I sat in my bed with a cup of hot tea, listening to the quiet hum of the box fan in the window, towering above Pratt Institute, the morning still stretching its arms and rubbing the sleepers out of its eyes.
I flipped through my flashcards, coming upon Romans 8:37-39. I’m prolonging the memorizing of this passage, and I think it’s because I am so refreshed by seeing it in my flashcards. This morning, while I was saying it aloud to God, after I’d spent time in His Word earlier and prayed about the messy situations, about the hard stuff, for Jacob, for my teammates and coaches, and for Taylor, I caught something I hadn’t before.
“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NKJV)
The thing I’d never noticed was the “nor things present nor things to come”.
“Well, of course, Hunter, that’s always been there, duh.”
Well yeah, but this is why memorization and mediation on God’s Word is so important. I’d always taken away from this passage that nothing could separate us, me, from the love of God. But I’d never quite grasped the specifics of nothing. God’s love transcends time, and this was reaffirmed just realizing that part of what Paul lists as the “nors” of Romans 8 was time. “Nor things present nor things to come.” So, no matter what happens from this moment onward one million years into the future will ever separate me from Christ. I cannot be taken out of His love, and it cannot be taken away from me. Any scenario I could possibly dream up, any fear of the future I could possibly entertain, any uncertainty that will ever and could ever plague my heart and weight down my mind will never, ever, ever be able to separate me from the love of God. I am safe.
Another thing I found interesting about this “nor things present nor things to come” is that Paul doesn’t even bother mentioning the past, as if it’s like, of course the past can’t separate us from the love of God. While it’s placed under the category of “any created thing” it’s also already said and done. There’s no way it has any say on the present or the future. It may affect them, sure, but its authority is over and done with. Gone. Hm.
I climbed out of bed and set my tea on my desk. I tried not to think about missing Jacob. I tried not to feel homesick. I rested in Christ, and moved.
I met up with Taylor and we walked to church. We talked about everything. That’s one of my favorite things about walking to church. Yeah, it’s a good walk, a good workout, the fresh air is nice, I don’t have to pay for the subway, but above all of it, I get to grow in my relationship with Taylor, and I get to encourage her, challenge her, listen to her, and learn how to better love her as a sister in Christ.
This was the second Sunday that we came to church and Pastor preached on the things we’d talked about on our walk. Taylor pointed out later that it was God helping us understand another perspective of what we’d discussed.
Pastor dove into the book of Philippians, particularly chapter 1, verses 27-30, which say:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Taylor and I had been talking about living in the authority of the Word of God, what it looked like to spend time with God through His Word, how growth is a process and not an event, how if we’re standing firm on that authority, learning from it, from His people, and spending time with Him, change is absolutely inevitable. Pastor seemed, however, to be coming at it from a different angle.
In IBC, some different things have changed. Nothing concerning doctrine, but in order to be more focused on deliberate discipleship, community in the body, and true growth in Christ, some extra-biblical things have changed. The decisions themselves may not be opposed or affirmed by the Word of God, but the way of discussing these things, both bringing up concerns about the changes and affirming the changes, can definitely be handled in a “manner of life worthy of the gospel of Christ” while “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
After the service, Pastor called a meeting for the congregation, where he would address some of the concerns presented to him by a group of people stirring up division in the church. I’d never experienced this before, the bride being under attack from within, though I’d known, or perceived, that when the changes happened, those who had priorities other than growth and other than Christ would come out, and the true followers of Christ would show up with their armor on.
Taylor and I decided to stay for the meeting and see how it was handled, prompted by Maria and Jonathan. As we sat in the pew, I got nervous. She, Elisa (another friend in the church) and I sat and prayed. And then, Pastor had everyone pray individually and together for about ten minutes before the meeting even started. So we prayed. We prayed fervently for Pastor, for the people involved in stirring up division, for all of the other pastors, for Christ to be glorified, for unity in the body.
Pastor handled it biblically and stood firm. He and the majority of the body sought reconciliation between those stirring up division and themselves, not wanting to set them apart, but discuss and understand the concerns presented.
I sat listening and praying, my heart beating out of my chest, and I almost thought I could hear Taylor’s beating as well. At the end, some passionate voices of the congregation rammed against each other, and an argument nearly ensued. Taylor’s hand reached for me and I held it as the godly men strove to end in prayer, and then begin the battles of handling the proceeding questions and accusations and concerns with grace, humility, love, and authority. Then we prayed. After the meeting ended, the strong body of Christ met at the front of the congregation to be there for each other, and I witnessed the power of unity in godly men, in men who were firm in the gospel and in their relationships with Christ, being strong together but not condemning, ready to answer questions, discuss, listen, and console. And I prayed.
The walk back from church was filled with discussion between me and Taylor, and after having prayed this morning over our walk, that our conversation would be refreshing, fruitful, meaningful, challenging, encouraging for both of us, I realized that God was answering my prayers as we were speaking.
At one point, as we walked through Prospect Park, I was looking up a Romans verse in my Bible and not quite paying attention to where I was walking. As we turned to head over to a street vendor, I looked up just in time to avoid running into an elderly couple.
The woman laughed, “It must be a good book!” And she and her man continued on in the direction opposite ours.
Taylor and I looked at each other and smiled.
Back at campus, I fell asleep in my dorm after praying for Jacob and the Nav leaders at Bragg. When I woke up two hours later, I knew I needed to get out of my dorm. I wouldn’t get anything done if I stayed.
So the day was filled, brimming with God’s greatness, overflowing with His peace and confidence rested in Him. This is another reminder that God is the professional of making beautiful things out of messy situations. He loves His bride, and defends her unity, peace, and dignity, so long as she’s willing to accept it.
Part of me is hesitant to write about this day at church, to write about a possible division in the bride, for fear of someone reading it and saying, “Welp, there ya go, nothing good in the church,” but this is simply not true. I’m seeing that the response here is not to accuse the church, or to give up on the congregation, but to defend her, to fight on her behalf in prayer, and to come together. Too often I’ve heard of people turning away from the church because of something that happened in the body, and yet there was no effort to pray for the body, to pray for unity, to pray for Christ’s will to be done in the heart of His bride.
There are broken people in the body of Christ. They are human. The thing that makes the body of Christ so beautiful, her splendor so complete, is, you guessed it, Christ Himself. This situation is where Christ shines, when Christians are put through messy situations. All throughout the book of Acts, the early church experienced conflict, but they came out stronger on the other side, because they knew who they belonged to. This is no different. When the imperfections of humanity crowd the highway, the perfection of Christ in that same humanity shines forth and paves the way to move forward and grow.
I’m young and naive and I have much more to learn…maybe I really have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m just a girl with a Bible…but I am part of the bride of Christ, and I’m learning more and more what that means, being unified with a vast network of believers, warriors, disciple-makers, disciples, brothers, and sisters. When one part of the body is affected, all of them are…It’s becoming less and less about what I can get out of church, less about going to church, and more about being the church…
Meanwhile, I’m sitting here, overwhelmed—I’m not sure if this is possible, or if I can even say this—by how many things need to be bathed in prayer, in how powerful prayer is, in how many things need to be done for school and for other things and yet there is a whole war going on for the fate of the world and I’m thinking “Excuse me! Pratt! I don’t think you understand what’s at stake here!” But then of course I remember that God is mighty in battle, and able to raise up warriors out of the woodwork. I’m seeing more an more why Christ tells His disciples to pray for God to send laborers out into the harvest, to raise up loyal men and women to pray without ceasing, to fight on behalf of the body of Christ, and to walk in His way.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” —Romans 8:28-30