When the Enemy Comes: Restoration

“Where are you, God?” 

After journeying through the first two steps of what to do when the enemy shows up in our lives–Return to Me (God), and Remember–this seems a bit of an odd question to ask. It is a question, though, that is often part of our third step: Restoration.

When the enemy comes–regardless of what form that “enemy” takes, whether as a result of our own choices or not–we experience loss. This week, we’re looking at what God says He will do in the wake of that loss. The message this week comes out of Joel 2:25-27:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.” 

What God is talking about here is the process of restoration for His people who have lost so much. Notice that I said process. There are times when it may appear that restoration happens in a moment. And when it comes to a material thing that’s been lost being returned, it can in fact be restored that quickly. The kind of restoration God is talking about here, however, is a process. Because real restoration goes much deeper than getting back the physical thing we have lost…

Here is what the word “restoration” means:

“a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition, a representation or reconstruction of the original form”

We’ll come back to this definition in a moment…

When we’ve lost something, we have a pretty clear idea of what the restoration of that thing we’ve lost should look like. We want all of the broken, lost pieces put back together again. On Sunday, Pastor John offered that our perspective of restoration is only half of the story, though. He told us that there is always something greater at stake than the loss of what we had, whatever that thing might be. There are three things that he identified that are at stake when the enemy comes into our lives:

Knowing God is here

Knowing that God is for you

Remembering that He is the One & Only

In the midst of all of our loss, in the middle of the storms, we lose sight of who God is, of His goodness. This is the greater loss. This is what really needs to be restored. It is this loss that leads us to ask the question, “Where are you, God?”  

When we forget that God is with us in the midst of our loss, we begin to feel very alone, which leads us to forget that He is for us as both our powerful Lord and our personal God. When we forget that He is for us, all we can see is who or what is against us. Our focus shifts to our enemy and then we forget that there is no other God. In our grief and desperation, we accept counterfeit gods in His place.

One of the counterfeit gods we accept is OUR picture of what restoration will look like.

Once we accept a counterfeit god, we begin to worship it, and our lives begin to revolve around it. We make decisions and form beliefs around the thing we worship, the thing that has our focus. And we can, without even being aware of it, convince ourselves and the world around us that this thing we are seeking is God’s will for us. Because He says He’ll restore what’s been taken, right? When we find ourselves in this place, the restoration we need is far greater than we know. It will have to go much deeper than receiving back what we think we have lost. And it often begins with God turning our initial question around to us. We are desperate and asking Him, “Where are you?” And from the space within us and beside us that He never actually vacated, He asks us the same thing…

 “Where are you?”

He has some follow-up questions… What are you seeking? What is it that you want? What is it that has stolen your focus? What-or who-has become your god? 

These questions are often the beginning of the restoration process. If we stop looking at restoration as getting back what was taken from us and begin to see that it is actually   “return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition, a representation or reconstruction of the original form”, we can begin to see God’s heart in restoration. The “something” that needs to be returned to it’s former, original, unimpaired condition is not the thing we lost. It is us. Our hearts. Our perspective. In seasons of loss, when enemies wreak havoc in our lives, our perspective of everything shifts. Especially, as we’ve been looking at, our perspective of God. We lose sight of who He really is, and our belief in His goodness is often shattered, along with our discouraged, broken hearts. Both require reconstruction. Our hearts and our beliefs. This is God’s heart in the restoration process. To restore us to the place where our hearts are whole–and wholly dependent on Him. Not whatever it is we thought we lost. 

Here’s the thing… there are things we lose that we will never get back. This verse from Joel about God restoring the years the locusts have eaten has been manipulated and taken out of context over and over again to mean what we want it to mean. We want it to mean that our finances will be put back in order, that the relationship will be good as new, that we’ll get that position we lost, the job we were fired from will be ours again, the disease will be healed, the stock market will turn around, etc…

Sometimes, these things do happen. God is certainly capable of doing all of these things and more. But this is not the restoration He cares most about.

I am here. I am the Lord your God. There is no other. 

This is what He offers in the midst of our loss. And until this becomes enough for us, nothing else will be. 

When we find ourselves asking, “Where are you, God?”, will we be brave enough to let Him ask the same of us? To look around at where we are right now–not where we’ve been or where we want to be–and be honest about what has our focus? What it is that we really want? And can we then silence the desperate cries of our longing for whatever it is that we think we’ve lost long enough to hear the voice of One we can never lose?

He is here. He is for you. He is the One and Only.

This is where restoration begins…

–Laura

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. (Ps 23:4)

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will hold me close. (Ps. 27:10)

Restoration: “a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition, a representation or reconstruction of the original form”

Laura wrote above: Once we accept a counterfeit god, we begin to worship it, and our lives begin to revolve around it. We make decisions and form beliefs around the thing we worship, the thing that has our focus.

I don’t know too many people who deliberately worship idols. I certainly don’t intend to worship idols, yet God has shown me during seasons of loss how many idols I actually worship. Ugh.

Last week I wrote about a devastating season in my adult life. During that season, I truly did lean into God, and He met me and ministered to me where I was. However, during that season I also had idols stripped from me, and I lived in some tremendous fear. It became painfully aware to me during that season,  that I had placed my hope in another human being. I relied on another person to meet my needs, to provide for my sustenance, to be there for me emotionally, and to take care of me. All of that was stripped from me and my idol was exposed.  I was afraid. I lost my (false) sense of safety. For months and months I lived with tremendous anxiety over whether or not I was going to lose my house, over how the bills were going to be paid, over keeping a good credit score, over whether or not we would have enough food to eat. So. Much. Fear. And in all of that, I had also lost emotional support, I wasn’t sure who would be “safe” for me, who I could turn to with the depth of my fear. It was awful.

If anyone had asked me, I certainly would never have admitted to worshipping an idol. I wasn’t even aware of it myself. But I had solidly transferred my dependence from God to a person.

We truly were in a bad way in terms of material provision.  Many people helped us during that year. Sometimes I knew who they were, sometimes gifts came anonymously. There was never excess, but there was always enough. There were multiple times when I sat down to pay bills, knowing that we didn’t have enough to cover them, and yet there would be. It made no sense. I would sit at the table, look at the bank statement and try to figure it out–where did this money come from? I feared spending that money because I was afraid the bank would tell us it was a fluke and then we’d owe them.

One particular Saturday morning, when I was wracking my brain trying to figure it out, I heard God say to me, “Stop it. I am providing for you.”  It stopped me in my tracks. I wish I could say that I had no more fear after that point-but I still struggled. However, what I can say is that it lessened considerably, and each month, somehow we were able to cover our expenses.

We didn’t lose our house, even though logic would tell us we should have. We didn’t have our utilities shut off, even though logic tells us we should have. We didn’t go hungry, even though logic tells us we should have. (I just paused to shake my head…it still amazes me.).   Yet the ability to pay our bills and buy food, as crazy as that was, was not the restoration. The restoration began in a much deeper place as idols were exposed, idols were brought down, and God was put in his rightful place. It was not fun (at all!), but wow, was it transforming!

To this day, when we pay bills, I thank the Lord for HIS provision of our finances. When we sit at the table to eat, my gratitude is genuine. I know our food came from His hand. And even though those are material things, it is not about the material things.

There were other things in that season that died and that had to die. Things that didn’t need to be “restored”  in the way that we understand restoration. And those things were painful, excruciatingly painful–but God was using all it (I’m not saying he caused it…but that He used it) to recalibrate my being.

Psalm 23:1 begins with the phrase The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I remember pondering that verse years and years ago when the Rwandan genocide was taking place. I remember the images on the news of hordes of people trying to flee Rwanda. Many of them were massacred and/or lost their entire families. I knew that many Rwandans were Christians and I was struck with the thought-what does Psalm 23:1 mean to them in this situation? It can only mean one thing. The Lord–He alone is enough. If everything else is lost, if the enemy destroys everything, I shall not want, because the Lord alone is enough, and He is with me. Restoration.

My maternal grandmother passed away when she was 93 years old. She outlived eleven siblings; her husband (my grandad), died of cancer before I was born. My mother died of cancer at the age of forty. My uncle, her only other child, died of cancer six years later, also at the age of forty. She had every reason in the world to be a bitter, bitter woman, yet she wasn’t. I inherited her desk, which had been mostly cleaned out before I got it, but in the bottom drawer there was one typed sheet of paper on which she had written some thoughts. She wrote it while my uncle was hospitalized, and the end was near. As she processed and wrestled with yet another devastating loss, she came to the following conclusion and closed her thoughts with this phrase: I have come to understand that it is better to know God than to know why. 

Restoration.

Restoration: “a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition, a representation or reconstruction of the original form”

In our original form we were made for relationship with God. From the beginning of time, we were made for relationship with God. We get pulled a million different directions. Our “form” gets impaired. We choose a million different things to worship and place our focus on (including ourselves). They all leave us wanting.

But the Lord–He speaks to us: I am here. I am the Lord your God. There is no other. Call out to me. Return to me. Remember me. 

He has provided everything we need through Christ Jesus to be restored to our original, unimpaired condition.  His love knows no bounds. He is here, He is the only true God…

Is He enough?

–Luanne

 

 

Stories… “Arise, My God”

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

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

And He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Luanne

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Daily Worship

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

This Psalm is incredibly familiar to me, as I’m sure it is to many of you. But one of the lines struck me differently this weekend.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…

In Sunday’s sermon, John mentioned that we are invited to worship. He didn’t spend much time there, but my thoughts have hung on it ever since…

Psalm 100 gives us some directives. We are told to “Shout to the Lord”, “Worship the Lord with gladness”, “Know that the Lord is God”, “Give thanks to him” and “Praise his name”. Set within these directives, though, is a beautiful invitation.

“Come before him… Enter his gates…and his courts.”

At first glance, these words appear to be additional directives. But if we look deeper, if we remember that God is King and that this Psalm was written before Jesus, before the temple veil was torn, we will remember that one couldn’t simply “come before” the King in his court. To appear before the King without fear of consequence, one had to be invited.

It is beautiful that God desires our worship. That the Creator of the universe and of each human heart would invite us to come before him, would allow us-people of unclean lips-to magnify his holiness, out of the depths of his goodness and love for us… it fills my heart with wonder.

And as the beauty of his invitation settled over my soul I realized something else…

For true worship to exist, the kind of “spirit & truth” worship Jesus describes in John 4:23, there must be two invitations.

God invites us to come before him, to enter his courts and worship him. But if we don’t extend an invitation of our own, our worship will fall flat, as described in Isaiah 29:13:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

We can go to church, stand before God and go through the motions. In doing so, we accept his invitation… to a point.

John used a word today when describing how we are to worship that causes many of us to cringe a bit. He used the word “vulnerable”. He said that in surrendering our lives in worship, we have to “let go, be vulnerable, be willing to look foolish”. That doesn’t sit well with us. No one wants to look foolish. And we certainly don’t like feeling vulnerable.

The word vulnerable is defined by Merriam-Webster as: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.

No wonder we fight vulnerability… It makes us feel exposed, weak and unstable. It can make us feel insecure and afraid–and for good reason. It is natural to protect the most vulnerable places, those places most in danger of being wounded.
That being said, I believe that vulnerability is the invitation we extend to God in response to the invitation to draw near to him in worship.
If we don’t invite God into our core, we will never worship him out of our core. If we try to hide from him the depths of our brokenness, we’ll never experience the healing balm of unabashed worship. If we hold our hearts at bay, refuse to let down our guard, we will never experience intimacy with the Lover of our souls.
If we come to God offering anything less than our authentic selves–messy, scarred and imperfect–we are not reciprocating his invitation. He invites us in-invites us to know him, to have a relationship with him, to seek him in every moment. He desires that we make ourselves fully available to Him as he has made himself fully available to us.
Being fully available to God means that we withhold nothing from him. It means that we meet his holy invitation to encounter and magnify the eternal greatness of all that He is with an invitation for him to come in and take over all that we are-as well as all that we aren’t. Worship is a choice. And true worship cannot happen if we’re unwilling to extend an invitation for God to come into our most vulnerable places and meet with us in our brokenness. True worship doesn’t happen when we get cleaned up or follow a formula. It happens when we offer ourselves-our whole selves-in complete surrender to the only One worthy to be praised. When we invite him into our depths, we’ll find that out of our darkness, a song will rise-a song of praise to the God of our lives.
-Laura
I absolutely love what Laura wrote–especially this line: “True worship doesn’t happen when we get cleaned up or follow a formula. It happens when we offer ourselves-our whole selves-in complete surrender to the only One worthy to be praised. When we invite him into our depths, we’ll find that out of our darkness, a song will rise-a song of praise to the God of our lives.”
John said in his sermon that healthy thoughts around worship and God lead to a healthy outward expression of worship.  Psalm 95 illustrates this beautifully.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. —the invitation to express inward joy with outward singing and the acknowledgement of God’s strength and our salvation with outward shouting.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.  –the invitation to enter His presence with a heart filled with gratitude (inward) which spills out in an outward expression of enthusiastic praise expressed through music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. This is the “why”.  Only He is worthy.

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. The invitation to look around and acknowledge His greatness through all that He has made…

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; The invitation to respond to His greatness by bowing down, kneeling in worship before Him.

For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. This is the “why”. The Psalmist has taken us from God’s huge greatness to His intimacy with us as our Maker, our caretaker.

 

Today, if only you would hear his voice, do not harden your hearts… And then this caution. Do not harden your hearts.  We have a choice.

Hard heartedness is the opposite of vulnerability. Laura wrote above:

John used a word today when describing how we are to worship that causes many of us to cringe a bit. He used the word “vulnerable”. He said that in surrendering our lives in worship, we have to “let go, be vulnerable, be willing to look foolish”. That doesn’t sit well with us. No one wants to look foolish. And we certainly don’t like feeling vulnerable.

However, David, in writing Psalm 95 tells us to sing, to shout, to make music, to praise enthusiastically (extol), to bow down, to kneel. In other scriptures we are told to clap, to raise our hands, to dance, to speak out loud– does your daily worship look anything like that? If not, would you be willing to let go? Would you be willing to become vulnerable? Would you be willing to let your inward thoughts about God pour out and express themselves through your physical body?

I did not grow up in a church tradition that included outward expressions of worship; but as I began to grow and experience more and more freedom in Christ, my outward expressions became a natural outflow of my gratitude, my awe and my love for God. The every day miracle of being able to enter God’s presence without fear still inspires awe. The beauty that is all around still inspires awe and delight. For example, this morning as I was driving to work, the full moon was popping off of the early morning deep blue sky in front of me, and in the rear view mirror the sky was becoming bright red as the sun was rising behind me. I laughed out loud, and audibly said “Wow! Thank you, Jesus! Beautiful!” It just came out!  He amazes me.

What are your thoughts about Him? And do they flow out through your body?  Do you struggle with hard heartedness in your worship?  If so, ask God fulfill His promise of Ezekiel 36:26 in you– And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 
And then heed the word in 1st Thessalonians 5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit.” 

I promise you, if you will give full bodily expression to your worship– your daily worship and your corporate worship–your spiritual life will change. I don’t understand the mystery of it, but I know that it is true.  Will you enter in?

–Luanne

Bow Your Knees

Psalm 96: 6-7  “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.”

As I ponder Sunday’s sermon, and I ponder what it means to kneel before God in adoration, in pursuit, in submission, and in confession, I am struck by the open and outward expression of each person or group of people that John highlighted on Sunday.

The wisemen bowed down and worshiped him. (Mt. 2:11) The humility of that action–grown men bowing to a toddler–it must have looked strange, but they knew that He was God-sent. They knew that He was special. They knew that He was worthy of reverence, of honor, and they used their physical bodies to demonstrate their heart attitude. Do I? Do we?

The rich young ruler chased after Jesus in pursuit of the answer to his questions. John pointed out that he knew how to walk in a religious way, but not in a relationship way. The young man knew enough to know that Jesus had the answers that he was seeking. And he, like the wise men, knew that Jesus was special, different, so he knelt before him in reverence.  Even though the young man chose not to sell his possessions and follow Jesus, he received the answers to his questions. (Luke 18:18-23) The answer wasn’t what he wanted, so he chose religion over relationship, and comfort over sacrifice. Do I? Do we? Do we continue to take our questions to Jesus? Have I transitioned from pursuing answers to pursuing Jesus no matter what the answer is? Have you?

Jesus is the perfect model of submission. His submission was not without wrestling; however in his wrestling, he moved toward God and not away from Him. I love that Jesus is completely honest and totally transparent. He expresses his desired outcome, and then surrenders it all to the will of the Father. To truly follow Christ means to live a life of submission. I think honest wrestling is often involved. The bottom line is, am I secure enough in His love to trust Him? And from that place of love and trust, am I going to choose His will over my own? It’s not always easy. I had a situation last weekend where God brought a need to my attention. I had the means to meet that need, but meeting that need meant giving away an item that I had some emotional attachment to. I knew that the right thing was to give, and I did give; however, I wrestled, and even cried over letting go of an inanimate object that no one in my house is using or will use. I heard Levi Lusko on K-Love later that same day talking about how being obedient to God often goes against our feelings. Learning to trust God and obey Him over what we feel is true submission. Sometimes that’s hard for me. Is it for you?

And then dear Peter, kneeling in confession. (Luke 5). Peter was doing his daily thing. His normal activity. Jesus showed up in the middle of a normal day and all of a sudden the normal day was a sacred, life-changing day. Peter let Jesus use his boat. Peter was willing to cast his fishing net again, despite not catching anything all night, and when the miraculous catch happened, Peter was able to see that Jesus was no ordinary man. Just like the wise men, he was compelled to fall to his knees. He recognized his own sinfulness in the presence of Jesus, and asked Jesus to leave him. He knew that he did not deserve to be in the presence of God. Yet here it is, the beauty of our God–He would not leave. Instead, he issued an invitation. Our sin is a reason to kneel before Jesus–not pull away.  Our honest confession draws us closer to Him. Jesus shows us that our worth is far greater than what the voice of shame whispers to us. He assures us that He’s not going to abandon us, and He issues an invitation that leads to life. Real life. Am I willing to kneel and confess? Are you?

The presence and person of God in our midst, in our lives, is an awe-inspiring miracle. May we not be afraid to outwardly express our thanks, our reverence, our worship. “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord, our God, our Maker…”

–Luanne

“To truly follow Christ means to live a life of submission.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Luanne’s assertion above. Becoming a follower of Christ-beyond simply believing-is all about surrendering our will, this daily dying to self that Jesus spoke about and modeled so perfectly.

Luke 9:23 (NLT): Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me”.

If we truly want to follow, we must choose the way of submission. But we don’t like the sound of that, do we? Somehow, we believe that submission implies weakness. Is that what comes to mind when you hear the word submit? One of the definitions of the word “submission” is: “the act of accepting the authority or control of someone else”. I think sometimes when we hear and use this word, it is with the idea that submission is something that is forced on us. But the definition above uses the words “the act of accepting”. This clearly shows us that submission is a choice. An action, even. We can absolutely choose not to accept the authority or control of someone else. But if that someone else happens to be God, we will find ourselves in a place that can be very dangerous for us. I think of the warning from scripture that John used in the conclusion of Sunday’s sermon:

“But be careful. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and worship other gods.” Deuteronomy 11:16

See, we can choose not to submit, not to bend our hearts and our knees before God. But we will bow to something. We are built to worship. We will worship and bow and submit whether we’re aware of it or not. My kids’ Advent devotional said this last week:

“Now every heart beating in every person is made and wired to worship something. You might not be able to tell from the outside, but every one of us is bowing down to something. And if you don’t choose to bow to the one real God, you’ll bow down before a fake God–some Baal. See, Baal isn’t just the name of one fake god; it’s the name for anything we set our hearts on besides God. There’s the Baal of bigger toys and the Baal of more stuff and the Baal of me, me, me. It’s always our ugly Baals that keep us from the unstoppable, unfailing love of God.” (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp)

“The Baal of me, me, me…”

I don’t always want to take up my cross and follow… because I don’t always want to deny myself. Self always gets in the way of living a surrendered life. Because a life lived on bended knee has to begin with bending the heart. And, “the heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9)

So how, then, do we turn away from the little “g” gods of self, of stuff, of all that distracts?

Let’s revisit John’s points about kneeling, but this time, let’s go backwards.

We know we are sinful, that our sinful hearts don’t want to bow to our God-so we kneel in confession, like Peter did when Jesus’ holiness magnified his own sinfulness. Once we kneel in confession and we find that the love and forgiveness of God meets us there, we will find the choice to kneel in submission much easier-because we’ve experienced the love of the One we are submitting to. And when we confess and submit and we begin to see just how great our God is, we will long to kneel in pursuit of Him, to ask the hard questions and seek to follow Him as He takes us deeper. And once we have experienced God in these ways, kneeling in adoration comes naturally. Because we’ve been wooed to our knees, not forced there.

To submit, to bow, to kneel-it is always a choice. But not a choice of if we will do things things, because we will. The question is, to what will we submit, bow down to, kneel before? I want my answer to always be Jesus, the One true King. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s family, lists, expectations, control. Often it’s plain and simply: me.

What about you? What do you find yourself bowing down to? What makes it so hard to choose to bow before God in your life? I hope we will all engage in the “honest wrestling” Luanne described earlier, and find ourselves as true followers of Jesus as a result.

–Laura

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“Come to Worship” 12/11/16

Psalm 142: 1- 5 I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint, before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me,  it is you who watch over my way…Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me.I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” (NIV)

I don’t know that I can even begin to comprehend what Mary must have experienced during her pregnancy and on her way to Bethlehem. What an honor to be chosen to bear the Messiah. How very difficult to be chosen to bear the Messiah. Thank God for her temporary “city of refuge” when she went to visit Elizabeth who didn’t doubt for a moment that the child within her had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. We can only imagine what she had experienced in her village before and after that visit. And then came the decree that she and Joseph would have to travel…third trimester, on foot, on a donkey, aching back, aching feet, concern for where Jesus would be born, concern about food and water for the journey, where they would sleep on the way, would she make it to Bethlehem before the birth—so many things on her mind. Did she pour out her heart? Did she lament? We know that after the shepherds visited the stable that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Webster’s Dictionary says that the word ponder means “to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply.”  Was the visit of the shepherds as much for her as it was for them? Was this the moment that God showed up after her honest lamenting, the moment that He reminded her of his faithfulness in the past, of His goodness in the present, and of His power in the future?  I don’t know, but I think it is possible. Did God choose her because she had an honest and authentic relationship with Him?  Did God choose her because He knew she would move through the pain in her lament, or because He knew that she would worship in both the joyful moments and she would worship through crying out in the darkness? Did He choose her because she loved Him deeply and therefore was “real” in her relationship with Him? I know that God desires “real” from us. It’s the only way to have an authentic relationship with anyone, God included.

I believe with all I am that we can pour out what is going on inside of us to God BECAUSE He is our refuge. He is our safe place. He is safe. The words “save” and “safe” come from the same Latin word; therefore we can safely pour out our hearts to the safe God who saves. Let’s not be afraid to let  it out and find our peace in Him.

-Luanne

Aside from where we are told that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”, her only other words regarding her pregnancy that are recorded are found in her song. Her song begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” and continues in a tone of praise and adoration of God.  There is nothing recorded of her lamenting…yet, there must have been moments where she “poured out her heart like water” (Lamentations 2:19) in the safety of the presence of the One she so glorified. I say “must have been” because I don’t believe we can get to a place where we pour out praise and glorify our God to the extent Mary was able to do without first traversing the valley of lamenting. Mary’s words in her song bubble over with joy, humility and gratitude. Luke 1:46-50 reads:

“Oh, how my soul magnifies the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.”

These are not the words of a heart that is lamenting but, rather, the words of one whose heart had lamented. The words of a woman whose soul found rest in God alone and came out of the refuge of His Presence with unshakable hope and the belief that her salvation and honor depended solely on Him.(Psalm 62:5-7).

Mary knew what it meant to trust God. To rely on Him as her place of refuge. She had to. Her situation was impossible, frightening and dangerous outside of the promises God had made to her. She had a choice. Would she trust her God with her life and her future? Would she believe Him over the voices around her that must have been loud and accusing? Would she continue to run to Him alone for refuge? She made a choice to say yes to the God who chose her. And out of the depth of her trust, we see a richness in her faith. I can only imagine the intimacy of relationship Mary shared with her Father… as a result of her willing yes. And, I believe, a willingness to be what she already was: vulnerable and real.

We don’t have any proof that Mary lamented. But based on the way she related to her God, I believe she did. Sometimes the evidence is in what was recorded and not what wasn’t. I believe Joseph had to be pretty great at lamenting, too, but that’s a thought for another time…

-Laura

“The radicals and the revolutionaries and the reflective-they are the ones on the road, in the fields, on the wall, pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and the Advent coming again. Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.”

I came across these words in my Advent devotional this morning. The whole four pages of today’s entry were captivating. I knew as I read it that there was something in there that connected to what we heard preached in church yesterday. But I couldn’t put my finger on it until this evening. When I returned to the devotion, the words about jumped off the page at me:

“Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.”

Isn’t that what pouring our hearts out authentically before God is?? When we honestly pour out our hearts in the safety of God’s presence, we are not only not denying the dark-we are acknowledging it. We are acknowledging the darkness around us-AND!-the darkness within us! Right? And when we do this-when we honestly acknowledge the dark and pour it out, what are we doing? Aren’t we looking for His light in everything?

If we bring all of our stuff to our very safe God who saves us–all of the ugly, all of the dark, all of the time–His light tears through our darkness, through the dark clouds of our soul, and we come away from our pouring out, our lamenting, brilliant. Brilliant because His light always overpowers our darkness. But we have to be willing to bring our darkness to Him before He can overpower it.

Brilliant people aren’t the independent, the self-made, the exceedingly intelligent ones. We are brilliant when we take our tarnished souls to the Light. When we let the dark clouds let go of their rain and “pour out [our] hearts like water in the presence of the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19). We can’t drive out our own darkness. We can’t brighten what’s tarnished on our own. Only the Light, the Truth,  the unconditional Love we experience as we pour out our hearts can make us shine-can make us brilliant.

—Laura

I love what Laura wrote. It reminds me of my favorite Martin Luther King Junior quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  

 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”  We must learn to bring our darkness to The Light. John’s sermon on learning to pour out our hearts, our lament as a form of worship was powerful. We don’t often think of lamenting as worship, and in our western Christianity mindset, we have a tendency to think that in order to be a good Christian, we need to have our act together and be “happy” at all times. However, if we look at the beautiful example of lamenting in scripture, we realize that what God truly desires is for us to bring our true, authentic, messy selves to Him. Only then, can we have a real relationship with Him. Anything else is just pretense.

And, in order to bring our true, authentic, messy selves to Him, we have to KNOW that He is our refuge, our safe place (Ps 142:5)…we have to KNOW that “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” (Ps 102: 17). We have to trust that He included lament in His word to let us know that He wants to meet us in that place.

In my own story, there was a time that I was certain that God did not want my messy self, so I tried to pretend like the darkness, the complaints, the discontent, the pain didn’t exist and did my best to bury it within. Well…darkness cannot drive out darkness, so it stayed within. I became numb to my feelings, I became critical, negative, and I became self-destructive. The darkness was not going to be driven out. As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, and realized that I don’t have to pretend (truly, He knows it all anyway), and I began to bring my pain, my questions, my wrestling to Him–that’s when He began His real work of transformation in my life.

Even as I write this, I can picture myself lying on the floor in the dark with worship music playing in the background, pouring out my heart to the Lord, sometimes with sobs, sometimes with fists pounding on the floor. And the beautiful thing–The Light comes. He meets me there. And then, the most incredible thing happens…gratitude. The realization that I am not alone, that He is with me, that He is faithful, that He cares. I don’t always get a “quick fix” or the answer that I desire, but I do get peace and an awareness of His presence, a closeness that is hard to find anywhere else. Like Jeremiah, I can pour out my “19 verses” of raw and real, and then say “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)

What about you? Have you experienced His great love, His brilliance in seasons of lament?

–Luanne

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