A Mom’s journey in the love of Jesus Christ

The calm before the storm, the quiet before the chaos…I sit at my kitchen table reading a story while everyone is still asleep. It is about a mom of three boys and her journey as she tries to raise them in the love of Christ. It is inspiring and motivating and a little intimidating.

Over the week end I spent too much time in Facebook as many of us do. I scrolled through people’s photos of their clean living room, their Martha Stewart dinner, and their smiling children and a feeling of inadequacy washes over me. Why does everyone else have it together?

On Saturday, I sat in the waiting room at my daughter’s ballet school chatting with another mother. I listened to her talk about their morning routine. How her kids loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, swept the floor and rarely even argued. The same feeling of inadequacy confronted me again.

Why does it feel like my kids are the only ones arguing constantly? Why am I the only one who can’t seem to keep the floor clear of toys or the bathroom mirror free from handprints? If so many other can do it why cant I?

This brings us to Sunday morning, a rush of activity trying to get everyone fed, dressed and semi-presentable for church. We make it out the door with only two minor arguments and one spilt glass of juice. Everyone piles into the SUV and then piles out and rushes into the back of the sanctuary to quietly take our seats. Not 5 minutes into the service and my two-year-old is running out to look for cookies and my 4-year-old is telling me she is SO bored. Finally, the pastor calls for children’s time and Sunday school dismissal. The kids run off and I am left alone. I breath a sigh of relief, no one had a melt down during the prayer so it was a success so far. As I Iisten to the message that old familiar feeling of inadequacy creeps up again. He is talking about staying connected to the Lord, gulp. I love the Lord deeply but how much time do I spend with him? I can easily make excuses about how busy I am or how tired I am or how there is just no spare minutes in the day. But I know somehow that is not valid.

I gaze out the window at the parking lot replaying the hours and minutes in my day and consciously try to see how I could add that time into my day. Then I remember that uncomfortable conversation I had with he ballet mom on Saturday. She was talking about how she gets up an hour early to read and pray. Maybe I could do that? My thought is interrupted by the worship team as they begin to close the service.

After the service I gather my crew and head for the door as quickly as I can before I lose one. Someone stops me just as I am about to get through the door with all four kids. She smiles at all the kids and then she begins to commend me. “You look so beautiful and you are always so organized and on time. Your children are so kind and polite. You have it all so well put together.” I thank her then head to the car. As I drive home I laugh to myself and I think about that sweet woman’s comment and how far from reality it is. How can she look at MY family and say we were on time, or quiet or put together? I haven’t washed my hair in…well I won’t say how long and my sons hair is growing wings because he needs a haircut so badly. She is not seeing my sink full of dishes and basket full of laundry at home. She is just seeing a glimpse of a much larger picture.

Later that evening I returned to social media before heading to bed. I scrolled through some more pages and the gnawing feeling of inadequacy returned. I turned to my husband sitting on the couch next to me and made the comment, how come everyone else looks so put together. He very wisely said to me “That is just their highlight reel.”  I turned back to my phone and went to look at my profile. I realized that if I had been someone else looking at my posted photos I would have thought my life looks pretty perfect too.

We all work so hard to appear perfect, to appear on top of the world, but why? It is a vicious façade of judgement really. I judge others and they judge me and I’m constantly wondering who I measure up to and who I don’t.

 

A familiar verse was brought to my attention this week – Psalm 139:13-14 [highlight1]“You created me in my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”[/highlight1] The Lord has quietly reminded me that I am his child and he has created me perfect. He gave me the perfect set of skills to be a mother to MY Children, he gave the perfect temperament to be in MY marriage and he loves me perfectly where I am at. He knows me, all of me. He knows about the times I yell at my kids, the times I am selfish, the times I am late or messy or mean and he loves it all. I do not need to be afraid to show the good, bad and ugly because I am redeemed.

I am challenged this week to try to be more authentic, to break the cycle of comparing in my own community. Not to air all my dirty laundry but just to stop the battle of trying to hide all the imperfections, all the real-life moments. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, we are loved by the king and we need to extend authentic love and grace to ourselves and to those around us!

[quote title=”Mercy” Text=”“Mercy doesn’t erase mistakes but it always redeems it, and in the process erases guilt” ” name=”April Buhler” name_sub=””]

 

 

Distinguishing God from nature

We live in an age where many seem to worship the creation more than the Creator. The lines between stewardship of creation and worship of creation are blurring. This probably shouldn’t surprise us as the signs of this shift are evident in our culture.

We have people who create havoc over how cows and chickens are slaughtered but who ignore the slaughter of babies in the womb even when the child’s organs are being harvested and sold to keep other humans healthy and whole. We have people who flaunt abhorrent sexual practices as a right while ignoring the sex trafficking, bondage, abuse and oppression that such lifestyles often nurture.

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that God designs creation in such a way that his character can’t be misunderstood by those who search for him. Those who suppress the truth of his power and divine nature have no excuse. When people shift from worshiping the Creator to worshipping the creation God gives them up to their own foolish thinking. One of the first evidences is that they compromise their God-oriented sexuality. “They exchange the truth of God for a lie.”

Once this step is taken the slide continues into “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (NIV)

Paul finishes by saying that the most amazing thing is that they not only do these things but they approve of others who do them. Ever notice how our society celebrates openly those who do these things? If not celebrates, at least tolerates willingly to avoid being labeled.

That’s not how we would usually expect God to express his wrath when we go our own way – to let us have the consequences of our own choices and to let us explore the depths of our own sin nature.

All along, God wants us to see that there is nothing but Him who can satisfy the deepest desires of our heart. There is nothing but the way he designed life which will meet the deepest needs of our soul. By allowing us to follow the options we choose we are meant to see that this option won’t meet our expectations for soul-satisfaction. Tasting the fruit of our soul’s destruction, brought on by wrong choices, is meant to prod us back to him and the way he designed for us.

Yes, care for creation – pick up that trash, grow those trees, steward the fish and birds and whales – but realize that you do this to remind others of how good and how gracious the Creator is in providing everything we need for life and godliness.

Blessed Bubble-Wrapped Believers

I still can’t find the verse. You know, the one that says believers will be bubble-wrapped and protected
from having a hard time in this world.
I did find what Jesus said in his sermon on the mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because
great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before
you.”
Francis Chan reminds us in a short video clip that we don’ t have to worry about what we need to say
when we’re called before those who oppose us because, as Jesus told us in Luke 12:11-12, the Holy
Spirit inside us will tell us at that time what we are to say.
Today, I received an email from one of our university students who had a pro-choice professor
expressing his views on gender fluidity and sexuality. He supported the Prime Minister’s cut of summer
grants to churches who will not support abortion or transgenderism. He mocked Trinity Western’s
contract encouraging students to stay sexually pure. This student spoke up in class and was amazed that
the professor listened. She said “This is my firsthand experience that God can and does proclaim His
truth through timid spokespeople when the time is right! Still, it’s so easy to just keep quiet… please
pray for faith, courage and love to testify to those around me, and also that I can act out my faith.”
If you know how to pray there are people who need you. If you are in the front lines facing the insults
and the bubble-wrap free zone then you need prayer warriors around you. The strength of our faith
comes not only in our quiet times alone but in our vibrant interdependence as members of one body –
one family – one church.
I’ll finish today with Peter’s encouragement to believers facing challenges in his day. “Who is going to
harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do
not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be
prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But
do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously
against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it God’s will, to
suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
I guess we’ll save the bubble-wrap for Christmas presents.

Why does God Choose the Foolish?

Growing up in today’s world, where you might get a participation ribbon for showing up and a hero’s reputation for doing anything thoughtful, it isn’t hard to start feeling like you are someone special – a cut above the average. Being somewhat, half-decently good as a prep for your eulogy seems to get you a pass by the judgement seat and straight on in to heaven – or so it seems to many of the tearful at our funerals.

The apostle Paul has a way of diminishing any pride we might have in who we are. In I Corinthians 1:25-31 he says “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one many boast before him. It is because of Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The message seems clear. God chooses people who can’t possibly live up to what he has designed for them so that it’s clear to others that the only way they can do it is because of Jesus. Sometimes, those of us in the church have forgotten that it’s only because of Jesus that we can live up to the life God sets out for us.

Brennan Manning, in his book, The Importance of Being Foolish (p. 21), says “As the sincere Christian opens himself to the life proposed by Jesus a life of constant prayer and total unselfishness, a life of buoyant, creative goodness and a purity of heart that goes beyond chastity to affect every facet of our personality – his sense of awe and wonder can quickly sour into cynicism and pessimism. The suspicion grows that the gospel ethic is impractical, impossible, and therefore irrelevant. The words are nice, but who pays them any mind? After all, I can’t be asked to do all that! I can’t survive in the jungle out there if I take Jesus’s revelation seriously. I can’t be always giving. There must be a limit. But Christ sets no limit.”

So, what do we do with this? How can we thrive in the jungle, flourish in the storms, grow through the impossibilities? How are you doing it?

We’d be foolish to keep trying to do it on our own.

He sets the lonely in families -II

Psalm 68:6 says “God sets the lonely in families.”

 

The Vancouver Foundation consistently claims that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for people living in this city. Seniors isolated in their apartments, care homes or rooms are lonely; young moms struggling to raise children are lonely; refugees and immigrants are lonely; leaders are lonely; young professionals fixed to the internet are lonely; people riding in Skytrains and buses are lonely; even some married people shelter behind closed doors in their own loneliness.

It is hard to see loneliness as a part of our churches. We think that if we can get isolated people into groups of people that loneliness will take care of itself. Several people have told me over the years that the hardest thing is to come to a service, to stand in the middle of so many happy people, and feel all alone.

 

The United Kingdom has now appointed a minister of loneliness to deal with the issue among 2 million seniors who are isolated from community – 200,000 admitted they regularly go over a month without speaking to another human being. In our city, it isn’t surprising to see people drive or commute alone, shop alone, eat alone, order coffee alone, watch a movie alone, walk or jog alone, read alone.

 

Local studies say at least one in five of us experience the sadness that comes from social isolation – reaping the impact on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Surprisingly, social media seems partially responsible for the sense of separation and human connection we tend to thrive and flourish on.

 

Connecting to community is essential for our overall health. Being part of a small group where you can share your life, get prayer support, learn with others, enlarge your perspective on God and sense a personal connection with the life stories of others seems to be something God has designed when he made us.

 

When’s the last time you shared a heart connection with someone who really saw you for who you are? When have you taken the time to initiate a contact so you could see someone else for who they are?

Is there room for doubt in our faith?

Have you tried to share your faith lately with an unbeliever? What was that like? Did you know how to respond to the questions you were being asked, the doubts that were being expressed, the pushback you were being given?

Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple, had this to say in I Peter 3:15, 16. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

We don’t expect ourselves to embrace things we don’t believe are true and we surely don’t expect others to embrace things they don’t believe are true. Few are won by being argued into the kingdom. Most are intrigued by seeing the real expression and trust in Jesus when our life is anything but good. “How do you have hope now?” they want to know.

The time for effective witness doesn’t start when we’re confronted by an unbeliever with their haunting questions. They time for witness comes when we speak to our own heart first about what we really believe about Jesus, His word, His church, His world. If you’ve grown up in a ‘Christian’ environment, surrounded only by supportive relationships, it can be a shock to be mocked by skeptics.

The age of entitlement and privilege is over for most followers of Jesus in Canada. It is time to look seriously at what Scripture is teaching us on how to live in a world whose values are not aligned with God’s. This is especially true for students and young professionals.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (pp. 16-17), says

“There should come a period in our lives, as we mature in our faith, when we need to confront our inherited belief system and ask ourselves whether it has really become ours. The developmental psychologist James W. Fowler sees a personal re-examination of beliefs as necessary for full maturity. Through most of our adolescent years we are very peer-oriented in all of our life’s decisions. We respond to groups and easily pick up the group’s beliefs as our own. This is why evangelism on the high school levels needs to be socially oriented. Many times during the period we recommit ourselves to our family’s values. However, in late adolescence or early young adulthood, we ought to escape from the peer-oriented mode; we need to decide whether we can really claim ownership in everything we have taken on as beliefs. In most cases, this process involves raising questions about the truth of these beliefs.

“This re-examination does not mean tearing down everything so that it can be rebuilt. It may simply be a matter of making sure all of the nails are holding and applying a little more glue here and there. Unless a person is willing to go through such a process, his or her faith may always be suffering from a lack of conviction.”

So, how has this worked out in your life and faith? How strong are your convictions and where did they come from? Do you have confidence in sharing what you believe with someone still filled with doubt? Are you first living out your faith so that someone would even ask you about your faith?

Does your life need a trellis?

If you’ve ever seen grapes or roses or vines growing you might have noticed the importance of a trellis. A trellis is the support structure which enables the vine to grow up enough to bear fruit. This structure keeps it from slumping on the ground where its fruit will be ruined.

Ken Shigematsu, in his book ‘God in My Everything’, states that having a spiritual trellis for our lives “supports our friendship with Christ so that we bear the fruit of his character and are able to offer his nourishing life to others…. It serves as a pattern for life that enables us to experience the presence of Jesus in each moment of our lives, empowering us to become people who embody his love to others.”

Recognizing the importance of a spiritual trellis focuses our attention on the strength of the culture in our church family to support the growth of its members. A church filled with grace, hope, love, care and encouragement also needs to be a place of accountability, truth, learning, service and outreach.

Shigematus continues, “People grow – they become who they are – not because God zapped them while they walked across a field but because they make a conscious effort to respond to the grace of God and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, cultivate the gift they have received. Those who flourish in their lives with God have a Spirit-initiated rule of life, a rhythm of practices that enables them to welcome and respond to Jesus.”

What do you think? Is this right? How does it show up in your own walk with Jesus? What does your spiritual trellis look like?

To pray or not to pray

Thursday was set aside for 12 hours of prayer with different leaders hosting each hour. During an hour hosted by our intern Yosef he played a song with a short clip of a John Piper sermon. The message declared that no pain that we have ever experienced is without purpose or meaning. God is working in us deliberately an eternal weight of glory. That thought requires deep meditation.

A friend of mine is a pastor at a church which has a prayer meeting every night of the week with Friday as a loud and long one. I confessed that while our church has built a healthy multi-cultural community, our prayer times together are still weak. They are building their church on prayer with 20% growth every year and new believers every week.

Today was an effort to say that it is time to reaffirm that only the Spirit of God does the real work in transforming dead hearts, blind eyes, deaf ears and numb minds. In pastor Tim Keller’s book on Prayer his wife used a story to get him to realize the seriousness of prayer. Here is what she said,

“Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No – it would be so crucial that you would not forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.”

Does that illustration speak to you? Do you really believe prayer is that essential? Maybe your response and mine shows a lot more about what is happening in our life than we realize.

Are you living the right story ?

We live in a world of stories. We love to hear stories and tell stories. Our stories
fill out our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope. My son Richard was home
from Rwanda a month ago and he and his sisters and I were sitting around our
living room sharing stories. It got a little weepy at one point. My young
granddaughter Kylie stopped at the door for a moment, left and returned with an
armload of stuffed sheep. She quietly went to each person and dropped a sheep
into their arms then she left. We all hugged our sheep and kept telling stories but
that sensitive act of Kylie is a story worth telling.
The Christmas story is a story of God stepping into our weepy human story with
a lamb and weaving our story into his bigger story. The challenge for most
people is that there are so many different versions of Christmas stories that it
can be confusing. Getting the right story is important because that story will
define our sense of identity, purpose, need and hope.
The main Christmas story most of our children hear is that they are at the center
of the story. By being good and doing good they can get what they want. If they
get what they want they will be happier, with-it, smarter, comfortable, loved. All
their hopes and dreams will be satisfied.
Christmas in the first story is about what we give and what we get. When we get
older it’s about dressing up and getting out, eating, putting a smile on our face
and staying busy shopping – but it’s still about giving and getting. There’s a
popular commercial that boldly says “I want that.” That’s the first story.
The alternate Christmas story of the Bible is the one we quickly refer to at this
time of year and then put back on the shelf until next year. In this story God is at
the center and it is all about him – his love, his gift, his action, his sacrifice. The
story is plain and simple, nothing to attract Hollywood to make a film about it.
It’s about a sin-broken world wrestling with overwhelming issues, people making
self-destructive choices, desperate for a Saviour, hoping against hope to make it
through another day. It’s about the Creator stepping off his throne as our king
and being humiliated to becoming a baby in a refugee family. When we grow up
with this story we realize that the tag line changes from “I want that” to “He
wants this.”
Why is the right Christmas story so important when it comes to our identity,
purpose, need and hope?
Perhaps during 2018 we can focus more intentionally on exposing our hearts to
the right story.