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).