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Sermon Series

Stretch: Faith + Confidence | Hebrews 11:39-40

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And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

It was one of those picturesque days at the beach. Beautiful and deserted. So, we decided to try something new. We gathered a pile of sand near an unmanned lifeguard stand. It was only a few steps up, but for an 11-year-old, it might as well have been jumping off the Empire State Building. I climbed and jumped – the unstable sand cushioning my fall. And then, with my friends, I repeated that for the next few hours. Faith feels like that jump. Life feels like that sand. If that’s the case, what is the lifeguard stand? What is the steady foundation that we jump off? What is the stabilizing factor in the midst of it all?

The author of Hebrews brought his readers on a journey of faith. He recounted many prolific heroes who lived by faith. He invited his readers to dwell on the actions they took in defiance of cultural-norms and worldly pursuits. Then, he honestly admitted that sometimes faith led to seeing God do the miraculous, and other times faith meant walking to a brutal death (Hebrews 11:32-38). He ended by pointing to the lifeguard tower. His conclusion pointed the reader to the foundation they stood on in an unstable world. He wrote, “39And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40). They didn’t receive what was promised, but they got something better. God outdid himself. They got God. They received redemption. The inherited sonship and eternity.

The life of faith requires us to embrace circumstantial uncertainty, while remaining grounded in eternal security. While we have no idea what tomorrow may bring, we know for certain that our destiny is resurrection life and relationship with our good God. Our God is a promise maker and promise keeper. His promise to us is that we will be “made perfect” and that we will live with him – the perfect One. When we understand the reality of our eternal destiny, we are freed to jump off into the temporal unknown. Today, remind yourself of the foundation your entire life rests upon. Reread Hebrews 11:39-40. Listen to the song The Lord Our God. Considering your foundation, what jump is God inviting you to make?[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Ryan Paulson 

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Stretch: Faith + Confidence | Hebrews 11:39-402017-05-05T04:49:53-06:00

Stretch: FAITH AND IMMEDIACY Genesis 22:1-3

[vc_row height=”small” el_class=”dailyBody” css=”.vc_custom_1465516518912{margin-top: -25px !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/4″][us_separator height=”10px” size=”custom”][us_image image=”31188″ size=”tnail-1×1″][us_separator height=”20px” size=”custom”][us_sharing providers=”email,facebook,twitter,gplus”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]After these things, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Abraham lived where in a time where men worshipped idols of stone and wood. How was Abraham able to believe and put his trust in a God he couldn’t see or touch? By faith. Abraham put his faith in God and not his own ability to please him. Abraham had learned over the years the importance of obeying God. Offering up his son like a pagan sacrifice was the one of the greatest acts of obedience ever recorded. God was asking Abraham to choose again who he worshiped more, the God who chose him or the promised son. Abraham’s faith was tested, and strengthened. His son was spared and he learned God provides.

The Bible abounds with examples of immediate faithful obedience and unfaithful obedience. Saul, Israel’s first king, had delayed obedience, partial obedience, and conditional obedience. The spirit of God left Saul and the kingdom was taken from him and given to another.

When the word of the Lord came to Abraham, he listened, and he obeyed thoroughly, unconditionally and immediately. No grumbling no bartering, no shortcuts, no laters. (Gen 12:4, 15:6,22:16-18, 26:5, Heb.11:8,9,17) God asks no less of us as his people today. Cultural idols still surround us but the wood and stone take on different forms. And, God still comes to us and calls us to worship him and him alone. When your faith is tested, is your response immediate? Faith proceeds obedience, faith produces obedience, faith is foundational. Consider the tests God has brought to your attention this week. Listen to God’s voice leading and practice obeying immediately.

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By Donna Burns  

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Stretch: FAITH AND IMMEDIACY Genesis 22:1-32017-05-04T11:48:14-06:00

Stretch: Faith and Fleece

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(Acts 16:6-10)And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

In 1 Samuel 14 Jonathan and his armor bearer discuss their game plan as they approach the Philistine front. One of the things they do is lay out a test for the Lord. They decide to climb the cliff and attack if they are called up by the Philistines saying, “the Lord has given them into our hands.” This isn’t the only place in Scripture where someone tests the Lord in order to determine His leading. The interesting part is God answers many people through this kind of test. Today’s devotional isn’t an attempt to prove or disprove the appropriateness of testing God like this. Instead I want to learn from another common thread that seems to be present when God speaks, regardless of the method he uses.

The ways that God communicates in Scripture are many and varied. In the Acts passage above, God uses a dream. Elsewhere in Scripture, God uses tests, prophets, the equivalent of dice, and more. The common element in the majority of God’s specific communication to His people is the willingness of the listener. A posture of obedience is a recipe for hearing. God loves to make his plan clear to those who genuinely want to step into that plan. In the Acts passage above, we don’t know how the “Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” to go into a those cities. What we do know is Paul and his team are actively trying to step into the obedient life of Jesus followers. They are on the go. They are obeying the commission of Jesus to go make disciples in all the world when they hear a course correction from God. They didn’t stay in one place asking God to reveal which city to go to, Jesus had already told them to go everywhere in Matthew 28 so they went. Their obedience to what they did know gave them ears to hear the more specific leading of God.

This daily would be far too long if I attempted to unpack all the examples of how and why God spoke to people in the Bible. The bottom line is, God is a speaking God. It’s one of the most knowable things about him since almost every story in Scripture involves God communicating in some way. We know He speaks increasingly clearly to those who intend to obey what they hear. Finally we know He often speaks more clearly to those already on the road of obedience, to people who go until they get a no rather than those who wait until they get a kick in the pants. Think of a situation where you need God’s guidance. Spend some time praying and asking God for his leading in that area. Start with a prayer like this, “God, what you say, I intend to obey.” Give the Lord opportunity through your silence to speak into year heart about the situation.[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Aaron Bjorklund 

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Stretch: Faith and Fleece2017-05-03T04:53:28-06:00

Faith and Ability | 1 Samuel 14:6

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Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” 1 Samuel 14:6

The army of the Midianites and Amalekites arrayed against Gideon and Israel was huge, numbered “like locusts in abundance” (Judges 7:12). God, through an angel, had spoken with Gideon to lead his people against this oppression. Once again, God heard the anguished cry of the Israelites and was about to deliver them from their oppressors. But, unlike what Gideon imagined being necessary to defeat this massive army, God’s plans were different.

When we feel God’s call on our lives, we sometimes take control and pursue it with our own auspices and power. Perhaps we begin to formulate plans and put together accountability groups, researching and planning to ensure we experience success, whatever it looks like. It seems we try to set God aside, saying “Thanks for the lead, but I’ve got this, Lord!” and rumble through the throes of the process, under our own power, using our understanding and vision of what God calls us to do. But this isn’t necessarily the way God intends for us to pursue his call.

In reading Judges 7:1-8, we find, despite the massive army Gideon assembled to fight their oppressor, God had a different idea. The army of Israel of about 32,000 was too big. Through a process defined by God, this number was pared down to 300, which was about one percent of its original size! This was the number God had chosen to drive out the vast army assembled in the valley below them, which it ultimately accomplished.

For us, too, in our drive to accomplish what God has called us to do, we need to follow Gideon’s example, and listen to God, leaning on his strength, not our own. God chooses to use those of his Kingdom on Earth to accomplish his plans, and, just like the passage below mentions, our boasting should be in God, not ourselves. Yesterday, a list of God’s attributes was given for us to pray through. While reviewing this list again, perhaps a good exercise would be to find an attribute of God that’s been missing or you’ve not witnessed in a while. As you discover them, ask God to reveal himself to you by that attribute.

1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’
3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

4 And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.”
5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.”
6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water.
7 And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”
8 So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

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By Rich Obrecht  

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Faith and Ability | 1 Samuel 14:62017-05-02T04:31:07-06:00

Faith + Maybe | 1 Samuel 14:6

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Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

I bought the flowers with hands trembling. I mustered up all the courage I could find – scraping some out of the corners of my soul. I was rehearsing the short speech I’d developed. I walked into the pizzeria where she worked with nary a hint of swagger. With a crackly voice resembling mid-puberty, I asked, “Will you go to prom with me?” That was all I had. Nothing flashy, just a straight-up request. She responded, “Maybe, let me think about it.” It wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for. Not the commitment I imagined in my mind. Maybe? Maybe means, maybe not. Maybe is ambiguous. Maybe is frustrating. Maybe is unhelpful. But, “maybe” is the reality of the posture of faith. Maybe is what we often hear from God.

Jonathan embraces the “maybe” of faith when he states, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6). He understands that faith is not the conviction that God will, but rather that God is God. When Jonathan claims that God might work on their behalf, he’s also admitting that he might not. Jonathan’s faith looks more like confidence in God than assurance of an outcome. Jonathan is stepping out to follow God, not in obedience to a command or in recognition of the audible voice of God, but with confidence in God’s character. He doesn’t have a guaranteed result, he only knows his God. And he knows that he cannot let this opportunity pass him by.

Some people view faith as the magic potion to get God to do what we want – but we know it doesn’t actually work that way. We can relate to Jonathan’s story. Our life of faith very rarely feels like certainty, but more like trust. Less like control and more like risk. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who claim, “God is able to save, but even if he doesn’t…” we aren’t always sure how God is going to respond or what God is going to do. (Dan. 3:18) Then again, faith isn’t confidence that God will move in a certain way. It’s confidence that God is; period. He is God. He is good. And he is smarter than we are. As we strive to live a life of faith, one of the most powerful things we can do is remind ourselves of the nature and character of our great God. Today, pray through the attributes of God. Allow the truth of his character to wash over you, get in you, and inspire you.[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Ryan Paulson 

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Faith + Maybe | 1 Samuel 14:62017-05-01T09:21:05-06:00

Advocate: Internal

[vc_row height=”small” el_class=”dailyBody” css=”.vc_custom_1465516518912{margin-top: -25px !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/4″][us_image image=”31117″ size=”tnail-1×1″][us_separator height=”20px” size=”custom”][us_sharing providers=”email,facebook,twitter,gplus”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]I saw a cute video clip this week of a baby bear running away from a mountain lion. There were a number of times the lion almost caught him. I found myself rooting for that little bear. At the end of the clip it looked hopeless. The mountain lion cornered the frightened bear and began swatting at him with his claws like cats do. Just as my heart began to sink, the little bear stood up on his hind legs and roared as scarily as he could. The mountain lion surprisingly turned and ran away. Just when you think the little bear had won a great victory, the camera pans to show the baby bear’s mother behind him, roaring ferociously at the fleeing lion.

The odds of Jonathan and his armor bearer winning a victory against the Philistines appeared far less favorable then the little bear’s odds against the mountain lion. At least until you see the power of the God who can and did shake the earth that day. Often we lose sight of the advocate that we have in God. When situations look dire, it helps to remember that our God owns everything because He made it all. He can speak anything into existence, He is mightier than a hurricane and an earthquake, and there is no barrier or enemy that can stand against Him. It’s that perspective of God that allows Jonathan to step out like he does in this story.

In 1 Samuel 8 the people had begged God and Samuel for a king to rule over them. Saul’s kingship was a result of that plea. While Saul’s bravest men huddled under a pomegranate tree, we see Jonathan reverting to a higher advocate then his father the king. Jonathan slips out of the camp of human, family, political, and social authority and steps into the kingdom of God’s authority. Which place do you think is safer? What area of your life seems daunting right now? Where could you be stretched? Step into that area with the confidence that your advocate is far greater then any risk you could take to obey. Pray about that area of your life with a prayer like this, “God, what you say, I intend to obey because I trust you.”[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Advocate: Internal2017-04-28T04:30:57-06:00

ADVOCATE – EXTERNAL 1 Samuel 2, 14:1, 7-8

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1 Samuel 14:1:
“One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

1 Samuel 14:7-8
And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” 8 Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them.”

All it takes is one. One friend to provide companionship, one friend to bring you down, one friend to bring you up. The outcome of our life is greatly impacted by those whom we chose to surround ourselves. Psalm 1 begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.”

Saul the King surrounded himself with the relatives of the wicked sons of Eli. As a result, his spiritual character had slipped more and more after associating with them. Jonathan, Saul’s son, chose one faithful armor bearer to be around him.This man was even unnamed. Jonathan’s armor bearer was loyal, devoted, and protected Jonathan at all costs. They were comrades, partners in the war effort. Saul’s sketchy band of men leisurely sitting under a pomegranate tree are in stark contrast to Jonathan’s one great armor bearer who never left his side. Jonathan was victorious because of his great friendship and faith in the Lord. Saul had the kingdom taken from him and took his own life.

Are you an armor bearer for someone? Is there someone you stand shoulder to shoulder with in Scripture? Who do you encourage with words of love and devotion to Christ? Text, call or do something for them to celebrate your fellowship. God calls us to community and to share in this journey with Jesus. Have you carefully chosen an armor bearer or two? Your walk with the Lord depends on surrounding yourself with devoted Christ followers. Thank them for walking with you on this journey with Jesus through life’s battles. If you aren’t in a small group and would like to join one, email [email protected] and ask to join a life group, so you don’t have to struggle and fight alone.[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Donna Burns  

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ADVOCATE – EXTERNAL 1 Samuel 2, 14:1, 7-82017-04-27T04:24:46-06:00

Stretch: Adversity Internal

[vc_row height=”small” el_class=”dailyBody” css=”.vc_custom_1465516518912{margin-top: -25px !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/4″][us_image image=”31115″ size=”tnail-1×1″][us_separator height=”20px” size=”custom”][us_sharing providers=”email,facebook,twitter,gplus”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Sometimes the greatest battles we face are the internal pressures that we or others have placed upon us. Things like family expectations wage war within us. Question like will I ever be good enough to be noticed? Sometimes it is these internal battles that unravel our souls more than any external adversity could.

It’s those internal voices that probably explain Jonathan’s actions in Chapter 14 of 1 Samuel. It says he takes his armor-bearer and leaves the camp, “but he did not tell his father.” There were so many familial, social, and political pressures that begged Jonathan not to leave the camp that day and follow God into that great victory. Picture the situation. In chapter 13, Jonathan had taken the very ground they were standing on from the Philistines. The Israelites gave the credit to his father, king Saul. Father had his posse gathered under this pomegranate after offering an unrighteous sacrifice to try to get God’s help against this huge army they faced.

Jonathan had the authority of his father (who was also the king) preventing him from stepping out like he did. He also had the social pressures of the fearful crowd waging against him. The six hundred men gathered there were already the bravest men in Israel. All the others had left to hide in caves and holes in the ground. There is this huge question about who will lead this group but Jonathan can’t usurp his father’s authority. All these internal pressures could have prevented him from acting but they didn’t. Jonathan finds a way to avoid shaming his father and king while at the same time following God into victory. He simply sneaks out of all those pressures when he sneaks out of that camp.

There are pressures all around us that wage war in our souls to prevent us from doing what is right. Today, under the teaching and way of Jesus, we learn that we are supposed to pray for our enemies. Many of those pressures beg us to respond to our enemies (Matt. 5:44). There is nothing inside us or inside our culture that likes that. Take some time to think who your enemies are right now. Who are you struggling with? Sneak out from under the pressure to hate and instead pray for them. Follow God into that victory.[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Aaron Bjorklund 

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Stretch: Adversity Internal2017-04-26T04:18:09-06:00

ADVERSITY – EXTERNAL 1 Samuel 4:10-11

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“So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”

Going up against all the odds makes a great movie, an exciting sporting event, or a plot for a great read in a book. But when the insurmountable obstacles start stacking themselves up against our own personal lives, it feels different. The weight of each obstacle pulls at our forward progress and keeps us from being who God wants us to be and doing what God asks us to do.

Many times in the Old Testament history of the nation of Israel, God’s power overcomes the impossible for His chosen people. Individuals also experienced God’s power delivering them from destruction. Numbers of soldiers, their sophisticated weapons and horses, and even the geography of the land couldn’t stop the plan of God and his mighty hand. Even though Israel lost the ark and 30,000 men, God still has a plan: a purpose and opportunity for His people. He is still with them, still cares for them, and still acts on their behalf.

There are only two ways to respond to this world: to the externals, which are visible and concrete, or to the internals, the unseen and invisible. What externals are keeping you from following diligently after God? Is it a person, place or object? Materialistic or pleasure filled goals? There is a constant battle between our outer physical self and our inner man. God feels very strongly about the externals ruling and controlling our lives. The big picture of all of Scripture is the passion of God to restore man’s heart to himself, and to worship him only. God sees the heart of every man and everything in it. As an example, in 1 Sam. 14, Jonathan climbed up rocky crags, with only his armor bearer to fight an army, – two with faith, against hundreds and God gave them victory. External circumstances didn’t stop him, his heart of faith was rewarded. How we respond is critical. Pray that nothing would keep you from wholeheartedly following after God. We all face giant Philistines, huge mountains of pressures, and difficult circumstances. God has a plan for you, a purpose and opportunity, he is with you and he cares for you. He has made a way, a way through Christ dying on the cross and the transformation of your heart by the forgiveness of your sins.[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Donna Burns  

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ADVERSITY – EXTERNAL 1 Samuel 4:10-112017-04-25T04:12:45-06:00

Let Us Go | 1 Samuel 14:1-15

[vc_row height=”small” el_class=”dailyBody” css=”.vc_custom_1465516518912{margin-top: -25px !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/4″][us_image image=”31113″ size=”tnail-1×1″][us_separator height=”20px” size=”custom”][us_sharing providers=”email,facebook,twitter,gplus”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]Have you realized that life moves at an alarmingly consistent rate? It doesn’t stop, it never slows down. Just last week I was reflecting on how quickly my kids are growing up. My oldest is asking more intelligent questions and using more advanced reason. My youngest is throwing temper-tantrums instead of embracing the sweet disposition he had for his first three years – oh, the good old days! I’m reminded of the old saying, “the days drag on, but the years fly by.” Like a river flowing, if we wait for time to stop, we will never jump into it and the moments will pass us by. It’s true of parenting, and it’s true of life in general.

Jonathan refuses to let life pass him by. He doesn’t receive a direct command from God, he simply sees an opportunity in front of him and seizes it. It’s reflected in the phrase “let us go” that appears two times in the narrative (1 Sam. 14:1, 6). Jonathan decides to live rather than being content with life passing him by. He decides to be an active agent in his story, rather than a passive observer. While it was a step of faith, it was also a decision to take initiative. The Apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to be ‘opportunity seizing’ people. In Ephesians 5:15-16 he wrote, “15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The phrase “making the best use of the time” could literally be translated “buying back the opportunities.” We buy back the opportunities by making the most of every moment and refusing to be sidelines observers of our own lives. Jonathan modeled this for us well.

Buying back the opportunities is a challenge because it requires initiative. If we choose to take the posture of letting life happen to us, we become passive agents in the life we live. The scriptures never to call us to ‘let go and let God.’ The scriptures invite us to see and discern the world in front of us, and then to ask God how he might want us to imaginatively live in a way that brings his kingdom, goodness, and love. Just like Jonathan, we face opportunities in front of us brilliantly disguised as obstacles. What opposition is God inviting you to step into with a renewed “let us go” attitude? Listen to the song Oceans and ask God what steps he’s calling you to take. Existing is a given, but living is a choice. Today, choose to live.

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By Ryan Paulson |

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Let Us Go | 1 Samuel 14:1-152017-04-24T03:49:36-06:00
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