Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Changing How we See Other People

What are the stories that influence how you see other people and their situations?
What are the narratives that your opinions are based on?
Are you even aware of what these are?
Are you willing to discover what they are?
Are you willing to allow them to be changed, even if it's uncomfortable to do so?

These are some tough questions I've been wrestling with lately. They're not questions with quick or easy answers.

One of the speakers at the Global Leadership Summit this year spoke about this topic and started me thinking this way. He was talking about how we have to be willing to get uncomfortable by getting close to those who are suffering to lead well. We can't effectively lead, or care for people, if we keep distance between us.

These words were coming from someone who was living what he was talking about. He willingly chooses to get until some uncomfortable situations to help those in need. He knows the challenges of doing this.

Most of us, have at least some places where the narrative we tell ourselves that informs our actions is in need of changing. Maybe we've inherited is from others in our lives. Or society, or a segment of society, tells us that's the way it is. Or we've had experiences ourselves that wrote it that way.

Are we willing to have those narratives challenged by choosing to engage with people we normally wouldn't? Are we willing to get close to those who are suffering and those we tend to look down on or see as different than us, and really hear their stories and let them challenge the narrative we're been telling ourselves about "those" people?

The more I'm challenged on this is my own life, the more I'm realizing that this is what Jesus was all about when He walked this earth. Three of the gospel accounts record Jesus telling His listeners that "it's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick" (Luke 5:31, Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17). And Jesus' example was one of regularly coming alongside the suffering, the vulnerable, the sick, the outcasts of society, and really listening to them and loving them.

James 1:27 says this:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
God's laws included provision for looking after the poor among them.

If Scripture is this clear, then my only conclusion can be that if God cares about the poor and the vulnerable, I should too as His follower. If there's something that is keeping me from doing that, I need to figure out what it is and take the necessary steps to change it.

So, I leave you with the questions I opened this post with and that I'm still wrestling with in my life.

What are the stories that influence how you see other people and their situations?
What are the narratives that your opinions are based on?
Are you even aware of what those are?
Are you willing to discover what they are?
Are you willing to allow them to be changed, even if it's uncomfortable to do so?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hope that Doesn't Disappoint

'. . . those who hope in Me will not be disappointed."
                                                       -Isaiah 49:23

Usually when I start a post with a Bible verse, I'm looking at the larger context of the verse in trying to understand it. I know that context is important when talking about Scripture, but this time, my thoughts are specific to these 9 words of this one verse. I believe the concept I'm talking about is supported by the whole of Scripture.

We all hope in something. Whether we realize it or not, we've all placed our hope in something or in many things. The reality is that we could probably all list a few things we are currently, or have in the past, put our hope in.

As we've probably all realized at one point or another, the thing(s) we're placed our hope in does disappoint and we discover that our hope was misplaced. Anything or any person we place our hope in on earth will disappoint us eventually. Any circumstance we place our hope in will disappoint us.

It's only when we put our hope in God that we won't be disappointed.

But, how do we reconcile the times we feel disappointed with our hope being placed in a God Who says, if we hope in Him we'll never be disappointed?

I don't think we can guarantee we'll never be disappointed about something, even when we're choosing to place our hope in God. I think, the difference comes in how we handle those feelings of disappointment. We can feel disappointed, but we're not lost in despair because it's not where we ultimately place our hope.

Even when things go wrong.
Even when things aren't happening the way we think they should
Even when we're longing for something that hasn't happened yet

We feel disappointed over these things, but when our hope isn't placed in them, we know that's not the end. The disappointment lasts only a moment, because that's not where we have placed our hope.

Where have you placed your hope?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Roots

Deep roots
Able to stand strong
Rushing waters
Cannot destroy

Shallow roots
Unable to stand
Rushing waters
Leave no trace behind

Deep roots
Seeking sustenance
That won't run dry
That's always there

Shallow roots
Grabbing at the surface
All that quickly fades
Leaving nothing behind

Deep roots
Resistant to the drought
Finding the water
Deep below the surface

Shallow roots
Destroyed by drought
No water there to find
On hard, cracked dirt

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Sabbath

Sabbath
Rest from busy-ness
Stopping the running
Breaking from expectation

Pray
Telling God your thoughts
Listening for His response
A two-way conversation

Play
Doing things just for fun
Laughter and enjoyment
Learning to "waste time" again

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Are You Letting Fear Kill Your Dreams?

"If we're more impressed with bad men, than a good God, fear will kill our dreams." - Gary Haugen

I was at the Global Leadership Summit last week and the words that I opened this post with have been stuck in my mind ever since. They were spoken by the speaker from the closing session - Gary Haugen, founder and president of International Justice Mission.

The entire closing session was on fear and how it can destroy any dream we have if we allow it to. No matter what our training or our knowledge or our dream, fear can completely destroy us. Haugen then went on to talk about how we can stand against fear and not allow us to destroy our dream.

This is when he said the words I opened this post with.

"If we're more impressed with bad men, than a good God, fear will kill our dreams."

When God has given us a dream, something He's asking us to do, whether we are actually able to do it or not depends on where we're looking and on who we're walking with. 

We can look at the size of the dream and all that could go wrong, and allow our fear to take over. We can look at all of those who oppose our dream, and allow fear to destroy us.

OR . . .

We can look at the God Who gave us the dream, and move forward on it. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who will encourage us and help us keep our focus on God, and move forward on it.

I've been challenged the last few days, with these thoughts about fear, and where I'm focusing.

"If we're more impressed with bad men, than a good God, fear will kill our dream."

Where are you focused?
On what could go wrong?
Or on what could go right?

Keep your eyes on our good God and surround yourself with people doing the same thing, and you'll be able to move forward in the dream, the calling, that God has given you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How Can we Make a Difference in Our Response?

Over the last couple days I've watched, with increasing sadness, as #MeToo began showing up regularly in my social media feeds. And I've watched the responses that have shown up - both in the comments and the blogs and articles it has prompted.

It's been an inescapable reminder of the brokennness of our world, of how lost we've become.
How did we get to a place where so many women have been sexually harassed or assaulted?
How did we get to a place where any of us could think this was acceptable or expected or normal?
What has happened to us?

I don't want this post to be just another one that jumps on with everyone else. I don't want to just repeat what I've read elsewhere. But, I've also realized this is something where I can't just stay quiet. This is something that hits far too close to home for me.

I'm not going to share personal experiences or stories here. That's not what compelled me to write this. If we take the time to read any of the posts shared in the last few days, we can all see pretty clearly what the issue is here.

As I've read these posts, I've wondered about whether these people sharing this have any places in their lives where they have or where they could talk about it. Ir is social media the only place they feel they have to turn?

I firmly believe the church should be one of the safest places to turn with this kind of pain. But, far too often, it's not. Far too often our response actually just causes more pain.

Instead of the love and care they so desperately need, we offer judgement and condemnation.
Instead of the listening ear they need to know they're not alone, we rush to offer solutions for how to move on or how to keep it from happening again.
Instead of just believing their stories, we look for things they could have done differently.

But, we don't have to continue this way. We can do something differently. We offer the love of Christ to those in our circles who have spoken up. Many of those who have shared are already in our churches, in our social circles. We have connections to them.

It could be easy to get overwhelmed by the size of the issue. We see how big the problem is and we end up paralyzed because we feel so small in comparison. The result is that nothing changes.

But, if we all did what we could in our own spheres of influence, we would have a bigger impact than we can envision. Start where you are at. When you see or hear something that's not right, say something. Our silence is essentially approval. Speak up.

If someone shares their experience with you, listen. Don't try to find an answer or a solution. Listen and love them first. Then offer help and things that could be done. But, whatever you do, don't skip the listening first.

Start small.
Start where you are.
That changes everything.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What Should Sabbath Look Like?

How do you live Sabbath in a busy, always-on world?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about being challenged with the idea of Sabbath. (You can read that post here.) Since I wrote that post, I've been wrestling with what it looks like for me to really make it a part of my life.

How do I live Sabbath in a busy world?
How do I live Sabbath in our always connected world?
How do I live Sabbath without it just becoming a day full of legalistic rules of what I can and cannot do?

I don't think it's something where we can tell each other what it should look like. When we try to tell someone else exactly how it should look, we're in great danger of wandering into legalism. It's okay if the details of what a Sabbath looks like are different from each other.

What matters is where our heart is at. It's the attitude that makes it a Sabbath or not. We have to start there when we look at creating a Sabbath in our lives.

The more I've wrestled with this in my own life, the more I've come to appreciate the way my pastor described some guiding thoughts for a Sabbath:

Pray & Play

Two words that don't tell you exactly what you can and cannot do, but capture what a Sabbath should be.

Pray: This is about our relationship with God. Time to talk to God and to listen to what He's saying to us.

Play: Fun. Activities we enjoy. A break from some of our usual responsibilities.

What falls into each of these categories will look different for each of us. What is play to one person, may be work to another. What spending time in conversation looks like for another may not work for someone else.

As I've been walking on this journey, I've realized that sometimes it's a bit of trial and error to figure it out. Some things will be what you need for a Sabbath and some won't. I think that learning what it is for you is a key part of it because it takes us to a deeper relationship with God. As we're figuring it out, we're pursuing God.

I believe God is issuing an invitation to all of us to engage in this journey of relearning how to have a Sabbath. Of learning how to make regular days for us to pray and play again.

For me, it's been about learning to disconnect from normal responsibilities with work and ministry - not because they're not important, but because I'm better able to engage there fully when I have regular breaks from them. About learning, again, how to "waste time" - doing something just because I enjoy it, not because it's accomplishing anything. About realizing that the vegging out in front of the TV I used to call my break really isn't as refreshing as I thought it was (doesn't mean I don't still do that sometimes, it just means I have a different mindset about why I'm doing it).

What about for you?

How are you learning to live Sabbath in a busy world?
How are you learning to live Sabbath in our always connected world?
How are you learning to live Sabbath without it becoming a day full of legalistic rules of what you can and cannot do?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Leave them in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Are You Missing Seeing what God is Doing Now?

Do you limit what God could do now in your life by how He acted in the past?

This is a question I spent some time reflecting on after I was reading in Isaiah 43 recently. There's a few verses in that chapter that are more well-known and I've heard quoted often. They're powerful words, but I realized just how powerful when I read a couple of verses before them alongside them.

"This is what the Lord days -
     He who made a way through the sea,
     a path through the mighty waters,
who drew the chariots and horses,
     the army and reinforcements together.
and they lay there, never to rise again,
     extinguished, snuffed out life a wick:
Forget the former things;
     do not swell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
     Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
     and streams in the wasteland."
                                      -Isaiah 43:16-19

The last couple of verses are the ones most commonly quoted, but when I read these verses all together I was struck by the thought sin them.

In describing who the Lord is Who is speaking, Isaiah is remembering how God led Israel out of Egypt and defeated their enemies. When they were in the an impossible situation and defeat seemed almost certain, God made a way out for them and defeated their enemy.

This is something they needed to remember. But, Isaiah also warns of a danger here. When he asks if they are perceiving the new thing the Lord is doing, he points out the danger and the reason why he is declaring that God is doing a new thing. There is a danger that in remembering how God has acted in the past, they would not see what God was doing now, or they would try to limit what God was doing now.

We face that danger in our lives. We need to remember what God has done for us in the past. That's what gives us hope and confidence that God will act now on our behalf again. But, we can too easily become so focused on the past that we miss what God is doing now. Or we can try to put God in a box of "this is how God does things" and resist Him when He tries to do something new.

In our remembering how God has acted on our behalf in the past, we cannot stop looking ahead for the new things He is doing and wants to do. Our remembering forms the basis of our belief and our confidence that He has a plan, but we cannot become so focused on it that we miss the new thing God is doing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Into the Light

Darkness, silence
Often hand-in-hand
To keep up bound
Fearful of the light

Hiding secrets
Carrying burdens
All to keep us down
Fearful to be found out

Slowly, carefully
Uncovering what's beneath
Will we be okay?
Can we bear the light?

Freedom, healing
Free of fearful hiding
No condemnation
No need to fear the light

Chains broken
Secrets freed
Now life can grow
In the presence of His Light

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thinking About Sabbath

Fall often feels like it brings with it a return a full schedule. All the usual programs and lessons begin in our communities. Ministries start up again at church. A return to school for some.

It can seem like a calendar that had space in it over the summer is quickly filled up completely again. This feels good for a while, but often feels overwhelming in not too long, as we look at a calendar with barely enough time to run from one thing to the next. We begin to miss the days when we didn't have to hurry out the door, the time spent camping, the blank spaces on our calendars.

And, I think we miss it because that's what we were created for. We weren't created to always be running with overflowing calendars, and to always be connected to everyone through our phones. We miss the blank spaces in our calendars, the quiet times, because we were created to need them.

As my summer drew to a close, it seemed I was hearing a lot about the importance of Sabbath in our lives, about our need for it. A sermon at church and a couple books I picked up for other reasons were all about it.

It's not something I've heard a lot about over the years. Even though it's one of the Ten Commandments we seem to like to ignore this one. And, it's never been one I was much inclined to really look at.

My association with what Sabbath was about for a long time came from another family in our neighbourhood growing up. They had kids the same age as my sisters and I, and many similar family values, so we spent a lot of time playing with them - except on their Sabbath. It's not that they weren't allowed to play with us that day, but more that their list of things they weren't allowed to do on their Sabbath was so long there was very little of our usual activities and games we could play. For a long time that heavily influenced my thoughts and attitudes about Sabbath.

But, my those have changed and been challenged recently as I've heard more about it. In the past, I could give you the theological arguement about why Sabbath was important, but I had no interest in it and didn't see the need for it in my own life. I didn't want a day full of rules about what I could and couldn't do.

But, I've realized lately that's not what it's about at all. It's not about rules. That's not why God put the Sabbath in His Ten Commandments. It's about the space we need in our lives- for rest, for fun, for listening to God, for taking the break from the usual demands of our lives.

So, maybe it's time for me to look at Sabbath differently. Time for me to reconsider it for my own life. And maybe it's that time for you as well.

I don't know yet what this looks like in my life, but I'm quickly realizing I have to plan for it. Creating the space won't just happen. I'm much better at filling up all the spaces on my calendar, rather than leaving the blank spaces alone.

What about you? Do you need to create a Sabbath in your life?

Whether it's a day a week, a half a day, or even a few hours, we all have to start somewhere with it, and see where it goes from there.

What does it need to look like for you?

We're all different, so what a Sabbath looks like isn't something we can dictate for another person.

What would bring rest and fun for you? What would it look like for you to disconnect for that time from the usual demands of life?
How can you create space to really hear from God in that time?

We're all going to answer these questions differently. That's why we can't make Sabbath all about rules - about things you can or cannot do. What answers these questions for one of us, might not be the answer for another person. The important part is that we make the time.

In our busy, hyper-connected world maybe we need to take the fourth commandment a little more seriously than we have been.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Problem with How we Often Approach Modesty Conversations

"Be careful what you wear, you don't want to cause your brothers in Christ to stumble by how you dress."

"Men are visual, so it really matters what you wear."

These are just a couple of examples of the messages about modesty I heard growing up in the church. And often still here today.

Then you look at communicated dress codes: They're almost always much more detailed for women than for men. In some cases, they see to be almost exclusively addressed to women.

And that's wrong. And it's a problem.

Hear me clearly:

I'm not saying that these sentiments are wrong. I'm not saying women shouldn't be aware of how they dress and the impact it may have on others. Those things are part of living in healthy community.

But, we absolutely cannot stop here. We cannot stop with just telling women it's all on them with regards to what the Christian men in their worlds think.

What I am saying:

When our focus when it comes to modesty is almost exclusively focused on women's choice of dress, we're doing exactly what we complain about our society doing to women and speak out against in other settings. In framing our discussions of modesty around only what women wear, we're reducing women to nothing more than sex objects. The very same thing we decry in the society in which we live.

We also marginalize a segment of women. We make it seems like only men are tripped up by what they see. Our silence on men's dress and need for modesty pushes the segment of women who struggle with that they see on the sidelines. Left feeling unacknowledged, unimportant, and completely silenced. Silencing them is the worst part of it, in my opinion, because it means they're left alone in their struggle, feeling like they have no place to reach out for help. Their struggle is invalidated and made to be no big deal.

I've had a few instances where this topic has come up in conversation recently that have fueled this post. In some of the conversations, my thoughts have been listened to and considered, regardless of whether they agree with me. In others, the response has been an almost immediate dismissal with a "yeah, but . . ." It's the second response, the dismissal, that really spurred me to write this post.

When I look at Scripture, I don't see responsibility for another's actions being placed on one group of people, but rather, I see all people being called to responsibility for their own thoughts and actions.

There are a couple of Scriptures, I commonly here in discussions about modesty:

". . . Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister." (Romans 14:13b)

"Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Corinthians 8:9)

I have heard both of these verses used as support for the statements I opened this post with. And, while they do apply to that, we can't limit them to a discussion on modesty for women. Taken in the larger context of where these verses are pulled from, Paul is talking about how to live in Christian community. Paul's not even talking about modesty is dress, although the principle can be applied there. But, if we're going to apply it there, we need to be applying to both men and women equally.

We're being unfair if we use it to justify talking to women about how to dress and don't also talk to men about the same thing. Both men and women have a responsibility in this area. And it's important.

In an increasingly sexualized society, we need to have regular and honest conversations about modesty and the implication of how we dress. But, it must be a balanced conversation. We all, men and women, have a responsibility here - both in how we dress and in what we choose to dwell on in our own thoughts.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What is the Cost you Will Choose to Pay?

I've spent the summer reading Judges and 1 Samuel. They're not always the most enjoyable books to read (although a bit more interesting than lists of names or laws can be). As I've read and reflected on these books in God's Word, I've noticed a theme that runs through much of what they have to say:


Both disobedience and obedience to God have a cost



Over and over, these two books and many others tell the story of a choice to disobey God and the cost of that choice for the individual or for the entire nation. You can't really miss it as you read.

Sometimes, even the best of intentions was still disobedience. Sometimes it was outright refusal to obey. Sometimes it was a slow drift from where they should have been. The common thread in all of these is disobedience to God.

It made me wonder about my own life. Where are those places where I'm paying the cost of my own disobedience? Because our disobedience to God does have a cost.

Seeing the cost of disobedience so clearly made me notice something else. It highlighted the stories where obedience to God was the choice made. Often those stories of obedience to God also had a cost.

Choosing to obey God didn't mean there was no cost. It meant the cost was different. It mean the cost led to a deeper relationship with God, rather than increasing distance - to a greater level of trust.

Sometimes, from an earthly perspective, the higher cost came in choosing to obey God. It is the choice to go against what the world around us tells us. We might look weird. We might be made fun of. We might be unpopular. In some places, we might even put our lives in danger for our stand.

So, if both disobedience and obedience have a cost, then we have to make a choice:


What is the cost we are willing to pay? 

The cost of disobedience? Or the cost of obedience?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Stepping Into What God Calls You

What is the name God is calling you that you're afraid to step into? What is God call you that He placed in you that you don't see yet?

I've had those two questions running through my head for a few weeks. I started reflecting on them after reading the story of Gideon in Judges 6 & 7. Gideon's story isn't a long run in Scripture, but it has some powerful lessons for us.

Judges 6:1-16 is the passage I was reading when these questions formed in my mind. I'm only going to include a couple of verses here, but you can read the passage in its entirety here if you want.

"When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said: The Lord is with you mighty warrior." (Judges 6:12)

After stating how he didn't see how God was with Israel (Judges 6:13), Gideon protests the name Mighty Warrior.

"Pardon me, my Lord, Gideon replied, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family." (Judges 6:15)

Not only could Gideon not see how God was with His people, he didn't believe what God had to say about him with the name God used.

Granted, from a human perspective, Gideon was right. His human perspective couldn't see God and definitely wouldn't see his hiding in a winepress as being a mighty warrior. I suspect we'd all feel the same way in a similar situation.

But, God isn't limited by our human perspective. He sees beyond it. He sees what He has placed in us.

In the moment when he was first called a mighty warrior, Gideon didn't look it or feel it, but God knew that was what he was going to become. So God called Gideon a mighty warrior - He called out what He knew was in Gideon and called Gideon to step into it.

I think God does the same thing with us. He uses the people He places around us to call us to step into what He has for us.

We may not see in ourselves what someone is calling out in us. We might protest what we hear and have our own list of reasons why we're not the person that is being called out in us.

The question is whether we'll respond or not. Gideon protested and asked for proof it was God, but eventually stepped into the name he was called. And Gideon is no remembered in Scripture as a mighty warrior.

What about us?
Will we respond by stepping it it, even if we're not sure yet?
Or will we run from it, because we're not sure yet?

Like Gideon, our choice determines the life we'll live and how we will be remembered.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Finding Freedom

When I cried out
You heard my cry
And You rescued me
You freed me from my chains

You pulled me to my feet
You taught me to walk again
You steadied my unsure legs
As I began to move again

Now I am free to run
To dance and sing and celebrate
Nothing holding me back
Nothing to hold me down

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How do You Respond to Hearing God's Word?

Take a look around you . . .

How many Bibles do you see?

Where are they sitting? The floor? A table? A shelf?

How long since they were last opened?

I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, but I do want to challenge you today, the way I've been challenged recently.

This one starts with a book my three year old niece signed out of our church library. I've read a lot of different stories to her, but, while I don't mind reading most of them, I'm not used to them being anything other than stories to me - some familiar, some not. To say I was a little surprised when the one I was reading to her began to challenge might be an understatement.

I went home later that evening still thinking about it. The story was a simple one about a kid who lost his Bible and hadn't been treating it well, and why he should treat it better once he found it. As I sat at home that evenings, I counted at least 10 Bibles on the shelf by my chair, another on a table, and there's one in my office at work. And then, who knows how many available through the Bible app on my phone. All of them used at some point or other - some more than others.

I left the thoughts about it at that, until I was reading in Nehemiah  a couple weeks later, when I couple of verses prompted the thoughts again.

To set the scene a bit: Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem and had led the rebuilding of the wall, with the other exiles that had returned. It was now complete and they had been re-establishing the residents of the city. All who could understand had gathered to hear Ezra, the priest, read the Law of Moses aloud.

Nehemiah 8:5-6 says:
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, Amen! Amen! Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (emphasis mine)

When Israel heard God's Word being read they stood to their feet and then they bowed low in worship of God.

When I read those words, all the questions I had asked a couple weeks ago cam flooding back.

It was different for Israel because they didn't each own their own copies of God's Word, but I began to wonder if we could learn something their response to God's Word. Something I wonder if we've lost with all our easy and immediate access to Bibles today. Something I've lost.

How do I treat God's Word?

How do I respond to it being read?

The Bible is God's Word to us. God speaking to us through it - into our lives today.

But, maybe I've gotten so used to it being always available I've forgotten what a privilege it is to have it so easily accessible to me?

Maybe it's become so commonplace in my life I don't treat it the way I should?

I'm not saying our Bibles should be objects we worship. But, I do wonder if the way we treat them can, at least sometimes, be a reflection of the value we're placing on God's Words to us? Maybe there is value in us reflecting on the way we treat the Bibles we have and whether that reflects the value we place on it, or if there's some inconsistency there we need to deal with.

How does my heart respond to hearing God's Word?

Maybe it won't be the right place to physically stand and then bow low in worship in response to God's Word, but even then, we still can in our hearts.

What is the attitude and response of your heart to hearing God's Word?

Is how you treat your Bible (or Bibles) a reflection of that? Should it be?

Do you need to change something here?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Speak Lord

Speak Lord
Your servant is listening
Seeking Your guidance
Desiring to know Your ways

Speak Lord
Your servant is listening
Pursuing You
To know You more

Speak Lord
Your servant is listening
Teach me to hear
To recognize what You say

Speak Lord
Your servant is listening
I want to follow You
To obey what You have to say

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What Does it Mean that we Shouldn't Judge?

Does the Bible really say "Do not judge"?
Or, are we taking a few words that are part of a larger teaching and using them out of context?

It's something we hear often in Christian circles or even thrown at us by non-Christians. "You're not supposed to judge." I believe we're actually misunderstanding and, as a result misquoting, Scripture here.

What does the Bible actually say?

(I realize this next part is quoting a fair bit of Scripture one after another, but without them the rest of the post won't make as much sense. Please read through the passages.)

"Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly." -John 7:24

"Do not judge, or you to will be judged. For in the same way you judge other, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of saw dust in your brother's eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." -Matthew 7:1-5

"Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block in the way of a brother or sister." -Romans 14:13

"Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart." -1 Corinthians 4:5

"Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. . . . Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else." -Galatians 6:1 & 4


As I read these passages of Scripture and look at them within the overall message of Scripture, I wonder if, in saying that all of these passages say "do not judge," we're missing what the bigger picture is. All of these passages say we need to be looking at our own lives first, before we say anything to another brother or sister in Christ.

We're not being told that we shouldn't say something to another believer about and area where things might need to changed in their lives. We're being cautioned to make sure we've been dealing with our own stuff first. We can't and shouldn't call others on their stuff if we're avoiding dealing with the stuff in our own lives.

Our job is also not to look for areas where we can point out the sin or other issue in the life of another believer. We're not supposed to be going hunting for those things. If that's what we're doing, then people may be right in telling us not to judge.

All of these passages also speak to situations with another believer. We're not told to do the same with those who don't claim to be Christians - only with other Christians.

To go back to the question I asked at the beginning: Does the Bible actually say "Do not judge"?

I think that is just a small part of what Scripture actually says, and to only quote that part misses the point. It's not about never saying something to another believer - it's about making sure we're dealing with our own stuff first, and not running around looking for things to call our in the life of another Christian.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Intentional

Birds chirping.
Squirrels chattering.
Wind rustling the trees all around.

No cell phones.
No computers.
No electricity.

Just a quiet space, away from all the noise of every day life.

Sometimes it takes purposely getting away from it all for things to actually go quiet.

Games.
Hiking.
Kayaking.
Campfires.
Time with friends.

A pace of life I believe God created us for, but a pace we seem to struggle to live at in our everyday life.

It seems like so often when I go away, I'm reminded of the importance of time away, and then I go right back to my noisy life, always running from one thing to the next, when I get home without changing anything. I catch a glimpse of what it could be and then do nothing to change it.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I do the same thing in lots of areas . . . my time with God, my relationships with others, eating better, exercise . . . almost anything could be added to the list. None of these are things that we are going to change without some intentional planning on my part. I have to decide to make the change and then do something about it.

We all have to make that same choice when there's something we want to change in our lives. We have to make a plan and be intentional about making it happen.

Is there an area of your life you want to change?
What is the first step you can take to make that change?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

He Will Meet All of Our Needs

In Paul's closing words to the Philippian church, he writes some challenging words:
"And my God will meet all your need according to the glorious riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19, emphasis mine)
These words are a powerful declaration of truth. But they're also sometimes hard words to live by.

There are two small, but incredibly powerful words in this verse:


WILL


ALL


Paul doesn't say that God might meet some of our needs. He says that God WILL meet ALL or our needs.

I think we sometimes struggle with this because we don't see God giving us what we want in the moment, or providing for us in the way we think He should. In those times, it can be hard to believe that God is doing what this verse says.

God will meet our needs, but maybe not the way we expect or the way we want Him to. We may see something as a need, when God sees it as a want and know it's better for us if He doesn't supply it.

These words challenge me: Do I believe them? Even when it doesn't look like I expect?

We can be sure that God will never leave us without something we need to live the life He has for us.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Promises from God

Philippians 4:4-9 has long been a favourite passage of Scripture of mine. It's also a fairly well known passage to many:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned from me, or seen in me - put into practice. And the peace of God will be with you.

I've heard sermons and read thoughts on lots of different things in this passage before. As I was reading and reflecting on these verses recently, I noticed something I don't remember noticing before. I love how God highlights things we've seen often in His Word before at the time we're in a place for that truth. It was there all along, but now is when we notice it.

These verses contain two promises. One is said only once, but the second is repeated twice:

  • The Lord is near (vs. 5)
  • The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds (vs. 7)
  • The peace of God will be with you (vs. 9)

We're told that God is near and that we can experience His peace. We don't have to go looking for God because He is near. We just have to look up from our circumstances and look at Him. We don't have to search for an elusive peace, when we realize God is near because we've shifted our gaze, we will experience God's peace.

As I saw this, I realized it changed my perspective on everything else in this passage. All the words about not being anxious about anything and thinking about things are no longer a means to trying to find God and an elusive peace. They become a way to live because I'm living with a God Who is near and has given me His peace.

We can rejoice because God is near and His peace guards our hearts and minds.

We can let our gentleness be evident to all because God is near and His peace guards our hearts and minds.

We have no need to be anxious about anything because God is near and He gives us His peace to guard our hearts and minds.

We can bring our requests to God and trust His answers because God is near and His peace guards our hearts and minds.

We can live with thanksgiving because God is near and His peace guards our hearts and minds.

We can think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy because God is near and His peace guards our hearts and minds.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Redemption in Abundance

          "Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
                    for with the Lord is unfailing love
                    and with Him is full redemption."
                                                       -Psalm 130:7


Psalm 130 is a psalm about God' forgiveness of sin. It is a cry to God for mercy and a declaration of hope in the truth of God's Word.

As I read it recently, I was struck by the thought that God offers "full redemption." Another translation I read said it this way: "redemption in abundance." (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

They all convey that it's something complete. God doesn't just sort of redeem our past our sin when we turn to Him. He redeems it completely and He does it abundantly.

I've been working through Beth Moore's Bible study on the Psalms of Ascent recently and she said something about God's work of redemption that really stuck with me in part of the study for this psalm.

"Allowed to do so through our confession, invitation, and cooperation, God can restore our identity, our purity, our ability, and our sanity! He not only diffuses our past of all power to harm and haunt us but He infuses it with power to help others." (Stepping Up, page 129)

God's work of redemption in our lives is so much more than just forgiving our sins. He also takes our pasts and uses them for His glory and His purposes.

This is where I think the translation that used the phrase "redemption in abundance"  really challenged my thinking on this. God doesn't just redeem our pasts, He does so abundantly! As we allow Him to do His work, He creates something beyond what had been stolen by sin. He is generous with us in His redemption. He doesn't just barely redeem us; He redeems abundantly.

The lyrics to the chorus of a song I've been listening to lately have made me continue to think about what this looks like in my life.

The song is called "You Redeem" (by Aaron Shust)

You redeem, You redeem
You restore what's been stolen from me
You reclaim, You release
You rebuild with the words that You breathe
You redeem

You can listen to the whole song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boV5ER7O90o

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Who's Got Your Back?

Who are the people in your life you've allowed to see your weak places? Who you've trusted to get close in the places where you're most vulnerable?

Who had permission to ask you the tough questions? To help you see what you're not seeing?

Who will stand for you when you're under attack and can't stand? Who will help you stand when you can't alone?

Who will guard you weak or vulnerable places from attack?

Those are challenging questions. They've been running through my mind for the last few weeks. I've been wrestling with my answer to them.

The answers may not come easily, but I'm starting to think that the answers do need to come. We need these people in our lives. And we need to be these people for others.

Really, these questions can be summed up in a couple:


Who's got your back?
Who's back have you got?


We have an enemy who is looking for the places he can attack to destroy us. He's looking for the places where we're unprotected, because he knows he has a good chance of getting in those places to defeat and destroy us.

This means we need each other. We all have places we can't see our vulnerability to attack, where we need someone else to com alongside us. We all ahve places where we know our vulnerability, but don't yet know how to protect ourselves, where we need someone to come alongside us.

Who's got your back?

Who's back have you got?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Unique Stories of Faith

"The Bible makes it clear that every time there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless. He never, fatigued and unable to maintain the rigors of creativity, resorts to mass-producing copies. Each life is a fresh canvas on which He uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions that He has never used before."
                                         (Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best)



I've spent a lot of time pondering this quote recently. It really stuck with me when I first heard it and I haven't been able to leave it behind since.

Stories of faith . . .
                    . . . in the Bible.
                    . . . in the history of the church.
                    . . . in the lives of those around us today.
                    . . . in our own lives.

We read some stories of faith. We listen to some. We live our own. And we may play a role in the stories of others.

They're the same only in that we are writing them with God by the choices we make.

But, our stories will never be the same as someone else's story of faith. Our story of faith is uniquely ours. Even our experiences of the same event or struggle as another person will be different.

And that's how God intended it to be. He has a different story of faith He wants to write for each one of us. And He's not going to run our of material or ideas for any one of us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Carrying Burdens

"Carry each other's burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)

". . . for everyone should carry their own load." (Galatians 6:5)

Two verses in the same passage that almost seem to be contradicting each other.

. . . Or maybe not . . .

How can both of these be true at the same time?

As I've wrestled with these ideas - carrying each other's burdens and carrying our own loads - I've realized Paul is actually talking about two different, although related, things here. English makes them look and sound the same at a glance.

In Galatians 6:5 when he talks about each person carrying their own load, Paul is talking about being responsible for your own life - for what you have. It's about living your life in such a way that you are looking after yourself, not choosing to be  unreasonably dependent on others because of laziness or unwillingness. This is a key part of living well in community with others.

When Paul talks about carrying each other's burdens in Galatians 6:2, he is talking about those times in life when it gets really hard and those things outside "normal" life burdens. These are the times when the storms come and we might be overwhelmed. It's in these times that we need other Christians in our community to come alongside and help us carry the extra burden.

Having people be able to help us carry the extra burden is only possible if we're each carrying our own load. If we've been refusing to carry our own load, we'll likely find that others are unable of unwilling to help us now.

Unable because they're already carrying something for us that we should be carrying. Unwilling because they've watched us refuse to carry what we should. Either way, if we've placed ourselves in this position, we're in trouble. That's why Paul is so clear that we need to carry our own load, so that we can also help carry each other's burdens when necessary.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Called to be Free

How do you live free?

What impact does it have on how we live in relationship with others?

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to live free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' If you bite and devour one another, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." (Galatians 5:13-15)

We were called to live free. That's a pretty big thing to try to grasp. In many ways, it's a bit of an abstract concept to try to wrap our brains around. Paul takes the time to teach us what it looks like to live this way, to show us how this means we should live.

Paul knew the importance if how we treat one another. He calls his readers to a radically different way of living than the world around them in these verses as he begins to teach them what it means to live the free life we've been called to.

Paul is calling Christians to humbly serve one another in love, rather than indulge in their own fleshly desires. At a glance, these two things seem unrelated, but I think they're more related than we realize. If we're indulging our own desires, then humbly serving others in love is not going to be something that even crosses our mind.

Most of our fleshly desires are selfish, self-serving, not serving or loving towards others. Paul is reminding his original readers and us about what should be different about us. When we're humbly serving others in love, we're looking for ways to put other people first, to be intentional in our actions toward them. This is impossible to do if we;re using our freedom in Christ to indulge our flesh.

These verses end with a warning about what happens if we choose to bite and devour one another. Treating one another this way is how we destroy each other. It doesn't bring good for us or them; it brings destruction to all involved.

So, to answer the questions I began this post with:

How do you live free?

What impact does it have on how we live in relationship with others?

It all goes back to what Jesus said when He was on earth. We love God with everything we have, and then we love our neighbours as we love ourselves. It's as simple and as difficult as that. The answer is simple, but sometimes living it out is much more difficult.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

God's Plans Instead of Ours

I've had this post in partially completed form for the last month or so. I started it when I was at the retreat I talk about in it. Trying to sum it up in something - a lesson, a question for reflection - something that makes it what I usually post here. But, that is not to be.

I still feel like it's something to share. Maybe there's a lesson in it for you as you read. I'm leaving that to God to prompt what He has and simply sharing what He has placed on my heart to share.

____________________
____________________


Fog obscuring all below. No view of the mountain road taken to get here, or the valley below.

Blue sky with light whispy clouds above. Moments of sunshine bringing warmth.

A quiet sort of peacefulness descended on her as she looked out the window. Something felt different about this place, this time.

Laughter and conversation with unlikely friends around the dinner table. Looking around the table, she was struck by how different they all were, yet they all shared what was most important.

They loved Jesus. They followed Him. They wanted to grow and help others grow in their journey with Christ.

That was what brought them together in this place. It was what had brought them together once a week for almost seven months.

What does this weekend hold?

What is God up to?

A sense of anticipation and wonder.

She'd felt the need for a time like this for a while, but it hadn't seemed to be happening. No matter what she'd tried, nothing seemed to work according to her plans.

But, maybe this was God's timing, His plan for when it should be. Trusting what He desired to do when it was right according to Him.

____________________


Sipping coffee in the morning sun. Looking down on the valley and the lake below. Not a cloud to be seen - just clear, pale blue sky above.

The beginning of a day spent together, yet alone with Jesus.

Worship music playing softly in the background. The only other sound the turning of pages in Bibles, books, journals.

There's something about this place. Really, something about an intentional time away. It just feels easier to put aside the distractions and hear God's voice.

Sharing. Praying together. Reflecting on our day.

____________________


Sunday morning dawns. Another beautiful day.

Breakfast finished. Dishes done. Conversation continues.

This space feels like holy ground as talk and laugh and enjoy each other's company. No agenda. No hurry to get things done.

____________________


A month later, walking into a room of people, looking for familiar faces. It seems such a short time and a long time all at once since our retreat together.

Connecting again. Sharing together.

____________________
____________________


When I started writing these words on the weekend, I had my own thoughts on what the post I was writing would be about. I quickly realized this was going somewhere else. 

As I reflect on this now, and try to sum it up, I'm at a loss. I don't have a neat lesson to tie this up with. Or a question to leave you with.

I simply am reminded of how God has plans that we may not even be aware of. Bringing me to this group. Creating the space for this retreat. Making His will happen in the midst of ours, as long as we're actually willing and available.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why I'm Still at my Job After 10 Years

Ten years at one workplace. That's not something I ever really expected to reach. All the way through my education we were told to expect multiple job changes, especially as we began our careers, and that staying extended periods of time anywhere was a thing of the past. Because of that, I never expected to be looking at a quickly approaching 10 year anniversary at my current workplace.

But, as I sit here and reflect on that I realize that, on most days, I still look forward to going to work every day when I get up. There are days when I struggle and tasks that really aren't my favourite to do, but I think that's reality for every job for every person out there. I consider it a huge blessing from God that I want to go to work when I get up.

I've been thinking for a couple months about why this is true. And I have a list of reasons:

  1. I get to use my education and my skills for something that has a greater purpose than just making more money.
  2. I like the challenge of making sure everything balances and works like it should.
  3. It's been a great opportunity for learning and growth in my field.

I'm sure I could come up with more if I took enough time. I also know I could say those things about more than just this job. There are other choices that would offer me those things.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while the above reasons are true, there is a reason why I love my job most days that is beyond all of those. What it really comes down to are the people - my coworkers, our volunteers, those we serve.

As someone who isn't necessarily seen as a people-person this was a surprise to me at first. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize the truth of it.

I've the last 10 years, I've had the privilege of working with some incredible people. They really are some of the most patient, caring, grace-filled people I've ever known. My job often hides me from the day-to-day realities most of my coworkers face, but in the moments I do see them in action, this is what I see.

The volunteers - they come and give and love people on their own time. Giving selflessly to others.

It's also the people who come through our doors. Their needs are sometimes more obvious than ours, but I'm not sure our ability to hide our need is a good thing. Stories of life change.

So, as I sit and reflect on 10 years in one workplace, I'm reminded of the importance of the people around us. And I'm grateful for the people God has given me the privilege of working with. My life is better and richer because of them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Warning about Remaining Free

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

The entire book of Galatians is about our freedom in Christ. Paul talks about it over and over again, writing to a church that seemed to be struggling with it.

Theses words in Galatians 5:1 really sum up all of the arguements Paul has been making. He builds the arguement, lays the ground work for this statement, in the first four chapters of Galatians. The last two chapters begin to flesh out the details of what Paul is talking about - practically living our freedom.

This verse stopped me recently. I got stuck on it for a while as I realized more about the implications of it for our lives.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

Christ paid the price for our sins through His death on the cross. He then set us free from the power of sin through His resurrection. We can't earn that freedom. Any attempts to earn it become new forms of slavery in our lives. We have to be intentional about standing firm in our freedom and not letting another form of slavery be put on us.

As I reflected on this verse, I kept coming back to a couple of questions:
-Why do we so easily burden ourselves with a yoke of slavery when we've been set free?
-Why do we struggle do much to live the truly free that Christ has given to us?
I suppose, those are really two sides of the same question: Why was it necessary for Paul to write these words - to his original audience and to us?

I think in our search for the answer we don't need to any further than our flesh nature and the society we live in. These words in Galatians 5:1 go completely against what they tell us. We're told that we have to earn everything - that nothing we receive really comes without strings attached. Even when someone gives us a gift, we struggle to accept it. Sometimes overtly, but more often quietly, we look for a way to repay the giver of a gift.

I think that's why we so easily burden ourselves again with a yoke of slavery. We're really bad at receiving gifts, especially when we don't feel like there was a reason why we earned it. But this freedom that Christ brings us is a gift we can never earn or repay. All we can do is accept it. That's what makes it so beautiful and so difficult all at the same time.

How are you doing with the gift of freedom Christ has given you?
Have you accepted it as a gift?
Or, are you putting yourself in slavery again by trying to find a way to earn it or repay it?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trust

"Trust Me," He said.

She wasn't so sure. She couldn't see the ground where He was telling her to place her next step. She didn't know if the ground would be stable. Was it firm? Was it flat? Were there rocks on the ground that would make her food slide when she put it down? How far down would she have to go before her foot felt the ground beneath her again?

"Trust Me," He said again, "You can do this. I'm right her; I'll keep you steady as you take the step."

She still didn't know exactly where this step would land. But the most important question she had to answer was whether she trusted Him. Did she trust Him enough to take the step based on His words and His promise to be there for her?

"Trust Me. Whatever this brings, you're not alone. I'm with you and I'm not leaving you."

She hesitantly began to move - to take that first step. As she did, she grabbed His hand and held on tight. She realized that no matter how tightly she held, He was holding her securely enough and He would not lose His grip on her.

That step didn't land where she would have liked. It required her to completely trust His promise to be there, to keep His grip on her. And that's exactly what did happen. She made it on that step, and each subsequent one to come.

____________________


Sometimes this is what it feels like walking with God. He asks us to trust Him and take the next step He's calling us to. We may be unsure, but we can choose to trust Him, and when we cling tightly to Him as we take that step, we'll find He's holding onto us more securely than we could ever hold onto Him.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Is There Room?

Is there space in your life for God to interrupt and call you to something new or different?

Is there room for God to bring about His plan for your life?

This is something I've been challenged about a lot lately. It's so easy to fill our calendars and our schedules so full that we don't leave any room for God to have His way with us. We live in a culture that seems to prize busy-ness, and our spiritual lives pay the price for that if we're not careful.

We're only going to hear God interrupting our plans with His if we're actually creating space where we can listen. If we're able to pay attention, because we don't always have to run to the next thing. It won't happen on the run with out thoughts focused on what we need to do next.

In the culture we live in, we have to become intentional about creating this space to pay attention. Until it becomes our habit, we have to do the work of making it ahppen. Even once it becomes habit, we have to continue to watch that we don't slowly get off course and back into the busy-ness of our culture again.

Is there space in your life for God to interrupt and call you to something new or different?

Is there room for God to bring about His plan for your life?

If not, what can you do to create some space?

If there is, what can you to guard that time, so it doesn't disappear?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Need Others to Figure Out our Calling

We were never meant to discern what God has given us to do on our own. We're supposed to need others to help us figure out what it looks like for us to do what God has planned for us to do.

I was struck by this as I read and reflected on the angel's conversation with Mary in Luke 1:26-38. In these verses, the angel tells Mary about what God has planned for her. Mary chose to trust God and surrender to His plan despite the unknowns it brought. Mary was willing to be obedient to God's call on her life.

But, what really struck me was what Mary did next - after her conversation with the angel. Luke 1:39-40 says, "At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth." In the face of her great and overwhelming calling from God, May went to someone who might understand and help her on this journey. She went to Elizabeth.

The angel had told Mary that Elizabeth was also carrying an unexpected child according to God's plan. It would make sense that Mary would seek out Elizabeth in this time. A person who might have some insight and understanding as she tried to make sense of this all.

We also need people we can turn to when we're working to make sense of something God has said to us, has called us to. I don't believe we were meant to try to figure it all out alone. We were meant to work through these things in relationship, not in isolation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Missing Piece in our Discussions about Sabbath

In the last few years, I've noticed an increase in the amount of time we spend talking about Sabbath, about our need to regular times of rest in our lives. In a world that never seems to shut off, this has been a refreshing conversation to hear and engage in. It's been encouraging to see people become intentional about beginning to practice it again.

But, as we've done so, I think we've missed a vital part of what Sabbath was intended to be when God designed it for us. I know I missed it for a long time, and didn't even realize I was missing it.

I think this piece we've is the reason why our efforts at creating Sabbath in our lives have fallen short of what we hoped they would bring. I don't think it's because we don't need Sabbath, but because we haven't really understood the fullness of it.

We first see the concept of Sabbath-rest in the story of creation in Genesis when God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day. God intended it to be a day where no work was done, a day of resting from the busy-ness of life. That's the part of it we're getting right in our current discussions of it.

Leviticus 23:2-3 outlines God's plans for Sabbath:
"There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord."
Did you catch the phrase in the middle of the commands about not doing any work and resting?

". . . a day of sacred assembly . . ."

Part of God's plan for Sabbath was for his people to gather together. It wasn't just about resting from work; it was also about gathering together with like-minded people - about community.

Even with all the religious aspect of keeping Sabbath the Jews added that weren't in God's original plan, they still had this part right. They gathered together on the Sabbath.

As I study Sabbath in Scripture and compare it to much of the conversation I'm hearing and participating in about it today, I'm more convinced than ever that we're missing a vital piece. And that missing piece is the reason why our efforts at Sabbath fail completely after a short while, or don't seem to bring all that Scripture talks about.

Along with rest, our Sabbath has to include gathering in community with people, with other Christians. Time together to build relationship, to study Scripture, to pray, to enjoy one another's company. I believe that if we began to include this, our experience of Sabbath will change, and our desire for it will grow.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Something we don't Talk about Enough

I've started and deleted this post probably 100 times in the last few months. I haven't actually been sure what to say or how to say it when it comes to talking about what this post is about. But, the prompting that I need to write this won't go away.

Until the last couple of years, I don't think I've ever talked about this about at all - except with a few people that were very carefully chosen. Up to that point, I'd mostly been able to hide what was going on from others, but at that point I couldn't hide it any longer. I had to let other people know, and in the process discovered how freeing it was to share and allow others into that part of my journey.

But, inviting others in didn't come without risks. It required being vulnerable. It required letting others know without knowing how to they would handle that information. It required removing a wall that I've always lived behind with people. It meant I was going to have to decide that the potential stigma of it wasn't going to stop me.

But, it also came with benefits. When it was no longer a secret, some of the power of it was lost. I discovered that being vulnerable about it with the right people actually led to deeper connections with people, and a willingness from them to share their own struggles. Sharing it with others brought a freedom I didn't know it was possible to have.

Sharing it here invites a whole new aspect of it. I don't necessarily get to pick the people who read this and who would now know. I think that's part of what has caused me to start and delete this post so many times. It's more risk to share, but I'm learning the importance of choosing to talk about these things.

I think so much of the stigma that exists around this - especially in the church - exists because we don't talk about it. We have to learn to talk about it. It affects so many more people than we realize. And, the only way we get to truly be able to find what healing looks like for us is to talk about it. We have to bring it out of the dark, so that the light can shine on it.

Mental illness and the conversations we need to have around it are happening more and more in our society, and they're beginning to happen in the church with greater frequency. That's a good thing. We need these conversations to happen, because we need to learn how to handle this better.

I've discovered that when we look around any given church gathering we find ourselves at there are more people around us struggling with it than we realize. Most of the time, we won't even realize they're struggling when we look at them or talk to them. They seem to live pretty normal lives and do all the things we would expect. But, what we don't know, unless they choose to share, is the struggles happening under the surface - the challenges they face to be in that place, to live what we would consider to be a normal life.

That's been me for most of my life. Living with an anxiety disorder. Most of the time I'm still able to manage reasonably well. I've been lucky in that regard - some people have a much more difficult time than me with the same thing. But, that doesn't mean it's always easy for me to be where I am or do what I'm doing. Often is a large group setting I'm hanging on, but not by much. This is one of those places where I've realized the importance of having people in my world who know my struggle. They may not always know exactly what my experience feels like, but I know they care about me and want to be there for me. Most of the time I manage fine and no one looking at me who doesn't know would even guess.

So, what do we do with the whole topic of mental illness and the church?

We need to talk about it.
We need to share.
We need to love.
We need to support.
We need to encourage.
And most of all, we need to be the family for each other that we're called to be in Scripture. That includes all of these things, and so much more.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Where are Your Eyes Fixed?

Where are your eyes fixed?

What are they focused on? What are you looking at?

I'm not talking about the things you watch on TV or online. I'm not talking about your physical eyes at all.

I guess you could say I'm talking about the eyes of your heart when I ask these questions. The internal part of you that looks at your life and what's happening.

Where are the eyes of your heart fixed?

Are they fixed on the challenged you're facing? Or are they fixed on God?

I was challenged by this thought recently, when I was studying 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
"Therefor we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
The troubles Paul was referring to here as "light and momentary" were anything but from a human perspective. They were big. They were challenging. He was being persecuted for his bold preaching of the gospel. He had and would be beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked. Yet, he called them "light and momentary troubles."

How was Paul able to do this? How could he call all of that "light and momentary"?

Paul goes on in these verses to explain how. He spoke about where he fixed his eyes. The place he looked for perspective on his problems. When he kept his eyes fixed on God and what God was up to in them, he was able to call them "light and momentary troubles." It was all about his perspective.

When we look at our problems, the challenging things we're facing, they grow bigger. The more we look at them, the bigger they become. Over time, they'll come to seem insurmountable and overwhelming.

But, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, our problems will shrink. We'll be able to join Paul in calling them "light and momentary." Whatever we choose to focus on is what will grow bigger. So, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, instead of our problems, He grows bigger and our troubles grow smaller.

So, I leave you with the question I started with: Where are your eyes fixed?

Are they fixed on Jesus? Or are they fixed on your problems?

Do you need to change where they are fixed?

Friday, April 7, 2017

What is Freedom?

What do we mean when we talk about freedom?

Why do we see it as something we should purcuse?

What difference does it make in our lives?

These are questions that have been running though my mind the last few days. Today, April 7, is exactly four years since I left the first Set Free weekend (formerly called Encounter God), I would go to.

I left that weekend feeling like I had been finally freed from so many things. I had. But, I had also just begun a journey. If the freedom found in the moment is actually going to last, then we have to change the way we walk. We have to learn to live differently.

That's what these last four years have been about for me. Learning to live differently. As I look back on them, I would say they've been some of the years and they've been some of the hardest years.

They've been the best because of the intimacy of my relationship with God. That intimacy has made it possible to learn to walk differently. I've learned to better listen for God's voice and of the importance of confession and repentance in the moment I realize I've gotten off course.

They've been some of the hardest years because of some of the things I've walked through personally and with my family. Some of it, I'm still walking through now. And often the best and the hardest times have been at exactly the same time.

I've learned that finding freedom doesn't mean life is instantly difference or easier. And it doesn't necessarily get easier - what changes is how we walk through the hard times. Clinging more tightly to Jesus, rather than trying to fond our own way. The things we thought it was impossible to survive, we not only survive, but come out the other side stronger and in a deeper relationship with God.

In John 8:36 Jesus says, "So if he Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Jesus is the One who brings us freedom. He declares this purpose of His mission on earth in Luke 4:16-21 when He quoted the prophet Isaiah and stated that this Scripture was fulfilled in the hearing of those present in the synagogue that day. Jesus came to bring freedom. That's why we pursue it, desire it.

It is only through freedom in Christ that we are able to begin to live the life God intended for us. We have to be willing to step into a process of learning to live differently.

As I reflect on four years of being intentionally on this journey, I'm realizing it began long before I went to that first Set Free. But, it became more intentional after I went to a Set Free. It was there that I was introduced to a way of living intentionally differently that was clear. And it's a journey I don't want to stop.

A song by Jeremy Camp was the first song I heard as I drove away from that first weekend, and the lyrics of it have become so fitting - particularly the chorus - of what I want to say and how I want to live.

Free (by Jeremy Camp)
 
And I am free
And I am free
My sin was wrapped around me
Trying to drown me
You have set me free
And I am free
And I am free
The chains that held me tightly
Are finally lifting
You took that weight from me
Now I'm free

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What Difference Will it Make?

What difference is this going to make in my everyday life?

That's the question I reflect on as I complete any Bible study I've been a part of. It's easy to reach the end of a Bible study and already be looking ahead to the next one we can add to our list of all the ones we've completed. An ever-growing list, an increasing pile of workbooks, an impressive amount of knowledge gained - these things can easily become our goal, even if we don't intentionally make it one.

But, if that's all it becomes, I believe we've missed the point of Bible study in the first place. It's not about all we can accomplish. It's not about gaining more head knowledge. It's not about how smart we can sound in future conversations about that topic or portion of Scripture.

The point of all our Bible study, all our work, all our learning needs to be our relationship with God. it's about allowing God to transform us to be more and more in the image of Christ. The facts we learn, the knowledge we gain is good, but it can't be our focus.

One of the ways I've found helpful in making sure I don't miss the point of the Bible studies I do is to take some time as I finish to reflect on the question: What difference is this going to make in my everyday life?

By asking this question, I slow down and look for the one or two things from the study I'm finishing that affect my life now. It might be a new understanding that changes how I live. It might be a new spiritual discipline I want to incorporate into my life. It might be a challenge to make a change in something in my life.

Whatever it is, by drawing out those one or two things, I keep myself from just checking another study off on a list. Instead, I make it about a growing and deepening relationship with God.

Can I challenge you to have a way of being intentional about paying attention to things so they can make a difference in your life rather than just being something you check off on a list?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reminders of Why we Need Community

In the last few weeks, I've had a few reminders of the value of community. The value of the community I've built around me. Of our need for a community where we can turn when things are hard and who are there to celebrate the good in life too.

So many examples of why we need community . . .

. . . After a challenging ministry weekend, I had people to talk to when I was struggling with something that came up for me out of it.

. . . When I'd had a long and challenging week, I had people who stopped to listen and pray for me right there.

. . . When we all needed a good laugh, I had people where we could really laugh together.

. . . When I needed an outside perspective on some things, I had someone who I trusted to offer it.

. . . When silence and a being with others with no expectations was needed, I had a few people to spend that time with for a weekend.

As I look back on these times, and so many more I could list, I'm grateful for these people in my life. I can't imagine what my life would be like without them. I know I wouldn't be writing this.

I know that I write often about our need for one another. I think in our individualistic society, it's a reminder we constantly need. As much as I know from these and other experiences how much it's needed, I still need the reminder regularly.

God created us to need each other - in the good times and the hard times. No matter how hard we try, we'll never be able to change that truth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We Need Silence - Even if it Scares Us

Silence.

It's something we talk about wanting more of in our lives. It often seems elusive.

Yet, in the moments when we do find it, we don't know what to do. We experience it so rarely that we're almost afraid when it happens.

Especially in our world of constant connection, it can be difficult to find silence. Our phones continually reminding us of every email, every text, right as they arrive. Drawing us away from the moment and out of any chance of silence for any time.

Why do we live with this struggle?

Why do we crave silence and run from it at the same time?

We crave silence because we were made to need it. We weren't made to be in constant contact. We need the true rest that can only come from silence.

But, those are the times when we come face-to-face with things we may not like about ourselves, our relationships, or our lives. As long as we keep moving and keep busy, we don't have to face those things. But, as soon as it slows down, we all of a sudden have to look at those things. We can no longer avoid them.

We need to learn to embrace the times of silence in our lives. Even to become intentional about creating that space, rather than running from it.

It will be hard and uncomfortable at first. We may want to be anywhere else, do anything else. But, if we'll stick with it, it will be worth it. We can get to the point of embracing silence, of regularly creating it. And our lives will be better for it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trusting . . . Even When the Way Isn't Clear

I'm one of those people who likes to know how it's going to turn out before it happens. I want to have a guaranteed outcome before I begin.

But, life rarely allows for that.

Often, we have to begin before we have any idea of what it's going to turn out like. We have to step out only knowing what direction to step in, not even always knowing whether we'll be putting our foot down on firm ground with that step.

The clearest example of this I can think of, it the well-known story of Peter walking on water, found in Matthew 14:22-33.

The disciples were out on the water in a boat. They were struggling to keep going as they fought a storm. Then they see someone coming toward them, walking on the water. They're understandably afraid. Jesus reassures them it's Him, and they don't need to be afraid. Peter responds with a request to walk on water too if it's really Jesus. Jesus tells him to come.

It would be easy to keep on running to the end of this familiar story right now. But, stop for a moment. Put yourself in Peter's shoes.

You impulsively declared that if it was really Jesus walking on the water, you wanted to walk to Him on the water. He told you to come.

How do you respond? Do you just as quickly jump over the side of the boat? Or are you more cautious now? Did you really expect He would tell you to come? Do you really believer you'll be able to walk on water?

Peter gets down out of the boat. He's walking on the water. When he put his foot down to the water, he didn't know how firm where he was putting his foot would be until he took the step of faith.

The same was true of every step he took on the water. Each one was a step of faith. And, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, each step on unstable ground was sure. The steps were no longer sure when he took his eyes off Jesus.

Often, we find ourselves in similar situations. Jesus is calling us to come, but we can't know for sure what each step of that journey will be like. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus and take the first step, then the second, the third, and each one after that. As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we'll be able to stand on sure ground, no matter what it actually is.

If we take our eyes off Jesus, we'll be on unstable ground, and we can fall. Jesus calls us to keep our eyes on Him and trust Him with each step - even when we don't know the outcome.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Our True Identity

Apparently today is International Women's Day . . .

It may come as strange to some since I am a woman, but I had no idea this day existed, until I was overwhelmed by it on my Facebook newsfeed today. As I watched the vast array of posts that appeared in my feed, I wrestled with a lot of thoughts and feelings.

What does it mean to be a woman in the culture I live in? In the communities I'm a part of?

Does this line up with what Scripture says a woman of God should be like? What should it look like to live as a woman of God according to Scripture?

I read things today about the intent of International Women's Day being about equality in all things for women. And I know that in many parts of the world there's a long way to go in that regard. But, I struggled with some of the militant, "women are better than men" sentiment that I saw expressed in some places today. I don't think that's helpful in any way.

I also don't think that's biblical. Everywhere I look in Scripture, I see both men and women valued, used by God, and gifted by God. It's not about one being better than the other. We may be different, but we all have value and worth before God. We're all God's children - ones He loved enough to go to the greatest of lengths to rescue and redeem.

That's what really matters. We can get confused when we seek our identity elsewhere, and we can get off track and start seeing other people as our competition. But, we need to go back to what really matters.

Yes, that means where there is injustice, we need to fight for justice. Where things aren't right, we need to work to make them right.

But, no where does that mean, we need to try to make ourselves better than others.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Changing the Stories we Tell Ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves matter. The can change everything in how we see a situation.

The way we fill in the blanks about an interaction with someone can impact our relationship with them without them ever knowing what happened.

The videos we replay in our minds as determine why someone reacted the way they did can change all our future interactions with them and they'll never know what's driving the change.

We go through life with missing information, left to fill in the gaps. And we fill in those gaps based on our past experiences. Often, based on the worst of our past experiences.

It's how we're wired. When we don't have all the answers, we try to fill in the blanks. We tell ourselves stories to explain it all.

Often, these stories are dangerous. Because we don't usually assume the best about people in these stories; we assume the worst and react accordingly. In doing so, we can cause serious harm to relationships, or to ourselves.

I ended up in this place myself recently. I had an experience where the way I filled in the blanks in a way that was harmful to me. It wasn't so much that I damaged a relationship with someone else. But, I took what happened, and filled in the blanks in such a way that I wasn't worthy or adequate to be in the role I was in with this happened. I was heading down a dangerous path.

What if we learned to stop ourselves?

What if we started asking for more information so we could fill in those blanks accurately?

What if we started to change our thinking about others?

What if we started assuming people are doing the best they have with what they have, instead of the worst?

I believe that would change everything in our relationships with people. It will take courage to do so thought. It will require intentionally from us. We'll have to be intentional about stopping our usual thinking and changing it. We may even have to have the courage to ask for the missing information from people so we can fill in the blanks correctly.

But, I think it will be worth the cost.

In the situation I was in where I had filled in the blanks with the wrong information and was heading down a dangerous path, I had to make that choice. I had to choose to reach out to people who could help me change the story I was telling myself. It wasn't easy. Often, just admitting out loud the story we've been telling ourselves reveals how ridiculous it actually is. But, I knew I needed to, so that others could help me to write the story correctly. As hard as it was, in the end it was worth the cost.

Are you willing to start making this change?