Healing · Spread Joy

To my church family, with love.

Church totally sucks sometimes.

Seriously though, it does! It can be so overwhelmingly hard, emotionally draining and if I’m being honest, sometimes it really stinks to be challenged when you just want to sit still in your ignorance, or unpleasant habits.

This past Sunday, our Pastor put to death a vision that has been in the works for years. Multiple people have spent countless hours planning, dreaming and envisioning a new hope for a second site, a satellite location for our church in a town near where we normally meet.

His pain and heartbreak as he laid these broken plans to rest (at least for now) was very evident. I remember when this plan started, it was very much Spirit-lead. In the beginning, I was there to see that. God had opened a brand new and exciting door. And yet… it is no longer happening. The door has been closed.

How on earth did we get here?

Of course, its been a journey, a progression of sorts. Big decisions aren’t made overnight, and nor are they changed that quickly.

Slowly over time, there has been a disunity amongst our congregation. Change is hard and it is scary for so many, and some people panicked at the mere thought. Others had varying opinions of how things should be done, what shouldn’t be done, etc. and the disunity grew and grew until the plan God had laid out shrunk and shrunk until it was gone all together.

And the disunity reminds us that church isn’t perfect. We are not perfect.

I read a quote before about church not being a museum of the perfect, but rather a hospital for the broken and it is very true. When you combine over 150 people who are broken, imperfect and flawed, you can’t expect perfection.

The world around us looks at us as though we are supposed to be the very example of Christ as Christians, and they hold us Christians to standards of perfection that are unachievable to anyone but Christ himself. The second that we show any fault, they are quick to call us hypocritical. But we’re broken people. We are flawed people. We are not Jesus, we are totally imperfect.

What we are is a family. Yes, we are dysfunctional in many regards, just like any other family. We are a family of believers who want to know Jesus better, who want to be closer to him in knowledge and behaviour. We are learning. Learning to admit our faults, learning to deal with things in a Christ-like manner, and learning to draw closer to him, so that we can be more like the perfect person he showed us. Learning to pray, to read our Bibles, to hear from God about the direction of our next steps.

As all families have dysfunction, you can’t expect any differently from a church family. People get their feelings hurt, people step on people’s toes, people feel neglected, people feel frustrated and annoyed. Sounds like any other family get together, doesn’t it? The difference is Jesus. His example taught us forgiveness and grace. He told us to drop everything and find those we have a problem with and make peace.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” – Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus didn’t want us to wait with unresolved conflict. He wanted us to deal with it, and get it taken care of instantly. He wants to see us with peace, resolving differences, and having unity amongst our family.

But I am guilty of the opposite. In my anger, I shut down. I walk away. I need space. I stew. I have the hardest time putting my anger away so that I may resolve my conflict. This happened to me within my own church. I wanted to abandon a family that I loved because of hurt. Instead, when some time had passed to allow calmness to brew, resolution came. And I can’t tell you how amazing and freeing that was for me. To be able to say these are my feelings, and have them validated. To apologize and to be apologized to. To restore the love for the family I feared I had lost forever.

I can see clearly now why Jesus calls us to resolve our conflicts quickly. I can see the damage that stewing causes, the time wasted in anger. When I took off the clouded judgement that anger left me, I was left to realize that yes, church can totally suck sometimes, but its also one of the most amazing parts of my life.

My church is real. People are honest about their brokenness. We pray for one another, and we walk through each other’s trials and triumphs together. We celebrate when couples get engaged, married and add new little members to their family. We cry when people lose their loved ones, when people move away, when illness hits.

We joined this church just over 5 years ago now. I will never forget being alone with 2 kids, all three of us sick, and my husband was 3 provinces away working. Someone from the church happened to text me, and found out we were sick. She phoned another woman on our pastoral care team and that afternoon a fresh, warm meal was dropped at my door. I was totally embarrassed to open the door looking like death, and feeling the same. I’m sure the smell that radiated out the front door was retching. But this woman risked illness to make sure I had my needs met. And then she apologized because the meal wasn’t homemade because she had just found out her husband had a minor car accident and she had to go rescue him from the accident site, but not wanting to forget about the sick, struggling Mom, she grabbed a whole chicken and the fixings and delivered it while on route to him.

Never in my life have I been so thankful. And yet, so anguished. If my husband had been home, he’d have taken care of me and the kids, she wouldn’t have had to stop on the way. But she did. She told me in that moment, despite her own struggle, I was still worth receiving a chicken that would allow us some strength to nurse back to health. I wondered if I would have had the same compassion to remember the sick mom in the distraction of worry about my own husband’s accident. She truly showed me Jesus that day, and in that moment, I knew this was a family I wanted to be a part of, and I dove right in.

I walked through some pretty challenging times within these five years, and many people stepped up to walk alongside me. There were more meals, one was made for me in my kitchen by one church member while I literally wept to another about the going-ons in my life at that time. None of them judged me as I handled my brokenness, instead they kept pointing me to God, the author of my life, who loved me and wanted best for me. They became a literal Jesus to me. They carried me when I couldn’t carry myself. If I didn’t have the support of the church then, where would I have gone? How would I be the overcomer that I am now? Would I have survived the darkness I was drowning in?

I have news for you. Life is hard. People are broken. Our hospital for the sick is no better.

But, we all know whose children we are. We know what is commanded of us: forgiveness, resolution and grace. Thank God that I learned that lesson when I did, and within the safety net of my church so that when the next storm of my life hits, I know where to turn. So that in your storm, you know that I will be there for you.

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

Our purpose is to grow closer to Jesus Christ himself. We do this by living in harmony with each other, supporting one another and our leadership. We need to bring back unity within our congregation and I trust we can do by staying focused on the very purpose we gather together, singing and praising, learning and worshipping.

Let’s encourage our leadership. Let’s step up and fill in the gaps where there aren’t enough hands to do the work. Let’s give generously and cheerfully of our time and finances, in serving and praying. Let’s continue to walk through this very dark world together, united for Christ in love. Let’s comfort those who’s pain is so deep, and who’s burdens seem unbearable. Let’s praise and celebrate our accomplishments together. Let’s commit to resolving our differences, to forgiving our brother, to taking up our cross daily and remembering our church is called the Bride of Christ.

Above all else, let us love on an other. Love each other through the hurts and brokenness. Love each other through the joy and triumphs. Just love.

“We love each other, because he loved us first.” – 1 John 4:19

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Healing · Marriage · Spread Joy

Sorry Hef, Marriage Rocks!

Today the world learned of the death of Hugh Hefner. Within hours, social media ws blown up with articles both singing his praises and warning of the damage he has done.

One thing I have noticed is how many men idolize him, commenting that he couldn’t be in a better place now (because being in the playboy mansion with a bunch of playboy bunnies is their goal not heaven itself) and comments about wanting to be like him, or replacing him.

 

Posts like this are currently circulating social media in mass amounts.

 

 

The idea these men are idolizing is having tons of beautiful women preform sexual acts on them, on their beck and call. Having a whole slew of attractive women at their demand.  But really… is this what you truly want?

True intimacy is a million times better than any one night stand.

Having someone preform sexual acts on you because they truly love you and desire to please you is a million times better than having sex with a person who truly doesn’t value you beyond your brief sexual encounter.

Having the safety net of a partner who values you for more than just your body is a beautiful thing.

Being encouraged because you have a vibrant mind, an educated opinion or a wonderful personality trait is more meaningful then being valued only because your body exhibits a certain sexual want or you are able to preform a certain sexual act on demand regardless of whether you want to or not.

Being in a relationship where you know your partner truly wants to have sex with you and feels safe and comfortable doing so rather than knowing they are faking it because of your status or the expectations you’ve placed on them is an amazing thing.

These types of things are the happenings that are now being idolized. One of Hefner’s former ‘girl friends’ went on the record to Macleans and told in detail what goes on behind closed doors.  She mentioned sex capades in which Hefner would take medicine needed to preform, cover himself in baby oil and expect his random girlfriends to satisfy him until he masturbated to porn to finalize things.  She mentioned some of the pressures and hypocrisy of the situations (things like being told they never had to do anything sexual but then also being told they wouldn’t get rewards without sexual performance.)  She mentioned things that show these women were not treated with respect, their own desires weren’t being met and worse yet they were getting infections from the baby oil and not using safe sex practices at all. Everything I read, I read with sadness for her and the lifestyle that today so many men are celebrating.

I imagined these young women feeling beautiful and on top of the world, knowing they have been chosen to live in the playboy mansion. I imagined them recognizing their only real value in their non monogamous relationship was their sexual capabilities. I imagined their parent’s sadness at seeing their daughters, full of value and worth, demoralized to just simply someone’s living sex toy.

This is not something to be jealous over.

Greetings!

This past weekend I had the opportunity to photograph my younger cousin’s wedding (featured above), and of course that got me thinking about my own wonderful wedding over eight years ago now (the cover photo). When I set out for marriage, I remember the jokes and comments about being with only one person for the rest of my life. I remember feeling as though so many people were against marriage as we walked into our wedding and feeling sadness for them as I considered how excited I was to get married to my best friend, hoping for forever with him.

And then reality hits. Marriage is hard. It is a crazy turbulent journey, and we have made it through some pretty incredible scenarios.  Now, more than ever, we stand united in love and dedication to one an other. This is what people need to celebrate.

I see couples married much longer than we have been full of respect for one an other, acting like newlyweds still and this is what makes me jealous. Not a lavish lifestyle of forcing people to do what I want when I want.  When I see people with successful marriages, that have been married 10, 20, 30 years I want what they have – love, passion, safety, vulnerability.  If people learn to celebrate these things perhaps our divorce rates would lower and we would learn to encourage one an other in marriage rather than encouraging adultery, easy outs, and walking away over things that really are fixable. (And I am not saying all things are, but with a divorce rate of 50%, I’m sure many can be resolved if people are willing to work at it.)

We need to celebrate marriage! Celebrate our own marriages! Celebrate with our friends and family as they hit more and more anniversaries! We need to be sounding boards when our friends or family are upset in their own marriages, encouraging them to reflect and seek action steps on how to move forward, rather than taking the opportunity to complain about our spouse as well. We need to sometimes be the bigger person and put our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.

We need to put marriages on a pedestal! Instead of ball and chain jokes, we need to celebrate that someone found a person they deemed worthy of the deepest level of commitment there is. We need to congratulate people when they pass an other anniversary, for their dedication to their marriage and for making it yet an other year united.

If we want to change the world’s view of marriage, that begins at home. That starts with building our own marriages up, encouraging the success of marriages around us, and celebrating the joy of love. Not lust, but rather the love that comes from commitment, even when you don’t always feel good about your own marriage.

We need to shift our mindsets from those who are jealous of the lonely life Hefner must have lead without a significant attachment to any one person to watering the green grass of our own marriage instead.

I love being married. It has been incredibly hard at times, sometimes for very long times.  There was a while were I imagined us not surviving, and I remember thinking about how determined I was to succeed at marriage when I said my vows. I remember thinking how devastating it was that the vulnerability I had placed into marriage could be taken from me.  Thankfully, after a lot of elbow grease and dedication, my husband and I survived our deepest drought in marriage. And that’s a story for an other day, but today I want to encourage others to hold fast to their commitments, to celebrate love, to encourage others to find whatever needs to be done to make it work.

There is nothing better in this life than having a best friend for life. Having a husband who values me in every aspect of partnership, sexual included, but also for my emotional impact, for the things I do outside the bedroom, for the commitment that I have for him. These are the hopes I have for my children when they grow and find spouses.

There is such a deep intimacy between us having survived all that we have to this point in life, there is no other person I want more when I am happy or hurt. He is the source of much joy for me, and my comforter, my very best friend. I couldn’t imagine the loneliness of rotating through sexual partners, never completely having my needs met or meeting the needs of others, risking sexually transmitted diseases and never truly forming a life long bond with someone.

Marriage is a sacred and holy union.  Holy meaning, to be set apart. And that’s what should be done. We need to set apart marriage in our minds and raise it to the hierarchy it deserves. Studies prove how much children thrive with happily married parents, and life is way easier in a team. Marriage deserves to be encouraged and celebrated.

So, if you want to be jealous, be jealous of those who are determined to succeed in their marriage and set your goals to work with the same dedication for your spouse that they do, or to make sure you encourage that same dedication in those around you. Protect your marriage and encourage others.

Be jealous of success in marriage and not sexual conquests.

Bible Reading · Spread Joy

Where is God for the starving & poor?

Our church had an amazing guest speaker on Saturday evening, Dr. Tony Campolo. For those who don’t know him, he is the author of over 30 publishings, including the popular series “Red Letter Christians” which focuses on Jesus’ teachings (the red letters referring to copies of the Bible that put Jesus’ words in red ink.) He is an educator, a guest speaker, a sociologist and a pastor. He has been featured on many TV shows including as The Colbert Report, The Charlie Rose Show, Larry King Live, Nightline, Crossfire, Politically Incorrect and The Hour, and he was once the spiritual advisor to President Clinton.  At 82 years old, this man knows his stuff! He spoke with humour and also a clear passion for the calling of Christians to love others as Jesus did and as he called us to do too.  I was so blessed by and fortunate to have heard him speak, and to have the opportunity to introduce myself and my oldest son to him on Saturday, September 16th.

Tony Campolo

Dr. Campolo spoke with clarity and authority.  Without needing notes, he was able to direct us to verses all over the Bible to support his message, and it was evident that the love of Christ is very strong in him.  He challenged his listeners to ensure the Spirit of Christ was living in them, which is more than just being a believer of Christ. Even the devil believed in Christ, but there certainly isn’t any Spirit of Christ living in the devil.

In talking about the Spirit of Christ living in us, he mentioned the great joy we would feel. He drew from some amazing stories to demonstrate the immense warmth we receive when we freely allow God to inhabit us. He explained that we are here on earth as agents of Christ’s love, meaning it is our responsibility as representatives of Christ to spread the love that Jesus did when he walked this earth. He challenged us to see the faces of the poor and needy as the very face of Jesus, and he challenged us to actually think about what Jesus would do if he were in our place and to live so that we actually reflect Jesus himself.

I was very challenged by his message. I hope that people can see Jesus when they see me. But more importantly, I want to see Jesus in the faces of others and learn to be a better ambassador of God’s Kingdom.  In Matthew Chapter 25 verses 34-40, Jesus describes a day of final judgement and he says the following,

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

The first sentence is describing what will happen on the final day of judgement. People will be divided into two groups, and those on the right are who Jesus is speaking to, those who loved like Jesus asked. Jesus tells this group that they took care of him, though they don’t understand how as they never actually saw Jesus.  His response is so crucial, when we take care of the poor, the sick, the needy, the impoverished, the socially challenged, the imprisoned, the strangers, the lost, the starving, the widowed, the ones suffering greatly, the condemned, the broken, then we are facing Jesus Christ himself. We are serving him by carrying for those who are in need.

So where is God for the starving and poor? He is in us. He is represented by us. We are his hands and feet on this earth. We are called to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and love every single one of our neighbors.

This is OUR responsibility. This is our God-assigned task, and in my opinion, the very purpose of our life!

As Christians, we spend time debating scripture. Our various denominations have differences for things like infant baptism, women in office positions, homosexual topics, and alcohol to name a few. We debate these things, and stand united in our separate congregations on our opinions. Yet, none of this matters as much as doing what we are called to do, being who we are called to be. Dr Campolo made an interesting point, he stated that over 5000 times in the Bible there are verses about taking care of others, and yet only a handful of verses about homosexuality. So why are so many Christians debating the topic of homosexuality and not discussing feeding the poor? His thought was that its easy to discuss topics that don’t affect us personally, or allow us to talk about others, but it isn’t so easy to talk about things that convict us, or challenge us to be doing something better or differently. Ouch. I heard that loud and clear.

Since I heard about the more than 5000 times the Bible calls us to help, in my personal Bible reading I am amazed how often I have noticed this command and yet I didn’t pay as close attention to it before having it bopped over my noggin like a V8 commercial. Thank God that he opened my eyes even more.

Dr Campolo shared some amazing statistics that I also feel are note worthy – He said that 25 years ago, 45 000 children a day died from malnourishment, 1 out of every 6 people didn’t have access to clean water, and 80% of the planet was illiterate.  Today, he said that its down to 17 000 children dying each day (ouch, still a very scary number), 1 out of 12 people now do not have access to clean water and the illiterate now number 20% of the world’s population! Wow! 25 years is really not a huge time period considering the difference of those statistics! Where can we be in 25 more years if we the Christians representing Christ actually live out our calling? Dr Campolo stated that much of this change was from Christians rising up and implementing literacy programs, creating food programs to meet the needs of the poor and hungry, and fundraising to dig wells all around the globe just as a few examples. What an amazing accomplishment to be thankful and proud of! But, because there is still starving children, and still people without access to clean water, and still people who cant read or write, we aren’t done yet.

So again, where is God for the starving and the poor? He’s represented by us here on earth. We are the ones responsible to help. What does that look like? While I think it depends on your passion and position. But certainly it requires action. Dr. Campolo was representing World Vision and strongly encouraged Child Sponsorship.  Our own family sponsors a boy and girl through Compassion, again, I don’t think the difference matters (much like the denominational differences) I think it just matters that we accept the mission we’ve been given.

There are a million ways to support the needy around each of us, it would take me an entire week to even be able to research the ways in my own community.  Whatever your passion, whatever your church, whatever your hope just get out there and take action as often as you can. Once in a while is not enough! We truly don’t recognize how good we have it in a first world country – even our poor aren’t a reflection of the poor in 3rd world countries. But both groups need support, regardless. People need support. And its our job to support them.  And when we need support, we should rest assured knowing that there will be people to support us too.

There’s a beautiful song that I feel like captures what I’m trying to communicate as well, Matthew West’s Do Something. I urge you to absorb the words and message of this song. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8

Lastly, I will leave you with a verse that I read in my personal devotional time this morning that also really spoke to me, reminding me that even the little things we do add up, and every single thing matters. Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “So my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” !!!

Do SOMETHING!

 

 

 

Parenting · Spread Joy

Fruity Virtues

love
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

Sound like beautiful words you’d love to equip your kids with, don’t they? Perhaps even your spouse could use some nudges in these areas?  Maybe even your own self…

For those in Christian circles, you probably instantly recognized these words as ‘Fruits of the Spirit.’ (from the book of Galatians, Chapter 5, verses 22 and 23) For those who aren’t familiar with Christianity, or the Bible, it is still a beautiful list of things we want to see in those around us, isn’t it?

So, here’s my back to school plan: Let’s focus on the good! Lets encourage the positive instead of chastising the bad. Let’s build one an other up when we see greatness rather than dwelling on the negative things that can sometimes drive us bonkers about the ones we love most. Let’s be goal setters working to be better versions of ourselves!

In order to accomplish this, I turned to this list! I wrote the entire verse out on our family’s white board (“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” – Galatians 5:22-23, NLT) and each week we will focus on one area at a time. 

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This week, we started with love, the first fruit. Its my goal to find a scripture verse to match the virtue of the week, and also to encourage my children and hubby each time I see them showing that virtue to one an other, this week being love. I spent some time talking about love and what that looks like this evening with my children, and as a result, we all began to think of ways we can show love to each other, and to others around us. Through out the week as we talk about love, I can teach them about loving themselves, loving the earth, etc. Love truly is an endless topic!

We were able to talk about positive skills. I was able to make suggestions and offer encouragement, rather than the usual parenting lecture. Focusing on the positive, encourages the positive. I really hope to raise young adults who are full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control some day, so today seems like a good time to sow the seeds I want to reap in the future.

Not only that, I get so tired of feeling like a nag, or a lecturer. It’s not fun. It makes my kids miserable, and it makes me miserable. This new goal allows me to get rid of the boring negative chats, and work towards the positive goal setting ones.

By the way, this week’s verse about love, is 1 John 4:7, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”

Don’t like the use of scripture? No problem, call the fruits virtues and list them! You cant lose when you make love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control goals in your own home. I know our home sure could never have enough! Parenting is hard enough as it is, so lets make it more enjoyable by encouraging the wonderful and focusing on the positive!

Spread Joy

To my child

I wrote this letter on a hard day. Today I’d like to share it. There is so much more I could write and add, but I wanted to share the original message I had written in my trying moment: 

“Dear sweet child,

Today was a hard day for me. I felt impatient and frustrated with you because of my own bad mood.

We sat down to eat lunch: cheese, crackers and kolbassa. I laughed because you had yours all separated into little piles until I put mine into little sandwiches and right after that you stacked your cheese like I had. 

I felt so overwhelmed with emotion. 

Here I was, greedily thinking of my own self and my own issues and in one little moment with something so simple, you reminded me who I am! I’m your Momma, the woman you look up to and despite my flaws and imperfections you want to be like me – it’s an honour and a reminder that I gave up my right to fall apart.

My life is about you and your siblings. I’m in service to you. So, I am sorry I will never be perfect. I’m sorry I’m so incredibly broken as a person. I’m sorry I can’t ever be perfect, but I hope I can show you who is: Jesus. 

When I fall short with patience and love, he won’t.  

He is working in my heart to heal me, but I am a work in progress. I’m sorry I won’t ever be perfect, but I hope I’ll be “enough.” 

I hope despite my flaws, you will know my love for you is forever, and won’t be dependent upon who you become or what you do. You are my child! I’m forever thankful for you and the blessing you are to me, even if I fall short on showing you that in my own brokenness.  

You are such a joy to me, and I love you endlessly. 

Love forever and always,

Mom. Xo”

Spread Joy

Backwards living

Society says, “you deserve this,” “If you want it, get it,” “If it feels good for you, do it,” “its all about you, you, you!”

We have become a culture that encourages irresponsibility, and we have become a nation of people full of entitlement, slaves to our own desires. I hear the older population say all the time that things have changed substantially in the last few years, that the world is a worse place now than it was when they were younger, that morals are on a steep decline.

I see it too. I see it in friends who neglect their families, spouses they are supposed to love and children they grew themselves coming second to their own selfish desires. I see it in public when arguments flare up over parking spots, the last item on the shelf, or general disrespect of others. I see it in myself too. When I think thoughts like “why aren’t things going the way I want them to?” or “Why isn’t there more time for me to do what I want to do?”

The more I think of me, the less happy I feel. The more I think I deserve this, then I realize I must also deserve that too! The more I think of my own wants, the less I think of other’s. Its a vicious cycle, isn’t it? That is what it feels like to be “dead to your sins” as the Christian world says. What they mean is, your gratification for whatever it is you think you deserve or what, whatever it is that consumes you is controlling you. You are a slave to what you obey, whether its society’s ideas, marketing ploys, lust, pride, or just general selfishness.

So why, if I deserve it and it feels so good, does it actually make me less happy? Because its empty. Its what Christians refer to as sin.  That word made me cringe so much when I was first learning about Jesus and I was a newbie to church. Its a condemning little word that packs quite the punch, doesn’t it? It is covered with judgement and condemnation while wearing guilt like a robe. 3 little letters, and yet they create in so many people a different level of discomfort and negative thoughts.

The book of Ephesians tells us that before Christ’s death on the cross, “you were dead because of your disobedience and many sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) For those who have accepted Christ, it says, “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil – the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.  All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.” (Ephesians 2:2-3)

This verse really hits home for me. Sins control us, leaving us dead to our own desires, caught in a vicious cycle of self gratification that we can never fully seem to satisfy. This verse tells us perhaps these notions of self gratification aren’t from God, but rather from the enemy who loves to see us struggle, who loves to see us fail and who loves to see us overwhelmed in self pity and misery. Did I just say that the devil is real and he lives among us? You bet I did! There seems to be this beautiful little idea amongst society that there’s no such thing as hell, or satan himself. Don’t kid yourself – that’s his greatest trick yet, convincing you to believe that he isn’t here, and that God who can be blamed for your unmet needs.

Verse 4-6 carries on, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved.) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Dead because of our sin. The dead here refers to our eternal life. When sin controls us, and we don’t understand how come Jesus died for us, we are dead eternally.  However, when we accept Jesus as our Saviour, like this verse says, we are raised from the dead WITH Christ. (More on that here: https://seekinghispeaceblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/why-jesus-anyways/) What does that even mean? Well, that we are no longer slaves to what controls us. We are no longer dead because the debt is paid. We are no longer defeated because of the riches that this world offers us.

But Christians still sin. Yup, we sure do. Remember when I wrote that I see it in myself too? I will never be perfect (despite my jokes to the contrary!) But, the difference is what I shared from Ephesians 2:2-3, I used to live in sin, passionately following the inclinations of my own nature.  But verse 13 sums up where I am now, “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.”

The fact is, I am not a robot, and God never wanted me to be – he created us to have free will so that we can choose what we think and what we do. My free will means I am liable to mess up as I do, but it doesn’t mean that I’m dead because of my faults. And it doesn’t mean that I need to let my faults and sin control me. Rather, I have a higher power to remind me that I want to do better and be better. I have been united with Jesus, which means my debt has been paid, like a traffic ticket – we mess up, and we owe a consequence for it – well Jesus paid for all my “tickets.” Yours too.

Jesus was the very opposite of selfish. Even when he was being sent to die on the cross, he prayed “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39) So, he said God, if you can redeem your people in any other way please do, but I am willing to endure all that suffering to obey your will, rather than what I want for myself because I trust that you know best.  I even wrote a post on all the temptations satan offered Jesus to disobey God. (https://seekinghispeaceblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/all-the-kingdoms-of-the-world/)  So, he gave up every glorious thing this world has to offer, and he put our lives before his very own – leaving us dead to sin.

So while the world says you deserve this, you are entitled to that, if it feels good for you, do it! Jesus deserved nothing but praise for the amazing teacher he was while he walked the earth, he was not entitled to die the way that he did, and it sure wouldn’t have felt good for him. But he persevered none the less knowing that his suffering would save us all, that his example would help us break the chains of bondage our own selfish desires have over us, and most importantly that we would have life through him. He calls us to backwards living: putting others before our own self. Turning our phones off so we can talk face to face with those around us. Putting someone else ahead of our self. Letting them have the parking spot. Thinking of their needs even though we are so tired. Ending the vicious cycle of me, me, me thinking.

Backwards to society, yet the very example that Jesus was while he was here. We don’t have to listen to the world’s message, when we can follow the example Jesus set for us. There is so much freedom for me in that. As Romans 6:16 says, “Don’t you realize that you become a slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leaves to death, or you can choose to obey God which leads to righteous living.”  Well, I trust God has a better plan for my life than satan.  And righteous living sounds better to me than death.  But, how do I stop thinking of me when the entire world tells me that’s what I should do? The simple answer of course is to read your Bible, there you will find much hope and examples, but also you will be filled with the love of God which is really all the gratification our souls need and long for. No amount of selfish thinking or self gratification will ever be able to top that! 

Verse 10 of Ephesians 2 sums it up, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” We are God’s masterpiece. We were worth Jesus dying for. We are loved more than we ever know, so much so that we need to meditate on that so that we aren’t filling the hole in our hearts that is empty before we know God in a personal way with garbage, debt, time waste, relationships strained.

Ephesians 4:23, “Instead, let the spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

 

 

Spread Joy

Not today, Anxiety.

Though I haven’t had the chance to write much lately, rest assured, I have been committed to learning and growing in other amazing ways.  I have sacrificed time writing for other important things including daily Bible reading.  In searching for Him, in His Word, I have found great comfort, and restoration. Amazing moments keep happening to me, enough that I could write for days!  I am feeling joy on new levels!

But of course, this isn’t always the case. We have to go through valleys so that we recognize and appreciate the mountains in our lives. A valley that has been troublesome for me lately has a name common to many: Anxiety.

Panic attacks are real, and terrifying. They come on unexpectedly. They bring a slew of symptoms with them including headaches, stomach issues a plenty, exhaustion, anger, outbursts, and all sorts of physical ailments. They cause relationships to suffer, plans to be cancelled, life to be altered. The worst part is the complete lack of control I seem to have over them.  But God is bigger than anxiety. He is bigger and mightier than any storm I could ever come across.

Each morning I read my Bible, I find new nuggets of truth to meditate on all day, a new verse or two to remind me how much God loves me, or a simple reminder of the fact that its not me in control, but rather a much stronger force is.. God Himself.  I had plans made with a wonderful friend, I was excited for them, and there is no reason to be worried. We have no conflicts between us, we both search whole heartedly for the Lord, and we are both friendly, fun women, and yet I woke up feeling anxiety rearing its ugly head on the morning we were supposed to meet. So, cue my frustration. I am annoyed that I am feeling anxious when I have no reason to feel anxious. I’m debating cancelling plans, or even hoping she will so I don’t have to deal with Anxiety’s annoying cousin, Guilt. I’m running millions of scenarios though my head and its worsening by the minute.

Like I said earlier, I have been committed to my daily Bible reading, so out comes my Bible and anxiety is just going to have to wait while I make my priorities known. I picked up in Isaiah – such an amazing book in the Old Testament that is written by the prophet Isaiah. He wrote over and over of salvation, and pointed to Jesus’ coming about 680 years before Jesus came, writing about Jesus in ways that actually happened and came true! The book is amazing. I couldn’t stop reading, and even ran over the time I had allotted myself, but I couldn’t help it! I know the first 39 chapters lean on judgement, and the last 26 (beginning at chapter 40) are really focused on comfort. I had reached chapter 40 and I didn’t want to stop! I was excited for the best parts of the book. So now add anxiety about being late and not being ready to my already anxious self. But it didn’t matter, I kept justifying one more chapter, one more chapter, one more chapter for some reason.

The reason became pretty evident in Chapter 40, God opens the chapter by telling Isaiah “Comfort, comfort my people.” Okay God, I could use some of that comfort! But the real eye opener came at the end of the chapter, verses 28-31:

Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God, 
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives powers to the weak
and strength to the powerless. 
Even youths will become weak and tired, 
and young men will fall into exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not grow faint.”

Do you understand at all how God thinks? Of course not! In all our lives of searching for Him, we will never fully understand His ways. We are mere humans incapable of thinking on the level God does. But, His Word (the Bible) offers us so much insight into His love for us! I know that I can relate to that as a Mom. My children fill my heart, they are the very reason I try to grow and be better, and yet sometimes they can be darn right awful! But, I still see them as beautiful, perfectly made individuals who have so much potential and I don’t ever love them less because of their faults. This is exactly how God feels about me, and you! Each and every single one of us. I know my biggest fear when I went from one child to two, was how could I love two kids in the same amount that I love my first? Would my love be divided? I was pleasantly surprised to see it wasn’t! It was multiplied. That’s how God loves us!

Because I carried on and read one more chapter, I was reminded that God is full of power and might, which He promises to give to the weak (and in my case anxious!) I trust God in my deepest fears, my biggest goals and my every day life, and as such He has promised me NEW STRENGTH.  He has promised me that I will run without growing weary, and walk without growing faint.  I was so thankful for that verse, I had to stop right there and pray a prayer of gratitude for God, and express my thanks for His word, His love, and His comfort. But, it didn’t end there..

One more chapter.

Isaiah 41. Verse 10. Its so well known on its own amongst Christians, but when you read the Bible as a whole you forget about memory verses until they sneak up and provide you with exactly the wisdom you needed in that moment. That, is Isaiah 41:10 for me, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Wow. Anxiety. Never mind. You’re not welcome here today. At least not in this moment, because in this moment I have fought the lies of anxiety with the most powerful force you can imagine: God, and His Word, His Truth!

But.. one more chapter! One more chapter.. I was starving for more comfort, more peace, more of God’s love.

Isaiah 42 is full of examples of Jesus. I am in awe of what God is predicting, having read the Gospels and knowing Jesus, I am excited to see these prophecies that I know to be true. It just strengthens my faith and cements me even deeper in my love for Christ.

One more chapter. Still my soul yearns.

Isaiah 43:1-2:

“But now O Jacob, Listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

It carries on with the second half of verse 4 saying, “because you are precious to me.  You are honoured and I love you.” I wrote my name next to that, God said “I love you, Leslie.” Because that was what I needed to hear.  He created me, He put me on earth in this time for a purpose. He knows my days, He knows my struggles, He knows me on a deep level, and He loves me. He honours me. He promises to walk with me through deep waters, rivers of difficulties and fires of oppression.  These words are for me, but they are also for you. He gave me the gift to gab so that I can speak my faith and encourage others. He used others to tell me to write so that I can process and share with others as well. He planned for me to write this on this very day, and He planned for you to read it. He honours you, and He loves you. Its my prayer for you that you gain some understanding of just how much He loves.