Mortality

I sat with a lady not long ago that was dying. No longer able to respond to me, I held her hand and softly sang hymns that I hoped she would recognize. I sang about the love of God and about His grace.  I was disappointed that I never had a chance to ask her about God while she was still able to talk to me. I had no idea whether she had any faith or not. And now, all I could do was hope that my songs would stimulate her to call on the Lord. That conversation would not be audible to my ears, but still effective, if she already knew about Him. But I had no idea if she had heard the gospel or not.

Evangelism has always been a difficult thing for me. I love God. He has done wonderful things in my life. But the thought of presenting Him to strangers, or worse, people I know, is very unnerving. I tend to avoid rejection, not seek it out. Those awkward conversations where they try to be polite, but tell you off and/or insult your God, your faith and your intelligence all at the same time tend to make continuing a relationship with them difficult. But it never fails that when I am faced with that person dying that I regret not having taken the risk and told them about the Lord.

Romans chapter 10 tells us:

“”Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (vs 13-15, 17)

We have all been called by the Great Commission to go out and preach the gospel. It is not left only to those who do it professionally. We are God’s hands and feet to our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and the strangers we meet along the way. Even though we may not see the person immediately drop to their knees when we present the gospel, we can know with certainty that the word we have placed in their lives will be brought to their remembrance when they need it. Whether that be in those dark days of trial or loneliness, or in those few moments before death, the Spirit Himself will bring our words back to life and lead them to the Lord. But without having heard the hope of the gospel, what can they draw on?

We cannot wait until they are physically dying to decide that we now have an audience ready to hear what we are saying. The likelihood that they will be able to respond is slim. And who knows if we even would have that time? The fact is that without Christ, we are all dying. And salvation is not something that begins in heaven, but here on earth. It makes us come alive to an abundant life of purpose, hope and light.

Take the risk. Present the gospel in love. Live it. Know that His word does not return void, but accomplishes that for which it was sent (Is 55:11).

Live with no regrets.

 

 

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The Lies We Tell Ourselves

My wonderful husband took me out to dinner this week (he knows how much I love to eat out!). We went to a restaurant that neither of us had been to before and ordered the special. It was amazing! It was a fairly healthy meal (meat, rice, and veggies) and I ate as much as I could, but still couldn’t finish all that was on my plate. My tummy hurt I was so full. But then, the dessert tray came around. And there, calling my name, was a creme brulee cheesecake. Well, what did I do? I took the cheesecake, of course! There was no decision making to do. Why? Because I always take the cheesecake. It didn’t mater that there wasn’t another ounce of space in my stomach for it. It didn’t matter that I know that I need to be dairy free or I will pay later. It didn’t matter that the calories would go right to my butt. It doesn’t matter that my butt is already the shape and texture of a cheesecake! I always take the cheesecake. It is my practice. My tongue wins out over my health every time. I tell myself that next time I will resist. Or that next time I will really be dairy free. And then I have the gall to pray and ask God not to have it land on my hips!

I like to think that I am healthy. I know how to make healthy meals, I love salad, and I have been known to work out occasionally. But, if you actually watch me, or if I were to take accurate account of my meals and snacks and exercise (or lack thereof), it would not be difficult to come to the conclusion that I am anything but healthy. The occasional incidence of healthiness does not make my lifestyle healthy. And no matter how good I may have been this week or month, if the cheesecake shows up…. I am taking it!

Our pastor this past week was preaching about walking the talk. God call us to live out our faith, not simply to say we believe, but actually to live that way. I admired his boldness as he called the church to repentance. What is God pointing out in my life that I need to deal with in order to live for Him more appropriately?

1John 1:5-9 says:

“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We are entering a season where there is no grey. There is only black and white. There is no more room for mediocre Christianity. You are either in Christ or you are not. John continues in 1 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Christians around the world are being persecuted for their faith. We are also being persecuted here, only a little more covertly. But if it is our practice to be “Christians” only between 10 and noon on Sunday mornings, and the rest of the time live for ourselves, what will we choose when persecution comes our way? When it is our friendships, our jobs, our homes, our freedom or our very lives? If it is our practice to live for ourselves, we will choose ourselves over God. The cheesecake will win every time. Do not be deceived – we will do what we always do.

So where do we go from here? I believe we must start again with the fundamentals. First choose your god – as Joshua lays the choice before us (24:14-15): “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Then we need to make it our practice to stay away from the old gods and seek only after the real God. Joshua continues (24:23) “Now therefore, he said, put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Isreal.” There will be some repenting required here and some resetting of priorities.

The writer of Deuteronomy presented the same decision before the people, the same one that we have before us today, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (30:19-20).

Choosing God is not a simply a declaration, but a lifestyle. I know that God has spoken to me about areas that need refining. And God is faithful. If I seek Him, I will find Him, and the abundant life that He promises. What will you choose?

Desperation

I watched a movie the other night. In it, a woman desperate to attain something it seems she cannot have, compromises her integrity and settles for a cheap substitute. The emptiness, shame and guilt that follow destroy her. This scene has stuck with me for days. The all-consuming search for that thing that she believes she cannot live without. The complete brokenness of her life even as she chooses to walk this road that she knows she should not, but her desperation drives her to it. The deep realization that what she gained was no comparison to what she sacrificed to get it. The utter sadness of a good life gone.

I could identify with her. In my old life I sacrificed much of myself and gained very little. But even now, as a believer, I still feel the ache of desperation within me. I have tried to fill it with food, but that didn’t work. I have tried relationships, careers, and general busyness, but all have left me more busy, more burdened and still unfulfilled. I long to step into my purpose. To experience a closeness that settles all of my insecurities and equips me for the thing that I have been designed for. I know that this can only be found in the one true Source. But often it seems that I substitute things for Him. I talk about Him, read about Him, write about Him, but never really seek Him. It is almost as if I think it is too hard a task. Like my life is too busy to focus on Him. And yet, I am tempted to try to further my career to find fulfillment, or do a new work of ministry, or write a book. But won’t they all take time, and effort and energy? Won’t they all still leave me empty? I don’t need to be busier. I need what I am doing with my time and energy to be making a difference. I need to walk in the path that He designed for me. I have run enough detours already. I want the straight path now.

As I prayed about this, I found myself confessing all of those things that I have used as substitutes for God. It was a long list! I felt Him telling me that He wants to fill me, but He can’t be present in a life that remains compromised. I must choose Him in every minute. I must choose Him when I talk, when I write, when I think, when I do. I must confess and be forgiven for settling for less in my life. It is not easy. Many of these idols are habitual. I don’t even have to think about them. I just do it. But God has been pointing them out. One by one I “see” what they are and have been confessing and asking forgiveness for each. I need to remove these in order to make room for Him. God tells us that “you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). God is not far away. He does not make it impossible to find Him. But He will not share our hearts with another. Jesus told us the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). He wants our complete devotion. Once we surrender this, He will be found, He will fill, direct, equip and anoint us to complete the purpose for which we were created. Only then will the craving within be satisfied. Only then will we truly be free.

Beauty and the Beastly

I put on makeup today. If any of you know me, you know that is very unusual. My husband asked me if it was a special occasion. But it wasn’t. I just thought, “why not?” When I finished, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “You are beautiful!” Then I got sad, because it reminded me of my teen years when I would look at myself in the mirror and think, “I think I am beautiful, I don’t understand why no one else does…” I have spent much of my life comparing myself to others. I am fatter, and uglier and grumpier. I am not the bubbly one that can walk into a group of strangers and everyone would fall in love with. I am not good enough. I am not a good enough student or I would make better marks; I am not a good enough nurse or I would know every possible thing that could be wrong with someone; I am not a good enough mother or my kids would be perfect; I am not a good enough wife or my husband would be more passionate about me; I am not a good enough person or I would have friends. There is something less than perfect about me.

While we were travelling though the west we got to see the mountains and the prairies and the badlands. It occurred to me that God created all of these places. One wasn’t more perfect than the other. They were all created perfect for their purposes. While the mountains are majestic, they are also freezing cold and only habitable by grizzly bears and mountain goats. The badlands are arid desert, but house a teeming population of prairie dogs. All of creation was made for a reason and God declared it perfect (Gen 1:31). He didn’t declare the mountains more perfect than the wilderness, or the oceans more perfect than the lakes, or the tropics more perfect than the arctic. All were created perfect. But what if the mountains thought that the desert was better? What if they tried to flatten themselves and get warmer and drier? First they wouldn’t be able to, but in the process of trying, they would mar the beauty that God gave them, corrupt their purpose, and push away the life that would be supplied by them.

Because of the less than adequate way that I have felt about myself most of my life, I have tried to hide who I am. I generally wear clothes at least two sizes too big for me. I don’t do my hair or makeup. I find that this way I can enter a room unnoticed for the most part. People will only give me a passing glance and then dismiss me. Then I can find a corner or a wall and “blend in” so that I don’t stand out in the crowd as someone who doesn’t belong. However, when I acknowledge the way God has actually made me, I have to admit that I am a woman passionate about helping and supporting others. I am a natural leader and teacher. I want to encourage people to see their precious value in Christ. I want others to know and accept the truth about how deeply they are loved and how important they are to the world. I want them to realize that they are irreplaceable. How can I do all of that if they don’t see me? I have had a hard time loving others as Jesus told me to because I have had a hard time loving myself. All of the layers of self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness have stunted my ability to be who God created me to be. And thus I have not been fulfilling the purpose for which I was created and have not been able to breathe life into those around me because I have been “dead” myself. Colossians 2:8 warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” I have been bound by these lies. I have been believing that God made a mistake with me. But God is perfect, and I have been created in His image (Gen 1:27).

This is a good day to throw off all those things that hinder me (Heb 12:1) and stand confidently as the person I am. I may not be a mountain or an ocean, but perhaps I am that stately oak that provides shade, shelter and strength to all who are near. Why should I be ashamed of that?

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Ps 1:1).

Perspective

I have been to see counsellors – secular and Christian. But the one that helped me the most was my pastor. He was a man of God, and a wise counsellor. He would tell me, “It is not my job to tell you what to do. It is like you have your nose pressed up against a brick wall. All you can see is that one brick in front of you. My job is to back you up until you can see the whole wall. Then you will know what to do.” His job was to help me get a better perspective on the situation. I wish I had had more time with him. There are lots of situations that I could use a different perspective in. But he has gone on to glory already.

Perspective is important. To look at my life from the outside, I am no different than my neighbors or co-workers. I have the same stressful job, the same run down car, the same bumpy lawn and a chimney that needs thousands of dollars worth of repair. So, what is different about my life that is evidence that God is real? What has God done for me lately? He changes my perspective. I pray every time I head into work so that God will give me wisdom to do my job well and love and patience for those I work with. That is evident to those who work with me. I don’t worry about my cars or lawn, God will provide at the appropriate time. I have taken the masonry bill and laid it before the Lord asking for provision. And with all of those things going on I am still able to be generous to those God places in my path and maintain an attitude of praise – at least much of the time! Thankfully God also forgives where I fall short and I am not too proud to admit that I have failed. So what has God done for me lately? He has given me peace despite all that surrounds me. He has given me hope that my needs will be met. He has given me kindness and love for those who hate me. He has given me compassion for the hurting. And he has given me a joy that is not dependent on happy days. It comes from deep within – a result of time spent with the only One who knows me completely and loves me completely. He is my counsellor now. Those times when I get too close to the wall, He can back me up and show me a better perspective. Is knowing God all about just feeling good or does God actually intervene? Absolutely! He has performed bona-fide miracles in my life and I am trusting that He will continue to do so.

My witness to those who don’t know God, is dependent on my behaviour, not my words. Paul, throughout the New Testament tells us to have a walk worthy of our calling and to do good works. Here, in his letter to Titus he writes, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (3:3-8). Following Jesus is not about adhering to a bunch of rules that, if maintained, will somehow earn me a place in heaven. My salvation is already secure. It was the moment I asked Jesus into my life. Following Jesus is about enjoying a relationship with Him. It is about knowing that I am wholly and completely loved just as I am. It is about having the confidence to walk through the fire of this life knowing that I am and will be ok since I am not alone – I am never alone. And no matter what happens, “though [you] stumble, [you] will not fall, for the Lord upholds [you] with his hand” (Ps 37: 24).

The Vine and The Branches

Jesus told us, “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). The vine is attached to the root – the source of life. The branches receive their supply from the vine. Christ is our source of life and we are the branches. We need Him to live. Often we are deceived into believing that we can live, albeit ineffectively, apart from Christ. This is a great lie of the devil. Apart from the vine, the branches wither and die. They cannot find the basic essentials for life separated from it. We are either getting our life from Christ and growing in Him or we are dying. There is no life apart from Him. Those days that we feel dry or not close to the Lord, the days that we choose to unplug and move through the day without Him, we are not simply unblessed, we are starving – dying. Once we choose to reconnect to the vine, the damage of the days apart must be healed. There is no immediate growth. Rehydrating and re-nourishing must happen first. Too many cycles like this and we become weak and unable to bear fruit at all. We need to be fed every day. Connected every day. Growing every day. The quality of the fruit we produce is proportional to the quality of our connection to the vine. Christ has unlimited resources for us, we need only to remain connected. Receiving. Growing. We are made to enjoy an abundant life and to produce a bountiful crop. Will we choose death instead?

Fear

Fear. Worry. Anxiety. They have a way of enveloping you in their tentacles and squeezing the breath right out of you. Once they have grabbed hold, you are alive but do not live; time passes by, but stands still for you. I am all too familiar. When I was trying to start my family, I had two miscarriages back to back. They were devastating. Then a friend, 38 weeks pregnant with her second child, loses her baby. I went to the funeral. The little pink casket up front… so tremendously heartbreaking! I wept for her and her baby. What a tragedy! She found out afterward that she had a condition that caused the late term loss. And as it turned out, my test results showed that I had the same condition. And in marched fear. When I got pregnant the third time, I refused to let myself hope. I couldn’t be heartbroken again. I passed the first trimester and you would think that would be a relief, but no… all I could think was how awful it would be to lose the baby in the 2nd trimester. Then I made it to the third. The closer I got to 38 weeks the higher my blood pressure went. I was terrified. I finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and only then did I process the idea that I was going to have a baby. I was completely emotionally unprepared. Instead of having 9 months to prepare and enjoy my pregnancy, I had had 9 months of terror, refusing to believe that I would have a baby “just in case.” When they handed her to me I was not relieved but surprised. What do I do now? I struggled over the first few weeks through an absolute emotional rollercoaster. My doctor thought I was depressed, my mother thought I was nuts. But eventually, I came to accept and believe that I am a mother and she was my baby.

Recently I have found myself heading toward the same road. We had gotten some mildly concerning news about my husband and immediately my thoughts head toward the worst case scenarios. Even up to wondering what songs he will want at his funeral! I started losing sleep, having nightmares, but this time, I recognized it. This time I sought out help from the only One who can give it. I realized that fear likes to become my god. And as long as fear reigns, the fruit of the Spirit gets choked out. I lose my joy and peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. I lose love. I know the verses that tell me not to worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34) and presenting my requests to God to find peace (Phil 4:6-7), but I have always found that they were nice thoughts instead of actual helps. This time in my search of the scriptures I came across some verses in 1 Peter 5. We are all familiar with verse 7, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” But I noticed that this was the second half of a sentence. Including the first half (verse 6) it reads, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Why is it necessary to “humble myself under the mighty hand of God” while “casting my care upon Him”? I realized that the other times that I pray over issues I talk to God like He is my buddy. And as my buddy, I reduce Him to my equivalent. And if God has no more power than I do to intervene in my situations… then I am in BIG trouble! In order to maintain peace and joy and love, I need to acknowledge that the One to whom I speak is mightier than I. In humbling myself, I can exalt Him to His proper place – the One with the power and love to help. Then and only then can I confidently cast my care upon Him, knowing with certainty that He cares for me and is able to intervene.

My battle then does not become one against the illness or the bills. It is against the fear, anxiety and worry that exalt themselves in the place of God. 2 Corinthians 10 versus 4-5 instructs me: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Every thought, every fear, every “what if” needs to be brought before the Lord. There He can shine His light on it and reveal it for what it is – a cancer that will eat away at my joy, my peace and my faith. There He will minister to me and give me the strength to not just get through today, but live. To live the abundant life that is mine to have – even in this!

Abundant Life

Written Jan 2015: When I was 17 I was assaulted and strangled. That was more than 25 years ago. And although much healing has happened since, I still cannot stand the feeling of something against my neck. I have tried, but I cannot wear turtlenecks or scarves that wrap around my neck. Not that they are tight, but just feeling something there makes me feel like I am choking and I am forever pulling at it in order to breathe. So, I have accepted that I just won’t wear the scarves or turtlenecks. God reminded me this week that “the thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (John 10:10a) And I realized – I have been robbed. Robbed of the freedom to wear whatever I want. That sounds a little silly, but I started to wonder – where else have I been robbed? When I was growing up my family attended a church that was alive: hands raised in worship, amens during the message. It was vibrant. And then some people started coming to the church. People not from our community. People who spoke in tongues. Uninterpreted tongues. They pushed their way into leadership and split the church – completely destroying it. Once this was accomplished, they were gone. The church never recovered. Since then I have always been sceptical of tongues – knowing that not all are the genuine article. And because of this experience, because of the fear that the experience or the gift may not be genuine, I have never received the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the gift of tongues. Should I simply accept this as my lot as well? No scarves, no baptism. C’est la vie. I don’t think so. The second half of that verse says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10b) Is the scarfless/baptismless life the abundant one that Jesus came to give me? No. How many ways has the thief robbed us? What experiences have we had that keep us from living the abundant life or enjoying our church family or living in joy? What about that one that was so needy before – does that keep you from opening up to others in case you end up with another? What about that preacher’s wife that was so shallow – does that keep you from embracing all of them? What about our life situations? That diagnosis or the news that your child is doomed. Should we simply accept what is thrown at us and adapt to life with the new darts impaling us? Should we lay down in defeat and struggle through in mediocrity until we see the Lord in the next life? Absolutely not! We may not know God’s plan, but we know our God! Nothing is impossible with Him! We are told to live and to fight! Ephesians 6:10-17 lays it out plainly for us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Of course, the fight is easier when you are not alone. It is time to set up triage, and help each other. Bring the darts and the wounds to the Healer to be removed and healed. And then it is time to get up off the ground, to take back what has been taken from us, and to recognize the thief for who he is and what he has done. God is trustworthy beyond measure. It is to Him alone that we surrender. Then, take up the full armor, and know that the armies of God are with us. It is time to stand!