ICYouth: Too Good To Miss (Makenna)

Thank you for your generosity to our one-fund, Accelerate. Because of your geneorsity, we are able to share stories of how God is changing lives! Every Friday, one of our student bloggers shares how God is working in his or her life. Leave some encouragement by commenting?

By Makenna Nahorniak

Brothers and sisters,

We have a choice to make.

We need to decide if we want to live this life in a way that is all about the Lord… or if we want to live this life in a way that is all about us.

It’s us, or Him.

It’s your comfort-zone, your satisfaction, your pleasure… or His glory.

That seems a bit risky, you might say. Maybe because it is risky. Following Jesus carries some weight. God isn’t after the grey areas of our lives. And He surely doesn’t desire anything less than our everything. He gave us air for breathing words of praise- for exuding the beauty of His name.

Let Him be your best thought. Let Him be your finest moment. Let His love be your greatest treasure; His presence your favorite place.

Us or Him; Us or Him.

It’s scary to think of emptiness. But then there is a sweet moment of freedom that lingers, and we find ourselves vulnerable and dependent on the Lord. It is in that moment that we experience the freedom in which we were made to live. We are filled to the brim by His unquenchable love. In fact, we’re spilling over. His love has reconciled us and we are whole. Our greatest encounter with true love takes place within the Lord’s grasp.

We tend to speak of faith with a shrug of the shoulders, acting as though the Most Worthy One in all of the world is nothing more than an acquaintance. We call on Him when we need Him, we plead for forgiveness when we have hit the end of our rope, and we sing songs to Him begrudgingly because we’re weary; the lyrics have ceased to move us.

In Revelation 2:2-3, Jesus spoke to the church in Ephesus saying,

“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

When we experience brokenness followed by replenishment under the weight of God’s ever-present mercy, there is excitement. In that moment, we experience the gravity of first love- a love that has been embracing us even before time existed.

Let us not abandon our first love as we have so flippantly before.

His love is way too good to miss.

Child of the Most High God,

He has been after you since day one. He is dedicated to you- madly in love with you. He is always soaking you in His seas of affection. Stay awake. Don’t fall asleep on that kind of love.

We are gravely mistaken if we think that there is anything in the universe that is more satisfying and more worthwhile than the presence of the Lord. We are so wrong if we decide that life should be all about us when we are invited into a passionate, true, unyielding love with a God so big, yet grace-filled enough to invite us to spend forever with Him. If you think that forever seems quite incomprehensible, imagine the God that invented it.

Let us adore Him.

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalms 63:1-4)

As you count the cost, remember the heavy price that has been paid on your behalf. Remember the debt that no one could pay in full. Think back to the day that you were lost and alone, without the hope of tomorrow- not to mention forever. It’s not like that anymore. He took all the weight upon himself. Jesus has secured you. Now, what will it be? How will you respond?

It’s all or nothing. It’s running hard or standing still. We have a choice to make, believers.

One thing is certain: He is too good to miss.

Makenna Nahorniak is a junior in high school. She enjoys singing, beauty and her Lord. 

iCKids: Hope in Upward Basketball

Thank you so much for your generosity to Accelerate, our one-fund generosity initiative! Because of God’s goodness and His people’s generosity, we are able to share stories of how He is at work at Immanuel, in our community and around the world.”

by Laura Forman

Many of us take for granted our child can play the sport of his or her choice. The decision is a simple one — baseball or soccer, volleyball or track — not whether participation is even possible. One child playing in Immanuel’s Upward Basketball this winter has risen above the odds, a possibility only God could facilitate.

Hope is a fitting name for this inspiring girl, born severely premature at 25 weeks and given a 50 percent chance of survival. Now at age 11, Hope is not only walking, which doctors thought impossible, she is competing in a sport she always dreamed of playing.

The teams were full and practice had begun when Ruth Karner, Immanuel’s Children’s Ministry Director, got the request from Hope’s mother, Angela. This, combined with the physical challenges Ruth predicted, was enough to turn her away. However, being turned away wasn’t in God’s plan.

Ruth emailed Angela to let her know the answer:next year was a smarter choice as they could be better prepared to accommodate Hope; though she really wanted her to join, they just weren’t ready. Angela replied there was a misunderstanding; she had already told Hope she could play.

After much prayer and further discussion with Upward commissioner Jurrell Belonga, Ruth decided to place Hope on a team.

“We talked to coach Katcie, and she was thrilled to do it; then she talked to her assistant coach,” Ruth said. “This is where God came into the whole thing. Not only was Katcie thrilled about it, her assistant was a special needs teacher. They were both like, ‘Absolutely, let’s do this.’”

“It ended up being a beautiful experience for everybody,” Ruth explained. “What was humbling for me was even when I was hesitant to step out and do something because I didn’t see all the ducks in a row like I usually do before we kick something off, God put all those ducks in a row first, behind the scenes, before I could get to it.”

Hope has progressed from taking her first steps at age 3, to becoming a “professional faller” (her mom’s description), falling more than 100 times a day through age 6, to an active pre-teen playing an organized sport with her peers.

HopeHope, proudly in uniform.

Ruth believes the experience benefits the children without physical challenges in Upward even more than Hope.

“It teaches them so much more. It gives them the opportunity to be Jesus and to experience what this child has to offer that they normally wouldn’t necessarily know,” Ruth elaborated.

“She is an inspiration to many, especially her family,” Angela shared. “It has been a long uphill road all the way … but I would do it ALL again. God has a special plan for Hope; that is why she survived and continues to thrive.”

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

How does Hope feel about playing basketball?

Angela said, “She was given a first-hand dose of the reality that being in a mainstream sport without an aide is more challenging, but as she states, she is ‘free’”.

To learn more about Upward Sports and Immanuel’s Special Needs Inclusion ministry please visit: http://immanuelhome.org/kids.php 

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Laura Forman is married to David and they live in Gurnee with their five children. She is a personal trainer, freelance writer and can be found at church or www.lauralisaforman.com.

 

The Monday After: Seeing What God Wants Me to See {Andrew}

You know that Sunday feeling, right?

We leave the church building inspired and filled with Truth and encouragement on Sundays … and somewhere along the course of the week, pieces of the message tend to fade and we often lose that Sunday feeling.

The Monday After {the Sunday Sermon} carries the Sunday message into Monday mornings by sharing how what we’ve heard on Sunday morning is making a difference in our Mondays, our weeks, our lives. Because of your generosity to Accelerate, we are able to share these stories! Thank you!

The Monday After Sunday, February 24, 2014: Seeing What God Wants Me to See — Listen.

by Andrew Kelley

I don’t member the exact day I came to Christ. It was more of a gradual day-by-day, month-by-month illuminating transformation. Like in Ephesians 1:18-19 the eyes of my heart were being opened to each area of my life, one area at a time.

I looked up this reference in the Message, and I really want us to take to heart what God is telling us.

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear so that you can see exactly what it is He is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life He has for His followers. Oh, the utter extravagance of His work in us who trust Him – endless energy, boundless strength!”

Now pause.

You see, I was trying so hard in junior high and high school to fit in. I didn’t know Him who knew me from before time began so I didn’t know who He wanted me to be. I didn’t know who I really was because I lost my image in trying to become what others wanted me to be until half way through high school when I got serious about knowing God.

It was the illumination of a family that intrigued me. They were not fake. They were not traditional. They were like Jesus — bold and moved with Him because they knew Him. I wanted to know Him like they knew Him.

Near the end of Luke 24 we’re told that the Disciples eyes were opened when they broke bread. Even after walking with Him for almost seven miles and speaking with Him, they did not recognize Him.

They were so focused on the tragedy of His death that they could not tell who this man was. Are we so focused on our tragedy and problems that we don’t see Him walking right beside us? It’s only when we look to God and His promises that the eyes of our heart will be opened to what He has in store for us.

Now read again, Ephesians 1: 18-19:

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear so that you can see exactly what it is He is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life He has for His followers. Oh, the utter extravagance of His work in us who trust Him – endless energy, boundless strength!”

In Luke 24:35, the disciples recognized Jesus when He broke the bread. In John 6:48-51 Jesus tells us He is the bread of Life, which makes our spiritual nutrition the Word of God.

Christ was “known to them in the breaking of bread.” We need this bread just like we need literal food to stay alive. Our eyes will be opened when we eat His word.

A long time ago, God challenged me to read His word and pray in public. I was afraid, but I did it. Every day for a little over a year I read the Bible at work in the cafeteria and where ever I was I took my Bible. The eye opening and illuminating awesomeness was that every time I read the Bible, I saw something new. Every time I read the Bible, my eyes were opened to a new truth, with both mini or large revelations.

This book we all have is truly Alive! The Holy Spirit illuminates Jesus, the living Word, us for all to see!

And so this is my prayer for us:

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear so that you can see exactly what it is He is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life He has for His followers. Oh, the utter extravagance of His work in us who trust Him – endless energy, boundless strength!”

Andrew and Dawn

Andrew Kelley is husband to Dawn and father to four wonderful children; he and his family currently call Immanuel and Zion home. 

ICYouth: But God (Grant)

Thank you for your generosity to our one-fund, Accelerate. Because of your geneorsity, we are able to share stories of how God is changing lives! Every Friday, one of our student bloggers shares how God is working in his or her life. Leave some encouragement by commenting?

By Grant Everly

Many of us go through our entire Christian lives and miss out on so much with God. Some of us assume a legalistic approach when it comes to our faith, others of us perhaps overly intellectual, and still others of us fake our way through.

All of us, to one extent or another, have a tendency to miss out on everything that God has to offer us. It’s so unfortunate that this is the case. The love that God offers us is overwhelming, but we rarely allow it to overwhelm us.

At iMPACT on Sunday we focused on Ephesians 2:1-10. After reading it, I’m convinced that all we need to know as Christians can be summed up in two words: But God.

The first half of the passage describes what should be. It displays that we are horribly ugly because of our sinful nature. In essence, we’re dead, fully deserving God’s wrath. But then we get to verse 4, and what should be gets flipped on its head.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.” Ephesians 2:4-5

We, a dead, broken, and unworthy people, get to be recipients of God’s mercy when we accept Christ’s gift. It’s completely undeserved, but God decided to give it to us. If left to ourselves, we would be dead, but God has other plans. We’re horribly rotten people, but God decided to so richly love.

We were dead, but God.

When we look at Christianity through this light, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to stand unmoved. Think about it. You, by all rights, should be considered unworthy by the Creator of the universe. We’re entrenched in sin, but God, for no reason than his unconditional love for us, decided to take all that should be true, and throw it out the window. In so doing, he throws his arms around us and gives us a God-sized bear hug.

The God of the universe loves you. It’s not a love rooted in obligation. It’s completely undeserved. We have absolutely no right to God’s love, and the crazy part is that he continually showers us with it.

When we take the time to let this reality sink in, our relationship with God will change. It’s impossible for it not to. When we focus on the “but God,” a faith that appears to be an intellectual exercise, a faith that is fake, and a faith that is rooted in legalism becomes impossible to sustain. The fact that the God of the Universe loves us unconditionally should put us in a place of sheer awe, where the only proper response is to return the favor.

So as we move forth in our walks with Christ, let’s focus on the “but god;” for when we do this, the fullness of Christianity is realized and we can begin to live the life that God intended for us.

Grant Everly is a junior at Warren Township High School and regularly attends church with his family and iMPACT on Sunday nights. He plays soccer, enjoys sports and has passion for learning more about Christ and growing in Him.