Alone

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A long time ago, someone told me that they never felt as alone and insecure as they did when they went to church on Sunday mornings. I didn’t understand it at the time, because my whole existence revolved around church life – social and spiritual. Then our situation changed, making it necessary to find a new church home. We were ill-prepared for the shock.

Instead of being embraced by our our new Christian “friends”, we were held at arm’s length and viewed cautiously, skeptically, and often rudely by a group of believers who should have been the people we could trust. We were at a loss as to how to deal with the criticisms we endured under the guise of correction. We felt so alone. I still wonder why we stayed there as long as we did, because it clearly was not a place where we experienced the liberty to grow in Christ and worship the Father as we so badly wanted to. We finally moved on.

I told that little story because I still see the same things happening in churches and Christian communities. I can’t help but look around me and see those on the fringes – the ones who are sitting alone at the far end of the back pew, or standing by themselves during the post-service fellowship, a cup of coffee in their hands and a wistful look on their faces. They may not be suffering ridicule from fellow Christians in the verbal sense, but are they suffering just the same because of our obliviousness to their needs?

I have to ask myself some hard questions, the first one being: WHAT IS MY PROBLEM? Am I too timid to approach that person who was brave enough to come to church by herself? No. Am I afraid she is going to dump all her problems on me in a fifteen-minute monologue? No, but even if she did, so what? Do I think that I am too important to bother with her? No! Then what? What is my problem?

I have no excuses. And excuses are mostly invalid anyway.

Here’s my conclusion: We. Are. Selfish. We’re self-centred human beings who call ourselves Christians, but fail to act like it.

Okay, you probably didn’t like that, but (shrug) whatever. It’s the truth. I can say that because it’s my truth just as much as it is yours.

I’m going to challenge you. Next time you go to church, make a deliberate effort to look for that “alone” person. Instead of criticizing them (mentally or verbally), walk right up and ask if you can sit with them. Invite them out for lunch or coffee. Find out about them. And that means keeping your own opinions and life speeches to yourself for once. Ask them if you can pray with them. Invite them to your bible study or home group. And be sincere about it.

That’s how church is done, folks.

It’s not about your Sunday morning social club or your did-you-see-what-she-is-wearing conversation. It’s not about whether or not you liked the music or the pastor’s sermon. It’s not about being first in line for the chocolate donuts at the end of the service. It’s actually not about you at all.

It’s about Jesus in you and about demonstrating His love to others. It’s about being the light in a very dark world full of alone people.

Matthew 5:14-16 says this: You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (NKJV)

Get your light out from under that basket and let it shine. Find someone to share it with.

You can do it!

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De-Conform

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To all the wordaholics reading this, I am well aware that de-conform is not a word. I made it up for this blog post. Wordaholic, for that matter, isn’t a real word either. Just let your OCD tendencies slip a little for the sake of literary license, okay?

I read Romans 12:1-2 in The Message Bible, and this is what it says:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I know, I know. I’ve caused you more grief by using a paraphrase instead of an actual bible translation. Live with it. But don’t miss my point.

Which is to de-conform.

Remember my last post (click here) about the crowd-following bridge-jumpers? The whole de-conforming thing fits right in. Read the two verses above again and get a small glimpse of what the Apostle Paul is saying here. In a nutshell, THINK! Use your brain.

In a world gone berserk – come on, let’s call it what it is – going against the culture is unpopular, and can even get you in trouble if your attention isn’t fixed on God. But when you ask Him, hear Him and include Him in your life, He’s going to give you some pretty specific instructions. He will change you. He will bring out the best in you.

I had the opportunity to pray with and speak into the life of a young woman today. The details of the situation are hers to share, not mine, but the amazing and completely God thing about it all was that because I put aside my own comfort zone in order to do what the Holy Spirit directed me to do, this young woman got something she would have otherwise missed. It had nothing to do with me, except that I was obedient. It had everything to do with her receiving a gift that the Lord wanted to give her.

As it says in the above passage, readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. I clearly recognized God’s direction in that moment (believe me, I don’t always), and I acted on it immediately. As a result, a precious woman was blessed. How awesome is our God!

So, what does de-conform mean? (Again, my own word, so my own sort of definition.) Rather than chugging along with the crowd, I am striving to hear the voice of my Father so that when He tells me to move in a different direction, I won’t even hesitate. It’s a process. But He is so patiently teaching me, waiting for me to catch up, nudging me along, and scooping me out of the ditches when I stumble. Oh, He is good!

I don’t want to be a photocopy of everyone else. I want to be what God wants me to be – a reflection of His Son, Jesus Christ. I want to be obedient and faithful and true to what He has for me to do. To say. To be. Holy and acceptable to Him.

De-conform.

It’s a real thing.

 

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Take a Look

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When I was a young teenager desperate to do everything my friends were doing, my parents often asked the question, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” Well, of course not, but I did want to do some bridge-jumping, despite the dangers of going along with the crowd.

Admit it. That was you, too, once upon a time.

As a matter of fact, we’ve grown up now and we’re still those crowd-following bridge-jumpers.

We live in a world where we carelessly rush into things before we’ve stopped to take a look at where we’re going and why. The general masses are headed in a particular direction, adhering to particular social norms, and behaving in a similar manner; so much so that you can hardly distinguish one personality from another. And we don’t dare disagree. But we keep going along with it because they must be right. Right? Because breaking away from that crowd would make us different. And we don’t want to be different.

It’s hard to be different.

It’s hard to stop and take a look around while you’re in the middle of a crowd that’s moving along at a rather alarming pace. You put yourself in danger of being trampled. Or yelled at. Or mocked. There is a strong likelihood that your friends and/or family won’t stop with you. They’ll probably urge you to get moving so you won’t be left behind.

So, we continue along, not even bothering to question why we do what we do. We see everything changing and we might even protest a little, but it’s hard to be different, remember.

This even happens in the Church.

Yup, I said it.

We really don’t want to stop to take a look while we’re in the middle of the Church crowd because in that context, the backlash could be even greater. We don’t want to say anything to rock the boat because the Church crowd can be harsh.  And it’s Church, after all. God must be in it, right?

Right . . ?

At this point, you’re probably wondering what the point of my point is. I can’t possibly get into it all in one blog post, but I will say that I am stopping more frequently to take a look – to take a look at how Church is being “done”, to take a look at the people around me who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ (not crowd-following bridge-jumpers), and most importantly, to take a look at my own relationship with Him. Why? Because there seems to be a big disconnect between what the Bible says and what I see around me – and what I see in myself.

I have been on a personal journey (that word has been so overused, but I can’t think of a better one right now) for the past few years, and I am convinced that we Christians are missing way, way, WAY too much because we are allowing the crowd to tell us what we believe and how to believe it instead of listening to what God says. Spiritual deafness, is that a term?

Time to pop the cork on your crowd-following. You’re not going to jump off the bridge with the rest of them. You’re going to stop and take a look, regardless of the consequences, and find out how deep and wide is the love our Father has for you. His plan has always been for you to follow Him, not the crowd filled with people who haven’t got time for Him.

Take a look in the Bible. Take a look at the Father in prayer. Take a look at where you’re going with Him.

It’s quite a ride.

Want to come with me?

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Grateful?

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This is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Feasting, family, friends, football . . . you know the drill. It’s often a busy day with the people you care about and there might even be a comment or two where someone offers a word of gratitude.

Aside from this day set aside for thanksgiving, however, are we really grateful?

Hmm . . .

I read an article this morning about the victims of what’s known as the Great Purge, some of the more than 9,000 German Mennonites arrested in Ukraine from 1936-38, during Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s ethnically motivated persecution (click here). I am of Mennonite ancestry and my family immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine, so this news story caught my attention.

I got to thinking about Thanksgiving and how my generation, and those following, have little context with which to understand the sacrifices and hardships that made it possible for us to be where we are today. We, in North America, have not experienced world wars, the Great Depression, or ethnic persecution such as the Jewish Holocaust and that which is described in the article I read. We’ve certainly had rough times, but nothing to the extent that our forefathers lived through, and sometimes even died during.

Yet, they were thankful.

I know this, because I’ve read my great-great-grandmother’s diary. I’ve spoken with elderly people who shared their stories. Almost without exception, they repeatedly express their deepest gratitude to our heavenly Father for giving them courage, for protecting them, for making a way for them, and for never leaving or forsaking them.

I am certain that the Lord pointed me to that website with the article I mentioned. Reading it caused me to stop and really think about my own often ungrateful heart and how I can become more purposeful in expressing thanks, not just to my Father, but to others around me.

So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, 
Will give You thanks forever;
We will show forth Your praise to all generations. – Psalm 79:13 (NKJV)

 

 

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Pause

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Hit the pause button and sit down with me for a few minutes. This is important.

Too busy, you say? Too bad, I reply. You need to see something.

First, answer this question: When was the last time you experienced God – I mean really felt that God was present with you, hearing you, and showing you how much He loves you? Be honest.

I could venture a guess and say that for most, it’s been a long time. Maybe it’s been weeks or months or years. Maybe never. And that is so incredibly sad, because the Father is all about His sons and daughters experiencing Him. He longs for an intimate relationship with His children.

I’m not going to give you a methodology to cultivate a closer walk with Jesus, if that’s what you’re looking for. I’m also not going to spout doctrine or theology. I’m simply going to tell you that Jesus loves you, really loves you, with a love that cannot be described, explained, dissected, or analyzed. Because He IS love. As a matter of fact, He invented love.

And He is right there loving you whether you like it or not.

Before you start protesting, you need to know that you are good enough. You’re important to Him. He is not disappointed in you. The Father’s love for you is infinite. Jesus is your righteousness and you are complete in Him. Complete! You can’t get any more complete than complete, right? There is no separation between you and the Father. Jesus made that possible. He is in you and you are in Him. As one.

Perhaps you believe that you don’t understand enough about God or the Bible to really experience Him. Perhaps someone convinced you that you weren’t spiritually mature. Let me assure you that even though you may not fully grasp the concept of the love, grace, or goodness of your Father doesn’t mean you can’t experience it.

Just pause.

Close your eyes (unless you’re driving) and think about the Father’s love for you. He made you in His likeness – how awesome! – and that’s who He sees when He looks at you. He just loves you. And you can’t do anything to earn it or diminish it. Ever.

That is truly pause-worthy.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NKJV)

 

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Shifting Gears

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I have to repent.

For years, I have stubbornly refused to use this blog as a forum to document my personal journey as a follower of Jesus Christ. Oh, I’ve posted smatterings, but I wanted to be careful to keep it generic enough to stay out of trouble, so to speak. I didn’t want the controversy or the potential criticism.

I don’t care anymore.

So, I repent. I am so sorry that I caved to the social correctness of the days we live in, despite the gentle coaxing of my Father to write what He wanted me to write. I tried to reason with Him, because He’s all over being reasoned with, right? Uh – no. I used the excuse that I had nothing of life-changing relevance to share. After all, who would listen to me anyway? Yeah, that didn’t go over so well with God either.

I’m shifting gears.

I’ve told the Lord that I want to write the words He’s given me, sharing the insights He’s revealed.

That’s scary.

Scary, because it means I am exposing myself in ways that I’m not entirely comfortable with. But then whoever said being a Christian was supposed to be comfortable?

Here’s the thing: life is short. Especially when you’re on the back end of middle age. I don’t have time to piddle around and make lame excuses anymore. I’m going to write what my Father tells me to write, in the way He wants it written. And I think He is smiling and heaving a great sigh of relief because I will finally use the gifts He has given me for the purpose He meant them to be used in the first place.

But this is hard. So hard. My brain is shouting at me, saying I’m crazy to even consider this. Well, Brain, get with the program.

We’re shifting gears.

Stay tuned.

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Beyond the Noise

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Someone once made a comment to me that they needed to get beyond the noise in their head. At the time, I thought it an odd statement. We deal with noise pollution around us all the time, obviously, but I had no idea what mental noise could be.

Being the curious sort, I decided to experiment on myself. I began to listen. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be hearing, and with all the thoughts that were being flung around by my pinball machine brain, I didn’t think I’d be able to distinguish the noise behind all that activity anyway.

Until it dawned on me that the continuous bouncing around going on in there was the noise.

Light bulb moment.

Having arrived in this world equipped with a rather active imagination, I had never thought to question the overflow of this attribute: ideas, vivid memories, snippets of conversations, stories, nightmares, arguments with myself, etc. I could go on, but the point I want to make is that the deluge never stops. Ever.

I had to find a way to get beyond the noise, just as my friend had stated so many years ago. I had to seek that place of peace where I could close the door on the noise and hear the voice of the Father.

I was reminded of Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You will keep him (her) in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he (she) trusts in You.” Did I trust in God? Of course, I did. Was I keeping my mind stayed on Him? Uh . . . not so much. According to this bit of scripture, all I had to do was keep my mind on my Father God, if for no other reason than that I trusted Him.

Quite simple, really.

I found that I was able to get beyond the noise in my brain when I focused on Him – the Almighty God. He truly is my refuge when the racket seems too much to bear. Through the storms and troubles and joys and busy-ness of life, He is always there, holding out His hand, waiting for me to grab hold. And He doesn’t let go.

HE is beyond the noise.

 

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