Valued Beyond Measure.

People often ask me about my tattoo, it’s a beautiful water colour piece with a black cross in the middle on my left forearm.

Today, I’m finally ready to share the story. Trigger warning: self harm and suicidal ideation are mentioned. It isn’t easy to think about, write or share these words and so I have hesitated for the two years since I got my tattoo but I felt deep within my bones that I want others to understand the ending enough that the story is worth sharing, so with that:

I had a very turbulent adolescent experience. Many stories about that will be purposeful as I navigate the waters of raising teenagers myself, but today I will spare you the details and just say things were very hard for me.

I first learned about non-suicidal self injury (NSSI) from a friend. She described to me the relief she felt in the moment of wanting to explode with rage, or sadness, and the physical pain she gave to herself was a temporary escape from the emotional pain she was experiencing.

It wasn’t long after that curiosity got the best of me and I began a long habit of self harming to cope with the pain I was feeling from the situations around me that as a child I seemed so helpless against. In hindsight, I wish I had have found healthier avenues to deal with my pain.

Most of my inflictions were minor, small and often hidden in places where they could not be seen. But, this behaviour began to seduce my mind to the considerations of suicide and ending my emotional pain once and for all.

I had toyed with the thought often, but never because I had truly wanted to die. More because I just wanted the pain to be over with. One time, temptation got the best of me, and instead of a small cut, I made a bigger one and in the direction that people do when they are trying to end their life.

I am ashamed that I was emotionally so distraught that this was a coping mechanism for me – but I was a child, struggling, and drowning, with no one behind me cheering me on. The pain of feeling unwanted was too much for me. I thought I couldn’t handle it. My saving grace was that the physical pain of the cut was too severe for me to do enough damage.

In time, this incision, like all the others healed. But it bothered me greatly, the vertical scar it left upon my forearm, reminding me of the emotionally difficult time that I was so stuck. So helpless. So unwanted. Or, so I had believed.

When I think back to those incredibly hard times I realize how little value I saw in myself. I was unwanted by those who were suppose to love me unconditionally. I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t have hope. I literally had nothing but negativity and saw no way out.

Things are very different now, I am happy to say.

That “it gets better” campaign to try and prevent suicides was absolutely true in my case. As an adult, I found people who do love me. I learned about the pain of others and can understand why they make the decisions that they do. I was able to get out of the circumstances that left me feeling so helpless. I now have control over my life and I am genuinely so happy.

But, the scars of our past remain. And so my nasty scar remained. An ever-present reminder that I have an ugly past in which I did not know my value as a person. Every once in a while, I would find myself struggling, triggered by something from my past that followed me to my current life and the feelings of worthlessness would slip in.

Just as there was a physical scar on my body, so too, was there one in my mind.

I don’t just talk about Jesus because I am commanded to, or I think I’ll get gold stars in heaven one day, but because He alone can and did remove the damage of the past.

The more I grew in my faith, understood the Bible, learned the truths about Jesus, the more the feelings of worthlessness subsided. The more I saw myself as intentionally created with a purpose the more I loved my existence. The more I understood that things society says are not so great about me, God gave me to create me uniquely with a purpose only I could fulfill.

The more I read verses like 1 Peter 5:7, telling me to give my worries to God because He cares for me, the more I see that I am valuable and loved beyond anything I could recognize before. I am deeply loved by the God who created me.

The more I pray and feel a peace that passes all understanding, the more I recognize that God was with me all along, I just did not know how to reach to Him for help.

The more I walk alongside Jesus trying to be more like Him, the more anger I rid healthily through forgiveness that release me from the bitterness I carried for years.

The more I listened to praise and worship, the more I realized the truth of the artist’s words in my own life. I am redeemed. You set me free. My chains are gone.

I decided to cover the ugly physical scar on my arm up with a beautiful collage of colour adorned with the very symbol of Christianity: the empty cross.

The cross, like my scar, is a symbol of darkness. Jesus Christ was a real man who walked this earth and was killed in the most painful and humiliating way upon a cross. The Bible and many other eyewitness texts attest to this fact.

The thing is, what the world meant for bad – the humiliating death on the cross – Jesus used for good. He sacrificed himself willingly and lovingly to tell each of us our value, to allow us the luxury of being able to go close to God.

It is no fluke you are reading this today. God has a plan for each of us, and Jesus has provided us with the tools to understand our worth. I believe with all my heart that God wants you to know you are incredibly valuable and loved beyond measure. You were created with a purpose, and for a purpose. The Bible tells us he even knows every hair on our head.

The empty cross, a symbol of victory over darkness was the perfect way to cover my ugly scar.

You can’t see it unless you look really close, but the black cross of my tattoo runs right over it. Jesus Himself has given me victory over darkness. He has helped me cover up something ugly with something beautiful in more ways than one.

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The good that I have in my life? All him. If left to my own devices, I would still be angry, bitter and struggling. Honestly, I would probably be an alcoholic, no word of a lie. I doubt I would be married, and I certainly wouldn’t be the Mom I am today.

Some days, if I’m honest, I still take the burden of emotional trauma back on, but then I remind myself I am free from it. Because of this promise from the Bible, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

All the ugliness of my past – it is not magically gone, but I’m dealing with it.

The way I see myself now in comparison to how I saw myself then is completely the opposite, and for that I am so thankful. When you know your worth, when you know your value, when you know your purpose, you are much stronger and have endless hope. That is where I draw my strength from to continue fighting to be healed. That is what Jesus has given me.

That is what the empty cross has given millions.

So, when I talk about Jesus, or the Bible, or prayer, or any “religious” things I am not trying to come across as holier than thou or as annoying. Rather, I am just trying to share with you the greatest part of my life. The liberation. The freedom. The love. The peace. The joy. The deep and eternal promises of God including the future promise of heaven – without an ounce of pain, sadness, darkness or anything that ails us here on earth.

And because I am a human, I mess it up. I still swear. I still get mad. I still hold grudges. I still make mistakes, daily. But I am learning. I am committed to moving forward because I now know I am worth it. I don’t shame myself the way I once did for my faults, or my mistakes. Instead I recognized moments as learning opportunities to outgrow some of the past behaviours I felt so stuck with.

The bottom line is – the victory and the beauty of the empty cross covered my physical scars, and my mental ones. Dear reader, I want nothing more than for you to understand that sentence completely with your own heart.

You are loved. You are valuable. You are so full of worth. You are not unwanted, you are valuable beyond measure in the eyes of Jesus.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

It’s a Good Thing This Isn’t Baseball…

There are three people in this world who I can honestly say have caused the most damage in my life. I know, that’s a harsh opening sentence. But, it is a reality. People hurt people all of the time, and some people aren’t willing to make amends it’s just that simple.

Yet I have felt God call my attention to being vulnerable and honest with all three.

This has been met with some resistance. It is entirely unreasonable to meet an enemy with your own personal vulnerability, am I right?

And yet… I knew in my soul I couldn’t not obey these callings.

The first was to a person who hurt me in the deepest way. I recognized this person was very much a hurting person themselves, looking for healing in the wrong places. I took a book to this person about beginning again, I hand wrote a personal Scripture inside the cover, and I showed up face to face to deliver my message of forgiveness, love and peace.

It was rejected. Like, totally rejected. As in the book was actually thrown into the garbage in front of me, rejected. But that was okay, because I walked away knowing that I had tried, and when each of us face God as we all will, I will be able to say “it didn’t go the way I had hoped, but I did it just like you asked…”

Next, a person who shares genetics with me. A person who’s own heart is deeply troubled by the faults of their past, and the experiences they have endured. This person was kept away from me as I became a Christian and grew in my faith, and then I realized I can’t show them the love of Jesus from afar, and so I began praying hard for God to bring us together. And He did. And again, I tried.

I think I had more success this time, I was able to shares some intimate beliefs, show a major change in my attitude, even preach a sermon to this person. It seemed as though many deep rooted chains were becoming broken, until suddenly they weren’t.

I was given a vision from someone I love that I was carrying this person’s chains, and it was slowing me down. The person who had the vision said “in front of you both is Jesus, and if the offended party would just look up they could run to Jesus, but they won’t, and it is holding you back as you continue to pick up what that person is dragging.”

It was like a lightbulb moment. Not only was I striking out again in trying to bring the truth of the gospel to an other incredibly hurt person who had caused me so much pain, but it was holding me back in my own journey of healing and growth. I dropped the chains (and eventually the person) and ran to Jesus.

2 Strikes. But again, I tried. God knows I tried.

For the past two years, I have felt God call me to the third person. I have argued this tooth and nail, for I was still far too hurt to put my own feelings of anger aside to be vulnerable. I have even written a few letters, but my anger seeped through, and that made the vulnerable side look almost hypocritical.

But, I finally did it!!! I wrote this person from the depths of my heart about the healing I had found, and invited them to do the same. I even offered to help if I could. I almost had a panic attack sending it (I’m not even joking.. this person has caused years of toxicity and can be quite intimidating), but I even obeyed to the point of actually sending my letter!

And then I began to pray, “Lord, don’t let this be the 3rd strike and I’m out kind of scenario. Give me a home run please. But also, I trust your timing and I trust you to protect me.”

Well, you can guess where this is going: I struck out. The letter was met with a seemingly sarcastic response, followed by a complete shut out – this person has made it so I can no longer contact them again. And that is okay, because again, I tried. I obeyed and God knows my heart, and theirs.

But, I felt discouraged. Three times I felt God ask me to reach out, to be humble, vulnerable and honest. Three times I obeyed. And, three times I seem to have failed. I started to pray about my discouragement and really did feel like I have struck out, I’m done. Don’t ask of me to do this kind of thing again, Lord!

As suddenly as the feeling of discouragement swept in, it went away in prayer. I realized God was trying to tell me something: It’s a good thing this isn’t baseball! 3 strikes doesn’t put you out in the real life playing field. Instead, it makes you stronger! Maybe the 4th try will be the home run hit?

But, I also felt God tell me that though I feel like I struck out – I still won the game. I won because I faced three people who caused me great pain, and I offered each of them compassion. I stood before all baring my honest convictions, sharing my love for Jesus, and how it has impacted my weaknesses and burdens. I truly went into all three scenarios hoping to free each person from the bondage they are ensnared in.

Except I couldn’t, even if they had have reacted warmly to me, it wouldn’t have mattered, because I am not capable of changing people’s hearts, only Jesus can do that. But, maybe, just maybe, these weren’t three complete strike outs, and maybe one day each or all of these people may remember some part of what I had said and consider that maybe this Jesus character I mentioned can actually penetrate the hurts they carry.

But, either way, I did what I was called to do. And when I tried to find purpose in what I perceived as failures, I realized you can’t harbor resentment against someone when you try and offer them healing. You aren’t letting their poison affect you when you have the guts to tell them about your innermost thoughts, pain and healing. You forgive freely when you can be vulnerable especially with someone who has caused you deep pain. And I have done exactly that, how can I consider that a strike out? I didn’t get the response I had wanted, but I got to model God’s character, and find personal healing in the meantime.

I will continue to pray for all of their hearts. I will continue to rejoice that I have found healing in Jesus Christ. I will continue to pray that someday, somehow their hearts will find the same, and in the meantime I will smile at God knowing even in what seems like a failing moment to a person is a win for God.

I am free from hatred, and that is the best lesson that God has given me in all of this.

Love Turned In…

I’m currently in a History of Christianity class, studying the steps from Reformation to today. If you don’t know what Reformation is – the long story short is after Jesus’ day, the “Christian church” was either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, the two separating in 1054 AD. At that time, the Catholic church hadn’t allowed Bibles to be distributed to the masses, so members followed the church blindly. When Martin Luther was able to read a Bible he realized many of the teachings of the church were heretic, and Luther nailed a document to the church door on October 31st, 1517, citing 95 theses statements that he felt the church was wrong about. From that day just over 500 years ago, many different denominations have been birthed including the Christian groups we are familiar with today.

I had expected to learn a timeline packed full of historic events, but was pleasantly surprised to learn something that would alter my own thought process so drastically, and yet so simply.

What caught me off guard was a simple Latin description that Martin Luther used for the word “sin”. Martin used Latin to described sin as ‘love “incurvatus in se”‘ or simply put, love turned in.  

It hit me like a ton of bricks in that moment. Isn’t all sin really just love turned inward? When we begin to think about our own wants, or desires above what’s best for others, that’s when pride, greed, lust, gluttony etc. all take over our minds and fill our hearts.

We live in a society where love incurvatus in se is preached on almost every advertisement! If you want – go get it! After all, you deserve it! You do YOU! Your life, your way!! We hear more often then we should encouragement for us to scratch the selfish itch that we carry in our hearts, and the more we hear it the more itchy it gets!

The debt load of North Americans is crazy and a lot of that is from feeding the me, me, me mentality. We have to go on that vacation, because they went there before us, or buy that name brand car, because they have one too. We can’t have a house within our means because our friends have better.

And this plays into things that don’t cause us debt, but just cause us to live selfishly. We ignore our neighbor because our time should spent exclusively on our own selves. We don’t stop when we see someone stranded because someone else can help, or surely that person has a phone and can call whomever should actually help them. 

We have become a culture of people who love inward.

Thinking only about ourselves ruins every relationship we have in some capacity. A marriage doesn’t work when one person loves their spouse, and the other spouse loves their own self. Parent-child relationships fail when you forget to love the other in the same way you love yourself. Friendships that become one sided often end quickly (or what can seem like not quick enough to the friend who doesn’t really matter), and even coworkers can’t get along when one is trapped in the endless cycle of trying to put themselves first.

So what is the remedy? How do we love outward? 

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8. This means forgiving others for their faults. Remembering that not one of us perfect, and when we mess up we would love the same forgiveness that we offer to others, so show outward love by forgiving. 

 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” – Galatians 5:14. Paul is talking here about the law given by Jesus, who said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, and mind while also loving your neighbor in Matthew 22:36-40. Even for those who don’t have a personal relationship with God, the very idea of loving one’s neighbor is still important. I remember when I gave birth to my first child, I realized at some point we were all babies, and most had a Mom who held us and loved us the way I held and loved my baby, and it made me realize the depth of love I have for my child, others have for theirs. This helped me to see that all people are of extreme value. All people are loved even deeper by God, so why wouldn’t I want to extend love to my neighbor? And by neighbor I mean co-worker, acquaintance, spouse, sibling, friend, or even the people that disagree with me. Love them all. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34. This is Jesus speaking, asking his disciples to love others the way that he himself had loved – sacrificially. Jesus emptied himself from the glories of heaven to come to earth, dying in a painful manner because of love. He didn’t have to, and in fact he had the power of God in him and could have avoided the painful death all together. Not to mention, he could have traded it for all the kingdoms in the world as offered by the enemy, and yet, he doesn’t. He presses on, he remains faithful. He loves. And oh, how he loves. You don’t truly know love until you connect with the heart of Jesus, and there is no greater example of loving outward then there is in Jesus.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9-10. Paul writes this because he has encountered the love of Jesus and it changed him from a law abiding overly zealous religious man to a changed creation, longing to help others. Paul’s transformation teaches us the value of real, deep, and genuine love. When Jesus transforms Paul, he is driven to show others the love of Christ, knowing when they experience it their only regret was that it wasn’t theirs soon enough!

Most importantly, and most basically – consider yourself: Are you loving outward? Or, is your love turned inward?

Sometimes it’s a simple sentence in a classroom about History that makes you reassess yourself and your own choices. All week I have been trying to consider this one simple statement. I admit, it’s easier to love inward, but it’s far better to love outward. That is where the world is changed. 

Also, that is where I am changed. When I think of me, it never ends. My husband can’t do enough for me, my children are selfish for not thinking about me, my parents are not doing enough for me, my friends aren’t building me up enough, and it just goes on and on until you feel so depressed running in circles trying to figure out why other’s don’t see your value.

When I think of others, my entire mindset changes. I’m grateful that my husband did a chore I was dreading, that my children are getting along with each other, that my parents answer my calls with glee, that my friends are so encouraging and doing so well in their own lives. Suddenly, I find myself smiling, grateful for the beauty that surrounds me in the hearts of those I’m blessed to associate with.

The best antidote for a heart turned inward, is to love outward instead.

 

 

 

 

Why Jesus?

It was actually a while after I accepted Christ as my Saviour before I truly understood how ‘it all worked.’ We hear it every Christmas, Jesus was born to save the world. We hear it at Easter, Jesus died and on the 3rd day he rose to life and now we are allowed to go to Heaven if we accept him. But, does any of that make sense without the back story?

I always struggled to understand this. Yes, I know Jesus is God’s son, and he died, and came to life again (witnessed by hundreds) but how does that mean I am forgiven of my sins? It never made any sense to me at all. I knew we were all sons and daughters of God, just like Jesus, and I knew we were supposed to call Jesus our Saviour to be recognized as his before God, but still the connection seemed to be missing for me as to how I was forgiven by someone being crucified.

I want to take some time to explain this, because I feel like many people coming from a non-Christian upbringing may also struggle with connecting these dots as I did.
I grew up believing in God. Without going to church regularly, I picked up a few things here and there, and throughout times of my life, I would pray to God but I never understood Jesus so my prayers never included him.

I was sure that God had to have created us and the universe, because things seemed too complicated to be ‘just a fluke.’ I had Grandparents who would say grace with us at holiday meals, and I have a few memories of conversations about Jesus with my Grampa but I still never really got it, so I went on believing in God and thinking that was it. Jesus was just some guy all the religious folks seemed to admire. I knew there were religions called Judaism, Christianity and Islam but I didn’t know a single thing about them, their similarities or their differences. I just believed in the existence of God.

Fast forward to after I accepted Jesus as my saviour at 22, and still didn’t quite get the connection. I knew from learning about him that Jesus was an amazing man, and someone I wanted to be more like, so I felt confident accepting him as my saviour, but I began to wonder – How do we know that Jesus truly is the son of God not just some other guy from the Bible? What does his death mean? I found some answers in the Bible, but it seemed like I barely knew anything and there was so much, (this is why I recommend a study Bible.) The more I read through the book of Matthew (on of 66 books in the Bible) and learned of Jesus’ teachings, miracles and lessons, the more I realized that I truly believed, he was the true Son of God. He just was too perfect and did far too many awe inspiring things to be entirely human in my eyes.


So, what makes him the Son of God?

Before Mary (Jesus’ Mother) was pregnant, as the well known Christmas story goes, she was a virgin. An angel of the Lord appeared before her and told her that she was chosen to carry a child. Here is the text from Luke Chapter 1, Verses 30-36: ““Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

From this we can see that the baby was conceived miraculously, his true Father being God Himself. We also see reference to Israel and David. Israel is the name of God’s chosen people who today would be referred to as Jewish and the old Testament promised that King David, a wise ruler over Israel (who wrote many of the Psalms in the Bible) would have the Saviour (Messiah, Jesus) born in his lineage. Joseph (Mary’s Husband) and Jesus’ legal father was a descendant of David, and that’s what the verse was referring to. There is so much more to this part of the story, for example an angel approaches Joseph as well, but in trying to keep this simple, I will invite you to read any of the 4 Gospel books in the Bible yourself for the full version (The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.)

So, why would the son of God have to come to earth?

This is where the connection was always lost for me because I didn’t ever read the Bible, or have any experience in understanding the Old Testament or Jewish traditions.

The Israelites (or the Jewish people, referred to as Israelites in the Old Testament) followed the law that God had given them through a previous leader named Moses. Each time a person broke the law, there was a sacrifice that required being made – consider it a penalty for breaking the law, like paying a fine or doing jail time in today’s terms. Often, the penalty was something like an ox, a bird, oil or something of value from that day and time that would need to be poured out or sacrificed at the altar to get forgiveness for the sin committed.

The problem with the Israelites (and, really.. all of us) is that they were a sinful bunch. The Old Testament books are full of stories where the Israelites would rebel against the rules God had given them, they would even go as far as to worship idols, and completely disregard God’s will for their lives. Time and time again we see them punished as a nation for the crimes they committed against God, and yet they never seemed to learn their lesson. God came to their aid many times, he bailed them out of many situations, and they were always so quick to forget the miracles He had done and think of themselves and what they wanted.

So, God sees this is not going well. His people are stubborn, they don’t seem to be learning or changing, and therefore they need the ultimate sacrifice: His son. God sends Jesus to earth through Mary, and when Jesus was about 30 years old, he began his ministry. His time spent teaching was very limited (about 3 years total before his death) as the zealously religious folks at the time really loathed him and wanted to punish him with death for saying that he was the Son of God. They didn’t believe him, and felt he was speaking blasphemy. Some even feared he was possessed by demons because of the miracles he was committing.

He scared them because they couldn’t explain his actions, they felt convicted by him and they were so focused on the law and rules that they couldn’t understand why this man would act differently than many of the traditions they were accustomed to (including eating with the lowest people of society like prostitutes and tax collectors, healing the lame and forgiving those with major problems.)

During his time on earth, Jesus travelled and taught many. He had 12 main followers referred to as Disciples, and of them he had 3 who were particularly close to him. He interacted with many, including women though that was unheard of for males in his time. He treated all people with dignity and respect, and by the time of his death many knew who he was and longed to meet him, follow him and be taught by him. Those followers became the early Christian church. Many of their stories are recorded in the book of Acts in the Bible.

It was a fact that Jesus walked this earth, the discrepancy lies in whether you believe or not that he was the Son of God. Of the three major religions, this is where the difference is. The Jewish people don’t believe he was the Son of God, and the Islamic people think he was just a prophet. Christians are the people who believe that Jesus was the son of God, follow the teachings of Jesus and believe he was conceived miraculously, died on the cross and rose to life again 3 days later, ascending into heaven shortly after.

The Old Testament is full of prophecies predicting Jesus’ life that were accurate, and he fulfilled so many. Jesus himself warned of false teachers, including the Islamic ideology that he was just a prophet. The amount of evidence in the Bible that Jesus is the true Son of God is immeasurable. Again, don’t just take my word for it!

Now, lets get to how the death of Jesus forgave us all:

Traditionally, the Israelites would celebrate an event called “Passover”, to commemorate when Moses helped them escape slavery from Egypt. They celebrated Passover every year, and as required by law they would sacrifice a lamb at the altar of God.

In God’s perfect timing, Jesus was taken to the cross during Passover (and this is why he’s often referred to as the sacrificial lamb.) His death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. It all comes down to that. God sent Jesus to earth knowing he would die on the cross during the Passover celebration.

He sent Jesus knowing that Jesus would be an amazing example of God’s own love, that Jesus would be able to transform the lives of many through his godly actions, and he would revolutionize the world. He also sent Jesus because he knew since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve willingly betrayed God (often called the fall or the original sin) that Jesus’ sacrifice as the only innocent human being (like the lamb) would forgive all of mankind. This is the Christian doctrine of atonement if you’d like to read more about it.

 Now, when God looks at his people, he doesn’t just see the Israelites who struggle to follow his rules despite how much He loved them, He sees all of us who have accepted Christ as our personal Saviour as children of His. He literally sees Jesus in us, and loves us the very same way He loves his true son Jesus. He sees perfect, flawless Jesus when he looks at our faces, and not our problems, our faults, our shame, our guilt and our troubles.

On the 1st day (known as Good Friday to Christians,) Jesus was crucified and died. The Bible tells us, at the exact moment of Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew:27:51) The curtain in the temple allowed only the holiest leaders to have access to God, and the tearing down of the curtain meant all of us can go directly to God. God literally is saying all may enter my presence, all may have a relationship directly with me because of Jesus.

On the 3rd day (known as Easter Sunday) Jesus appeared alive first to women.  The fact that this was recorded demonstrates the truth, because a man of that day would not have wanted to record that he appeared first to a woman. Again, this shows Jesus love for women, and his elevation of them despite their cultural norms.

He was also seen by his disciples and many others alive and well, complete with the holes in his hands and feet from the nails, and the incision on his side. He rose to life from death (the ultimate miracle) to prove that he was indeed God’s son and not just some random human. When he literally ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was left behind on earth as the gift for those who accept Jesus as their Saviour (as though the gift of being forgiven isn’t amazing enough?)

The Holy Spirit immediately dwells in your heart when you have accepted Jesus and this allows us so much including the ability to hear from God through promptings, through the words of others, and to be seen as sons and daughters of God himself, just like Jesus. Think of it as our own piece of Jesus living in our heart, helping us to be more like him, and helping God to see us as his own.

Thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, when we are sinful (and we all are) we don’t need to sacrifice a bull or an ox, or what have you. Jesus was the sacrifice for the past sins and those future ones too. Jesus paid it all on the cross, he was the sacrificial lamb that changed the face of the world. He didn’t have to die for us, but he accepted this fate and chose it out of deep love for each of us. He knows how amazing God and His love is, that he took this painful death upon himself so that we might know that too!

So, how do you accept Jesus’ offer? Its so simple. Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Yup. That’s it. You don’t need to fix yourself first. You don’t need to clean the skeletons out of your closet. You don’t need to be perfect in any way. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Believe that he died, and rose again. Believe that his death was a sacrifice for all sin, and say out loud “Jesus is my Saviour.”

Here is a sample prayer you can pray: “Father God, thank you for recognizing our need for Jesus here on earth. Thank you for sending your Son to earth in human form to die the death on the cross that took the penalty for my sins. I know I am a sinner, and I know I am in need a Saviour, and I am thankful that Jesus is my new Saviour. Thank you for the gift Jesus has offered me through his death. I accept it, and I am thankful for it. In Jesus’ Mighty name I thank you and pray, Amen.”

Don’t just take my word for it though, pull out the Bible and start with the Gospel books to learn of Jesus, his life, his miracles, his lessons and his death. I am confident that the more you learn, the more you will grow to love and appreciate Jesus and the more you will benefit from trying to be more like the example he provided. He wasn’t just some random religious person as I always thought, in fact, he is extra-ordinary, and someone whom I struggle to describe with human words. But in my heart, Oh do I ever know who Jesus is. I pray that you do too.

Please, if you pray that prayer and found these words helpful – let me know. Reach out and tell someone that you’ve accepted the gift Jesus gave. Allow others the privilege to pray for and with you, and may you be blessed today and everyday.

Sun, Wind, Earth.

As I lay in the sunshine, its warmth radiates through my entire body. I am hot, but not in a bad way like a runner who has finished a marathon, or an upstairs room on a humid day. Instead, I am a type of hot that is enjoyable, as though a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer has been wrapped around every part of my being.

This warmth though, is even better. It permeates my entire soul.

And suddenly I’m reminded of the glory of God.

I’m reminded of the verse in Revelation 21 that talks about the new Jerusalem, and how there isn’t a need for a moon or stars because God’s glory will be bright enough to light the entire city.

And I see Him there in that moment. I feel His glory. This warmth coming from our sun, the sun that He provided, it makes me understand His glory.

This warmth I’m feeling, a comfortable type of warm, not too hot, just right. This is what God’s glory will be like when I am in His presence.  My entire soul will be encapsulated with this warmth, this absolutely perfect and evenly distributed glorious warmth. This is what awaits me forever.

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The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light,…” Revelation 21:23(ab)

And while I am reflecting on this, the wind, a gentle and soothing breeze, picks up. I can hear the tree tops rustling. I can feel the coolness seep into my sweatshirt, but not enough to steal the warmth. I watch the branches moving freely, dancing amongst themselves.

This, this is the Holy Spirit at work. The wind is something we can’t see, but we can feel. We can’t control, we can’t predict, and we can’t change it. But, we see its work, we recognize its magnitude and power and we acknowledge its existence though we can not lay our eyes upon it.

This reminds me of the presence of the Holy Spirit within my warm and comfortable body. Jesus promised me this presence, and though I can’t control, predict or change it, the Spirit is at work within me, just as the wind that breaks into this moment.

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“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” – John 3:8

 

And I continue to lay peacefully, comforted and still on the ground. Nothing separates me from the dirt, moss, and earth that My Creator made with me in mind but the very clothes on my back.

Now I have my Father, and I have my Holy Spirit. Where is my Jesus to complete this Trinitarian reflection? And so I ask, “where are you in this, Jesus?” and my fingers subtly move around on the dirt ground.

The earth below my fingers moves so easily, and there are so many layers of ‘things’ that blanket the ground, each a piece of nature, a reflection of creation. Then I remember what God said in Genesis upon creation, “Let us make..” He is saying this to Jesus. To the Spirit. The Triune God was there, and is here.

Sun, wind, earth.

Father, Spirit, Son.

The creation revealing aspects of the Creator to me.

Three divine entities represented in one form, three unique aspects of my one moment.

And I am reminded of the heaviness of the ground beneath me.

It doesn’t move under my weight. It doesn’t crumble as I lay down upon it. It remains steadfast and firm. This, is my Jesus. Solid, consistent, reliable. Not going anywhere. All around me, so that when I go somewhere, there will still be ground. There will still be Jesus.

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“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8

And all of this came together sparked by the Glory of the Lord. From the sun shining upon my face, like my favourite benediction,

“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”

– Numbers 6:24-26

from the wind blowing to remind me of the presence of the Spirit at work within me,

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

-John 14:16-17

to the steady earth and creation below me, reminding me of the presence of Jesus all around,

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

-John 1:1-5

And I am not foolish enough to worship the creation, but I am wise enough to worship the Creator who shows Himself to the created in the creation. And oh, how my soul sings with gratitude for this very reflection… 

 

He Is My Spring…

I was walking down my street. It was my first time wearing only a sweater after I had noticed the temperature was 11 degrees Celsius. What a beautiful number after what seemed like an incredibly long and storm filled winter.

The sun was shining and its radiance hit my face like the most precious of gems. The breeze was just right, not strong or cool, but enough that I could smell spring in the air. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and the sound of birds caught my attention.

I felt so good in that moment. So full of gratitude, and thanksgiving for both this season and its creator. I began to pray, thanking God for the glory of the sunshine, and the beauty of the season change.

Then I realized, Jesus is my spring. Everything I was feeling paralleled itself with my faith. The goodness, the radiance, the gratitude, the glory of spring mirrors exactly how I feel about my relationship with God.

For 22 years it was a long and very stormy winter. It was dark, cold and miserable. At times I wondered “when will this end…?” Sometimes I was amazed at the beauty of a fresh snow fall, and the sun still shone periodically, but it was still winter, still cold and often dreary.

When I reflect on my life before my faith, I see that it wasn’t all bad. There were periods of time where it was good, and life can be good without being a Christian for sure. As I said, the sun still shone and sometimes the beauty of the winter season was evident in my life.

One such day that could be describable as the beautiful and perfect winter scene, like a  Christmas card would be the birth of my first child. An other amazing winter day, I stood before a man and pledged my life to him, with an optimism that was unshakeable. Those days reiterate to me that goodness can occur, no matter the season of life. My winter wasn’t all bad.

But, there were storms there. Being on the verge of living in foster care before a sibling took me in, that was a really dark and lonely storm. The day I watched my confidant, my Grandmother, breathe her last the snow ravaged and I felt so trapped, cold and lonely.

But that season is a miss in my life now. Now it’s Spring. I have a Saviour. I know who I am, defined by the Father’s love for me. Though cold days may come now, its never with the same intensity that was winter.

Spring is here. Jesus is my spring.

Just like a typical spring, things happen gradually. First, the top layers of snow and ice begin the melt. The ground revealed is full of trash and so profoundly ugly compared to that of a summer ground.  These moments are when God called me to deal with my own  ugliness. For me, it meant dealing with the bitterness I had allowed to overtake my heart. I couldn’t possibly have an ice cold heart yet walk in the sunshine.

As more thawed, dirt was found to be everywhere just like the street I found myself on today.  For me, this dirt was things I had buried, pain I had tucked away inside hoping it would now cease to exist. Out of sight, out of mind I had thought.  But like the dirt I saw, this couldn’t hide and it comes out in anger outbursts, doubts, and frustrations. Soon the street sweeper will come and tidy the road, just like Jesus cleaned out the cobwebs of my once very broken heart.

Though the sun shone in the winter, it has a brighter hue now that spring is here. For me, this is the joy I find adorning my face.  I always tried to be positive and happy-go-lucky, but now I don’t require the same amount of effort. I find myself cascading down the sidewalk with lyrics of how loved I am from praise songs at church filling my mind. I consider the beauty of the hard moments I face with those in my church family, and how we travel these journeys together. Even when there is much pain, there is abundant joy because spring is here. Jesus is here.

Though the season is still new, there is growth. The buds on the trees, they remind me of the new creation that I am in Christ. The new growth reminds me I don’t need to carry my burdens, because I can lay them all at the feet of the cross. There is nothing Jesus can’t handle.

The birds and their songs fill my heart with gratitude for the creation I am surrounded with. Now, instead of worshiping the creation that brings me such peace, I have an intimate and tangible relationship with the Creator. He knows my name. He hears my prayers, He longs to give me the desires of my heart. He loves me in a way so deep, I could never completely grasp it.

Winter is over. Spring is here. This may be true of the calendar year, but it is also true of my heart. Cold days still happen in spring, but the hope remains. I’m no longer buried under dark gloomy skies, but now I’m in a season where it just keeps getting better. More and more layers of the winter are being removed from my life, and new growth keeps occurring.

Spring has sprung in more ways than one.

The Face of Jesus Today.

Recently, I was praying and it crossed my mind that when I do I visualize Jesus as he would have appeared 2000 years ago, in a robe and sandals as opposed to the jeans and t-shirts of today.

I wondered what a “modern day Jesus” would look like. Does he think the manbun is cool? Would he have a hipster beard? Skinny jeans? Its quite interesting to consider God’s fashion taste in the 21st century.

I started to pray about it. “Jesus,” I asked, “Please show me what you would look like in my world today.”

My mind went back to the trends. Would he wear work boots? A backwards ball cap?

Then suddenly, distractions away, I was given the visual I was waiting for, and it wasn’t at all what I expected.

I saw a man that I know personally. This man doesn’t have anything to offer: no job, limited skills, absolutely nothing fancy about him. He isn’t attractive, or even tidy. In fact, most of the people he passes in a day probably look down their nose at him. I would even say they cringe when he is near.

And yet this is the face that Jesus brought into my mind when I asked him what he looks like today.

I actually laughed internally at my own ignorance. Of course that’s what Jesus would look like. He wasn’t fancy. He wasn’t overly clean (by today’s standards, he was probably filthy most of the time!) He was trained as a carpenter, but when he began his missionary work he didn’t have a full time job.

More likely than not, people looked down their nose at this revolutionary, cringing when he appeared with his lessons that they didn’t always understand and his convictions against those who seemed to be so prim and proper. The men probably couldn’t stand this feminist, this guy that called them to a higher standard than just their outward obedience. The elite rule followers scoffed at the men who saw right their facades, and therefore they did not like or value him.

Next, I saw a myriad of faces, people I love who are literally the hands and feet of Jesus today. It was like a slideshow of people I knew: the lady who texted me after I asked for prayers to check in on me, the man who prays in a different voice than he speaks, the child who understands the real meaning of Christmas, the kind hearted disabled person who relies on others to carry her through life. I saw the mother who buried a child. I saw the man who had an affair. I saw the overeater. I saw the ministry workers who gave their careers to God. The alcoholic. The porn-addicted. The recovered.

I saw them all.

Of course this is what Jesus looks like today. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

We are called to be his hands and feet, to deliver his message to all nations.

We. I saw myself too. The woman who loves Jesus so deeply, yet falls short daily of truly expressing that love to herself and others.

The very name of our faith, Christianity, bears his image. The original Greek word Christianos has meanings that include being an adherent to an individual (Jesus) and belonging to a great household (Romans 8:17). Many have dubbed the term “Little Jesus” for Christians and we are expected to live as such.

Amazingly though, Jesus didn’t reveal himself to me as the expert theologian, the master preacher, the mother-Theresa type of person like so many would expect.  First, he revealed himself as the simple and overlooked member of society, the odd ball, the judged, the persecuted and the outcast. That is what Jesus looked like then, and that’s what he looks like now.

How humbling. To remember that all of us are “Jesus here on earth,” representing unique aspects of his character and lessons. From the greatest, to the very least of these, we are all image bearers, created in the very image of God, and also representing Him.

May we have the courage to treat each other as though we are staring into the face of Jesus himself, because in a way – we are. 

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” – Matthew 22:36-40, NIV. 

 

Backwards Living

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

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

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

The more I think of me, the less happy I feel. The more I think I deserve this, then I realize I must also deserve that too! The more I think of my own wants, the less I think of others. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

That is what it feels like to be “dead to your sins” as the Christian world says. What they mean is, your gratification for whatever it is you think you deserve or what, whatever it is that consumes you is controlling you. You are a slave to what you obey, whether its society’s ideas, marketing ploys, lust, pride, or just general selfishness.

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

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

This verse really hits home for me. Sins control us, leaving us dead to our own desires, caught in a vicious cycle of self gratification that we can never fully seem to satisfy. This verse tells us perhaps these notions of self gratification aren’t from God, but rather from the enemy who loves to see us struggle, who loves to see us fail and who loves to see us overwhelmed in self pity and misery.

Did I just say that the devil is real and he lives among us? You bet I did! There seems to be this beautiful little idea amongst society that there’s no such thing as hell, or satan himself. Don’t kid yourself – that’s his greatest trick yet, convincing you to believe that he isn’t here, and that God who can be blamed for your unmet needs.

Verse 4-6 carries on, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved.) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Dead because of our sin. The dead here refers to our eternal life.

When sin controls us, and we don’t understand how come Jesus died for us, we are dead eternally.  However, when we accept Jesus as our Saviour, like this verse says, we are raised from the dead WITH Christ. What does that even mean? Well, that we are no longer slaves to what controls us. We are no longer dead because the debt is paid. We are no longer defeated because of the riches that this world offers us.

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

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

Jesus was the very opposite of selfish. Even when he was being sent to die on the cross, he prayed “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39) So, he said God, if you can redeem your people in any other way please do, but I am willing to endure all that suffering to obey your will, rather than what I want for myself because I trust that you know best.

He gave up every glorious thing this world has to offer, and he put our lives before his very own – leaving us dead to sin.

So the world says you deserve this, you are entitled to that, if it feels good for you, do it! Jesus deserved nothing but praise for the amazing teacher he was while he walked the earth, he was not entitled to die the way that he did, and it sure wouldn’t have felt good for him. But he persevered none the less knowing that his suffering would save us all, that his example would help us break the chains of bondage our own selfish desires have over us, and most importantly that we would have life through him.

He calls us to backwards living: putting others before our own self. Turning our phones off so we can talk face to face with those around us. Putting someone else ahead of our self. Letting them have the parking spot. Thinking of their needs even though we are so tired. Ending the vicious cycle of me, me, me thinking.

Backwards to society, yet the very example that Jesus was while he was here. We don’t have to listen to the world’s message, when we can follow the example Jesus set for us. There is so much freedom for me in that. As Romans 6:16 says, “Don’t you realize that you become a slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leaves to death, or you can choose to obey God which leads to righteous living.”

Well, I trust God has a better plan for my life than satan.  And righteous living sounds better to me than death.  But, how do I stop thinking of me when the entire world tells me that’s what I should do? The simple answer of course is to read your Bible, there you will find much hope and examples, but also you will be filled with the love of God which is really all the gratification our souls need and long for. No amount of selfish thinking or self gratification will ever be able to top that!

Verse 10 of Ephesians 2 sums it up, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” We are God’s masterpiece. We were worth Jesus dying for.

We are loved more than we ever know, so much so that we need to meditate on that so that we aren’t filling the hole in our hearts that is empty before we know God in a personal way with garbage, debt, time waste, relationships strained.

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

The Greatest Resolution

I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday vacuuming, mopping, dusting and wiping. I cleaned the fingerprints off the mirrors and windows, and washed, polished, cleaned and purged. It crossed my mind that I was going to start 2019 with a clean and tidy home, and I laughed at the thought of leaving 2018’s filth behind me, literally.

But how do I clean the mess that exists in my heart?

Its easy to do the physical labour of cleaning a home because the visual aspect is so pleasing. Its nice to have a tidy home, with the clean smell and organization. We feel good when we clean up, sort, purge and wash. When our feet are tired, we sit down and look around at all that we have accomplished and we feel a sense of pride.

But how do we measure how things are going in the unseen crevices where we hide our internal filth?  How do we invest in cleaning our “internal junk” when we can’t see the efforts in the same way we can when we see a clean house for example?

I firmly believe that all things begin in our hearts. Jesus talks about this when he says its not enough to not murder, but control your anger and hatred because that’s the root that murder grows from. He talks about removing whatever you need from your life to protect your mind. It’s no surprise that my life verse, and the very foundation for Guarded Hearts Ministries is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

I recognize that my heart needs extra guarding because my mind is a liar and sometimes convinces me of things that aren’t true. Perhaps this is relatable for many who also hear the “I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough looking” lies. It also tries to convince me that I am number 1! For this reason, it’s all too easy to fall into the victim mentality. Easily I can feel sorry for my undeserving self because of that wretched thing so and so did. How could anyone treat me the way they did, or cross me the way they had? 

Sometimes we have valid reason to be there too. There are many scenarios I can think of where I was victimized when I shouldn’t have been, or in a way that I would never do to someone else. Those situations sting. They keep you up at night, and can play over and over in your mind. Theres the first bitterness seed to be planted in your heart.

Next thing you know, the seed grows into a full out plant, taking space where joy and happiness once grew. Slowly, over time, you turn into someone who’s angry, bitter, resentful and unhappy. This doesn’t affect the offending party in any way, but it sure does ruin your life, your relationships and your happiness. 

Jesus teaches us to forgive our enemies, and even to pray for them. It’s easy for me to pray for God to bless those whom I love. Yes God, please take care of my children, my spouse, my family. But My enemy? Naw, leave them out in the cold, k thanks! Tempting to say, am I right? Until you realize how we are all someone’s enemy.

I struggled for a long time with forgiveness. I had to really learn that I could forgive without having a relationship with someone, or by having new boundaries. Forgiveness does NOT mean reconciliation, but it does mean you get to uproot the weed of bitterness plant from your heart and allow for the joy and happiness to not be drowned out.

The greatest resolution you should make for 2019 is to clean out your heart!

Don’t bring 2018’s hurts into 2019 (or even all the previous years things you’ve harboured for that much longer.)  Don’t start this year tending to a garden of weeds grown from bitterness, anger, rage, and unforgiveness. Just clean that part out of your heart however you need to: with counselling, through prayers, meditation, Bible reading, talking to a trusted friend, or whatever you need to do to move forgiveness as a concept from your brain into something you apply to your heart.

Just as it takes time and effort to clean the house, so is it with the mind. Invest in this process because it is a thousand times more beneficial than a clean home. Nothing beats peace, happiness and true joy. Don’t let anyone steal that from you this year.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
 Philippians 4:6-8

 

Who are you in the Christmas Story?

I had a conversation today about the way we resonate with different characters from the Christmas story, and it got me to thinking this may be an interesting idea to explore. So, who do you resonate with? Enjoy these scripture verses to encourage you.

  • Are you Zechariah? Standing in fear of the Lord, usually behind the scenes excited to play even a small role in the story. Quick to pray for others behind closed doors and not one to speak until you are sure it’s the right time to say what you need to? Perhaps even doubtful from time to time?

Luke 1:11-20, 67-75

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” – James 1:19

  • Are you Elizabeth? A deeply spiritual person who has no doubts in God’s capabilities? Are you raising a child or children to know Jesus? Do you trust that God will never forget about your faithful ways even when you aren’t necessarily a forerunner or leader in ministry?

Luke 1:6-7, 41-45

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:28-31

  • Are you the Angel? Always quick to share the truth of the gospel to others? Perhaps willing to help someone understand the Bible in a better way, or even just grateful to explain how some of this ‘stuff’ works? Are you quick to tell the truth, even when it seems difficult or unexpected?

Matthew 1:18-23

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” – Psalm 105:1

  • Are you Mary? Obedient, shy and gracious, always quick to think about the best for others. Do you find yourself willing to do what God calls you to do, no matter how uncertain you make feel, or how much others may think you are off your rocker? Do you look to God and His calling when unexpected moments happen? Above all else, do you trust God in the deepest of manners?

Luke 1:26-38, 46-55

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

  • Are you Joseph? A person of integrity, anxious to do what is right both morally and by God’s principals? Do you listen for the guidance of God and act upon it even when you are afraid or think it may be way too difficult?

Matthew 1:24, 2:19-23

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8

  • Are you Herod? Rising to power in your own way, whether at work, home or in the community, even if you must do so in a cut throat way? Are you jealous when someone else may be better or do something more naturally then you? Does your anger and fear cause you to make poor choices even if it negatively influences other’s lives?

Matthew 2:1-3, 16-18

“You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” – James 4:2-3

  • Are you a Shepherd? You have no relationship with God, but sometimes feel curious about who He may be? You wonder about this Jesus guy and why some people you know seem convinced his life and death will give you a ticket to heaven? Do you have no familiarity with a Bible at all, or perhaps think its complicated and hard to read? Does all of this confuse and intrigue you at the same time?

Luke 2:8-20

“Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.  Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong.  Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” – Isaiah 55:6-7

  • Are you like the Magi? Quick to offer service to God? Perhaps keeping busy doing things for your church in the hopes that you can serve and help others in gratitude for all that God has done for you? Do you often wonder what can you do next to help? What do you have to offer to the King of Kings?

Matthew 2:1-6, 9-12.

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” – Galatians 5:13-14

  • Are you Simeon or Anna? Do you find yourself patient when you trust God to provide or to work out a scenario in the way He has promised? Are you quick to praise God no matter what the circumstances are? Are you wiser having walked a faithful walk for some time, cherishing the golden years knowing God isn’t done working through you yet?

Luke 2:25-40

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Thankfully Jesus had a purpose and a calling for each, just as he does for us today. God is never above loving a person regardless of what part of the story they fit in with. He doesn’t choose favourites and has designed each of us to be unique and to play distinct roles in a much bigger story. Jesus came for all, he doesn’t discriminate. No matter where you fit into the Christmas story and which character you see yourself as, know that Jesus values you.

May your heart be full of gratitude this Christmas as you reflect on the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ.

The Miracle of the Shepherds

The book of Luke tells of Jesus’ birth in great detail. After Mary gives birth to Jesus and lays him in the manger, the story moves onto the shepherds in the field, saying:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” – Luke 2:8-11, NLT.

To anyone reading this without much historical knowledge this just seems like a miraculous birth announcement, which is cool enough on its own, but there’s actually a lot more to this story.

Jesus was born to Jewish parents. There were originally 12 tribes that made up what we call Jewish people today, and from the tribe of Judah falls Mary. This is expected because a previous King named David, an ancestor to Mary, was promised that he would have a descendent who would be a king who’s reigning would last forever. David had united the 12 tribes and was a terrific King, but as the years went by after his life, the tribes were separated and exiled to other places. The Jewish people no longer had a king and couldn’t understand how that promise would be fulfilled until Jesus comes in David’s lineage, and in the city of David.

The non-Jewish people (or Gentiles as they were called) were outsiders to the Jewish people, and many worshiped idols and didn’t have a personal relationship with God. It was the Jews who loved God deeply and had waited patiently for a Messiah to come to save them from their oppression under the Roman Empire and to guide them. They waited all while knowing the scriptures and the promised signs watching for Jesus to arrive in the manner they expected.

The Jewish people were expecting a King, born in a palace, with a vast array of Heaven’s armies to defeat their oppressors. The Gentiles weren’t expecting anyone at all.

The first announcement of the Messiah’s birth goes to the shepherds. Random men in a field, probably filthy, sleeping in the company of sheep, and essentially kind of low on the totem pole as far as societal ranks go. Not even Jewish. Men that had no real relationship with God prior.

The King was presented to the people who didn’t even realize that they had a need for him.  Jesus comes in a filthy stable (likely a dark and dirty cave contrary to the popular Christmas card photo) and is revealed first to the Gentiles.

Strange eh? One of the things I love about the Christmas story is how many layers are unexpected. The King of the world born into filth and announced to filth. This is the very opposite of the image many people have of “religious Jesus” who is radiant with beams of light reflecting off himself, and a finger quick to do some pointing.

Jesus was a gift for all those who were oppressed, these lowly field hands included. Just like his birth and birth announcement, Jesus spent his entire life reaching out to the underdog, including women who were seen as mere property in his time.

Jesus’ birth story reminds us of one of the biggest lessons in his life: love on another. This is not contingent upon a person’s status or even what society thinks they’re worth. It’s not even contingent upon their behaviour, but simply their humanity.

The interesting part is the response of the Shepherds who are initially frightening by the Angel’s announcement, until they realized the true joy of what happened. Immediately, they head to Bethlehem in the hopes of meeting this new Messiah.  They end up sharing the story with others, leaving people astonished and giving praise to God.

The miracle of the shepherds is that they shouldn’t have known at all that Jesus was born. But, God loves all people so much that he would present His Son first to the underdog who’s lives become transformed as a result.

No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter how imperfect or worthless you see yourself, know that the King of the world longs to show himself to you just like he revealed himself to the Shepherds. Just as we see in the Shepherds, God loves you exactly as you are. 

The Disservice of the Baby in the Manger

On my last birthday I turned 31. My mother didn’t whip out the old family photo album to show me photos of my infancy, or tell me stories about her decision to have me, or her pregnancy cravings. Instead, she (and others) celebrated who I am today: a 31 year old woman that is married and a mother to four.  I’d expect this is the norm.

I know when my kid’s birthdays come and go, I reflect on the glorious moments of each of their births – amazed that time has passed so quickly, but also so excited about who they are today.

Why then do we not do this with Christmas?

Every year we are quick to recount the Christmas stories. Don’t get me wrong, this is lovely! How much does our faith grow when we consider the surrogate miracle of the virgin birth? What about when we think about the ways God interceded to keep Jesus safe – through dreams like that of Joseph, or the Sheppard’s who travelled to greet him, but didn’t reveal his location to the King of the land who wanted to kill Jesus.

When we consider that the Saviour of the world was born in a dirty and not typical environment instead of a palace we think about how God really can use anyone, no matter where they come from or where their story begins. 

There are countless layers of the Christmas story that we can unpack and marvel in. But, we’re all too quick to leave it there.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus differently than we celebrate the birth of the people around us. There’s usually no party for Jesus, and instead people buy gifts for each other, materialism grows and not a love for Christ. People who don’t even go to church or have a relationship with Jesus are quick to defend the traditions of saying “Merry Christmas” but yet they do not spend time with Jesus on this day at all. The nativity scenes are everywhere, and people focus on that baby in the manger, even if they don’t understand anything about him or his life.

Jesus didn’t stop after the miracle birth. Instead he grew up, spent the first 30 years of his life on this earth learning and studying God’s word, and then he spent about 3 years in ministry, travelling and teaching, before he was killed on the cross like a criminal by the people he came to help, a sacrifice to atone for all sins. All of that happened in around A.D. 30 depending on when you believe Jesus birth to be. Almost 2000 years ago he grew up and died, and we still celebrate his infancy.

I find we’ve done a disservice leaving Jesus as the baby in the manger. 

What would it look like if we celebrated Christmas by celebrating who Jesus is today?

It would me acknowledging that 1/3 of the entire globe identifies as Christian. Of all the world’s religions, Christianity is the largest and the most unique. It is the only religion in which the deity comes to earth to sacrifice himself for the people. Its is the only one where simply believing will warrant your salvation (and your salvation is not contingent upon your efforts).

It would mean we reflect on the early days of Christianity and realize that in all accounts, it should never have grown to be this big of a global movement considering how many times people tried to snuff it out. Persecutions began even before Jesus’ death with the angry mob wondering if Peter was associated with Jesus, and they aren’t anywhere near ending. In some parts of the world the possession of a Bible could still get you killed today.

It would mean thanking Jesus for the teachings we have recorded, for the reflections he gave us of God and the free gift we received of the Holy Spirit that lives within us as believers, guiding us and comforting us. Many secular scholars who don’t have a relationship with Jesus still credit him as the greatest leader and most influential teacher of all time. His messages are unlike anything we’ve ever heard, from his humility to his stance on forgiveness and love.

It would mean considering how grateful we should be that Jesus chose to come and hasn’t yet returned. We were born after his arrival which means we have the New Testament and the understandings of Jesus and the Christian faith that the Old Testament Israelites (Jewish) didn’t have. Christians joke often about how Jesus ought to return ASAP, but when he does, that’s it – so I think we need to celebrate that everyday he doesn’t return is an other day to show the world the truth about him.

It means the personal consideration and reflection of who the Messiah is to you. The gratitude for the ways you have changed and grown having learned who Jesus is and what he has accomplished in your own life. It means taking time to acknowledge and thank him for his sacrifice, and his continued efforts as your Saviour. It means thinking about how you can better replicate him to those around you, Christian or not.

This Christmas let’s celebrate the birth of the Messiah, but let’s not leave him there. Let’s celebrate who Jesus Christ is to us in 2018, and who he will be to us in 2019 and the rest of our lives too.

Who is Jesus to you today?

 

 

What do you give to the Saviour?

What do you give the Saviour? Amongst all the hustle and bustle of the latest wish lists and commercialism that modern day Christmas has become, what do you give to the person the very day represents?

The wise men (or Magi) brought gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The gold was a gift to represent Kingship. Gold is a precious metal, and is still representative of status even in this generation. It tends to be expensive and therefore shows value. The idea that many have when purchasing gold for a loved one is to give them a gift of value. The same idea is behind the gift of gold to Jesus. Jesus would later be mocked and called “King of the Jews” by a sign that hung above him as he died. Aside from that title, Christians see Jesus as an ambassador of the Kingdom of God. He is worthy of the title King.

Frankincense is an odd gift for a baby. It was used as incense, and it was to represent the Priesthood of Christ. Traditionally, Jewish priests were chosen by their linage, all coming from the Tribe of Levi, and Jesus was born as a descendant of the tribe of Judah, so normally he would never have been seen as a Priest by Jewish people then. The magi were asserting the truth that Jesus was indeed a Priest, and in fact the Priest, even though others wouldn’t have seen him in this regard. Interestingly enough, frankincense is a healer, known especially for taking away physical pain. Jesus also was a healer, known for taking away all pain – physical and emotional. He is worthy of being recognized as divine priest and healer.

Lastly, they gave Jesus myrrh. This was in the form of oil used for anointing, or basically to bless or protect. This goes back to something commonly known in Jesus’ day. Sheppard’s would cover a sheep’s head in oil so that bugs that would normally kill a sheep couldn’t get to their nose or ears to kill them. The sheep was protected because of the oil. This then became a symbol for blessing often done to priests, and to connect it to Jesus, it was to represent the blessing God had over his life, as well as the protection from the evil one. There is also an extra symbol in that Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb” of God – lambs were used as sacrifices to atone for one’s sin, which Jesus does for all on the cross. The myrrh was symbolic of the death that was to come, a preparatory step to prepare Jesus’ body for the death he would ensure. He is worthy of being anointed and blessed, he who gave up his life for all.

All three things have deep symbolic and practical significance. There are so many other things you can read and learn about the importance of those gifts.

But, the “Baby Jesus” grew up, he taught, he died, he rose again and ascended to heaven. So what do we give a Saviour now that we know he’s no longer a baby?

Jesus said: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV).

Loving God with all your heart, soul and mind is the first commandment. Jesus modelled this by spending time alone with God, through prayer and through reading the Scriptures (at his time, just the Old Testament). Jesus spent his ministry time modelling a deep level of affection for God, and gave many practical examples of how this looks. The benefit is the more we love God with our heart, soul and mind, the less we elevate ourselves.

It is all too easy to think about only me, me, me, especially in this individualistic culture that we live in. One thing I know for certain is the more I love me, the more I get trapped in an endless cycle in which I will never win, because I will never get all that I think I deserve. On the flip side, the more time I spend reflecting on the magnitude of God, the glory He has shown me, the blessings all around me the more that my heart fills with gratitude and love, and the selfish tendencies within me weaken.

Next, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. What he means is to treat every single person as we wish to be treated. So this Christmas, the greatest gift we can give is the gift of love. This is practical: find the need and fill it. If you can’t afford to give, then give your time or energy. If you are strapped for time and cash, then give your best wishes and pray for people. There is an abundance of ways to show love for and to others.

The perfect Christmas gift doesn’t have the most value, or the best reaction. Nor does it contain the shiniest or fanciest things. It’s simple: the greatest gift you can give anyone is genuine and unconditional love, the reciprocation of the love you have felt because of the Saviour.

The Heart of Worship

I remember the first time I walked into a church as an adult by choice. I had been to churches that sing hymns before and I was expecting that, and was pleasantly surprised by a guitar, bass and set of drums.

The church where I gave my life to Christ was more like a Christian pop experience than a traditional organ and high pitched singing. I was moved by many of the words, but I thought it was so incredibly awkward to stand there while people sang, some with arms in the air and tears in their eyes.

For the first few months of my church going experience this continued to be the norm for me. I was there to hear the sermons and learn as much as possible, I could do without the singing.

Until it moved me.

Somewhere along the way I fell so deeply in love with Jesus that I couldn’t imagine not getting to worship him. I do it on my own often, but there is something different about corporate worship. Something different about hearing a multitude of other’s singing worship and praises too.

I had a professor recently tell me “put your body into worship and your heart will follow.” I tested him out by putting my hands up and closing my eyes when I was having a challenging morning and really didn’t feel up to worshiping. He was right. My heart caught up and remembered the purpose for my worship and adoration: My Jesus.

I was particularly moved this past Sunday, perhaps you could say touched by the Spirit Himself. The song “Who You Say I Am” was playing, and that always moves me to my core.

“Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am”*
I am declaring the truths of these words, arms lifted high to the heavens, tears of gratitude filling my eyes. I am a child of God. I am chosen. I am loved. God has a place for me where I am welcome. These lyrics are the opposite of most radio lyrics that often bring feelings of discontentment.

I hear the voices of my church family declaring the same truths. I intentionally paid attention to all the unique voices around me, people who’s stories I know. Some with deep pain, and others in a season of rejoicing. Together, all of us are united in our love for our Saviour.

This feeling,…this indescribable feeling, this is heaven on earth. Or at least a foretaste. Suddenly in my worship experience I am drawn away from my body and I visualize us all worshiping in heaven, together. Except in heaven there will be no pain, and our worship will be focused entirely on gratitude and love.

The book of Revelation presents many visuals of angels worshipping God in heaven, in the throne room where God Himself dwells. These verses come to mind and I realize in our corporate worship setting, angels are among us also worshiping alongside us.

This is the heart of worship. Singing praises and adoration to the King of Kings in a sea of voices of my own brothers and sisters in Christ, with angels among us. I don’t know that I’ve ever experience a more gratifying moment to visualize the beauty of what will be my eternity.

I am so thankful. I can’t wait for the real deal someday.
*Lyrics to “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong. Link to music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKw6uqtGFfo

Are you mad at God?

Are you mad at God?

Did things not turn out the way that you thought would be best for your own life?

Do you feel like He must not want you because the circumstances you have encountered? Maybe your childhood seemed unfair, or your spouse left you? Maybe you got passed over for the promotion at work that you were so deserving of? Maybe you seem to be quick to blame God for whatever ails you – physical or otherwise?

Or, perhaps you just feel like He’s abandoned you? The God who once spoke so clearly to you now seems hauntingly quiet. Maybe your ministry work or church efforts aren’t going as you anticipated, and you’re giving all this effort for God’s Kingdom and mad that He hasn’t seemed to have rewarded that effort?

Whatever the case and cause, people get mad at God. Anger is a normal emotion that so many us of struggle with. And when you catch a case of the “itsnotfairisms” anger is the first to rear its ugly head.

Consider Martha, Mary and Lazarus if you will. The Bible tells us all three were known to Jesus, John 11:5 says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus“.  They were known and loved by Jesus himself, so when the sisters sent word to Jesus who was travelling that Lazarus was sick, they expected Jesus to return at once and heal him. 

Instead, much to their sorrow and despair, Jesus returns too late, and Lazarus dies. Imagine their anger. They knew Jesus was able to heal their brother, and they trusted that when word of his illness reached Jesus, he would come and help! They expected to God to show up, and He didn’t. Imagine how helpless and angry they must have been.

By the time we get to John 11:14, Jesus tells those he’s with that Lazarus is dead and he must return to Judea. Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. He surely must have known how upset Martha and Mary would be, but he also knew how God could be most glorified.

So what does Martha do? It would be easy for her to stew in her anger, to walk away from God, and to blame him for the circumstances that have caused her grief. This type of thing is what so many of us do in our anger. This situation didn’t work exactly as I had wanted to, therefore God must be blamed, as though he is some sort of cosmic Santa Claus promising each of us exactly what we wanted.

But Martha doesn’t do that. Instead, she goes to meet Jesus and air her grievances. Mary stayed home, quite possibly overwhelmed with sadness and anger having felt betrayed at Jesus not returning to heal her brother quickly one can imagine. Martha hears that Jesus is returning and heads out to meet him, and John 11:21 says “ “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

If Jesus knew without returning that Lazarus was dead, surely he knew Martha was angry. God always knows, so why not tell Him? Martha did exactly that, she approached God with all of her feelings and aired them out, almost as though she was holding Jesus accountable. God already knows our hearts and our internal struggles, we don’t have to hide them! What good would it have done Martha to say “Hey Jesus, Lazarus is dead but I’m okay” like so many of us do when we pray and try to hide our anger from God.

God is the God of the universe, He can handle your anger. Go ahead and tell Him. Tell Him why you’re angry. Tell Him why you feel betrayed. Tell Him why your upset and let Him work through that.  You will never resolve anything by hiding the truth from God.

Perhaps in these prayer moments, you will get an answer. Maybe He will call you to action in the situation you feel is unfair because He knows you have the courage to make changes or advocate for others going through the same trial? Maybe He will just assure you that the end is not yet here and to be patient. Or maybe you won’t get an answer, but you will feel better having been honest with God and let it all out. There is a huge benefit to getting the anger out instead of allowing it to grow and harden your heart. Trust me, God can take it. He can handle your anger, He can handle your tears, your frustrations, your doubts. And He can work through them too.

The amazing part is though Martha and Mary’s situation looked bleak, and they felt angry that Jesus didn’t come to heal their brother before he died, the story doesn’t end there. Jesus assures Martha that her brother will again rise, which she believes alludes to the resurrection at the last day. He calls for Mary, and she immediately comes and basically tells him the same thing Martha did, in John 11:32(b) Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both sisters were able to air their anger and disappointment. 

Jesus does not get mad at them for this. He doesn’t call them ungrateful for doubting in him. He doesn’t accuse them of placing blame where it shouldn’t be.  Instead, John 11:33 says: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Jesus sees her weeping and was deeply moved! We need to rest assured that the same stands true for us, even today.

When Jesus sees our sadness, our anger at things not going right, our resentment for the trials we face, he doesn’t sigh and roll his eyes and think “there they go again moaning and groaning, those ungrateful heathens.” No, the very opposite: He is moved and deeply troubled.

His love for us is far greater than we can imagine, we need to allow Jesus space to comfort us. How? Ask him! Ask for God’s comfort, often. He will provide it. Wouldn’t you rather be healed and comforted than hide your anger and act like everything is fine? We have not because we ask not sometimes, so ask away! In Verse 35, we see that “Jesus wept.” He cried with those mourning. He never blamed Martha or Mary for seemingly rebuking him and he wept with them. 

Jesus eventually reminds them that if they believe, they will see God’s glory. He enters the tomb four days after Lazarus has passed away, prays to His Heavenly Father, and calls Lazarus to come out. Much to everyone’s amazement, out walks Lazarus.

Had Jesus shown up and healed Lazarus when he was ill, he would have been glorified, yes. But, by waiting and letting the situation play out as it did, he was able to provide us with an example of how to handle our own anger through Martha and Mary, to show his own compassion and then was able to be glorified to many others. Think of how many people would have heard Lazarus’ testimony of being healed, versus how many who had heard he had died and four days later heard he was healed, even from death.

John 11 reminds us that God is worthy to be trusted. When He doesn’t show up as we think He should, we can take our anger to Him for our healing and also trust that our story isn’t over yet, or the wholeness of our situation hasn’t yet been revealed. Regardless of how our stories play out, we know that God loves us, he longs to comfort us, and he can be glorified through even our anger, pain and grief just as he was through Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Ultimately we know that God is God, and we are people. We are not all-knowing and omniscient, so even when things work out the opposite way we want them to we can trust that God knows better and has better planned. We can tell Him our disappointment and trust that He will be able to work through our honest and heart wrenching prayers. We can trust that even when it doesn’t seem so, God does know better than we do:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28. 

 

 

 

Why does Christianity still matter?

Recently, I was asked to reflect on the topic ‘Why Christianity Still Matters.’ Of course besides the obvious things that came to mind, including salvation, church potlucks and community, one thing really crossed my mind. And, here you have it:

The world shouts so much to each of us.  If you ever sit back and think about all the messages you hear in a day you will recognize your inferiority.

You will never be rich enough to own all the houses, cars and technology that will make you elite amongst the world.

You will never be good enough looking, have an attractive enough figure, or be stylish enough to be the envy of all.

You will never be good enough for all those who want more from you, whatever that looks like.

Over and over from birth to death we are bombarded with reminders that we are not enough. We need the latest trends in furniture so our home looks magazine worthy, expensive sports cars in the driveway, and all the latest gadgets and gizmos. We need unnecessary surgeries or fancy make up, and diets galore so we can fit into only the finest brand name clothing. We need to know all the latest news, celebrity updates and have several degrees under our belt.

The rise of social media has not helped at all, with us all so connected online to worlds where we brag incessantly about our greatest moments. As we sift through the newsfeeds of other’s highlight reels in our darker moments, the world reminds us again that we are never going to be good enough.

Its no wonder that people are miserable, mental health struggles are so common and suicides fill our news headlines so often. Families are falling apart all around us. People are so broken and lonely. Depression and anxiety haunt society and further convince people they aren’t good enough.

On top of being not good enough, society reminds us to only think of one person: Me. You want this? Go get it, after all you deserve it! There is no time to burden yourself thinking of others when you ought to think about you first!

It’s exasperating. We are destined to fail regardless of the effort we put in because it will never be enough! And when we do fail the entire world knows about it as our mistakes are blasted all over social media before we’ve even been found guilty for strangers to condemn and judge us.

We are walking a fine line of perfection, trying to keep our heads above water in a world and culture that will always remind us we still have so much more to go. The societal bar is set at an unachievable height for us to reach.

Millions of voices to reminds us, we aren’t enough, we will never be enough and we are far from perfect.

But there is one voice that outweighs them all: The voice of God. People are imperfect, even after their redemption, they remain broken humans. But God, He is perfect. He is sinless. He is blameless.

We can trust the millions of imperfect and broken voices we hear from people, or we can choose to trust the one authoritative and perfect voice of God. All the voices of the world together, still can not compare to one whisper from God Almighty.

In this broken, exhausted and malnourished world, Christianity doesn’t just matter, but is crucial for such a time as this.

The Bible tells us the very opposite of the world’s incessant demands. In scripture, we read truths about who we are and what our purpose is.  If God loved Noah who drank, Moses who killed, and David who cheated, then He is fully capable of loving us too.

If Jesus spent time with the unloved, those who burdened society with their lack of knowledge, their tax collections, their fishermen smells, their pasts with sexual immorality, then he surely must love us too. Even if we don’t have the latest gadgets, and our house is often messy at best. Regardless of our weight, or lack of muscle. Regardless of our knowledge or efforts. He just loves us, regardless.

The world, with its lack of Biblical knowledge looks at the Christian life as restricting and boring. Christians can’t have the fun the world offers, so they think. Christians have rules and who would want to sacrifice their #SundayFunday with a couple hours of listening to some person ramble on about some man who died so long ago.

But, it’s the very opposite. Nothing is more liberating than true Christian freedom!

True Christian freedom allows people to submit their weakness to the God who created the universe. Depression, anxiety, whatever else ails you. God is bigger than that. He can handle it. It encourages us to give generously to others, be it our time or resources.  When we are not trapped in the endless cycle of me, me, me, we are free to find joy in serving others.

True Christian freedom tells us we are created with a purpose, that God wants us exactly as He created us, each part of our imperfect self is intentionally created. The Holy Spirit fills us regardless of what clothes we have, and what size we are.

True Christian freedom reminds us that death isn’t the end. We have no reason to live in fear anymore. It teaches us to forgive, and not just others but ourselves, letting go of the poison an angry world wants us to inhale. We are free.

As Paul writes, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons to knock down the stronghold of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments” (2 Corinthians 10:4, NLT).

Christianity doesn’t just still matter, it matters even more in a world starved of true freedom and hungry for authoritative truth. Now more than ever, we need to help the broken find redemption, and the one true voice they are starving to hear.

When we sit and dwell on God’s truths, His one mighty voice is capable of drowning out the millions of lies we hear every single day.

 

Conquering Evil

The final verse of Romans 12, a chapter dedicated to the commitment of being living sacrifices to God, ends this way with verse 21: “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (NLT)

What a hard pill to swallow.

Its so easy to read these verses in hypothetical thoughts and situations, but when it becomes time to apply them it’s not so simple.

Every single day, we have a choice what we do with all that is done to us. Do we allow the toxicity around us, whatever form it comes in, to boil up inside our bodies until we explode with rage and become bitter, hate-fueled broken versions of ourselves?

Or, do we accept the brokenness of the world means that broken people exist all around us, and sometimes even in our own selves?

The latter gives us freedom to forgive. Peace. Calmness.

It doesn’t mean bad things didn’t happen to us, and it doesn’t mean we are doormats to be walked over, but rather it means we accept what is the past and don’t bring it into our future so that we can live towards hope, and freedom from the fuel that anger gives.

This is the very illustration of salvation.

Jesus is God. He never sinned, and is not capable of sinning, yet he bore all of mankind’s sin on the cross for our benefit. What did he stand to gain by doing this? He was already a part of the Triune God, so its not like he didn’t have all that he needed.

Us on the other hand – we are broken, faulty, and purely vile next to his goodness. And yet he doesn’t see us that way.

Just as sin was imputed on all of mankind in the garden of Eden, so was forgiveness for all sins placed upon Jesus. One man brought disaster upon the entire human race, and an other redeemed us all.

How easily could Jesus have become enraged at our sin? How easily could he have recognized our desires to do evil things that sometimes don’t seem forgivable? How easily could he have let evil conquer, choosing not to do good?

But he didn’t. Thankfully for us, he willingly decided to let good prevail, and since his death, hundreds of thousands of people have been redeemed and set free from bondage, been forgiven and forgiven others.

If Jesus had left us to our own devices, how much darker would this world be? How much more cruel, manipulating and evil would this world be?

It had to start somewhere. Someone had to be brave enough to defeat evil with good. Someone had to be humble enough to not fight for the last word, try and prove they’re right, accept the evil that was done to them without retaliating.

And that is exactly what Jesus did.

And that is exactly with Paul is asking of us in this verse.

‘Christian’ means “Little Christ.” We can never fully be Christ because we aren’t God, but we can try and be more like him every day, little versions of him all over this world.

That’s what we do when we imitate him and let evil be conquered by good, no matter how hard it is. One small step at a time.

Return contempt with a smile.

Forgive without an apology.

Shrug off the feelings of anger.

Dwell on the positive attributes of even the worst people.

Love.

Love.

Love.

If you want to make this world a better place, truly love. No strings attached. No conditions. No measurement of an other person’s worthiness. Just Love.

The world is dark enough, what we need now is more light.

Don’t let the darkness conquer you, but rather shine as bright as you can. Always.

 

 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” – Romans 12:9-10, NLT.

Offer the Other Cheek?

I’ve always paid extra close attention to the red letters in the Bible. They are the ones that record Jesus’ actual words. I try to visualize the context, and picture him saying the things that he does. I must admit though, some times his words seem hard to swallow.  I am a huge advocator for owning a study Bible, because truly you benefit so much from having a ready made explanation right on the same page as the verse in question.

Case in point, Matthew 5:39,But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Jesus said this. But doesn’t this seem entirely the opposite of logic? Do not resist an evil person? Really? I want an evil person as far away from me as possible! And, let them slap me a second time? Instincts wont even allow that – we’d duck, move or protect ourselves after one slap I’m sure.

Taking the time to assess the scriptures, and really try and understand what Jesus meant when he said all that he did truly helps especially in a situation like this.

We need to remember to look at things in context within the era they were said, and culture has certainly changed over the last 2000 years.  For that matter, cultural changes can exist even from town to town, so clearly what was the norm in the 1st century Palestine is far from what’s considered normal today.

In Jesus’ time, the expression was “that was a slap on the cheek.” Today, my generation would say “that was a kick below the belt” or as they started saying when I was a teenager, and my oldest child has now learned “burrrrrn!” So the simple way to look at Jesus’ words here are “If someone burns you, let them burn you again.”

Still, this doesn’t seem to make sense – why would Jesus advocate for us to allow people to insult us?

Jesus knows the truth of who we are, he knows every part of our heart, even the parts we hide from others. So when someone ‘burns’ you, he knows the words of an evil person are meaningless. In a roundabout way, Jesus is telling us to ignore their words.

Why would we allow an awful person’s hurtful words to hurt our feelings? Easy to say, but not so easily to apply as I am sure everyone can think of a time someone else’s words crushed them.

But also, Jesus is reminding us that their words mean nothing – imagine for example someone who’s opinion you value calls you a worthless person, and you are hurt beyond belief.  Jesus is trying to tell you that’s simply not true. Ignore that comment, and recognize its coming from a hurt person.

Healthy, productive people do not go around trying to hurt and belittle people (even when they have a legitimate issue with them.)

Jesus is trying to say “I know you already, and I know them too. I know they are hurt and their words are coming from a space of hurt, but I also know you, and I call you full of worth. I do not find your identity in what that person says of you, I find it in what I know to be true of you and therefore you can ignore their words, or turn the other cheek.”

I do not believe for one second that Jesus was meaning for us too allow ourselves to be abused ever but especially in this verse.  I think its easy for someone to misunderstand this verse, especially when they don’t have the Holy Spirit guiding them as they read scripture, or when they are not sure of the entire context.

Jesus would never want to see anyone he loved enough to give his life for be abused or hurt, and I think that’s exactly why he gave us these words. He wants us to forgive hurt people instead of harbouring on their thoughts knowing they need perhaps more grace than we can imagine. He wants us to stand firm in our identity in him, rather than what mere people say about us.

Jesus wants us to not drink the poison that stewing, hatred and anger offer. He wants us to be full of grace and forgiveness which is why he modelled that for us. But he also wants us to call ourselves heirs to the throne, daughters and sons of God Almighty, perfectly and wonderfully made, made in His image and loved beyond our capacity to understand!

The next time someone burns you, let it go. Remember normal healthy people don’t destroy others. They need your grace more than your anger.  Most importantly, remember who you are in Christ, that is where your true identity comes from! No one’s words can ever take that away from you.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33, NIV.

 

 

It All Happened As It Did.

The study of theology (the study of God) has been a phenomenal experience for me. It has drawn me closer to God, filling me with more awe and wonder at His workings, and most excitingly has encouraged my love for Him to grow so much deeper.

Most amazing to me is how much didn’t have to happen.

Creation didn’t have to happen. God had a beautiful relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit long before the world began.

People didn’t need to exist. Heaven is full of angels who love and honour God in worship.

Forgiveness of Original Sin didn’t need to be done. God could have turned his back on the entire human race at that point because we are not here to keep him from boredom.

Jesus never had to come to earth. He was comfortable in the heavens, dwelling in God’s love.

The cross never had to happen. Jesus was fully God and could have chosen to overcome to situation or not submit to God’s Will for forgiveness.

Yet. It all happened.

God created a beautiful world. He was angered by the snare of sin in the garden (yet not surprised – as Satan had already sinned against God long before the fruit was given to Eve.)

He found ways to show his chosen people mercy even before Jesus entered the world, knowing fully that complete restoration was coming.

He knew the exact right time and hour to send Jesus. He knew exactly how to do it. He sent him both as a man and fully God, allowing Jesus the ability to be separate from us as a human species by being God and also by allowing us the ability to connect with him on a personal level knowing he shared our temptations in the flesh.

Every single part of God’s plan was perfectly laid out.

When Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow, just before his disciples fled and abandoned him as he faced the knowledge of the excruciatingly painful death that was coming momentarily, while literally bearing all the guilt and shame of the world’s sin he begged God to make it happen an other way. And still, he completely submitted himself saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

He was fully God. He had all the potential and capability to change the outcome. Not to mention, he ultimately could have rebelled just like Satan did (or even taken Satan up on his offers during the 40 days Jesus fasted for, while totally abandoning God and never redeeming us – God’s creation.) So, why wouldn’t he?

Jesus knew the Father’s love. Back before the world was even created, there was a relationship that was so full of love and perfection that all relationships should be modelled after it: That of Jesus and his Father.

Yet knowing also how much God loved us, His creation, Jesus was willing to step out of the Heavens and into the earth, away from the direct presence of his Father’s love to live a life of example for us, and to die for our atonement, reconciling the creation with the Creator.

Prior to that, he basked in God’s love. He felt the glory of God’s presence. He worshiped the great I AM and out of that perfect love, he was strong enough to live and die in the manner that he did simply because he wanted us to have a chance to know that great love too.

None of it had to happen, but it did. God created the world. He forgave. He reconciled with us. He allowed his son to suffer so that in our sufferings, we can find strength that’s already been modeled.

And Jesus knew it was all going to be worth it so that some day you and I can sit in the Father’s presence, to bask in His love, to worship Him among angels. To be free of pain and misery, and full of the most complete and perfect love there ever was. There is literally no greater gift.

And that’s why it all happened as it did: Love.

 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  – 1 John 4:7-8, NIV

 

Why Guarded Hearts?

So, Why Guarded Hearts? And whats with the reference to Proverbs 4:23?

Early on in my faith walk, I realized Proverbs 4:23 is a life verse for me, in the New Living Translation (NLT) it reads:

“Guard your heart above all else,
    for it determines the course of your life.

This verse came to me after several periods of growth and regression as a Christian. I began to realize the truth behind it – the more I immersed myself in the truth of the Bible, the more I felt closer to God. The more I felt closer to God, the happier and more joyful I felt. The more joyful I felt, the more I sang praise and worship, and sought out private time to pray to God through out my day.

On the contrary, when I would miss a few days of Bible reading, I would find myself quick to react, frustrated and just down in the dumps. I would avoid prayer because when I’m angry, I don’t feel the least bit interested in praying to God (most times if I’m being honest, it’s because I know my anger is not justifiable, and is instead caused by my own selfish thinking.) I would spend more time watching TV that I knew was not at all helpful in my life (lets all compare ourselves to a pretend storyline), reading things I shouldn’t be reading (lets all complain about our spouses) and then would drown my sorrows in some music that often had selfish motives. I’d wonder where God was, but it was clearly me that moved.

I began to recognize over and over the importance of my relationship with God and what I fed my mind. Just like I take vitamins to help my physical health, so too do I need to take something for my spiritual well being. When I’m spiritually well and healthy, the rest of my life seems to follow suit: my anxiety lessens, my patience increases, and most importantly I am just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I am literally that person walking around with a dopey grin on my face, just loving life.

I recognized how much this verse was not just a reminder for me to immerse myself in the goodness of the Bible, prayer and meditating on how God sees me, but also a way of life. My Christian faith doesn’t just guarantee me life in heaven when my time here expires, but also promises victory in there here and now, and honestly who doesn’t want that?

I was very fortunate to have several leadership opportunities before me, which enabled me to teach others discipleship tactics. I still can not believe the blessing I received to be able to speak into the lives of others, and encourage them in their faith. It was an incredible opportunity that showed me I was made for ministry work. On a personal note, I also began to really work on healing from the pain of my past, and I have found so much victory in the Word of God and this life that I never knew before now.

That is what motivates me: I want to encourage others to pursue the victory God offers them! I was surprised when many people began to speak into my life, and tell me I should be writing, and that I had a way with my written words. I started with a simple blog and honestly most posts were written because the message was in my head and was burning a hole, like allowance money in a child’s pocket.  But, this lead to confirmation that God was indeed calling me to write.

I was away at a Christian camp when I had this vision of a webpage, full of encouraging discipleship material, things to encourage spouses, parents, and Christians in general. I pictured guest authors, and a community full of encouragement built from the authoritative Word of God, the Bible itself.

I knew right away the name, Guarded Hearts. When you guard yourself in God’s word, keep yourself covered in prayer, and spend time reflecting on Jesus and who he is, you are immersing yourself in victory. You are literally guarding your heart, and determining that the course you take will be one of victory.

That is my goal: to encourage readers to victory in their lives. To instill in them a desire to open their Bible and read. To strengthen their knowledge of God, and what he wants for them.

So here we are.

Guarded Hearts Ministries… a place of encouragement for all aspects of Christian life, with an emphasis on Christian truths. A place where people can be encouraged to immerse themselves in all of the goodness that God has promised to his children. A place of different areas built on one key ministry concept: Guarding your heart above all else, and letting it determine your steps.

Thank you for reading, encouraging me and praying for this ministry as it begins and hopefully grows for the years to come.

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❤ Leslie Deane-Mountjoy