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Jul-25-16

How To Escape Your Fears

posted by Craig T. Owens

Jesus is ChampionFear is crippling. Fear robs us of seizing opportunities. Fear cuts short the abundant life God desires for us to have. One definition of fear captures it well: F.E.A.R is False Evidence Appearing Real.

Oversized fears can turn into what psychologists call phobias. One website actually lists 543 unique phobias!

Where does this fear come from? Why are so many plagued by fears?

I believe the answer is found in this: fearful people aren’t looking far enough ahead. They are looking at their fears, and not the Champion of their fears.

King David knew what it was to have assassins stalking him, to be on the run for his life, to not know if someone was a friend or foe, to not even know where he was going to sleep at night. So he begins his second song of ascent with this thought: “If the Lord had not been on our side, here’s a list of really bad things that would have happened to us.”

Notice the “if” statements. David is not saying “if there were no God,” of “if God didn’t care for us.” In other words, David is clearly saying that God exists, and that God is for us!

I like this—Oh, blessed be God! He didn’t go off and leave us. He didn’t abandon us defenseless, helpless as a rabbit in a pack of snarling dogs (v. 6, in The Message).

David is not telling us how to escape our fears, but to begin celebrating that we have already been freed from our fears! 

We seem to think that satan and Jesus are still duking it out, that the outcome of the struggle is still up for grabs. I’ve got fantastic news: Jesus already won! He is already the Champion!!

We’ve flown free from their fangs, free of their traps, free as a bird. Their grip is broken; we’re free as a bird in flight (v. 7, The Message).

Speaking of birds flying free, J.B. Figgis wrote, “Do you find yourself asking, ‘But am I to step out onto nothing?’ That is exactly what the bird is seemingly asked to do, yet we know that the air is there and that the air is not nearly as insubstantial as it seems. And you know that the promises of God are there, and they certainly are not insubstantial at all” (emphasis added).

What fears plague you? Jesus has already set you free from that. The battle has already been won. You just need to find the promise of God in the Bible that tells you how He has canceled that fear.

Now begin to swing that promise like a sword at your fear every time it raises its ugly head! Stop being crippled by your fear, and lift your eyes up to the Maker of heaven and earth who has set you free!

Check out my full message on this song of ascent—

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Jul-18-16

How Christians Can Overcome Ridicule

posted by Craig T. Owens

Has anyone ever ridiculed you for your Christian faith? If so, this message is for you. Here is the recap Pastor Craig posted on his blog

Much ridicule and contemptHave you ever been…

  • …told to keep your religious beliefs to yourself?
  • …laughed at for living out your biblical convictions?
  • …excluded from the “in” crowd?
  • …put down because your morals are too strict?

The writer of the song of ascent in Psalm 123 must have experienced this quite a bit. He uses phrases like we have endured much contempt and we have endured much ridicule.

These are not words which the songwriter could easily brush off. One translation says, “our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning” of these ridiculing people. In other words, it’s not something he could just brush off by thinking, “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Literally translated, the phrases exceedingly filled mean bad things multiplied 10,000 times! 

The ridicule and the contempt hurts! So the psalmist cries out Mercy! three times. This isn’t like saying “Uncle,” or having your cornerman throw in the towel, or even tapping out in a UFC match. This is a soul crying out, “God, if You will give me Your gracious favor for one more round, I will not tap out, I will not go down, I will go through!”

So he looks to the only One who can help him—my eyes wait upon Jehovah. Just like a servant who is completely dependent on his master for his daily bread, just like a maid who is trusting her mistress will give her favor, this guy says, “My eyes are fixed on Jehovah! If He can’t help me, no one can.”

The songwriter’s conclusion is this: “I will continually lift my eyes up to You, to You Whose throne is in heaven.” There are distractions, and hurts, and those who ridicule me—lots of them!—but I will develop the habit of redirecting my eyes UP to look to God.

  • When I feel anxious: I will redirect my eyes UP.
  • When I feel scorned: I will redirect my eyes UP.
  • When I’m hurt by others: I will redirect my eyes UP.
  • When I’ve had my fill of ridicule and contempt: I will redirect my eyes UP.
  • When I don’t think I can answer the bell for another round: I will redirect my eyes UP.
  • No matter what: I will redirect my eyes UP!

Check out the full video of this encouraging message. And if you are in the area, join us this Sunday as we continue our look at the Psalms of Ascent.

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As we continue to look at the songs of ascent, Pastor Craig shared a cool look at Psalm 122. Here is the recap he posted on his blog

Place of peaceKing David loved God, and he loved God’s people. He was passionate about everyone getting as deeply connected with God as he was, so he wrote worship songs, setup worship teams, and organized the temple for worshippers.

The first song of ascent he wrote was one anticipating how good it was going to be when everyone got to the temple in Jerusalem to worship.

In fact, David was so excited about what he was expecting to happen in their worship together that he practically glowed with joy! Really! The word for rejoiced in his song means to be so cheerful and happy that you make others around you bright by your happiness. 😀

What was it that David thought was going to happen? First of all, we need to look at the name Jerusalem. Traditionally this means the City of Peace, but the two words that make up “Jerusalem” are much richer than that. Yes, -salem means “peace.” But the first part of the word (yara-) literally means water flowing through, or an arrow being shot out.

In other words, David anticipated that we are going to a peaceful place to be sent out full of peace, to take that peace to others who don’t have it, but desperately need it.

While we are in our “Jerusalem” (for us in the New Testament, this is our “church,” even if it’s just two or three people getting together), here are five blessings you should expect—

  1. Unity—with all the “tribes” joining together.
  2. Praise—joining together to tell God how great He is!
  3. Learning—we come together to learn God’s statutes.
  4. Judgment—what?! How is judgment a blessing? If you are nervous about being judged, just remember Who does the judging in God’s temple: the Holy Spirit. He judges us in a loving way, and in a way that allows us an opportunity to see our sin, repent from it, and experience unconditional forgiveness. That is exciting!
  5. Peace, security, prosperity—the word shalom is used multiple times in the closing verses of this song. The best definition of shalom is: nothing missing, nothing broken. In other words, when we gather together to worship we should expect that God will heal any dis-ease we have, that He will supply what has fallen short, that He will fill up what’s empty.

With those five blessings in mind, here’s the declaration all Christians can make—

Inside these walls…
we live in unity
we praise the Lord
we learn God’s laws
we judge ourselves by God’s standards
repenting, confessing, forgiving, and being forgiven
we fight for peace
we bless God and one another
We descend back to the valleys
to take this message to valley-dwellers
that they, too, may pilgrimage
with us to Jerusalem
It starts here in God’s family!
It starts with me!

Check out the full video of this message, where I explain each of these ideas more fully. And if you’re in the area, join us on Sunday as we continue our look at the Psalms of Ascent.

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Jul-7-16

Psalms Of Ascent

posted by Craig T. Owens

The Psalms Of AscentEvery year, Jews from around the world made four pilgrimages to Jerusalem for various feasts and sacrifices. These journeys reminded them of God’s goodness as they went to the Temple to worship, and they helped refocus on God’s ways as they returned to their regular routines.

Jerusalem is over 2500 feet above sea level, so the pilgrimage there was a physical workout as well as a spiritual workout. So these times climbing up into God’s presence were beneficial for God’s people, preparing them to minister in their cities in the following months.

The Book of Psalms contains 15 songs that these pilgrims would sing to and with each other as they traveled up to Jerusalem. These Psalms of Ascent are still instructive for Christians today.

Please join us this Sunday as we begin a look at the life-changing truths these pilgrimage songs can still teach today to all of God’s people.

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Jul-4-16

Picnic & Baptism

posted by Craig T. Owens

It was truly an awesome Sunday!

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Jun-27-16

12 Blessings While Going Through A Valley

posted by Craig T. Owens

Continuing our look at the Psalms Of Ascent, Pastor Craig encouraged those walking through a valley time in their life. Here is a recap from his blog

Watch overValley times come to all people. Even Christians.

The Songs Of Ascent in the Psalms imply this, since the pilgrims are ascending from a valley to the place of worship in Jerusalem. But this idea of going through a valley is especially seen in Psalm 121.

The song starts by saying I lift my eyes up to the hills. He then sings that he found his help in God. This idea of help is not what we think of in today’s world. It’s not like dialing 9-1-1, reporting our need, and waiting for help to arrive. It’s not even like driving to a hospital, checking into the emergency room, and waiting for a doctor to see us.

The idea of help in the Bible is a picture of surrounding. It’s not something we have to wait to arrive, but something—or should I say Someone—Who is already right there!

In verses 4-8 the phrase watch over is used five times. This too gives us the idea of the closeness of our help. The Hebrew word translated watch over has four powerful word pictures:

  1. Gardener carefully watching over his precious garden.
  2. Soldier dutifully guarding a valuable treasure.
  3. Watchman diligently scanning the horizon for any approaching enemies.
  4. Shepherd lovingly attending to his flock.

I especially like the picture of shepherd, because of another valley reference. The opening words to Psalm 23 are, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Then we read what the Good Shepherd does for His sheep when they are in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our Shepherd…

  1. Gives us His confidence so they we will fear no evil
  2. Reveals His close, intimate presence
  3. Protects us with His rod
  4. Guides us with His staff
  5. Brings comfort to our hurts
  6. Provides us with food
  7. Anoints us with His blessings
  8. Pours out His overflowing blessings
  9. Allows His goodness and love to always follow us
  10. Gives us the assurance of eternal life

Then adding a couple of more blessings from Psalm 121, we see He…

11.  Never lets our foot slip (121:3)

12. Never sleeps or slumbers, so that we can rest securely (121:3-4)

Remember these songs of ascent are sung by those coming out of the valley. They are sung to remind us of God’s deliverance, they are also sung as encouragement to those still in the Valley.

Keep singingJesus went through the darkest Valley anyone has ever gone through. It wasn’t just the valley of the shadow of death, He went through death, hell and the grave. He overcame for you and me! He now walks with us in our valleys. He says to us, “I’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. I will never leave you or forsake you. I know this valley. I know how to get you out of this valley. Trust Me!”

We, too, who have been through the valleys and are now singing the song of ascent, need to sing loudly for those who are still in the valleys. We need to sing songs of assurance to them: “I have been in that same valley. I know how dark it is. But I know God watched over me and brought me safely through. Now I have a much better vantage point. And I say to you, trust Him! He is watching over you too. He will not let your foot slip. He will not sleep or slumber. He will protect you, and anoint you, and feed you, and give you His own dear presence. Don’t stop walking!”

We’ll be continuing our look at the Psalms Of Ascent in two weeks. But first, join us this Sunday, July 3, for our church picnic!

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Jun-20-16

The Key Decision For Influential Men

posted by Craig T. Owens

Yesterday Pastor Craig encouraged all the men with a powerful example from the Bible. Here is the recap he posted on his blog.

Influence like JesusNo matter how you look at it, being a Dad is hard work! Men have this constant balancing act between being tough and being tender. Guys have to have their game face on at work, and their family face on at home. They’ve got to work hard knocking down work competitors, and then work just as hard building up their family members.

But there is one key decision that will determine how successful a man will be at work, at home, in his social circles, and even in his relationship with God. 

In Acts 10 we meet a centurion named Cornelius. Centurions were professional military officers in charge of a centuria (usually 100 soldiers). Centurions were always “on the clock,” never letting down their guard nor their professionalism.

All of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament have noble characteristics associated with them. Whereas someone might be uncertain how a typical Roman soldier would behave, people felt more assured when the centurion was on the scene. Even Roman governors like Pilate, and Jewish kings like Herod, all seemed to fully trust the judgement, honesty, and resourcefulness of centurions.

Centurions worked hard to get where they were, and had some well-earned perks:

  • Good pay (one built a temple, Luke 7:1-5).
  • “Men of authority” with soldiers and servants reporting to them (Matthew 8:8-9).
  • Opportunity for advancement (Rome was the dominate world force).
  • A certain degree of autonomy (they had their own residences (Matthew 8; Acts 10).

In order to keep this position, they would have to buy into kurios Caesar (Caesar is lord). To do otherwise was to put their position and future advancement at risk.

Yet Cornelius was different. 

He was a trusted centurion, but something unusual stood out about his life. Luke the historian describes him as devout and God-fearing, mentioning his pious activities of prayer and giving to the poor. Cornelius’ own soldiers referred to him as righteous and respected by notable people in the community.

But probably most telling of all: God noticed how committed Cornelius was (see Acts 10:3-4)!

Cornelius had a lot to lose by rejecting kurios Caesar for, as the Christians said, kurios Iesous (Jesus is Lord). Yet after carefully weighing his options, he saw that trusting God was the best thing he could do for his family. His view of the eternal outweighed anything that he could gain in the temporal.

This one decision changed everything! 

Because Cornelius trusted God, look at the expansiveness of his influence, not only at home, but at work, and among his friends and extended family, and throughout his community:

  • His family—ALL his family were devout and God-fearing (v. 2)
  • His employees—a devout soldier (v. 7)
  • His community—respected by ALL the Jewish people (v. 22)
  • His relatives and friends—his relatives and close friends (v. 24)
  • In fact everyone around him—we are ALL here in the presence of God (v. 33)
  • And most importantly, with God—your prayers and gifts have come up as a memorial offering before God (v. 4)

Fellas, you can have this same level of influence if you, too, will decide to live karios Iesous: Jesus is Lord. If you will do that, you can have said about your life what was said about Cornelius and Jesus: “God anointed ___________ with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him!” (see Acts 10:38).

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Jun-6-16

Overcoming Anxiety

posted by Craig T. Owens

As we began our new series Sunday, we began a journey higher into God. Here’s the recap Pastor Craig posted on his blog

God's answersI remember visiting Denver, Colorado. The scenery was so breathtaking, so I decided to go for an early morning hike. Quickly I discovered that my hike became breathtaking in more than one way! Even though I was in good shape, I had a hard time getting my breath because of the mile-high atmosphere.

I learned later that this is why many top athletes train in high elevation: it increases their lung capacity and endurance so that they now have an advantage when they compete against others.

God trains us on His mountains, but He made us to live and minister in the valleys. Our ascent into God’s mountaintop presence is so important for godly maturity!

In the first song of ascent, I noticed something unusual in the very first verse. Some Bibles translate the verbs in the present tense (call on the Lord and He answers me), but some translations use the past tense (called on the Lord and He answered me). Which is correct? Actually both of them are correct!

The verbs are written in the perfect tense—something done at a specific point in the past, but still relevant and powerful in the present. In other words, we can say it like this, “I called on the Lord in the past and He most definitely answered me. That gives me confidence to call on the Lord today, knowing that He will answer me again.”

Past answers lead to present power and future hope.

But—oh wow!!—check out how God answers us! The word literally means that God answers us in song. God so loves it when you trust Him enough to bring all your cares to Him, that He sings His answer to you. For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs (Zephaniah 3:17).

If we don’t continue to recall how God has answered us in the past, we’re missing out on the blessing of hearing Him sing His answers over us again today. As a result, we begin to live in the world’s valley-level turmoil and anxiety.

Peace is longed for in verses 6 and 7. The Christian wants to live in peace, but the world loves turmoil. Want proof? Just look at what makes the headlines today! The solution is to keep going back to God again and again and again—

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Check out the full message to find the peace you are longing for!

If you don’t have a home church, please join us this Sunday as we continue our look at the songs of ascent, or you can tune in to our live Periscope broadcast from wherever you are.

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Apr-28-16

Blessing Others

posted by Craig T. Owens

Pastor Craig wrote:

“I am so proud of my Calvary Assembly of God family! Everyone pitched in to donate supplies, pack everything up, and then take these vital supplies to the needy in the inner city of Grand Rapids. One of the best compliments I heard was from a gentleman who stopped by for some items, when he said, ‘Thank you for treating us like human beings!’”

Our team was there to show the love of Jesus in the most tangible way they could.

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Apr-21-16

Shop To Support Calvary

posted by Craig T. Owens

Amazonsmile

Do you shop on Amazon.com? Here’s a great way to shop and support the ministries of Calvary Assembly of God at the same time: Shop with a “smile.”

Amazon.com has launched a program that gives 0.5% of your purchase to the charity you choose to support. Simply go to smile.amazon.com, add your purchases to your chart, and check-out. That’s it! Then Amazon will send a donation to the church each quarter.

Thanks for helping support the ministries of our church!

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