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.

 

 

Advertisements

Unfinished

I have been facing a new challenge these days. Over the last few months there have been hints of its presence but this past week it reared its ugly head. There was no more denying it. My reaction was typical: “Why me?” I went through the usual emotions – anger, grief, depression, desperation. And then it occurred to me that clearly I was not getting anywhere on my own. I headed to my room and bowed my head. I laid it all before the Lord and cried. I prayed that God would help me to accept what was happening. Almost immediately I was surrounded with an immense sense of peace and was assured that this was not happening TO me, as if I were being punished. Instead, it was simply happening. And God was going to use it to make my life better. He said that even though it seems bad, He is in it. He has a greater purpose. It was weird to go from crying about something to joy, but I did. God loves me enough to keep making my life better! He isn’t done with me yet! I am so grateful for His hand!

He encouraged me with His words:

Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Phil 1:6
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”
and sealed it with a song,

Symbols

We came to Alberta to celebrate the marriage of my husband’s daughter. But while we are here, we wanted to bestow on her a blessing. Not a “thumbs up” for doing a good job, or throwing a pile of money at her to help her along. We can do that too. But what we wanted was to give her that blessing that is bestowed once in a lifetime, marking a special releasing of her as one under her parents authority and charging her to move into the future with both our and God’s blessing. To commemorate this special event we wanted to give her something special. She owns a bracelet that has those special beads on it. We went to the store to see if we could find something that would say what it is we want to communicate. But what a job! How could we condense all of what we wanted to express into one symbolic bead? How could one bead say how deeply she is loved, how immensely proud we are of her, how our hopes and dreams for her are now hers to find, how tremendously important it is that she seek out her Lord every step of the way?

The process reminded me of the cross. The symbol of God’s love for us. But I suddenly realized that while I might communicate love to my children as a collective, it is only when I communicate to them individually that I speak deeply, from the heart. And if I could give everything I had to provide freedom from bondage to them, I would. It is in that one-on-one, heart-to-heart, that all of my love can be poured out for them. The same way that Jesus poured Himself out for us. But not us – He did it for me. And you, and you, and you. Do you see? He was pouring out His love for me when He died on the cross. I wasn’t lost in the crowd. It was for me. Usually when we quote John 3:16, I hear: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not die, but have eternal life. I feel like His sacrifice was like a great discount at your favorite department store. Take advantage of it if you want to, but it was not done for me, Colleen. But I was wrong in the way I was hearing it. He did do it for me. He was thinking of me, Colleen, when He chose to stay on the cross to make sure that my sins were covered so I could be saved. His love for me was so immeasurable, that He wanted to communicate that to me in a special way that would show me the depth of His love and provide the freedom that I needed.

If I hear the word personally from 1 Peter 2:9 it sounds like this: Colleen, you have been especially chosen. You are a royal priestess, a holy woman, belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light! I am not a minion that God does not think of. He loves me! He died for me to show me His love and to provide life for me! I cannot ignore the things that He is asking me to do because I figure He is speaking to a group and I can opt out. No! He is speaking to me. He chose me!

His act of love provided a salvation that I could not earn any other way. It requires my thankful, obedient response. So, with Peter I echo his charge to all of us who have been redeemed by His precious blood:

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

1 Peter 4: 7-11

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).

Simplicity

The qualities of God are manifest in His creation. The hope that is in a sunrise. The grandeur of the ocean. The miraculous power in the birth of a child. The message of God is simple. I love you. The Old Testament’s simple purpose is to show us that we need Him. And the New reveals the depths of His love for us in the death of Christ. It is simple. God loves us. He wants us to know that. He wants us to know the depth and breadth and height of His love for us. This is beyond our understanding. Just as the sunrise is beyond the capacity of our mind to take in, as is the magnitude of the ocean and the sky, and the miracle of children. We, because of our inadequate capacity to comprehend, try to break it down to elements that we can understand – we make it complicated. We pollute the simplicity of God’s love. There is no word after the period in the sentence: God loves you. There is no, if, when, but, or only. There is a period. We need to abandon the layers that we add, and embrace the magnitude and simplicity of the fact that God loves us. And our only duty is to communicate that love to others. Nothing more, nothing less. No complications. No conditions. Just love. We need to get back to the simplicity of who God is, and that He loves us. To understand the oceans of love that He has for us. Forget about the sunblock and chairs and snacks, and just see what He has before us.

Anger

I have been angry a lot lately. When I heard that someone was saying not nice things about me at work, I got angry. When I felt that my husband was not appreciating my efforts, I got angry. When I took the kids to the mall and had to drive through the parking lot – I got angry! God has been speaking to me a lot lately about my anger: Where does it come from? Why does it happen? What does it say about me and my example?

It seems to be a natural human reaction to defend ourselves when we feel attacked. It was an issue that we find addressed throughout the New Testament. In many scriptures we are told to not get angry: Ephesians 4: 29, 31-32: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you; Galatians 6:7-9: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh (from Gal 5: 20:… hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions…) will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit (5:22-23a:… love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…) will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

But there is more than that. We are told to love our enemies: Matt 5:44: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you; Romans 12:14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse; Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

But really? I mean, these people are maligning my character… shouldn’t I defend myself? Don’t I have to stand up for myself? If I don’t, who will? And there is the question… Who will? God says, He will: Ps 91:14-15: Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him; 2 Thess 3:3: But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one; Romans 12: 17-19: Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place for wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Then it comes back to the ultimate question again… do I trust Him? I have trusted Him with my salvation, I have trusted Him with my health, my family, and my finances. But can I trust Him to protect me? Can I not let Him into this area of my life and allow Him to really be my refuge, my fortress and my strength? God is asking me to trust Him. He alone has the power to protect me and shape the course of events so that I not only survive, but can impact my enemies for Him. Many scriptures tell us that we were designed to do good works and to be a good example of a Christian (Col 1:10,Col 3:17,2 Tim 2:15,Matt 5:16, 2 Cor 9:6-8,Eph 2:10,Eph 4:1). 2 Timothy 1:7 tell us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”. God has given us a spirit of love that He means for us to use. We are all familiar with the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a) Those first few verses let me know that no matter how many devotionals I write, or food I donate to the food bank, or mission trips I go on, if love does not mark my life and permeate everything I do, then all of my efforts are worth nothing. If I do not communicate that God loves you when I am with you, what good are all the things I do or say when I am not with you? There is no other message that needs to reach those around me. Only that God so desperately loves them that He died for them. God sees all of them. If there was something to be hateful about, He would be the one to be justified in that. Not me. How are they any worse than I when I am not being loving to them? Verses 4-8a tell me what love looks like: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” I have not been loving. I don’t know if I have the strength to be. But thankfully, God gives me that (Phil 4: 13, Phil 4:19).

He reminded me of my favorite verses: Romans 8:38-39: 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. He loves me. He’s got me. He will not leave me. I can trust Him. And I need to let these people see His love too. As I watched a girl coming into work this morning who doesn’t like me much, when normally I would have thought something not very nice when I saw her, today I thought, how different would she be if she knew that Jesus loved her? I am here for such a time as this.

The cross and the grave

The cross has always been a mystery to me. When I was younger I would hold the emblems during communion and pray that God would help me understand – that He would make it personal for me. I could understand that if I were Mary that she would be tremendously grieved at the loss of her son. If I were a disciple, I would be lost. But Jesus was not my family, or my teacher. Who is He to me? I have tried really hard to place myself back there, but I can’t. Because I don’t need to be back there. This is 2015. I need the cross here. What I know is that these nails have my name on them, and this blood that has been spilled should have been mine. We may not use crucifixion anymore, but the fact remains… the penalty was mine to pay. But Jesus, who I didn’t love or follow, out of an enormous heart of love for me, paid my debt so that I might live. This cross is not a symbol of death to me. It is a symbol of life! But more than that, it is a door to a new life – a life where I am able to connect directly to God and enjoy all of the blessing that comes from that connection. Jesus was not my son or my teacher, but He became my Saviour, Redeemer, and Friend. He is my source of life and love to whom I will forever the grateful!

Trust. It is one of our fundamental struggles. The disciples were struggling. Jesus was in the tomb. It appeared as though evil had won. The bad guys were rejoicing. They were mocking them. The world was convinced that Jesus was nothing more than a man who could not even save Himself. Satan was whispering in their ears… “It was a good run, but it’s over… He wasn’t really God… You should be embarrassed – putting all your hope in Him!” They would begin to doubt. Even though Jesus told them what would happen, they didn’t really believe it. This was not how they thought things would end. Were they wrong to believe at all?

Aren’t we the same? When things do not go the way we expect we start to doubt God. Or blame Him. And then we hear that same voice whispering doubt in our ears and mocking us. Evil is winning and the world is against us. Satan hasn’t changed these 2000 years.The same lies and doubt he whispered to them, he whispers to us. We haven’t changed. The same fears and self doubt that the disciples experienced, we experience too.

But God wasn’t done. In the next few days He would move with such great power that the world would never be the same. And today, we need to remember – God hasn’t changed either!

Love

Love. It is an immeasurable entity. Scientifically difficult to prove. But its existence is undeniable. Love is free flowing, able to fill any space. Limitless. We are not able to box it up, but we can limit it, withdraw it, deny it. We can withhold it from those that need it. It was never meant to be held back, or refused entrance to any area or any person. How often do we though? How easy is it to use love as a punishment where we can withdraw it in an effort to hurt. And it does. Who are we to deny the passage of love through us and all around us? The Scriptures tell us that God is love. God is immeasurable. God is meant to be present in the lives and hearts and experiences of all people. But how often do we limit Him? Withhold Him from others? Deny Him His place? God, love, is yearning to have free access to all who need Him. He will heal, fill, comfort and lead any who welcome His presence. How much of a roll do we play in His ability to reach people? Are we open windows through which His love can flow or bolted doors that deny His access to others?

Presence

Standing before a Holy God, you would expect to be afraid. Here, naked, in front of the One who sees all of you. Everything you have done or thought or wanted to. Me more than most would have much to be ashamed of. In front of anyone else we try to put our best face on and pretend that we haven’t been involved in such depavity. But here there is no hiding. The world would hate me and punish me and reject me – and it is evil. But in the presence of God, I stand completely revealed. But there is no judgement here. Nothing to be ashamed of. No fear. No worry about my looks or my thoughts or my past. I have been washed clean by the blood of Christ and God has nothing but love for me. Only love. Pure, unadulterated, intimate, completely engulfing love. Oh that I would spend more of my time here, rather than in the world!

Intimacy

Intimacy. Everyone wants it. Whether it is with our spouse or with God we all want to be able to connect with ever deepening intimacy each time we are together. But intimacy doesn’t just come by itself. You have to work for it. You have to fight for it.

Having been divorced and remarried, I am acutely aware of the struggles for intimacy. I not only have to fight for time with my new husband, but I must fight against the baggage I bring with me: the hurts, the “ghosts” and the memories that want to insert themselves between him and I. It was harder at the beginning of our marriage, but thankfully my husband is both discerning and patient. He would ask me in those early days if we were really alone or if there were a “third person” present as he could sense that something was not right. If so, he would simply hold me and pray that I could be freed from the memories that were haunting me.

Paul describes the relationship between the church and Christ like a marriage in Ephesians chapter 5 and Solomon describes the intimacy of a marriage relationship in great detail. The adoration that husband and wife have for each other is palpable in the pages of the Song. This depth of intimacy takes time. Time to bask in each other’s presence. Time to notice the little things. Time to fall in love. In this sense, intimacy and the “quickie” are mutually exclusive. The more we substitute “quickies” for love making, the cheaper the relationship gets – the more intimacy we lose. This is true both with our spouse and with God.

God is described as a jealous God in Exodus 34:14. There is no way that He will allow growth of intimacy with a “third person” present. Whether that “person” is our chore list or the phone or our children, God wants our full attention in those moments that we have with Him. If we desire intimacy with Him, we have to fight for it. Just as hard as we fight to maintain intimacy in our marriages, we must fight to achieve it with God.

There is one who will oppose us. One who very much does not want us to reach deep intimacy with our Maker. He is the same one that destroys our marriages and he will insert himself and his agenda into our relationship with God. We have the power to overcome him as “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). However, unless we actually fight, we can’t win. No matter how much power we have access to, it must be put into action. The biggest, strongest man can still be bound and tortured by the smallest if he will not fight.

God revealed this to me this week. I had been distracted by the business of the week and then days without Him started to lead to dryness of spirit. Dryness led to a parched soul. This had been evident in my attitude, my ability to deal with stress, and my lack of joy. Then the sadness took over and the lack of energy and the desire to just sleep appeared. There was no fight left in me. I wondered what was happening to me. Then He showed me that I have not been fighting for us. He deserves my fight. My soul is panting after Him and I do not want just a drop of water to keep me from dying. I want a river of life giving love flowing from Him to me. I want our relationship to not just be barely alive, but thriving. He deserves my time, my focus, and my fight. He is waiting, arms open wide, desiring to spend time with me and for me to know Him, to fall in love with Him, to be brought alive by the experience of His love. Isn’t He worth the fight?