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Giving – by Donna Vargas

Webster’s definition of the word give is, “freely transferring the possession of (something) to (someone).” What does God mean by giving? In Malachi 3:7-9, God tells us that by NOT giving, we are robbing Him. Robbing Him; I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be robbing God, the same sovereign God that sacrificed His only son to pay for our sins. However, as Brad discussed on Sunday, it isn’t solely about giving our 10%; it’s about our hearts and where they are when we give. Are we doing it for recognition or out of obligation or is to glorify God’s command?

God has blessed us with everything that we have: families, talents, careers, health, so why is it so difficult to tithe consistently? I struggle with this, too. Doubt creeps its way in, making me believe that I can’t afford the 10%, when instead, I should have 100% faith that God will provide. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 describes perfectly what it means to be a cheerful giver: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

This week, I encourage you to pray and ask God about how much HE wants you to give.

BP_DonnaVergasDonna Vargas serves in the VLC children’s ministry and is a part of the FLI study group. She is the mother to a middle school student, who is a member of the VLC student group. Donna has just started her 9th year as a high school Spanish teacher and loves (almost) every minute of it. She enjoys, reading, Netflix binging, spending time with her son and exploring the world.

Prayer – by Adam Howell

I tend to take the availability of prayer for granted. The opportunity is always there, it never goes away. Are you feeling down? You can pray. Are you feeling cheerful? You can pray. Are you lonely? Pray. Are you feeling anxiety? Pray. Are you feeling anguish? Pray.

That’s exactly what was presented to us in 1 Samuel 1:16. Hannah, from a broken heart, was praying out of “anguish and resentment” (HCSB). The ESV translates that to “anxiety and vexation.” Whenever I see the word “anxiety” in Scripture, my ears perk up. I am all too familiar with anxiety, therefore I love seeing it pop up in the Word. I’ve heard it said that prayer aligns us with God’s will. From that, I deduce that my anxiety is me freaking out internally because I’ve lost sight of God’s will. When I am drawn back into prayer, the peace that God offers us ever so gracefully, enters my heart and mind.

It doesn’t take a superman or super pastor to commune with God in prayer. It’s so easy to hold men of the Bible in high regard, almost to a super hero status. Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah; these incredible men of God accomplished great tasks for God’s glory, but they were still only men. James 5:17 reminds us of this.

James 5:17-18 reads, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

That word in v17 for “nature” is translated from the Greek word, “homoiopathés,” meaning “of like feelings, having similar passions and feelings, of like infirmities.” It’s not saying that Elijah was also a human made of flesh and blood like us. I read it as James telling us that Elijah felt the same emotions that we do. That is to say, the same anxieties, the same cheerfulness, the same loneliness, the entire spectrum of human emotion. Even with these same emotions that at times cripple us, Elijah was able to meet God in prayer and be aligned with his will. Therefore, being of the same nature, we can’t forget this crucial spiritual discipline.

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Adam Howell serves on the Hospitality Team and works as an intern at VLC. He is currently enrolled at Georgia Highlands College pursuing a degree in Communication. He enjoys reading, hiking, and good fellowship.

Fasting & Feasting – by Dan Ratcliffe

You’ve probably heard it said that God has a sense of humor. I believe this to be true, because of ALL the weeks that my turn to write blog could have rolled around… it had to come up on the week about fasting.

For me, fasting is an “f-word.” I try not to say it as much as possible. I mean, why is it even called “fasting” when it seems to go by so slowly?? But I guess fasting was easier to say than, “misery and suffering.” All kidding aside, though, God – in His sovereignty and infinite wisdom – knew this was a spiritual discipline that I needed to truly think and pray about. What better way to do that than by having me write a blog about it?

Fasting is something that we are called to do. As Brad pointed out on Sunday, fasting is mentioned 70 times in scripture. And when Jesus talks about it in Matthew 6, he says “WHEN you fast,” not “IF you fast.” So, it’s something we are called to do. It is a discipline, as well. By definition, a discipline is not something that’s necessarily easy to do. However, it does bring about growth.

As I thought and prayed about what to say about fasting in this blog, God kept laying on my heart the phrase, “FASTING from something will allow you to FEAST on something else.” Think about that. When we clear our plates of the food or time-consuming thing that takes our focus off of God, it frees us up to feast on The One who gives us abundant life! It’s no wonder David says, “Oh, taste and see that The Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8 ESV) How can we truly taste and see that God is good if our plates are full of things that keep us in a state of self-sufficiency? When we clear our plates of those things, then we are left to rely on His sufficiency – not our own.

I think Paul realized this when he wrote, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 ESV) And let’s be honest, who has been more reliable throughout our lives? Us, or the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the universe? As we enter this period of a church-wide fast, rather than looking at it as a FAST – let’s look at it as a church-wide FEAST on The Lord. Whatever it is that keeps us from fixing our eyes on Christ, let’s get rid of it. We won’t truly be able to taste and see that He is good until we do. It’ll be like we’re eating a McDonald’s chicken nugget, when we could be having a thick, juicy filet mignon. (Great, now I’m hungry!)

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Dan Ratcliffe is an elder at VLC. He is married to Kathy and they have 3 kids; Bethany, Kailey, and Joshua. Dan has worked in radio for 27 years. He enjoys hanging out with his family and helping to lead the Epic Bible Study Group.

Be Prepared – by Nick Steinichen

Preparation is a word that I really took away from the message that Bryan shared on this past Sunday. Before I dive into the 3 main aspects of preparation that I thought of, I would like to share a couple of great reminders that we should all remember about studying Scripture. In fact we should remember these things when taking personal inventory of how we utilize all of the spiritual disciplines in our Christian lives. Firstly, let us never think that the Christian life is a checklist, lest we think that somehow we can gain God’s favor by checking boxes. Our love for Christ and the desire to draw nearer to Him should be the impetus for the exercising of any and all of the spiritual disciplines in our lives! And secondly, Scripture is God’s Word- telling us how He has unfolded, is unfolding, and will unfold, His eternal redemption plan.

As you can see, I have titled this response “Be Prepared.” So let’s take a look at 3 ways that being “devoted to the apostles’ teaching,” (Acts 2:42) or studying Scripture, can prepare us to be a strong body of Christ.

1. Be prepared to speak truth to ourselves and other believers
– 2 Timothy 3:16-17
– As Christians, we should be teaching one another about “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3) from the Bible.
– Our reproof, or “inner convictions,” comes from our knowledge of God’s Word.
– As brothers and sisters in Christ, we often times need correcting in our behavior or our theology. Scripture gives us our guidelines as to what needs to be corrected, and also how to make the necessary corrections.
– Scripture is breathed out by God, and studying it diligently is training Christians for righteousness.
– When we discipline ourselves in the study of the Bible, God will work the above 4 things in us. When He works them in us then we will “be complete and equipped for every good work.” (v. 17)

2. Be prepared to speak truth to unbelievers about our God
– 1 Peter 3:15
– As sure as death and taxes will come to us all, so will times of trials and and suffering. God, through His Word gives us comfort, but not only comfort. God instructs us how to “honor Christ the Lord as holy” during those times of trial.
– Therefore, by God’s grace, when we honor Christ in the toughest of times, we must be expecting questions from those outside of the faith. Dedicating ourselves to knowing God and knowing His Word is imperative to being prepared when we are “asked to make a defense for the reason for the hope that is in us.” (v.15)

3. Be prepared to speak truth to false teachers and those who oppose Christ
– Acts 4:11-12 & 1John 2:20-22, 26
– INDLUGENCES – People that were part of the Catholic Church in Germany began selling salvation and reduced time in purgatory. If the Catholic Church was deeply rooted in Scripture, then this type of heresy would not have been pervasive! Bryan mentioned that Dietrich Bonhoeffer would come to call this “cheap grace.” Man can never guarantee salvation to another person. God’s Word is clear about this. Acts 4:11b-12a tells us that Jesus “has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else.”
– The Rise of Hitler-The “cheap grace” that Bonhoeffer spoke about would play a part in the rise of Hitler to power. The fact is that the church was full of people who thought they were saved because they bought their salvation. If people thought that they were saved then why would they need to devote themselves to the study of the Bible? When Hitler came to the church and pleaded with them to join the movement to bring Germany back to a major power, they were unable to see that he was an antichrist. 1 John 2 says that we “have all the knowledge,” (v. 20) we know the truth, (v.21) he who denies that Jesus is the Christ is an antichrist, (v. 22) and John is writing these things “about those who are trying to deceive you.” (v. 26)

It is clear that the Word of God is an integral piece of the lives of Christians! The call here is to be devoted to studying and memorizing Scripture. Read Acts 2:42-47. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the passage begins with, “and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” and the last verse says, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

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Nick Steinichen works at North Cobb Christian School where he coaches football and swimming. Nick is an avid runner and loves to eat. He serves on the Hospitality Team at VLC. Nick loves God’s Word and wants to be a preacher in the future!