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 Battle: Enemy

I’m sure that you’ve seen the caricatures of the devil, like the one where he is red all over, has a tail, carries a pitchfork, etc. I wish he was that obvious because then his schemes would be easier to recognize and it would be easier not to cooperate with him. Frustratingly, he is crafty and subtle. Some of the names he is given in the New Testament include Satan, devil, tempter, evil one, deceiver, liar, father of lies, thief, accuser, enemy, prince of demons, prince of the power of the air,  and the most frightening to me…he masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14)  We must be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. (Mt. 10:16)

Isaiah 14: 12-14 tells us that Satan was a beautiful angel in heaven, but he wanted to elevate himself to the place of being worshipped–he wanted to be enthroned, he wanted to be God, so in an instant, as fast as a lightning strike, he was cast out of heaven to earth.  He still wants our worship.

In Luke 10:18 Jesus tells us that he was a witness to that event, he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. No doubt, Satan is powerful, but we must always remember that he is not most powerful. God is the almighty One, the all powerful One, and He is who we worship. However, all good warriors know the tactics of their enemy, and Satan most assuredly has a battle plan that we must be aware of.

Pastor John pointed out five pieces of the enemy’s plan for us to look for.

  1. The enemy wants to blind your mind. (2 Cor. 4:4) The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers…  I’ve said this before, and will say it again–I believe followers of Christ can fall into this category. I know there have been times when I’ve doubted God; times that I’ve lost sight of who He is. More than once I have found myself praying the prayer of the father in Mark 9:24 I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief! When we choose doubt, when we choose unbelief, we allow our minds to be blinded, and we cooperate with the scheme of the enemy. Our minds are powerful–it is incredibly important to pay attention to what is going on in that arena. AND it is incredibly important to realize that people who don’t yet know Jesus are blinded. They cannot see. Jesus said that he came to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recover sight for the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19) We who know Him are the ones carrying out His ministry today. We must recognize that people are blind, pray for their sight, refuse to judge them for acting lost, and enter into their lives with love, compassion, action, and words.

2. The enemy wants to steal God’s word from you (Mt. 13:19) When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. The enemy is actively working against us to make the truths of God’s kingdom hard to remember. That’s why we must invest time and energy into studying, memorizing, and reading God’s word. All scripture is important, but as Christ’s followers I think it’s incredibly important to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John over and over and over again–we have to know our Savior–and the rest of it is then read through the lens of Jesus.  We must take time daily to get God’s word into our livesThe enemy wants it out of our lives…let’s refuse to cooperate.

3. The enemy sets traps. (2 Tim. 2:24-26) And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance…that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  I hate acknowledging how many times I’ve fallen for his traps. Any time I take on an us/them mentality or a me/you mentality or an I’m all alone mentality, or a poor pitiful me mentality, I have fallen for the trap. Any time I give in to a temptation, I have fallen for the trap. James 1:14 explains very vividly, using conception and birth language, how this happens: …each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

  1. Satan tempts us according to our own evil desires. It’s personal. What might be tempting for me may not be tempting for you and vice versa.
  2. We follow the temptation, join ourselves–our heart, our soul, our thoughts, our flesh–with it.
  3. We carry the action through to giving birth to sin–doing what we were tempted to do.
  4. If we continue along this path, it leads to death. ( Can be death of relationships, death of purpose, death of dreams, death of unity, many things can die…)

We are never at the mercy of Satan. We can stop the process at any point, we can repent at any point, we can run to Jesus at any point–but we must be aware of the process in order to recognize it when it’s happening.

4. The enemy fights to stop you. (1 Thess. 2:18) For we wanted to come to you—but Satan blocked our way.  We must be aware that when we are on mission with God, the enemy will not make that easy for us. Paul circumvented what the enemy was doing by writing letters…he still got his message to the Thessalonians even though he was unable to get there in person. Roadblocks must not stop us. We have one purpose on this planet, and that is to populate the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth….deliver us from evil….. If His kingdom is to come on earth, it will come through those of us who call Jesus our Lord and are being transformed to His likeness.  We must recognize the “stop” tactics for what they are and persevere in our mission to love people into the arms of Jesus.

5. The enemy plans to destroy you. (1 Peter 5:8) Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour(John 10:10a) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy… We are the deeply loved image bearers of God. Satan hates God. Satan hates us. He wants to keep those who don’t yet know the love of the Father from ever knowing it. He wants to keep those of us who do know the love of the Father from being all that God made us to be in Christ therefore rendering us ineffective in kingdom work.

What is our response to his scheme?  James 4:7-8a  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you…

A couple of things to note in that verse–

  1. Submit means to place yourself under the control of, be subordinate to–So we must place ourselves under the control of God and do life His way.
  2. Every use of the word “you” in these verses is the plural form.
  3. Resist is a military term which indicates that all of the forces on one side are working together to go after the one common enemy–Satan– not against one another. It means every believer in every denomination, in every country, all across the face of the globe– The Church– recognizing that we are on the same team to advance the Kingdom and principles of Jesus and to keep the enemy from gaining any territory. None of us fight the battle alone. When the capital “C” church gets this figured out, it will change the world.

Any time we fall into the trap that our battle is against flesh and blood rather than against our one enemy, we are headed for trouble. Jesus tells us over and over in Matthew 24 that it is possible for his followers to be deceived:

verses 4-5 Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.

10-11 …many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,  and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people

24–false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect

We, His children, must pray constantly for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our blindspots, the areas where we are deceived, the ideologies that we take as “gospel” truth, We must be careful about elevating people and blindly following. We must be careful about following tradition or culture over Truth. Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Not everything that appears good is good. We must be careful about worshiping things other than God–whether it be political figures, nations, policies, news stations, sports teams, celebrities, money, pastors, teachers, authors, spouses, children, work, self, etc. and ask the Lord to open our blind minds to see clearly. We must ask Him to show us who we’ve “othered” and ask Him to help us love them well and remember that we are all on the same team. Our fight is for each other against the one enemy. His word is clear. His kingdom looks like the Sermon on the Mount–(Mt. 5, 6, 7) Do our kingdoms look like that?  Let’s not be afraid to repent, let’s not be afraid to step out of our comfort zones for His name and His glory. Let’s fight the good fight and do this His way. Are you in?

–Luanne

  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you… (James 4:7-8a)

I love that Luanne broke down James 4:7 and defined the imperatives “submit” and “resist”. I am grateful for the reminder that submission isn’t forced–it’s a choice. We choose what we place ourselves under. And we all place ourselves under something… If that something is anything other than God, we are playing right into our enemy’s hand. It is also vitally important that we know and remember that resist is a plural word. It’s not something we do all alone. And who we resist is never one another–it is always our enemy. His ways, his lying words, his plans… When we stand together in resistance, he flees from us. The Greek word for “flee” in this verse is “pheugo”, which means “to seek safety by flight, escape safely out of danger, to vanish“.

There is one more imperative in these verses out of James: “Come near to God…” And the promise: “…and he will come near to you…” When Pastor John read these verses on Sunday, I knew I wanted to spend some time digging in here. When I looked up root words and definitions for the phrase “come near”, I found some things I didn’t expect. [I love it so much when that happens–it’s another great reason to really spend time in the Word, to dig into this gift of Scripture that we’ve been given and really chew on it–not just the words themselves, but also definitions, connections, and applications for our lives. The Holy Spirit will illuminate the words and enlighten us if we’ll give Him the chance…] 

When I followed the words back to their roots, one definition of the phrase stood out above the others: “to join one thing to another“. One of the examples given was the arms of the oceans… They are joined together so seamlessly that we can’t distinguish where one ends and another begins.

This is our invitation… 

Place ourselves under the control of God. Work together to send our enemy fleeing for safety. And be joined to God. And He will join Himself to us. Seamlessly, intimately–so close that lines of separation are indistinguishable.

This same phrase with the same root words is used by Jesus in Matthew 4:17:

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Through Jesus, the kingdom that He talked at length about in Matthew 5,6,7 which Luanne mentioned above, the kingdom of heaven, has been joined together our earthly experience. It’s not something we wait for on the other side, something that exists once our time on earth is through. The kingdom of heaven is here. Now. Inextricably connected to us and living within those of us who know Jesus.

The usage of “you” in James 4:8 (“…and he will come near to you…”) is the same word used in verse 7. Again, it is not talking to us as individuals. It is plural and it is a call to all of us who follow Jesus as Lord. Verse 7 tells us to collectively place ourselves (as one Church) under the authority of God and to come together to resist our enemy. And verse 8 begins by telling us to then be joined together with our God. It is not a me and my God concept. It is us and our God. All of us who, collectively, make up the bride of Christ.

WE. HAVE. TO. GET. THIS. RIGHT.

We have to stop separating ourselves from each other and living judgmental, critical, individualized lives. We have to stop fighting with each other and understand that the body of Christ is so beautiful because of our differences, not in spite of them. We need each other. If every soldier on the battlefield thought exactly the same way and had the same gifts and set of skills, that army would never be successful. It is necessary that armies engage their battles from all sides, with many different strategies, and from different positions in the field. The same is true fro us. I’ll say it again–we need each other.

Carlos Rodriguez, in his book Drop the Stones, writes these words…

“I am one in heart with every Catholic, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Methodist, and all others in our family who celebrate the name (and the ways) of Jesus Christ… Through us the prayer of Jesus will be answered, ‘That they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.’ [John 17:23] We need our Orthodox family. We need our brothers and sisters in the megachurches. We need the underground church in China as well as our Reformed relatives in America. We need one billion Catholics to join hands together with us in solidarity, in prayer, and in service… I believe that not one of us owns the full expression of the faith we love. And maybe God made it that way so that we would have to come together. To learn from each other. To grow with each other. And to stop calling each other the Antichrist.”

What do you say, Church? What will we choose? Will we continue to see our enemy in other flesh and blood? Or will we embrace that our earthly lives have been joined together with the kingdom of heaven and move together as the collective Church of Jesus against our real enemy? The enemy has a battle plan. He knows it inside and out. James gives us our battle plan, the one that will send our enemy fleeing. Let’s make it our goal to know it, to remember it, and to put it into practice. Together.

–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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Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple–and it all starts with love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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Hold On: Habakkuk 1

John 3:3 “…No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

We began a series through the book of Habakkuk on Sunday. What an incredibly relevant book it is for our day and time. The entire book is a prayer-a dialogue- between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk is not afraid to ask God hard questions. He is not afraid to wrestle, but he wrestles with God and not against.

Habakkuk reveals some things about himself in this prayer;

*He reveals that he is deeply connected to God and seeks intimate connection with Him.

*He reveals that God speaks to him as a result of this intimate connection and that he listens to God.

*He reveals that he cares about and feels responsibility for his community.

*He reveals that no matter what happens in this life, he trusts God, and knows that God is in control.

When Habakkuk writes his prayer, the world around him is in chaos. Israel has divided into two nations; the larger northern kingdom called Israel, and the smaller southern kingdom called Judah. Habakkuk lives in Judah. Not only do Israel and Judah fight against one another, not only do they each have their own king, they also have infighting in their own kingdoms. All of this fighting, all of their quarreling, all of their divisiveness weakens them and makes them susceptible to attack from powerful enemies. They live in constant fear and unrest. It is into this reality that Habakkuk cries out to God.  This is how he begins:

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me, there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted. (1: 1-3)

Doesn’t that sound like today?

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)  there are 65.6 million displaced people people who have had to flee their homes because of violence.   Breaking that down into a number that is easier for us to understand—nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution. 20 people per minute.  Habakkuk cries out to God “Violence!” It bothers him. Does it bother us?

We have plenty of violence in the United States: School shootings, mall shootings, church shootings, concert shootings, civilians shooting police, police shooting civilians, men violating women, child abuse,  and thousands of  other violences that don’t make headlines.  Habakkuk cries out to God “Violence!” It bothers him. Does it bother us?

We have laws that favor some and are oppressive to others. Gary Haugen of The International Justice Mission taught me that historically, law systems, police and governing systems were put in place to protect the privileged class.  During the days when Spain, Great Britain, Portugal, and other countries were colonizing other nations, their law systems were set up to protect them- the colonizers, the conquerors-  from the people whose country they were taking over.   Even though that happened a few hundred years ago, many justice systems never evolved into serving and protecting all people equally. Habakkuk cries out… the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted. It bothers him. Does it bother us?

We have division—deep division in our nation. It feels as if we have made certain political ideologies our gods; we are an angry people, we attack one another viciously, we quarrel constantly, our favored media sources “disciple” us and have created mob mentality—an inability to think as individuals, only to think as a group, and we defend our groups and fight for our groups no matter what. We refuse to see anything amiss in our own groups. Habakkuk cries out…there is strife, and conflict abounds. It bother him. Does it bother us?

As I write this, like Habakkuk, my heart is deeply troubled. I sense, like he did, that we are headed for disaster.  Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:25 Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.  Not only are we a divided nation, we are divided as Christians. We are in trouble. We are holding on to the wrong things.

God responds to Habakkuk’s concerns about the state of their kingdom, and His response is a hard one to fathom. It begins with what sounds like an amazingly  powerful word:

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.

And then God lays out how the Babylonians are going to come and totally wipe them out.  Yikes! What are we supposed to do with that? In the theology of many of us, there is no space for a response like this from God. So what does Habakkuk do?

He responds with: Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. (v12) 

We’ll pick up at this point in the text next week, but wow! What a response! Pastor John pointed out that Habakkuk is not focusing on the words that God spoke; he’s focusing on the God who spoke the words. He acknowledges God’s sovereignty. He still has questions, but at the end of the day, he trusts God. He is holding on.

Many of us do not have a theology that includes suffering and hardship. Many of us only have a theology of prosperity and blessing. That leads us to being very shallow, and in danger of abandoning our faith, of letting go rather than holding on when life doesn’t go the way we think it should. We forget that Jesus was crucified, we forget that most of his disciples were martyred. We forget that all across the face of the globe there are Jesus followers being put to death for their faith today.

We forget Jesus’ words in Matthew 24: 4-12

“See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

We forget that Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:

 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,  treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.….Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,  while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.  (2nd Timothy 3: 1-5, 12-14)

We forget that Jesus said

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.”  (John 16:33)

We get our earthly kingdom eyes full of the situations around us, and we worry, and we rant, and we let our hearts grow cold, and we become unbelieving believers forgetting that when God spoke For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jer. 29:11)  that the Israelites were captives-in exile- and God had just let them know that they were going to be captive for a long time. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. (Jer. 29:4-5)

We forget that God tells us For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9)

We forget the faith of Joseph who said: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Gen. 50:20)

The faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said: If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan. 3:17-18)

The faith of Job who said: Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

We forget that we’ve been challenged to trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…(Pr 3:5)

So what do we do, how do we hold on?  We  throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And… run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Heb. 12:1-2)

We hold on by surrendering our lives to Jesus, to His ways, to the principles of His kingdom, and no matter what this earthly kingdom has going on, we represent Him, we love Him, we love others, we leverage our lives for His kingdom, we join Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit in His call which He laid out when He said: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18)

John 3:3 “…No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

May we live like the born again who see the kingdom of God. May we hold on to who we are as His ambassadors, His ministers of reconciliation,  and may we hold on to the King of the Kingdom who matters for eternity, trusting that God is sovereign, that He is at work, that He has a plan, and that we can reflect His love and glory in this fallen world no matter what is going on.

–Luanne

As we embark on this journey into Habakkuk, we see a justice theme permeating almost every verse of the first chapter. It’s clear that this book has a lot to do with justice. I love that it does, because God’s heart for justice beats strong in my own heart, too. Luanne articulated this theme beautifully above. I would love to tag on to what she wrote because justice, equity, seeing the image of God in all people-it is something I am passionate about. But He is leading me a different direction this time…

Pastor John said on Sunday that contained within God’s seemingly harsh, confusing words is a simple message of hope: Hold on…

Luanne wrote:

“We get our earthly kingdom eyes full of the situations around us, and we worry, and we rant, and we let our hearts grow cold, and we become unbelieving believers forgetting that when God spoke, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11)  that the Israelites were captives and God let them know that they were going to be captive for a long time.”

In captivity, with no sign of their situation changing anytime soon, God told His people that He saw the big picture, that He had plans-good plans-for them, and that He would give them hope and a future. We read that verse, share it, put it on bookmarks and graduation cards… and forget the context.

Habakkuk knew the context of the story he was in. He remembered even as he heard hard words from God that there was a larger story being written. The current circumstances that he and his people found themselves in was one chapter in the larger narrative of the story of God. He heard the “Hold on” cut through the message of impending destruction and the noise of the violence around him.

Pastor John explained the charge to “hold on” as an exhortation to embrace the gray area in the meantime. We, as people, have a natural tendency to think we know best. And we have an almost desperate desire to know what’s coming up ahead of us. Embracing the gray area is not fun. It can be terrifying, because we feel completely out of control. And we are. 

We can see from the way Habakkuk related to God that he got this. He understood that God was the One in control. He had, at some point, settled in his heart the matter of God’s sovereignty. And he chose to trust him. We can see this in the way he questioned and prayed-honestly, pouring his heart out, and also in the way that he listened–not with the ultimate goal of understanding, but rather with a heart that remembered who was speaking.

Luanne wrote above, “Habakkuk is not focusing on the words that God spoke; he’s focusing on the God who spoke the words.” 

That is the challenge to all of us as we move into this series… Do we come to God with our questions and chaotic circumstances, in a time when our world is in what appears to be a terminal tailspin, and choose to hold on to Him no matter what He might say-or might not say-about it all? Or will we let go of Him and get swept away by the craziness of our situations?

I think that sometimes we want to stay where we are until we can see clearly what’s up ahead. When what we can see looks like a gray area, it’s easy to feel stuck and grasp at control. But what if God is actually calling us to take a step into the gray before we can see what’s on the other side? What if what we are seeing with our eyes looks like clouds and fog and impending doom, but God is calling us to take a step through it, because the light-the hope-is seen only when we step into the storm? He wants us to fix our eyes on Him and take a step-even when our natural eyes can’t see Him through everything that’s swirling around us.

I can’t help but think of the story from Matthew 14, when Jesus walked out onto the sea while his fearful disciples rowed futilely against a storm. When Jesus told them it was He who was coming toward them, Peter requested that He tell him to come to Him on the water, so he would know it was Him. Jesus obliged Peter’s request and said, “Come”. Peter stepped out and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. All was well until, as the NIV words verse 30, “he saw the wind”. I’m not even going to go into how one sees the wind-that’s a different conversation entirely. But when Peter noticed the wind–however that happened–the Word tells us that he became afraid and began to sink. Peter had Jesus in the flesh, right in front him, but his eyes weren’t fixed on Him in this moment. He knew who Jesus was, he believed, he was experiencing the miracle of walking on water-and the swirling storm around him was enough to divert his attention and change his situation.

We can do the very same thing. We don’t have the physical embodiment of Jesus in front of us, as Peter did. No, we who know Jesus have the Holy Spirit living within us, teaching and guiding us in the way of the Kingdom, moment by moment… and we still get caught up in the storm rather than holding onto the hope that we have that there is a bigger story being written than what our eyes can see. Even with Kingdom vision, with spiritual eyes that see the Imago Dei in all people, with hearts that beat in rhythm with God’s own heart, our circumstances can loom large and cast doubt into our hope–if our eyes aren’t fixed on Him. What does that mean, “fixing our eyes”? In the Hebrews 12:2 verse that Luanne previously referenced, “fixing our eyes” literally means in the original Greek, “to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something”. It also means “to turn one’s mind to” something. The definition necessitates a choice. We have to choose what we’re going to look at. Habakkuk chose to see the God who reigned above the chaos, outside of and apart from the storms around him. He chose to acknowledge His control and His higher thoughts and ways. He set his mind on what he knew to be true in the midst of a situation that could have imparted terror and panic into his head and heart.

We have the same choice. Luanne explained in her portion just how crazy the world around us has become. She identified the parallels between what Habakkuk and his people faced and what we are currently facing in our world today. We can’t not see what is happening. And we should feel bothered by and sense a responsibility toward the violence, the injustice, the chaos that’s all around us. But we get to choose what we fix our eyes on. And if we listen, we’ll hear God whispering the same message of hope to us that comes through in the story of Habakkuk: “Hold on. I’m at work. I know you see this… but I want you to fix your eyes on Me. I am here. I’m involved. And I’ll never walk away…”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” -Romans 15:13

–Laura

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A Balanced Life: Re-prioritize

Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,”says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  (Malachi 3:7-10)

On Sunday, we heard the final installment of our series, A Balanced Life. It was a summation of all that we’ve learned over these last six weeks as well as a charge to check our priorities. Pastor John put before us five ways we spend our money and the order in which we often do so. The list is: Spend. Pay debt. Pay taxes. Save. Give. This list may shuffle around a bit for each of us, but let’s assume the first and last priorities listed match for the majority of us. If that’s the case, our priorities indicate a “me first” mentality rather than a “God first” mentality.

Many of us live this way. The people God was speaking to in the Malachi passage above were living this way. They hoarded their best, took care of themselves, and gave God their leftovers.

We have a tendency to do the very same thing.

It may start small–the utility bills were high one month, and the paycheck was only big enough to cover them, the rent and a few groceries. So we didn’t give that month. We didn’t even save. We just did our best to take care of the most pressing needs. We had every intention of getting back on track the following month. But the next month presented with unexpected medical bills and the kids needed new shoes. So giving took a back seat once again. Before too long, budgeting for giving kind of fell off the spreadsheet… and even when income increased, our priorities didn’t change. We faintly  heard God calling us to come back, to return to His way, but we found ourselves saying, as God’s people said in the verses above, “How are we to return?”

This is a hypothetical story, but I have to own that my own life has mirrored the story more than once. The needs seem so pressing… What will happen if we don’t take care of those necessities first? God knows our struggle with trust and our inclination toward controlling our own lives. So He challenges us to take Him at His word… He says, “Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” 

Jesus issues a similar challenge hundreds of years later, saying, So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. (Matthew 6:31-33)

God is asking us to take Him at His word–to try it His way. And see what happens. The God of Creation–Maker of our every cell, Giver of our every breath–tells us to put Him to the test. His grace and patience with our selfish, stubborn, wandering hearts leaves me without words… Once again, as we’ve seen so many times, He gives us a choice. Try it His way–because He has so much more for each of us. Not only financially but in everything, His plan is to prosper us, to provide for us, to expand our territory… for His Kingdom’s sake. And this is where our hearts betray us… We say our hearts belong to God… We’ve “given our hearts to Jesus”. We sing the words “You have my heart” during worship services.

But does He, really? Does God have our hearts?

Pastor John said on Sunday, “Whatever has our hearts, we resource. We invest in and value those things”.

If we say that God has our hearts, but we don’t resource or invest in His Kingdom, we deceive ourselves.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25) 

If we aren’t doing what God says, we can’t say that He has our hearts. It’s a hard word. But there’s no way to sugarcoat it to make it easier to swallow. We either live “me first” or “God first”. There is no in between. It can’t be both. We serve, feed, and invest in one or the other. Period. This is about so much more than money-but it has to include our finances. If it were only about our time, our gifts, our talents, I would feel a little better about saying that my life evidences that God has my heart. For me, those things are easier, although, I still find myself utterly selfish much of the time. But when it comes to my finances? I fall well short of trusting God with my finances the way that He asks us to. This series has held up a mirror that has revealed, in my life, a need to re-prioritize.

I want to order my life the way that John laid out for us at the end of his message, the way our Savior modeled perfectly for us: Give. Save. Live. Jesus gave up Heaven and put on skin to come to us. And then He gave His life in order to save us. He saved us so that we could live-not only in eternity with Him someday, but here and now. And His desire for us in the here and now is to live His way. He wants to have our hearts so that we will willingly give all that we have and all that we are and leverage it all to bring His Kingdom to earth. So that in our giving of ourselves, souls will be saved and people will live. This is the way to honor God with our whole lives. May He find us faithful to live His way. May we not simply say that He has our hearts-may our lives bear fruit that proves it.

–Laura

Laura wrote above: If we aren’t doing what God says, we can’t say that He has our hearts. It’s a hard word. But there’s no way to sugarcoat it to make it easier to swallow. We either live “me first” or “God first”. There is no in between.

There is no in between.

We have the choice with every decision we make to choose the principles of the kingdom of heaven, or the principles of the kingdom of earth.  The principles of the kingdom of heaven will always be God first and others focused. The kingdom of earth will always be me first and self focused. God has clearly shown us in His word what “God first” living looks like, and also what “me first” living looks like.  “Me first” living always indicates a lack of trusting God to know what’s best.

“Me first” led to Eve’s taking Satan’s bait in the garden–When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen. 3:6) She wanted what looked good to her, and what she thought God was withholding from her.

“Me first” led to King David not going out to war in the season that kings went to war, and during that leisure time when he saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof, he used his power to take advantage of her which led to pregnancy, which led to the murder of her husband, and the child did not survive. (2 Sam. 11)  King David was thinking “me first” from the moment he chose not to go to war with his men, and all the way through that tragic story.

“Me first” was the attitude of “the rich fool” as he built bigger barns to store all the stuff that he planned to use for himself–and then he died. (Luke 12: 16-21).

“Me first” always has hard consequences, yet “me first” is the fallen condition of all of us. How do we fight it?

Author Daniel Hill, in his book White Awake writes of the one-degree rule. He says: In aviation there’s a principle called the one-degree rule: a tiny error in direction can make a major difference in the final destination of a flight…(Hill transitions the one-degree principle into the story of the prodigal son and says this about the older brother) though he dutifully followed the house rules, his obedience wasn’t flowing from a grateful heart. Instead he was driven by his own selfish agenda. Though this distinction was difficult to detect from the outside, it eventually showed itself in the cumulative toll that it took on his soul. By the time it bubbled to the surface, the elder brother was marked by a combination of anger, joylessness, judgement, and most sadly, an inability to internalize the love of the Father.”

Sarah Young’s January 30th entry in her beautiful devotional book Jesus Calling begins with this phrase: Worship Me only. Whatever occupies your mind the most becomes your god.

I believe both Hill and Young give us clues as to how to fight “me first” mentality. In order to internalize the love of the Father, in order to worship Him only, in order to stay on track, there are things we must pay attention to.

First, we must know that we are loved by God. As we spend time with Him and experience His love, we grow to love Him in return–just like babies grow to love their parents in response to the love they receive. Jesus tells us that the first and greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind‘; (Luke 10:27).  Truly, we are not capable of loving God this way, but we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us love God the way God desires to be loved–it’s a prayer He loves to answer! When we love Him this way, the temptation to worship lesser gods fades.

Loving God with our minds means that we allow Him to search us in order to help us recognize those one-degree thoughts and choices that lead us astray.

I’ve always found the apostle Paul’s wording in 2 Corinthians 4:4 interesting when he says that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers….”  

I truly believe that part of living a balanced life is praying Psalm 139:23-24 every single day: Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Then we need to sit with Him and let Him bring things up so that we can deal with them–repent of them.

The word translated “repent” in our Bibles is the Greek word “metanoia”, which literally means “changed mind”. To live in harmony with God, we must allow our minds to be in tune with His heart, His ways.

Romans 12:2 makes this so clear: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.  

Paul also tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  Again, interesting phrasing. When someone is taken captive, they are typically interrogated as the captor seeks to discover things about the enemy’s tactics.

I believe that even those of us who are saved can have our minds blinded when we choose to live in unbelief or in the kingdom of earth with its priorities. We must allow the Holy Spirit to show us those areas where we are going astray. When He brings things up, we must interrogate our thought process–what is it revealing about what we believe? Is it a “me first” thought that is revealing an area in our lives where we don’t trust God, or don’t want to live according to the principles of His kingdom? I would say that most often the answer to that question is “yes”. So then, we have a choice. Do we continue with our one-degree deviations which will get us to the place the Israelites were when they asked Malachi  “How are we to return?”, or do we repent–change our minds–renew our minds–and line up our minds, our lives- with the kingdom of heaven?

God asks for our entire lives–everything we are, everything we have. He tells us to seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and tells us that He will take care of all the rest.  Do we believe Him?  He told the Israelites through the prophet Malachi: Test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” 

He wants to bless us, but He wants to bless us for the sake of His glory, His kingdom, and His renown. He wants us to come after Him because of love, not because we are trying to manipulate Him into giving us stuff–if we want Him for the blessings, that is still “me first”, but if we want Him because He is the love of our lives, it’s about Him.

Everything we have is from Him and for Him. That includes our finances. Do we live like that’s true?  Do we trust Him to be a God of His word? Do we trust Him to take care of us if we seek His kingdom first–if we give to Him first? Are we willing to test Him and see if the floodgates will open when we do life His way?  What if those floodgates of blessing aren’t material possessions at all, but they are lives of people saved for eternity because God’s people chose to live and give God’s way? What blessing could be better?

“Me first” or “God first”? The choice is ours.

–Luanne

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A Balanced Life: Discontent

So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or what shall we drink?’ Or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   (Mt 6:31-33)

Familiar verses, yet how often do we think about what they truly mean? What does it mean not to worry about worldly possessions? What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God before seeking anything else?

This week, Pastor John talked to us about discontentment and what leads to it. Greed is the fruit of discontentment. Our insatiable desire to be rich (or at least comfortable with a good retirement), to have the newest, the best,  the latest and greatest drives our discontent, leads us into debt, and will never ultimately satisfy. I think deep down we know that, yet, if we choose to be really honest with ourselves, what is it that we seek? What is it that we spend the precious moments of our lives in pursuit of?

One of the pictures used as a backdrop for the sermon this week was of a dollar bill positioned so that the words “In God We Trust” were front and center. What irony to have that phrase emblazoned on our currency. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  And here, in this nation, the physical manifestation of the tussle between a false god and the one true God are married on our currency. Which do we really trust? Which do we really pursue? Which do we depend upon to meet our needs, to take care of us?

I don’t like asking these questions. They are hard! They force us to face our imbalance. And, I can tell you, a few years ago in my own life, I was confronted face to face with my imbalance, my idolatry in this area.

My family was in a season of crisis; as a result my husband stepped away from his job for a season. I work full time and have great benefits, but don’t bring home enough money to even cover our mortgage payment. I was in a total panic over our situation. We have always had good credit, we have been responsible bill payers, and here we were in a season of great financial difficulty. We cut out all frivolous spending—no paper towels, no paper napkins, nothing extra, no new anything, we ate bare minimum inexpensive food such as beans and rice. We did not go shopping, not out to eat, no gifts at Christmas, cut out everything. Even with all these cuts, I knew that we did not have the means to pay our mortgage or our bills. I came face to face with how much I depended on money. In my panic, I cried out to God. (Wish I had gone to Him first without panic—it’s easy to say we trust Him until we have no other choice.) Gratefully, He showed up. There is no logical explanation for the fact that we made it for a little over a year with not enough income to pay our bills, and never once got behind. We went through our savings, and God showed up. People at church would sneak money into my purse. One friend felt God asking her to give us a portion of her paycheck every month. We got a couple of large unexpected financial gifts that kept us going for a couple of months. And, each week as I’d sit down to pay bills and balance our books (still in a state of panic), they never worked out right. The bank always said that there was more in our account than there could have been. I would try and try to get it figured out, and would eventually give up. One Saturday morning, I was paying bills and expressing frustration as I tried to reconcile the books, and I felt God speak to me saying, “Stop it! Don’t try to make sense of it. I am taking care of you.”

Even as I typed that sentence I exhaled loudly. That’s exactly what I did that morning. I exhaled and fell into the loving arms of the only One who is dependable. The only One for whom resources are never an issue. God met our needs all year long. Often times He waited until the final, final, final moment before showing up. And yes, I would panic and then apologize when He came through once again. He was growing my faith, and my total dependence upon Him. It was emotionally excruciating at times, but He was stripping me of the false god I was trusting, and giving me no choice but to lean solely on Him.  Now, several years on the other side of that scary, faith-building year, I still thank God for provision when we pay our bills, when we eat our food, when we can give gifts, sponsor children, etc.—and I have no doubt who my provider is.  Every penny comes from His hand.

I wish that I could say that I learned to be content in that season. My discontentment was fierce. It wasn’t about having material things. I was totally okay with the financial cutbacks. I was not okay with the lack of inner peace caused by my lack of faith that we had no nest egg—no money to fall back on. And what that discontent came down to was a lack of trust in God. I was totally living in crippling fear because we couldn’t provide for ourselves. I don’t like admitting that, but it’s true. Money was my idol, and my dependence upon it was great.

Paul, when writing to Timothy, gave him this counsel about money: Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (Such great words of warning about pursuing riches—it’s the LOVE of money that gets us in trouble, the pursuit of money—the dependence on money–Paul continues…) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness… (1st Tim 6:6-11)

Imbalance happens when dependence on money removes us from total dependence on God. Are we going to use our time and energy to pursue money and the things of this world, or the kingdom of God and the fruit of His Spirit?  Have we lost our ability to be content? Do we let our discontentment drive us?  What are we pouring our lives into? What are we pursuing first?

There is only one Prince of Peace and he is the one who says to us: So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or what shall we drink?’ Or ‘what shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Mt 6:31-33)

Do we believe these words? Do we trust God to be true to His word, to His promises? Do we want Him more than anything else? Is He enough for us? Are we satisfied in Him? Are we willing to pursue His Kingdom first and let Him handle all the rest? Will we be content in Him? Will we let Him be our peace?

Godliness with contentment is great gain. (1st Timothy 6:6)  Do we believe it?

—Luanne

“Do we let our discontentment drive us?”

Luanne’s question struck me. I think no matter who we are, the answer is unequivocally, “yes”–discontentment drives us. Which leads us to more questions…

Why are we discontent? 

And, more importantly,

What does our discontentment drive us toward? 

I believe that we all experience a “holy dissatisfaction” within ourselves that is part of how God designed us. It’s what produces restlessness and discontentment. I believe that this discontentment is meant to drive us toward what we were made for. It’s meant to be a catalyst that launches us toward God. In Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus, he says these words:

May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. (Ephesians 3:16-19 Amplified)

We were created to experience the fullness of God. The fullness of God… Let that sink in, if you can… God desires that we be completely filled with Him, satisfied in Him. He tells us over and over again in His word that He is our sustainer, our provider. He longs that we want Him most, more than anything else–because He knows that there is nothing on earth that will satisfy the longing in our souls.

So… why then–if God has offered us the fullness of Himself to fill the holes inside of us–do we allow our discontentment to drive us toward other things? Toward the bigger, better, newer stuff that this world has to offer?

I think maybe it’s because we don’t actually believe that He is good. If we turn tail and run in the opposite direction we’ve been running, if we run to him and let the rest go and actually take Him at His word–we’re afraid it won’t be enough. To leave our stuff behind, to stop numbing the pain with things that bring temporary pleasure & security, means that we have to trust Him enough to hope for something better… And sometimes? We’re just not sure. We can’t quite imagine being “filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself”. 

We can’t imagine it–until we experience it. Luanne wrote this about her own wrestling in trusting God to provide for her and her family:

“I exhaled and fell into the loving arms of the only One who is dependable”.

Sometimes an exhale is a wordless surrender. In that moment, Luanne chose to trust in the goodness of the One who had proven Himself faithful to her. We all have to choose… Discontentment is an insufferable companion. It will move us. It will drive us. That’s by design. But God doesn’t force us toward Himself. He is, as we’ve said many times before, a gentleman. But what He offers… He longs that we taste it. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8 NIV) But we can’t taste His goodness or be filled with His fullness if we’re running the other direction.

We must flee one to pursue the other. Discontentment will either drive us to flee the things of this world and pursue God… or, to flee from God and pursue the things of this world. This is not a both/and situation. We have one heart. That heart has one throne. It will not be shared. We have to choose.

Paul uses both words-flee and pursue-in his charge to Timothy. Their meanings in this passage are compelling…

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11 NIV) 

Flee in this verse means to “seek safety by flight; to be saved by flight”. Pursue means “to make to flee; put to flight; to run swiftly in order to catch something”. Did you catch the similarities? Which one sounds easier? To fly away to safety? Or to make ourselves fly swiftly in order to catch something? Maybe the answer depends on what we’re fleeing from and what we then pursue… But I believe it takes more effort, more commitment, to pursue something than it does to run away from something. And we have to be convinced that what we are pursuing is worth the effort it takes to go after it…

If you look up the root words in the verse, 1 Timothy 6:11 reads like this:

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue equity, the Gospel-scheme of reverence and worship–godliness, reliance on Christ–the persuasion of Gospel truth, agape love, patient endurance that remains present, and painful, passionate humility/meekness”.

Are those easy to pursue? No. Is that a compelling option when choosing between the things of this world and God? That depends. It depends on whether or not we understand what we have, what we’ve been entrusted with. I included this verse in its entirety last week, and it’s applicable again here…

“…your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 NASB)

We. Have. The. Kingdom. God has given us the Kingdom and desires to fill us with the fullness of Himself. He longs for our discontentment to incite a “holy dissatisfaction” that drives us to pursue Him and let the things of world grow dim and lose their hold on us in light of His goodness.

Luanne asked us, “What does it mean to seek the Kingdom of God before seeking anything else?” 

I’m not going to attempt to answer that for all of us here. But I believe that to seek the Kingdom above all else is to take God at His word. It is, in part, an exhale that instigates a free-fall into His arms. It is choosing to take the time to taste and see His goodness and letting the fullness of all that He is propel us to “…pursue equity, the Gospel-scheme of reverence and worship–godliness, reliance on Christ–the persuasion of Gospel truth, agape love, patient endurance that remains present, and painful, passionate humility/meekness”. 

What does it mean to you to seek the Kingdom before seeking anything else? Have you ever exhaled into a free-fall and found yourself safe in the arms of the dependable One? We would love you hear your thoughts…

–Laura

This is a song by Audrey Assad and it speaks of tasting of God’s goodness. Enjoy! “I Shall Not Want”

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A Balanced Life: Extra

In last week’s message, Pastor John tackled the hard-hitting subject of debt. This week, he talked about our extra. Whew…a lighter subject, right? Wrong. This may have been one of the most convicting messages I’ve ever heard. And I am grateful for it.

We all have extra. We may not have as much extra as someone else, but we all have it. We all have things that go beyond our basic needs–oftentimes, way beyond. John illustrated this through a series of questions, like:

Do you go out to eat even when you have food at home? Do you have a car? More than one? Cell phone? Seasonal wardrobes? More than one closet full of clothes? Extra freezers? Have you ever traded something in for an upgraded version, even if it wasn’t broken?

Our answers to these questions reveal that what we have goes way beyond “our daily bread” that we ask for in The Lord’s Prayer… And our extra is not limited to the “stuff” we possess-but we’ll get into that a little bit later…

John asserted that the answer to the question, “Why do I have so much?” is found in one word: Greed. The constant quest for more. We want more so that we can be more. He also said that when that “more” comes into our lives, we assume it’s for us. We feel entitled, like we deserve what we get…

The word deserve grabbed my attention… It’s a word we use all the time, but in this context, what does it mean? To feel like we deserve the extra we receive? Initially, my mind went to the prefix de-, indicating negation or separation. “Decompose” or “dethrone” are examples of using the prefix in this way. This was a compelling thought as I considered the implications of using de- in front of the word “serve”… If this application of the prefix is correct, then “deserve” would mean “to not serve”. It would imply that if we think we are “deserving” of something, we are actually choosing to not serve. But in this instance, “de” is not used as a prefix… and its actual meaning may be even more indicting…

“De” is a Latin word meaning down to the bottom, or completely. So the word “deserve” means to serve oneself completely. It doesn’t negate serving altogether, it just means that the only one we’re serving is ourselves.

Ouch.

We looked at the parable Jesus told about the rich fool in Luke 12. The ground of the rich man had produced a massive crop. There was so much extra, he had no place to store it all. He mistakenly assumed that the surplus was because of him and for him and he intended to hoard it all and spend the rest of his life eating, drinking and being merry (vs. 19). He took the posture of one who believed he deserved all that he had-and he aimed to serve himself completely with his extra for the remainder of his days. There was just one problem with his plan-he died that very night. And he went down in history as a fool. That became his legacy.

In the case of the rich fool, his surplus was given to someone else after he died. He just wasn’t around to be part of it–but it wasn’t because of his generosity that others benefited from his extra. This is the case with possessions-we only have them until we’re gone. Then someone else becomes the beneficiary of all of it. But what about everything else? What about all of the extra we’ve been given that isn’t stuff? What about our time, gifts, position, privilege, status? What about our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Is all of this not also extra? Do our hearts hoard these things? Do we serve ourselves completely with all that God has given us? These things don’t remain once we take our last breath, like our possessions do. When we die, if we’ve chosen to hoard this kind of extra, it all dies with us. That is a tragedy. We have to begin to see these things as part of our “extra” so that we don’t waste all that we have been given.

We wrongly assume that if we have more, we can do more for God. John reminded us on Sunday that it’s not what we have, but who we have that allows us to “do” anything for God.

He who did not spare [even] His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? ( Romans 8:32 Amplified Bible)

God has withheld no good thing from those who love Him. He gave us Jesus-He gave Himself. And He didn’t stop there. he also gave us His Kingdom. In the same chapter that we read about the rich fool, Jesus also speaks these words:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 NASB)

God has given Himself fully to us. He gave us life-twice; He gave us physical life-the breath in our lungs-and He gave us eternal life through the gift of His Son. He put His Spirit within us, providing fruit in our lives as well as gifts and talents and strengths that are unique to each one of His followers. He provides for our daily needs and exceeds them, giving us more than we know what to do with. And He has chosen gladly to give us the kingdom.

Pastor John said to us, “If the kingdom matters to you, you’ll leverage everything in your life for the kingdom”. 

Jesus said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT)

Above all else… As John asserted in his message, we don’t have the capability to “balance” multiple priorities. Balance only comes when we have only one priority. The right priority. His Kingdom. If we want to find balance, we must prioritize His Kingdom. And just as He has given Himself fully to us, we must give ourselves fully to Him in return, knowing that our lives are not about what we have, but who we have.

What has God given you? What has He given you in abundance? What gifts and abilities are being hoarded in your heart with no outlet, no place to go? God gives us more than we need, more than we can hold, so that we will open our hearts and our hands and share our abundance. So we can serve-because we actually don’t deserve any of what we’ve been given. If we are willing to give ourselves fully back to Him, then all the good that we have, everything we have been given, becomes a vehicle for spreading Kingdom seed. Will we choose to surrender everything into the hands that have so graciously given everything to us? Will we leave a legacy that resembles that of the rich fool or one  of someone willing to be scattered throughout the world as seed that will grow and impact the Kingdom of God for generations to come?

–Laura

I echo Laura’s “ouch!” Like Laura, I was deeply convicted during Pastor John’s message. Given the silence in the sanctuary, I think many of us were. Our cultural mindset, and our flesh nature lead us to believe that our lives are all about us, and that we have to look out for “#1”. The definition that Laura shared with us about “deserve” is sobering. Our self-serving gets us no-where good, and it is absolutely contrary to the heart of God, yet we try to make our greed work for us somehow.

In 1992, Christian singer Babbie Mason recorded a tongue in cheek song entitled “Shopping List”. The chorus went like this:

Gimme this, I want that,
Bless me Lord I pray.
Grant me what I think I need to make another day.
Make me wealthy. Keep me healthy.
Fill in what I miss
On my never-ending shopping list.

It’s a funny song, and it’s not. It’s not, because it is the Christianity of many of us. “Me, me, me, me, me.”  Yet God says, lift up your eyes, look outward with a heart of love– live for my Kingdom and I will supply all you need.  He makes it clear what we are to do with our “extra”.

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19: 9-10)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”  (Dt 24:19-21)

That’s a pretty clear directive from God.

Ruth, the Moabite benefitted from this practice. It’s how she provided food for her mother in law, Naomi, and herself. In Ruth 2:2 she asks Naomi “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”  The last phrase of her request is interesting. It indicates that some of the land owners followed God’s directive, and some did not. Boaz did. Boaz’s generosity toward this foreigner led to their marriage, and led to Ruth being one of the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ.

In the New Testament we see a beautiful example of generosity in the life of Tabitha.

There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.  About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room.  But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”  So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them.  But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive. (Acts 9:36-43 NLT)

Tabitha was a woman who used her “extra” to bless the poor and the widows, and God esteemed her ministry so much that he used Peter to raise her from the dead!

God’s word has much to tell us about living with a generous heart:

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. (Dt 15:7-8)

Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; (Ps. 41:1-3)

Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. (Pr. 22:9)

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share… (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

I could go on and on. There are also scriptures that are pretty clear about  greed.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim. 6: 9-10)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

The greedy bring ruin to their households. (Pr. 15:27a)

The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper. (Pr 28:25)

Again, I could go on and on.

For those of us who don’t consider ourselves rich and don’t want to give what we have, God’s word speaks to that as well. In Mark 12:41-44 we read this account:

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.

Jesus loves generosity. Generosity is a beautiful reflection of God’s heart, God who gives, and gives, and gives, and gives. Everything we have comes from Him. Not only our material possessions, but all the food we eat, because he supplies dirt, sun, water, and causes things to grow–all of our modern conveniences because He supplies wind, sun rays, electric currents, etc. He has provided our personalities, our gifts, our brains. He provides the air that we breathe, the hearts that pump life blood through our bodies. It is all His.

Are we willing to acknowledge all that we have is His?  Are we willing to pray this prayer with King Solomon  “..don’t make me either rich or poor; just give me enough food for each day.  If I have too much, I might reject you and say, ‘I don’t know the Lord…(Pr 30:8-9)  Or like the Apostle Paul say… I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Ph 4:12-13)  Can we choose to give sacrificially like the widow, or even have the mindset of wealthy King David who said: I will not take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not present burnt offerings that have cost me nothing!” (1 Chron. 21:24)

True God-like generosity is something that we will all wrestle with. I look at my possessions, some of which stay in closets, and think about the money that was spent on those things. It would be easy for me to beat myself up over how many “extras” I have, but the better idea is to acknowledge my greed as sin, confess it, embrace God’s forgiveness, and move forward making different choices from this point on. Holy Spirit, help me to remember!

The heart and actions of the early church show us how a community of believers can truly leverage their lives for the Kingdom of heaven: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

People were more important than things. Community was more important than individualism. God was praised. People came to know Jesus as Savior and were reconciled back to God. Can we, the capital “C” church get back to this?  Only if we choose to leverage our lives for the Kingdom of God, seek His Kingdom first, and live generously.

Lord, help us to recognize our idols for what they are, help us to have the courage to destroy them, help us to have the courage to fully submit to You, and help us not to wait for someone else to go first. May we be a people who love You well by loving others well–in action and deed.

–Luanne

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A Peace That Rules

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Prince of Peace, the fourth title of Jesus in a Hebrew list which indicates importance, emphasis, weight. Prince of Peace—Prince of Shalom. Even as I type that word, my heart rate increases a bit. If we, the followers of Jesus, can come to understand the significance of this particular name of Jesus, if we can come to understand what shalom means and how shalom is what our lives are to be about it will change the way we live, and it will have a ripple effect in the world.

Reading on from Isaiah 9:6 we learn that Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness. from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (verse 7)

The word Shalom, translated as peace is used more than 250 times in the Old Testament and 91 times in the New Testament. It encompasses all that Christ does, all of who Christ is. It is about God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5) and the restoration all things. It’s about us being in right relationship with God through Christ, in right relationship with others, it’s about taking care of the created world—in the words of NT Wright it’s about uprooting everything from the existing creation that causes evil, corruption, and decay…it’s what love looks like when it’s facing the problems that its neighbor is dealing with, it’s about engage, engage, engage, leveraging what you have for the benefit of others, working toward wholeness, completeness, soundness, success, flourishing, and peace for everyone. It’s an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and  God wants it for everyone—for you and through you, for me and through me for everyone.

When we think of the word Prince we typically associate that term with someone who has a territory or a kingdom to rule. Our Prince of Peace has a Kingdom. If we take the time to pay attention, we see that over and over in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)  Jesus’ primary ministry was to teach about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven.

For too long many of us have lived with the mindset that His kingdom is a place we go after we depart from this world, but that’s not what scripture indicates. Even in the book of Acts, after Jesus resurrection, right before he ascends to heaven, right before he tells the apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, he is teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven (1:3). And in the Lord’s Prayer he teaches us to pray, he asks us to pray that His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

  Shalom is the fulfillment of that prayer.

When Isaiah tells us that Jesus reign of peace will be upheld by justice and righteousness, he is giving us a clue as to what we followers are to be about. Justice in this sense is about tackling systems and structures that oppress people, that favor some over others, that lead to inequity and injustice. Righteousness means that we are rightly related to God, to others, and to ourselves. Shalom is about everyone everywhere flourishing in every way—spiritually, emotionally, relationally—everyone having what they need, no hunger, no poverty, everyone having a sense of their God-given dignity and worth. (Check out the  early church in Acts 2:42-47)

Jesus teaches us, in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7) how to live by the principles of his kingdom, and tells us in Matthew 6:33 that if we seek His kingdom first, he will take care of everything else. (Spend some time as we head into the new year prayerfully and slowly reading this sermon as you converse with God. Read it over and over, dig in–it’s key to life as a Christ follower.)

In Jesus’ earthly ministry, he modeled Shalom (restoration of all things) constantly. He valued people over rules, over propriety, (he healed on the Sabbath constantly—a no no according to the Pharisees), he valued women in a culture that treated them like property, he forgave sins, he gave time to the marginalized, he cast out demons, he fed crowds of people, he loved tax collectors and the rich young ruler, he loved the invisible like the woman who touched the hem of his robe, he called the most unlikely to be his disciples, he raised the dead, and he himself died so that through his death and resurrection (the means to the forgiveness of our sins and the indwelling power of the Spirit so we can live shalom offering lives)  we can experience true shalom with God and others. I know that if we choose to live for His kingdom according to the principles of His kingdom, being consumed with His heart for the flourishing of everyone, we will see change. We won’t see the complete fulfillment of  Shalom until Jesus comes again, but we can certainly be loving Him well by loving others well and joining Him in His ministry of reconciliation today and every day of our lives. Will we get push back? Yes, because this is counter-cultural and counter-church tradition, but it is the heart of God.

Where do you live? Where do you see injustice? Who do you see being marginalized? Who do you know that is broken? How can you bring Jesus, His kingdom and His love, His shalom to your world?

Oh, day of peace that dimly shines
Through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
Guide us to justice, truth, and love,
Delivered from our selfish schemes.

May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
Our hearts from envy find release,
Till by God’s grace our warring world
Shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
Nor shall the fierce devour the small;
As beasts and cattle calmly graze,
A little child shall lead them all.

Then enemies shall learn to love,
All creatures find their true accord;
The hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
For all the earth shall know the Lord.


Josh Garrels from The Light Came Down, released November 24, 2016

–Luanne

Wonder of a Counselor, God of Might, A Father that Lasts… Power-packed names, full of meaning, that lead us to this culmination of the list: A Peace that Rules.

There is always talk of the longing for Peace on Earth-never more than at Christmastime. But I wonder… what kind of peace are we after?

Pastor John described the peace of Jesus as “peace that never ends”. It is the Shalom peace that Luanne defined so well above–not the Christmas-card-quiet-night-with-no-conflict kind. No, the peace of Jesus, the peace that rules, is not passive. It is the process of destroying the authority of whatever is creating the chaos. John reminded us that Shalom is so much more than silencing the noise; it cuts through the surface chaos and penetrates the depths to bring restoration, healing.

Our Jesus, our Savior, He came to bring His Kingdom into the darkness of fallen humanity…

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)

This peace that rules, this power and Presence that brings restoration, it was never meant for us to simply find calmness in our own personal, individual lives. The justice and righteousness that both establish and uphold the Kingdom of Jesus? They are not about personal piety. This way of Jesus, the peace that lasts, it is about setting all things right for all people, and being rightly related to everyone.

Is this the peace that we are after? John told us on Sunday, “It’s not about you finding calmness. It’s about the world being set right.”

It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about our Savior of Shalom, whose desire is for the world He came to save to be set right in every way. For each one, everywhere, to be rightly related to Him and to one another. For equity to be pursued and found by all. This absolutely includes us and our individual stories-but it’s not about us. 

This way of Jesus, this chaos-destroying, restoration-centered way–it is the only way to the peace our souls long for. There can be no personal peace that makes our lives calm and tidy and safe if our brothers and sisters around the world are living in war-torn, starving, dying chaos. The way of Jesus overlooks no one. It values everyone. The story of His coming reminds us of that…

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

The “them” the angel told? Lowly shepherds.

The shepherds got angels…Everyone else that night got shepherds, heard the news from kindled, heart-burning shepherds who went and ‘told everyone’.” (The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp)

So I’ll ask us one more time–What kind of peace are we after? This Christmas, as we ponder all that Jesus is to us, do we understand that He is also all of these things for all people? Can we look up from our personal story and embrace the Kingdom He came to bring? A kingdom established and sustained by making all things right for all people in all situations? This is the peace that rules. Jesus came so that His peace can rule in our hearts, yes–but also in our interactions with others.  Also in the way that we see and engage the world He loves so much that He squished all of His deity, all of His glory, into the body of a newborn baby who would grow up to be a man that would give His life so all could be rightly related to Him forever. Are we willing to do our parts to carry this peace, this restoration beyond ourselves and into the world around us?

–Laura

Jehovah-Shalom

He Will Be Called God of Might

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

He will be called…his reputation will be this…he will be known by these things…

Isaiah 9:6. What a beautiful scripture; one that is so familiar that we sometimes skim over it, but sitting with it for awhile, letting each “name”, each title, sink in with the full implications of what each one means takes us on a beautiful journey of hope. Hope that was needed in the days of Isaiah the prophet, and hope that is needed today.

If we back up to chapter 8, beginning in verse 11 Isaiah fills us in on the context of what is going on in his community during this time, what God says to him, how he responds, and his message for the people; things like:

”Don’t call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy. Don’t fear what they fear, don’t be in dread.” Honor the Lord as holy. Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. Don’t consult mediums and spiritists, instead, inquire of God who is living. Those who choose not to consult God have no light. “Distressed and hungry they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”  (v 21-22)

Sounds awful. Sounds like today. However, chapter 9 begins with the hopeful message that there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress, because in the future their story will be “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have…increased their joy…you have shattered the yoke that burdened them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor” (2-5) And all of their battle gear can be burned —there is no need for it anymore!  Because…to us a child is born…(9:6)

Do we even know how blessed we are to live in the period of time where the prophecy of the child has been fulfilled?

Without a doubt, there is still much darkness in our world, much gloom. Many consult fortune tellers, mediums, spiritists, horoscopes, and the like as they try to find wisdom and direction for their lives. And the countless millions who, in the United States alone, believe conspiracy theories spread by media sources that lead to fear, dread, and suspicion is mind boggling. Many walk in darkness. Many are hopeless. Many are lost. And even some who know Jesus have forgotten that he is the source of life, the fountain of wisdom, and they too have starved themselves of his sustenance by relying on the wisdom of the world, which according to Isaiah leads to rage, and to blaming power sources such as the government, and to blaming God, which leads to even further darkness. But we live in the day in which The Light has come.

There are Isaiahs in this day who say to God: “Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty…” (8:18)

It’s the call for all of us who know Jesus. We are called to be signs and symbols in the world from the Lord Almighty.

Mt. 5:14, You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

Ph. 2:14-15 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life…

1 Pet. 2:9 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.

I could type out many, many, many other scriptures that say the same thing. We, the people of God, we, who are called by His Name, are to be different from the world. We, who are called by His Name are to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, turn from our wicked ways…do as He has done for us, love as he has loved us, do good to all people, love our enemies, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, take care of the sick, care for the prisoner, and be filled with His Spirit who fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  (2 Chron 7:14, John 13:15, 35, Gal 6:10, Mt. 5:44, Mt. 25: 34-36, Gal. 5:22)

Will we respond to the call with a yes? If so, how do we, who know ourselves so well, manage to do this? We don’t. He does. He does it through us as we draw close to Him, as we get to know Him, and as we surrender to Him. The power of our mighty God, our God of Might, works in us.

Ph. 2:13 (NLT) For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.

Eph. 1: 18-19  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead…

2 Pet 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

So, returning to Matthew 5:14, that states you are the light of the world- a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden, implying that you, yes, you, are the light of the world. A city… A city is called a city because it is made up of citizens. The “cit” in both words comes from the same Latin root. A city of citizens who belong to a Kingdom of light. Each citizen in a city makes a difference. Each citizen in the Kingdom has a role to play. We are to shine like stars in the midst of the darkness, pointing the way to the wonderful Counselor, the almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace.

So why does our experience so often not line up with a “shining star” powerful life? I have a couple of thoughts on that. One, I think that we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world. We seek lots of other voices without checking to see if they line up with God’s kingdom. Some of those voices come from churches, and ministry leaders. Please be wary if the message a church or leader is putting out there is fear based, political, or “us versus them”. None of those are the message of Christ. And two, I think we sometimes choose a famine of God’s words.  In the book of Amos, the Lord told the people that as a consequence for self absorbed, disobedient living  I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” (8:11). That prophecy came to fruition in the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the people did not hear the voice of God for 400 years.

Isaiah lays out the fruit of that kind of famine in chapter 8 when he writes,  Distressed and hungry they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” (v 21-22)

That is our world today; gloom, doom, hopeless, angry, blaming God, blaming others, yet, we have access to the WORD of God at all times. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1, 14)

The Word of God, who is Jesus, the Spirit of God dwelling in us: the power of God operating in our lives, the written word brought to life by the Spirit, it’s all available to us all the time. Do we know how blessed we are to live in this time? 

The Mighty God, for whom nothing is impossible is here, but He won’t force Himself upon us. He lets us come to Him. Will we be like Isaiah and say, Here I am, send me? Here I am. I’m willing to be a sign and a symbol of Your glory and light to those walking in darkness. Here I am, I belong to You, my life is Yours, You are my heart, my priority, my joy; I will earnestly seek You, and live counter-culturally as a citizen of Your Kingdom. Here I am, God of Might, I am Yours.

—Luanne

“Many walk in darkness. Many are hopeless. Many are lost. And even some who know Jesus have forgotten that he is the source of life, the fountain of wisdom, and they too have starved themselves of his sustenance by relying on the wisdom of the world… But we live in the day in which The Light has come.” 

I am so deeply grateful to live in the day in which the light has come. But I don’t always live with that reality in focus. Sometimes, the darkness overwhelms. Sometimes hopelessness encroaches. Sometimes I am the one who starves myself of His sustenance.  I have experienced the Light of Life shattering my own darkness. I have seen the Holy glow of Him in my darkest nights–and still, when tempests rage, I can forget what I know to be true:

There is mighty power contained within the Light.

In Genesis chapter 1, we read that there was light on the first day. But the sun, moon and stars weren’t created until the fourth day. The Light of Life, the Word that created everything was Himself the incarnation of light the first day. The Hebrew word for “light” on the first day and the word for “lights” on the fourth day, referring to the sun, moon and stars, carry completely different connotations. Light strong enough to give light to the whole earth was poured forth from Him who is The Light. That is a powerful thought-my mind can’t even begin to imagine a picture of a glow that strong.

His power, though, is even stronger than the light that pours from His being…

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”

The root word for “government” in this part of Isaiah 9:6 is the Hebrew sarah–which is translated “power”, “to prevail as a prince”.

Prevailing, princely power is what is upon the shoulders of Jesus. Not government in the way that we understand it . This is altogether different than earthly governments. And it’s so huge to get this. Not only is Jesus our Prince of Peace-He is also our Prince of Power. We’ll talk about Jesus as Prince of Peace at the conclusion of this series, so I won’t take us too far ahead. But in recent days, I’ve come to embrace the original Hebrew definition of peace, Shalom, as meaning “to destroy the authority of the one making the chaos”. As the Prince of Power, He himself is the power that destroys the chaos. And that power is inextricably connected to His light.

Isaiah 9:2: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” 

The light of Jesus contains all the power to prevail over all things–over every scheme of darkness, over political systems… His Kingdom was ushered in and with it came the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).

Pastor and author Brian Zahnd says this about the kingdom of Jesus:

The kingdom of Christ is the most revolutionary politics–perhaps the only true revolutionary politics–the world has ever seen. Unlike all other political agendas, the supreme value of the politics of Jesus is not power, but love. Jesus rejects the politics of power for the politics of love.

The power Brian writes of here is the power that we, fallen humanity, aspire to attain. The power of Jesus, though, is the supreme power of love. The inexplicable power of a love that moved the Author of Creation to come to us as a baby in a dirty feed trough. The power of a love that would lead that baby into manhood and ministry and ultimately to the excruciating pain and humiliation of crucifixion on a cross. The power of a love that chose this way of humility, service, grace and forgiveness in order to forever defeat the darkness, forever scatter the chaos, forever establish His Kingdom His way.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness, from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:7)

“Of the greatness of his government (yep, its root word is power here, too) and peace…” 

Prince of power. Prince of peace. Both are the outflowing of the deeper river, which is love.

And that surging Love, Jesus Himself, is quoted in Hebrews 2:13 as the One who was speaking to Isaiah in chapter 8:17-18,  the One who said,

Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty…” (8:18) 

If Hebrews is accurate in its representation of Jesus, then the Messiah Himself was speaking these words to Isaiah long before He came to be born as the Messiah that Isaiah and his people were waiting for. I’m not going to get into the logistics of all of this, the discussion of old testament apparitions of Jesus, the Trinity, and God is Jesus/Jesus is God conversations here. The point that stirs my heart to worship in awe and wonder is this:

Emmanuel, God With Us, was with Isaiah in this moment. And He invokes the collective “we” here: “We are signs and symbols…” He identified Himself as one with us long before the time came for Him to enter humanity. The Word that was God in the very beginning spoke words that attest to the depths of His love for those He created. In this verse, His words include us, invite us, and recreate us. He spoke then to the coming reality that is now our reality–that He would be seen in us, felt through us, because He has always been God With Us-even before He was with us in the flesh.

There are times when my mind and my heart reach capacity and I cannot go further into a thought because the weight of it makes me feel like I might explode. This is one of those times. There aren’t words to encapsulate the wonder, the questions, the awe of my Jesus as I understand Emmanuel in a completely different way. I can’t better communicate what is swirling through my thoughts, because I don’t understand it myself.

Fullness of power, light, peace and love can have that effect on a person. To experience Jesus this way is to transcend human comprehension, to defy logic. It can only be fully experienced in the Spirit-our mortal selves can’t bear the weight of all that He is. And all that He is is available to us. Paul says in Ephesians 6:10, “…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. And we can. Because He is Emmanuel. God in us, God for us, God with us. 

I pray that you experience Messiah, Emmanuel in a way that leaves you breathless with wonder this season. That our Mighty God, our prevailing Prince of power overwhelms your soul and carries you far beyond the realms of your impossible into all that is possible with Him.

–Laura

light of life (2)