Thursday, July 31, 2008

stuck in a rut

Do you ever find yourself getting stuck in a rut? Where you have your devotions but it seems to have lost its ability to speak to you? That's where I have been for a while now. It has been a chore to read my Bible, or even to really spend anytime with God.

I'm one of those people where the look of how they spend time with God changes about as often the seasons. I just get bored with one way of doing things and need to do it a bit differently to keep my attention. This is where I was at recently. I had found a way of reading my Bible and hearing from God and I was using it. It was good, but I was getting bored with it so I was just sitting and doing it as fast as I could all the time . . . not exactly a great way to actually hear anything that God may want to say to you. I got stuck on this same way of doing my devotions, if you will, for a lot longer than I usually stick with any one method. It has a couple of years now of the same thing. It was the way that I found helpful when I was just getting my life back to normal after a battle with depression and I think becuase of that I was afraid to let go of this way. Doing things this way had spoken to me a lot during a time in my life where I needed that. But, for the last couple of months, it really hadn't been a good way for me to be doing things anymore - yet, I was still very hesitant to let it go. Needless, to say, when I finally got to the point where I knew that I had to change things, my time with God began to come alive again.

After that, and a couple of conversations I've had recently, I've started to think about we so often end up stuck in a rut in our spiritual lives. For whatever reason we get to a point where we're not learning and we're not hearing from God . . . and so we just go through the motions and keep doing things, even though they mean nothing to us. Most of the time in my experience and the experiences of others I have spoken to, God has to do something drastic in our lives to get us to wake up and get out of the rut we're in. (I'm just thankful that this time around it didn't take that for me.)

I've been wondering why we allow ourselves to stuck in these ruts. I mean, we know when we end up in one, so why don't we just get ourselves out of them? It seems so straightforward when we're not stuck in that rut . . . but it's not as clear when we are in the rut. It just seems strange to me.

fasting & keeping a Sabbath

OK, so I admit . . . this is mine, but if you also read my writing on the Alive Ministries webpage, then this will not be a new post. It is a post that put up there today as well.

Do you fast? Have you ever even thought of it being something that you should do? How about keeping the Sabbath – taking a day to rest from work? What images come to mind when you think of these things? Do you see them as having value in our lives today? Or as something that was just required for the Israelites in the Old Testament?
I was reading in Isaiah recently, and those were some thoughts that came to mind as I read chapter 58. I am going to quote a large portion of it here, so that you know what I am talking about:
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the captives free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
The your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call upon the Lord, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.
. . .
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honourable,
and if you honour it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord”
Isaiah 58:6-9 & 13-14 (NIV)

The two spiritual practices that are spoken of in these verses were hugely important to the life of the Israelites, and to the early church, but are rarely practiced today in most churches. Fasting and keeping the Sabbath were obviously important in the history of our faith, so why do we not place the same importance on them now?
I have heard many people argue that these are Old Testament Law requirements and that, as New Testament Christians, we are no longer bound by these requirements. That is true, but I think that argument misses a lot, not only that Jesus assumed that His followers did these things, but also the intent behind them both. The New Testament has many occasions where Jesus and the apostle’s letters speak about these spiritual practices being important to the life of the believer.
These were not designed as just something more to do. Really, both of these practices force us to slow down and actually allow room for God to speak and to work in our lives. At the frantic pace that most of live our lives at there is really no way that we can hear from God. We do not allow time for that with our go, go, go schedules – always running to the next thing on our calendar. Fasting and keeping a Sabbath force us to slow down. Both of them require specific planning and ceasing of activity on our part the will not just happen.
Think about it for a moment: When was the last time that you stopped all the busy activity you do and just allowed God room to move? And I do not mean in a church service or for your devotions crammed somewhere into your day. I mean really stopped – for a longer period of time – and allowed God to speak to you and to move in your life?
Isaiah 58 talks not only about the importance of doing these things, but also about the rewards of doing these things. Take, for now, what it says can happen when we take time to fast and to pray (the two usually go hand in hand): Isaiah 58:6 says that it has the power to loose the chains of injustice, to break chains of bandage, and set the oppressed free from what oppresses them. That’s pretty amazing! And that is the kind of thing that can come from us taking the time to fast and to pray and come before God.
And, not only that, there are promises of what can happen when we take fasting seriously as a spiritual practice that we make part of our lives. Isaiah 58:8-11 outline some of these things: God will be with us as we go into the world, God will answer our cries when we bring them to His feet, and God will guide us in our lives. That, to me, is exactly what I am looking for in my life.
Or take the whole idea of keeping a Sabbath. Yes, God should be a part of every aspect of our lives, all the time, but there is something to be said for taking some time out of the busy-ness of our normal lives to just be in God’s presence. Keeping the Sabbath is not just a rule to follow; it benefits us both spiritually and physically. Our bodies were not designed for this frantic pace at which we so often live – we were not made to go non-stop for days on end – so, physically, we benefit greatly from taking time out regularly to rest from the busy-ness of our lives. Spiritually, it also offers us a chance to be refreshed. It allows us that time to just stay in the Word and in God’s presence for longer than our schedule normally allows. God also makes a promise that comes with keeping the Sabbath as well. Isaiah 58:14 says that when we do this is when we find our joy in the Lord. Since the only place to find true joy is in God anyways, this seems to me to be a good reason to practice keeping a Sabbath.
While it is true that fasting and keeping the Sabbath are requirements of the Old Testament law, which we are no longer bound by, there are many things about both of these spiritual practices that make them beneficial to us today. Although much of Christian culture does not seem to put a huge value on them, they are incredibly important and valuable tools to help us hear from God and allow Him to work in our lives. We need them!
If you are still with me know, think about your own life for a bit: How are you doing at making these spiritual practices a part of your life? When was the last time that you spent time fasting and praying? When was the last time you kept any form of a Sabbath?
With your schedule keeping every Sunday as God’s day or having a regular day that you spend fating and praying is probably not possible. And we do not want these to become legalistic and things that we do just because “we’re supposed to.” Maybe your Sabbath will be the one evening in your week and that you have free and you will make that a time where you stop with busy-ness and noise of life and allow God to speak. Or maybe fasting will be giving up TV or computer games for a time and spending the time you would have spent doing those things with God. Whatever the case, do not be concerned if you do not follow what some would consider a “normal” schedule for these spiritual practices. But, also do not allow your schedule to be your excuse for not doing these things at all.
Do not stop here with just reading about it and looking at your own life. Make a commitment now of when and how you will put these into practice. Write it down. Share it with a friend who can learn to make these things a part of life with you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

take my world apart

I was singing along with a song on one of my Jars of Clay CDs the other day, when I was struck by what exactly I was singing the words to. I often do that. I just sing along with whatever is playing. But these words just hit.

Worlds Apart (by Jars of Clay)

I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all ends up the same
Soaring on the wings of selfish pride
I flew too high and like Icharus I collide

With a world I try so hard to leave behind
To rid myself of all but love, to give and die

To turn away and not become
Another nail to pierce the skin of One who loves

More deeply than the oceans, more abundant that the tear
Of a world embracing every heartache
Can I be the one to sacrifice
Or grip the spear and watch the blood and water flow

To love you - take my world apart
To need you - I am on my knees
To love you - take my world apart
To need you - broken on my knees

All said and done I stand alone
Amongst remains of a life I should not own
It takes all I am to believe
In the mercy that covers me

Did you really have to die for me
All I am for you are
Because what I need and what I believe are worlds apart

To love you - take my world apart
To need you - I am on my knees
To love you - take my world apart
To need you - broken on my knees

It was especially the words: "take my world apart" that really hit me. Those aren't words that I just want to sign flippantly. They're serious words to sing, and I had better mean them if I'm going to sing them.

This got me thinking about how often I do the same thing with other songs. Are there words that I sing that I wouldn't if I was really paying attention and thinking about what they mean? Probably there are. That thought has made me more conscious of the words that I sing when a song is playing.

understanding why God does things

So, I just finished this book called "Walking With God" by John Eldredge. It was honestly a good book that really challenged me to think about how much I listen to God about the smaller things in life, rather than just when I have a big decision to make about something. Definitely a read I needed.

There was one section in the book that really just caused something to "click" for me. It was a strange story to have a lesson for me because it had to do with his family's dog . . . and I'm far from a dog-person and honestly usually don't pay much attention to them when I read them or hear them. Bu this one I was reading and paying attention to this one. The author was relating a story about having to put their dog down. He talked about how they had some time to say good bye, but how it wasn't drawn out long, as that would have been worse to see their dog suffer for a long time when he was ill and in pain.

When I read that, something just sort of clicked in my head. I related it to my uncle dying sooner that we were all prepared for. I've been still asking God why it happened, and as I read this it made sense - it doesn't necessarily make it easier, but I think it was another step on the journey to dealing with the grief that came with my uncle dying.

When God took my uncle home when He did, He was doing what was best for all. God wasn't taking my uncle away to be cruel - it was actually something that was better than the alternative. We were given a few weeks to say good bye and then my uncle was gone. The other option was to watch him suffer and die slowly for months. That wouldn't have been any easier. When I think about it, I wouldn't have had wanted to watch him die for months. I was pretty upset with God at the time, but now, a number of months removed from it all, I can see that it was the better way for things to happen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

what is faith?

That's a quesion that has been rolling around in my head for the last few days. I was reading in Hebrews 11, the "hall of faith" as it is commonly known. And it got me thinking about what faith actually is. It's a word that I hear all the time, but I don't know that I've ever really thought about what it means. There are a few places in Scripture that talk about what faith is.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Hebrews 11:6

"He said to them: Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Mark 10:14-15

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke 18:17

"We live by faith and not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7

"What good is ti , my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? . . . Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do. . . . As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2:14, 18, & 26

All of these verses talk about faith, and really are far from a complete list of what the Bible has to say about faith. Faith is a huge topic and it's a word that is used in many ways, both in Scripture and in everday life.

My understanding of faith is that it is choosing to trust that God is Who He says He is and that He will follow through on what He says. When Christ talks about having faith like a child, He is talking about the need to just trust, not to question. Not that questioning is wrong, but sometimes we need to just decide that we are going to belive something.

I think for me the key to understanding faith is that it is something we take action. Hebrews 11 repeats over and over that these people did things "by faith". They took what God said and acted accordingly, trusting that God was Who He said He was and would follow through on His end. The same it true of us. We need to take what we say we believe and act on it. Faith requires action . . . and sometimes that means we have to take a risk and step out in doing something.

Honestly, this is something I'm still trying to understand. If you have thoughts on it I would love to hear them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


So I've been back for a day now. I spent the weekend in Abbotsford for my great-Grandma's 95th birthday. Lots of family . . . staying in a hotel room with my parents and my sister . . . going somewhere without my own car for the first time in a while . . . a much different weekend than I normally have. But it was a great weekend! I have an absolutely crazy extended family, who want nothing more than to have a good time when they get together.

As we were driving home yesterday (Monday) a comment that one of my roommates had made a while back popped into my head. We were chatting one day and she made a comment about how it seemed like we all spent so little time with our families now that we were out on our own. All of my roommates and I come from pretty good families, yet it seems as though moving out for all of us meant that we spent less and less time with our families.

I know for myself, it's not really all that strange for me to go a couple of weeks without seeing my family other than in passing at church. And phone calls . . . well . . . I try, but our schedules don't always connect the first time so I give up. For me, I see family at holidays and on occassion otherwise, but not too much. I think what really hit me about this week was a comment my Grandma made in passing. She said something about how I don't stop by very often. I used to . . . when they lived on the lake I was over all the time . . . but she's right, I don't come by very often anymore. Yet I love spending time with my grandparents.

Anyways, all this got me thinking . . . I think I very easliy begin to take my family for granted. I know that they love me, and I know that if I need them all I have to do is phone and they'll come. I also know that I have more extended family that I know and enjoy being around than most people. But I often find myself just assuming that they will always be there, because they always have been. I mean, really, how many people have grown up with great-grandparents and great aunts and uncles around, besides grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins?! I've been seriuosly blessed in that department.

I came home this weekend with the realization that my crazy and loving family is not something that I should take for granted . . . but something that I should value. I can't put a price on my family . . . all I can do is make it a priority to spend with time with them - to make that second phone call to see if they're home yet, to stop by my grandparents' more often, to just be around them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

playing with fire

Well, I'm back to write again . . . after taking an unplanned break from writing for a couple weeks. It would seem that I need to be careful with my computer use outside of work, as my wrist has been complaining a lot lately. But, I'm back and behaving myself more now so hopefully that won't happen again.

A couple of weeks ago at Alive in the Park, the speaker spoke about growing cold. It is so easy for us to do such a thing. We find ourselves growing distant and farther from God. I have been thinking a lot about it in the weeks since. It has seemed like that has been something that has come up just about every time I have opened my Bible in the last couple of weeks as well.

So many of the prophets in the Old Testament were speaking to a nation that had done just that – had grown cold. Their hearts were no longer following God – they were going through the motions, but that was all that it was. Hosea 6:6 expresses God’s desire for His people – the way He truly wants to worship:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice; and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” (NIV)
Sacrifices and offerings were the religious rituals that Israel was going through. This is not what God wanted. Hosea 6:6 is calling Israel to come back and worship Him with their whole hearts, not just their religious actions. This is the same call that God makes to us today. When we begin to wander away and move into cold religious ritual, God calls us to come back from our religious ritual and bring our whole hearts back to Him. God desires our entire heart and we are to bring that to Him.

Take some time to think about your own life: Are there areas where you have grown cold? A re you playing with fire? What can you do to come back to God with your whole heart in those areas where you have grown cold?

As I thought about this in my own life, I realized how easy it is for myself and how often I do it. I seem to go in cycles - I go from walking closely with God to growing cold and walking as far away from God as I can, in at least a few areas of my life. I can see certain areas where I tend to play with fire on a regular basis.

God has really convicted me of this in the last few weeks. It was a challenge for me to take the steps I need to so that I don't end up growing cold again. I often find that when summer comes it is easiest for me to fall away in areas of my life; so, this is the time that I need to be the most intentional about making sure that I don't grow cold.