Experiencing the Transformative Power of the Lord and the Joy of Incarnational Community

I preached for the first time on Thursday, September 22, at The Well, a campus ministry on the campus at Ashland University. The subject of the sermon was on two parts of The Well’s mission statement: to “Encounter the Transformative Power of the Lord” and to “Experience the Joy of Incarnational Community.” Here is what I shared:

The first time I came to The Well, it wasn’t even called The Well yet. It was the fall of 2000, and Celebration, as it was called, was being held in the Student Center auditorium. I was a freshman on campus, curious about but resistant to the Christian message of salvation. I had tried to read the Bible but found it murky, dull, and impossible to understand, despite the best efforts of the professor in my Gospels class that fall.

I walked into the auditorium with my roommate on a Thursday night similar to this one. We were late. It was dark. People were singing and playing worship music. I stood in the midst of the crowd and felt a heaviness in the air, what I would call now the palpable weight of glory pressing down and swirling around that room. The Spirit was in that place, even though I didn’t know to call it that. I could not help myself but weep.

In that moment, I experienced the joy of incarnational community. That is one part of the mission of the Well, to help people experience the joy of incarnational community. I didn’t know it then, but that’s what was happening. God was making himself incarnate in that body of believers, and I was witness to it, in a way that penetrated my heart and soul.

Later that night, after some trembling and pacing and crying, I prayed to Jesus to help me. I lived on the eighth floor of Amstutz Hall back then, and in order to avoid disturbing my roommate with my middle-of-the-night, existential crisis, I sat bawling in the common lounge area with a Bible and a notebook open in front of me. The fluorescent lighting overhead was stark, too bright for the middle of the night. It also smelled like burnt popcorn. Take my life, I told God. I don’t know what I’m doing with it. I need your help. Please, God, rescue me. 

As I sat there praying, my weeping slowed. The trembling stopped. A peace and stillness I couldn’t explain descended on me in place of the weight of every burden I had been carrying. I felt loved in a way I had never felt loved before. I felt renewed. I felt fully alive.

Earlier that night, I had experienced the joy of incarnational community, one part of the mission of the Well. In that moment on the eighth floor of Amstutz, I encountered the saving grace and transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is another part of the mission of the Well.

I had every intention of surrendering every part of my life to God in that moment, because of what He had done for me. I surrendered my relationships to God. I surrendered my career path to God. I surrendered my heart to God. I surrendered my mind to God. I surrendered my spirit to God. And I meant it… at 1 in the morning… after experiencing the joy of incarnational community and encountering the transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the light of day, and in the light of the coming weeks, months, and years of living and walking with Jesus, that surrender has had to happen over and over. Because Jesus is not just a one-and-done Savior, although he does rescue us. Jesus is also Lord.

I love that word, “Lord.” 

In order for us to understand the transformative power of Jesus Christ, we have to begin with his lordship. What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord?

Lords rule over kingdoms and territories. They are masters of their domain, king of the castle, the be-all and end-all for their particular territory. So if Jesus is Lord, what is his territory? Where is his kingdom? What is his domain? I’m going to read Colossians 1:15-20, first in the NIV and then in the Message translation, because both provide insights into Jesus’ Lordship. First, from the NIV:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Six times in this passage, Paul declares that Christ reigns supreme over all things. All things in heaven and on earth, all things visible and invisible. This would have been astounding in biblical times, where the only lord was Caesar, and to call someone else Lord meant death, but think about what we know about how the world is put together today. Think about the telescopes that have caught a glimpse of the world beyond our planet. The Hubble Deep Field, an extremely long exposure of a relatively empty part of the sky, provided evidence that there are about 125 billion galaxies in the observable universe with an even higher number of stars, with an even higher number of planets. All of that is Jesus’ domain. All of that is under the Lordship of Christ. 

If that isn’t huge enough, perhaps we should go smaller. 

Think about the scientists behind the lab microscopes that have probed the cell, thinking it is the most irreducible building block of life, only to find a solar system of cell structures inside. And then, inside the cell a nucleus. And inside the nucleus they found chromosomes, and inside chromosomes they found DNA. Ah ha! DNA, that’s it! The building blocks of life! And then they found that DNA is made of nucleic acids and proteins. And nucleic acids and proteins are made up of elements. And elements have protons, electrons, and neutrons. And everything, from our air to our hair to our bodies to the farthest star in the weakest blinking galaxy is made of the same dust that God breathed life into at the beginning of time.

The farther out and the deeper within we go, the more complex, mysterious, and large everything is. 

And over all these things, the Lord Jesus Christ reigns supreme.

Every particle and planet, every culture and creature, every equation and earthling, Jesus Christ reigns over them all.

I love the way Eugene Peterson puts the latter half of the Colossians passage. He translates it this way: “…All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”

This is the work that God has done through Jesus Christ our Lord. What does Jesus reign over? All things. What does that mean for us? Everything.

When we “encounter the transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ,” we begin to see that each and every piece and particle of our lives is under his Lordship. Not because of his power and his might, which are true, but because of his love. Because God so loved the world. Because we believe this, it is in our best interests to submit our lives to Jesus’ Lordship.

To submit to the Lordship of Christ isn’t an act of limitation. Back in my day, an altar call would follow this message, and everyone would go home and throw out their CDs and cassettes of Madonna and Aerosmith and Nirvana. This submission to the Lordship of Christ isn’t a call to go home and delete all your secular music from Spotify. Let me say it again, Jesus Christ reigns supreme over everything, right now, always, even if you don’t acknowledge it. God’s love is pervasive and unconditional, woven into the very fabric of creation. There isn’t anything you can do to escape it, really. In this way, everything is sacred. To treat any part of the fabric of creation and the fabric of your lives otherwise is to desecrate it (or de-sacred it).

Stop calling ugly what God made beautiful. Stop calling bad what God called good. To determine what is true and beautiful and good and real, hold the things of your life up to the Light (with a capital L). Place them under the microscope of Jesus’s life and ministry. When tested by love, do they stand firm, or do they dissolve? 

Everything is under the lordship of Christ. 

In John 14:6, Jesus calls himself “the Way and the Truth and the Life.” When we surrender to that lordship, God illuminates the way, the truth, and the life in our own lives. What does it mean for the Lord to be The Way, The Truth, and The Life?

The Way is directional—when you walk in God’s Ways, the True North of your compass is God’s love and forgiveness. Whatever we do, whichever way we turn, whichever career you feel called to and passionate about, whoever you choose to love, wherever you decide to move, God will be with us if we’re using his Love as our compass and submitting our lives to him. 

The Truth is foundational—all truth is God’s truth. Nothing that is false can be of God, and whatever is True has to be from Him. As you pursue knowledge now and throughout your lives, you will encounter truths from all kinds of sources. God is the Father of all Truth. Jesus said to the Jews who believed him in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Life is God’s love incarnate—from the very beginning, God breathed and spoke into existence all of creation, and it is this Life that pulses through not just us but every other person, creature, and creation in the entire universe. It’s what connects us to one another and why it is so imperative for us to love one another—person, plant, animal, planet—because it is God’s breath that gives it all life. All of creation is fueled by the love and mercy of God. Everything God made is sacred.

So Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is Lord of all, the kind of Lord that loves his creation, delights in his creation, and longs for his creation to be restored, is working even now to restore it to fullness. And by creation, I don’t just mean the people. I mean the creatures. I mean the water. I mean the trees. God’s Word promises in the book of Revelation the restoration of all things: “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””

That kind of Lord is the One I want to live my life under, the One I want to live my life for. As Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, when we begin to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” we begin to see that the Lordship of Christ is not limiting at all. It’s freeing. It’s freeing because it is ruled by love. It is the greatest of all things.

So, how do we encounter this transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ? We have to know him. We have to immerse ourselves in his life and his words. We have to study what God said about himself, see how God interacted with others, and position our lives to receive God’s love.  We do this in solitude, in stillness, in Sabbath (or rest), and in silence. This is the inner working of the love of God for us as individuals. It doesn’t happen when we’re scrolling through Instagram. It doesn’t happen when we’re binging shows on Netflix. It happens in the quiet place we set aside for the Lord to work on our hearts. And from that work pours out his goodness and love into all things, even into our scrolling on Instagram and our binging of Netflix. When you make space for God, God begins to show up in all of the other spaces in your life.

This space we dedicate to receiving God’s love will cause the fruits of the Spirit to grow in us. The fruits of the Spirit are listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, and they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Don’t those sound lovely? Wouldn’t you just love a little more joy in your life? Can’t you just taste the peace? These are the kinds of gifts God wants to give you in Christ Jesus, when we submit to his Lordship. To submit to his Lordship, we have to loosen our grip on each area of our lives, allowing him to enter in with his vast love and mighty grace, so he can transform you into his likeness, one frightening and freeing step at a time.

This is what it means to experience the transformative power of the Lord in our lives. It means to see your life changed. It means to have the scales of fear, hate, greed, jealousy, bitterness, and anger stripped away so that the truth of your worthiness and beauty can be made known to you. Once you know you are God’s beloved, you can go forth to love others the way he first loved us. 

I don’t believe that this happens all at once. God is patient with us in ways we can’t even comprehend. He is taking his time. As Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus.”

No one does this work alone. After I encountered the transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ that night after my first trip to The Well as a freshman here at AU, I wanted to return to that space again, that space where I experienced the joy of incarnational community. I wanted to have the Holy Spirit fill me again with all of the goodness that comes from being in fellowship with other believers.

God designed all of creation to depend upon one another, to love one another, the way that God loves us. There is deep joy in sharing your life with other people who have decided to surrender their lives to the Lordship of Christ. When you come to The Well, you are experiencing one manifestation of God’s incarnational community.

I love that word, “incarnate.” When God came to Earth, his whole Spirit took on flesh and became a body. He “incarnated” himself – he became fully man and fully God. Spirit and flesh. Then, after Jesus was raised from the dead, the people who decided to follow the Way of Jesus became the living, breathing, body of Christ. Fully men and women, indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” So when we are together in this community, when we are together in any community of God’s children, we are in the presence of God.  We should take that seriously. We are, right now, in the presence of God. We should be rejoicing! We will rejoice! We do rejoice! God is with us, God is with us, God is with us.

To experience the joy of an incarnational community means to gather together in Christ’s love, under Christ’s lordship, and build one another up. Encourage one another. Love one another. That was the new command that Jesus gave his disciples in John 13:34-35, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It was so important, he said it three times. 

Within this incarnational community, we are able to encounter the transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And out of that encounter, we are able to create a space for others to experience this incarnational community. You can be this for each other. You are the body of Christ, building one another up, encountering the transformational power of the Lord together, experiencing the joy of incarnational community, together. Lean into that mission together here and you will experience joy and lives transformed.

(Photo by Alicia Zinn)

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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