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

Standard

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.  

Standard

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

Standard

“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!

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

Alone

Alone
.
.
.
.
Even just saying the word out loud it is bereft of warmth.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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)
.
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
.
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.
.
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)
.
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)

Standard

King Jesus & His Citizens Of Heaven

It is a weird time to be a Canadian. I’m not that old *cough* but in all the years I have been aware of politics I have never felt the political atmosphere so amped up. Not only do we have our Canadian government being voted on soon but we also have the United States going through their incredibly long and conflicted run for President.  Just typing this I feel my shoulders begin to tense. We allow earthly politics far too much power over our emotions and thoughts. I am stunned by the amount of pastors in the US who try to draw politics into their church and worship of God. I have never ever seen any positive fruit from doing so. I think the reason why it is so unhelpful and even harmful is because while we function as citizens as a country on earth our true citizenship is actually in heaven and therefore our eyes need to be focused on our King who we represent on earth — King Jesus!

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

When we allow our earthly politics to dictate our relationships and internal stress level it actually speaks to our faith in God and His power and plan.  Do we really believe that God is in control? If so, then act as good citizens in so far as you can all the while recognizing that this is all temporary.  We are made for eternity.  Therefore, do we allow eternity to shape how we treat each other?  Earthly politics are in the hands of God who in a moment can turn the heart of a leader.  Which is why King Solomon wrote,

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. (Proverbs 21:1-4)

Our citizenship in Heaven really should shape our priorities and what concerns us most — bringing glory to God! Election time might be one of the times Christians are watched most closely.  People wait to see what and how we will react/respond.  People listen to hear how we speak to others and about others. As I pondered and prayed through this I was brought to 1 Peter 2 which really spoke to my heart because it recalibrated my attention onto who I am and whose I am even in this broken world so loved by God.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” 

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I’ll leave that for you and I to ruminate on — there’s a lot there.  I believe our call as Christians is very clear —  we need to shine as lights in these politically uncertain times. Our hope is built upon Christ not a Prime Minister or President. Our joy is found in the love of our Saviour not the power and platforms of a political party.  We have a King and His name is Jesus and He WILL bring justice and He DOES shine as a Light in the darkness.  He restores and refocuses, transforms and renews and one day, every tear will be dried and every wound will be healed.  There will be no more sickness or death. His name is name is the name above all names and before Him every knee will bow. Even now, He is reigning as the Saviour of the world.  Even now His hand is active to save.  Even now we can choose to lift our voices to him — fix our eyes upon him, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  No other leader has served, sacrificed and loved as He has and continues to before the throne of God on our behalf.  May we point people to God through our love because as Jesus said in John 13:34-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

A Prayer For How We Live & Love As Citizens Of Heaven

Lord, help us to be voices of healing and peace. Keep our eyes fixed upon You even as we function as citizens of earthly countries. May we never lose site of our citizenship in heaven and our call to be Ambassadors fo reconciliation. May we overflow with love that is patient and kind; love that does not envy or boast; love that is not arrogant or rude. Love that does not insist on its own way; that is not irritable or resentful; that does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. May our love bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things because it is YOUR love that fills our hearts. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). May You be honoured and glorified in our lives as we exalt You over all. Amen.

Christ Exalted Over All (Vertical Worship)

From heaven’s throne, You came to us, And set your heart upon the cross,We’ll never know the sacrifice You’ve made.For all our sin and all our shame, You took the nails, You took our place,No one else could do what You have done.

One name is higher, One name is stronger.Than any grave, than any throne, Christ exalted over all.

From the grave, where death would die, You rose again and brought us life.You’re reigning now, the Saviour of the world.You’re reigning now, the Saviour of the world.

One name is higher, One name is stronger.Than any grave, than any throne, Christ exalted over all.The only Saviour, Jesus Messiah. To You alone our praise belongs, Christ exalted over all.

We’ll sing your praise, We’ll sing your praise, We’ll sing your praise forever.We lift your name, We lift your name, Jesus over all.

Standard

A Day Of Grief & Anger

Yesterday was gray, rainy, and depressing. The weather outside also wasn’t so great. My heart was broken and I felt lost in grief.
I am grateful for my ongoing experience on Twitter — I get to connect with world class leaders and hear bitesized words of wisdom throughout my day. I’m kept up to speed on news as it happens. Its one more way I get to connect with Christians around the globe and feel that kinship in Christ…

It also connects me with those who have been abused and crushed by church leaders. I hear stories from and interact with those who have been treated in devastating and brutal ways — stories that anger me and make me want to throat punch those who call themselves pastors but act as bullies and overlords. From sexual abuse through to public humiliation, the tools of torture used by hirelings posing as shepherds is truly horrific. To hear people so damaged say they would never ever trust a pastor again — never enter into a church family again — really bruises my heart.

When I think back to how my wife and I have been abused by church leadership in the past I can totally relate. There were seasons we left the church bleeding and broken, swearing to each other we would never return. We loved Jesus but his Bride was a real pill.  Why would we ever want to enter back into a poisonous culture where pastors seemed so dishonest, selfish, manipulative, demeaning, and competitive? Where was the glory of God in all of this?  Surely He wanted better for His people — surely He wanted better care for His sheep!  Leaders are trusted to care for the sheep in sacrificial ways but all we saw where “shepherds” willing to sacrifice sheep in order to get what they wanted and be comfortably fed. Leaders are trusted to be champions of truth but the lies and deceit were appalling! Don’t they know God knows all and sees all and one day church leaders will give account?! Not only do these “leaders” act out in reprehensible ways but support other leaders who act in similar fashion! It reminded me of passages I read in Psalms and Proverbs about the wicked…

Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. (Psalm 7:14)

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.  Psalm 36:1-4

O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!
O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”  (Psalm 94:1-7)

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.  (Proverbs 17:15)

I used to think the Psalmist had gone too far when he wrote 58 but the more I see and hear of the abuse committed my heart rises with the same sentiment…

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns, whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.” (Psalm 58:3-11)

Essentially, in modern day vernacular, the Psalmists want the wicked to be curb-stomped. I know we will have troubles in this world — I’m not naive about that — but when churches are slaughtering their very own people and supporting the pastors who model this my heart explodes in my chest and my thoughts become red with rage…

God!  Do you not see what is happening? Do you not hear the lies being preached, the words cutting down, the actions damaging Your people? Will You not intervene for Your glory?!  How long, O Lord, how long must we wait for Your righteous judgment to come and stop the hurt?  Lord, help us bring love and healing to those who have mistreated.  Help us to gently draw back those who have left abusive churches for self-preservation.  Forgive us for those times we have neglected to step in and act justly.  Forgive us for not bringing leaders to account under the guise of grace when, in fact, true grace would be immediate correction for the protection of Your flock. Forgive us if WE have been the ones who have manipulated to get our way.  Forgive us when we are so consumed with doing OUR ministry that we neglect reaching out to others who are not in our local church family forgetting we are called to Kingdom ministry and it has no geographical or denominational boundaries.  O Lord, break our hearts and fill us with compassion. Fill us with a desire to see You glorified when we stain Your name!

One blogger responded to the hurts being communicated on Twitter…

Thinking about those who say they’ll never go back to church given the abuse & hypocrisy they saw there. Breaks my heart. So sad when we get taste of fake religion & fake church, and it inoculates us against real thing. But there is a real Church. You need her & she needs you. ~ Julie Roys

I have no need to go looking for more work to do in ministry — I’m sure you all agree, our plates are more than overflowing — but I have been reaching out to people who have been wounded by pastors — how can I not?  My heart is both broken and compelled by love for strangers I have never met (only God can move a heart in such a way).  Surprisingly, most have been grateful and receptive for the interactions. Others, have acknowledged my attempt to reach out but unsurprisingly (and understandingly) remain cool to the idea that there are pastors/church leaders out there who care.  I’ve wondered why I would even bother to reach out — I am a stranger to them, some Canadian pastor, in a little town, in a little church, with little to offer practically. All I can offer is a listening ear, words of love, and prayers for healing. And then I read this quote this morning…

A young lad walking the beach, noticing the thousands of starfish washing up on shore, began throwing them back one by one. A man approached, took in the scene, and said, “You’ll never make a difference!” The boy threw back a starfish and said, “I made a difference for that one.”

If we have the favour of God, in our churches there will people attending who have been abused. People who have either been abused by other pastors/church leadership. We may even have pastors who have been abused by other leaders or their very own congregants. May God give us supernatural sight to see who needs care and supernatural ears to hear their stories. May God empower us with the Holy Spirit to love them well and help them know they are seen, valued, and not alone.  In doing so, God, may you heal those in Your Family who are bleeding, lift up those who are discouraged, and knit back into Your body those who feel abandoned and alone.  Amen.

Standard

Spiritually Hangry

It’s 11:49PM and I am awake…ok that’s pushing it…I’m awake enough to not be asleep and I’ve gotten annoyed.  I went to bed before 10 and tossed and turned.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Nasal passages clear? Yes. Teeth brushed? Check!  Blankets and bedding ok? Yup. Then my stomach rumbled and I realized I had stomach acid rolling around — I was hungry!  I hadn’t eaten much at all today and now, once I realized that fact, I had to get up, get dressed, walk downstairs in my groggy state and root around for something to eat. So, currently I am munching on a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios pondering the deeper spiritual life…because that’s how you get back to sleep.  NOT!  😊

It got me thinking though — is it possible to experience a spiritual form of “hangry”? Hangry is a term I am sure most are familiar with — it describes in one word what happens when someone is so hungry they have a short fuse and easily get angry thus, they get “hangry.” When my wife and I go shopping we try to keep aware of whether or not we have eaten while we day-trip around town.  When one of us begins to show signs of getting snippy, we pause and reflect when we ate last and what we ate.  Often times we are simply hangry. I think people experience this in their spiritual life — I think I DO!  I find myself getting frustrated with people and God — there is an unsettledness and discontent with my spiritual walk and I start becoming cynical or critical. There is little to no satisfaction to be had and the reason is…I haven’t had anything to eat in a while — I haven’t fed on the Word of God. I find it fascinating how much our spiritual health is related to eating in scriptures.  Here are just a few small examples:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15)

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  (Isaiah 55:1-2)

I absolutely love those verses in Isaiah especially when I consider who is the richest of food that satisfies — Jesus.  In John 6, Jesus says several times that he is the bread of life.  This is not redundant…he is making a powerful point!

 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:47-51)

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

When we eat empty calories to feed our spiritual life we end up frustrated and hangry. When we seek out fast food options and alternative menu choices we end up unfulfilled.  Jesus states that he is THE most fulfilling meal anyone could ever eat!  What’s really interesting is that immediately following this conversation in John 6 Jesus loses a massive amount of followers…

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:66-68)

My bowl of Cheerios is now empty…I’m considering an apple…but I am feeling much better.  It’s how my spirit feels when I have taken proper time to “feed on Christ.”  When I, like the Psalmist, eat the Word of God that is as sweet as honey.  When I drink from the Living Water and eat from the Bread of Life, my satisfaction level rises and my spiritual emotions calm.  I can see and think more clearly. I can work more effectively and have more energy. My outlook is more positive with hope and my inner spirit is more calm with peace.  There are days when I go go go go go and forget to eat and by the end of the day I am so tired and groggy and I wonder why on earth I never took time to eat!  The same goes with my spiritual body…I can get busy and get caught up responding to demands that crop up during the day and by the end of the day I wonder why I feel so empty inside…feeling like there must be more.  Because there IS more…I just haven’t “dined” in a while.

We are a funny culture — I think we are actually obsessed with food. There are “foodies” out there and our grocery stores have a massive variety of food items you can stuff in your mouth — from junk food to the organic non-GMO grass-fed, we have numerous choices on what we can eat. And we DO eat. We eat for stress, we eat for boredom, we eat for pleasure, we eat for our health and we eat to survive.  Every time I sit down to eat one of my God-given three square meals the first thing I do is bow my head and thank God for the food that keeps me alive….Just sitting here typing that I realize how dumb I really am…Seriously…is FOOD what gives me life?  It may keep my body going (and overweight) but do I really believe that food is my life-giver?

 Jesus when he was being tempted Satan was quite hungry.  Having been in the wilderness for 40 days and nights without anything to eat has brought his physical body to a place where it is really needing food possibly even craving it.  So Satan, ever the practical and helpful fellow that he is, tells Jesus to turn the stones into bread.  It’s actually a great idea since Jesus IS hungry.  And Jesus responds,

“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)

The reason I feel really dumb is I realized how often I prioritize eating and thank God for my food but I rarely take into account that to truly have life I need to take time to abide in Christ and draw nutrients from the Vine. Why prioritize bread alone and neglect the words that come from the mouth of God?  If I truly desire the deeper life — if I truly desire a fulfilling life — a life of power — a life pleasing to God…I need to stop and eat and eat often…communing with Christ.

Jesus, I need you, every moment I need you.  Hear now this grace-bought heart sing out your praise forever!

Lord Jesus, please forgive us when we rush out the door to begin our day without communing with you.  Forgive us for how we prioritize the temporal over the eternal…the physical over the spiritual!  We rely so heavily on earthly food for our physical body while we often neglect heavenly food for our spiritual body.  Lord, be our Banquet— be our Feast! May we delight ourselves in you and find fulfillment.  May you be sweet and filling for our souls. May you empower us to live NON-hangry lives so that people see us as transformed joyful new creations.  Bring our minds back to you when we find ourselves listless and spiritually tossing and turning — remind us when we are spiritually hungry that you have prepared a table for us.  We cannot live on bread alone — help us to crave every word that comes from the mouth of God. Amen.

Jesus, I Need You (Hillsong)
Hope be my anthem — Lord when the world has fallen quiet
You stand beside me — Give me a song in the night

And Jesus I need You, Every moment I need You
 Hear now this grace bought heart sing out — Your praise forever

Beauty for ashes — You find the weak and contrite heart
Shoulder its burdens — And carry it into the light

Remember love — Remember mercy
Christ before me — Christ behind me
Your loving kindness — Has never failed me
Christ before me — Christ behind me

Standard