Redeeming Submission - Charlie Riel

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Freedom. It has been the cry of God’s people for a long, long time. Only in the revelation of Jesus would mankind begin to understand what true freedom would look like. No longer would it look like emancipation from the evil produced by foreign invaders, but it would be the emancipation from evil altogether. The following passage is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians exploring how we can begin to participate in this new freedom. Let’s explore some of those thoughts.

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, So also the wives ought to be their husbands in everything.” For some reason I cannot help but cringe when I read these words. The focal point of my discomfort is on the word “subject,” other versions use “submit”. For centuries this verse has been used to strip humans of their freedom, and their will, only to have another’s will forced onto them. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a different way to understand what this scripture is saying. One that is empowering, one that suggests that submission leads ONLY to greater freedoms and NEVER the removal of them and NEVER to take advantage of other humans.

First, we need an aerial view of Ephesians. After all it is one letter with one coherent thought. We are told by the author that, in light of the Gospel and according to the riches of God’s love, mercy, and Grace, we are beckoned to explore the wide open spaces of being truly human. In fact, in Ephesians 4 Paul tells us to remove this old humanity and to wear the new humanity. Furthermore, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus this new way of living now has weight to it. God’s will for his creation is to partake in this new humanity. This new humanity on an individual basis is not the end of God’s will. We are then implored to form communities with others and how we should interact with them, and the rest of the world is laid out for us in this letter to the Ephesians.

In the latter half of Ephesians 4, Paul lays out very explicit examples of what it looks like to stay within the confines of our new humanity and turn away from sub-human impulses. Instead of lying, just tell the truth. When anger erupts from your heart, end anger with peace. Smother gossip, only providing encouragement for those around you. With these examples, to choose the old humanity is to dwell in the lying, anger, and gossip. To thrive within the new humanity is to live in truth, peace, and encouragement. Unfortunately, the things Paul outlines are not always as clear as they should be. Often, we are quite blind to the choices we make and the way it affects our hearts and those on the other end of our decisions. Therefore, Paul adds the next section in chapter 5.

Chapter 5 begins with Paul illuminating the very heart of God delighting in our exploration of what it means to be within our new humanity. This is followed by three practical ways to actively participate in this new existence. In other words, these three things should directly influence the way we reflect God in our day to day lives.

Listening to the hearts around us, submitting to them, is NOT the removal of Freedom. Instead, it is a humble invitation to continue to choose to participate in the new humanity of Jesus.

The first influence is Wisdom, which is this brilliant idea that we take all of our talents, gifts, and experiences and we optimize our current circumstances. Wisdom is one of the first building blocks of True Freedom, it is where our unique, individual will interweaves with that of God’s, within every aspect of life. The only limitations are the borders between our new humanity and our old humanity, of which some examples are listed in Ephesians 4:25-32. Notice that these are never a specific road map for any person’s life, they are just simply how to interact with other humans.

The second influence is oddly specific, or at least it seems so. What Paul does here is compare the influence of alcohol, which, when too much is consumed, literally reduces humans to an animalistic state. Instead, he offers that being under the influence of the spirit allows us to more appropriately choose to act in accordance with our new humanity.

The third and final influence Paul lists is the church. There are two sides of the coin, which will later be exemplified in three different familial examples (marriage, parents/kids, and Slaves/masters). First, as the church, when we see others struggle to stay with the confines of this new humanity, we should humbly show them the evidence of the freedom we have in Christ in any circumstance. Paul suggests a prayer book that is filled to the brim with stories of failure and success, heartbreaks and boundless joy, and of fear and faith (Hint: the book is Psalms). The other side of that coin is simply to receive. To receive their words and choose to return from the old humanity. To receive their words is to trust that the people around us just might have a better perspective of how our actions are damaging ourselves and bleeding out into the lives of others. Listening to the hearts around us, submitting to them, is NOT the removal of Freedom. Instead, it is a humble invitation to continue to choose to participate in the new humanity of Jesus. Once Paul establishes this final influence, he then uses very deep, intimate relationships where we can practice this new type of submission.

This is about trusting that the important people around us love us and have our best interest at heart. Each perspective in these examples is asked to trust that the other is only seeking to restore us and to simultaneously be restored themselves. Within this context, we can begin to bury our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, we can begin to heal the hearts around us, we can begin to restore the heart of our community, and finally we can begin to infect our world with the Glory of Freedom shared in Christ Jesus.

I Am the Bread of Life - Jordan Thurmond

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I am the Bread of Life. These are words you’ve probably heard at some point, especially if you were brought up in Church like me. But, if you are like me, that was probably just in one ear and out the other. What does it actually mean and what does it have to do with me and you?

Jesus makes this claim right after he finishes feeding 5,000 people actual loaves of bread. After thinking about that for a minute, it became interesting that He chooses this moment to mention that He is the Bread of Life. He tells his audience that there is more, that there is something better. This new Bread wouldn’t be like any other bread. It would sustain and provide a different kind of nutrition.

Open pastures lie ahead for those who choose to embrace the simple freedom offered.

In the message about Jesus saying that He was the gate, Benjamin taught that Jesus’ gate lead to freedom. Open pastures lie ahead for those who choose to embrace the simple freedom offered. That sounds like great news. We can have freedom to move through open pastures and enjoy what we have been given. But, it gets even better. Not only do we get to experience freedom offered, we get to have a sustaining and filling meal while we enjoy.

I love how this connects here. Freedom with a plan for sustenance. Jesus doesn’t invite us into the green pasture to wander around and run out of provisions. He sends us with a plan to have some food. Sometimes we share it with others who have chosen freedom. Sometimes it’s shared with us along the way. And, sometimes we eat in the presence of our enemies. My hope for all of us is that we will accept the invitation to move into freedom, equipped with bread that will sustain us on our journey and provide the abundant life that Jesus speaks of.

This post was inspired by a message spoken at Element Church that can be found here.

Church: The Tree - Jordan Thurmond

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Trees are everywhere. Seriously, if you go outside you will see trees. If you go to a park you will see hundreds, if not thousands of trees. If you are like me, you probably don’t spend a whole lot of time entrenched in deep thought about trees. You and I probably take them for granted just a little. But, if we do take some time to really think about what a tree is and what it does, we might come to a whole new appreciation for them.

So, let’s think about trees. Not just what they look like, but what they do and why they exist. And, to take it further; why do trees so accurately provide a metaphor for what the Church is supposed to be? A few weeks ago now, Brett talked about a few concepts related to the Church as a tree. I want to focus on just a few areas that provide some insight on how trees can make us a more whole and complete church community. I have seen two ways that the Church is like a tree.

  1. It’s a seed, not a switch

Trees don’t tend to grow overnight. It’s actually quite the opposite. Every tree, even the biggest ones started as a comparatively tiny seed. It took time, water, sun, and nutrients to get a start. And then, it had to somehow stay alive through storms, times of drought, disease, and human intervention. Fully grown trees are strong and not easily brought down. The one thing you really can’t do to the process of tree growth is force it. You can help to make it healthier and stronger with fertilizer and ensuring it gets the proper amount of sun, water, and nutrients. But, you can’t physically make it grow. You can’t stretch the branches and make it longer.

That’s how we are here at Element. We take our time. We don’t attempt to artificially grow. It’s not a switch we can flip to get the instant result we want. Instead, it’s a (sometimes long) process that we have to wait on. If we force it and try to stretch the branches, we just end up snapping them and having to wait all over again. And, this is what I love most about Element. We are willing to wait and not force our way to whatever we perceive as growth. We sit and wait in the shade of our tree as we pull others in under the protection against the sweltering sun.

2. Trees and the church provide something

All trees have something that they provide. Some bear fruit or vegetables, but all healthy trees provide oxygen to breath and shade from the sun. In essence, we can breathe because trees exist. Without them, we would only have carbon dioxide to breathe and would subsequently not exist at all. They also provide shade and protection. Here in Florida, it doesn’t get much better than finding a tree to sit under when you’re outside in the middle of summer or winter. It’s so nice to sit in the shade of an old oak tree and cool off for a few minutes on a hot day.

We can provide fresh and clean air to heal. We can take in the unbreathable air that surrounds us and turn it into a refreshing atmosphere that brings life.

What if we could say the same about the Church? What if we could say that Church was a breath of fresh air and place to rest and cool off when the heat of life is scorching us? That’s what I think we are when we are who we are called to be. We, the Church can be that for people who are tired and weary from wandering in the sun. We can provide fresh and clean air to heal. We can take in the unbreathable air that surrounds us and turn it into a refreshing atmosphere that brings life. We can and we get to do that for the people around us. We get to say yes to sharing and not taking.

This week, as we go about our work, responsibilities, and chores, let us think about how we can be a part of the process of growth. This isn’t a forced or artificial growth, but real growth that is strong a rooted. And, as we become rooted and flourish, let’s remember that we are there to provide a fresh and clean breath of air and place to rest in the shade for weary travelers.

This post was inspired by a message spoken at Element Church that can be found here.

Church: The Body - Grant Radebaugh

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This past Sunday I was scheduled to speak at Element to close out a series on Church.  On Friday morning I woke to realize that I had no voice. I was not sick, no cough, no congestion, no nasal activity, just no voice.  This was frustrating and disappointing at first. I contacted our pastors and let them know that if the situation did not improve I would literally be unable to speak.  There was little improvement by Sunday morning and Melody had graciously prepared to deliver the message God had given me with her own perspective. Initially this seemed like a cruel irony that the day I am supposed to deliver a message about Church as a body, my body broke down.  However, after Sunday, I know that God used this situation to orchestrate a beautiful example of exactly what I was going to share without me having to say a word. This seemingly horrible circumstance opened up an opportunity for God to poignantly articulate His message as you will see from the rest of this post.

You may or may not know that my dad has one arm.  He got into a battle with a downed high voltage power line and obviously lost.  Even though he is technically handicapped by the government definition of the word, we never viewed him that way.  In fact, he did things we didn’t really understand. He tied his own shoes, got a residential builder’s license, remodeled our house, and hunted with a crossbow and a muzzle-loader.  There was little my dad could not do. I remember on one occasion we had left for school and when we returned, my dad had hung drywall in several rooms (including the ceilings) without any help!  If you don’t know anything about building, ask a carpenter or builder how easy it is to hang drywall by yourself with two hands and they will prove how amazing this is. When we asked how he did it, he responded that he couldn’t share his secrets.  The only time I saw him not be able to do something was when he needed to cut a steak. He quickly remedied this by filing down the blunt edge of a fork to a razor sharp edge so that he could use it to cut a steak with one hand. His body is not whole, yet he lives a full life.  Keep this in mind as we dive into this church as a body concept.

Viewing the church as a body is a fairly common biblical analogy for church; there are over 18 references.  So, most of us are familiar with the concept. At first I thought I was going to dwell on the aspect of this analogy that focuses on the “parts” of a body and the function of that in community; but as I was preparing I stumbled across something new to me.  We understand the body analogy from the perspective of the 1st century writers who had limited understanding of anatomy and the intricacies of the human body.  This analogy was put forth on the level of understanding body parts as visible features like feet, or eyes.  This analogy can take on a whole new meaning for us with our more comprehensive understanding of how the human body actually works.  For instance, our bodies are made up of over 30 trillion cells working together to form organs and make sure they function effectively.  We have over 25,000 miles of blood vessels in our bodies. Our body actually replenishes itself quite rapidly. Our stomach lining for instance is brand new every 5 days, our liver is new every 45 days.  It has an uncanny way of healing itself and making sure that all parts are functioning at their best. Our body is even capable of knowing which parts it can use a little less in order to optimize function to other areas for given time periods like injury or exertion.  Before I bore you guys too much with this science talk, just keep some of those facts in mind as we continue.

The main reference for this body analogy is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.  It may be helpful to take a moment to read that before you continue. So eyes should be content with being eyes and feet should be content with being feet and we all need to fulfill our roles as best we can to support the body.  I think that is pretty self-explanatory. We may have heard that many times. This is very simple and we love simple here at Element, but the ramifications of this body analogy can be very profound if we take it deeper with our more modern understanding of the body.  When we are talking about our physical bodies, no matter how complex or simply we look at the body, one fact remains; the only thing that is essential to every part of the body surviving is our blood. Body parts begin to die and decay with lack of blood flow. The blood in our bodies plays several extremely important and vital roles.  It regulates homeostasis, it supplies oxygen and nutrients to our tissues, it removes waste, and it regulates pH and temperature. If blood was constricted or lost in any of these processes, it could be fatal or permanently damaging to our bodies. For instance, my dad’s arm was so badly burned that the blood flow to his arm was limited and it could not heal the wounds sufficiently enough to save his arm.  

So what does the bible say about blood?  Well, there are between 30 and 50 references to Jesus’ blood depending on the translation.  Most of these references fall into the categories of blood being redemptive, life-saving (salvation), or the purest love.  I feel like the logical process is to link these two analogies to form a more complete view of church. Yes, we are all parts of a body and we have our roles, but the great equalizer in our bodies and in the church is that none of the parts work without the blood.  Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues; none of these things mean anything without the underlying current of the blood of Jesus Christ. Just like our body parts depend on blood flow, our church communities depend on blood flow.  This confirms what Paul says about parts being equally important. This flow of Christ’s love and redeeming power is what sustains us in community. It is what allows us to be authentic. It is where the gifts we have been given come from. It is why an eye cannot say to a foot, “I don’t need you”, or “you are less important”.  Blood makes all parts dependent and contingent on its flow. The same is true of church, all people are equal because of the blood of Christ.

As Benjamin talked about marriage a few weeks ago, he expressed the understanding that there is a virtual guarantee that you will get hurt or injured in a marriage.  I can’t help but make the same guarantee about our physical bodies. You will be injured at some point in your life and many of you have experienced some serious injuries, like my dad.  But the body is an amazing thing. My dad for instance, with the help of doctors was healed by taking skin from other areas of his body to patch the burned areas. And guess what? The body did the rest.  My mother experienced a massive brain tumor that doctors said had been growing in her brain for over 30 years! By the time it was removed, it was the size of a navel orange and had crushed a large portion of her brain.  Doctors were baffled because my mom did not fit the typical formula for brain tumors. Most brain tumor patients lose at least one of their five senses and struggle with motor skills and thought processes, especially with that much damage to the brain.  However, because the tumor was so slow-growing, her brain was able to transfer the processes that were in danger to other areas of the brain so that her body could maintain as close to the status quo as possible.

All this healing in our physical bodies can only be accomplished with what?  What again is the common denominator here? Blood! Medicine, nutrients from food, vaccines, brain processes moving; all of these things require a flow of blood.  I feel like we are only scratching the surface about what this means when we apply it to church, but for our purposes, suffice it to say that healing in our church communities is contingent on the same thing.  Christ’s Blood! We are at our best as a body of Christ when we allow his blood to flow through us and in us unrestricted. This flow of faith, hope and love, along with our choice to accept it, is what heals us and our relationships within the church body.  This is where the body/blood analogy begins to break down a bit. Fortunately for us, our body parts cannot consciously decline blood flow. A healthy lung for instance is not all of the sudden just going to stop accepting blood. But in the church context we do have a choice.  Unfortunately, we can choose to deny the blood flow within ourselves and within our community. We cut off our own circulation out of pride, or sin, or distraction from the truth about where our source is. We allow these negative influences in our lives to impact how we let Christ’s blood flow in ourselves and in our community.  But the analogy still holds up in the fact that this lack of Christ’s blood flow in our communities still results in at least limiting function and at most death and decay. So this is where another analogy that we have used in this series comes into play. The marriage analogy fills in the gap by communicating the choice that we all make on a daily basis to allow this blood flow to continue in our relationships and community in order to heal wounds, create growth, and live to the fullest.

I want to encourage you to read another reference to church as a body in Romans 12:3-21.  As you read this passage, try to remember the context of this discussion about Jesus’ blood and its role in our church communities.  This contextual focus really brought some new significance to this popular section of scripture.

I really think that God orchestrated the topics in this series because this understanding of Christ’s blood and what it means in community is the culmination of this series.  The story that we are a part of the one true narrative of redemption is only possible through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ. The marriage that we agree to is possible because we choose to embrace the blood that covers us for better or worse.  The tree that we become is only possible through the force that gets seeds to grow and that force is the power of grace, mercy and love that comes in the form of Christ’s blood on the cross. Finally, our communities only flourish if we are allowing the sustaining, healing blood of Christ to flow through us and motivate our relationships.  Many of us have a deep desire to share this kind of life and relationship, this source of growth, this circulation of Christ’s healing blood with others. A desire to heal the body by mending the parts that have broken off, a desire to help the body flourish by grafting in new parts that may have never experienced this type of blood flow before.  To reanimate dry bones and frostbitten appendages and hearts that are dead by inviting them to be infused with this life blood of Jesus. So church, let’s embrace this story, this marriage, this seed culture, and this blood flow to continue creating an authentic community of believers who not only call each other family but live that way.

Church: The Marriage - Jordan Thurmond

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Why is marriage such a compelling analogy for church? What is it about church that looks anything like marriage? I think that to answer these questions, we need to dig a little deeper to look at the “why” of marriage. I believe that this will point us to the “why” of church.

For those of us who are married, what was it that made us want to venture out into the unknown with someone else? Why did we want to make a commitment to love and cherish someone else for the rest of our lives? The answers to these questions will vary by person, but the root of it all is (or should be) the same: love.

With these questions answered, we can begin to look at the actions that stem from addressing the “why”. If we zoom out and look at the bigger picture, we can see a cycle. This cycle represents marriage between two people and beautifully mirrors the relationship between the church and Christ.

First, we see the beginnings of the relationship through connection. Not just any connection, but a deep longing to understand each other. This is a connection that is more than spending time with someone else. This is a deeper and more intimate connection developed only through time and the continual pursuit of someone else, while making yourself known to them. The connection gives way to submission. I can tell what you’re probably thinking. We’ve all heard the part about wives submitting to husbands. But, what we hear about less is just a few verses before in Ephesians 5:21 where Paul mentions the idea of mutual submission for everyone.

From this perspective, submission becomes inclusive for anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ. We are after all supposed to be like Christ. If we are to do that, then we have to submit to everyone at different times. Jesus showed us examples of some of the most submissive acts, like washing feet and dying without a fight.

This brings us to the next part of the cycle; vulnerability. When we are submissive to each other as we seek to connect, we become vulnerable to pain. We leave ourselves open to hurt and disappointment. The good news is that we get to choose this. It’s not forced or coerced. It is an active and empowered yes, that tells the people in our community that we are living with open hands. It tells them that we are willing to risk wounding for their good and for the good of us all. This part is the hardest part, but it can also be the most beautiful because of what comes out of it.

The last part of the cycle is born out of the pain and wounding of vulnerability. Because of the pain, we get to experience something beautiful. We get to see firsthand, the healing and the process of refinement. When we get to this part of the cycle, we see things we’ve never seen before. We have an opportunity to give and receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness for us to grow.

Here is where we have a choice. We can choose to walk away and separate ourselves from the process, avoiding the pain. Or, we can allow this to take us deeper into community, relationship, and ultimately become the bride of Christ in this picture of marriage. I have hope that we will choose to press in when it hurts, when it’s uncomfortable, and when we don’t want to so that we can experience the refinement and healing only experienced by seeing it through.

Church: The Story - Jordan Thurmond

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Church. To some, it is a place of healing and acceptance. To others, it has been shame and rejection. But, to everyone who has considered themselves to be a part of the church at one point or another, it is more than anything, a story. For me, viewing church and specifically my role in it as a story is a paradigm shift from what I have always known.

Growing up in church, we read, listened to, memorized, and acted out all of the famous stories from Creation to David and Goliath, from Jericho to Daniel in the Lion’s Den. These stories were central to our faith. They taught us, and we were formed by them from a young age. It was good. It was fun and exciting to be a kid in children’s church learning about battles and giants and how our God was bigger than the problems the Bible characters faced. What we didn’t grasp and understand was that we were a story too. We were a continuation of the stories we had come to know and love.

Learning that has been an interesting and welcomed shift for me. Instead of just learning about these stories that happened a long time ago in far off lands to people separated by thousands of years, I have come to learn that we are a part of the same story. We have been given a place among the heroes and saints that we learned about as children. When we come to realize this, the stories become more real. We become participants rather than observers. We have a buy-in now with skin in the game.

Knowing and accepting this comes at a cost. It comes with risk because it asks us to actively participate in the story of redemption. We can no longer be bystanders to the work that has been done. We are invited to continue in the work that was started long ago. We do have a choice in all this, though. We can continue as we always have and go about our business, or we can join and play our part in the redemption of all things.

I want to encourage everyone to see that we get to continue with the work that Jesus started and passed on to what would become the church. We are not just living in the memory or shadow of what happened in Acts 1 and 2. Instead, we get to continue the narrative and be written into the next page of a story that will continue long after we are gone. May that give us a sense of gratitude for what has come before us and a sense of hope for what is yet to be written.

What over Who - Jordan Thurmond

We have all probably heard the phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” If you haven’t heard it or don’t think that it is true, try getting a new job in a new industry. It’s frustrating, right? We think that we can know all about a subject or topic and that’s great. But when it comes to actually landing the new position or getting that promotion, sometimes What is just not enough. It takes knowing the right person at your dream job or getting a good word in with the boss.

I want to take that idea a step in another direction. When it comes to our faith, I have found a struggle between the Who and the What. Sometimes, we allow the What of our faith to be placed on a pedestal of sorts while we take away the power of Who. We all have the tendency to place more value on what we believe in over who we believe in, and that is a problem. When we do this, a few issues start to appear, and they can be very hard to rid our faith of.

1. The What has a strong propensity to polarize. If you’re not too sure about that, look around at how many denominations there are. You would have thought that God promised Abraham that there would be as many denominations and sects as there are stars. I have personally lost count of how many there are and how many minute details separate some of them. To me, this is a problem. In the early church world, Paul and other leaders continually discussed how Jesus was important and things like circumcision and what type of meat people ate weren’t so important. In fact, they were really unimportant in light of what had been done for the church less than 100 years before.

So, what happened? The church started senseless debates over circumcision that got them nowhere. In Romans 4, Paul specifically addresses how Abraham’s righteousness began before circumcision (the What). Does that sound familiar? Apparently, church people haven’t changed much in 2,000 years. Fill in the blank with any non-essential topic, and you have two camps with a heated debate leading to more division and less inclusion which ends up turning people away. That turns away the people who are curious and just want to know who God is. No wonder the Church has such a hard time hanging onto people these days. People don’t want the useless arguments and debates that force them into choosing a side. They want what everyone wants - a community, and community is not possible in the midst of chaos and shaming. We don’t have to align all of our beliefs with someone in order to show love, community, and grace.

2. We will find ourselves battling a stagnant faith. When we place What on the pedestal, it becomes an idol of sorts. Nothing should be placed above the Who. Growing up, What we believed was vital to being called a Christian and looking back now, it was probably a little too important. Don’t misunderstand. I do think that what you believe and why is very important. The issue comes in when it becomes too important and is treated as the “Sacred Cow”. At that point, it can start to be dangerous even. In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey says, “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.” When I first read that, my reaction was an automatic opposition. Why? I think it’s because of my church experience. We were taught that we need to believe A, B and C. Any deviation was wrong and possibly heretical.

What I have come to find, on the other hand, is that I am happy that my beliefs and views on certain issues have changed, and that I have experienced growth in many areas by reading, praying, seeking and talking with people in my community. I want to pay attention, and I want God to reveal new and different aspects of who He is. When we elevate the What, Who is not given the proper power and placement in our lives. Who becomes a nice idea and What becomes a rigid religion. Unfortunately, when that happens we become like the Pharisees. They knew all the Whats for an empty cause without the Who.

3. It creates the quick cure vs. the lifelong healing. This past week, I had an opportunity to listen to a message from a professor I had in college. He brought up an idea that he first came across in a book by Rachel Held Evans. In Searching for Sundays, she talks about church being in the healing business as opposed to the curing business. This struck me as very true because the Who is more important than the What. To be in the curing business, we have to rely more on What. The message went on to say that looking for a cure is the result of a formulaic or if/then type of faith. The formulaic faith works perfectly if there is only the What. We can take a set of beliefs, doctrine, or principles and manipulate them enough to come up with a cure to almost anything. We can arrange them just right to make them work to our advantage.

The only problem with that is the Who. Who can’t be manipulated into some kind of formula. Who breaks molds and transcends our understanding of the What. Who brings purpose to the What. It is in the Who that we find healing; the long term and holistic healing. There is a thought among some Christian circles that if we just believe a doctrine, then we will be cured from whatever it is that ails us. Or they breathe a sigh of relief once you agree with their rules. It’s almost as if they need to hear you say you believe in this or that to be “in”. Again, this places the What in an awkward place of power while undermining the Who that gives grace to our doubt and unbelief. What loses its grip when doubt surfaces. Who becomes stronger in the weakness of our faith.

This Who brings us a sort of faith that is grounded and rooted. The What can only sustain so much when the formulas don’t add up and when the quick cure doesn’t provide a deeper healing. Who will bring together all of the Whats and unify with love, grace and humility. Who gives us a simplicity and wholeness. Who is the steady and unwavering power when the What changes over time and we start to doubt and contemplate our faith. I want to leave with an excerpt from a blog post I read by Brian Zahnd:

When we confuse faith with the correctness of our God-facts, we are a disaster waiting to happen. Certitude about God-facts is never how the Bible uses the word “faith.” Faith in God is trusting God. When we trust God we give control over to God, which is, as Peter Enns says, “a more secure place for faith to rest than on the whims and moods of our own thinking.”

Love: The Highest Calling - by Amber Feaster

Throughout the years as I have walked with God, yearning, growing, slipping, failing, gaining, falling and getting back up again, tripping, learning, unlearning...... you get the point... He's always showed me this one thing that has never changed. He always points me to love. It's my belief that if we, as a family understand, really understand the Love God has for us, we will abide in it, we will freely give it, and it WILL change our world. It will change our homes, our marriages, our schools, our city, our relationships with everyone, and even the heavens will be affected by it.

1 John 4:16

And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

Let's break that down.

  1. Know     and believe the love God has for us.
  2. God is Love
  3. Whoever abides in Love, abides in God and God in him.

I think in order to understand how to apply this, we need to look deeper into the Greek word for abide.

menō 
remain, abide    

  1. in reference to place        
    1. to sojourn, tarry
    2. not to depart    
  2. to continue to be present
  3. to be held, kept, continually

If you are like me, you desire to be continually present with God, not to depart from his loving presence. The whole point here is to really understand God's love, stay in that understanding and God (Love) will stay with us.

Now that sounds pretty easy, until it comes to the part where we are to be imitators of Christ. Loving like He loves. I think unconditional love is the hardest thing to do. This is why.... In order to love like Christ, we must be willing to endure through brokenness. We must be willing to love the outcast as well as the “favorite”. We must be willing to love a deceiver. We must be willing to love a sinner when everyone around you has a stone in their hand. We must pursue when we may get hurt.... We must love like He loves us…… In our brokenness, on our worst day, with all of our shame. But that can only happen if we allow our brokenness to be met with his love.

My heart’s cry is for all of us to experience the overwhelming, surrounding, fierce love that God has for us. Every single one. God is enamored by you and all of the little quirky things He notices about you that no one else does. He is provoked by your heart’s desires. He hurts for your hurts. He notices every little thing about you. He is compelled to rearrange heaven and earth to bring you near. That's what it comes down to, He wants to be near you. He wants you to freely choose Him. No matter how long you have been walking with Him, there is always more. He is an ocean and we're like children playing in the sand on the shore of all that He is. There’s so much more. I challenge you to get in a quiet place and ask Him to help you understand and believe.

After that kind of understanding, and abiding in that love (staying present, enduring), we get the opportunity to love like never before. Then love is a well you draw from whenever you need to. The overflow will spill into the lives around you as you do the coffee dates and the dinner parties, PTA meetings, park visits, work meetings, and so forth. As you go about your normal life, the most powerful force on earth is present with you and you with it. God. Love. That changes people in all sorts of ways we can’t grasp.

This is an invitation to go deeper. I encourage you to take that heart of yours, open it up really, really wide and ask for the author of your soul to show you His love for you. Then stay present with Him, and present with those around you. You are loved with the greatest love!

I leave you with this. The Message version paints this picture so perfectly.

Ephesians 3:14-21 The Message (MSG)

14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!

Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!

Glory down all the generations!

Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!