Monday, July 28, 2008


Today I begin the second week of two weeks vacation. Looking back at the previous week, I see a blur of visiting, relaxing, going to and fro. No organization, not a lot of planning. Just a giddy sense of freedom, knowing I was “let loose” from commitments and calendars and schedules. This morning, however, I am forcing myself to come down to earth a bit.

One week left. Hmmm….what will I have accomplished when I go back to work next week? Will I look back on this time with regret, wishing I had been more disciplined in setting concrete goals, and that I had actually crossed of some of those irksome, been-hanging-over-my-head items from my to-do list that I have procrastinated about for months, and even years?

I would like to carry on as though I were already retired (or at least how I imagine retirement might be). Taking each day as it comes, with fewer pressing items on my agenda. Just drifting through the days in this relaxed, content attitude of what will be will be. But reality must intrude. Time will once again have its rule over me, and I know I will have regrets if I let the remaining days slide by in a haze of self-indulgent inactivity.

I did pray this morning, asking God to direct me. I actually made a list of people to call, tasks to tackle, cards to write. I puttered the morning away, until now. Then I sat down with my Bible, and began reading in the Psalms. On my mind was the conflict within me: to do or not to do. What should I be doing with the rest of today? The rest of my week? So many things clamor for my attention. Then I remembered Psalm One. I turned there, and read those encouraging words:

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3 NASB)

These verses point me in the right direction. Seeking God, in His word. Seeking His will for my life, my days, my hours and minutes. It is not my agenda that I need to follow, but His. So often we place heavy burdens on ourselves. We have expectations that are born of worry and doubt, and that leave God out of the picture. It is not about what we can accomplish today, or how many things we can cross of our to-do lists. It is about living our life out of God’s Word, by His Spirit, and the nourishment, power, and purpose that He gives to us. It is about His life being lived out in and through us:

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12b,13 NASB)

It is GOD who is at work in us, bending our will to His, leading us in those good works that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph :2:10.)

If I assign to myself what I conclude is sufficient and proper ‘fruit’ for the day, I am setting myself up for failure. For as sure as my plans will be unrealistic if they are made depending on my own wisdom, the end result will be frustration and disappointment for me, and little of value toward accomplishing His Kingdom purposes.

I have a hard time “letting go” of all those “shoulds” that can plague us each day. Worldly standards, other people’s opinions, and our own wrong expectations and priorities can keep us miserable, ever reaching for the dangled carrot of thinking “at last, I have had a good day. I have done what I set out to do, and have arrived at a place where I am organized, disciplined, and diligent enough to sit back and give myself a pat on the back.” I should know by now that if I ever do end the day with those thoughts, I will only be fooling myself. If ever I accomplish anything of value, the credit must go to God, for apart from Christ, I can do nothing:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NASB)

Abiding in Christ, abiding in His Word, abiding in His will, abiding in His strength, abiding in His love. Seeking His mind, His agenda, and His purpose for my days. That is where the fruit comes from. And it will come, in its season. Not when I determine it should, or perhaps not in ways that I will recognize right away, or even in this lifetime. But in His ways, His timing, for His good pleasure.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.”
(Prov. 3:5-6 NASB)

Saturday, July 26, 2008


My Bible is black. Leather bound, fairly large font, cross references in the margins. I have had it for 6 years. The leather is cracked along the spine and the edges, and there is little evidence of the gilt that made the edges of the pages gleam when it was new. I have used several versions in the past, but this one is NASB. I like it, and have grown used to it.

Before I became a Christian, I was exposed to other Bibles. At my house, when I was growing up, we had a large, lavishly illustrated Catholic Bible. You know, the big “Family” Bible that listed births, deaths, marriages etc. I don’t remember reading it much. But I did spend time looking at the pictures. They were rich in color and I enjoyed studying the details of the settings, and the characters' appearance, including their clothing. They seemed to have draped lengths of richly colored material around and over themselves, and somehow managed to stay covered without the help of buttons, zippers or other fasteners. I often wondered how they went about the day without losing half their garments, having them trail behind them as they trod dusty roads in bare feet, or in skimpy little sandals.

Next I was given a little red New Testament at school. I don’t know that I read it as a child, but I did after I was saved. I eventually gave it away, in hopes that the recipient would read it and discover the way of eternal life.

My sister came to faith before I did, and would come to my house, her Bible in hand. I thought she was crazy back then. She would lie outside on my back deck, reading it and marking it with a highlighter. As she read portions out loud to me, I would nod, as if in agreement, to be polite. But truthfully, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Then God saved me, and a whole new world was opened up in the pages of the New Testament and Psalms that my sister had given to me. I couldn’t stop reading it. I found my little red New Testament, and took it to work with me,reading it whenever I could find a moment. I came into possession of other Bibles, and tried different translations. I would lie on my bed, poring over page after page, amazed at the beauty of the truths that were there. The scales were gone from my eyes, and God’s word truly was a light to my path.

I would send letters and cards, to believers and non-believers alike, and write out scripture after scripture in them. It was suddenly all so plain to me, and I wanted others to see it too. I quickly learned to navigate through the different books, as I sat, listening intently, at Sunday meeting or Bible Study. My Bible quickly became marked up with highlighting and notes, its pages worn, even tear stained, as I read and prayed and poured out my heart to God.

There is something that happens, I think, when you have a Bible for a certain length of time. I own others, and occasionally will pull them off the shelf to compare translations. But the one I am using now seems to have developed a personality of its own. I find myself connected to it, so that I want to use it, and not the others. I bought a Parallel Bible, with NASB and Amplified versions side by side. But it just isn’t the same.

This one has become a friend. As I have poured over its pages, marking passages and jotting down notes here and there, I have become comfortable with it. I know where to look on the page for those often sought out passages. When I read the familiar words in that familiar font, it is like hearing the voice of a dear friend again. I recognize it. And funny thing, sometimes words will leap off the page at me, words I have read over and over before without taking hardly any notice. It’s as though my Bible “raises its voice” to get my attention.

Sometimes I like to just hold it close to my heart, thanking God for it, because I have begun to have an appreciation of the life and power that it reveals and communicates to me. I have started to look at it as a gift from the Father. Because He speaks to me out of it by His Spirit. There are things in there that He wants me to know and understand. I can’t take it for granted, and I shudder to think what life would be like without God’s Word. It is how I began to know Him, and He still reveals Himself to me there.

So many believers in the world don’t have the blessing of owning a Bible. Some may own a page, and it becomes their most treasured possession. Hearing these types of stories has caused me to consider the privilege, and the responsibility that I have in owning so many of these precious books.

Sometimes a day will go by that I don’t read from it. Or maybe more than a day. Then the next time I sit down with it, I am struck at the rich treasures contained on its pages, and wonder, again, how I could let those days go by without feasting upon God’s word. He has instructed me to do just that. He says that we don’t live simply by eating physical food, but we also need the spiritual nourishment that comes from His Word:

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4b NASB.)

Referring to the Law of Moses, the Lord says to Joshua:

“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:7,8 NASB)

Psalm 119 is filled with requests such as this one that God would teach, and lead, and instruct the writer in the Word, or Law, of God. Indeed, it is the primary way that we seek Him with all our heart:

“With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You….I will meditate on your precepts, and regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word” (Psalm 119:10,11,15,16 NASB.)

In exploring Relational Christianity, I have noticed a lot of people commenting that they don’t read their Bible much any more, or don’t feel the need to, in their new, closer relationship with the Father. I have to say that this is very troubling to me. Nowhere in scripture do I find anything that says we will reach a point in our walk with God when we can “slack off” in terms of ingesting the Word of God.

Though God can, and does, speak to us through other means, we must always test what we believe He is saying against His Word, as written in the Bible. That is our measuring stick, our plumb line for discerning truth. If we leave off making it an integral part of our relationship with Him, we can fall prey to all sorts of deception. Left to our feelings, our own thoughts, and other people’s experience or opinions, we can quickly drift off into error.

I want to have a closer, deeper relationship with my Heavenly Father. But I don’t expect to have it apart from His word. God’s Word cannot be separated from Himself. Jesus is the Living Word:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we say His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth….No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:1,2,14,18 NASB.)

We are a blessed people, to have the written Word of God to reveal Him to us. We have the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, whose life and teaching is documented in the written word. We have the Holy Spirit, who reveals truth to us through the written Word, the truth that leads to saving faith:

“But what does it say? ‘THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart’-that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…How then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?.. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:8,9,14,17 NASB)

It is good to remind each other, and exhort one another to value what God has left for us. It is easy to take many things for granted in this life, but let us not think lightly of this dear book. Rather let us cherish it for what it is, the voice of God our Saviour, a light to our path, spiritual nourishment that we cannot do without, and a comfort to our souls.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Some Encouragement

Here is a good reminder that every member in the Body of Christ has a vital role to play in advancing the Kingdom of God. (from Chuck Swindoll)

Be encouraged!


1. Who taught Martin Luther his theology and inspired his translation of the New Testament?
2. Who visited Dwight L. Moody at a shoe store and spoke to him about Christ?
3. Who was the wife of Charles Haddon Spurgeon?
4. Who was the elderly woman who prayed faithfully for Billy Graham for over twenty years?
5. Who financed William Carey’s ministry in India?
6. Who refreshed the apostle Paul in a Roman dungeon as he wrote his last letter to Timothy?
7. Who helped Charles Wesley get underway as a composer of hymns?
8. Who found the Dead Sea Scrolls?
9. Who followed Hudson Taylor and gave the China Inland Mission its remarkable direction?
10. Who were the parents of the godly and gifted prophet Daniel?

Okay, how did you do? Over fifty percent? Maybe twenty-five percent? Not quite that good? Before you excuse your inability to answer the questions by calling the quiz “trivia,” better stop and think. Had it not been for those unknown people - those “nobodies” - a huge chunk of church history would be missing, and a lot of lives would have been untouched. Nobodies. What a necessary band of men and women... servants of the King... yet nameless in the kingdom! Men and women who, with silent heroism, yet faithful diligence, relinquish the limelight and live in the shade of public figures.

What was it Jim Elliot, the martyred messenger of the gospel to the Aucas, once called missionaries? Something like a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody. But don’t mistake anonymous for unnecessary. Otherwise, the whole Body gets crippled - even paralyzed... or, at best, terribly dizzy as the majority of the members within the Body become diseased with self-pity and discouragement. Face it, friend, the Head of the Body calls the shots. It is His prerogative to publicize some and hide others.

Don’t ask me why He chooses whom He uses. If it’s His desire to use you as a Melanchthon rather than a Luther... or a Kimball rather than a Moody... or an Onesiphorus rather than a Paul, relax! Better than that, give God praise! You’re among that elite group mentioned in I Corinthians 12 as: ...some of the parts that seemed weakest and least important are really the most necessary... So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important (vv. 22,24, TLB).

If it weren’t for the heroic “nobodies,” we wouldn’t have top-notch officers to give a church its leadership or quality sound when everyone shows up to worship or janitors who clean when everyone is long gone or committees to provide dozens of services behind the scenes or mission volunteers who staff offices at home or work in obscurity overseas with only a handful of people. Come to think of it, if it weren’t for the faithful “nobodies,” you wouldn’t even have this [paper] in your hands right now.

Nobodies. . . exalting Somebody. Are you one? Listen to me! It’s the “nobodies” Somebody chooses so carefully. And when He has selected you for that role, He does not consider you a nobody. Be encouraged!

Chuck Swindoll

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Have You Been There?

This past winter, I struggled, once again, with depression. It is something that had been chasing me for some time, and finally got the better of me. In some ways, it was a relief to admit defeat, and let go of every responsibility and activity save those that I could manage with the least amount of stress and effort.

At the same time, I had started to read “Heaven,” by Randy Alcorn. In it he comments on how little we know of, or look forward to Heaven. We Christians seem to have little understanding of Heaven, and aren’t able to fully grasp the reality that it is our ultimate destiny and will fulfill every desire for happiness and contentment. It struck me, while reading, that if as earth bound creatures we cannot envision, or live in the light of, our eternal destination, living with depression puts one into another realm altogether. For in depression, even the things of this life seem somehow out of reach, and impossible to experience, let alone drawing comfort from what is yet to be realized.

To believe in Heaven requires faith, for it is a world that we have not yet seen. Living with depression is being in this world, seeing and hearing and touching the things in it, yet feeling not of it. It is a strange existence, almost like being an alien from another planet. You try to blend in by going through the motions of living, when inside you feel cut off, desensitized to what everyone around you is experiencing. It is a separate existence, and a lonely one. Just when you need most to grasp the reality of God’s promises, including Heaven, they seem that much farther away.

I am blessed with good friends. One of these, a co-worker, knowing what I was going through, generously offered me the use of one of her guest rooms. She owns a Bed and Breakfast, and gave me my choice of two rooms: the red or the blue. I chose the blue one. She has been constantly counseling me to do what is best for me, insisting that “it’s all about you now.” This surely contradicts the Christian mindset, yet it did give me something to think about during the two days that I spent in the peaceful setting of her home. While I was there, I wrote two poems that describe somewhat my experience and my state of mind and heart at the time.

Looking back on that time, I realize that it marked the beginning of my journey toward letting go of religion and resting in God's love for me. Maybe you can relate to some of these thoughts.

There Is No Me

“Take time for you, and do what’s right,
You’re all that matters now.
Relax, regroup, rekindle life,
Those things you’ve lost somehow.”

It all makes sense, I know it’s true;
These steps I need to take.
Forget the past, those things before,
Old ways I should forsake.

But who am I? How will I know
When all is figured out?
Who is this “me”, important now,
This “one” it’s all about?

I’m here somewhere, though buried deep
Beneath so many layers,
Of should’s and shouldn’ts, ought to be’s,
Apologetic prayers.

If I could only see myself
For who I really am,
And not for who I’d like to be,
Or should be, maybe then,

I’d start to find my place in life,
My way in all its tangles.
I’d see my path – The Narrow Way,
And not so many angles.

Just one perspective, point of view;
God’s purpose, plan and reason.
As I see who I am in Him,
He’ll bring me through each season.

Blue Room

The Room was blue.
Wedgewood next to white,
Pure and even.

Wrapped around,
Soft grey light,
No demands.

Round about,
Safe and sound,

Slowed thoughts,
Closed eyes,
Time suspended.

Not with words,
Reaching out,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Praying For One Another

I love the rain. Sometimes. Not when I have to be out in it, dashing from house to car to office, soaking my feet in puddles and risking my painstakingly wrought “hair do” on the way. But I love it on days like today, when I have the time to simply sit and listen to the gentle rhythm of drops hitting the ground, watching it slowly drench the wood on my deck as I gaze out through the patio door from the comfy station of my reclining chair. The sound of it brings a calm to my mind and spirit.

For some reason, I feel the fact that it is raining somehow gives me permission to take the time to sit and stare and think. Moments like these are rare in this crazy-busy world. Moments like these are a wonderful time to read the Bible. Not racing through it, with my mind on the next thing on my to-do list. But dwelling on it, drinking it in, just as the ground drinks in the soft summer rain. God’s word is so rich. He has given us much to be encouraged by, much to learn from, much to grow by.

This morning I pulled out my NASB/Amplified Parallel Bible. Reading from the first chapter of Colossians, I sank into the preciousness of Paul’s opening words in his letter to the believers at Colossae. The Amplified version stretches his heartfelt words into an even more encouraging prayer.

So often I find myself, in my prayers for others, reverting to the standard “bless them Lord” type of offering. But in these verses I find some much richer, and oh so much more edifying, requests. So I wanted to put them down here. I pray them for you, whoever you are, if you are a brother or sister in the Lord, and you read this entry. (Can we pray in advance like that??? And could you pray them for me please?)

"PAUL, AN apostle (special messenger) of Christ Jesus (the Messiah), by the will of God, and Timothy [our] brother,
To the saints (the consecrated people of God) and believing and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace (spiritual favor and blessing) to you and [heart] peace from God our Father.
We continually give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah), as we are praying for you,
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus (the leaning of your entire human personality on Him in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness] and of the love which you [have and show] for all the saints (God's consecrated ones),
Because of the hope [of experiencing what is] laid up (reserved and waiting) for you in heaven. Of this [hope] you heard in the past in the message of the truth of the Gospel,
Which has come to you. Indeed, in the whole world [that Gospel] is bearing fruit and still is growing [by its own inherent power], even as it has done among yourselves ever since the day you first heard and came to know and understand the grace of God in truth. [You came to know the grace or undeserved favor of God in reality, deeply and clearly and thoroughly, becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it.]
You so learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ in our stead and as our representative and yours.
Also he has informed us of your love in the [Holy] Spirit.
For this reason we also, from the day we heard of it, have not ceased to pray and make [special] request for you, [asking] that you may be filled with the full (deep and clear) knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom [in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things--
That you may walk (live and conduct yourselves) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him and desiring to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and steadily growing and increasing in and by the knowledge of God [with fuller, deeper, and clearer insight, acquaintance, and recognition].
[We pray] that you may be invigorated and strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory, [to exercise] every kind of endurance and patience (perseverance and forbearance) with joy,
Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified and made us fit to share the portion which is the inheritance of the saints (God's holy people) in the Light."

(Colossians 1:1-12, Amplified Bible)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What Will He Say?

I think, often, of what Jesus will say to me on that day, when I stand before Him for the first time. I hope that I will be welcomed with the words "well done." Perhaps I dwell too much on these things. But when I ponder it all, life and death and eternity, I can't help but come to the conclusion that I ought to be living my whole life in preparation for that moment.

In reading the book of Colossians this morning, I lingered over a few verses:

  • "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (3:17)
  • "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality." (3:23-25)

I find in these verses some points to take note of.

  • For one, we are to do all that we do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Now, when we do something in someone else's name, we are doing it as their representative. For instance, if I can't make a meeting at work, I may ask someone else to represent me, and to give input in my name regarding whatever items are on the agenda. In other words, people will judge or come to conclusions about what my opinions and ideas are according to what my representative says in my name. Wow. Heavy responsibility there, to be representing the Lord Jesus in all that I say and do. But as Christians, we are His representatives. We are His body, His presence, here on earth. And if there is anyone we should want to give a good impression of, it is Him. We so often forget that it isn't about us at all; it is about Him. His plans, His purposes, His Name.
  • The next thing I see is that I should be giving thanks through Him to God the Father. I don't need to belabour this point. We all know that we need to be more thankful. It is a good reminder, though, to be thankful in whatever you do, in word or deed. Be thankful that He has given us "good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph. 2:10b), that He has equipped us, given us grace to do them, and included us in His plans and purposes for this world that we are to be salt and light in.
  • Thirdly, I see that we are to do our work heartily, as for the Lord, rather than for men, since it is the Lord Christ whom we serve. I often have to stop and remind myself just Who it is that I serve. Though He is unseen, the reality is that I serve, and so do you, if you are a Christian, the actual Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Amazing. And more amazing that I still worry about what people will think of me, rather than first considering what will be pleasing to Him. I can find myself stewing over every word I have spoken, every decision I make. There are many standards, it seems, to reach, as a Christian. But you can't keep everyone happy. How does one live their life as unto an audiance of One? If I could do that, then I could be confident that every outcome of every decision would be according to God's perfect plan. Again, it is God that I ought to want to please, for His Name's sake. Not pleasing man, to gain a good reputation (in their estimation) for myself. And, very often, I will not be able to do both.
  • I see that is is from the Lord that I will receive the reward of the inheritance, and that if I do wrong, I will receive the consequences of the wrong which I have done. Bought, purchased, redeemed, I am no longer my own but I belong to Christ. I will "obtain an inheritance which is impreishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven (1Peter 1:4) for me. I also realize that there will be consequences for the wrong which I have done. Though my sin is forgiven and paid for, I will reap what I sow. Either in this life, or at the Judgement Seat of Christ, where we will all appear, "so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2Cor. 5:10b.)" Sobering indeed. As the saying goes, "we only go around once." Or, more Biblically put, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgement (Heb. 9:27.)" Our lives here on eath may be brief in terms of actual time spent, but the conseqences of our decisions and actions will be eternal.

So. When I get there, on that day, face to face with Jesus, what will I hear? I can imagine two possibilities:

  • "Welcome, good and faithful servant. You tried your best. In all your efforts to serve Me, you always considered the other guy, and worked hard at not giving offence. You took no chances, knowing that My Name was at stake. And having no confidence in yourself, you played it safe. You did no more, and no less, than tradition and the status quo dictated. You made sure that you did and said all the "right" things, according to standards set by those who surely had more wisdom and insight than yourself. Come in to your reward. At least you didn't make too many big messes for Me to clean up."


  • "Welcome, good and faithful servant. You didn't have great faith, but you had enough to take Me at my word. You had no confidence in yourself, but you had every confidence in Me that I would do above and beyond all that you could ask or imagine. You believed Me when I said you would do greater works than I did. You cared not about what others thought of you at all; if you had to offend some in obeying My commands, you did so unhesitatingly. When you didn't understand your circumstances, or My purposes in them, you carried on, eyes straight ahead, fixed on Me. Along the way you took some chances, and you made some mistakes. But you knew I would be faithful, you knew I would do all that I wanted to do through your life, as you laid it down before Me, even working all those blunders together for good. Come in to your reward. Those things I did through you seemed small at the time, but look at what eternity is reaping from them now."

I have to say that my hope and prayer is to hear something along the lines of the second one. How about you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is That All There Is?

Is That All There Is?

I have heard it said that the reason for many troubled marriages and divorces is one or both spouses having unrealistic expectations regarding what marriage was and/or how the other spouse would behave or treat them. It struck me as a very good observation.

Of course, some expectations are quite legitimate, such as having your spouse remain faithful, and being treated as they would like to be treated themselves. But in every marriage, I am sure that there are expectations held by both parties that are at least slightly unrealistic, and doomed to never be realized.

As I remain away from organized church, I have wondered if I haven’t had the same unrealistic hopes regarding what “church” should be, and as a result have come to a place of chucking the whole business altogether. Yet, I think that, as in the case of marriage, there are certain components regarding what our gathering together should look like that should never be compromised, or gone without.

From reading scripture, it is clear to me that believers in the New Testament enjoyed certain elements in their corporate fellowship and worship. They sang, encouraged one another, and shared everything they had, were involved in each other’s lives, prayed for one another, confessed their sins to each other, held each other accountable. Each one of them had spiritual gifts that they exercised in order to edify the whole body. Meals were shared, bread was broken, and the cup was passed. Their focus, and their hope, was the Lord Jesus; His life, death, resurrection and soon coming again.

In my “church” experience, I came on the scene later in life. I assumed, like most people, that church had always been the same, though perhaps with some modern “improvements” along the way. I never questioned the traditions, how we did things, or why. After all, there were certainly centuries of Christians before me that had shaped them, and I was confident in believing that all took place according to what the Bible said.

Church to me was the place to be, to be with others who loved God, to sing with them, pray with them and listen to sermons. For years church was right up there on my list of priorities. If you were a Christian, you went to church. It was where you had fellowship, worshipped and were fed spiritually. And for a long time I was happy in it.

Over the past year, however, I have struggled with church. Slowly, I began to try and find reasons that I couldn’t go. I started to dread it. When I was there, I could hardly wait for it to be over. Increasingly, I felt out of place, and as though I were just going through the motions, putting a smile on my face and repeating my lines as if they came from a script. All the many “ministries” that I had devoted myself to became unwanted duties, and I felt as though all that we did in that building was utterly futile in terms of building God’s kingdom in ourselves and in the world around us.

I went through a time of depression, and at the end of that, I realized I wanted to stop going altogether. I was surprised to discover that was my earnest desire, and even more surprised to realize that God was right there with me, was maybe even leading me to that conclusion. Of course, I went through all the second guessing, thinking I was losing my mind and feelings of fear and guilt that you might expect. But at the end, when I finally made the decision, I felt a huge weight lift off my spirit. And the freedom only increases with each passing day.

Church for me had become a frustration instead of a fulfillment. It was a disappointment, and no more a delight. I knew it should be more that it was; much more. I also knew that if there were changes to come at my church, they would be agonizingly slow. And every other church would be basically the same.

My expectations of church changed. I believe they are rightful, proper expectations. I believe that the way we have church now is a sham, and a shame. I liken my current disappointment to this example:

You read about a new restaurant in the newspaper. There are rave reviews about the food. So you call them up and make a reservation. You and your spouse arrive promptly at the appointed time. Both of you have taken care to dress up; this is a special treat. This will be the first time that either of you has eaten at a restaurant. The hostess seats you at a comfy table, and you place your order. The menu lists many delicious sounding items, and you can hardly wait to dig in. You ate sparingly all day so you could enjoy the meal. You are expecting to have a gastronomic experience that lives up to all the hype you have heard.

The waiter finally arrives with a large domed tray. He sets it down on your table, and with a flourish, lifts off the lid. You behold in amazement what is before you. At first you think you are seeing things, so you pick up a piece of the food. But it’s true! It is all plastic! Just like the play food your little daughter uses in her pretend kitchen. You look at one another in disbelief. The waiter stands there, smiling smugly, as though proud to be the bearer of such a feast. You look around, and you realize that the other patrons have the same fake food on their plates. But they are picking it up, and pretending to eat it! They are even smiling, licking their lips, and nodding to others at their table as though agreeing to the deliciousness of the meal.

Stunned, you both get up and walk out of the restaurant. It all seems like a joke. What is wrong with the other patrons? Can’t they see that what they are experiencing isn’t real? Driving home, you both agree that you won’t go to restaurants any more. You will stay home and cook your own food. Perhaps you won’t have fancy food, like that served in many restaurants, but it will be real, and satisfying.

That is where I am now. At home, having my own worship, prayer, study. Meeting with others when I can for real fellowship. It is so much simpler, so real, so satisfying. Yes, I do think that my expectations were unrealistic. It was unrealistic of me to expect all of those good and right elements of “church” to take place in that building, in that form, on those certain days.

Maybe you are in a similar place. Maybe you are questioning, like I did, asking “Is that all there is?” If so, I want to encourage you that no, that is definitely not all there is. Jesus meant for it to be so much more, and for Him to be so much more in your life. Ask Him to show you, to lead you. Trust Him to do this. It will be His pleasure, I assure you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tim's Travels

There was once a fellow named Tim. He lived in a regular town, called Normal, with regular people. In fact, he was quite regular himself. Life was good in Normal, and seemed to flow along smoothly for Tim.

Till one day, he passed by a storefront. Now, he passed by this storefront every day on his way to work, but for some reason, on this day, he felt compelled to stop and read the sign in the window. It was advertising a way to go to a new land, called Bliss. The ruler of the country was King Good. Tim had heard of this, and knew some people who had gone there. But he had never wanted to go. You had to leave everything behind, even your family, to go there. And no one ever came back. Sometimes the family moved there later, but there were no guarantees that they would.

Tim had always thought people that went there were silly, but for some reason, today he felt differently. Suddenly, he wanted to go there. He knew it was the best thing he could ever do. So he went inside, talked to the clerk, and was given a ticket to leave that very day. Tim went right to the harbour to board the ship. He didn't even take the time to say goodbye to his friends. He wanted to get there as soon as he could.

When he arrived, he was met by many others. As he got off the ship, they welcomed him with hugs and pats on the back. One group took him to where they met together, to explain some things to him.

Tim listened intently as they explained life in Bliss. They were very happy there; that was obvious! It seemed that they met regularly, and had talks about King Good. Others came to share what they knew about him, and also, there were many books that described what he was like.

Tim was so exited! From then on, he went to every meeting that group held, and read all the books they recommended to him. He learned the customs they followed, such as not eating bananas, and always wearing green pyjamas to bed. He wondered why they did these things, but went along anyway. He wanted to fit in, after all.

After a time, Tim began to wonder about a different group he had heard about. One day, he went to one of their meetings. It was very good. They seemed to know different things about King Good. They were very friendly, but Tim was shocked when, during the meal they shared, some of the folks were eating bananas! He didn't say anything, wanting to be polite. And then, when he asked if they would be serving tea, he was taken aside by an older gentleman. He was told, gently, that they did not believe in drinking tea in their group. Tim was baffled, but again, didn't argue the point.

Tim met with this group for a time, read all the books they recommended, and learned many new things about King Good. Some of the things he heard were very different from what he had been told by the first group. He did wonder about that. And after a time, he moved on to another group. He found different customs there, and again, they seemed to know other things that the first two groups didn't have a clue about.

One day, as Tim was thinking about King Good, he felt suddenly sad. The King sounded so wonderful. But Tim had never actually seen him. He had seen pictures, ones that people had drawn, of his castle and the amazing lawns and gardens that surrounded it. But he eventually realized that no one had actually met the King!

The more Tim thought about this, the sadder he became. One day, he decided to ask one of the group why it was that no one had ever seen the King. They told him that long ago, some people had actually met him. The stories that they told about the King were how the many books they now had were written about him. These eye witnesses were all gone now.

"How did they find him?" Tim asked.

"Well, there is a map that you can use. I think we have one around here somewhere. But people don't bother with that anymore. Now it is much easier to hear the lectures and read the other books. It is more convenient, and you don't disrupt your life by having to travel all that way. We are happy to hear about the King, and most people don't feel the need to actually meet him." The fellow that had been speaking seemed puzzled by Tim's sad face.

"Oh, I see," said Tim. "Perhaps I could look at the map? Could you please find it for me?"

"Yes, but I don't know why you want to see it. No one has gone there from our group in many, many years. It is dangerous, we feel, to go off by yourself. It is something that none of us would recommend, or approve of. Who knows what might happen to you? And why would you do it, anyway, when we have so much information about the King available to you?" The man was busily rummaging through a box of papers that was shoved into a corner of the room.

"Here it is. Take a look. Take it home with you if you like. I guess you should return it when you are finished examining it," he said as it handed the wrinkled and tattered piece of paper to Tim.

"Thanks. I appreciate it," said Tim as he left holding the map.

Later, in his room, he studied the map. He decided that he could make the journey. It didn't look to be very far. Quickly, heart racing, he put some things into a knapsack; warm clothes, some food and water, and a blanket. He was so exited! He left just before dawn, his heart buoyed up by the anticipation of finally meeting the King.

Tim's journey took longer than he had planned. There were many times when he was tired, and he missed all his friends from the group. But when he thought about turning back, without having met the King, he knew it just wasn't an option. So on he went, spending many nights sleeping under a tree, and walking mile after mile on his own, studying the map carefully as he went.

Then one day, he saw it! The castle! He slowly walked up to the tall gate, suddenly afraid that it would be locked. He gingerly gave it a push, and it swung wide open! Now he ran up to a door in the castle wall, and pounded on it with all his might. While he was still banging on it with his fist, it opened, and there stood the King!

"What took you so long?" he asked. "I have been waiting for you. Please, come in, and we will talk together." He took Tim's hand, and led him inside, a delighted and welcoming smile on his face.

Tim joyously went inside. And he never left. He stayed there with the King, and they talked every day. King Good was even more wonderful than he had imagined, and Tim never grew tired of sitting with him, or walking with him in the garden.

There were others there, too, that had made the journey to the castle. Together they and the King were like a family, and their days were spent talking and laughing and loving one another.

The King mailed the map back to the group, with a note from Tim, telling them that they should join him at the castle. Tim wrote about how happy he was, and how much better it was to really meet the King in person and be with him all the time.

"I have finally found what I have been searching for," he wrote. "I have found what makes my heart complete. I have found my King."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Just Give Me Jesus

“Just Give Me Jesus” or “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?”

I prayed to God this morning. I told Him, several times, in fact, that I would not settle, would not be satisfied, with anything less than truly knowing Him, and having Him be real in and through my life. Now, I know that is not the first time that He has heard that petition. Many earnest Christians before me have made the same request, thousands, if not millions, of times. So why has it been so complicated for me to "know" Him in the past?

In my own experience of seeking God, I have found many different versions of Him. To begin with, while I was under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, I had a very clear understanding of God. Or so I thought. Not that I was truly seeking Him at the time. But I did learn that He was Someone that I needed to fear. I knew He punished sin, and that I would have to some day give an account to Him for mine. Of course, Jesus was there, and did die for my sins. But apparently His suffering and death, even though He seemed to be perpetually going through it on a crucifix, and having it replayed again and again during every Mass that I attended, was not quite enough. My salvation depended on some other things as well. There were many rules to follow; rules that were always changing. Going to Sunday Mass was crucial. Skipping that was a mortal sin, and only having your confession heard by a priest would put you in the clear. Provided, of course, that you said your “penance” of however many Hail Marys and Our Fathers the priest calculated were necessary to augment the not quite sufficient sacrifice of Christ’s death on the cross. Lots of other “lesser” sins could be dealt with by simply taking communion. Then there were prayers to the saints, prayers for the dead in purgatory (to get them an early release), special novenas, extra points for saying your rosary and going to other Masses. Still, with all of that, there was no certainty that God would, in the end, accept you.

Then, praise God, I was saved. Now my idea of God changed drastically. I realized there was nothing I could do to atone for my own sin, and that Jesus' death was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath that had been hanging over my head. I went to a Pentecostal church, and was amazed to see so many happy, smiling people. There was lots to learn, and on I went, searching and reading and branching out to other meetings and events, ever longing to “know” this Jesus that I now loved and yearned for. But still, there were certain “conditions” along the way. One must somehow “be led of the Spirit”, and obey that leading, in order to be at the right place and the right time, in order not to “miss a blessing.” It seemed that if you were a “spiritual” person, you heard God’s voice on a regular basis, and lived your life on a slightly higher plane than everyone else. And of course, you were always positive and upbeat, having the “joy of the Lord” visible in every aspect of your countenance and behaviour. Somehow along the way I got the notion that I needed to “feel” that God loved me before I could be confident that He did. Jesus was there for me, but really, to be “greatly used” of Him, I needed to be “on fire” for Him, and richly endowed with many supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Just being a “regular Christian” put me in the back row in terms of making any inroads for God’s Kingdom.

Along with those types of observations, I encountered the idea that God would act on my prayers only if I had enough faith. If I didn’t get answers, then there was sin in my life, or I simply didn’t believe Him. I also ran into another kind of God, Who wanted to make me rich, and successful at everything I did. This somehow necessitated a monetary investment on my part, given to one of His many “anointed” servants who “heard” from Him in dreams, visions, and maybe even tea leaves.

Sometimes a “move of God” would come along. When people encountered this Jesus, they laughed hysterically, fell on the floor as if they were drunk, clucked like chickens and developed bizarre facial ticks. I observed these things from a distance, feeling left out of the “blessing”, as I could never quite “enter in” to whatever it was that God was doing. Again, I missed out. I concluded that I simply was not spiritual enough for God to bless in this way; I must have had a “religious spirit” that was in the way.

Then on to Reformed Theology. Oh the blessedness of knowing there was not one single thing I could do to save myself or keep myself saved. I embraced many wonderful truths about my sin and God’s grace. This was incredibly freeing for a time. I learned of the Puritans, and others throughout history, who had stood up to persecution, were martyred, devoted their lives to studying and expounding the Word of God. Their devotion knew no bounds. I learned. And I learned. And I read. And I listened. To sermons, tapes, quote upon quote. My head filled up, and my heart dried up. I heard many who mourned over their sin, who reminded me of my utter lack of one good thing, and how incredibly far short I fell of giving God all that He deserved. And then God became somehow farther away, so majestic, so high and lifted up. Someone that I could never please, and should just give up and grovel before. And never, in my wildest dreams, would I measure up to those men and women of old in their diligence and mourning over sin.

So here I am, today, away from the walls of church, having removed myself from those constraints. Yet still there are other voices, even here. It seems being “out of church” is a denomination in itself, with plenty of “teachers” willing to show me the way to know the “Real Jesus”. I really don’t want to trade in one avenue of confusion for another. So for now, I’m sticking to what the “Real Jesus” said, in His Word. Like I did when I was first born again. I read it, He spoke to me, I spoke to Him. It really wasn’t complicated. In fact, He promises that it will happen just that way:

"You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13)