Dear Church #7: Philippians 3:12-14

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

What does it mean to “obtain” something? In this case, it means “to lay hold of” or ‘”to make as your own”. So Paul begins this passage by pausing in his exhortations to the Church, and letting his readers know that he hasn’t yet made “all this” his own. What is the “all this” he is referring to? It is everything he has written about to this point, everything we’ve covered in the first six messages of this series. By this point in the book of Philippians, Paul has encouraged the Church to begin where we are right now, to love those around us with the love of Jesus, to take the story of what Jesus has done in our lives everywhere, to “live as Christ” which is to die to ourselves, to model humility, to abandon ourselves and embrace Christ’s life in us as we focus on Him as our Lord–as the One thing that really matters. He outlines all of these things (and more), and then in the middle of chapter 3, he pauses. He stops to say that he hasn’t yet obtained these things, he hasn’t made them his own. And that pause is an invitation to stop and take a breath, to reflect and consider all that we’ve heard thus far. And to remember that, once again, this walk is not something we do in our own strength.

This passage highlights the tension between the now and the not yet. There is this picture of the ideal walk of faith that Paul has been painting for us, what it looks like to die to ourselves and live fully for Christ. And then there is the reality that we all-including Paul-fall short of that ideal. But rather than allow the truth that we’re not there yet to make us feel defeated or to cause us to lose hope in the process, Paul encourages us once again to remember that we are not the ones holding our lives together. He reminds us that we are not actually in control–and that is precisely why we can breathe and just keep going.

Where am I getting that? Paul says that he has not obtained all this, he hasn’t arrived, hasn’t yet taken hold of “that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”In these few verses, he is contrasting his own shortcomings-he hasn’t yet made all of this his own-with the surpassing power of Christ, who has already made him (and us) His own. The crux of verse 12 is not that we keep pressing on in order to take hold of Jesus, to cling to Him, to make Him our own. It is that we can keep moving toward Him, because He’s already holding onto us. It’s imperative that we see this rightly, or we live a life of striving, of attempting to grab hold of Jesus, but always falling short in our own strength.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.   (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Just as dead people can’t make themselves alive on their own, humanity can’t manufacture the strength to hold onto the Divine, to the eternal. But because Jesus first took hold of us, we can now, in His strength, reach back to Him. This reaching, though, is not what we might think of when we think about “holding on” to something. It is not a white-knuckled grasp, a secure grip so as not to lose what we’re holding onto. Because it’s impossible to lose something that has taken hold of you-unless that thing lets go. We have zero control of our ability to hold onto Jesus. And realizing that is pure grace. What we may have perceived as a need to “hold on tight” becomes an invitation to completely let go. Because that which is holding onto us is Jesus himself. And He will never let go. There is nowhere we could go that He wouldn’t already be there waiting for us. We cannot lose Him, because He’s grafted us into the vine of Himself and placed His very life into us who were dead, and there’s no separating our life from His. It is a sheer impossibility. Inhale. Exhale. And find yourself completely safe within the hands that knit each one of us together and put His own breath in our lungs.

So what is the “pressing on” that Paul writes of, then? It’s an invitation to keep going. Understanding that Jesus has already made us His own, that we are forever held by Him, we can take the next step. We can stop worrying about all that we have to “do” to cling to Jesus and live present to His leading today, in this moment. Our “pressing on” is simply taking one step at a time on our journey of being made like Christ and living for Him.

If we see ourselves as responsible for holding onto Jesus, we’ll find ourselves holding onto old ideas and past experiences of Him–and we’ll miss the depths of what He wants to show us about Himself right now. In verse 13, Paul writes of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. Straining, in this context, means “to stretch out in the direction of something”. It is less about straining in the way we think of strenuous exercise or effort and more about which direction we’re going

When I ponder this section, I can’t help but think of Isaiah 43, where God, through Isaiah, instructs the people to simultaneously remember and forget. Considering the two passages together, I believe the point is our orientation to time, because it determines what and how we see what’s happening in the now. In the beginning of Isaiah 43, and more specifically in verses 16-17, God reminds the people of all He has done, of how He has been their Deliverer, their Savior. And then, in verses 18-19, He says this:

Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.” (MSG)

So God tells the people first to remember, then to forget. Why?

Sometimes, we get fixated on what God did then, and how He did it before. Maybe the remembering is to remind us that God is and always has been, in the case of this particular passage, our Deliverer. But the forgetting is about the way He delivered then. It is a laying down of our expectations of how He will show up this time. The miracle of parting the Red Sea is not the miracle the people needed in the middle of the desert, when there was no water in sight. They needed to remember who God was to remind them that He still is that same God. But they needed to forget the circumstances of then, so that they could live present to nowIf we find ourselves holding onto old ideas and past experiences with Him–we’ll miss the depths of what He wants to show us about Himself right now. 

In our passage, when Paul says he is forgetting what is behind, it is in order to remain present to the Jesus who lives with us in the now. So that we can keep moving toward what’s to come. Dwelling on the past, whether it be about what we’ve done or failed to do, or how we’ve experienced Jesus before, robs of the gift of today. The depths of Jesus are unsearchable. We cannot dive deep enough to explore the breadth of all that He is. We can only see and grasp what He reveals of Himself to us. And if our eyes are fixed on what is behind us, if our expectations are based in who Jesus was to us then, we essentially dig our heels in and cease moving forward. We cannot continue to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus if we fix our gaze on a faded photograph of how He appeared to us back then. And as Pastor John told us on Sunday, the opposite of looking back  is not looking forward. We have to have a different view of our now. We have to let go of our white-knuckled grip on the faded photograph of yesterday so that we can live fully present to our today, which will allow us to take the necessary steps that will get us to our tomorrow. That’s how it works.

Dear Church… we haven’t arrived yet. We didn’t have it together back in “the good ole days” (those days are an illusion-for so many, they were anything but “good”), we don’t have it together today, and-spoiler alert-we aren’t going to have it together tomorrow either. And that’s okay. We aren’t the captains of this ship-we never have been. What we are responsible for is waking up to now, to the leading of the Spirit in this moment. We can only take one step at a time, trusting that the One who has always been holding onto us will continue to hold us firmly within His capable, loving hands, and will lead us on until the day we are perfected and made complete in His presence, as His beloved Bride. Until that day comes, we practice all that we’ve learned so far, all that has led up to this point in the letter. We learn from Christ and we allow His life to overcome ours. We experience His love and then we share that experience everywhere we go. And when we feel overwhelmed by all that we have not yet obtained-we press pause. We breathe. And we remember that we can make Jesus our own only because He first called us His own. And we can only run after Him as He draws us in. We were dead. He made us alive. And we get to live for Him, one step at a time.

Dear Church… keep moving forward.

–Laura

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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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Moving Forward

Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.       Ezra 10:4

Beau spoke this weekend about the importance of moving forward, of taking the next step God is calling us to take. He presented five critical steps to take to keep moving in the right direction. Those steps are:

Self-check daily. He reminded us that is necessary to regularly evaluate where we are & who we are, to get comfortable with real soul-searching. This is not meant to lead us to a place of shame or beating ourselves up for our failures, it’s simply the ability to be honest with ourselves and with God about where we are.

Seek Correction. This one is counterintuitive. We don’t love to be corrected and we tend to challenge instruction. To seek it out requires us, as Beau said, to embrace the fact that we don’t know everything. It requires humility. But the benefits of this step? It brings so much life!! Proverbs 15:31-32 says this: If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Seeking correction is an important step in moving forward.

Create constancy. Beau pointed out how difficult this is in the culture and time we live in. In our cultural climate, perseverance and leaning into the struggle are not the norm. We want what we want, we want it right now and if our demands aren’t immediately met, we look elsewhere. We give up and we quit . Beau encouraged us to “count it all joy” when our faith is tested because it leads to steadfastness, which leads to our being made complete and lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Live in community. This one can be almost as challenging as seeking correction. Most of us tend to isolate-at least when it comes to the deeper parts of our hearts. We can go to church every Sunday and still live isolated if we are not seeking out opportunities to go deeper and develop authentic relationships. Beau reminded us that it is when we confess our mess to one another that we find healing (James 5:16) and that we will not confess anything if we are not invested in real relationships with one another.

Remain connected. Beau identified this as the most critical of the five steps. He said that remaining connected in community is important, but here he spoke about remaining connected to God. He said, “We need to stop trying to lead, and embrace our dependence on God”.  In John 15:4, Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me”. Staying connected to God is paramount to having the ability to live out the other four steps.

Moving forward isn’t easy, but the alternative is not desirable in the least. We were reminded in this week’s message that “a lack of movement creates stagnancy”. Beau presented a comprehensive definition of the word “stagnant”.  It means, “not flowing or running; stale or foul from standing, as a pool of water; characterized by lack of development, advancement, or progressive movement; inactive, sluggish, or dull“. While I found several points in the definition intriguing, one point stood out above the rest. “Not flowing”. This may be the most obvious of the definitions, but in this context, I found it profound. 

I immediately related it to the Holy Spirit. Living a stagnant life means that I have dammed up the flow of the Holy Spirit. The other definitions aren’t pleasant, either–I wouldn’t want to be characterized as “stale” or “foul”, “sluggish” or “dull”. I don’t want my life to lack development, advancement or progressive movement. But the thought of living a life without the Holy Spirit flowing freely in and through me? I couldn’t bear a life like that. I am so aware of my lack… I know that I can produce no good, lasting fruit on my own. I need the power of the Holy Spirit desperately!!

If we don’t want to live a stagnant life, void of the flow of the Spirit, we have to commit to the process of moving forward. We have to take the steps. And I sit here and reflect on those points, I realize that none of them are possible in our own strength. To do any of them fully, we have to rely on the power available to us in the friend, counselor, presence of the Holy Spirit.

How do we remain connected to God? We embrace that we can’t do it on our own. We need help. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Why should we live in community? Why can’t we do this on our own? How do we build community anyway? “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit“.

How do we create constancy and find the endurance to persevere? Romans 5:3-5: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

What about seeking correction? Where do we start? How do we know if the instruction we are receiving is true? And what about the daily self-check we need? Where do we begin? We start with the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

The Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to taking steps forward. He is our helper, our counselor, our advocate. He is our guide and he convicts us of our sins. He empowers us to move forward and it is only through him that we bear good fruit. How do we keep from becoming stagnant? We take these steps that Beau outlined for us–relying on the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

How did the definition of “stagnant” impact you? Are there any areas of your life that have become stagnant, places where the Spirit is no longer flowing? Which of the five steps is the most difficult for you? We would love to hear your thoughts!!

–Laura

We were in Birmingham celebrating our granddaughter’s first birthday, so I was not there for Beau’s sermon, but really look forward to hearing it. I find it ironic, that even though I have not yet heard Beau’s words, I was in the midst of a living illustration over the past few days of the perseverance that it takes to move forward. Our sweet one year old is right on the verge of walking. Every day she practices over and over and over. She uses a push walker sometimes, but can’t yet turn it by herself, so seeks help when she gets stuck. She loves to hold our fingers and walk with that support. She pulls herself up onto furniture and walks around it, looking for affirmation from time to time. Every once in a while she lets go and takes a tumble, but she gets right back up and tries again.

Can you imagine how puzzling it would be to see a toddler who stopped trying to walk? One who decided that the progress made to this point is good enough? Think of the growth stagnation that would happen, the life experiences that would be missed out on? Yet, I’m afraid that many of us do that in our spiritual journeys.

We are encouraged throughout scripture to “walk”. Knowing that most of us walk to get from one point to another, I’m going to take the liberty to substitute the words “move forward” in the place of “walk” in the following scriptures..

move forward in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 5:2)

So I say, move forward by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  (Gal 5:16)

But if we move forward 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. (1 John 1:7)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to move forward in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. (Eph. 4:1)

Teach me your way, O Lordthat I may move forward in your truth… (Ps. 86:11)

There is no “neutral” in moving forward. May we cast off any tendency to be okay with where we are.  May we, with the humility of a learner,  take the hands of our Savior, accepting the support of our brothers and sisters, breathing the breath of the Holy Spirit,  move forward until the day He takes us home.

Are you moving forward? How do you keep yourself from becoming stagnant, especially in those tough seasons when you don’t “feel” like persevering?

-Luanne

 

life way

How Do We Respond to “Unanswered” Prayers?

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

Beau talked to us this weekend about how we handle our “unanswered” prayers. I assume that you, like me, can immediately think of more than one situation when God did not respond to the cries of your heart in the ways you thought He would-maybe how you thought He should? When we find ourselves in a moment like this, what do we do?

Beau spoke about our initial reactions. These are the immediate feelings and thoughts that occur when we don’t receive the answer that we hoped or thought we would. As Beau said, these are natural. There is no shame in an initial reaction–be it anger, disappointment, doubt, fear, etc… God gave us our feelings. And, as Ann Voskamp writes,

“Feelings are meant to be fully felt–and then fully surrendered to God”. 

Fully surrendered to God… That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Especially when…

…our prayers for healing end in the death of someone we love

…we pray for a prodigal child and they seem to move further away from home

…our prayers for a baby end in a diagnosis of infertility

…God leads us away from a calling we believed He gave us

…our prayers for answers end in more questions

…we ask for stability and find ourselves unemployed

…we pray for our marriage and it still falls apart

We could add so much more to this list. We’ve all experienced the heartbreak of unanswered prayers–and if we haven’t, we can be assured that somewhere down the road, we will. Our understanding is limited. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor are our ways His ways. (Isaiah 55:8)  At some point on our journeys, our expectations collide with answers we didn’t expect, answers that feel more like unanswered prayers, and we find ourselves reacting out of our limited understanding. What happens next is up to us. Beau said it this way:

“If our initial reactions are left unattended, they will draw us away from God”.

Our initial reactions are natural. We react in our minds and our hearts without thinking about or choosing those reactions beforehand. But if we are not prepared to handle those reactions, if we don’t know what to do with them, we will discover that those initial reactions can lead to unhealthy responses. And the unhealthy responses, as Beau told us, can impact the way we see God, ourselves and others. They can also impact the way we pray from that point on.

“Initial reactions require intentional responses.”

Beau didn’t give us a list of what those intentional responses should look like. Instead, he took us on a journey through Scripture that reminded us who God is, who He says we are in Him, the way we are instructed to love others and the way God asks us to pray. Intentional responses are always based solidly on the Truth. Reactions are felt–responses are chosen.

In the end, Beau brought us back to Philippians.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

These verses are so familiar to me but–as only the Holy Spirit can facilitate–they came alive in a whole new way to me through Beau’s teaching. Hang with me here; I promise I will get to my (very mind-blowing) point shortly…

Beau reminded us that these verses begin with “In every situation“. Right away, I see this as a “daily”. An everyday discipline of bringing our prayers and requests before God that becomes a constant conversation that is eventually as natural as breathing. Then we read “with thanksgiving”. Beau said it this way: “A filter of thanksgiving colors everything accordingly”. Beautiful, right? I want to live a life that is colored, experienced, seen through the filter of thanksgiving. But, friends, that’s not the part that blew my mind…

After we are given instruction on how to pray, we read what happens as a result of praying God’s way.

…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…

It was when Beau broke down the word “guard” in this passage that I began to see these verses in a more brilliant light. The word in the original Greek [phroureō] means to protect, as you might imagine. But it also means to prevent hostile invasion. We’ll come back to that in a moment… The word is derived from two root words–and this is where it gets really exciting! The words are [pro], meaning before and [horaō], which means to see with the eyes, to see with the mind, to discern clearly. 

You guys. This. Is. Crazy!

So, let’s recap… If we come to God in every circumstance with all of our prayers and requests, and we do so with thanksgiving–then, the peace of God will protect our hearts and minds before we see, before we understand, before we discern clearly. Our hearts and minds can be protected from the hostile invasion of unhealthy responses before we even know how God will answer our prayers. If we begin by praying God’s way, we are guarded in this remarkable way. So that, when our prayers aren’t answered the way we hope, we can fully feel our feelings and then surrender them fully to God, with hearts and minds that were being protected from hostile invasion the moment we began to pray! This is huge. If we are protected before the answer comes, or doesn’t come–or doesn’t come the way we wanted it to–then we are prepared to respond in an intentional, healthy way, standing on the Truth, regardless of what the answer turns out to be. That is beautiful, empowering and so life-giving. Let that peace settle over you…

Beau reminded us, in regard to our “unanswered” prayers that God gives us what we would ask for if we knew what He knows. He concluded with this beautiful poem, written by Corrie Ten Boom:

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”

Have you experienced unanswered prayers? Has God responded differently than you thought He should? How would it change your responses if you prayed the way Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to pray? I pray that as we ponder old truths and fresh insights, the Holy Spirit will move in each of us to empower us to choose healthy responses when we find ourselves tempted to question what we know to be true about God, ourselves and others. Blessings to you, friends.

–Laura

(Luanne is in a tropical paradise this week, so you have my thoughts alone–I would love to hear your thoughts and questions! Please interact with me through the comments section so we can continue this conversation! 🙂 )

Daily Living the Mission

I loved the new take that John shared with us on “Living out the Mission” as one of the “dailies”.  

Using Luke 9:23 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”, as the “what” of the mission….

Then using Matthew 9:10-12 “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’” to show the heart, the “why” behind the mission…

And then using the beautiful story in Luke 7:36-50 to highlight the “how”,  John painted for us a beautiful picture of “how” to carry out the mission of Christ.

Without a doubt, Jesus has made it clear that he wants our lives to be about making disciples (Mt. 28:19-20).  And he made it clear in Luke 9:23 that if I want to be a disciple, I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. Every. Single. Day.

It will be impossible for me to make disciples if I am not a disciple. It will be impossible for me to be a disciple, if I don’t deny myself.

In Genesis 1, God put in motion that we will multiply in our likeness. The seed we sow with our lives produces “like kind”. When God asked Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, sin had not yet entered the world. The original plan was that they would multiply others who would walk in intimate fellowship with God.  Sin ruined that possibility. Jesus restored that possibility, and his call to us in Matthew 28 is the “be fruitful and multiply” of the New Covenant.

To be a disciple, quite literally means that I will follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions. To follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions is a way of life. Intimacy with Jesus will lead to fruit. That fruit will be other “disciples” who follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions; who live life in a new way, who share intimacy with Jesus and bear the fruit of other disciples. Being a disciple is all about closeness and relationship. To know his precepts and instructions, I must know him.

The passages that John shared, show a stark difference between what it looks like to be a disciple, and what it looks like not to be one.

In Matthew 9, Matthew, the man, was learning how to be a disciple. His dinner table was full of different kinds of people, an inclusive setting. Matthew was a tax collector, and they made pretty good money. However, once Matthew had an encounter with Jesus, he chose to deny himself. He knew that he had found the Savior of the world, so he shared his wealth, hosted a dinner, and invited his friends to come meet Jesus, and Jesus came.

The Pharisees stayed in their little cohesive “we’re all alike” group, observed from the outside, and questioned the ways of Jesus.

In Luke 7, it’s the Pharisee, Simon, who has invited Jesus to dinner. Given what we know about Pharisees, I imagine the other dinner guests were of his group–like kind.  I can’t even imagine what happened–the shot of adrenaline and confusion, and “what should I do now?”– that took place in Simon’s mind when the woman came in. In the words of Ann Voskamp, “Oh, blazing Gehenna!” must have been going through his head. In his shock, however, he didn’t get up and escort her out. He observed.

The woman, this brave, courageous woman who loved Jesus deeply, totally denied herself, totally carried her cross, and totally honored the Jesus she had begun to follow. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She didn’t care if she made a spectacle of herself. She didn’t hold back at all in demonstrating her devotion to and her love for Jesus. She didn’t care who saw her. She was going public with her story of redemption, her gratitude for Jesus’ grace. The fruit– today, we are still moved by her love for Him.

Simon also questioned the ways of Jesus, however, he did so within himself. Jesus, who knew Simon’s thoughts and inner wrestling, answered out loud.  Verse 44 tells us that Jesus was looking at the woman, but talking to Simon– and in beautiful verse 47 he says: “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

My sins, Luanne, me, my sins, and they are many, have been forgiven.  So the question is, am I willing to go public with my love for Jesus? John said in his sermon:

“The beauty of our mess is that it shows us the beauty of the love of Jesus.”

The difference between the Pharisees and Matthew and the woman–the Pharisees could not see their own mess. They could not perceive how far they were from God’s heart. They had been blinded by tradition, by do’s and don’ts, by position, by religion,  and by the approval of the others in their closed circle of friends. They judged Jesus, They questioned Jesus. They chose not to enter in to Jesus’ way of doing things. They chose to be exclusive and distant.

Matthew and the woman recognized that their lives were a mess. They recognized that on the list of religious do’s and don’ts , they were hopeless causes. They met Jesus. They let him bring their stories into the light so that they could receive the gifts of grace and relationship with Him. They went public. Matthew invited his very mixed group of friends to have dinner with Jesus, and the woman crashed a dinner that she hadn’t been invited to so that she could show what it looks like to love Jesus well. They embraced Jesus for who He is, they accepted his ways and his method of doing things, and they couldn’t keep from inviting others, all others, in.

I want my life to look like that. I want to make disciples that look like that. Am I willing to follow Jesus daily?  Am I willing to take up my cross—my messy life, my redemption story–am I willing to deny myself–not worry what anyone else may think of me–in order that I can be a disciple who multiplies disciples who love Jesus deeply and aren’t afraid to go public with their stories? Am I willing to show the beauty of my mess so that the people around me can see the beauty of the love of Jesus-and then experience it for themselves?  The honest answer–sometimes. May my answer move from sometimes to yes! Always yes.

-Luanne

Luanne wrote:

“…this brave, courageous woman who loved Jesus deeply totally denied herself, totally carried her cross, and totally honored the Jesus she had begun to follow. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She didn’t care if she made a spectacle of herself. She didn’t hold back at all in demonstrating her devotion to and her love for Jesus. She didn’t care who saw her…”

John said in his sermon that, in doing what she did, the woman in this story was breaking every tradition, going against the rules and doing it all wrong. He said that she was willing to do whatever it took to get to Jesus. She stepped out of the safety of obscurity to step into the only light that could shatter her darkness.

When was the last time you were willing to do whatever it took to get to do Jesus? If you know Jesus, then you have taken this chance at least once… Think back to the moment in your life that you saw yourself in all your messy brokenness and you just knew you needed Jesus. Do you remember that feeling? That desperation? You needed him and you knew it and you did whatever it took to get to him. You know the details of that first encounter–does anyone else? Have you ever shared your story? I know many people don’t think their testimony is all that “special” or “powerful”–but the truth is, we all-if we know Jesus-have a resurrection story. As pastor Louie Giglio puts it:

“You were dead! Dead people can’t do anything to help themselves! He made you alive!”

I love that so much! We were dead, our spirits were dead. He brought us to life. Friends, that’s a story worth sharing!! The details of your story are what make you uniquely able to share with others who will be moved by your particular set of circumstances. We all have a resurrection story if we know Jesus.

I think I can safely assume that your salvation experience is not the only time you’ve found yourself willing to do whatever it takes to get to Jesus, though. Why would I assume that? Because I know my own story.  Sometimes we meet Jesus and we begin to change and we are excited to share our stories because we are just so grateful for what he has done for us, but as time goes by… things get in the way.

So many things can get in the way of our getting to Jesus.

Sometimes those things paralyze us from doing what it will take to get back to him. Maybe it’s lies you’ve believed about yourself or about God… Maybe it’s an addiction and you feel ashamed and unable to change… Maybe you know that the “whatever it takes” means you’re going to have to step away from something you love so that God can draw you out into the wilderness and draw you close to him again… It could be a confession that you don’t think you can make… Or forgiveness that you don’t know how to extend… Maybe it just flat out looks crazy–like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat and onto the water to get to where Jesus was–and you just don’t think you can subject yourself to public ridicule… Maybe you think if you take that step, lean into your “whatever it takes”, Jesus will leave you hanging. I don’t know what your “whatever it takes” is. But I do know I have found myself in every one of the situations I highlighted above. And they’re all terribly frightening and they loom large and lie to us and make us feel stuck. John told us what to do, though…He reminded us that this woman in the story kept her focus on Jesus. It wasn’t about her–it was all about him. It reminds me again of Peter’s story that I referenced above–Peter was able to walk on the water until he took his eyes off of Jesus. When his focus moved from the Savior in front of him to the mess surrounding him, he started to sink. But, remember,

“The beauty of our mess is that it shows us the beauty of the love of Jesus.”

As Peter found to be true when he called out Jesus’s name and reached for him through the waves, when we refocus and reach out for Jesus in our mess, we find him right there, by our side, pulling us up. How many times have my messes gotten so big, so unbearable that I became willing to do whatever I had to to get back to Jesus? So many times… What about you? Have we shared these messy stories in vulnerable, authentic ways to the waiting world around us? I’m not great at it all the time… I want to become a person who boldly declares how good God has been to me, how much he has saved me from, how much of a mess I was-and still would be-without him. I want to be willing to share it all the time. Because I am also a woman who has been forgiven much…so very much. I want to love my Jesus much in return, as the woman in the story did. And I want the world around me to know just how much I love him just how good he has been to me… so that, hopefully, they’ll want to do whatever it takes to get to Jesus, too.

Where do you see yourself in these stories? Maybe you’ve never left the shadows of obscurity to meet Jesus. Maybe you did, once, but so much has gotten in the way. Maybe you have found yourself living the “whatever it takes” over and over again as you seek to know Jesus more deeply, but you’re hesitant to share all that he has done for you with others. Perhaps you are one who does share, often, your own beautiful redemption story. Wherever you are, I pray that this week, we can all move one step closer to Jesus. And that as we do, we’ll find ourselves more and willing to share his great love with those around us.

–Laura

your story

Daily Kindness

As  I reflected on John’s sermon about “kindness” as one of “The Dailies”,  and reflected on acts of kindness that have come my way, one story in particular stuck out to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t paint me in a very good light, but it is beautiful.

During my teen years, I was living in a great deal of emotional pain. My mother had died a few years before. My dad had remarried a widow with four children of her own, all in the same age range as my siblings and me, and life was chaotic for a few years. I can not remember what prompted my outburst, but one afternoon I had a melt down directed toward my dad. I yelled, I said ugly things, and at one point, my grand finale moment, was that I did not want to live with them anymore. I wanted to live in foster care. Then I stormed out of his room and went downstairs. He came down after a few minutes and told me to get my sweater. My heart began to beat a little faster, afraid that he really might be wanting to take me to live elsewhere, but in my pride, I did not apologize or let on that I was nervous. We got in the car and he took me to play miniature golf and then took me to Dairy Queen. He told me that he knew I was hurting, that he loved me deeply and that nothing would ever change that. I deserved punishment. I received kindness. Kindness that didn’t make sense. Kindness that softened my heart and brought a piece of healing to my chaotic, painful life. It was more than an act of kindness. It was a heart of kindness overflowing with love for me. It is one of my most cherished memories.

In 1965, Dionne Warwick recorded the song, “What the World Needs Now”; the chorus goes like this:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.

How true those lyrics still are today, and God’s delivery system plan for that love is us. We, the followers of Christ will take it to the world. It’s why we’re here. What will it look like? It will look like kindness. Kindness is how love behaves.

Ephesians 2:6-7 tells us that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ is God’s expression of kindness to us.  Have you experienced his kindness in Christ? Have you experienced the kindness of his forgiveness? Have you experienced the kindness of his presence? Have you experienced the kindness of his love? Have you experienced the kindness of his transforming power in your life?

The world has a very skewed perspective of God. However, as John said in his sermon, the world defines God by what they see in us. I have a much clearer picture of God’s grace, kindness and unconditional love because of my dad’s response to my outburst. The opposite is also true;  when the world thinks that God is mean, distant, angry–they get that impression from his followers. They define God by what they see in us. That hurts my heart.

Without a doubt, kindness is an action, but it goes beyond just being nice. True kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)  Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. ”  The only way we can clothe ourselves like that is to allow ourselves to be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, which means we must crucify our flesh and follow His lead in our lives. Can you imagine how different the world would be if Jesus’ followers really lived this way–If what spilled out of us was compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, joy peace?

Currently, a Google search of the phrase “why are Christians so…” brings up words like miserable, judgemental, intolerant, mean…Can you imagine if a Google search brought up words like kind, compassionate, loving, gentle?   

And, this kindness…it’s for everyone. Not just the people we like. Not just for the people whose favor we may be trying to earn. Not just for people who are nice to us, or kind to us in return. No–this is a Holy Spirit type of kindness. This is the type of kindness that is expressed when Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mt. 5:44).  This type of kindness is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. But if the world is going to change, if Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is going to happen, it is imperative that his followers take–with thanksgiving–the love we have received from God in Christ–so costly, so undeserved, and so life changing–and pass it on to others. This is the kingdom coming on earth. Nothing that we receive from God is for us to horde. It is all to be given away. And what could be more beautiful and world changing than giving away love through kindness every single day–Kindness as a lifestyle, a heart overflow because our hearts are full of the love of God.

Kindness is how love behaves when it displays what Christ has done in us. What has he done in you? Are you willing to pass it on?

–Luanne

Luanne’s last paragraph is short, but powerful. It connects with what has been stirring in my heart since I listened to John’s sermon. She wrote:

“Kindness is how love behaves when it displays what Christ has done in us. What has he done in you? Are you willing to pass it on?

Willingness, it’s a tricky thing… God has been using the word “willing” in my life very intentionally over the past couple of years. I say that it’s tricky because there’s more to willingness than we initially realize. The first definition for the word willing is this:

“inclined or favorably disposed in mind”

If we use this as our only definition, it is probably a safe assumption to say, yes, we are willing to extend the kindness we have received. Most of us do not set our minds on being unkind. I think we have great intentions and we want to be kind to the people around us. At least in our minds…

But, the second definition Merriam-Webster gives for the word takes us a little deeper into the implications of willingness:

“prompt to act or respond”

When we read the full definition of the word willing, it makes it a lot more difficult to honestly answer Luanne’s question, doesn’t it?

In my mind, I have planned to bake treats and go introduce myself to our neighbors… for the past three years… I have thought about making time to take that person to coffee and give the gift of time several times over the past six months

If my willingness to extend kindness starts and stops in my mind… I am neither willing nor kind. True willingness is prompt to act or respond. Kindness, as Luanne shared above, is how love behaves. It is glaringly clear that both require action.

How, then, do we grow our good intentions into true, willing kindness?

The answer can be found in a verse John shared in his sermon. Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to:

 …encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

Encouragement is one way we see kindness displayed. This verse exhorts us to encourage one another daily. Today. Before today becomes tomorrow. And therein lies our problem.

I didn’t mean to let today turn into three years of not knowing my neighbors. I didn’t intend to let six months pass without asking her to coffee. I simply planned to do it tomorrow… And when tomorrow became today, my plans moved once again to tomorrow.

There are two problems I see with “tomorrow”:

  1. It may never come. None of us is guaranteed a single breath beyond this moment.
  2. Every tomorrow eventually becomes our today. If we haven’t learned and practiced how to live intentionally in the moment we are given, we will not be truly willing. And we will not live out the kindness we ourselves have received.

Hebrews 3:13 tells us clearly why this cycle of “I’ll do it tomorrow” is so hard to break.

…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I have learned to pay attention when I see the words “so that” in Scripture. What follows those two words is always important. In this case, it’s a clear warning. If we don’t practice encouraging one another today, we will be hardened and deceived by sin.

Is it sinful to put things off for another day? To plan on doing them tomorrow?

I won’t take the liberty of answering these questions for you. What I do know is that, for me, there is one core reason I put off acting in kindness:

ME.

I don’t have time… What will they think of me I am tired… I don’t want to…

I can come up with eloquent, persuasive arguments as to why I put off extending kindness in the moment. But the root of every argument I could make? Selfishness. And I’m pretty certain selfishness is sin. So, yeah. For me, it is sin to put off until tomorrow what I could do today.

This is difficult to navigate, though, because we don’t often see beyond our good intentions far enough to see our selfishness. And the good intentions in our mind, they deceive us into believing we are kind when our actions (or lack thereof) prove otherwise.

For me, the truly frightening part of this verse is what it says can happen as a result of sin’s deceitfulness…

If we neglect to daily live and act out of the loving-kindness we have received, our verse tells us that we can be “hardened”.

The word “hardened” is translated from the Greek word “skléros. Included in the definition of skleros are the words:

harsh, intolerable, offensive

Those words sound a little bit familiar… They echo the words that Luanne mentioned earlier when she referenced the auto-fill options for the Google search:

Why are Christians so _______ ?

If we don’t act in love and kindness daily; if we are deceived by our sin, selfishness, good intentions, we run the risk of becoming exactly what the world thinks we are. I’m a little blown away by the fact that a couple thousand years ago, this warning was written to Jesus’s followers. And today, we are bearing the consequences of ignoring the warning. Somewhere along the way, our kindness stopped being kindness and turned into a word we didn’t really know the meaning of. We didn’t know it—and we certainly haven’t lived it. Google proves it.

Now, though, we know. We know that kindness is how love behaves. We know that being willing to give others what we have received from Jesus involves prompt action. We know that living out kindness daily protects us from becoming harsh, intolerable, offensive Christians.

We can change the auto-fills, friends. Let’s start today.

–Laura

 

 

 

Daily Worship

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

This Psalm is incredibly familiar to me, as I’m sure it is to many of you. But one of the lines struck me differently this weekend.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…

In Sunday’s sermon, John mentioned that we are invited to worship. He didn’t spend much time there, but my thoughts have hung on it ever since…

Psalm 100 gives us some directives. We are told to “Shout to the Lord”, “Worship the Lord with gladness”, “Know that the Lord is God”, “Give thanks to him” and “Praise his name”. Set within these directives, though, is a beautiful invitation.

“Come before him… Enter his gates…and his courts.”

At first glance, these words appear to be additional directives. But if we look deeper, if we remember that God is King and that this Psalm was written before Jesus, before the temple veil was torn, we will remember that one couldn’t simply “come before” the King in his court. To appear before the King without fear of consequence, one had to be invited.

It is beautiful that God desires our worship. That the Creator of the universe and of each human heart would invite us to come before him, would allow us-people of unclean lips-to magnify his holiness, out of the depths of his goodness and love for us… it fills my heart with wonder.

And as the beauty of his invitation settled over my soul I realized something else…

For true worship to exist, the kind of “spirit & truth” worship Jesus describes in John 4:23, there must be two invitations.

God invites us to come before him, to enter his courts and worship him. But if we don’t extend an invitation of our own, our worship will fall flat, as described in Isaiah 29:13:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

We can go to church, stand before God and go through the motions. In doing so, we accept his invitation… to a point.

John used a word today when describing how we are to worship that causes many of us to cringe a bit. He used the word “vulnerable”. He said that in surrendering our lives in worship, we have to “let go, be vulnerable, be willing to look foolish”. That doesn’t sit well with us. No one wants to look foolish. And we certainly don’t like feeling vulnerable.

The word vulnerable is defined by Merriam-Webster as: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.

No wonder we fight vulnerability… It makes us feel exposed, weak and unstable. It can make us feel insecure and afraid–and for good reason. It is natural to protect the most vulnerable places, those places most in danger of being wounded.
That being said, I believe that vulnerability is the invitation we extend to God in response to the invitation to draw near to him in worship.
If we don’t invite God into our core, we will never worship him out of our core. If we try to hide from him the depths of our brokenness, we’ll never experience the healing balm of unabashed worship. If we hold our hearts at bay, refuse to let down our guard, we will never experience intimacy with the Lover of our souls.
If we come to God offering anything less than our authentic selves–messy, scarred and imperfect–we are not reciprocating his invitation. He invites us in-invites us to know him, to have a relationship with him, to seek him in every moment. He desires that we make ourselves fully available to Him as he has made himself fully available to us.
Being fully available to God means that we withhold nothing from him. It means that we meet his holy invitation to encounter and magnify the eternal greatness of all that He is with an invitation for him to come in and take over all that we are-as well as all that we aren’t. Worship is a choice. And true worship cannot happen if we’re unwilling to extend an invitation for God to come into our most vulnerable places and meet with us in our brokenness. True worship doesn’t happen when we get cleaned up or follow a formula. It happens when we offer ourselves-our whole selves-in complete surrender to the only One worthy to be praised. When we invite him into our depths, we’ll find that out of our darkness, a song will rise-a song of praise to the God of our lives.
-Laura
I absolutely love what Laura wrote–especially this line: “True worship doesn’t happen when we get cleaned up or follow a formula. It happens when we offer ourselves-our whole selves-in complete surrender to the only One worthy to be praised. When we invite him into our depths, we’ll find that out of our darkness, a song will rise-a song of praise to the God of our lives.”
John said in his sermon that healthy thoughts around worship and God lead to a healthy outward expression of worship.  Psalm 95 illustrates this beautifully.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. —the invitation to express inward joy with outward singing and the acknowledgement of God’s strength and our salvation with outward shouting.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  –the invitation to enter His presence with a heart filled with gratitude (inward) which spills out in an outward expression of enthusiastic praise expressed through music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. This is the “why”.  Only He is worthy.

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. The invitation to look around and acknowledge His greatness through all that He has made…

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; The invitation to respond to His greatness by bowing down, kneeling in worship before Him.

For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. This is the “why”. The Psalmist has taken us from God’s huge greatness to His intimacy with us as our Maker, our caretaker.

 

Today, if only you would hear his voice, do not harden your hearts… And then this caution. Do not harden your hearts.  We have a choice.

Hard heartedness is the opposite of vulnerability. Laura wrote above:

John used a word today when describing how we are to worship that causes many of us to cringe a bit. He used the word “vulnerable”. He said that in surrendering our lives in worship, we have to “let go, be vulnerable, be willing to look foolish”. That doesn’t sit well with us. No one wants to look foolish. And we certainly don’t like feeling vulnerable.

However, David, in writing Psalm 95 tells us to sing, to shout, to make music, to praise enthusiastically (extol), to bow down, to kneel. In other scriptures we are told to clap, to raise our hands, to dance, to speak out loud– does your daily worship look anything like that? If not, would you be willing to let go? Would you be willing to become vulnerable? Would you be willing to let your inward thoughts about God pour out and express themselves through your physical body?

I did not grow up in a church tradition that included outward expressions of worship; but as I began to grow and experience more and more freedom in Christ, my outward expressions became a natural outflow of my gratitude, my awe and my love for God. The every day miracle of being able to enter God’s presence without fear still inspires awe. The beauty that is all around still inspires awe and delight. For example, this morning as I was driving to work, the full moon was popping off of the early morning deep blue sky in front of me, and in the rear view mirror the sky was becoming bright red as the sun was rising behind me. I laughed out loud, and audibly said “Wow! Thank you, Jesus! Beautiful!” It just came out!  He amazes me.

What are your thoughts about Him? And do they flow out through your body?  Do you struggle with hard heartedness in your worship?  If so, ask God fulfill His promise of Ezekiel 36:26 in you– And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 
And then heed the word in 1st Thessalonians 5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit.” 

I promise you, if you will give full bodily expression to your worship– your daily worship and your corporate worship–your spiritual life will change. I don’t understand the mystery of it, but I know that it is true.  Will you enter in?

–Luanne

Daily Chasing After God

When John shared Isaiah 58:2  in his sermon yesterday: “For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways” at first glance that verse appeared to be indicating that God’s people were getting it right, but then John pointed out the word “seem”.  As I pondered that word, I realized that it always leaves room for doubt. That one word opened up a plethora of thoughts for me.

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

Jesus quotes this Isaiah passage in Matthew 15 by saying:  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

To be a hypocrite means to be an actor; to play a role. I have to admit that for a number of years, my Christianity was a religion that looked much like that. I went through the motions, but my heart was not in it. I wanted my heart to be in it, but striving and “doing” to create a relationship with God will never work. Striving and “doing” can not bring life.  I was going after approval, I was going after reward from God, I was going through my checklist–quiet time, check; said a prayer, check; went to church, check; but it was dead. It was religion. It was a heavy weight. It did not produce the fruit of the Spirit. It did not produce transformation.  It was exhausting, and it was unsustainable. So, when John was talking about daily chasing after God, and differentiating between religion and relationship, the importance of the order of things began to take shape in my mind.

In John 14:15 Jesus says:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  (ESV)

I used to look at that verse and interpret it as meaning “prove you love me by keeping my commandments”; however,  I now see it as saying if I love Jesus, truly love him, the natural outflow of that love will be keeping his commandments. It’s not a heavy weight to bear. It’s a beautiful relationship based on His love for me and my love for Him in return. Here’s the order: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Therefore, knowing that He pursues me, and then pursuing Him, chasing after Him daily, produces exactly what John said.

Chasing after God daily creates obedience–not out of “have to” but out of “want to”.  Like David, I long for my heart to beat in time with  the heartbeat of God (Acts 13:22 MSG).  I’m continuing to discover that doing life His way is a delight. The transformation and fruit that come from delighting in God and seeking His kingdom first have no equal in this world. When I stop seeking His “stuff” and just seek “Him”, I learn that He truly is the reward, He is the treasure, He is the prize. Again–the order of things–“Seek first the Kingdom of God…”(Matthew 6:33)”

Chasing after God daily creates longing–I found the words “soul and spirit” in Isaiah 26:9a worthy of a second glance. “At night my soul longs for You. Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently.”  I believe that the soul is the part of us that houses our emotions, our will, our personality, in other words it is the intangible part of us that makes us who we are. I believe that  the spirit part of us is what God breathes life into when we come into relationship with Christ, and is therefore the part of us that connects with Him; my spirit connected to His Spirit. When Jesus tells the woman at the well that the Father longs for worshipers who will worship in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), He is saying–come to me with your soul bared, come honestly, come transparently, come authentically, come ready to connect your spirit to mine. Don’t come as an “actor”, don’t come because you “should”. Come, every day because I love you, and you love me.  Bring every feeling, every doubt, every celebration, every decision, all of you to me, and I will meet you there. He tells us: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah. 29:13)  Nothing could be better!   The daily dependency, the daily chase–this is where life is found. He alone is life.

Have you learned to chase Him daily? Tell us about your journey from “have to” to “want to” and the fruit that has come from it.

–Luanne

Like Luanne, I spent many years “doing” religion rather than pursuing Jesus in relationship. My checklist was long. My smile was plastic. My heart was hard, but longing to be soft–even though I didn’t yet know what that meant. I lived fake-and, for a very long time, I wasn’t even aware of it.

Contained within the inauthentic faith I was living was the lie that I had to mute my questions, manage my emotions and protect my heart-even from God. Especially from Him… Because I flat out did not trust Him.

John talked about asking the questions and fully feeling our emotions in an authentic way. He talked about this in the same part of the message where he talked about our longing for God, the depths of that longing, the seeking in the morning and at night and in every moment. This is not a direct quote, but this is what I heard and wrote in my notes:

“God is big enough to handle every emotion contained within our longing”.

I believe our longing for God is ultimately what drives us to keep chasing after that something we are seeking to fulfill us. We don’t always know that it’s God we’re longing for, but we all have that thing that drives us, that thing we need to find fulfillment.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, out of the Amplified Bible, it says, He [God] has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]…

So our deepest longing, whether we recognize it as such or not, is actually to know God and live out of the eternal rather than the temporal. And that longing, it contains every emotion we feel. Because God created us that way. Our deepest sorrow, our richest joy, our frustration and anger and all of the “why” questions that flow from that place–they live within our ultimate longing for what we were actually created for. Our longing is bursting at the seams with emotion because our longing is actually for the eternal–and only the eternal can handle the full weight of our God-given emotions.

So this longing where our wildest emotions live, it leads us one of two ways–either we seek to fulfill it in everything but God, to no avail, or we find it satisfied in God, as we daily chase after Him. And I have found that the crazy thing about finding that fulfillment in God is that it then produces something–a greater longing. Because experiencing Him always leaves us wanting more, this side of Heaven. While we’re living broken lives on a broken, fallen planet, our longing will never feel fully fulfilled. But as we get to know Him more, it’s not so much a restless, searching kind of longing. It becomes, instead, a longing pregnant with anticipation, anxiously awaiting the day when we will know fully as we are fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So, I’m asking myself again, and I’ll ask you, too: What are you chasing? What are you longing for? Is it God? What questions are you afraid to ask Him? What emotions do you try to hide from Him? He can handle all of the emotions contained within our longing. He gave them to us. Can we trust Him enough to give them back to Him in an authentic way?

-Laura

 

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The Dailies #1: Dependency

Give us today our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

I am so excited about this new series John began this weekend! The series is titled “The Dailies”. We began this weekend with Dependency and we will continue looking at daily habits that will give us the momentum we need to create traction in our lives.We are being invited to discover daily disciplines that lead to our becoming true disciples of Jesus.

So this week’s “daily” is dependency. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included the words “Give us today our daily bread”. John reminded us that this prayer is intended to be a reflection of dependency, not a demand. Because demands, well, they create expectations. Expectations, whether met or unmet, create reactions within us. Unmet expectations create disappointment, fear and resentment. When our expectations are met, however, it creates a sense of entitlement. We are tempted to think-especially when it comes to God-that we’ve found the formula, we’re doing something right. This sounds a whole lot like eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that we talked about last month. (That post can be found here: Two Trees)

Dependency, unlike demand, produces gratitude. Gratitude, by nature, is full of humility and void of demands. Grateful dependency acknowledges that we have need and that we cannot provide for our own need. It recognizes the Giver and thanks Him for the gifts. It lives in the now, in the present moment, and it lives fully alive and aware of this day.

John read this passage out of Deuteronomy:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.                                        Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (emphasis mine)

Cities you did not build… Houses filled with amenities you did not provide… Fresh, flowing water from wells you did not dig… A harvest you did not plant…

This short list applies to me and you, too, doesn’t it? In fact, I could add many more things that I have but did not provide for myself. The list of all that I have been given is extensive. What about you?

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord…

I believe that most who will read this are like me, in that excess is part of our lives. Excess in itself is not a bad thing.But we are in danger of forgetting the Lord when our dependency shifts from the Giver to what has been given. What do you do with your excess? What do I do with mine? Do we even see the excess that we possess or are we so living from a place of lack that we cannot see the abundance of what we’ve been given?

When John talked about our daily bread, he referenced Proverbs 30:8-9:

 … give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

He offered that when we live from a place of lack, when we desire excess so we can relax and live more comfortably, we completely bypass asking God for our daily bread and we ask for (demand, perhaps?) the entire bakery.

Here’s the thing about the bakery, though–it looks great and offers a sense of security, but it’s too much for one day. None of us need that much bread for today. There is so much excess in the bakery.

Yet, many of us have been given the whole bakery…

What are we doing with what we’ve been given? Do we even recognize that we have been given the bakery? There are so many thoughts swirling in my mind around this concept.

If God wants us to live dependent on Him for our daily bread, why has He given so many of us a whole bakery? What do we do with all the extra at the end of each day? Do we wrap it up safely and put it in the freezer to store it for another day? Just in case tomorrow’s manna doesn’t come?

Bakeries don’t save their excess bread. The mark of a good bakery is that it is filled with the freshest bread each day. Old bread gets stale and hard and eventually goes bad, regardless of how it is stored. Bakeries do one of two things with their leftovers:

They either throw it away… or they give it away

What are we doing with all of our excess? Are we trying to hoard it, save it, fearful of a day when we might find ourselves without enough? Are we eating our fill and carelessly discarding the rest? Or are we eating today’s bread with open hands and grateful hearts, living present in each moment, taking only what we need and giving the rest away?

John said, “Living in the moment today displaces the fears of tomorrow”, and that, “Daily dependence reminds us of God’s faithfulness”. He reminded us that today is all we have. Today is all we need. And today is all we can handle. He also said that what we do with our today impacts our tomorrow.

I can think of no better way to impact tomorrow than to give the excess of today away. To gratefully receive today’s bread, humbly take only what I need and trust that tomorrow’s manna will be enough. Trusting that God will show up again tomorrow allows us to live with open hands, willing to let go of the extra we don’t need so that someone else can have what they need. May our lives be marked by grateful dependency on the Giver of all that we need…

–Laura

Some years ago, my husband’s former college roommate came to visit us. We were hanging out in the kitchen, delicious food bubbling away on the stove–my high school age kids were in the kitchen with us and we were laughing and enjoying one another’s company. John Boy, as we affectionately call him, asked the question “Does the present really exist? Think about it…as seconds tick by it’s past, future, past, future, past, future…Is there really such a thing as the present?” Even though he was being silly, I pondered that question for years. I still ponder it from time to time.

In John Chapter 11, Martha is grieving and a little miffed at Jesus for not having shown up before her brother Lazarus died. She says to him…“Lord… if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Past tense. She goes on to say… “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Present tense. Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again, and her response takes her out of the present and into future tense: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Then Jesus makes a powerful, powerful statement:
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus refers to himself, his state of being in the present tense.

                                                  I AM.  

He tells us that present tense living, present tense believing in him, leads to life. The one who believes in me now, in this moment…

Isaiah 26:3 gives us a glimpse of what this looks like: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (ESV) The verbs are in the present tense.

As I write this, I am in my daughter’s house in Alabama with my precious 9 month old granddaughter. We live far away from her, so every moment we have together is precious. In the past, I have robbed myself of the gift of the present by living in countdown mode—”I only have this many days left, this many hours left”— I am through with that!!!! It robs me of the joy of this moment. So yesterday when she took a nap and held my hand for 30 minutes, I did not think about what I had to do next. I relished the moment. When I fed her and rocked her to sleep, I did not think about what I had to do next. The moment I was in was precious, so I chose to step out of time and allowed that moment to be all I focused on.

After listening to John’s sermon and being in a place to observe the actions, the total dependence  of this little one, I am keenly aware that she has no thought of ticking seconds. When she senses a need, she communicates that she has a need. When she plays, she constantly looks back to make sure that she is being watched– that she hasn’t been left alone, and (my favorite) she frequently crawls to me (or her mommy or daddy), climbs over our legs, connects with us by touch and then heads off again. She imitates our actions, our sounds as she learns to become like us, she responds to us as we respond to her, and in the really precious moments, this busy busy little girl rests in our arms and lets us hold her close.

My desire is to remember this–to live like this in my relationship with Christ–connecting with him, taking my needs to Him, trusting Him to be present, not worried about yesterday or tomorrow, but knowing that He is more than sufficient in the now. I want to live in the “I Am” of Him-trusting Him for today’s bread, knowing that His presence In The Now is more than sufficient for all the moments of life.

–Luanne

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