Joy: Press On; Grow

Look at how much encouragement you’ve found in your relationship with the Anointed One! You are filled to overflowing with his comforting love. You have experienced a deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit and have felt his tender affection and mercy. So I’m asking you, my friends, that you be joined together in perfect unity—with one heart, one passion, and united in one love. Walk together with one harmonious purpose and you will fill my heart with unbounded joy. (Ph. 2:1-2 TPT)

Our passage this week is actually from Philippians 3, and we’ll get there, but I think it is important to sit with Philippians 2:1-2 for a moment. Reflect on your relationship with Jesus, the Anointed One. Has it encouraged you? Are you filled to overflowing with his comforting love? Are you experiencing a deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit? Have you felt the Spirit’s tender affection and mercy? If not, take some time and ask God to meet you in this space.

It’s been a hard year on many fronts. I have found myself wanting to pull away, to self-protect, to “shrink” many times during this last twelve months; however, when I take the time to lean into God (who Richard Rohr refers to as The Trinity of Love), and spend time in that intentional space, I soften. The softening allows me to get more in touch with my actual feelings, and allows me to be more human being than doing. The softening allows us to move toward being joined together in perfect unity with one heart, one passion, and united in love. The softening allows us to move toward walking together with one harmonious purpose. Those are the things that filled the Apostle Paul’s heart with unbounded joy. Why? Because the people of Jesus look like Jesus and the world experiences the joy of Jesus.

Philippians 2 continues with Paul encouraging the Philippians to be imitators of Christ and what that looks like. It’s always worth it to read through that passage; however, in this blog post we will move on to Chapter 3.

As weird as it seems, Pastor John has chosen Paul’s letter to the Philippians for our Advent series. Why? Because a recurrent theme in this letter is joy. On the night of Jesus’ human birth, an angel spoke to the shepherds and said: “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” (Luke 2:10). We are part of the all people who are offered the gift of great joy because Jesus lives in and among us. Paul had experienced that joy personally, and his desire was for everyone to experience the joy that comes with knowing Christ.

Chapter 3 begins with: My beloved ones, don’t ever limit your joy or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing our Lord Jesus!

Do you ever limit your joy? I do. Why do we do that? Researcher and author Brené Brown says of joy: “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.” In other words, we limit our joy. Brown says people who have a “profound capacity for joy” are those who don’t shy away from joy but instead feel grateful in the joy. She writes: “Instead of using [joy] as a warning to start practicing disaster, they use it as a reminder to practice gratitude.” Hmmm. Sounds similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Without question, life is hard, bad things happen, and leaning into joy is hard. All true. Or is it? It’s true if we believe joy is dependent upon us and our circumstances. How did Paul hang on to joy? How did Paul hang onto joy while writing this letter from a Roman prison. How did Paul hang on to joy while he was isolated from people he loves. Paul was a “go-getter”, a guy on the move, yet had been stopped in his tracks and locked up. How can he have joy? What nuggets does he teach us in chapter 3? Let’s look.

Paul writes: I don’t mind repeating what I’ve already written you because it protects you—  beware of those religious hypocrites who teach that you should be circumcised to please God.  For we have already experienced “heart-circumcision,” and we worship God in the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit, not in laws and religious duties. We are those who boast in what Jesus Christ has done, and not in what we can accomplish in our own strength. (3:1b-3)

I imagine in every generation since Christ’s ascension there have been those who want to lay down a list of rules for Jesus’ followers. Things like: you have to pray these words, you have to study the Bible this way, you have to go to this type of church, you have to avoid these certain behaviors, you have to avoid these certain people, you have to do it like us or you’re doing it wrong. Paul says–don’t fall for that. We don’t worship God through a set of prescribed rules…we worship God in the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on to describe how very good he was at following all the religious rules–if anyone could boast in doing it right (according to man-made standards), it was him. I don’t know if we can fully grasp how privileged and powerful Paul was–and how much he used that privilege and power to elevate himself and oppress those who worshiped differently than he did, especially those who had met Jesus. And then, Paul met Jesus. His encounter with Jesus changed the entire trajectory of his life–so much so that he writes to his Philippian friends: Yet all of the accomplishments that I once took credit for, I’ve now forsaken them and I regard it all as nothing compared to the delight of experiencing Jesus Christ as my Lord!  To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness. My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own “righteousness” based in keeping the written Law. My “righteousness” will be his, based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ... I continually long to know the wonders of Jesus more fully…(3: 7-9, 10a TPT)

Wow! This is Paul’s secret. He is completely enamored with Jesus. He has experienced freedom from religious law, and has come alive in Christ. Oh, Lord Jesus–may this be our experience with you as well!

Paul admits: I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover. I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this; however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead.  I run straight for the divine invitationlet us all advance together to reach this victory-prize, following one path with one passion. (3: 12-14a; 16 TPT)

Or in the more familiar language of the NIV:  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me

Joy comes from pressing on toward Jesus. Joy comes from knowing Jesus. Joy comes from pursuing Jesus. Joy comes in Jesus. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Jesus. Joy can be experienced no matter the circumstances because joy is based in Jesus.

One more thing before I pass the reins to Laura–Paul’s letter makes it abundantly clear that a relationship with Jesus is dynamic; it is not static. When we are in a real relationship with Jesus, we have a deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit. Friendships that deepen are friendships that grow and change over time. To be a Christian, to be a Christ follower, means to be one who grows and changes over time. This growth happens as we stay close to Christ, rooted in Christ, grounded in Christ.

As we grow in Christ, our fruit will look like Christ, and the things Paul wrote about in Philippians 2:2 will happen. Our personal deepening friendships with the Holy Spirit will allow us to be joined together in perfect unity—with one heart, one passion, and united in one love. [We will] walk together with one harmonious purpose (and you will fill my heart with unbounded joy)...And our hearts will be filled with unbounded joy and we will fill the world with unbounded joy by living out the good news that because Jesus came to earth, great joy is available to all of us.

And friends–it’s not about obeying man-made religious laws, or trying to make all of Jesus’ followers across the nation and across the globe, who represent every ethnic group and culture look the same, act the same, interpret scripture the same, sing the same songs, etc. It’s about rejoicing in the freedom that we and others have found as we experience an ever deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit. It’s about learning with and from one another. It’s about growing to love Jesus who is reflected in all of this diversity and beauty across the earth. It’s about loving others and leaning in to the things that matter to God’s heart. We are free to do all of this. It is for freedom Christ has set us free–free to be uniquely who we’ve been designed to be–and free to reflect an aspect of his nature and character through our unique design. This kind of freedom, that comes from our deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit, is full of great joy and that is very good news.

–Luanne

What does it mean to know someone? We use the word “know” often in conversation to describe so many different situations. It is important as we consider this beautiful passage from Paul that we have a grasp on what “knowing” meant to him. Chapter three begins with this verse:

My beloved ones, don’t ever limit your joy or fail to rejoice in the wonderful experience of knowing our Lord Jesus! (TPT)

The word Paul uses in this verse has a root word in the Greek that means: to learn to know; come to know; get a knowledge of; perceive, feel; to become known; to become acquainted with. The same word was also used as a Jewish idiom to refer to sexual intercourse–an interesting point when we consider how many times the Bible records Jesus–who was raised Jewish–using this word. I mention this to emphasize the depth of connection implied with this kind of knowing. The intimacy and vulnerability the word carries are worth noticing here. Here are a few of the times Jesus used this same word:

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.” (John 10:14-15a, MSG)

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” ( John 14:7, NIV)

And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Savior, the Holy Spirit of Truth, who will be to you a friend just like me—and he will never leave you. The world won’t receive him because they can’t see him or know him. But you will know him intimately, because he will make his home in you and will live inside you.

(John 14:16-17, TPT)

Eternal life means to know and experience you as the only true God, and to know and experience Jesus Christ, as the Son whom you have sent. (John 17:3, TPT)

But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May he receive all the glory both now and until the day eternity begins. Amen! (2 Peter 3:18, TPT)

All of these verses speak of an intimate knowing, an ongoing relationship. Take a look at this footnote included in The Passion Translation of the 2 Peter verse:

“The Aramaic does not use the imperative but makes it more of a decree: “You continue to be nourished in grace and in the intimate knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah, and of God the Father.” Spiritual growth is yielding to the grace of God and having passion to know Jesus Christ intimately. In time, we grow into his beautiful image.”

Spiritual growth is yielding to the grace of God and having passion to know Jesus Christ intimately... Read that again… Maybe one more time… How gorgeous is that? We grow spiritually as we yield–what does that mean here? In The Greek, yield simply means I give way. Webster’s unabridged dictionary expands the definition: to admit to be true; to allow, permit, grant passage to; to comply with; cease opposition; to be no longer a hindrance to…

You all, this is not where I was going–I did not expect to find this little footnote in a verse I wasn’t even looking for, but here it is, so we’re going to stay here a minute… Spiritual growth happens when we choose to no longer be a hindrance to, to cease opposition toward, to grant passage… to what, again? The grace of God. Spiritual growth happens when we grant passage to the grace of God. To grant passage to where? To ourselves. There was a second part, too… having passion to know Jesus Christ intimately.” Where does passion to know Jesus come from? A collision with Grace. Somewhere we collide with Grace, and we get to choose whether we oppose and hinder the work of Grace in our lives, or grant Grace passage into the depths of us. When we choose to admit that God’s grace is true and we comply with that truth, our passion to know Jesus intimately grows. And then? In time, we grow into his beautiful image.”

Pastor John described this intimacy as “connection that pulls you into relationship.” I love that. We all know what that’s like, right? When you make a connection, and something about that point of contact draws you deeper, pulls at you to come back, come closer, connect again. It is how relationships are born, and with every point of connection, relationships grow.

Luanne wrote it this way, “Paul’s letter makes it abundantly clear that a relationship with Jesus is dynamic; it is not static. When we are in a real relationship with Jesus, we have a deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit. Friendships that deepen are friendships that grow and change over time. To be a Christian, to be a Christ follower, means to be one who grows and changes over time…”

I will wrap this up soon, but I want to go back to one of the definitions of the root word Paul used that I mentioned earlier, to become known.” I think this one scares us a bit. I know it can make me uneasy. And when we’re thinking about human relationships, there’s good reason for that discomfort. Allowing oneself to become known–intimately known–by another involves risk. It is profoundly vulnerable, and leaves us woundable, which is really what vulnerable means: “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” (Oxford Dictionary) Who among us wants to sign up for that?? I suspect that some of you can feel a tightening in your chest as you read that definition. Maybe that’s just me…

Putting ourselves in a position that we are fully aware leaves us open to attack, harm, pain, betrayal…we resist it. I resist it. But if we refuse to be vulnerable, to pull away–like Luanne wrote about in the beginning of her portion–rather than lean in, we cannot experience the intimacy that only comes with being soft, open, exposed. Sometimes, with one another, we will regret our choice to be vulnerable. Sometimes we will be hurt. Sometimes we will wish we hadn’t opened so far, hadn’t let someone so close. But, sometimes… we’ll find connection. It’s what we crave. It’s what we are all built for–whether we want to admit it or not. Because it’s what we already have, what existed in the Trinity of Love before any of us ever came to be. It is the nature of God, the nature of Love itself. When we lean into the possibility of connection with one another, it can go either way. We will be hurt and disappointed at times. But when we lean into connection with Jesus, when we’re moved by Grace toward deeper intimacy with the Living Expression (John 1, TPT) alive within us, we will not be left wanting.

There is a Love who knows us fully, because that Love formed us, lives within us, and wants us–always. Love pursues us and keeps coming back for us–Love never rejects us. There is nothing hidden from Love’s sight, nothing so ugly within us to make Love turn away, because we were seen and known before we came to be–we have never once been out of Love’s gaze. We don’t have to be afraid, we are already known–that side of the relationship is not a mystery. Jesus has chosen to know us, fully, in every intricacy that makes us each who we are. But we don’t yet know him fully. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV) There is mystery to explore, there are treasures to discover as we grow in knowing Jesus. If we embrace the mystery, continue to yield to Grace, and if we are passionate about knowing Jesus intimately, we will grow in our knowledge of him, in our relationship with him, and into his beautiful image. What a powerful, lavish love. I am kind of undone by it all. Within a love like this, there is fullness of joy–despite what is going on around us. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he spoke these words:

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. (John 15:9-11, MSG, emphasis mine)

That is my prayer for us as we continue on in this season of Advent, that we will make ourselves at home in Jesus’ love, that his joy will be our joy, and that our joy will be whole and complete as we remain intimately at home in him.

May you be blessed with fullness of joy as you journey, friends.

–Laura

Fullness of Joy 16 – "God > Our Hearts" - Cross Connection Church

Stories

 

 

Communion: derived from com “with”, and  unus “oneness, union”

When Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, he was making a grand statement. The word thanks in this passage (Luke 22:19)  is the Greek word eucharisteo which literally means thanks and grace. If you’ve read Ann Voskamp’s beautiful book One Thousand Gifts you know that she breaks down that word by telling us that

-the root word of eucharisteo is charis– the Greek word for grace;

-the root word of charis is chara, the Greek word for joy.

So grace, giving thanks, and joy are all tied up in this one word. Jesus gave thanks—this incredible grace recognizing, rooted in joy thanks–right before he broke the bread. Right before he said “This is my body broken for you.” less than 24 hours before he would be hanging broken on a cross offering himself for us in a very literal, grace filled way.

John shared his personal story with us, told us about the Sunday morning a little over six years ago when he had to confess his sin before the church, and the beautiful way that Jesus came to him in a vision later that day, offering John communion–the bread, the cup–and John said that Jesus was not mad at him, but offered communion with grace, with warmth, with compassion. Jesus came to John in his brokenness.

We were in a dark season, John and I. He was beginning to find freedom and healing once his sin was brought out into the light. I, on the other hand, entered the darkest season of my adult life. Twice I contemplated suicide. When I realized that I could not end my own life, I begged God to kill me. I begged Him for weeks. He said no. Then I begged Him to release me from my vows. He again said no. So I yelled at Him, then do not waste this pain!!  I did not know how I was going to make it through that season of my life. I couldn’t imagine ever experiencing joy again.  But just like Jesus met John in his brokenness, he met me too.

It was winter, the days were short. After work I would go to my room, turn off the lights, turn on the electric fireplace, lay on the floor in the dark with worship music on and cry, and pray, and listen. I can’t describe what happened, but Jesus was there. I was not alone. He ministered to me in my brokenness. He met me where I was. He didn’t condemn me for being broken, for being devastated. For about a month he just sat with me. Then, one night, the song “Dance With Me oh Lover of My Soul” came on, and just like John’s vision of Jesus offering him communion, I had a vision of Jesus with his hand stretched out to me asking me to dance. I got up off the floor and danced with Jesus. I can’t explain that, but I can tell you that it was a holy moment, and the first moment that light began to enter my darkness.

Brokenness. None of us desire it. But Jesus, in His brokenness invited us into real life. His broken body, his poured out blood are an invitation to take off our masks, enter in just as we are, accept his extended hand, see this communion for what it is–Jesus’ marriage proposal to us. And we get to respond by eating the bread and drinking the cup as a way of saying “Jesus, I accept  your life and I give you mine in return.”

His extended hand offering a broken man communion. His extended hand offering a broken woman a dance to the song of all songs. His extended hand offered to you, asking you to remove your mask, and enter into the most beautiful relationship ever. Grace. Thanksgiving. Joy. Will you accept? Will you offer yourself in return? Will you enter in?

–Luanne

In January 2012, I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, that Luanne referenced. It changed my life. For real. I had never heard the word “eucharisteo” before–now I wear a bracelet almost every day that bears the inscription. Because I don’t ever want to forget. I don’t want to forget that gratitude and grace and joy-they all come together at the Eucharist, the table of our Lord’s Supper. I don’t want to forget that gratitude precedes the miracle every. single. time. I don’t want to forget that naming everyday graces as gifts-the daily practice of thanksgiving-reorients my heart toward the Giver of everything, of every breath I take… It became part of the fabric of my heart, the rhythm of my life. And then, life got really hard. Really, really hard. As I thought through what I would write this week, I remembered a piece I wrote three years ago, called “The Dance of Grief and Gratitude”.  Interestingly, I even used the same scripture in it that John used in his sermon this week. So, I thought I would share some excerpts from that piece here-a window into my heart during a time when I was violently wrestling with brokenness and gratitude and how in the world they went together. God had asked me during that season, more than once, if I would thank Him now, when my world was broken-when I was desperately broken, too. I was vehemently opposed. This is a glimpse into my process through my dark night of the soul…

“I forgot. As time passed, I started to forget. This practice of gratitude, of counting gifts, remembering His goodness, it became a “sometimes” practice. And by the time my life began to turn a corner and loss started to come into view, my vision was cloudy and I had soul-amnesia. I didn’t hold fast to the truth of who God is and all He has done. I didn’t take hold of the truth of His goodness in everything.

So when I grieved the loss of a perceived calling, when I grieved the recurrence of a monster disease and eventually the early death of my precious mother, the last thing I wanted to do was thank this God who had allowed the pain that tore my heart and soul into a million tattered pieces…but…

True gratitude requires death. Death to myself, to my own will, to the way I would do things if it were up to me. True gratitude recognizes that each moment we are given, full of things we perceive as good or full of what we would call bad, is a gift from the hands of our Father. Not one breath is guaranteed. Every second is grace.

Every second? Did I really believe that?

As I tried to come to grips with the freshly re-surfaced question, I re-read words that I had forgotten…

‘ “On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it…” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). Jesus, on the night before the driving hammer and iron piercing through ligament and sinew, receives what God offers as grace…? Oh. Facing the abandonment of God Himself, Jesus offers thanksgiving for even that which will break Him and crush Him and wound Him and yield a bounty of joy.’ (One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp)

Jesus gave thanks with the cross in view. With death creeping ever closer. With the knowledge of all that he would face in a matter of hours. He opened His hands, and not only did He receive the bitter, the hard that God had given, but He did so with a heart full of thanks.

On the next page of Ann’s book, she writes, “The Eucharist invites us to give thanks for the dying. To participate in His death with our own daily dying and give thanks for it… I lay the torn bread on the tongue and I remember and press it to the roof of my mouth and the bread melts and I give thanks for the dying”.

I give thanks for the dying…

How, Lord? How do I give thanks for the dying? How do I say thank you for pain, disease and death? For facing the rest of my life without my Mom? How do I do that?

Ephesians 5:20 says ‘…always giving thanks to God the Father for all things…’. All things. Even this.

The tears fall raw and wild as I remember words I read in my Mom’s journal not long after she died. ‘Thank you, God, for the RA and the Pulmonary Fibrosis.’ I remembered her last few days with us, her understanding and acceptance of what was ahead. She said, more times than I could possibly count, ‘Glory to God for the life that I’ve lived. I choose to live for Him-whether it’s here or in Heaven’. And she meant it. She understood that we all have an expiration date, that death is guaranteed as a result of life. And she thanked God for it all. Even for the murderous disease that took her life…

To respond to every moment that flows from the hands of God with gratitude is the hardest thing of all. To see every moment as grace-every single second-is anything but easy. Because it is an opening of my hands to receive whatever God chooses to give, whether bitter or sweet to my tongue. It says, ‘You alone are God. I am not. I trust you enough to take you at your Word. That you are a good God. Purely good. And the things in life that don’t feel good now, you can make good out of those, too’. When I respond to God with gratitude, I lower myself. I remember that I don’t deserve anything. I don’t deserve another breath…but He gives it. I don’t deserve any grace… “But He gives more grace” (James 4:6a) I am reminded that I was bought with a price by a God-man who gave thanks for all things, even in death, and how could I ever be anything but grateful when I’ve been given a gift like that?”

I wish I could say that in the three years since I wrote that, I haven’t forgotten. But I have. I do. Sometimes, I forget the power of eucharisteo, forget to live grateful and aware of the gifts that God gives. Sometimes, I pick up a mask and slap it on-covering the image of Jesus that’s being forged in me as I learn to live fully alive in Him. I had to lay one down today, in fact. Before I came to the table, I came to the feet of my Jesus and confessed again my brokenness, this mask I had picked up. I laid my heart before Him and do you know what happened? He met me in that space. He was there drawing me long before I made the decision to come. It’s what He always does. He is always inviting, always beckoning us to come to the table…

When we are most broken, Jesus offers us His broken body and spilled blood to fill in and repair our most shattered places. He comes to us, the ever-faithful groom, and He lifts the veil of all of our masks, and extends the invitation again: “Will you take all that I am and let it invade and cover and complete all that you are not? Will you give me your broken, depleted, sin-stained life so that I can give you my abundant, whole, forever life? Will you embrace dying to yourself so that you can wake to your real, unmasked life in me? Will you? I choose you-in all of your brokenness-to be my beloved bride-do you take me to be your groom?”

What response can our broken, tattered hearts give but a humbled and grateful, “I do”?

–Laura

Image result for bread and cup

Why Is It…?

Why is it so hard to love others?

Ron opened this week’s message with this question. Scripture is full of the Jesus’ mandate to love each other. In Mark 12:31, He tells us that after loving God, there is only one other commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself”. In John 13:34-35, He tells us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another“. And in Matthew 5:44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven”. And in John 15:12, Jesus says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we get the idea. Jesus was pretty clear. We are to love one another.

So, why is it so hard? Ron gave us four reasons why it is challenging to love others:

We have to become vulnerable. 

We risk being rejected

It requires removing conditional barriers.

Some have never experienced authentic love.

When we choose vulnerability, we put our well-being in someone else’s hands. Becoming vulnerable not only requires lowering our defenses–it requires us to completely lay them aside, to open ourselves up to the possibility of being wounded. One way we can be wounded in our vulnerability comes in the form of rejection. I don’t know about you, but there is little else that has wounded me as deeply as being rejected for who I am. The pain is deep, and when we’ve experienced it once, we become wary of putting ourselves in any position where it could happen again.

But this is what love requires of us…

Choosing to love the way that Jesus calls us to love requires a willing vulnerability. A vulnerability that is keenly aware of the potential for rejection–but chooses to love anyway.

What does this Jesus way look like? Ron gave us some examples. Jesus love looks like…

…reaching out to touch the leper that society-and the law-had deemed “unclean”. (Matthew 8)

…choosing mercy over judgement when the law of the land required stoning the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:2-11)

Jesus stood in the gap for these two–and so many others that we meet on the pages of Scripture. He put Himself in vulnerable positions over and over and over again to align Himself with those who were even more vulnerable in society. He willingly stepped into situations where He would find Himself accused, mocked, rejected, hated. And He tells us to love others in the very same way. He asks us to lay down our defenses and stand in the gap in the name of loving one another,  loving our neighbor. And our neighbor is everyone. Everyone that bears the image of God.

As I listened to the message, I remembered a story from scripture that we don’t talk about all that often. But it is quite possibly the key moment in our even having most of the New Testament available to us today…

Not long after Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), he tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem. Here is the account from Acts 9:26-29, out of the Message:

Back in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn’t trust him one bit. Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him, told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how in Damascus itself he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus’ name. After that he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master’s name.

Saul had arrested, persecuted and sanctioned the murder of countless Jesus followers. He had a past. People were afraid of him-so much so, that many were unwilling to give him a chance. This is what he faced when he came to Jerusalem. His reputation preceded him.

But someone stood in the gap… 

What would have happened if Barnabas had been unwilling to be vulnerable, unwilling to risk his own reputation to vouch for Saul? Thankfully, we’ll never know. Because after Barnabas spoke up and stood in the gap for Saul (who would become Paul), Saul was “accepted as one of them” and he went on to plant churches and preach the Kingdom of Heaven and write a massive portion of our New Testament. All because someone was willing to oppose popular opinion.

Are we willing to do the same? Are we willing to vouch for the humanity of another when it means we may be criticized, rejected, even hated? To push back against the labels society has given–the way that Jesus did over and over again? So that someone who is even more vulnerable than we are might be given a chance, a fresh start? Will we choose to love by looking beyond the dirty exterior into the Image of God that all of humanity bears–the way that God looks beyond our own dirtiness to see His own image in each of us? I hope that we can say yes. Yes, we will choose to love the way that Jesus loved us-by laying our lives down for one another. By choosing vulnerability and risking rejection because we know that God’s love is the only thing that ever changes anyone. May we be vessels that His life-changing love can flow through to change the world…

–Laura

Ron’s question–Why is it so hard to love?  My answer–Because it’s stinking hard!

Loving God’s way is impossible apart from the Spirit of God. God’s very essence is love, so in order to be able to have godly love, His essence, His character must dwell in me, and in order for His character to dwell in me, I must be filled with Him. How I would love to say that I  live this way consistently–but I can’t.

I love that Laura brought up Barnabas and his vulnerability in being obedient to God by befriending Saul of Tarsus.   Acts 4:36 tells us that his given name was Joseph, but the apostles gave him the nickname Barnabas which means ‘son of encouragement’. In Acts 11:24 we learn that Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith

I sometimes ponder, if my life was summed up in a couple of phrases–would full of the Holy Spirit be one of them?  Full of the Holy Spirit indicates full of love.

None of the verses Ron used in his sermon were unfamiliar, none of the verses Laura references above are unfamiliar, “God is love” is not unfamiliar. We know this in our heads, but living it out in our lives becomes intrinsically more difficult. When Ron talked about the way Jesus loved Judas, even knowing that Judas was going to betray him, it pierced my heart.  I pray for God’s love to reach members of ISIS, of world leaders, of human traffickers, but Jesus shared life with Judas, shared bread with Judas, didn’t talk negatively about him to the other disciples. He loved him. And I feel sure, if Judas hadn’t taken his own life, that Jesus would have gone to him after his resurrection and loved him then too–just like He did with Peter. It’s the close proximity people who challenge my loving well. If I think someone might hurt me, my self-protective barrier goes up, my wall goes up–and that’s not loving the Jesus way.

I think there’s an important nugget for us in the story of Judas.  Luke 22:3 makes it clear that “Satan entered Judas”, but what made Judas susceptible to that attack?  Was it a love of money? Was it frustration that Jesus was not setting up an earthly kingdom? Was he mad about not being part of the inner circle of Peter, James, and John? We don’t know. What we do know is that he separated himself from the rest of the disciples for a time. What were the disciples doing that day? Preparing for the Passover. What was Judas doing? Visiting with the Chief Priest and coming up with a betrayal plan, which ultimately destroyed his own life.

Here’s the nugget. We have got to guard our hearts fiercely! We have to stay connected to the body of Christ. We must be willing to ask the Holy Spirit to search us daily, and confess those areas that don’t line up with God’s desire, and we have to choose to love.  We have an enemy who is seeking people to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and the moment we let our guard down, we are susceptible to all kinds of destructive things.  Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience.

So, how do we choose love? How do we truly love God and love others–even our enemies?

I once sat across the table from a man who was going to lead a student conference for us in Brazil. While we were discussing things, he said something that I’ve never forgotten. He said that we are not capable of loving God the way God wants to be loved, so we must ask the Holy Spirit to help us love God well–to love Himself through us. Think about that for a second. Have you ever asked God to love Himself through you? I never had, but I think this man is right. God makes it clear that He loves us. Responding to that love with love is where it all begins–and it’s a Spirit thing…the fruit of the Spirit is love….(Gal 5:22) . 

So how does it happen? No doubt, there is mystery involved, but God tells us that we receive the Spirit of Christ when we receive Christ (Romans 8:9). We learn that the Spirit can be quenched (1st Th. 5;19) that He can be grieved (Eph 4:30),  that we can ask for Him (Luke 11:13), and that being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is what we are to be about.   And the evidence that we are filled goes back to Galatians 5:22–His fruit will be evident in our lives, it will be the natural outflow–and Jesus tells his followers in Luke 6:43-45 and Matthew 7:15-19 that we will be recognized as His followers, or not,  by our fruit.

Paul tells us, in the famous “love” chapter (1st Corinthians 13) that it is possible for us to do all kinds of things, like speak in tongues, prophesy, fathom mysteries and knowledge, have faith that moves mountains, give everything we have to the poor, allow ourselves to go through hardship  but if we have not love…we are nothing. 

Then Paul describes what love in action looks like–patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, not easily angered,  keeps no record of wrongs, doesn’t delight in evil, rejoices with truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres,  – love never fails.  

Do we believe this to be true? Are we willing to step out of the self-righteous, hate spewing, grudge bearing culture that we live in–humble ourselves, choose the Jesus way, and let Him love through us, even if it costs us dearly?

Holy Spirit, we need your help! In this day of division, labels, hate, vitriolic  comments, may we, Your people, choose a different way by choosing to allow you to fill us and choosing to allow You to love others through us–all others. Your love is the only thing that will change this world. May we allow you to change us, and use us to love others well.

–Luanne

Daily Living the Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Luanne

Luanne wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Laura

your story

Daily Worship

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

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

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Luanne