Blood-bought Freedom

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This morning, I gathered at the cenotaph in our downtown alongside citizens and school children, teachers and politicians, veterans and cadets.

We stood on frozen ground, snow swirling and settling on and around us as we paid tribute to those who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy.  

We stood to remember soldiers who

Marched through frozen fields,
Trudged through mud and mire,
Sloshed through putrid puddles, 
Slept terrified in trenches 
Some to awake no more.

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We stood to remember those who

Stood on porches, at railway stations, and airports to say good-bye.
Stood forlorn in the battlefields amid the devastation. 
Stood broken over dying comrades.
Stood in sorrow over unmarked graves upon their return.

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We stood to show our gratitude to those who still withstand the aftershocks of war—those who returned and live with its endless echo. 

We stood solemn remembering the price paid to purchase the peace we enjoy in Canada as a result of their sacrifice—the cost inconceivable. 

The mothers whose sons never returned, the widow and her children, are well-acquainted with its cost. 

May we never forget nor take this blood-bought freedom for granted. 

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Hole in the Hedge

ShearsFrom the few memories of my early childhood in England, I recall we had a hedge framing our front garden. My father meticulously maintained that hedge with handheld trimmers. I recall him being rather dismayed about a hole in the hedge that neighbouring children used to climb through. As long as kids made a habit of playing in this leafless passage, the hole would be perpetually maintained. 

What about our lives? Where is the hole in our hedge? An area where we’ve repeatedly let in such things as bitterness, fearfulness, or anger? Maybe that area is so frequented by unchecked thinking that a gaping hole has formed. Anything that becomes a habit treads a well-worn path. In the case of negative or destructive thought patterns, the habitual cycle can be detrimental to both ourselves and others.  

Unlike my father’s hedge, we can choose that which we allow passage through the perimeters of our lives. We can cut off fruitless patterns of thinking and deny them entry into our thought life. However, with our jam-packed lives, we’re often distracted. We leave little space for reflective contemplation and instead snatch fleeting fast-food bites on the fly. The quality and quantity of the life-giving morsels we consume are often not enough to fully nourish or protect us.

If we fail to examine those thoughtless meanderings before we let them in, they lead to well-worn openings of fruitless behaviour and thought patterns. If we don’t set aside time to examine our thinking and replace toxic thoughts with “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8), we leave our lives wide open to hedge-holes.

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Holes in hedges can develop anytime we let in bitterness and refuse to forgive. They take shape when we allow impatience and anger to proliferate. They evolve when we compare and grow dissatisfied opening the door to envy and jealousy. They become firmly formed when we repeatedly choose fear over faith. They grow distinctly larger when we settle into sin.

Ignoring hedge holes won’t make them disappear. Managing them takes a concerted effort and proper maintenance requires taking a firm grip on our thought life and conforming it to God’s. 2 Corinthians 10:5 encourages us to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Make no mistake, we have a choice regarding our thought permeations. 

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We prevent holes by cutting off the flow of thoughts at the gate, discerning whether they deserve to pass through, and aligning our thinking to God’s. We combat hedge holes by setting aside time, disciplining ourselves to reflect and be renewed in God’s presence. When we spend time soaking in God’s word, he fills the holes, packing them with his peace. His Spirit quickens us and helps us to grow in discernment regarding that which we allow to enter through the perimeter of our lives. Soon, where once there were holes, we see new growth and lush foliage—composed of God’s love—encircling us.

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  1. Where do you notice hedge holes in your life?
  2. How can you adjust your thinking to align with Christ’s?
SoulFocus_Book_Trials_071619
Coming November 12th

 

 

Leaving the Ninety-Nine

This weekend, my husband and I attended the 30th-anniversary celebration for China Partner, an organization that trains and equips pastors in China. Erik, the president, has carried on this ministry from his father, Werner, who was born in China and whose parents were missionaries in a place called Jiangxi province before China closed its doors to missionaries.

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Erik’s grandfather’s journal records that he led ten people to the Lord during the twenty-five years they ministered in China. This weekend we heard from Chinese pastors from Jiangxi that in the same place today there are 530 000 followers of Christ.

Ten people may not seem notable to our western way of thinking, their ministry may even have appeared a failure. But not in God’s economy. God will leave the ninety-nine to look for the one. That is how precious each of us is to him.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” (Matthew 18:12-13)

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Erik’s grandparents left Germany—left the ninety-nine—to go to China. The ten cherished souls who found Jesus in Jiangxi were forever changed, and so were their families. You see, in God’s economy, it doesn’t matter if the returns seem small, or if the work takes years and years. God sees the whole timeline, and eternity too—the forever place he made possible for us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

This is the Good News Erik’s grandparents went to China to share. It’s the same Good News their son carried back to China years later, the same gospel that Erik continues to minister in China and that these Chinese pastors also teach to this day.

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Erik and his father, Werner, receiving scrolls from the Chinese pastors of Jiangxi province.

Can’t you see it? The impact of one faithful couple—their hopes and dreams coming to fruition long after they entered eternity?

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

There will be times when it appears that the work of our hands is fruitless. In our present circumstances, position, or place we find ourselves, it may not appear that we are making a difference at all and that our efforts are wasted. But you can be sure that anything done in God’s name and strength will bear fruit. Whether we see it or not, we can trust God for the outcome.

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” (Isaiah 54:4) 

Like Erik’s grandparents, you may never see the fullness of your labor. You may never know the outcome of your faithfulness this side of heaven, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t bear an impact. How amazed do you think Erik’s grandparents would be to hear about the 530 000 souls who know Jesus today in the province they ministered in 94 years prior? So it is with us. Make no mistake, your life’s choices, work, and faithfulness matter and multiply far beyond what you can see.

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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:11)

The next time you are tempted to give up on something or someone—or even give up on yourself—remember that this is never God’s posture toward us. He never turns his back on people. He never gives up. He never lets us go. His love offer is always available. The invitation to come to Jesus is for everyone and is only a prayer away.

You may feel weary in your work or relationships right now. You may feel like giving up. If you are discouraged, remember this truth: you are precious to God. Everyone and everything matters to Him. He sees it all—the past, present, and future all at once—and is in control. He made a way for you through His Son. Entrust your life and your troubles to Jesus and let Him be Lord of your life.

 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

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  1. In what area(s) do you feel discouraged?
  2. Hand it over to God trusting him for both strength and the outcome.

For more information about the ministry of China Partner visit: http://www.chinapartner.org

SoulFocus_Book_Trials_071619
      Devotional Journal Trails Coming November 12th. Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

 

 

 

 

If Compassion Outweighed Comfort

Recently, my sister and I enjoyed dinner at a local Thai restaurant. While waiting for her to arrive, a woman, quite advanced in years, entered the restaurant. We smiled and exchanged a polite hello as she found her way to a table behind me. My sister arrived and soon we were caught up in conversation while consuming our curry. After some time, I noticed the woman saying her goodbyes to the staff. 

She passed by the restaurant window just below us, a frail form bend over her cane. Minutes later, she was back again, and the staff spoke kindly with her. This coming and going happened three or four times in the course of our dinner. From what I deduced; the dear lady had forgotten she had come just moments before.

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I was struck by the kindness and patience the owner and staff repeatedly extended toward this woman. I’m not sure if she remembered to pay for her drink, or how often they receive her throughout each day, but the dignity they offered to this woman warmed my heart.

I thought about all the unseen acts of kindness people, like this restaurant owner exhibit, who—in great and small ways—make a choice or a habit to care for others, freely and unselfishly honouring them and offering a safe, welcoming place to land. Their kindness may never be seen or repaid, but they do it, nonetheless. In this moment, I was blessed to glimpse the beauty of humanity helping another along in her journey. 

What about the many ways this has played out in the past? Those who risked their lives during war to hide sacred souls within their own homes to save their lives. The soldiers, battle-weary and broken, who set one boot in front of the other and their gaze upon the horizon to secure the future we presently enjoy. Those voices of one who spoke into injustice declaring a better way than the status quo of greed, power, and control for which society has so often settled. Countless courageous and kind actions multiplied over centuries—over individual lives.

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I think of the billions of people around the world, and how many beautiful, glorious, random, and unseen acts of kindness occur every day never to be seen or celebrated. What would happen if each of us took hidden or found invitations and chose to help, took time to hear, or to lighten a burden? What if we stepped out of our comfort zones and mindsets to answer a need? 

What would it look like if compassion outweighed our comfort?

It could be as simple as a smile to a passing stranger, a coffee prepaid for the next person in line, finances offered to a cause, hands to serve the needy, or a proffered seat in our restaurant for a lonely or forgotten soul. It could be looking out for—or creating—opportunities to serve out of the little or abundance we’ve been given. Whether seen or unseen, our actions may soften a stranger’s journey or even save someone’s life. 

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” Hebrews 6:10

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  1. Look for an opportunity this week to show kindness outside of your comfort zone.

Finding Thankfulness

72099801_1240224716149606_8410987073124696064_nThis Thanksgiving—

I don’t want to eat the turkey until full but fail to be filled.

I don’t want to gather with family and friends and fail to connect.

I don’t want to utter a thanksgiving prayer and neglect to be thankful.

I don’t want to count my blessings and not count myself blessed.

What I really need is to develop a thorough kind of thankful—one that spans each day and each year. One that outlasts hardship and withstands the fluctuation of mood and circumstance. A kind of thankfulness that is equally grateful for all that has been given and all that has been taken away. A deep and holy kind of gratitude that acknowledges I have been carried through much and recognizes it is well with my soul.

I understand this type of thankfulness doesn’t come without thought or determined effort. It requires putting away grumbling and complaining, developing a kind of thought fortitude which denies fruitless, habitual patterns of negative thinking. This kind of thankfulness is best developed by a fierce refusal to dwell in the past, releasing all expected outcomes and entitlement, and most of all, trusting God in everything.

72486084_1531083160367940_1117825707628560384_nWhen I am wishing things to be what they aren’t—wishing for situations or people to change—I am unable to focus on the good God has allowed into my life. When I complain about my circumstances I doubt the wisdom and goodness of God who tells me, “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) When I worry about my future, ungrateful for today, I deny God’s ability to take care of me. It is nearly impossible to be thankful under these conditions.

When I lift my eyes to the heavens, my perspective alters. When I soak in God’s love and absorb his goodness, my attitude shifts. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” The keyword is all.

72665665_1138435393031985_1173636376688590848_nI can’t just be thankful when things are going well, when I’m on vacation, when I’m healthy, or when I get a raise. I need to fortify gratefulness by thanking God even when I’m working, unwell, or don’t know how I’ll pay my rent. When I can learn to be thankful in everything, I know I’ll have learned the key to thankfulness. Instead of a grumbling attitude, I’ll live out of a heart of gratitude. 

In this posture of thankfulness, I connect more fully in my relationships and am grateful for the people God has tucked into my life. My prayer life is richer when I appreciate all I’ve been given and that all God’s purposes are for good. I can count my blessings and truly appreciate that I am blessed independent of circumstances. I can even eat turkey this Thanksgiving, thankful for a full tummy, a full table, and the fullness that comes from the generous and never-ending portion of God’s love.

 

The Perfection Antidote

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In last week’s blog post, I glanced back on my modeling career and, in doing so, recognized how many things have changed. I modeled during the pre-digital, pre-Photoshop era. I recall arriving on location for a particular photo shoot and the make-up artist and photographer were in a dither because I had a broken blood vessel on my cheek. 

Of course, they had reason to be ruffled since this made their job exponentially more difficult. To provide the client with the best possible image, glaring imperfections would have to be expertly covered up by the make-up artist, and the photo itself would require retouching by hand.

There wasn’t any fixing an out-of-place strand of hair after the fact, slimming a few extra pounds around the middle, or the addition of a filter for a wow-factor. Whatever was captured on film was what you got. So they took a lot of pictures and selected the best one from printed proof sheets. 

Even back in the 80s’, perfection permeated the business. Of course, we models weren’t perfect, but it helped to be as close as possible: no pimples, no scars, no visible cellulite. Young girls looking at magazines back then may have seen slightly retouched photographs but weren’t digesting expertly manipulated images. Perfection is so sought after that, these days, we don’t even know how much of what we’re seeing is real. 

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But we don’t need photoshop to serve up perfection. We regularly present a perfect facade in multiple forms. 

We exhibit Photoshop-like qualities whenever we choose to relate to others by presenting polished, untouchable forms of ourselves seemingly void of cares or troubles. Our Facebook and Instagram posts display the highlight reels of our lives, all imperfections blotted out. We present perfect when we strive to be flawless, Photoshopping away our limitations and imperfections and disregarding our human need to rest and refuel. We deny imperfection by refusing to peer honestly at our weaknesses and extending kindness or forgiveness to ourselves. 

We may even deliberately or subconsciously grasp for the retouching tool by expecting perfection from those around us. By placing unspoken or unattainable expectations on others, we withhold grace and forgiveness for others’ pimples and instead substitute distant, unloving shadows of our true selves in such relationships. 

What is the antidote for this perfection crisis? A reality tool that enables a reversal allowing us to see what is real and true.

Here are a few truths that can act to reverse our perfection problem:

  1. You are loved as you are this very moment. (Romans 5:8)
  2. You are so precious to God that he gave his Son for you. (John 3:16)
  3. You are imperfect but have been made perfect through Jesus. (Hebrews 10:14)
  4. You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7) 
  5. You are free. (John 8:36)
  6. You have all you need to live a Godly life. (2 Peter 1:3)

Jesus is our reality tool. In Christ, we can release our notion of perfection and receive his grace and love, extending the same to others. We can exchange our striving—and just surviving —for his gentle leading and perfect peace. We can draw on God’s power and strength to be transformed and to live the Godly life he purchased through his death and resurrection. Using cover-up to mask our imperfections loses its allure as we settle into God’s love.

I’ll leave you with The Message version of Romans 3:21-26 as a truth summary:

“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.”

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  1. In what ways are you masking your true self in an attempt to present perfect?
  2. Do you think letting go of the cover-up would enhance your relationships?

 

Coming Nov 12th, 2019: SOUL FOCUS – Trials

New Release: One More Tomorrow

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

Why Are We Still Starving Ourselves?

modeling picIn the mid-’80s, when I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to become a model. A Toronto agent agreed to represent me but explained that I needed to lose weight. I had been a cross-country runner for five years and never in my life had I given a second thought to the scale. This particular year, I had discontinued running and had stopped growing. I was 5’7” tall and weighed 127 pounds. Now, for the first time in my life, someone was telling me I needed to consider what I ate.

I hadn’t a clue how to diet so I went to my family doctor for advice. He gave me a pamphlet that explained how to count calories, and so I began to figure out how to limit my food intake. Each Friday, I had to call into the agency to let them know how much weight I had lost. They wanted me to lose a pound per week. It was no small thing to change my eating habits since spending time with friends usually included things like ice-cream, candy, chips, pop, and McDonald’s visits. 

After managing to drop fifteen pounds, I was booked for a fashion show at Harbourfront in Toronto. I had been hard at work figuring out how much food I could eat and still lose weight. My agent had come to watch and afterward commended me on how well I had done in the show but told me I still needed to lose more weight. So I ate even less and landed at 108 pounds. For me, that meant virtually starving myself. 

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Penny Noble Model Management – the agency I modeled under for 8 years.

I’m not sure how, but my sixteen-year-old brain realized that this wasn’t going to work. That not only did I dislike such a restrictive eating behavior, but that this lifestyle wasn’t realistic for me. I met with my agent and told her that I didn’t want to diet anymore or be a part of her agency. She told me that was a shame, but that if I could ever keep the weight off she’d be happy to have me back. After months of sometimes eating as little as 200-400 calories per day, it took nearly two years for my metabolism to return to normal. I’m thankful I chose to put a stop to the strict dieting before developing anorexia.

Two years later, and twelve pounds heavier, I decided to give modeling another try. I met with two agents who both extended invitations to join their agencies. Neither one mentioned my weight. I continued to model for several years after that in Toronto, Montreal, and on contract overseas. I realized that the problem with the first agent was that she was trying to make me something I wasn’t. She wanted me to be a thin, high-fashion model when I had a more girl-next-door commercial look. 

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Don’t misunderstand me, I endorse exercise, healthy eating, and self-care, but just like my initial modeling experience, when we attempt to become something we aren’t—when we go to extreme lengths to be accepted but deny our true selves—we run into trouble. We become trapped on a treadmill of never-enough’s, people-pleasing while attempting to fill a soul-hole that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. 

Because here’s the thing, there will never be enough weight to lose, enough money to gain, enough compliments to receive to make us feel full. We’re starving and seeking to fill the emptiness with junk food. The lack of nutrients leaves us feeling even more depleted, but thankfully there is a remedy.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When we seek God, we are satisfied. When we desire God, the other fixes fade in importance. Our taste buds change, and we see the former things for the empty calories they were. No longer trying to be something we were never made to be, our identity grows secure in Christ and his love, and we partake of his rich blessings.  

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

We find that all we ever needed and wanted—all that satisfies—is found at the feet of Christ. There we discover security, acceptance, healing, love, forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy—all the things we searched for but couldn’t find. In Christ, our true identity surfaces and an internal work of growth and transformation begins that no amount of earthly accoutrements could foster. From here on in, we are fueled by faith and nourished by the word of God secure in his promises.

I’ll leave you with this verse to ponder:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
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  1. In what ways are you starving yourself trying to fill the soul-hole that only Jesus can fill?
  2. You can gain the whole world and lose your soul, or you can find Jesus, save your soul, and gain eternity.