Colossians 2:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so are we.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you in?

–Luanne

light tree

 

Colossians 1:24-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

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

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

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

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

We do, too… right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

suffering savior

Colossians Week 2: Do you know what you’re doing?

What are your priorities? Your passions? Do you know what your purpose is?

These are a few of the questions John put before us as he led us further into our study of Colossians. This weekend, we covered verses 9-14. This is how The Message translates this part of Paul’s prayer:

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.

“Juggling more than one priority is exhausting–and it’s actually impossible. We were never meant to have a divided heart.”

When John spoke these words, he was highlighting a truth that we don’t often acknowledge, a thought that is counter-cultural in a world that tells us to list our priorities in an attempt to better organize our lives. His point was simply that it doesn’t matter what occupies space #2, 3, 4, 5, etc… The only thing that matters is what sits in the #1 slot. Whatever is first in our lives is what drives our passion, what dictates our purpose. Everything else is wrapped up in priority #1.

What sits at #1 on your list? Ultimately, it comes down to one of two answers–it’s God or it’s ourselves. Friends, this is a huge deal. If God is first, if He is our priority, then our passion is wrapped up in Him. And if He is our priority and passion, we will know our purpose. If He’s first in our lives, we will be willing to do whatever He asks us to do–and we have the potential to change the world. The whole world can change from one undivided heart that is fully sold out to Jesus.

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19 NIV)

God wants us to have an undivided heart. He says He will give it to us. Are we willing to receive it? An undivided, surrendered heart in one individual is powerful. A group of these sold-out individuals can move a church and a community out of apathy and complacency (the kind of indifference and lack of momentum that causes 1,750 churches per month in the United States to close their doors!) and into a future marked by passion and momentum. And the body of Christ living this way, united under one name, the highest name, the name of Jesus Christ? This is what ushers in the Kingdom of God-this is what causes the world to believe!! In  John 17:21, Jesus says these words:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me [this is us, friends] through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Paul’s letter encourages readers to walk well, be strong & endure and to be thankful. I want to share with you a couple of letters in closing. In case you have any doubt that one undivided heart can change the world…

Letter #1:

“I want to be remembered for how I enjoyed life and loved the Lord… The journey has not been easy… The Lord was with me every step. He held my hand through it all. As I surrendered my heart to Him, I was able to know Him in a way I always wanted. I never thought it would be possible to know Him so deeply. The Lord became everything to me during this time. Every day I chose to live for Him… To bring Him glory… I can actually say, ‘I would do it all again’, knowing how close I was able to get to my Father in Heaven. The intimacy I found cannot be obtained anywhere but with the Father. It is so beautiful. I pray that all of you would find the Lord in an intimate, deep way. I was able to thank God for my illnesses. I found a place in the pain to turn and surrender everything in my life to my Lord… I pray the Lord will bless you with showers of blessings… I hope the Holy Spirit will bring you joy and peace. I love you all so dearly. Keep fighting-and endure.”

Letter #2:

“You are a very special woman. You changed many people’s lives-including mine. You are so close to God and have taught me to be, too. I love you so much…You are so great… I will never forget you. I will endure on God always.”

The first letter was written by a woman on her death bed. She wrote it to be read at her memorial service. The second was written by the woman’s nine year old granddaughter the day before the woman went to be with the Lord.

My mom wrote the first one. My daughter wrote the second. Every day I see my mom’s influence in my girl. I watch in awe as the honest wrestling and the willing surrender plays out in the life of my now twelve year old. My mom didn’t know how far reaching her purpose would be. It outlived her. But make no mistake, one undivided heart–one life fully surrendered, a life whose one priority is God & His Kingdom–will impact other lives. One life has the potential to change the world.

Do you believe that? Are you willing to live a life like that?

–Laura

I love that Laura included the excerpt from her precious mother’s letter, and the response of her daughter.  One life lived “all in” for Christ has a ripple effect that can’t be measured. Laura’s mom is a perfect example of that.

John said, “We think gospel expansion happens because of super stars like Paul”, or we think it’s the pastor’s job, and then he reminded us of all the regular people  that Paul mentions in his letters–women, men, slaves, soldiers, fellow prisoners, free people–people like you, people like me–we are God’s plan for advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  And then he shared this sobering thought, “The Kingdom of God either grows or doesn’t based on our passions and our priorities. What we do as individuals and as a church body either advances the Kingdom or hinders the Kingdom.” Even as I type those words, I feel the increase in the beat of my heart. I so desperately want to see every Christ follower fully sold out to God’s mission–it is the only way to experience the abundant life that Jesus promises. It’s the only way to experience intimacy with God. It’s the only way to experience true freedom. And it’s the only way to change the world.

How does it happen? We can’t be motivated by the “should”. That will never be sustainable. It has to be motivated by love and by gratitude. John pointed out that we talk about what we are grateful for. If a stranger buys our coffee, we tell people. If someone lets us get in front of them in line, we tell people. If we see something wonderful, we tell people. We talk about the gifts we receive, the kindnesses extended to us, the beauty all around that captures our attention–the things that we are grateful for.

Verses 12-14 of Colossians 1 say “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

We all used to live in the dominion of darkness.  Pause and think about that for a second. The dominion of darkness was our home, and we had no way to escape it on our own. We were prisoners. But God the Father, who loves us so much, qualified us (made us sufficient, rendered us fit) to become citizens of the kingdom of light, the kingdom of His Son, Jesus. And how did God qualify us? He took all of our darkness, all of our personal failures, every moment of our lives that we have fallen short of living for God’s glory and put it all on Jesus–2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that Jesus didn’t just carry our sin–He became our sin. I can’t even fathom the weight of that. Then our sin offering, Jesus, was sacrificed in brutal fashion, and when He died He cried out “tetelestai” (it is finished), which literally means PAID IN FULL.  Pause and think about that for a second.

And what we received out of that sacrifice is redemption (we can be restored to the full purpose for which we were created) and forgiveness for all of it–past, present, future.  We can live in glorious freedom. And because Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again and then sent us the Holy Spirit, we can live powerful, godly, meaningful, abundant, kingdom advancing lives.   Who else loves us like that? Have we become so familiar with the story, with our own salvation,  that we’ve lost our awe, lost our gratitude, and lost the desire to help rescue others from the dominion of darkness? Pause and think about that for a second.

Backing up to verse 10, Paul writes, “We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” 

John said “Paul abandoned everything, gave up everything, and God did everything else.” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 to “Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God” and assures us that God will take care of the rest.

We sang in our service “May the glory of Your name be the passion of the church”. (All To Us, Tomlin)  I am the church, you are the church. This is our call, our purpose, our life, why we are here.  Is it time to recalibrate? To reorder priorities? To surrender more fully? To go in more deeply?

-Luanne

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Who Are We? Colossians 1:1-8

I love the book of Colossians and am super excited that we will be in that book for the next 10 weeks. Paul lays out a beautiful picture of the supremacy of Jesus in this letter–one that I think if we truly “got” would change us to our core.

In the first message of this series, John highlighted verses 1-8 of chapter one—Paul’s greeting. It says this:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. (NIV)

So many things stand out in this passage–
*Paul’s call “by the will of God”– Every person in Christ has a call by the will of God, including you and me.
*Paul’s acknowledgement of Timothy– Paul does not do ministry alone; neither should we.
*His acknowledgement of the believers in Colossae as “holy” or “saints”, not because of superior morality, but because of their position in Christ, they belong to, are set apart by the presence of Jesus in their lives. We too, are saints, holy–because of Jesus. Can those around us perceive that we are different? Not superior, but different.
*Paul encourages the Colossians, builds them up, acknowledges that he has heard about their faith, about their love for one another, about their hope in God’s big plan, about their acceptance of the gospel and the growth in their region because they are sharing it, about their understanding of the grace of God, and he lets them know that they are not alone–that the gospel is spreading throughout the whole world. And he mentions Epaphras, and says beautiful encouraging things about him. Building one another up, sharing life together, speaking life to one another, are indicators of the presence of Christ. Is that how we, the body of Christ, are living today? Are we known as life speakers? As encouragers?

John threw out some nuggets of his own in the sermon:

*Knowledge means nothing if it’s not connected to your heart.
*The ability to have faith and love comes from our hope–hope in all things becoming right, complete, because we know how it ends, we see the big picture and what God is doing in the big picture.
*Christianity was pushing into a world that didn’t necessarily want it.
*False teaching began to come in and Christianity was being twisted to meet the desire of the people, so Paul wrote to the Colossians encouraging them to keep Jesus Christ at the core of who they were, to shape their lives around him.
*We belong to Jesus, He does not belong to us.
*My identity, your identity is that we are followers of Jesus Christ. It’s all or nothing.

In the midst of all of these beautiful and profound things, my heart landed on Epaphras. Epaphras, the “fellow servant” of Paul and Timothy, the “faithful minister of Christ” to the Colossians, the man who presented the message of Christ so beautifully that the Colossians “truly understood God’s grace” and it changed their lives and their community forever.

We don’t know much about Epaphras. He is mentioned in one other book of the Bible– Philemon, and at that point he is a prisoner with Paul and is sending his greetings to Philemon who was a leader in the Colossian church. But what we do know about Epaphras is that he loved God, he understood God’s grace, he found his entire identity in Christ, he embraced the call of God–the will of God in his life, and he knew and presented Jesus in a very compelling way to a group of people in Colossae–it changed their lives and bore fruit.

Can that be said of us? Are we “fellow servants” with others in the ministry of sharing Jesus? Are we “faithful ministers of Christ”? Do we know and love Jesus enough that those around us can “truly understand God’s grace”? Are we in-all or nothing-as followers of Christ? Are we willing to push into a world that doesn’t necessarily want Jesus? Have we lost our hope? Do we feel alone?

John shared this video with us:  https://youtu.be/9h0zTWHQGP4

Isn’t that encouraging? While it’s true that Christianity is growing at a slower rate in the United States than our population growth, the annual world population growth is at a rate of 1.2%, and the annual evangelical growth rate is 2.6% (GMI.org) Just like Paul wrote: “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” There is a permanency to the gospel. It is powerful, it will not be stopped, the gates of hell will not prevail against it! (Mt. 16:18)

So the question for us, who live in a part of the world where the gospel is not growing as fast…who live in a world resistant to the message of Christ (because, unfortunately, he has been so misrepresented here), are we each willing to be an Epaphras? Are we willing to fall in love with Jesus, recognize His beauty, His supremacy, ask Him to teach us to love the world, to connect our knowledge to our hearts–to His heart–embrace God’s will, God’s call in our lives,  and allow the Spirit to flow through us to those around us? May hope in the fulfillment of God’s big mission birth faith and love that leads to action in each of us.

–Luanne

I find myself a bit scattered as my fingers land on my keyboard… How can it be that there is so much packed into eight short verses? There are so many directions to go, points to expound on, thoughts to explore. As I read through Luanne’s words and re-read the verses a few times, one thought stuck in my mind.

All of the people mentioned in these verses were “all in”, fully committed to the work before them and fully committed to one another.

The letter is written from Paul-and he includes Timothy-to the church at Colossae. We know from all that is written by-and about-these two that they were committed to furthering the Gospel of Jesus. But what stood out to me about them in this short passage related to their commitment to the Colossians.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you… (vs. 3)

I think this short verse is so beautiful. The two words I highlighted above, “always” and “when” say so much about the hearts of Paul and Timothy toward their brothers and sisters in Christ. “When” we pray, let the church know that they were being faithfully prayed for. And when they prayed for them, it was always with thanksgiving. We aren’t privy to all of the other things Paul and Timothy may have prayed in regard to this church, but we know that they always thanked God for them. What if we prayed that way for each other? First, that we actually pray–that’s the “when”. And second, that we always begin by thanking God for whoever it is that we are praying for. Thanking Him for the work He is doing in the people we pray for, starting there. Not with the gripes and a critical spirit–with grateful hearts that can see the life of Jesus working in fellow believers. I have this feeling that if we changed just this one tiny thing in our prayers, we would find that our own hearts would be changed and our relationships would grow stronger.

And the people they were praying for, the Colossians, they were “all in”, too. John gave us a breakdown of their story. He laid it out this way:

They were once disconnected from God, dead in their sin–us too, right?

They heard the Gospel, and they accepted it. We have heard-have we accepted it?

Their sins were forgiven and they were baptized and began living a new life. Do we know our sins are forgiven? Have we been baptized and have our lives been made new?

Jesus was Lord of their life. They lived in a way that testified to His Lordship. Where are we in this step? Can people look at our lives and see us unashamedly living Jesus’s way?

John also said, and Luanne mentioned this earlier, that they were pushing into a world that didn’t want them there. We will come back to this point…

I think it’s safe to say that the church at Colossae was “all in”.

And then there is Epaphras. Luanne wrote about him so beautifully, so I will use her description again here:

“…what we do know about Epaphras is that he loved God, he understood God’s grace, he found his entire identity in Christ, he embraced the call of God–the will of God in his life, and he knew and presented Jesus in a very compelling way to a group of people in Colossae–it changed their lives and bore fruit.”

Again, he was “all in”. Paul & Timothy, the Colossians and Epaphras-all of them lived lives fully surrendered to Jesus and fully on mission. These eight verses tell us more than enough about them to come to the conclusion that they were committed. They were in. Period. No turning back. And that is why they were “pushing into a world that didn’t want them there”… and having success.

When John spoke those words, I couldn’t help but relate it to us today. As Luanne mentioned above, the United States is one of the few countries where Christianity is growing more slowly than the population of the nation. It is not at all a stretch to say that, in our present day and culture, the world around us doesn’t really want us here. I agree with Luanne that a major contributing factor is that we have so misrepresented who Jesus is and what our faith is all about, but regardless of the “why”, we are definitely unwanted in the nation we call home.

What are we doing about that? Could it be said of us that we are “pushing in” to a world that doesn’t want us, as the Colossians did? Or are we allowing the world around us to influence us more than we are influencing them? Are we being shaped by culture or are we shaping culture? As individuals and as the collective church?

I believe that the reason the Colossian church was successful at pushing into and changing the world around them was because they were all in. Their understanding of who they were-ambassadors who represented Jesus, brothers and sisters who all were important to the family of believers and saints because they belonged to Jesus-directed every facet of their lives. They got it. They accepted it. And they lived in a way that proved that they believed it.

What about us? Can we effectively push into a world that doesn’t (know) they want us? The answer, I believe, is yes. If we go all in. If we can follow this beautiful example and live fully committed lives, we can and will see the statistics in our nation and the world change for the better. I want to live an “all in” life. Will you join me?

We would love for you to enter into the conversation with us through the comments section!

-Laura

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Moving Forward

Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.       Ezra 10:4

Beau spoke this weekend about the importance of moving forward, of taking the next step God is calling us to take. He presented five critical steps to take to keep moving in the right direction. Those steps are:

Self-check daily. He reminded us that is necessary to regularly evaluate where we are & who we are, to get comfortable with real soul-searching. This is not meant to lead us to a place of shame or beating ourselves up for our failures, it’s simply the ability to be honest with ourselves and with God about where we are.

Seek Correction. This one is counterintuitive. We don’t love to be corrected and we tend to challenge instruction. To seek it out requires us, as Beau said, to embrace the fact that we don’t know everything. It requires humility. But the benefits of this step? It brings so much life!! Proverbs 15:31-32 says this: If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Seeking correction is an important step in moving forward.

Create constancy. Beau pointed out how difficult this is in the culture and time we live in. In our cultural climate, perseverance and leaning into the struggle are not the norm. We want what we want, we want it right now and if our demands aren’t immediately met, we look elsewhere. We give up and we quit . Beau encouraged us to “count it all joy” when our faith is tested because it leads to steadfastness, which leads to our being made complete and lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Live in community. This one can be almost as challenging as seeking correction. Most of us tend to isolate-at least when it comes to the deeper parts of our hearts. We can go to church every Sunday and still live isolated if we are not seeking out opportunities to go deeper and develop authentic relationships. Beau reminded us that it is when we confess our mess to one another that we find healing (James 5:16) and that we will not confess anything if we are not invested in real relationships with one another.

Remain connected. Beau identified this as the most critical of the five steps. He said that remaining connected in community is important, but here he spoke about remaining connected to God. He said, “We need to stop trying to lead, and embrace our dependence on God”.  In John 15:4, Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me”. Staying connected to God is paramount to having the ability to live out the other four steps.

Moving forward isn’t easy, but the alternative is not desirable in the least. We were reminded in this week’s message that “a lack of movement creates stagnancy”. Beau presented a comprehensive definition of the word “stagnant”.  It means, “not flowing or running; stale or foul from standing, as a pool of water; characterized by lack of development, advancement, or progressive movement; inactive, sluggish, or dull“. While I found several points in the definition intriguing, one point stood out above the rest. “Not flowing”. This may be the most obvious of the definitions, but in this context, I found it profound. 

I immediately related it to the Holy Spirit. Living a stagnant life means that I have dammed up the flow of the Holy Spirit. The other definitions aren’t pleasant, either–I wouldn’t want to be characterized as “stale” or “foul”, “sluggish” or “dull”. I don’t want my life to lack development, advancement or progressive movement. But the thought of living a life without the Holy Spirit flowing freely in and through me? I couldn’t bear a life like that. I am so aware of my lack… I know that I can produce no good, lasting fruit on my own. I need the power of the Holy Spirit desperately!!

If we don’t want to live a stagnant life, void of the flow of the Spirit, we have to commit to the process of moving forward. We have to take the steps. And I sit here and reflect on those points, I realize that none of them are possible in our own strength. To do any of them fully, we have to rely on the power available to us in the friend, counselor, presence of the Holy Spirit.

How do we remain connected to God? We embrace that we can’t do it on our own. We need help. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Why should we live in community? Why can’t we do this on our own? How do we build community anyway? “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit“.

How do we create constancy and find the endurance to persevere? Romans 5:3-5: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

What about seeking correction? Where do we start? How do we know if the instruction we are receiving is true? And what about the daily self-check we need? Where do we begin? We start with the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

The Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to taking steps forward. He is our helper, our counselor, our advocate. He is our guide and he convicts us of our sins. He empowers us to move forward and it is only through him that we bear good fruit. How do we keep from becoming stagnant? We take these steps that Beau outlined for us–relying on the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

How did the definition of “stagnant” impact you? Are there any areas of your life that have become stagnant, places where the Spirit is no longer flowing? Which of the five steps is the most difficult for you? We would love to hear your thoughts!!

–Laura

We were in Birmingham celebrating our granddaughter’s first birthday, so I was not there for Beau’s sermon, but really look forward to hearing it. I find it ironic, that even though I have not yet heard Beau’s words, I was in the midst of a living illustration over the past few days of the perseverance that it takes to move forward. Our sweet one year old is right on the verge of walking. Every day she practices over and over and over. She uses a push walker sometimes, but can’t yet turn it by herself, so seeks help when she gets stuck. She loves to hold our fingers and walk with that support. She pulls herself up onto furniture and walks around it, looking for affirmation from time to time. Every once in a while she lets go and takes a tumble, but she gets right back up and tries again.

Can you imagine how puzzling it would be to see a toddler who stopped trying to walk? One who decided that the progress made to this point is good enough? Think of the growth stagnation that would happen, the life experiences that would be missed out on? Yet, I’m afraid that many of us do that in our spiritual journeys.

We are encouraged throughout scripture to “walk”. Knowing that most of us walk to get from one point to another, I’m going to take the liberty to substitute the words “move forward” in the place of “walk” in the following scriptures..

move forward in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 5:2)

So I say, move forward by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  (Gal 5:16)

But if we move forward 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. (1 John 1:7)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to move forward in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. (Eph. 4:1)

Teach me your way, O Lordthat I may move forward in your truth… (Ps. 86:11)

There is no “neutral” in moving forward. May we cast off any tendency to be okay with where we are.  May we, with the humility of a learner,  take the hands of our Savior, accepting the support of our brothers and sisters, breathing the breath of the Holy Spirit,  move forward until the day He takes us home.

Are you moving forward? How do you keep yourself from becoming stagnant, especially in those tough seasons when you don’t “feel” like persevering?

-Luanne

 

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Stories from Romania

This weekend’s message came in the form of beautiful testimonies from the recent Mission Trip to Romania. I was moved to tears many times as six of our own shared about their experiences. At times, I cried with them as they shed tears. At other points, my heart was deeply moved by the goodness of God toward each one. But what I came away with was not simply someone else’s story about a trip that’s done and over. I walked away with my heart burning within me, challenged in my own walk with Jesus as I pondered all that He had revealed to these six. I am so grateful for what they brought home to us. Here is a small sampling of what they shared…

Beau stated that, from the beginning, he felt compelled to step in fully. He said he wanted to let the people he served and interacted with know him and have a piece of his heart. He wanted it to hurt when he left to come home. He also said this:

“Once I committed to giving my whole heart, it was easy to lay it all out there.”

Levi also expressed that he had made a decision at the start to fully enter in with the people around him. It had a profound impact on him. Not only did he leave changed, but with confirmation of and passion for the calling God has laid on his life. He also came home feeling convicted and challenged about his role here at home. He expressed it this way:

“Why don’t I give what I gave here [in Romania] at home? To the youth here? I hold myself back here.”

John said that sometimes God takes us elsewhere to show us what He wants us to do here. Levi’s revelation is a beautiful example of the truth in this statement.

Mark shared about how they could see the progress that had been made by teams that had gone before them, that their work would build on what had been done by others and that in the future, others would continue the work they had done during their time in Romania. He expressed it this way:

“Amazing things happen when we all pull together. It doesn’t matter what portion we build.”

These statements that I have highlighted, they’re more than a good story from a great trip. They issue a challenge to the rest of us. A challenge to love fully, deeply–a challenge to love like Jesus.

There is nothing “easy” about “laying it all out there” in our day-to-day interactions. What is easy is withholding pieces of our hearts because we’re afraid of getting hurt. We don’t want to feel the pain of giving ourselves away only to experience rejection, disappointment or the ache of goodbye. Maybe it’s possible to enter in fully for ten days on a mission trip, but to come home and give ourselves away like that here? In the places God has called us to live? That’s hard. And I think it’s safe to say that most of us shy away from living that kind of love. But isn’t love like this exactly what we are called to live out?

 Love one another the way I [Jesus] loved you. This is the very best way to love. (John 15:12 Message)

 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2 NLT)

 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. (Romans 12:9-10 Message)

Love the way Jesus loved us… How does He love us? He gave his life for us. He comes to the weakest, the sickest, the unseen and gives saving grace to all who ask. Live a life filled with love, following His example. Hard. This requires commitment. A choice.

I am stirred by the way the Romans verse is paraphrased in the Message– Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it… This is what Beau & Levi articulated in what they shared. They chose to love from the center of themselves, to hold nothing back, to be authentically who they are and give themselves away. And they came home changed and challenged to do the same here in their everyday life. This doesn’t come naturally to us as adults. We are well practiced in and conditioned to withhold pieces of ourselves. To wear a mask. To only enter in so far… But Jesus’s way is all or nothing. Partial love, giving pieces of ourselves away, isn’t love at all. Love is only love when it’s all-in, unconditional, following-the-example-of-Jesus love. This is the only love that changes lives and builds bridges. Love that binds us together as “good friends who love deeply”, who don’t mind “playing second fiddle”, who can say as Mark did, “It doesn’t matter what portion we build”, because, “Amazing things happen when we all pull together”.

As I listened to all that was shared (and I have left out so much–you should really watch this week’s video so that you can fully experience their powerful testimonies!), I had to ask myself, do I love like this? Am I willing to fully enter in–when I know there will be pain involved? Sometimes I am… but I want to do this well all the time, wherever God places me, with all people. Every single person is created by God and in the image of God. Will I choose to see the image of God in all people? To see each and every face as one worthy of love? Will I choose to move toward people, to lay myself down for people? Do I understand that it really doesn’t matter what portion we build, as long as we’re loving the way Jesus calls us to love?

John asked us two questions at the end of the message:

  1. What is God showing you?
  2. What is God teaching you about yourself?

I have some soul-searching to do and some decisions to make. What about you? How would you answer these questions? We look forward to hearing your answers!

–Laura

*************************************************************************************NOTE: For those of you reading this who don’t have a connection to our church let me give you a brief back story on “the girls”. When these girls were babies, they were all chosen to be adopted by families in the USA. . Unfortunately, when Romania joined the European Union, all adoptions to the west were forbidden, so these girls were caught in a political mess. There were eight girls. Now there are six, and soon all of them will be in the states because of a new program and of a loophole that has been found. Some of the girls have gotten a special visa that allows them to live with a host family and do high school here. We tried to get one of the girls a year and a half ago, and other families in our church were willing as well,  but our state doesn’t accept that type of visa. The other loophole means that Romanian families living abroad can adopt Romanian children, so three of the girls have been adopted by Romanian families in the states.

*************************************************************************************

Like Laura, I came away from Sunday’s service with beautiful nuggets to meditate on; however, the theme that God highlighted in my heart, primarily during the first service, has to do with the girls–the orphans. Young ladies, 14-15 years old now, that we have known and ministered to for a lot of years.

Mark shared that during a conversation with one of the girls, he had the realization, due to bits and pieces from his own personal story, that talking to an orphan about why we make the decision not to adopt rings hollow. And then he said:

Because the whole gospel is about adoption.

The evening that the team returned from Romania, John and I were talking at home and he was catching me up on the girls. I used the word “orphan” during our conversation, and John said that he didn’t like to use that word.  I didn’t like it either when referring to girls that I know, girls who hold a special place in my heart. Why?

The word “orphan” is all of a sudden hitting me in a deep way. Knowing these girls–and they have been well loved and well cared for by Peter and Ana, the founders of the Romanian Evangelical Medical Mission (REMM)–doesn’t erase the fact that they are still orphans, and all of a sudden I am feeling the weight of what that means…not chosen, no real home, vulnerable, alone…

Orphans– real live people. Am I willing to face the reality of what it means to be an orphan, and then face myself and my choices in light of what it means?

The world is full of children who are orphans, and who need loving Christian homes to grow up in.  I do not take that lightly.  I think that’s an issue that we all need to wrestle with and pray about, and whether we are led to adopt or not, we can all play a part in getting children into homes with our prayers and our financial support. Yet my epiphany on Sunday was that every person on the face of the planet that doesn’t know Jesus is an orphan. All of a sudden the weight of that hit me.

 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12  (Implying that those who don’t know Jesus are orphans.)

  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  John 14:18

 “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”  1st John 3:1

…”all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”  Romans 8:14-17

So, here it is; not only does God tell us, his followers, to take care of the real live flesh and blood orphans…

“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”  Isaiah 1:17

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”  James 1:27

…I believe that He wants us to see the lost as spiritual orphans and care for them as well.  This is what it means to love like Christ. 

When Jesus looked at the lost, he felt deeply for them.

Matthew 9:36 tells us:  “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I believe that he wants us to look at people this way as well.

So when I let both the beauty and the weight of this settle in on me, can I apply some of the things that the mission team said about ministering to orphans on their trip right here?

John said– “Always give your heart away. That’s what ministry is.” He encouraged us to give our life, our time, our fears, and our heart to God, so that we can be in a position to give those things to others–anywhere.

Beau said that leaving the girls on the last night was devastating because he knew that he may not see them again. He reminded us that the fear of pain, of saying good-bye, can cause us to hold back, but that he wanted it to hurt when he left so that he would know he came home different, he would know he hadn’t just shared knowledge, but had actually let the girls have a piece of his heart.  He chose to enter in, to speak life, to give his heart, and feel the pain of that. Could that be part of sharing in the sufferings of Christ?  Can I be willing to enter in with people even though I might get hurt in the process? Am I willing to give away pieces of my heart?

Levi chose not to hold back, to enter in fully, and was convicted about living that way “at home” as well–speaking life, speaking truth, speaking love, being fully engaged here. Am I willing to do that too?

Charity talked about how touched she was that the pastors and their wives knew the stories of the people that they ministered to, and she told of a woman who could no longer read her Bible, until the team provided a pair of reading glasses for her. Charity talked about the woman’s deep joy and gratitude, because that small gift changed her life.  Can we take enough time with people to learn their stories, and live knowing that even small gifts, small acts of kindness can make a huge difference?

Tina said about the dental work, that even though there was a language barrier, the language of touch, of care, is universal. We can speak that language no matter where we are.

And Mark said “Look for Jesus in every momentamazing things happen when the body of Christ pulls together.”

A mission trip is not about the doing, it’s about the being.

Following Christ is not about the doing, it’s about the being.

Are we willing to see those who are not yet family, who don’t know Jesus,  as orphans to be cared for, to be loved, to be spoken into with words of life, to be prayed for, to be worth giving pieces of our hearts to, to share our time with, to push past our fears for, so that we can introduce them to our Father? What are your thoughts?

-Luanne

 orphans

Who Are You Church? Why Are You Here?

Who Are You Church? Why Are You Here? What powerful questions these are! Shane made so many excellent points in his sermon, one of which was when things get confusing, muddled, lost in details that don’t really matter–asking ourselves these two questions will cut through all the fluff and get us back on track.

The beautiful verse mash-up that he read makes it all so very clear:

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, all who received him those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus, you are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it.” (1 Peter 2:9, John 1:12, Eph 3:6b, 1st Corinthians 12:27)

Who are you church? Why are you here?

Church. No matter who you are, the word conjures up some sort of image, some sort of thought. To many, church is a building, a place to go. “I go to church at such and such a place.” To others it is a place to be avoided–”I could never go to church, I would never be accepted there.” To some church is the place that dictates the do’s and don’ts of life, and makes one feel guilty or self-righteous depending on the current behavioral score card. To some church is boring, irrelevant, not necessary. To others church is a habit, a social experience, an expectation. To some, church is the place to get the personal spiritual tank filled on a weekly basis. To others, church is an exercise in trying to pretend that life is perfect. But to those who seek, to those who pay attention to what Jesus teaches about this thing called church that the gates of hell will not prevail against (Mt. 16:18), church is a God-breathed, life transforming living organism, built on the foundation of Jesus,  infused with the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit to carry out the greatest mission of all—-taking the love of and the Kingdom of God to every person, tribe, tongue and nation across the globe, and every new believer becomes part of this living, growing organism. Peter tells us in 1st Peter 2:5 that we are living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. Do you see yourself in that way?

I grew up in church, a great church, but it became routine and I was nominal in my relationship with God and His church, so I became dissatisfied and bored. In my young adulthood I took a few years off, which led me nowhere good. I had no idea how vital being part of a living church was to my emotional and spiritual health until I decided to step away for a few years. Once I made a total mess of things, and truly had nowhere else to turn, I timidly re-entered the community of Christ-followers, and was welcomed with grace and joy. I began to realize that the church is me. I am the church. So, if the global church has the tasks of glorifying God and connecting with Him, of encouraging fellow believers, and of sharing Christ with those who don’t yet know him, the question becomes am I doing those things? Once I figured out that the more I immersed myself in the true mission of Jesus and His church, the more fulfilling my life became. I was hooked.

Shane made the point that the strength of the church is defined by the connections we have– not by our programs, our budget, our building, but by our connections.
Connection number one is do we have a strong connection with the triune God–Father, Son, and Spirit? Connection number two, do we have strong connections with other people in the body? Are we making intentional time for one another, fellowshipping together, doing life together, encouraging one another, sharpening one another? And connection number three, are we bringing others in so that they can connect with God, connect with fellow believers, find freedom, discover their purpose and become part of bringing others in.  All three of these connections are vital to being a Kingdom church.

It is not possible to fulfill the mission of the church without going all in. That’s just what’s true. Jesus was very clear, and modeled very clearly that his Kingdom is all about relationships, and it requires denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following him daily. (Luke 9:23). And you know what I’ve learned? It is not a heavy weight– it is a great joy. My dearest friends, my closest relationships, are all people who I do Kingdom life with–the world can’t offer relationships like these. My spiritual growth, the woman I’ve become and am becoming are because of my relationship with God and with others in the church. And there is nothing, nothing, nothing greater than getting to be part of God’s saving and transforming work in someone else’s life. There is nothing more fulfilling than being part of God’s global work of bringing His Kingdom of justice and love to the world. There is nothing greater than watching God break strongholds, chains, do the impossible, and blow minds with how truly great He is.

So–who are you church? Why are you here? Do you see yourself as a “living stone” a vital piece in His church? We’d love to hear your answers…

–Luanne

Luanne reiterated in her beautiful writing the three reasons Shane laid out for why the church is here:

“…the global church has the tasks of glorifying God and connecting with Him, of encouraging fellow believers, and of sharing Christ with those who don’t yet know him…” 

Shane spent a lot of time on the second point, encouraging one another. He reminded us of the definition of the word encourage–and I’m so glad he did, because I think we sometimes forget its full implications and end up operating out of a watered down understanding of what it means. The initial meaning is “to take heart”. But when it is broken down further, it means “to strengthen, foster or advance something or someone”.

If you presented me with the three points Shane made about why the church is here before I heard the message and asked me which one I thought was the most important, encouraging one another would have been last on my list. Because, obviously, connecting with God and glorifying Him and sharing Christ are the more important pieces of this puzzle… right? Encouraging one another can feel too inward-focused, maybe a little selfish… right?

I wrestled these thoughts through as I listened. And have prayed through them ever since.  And this is where I’ve landed–

We cannot successfully connect with God or share Jesus with those who don’t know Him if we haven’t first been encouraged by other believers.

I know that is a fairly bold statement to make, but stay with me for a minute…

As I prayed and wrestled with my own thoughts, I was reminded of my own journey with God, with faith, with church. How did I get to where I am today?

By the encouragement of other believers.

I am not talking about flattery, praise, “atta girls”. I am referring to the kind of encouragement Shane defined for us. The kind of encouragement that builds off of the love Jesus was talking about in John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How did Jesus love his disciples? That list is too large to cover comprehensively here. But it absolutely included strengthening what was weak in them, fostering an environment of growth and advancing them into roles and positions they could never have imagined for themselves. Through Jesus’s encouragement and example, they learned how to connect with God and glorify Him and they also learned what they would need to know to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. The book of Acts records how essential encouragement, in it’s full definition, was to the early church:

 Acts 9:31: Paul was preaching and when he left, the church “was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.”                                                                                                        

Acts 11:23: Barnabas (whose real name was Joseph, but he was so known for being an encourager that he was nicknamed “Barnabas”, meaning “son of encouragement”. How cool is that?? I love Barnabas!) encouraged early Christians in Antioch “to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts”                                                                                                            

Acts 13:15: “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak”                                                                                                                                               

Acts 14:22: Paul “strengthened the disciples and encouraged them to remain true to the faith”                                                                                                                                                

 Acts 15:31: People read the epistle and “were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.”                                                    

Acts 15:41: Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches”                  

Acts 16:5: Paul and Timothy visit “so the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”                                                                                                                        

Acts 16:40: Paul and Silas out of prison…”they met with the brothers and encouraged them.”                                                                                                                                                

Acts 18:23: Paul went throughout the region of Galatia “strengthening all the disciples”

 Acts 18:27:  the “brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.”  

 Acts 20:1: Paul in Ephesus, “after encouraging them, said good-by and went to Macedonia, “speaking many words of encouragement to the people”

These are a few verses from one book of the New Testament, but from this small glimpse, it is glaringly apparent how important encouragement was to the furtherance of the gospel in the early days of the Church. Jesus Himself had encouraged His disciples and Paul, and they were building His Church the very same way.

Earlier, I wrote that I have gotten to where I am today because of the encouragement of other believers. No matter what age we are when we meet Jesus, we all start out as babies in our faith. I won’t speak for anyone else here, but my personal experience was that I did not intuitively know how to connect with God or how to share Jesus with the world. I had to learn. And I am so grateful for those in my life who have been encouragers to me. Those who have strenthened, fostered and advanced me. Luanne wrote:

“My dearest friends, my closest relationships, are all people who I do Kingdom life with–the world can’t offer relationships like these. My spiritual growth, the woman I’ve become and am becoming are because of my relationship with God and with others in the church.”

“…the world can’t offer relationships like these.”

She’s right. It can’t. And it isn’t supposed to. We are to love one another and to encourage one another the same way Jesus loves us. And when we do that, we equip one another to reach the world around us and we learn how to better connect with God. All of which glorifies Him and shows the world around us what can happen when we encourage one another well.

So, which point is the most important? I have to say encouraging one another. Because it facilitates the other two points. Are the other two points more vital to Kingdom living? Probably. Definitely. But we cannot get there without first learning how. And that is taught the same way it was in the early church–through the encouragement we give one another.

How did you get to where you are? How has encouragement from other believers impacted your life and faith? We would love to continue this conversation with you!

–Laura

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What is God Really Like?

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

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

God is a loving God.

John used Zephaniah 3:17 to illustrate this point:

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

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

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

Shh… listen…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

Laura wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Luanne

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Can I Have the Best of Both Worlds?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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How Do You Know What Love Is?

I thought I knew love…but I didn’t.

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

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

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

How do you know what love is?

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

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

God loves me IF I’m good enough

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

I thought I had to earn love…I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Luanne

cross equals loveFor-I-am-Convinced