A Balanced Life: Debt

Sunday, we had our third installment in the series A Balanced Life in which we are tackling difficult financial concepts and learning that how we handle our finances is intricately connected to our spiritual lives. God has much to say about money in His Word. Sunday’s sermon was an “ouch” sermon, as Pastor John talked about debt.

John told us that there are four negatives to debt:

1. Debt curses us. God chose Israel and established them as a people in order to make His name known throughout the world. He wanted them to live in total dependence upon Him, and He let them know what He wanted that dependence to look like. In the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy He says things to this like this: If you fully obey…the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth…ALL these blessings will come on you…you will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country…The fruit of your womb will be blessed, the crops of your land, the young of your livestock…Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed….the Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to…He will bless you in the land He is giving you…The Lord will establish you as His holy people if you walk in obedience to Him…The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of His bounty…You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.  

Being in a position to be a lender is the position of someone who is blessed. The borrower is in the opposite position. Borrowing indicates that things are going poorly, and borrowing brings more baggage than we want to acknowledge.

2. Debt enslaves us. Proverbs 22:7 states that “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

That’s pretty clear. For the last three years, I have attended the International Justice System’s (IJM) Global Prayer Gathering in Washington D.C.  IJM works on behalf of the poor who are subjected to violence through human trafficking, land-grabbing, and bonded labor slavery throughout the world. Learning about those issues, hearing the stories of, seeing the scars of and meeting people who used to belong to someone else is sobering—life changing. In the case of bonded labor slavery, a person in need is often “loaned” an amount of money ( i.e. for a daughter’s wedding, or the children’s education, etc.) and the “generous” lender “hires” the person, promising wages to make it possible for the borrower to pay the debt and promising a paying job once the debt is paid. What the borrower doesn’t know is that the  business owner will charge them exorbitant interest on their “loan”, or high prices for the equipment that they will need for their work, or charge them for the food they eat while they work, making it impossible to pay the loan. (The unjust share-cropping system after the abolishment of slavery in the US that went on well into the 20th century followed similar heinous practices.) The borrowers work constantly under threat of violence. They don’t get to go back home. They become slaves. Some of the people we’ve met at IJM are second and third generation slaves. They were born in the brick factory, or whichever business, and have never tasted freedom. This is a very real example of the borrower becoming slave to the lender. And it is the reality of the principle of borrowing for all of us. What we borrow does not belong to us. What we borrow belongs to our lender.  We work to pay it off over time, but as long as we owe, we are indebted to the real owner of the property, and ultimately at their mercy (or lack thereof).

3. Debt controls us. Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. (Pr. 25:28)

For many of us, the debt that we accrue is not an issue of need or desperate circumstances. For many of us, the reason that we have debt is because we lack self-control. We live in a world of glossy advertisements, shopping at the click of a button, delivery right to our homes, making it easier than ever to give in to the temptation of “I’ve got to have that now.” “That’s just what I need to make my life better.” Out of control spending can become addictive. And again, we place ourselves in vulnerable situations—like that of an unprotected city—when we choose to spend rather than save, when we choose to buy on impulse rather than pray and wait—when we choose discontentment because we don’t have that thing and we convince ourselves that we won’t be content until we do. Our personal greed feeds the greed of the lender—and greed—lack of self control—leads us nowhere good.

4. Debt robs us. The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down. (Pr. 21:20)

Debt robs us of the ability to be generous. In order to be generous we must have enough to give. We must live with margins—not spending all we have, not borrowing what we don’t have—if we want to be able to give money away. Giving away money when we owe money to someone else, means that we give away money that really isn’t ours to give.

Ouch, right?!

As I was praying through all of this, God brought Galatians 5:1 to mind…It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Because of the costly price Jesus paid so that we could have freedom, God does not want us in bondage to anything. Bondage of any sort, including monetary debt, becomes a yoke of slavery.  God wants us to depend upon Him, to lean into Him, to let Him be our provider, and to live with wisdom and self-control. He has given us self-control through His Holy Spirit (the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Gal. 5:22). We don’t do this journey alone. We don’t do it in our own strength. He is with us.

Pastor John didn’t leave us hanging after the four negatives. He also gave us tools on how to get ourselves out of debt.

1. Get a plan. Without a plan, nothing will get better.

2. Get on your knees. Surrender your life, your spending, your debt to God. Ultimately, debt is a spiritual issue. It is the result of trying to meet our own needs, or fulfill our own desires.

3. Get connected. Bring your situation into the light. We don’t like to talk about it. That truth right there is an indication that debt creates shame (not from God), causes us to feel like we must hide, that we’re stupid, or hopeless. None of that is true. Bringing the situation into the light, facing it head on, creating accountability with another person or in a group brings freedom and community as you work together to turn your situation around. Anything hidden in the dark gives it control over us. The truth will set us free.

God’s word teaches us that we all fall short of the mark of His holiness. Not being able to attain our own righteousness, we become slaves to sin and owe a debt to God that we will never be able to pay. God sent Jesus to pay our debt. Jesus, the sinless perfect Son of God, took our debt upon Himself and paid it in full. That price has been paid for everyone, but in order to receive the gift of that freedom, we must acknowledge our need. We must surrender our lives to Him. He desires that we become part of a community—that we do life together. And to grow in godliness, to be transformed into the image of Jesus, we must have a plan that includes spending time with Him, and making fellowship with Him priority.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness… (2 Peter 1:3)

God desires our freedom in all ways. We have a tendency to want this freedom to come automatically. We pray, “Lord, make me like Christ.”, or “Lord, help me get out of debt.”, and want an immediate transformation. However, both situations take time and require depending upon Him.  He has provided all that we need to live generous lives. He desires that we live for His kingdom and not be slaves to the systems of this world. He has graciously done His part. Will we depend on the divine power of His Spirit, line up our hearts and minds with His desires, choose to live counter-culturally and take the actions necessary to do ours?

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

The freedom has been provided. The choice to live in it is ours.


Luanne wrote, “Because of the costly price Jesus paid so that we could have freedom, God does not want us in bondage to anything. Bondage of any sort…becomes a yoke of slavery.” 

There is one-and only one-yoke that we put on after entering into relationship with Christ-His yoke. The easy yoke and light burden that He offers. (Matthew 11:30) I emphasized the word “offers”, because He never makes us submit to His yoke. He could–He bought us at the highest price. But after He purchased us with His own life,  He did the craziest thing… he set us free. We sing words like “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe…”, but we often live like we owe Him nothing. How quickly we forget what we used to be…

John used the words “curse”, “enslave”, “control”, and “rob” to illustrate the impact debt has on our lives, as Luanne highlighted above. Interestingly, those are the very same words I would use to describe our condition before we encountered Christ. Before our spiritual debt was paid, we were cursed-bound for death and eternal separation from God. We were slaves to sin before our chains were broken. We were completely controlled by our sinful, human nature-invaded and taken over by our flesh. Spiritual debt had robbed us, too-it robbed us of our ability to give love–we can only love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Until we knew Christ, we didn’t know love.

BUT, Jesus… When Jesus comes into our lives, when we acknowledge Him as our Lord, He changes ALL of that. When we come into relationship with Him, we surrender all that we are to all that He is. We give our whole lives back to God–our rightful owner who could have replaced our enslavement to sin with slavery to Him, but instead gives us the freedom to choose. That alone blows my mind and could be a whole other post in itself, so for now, I’ll leave that there. But when we accept the gift of life and salvation that He has provided for us, we are essentially saying, “I am yours. I belong to you. You are my Lord, my Master.” And He gives us a new name. He renames us as he takes the weight of our curse, breaks the chains of our slavery, frees us from bondage to our flesh, and enables us to love and live given. From that point on, we are known by our good name that He’s given-a name that includes words like children, co-heirs, friend, Beloved, bride, and so many more. This new name He gives us cannot be taken away.

Pastor John said on Sunday, “Debt targets your good name”. And that sent my mind spinning… We have an enemy who does the same. He targets our good name. He can’t take it away, but he can sure try to cover it with blemishes. If we resist the yoke that Jesus offers, resist fully submitting to Him as our Lord (which means Master), our resistance, our desire for control over our own lives, can open a door for us to be drawn into the form of slavery named Debt. If we allow ourselves to become indebted to anything other than Jesus, we are choosing to walk back into the slavery that He freed us from–not spiritually, but in our physical lives. Our enemy cannot drag us back to our fallen spiritual condition. We are sealed in Christ.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-22) But, if we allow him to, he can influence our physical lives, marking our outward lives with the same bondage and slavery that defined our spiritual selves prior to encountering Jesus. 

I think that the most sinister piece of being indebted-whether it be spiritual or financial-is that it robs us of our ability to live given. Living given is what most identifies us as followers of Christ. Whether it be love, forgiveness, grace, time or finances, followers of Jesus ought to be the best givers–because we are to model our lives after the Greatest Giver who has withheld from us no good thing-even His very own Son. Living given is an outpouring of all that we are in every area of life, every situation we encounter. In Ann Voskamp’s stunning book, The Broken Way, she writes these words:

Live given… Here is my brokenness… Here is my battered life, here is my bruised control, here are my fractured dreams, here is my open hand, here is all that I have, here is my fragile, surrendered heart, here I am, a living sacrifice. Broken. Given. Living given means breaking down all the thickened walls and barriers around your heart with this hammer of humility and trusting the expansiveness of the broken-wide-open spaces of grace and communion.

Could it be that our debt reveals our fear?

Perhaps our fear of losing control… or our fear of living out the broken vulnerability we are called to in Christ? Is our acquiring-all of our getting, needing, hoarding-simply our attempt to escape living broken and given? In the same book I referenced above, Ann writes this:

When I’m no longer afraid of brokenness, I don’t have to control or possess anything–dreams or plans or people or their perceptions. I can live surrendered. Cruciform. Given. This feels like freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…

Our God desires that we live given lives–grateful for the freedom that was bought for us–that testify to the extravagant, generous nature of our good Father.

So how do we get there? How do we get to the place where our physical lives mirror the freedom and victory we’ve been given spiritually?

Luanne wrote about the tools John presented us with on Sunday, and I’m going to reiterate them here. We have to get a plan and we have to get on our knees. These two go hand in hand in my mind. I think the first place to go with our shortcomings is always to our gracious Father who will lead us through His Spirit. And I know that any plan I make might not line up with His–Many plans are in a man’s mind, But it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand (be carried out). Proverbs 19:21 AMP--so I don’t want to make any plan without first getting on my knees before Him. And after that, we get connected. Not superficially, either. Deeply, authentically connected to others. Like Luanne said, “Anything hidden in the dark gives it control over us. The truth will set us free.” We have to own what we owe. Even when we are in debt up to our eyeballs and don’t actually own anything we have, we can own our sin and our mistakes. And it’s great to do this with our God, but He doesn’t desire that we stop there. James 5:16 in the Amplified Bible reads like this:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power].

These are the steps to freedom, friends. The steps toward living the abundant, overflowing, generous lives God wants us to live. Can we let go of our sense of control (we’re clearly out of control anyway-our lives and bank accounts are the evidence of this), find the courage to face our fears, and take these steps toward living fully free, given lives? Jesus didn’t only die to give us eternity with Him. He died that we might live in the fullness of His life in the here and now, lives that point to His way, His kingdom.

Jesus paid it all-all to Him I owe.


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I can’t help but smile hugely when I think back over Angela’s incredible story. As I watched her giggle with what I can only describe as a free and innocent giddyness, I marveled again at the goodness of our God… The way He redeems our stories and leads us into freedom and then shows us how to lead others to freedom through our own stories. Angela said so many profound things, full of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He moved through her today-a broken vessel willing to shine for His Glory.

She wasn’t always a broken vessel, though… She said at one point, “I had my walls and nobody was breaking in.” 

John said later on, “When we try to hide and protect ourselves, we actually build a prison around ourselves.”

When we live with fortified walls that can’t be penetrated, nothing bad gets in–but nothing, good or bad, can get out.

John referred to the story, from Mark 14, of the woman that anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. This alabaster jar of hers, full of perfume, could have been sold for more than a year’s wages. It was quite possibly the most valuable thing she had.

And she chose to break the jar and pour it all on the head of Jesus.

She was criticized by many who were present for her waste of what was so valuable. But she was accepted and affirmed by Jesus in response to her lavish and abundant gift.

Brokenness always leads to abundance… It is only through the breaking that new life is born.

The woman who (unknowingly) anointed Jesus for His burial had no idea that her gift would prepare Him for what He would soon experience. She had no idea that she would be remembered throughout the ages for her extravagant gift of love. She was simply willing to break the outer wall so that what was so valuable could pour out. 

Friends, Angela was the alabaster jar with the hard shell. And her story is the valuable contents it held inside. And the same is true for you and for me… 

Living broken-leading with our brokenness-is not popular. It is often seen as weakness. It is anything but. When Angela’s walls came tumbling down, when her outer shell was broken into pieces, the Glory of God was free to flow into and out of her. He flowed into her and healed her heart. And healing–experiencing healing–unleashes you to really live. Now, Angela can lead with her whole truth. She has been set free. In the breaking, she discovered the reality that her story, it holds so much value. It may be the most valuable thing she has, short of Jesus Himself. John said at one point, “Others need us to acknowledge and own our own stories”. He is absolutely right. It is through shared stories that we can identify with others and find the acceptance and healing we so desperately need…

But we live in a world that throws away broken things-and broken people.

So what do we do? We tend to hide, minimize and suppress our stories. We wear the masks and fortify the walls. And prevent by our fortified walls not only our own healing, but also the healing of others who Jesus wants to reach through our stories.

John shared a passage from Bryan Stevenson’s (AMAZING) book Just Mercy (seriously-go buy it!), and it speaks beautifully about our shared brokenness:

“I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”

We have a choice. Angela made hers. She let her walls fall and let the priceless story that was hidden behind them flood out-onto and into the lives around her. She chose freedom from her self-imposed prison, and now she helps open the cells of others and leads them into the life she has found. The life of abundance that only comes on the other side of the breaking.

What will we choose? Will we have the courage to acknowledge our brokenness and move toward freedom together? Or will we hide what is most valuable about ourselves-the story that is unique to each one of us-behind fortified walls?

I pray we have the guts and grit-and grace-to step out and let our jars be broken in the presence of Jesus, so that we can see our brokenness be transformed into abundance and freedom, too.


Angela—a name that means “messenger”, “one who has a message”. I love that! I remember when Angela showed up to our women’s class eight years ago, and when she says that she cried through the whole thing, she truly cried through the whole thing—for weeks. She barely spoke at all, and she left quickly when we were through. It’s hard to believe that the woman I just described is now the vibrant, joy-filled, message bearing woman who shared her story with us today. But that’s the beauty of the transforming power of Jesus.

There are so many things that I love about Angela’s story. Life had been hard, she was broken. As Laura wrote above, Angela had walls of self-protection that she lived within, yet she knew she was searching for something—searching for value, self-worth, love, acceptance, healthy community, purpose…

She had tried to figure out who she was, but somewhere along the way had lost touch with herself. She had tried becoming who she thought others wanted her to be in order to earn their love, and further lost herself. She had lost her voice, was unable to speak up for herself. She tried to find her sense of worth through someone else, and it all fell flat.

And then, God used a scrapbooking friend to begin having real conversations with Angela. That friend invited her to church. At church Angela was accepted exactly as she was. She didn’t have to explain her tears, she didn’t have to say anything. She was allowed to be exactly where she was, and women began to gently reach out to her. One of the women coaxed Angela into staying for the church service and promised to sit with her. After a little while, a couple of other women became Angela’s safe people in the pew. As the mask began to come off, and the walls began to come down, Angela began to experience love and acceptance. God’s healing work had begun.

Angela decided to move out of her comfort zone a bit and signed up for the church softball team. That ended up being a great choice, since she went on to marry the coach!

The softball team provided new people to get to know. From there she signed up for a small group, she volunteered in the nursery, she helped with Awana’s, signed up for a LIFE group where God set her free from past shame, in her words she broke free. Her past no longer shapes her present, she is living in the now with Jesus. From the LIFE group she went on to lead a LIFE group, and now she leads the women’s ministry in our church.  Amazing!!!

So, what do I love about this? I love that God used scrapbooking and softball in Angela’s story of redemption. It’s a reminder that God can use whatever we love to do as a means to reach people for His kingdom.

I love that I am part of a church body that refuses to “play” church—we want to be real, and Angela experienced love and acceptance when she came in. No one asked her to clean up her act or get it together because we are a body that admits we all have a story, we all have brokenness, and we all need Jesus.  We’ve learned that when we take our masks off it gives others permission to do the same, and in that environment healing is found.

I love that Angela pushed herself beyond her comfort zone, and in pushing past that fear, she found life.

When John asked Angela to share a word with us she said: We all have a story. We may be affected by choices done by others to us or choices we made ourselves—but know that Jesus loves you no matter what. You are worthy of love, of friendship.  Come out of your comfort zone. What He’s done in me is amazing, and he can do it in you too. Let go of your pride and let the walls come down. You have to learn to feel. God has so much in store for us. God has changed me, and He can change you too. You can’t be worried about what people think about you; it’s all about your relationship with God—you have to let it all go.

John reminded us that in the midst of our hiding we create a prison for ourselves—Angela experienced that—but God sees the real us hiding behind those self-made walls. He knows who we are behind the masks. He draws us out, and when we finally take our masks off and become real, we recognize others whose masks are coming off and we run to them full of compassion. It’s one of the most exhilarating parts of being a Christ follower! We truly are the fellowship of the broken, and it’s in brokenness that communion is found.

Here’s what’s true—we know the One who loves, who restores, who heals, who forgives—the world needs to know Him, and in order for Him (Jesus) to be made known we need to be the maskless. And what Jesus can do through the maskless who aren’t afraid to share their stories of brokenness and redemption is beyond our wildest dreams.

Thanks, Angela, for being maskless and showing us the beauty of Christ in you!


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Two Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



Imagine Living a New Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. A new LIFE
  2. A new IMAGE
  3. A new SPIRIT

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

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

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

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

“that they may”

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

1 Peter 2:9 reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…or not to.

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

We may.

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

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

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

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

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

We may.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Imagine If…So that…

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

1. Know God

2. Find Freedom

3. Discover Purpose

4. Make a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

So, where is “there”?

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

At the cross of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been there?