Colossians 2:1-9

Beau began this week’s sermon by highlighting the reasons behind this part of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In verse 2, Paul writes, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love…” The believers at Colosse were struggling with discouragement and disunity. Beau told us that discouragement happens when a heart is hurting. Disunity occurs when that hurt is left to fester.

Discouragement and disunity can leave us feeling like we’re in the dark. When we find ourselves in the dark, we will move toward any light we can see. Even if that light is less than sufficient. Even if it is artificial. Paul was warning the Colossians about some of the forms this deceptive light can take–things like believing false theology by way of rational thought or self-centered perspectives. We need to heed the same warning…

We can find ourselves believing that whatever “light” we have seen is the only true light because it has become so real to us. When we are in a well-lit room, we typically don’t go looking for another light switch-even if there is a possibility that there is brighter light to be found.

Beau read John 5:39-40 from two different translations. These verses articulate this concept of accepting a lesser light beautifully…

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (NIV)

 “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” (MSG)

The people that Jesus was speaking to were diligent students of Scripture-a good thing. But they missed seeing that the life they were desperate for was standing in front of them in the person of Jesus. They had been blinded by a lesser light. And they couldn’t see the need for the true Light through their well-lit theology. The Colossians were in danger of missing Jesus in their midst, too.

And so are we.

Jesus’s words in the passage above hit me in a deep place…

“…here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”

He is still standing right before us, always. It’s not a question of whether or not we miss Him standing there. We do. Often. The question is, How do we miss Him?

I think that sometimes, when we’ve stared at artificial light for too long, we actually can be blinded by it. Especially if that light takes the form of some kind of spotlight… a spotlight that shines on us and makes us feel like we’re doing something right…

In Matthew 6:23, Jesus warns, “But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” When what we perceive, what we see as light, is not actually The Light, the light we have is actually darkness within us.

The people Jesus was addressing in John 5 and the people of Colosse that Paul was addressing in this letter, they didn’t know that they were being deceived by a lesser light. It had to be called out. A prophetic voice had to be willing to speak up and call it out, lest their rational thought, self-centered perspectives and diligent study of Scripture keep them from ever knowing the only true Light. “Prophetic voices”, Ken Wytsma writes in a phenomenal book called The Myth of Equality, “explode things… [They are] subversive. Radical. Disruptive.” Paul was willing to be that voice for the Colossians. But not as a critical, condemning, condescending and detached onlooker. As a brother and teacher who was agonizing over them in his prayers. He was fully engaging in intercession, for people he hadn’t personally met, with fervor and empathy. He loved them and was present with them through his prayers. And so his prophetic voice was heard by them.

How do we respond to prophetic voices in our lives? Do we listen? Or are we so blinded by the artificial light that we have accepted as reality that we can’t even see a glimpse of the real Light? If the light we live in is artificial , then we must acknowledge the possibility that maybe we aren’t following the real Jesus.

So how do we know if we have been deceived? If we’re living life in a lesser light? The evidence lies in what is manifested through us. If we haven’t experienced the light of Jesus, but rather an insufficient, lesser light, then what we manifest is artificial light. This dim light can lead to division, further disunity, hypocritical & defensive attitudes when our “light” is called into question, “us” & “them” mentalities, a core desire for our own comfort above all else… the list could go on.

If, however, we have seen the real Jesus standing before us–if we have experienced the Light that dispels the inherent darkness of all other lights, then we manifest the Kingdom of God. We will willingly respond to the call of the Gospel to, as Beau put it, “leverage our lives and what we have for the benefit of the Kingdom and offer our whole lives to move the Kingdom forward”. Beau identified that choosing to lay our own kingdoms down in exchange for God’s Kingdom is hard. But He also reminded us that, “We don’t know how much better [God’s] Kingdom is until we’re living in it”. When the brightness of Christ cuts through the lesser lights we have surrounded ourselves with, it changes us. This Light exposes all things. We can’t ever un-see a light this bright-unless we choose to close our eyes

May we be people who live with eyes wide open to the Jesus standing before us. May we be willing to listen to the prophetic voices that call us out of our dimly-lit mindsets and misconceptions. And may we willingly lay our kingdoms down for the advancement and fulfillment of The Kingdom of God…

–Laura

Laura makes some excellent points. Oh…”may we willingly lay our kingdoms down for the advancement and fulfillment of The Kingdom of God…”

Here is what I think is true. None of us wants to be deceived. I believe that we all want godly wisdom and knowledge. I believe that we all want to be living in the true light, the Jesus, Light of the World light–and I believe that we all need to be reminded from time to time that Satan poses as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Even Jesus reminds us in Matthew 24:4 “Watch out that no one deceives you!” So, how do we safeguard ourselves from deception?

Laura talked about it above–the key is being absolutely grounded in Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ. (Col. 2:3).

For those of us who grew up in church, or have been in church for a while, this may be trickier than we think. Colossians 2:8 gives a clue as to why this can be tricky. It reads “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.

I grew up in a wonderful faith tradition, met Jesus there, grew in Jesus there, but have discovered that not everything we did as a church lined up with scripture. I imagine that’s true for many of us. It is imperative that we let the Christian life be defined by Jesus and not by our traditions. And if we are letting Jesus define our Christian experience, I think it will look a whole lot different than it does.

Jesus had a close one on one relationship with the Father. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. (Mt. 4:1). Jesus was not impressed with the religious elite, but went after the teachable, the common, the invisible and the marginalized. Jesus treated foreigners well, he treated women well, he treated children well, he treated the sick well, he treated the demon possessed well, and, because he loved them too, he warned the religious elite, who thought they had the true light, that they were misguided. He never left anyone the way he found them. His primary focus was the kingdom of heaven coming on earth, the kingdom of heaven that looks like each of us laying our lives down for one another, modeling to the world who He is by the way we love one another (John 13:35), bringing people into relationship with the Father through Jesus, and giving us–the church–the charge to take this kingdom to everyone everywhere. His kingdom is totally contrary to the kingdoms of this world, including our own personal kingdoms, which is why we must surrender our kingdoms to His and live His way. He tells us to seek His kingdom first, and He will take care of the rest. (Mt. 6:33)

Is this the way we live? Spend some time reflecting on how your life lines up with the life of Jesus. Is the Kingdom of heaven coming on earth your priority? Does what you think about the role of the church line up with what the Bible says about the role of the church? Are you seeing all people and loving them well? Does the fruit of the Spirit flow out of your life? Are people coming into the kingdom as a result of knowing you?  Are you contending, wrestling, striving, agonizing over others in prayer, even people whom you’ve never met? I am asking myself all of these questions…

Psalm 139:23-24 says “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” 

Asking God to shine His light in us, show us where we have not hidden ourselves in Christ, and then making the adjustments to align ourselves with His way of doing things is where we will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and we will experience true life. It’s only found in Christ. He will not shame us on this journey. He Will gently and lovingly lead us into becoming more and more like Himself, if we will let Him.

Are you in?

–Luanne

light tree

 

Colossians 1:24-29

I attended a conference last weekend that changed my life and gave me a new lens through which to see the world. As John was sharing the message that God gave to him based on Colossians 1:24-29, some of the things I learned last week were brought to the forefront of my mind.

John reminded us that we each have a role to play in sharing the message of the revealed mystery of God, which is that the living Christ lives in us, which means the hope of God’s glory lives in us (v. 27) or as The Message translation puts it: “Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.”

John reminded us of Colossians 1:19 which tells us that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus).”, and then the bombshell from Ephesians 3:17-19 …”And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

That you and I may be filled with the fullness of God…just like Jesus, and out of that fullness we have also received the commission from God to present the word of God in its fullness (v 25) to those who don’t yet know the mystery.

I think any Christian who has been in church for a while knows that we are not here for ourselves. We’ve all heard that the greatest commandment is to  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and all your strength…and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22: 37;39). And we know that the great commission, which is our call, our commission–all of us-– is to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Mt 28: 19-20), but for some reason, many of us never bridge the gap from talking about it to actually doing it.

I learned the phrase “virtue signaling” at the conference last week. According to the Cambridge Dictionary virtue signaling means “an attempt to show other people that you are a good person by expressing opinions that will be acceptable to them, especially on social media.” The Urban Dictionary takes the definition one step further and says “Saying you love or hate something to show off what a virtuous person you are, instead of actually trying to fix the problem.” I’m afraid that many of us who follow Christ are virtue signalers. We love Jesus, we hate that there are lost people in the world, injustice bothers us, we talk about it amongst ourselves, we post about it, but very few of us step into engaging the commission of God in a real way. Why?

I believe it goes to another thing that I learned at the conference. Many cultures in the world live with an emphasis on the community rather than the individual. I experienced the beauty of that kind of life when I lived in Brazil. However, in our majority culture in the United States, we live very individualistically, so the body of Christ becomes a group of collective “I’s” rather than a “we”. And our majority culture has a strong tendency to stay silent about many things. This leads us to hoping that someone else will do the scary stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that might cost something. I think we know this, I even think it causes us to squirm a little with some guilt, yet we don’t move. So what’s the answer?

It is recognizing that Kingdom of God culture must trump our own culture, and acknowledging that God has given us everything we need to do everything that He has called us to. We have the living Christ living in us, we have the fullness of God living in us, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us (John 14:17 “the Spirit of truth…lives with you and will be IN you), and God himself has said “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). And even in the Old Testament God tells us through the prophet Zechariah that it’s “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech. 4:6)

So, like Paul, it’s pushing through the scary, through the desire to stay silent, through the desire to self-protect, through the false narrative that maybe it’s not part of my kingdom role, and moving into “proclaiming Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ…with all HIS energy which so powerfully works in (us).” (Col 1: 28:29) And all that you have to know in order to do this, is your own story with Jesus. If you know Him, you are equipped and ready.

So take heart–we can join in purposefully pushing back the darkness to bring in the Kingdom of Light because the fullness of the Trinity live in us. The Spirit of God has power, and that power allows normal, everyday people to operate with the supernatural power of Jesus. The Kingdom of God advances on the walk and talk of those who know Christ, one person at a time. Are we willing to take what we’ve received from God, crucify ourselves in order that the Spirit may truly come alive in us, and actively participate in the work of His kingdom wherever He has placed us in life?

–Luanne

“I think any Christian who has been in church for a while knows that we are not here for ourselves. We’ve all heard that the greatest commandment is to  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and all your strength…and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37,39)…but for some reason, many of us never bridge the gap from talking about it to actually doing it.”

Luanne’s words resonated in my soul… She highlighted what it means to be a “virtue signaler” and also explained the way our individualistic mindset can hinder our response to the calling we have been entrusted with. She expressed that,

“This leads us to hoping that someone else will do the scary stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that might cost something. I think we know this, I even think it causes us to squirm a little with some guilt, yet we don’t move…”

As we read Paul’s accounts through Colossians, however, we see a man who not only moves, but does so with abandon, with wholehearted devotion-and in the face of extreme persecution most of us will never come close to comprehending.

What did Paul know that we struggle to understand? I think maybe it’s less about what he knew, and more about Who he knew. He knew the Jesus of the Bible.

We do, too… right?

We do… to a point. We do to the extent that we can understand. John spoke about the ways we see Scripture through the lens of our traditions and experiences rather than seeing our experiences through the lens of Scripture. He reminded us that it must be the the living Word, the power of the Holy Spirit within us that shapes our understanding. It is only through the power of the Trinity residing within us that we are moved, shaped, changed and sent out.

Paul knew the real Jesus. Not the Jesus many of us have been presented with in our various backgrounds and traditions. He knew the Jesus that “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He knew the suffering Savior. Paul understood that his role was to be a servant to the Churchnot a savior of the church. The church already had a Savior–the same Savior that rewrote the story of a man named Saul. The same Savior that changed his name from Saul, which means “asked for, prayed for”, to Paul: “humble or small one”. This was so much more than a change of name for him. He went from being important, from lording his identity as a prominent, privileged Pharisee to seeing himself in light of his new name-small and humble under the lordship of Jesus, for whom he was willing to give his whole life.  He had met the suffering Savior and he got it. He understood what he had been entrusted with. He knew the power of being raised to new life in Jesus. And he knew he had been called to make known to everyone-Jew & Gentile, rich & poor, slave & free-the truth of the Gospel that he had-prior to encountering the Jesus who saved him-refuted and persecuted with murderous passion!

Paul suffered from no illusions that serving Jesus wouldn’t cost him. And more than that, he rejoiced in his sufferings–for the sake of the church! For the sake of people who needed to know this Jesus who had come to redeem humanity unto Himself.

Colossians 1:24b-25a from The Message paraphrase says this:

“…There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world-the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering…” 

John said, “We suffer as an extension of what Christ did”. We must choose our response to our suffering Savior. Do we choose to enter into the world’s suffering-knowing it will cost us-as an extension of what Jesus suffered for us? Or do we talk the talk without following through? If we see Jesus only through the lens of tradition, only through the lens of a privileged existence that longs for safety, security, prosperity and pleasure–we cannot enter into the world’s suffering with authenticity. But if we look to Scripture and let the Holy Spirit reveal to our hearts the truth about the Jesus we serve, He will show us who we are in light of all that He is. He will lead us into our true identities. For so long, we (the western Church) have pushed back against the idea of suffering. We have created prosperity teachings that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. And we have lived lives marked by fear of suffering. But when we remove our filters and look at the life of Jesus and His first followers, we see that the Gospel is truly about the first becoming last, for the sake of the lasts having the chance to be first. It’s an upside-down Kingdom.

Paul knew this. He encountered Jesus and he was changed. His story was rewritten and he was given a new life and a fresh start. The weight of what he had been entrusted with propelled him into a life of willing servitude on behalf of the world. He led with his story of what Jesus had done for him. And he understood that it wasn’t in his own strength that he carried this weight. It was the very power of God working within him.

John said, “Paul got the suffering, but he also got the strengthening”. Paul was willing to move into the suffering life his Savior had modeled. And so, he got the strengthening that enabled him to walk the walk unto completion. Sometimes we ask for the strengthening without being willing to enter into the suffering. But we don’t get to move into the strengthening without first embracing the suffering. We don’t need to be strengthened to keep up the status quo. To keep talking the talk without walking the walk. We need the strengthening to endure the suffering. To keep showing up. To keep entering into the pain of the world, as Paul’s life so beautifully modeled.

How do we do it? How do we enter into the suffering? We do exactly what John charged us to do this weekend:

“Speak to the one God has placed in front of you. We are the communicators. Hard is part of it. Move to it. Move through it. We can’t. He can. Let Him do it through you. All things are possible in Him.”

And what do we speak? Luanne stated it in beautiful simplicity:

“…all that you have to know in order to do this, is your own story with Jesus. If you know Him, you are equipped and ready”.

Do you know Him? This suffering Savior who came to give his life as a servant? If you don’t, I pray that He will reveal Himself to your heart so that you, like Paul, can have a new story, a fresh start. If you do, are you willing to embrace the role of servant and enter into the suffering of the world as an extension of what Jesus did for you? I pray that we can all give a resounding “yes” to that question and move out into a world that is desperately waiting for our talk to materialize into a walk that will walk with them. 

We would love to hear your thoughts-please share with us any questions and comments you have.

–Laura

suffering savior

Can I Have the Best of Both Worlds?

The “Big Questions” series at church has been excellent, and the question “Can I Have the Best of Both Worlds” was incredibly thought provoking. It was heavy, it was excellent, it was true.  The answer to “can I have the best of both worlds” is no. We can not have the best of both worlds. We have to choose.

I don’t know about you, but I am in a constant wrestling match with that truth. My western mind set is way too focused on the material world. I have weight to lose because of the over-abundance of food that surrounds me; I have to buy new hangers because my closet is full; every few months I take bags of items to the Rescue Mission to donate, and still have way too much.

Twice in my adult life, I have gotten rid of almost all of my worldly possessions, the first time was when we moved overseas to be missionaries, and the second time was when we moved back. There was something so freeing about being rid of all the stuff. It really felt good. However, in both places, I managed to fill my house with stuff. Why?

And then, John’s point about sin being fun. We are drawn to it because it is enticing. Something about it appeals to us or we wouldn’t be tempted. I’m not tempted by things that don’t appeal to me, but other things can really draw me in. And, as is always the case, the end result is regret, or worse–captivity.

When I look at the “more stuff” trap, or the “sin” trap, or the “control” trap or the “safety” trap  it becomes apparent to me that in all of these situations I am trying to bless myself and/or meet my own needs. I am trying to be my own god.  And what is really true, I have no control of anything, but I can certainly live in the deception that I think I do.

Contrast that way of life with the other world–the Kingdom of Heaven world in which the One True God is King and it looks completely different.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 16  “If any of  you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

And in Matthew 6 verses 19-33 Jesus tells us not to worry about what we’re going to wear, what we’re going to eat–he reminds us that the stuff of this world is temporary, it rusts, it gets destroyed–he reminds us that our Father knows what we need and He will provide as we seek His Kingdom first.

In John 16:33 Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but not to be dismayed because he has overcome the world. And he is pretty frank about the fact that we will suffer for his name’s sake.  All of this is only temporary as well, yet  it is a temporary that is worth something for eternity.

In addition, Jesus also tells us that only in him do we have life (John 14:6), only in Him is that life abundant (John 10:10) only in him do we have the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control), only in him do our lives have purpose and meaning, only in him will we be able to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16), and only in him are we freed from the smallness of living for self.

I loved the list that John ended his sermon with–it went something like this:

There is only One who is our refuge, only One who comes toward us when everyone else is moving away, only One who saves us, only One who will not condemn, only One who transforms our lives, only One who gives us life eternal, only One who fills us with purpose, only One who is trustworthy, only One who is constant, only One who is always present, only One whose name is Love. He is where true life is found.

And what’s true is that I have experienced this. I know that it is true, and that nothing in this world compares. I know that simple living and simply following Jesus is freeing and fulfilling. Yet still I wrestle. Ugh! Thank you, Paul, for letting me know in Romans 7:24 that you struggled too: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin…  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So, where does this bring me? I find myself again facing the challenge that Joshua laid out before the Israelites:

..Fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped… Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15 NLT)

Will I serve the false, lying gods of self, of selfishness, self preservation, self protection, of stuff, of trying to control my own life, my own destiny…or will I choose total surrender to His way? I can’t have both. Either He is God, or I am god. Today, I repent of how out of balance I have become and am making the choice to choose Him, His kingdom,  and His ways again.  I feel some purging coming on….

How about you? Is this a struggle for you as well? If it is not a struggle for you, how do you maintain proper perspective and balance in this materialistic, self-sufficient society of ours?

–Luanne

I wish I didn’t share this struggle. It would be lovely to be able to say that I have great perspective and balance and that the temptation to live with one foot in each world is not a problem I can relate to. But the truth is, this is an ongoing wrestling match in my life. Luanne wrote,

“Will I serve the false, lying gods of self, of selfishness, self preservation, self protection, of stuff, of trying to control my own life, my own destiny…or will I choose total surrender to His way?”

I want to always choose surrender to His way. I know what happens when I choose otherwise. Yet, I find myself choosing myself over and over again. Why?? Because these false gods whisper lies that sound like promises. These “promises” speak to the places in me that long for fairness. For safety. For stability. The places that are afraid of change, tired of grieving and desperate for control.

These “promises” are skillfully worded to hit each of us where we are the most vulnerable, the most desperate. And, unfortunately, sometimes I buy it. I believe the hissing lies and I white-knuckle them. I hang on until, inevitably, the lies are exposed as such and I’m left disappointed, brokenhearted and, again, asking why.

John talked about one lie that targets our desire for fairness, the one that says if we follow God, if we do what He asks, if we’re good, we’ll be “healthy, wealthy and wise”. And he also identified that we all know that isn’t true. We all know someone whose story defies this lie. Friends who love Jesus-and are battling cancer. Family members who have done everything right-and find themselves in a state of financial ruin. For me, I think of my mama. She lived her life for her kids, for others, most of all for Jesus-and she died of a terrible disease in her mid-fifties.

So what do we do with all of that? John asked us these questions regarding the unfairness of life:

“Where can you run? When it’s you? When it’s someone you love? Who will be with you then? Who will be your refuge?

And as I pondered his words, these words came to mind:

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  Psalm 139:7-10

When the promises this world makes are exposed, when we find ourselves trapped in a cage built by our own hands, when we experience the unfairness and instability of our ever-changing world and we find ourselves all alone… He is there. Not to shame us for being so stupid, not to mock our lack of self-control, not to condemn us for foolishly running after idols. No. He is there to remind us that there is nowhere we can go that He won’t find us. Nowhere too dark that He won’t stoop low to meet us. As John said, Jesus is the only one who wants to be a part of our world when it’s unfair, unsafe and fading away, when our dreams and hopes are dying. He’s the one who will wait for us, walk with us, stay with us. In Hebrews 13:5, we are reminded of His promise to be with us:

Let your character [your moral essence, your inner nature] be free from the love of money [shun greed—be financially ethical], being content with what you have; for He has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!” (AMP Bible)

Can we have the best of both worlds? No. We can’t serve both God and ourselves. Will life be hard? Yes. Whether we do it God’s way or our way, we are guaranteed that life will sometimes be unfair and unsafe and we will have trouble. But we have a God who says He will never, under any circumstances leave us or relax His grip on us. Even when we fail. Even when we buy the lies and find ourselves in a pit we created. Even there, in our brokenness, His hand will guide us and hold us fast. I am so grateful for His promise of “withness”. And I know that as I continue to find Him faithful and as I trust Him to lead me, my grip on the things of this world will loosen more and more each day.

Where do you run when life turns out to be unfair and unsafe? What do you cling to for stability, for control? Do the promises in the verses from Psalm 139 and Hebrews 13:5 comfort your heart? We would love to read your thoughts and questions!

–Laura

corrie ten boom

Daily Living the Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Luanne

Luanne wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

your story

The Love Chapter

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails... 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a (NIV)

This passage out of 1 Corinthians 13 may be one of the most familiar in the entire Bible. It is a commonly used wedding passage and it gets plenty of airtime both in and outside of the church. However, I could not write notes quickly enough as I listened to this week’s sermon! John and Luanne shed so much light on what these verses actually mean–both in definition and in practical application. It is difficult to know where to begin this week… I can’t possibly cover all of the life-giving truth that was shared with us–there were so many outstanding points–so if you missed the sermon, please take the time to listen to it.

Let’s start with the basics…

I John 4:16 tells us “God is love”. And verse 19 of the same chapter reminds us that, “We love because He first loved us“. So this love that we’re talking about, it doesn’t come from us. We cannot manufacture it, produce it, fake it. Real love, this “agape” love has one origin: God Himself. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son…” (1 John 4:10)

Luanne, quoting pastor Scott Sauls, shared that, “Love has to be a person to us before it can become a verb…[It] is caught rather than achieved… The more we are with Jesus, the more we will become like Him“.

So, we can’t love until we have experienced love. Not in the way this passage is defining love, anyway. It is important that we understand that this love we’re talking about, it’s not the watered-down English word we throw around as we go about our days. The word that is used is “agape”. This love is a selfless love, a love that willingly and joyfully thinks of others without condition, a love that moves. It is “a love that loves on despite reaction or response” (Jill Briscoe). This kind of love, it only comes from God.

John talked to us about the oxygen masks on an airplane, how the instructions are always to put your mask on first, before assisting anyone else with theirs. So it is with the love of God. We cannot give someone else what we have not first received ourselves. Our “mask” has to be pouring God’s love into us before we can think about attaching anyone else to that love supply. What is not flowing into us cannot flow out of us. Pretty simple, right? But John identified a problem we have to wrestle with…

“We’ve gotten so fixated on our own air, we have forgotten the other…” 

We have the air. We have the love of Almighty God in the person of Jesus Christ. Our “masks” are firmly and forever connected to the endless supply of God’s great love. We know that experiencing this agape love, it changes everything. It brings life, freedom, peace, joy and all of this in abundance.

Why are we hoarding the air? Are we so fixated on ourselves that we forget to extend this gift, this love to everyone else?  We were reminded yesterday that,

“Everything we have in Christ is for us AND everyone“.

Are we living as though everything we have in Christ is only for us? As though love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things for us–but not for everyone else?

On an airplane, we are instructed to make sure our masks are firmly in place first. Then, we are instructed to help those around us who need help putting on theirs. If you were sitting on a plane that was about to go down and you had put on your mask but there were several people around you that couldn’t put on their own, would you sit in your chair and lean your head back? Would you deny them assistance with the oxygen they need to survive? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, of course not! I imagine that it wouldn’t matter if you knew them or not–if people around you were going to die without help attaching their masks properly, you would help them. I would help them. Regardless of who they were or how well we knew them; regardless of race, religion, gender, age, political affiliation, or any other factor…

People are going to die without their masks connected to the love of God.

We have the air. We’ve experienced this love. We are eternally connected to the endless supply. What are we doing with it? Is what’s flowing into us also flowing out of us? In what measure? Are we “catching” the love of Jesus by spending time with Jesus, learning what this agape love looks like and acts like in a life? Are we mindful of those around us, aware of their need for help connecting to this supply we’ve tapped into?

Or are we content to let the plane go down, aware of the need around us, but unwilling to move from our seats? If we are, we may not actually be connected to the right love supply. Because agape love, the love described in the passage above, it is not self-seeking. It is not ignorant or apathetic to the needs of others but rather lays down its own life on behalf of others. The way love Himself did. For us… and for everyone

–Laura

1st Corinthians 13 is, like Laura wrote, an incredibly familiar passage. Before preparing for this message, I had (like many others) disconnected this passage from the rest of the book. Paul was frustrated with the church in Corinth. They had forgotten the main thing. They were arguing about silly things like which spiritual gift was superior to others; they were forgetting their first love–so in the middle of chapters 12 and 14, which both address spiritual gifts, Paul takes them back to the most important thing in all of Christianity–Agape.

“God so “agape-ed” the world that He gave His only son.” John 3:16.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you agape one another, even as I have agape-ed you, that you also agape one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have agape for one another.”John 13:34-35

” Jesus replied: “‘Agape the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Agape your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:27-39

And Paul concludes 1st Corinthians 13 with these words: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and agape. But the greatest of these is agape.

According to one of the definitions that I read: The true expression of Agape love is outward. Agape love is always shown by what it does. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will.

God has promised us Agape love as we allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The very first aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is Agape.

 … the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape) , joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)  

Compare the fruit of the Spirit to Paul’s description of Agape love in 1st Corinthians 13. Agape (Love) is…patient, kind does not envy, does not boast,  is not proud,  does not dishonor others,  is not self-seeking,  is not easily angered,  keeps no record of wrongs.  does not delight in evil,  rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…

So, if Agape love is a fruit of the Spirit, how do we get it?

 Ask!!

“So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:13).

And then follow His lead.

THEN we will begin to see people the way God sees them…ALL people. Then we will begin to love people the way God loves them. ALL people. Agape is counter cultural. Agape is different from what our flesh desires. Agape is counter-intuitive. Agape will stretch us and grow us. Agape will draw people to Christ.

German Poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.”  

What could we want more than them coming to know Jesus and then becoming like Jesus?

Ask God  Every. Single. Day.  for more of the Spirit. Pray for Agape. Pray for all of the fruit of the Spirit to flow through you to others.  Pray for the ability to see people the way Jesus saw them, full of belief and hope in their God-given potential, willing to stay with them until the end, keeping them safe and protected in His love, and never ever ever giving up…

Precious, loving Lord Jesus– as we spend time with you, getting to know you, becoming more like you, please fill us with more of Your Spirit and then use the Agape that flows through  us to change the world for Your glory. Amen.

–Luanne

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Covenant Marriage

“I have never heard that before.”

I have heard-and said-this sentence many times over the last eight days. It started with last week’s sermon when John set before us the picture of the two trees in the garden.This week, John and Luanne shared with us stunning perspectives on marriage, Christ and His Church and Communion that many of us were completely unfamiliar with.

Following these two profound sermons, I have had conversations full of questions like,

“How have I never heard this?”

“Why was this never taught?”

“How could we have missed this?”

All of these questions give us the opportunity to blame someone else for what we didn’t know. The church we grew up in, our parents, our circumstances, etc… But here’s the thing:

Both of these sermons are found, firmly grounded in and proven by the Word of God.

These two messages that have profoundly affected many of us are not actually new news. They are ancient truths. So why didn’t we know? Why hadn’t we heard it and understood before now?

Because now we have finally gotten tired of eating someone else’s communion.

What in the world do I mean by that?

I think for a long while now, much of the collective Church has been content to eat what’s on the table in front of us. Whatever has been dished up, we have consumed without raising objection–even if the food is cold and stale. We’ve been happy to do things as they’ve always been done. And we have accepted as truth what was possibly nothing more than washed-up tradition and works of fiction.

The result of this kind of diet is both tragic and beautiful. Tragic because we are what we eat. And if we haven’t been eating Jesus… we aren’t being Jesus. We are seeing this play out in churches, communities and nations like our own where many Christians are not living the love of Christ and the Good News is being used to wound rather than to welcome.

But there is a beautiful result, too. A result that has been the catalyst for sermons such as the two we have experienced the last two weeks.

We get hungry for something more.

In God’s great faithfulness to us, He stirs our hearts as His Spirit moves to open eyes and ears and hearts to the Truth that has been there all along. And we get hungry. We begin to pray prayers like these:

 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT) 

[I always pray] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may grant you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation [that gives you a deep and personal and intimate insight] into the true knowledge of Him [for we know the Father through the Son]. And [I pray] that the eyes of your heart [the very center and core of your being] may be enlightened [flooded with light by the Holy Spirit], so that you will know and cherish the hope [the divine guarantee, the confident expectation] to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (God’s people),  and [so that you will begin to know] what the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His [active, spiritual] power is in us who believe. (Ephesians 1:17-19 AMP)

The thing about praying prayers like these? God loves to answer them. He loves to take us deeper into Himself because He loves us and He desires that we earnestly seek Him. He longs that we get it. That we get how wide, long, high and deep is His love for us so that our eyes may be enlightened by a spirit of wisdom and revelation to grasp and cherish the hope to which He has called us.

Can we have a really honest moment? We have held the Truth in our hands and missed it. We have claimed to know Jesus but lived like we don’t. We have let our faith grow stale and complacent, been content to be spoon fed a lesser gospel void of the passion and intimacy God desires to have with His people.

There is no one to blame but ourselves. We hold the living Word of God in our hands. We have a personal relationship with Jesus and His Spirit abides in us who believe. If we have never seen these things before, it’s because we have never looked. We have forgotten our first love and though He has never ceased His pursuit of us, I think we have allowed our love for Him to cool and become commonplace when He desires to sweep us up into the wild romance of truly living in step with Him.

And… He doesn’t shame us for missing it. He doesn’t scold us. He doesn’t accuse.

He gently, lovingly comes and offers us the cup of His covenant again. And again. And again

He comes to us, His Beloved, and He invites us to remember. To remember that we are His bride, bought with a price, sealed as His. To remember that the day is coming when our Groom will come and take us to the place He has prepared for us. Even when we are the unfaithful, adulterous fiance, He comes and invites us to reconnect to Himself.

God is stirring up His Church. He is aligning the hearts of His people and connecting messages across the globe. He is removing scales from our eyes and tearing down lies we have believed. He is reminding us that His Word is alive and His Spirit is moving and what will be our response? Will we be the generation that reaches to the ends of the earth saying,

 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 NLT)

What is your response? Jesus is holding out the cup of His covenant, His promise to you, to me. Will we say yes to His proposal? If we’ve said yes, will we renew those vows and live from the understanding that we are His Beloved and He is ours?

We may have never before heard the truth in all its fullness the way we did this weekend. But now we have. And it is the most beautiful invitation into the fullest life with Jesus, the life He longs for us to say yes to.

What will you do with what you now know? What will I do with it?  I pray we each will lay aside the stale communion we have grown accustomed to and enter into the intimate, personal communion that Jesus desires we experience with Him.

–Laura

The year was 1999. John and I were home from the mission field for a few months. During that time, we attended a conference, and during that conference one of the speakers asked us to close our eyes, to picture Jesus however we saw Him, and to visualize Him looking us in the eyes and saying “I love you.”  I closed my eyes, I visualized Jesus the way I picture Him, but I could not get myself “one on one” with Jesus. In my vision, I was part of a multitude and Jesus was telling all of us collectively that He loves us. When that moment in the conference was over, I leaned over to John and asked him, “Was that hard for you?” He said no. I was deeply disturbed and knew that I had some work to do around knowing that Jesus loves meYes, He loves all of us. But He also loves each of us.  We have to know that. We have to know that. We have to KNOW that.

I began by asking God to show me, to teach me. I had a part to play in this too–to believe that what He says is true and to replace lies with truth. As I began to believe and let myself experience that He loves ME, my entire relationship with Him began to change. All of a sudden, I didn’t have a quiet time out of duty, but I couldn’t (and still can’t) wait to get away with Jesus one on one. Prayer wasn’t a before meals and before bed habit, it became a life-line, an ongoing conversation, a joy. Loving others wasn’t a forced “supposed” to, it became an outflow of His love flowing through me. Serving in the church and elsewhere wasn’t an obligation or a “have-to”, but became weightless–an honor, a privilege, a divine partnership.

ALL of the abundant life that Jesus promises hinges on us knowing that we are loved individually, and the natural response to that love is love.

I continually ask Him to help me understand it, to grasp it more deeply. Laura referred to Ephesians 3:16-19 in her writing  “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. THEN you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  

In the last month I have heard these verses from four different, unrelated speakers, and the “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep” part was the K-Love verse of the day not too long ago. God is speaking loudly to His bride—“Please, Church, get this! I LOVE you. I LOVE you, I LOVE you.”

So, when I came upon  the paragraph in Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way, about the cup that Christ offers being a marriage proposal, I had to know more.   I have been blown away by what I learned, by what I shared. How could any of us settle for “religion” when Jesus himself has proposed to us?  Oh– I pray that we get it!  There is no one like Him, no love like His, and nothing else in all of creation has the power to transform my life, your life, and this world. Do you believe it? Do you believe that He loves YOU?

Jesus says to you–you the individual you– I Jesus, take you from this day forward to love you, to comfort you, to honor and keep you, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others be faithful to you as long as we both shall live. Will you accept my offer, will you accept my life and give me your life, your love, your faithfulness in return?

What will your response be?

–Luanne

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Imagine Living a New Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“that they may”

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

1 Peter 2:9 reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…or not to.

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

We may.

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

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

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

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

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

We may.

–Laura                

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

 

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Imagine If…So that…

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

1. Know God

2. Find Freedom

3. Discover Purpose

4. Make a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

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

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

So, where is “there”?

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

At the cross of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been there?

–Laura

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Imagine if You Can-1/1/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if He doesn’t show up?”

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne