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’m Sorry

Maybe it’s because the winter has been hanging on, the spring has been long in coming, and the fact that the blizzard on Good Friday prevented my girls from all being home for Easter, that I’ve slumped into a bit of a pity party lately.

To be honest, that party has been dragging on too, like this winter. I recently sent out a newsletter to twenty-some wonderful people who agreed to pray for me and my writing/speaking ministry and I just whined and whined. The discouragements have gotten the better of me lately.

I was in the midst of my ‘poor me’ thought processes the other day, when we skyped with the refugee family we are hoping to sponsor. They looked and sounded like they’ve been through a long winter too. But they’re in Bangkok. Living in a 12 x 14 foot room with three kids who can’t go outside for fear of all kinds of evil. No, there’s no winter in Bangkok. Just tyrants and brutal police and overcrowded detention centres and millions – yes, millions – of refugees who can’t go home because it’s worse there.

I’ve been on the edge of tears for weeks, for my own selfish reasons, but when this lovely, intelligent, gentle soul leaned forward and said quietly, “Please, we beg you, if something happens to us, please, please, take care of our children…” my breath caught in my throat and my silent groans, for once, were not for myself.

So I need to say I’m sorry. To you who have prayed for me, to you who tried to make me smile and you who have wondered why I haven’t, to all those whose suffering is real and unimaginable, and most of all to my God.

Forgive me.

I will try to do better in the days ahead.

Love Transforms, Love Demands

heartredwhite

Do you remember your first love?

Picture a sixteen-year-old girl. She’s walking home from school, her shoulders hunched, her eyes on the ground. She’s wearing dark, somber clothing. Her hair often goes unwashed. She rarely makes eye contact with anyone and doesn’t smile much. She doesn’t have many friends.

Fast forward four years. That same girl is wearing a flowing floral dress. Her head is high and her eyes sparkle. Her hair flows out behind her, gleaming in the sun as she runs across her neighbour’s lawn. He hardly recognizes her. “You’re in love,” he says. She laughs and admits that it’s true. And it has made all the difference.

Love does that. It transforms us, it makes us believe that life is good and worth living. It makes us believe we are worthy of being loved. Yes, the discovery of love, especially God’s love, transforms us.

And the Demands of Love work to continue that transformation. Love is never easy. People tend to be complicated and their lives are often messy. Loving well inevitably leads to the need for sacrifice and a selflessness that most of us resist. But we are called to love unconditionally, as Christ loved us. We are called to give much, because much has been given to us. Luke chapter 7: 36 to 47 teaches us this truth. Jesus was invited to have dinner with a Pharisee. A woman who, the Bible tells us, had “lived a sinful life,” arrived with a jar of perfume, poured it on Jesus’ feet and washed them, wiping them with her hair.

When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Then Jesus tells the Pharisee a story about two people who owed money to a moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both.

“Now which of them will love him more?” Jesus asked. Of course, the Pharisee said the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.

Then Jesus said to him, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (v. 43-47).

Have you been forgiven a little or a lot? I think we can all agree that it is the latter. Yes, we have been forgiven much, we have been given much, and we are expected to forgive, to love well, and give much in return.

Love transforms but love also demands.

 

Moving Forward in Faith

Lisbon street

 

I’ve never been much of a planner. When writing, I rarely outline the story. I do eventually make a timeline of sorts, once I get into it, but that’s about it. I love the excitement of not knowing where I’m going.

Both in writing and in life, this can have some interesting consequences. Many times I’ve ended up in places I would never have even thought about, let alone planned for. When I was travelling in Portugal many years ago, for instance, I was sitting by a fountain looking at a map when a young man approached and asked what I was looking for. I told him I wanted to go to the Castle of San Jorge. He offered to take me there. Yes, I did hesitate for a moment, but, being a rather naïve university student at the time, I agreed. The young man said he would take me a way that no tourists would normally go. That sounded exciting.

It wasn’t until I found myself in the oldest part of Lisbon, moving through streets so narrow the sun did not reach them, and surrounded by loitering men, dirty, raucous children and old women cooking on open braziers, that I realized perhaps I should have thought more carefully before saying yes. All was well in the end, we ascended a steep stone stairway and emerged into bright sunlight, at the gates of the castle.

It was only in looking back at that time that I realized what a risk I had taken. And I thank the Lord for His protection. I was of the mindset that I could take such risks because I believed God would protect me. Perhaps I should have remembered an old Irish proverb – “Trust God but don’t dance in a small boat!”

In life, as in writing, it is wise to be at least a little bit prudent in planning for the future. Yes, God will lead and direct and we should trust Him, but we should also realize that He gave us a mind with which to think, and plan. This doesn’t mean that we make plans and than ask God to bless them, but rather that we open our minds, our eyes and our ears to see and hear what God might be planning for us. If we are attentive, we will discover that He is leading and guiding in all aspects of our lives, confirming the direction in many ways.

When I get an idea, in life, or in writing, I let it sit for a while, watch for further direction and advice that might come from other believers, or from the reading of God’s word, or some other reliable source. Then I move forward in faith and confidence and see where He will take me.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

As we move into 2018, why not discover the excitement of not knowing where you’re going?

 

Did Someone Say Christmas?

Did Someone Say ChristmasPhoto by Kimberley McClafflin

Yes, I’m looking forward to it. I love all that Christmas is, and symbolizes. I love the tree with its tinsel and baubles; I love the presents tucked under it; I love the lights that decorate it, and I love the food – turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing and of course, home made pumpkin pie. I most especially love the fact that my family will gather to enjoy all these things with me.

All of these things are wonderful, yet they can be a distraction from the real message of Christmas and I wondered how I could connect them in my mind with the truths of the season.

The tree, for instance. Not all Christmas trees have needles. One of the most beautiful Christmas trees I’ve ever seen was a spindly birch decorated with tiny white lights. That tree often reminds me that Christmas is not the same for all people – many have different traditions and ways of celebrating the birth of the Saviour, but the Christ came for all, no matter their nationality, language or ethnicity.

As I thought about the lights of Christmas, I remembered that Jesus called himself the Light of the world in John 8:12. Isaiah 60:1 tells us to “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” John calls Jesus the true light that gives light and Ephesians 5:8 tells us we ourselves are “now light in the Lord.”

And the Lord himself is our food, our nourishment. He said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry…” (John 6:35). “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).

And what about the presents? We know Jesus was God’s gift to us, a gift that ‘keeps on giving’ because once we have sought his forgiveness and accepted the sacrifice he made for us, He lives in us. If you have not accepted Jesus as your brother, your friend, your saviour, you have left a priceless gift unopened. That gift is offered to us all at no cost. All you have to do is say yes. Christmas gives us all a new opportunity to celebrate the gift of God’s Son, the gift of the forgiveness He has offered to us.

The tree, the lights, the food, the presents. As I began to connect all the trappings of Christmas to the truths of Christmas, I realized that it’s just a matter of seeing what is really right in front of us at any given time, and connecting it to the mercy and love of Christ.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Front coverChristmas_Cover_for_Kindle  Love in the Room & Christmas are now available on Amazon or from the author. Email vinemarc@telus.net

 

 

 

The Light Within

Small Pond 2
Small Pond

The Light Within

The view outside my living room window was pretty – golden trees reflected in shimmering still water, a rippling line left now and then by the resident muskrat or slow-moving duck. The picture, though always changing, has become quite ordinary to me, but as I watched on this particular day, the morning light moved steadily across the pond and began to light the tall poplar trees as they waved golden leaves in the breeze. The light, that seemed to somehow come from within, turned the ordinary scene into a glorious show of colour.

I couldn’t help but think of a dear friend and brother in Christ, who had just passed away in a tragic accident. I remembered the day my husband led him to Christ, at an evening Bible study. They were down on their knees in a small apartment, surrounded by people he didn’t know, yet his desire to know God gave him courage to say, yes, he wanted to ask Jesus to be part of his life, right then and right there. The change in our friend Bruce became immediately obvious. He went from being an “okay guy” who was a little rough around the edges, to being one remarkable by his constant smile and eagerness to help anyone in need. That’s what he was doing on the day he died.

Like those trees outside my window, Bruce went from ordinary to extraordinary because the light of Christ had entered his life, making his witness glow from the inside out. During the days after his death, as the news spread, we constantly heard stories of how Bruce’s smile had brightened the day, or his helping hands had made a significant difference in someone’s life. He became a living example of the scripture that says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Bruce was not a rich man. He didn’t leave a lot behind, but he left a sure and wonderful legacy – the desire instilled in us all to be like him. Like Jesus himself, Bruce’s humility and genuine love for others left us pondering how we too might act in the same way. His sudden absence has left a hole in our lives but we know it will be filled again when, one day, we will see Bruce in all his glory, standing with the other saints beside his Saviour.

Bruce was a gift to us, to our church, to our community. His is a story that I am pleased to tell, as a writer of faith. I am encouraged that there are many more lives that glow from the inside out, lives whose stories are testaments of unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. I am blessed that I have been tasked to tell them, be they the stuff of real life, or the elements of fiction.

As a long-ago writer, Frederick M. Lehman, said in the old song, The Love of God –

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made;

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

Would drain the oceans dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.”