The Lord’s Prayer #1

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name, 
thy kingdom come, 
thy will be done, 
on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our trespasses, 
as we forgive those
who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, 
and the power, and the glory, 
for ever and ever. Amen.
I assume that most of us, regardless of our various upbringings, are familiar with some version of the prayer known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” The above rendition is probably the most common. What is your experience with this famous prayer? Is it part of your prayer life? Did you memorize it as a child? What does it mean to you? We will spend three weeks diving deeply into this prayer that Jesus gave his followers as he taught them how to pray–it will form and teach us, if we let it.
On Sunday, Pastor John shared that this prayer defines and explains what Jesus has been saying throughout his sermon on the mount. We find it in Matthew 6:9-13, right after Jesus talks about what not to do when we pray. Here is that section again, to refresh our memories:
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:5-8)
After talking through prayer practices that he does not endorse, Jesus says,

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-10)

These twenty-two words are the focus of this week’s message. The rest of the prayer will be covered over the next two weeks. I am grateful we’re taking it slowly through this section of the sermon on the mount. There is so much to explore, to discuss, to thoughtfully consider within these words. We have an opportunity to look more deeply into what might be very familiar to us, an opportunity to hear the words in a new way. If we lean in with open hearts and minds, seeking to learn and be transformed, we will not be disappointed with what we discover. It is my favorite thing about scripture, the way the Spirit comes into the words and brings them to life in fresh, new ways, revealing more than we had seen before.

On a personal note, this prayer has been a key part of my own prayer life for several years. Ever since the concept of “the kingdom” became a focal point of my journey with Jesus, praying “Your kingdom come…” has become an important part of my life. I don’t know that I thought much about it or what it meant when I was younger. It was actually Luanne who brought it to my attention. As she was captivated by this kingdom Jesus brought to earth, and began to share what she was learning, I was captivated also. If you read this blog often, it’s not news to you that both of us are still quite captivated by the kingdom and what kingdom living looks like for Jesus’ followers today–we write about it probably more than any other topic we cover.

Here’s the thing about what I just shared… Though this prayer has become a key daily component of my own prayer life, there is still more for me to discover in these five verses. There is more treasure to mine in these twenty-two words that Pastor John walked us through on Sunday. I love that. I never want any part of scripture to become stale or commonplace to me. I want to keep digging in, to continue to learn and ask for Holy Spirit revelation to breathe fresh, new life into ancient words. There is always more. As evidence to my point, I have wrestled with what to focus on in my portion of this week’s post. There are so many directions to go! One thing Pastor John highlighted stood out to me above the rest, though, so that’s where I’ll spend my time here.

Something I’ve been learning a lot about for the last couple of years is dualistic versus non-dualistic thinking. It’s especially intriguing to me when I look at the ways that dualism has slithered into western, evangelical Christianity, specifically here in the United States. I understand dualism to be either/or, black and white, this or that ways of thinking. It can lead to an us versus them mindset and often divides rather than unites.

Non-dualism, on the other hand, embraces the both/and, and that way of thinking and relating allows us to be comfortable living in the tension of the and. It allows us to think more broadly, more collectively. It connects rather than divides. But non-dualism leaves things a little undefined. To embrace non-dualistic ways of thinking, we have to learn to embrace mystery, to get comfortable with not having all the answers, to allow ourselves to be led beyond our comfort zones. Non-dualism asks us to consider ways of thinking that challenge our previous understanding. I believe breaking free of dualistic thinking is an essential part of growing in our walks with Jesus.

Pastor John introduced two concepts in this week’s passage where, in his words, “Jesus breaks the dualism.” 

The first is in our understanding of how prayer is meant to be handled. Jesus has just finished talking about prayer being something that ought to be done in private, between us and God, not for show… But this prayer focuses on “us”, right? So it’s not an individual prayer? But it’s meant to prayed as a private, individual prayer?

For those of us who have been raised in some version of westernized Christianity, it’s likely we have a very individualized approach to our faith and our prayers. Much of the teaching we grew up with probably focused on our personal relationships with God and our prayer lives probably reflect that.

What Jesus is teaching us in this passage is how to pray individually and collectively simultaneously. We can pray privately, but our focus is not on ourselves. We’ve written a lot about how early Christianity was communal in nature. We have moved so far away from that in our individualism that even praying the way Jesus teaches may not naturally make sense to us. Other cultures who embrace a more community-focused way of life probably aren’t challenged the same way some of us are when reading Jesus’ instructions. It’s so important that we notice and pay attention to the ways our either/or thinking invades even our study of scripture.

Jesus invites us–by beginning this “personal” prayer with the word “our”–to move away from dualism. He does so again in the way he presents God in his opening words. He says, “Our Father,” including all of us in his own father/son relationship with the God of the heavens,”the universe, the world, the vaulted expanse of the sky with all things visible in it” (Strong’s Greek Lexicon). He continues, “…hallowed is your name.” Hallowed means set apart, most holy, above all. 

So in the opening line of the prayer, Jesus identifies God as our collective, personal father, that we–along with Jesus–are in intimate relationship with, and identifies him also as entirely set apart, above all, distinctly holy. So, in which way do we relate to our God? The answer is: both. Right away, Jesus invites his listeners to enter into a new understanding of how to relate with God. Is he our father that we are intimately connected to, or is he altogether set apart, holy, different from all others? Yes. The answer is not an or, but an and.

It matters that Jesus addresses these things right away. It will serve us well to pay attention to what he is revealing. Our walk with God, including our prayer life, is individual and collective. We relate to God as Abba and as the Holy One, sovereign over all. Without a both/and understanding, without allowing Jesus to break into our understanding, we cannot see the bigger, more beautiful, kingdom-focused perspective that Jesus invites us into. This is where we begin. Before we can say “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” with any idea of what that might look like, we need to align ourselves with God and others Jesus’ way.

The entire sermon on the mount up to this point has been teaching us what it looks like to be kingdom-people, beginning with our hearts. In this prayer, Jesus moves our understanding further–beyond heart change and into a community-focused space, where our prayers are transformed as our hearts come into alignment with the kingdom he is introducing.

Where do the opening lines of this famous prayer find us? Where do Jesus’ words land in our minds and hearts? Have we prayed individually with a collective focus? What might Jesus be wanting to transform in the ways we’ve grown accustomed to praying? I look forward to following where Jesus is leading us together, as we continue to explore his words.

–Laura

As Laura wrote above,  I have been captivated by the kingdom of heaven coming to earth for years now. She and I were trying to remember how many years ago my obsession with The Kingdom here and now began–at least eight or nine. I can’t remember what sparked that flame, but even as I write about it now, my heart burns within me and my fingers tingle as I type. I believe that understanding God’s desire to establish his kingdom on earth, right here and right now, is the key to understanding what Christianity is all about.

Laura set us up beautifully for the Kingdom words Jesus taught us when she wrote: Our walk with God, including our prayer life, is individual and collective. We relate to God as Abba and as the Holy One, sovereign over all. Without a both/and understanding, without allowing Jesus to break into our understanding, we cannot see the bigger, more beautiful, kingdom-focused perspective that Jesus invites us into.

A both/and understanding is imperative. Pastor John pointed out that we waffle back and forth between God as our Abba–our daddy, our father and God as the Holy One, the Almighty who is powerful and therefore, (in our minds) sometimes scary. Jesus combines the two…God is close– intimacy with God is possible, and God is Almighty and Holy and completely “other”.
Once we have this understanding, the rest of the prayer makes more sense to us. So here we go. The next fourteen words say: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Full stop. Read it again. Pray it again. This is God’s desire for earth. 
I don’t know how we miss this, and I missed it for a lot of years; however, a close reading of the gospels shows us that Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God on earth more than any other subject. It was his priority, and he embodied what it looked like in the flesh. In the Sermon on the Mount he is teaching those willing to hear, what Kingdom people look like.
Quick recap: He saw the crowds, went up the mountain, sat down and began to teach.
He started with the beatitudes–this is what my people will look like: Compare the beatitudes to Philippians chapter 2…have this mind (attitude) in you which was also in Christ Jesus…) 
Next: My followers will be salt and light in the world.
Then a reinterpretation of the law that focuses on our hearts and our treatment of others: You’ve heard it said…but I say…  
And then the three when you statements: When you give… when you pray… when you fast…
Right in the middle of those statements, this private prayer, prayed from the position that “I” am part of the “we”, that focuses on God’s will for the entire earth, is taught.
What are we praying when we pray Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
I was introduced to an expanded version of The Lord’s Prayer through Word of Life church in St. Joseph, Missouri, that clears it up. In that expanded version, this portion of The Lord’s Prayer says:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Thy government come, thy politics be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Thy reign and rule come, thy plans and purposes be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
May we be an anticipation of the age to come.
May we embody the reign of Christ here and now.
This is the deep cry of my heart. God’s kingdom, not ours. God’s will, not ours. God’s government, not ours. God’s politics, not ours. God’s reign and rule, not ours. God’s plans and purposes, not ours. God is the only One who can establish God’s kingdom, yet it has everything to do with us and our understanding of God’s sovereignty and desire for intimacy with us.
God’s kingdom comes through us–through our relationship with God. God is here. Your will be done is what God’s kingdom coming looks like–it comes as we do God’s will.
This is where we struggle. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts as we ask ourselves am I aligning my life with God’s will?  In our individualistic thinking we ask God, what is your will for my life? That’s the wrong question. The right question is God, what is your will?  Period. And then we align ourselves with God’s will.
Jesus is the best example of this. How does Jesus relate to God? He models constant intimacy. Jesus never goes rogue…he does only what he sees the Father doing. (John 5:19). And he tells us to stay connected to him: I am the vine, you (all) are the branches, if you (all) remain in me and I in you (all); you (all) will bear much fruit. (John 15:5). All of those pronouns in the Greek are plural.
What fruit will we bear? The fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22)
We are a people who are to be known for those characteristics.
you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation (a kingdom), God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
 Where is the kingdom? (Jesus) was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he gave them this reply: “The kingdom of God never comes by watching for it. Men cannot say, ‘Look, here it is’, or ‘there it is’, for the kingdom of God is inside you. (Luke 17:20-21 J.B. Phillips)
And to quote Jesus from this very sermon:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”  (Mt. 5:14-15)
The light of the Kingdom of God is inside us. Are we giving light to everyone in the house? Do we look like Jesus? Do we act like Jesus? Do we prioritize who Jesus prioritized? Do we treat others as Jesus did? Do our lives bear His fruit? His kingdom will come and his will be done on earth through us. The world will know that God loves them deeply and unconditionally through us. 
To prioritize God’s kingdom ways comes through an intimate, connected to the vine type of relationship with almighty, Papa, God—our Father. It also comes with an acknowledgment that our allegiance is to his kingdom above all other kingdoms. In the New Testament we see that the Romans prioritized Rome, the Jews prioritized Israel, the Samaritans prioritized Samaria, etc. I’m a citizen of the USA, and I lived in Brazil for a decade. Should I prioritize those countries? If so, which one? No to all of this. When we follow Jesus, we become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Earthly kingdoms have to take a back seat to this.
The Apostle Paul understood this and he wrote:
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.  In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us...Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. (Col. 3: 10,11-13 NLT)

What categories do you suppose Paul might highlight if he were writing today? Think about it and repent where you need to. (I’m doing the same.)

Citizens of the kingdom of heaven, during the reign and rule of Rome, were beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, falsely accused, killed. They sang in prison, counted it joy to be persecuted for following Jesus, were scattered to other countries as a result of persecution and took the love of Jesus with them, they died in such a way (sometimes in arenas in front of crowds) that they created a holy curiosity about who Jesus was. Their priority was God’s kingdom, and sometimes they paid a high (earthly) price for living that way. Are we willing to pay a high earthly price to be like Jesus? We will be misunderstood. We will be labled as we get rid of labels and as we hunger and thirst for dikaiosynē (equity, justice, righteousness). It might cost us something. Are we willing?

N. T. Wright in his book “God and the Pandemic” writes: ...the Sermon on the Mount isn’t simply about ‘ethics’…it’s about mission….God’s kingdom is being launched on earth as in heaven, and the way it will happen is by God working through people of this sort….When people look out on the world and its disasters…they ask…why doesn’t he send a thunderbolt…and put things right?…God does send thunderbolts–human ones.  He sends in the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers, the hungry-for-justice people…They will use their initiative; they will see where the real needs are, and go to meet them. They will weep at the tombs of their friends. At the tombs of their enemies. Some of them will get hurt. Some may be killed. That is the story of Acts, all through. There will be problems…but God’s purpose will come through. These people, prayerful, humble, faithful, will be the answer…

Where, you may be asking, does personal salvation fit into all of this? Rich Villoda’s, in his soon to be published book The Deeply-Formed Life writes:

Eldon Ladd, in his short but seminal book on the gospel of the kingdom, wrote, “The gospel must not only offer a personal salvation in the future life to those who believe; it must also transform all of the relationship of life here and now and thus cause the Kingdom of God to prevail in all the world.” At the core of the gospel, then, is the “making right” of all things through Jesus. In Jesus’s death and resurrection, the world is set on a trajectory of renewal, but God graciously invites us to work toward this future. However, this work is not an individual enterprise; it is one orchestrated by the collected efforts of a new family…” (Emphasis mine)

A new family.

Our Father…Abba’s Kingdom…Abba’s will…on Earth…through us.

–Luanne

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Teach Me to Serve

What comes to mind when you hear the word serve? What about when you hear it at church? What if it is coming out of your pastor’s mouth from the pulpit? We heard the word come out of Pastor John’s mouth more than a few times on Sunday, as our second installment in our “Teach Me” series centered on serving. What does it really mean to serve, and what does it require of us? Pastor John began by telling us that this is not about shaming or “should-ing”; it is not a manipulative tactic to get any of us to do more or be better or give extra. This is about understanding what serving really is, as well as what it is not.

The text we looked at in this week’s message was Joshua 24:1-24. I’ve included verses 14-18 from that passage below:

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

The people responded to Joshua, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord and to serve other gods!” We know, as Joshua did, that it is not far from any of us to reach for, follow and, ultimately, worship (give our attention, focus, devotion and love to) other gods. We will all serve someone or something. Our hearts are wired to worship and if our hearts are not set on our God, they will be set on something—or someone–else.

Pastor John told us that serving is not an obligation, it is an expression of gratitude for all that God has done. God has already given us everything. He didn’t give us life and love and gifts with strings attached. He has called us his beloved children, lavished his unconditional love upon us, and wired into each of us many different gifts and abilities. There is no catch, nothing that removes our identities, his love, or our gifts if we don’t serve him the way he wants. That’s not who our God is—that’s not who he has ever been. If we feel manipulated or made to do certain acts of service or reach a certain level of giving, those are either constraints we have put on ourselves or demands and expectations put on us by others—sometimes by churches. God doesn’t place expectations on us, though. God invites.

What exactly does God invite us into? Wholehearted, focused kingdom living. Pastor John pointed out that we cannot serve if we are divided and distracted, if our attention is split between God and our other gods. We can look like we’re serving, but our hearts will give us away every time…

Psalm 86:11 says, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (NIV)

And Matthew 6:24 reminds us, “How could you worship two gods at the same time? You will have to hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other…” (TPT)

Pastor John referred to the story of Nehemiah that we touched on last week to give us an example of what it looks like to serve with undivided focus, with hearts set on a call—however unreasonable and impossible that call might seem at the time. We don’t know if Nehemiah had the skills needed to rebuild the walls, but we do know that he was determined to do what God placed on his heart to do. He faced opposition and distraction, but he remained focused on the task at hand. And because he was focused, he was able to see deception when it came his direction. He was wholeheartedly devoted–and it protected him from a multitude of attacks and schemes.

This is an important point. Nehemiah saw the deception because he was focused. We cannot see what is in front of us if we’re not focused. Just as our unfocused eyes cannot clearly see even what is right in front of us, unfocused hearts cannot discern with any clarity what is coming our way. If our attention is split in different directions, the eyes of our hearts will be blurred by the whiplash caused by being pulled this way and that. Nehemiah’s heart was whole, set on his God, and so he was wholly focused on the work he needed to do. He made a choice, and he was committed to seeing it through.

Ultimately, serving is a choice. As I wrote earlier, God invites us to serve. Then he leaves it up to us. In our passage, Joshua says to the people, ”…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (from Joshua 24:16). Where will we place our focus, attention, worship, and love? Whatever and whoever our hearts love, we will serve. God wants our whole hearts, he wants us to live fruitful lives in service to his kingdom, and he wants to infuse our serving with impact and growth that will bear good fruit, but he won’t make us do it his way. We are the wielders of our own willingness. God won’t force us into submission. But he wants so much for us to grow into our healthiest, most whole selves.

Beth Moore, in the introduction to her latest book, Chasing Vines, writes:

“God wants you to flourish in Him. Every last thing He plants in your life is intended for that purpose. If we give ourselves fully to His faithful ways, mysterious and painful though they may be at times, we will find that it’s all part of the process that enables us to grow and bear fruit… And so we find ourselves at a crossroads. If we have guts enough to believe that we were created by God to flourish in Christ, we have a choice to make. Will we sit idly by and wait for it to happen, as if our cooperation isn’t part of the process? Or will we set out, light on our feet, with hearts ablaze, and give chase to this call to flourish?”

How is serving connected to flourishing? When we are filled with gratitude for all that God has done and we have learned to trust him with our lives, that gratitude produces joy, and joy inspires us to share, to give, and to serve. Serving from a place of deep love and joy creates new life and bears good fruit.

And we already know the model friends…

When Jesus called out to his disciples, “Come, follow me,” what was he inviting them into? What example did he give them to follow? He was inviting them—and us—to follow him into a life of self-giving love in service of the kingdom of God, to follow him into places that are unsafe among people who are sometimes unlovely. This is one of Jesus’ invitations to learn from him:

 “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” (Matthew 11:28-30, TPT)

Join our life with his.

Learn his ways.

He is gentle and not difficult to please.

All that he requires of us will not be hard for us to bear...

This passage is not saying that everything that happens to us will be pleasant and easy, that our lives will be carefree. But it does tell us that Jesus is our life-giver and he wants to teach us his kingdom ways. We’ll find in him no sense of obligation or expectations; he won’t ever manipulate our affections. He will be our place of refuge and will teach us how to live refreshed in him. What is required?

That we come to him. That we follow him and seek to learn.

This takes willingness, vulnerability, flexibility in our “plans.” It may mean that we relinquish our vision of how things ought to be in order to adapt his vision—and we may have to do that over and over again as we journey with him. It will definitely require that we recall what we have learned about how to trust.

If we come to Jesus in this way, we won’t have to try to cultivate wholehearted focus. If we watch him, learn from him, follow him, we will be completely captivated by this One who came to serve–not to be served–that we won’t be able to stop ourselves from falling in love. He is that good, and his ways are that compelling. We will find these things for ourselves if we’ll simply make the choice to come. We all get to choose this day who we will serve, dear friends. May we choose well…

–Laura

Choose this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. 

Joshua 24: 15 is written on plaques and hung on walls, written on garden stones and placed in yards, even stuck to the back of cars. We make declarations, buy reminders, and then forget what we’ve pledged to do. As Joshua was reminding the people of God’s incredible faithfulness, as he was making his declaration that he and his household would serve the Lord, he implored the Israelites to make a choice. As Laura reminded us above, the people responded that they would choose the Lord. They said emphatically: We will serve the Lord. However, just a few verses later, Joshua says to them: “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (24:23)

That struck me as I listened to Pastor John’s sermon. The people had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years with the Lord providing for all their needs. They had faced opposition. They had experienced the Lord’s deliverance time and time again. Yet, after all this time, with their feet finally in the land that was promised to them, and with, what I believe was sincerity of heart, they expressed a desire to serve the Lord, so Joshua reality checked them and reminded them that they still had foreign gods in their possession. They’d carried them for years.

It’s easy to point fingers at the Israelites; it’s more difficult to self-reflect and see what false gods we carry with us.

Laura wrote above: …serving is not an obligation, it is an expression of gratitude for all that God has done. God has already given us everything. He didn’t give us life and love and gifts with strings attached. He has called us his beloved children, lavished his unconditional love upon us, and wired into each of us many different gifts and abilities. There is no catch, nothing that removes our identities, his love, or our gifts if we don’t serve him the way he wants. That’s not who our God is—that’s not who he has ever been. If we feel manipulated or made to do certain acts of service or reach a certain level of giving, those are either constraints we have put on ourselves or demands and expectations put on us by others… God doesn’t place expectations on us… God invites.

We are invited into a beautiful life of Christ-likeness, of service, of gratitude. Yet, we sometimes get this confused. We place expectations on God. We misunderstand who God is, how gentle God is, how inviting God is. We forget that God loves us fully, completely, unconditionally. We try to earn God’s pleasure (or stuff) by striving, or by bartering. My relationship with God functioned like that for a very long time–and then God pointedly, but lovingly showed me the system I had created. He brought me face to face with my incredibly mixed motives in serving Him.

I was in my late twenties. Two of my three children were born. My husband had completed seminary and had been called to serve as youth pastor in a church in the Atlanta area. I wanted to begin establishing relationships with people in the church, so I joined a small group study of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God. A few weeks into that study, I was at home lying on the sofa and God met me there. He showed me that I had set up my entire relationship with Him as a barter system. He revealed that my mindset (heart-set), was…Okay, God…I’ll do such and such for you if you promise me that I won’t get cancer and die while my children are young (like my mom did). Okay, God…I’ll do such and such for you if you promise me that John will not die and he’ll be able to provide for us and take care of us. Okay, God…I’ll do such and such for you, if you promise me that my children will be healthy and I won’t lose any of them…Okay, God…I’ll do such and such for you if…

Ugh. When God showed me this, I knew he was right…and I also knew that I wanted guarantees from him. I knew God was asking me to surrender it all, but I wanted God to do this my way. I wanted safety. I wanted my children safe, I wanted my husband safe, my provision safe, I wanted me safe. I was carrying the false god of safety and security and had been bowing to it for a lot of years. I wasn’t ready to give it up. So, I wrestled, I cried, I begged God to promise me the things I wanted. He was not cooperating. I knew that he wanted me to surrender it all to him, including my kids, without any guarantees of safety and security…nope!

When our group met the following week, the leader asked if any of us had anything to share. I had no intention of talking about the wrestling match I was in. I was a new “staff wife” and needed to have it all together (or so I thought). Much to my dismay, I burst into tears. Next thing I knew, I was sharing, through sobs, with these people I’d basically just met about all that God was showing me–and that he wanted me to surrender everything–including my kids into His hands, and that I couldn’t do it. This beautiful group of people circled around me, laid hands on me, and prayed for me. I’d love to tell you that I surrendered at that moment, but I didn’t.

For the next few nights, I stayed on the sofa–I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I just wrestled. I knew that my system was keeping me stuck and that I wasn’t going any further with God than I was at that point. God was inviting me into a deeper, fuller, richer relationship–but I didn’t see it that way. In my wrestling match, God reminded me that suffering is part of life on this planet, but that nothing would separate me from His love. I didn’t like that. I really wanted God to bow to me–that’s honestly what it boiled down to.

Finally, out of sheer exhaustion and a desire to get some sleep, I said–okay, God. I’ll give it all to you–I surrender. It’s hard to describe what happened next–I was filled with incredible peace; I felt love for God that I didn’t even know was possible, and I experienced the beauty of God’s all-encompassing love in a new way. The fountain of living water was turned on and has never gone off. I fell in love with God. That moment of surrender happened a lot of years ago, yet the fresh fruit of that moment is still being born in my life. It was the turning point in my adult relationship with God.

So, when we talk about serving as an invitation rather than an obligation–I’ve experienced it from both sides, and I don’t ever want to go back to obligation. Obligation leads to burn out, resentment, “shoulding” on ourselves and others, comparison, etc. It’s not life-giving.

Teach me to serve.

To serve means to give. If we are served dinner, if we are served papers, something is given to us. God serves us–He gives, and gives, and gives, and gives. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, showed us what a life of service looks like.  A life of service genuinely cares about others. A life of service shares wisdom, gifts, stories, moments. A life of service pulls away and allows God to restore, refresh, renew, guide, direct. A life of service is open to being served by others. A life of service washes the feet of those who would be considered less than in the world’s hierarchical system. A life of service acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with God (Micah 6:8). A life of service is filled with and fueled by supernatural love. A life of service is not agenda based. A life of service gives it all.

When we are taught that the greatest commandment boils down to loving God with all we are and all we have, loving others the way God loves us, and loving ourselves with godly love, that’s the living root from which a life of service flows. It’s not service that strives. It’s service that is the natural outflow of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Eugene Peterson once wrote: “The people who have made the greatest difference in my life were the people who weren’t trying to make a difference.” I think about that quote often. True serving makes a difference without striving to make a difference.

We all know when we are someone’s project. or when we’ve made someone our project. It doesn’t feel genuine, because it isn’t genuine. I believe the real key to serving is to fall in love with God, to walk with God, to accept God’s invitation to life in the Spirit, and to be absolutely bathed in and convinced of God’s unconditional love for ourselves and all of humanity.

We have the ongoing opportunity to choose this day who we will serve–to choose this day who we will love…to choose this day to be loved…to choose God’s beautiful, life-giving, logic-defying, self-sacrificing, love-saturated way this day…

–Luanne

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Dear Church… (Philippians 1:1-11)

Pastor John began a twelve week series on the book of Philippians that will take us through the summer.  Without a doubt, Paul loved this body of believers. They held an incredibly special place in his heart, and he is not shy in telling them so. As is wise with all Bible study, knowing the context of the situation is always a good idea, so it’s important to know how this church began. Why were they so special to Paul?

Acts chapter 16 gives us the background story on Paul’s relationship with the people in Philippi. Paul had tried to go to a couple of different locations, but in Luke’s words the “Spirit of Jesus” kept him from following through with those plans. During this time, Paul received a vision asking him to come to Macedonia–so they went. Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia and that became the destination.

Typically when Paul went to a new city he started his ministry in the synagogue. Not in Philippi. He and his companions headed to the river to pray and came upon a group of women, one of whom was Lydia, a business woman and worshiper of God. Paul shared the love of Jesus with these ladies, God opened Lydia’s heart to receive the message, she and the members of her household were baptized and she invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home.

I don’t know how long Paul was in Philippi, but it was the city where he and Silas got in trouble with some wealthy folks for casting a demon out of their slave girl because the demon gave her the ability to make a lot of money for them.

Because Paul and Silas messed with the wealthy folks, they were arrested, flogged and thrown in jail. Instead of complaining about their situation, they prayed and sang, and the other prisoners listened. An earthquake came, all the prisoners chains came off and the doors opened. The jailer was sure they had all escaped and was ready to kill himself, but Paul called out and let him know that they were all still there. This encounter led to the jailer and his family coming into a relationship with Jesus. After Paul and Silas were released they went to Lydia’s house, met with the church and then left the area. He visited Philippi two more times. (Acts 20)

I wonder if the freed slave girl and the jailer were part of the group that met in Lydia’s home and received Paul’s letter? I wonder if the church in Philippi was different from the other churches Paul began, so many of whom were riddled with conflict, because he wasn’t battling a spirit of religion that sometimes accompanied those coming out of the synagogues, and sometimes plagues our churches today. Paul himself had come out of that rule following system–and he knew that trading one set of rules for another was not what following Jesus is about. Following Jesus is all about relationship, and the Philippian church was rich in relationship with Jesus, with Paul, and with one another. Lydia was a kind and gracious woman, the church in Philippi began with her. There’s a lot to be said for all the implications of that.

Paul wrote this letter about ten years after he had originally been in Philippi, and he writes to them from prison. He begins by greeting all of them and offers them grace and peace (Shalom) from God.  Paul moves into assuring them of his prayers for them and tells them that his prayers are full of thanksgiving and joy for them because from the first day he met them they partnered with him in sharing the good news of the love, forgiveness and new life available in Jesus–and they were still doing it. He encouraged them with these words: …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (v.6) 

That’s a verse many of us know extremely well, it gives us hope in the transforming work of Christ, but I think it’s important to note that the “you” in this verse is plural. He is writing to the church referring to  the good work that God began in and through His church in Philippi. Yes, the work He’s doing individually in each of us is important, the mission of the church will not happen without each of us growing in Christ, but like we’ve mentioned before, our individual relationships with Jesus are not just about us. When we surrender our lives to Him, we become part of His kingdom–His body, and together we work to bring others into relationship with Him. So, He who began a good work in you by giving you a place to belong and a purpose in His kingdom/body will be faithful to complete the mission He’s begun.

Paul goes on to express how this precious group of people are always in his heart and how he longs for all of them with the affection of Jesus. Then he tells them what he is praying:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (vs. 9-11)

The love Paul is writing about is agape–the unconditional, all encompassing, never ending, totally undeserved and complete love of God, and he is praying that this godly love will flow in abundance , that it will abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight….

What does it mean for our agape to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight?

Knowledge means just what you think it does, and it comes from the root word meaning to know thoroughly, to know accurately, to understand and perceive.

Depth of insight is a little more unusual. The word  translated into that phrase is used one time in all of scripture, and Paul is trying to convey something important in using this word. It means perception not only by the senses but also by the intellect, discernment, moral discernment, the understanding of ethical matters.

It’s intellect coupled with a deeper sense, a deep intuition, a knowing something beyond intellectual knowing, a sixth sense if you will. The phrase in the definition-the understanding of ethical matters– really catches my attention and my heart.

Agape love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; we can only have it when we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives. As we allow the Spirit to do His work in us, our ability to know and discern–especially in moral ethical matters, becomes clearer.

Pastor John pointed out that love is not blind–God’s love is not blind. God’s love sees all and loves us despite our shortcomings. God’s love runs to embrace the returning prodigal, God’s love shows compassion and forgiveness to a woman caught in the act of adultery, God’s love hangs out with the marginalized, the ones rejected by the religious elite, the outcasts, God’s love reinstates Peter after his denial, God’s love makes a way through the costly death and powerful resurrection of Jesus for us to be in relationship with Him, God’s love knocks the terrorist Saul/Paul off a horse, blinds him, and then transforms his life in such a radical way that Paul gave his entire life to introduce others to Jesus.  God’s love doesn’t look like human love, and God wants His love to be what the world experiences when they experience us–His people.  His love—ever growing, wise, discerning, kind, undeserved, overflowing so that…

Right after the words knowledge and depth of insight is a “so that”.   It reads like this:

…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.  

The J.B. Phillips translation reads like this:

I want you to be able always to recognize the highest and the best, and to live sincere and blameless lives until the day of Jesus Christ. I want to see your lives full of true goodness, produced by the power that Jesus Christ gives you to the praise and glory of God.  

The Message translation puts it this way: 

Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Our Spirit given agape love produces in us the ability to see, know and discern the truth of a situation on a deep level. Then, being led by God’s indwelling, ever abundant unconditional agape love figure out what the God-like best response is. It may look nothing like the world’s response, because God is all about bringing people into relationship with Him, not about ostracizing and punishing them. If that were His heart, we’d all be hopelessly lost.

Acting on what the Spirit leads us to do keeps us blameless and pure before God because the fruit of righteousness means that we are rightly related with God and rightly related with others. Righteousness in this sense comes from the root word meaning equity which indicates that we are working to make things right for all people everywhere–that type of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.  When we live and love and see and restore and forgive and esteem and build up like Jesus does, the work that God has begun in us, His people, moves toward completion and God gets the glory for it all.

The implications of Paul’s prayer are huge for us. He is praying that we, His church,  will be bathed and growing in agape love, choosing the best as revealed by the Spirit, working in and through agape love to make this world a better place for everyone, carrying out the mission of Jesus so that God’s kingdom may come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven for the glory of God.

I will be meditating on and praying this prayer all week. I desperately want to be part of the body that is making Jesus Christ attractive to all…Will you join me?

—Luanne

As Luanne wrote, it is so important to understand the context of what we read in our bibles. The more I study scripture and the deeper I go in my walk with Jesus, the more I realize just how vital this is. It is important because it gives us a more complete picture of what we’re reading, but also because it brings the story of Jesus and His Kingdom alive to us in a whole new way. I found some interesting facts when I looked into the history of the city of Philippi…

Corneliu Constantineanu, a Romanian theologian and university professor, has this to say in his introduction to the book of Philippians in the God’s Justice Bible:

“The Great Roman Caesar Octavian Augustus established the city of Philippi as a Roman colony after a great victory in the battle against Brutus in 42 BC. After another victory over Mark Anthony in 31 BC, he named the city after himself, Colonia lulia Augusta Philippensis. This was in order to announce the good news of his great victory and, at the same time, to honor the great Roman Empire’s accomplishment of justice, peace and security! The Pax Romana, together with Roman law and justice, is the great news that the Roman imperial ideology proclaimed–as the dawn of a new era for humanity, as the greatest good news ever heard! But like the establishment of the city of Philippi, the good news of Roman peace and justice was brought about through violence and war and maintained by force and the subjugation of people.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul announces the real good news, the gospel--God’s action to put the world right, to bring his peace and justice to this beautiful yet fallen and corrupted world. He has accomplished this not through violence and war but through the self-giving life of Jesus Christ. This is the astonishing story we find in Paul’s letter to the Philippians–the significant and wonderful yet costly journey of God’s redeeming the world and bringing his peace and justice for the entire creation… This is the good news of the gospel that we read in Philippians.

As is always the case, the Kingdom of Jesus stands in complete opposition to the kingdoms of this world. A city that was established through war and violence was transformed by the gospel of peace and the power of Agape love.

Agape love is where the journey begins for each of us. Encountering the unconditional, complete love of God for us is the beginning of our relationship with Him. His real love draws us to Himself and, as Pastor John said on Sunday, plants that seed of Agape love inside of us. It’s the beginning of our journey… but we can’t let it be the end. If Jesus loves me is where we stop, we starve the seed that God planted in our hearts. God is the one that plants the seed, and He also tends it, by the power of His Spirit. I don’t want to jump too far ahead in this series, but we’ll see when we get into chapter 2 of Philippians that,

“…it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:13 AMP)

He is at work in us, and it is He who creates within us the longing and the ability to live His way. But–as we discussed in our last series–it is possible for us to resist and to quench the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us. For a seed to grow, it must be watered, fed, exposed to light; as it begins to grow, it has to be pruned in order to bear the best fruit. If we are willing to submit to the process and understand that this seed of love was never meant to stay buried in the soil of our hearts but, rather, to grow and bear fruit to feed the world around us, then we’ll experience what Pastor John described on Sunday. Our love, gifted to us by our Heavenly Father, will grow. It will grow real. And that real love will change the reality of the world around us. Facts exist all around us. But truth always supersedes fact. Jesus is truth. He is love. And the truth of His love has the power to change any reality. Mine. Yours. And the world around us.

In his introduction to Philippians, Corneliu Constantineanu also writes, “Despite our tendency to limit redemption to our personal salvation and morality, redemption in the biblical narrative implies the entire creation, with the ultimate purpose of human flourishing and well-being for all”. I can’t help but connect his words to what Luanne wrote about the “fruits of righteousness” above:  “Righteousness in this sense comes from the root word meaning equity, which indicates that we are working to make things right for all people everywhere“.

It’s not about “me”. It must be about “us”. The proof that our love is real is that we don’t keep it to ourselves. Just as Paul shared in the joys of community, even from afar, we also are created to be in community, sharing in the goodness of God together, and working to bring the kingdom of our King to every corner of this world. It is the gospel–the gospel Paul brought to Philippi–the only good news with the power to change the world.

“Jesus is the gospel. Just as God brought the good news of justice and righteousness through Jesus, Christians will spread justice around them by following Christ’s example. As they are Christlike, they will be agents of God’s justice in this world. Only as they manifest their heavenly citizenship will they be responsible earthly citizens.” (Corneliu Constantineanu)

The church in Philippi understood what it meant to manifest their heavenly citizenship. It stood in stark contrast to the kingdom of the Romans, and it led them to live out their faith in the way of real love that changed the reality of their region. No earthly ideology has the power to connect all people and bring lasting peace. Only the good news of Jesus and His love for all of us can do that. He has planted the seed of His love in our hearts if we know Him–and left a perfect space for it if we haven’t met Him yet–and He stands ready to tend and grow that seed into flourishing plants that bear fruit to feed the nations. All He asks us to do is open ourselves to His careful hands and let Him. If we’ll lean into His words and His ways, we will begin to see the ways of His kingdom–that it’s never just for us individually. And as that knowledge and depth of insight grows, we’ll see transformed lives become transformed churches that God will use to transform the world. Because the Agape love of God lived out through the followers of Jesus will create the kind of body that Luanne said she desires to be a part of: a body that makes Jesus Christ attractive to ALL. I desire this, too. What about you? Will you join us?

–Laura

 

The Battle FOR You

Have you felt it? The battle pressing in? I know many of us have felt the battle raging with increased intensity as we have leaned into this spiritual warfare series. Perhaps it’s simply that our awareness of the ongoing battle has increased, not that the battles have actually gotten worse. Either way, I know I’m not the only one who has been feeling a little (or a lot…) weary. Heading into the fourth week of the series, I felt exhausted, a little beaten down, and definitely ready for fresh hope and energy for the journey.

Gratefully, that’s exactly what we received in Sunday’s message. Our series has turned a corner. During the first three weeks, we discovered, or were reminded, that the battle is real. We have an enemy and he hates God, and he hates us: all of humanity, God’s Image-bearers. And our enemy has a battle plan. He has perfected it. He uses it against every single one of us. He is emphatically, 100% against us. BUT… 

“…If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b)

Here’s the thing… the One who cast our enemy out of heaven like a bolt of lightning, He’s already won. We have talked about this every week, how we fight from victory, not for it. And while we feel the spiritual battle raging around us, we can rest in the truth that as much as our enemy is against us, our God is equally for us. And the proof of how for us our God is? The gift He’s given to us, the friend we have in the midst of the battle: His Holy Spirit. This is very welcome, hopeful, refreshing news–it’s extravagant, really–when the battle has left us feeling weary…

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby), that He may remain with you forever—The Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive (welcome, take to its heart), because it does not see Him or know and recognize Him. But you know and recognize Him, for He lives with you [constantly] and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans [comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, helpless]; I will come [back] to you. (John 14:16-18 AMPC)

Jesus said these words to His disciples as He was preparing them for what was to come. A few verses later, He talks about the Spirit again. Here are verses 26-27 from the Message paraphrase:

 The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.

I love that this version tells us that Jesus was leaving them “well and whole”. Spiritual wellness and wholeness are impossible without the presence of the Holy Spirit living within us and transforming us. Pastor John told us that the Spirit provides us with correction (John 16:13), constant wisdom (John 14:26), connection (John 15:26), courage (Acts 4:31), and companionship (John 14:27). I would offer one more “c” word that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit within us: completion.

“…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

How are we brought to completion on the day of Christ Jesus? Perhaps it’s through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit’s correction, constant wisdom, connection, courage and companionship… He desires to guide us, to remind us of all that Jesus said, to empower us, to set us free, and, ultimately, to give us life. To bring us into the fullness of life that we were created for, and to empower us to bring as many people as we can into that life with us. And it’s so obvious here… Satan’s entire battle plan is a counter-attack. He’s not on the offensive. He’s on the defensive, pushing back against every detail of our Father’s calculated and intricate plan for us. He knows what it means for him if we fully live into God’s plan–it means that his utter defeat is exposed to all. And our pride-filled enemy can’t stand the thought of that. The victory has already been won. Jesus sealed that up a long time ago. But while there are still people to deceive and hurt, our enemy will prowl around with the best battle plan he can come up with–a counter-attack to the way of the Spirit. So he seeks to blind us, steal the Word from us, stop us, set traps for us and, ultimately, destroy the life that the Spirit is cultivating within us.

It is vitally important that we see this accurately. The gift we’ve been given in the Holy Spirit, it’s mind-blowing. God Himself, not only with us, but in us. The beauty, the mystery, the power of this truth for us-I can’t quite find words to articulate the way my heart burns.

I don’t think I’ve ever understood this the way I do right now, in this moment… I was raised in an environment where I was painfully aware of the darkness, of the evil. I wrote about that a couple of weeks ago. I also wrote about how God revealed His light and His goodness to me. But I think I had this backwards in my mind… Like somehow, God was building a defense against the enemy’s attack. That’s not true at all. God has never been on the defensive. Every move has been calculated since the beginning of time, with the power of the Creator and the heart of a Father. And our enemy, he’s been scrambling to keep up. He does have power… and he does come against us. But I think I’ve credited him with far more ability and battle-savvy than he actually has. When I do that–when any of us do that–it puffs his ego and makes him seem like he’s more powerful than he actually is… And that’s what this warfare is all about when we boil it down. Our enemy doesn’t want us to know how much God is for us-how He’s always been for us. So he tries to keep us from discovering the truth for ourselves… I’ve taken the bait so many times… No more, Satan. Not today!

We stand in victory, on the power of Jesus’ Name, over a defeated enemy. It would serve me-and all of us-well to start seeing him differently, in light of the Truth. In reality, Satan is on life-support and our God is in control of the plug. One day He’ll pull it. And it will be over. But until then, we get to choose how much power we give him over our lives. Every time we lean into the power of the Holy Spirit living within us, we diminish Satan’s power a little more. When we commune with Him, trust His wisdom, His leading, and step out courageously, speaking as He gives us words, we take back ground we’ve handed over to our enemy. Pastor John said, “Your story is the truth and proof that Jesus is who He says He is“. When we speak up, not relying on ourselves but on the Spirit, and share our transformation stories, we assume our role as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) that will draw others to the life Jesus offers.

Pastor John told us that, “His Life is our light”. He read to us John 1:1-4. It says this:

 In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was present originally with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men. 

The life of Jesus is our light. Literally. The word translated “light” in John 1:4 is the very same word used in Matthew 5:14. His life is our light, as Pastor John said. And when we think about being the light of the world, we can flip the words: Our light is His life. We aren’t simply the “light of the world”. We are “His life to the world”. We carry His life within us in the Presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s power. Power enough to scatter every last remnant of darkness, if only we’ll live into God’s plan instead of playing into our enemy’s (terminal) hand…

–Laura

Creator God. Almighty God. Omniscient God. The One True God, The “God is love” God. The victorious God. The Trinitarian God. If you have a relationship with Jesus, 100% of God lives in you.  He doesn’t give Himself in pieces—it’s an unfathomable mystery. Even as I type those words, I have to sit, ponder, and let it sink in all over again. I often forget how highly esteemed we are and how the living God chooses to dwell within us. We are loved beyond our ability to comprehend, and in Him we have everything we need.

He is for us. He is for us. He is for us. He is for us.  

And if God is for us–who can be against us? (Romans 8:31b)  Greater is He who is IN you than he who is in the world. (1st John 4:4)

Laura reminded us of who the Holy Spirit is.  It is imperative that we acknowledge and rely upon His presence and gifts. We must lean into Him to understand truth, to be comforted, to be convicted when we are off base, to be restored, to be strengthened and empowered to be the light of Christ; the life of Christ to the world.

Contrasting the enemy with the Holy Spirit we see:

The enemy wants to blind us,  the Spirit wants to guide us.

The enemy wants to snatch God’s word from us–the Spirit wants to remind us of what Jesus taught.

The enemy (father of lies) wants to deceive us-the Spirit (of truth) wants to guide us into all truth.

The enemy sets traps for us to take us captive–The Spirit wants to connect us with God and set us free.

The enemy wants to stop us–The Spirit wants to empower us.

The enemy wants to destroy us–The Spirit wants to give us life.

Why on earth do we, do I, forget this?  Why do we keep falling for the traps?  Ugh!

I hate to admit it, but what Stephen said to the Pharisees can be true of us (me):

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51)  Ouch!!

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Paul gives us a beautifully simple reminder of how to to follow Christ when he says :

Rejoice always, pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt  but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil...May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  (1st Thess. 5:16-24)

I love those verses. It promises that God is faithful, and that He will work from the inside out in our lives transforming us into people who live in a way that bring glory to Him. Part of that plan is to reject evil and keep the flame of the Holy Spirit burning within us. Without the Holy Spirit, our lives will never be transformed. At the very best we can modify our own behavior to make it look like we’re “doing” the right thing (which typically leads to comparison and judgment, those in and those out), but true transformation and Christlikeness comes from within as we submit to the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the process is a mystery.

I have a dear friend who was in a battle for his life last year. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia; within hours he was in a hospital four hours away from home fighting for his life. Two days prior, he had been at church worshipping with us like normal. We could not “see” the disease or the regeneration of disease ridden cells in his body, but they were there looping toxicity throughout his body over and over and over. His only hope for survival was a set of healthy blood cells that would take over and produce life giving cells in him. In order to get to the point where he could receive the new cells, his own diseased cells had to be destroyed. It was a hard and excruciating process-a death. Other life-threatening illnesses attacked his body while he was in his weakened state. He had to receive blood transfusions from time to time in order to remain alive, and a perfect donor match had to be found.

His brother ended up being the perfect donor, so on the day that my friend’s own cell count was at zero, some of his brother’s stem cells were injected into him. My friend had to remain close to the hospital four hours away from home for months. The medical staff checked him regularly to see if his body would reject the new stem cells or start reproducing the new life giving stem cells that he had received. We all rejoiced when he was finally able to come home.

Over the last half year, we have all been amazed at some of the things that have happened that none of us expected– one of which is as his hair has grown back in, it is the color of his brother’s hair. We laugh about that a good bit. He’s being transformed from the inside out, and there is outward evidence of the inner transformation.

Last week he got the results of his one year biopsy. He has none of his own original cells, all of his cells are his brother’s. He is cancer free! I was asking him about the process last Sunday; he told me that he can explain some of it, but the rest is mystery.

What a perfect illustration for us. We are spiritually dead and separated from God with  death coursing through our veins and no hope of healing ourselves. Jesus came to be with us and to be in us. When we come into relationship with Him, He gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. It’s our spiritual stem cell transplant. As we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives, more and more of His “cells” multiply in us.  Our goal is to be crucified with Christ (so that) it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (Gal. 2:20)  

Can we reject? Can we resist? Can we fight against? Can we quench? Yes. And we all do sometimes. We can all be stiff-necked. We can all be buried in self-centeredness. We can all be blinded by culture and tradition and religion over relationship. But just like my friend, when we surrender to the work of the Spirit within us, when we are being healed from within, there will be outward evidence and it looks like this…

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

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Phil. 2:13 NLT)

And the key:

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

The strength is the Lord’s. The battle is the Lord’s. The victory is the Lord’s. He is IN us. He is FOR us. He is WITH us. And part of the evidence of His presence in our lives is knowing that He is for everyone else too. The ultimate battle is about making His love known. The enemy, our accuser, wants to keep us from from that; he wants us sidetracked and defeated…but guess what? He is defeated by your story with Jesus:

 “Your story is the truth and proof that Jesus is who He says He is“.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony... (Rev. 12:10-11)

What has God done for you? Can you look back and see that you are not who you used to be? Have you surrendered your ways to the working of the Holy Spirit within you? Is there outward evidence of the inner working of the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you willing to share your story in order to defeat the enemy and bring glory to God? Will you carry His light, His life to those around you? It’s the only way the world will be changed. Are you in?

–Luanne

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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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The Dailies #1: Dependency

Give us today our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

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

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

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

John read this passage out of Deuteronomy:

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

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

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

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They either throw it away… or they give it away

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

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

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

–Laura

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

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

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

                                                  I AM.  

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne

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Imagine Living a New Way

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.               -Colossians 1:13-14 NIV

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.                                                                                                                      -2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

In Sunday’s sermon, John challenged us to “imagine if we lived from our hearts what we know in our heads”. He explained that the “old” that has “passed away” is the power of sin and the practices of self. I love the verse that he used to illustrate this point. This is how Romans 6:6 reads in the Message paraphrase:

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call!

We were reminded that God sees us through what Christ did for us on the cross. The blood of Jesus did not merely “cover” sin, like the blood of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament had done. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross completely removed our sin, so that when God looks at us, he sees us as “holy, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).

John then outlined that the “new” that has come includes these four things:

  1. A new LIFE
  2. A new IMAGE
  3. A new SPIRIT
  4. A SECOND CHANCE    

A myriad of thoughts swirled as I listened to verses and truths that I have known in my head-but perhaps never fully realized in my heart. It would take far too many pages to discuss all of the things that came to mind, but one in particular stands out to me.

When John spoke of the new Spirit we receive in Christ, he read Ezekiel 11:19-20 (ESV):

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

As I listened to the words of this verse, three immediately grabbed my attention:

“that they may”

These words took me to another verse that I love that includes the same three words.

1 Peter 2:9 reads:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

In both verses these words serve as connecting words and it’s easy-at first glance-to miss their significance.

Imagine if “that they may” in the Ezekiel verse was replaced with “so they must”. It would change the tone of the entire verse. The same is true in the 1 Peter verse. It is the three connecting words that show us God’s heart-and his deep love-for us. The fact that God promises to give us His very own Spirit would, on its own, be sufficient to show us His goodness. Then He tells us that He removes our hearts of stone-essentially DEAD hearts, because stone isn’t alive (see Ephesians 2:4-5)-and give us the hearts we are meant to have, living hearts of flesh. Again, what a promise! But what comes next is what shocks my heart to its knees…

that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them”   

What’s the big deal? Why does this have me so hung up on the goodness of our God? Isn’t this another verse about obedience and rules?

Friends, this is GOD. The God who made us, grieved when we turned from Him, sent His very own Son to make a way for us to come back to Him. He is the Almighty, the Holy One. He holds all of time in His hands.

And still, as He did in the very beginning, He lets us choose. He gives us our freedom.

Knowing our propensity to turn to other gods and our inclination to wander, because of His great love for us, God gives us the freedom to choose to live His way, to live into His very best for us…

…or not to.

1 Peter 2:9 details our identity in Jesus. We are told we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” that we may declare His praises. Not that we “should”, “must”, “ought to”. He doesn’t demand it.

We may.

We get to choose. My mind can’t well comprehend a love that big. God is, well, GOD. He could demand our obedience, demand our allegiance, force us to do life His way. But because He desires authentic relationship with us, He instead gives us the ultimate gift of love: freedom.

God has “delivered us out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son”, but we can choose to live with the burden of our sin on us. Just as “we may” choose God’s way, “we may” also choose to continue trying to live in our own power (which really isn’t power at all), as inhabitants of the Kingdom, but still covered in the darkness we refuse to let go of.

John asked a question, and I will put it before us again here:

“Would you like to live in a whole new way?”

If your answer is yes, as mine is, there is great news for us:

We may.

–Laura                

I love what Laura pointed out…that we may… we have a choice.

John also pointed out “choice”. He reminded us of Romans 6:6 which states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  John highlighted that a slave has no choice.

Before we come into relationship with Christ, we are mastered by sin. After we come into a relationship with Christ, God allows us to choose whether to live in His freedom, or remain stuck with one foot in the dominion of darkness and one foot in His kingdom. Galatians 5:1 tells us that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Like Laura said,  the freedom is there, but it will not be forced upon us. God does not want to coerce us into a false love; He desires authentic relationship with us in which we choose Him because we love Him.

So, how does the freedom thing work? It’s certainly not in striving to be good. That’s just another heavy weight. Just as I can’t deal with sin on my own, I also can’t live a life worthy of Christ on my own.  In order for me to live in freedom, I have to submit myself to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, AND believe that what God says about me in His word is true.

As John was speaking, many of the scriptures he was sharing were swirling and  intertwining in my mind, forming a picture that I hope I can put into words.

Colossians 3:9-10 “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”

Ephesians 3: 17b-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 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.”

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith  in the Son  of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Colossians 1:22 “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” 

Going backward through the verses I just typed out…The name Satan means “prosecutor”.  He is constantly throwing accusations at us. We can choose to believe him, whose other name is the father of lies (John 8:44), or choose to believe our Defender, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

God, our Defender sees us as holy and without blemish because Christ lives in us.  My role, your role, in all of this is to have faith to believe it’s true. To live by faith. Not faith in myself or my behaviors, but faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross. My sins, your sins paid for–once for all. His holiness, His perfection given to me, to you. He “loved me and gave himself for me” and the key to this freedom life is “to know this love that surpasses knowledge”,  to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep” is that love and to live “rooted and established”  in that love. If I am rooted and established in that love, I am putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge” (knowledge of His love)  Do you see that verb tense? Being renewed. It is an ongoing action. And what is the ongoing, renewing knowledge doing? It is causing me to become more like Him.

He has done the hard part. My part is to draw close to Him, to know His love, to love Him in return, to allow His Spirit to work in my life, to let Him challenge and change me, and to follow Him wherever He leads.

I used to try to “behave” myself into being godly. It was exhausting and ineffective. We cannot “try” ourselves into change. Only God can change us, and He does it through our relationship with Him as we draw near, as we listen to His voice and respond in obedience to the prompting of His Spirit. I don’t know how He does it, but I do know that I am not who I used to be, and I know many others who would say the same. As we abide in Him, our lives become different (John 15:4-5), and it is beautiful.

How about you? Have you tasted His freedom? Have you experienced His transforming power working in your life? Are you being renewed in the knowledge of His love? Can you look back and see that you are not who you used to be?

We have been rescued–moved from one place to another, one reality to another, death to life. We have been made new. Are we living like it’s true?

–Luanne

 

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Give to God

“What can you give to God that He didn’t create and He wants from you?”

The answer to this question that John put before us on Sunday is our sin.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about giving God a gift–especially at Christmastime, when every gift is beautifully wrapped and tied with shiny ribbon–I don’t envision the box containing the ugliest thing I have. I think of things like time, gratitude, worship, love… Those are all things I want to give to my God.

But He already has those things. He created all of them. All of time-past, present and future-He holds in His hands. He has eternity at His disposal. And thanks and praise? He doesn’t need that from me either. I know He desires our praise, and loves a grateful heart but, if I don’t praise Him, the rocks will cry out. His created objects will praise Him if we don’t. He is the author of worship, too. And love? Well, God is love in its fullest form. We only love because He first loved us. He created love, He is love… so He doesn’t need that either.

But there is that one thing God didn’t create. That’s our sin. And while He doesn’t need it, I absolutely agree that He wants it.

Why in the world would God want our nasty, ugly sin? Our hidden addictions? Our monumental failures?

Because He wants to have a relationship with us. With me. With you. And that sin? It separates us from Him. It hinders our relationship. And I believe that it grieves the heart of God when there’s junk between us. Jesus already died for all the junk. If we are followers of Jesus, God has already removed that sin from us–as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

But sometimes we hang on, don’t we? We white-knuckle that sin and refuse to let. it. go.

Why? There are a lot of reasons…

Guilt. Shame. Fear. Unbelief that all of our sin really has been forgiven. It can be one of these things or a variety of others. We all have our reasons why we “can’t” let it go. But when we refuse to give God our sin, we are hurting ourselves and erecting a barrier between our hearts and the heart of the One who desires that we live abundant, fruitful lives in relationship with Him.

I read a quote a couple of weeks ago that came to mind while I listened to yesterday’s sermon. It’s from Martin Luther and it hasn’t left my mind since I read it:

“If you try to deal with your sin in your conscience, let it remain there, and continue to look at it in your heart, your sins will become too strong for you. They will seem to live forever. But when you think of your sins as being on Christ and boldly believe that he conquered them through his resurrection, then they are dead and gone. Sin can’t remain on Christ. His resurrection swallowed sin up.”

These words shook my world up a bit. More than a bit. If our sin was swallowed up in the grave when Jesus was raised from the dead, then hanging onto it is like trying to excavate 2,000 years of dirt and rock on our own, dig through the dust of sin that is long gone and attempt to find our particles and piece them back together. It’s not just a daunting task, it’s impossible. Our sins died with Jesus and stayed buried deep in the earth when he rose again. If we’re in Him, our sins are gone. But if we don’t hand over our guilty consciences and believe that that’s true, we’re building a wall between us and God. A wall that can’t be penetrated by any of the other gifts that we could bring Him. We can’t worship our way through our sin wall. No amount of thanks or praise will break it down. Our attempts at loving God won’t destroy it.

The only way to break our sin wall is to let the blood of Jesus be the gift wrapping that covers it. That’s the only way to give our sin to God anyway-wrapped in the blood of His Son who already paid for the gift with the only acceptable form of payment. His life. And when we boldly believe that our sin has been wrapped in the blood of Jesus, given to God and permanently removed from us, we receive a gift in return. The gift we want as much as God wants it for us, even if we don’t realize we do-a free, unhindered, everlasting relationship with our Creator.

Have you given God your sin? Your guilt? Your shame? Have I? What keeps us hanging on to what’s been buried in the grave? I hope and pray that, as this year comes to a close and a new one begins, we can all give God those things that keep us from Him.

–Laura

Like Laura, when I think about the answer to John’s question from Sunday–that God wants my sin, it causes me to want to push back. I, too, want to give Him my gratitude, my worship, my love, my life, and I believe that He is pleased with those offerings; however, if I don’t start at the cross, bringing my sin and allowing it to be wrapped up in the blood of Christ and offered to God, then the barrier between God and me because of my sin keeps me from being able to bring all of the other things that I want to bring. If I think about it even further, my gratitude, my worship, my love, my life are all responses to the fact that I can take my sin to Him, that He doesn’t turn me away, but he receives the “gift” of my sin, and makes me clean and whole in His sight.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Think about that for a moment. What kind of beautiful craziness is this? Jesus takes my sin, he receives my gift, and I get to be made right, no longer guilty in the eyes of God.

Romans 8:1 tells us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God doesn’t require penance for our sin, He doesn’t disqualify us from His kingdom or His service because of our sin, instead He embraces our sin, lays it upon Jesus and stamps it “paid in full”. In other words, it is taken care of and we don’t have to live with guilt. What kind of love is this??!!

My part is to bring it to Him, to confess my sin, and to trust that what His word says about me is true. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:9). There it is again, we confess, we bring it to Him, and He purifies us. The original word “confess” in the Greek is omologomen, which actually means “to speak the same, to agree”, and it is important to note that the original verb form of the word “confess” is a continuing action. I love that definition. It means that I can bring my sin to God, acknowledging it and agreeing with Him that my actions, my thoughts, my words, whatever it was, were not in line with what He desires. It is not an action of self-loathing or of self-shaming, but of agreement that brings me back into fellowship with the God I love and who loves me more than I will ever be able to comprehend, AND it is ongoing. Daily confession is a great practice. Sitting in the presence of God, asking His Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us areas that we need to confess keeps us in close fellowship with God.  I don’t know about you, but I have a running dialogue with God that goes on all day long-and there are many moments of confession that happen during the course of the day.

I could go on and on about this, because when we “get it” freedom in Christ becomes a reality, and life is never the same. Bringing the gift of my sin to God is actually the most beautiful gift I could give to Him. He paid a high price for that gift. Why? Because He loves us. That’s it. Let that sink in deep. You are loved. You can approach God with the “gift” of your sin, without fear of condemnation, because it has already been paid for in full. It is no longer yours to carry. Give it to Him, and receive fellowship with God in return.

“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!” (It is Well With My Soul; Horatio Spafford)

Thoughts?

-Luanne

 

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