All of Us are Hungry

bread

All of Us Are Hungry by Marcia Lee Laycock

I grinned as the commercial advertisement began. I’d seen variations of it many times on TV. They always involve well-known celebrities, and the scenario is the same. I especially liked the one in which actor Robin Williams appears in the middle of a football huddle and tells the players to “get out there and make balloon animals” and “kill them with kindness.” Then someone hands him a Snickers™ chocolate bar. When he takes a bite he turns back into the real football coach. I also like the one in which Mr. Bean lands in trouble with a bunch of Ninja Warriors until he eats the chocolate bar and becomes one of them again. The tag line is always the same: ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’

The first time I saw one of these commercials I thought of a time during my first pregnancy. I hadn’t had much for breakfast one Sunday morning and by the time our church service was over, all I could think about was the fact that I needed to put something in my stomach. My husband and I went to a local restaurant and ordered quickly. Then he began talking about our finances. I tried in vain to follow the conversation, to no avail. Finally, I said, “I can’t wrap my brain around anything, especially our finances, until I’ve had something to eat!” There have been occasions since that time when my husband has jokingly said, “I think you need a Snickers™ bar.”

When you get right down to it, we are all hungry for the same things – love, acceptance, fulfillment. None of us will feel that we are able to live up to our true potential until we feel that those longings have been satisfied.

This has application in our spiritual lives as well. In one of his recent sermons my husband put it like this: “You can’t know yourself until you know Jesus.” It is only by getting to know Jesus that we begin to understand who we truly are as His dearly loved children. None of us can be our true selves until we are filled with the Spirit of Christ. Then and only then are we free to become our true selves, a being created in His image. Like the various characters in that TV commercial, it is by taking in, ‘eating’ His word that we grow in that understanding. Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

Wandering around in a state of constant hunger is neither good for our physical nor spiritual selves. We need to be fed. We have been provided with a bountiful banquet of spiritual food that will sustain us. All we have to do is open a Bible and read.

Been There, Done That, Burnt the Tshirt

The Cross

My daughter’s eyes glistened with tears that were about to spill over. “I just feel like I’m never good enough for you!” She blurted.

My husband had just been chastising her for her messy room, but those words stung him to the heart. He gathered Katie in his arms and assured her that he still loved her, would always love her, no matter what. Then he helped her clean up her room.

Many of us feel that we aren’t good enough. The thought may come when we fail in some way, or when we see “friends” go off together, leaving us alone, or when we are passed over for a promotion at work or an award we felt we deserved. There are many circumstances in life that make our heads drop and our shoulders slump as our self esteem sinks to new depths. These feelings can lead to frustration, anger and even depression. The pressure to be perfect is self-defeating. You know you can’t do it. You know you never will. So what’s the point in even trying?

But, the good news is, as a famous theologian once said, God knows us best yet loves us most. He knows all our failings and weaknesses, all our bad motivations and self-serving decisions, yet He still, as my husband did with our daughter that day, wraps us in His arms and tells us he loves us, no matter what.

He can do that because, when we acknowledge Him as our Saviour and Lord we are able to receive His forgiveness. Then He wipes away all that is flawed and ugly in our lives. He took all of it away the day he was nailed to a cross in a faraway place called Palestine, over 2,000 years ago. In the moment we accept the forgiveness He offers us through that ultimate sacrifice, He clothes us in His righteousness. We become holy, not because of what we do, but because of what He has done. That’s why he was able to tell that thief on the cross beside Him that He would see Him in Paradise that day. The man was forgiven because of his faith in the One whose sacrifice tore the curtain in the temple and made the very ground tremble.

Once we grasp that concept, the self-deprecating feelings of never being good enough fade away. When we understand the depth of His love none of our failings can defeat us. When we know we are loved and accepted we are able to lift our heads and straighten our shoulders. We are good enough for God. Nothing else matters.

Jesus didn’t die for those who were already perfect and righteous. He died for the ungodly. He died for you and me.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

 

What’s Holding You Back?

City on Fire

I glanced at my cell phone, pleased to see it was our youngest daughter. “I need some advice,” she said.   My heart fluttered just a bit as I put the phone on speaker so my husband could listen too. My fears were quickly dispelled when she said she’d been offered another job, in another city. We listened as she explained the situation, giving us the pros and cons to leaving or staying in her current position.

“It’s a good opportunity,” she said.

“But?” My husband responded.

“But I like where I am now, like the people, like my church, like my friends.”

Those were all good and valid reasons to keep her there. “But what do you sense God saying?” he asked.

My daughter was quiet for a moment. “I think He wants me to stay,” she said. “So I guess it’s a no brainer. I’m staying put.”

There’s a story in the Bible, in Genesis 18, about a family that had to decide weather to leave or stay.  It’s a well known story about the destruction of a city and the warning God gave to that family. He sent three angels to tell them to leave. Some of them refused to go. Lot and his wife and two daughters left only when the angels took them by the hand and led them out of the city.

It made me wonder why they hesitated. It’s hard to know what was in their minds, but I’m thinking their prosperity in that place was probably a big factor. Lot and his family had become comfortable where they were, in spite of the fact that the city was so full of evil God wanted to destroy it.  

That begs another question. How could a “righteous man” be comfortable in such a place? No doubt Lot’s life was full of testing and compromise. You can’t live in the midst of evil and not be affected by it. Yet he was reluctant to leave. Was it fear of the unknown? Was it doubt that God would really destroy the city? Or doubt that He would really take care of them if they left? Or was it simply that he liked where he was too much to leave.

It’s a frightening thing to think that we would like living in a place of sin but sadly, we all do. We like our “momentary pleasures.” We like our secret fantasies and those things that taste sweet in our mouths. We like our sin too much to leave it.

But God is faithful. He will lead us out of it, if we let Him. Staying where we are will lead to death – the death of spiritual life. Moving forward in obedience, in repentance, is the only thing that will lead to life.

What’s holding you back?

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

I Am Not a Writer

light-on-the-path
Light on the Path

For many years, indeed, for as long as I can remember, my identity has been totally and inextricably bound up in being a writer. It’s not just what I am, I told myself, it’s who I am. Sadly, over the years, that perception led me to a place that was filled with stress and burden. In fact, it became like a prison in a way, a prison of my own making.

Today I am declaring (with thanks to Ted Dekker), that no, indeed, I am not a writer. Every time those words enter my consciousness I feel the chains fall away. I don’t have to produce. I don’t have to publish. I don’t have to succeed. It is not who I am.

I am, in fact, a daughter of my Father in Heaven, the King of this universe who demands nothing of me but that I accept His forgiveness, return His love and let that love flow through me to others.

Yes, I believe He has given me the task of writing as a means to spread that love and a way to discover more and more about Him myself, but writing is what I do, not who I am. It’s all a matter of perspective. When my perspective is correct, I am free to be who I was meant to be and then to do what I was meant to do with joy and a sense of freedom. When my perspective is not correct, what I do becomes a chore – I worry about marketing and sales instead of praying for the hearts and minds of my readers; I fear not being able to produce the work I should (the blank page terrifies me); when someone points out a mistake in a published piece I feel humiliated; when my work is rejected I become depressed; when I don’t win a contest or award I become angry and cynical.

Yes, I admit, all of these things were happening to me. I knew these feelings were wrong, I struggled against them, but I couldn’t deny they were real. And all of it was beginning to crush my creativity. It became a struggle to produce. The joy was being bled away.

So, it may seem like a counter-productive thing to do, but I have decided to declare this statement to myself every morning when I sit down at my computer: I am not a writer. I am the daughter of my Father in Heaven who loves me. Nothing else matters. When those words have sunk deep into my soul, then, and only then, will I write.

So, will you join me?

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22,23).

Until that Day

operating-roomI’ve had cancer. Twice. These are a couple of things I learned:

1. Someday Jesus and I will be face to face; He is here, with me, right now.

2. All the ambitions I have, and all the fears I harbour, are insignificant in view of those two facts.

I learned those lessons as I lay on a cruciform table in an operating room, reflecting as the anesthesia took hold. I could wake up in heaven, I thought. The idea excited me, but it also made me realize I didn’t want to die. There were things I still wanted to do and see, people I wanted to continue to love and some things I needed to set right. But I knew the possibility of dying that day, or in the not too distant future, was very real. The fact that it would happen, some day, was undeniably clear.

That made my writer’s heart beat a little faster. There were articles and books I still wanted to write, plays I wanted to see on the stage. The idea of dying in the middle of it all made me squirm a bit on that cold table.

So I prayed and that wonderful peace that passes all understanding flooded through me. I realized if I was about to meet Jesus none of my fears and suddenly rather silly ambitions would matter. If He was about to take me home, that meant the purpose for my life, and my work, had been accomplished. If He chose to allow me to continue on this earth, I could trust that he would be there beside me, guiding me all the way. It was a “win, win” situation.

Then I woke up in an ICU on a respirator with my hands tied down. My first thought was, Well, I don’t think this is heaven. As my brain struggled to register the words the nurse was saying, telling me I had had an allergic reaction to the blue dye they had injected into my body, I tried not to panic. What did that mean, exactly? I was relieved when she told me they were going to remove the tube down my throat and untie my hands. Yes, I thought, that would be very nice.

Then I saw my husband’s face. Then I had a moment. It was brief, but quite powerful. What if it had been the face of Jesus? I thought of Isaiah’s reaction when he saw the Lord and cried out, “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Understatement of the century, in relation to myself, I knew. But then there is the rest of the story, in which the angel tells the prophet he has been cleansed and The Lord presents him with his life’s purpose.

I too have been cleansed and presented with mine. So I will continue to write, to live my life,  remembering those two things I learned on that operating table. Until He takes me home.

 

Go For The Gold

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A cross-country runner lengthens her stride and qualifies. Another throws himself over the finish line, even though he has fallen. A long jumper forgets about past injuries and puts every ounce of courage into competing. Athletes. We’re going to be seeing a lot of them in the days ahead, as our televisions broadcast the hour by hour and even minute by minute reports from the Rio Olympics. Millions will be watching because the stories of victory and defeat, top dogs and underdogs, are riveting. There are those who just can’t seem to lose and those who just can’t seem to win. There are those who are there as veterans, having competed many times, and there are those who are there for the first time, looking at future dates when they might ascend to the podium of medal winners. Whatever their status, whatever their level of skill, there is one thing that seems to characterize them all: focus. They are all focused on going for the gold.

Being singleminded is a quality that is referred to in the Bible many times. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, detailed in the Old Testament, we hear God saying, “don’t be double-minded.” It was understandable they would need to be warned. People who worshiped many gods surrounded them. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, they were under the dominion of a culture that encouraged multiplicity. Walking through the streets of Rome and most of her conquered territory was like walking through a museum of idols made from every imaginable substance. The temptation to ‘hedge their bets’ was intense.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, God was also warning His people about the idols in their hearts. He was specific about some them, telling them point-blank, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13) Even in that far-away corner of the world, the Roman Empire had brought a measure of prosperity. Goods and services were readily available. Commerce was thriving. Many had made it their god.

Sound familiar? In our culture, where ‘going for the gold’ has more than an athletic ring to it, the distractions are many and mighty. Material success is lifted up to the highest place on the podium, with production and efficiency running right behind. We depend on them to keep us safe, to keep us fed and clothed, to keep us happy. They are our gods.

The scriptures teach another way. The apostle Paul put it well, in the book of Hebrews: “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12: 1-2) As with the athletes competing in Rio, it’s a matter of focus. Like Paul, we must “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) The goal, the prize, the only gold worth winning, is Christ Himself. Go for the Gold.

 

Man Hands

Man's hand

“Definitely not a job for my man hands.”

I chuckled as I watched an episode of The Amazing Race recently. The contestants had flown off to Bali where they had to go through various tests. One of the challenges proved difficult to some of them in an unusual and unexpected way.

Bali is one of the world’s largest salt producers. The workers follow a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for over one thousand years. It was put to the Amazing Race contestants to mimic that process.

They had to wade into the ocean, draw the salt water into two hand made buckets slung over their shoulders with a bamboo beam, carry the buckets across the beach and then scatter the water onto a designated plot of sand. As the sea water evaporated the salt was left behind. It was a physically challenging event so the men had the advantage. At first.

But it was in the second half of the event that the tables turned. Once they had enough salt water poured on the sand they had to then scrape the salt residue from a trough into a basket and pour it into four small bags, sealing them by tying the top. That’s when the men discovered they were at a disadvantage. The woman who was judging whether or not they had completed the task successfully often rejected the bags because they were not full enough. That meant the knot at the top had to be very tiny.

It was managing those tiny knots that proved difficult for “man hands.” They simply weren’t designed to do such a delicate task.

As I watched them struggle with it I thought of all the times I’ve tried to make things work in my life, only to discover that I too, have “man hands.” The task before me was difficult because I was not designed to make it work. The task, in fact, had been designed by God to show me that I needed His help.

Many people say they live by the Ten Commandments. I wonder how many realize that the commandments were not designed to make us work harder to please God. They were designed to show us that we cannot achieve holiness without Him.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, for instance. Really? How can I possibly do that? Love my neighbour as myself. Are you kidding me? Do not covet … oh yeah, that’s an easy one, right?

Go down the list and you will see that none of the things God asks us to do are possible in our own strength. We need Him. Desperately.

Are you trying to tie up your life and finding your “man hands” can’t do it?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

The Most Excellent Way

The Most Excellent Way by Marcia Lee Laycock

abstract-painted-heart-doodles

Yes, I know, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. But love is always worth thinking about.

“Till death do us part.” We’re all familiar with that phrase. It’s repeated in the marriage vows of thousands of people each year. It’s a vow, and a hope, and sometimes a wistful wish. Unfortunately we all know that the statistics tell us the majority of marriages don’t see the fulfillment of that vow. For many the hope of growing old with their partner is crushed in the early years of their relationship. For many more, the wistful wish turns to a bitter memory. Love, it seems, is hard to hold on to.

The uncertain climate of love in today’s society can be attributed to many things but it always comes down to a common denominator – people -ordinary, everyday people who have flaws and issues and self-centred tendencies. We are, in many ways, a hard people – hard on ourselves and hard on others. We’re not prone to forgiveness or compassion or empathy. It’s so much easier to walk away, walk by, and we’re very good at convincing ourselves that it’s okay. Everyone does it, everyone expects it.

But Jesus has said he will show us a “most excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31) Then he goes on, in 1 Corinthians 13, to tell us what it looks like:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1Corinthians 13:1-8).

A most excellent way, indeed, but how can we, who are so inclined to do the opposite, ever accomplish such love? We are all like trees planted in a desert, unable to thrive but, as the scripture says, we can be trees “planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3).

When we draw from the source of love itself, we can and will love truly. That source is Jesus Christ. And His way is, indeed, most excellent.

 

 

What If?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was at a crossroads in my life. I had graduated from high school over a year before and had worked hard to save enough money for one year of university. But which school and which program should I pick? There was a good journalism program in a school only one day’s drive away (Plan A), but there was a creative writing program at a bigger school on the other side of the country (Plan B). I studied the catalogues of both, my eyes often shifting from the more pragmatic alternative to the one that drew my heart. I weighed the pros and cons and added the figures over and over again. Plan B just wasn’t viable. I couldn’t afford it and the prospect of getting a job at the end of the four years was unlikely.

I chose Plan A. I lasted two years. I learned some valuable lessons and skills, but decided journalism, at least the kind of journalism I was required to do in the nation’s capitol, was not my cup of tea. Frustrated and disillusioned, it was many years before I pursued my dream of becoming a writer.

I often wonder about that choice. I often wonder, ‘What if…’

Recently I came across a video clip of famous actor Denzel Washington, talking about his faith. One of the last things he said in the interview struck me – “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”

And again, I wondered, ‘what if …’ What if I’d had that perspective way back then. What if I had that perspective today?

Jesus said something similar to his disciples one day – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25,26).

He also said. “But store up for yourselves treasured in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

It took me many years before I was willing to follow that advice but once I did the world became a brighter place, because I had discovered my place in it, as a writer, and more importantly, as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Washington also said something else that resonated with me – “Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding,” he said.

Start with prayer. A good idea. A good Plan A.

What if? …

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What’s in Your Fridge?

Fridge

I stood staring into our fridge with one thought in mind. My brother-in-law was coming to visit. He has a bit of a reputation for being a little OCD when it comes to fridges. And mine was in dire need of cleaning out. I sighed and started, putting jars and containers that were still good on one counter while pulling the garbage can closer for those things that had been there too long. Like the bowl of left-over spaghetti, the jar of mayo long past its due date and the spicy pickled beans only my husband will eat that were sprouting a growth of light grey fuzz. The garbage can was close to capacity by the time I was finished. I sighed again. I hate throwing food away. If only food wouldn’t spoil, I thought.

A verse in the Bible came to mind – “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27).

I pondered that verse. What is the food that spoils? Possessions, money, fame, even the very paper these words are written on. All of it is fleeting and of little or no significance.

What is the food that endures? Lives changed, people drawn into the kingdom of God, people moved to live according to His purposes.

We are flooded with information from those who would push us to work for the former instead of the latter. We get those messages pouring into our email inboxes, into our living rooms via the TV, and into our brains via social media sites of all kinds. Buy this course and you’ll never have to work at that drudge job again. Spend this money now and be earning six figures a week in no time. Buy this item now and happiness will be yours forever.

But Jesus invites us to work for the food He will give us – food that will give us the purpose, the enthusiasm, the motivation to do His will in the world.

I wonder what His messages would be? Oh right, He’s already sent them. Messages like: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5).

And then there’s this one: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31).

Good words to keep us focused on what is worth our time, our energy, our passion. Good words to help us focus on our true purpose on this earth.

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

So, have you looked in the fridge of your life lately? Are there a few things in there that need to be tossed out?

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