What is God Really Like?

God is really big. God can be really scary. God can be really confusing. God is in control. 

I am thankful that this week’s sermon didn’t end there. There was a fifth point that is both the foundation of and the umbrella over these attributes.

God is a loving God.

John used Zephaniah 3:17 to illustrate this point:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

I love that this is the verse he used. There are many others that come quickly to mind when I hear the words “God is love”. But this one paints a beautiful picture that struck me when I thought it through…

When life and circumstances loom large and we feel so small, when fears assault our hearts and confusion clouds our minds, when everything feels out of control…

Shh… listen…

Our God–who is bigger than our biggest struggles, who understands all things infinitely, who holds all of time-and all of us-in His very capable hands–comes to quiet us with His love.

Not with judgement or thundering condemnation, though it would be within His rights to come and quiet us in these ways. No, this very big, sometimes scary and confusing God who controls all things comes to quiet us with His love. The fact that He comes to us at all is evidence of His great love for us. It blows my mind that He comes to me… I’ve experienced His presence so many times, and every time I’m left feeling a little more undone… in awe of His greatness, His big-ness that chooses to come into the small space of my life. He doesn’t have to come. He could leave us as we are–small, afraid, confused and out of control. But He doesn’t. Because God is love.

The verse doesn’t only tell us that God quiets us with His love, it also tells us how. He quiets what is loud around and inside of us by the sound of His own voice. He quiets us with singing. He rejoices over us with gladness. And he exults over us with loud singing. This is the definition of “exult”:

“to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy; rejoice exceedingly; be highly elated or jubilant”

Truthfully, I can’t wrap my mind around this concept. That His singing over me is triumphant, joyful, jubilant, elated… It’s more than I can fully comprehend. I’m still working it through. But I know it to be true. While I have never audibly heard God sing over me, I have experienced being quieted by His love…

There are times I have been left speechless, in awe of His big-ness. I have been afraid to speak, reverent in His presence. I have given Him the silent treatment in my confusion and lack of understanding. And I have run from Him, refusing to speak or listen when I wanted to control my own life. I have been quiet in these ways. But there is only one thing that can quiet my heart, my innermost thoughts and fears, my wonderings and wanderings. Only one thing that can cause the inner clamor to cease. That one thing is His love. There’s nothing like it.

I am thankful for the enormity of my God. I am grateful that there are things I don’t understand, even if it leaves me feeling confused sometimes. I am so, so glad that He is in control-because I know my own lack, and I don’t want that responsibility… even when I do. And I’m glad my God can be scary, because so is my enemy. So are many of the things I face on this earth. But if I didn’t know that He defines Himself as love, these attributes wouldn’t produce worship in my heart. Because I know Him, because I’ve experienced His love that quiets what wars inside of me, I can praise Him in all of His big, scary, confusing, controlling Glory. Even if I don’t always like it. Even if I don’t understand. Because no one loves me like He does. No one ever will. So I trust Him with the rest.

How about you? How do you see God? How does it make you feel to know that our big, scary, confusing, in control of everything God sings over you with love?

–Laura

Laura wrote,

“There is a fifth point that is both the foundation of and the umbrella over these attributes: God is a loving God.”

We have to know that. We have to trust that it is true. John reminded us of the Charles Spurgeon quote that encourages us to trust God’s heart when we can’t trace God’s hand. In other words, when we don’t understand what God is doing, what God is allowing, we still trust that He is good, that He is for us, that He knows what He is doing, and that we are completely surrounded by and filled with His love for us. Those moments when He seems scary, when He seems confusing, when He seems controlling, we have to know that He is a loving God and that we can trust His heart.

I had not experienced the “scary” part of God until a few years ago. I was a chaperone on a youth mission trip to Costa Rica. We were staying in a remote location—our “home” for the week was across a dirt street and through a small swath of rain forest from a thin strip of beach–very remote.

One morning before heading to the worksite, we had a few minutes to go to the beach. I was already dressed and chose not to get in the water, but most of the rest of the group did. The water was a little rough, so the group went in about thigh deep, held onto each other in one long line and jumped together as the waves came in. All of a sudden, it was as if someone had thrown a bowling ball at the group and our youth and adults were scattered in all directions. I counted heads and we were missing one. I shouted in a panic to our youth leader that we were missing one, and then  saw the head of that young man so far out in the water that I feared we would not get him back.

Even the kids and adults close to the shore were having difficulty getting to the beach. I ran for help. I came upon a Costa Rican lady and communicated with her that we needed help. She told me that there was no help. I ran back to our group and told the two youth leaders, who were still struggling in the water, that there was no help. A few kids were making it to shore and I screamed at them, “PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!!”  They dropped to their knees and prayed. One of the other leaders who, like me, had chosen not to enter the water was a Marine. He swam out to the young man who had been carried the farthest, but knew he would not be able to bring him in. He chose to stay with him until he went under. The situation was terrifying, life threatening, and impossible.

As we were crying out, God provided us an angel. She came out of the rain forest dressed in a red bathing suit, walked to me, told me her name was Bridget (which I looked up later and it means, “power, strength, vigor, virtue, or exalted one”), had me point out the young man in the water and then entered the water. Not one of us can explain what happened next, but all of a sudden every person in our group, including our marine and the young man who was close to drowning at that point, were on the shore, and Bridget was gone. There is no explanation for any of this except God’s intervention.

The previous morning, in my time with the Lord, he had led me to Psalm 18. I didn’t know why until the following morning, and I read this passage to the group:

… I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.  The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears… The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded… He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me…. 

For the next 24 hours the sea was angry. It was churning and there was a moaning, creaking, groaning sound that I had never heard the ocean make. It was very eerie, and it left me frightened. The whole experience had left me frightened.  We had experienced a terrifying event that we had absolutely no control over. We were up against a power too great for us.  And even our relief, our incredible gratitude at God’s intervention was tinged with the thought of “Who are You, God?”. Mark 4:41 tells us that  The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  (NLT)  I get that, and truthfully, I needed to get that.

The following morning, I took my Bible and walked over to that strip of beach by myself. The sea was still churning and wild. I sat on a log and said to God, “I feel afraid of You. I have never seen You in this way, and I am frightened.  I don’t want to be afraid of You, but that’s how I feel.”  Then I looked to my right, and just a few feet from me was a puppy trying to pounce on insects. It made me laugh. In that moment God spoke to my heart. He confirmed that He is big, powerful, scary AND that He is also the God who created puppies for my delight. My heart calmed as I began to wrap my mind around this new revelation of God.

I learned later, that the young man whose life was in danger had asked God to show him if He was real. May I say–God left no doubt. God, in answer to a young man’s prayer, allowed all of us to experience a situation that not one of us was powerful enough to do anything about. We could not control one teeny piece of what happened that morning, and God blew our minds with His provision, His power, and His greatness, and gave us an entirely new vision of who He is. I needed to be reminded, even though I have a close, precious, intimate relationship with God, that He is still a God to be revered, He is still an awe-inspiring sometimes fear-inducing God, He is huge, AND I can trust His heart because I know that He IS love

So when the waves are churning, when the sea is angry, when the storms are raging, when life is hard and you feel like you are going under, do you trust His heart? Do you know that you know that you know that He IS love? That He is ALWAYS love? We will never fully understand all of God. If we could, He would not be God. But we can know that He is love and that we are loved. I’d love to hear how He has blown your mind with His greatness and His love.

-Luanne

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How Do You Know What Love Is?

I thought I knew love…but I didn’t.

This weekend’s message began with these words. And my head nodded a silent “Me, too”. As John shared parts of his story, details of my own swirled in my mind. Along with a few familiar lines…

                        “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more…”                                                      “I wanna know what love is…I want you to show me…”

These aren’t the usual songs that run through my head during church. It was a little distracting, because once the tunes started, it was hard to turn them off. But, as I did my best to not break out into 80’s rock ballad glory, I did think about how many songs have been written that relate to the question of the day,

How do you know what love is?

In a culture where we use the same word to describe our affinity for chocolate, our favorite jeans, our spouses and God, how do we begin to define what “love” actually is?

I was told “God is love” from a very young age. But what I saw and heard and felt from people who “loved” God didn’t seem very loving. And the God that was presented to me as a child wasn’t nearly as lovable as my favorite dessert. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” countless times. People I trusted told me God loved me, but the religious system I grew up in emphasized a big IF. I believed a lie as a toddler that grew deep roots all the way into my twenties.

God loves me IF I’m good enough

But “good enough” is a moving target, isn’t it? I began to strive for perfection as a little girl–not only for God’s approval and love, but for everyone’s. I had bought the lie that had been modeled for me. One of John’s points in this weekend’s message was,

I thought I had to earn love…I don’t.

Believing the lie that I had to earn love wrote every page of my life story until God Himself took over control of the pen. I say “took over control”, but it wasn’t a hostile takeover. He didn’t get sick of me, sigh in exasperation and grab the pen from my hand. He only took over control when I released my grip and handed it over to Him. And that didn’t happen because He was persuasive, manipulative or domineering. He didn’t scare me into giving Him control. He loved me in the ways John put before us this weekend. He came for me the same way He instructed Hosea to go after Gomer (Hosea 3:1), the same way He went after His rebellious Israelite children (Hosea 11:1-4). I was the prostitute chasing other lovers, looking for approval and searching for love all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places. And He came for me not with judgement, not with condemnation, not even with a scolding tone. He came for me in subtleties. He didn’t chase me, He wooed me. He didn’t demand control of my life-He did request it. He didn’t shout, he whispered. He pursued my wandering heart this way until I realized that I had always been chosen by Him-and I now had the choice to choose Him in return.  In the middle of the mess I had created with my life, He came for me.

In the middle of our mess, we need the message of the Messiah.

Not the message of “pray this prayer so you don’t go to hell”. Not the message of “clean up your life and then you’ll be acceptable”. Not the message of “try a little harder, do a little more”, or any of the other lies that have been embedded in our hearts. No, the message of the Messiah is a message of hope, grace, forgiveness, redemption and love. Real love. The love we’re aching for, even if we don’t know it yet. The love that Ephesians 2:4-6 so beautifully illustrates. I love the way it’s written in the the Amplified Bible:

“But God-so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us; Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace (His favor and mercy which you did not deserve) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation). And He raised us up together with Him and made us sit down together [giving us joint seating with Him] in the heavenly sphere [by virtue of our being] in Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed One).

Because of and in order to satisfy His great, wonderful, intense love for me… even while I was dead, before I could choose anything for myself (because dead people don’t have choices), He gave me the same resurrecting life that raised Jesus from the dead. He came for me. And even after I received the life He offered (and really, the offer is to exchange death for life-my bad for His good-so why in the world do any of us wait to engage in that transaction???), He came for me. And He comes still. Because Love wants me to experience the fullest life-not only salvation from death. Love is stronger than my doubts, my fears, my unfaithfulness. Love rescues me from myself. Love rescues me from my enemies. Love is patient, kind, long-suffering.

The reason love is so strong is because love isn’t a thing that it is contingent or dependent on me, on us, on anything we can do. Love is found in the scars of Jesus. Scars that remain on a body that was willing to call us friends while we were still enemies, that sought us while we were strangers. A body that saw a beloved bride while she was still in the brothel. A body that was given in order to satisfy the love of a Father for all of His children.

How do I know what love is? I lean into the heart that has pursued mine since before He formed it. I meet love in the person of Jesus. I don’t believe I’ll “know” it fully until I’m forever in the presence of Love, Himself. Because this love, it’s too big to grasp. And that is okay with me. Because I didn’t come to the understanding of love that I have today all at once. It has taken time and patience and the relentless pursuit of a God that will never stop revealing His heart to me. My whole life is a love story being written moment by moment. I hope I’ll know more of His love tomorrow than I do today. That’s the beauty of relationship–it grows over time. And the journey is a passionate adventure of being pursued by a love that will not let me go.

How do you know what love is? Do you? What keeps you from knowing God’s love for you?

–Laura

I love what Laura wrote, her vulnerability, her personal story, and will reiterate many of her points, but in a different way.

“I Want to Know What Love Is” by the band Foreigner was also going through my head, and I couldn’t shake it after church, so I went looking for what I could find.  For those unfamiliar with the song, or needing a refresher, some of the lyrics are:

I gotta take a little time, a little time to think things over.  I better read between the lines, in case I need it when I’m older. Now this mountain I must climb, feels like a world upon my shoulders. Through the clouds I see love shine. It keeps me warm as life grows colder. In my life, there’s been heartache and pain, I don’t know if I can face it again. Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far, to change this lonely life.

I wanna know what love is, I want you to show me. I wanna feel what love is. I know you can show me.

I’m gonna take a little time, a little time to look around me. I’ve got nowhere left to hide, it looks like love has finally found me…

This song, written by Mick Jones and Lou Gramm in 1984,  hit the #1 spot in the UK, the USA, Australia, topped charts in South Africa, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, was in the top 25 on Contemporary recurrent charts in 2000, 2001, and 2002, and is on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of one of the greatest songs of all time. Why?

The song mentions a “you”, but it is definitely not a typical “love” song. It is a plea. It is a journey. It is a search for real love.  I don’t even know if the writer knows who the “you” is that he’s crying out to. In my view, it could very easily be a prayer-the desperate cry of someone who is lost, who is lonely, who knows that love exists but doesn’t know how to access it. It could be you. It has been me.   I believe that we are all created with a deep hunger to know what love is, and John beautifully pointed out in his sermon that Love is a person. Love of objects, love of only the physical realm will always fall short. But the Love of God–nothing compares. Even as I typed that last sentence, I went back and capitalized the word “Love”–the Love of God is Jesus.  God demonstrates His love for us through Jesus.

When John was making the point that God’s love is not weak, that it is powerful–I was struck by a phrase in the scripture 2 Corinthians 5:14-15  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

A quick glance at that scripture would lead us to believe that Paul is saying that every person with breath in their lungs and a beating heart should be compelled to live for God. However, the wording of the phrase that those who live should no longer live for themselves” gives the verse another layer.

Ephesians 2:1-6 that Laura highlighted above reminds us that we were all dead. It reads like this in the NLT:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.  All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)  For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”

In the 2nd Corinthians passage, Paul is saying–those of you who are now alive because you have a relationship with Christ, those of you who have experienced His love in a personal way, will now be unablebecause of that powerful love- to live the way you did before. His LOVE–He, Jesus, through the power of His Holy Spirit will compel you to live for Him and join Him in His mission to take His love to everyone.  Every person on the face of the planet is already loved by God; however, they don’t all have relationship with God, they are not yet alive, but they don’t know it. They do not know that they are loved. They do not know what real love is.  And we do. And we used to be just like them–dead–and now we’re alive…

So what do we do– how do we show them? First, we have to have received God’s love ourselves. Do you know that you are truly, completely, totally, loved by God? Do you know that He proved that love for you by sending Jesus to take the condemnation that your sins deserved so that you don’t ever have to be condemned, and so that you can live in freedom, no guilt, live with incredible purpose, and live full of the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Do you know in the core of your being, not just in your head, that you are loved? I hope so, because it’s true, and it is the starting point and the fuel for an ongoing adventure with God and the abundant life that Jesus promises. It’s that love that makes us hunger to spend time with God, it’s that love that opens our eyes to the needs of others around us, it’s that love that changes and transforms our lives, it’s that love that makes us fall in love with Him in return, it’s that love that keeps us out of duty bound religion and living in a more beautiful relationship than we ever thought possible. Have you received, embraced, accepted His love? Is that the place from which you live? I remember after my season of self-destruction, that in my return to God I thought I would always be a second class citizen in the Kingdom because I had screwed up so badly. I thought that He would never really be able to, or want to use me. That’s a lie. And when I finally began to embrace the truth of how incredible His love is, how all encompassing His love is, how powerful His love is, how forgiving His love is,  and let that sink in–it changed me forever; it is still changing me. Knowing -in the intimate sense- His love– that’s first.

Second, we love the world the way that we are loved by God–gently, subtly, by wooing through acts of kindness and care rather than chasing; by requesting and inviting rather than demanding and placing expectations and obligations upon others; by whispering rather than shouting, by choosing to love rather than making people earn it; and by showing the power and strength of the love of God by being willing to share our stories and show our scars, just like Jesus did– remembering that our scars are evidence that a Healer exists.

Many are crying out– “I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.”  

If you are the one crying out, I want to show you!  God, through His love has changed my life! If you are not the one crying out, are you willing to be the “you”?  Are you willing to share your story, show your scars, and be an instrument of love in the hands of the LOVE of God? Have you already had opportunity to do that? We’d love to hear your story!

-Luanne

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Daily Kindness

As  I reflected on John’s sermon about “kindness” as one of “The Dailies”,  and reflected on acts of kindness that have come my way, one story in particular stuck out to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t paint me in a very good light, but it is beautiful.

During my teen years, I was living in a great deal of emotional pain. My mother had died a few years before. My dad had remarried a widow with four children of her own, all in the same age range as my siblings and me, and life was chaotic for a few years. I can not remember what prompted my outburst, but one afternoon I had a melt down directed toward my dad. I yelled, I said ugly things, and at one point, my grand finale moment, was that I did not want to live with them anymore. I wanted to live in foster care. Then I stormed out of his room and went downstairs. He came down after a few minutes and told me to get my sweater. My heart began to beat a little faster, afraid that he really might be wanting to take me to live elsewhere, but in my pride, I did not apologize or let on that I was nervous. We got in the car and he took me to play miniature golf and then took me to Dairy Queen. He told me that he knew I was hurting, that he loved me deeply and that nothing would ever change that. I deserved punishment. I received kindness. Kindness that didn’t make sense. Kindness that softened my heart and brought a piece of healing to my chaotic, painful life. It was more than an act of kindness. It was a heart of kindness overflowing with love for me. It is one of my most cherished memories.

In 1965, Dionne Warwick recorded the song, “What the World Needs Now”; the chorus goes like this:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.

How true those lyrics still are today, and God’s delivery system plan for that love is us. We, the followers of Christ will take it to the world. It’s why we’re here. What will it look like? It will look like kindness. Kindness is how love behaves.

Ephesians 2:6-7 tells us that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ is God’s expression of kindness to us.  Have you experienced his kindness in Christ? Have you experienced the kindness of his forgiveness? Have you experienced the kindness of his presence? Have you experienced the kindness of his love? Have you experienced the kindness of his transforming power in your life?

The world has a very skewed perspective of God. However, as John said in his sermon, the world defines God by what they see in us. I have a much clearer picture of God’s grace, kindness and unconditional love because of my dad’s response to my outburst. The opposite is also true;  when the world thinks that God is mean, distant, angry–they get that impression from his followers. They define God by what they see in us. That hurts my heart.

Without a doubt, kindness is an action, but it goes beyond just being nice. True kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)  Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. ”  The only way we can clothe ourselves like that is to allow ourselves to be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, which means we must crucify our flesh and follow His lead in our lives. Can you imagine how different the world would be if Jesus’ followers really lived this way–If what spilled out of us was compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, joy peace?

Currently, a Google search of the phrase “why are Christians so…” brings up words like miserable, judgemental, intolerant, mean…Can you imagine if a Google search brought up words like kind, compassionate, loving, gentle?   

And, this kindness…it’s for everyone. Not just the people we like. Not just for the people whose favor we may be trying to earn. Not just for people who are nice to us, or kind to us in return. No–this is a Holy Spirit type of kindness. This is the type of kindness that is expressed when Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mt. 5:44).  This type of kindness is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. But if the world is going to change, if Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is going to happen, it is imperative that his followers take–with thanksgiving–the love we have received from God in Christ–so costly, so undeserved, and so life changing–and pass it on to others. This is the kingdom coming on earth. Nothing that we receive from God is for us to horde. It is all to be given away. And what could be more beautiful and world changing than giving away love through kindness every single day–Kindness as a lifestyle, a heart overflow because our hearts are full of the love of God.

Kindness is how love behaves when it displays what Christ has done in us. What has he done in you? Are you willing to pass it on?

–Luanne

Luanne’s last paragraph is short, but powerful. It connects with what has been stirring in my heart since I listened to John’s sermon. She wrote:

“Kindness is how love behaves when it displays what Christ has done in us. What has he done in you? Are you willing to pass it on?

Willingness, it’s a tricky thing… God has been using the word “willing” in my life very intentionally over the past couple of years. I say that it’s tricky because there’s more to willingness than we initially realize. The first definition for the word willing is this:

“inclined or favorably disposed in mind”

If we use this as our only definition, it is probably a safe assumption to say, yes, we are willing to extend the kindness we have received. Most of us do not set our minds on being unkind. I think we have great intentions and we want to be kind to the people around us. At least in our minds…

But, the second definition Merriam-Webster gives for the word takes us a little deeper into the implications of willingness:

“prompt to act or respond”

When we read the full definition of the word willing, it makes it a lot more difficult to honestly answer Luanne’s question, doesn’t it?

In my mind, I have planned to bake treats and go introduce myself to our neighbors… for the past three years… I have thought about making time to take that person to coffee and give the gift of time several times over the past six months

If my willingness to extend kindness starts and stops in my mind… I am neither willing nor kind. True willingness is prompt to act or respond. Kindness, as Luanne shared above, is how love behaves. It is glaringly clear that both require action.

How, then, do we grow our good intentions into true, willing kindness?

The answer can be found in a verse John shared in his sermon. Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to:

 …encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

Encouragement is one way we see kindness displayed. This verse exhorts us to encourage one another daily. Today. Before today becomes tomorrow. And therein lies our problem.

I didn’t mean to let today turn into three years of not knowing my neighbors. I didn’t intend to let six months pass without asking her to coffee. I simply planned to do it tomorrow… And when tomorrow became today, my plans moved once again to tomorrow.

There are two problems I see with “tomorrow”:

  1. It may never come. None of us is guaranteed a single breath beyond this moment.
  2. Every tomorrow eventually becomes our today. If we haven’t learned and practiced how to live intentionally in the moment we are given, we will not be truly willing. And we will not live out the kindness we ourselves have received.

Hebrews 3:13 tells us clearly why this cycle of “I’ll do it tomorrow” is so hard to break.

…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I have learned to pay attention when I see the words “so that” in Scripture. What follows those two words is always important. In this case, it’s a clear warning. If we don’t practice encouraging one another today, we will be hardened and deceived by sin.

Is it sinful to put things off for another day? To plan on doing them tomorrow?

I won’t take the liberty of answering these questions for you. What I do know is that, for me, there is one core reason I put off acting in kindness:

ME.

I don’t have time… What will they think of me I am tired… I don’t want to…

I can come up with eloquent, persuasive arguments as to why I put off extending kindness in the moment. But the root of every argument I could make? Selfishness. And I’m pretty certain selfishness is sin. So, yeah. For me, it is sin to put off until tomorrow what I could do today.

This is difficult to navigate, though, because we don’t often see beyond our good intentions far enough to see our selfishness. And the good intentions in our mind, they deceive us into believing we are kind when our actions (or lack thereof) prove otherwise.

For me, the truly frightening part of this verse is what it says can happen as a result of sin’s deceitfulness…

If we neglect to daily live and act out of the loving-kindness we have received, our verse tells us that we can be “hardened”.

The word “hardened” is translated from the Greek word “skléros. Included in the definition of skleros are the words:

harsh, intolerable, offensive

Those words sound a little bit familiar… They echo the words that Luanne mentioned earlier when she referenced the auto-fill options for the Google search:

Why are Christians so _______ ?

If we don’t act in love and kindness daily; if we are deceived by our sin, selfishness, good intentions, we run the risk of becoming exactly what the world thinks we are. I’m a little blown away by the fact that a couple thousand years ago, this warning was written to Jesus’s followers. And today, we are bearing the consequences of ignoring the warning. Somewhere along the way, our kindness stopped being kindness and turned into a word we didn’t really know the meaning of. We didn’t know it—and we certainly haven’t lived it. Google proves it.

Now, though, we know. We know that kindness is how love behaves. We know that being willing to give others what we have received from Jesus involves prompt action. We know that living out kindness daily protects us from becoming harsh, intolerable, offensive Christians.

We can change the auto-fills, friends. Let’s start today.

–Laura

 

 

 

The Love Chapter

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

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

Let’s start with the basics…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Ask!!

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

And then follow His lead.

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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Covenant Marriage

“I have never heard that before.”

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

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

“How have I never heard this?”

“Why was this never taught?”

“How could we have missed this?”

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

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

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

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

What in the world do I mean by that?

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

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

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

We get hungry for something more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will your response be?

–Luanne

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Imagine a New Way to Pray

We have just embarked on this year’s 21 days of prayer and fasting– this season of  disconnecting from the world in order to connect more deeply with God.

With these 21 days in mind, John challenged us to look closely at Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 and to pray this way during our season of prayer and fasting.

“For this reason I kneel ( posture of urgency and distress), before the Father,  from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (connecting the Eternal with our internal), so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (constant connection to God). And I pray that you, being rooted and established (firmly grounded) in love (the never-ending love of Christ) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

There is so much in that prayer!! Every word is purposeful and powerful, but my mind keeps dwelling on…being rooted and established IN LOVE may have POWER, together with all the saints, to GRASP how wide and long and high and deep is the LOVE of CHRIST,  and to know THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge THAT you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 

Three times in one sentence Paul uses the word “love”–three times in one sentence! And his urgent prayer is that we “get it”.  As I flip the words over in my mind the words “power” and “grasp” catch my attention.

The word “power” appears twice in this prayer. Being strengthened in my inner being, AND being able to comprehend His love for us takes power, and my personal power is not going to be sufficient…it is the power of His Holy Spirit that will strengthen me and help me “grasp” the depths of Christ’s love. Am I willing to let the Spirit have access to my whole life, am I willing to let Him unleash His power within me?

The word grasp means to seize and hold firmly, or to get hold of mentally. Paul is praying ON HIS KNEES that we, the followers of Christ (all the saints), will allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives in order that we may grab hold of how loved we are and never let it go. He tells us that this love surpasses knowledge, it is greater than anything earth has to offer, it can’t be explained, only experienced. The result of this power, this grasping, this love,  is that we will be filled with all the fullness of God. That’s a pretty amazing result.

I can’t help but think that Paul is so passionate about this subject, because he had experienced a deeply personal encounter with Christ  (Acts 9) that forever changed his life. He met a loving Savior, he experienced forgiveness, and his life became all about the Kingdom of God from that point on. Persecution couldn’t stop him, prison couldn’t stop him, being slandered couldn’t stop him, shipwrecks couldn’t stop him, snake bites couldn’t stop him, nothing was going to keep him from sharing the love of Jesus-which he had personally experienced- with everyone he encountered. And his desire was for every believer to experience the love of Christ to such a level that they too, WE too, would be unstoppable. Have you experienced His love? I have, and it has forever changed me. Every day of my life I am desperate for Him. He is my treasure. Like Paul, I am passionate that every one experience the depths of God’s love. Oh–don’t miss it!!!  Ask God for His power to strengthen  your inner being, your place of wrestling, through the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can grasp His love!

My heart burns within me as I write these words. Oh that we–the Church–would let the powerful Holy Spirit have His way in us so that we can grasp this love personally, and grasp this love outwardly in order to share it with the people of this world that desperately need to know that they are loved by God. Oh that we would pray to be so deeply in love with God that nothing, nothing, nothing would ever stop us. May we make this prayer our own during these 21 days. And may we dedicate ourselves “to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to HIS POWER that is at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20 

His power. His love. His mission. His purpose. His heart. His fullness. My prayer. My surrender. He is worth it!

-Luanne

Imagine if we adopted this prayer and prayed it throughout the next 21 days, believing God for every word…

Luanne’s passion screams through the words she wrote, doesn’t it? It is clear that she believes every word and she invites us to believe with her. She invites us to believe enough to pray this prayer that is pregnant with possibility, with the expectation that God will answer. It is an invitation to the abundant life, to the kind of life that is “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”, a life that spills over and brings Glory to God and God alone.

Does your heart burn within you as you read the words of Paul’s prayer? What is your immediate response? Do you believe that you can be empowered this way through the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced this power-the same power that raised Christ from the dead? (Romans 8:11) Do you move throughout your days with the knowledge of the love Jesus has for you? Jesus tells us, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you…” (John 15:9) Just as God loves Jesus… Jesus loves us with a love that big? He says yes, that’s how much He loves us. I can’t begin to fathom the width, length, height and depth of God’s love for Jesus, His Son. Nothing we know in our humanness can compare with a love like that. But I have felt it. I have felt Jesus’ love for me. He has shocked and overwhelmed my heart with His love. He has changed me with His love. He has given me love for others that I couldn’t manufacture on my own. He has loved me with a love that turns my brokenness into beauty. What about you? Have you felt the love of Jesus, have you known it through experiencing Him?

Though I have experienced this wild love of my Savior, I can all too easily forget to live from that place. I can slip back into old lies, old ways and pick up chains His love has freed me from. John told us that the love of Christ produces humility, is found in community and exemplified in solitude. But, sometimes, I can get caught up in the opposites. An attitude of superiority can sneak in. The temptation to compete, to hustle for my worth, can steal the sweetness of community. And the desire to hide, to isolate can overwhelm the practice of solitude. None of those things display the love of Christ and none bring him Glory. I don’t want these things to have any breathing room in my days, in my life. So how can I-how can we-avoid these pitfalls? We can commit to pray this prayer, believing God will answer. We can look beyond the words we can’t quite comprehend and search out the truth in them for ourselves. I want to pray like this, not just during these 21 days, but for as long as I have breath to pray.

Will you join us in praying this prayer? Can you imagine if we each personalized this prayer and prayed it for ourselves and over one another? For the global Church of Jesus? What might our lives look like if we prayed these words and believed fully on the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine? I have an idea what we might look like…  a whole lot more like Jesus.

I have made this prayer personal below. Will you take a moment and pray it over yourself today?

 For this reason I kneel before you, Father... I pray that out of your glorious riches you might strengthen me with power through your Spirit in my inner being, so that you may dwell richly in my heart through faith. And I pray that I, being rooted and established in love,  may have power through your Spirit, together with all of your people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep your love is,  and to know, really know in my core, this love that surpasses knowledge—that I might be filled to the measure of all of your fullness. Now to you, My God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to your power that we believe is at work within us, to you and only you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen!

I can’t wait to see what God will do during this season of prayer. I hope you will all join us!

–Laura

(The link to the sermon that was referenced can be found below. Just scroll down and click on the First Baptist Church of Casper Facebook page.)

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