eternal perspective

To grow we must be pruned

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The Christian faith is one where pain is a key component. And while most human beings find a natural aversion to pain, nowhere is this truer than in Western, and especially North American culture. For us, not just pain, but any semblance of discomfort, is deemed unacceptable. Our abundance and modernity have allowed for unprecedented comfort and convenience. Believe I’m as guilty/ delighted as anyone. With online grocery shopping and delivery service, my life has never been so easy, or convenient. I do 90% of my shopping from my laptop in my pj’s while sipping my morning coffee,and schedule the delivery for the day and time that most suits me. Convenient and predictable - yes please, thank you!  

The other side of this predictable convenient existence though, is that it has harmed our ability to weather and welcome life unscheduled and unpredictable. We see it in our attitude when a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load on our browser, or when what we want and expect to find at the store, is not available. If these instances catch us on a particularly bad day, our reaction can put a damper on the hours left with our poor families, colleagues, or friends.

We don’t like being inconvenienced. But we especially strongly dislike the notion that we will go through hardship, and so we freeze upon the possibility that something will push us outside of the area where we excel, where the roads and shortcuts are familiar to us, and where we feel we have control.

I personally sit in the tension of the self  I’m most familiar with, and the one I’m informed about in the Bible. Said tension is in essence what I write about in this blog. Hence its tagline “in the intersection of between everyday life and eternal perspective.”

That wrestling between the part of us that is asked to pick a heavy piece of wood and follow Someone; when all I want to do is sit irritated that no one is acting on my expert knowledge of how things are and ought to be, and everyone’s failure to follow suit.

What the Bible informs

Let's talk agriculture for a moment. The process of cultivating, to be more specific. First, the soil needs breaking. Being broken is what makes it ready for planting. Once seeds are placed, tending must follow. And then, a prolonged pause happens waiting for the harvest. During that prolonged pause where waiting seems to be the only thing taking up calendar days (instead of satisfying to-do’s we get to mark of) there actually is a lot of activity underneath all that dirt. It is during this last stage where growth takes place.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
— John 15:2 (ESV)

He prunes so that we can bear fruit. The first time I heard this passage preached and unpacked I did not know the word pruning. It was in the early 90’s during my first year of university. Thinking it was because English was my second language,  I looked it up in Spanish only to realize I didn’t know it either. So, the issue was not language, but that I wasn’t familiar with plants at all.

More than 20 years later, doing my own inductive study of John’s gospel, I appreciated the details in John’s account. I took notice of the language and the intention. The cultural sensitivity revealed in the choice of analogy. Jesus often spoke in parables and used storytelling to illustrate important principles of the faith he came to live out for us.

He was speaking to an audience familiar with farming and agriculture. The people at that time derived their very livelihood from it. It was their day to day and means to make a living. Here he was, the Maker of everything using the very creation He had authored to paint a picture of how God parents us.

Pruned literally means to cut a part of a plant so that it will grow. The removal of a piece of its own composition will help the whole grow healthy. How interesting. I think of things that feel so close to me, so familiar and intimate, that its removal seems unbearable. Our reaction to the mere possibility ranges  from irritation when something doesn’t go our way; to utter despair when we feel out of our depth and the deep sense of injustice to have been placed in a predicament without our doing.

God’s economy is as wide as it is generous. So He is constantly pruning out of us the self that wants to stay comfy and the same always. Because that self has no interest in Him and will not naturally draw near to Him. That self is often found holding what we think is the reins of our lives, when in reality it is our spiritual demise we are holding on to. And so committed is God to our sanctification that both the mundane traffic jam-like irritations, and the deep crisis will He use to prune the parts of us that impede our soil to be broken and good seed to take root in our lives. Because the end goal is not to makes us comfy, but to make us like His Son.

What are you wrestling with deep in your soul right now? Ask in your heart; Am I resisting God’s pruning? Because, remember, His purpose in removing something from our being is in order to help us grow and be whole.

[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.]

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.]



On Writing Unpolished to keep on Writing with Purpose

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If you’ve been reading me for a while you know that for the better part of last year I wrote regularly, publishing one thoughtful post every Tuesday. It was my commitment to myself and a group of supportive friends, for accountability and to help me stay consistent. By the end of the year, I was mentally exhausted. I learned that writing of that nature once a week was not sustainable for me, as it demanded time and mental energy at a pace I was not able to keep.

But 27 days into this year I realized that my writing needed attention. My writing muscles needed exercise to hone my voice. You learn to do something by doing it and making the mistakes that come with doing something for the first, second, and fiftieth time. You learn to write by writing. So, I need to write.

I need the fluidity that comes with a more unabridged way of writing. Otherwise, the time and effort it takes to write “properly” will keep me from writing at all. This atrophies the writing muscles. Which I realized is what’s happening. So, to help me warm up my writing muscles I will blog in a more “first-draft style”. What I hope to accomplish is more frequent writing even if less polished.

Needless to say, it is scary and humbling to write like this. I fear of coming across thoughtless and careless in my craft. But, ironically, it is by giving myself the space to write this way, that I hope to warm up my creative muscles and hone my skill to produce better work. Everything needs to start somewhere, and all writing begins with a first draft.

Inspired by a discussion Tim Challies started on the subject of blogging, and this post by Trillia Newbell, both whose writing I enjoy and respect, I decided to write more informally from now on until June. The exception, of course, will be those pieces I submit to other outlets like Women Encouraged which I also share on my blog as part of my writing.

In the end, the kind of writing I (and most writers) attempt to do is meaningful when shared with a reader. It is a privilege to share one’s thoughts with a willing listener. So I ask for your leniency dear reader, while I use this season to warm up my writing muscles.

What will not change is the intention behind all my writing. I wish with my words to beckon the reader to navigate the human experience with an eternal perspective. Because it’s where the follower of Christ is to spend his or her life. And that is a fact that should affect and color everything about our present. So I will continue to aim to write from that perspective, even in first-draft style :)

I confess I did a little editing with this post before posting, but considerably less than usual. Moving forward, for this series I will write when I can and give myself a set amount of time to write and post. No editing or wrecking my brain what pretty picture can I take to go with it. I will use what I have on hand or take a quick one (sorry ahead of time!). The idea is to write, and make it about that. This quote by Julia Cameron comes to mind: “Making writing a big deal tends to make writing difficult. Keeping writing casual, tends to make it possible.”

Trillia, thank you for the freedom and permission I feel your initiative provided!

What do you want to see at the end of the year?

There are 56 days left till January shows up on a fresh new calendar on my wall. For most of us, I imagine, the next few weeks will be filled with a mixture of equal parts tired and excited. The demands of the season will stretch our calendars and budgets to capacity between events we need to plan, attend, and/or host, a myriad of gifts we want to purchase, and all the coordinating the season entails.

All the while everyday rhythms continue to carry the same load of responsibilities. Carpool, projects due, work routine, in short life goes on. The engine that is everyday life is still running on the same resources. The day still has only 24 hours, and we are still operating as one person with only two hands.

But the 50+ days we have, also means we have the luxury of time. Imagine 56 days from now, on December 31st, looking back. What do you want to see? How do you want to close the year and enter the next season?

Oddly I think the answer to this question is the same if I asked it this way: standing on January 1st facing the blank page in your agenda as it offers you a blank slate, what do you want to see?

I recently asked this question to a friend who is powering through papers and exams before heading home for Christmas. In sharing my own answers, I realized they would be similar if I was looking ahead on January 1st because in the end, at the core, I want to see a life lived well. What that looks like may vary from person to person, but I think most reading this probably share some common ground.

For me a life lived well looks like building relationships over empires. Whatever “empires” may be yours, mine usually have to do with wanting to be right and generally getting my way. I want a life that truly resembles that of a disciple, where my chief concern is to model myself after the One whose life makes mine possible.

I am learning that a life well lived for me, therefore, often looks like a life that is not entirely comfortable. It can be choosing the more difficult, less “natural” option of holding my tongue in an argument or using it to speak an apology after giving in to my frustration.

In the next few weeks, for all of us, it means that more important than getting all the shopping done on time, or checking off every item on the ever-growing to-do list, what will matter is being present and take life in moments not just tasks to be completed. The task, whether a trip to the grocery store for milk and eggs or to complete the next assignment for class, is filled with small choices along the way, which when compiled make up the person we are becoming.

It’s not about the eggs, or the milk, or the paper due. It’s about what it will require of us to move us forward in the calendar through December, and move us in life.

I think about the expression “a life hidden in Christ.” For something to hide me, it must contain or cover me. And for that, it needs to be larger than me. Otherwise, I am the one covering it.

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For me, a life well lived implies living my everyday choices in front of a much larger presence than just myself. Because let’s face it, after a while, a meltdown at the store with a tired child, or another sleepless night to finish up that proposal, begins to feel more like a hardship than an inconvenience, when it’s the twentieth meltdown this week, or you can’t remember when your life was reduced to project deadlines.

Let hardship minister to us in the hardened places of our hearts. When we are running low on patience and sanity, may we let the tired moment bend us to Christ to say “ I can’t, will you Lord, please?”

Will you give me the kind word I don’t feel like saying? Will you hold me together so I can hold this broken person in your name? Will you be my strength when my weakness is giving in, and I want to despair?

And open-handed ask for discernment and stamina to carry out the next step, one foot in front of the other, in grace that abounds. Whether that is to the parking lot to head home, or to the meeting room to explain you will need another day.

For me, a life well lived is one that acknowledges only with Jesus can it be so, and not on my own strength. Is a life that is weak because then He is strong. It’s hard. But strangely there is a comfort too. Weakness invites help and means it isn’t all up to you.

Who we are becoming is important, so let’s pay attention. The choices we make, are in turn, making us. And this happens in the everyday minutes. Those moments that are seemingly too mundane and small to have much significance. The to-do list and the calendar are filled with them, and require many of them, to move forward. I want to be a person who is present for the people and tasks that God has called me to, and who needs Jesus to do it.

Because the end of the year is particularly busy, here’s an exercise to help us. Make a list of all the things that need your attention between now and the last day of the year. Include all tasks, from baking cookies, cleaning the car, that recital that will take all the planning to pull off, the presentation coming up, choir practice, packing up to visit family, etc. All of it. Then, look over the list and imagine all the moments pregnant with possibility for meltdowns, headaches, and frustration, those tasks will require. Pray over the list and invite the Lord into the crazy. Ask Him for the grace to choose Him and to let yourself be held.

8 weeks from now we want to see memories that will outlive the items crossed off a list. We want to see Jesus because our life is hidden in His.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:32-34 NIV

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.

Canadian Thanksgiving and the Kingdom of God

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I always say I’m Canadian through the gift of immigration. It’s funny how that small stamp in our passports back in 2012, gives us a freedom we did nothing to defend, earn, or build. Immigration has taught my husband and me so much about the kingdom of God.

Though we were not born here, we get to call this nation our home and enjoy the same stability, peace, and prosperity as any other Canadian. This paints a picture of the kingdom of God, by which we face each day covered in grace and acceptance, just like the Son.

The hard things that bring shame, the hurts we carry, the ones we carelessly inflict, all – forgiven. Every day we get to face 24 hours worth of mercies. Grafted into a family, we enjoy a membership we didn’t work for, or pay. Through no doing of our own, we belong.

Yet membership is not always easy. Adaptation is the hallmark of being an immigrant. From your new home address, which will take more than a year to feel like home, to grasping social cues and looking awkward because you haven’t grasped them yet. You are frequently settling in and thus feel unsettled often. You feel your life uprooted, and taking root elsewhere is challenging.

Isn’t that like the kingdom of God? We are placed in it because we are in dire need of saving. The very process is painful. Being saved often will mean having to confront things we considered familiar, normal, and even comforting. After all, having our way feels like that. So, letting go feels contrary to our intuition.

Grafting connotes pain and certainly discomfort, for it includes cutting from somewhere to place elsewhere. But it also means new life will stem from the graft.  I googled the definition to shed some light. Graft: noun - a shoot or twig inserted into a slit on the trunk or stem of a living plant, from which it receives sap. The very purpose of grafting is so that the inserted piece may feed from the living organism where it’s been placed.

In this, our sixth Canadian Thanksgiving, celebrating with our small group, I got to see this so clearly. Looking around the room, I saw twelve very different people. From early twenties to mid-forties, some students, some working full time, some married, others single, a few born and raised in Canada, while several grafted from as far as the Middle East and Asia, all under one roof, filling the space with laughter that has no accent, while skin colors of every tone.

We come with a specific history, a set of beliefs, and our own ideas and preferences. And it is in the body of Christ that we sharpen one another’s edges by the work of the Holy Spirit, using imperfect, flawed vessels placed together under His grace. Jesus is the living water who feeds us new life.

I think belonging is one of the deepest needs we feel as humans. We long to be part of a clan, to have a community and say, “these are my people,” because it means we are known, seen, and heard.

But I think belonging is also one of the hardest things for us. We need it to survive and thrive because belonging creates an opportunity for needs to be seen and met. We end up undressing our hearts and letting our messy parts spill out. Whether we need fellowship, a plate of food, or clarity for a moral dilemma, belonging to His family calls to wash feet and raise our hands when our own feet need washing. It’s hard and beautiful.

He is building a new kingdom where every tongue, tribe and nation is represented. The colliding of all those accents, histories, and colours, makes for a beautiful tapestry, more unique in the sum of its parts, than any one of them all by itself. It makes for a messy picture this side of heaven but a glorious one in the life to come.

The transformation from a life lived according to me, to one lived according to Him, is nothing short of a miracle. That is the result of cutting and replanting us; the miracle is less of me and more of Jesus because all of me is being moulded into His likeness.

On this Thanksgiving, as I ponder on His active work of cutting and replanting my life, I want to invite you to look for His work in your life. A prayer for us both-

Lord thank you for saving us, that we may have new Life.

Give us eyes to see the present circumstances of our season in light of your plan. Help us remember you are building a Kingdom to make your name famous, through the miracle of changed redeemed lives,

and that redeeming and changing is what you are doing in our lives every day through cutting and grafting.

Lord reveal our heart to us. Where are we refusing to be grafted and take root with you? Show us and give us teachable hearts, willing to yield to you Lord.

Grafting is painful Lord, you know because you were willing to be cut from heaven and grafted into humanity, renouncing your power and glory, for death on a cross. Thank you, Jesus!

Please help us to trust you with our broken pieces, as you cut and graft them to renew us.

Fill our hearts with joy we pray,

That strange joy that coexists with more questions than answers, because we know the One who holds all answers. Lord we pray for blooms, a fruitful life in the things that matter to you.

We love you, and we need you, for everything.

In Jesus’ name we pray- amen!

How can the Church love Single Women?

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I married late in life—at least later than my circle of close friends. I witnessed most of my friends’ relationships blossom and lead to marriage. Over the years, I saw several become parents before I was in a stable relationship at the age of thirty-three. My calendar was busy with weddings, and I had no one to attend them with. I didn’t mind not having a "plus one" to bring, but I worried that I was running out weddings to attend before I was the last woman standing with no wedding invitation to send. I remember well, being single is not easy.

Your single years can be …

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.

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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.  

 

Turning 46, Pain, and Eternal Perspective

I recently celebrated my 46th birthday and underwent emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. What can I say, it’s been a busy two weeks! Prior to my surgery, I had planned to write a reflective post looking back at the past twenty years. But then life happened in the form of excruciating pain, surgery, and a week of post-operation care afterwards. So, the following reflects the decade I’m in the middle of, the context of the past two weeks, and the biggest difference I see in my heart at 46; eternal perspective.

When I was 26 I wanted to eat the world. Fresh out of university, I was eager to claim and own my place in the world through a shiny job title and the perks and accolades that I expected would accompany said title. I wanted desperately to be somebody, and my plan was to make that happen through my job.

When I was 36 I was eating the world, avid to chew more, feeling that my enough was out there, yet to be discovered. I’d changed jobs often. I needed to be permanently in conquering mode. It was exciting and somehow unfulfilling at the same time. By the time I was 42, the world - that is my world- the one I had relentlessly pursued, was eating me alive and spitting me out in pieces. You can read more about it here and here.

The severe burnout that took place in my early 40s was God’s saving grace. Waking up to the life you always wanted and looking for ways to quit it, will sober you up quickly. God radically changed my perspective from one filled with hunger and urgency for control and definition here and now, to one with eternity as the destination and intention while I am living this one life I’ve been given.  

God’s purpose never fails, He will have His glory. And it is a gift to us that He does. Seeking our own is detrimental to the very fabric of our spiritual DNA. We were created, we have a maker. We were made to know Him and be with Him. When we seek to captain our own ship and look for our own glory we are usurping the very purpose for which we were created. At best it will consume us enough to confront us. At worst, we will get what we want, and alienate ourselves from the One Who can give us purpose.

So, eternal perspective. What is it? What do I mean by it? I’ll start with what it isn’t. It does not mean having clarity in all things always, or a guarantee of a long-term plan in place. It does not mean a life free of complications, pain, or conflict. It does not promise the ability to outline the right steps with the assurance of a desired outcome.

Rather, it is having a vision that covers more than what I see and want here and now. It is a filter that helps navigate what we don’t know, can’t handle, or fear. Instead of eliminating those things – which is what we’ve been taught should be our life’s goal, eternal perspective equips us to live through it. For me, it has meant living with hope that goes beyond tomorrow or the next thing I wish to achieve. Is the reminder that God is still God, He is still good, and His purposes prevail, even when circumstances seem to point otherwise or aren’t what I want. It is the lifeline that assures him getting the glory will also result in my good. It is the reshaping of my heart that now wants Him to be glorified through my circumstances, rather than me getting my way.

For me, it means to set my eyes on what is eternally important, that I may discern all things in light of that. It helps to put everything in the right place, including and especially myself.  Pressing needs here and now, like rent money, or food, or a health issue, are human needs that point to my limitations. We need food to survive, shelter over our heads, and the means to provide for both. We need help when our bodies malfunction or fail. We need. Eternal perspective sheds light on who I am not. I am not God. I am not self-sufficient or all powerful. As much as post-modern thought, my college education, and corporate career would beg to differ.  

While I was at the ER waiting for the doctors to decipher what was the source of the blinding pain I was experiencing I thought of friends who have experienced hospital visits under much more severe circumstances. Eventually, I thought of Jesus on the cross. The Romans perfected a torture device designed with a slow and very painful death as the end goal. I saw the room full of trained medical staff, several of which were working hard to try and understand what was wrong with my body. My pain, 14 on the scale 1-10, was treated, and in the comfort of a medical facility with a bed, and generous painkillers.

His pain was inflicted while simultaneously depriving him of his dignity by removing his clothes, spitting on him, beating him, making him carry his execution device on a raw back after receiving forty lashes, and then hammering nails through his wrists and feet. A sentence reserved for the worst crimes at that time. Endured by an innocent man. All because His Father willed it, for our sake. This perspective is one I didn’t have twenty years prior.

Eternal perspective humbles me as it reassures me, that I am not in charge of everything. And that which I am charged to do, I face with the understanding that I have access to the One who holds all things in His hands. Pierced hands, for my sake. Eternal perspective is knowing this is not the whole story and having deep joy and expectation for the rest to come. Eternal perspective is knowing I serve a crucified resurrected saviour. And that I too must die to myself, my will, my plans, my preference, in order to be made new with Him.

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