Why I Value “The Chosen” as a Pastor

A couple of days ago I posted on Facebook that I thought the new crowd sourced TV show, “The Chosen” was incredible. They state that for a mere $100 million USD they could film and complete all 8 seasons they hope to do. I really pray they are able to meet this measly amount because the content of this show is fantastic! One of my friends wondered why I thought this show was so great. I haven’t responded yet because I wanted to reflect and try to discern my attraction for this show and this portrayal of Jesus. Here are a few of the reasons I came up with and I’ll keep them short because there were SO MANY great aspects of this show…

  1. Context. As a pastor who has been preaching almost every week, I do a lot of studying about the passage and its context. Who was it written to? How would the original hearers understand and apply what was being said? What was happening historically at the time? What were the customs surrounding the message and how might they be affected? They say a sermon is like an iceberg — less than 10% of the effort put into it is actually seen. This TV show is like that. They have put a TON of effort into studying the context of Jesus, his disciples, what was being said and how it was being heard and how radical of a message it was! How they knit conversations together and brought light to their impact can really stir our hearts and minds to dive deeper into what we THINK we know about the bible and have read there.
  2. Culture. Part of context is understanding the culture and they have really done an incredible job researching and trying to communicate the culture of the day. How would we know what sabbath looked like and how it was practiced? Its one thing to read about it but to see it in action is very cool. We know the Jews were being ruled over by the Romans and we know they were being heavily taxed but how did that translate into the community and what were the repercussions of that? To hear and see and feel the weight of the Roman occupancy on screen really adds dimension to what we might gloss over in our readings of the biblical story. The writers explain cultural practices in such a way that we can enter in and better understand what is happening without it feeling like they are “dumbing it down” and we are invited in seamlessly into the story. A great example of this is the wedding where Jesus turns the water into wine. So many subtle touches of what it would have looked like and how the shortage of wine was a huge societal embarrassment.
  3. Filling in the blanks. In the bible we have only the smallest, most minute amount of information about Jesus and what his ministry would have looked like. I remember as a child wondering, “Yes but how did he live? Where did he sleep? How did he eat? How did they travel together? How could they afford it?” That was me as a child? As an adult I had even more pragmatic questions like, “How did this ministry affect the marriages of the disciples who followed Jesus? How would the group have reacted to a tax collector suddenly being a part of them? How do the women fit into the context of a travelling group because we are told there were women who not only learned from Jesus but contributed to his ministry and were close friends?” YES, I understand there was creative license taken by the writers but they did a marvellous job of having it make sense. It is rational and well thought out. I love that Nicodemus is a main character in the mix because we know historically he was a disciple of Jesus caught in the religion and politics of the day.
  4. Relationships. I can read the passages of Jesus calling his disciples but often can forget how tight knit a community he lived in. People knew each other’s business and knew OF each other. I love how they interact and how Jesus treats people who are the lowly, rejected, and cast-aways. I love the interactions between the disciples struggling to figure out how to live and work alongside of each other in a closer context. Thinking of parents and how they would have felt seeing their children (who were meant to take over their business in the future) leaving everything behind to follow this rebel rabbi really has caused me to think as I see it playing out on the screen. How would Nicodemus have approached Jesus and struggled with what following Jesus would have meant for his life and marriage?
  5. Creative license. As I previously mentioned, there has been some creative license taken, in fact, at the very beginning they put a disclaimer at the beginning stating some of the events have been modified or shifted on the timeline of story telling. My first thought when I read that was, “This should be interesting.” At the end my thought was, “That was tastefully done and well thought out and they captured the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah so well that any license they took was well handled.” But CAN THEY DO THAT?! Well, think of the Gospels and how they are written. I just purchased a book called “A Harmony Of The Gospels” where they are laid out in columns beside each other to compare the details. Some gospels are missing stories, others have stories unique only to their accounting, some highlight different details BUT ALL OF THEM do so in order to share the Gospel in a particular way to reach a particular reader. I know this TV show is NOT scripture but they do follow a historical practice of telling about Jesus in a way that would effectively reach the listener and, in my humble opinion, they have honoured God in how they have done this.
  6. Script-writing and Story-telling. Christian films over the years have proven that there can never be enough poorly conceived stories filled with bad dialogue and cringe-worthy cliches. I know that sounds harsh but I truly believe it has been earned and is true. I can hear some of you upset with me writing this and already you have on the tip of your tongues examples to prove me wrong. And, I humbly agree, there have been a few movies over of the years that have come out that have not been too bad — I consider those outliers. The script-writing in The Chosen I found to be delightful. It was intelligent, free from cliches and represented real dialogues that people would/could have. The story-telling was well interwoven and thought through intelligently building a plot-line that made sense. There must be a HUGE storyboard somewhere where they are mapping out the Gospels and side-stories to intersect. Watching this show truly was an adventure in seeing what was happening on screen while my heart and mind searched what I knew of scriptures wondering how on earth they were ever going to bring the two together. Delightful! I also liked how they introduced Jesus teaching people recognizing that he would have been teaching the people the same things he was teaching the disciples over and over again. What Jesus taught from a boat he would have taught from a hill, from a chair in a home, along the road while he walked. He was beating the drum of the Kingdom of God over and over and over again. I loved that they not only thought of that but put it into the story-lines to help expand our understanding of what it would have been like to hear Jesus teach to multiple groups in multiple places. His words would have been so challenging that a one time listen would not have been enough to even begin to understand because it was such a different perspective.
  7. Jesus. I know it is very challenging to portray Jesus on film. There have been many interpretations over the years of what he looked like and how he acted. After we finished watching all 8 episodes we looked at the extras and found an interview between the director and the actor who portrays Jesus. They discussed how he went about trying to act out Christ in ways he sensed Christ would be, how Christ would speak, how Christ would respond to people. In this discussion the actor explained that The Chosen has a unique edge in how they can portray Christ because it is being done in a series that can breath instead of a movie where there is a time crunch. Upon reflection, I can see how this is very true. We can see the humour and humanity of Jesus. We can see how he takes time for people — that he had to walk everywhere. We get to see his pacing of life and the challenges he faced with the disciples. We get to see his delight when the Father answers his requests for miracles to take place and people are being restored, finding hope and experiencing the love of God. Most of all, we get to see his consistent compassion, care and love for a people he saw as “sheep without a shepherd.” Upon writing this, I feel it might even be unfair to compare Jesus in The Chosen with others in movies because of the unique opportunity this brings to breath life into the portrayal of Christ. Even though we aren’t seeing a show in Hebrew with English subtitles we certainly aren’t seeing the Swedish Viking Jesus speaking in an English accent. Fantastic. Simply fantastic. Of course there is a huge danger I see with this. As this portrayal of Jesus warms our hearts and even has us grow in our love of what Jesus could have looked like and how he could have ministered, it means that the suffering of this Jesus could strike an even deeper emotional chord in us than ever before when they portray the crucifixion of Christ. In fact, to have seen such a loving, caring Jesus only creates a more extreme contrast to the hate and sin that puts him on a cross. Part of me is dreading seeing that while the other part anticipates how great the love of God will powerfully shine through.

You may be wondering if there is anything I did NOT like? Not really. Anything I would point to would surely be picky. For example, the biggest weakness for me in the show are the Roman soldiers. I like that they included a Germanic soldier in the cast as the Romans did absorb and conscript their defeated into their army (for numerous strategic reasons). BUT, when I think of Roman soldiers I think of guys that would have looked at the MMA and sneered. I imagine them as being tanned from hours out in the hot eastern sun. I imagine them muscular and hardened from hours upon hours of hard training to be the best fighting machines of their time. I imagine their uniforms to be in good condition but made of hardy materials that look battle ready. Instead, I find these soldiers to be pasty, skinny and their uniforms to be cheap looking…but again, this is pickiness on my part and most likely the influence of Hollywood on my imagination. I really liked the visual of the soldiers in The Passion Of The Christ and wished they would have followed that a bit more closely. That being said, please hear me in this, what they did with the budget they had is INCREDIBLE! The Passion Of The Christ was made for $30 million USD and added $15 Million USD on top of that for advertising. It was 2 hours and 7 minutes long. The Chosen filmed for $10 million USD and did 8 episodes that I’m thinking worked out to 6 hours on screen time. That is impressive. VERY impressive in my humble opinion.

There are so many other things that come to my mind about what I loved about this show. Is it perfect? No. But as a pastor who cringes whenever I hear of an upcoming release of Bible on film, it was refreshing and a delightful journey that I hope continues for 7 more seasons. I believe God was honoured by how His love was portrayed on screen and the viewers were honoured by the intelligent and interesting crafting of the story of the life of the Messiah. I pray this show would bless people and draw people to Christ. When I think of the timing of this release plus the social restrictions the world is experiencing I have to marvel and the timing of God for the Gospel to go out. I find myself praying that when we emerge from COVID, there will be a great harvest of believers seeking to grow as disciples because as they were locked down they sought out hope and God provided Good News for them in multiple formats — one of which I pray has been The Chosen. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and opinions. I pray you are blessed.

[NOTE: This is a first draft of my thoughts so I may update and polish this further in the future 😊]

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Prayers by Ted Loder

I just came across these prayers by Ted Loder in his book, “Gorillas of Grace” and it perfectly describes my heart as I look to a new season of ministry in a new church family. 😊

I Tremble on the Edge of a Maybe

O God of beginnings, as your Spirit moved over the face of the deep on the first day of creation, move with me now in my time of beginnings,

when the air is rain-washed, the bloom is on the bush, and the worlds seems fresh and full of possibilities, and I feel ready and full.

I tremble on the edge of a maybe, a first time, a new thing, a tentative start, and the wonder of it lays its finger on my lips.

In silence, Lord, I share now my eagerness and my uneasiness about this something different I would be or do;

and I listen for your leading to help me separate the light from the darkness in the change I seek to shape and which is shaping me.

Bring More of What I Dream

O God, who out of nothing brought everything that is, out of what I am bring more of what I dream but haven’t dared; direct my power and passion

to creating life where there is death, to putting flesh of action on bare-boned intentions, to lighting fires against the midnight of indifference, to throwing bridges of care

across canyons of loneliness; so I can look on creation, together with you, and, behold, call it very good; through Jesus Christ my Lord.

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Resting in God’s Commandments for Christians

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. – 1 John 3:19-24

COVID-19 lockdown has now been going on for weeks here in Canada. I would love to tell you that as a pastor I have taken all of these “extra” moments in time to sit down in a quiet place with my Bible and have done hours of extra study seeing things I have never seen before and growing so deeper with Christ that when we all emerge I will have been so transformed no one will even recognize me. I really wish this would have been my truth up until today.

Instead, my reality has been a mix of wonderful learnings about new technology and having meetings with church leaders and other people like family and friends. I’ve done some computer and guitar maintenance for others and self. Doing some video taping for worship services. Sorting through music for the next number of weeks worship to record. A portion of time has been taken up by rearranging the house for our “new normal” of having both my wife and I working from home. I now have a little music studio setup in our living room ready to record songs tomorrow with Garage Band (a definite first for me). And I’ve been in to start sorting out my study at the church as I look to the future and my transition into a new church ministry amid all of this insanity. I feel like I have been BUSY!

The other part of time has been spent dealing with two sick cats we are struggling to diagnose and figure out how to get healthy again without an insane vet bill. Energy is being spent adapting to being with people all the time. (If you are an extrovert you will have little sympathy for me but if you are an introvert you totally get what I just wrote.) There are huge moments of reflection where I wonder (and worry) if I am doing enough, meeting expectations and needs, wondering what I can do more in ministry when my internal compulsion is just to dive down into a cocoon of privacy and just try to process and recharge by myself. Some time has been spent reading and watching the latest tv shows and movies I had been too busy to watch before. I never realized how much time one could spend making food, eating food and cleaning up after.

All of that to say…whether introvert or extrovert…whether you are with people or alone…in this time there is a LOT of reflection being done. If I simply stew by myself I find I get even more drained and no good comes from that but if I go back to my source for life, Jesus, and his Word, I find peace settles in and I can begin to breath again. I love the passage from 1 John that is noted above. Perhaps there is no other passage in all of scripture that summarizes what life looks like for believers POST-CROSS. This is an important distinction to make when we read scripture and try to apply Jesus’s teachings. When Jesus was teaching the public he often amplified the Law to show people how impossible it was to live for God according to the Law. When we as Christians look to Jesus’s teaching PRE-CROSS we need to be careful we aren’t applying truths to our lives that simply don’t apply to us as followers of Jesus who are freed from what he, and only he, accomplished on the cross.

What are the commands of God? How can we live in freedom in Christ? How do I be free from my own heart that is always condemning me for not doing enough for Jesus? In this COVID lockdown my previous way of understanding and applying the Gospel simply cannot work, is not working, will not work, and I am left feeling bereft of purpose! What peace we can have when we know that God is greater than our heart! If you’re like me, NO ONE can condemn me more than my heart. No one. But when we realize God knows the truth of who we are and His love pierces through our guilt to bring peace and knowledge that we are God’s beloved and we belong to Him…our hearts cease to condemn us. Everything is good! Everything is taken care of in Jesus! Then we are bring to God our requests in prayer with confidence because our hearts are aligned with him. Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath means we can constantly rest from our work because we live in him.

But what are we supposed to be DOING? Surely we are not called to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good?! No, that’s true. God has left us true commandments that overshadow the Law.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

First, believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ. This statement is so packed with nutrient-dense truths. We believe in order to receive salvation. We also continue believing because Jesus fulfills everything for us. All that we think we need to do to earn God’s love or maintain our own righteousness, Jesus does for us. If we cease to believe that we begin to strive to grow our own righteousness and earn our place before God. That is not freedom in the complete work of Christ — that is slavery to a goal we can never accomplish. Second, love one another, just as he commanded us. How is that? Love our neighbour as ourselves? Nope. That portion is under that PRE-CROSS teachings of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that we are to love one another just as he loved us. There is a new standard in town, folks, and it isn’t to love others as we love ourselves. Its to love others with the same love we have received from God.

*GULP!* How? HOW?! Relax. Have peace! Don’t let your heart condemn you in this moment of clarity. John continues to write this, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” God lives in us. That’s right! That word “abide” means that God lives IN US! That means we can love each other how God loves us because God will love them through us. God’s love in us — God’s love through us and all through the power of the Holy Spirit God has given to us.

Some of you are struggling right now. You are struggling so hard I can hear it! HOW? How can God live IN me when I still struggle with sin? That is a great question for another day. I will answer it with another question though, “Would God attach Himself to sin?” No. No, He would not. When you became a Christian and God forgave you of your sins you were cleansed — you were forgiven and are forgiven (past tense). Paul talks about how our flesh and our sin nature battle against our redeemed self (book of Romans) but our spirit, our person, is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come. God IN us. We are clean! We still struggle with sin because we are still using sin to define us. But when we realize that we are loved and cleansed and stand before God unashamed and righteous, the appeal of sin gets destroyed and we find our fulfilment in Christ who bought us and saved us and caused HIS light to shine in our hearts.

So here I sit in COVID lockdown to discover I’ve slipped back into the “doing” mode instead of living in the “being” mode. If you are like me, just sitting down with Scripture in a focused way, with the TV off, the phone on silent and placed in a drawer in another room for a “time out”, can bring back the joy of my salvation. I can begin to untangle from the worries and anxieties of life in the “new normal.” And I can sit and wonder at the love God has for me. I can breath in the truth of who I am and whose I am. I can rest in the knowledge that God sees me, knows me, wants me, has a plan for me…every single moment of my life He accounts for in His plans…and therefore, I can rest, condemnation-free, and begin the next chapter of life by spending more time with Jesus, the Lord of Life and living out his commandments.

[A personal note: I pray you find this journal/devotional to be one that brings peace to your heart. All of us work through our issues at different paces and in different places and times. I can’t believe how time feels different during these days. I feel less productive and confined. I wonder about the future and what life will look like when we all emerge from our homes. One thing will NOT change for me, I will still seek to love God and love people. We need more love in this world and as a christian that is my calling. I love Mr. Rogers and his quotes inspire me in Jesus-like ways, so I’ll close with two of them:

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.

May God be with you this day as you take time to ponder, reflect and be renewed in Him.]

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The Top 10 Gifts Of COVID-19

To say there has been a storm of information and misinformation on COVID-19 would be an understatement. To say people have given into induced panic would also…be an understatement. And yet, I propose that COVID-19 is a gift our world needs at this very time. I write this understanding that people are dying and so I am not trying to be insensitive. Often times we can become overwhelmed with strain and are unable to see the positives resulting in our current challenges. So here is my top 10 list to encourage you and perhaps give some guidance on how we can pray during these times.

GIFT#10: It reveals how selfish we have become. How can this be a gift? Sometimes its hard to see how much our hearts have shifted into focusing on self. Intrinsically we are all selfish. You disagree? How many times have parents needed to teach their small children to be selfish? From a very young age we are on a constant parenting path to teach them HOW TO SHARE. It wasn’t long ago that we might find memes of people hoarding toilet paper and now the internet has common videos and pictures of people with carts overflowing with “white gold” and people with cube vans packing them to the brim with paper products. Bizarre! The good is that when we see how selfish we have become and “wake up”, we can change. PRAY, for those who are hoarding, that they might see we live in a time of plenty and they are in a wonderful position to bless others and share.

GIFT #9: It brings us opportunities to bless others. If I could have a dollar for every time, before this month, that I’d considered going to my neighbours’ homes to see if they needed toilet paper….I’d have none. Yet now, I find myself preparing to go out and see how I can help. Its been so great being in grocery stores seeing people on their cell phones asking friends and family if they need anything when they are out. Just a moment ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she needed to head out and asked if she could get anything for anyone. WOW! It is a stark reminder of how far we have strayed from having a mentality that seeks to bless. In times of plenty we have become blind to seeing what others may need. When the toilet paper gets fully stocked again and there are bags of flour in the stores, guess what? People still have needs! It might not be grocery or personal items one can purchase, but there are personal items internally that form needs. PRAY, that we retain the desire to bless others and the sensitivity in the future to pursue blessing.

GIFT #8: It has levelled the playing field of the social classes. So often we believe there are those in our society who are untouchable. This Corona flue has reminded us that everyone is touchable — from movies stars, athletes, presidents, doctors all the way to the homeless — everyone is touchable. It seems like suddenly people are now becoming aware that they are part of humanity no matter how much status, money or power they have. Perhaps we have become blinded to this great divide between classes of people but now it becomes painfully apparent as people become so concerned for Tom Hanks “struggling” through isolation while most likely giving little thought to the small business owner in Wuhan in lockdown worried about her business. PRAY, that we continue to truly see people having worth because each person is priceless!

GIFT #7: It has reminded us to appreciate our families and friends. I am sure people are finding it a challenge to be quarantined with each other. To go from seeing your children 3 hours a day to 24/7 would be a harrowing experience I am sure. Some spouses have been quarantined together for two plus weeks! I can only imagine. And yet! In a time when families have been spending less and less time together, now they get to rediscover who each other is. Most of our conflicts come from not really understanding the other person and now, like it or not, we are being forced to face each other, to see each other, to decide how we spend time together. This can either make or break relationships but it is a gift that can bear fruit for years to come! Your children will remember the time they got to spend day after day with you! Spouses who have been so busy working to pay the bills now can finally sit down and talk. PRAY, people use this time constructively to build relationships that will be enhanced for the rest of their lives. Perhaps we should build some quarantine time every year into the schedule of our lives.

GIFT #6: It has given us opportunity to rediscover getting healthy again. Yesterday I saw a video of the waters of Venice. Within a week of people being quarantined the waters of Venice now run crystal clear and are once again filled with fish! This time of forced rest has enabled nature to be restored from humankind pollution! Perhaps there is a lesson for all of us in this. I’ll be the first to admit that I need to become less of a man than I am today. As I am typing I’m looking outside and seeing the sun. I am hearing the birds chirp. I won’t get a sunburn being outside but it looks like a lovely day for a walk (which I fully plan to take). This being forced to SLOW DOWN is a huge gift that people could only dream of in the past but now, for many, it is being enforced. Physical health, mental health, spiritual health can all benefit from this time! Having time to exhale and write a gratitude list would be incredibly beneficial for people. Taking time to think of family and friends and call them up could be therapeutic to be sure. Sitting down and spending time reading God’s Word and seeing His heart for our world, for us, would bring calm and peace to our hearts and GIVE HOPE! PRAY, people would see this time as a gift for self-care and purposefully take the time to decompress from a life that is often far too busy so they too can be restored.

GIFT #5: It has forced unity to become a focus and a desire. I am SO tired of reading headlines about COVID-19. However, I was way more tired of headlines about the Democrats, Republicans, Russiangate, and Bernie Sanders, black, white, gay, straight, Hollywood, Weinstein, blah, blah, blah. China battling the US in tradewars. Palestine in a never ending saga of division. On and on and on…UGH! Isn’t it amazing what a global crisis can do for unity? Every country no matter how big or small, every city to village, every ethnicity, every sexual orientation, every religion, every age…we all need to do our part to help curb the spread of this virus and protect the vulnerable among us. Yes, there will always be those among us who become predators and take advantage of others in times of crisis but for the most part it has been so encouraging to see a world-wide message of the need for us all to come together. PRAY, this concept of unity continues to grow past the crisis of COVID-19…that we would see and appreciate each other with fresh perspectives and respect…that we would desire peace and unity to be our continued experience.

GIFT #4: It reminds us that we have vulnerable people among us. As I think about the elderly during this time it has brought to mind my own parents and how they sit in the categories of those most susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. As I wander to and fro to seek out the all-illusive toilet paper I think of my mom and dad needing to stand in line in the wee hours of the morning at a grocery store who just got an order before the doors open, hoping they can find toilet paper for themselves. I think of people pushing each other in grocery stores trying to get to the products they think they need and how my mom and dad are simply not able to physically compete. Whether its the exposure to others, the physical inability to stand in a line or the intimidating prospect of grocery shopping, they have levels of stress I cannot relate to. They have not shared this with me…I am simply imagining myself in their position. Perhaps that is what we all should be doing! And that is just my parents. What about those who have social anxiety who, in one moment, have no issue with the concept of isolation, but then realize they also need to go get food. What about those who have respiratory issues that naturally make them the target of a flu that is so incredibly transmittable. We need to help each other, but, more specifically, we need to be aware of and help those among us who truly do need help. PRAY, that God opens our eyes to see those who need help and that He opens our hearts with compassion to move us to action.

GIFT #3: It has caused us to have gratitude for those who serve (even if it is their job). Parents, at this very moment, should be feeling a sense of gratitude for teachers. All of us should be having a growing respect for our nurses and doctors who are hip-deep in the middle of one of the most contagious flus our generations have ever seen. We should be grateful for the police who need to maintain peace in a time of unrest and our firefighters in a time when they too may be battling colds, flus and other bugs yet show up to their jobs to keep us safe. What about our military who get called in when things get out of control. We hear about the military being sent in and it gives us a sense of peace — that everything will be ok. Why is that? Do they have a magic wand that can suddenly bring solutions? I think its because, like others I have mentioned, their presence brings hope. I think of pastors who continue to meet with and minster to people feeling lost and without hope — some of whom have no one else to care for them. Churches that historically once were places that helped serve during times of disease and plagues are once again becoming active in helping others. PRAY, for those people who are in the thick of this crisis and still serving. Even if it is part of their job they are still showing up! Thank you to all of them!!

GIFT #2: It has causes us to be thankful for what we have. You can fill in the blank here yourself because you are most likely getting a clearer picture of what you yourself have taken for-granted in the past. It could be something pedestrian like eggs and flour, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It can also be relationships with others. The heating in your home. Your spouse. Warm clothing as you stand in line. Fuel for your vehicle to get to the grocery store or food bank. It could be your employment or the health care coverage you have. For me, in this moment, it makes me think of my church family and how much I miss them. We get together once a week but that time is significant for my heart and soul. I love them and I miss them. It makes me think of my Starbucks family that I adopted (whether they like it or not 😘). If you want to meet amazing people who can brighten your day, Orangeville Starbucks is filled with wonderful people who can bring a smile. I think of my mom and dad, my sister and family. How often do I take things for-granted in my life? PRAY, to God thanking Him for all the things you are grateful for and cherish the moment for we are blessed!

GIFT #1: It reminds us we are mortal beings designed to seek out God. This is perhaps the most profound and greatest gift of all — to know we are both mortal and spiritual beings. We see the death toll rising and are reminded that our time on earth here is short. The speed of which this virus has spread reminds us that our time on earth can be very short. The expanse of this virus reminds us that we are touchable and we are not islands unto ourselves. The reports remind us that we are people that seek hope. Where will we find hope when all of our earthly technologies and health care and government are unable to protect us? We need someone beyond ourselves to anchor our hearts and minds to. We need someone who can give us true peace beyond this world. Some seek to place blame onto God with the rationale, “If God is all-loving and all-powerful then why doesn’t He stop this?” I think these times are fruitful for seeking solace in God when perhaps we would never have sought Him before! For those who come to Him He promises He will never leave them or forsake them. For those looking for peace He promises peace beyond what this world could every give or understand. As for love, God loves you beyond measure and does want the best for you — He wants you to want Him. He is the best for you. He helps you see beyond the now. He can give you strength to endure. He can fill you with His love so you can love others beyond measure. He can do this because He is God. Each of us sets out to fill the God-shaped hole in our being and we seek far and wide to be fulfilled. The shape of that hole can only be filled by Him…and his name is Jesus. He gave his life that you may have life, true life, in him. Have peace. Draw near to God. He can help you gain perspective on all the chaos surrounding us and bring calm.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27

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Love & Fear, Doubt & God’s Steadfastness

It’s amazing how busy life can get and how we begin to allow voices and others’ priorities to squeeze our focus away from God. One day you wake up and begin to think, “When was the last time I spent focused time just being with and listening to the Lord?“ Relationships take time and are grown through spending time with others and so we begin to take on guilt and shame about “neglecting” time with the Lord.  I want to encourage you today with a biblical promise God gives to His children: He will never leave us or forsake us.  In fact, Jesus, in the book of John, says to his disciples that when we believe in him, he is IN us and we are IN him just as he is IN the Father.  And we know this unity is possible via the Holy Spirit. God is with you…He is always with you…He never has left you and He never will.  

Then why are there times I feel so far from God?  It’s a great question. It’s a reasonable question. I love this quote I’ll to share with you and I pray it blesses your spirit.  The context: Andrew Farley, in his book The Naked Gospel, is writing about how we as believers say we are under New grace but live strapped to Old Testament Law that demands performance.  He writes…

“Having raised my antennae toward the Christian world around me, I intercepted the subtle message that there are requirements to remain in God’s favor. This collection of “Thou shalts”—read your Bible, share your faith, participate in a lot of “church”—was a measuring stick by which I determined my worth and standing. These criteria served as a concrete way of determining whether or not I was in right relationship with God. I had already accepted the work of Christ as the means to heaven. But it was my approach to daily living that was beating me up…What does the writer of Hebrews say? The Old is “weak and useless” in its attempts to perfect us. Today, we have a better option—the New. This new system introduced through the death of Jesus Christ actually works. It places us in perfect standing even though we don’t perform perfectly. Only through the New can we genuinely draw near to God. When I’m feeling distant from God, it’s because I’ve measured myself and have come up short. This leads me to believe that God must be measuring me by this same standard. So I end up with the false conclusion that he’s distant from me. Under this logic, how would I get close again? Obviously, the only option would be to achieve in a way that I hadn’t achieved previously. But the Scriptures are clear: there’s only one way to get close to God—through the New Covenant. Any other way is a counterfeit that is invariably rooted in ill-conceived parallels with human relationships and driven by moment-to-moment feelings.”

Did you know that when God looks at you He is never disappointed in you?  Did you know that He doesn’t love you based on your “performance”?  God sees every part of you. God sees how busy you are. God sees your stress, your strain, your failings, your desires, you wins, your losses, the deepest parts of you and GOD LOVES YOU!  I love what Farley wrote because it so clearly explains years and years of how I was feeling — that God was measuring me according to my own standards which I wasn’t meeting at all and so He ‘stayed away’ from me until I could do better.  What a total and complete LIE!  It makes no sense at all yet it can consume us and cause us to become obsessed (and frustrated/exhausted) with our performance. 
1 John 4:15-19 says this,

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

Have you ever feared that God would leave you? It’s because you don’t truly believe in His love for you. You are still believing the lies that His love is based on your performance and you will either be rewarded by your achievements or punished because of your failures. We have forgotten the basic truth of the gospel: that while we were God’s enemies, while we were failing spectacularly, God loved us and saved us. When we come to know the love of God we find our life is in Him and His life is in us. We don’t need to measure up. We don’t need to perform. We don’t need to be perfect. We don’t need to do anything but live FROM Christ.  I recently heard that from someone: Jesus doesn’t need you to live FOR him…he wants you to live FROM him.  “I [Jesus] am the Vine and you are the branches” takes on such a rich meaning when we live FROM Jesus. 

So, today, take heart, be encouraged.  God’s love is steadfast and sure. Speak with God throughout your day and live from His strength and love…because really, that’s all we are told to do…and that’s all we can do. And now…you can exhale and enjoy your day living from Jesus and living in his love.  

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Riley & A Lesson About God’s Constant, 100% ‘all-in’ Love

Every morning after I wake up I head into the bathroom to begin getting ready for the day. And every day when I make that trip Riley, my cat, follows me into the bathroom. When he realizes I’ve committed to a location for a time he begins to ask for attention. It begins with him sitting on the floor behind me as I peer at my bleary image in the mirror contemplating shaving. Then, once I’ve committed to said shaving, Riley jumps up on the counter to get closer to me so he can more strongly ask for attention.

So I rub his head, pet his back, brush his fur…his appetite for love seems to be insatiable…for as long as I will pet him, Riley will revive the affection…and I love it! There are times I wonder if I could pet him so much his hair falls out because once he is in that affectionate mood he just soaks up all the love you can give him. Unfortunately, life, work and responsibilities call out to me and I can only give him a short period of attention — there is an ending to our “love-session” as I eat breakfast, gather my bag and coat and head out for the day…I have things TO DO!

I’m so glad God’s love isn’t like that…God doesn’t have anything He’d rather “do” then show you absolute, infinite, focused, all-in, love. He isn’t looking at a clock measuring when He needs to leave and then cutting off the affection to gather His things on His way to work. His love is 100% available and active ALL THE TIME!

I once was sharing with a mentor of mine about my spiritual walk and relationship with God. I said, “I just can’t understand why God loves me.” My mentor responded by saying that I was asking the wrong question…it isn’t why or how can God love me. In fact, there is no question at all. God loves me because that is what He is: God IS love. He went on to say that to ask why God loves you is like asking why and orange tree bears oranges or an apple tree yields the fruit of apples. They do that because that is what they are. An orange tree won’t bear apples and an apple tree won’t bear oranges…they bear according to what they are. God IS LOVE therefore God cannot do anything BUT love. God loves ME. All of me! He created me. He knows me. And He loves me with an steadfast, secure, never-failing, never-ending, sacrificial, all-seeking, all-knowing, all-encompassing love. Nothing I can do can increase it. Nothing I ever do will decrease it. I cannot earn it. I cannot purchase it. I cannot outrun it. God’s love is alway there.

I love Riley. I love my wife WAY MORE…of course! But I cannot imagine dedicating my whole life to showing my wife (or Riley) love 100% of the time with 100% of my focus and 100% of my energy and 100% of my dedication. I’ve tried to outlast Riley. On days off, when I have the time to kick-back I start to think that “today will be the day I ‘out-love’ him.” Yeah. Unless Riley gets distracted and runs off to play, I have not once yet been able to outlast him. And, when Riley does come back to me after he has played for a bit, I still shower him with affection.

Our desire for God’s love will NEVER be greater than His desire, ability and action in loving us!

If I can do that for my cat…image how God is for us! God’s love is 100% ALL THE TIME! Full strength — NEVER diluted. His love never leaves. He does not get distracted. God never decides, “Well, she’s run off again to be busy so I guess I’ll get on with my days and do some chores.” In fact, we are told in scripture that the very same quality and quantity of love God has in the Godhead between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what He gives to us! In Jesus’ priestly prayer for all who come to faith in him he says,

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. – John 17:22-23

If Christ is in us and we are in Christ, that means God is with us wherever we go! He is with us in our play…with us when we go to work. He is near to us in all we do because God never leaves us. When we turn to Him for love He is always there — always loving — always caring — always for us, cheering us on. His love is the real thing…it can be the air we breath. May you believe this, be encouraged and know incredible peace today as you rest in God’s inexhaustible steadfast love for you.

“The Real Thing” by Vertical Worship

I’ve only seen a love full of conditions
Hiding with the fear that it can break
I’ve searched the world to get a taste of heaven
But all along it was heaven chasing me

CHORUS:

Your love is the real thing — it’s a real thing
It’s the air I breathe
Your love it’s got a hold on me and it’s holding me
It is everything — it’s the real thing

Your grace is more than just an obligation
You give without a promise of return
Your mercy looks beyond my reputation
For I belong in heaven’s destiny
For I belong in heaven’s destiny

Bridge:

It’s not complacent, it’s always chasing, it won’t abandon
Jesus, Your love for me
Not disappointing, won’t leave me wanting, its overwhelming
Jesus, Your love for me
I know I need it, I know its worth it, the cross, it proves it
Jesus, Your love for me

Your love is the real thing it’s a real thing
It’s the air I breathe
Your love it’s got a hold on me and it’s holding me
It is everything it’s the real thing

There’s a place for me and it’s heavenly at the table with The King
It’s the real thing

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“How Can We Know The Way?”

Have you ever found yourself in life with paths before you and wondering which one to take? I know I have. Many times! Sometimes the options before you are small and insignificant: I couldn’t care less if I buy Colgate or Crest toothpaste…not a deal breaker…what’s on sale? But other choices are definitely more complicated because we feel the weight of our decision and how it can affect our lives: It could be what school to go to for post-grad education; What job to take to further accomplish our goals and pay the bills; Should you date this person who is interested in you; What church should you attend so that you actually grow in Christ instead of following the most popular choice? For my personality type this can be exhausting and I can get stuck in what is referred to as “analysis-paralysis” and THAT is a very apt description!

“How can we know the way?”

Such a great question! Thomas asks this of Jesus because Jesus has just told them he needs to leave them for a time and he’ll be preparing a place for them so they can stay with him for eternity. We know he is talking about heaven but Thomas is blinded by pragmatism and wants to know to what location Jesus is going. It’s as if he believes Jesus is being purposefully ambiguous. Thomas believes its a location on a map. This passage is fascinating because what Jesus is describing are the actions a groom would take in Jewish culture to prepare for his bride. A groom would save up for the wedding feast but would also be building onto his family’s home — he would add rooms on to create a separate living space for his bride and future family. What an incredible picture of Christ the groom and the church His Bride! Here is the passage (John 14:1-7)…

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

We don’t know the way so how can we get to where you were or are or will be? Essentially, that’s the question I see Thomas asking. We might phrase it differently like: God, I don’t know what job You want me to take because there are multiple options…which one is Your will? OR Lord, I like this person but am I letting my emotions and hopes get the best of me…how do I know this is THE person? I’m sure you can fill in your own question that is most relevant to you. The issue we wrongfully assume is that there is a right or wrong answer. We may find ourselves consumed with fear that if we don’t guess correctly what God wants we won’t be blessed and we will enter into a life of misery apart from God. What if we travel to the wrong destination and He isn’t there? What if we choose the wrong ___________? You can fill in your blank because only you know what you are facing.

Might I suggest that we, like Thomas, have the wrong focus? If FEAR is the outcome of wrong choice perhaps we are asking the wrong question of God? If we fear His disapproval or we believe He will punish us, its a good indicator we really haven’t heard Jesus at all and we really haven’t met the heart of God. God loves us. He wants the best for us. He is on our side. We can get consumed with the issue and not realize we need to dive to the root focus we should have. Before we decide on a relationship with another person we need to be sure of our relationship with God. Before we wonder about which job is most God-honouring, we should be looking to see if our heart is God-honouring. Jesus gave Thomas a very clear answer about how to know the way to Jesus….it’s Jesus. I know. How simple is that!?

“The way” isn’t a destination or the right choice of person or correct job position or ______________. “The Way” is a person…it’s Jesus. It might take our minds a bit of trim to wrap around that but imagine with me for a moment that in order for us to know “the way” we need to know “The WAY.” What if God doesn’t care about what school you go to or vocation you take — He cares about your relationship with Him that you take wherever you go, in whatever job you decide. What if you are so passionately in love with Jesus and spend time with him that it becomes clear about the person you are wondering about dating. If you love Jesus and they don’t why would you consider that relationship. This is not a “religious” perspective. It’s a fair question. Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Let’s say you have a best friend who loves you deeply and brings out the best in you. You spend time with them and find you are valued and blossom as a person just being with them. And then, you meet another person. Not only are they not interested in your best friend but have NO interest in even being near them. Would you give up your best friend for this stranger? No. You’d show them to the curb and wouldn’t look back. Perhaps the issue isn’t deciding who to have a relationship with. Perhaps the issue is how deep is our relationship with Jesus…and then go from there.

“I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Greek emphasizes Jesus’s response that he is the ULTIMATE Way, Truth and Life. In fact, he overshadows everyone so much that there really is no other options aside from him especially if people want to come to the Father. “The Way” we seek is a place of being in relationship with Jesus. To be with Jesus, to be with the Father, is to be IN Jesus. To be able to see clearly and know how to discern, he is the unvarnished truth about life, love and happiness. He is not deceitful seeking his own ends…he loves us and wants us to know the truth not only about who he is but the dangerous deadly promises of sin (sin promises us everything without any cost when in fact it costs us everything and gives us nothing of value) and how to have true life. HE is the life…he promises and gives us new life which is not dependent upon the world and finding fulfilment in trinkets, power or sensuality. He promises life that gives purpose, power and peace beyond what the world can even imagine.

I want that. I want peace. I would like to live a life of purpose. I want God to empower me to buck the trends, be fulfilled, see other’s lives changed for their good and know love…not superficial love…but love that reaches in deep and allows them to know they are truly seen and cherished. Love that says, “No matter what you have said, are saying and will say…no matter what you have thought, are thinking and will think…no matter what you have done, are doing or will do, my love for you will never change. I love you. Period.” THAT is the love I have experienced in God. That is the love Jesus displayed and offers to you and me. That is a love that brings fulfilment and peace…because I am His beloved and you can be as well. Seek out The Way and find true peace in all your decisions. God loves YOU!

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God Removes Our Shame

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering.
“On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
” – Zephaniah 3:9-13

The book of Zephaniah drew my eyes and heart this morning as I read of how God will deal with everyone who rebels against Him. That includes Israel, the surrounding nations, you and I. It is a terrible terrifying reality to behold. And yet, at the end of the book, in the final chapter, we read of the hope God offers and we can have peace.

What caught my attention was the core issue in this text. It’s subtle but present nevertheless and if one isn’t looking closely they may pass quickly over it. First, God transforms the speech of people from an unholy speech to a pure speech. Why? So that “all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” There is something about the purity of speech that enables people to address God more directly and serve him in a more united, unified way. Then they bring God his offering in an act of worship. This is not the core issue in the text but one that stormed my mind with questions, “How has my language been unclean and how might it be affecting my connection with God and ability to serve Him? How might it affect my offering in worship to Him? How can I address this NOW?” Thankfully, we see it is God who is willing and able to change the speech of His people and so my prayer is for NOW. God, please change my tongue NOW so that I can be more connected, better serving and offer a purer form of worship.

The second paragraph is where the core issue in the text can be mined. If one reflects on how they have acted before the Lord one can be consumed with shame. Even now, in our day, we can allow our guilt about what we have done to affect our person through shame that forms how we perceive ourselves. This shame comes from having a more clearer picture of God and His love and how we have rebelled against Him — fighting for our own right to rule and ignoring His rightful claim as Lord over all. But God removes our shame — He reshapes His people. How? By removing our pride that self-exalts and haughtiness that stands before holy God with bold brashness declaring ourselves righteous. Pride is the core issue of it all. Pride affects our speech. Pride affects our rebellion. Pride affects how we defend/justify ourselves. Pride affects how we serve God, how we worship God and how we act towards each other.

In looking at the text we see its the “proudly exultant ones” that get removed so that “you should no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.” So which is it? Is it my pride God removes or is it the proud God removes? This is a very confusing sentence! I think it is worded precisely to be what it is — a choice and an understanding. If, in the full presence of God, we cling to our rebellious pride, we WILL be removed. We will be the proudly exultant ones. But if we humble ourselves God removes our shame and recreates us as a people who are humble and lowly, who seek refuge in the Lord. We will act in just ways. We will speak truth and not deceive. We shall be satisfied, be at peace and not fear anyone who seeks to intimidate and harm because we are the Lord’s people. His transformative power affects our speech, our pride, our justice, our truth-telling, who we rely on for safety, provision, rest and protection. This COMPLETELY redefines our identity! We are who God transforms us to be not the sins we have committed in the past. God removes our shame. GOD removes our shame so we can live in fruitful harmony with Him. O how I want that for myself today.

God of Zephaniah — our holy loving God, please continue Your work in my life today. Transform my speech so that it is pleasing to you and filled with worship, truth and without deception. Will you transform my heart that clings to my pride — my pride that gets me into trouble and causes me to be rebellious against you bringing me shame — remove my shame, I pray, so that I can be free and at peace with You and others. May I seek refuge in You alone and not allow the world to intimidate me with all their threats and empty promises of pleasure, security and power. Thank You for hearing Your people’s prayers to be transformed for in making us new creations we bring honour and glory to You as we bear witness in our world. Amen.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
– Psalms 23

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The Ear-Worm Of Worry

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a song playing over and over in your head? Or perhaps throughout the day you hear yourself humming the same song continually. Yeah. Those little gems are called “ear-worms.” Those are the songs with melodies or riffs that do NOT leave your brain.

They first present themselves as “catchy little tunes” and you find yourself believing these innocent songs are really good. Good rhythm? Check. Good melody? Well, it is catchy so, check. Good lyrics? Not necessarily but check. By the 100th time its repeated itself you find yourself surrendering. It will eventually fade. You’ll eventually forget “One kiss is all it takes — Fallin’ in love with me — Possibilities — I look like all you need” or, “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy — But here’s my number, so call me maybe.” There…you are welcome 😈. But when you wake up in the middle of the night and the songs have played like theme music to your dreams its all you can do to maintain sanity. There is no pause button. There is no mute. There is no forward button because forwarding to the end only makes it play again. You are caught in an ear-worm which simply needs to fade out over time or be replaced…with another ear worm.

I find worry is a lot like an ear-worm. In fact, I propose it IS an ear-worm. At first, we have a concern and it may be a valid one. And we ponder it, pray about it and think about solutions. It could be a situation of conflict with a friend that went south and we replay the scene over and over in order to figure out where exactly it all went wrong. It could be the loss of a job. Applying to a new job. It could be wanting to ask someone out on a date. There are positive ear-worms as well, like holding your baby for the first time or your first kiss. It could be words of encouragement. But I find its the worries riddled with anxiety that really stick the most. Those are the ones that haunt my dreams and wake me up. Those don’t give me energy they consume my energy. Then I begin to worry and that only amps up the power and enlarges what initially were simply concerns.

I begin to create a story board about where these concerns will lead. I think of the best and worst case scenario but, if I’m honest, the ones that take the lead lines are the ones with the worst endings. Will everything be ok? Will I be enough? Am I showing my strain to others and if so, how do I explain it without sharing what I am thinking about and going through? What do we do with these ear-worms of worry? How do we stop them from consuming us? I have found a couple of solutions:

First, actually talk them through out loud with another person you trust — one who will listen and not try to fix. One who understands these concerns don’t define you and are willing to simply take them as concerns. Then, if the sharing goes well, they can give feedback.

In fact, the second aspect is actually getting feedback. Play out the best and worst case scenarios with your confidante. When we bring our worries out into the light we often find them to be much smaller than we built up in our mind or even non-existent. Silly even.

Third, continue to bring them to Jesus in prayer…but then LEAVE THEM with Jesus in your prayer. In fact, here is where inserting another ear-worm could and should come into play. THIS ear-worm is actually helpful and gives hope. THIS ear-worm replaces the other with words of affirmation, care and clarity. Jesus said…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Several aspects are interesting and this reflection is certainly not exhaustive of the text. First, Jesus offers you a rest. You can come to him and have a moment to exhale. Breath. Find your feet again. Take a moment. But then, he asks you to take HIS yoke upon you. WHAT? I want to offload weight not take more on! Look at what he offers. Your yoke was heavy laden and draining…Jesus’s yoke provides learning from him on how to balance the weight in a gentle way that won’t crush you and you’ll actually find rest for your soul in the midst of carrying on. His yoke is easy. Why is that? How can that be? It’s because we think we are in control and when we are not in control we begin to worry and carry around the weight of results knowing we can’t influence or change what will be. But Jesus is the Lord of the universe. He knows and wants what is best for you and HIS yoke is one of trust. Believe in Jesus that he will provide rest for your soul by being the one in control and giving you all you need for the future. His burden is light because his power + his love = only our good. Even in the middle of a storm we might leave damaged he will work that to our good. He has done that for me several times and I know he can and will do that for you as well…because he loves you.

I know its hard to imagine. You may be in the middle of something huge and life-changing at this very moment. Still Jesus calls out asking you to come to him for rest. He is trustworthy. He is mighty. And he cares for you. I don’t know HOW he will take your burden but his promise is clear. Not if but when. When you bring it to him to take care of. So before you is a choice: you can worry about things you cannot control and have this ear-worm of worry haunt you without mercy. OR, you can come to the one who offers mercy and rest and he can take control for you. He’ll give you rest. He’ll lighten your load. I pray you’ll release your burden to King Jesus and experience his peace today.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

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Alone

Alone
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Even just saying the word out loud it is bereft of warmth.
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One can be alone in the middle of a crowd. One can be alone while in the midst of family. One can be alone while going out with friends. One can be alone in the company of one’s spouse. It’s not the amount of people surrounding that makes one feel alone…its the sense of no one else understanding or being able to share one’s experience or internal thoughts or even wanting to. Alone.
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Even when friends and family tell us we are not alone we can still feel very much alone because it’s not about what we experience on the outside its about the deep sense of isolation on the inside. Telling one they aren’t alone is affirming but does little to penetrate. It’s like one is blanketed by this cone of insulation where one can see everyone and everyone can see us but words just don’t come out, we can’t, and even when we do they try to pass through this blanket of insulation only to come out on the other side muffled and misunderstood. And so we keep them in…because what is the point….I am alone.
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The Psalmist felt alone. Sometimes he felt surrounded by enemies and misunderstood and abandoned by friend. Sometimes he felt like God wasn’t listening and had abandoned him as well. Alone.
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Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!
For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-7)
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Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
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Even Jesus had a moment where he felt completely, utterly alone.  His friends had deserted him. His enemies surrounded him. Darkness was all around. His relationship with his Father was severed.
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Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)
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Forsaken. Isn’t that perfect word to describe feeling alone? One commentary notes this as defining the Aramaic word Jesus spoke: “Languages differ appreciably in expressions meaning ‘to forsake, to abandon.’ For example, the most appropriate equivalent in some instances is ‘to leave alone’ or ‘to leave behind.’ In other instances one may employ a phrase such as ‘to leave without help’ or ‘to leave and refuse to care for.’ The Greek word has this definition: “to desert or forsake a person and thus leave that individual uncared for.” This oneness that Jesus felt with his Father had now been broken. The care Jesus had received from the Father was now absent. The presence of the Father was absent. The support from the Father had been withdrawn. Alone. Alone. Alone.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  (Matthew 27:45-54)

What caused Jesus to feel alone? Why the disconnect? It was sin. Sin of the world upon his shoulders. Sin the Father could not look upon. Sin that needed to be paid for.  AND IT WAS! Consider what occurs after his death: the dead (death: the ultimate fruit of sin) were raised and Jesus was recognized for who he truly was (spiritual blindness: the practical effect of sin)!  I believe sin to be THE ultimate cause of loneliness. It could be sin that we have committed. It could be sin committed against us or even the fact that we live in a world that is still broken by sin and therefore we sit with it swirling around us causing us to feel alone. I believe being surrounded by sin affects our thinking and emotions.  This “sin storm” causes us to feel separated and affects our connectivity to each other and to God both in the giving and receiving of communications. Sin enhances that sense of isolation. I love how Jesus promises his presence to his disciples in Matthew 28, “I am with you always until the end of the age.” The unspoken reality is that after “the end of the age” we will be in heaven with him for all eternity never to be separated.
 Perhaps you feel alone today. Truly and utterly alone. Perhaps “forsaken” better describes your sense of aloneness. It could be you feel misunderstood, uncared for, abandoned, unheard, unwanted, or unseen and it has struck to your core so deeply that you are past the point of hurt and anger and are now numb without any sense of how to reconnect with someone, anyone, most of all, God. I can tell you that you are not alone. I can tell you there are others who care. I can tell you that God sees you and loves you and cares for you. I can tell you that Jesus himself knew what it was like to be abandoned, doesn’t want that for you and promises that will not be your reality in relation to him. Perhaps that will help and perhaps it won’t. Whenever any of us get into this place of being alone I believe only God can pierce through our fog…and so I will pray for you just as I hope you will pray for me. The scriptures say that we are not alone,

…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5B-6)

In the end though, we need to trust in God’s love. It was shown on the cross for us — that is a fact our loneliness cannot deny. And if Jesus was willing to die for us why would he abandon us now when he is alive? That is a fact.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not sin, not death, not even our sense of being alone.  May God’s love shine and pierce the darkness surrounding your heart.  May it illuminate and bring peace and joy to your mind. May it reveal you are not alone, have never been alone and never will be alone. Amen.

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Psalms 13)

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