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.

 

 

 

 

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.

A Word of Encouragement for You Today

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Life is full of disappointments, hurts and hardship. When our lives don’t unfold as planned, it’s easy to become discouraged. Below are a few thoughts to encourage you to not give up, to keep going, to persevere through whatever you are facing today.

I pray…

That you would always keep your joy and wonder.

That you would continue to dream big.

That you wouldn’t allow others to dilute your dreams,

Or let obstacles or disappointments crowd out those dreams—

Even when you must scale the mountain or take the long route around.

If some scoff at your goals—say it’s a long shot or that it can’t be done—smile, disregard their lack of faith, and keep going.

Someone needs to persevere. It may as well be you.

Nothing worthwhile comes without dogged effort. No effort is wasted.

Fight fear with faith.

Be brave; bring courage with you wherever you go.

Keep trying hard things.

If you fail, you’ve learned something priceless.

Love.

Be patient and kind to yourself and others.

Forgive quickly so you remain free.

Choose to remain positive—

Don’t allow the negative voices or treatment of others to detract from what you know to be true and good and right.

When hurt, embrace the hard work of healing.

Avoid comparison.

Use your unique skills, knowledge, intellect, voice, talents, and resources to help those around you, to influence and change the world for good, and to glorify God.

Keep your sense of humour. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but be serious about your intentions and integrity.

Remember life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Not everything will happen instantly.

Keep your eyes on the finish line, but enjoy the scenery on route—

Life is composed of all the moments made while you move forwards and reach your goals. Don’t miss or mistake these moments that matter for distractions;

The main event is never really the main event; it’s all the bits between.

Be thankful for everything. Even the hardships—they make you beautiful, strong, and mature.

God is your help and is cheering you on.

He has a plan.

Trust Him in everything.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

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  1. What discouragements are you struggling with today?
  2. Bring them to God, hand them over to him in prayer, and find his comfort, help, and peace in your time of need.

Christmas is a Love Story

 

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This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. I’d like to enjoy every moment, yet it’s easy for it be sabotaged by being too busy and distracted—a general theme at any time of year, but especially at Christmas.

There’s the shopping, the preparations, the parties, the presents, the dinners, and time with family. All of this can be lovely (except maybe the shopping), but it can also be stressful and exhausting.

The high hopes surrounding this one day can add a lot of pressure too. I typically have a picture of how this day will shake out. I should fully engage in each moment and live out of the peace and joy ever at my disposal, but it’s easy to enter Christmas exhausted and exit it disappointed when the hype failed to match the event. I wonder if Jesus’s mother struggled this way too.

Mary had anticipated her son’s birth, and then, nearing her due date, she endured a 90 mile trek on a mule’s back to register for a census in the town of her husband’s ancestors. But the hardship didn’t end there. You know the story. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there were “No Vacancy” signs everywhere. In the Christmas rush, they must have neglected to arrange an Airbnb.

At this point, I’d be on the verge of a meltdown. Between the pregnancy hormones and “this is not what I thought it would be” emotions, my husband would be walking on eggshells. Some cross words would likely spill out to the effect of: “I thought you were dealing with this!” and the atmosphere would worsen. As expected, he’d go into fix-it mode and a stable would be a less-than-ideal solution.

It’s interesting that this first Christmas resembles our Christmas. Frenzied and imperfect. I think that’s exactly how God planned it. The census, the stable, and all that surrounded the birth of Jesus was marked by hardship. Could God be trying to show us something?

The God of the universe could have provided ideal circumstances, ensured his son be born in a palace with a grand feast prepared to fittingly celebrate the king’s birth. But in his deep compassion for humanity, not only did he come humbly in human form, he experienced all that we experience, and more. If you wonder if God can understand your pain, think of Jesus—God in the flesh.

Christmas is really a beautiful love story. It’s the continued story of God declaring his massive love and faithfulness to us. It’s him seeking us, finding us, living among us, and ultimately dying for us. It was part of his plan from the beginning. All part of his extravagant love.

It’s my prayer that we replace the scurry and worry and find lasting joy in Jesus. That our hearts will be more full than our tummies. That despite the pace we will find peace. That we will love as God does: completely, unconditionally, and sacrificially.

But most of all, I pray that we will have a deep understanding of how fully we are loved. Know this: God send his son to be born to die for you. You matter that much to him. He made a way for you, amid all your personal struggles, failures, and pain, to receive the gift of salvation through Jesus.

This Christmas, I pray you’ll take hold of this life-changing, eternity-altering, heart-healing gift, and unwrap a new life in Christ.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours!

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” 

John 15:12-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Thankfulness

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I’m thankful for my hubby.

Confession: Fall isn’t my favourite time of year. I much prefer hot, hazy mid-summer days. I adore my garden at peak performance showing off its full glory. I relish a few lazy minutes of reading on the porch with the birds’ chorus adding to the unfolding beauty. There’s the endless, sunspun blue skies, and the warm evenings begging us to linger outside and squeeze the most out of the long days of light. Even as I write this, I’m still mourning summer’s end. 

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I’m thankful for my garden.

But its fall and, in Canada, that means a few changes. And with the changing season come a few things I could stand to be grateful for. Things like: apple cider, the smell of smoke sauntering out of hundred-year-old chimneys, the blazing leaves letting go, comical gourds, pumpkin pies, fall Mums, and cosy sweaters. Maybe you could add a few of your own.

My daughter adores this time of year and makes a fall list – traditions that she keeps each year. Among other activities, she decorates her room, visits the pumpkin patch with a friend, then painstakingly carves the perfect pumpkin once home. She makes procuring a pumpkin spice latte a must, makes a fall play list, and even dresses up for Halloween to hand out candy at our door. Through her, I’m trying to increase my affection for fall.

But no matter where we find ourselves this autumn, no matter how much you cherish the changing seasons, how amazing, or not-quite-so-amazing, your circumstances may be, the truth is we can always find something to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is an ideal reminder that we really should be living each day thankful, not just one weekend.

Here are some things I’m thankful for: a simple breath of outside air, the late-day sun on my face, a flock of migrating birds crossing overhead, a sip of warm coffee, the bite of food in my mouth before thinking of the next, and a moment of stillness in my home (like this one when no one is making a sound). I’m thankful for my dear friends who love and cheer me on, my children who encourage me to do big things, and my husband who still loves me after 26 years of intimately knowing my every fault. And I’m thankful that God, who knows me even better than that, gave His Son because He thinks I matter.

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I’m thankful for my kids.

This act of being thankful has a way of brushing the cobwebs of ingratitude away. Like the way we gripe in our childish entitlement, or the way we have mini-fits when the world doesn’t give us all we asked for. Thankfulness acts as an automatic attitude-shifter, and the everyday, moment-by-moment practice of it helps us approach our minutes with a healthier, life-giving focus.

There are times so bewilderingly dark, so emotionally or physically painful, that it seems virtually impossible to find a single thing to be thankful for. But even when the light is scant, look hard. There is always a small ray of hope shining in that darkness and lighting something of which to be thankful for – even if it is that next breath.

And, like anything, the more we practice thankfulness, the easier it becomes. What if this weekend we start, and then just keep going – this month and this year – and develop a solid habit of finding something to be thankful for each day, and especially in times of difficulty? I have an inkling we might experience an increased dose of contentment, peace, and joy.

     “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”                      1 Thessalonians 5:18

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  1. Have you made a “Thankful List”?
  2. Develop the practice of finding things to be thankful for each day and even each moment.

12 Ways to Grow Deeper in Your Faith

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ~ Jesus

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A young mom recently asked me, “How can I do some deep work with God?”

What a beautiful question! I picture God smiling ear-to-ear over His kids who are seeking a climb-up-on-His-lap kind of intimacy.

I mentioned some ways to grow closer to God, such as setting time aside each day to read His word, prayer, and keeping a prayer journal, but thought it deserved a more thoughtful answer. Below are some of the specific ways that have helped me enrich my relationship with the Lord. I write them here as an encouragement to you.

  1. Read and study the Bible. Approach God’s word expectantly. What I mean by this is when you sit down to read the Bible, expect to hear from God. If a verse stands out to you, write it in a prayer journal or underline it in your Bible. Memorization also helps to hide His word in your heart for future use and timely encouragement.
  2. Pray.  Both the fall-on-your-knees and cry out to God kind, and the breath-by-breath throughout the day kind. Pray away from the crowds – just you and God, but also with other faithful, believers who expect God hears and answers in miraculous ways.
  3. Keep a prayer journal. I use my prayer journal to write prayers to God. In it I tell Him about what I’m struggling with, significant requests, and verses that stand out to me. It is amazing to look back and see God’s faithfulness documented and dated.
  4. Listen. Be still long enough to hear God’s hallowed in-between reply. The whisper in your spirit from His. The knowingness that God passed by and you didn’t miss the exhale of His Spirit releasing reassurance, peace, or a drop of deeper understanding. Let His voice be the loudest in your life.
  5. Praise.  Tell God how much you love Him. Be mindful of His many attributes. Speak, sing, dance, play, paint, or write your exclamations of praise – your worship to Him. Use your gifting for His glory. Your joyful offering pleases God and fortifies faith.
  6. Go to church. “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) Go to church to hear God’s word, to be encouraged, to meet with His saints and worship together. Meet regularly with other believers outside of the church walls too. Hear their victory stories, pray for them in their struggles, and love them.
  7. Choose/Practice forgiveness. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) Jesus did it, so must we. It is a choice; a determined effort. It’s hard, they may not deserve it, but doing so frees us to live in the fullness of love and abundance Jesus died to give us.
  8. Be thankful. Don’t forget to thank God for ALL He has allowed in your life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it is being used to form you into Christ-likeness. Nothing  is wasted. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18) Even in the middle of the largest battle, we can choose thankfulness, and even in the midst of the most mundane moments we can be thankful.
  9. Choose joy. It can be found in the most heartbreaking, painful situations or can be chosen in the monotony of the day-to-day. Joy that isn’t based on circumstances but is rooted in faith that, no matter what, the God of the universe has “got” this and everything else. Choosing joy changes the atmosphere both within and without.
  10. Find a mentor/Be a mentor. Walk alongside a trusted someone who is a little further on in their journey than you. Learn from them, hear their stories, be encouraged by their triumphs and failures. Do the same for another newer or younger believer. We were not meant to walk alone.
  11. Serve and care for those in need. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27) Some sacrifice and inconvenience will be required, and you will be reminded that it’s not all about you, but your time and care will be priceless and of eternal value.
  12. Persevere. No matter the hardships, the fiery trials, the repeated mess-ups, the hurt, harm and misunderstandings, do not let anything or anyone come between you and God. Don’t let the truth of how precious and loved by God you are be stolen from you. You will, at times, be a partaker in Christ’s sufferings (see 1 Peter 4:12-14), but stay the course to end and great will be your reward (see Matthew 5:10-12).

I bless you as you do some deep work with God.