Looking To The Right Or Left | A Blog on Worship & The People Around Us

“My friend, this is what we were designed for. We were made to worship, the only problem is that we often worship those around us more than we worship the One who made us. There’s so much talk about the worship of other things, but maybe we need to start talking about how many of us are worshipping one another?

Through comparison, through envy, through striving to keep up with the Joneses, we are in many ways worshipping each other and they ways we believe we can be satisfied through relationships.”

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Reflections From Acts 9 | The Unmentioned Aspects of Conversion

You know that Enneagram train everyone is riding these days? Yep. I’m on it. Maybe it’s because I am unashamedly curious about all the ways I can get better at being Laura, or maybe it’s because I weirdly like having spelled-out before me the areas that I am weak and need improving. Whatever the reason, the Enneagram has me hooked and I want to know everyone’s number and talk about all the ways we can become the best versions of ourselves. (For those dying to know… I’m a 9 ;) )

What’s crazy about the Enneagram is that the belief behind the system is that we take on the version of ourselves that we are as adults when we are children. So it’s not necessarily that we were born this way, but rather that life circumstances and choices forced us to put on a certain self as a coping mechanism or a way of navigating our own little worlds, and thus we became the people we are today.

It’s fascinating to me just how influential our surroundings are in the people we become. Where we lived, who we spent our time with, the kinds of food, music, and activities we consumed—it all weaves together the tapestry that is each individual person.

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Our surroundings shape the pages that write the beginnings of our lives.

I wonder at the details of Paul’s surroundings early on in his life. (Or Saul, rather, at that point in time.) The book of Acts tells us that he was a severe man, with a fiery intentionality for whatever he set out to do. In the case of the early church, Saul set out to persecute and rid the world of all those who claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Later on, after his conversion, he tells us that he was as straight as they came in terms of his Hebrew heritage and way of living. Not only did he dot every “i” and cross every “t”, he did it better than all the rest. So the pride, and social status that fueled his actions was likely of astronomical proportions (Acts 22:1-5).

In his circle, he was doing all the right things.

And then Jesus Christ, the One Saul had devoted all of his time, energy, and resources to slander, intersects his life in a blinding way, and everything in Saul’s life turns upside down.

[You can read the story of the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-18. What I want to point out are the days following this miraculous conversion.]

Verse 19 of chapter 9 tells us that,

He spent a lot of time with the disciples in Damascus over the next several days.”

As I read that I wondered, what about all the guys he was traveling with, all on their way to persecute believers in Damascus? Paul had made a HUGE decision to follow Jesus. And he didn’t do it privately so that no one in his regular life knew about it. He was baptized and proceeded to then spend all of his time with those he had intended to kill.

What did his friends think? His family? His boss? The other Jewish believers who saw him as a wise and powerful man “on their side”?

He had ditched his comrades and the life he lived before that moment he met Jesus, and the word spread quickly.

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 9:20-22 | NIV).

Paul had “everything to lose” and yet he knew that he had, in fact, gained everything the moment he gave his life to Christ. People were dumbfounded that this man was now living for the One with whom he had devoted his life to wiping out. As I read this, I am floored by the reality that we as believers live our lives so ashamed of this incredible gift we have been given. We try to hide from a watching world the eternal life and salvation we have been given through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

There is so much we can learn from Paul—God knew the tenacity with which this man would get after anything he was passionate about, so He made sure Paul would be passionate about His Son.

Couldn’t that be true of you and I, too?

He knows the exact way He wants to use you and your commitment to Christ to influence your surroundings. He knows the head-strong people you work with, or share a family name and genetics with. He knows the story of your past and all the ways people like to define you by it. He knows where you’ve been and He knows where you’re going. And He wants His Name to be what defines your life from here on out.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of who you were or who they are. Perfect love drives out fear, and His love in you and for you and through you is perfect. He knows how to wash-white your past, He knows how to supply your every present need, and He knows how to lovingly navigate your future, so that His Name would be made great through your passionate love of His Son.

So can you and I be like Paul, and run head-long towards the One from which we have been given true and lasting LIFE? Can we cease caring about how life will go on for those around us, and start leaning in and doing life with those who are devoted to Jesus, trusting that He will use our stories to speak to the hearts of those who have influenced us before we met Christ?

It wasn’t easy for Paul, at first. But he pressed on, and was given an advocate—someone to encourage him, guide him, and support him on his journey towards complete devotion to Christ. RPromise me you’ll read the rest of the story—it can be found here. If you are new to your faith, like Paul was here, find yourself a Barnabas. If you can’t, then pray with boat-loads of faith that God would bring you one. His heart is not for you to do this life of faith alone, so broaden your vantage point and start looking to places you’ve never looked before. I promise you, you’ll find your Barnabas.

What could happen to this lost and lonely world if we all turned and followed like Paul did? Lord, would you do this again in each one of our lives; that Your church would grow and the lost would be found in Jesus.

To Proclaim in the Bright Light of Day

Earlier this week I had the privilege of teaching two different groups of women from our church straight out of the book of Matthew. Typically when I teach I am given the curriculum and I take it before the Lord and ask Him to show me what it looks like from the lips of Laura. But this time I got to teach straight from my own time with the Lord.

Man was it fun.

And also extremely difficult. Because who am I to teach others from the Word of God? What credentials do I have after my name that merit me the opportunity to instruct others on what God's Word has to tell us? If I've learned anything from following Christ and learning from His time here with His disciples, He errs on the side of "lacking in training" when He chooses people to use, and in that regard I'm a great fit.

I feel compelled to transcribe this message for you, because it is one that really needs to be heard by anyone who spends any time at the feet of Jesus. I pray it packs the same "punch" as it did from the platform on Tuesday.


As you read this I encourage you to open your Bible to Matthew 10. (I pray you have confidence from the Spirit to engage in His Word knowing you have all that you need to understand what He wants to show you. May we never enter into any time in His Word fearful that we just don't get it. He is all we need to get what is written here.)

I have one of those letter boards in my living room. You know the ones--really trendy right now and went from being hard to find and crazy expensive to available in your local target store. Isn't that how things go? Anyways, moving on. On said letter board I have a verse from Matthew 10 that I found over a month ago and loved. It spoke to me, albeit not in it's fullness at the time, and I've loved having it in my home. But the day we were having our Global Team over for a reunion dinner, I felt like changing it. With the bustle of the day, I never got around to it, and lo and behold, it became a hot topic of conversation and encouragement that night with those in my living room.

Huh. I guess this verse IS really encouraging.

As I anticipated what to teach the women of my church in the week that followed, I found myself coming back to this verse again and again. So I went to the Scriptures and found a call to action I, and likely you too, desperately needed.

Hold tight though. We'll get to that call in a minute.

At the end of Matthew 9, we find Jesus with His disciples, having been healing and driving out, and restoring what was lost. His disciples have been witnessing and learning, and He has been likely blowing them away at every turn. In verse 36 we see Jesus taking in the crowds around Him, and feeling such compassion for their lostness. There is such a great need for what He has come to bring, and yet at this point there is only One who is able to do the work. He goes on in verse 37 to tell His disciples, "The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

Translation: "Guys, do you see this great need around us? There are souls ripe for the hope found in Christ, but there are few who are bringing that hope to them. Pray for a solution. Ask the One who is over this great harvest to raise up those to do the work." -That's how I read it, anyways.

This is the beloved missionary verse. 

*NOTE TO THOSE WHO READ 2 CHAPTERS A DAY AND CALL IT GOOD* here is a perfect example of why you should explore the next chapter before you officially end your reading. If you end at chapter 9 and wait to go onto chapter 10, you miss the ironic and glorious part that happens next.

Matthew 10:1-2a- "Summoning His disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles..."

Did you catch it?

There's this problem. People need an encounter with Jesus Christ, and yet there is, at this point, only One who is able. Jesus tells them to pray for a solution. Then He gathers them and GIVES THEM THE VERY EQUIPPING THEY NEED TO BE THE ANSWER TO THEIR OWN PRAYERS. He gives them authority and a new title. They are no longer merely disciples but apostles with orders from the Messiah.

In the church we are encouraged to "fill the empty seats" and "grow community" and "invite our neighbors". And we pray, "Lord, encourage others to fill these empty seats and grow community and invite their neighbors!"

But what if you are equipped enough to be the answer to your own prayers? What if Jesus isn't asking them but He's asking you?

In verse 5 Jesus tells the apostles not to go to the lands that make the most sense to them. I imagine these men to have received this incredible authority to do the very things they've witnessed Jesus do, and then begin down a trail of thoughts about all of the far off lands that need this kind of power to intervene. But Jesus says, (my own paraphrase and assumption) "Those places that seem like they are the most lost? That's not where I'm sending you. I'm sending you to the people within My own house--I'm sending you to your own people, because they are the ones in need of what I have come to bring."

We are so quick to assume who needs to message of the Gospel and who should be the ones to bring it (you know, those called to missions and whatnot). But is Christ the one who told us that? Because these few passages alone would tell us otherwise. It's the people down your street, at your favorite coffee spot, in the office next to yours, and even sitting in the same row as you on Sunday mornings.

As you continue down in this chapter you will see Jesus give the apostles instructions on coming and going--the what-not-to-dos--and then go on to inform them of all of the persecution they will face for this charge they've been given to fulfill. A point in the conversation that I would likely have begun to second-guess my previous decision to leave everything and follow this Man. But the kindness of Jesus is that He is both bold and reassuring. He tells it like it is--there will be trouble AND He has overcome the world.

And here, friends, is where we find this beautiful verse that has been accompanying me these past weeks:

"And you should proclaim in the bright light of day everything that I have whispered to you in the dark. Whatever whispers you hear—shout them from the rooftops of houses." - Matthew 10:27 (the Voice)

Jesus has just told them of the persecution they will face, but what He doesn't do is tell them to keep this message on the down-low so as not to ruffle feathers or cause dissension. Amidst all of this, He tells them to speak in the light the things He is telling them in the darkness. The wisdom He is whispering in their ears, the revelation they experience in the darkest corners of their souls, they are to speak out in the brightest light of day--without a shadow of doubt or fear--so that those around might come to know the wisdom and truth found in Christ.

And we sit. And we hesitate. And we are content to keep what He is showing us to ourselves.

Well, what if they don't know the Lord? I mean, what if they aren't a Christian? What if they don't like what I have to say and turn me down or don't want to be my friend anymore? What if they call me ridiculous, or even tell me I'm naive and stupid to believe such nonsense?

So we take all of those "what-ifs" and we keep to ourselves the gift of wisdom and understanding we get to continually unwrap by the grace of God, and we hope that someone will reach these lost sheep around us.

Friend, can I tell you something? You are the answer to the problem. You have all of the equipping you need to share the Hope of Christ to the lost around you. For the sake of those who are desperate for a reason to keep living, a reason to keep moving forward, and a reason for their existence, be BOLD and share the things God is whispering to you.

And guess what? It's doesn't have to be as awkward as you think it's going to be.

How did Jesus talk to people about the Kingdom of God? He spoke in stories and shared this ground-breaking, earth-quaking truth in a way that could be received by the ears it landed on.

Mom friend from preschool and a playdate:"My husband doesn't talk to me. And when he does he's so negative. I feel so unappreciated."

Me full of fear: "Oh man, I'm sorry. Yeah, that totally sucks, I've been there."

Me following the instruction of Christ in Matthew 10:27: "Oh friend, I'm so sorry. You know, whenever I feel like my husband is distant, I try to find ways to encourage him and love him for exactly where he is. I've spent a lot of time praying for God to change him so that I feel better, but God showed me that if I love my husband where he is at, just like God does, then my heart changes and I soften towards my husband and what he might be going through that I am unaware of."

Because we have to fear God more than we fear being unliked. 

Jesus says in verse 32 that if we acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge us before His Father in Heaven. Every one of us who think we could be instant best friends with Joanna Gaines "if only we knew someone who could introduce us", this is that scenario times one hundred billion. There could be nothing better in all the world than to have the Father hear my name from the lips of His very own Son, and He says that if we will simply acknowledge Him before others, He will do just that for us.

Please tell me you see the incredible value in this!

Jesus also tells us in verse 39 that whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will find real life. And I know what you're thinking, "I live in a free country where no one is going to kill me or imprison me so I'm good. This only mildly applies to me and in ways that are more metaphorical than anything."

But what if it said, "whoever loses his convenience for the sake of Christ will find real life" Or "whoever is willing to have their plans, dreams, and goals disrupted for the sake of Christ will find real life"?

The Spirit of God is whispering to us all the time, asking us to be willing to put down our own desires so that the souls ripe for the hope of Christ might be tended to by the children of God. Are you willing to be interrupted? Are you willing to miss your meeting, or be late with dinner, or make others wait on you because you followed the prompting of the Spirit to have a conversation with someone around you? Because there are people all around you DESPERATE for someone to care to know them. There are people who have lived where you are, in your community, for months or more and never had someone care to get to know who they are. And you and I are brushing past them daily, so focused on our own agendas and needs that we are missing the chance to show them that there is a God who KNOWS them and LOVES them.


How do we follow Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 10:27?

  1. Don’t fear: (vs 28)-“Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul;” Have greater reverence for Jesus than you do for your own likability to others.
  2. Know your value to the Sender: (vs 30-31)-“But even the hairs on your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." He sends you because He has placed value on you to be the one to accomplish the work around you. What is the price being paid for being unable to grasp your value in this whole thing? Souls still desperate to know the Hope found in Christ--a very high price, indeed.
  3. Understand the mission: (vs 34, 37-39)- “Don’t assume I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… The one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it.” Do we "keep the peace" at the cost of the Gospel?
  4. Frequently evaluate where you stand on this journey of being a disciple of Christ—are you moving forward? Like the disciples, we have the opportunity for promotion--to be given greater tasks and to go further with Christ. Are we willing? Are we pursuing Him now with a heart longing for more?

Friends, we cannot keep this revelation to ourselves. The people we do life around are not just people--they are valuable to God, and He has chosen to use us to show them that. Will you be bold in the reality of Christ in you? Will you share with those around you the things He is doing in you? Will you cease to let fear hold your tongue and keep your life with Christ separate from your life in the world? We have been called to be Ambassadors of Heaven--to represent our Homeland amongst a broken and hurting world. Can we be bold for the sake of the Gospel and remember that this can happen in the simple acknowledgement of Christ in our lives?

 

I would LOVE to hear how you are doing this, what your response is to this lesson straight from Scripture, and how you feel challenged to change your ways. Comment and let's start a conversation!

 

 

Some Day-Three Advent Thoughts

SRT-Advent_instagram_day3 I decided to participate in the Advent study which has been beautifully provided by an incredible community of women that call themselves She Reads TruthWhile I grew up Catholic and found the saving grace of Jesus when I was sixteen, I've never understood nor participated in Advent before now. What's crazy to me is that this is totally my thing--studying, meditating and preparing for a big celebratory event like the birth of my Savior is completely my bag. So how I've gone so long without this I'm not sure.

After studying yesterday's chosen passages, I came away with a full heart and wide, love-filled eyes. Man does God love us! His Word proves this time and time again. I thought I'd share some of the insight in the hopes that it could start a conversation, if even just between you and the Lord.

"The people who walk in darkness

will see a great light;

those who live in a dark land,

the light will shine on them.

You shall multiply the nation;

You shall increase their gladness;

they will be glad in Your presence

as with the gladness of harvest,

as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For You shall break the yoke of their burden,

and the staff on their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor,

as at the battle of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child will be born to us,

a Son will be given to us;

and the government will rest on His shoulders;

and His name will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from then on and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."- Isaiah 9:2-7

"The people who walked in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them." Upon reading this verse I couldn't help but begin to ponder what my life would look like today if I didn't have Jesus. If the Son of God hadn't been made fully man and fully God and completed the joy set before Him in taking on the punishment for all sin, what would my day to day look like? Feel like? Seem like to others? See, I know what my life looked like before Jesus, some thirteen years ago, but what would it be like today, at 29? Friends, this is a scary thing to think about and is also a glorious thing to think about because, glory be to God, those things cannot amount to anything more than a thought! Hallelujah!

"... you shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide their spoils." He came not only to pay our penalty--but to replace fear, guilt, shame, temptation and frailty with an ever-increasing supply of gladness. As I read these words my brain began to hurt because I began to travel down the path of fathoming (or trying to anyways) the reality that the joy I will experience in the times to come will be greater still than the joy and gladness I've already experienced thanks to Jesus. Does that make sense? We think ahead to our futures and comprehend a degree of joy will come our way in various seasons, and even in the day-to-day mundane. But according to this verse, we have a greater amount of gladness awaiting us because His nature is for the joy He brings to do nothing but grow. Am I the only one who can't not smile about this?!

"For you shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian." We punish ourselves. We shame ourselves. To the degree that our physical form is altered. Check out the typical American's posture--you could almost imagine a staff across their shoulders. While there may not be physical weight, there might as well be the weight of the world. It's like when a person has lost a limb or a part of their body and they begin to have phantom pains. We are so used to living with something, and when it's gone we keep on going and feeling and living as if it weren't. The same is true of the staff given to us by our oppressor to weigh us down. But right now, I can sit up straight, draw my shoulders down and back, let my head soar high above my shoulders allowing my neck to un-bury itself, and truly stand up tall--because that rod was busted a long time ago. For real though, can I please get some sort of amen on that one?!

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

Humor me for a second-

Wonderful: Extraordinary--hard to understand

Counselor: To advise, consult, give counsel, purpose, devise, plan

He is our extraordinary advisor. He gives us a purpose and plan that might sometimes be hard to understand but is always extraordinary.

Mighty: Strong, mighty, strong man, brave man, mighty man

God: God, one true God, Jehovah, strength, power

He is our brave Jehovah. He is our Mighty Strength. He is our Strong God, complete in power and truth.

Eternal: Perpetuity, for ever, continuing future-- ancient (past time), for ever (future time)-- of continuous existence

Father: Head or founder of a household, producer, generator, of benevolence and protection, ruler or chief

He is our continual Protector. He has been and always will be the Head--this position will never be eliminated. His role as your protector and ruler will continually exist--it will never fade or disappear. Many fathers disappear from their roles, but Jesus never will--He cannot. He is eternal.

and now my favorite one...

Prince: Leader, captain, warden, head, overseer

Peace: Completeness, safety, soundness, welfare, health, quiet, contentment, friendship and peace (from war)

He is the Captain of our Completeness. Do you get that? His charge, His aim, His job, is bringing us true peace: contentment, safety, soundness, quiet, friendship... He is the overseer of these things in our lives and Jesus came to be called the Prince of Peace because His passion is to show us what true completeness, welfare, health, quiet, safety and soundness looks like. He guards these things as a warden guards his prison. He is the ultimate decider or His peace, and He chooses to give it to us.

GLORY GOD!

Please take a moment and let those titles sink in. We read them and only digest what we know of each word--but once you open them up to their entire meaning His role and the reason why He came becomes ridiculously bigger.

"There will be no end to the increase of His government or of His peace..." His rule in our individual lives, and over this falling world, is doing nothing but increasing. The peace He offers is doing nothing for us but increasing. It's growing. It's becoming greater. and greater. and greater.

As you prepare this advent season know that He didn't just come to carry our burden of sin. He came for so much more and He deserves all adoration and praise for each and every thing as He reveals them to us.

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