the Church

We don't serve perfection; we serve the perfect One.

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We don't serve perfection; we serve the perfect One. There’s a difference.

Because when we serve Jesus it’s not about having all our variables in order. We make room for Him. We carve the intention to be in His presence in the life we live, in the day we are having; not the one we think we should.

This weekend something happened that brought this home for me in a very tangible and unexpected way. It was a small occurrence, made of regular life, which is what made it so important for me to note. It reminded me of the tyranny of perfection. How crippling a mindset it is to want and expect circumstances to align for us to feel like we can proceed. Like we are worthy.

I experienced blessing in the midst of incomplete and very imperfect circumstances. After a busy Saturday, filled with cooking, meaningful conversation with new friends about ministry and life, cleaning up, and some reading, I went to bed tired and sleepy. That state which warrants you will fall into a heavy slumber. Oddly though, after a while my body was wide awake and very restless.

What started as a sleep disturbance around 1 am felt very much like spiritual warfare by 4 am when I was cold, hungry, and anxious. Through the long hours I got up, walked around, changed into something warmer, tried to read, prayed, and ate something. All to no avail. I can’t remember when I fell asleep, but it was likely around 5 am.

Unaware of all this my husband had slept through the night and woken up with some dental pain. I woke up later than I needed to make it out the door on time to catch our bus and get to church. I was achy and exhausted. Although he was getting ready, when he saw me and heard the night I had he said we could just stay home. I laid in bed for a few minutes, feeling my joints ache and my back tense from the wretched sleepless night, I tried to visualize the rest of my Sunday. I’d drag my exhausted body heavy with fatigue out of bed and veg out on the couch.

The image left me wanting for something. I felt hungry for sermon words, weird as it may sound. Thoughtful challenging reflections to chew on, to look up on my own. My soul longed for the act of coming together under one roof to intentionally set my heart on the receiving end of what God does and gives when people come together to purposefully worship Him. The sentiment echoes this verse: “My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word.” Psalm 119:81

I knew we would be SO late. Epic late, I thought. Not just the usual 10 or 15 minutes, but we’d likely miss half of the sermon. Yet, as wrong and incomplete as being that late felt, the alternative left me feeling worse. I knew I wouldn’t sleep and would just stay home and watch a movie or read. My body would get another chance at rest later in the evening, but my soul was longing for something that only comes on Sundays.

So, dragging my tired limbs out of bed I told my husband I wanted to attend church, late and all. I used a very quick shower to soothe the ache and help me wake up, gulped the oatmeal he made for me, and out the door we rushed.

 We caught the last third of the sermon, I think. When we arrived, the preached was elbow deep in his exposition of Acts 2. I savored what I grasped and listened in. New insights brought to light from familiar passages made me smile as I tried to take notes. Too tired, I put the pen and journal away and simply paid close attention, enjoying the experience of discovering new truths. I made a mental note to re-read the chapter later when more rested and take notes. (I did so this morning - totally worth it!).

Soon after, the sermon ended, and the worship team came on stage and closed with a hymn and a couple of contemporary pieces. While the gathering stood for the singing, we remained seated due to the excess fatigue. As I sang, from my seat in a low tired voice, “Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light,” the words rang deep in my soul. Indeed, I thought recalling the hellish evening and slow morning, whether sleepless or rested, by day or by night, God you are best thought.

 I left with a full heart. My tired self showing up to church almost 40 minutes late, felt like a meager and even shameful offering. But the alternative, which was to keep my tired self away, would also mean staying tired spiritually. One third of a sermon was better than no sermon at all. Saying a quick hello to a few friends was better than seeing no friends at all. While there are times when the best thing we can do is stay in bed and rest, I knew in my tired bones this wasn’t it.

 When we left my body was still very tired, but I noticed that my spirit wasn’t. I felt physically tired, but emotionally I felt joyful, satiated. The experience reminded me that drawing near to God is a respite. That the size of our offering - in this case how properly we show up - is secondary to the size of the grace and blessing that comes from drawing near to Him. That our souls need as much nourishment and rest as our bodies do. And that I don’t serve perfection, I serve the perfect One. Jesus, who doesn’t keep me from Him based on how well put together I show up. His love and approval are boundless and unchanging because they’re based on His heart not ours.

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
— Psalm 63:5 NIV

[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.]

 

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.]  


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!