Dear Church #3: Philippians 1:19-30

 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Phil. 1:27a)

 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him… (Phil. 1:29)

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:10, Message)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:11)

 

Luanne left us with some questions to ponder last week:

“Is our love for Jesus and our desire to make His love known to the world the driving force of our lives? Are we willing to be hated because we look so much like Him that the world, including the religious community, doesn’t understand us at all?” 

She also explained to us what “agape” love looks like–and that God loves every single human being with that kind of love. And she challenged us to do the same. To love unconditionally regardless of whether or not we agree with positions, orientations, political leanings, ideology, theology, or anything else that would drive us apart rather than together.

And this week, Pastor John took it one step further…

Are we willing to not only love all others, but to live out the mission of Christ to the point that we would die on behalf of them, the way that He gave His life for us?

There are some new questions rolling around in my head this week…

What are you living for?

What are you willing to die for?

What do you really believe?

Where does your citizenship lie?

Are you willing to suffer and to consider suffering a gift?

And a repeat from last week: Who are you offending?

Philippians 1:21 is a verse many of us are familiar with. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In communities of faith, we hear it, say it, sing it–but do we live it? Do we even understand what it means? Or is it one of those verses we throw around without pausing to consider the implications it holds for our day-to-day lives? 

Pastor John broke it down for us on Sunday. The words in the verse are fairly straightforward, with the exception of one. That Paul chose to use the word “Christos“, translated “Christ” in English, is what makes this particular verse so important. The word carries within it Jesus’ identity as Messiah, deliverer, freedom-giver. John said that it refers to the purpose and mission of Jesus, with the idea of modeling what Jesus is all about. And what is His mission? As we heard on Sunday, the mission of God, carried out through the person of Jesus, is to set the captives free. ALL the captives. “To live is Christ” is to live as He lived. To embody His mission. It is living in such a way that we leverage all that we are on behalf of all others. It is to die to ourselves and to our inclinations toward comfort, ease, and fluffy faith. It is to identify with our Savior, who so identifies with His people that, when they met on the road to Damascus, He asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting ME?” We are invited to take all that Jesus did (and does) for us… and do the same for others.

The invitation is costly. It is hard. It stands in opposition to every self-preserving and self-promoting notion that drives every one of us. But according to Paul, the invitation to suffer is a gift.

 

 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him… (Phil. 1:29)

The word “granted” in the Greek is charizomai , which is defined this way:

“to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favour to, gratify, to show one’s self gracious, kind, benevolent, to grant forgiveness, to pardon, to give graciously, give freely, bestow”

The root word of charizomai is charis, which is most often translated “grace”. I love that. Jesus has graced us, gifted us with the opportunity to believe in him. We learned on Sunday that this is not say-the-sinner’s-prayer and stamp your heavenly passport belief. In this passage of scripture, when Paul writes about being “convinced” and “believing”, it goes way beyond head-and even heart-knowledge. It is a belief that fully trusts, that stakes everything on that belief, and that takes steps to act on it. When Jesus invites us to believe in Him, this is what we are invited to. Not a systematic theology of rules that keep our behavior in check. Rather, a belief that burns like fire within us and moves us out toward the margins in the footsteps of the One who couldn’t stay away from the margins and the marginalized He found there.

I think in our western understanding of Christianity, we readily accept the believing but take a hard pass on the suffering. But if we really understood what true belief entails, we would find that believing and suffering are branches of the same vine. In fact, the kind of belief I described above will almost certainly lead us into suffering. Into persecution, even. It definitely won’t keep us “safe”. But Paul calls it a gift, a grace, to have the opportunity to believe in and suffer for the One who gave everything for us. Pastor John said on Sunday that most followers of Jesus would agree that the cross is at the center of our faith. But many would say that is because it’s where we find forgiveness and salvation, where we come to the end of ourselves and believe in Jesus as our Savior. John didn’t disagree that the cross is at the center of our faith, but he asserted that it’s not an end, but a beginning. A way of life. The place where belief and suffering come together to lead us into new life in Christ–a life that we get to give on behalf of others.

Paul names this invitation a gift. Grace. Why? Let’s see what Jesus had to say about it…

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:10-11)

The Message words verse 10 this way:

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. 

Jesus says we are blessed when we are persecuted because of righteousness, when we’re insulted because of Him. That the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are committed to God, and that the persecution drives us deeper into God’s Kingdom.

The gift is blessing, presence, the very kingdom of heaven. The word for “blessed” in this verse is also defined as “fortunate” and “happy”. I think it’s important that we understand the meaning of a few other words in this passage, too.

What does it mean to be persecuted, really? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean…

Stu Garrard, author of Words From the Hill (a fantastic book that takes a fresh look at the Beatitudes), writes in the book about a conversation he had with Jeremy Courtney, the CEO of Preemptive Love:

“I asked him [Jeremy] about persecution and what it looks like to him. [He said:]

There’s a risk with this conversation. It’s like walking on a razor’s edge. There’s a way to talk about persecution that sort of gives us permission to become irreverent and jerks when we don’t get our own way. Not winsome or loving or creative or culturally engaged, and if we get pushed back we say, “See, they are persecuting us! Look at them–look at what they’ve done wrong.” When the truth is that we’re not loving and we’re not reaching out.”

We live in a time where real persecution does exist all over the world. Many people experience it for a variety of reasons. Followers of Jesus are still dying as martyrs in some countries. But sometimes, we do exactly what Jeremy articulated. We cry persecution and point fingers at those who won’t submit to our demands or bend to our agenda or who simply don’t let us have our way. That’s not persecution.

The word translated “persecute” is the Greek word dioko. It means:

to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away; to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after; to pursue (in a hostile manner) in any way whatever to harass

This definition is fairly broad and applicable to a lot of situations, except for the why that Jesus outlined.

He says in these two verses, “because of righteousness” and “because of Me”. The word used for righteousness here is dikaiosyne. The root of this word means “equity”. So, “blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness” is not about our good behavior or our personal holiness being challenged by the “bad” behavior of others, but rather, it’s about making things right for all people, everywhere. It’s about leveraging our lives the way that Jesus did. And then He goes on to say, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me…” The “because of Me” is extremely important. It goes back to what Luanne wrote about last week. Why do people hate us? Is it because we are embodying the mission of Jesus and working on behalf of freedom and equity for all people? If so, Jesus says we are blessed, and the kingdom is ours. But if we are hated because we look too little like Jesus, we can’t say that we are suffering persecution. Being told to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is not the same as being persecuted. Giving others whose lifestyle we disagree with basic human rights does not mean Christians are being persecuted. Taking “under God” out of the pledge of allegiance or “in God we trust” off of our currency, as some have suggested we do, does not equal persecution. Separating religion and government (church & state) does not mean Christians are being persecuted. Instituting laws that protect and make provision for vulnerable “others” is not persecution of our “values”. And Starbucks not writing “Merry Christmas” on their cups is absolutely NOT persecution. This is a short list, but I’ll stop here. I think you get my point.

Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted because of Him. As we understand more and more about who He is–His ways, His kingdom, and His love for ALL people–and as we identify with Him and take on His mission of setting captives free, persecution will happen. Because we’ll be living out the radical ways of Jesus. But NOT because our happy, religious, self-righteous, rule-following bubbles are being popped.

Stu Garrard wrote these words:

“As we see the world differently, we can resist the urge to go take sides, even though that’s the path of least resistance. When we find ourselves living as peacemakers in the world, this kind of living so easily leads to persecution because we all know the way the world works–it wants us to pick a side and it’s not going to go down so well when we don’t pick a side and we want to see everyone flourish. And so then we find ourselves not being picked for a side, because fear runs the show, and saying and showing with our lives that love actually casts out fear–well, that’s pretty bad for business. So persecution for us might not look like it does for others in far-off lands. It might just be that we are excluded from the dominant story of the dominant culture… Holy troublemakers are people who are compelled to live a life worthy of a pushback–a life worthy of persecution… They are often misfits and misunderstood. Holy troublemakers understand that where there’s persecution, there is suffering. And when we suffer for the cause of righteousness and justice, we connect with the suffering of the greatest misfit of all time.”

So. To live is Christ… To truly live is to be connected to the heart of Jesus, to His mission of setting captives free. To leverage our lives on behalf of others because we know that the invitation to belief and suffering is a gift of grace. To endure persecution because we look and act too much like the One we follow. To truly live is to die to ourselves and to awaken to new life that freely gives itself away so others can live. And we’re meant to live this way together. 

Dear Church, can you imagine how the world would change if we actually lived this way? It makes my heart pound to think about it. The invitation has been given to each of us. What is our response?

–Laura

To live is Christ…

He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’  (Luke 4:17-20)

Welcome to the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven coming on earth. Welcome to the new way of doing life.

After Jesus spoke these words, the listeners in the synagogue were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips, yet a few short verses later the crowd was furious with Jesus, so furious that they drove him out of town and wanted to throw him down a cliff. Why? Because he reminded the Israelites in the synagogue that in Elijah’s time, during severe famine, God did not send Elijah to help an Israelite–God sent Elijah to help a widow in Zarephath, and God did not heal Hebrew lepers through Elisha, but Naaman, the Syrian, was healed.

His listeners could not believe that God might include the “outsiders” in His kingdom, and it made them murderously furious. There are things going on this very day that are contrary to the principles of the Kingdom of God. There are hot-button issues that are creating fury. Where do you land on these issues? What are you wrestling with?

To live is Christ…

Laura reminded us above that Paul’s choosing to use the word “Christ” indicates His purpose, His mission, His ways.  Dear Church–His mission is what we are to be about. Jesus’ heart for everyone put him at odds with those who wanted him to fit in their box. And on the day He was crucified, He still had a heart of compassion for those who misunderstood–Father forgive them…(Luke 23:34). 

The Apostle Paul, Peter, John and others model for us that when they were persecuted because of the mission of Jesus, they did not respond in hateful ways hollering about their rights. They continued to talk about Jesus. They shared with their hostile listeners how to come into a relationship with Him. Some did. Others had them beaten, thrown into prison, and killed.

Dear Church–whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Ph 1:27)

“conduct yourselves” literally means in the Greek  be a citizen of…

So here is the question: Which kingdom do we exalt most by the way we live?  Do we understand what it means to truly live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Dear Church– it doesn’t look like the systems of the world. We have got to know this. We have got to know this. We have got to know this.

Paul encourages the church to:

Stand firm in one spirit

To contend together as one person for the faith of the gospel

To stand courageously, not being frightened by those who oppose us. (1:27)

What is he saying?  He is saying–Dear Church, be unified around the message and mission of Christ; fight together as one for those around you to believe, to have faith, to be convinced that God loves them; let them know that the crucifixion of Jesus is the turning point, the veil has been torn, there is now no separation between God and humankind, and invite them into a new life fueled by the Holy Spirit, full of God’s love and divine purpose which is available for everyone. Teach them to love, to minister to the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed, and to live and work for the flourishing of everyone. Yes, everyone.

To do this, we must each know the real Jesus. Laura wrote about this above and I want to reiterate it; to believe in Jesus is not about having the right knowledge about Him. It’s not being able to recite the apostle’s creed or any other list. Belief/faith is conviction that leads to action.

Brennan Manning in his book “The Signature of Jesus” writes…”that Jesus marveled at the Roman centurion’s ‘faith’ means that he was surprised by the man’s deep trust, not by the way he could rattle off a list of beliefs…And when Jesus reproved the disciples for their ‘lack of faith,’ he meant their lack of trust and courage…Faith was courageous trust in Jesus and in the Good News which he lived and preached.”

Do we know Jesus well enough to be courageous for Him and His ways? His all inclusive, loving ways? Do we care about people more than we care about policies? Are we willing to be courageous, to be different, to be opposed?

I find it sobering to think of the visual that the Philippian church must have had when they read what Paul was saying to them about contending together for Jesus.

Philippi was a Roman colony with a Roman arena in the midst of it. The Roman arena was the pinnacle of Roman culture in colonized cities. The power of Rome was displayed in the arenas. Messages from Caesar were delivered in the arenas. Jesus’ followers were put to death in the arenas.

Paul doesn’t tell the believers in Philippi  to fight back against Rome. He tells them to contend together so that others will see Jesus and give their lives to Him. He tells them to be courageous as they are opposed. And, as Laura wrote above, Paul reminds them that they have been graced with the opportunity to not only believe in Christ, but to suffer for Him. The Message translation writes it like this: There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. (v. 29)

To be a follower of Jesus is to live a selfless life. There is cost involved. Pastor John pointed out that I cannot live for Jesus and for myself at the same time. I cannot live for others and for myself at the same time.

He pointed out that our “arena” is where we live, wrestle, fall, fail, get back up, grow, die…  My arena is my life, your arena is your life. Our “contending as one” arena is the Church. How are we living in our arenas?  Are we letting the culture of Christ shape our arenas? Are the spectators, the citizens of this world, seeing Jesus?

Dear Church–Jesus told us that the world will hate us for doing life His way. The world will hate us for righteousness sake. The world will hate for for being rightly related with God and leveraging our lives to be rightly related with others. Are we willing to be misunderstood for the sake of His kingdom? Are we willing to be persecuted for His name’s sake?  If so, Jesus tells us that we will be blessed.

Sacrifice, suffering, joy, it all goes together. And as we lay our lives down and lift the life of Jesus up, we become the answer to His prayer…may Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…and we give all we are to move toward the glorious day when the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ… (Rev. 11:15)

Dear Church–conduct yourselves (be a citizen) worthy of the gospel of Christ…

To live is Christ…

–Luanne

Dear Church #2- Philippians 1:12-18

There are some messages that I believe are of such dire importance that my heart burns within me and I want to burst into tears over the gravity and importance of us–the people who belong to Jesus and His Kingdom– really getting it. This is one of those messages.

Jesus prayed in John 17:14 …I have given them your word and the world has hated them…,

and in John 15:18 he tells his disciples …if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…

Paul wrote the book of Philippians while he was in prison. Prisons were not unfamiliar territory to Paul. Beatings, floggings, stoning–these were not unfamiliar to Paul. They were not unfamiliar to Jesus and many of Jesus’ early followers, including the apostles who walked with Him. The world and its system hated them.

Why?

Paul himself hated them before he came to know Jesus.  The followers of Jesus threatened the status quo of the religious community, and they threatened the status quo of the Roman government. Their message of love, of inclusion, of grace, of dignity for all people, of Jesus as Lord was threatening to those who held power–they might have to relinquish some of that power to do life Jesus’ way.

Paul, after his encounter with Jesus, was radically transformed. Once he met  Jesus his life became all about other people meeting  Jesus, and as a result, he became one of the hated. But he didn’t hate in return. Instead he used every opportunity given him to share Jesus. In Philippians 1:12 he writes: …what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 

…in chains for Christ. For Christ. FOR.

Speaking of the modern American, primarily white evangelical church…what are we known for? What does the world hate us for?  Is it because we look too much like Jesus? Or is it because we look too little like Jesus? Are we hated for the right reasons?

I once read that today’s Christians are discipled more by Fox News, CNN, or other media outlets than by Jesus. It’s important for each of us to ask ourselves who we are giving permission to shape our minds, our thought processes, our hearts, our “fors” and “againsts”.

Each of us needs to know who Jesus is and what the whole context of the word of God says. In Acts 17:11 Luke writes, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Let’s choose to be of noble character, ask the Holy Spirit to teach us,  and each take responsibility for searching the scriptures, beginning with the four gospels and then reading and studying the rest of the Bible through the lens of Jesus and the new covenant established in His blood.

John wrote in John 3:16 that…God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Many of us know this verse by heart and it is precious to us. But how many of us know the verse that comes directly after? John 3:17 says…for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  We personalize verse 16- thank you God for loving me and giving Jesus for me and giving me eternal life–and ignore verse 17. We go about condemning and “othering” those different from us forgetting that God so loved the world means everyone.

Author Anne Lamott writes: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Ouch!

Let’s do some holy squirming and look more closely at who God loves and who He wants to have a relationship with. (Just know–I’m squirming too.)

God loves every tribe, nation, and people group across the face of the globe.

God loves men. God loves women.

God loves Muslims. God loves Buddhists. God loves Atheists.

God loves Fundamentalists. God loves Conservatives. God loves Liberals.

God loves Democrats. God loves Republicans.

God loves Donald Trump, God loves Barack Obama, God loves Hilary Clinton, God loves Bernie Sanders, God loves Vladimir Putin, God loves Kim Jong Un and every other government leader past, present, future.

God loves unborn babies, God loves doctors who perform abortions, God loves women who have had abortions. (14 or so years ago, the Focus on the Family statistic of Christian women who have had abortions was one out of three. If this is you, know that God loves you.)

God loves victims of human trafficking. God loves human traffickers.

God loves porn actors and actresses. God loves the people who exploit them, God loves the people who support the industry by watching, spending their money, and gratifying the flesh.  (According to Barna research 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past. If this is you, know that God loves you.)

God loves those who have been betrayed. God loves those who have committed adultery.

God loves those who have been divorced. (Before and including the 1970’s, divorced people were excluded from many churches, barred from being in church leadership including lay leadership, and could not serve as pastors. Some churches still hold to this today. If this is you, know that God loves you.)

God loves every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, + person. (Many churches exclude and send messages of hate to the LGBTQ+ community. If this is you, know that God loves you.)

God loves every person who adamantly opposes the LGBTQ+ community. God loves every person who wholly affirms the LGBTQ+ community.

God loves every unarmed black man/boy/woman shot by a police officer. God loves every police officer who shot an unarmed black man/boy/woman.

God loves every police officer shot by an angry anti-police protester. God loves every angry anti-police protester who shot a police officer.

God loves every person who peacefully protests inequality and police brutality by kneeling for the national anthem. God loves every person who believes kneeling is disrespectful to the military and the flag.

God loves every immigrant–documented or not. God loves every refugee seeking asylum at the border.

God loves each member of every family being separated by the government at the border. God loves every ICE officer, every border patrol officer, every policy maker whether those policies are good or harmful.

God loves those who believe the right to bear arms includes all arms. God loves those who believe gun control needs to be legislated.

God loves all those on death row. God loves the professional executioners.

God loves victims of abuse. God loves abusers.

No matter who you come across, or what story you read or hear–God loves all parties involved and He is for each of them.

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. (John 3:16-17)   

And Jesus says to us: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so also I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  “As” means in the same way.

We have some things to wrestle with, don’t we? Here’s further food for thought:

Do we agree that “Jesus wasn’t rejected by the hurting, he was rejected by the religious.” (Pastor John Marshall)

Do we agree that “those who follow Jesus should attract the same people Jesus attracted and frustrate the same people Jesus frustrated.”? (Shane Claiborne)

Do we agree that “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.”? (Thomas Merton)

Do we agree to, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough time with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”? (Josh Harris)

And do we agree that, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable in others, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”? (C. S. Lewis)

Do we sit in judgment like Simon the Pharisee who didn’t understand Jesus and judged Jesus by saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)?

Would we allow Jesus to teach us about love through the sinner as Jesus wanted to do with Simon when he said, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears an wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little…(44-48)?

Have we been forgiven much? Do we love much? Does our love reflect our gratitude? Does our love reflect God’s heart for the world? Does our love recognize God’s image in everyone? Does our love compel us to love others well, no matter who they are?

Some of you may be thinking that Paul reminds us in Ephesians and Colossians to speak the truth in love, and you are correct. The love he is talking about is agape–the undeserved, all encompassing, unconditional love of God that we wrote about last week. The love that Paul prayed in Philippians 1:9 would grow and grow and grow in us. The love we give others that then opens the door for the truth to be spoken in a non-threatening manner. The love that continues, no matter what choices are made. The love that continues no matter what consequences result. The love that agrees to disagree for the sake of relationship. The love that unifies around the person of Jesus, not side issues.

Jesus came full of grace and truth. We are sent in the same way–full of grace and truth remembering that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  We don’t have the power to transform any life, including our own. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our role is to share our own stories of how Jesus loves us, how we love Him, how He has made a difference in our lives, and how He loves them. So like the early church leaders concluded in Acts…“we believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are…it is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles (or anyone) who are turning to God.” (Acts 15: 11 & 19) 

Our lives have to be bathed in agape. Jesus modeled sharing God’s love through personal relationships. I believe it still works best that way. Who does God have in your life? Who do you see on a regular basis?

Paul, who was hated enough for the sake of Jesus to be in prison, used that opportunity to share Christ with those he was in relationship with–the Palace Guard and his fellow prisoners. Paul continues his letter to the Philippians by acknowledging that his imprisonment for the cause of Christ has resulted in others being more bold in sharing Jesus fearlessly. He goes on to say, it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Ph. 1: 15-18)

Is our love for Jesus and our desire to make His love known to the world the driving force of our lives? Are we willing to be hated because we look so much like Him that the world, including the religious community, doesn’t understand us at all? Do we rejoice, even when those we don’t agree with are sharing Him, because the ultimate desire of our hearts is that Jesus be made known? Do we need to spend some time in the presence of God recognizing who we “other”,  repenting and allowing God to reorder our lives and priorities?

For God so loved the world…do we?

–Luanne

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Dear Church… (Philippians 1:1-11)

Pastor John began a twelve week series on the book of Philippians that will take us through the summer.  Without a doubt, Paul loved this body of believers. They held an incredibly special place in his heart, and he is not shy in telling them so. As is wise with all Bible study, knowing the context of the situation is always a good idea, so it’s important to know how this church began. Why were they so special to Paul?

Acts chapter 16 gives us the background story on Paul’s relationship with the people in Philippi. Paul had tried to go to a couple of different locations, but in Luke’s words the “Spirit of Jesus” kept him from following through with those plans. During this time, Paul received a vision asking him to come to Macedonia–so they went. Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia and that became the destination.

Typically when Paul went to a new city he started his ministry in the synagogue. Not in Philippi. He and his companions headed to the river to pray and came upon a group of women, one of whom was Lydia, a business woman and worshiper of God. Paul shared the love of Jesus with these ladies, God opened Lydia’s heart to receive the message, she and the members of her household were baptized and she invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home.

I don’t know how long Paul was in Philippi, but it was the city where he and Silas got in trouble with some wealthy folks for casting a demon out of their slave girl because the demon gave her the ability to make a lot of money for them.

Because Paul and Silas messed with the wealthy folks, they were arrested, flogged and thrown in jail. Instead of complaining about their situation, they prayed and sang, and the other prisoners listened. An earthquake came, all the prisoners chains came off and the doors opened. The jailer was sure they had all escaped and was ready to kill himself, but Paul called out and let him know that they were all still there. This encounter led to the jailer and his family coming into a relationship with Jesus. After Paul and Silas were released they went to Lydia’s house, met with the church and then left the area. He visited Philippi two more times. (Acts 20)

I wonder if the freed slave girl and the jailer were part of the group that met in Lydia’s home and received Paul’s letter? I wonder if the church in Philippi was different from the other churches Paul began, so many of whom were riddled with conflict, because he wasn’t battling a spirit of religion that sometimes accompanied those coming out of the synagogues, and sometimes plagues our churches today. Paul himself had come out of that rule following system–and he knew that trading one set of rules for another was not what following Jesus is about. Following Jesus is all about relationship, and the Philippian church was rich in relationship with Jesus, with Paul, and with one another. Lydia was a kind and gracious woman, the church in Philippi began with her. There’s a lot to be said for all the implications of that.

Paul wrote this letter about ten years after he had originally been in Philippi, and he writes to them from prison. He begins by greeting all of them and offers them grace and peace (Shalom) from God.  Paul moves into assuring them of his prayers for them and tells them that his prayers are full of thanksgiving and joy for them because from the first day he met them they partnered with him in sharing the good news of the love, forgiveness and new life available in Jesus–and they were still doing it. He encouraged them with these words: …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (v.6) 

That’s a verse many of us know extremely well, it gives us hope in the transforming work of Christ, but I think it’s important to note that the “you” in this verse is plural. He is writing to the church referring to  the good work that God began in and through His church in Philippi. Yes, the work He’s doing individually in each of us is important, the mission of the church will not happen without each of us growing in Christ, but like we’ve mentioned before, our individual relationships with Jesus are not just about us. When we surrender our lives to Him, we become part of His kingdom–His body, and together we work to bring others into relationship with Him. So, He who began a good work in you by giving you a place to belong and a purpose in His kingdom/body will be faithful to complete the mission He’s begun.

Paul goes on to express how this precious group of people are always in his heart and how he longs for all of them with the affection of Jesus. Then he tells them what he is praying:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (vs. 9-11)

The love Paul is writing about is agape–the unconditional, all encompassing, never ending, totally undeserved and complete love of God, and he is praying that this godly love will flow in abundance , that it will abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight….

What does it mean for our agape to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight?

Knowledge means just what you think it does, and it comes from the root word meaning to know thoroughly, to know accurately, to understand and perceive.

Depth of insight is a little more unusual. The word  translated into that phrase is used one time in all of scripture, and Paul is trying to convey something important in using this word. It means perception not only by the senses but also by the intellect, discernment, moral discernment, the understanding of ethical matters.

It’s intellect coupled with a deeper sense, a deep intuition, a knowing something beyond intellectual knowing, a sixth sense if you will. The phrase in the definition-the understanding of ethical matters– really catches my attention and my heart.

Agape love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; we can only have it when we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives. As we allow the Spirit to do His work in us, our ability to know and discern–especially in moral ethical matters, becomes clearer.

Pastor John pointed out that love is not blind–God’s love is not blind. God’s love sees all and loves us despite our shortcomings. God’s love runs to embrace the returning prodigal, God’s love shows compassion and forgiveness to a woman caught in the act of adultery, God’s love hangs out with the marginalized, the ones rejected by the religious elite, the outcasts, God’s love reinstates Peter after his denial, God’s love makes a way through the costly death and powerful resurrection of Jesus for us to be in relationship with Him, God’s love knocks the terrorist Saul/Paul off a horse, blinds him, and then transforms his life in such a radical way that Paul gave his entire life to introduce others to Jesus.  God’s love doesn’t look like human love, and God wants His love to be what the world experiences when they experience us–His people.  His love—ever growing, wise, discerning, kind, undeserved, overflowing so that…

Right after the words knowledge and depth of insight is a “so that”.   It reads like this:

…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.  

The J.B. Phillips translation reads like this:

I want you to be able always to recognize the highest and the best, and to live sincere and blameless lives until the day of Jesus Christ. I want to see your lives full of true goodness, produced by the power that Jesus Christ gives you to the praise and glory of God.  

The Message translation puts it this way: 

Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Our Spirit given agape love produces in us the ability to see, know and discern the truth of a situation on a deep level. Then, being led by God’s indwelling, ever abundant unconditional agape love figure out what the God-like best response is. It may look nothing like the world’s response, because God is all about bringing people into relationship with Him, not about ostracizing and punishing them. If that were His heart, we’d all be hopelessly lost.

Acting on what the Spirit leads us to do keeps us blameless and pure before God because the fruit of righteousness means that we are rightly related with God and rightly related with others. Righteousness in this sense comes from the root word meaning equity which indicates that we are working to make things right for all people everywhere–that type of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.  When we live and love and see and restore and forgive and esteem and build up like Jesus does, the work that God has begun in us, His people, moves toward completion and God gets the glory for it all.

The implications of Paul’s prayer are huge for us. He is praying that we, His church,  will be bathed and growing in agape love, choosing the best as revealed by the Spirit, working in and through agape love to make this world a better place for everyone, carrying out the mission of Jesus so that God’s kingdom may come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven for the glory of God.

I will be meditating on and praying this prayer all week. I desperately want to be part of the body that is making Jesus Christ attractive to all…Will you join me?

—Luanne

As Luanne wrote, it is so important to understand the context of what we read in our bibles. The more I study scripture and the deeper I go in my walk with Jesus, the more I realize just how vital this is. It is important because it gives us a more complete picture of what we’re reading, but also because it brings the story of Jesus and His Kingdom alive to us in a whole new way. I found some interesting facts when I looked into the history of the city of Philippi…

Corneliu Constantineanu, a Romanian theologian and university professor, has this to say in his introduction to the book of Philippians in the God’s Justice Bible:

“The Great Roman Caesar Octavian Augustus established the city of Philippi as a Roman colony after a great victory in the battle against Brutus in 42 BC. After another victory over Mark Anthony in 31 BC, he named the city after himself, Colonia lulia Augusta Philippensis. This was in order to announce the good news of his great victory and, at the same time, to honor the great Roman Empire’s accomplishment of justice, peace and security! The Pax Romana, together with Roman law and justice, is the great news that the Roman imperial ideology proclaimed–as the dawn of a new era for humanity, as the greatest good news ever heard! But like the establishment of the city of Philippi, the good news of Roman peace and justice was brought about through violence and war and maintained by force and the subjugation of people.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul announces the real good news, the gospel--God’s action to put the world right, to bring his peace and justice to this beautiful yet fallen and corrupted world. He has accomplished this not through violence and war but through the self-giving life of Jesus Christ. This is the astonishing story we find in Paul’s letter to the Philippians–the significant and wonderful yet costly journey of God’s redeeming the world and bringing his peace and justice for the entire creation… This is the good news of the gospel that we read in Philippians.

As is always the case, the Kingdom of Jesus stands in complete opposition to the kingdoms of this world. A city that was established through war and violence was transformed by the gospel of peace and the power of Agape love.

Agape love is where the journey begins for each of us. Encountering the unconditional, complete love of God for us is the beginning of our relationship with Him. His real love draws us to Himself and, as Pastor John said on Sunday, plants that seed of Agape love inside of us. It’s the beginning of our journey… but we can’t let it be the end. If Jesus loves me is where we stop, we starve the seed that God planted in our hearts. God is the one that plants the seed, and He also tends it, by the power of His Spirit. I don’t want to jump too far ahead in this series, but we’ll see when we get into chapter 2 of Philippians that,

“…it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:13 AMP)

He is at work in us, and it is He who creates within us the longing and the ability to live His way. But–as we discussed in our last series–it is possible for us to resist and to quench the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us. For a seed to grow, it must be watered, fed, exposed to light; as it begins to grow, it has to be pruned in order to bear the best fruit. If we are willing to submit to the process and understand that this seed of love was never meant to stay buried in the soil of our hearts but, rather, to grow and bear fruit to feed the world around us, then we’ll experience what Pastor John described on Sunday. Our love, gifted to us by our Heavenly Father, will grow. It will grow real. And that real love will change the reality of the world around us. Facts exist all around us. But truth always supersedes fact. Jesus is truth. He is love. And the truth of His love has the power to change any reality. Mine. Yours. And the world around us.

In his introduction to Philippians, Corneliu Constantineanu also writes, “Despite our tendency to limit redemption to our personal salvation and morality, redemption in the biblical narrative implies the entire creation, with the ultimate purpose of human flourishing and well-being for all”. I can’t help but connect his words to what Luanne wrote about the “fruits of righteousness” above:  “Righteousness in this sense comes from the root word meaning equity, which indicates that we are working to make things right for all people everywhere“.

It’s not about “me”. It must be about “us”. The proof that our love is real is that we don’t keep it to ourselves. Just as Paul shared in the joys of community, even from afar, we also are created to be in community, sharing in the goodness of God together, and working to bring the kingdom of our King to every corner of this world. It is the gospel–the gospel Paul brought to Philippi–the only good news with the power to change the world.

“Jesus is the gospel. Just as God brought the good news of justice and righteousness through Jesus, Christians will spread justice around them by following Christ’s example. As they are Christlike, they will be agents of God’s justice in this world. Only as they manifest their heavenly citizenship will they be responsible earthly citizens.” (Corneliu Constantineanu)

The church in Philippi understood what it meant to manifest their heavenly citizenship. It stood in stark contrast to the kingdom of the Romans, and it led them to live out their faith in the way of real love that changed the reality of their region. No earthly ideology has the power to connect all people and bring lasting peace. Only the good news of Jesus and His love for all of us can do that. He has planted the seed of His love in our hearts if we know Him–and left a perfect space for it if we haven’t met Him yet–and He stands ready to tend and grow that seed into flourishing plants that bear fruit to feed the nations. All He asks us to do is open ourselves to His careful hands and let Him. If we’ll lean into His words and His ways, we will begin to see the ways of His kingdom–that it’s never just for us individually. And as that knowledge and depth of insight grows, we’ll see transformed lives become transformed churches that God will use to transform the world. Because the Agape love of God lived out through the followers of Jesus will create the kind of body that Luanne said she desires to be a part of: a body that makes Jesus Christ attractive to ALL. I desire this, too. What about you? Will you join us?

–Laura

 

The Battle: Armor of God (Part 2)

 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:16-20 NIV)

I can’t count the number of times I have heard/read/studied/thought about the armor of God before I experienced this series. Suffice it to say, the number is quite high. The temptation, when we are presented with a familiar text or story, is to tune out and listen half-heartedly through the filters we have always had in place. I have been learning so much over the last year, especially, about how dangerous it is to default to my traditional understanding and maintain old filters–especially as it relates to Jesus and His Kingdom. Because of this, I try to be intentional about NOT tuning out when the story is familiar. And I am so grateful that I was able to listen to this series–and especially this final installment–with my heart wide open, filters set aside. Because my old understanding is  now being replaced with a more complete understanding, one that is filtered through one lens alone: Jesus.

Pastor John’s message on Sunday covered the remaining pieces of armor: the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit. As he preached on each piece, my mind was blown over and over again. My perception of doing battle God’s way has been forever changed.

In last week’s verses, Paul instructed us to stand firm with: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and the shoes fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. He told us to clothe ourselves in them. We are to take–to grab onto, raise up–the remaining three pieces of armor. As we’ll see moving forward, the last three connect to the first three.

The first piece of armor that we are to “take up” is the shield of faith. The definition of the word translated “faith” here (pistis) is “firm conviction of the truth“. Our shield of faith hangs on our belt of truth. Last week, Luanne wrote:

“When speaking of “truth” it is incredibly important that we acknowledge that Jesus is truth…The belt held it all together. The Truth holds us all together…The real Jesus brings us all together and holds us all together, so that His Kingdom can come on earth as we, the capital “C” church, stand firm against the one enemy together”.

Our faith hangs on Jesus–the truth of who He is. It’s what holds us all together, as Luanne identified. The importance of our “togetherness” in Jesus is not only highlighted in the belt of truth, but also in the shield of faith that hangs on it. The Roman shield was a huge piece of armor, crafted out of wood, bronze, and animal skin/leather. As large as it was, though, it only covered two-thirds of the soldiers body when it was held correctly. What about the other third of his body that was vulnerable to attack? It was covered by his neighbors shield. And he covered the exposed parts of the neighbor on his other side with his shield. That’s how it was designed to work in battle. If they didn’t use their armor correctly, they and their comrades would find themselves exposed and vulnerable to enemy attacks. So it is with us…

Our faith, our conviction of the Truth–of Jesus, is incomplete if we choose to stand alone. Many cultures understand this. They model the type of togetherness that we’ve referred to several times throughout this series. Our Western, American, mostly white breed of Christianity, however, is not very good at this. There is a tradition of individualism in the West, and we have applied it to our faith. It has left us exposed and vulnerable to our enemy, because our model of faith hasn’t accepted or included (much less practiced…) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). We have been taught, and we still teach, that our faith is a personal one, that it’s “between you and God”. We have taken pride in our personal piety, and wondered why so many are hesitant to accept our message. We will explore this further in a moment, when we look at the next piece of armor. Before we move on, though, I want to emphasize that our faith is meant to be lived out in the context of community. It’s what Jesus and His disciples modeled. It’s how the early church in Acts expanded. It’s what you see in churches that are thriving rather than dying today. It’s how the Kingdom works. It’s the Jesus way, the abundant life way, the way that draws others in rather than pushing them away…

Which brings us to our next piece, the helmet of salvation. The helmet was the most notable piece of the Roman soldier’s armor. Not only did it protect the entire head, face, and neck area, but it was dramatically decorated, meant to be seen and noticed. For us, our helmet protects our mind, the place where our thoughts are formed. It is referred to as the helmet of salvation. Many of us have grown up with the understanding that our salvation is the moment we accept Jesus and give our lives to Him. It’s our ticket to Heaven. And just like our faith, this is generally a personal experience. We may share it publicly from the front of a church and declare it through baptism, but that’s as far it goes for many of us.

It’s very easy to think about our helmet of salvation as something to hide under. We feel protected because we are “saved” and we live from that place. Not only do we secure our helmets to keep out everything that doesn’t line up exactly with the way we understand salvation, but we add masks to the helmet–masks of performance, good behavior, and all the “shoulds” of false identity. If this helmet is decorated or notable at all, it is with the feathers of pride and the plumes of self-righteousness. This is not what the helmet of salvation is meant for. The meaning of the word “salvation” in this context embodies the process of being saved and bringing that salvation to others. It implies the understanding that we are works in progress. Again, this works best within community. Standing on our own, hiding behind a false identity, projecting a picture of perfection, of having already “arrived”, not only keeps us trapped in our own self-deception, but it pushes others away rather than drawing them in.

We don’t have to look very far in today’s culture to see this playing out in real time. We see many who have been “saved” and are now hiding under the false identity of perfection and rightness. This identity tends to include black and white thinking and makes harsh judgments about everything and everyone that doesn’t align with that way of thinking. Helmets that look like this are notably decorated, easy to see towering above the crowd, but they don’t bring salvation to others. What draws others in is acknowledging that we are continually being saved, transformed and made complete in Jesus; that we are not perfect and we know it, and we can be authentically who we are because we know that we are accepted and approved of just as we are by the God who made us. That is the salvation that our helmets are meant to be decorated with, what ought to be notable about us. It’s not about us at all–it’s about those around us being able to see Jesus when they look at us. Because, remember, Jesus is our armor.

I said earlier that each piece of armor we looked at this week connects to a piece we studied last week. The helmet and the breastplate go together. They protect our two most vulnerable places: our minds and our hearts. We are told repeatedly in Scripture to guard both. Both are protected by the assurance we have that as we are continually being saved and transformed–as we authentically submit to Jesus as Lord, and to His process, His ways–we are fully accepted and rightly related to God.

This brings us to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. This final piece of armor is the most intriguing of them all. Before I explain what we learned, I want you to think about your understanding of this piece of armor. What have you always been taught? What Sunday school picture comes to mind? Is it a picture of the Bible? Maybe with a cartoon soldier holding it, ready to wield it against the enemy? What if I told you that understanding is inaccurate?

My understanding has always been what I just described. It’s part of why I was taught that I should memorize Scripture, because God’s word is my weapon. Please know that I am absolutely FOR memorizing Scripture; I think it’s so important to know it. But that understanding in all its familiarity, is not what Paul originally wrote. This “word” is “rhema”, the spoken word of God.  As Pastor John reminded us, Paul, Peter and the other apostles of the early church were not carrying around a New Testament with them, teaching verses from the Bible we have today. They spoke the words that the resurrected Jesus had directly spoken to them, the words that had resurrected and changed their lives. That was their sword.

We learned last week that the “shoes fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace” are actually a formidable weapon to trample on our enemy, because what they are is our story of how Jesus came and brought Shalom to destroy his chaos-making authority in our lives. Our story of transformation is what we stand on because no one and nothing can refute what Jesus has done in our lives. They are our stories and we triumph over our enemy “by the word of [our] testimonies” (Revelation 12:11).

As you have probably figured out by now, these shoes are connected to our sword. Our stories–the very things we often try to hide and see as our greatest weakness, when they are transformed by Jesus and we bind them to our feet and stand firm in the truth of our transformation–become our sword, our greatest strength. Because our story is made up of the words Jesus has spoken to us. The words of peace that have brought wholeness to our lives and calmed the chaos inside of us. These words from Jesus are what we are to carry and speak to others.

I’ve heard it said that we need to “speak our piece”. We use that when we have to vent or get something out. Often, it’s this same mentality that leads us to beat people over the head with our bible verses, to talk them into submission, if you will. What we are actually called to do is to “speak our peace“. Share the words that Jesus has spoken directly to you, the story of how His resurrected life has resurrected your life. This is what we carry. The sword of Shalom. 

Jesus tells His disciples-and us-in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid“. And Ephesians 2:14 says this: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...” In these verses, we are reminded that Jesus IS our peace. He speaks peace, He brings peace, He embodies peace. Peace is the way of His Kingdom. Not violence. Both of these verses use the Greek “eirene”, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew “Shalom”. We fight with the sword of Shalom. We share the peace and wholeness that we have experienced as the life of Jesus has resurrected our lives. We speak what He has spoken to us.

What has Jesus spoken to you? Are you carrying a sword that you need to lay down, so that you can pick up the sword of Shalom?

–Laura

I have sometimes wondered why God chose for Jesus to come and His church to be birthed during the time when Rome was conquering the world by abusing their power and  using tactics of intimidation, fear, while committing ruthlessly destructive, cruel and inhumane acts– they were a dominating force.  Without a doubt, their weapons of warfare were powerful in the earthly realm. Their weapons stand in stark contrast to the weapons of the Kingdom of Heaven and become beautiful and easily understandable illustrations for Paul to use when describing the armor of God. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of this world (2 Cor. 10:3 )  God flips the world’s system on its head. Maybe He chose the Roman time period for Jesus and His church to be born, in order to contrast how very different the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is from the Empire of Rome and its human system of domination.

It’s important to understand the meanings of the seemingly insignificant words in the “armor” verses, so keep in mind that “with” means put in its proper place (belt, breastplate, shoes), and “take up” or “take hold of” means grab, hold tightly, raise upLike Laura wrote above, all six pieces of armor are intricately connected.

With the belt of truth in place we take hold of the shield of faith.

As we’ve mentioned, and I am mentioning again–Jesus himself is THE truth (John 14:6). The Roman shield was made up of three parts, a wooden core encased in bronze and the whole thing was covered with animal skin which was then soaked in water so that any fiery darts that came would be extinguished. The shield was meant to protect the soldiers from aerial assault. There is much symbolism for us in the shield. All the way back in the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve had believed Satan’s lie and decided to take life into their own hands they ended up aware of their nakedness and vulnerability. They suffered tremendous consequences for choosing their own way; yet God still cared for them. In Genesis 3:21 we see that the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Biblical scholars see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice. A death (the first death) was required for Adam and Eve to be covered. The death of Jesus was required for us to be covered so that we can be clothed in Him. (Heb. 9:22 …without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness). The fact that the animal skin was then soaked in water reminds me of Jesus’ words whoever drinks of the water I give them will never thirst– indeed the water I give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14). The verb tense that Jesus used indicates continual drinking….whoever comes continually… Is it possible that the soaked shield is an illustration of baptism by immersion in the Spirit? When we continually come to Jesus -clothe ourselves in Him-we are filled with the Holy Spirit and our shield is soaked and ready to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy which come our way from the heavenly realm. And as Laura mentioned above…our shield is not only for us individually. The Roman soldier held his shield above his head with his left arm. It covered 2/3rds of his body and 1/3 of his neighbor’s body. The formation only served to protect if each soldier did his part.

Do we see how vital it is that we understand this? None of us gets to sit this out. We are part of an advancing Kingdom based on the Truth of God’s love and revelation- carried out by faith–the conviction that Jesus is Truth and worth knowing. That conviction moves us to action, that conviction leads us to continually soak ourselves in Him, clothe ourselves in Him and move together side by side, supporting and protecting one another with the goal of advancing His kingdom.

With the breastplate of righteousness in place we take up the helmet of salvation.

With our heart protected by the covering of the righteousness of Christ, believing His truth that we are completely accepted by God, we can take up the helmet of salvation. Laura wrote above:

“The meaning of the word “salvation” in this context embodies the process of being saved and bringing that salvation to others. It implies the understanding that we are works in progress. Again, this works best within community..”  

This is an important concept for us to grasp. Not too long ago I heard someone say that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom and Paul talked about salvation, they were referring to the same thing–both are about belonging. Without the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, there is no salvation, no belonging to the Kingdom of God–interesting thought.

The process of working out our salvation must be grounded in Truth, and the mind is where much of that battle takes place. Paul encourages us to renew our minds-change the way we think (Romans 12:2), to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:8), and tells us that letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (Rom 8:6)  All of our actions begin with thoughts, which is why Paul tells us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) which comes two verses after the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world. 

In the New Testament, the word translated as “repent” is metanoia which actually means to change one’s mind for better, to think differently. Taking up the helmet of salvation is imperative in the spiritual battles that are all around us, remembering that the way we battle looks NOTHING like the way of the world. Brennan Manning, in his book The Signature of Jesus, writes:

“The other side of metanoia is paranoia…(which) is characterized by fear, suspicion, and flight from reality…. Spiritual paranoia is a flight from God and from our true selves. It is an attempt to escape from personal responsibility. It is the tendency to avoid the cost of discipleship and to seek out an escape route from the demands of the gospel. Paranoia of the spirit is an attempt to deny the reality of Jesus in such a way that we rationalize our behavior and choose our own way. …None of us is immune to the seduction of counterfeit discipleship…” 

I find the comparison between metanoia and paranoia very helpful in determining whether I’m thinking with the mind of Christ or the mind of the flesh. Both types of thinking produce fruit. Galatians 5:19 lays out what the mind of the flesh leads to: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, hatred, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these, contrasted by the mind of the Spirit which leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.(v.22) A tree will be known by its fruit. (Luke 6:44)  It’s really clear in scripture what type of fruit the true helmet of salvation leads to, and it is fruit that values people,  treats them well and draws them toward Jesus. 

With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace we take up the sword of the Spirit which is the SPOKEN word of God.

I loved how Laura contrasted “speak our piece” (mind of flesh) with “speak our peace”, (mind of the Spirit).  Our story of peace with Jesus becomes the powerful offensive weapon of the sword of the Spirit. The Romans traded their long swords for shorter ones when they learned from the Spaniards army short swords were more precise and effective. They were always ready with those short swords tucked into their belts. Are we always ready to share our story of peace precisely and effectively? People can argue scripture all day long, but our personal stories of transformation are hard to argue against. And…it doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. A sentence here, an offer of prayer there, an act of kindness, an offer of grace/forgiveness, a different thought process, all of those sown seeds will begin to bear fruit over time earning us the right to share more fully who Jesus is and what He means to us personally. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say (Luke 12:12), so if He brings it to mind-say it!  And, if you’re walking with Jesus, it’s not a story of what He did one time when you surrendered your life to Him, there are fresh encounters to share always. Salvation is an ongoing, ever fresh process.

Paul wraps it all up by telling us to pray four times in two verses. Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.  (Eph 6:18-20)

One final thought–our battle is not against flesh and blood, it is for flesh and blood–body, soul and spirit. Jesus told Peter that upon Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah the church would be built, and not just built, but strong and powerful enough that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Mt 16:18)  If you are in Jesus, you are part of His church. You belong to His kingdom. His kingdom is advancing. We fight together with His weapons which are totally contrary to the weapons of this world. We fight together, not just with those in our local communities, but with Jesus’ followers all across the globe. We are one family with Jesus’ followers in Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Zambia, Syria, Russia, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Brazil, Madagascar, China, Vietnam, and every other country in the world. Jesus calls us to oneness, unity–but not uniformity. The way we carry out our mission may look different, but our Jesus must look the same. We must know Him, the real Him. Not the Jesus of our specific culture, but the Jesus who transcends all culture, the Jesus who reveals the God who loves the world. He is The TRUTH; we must know who we are IN Him, we must be in the constant process of renewing our minds so that we can be more LIKE Him, and be ready at all times to DECLARE our experience with Him. We do this in the power of His Spirit and with the camaraderie of one another, praying for one another, protecting one another, forgiving one another, and loving the world together into His Kingdom.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that… 

Are you in?

–Luanne

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The Battle: Armor of God (Part 1)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 

Stand firm then

                   with the belt of truth  buckled around your waist,

                            with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

                                      and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from       the  gospel of peace… (Eph. 6:10-15)

Walter Wink in his book The Powers That Be gives us food for thought regarding the principalities and powers of this world. He says:

“Principalities and powers are not disembodied spirits inhabiting the air, but institutions, structures, and systems; they are not just physical…the Powers are at one and the same time visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly, spiritual and institutional…. The Powers are simultaneously an outer visible structure and an inner spiritual reality. (They are) the actual spiritual reality at the center of political, economic, and cultural institutions.”

Wink goes on to say:

“When a particular power becomes idolatrous-that is when it pursues a vocation other than the one for which God created it and makes its own interests the higher good-then that Power becomes demonic. The spiritual task is to unmask the idolatry…but this can scarcely be accomplished by individuals. A group is needed…that was to be the task of the church, so that ‘through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 3:10).

I had never heard this interpretation of The Powers until I read Wink’s book, but since reading it, I pay attention to the reality of the spiritual realm in systems, structures, institutions, etc. It helps me to grasp that the battle is not against flesh and blood (even though sometimes I forget). There are Powers at play in war, politics, social media, news agencies, media, advertising, shopping centers, grocery stores, homes, destructive ideologies like racism, classism, nationalism, in things like religious systems, the stock market, banking systems,  businesses, schools, homes, and sadly, churches as well. It’s important to be aware of these things. As Laura and I pointed out in a recent blog post, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), so we must be so, so, so very wise and discerning in order to fight the battle against the real enemy and not be fighting on his side against one another. I believe that’s why the belt of truth is the first piece of armor Paul tells us to put on.

When speaking of “truth” it is incredibly important that we acknowledge that Jesus is truth. (Jn 14:6). That we can know THE Truth, and He can set us free.  (Jn 8:32). It’s not what we think about Jesus, or how we interpret scripture about Jesus that is truth. Truth is Jesus himself. To know the truth, we must know Jesus.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we must read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) over and over and over. We must pay attention to what Jesus said, who He said it to, what His subject matter was, who He hung out with, who frustrated Him, what cultural norms He pushed back against, what He emphasized, what He cautioned against, how He loved…He is truth. We must be humble enough to allow The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, to guide us into all truth-(John 16:13)-even if it’s different from what we were taught. Jesus is Truth. Truth looks like Him.

Paul tells us to Stand firm with the belt of truth buckled in place. “Stand firm” is the same Greek word used for “Resist” (“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7)  which implies all of us standing together against the one enemy… .

The Roman soldier’s belt was thick leather that protected the entire abdominal and groin area. It kept a soldier from literally being gutted. Not only that, it held the breastplate in its place, and held the other weapons. The belt held it all together. The Truth holds us all together.

I want to emphasize one more time that the Truth is Jesus and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17).  Truth is not our denominational bent, not our theological understanding, not anything that could lead us to any type of division. The real Jesus brings us all together and holds us all together, so that His Kingdom can come on earth as we, the capital “C” church, stand firm against the one enemy together.  The truth of Jesus is for all people everywhere. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17). We have to understand that Jesus is truth and live from that place.

The breastplate of righteousness also points us to Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “He (Jesus) became sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  

The Roman soldier’s breastplate protected his heart. It only covered his front. The philosophy of Rome was that their soldiers did not need their backs protected because they would always be on the offense. They would not turn and run. They would not retreat.

Righteousness is huge for those of us who follow Christ. It means that because of Jesus, we have become totally acceptable to God. We are fully approved by God. We are in complete and total right relationship with God. We don’t have to strive for it. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t have to be “good enough” in our own efforts. Our righteousness is a gift of grace.

The covering of His righteousness keeps us secure in God and protects our hearts from becoming hard. The covering of His righteousness gives us permission to lay judgment and striving aside and focus on the things that are important to His heart–namely, people.

God tells us in Proverbs 4:23 to Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Keep it protected from anything that would make it hard, or bitter, or unkind.  Jesus himself gave us a sign to look for to determine the state of our own hearts when he said A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (Luke 6:45)  I know in my own life that the thoughts that come into my head that I want to say are the quickest indicator for me that my heart is not in a good place. Getting back into a better place requires sitting in the presence of God, owning what I need to own, and being reminded again of His grace, His mercy, His acceptance and approval of me, even in my mess.  As we stand our ground against the enemy’s accusations, facing him with our breastplate of righteousness tucked firmly into the belt of truth, his fiery darts cannot penetrate our hearts. We can be secure in who we are in Him, and get on with the business of advancing God’s Kingdom.

The shoes are such an interesting piece of armor.  The shoes are fitted for our feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  The Roman soldier’s shoes were thick-soled leather with hob nails in the bottom of them. They served to protect the soldiers’ feet, provide traction and momentum so that they wouldn’t lose ground, and as a weapon for stomping the enemy. I don’t know what their readiness came from–marching orders or whatever, but our readiness comes from the gospel of peace–the good news of peace.

Like the others, this piece of armor points to Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), We have peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1) and Jesus himself tells us that he has given us His peace in John 14:27. His peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. There is no peace without Christ.

Pastor John said that our personal story with Jesus is how we take the good news of peace to the world. Your story with Jesus, my story with Jesus can not be dismissed. The Apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah wrote  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15) and the prophet Isaiah included the phrase “the good news of peace and salvation” (52:7).  This beautiful theme of peace is God’s heart. The Hebrew word for God’s type of peace is Shalom, translated into the Greek word ‘eirene’ in the New Testament. The English word “peace” can’t really capture all that Shalom is;  Shalom is the flourishing of all things–all things in harmony with one another, it is the restoration of the world to it’s pre-fallen state. It is about making all things new.

In Revelation 21:5 the One on the throne says “Behold, I am making all things new.”  The Apostle Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17) And the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is about making all things new.

My favorite definition of Shalom is destroy the authority of the one making chaos. 

Your story of how Jesus has transformed your life and brought you the peace that passes all understanding (Ph. 4:7); your story of how His righteousness has made you righteous before God- fully approved and acceptable; your story of the Truth of who He is and His heart of love for you personally and for whoever it is you are talking to are mighty in  destroying the chaos caused by the devil, authorities, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. They are no match for God and His mighty power that is at work within you, within us. Put on the full armor of God so that…

-Luanne

Luanne wrote, “Truth is not our denominational bent, not our theological understanding, not anything that could lead us to any type of division. The real Jesus brings us all together and holds us all together, so that His Kingdom can come on earth as we, the capital “C” church, stand firm against the one enemy together.  The truth of Jesus is for all people everywhere.”

Another author and pastor I love, Jonathan Martin, recently said, “Jesus is the prism through which all other Scripture is to be read and interpreted”. (Son of a Preacher Man podcast, Season 1-Episode 21)

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. 

It really is all about Him. Every bit of Scripture we read. Our understanding of any and all of it. It all has to go through the filter of Jesus. Or the framework of our theology will have some warped boards in its structure. This applies to everything we understand about the Kingdom that Jesus ushered in. The Kingdom will reflect the character, values, mission, and heart of its King. And so, as we take a closer look at the armor of God this week and next, we must look at it all through the lens of Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). This is exactly what Luanne did above, as she brought us back to Jesus over and over again in her descriptions of the armor. And I hope you’ll forgive my repetition as I continue in the same vein. It’s so, so vital that we get this. If we take any part of Scripture and view it through any lens other than the lens of Jesus Himself, we risk building a framework that cannot stand.

 

Jesus IS our armor. 

Period.

Full stop.

I have written and deleted multiple paragraphs to get to those four words. Jesus is our armor. Paul used language that his readers would understand, the description of a Roman soldier’s uniform, to highlight–as he so often did–the difference between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven. He used symbols of war and redefined them in the light of the Prince of Peace. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4) Every piece of our spiritual armor is only complete in the person of Jesus. Jesus is truth. He is righteousness, and all justice end equity-which are at the root of original Greek word we translate as “righteousness” in these verses-are found and made complete in Him. And He is our Shalom, our peace that destroys the authority of the one making the chaos. I’ll stop there, because we’ll cover the other pieces of armor next week. But you can see where this is all going. Our armor is Jesus. All that He is. All that He brings. His ways, his words. That’s what we are to put on–Jesus. Amy Layne Litzelman says it this way, “Putting on God’s armor is…coming to know the One who is our armor. When we put on God’s armor, we desire one thing: the fullness of Christ active in us”. (This Beloved Road Vol. II-Into the Source)

With this understanding, let’s go back to verses 10 & 11a in our passage:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God…” 

I love looking into the root words that our modern bibles were translated from. I especially love what I found when I did that today, with these verses. “Be strong” reads like a command, something we do, being active rather than passive. Journeying into the root words provides us with a more complete picture. What we read as “be strong” comes from root words that mean, “be made strong; be strengthened, enabled, empowered, confirmed”. And the tiny word that follows, “in”, is packed with meaning, too. The word translated “in” is a primary preposition denoting “fixed position, in the interior of some whole, within the limits of some space”. His “mighty power” more completely means, “great power and dominion, extent of His ability”. When we are told to “put on” the full armor of God in the verse that follows, the Greek word translated “put on” is the same one used in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience”. “Put on” and “clothe” are from the same word, “endyo”, which carries the sense of sinking into a garment. If we pair this with our understanding that Jesus is our armor, then what this verse is saying to us is, “Sink into, be absorbed into the garment of Jesus. Wear Him.” So if I were to put all of this together and paraphrase it, it would sound something like this:

“Be strengthened and empowered, confirmed and enabled; your position fixed inside the limits of the space of the Lord and in His dominion and the extent of His ability. Sink into, be absorbed into, the garment of Jesus. Wear Him.”

Why? “So that you [remember this is the collective “you”, all of us together] can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Eph. 6:11b)

It is only when we wear Jesus-when we wrap His ways around us, when we are completely absorbed in who He is-that we can stand against the ways of our enemy. We can’t fight the way our enemy fights. The ways of Satan can’t drive out Satan (Matthew 12:26). Darkness can’t drive out darkness. We have to stand in the fullness of who Jesus is. We are powerless to stand on our own. We are only strong in Him. Never in ourselves. And that is what I love about how Paul presents the armor to us. He uses the imagery of the Roman soldier–the picture of strength, power, military prowess–and uses it to remind us of the upside-down Kingdom of Christ. The Roman kingdom depended on no one but themselves. They were victors, conquerors, battle-savvy war-mongers who decimated those who would dare oppose them. Their strategies were progressive, their designs innovative and their gear was state-of-the-art. They were second to none… or so they thought. The people they oversaw, ruled over and terrorized thought so, too. But there was-and there is-a Kingdom far greater, far more powerful, with longevity the Romans could have only dreamed of. The upside-down Kingdom of Christ. The Kingdom that came in on the back of a lamb led to the slaughter. The Kingdom that speaks blessing over the meek, the poor, the weak, the oppressed, the peacemakers. Paul takes the symbols of violence, of war and division, and rewrites the script for Jesus-followers. He replaces the earthly materials-the leather, metals, animal hooves-with divine weapons. Weapons that cannot be defeated because they come from another place. They’re not made of materials that can be destroyed. Truth, righteousness, justice, peace–and the others we’ll cover next week–are indestructible. Because they are the characteristics of Jesus Himself. They are the pure, undefiled goodness that has already defeated the evil of our enemy. And we get full access to these attributes in the person of Jesus. He is our armor. And we are never without Him. But in order to “wear” Him effectively, we have to be willing to do it His way. In our humanness, we like the picture of the Roman soldier better than that of our humble Savior. The idea of being strong, powerful, self-sufficient, respected and revered for our abilities and expertise is a lot more appealing to our flesh than the opposite. Which is why it is so important that we understand that Jesus is the armor we get to put on. And we get to follow Him. It is not us who rise up and fight our enemy; it is the Holy Spirit within us that rises up to fight in heavenly realms while we remain hidden inside the perfectly pure and just garment of Jesus Himself. He is the armor that both protects us and fights off our enemy. And He invites us to partner with Him in the battle. But we don’t lead it. And we do none of it in our own strength. We put Jesus on–all of Him. The ways of His kingdom become our clothing as we move into the world carrying the good news of His victory.

–Laura

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The “Worldly” Battle

Pastor Beau brought us the second installment of our series, “The Battle”, on Sunday. He preached about what it means to be in the world but not of it, and shed some light on a few passages of scripture that are often misrepresented and taken out of context. But before we launch into this week’s discussion, let me recap key points from week one.

Beau reminded us that we have a real enemy, and that there are spiritual battles going on all around us-whether we believe in it or not. He reminded us of the story of Elisha and his servant from 2 Kings 6–how God, in response to Elisha’s prayer, opened the servants eyes so that he could see the spiritual army that surrounded them. We were reminded that we have the weapon of prayer and that it makes all the difference when we choose to use it in the midst of our battles. Beau also reminded us that we fight from victory–not for it. God wins. But we have an enemy who wants to take as much ground as he can. He wants the hearts of those who haven’t yet surrendered to Jesus, and he wants the focus and attention of those who have. And he brought us back to Ephesians 6:12 to remind us that,

…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms“.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes often struggle to remember that my battle isn’t with people… I needed to hear Pastor Beau’s message on Sunday to remind me who my real enemy is. I needed (and probably daily need…) the reminder that we will destroy our own allies if we don’t recognize the truth about the battle we’re in. Beau told us that all of humanity has been invited to be on the same team–we weren’t created to fight against one another. But I think that we get confused about this because we misapply verses like Romans 12:2a:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Beau asserted that our understanding of this verse, and others like it, inclines us to separate people. To draw a hard line between us and them-the “saved” and the “others”. We see the word “world” and use it to point the finger at one another, forgetting that “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood…“. We take the phrase “in the world, but not of it” and use it to isolate ourselves from other human beings created in the image of God.  2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  This verse reminds us that for a time, the god of this age (Satan) rules over the physical world. It is his way of life that permeates this age. And he wants to tempt and coerce all of us into adapting to his way. Pastor Beau told us that a better way to read Romans 12:2 would be to understand “world” defined (in this particular verse only) as “the lifestyle of the enemy”. This is what we are to resist, to be set apart from: the ways of our enemy, the tempting lifestyle he dangles in front of our desires.

I used the phrase, “in the world, but not of it” above. It’s a popular phrase, one that’s been used in church, by Christians, and is often quoted as scripture. It’s not. It is pulled from the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all believers in John 17:

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:14-21) 

These are the key verses from Beau’s sermon. Can you see where the “in the world but not of the world” concept came from? You can absolutely pull that thought together from these verses, but to boil this passage down into that one phrase does a massive disservice both to Jesus’s main point and to our understanding of what He was really saying.

When we read this passage and our takeaway is to isolate from “worldly” people and experiences, I believe the enemy celebrates. He celebrates every time we choose separation over connection. So I believe that part of his lying, deceiving lifestyle is attempts to keep us boxed in by our shallow understanding. He appeals to our desire to be “safe”, to be “separate”, “set apart”. If we are choosing to isolate in an effort to draw a line between us and the world, we are making a choice to be ineffective.

But Jesus, He is all about connection…

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us…” 

That’s a lot of connecting. And that is always His way for us. We see it all over in Scripture. And why does He want us to be one with each other and with Him and the Father?

“…so that the world will believe you sent me.”

Jesus prays that we will be one so that the world will believe. He prays,  “…I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.” The one we’re actually fighting. His ways. Not each other. Not other people who haven’t met Jesus yet. The evil one. And then He prays, “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.” Jesus sends us, His followers, into the world to fight the “worldly” battle. To fight against the ways-the lifestyle-of our enemy. In order to do that though, we have to live connected. Connected to Jesus, through His Spirit living in us, connected to one another, not isolated, and connected to the the layers of ourselves, too. We are three-part beings, made up of body, soul and spirit. When these parts are disconnected from each other–when our spirit is not in control of our bodies and souls, and not submitted to the Holy Spirit within us, things get messy. The enemy’s lies and temptations get in more easily, and separation and isolation begin to look more appealing than connection. Beau said that if we want to win our spiritual battles, like Elisha, our physical and spiritual eyes have to be connected. It’s all about connection. Our enemy knows this. So he spends his energy trying to separate us. From ourselves, from God, from fellow Jesus-followers, and definitely from those who have yet to call on Jesus as Lord. 

Both Jesus and Satan are calling to us to live their way. The voice of our enemy will always call us to separate. It carries the tune of pride, and appeals to our arrogance and desire for control and safety. The voice of Jesus will always draw us to a place of connection, communion. And if our spiritual order is out of whack, we’ll resist this voice. Because connection requires humility. Dependence. Vulnerability. Risk. Brokenness. Trust… None of which we embrace naturally or willingly. That’s why I think the second half of Romans 12:2a is the part we should emphasize… Here it is again, from the NLT:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think

Pastor Beau concluded his message with the statement “Jesus changes everything”. He told us that this is the only reason we have a fighting chance in the battle, the only reason we get to fight from victory rather than for it. Jesus does change everything. If we open up our lives to Him and invite Him to have His way in us. How do we become people who see differently, who live with our spiritual eyes connected to our physical ones? We let Him transform us into new people by inviting Him in to change the way we think. The Jesus way, this upside-down Kingdom he modeled and asks us to carry to the ends of the earth–it doesn’t make sense to our physical minds. It is understood only in the realm of the spiritual and then it can connect to, and be made manifest, in the physical. Jesus never stood at a distance from the people who needed Him most. He knew His battle wasn’t against them. He came for them. For you. For me. His enemy was and is the same enemy we fight today. The battle is not against those who haven’t yet met God-it’s against the one trying to keep them in that place. We have to get this right, friends. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. It never has been and it never will be. And every time we choose to fight against another Image-bearer, we give a little ground to our very real enemy. Jesus calls us to a different way-His way. The way of connection, communion, oneness. It’s the way the world will come to know Him. And it’s the way we walk in victory over our enemy. I choose His way-even when everything in me wants to do it my way. Will you join me?

–Laura

Highlighting some of the verses that Laura highlighted above we are reminded that:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph. 6:12

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Cor. 4:4

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Rom. 12:2 NLT

(or with the new understanding Pastor Beau brought: Do not conform to the lifestyle of the enemy, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.)

Jesus himself refers to Satan as the ruler of this age in John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11. Jesus reminds us that Satan has no power over him, and that Satan already stands condemned. Satan is totally defeated–We don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory. The battle has already been won.

Pastor Beau took us back to 2 Kings chapter 6 and reminded us of Elisha’s prayer asking God to open the eyes of his servant, which God did. The servant who was only seeing with his physical eyes, could all of a sudden see behind the thin veil into the spiritual realm. When the servant saw with spiritual eyes, his mind about their battle changed dramatically–he was thinking differently. His mind was no longer blinded.

The next part of the story is fascinating. Elisha asks God to physically blind the enemy soldiers, which God does. Then Elisha leads them into a death trap. He asks God to restore their sight, which He does. The soldiers realize that things don’t look too good for them. The King of Israel asks Elisha if he should kill them. Remember–this is Old Testament, Old Covenant season–yet Elisha acts in a very New Testament way. His response?

“Do not kill them,” he answered….  Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.”  So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.  (2 Kings 6:22-23)

Elisha, who was fully aware that the battle was spiritual, responded with the spiritual weapons of the Lord  that were powerful enough to bring down strongholds (2 Cor. 10 3-4). Elisha proceeded with incredible grace by providing a feast!  Not bread and water, but a feast! Then sent them on their way. The result? The bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

The whole story blows my mind. It is a complete foreshadowing of the ways of the New Covenant, of the Jesus who tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mt. 5:44)  Of the Jesus who tells us God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

AND in John 17, the beautiful prayer of Jesus that Pastor Beau highlighted, Jesus says  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (v. 18),

He concludes his prayer with these words:

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (vs. 25-26)

We are sent into the world with the ways of Christ. We are His physical body on earth. Thinking about Elisha’s actions, I am reminded of Romans 2:4  NLT– Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Does wonderfully kind, tolerant, patient describe us as His people–His body? 

Laura wrote above that we are made of three parts–body, soul, spirit. Our body is literally, our physical body. Our soul includes our mind, our will, our emotions. Our spirit is the part of us that is dead (Eph 2:1) until it is brought to life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who gives life (John 6:63, Romans 6:11)

If my flesh is leading the show, I’m indulging myself and way out of balance.

If my soul is leading the show, it’s not good. My mind can make up all kinds of things that aren’t factual, my will can be stubborn and self serving, and my emotions can lead me far astray. The phrase “follow your heart” is a total soul led phrase–and it’s dangerous. Jeremiah 17:11 tells us The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?  Can anybody else relate to that phrase as true?

The only way the Jesus life works is to submit our alive spirit to the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit lead.  It’s the only way that people will see the kindness of the Lord in us and be led to Him.

Pastor Beau reminded us that the war we are in takes place at the point where our physical world and the spiritual world meet. We really only have two choices. We can choose to conform to the lifestyle of Christ, or the lifestyle of the enemy. There is no neutral. 

In God’s eyes, there is no human being on the face of the planet that we can call our enemy. There are spiritual rulers, authorities, spiritual forces of evil working toward our demise at all times (and the demise of all humans). They hate God and his Image-bearers. When we choose to live with an us/them mentality, we choose the lifestyle of the enemy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a soldier on that side of the battle. I don’t want to fight for the enemy.

Are we brave enough to ask God to show us the places that our minds have been blinded? Where our thinking is off? Are we humble enough to allow Him to show us? Are we humble enough to repent–which literally means get a new mind about what He shows us? Are we in tune enough with the Spirit to fight with the weapons of the Kingdom of heaven and fight for all people to be brought into the Kingdom of heaven? Living this way is radical. Taking a stand against the enemy for all people can be misunderstood. Sometimes it doesn’t feel comfortable–but it is always right. Can we see beyond the flesh and into the greater spiritual battle?

Jesus was not sent into the world to condemn it, but to save it. As He was sent into the world, so are we. “As” means in the same way; therefore,  we are not sent into the world to condemn it, but to love it and help people find salvation in Christ. Let’s be about plundering the enemy to populate the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s truly the only thing that matters.

I (Jesus) have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (Jn 17:26)

This is our commission–to make Him known.  Are you in?

–Luanne

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The Battle

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

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

FACT: Spiritual warfare is real.

FACT: We don’t face it alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

 “We fight from victory, not for victory.”

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

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

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

And so it is with us… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes me want to throat-punch him… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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Last Words: Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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Last Words: Pontius Pilate

So far in this series, we have looked at some “last words” from the stories of Peter and Judas. This week, Pontius Pilate was our focus. Pastor Beau took us into the story of Jesus being brought before Pilate, the Roman governor, to be questioned and, ultimately, sentenced. We find this account in Matthew 27:11-26.

Beau has asked us a question in each sermon in this series. The first was, “Who is Jesus to you?” Last week he asked us to consider, “Which Jesus are you pursuing?” This week’s question is “What are you going to do with Jesus?”

This week’s question comes from Matthew 27:22, where Pilate asks the crowd,

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?”

What Beau pointed us to in this story is Pilate’s indifference, and the danger of becoming indifferent in our own lives. Pilate had his reasons. He was caught between the people he was governing and the authorities he answered to. We know from historical accounts of his life that he was not well thought of. He had made some mistakes professionally regarding how he ruled and was now governing in what the Romans considered a  turbulent area-it was not a desirable assignment. He was being watched by both Rome and the Jews (especially the Jewish leaders) that he governed. He knew he was under a microscope and he was consumed with self-preservation.

Has our own need for self-preservation clouded our decision-making ability at times, too?

Because Pilate was stuck in a place of self-preservation, he couldn’t hear the voices of wisdom around him–even his own. His wife implored him to judge rightly. Verse 19 in Matthew’s account reads like this:

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him”.  

Pilate didn’t only miss the wisdom of his wife; he also ignored his own voice. We read in verse 18 that “…he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him”. And in verse 23, in response to shouts of “Crucify him!” from the crowd, he tries one last time to get a clear answer when he asks them, “Why? What crime has he committed?”.

Pilate seemed to know that Jesus was innocent from the very beginning of their exchange. And he never moves away from that belief as far as we can see in this account. So why, then, did he still hand Him over to be killed?

As it was last week when we looked at Judas’ story, the events of Jesus’ life and death were prophesied. We know that the prophecies had to be fulfilled. And God, in His sovereignty, knew who would choose to do the betraying, and who would ultimately hand Jesus over to be crucified. But we can’t forget that these men, these characters in the story had free will, just as we do. And there is value in taking a closer look at what motivated them–because, as we saw with Peter and Judas, sometimes the very same things that motivated them can be found within us. 

We talked earlier about Pilate’s indifference to Jesus. Jesus was nobody to Pilate. He didn’t know who He was. So it was easier for him to remain uninvolved, to bend to the will of the crowd. Because his indifference had a partner: fear. Fear is what drove him to be so concerned with self-preservation. And it is the perfect partner for indifference. Verse 24 reads,

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere and that an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 

This combination of fear and indifference does to all of us exactly what it did to Pilate–it keeps us stuck. And it tells a lie that we readily believe. The lie is that remaining uninvolved absolves us of our guilt. Pilate bought this lie. He counted on it. But choosing not to get involved is always choosing complicity. Pilate, playing on the Jews’ own tradition from Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 21:1-9) tried to wash his hands of Jesus’ blood. But…

We cannot wash our hands of the consequences of our indifference.

And all the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25)

The people’s response here, I read it in an eerie tone… It is self-fulfilling prophesy and it is two-fold. Their hands would literally be covered in his blood. The responsibility was on them, the Pharisees, the Roman soldiers who would carry out the details of the crucifixion and also on Pilate, whether he liked it or not. It is also on each one of us, as it was the sin of all that His death paid for. What the crowd didn’t realize they were saying though, is what many of them would come to count on in the future, when the very ones responsible for His death would find life in His Resurrection…  “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” I believe that many of those who were in the crowd on crucifixion day later put their faith in Him as their Risen Savior. And the blood that indicted each one would become the blood that would cover them and set them free. Just as it does for each one of us that believe in Him as our Lord.

No matter how many times we wash our hands, we can’t get the guilt of shedding Jesus’ blood off of us. We can’t clean ourselves off. The stains are permanent… Unless we are washed by the very blood we shed. Only the blood of Jesus can absolve us of our guilt, our complicity in the literal shedding of His blood for our sins. But we have to choose to say yes to this Love that died for us. We have to choose. Indifference is a choice. We cannot stay indifferent without consequence. It doesn’t work that way. We have to answer the question Beau posed to us,

“What are you going to do with Jesus?”

We have choices to make. And Holy week, the time that we remember the road to Calvary, is the perfect time to consider our answers not only to this question, but to the others that Beau challenged us to dig into:

Will we betray Him? Or believe in Him?

Will we follow Him? Or fall away from Him?     

Will we leave Him? Or let Him be the Lord of our lives?

I hope that as we move throughout this Holy Week, we can all consider our own answers to these questions. That we will each ask the Holy Spirit to point out any areas in our lives where we’ve been indifferent or trapped by fear. I pray that our decisions won’t be driven by our self-preservation instincts, as Pilate’s were, but rather by our love for the One who loved us first. The One who surrendered Himself and allowed His blood to be shed by those who would be made clean by that same blood. What will you do with this Jesus?

–Laura

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Last Words: Judas

Judas. It’s not a name that very many parents name their sons. Judas the traitor. Judas the thief. Judas the betrayer. Judas the beloved?

We don’t know a great deal about Judas. We know that he was the son of Simon Iscariot    (John 13:26). We know that he was one of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. We know that the other disciples counted him as one of their number who shared in their ministry. (Acts 1:17) We know that Judas was in charge of the money. (John 13:29), and that sometimes he helped himself to the funds (John 12:6). And we know that he loses his way.

Pastor Beau reminded us that we really don’t know what led Judas to betray Jesus. We don’t know what his ultimate motivation was. Of course, we know that the betrayal of Jesus was prophesied. We also know that God gives us the ability to make our own choices, and we know that Judas was susceptible to this particular temptation.

All of the disciples were human. All had issues. Peter was impetuous. James and John were called the “sons of thunder” and wanted to call down lightning on a Samaritan village that didn’t allow them to pass through. Thomas was a doubter. Like us, each one had weaknesses that could have led to their downfall. So, to say Judas was the “bad guy” doesn’t really work. Scripture is clear that we are all sinners and we all need a Savior. That’s why Jesus came.

Even knowing all of that, we want to know why Judas made his choice. Pastor Beau gave us four possible maybes.

1. Money.  I wrote above that Judas was the treasurer, that sometimes he stole out of the treasury, and we know that he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Was greed his motivation?  Pastor Beau pointed out that in the Old Testament thirty pieces of silver was the price paid to the master of a slave if the slave was gored by an ox and killed. (Ex. 21:32) Thirty pieces of silver compensated for the life of the slave.  Judas sold Jesus for the value of a gored slave. Beau asked us if Jesus doesn’t have utmost value to us, what does? What are we willing to sell Jesus for?

2. Hurt. In John 6:70-71 Jesus says, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) Did Judas know that Jesus was talking about him at this point? And in John 12, Judas is indignant that Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus feet. He comments in verse 5, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Then Jesus publicly rebuked him and said: “Leave her alone…it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Have you ever been called out publicly? It’s not a fun moment. Jesus always spoke the truth in love, but if Judas didn’t understand the love of Jesus, the truth just hurt. Was he harboring anger and hurt toward Jesus? Was that his motivation?

3. Jealousy. Judas was not part of Jesus’ inner circle among the disciples. Peter, James, and John experienced things with Jesus that the others didn’t. Did that upset Judas? Was he jealous of the closeness the others shared?

We must always guard against comparing our stories to the stories of others. If we catch ourselves saying, “If only I had that”, or “If I didn’t have this”, we are getting into dangerous territory. Each of us has gifts, each of us has a role to play in the kingdom of heaven. If we are jealous of someone else, we miss what Jesus wants to do in our story.

4. Disillusionment.  Many times the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Many times Jesus had to explain things to them. It’s very possible that Jesus didn’t look anything like the Messiah they expected.  Many Israelites were expecting an earthly ruler who would overthrow the Roman government, who would make all the right political moves, and who would put Israel on top.  Jesus didn’t seem to be meeting those expectations.

Is it possible that Judas was trying to force his hand?  Is it possible that when Judas came to the garden with a large crowd who had swords and clubs that he was hoping this would be the moment that the warrior Messiah would rise up? Instead Jesus said to him, Friend, do what you came to do. (Mt. 26: 50)  I looked up the word “friend” in the Greek. It means “comrade, partner, in kindly address, friend, my good friend.”

Jesus leaves me speechless over and over. Even in this moment, he was loving Judas. The thought of that makes me want to cry. Jesus is so kind, so good, and so misunderstood.

Do we have false expectations about Jesus? Are we disillusioned with Him?

Judas seemed to act on his impulses and take matters into his own hands. It didn’t go well for him.

Judas’ ultimate enemy was Satan.  Satan prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1st Peter 5:8).  In this moment that someone was Judas. Both Luke 22:3 and John 13:27 tell us that Satan entered into Judas…  Judas was weak, making his own decisions, and he took the bait.

We see this prowling other times in Scripture. All the way back in the book of Genesis, God tells Cain: Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. (4:7). Cain does not listen, he kills his brother, and bears the consequences of that choice.

God gives Satan permission to test Job. Job proves faithful to God, and is commended for his faithfulness.

Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk. 22:31-32).  

Simon Peter’s faith did fail, and he betrayed Jesus. But he came back. He allowed Jesus to restore Him.

I believe with all my heart, the same could have been true for Judas. Judas’ last recorded words are found in Mathew 27: 3-5. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”  

At this point my heart breaks. Judas, once again took matters into his own hands and took his own life. He did not understand the depth of the love of God. He did not understand that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world. (Jn 3:17)

Judas misunderstood. Judas had weaknesses. Judas messed up.

I think the tragedy of Judas’ life has much to teach us. Judas’ weaknesses killed him—whether it was greed, hurt, jealousy, disillusionment, or something else, it cost him his life.

Do we know where we are weak? Do we know what it is that can pull us away from full on commitment to Christ? Is it social media, time management, gossip, shopping, over-eating, lust, porn, alcohol, dishonesty, money, drugs, TV, sports, self-pity, self-aggrandizement, promiscuity, politics, self-righteousness, prejudice, unhealthy friendships, self-protection, chasing adrenaline rushes, mental fantasy, comparison, envy, bitterness, unforgiveness? The list could go on and on. Where are you weak? Where are you susceptible to attack?

I recently read the phrase, “We are not punished for our sin, but by our sin.” Our weaknesses, the things we are susceptible to must be acknowledged and surrendered over and over to Jesus. Our weaknesses help us to remember how desperately we need our Savior. Apart from him, we are self destructive, others destructive, and we have a very real enemy who wants to take us out. Jesus knew this when He taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Peter shows us what to do after an epic failure. Peter, after denying Jesus three times, felt remorse; he went out and wept bitterly. Yet Peter did not ultimately give up. Jesus restored Peter, gave him a purpose and unleashed him as a powerful ambassador for The Kingdom.

Judas felt remorse. He acknowledged his sin. But he didn’t understand the unconditional love of God. He thought his story was over, so he took his own life.

All of us are weak. Paul tells us that no one is righteous. No one. He tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard. He tells us about his own wrestling match with sin in Romans 7, and finishes that portion of scripture by saying What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me…. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rm. 7:24-25)

Jesus delivers us from our sin. Let that sink in. He always has the final word! When we are being sifted Jesus prays for us, he intercedes on our behalf. When we are weak, He is strong. He sympathizes with our weaknesses because he was tempted in every way but did not sin. He is for us, not against us.

Please know, no matter your story, as long as you are alive, there is hope. You have not committed the one sin that Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t cover. There is complete and full forgiveness for you. There is restoration. There is new life. There is joy. There is Holy Spirit power to carry out the call that God has given you. You are loved. Breathe it in. Bask in it. Jesus loves you. Don’t ever give up.  Your story is not over. Believe it!

—Luanne

Luanne wrote, “I think the tragedy of Judas’ life has much to teach us. Judas’ weaknesses killed him…”

I wholeheartedly agree with her. Until this Sunday’s message, I’ve never attempted to relate to Judas. His story has made me feel sad, mad, confused… but that’s as far as I have ever gone. There’s a strong tendency to move into the “us/them” mindset when it comes to this particular man, at least for me. I think in general, we as Christians have always “othered” Judas-even to the point of demonizing him-rather than taking the time to examine if any of Judas’ flaws can also be found in us…

Last week, the question Beau asked us to consider was, “Who is Jesus to you?”. This week, he asked,

“Which Jesus are you pursuing?”

It’s a question we have to ask ourselves, and be willing to answer honestly. I believe it’s a huge part of the answer to all of the questions we have about Judas and his choices–and it can also show us the why behind our own decisions.

We don’t know exactly what Judas thought about Jesus. Whatever beliefs he may have held, his actions proved that the Jesus he was pursuing didn’t actually exist.

Beau took us into the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas’ betrayal of Jesus took place. (Matthew 26) I’ve known the story for a long time, but I’ve never taken notice of some of the things Beau highlighted in the text. I knew they came to arrest Him, Judas betrayed Him with a kiss, and Peter cut off a guy’s ear, which Jesus then healed. Those are the basics that I’ve always paid attention to. But the way they came for Jesus, and when (at night when none of His followers were around…), hadn’t stood out to me as anything more than background details of the main story. But there is so much more here, especially as it relates to Judas and which Jesus he may have been pursuing… In this account, we see a glimpse of what his beliefs may have been. This was one of many occurrences when Judas took things into his own hands. And as Luanne wrote about above, he may have been trying to force Jesus’ hand here. To force him into the role, the mold, that he felt Jesus, as King, should occupy.

Beau referenced parts of Psalm 2, a psalm that speaks of the coming Messiah, in his message. Verses 8-12 read this way in the New Living Translation:

“‘Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.’” Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—for his anger flares up in an instant.

If Judas was familiar with this text, which he most likely was, it stands to reason that the Jesus standing in front of him didn’t look like he expected the Messiah to look. Perhaps he thought he could force Jesus into the box he’d created in his own mind for Him–a box marked by rule, authority, power, wealth, control-things that would all also benefit Judas and feed his desires. Maybe he had it in his head that he could be part of provoking Jesus to step up and oppose those who opposed Him…

Sometimes I want Jesus to oppose (even take out…) those who oppose Him, too. And more specifically, those who seem to stand in the way of His Kingdom coming the way thatthink it should. And sometimes… I just want Him to take out those who oppose me… Those who hurt me, make me angry, stand in my way.

Sometimes I pursue a Jesus who doesn’t exist, too. 

When I get caught up in my own pain, selfishness, pride, I create a version of Jesus who works on behalf of me, who makes my life easier and better… It breaks my heart to even write that, to admit that it can be true about me. But when I choose my will, when I take things into my own hands, I can be Judas. When Satan dangles the perfect temptation in front of my weakness and I take a bite, I fall prey to it… just like Judas did

I’ve betrayed Jesus, too. In a million little ways and in big ways. I’ve allowed selfishness to guide my heart-I’ve looked for a Jesus who would fulfill my wants and expectations. I’ve let hurt and jealousy paralyze me rather than let their presence lead me to the feet of Jesus. And I’ve been disillusioned when the Jesus I expected hasn’t shown up. That’s where the similarities between me and Judas end, though…

Because even at my worst, the Jesus I wasn’t pursuing–the real Jesusnever stopped pursuing me. He has come to me over and over–with words of truth soaked through with love, calling me “friend” and “beloved”. My weakness, mistakes, and full-blown sin have never stood in the way for the real Jesus. He doesn’t turn away when He sees them in me. In fact, it’s the depth of my brokenness, my weakness, that He moves toward. Because in my weakness, He is strong. I am so grateful that He doesn’t take out all those who oppose Him–because I’ve been, and still can be at times, one of those opposers…

There is a song that we sang at church this week that has been wreaking havoc in my heart. It’s called “All I Have is Christ”. It goes like this:

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
O Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You

The Jesus we sing about in this song, the one who loved me first, who looked upon my helpless state and decided to suffer in my place, to bear the wrath that was mine… I want to always pursue this Jesus. The Suffering Savior is, indeed, the Conquering King. But He conquered His way… Not mine. And His way is always better. No matter the depth of pain, shame, hopelessness we may feel, Jesus longs to move into it. Our darkness doesn’t scare Him away. Because the real Jesus is blazing Glory-light that scatters even the deepest darkness. It’s strong enough to have scattered all of Judas’ darkness–if he would have let the real Jesus save him. Tragically, Judas’ darkness overwhelmed him before the light of hope had a chance to write a different ending to his story…

Too many stories have been left unfinished. Hopelessness has won too many times. There is a different way… a way that leads to life instead of death…There is a Hope that stands amidst torrents of grief and is unshaken by the winds of shame. There is a Light that shines across dark and murky waters and shows us the way to shore. There is a Love that can absorb our hate, our jealousy, our selfishness–every drop of our sin. The truth is, this Love has already absorbed every drop of sinfulness into Himself. He already paid the debt we owe. And He stands ready and waiting to absorb us–each messy, broken story of our lives–into His Life. He longs to absorb our sordid history into His Story and rewrite our days in red.

This is the Jesus who pursues us. Is this the Jesus we’re pursuing?

–Laura

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