This Is Not Heaven

61555202_676562199467770_2025329413687607296_nThis time of year is spectacular in Southern Ontario with its breathtaking array of flowering trees. There’s magnolias in all their splendor, the heavenly scent of lilacs, and cherry blossoms that take your breath away. The birds join in nature’s show adding songs that span daytime and reach into dusk.

Yet however fragrant the blooms, however sweet the birds’ chorus, all of this is just a mere scent of heaven. Anything of any beauty we experience here is only a small taste of things to come.

Amid these fleeting pockets of beauty and moments that take our breath away, we’re aware that the here and now is not heaven. Alongside the beauty, there’s heartache and hate, pain and poverty, tears and turmoil. There’s darkness that displaces light and depravity that dipells hope. Sometimes, despite the fragrance of heaven, the next breath is difficult and painful.

The world aches and our hearts throb, yet we try to replicate heaven on earth. We seek comfort, perfection, and beauty while desperately avoiding pain. We numb ourselves to distract the discomforting soul sores or the courage that it would take to face them. As a result we’re addicts clinging to cheap imitations of heaven while trying to break free of our various pacifiers. We reach for anything that will displace the pain for a while, silence the desperate cry of our hearts, or fill our empty places while running from the very thing that offers us the heaven we seek.

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No matter how beautiful the flowers, how idyllic a moment, how much a vacation feels like paradise, or a person like perfection, all pales in comparison to the real deal: knowing Jesus. It’s that friendship that fills the heart holes, heals the hurt, wipes away the wounding, and purchases the paradise you’re longing for. But to find it we need to release our misguided grip on the here and now, stop trying to fabricate heaven on earth, and reach for the promise—the person—of Jesus.

When we do, all that once seemed so important will lose its shine. All that we use to deal instead of heal will lose its lustre. This is how the apostle Paul put it: “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)

Strangely enough, heaven comes down—bursts right into the imperfection, heartache, futility, and falsehood, answering the groans of humanity with a healing love. A kind of love that makes room for the mess of this place, while cleaning up the garbage in our lives. In Jesus, we find the answer to our deepest needs, peace in the imperfection, deep joy despite circumstances, and the promise of a heavenly home.

What would it take for us to loosen our grip on the things of this world, to trade in the comforts we’ve tucked around our lives attempting to buffer the blows and ease the pain? In an act of faith we can reach for—or return to—Jesus and let him be the peacemaker and joy-giver of our lives.

This week’s song: “What a Beautiful Name”

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  1. What are you doing to numb the pain, fill the void, or find happiness? Is it working?
  2. If not, try Jesus. He’s been the answer to my deepest needs.

 

 

 

 

Enough (Part Two) – My Chocolate Fix

shutterstock_560576248As I mentioned, I used to have a chocolate addiction. It was of the calibre that controls. My body craved those delectable, dark morsels and a steady rate of consumption occurred throughout each day. I couldn’t remember a day since childhood that hadn’t included chocolate or ice-cream, such was the depth of my relationship with sweets. They were my go-to. These sorts of entrenched, long-term habits are difficult to break.

Just as one addicted to nicotine might vaguely wonder if their addiction is killing them, the copious amounts of chocolate I daily consumed led me to think likewise. But I wasn’t ready to stop. I’m not convinced I could have if I’d tried.

One Sunday morning after the sermon, the pastor invited anyone who needed to lay something down at the altar to come to the front of the church. They wouldn’t have to say what it was, but just quietly come to the altar and hand it over. The Holy Spirit nudged me to go up and relinquish chocolate. I tried to ignore the prompt. Again it came.

My internal struggle went something like this: I’m not going up there. It’s just chocolate. People will think it’s actually important, like I’m cheating on my spouse or something. I’ll just quietly deal with it right here. But by the third prompting I knew that somehow I’d better listen. Forgetting about what others might think I forced myself up to the front.

When I returned to the pew my husband leaned over and whispered, “Did you go up for chocolate?” I was stunned. I thought I had done a decent job of hiding my addiction. Later, when I asked him how he knew it was about chocolate he told me, “I knew you had a problem when one day you told me you only ate seven truffles that day.”

Once home from church I discovered I no longer craved chocolate or any sweets for that matter. And it stayed that way. For a long while I didn’t eat chocolate at all for fear of falling backwards. When I eventually did, it no longer held the same allure. I could go to a restaurant and be just as satisfied with apple pie over chocolate mousse. I have since thought that surely there must have been larger faults that God could have chosen to heal other than my prolific chocolate consumption. But he was just getting warmed up.

I have also considered that there’s a chance I wouldn’t have been healed if I hadn’t set aside my pride, listened to the Holy Spirit, and obediently dragged myself to the front of the church to release my addiction. I needed to humble myself and set aside the fear of what others may have thought to let God deal with this consuming, unhealthy behaviour.

Here’s the real point. God still heals. Sometimes instantly, sometimes over a longer period of time, and sometimes not at all. But he still can. Sometimes he saves us from ourselves by plucking us out of the problem. Other times he allows our situation to linger a bit longer, leads us through it, and teaches us some deeper things about ourselves during it. (see: Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.) Either way, he’s there to help us at all times and as many times as needed.

It doesn’t have to be chocolate. It can be anything that we overindulge in, find we can’t control, or use to fill the emptiness—several others of which I’ve noticed in myself in the years since the chocolate fix. You can bring whatever it is to God, and hand it over to him effectively letting go and acknowledging, I need help. He’ll aid you in your struggle so you don’t have to face it alone. He’ll heal your soul—and all the empty places you’ve been attempting to fill— when you come near to him.

And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them.

~ Matthew 15:30 

 

 

 

A Eulogy for My Best Friend

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This Easter weekend, I’d like to introduce you to someone I’m most fond of. He may be the most misunderstood man who ever lived. But I love him for it, because he’s probably the only man who didn’t care one bit about any of that. And because he didn’t care about what others thought of him, he was unswerving in his life’s purpose.

He didn’t get in the way, like some religious people of his time, and block others from seeing God. He showed up in unlikely places—often with the unpopular—and pointed people to his father. Instead of harsh judgement and criticism, he honoured everyone: men, women, and children, and reached out to those on the outskirts of society who would have appeared unholy, unworthy, and labelled sinners by the “religious”. He showed great compassion and said they were the ones he came to call (see Luke 5:32). He offered healing, grace, love, hope, and peace to anyone who would listen and even offered his very life. He gave all, for all, until his last breath.

He was the most unselfish person the world has ever known. His life was lived for his father’s purposes for the sake of others. Every place he stepped, every action he took, every word he spoke was for another’s benefit. His mission was clear: to show God’s love in a myriad of ways so all could see, hear, and understand his father’s great mercy and love.

The beauty of his unfathomable life is that none of it was typical—nothing you’d expect of a king. That was part of the problem. People found his humanness and humility unfitting. It was difficult to take him seriously and hard to accept that he wouldn’t fit their preconceived idea of God. Those who had spent their whole lives waiting for him, missed him. Those who should have known better, crucified him.

This is how one man explained him:

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”  ~ Isaiah 53:3

In the end, even his closest friends scattered. He died utterly alone, and it appeared his thirty-three years on the earth had amounted to nothing. But I adore the way looks are deceiving, and more than that, how his heart-wrenching obedience changed everything. Because he suffered the most horrific death known to humankind, I was offered a second crack at life—a chance to surrender the life I deemed so dear for a new one with him.

He once said: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30

And there it is, with him I live freely and lightly; the heaviness of all the things I wasn’t meant to carry handed over. My burdens lifted, my sins wiped out, and my mind renewed. All the former things fade in importance for the friendship found in him. And as the load is lifted, love fills the deadened creases of my life. This same love brings with it a breath of freedom and joy, and peace that ignites hope. You can’t describe his beauty. It’s something to behold.

He moves into our tired lives when we let go. But it’s not easy—the letting go. You see it at the cross, this refusal to release. Some hanging on tightly to their position or praise, others hanging on to disbelief, and others to the material things of this world, grasping at anything that seems too precious to leave behind. Because what is known feels safer than launching into the unknown, even if the known is mediocre at best. But all the praise, position, money, best behaviour, or good deeds count for nothing if I reject him.

His radical, life-altering offer is extended to all. No one left behind. No matter where you come from or what you’ve done, you aren’t excluded. His forgiveness is a free, unearned gift, and when you receive it—believe in and trust him—you’re renewed for today and preserved for eternity.

You’re beautifully and unconditionally accepted and adored by the creator of the universe, all because one Easter, over two thousand years ago, Jesus died for you.

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God loves you. There isn’t a thing you can do, or not do, to earn his love. With a simple prayer, you can receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and step into tomorrow with him.

Brokenhearted

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By virtue of being alive, and living any length of time, there will come a point when you experience the agony of a broken heart. Its initial impact brings you to your knees as soul-searing pain rips repeated and relentless at your insides. Bewildered and vulnerable, you struggle for air as internal bleeding threatens to overcome you.

This wasn’t the way it was meant to be.

Betrayal, sickness, death, abuse, neglect, broken relationships, and broken dreams can bring the kind of heart-sickness that tears strips off our faith, hope, and trust. Such is the devastation of brokenness that at times we fear we are impossibly damaged.

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Hope deferred makes the heart-sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.  ~Proverbs 13:12

A positive attitude, an improved meal plan, a lengthy holiday, a workout regime, a self-help program, a new hobby, the numbing effects of substances—or another’s body—are all Band-aids. And we are so accomplished at finding fixes and fillers that we think it’s helping. And maybe it does, for a time, but a broken human being is a difficult thing to fix.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Enter the healer:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. ~ Psalm 147:3

We go to great lengths to mend ourselves, often ignoring the one who was sent for this very purpose and the only one qualified for the job. We can wander in the wilderness a long time, thirsty for something we can’t put our hands on, trying to fill a God-shaped hole that nothing else fits. When that emptiness, sadness, or brokenness threatens to swallow us alive, Jesus is there. He was always there.

He is the saviour, healer, counsellor, and lover we’ve needed all along. He’s the only one able to take the fragments of our once tender heart and piece it back together so we can begin to trust, live, and love again.

I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.  ~ Jesus

Jesus meets us in the middle of our pain, our brokenness, and loneliness. He doesn’t expect us to fix ourselves. We can’t anyway. We’ve already tried that. But until we accept that we are irreparably broken—unfixable apart from Jesus—we can’t be repaired.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  ~Psalm 34:18

Like us, Jesus experienced all of this messiness while on earth. He wasn’t immune to betrayal, sickness, death, abuse, neglect, broken relationships, and the broken dreams of others. He came to stand with us in our brokenness to heal us, to love us, to point us heavenward, and then to die for us.

Once we’ve experienced the devastation of brokenness, it feels impossible to entrust our heart to another again. It’s much easier to close ourselves off in an attempt to protect ourselves for fear of being hurt again. This protective measure leaves us cold, angry, distant, and joyless. We become untouchables—the walking wounded—never really opening ourselves up. It takes an act of courage, and a measure of faith to love again.

Hearts are a notoriously fragile but remarkably mendable. Entrusting your heart to Jesus—the only one who is fully faithful—will not only secure your eternity, it will secure your heart for the here and now. You are loved by God, fully, unconditionally, endlessly. You cannot be unloved, abused, neglected, or left by Jesus, no matter what you do or fail to do. His is a forever kind of love.

He has said: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Hebrews 13:5

God’s love gives us the boldness and strength to love others, more purely, more patiently, more unconditionally, and more fully. Even if that love isn’t reciprocated, even if others are incapable of loving you the way you’d like to be loved, even if you are mistreated. God gives you the faith, hope, and love to overcome your own messes and brokenness and love others in theirs. There is beauty and abundant life on the other side of brokenness, and it’s gifted from Jesus.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” ~ Jesus

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  1. Have you ever felt so brokenhearted you feared you could never mend?
  2. Bring your brokenness to Jesus, and trust him to heal you.

Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.

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Ten years ago I could barely walk, sleep, or carry my own purse. I could no longer drive. That’s how intense the pain had become. I’d been a runner for 28 years. My motto was, “Why walk when you can run.” Now I had no choice. It was nearing two years, and over ten health care providers, but no one could help me. On top of it, I became pregnant and couldn’t take enough medication to dull the pain. It seemed I was trapped in a hopeless situation. Continue reading “Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.”

Thoughts on Forgiveness from a Bitterness Survivor

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It’s easy to have the mindset that if we withhold forgiveness, we are in control and somehow getting back at the person who hurt us. We think, if I forgive them, it lets them off the hook. But holding onto unforgiveness not only allows the offender to vicariously continue to hurt you, studies show it can also make you unwell. When you forgive, you release yourself from the bondage of bitterness. Forgiving not only frees you from hanging onto the offense, it frees you from the offender, and makes room for full spiritual, emotional, and even physical healing.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Forgiveness from a Bitterness Survivor”