The Battle

FACT: We have a God who loves us and is for us.

FACT: We have an enemy who hates us and is against us.

FACT: Spiritual warfare is real.

FACT: We don’t face it alone.

On Sunday, we began the first of a six part series on spiritual warfare; Pastor John gave us an overview and reminded us of some important truths. In the weeks to come we will dive in more deeply.

Whether we want to be or not, we are in a war. It is not a war that we can always see with our eyes. We can see evidence of it with our natural senses, but the ultimate battle is taking place in the spiritual realm.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10: 3-5)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:10-12)

According to the above verses, there is a battle going on. There are spiritual forces of evil who battle against us. We are not helpless in this battle. We have weapons that have divine power, we have the full armor of God (that we’ll look at in a couple of weeks), and we can find our strength for the battle by being strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elisha had a season in which he was continually ticking off the king of Aram. The king of Aram wanted to ambush and attack the Israelites, God kept revealing to Elisha where Aram’s forces were, Elisha told the king of Israel who acted on what he learned thus thwarting the king of Aram’s plans; therefore,  the king of Aram decided to go after Elisha, the source of his frustation.

He sent his troops to surround the city of Dothan where Elisha was staying. Elisha’s servant awakened in the morning, and went outside. He saw the horses and chariots of the enemy surrounding the city and he panicked (quite understandably in my opinion!). He says to Elisha: “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do!”.  And Elisha, a man full of faith and courage responds “Don’t be afraid…those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 

I don’t know what the servant was thinking in that moment–maybe something like “yeah, right”–he couldn’t see what Elisha was seeing in the spiritual realm. Elisha didn’t judge him for that. instead Elisha had compassion on his terrified servant and prayed for God to open his eyes so that he too could see. …The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. Wow! What a moment!!  Elisha then prayed that the Lord would strike the Aramean army with blindness–the Lord did and Elisha and his servant did not die that day. (2nd Kings 6:10-18)

FACT: We are never alone in our battles. NEVER. We may feel alone, but we are not alone. Our feelings cannot be trusted. In order to recognize and face spiritual battles, we must be based in the truth that God is with us, and God is more powerful than our enemy. Elisha was full of faith. It’s important to note that not only did he pray for his servant to be able to see what was happening in the spiritual realm, he also prayed that the Lord would blind the enemy army. Elisha knew that he wasn’t alone and he knew that PRAYER was his key weapon.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 10 beginning in verse 7, we see another man of faith fighting in the spiritual realm. Daniel received a vision that was very troubling to him.  He set out to gain further understanding, so he put himself in a posture to hear from God. For three weeks he mourned, he fasted, and he prayed. On the 24th day Daniel was visited by a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold…his body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like falling torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. Wow!

Daniel had other men with him, but he was the only one who saw the vision. The others who were with him felt the presence and were so terrified that they fled and hid. Daniel was left by himself. He says of this moment that he had no strength left, his face turned deathly pale and he was helpless. The man in the vision began to speak to Daniel. He told Daniel that he was highly esteemed. (I love that!) He told Daniel to stand up, and even in his trembling state, Daniel did. And then the man in the vision said, Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before GodYOUR WORDS WERE HEARD, and I have come in response to them.

That is a packed verse. We can take great comfort from that verse. Daniel had humbly set his mind to gain understanding. Not worldly understanding, but godly understanding. I love the phrase “set his mind”. Daniel was troubled, but he wasn’t freaking out. He didn’t fret and worry–instead he fasted, he prayed, and he sought the Lord.  And the the man in the vision assured Daniel that the very first day he prayed about it, his prayer was heard. Daniel could not see the response to his prayer, but God had heard and was  responding His way and in His time.

In both the situation with Elisha and with Daniel we see men of deep faith who are aware of the spiritual realm and are aware that their powerful weapon of warfare is prayer.

In the Apostle John’s 1st letter, chapter 4, he encourages his friends (and us) to test every spirit to see if they are from God, and he reminds them in verse four that they are from God and have overcome because the One who is in you is greater that the one who is in the world.

My crash course in major spiritual warfare came in Brazil. My youngest son was five years old and got infected with E. coli. He was very, very sick and was hospitalized for seven days. We did not know if he was going to live or die. In the middle of the week, he saw eyes on the wall of his hospital room. I poo-pooed it away. I hadn’t seen the eyes.

The following night he had a demon possessed nurse who literally tried to take his life. I could not poo-poo that away. I was freaked out and truly did not know what to do.  We tried to call some people but the hospital phone did not work. I finally stepped into action when Seth asked me who the shadow was that was standing behind daddy, the shadow with the long hair. I sat next to Seth on his bed and asked him to say “I belong to Jesus.” Beyond that I had no idea what to do, so I cried out to God and begged him to lead us through this. He did by taking me to scripture passages to pray.

The first one was Hannah taking her son Samuel to the temple to give him to the Lord (1st Samuel 1). God asked me who Seth (my son) belonged to–Him or me. We had a bit of a wrestling match at that point, because I knew that there was a very real possibility that Seth could die and I didn’t know what God was going to do. (Not that I could have stopped any of that anyway.). I also knew that I didn’t want Seth in that palpable darkness, so I surrendered him to God.

Once that was settled, God took me to the line in the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil”, and I began to pray that. I said it over and over until He took me to the next passage which was in John 17:11 protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me…” And I began to pray that God would protect Seth by the power of the name of Jesus. I prayed that over and over, until the next scripture came.

The next scripture was a surprise. God reminded me of Pharaoh in Egypt who did not acknowledge God, but God moved in Pharaoh’s heart to set the Israelites free. I knew immediately that I was to pray that He would move in the nurse’s heart to be able to care for Seth.

After that prayer,  I had the sense that we were done and I sat down and waited. The next time the nurse came into the room, she did not acknowledge us, she stood upright, walked to Seth, switched his IV, left the room, and we did not see her again.

We were pretty awe struck and freaked out. We didn’t tell anyone what had happened for quite a while because it seemed so far fetched, and we were still trying to wrap our minds around it.

There is much more to that story, things that didn’t make sense to us, decisions that Seth’s Jesus-following doctor made that seemed odd–but we trusted her. And after the entire ordeal was over, she told us that she had prayed through Seth’s treatment and her decisions the entire time. Some of the things God led her to do didn’t make sense to her either, but she made them, and Seth was delivered.

God–in His might and power–responded to our prayers and saved my son. That is not an experience I would ever wish to repeat, but I learned a ton about spiritual warfare. Prayer, faith, and the word of God are powerful weapons in the unseen realm. The unseen realm is real. The enemy is real, he is mean,  and he wants to take us out, AND gloriously, God is more powerful and has already won the battle. We fight from victory, not for victory.

We will dive into all of this more deeply in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, be assured that, if you are in Christ Jesus, you already have everything you need to fight in the spiritual realm, and you are not alone, ever.  If you do not yet know the real Jesus, he is one prayer away. Send us an e-mail if you have questions about that. We would love to help you Enter In.

–Luanne

 “We fight from victory, not for victory.”

As I listened to the message on Sunday, I couldn’t get John 16:33 out of my mind. Jesus, speaking to his disciples, his friends, says these words:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This verse has always stood out to me. Because Jesus spoke these words before the crucifixion, before the resurrection. We say that death and sin were defeated on the cross-and I absolutely believe that.  But when Jesus proclaimed that He had overcome the world–he hadn’t yet done that. Not physically… But I believe (disclaimer: this is purely supposition, not theological fact...) that He had already overcome in the ways that mattered most. He had already defeated the power of darkness spiritually and mentally. Of course, as God Himself, He knew the outcome. Omniscience lends itself to that kind of knowledge… But that’s not what I’m referring to here. Jesus intentionally made Himself relatable; He wanted us to know that He understands. Hebrews 4:15 out of The Message says it this way: We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. Scripture shows us that Jesus wrestled emotionally and physically in the hours leading up to His death. But the matter was settled in His Spirit. And in His mind. He asked if there was any other way, if the cup of suffering could be taken away from Him (Matthew 26:39), but He ends that prayer with “Yet not as I will, but as you will…” He was, to borrow a phrase from a few weeks ago, fully committed to His surrender. So much so that He spoke with confidence, “I have overcome the world.”

And so it is with us… 

In Jesus, we already have the victory–we don’t have to fight for it. He overcame from the very beginning. All the way back in Genesis 3, we read about the One who would come to crush the head of the serpent. And if we were to really get into the omniscience conversation, we would identify that God created humanity with the cross in view. Darkness and death never stood a chance. And our enemy has always known that. So why, then, does he continue to wage war against the Light? Why fight a futile battle? One, he is purely evil-the full manifestation of pride, arrogance, jealousy, fear, etc… He is named in the Bible as “the father of lies“. I believe this is why he continues to wage war against humanity and the image of God–because there are so many of us who believe him.

This is why it is imperative that we understand a few things… One, our God is good. Purely good. His light is perfect and where that light is, no darkness can hide. Two, we are now children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5, Ephesians 5:8), called to live in that light. And three, our enemy masquerades as an angel of light (2  Corinthians 11:14).

I remember so clearly the night I began to understand these things… February 10, 2011, I was sitting in bed reading my Bible. Devouring it, really. I was in Hebrews and I was starting to see some new insights, beginning to go deeper. My husband was sleeping next to me, my babies were asleep in their beds. I was at the beginning of a season during which God would remove much of what had kept me bound and blind to the truth of who He is. It was very late. I had been reading for quite a while. The house was dark except for the lamp on my nightstand, and it was quiet. Out of nowhere, as I read, fear wrapped icy fingers around my chest. My breathing quickened, my heart raced… I saw shadows move-or I thought I did. I started to hear unsettling noises. This wasn’t an unfamiliar experience for me. I spent many nights afraid, paralyzed by the fear of what was lurking in the darkness. I can’t remember a time in my childhood that the dark didn’t feel threatening. I spent the first eight years of my life in a cult that masqueraded as a Jesus-loving church, so the presence of fear, the sense of the darkness, was always around. I believed as a little girl that God would use fear as a tool to bring about His purposes. As discipline, as a way to control, as a means to an end. I didn’t know I believed that–but I would soon find out that it was a core belief, evidenced by my own words…

During this season, I was receiving some counseling. For the first time, someone was challenging the deeply-rooted narratives that my understanding was built upon. And that was opening the door for me to really do some soul-searching, some questioning on my own. I was also going back, remembering things from my past that were difficult. So when fear put its hands on me, my initial instinct was to talk to God. That’s good right? Yes… right move, but… the words I said went something like this…

“God… if there’s something I need to see, to remember; if you need to take me somewhere scary to show me what I need to see, okay… If I have to go into the dark to find freedom, I’ll go there…” 

I remember my voice shaking as I whisper-prayed with my Bible open on my lap. I remember thinking that this was a perfectly logical assumption. I remember steeling myself for whatever might come next…

I turned from Hebrews to Psalm 69:3b: “My eyes fail, looking for my God…” I felt the words deeply. I was seeking God in His word and yet sensing evil. I felt like my eyes–as well as my ears and heart–were deceiving me. I can’t explain what happened next, or how it happened, but I know there was warfare happening. And I know it changed my life. In the next moment, my Bible somehow opened to Ephesians 5:13-14: But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” And immediately after I read that, I looked down to see that I was now in 1 John 1. My eyes were led to verse 5 and this is what I read:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Suddenly, truth broke through the lies. And I wish I could have seen the victory celebration going on in the heavenly realms as the real Light broke through the darkness in my soul that night. I realized that I had believed lies about God. I didn’t know that He wouldn’t use darkness and fear as tools to grow and teach and discipline me… because I didn’t know that He was good. Incapable of darkness-because unadulterated light scatters the tiniest pin-prick of darkness. They can’t coexist. I hadn’t known that before. But the truth of His goodness and light settled into my heart in that moment. And the fear, the presence of darkness were gone. The real light had scattered the artificial light–the darkness that had been (successfully) masquerading as light up to that point.

When we see the Light of life and let Him in to overtake our hearts, our souls, our minds, we become His light-bearers to the world around us (Matthew 5:15 MSG). And, as Elisha was the source of the king’s frustration, we are the source of our enemy’s frustration. We threaten his efforts to keep the rest of the world in darkness–because the light we carry has the power to scatter it. And he hates it. He knows he can’t have us once we are sealed in Christ, but he wants everyone else to be eternally blinded by his lies. So he does what he always does… he lies. He preys on our feelings and our fears to draw us into a place where we believe the lies-and that place is always one of isolation. When we take the bait and let the lies pull us into the shadows of isolation, he does a little happy dance. Because, even though he can’t lay claim to us or put out the Light within us, he can draw us into hiddenness where we are, essentially, rendered useless. Where our light may still live in us, but can’t be seen by anyone else. So he can continue his masquerade of deception without us getting in his way.

It makes me want to throat-punch him… 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The battles will rage in the heavenly realms. It’s a guarantee. But, we can say, as Jesus did, “I have overcome!” How? Back to 1 John 1…

 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (verses 6 & 7)

Pure light dispels manufactured light every. time. If you plug in a lamp outside in full sun, you don’t see the light of the lamp. The strength of the sun exposes the artificial nature of the light bulb. If we walk in the light of Jesus, we stand in authority over the darkness. And did you catch the highlighted part of the verse? Walking in the light keeps us in fellowship with each other–away from the shadows of isolation where the truth can feel hard to find.

As we move into this series, I encourage you to remember what Luanne wrote above…

“…If you are in Christ Jesus, you already have everything you need to fight in the spiritual realm, and you are not alone, ever.” 

We have everything we need in Jesus. And we are never alone. We fight from victory. Have you experienced the darkness-scattering light of God? Or have you bought into the masquerade of your enemy? We would love to hear from you and we encourage your comments and questions. Blessings, friends.

–Laura

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Disconnect, Discover & Dance

 In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off]. (Galatians 5:1 AMP)

Pastor John didn’t reference this verse in his message on Sunday, but I think it is so important that we establish from the start the extravagant gift we receive when we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord. He makes us free, completely liberated in Him. That’s our starting point when we enter into a relationship with Him–not as slaves, but as free people who have chosen to lay down our lives in surrender to the only One worthy of our submission. Maintaining the freedom we are given is easier said than done, but God has provided a way-if we choose to take that way…

This was Pastor John’s first Sunday back after his sabbatical, and it was his sabbatical experience that he vulnerably shared about in this week’s message. (Sidenote: I recommend watching the Facebook live recordings of every sermon we write about, but I highly encourage you to do that this week. The link to the church page is provided below…) John began this week’s service by explaining what a sabbatical is and why He took one. He explained that the word “sabbatical” comes from the concept of Sabbath.

Priscilla Shirer writes in her bible study Breathe:

“Shabbat–the Hebrew word for Sabbath–means ‘to come to an end, to cease, to stop, to pause’. Notice they are all active commands that a person needs to take responsibility for. Something they have to do. To experience Sabbath margin, you must make a decision to stop something, to push away from something, to rest from something.” 

This is what Pastor John was doing while he was away. He was taking intentional time away from all of his responsibilities. He was choosing to make space to observe one of the greatest gifts God created for His children-the gift of Sabbath rest. This gift is also a command–in the New Testament (Hebrews 4:9-11), as well as in the Old. The command, however, is one that is given for our good-because God knows how much we need it. We need it to remember-and connect with-God… as well as to connect with our own souls. That is something many of us don’t like to do-and we’ll come back to that here in a minute. But Sabbath is what reorients our hearts toward the supremacy and sovereignty of God. It serves as a reminder of Who is really in control, Who ought to be on the throne of our hearts. God gave us dominion over every created thing, with the exception of one another and ourselves… Sabbath reminds us that there is One outside of the realm of what we can control. But we so often forget that. Without intentional space, without margin, we become slaves again-we choose slavery instead of embracing the gift of our freedom. That slavery takes different forms for each of us. It could be self-imposed slavery to another person, or maybe it’s slavery to our schedules-the busyness of life. Perhaps we are enslaved to other people’s expectations or to a career or even a ministry that has taken up residence on the throne of our hearts. Whatever it is for each one of us, our slavery is always a result of denying ourselves the rest our souls require, while believing that doing more is the only way to restore the freedom we’ve somehow lost.

In his book Margin, Richard Swenson writes, “Chronic overloading is not a spiritual prerequisite for authentic Christianity. Quite the contrary, overloading is often what we do when we forget who God is.” 

And in the same study I referenced above, Priscilla Shirer writes, “God gave us the Sabbath to refocus our attention–to cause us to bring to the center stage of our minds and hearts the Person who we have placed at the periphery far too long. Margin keeps us from marginalizing God.”

And, I would offer, margin keeps us from the unhealthy practice of marginalizing ourselves, too…

Pastor John told us that his sabbatical, his Sabbath time, included these three phases:

  1. Disconnecting
  2. Discovery
  3. Dancing

The first phase is what made the other two possible, but it was the hardest part for him, as it probably is for many of us. He described disconnecting as getting alone with himself, without a plan. Unplugging. Slowing down. Giving himself room to breathe. This intentional disconnecting takes the form of solitude, not isolation. As I listened to his description of disconnecting, it reminded me of a podcast I listened to recently by Emily Freeman. The title is “Come Home to Yourself“.  In it, she said these words:

“Coming home to yourself is not an easy thing to do… If you arrive at a house and the host stands on the porch shouting criticisms, judgments and sarcasm at you, guess what you won’t want to do? Walk through the door. You will turn your back on that house every time… and vow never to return…. We don’t go home when home is unsafe.”

Emily goes on to say that we have put “No Trespassing” signs on the windows of our own souls. Disconnecting in the way that John described requires us to take down those signs, walk through the door of our souls and get alone with our real selves. If we can bravely walk through doors that we’re afraid to enter, we’ll find what John found: When we get alone with ourselves, we realize we’re never alone. It’s in that quiet space that we rediscover the withness of God. And, as John stated, we don’t know just how disconnected we are… until we make the choice to disconnect.

We cannot experience the discoveries and dances that God has ordained for us if we refuse to disconnect…

I can’t prove this assertion. But my life testifies to its truth. Avoiding the real me, keeping God on the periphery, choosing doing over being… these are soul-stifling practices. Practices that have slapped shackles on my feet and built bars around my potential. Living this way denies our souls the blessing of rest, as we’re choosing enslavement to self-imposed masters over holding fast to the freedom that was won for us.

John shared with us one of his discovery experiences and invited us to participate in a similar exercise. His experience took place in a labyrinth. As he (less than enthusiastically…) began his journey through the maze, he was asked to consider one question: What do you need to let go of, to leave in the center? And once he made it to the center, he was asked one more question: What do you need to carry out of this place, to hang onto? Though he went in with doubts about the exercise itself, John experienced God’s Presence in a powerful, mystical way. I will take the liberty of saying it was maybe even life-changing. I won’t recount his experience here–I’m not sure I could do the beauty of it justice if I tried, but what I will say is this… If John had refused to take the first step of disconnecting, the beauty of this moment would almost certainly have been lost on him. Getting still and quiet, alone with himself and his God first, he found breathing room for his soul. There was space to simply be, and to listen to what God longed to impart to him. I believe that the discoveries God desires we find along our journeys are part of the “…superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]…”(AMP) that Ephesians 3:20 speaks of. How it must hurt His heart that we miss so many of them because we choose to be burdened again by the yokes of all kinds of slavery…

Just as disconnecting is what ushers in the possibility of discovery, it is walking out in the new discovery that produces dancing. In John’s case, was there literal dancing? Yes, some. And would time enjoying his wife, children and granddaughter cause h is heart to dance if he hadn’t first disconnected and discovered? I believe that yes, it would have. But not to the degree that he was able to dance after engaging in the first two phases… Because he entered this third phase refreshed, and awed by the love and grace he had just experienced in the presence of his Father. He had reentered a freedom that had  previously been elusive and his soul was singing a new song. You can’t tell me for one second that fully engaging in the process didn’t have a radical effect on this last part of his sabbatical journey.

We all want to get there… to the dancing. To the place where our souls sing and our spirits soar with our Father. But in order to get there, we have to be willing to accept our limitations as gifts. To remember the only One who should occupy the throne of our heart, and to allow Him to draw us into the rest only He can provide. We have to do the hard work of getting alone with ourselves and learning to speak to our souls differently. God has made this Sabbath rest available to each of us and He invites us to enter it far more often that we accept the invitation to do so. He knows what we truly need-He’s the One who built us. I’ll leave you with the words Pastor John read over us at the conclusion of his message. I hope it reminds you of the Father’s love for you and that you sense His invitation to enter into His rest.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you…
…Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

-Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24

–Laura

Pastor John admitted to us that last fall he was not in a good place. We may not have known it on the outside, but inside he was burning out. He was too busy. He pushed and pushed and pushed himself trying to meet what he perceived to be the expectations of others. He admitted that when his sabbatical began, the first couple of weeks were really hard. But, as Laura highlighted above, he made intentional choices to disconnect. He turned off his cell phone. He chose not to read the news or follow any social media.

At first he struggled to be still. He had no sermons to plan, no Bible studies to prepare, no upcoming ministry projects to lead, no one to counsel–quite a departure from his “normal” routine. His normal routine that was leading him to depletion. At first he felt guilty for not doing anything, then he felt guilty for feeling guilty. He admits that he even wanted to plan his stillness. But after his detox from busyness, he was in a place where God could speak to him and he could hear the intimate message of love that God was communicating to him–the message that said, “You are loved simply because I love you.” Being loved was not contingent upon Pastor John (or us) “doing” all the right things. We are loved simply because we are.

Psalm 139 (above), which talks about the intimate ways in which God knit each of us together in our mother’s wombs,  begins by acknowledging that God is familiar with all of our ways. The psalmist is quite open about the fact that he has tried to hide from God, to run from God, yet finally discovered the beautiful truth that God never leaves. At the end of the Psalm he asks God to lead him in God’s ways–the way everlasting.

Our ways lead to darkness, death, isolation, burn out– God’s ways lead to life.

Sabbath—rest—solitude—it’s part of the way of God; the way everlasting.

I heard a sermon once that suggested the 10 Commandments are not a list of rigid do’s and don’ts, but are actually wedding language,–covenant love language. I like that interpretation, and agree with it.  When we pay attention to Jesus’ words telling us that all the law and prophets hang on the greatest commandment of loving God with every part of us and loving neighbor as we love ourselves (Mt. 22), we are able to see that love does indeed have much to do with the 10 commandments.

When God tells us to have no other gods before Him, not to worship anything else, I see that as correlating to loving Him heart, soul, mind, and strength. When He tells us not to kill, covet, commit adultery, steal, and the like, I see that correlating with loving neighbor, and when He tells us to keep the Sabbath day holy, I believe that correlates with loving self, after all, the Sabbath was made for us, we were not made for the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27).

We were never meant to be the gods of our own destinies. Taking a Sabbath acknowledges that we trust God. Sabbath acknowledges that we have no other gods before God, whether they be the gods of work, of reputation, of focusing on everyone else, of busy-busy-busy or any other thing that we fill our time with. Sabbath rest acknowledges that we are finite, that the revolving of the earth does not depend upon our efforts–and intentional rest restores our soul.

Jesus invites all of us who are weary, who are heavy laden to come to Him, to yoke ourselves to Him because His yoke is easy and His burden is light;  He says when we do this, He will give us rest. (Mt. 11) Peter encourages us to cast all of our cares, anxieties, and worries on Jesus because He cares for us (1st Peter 5:7). David writes that the Lord is his shepherd; therefore, he wants for nothing-the Lord leads him to green pastures, beside still waters, and restores his soul (Ps 23).

Sometimes we are more heavy laden than we know, we carry more anxiety than we care to acknowledge, and our souls need more restoring than we want to admit. We go, go, go–but if we’ll stop long enough to “feel” something real, to lean into the heartbeat of God and rest in Him, we’ll discover the beautiful gift that is there.

Sabbath rest is intentional disconnection from striving in order to connect with God. Sabbath rest leads us away from our fragmented selves. moves us toward wholeness,  and allows us to healthily and meaningfully connect  with each other.

Sabbath is not isolation. It is solitude. There is a tremendous difference between solitude and isolation. The “sol” in solitude comes from the Latin word meaning alone, as in “solo”.   “Isol” in the word isolate.  is more closely related to “isle”, an island–cut off.   Solitude gives us space and time to connect with God and recharges our souls. Isolation does not leave us feeling replenished but leaves us feeling drained, alone, and depressed.

Pastor John also highlighted the point that social media is not real connection, texting does not substitute for meaningful conversation, and the false connecting of those mediums does not leave us fulfilled. I can “scroll” through my social media accounts wasting precious moments of my one precious life, numbing out in a meaningless way that leaves me feeling “bleh” all the while trying to convince myself that I’m connecting and keeping up with people. My own gut instinct tells me that’s not true.  I am making an intentional effort to stop the mindless scrolling. Here’s what’s true- I can scroll and isolate at the same time. It’s not healthy.

And here is the deeper confession–God has me on a journey of discovering some of the “whys” behind my default behavioral “whats”.   Oftentimes when I choose scrolling over spending my time more wisely it’s because I am deflecting the inner work that God is leading me toward. The more I deflect, the more out of touch with my real self I become, the harder it is to hear His voice, and the wider the gap in my authentic relationships with others. Deflection leaves me distracted. Isolation leaves me wanting.

I love that Laura started her portion of the blog with Galatians 5:1. It truly is for freedom that Christ has set us free; however, I am painfully aware that what Richard Rohr writes is also true. He says: “Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.”   That phrase makes me want to laugh and cry. I know the truth of it personally-and I think we would all rather escape the “miserable” part,  but the freedom that Christ died to give is a gift worth pursuing–and that pursuit looks like resting in God and asking Him the questions that John heard in the labyrinth–What do I need to leave here?  What do I need to take with me from here?

Our  “work” will never stop. There will always be things to do. Always. That’s why choosing Sabbath has to be intentional. To choose Sabbath is to choose the deeper way. To choose Sabbath is to choose the abundant way. To choose Sabbath is to choose the transformational way. To choose Sabbath is to choose God’s way.

Jesus teaches this concept to his disciples in Mark 6:31 which says:  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” The people who were coming and going, who had great need, didn’t stop coming. Instead, Jesus pulled away with the disciples to a “solitary” place. Solitude. Restoration. Rest. 

Is your soul in need of being refreshed? Not very many of us will have the opportunity to disconnect for forty days, but can we set aside weekly time to disconnect for a day, a half day, a couple of hours, or an hour a day?

It may be uncomfortable at first, but we have to believe if God included it in His word, if Hebrews 4 talks about there still being a Sabbath rest for the people of God,  He knows what He’s talking about.  I believe if we’ll trust Him in this and intentionally choose to build this Sabbath rhythm into our routines we’ll discover richer, fuller, more whole and more abundant life.  Disconnecting for Sabbath leads to seasons of discovery and seasons of dancing.

Jesus’ invitation to you is the same as it was for the disciples:

Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest.  

Will you say yes?

–Luanne

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Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for a few days. Maybe for longer than I care to admit. I’ve been distracted by many things, and I can easily focus on the distractions–the areas in my life where I am discontent, the long winter season in Wyoming and how I long for spring, the distance that I live from my children and grandchild, relationships that seem difficult in this season, and a wall (self-constructed) between God and me, so Jonathan’s sermon was just what my thirsty soul needed.

On Sunday, Jonathan Schmidt shared his own journey with us beginning with his call into the ministry 32 years ago, through his seasons of running and God’s continuing pursuit, and then the season of pastoring a church and losing sight of his First Love while maintaining what he referred to as Church Incorporated. He was not blaming the church; he recognized that he had become entrenched in the “doing”. He had let other things come in and take his focus and had forgotten the call to love God first.

He reminded us that we can be in the church and lose our way, because we forget to love God first. He reminded us that it is easy to walk away from the simplicity of “Jesus loves me” and get lost in Bible Study, ministry activities, maintaining programs, and doing.

Bible study, ministry activities and the like are good things, but they are no substitute for living from the place of knowing that God loves us first, and that because of His great love we can love Him in return with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we can love our neighbors as ourselves. He reminded us that all of the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, are fulfilled by loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving neighbor as ourselves. ALL of the Old Testament, ALL of the message of Christ fulfilled in those two things. (1st John 4:19, Mt 22:37-40, Luke 10:30)

Why do we complicate it so much when it’s really this simple:

  1. God loves us. He proved it in Christ. Believe it, embrace it, let the Holy Spirit have access to your life.
  2. When we know that God loves us, we live from a new place, a new identity, and we can love ourselves in a healthy way because we are loved.
  3. That love spills over to those around us, they take notice, they desire to know this love, we teach them what we have learned from Christ (making disciples Mt. 28:19-20), and they come into relationship with Christ continuing the beautiful cycle.

Simple–and it all starts with love.

A number of years ago I was driving across rural Kansas trying to find something to listen to on the radio (that’s all I had access to back in the day). I came upon a sermon that sounded intriguing , and heard the pastor say that it’s not enough for Jesus to be Lord and Savior–He must also be our treasure–and then I lost the station. Some miles later I was still trying to find a radio station and I came upon the same sermon at the same moment, heard the same line and then lost the station.

All of a sudden I wasn’t interested in finding a radio station. I knew that God was speaking to me, and I asked Him to teach me what it means for Jesus to truly be my treasure.

What I treasure I love, I think about, I tend to, I enjoy.

Jesus told us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. (Mt. 6:21)  Did my relationship with Jesus indicate that he is my treasure? That I love him, live for him, and enjoy him above all else? Hmmm. I had some work to do. I had been in love with Jesus before, and I recognized that I needed to return to Him again as my first love. (Rev 2:4). It took a brief moment of confession and expressing my desire to love Him deeply asking Him to meet me where I was. He did–the funk lifted and I experienced beautiful closeness with Him again.

Fast forward to my recent funk. I had begun the current “funk-lifting” process on Saturday morning, and Jonathan’s sermon led me to the next step, so confession and expression is what I did again after his message.

Jonathan shared with us that he had a mentor who asked him: Do you think people really want to spend eternity with Jesus?  We’ll be with Him for eternity–if we don’t want to be with Him now, why would we want to be with Him for eternity?  Hmmm.

That question reminded me of something I heard in another sermon a few years ago:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—
is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the
friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and
all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties
you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no
human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with
heaven, if Christ were not there? ” (John Piper)

That’s quite a question and quickly reveals where our hearts and priorities are.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts. John 17:3 tells us that “this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  John 13:35 tells us that by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

 We cannot love one another if we don’t know God’s love for us and respond to His love by loving Him heart, soul, mind, and strength  It feels pretty important, pretty foundational that we know those things.

There is a tremendous difference between the type of relationship described above and being religious. Jonathan’s Church Incorporated dilemma which led him to leave his church and begin the journey back to his First Love was the result of religious activity.

Religion kills. There is no joy, no life in religious activities. Religion leaves folks burned out, frustrated, and angry at the world and all the people who don’t see things the way they do.  Love, on the other hand, gives life, embraces beauty, draws people in, stays with people in their mess, learns from others, and chooses relationship.

Religion turns people into projects and Christianity into a list of dos and don’ts. Love sees the value, the image of God, in all people, and sees Christianity as being in a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus. A relationship of fellowship, enjoyment, trust, honesty, authenticity, transparency, transformation, wrestling–no rules, no boxes to check off, just Someone to love and be loved by. Someone to get to know on a deep and intimate level.

The Apostle Paul is a great example of this. When he was religious he had position, authority, power. He was important in the eyes of the religious community. He was outspoken, and he was mean–so much so that he was totally sold out to destroying the lives of Jesus’ followers. (His story is found in the book of Acts).

Then he met Jesus. He was humbled, blinded for a few days, (a physical manifestation of the spiritual condition he had been in) and changed forever. Changed to the degree that this man of position, authority, power, “the good life”, tells us in 2nd Corinthians 11  that he has been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches…

Yet, in spite of all of those things in Chapter 4 tells us his perspective on the suffering (which we are promised as Christ followers) when he writes: our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

And in Philippians 3: 7-9 He tells us why: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…

Paul knew that Jesus was his treasure. He knew what Jesus meant to Him, who Jesus was to Him, and He wanted everyone else to know Jesus too.  Everything in his life, after his encounter with Jesus, flowed from the treasure of Paul’s heart, and the world was changed as a result.

Where do you find yourself today? Do you know that God loves you? It all starts there. Do you respond to His love with love? Have you wandered a bit from the simplicity of the relationship and gotten distracted by many things? Are you in a funk?

The solution? Sit in His love, let it wash over you. Talk to Him about where you’ve been and respond to His love with love for Him. You will be changed and the world will be changed. The things that matter to His heart will matter to yours, and the world will know we are His followers by our love.

–Luanne

Jonathan talked about our being “living sacrifices” in his message. He then asked us if we were trying to crawl off the altar. I immediately thought about a verse that I have on a notecard in my bathroom. I read it every day and pray it regularly. It is Psalm 5:3. I have the Message version on my notecard. It reads this way:

 “Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.”

I put this verse up about a year ago. It’s not one I could have prayed honestly many years ago. Luanne mentioned above what Jonathan said so beautifully in his message. He said that we have to learn to “sit in the love of God”. I love this thought for a lot of reasons, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to take the liberty to expand it a bit…

See, I think we continue to crawl off of the altar—we move away from offering ourselves daily as living sacrifices—until we’ve braved sitting in the fire of God’s love. We climb up on the altar and with faltering voices say, “He-he-here, I am God… waiting for you…”  But as He approaches with His white-hot love, the heat of His presence causes us to slink off the altar and crawl to a… safer distance. Until we brave the heat for the first time. It’s not until we let the fire of His love engulf us that we realize-like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in the furnace-that we won’t be consumed. That Jesus meets us within the fire and it’s while we sit there with Him that we become unbound. Once we experience Him in this way, our fear of the fire is replaced by the assurance of His goodness and our hearts begin to burn white-hot in response to His blazing love for us. Only then does the altar become a place we long to go and meet with Him, offer our lives to Him, daily.

I remember when I began to get comfortable with laying every piece of my life on the altar, offering all of me as a living sacrifice…  It was during one of the most painful seasons of my life. The trouble (that Jonathan reminded us is a guarantee, part of the deal when we give our lives to following Jesus…) surrounded me. My heart was broken for so many different reasons—rejection, betrayal, problems in my marriage, family tensions, financial tension, a ridiculous amount of fear; among other things… I have never felt more alone, more unsure of who I was. I didn’t understand God’s love for me. The shame of my past was suffocating me. It was during that season that I resolved to wait. To lay my life out before God and wait for Him to come, fire and all. I was afraid. But the brokenness and the loneliness outweighed the fear. And I asked Him to come to me. To show me He loved me. To make me believe it. I told Him I would do whatever He asked—I just wanted to be free. To know who He was, really, and who I was in Him…

I didn’t have some grand vision… but I felt Him come close. I physically sensed His presence. He engineered playlists and laid open the pages of my bible as He directed me to things He wanted me to know. I felt the heat of His love surround me… and it was tempting to retreat. I couldn’t control this reckless love that ran toward me. And I knew that if I stayed there, if the fire fully surrounded me, everything would change. Everything needed to change… But I knew that change meant surrender. It meant pain. And while the storms of my heart couldn’t get much worse, I wasn’t sure I was ready for what His fire may burn away in my life. I was afraid. But I was desperate. And so I stayed put. I listened. And for a season, He called me His beautiful beloved. I doubted what I heard the first time, but it kept happening and I knew what I heard. I began to believe it…

As I sat in the fire of His love, he refined my heart. He rebuilt me. He spoke sweetly, intimately to me. I remember feeling so exposed, completely vulnerable-and completely, totally, known and loved. It was disarming, disorienting and freeing.

I couldn’t have prayed Psalm 5:3 until I experienced the love of Jesus this way. I wish I could say that every day when I see that verse on my cupboard door, I am willing and ready to pray it with all of my heart. But that wouldn’t be true. See, the reason that verse is taped up in my bathroom where I’ll see it every day is because I need the reminder. Even though I’ve experienced the white-hot love of Jesus that changed me-that changes everything-it’s still not natural to offer up every bit of me, every single day, and release my hold on control over myself and my life. Because I know what it can mean… When you offer all that you are and invite the fire of God to descend, you give up every right to yourself. It’s a daily dying. And it hurts…

Because sometimes, when He meets me on the altar of daily sacrifice, He tells me to do things I don’t want to do…

Stay… Go… Love her… Embrace him… Give… Speak… Start… Stop… Forgive… Let go…

He always invites me to remember that this world is not my home. That in this world I will have trouble-but I can take heart because He has overcome the world. He gives me an opportunity to say, every day, “Not my will, but yours be done…”, and I find that I rarely would choose on my own to do His will, His way.

Jonathan called himself a “reluctant prophet”, always running from the thing God was calling him to do. I think we all can be reluctant prophets. We can all at least identify with the “reluctant” part. And often, in our reluctance, we build barriers. Barriers between us and the altar we’re invited to offer ourselves on daily. Barriers that keep us from loving God with our hearts, souls, minds and strength and from loving our neighbors with that same love. We build these barriers because we want to stay safe from the trouble Jesus told us we would have in this world. Because the trouble hurts. And we don’t like pain. We do all kinds of things to try to escape it. But we can’t. Ann Voskamp writes, in her book Be the Gift,

“There isn’t a barrier in the world that can block out pain. There isn’t a wall you can build that protects you from pain. Addiction, escapism, materialism, anger, indifference—none of these can stop pain—and each one creates a pain all its own. There is no way to avoid pain. There is no way to avoid brokenness. There is absolutely no way but a broken way. Barriers that falsely advertise self-protection are guaranteed ways of self-imprisonment. Barriers that supposedly will protect your heart so it won’t break are guaranteed to break your heart anyway. Yet being brave enough to lay your heart out there to be broken, to be rejected in a thousand little ways, this may hurt like a kind of hell—but it will be holy. The only way in the whole universe to find connection… is to let your heart be broken.”

Jesus modeled this for us. He laid out His heart-knowing we would break it-that we would break Him-but it was the only way for us to be connected to Him. And He invites us to lay our hearts out, too. To follow His lead. He will never break our hearts or reject us—but He will call us to die to ourselves for the sake of others who will. And this is something we are incapable of doing if we haven’t first sat in the fire of His love. But if we know His wild, relentless, crazy love for us, if we’ve let Him break open the seed of our hearts so that we can love Him in return, it gets easier to embrace the trouble, the pain of this life. Because when we sit in His love, He becomes our treasure, as Luanne so beautifully wrote about above. And if He’s our treasure, we realize that yes, we do want to spend eternity with this Jesus that has loved us back to life and that, truly, He is what makes eternity appealing to our hearts at all. And we can exclaim with the psalmist, A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10a, NLT)

–Laura

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Last Words: Jesus

Over the last three weeks we’ve looked at three men: Peter, Judas and Pontius Pilate. We saw things in their stories that left us wrestling with the unsettling truth that we can, in fact, relate to all of them–even (especially?) at their very worst. We explored stories that we don’t often look deeply into–and in the deep pools of their humanity, we’ve seen our own reflections. We’ve seen how we can get caught up in our own fears and misunderstood identites. How expectations can cause us to take things into our own hands and lead us down a road of self-destruction. We have had the opportunity to face our own indifference and its consequences, to see how a desire to self-protect can be the very thing that implicates us. We were reminded that we cannot wash our hands of our guilt, and that there’s only One who can wash away our betrayals and failures.

It is the words of that One-Jesus-that Pastor Beau brought before us in this final message of what has been a compelling and profound series.

The book of Luke contains three of Jesus’s last seven statements before His death on the cross. These are the words Beau spoke from on Easter Sunday.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

From these three statements, Beau asserted that Jesus is for us: He is our intercessor (Romans 8:34, 1 Timothy 2:5-6); He wants a personal relationship with each of us, evidenced by His response to the thief on the cross who believed; and Jesus was fully committed to His surrender, as He gave absolutely everything-even His very last breath-in obedience to His Father on behalf of us.

Pastor Beau went on to bring us into the space where God had really spoken to his heart as he prepared for Easter Sunday. He reminded us that there is absolutely no power in the cross itself or in the empty tomb alone–it was the Man who was hung on the cross and placed into the tomb that contained the power. It was Jesus who made the cross and the tomb symbols of our faith-the symbols alone are meaningless. Our resurrection-our movement from death to life-only happens when we encounter the Resurrected Savior, Jesus Himself. Beau told us that our salvation is immediate and eternal-as it was for the thief on a cross who gave Jesus his heart at the very end of his life. But Jesus desires more for us! He wants us to live into the fullness of our identities as those who have encountered our Resurrected Savior. He desires that we live beyond the cross and the tomb, into the truth of redemption and the ministry of reconciliation as those who’ve been reconciled to the Father through the Son! He longs that we fulfill the purposes we were built for, to live fully committed to our surrender as He did. We talked about Peter in week one of this series, about how he did this-he lived into his true identity. But, as Beau reminded us, he didn’t really step into his new identity until he encountered his Resurrected Savior. During his conversation with the post-resurrection Jesus on the beach (John 21), Simon Peter dropped the “Simon” and put on “Peter”. And he spent the rest of his days fulfilling his purpose on this earth. He didn’t will himself to become Peter. He didn’t work hard enough to make the name stick. The transformation happened when he had a redeeming encounter with the Resurrected Jesus. That’s where change begins, where real transformation starts–for all of us.

Have you encountered your Risen Savior? Have you experienced redemption that began the transformation process in the depths of you? If not, you need to know that this Gospel we preach, it is simple. The thief on a cross next to Jesus? He believed Jesus was actually who He claimed to be, and he asked Him to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. He didn’t have any time to make amends for the wrong he’d committed, to ask forgiveness from those he’d hurt. He came to Jesus just as he was. And Jesus not only promised him that he would find himself in paradise that very day–He made it personal. He told the man, “You will be with me today in paradise”. Beginning a relationship with Jesus is that simple. We give him all that we are in exchange for all that He is. And if we die in the next moment, we’ll find ourselves with Him for eternity.

But if we still have life to live… there’s so much more. Meeting our Risen Jesus is only the beginning. We have identities to grow into, new names to wear as He writes the rest of our stories. We don’t want to miss out on all that He has planned for our lives. One day we’ll say some last words of our own. We will leave a legacy no matter what–the stories of our lives will point to something. We have some choices to make that will determine what-and who-that legacy points to.

Beau reminded us on Sunday that in the Apostle’s Creed, only a few names are mentioned. The three manifestations of God: God our Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, and… Pontius Pilate. The mention of him reads likes this:

I believe in Jesus Christ…who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…”

Beau suggested that maybe that wasn’t the legacy Pilate would have chosen to leave. But his choices left it for him, whether he consciously chose it or not. The record of our choices will leave a legacy, too. Our lives will tell a story. Mine contains some chapters I’m not proud of–accounts that make me cringe, that grieve my heart. But thankfully, those chapters are only part of the story. I’m hopeful that when I take my last breath and join the nameless thief and Jesus in eternity, my story will exist as a small portion of His story, a portion that evidences the power of Jesus and the difference He can make in a willing, surrendered life. I hope that one day, my last words are lyrics in the song being written by the Word of Life Himself–the One whose words will echo on for all of eternity. I hope that yours evidence the same Savior and join the song He wants to write through your lives.

–Laura

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