life giving

Making a way for the King in every corner of Canada

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I’m just returning from a five-day trip to the Canadian mid-west, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, for a speaking engagement, that turned out to speak to and engage my heart far more than anything I went over there to do. That’s how God’s economy works, isn’t it? We pray and obey, and He meets us on the other end of that obedience, with His presence.

For two years my husband and I have been praying for the opportunity to speak and teach beyond our local church, in response to a deep sense of calling and desire to share words that encourage and point women to God’s Word. The answer came through the invitation to speak at the Women Encouraged 2019 Conference. It was a surprise that bears deep meaning to this new Canadian.

Our world is large and messy; you just have to look at the headlines. But it’s also rendered small and familiar when you enter a space where people love the Lord and seek to learn and live His Word. Leaving Montreal behind, two plane rides and six hours later, with a two-hour time difference for good measure, I found Grande Prairie women and families busy displaying so much His beauty in their hospitality, faith, and love for one another and for a God they seek to serve so faithfully, it was a gift.

I made a new friend from Nigeria, who like me, has now become Canadian through the gift of immigration. I met ladies from as far as Belize, and as local as a 20-minute drive to the church hosting the conference. Finally I was able to put faces to names I’d been collaborating with for months. We sat together, broke bread and broke in laughter over shared stories.

I listened to Glenna Marshall, lead us into worship with both beautiful singing, and later sound teaching, as she walked us through the Bible story showing a God who wants to dwell with His people. Also, we had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of Bethany Barendregt, who leads the ministry Women Encouraged, which hosted the conference. Her voice and heart deeply familiar to me, as the Lord crossed our paths over a year ago through a writing group. Both spoke messages centering around what the Word of God says about Himself to us and for us. That while it’s not about us, it is our very life-line. Because to know Him is to live. And that our compass for behaviour rests on what is already done, and what we think, and feel is to be filtered through His Truth.

I’m honoured to have shared a stage with these women. But more importantly, deeply moved that we all get to point to the higher stage where Jesus is high and lifted up, and where our permanent citizenship belongs.

For my part, while soaking our minds in the letter to the Colossians, I shared a bit of the story of deep change God has performed in my life, against the backdrop of God’s big and forever story of pursuing us to make us whole, and how our identity rests on whose we are, not what we do in terms of performance or results. All of us one goal: to make much of Jesus and to whet our appetites for His life-giving Word. It was a most precious time that moved me deeply to worship even more the Author of us all.

When the Gospel is the connective tissue that binds us together, what makes us different becomes a trace of beauty from our Maker we image to one another. Distance and accents become evidence of God’s work elsewhere. He really does have the whole world in His hands.

I’m a city girl through and through. I was born in a capital city and have always lived in cities. Being an extrovert, I enjoy the noise of cars, the sound people’s shoes make on pavement and general urban hums. I spent nearly a week in a snowed-in plain, where “she lives right over here” was a 35-minute ride down a road that was a beautiful expanse of cold white slumber as far as the eye could see.

My city heart felt the isolation of so much distance between each dwelling, where nothing but road and nature separated houses from each other for kilometers/miles at a time. It was a welcomed remoteness because it invited the eyes to see, and the heart to behold, the work of God in a land of generous hearts. I loved it all.

In it, I remembered that God is everywhere His people dwell. And, it showed His people are scattered everywhere. Because He means to pursue and redeem this race of ours. So, you can find Him in the hustle and bustle of a city with the aroma of French croissants baking on a street corner. As well as the quiet, peaceful kindness of the great North with the stranger that opens her home and welcomes you with the delicious aroma of a home cooked meal, simply because you are part of God’s family.

God is busy doing a new thing. He’s at work, moving His people, raising disciples in every corner or the world, every crevice of society and square mile of land. He’s raising a people for Himself one soul at a time, and His kingdom looks like snowy roads for miles on end, like immigrant accents sharing a table with those born and raised in the cold beautiful North, like women from various walks of life and traditions, speaking all the same language; the language of a Hope that is based on where we’ll spend eternity. That same language infuses today with courage because of the Truth recorded for us in Scripture, because eternity begins right here right now. What a joy it is to see His people working together, making a way for the King!

But to all who did receive him, who beleived in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, not of the will man, but of God.
— John 1:12-13

[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…

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

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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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.

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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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