs of nasty, painful, socially isolating skin legions; it was as if he had never had leprosy at all.  The God of Israel had healed him completely.

We’ve all been where Naaman was – we’ve all stood on the edge of the river, questioning our sanity, questioning whether or not the God of the universe is who He says He is.  We’ve all probably dipped ourselves in the water six times, chosen to trust God for a while, only to hesitate before taking that final plunge.  Maybe some of you are there now, either on the shore looking out into that mess of murky, swirling water, wondering why on earth God would ask you to submerse yourself in that; or maybe you’ve been submersed for some time now and are struggling with whether or not to get out before you’ve finished what God has called you to do.  No one ever said that following God was going to be simple, but He has promised us that it is the very definition of “worth it.”  So, go ahead, stay in the water, God was serious when He said that by submersing yourself, you will be restored.

Pause:  Have you stood where Naaman stood?  Did you realize what you were facing at the time?  Are you there now?  Do you make the choice to trust God, even when it seems ridiculous in the world’s eyes?

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

“Yet You are enthroned as the Holy One; You are the one Israel praises.  In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them.  To You they cried out and were saved; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” Psalm 22:3-5

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Push Play: So, what’s the take away part of this story?  Well, what immediately strikes you is that God healed Naaman, right?  God preformed a miracle.  He cleansed a sinful, human, man of a disease that was unable to be cured by man.  He washed away the dirt and left Naaman as clean as “a young boy” – as innocent and unblemished as a child (2 Kings 5: 7).  I think the parallels between washing away Naaman’s leprosy and God’s ability to cleanse us of our sins through the blood of Christ Jesus are pretty obvious, and the truth lying just under the surface of this story is incredibly humbling.  But, to me, I think the most striking aspect of this story is in the numeric symbolism.  Bare with me here: I am a words person and a literature lover, so anytime symbolism is involved, I get a little excited, but hopefully you’ll be able to see the significance here too.

The number seven is a big deal in the bible.  Seven is a whole number, a complete number, a perfect number.  How many days did it take for God to create the world; how many times does Jesus say to forgive our neighbors; how often did the Israelites celebrate the year of jubilee?  That’s right, seven.  Thus, when Elisha tells Naaman to submerse himself in the Jordan, in a very dirty, oftentimes violent, river, seven times, there is a much deeper significance than the healing of one man.  God is telling us to trust Him, to submerse ourselves in what He has called us to do, seven times, i.e. until it is completed.  And just when is that, you may ask?  Well, basically, God’s work will be finished when Christ returns to claim this world as His own.  So, then, when Gary talked about imaging Naaman hesitating after the sixth time, six doesn’t necessarily refer to the number six, as in the unit that follows five and precedes seven, but to any moment in our lives when we hesitate to trust God.  When Gary says, “stay in the water,” he’s not telling you to follow what God says seven times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, done).  He’s saying, stick with it till the end; trust in the Lord with all your heart until His work for you is completed; stay in the water until you have been made whole.  And folks, because we’re human, you’re not whole until you’re in Heaven, standing at the foot of the Lord, singing praises forevermore.  Following the Lord’s instructions seven times, means following Him your whole life.

In my opinion, that’s why the story of Naaman made it into the bible, and that’s why it still has as much impact today (in a world where treating and curing leprosy is totally possible and doesn’t entail taking a trip to the Jordan River).  God still reigns, and He is still calling us to trust Him seven times.

Much Love,

Taylor


Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Aaron says, “God makes your holes whole.”

April 7, 2011

Rewind: Cheerios, penne, bracelets, thimbles, lifesavers, rubber bands, milk rings, and pretzels,  Shirt sleeves, gardens, calamari, CDs, Swiss cheese, rings, baseball caps, English muffins, water bottles, and cups.  Fruit loops, coffee mug handles, onion rings, bunt cakes, notebooks, donuts, baseball gloves, mittens, and bagels.  Can you see the connection here?

Each one has at least one hole – at least one opening through something.  Holes are everywhere.

Sometimes you can see through the hole clear to the other side (like in a donut), and sometimes you can look in and see the bottom (like with a cup or a water bottle); sometimes there’s one big hole (as is the case in a bunt cake), and sometimes there are a bunch of little holes (thimble, anyone?).  Most of the holes listed above are harmless, and some may even be useful (like the nooks and crannies of an English muffin), but what about those of a more threatening variety?  What about the hole in the side of the Titanic, or that nasty pothole in the middle of your street, or the embarrassing hole in the butt of your favorite jeans?

What about the hole in your heart?

Last night Aaron talked about how each and every one of us is riddled with holes.  These holes are the source of that ache, that indescribable longing, in our hearts for something more.  They are often the reason why we turn to things other than God for satisfaction; they’re the source of the little voice deep within us that says, “I know I won’t hurt anymore – there’s no way I’ll still feel empty – if I just…”  But that ellipsis is hardly ever what it should be; it’s hardly ever “turn to God.”

Holes are the source of our wandering.  They are reason why we find ourselves constantly turning in the wrong direction and walking away from what we know to be Truth.  The tricky part is that they’re also the reason why we tend to veer ever so slightly to the right or left of that Truth.  That’s right, the holes in our hearts, and more to the point, our constant efforts to fill them up again, don’t always manifest themselves in ugly addictions or menacing lies.  Sometimes the ramifications are as minuscule as the difference between pursuing God with our mind instead of our heart.

After all, Aaron argues, that’s probably what happened to the Pharisees.  These men were religious leaders of their day; they were devout followers of the Lord and truly believed they were leading the Jews in a way pleasing to God.  These men did not start out from a place of wickedness; most likely, in the beginning, their hearts were in the right place.  You see, Aaron explained, the first five books of the bible (also known as the Jewish Torah), contained 613 different laws that God’s chosen people were expected to abide by, and Israel kept messing up.  The Pharisees saw Israel’s tendency to stumble, to wander, to turn away, to fill their holes with something other than God.  In an attempt to redirect Israel’s efforts, the Pharisees began to issue new, more strenuous laws.  These manmade laws, however well intentioned, served to build up an ever thickening wall between God and His people, and, ironically, they represent the Pharisee’s attempts to fill up their own holes deep within their own hearts: “if we could only follow the rules better; if we are just a bit more perfect, if we can create something apart from God that points people back to God, we won’t be empty anymore.”  Their intentions were to live more Godly lives, but their methods spoke of a legalistic business arrangement, not a sacrificial, personal relationship.  Aaron thinks it’s very possible that Jesus picked on the Pharisees as much as He did because they were so close.

The truth about our holes is that they leave us feeling meaningless, as if we’re lacking in value or substance, which is why we spend our lives frantically looking for something, anything, through which we can define ourselves and measure our worth.  In Acts 4:12, however, Peter speaks directly into our holes, giving us the only solution to that emptiness we all feel from time to time.  He says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  The name he’s talking about, of course, is Jesus Christ.

When he says that Christ brings salvation, he means that Christ saves us from something and for something else.  Christ came to save us from our sin, from our wandering, and from our perpetual, indescribable emptiness, and He came to save us for something beautiful, humbling, colorful, awe-inspiring, and completely indescribable in its own right.

It has been said that holes are the only human things made in Heaven.  Never forget that our Savior had His own holes: one in each wrist, and one through His ankles.  His holes are our Good News, they are our Gospel, and they are evidence of our place in God’s heart.  Never forget that His holes make us whole.

Pause: Take a moment to seriously think about the holes in your heart, and how you’ve gone about seeking to fill them.  Are you running towards God, or away from Him?  Are you following the road that leads straight to your Father, or are you pointed ever-so-slightly to the right?

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth. Proverbs 17:24

And God placed all things under His [Christ’s] feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1: 22-23

Push Play: Don’t get discouraged.  Letting God fill your holes up with His truth, letting Him make you whole again, isn’t something that you decide to do once.  Nor is it something that you decide to do ten times.  It’s something you absolutely have to decide each and every single day of your life.  And, you’re human, so you will mess this up; it’s not easy, and absolutely no one on this earth comes by it naturally.  Furthermore, depending on the hole, it may not immediately feel like God is working there, but I promise you, and more importantly, He has promised you, that He is working.  But, and here’s some more hard hitting truth, you don’t get to sit there complacently and watch Him work; you have to continuously invite Him into your life through prayer, scripture, and loving behaviors.

We’re all wounded.  We all have a past.  If you filled us up with water (metaphorically speaking) we would all leak.  No one is exempt from pain, and those who profess to be are liars.  But no one is too far for Christ to reach.  No hole is too deep for Christ to fill.

Much Love,

Taylor


Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Aaron asks, “Why does God ask us to pray?”

March 31, 2011

Rewind. Prayer is one of the first things we learn to do as Christians. It’s how we started this whole new life – asking God to forgive us our sins and take control. It’s what we do after Bible studies, before dinner, to kick off Axiom.

But if God knows our every thought, our every need, why do we pray? Psalm 139:2 says, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.” And we know God is all-powerful; He doesn’t NEED us to make anything happen. So why does He ask us to ask Him?

The biggest reason, Aaron said, is the “dignity of causality.” God allow us to take part in His process of making things happen. He thinks highly of us and gives us the honor of playing a part in the unfolding of His purposes.

©iStockphoto.com/ Robert Kohlhuber

Jesus calls us to pray – but why?

For example, Jesus told the disciples to react to the need for Christians to spread the gospel with prayer. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,” Jesus said. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God is the Lord of the harvest. The field is His. The workers are His.

But God still asks us to pray for this – in part to include us in that work. And also in order to change our own hearts.

Pause. What do you want? No really, what? On Thursday, we said…

  • Graduating
  • Job
  • Scholarship
  • Grades
  • Health
  • Water Walk success
  • Love
  • To be noticed

Once we’ve asked God for something, we tend to do two things that undermine the power of prayer.

One, we wonder, “Wouldn’t God have done this anyway if it was a good thing?” To which the answer comes back from C.S. Lewis: That applies to everything. Wouldn’t God have accomplished every good thing anyway, without us, if He wanted to? That doesn’t give us a reason to not work to do good.

The second response is a “heads I win, tails you lose” objection. We pray for what we want, and if it doesn’t happen – well, prayer just doesn’t work then. (This is how I debunked Santa: Five straight years of asking for a pony and not even getting a horseshoe meant something was up.) And if it does work, then we wonder, is there a natural explanation for why this happened? Maybe you would have gotten the A anyway. Maybe your grandparent was already going to get better. Maybe you would have gotten the job no matter what. But if we knew we “made” it happen through prayer, we would be corrupted. It would require less faith. We would feel we had done whatever it was that had been accomplished – rather than God.

"God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer." -Mother Teresa

There are many reasons God has for not answering our prayers the way we would like. We can’t see the consequences of our actions. We don’t have a complete understanding of what is good. But God still calls us to, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Prayer isn’t all about having our requests answered. Just like Mother Theresa said, sometimes we come before the Lord and ask for – nothing. We say nothing. We merely kneel before our God and our profoundly changed.

Push play. Turn down the static of your life. Spend some time with God – and, as St. Francis of Assisi would say, use words if necessary.

Aaron called us to remember that the true nature of prayer is when we finally experience divine life with God. We can meet with God whenever. We trust, even when our requests go unanswered, that it’s not because God didn’t hear us or isn’t big enough to do what we asked – it’s because He chose not to answer us in love, in wisdom, and with a view of the bigger picture we are incapable of seeing in this moment.

Wwe tend to ask, “Why isn’t God the way I want Him to be?” But when we come to Him in prayer, Aaron said, our hearts reply with another question: “Why am I not behaving the way God wants me to behave?”

Let’s come before the Lord, realize His goodness, and strive to align our hearts with His purposes. We need the strength He supplies to do so. In order for our hearts to be changed, we need to return to our knees.

Aaron ended with this: “You need God far more than anything you can ever get from Him.”

Do we live like that’s true?

Do we pray like that’s true?

What would our lives look like if we sought God more passionately than we seek the stuff He gives us?

Much love,
Rachel