Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Empty.



What do you do when your passion for the Lord has disappeared?

What do you do when you feel empty, dry and numb and because of that, you feel like you have nothing  to give?

What do you do when guilt and fear of failure cloud the truth of God’s great love and grace?

This is where I am right now and it’s a painful place to be. Yet, as I’ve started to talk about these emotions I’m experiencing, I’m strangely comforted by the fact that everyone who follows Christ, has experienced the same struggles.

How did I get to this place? The answer that keeps popping up is simple, but complicated. I’ve been so distracted. It hasn’t been just one distraction. It’s been many; big ones and small ones.  Life is busy, and there is always something fighting for our attention and time. The problem is I didn’t fully realize how distracted I was and how much it was affecting my relationship with God.

Until last week that is…

This past week when I was supposed to lead a couple of things at church, I came face to face with the fact that I was empty and felt as though I had nothing to give. I discovered that I’d been blinded to the fact that I had been running on the fumes of my past experiences with God and was trying to live out my faith through other people’s experiences with God.  I was running on “e” and I finally ran out of gas. 

Now God seems further away, but I realize that He wasn’t the one who moved, it was me. I have distanced myself from Him and right now it feels like we are more like strangers and conversation is awkward.

I hate being in this place and I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.
 
I believe God is pursuing me by showing me these things, so how do I pursue him in return? How can I feel Him close again? Ultimately I can’t control the seasons God decides to bring into my life. Hebrews 12 talks about how God disciplines all those He loves, so this season may be a time in my life God wants to produce in me deeper levels of perseverance and trust in His steadfast love for me. I can continue to pursue God through praying, reading the Bible, going to church, and being around other Christians who spur me on; out of my love and desire for the Lord knowing that my feelings may not always follow. I never feel like going to the dentist but I still go because I don’t want my teeth to fall out someday. I am so prone to live according to my feelings and most of the time my feelings aren’t based on the truth of the Gospel! 

This week I’ve also been reminded of the necessity and privilege of talking about my struggles with the people in my life who I trust and look up to.  It’s in these discussions I realize I’m not alone.  God has put people in my life who are wiser than I and I want to learn as much as I can from them.  One particular conversation I had this week that has really spurred me on was with my brother.  Even though he is younger than I am, I still learn so much from him! J He shared his strategy for getting into the Bible every day. It’s the very first thing he does each morning, before checking his phone or having breakfast.  I’ve been imitating his strategy over the last few days and it has been very helpful.

So often we forget that we are in a war. I think the greatest weapons Satan uses against God’s people are business and distraction. There is no such thing as a super-Christian; we are all as equally bankrupt and needy apart from the Lord. We will all go through seasons of being distracted, dry and empty; and so, we need each other.  In the times when we are barely hanging on to Jesus, let’s remind each other of two things: 1. Jesus is still hanging on to us and his grip is infinitely powerful, He will not ever let us go! 2. God’s love remains sure and strong and His goodness and unfailing love will pursue us all the days of our lives! (Psalm 23:6)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Come and See



Recently I moved from the rapidly-growing town of Binbrook, to live with a friend in the city!  Packing my stuff (you never realize how much stuff you have until you move!) jogged my memory and it made me go back in the past. Some wonderful memories were brought back and some not so great memories were also brought back. For whatever reason, God brought back grade 6 in particular. Grade 6 was a dark time in my life. I was being teased at school and every day I would cry and beg not to have to go to school. My parents went through a lot that year as well. Towards the end of that year I started entertaining thoughts of taking a whole bottle of pills so that all the pain would be over. I even tried to run away one night.  It is a season of my life that is still hard to think and talk about. 

The next year my parents decided to homeschool us and sometimes I wonder where I would be if I wasn’t ever homeschooled. I think I would definitely be a very different person and sometimes I even wonder if I would still be here. God used those homeschooling years in profound ways to heal and restore me. One of the most common stereotypes of homeschoolers is that they don’t any socializing opportunities. The opposite happened for us. The homeschool group we became involved with provided many, many social outings and we were able to develop some amazing friendships. Some of my closest friends I have today are from the homeschool group. 

I look at my life today. No, I don’t have everything I want but yet there is still so much I’m deeply thankful for. I’m so glad God didn’t end my life when I wanted it to in grade 6. I’m so glad God provides the strength needed to keep going when all we feel like doing is giving up. The past is a dangerous place to live in but I think we need to visit it once in a while. Psalm 66 tells us to come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!”  Thinking about that painful school year reminded me of all that God has brought be me through.  God has done many amazing things and sometimes the only way to see those things are to remember the past.

In Psalm 9 David says that he will give thanks to the Lord with his whole heart and will recount all of God’s wonderful deeds. Why?  I think it is because life is hard and in the midst of trouble, it is hard to see God’s present goodness. It is when we recount all the ways God has already worked powerfully in our lives we are reminded of His power to bring beauty out of ashes. We remember all the times we thought God wasn’t working at all, but now we can look back and clearly see how He was at work all along.

This coming thanksgiving I want to give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.  These are some of the things I’m thankful for:

I’m thankful for family and friends who I can live life with. I’m thankful for the people who constantly encourage and spur me on. I’m thankful for a church that teaches the Bible and has provided a place to grow and to serve. I’m thankful for a bed that is warm and comfortable. I’m thankful for coffee on those mornings that are hard to wake up. I’m thankful for a car that gets me place to place and that doesn’t break down too often. I’m thankful for the beauty of each changing season. I’m thankful that there will always be new songs to write and sing. I’m thankful for the ability to work. I’m thankful for my crazy cat that provides lots of laughs. I’m thankful for the way a baby can bring so much joy.  I’m thankful for the Spirit of God that convicts me of my sin so I can know and experience Him. I’m thankful for the feeling of clean laundry.  I’m thankful for the kind of laughter that hurts my stomach.  I’m thankful for all the different flavors of food. I’m thankful for cherished memories. I’m thankful that the Lord’s mercy is new every morning so that I can enjoy all these good gifts.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Broken Heart



I’ve had the privilege of working at a nursing home for the last few years, and many of the residents have become just like grandparents to me. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of wonderful people but a few residents in particular have found a special place in my heart.

After being away for a couple of weeks, I went into work one evening last week for a staff meeting.  During it I found out that one of the resident ladies I’ve been closest with had taken a turn for the worse and was close to death. It was a struggle to pay attention to the rest of the meeting and afterwards I went upstairs immediately to visit with her. When I asked the nurse if it was okay if I visited with her for a while, I found out that she had passed away while we were having our meeting.

It’s always hard not to get to say goodbye to residents, but to be so close to being able to see her one last time, broke my heart. I had considered going into work early that day to say hi to everyone before the meeting but the day got busy and so I didn’t. Now I keep wondering if I had, if I would have been able to see her one last time.

My heart has been heavy the last few days. In the midst of my brokenness, the Enemy has seen opportune moments to accuse me and to remind me of the times I’ve failed to love her and other residents as Christ would want me to. This resident often asked me why I was so happy all of the time so I had a couple of opportunities to bring up the Lord in our conversations, but I wish so much I could have done more.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth allowing myself to grow to love the residents so much. It seems so costly emotionally and I wonder if it really makes a difference. 

In the midst of all these ponderings, God has been reminding me that He is close to the brokenhearted. While it may seem costly at times, it is worth it to be fully where God has placed us, for to be near to God is a good place to be in any circumstance.

My friends, in the midst of our broken heartedness, let’s seek the Lord!  Oftentimes I focus so much on what is happening around me, that I neglect to remember the kind of God that has saved and loved me.  Psalm 34 is a regular place I go to and sometimes I have to read it over and over until the incredible promises in it start to sink deeply into my soul. Those who trust in Christ can be sure that He will deliver, provide, hear, save and redeem. Even when our emotions and feelings tell us differently, we can rest in these great promises. No matter how great our brokenness, our God’s power to heal and to redeem is greater!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Third Time is a Charm!



It has been said that the third time is a charm and while that isn’t always the case, it proved to be true for our Mexico missions trip this summer!  It was our third trip there and I think we were all impacted, more than any other year. We always work with the same missionaries and church, and this year we got to see fruit from our continued relationship with them and how God is opening new doors of opportunity for them.  The first week we were there we helped run a camp for kids in the community, and the second week worked up in a village up the mountains called Mimbres. It was a completely new experience for all of us. Life there is very different, the houses are small and simple yet the people are so hospitable, they grow all of their own food and there is not very much running water. We also ran a camp for the kids there and had opportunity to help lead a church service each night we were there. What happened in those two weeks, I believe will extend way past those weeks! The following is a list of my most favorite moments and greatest lessons during the trip!
1.       Through this years trip to Mexico God taught me so much about having faith in Him. I almost dropped out of this trip because I was worried about saving up money for my next car but yet, God made it clear in a few different ways that I was supposed to go. It felt like God wanted to show me how He would again provide for me and it wasn’t long until that was exactly what happened. God’s providence proved to be a continued theme the two weeks we were in Mexico, even down to a specific song that tremendously encouraged me during the more challenging times.  When sleep was very difficult for a few nights of the trip, God provided the ability not to stress out but instead use that time to pray and He also supplied energy for the next day. During a bee attack, I know that God provided a calmness that enabled us to stay safe while we were escaping.  When insecurities, doubts and fears plagued my mind, God provided His Spirit to gently guide me back to the truth in His Word. Lastly, God provided all of us many amazing moments to be ministered too and to minister to those around us.
2.       God also greatly challenged and prepared me with a sermon I heard while I was packing for the trip. The main premise of the sermon was that as Christians, we shouldn’t be pursuing comfort. We should be pursuing a deep life with a deep relationship with God and deep friendships. There were a number of uncomfortable parts during the trip, besides the normal discomfort of being in a foreign country with a language barrier. When we went up to the village in the mountains because we had no idea of what to expect, it was way out of our comfort zones. During those days, because we had to rely on each other and on God more, I really believe that our friendships and faith in God deepened.  God longs to show us how strong He is and how much He cares about all the small details of our lives; and I’m learning how being comfortable often blinds me to my need of Him and robs me of opportunities to be used of Him .
3.       One day in the mountains we decided to bathe in the river instead of having a bucket shower. It was a long trek down to the river but before long we were enjoying the nice cool waterfall and the feeling of being clean again.  It was heavenly until a neighborhood boy decided to throw a rock at a bee hive.  Karey, Gino and I were still enjoying the waterfall so we didn’t realize what was happening until someone yelled something about being too many bees. It came to the point that we just had to make a run for it. The ground was rocky and rough so I couldn’t go very fast; so while most of the group got stung, I got the worse of it with about 25 bee stings. Through this experience I was reminded again that I’ve been blessed with many great friends. Karey and Gino definitely got as many bee stings as they did because they helped me get through the bee attack. When we got back to where we were staying, some of the girls cut up garlic and smeared it over where I got stung. By that night, I was already feeling a lot better! When the nearest hospital is 3 hours away, you get to learn about all of the natural remedies! God definitely did take care of us during the whole ordeal!
4.       A missions trip wouldn’t be the same without a few pranks!  One day a few of us were ready to throw water balloons at Gino as he exited the washrooms. We were a bit too loud as we prepared for the attack because he heard us, and of course there would be a back escape route he could use. It actually turned out to be more of a prank on us when we saw him running out of the back off the building! One successful prank I got to witness and take pictures of was one early morning in the mountains, when Natalie put a chicken through the guys window. It took some prompting but finally the chicken was in their room 'cock-a-doodle-doing’ away! I love how pranks always seem to bring about teamwork and some great memories!
5.       Staying up in the mountains for 4 days helped me to realize afresh how much I really do take for granted. I have never felt thankful for a toilet seat but after 4 days of not having one, I realized why they were invented! Literally everything we have is a gift from God, down to the air we breathe and the food we eat.  A song by ‘All Sons and Daughters’ perfectly sums it up: “It's Your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise to You only
6.       The missionaries we work with have developed an amazing ministry with the local fire department and many of the firefighters have become Christians. This year they decided to do a Firefighting theme at the camp.  The firefighters were there for the whole week teaching the kids about safety, fire drills and some first aid tips. One day they brought a fire truck in and the kids were able to try on firefighter gear, be hoisted to the top of the ladder in a harness, and try shooting water out the hose. My favorite memory of camp this year was when one of the girls I really got to know last year ran up to me on her first day there and gave me a huge hug and said “my Amiga.” That was particularly encouraging because sometimes I feel like all I do at camp is chase after the runaway kids! It was neat to see how the kids really do remember us from year to year.
7.       We got to do a lot of visiting of families from the church this year. One of my favorite parts is getting to hear their testimonies of how God has worked and protected them through some really difficult situations.  I’ve learned so much through hearing their stories. One lady’s testimony especially impacted me this year when she talked about how she has learned not to ask God why in hard times. She said that she has learned that God always has her on a path to correct and purify her and that through it all, God always proves Himself to be so faithful and so good.   I left that night wondering how much time I have wasted asking God why and wanting more of the kind of faith I saw in this godly women.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why Do We Sing?



The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Can you imagine being in this situation after healing a girl in the name of Jesus?

Paul and Silas were just following the call they had on their life. They had no power themselves to demand an evil spirit to come out of someone, it came from God
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How would you respond?  Would you plead for rescue, complain it’s not fair and let frustration take over, and fall asleep in exhaustion? 

This is how Paul and Silas responded:  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.(Acts 16)

Singing definitely wouldn’t be my natural or first response!  I think though this story teaches us of the importance of music and singing. There’s a lot of talk about how we should try to worship God in everything we do but I want to explore the importance and power of worshiping God through song specifically. Music deeply affects us and as Christians we get to sing about the most amazing thing- the greatness of our God!

Here are some fun facts about singing:


  • The act of singing releases endorphins, the brain's "feel good" chemicals.

  • A study published in Australia in 2008 revealed that on average, choral singers rated their satisfaction with life higher than the public -- even when the actual problems faced by those singers were more substantial than those faced by the general public [source: MacLean]. A 1998 study found that after nursing-home residents took part in a singing program for a month, there were significant decreases in both anxiety and depression levels [source: ISPS].
  • The Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing

  • There aren’t any other religions that sing like Christians sing. Some faiths, like Islam, do not believe in singing.

A friend shared this quote with me a while ago that got my mind going on this topic: “Praise and thanksgiving is the most excellent part of God’s worship, for this shall continue in the heavenly choir when all other exercises of religion have ceased”  In heaven, we won’t need preaching, prayer, confession for we will be face to face with God and will be made perfect through Him, but “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” will be on repeat for all of eternity.

All of creation pours out praises to God and tells of His glory. Right now in heaven the angels are singing praises to God constantly, and we are all invited to join in with all of creation!

Why is singing praises to God so important that it would be mentioned over 400 times in the Bible?  When we sing to God we are filled with His spirit; and that results in joy, and deep affections and thankfulness. (Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:16) Singing also helps Gods word stay in our mind and heart longer. How many of us can remember songs we learned in childhood but have a hard time remembering information we learned the day before?

John Piper says that “Singing to God is not merely a response to his grace but also a weapon of spiritual warfare.”  I’ve experienced in my own life that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3) and how singing can remind us of the bigness of our God and our circumstances seem small in light of it.

How should we sing to God?  Jesus told us what kind of worshipers He is looking for in His conversation with the Women at the well: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Our singing should flow from an informed mind and an inflamed heart. We need both! It shouldn’t be an empty tradition. Indifference is never a good thing for we naturally celebrate what we love most.   When our singing is not based on truth, we can end up worshiping God for who we think He is and not necessarily for who He really is. We need the truth to drive our emotions, not our emotions driving what we believe because our emotions can change with the wind. Our hearts should be affected by the truths we are singing about.

One of these truths that has most spurred me on to worshiping God in song is the truth that God loves me and delights in me now, where I am currently in my struggles and mess.  He’s not waiting for me to reach a certain point. He’s not disappointed with anyone who believes in and is striving for Jesus, for we have been given the righteousness of Christ. The best illustration of this truth I’ve ever heard is when a baby starts to learn how to walk. Parents explode with excitement when a child takes their first step and when the child falls, they don’t think the child is an idiot for falling. Instead, they encourage the child to keep trying.  They don’t get angry at all of the falls along the way, for they know that one day the child will learn to walk with more confidence and will eventually start to run.

I didn’t write this blog to try to convince anyone to only listen to “Christian” music. Matt Chandler often talks about the necessity of finding the things that stir your affections for Jesus and saturating your life in them, and then to get rid of the things that rob you of your affections for Jesus. I have found music is a huge influence on my affections.   I’m becoming more and more convinced that music and the ability to sing is a great gift from God; and I want to seek to honor God first and foremost with that gift because, “where there is salvation there is joy and where there is joy there is singing” (Isaiah 12:2)