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)

Stories: Ashley & Allyson

Ashley, Allyson, their birth children, and Jase—it’s the story of God. It’s the story of all of us. It’s THE story, the only one that matters.

Ashley shared that he was raised in a Jewish home, his parents divorced right around the time of his Bar Mitzvah, and he spiraled down, down, down. After a few years of living in the pit, an African American family invited him to a prayer service. They explained through the scriptures about God’s love and who Jesus is. Ashley met Jesus that night, and his life was forever changed. Then, the African American family took Ashley under their wing. They discipled him for six months and he became part of their family. I love that so much! The picture of the Kingdom of God, the reaching out across ethnic groups, the spiritual adoption of Ashley by God, and the spiritual adoption of Ashley by a beautiful family that loved God and loved Ashley is what the Kingdom of Heaven on earth looks like.

Allyson shared that she was raised in an atheist home with 14 kids, 11 of whom were adopted. There was a lot of dysfunction in her home, and much pain. She did not think too highly of the whole adoption thing. She came into a relationship with Christ when she was 18, shortly after she met Ashley.

Fast forward a few years, Ashley and Allyson have three daughters and a son. Life is good. They are happy. And boom! At a high school soccer game, a friend of one of their daughters asks the daughters if their family would be interested in hosting a little boy from China for a few weeks. She gives them the information she has, they take it home and show it to their parents. Because the little boy’s initial paperwork had been lost, it was crunch time, so a decision needed to be made in about 24 hours. Can you imagine?  Well, Ashley and Allyson and the kids prayed about it, and decided to say yes to hosting Li.

Six year old Li arrives, he speaks no English, he has no idea what is going on, and he’s a little wild. They keep calling him Li but he doesn’t answer.  Eventually they discover that he’s not answering because that’s not his name. His Chinese name is difficult to pronounce, and thus the hosting begins.

While they are hosting Li, Ashley sends a letter to some of their friends asking them to pray about a forever family for Li; they are praying at home too. Each evening after they put Li to bed, they ask their kids what God is saying to them and showing them in scripture. The two girls who still live at home are absolutely sure that Li needs to be part of their family, the 13 year old son, who is sharing his bedroom with Li, wants to send him back to China.

Ashley begins to get confirmation through scripture that God wants them to adopt Li. He is pondering verses like Psalm 68:5 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”  Psalm 146: 9 “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow…”. Luke 14: 21b “…go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  And James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. “  He is beginning to believe that they are the “forever family” that they are praying for.

Allyson is in her own wrestling match. Her family of origin adoption story left her feeling less than warm and fuzzy about it all, and as she wrestled through her reasons, she realized that any reason she had for saying no was basically selfish. God reminded her that adoption is his idea and asked her if she’d be willing to let him do a new thing, but she didn’t get to her “yes” until they were on a trip to Yellowstone and Li jumped out of the car and almost got hit by another car. The whole family was shaken up. Allyson said that she was struck by the fact that if he’d been hit by a car, he could have died, or been hospitalized and would not have been able to return to China at the expected time. Then it dawned on her…no one cared if he returned. There was no one in China wondering about him, no one who cared if he was getting enough to eat, or getting enough sleep, or if he was learning anything. There was no one for him to return to in China. She realized that she loved him, she cared about all of those things, and she was ready to say yes.

There was still the hurdle of the youngest son. He and Li struggled. Li broke his toys, blamed him for everything, and had changed his world. One particularly difficult day, the son accidentally shut Li’s fingers in the door while trying to get away from him. He felt horrible. That night, as the family convened to see where they were, both Ashley and Allyson were convinced that their son would again say “send him back”, especially after the difficult day. But instead, with tears streaming down his face, he said, “We need to adopt him. He needs a daddy to love him, he needs a family, we need to bring him home.”

Fourteen months later, they went to China and brought him home. They changed his name to Jase (which means healing) Jackson (God is gracious).  And anyone who has come into contact with Jase, knows what a special young man he is.

Ashley and Allyson each have their own story of past brokenness. They came into relationship with Christ because other people reached across perceived barriers and loved them into the Kingdom. As they walk closely with their Heavenly Father, they listen to Him, seek Him, and step out in faith to follow in obedience, without having to know all of the details. Through this relationship, they became the physical manifestation of the love of God to Jase. The friend of their daughters who spoke up about the need reminds me of something that Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission says. He says that raising awareness is doing the work of justice. She shared a need that she knew of, and God used her sharing that need to change a little boy’s life, and a family’s life. The daughters were enthusiastically ready to embrace Jase from the moment they knew that he existed. They joyfully embraced the idea, and welcomed Jase with open arms. The youngest son, who wasn’t  too excited about the idea, who  resisted the change and closed his heart for a season, let God do a work in him, and finally opened his heart to receive and embrace his younger brother.

This is a living illustration of the church. We have a loving Father who wants everyone to come into His family. His arms are open wide. Are ours?  The entire Bright family had to make adjustments when Jase joined them. Allyson says that he was wild when he first came. Ashley says that he resisted being touched, but would allow Ashley to carry him because he was weak and couldn’t walk well. Allyson said he wasn’t wanted in China because of a birth defect, so he was considered damaged goods, and she reminded us that we are all damaged goods.  Allyson also learned that in the orphanages, often times the names they were called  were merely descriptions for their physical disablilties or identified what orphanage they were in…labels, not names.  And now? Jase has a beautiful new name with a new meaning, he has a family who loves him, siblings who love him, and God is using his story to reach many many others.

If we think about Jase as the representative of the lost people around us, are we willing to make room at the table for them? Are we willing to love them as they are in all their “wildness”? Are we willing to carry them until they gain health and strength? Are we willing to patiently teach them a new language, the language of grace, of love? Are we willing to look past their labels, see them as beloved, chosen, children of God and call them by that new name? Are we willing to embrace them with joy? If we are still honestly struggling with reluctance because embracing someone new will change the “family” dynamics, are we willing to wrestle it through because we know that the world needs a Daddy who loves them? Are we willing to make some sacrifices and bring them home?

—Luanne

I will start where Luanne finished:

“Are we willing to make some sacrifices and bring them home?”

Adoption stories, redemption stories, they stir our hearts. They make us feel. The sniffles and tears were not isolated to a few of us as the Brights shared their story. Many boxes of tissues were depleted as we listened. I think part of the reason for the emotion is exactly what Luanne shared above, “…it’s the story of God. It’s the story of all of us. It’s THE story…”. We see ourselves in these stories-because it’s our story, too.

I am concerned, though, that many of us stop there. We hear the beautiful story, shed a few tears, and go on about our lives. We stop short of embracing our call-the call that God has given ALL of us…

Ashley identified that throughout his spiritual journey, the Word of God built the foundation for his eventual willingness to adopt Jase into his family. He learned that God is a Father to the fatherless and that He calls us to take care of widows and orphans, that how we treat “the least of these” and the “lasts” among us matters to Him. That caring for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized is actually the “pure and faultless religion” that our God requires.

This call that Ashley sensed through Scripture is not unique to him. It is the call for all of us as the family of God. It won’t look the same for each one of us, but it does apply to all of us.

This is where it gets hard, friends. Here is Luanne’s question again:

“Are we willing to make some sacrifices and bring them home?”

Making sacrifices is difficult, because, well, they’re sacrifices. One of the definitions of the word is “destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else“. 

Ashley said that bringing Jase into their family required learning new steps in the dance that they were accustomed to. Taylor, Jase’s big sister, added, “We didn’t just have to learn new steps-we received a whole new sheet of music”. Not only did the natural rhythm of the Bright family have to adapt to include another member–their entire soundtrack was replaced with songs that were completely new to them. Their taste in music had to change in order to fully embrace this precious, newest member of the family. They had to surrender their old soundtrack, for the sake of someone else.

Are we, as a family of believers, willing to let go of our old familiar steps and learn a new dance in order to welcome in those who need a family? Are we willing to be flexible with our song sheets and make adjustments when necessary? Is bringing someone home more important to us than clinging to what has become routine, normal, “just the way it’s always been”?

If we desire to see the family grow, we have to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of those we long to bring home. What those sacrifices are will vary person to person, but here are some things that we can apply from the Bright’s story…

We will have to be willing to sacrifice our time and our energy on behalf of others. Allyson shared that the first month that Jase was with them, family members had to physically hang onto him to keep him alive. He wasn’t aware of all the ways he could be in danger, and when he was aware, he wasn’t afraid to put himself in harm’s way. He needed their physical presence to protect him, to teach him how to stay out of dangerous situations. The same can be true for new believers. If we are going to embrace the broken, addicted, damaged sinner (…this is all of us at different points in our journeys…), we have to be willing to be proximate. To commit to the process, the long-haul, the discipling that we are all called to do when bringing others into the family.

But what if they push us away? We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Jase stayed “an arm’s length away” for a while. He wouldn’t allow himself to be embraced. He had never before known what being chosen felt like and he needed time to learn to trust his new family. Can we give new family members the grace and time they need to learn to trust us? Can we love them well from as close as they’ll allow us to get to them and be patient with their broken hearts? Or do we have an agenda that we will demand adherence to before we will accept someone new?

Ashley said that they asked their kids, “Are you willing to give up the house if we have to?”. That question hit me pretty hard. A family’s home is their sacred space, a reflection of who they are, a refuge. But the Bright’s house isn’t what gives their family its identity. Rather, its their family that differentiates their house from any other grouping of walls and rooms. If they had to, they would have left their house and made a new home elsewhere in order to bring Jase home. He was the priority. He needed a family, not a house. They were willing to do whatever they had to do, to surrender whatever they had to for the sake of one. For their son, their brother, the missing piece of their family.

So how far are we willing to go? Is our goal to bring more people into the house? Or to set the lonely in families, to provide a home for widows and orphans? Will we sacrifice everything for the one? Will we have the courage to set aside the “house rules” and welcome the foreigner, the brother or sister that doesn’t look like us, talk like us or dance like us? And could we not only welcome them into our family, but allow them to change us for the better? To learn new notes and new steps from them and their experiences and add them to our own? If we are willing to do whatever it takes to bring our family home, we will find ourselves dancing to a song that sounds a whole lot like what Revelation 7:9-10 describes:

“I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing:

Salvation to our God on his Throne!
Salvation to the Lamb!” (MSG)

So I’ll ask what Luanne asked, one last time:

“Are we willing to make some sacrifices and bring them home?”

 

–Laura

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Final Greetings (Colossians 4:7-18)

Paul’s final greetings–I had no idea I would get so much out of this sermon! John highlighted different names in this passage; names that mean “one who hits the mark”, “useful”, “a great ruler”, “lovely”, “light giver”, “bridegroom”, and “one who began something powerful”.   Adjectives and phrases used to describe them include “dear brother”, “faithful minister”, “fellow servant”, “fellow prisoner”, “co-workers for the kingdom of God”, “comfort to me”, “always wrestling in prayer”, “working hard for you”…. And John reminded us to follow their lead using these phrases:

  1. Fulfill your destiny.
  2. Be useful.
  3. Lead well.
  4. Keep praying.
  5. Share the story.
  6. Be ready.
  7. Don’t give up.

Can you imagine if today’s church, and by church I mean you and me, as in each individual that makes up the church, really grasped these seven things? When I think about Jesus saying to Peter “upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Mt. 16:18)  I hear Him saying “there is a plan for you, Church.  You have a destiny to fulfill.  Are you willing to enter in and do this My way?” 

As Paul describes these men and women, we see how they were united in one purpose–to make Christ known. They each had a role to play, and they were doing it. As a collective whole each individual role became part of something so huge that we are still beneficiaries of their obedience today.  We can live this way too! Today’s church can still impact the world;  however, we must acknowledge that as a whole we have become sidetracked. We are married to things other than Christ. We must humble ourselves, confess our infidelity, and renew our vows to Him and Him alone.

There are three statements that I came across on Twitter last week that I have been pondering:

  1. “A 30-minute sermon won’t teach people to love neighbors. Their cable news teaches them all week to fear/hate. They’ve already been discipled.”
  2. “People may hate me because of Jesus, he told us to expect that, but if they hate Jesus because of me there’s a problem.”
  3. “Choose the third way.”

Paul and his companions chose the third way; the Jesus way, which is all about beautiful, diverse community working in unity to make Jesus known. In his “final greetings” group there are Jews and Gentiles, there is a woman, there is a run-away slave (a dear brother) returning to his master, there are those who aren’t chained in prison and those who are, and they each understand that they have purpose and that they are living for something much bigger than themselves; something colossal. They have understood the call of Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your souls and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37;39). And to express this love by going “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28: 18-20).  

And do you know what happens when we obey Christ (the way he asks us to), love God, love others, bring them into relationship with Christ and teach them to obey Him? The Kingdom of heaven comes on earth. It really is that simple.

Oh, Lord Jesus, take us back to the simplicity of your original call. All that the church has become that doesn’t line up with your Word–expose it for the idol that it is. Shatter the idols, the false gods, the false doctrines, the twisted scriptures, the cultural interpretations of scripture, the narrow lenses, the hate, the meanness, the judging, the racism, the pride. Refine your bride. May we be discipled by you, not our culture. Breathe new life into us as we pursue the third way; your way. May we be about love, peace and reconciliation, the way you’ve asked us to. May we heed the words that Paul spoke to Archippus when he wrote: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord” (v18), and may we chain ourselves to you, the real you, forever.

–Luanne

Luanne wrote:

“And do you know what happens when we obey Christ (the way he asks us to), love God, love others, bring them into relationship with Christ and teach them to obey Him? The Kingdom of heaven comes on earth. It really is that simple.”

I think she beautifully summed up what we’ve learned through our study of Colossians. It has been a call to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, to align our lives with His, to love Him and others God’s way and to usher in the Kingdom-on earth as it is in heaven.

On the last day of our 21 Days of Prayer, some of our children led our corporate prayer time by opening with the Lord’s prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13)

It brought tears to my eyes to see the next generation leading us–and it was evidence of the Kingdom advancing as their young hearts learned to connect with God’s in prayer.

I looked back through every blog we’ve written during this series and in 12 of the 13, one or both of us wrote at least a little bit about the Kingdom. And in the one that didn’t include the word “kingdom”, the concept was still there. I don’t think that’s an accident at all. I believe that Jesus desires his bride, the Church, to really get this, to grab hold of the idea that the Kingdom really can come on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus talked about it all the time during His ministry. And Paul, in his letters-especially in Colossians, tells us how.

John mentioned the Kingdom in this week’s sermon. He said this:

“Don’t sit back and watch the Kingdom of God expand without you being on the front line.” 

And that is the challenge. This week’s sermon hit me hard. Like Luanne, I didn’t expect to get so much out of Paul’s final greetings. I didn’t expect to be moved to tears more than once. I didn’t expect to feel the fire of the Holy Spirit engulfing my heart as I listened. But that’s what happened to me. I’m still processing all that God spoke and is speaking to me. But here’s what I know–

I don’t want to sit back and watch the Kingdom of God expand with me sitting on the sidelines.

Except when I do.

I think we all long to be a part of ushering in the Kingdom-to play our parts in the great symphony that is the Church. We were born with a God-given desire to realize our purpose and live our lives for something, Someone, bigger than ourselves. John laid out in his sermon seven ways we can follow the early church’s lead in bringing the Kingdom of heaven to earth. Luanne listed them above and I’m going to repeat them here:

  • Fulfill your destiny.
  • Be useful.
  • Lead well.
  • Keep praying.
  • Share the story.
  • Be ready.
  • Don’t give up.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Where our expressed desire to make a difference translates into leveraging our lives-all that we have and all that we are-to make that difference. The one that we were each uniquely created to make.

Which one of the seven holds you back? Keeps you from assuming your position on the front line? Is there more than one? For me, there are two. Lead well & Don’t give up. I’ve never seen myself as a leader, yet God has appointed me to lead in several different areas. I didn’t even realize it until today–I still haven’t fully embraced it. But I know that if I don’t embrace God’s call to lead in the areas He’s asked me to, I will be choosing the sideline rather than the front line. And, friends, the sideline is easier. But it doesn’t usher in the Kingdom. 

There are other things I know God has called me to do, but I’ve gotten scared… I’ve gotten lost in the how and the when and even the why at times–so I’ve given up rather than pressing in and pressing on.

In Colossians 4:17, Paul instructs Archippus:

“See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord”.

I’m not fully aware of the extent of the “ministry” I have received in the Lord. But I know that those words pierced my heart as John read them, and God spoke them directly to me in that moment.

So I will take what I have learned, what I’m still learning, from this beautiful book of Colossians, and I will use the tools I’ve been given to step into my position on the front line. Because Jesus is Lord of my life and my desire truly is to see His Kingdom come on earth. It takes all of us doing our part. We can do it, church. We can do it together. Will you join us on the front line?

–Laura

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Principles for Relationships (Colossians 3:22-4:6)

How often do we find ourselves praying for God to open a door? Or to close the doors that need to be closed? And if He can’t open a door, then would He please open a window?? Have you prayed prayers like this? I’m pretty sure I have prayed this way at least once in the last few days. During this week’s sermon, John briefly talked about how we often pray like this. He was telling us about Paul’s own prayer for an open door–but Paul didn’t pray for open doors the same way that we often do.

I suppose I need to back up for just a minute, before we explore that further. John gave us practical advice this week. Advice for how to respond to people-all people-especially when we find ourselves in difficult relationships. Relating with others, especially those with whom we do not see eye-to-eye, is hard. Really hard. Relating with them in a way that sees and honors their humanity as well as brings Glory to God? That can only be done one way. John said it like this:

“See your relationships with the big picture in mind”. John told us that there is a divine purpose in all of our relationships–this includes both the beautiful, life-giving friendships as well as the seemingly impossible interactions that can leave us feeling discouraged and angry. God has a plan for every relationship. Every human interaction we have has purpose. Wouldn’t it change everything if we lived like we actually believed that?

John gave us four principles, practical advice, for responding and interacting with others:

Pray first. Be wise. Redeem your time. Speak well. 

I want to focus on ‘Pray first’. Our author, Paul, models throughout the book of Colossians-as well as in every other book he penned-the importance of prayer. Much of the way we pray today has probably been modeled after his examples. In this week’s passage, Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message…” (Colossians 4:2-3a)

Notice what Paul wanted an open door for… their message. The message of the Kingdom. He didn’t ask for a door to open for a job, a new home, a financial breakthrough, a new relationship. He asked for an open door for the message. Why? Because Paul’s entire life revolved around one relationship–his relationship with Jesus–and everything he said and did, the way he related with others, flowed from that place. He only prayed for himself in relation to whatever he needed to carry out his purpose. That purpose was carrying the gospel of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, to as many as he could during his time on earth.

If we pray first–if we pray for God’s Kingdom to come with a heart that’s willing to leverage all that we are to see that Kingdom come–our hearts will be moved toward people. And we’ll find that we are wise in the way that we redeem the time we’ve been given and we will speak well.

IF our agenda is Jesus’s agenda. But if we have our own agenda, if we come to God in prayer asking for doors that we want to see opened for ourselves, we won’t be wise with our time or our words. Because if we come to God looking for open doors to satisfy our own agendas... we’ll relate with others the very same way. We will enter conversations with ourselves in mind. We’ll look for an “open door” to push our point or defend our argument and we won’t actually listen. We won’t speak well at all–because to speak well, we first have to learn to listen well. And that doesn’t begin in conversations with others. It begins in our conversations with God. Praying His Kingdom first means aligning our hearts with His and we can only do that if we listen to His heart. We don’t inherently know how to make the Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. We can’t figure that out. We have to listen to Him. To learn from Him. To come to Him with one agenda–seeking HIS way so that we can carry HIS message to all of the people that HE loves. And He wants to grow our hearts to the place where we love them too.

If we learn how to listen to God-if we begin there-we will learn how to listen to others. With hearts that are already inclined toward them because we’ve already been on our faces on their behalf. And because our hearts have been moved toward them in prayer, because we’ve sought God for them, we will be able to speak well. To lift our voices to support one another using words that are full of grace, seasoned with salt and ready to give an answer. Because we’ve actually listened to the questions.

I wish I could say I was better at this than I am… Even in my closest relationships, I am often guilty of bringing my own agenda to the table. Of entering conversations looking for open doors to speak rather than listen. And of having agendas other than God’s agenda.

Jesus, I want to learn to pray like Paul, asking for open doors for your message to be spoken through me, through my life. Teach me to listen well so that when the opportunity arises, I can speak well, in a way that glorifies you and brings a little piece of your Kingdom of heaven to earth…

–Laura

Laura wrote: if we pray for God’s Kingdom to come with a heart that’s willing to leverage all that we are to see that Kingdom come–our hearts will be moved toward people. And we’ll find that we are wise in the way that we redeem the time we’ve been given and we will speak well.

Over and over and over again, in his letters, Paul reminds us that how we see people, how we treat people matters deeply.  Do we believe that? Do our lives, our interactions show that we believe that?

Colossians 4:6 in the Message translation says this: “Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”

And verses 3:23-25 in the NIV say this: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

In my personal time with God I’ve been studying the book of Matthew and have been in Chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6 for a long time. There is so much there! These are Jesus words to us about how to live in His Kingdom, how to be a Kingdom citizen on earth. Last week, I was noticing how many times the word “reward” appears in Chapters 5 and 6. Jesus tells us–“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Right away we see that Kingdom living is counter-cultural–that we may be persecuted as a result; however there is a reward coming in heaven. Does that matter to us?

Paul in Galatians 1:10 writes: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying  to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Back to rewards–these are the brief notes that I wrote in my journal on Friday:

Mt. 5:12 – great is your reward in heaven for being persecuted.

Mt. 5:46 – If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Love your enemies.)

Mt. 6:1 -Don’t “show off” your rightesness or there will be no reward from God.

Mt. 6:2 – Pharisees who show off to get accolades have received their reward from men, not God.

Mt. 6:4 -Give in secret and your Father will reward you.

Mt. 6:5-6: – Don’t show off in your prayers, pray in secret and God will reward you.

Mt. 6:16-18 – Don’t “show off” in your fasting. Fast without drawing attention to yourself and God will reward you.

So when John read the word ‘reward‘ in the Colossians passage Sunday, it drew my attention.

On Friday, as I reflected on the Matthew scriptures, in its simplest form appears to me that humbly living before Christ pleases God, but any attitude of superiority or showing-off does not please God.  John wisely said in Sunday’s sermon that arrogance destroys ministry. I couldn’t agree more.

What are these rewards? I don’t know. On this planet, I believe they have much to do with the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) ruling our inner lives, giving us the inner peace that can’t be explained in this life, which then spills over into our relationships with others.  But I also know that Revelation 22:12 makes it clear that there are heavenly rewards: Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.

The danger in knowing that there are rewards is that all of a sudden it becomes a worldly competition– we try to “out Christian” other believers, and we fall into the comparison trap, which is exactly what Jesus was pointing out about the Pharisees in Matthew 6.  So what do we do?

We pay attention to how Jesus asks us to live, we repent when we mess up, we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide us, to fill us, we worship God in spirit and in truth, and we ask God to help us love Him with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We pay attention to the prisoner, to the oppressed (Mt 25:31-46 give huge clues as to how to live the Jesus way), we try to model our lives after Jesus–

And we pay attention to ourselves–how we speak, because out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Lk 6:45)  Scroll up and read Colossians 4:6 again in the Message translation. This has been a concern of mine since we moved back to the United States after living in another country for 10 years. We lived outside this culture from 1996-2006. When we moved back, I was shocked at how much language in this country toward and about others had changed. Sit-com humor was cutting and degrading, news panels (and it’s continued to get worse) disrespect one another to a degree that I can’t even wrap my mind around, reality shows highlight conflict, fighting and disrespect, politicians  slander, lie, and tear down opponents in a horrifically ugly way, even some video game language is mean– and now, in this season of social-media and public commenting on news stories etc. Oh My! And then we’re surprised by the bullying crisis in our children and youth, without taking responsibility for, or trying to change what we’ve modeled. How the heart of God must be breaking!

And the sad thing is–this steady diet of death speaking words–it’s contagious. Just a week ago I made a “funny” comment to someone, that the Holy Spirit convicted me about. It wasn’t funny. It was unkind. I prayed the rest of the day for the opportunity to apologize face to face, and God, in his goodness, gave me that opportunity. The recipient of my “humor” hadn’t taken offense, but still appreciated the apology. Friends, this is what we must be willing to do.

If the world is to know that God is real, that He loves them, we must see relationships with the big picture in mind, we must treat others well, we must work toward Christlike relationship principles and seek reconciliation and peace when necessary; and to live this way we must pray first, then be wise, make the most of every opportunity and speak well. And it all begins in the heart.

I have to ask Jesus every single day to search my heart and show me the areas where I’m out of step with him. Every. Single. Day.  — because when it comes down to the deepest part of my heart, my deepest prayer is that I want my life to count for His Kingdom. Thank you, God, that you are patient and abounding in love. Thank you that you don’t condemn when we mess up, but you lead us to repentance with kindness, and that you speak well over us. Lead us to do the same over others.

-Luanne

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A New Foundation (Colossians 3:17-23)

There are times in my life when I know that God is doing a huge thing. I am in one of those seasons, and it is beautiful and challenging at the same time. I have done more “on my face” repenting of things in the last few months than I have maybe in the last 5-10 years.  And God has been rocking my world with new insights in scripture that have sometimes left me trembling.

John’s sermon this morning took us through Colossians 3:17-23. Verse 17 says “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus…”. And verse 23 begins,Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD…”  

In between those two verses Paul mentions people who had previously been invisible…wives, children, slaves…and gives husbands/fathers a new directive.  The fact that these people groups are mentioned is evidence that something new is going on, which goes back to “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28)

Earlier last week, when I was getting prepared for a devotion, the Lord took me to Genesis 1:26-27 which is a very familiar passage. It says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they (the human race) may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  

I’ve known these verses a long, long time, but this time God showed me something new, something huge. God tells the human race what portion of His created world that He has given us to rule over–and it doesn’t include other humans. Not men ruling over women, not whites ruling over non-whites, not rich ruling over poor, no one ruling over no one. In God’s perfect design He rules us, we rule together over the rest.

John reiterated this in his sermon when he said in Christ all of life has a new center of reference, a new Lord, and a new understanding of reality.

A new Lord. Look back at verses 17 and 23 of Colossians 3. Both imply living a new way that affects all of our actions, all of our words, all of our effort because Jesus is our Lord. So what does Jesus being Lord really mean?

I read a book recently called “The Myth of Equality” by Ken Wytsma, and in the book he points out that the “sinner”s prayer” is not actually in the Bible and he says, “I know from experience that we can have a personal relationship with Christ. The danger, however, comes when asking Jesus “into your heart” is reduced to merely a transaction of spiritual goods and rights. This is especially dangerous in a consumeristic society that places more emphasis on individual rights than on responsibilities.” Wytsma also says, “As often as we hear about accepting Jesus into our heart, this is not the usual salvation language found in the Bible. Scripture most often uses the image of our being found in Christ.”

When I read that I had to sit back and ponder it for a moment. I went to a verse that is often used to bring people into relationship with Christ, Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  I stared at it asking God what He wanted me to see, and this is what He revealed. The focus of this verse is the Lordship of Jesus. I’ve heard the verse presented many times with the focus on the mouth and the heart, but what brings us into relationship with Christ is submitting to His Lordship. And do you know what is written three verses down? Romans 10:12 which says, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him…”  Truly, each of us submitting to the Lordship of Christ is the only way true Christianity can work.

So the question for us is who is Lord? Jesus or self?  Do we put ourselves in a position of superiority over others based on skin color, financial position, job status, what neighborhood we live in, what country we’re from, who we voted for, which channel we get our news from, what school we go to, or any other thing?  John pointed out that a great test of this is paying attention to how we compare ourselves to others. Comparison is a great indicator that there may be some “lording it over others” going on.

This weekend ugly “superiority” violence spilled over on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. Blood was spilled, life was lost, and terror gripped many. Man’s way leads to destruction. Ruling over one another leads to destruction. Submitting to the authority and Lordship of Jesus leads to the beauty of diverse community, of a united body where each member is seen, loved, heard, and valued–where everyone’s gifts are able to flourish, and where the Kingdom of Heaven becomes evident and advances on planet earth.

So Paul’s wording in both Colossians 3:17 and 23 needs to be embedded deeply in our hearts—WHATEVER we do in word or in deed, do it ALL in the name of, and as if we are working for the LORD Jesus…

–Luanne

It is impossible to see the humanity in every “other”, to place equal value on all lives, to truly comprehend the need for equity and equality if Jesus is not the Lord of our lives. Paul got this. I mean, he really got this. I’ll dig into that piece in a minute…

I love that Luanne wrote about the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, what she wrote about completely redirected the focus of my thoughts and writing today.

I looked up the word “Lord” from the verse Luanne referenced, Romans 10:9. I looked it up because I wanted to know how the original word was defined in Scripture. I didn’t plan on sharing it with you, but it was so thought-provoking that I can’t not include it. (My apologies to readers who are not fellow word nerds…thank you for your patience!!)

“Lord” is translated from “kyrios”, a Greek word that means:

“the one to whom a person belongs and about whom he (the Lord) has power of deciding; Master, possessor, owner, one who has control”

The root word behind this word is “kyros”, which is simply translated “supremacy”. In light of the weekend’s horrific events, I hesitated to even include this word in reference to Jesus. But I think that it is important to our discussion to know that this word, “kyros” is only found one time in Scripture. That one time? It was used by none other than our Colossians author, Paul, in the first chapter of the book we are studying. Paul uses the word in Colossians 1:18 to establish the absolute authority, preeminence, “firstness” of Jesus. And it is from this word that we get our word “Lord”. Let’s look at that definition one more time:

“the one to whom a person belongs and about whom he (the Lord) has power of deciding; Master, possessor, owner, one who has control”

A few things come to mind as I ponder this definition… First, whether we acknowledge Jesus as Lord or not doesn’t change the fact that He. Is. Lord. Philippians 2:10-11 tells us that, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord…” He is. And one day, ALL will acknowledge His Lordship. But, for now… we get to choose whether or not to acknowledge Him. Which is pretty mind-blowing. He has the power and the right as the firstborn of all creation, as the risen Savior, as the spotless Lamb and as God Himself to “Lord” over us. He doesn’t… yet. Unless we submit to His Lordship. Once we declare Jesus as Lord of our lives, we willingly assume the role of a servant in His Kingdom. We belong to Him, He owns us, and He has the power to make a decision about us. Here’s the beautiful thing about that…

He made His decision about us at the cross. 

When He chose to die for all-not just for some-He made His decision. As Lord of all, He decided that all of humanity was worthy of the chance to be reconciled to our Father in Heaven. He didn’t make allowance for one nation, one tribe, one ethnicity, one gender, one age group, one socioeconomic status. He showed no favoritism and no partiality. He bled for all. And He rose as the victorious King who made a way for all to enter in to the Kingdom He passionately ushered in.

He could demand our submission. He doesn’t.

Paul understood the power of Jesus-maybe more than anyone. He knew firsthand that there is only one way to be changed–by submitting to Jesus’s Lordship. Paul wanted us-all of humanity-to understand, to accept, to embrace the only power strong enough to not only save a soul, but change a heart, change a life.

Paul used to be Saul. Saul was righteous. A case could be made that he was the most righteous in his day. But Paul… Paul’s ministry wasn’t built on his own righteousness. His ministry was built on justice, on the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus modeled and ushered in.

Saul murdered and persecuted followers of Jesus. Lucky for him, the Lord Jesus had already made a decision about Saul when He spilled His blood for him and the rest of humanity.

Paul understood that declaring Jesus as Lord was an acknowledgement of the equality of all people.

Declaring Jesus as Lord, submitting to our roles as grateful servants on equal ground at His feet, is the beginning of heart change. Because when we declare Jesus as Lord, whatever or whoever we had given that title to previously has to go.  Matthew 6:24 makes it clear: “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.” There can only be one true Lord of our lives. And it’s not about what we say with our mouths-we can say that Jesus is our Lord. But if we are living lives marked by entitlement, superiority, judgment, comparison, division… we may need to take a closer look at who is sitting on the throne of our hearts.

If Jesus is truly our Lord, we will be changed, as Saul was. Once that switch happened-when Saul “asked for, prayed for” became Paul “humble or small one“, it was so much more than a name change. He saw himself differently. He saw people differently. He didn’t lord his credentials, his knowledge of the Scriptures, his genealogy. He understood that the blood of Jesus was spilled for him and for all of humanity as a means to reconcile all of us to God. He recognized, with overflowing gratitude, that there are only two levels within the Kingdom– The Father, Son and Holy Spirit occupy the top level, unified, as One. Below them? Everyone else. This concept is so important to Paul that I have yet to find a letter he penned that doesn’t exhort us to see and acknowledge the humanity, equality and interconnectedness of all people. It was that important to him, that vital to the furtherance of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

So I ask all of us–is it important to us?  Do we understand that there are no levels within the Kingdom, no jockeying for position, no superiority? Are we willing to not only alter our behavior but invite the Holy Spirit in to radically rewire our faulty belief systems? Is Jesus truly our Lord? Really, this is the only question that matters–everything else hinges on our answer. If He hasn’t been Lord of our lives, I pray that today will be the day we submit to His Lordship and allow Him to begin the transformation process within us.

–Laura

diversity