Reading the Bible

A Ministry of Words

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What do a large stage in Alberta, a tiny francophone church in Montreal, and my neighborhood coffee shop have in common? A ministry of words to steward, that’s what.


After I left the corporate world although I did not know it at the time, I was leaving behind a whole way of seeing the world and myself. Definitions of success and meaningful work would take on new wording. Through long months of soul searching, prayer, digging deep in God’s Word, and talking with my husband, I realized words were deeply important to me. And what until now had been a necessary tool and a fun one even, to leverage for my team and clients; was now to become an offering.


I discovered my knack for speaking if you will, through the PowerPoint presentation. Yes, that mandatory rite of passage for most corporate careers. I quickly realized I was at ease speaking to a room full of clients and I felt deeply engaged with my stakeholders when delivering their findings for any given quarter. I was not a fan for all the hard work it took to prepare one, especially in market research where the work entails interacting with statistics but did it gladly to offer the insights that came from that work.


I remember when I first felt the Lord calling me to a ministry of words. I wasn’t sure what it all entailed, what it was supposed to look like. But I pressed on in prayer and around that time younger women from our church started to ask if we could meet up for coffee to chat about career, life, and faith. My husband and I, a couple in our 40s are among the “older folks”. We chuckle, as in our previous life we were among the younger couples. Now, given our age and life experience, in a young church, we are vessels. I knew He was asking me to make myself available to listen, to devote some of the open spaces on my calendar and receive the words of others. So I did.


Around the same time, I felt called to write. It would take another two years before I’d take very insecure steps toward stringing words together in my first blogging attempt before taking it offline to regroup. In the meantime, I had a lot of coffee, listened in, and replied to questions and shared about my own experiences, along with the insight gained from the Bible.

God had placed on my heart this exhortation: to be a good speaker you need to become a good listener. And the practice of listening had to start with God’s Word. To listen closely to what I was reading, to dig deeper into it and in the process let it dig deeper into my soul. These things would then blend into the conversations I engaged in as I learned to listen.

The art of receiving words and offering them is at the heart of learning to steward them. A quick search online for the definition of stewardship yields this: “the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property.” How fitting that to steward means to take care of something, to supervise it.

In calling me to a ministry of words to steward, He is asking that I learn to care for and supervise how I am going to use the words I speak and write. How fitting that this should start with the quiet everyday practice of meeting Him in His Word. The act of reading it, learning it, wrestling with it, praying over the words I read, treasure them.


And how fitting that this would be accompanied by the call to make time for others’ words to reach my ears. To learn to create a space for them to share and ask and wrestle. How much, His Word, His people, and His call to serve are pivotal to my learning to steward the words He puts on my heart to share.


All of this reminds me how much we are not meant to do life on our own, or,  on our own terms. That our gifts aren’t going to be uncovered, invested, and, nor will they flourish if we don’t start with His voice giving the guiding steps, and don’t engage with others to sharpen and be sharpened. Lastly, it reminds me that healthy growth happens over time, not overnight. That small everyday obedience matters more than any big picture idea. And to have one you need the other.

As I continue to learn to steward the words that weigh on my heart, and continue to pray for opportunities to offer them where needed, I want to share two exhortations:

The first-

You may not be one called to a ministry of words per se. At least not in the specific form of speaking, teaching and writing, like me. But, if you believe in God and follow Jesus as your Savior, then you are called to season your words with His. And that starts with spending time to read and learn His Word. No other endeavour is more worthy of our time and effort, I promise! It’ll keep you coming back for more. And in the process, it will make you a good listener. Which in turn will give you a door to say timely words as the Spirit leads.


The second -

Beginnings are hard. They are also exciting. And they always start small. So whatever you hold in your heart and hope to see flourish, be encouraged and take heart! Small obedience counts for everything. Pray and seek the Lord, spend time with Him, read His Word, and ask for guidance. He will meet you and use your availability to teach you, bless you, and use you for the blessing of others.

 

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]  


Seeking, Telling, and Dwelling in the Truth

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A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker refer to "10% friends." He explained that most of us are willing to talk about 90% of how we are, and that we are willing to receive information about the same things we are willing to share. Topics that hover on the surface of everyday life and are generally safe. It might be a compliment we received on last night’s dinner, our upcoming vacation plans, or the details of a current project at work. This information is framed around content that is comfortable and affirming.

 But the remaining 10%, he explained, is comprised of the hard things we are not willing to share or hear others point out. He said we all need to have, and should aim to be, part of the 10% who speak and seek to hear the Truth. I turned around to my friend and smiling said, "You're welcome, for I am part of your 10%!" We both chuckled.

 My friend and I both acknowledge we need Truth from outside of ourselves to check our own version. Because there is Truth, and there is what we hold as truth. And they are not always the same. We are, after all, finite and fallible. Therefore, we need what is forever and infallible. Those attributes are not found in humanity, but in its Maker and the words recorded for us in the Bible.

  

Seeking the Truth

 There is something comforting about Truth. While it can be hard at times, it’s also stable. It is not contingent on my own agreement or emotions. What is True is true, with or without me. It does not need my endorsement or my permission to be true. When we lie, or when truth is absent from a situation, it does not cease being itself. It remains, well... Truth.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was martyred by the Nazis, wrote: "No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places." That wording in the last part lingers in my mind, “One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it.” This means we submit to it.

 In a noisy world filled with competing perspectives on everything, whatever our truth is (that is, our go-to uncontested knowledge) will determine much of our emotions and thereby actions. The danger, then, is when we are holding onto our own version of truth. When we do that, we are in essence idolizing a part of ourselves. If the definition comes from our own reasoning, then we are really just serving ourselves.

 For me, this begs the question…

The Main Thing Amidst all the things

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Today I had a busy day full of tasks. The kind that feel tedious but move our lives forward bit by bit. Things like sorting, washing, and folding laundry; making red lentil soup; washing and drying my hair ( I have long hair, so it’s definitely a task). There were also messages I needed to catch up with, reply to, and people to connect with. This too moves forward life. Actually quite an important part of it, as I’m sure most of us would agree.

Then I saw the time. The middle of the afternoon found me accomplished as far as my to do, yet distracted. I realized that I had not had a moment with Scripture all day. You see, I normally do that in the morning after getting up and making breakfast. Today, because I wanted to get done as much as possible, I woke up a bit earlier and tackled the day’s chores. Using every pocket of time, capitalizing on the interim of each activity to start or continue another. Chopping veggies while waiting to go downstairs to the laundry room to transfer our clothes from the washer to the dryer. Replying to a message between folding towels and sheets. And so on. My early morning and afternoon a symphony of efficiency in multi-tasking.

So with supper cooked, laundry done, and hair freshly washed and blow dried to style, my mind felt scattered and my soul distracted. I had addressed my to do list with gusto and now the rest of me was asking to be fed. I grabbed my notes, my Bible, and sat at my desk. Re-read where I left off yesterday and continued on to the next portion, Colossians 1:14-20.

I’m going through the whole epistle in small portions to outline it and simmer my mind in the words Paul so thoughtfully composed for a church he didn't plant but loved and which was steering away from the main thing, giving weight to matters of no consequence. To address this Paul begins with the Truth on which all hinges - who is Jesus?

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 (ESV)

I read Paul’s words and repeat them in my own: Jesus. He is EVERYTHING. The invisible God made visible. Holding all things together. Because all things were created by and through Him. He is the beginning. He holds the fullness of God. He reconciles, making peace with his blood shed on the cross.

And just like that, no more than 30 or so minutes, my thoughts and emotions, aligned once more. All the to-dos done could not give me that. Paul’s words written to a group of beleivers millenia ago, who were struggling with what was and wasn’t first order matters, reminded me how much I need that reminder too.

I got a lot of things done today. I have a fed husband and a closet full of clean neatly folded clothes and an almost up to date inbox to show for it. All good things by any measure, and a sing of a life in process; moving forward as it should. But it was those 30 or minutes that made sense of the rest of the hours, brought into perspective all the things, as His things, and made for the best part of my day. So much so, that here I am sitting down writing a first-draft post about it because it’s that important for me to record and capture life in the moment when that Life is Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh speaking to me through Paul’s words to a church on the other side of the world and time, reminding me that He is the main thing. Always and forever. From the first to the last. And that all things are held together by Him. Laundry, supper, messages, and my personal hygiene included. And remembering that holding it in the middle of my otherwise accomplished busy day is what made any of it meaningful. Those 30+ minutes reading, dwelling, and simmering those 8 verses, and thus spending time in His Word, were the best accomplishment of the day. May I always need it and carve space for it as a main thing on which all other things rest. Late or early, long or brief; worth it every. single. time.

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]



Why wash feet?

In a matter of time, the soldiers would come for Jesus. And in less than 24 hours he’d be crucified. This is where the 13th chapter of the gospel of John situates the reader.

Being truly God, he knew what would come. Because he was truly human, such knowledge would be agonizing as we would see in Gethsemane. But, at present, with hours still ahead of him, what Jesus does during the last gathering he shared with those closest to him -the men he’d be teaching for three years, calls for attention. He washed their feet.

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I did not grow up in the church nor in a Christian home. Although my grandmother became a believer late in life and she shared her faith with me as a child, it wouldn’t be until many years later, during my freshman year in college that I would come to faith in Jesus.

At the end of that first year in university, a group of friends travelled to Florida for a week-long Inter-Varsity retreat, where we joined several other university chapters from the south-east region. We studied from the gospel of John while learning to pray for and serve our campuses.

Each day we’d attend expository preaching in the main hall. The study was on John 13-15. Later in the day, we would gather in smaller groups to share and pray about what we’d learned.

One afternoon, arriving to the smaller room assigned to my campus group, I noticed on the carpet a bucket with water and some towels next to it. I thought perhaps the cleaning crew had left it there to clean after we were done with the room.  

Soon after the rest of our group arrived, we opened in prayer, and our Inter-Varsity leader explained we were going to do something different. She took the bucket and said we were going to take turns washing the feet of the person to our right and pray over them and tell them what we were grateful for in their lives. Silence took over the room as we glanced over one another feeling a little awkward.

The experience is forever seared in my memory. It was Scripture in action. It brought home in a most personal way what we’d been studying just a few hours before.

There is a certain vulnerability to the act. Even in warm sunny Florida where the retreat took place, there was a level of discomfort in taking off our sandals and tennis shoes. Feet are not particularly attractive. They are a functional body part which supports the whole, enabling us to stand and to enjoy walking and running. While they are also a body part that gets dirty, smelly, and tired, they accurately embody the limitations of our design. We are wonderfully made, and we are also breakable.

We recoil feeling exposed at the thought of showing them and having someone touch them and wash them unless you are paying for a pedicure or a foot massage. But as an act of intentional affection, it’s awkward. We don’t naturally feel inclined to do it nor welcome it with ease.

In the time of Jesus, washing feet was customary. In a culture that moved mostly on foot, where there were dirt roads, it was a hygienic necessity. For higher class families, it was common to have a slave perform that service for guests. For more modest homes, the host would provide the water and guests would wash their own feet. It was considered the lowliest task. Jesus takes the place of a lowly servant.

Situating ourselves in the chronology of the text, there are only five chapters before Jesus is taken before Pilate, questioned, beaten, and crucified. It’s tempting to interpret that time is running out, and thus imprint a sense of haste to the next actions and words of Jesus. Yet, nothing of the sort is revealed in the text. On the contrary, the passage begins with a sense of completion, a right tempo, to the timing that brings Jesus to this seemingly awkward action:

 “…when Jesus knew the hour had come to depart out of this world, he loved them to the end. (…) knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (…) he laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13: 1-5 ESV).

This is a man who knew the timing of what would come, and in complete tranquillity of mind and spirit chose his next action with intention: to perform the task reserved for the lowliest servant. As he began to undress that he may have more mobility and not get his outer garments wet, it’s not hard to imagine their shock. To watch him kneel before each man and proceed to wash their dusty, tired feet, as was customary, before eating supper – what was he doing?!

 

Indeed, what was Jesus doing?

Washing feet is getting into the messiness of someone; it’s literally coming into contact with dirt from someone else and rolling up our sleeves to love them. In this passage we behold this extraordinary man, embrace the humblest ordinariness of the human condition. Consistent with his life thus far, he forgoes his rightful place, his glory, and becoming lower than all, takes on the task beneath everyone present. What an accurate prequel to what he will do on the cross a few hours later.

Before John transitions into the next part of the narrative, we read what Jesus said after washing his disciples’ feet. It’s a compelling statement that humbles the soul and calls to action:

“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them,

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17 ESV)

That last line, verse 17, grabs me by the heart. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” That double conditional invites the believer to share in a promise. You are blessed if knowing what He’s done; you do likewise. It implies action. It’s not contingent on our feelings, but rather a deliberate decision on our part to humble ourselves to love others, in ways which will not be comfortable or natural for us. To do what we’ve seen modelled.

What might this mean for each one of us? A personal example for me was my mentor telling me things that were hard to hear, because she saw my need for Truth greater than her fear of my reaction. It’s not charity work. It’s costly and selfless and otherworldly; like the cross.

It might be doing something we consider beneath our station, because God is more interested in our character and obedience, than He is in our position.

Who has washed your feet by embracing your mess though costly to them? What’s been the result in your life? Whose feet is God asking you to wash? Pray and ask Him to show you.

Why wash feet? Because we want to be imitators of Christ, that we may know him, and others may see him. And because there is blessing in obedience.

The Ache of Unfulfilled Hope

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Over the past year, I have seen a young friend struggle with infertility and experience her third miscarriage. Another friend is wrestling the unfulfilled desire of marriage as she enters another decade still single. My heart breaks for them and aches with them. I’m short of words that can fit into the emptiness left by unfulfilled desires. There aren’t any.  

For my part, I have wanted and prayed for friends in my own season, peers with whom I could connect deeply. A desire God has answered very differently than what I’ve asked.

I’m 46, married with no children. The women my age are busy navigating motherhood, while the women whose schedule might resemble a bit my own are university students. But I’m neither a mother nor a student. I’m a wife, who works from home, and spiritually parents and mentors a few younger friends. Not quite one or the other, I feel very much between seasons, even though the calendar and my energy says I’m definitely in my 40’s.

While I do remember well how difficult it was to be single, having married late in life, I don’t mean to compare my pain with theirs; there’s no comparison. I can’t possibly imagine the trial of witnessing your body reject naturally what you most want, or how my single friend is facing her loneliness. But I do relate deeply and have much compassion for the pain that it causes to have your hope broken.

Our heart can barely breathe out a prayer of any sort when all we feel is the oversized void of unfulfilled hope. It’s so hard to expect any good from a God who is seemingly withholding a good thing. After all, a child, a spouse, or meaningful friendships, are by no means far-fetched or wrong things to want.

How does one go about this? Navigating the pain of not having, and the terrible disappointment that comes with the conclusion that God must not care? Does God care?

The answer that has helped me is actually to ask a different question – What does God care about? He cares about us, infinitely so. Jesus on the cross is the evidence. This is both the Sunday School answer and as factual as one can get. But we need more.

God cares about His character; His holiness. So much so, that unable to be close to Him because of our broken nature, He bridged the gap we couldn’t. What does any of this have to do with grief due to absence where we wished for something, and in its place have an empty womb, a ringless finger, or no bosom friends with whom to share deeply?

I remember a season in my 20’s when I couldn’t grasp God being loving and all-knowing. As a recent convert, I was carrying wounds caused by others and could not reconcile why the pain was present and not just part of my past. I had accepted Jesus into my life, and this brought me inexplicable joy. But the things that were broken in my heart and in my life before meeting him were still broken and painful after opening my life to his. It was pain and disappointment I could not wrap my brain around. Why Lord? – I asked.

My best friend exhorted me to hold on to what I knew to be true about God. It challenged me because what I knew in my head was in total dissonance with what I felt in my heart and saw in my life (the pain by others still causing damage). She pressed on and encouraged me to go with what I knew about Him rather than what I knew of people, or myself, or the situation at hand. To accompany my emotions with what was True of God. I tried. Two important things happened.

The first is that it forced me to dig deeper and revise what I knew of God. It made me go to Scripture and look for His character in the stories I was familiar with, not simply remember I knew the story.  The second was a shift in direction from where my feelings were taking me.

Were the feelings gone? Of course not. The things that caused pain were still painful. I still felt very much hurt and wrestled with anger that God allowed certain things to map out as they did. What did change, however, was the conclusion. There was room for God to be good and who He says He is, within my circumstances. The fact is that the veracity of who He is and the magnitude of our heartbreak aren’t mutually exclusive.

I am allowed to hurt, be angry even, and yet include Him in the conversation. This is about as real as it gets in any relationship. While my pain is very real, my conclusions about God may not be accurate. Knowing Truth allows for pain and hope to coexist.

God’s character is good and sovereign. And neither attribute depends on circumstance. This is what makes trusting Him so difficult but also comforting. He is good even when others aren’t. He is sovereign even over an ailment that can’t be explained.

 If He is indeed good and sovereign, then why does He allow things that are painful, and not fix them? How can His goodness tolerate that, or His sovereignty allow it? I don’t have an answer for either of my friends or for myself, that would aptly cover this question in the pain each is facing. I don’t think any words could. Instead, I hold on to what I know of His character, it serves as the flotation device I hold on when drowning in questions and sore from heart-ache I can’t understand.

The broken pieces of my life are an indication of my need for something outside of myself. The goodness of God in the face of bad inexplicable hurt is the hope that holds us. It is the mystery of the cross, where Jesus facing torture and utter abandonment entrusted himself to the Father. The torture and the pain were as real as was his need for help to go through it.

I let my emotions be what takes me to Him, not away from Him. Let sorrows become an invitation to lean into Him, to fall apart and cry, and allow Him to enter the hurt with you. I think the invitation is to lean into Him and wait in Him, abide in Him.

When I pray for my two friends, holding out the pieces of what could have been and isn’t yet, I echo their why Lord?, I ask for longings to be met, and plead that come what may, to help us to trust Him to be good no matter the outcome, knowing that because He is God, He is good and can’t be anything other than who He said He is.

A prayer for us all-

Take our empty hands, aching from what we can’t hold, and keep them open Lord, that we may receive You. Pull us near, hold us and our sorrow so big, because You Lord are bigger, and because You Lord, are good. Thank you for not running from our pain, but instead want to enter it that we may know you deeper. May we feel Your love in all the broken pieces as You make all things new. We need You and we love you, give us Hope to hope in You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Allegiance, Obedience, and Submission- All Synonyms

“This above all - to thine own self be true...” William Shakespeare

The Bard was not wrong. Being true to oneself is indeed important, that we may live congruent lives. The question is, consistent with what? Being true to myself is to remain loyal to who I am. It’s an issue of allegiance to my own heart’s convictions and desires. As a believer, to what are we called to be true?

Let’s look at Jesus. The uncomfortable, off-putting and the often omitted truth about faith in Jesus, is that it’s not about us. And nowhere do we see this clearer than in Jesus himself, who being God made man, did not act on his own accord or preference. In his own words-

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. (…) I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:19, 30. ESV) Jesus was true to the One who sent him. God’s will was above his own.

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I love words. Since English is my second language, to study their usage helps me to grasp their deeper nuances. I like the word allegiance. It comes from the Old English word “liege.” It connotes loyal service to a superior. It is synonym with obedience. Hence, whatever has our allegiance or loyalty is what we obey.  

Most of us genuinely desire to live lives that are aligned with what we hold at the core of our being. Usually, that is us. At my core is my preference, my will, my way. That is what sits there. And my natural inclination is to make it comfortable, to affirm it any way I can.  

Not everything that sits at the core of who we are is bad per se. A mother’s love for her child prompting her to care for him when sick is good.  But not everything that sits at the core of who we are and feels natural is good either. Think of any time last week when the last thing you felt like doing was to be kind to that person who got on your nerves or was rude to you. The reactions and preferences that spring naturally are very much true to our core, and not always aligned with the way we are called to live. Sin is at our core and thus prevents us from acting rightly even when we know we should.

Allegiance to the kingdom where our ultimate citizenship rests can be confusing amidst the noise of the world. For those of us who are disciples of Jesus, our chief concern is to remain faithful and steadfast to the Truth of the gospel. Said Truth, just as it includes to show compassion for others, and treat with dignity all image bearers (not just the ones we like or those who agree with us); it also includes a call to pick up one’s cross and follow a man of sorrows.

That is not an invitation that any of us want to accept with gladness.

In today’s complicated socio-political climate passions run deep over the causes where we place our loyalty. Race, a political party, gender, and even language are issues that determine where our obedience will take us. How are we to navigate what calls our loyalty to action?

Again, I think the answer is to look at Jesus. How did he live his life?

Reading the gospels is at once sobering, convicting, and encouraging. Jesus never affirmed anybody. Yet he also never denied their plight or personhood. He never questioned or denied when someone struggled. He always brought the Truth to light.  A Truth which invariably pointed to the core of the person.

With the rich young ruler we see the young man leave sad because giving up his preference was costlier than he was willing to give. We see the woman caught in adultery leave his presence with her dignity and physical well-being protected, and the mandate to “go and sin no more”. It was a revolutionary behaviour, where the only thing affirmed time and again is the loving and just character of God, speaking in the same breath dignity and compassion while also lovingly confronting with a question or directive, what is wrong, and to turn from it.

So, what are we to do when we feel our allegiance called to action? I think the answer is profoundly simple. If Jesus being God made man, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [and]…humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6,8), why should we – his disciples, be any different?

There is an allegiance that supersedes all others, to which all other loyalties submit.  Since what we are loyal to is also what we obey, submission, however dirty a word in our present day, is the very picture of our salvation. It was submission to the Father’s will that made the cross possible. Jesus’s natural inclination was not to die a horrible slow death. We know this from his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane . Submission made possible the gift that saved you and me.

Submission is a shift of obedience. We are loyal mainly to ourselves until we give our loyalty over to the Man of Sorrows. That is the beginning of dying to ourselves and truly living. And like any other death, it is painful. There is no natural inclination in us to do so.

What enabled Jesus in the flesh to willingly walk to Calvary? His utter dependence on the Father. Trusting that a good God would see him through the unspeakable nightmare that awaited him. It is an insane idea. But one that holds together the how and the why of instructing us in turn, to pick up your cross and follow him.

The choices that we make every day are in turn making us. While our politics, causes, and reactions may vary from one person and culture to another; they will speak of the allegiance to which all our loyalties succumb to, and where we put our trust – us or Jesus? The only way to remain true to Him above ourselves is to let Him do what you can’t; change your heart at the core.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
— John 3:16

When We Think We Know the Answer, but haven’t understood the Question

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Watching Jesus interact with people is the most enlightening and confronting exercise I get from digging in Scripture. And sometimes you don’t have to dig too long before the narrative grabs your heart’s attention like a gentle hand raising your gaze from whatever is eating our minds and holds a mirror to see yourself in light of Truth. This is what I experience reading the first nine verses of John 5.

The apostle John who writes this account situates us right away in an area of Jerusalem where there was a pool called Bethesda. Nearby, we’re told, were many invalids who were blind, paralyzed, or lame. John points out a man who’d been invalid for thirty-eight years. With this information we read the following exchange:

“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him,

- “Do you want to get well?” 

 -- Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:6-7 NIV)

Jesus asked a yes / no question, which the man replies with a long explanation revealing the reason he thinks he’s not well, while never really answering the question. His words answered a different question altogether than the one asked; why he thought he wasn’t healed yet. I wonder, how often do we do the same?

Jesus asks an obvious question, for to ask a person who has not walked in more than thirty years if he wants to be well is a rhetorical question. Yet he asks it anyway. Why?

The seemingly misplaced answer serves to reveal the heart of the man. It evidences where his hope is and why it’s been disappointed time and again. His eyes are on the familiar and tangible. The pool was a place where the sick often went in hopes of being healed by its waters. Some manuscripts mention that an angel occasionally came to stir the water.

I think the gospel does the same thing. The gift of grace that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, begs the question from us, ‘do you want to be well?’ A question we frequently answer with something like this: ‘I tried to make it happen but couldn’t, if only I was able to get there, then things would be much better.’

It might be that new job, a spouse, the house you really want, a child, or perhaps that issue that hasn’t yet resolved this year, and which you know once resolved, will make life fall into its proper place once again, filling you with peace and assured that you are going to be ok.

We don’t answer the question because we are impatiently bearing with the unfavourable circumstances, which according to us, keep us from being well. Amidst the noise of our own needs and wants, we miss the fact that the one asking the question is also the answer to it. “Do you want to get well?” is not rhetorical if we don’t know what well looks like. Our answer simply reveals what we think will make us feel well.

The things that occupy the hearts of most believers aren’t usually terrible in of themselves. A home, a better income, a child, or more favourable circumstances, are not bad things to hope for. The issue arises when anything, however good, becomes the reason we can be well.

The exchange between the invalid and Jesus ends swiftly with Jesus showing his deity and authority by simply commanding him to walk- therefore making him physically well:

-Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:8-9 NIV)

Did this solve the man’s problems? Surely, it improved his quality of life exponentially. He gained mobility, and with it, independence to move about freely. Yet a few paragraphs later, they see each other at the temple, and Jesus tells him to stop sinning lest something else happens to him.

This helps me see that although I may get the thing I most want and with it fill what I see as my greatest need, there is still a greater area of need. He no longer had a handicap, but he still had the ability and desire to sin. And so do we.

I love this passage because in it, Jesus shows off his power. Being truly human and truly God, we see him display humanity and compassion, while also divine authority that with mere words he is able to command a body back to health. John is intentional in how he places the reader right in the middle of it all. But I love this passage mostly because it subtly shows that while God is willing and more than able to do spectacular, His truth is usually profoundly simple and in plain sight. We are not well because even when healed from ailments and suffering that come with the broken human condition, our greatest ailment is within us.

And the One who has the authority to speak light into existence, order the raging waters to calm, or an invalid body to get up and walk, is the only One who can knows the areas in my life where I am not well and promises to do for me what no medicine, guru, self-help book, or treatment can do; change my heart. This, friends is the greatest wellness we can hope for and the greatest need we have.

What We Water Will Grow (part 2)

Because the grass is greener where we water it. So, water your soul in the well that never runs out-

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That is what dwelling in God’s Word has taught me. With these two posts my goal is to encourage you to seek God in Scripture, it’ll change your life!

In part 1 I shared how reading the whole Bible impacted my life. If you haven’t read it yet, or want a refresher, you can read it here. For part 2, I want to share a few of my favourite books and some tips to encourage you. At the end I will list some tools I found helpful to navigate the text.

Without a doubt, the most valuable aspect was to see the overarching theme of Scripture throughout all sixty-six books and the history they cover. While the books include hundreds of years spread across cultures and various territories, the story remains one and the same. It is God’s interaction with humanity. His creation, our fall, the necessary rescue, and the new life and hope He provides.

Indeed, God’s Word is piercing, it confronts, it holds us, comforts us. It can save and change a person’s heart. To read Scripture with a humble heart that desires to draw near to Him, is to have an encounter with the very God who commanded waters to quiet. It is an awe-striking experience from which you do not come back the same.  

My favourite book by far is Deuteronomy, which I shared in part 1 . Prior to reading the whole Bible, my favourite books were Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospel of John. Although those are still among my favourites, my selection has widened to include some surprises.

In the Old Testament, for example, Ecclesiastes was a book I found dry and depressive in my 20’s though I could see value in its lessons. Reading it in my 40’s with different life experience and worldview, I found the same words freeing. Because everything is meaningless I can enjoy things without having to serve them. And then they are meaningful as gifts the Lord grants us for a time.

Proverbs has always been and will remain, a solid favourite. Its teachings often taken for promises are great observations for Christian living. They grab me by the heart today as they did twenty years back.

Hosea was among the minor prophets, the one I enjoyed most. How God uses the very names of Hosea’s children to illuminate His redemption story for His people, brought me to tears. Isaiah went from a book with a handful of chapters I had read and lovely quotes sung in Handel’s Messiah every Christmas, to a pivotal link between both testaments, and a gateway to a deeper understanding of Jesus’s pain, sacrifice, and Lordship. To see Jesus so clearly throughout the Old Testament narratives was a most compelling experience.

In the New Testament, to cover the gospels chronologically meant reading all four simultaneously. I loved the insight it provided into the writing voices of the different authors. John remains today, as twenty years back, my favourite book in the New Testament, and John 15 my favourite chapter.

Luke is now a favourite gospel too. I could appreciate his Greek heritage and medical training in his attention to detail. I often felt his words placed me quietly in the scene and showed me small moments of humanity in the face of the divine.  

It was exciting to read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew as I recognized the names listed because I had read all the Old Testament! He wrote as a Jew for a Jewish audience to share that Jesus was the Messiah, and the text is rich and beautiful.

Both letters to the Corinthians and 1 Peter felt personal. Hebrews is a gem to understand the gospel. If I had to pick a favourite epistle, it would be Galatians. Finally, the book of Revelation was a phenomenal read. Purely from a reading standpoint, the book captures the imagination, frightens, and convicts. Regarding faith, it seals a precious Truth for the believer – God is in control, and His justice will prevail.

When I finally got to the New Testament, I read relieved and hopeful! Jesus is God confirming His intentional love and care for humanity. He is the promise in Genesis 3:15 delivered to fulfill what all the prophets foretold. Jesus embodies the ideals that wisdom literature points to.  He comes to show in human form the holiness and power and justice and love of God displayed throughout the Old Testament.

He is King and present in creation, yet also intercepts human history and binds Himself to the laws of space and time He fashioned. He came to fulfill the sacrifice that up to then could only be fulfilled by ritual through the law. He filled the gap of our inadequacy, which the law pointed to all along – our incapacity to attain holiness on our own. I wish I were a better writer to convey what my words fail to express!

I loved the experience of reading the whole Bible in chronological order and hope to do it again. But it is the reading of God’s Word that I want to encourage you to do. You don’t need to read it in chronological order to yield meaningful fruit.

All you need is to open your schedule, your Bible, and your hand to receive what He will give you through it. Establish a conversation with God today. He speaks through His Word, we respond by praying.

If you struggle, pray for a teachable heart and show up. That’s all. It doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated, or look a certain way. Ask a friend to do it with you or build accountability by sharing what you are learning. Put one foot in front of the other in the direction of His Word. Don’t let the tyranny of perfection get in the way.

If any given day all you have time to read is a couple of paragraphs or a handful of verses, read that and make it count. Chew on it, ask God to meet you there. Look for what the story or passage informs of His character, and how that changes you. Dig deeper; I promise you no endeavour is worth more your time and effort.

There were times when I felt that a few paragraphs were plenty because the book I was reading was so dense. If you fall behind in the reading plan you chose, or the goal you set out for yourself, don’t let that detract you. Invest what time you have, not the amount you think you should have. God wants the real you and will meet you right where you are. Read the next paragraph from where you left off.  The goal is not to have a perfectly completed plan. The goal is to create a habit of abiding in His written Word.

Whether that means to set an alarm, reserve thirty minutes of your lunch hour, or listen to the audio while you run or do laundry; whatever works during your season, bring a teachable heart. His Word will not return empty. What matters is not what it looks like, but what it does to you.

To build engagement and continuity, pick a book and read it through. The gospel of John is a good option, so are Genesis, or any of the epistles. You can do a paragraph of a chapter each day. If you are a mom of littles, or a busy student, you probably don’t have a lot of margin. It’s ok if all you have is 15 minutes between naps or 20 before class. Obedience is in the attitude, not the quantity. And faithfulness is built little by little, consistently, amidst the imperfections of life.  

To quote Jen Wilkin, the Bible is not about you, but it is for you. Time spent getting to know God in His Word is time not only well spent, but it’s also a lifeline. I found my thoughts changing as I kept reading intentionally, meditating the words and storing them in my mind. They’ve help me to grab hold of Truth when my emotions want to take me elsewhere.

Scripture is living water because the Spirit of God divinely inspired it. You and I thirst for that water, all the time, whether we can articulate it or not. Because it’s living, it will interact with the deepest part of our being and break the soil that is dry to make it soft and fertile to bear fruit that brings new life.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. (Hosea 10:12 ESV)

***

 

 

 

Tools that helped me:

·         A Study Bible was essential. Study Bibles contain a detailed introduction to each book, outlining its purpose, author, intended audience, historical context and date when it was written. I chose the ESV (English Standard Version) as the main translation because my intent to dig in and study, and for that, a word for word translation is best.

·         Reading different translations helped me grasp some texts that were harder and where my brain slowed down too much because the writing felt dense. Although I did all my reading in the ESV, I complimented with NIV (New International Version – a thought for thought translations) and CSB (Christian Standard Version) for some of the historical narrative books in the Old Testament. The NIV is very readable, and I found it particularly useful for devotional reading.

·         I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, as I have before, Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word. That book forever changed how I approach my reading of the Bible ever since I read it a few years ago through a small group study at my local church. I can’t recommend it enough! It reads quickly. If you haven’t, get a copy and read it, you won’t regret it.

·         There are good online resources that can make some basic tasks quicker. If I wanted to compare a short exert in other translations, I would use BibleGateway and click on the option to see several on one screen.

·         For commentaries and other tools, Bibletools and BlueletterBible are useful to dig deeper. These also exist in app form that you can download on your phone.

·         Youversion was great for times I left early in the morning and didn’t have time to read. I would listen to the audio while on the subway on my way to an early meeting. It helped me to cultivate my time in the Word, no matter what.  

·         Often, when I’d finish a book, I would watch the corresponding video from the Bible Project. It is short, beautifully done, creative, and a great way to review what I had studied.

 

What We Water Will Grow (part 1)

I learned this truth in a personal way as I wrapped up a difficult endeavor that proved worth every moment, mental effort, and sacrifice it required to be completed.  This is the first of a two-part post on my experience reading the whole Bible in chronological order.

As 2017 approached a few days away I was looking back and pondering on goals for the coming year. What needed to look different in 2017? I wanted my faith to take precedence over any other plan. It was clear that if anything else was to be planned and carried out, it would need to spring from a place of quiet mature faith. My mind was noisy, and my soul felt dry and spent. So, my first goal was to nurture my relationship with God.

In the 20+ years I’d been a believer, much of my knowledge of the Bible came from sermon notes and Bible studies. I had read a few of the books in their entirety and was acquainted with most through the instruction of pastors and respected writers. I was generally familiar with the overarching theme of the Word through these teachings but realized I did not have a personal grasp of the story. I had bits and pieces floating about in my heart, which I tried to grasp for comfort or counsel in moments of need. I wanted to have an anchor of understanding rather than ideas floating. It was time for me to go deeper in my relationship with God by way of His Word.

The same way we deliberately spend time with others when we want to get to know them better, I felt the need to be intentional in my reading and studying of Scripture. The goal was not to gain knowledge, but to get closer to God, to draw near to Him and let Him draw near to me. I wanted to take Scripture on face value and let it be the light unto my path it says it is.

I decided I would read the Bible in its entirety in chronological order. I wanted to look for the overarching theme of Scripture in the sequence of the events. This meant I would not be reading it in the order in which the books were printed. I looked online and found a plan that had the passages in chronological order.

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Being a slow reader by nature I chose not to have a set deadline. The point wasn’t the time it would take, but the learning it would yield. The goal was to read Scripture and soak my mind in its message, one book and story at a time. Last week I finally finished reading all 66 books, cover to cover. The experience took my breath away.

A surprising thing happened, although I should not be surprised at all. I’m not the person I was when I started almost two years ago. The endeavor called for stick-to-it-ness I didn’t have when I started back in January of 2017.  Often it looked like this: me showing up, tired, distracted, humble, broken, and prayerful. In that place God met me. And what wasn’t there at first would develop little by little, throughout the past year, nine months, and thirteen days.

I remember the first time I noticed this subtle change in my heart. My soul felt raw and my body tired during a particularly hard month. It was busier than foreseen and burdened by hard conversations with friends. One day I the midst of it all I found myself thinking out loud these words in front of my husband: “I just want to stay home by myself with my Bible and my journal!” After I said it, I realized amidst the whiny tone a real longing to just be with God in His Word. I was taken aback. My time with Him had become a place of comfort and safety. I sought it when tired and upset by others.

Interestingly, when I ran to Him for comfort, it was also the Lord who showed me through His Word, that I needed to embrace the hard in the season and the rough edges in others. Trusting He was as present there as He was in my private moments at home with my Bible and journal. This was an important lesson.

No, I am not the same person today. Reading the Bible with intention, expecting and praying to meet Him in those pages, changed me to the core. It deepened my dependence on God, my awe of His work, and gave me a taste and a lens for eternal perspective.

What we make room for, treat as important, and show up for open-handed and humbled, He will receive. Closing the last pages of Scripture’s last book, Revelation, my soul felt small and so whole. Deep sense of awe fills me even now typing these words. Without a doubt, God’s Word is the most worthwhile investment of my time, intellectual effort, and heart. Indeed, dwelling in His Word, wrestling with it, digging deep, praying through it, learning from it, abiding in the Truths uncovered; is a discipline worth cultivating.

Reading the Bible consistently has shown me that God works in the unseen quiet moments more often than the spectacular ones. This was understanding I did not have going in and now cherish looking back on the last year and half.

Reading the entire library that is the Bible took a lot of effort. At times the narrative was fast paced and fascinating as it took me through the sequence of events. Around the middle, at any given time, the text would take me through a psalm, a battle field, and a king’s court, all in one reading. But it also felt disruptive. There were parts that often meant jumping from one book to another, back and forth. I prayed through it all, asking for focus, discernment, and most of all a heart for His Word.

My favourite book, bar none, is Deuteronomy. It became my favourite when I completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). As I made my way through the rest of Scripture, it remained so. Its content, which most of us associate it with laws and regulations, reveal the heart of God and what is important to Him. I understood His tender care for His people in a way I hadn’t before. Those laws and rules were there to provide safety and Life for them. No wonder it is along with Psalms, the book most quoted by Jesus.

I do not have a natural bend for those things, like obedience and holiness, concepts that at best feel lofty and even cumbersome. But the more I read, the more I dug, the more the words changed my preference. I still don’t have a natural bend per se, but I have tasted how personal the beauty of God’s Word touches my soul, my life. I now have a taste for it that makes me long for it and go back to it.

I loved the practice and hope to take it up again in the future. For the next few weeks I am reading a devotional to reset and rest my brain. Afterwards I plan on choosing a book of the Bible to read. If you want to get to know God better, show up with your need, and a naked heart before Him. Open His Word and prayerfully dig in. Read and look for Him. I assure you the quest will be infinitely worth it.

In part 2 I share what were some of my favorite books of the Old Testament, my takeaway after reading the New Testament considering the Bible as a whole, and some resources that I found helpful to learn and to stay on track.

Till then, a lovely verse and some words I prayed over myself when I first read it last year-

He is your praise. He is your God...
— Deuteronomy 10:21a ESV
 

Dear soul, take note. He is my praise, my song, my gratitude, my salvation. Boast in the cross!

 

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Small life, Big God

A few years ago, I heard a podcast interview with Ann Voskamp. The podcast was hosted by hope*writers, a writing community I had just joined. I had recently read One Thousand Gifts, so I eagerly listened in to learn more about her. Unexpectedly, about 35 minutes in, the episode found me weeping like a child on my couch.

As she talked about a book tour, her take on celebrity gripped me. Ann expressed, “I want to stay small,” and shared that while in New York City, “I was on a book tour and all I wanted to do was be home and do the dishes.” Her words winded me. They punched the hunger for large right out of me. The hot tears rolled down my face faster than I was able to process the reason why. That word, small, confronted me.

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We don’t like to be small. Small feels so not enough, so insignificant. Small is so close to nothing. Small is not a lot and is not strong. It often goes unnoticed. We will go to great lengths to enlarge, hide, and dress up what is small. Yet being small is our most natural state.

Small is how we came into the world. Our smallness puts us in the right context with God. His magnificence and all-sufficiency become visible when I’m not in the way. Less of me, more of Jesus, my soul whispers.

His size overwhelms and comforts all at once. It is a frightening thing to be in the presence of His Might, and at the same time, also utterly comforting to find yourself covered and protected by it. This is why I wept.  

Kingdom logic is not at all consistent with our own. Because the Kingdom we belong to is not of this world. Scripture shows the small favoured in ways that prove foreign to our way of thinking. For years I walked the halls of corporate culture where the cult to the powerful was the rule of the day.

God’s Word puts the lowliest at the level of Jesus, His Son, when it says “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV).

Achieving status that sets above the rest is of the utmost importance today. It certainly was for me. Again, the Bible’s standards stand opposite to this saying “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:6 ESV).

After wanting so much to have a big life, full of accolades I could show as shiny trophies for my strength and smarts, my current life feels very simple. It is small, slow, and lived one moment and prayer at a time. The empty space left after removing the busy from my calendar and the relentless pursuit is now filled with a deep awareness of my need for Him who loved me enough to give up His throne to wash feet and die on a cross. The smallness I so badly want to cover, even now, is safely held by Him who holds all things together. My life is small, and my God is big. That’s eternal perspective I cling to.

***

A prayer for you and me, dear reader:

Jesus would you teach us how to measure our lives the way heaven does? Where small is the way, great is the price, and greater still the joy and reward? Would you open our eyes that we might see others as You do?

Remind our hearts, Lord, that the least and the last ought to be our first concern and standard. Show them to us, in our churches, in our office, in our communities. In our mirrors as well. That we might see ourselves in Light of Your Son, of His life -

Lord Jesus thank you, that having held the sun and the moon in your fingers, you came as a baby and experienced our smallness. Lord thank you for showing us with your life how things are measured in heaven.

 Thank you for showing a King kneeling on the floor to wash dirty feet, that we might learn the beauty of small and lowly.  Thank you for living a small life at huge incalculable cost. Thank you that it was five loaves that fed thousands because kingdom economics multiplies and completes the small, not the grandiose.

Thank you, Lord, for speaking of the small mustard seed as the size of faith strong enough to move mountains, showing small is all we need to get started, to follow, to believe. Give us a heart for your things Lord, eyes for the small, and a life where large is our desire for obedience; for You.

We love you Lord, and we need you. In Jesus’ name

Amen!

 

 

 

 

What Do We Fear?

Fear. One syllable word heavy with meaning.

As defined in my Webster’s Dictionary, fear is anxiety caused by real or possible danger, pain, etc.; fright.

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Whether it is a real factor like the dread felt from being fired, or feeling afraid at the possibility of becoming unemployed, fear occupies a lot of head-space, usually in the form of worry. We are afraid of both real or possible hardship. Fear is an integral part of the human experience.

So many can be present in our everyday. Fear of the unknown when confronted with new information. Fear of looking ignorant, incompetent, or irresponsible. Fear of the wrong political party or politician being in power. Fear of not meeting budget and having to go into debt. These are all potential scenarios we entertain and house in our minds regularly.

What we fear colours what we think. And that in turn drives us to choose a course of action. Fear can be a useful driver. After all, it’s out of fear that we avoid walking down a dark alley at night. But it can also drive us crazy. Ask me how I know.  

I think fear is such a natural part of being human, like sleep, that I’m sometimes confounded when I read in the Bible the words do not fear. Really? But how, Lord? How do I not fear?

We often use repetition to make a point. It says this is important, pay attention. The word fear is mentioned 353 times in the Bible. (It could be almost one mention per day for a year.) The exhortation “do not fear” appears 327 times. And almost 200 times in the variations “be not afraid” or “do not be afraid”. 

Last week I was reading the first letter of Peter when a short sentence struck me. “Fear God. Honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17c ESV) Other versions use king instead of emperor, making the point that honour is to be given to government and figures of authority. But fear is reserved for God exclusively. The juxtaposition of those verbs made me think. Peter is telling first-century churches, and us 21st-century dwellers, to fear the right thing.

There are plenty of other places in the Bible where fear is in the affirmative voice. And it is always only in relation to God. What’s interesting in 1 Peter is that the mandate is sitting next to another one. We owe honour to the ruling authorities. But we fear God. Why is that? And more importantly, is that the same fear I have of an accident or of what others think? In a sense yes, because both fears produce a certain behaviour. We try to drive safely to avoid a car accident. And concern for the opinion of others may cause to modify our own.

Since being afraid drives us to choose to do or avoid something, I understand better when Scripture says to not be afraid. The words are not simply a command, distant from humanity’s reality. On the contrary. It’s because we are so susceptible to fear and anxiety that the words are recorded so often. In doing so it’s saying to not act out of fear. Because fear lives in our head feeding our thought life, the words “do not fear” are a call to not let that specific thing drive how you will think and feel. When the Bible calls to fear God, it is saying feed your thoughts awe, reverence, and wonder for God instead

Our reverence for God becomes a compass to help navigate when we are afraid. It supersedes my fear of what others think, it puts in perspective how I act when feeling insecure.  It is the tension I’m invited to sit in when I dread a hardship that makes me feel small. A reverence that acknowledges the presence of a much bigger being than me or the possibility causing the fear.  I say this because I often feel very small vis-à-vis my fears. They seem bigger than me. Bigger than life. God is bigger. Infinitely so.

Some of our fears can often be found neatly tucked away under our insecurities. Afraid of not measuring up, I strive to more, to make up for the “not enough” I carry. Fearing others’ opinions, I try to hide behind perceived accomplishments. Or dreading a potential outcome, I let it design the mood of my day. It’s what we do. It’s human. And I think that’s why the word fear appears hundreds of times in the Bible. Because it is so common a struggle with such distressing effects, we need the Truth reminders often.  

Finally, a closer look at the whole verse in 1 Peter evens the field and provides us with a right perspective: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17 ESV)

Honour is something we owe everyone, including those in authority. In a way, the verse is elevating everyone as it calls to give all the same respect owed to the emperor. The regard we have for God, however, is distinct from the regard we give others; even those in positions of authority. We can fill in the blank with those people or situations we give authority to in our minds.

What would it look like to fear the Lord more? If we feared His name more than not making a name for ourselves? If we regarded what He says more than we fear the opinions of others? If we trusted His sovereignty over any political party rather than make a person, the end all be all answer?

There are matters of discernment and conscience. We pray for discernment and act on faith. But when what we fear robs our peace and makes God small, we lack the right perspective. If all our contentment or discontent rests on an outcome, we are driven by fear, not faith. What we fear own us. Peter’s words slice me open. They confront me in the hardest and best possible way. Honour man and fear God. We usually do the opposite.

We genuinely want to honour God with our words and actions. While all along, we fear man. In the form of the attention we crave or the approval we seek from fellow broken limited humans with the same tendency to sin that we have.

Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They reveal our heart. As with our other emotions, fear is not wrong. Is what we do with it, that becomes an issue. In his book Take Heart, Matt Chandler shares this quote from James Neil Hollingworth: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important that one’s fear.”

God is infinitely so.  

 

Slow Is Good

A few months ago, a realization caught me off guard, only because my day slowed down enough for me to see it.

I was reading and taking notes. My work felt worthwhile and busy. A few hours in, feeling tired, I stretched my back and looked up. In that pause, seeing my tiny apartment cleaned and orderly, I remembered when I vacuumed and did laundry earlier that week. It’s work that feels tedious and that God had been teaching me to view as an offering. A way to love my household well and honour him. I realized how the Lord of the universe makes Himself just as present in the mundane, as in the extraordinary. All moments are lived in his presence. We may not feel it, but He sees us and hears us, always.

It’s not the sort of thought I would have had in the past, simply because I would have powered through the reading and studying as quickly as I could to move to the next thing. Same with laundry or cleaning. Furthermore, I would not have viewed folding laundry or cleaning as something to do for the Lord.

Slow is good. It creates a pause, which allows for quiet, unseen moments to be seen by us, and remember they are seen by God too.

Slowing down enough to stay still and hold a quiet pause is hard. It doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me.  I think we often feel we can’t afford it. After all, time is always running somewhere, and we are usually behind it. There is something rushed about our rhythm.

In this season of redefining worthy and successful in light of God’s Word rather than my own narratives, a gentler pace has been essential. It shifts me to a slower gear, facilitating that breathing room to exhale. In that breath, I lift my eyes from the ordinary and glimpse into the grace of the moment.

When you think of the word slow, what comes to mind? Give it a moment before reading on.

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These are the thoughts that come to my mind: not fast enough; two steps behind; a long wait; not efficient. Basically, all negative connotations that bring frustration to any given day. And I confess, in my mind, the list ended with “not first.” See my point? It evidences so much of the narratives that have in the past dominated my thought-life. It’s interesting that I did not equate it with steady, gradual or leisurely. All valid synonyms according to my thesaurus.

Over the past year and a half, I have been reading the Bible in chronological order. The experience has been deeply enriching, and eye-opening. I purposefully try to let my mind steep in one book and story at a time and look for how is God’s character revealed in the story. What is important to him, and his interaction with humanity. Throughout both the old and the new testaments, and especially the gospels, I’ve noticed that God is never in a rush.

There are plenty of messy situations where circumstances are hard. And they may call for swift action on the part of the people facing them. But a rushed existence is not the call, nor is it God’s pace. In fact, quite the opposite. Abraham had to wait fifteen years between receiving the promise of a child and Isaac’s birth. After the call by Jesus on the road to Damascus, it would be another three years before Paul would formally begin his ministry. Waiting is often part of the equation with God. And, in the waiting, we feel the narrative slow down. In the slower pace faith is tested and refined; the soul is trained for living.   

I often catch myself acting like life must be taken in big gulps at a certain speed to show it’s going somewhere. This familiar passage in Ecclesiastes shows in the very words a rhythm for living. The fact that there is a time for each activity marks a space between them. We’re not meant to live all moments at once. Or skip through them to get somewhere faster. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

The human experience happens in morsels and sound bites. And God can be invited into each one of these. There are new mercies for each day’s worth. When I’m in a hurry, I remember to invite God mainly because I need him to finish up quickly, not because I want him.

I’m so grateful for the gift of slowing down enough to find grace in each moment, especially in the unseen ordinary ones that are so easy to dismiss. He is working in my life through those, likely far more than the big events I look to as markers.

 

 

 

 

Why I Read the Bible

During Christmas of 2016, I pondered on what I wanted the following year to look like. In January of 2017, I decided to read the whole Bible in chronological order. I did so with no desire to accomplish the goal by a certain deadline. Instead, I wanted to take my time, read slowly and seek to learn. I wanted to see and understand the overarching theme of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. 

Because the events aren’t always recorded in the order the books are printed, I looked for and downloaded this reading plan that specified the chronological order of the events, in order to know what passages to read. Eighteen months later, as of my writing this post, I’m currently in the last chapters of the gospels and about to start Acts. Whether you read the Bible one book at a time, or chronologically, it is the most worthwhile investment of your time and effort you will ever make.

With these words, I want to share my personal reasons for reading the Bible, and in doing so, make a case for the importance of Bible literacy. If you are a believer, simply put, reading it is a lifeline. You can’t afford to do without. Hard days will feel harder, and joyful ones will seem like not enough or go unnoticed altogether. We need eyes to see what we can’t see on our own.

If you are a curious seeker, it is a place to get to know the Person behind Christianity. Because Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs. It is a Person Whose life and words hold the truth and meaning you are looking for.

But first, quickly, two reasons for not reading:

-I don’t read it to be a good Christian, there is no such thing. Jesus came for the sick not the healthy. If you identify yourself as a Christian, you are (or should be) aware of how not good you are.

-I don’t read it to be religious. That sounds exhausting and for sure not sustainable in time.

 

Why read the Bible? And why I read it.

Over the past year and a half, the soundest investment of my time and effort has been cultivating the habit of reading the Bible regularly. To view it as vital a habit as breakfast. Sure, we can go without it, but over an extended period, it will show in our health and concentration. And we can all agree that while a sit down hearty breakfast is ideal, a granola bar on the go or something similar, is still preferable to nothing at all. It is no different for our soul.

So, I will try to have time to connect with God’s word every day. On busy days it may look like a paragraph or two instead of one or two chapters. Every now and then it may be listening to the audio on the metro while running late for a meeting. But the “granola bar” is still better than skipping this vital lifeline altogether.

 

1)To learn God’s heart and what’s important to Him.

I read it because I want to know God better, what is important to Him, His heart and character. I do not have a natural bend towards those things, so I read it to wrestle and study and savour what it says. To learn and let it simmer deep, one story and book at a time.

2) To let it change me.

Jen Wilkin wrote there is no self-knowledge outside of knowing God. I don’t want to fall prey believing my own faulty narratives or this noisy world’s. For that, I need to know my Maker. What He says about me matters. But it starts with getting to know Him first.

We can’t change ourselves. This is a blessing because in our insufficiency we find He is able. After all, it’s in our weakness that His power is made perfect. Those things we so much want to emulate and give our children, spouse, or neighbour; patience, love, kindness, etc., are fruits of the Spirit. Not ours to bloom, but His. Our time in the Word makes the heart and mind fertile soil.

3) Vision determines direction. What we put our focus is what we will walk toward.

This life we have is a gift, and it is short and precious. While I am here, I want to be savvy with my investments of time, talents, and attention. I have a plethora of good intentions. I have plenty of dreams and aspirations. But all these need direction and wisdom I do not possess. Moreover, I want to put them in a place where I am not looking up at them for validation or identity, and I know that’s easier said than done in my case. Instead, I need a vision of Christ high and lifted up.

Because there are so many things I want to do, and I have a limited amount of time on this earth, I don’t want to go through life in relentless pursuit feeling I am running out of time and always wanting more of something that does not satisfy. I’ve been there, and the results were detrimental.  Rather, I want to tend to the opportunities at hand, from a place of peace, secure with my identity firmly rooted on the Rock of Ages, whose validation of my personhood is provided through His sacrifice on the cross.

***

You don’t need to read it chronologically. Doing so simply provided a plan for me to follow. I chose it because I wanted to get an appreciation for the whole picture. But prior to this, I picked a book from either the Old or the New Testament and studied it one chapter at a time. A tool that has been pivotal in my approach to Scripture is the book Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. Other than the Bible itself, if you read only one book this year, make it that one. I was blessed to be part of a church community that intentionally sought out women to read and discuss this book together. It forever changed how I read the Bible.

Lastly, a word of encouragement. The Bible is a living breathing Word, written intentionally about God, for you. As we seek to sincerely interact with it, we will find in those pages Truth that sets free and gives life in a way that is otherworldly and changes you from within. Nothing will minister to you more than witnessing your own heart change in the hands of a God that is beckoning and responding, doing things inside you that begin to show on the outside through no doing of your own.

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