Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for a few days. Maybe for longer than I care to admit. I’ve been distracted by many things, and I can easily focus on the distractions–the areas in my life where I am discontent, the long winter season in Wyoming and how I long for spring, the distance that I live from my children and grandchild, relationships that seem difficult in this season, and a wall (self-constructed) between God and me, so Jonathan’s sermon was just what my thirsty soul needed.

On Sunday, Jonathan Schmidt shared his own journey with us beginning with his call into the ministry 32 years ago, through his seasons of running and God’s continuing pursuit, and then the season of pastoring a church and losing sight of his First Love while maintaining what he referred to as Church Incorporated. He was not blaming the church; he recognized that he had become entrenched in the “doing”. He had let other things come in and take his focus and had forgotten the call to love God first.

He reminded us that we can be in the church and lose our way, because we forget to love God first. He reminded us that it is easy to walk away from the simplicity of “Jesus loves me” and get lost in Bible Study, ministry activities, maintaining programs, and doing.

Bible study, ministry activities and the like are good things, but they are no substitute for living from the place of knowing that God loves us first, and that because of His great love we can love Him in return with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we can love our neighbors as ourselves. He reminded us that all of the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, are fulfilled by loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving neighbor as ourselves. ALL of the Old Testament, ALL of the message of Christ fulfilled in those two things. (1st John 4:19, Mt 22:37-40, Luke 10:30)

Why do we complicate it so much when it’s really this simple:

  1. God loves us. He proved it in Christ. Believe it, embrace it, let the Holy Spirit have access to your life.
  2. When we know that God loves us, we live from a new place, a new identity, and we can love ourselves in a healthy way because we are loved.
  3. That love spills over to those around us, they take notice, they desire to know this love, we teach them what we have learned from Christ (making disciples Mt. 28:19-20), and they come into relationship with Christ continuing the beautiful cycle.

Simple–and it all starts with love.

A number of years ago I was driving across rural Kansas trying to find something to listen to on the radio (that’s all I had access to back in the day). I came upon a sermon that sounded intriguing , and heard the pastor say that it’s not enough for Jesus to be Lord and Savior–He must also be our treasure–and then I lost the station. Some miles later I was still trying to find a radio station and I came upon the same sermon at the same moment, heard the same line and then lost the station.

All of a sudden I wasn’t interested in finding a radio station. I knew that God was speaking to me, and I asked Him to teach me what it means for Jesus to truly be my treasure.

What I treasure I love, I think about, I tend to, I enjoy.

Jesus told us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. (Mt. 6:21)  Did my relationship with Jesus indicate that he is my treasure? That I love him, live for him, and enjoy him above all else? Hmmm. I had some work to do. I had been in love with Jesus before, and I recognized that I needed to return to Him again as my first love. (Rev 2:4). It took a brief moment of confession and expressing my desire to love Him deeply asking Him to meet me where I was. He did–the funk lifted and I experienced beautiful closeness with Him again.

Fast forward to my recent funk. I had begun the current “funk-lifting” process on Saturday morning, and Jonathan’s sermon led me to the next step, so confession and expression is what I did again after his message.

Jonathan shared with us that he had a mentor who asked him: Do you think people really want to spend eternity with Jesus?  We’ll be with Him for eternity–if we don’t want to be with Him now, why would we want to be with Him for eternity?  Hmmm.

That question reminded me of something I heard in another sermon a few years ago:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—
is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the
friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and
all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties
you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no
human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with
heaven, if Christ were not there? ” (John Piper)

That’s quite a question and quickly reveals where our hearts and priorities are.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts. John 17:3 tells us that “this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  John 13:35 tells us that by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

 We cannot love one another if we don’t know God’s love for us and respond to His love by loving Him heart, soul, mind, and strength  It feels pretty important, pretty foundational that we know those things.

There is a tremendous difference between the type of relationship described above and being religious. Jonathan’s Church Incorporated dilemma which led him to leave his church and begin the journey back to his First Love was the result of religious activity.

Religion kills. There is no joy, no life in religious activities. Religion leaves folks burned out, frustrated, and angry at the world and all the people who don’t see things the way they do.  Love, on the other hand, gives life, embraces beauty, draws people in, stays with people in their mess, learns from others, and chooses relationship.

Religion turns people into projects and Christianity into a list of dos and don’ts. Love sees the value, the image of God, in all people, and sees Christianity as being in a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus. A relationship of fellowship, enjoyment, trust, honesty, authenticity, transparency, transformation, wrestling–no rules, no boxes to check off, just Someone to love and be loved by. Someone to get to know on a deep and intimate level.

The Apostle Paul is a great example of this. When he was religious he had position, authority, power. He was important in the eyes of the religious community. He was outspoken, and he was mean–so much so that he was totally sold out to destroying the lives of Jesus’ followers. (His story is found in the book of Acts).

Then he met Jesus. He was humbled, blinded for a few days, (a physical manifestation of the spiritual condition he had been in) and changed forever. Changed to the degree that this man of position, authority, power, “the good life”, tells us in 2nd Corinthians 11  that he has been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches…

Yet, in spite of all of those things in Chapter 4 tells us his perspective on the suffering (which we are promised as Christ followers) when he writes: our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

And in Philippians 3: 7-9 He tells us why: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…

Paul knew that Jesus was his treasure. He knew what Jesus meant to Him, who Jesus was to Him, and He wanted everyone else to know Jesus too.  Everything in his life, after his encounter with Jesus, flowed from the treasure of Paul’s heart, and the world was changed as a result.

Where do you find yourself today? Do you know that God loves you? It all starts there. Do you respond to His love with love? Have you wandered a bit from the simplicity of the relationship and gotten distracted by many things? Are you in a funk?

The solution? Sit in His love, let it wash over you. Talk to Him about where you’ve been and respond to His love with love for Him. You will be changed and the world will be changed. The things that matter to His heart will matter to yours, and the world will know we are His followers by our love.

–Luanne

Jonathan talked about our being “living sacrifices” in his message. He then asked us if we were trying to crawl off the altar. I immediately thought about a verse that I have on a notecard in my bathroom. I read it every day and pray it regularly. It is Psalm 5:3. I have the Message version on my notecard. It reads this way:

 “Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.”

I put this verse up about a year ago. It’s not one I could have prayed honestly many years ago. Luanne mentioned above what Jonathan said so beautifully in his message. He said that we have to learn to “sit in the love of God”. I love this thought for a lot of reasons, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to take the liberty to expand it a bit…

See, I think we continue to crawl off of the altar—we move away from offering ourselves daily as living sacrifices—until we’ve braved sitting in the fire of God’s love. We climb up on the altar and with faltering voices say, “He-he-here, I am God… waiting for you…”  But as He approaches with His white-hot love, the heat of His presence causes us to slink off the altar and crawl to a… safer distance. Until we brave the heat for the first time. It’s not until we let the fire of His love engulf us that we realize-like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in the furnace-that we won’t be consumed. That Jesus meets us within the fire and it’s while we sit there with Him that we become unbound. Once we experience Him in this way, our fear of the fire is replaced by the assurance of His goodness and our hearts begin to burn white-hot in response to His blazing love for us. Only then does the altar become a place we long to go and meet with Him, offer our lives to Him, daily.

I remember when I began to get comfortable with laying every piece of my life on the altar, offering all of me as a living sacrifice…  It was during one of the most painful seasons of my life. The trouble (that Jonathan reminded us is a guarantee, part of the deal when we give our lives to following Jesus…) surrounded me. My heart was broken for so many different reasons—rejection, betrayal, problems in my marriage, family tensions, financial tension, a ridiculous amount of fear; among other things… I have never felt more alone, more unsure of who I was. I didn’t understand God’s love for me. The shame of my past was suffocating me. It was during that season that I resolved to wait. To lay my life out before God and wait for Him to come, fire and all. I was afraid. But the brokenness and the loneliness outweighed the fear. And I asked Him to come to me. To show me He loved me. To make me believe it. I told Him I would do whatever He asked—I just wanted to be free. To know who He was, really, and who I was in Him…

I didn’t have some grand vision… but I felt Him come close. I physically sensed His presence. He engineered playlists and laid open the pages of my bible as He directed me to things He wanted me to know. I felt the heat of His love surround me… and it was tempting to retreat. I couldn’t control this reckless love that ran toward me. And I knew that if I stayed there, if the fire fully surrounded me, everything would change. Everything needed to change… But I knew that change meant surrender. It meant pain. And while the storms of my heart couldn’t get much worse, I wasn’t sure I was ready for what His fire may burn away in my life. I was afraid. But I was desperate. And so I stayed put. I listened. And for a season, He called me His beautiful beloved. I doubted what I heard the first time, but it kept happening and I knew what I heard. I began to believe it…

As I sat in the fire of His love, he refined my heart. He rebuilt me. He spoke sweetly, intimately to me. I remember feeling so exposed, completely vulnerable-and completely, totally, known and loved. It was disarming, disorienting and freeing.

I couldn’t have prayed Psalm 5:3 until I experienced the love of Jesus this way. I wish I could say that every day when I see that verse on my cupboard door, I am willing and ready to pray it with all of my heart. But that wouldn’t be true. See, the reason that verse is taped up in my bathroom where I’ll see it every day is because I need the reminder. Even though I’ve experienced the white-hot love of Jesus that changed me-that changes everything-it’s still not natural to offer up every bit of me, every single day, and release my hold on control over myself and my life. Because I know what it can mean… When you offer all that you are and invite the fire of God to descend, you give up every right to yourself. It’s a daily dying. And it hurts…

Because sometimes, when He meets me on the altar of daily sacrifice, He tells me to do things I don’t want to do…

Stay… Go… Love her… Embrace him… Give… Speak… Start… Stop… Forgive… Let go…

He always invites me to remember that this world is not my home. That in this world I will have trouble-but I can take heart because He has overcome the world. He gives me an opportunity to say, every day, “Not my will, but yours be done…”, and I find that I rarely would choose on my own to do His will, His way.

Jonathan called himself a “reluctant prophet”, always running from the thing God was calling him to do. I think we all can be reluctant prophets. We can all at least identify with the “reluctant” part. And often, in our reluctance, we build barriers. Barriers between us and the altar we’re invited to offer ourselves on daily. Barriers that keep us from loving God with our hearts, souls, minds and strength and from loving our neighbors with that same love. We build these barriers because we want to stay safe from the trouble Jesus told us we would have in this world. Because the trouble hurts. And we don’t like pain. We do all kinds of things to try to escape it. But we can’t. Ann Voskamp writes, in her book Be the Gift,

“There isn’t a barrier in the world that can block out pain. There isn’t a wall you can build that protects you from pain. Addiction, escapism, materialism, anger, indifference—none of these can stop pain—and each one creates a pain all its own. There is no way to avoid pain. There is no way to avoid brokenness. There is absolutely no way but a broken way. Barriers that falsely advertise self-protection are guaranteed ways of self-imprisonment. Barriers that supposedly will protect your heart so it won’t break are guaranteed to break your heart anyway. Yet being brave enough to lay your heart out there to be broken, to be rejected in a thousand little ways, this may hurt like a kind of hell—but it will be holy. The only way in the whole universe to find connection… is to let your heart be broken.”

Jesus modeled this for us. He laid out His heart-knowing we would break it-that we would break Him-but it was the only way for us to be connected to Him. And He invites us to lay our hearts out, too. To follow His lead. He will never break our hearts or reject us—but He will call us to die to ourselves for the sake of others who will. And this is something we are incapable of doing if we haven’t first sat in the fire of His love. But if we know His wild, relentless, crazy love for us, if we’ve let Him break open the seed of our hearts so that we can love Him in return, it gets easier to embrace the trouble, the pain of this life. Because when we sit in His love, He becomes our treasure, as Luanne so beautifully wrote about above. And if He’s our treasure, we realize that yes, we do want to spend eternity with this Jesus that has loved us back to life and that, truly, He is what makes eternity appealing to our hearts at all. And we can exclaim with the psalmist, A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10a, NLT)

–Laura

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Hold On: Habakkuk 3

In week one of this series, Pastor John encouraged us to hold on to hope. In week two, we learned about how to hold on in the waiting. In the third and final installment of this series, it was all about Who we’re holding on to.

Habakkuk, whose very name means to embrace or wrestle with, to hold on, sets the third chapter of his book to music. The whole chapter is a song, a heart cry to his God. Have you ever sung your heart out to God? As Habakkuk sings his prayer-or prays his song-however you want to look at it (I personally believe prayer and worship are synonymous…), he is also spurring his own soul to remember.  As he wrestles with the coming destruction of his people, he does two things. Luanne wrote about the first in last week”s blog. He chose wisely in the waiting. Luanne wrote:

“Habakkuk, he climbed up on a wall to get a new perspective. He knew that even in the hard stuff, God was at work. He chose to look for Him, to look to Him, to trust Him. He recognized the violence and injustice of his own people, he knew that an enemy that was violent and unjust was coming their way to wipe them out, and he chose to trust God.”

And in this week’s passage, he remembers. These are some pieces of his prayer, his song:

“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy… God came… His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden… He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble… His ways are eternal… Sun and moon stood still in the heavens… You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one…” (Habakkuk 3:2-13, NIV, selected verses)

After Habakkuk recalls where and how he has seen God move in the past, he finds himself overwhelmed… and resolute.

“I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror. I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us. Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:16-19 NLT)

Have you ever found yourself in a season so dark that you had to borrow light from the past in order to move forward? Have you ever heard a message that plunged you into the depths of despair, to a place so terrifying that you had to consult your memories in order to find any hope at all?

I’ve received messages like that… As a little girl, there was the news that my daddy was moving out-it ushered in the dark… The message that my baby might not survive did the same… The news that what I thought I was called to do was no longer an option for me-the stripping of what turned out to be a false identity-brought in an entirely different type of darkness…The relayed message that my little girl had been bitten by a rattlesnake while her dad and I were 1,100 miles away… A doctor telling me through sad eyes that my mama was terminal and our time with her was very short blocked the light, too…

These are a few of the dark-inducing messages that have come into my life. Yours might be different. Maybe you were told you couldn’t have the children you long for. Or that your precious unborn child no longer had a heartbeat… Maybe your message came in the form of an incurable illness. Or it could have been carried on papers you were served, informing you that your marriage was over. Perhaps it came in the form of a dismissal, a pink slip, a foreclosure notice. It could be that phone call that informed you of an unexpected deployment, or the one that came from the jail where your child was being held. It could be an admission, a confession, news that your child has been abused, or any number of other heart-stopping things. We receive endless messages over the course of our lives. And we can’t escape the hard ones, not one of us can.

When these messages come, they carry the terrifying tune of destruction, not at all unlike the message Habakkuk received from God. But Pastor John told us on Sunday that our passage describes both destruction AND deliverance. It’s easy to find the destruction. The book of Habakkuk tells of the destruction that would come upon his people as well as the eventual destruction of their oppressors. The deliverance, however, is found in the remembering. Habakkuk’s firm, resolute proclamation at the end of chapter 3 is made before any of the destruction or the deliverance actually happens… 

How did he get there? How can we get there?

We get there by going back. Back to where we’ve seen God move before. When the road before us is dark and foreboding and hopeless, we have to look back. We have to remember when God showed up. When we first fixed our eyes on the one who has always had His eyes on us. When we can look back and remember, we see again the extravagant length our God is willing to go to deliver us–and we can find a sliver of light to shine on our dark path, a reason to hope. Not hope for our enemy’s destruction, hope in the Deliverer who is completely for us. We are His priority. We want Him to act amidst the circumstances around us… He wants to do the work within us. Several months back, I wrote a little about the desire for deliverance versus desiring the Deliverer… Here is a bit of my own wrestling, and what Jesus showed me then…

“I have been asking Jesus to enter into the chaos around and within me. I have been praying that way-it made sense to me.

Enter into the chaos, Jesus. Come in. Come fix it. Come get me out…

But the chaos hasn’t stopped. The churning seas continue to rage. And I have found myself discouraged, afraid, confused. I have felt unsafe and even angry.

Why won’t You come into the chaos? If You would come in, You could fix it…

…The problem was, I have been surrounded by and consumed with the chaos in my life and in the lives of those around me. He has been trying to lift my face, to implore me to just look up. If I would just lift my eyes, I would see Him standing above the churning waves. I would hear His words-words that don’t enter into the trivial and chaotic, but stand altogether seperate from and above them. And I would see His hand reaching out to me, inviting me to step out of the swirling chaos and into the realm of His Shalom…

…His very Presence brings light into darkness. I wanted Him to bring the light of His Presence into the chaos of my circumstances. He wanted to give me a different perspective. The perspective that comes when I stop staring at all that is going wrong and look into the face of all that is right. All I could see were the waves surrounding me. All I could feel was the pull of the undertow dragging me down-further and further. My eyes darted frantically around, desperate for Jesus to just show up in this place. If You were here with me, things would change, the seas would calm…

All the while, He stood above the crashing waters, extending His hand, waiting for me to look up…

Look above the chaos. Look at Me. The chaos may continue… but you don’t have to stay there. You can come up here with me. The waves still rage-but you don’t have to. Come up higher and you’ll see. You’ll see it all looks different from My perspective.”

The perspective shift that occurred when I looked up is the same one we’ll encounter by looking back and remembering. When we look back and search for the marks of His Glory throughout our stories, we will come face to face with Jesus. As we gaze back into the moments He showed up before, we’ll catch a glimpse of His face, His eyes that are fixed on us. Eyes that are full of love, acceptance, grace, forgiveness, connection…

As I write, I’m aware that we’re all in different places. Maybe you’ve never encountered Jesus. Maybe when you look back, you don’t see any hope, or any light at all. If that’s your story, my prayer is that today will be the day you’ll look back on in the future, a day clearly marked by the Glory of God and His love for you, the beginning of the rest of your story. Or maybe you do know Jesus, and you can recall times when He’s shown up in your life. But when you picture His face, His eyes don’t look at all like what I’ve described. Maybe the eyes you see flash with anger, disappointment, condemnation… If that’s what you see, I pray for a divine interruption to come your way–that the God who made you and loves you and delivers you will reveal the truth of who He is and His affection toward you. I pray that today will be a defining moment for you as well-a day marked with a deeper connection and the beginning of the most beautiful love story.

And for all of us, I pray that we’ll make the choice to wait in hope, and to remember. That at the end of the day, regardless of the messages each of our stories contain, we can stand resolutely and declare, as Habakkuk did,

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength!”

–Laura

Laura wrote: The book of Habakkuk tells of the destruction that would come upon his people as well as the eventual destruction of their oppressors. The deliverance, however, is found in the remembering. Habakkuk’s firm, resolute proclamation at the end of chapter 3 is made before any of the destruction or the deliverance actually happens…

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, YET I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength!” (Hab. 3:17-18)

That little word yet… Habakkuk’s use of that little, powerful, three letter word leads us to the greatest lesson the book— Habakkuk does not put his head in the sand and pretend like calamity is not coming. He knows that it is. He doesn’t try to pretend like  he’s devoid of fear—he acknowledges my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.(3:16) YET… 

And, as Laura highlighted above, it’s remembering who God is and what He’s done in the past that gives Habakkuk the assurance that God is strong, that God is sovereign, that God is at work, that God can be trusted, that God is still worthy of praise, and that deliverance will come.  Hindsight is huge.

Do we remember that the pivotal point of our faith, our deliverance, happened through devastation and destruction? We have the benefit of hindsight, but for a moment, try to put yourself in the midst of Jesus’ closest friends and followers during the twenty four hours of Jesus’ life that ended with his crucifixion. Turn on your imagination for a moment, and set yourself in the scene.

Picture yourself at the Passover meal with your closest friends. Imagine settling into the familiar and beloved Passover script, remembering God’s powerful deliverance in the days of Moses. Imagine your interest being piqued when Jesus took a detour from the normal script and began talking about the bread being His body broken for them, and the wine His blood poured out establishing the new covenant between God and His people.

In this setting, you have no idea what is coming in a few short hours, yet Jesus says to you: do this in remembrance of me. Are you confused? Are you intrigued? Are you thinking this is another parable that’s difficult to understand?

Imagine going to the garden and watching Jesus pull away. If you manage to stay awake, what are you thinking as He wrestles with the Father–as He implores the Father to let the cup pass from Him– as He feels all the emotions of the coming calamity?  What goes through your mind as He ultimately surrenders to the Father’s will?

What do you feel when Judas comes with the religious leaders and Roman soldiers? What is going through your head at the unjust , crazy, false accusation trials that take place under the cover of night? How do you feel when Pilate declares that Jesus is to be crucified? Are you still around, or have you run away because you are afraid? What are you feeling at the horrors of the beating, and the cruelty of the crucifixion? Can you imagine what that felt like to His followers?  Would you have lost your hope? Would you have forgotten in that moment God’s miraculous past deliverance that you had been celebrating a few hours before? Would your “yet” have been–I know that God will still deliver and I will praise Him–or would you have run and hidden thinking that this was the end?

It wasn’t the end, and on the third day, everything for all time changed. Jesus rose again—fellowshipped again with His friends. A short while later He ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit, just like He said He would. (Acts 1&2). His followers were changed, empowered, fearless and lived in the hope of future deliverance, so much so that they very literally gave their lives for the Kingdom of God.

Hebrews chapter 11 ends by highlighting some of the nameless martyrs by saying: Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were put to death by the sword, they went about in sheepskins and goat skins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated, the world was not worthy of them…. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us…  These followers lived in the yet. They held on, knowing that God was worthy and deliverance was coming.

These were all commended for their faith—As. Is. Habakkuk. Calamity was coming. It was going to be awful, YET he chose to remember who God is, what He’d done in the past, and gain hope for the future. 

We can make the same choice. We can remember the day that appeared like total disaster to Jesus’ closest friends was God’s sovereign plan for our ultimate deliverance.  Jesus says to us—remember. He tells us in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)

We don’t have to deny the feelings when these hard seasons come. We don’t have to pretend like we’re not wrestling when these hard seasons come. AND we don’t have to be hopeless when these hard seasons come.

 …you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again… (1 Thess. 4:13b-14a)

We have a good Father who is for us. Have you resolutely chosen to trust Him no matter what? Do you have your yet firmly in place? Are you determined to remember all that He has done and hold on to Him? Ultimate deliverance is certain for those who know Jesus. Do you know Him?

—Luanne

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

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A Balanced Life: Extra

In last week’s message, Pastor John tackled the hard-hitting subject of debt. This week, he talked about our extra. Whew…a lighter subject, right? Wrong. This may have been one of the most convicting messages I’ve ever heard. And I am grateful for it.

We all have extra. We may not have as much extra as someone else, but we all have it. We all have things that go beyond our basic needs–oftentimes, way beyond. John illustrated this through a series of questions, like:

Do you go out to eat even when you have food at home? Do you have a car? More than one? Cell phone? Seasonal wardrobes? More than one closet full of clothes? Extra freezers? Have you ever traded something in for an upgraded version, even if it wasn’t broken?

Our answers to these questions reveal that what we have goes way beyond “our daily bread” that we ask for in The Lord’s Prayer… And our extra is not limited to the “stuff” we possess-but we’ll get into that a little bit later…

John asserted that the answer to the question, “Why do I have so much?” is found in one word: Greed. The constant quest for more. We want more so that we can be more. He also said that when that “more” comes into our lives, we assume it’s for us. We feel entitled, like we deserve what we get…

The word deserve grabbed my attention… It’s a word we use all the time, but in this context, what does it mean? To feel like we deserve the extra we receive? Initially, my mind went to the prefix de-, indicating negation or separation. “Decompose” or “dethrone” are examples of using the prefix in this way. This was a compelling thought as I considered the implications of using de- in front of the word “serve”… If this application of the prefix is correct, then “deserve” would mean “to not serve”. It would imply that if we think we are “deserving” of something, we are actually choosing to not serve. But in this instance, “de” is not used as a prefix… and its actual meaning may be even more indicting…

“De” is a Latin word meaning down to the bottom, or completely. So the word “deserve” means to serve oneself completely. It doesn’t negate serving altogether, it just means that the only one we’re serving is ourselves.

Ouch.

We looked at the parable Jesus told about the rich fool in Luke 12. The ground of the rich man had produced a massive crop. There was so much extra, he had no place to store it all. He mistakenly assumed that the surplus was because of him and for him and he intended to hoard it all and spend the rest of his life eating, drinking and being merry (vs. 19). He took the posture of one who believed he deserved all that he had-and he aimed to serve himself completely with his extra for the remainder of his days. There was just one problem with his plan-he died that very night. And he went down in history as a fool. That became his legacy.

In the case of the rich fool, his surplus was given to someone else after he died. He just wasn’t around to be part of it–but it wasn’t because of his generosity that others benefited from his extra. This is the case with possessions-we only have them until we’re gone. Then someone else becomes the beneficiary of all of it. But what about everything else? What about all of the extra we’ve been given that isn’t stuff? What about our time, gifts, position, privilege, status? What about our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Is all of this not also extra? Do our hearts hoard these things? Do we serve ourselves completely with all that God has given us? These things don’t remain once we take our last breath, like our possessions do. When we die, if we’ve chosen to hoard this kind of extra, it all dies with us. That is a tragedy. We have to begin to see these things as part of our “extra” so that we don’t waste all that we have been given.

We wrongly assume that if we have more, we can do more for God. John reminded us on Sunday that it’s not what we have, but who we have that allows us to “do” anything for God.

He who did not spare [even] His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? ( Romans 8:32 Amplified Bible)

God has withheld no good thing from those who love Him. He gave us Jesus-He gave Himself. And He didn’t stop there. he also gave us His Kingdom. In the same chapter that we read about the rich fool, Jesus also speaks these words:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 NASB)

God has given Himself fully to us. He gave us life-twice; He gave us physical life-the breath in our lungs-and He gave us eternal life through the gift of His Son. He put His Spirit within us, providing fruit in our lives as well as gifts and talents and strengths that are unique to each one of His followers. He provides for our daily needs and exceeds them, giving us more than we know what to do with. And He has chosen gladly to give us the kingdom.

Pastor John said to us, “If the kingdom matters to you, you’ll leverage everything in your life for the kingdom”. 

Jesus said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT)

Above all else… As John asserted in his message, we don’t have the capability to “balance” multiple priorities. Balance only comes when we have only one priority. The right priority. His Kingdom. If we want to find balance, we must prioritize His Kingdom. And just as He has given Himself fully to us, we must give ourselves fully to Him in return, knowing that our lives are not about what we have, but who we have.

What has God given you? What has He given you in abundance? What gifts and abilities are being hoarded in your heart with no outlet, no place to go? God gives us more than we need, more than we can hold, so that we will open our hearts and our hands and share our abundance. So we can serve-because we actually don’t deserve any of what we’ve been given. If we are willing to give ourselves fully back to Him, then all the good that we have, everything we have been given, becomes a vehicle for spreading Kingdom seed. Will we choose to surrender everything into the hands that have so graciously given everything to us? Will we leave a legacy that resembles that of the rich fool or one  of someone willing to be scattered throughout the world as seed that will grow and impact the Kingdom of God for generations to come?

–Laura

I echo Laura’s “ouch!” Like Laura, I was deeply convicted during Pastor John’s message. Given the silence in the sanctuary, I think many of us were. Our cultural mindset, and our flesh nature lead us to believe that our lives are all about us, and that we have to look out for “#1”. The definition that Laura shared with us about “deserve” is sobering. Our self-serving gets us no-where good, and it is absolutely contrary to the heart of God, yet we try to make our greed work for us somehow.

In 1992, Christian singer Babbie Mason recorded a tongue in cheek song entitled “Shopping List”. The chorus went like this:

Gimme this, I want that,
Bless me Lord I pray.
Grant me what I think I need to make another day.
Make me wealthy. Keep me healthy.
Fill in what I miss
On my never-ending shopping list.

It’s a funny song, and it’s not. It’s not, because it is the Christianity of many of us. “Me, me, me, me, me.”  Yet God says, lift up your eyes, look outward with a heart of love– live for my Kingdom and I will supply all you need.  He makes it clear what we are to do with our “extra”.

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19: 9-10)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”  (Dt 24:19-21)

That’s a pretty clear directive from God.

Ruth, the Moabite benefitted from this practice. It’s how she provided food for her mother in law, Naomi, and herself. In Ruth 2:2 she asks Naomi “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”  The last phrase of her request is interesting. It indicates that some of the land owners followed God’s directive, and some did not. Boaz did. Boaz’s generosity toward this foreigner led to their marriage, and led to Ruth being one of the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ.

In the New Testament we see a beautiful example of generosity in the life of Tabitha.

There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.  About this time she became ill and died. Her body was washed for burial and laid in an upstairs room.  But the believers had heard that Peter was nearby at Lydda, so they sent two men to beg him, “Please come as soon as possible!”  So Peter returned with them; and as soon as he arrived, they took him to the upstairs room. The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and other clothes Dorcas had made for them.  But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then he called in the widows and all the believers, and he presented her to them alive. (Acts 9:36-43 NLT)

Tabitha was a woman who used her “extra” to bless the poor and the widows, and God esteemed her ministry so much that he used Peter to raise her from the dead!

God’s word has much to tell us about living with a generous heart:

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. (Dt 15:7-8)

Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; (Ps. 41:1-3)

Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. (Pr. 22:9)

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share… (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

I could go on and on. There are also scriptures that are pretty clear about  greed.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim. 6: 9-10)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

The greedy bring ruin to their households. (Pr. 15:27a)

The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper. (Pr 28:25)

Again, I could go on and on.

For those of us who don’t consider ourselves rich and don’t want to give what we have, God’s word speaks to that as well. In Mark 12:41-44 we read this account:

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.

Jesus loves generosity. Generosity is a beautiful reflection of God’s heart, God who gives, and gives, and gives, and gives. Everything we have comes from Him. Not only our material possessions, but all the food we eat, because he supplies dirt, sun, water, and causes things to grow–all of our modern conveniences because He supplies wind, sun rays, electric currents, etc. He has provided our personalities, our gifts, our brains. He provides the air that we breathe, the hearts that pump life blood through our bodies. It is all His.

Are we willing to acknowledge all that we have is His?  Are we willing to pray this prayer with King Solomon  “..don’t make me either rich or poor; just give me enough food for each day.  If I have too much, I might reject you and say, ‘I don’t know the Lord…(Pr 30:8-9)  Or like the Apostle Paul say… I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Ph 4:12-13)  Can we choose to give sacrificially like the widow, or even have the mindset of wealthy King David who said: I will not take what is yours and give it to the Lord. I will not present burnt offerings that have cost me nothing!” (1 Chron. 21:24)

True God-like generosity is something that we will all wrestle with. I look at my possessions, some of which stay in closets, and think about the money that was spent on those things. It would be easy for me to beat myself up over how many “extras” I have, but the better idea is to acknowledge my greed as sin, confess it, embrace God’s forgiveness, and move forward making different choices from this point on. Holy Spirit, help me to remember!

The heart and actions of the early church show us how a community of believers can truly leverage their lives for the Kingdom of heaven: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

People were more important than things. Community was more important than individualism. God was praised. People came to know Jesus as Savior and were reconciled back to God. Can we, the capital “C” church get back to this?  Only if we choose to leverage our lives for the Kingdom of God, seek His Kingdom first, and live generously.

Lord, help us to recognize our idols for what they are, help us to have the courage to destroy them, help us to have the courage to fully submit to You, and help us not to wait for someone else to go first. May we be a people who love You well by loving others well–in action and deed.

–Luanne

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Principles for Relationships (Colossians 3:22-4:6)

How often do we find ourselves praying for God to open a door? Or to close the doors that need to be closed? And if He can’t open a door, then would He please open a window?? Have you prayed prayers like this? I’m pretty sure I have prayed this way at least once in the last few days. During this week’s sermon, John briefly talked about how we often pray like this. He was telling us about Paul’s own prayer for an open door–but Paul didn’t pray for open doors the same way that we often do.

I suppose I need to back up for just a minute, before we explore that further. John gave us practical advice this week. Advice for how to respond to people-all people-especially when we find ourselves in difficult relationships. Relating with others, especially those with whom we do not see eye-to-eye, is hard. Really hard. Relating with them in a way that sees and honors their humanity as well as brings Glory to God? That can only be done one way. John said it like this:

“See your relationships with the big picture in mind”. John told us that there is a divine purpose in all of our relationships–this includes both the beautiful, life-giving friendships as well as the seemingly impossible interactions that can leave us feeling discouraged and angry. God has a plan for every relationship. Every human interaction we have has purpose. Wouldn’t it change everything if we lived like we actually believed that?

John gave us four principles, practical advice, for responding and interacting with others:

Pray first. Be wise. Redeem your time. Speak well. 

I want to focus on ‘Pray first’. Our author, Paul, models throughout the book of Colossians-as well as in every other book he penned-the importance of prayer. Much of the way we pray today has probably been modeled after his examples. In this week’s passage, Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message…” (Colossians 4:2-3a)

Notice what Paul wanted an open door for… their message. The message of the Kingdom. He didn’t ask for a door to open for a job, a new home, a financial breakthrough, a new relationship. He asked for an open door for the message. Why? Because Paul’s entire life revolved around one relationship–his relationship with Jesus–and everything he said and did, the way he related with others, flowed from that place. He only prayed for himself in relation to whatever he needed to carry out his purpose. That purpose was carrying the gospel of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, to as many as he could during his time on earth.

If we pray first–if we pray for God’s Kingdom to come with a heart that’s willing to leverage all that we are to see that Kingdom come–our hearts will be moved toward people. And we’ll find that we are wise in the way that we redeem the time we’ve been given and we will speak well.

IF our agenda is Jesus’s agenda. But if we have our own agenda, if we come to God in prayer asking for doors that we want to see opened for ourselves, we won’t be wise with our time or our words. Because if we come to God looking for open doors to satisfy our own agendas... we’ll relate with others the very same way. We will enter conversations with ourselves in mind. We’ll look for an “open door” to push our point or defend our argument and we won’t actually listen. We won’t speak well at all–because to speak well, we first have to learn to listen well. And that doesn’t begin in conversations with others. It begins in our conversations with God. Praying His Kingdom first means aligning our hearts with His and we can only do that if we listen to His heart. We don’t inherently know how to make the Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. We can’t figure that out. We have to listen to Him. To learn from Him. To come to Him with one agenda–seeking HIS way so that we can carry HIS message to all of the people that HE loves. And He wants to grow our hearts to the place where we love them too.

If we learn how to listen to God-if we begin there-we will learn how to listen to others. With hearts that are already inclined toward them because we’ve already been on our faces on their behalf. And because our hearts have been moved toward them in prayer, because we’ve sought God for them, we will be able to speak well. To lift our voices to support one another using words that are full of grace, seasoned with salt and ready to give an answer. Because we’ve actually listened to the questions.

I wish I could say I was better at this than I am… Even in my closest relationships, I am often guilty of bringing my own agenda to the table. Of entering conversations looking for open doors to speak rather than listen. And of having agendas other than God’s agenda.

Jesus, I want to learn to pray like Paul, asking for open doors for your message to be spoken through me, through my life. Teach me to listen well so that when the opportunity arises, I can speak well, in a way that glorifies you and brings a little piece of your Kingdom of heaven to earth…

–Laura

Laura wrote: if we pray for God’s Kingdom to come with a heart that’s willing to leverage all that we are to see that Kingdom come–our hearts will be moved toward people. And we’ll find that we are wise in the way that we redeem the time we’ve been given and we will speak well.

Over and over and over again, in his letters, Paul reminds us that how we see people, how we treat people matters deeply.  Do we believe that? Do our lives, our interactions show that we believe that?

Colossians 4:6 in the Message translation says this: “Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”

And verses 3:23-25 in the NIV say this: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

In my personal time with God I’ve been studying the book of Matthew and have been in Chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6 for a long time. There is so much there! These are Jesus words to us about how to live in His Kingdom, how to be a Kingdom citizen on earth. Last week, I was noticing how many times the word “reward” appears in Chapters 5 and 6. Jesus tells us–“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Right away we see that Kingdom living is counter-cultural–that we may be persecuted as a result; however there is a reward coming in heaven. Does that matter to us?

Paul in Galatians 1:10 writes: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying  to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Back to rewards–these are the brief notes that I wrote in my journal on Friday:

Mt. 5:12 – great is your reward in heaven for being persecuted.

Mt. 5:46 – If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (Love your enemies.)

Mt. 6:1 -Don’t “show off” your rightesness or there will be no reward from God.

Mt. 6:2 – Pharisees who show off to get accolades have received their reward from men, not God.

Mt. 6:4 -Give in secret and your Father will reward you.

Mt. 6:5-6: – Don’t show off in your prayers, pray in secret and God will reward you.

Mt. 6:16-18 – Don’t “show off” in your fasting. Fast without drawing attention to yourself and God will reward you.

So when John read the word ‘reward‘ in the Colossians passage Sunday, it drew my attention.

On Friday, as I reflected on the Matthew scriptures, in its simplest form appears to me that humbly living before Christ pleases God, but any attitude of superiority or showing-off does not please God.  John wisely said in Sunday’s sermon that arrogance destroys ministry. I couldn’t agree more.

What are these rewards? I don’t know. On this planet, I believe they have much to do with the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) ruling our inner lives, giving us the inner peace that can’t be explained in this life, which then spills over into our relationships with others.  But I also know that Revelation 22:12 makes it clear that there are heavenly rewards: Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.

The danger in knowing that there are rewards is that all of a sudden it becomes a worldly competition– we try to “out Christian” other believers, and we fall into the comparison trap, which is exactly what Jesus was pointing out about the Pharisees in Matthew 6.  So what do we do?

We pay attention to how Jesus asks us to live, we repent when we mess up, we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide us, to fill us, we worship God in spirit and in truth, and we ask God to help us love Him with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We pay attention to the prisoner, to the oppressed (Mt 25:31-46 give huge clues as to how to live the Jesus way), we try to model our lives after Jesus–

And we pay attention to ourselves–how we speak, because out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Lk 6:45)  Scroll up and read Colossians 4:6 again in the Message translation. This has been a concern of mine since we moved back to the United States after living in another country for 10 years. We lived outside this culture from 1996-2006. When we moved back, I was shocked at how much language in this country toward and about others had changed. Sit-com humor was cutting and degrading, news panels (and it’s continued to get worse) disrespect one another to a degree that I can’t even wrap my mind around, reality shows highlight conflict, fighting and disrespect, politicians  slander, lie, and tear down opponents in a horrifically ugly way, even some video game language is mean– and now, in this season of social-media and public commenting on news stories etc. Oh My! And then we’re surprised by the bullying crisis in our children and youth, without taking responsibility for, or trying to change what we’ve modeled. How the heart of God must be breaking!

And the sad thing is–this steady diet of death speaking words–it’s contagious. Just a week ago I made a “funny” comment to someone, that the Holy Spirit convicted me about. It wasn’t funny. It was unkind. I prayed the rest of the day for the opportunity to apologize face to face, and God, in his goodness, gave me that opportunity. The recipient of my “humor” hadn’t taken offense, but still appreciated the apology. Friends, this is what we must be willing to do.

If the world is to know that God is real, that He loves them, we must see relationships with the big picture in mind, we must treat others well, we must work toward Christlike relationship principles and seek reconciliation and peace when necessary; and to live this way we must pray first, then be wise, make the most of every opportunity and speak well. And it all begins in the heart.

I have to ask Jesus every single day to search my heart and show me the areas where I’m out of step with him. Every. Single. Day.  — because when it comes down to the deepest part of my heart, my deepest prayer is that I want my life to count for His Kingdom. Thank you, God, that you are patient and abounding in love. Thank you that you don’t condemn when we mess up, but you lead us to repentance with kindness, and that you speak well over us. Lead us to do the same over others.

-Luanne

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Colossians 3:15-17

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. AND be thankful.   Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17 NIV)

As we work our way slowly through the book of Colossians, it could be tempting to take each section as a separate thought, but to do that is to miss the entirety of the letter. Right before Paul wrote the above section, the last two words of verse 14 are “perfect unity”.  Backing up to verse 11 Paul reminds us that in Christ there are no labels, no ethnic or social barriers, and he is wise enough to realize that different cultures coming together can lead to tension and conflict, so in verse 12-14 he reminds us that we are ALL chosen, ALL loved so we each need to work to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bear with each other, forgive each other (as we’ve been forgiven), and above all put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.   THEN he writes the above words.

I am struck by the phrase “as members of one body you were called to peace”.   

God has had me on quite a journey over the last few years, and He has taken me to a new level on that journey this summer. Those of you who know me well know that for about five years God has been pounding the phrase “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10) into my heart, my mind, my soul. He’s been showing me in scripture that Jesus’ primary message was about preaching the Kingdom of God. His primary teaching was about the Kingdom of God. In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) he teaches us what it looks like to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth. And in John 17 he prays his beautiful prayer, again reminding us what Kingdom living looks like and the effect it will have on the world. He, himself models it in the way he cares for everyone, especially those who have been invisible, oppressed, outcast, despised, judged, criticized and ultimately he lays his life down for us all–and he asks us to do the same–to love as he loves.   Impossible without the filling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, so there is a tremendous individual element in keeping self connected to God, keeping the heart soft, repenting quickly, not having personal agendas, staying connected to the heart and message of Christ, asking the Holy Spirit to fill us– but the body of Christ is not about the individual. 

So this summer, with the help of The Justice Conference in Chicago, God is teaching me and challenging me in new areas. It has been eye opening, it has been hard and it has been beautiful. I have been convicted in some areas and on my face in repentance before the Lord, and I have been stretched in beautiful ways. I won’t even begin to pretend like the journey is coming to an end any time soon, but I’ll share with you a few of the things I’m seeing, and some of the things I’m doing differently.

I was challenged to look back across my life and see what voices have primarily shaped my theology. Were they people who primarily look like me? The answer was yes. Almost everyone that I’ve learned from in my Christian walk is white, most of them American, a few white Europeans in the mix. I’ve learned wonderful things from many of them, gone deeper with the Lord, so I am not in anyway saying that I am not grateful for their teaching, or that their teaching is wrong. However, I am now aware that I have not brought other voices into the mix. So, this summer I am beginning to read and listen to Christian authors and teachers who are not white. I am getting a new theological perspective based on their experience in life, and their experience with Christ. I am seeing a tremendous community element, the heart for the entire body of Christ to get beyond barriers and get about the business of loving one another. I’m seeing how individualistic the emphasis in the white American church has been, and how different that is from the vast majority of believers from other ethnic groups, both in the United States and around the world.

I’ve been challenged to see past “issues” and look at the humanity of people, and then minister to that humanity. One voice I heard this summer brought up a political issue that had been divisive. He shared that Hollywood voices were there standing with people, hippies were there, but where was the church? He was frustrated as he said to us–“You don’t have to agree politically to minister to the humanity in others.” He’s right. We are the church of Jesus, the only ones with the message of hope– of salvation. If we stay separate, how will the world ever see Him?

I’ve been challenged to read scripture in a new way, and let me tell you–it’s been exciting and it has changed–it is changing everything! Christena Cleveland, a very wise professor at Duke Divinity School, spoke to us about paying attention in scripture, especially in the life of Jesus (but it’s all over scripture) to how “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Mt. 20:16). She encouraged us to pay attention to who the privileged are in each story, who the underprivileged are in each story, and watch how Jesus turns it all on its head. Easy example–Jesus first miracle at the wedding in Cana. (John 2) Jesus performs the miracle in front of the servants. The privileged have to learn about it by talking to the servants. The privileged have to humble themselves… It’s all over scripture. And the challenge is real–those of us who are privileged by our citizenship, the color of our skin, our education, whatever…have the awesome honor to humble ourselves, to listen well to others who have a different experience, to learn from new voices, find our commonality in Christ, and get about His mission of bringing His Kingdom to earth together. 

In the spring of 2010, my husband and I went to a conference in Queens, New York. We were in a church whose congregation consisted of people groups from at least 60 different countries. The pastor said that it was messy at times, but that they were all learning to truly evaluate what was family culture, ethnic culture, and Jesus culture. They had to be willing to lay down the things that didn’t line up with the culture of the Kingdom of God in order to be a unified body of Christ.

Which brings me back to our passage from this week…as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you…”  

Peace means one. As members of one body, we were called to oneness. That means we must be willing to be humble, to learn from others, to have hard conversations with kindness, compassion, gentleness, patience, a forgiving heart, a willingness to hang in there, and most of all–love, in order to have unity in the body. We must be filled with grace. We must be filled with thanksgiving. We must be a people of worship, of singing with gratitude in our hearts to God, who has called us to this beautiful, diverse, body–and we must let the message of Christ, the word of Christ, Christ himself dwell in and among us.

I’m learning, I’m growing. Sometimes I do it well, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t. But I’m committed to this journey. I want to partner with Jesus in His mission on earth. I want to get rid of anything that is based on church tradition or my cultural understanding of Jesus and really do this his way. Will you join me? It’s not easy, but it will be so worth it!

–Luanne

Luanne wrote about an extremely diverse church body that she visited in New York. She wrote:

“The pastor said that it was messy at times, but that they were all learning to truly evaluate what was family culture, ethnic culture, and Jesus culture. They had to be willing to lay down the things that didn’t line up with the culture of the Kingdom of God in order to be a unified body of Christ.”

“They had to be willing…”

So much of my personal journey with Christ, especially in recent years, has been a journey toward willingness. God has used the word ‘willing’ so many times in the last three years, it has almost become laughable. But I know that when He makes something so obviously clear, it’s important that I pay attention. Because it matters. It’s key. And so, when I read this paragraph that Luanne wrote, it immediately grabbed my attention.

I believe that we could see the Kingdom of heaven come so quickly–if we would simply be willing

Willing to lay down our privilege, as Luanne wrote about.

Willing to lay down our expectations and notions of “fairness”.

Willing to let go of control, of our ideas of how it “should” be.

Willing to let God reshape our thoughts and theologies with a more accurate, more full picture of His heart for all of the people He created in His image.

Willing to go–and love… willing to stay–and love.

Willing to repent from and lament our complicity in the individualization of the Gospel of Jesus.

Willing to repent from and lament our implicit biases, our own prejudices.

Willing to embrace the “other” who doesn’t look, act or think like us.

Willing to take the first, shaky step toward authentic community.

Willing to give and receive grace as we all fumble around, trying to find our way.

Willing to forgive-and be forgiven.

Willing to let the peace–the oneness, wholeness, unityof Christ rule–assume the role of umpirein our hearts. 

John said in his sermon that what is actually responsible for conflicts around us are the conflicts raging within us. The places where we can’t find common ground? They are actually places where we’re unwilling to let Christ rule in our hearts, places where we have taken an immovable stance–hardened places unwilling to yield. Where Christ rules, unity is found. It is proof of the love of Jesus in us-individually and in community-when we can be unified despite our differences, and it also bears witness to the truth of who Jesus is. Luanne mentioned Jesus’s prayer in John 17. Verses 20-23 from that prayer, out of the New Living Translation, read like this:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”

I believe it is the unresolved conflicts-some that we may not yet be aware of-raging in our hearts that shut off our willingness valve. When we become unwilling, we become hard, and our world becomes all about us. Living in this place, it’s impossible to embrace the thriving, diverse community of the Kingdom. This place is an isolated island under the rule of individualism, independence and a “me first” mindset. I have lived on this island. Some days, I travel back there. While “alone” can be lonely, it can also feel safe. Isolation can feel safer because, with no one else around, there won’t be conflict, right?

Wrong. Conflict rages in isolation, it just rages within us instead of around us. It is only within community that we can come together around a common core and work through the conflict. That core is the rule of Jesus Christ. He is our head. We-the collective, colorful, multi-cultural, diverse “we”-are His body. The beautiful manifestation of all of His Glory on display. It is through this unified body that the Kingdom will come on earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus makes it so clear, and Paul reiterates the importance of this unity throughout his letters. Letting the peace of Christ rule doesn’t mean we agree about everything. In fact, it is through admitting and addressing our disagreements that we learn how to love and grow the most. When we can disagree and remain united under the rule of Christ is when His glory and power are on full display.

Can we be a body that is willing to let the peace, the oneness of Christ, rule in each of our hearts so that there is then no question that He rules in our churches and in the greater, collective Church that bears His name? Can we be willing to embrace the messy, the awkward, the uncomfortable in our journey toward representing Jesus accurately? Willing to let go of everything that doesn’t line up with His Kingdom and willing to grab hold of everything that does? I pray that we can all answer yes to these questions. And I trust and know that in the areas we’re not yet willing, there is grace to get us there. Together. In community. His way. Will you join us?

–Laura

colossians 3

Colossians 3:12-14

Last week, we talked about “putting to death” and “taking off” our old selves (Colossians 3:5-9) so that we could “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (vs. 10). The “new self” begins on the inside. It’s a core change. One that we cannot effect on our own. As John said last week, this kind of change happens when we make “a choice to yield, not to do more”. We can’t “do” our way into the “new self”. It doesn’t happen by our striving or in our own strength. Ephesians 2:8-9 describes it this way:  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. The new self has its origin at the moment of salvation and continues to be made into the image of Christ through the lifelong process of sanctification, becoming like Him. When verse 10 admonishes us to “put on” the new self, the Greek word that is translated is “endyo”. The first definition given is “to sink into” as into a garment. Hang onto that for a minute…

This week’s sermon covered three verses. These verses detailed what we are to “clothe ourselves” with as we live from our new self, having taken off the old.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Confession… the words “clothe yourselves” in this passage tripped me up. A lot. I struggled with the wording and the feeling that I am weak in so many of these areas, especially as we explored what these 7 (or 8, depending on how you count them…) “garments” actually mean when applied as intended. Here’s the truth: I am weak in most-if not all-of the seven areas. Here’s what’s also true: I don’t have to do this by myself. None of us do.

The following is a mixture of facts I’ve learned as I’ve studied and thoughts that I absolutely can’t prove, but they make sense to me. I am no theologian and some of this is, admittedly, over my head. So I invite you to take this journey with me and also to comment with your own thoughts, insights and questions. I would love to learn from all of you!!

Okay, remember that Greek word, “endyo”, from last week’s passage? It’s the same word that is translated “clothe yourselves” in verse 12. When I use what I know to define “clothe yourselves”, it absolutely leads me to believe this is something I must do. In my own power. I wrestled with this, and came really close to shaming myself for my shortcomings all afternoon and evening after listening to the sermon. But if we look at the definition given for “endyo” being “to sink into” as into a garment, the whole passage lands a little differently…

First, we have to remember that, as John presented last week, neither salvation nor the sanctification process are things we “do” in our own strength. We do have to cooperate in the process, but it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we are saved and by His Spirit working within us that we are continually changed and made into His image. This week’s passage is not a brand new thought, but rather a continuation and further explanation of what we explored last week. The moment we put off the old self and “put on” the new self, we are covered by the blood of Jesus. It is the blood of His sacrifice that identifies us “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (verse 12). This is our core identity. Everything we do flows out of this core of knowing who we are. This concept is foundational to our understanding of the next piece…

The “garments”–compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness,  patience, forbearing & forgiving, and love–are not articles of clothing we can manufacture on our own. Interestingly, five of these words share the exact same root word in the Greek as five of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and a strong case could be made connecting two more sets of the words. We know that these “fruits” are the outward production of work that the Holy Spirit is doing in our core as He transforms us into the image of Christ, piece by piece. That’s why they are fruits of the Spirit–not fruits of hard work, rule-following or righteous living. The fruit is not produced by our doing anything-other than cooperating with the movement of the Spirit within us. So it would make sense to me that these garments are also not things we can clothe ourselves with in our own power. Rather, I see it this way: Just as a parent would do for a small child, God has both provided and laid out for us an outfit that He has deemed appropriate. It is beautiful. It is the right size. When worn as intended, it’s not cumbersome. In fact, it’s an outfit that is so comfortable that, when it is worn correctly, we can sink into it. It feels good on-because it is royal clothing, made of the finest thread and highest quality materials. But we need help to put it on. It has many pieces and layers. And only the Designer knows how to put it on perfectly, with all of the pieces in place.

Like a toddler, we can choose to run away and refuse to dress in what has been provided. We always have the choice to cooperate with God’s work in us or not. He will not hold us down and dress us if we’re acting like rebellious toddlers. Nope. He’ll let us run around in our diapers making spectacles of ourselves. He doesn’t stop us from acting unruly or even from misrepresenting Him in what we choose to wear-or not wear. He will continue to hold in front of us the beautiful garments He has designed, always beckoning us back to Him and His way.

However, if we choose to yield–to allow the Designer to dress us in His perfect garments, outer manifestations of deep inner work–we will find ourselves sinking deeper and deeper into Jesus Himself. Because, what don’t you see when you’ve put on seven pieces of clothing and wrapped them all in a cloak…? You can’t really see you anymore, can you? That’s the picture I’m left with at the end of all of this…

If we cooperate with God to dress our new selves in the garments He has chosen for us–these attributes the Spirit has worked from the depth of our core outward–and we wrap our whole selves in a cloak of love, which “binds them all together”, then we don’t really look like ourselves anymore. Because we become hidden in the likeness of Jesus. It changes the way I read these two verses:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3 NIV

 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NLT

I want to wear the royal garments that come with being a holy and beloved child of God. I want to cooperate as He dresses me in His attributes. I don’t want to fight that process. And I am so thankful that I don’t have to do it on my own… That this daughter that can sometimes act like an unruly toddler has a Daddy who is willing to help her get dressed the right way–His way.

–Laura

Laura wrote: “This week’s passage is not a brand new thought, but rather a continuation and further explanation of what we explored last week. The moment we put off the old self and “put on” the new self, we are covered by the blood of Jesus. It is the blood of His sacrifice that identifies us “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (verse 12). This is our core identity. Everything we do flows out of this core of knowing who we are

I agree with Laura. When we are faced with the virtues that Paul is encouraging us to “put on”,  I am fully aware that in my own strength I can do some of them some of the time…all of them all of the time–not so much. That’s frustrating and defeating if all I choose to look at is how I continually fall short.  But here’s what’s true: my identity isn’t based on what I believe about myself. My identity is based on the completed work of Jesus, and on who He says I am.

In verse 12 Paul says that I am one of God’s chosen people, not in a superior way as if another is left out, but because I responded to His choosing by coming into a relationship with God through Christ.  Ephesians 3:6 in the NLT version states it like this: “And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children…”  Jesus made a way for us to become part of the chosen people of God. I am so grateful!

In verse 12, Paul says that I am holy. Again, this doesn’t indicate superiority to anyone in any way, because it too is a work of God through Christ. Speaking of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” (Verse 10).  So, we are holy. However, we also grow in holiness. The apostle Peter reminds us to “Be holy, because I (God) am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)  I think we have a tendency to mystify this word, but in its most simple form it means to be different. The definition means “set apart”. In a Bible study I participated in a few years ago, the teacher said that to be holy is to be “other”.  She referred to the holiness of God as the “otherness” of God. No one else is like Him. We who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit living in us, and He equips us to live differently. Just like Laura said above, as we surrender to the work that God wants to do in our lives, as we draw close to Jesus and let the Spirit have His way, the fruit that is produced is different from the fruit produced by our flesh. We are “different”, we are (and are becoming more) compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and loving as we let the Spirit have His way.

And in verse 12, Paul calls us dearly loved–beloved.  “Be” is a state of being, so when God says I’m beloved, loved is my state of being. We are loved. Period. And Paul lets us know in Romans 8 that nothing  will ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)

In Romans 13:14 Paul tells us to “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” 

I truly believe that the key to all of the virtues that Paul is encouraging us to put on, the key to the fruit of the Spirit flowing organically out of our lives, is to respond to God’s love for us with deep love for Him. We must understand that Jesus is not only Savior, but He is Lord.  He is also our treasure. Once we get that figured out, being in love with Him, choosing to love Him becomes our desire. And then, we want others to experience it too. We want to leverage our lives so that others can know that they are chosen, holy, and dearly loved. It ALL starts with our true identity. Believing it, choosing to live from it, and staying connected to Christ. As we allow Him to do His work in us, He changes us. I don’t know how He does it, but He does. I know this because I’m not who I used to be. So…on this side of heaven we may not do it perfectly, but are we growing in Christ? Look back over your life. Are you different than you used to be? If so, you can know that Jesus is transforming you and His fruit is flowing out of you. It may not be a bumper crop yet, but persevere! He’s not finished yet!

–Luanne

love-25-600

Putting it into Perspective

The last two verses of Colossians 3:5-11 caught my attention in Sunday’s sermon. Verse 10 ends with the words, ” in the image of its Creator.”  Followed by verse 11 which reads, ” Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.”  The beginning of verse 10 reveals that it is our new self that is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

The new self is being renewed. The new self is being renewed in knowledge. The new self is being renewed in the image of its Creator. And one of the greatest evidences of a life like this, a life lived in Christ, is that all labels, all ethnic divides, all status divisions, all cultural customs, all of life’s various positions do not matter any more because “Christ is all, and is in all. ”  The NLT version beautifully puts it like this: “Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”  And The Message states it like this:  “Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.”

I think this is what the body of Christ truly longs for, whether we know it or not. Jesus himself prayed,  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them, and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.  (John 17:21-23 NLT)

Perfect unity in the body of Christ, the “capital C” church– Jesus longs for it, the Holy Spirit longs for it, God the Father longs for it, do we? Because if we do, it means we need to heed Paul’s words in Colossians 3:5-11.

Here’s the quick recap.

1. Put to death everything that belongs to your earthly nature. Kill it.

2. Put off, put aside, remove things like anger, rage,  malice, slander, and filthy language, and don’t lie to each other…

3. BECAUSE you have TAKEN OFF your old self with its practices (all of the above) and have PUT ON the new self—the new self that is being renewed, that is growing in knowledge of our Creator and becoming more like Him in the process.

John wisely reminded us that we are incapable of changing ourselves. So how does this transformation happen?  We have to yield ourselves to God.  Romans 6:13 reads: Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God… (NLT)  And Philippians 2:13 tells us that God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (NLT) 

So, when we yield ourselves to God, when we surrender to him, he works in us transforming us from the inside out into his image, which brings us back where we started—Colossians 3:10-11 (You) have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

If I were to scroll through my FaceBook feed, I could find articles about why churches should or shouldn’t worship certain ways, whether or not they should serve coffee, if they should have colored lights or not, all the things millennials do right, all the things millenials do wrong; I could read articles pointing fingers at Christians who would be considered liberal, and articles pointing fingers at Christians who would be considered conservative; and there would be many hateful articles and comments aimed at people who are not yet in Christ.

The reason the Apostle Paul wants us yielded to God is so that we can put to death earthly things that destroy us, put aside ugly behaviors that are aimed at others, and put on the new self is because only in the new self, the in-Christ self can we live in unity, and it is our unity, according to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, that will lead the world to believe that God the Father sent Jesus the Son.   Unity–not around a political party, an ideology, a generational preference, a style of worship, a church size, a denomination, an ethnicity, a nation, a culture, but around Christ, His mission, His message, His love, His grace, His death, His resurrection, and His power that is alive in us through the Holy Spirit. And get this, unity doesn’t mean uniformity, and it requires incredible humility. God created us in all of our beautiful diversity to reflect who He is; therefore it is imperative that we know Him, so that we can recognize Him in those who are different from us. The journey to label-less living may take a lifetime, or many lifetimes,  yet it is what the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus desires to see on earth looks like.  And then, one glorious day after Jesus comes again there will be a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7: 9-10)  

Paul tells us what to put to death, what to put off, and what to put on in order to move toward Kingdom living in the here and now. I want to see it, to live it here and now! How about you?

-Luanne

My heart screams “Yes!” to Luanne’s last question. I long to see and live the Kingdom here and now. But, as was beautifully stated above, Kingdom living only happens when we are committed to unity. And I know that I don’t always live with that in mind. Unity is hard-especially if we misunderstand what it is and what it isn’t.

Luanne expressed that unity is not uniformity. It’s so important that we understand that. So I looked up what unity is, as defined by Merriam-Webster. One definition of unity is “a condition of harmony”. Another is “a totality of related parts: an entity that is a complex or systematic whole”. Hmm.

Having a musical background, I can’t help but relate to these definitions with music in mind. A good band, choir or orchestra understands the difference between uniformity and unity. A marching band may have uniformity in their attire, in the way that they march and in the steps they take. But once they start to play, if they’re any good at all, it’s unity they are after. Because a marching band made up of only trumpets playing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time may be loud and intimidating and seem powerful–but it won’t win any competitions, even if every note is executed to perfection.

Musical groups that win, the ones we want to listen to over and over again, they have a grasp on the concept of unity. No instrument or voice plays or sings for itself. Because the various parts know that they are related and that the beauty and power lies in the parts working together to form a whole. The parts understand that no one part runs the show-that’s the director’s job. The director decides which part to bring out, to showcase, and when to do so. Only the director has that power. And the parts understand that. They also understand that the elevation of one voice doesn’t mean all of the others are muted or insignificant. It means that for that part of the song, the other parts play a supporting, but equally important, role. They maintain their intensity, their musicality and they keep a firm gaze on their director, ready for whatever comes next.

A winning group is not a group made up of soloists, all fighting for the spotlight, the platform, a chance to be heard. There’s no harmony in a group like that.

We, the Church, can end up operating like a choir full of soloists when we don’t heed the words we are studying in this week’s passage. If we don’t put off the old self and put to death our sinful nature as Paul instructs us to do, we are like a soloist, a diva, concerned only with ourselves and our performance. We have to choose unity. Luanne wrote:

Perfect unity in the body of Christ, the “capital C” church– Jesus longs for it, the Holy Spirit longs for it, God the Father longs for it, do we?

We each have to answer that question for ourselves, understanding that our answer doesn’t only affect us individually. We are parts of a systematic whole if we belong to Christ, whether we want to be or not. And if our part is not doing the job it was created for, it creates dissonance in the whole, disunity among the parts.

I love that Luanne referenced the John 17 verses. This line, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus gave us His glory when He made us alive in Him. But that glory is not something for us to hoard for ourselves. It was not given so that we could elevate ourselves and lord it over others or as a spotlight to bask in. It was given so that we may be one. Jesus died to make us alive in Him. And we are His glory on display for the world to see. What a privilege to be entrusted with the glory of Christ… It’s a weighty thought. But we have to remember that this putting off of the old self and putting on of the new isn’t something we are responsible for doing. As John said, and Luanne reemphasized, we must make the choice to yield. To surrender to the process God is working within us. I am reminded of the Ephesians verse Beau referenced last week:

“And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (Ephesians 4:24 Message)

If we allow Him full reign, full access to every part of us, we will find ourselves harmonizing beautifully with all of the other parts. Because it is God, the Master Director, who reproduces His very own character within us. But once again, we have a choice. Will we let Him do His work in us? To put aside and rid us of our old selves and our old ways so that we can put on the new self, the one that sees and believes that “Christ is all and is in all”? Or will we cling to our old selves and refuse to part with the dead, old ways we’ve grown accustomed to? I pray that we all we choose to yield our hearts and our lives to the One who gave everything so we could be found in Him.

–Laura

unity

Something Had to Die

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (Colossians 2:20-3:4)

Being made alive in Christ is both a one-time transaction and a continual process. This is one of many concepts that Beau presented to us as we continued our journey through Colossians this week. He shared with us two of the things that happen within us when we give our lives to Jesus:

-Salvation: being reconciled, put back into right relationship with God

-Sanctification: re-creation by God, being set apart to a sacred purpose

Salvation happens immediately. It is not in any way dependent on anything we say or do. It is the transition from death to life. Sanctification, though, is a lifelong process of being changed from the inside out until the image of Christ shines in us. I love the verse from Ephesians that Beau used in his sermon:

And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Ephesians 4:24 Message)

This God-fashioned life, this life that is renewed from the inside and works itself into our conduct–it is produced in us “as God accurately reproduces his character in [us]”. So, sanctification, this re-creation process, it’s something God does, not us, right? Like salvation?

Yes… but, there is more to this piece. Beau articulated that we can be alive without really living. We can breathe and eat and drink and be “alive” in the most basic definition of the word. Paul reaffirmed in his letter to the Colossians that they had “died with Christ” and been set free from the spiritual powers of this world. But they were not experiencing real life. They hadn’t fully become new, though they were new creations in Christ. They were following rules and thinking of earthly things, still caught up in “this life”. Does that resonate with anyone? Paul is asking them “Why?” in this passage. He reminds them that their “real life is hidden with Christ in God”. 

Beau shared about the process of coming alive in Christ in his life. It reminded me of my own process…

When I gave my heart to Jesus as a little girl, I crossed from death to life by the free, un-earnable gift of salvation. I was alive in Him. There were moments of growth in those early years.

When I recommitted my life to Him as a teenager, there was a degree of surrender. A knowing that the life I was “living” wasn’t really life the way God wanted me to experience life.

But I didn’t really experience “coming alive” in Christ until I was ready to die to myself. Not partially. Not only in certain areas… in everything. The experiences of my childhood and youth and early adulthood were undeniably steps on the sanctification journey. And, like Beau said, I haven’t “arrived” at my fully sanctified state-of-being. I wholeheartedly believe and expect that we won’t reach that point until we kneel before our Savior in heaven. We are in process during our entire time on earth-I see that as one of the clearest marks of God’s nearness and faithfulness to us–that He never leaves us where we are. He keeps coming to us, to work on our condition and reproduce His character within us… if we allow Him to do so.

It wasn’t that many years ago that I understood in a new way what it meant to die to myself and be made alive in Christ. I, like the Colossians, was good at following rules. My life was one full of pretense–which is “professed, rather than real, intention or purpose”. I was focused more on my kingdom than the Kingdom of God. Earthly things had my attention. There were times my sights were set on things above–but it didn’t take much to distract me and take my eyes of the path ahead. I had my salvation. I was “alive”. But I wanted the sanctification part to be on my terms. So the life I was experiencing was not the fullness of life that God desired for me to have in Him. And somewhere along my journey, I started to crave more. I didn’t know what that “more” was yet. I had no idea how much it would cost, or how much dying would be involved. But somewhere along the way, I knew I had a choice to make…

Before church on Sunday, I was reading in Deuteronomy 30 and I paused and wrote down these verses in my journal:

“…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…” (vs.19-20)

The words came to mind again as I listened to the sermon.

Choose life…For the Lord is your life…

We get to choose. We move from death to life in the moment we are saved by grace. But, as He has since the very beginning, God gives us choices. We get to have as much of God as we want. How much do we want? It’s easy to say that we want all of Him. All that He has to offer. All of the fruits of His Spirit. The very fullest life in Him. But just as Jesus had to die in order to be resurrected, fullness of life in Him can only be created in us if we are willing to fully die to ourselves.

Beau said that sanctification “requires being in and with Christ daily” and, “To be in and with Christ is to identify with Christ in death and resurrection”.

We can’t experience one without the other. We cannot be resurrected, made new, made alive without being willing to die first.

Surrendering our whole lives-our desires, dreams, expectations, fears, hopes-before God, choosing to die to our own kingdoms–it doesn’t feel safe. But each time we say yes to God’s re-creation process within us, each time we choose His Kingdom over ours, we come to life a little more. Because that’s where our “real life” is found.

Beau summed up this very complex passage with the phrase:

“Truly living is right position, working on condition“. 

Our very first step is being put back into right position before God-salvation. The rest comes after that. We don’t work on our own condition before coming to Christ. And we aren’t the ones who work on it afterwards, either. Legalistic rule-following, trying harder to be better–this doesn’t get us saved and it isn’t what makes us sanctified. It is God who works on our condition, as the Ephesians 4 verse beautifully states. We simply have to be willing to let Him. We have to be willing to die. Because for something to be made alive, something always has to first die.

What is God asking us to die to this week? Where have we chosen a lesser life? Are we willing to lay it all down, to die to ourselves, so that we can experience the fullness of life God desires each of us to have? I am pondering these questions again and I hope you will, too.

–Laura

life from death

 

Colossians 1:24-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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

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

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

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

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

We do, too… right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

suffering savior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter #1:

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

Letter #2:

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

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Luanne

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