Friday, December 11, 2015

Poem of Psalm 37:1-11

(I wrote this in 2012)

Do not be afraid because of what Satan does
Don't be jealous of the benefits his followers enjoy
For like the grass, they don't last
Like green plants, they fade and die

Trust in the LORD and love one another
Live in the shelter of His love
And enjoy the safety of His embrace
Delight yourself in the LORD
And He will make sure you are given
The desires of your deepest, created heart
And be sure to lead you home

Commit and bind yourself to Jesus
Trust in Him and He will make it happen
No matter what you are up against
No matter what obstacles are not yet removed

God will make His Son's righteousness in your heart shine like the dawn
Your integrity like the noonday sun
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him
Do not give way to fear
Just because evil people are exploring the length of their short leash

Remember your inheritance is eternity
Pull back from anger
Turn away from wrath
When you give in to worry and doubt
It leads only to worse things

One day, evil people who refuse to love and who smear Love's good name
Will be cut off without remedy or reprise
One day, you'll be free of them
Free of the work and words of Satan
But you, beloved of God, you who called Him your only hope
And clung to Him in the worst of times
You will remain.

You will be restored
You will be rewarded
Ravished by love
Able to rest at last

Though you look for the old, you will not find it
For God will have completely done away with it in the end
He will have made all things utterly new

Friday, November 27, 2015

It's not You, it's me. And other resulting thoughts.

"Upon this theme [of Christ's end-of-life sufferings] it is sin to be calm and unimpassioned." (Ellen White, 2T 212.3)

My husband and I just listened to one of the most amazing messages I've ever heard that drove home the meaning, depth and price of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.  Ty Gibson was the speaker.  You can watch this message for yourself here:

I am more often than not calm and unimpassioned when I think about Jesus dying on the cross for me.  The cross has become one of the most popular symbols in the world.  One of the latest fashion fads is to have necklaces & bracelets where the cross is turned sideways.

The story of Jesus' Passion week has become too familiar, like ground that has been packed down hard because of so many people walking on it.

"The scenes of Calvary call for the deepest emotion." (Ellen White, 2T 212.3)

Well... I do feel a unique emotional stirring while watching The Matthew Series starring Bruce Marchiano or when I watch The Passion of Christ, directed by Mel Gibson...but not when I just think about it on my own, necessarily.

Does this mean the story is not all that great?

No. Because I have a sinful nature and God is without sin, automatically that means if I am unmoved or little moved by what Christ went through for my sake, it means there are sin blockages alive and well in my heart, because there is nothing wrong with God but there are all sorts of things wrong with me.

You know that line used in breakups and/or friendzoning: "It's not you, it's me"?

We need to practice that line with God more often, but with a different spin.  If we feel that the gospel is not exciting, that God is not captivatingly beautiful and full of healing goodness, we need to tell God on faith, "It's not You, it's me.  Help Thou mine unbelief.  If there's ever a problem between You and I, God, it's always mine, because there is no fault in You."

That shouldn't annoy us.  It'd annoy us in a relationship with a fellow sinful human being, but let me show you a few silver linings about how it shouldn't annoy us in our relationship with God:

1. It makes solving issues in the relationship a lot easier.  God is never the problem.  It's always on our end from our own unhealed brokenness, from an evil spiritual stronghold we've allowed Satan to gain in our hearts, from fresh spiritual assault, and/or from plain old sin.  God is never the problem.

2. God does not lord it over us - though He has ever divine & perfect right to - when we realize we've messed up, sinned, transgressed & hurt Him.  His goodness is compelling and rich.  He is out to heal us, not hurtfully try to make our square peg go into His round hole.  God is out to heal us, restore us, transform, renew, renovate, nurture, strengthen, refine and beautify us more into the image of His Son Jesus.  God is never the problem and He is never unkind, though some truths pierce a little to embrace.  But even then, the piercing is good because it comes with a relief - once you embrace a truth that pierces, the piercing doesn't last but gives way to beauty and the burden of denial or the burden of hiding from the truth you were carrying has rolled off of you.

I just couldn't watch that amazing message, "Sundering" by Ty Gibson and not respond somehow.

I'm praying that God continue to heal my numbed, tangled and tied down emotions from my past traumas so that I can relate deeply with Him again and worship Him not just from convicted obedience but also from the authentic, warm passion of my own heart.

Once I loved God so much more emotionally and wildly than I feel I do now.  But I didn't know what surrender meant, nor did I recognize my own sin issues.  Through much pain I now know better in a variety of life topics.  But I know God wants my love, not just my will.  He wants my heart.  He wants all of me to love all of Him.  And I can't do that yet.  Parts of me still have entanglements with addictions that are designed to control my emotions and deepest thoughts through distracting and then repacking them before they've been given a voice.  I know that that doesn't bring glory to God, even though my outside life looks much more "on the path" than it did before my traumas.

I know that it's not God's fault.  Nothing is His fault; He has none.
He is love itself and is full of achingly beautiful faithfulness.

I know that the problem of my lack of emotional responsiveness to Him is mine.
I have to rally my will to do the work of healing.
I can't wish my emotional addictions away.
But through Christ who strengthens me, I can work them away until I am weaned from them and fully wooed again by Jesus, the Lover of my soul who has lavished my life with blessings in such intimate, thoughtful detail that it makes my slovenly sinful nature feel violently overwhelmed at the thought of what it'd take just to write it all down.

That right there means I should probably do just that.

I do not want to live my life allowing the sin to survive and thrive that makes me calm and unimpassioned when I think about Jesus...!  I know I love Him.  I know I fell in love with Him and I'm still in love with Him.  But my sin, selfishness, brokenness and Satan's attacks all combined into traumas that put my relationship with God through a meatgrinder that I know God would have gladly spared me from (long story), but I insisted on my own short-sighted way and I later wound up with complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.  My walk with God has never been the same since.  Before the C-PTSD, emotions were easy but submission was not.  Now, submission is easy but emotions are not.

But at least I've put this much of the puzzle together so far, and I am taking small but consistent actions every day to draw nearer to Jesus.  I believe He is drawing near to me in response, both through blessings and through trials - they've all, lately, been of a nature to tap into something raw in me, whether immediately or in a delayed fashion.  But I am grateful for tears and for my equilibrium being jolted because they're opportunities to reconnect with God in the deeper way that I lost.

I can only do so much to heal, but what I can do, I must do.  Every day.

Jesus also says to me, "It's not You, it's Me."  And what I mean by that is that my healing is not all up to me.  Not all of it.  I don't have the power to heal myself - that's Him, not me.

I don't have a tidy way to tie off this blog post, but when we watched that Ty Gibson sermon, and it touched my heart while I took notes... I just knew that taking those notes was not going to be my only response to having heard such stirring truth.  I hope and pray that this meandering but transparent post will encourage you in your own relationship with Jesus.  Don't ever give it up, even if progress is slow & might seem impossible.  Just don't ever give it up.

Goodnight & Happy Sabbath.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Prayer of Getting Lost in God

*Toward the end of this poetic reading, I borrowed heavily from the song "Be Born In Me" by Francesca Battistelli to the extent that it's 98-99% copying & pasting (because I did tweak the lyrics just a bit) - I just wanted to give credit where credit was due so it didn't seem like I was plagiarizing!  This reading was read at our wedding by a friend of mine over a live instrumental performance of "Be Born In Me" (that song speaks powerfully to me - it's about so much more than Mary, the mother of Jesus).  It arose from journaling exercises I did in Dannah Gresh's book, "Get Lost," which I mostly did before I began dating my husband.  That book helped me turn a crucial corner without which I would not have been ready for my husband or for marriage.  

I hope you're inspired to pursue God in deeper ways for having read this.  Blessings to you.


Usually we don’t consider being lost a good thing
It is poetic, but it is never practical 
And in Christian jargon, being lost means sin
It means you have fallen off the path
Or fallen off the wagon
Being lost means Separation from God
Because, “Oh…that person lost their way…”

But what if you were lost IN God?
What if you knew only your destination and your Guide?
That your destination was worth any suffering and everything you think you want
…That your Guide has been and always will be perfectly trustworthy
…That your Guide has always loved you and fiercely desires you to have joy?
What if you were lost IN God?

God’s way is narrow
And His daylight is blinding at first
As light always is after so much darkness
But God’s way is also an adventure and a pleasure
A voyage into YOUR unknown with the God who knows ALL

To get lost in God and to stay lost in God
Is to finally experience that heartbreak can be peripheral
That pain can coexist with peace and joy
That despite what losses occur, you are still genuinely grateful for God
Because you know that to lose Him is to be ruined for anything less
To lose God is the most profound suffering there is

To get lost in God and to stay lost in God
You must open your heart and keep it open
No one can take surrender away from you
And so I offer to you this prayer I have learned
That rose from the ashes of getting it wrong so many times
This prayer I prayed over and over again in the last few months I was single
This prayer that made me ready for the man God had for me
This prayer of losing myself in my Maker
And returning to my First Love
A prayer of getting lost in God

Dear Jesus,
I’ve gotten attached and fallen in love so many times.  I am so sick of this vicious, violent cycle.  Even when I tried to stop, Satan still found a way to sneak weeds into my resolve.  Jesus, I know that You are the only Person who can help and that I need You desperately – in greater amounts than ever. 

My soul has been greatly endangered by all the loss I’ve known.  I need You more than ever, yet all my addictions have handicapped me.  All of them didn’t help me.  They only made me farther away from the healing I need and less able to receive it. 

I know that meeting someone new won’t help – I finally know that.  Just saying it revives bitter soreness.  I am so good at turning to things besides You, Jesus.  Have mercy on me.  Help me.      

God, I want an appetite for Your love above all other loves.  There will be no marriage in heaven, though You have created it as a divine institution and holy blessing for us here on earth now.  Help me to desire You whom I need before I can ever be married and whom I will alone assuredly have should something happen to my marriage.  My relationship with You is the most important thing about me – about my life.  Everything I love and want is only possible and only comes from You, Lord.  Clean my heart.  I want to crave You more than I crave a mate. 
Holy Spirit intercede for me… 

It seems as if I can’t do anything for very long without needing to withdraw and numb myself.  I am horrified to realize the things I let into my bleeding soul rather than You, Jesus, when I had been hurt.  Brutal honesty with myself and with You is how I need to cope with life.  I need to get over my unrealistic and neurotic compulsions to look as perfect as I can.  I need to risk rejection from the world around me or I will never heal.     

Jesus, I commit to coming to You honestly, and to not believe the lie that I have to be presentable for You to love me.  You love me even though I’m not perfect.  I promise to fall on You pathetically sobbing rather than turn to a soul-numbing counterfeit.  I promise to give my tears to You rather than seeking out some form of a fix.  I promise that when something gives me genuine joy, I will praise and thank You and not forget that You are the source of everything good. 

And I promise that when any and all reminders of different losses try to make me take my eyes off You that – instead – I will pray to see with Your eyes and to be still and open my heart to be known by You and to open my hands to let fly the losses like birds. 

I am afraid of the pain of humiliation and of abandonment.  I’m afraid of sharing Your new life inside my heart in the wrong way and succumbing to insidious sabotages and continually miscarrying the dream You put in me.  I’ve lost so many second chances You’ve given me so graciously and generously.  But I know being consumed by Your unselfish love is the life I want, Lord. 

Be born in me, Jesus.  All other gain is loss compared to knowing and experiencing You.  Consume me, body and soul, oh Lord.  You are my desired haven.  Invade the cells of my very being.  On my own, I can only love You like a friend, but I pray that my longing will be for Your heart in time. 

Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide
If You are pleased with me, why am I so terrified?

Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees
You are holy and I am blessed

Be born in me
Be born in me
My heart is trembling
But somehow I believe that You chose me
I’ll hold You in the beginning
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle
Make my heart Your Bethlehem
Be born in me

All this time I’ve waited for Your promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So I might know that Love would go that far?

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing
I am Yours

Friday, October 9, 2015

Regarding pain

Pain is the body's physical and emotional nervous system that communicates when something is wrong, when things are not in harmony, when the designed working order has been violated on whatever level.  Like, when you stub your toe, bruise your leg, cut yourself or get shot, there is pain because the harmony of your body has been disrupted or violated.  When you find out you've been lied to, when you're being emotionally abused, when someone calls you a terrible name, there is pain because we were made in the image of love and it is a violation of that design for us to treat and be treated in those ways.

Compassion is essentially the desire to alleviate pain.  But if we were compassionate in the most holy way, in a deep and spiritual way, we wouldn't only - merely - want to alleviate pain.  We'd want to either heal or eradicate what causes the pain signals to go off in the first place.  We'd want to eliminate what's wrong and then there'd BE no pain.  (Of course we know that this world will never be pain-free until Jesus comes back to take us Home and annihilates sin eternally)

Pain is not what's wrong - pain is only the messenger.  Pain always tells the truth about sin, which is why pain always hurts and sometimes feels unbearably overwhelming because of the responsibility that truth brings about how we should view the past and how we should proceed in the future.

Making a choice that causes a human being pain is not necessarily the sin.  It's the choices that make pain possible (either in the causer or recipient of the pain) that contain the sin, because pain is a messenger of when something is wrong - pain is not the wrong thing itself, though it definitely, absolutely hurts.

Take some time to absorb those last 2 sentences...

Often, sins have no pain in the moment (many sins give immediate and intense pleasure)...but they vividly cause pain later.  All the searing sensations of pain are telling us how morally WRONG the event was that occurred, which eventually (or immediately) caused the pain.

Also, pain could just as easily be a reaction convicting us that we are in the wrong when someone tells us the truth, which causes the lies we've embraced to bleed.  There are so many angles to understand pain from.  I think it's safe to reason that where there is pain, sin is not far away, whether we are the ones who have sinned or whether we've been sinned against.

Where there is pain, there is sin.

"It is a mistake to entertain the thought that God is pleased to see His children suffer." (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ)

I believe it's a mistake to entertain such a thought because God is not pleased to see His children experiencing sin.  We know He's not pleased when we sin, and He's still not pleased when we experience the pain sin inevitably causes.  This is because He loves us and He wants us to live holy, uncluttered, cathartic lives of pure joy...!

Pain stands to teach us and shape us for the better if we'll let it.  If we don't let it, then we cause ourselves to become misshapen, constricted and bent.  And I believe it is because pain is always a litmus test for the presence of sin, that we must suffer for Christ and with Christ, because if we're true Christians, we are living and working for Him among the ranks of needy, lost sinners - many of whom don't yet feel a burden to change and might very well rebel against necessary changes, even if it'd mean saving their life eternally.

Pain being unavoidable because you're a Christian can be understood like spending your life working with what you're allergic to, with what is guaranteed to cause reactions.  And to make it clearer, what you're allergic to is also partially allergic to you - people who have adapted to their sin (especially people who love their sin) will not respond ideally to the truth about sin and our need for God's transformation.  And so the allergy metaphor goes both ways.  The presence of sin (especially when you're fighting it with the truth) causes pain to the saved and lost like the allergen causes an allergic reaction.  If we are true Christians, we will always be working directly with sin issues and so there will always be some experience of pain bubbling up in our lives.  To be sure, there are oases of revival, but we will not get a permanent break from sin and all its miserable pain until heaven.

I think that the experience of pain and suffering is a given if we're pursuing God's will, intimacy with Him and sanctification to become more like Him, because those things necessitate fighting sin constantly.  And where there is sin, there is pain.  Where there is pain, there is sin.

If we are to be truth-tellers and lifesavers amidst sin, there will be pain.  Plain and simple.

People who struggle with codependency like me need to stop being afraid of the inevitability of causing pain, we need to stop dreaming that there's somehow a way to do God's work without pain.

But lest you think that I'm all for spiritual masochism and sadism, let me close with this quote from EGW's Ministry of Healing:

“[Paul] made them understand that it cost him pain to give them pain.” (MH 166.5)

Just because we need to stop being afraid of causing pain and become more realistic doesn't mean that we are EVER to become desensitized.

We should become the most sensitive people in the world.

These realizations should make us both stronger AND more sensitive.
This is just one more instance of carrying our cross like Jesus carried His.

Our secular world seems to polarize those two (strength & sensitivity), as though you can't have strength and sensitivity together, because of the opaque way they interpret the two definitions.  But with God all things are possible, and I've already experienced quite intimately that peace and pain can inexplicably coexist together in a human heart, so I am prepared to trust that strength that sustains us against how pain makes us cringe and writhe can coexist with a sensitivity that bleeds when others bleed.  We must remember that following God means we won't always understand, but be we can always trust.

If God were small enough for our minds to always totally comprehend Him, He would not be great enough to always merit our total trust.  He is infinite, we are finite.  We cannot encompass Him, but we can trust that He can encompass us, enable us and empower us for what He asks us to do.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Musings on Writing

I just downloaded a free eBook thanks to Lysa TerKeurst called "The 7 Secrets You Need to Know As a New Writer: Wisdom from 30 Authors and Bloggers Who Have Been Where You Are."

Early on, one of the pieces of advice is to write daily - that writing is a discipline.  That you don't have to crank out lots of words each day, but that you do need to write words of substance daily.  Some days you'll feel like it, other days you won't - like the way some of us (myself included) relate to exercise.  And speaking of exercise, writing daily is about exercising the "writing muscles" in my brain.  I also think writing more often is important for me, because it keeps me from drying up & from getting shallow.  I wrestle with Facebook these days.  I'm in a place where I'll take huge chunks of time away from it (up to 40 days), return for just a few days, and then go away for 40 more days.  As I've been recovering sensitivity and peace in my soul, I find that social media grates those qualities and covertly funnels them out of me.  After my first 40-day social media fast in years - this past summer, June 19-July 28 - I had made radical changes in less than 24 hours.  Reintroducing my social media apps into the routine I'd developed in those 40 days felt like my inner quiet was being attacked, and I knew quite quickly that I neither needed nor wanted my Twitter or Instagram accounts.  I deleted them.  On Facebook I can post statuses as short as I want them to be (or as long) and I can do pictures.  Twitter & Instagram are simply unnecessary, technically, but they do serve to pose as extra sources of getting attention & affirmation and boy can you lose hours getting mindlessly distracted in their labyrinths.  My husband calls it "getting caught in 'the scroll.'"  He can tell when I'm scrolling mindlessly on my phone or on my laptop - when I'm not actively thinking (or when I'm avoiding actively thinking?).  A part of me resents when he gets on my case, but these days I just need to choose which resentment will let me sleep at night, because if Russell doesn't get on my case & I scroll until I feel literally fried, then I'm upset at myself and resent that I wasted those fistfuls of minutes (sometimes hours!) being "caught in the scroll," accomplishing nothing.

One thing I know is that as social media became more important to me (especially after I finally got my first smartphone), I began to journal less and process less on paper, in private.  I was processing with the rest of the world on Facebook.  Yet, on Facebook there's this unspoken filter where you have to keep in mind that people will read what you post, see what you "like" and make judgment calls about who you are and comment however freely they desire (sometimes this freedom is still shocking).

Facebook simply is not free territory.

I'm much more aware than I ever have been of a pressure I feel in relating to Facebook.  Sometimes when I'm away from it and life happens, I have a strong urge to go and post about whatever the ripple was (or the insight the ripple caused), rather than processing more freely in private like I used to.  It's as if Facebook began replacing my journal, but instead of cathartically articulating with the authenticity of being in a safe environment (on the pages of a private journal), I was cultivating statuses calculated to sound quippy, snappy, quotable & well.......likeable (pun intended).  I think that spending lots of time on social media siphoned depth out of me at a time when I needed it badly to deal with some emotional traumas in 2011 that gave me C-PTSD, because it drew me so constantly to be shaping and sharing my thoughts with others in mind, rather than with no one in mind but myself and God.

I can remember when prayer journaling gave me a clarity that empowered me to not need others' approval, that gave me strength to internally rebuff their disapproval if necessary.  But now...all the recent years of social media overuse has only breastfed my tendencies towards codependency.  And if you know anything about codependency, you know it's a brutal and unforgiving, predictable cycle that you can only combat by simply cutting ties with it.  Some of those ties can be so old and strong that they're like tree trunks, but they can still be cut out of you, but the healing will take a great deal of time.  I'm in touch with too many overseas & long distance friendships through Facebook to get rid of my account entirely, but I'm in a season where I'm on social media less than I ever have been & when I get on, I'm acutely aware of my impulses to bury myself in it, to get lost in it.

On positive notes, though, these spurts of getting away from Facebook and only using my FB Messenger app (like a texting app) have helped me re-dig some new depth and get back into reading and writing.  I have an independent study that I've begun and it has nothing to do with school.  I'm between undergrad & grad school - I am enrolled nowhere.  This independent study is just for me (though I'd like to see if it could go somewhere when it's finished).  I have several written irons in the fire that I work on a little at a time.  I'm combatting old habits by making charts for myself and scheduling a certain amount of chapters to read every day from the Bible and elsewhere.  I'm really enjoying the self-imposed structure!  It feels like it's adding a bit more personal purpose to my life underneath being a pastor's wife, and it's not too ambitious or too miniscule.  I've lived so much of these last few years without structure from the inside out (vs. structure given to me by being in school or having a job) that pursuing it now feels stabilizing & healing.

So... I'll tie off here because it's 10:35p and my husband and I are getting up to exercise with the students at 6:30a (as in we need to be there at 6:30a, so we have to get up closer to 6), and I am not a fan of mornings and I tend to need more sleep than Russell.  But that's another topic for another time.

Friday, October 2, 2015

My First Publication: Adventist Review

This is something I’d originally prepared for Adventist Review.  I was asked to write something 1200 words long, so I decided to see if one of my biblical paraphrases would fly.  It did - under the title "Love Must Be Free" - but not exactly as I’d foreseen, though I am thrilled to have been published for the first time.  What changed is that only about a sentence or two of all my background paragraphs was used (they changed the location and could no longer use all 1200 words) and my paraphrase from Romans was slightly abridged, but still unedited.  Here is the original 1200 word piece in full.  I hope it is a blessing and inspires whoever reads this to give their Bible another good long try on faith, to pray that God will help you creatively fall in love with His Word like He helped me.


Worship Through Words
By Chloe Murnighan

I love words.  Due to my personality, I encounter fairly regular feedback about how much I talk and write.  Pruning my verbosity is one of my growth areas.  Words are not cheap to me, yet they pour out of me.  They’re crucial for connecting with people and vital to me in worshipping God through journaling and reading.   
An enormous portion of Christ’s earthly gospel ministry was through words.  Then it was preserved by word of mouth and writing, which is how we now have the Holy Scriptures – God’s heart conveyed through words – in such plenteous availability that people can take it for granted vs. previously being murdered for its mere possession.  And up until December 2013, I also took God’s Word for granted. 
Before then, I’d read portions of my Bible, being a lifelong Adventist.  But while I wasn’t a stranger to Scripture, I didn’t feel the personal impact from it that I did from other books that had nurtured my relationship with God.  And the following concern would occasionally occur to me: I am a Christian who loves God personally.  Why do I get more excited about devotional books than the BIBLE?  The full answer is another story but here is how I grew to love the Bible: word studies over a backdrop of pain.  I’ll explain. 
Earlier in the fall of 2013 through a hermeneutics class, I was exposed to Strong’s Concordance and to how easily accessible it is via websites like  My personal method of word studies was kindled in a classroom but is essentially of my own construction; it’s not fancy and doesn’t deal with grammar.  I simply take one Bible verse and look up each of its words in Strong’s Concordance, writing everything down as I go.  As I write and see the multiple meanings unfold that just one Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word can have, and as I do this for all the words in just one text, a sentence becomes a paragraph.  It makes the verse become abundantly three-dimensional and invigorating. 
Word studies of Scripture were also healing.  In the same semester as my hermeneutics class, I’d dissolved the one official dating relationship I’d had before my husband.  The painful memories of our mistakes made me feel as though shattered glass was embedded in my heart and stomach all the time.  Such was the unrelenting backdrop for the first verse I ever did a personal word study on: Acts 3:19.  It spoke of repentance and “times of refreshing” – experiences I craved.  As I wrote it all out, the shattered glass sensation was temporarily smoothed.  I did many more word studies that Christmas break, and gradually my suffering dulled.  I am no stranger to coping mechanisms both healthy and unhealthy, so I say this with no naiveté: studying the Bible soothed my pain. 
But beyond that, word studies greatly bolstered my gratitude for the richness of God’s Word as they stimulated my mind to appreciate the myriad of ways a single verse could be understood and applied to one’s personal life.  Eventually, I was moved to painstakingly construct deepened paraphrases of Biblical passages to hopefully convey the newly robust and intricate implications that personal word studies had brought home to my heart from Scripture.  I pray that whoever reads this will be encouraged to fall in love with God’s Word like I did.

Romans 12:9-21
            “Love must be free from hidden agendas.  You should not be blindly seduced by persuasion to deviate from the standard of love; instead you should be aware of and repulsed by the inevitable agonies and miseries that always go with evil.  Make yourself intimately bonded to what is truly good, like a wound absorbing medicine, whether others understand it or not.  Be tenderly present and affectionate toward one another with the cherishing love of a loyal family member.  Trust God’s grace by taking the lead to willingly give higher value to other people rather than drowning in your own needs as though God did not die for you as well.  Never be reluctant about the best you know you can give, but instead feed the flame of your spiritual ardor so that it is always at a boiling point, ever-ready to serve God by ministering to someone else’s heart.  Choose to stay conscious of God’s grace whenever you must wait on Him.  Endure it when you feel all options are stripped away.  Do not let difficulty separate you from constantly asking God to exchange your wishes for His desires and for more persuasion to trust Him.  Participate in both the crises and mundane chores of your fellow believers and be unwaveringly fervent about sharing your hearts and homes with people who are strange to you.
            Even when you are bullied, provoked, and hunted, deliberately speak only what is good and kind about your persecutors.  Be gracious and do not pray for anything negative to happen to them; pray for Jesus to happen to them.  Affirm the gladness of people who have something to celebrate; do not rain on their joy.  Smile, laugh, and be exuberant with them!  Validate and respect the grief of people who have suffered heartbreak and loss; do not criticize their tears.  Hold them in your arms.  Cry with them.  Be still with them.  Do not abandon them.  Live with such intentionally sincere love so that no one feels like a dissonant note in the community, but knows they are valued and would be missed if they were gone.  Do not exalt yourself, but instead work to understand and identify with people who rely on God, rather than leaning on their own understanding.  Do not spend time praising your own intelligence. 
            Never fight fire with fire, ever.  Instead, take thought beforehand to respond to injustice and cruelty with choices that look beautiful and noble to everyone, not just your fellow believers who understand the same things you do.  Live so that witnesses are forced to conclude you are blameless and internally absent of self-serving motives.  Whenever you have the option, choose to depend on God’s strength and wisdom – rather than your own – to figure out ways of living without causing conflict both to believers and unbelievers alike.  Never try to get even when you are wronged, but instead give God opportunity to put His redeeming, sinless anger into action on your behalf.  Remember what has been written in the days of our fathers: God has said, “Retribution is my responsibility and I will make it happen perfectly.”  Your call is to nurture, not avenge:
           ‘If the person who hates you and cannot reconcile with you is clearly hungry, dole out some morsels, but do not waste what cannot be recognized; if this person is in a state of restless desire, irrigate his heart with kindness.  Once you have done this, it will weigh down your adversary’s internal conflict with coals that burn with the fire of God, which will help to melt their internal fissures closer to a state of wholeness.’  Never allow your heart to be subdued by what is wrong, but win the fight and protect your heart with God’s goodness, whether others understand it or not.”

Psalm 143 Prayer (Paraphrase based on Hebrew)

Dear God,
You are the Lord of all true spiritual soldiers.  You are the divine Master of all who cling to You fervently amidst the anxieties of the great controversy.  As we believers grow closer to You and are refined and made new, You are the power both behind and in our becoming.  We owe You everything.  I owe You everything I am today.  Yahweh, I pray that You listen to the audible, intervening plea of my heart, as I humbly and desperately seek to intrude upon what has been happening to me by breaking through to Your throne of grace.  I also pray that You comprehend the meaning of my crying appeal for the sacred kindness of Your merciful intrusion into my circumstances and feelings.  Holy Spirit intercede and convey with Your divine groanings; please perfect the prayer of my soul that I am trying to communicate to You.  From the source of Your enduring stability – though I am so predictably unstable – and because of the uncluttered wellspring of Your sparkling merits – for I am nothing without You – answer my heart with some kind of response!
                  O Creative God, I am but a bond-slave of love to You.  All I can do is humbly yet boldly beg that You will not bring to pass the justice that the sum of my life’s choices deserves, because no one who’s ever lived or ever will live can be proven good-hearted in comparison to You, let alone apart from You.  Without You I have no hope of goodness.  Without You I have no purity, no claim on You.  I recognize what I deserve.  I recognize my limits.  I recognize my need for You.  I am nothing without You. 
                  I feel hunted in my soul by messages that are ruthlessly hostile to my relationship with You – by sensations that attack my faith so that I feel trampled and crushed into the ground where there is almost no hope to help me keep functioning.  I feel like my soul is being forced against its will into a union with darkness that would decay and kill my heart as dead as people who have been rotting for centuries.
                  My inner spirit is inhaling more and more feebly, Lord.   My inmost heart feels like a desolate particle of waste because of what I am going through.
                  Despite all of this, I have and will actively bring my mind back to the chronicles of ancient histories and of how You have led me in my own life story; I am choosing to think about the whole symphony of all Your individual works and I am focusing on the good fruit of Your divine authority in contrast to the disheartening rot of evil.   
            I am baring before us both my paltry capacity to control my life and myself when I am separated from You.  I am under no illusions.  O God, my soul’s very life is gasping for You to drench and nourish me like famine-cursed ground aching for water.   
            O Master and Lord of my life please respond to me without any more suspense; it feels like my courage is at an end…!  If you withhold Your presence from me any longer I will dissolve into a state of bondage, yet it is You that I want!   
            I pray that the breaking of this darkness will finally allow me to experientially encounter your love in all its soothing faithfulness, because I have chosen to trust You without caution, without reserve.  I am relying on You and no other.  I also pray that You will cause me to intimately know which course and mission I should set my heart to desire and act upon, because I am bringing my soul to You as an offering, as a sacrifice.  I am investing my identity, purpose and abilities completely in You and no other. 
My life is Yours.
            I pray that You will plunder the strongholds of Satan because he is the nemesis of Your quality of life in me, the enemy of my very soul; plunder the cancerous addictions, degeneration and lies he has grown in me with the ardor of Your love, with the transformation of Your holiness, and with the living blade of Your truth.  Plunder every stronghold of evil in my life and strip their remains from me, for I am burrowing myself into Your righteousness with all my strength and nothing evil can coexist with Your goodness in me – it has to be one or the other, and I choose You, my heavenly Lord and Master.
            God, I ask that You teach me to become an expert at pleasing You, for You are my Ruler and I love being under Your wings.  I ask that Your beautiful Spirit will lead me on Your straight and narrow way, set apart from the rutted misery of the world’s confusion. 
            O God of all healing, for the purpose of increasing Your renown, live in my life and through my life in order to save it and remold it to Your preference.  Lord, I pray that You make an appearance in my affliction out of Your heart that is just and honestly good, in all Your holiness, and carry me away from these anguishing straits of spiritual privation that Satan has deceived me into entering.  
            Because You are a God overflowing with deeds of kindness, beauty, mercy, unwavering love, favor and sheer goodness, I passionately pray that You exterminate the intimidating, unholy, unloving emotions I am experiencing.  Annihilate the perfect entirety of the feelings and tendencies I have that harass my ability to receive Your peace, that attack my trust in You, that pressure me to not surrender to You because You are who I belong to, I am bound to You, I am Yours.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My First Sermon: "The Abundant Life"

When I took homiletics for my religion major with Pastor/Dr. Glenn Russell at Andrews University in the fall of 2011, we didn't choose the Bible text of our first sermon.  He had chosen verses for us ahead of time and handed them to us as he saw fit.  I don't remember the date, but I remember Pastor Russell handing me Matthew 12:43-45 and saying, "Here Chloe, you'll have fun with this one."

At first this was just a 5-minute sermon to be given in class.  Then it was supposed to be elongated and given in a church & videotaped so that it could be graded.  I have preached this sermon three times in three different churches.  Each time, I've revised & refined it a bit more.  I can't remember the exact dates of the second two times (I know they were in April & July of 2014) but ironically I can remember the first date I preached this sermon - December 31, 2011.  I am a better preacher than I was in the beginning, but I still think my natural tendencies lie more with talking one-on-one than public speaking (though I'm not afraid to preach and now enjoy it far more than at first).  The PTSD I had in 2011, which I've referenced in at least 1 other blog was still fresh enough that I still felt mostly numb at the time, but God helped me write this sermon and He blessed it that day in church though I watched the recording later and cringed at how stiff I was up front.

I've begun giving away the printed copy that I preach from after church because someone usually asks me if they can have a copy.  Lately it's occurred to me to share them through this blog for whoever might see them.  To whoever is reading, I hope you are drawn closer to Jesus and inspired to re-engage in your spiritual life/relationship with Him.


There’s a very famous boat we’ve all heard of; it had a lot going for it.  Titanic. 

It took three whole years and seven and a half million dollars to build the Titanic. 
On April 10, 1912 when passengers were boarding, it was SO brand new that the paint was still wet in certain spots.  Every stateroom had electric lighting and heat. 

It even had the first heated swimming pool on board a sailing vessel!  THAT is something I didn’t know at first.  J  They were already traveling by boat, so you’d think they’d be sick of water, but I guess not.  

We know the ending of Titanic as a tragedy.  What happened was terrible. 
It didn’t happen in broad daylight.  Or in a storm…  It was nighttime and the weather was calm, though it was incredibly cold.  But it was too calm… 

There was no wind to make waves that would have broken against the deadly icebergs and alerted the crew to the danger sooner. 

Although the captain had been warned about the presence of these icebergs, he still charged ahead at a high speed.  By the time his lookouts finally saw it, they were too late to make the necessary change. 

It’s ironic that if the conditions had actually been LESS calm, the crisis might have been avoided or at least lessened. 

If there had been wind making some waves, the iceberg would have been easier to spot. 
If they had been going at a slower speed – rather than trying to make even MORE headlines – they might have had more success turning the boat in time and probably wouldn’t have struck the iceberg with the destructive force that sunk them in the end. 

I am reading today’s text – Matthew 12:43-45 – from the New American Standard Version:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came;’ and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they all go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first state.  That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” 

This passage is a little disconcerting.  And these days, it’s hard to see how texts like this are relevant to our modern lives anymore, but bear with me.    

Chapter 12:43: Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.

In the book of Isaiah, the home of demons was the desert: the waterless places.  No moisture; very little quality of life as we would prefer it. 

From what I’ve studied, demons may have an existence in waterless places, but it’s not where they rest.  And on that note I’ll remind you that the human body is more than half made up of water.  And the rest that a demon seeks is to be embodied in a human being while he or she is still alive. 

What is restful to Satan and his agents is draining and withering to the children of God.  For us, it’s chaos. 

So this demon is restless and has no water.  It’s homeless and hungry. 
The passage continues in verse 44: Then [the demon] says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came;’ and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.” 

When the rooms of our home or apartment are unoccupied, swept and put in order, we don’t call 911.  It’s. Peace. And. Quiet. 
Some of us might breathe a sigh of relief. 

The sterile surroundings are soothing.  We have so much busyness and clutter in our lives that having order is like having…an oasis. 

But verse 45 says: Then [the demon] goes and takes along with it 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 other spirits MORE wicked than itself…and they [all] go in and LIVE there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first [state].  That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” 

What do you think is the real problem in this text?  Was it the demons?  Or was it the state of the man’s heart? 


The man’s heart is described here as being unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 
There’s nothing wrong with it being orderly and it’s probably cleaner for being swept. 

The problem is the emptiness. 

Someone might ask, “What’s so wrong with a place being unoccupied, swept, and put in order?”  Nothing really.  But how about when you’re a PERSON who is unoccupied, swept clean and put in order?  What kind of man or woman is that? 

Often it’s an empty man … an empty woman. 

In our family we have a little saying that’s framed.  It used to be my Grammie’s – which suited her personality perfectly – but since she passed away, it’s become ours; and it says, “Dull women have immaculate homes.” J 

But really, the appearance of perfection does usually imply that something is missing behind the scenes.  An empty person is not actively harmful, but not proactive either.  A person like this can be turned.  You see, there is a crucial decision between what is best and what is … acceptable. 

You might join the evil generation without meaning to. 

The Greek word for evil is ponéros and it means malicious & wicked…slothful, pain-ridden, emphasizing the inevitable agonies and misery that will always go with evil…the laborious trouble of evil.

To say that you might join the evil generation without meaning to IS a strong statement and you might say, “But doesn’t God see my good intentions?”  Yes.  He sees everything.  But there’s more to following God than having good intentions. 

For example, perfectionists have good intentions, but it can feel merciless to be around them; like walking on eggshells at best.  

I struggle with perfectionism and I am friends with others who do as well.

Perfectionists are driven by fear and they punish themselves when they fail. 
They have tendencies to be highly judgmental of the people around them. 
They’re very driven and unless they’ve really got the hang of their act, you’ll see them looking very troubled at times.  Many “tortured artists” are perfectionists.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”   

Perfectionists usually lack gracious love in their lives.   
Love is patient and kind.  Love keeps no record of wrongs.  Love never fails.
But instead of love, they have emptiness.  And they suffer for it. 
Lukewarm Laodiceans have good intentions, but they’re aggravating to be with.  Even God says so in Revelation 3:15-17, when He says to their church:

“I know your deeds; that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” 

That’s a very serious thing to be said by our God, who is Love itself.

Lukewarm Laodiceans usually lack purposeful truth in their lives.
Truth is convicting and inspiring.  Truth doesn’t let you stay the same.    
But instead of truth, they have emptiness.  And they suffer for it. 

People today who wrestle with perfectionism or the people who are weighed down to an inactive plateau don’t behave the way that demon possessed people are described in Bible times.  And there’s a reason for that.  Satan has traded drama for subtlety.

In the Great Controversy, Ellen White wrote to us that, “…as we approach the close of time, when Satan is to work with greatest power to deceive and destroy, he spreads everywhere the belief that he does not exist.  It is his policy to conceal himself and his manner of working.  There is nothing that the great deceiver fears so much as that we shall become acquainted with his devices.”

He’s stepped up his game.  Rather than overt possession, he opts instead for subtle oppression.  And what does this oppression lead to?  What does it look like in our lives?

If the oppression of perfectionism continues unchecked, it kills the possibilities for personal growth, for real intimacy and safe community.  Why? 

Because growth is all about taking advantage of opportunities when there’s not a guarantee of success. 

Making mistakes – i.e., getting it WRONG – is a huge part of how we learn. 

Perfectionism only grabs hold of what it knows it can tackle.  It’s about controlling your life without God. 

Now, if you’ve hired a professional like a lawyer or a doctor who’s a perfectionist it’s not such a bad thing, in fact it can be great.  It means you’re in very skilled and successful hands. 

But it’s different in relationships.  And Christianity is the most deep and wide relationship you’ll ever have, which is why people living its abundant life are so hard to find. 

To quote G.K. Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” 

In relationships, trying to control things is poison and submission is your friend.  To the ears of perfectionism, submission is like the screech of chalk on a blackboard.  It’s impossible to contemplate.  Especially if you think or know that you have a better way. 

And if it’s hard just to submit and be vulnerable to another person you love or call your friend, how much harder do you think it is to give REAL self-exposure to a God you cannot see?  To take time out of your external schedule full of people for internal private worship, to express your heart in prayer and listen for God’s heart through Scripture and in silence… 

In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said, “…when you pray,” – implying that it’s something He expected we’d do regularly – “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” 

It can be especially difficult to honestly open your heart if you have unhealed wounds from the past; even more so when the scars go deep.  People who are still trying to protect themselves and have everything “just so” have the biggest fights to let go and let God. 

And because God is interested in blessing ALL areas of your life, people who are owned by perfectionism lose a great deal, because they keep God at arm’s length. 

They not only lose what God could have done for them, but even worse, they lose what it is to know Him.  In John 17:3, Jesus said that to know God is eternal life…!  Perfectionists lose the experience of His blessed peace that overtakes and passes their best understanding.  

I’m sure some of you here have had the bittersweet experience of going through something painful or difficult, but it was made bearable because you weren’t alone – someone who loved you was with you. 

That comfort is hugely, infinitely multiplied when it’s GOD you turn to in your pain.        

Now to switch gears, if the continual oppression that holds you stuck is a lukewarm lifestyle, you never get to really live.  Lukewarm is an extremely deceptive place to be in, because there’s none of perfectionism’s stress.  The symptoms are not as telling. 

But neither is there purpose, energy, bursts of feeling, demonstrations of love, or acts of courage. 
Just like you can’t smell carbon monoxide as it’s slowly killing you, staying in a lukewarm life will assuredly erode the talents and blessings you’ve been given until they are gone. 

Fear is still present when you’re lukewarm, but instead of a taskmaster cracking a whip, it poses as ether: a substance that puts you under. 

You’re still alive, but you’re checked out. 

Living under fear, you can protect yourself from feeling pain, but you’re unable to defend yourself from actual damage AND you’re unable to contribute good to the world or to the people close to you who love you and need you: family, friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, children…spouse

You are useless to God when you’re lukewarm!  And you’re passively hurtful to those whom you say you love.  They miss you.  

Obviously I’m not married and haven’t yet been married, but I’ve been around many different marriages.  Someone I know was recently remarried about a month ago.  I had a ringside seat to the story of her first marriage as well as several privileged glimpses of others.  I’ve observed my parents’ marriage.  I know enough to know that even the best marriages are hard work, and that when you get to a good place, that goodness still takes intentional maintenance to sustain. 

We don’t stop having selfish sinful natures once we get married; if anything, marriage exposes your flaws like nothing else and confronts you even more intimately with the need we all have: to be transformed into the image of Christ.  Then we will love well.

To whoever is here struggling with perfectionism or lukewarmth, I offer this quote from John & Stasi Eldredge’s book Love & War:

“The [human] heart is God’s most magnificent creation, and the prize over which He fights the kingdom of darkness.  Now consider this – marriage is the sanctuary of the heart.  You have been entrusted with the heart of another human being. 

Whatever else your life’s great mission will entail, loving and defending this heart next to you is part of your great quest.

Marriage is the privilege and the honor of living as close to the heart as two people can get.  No one else in all the world has the opportunity to know each other more intimately than do a husband and wife. 

We are invited into their secret lives, their truest selves; we come to know their nuances, their particular tastes, what they think is funny, what drives them crazy. 

We are entrusted with their hopes and dreams, their wounds, and their fears. 

An incredible honor is bestowed on the one to whom we pledge our lives and a deep privilege is given to us as well.”

To all the married people here, I ask, how responsible are you being with this honor and privilege?  Are you actively being a good steward of your spouse’s heart? 

Or are you just doing enough to get by?  

It might be time for some of you to pray for some inspired creativity so that memories of being loved are not all your spouse has to go on.

Living lukewarm when you know better is the equivalent of burying your one talent in the ground instead of risking investment. 

And to refresh our memory on how well that goes, I’m going to read from Matthew 25:24-30: “Then the man who had received [and buried] the one talent came.  ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid [pause] and went out and hid your talent in the ground.  See, here is what belongs to you.’”

Before I continue, this man had made assumptions about God.  We don’t have the capacity to grasp how big and complex God’s blueprint is for taking care of us. 

We’ll think He’s gathering where He never scattered because we can’t see His view on taking care of things and we won’t choose faith and trust. 

And when we try to humanize God based on our misunderstanding, we never get it right

And so of course we’ll fall back into choosing fear. 

The verse continues: “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.  For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” 

From the looks of this, living lukewarm lands you in the worst possible place. 

So where is the best place to be?

How about being in love? 

I don’t just mean romance, though God is a Lover and Bridegroom as much as He is a King and Father.  And really, romance is not defined by star-crossed lovers with uncanny physical chemistry who look forever young.  That’s the cliché and it’s warped. 

What makes romance crucial to your relationship with God and with each other is that it’s the experience of pursuit: you being pursued, and you yourself taking initiative into the heart of God and other human beings. 

This core of pursuit is what protects families from going stagnant and what keeps friendships alive; pursuit is not just for romance. 

When I’m talking about being in love, I’m talking about is Agape: the Love that gives and serves simply because it can.  Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good…when it is in your power to act."  So when I suggest, “How about being in love,” I mean how about being in an environment of love that doesn’t disappear or hurt you when you fail? 

How about being loved deeply by the God of the Universe even though you’re just one flawed human being in an over-populated planet? 

And I mean being loved in the way that takes care of you when you’re a mess – the kind of love you can still feel when you’re in pain.  The kind of love that handles you gently when you’re embarrassed or ashamed… 

God loves us like this and we should be actively seeking to love each other this way as well.  Even if you haven’t experienced God that personally yet, there are centuries of written record of people who discovered Him.  He’s there to be found. 

He’s here.  Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there – He is here. 

I’m sure there are people in this room who have experienced breakups, betrayals, violations, maybe a divorce and quite possibly the death of a loved one. 

I am sorry that we live in a world where I can be sure that those things have happened.  And I’m sorry I myself know so well that when that kind of pain hits you, it’s as if it steals your breath away.

Oh it’s nice that you’ve got friends and family, but you really can’t feel any of that when the pain is overwhelming.  But God’s love is the only kind of love that can be deeply felt in such ugly times, if you’re willing. 

Michelle McKinney Hammond writes that such heartbreaking events “cut to the core of our being and expose the one constant in our lives – the love of God.”   

If there was one good thing in your life that you knew would never change, would you waste time analyzing it, being critical about it?  Would you not care about it?  Not even react to it at all?  I doubt that. 

You would hold onto it and never let it go!  But only holding onto God’s love doesn’t quite do it justice.  God’s love can do more than just save your life. 

God’s love doesn’t stop at the intensive care unit after rescuing and stabilizing you.  God’s love brings you BACK to life. 

We KNOW God can raise the dead so He can certainly breathe life back into your soul.  God’s love sustains you through future difficulties.  It’s as if God says, “All is NOT fair in love and war, but with Me you can freely have the love.”   

We have the song, “Come Into My Heart Lord Jesus,” but it’s not enough.  We are not fit containers for the Shekinah glory of God’s amazing love on our own. 

There’s no way we’re enough. 

God knows this better than we do, which is why Jesus put it perfectly in John 15:4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me,” and later in verse 9 He says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. 

Now remain in my love.”  

To paraphrase this verse, it’s like Jesus is saying: “Stay with me and I’ll stay with you.  You can’t have love if you’ve got no one, and My love has to come first in your life or the other loves won’t work the way they’re meant to.” 

We love it when someone we care about invites us to stay with them.  “Stay a little longer.  Don’t go.”  Jesus says this too.  He says it to us. 

And remember that Jesus came to show us God the Father.  It’s not just about staying in God’s personal embrace.  It’s also about submitting to His power to protect your life. 

It’s about reflecting His example.    

God’s love is a haven amidst and above the fray.  It’s a safe house. 
He calls us to abide in His identity, which is Love.  He calls us to be haven-dwellers. 

His love covering our lives and flowing through them is what will keep us safe until He comes back.  In their book Captivating, John & Stasi Eldredge shared this wonderful thought: “Security is not found in the absence of danger, but in the presence of Jesus.” 

There’s a beautiful verse: Psalm 107:28-30: “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.  He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.  They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” 

So how do we get there?  How do we receive the abundant life He told us about?  How do we enter and remain in the safe haven of God’s love? 

It always starts with repentance. 

Ironically, the two kinds of emptiness we’ve learned about today are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  The perfectionist repents through releasing action and softening his or her heart.  The Laodicean repents by taking action and holding onto God tightly to reconstruct his or her life.  They both reject separation from God and seek His presence.

In other words, if you’re a perfectionist and you know your controlling behavior is at the least bruising if not damaging your relationship with God and others; you repent by exchanging the world’s unforgiving perfectionism for God’s. 

Did you know that God has a special definition of perfection? 

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Now, the ordinary English definition of perfect means, “conforming absolutely to an ideal type; accurate, exact, correct in every detail; entirely without any flaws or defects; excellent beyond any improvement.” 

So basically…the world’s perfection and sanctification don’t mix. 

The world’s perfection says there’s a plateau you can achieve where you’re untouchable.  But as Christians we know our sinful nature doesn’t go away over time, though we can mature and grow stronger at crucifying it every day. 

And we know that because God is infinite, there’s always more with Him.  A life with God doesn’t plateau; it only grows.  

How God’s Word defines perfect is through the Greek word “teleios,” which means “complete in all its parts, full grown, of full age, especially of the completeness of Christian character.” 

How do you know you are living a life of completeness in Christ? 

Jesus always taught that you’d identify a plant by its fruit.  
Does the Bible teach about the fruit of Christians? 
Or is it the Fruit of the Spirit?    

Love                                                                Goodness

Joy                                                                  Faithfulness

Peace                                                               Gentleness

Patience                                                           Self-control


This list will keep us busy for the rest of our lives. 

Just because our friends and loved ones are safe and forgiving about our rough edges doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the best from us. 

If you have people in your life who do you no harm, resist taking them for granted with insensitivity and curtness, even if their differences annoy you. 

Actively love on them instead. 

Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

If you’re a Laodicean in lukewarm waters and you’re convicted that your life is being damaged because you’ve numbed your feelings, then repentance is taking responsibility for your poor choices. 

It can feel like being afraid of heights and getting into the world’s biggest roller coaster.  I did that once in England, when I was a student missionary.  And I already knew I hated roller coasters. 

But I have the memory of having survived the experience. 

It’s worth humbling yourself and taking responsibility for how little you’ve loved, because you’re never the same after having confronted a fear.  

And if your conscience feels rusty, praying for the Holy Spirit to bring truth to your inmost being is a very potent prayer.  

Often, recovery from this condition is very uncomfortable, so COUNT on being irritated along the way and DON’T LET YOURSELF be thrown off when things get awkward or downright difficult.  Stay the course and stand firm. 

James 1:2-4 says to “consider it pure joy, my [brethren], whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 

Not lacking anything is definitely the opposite of emptiness. 
And being mature and complete sounds like the perfection of God. 
So don’t give up once you start!  
Love always perseveres. 

God always perseveres for you, so why not persevere for Him? 
And if you have people in your life who still value you even a little, why not try to bless them for still being there for you? 

Whatever you have to offer in the beginning, God will blow on that spark and turn it into a fire if you ask Him to and not give up. 

In her book The Sacred Echo, Margaret Feinberg put it beautifully: “Surrendering to God exposes a paradoxical truth: No matter what we give up, we are given so much more.”

In the same passage where God said He was going to spit out the Laodiceans for being lukewarm, He actually perseveres past that, and offers encouragement later in Revelation 3:19-20: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”   

There’s a door to our heart, which Jesus respects. 
And there’s also a door to God’s heart, which He invites us to. 

In John chapter 10, Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. … I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

The abundant life flows from God’s two greatest commandments. 

We hear a lot about the Great Commission.  It has almost drowned out the two Greatest Commandments, which has put us at risk for forgetting to love each other well and with commitment, not to mention loving our enemies. 

When you’re commissioned to do something, there’s payment.  But if you’re commanded to do something, there should be no question.  The beauty of God’s two Greatest Commandments is that the Great Commission is a natural by-product. 

You can’t have GOD’s love in your life and hold it in. 

When you love someone, you can’t help telling others about your good news and encouraging them about what’s possible in their own lives…!  

It’s like that when you love God, but the church still has a ways to go before we are as excited about Jesus as we are about human attraction.    

So remember: The abundant life flows from God’s two greatest commandments. 

When you end up with God and committed to Him, the world will know you belong to Him by the love you show.  And remember that love is a choice.  The opposite of love isn’t hatred or flagrant sin as harmful as those are.  It’s apathy. 

Jesus was not apathetic on the cross. 

The Easter story is about the passion of Christ; passion unto death for love’s sake. 

The cross was a choice Jesus made with ALL His heart and yes it DID BREAK His heart.  The cross was not a picture of being empty, swept clean, and put in order. 

Jesus’ act of love on the cross was a broken, bleeding, messy and misunderstood act for God’s sake and for ours.  On the cross, Jesus showed that God is trustworthy.

Are we trustworthy like that? 

We sometimes entertain a worldly misconception about the life of Christianity.  It is not picture perfect.  It’s God’s kind of perfect.  The lives of the faithful are messy because God is busy in them and through them, operating like a surgeon to cut out the cancer of sin and to set broken bones in our souls so that we can know what it is to RUN free. 

Healing from what sin has done to us is painful hard work, but with God, there’s ultimately no reason to live empty and oppressed by fear.  There’s no reason to not pursue the abundant life as your life.           
Today I began with the story of Titanic.  I’m going to close with a story about a different boat.  This story wasn’t a tragedy.  Instead, it was a triumphant miracle.    
The boat wasn’t anything special, but it had Jesus in it. 

This story is found in Matthew 8:23-26: “Then [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord save us!  We’re going to drown!’  He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.”   

Live for the sake of knowing God better each new day. 
Spend time alone with Him. 
Pursue the awkward but worthwhile journey of intimacy…with God and your loved ones.
Remember God’s promises. 
Don’t forget how He’s led you in the past. 
Claim the sanctuary of hope, which we have in God’s love. 
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, for God so loved the world that He gave us Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him won’t be a lost cause but will have eternal life. 

Pray for God to kindle desire in you to be a deep-hearted believer, to be more loving, to be like Jesus.  Pray for His help with your unbelief. 

There is no prayer you can’t pray to Jesus.

The abundant life flows from God’s two greatest commandments. 
Love Him with everything you have and love others with everything He’s given to you. 

Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”  

It’s the same with the abundant life.