Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas expectations

The last few days I have found myself not really looking forward to Christmas for reasons I did not know at first. It was not that I dreaded it. There just seemed to be the anticipation of it missing from the week leading up to Christmas. I just felt a little bit down and unexcited about the whole thing.

In the last few days I have realized that my feelings came down to expectations I have of Christmas and knowing that they will not all be met this year. For me, the best part of Christmas and what I most look forward to is the time with people - time with my family, people I care about.

Christmas has many traditions on my family . . .

. . . making crepes together on Christmas morning. Multiple crepe makers going, syrup being made, fruit sauces being prepared, bacon or sausage frying, my Mom, both my sisters, and I together in the kitchen bumping into one another as we work to get everything ready.

. . . opening our stockings right away when we get up. As kids it was how my parents got a little extra sleep on Christmas morning; we could open our stockings as soon as we got up and then we would play with what we found there until later in the morning when Mom and Dad were up to open the gifts under the tree.

. . . going to a Christmas Eve service at church followed by a lasagna dinner with my family.

. . . a big family Christmas dinner at my grandparents' in the late afternoon.

. . . my whole family being together on Christmas day . . . Dad, Mom, both of my sisters, and me.

Over the years, those traditions have become expectations about Christmas, and this year it will not all happen. Things will look different from the Christmases I remember growing up. I know this is the reality of growing older, but I do not really want to let go of those traditions.

And so, I found myself in the last few days having to adjust my expectations for Christmas. I do not have to forget about the traditions of my family growing up and in a different way many of those things will still be included, albeit at different times or missing some important people.

But, while there is nothing wrong with any of the traditions my family has had, the problem comes when they become an expectation of Christmas that I hold in such high regard I feel like I cannot celebrate Christmas without them. Family is important. But, the real reason for celebrating at Christmas is to take the time to acknowledge God coming to earth - the greatest gift of all.

Maybe, like me, you find yourself not really looking forward to Christmas this year. But, as we stop to really reflect on what Christmas is about, those traditions remain just that, traditions. We do not make them expectations that set us up for despair because they do not take the place of what is truly important.

Maybe it is time to stop and take the time to truly reflect on the reason why we celebrate.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

the gift of presence

In church this morning our pastor was talking about the gift of the incarnation - of Jesus coming to earth. In Jesus coming to earth, He came near and gave humanity the gift of His presence. Through Jesus on earth, God become approachable and accessible. He was no longer a distant being who required certain ceremonies to cleanse yourself before entering His Temple, and rarely, His actual presence. Because of the Jesus' incarnation, we are able to enter in to relationship with God. What an amazing gift to receive!

This is also a gift that we can give to our families and our friends. The gift of being present in their lives . . . of not being glued to our phone, our MP3 player, our TV, our computer. We can put all those things that our culture says we need to the side and give our attention, our focus, our time, our energy to the people in our lives. We can give the gift of our presence whether we have lots of money or no money. Being present with someone does not require finances, but it does require time and energy. But, the rewards of that sacrifice of time and energy will be worth it in the end.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

forgiveness . . . unforgiveness

Choosing to forgive
With the help of God
Frees us from the other
Helps us to move on

Unforgiveness traps us
Keeps our heart all tied up
With the one who caused us pain
Freedom seems elusive
Revenge our only choice
But when will it be enough
That the other person pays?
Will it ever satisfy?
Or will we long for more?

Maybe God does have it right
The only way to freedom
The only way to peace
Forgiveness from our hearts
Cancelling the debt
Letting go of anger
Giving Him our hurt
Seeking reconciliation
Moving on with love

Choosing to forgive
With the help of God
Frees us from the other
Helps us to move on

forgiveness . . . unforgiveness

Our world tells that it's fine
That there is nothing wrong with it
Our world tells us it's our right
That this what to seek

But is that really true?
Does our world have it right?
Or is there something different -
A better way to live?

The Bible says it's right
That it is what to do
By far the better choice
The one that sets us free

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

my new favourite Christmas song

Anyone who knows me will know that I find Christmas music to be annoying if I here too much of it. What I have been learning lately is it is not so much that I do not like Christmas music, but that I get bored with or tired of most Christmas songs that are frequently sung. If it is a song that is not as popular or newer or different in some way, then I actually do not mind listening to Christmas music.

On that note, I have had Downhere's Christmas CD playing at home for a couple of days and there is one song I keep listening to again. The lyrics just grabbed me when I heard it tonight and I have been thinking about them as I continue to listen to.

Gift Carol

Under the tree lights
All wrapped and labelled
Each one with a dear one in mind

Day's ever nearer
We're all the more eager
To see what, that morning, we'll find

Heaven gave the first time

There's a gift marked for us
By the angel chorus
Not in sparkly paper
But a lowly manger
Sealed in hopeful promise
For every doubting Thomas
From God, with love to all mankind

Under the startlight
Laid in a stable
God, with His dear ones in mind

Given the Savior
Soon to deliver
The brightest new morning you'll ever find

When heaven gave the first time
There's a gift marked for us
By the angel chorus
Not in sparkly paper
But a lowly manger
Sealed in hopeful promise
For every doubting Thomas
From God, with love to all mankind

It was the chorus and being drawn to dwell on the incredible gift that it is that made me stop to pause. Ultimately the gift of Christ was the best gift we could be given. May that be what we focus on this Christmas season.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

three years

Three years . . .

156 weeks . . .

1,095 days . . .

26,280 hours . . .

those numbers make it seem like a long time, but, in reality, it's not that long. And yet, so much happens in that span of time . . .

new jobs . . .

new friendships . . .

new places to live . . .

good times . . .

hard times . . .

And in the midst of all that goes on, I wonder if we sometimes forget that people are the most important, after God. It is easy to get caught up in all the activities of life and in acquiring stuff, and forget about what really matters.

Today is three years since my Uncle passed away and it has caused me to stop and think. There is a lot of stuff - good and hard - that has happened in my life over the last three years. But, what has remained is the value of people in my life - my family and my close friends.

As I have been reflecting a bit on that, I started to think about what my life would be like without those people. (Maybe that seems a bit of a morbid thought to some, but for me it wasn't.) Life would not be the same without them. Life would still go on and I would still have good times and hard times. But, without some people in my life, it would feel like a part of me was missing. There are people in my life I consider it a huge blessing to have in my life and it is honestly difficult to imagine life without them.

Then I started to think about when the last time was that I let these people know how much they meant to me. With some of them it was not that long ago. But, with others it has been far too long. And, so today, I came to the conclusion that I need to take the time to let these people know.

What about your life? Who are the people who you have a hard time imagining living life without? When was the last time you let them know how much they mean to you? Is there anyone you need to let know this now?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

what does it mean to believe?

I've been challenged lately in what believe actually means. Is it just giving mental assent to something? Or is more than that?

Most of the time in our society, the word believe mean just giving mental assent to something. It's little more than saying you agree with a statement about something. It makes believing in something pretty easy. There is nothing required of you to believe in something the way the word is commonly used today.

But, a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that in Scripture the word believe means so much more than that. Over and over Romans 4 uses the phrase "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." When you read the story of Abraham's life in Genesis beginning in chapter 17, you see that the belief of Abraham was not just mentally saying it made sense. Abraham believing God meant that he took action on it.

(I make no claim to be a Greek scholar, but this study challenged me on how I understand and use the word believe in my own life.) The word translated "believe" in Romans 4 is the Greek word "pisteou" and is verb. A verb implies that there's an action involved. If an action is involved, then believe has to mean more than just mentally agreeing that something it right. There has to be an action that flows from that mental agreement. When you read through Scripture and the various places that the words believe or faith are used, it becomes clear that action is a part of those words - that they require us to do something.

So, maybe this is something to think about. What do we typically mean when we use the words believe or faith? Does it involve any action on our part or can we just sit back and say we agree? Should there be a change in how we understand the meaning of these words?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

transformed by being with Jesus

I have been reading through the Gospels and Acts lately and one thing has continued to jump out at me. Every time i turn a page to read more I am struck by the fact that it was being with Jesus that transformed the disciples into the early church leaders they became. The disciples did not go to come special school or conference to be changed. They simply spent time with Jesus - they spent everyday life with Jesus.

I think that is the way that we are transformed into who Jesus wants us to be today. It may look different but we transformed by being with Jesus - by doing everyday life with Jesus. We may not physically see the Person of Jesus sitting across from us or walking next to us, but we can still choose to allow Him to be a part of our every day life. That is was transforms us. That is how we become more and more like Christ.

So how do we choose to make Jesus a part of our every day lives?

I think that 1 Thessalonians 5:17 gives us a pretty good place to start when it says: "pray continually." This means we make conversation with God a part of everything we do. It does not have to be getting down on our knees and spending an hour praying. Although there is a time and a place for more focused prayer, praying continually means that we include in our every day life by talking to Him about as our day happens.

The other way we spend time with Jesus is by setting aside time to read His Word and to listen for what He might have to say to us. People call this many things - devotions, Bible study, personal time, quiet time, etc. What you call it does not matter. What it actually looks like does not matter. What matters is that you take time to spend with Jesus - time where you focus on Him and what He has to say.

Ultimately the ways we choose to make Jesus a part of our every day lives sound simple, but are a little more difficult to actually follow through with. We get caught up in life and often that means Jesus takes a backseat. But this is not how it is meant to be. And it is not how we become transformed like the disciples who spent three years living life with Jesus. But, if we truly desire transformation and to become more like Christ, then we need to spend time with Jesus - however that looks for you. Each person is different and things look different. But, what should be the same is that it becomes a priority in our lives.

Friday, October 29, 2010

friday night ramblings...

I spent last week back in the prairie town where I went to Bible college. I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law. It was a good chance to reconnect with a couple of friends from my time living there who still live in the area. And it made me reflect on what made me love being in that place.

As I walked around the town and through some of the buildings, there were many memories that came flooding back. The dorm I lived in . . . laughter, fun, tears, conversations with friends, all-nighters to finish that paper that was due in the morning, cramming for exams. The house where my dorm mom lived . . . laughter, chocolate nights, turkey dinners, a "home away from home." The chapel . . . great worship, challenging messages, drama productions, Youth Quake mayhem. The academic building . . . challenging classes, lots of studying. The cafeteria . . . decent food for a cafeteria, a table where there's always room for one more no matter how full it already is, theology debates. So many places that hold these memories that go with even though it has been a few years since I graduated.

Being back this time felt a little different. It was still good to be there. But it also reminded me that there are seasons in life. Times when a certain place has a pull. And where lifelong memories aer created. That school is a place I will always love. But, the memories from when I attended there go with me beyond there. They have shaped who I am today. The dorm-mates, the professors, the admin staff I worked with, the people who spoke in chapel, the classmates I worked on projects with and sat in class with, the friends I made who are still friends of mine today . . . they all shaped who I am today. And that is something that is not tied to that place.

Sometimes I wonder if we have a great experience in a place and we become attached to that place - thinking that we need to go there to feel that all again. But, really what happens is that we carry that experience with us from that point on. We can still love to go to that place. We can still have memories that seem that much more poignant when we are there. But, that event, those people, that message goes with us for the rest of our lives. It becomes a part of who we are. It shapes us.

I have been thinking lately about who has played a role in who I am today. And what experiences in my life have played a role in who I am today. The list that keeps growing is surprising to me. Some of the people or experiences coming to mind I had not thought about in years, but looking back I can see how they did play a role in making me who I am today. Not all of the people or memories are positive, but looking back even many of the negative ones have played a role in making me who I am.

What about your life? Who has played a role in making you who you are? What experiences have played a role in making you who you are?

As I have had some of these names come up, I have realized that many of these people probably have no clue about the impact they had in my life. Then I realized that through the technology of today I have a way to contact many of them. And I have been endeavoring to tell them - to let them know that I appreciate their impact in my life.

How about you? Is there someone on your life who you need to let know the impact they made in your life? To thank them for how they helped to shape you to be who you are today?

Friday, October 22, 2010

gratitude, thankfulness . . . and taking things for granted

It always amazes me how easy it is to take something you have for granted. Often without realizing you have done so. It just seems so simple, so normal, that it becomes something you never think about and just assume will always be there, until one times it is not. And in those moments, you realize that you take it for granted.

Last night was one of those times. I am visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Saskatchewan last night. Late afternoon I went to use the sink and turned the tap to find that no water would come out. A little bit of asking around revealed that a water line had been hit by a crew working and the entire town was without water. Annoying, as I had just eaten a cinnamon bun and my hands were rather sticky, but they were already working on fixing it, so no big deal. Or so we thought . . . they got water back on for most of the town pretty quick, but of course not where we were staying. Now we get to about seven hours without water in the taps. That is annoying . . . there is a lot of stuff you need running water for.

Running water . . . in our Western World that is normal. We expect it. We know that when we turn the tap water will come out. And that assurance of it being there means we take it for granted. And we do not know what to do when we turn on the tap and nothing comes out.

This got me thinking about how many other things in my life I take for granted that they will always be there.
Running water . . .
Electricity . . .
Heat . . .
Air conditioning or fans . . .
Gas for my car . . .
A roof over my head . . .
A safe place to sleep each night . . .
More than enough clothes for every season . . .
Food to eat . . .
For me, in my world, those are things that are always there. Yet, for others, they are not. Going for a few hours without running water reminded me of the need to be thankful that I can rely on these things to be there.

Having just had Thanksgiving I realized that these are things that are not even things I would think of. If someone had asked me on Thanksgiving what I was thankful for, I would have said family and friends. Good things to be thankful for. I have been truly blessed in that area of my life. But, sometimes I think we need the reminder that some of these other things we assume will be there and that we so easily take for granted are things we should also be thankful for.

So, what about you? What are you thankful for? What do you take for granted in your life, that you maybe need to stop and take a few moments to express your thankfulness to God for?

Monday, October 18, 2010

obeying what God tells you to do

Sometimes the things God asks us to do seem difficult. Sometimes they seem dangerous. Sometimes they seem crazy. Sometimes they just do not make sense in the moment. Yet, God calls us to trust Him and obey - not the easiest thing to do.

Typically when you read Acts 9 the focus is on Saul's conversion. I do not know how many times I have read that chapter and not paid too much attention to the conversation that God had with Ananias in verses 11-17. Stop for a moment and put yourself in Ananias' shoes. God has just asked him to go the visit a man who is known for persecuting Christians. Just a few chapters earlier, the book of Acts records how Saul had been present and approved of the stoning of Stephen. The word from God to go and visit Saul cannot have been something that Ananias took lightly.

When God first told Ananias to go, he responded by reminding God of the reputation that his man had. Ananias had reason to be very afraid of this man. But, God still commanded Ananias to go and visit Saul, trusting God that Saul's conversion was the real deal. And so Ananias did obey and go.

I do not know about you, but that would be hard for me. As much as I know God can be trusted, I think I would have hesitated if I was in Ananias' shoes. Go and visit a known persecutor of Christians and pray for him! I do not think so. But, God says to trust Him and so you go anyways. That would be difficult. It would be scary. It would seem crazy.

Over and over again, Scripture is filled with accounts of God asking people to step out and follow Him in obedience - exercising their faith in Him. Many times these were in situations where it was hard to do so, yet, when people did step out in trust, God rewarded their obedience. Obeying what God tells us to do is not always easy. It can be hard. It can force us to face a fear we have. It can make us take a risk. But over and over again, we can see evidence of God's faithfulness when we do step out.

Scripture does not refer to the man spoken of in these verses again, but he is one of the examples of early believers acting on their faith. And faith is so much more than just head knowledge and agreeing with something. Faith does actually require us to take action. And God does keep His word to those believe Him and act in obedience to what He says.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

when dreams don't come true when you expect

Sometimes as I look at all my friends and family who have had the most significant dreams in their lives come true, I wonder why some of mine have not. It does not seem fair that their dreams would come true and I would be sitting here waiting and trying to trust God that He will make it happen when it is supposed to. I do not want to wait. I want my dreams to come true.

So with those thoughts in my head recently, I was challenged by an article I read a week or so ago on Boundless (the college/young adult webzine and blog from Focus on the Family). The article was called Things I Won't Be. It is written by someone who has an understanding of what it is like to wait for marriage and children.

Marriage and children - a dream that, if I am honest, I have had since I was a little girl playing house or Barbies with my sisters. I may have spent a number of years running from anything that remotely resembled that (as I grew a little bit older, I spent far more time playing sports with the guys in the neighbourhood or playing with Lego or cars, than with "girly things"). I may have even denied that I ever wanted to get married and have children of my own for a few years. But, the truth is, down deep inside it is what I desired and what I dream(ed) about.

And so, now I find myself wondering why it is not yet my turn as I attend another one of my friends' weddings and help my sister plan hers (after having my other sister get married not that long ago). I am truly happy for my friends and my sisters. But, sometimes it does get hard to go to another wedding and wonder when your turn will finally come - when your dream will finally come true.

As hard as it is sometimes, in the midst of those wondering and feelings of how unfair it is, that is a time when we can grow in our relationship with God. It is in those times that we have choices to make. We can choose to become bitter about it or we can choose to trust God. And in choosing to trust God, we take our dreams, our desires, our wondering about when our turn will come to Him. We pour out our hearts to Him.

And after we have done all of that, we get up and we keep on going with life. We keep on serving God. We keep on obeying God. We keep on loving the people in our lives. We keep on trusting God. We keep on waiting for God's leading. We keep on waiting for God's timing. We keep pouring our heart out to God. We keep on going. And we keep on hoping that one day it will be our turn.

I will be honest, many times it has seemed like it would be much easier to just give up on the dream - to try to squash it and any of the feelings that come along with it. On the surface it seems like that would cause us the least disappointment with our lives. It seems like that would make it easier to continue to pursue that education or to continue to "climb the ladder" at work. But, ultimately, that will not satisfy. In fact, trying to squash it will make it more difficult to deal with the dream. We are better off to acknowledge it and to embrace it and to continue to take it to God. He is the One who can satisfy and who can give us the strength and courage it takes to keep on going with life while we wait.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

what are your dreams?

What are those things that you dream of doing?
What are those things that you imagine accomplishing one day?
Have any of your dreams come true? How?

I have been thinking a lot about those questions lately. In the past few months, I have watched a few of my friends have their dreams come true - dreams of all different kinds and looks - but dreams they have had nonetheless.

When I see someone else's dream come true it produces mixed emotions in me. It give me hope that one day my dreams can come true. And, at the same time, it makes me wonder when it will be my turn for a dream to come true and how long I have to wait for that day. It is hard to be in the "in-between" stage where you know what the dream is, but it has yet to come true. It takes patience to remain in that place and to keep taking the steps necessary towards the dream being fulfilled.

As I started to think about the dreams I have, I started to notice a pattern - the dreams that seem the most impossible when I look at them are most often the dreams that I know God has given me. I look at them and think: "there's no way I could ever do that" or "there's no way that will ever happen." Yet, God has given me that dream. It seems as though fulfilling the dreams God gives me requires faith and a willingness to step out and take a risk.

That is not the way I prefer to operate. I want to know where the next step will take me before I take it. But, with these dreams it seems as though God is saying: "take that step, trust Me." That does not come naturally to me. I do not like to take risks, but God is showing me that oftentimes the way to fulfilling my dreams requires me to take risks - to take steps into the unknown, trusting that He knows where I am going and is guiding my steps.

Dreams . . . the more I think about it, the more I realize that they are essential to living life to the full. Without dreams we just kind of go through each day without excitement or purpose. When we have dreams that we are looking to, we have a direction to go, a purpose for moving forward. Dreams are important to life and to our relationship with God.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

any other way

Once again, a blog post coming from a song I was listening to where the words struck me and started me thinking. This time the song is by Tenth Avenue North, called Any Other Way.

As I was reading over and listening to the song, I found myself thinking about it in terms of our relationships with other believers. But then when I got to the end, I realized that it was probably talking about our relationship with God. But, I feel that both ways of looking at it apply in this song.

Don't say goodbye, don't say hello
We're just standing on the surface
Don't say alright, don't say I know
I promise it's not worth it
 I want to know who you are
Even if you're falling apart
Reach in and touch your scars
And all the shame you're kept in your heart

'Cause it's not enough
It's not enough just to say that we're okay
I need your hurt, I need your pain
It's not love any other way

Let's not pretend, stop your parade
Trying to convince me
That you're alright and everything's okay
Do you even know me?
'Cause I already know who you are
And all the things that kept us apart
So reach in and touch my scars
And know the price I paid for your heart

'Cause it's not enough
It's not enough just to say that we're okay
I need your hurt, I need your pain
It's not love any other way

A broken and contrite I will not despise
Come as you are and I won't close my eyes
I won't close my eyes
I won't close my eyes
'Cause it's not enough
It's not enough just to say that you're okay
Well, you needed my hurt
You needed my pain
It's not love any other way

As I was thinking about it in terms of our relationships with fellow disciples of Christ, I was thinking about how we so often put up a front that says we are okay - even if we are falling apart and hurting behind that. We do not let anyone get close enough to really know us and to see our pain. But, I think we need that. We need to allow people in to the deepest parts of us. It is risky to let people in there, but it is what we need.

When I spent more time dwelling on the lyrics and saw how they were talking about our relationship with Jesus, I was struck by how we do much the same thing with Jesus that we do with fellow disciple of Christ. We try to hide what is really going on - we put up a front that all is good in our lives. We refuse to let Jesus into the hurt in our lives. But, letting Jesus into that pain and hurt is probably the least risky thing we can do because we can trust Him completely. Whereas another person may hurt us more if we let them in, Jesus will bring His healing to that pain if we allow Him in.

Some questions I am pondering right now about this:
How am I doing at taking down the front I usually put up with other people?
Do I have people in my life who I allow to see that I am not always okay?
Do I have people in my life who I allow to see my pain?
Am I letting Jesus in? Or am I trying to put up a front with Him too?
Am I willing to allow Jesus into the very depths of my pain - my shame - my hurt - so that I can experience His healing?

Friday, September 17, 2010

who we are - who we want to be - finding freedom

If you have not figured it out already, I have a bit of an eclectic taste in music and music in general plays an important part in my life. Music is one of the big ways that God has spoken to me in the past and He continues to do that still.

That said, this blog comes another CD I was listening to. I was listening to Bon Jovi's CD Have a Nice Day. There are two songs that got me thinking. At first they do not seem to be related, but the more I have pondered the lyrics, the more I have seen how they do tie together.
Note: I have chosen not post the recordings of these songs as the videos I was finding were a little more dicey than I was willing to post on my blog, but you can find them online if you so choose. Just know that there is a reason why I did not choose to post them.
Regardless of the content of music videos, there is something running through these lyrics that I think is worth stopping to consider.

The first song that got me started thinking about this is called Welcome to Wherever You Are. The lyrics are the following:
Maybe we're all different but we're still the same
We all got the blood of Eden running through our veins
I know sometimes it's hard for you to see
You're caught between just who you are and who you want to be
If you feel alone and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning is some other beginning's end

(Chorus) Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life; you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
That right here, right now
You're exactly where you're supposed to be
Welcome to wherever you are

When everybody's in and you're left out
And you feel you're drowning in a shadow of a doubt
Everyone's a miracle in their own way
Just listen to yourself, not what other people say
When it seems you're lost, alone and feelin' down
Remember everybody's different; just take a look around


Be who you want to be
Be who you are
Everyone's a hero
Everyone's a star
When you want to give up and your heart's about to break
Remember that you're perfect; God makes no mistakes

Now, obviously some of the "theology" in those lyrics is a not sound. But I also think there is truth to the overall message of the song. Most of us have been in the situation of feeling stuck between who we are and who we want to be, or we feel like we have been left on the outside of a group we want to be in. We go through times when we feel lost, alone, or are full of doubt. The verses of the songs describe a common human condition.

The chorus welcomes people to where they are, to what their life is. That is the first thing that I believe needs to happen for us to move forward in life. We need to acknowledge where we are and where we have come from. It is then that we can make choices to move forward and to change things. That is when we can work to "be who we want to be." That is when we will be able to keep going when we want to give up.

[Rabbit-trail here that may stir up a bit in people. I am not stating fact here . . . just musing.]
When I first read the line "Remember that you're perfect; God makes no mistakes." I found myself saying I disagree with the first part and agree with the second part. But the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder if I can cautiously agree with the first part. No, we are not perfect on our own. No, we cannot achieve that while we live on this earth. But we are made in the image of a perfect God and while our image of Him that we portray while here on earth may be flawed because of The Fall, we do still reflect that image to some degree. Now, before someone jumps all over me, I am not saying that I am perfect or that I can attain perfection on my own. I am just wondering if since I am made in the image of God and I am made exactly the way He created me to be I am "perfect in God's eyes."
[Okay, back to my original post now . . .]

As I started to think about this second song that has lyrics that caught my attention, I started to see how finding freedom and pursuing that begins with seeing where we are - who we are - and having a picture of where we want to be - who we want to be. If we do not start there, with what the last song talked about, I do not think we can find freedom.

The second song is called Bells of Freedom. The lyrics are as follows:
I have walked all alone, on these streets I call home
Streets of hope, streets of fear
Through the sidewalk cracks time disappears
I was lost, on my knees on the eve of defeat
As I choked back the tears
There's silent scream no one could hear
So far away from everything you know is true
Something inside that makes you do what you got to do

(Chorus) Ring them bells, ring them loud
Let them ring here and now
Just reach out and ring the Bells of Freedom
When your world's crashing down
Like you've lost every round
Stand your ground
And ring the bells of freedom

Up the steps of the church
Through the fields and the dirt
In the dark I have seen
That the sun still shines for the one who believes
So far away
So full of doubt and needing proof
Just close your eyes and hear the sounds inside of you

When we feel the tension of who we are and who we want to be, we often realize that there are things that are keeping us back from becoming who we want to be. We find that there are things we need to find freedom from. We have to face our fear and our doubt about becoming who we want to be, so that we can find the freedom to become who we want to be.

Ultimately, as disciples of Christ, who we want to be should be in line with who God wants us to be - the person we are called to be in Scripture. This will take willingness to obey on our part, but I do think that it is worth it. Finding freedom from all in this world that Satan uses to hold us in captivity is not easy, but as I am learning, it is definitely worth it.

Anyways, I hope I was actually able to connect my thoughts that went with these two songs in a coherent manner. It makes sense in my head, but putting it into words was a little more difficult than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I was reading the prophet Daniel the other day and challenged by what I was reading. There were two situations that spoke to the same challenge for me. Both involved Daniel and his friends taking a stand for something they believed in.

The first situation takes place in Daniel 1 just as Israel has been carried off into exile and captivity in Babylon. Daniel made a very clear decision in verse 8 that really jumped off the page at me: "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way." Daniel knew what he was committed to and what his standards were and he was willing to risk to take a stand for what he believed.

Daniel and his friends were captives in a foreign land. They probably felt as though God had abandoned them and probably no one would have blamed them if they chose to just do their best to fit in. It would have been easier for sure. "But Daniel RESOLVED . . ." Those three words are key. Resolve means "to come to a definite or earnest decision about; to determine to do something" among other things. Daniel was not going to give in. He was committed to a course of action and he was going to follow through on following what he knew was right and wrong - no matter what the cost may have been. Daniel stuck to his convictions.

The second situation can be found in Daniel 3. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego also took a stand against the king's directions to worship a statue of him. They also made their decision clear in what they said to the king in verses 17-18: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." They knew what they were committed to and what their standards were and they were willing to risk to take a stand for what they believed.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego had, like Daniel, the resolve to not cave in to the pressure to do evil as all that was surrounding them pressured them to. They had chosen to obey and serve God and nothing was going to stop them from that - not even the threat of a terrible death. They believed that God could save them and they acted on that. But they also knew that even if God did not save them, it was in His plan not to and they were okay with that as well.

As I read these two passages of Scripture I was challenged in my own life with a number of questions:
  • What are those things that I need to resolve to do? Or not to do?
  • When I find myself in a risky situation, do I believe that God is able?
  • Am I willing to take a stand on things knowing that although God is able, He may choose not to step in and change the course of something?
They are challenging questions to answer. But I think they are also worthwhile to consider for our own lives.

Friday, September 10, 2010

running to you

It seems like many of my blogs these days have come from songs I am listening to. This is another case of that. I have been listening to the newest Newsboys CD "Born Again." A favorite song on this CD has become one called "Running to You."

The words to the course really jumped out at me as I was listening to them.

When everything is broken
There's a door wide open
You'll find me running through
More than just emotion
My broken heart has chosen
Jesus, I'm running to you
I'm running to you

What is my natural response when my world is broken? Where do I run? Who do I run too? Those are some of the questions that started running through my head since I really stopped to think about those words.

Running to Jesus is the one place where we can always be sure that we will not end up on our own. He will be there! Many times we have to make the choice that is where we will go with our broken heart because it may seem more natural and easier to turn elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

do you ever wonder . . .

Do you ever have those moments when you begin to wonder how another person came to the conclusion that they did about something? The conclusion - your conclusion - seems so logical to you and you are sure it is the only one, except for the other person who has come to a different conclusion based on the same set of facts. Do you ever wonder if maybe you are actually the one who is "out to lunch" with your conclusion?

Do you ever wonder how someone could possibly think that what they are doing is sane? Or safe? Or smart? You would never do it and so you assume that no one else would either. And maybe you are right about it not being sane or safe or smart. But maybe you are not right, and while it looks crazy to you there is nothing wrong with the other person doing that?

Do you ever wonder why you chose to do what you do right now - whether it be your job, or school, or staying at home with your kids? Do you ever wonder about what it would be like if you had chosen something totally different? If you had taken that huge, scary risk to follow a crazy dream?

Do you ever wonder why you do things the way you do them? Do you ever wonder why some people do things the way they do them? Do you do things certain ways because that is how you taught to do them? Or because it works for you? Or because you just wanted to do it differently than everyone else?

Do you ever wonder why we spend so much time trying to be different from everyone around us? Why can we not be happy with who we are? Do you ever wonder where our focus on trying to stand out from the crowd comes from? Do you ever wonder if there is sometimes value in blending in with the crowd?

Lately I have had these questions and more running through my head. I do not have an answer to many of them, but they have been making me think. Maybe they will make you think too. I would love to hear the way you would complete the question: Do you ever . . .

Monday, September 6, 2010

i'll be there

I was listening to a CD today that I haven't listened to in a while. The lyrics of one of the songs really got me started thinking. The song is called "I'll be There" by Faber Drive. (They're not a "Christian band" but there was definitely some good stuff in this song.)

Here's the lyrics for you to read and think about. (I tried to post the song but I could find a small enough screen of it that it fit on the blog well. You can find it on youtube if you want to listen to it.)
If you're lost
And you need to find
Some escape
Or some peace of mind
Call my name
When you need a friend
And I'll be there, I'll be there

If your dreams
Are drenched in sweat
You can't sleep
There's too much in your head
Cally my name
When you need a friend
And I'll be there, I'll be there

When you can't carry on
When the roads way too long
Know that you're not alone
I can carry you home
If you hold on tonight
I'll be there

If you give
'Till you've got nothing left
Wanted more
But you end up with less
All your friends
Have turned away
But I'll be there, I'll be there

 When you can't  carry on
When the roads way too long
Know that you're not alone
I can carry you home
If you hold on tonight
I'll be there

The weight of the world is too much to take
Pulling you down like a tidal wave
I can hold you, I will hold you
Here and now
When the world seems wrong
When you've come undone
Know you're not alone
I'll be there for you

When you can't carry on
When the roads way too long
Know that you're not alone
I can carry you home
If you hold on tonight
I'll be there

When I first listened to this song I started thinking about the importance of having people in your life who you can call on when you need a friend - when things in your world do not seem right and you are not sure you can make it. Most of us have probably been there at one point or another in our lives and we have been incredibly grateful for those people in our lives who were there for us. We need those kind of friends. We need to be that kind of friend.

We were not made to go through this life alone. If you have ever tried for any length of time to just do it all on your own, this has become abundantly clear to you. Eventually trying to do it all alone becomes overwhelming and we ready to just give up. These are the times when we need to have friends that we can call on who will walk with us, encourage us, challenge us. The life of a follower of Jesus Christ was meant to be lived with others.

Let me ask you a few questions here that I was asking myself for reflection:
Do you have friends who would come when you needed them no matter what they were doing at the time?
Who are the friends you could call on when you were in need?
Are you the kind of friend that others could call on when they were in need?
Are there any changes that need to be made for you to have this kind of friend in your life? To be this kind of friend to others?

As I listened to the song a second time I started to think about all the times that other people have not been able to be there for me. I came to the conclusion that, while we need friends, the only One we can ultimately rely on to be there completely for us (the way this song describes) is Jesus Christ. He will never fail to show up. He will never leave us when we are still in need. With Jesus we will never fail to make it through any situation. I know this to be true from my own life.

The question is: Am I willing to say that I am okay with God being the only One with me always as I go through life? I know if I am honest, that is what I wish I could say, but I know I cannot say that all the time. That is an area where I am still growing and learning. It seems difficult because I cannot see Him when He is with me and sometimes I just want to see, hear, know there is another person right next to me. But, I think as we continue to grow in our relationship with God, we become more and more comfortable with the idea of Him being the only One we can rely on.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

surrender all?

Have you ever stopped when you were singing along with a song on a CD you were listening to or in church and thought about the words you were just singing?

I was just listening to the song "Surrender" by Jeremy Camp when I did just that.

I was stopped by the line "I surrender to your throne." Ultimately that is my desire, but I started to wonder if that was something I alwasy meant when I sang that. Or was it just words to a song I was singing along to?

Lately, I have found myself pondering and reflecting more and more on what I sing when I am listening to music. Do I mean it? Or am I just singing it because it is part of the song? Basically, a heart check. Where is my heart in this moment?

Even though I may mean them in the moment, I know I may not always do a great job of living it out, but I do not think that is the biggest issue. The big deal is do I mean and desire what I am singing. Do I actually desire to be completely surrendered to God's throne? If I actually mean it and am seeking to live that way, then even though I may not do it perfectly all the time I can declare that to be my heart's desire. But, if I do not really desire to surrender completely to God's throne, do I really want to sing those words?

I wonder if I am the only one who thinks like this or if there are more that have had this thought process go through their heads at times.

Friday, August 20, 2010

instantaneous change or a process?

Well, I forgot to order decaf when I got a coffee a couple hours ago, which means I had caffeine way too late this evening and I have a feeling that I am going to be up late tonight. That means I have time to write about what I have been thinking about lately. I just hope that my fingers can keep up with my thoughts to get this written in a coherent fashion.

For the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about how we will hear something that challenges in our spiritual life and so we pray to God about it once - usually in some sort of a response to what we just heard. Then we get up and go on our way, only to find ourselves frustrated a few days, weeks, months down the road when we find ourselves still dealing with the same thing. "But I prayed about it back on . . ." is our usual response then - like praying about it once is all it takes to bring about change in our lives.

It is so easy to assume that any change that needs to happen in our lives can happen in one prayer and that God just does it all. I know I have done that many times. But, lately I am learning that it does not always, or even usually, work that way. More often then not, actually implementing what we were challenged to at the time takes far more time and effort then the prayer afterwards took. Most of the time change is not an instant thing; it is a process that we walk through, with victories and setbacks along the way.

Lately, I have been wondering if God has a method to it working that way. Well, I know He does, but I have been thinking more about it. I wonder if part of the reason most change in our lives is not instantaneous is because then we would have little need for relationship with God. We could just go to Him and ask for Him to change a certain part of us and that would be done. Then we would go on through life until the next thing and we would ask God again and the change would happen. And on and on the cycle would go.

Not really much of a way to build a relationship. But, if the change is a process, then we are in a position where we are needing to constantly turn to God for help because we need Him to be pushing us and providing us the strength to carry on when we cannot do it on our own strength. Change being process forces us to rely on God - forces us to build that relationship with Him.

I have heard many teachers and writers who I respect say things along the lines of "God is more interested in the relationship than in the end result." That is not to say that God does not care about us actually removing an area of sin from our lives or gaining victory over something. He does care about those things. But, it does mean that He puts a greater value on the relationship that grows from needing to return to Him daily for the strength to make those changes to find victory.

God desires relationship with us. When I stop and think about that - really think about it - it amazes me. Why would to Creator of the Universe care about me? Why would He desire to have a relationship with me? It seems absolutely absurd! Yet, He does. And sometimes that means the process of change in my life is slow and painful. But through that time my relationship grows deeper as I depend on Him for each new day.

The same is true for you. The Creator of the Universe cares about you! He desires a relationship with you! He wants to bring about change in your life, but He wants to build your relationship with Him through the process of that change.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

being present in what's happening now

I wonder how many people are like me in that they easily get lost in what has happened or in what may happen. We get so busy with thinking about those things that we completely forget about what is happening right now. I wonder if when we forget to really pay attention to what is happening now we miss so much of life.

I read a quote the other day that really got me started thinking about this.
Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and breath deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be Now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the window and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun. If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a coll Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time. If you bike, pedal HARD ... and if you crash then crash well. Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done - a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old's nose, don't be disgusted if the Kleenex didn't catch it all ... because soon he'll be wiping his own. If you've recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And grieve well. At the table with family and friends, LAUGH. If you're eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste very ounce of life. Because-it-is-most definitely-a-Gift.
Every example is about being here now - paying attention to what is going on in the moment. That is how God desires for us to live. He does not want us to get caught up in what happened or to be so caught up in what may come that we miss now.

Obviously, there are times when it is good to look back and see what we can learn from what we went through and how we handled it. And there are times when it is good to look to the future and where God may have us to go. But, we must be careful not to get caught up in either. There is too much that is happening now that we miss if we are focusing on the past or the future.

To close I will leave you with two questions that I was asking myself after I read this quote:
Am I present in what is happening now most of the time?
Am I more likely to get caught up in the past or the future?
Those questions challenged me to evaluate my own life. I hope they do the same for you.

young adults and the church

I was having a conversation the other day that got me thinking a lot about this question: Have we, the church, done young adults and youth a disservice in the way we have hired people to fill ministry positions rather than look for volunteers for some of them? However unintentional (and I do believe it was unintentional), I do believe that the church has done young adults a disservice in this. The current economic situation mean that just hiring someone to do everything is not the most cost-effective or financially responsible way to do things. But, it also requires a change in thinking for many people in terms of how monasteries within the church are run, and I would venture a guess that for many youth and young adults it is a change to something that is foreign to us.

Growing up in the church, I remember the day we hired our first youth pastor, our first childrens' pastor . . . those were big deals at the time, while now it seems like most churches of any size have these positions as paid staff. But, while I remember those days, it is a vague memory. I was young - young enough that it then became normal to me that those were paid positions within the church. Growing up there was always Sunday school, weekly kid's club, youth group events that were organized by church staff and then I showed up at - maybe with something I said I would help with (ie. concession, clean-up, etc.), but for the most part all I had to do was show up. As I grew older, this expanded into the area of young adults (18-30 something) ministry, as we now had a pastor who had that as his job, as well as having an assistant in the office. While we were given more opportunity to get involved in the planning of young adult events and in actually making them happen, ultimately there was still someone on the church staff who was paid to do that job.

Enter the last couple of years, and the change in things economically, which presented a challenge for many churches, as the number of staff they had it became no longer financially possible for them to employ. A change in thinking about how ministry is run is now required. For some people this is no problem, as they are returning to how church was done when they were growing up in the church - volunteers running most things with the pastors and church staff overseeing the various ministries. But, for youth and young adults, this a change of thinking to something we have barely, if ever, seen in how church operates. Some young adults may vaguely remember a time when there was not a pastor for every ministry, but they were definitely too young at that time to realize that it was volunteers who had run kid's programs before, or to grasp the significance of the change from volunteers to paid staff.

So now you have young adults who are used to having things delivered to them by church staff who are not being told that the church can no longer provide us with a young adult pastor and we have to figure out how to do it on our own. Okay, no big deal, we have been incredibly spoiled up to this point. The problem is now that we do not know how to make things happen on our own. We are so used to having someone do most of the work for us that we do not even know where to begin. And so the feeling of being un-valued and forgotten begins to take root. Since we are used to having a staff person(s) focusing just on us, we feel like by taking away that staff person(s) the church is saying to us that we no longer matter, that no one cares about us anymore.

This is where I believe there ends up being some serious miscommunication on both the part of young adults and church leadership. This miscommunication goes both ways. As young adults, instead of making our voice heard and asking for some help and guidance, we get hurt and we walk away from that particular church body - possibly even the universal church. As church leadership, who is often a generation or two older and remembers when everything was run by volunteers and the people who wanted something to happen were the ones who made it happen, there is an assumption made that young adults can just switch over to that way of doing things, with no realization that this is not a return to what it used to be for us, that this is a complete change in thinking and we need some help to make the change. The result of this miscommunication is a world of hurt and misunderstanding, while young adults continue to decide that they while they still want to call themselves followers of Christ - Christians - they have no use for the church and would rather go it alone. There is no blame to be placed here. It is a misunderstanding and miscommunication that goes both ways - neither side has necessarily done anything wrong, they are both operating out of their understanding of how church can and should work.

That story of what has happened above, I believe it is one that has played itself out many times in recent years. Some people know that is what has been going on; others do not know. Some young adults have found themselves caught in the middle of this. They have grown up in church and know that is has not always been the way they grew up with it being, but they have few memories of what it was like when everything was not done by paid staff. We are not willing to give up on the church, yet, but we are still struggling with the pain of all that transpired, because we too, feel that we have been thrown off the deep end not knowing how to swim and now we have to figure it out. But, we also have friends who have known nothing of before the church paid people to run every program who are deeply hurt and have walked away from the church and do not understand why we are hanging on. Some days, it would be so much easier to just walk away. But, we choose not to, because we know that we are the people who 20, 30, 40 years down the road will be the ones who have to make the same tough decisions that church leaders have made and are still making. We know that we need to take the opportunity we have to learn from those ahead of us, and so we hang on, despite the hurt we feel, despite the moments we feel that it would be easier to just walk away.

So I am left wondering, has the church done youth and young adults a disservice in the way we were brought up in church? I honestly think that the answer is yes. We are so used to paid staff to do everything that we expect it will always be that way. And when we lose that paid staff we take it personally.

I think the church is in a critical place right now. There is an entire generation that is in danger of walking away from the church for good. They still love Jesus and want to follow Him with their lives, but they have become disillusioned and they are hurt. Those young adults who are still hanging on need to speak up and make their voices heard. We need to explain our situation to others and ask for the help we need. But, we also need church leadership and older generations in the church to come alongside us and help us to learn this new way of doing church. We are willing to learn. We are willing to work. We are willing to be the ones who make it happen. But, right now we have no idea how to do that. We need some help. This is a change in thinking to something that is completely foreign to us. We are not reverting to the way it used to be; we are moving on to something new. We love change. We will embrace it. But we need others to come alongside us in the deep water we have just been thrown into and help us learn how to swim in it.

What has been done has been done. It is what it is. I do believe that it is time to move forward from here. But, it means that we need all generations in the church to work together to make sure no one is left out or feels like they are not valued. I believe that the church can come out stronger for this hard time, but it will not be easy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

when God calls, He equips

I was reading in Jeremiah the other day and I was struck by the conversation between God and Jeremiah in the opening verses of Jeremiah chapter 1. It just seemed so familiar a conversation - one that I have definitely had with God in my life, on more than one occasion. I would guess that this is a conversation many of us have had with God at some point in our lives.

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
            "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
                    before you were born I set you apart;
                    I appointed you as prophet to the nations."
"Ah, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child."
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say 'I am only a child'. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD.
Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today, I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."
-Jeremiah 1:4-10, NIV

In these verses, God is calling Jeremiah to be His prophet. Jeremiah does not feel qualified for the job and protests accordingly. Then we see God promising to lead Jeremiah and to provide him with the words he is to say.

When I read this I began to think about how often we have similar conversations with God. It may be about a major decision in life, such as our career, education. Or it may be about taking on a role in a ministry at church or volunteering somewhere that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Or it may be about stopping and offering help to the person we just passed on the street. It does not matter what it is about, I think we very often protest when God asks us to do something specific.

I know there have been times when God has asked me to do something and I have very quickly had a long list of reasons why I was not qualified or able to do what He was asking. It is pretty easy to come up with reasons why. Much like Jeremiah protesting that he was only a child and did not know how to speak, we have reasons we give to God about why we cannot do something.

But, I was struck by God's response to Jeremiah - and it is much the same response that He gives us when we protest about our inability to do something. God responds to Jeremiah by equipping to him to carry out the calling God has given him. God does the same thing for us. When He calls us to do something, He will provide what we need to do it if we follow in obedience - even if we have doubts about our ability.

We serve a God who is capable of doing anything - even what would be impossible for man - so I wonder why we so often determine that He cannot give us the ability to do what He calls us to do? Do we believe that God can equip others and not us? Do we believe that God only equips people for certain tasks? Do we believe God only equipped people to do things in Bible times?

The truth is that God will equip us to do what He asks of us. Even if it seems impossible for us to do on our own, if God has called us to do it we can step out in faith that He will enable us to do it! Is that not some pretty incredible truth to build a life on? If God calls us to do, He will make us able to do it - whatever that means we need. But, we have to step out in faith that He will.

when we walk through the dark

I was just listening to a CD from my time at Briercrest. It's probably one of my favourite CDs because it brings back memories of my time there. But, that's not the reason for this post.

I was stopped in the middle of what I was doing as I listened to one of the songs. The lyrics to the song just struck me. They so describe a journey many of us go through in life and one that is definitely familiar to me.

When I Walk Through the Dark
(Brad Guldemond)

When the pain seems like too much to take
When my heart can't stand another break
When the battle's wearing down on me
Stay by my side to comfort and guide me

When my feet don't know which step to take
When my heart's not sure which choice to make
When my eyes are blind to sights that lead
Help me to know You're right beside me

Hold my hand when I walk through the dark
Speak my name so I know where you are
With You close I will not wander far away
When I walk through the dark

When the clouds block out the light of day
When summer skies return to grey
When the rain pours down and I can't see
Stay by my side and come through this with me

Hold my hand when I walk through the dark
Speak my name so I know where you are
With You close I will not wander far away
When I walk through the dark

Cover me with Your love
I don't want to lose my way and give up all the good here for me
You have planned what's best for me
So I want to be faithful to You

You are here as I walk through the dark
And Your voice says, "Child, I know where you are"
With You close, I will follow the path You made
And walk on through the dark

Just a simple song declaring trust in God - even when things are dark. I don't know if you needed that reminder today, but I did.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

reflections of a journey of questions

This past week has found me a little bit reflective. I've been reflecting on the journey that began for me a couple of years ago now. The events that over the course of the next year or so shook my world - my nice, safe world where not too much that was of a world-shaking nature had happened.

My world was shaken when . . .
. . . On September 8, 2008 when I received a phone call saying that my mom and sister had been in a car accident that could have (should have) been really bad. They walked away, but it made me think about losing people close to me.
. . . On September 17, 2008 when I received a phone call saying that a friend of mine had lost her husband a couple of days before in a car accident . . . leaving her behind with a young child and pregnant with their second. It didn't seem fair then . . . why had my mom and sister walked away and he was killed?
. . . On August 2, 2009 when friends of mine lost their 2-1/2 year old little boy. This seemed like just the final straw. I really didn't understand how a loving God could allow all of this to happen.
. . . Somewhere in here, a girl whose family I know was diagnosed with cancer . . . again! Seriously, isn't once enough?

That series of events brought me to a place I wasn't really prepared to find myself. I was questioning God. I wasn't sure if I believed He was good. I wasn't sure if I believed He answered prayers for miracles. I wasn't sure if He actually had the power to perform miracles. I grew up in the church, I could give you all the "church answers" to those doubts without thinking twice. But, I wasn't sure that I really believed them. I mean, just because I had heard them all my life, didn't mean they were correct, right?

I don't really know much besides following God, so I kept crying out to God for answers, going to church, reading my Bible . . . basically doing all those things the "good Christians" do, all the while, keeping much of my struggle to myself. Except for to a few people, I really was too proud of who people thought I was to actually admit my struggles.

Since I was keeping it mostly to myself, imagine my dismay when an opportunity came up to be a part of a Bible study in September 2009 that was all about believing God - especially because I felt like God was telling me that this was what He wanted for me. I spent a couple of weeks arguing with God about this one. First off, I wasn't sure if I believed God at that point. Secondly, I hadn't really told many people about my struggle and I was pretty sure that if I did a Bible study like this one more people would find out. But, despite my objections, God won that argument (doesn't He always?), and on September 14, 2009 I found myself walking in to that Bible study (but not before trying to convince God that I wasn't going to go in the parking lot just a few minutes before).

That Bible study was probably the hardest one I have done. The entire Bible study from then until the end of November was about believing God is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He can do, that I am who He says I am, that I can do all things through Him, and that His Word is alive and active in me. Right from the first video session I knew that this wasn't going to be easy, but also that this was exactly where I needed to be at that point. There were many times when I was doing the homework during the week where my pen or the workbook was thrown across the room, or I just got up and walked away because I couldn't do anymore. It was getting at every question, every doubt I had at that point.

But, looking back, I'm glad that I pushed through it all and that I listened to God in the first place in signing up for that study. I was forced to face and really acknowledge my doubts, and to take them to God - kind of ironic that I ended up going to the very God that I was doubting with my doubts. My Bible study table was also full of ladies who, whether they knew it or not, were catalysts that God used to keep me going in this study and to come out the other side having grown closer to God and come to better understand the value of community and being honest about the struggles in life with one another. It was a journey that helped me begin to move beyond those doubts and back to really believing and trusting God. When the Bible study ended, I thought that part of my journey was over.

As I discovered in the beginning of January, it wasn't yet. I was sitting in the fourth night of five evening series on prayer at church. The speaker was talking about hindrances to prayer and mentioned doubt. Now, I had come to the point where I did believe (again) God was good and I did believe (again) that God heard and answered prayer. But, that night I realized I had still limited God to some degree in prayer. I would pray to Him for things (again), but I stopped short of the big things. I wouldn't pray for the things that seemed like really big miracles. I still didn't believe that He would/could do those things. That night was another challenge in this journey to learn how to trust God enough again to pray for what seemed like the really big things in life (ie. people would be healed, etc.).

Looking back now, a year since my friends' little boy died, I'm amazed at the journey this time has been. It's been hard. There have definitely been times when it seemed like it would be easier to just give up. But, in retrospect, I'm so glad that even in the midst of those doubts and struggles I was obedient to God's promptings in my life. I can't (and don't want to) imagine where I would be if I hadn't.

Honestly, this a journey I never expected to be sharing this way on my blog. There have been snippets of it in other blogs, but this is far more detail than I ever planned on putting out there. But, lately, I've been realizing that many times in my life the thing that has challenged and encouraged me the most has been the times when others have shared their stories with me. It seems like life as a follower of Christ is so much more real then and not such an impossibility. I share this, not to make myself sound great, but to hopefully encourage others.

I'm not sure this journey is completely over yet. I'm not sure it ever will be. Life on earth is filled with things that don't make sense, that don't seem fair, that cuse us to question. But, I know for next time, that when my world is shaken, there is only one safe place to turn . . . the arms of Jesus Christ. I may have questions. I may have doubts. But I can know that He will always be there. He may not give me the answers I want to all my questions, but He won't leave me to walk through it alone.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

the Christian atheist?

I just finished reading a book by the title of The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel. The title of the book seemed like a bit of an impossibility to me when I first saw it, but once I read Groeschel's definition of a Christian Atheist and really began to dig into the book, I realized how true that seemingly impossible phrase is.

Usually when we hear the word atheist it is used in reference to someone who doesn't believe in God. Based on that definition, the idea of a Christian Atheist seems a little bit absurd. Groeschel defines a Christian Atheist as someone who believes in God (a head knowledge of God) but lives as if He doesn't exist (God has no impact on daily living for that person). That's something I can say has been true of me at times, and I would guess that many others would also say the same thing about theirs lives. It is actually quite easy to believe in God and yet live as if He doesn't exist. Each chapter in the book talks about a different way we can live like God doesn't exist while still saying we believe in Him, and probably even going to church, Bible study, etc every week.

Christian Atheists believe in God but don't really know Him.
Christian Atheists believe in God but they are ashamed of their past.
Christian Atheists believe in God but they aren't sure God loves them.
Christian Atheists believe in God  but not in prayer.
Christian Atheists believe in God but don't think He's fair.
Christian Atheists believe in God but won't forgive others.
Christian Atheists believe in God but don't think they can change.
Christian Atheists believe in God but still worry all the time.
Christian Atheists believe in God but pursue happiness at any cost.
Christian Atheists believe in God but trust more in money.
Christian Atheists believe in God but don't share their faith.
Christian Atheists believe in God but not in His church.

I don't know about you but when I read that list I can definitely identify with most of them - some more than others. After I read the chapter titles I was rather unsure of what I would find in the book. It would be easy with chapter titles like that for the book to be one that leaves you feeling alone and defeated. But, instead, I found that Groeschel was incredibly encouraging in what he had to say in each chapter. This was a book that spoke of a personal journey for him. That was definitely encouraging to me - to be reminded that these struggles are common to the family of followers of Jesus.

Groeschel ended the book talking about something he called "third line faith". He lays out a picture of three lines drawn in the sand, representing different places we could be on journey with God. Groeschel describes each line better than I could, so I'll quote him here.
Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God helped me, I forgot about him. (pg. 236).
Line 2: I believe in God and Christ's gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back - as long as it doesn't cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. If I don't have to change too much, I'll do some of what God asks. If it doesn't hurt too much, I'll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right? (pg. 236-237).
Line 3: I believe in God and Christ's gospel enough to give my life to it. (pg. 237).
Reading this made sense to me, and challenged me deeply. It really fit in well with the rest of the book for me. I think to close, I will just leave you with the questions that have been in my head since I finished the book - questions that I need to think about and go to God about. Hopefully, they will challenge you to grow in your own journey with God. (And if you're looking for a good read, pick up the book.)

In what areas of my life am I a Christian Atheist? Are there places in my life where I live as though God doesn't exist?
Do I really know God? How can I get to know God better?
Am I ashamed of my past? Will I allow God to redeem my past and use it for His glory?
Do I know that God loves me unconditionally? Am I willing to ask God to help me understand that better?
Do I believe in prayer? Or is it something I think only works for other people?
Do I think that God is unfair? How do deal with things when what has happened in life really doesn't seem fair?
Am I struggling to forgive someone?
Do I doubt that I can change?
Do I still worry all the time? Am I willing to give that up to God?
Am I pursuing happiness at any cost? Or am I pursuing God at any cost?
Am I trusting more in money? Or in God?
Am I sharing my faith?
Am I third-line follower of Christ? Do I want to be? Why?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

the unmatchable greateness of God

I was reading in Isaiah when I was struck by just how incredible the God we serve is. God is bigger than we could ever imagine. And there is nothing and no one in all creation that can be compared to Him.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has understood the mind of the Lord,
or instructed him as his counselor?
Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
. . .

To whom, then, shall we compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
. . .

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
. . .

"To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
who created all these?
He brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Isaiah 40:12-15, 18, 21-22, 25-26 (NIV)

As I been thinking about these verses and the God they describe, I have come to realize how often I try to make God smaller so that I can understand Him better. These verses in Isaiah describe a big God - a God that cannot be compared to anyone or anything - a God that is difficult to fully comprehend.

We spend much of our lives a followers of Christ trying to understand God. There is nothing wrong with this, but we do have the danger that in doing so we actually make God smaller than He is just so that we can feel like we understand Him better. But theses verses and many others describe a God that we will never be able to fully understand.

It is okay that don't completely understand God. In fact, I would say that it is a good thing that we do not completely understand Him. The mystery that comes from God being so much bigger than our minds can comprehend draws us in closer as we seek to better understand.

I think that sometimes we need to just stop and remind ourselves of the fact that we do not completely comprehend God and that it is a good thing. That way we can take comfort in what God has revealed to us about Himself and look forward to continuing to understand God better over the course of our journey through life with Him.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

the blessing of family

So far this has been a busy week (this is the first evening I have been home since Friday), but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's been a week of a lot of stuff with my family, and except for a few moments, I've really enjoyed it all. My sister and her husband have been in town and that means we've had everyone together a lot.

This week I've been reminded again of the incredible family I'm blessed to have - my Mom, my Dad, both of my sisters . . . and now two brother-in-laws. Honestly, at first I thought it would be strange to have two more guys at the table for family dinners, but I love it. My sisters have picked some quality guys and I've enjoyed getting to know them better this week. All to soon, it seems like, Sunday will be here and my sister and husband will head home.

I don't think I've always thought of my family as a blessing. They are days when they drive me up the wall and all I want to do is escape from them. But, I think I've also taken them for granted sometimes. Rather than see how rich I was in having parents and sisters, and now brothers, who were there for me I just kind of assumed that was normal and I deserved that. I'm realizing now that they are a blessing.

I have no idea why God has seen fit to give me such an amazing family, but He has. With my youngest sister and her husband not living here I think I've realized that all the more. I treasure the time that they do come to town for and I treasure the time I get to spend with my other sister and her fiance and my parents. We laugh about silly things and tease each other about stuff we used do, or in some cases still do. We make a point to spend time together just to be together - there doesn't always have to be a reason.

I guess tonight, in the midst of a busy week filled with family, I'm feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my family. They're the people I know that I can count on to be there and the ones I call first with news of any kind. They're also the people who I probably argue with the most and who can annoy me the most, but that's because we are close.

So, to my family, who may read this blog . . . thank you for being who you are. Thank you for all the laughs and tears and for just being willing to enjoy life. You are the biggest blessing in my life. I love you all!!!