December 26, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Living it Out)

Submitted by Tim F. from Gracepoint Austin Church

Which of the following areas have I grown in this year?  What are the circumstances or what acts of obedience led to growth in this area?

Living out scriptural values and mandates in all areas of life:

This past year has been a year of a lot of stretching. It’s like I am a broken record because I find myself saying that every year, but objectively, this year has truly been a lot more intense then years in the past. Being out on a church plant of course is a stretch, and I had experienced that in the first few years here in Austin, but another year brings more people to our church and hence more people to love and try to minister to. This year was the first year where we started up our very own Praxis (Young Adult) ministry in Austin, and Debbie (my wife) and I were asked to head that up. As I was reading through the passages for this first section, living out scriptural values and mandates, I felt like this was a summary of many things I experienced this past year. I remember during my undergrad days, my peers and I would dream dreams about placing our faith in God to lead us, and what we would love to do for Him. And I would look at these types of passages, where people weren’t able to give up their lives and follow God, and I would think “what’s wrong with these people? How come they can’t just go and follow Jesus?” But now as I read these passages, and particular parts about how the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, or whoever does not bear his own cross and come after him cannot be his disciple, I feel like those challenges come at me every day now as I’m older. That call is not easy to obey, and this past year has been one where God has been pulling me to commit more and more of my life, my time, my emotion, indeed all of myself to him. It has often been the case that I would be fighting with myself, knowing what I need to do, what God is calling me to do, yet the voices inside of myself saying that I need to take a rest, or that I need to take care of myself or my family first, or just that I need to do what I want to do. And these voices come often, since it is every week that I have to prepare some kind of bible study, meet up with various people, plan out events and different things that come up in ministry. And it is spiritual battle at times fighting my own desires to control my life and instead to live out those scriptural values in my life. My flesh is always telling me to slow down a little. But it is my testimony that though it has been a difficult year and a lot of dying has happened to myself, at the same time I have experienced God giving me a rich reward for it. Seeing people change, getting to know God at a deeper level and grow in their faith, that is the fuel that gives me the drive to keep pushing myself, to put away my own desires and instead do the will of God. This past semester has been one of the most rewarding one-half year in my whole life! I have been able to see God work in so many lives, how they have come to terms with values that they need to change, how they have struggled through difficulties trying to live their spiritual life and how some of them have come back from a very misguided understanding of who God is. And how is it that I could experience that kind of thing? It is because I struggled against my own desires to preserve my life, struggled against my laziness, struggled to try and live out the things that the bible mandates for the followers of Christ.

Yet, it isn’t really “me” that is doing all of that, because I know that there is no way I could have held on if it weren’t for the church, for the other people around me who were also striving and pushing on, denying themselves as well. It is through our collective attempt to form that biblical community, that is what gives me the encouragement and accountability to struggle at living out the spiritual values in my own life. It is because it is “all of us” doing this together, that is what helps me along, because I do not have the willpower and discipline to do it myself, not when my body is pushed and my emotions are stretched. I need help during those times. And that is when the church has really come in, because I know I am one of the many building blocks of this community. I experience what it says in Acts 2 often. It’s often the case that I will see various other members of our church every day of the week! And that is what helps me to push forward, helps me keep my identity and maintain my spiritual disciplines. And even within the church, there is the real life “great cloud of witnesses” right here next to me, and they spur me on (often times without even knowing it!). I have people that I can follow, people whom I can look at with my own eyes and see that they have also given up just as much as I have if not more, they have pushed themselves, and that gives me courage to keep pushing on. So these parts kind of all play together. This year has been one where I struggled trying to deepen in my devotion and commitment to scriptural values and mandates in my life, but I did it through the church as we see in Acts 2 and other passages, that helped me through those difficult times. And I know that this stretching will not end with the end of this year, YET I also know that God will also give me the means to “live it out” as I move on to 2013.

In which of the above areas do I want to experience growth in this coming year?

It is difficult to separate those areas out as they are so intermingled. For sure I know that God still has a way to go before he is done with me in the realm of living out scriptural values and mandates in all areas of my life, especially giving over control of my life to God. But also this year we will be another year older, and that means that, as I am one of the oldest members of the Austin church, I really need to live a life that is worthy of emulation for the younger ones. As our church gets older, more and more we will need people who are examples, who have lived a bit longer and have learned how to struggle through issues and help others. I really want to push hard this upcoming year so that I would grow into that kind of a person. I know it is a high calling for me to be someone that would leave a spiritual legacy, because I know all the different shortcoming and sins that are so much a part of my life still. But I do not want to be a stumbling block or road-block as our church groans another year, as we get another year more mature. So, together with the stretching that God will do in the upcoming year, along with my desire to continue to build the church that God built in Acts 2, I want to grow into being a person who will leave a spiritual legacy at our church, who can be a light on the way for many of the younger ones. That is what I commit to, what I want to struggle towards and become.

Reflect on one verse that particularly hit you.

It was referenced in the first section/question, Luke 9 and 14, about the need to take up my cross, and not having a place to lay my head. There were many times this past year where I felt like finding a place to “lay my head,” to take a break, to not have to think about the worries or about what I need to do, a reprieve from ministry.  But these passages say it clearly, that to people who are seeking to live like that, to have that escape, they are not ready to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is not easy, that is never a characteristic that Jesus nor his apostles offer up. It is hard work. But this year has also been one of the most fulfilling/rewarding ones of my life as well. And that is no coincidence. Those two go hand in hand. Jesus was able to save the world because he denied himself and took up the cross. It is going to be no different for me. To the degree that I can take up my cross and follow him, to that degree will I be able to experience the salvation work happening around me and also in me. That is the encouragement helps me keep going.


Submitted by James C. from Gracepoint Austin Church

Living it out

Which of the following areas have I grown in this year?  What are the circumstances or what acts of obedience led to growth in this area?

  • Living out scriptural values and mandates in all areas of life
  • Being an active member of a biblical, countercultural community
  • Honoring and emulating exemplary Christians – historical and contemporary
  • Leaving a spiritual legacy for the next generation

One way that I grew in “living it out” this year was in submitting myself to meet the needs of the Gospel and increasing in the sense that my life is about the Gospel and loosen the hold on my own time and life. Even though as a Christian these are things that I’ve committed to before, but for me the concrete step of being on a church plant really helped me to deepen in this sense. Through being in the San Diego church plant, having a much smaller ministry team partly meant that there are less people to help out with the ministry needs and in a way more falls onto each team member to contribute. I found myself having to be in a better position to see the needs of the church and to meet these needs. One particular way was with the outreach week and welcome nights that we have typically at the beginning of each quarter. I tried to help out in whatever ways I could. Each opportunity to sacrifice a bit of my time, sleep, money—they became moments for me to remember why I had joined a church plant in the first place. Not that they were great sacrifices in any way, but these small steps to obey helped forge that sense of my identity as someone engaging in ministry of the Gospel as the most important thing, and that I will prioritize this before other areas of my life. Although this was not something new in my life, but through the concrete circumstances of being on a church plant, and even those small decision moments to volunteer myself and actively give my time really helped to deepened this identity.

Looking back, these experiences came at a time as I am in a season in life where I’m getting older and now building a family and with my career in a more stable place, and these can cause people to slow down in their devotion to God. These really helped to combat the tendency to settle down, and provided concrete opportunities for me to make clear, even to myself, what my life is about and what are the highest priorities of my life. When I heard about the needs in our church in Austin and had an opportunity to join, even though it meant another set of changes in my life, it actually wasn’t so hard to make the decision to respond to the needs and move out to Texas. Knowing that I am such a risk-averse person who tends to make decisions slowly after weighing the options and wanting a great sense of control over the situations, I was really surprised at how I was able to make such a decision fairly quickly, and I think the time in San Diego really was an important time that helped me to be clear about my life’s purpose and provided many opportunities to loosen my hold on my life.

Reflect on one verse that particularly hit you.

Acts 2:46-47  46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

These verses from Acts 2 describe what the early church community was like, and how it was such a powerful and dynamic community. For me as a non-Christian back when I was a freshman, seeing Christians live in this way at our church was really such a powerful sign that there is something different and something special here. I saw church members meeting together and sharing life together, people over at each other’s homes, people getting together to study the Bible, to celebrate what God has done. All of these things made such a deep impression on me, and really served as one of the main things that sparked my interest to learn more about Christianity even though I had so much intellectual bias at that time against Christianity and knew almost nothing about it. Seeing this a community of people living like this really served as a key indicator that these people are serious about God and what they believed, and that turned out to be such a turning point in my seeking of God.

Now years later, I find myself in such a community and having experienced it for many years, and sometimes it feels as though this was just how things are. But as I read this verse, and think about my experience as well as the experience of so many others, I am reminded that building such a community where together we live out values so contrary to the world and where we value each other and strive together for God really is one huge way that we live out our faith. Even though sometimes I can take relationships and community for granted, as I step back and think about it, what we have here is so rare in this world where people are so isolated and people are defined more by entertainment common higher purpose. And it is also through our community as we co-labor together to build the church and even as we live out the vision of how he wanted us to relate to one another and to him collectively that we experience God drawing people to him and saving them. All the more, I just feel so privileged to be given such a community and an opportunity to be joined together with others so that others can come to know God.

Submitted by Margaret C. from Gracepoint Austin Church

Which of the following areas have I grown in this year?  What are the circumstances or what acts of obedience led to growth in this area?

  • Living out scriptural values and mandates in all areas of life 

In the past year, I think that I have grown in being able to live out scriptural values in all areas of life.  Situations arose in which I had to exercise my faith and what I knew to be true through practical action regardless of how I felt.  One of the things that stick out to me from Luke 9 and 14 is how the call to follow persists as strongly as ever even in the midst of understandable personal circumstances.  To the one who wants to care for their father first and the one who desires to say farewell to their home first, the force of the call to respond is not diminished.  The dead are to bury their own dead and no one who turns back is fit for the kingdom of God.  In Luke 14, Jesus plainly states that anyone who follows Him must hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even his own life.  Jesus’ description of discipleship illustrates to me perfectly how total discipleship is.  Discipleship cannot be lived out in 80% or 90% of me.  There is no place in my life that I can hold back or excuse from God’s call to follow.  Even those parts of my life that I think surely I might understandably bide my time with – I see how even these parts of my life God claims as belonging to Him to be controlled by His timetable and not my own.  As I went through some personal struggles this past year, I think the hardest part was not so much coming to grips with who I was because I always knew I was a sinner, but more so trying to obey God’s command to follow Him in the midst of all that I was going through.  To not let even understandable hardships in my life overcome the greater thing of all, which is to follow God and to do His will each day.  For these would-be followers, they each had a hold on arguably legitimate things that kept them back from fully responding to Jesus’ invitation – their family, parents, and close friends.  For me, those legitimate things recently have been my personal struggles.  Oftentimes, I feel weak and as though I don’t have what it takes to meet the needs that are all around me.  There have been many times when I felt so painfully the gap of who I am and what I needed to do as well as times when I did things out of sheer obligation because I knew that I had to do it for the sake of others and myself.  In these moments, when it is painful to give of myself because of the inadequacies that I feel within, I know that in a small way, I am trying to live out Jesus’ call to follow Him despite how I might feel and despite the inner struggles I am going through.  I can come up with all sorts of excuses why the call to follow might be too extreme given my particular situation just as many of the people in the crowds who accompanied Jesus perhaps could, but in the end, Jesus calls me to follow in the circumstances I find myself in.  One basic thing I am reminded of from Luke 9 and 14 is that the circumstances of life will never be ripe for me to follow God.  Like it says in Luke 14:27, to be a disciple is to bear our own cross.  It would be nice if all my personal struggles could be resolved first, but the call to follow is independent of what good or bad things are going on in my life.  Moreover, in the end, I know that the invitation to follow is an invitation to turn from death and enter into life, which is why I think Jesus was so confident and insistent in his invitation to follow Him.  One thing that I cannot deny is how since I made my decision to follow Jesus, I have been experiencing transformation and life at the fullest.  As I look to a new year, I pray that I would trust God and refuse to let the things I am personally going through overcome the greatest command God gives me to follow Him wherever He may lead.

In which of the above areas do I want to experience growth in this coming year?

  • Honoring and emulating exemplary Christians – historical and contemporary 

One area that I would like to grow in would be honoring and emulating exemplary Christians historically as well as those around me today.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been so individualistic and independent thinking that I self-generated in many ways.  It wasn’t until I became Christian that I began to see myself as such a dependent being.  One thing I have learned this past year is how connected we all are and how all that I have and am has been received rather than earned.  With some struggles I have been going through, I know that I would not have made the progress I was able to make had it not been for each part of the church functioning with one spirit and mind.  It has really made me appreciate the many people who have gone before in history as well as the many people presently in our church who have labored tirelessly, putting down their lives, so that people like me could live and know the love of God.  I cannot deny how I am here only because of so many people who took their identity as Christ-followers seriously and sacrificed for others leaving a spiritual legacy behind that has empowered future generations like me to reap the benefit.  Thinking about my own personal leaders even and the love I have received from them and to witness them laboring to build up the church and minister to people first before their careers or families, I know that I am here because of them and so many others like them.  Ever since I started serving church on a more full-time basis, I have been able to witness at a closer level the work, sacrifice, costs, stress, and burden that my leaders have been going through all along and it has opened my eyes that much more to how my life truly is surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.  My default is to see myself as self-made, but I realize how wicked this line of thinking is.  As I look to another year, one thing I pray I can hold onto is the truth that I am the product of a great cloud of many witnesses all connected together.  I can’t do anything to pay them back but I know that one thing I can concretely do to honor them is to lay aside every sin that clings so closely to me.  To run the race with perseverance and to count it as a privilege to serve God in any small way possible rather than shrink back because of my fears or to preserve myself in any way.

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