Love Your Neighbour

I am a passionate person. Ask my friends and family – they’ll tell you I have opinions about things and I don’t hesitate to share them freely. To be honest, it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion but, thankfully, it has also allowed me to be a voice for those who have none.

The raging debate between Christians regarding whether to re-open their church doors or leave them closed during a pandemic is dividing congregations across our communities. Both sides make excellent points, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is causing me to sit up and take notice of how I myself engage in this topic.

Jesus has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So just how do we love our neighbour well during a public health crisis? Is church attendance essential to being a Christian? Is the gathered body of Christ a priority when the current health recommendations are to be apart?

Wonderful questions worthy of vigorous debate.

Here’s the problem I am currently struggling through. 

I’ve noticed the tendency to measure spiritual maturity in relation to which side we fall on. And of course, we raise an eyebrow at those who don’t agree with our point of view. Those who want to gather are seen as immature and selfish people who are not living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. Those who are unwilling to gather at this time and choose to follow health guidelines are seen as cowards who are worshiping the government instead of Jesus.

Why are we doing this to each other?

“If you think church is a building, you don’t know Jesus.” 

“If you don’t want to gather with other Christians, something’s wrong in your walk with Christ.”

Two sides of the same hurtful, destructive coin. 

Can I offer a third way? What if we do the thing Christ-followers been called to do for centuries? Ephesians 4:2-6 says, 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Tim Keller once said, “The church is not a museum for pristine saints, but a hospital ward for broken sinners.” Of which we all are. No one has the corner on perfect righteousness except Jesus. We are all wrestling through stressful circumstances with no real end in sight. Some have accepted pandemic life and are patiently waiting it out. Others believe if they were to do that, they would be compromising their beliefs. Is one more spiritual than the other? Some suffer struggles made significantly worse by isolation and are desperate for meaningful human interaction with their church family. Some suffer anxiety over possibly spreading the virus to the vulnerable and are paralyzed by the thought of a group gathering even if it means missing out on a part of their life they hold dear. Is one closer to Jesus than the other? We have been isolated from one another for so long, stuck in our echo chambers where it’s far too easy to paint the other side in a negative light. We have forgotten the call to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, to bear with one another in love.

When presented with the opportunity to sin by self-righteousness and smug attitudes, let’s run the other way and choose to love our neighbour well – including our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. Instead of passing uncharitable judgment on those whose needs and desires do not align with our own, we can praise the Lord that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts, and that each part has a purpose and a role in fulfilling the call of Christ to the greater community at this particular time in history.

Lord, forgive us for calling someone else’s faith into question when they don’t see this the way we do. Give us wisdom, patience and deep encouragement as we learn how to love our neighbour well in this difficult time.

(image: mine)

Simple Things

These are the days we long for in November.

When the sun sinks below the horizon at 4:30 in the afternoon and the pale winter sky turns inky black, I always remember this season with daylight hours that stretch past my bedtime. Last night I looked to the west and was shocked to see the remnants of a gorgeous spring sunset still making their mark well past 10pm.

We made it.

I remember getting up with my babies for nighttime feedings and taking a peek out the window as I came back to bed. I was always hoping to catch a glimpse of that heart-stopping silent summer lightning, but often it was the hue of the sky that surprised me. The sun was below the horizon but its rays reached above, changing the ordinary black of night to an exquisite shade of greenish blue. The horizon was already glowing even though the clock glared 3am.

We used to stay up all night around the campfire and watch the sky change. Where I live there are weeks in summer where it never officially reaches night. We have all the twilights — civil, nautical and astronomical — but no actual hours of complete darkness. It has something to do with the angle of the sun below the horizon, and it feels magical. Sitting around the glowing coals of a dying fire, you knew what time it was simply by looking to the east. When you could see the edge of daylight, it was time to say goodnight with a full heart.

Yesterday I dug my hands deep into some dirt and mixed it up so I could give a plant a new home. The mud squished through my fingers and I felt like a little kid again. It had been so long since I worked the dirt with my bare hands, mixing and squeezing and feeling the cold wet earth covering my skin. Gloves and tools are my usual practice, but this barehanded soil turning was the very thing I needed. I remembered I was still wearing my wedding ring. I once heard of a woman who lost her precious diamond band deep in her garden one year and decades later it was found and returned to her. Wrists-deep in sticky muck, I quickly pulled my hands out and checked to see if the ring was still there. Phew. Although lined with black, it remained steadfast around my dirt-stained finger. As I finished transplanting the herb, the scent of fresh soil filled my senses and my heart swelled.

Long, warm nights and dark, gritty earth — these simple things are wonderful gifts from a good Father. I don’t have to rush to the store to stand in line six feet apart hoping to grab the last one. I don’t have to work extra hours to save up my pennies so I can finally buy them for myself. These gifts are free.

I’ve been reading and re-reading Ephesians in the past few months. I still can’t quite figure out why the Lord has me in that book, but I can’t seem to leave it alone. I’m discovering so much truth resonating in my heart and mind that I just want to go back and savour it again. This week, I’m captivated by Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)

We’re just coming through a season where the only thing we could do was stay home, which is really hard for a person who is naturally drawn to action. I love getting things done. In fact, when I realized that my particular areas of church ministry may not be able to move forward for quite some time to come, I felt a strong sense of loss and discouragement. But what will I DO Lord? I cried out in desperation. Verse 8-9 kept coming to my mind: “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… not by works…”

Just as there is nothing I can do to conjure up a lovely, long summer evening or cause the sun to warm the soil for great growth, there is nothing I can do to secure my spot in God’s Kingdom by hustling harder and faster in my work.

All I can do is fall on my knees and accept this great gift freely given to me.

Jesus, have Your way in me. Work this truth down from my head into my heart – that when I put my faith in You, I can be confident that the work is already finished. The price has already been paid. The gift is free! I am Your handiwork, made by You to live the life you have called me to live, with works prepared long ago for me to do — not because they are my salvation, but because You are.

What a wonderful gift from a good Father.

My container one year.

When You Simply Can’t

I distinctly remember feeling like I had no idea how I was going to make it through the day.

Numerous interruptions in my sleep over an extended period of time left me feeling irritable and frustrated. It’s not that I couldn’t sleep; it’s that my sweet babies needed me night and day and I. was. tired.

I know the desperate feeling of burnout.

It’s no fun to feel like you’re at the mercy of your emotions. Many of us have grown up in a culture where emotions were something to be suppressed with a quick, “Suck it up, buttercup. Pull up those bootstraps and get a move on! Let’s make it happen!”

But what happens when you simply can’t?

Is there space for rest and healing?

I opened up my social media pages the other day to a loud debate. One side was frustrated with the constant barrage of instagram images that encourage us to only focus on our feelings and listen to our hearts, the other side bristled at the thought of ignoring our emotions out of sheer duty. Both sides used Scripture to support their point of view. Each was convinced that the other side was missing something important.

It kinda got me thinking, I guess.

Genesis 1 teaches that God looked at all He created and saw that it was good. We are good creations made in God’s image, with great worth and value. Genesis 3 teaches that humans were completely changed by the Fall, when sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Good creations who have become completely fallen with no hope of redeeming themselves, except through the absolutely free gift that came through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. His death and resurrection made a way for us to be restored and returned to the One who made us in the first place.

When you put your faith in Christ, you are no longer under sin but under grace! And you have an eternal hope that cannot fade away.

So what does all this mean for us on those days when we feel like we’re worth absolutely nothing and can’t stand the sight of ourselves in the mirror?

We are loved. We know this, because the entire Bible is filled with truth after truth about the love of a Father for His children. We are made perfect in Christ. We know this, too, because we read more truth about how while we were still sinners, working against God, Christ died for us to bring forgiveness, redemption and new life. We experience God’s grace when we put our faith in Christ, and from that moment on we are changed and renewed, transformed into people who are forgiven and accepted into the family of God forever. We allow the Holy Spirit to bear His fruit in our lives, growing not only our relationship with God, but even with those around us.

And this is all wonderful objective truth that we hold onto, as we dig into His Word and discover more about who God is.

The problem is, we are forgetful.

We easily forget the truths many of us have been taught from birth. We forget because we live in a fallen world, and although we are redeemed, we still fight against sin.

We are bombarded by messages of putting ourselves first, all the while knowing that God deserves first place in our lives. We are encouraged to “put on our own oxygen masks” so we can better take care of our families. We hear that we can’t “pour from an empty cup”, so we look for ways to fill ourselves so we don’t feel depleted.

But what kind of oxygen are we breathing? What are we filling our cup with?

Maybe the conversation should be less about whether or not it’s godly to get some sleep, enjoy a cup of coffee and plan a girls night when we’re feeling low, and more about the basic truth about who we are in Christ. What we believe about that crucial bit of theology forms how we live our daily lives and learn to love God, ourselves and those He has placed in our circle of influence.

I am the mother of four small children. It has been no easy task making sacrifices day after day after day for the past eight years so I can care for my family in the way I understand God has called me to care for them. I have been through deep valleys, struggling at times to see my worth and value even in the middle of this very important job of raising tiny humans and loving my husband. I also work in a ministry position where I have the absolute privilege of speaking truth and hope into the lives of thousands of people every weekday on my radio show and to our social media followers. And I have days where I wonder if I am making a difference at all. I lead worship and am involved in my beautiful community of faith, full of people who know me and us and are journeying together through some of the most faith-forming years of my adult life. And still, I wonder at times, would anyone miss us if we had to move?

Let’s be honest. We all struggle to varying degrees with feelings of inadequacy and unimportance. And our constant movement toward self-care is an acknowledgement of our human limits as we attempt to stay afloat in circumstances that are at best, trying, and at worst, a walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

It is biblical to take time to rest and recuperate and reconnect with the One who created us with deep love and care in the first place.

It is called Sabbath.

And we forget to take it and enjoy it as the gift that it is.

We forget because we are human. We forget because this world is fallen. We forget because sin tempts us and lies to us and we cannot see clearly.

God is working in each one of us to draw us closer to Him every single day. We open the Word and we drink in His message of love and truth. We look at this beautiful world, and we see carefully crafted, picturesque places that thrill us completely. We see one another and we know His love and grace through relationship and connection.

It’s wise to take a break. And it’s wise to have regular habits in place so you don’t end up in survival mode in the first place! Please take that mental health day. Sleep. Exercise and eat healthy food. Talk with your doctor. Visit a counsellor. Walk your journey in the company of those who deeply love you! We need each other. We need rest and balance. We need enjoyment and refreshment! These are beautiful gifts from the Giver of Life!

But let’s not be deceived that a weekend away can sustain us. We need more. We need something real, something that will never fade away. Only Christ can reveal to us a God who does not abandon His beloved children! He is who He says He is, He will do what He says He will do.

And as we continue on in our journey of learning what it means to be human, let’s not abandon truth for the sake of a feel-good cure to a deeper need. The only way to weather the ups and downs of self-worth and identity is to deeply root ourselves in the One who is never shaken – Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 3:16-21 (NIV)

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

tulips

Last year’s tulips