Two Trees

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life...            Deuteronomy 30:19 (NLT)

The Bible describes-in detail-two different trees. Our understanding of both trees and how they play out in our days literally determines the trajectory of our lives. The amount of Scripture there is around this idea is staggering. And yet… I’m betting most of us have never heard it preached about the way we heard it this weekend.

Normally, one or two points from the sermon capture my attention and provide more than enough material to write about. Not this week. The amount of material John covered is vast and I’m not sure how to condense it in a way that does it justice. So, instead, I’m going to tell you a story…

A long time ago, a baby girl was born. She was wanted and loved, but she didn’t always know it. Her family was part of a faith community that saw what they called “the spirit of Jezebel” in her and she began to pay for who she was before she could crawl. Her parents were instructed to beat that spirit out of her when she was three months old. As she grew, she began to learn that she was more lovable and acceptable when she followed the rules and met the expectations of those around her. She knew that she was never quite good enough-daily punishment was inevitable, but the harder she tried, the less severe her punishment would be. This little girl had a strong sense of God from an early age, more out of fear than anything else, but she didn’t doubt His existence. She knew that songs said He loved her, but she also knew that she was damaged and that if she didn’t meet a certain standard, He wouldn’t want her. Because the truth was, He didn’t “want” her anyway-he merely tolerated her. Fear gripped her heart from her earliest memories. She knew about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil-and she was filled with shame over how bad she knew she was.

As she grew older, the bony fingers of perfectionism tightened around her heart. Her family left that faith community when she was eight years old, but the rhetoric that defined her childhood followed her like a stalking shadow. She was well liked by teachers and other adults because she worked so very hard. She was desperate for someone-anyone-to tell her she was enough. But because she’d only ever known of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she knew she would never attain that elusive “enough”. While adults applauded her efforts, her peers attacked her intentions. The word “fake” was attributed to her early on and began to define her young existence. It became like an arrow lodged in her heart, because she didn’t understand. She didn’t know how-or who-else to be. In the midst of her approval-seeking rat race, she sensed Jesus and she wanted to know Him. She began a relationship with Him in elementary school, and she read her Bible and followed rules like never before. In spite of her growing knowledge of Jesus (her knowledge about Him), she grew more and more insecure and her lack of confidence became nothing less than paralyzing fear and desperate loneliness. Even as she excelled in school and in her extra-curricular activities, there was a growing chasm between her heart and God. She was terrified to disappoint Him–she knew Him to be an angry, terrifying Father who could dismiss her like a pesky mosquito.

She had been told that God loved her for as long as she could remember, but she didn’t feel loved. So she began to run toward other loves-anything that might offer a glimmer of hope that she could be desirable and enough for someone... anyone. She wanted to fit in, to be likable, to be anything but who she had come to understand she was. And so, the two-faced part of her story began. She was far too afraid to turn her back on God completely, and she ached at the thought of becoming even more of a disappointment to her parents (she was a disappointment simply because she existed, she had done nothing else to truly disappoint them to this point), so she had to be oh so careful. The “fake” identity that had been spoken over her began to materialize, as she tried to be everything to everyone around her. She was the straight-As in honors classes student who got drunk and slept around on the weekends. She was the attentive, loving daughter who lied to and badmouthed her parents daily. She was the church-going youth with all the right answers and a shattered, divided heart.

The only fruit she had been presented with was that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She consumed it and then it consumed her and became her. The darkness in her mind was suffocating her soul. All the while, she hungered for… something. But she didn’t know what it was that she truly desired, because she didn’t know any other way. She would “repent” and turn back to God over and over and over again–deep down she longed to please Him and experience that love that was reserved for the “good enough”–but she could never sustain her efforts to get back on the right path. Her early adulthood was marked with nights she couldn’t remember and days of striving to prove her own worth. She believed it would never change-she could never change. Her best efforts fell flat and left her reeling in all that she would never be. And it was all. her. fault. She was a dirty, bad little girl from the moment she was born and that was all she would ever be.

As you may have guessed, that baby girl was me. This story is my own. It is painful to go back and retrace the scars of my childhood. But it is necessary to go back in order to understand just how amazing our God is…

If the story ended there, it would be a terrible story. But it doesn’t. Somewhere along the way, I was given a glimpse of the tree of life-a taste of its fruit, though I didn’t yet have the language to define it as such. This angry, ominous, judgmental God I had so feared came after me Himself. Not with wrath and expectations I would have expected-He ran me down with gentle tenderness. He began to speak truth into the broken places and pierce the darkness of my depths with His all-consuming light. I began to hope, and chains I didn’t know I had began to fall away. It started slowly… I resisted. I wrestled with Him and with myself constantly. And as He began to reveal the tree of life-that life that is only found in Jesus Himself-the old familiar fruit from that other tree was more available than ever. I had to choose which fruit to eat, which voice to believe, daily. This part of my story has been the most painful. That’s the plain and simple truth. But becoming always is…

People have rejected me more as I’ve sought healing than they ever did before. I’ve experienced loss on so many levels as God has literally taken apart everything I thought I was, so that He could put me back together into who He designed me to be before the lies pierced my heart.

Until this sermon, I didn’t have the right language to describe my story. But it makes so much sense. I was presented with the tree that most of us are presented with, having no idea that another tree was available. And eating of it did in my life exactly what John said it does:

The knowledge told me I had to fight for my own worth; so comparison, striving, judgement, approval-seeking and law-keeping characterized my early life. I believed the lie that I was unlovable and not enough and was slowly dying inside. What I had consumed, in turn, consumed me. And it separated me from God, from others and from myself. I had no idea who I really was, let alone that I was actually created for a purpose.

But as God has faithfully carried me into a greater knowledge of who He is, bondage has been replaced with freedom, and shame has been replaced by the truth that I stand innocent before Him because of what Jesus has done for me. I believe in my core that God adores me as His beloved daughter, and if I start to doubt that, He is faithful to remind me again of just how far He is willing to go to have a relationship with me. As far as a third tree… the tree of the cross of Christ, where Jesus’ blood poured out and covered all my sin and shame and all that I wasn’t and all I could never be apart from Him. He did that for me. And He did that for you. And now I know which tree I want to eat from-the only tree that brings freedom and hope and healing-the tree of life.

–Laura

Laura’s painful, beautiful story highlights exactly why eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is deadly. God’s very essence is love. (1st John 4:8) He never intended for us to “behave” ourselves into a relationship with Him, or work to earn His approval, or live in constant shame because we just can’t seem to get it right. His desire from the beginning is that we would come to know Him through Jesus Christ; that we would sense His love, fall deeply in love with Him in return, and live out the purpose He designed for us, not by striving, but by being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and walking in complete dependence upon Him. I encourage you, if you missed Sunday’s service, to listen to the sermon @ fbccasper.com or on the church app (As always, you can scroll down and find the link to Sunday’s video below, on the First Baptist Church Facebook page);  and if you want to delve deeper into how to live from the tree of life rather than the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sign up for a LIFE group.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Choose life, choose freedom, choose trust, choose dependence, choose love. God loves you. God desires relationship, closeness with you. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you “get it”. Once you taste the real thing, once you learn to think in a new way, you’ll be forever changed.

–Luanne

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Imagine Living a New Way

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.               -Colossians 1:13-14 NIV

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.                                                                                                                      -2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

In Sunday’s sermon, John challenged us to “imagine if we lived from our hearts what we know in our heads”. He explained that the “old” that has “passed away” is the power of sin and the practices of self. I love the verse that he used to illustrate this point. This is how Romans 6:6 reads in the Message paraphrase:

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call!

We were reminded that God sees us through what Christ did for us on the cross. The blood of Jesus did not merely “cover” sin, like the blood of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament had done. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross completely removed our sin, so that when God looks at us, he sees us as “holy, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).

John then outlined that the “new” that has come includes these four things:

  1. A new LIFE
  2. A new IMAGE
  3. A new SPIRIT
  4. A SECOND CHANCE    

A myriad of thoughts swirled as I listened to verses and truths that I have known in my head-but perhaps never fully realized in my heart. It would take far too many pages to discuss all of the things that came to mind, but one in particular stands out to me.

When John spoke of the new Spirit we receive in Christ, he read Ezekiel 11:19-20 (ESV):

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

As I listened to the words of this verse, three immediately grabbed my attention:

“that they may”

These words took me to another verse that I love that includes the same three words.

1 Peter 2:9 reads:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

In both verses these words serve as connecting words and it’s easy-at first glance-to miss their significance.

Imagine if “that they may” in the Ezekiel verse was replaced with “so they must”. It would change the tone of the entire verse. The same is true in the 1 Peter verse. It is the three connecting words that show us God’s heart-and his deep love-for us. The fact that God promises to give us His very own Spirit would, on its own, be sufficient to show us His goodness. Then He tells us that He removes our hearts of stone-essentially DEAD hearts, because stone isn’t alive (see Ephesians 2:4-5)-and give us the hearts we are meant to have, living hearts of flesh. Again, what a promise! But what comes next is what shocks my heart to its knees…

that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them”   

What’s the big deal? Why does this have me so hung up on the goodness of our God? Isn’t this another verse about obedience and rules?

Friends, this is GOD. The God who made us, grieved when we turned from Him, sent His very own Son to make a way for us to come back to Him. He is the Almighty, the Holy One. He holds all of time in His hands.

And still, as He did in the very beginning, He lets us choose. He gives us our freedom.

Knowing our propensity to turn to other gods and our inclination to wander, because of His great love for us, God gives us the freedom to choose to live His way, to live into His very best for us…

…or not to.

1 Peter 2:9 details our identity in Jesus. We are told we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” that we may declare His praises. Not that we “should”, “must”, “ought to”. He doesn’t demand it.

We may.

We get to choose. My mind can’t well comprehend a love that big. God is, well, GOD. He could demand our obedience, demand our allegiance, force us to do life His way. But because He desires authentic relationship with us, He instead gives us the ultimate gift of love: freedom.

God has “delivered us out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son”, but we can choose to live with the burden of our sin on us. Just as “we may” choose God’s way, “we may” also choose to continue trying to live in our own power (which really isn’t power at all), as inhabitants of the Kingdom, but still covered in the darkness we refuse to let go of.

John asked a question, and I will put it before us again here:

“Would you like to live in a whole new way?”

If your answer is yes, as mine is, there is great news for us:

We may.

–Laura                

I love what Laura pointed out…that we may… we have a choice.

John also pointed out “choice”. He reminded us of Romans 6:6 which states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  John highlighted that a slave has no choice.

Before we come into relationship with Christ, we are mastered by sin. After we come into a relationship with Christ, God allows us to choose whether to live in His freedom, or remain stuck with one foot in the dominion of darkness and one foot in His kingdom. Galatians 5:1 tells us that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Like Laura said,  the freedom is there, but it will not be forced upon us. God does not want to coerce us into a false love; He desires authentic relationship with us in which we choose Him because we love Him.

So, how does the freedom thing work? It’s certainly not in striving to be good. That’s just another heavy weight. Just as I can’t deal with sin on my own, I also can’t live a life worthy of Christ on my own.  In order for me to live in freedom, I have to submit myself to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, AND believe that what God says about me in His word is true.

As John was speaking, many of the scriptures he was sharing were swirling and  intertwining in my mind, forming a picture that I hope I can put into words.

Colossians 3:9-10 “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”

Ephesians 3: 17b-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith  in the Son  of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Colossians 1:22 “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” 

Going backward through the verses I just typed out…The name Satan means “prosecutor”.  He is constantly throwing accusations at us. We can choose to believe him, whose other name is the father of lies (John 8:44), or choose to believe our Defender, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

God, our Defender sees us as holy and without blemish because Christ lives in us.  My role, your role, in all of this is to have faith to believe it’s true. To live by faith. Not faith in myself or my behaviors, but faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross. My sins, your sins paid for–once for all. His holiness, His perfection given to me, to you. He “loved me and gave himself for me” and the key to this freedom life is “to know this love that surpasses knowledge”,  to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep” is that love and to live “rooted and established”  in that love. If I am rooted and established in that love, I am putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge” (knowledge of His love)  Do you see that verb tense? Being renewed. It is an ongoing action. And what is the ongoing, renewing knowledge doing? It is causing me to become more like Him.

He has done the hard part. My part is to draw close to Him, to know His love, to love Him in return, to allow His Spirit to work in my life, to let Him challenge and change me, and to follow Him wherever He leads.

I used to try to “behave” myself into being godly. It was exhausting and ineffective. We cannot “try” ourselves into change. Only God can change us, and He does it through our relationship with Him as we draw near, as we listen to His voice and respond in obedience to the prompting of His Spirit. I don’t know how He does it, but I do know that I am not who I used to be, and I know many others who would say the same. As we abide in Him, our lives become different (John 15:4-5), and it is beautiful.

How about you? Have you tasted His freedom? Have you experienced His transforming power working in your life? Are you being renewed in the knowledge of His love? Can you look back and see that you are not who you used to be?

We have been rescued–moved from one place to another, one reality to another, death to life. We have been made new. Are we living like it’s true?

–Luanne

 

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Imagine If…So that…

The four pillars around which we build our church and around which I try to build my life are:

1. Know God

2. Find Freedom

3. Discover Purpose

4. Make a Difference

John used Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:16-19  to highlight each of these principals.

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I KEEP ASKING that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation SO THAT you may KNOW him better. I pray also that the EYES of YOUR HEART may be ENLIGHTENED in order that  you may KNOW the hope to which HE HAS CALLED YOU, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER  for us who believe. 

KNOWING: It’s interesting to think about these four pillars in my own life. I grew up in a family with parents who were deeply committed to Christ. I knew of God from an early age, and when I was nine years old I sensed him drawing me into a relationship with him. I ask him to be my savior and was baptized shortly after. I was different; something real but unexplainable happened in my inner being–truly, a new birth.  My dad used the phrase  that I was giving as much of myself as I could to as much of Jesus as I understood, and his phrase was accurate. My intent was to give all of me to all of Jesus, but I had limited understanding. Life got hard. My mother died when I was in the fifth grade, my dad married again when I was in the sixth grade and I acquired four new siblings, I struggled with anger, grief, crippling insecurity, and I did not know what to think about God. I pulled away and worked on self-destructing for 10 years. When God drew me back, I had a lot of work to do to get to know him. I got involved in a life-giving worshipping church. I attended a small group and began to learn from other people’s experiences. I was still not great at having a daily time with the Lord, but I was seeking Him. The years went by; I married, had two of my three children, and began attending another small group. We were working through Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God study. Week four of the study, I came to a crisis of faith. God revealed to me that I was trying to manage Him, I was trying to control Him by use of a barter system. “God, I’ll do this for you if you do this for me.” Things like: if you promise me that I won’t get cancer and die when my children are young, if you promise me that my husband won’t die and leave me a widow with small children, if you promise me that I’ll always be okay and that life won’t be hard…etc. In His gentle but clear way, God told me that he doesn’t barter. Trusting Him means trusting Him no matter what life brings–that I live in a fallen world and that suffering is part of that world, but that He is with me through it all, and that He loves me through it all, and if I ever doubt that, I need to look at what He personally went through on the cross to prove His love. I didn’t like His answer, so I was stuck. I wrestled for days. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I confessed my wrestling match to my small group. They laid hands on me and prayed over me. A few days later, out of sheer exhaustion, I surrendered to God’s way. I was flooded with peace, I was flooded with joy, I was flooded with the assurance of His presence, and I went from my barter system to “I will serve you, I will follow you anywhere, even if it costs me my life.” That was 25 years ago and my passion to know Him continues, and my passion to want others to know Him has not changed. Knowing Him involves surrender, and it’s ongoing and it is totally worth it!! I am still striving to give as much of myself as I can to as much of Him as I understand–and I’ll never fully understand– so as long as I am on this side of heaven, this joyous pursuit continues…

FREEDOM: I found a great measure of freedom in that moment of surrender, but the eyes of my heart hadn’t been entirely enlightened. There were choices that I made during my self-destructive years that I had tremendous shame over. I tried to bury them deep within. John pointed out from Proverbs 4:23 that the issues of our lives flow out of our hearts. I was still withholding a portion of my heart, trying to keep it in the dark, which caused some things to flow out of my life that didn’t line up with Paul’s words “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free”. (Gal 5:1) I was afraid if people knew the secrets hidden in the dark that I would be totally rejected and banished from serving God ever again. God,  in His perfect timing, set the stage for me to share my deepest pain, my deepest regrets with two precious friends. They cried with me, they prayed for me, and they are still my friends. And, not only was my personal condemnation obliterated, God has used my story for His glory. Freedom…what a beautiful thing! When the chains fell off, I knew it, and by the grace of God, and the power of His Spirit on whom I have to rely every single day, I am not going back to prison! Whatever He reveals to me these days, I confess immediately, AND I know my own self well enough to know that when my thoughts begin to get critical I need to ask the Spirit to search my heart and show me what’s going on, where I am out of line.

PURPOSE: One of the prison cells that I carried for years was crippling insecurity. I began every ministry role that I’ve ever had with an “I can’t” mentality. I went into each one –Every. Single. One. kicking and screaming. Other people saw in me what I could not see in myself. They still do. What I have learned is that my main purpose in life is to follow Christ, to let Him lead. When He brings opportunities my way to pay attention, when others speak things into my life to pay attention–to pray it all through and if I sense God’s “yes” to step out in obedience despite my fears. Living by faith can be very uncomfortable, but the rewards– his “well done”–nothing compares. If I could do it in my own strength, I wouldn’t need Him. I want to need Him! It’s His work, His mission, His purpose that I want to complete.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE: I pray often, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, “Lord, I want my life to make a difference for Your Kingdom.” I don’t know how many days I have on planet earth–what I do know is that I want the days I have to count for something much larger than me. I want my life to make an eternal difference. I want people to know that Jesus is near, that He loves them, that freedom in this life is possible, and that abundant life is one surrendered heart away.

John asked us to imagine what it would look like if we as individuals, and together as a body were committed to these four things in ourselves and for others; to imagine what it would look like if we were committed to this vision and filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:19; Eph 1:23); to imagine how our church, our community, and our world could be impacted– and he asked us over and over “are you in?” Are you? What do these four pillars look like in your life? What is your next step?

–Luanne

John said something yesterday that deeply impacted my heart. In reference to making a difference in the lives of others, he said,

“You can’t take people where you haven’t been before.”

As I read through Luanne’s story above, it’s apparent that she has been there. She has been to the place where knowledge turns into knowing. The place where prison doors swing open and the light of freedom floods the soul. The place where personal ideas of purpose surrender to God’s greater vision for a life. And now, because she has been there and experienced the extraordinary power of Jesus in that place, she is making a difference because she can take people there.

So, where is “there”?

While the physical location of each of us varies, this particular “there” is the same for everyone. It’s the place where we started at the very beginning of this series. The place where we grasp how high… wide… deep… long… the love of Jesus is. Where is that?

At the cross of Christ.

Louie Giglio spoke these words at this year’s Passion Conference,

“How do we know the love of God? When Paul described the love of God, he painted a cross.

It’s high enough to get you to a Holy God. [Know God]

It’s deep enough to go down in your mess, to the very bottom, and pull you up. [Finding Freedom]

It’s long enough that, no matter how far you’ve run from God, He’s still ahead of you, waiting for you. [to Find Your Purpose]

And it is wide enough that there is still an opportunity in this life for God to embrace you and envelop you in His love.”

In that last point is where we can connect our last point, making a difference. Do you see it? The height of the cross gets us to the knowing God piece. The depth of the cross in the ground gets to the depth of our mess, those things that bind us, and we find our freedom there. The length of its shadow shows us that God is always ahead of us, waiting for us to find our purpose in Him. But the width–that’s where we feel His enveloping embrace. The embrace of love that changes our lives forever when we get it-not in our heads-in our hearts. Because when we experience the love of God in a deep and real way, we are compelled to live out of that love and go make a difference in the lives of others. We do that by sharing the love we found when we found ourselves there, at the devastatingly beautiful cross of our Savior. And we will desire to lead others there, too. To the only place where we can truly know the height, depth, length and width of God’s love for us.

Have you been there?

–Laura

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Imagine a New Way to Pray

We have just embarked on this year’s 21 days of prayer and fasting– this season of  disconnecting from the world in order to connect more deeply with God.

With these 21 days in mind, John challenged us to look closely at Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 and to pray this way during our season of prayer and fasting.

“For this reason I kneel ( posture of urgency and distress), before the Father,  from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (connecting the Eternal with our internal), so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (constant connection to God). And I pray that you, being rooted and established (firmly grounded) in love (the never-ending love of Christ) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

There is so much in that prayer!! Every word is purposeful and powerful, but my mind keeps dwelling on…being rooted and established IN LOVE may have POWER, together with all the saints, to GRASP how wide and long and high and deep is the LOVE of CHRIST,  and to know THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge THAT you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 

Three times in one sentence Paul uses the word “love”–three times in one sentence! And his urgent prayer is that we “get it”.  As I flip the words over in my mind the words “power” and “grasp” catch my attention.

The word “power” appears twice in this prayer. Being strengthened in my inner being, AND being able to comprehend His love for us takes power, and my personal power is not going to be sufficient…it is the power of His Holy Spirit that will strengthen me and help me “grasp” the depths of Christ’s love. Am I willing to let the Spirit have access to my whole life, am I willing to let Him unleash His power within me?

The word grasp means to seize and hold firmly, or to get hold of mentally. Paul is praying ON HIS KNEES that we, the followers of Christ (all the saints), will allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives in order that we may grab hold of how loved we are and never let it go. He tells us that this love surpasses knowledge, it is greater than anything earth has to offer, it can’t be explained, only experienced. The result of this power, this grasping, this love,  is that we will be filled with all the fullness of God. That’s a pretty amazing result.

I can’t help but think that Paul is so passionate about this subject, because he had experienced a deeply personal encounter with Christ  (Acts 9) that forever changed his life. He met a loving Savior, he experienced forgiveness, and his life became all about the Kingdom of God from that point on. Persecution couldn’t stop him, prison couldn’t stop him, being slandered couldn’t stop him, shipwrecks couldn’t stop him, snake bites couldn’t stop him, nothing was going to keep him from sharing the love of Jesus-which he had personally experienced- with everyone he encountered. And his desire was for every believer to experience the love of Christ to such a level that they too, WE too, would be unstoppable. Have you experienced His love? I have, and it has forever changed me. Every day of my life I am desperate for Him. He is my treasure. Like Paul, I am passionate that every one experience the depths of God’s love. Oh–don’t miss it!!!  Ask God for His power to strengthen  your inner being, your place of wrestling, through the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can grasp His love!

My heart burns within me as I write these words. Oh that we–the Church–would let the powerful Holy Spirit have His way in us so that we can grasp this love personally, and grasp this love outwardly in order to share it with the people of this world that desperately need to know that they are loved by God. Oh that we would pray to be so deeply in love with God that nothing, nothing, nothing would ever stop us. May we make this prayer our own during these 21 days. And may we dedicate ourselves “to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to HIS POWER that is at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20 

His power. His love. His mission. His purpose. His heart. His fullness. My prayer. My surrender. He is worth it!

-Luanne

Imagine if we adopted this prayer and prayed it throughout the next 21 days, believing God for every word…

Luanne’s passion screams through the words she wrote, doesn’t it? It is clear that she believes every word and she invites us to believe with her. She invites us to believe enough to pray this prayer that is pregnant with possibility, with the expectation that God will answer. It is an invitation to the abundant life, to the kind of life that is “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”, a life that spills over and brings Glory to God and God alone.

Does your heart burn within you as you read the words of Paul’s prayer? What is your immediate response? Do you believe that you can be empowered this way through the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced this power-the same power that raised Christ from the dead? (Romans 8:11) Do you move throughout your days with the knowledge of the love Jesus has for you? Jesus tells us, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you…” (John 15:9) Just as God loves Jesus… Jesus loves us with a love that big? He says yes, that’s how much He loves us. I can’t begin to fathom the width, length, height and depth of God’s love for Jesus, His Son. Nothing we know in our humanness can compare with a love like that. But I have felt it. I have felt Jesus’ love for me. He has shocked and overwhelmed my heart with His love. He has changed me with His love. He has given me love for others that I couldn’t manufacture on my own. He has loved me with a love that turns my brokenness into beauty. What about you? Have you felt the love of Jesus, have you known it through experiencing Him?

Though I have experienced this wild love of my Savior, I can all too easily forget to live from that place. I can slip back into old lies, old ways and pick up chains His love has freed me from. John told us that the love of Christ produces humility, is found in community and exemplified in solitude. But, sometimes, I can get caught up in the opposites. An attitude of superiority can sneak in. The temptation to compete, to hustle for my worth, can steal the sweetness of community. And the desire to hide, to isolate can overwhelm the practice of solitude. None of those things display the love of Christ and none bring him Glory. I don’t want these things to have any breathing room in my days, in my life. So how can I-how can we-avoid these pitfalls? We can commit to pray this prayer, believing God will answer. We can look beyond the words we can’t quite comprehend and search out the truth in them for ourselves. I want to pray like this, not just during these 21 days, but for as long as I have breath to pray.

Will you join us in praying this prayer? Can you imagine if we each personalized this prayer and prayed it for ourselves and over one another? For the global Church of Jesus? What might our lives look like if we prayed these words and believed fully on the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine? I have an idea what we might look like…  a whole lot more like Jesus.

I have made this prayer personal below. Will you take a moment and pray it over yourself today?

 For this reason I kneel before you, Father... I pray that out of your glorious riches you might strengthen me with power through your Spirit in my inner being, so that you may dwell richly in my heart through faith. And I pray that I, being rooted and established in love,  may have power through your Spirit, together with all of your people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep your love is,  and to know, really know in my core, this love that surpasses knowledge—that I might be filled to the measure of all of your fullness. Now to you, My God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to your power that we believe is at work within us, to you and only you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!

I can’t wait to see what God will do during this season of prayer. I hope you will all join us!

–Laura

(The link to the sermon that was referenced can be found below. Just scroll down and click on the First Baptist Church of Casper Facebook page.)

pray

Imagine if You Can-1/1/17

I needed today’s sermon. More than I even knew.

A new year always brings with it a sense of a fresh start, a new beginning. A chance to “be all you can be”, if you will. I always feel a certain excitement, anticipation in the air as the new year dawns. I always purpose certain things in my heart and set my mind on starting this… stopping that… being more consistent. And inevitably, even if the year starts well, the determination to see it through fades as the weeks go by.

John put before us today a verse that is very familiar-even outside of the church world.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Today, that verse sank a little deeper into my heart.

Do I live with an “I can” perspective on life? Sadly, I more often lean toward “I can’t”. I think, to some degree, we all do. We are living at a time when every headline is at our fingertips and a culture of fear saturates our thoughts. We live in a world where comparison has become the norm and we can easily spot the ways we don’t measure up.

And what about the rest of the  verse? I purpose to “do all things”-especially at the beginning of a new year-but, often, I leave out the “through Christ” part. When I try to do things on my own-when I write out long lists, plans and ambitions, but I don’t align them with Christ, I don’t get the strength to see things through. In fact, most of the time, many of my lists and ambitions don’t even line up with the purposes God has for me. Willpower and raw determination can carry us pretty far-but for how long? Can I sustain my life’s purpose on my own, without aligning myself with Jesus and leaning on the strength of His Spirit in me?

Nope. No one can. Not with any lasting success.

There are things I want to do in 2017. Things that I know God has been drawing me into. Some of them are the same things I was sure I would do in 2016. Why didn’t I?

I suppose, as John spoke about today, I let my imagination wander into that place where I asked,

“What if He doesn’t show up?”

I let fear and doubt hold me hostage and, at the same time, tried to chart my own course into unknown waters.

But God is the Maker of the waves. John said, “We ride the waves that He has created”.

I want to do that this year. I want to start-now, in this moment-realigning my perspective from “I can’t” to “I can”. Because I know our God can be trusted. I know He is Miracle Worker and Purpose Giver and through Christ, I CAN.

You can, too. You can face that thing that you’ve struggled to overcome. You can move toward that dream that God planted in your heart long ago. You can let go. You can taste freedom. You can say no to what needs to go. You can say yes to what you need to embrace. Whatever it is that God is calling us into or away from, no matter how big or how scary–we can.

This year, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Imagine if you can…

–Laura

Like Laura, Philippians 4:13 spoke to me in a new way through John’s sermon.

I can do ALL things THROUGH CHRIST who STRENGTHENS me.”

Knowing that Paul was in a prison cell when he penned that verse, gives even deeper meaning . The quote from holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl that John shared keeps flipping over in my mind. In its entirety it reads:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.   When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In  that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 

Will I choose, in 2017, total dependence on God? Will I choose to let Him strengthen me? Will I choose to live in His “I can” because of Christ’s presence in my life? Will I choose to believe that all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me, no matter what 2017 holds? Will I choose to hang on to His promises and take responsibility to act based on what I do know? Will I continue to paddle in pursuit of Him while I wait on His divine waves so that I’m ready when they come? Will I choose to live by faith?

When John said that if we wait for everything to fall into place we will miss many divine moments, my immediate response was–I don’t want to do that! I want to be living by faith, making choices based on what I know God has already promised,  so that when the God-wave comes, I’m already in position to ride it. John highlighted that All Christ followers are called to ride waves, to make a difference.  “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does. The good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” (Eph 2:10- Msg) If we are not doing it, who is?

Jonathan and his armor bearer lived in the “I can through Him who strengthens”.

Daniel before the lion’s den was ever a thing , pursued God and lived in the “I can through Him who strengthens”.

The apostles, after the resurrection of Christ lived in the “I can through Christ who strengthens.” The early church lived in the “I can through Christ who strengthens.”

Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:17 …”the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it…”

Living in the “I can through Christ who strengthens” is very personal and very purposeful simultaneously. It’s for me, AND it’s for the world. My “I can” is how His kingdom comes to earth THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me. Your “I can” is how His kingdom comes to earth THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens you.

Will I choose to live in the “I can” with urgency, intentionality, and total dependence upon “Christ who strengthens me”?  Will you?  Will we let Him change the world through our “I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who STRENGTHENS me?”  Thoughts?

–Luanne