The Battle

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

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

FACT: Spiritual warfare is real.

FACT: We don’t face it alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

 “We fight from victory, not for victory.”

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

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

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

And so it is with us… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes me want to throat-punch him… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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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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Stories… “Arise, My God”

When a person survives a life-threatening situation, we tend to focus on the miracle. We rejoice and give thanks for God’s goodness. And that is good and beautiful and absolutely appropriate. But it’s only a glimpse of the story, an incomplete picture at best.

This weekend, we were blessed to hear the other side of a miraculous story. The parts that we don’t usually ask about, the pieces that–while they’re not often celebrated–may actually contain the greater miracles. Kent’s story is a powerful one. It is a story of a dire diagnosis-Acute Myeloid Leukemia-that took him immediately away from home and into the throes of chemotherapy and hospital living. He endured infections, septic shock and at least one night at death’s door. We have seen God show up and do the impossible time after time in Kent’s life since the day he was diagnosed. From the perspective of someone who battled in prayer for him, it seemed that God was so near, so close–that He never left Kent’s side.

And He didn’t.

But what we learned as Kent shared so transparently with us, is that he wasn’t so sure. And after hearing about the less than glamorous side of this walking miracle, I am convinced that the greater miracle is what God did in the dark…

Kent shared with us that in the beginning of this journey, he sensed God telling him, “I’m going to teach you something more”. He said that when he heard this, he expected God to take him to new heights. Instead He took him to new depths. In this unfamiliar place, God seemed different than He had before. Kent was unsure of who He was. It was a dark, fearful, lonely place, and God seemed to have a harshness to Him that Kent hadn’t known before. Have you ever been in a season like that? A dark night of the soul, when God seemed cold and distant and out of reach? I imagine you have. To varying degrees, we all have probably experienced what Kent expressed.

It is in these places, these seasons marked with confusion and the threat of chaos, that we have a choice to make. Do we succumb to the fear, the loneliness, the lack of understanding and sink into the shadows of despair? Or do we lean in, trusting in what we know to be true of our God-even when we can’t feel Him near? There is a word for the honest, grief-filled cries of the soul that rise from our depths when we choose to lean in. That word is lament. The Psalms are full of laments. There is a whole book in the Bible dedicated to them. Choosing to lament before our Father requires a willing vulnerability. To lament is to bring your tattered, worn, aching heart before God without holding anything back. To lament is to implore God to listen, to act on behalf of our grief. It is bringing our hardest questions and asking our Father. It is ugly crying. It often includes shouts and wailing and indecipherable groans. It can look and sound different for each one of us. But it is always brutally honest. And it happens during dark, uncertain times, when we’re not sure God’s even listening.

What we rarely see in the moment are the treasures that are found in the darkness.

Isaiah 45:3, in the Amplified Bible, says this:

And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.

In a book I keep coming back to, the author talks about these “treasures”. She writes, “We do not go through dark nights of the soul for nothing. We enter into these regions to find treasures that they alone hold. Jewels and precious metals are rarely found on the surface but rather are mined deep underground. Likewise, God’s treasures are unearthed when we enter, willingly or unwillingly, into dark regions and dig deep within ourselves and within the caverns of who God really is.” (This Beloved Road, Amy Layne Litzelman)

This same author writes elsewhere, “…a season of transition always stands between where we are and where He wants to take us. Something must be left behind and something gained in order to go on… We don’t understand how we can do what He has asked of us. And yet, know this: the moment we say with Jesus, “I want Your will, not mine”, mighty and glorious grace is released for the journey ahead.” 

During Kent’s dark night of the soul, he chose to lean in, to lament. He refused to let his journey be wasted, whatever the outcome. I believe the “outcome” is multi-faceted. There are pieces of his miracle left to unfold, as is true in all of our stories. But however the rest of his story unfolds, he found treasures in his darkness. As he placed his life in the hands of a God he couldn’t even feel in the moment, glorious grace was released for his journey. He saw God differently, he found unexpected beauty in unlikely places. His story speaks to the miracle of a healed body–and it testifies to an even greater miracle: A heart renewed in the truth of who his God really is. A God who never leaves us in our loneliest moments. A God who leads us into the darkness where we would never choose to go–because He wants to give us treasures that we can find no other way.

Are you living through a season where God feels far away? May Kent’s story encourage you to lean in, lament, and hold on-there are treasures to be found…

-Laura

I cried this morning while Kent spoke. I didn’t anticipate crying, but there was such beauty in the rawness of his season in the dark that it brought me to tears. He shared with us treasures, the type of treasures that Laura wrote about above, that if we are willing, they can be gems for us as well.

John asked Kent “What’s changed?”  Kent told us that upon receiving the life altering, possibly life ending diagnosis he asked himself, “What am I living for? What is truly important?” All of a sudden the treasures of this world didn’t matter anymore, and Kent had to wrestle, even in the spiritual realm with whether he wanted the things that Jesus offers—comfort, peace, presence—or if it was Jesus himself that Kent desired.  That’s a powerful question for us to wrestle with. Is Jesus alone our treasure? Kent pointed out in first service that there were only three, out of all the people who followed Jesus, only three that went to the cross. Are we willing to go the distance with him, to the hard places with him, the dangerous places with him, because he alone is who we desire? Or do we only “follow” him to get the benefits?

Kent talked about how alone he felt. For a portion of his lengthy hospital stay, after his closest call with death when he had to be intubated and coded, he couldn’t feel the presence of God, he couldnt’ feel the power or the warmth of the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t sure in that moment who God was,  the experience felt harsh, and it didn’t feel like something a loving God would do. In addition to that spiritual isolation, anyone who entered his room had to wear a mask, gloves, a gown, booties—no one could touch him. So not only was there no sense of God’s touch, there was no human touch either. There was fear, there was confusion. Isolation.

As Laura wrote above, Kent turned to lament. He reminded us that many of the Psalms are laments, that it’s okay, it’s healthy to lament; yet in the lamenting hang on to God’s truth.

And then the unanticipated beauty—Kent asked for someone to bring him his guitar. He sat in his hospital room at night and played songs of worship and sang. He did not know it at the time, but outside his door nurses would gather and listen, some patients would gather and listen. As Kent reached through the darkness for God, God was using him to minister to others in the hospital. That’s not why he did it. Kent was honestly seeking, searching, reaching, lamenting, praising, and God was using Kent’s raw honesty to reach others on that floor. Eugene Peterson once said that the people who made the greatest difference in his life were the people who weren’t trying to make a difference. Kent wasn’t trying to make a difference. He was merely being his authentic raw self—no masks, no pretense, no knowledge that God was using him—yet God was using him. What a beautiful reminder that when we walk humbly with our God, the world is impacted.

John asked Kent, “What would you say to someone who is battling today—who sees God as distant?” Kent emphatically replied that God is not distant, that He is here when we can’t feel or touch him. And then he said what may have been my favorite part of his sharing—he said that even though he couldn’t feel Jesus he got to see Jesus through the church, the body of Christ. Jesus touched Kent through our prayers, cards, text messages, visits, and Kent reminded us that this is what we are about. This is what the church is to be about. He encouraged those who may want to isolate, to stay connected because the Church truly is the hands and feet of Jesus—we are how the hurting get touched. Kent shared with us other major events from his own life, he called them “possible soul destroying” events, but his soul wasn’t destroyed because Jesus showed his love in each of those hard seasons through the body of Christ.

Then he reminded us that the church has a choice.  He said, “We can bless or we can curse and both go a long way. Be a blessing to those around you; love, pray, reach out, touch—it’s not about condemnation, it’s about calling people to a higher place…We know Jesus redeems but it’s the body that puts the touch to Jesus’ redemption…we point people to Jesus by being him.” 

I don’t know what those words do to you. I know that they fan the flame in me. My passion for Jesus’ prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is really this simple. Know the Jesus of the gospels well enough to be Jesus to those around you. All others.  Bless, lift up, love, touch, reach out, listen to,  pray with, pray for, don’t condemn, don’t curse…we point people to Jesus by being him.  Can you imagine if the entire capital “C” Church made this our mission? That’s what I want my life to be about. How about you?

—Luanne

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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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Colossians 2:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so are we.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you in?

–Luanne

light tree

 

More thoughts on prayer…

The mysteries of prayer…and there are many…. can boggle my mind. At a conference a few years ago, I was introduced to this quote by Blaise Pascal: “God instituted prayer in order to lend His creatures the dignity of causality.” For whatever reason, God, in His incredible wisdom and grace allows us to connect in a deeply personal way with Him through prayer. He not only allows it, He desires it—and then the craziest thing of all– He moves, He acts through our prayers. That fact alone is mind boggling. So, when I think through this series of Big Questions, and ponder Beau’s sermon on prayer, the seemingly unanswered ones, and the answered ones, it brings me to the mystery all over again.

Beau highlighted, and I agree wholeheartedly, that prayer has very little to do with the actual words we say; it is more about our heart condition; it is about connecting with God; it is about bringing everything in our lives to the God of the universe who is also our intimate loving Father; it is about conversing with Him. He loves to hear about our victories, our defeats, our concerns for others, our love for the world, our desire to see Him move in mighty ways and make His name known, and He loves for us to be still in His presence and hear from Him, rest in Him, and trust Him.

Confession: I used to stress out over prayer. I knew its importance and was afraid that I would mess it up somehow. To be asked to pray out loud was horrifying. I was sure that I wasn’t doing it well enough. I read books on prayer, went to seminars on prayer, tried various formulas, various outlines, various methods, and eventually came to the conclusion that the only way I can mess up prayer is not to pray. God is absolutely not after formulas and polished phrases. He is truly after connection with us–me bringing all of myself to Him. You bringing all of yourself to Him.

Jesus gave us a beautiful example of what kinds of elements to include in our prayer lives when He taught us to “pray in the manner of” The Lord’s Prayer– elements that include greeting our Father, lifting Him up, praying for the things of His kingdom, and for His will to be done, asking for personal provision, for the grace to forgive others, for deliverance from temptation, for protection from the evil one, and acknowledging His greatness and authority over all. These are good things to include, AND I believe that God is just as interested in a quick sentence prayer in the middle of the day, or a “wow” prayer when He blows our minds with something beautiful, or a heart broken “why” prayer when hard things come our way–. Prayer is all about connection. Period.

So, maybe our biggest challenge in prayer is trusting God completely with however He chooses to move. Nowhere in scripture does God promise to give us everything we want. Nowhere in scripture does God say that He is obligated to us and our will. What He does say is “pray always and never lose heart” (Luke 18:1) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). He tells us that He hears our prayers (Ps. 66:19), that they are before His throne (Rev. 8:4) and that they are powerful and effective (James 5:16). God delights in us coming to Him with our hearts and our desires, but He is not a genie in a bottle. We know from the story of Job that God heard Job’s prayers for deliverance, yet God was doing a greater work than Job could see. God used Job’s season of suffering to give Job a new perspective on who God is–the end result of Job’s story is that Job experienced God in an incredible way. Job says in chapter 42 verse 5, “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You.” Job experienced a new level of intimacy with the Lord through his season of suffering and his prayer relationship with God during that season.

I have had a season where I responded to what God was allowing in my life in a similar way to Job. At first I wanted a way out, an escape. God said no. Then I asked God to take my life. He said no. I was going to have to go through that season. God was with me through it all. I am on the other side of that season now, with a deep, deep reverence and deeper love for God than I knew was possible. He stripped me of my false idols and taught me that He truly is enough. He is more than enough. He handled all of my questions, all of my rants, all of my despair, and loved me ferociously in the midst of the swirling chaos. I could not see where I would end up. I was devastated and terrified, and I knew that there was nowhere to turn except for to God. He met me in the pit and did abundantly more than I could have asked or imagined.

Coming to God as if He is a genie in a bottle, there to give us whatever we pray for, is not the goal and will lead to much disappointment. Prayer is about honesty before God, about connection with God, about walking with God, trusting God and ultimately experiencing God in every circumstance and season of life, no matter how He chooses to move. He is the artist weaving the tapestry. He alone knows what we truly need. He knows the beautiful work that He is doing. He can be trusted. His view is eternal. His ways are higher. And His heart is full of love toward us. Always. To connect with Him in prayer is one of the greatest gifts He has given us. It is our spiritual lifeline. We will wither without it. And, He changes us, and the world as we enter in with Him.

How has God met you in prayer? What does your prayer life look like? I’d love to learn from you.

–Luanne

Luanne wrote, “To connect with Him in prayer is one of the greatest gifts He has given us”. I agree with that statement completely. Prayer is not a duty, a means to an end or something to cross off my to-do list. It is a gift. God already sees the end from the beginning. He knows what we need and want before we ask. He knows how He intends to answer every prayer before we pray it. And yet, He invites us to talk to Him-anytime, anyplace, about everything. I can’t imagine the cacophony that fills His ears at any given moment… It has to be loud. But He desires to hear from us. He didn’t have to give us the gift of communication with Him. But, because “He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b), He made a way for the eternal part of us-our spirits-to connect to that which we long for.

I recently read this quote from Brother Lawrence,

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God”.

I would offer that what we say in this continual conversation is not always sweet and delightful. In fact, an honest prayer life will always include questions, lament, sorrow, pleading… sometimes even yelling and, often (in my case) ugly crying. But a life of continual conversation with God, regardless of circumstances, is sweet. And it is delightful. Because it is the way we connect the earthly and eternal. The way we can pass through the separating veil during our time on earth.

Beau highlighted Hebrews 13:14 in his sermon: “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

I am currently participating in a study that focuses on different disciplines that draw us closer to Jesus. The first discipline we studied was prayer. In that study, I read this:

“You feel the ache at the most unexpected moments… It’s the ache of a memory, planted deep in our souls, of a different world-a better, holier, happier world where no illness strikes, no tear falls and death is but an old recollection. It is eternity lodged in each human heart. It is the deep, unquenchable homesickness for God.”

That ache is what reminds us that there is more. That the storms and trials of this life are, indeed, temporary. Beau reminded us of Jesus’ words from John 16:33,

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world!”

Jesus overcame the world so that this world would not be the end of our stories. So that we could say, “This world is not my home”, knowing that the ache within us will one day be forever satisfied.

The ache that proves that God really did “set eternity in the human heart” would be unbearably heavy if there were no way to soothe it. It won’t be fully relieved until we reach our home in Heaven. But prayer is the way the ache is soothed here on earth. God, in His goodness and grace, gave us a way to connect beyond the constraints of this world. That’s prayer.

I have always talked with God fairly easily. But I didn’t begin to understand the deep connection that happens in the spiritual realm when I pray until a few years ago. When I began to understand that my prayers allow my spirit to transcend the earthly and meet God in heavenly realms, it changed my perspective dramatically. And you know what? Brother Lawrence was right. The sweetest and most delightful life is the one that is continually conversing with the One who created it. It is only through connecting with God constantly that we are fully alive, that our spirits can breathe and expand and grow us into all God intends for us to be. Our prayers don’t change God. But praying continually, authentically–it changes us.

How has God changed you as you’ve met Him through prayer? We would love to continue this conversation with you. Please comment with your thoughts and questions!

–Laura

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How Do We Respond to “Unanswered” Prayers?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.                   Philippians 4:6-7

Beau talked to us this weekend about how we handle our “unanswered” prayers. I assume that you, like me, can immediately think of more than one situation when God did not respond to the cries of your heart in the ways you thought He would-maybe how you thought He should? When we find ourselves in a moment like this, what do we do?

Beau spoke about our initial reactions. These are the immediate feelings and thoughts that occur when we don’t receive the answer that we hoped or thought we would. As Beau said, these are natural. There is no shame in an initial reaction–be it anger, disappointment, doubt, fear, etc… God gave us our feelings. And, as Ann Voskamp writes,

“Feelings are meant to be fully felt–and then fully surrendered to God”. 

Fully surrendered to God… That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Especially when…

…our prayers for healing end in the death of someone we love

…we pray for a prodigal child and they seem to move further away from home

…our prayers for a baby end in a diagnosis of infertility

…God leads us away from a calling we believed He gave us

…our prayers for answers end in more questions

…we ask for stability and find ourselves unemployed

…we pray for our marriage and it still falls apart

We could add so much more to this list. We’ve all experienced the heartbreak of unanswered prayers–and if we haven’t, we can be assured that somewhere down the road, we will. Our understanding is limited. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, nor are our ways His ways. (Isaiah 55:8)  At some point on our journeys, our expectations collide with answers we didn’t expect, answers that feel more like unanswered prayers, and we find ourselves reacting out of our limited understanding. What happens next is up to us. Beau said it this way:

“If our initial reactions are left unattended, they will draw us away from God”.

Our initial reactions are natural. We react in our minds and our hearts without thinking about or choosing those reactions beforehand. But if we are not prepared to handle those reactions, if we don’t know what to do with them, we will discover that those initial reactions can lead to unhealthy responses. And the unhealthy responses, as Beau told us, can impact the way we see God, ourselves and others. They can also impact the way we pray from that point on.

“Initial reactions require intentional responses.”

Beau didn’t give us a list of what those intentional responses should look like. Instead, he took us on a journey through Scripture that reminded us who God is, who He says we are in Him, the way we are instructed to love others and the way God asks us to pray. Intentional responses are always based solidly on the Truth. Reactions are felt–responses are chosen.

In the end, Beau brought us back to Philippians.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

These verses are so familiar to me but–as only the Holy Spirit can facilitate–they came alive in a whole new way to me through Beau’s teaching. Hang with me here; I promise I will get to my (very mind-blowing) point shortly…

Beau reminded us that these verses begin with “In every situation“. Right away, I see this as a “daily”. An everyday discipline of bringing our prayers and requests before God that becomes a constant conversation that is eventually as natural as breathing. Then we read “with thanksgiving”. Beau said it this way: “A filter of thanksgiving colors everything accordingly”. Beautiful, right? I want to live a life that is colored, experienced, seen through the filter of thanksgiving. But, friends, that’s not the part that blew my mind…

After we are given instruction on how to pray, we read what happens as a result of praying God’s way.

…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…

It was when Beau broke down the word “guard” in this passage that I began to see these verses in a more brilliant light. The word in the original Greek [phroureō] means to protect, as you might imagine. But it also means to prevent hostile invasion. We’ll come back to that in a moment… The word is derived from two root words–and this is where it gets really exciting! The words are [pro], meaning before and [horaō], which means to see with the eyes, to see with the mind, to discern clearly. 

You guys. This. Is. Crazy!

So, let’s recap… If we come to God in every circumstance with all of our prayers and requests, and we do so with thanksgiving–then, the peace of God will protect our hearts and minds before we see, before we understand, before we discern clearly. Our hearts and minds can be protected from the hostile invasion of unhealthy responses before we even know how God will answer our prayers. If we begin by praying God’s way, we are guarded in this remarkable way. So that, when our prayers aren’t answered the way we hope, we can fully feel our feelings and then surrender them fully to God, with hearts and minds that were being protected from hostile invasion the moment we began to pray! This is huge. If we are protected before the answer comes, or doesn’t come–or doesn’t come the way we wanted it to–then we are prepared to respond in an intentional, healthy way, standing on the Truth, regardless of what the answer turns out to be. That is beautiful, empowering and so life-giving. Let that peace settle over you…

Beau reminded us, in regard to our “unanswered” prayers that God gives us what we would ask for if we knew what He knows. He concluded with this beautiful poem, written by Corrie Ten Boom:

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”

Have you experienced unanswered prayers? Has God responded differently than you thought He should? How would it change your responses if you prayed the way Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to pray? I pray that as we ponder old truths and fresh insights, the Holy Spirit will move in each of us to empower us to choose healthy responses when we find ourselves tempted to question what we know to be true about God, ourselves and others. Blessings to you, friends.

–Laura

(Luanne is in a tropical paradise this week, so you have my thoughts alone–I would love to hear your thoughts and questions! Please interact with me through the comments section so we can continue this conversation! 🙂 )

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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