More thoughts on prayer…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

I recently read this quote from Brother Lawrence,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

prayer

How Do We Respond to “Unanswered” Prayers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…our prayers for answers end in more questions

…we ask for stability and find ourselves unemployed

…we pray for our marriage and it still falls apart

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

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

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

“Initial reactions require intentional responses.”

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

In the end, Beau brought us back to Philippians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You guys. This. Is. Crazy!

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

Daily Living the Mission

I loved the new take that John shared with us on “Living out the Mission” as one of the “dailies”.  

Using Luke 9:23 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”, as the “what” of the mission….

Then using Matthew 9:10-12 “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’” to show the heart, the “why” behind the mission…

And then using the beautiful story in Luke 7:36-50 to highlight the “how”,  John painted for us a beautiful picture of “how” to carry out the mission of Christ.

Without a doubt, Jesus has made it clear that he wants our lives to be about making disciples (Mt. 28:19-20).  And he made it clear in Luke 9:23 that if I want to be a disciple, I must deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. Every. Single. Day.

It will be impossible for me to make disciples if I am not a disciple. It will be impossible for me to be a disciple, if I don’t deny myself.

In Genesis 1, God put in motion that we will multiply in our likeness. The seed we sow with our lives produces “like kind”. When God asked Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, sin had not yet entered the world. The original plan was that they would multiply others who would walk in intimate fellowship with God.  Sin ruined that possibility. Jesus restored that possibility, and his call to us in Matthew 28 is the “be fruitful and multiply” of the New Covenant.

To be a disciple, quite literally means that I will follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions. To follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions is a way of life. Intimacy with Jesus will lead to fruit. That fruit will be other “disciples” who follow Jesus’ precepts and instructions; who live life in a new way, who share intimacy with Jesus and bear the fruit of other disciples. Being a disciple is all about closeness and relationship. To know his precepts and instructions, I must know him.

The passages that John shared, show a stark difference between what it looks like to be a disciple, and what it looks like not to be one.

In Matthew 9, Matthew, the man, was learning how to be a disciple. His dinner table was full of different kinds of people, an inclusive setting. Matthew was a tax collector, and they made pretty good money. However, once Matthew had an encounter with Jesus, he chose to deny himself. He knew that he had found the Savior of the world, so he shared his wealth, hosted a dinner, and invited his friends to come meet Jesus, and Jesus came.

The Pharisees stayed in their little cohesive “we’re all alike” group, observed from the outside, and questioned the ways of Jesus.

In Luke 7, it’s the Pharisee, Simon, who has invited Jesus to dinner. Given what we know about Pharisees, I imagine the other dinner guests were of his group–like kind.  I can’t even imagine what happened–the shot of adrenaline and confusion, and “what should I do now?”– that took place in Simon’s mind when the woman came in. In the words of Ann Voskamp, “Oh, blazing Gehenna!” must have been going through his head. In his shock, however, he didn’t get up and escort her out. He observed.

The woman, this brave, courageous woman who loved Jesus deeply, totally denied herself, totally carried her cross, and totally honored the Jesus she had begun to follow. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She didn’t care if she made a spectacle of herself. She didn’t hold back at all in demonstrating her devotion to and her love for Jesus. She didn’t care who saw her. She was going public with her story of redemption, her gratitude for Jesus’ grace. The fruit– today, we are still moved by her love for Him.

Simon also questioned the ways of Jesus, however, he did so within himself. Jesus, who knew Simon’s thoughts and inner wrestling, answered out loud.  Verse 44 tells us that Jesus was looking at the woman, but talking to Simon– and in beautiful verse 47 he says: “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

My sins, Luanne, me, my sins, and they are many, have been forgiven.  So the question is, am I willing to go public with my love for Jesus? John said in his sermon:

“The beauty of our mess is that it shows us the beauty of the love of Jesus.”

The difference between the Pharisees and Matthew and the woman–the Pharisees could not see their own mess. They could not perceive how far they were from God’s heart. They had been blinded by tradition, by do’s and don’ts, by position, by religion,  and by the approval of the others in their closed circle of friends. They judged Jesus, They questioned Jesus. They chose not to enter in to Jesus’ way of doing things. They chose to be exclusive and distant.

Matthew and the woman recognized that their lives were a mess. They recognized that on the list of religious do’s and don’ts , they were hopeless causes. They met Jesus. They let him bring their stories into the light so that they could receive the gifts of grace and relationship with Him. They went public. Matthew invited his very mixed group of friends to have dinner with Jesus, and the woman crashed a dinner that she hadn’t been invited to so that she could show what it looks like to love Jesus well. They embraced Jesus for who He is, they accepted his ways and his method of doing things, and they couldn’t keep from inviting others, all others, in.

I want my life to look like that. I want to make disciples that look like that. Am I willing to follow Jesus daily?  Am I willing to take up my cross—my messy life, my redemption story–am I willing to deny myself–not worry what anyone else may think of me–in order that I can be a disciple who multiplies disciples who love Jesus deeply and aren’t afraid to go public with their stories? Am I willing to show the beauty of my mess so that the people around me can see the beauty of the love of Jesus-and then experience it for themselves?  The honest answer–sometimes. May my answer move from sometimes to yes! Always yes.

-Luanne

Luanne wrote:

“…this brave, courageous woman who loved Jesus deeply totally denied herself, totally carried her cross, and totally honored the Jesus she had begun to follow. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She didn’t care if she made a spectacle of herself. She didn’t hold back at all in demonstrating her devotion to and her love for Jesus. She didn’t care who saw her…”

John said in his sermon that, in doing what she did, the woman in this story was breaking every tradition, going against the rules and doing it all wrong. He said that she was willing to do whatever it took to get to Jesus. She stepped out of the safety of obscurity to step into the only light that could shatter her darkness.

When was the last time you were willing to do whatever it took to get to do Jesus? If you know Jesus, then you have taken this chance at least once… Think back to the moment in your life that you saw yourself in all your messy brokenness and you just knew you needed Jesus. Do you remember that feeling? That desperation? You needed him and you knew it and you did whatever it took to get to him. You know the details of that first encounter–does anyone else? Have you ever shared your story? I know many people don’t think their testimony is all that “special” or “powerful”–but the truth is, we all-if we know Jesus-have a resurrection story. As pastor Louie Giglio puts it:

“You were dead! Dead people can’t do anything to help themselves! He made you alive!”

I love that so much! We were dead, our spirits were dead. He brought us to life. Friends, that’s a story worth sharing!! The details of your story are what make you uniquely able to share with others who will be moved by your particular set of circumstances. We all have a resurrection story if we know Jesus.

I think I can safely assume that your salvation experience is not the only time you’ve found yourself willing to do whatever it takes to get to Jesus, though. Why would I assume that? Because I know my own story.  Sometimes we meet Jesus and we begin to change and we are excited to share our stories because we are just so grateful for what he has done for us, but as time goes by… things get in the way.

So many things can get in the way of our getting to Jesus.

Sometimes those things paralyze us from doing what it will take to get back to him. Maybe it’s lies you’ve believed about yourself or about God… Maybe it’s an addiction and you feel ashamed and unable to change… Maybe you know that the “whatever it takes” means you’re going to have to step away from something you love so that God can draw you out into the wilderness and draw you close to him again… It could be a confession that you don’t think you can make… Or forgiveness that you don’t know how to extend… Maybe it just flat out looks crazy–like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat and onto the water to get to where Jesus was–and you just don’t think you can subject yourself to public ridicule… Maybe you think if you take that step, lean into your “whatever it takes”, Jesus will leave you hanging. I don’t know what your “whatever it takes” is. But I do know I have found myself in every one of the situations I highlighted above. And they’re all terribly frightening and they loom large and lie to us and make us feel stuck. John told us what to do, though…He reminded us that this woman in the story kept her focus on Jesus. It wasn’t about her–it was all about him. It reminds me again of Peter’s story that I referenced above–Peter was able to walk on the water until he took his eyes off of Jesus. When his focus moved from the Savior in front of him to the mess surrounding him, he started to sink. But, remember,

“The beauty of our mess is that it shows us the beauty of the love of Jesus.”

As Peter found to be true when he called out Jesus’s name and reached for him through the waves, when we refocus and reach out for Jesus in our mess, we find him right there, by our side, pulling us up. How many times have my messes gotten so big, so unbearable that I became willing to do whatever I had to to get back to Jesus? So many times… What about you? Have we shared these messy stories in vulnerable, authentic ways to the waiting world around us? I’m not great at it all the time… I want to become a person who boldly declares how good God has been to me, how much he has saved me from, how much of a mess I was-and still would be-without him. I want to be willing to share it all the time. Because I am also a woman who has been forgiven much…so very much. I want to love my Jesus much in return, as the woman in the story did. And I want the world around me to know just how much I love him just how good he has been to me… so that, hopefully, they’ll want to do whatever it takes to get to Jesus, too.

Where do you see yourself in these stories? Maybe you’ve never left the shadows of obscurity to meet Jesus. Maybe you did, once, but so much has gotten in the way. Maybe you have found yourself living the “whatever it takes” over and over again as you seek to know Jesus more deeply, but you’re hesitant to share all that he has done for you with others. Perhaps you are one who does share, often, your own beautiful redemption story. Wherever you are, I pray that this week, we can all move one step closer to Jesus. And that as we do, we’ll find ourselves more and willing to share his great love with those around us.

–Laura

your story

Daily Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

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

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

“inclined or favorably disposed in mind”

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

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

“prompt to act or respond”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two problems I see with “tomorrow”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

harsh, intolerable, offensive

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

Why are Christians so _______ ?

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

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

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

–Laura

 

 

 

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

Daily Chasing After God

When John shared Isaiah 58:2  in his sermon yesterday: “For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways” at first glance that verse appeared to be indicating that God’s people were getting it right, but then John pointed out the word “seem”.  As I pondered that word, I realized that it always leaves room for doubt. That one word opened up a plethora of thoughts for me.

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.” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

Jesus quotes this Isaiah passage in Matthew 15 by saying:  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

To be a hypocrite means to be an actor; to play a role. I have to admit that for a number of years, my Christianity was a religion that looked much like that. I went through the motions, but my heart was not in it. I wanted my heart to be in it, but striving and “doing” to create a relationship with God will never work. Striving and “doing” can not bring life.  I was going after approval, I was going after reward from God, I was going through my checklist–quiet time, check; said a prayer, check; went to church, check; but it was dead. It was religion. It was a heavy weight. It did not produce the fruit of the Spirit. It did not produce transformation.  It was exhausting, and it was unsustainable. So, when John was talking about daily chasing after God, and differentiating between religion and relationship, the importance of the order of things began to take shape in my mind.

In John 14:15 Jesus says:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  (ESV)

I used to look at that verse and interpret it as meaning “prove you love me by keeping my commandments”; however,  I now see it as saying if I love Jesus, truly love him, the natural outflow of that love will be keeping his commandments. It’s not a heavy weight to bear. It’s a beautiful relationship based on His love for me and my love for Him in return. Here’s the order: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Therefore, knowing that He pursues me, and then pursuing Him, chasing after Him daily, produces exactly what John said.

Chasing after God daily creates obedience–not out of “have to” but out of “want to”.  Like David, I long for my heart to beat in time with  the heartbeat of God (Acts 13:22 MSG).  I’m continuing to discover that doing life His way is a delight. The transformation and fruit that come from delighting in God and seeking His kingdom first have no equal in this world. When I stop seeking His “stuff” and just seek “Him”, I learn that He truly is the reward, He is the treasure, He is the prize. Again–the order of things–“Seek first the Kingdom of God…”(Matthew 6:33)”

Chasing after God daily creates longing–I found the words “soul and spirit” in Isaiah 26:9a worthy of a second glance. “At night my soul longs for You. Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently.”  I believe that the soul is the part of us that houses our emotions, our will, our personality, in other words it is the intangible part of us that makes us who we are. I believe that  the spirit part of us is what God breathes life into when we come into relationship with Christ, and is therefore the part of us that connects with Him; my spirit connected to His Spirit. When Jesus tells the woman at the well that the Father longs for worshipers who will worship in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), He is saying–come to me with your soul bared, come honestly, come transparently, come authentically, come ready to connect your spirit to mine. Don’t come as an “actor”, don’t come because you “should”. Come, every day because I love you, and you love me.  Bring every feeling, every doubt, every celebration, every decision, all of you to me, and I will meet you there. He tells us: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah. 29:13)  Nothing could be better!   The daily dependency, the daily chase–this is where life is found. He alone is life.

Have you learned to chase Him daily? Tell us about your journey from “have to” to “want to” and the fruit that has come from it.

–Luanne

Like Luanne, I spent many years “doing” religion rather than pursuing Jesus in relationship. My checklist was long. My smile was plastic. My heart was hard, but longing to be soft–even though I didn’t yet know what that meant. I lived fake-and, for a very long time, I wasn’t even aware of it.

Contained within the inauthentic faith I was living was the lie that I had to mute my questions, manage my emotions and protect my heart-even from God. Especially from Him… Because I flat out did not trust Him.

John talked about asking the questions and fully feeling our emotions in an authentic way. He talked about this in the same part of the message where he talked about our longing for God, the depths of that longing, the seeking in the morning and at night and in every moment. This is not a direct quote, but this is what I heard and wrote in my notes:

“God is big enough to handle every emotion contained within our longing”.

I believe our longing for God is ultimately what drives us to keep chasing after that something we are seeking to fulfill us. We don’t always know that it’s God we’re longing for, but we all have that thing that drives us, that thing we need to find fulfillment.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, out of the Amplified Bible, it says, He [God] has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]…

So our deepest longing, whether we recognize it as such or not, is actually to know God and live out of the eternal rather than the temporal. And that longing, it contains every emotion we feel. Because God created us that way. Our deepest sorrow, our richest joy, our frustration and anger and all of the “why” questions that flow from that place–they live within our ultimate longing for what we were actually created for. Our longing is bursting at the seams with emotion because our longing is actually for the eternal–and only the eternal can handle the full weight of our God-given emotions.

So this longing where our wildest emotions live, it leads us one of two ways–either we seek to fulfill it in everything but God, to no avail, or we find it satisfied in God, as we daily chase after Him. And I have found that the crazy thing about finding that fulfillment in God is that it then produces something–a greater longing. Because experiencing Him always leaves us wanting more, this side of Heaven. While we’re living broken lives on a broken, fallen planet, our longing will never feel fully fulfilled. But as we get to know Him more, it’s not so much a restless, searching kind of longing. It becomes, instead, a longing pregnant with anticipation, anxiously awaiting the day when we will know fully as we are fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So, I’m asking myself again, and I’ll ask you, too: What are you chasing? What are you longing for? Is it God? What questions are you afraid to ask Him? What emotions do you try to hide from Him? He can handle all of the emotions contained within our longing. He gave them to us. Can we trust Him enough to give them back to Him in an authentic way?

-Laura

 

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The Dailies #1: Dependency

Give us today our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

I am so excited about this new series John began this weekend! The series is titled “The Dailies”. We began this weekend with Dependency and we will continue looking at daily habits that will give us the momentum we need to create traction in our lives.We are being invited to discover daily disciplines that lead to our becoming true disciples of Jesus.

So this week’s “daily” is dependency. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included the words “Give us today our daily bread”. John reminded us that this prayer is intended to be a reflection of dependency, not a demand. Because demands, well, they create expectations. Expectations, whether met or unmet, create reactions within us. Unmet expectations create disappointment, fear and resentment. When our expectations are met, however, it creates a sense of entitlement. We are tempted to think-especially when it comes to God-that we’ve found the formula, we’re doing something right. This sounds a whole lot like eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that we talked about last month. (That post can be found here: Two Trees)

Dependency, unlike demand, produces gratitude. Gratitude, by nature, is full of humility and void of demands. Grateful dependency acknowledges that we have need and that we cannot provide for our own need. It recognizes the Giver and thanks Him for the gifts. It lives in the now, in the present moment, and it lives fully alive and aware of this day.

John read this passage out of Deuteronomy:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.                                        Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (emphasis mine)

Cities you did not build… Houses filled with amenities you did not provide… Fresh, flowing water from wells you did not dig… A harvest you did not plant…

This short list applies to me and you, too, doesn’t it? In fact, I could add many more things that I have but did not provide for myself. The list of all that I have been given is extensive. What about you?

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord…

I believe that most who will read this are like me, in that excess is part of our lives. Excess in itself is not a bad thing.But we are in danger of forgetting the Lord when our dependency shifts from the Giver to what has been given. What do you do with your excess? What do I do with mine? Do we even see the excess that we possess or are we so living from a place of lack that we cannot see the abundance of what we’ve been given?

When John talked about our daily bread, he referenced Proverbs 30:8-9:

 … give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

He offered that when we live from a place of lack, when we desire excess so we can relax and live more comfortably, we completely bypass asking God for our daily bread and we ask for (demand, perhaps?) the entire bakery.

Here’s the thing about the bakery, though–it looks great and offers a sense of security, but it’s too much for one day. None of us need that much bread for today. There is so much excess in the bakery.

Yet, many of us have been given the whole bakery…

What are we doing with what we’ve been given? Do we even recognize that we have been given the bakery? There are so many thoughts swirling in my mind around this concept.

If God wants us to live dependent on Him for our daily bread, why has He given so many of us a whole bakery? What do we do with all the extra at the end of each day? Do we wrap it up safely and put it in the freezer to store it for another day? Just in case tomorrow’s manna doesn’t come?

Bakeries don’t save their excess bread. The mark of a good bakery is that it is filled with the freshest bread each day. Old bread gets stale and hard and eventually goes bad, regardless of how it is stored. Bakeries do one of two things with their leftovers:

They either throw it away… or they give it away

What are we doing with all of our excess? Are we trying to hoard it, save it, fearful of a day when we might find ourselves without enough? Are we eating our fill and carelessly discarding the rest? Or are we eating today’s bread with open hands and grateful hearts, living present in each moment, taking only what we need and giving the rest away?

John said, “Living in the moment today displaces the fears of tomorrow”, and that, “Daily dependence reminds us of God’s faithfulness”. He reminded us that today is all we have. Today is all we need. And today is all we can handle. He also said that what we do with our today impacts our tomorrow.

I can think of no better way to impact tomorrow than to give the excess of today away. To gratefully receive today’s bread, humbly take only what I need and trust that tomorrow’s manna will be enough. Trusting that God will show up again tomorrow allows us to live with open hands, willing to let go of the extra we don’t need so that someone else can have what they need. May our lives be marked by grateful dependency on the Giver of all that we need…

–Laura

Some years ago, my husband’s former college roommate came to visit us. We were hanging out in the kitchen, delicious food bubbling away on the stove–my high school age kids were in the kitchen with us and we were laughing and enjoying one another’s company. John Boy, as we affectionately call him, asked the question “Does the present really exist? Think about it…as seconds tick by it’s past, future, past, future, past, future…Is there really such a thing as the present?” Even though he was being silly, I pondered that question for years. I still ponder it from time to time.

In John Chapter 11, Martha is grieving and a little miffed at Jesus for not having shown up before her brother Lazarus died. She says to him…“Lord… if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Past tense. She goes on to say… “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Present tense. Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again, and her response takes her out of the present and into future tense: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Then Jesus makes a powerful, powerful statement:
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus refers to himself, his state of being in the present tense.

                                                  I AM.  

He tells us that present tense living, present tense believing in him, leads to life. The one who believes in me now, in this moment…

Isaiah 26:3 gives us a glimpse of what this looks like: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (ESV) The verbs are in the present tense.

As I write this, I am in my daughter’s house in Alabama with my precious 9 month old granddaughter. We live far away from her, so every moment we have together is precious. In the past, I have robbed myself of the gift of the present by living in countdown mode—”I only have this many days left, this many hours left”— I am through with that!!!! It robs me of the joy of this moment. So yesterday when she took a nap and held my hand for 30 minutes, I did not think about what I had to do next. I relished the moment. When I fed her and rocked her to sleep, I did not think about what I had to do next. The moment I was in was precious, so I chose to step out of time and allowed that moment to be all I focused on.

After listening to John’s sermon and being in a place to observe the actions, the total dependence  of this little one, I am keenly aware that she has no thought of ticking seconds. When she senses a need, she communicates that she has a need. When she plays, she constantly looks back to make sure that she is being watched– that she hasn’t been left alone, and (my favorite) she frequently crawls to me (or her mommy or daddy), climbs over our legs, connects with us by touch and then heads off again. She imitates our actions, our sounds as she learns to become like us, she responds to us as we respond to her, and in the really precious moments, this busy busy little girl rests in our arms and lets us hold her close.

My desire is to remember this–to live like this in my relationship with Christ–connecting with him, taking my needs to Him, trusting Him to be present, not worried about yesterday or tomorrow, but knowing that He is more than sufficient in the now. I want to live in the “I Am” of Him-trusting Him for today’s bread, knowing that His presence In The Now is more than sufficient for all the moments of life.

–Luanne

enough-bread

The Love Chapter

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

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

Let’s start with the basics…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Ask!!

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

And then follow His lead.

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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Covenant Marriage

“I have never heard that before.”

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

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

“How have I never heard this?”

“Why was this never taught?”

“How could we have missed this?”

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

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

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

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

What in the world do I mean by that?

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

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

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

We get hungry for something more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will your response be?

–Luanne

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Two Trees

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life...            Deuteronomy 30:19 (NLT)

The Bible describes-in detail-two different trees. Our understanding of both trees and how they play out in our days literally determines the trajectory of our lives. The amount of Scripture there is around this idea is staggering. And yet… I’m betting most of us have never heard it preached about the way we heard it this weekend.

Normally, one or two points from the sermon capture my attention and provide more than enough material to write about. Not this week. The amount of material John covered is vast and I’m not sure how to condense it in a way that does it justice. So, instead, I’m going to tell you a story…

A long time ago, a baby girl was born. She was wanted and loved, but she didn’t always know it. Her family was part of a faith community that saw what they called “the spirit of Jezebel” in her and she began to pay for who she was before she could crawl. Her parents were instructed to beat that spirit out of her when she was three months old. As she grew, she began to learn that she was more lovable and acceptable when she followed the rules and met the expectations of those around her. She knew that she was never quite good enough-daily punishment was inevitable, but the harder she tried, the less severe her punishment would be. This little girl had a strong sense of God from an early age, more out of fear than anything else, but she didn’t doubt His existence. She knew that songs said He loved her, but she also knew that she was damaged and that if she didn’t meet a certain standard, He wouldn’t want her. Because the truth was, He didn’t “want” her anyway-he merely tolerated her. Fear gripped her heart from her earliest memories. She knew about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil-and she was filled with shame over how bad she knew she was.

As she grew older, the bony fingers of perfectionism tightened around her heart. Her family left that faith community when she was eight years old, but the rhetoric that defined her childhood followed her like a stalking shadow. She was well liked by teachers and other adults because she worked so very hard. She was desperate for someone-anyone-to tell her she was enough. But because she’d only ever known of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she knew she would never attain that elusive “enough”. While adults applauded her efforts, her peers attacked her intentions. The word “fake” was attributed to her early on and began to define her young existence. It became like an arrow lodged in her heart, because she didn’t understand. She didn’t know how-or who-else to be. In the midst of her approval-seeking rat race, she sensed Jesus and she wanted to know Him. She began a relationship with Him in elementary school, and she read her Bible and followed rules like never before. In spite of her growing knowledge of Jesus (her knowledge about Him), she grew more and more insecure and her lack of confidence became nothing less than paralyzing fear and desperate loneliness. Even as she excelled in school and in her extra-curricular activities, there was a growing chasm between her heart and God. She was terrified to disappoint Him–she knew Him to be an angry, terrifying Father who could dismiss her like a pesky mosquito.

She had been told that God loved her for as long as she could remember, but she didn’t feel loved. So she began to run toward other loves-anything that might offer a glimmer of hope that she could be desirable and enough for someone... anyone. She wanted to fit in, to be likable, to be anything but who she had come to understand she was. And so, the two-faced part of her story began. She was far too afraid to turn her back on God completely, and she ached at the thought of becoming even more of a disappointment to her parents (she was a disappointment simply because she existed, she had done nothing else to truly disappoint them to this point), so she had to be oh so careful. The “fake” identity that had been spoken over her began to materialize, as she tried to be everything to everyone around her. She was the straight-As in honors classes student who got drunk and slept around on the weekends. She was the attentive, loving daughter who lied to and badmouthed her parents daily. She was the church-going youth with all the right answers and a shattered, divided heart.

The only fruit she had been presented with was that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She consumed it and then it consumed her and became her. The darkness in her mind was suffocating her soul. All the while, she hungered for… something. But she didn’t know what it was that she truly desired, because she didn’t know any other way. She would “repent” and turn back to God over and over and over again–deep down she longed to please Him and experience that love that was reserved for the “good enough”–but she could never sustain her efforts to get back on the right path. Her early adulthood was marked with nights she couldn’t remember and days of striving to prove her own worth. She believed it would never change-she could never change. Her best efforts fell flat and left her reeling in all that she would never be. And it was all. her. fault. She was a dirty, bad little girl from the moment she was born and that was all she would ever be.

As you may have guessed, that baby girl was me. This story is my own. It is painful to go back and retrace the scars of my childhood. But it is necessary to go back in order to understand just how amazing our God is…

If the story ended there, it would be a terrible story. But it doesn’t. Somewhere along the way, I was given a glimpse of the tree of life-a taste of its fruit, though I didn’t yet have the language to define it as such. This angry, ominous, judgmental God I had so feared came after me Himself. Not with wrath and expectations I would have expected-He ran me down with gentle tenderness. He began to speak truth into the broken places and pierce the darkness of my depths with His all-consuming light. I began to hope, and chains I didn’t know I had began to fall away. It started slowly… I resisted. I wrestled with Him and with myself constantly. And as He began to reveal the tree of life-that life that is only found in Jesus Himself-the old familiar fruit from that other tree was more available than ever. I had to choose which fruit to eat, which voice to believe, daily. This part of my story has been the most painful. That’s the plain and simple truth. But becoming always is…

People have rejected me more as I’ve sought healing than they ever did before. I’ve experienced loss on so many levels as God has literally taken apart everything I thought I was, so that He could put me back together into who He designed me to be before the lies pierced my heart.

Until this sermon, I didn’t have the right language to describe my story. But it makes so much sense. I was presented with the tree that most of us are presented with, having no idea that another tree was available. And eating of it did in my life exactly what John said it does:

The knowledge told me I had to fight for my own worth; so comparison, striving, judgement, approval-seeking and law-keeping characterized my early life. I believed the lie that I was unlovable and not enough and was slowly dying inside. What I had consumed, in turn, consumed me. And it separated me from God, from others and from myself. I had no idea who I really was, let alone that I was actually created for a purpose.

But as God has faithfully carried me into a greater knowledge of who He is, bondage has been replaced with freedom, and shame has been replaced by the truth that I stand innocent before Him because of what Jesus has done for me. I believe in my core that God adores me as His beloved daughter, and if I start to doubt that, He is faithful to remind me again of just how far He is willing to go to have a relationship with me. As far as a third tree… the tree of the cross of Christ, where Jesus’ blood poured out and covered all my sin and shame and all that I wasn’t and all I could never be apart from Him. He did that for me. And He did that for you. And now I know which tree I want to eat from-the only tree that brings freedom and hope and healing-the tree of life.

–Laura

Laura’s painful, beautiful story highlights exactly why eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is deadly. God’s very essence is love. (1st John 4:8) He never intended for us to “behave” ourselves into a relationship with Him, or work to earn His approval, or live in constant shame because we just can’t seem to get it right. His desire from the beginning is that we would come to know Him through Jesus Christ; that we would sense His love, fall deeply in love with Him in return, and live out the purpose He designed for us, not by striving, but by being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and walking in complete dependence upon Him. I encourage you, if you missed Sunday’s service, to listen to the sermon @ fbccasper.com or on the church app (As always, you can scroll down and find the link to Sunday’s video below, on the First Baptist Church Facebook page);  and if you want to delve deeper into how to live from the tree of life rather than the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sign up for a LIFE group.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Choose life, choose freedom, choose trust, choose dependence, choose love. God loves you. God desires relationship, closeness with you. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you “get it”. Once you taste the real thing, once you learn to think in a new way, you’ll be forever changed.

–Luanne

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