Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part Two)

Being somewhat up in age (nice way to say I am getting old) it is interesting to look back and see the subtle but definite changes that have taken place over the past two or three decades bringing us to the place where we live in a day of cheap life and disposable pregnancies. A day when abortions are simply taken for granted as a woman’s right over her own body and a means of birth control. I am not trying to be offensive – just wanting to note the somewhat slow but definite change that has taken place in society in general. 

A generation ago, everyone referred to an unborn child as a baby. And pregnant women had no doubt that what they were carrying was a baby — a human person. It is hard for anyone to think positively about killing a baby. So to get around the distastefulness of the idea, the word baby has been replaced by terms such as “fetus,” “embryo,” or even a “clump of tissue.” These are impersonal, clinical terms easily associated with tumors or growths. These words, completely devoid of the tender emotions associated with baby, have allowed people to treat pregnancy as something like an unwanted disease instead of the exalted privilege it is — the privilege of creating beloved beings with eternal, God-given possibilities.

A side note: It is important to note that Psalm 139:16 contains the only use of the Hebrew word for embryo found in Scripture — translated as “my substance, being yet unformed” referencing a human life being watched over by God because He loves even the unborn and even yet to be formed ‘life’ that has been conceived.

To make matters worse, a new term emerged almost a decade ago in this battle for human life: “after-birth abortion.” Previously known as infanticide, after-birth abortion allows babies to be killed after they are born. According to a World article by Marvin Olasky, “The core of the argument isn’t new at universities like Princeton, where ethicist Peter Singer has long approved killing one-year-olds with physical or mental disabilities. But authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva push the argument further by defending the killing of any humans incapable of “attributing any value to their own existence … Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The possibility that this attitude could become accepted presents a peril of almost unmatched significance. One writer explains: “The so-called ‘quality of life ethic’ is deep down more dangerous than nuclear war, for it destroys the very soul of our civilization, not just bodies. It says a human person’s value is not infinite and calculable, that it varies with health, intelligence, and social utility. That is exactly what Hitler believed.”

In my studies in the past few days here is what I have discovered:

    • God loved you before you were born (Job 10:10-12 MSG)
    • Before you were born, God knew your identity (Psalm 139:15-16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your complexity ((Psalm 139:13-14)
    • Before you were born, God knew your individuality ( Psalm 139:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your dignity (Colossians 1:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your destiny (Jeremiah 1:5)
    • Before you were born, God knew your possibility (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • Before you were born, God knew your legacy (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wow! God knew and loved you as a fully human person before He even made you. Before conception. He loved you as He prepared you for this world in the beauty of human pregnancy. And all along, He had a life, a purpose, and a legacy planned for you, suited to your unique individuality and personality. ALL life has dignity and value in God’s sight. We need to remember that all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) so Christ is the source of all life in creation. And, all life came into existence through Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. This means every child (baby) conceived is highly valuable to Him and should be to us as well. 

Just part of my journey these past few days. Thanks for listening. 

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part One)

I have been reading up on how God loves us even before we are born. And that God has a plan and a purpose that is unique for each one of us, again, planned out before we were even conceived in our mother’s womb. It has led to some fantastic reading in the Bible (like Jeremiah, chapter one) and even some scientific and medical understanding of life, conception, and babies which then led me into rereading some material on abortion. Let me share a true story I reread today sitting outside a medical clinic waiting for someone….

There is a woman named Norma McCorvey. Norma was twenty-one years old in 1969, unmarried, and the mother of two children — one in the custody of the child’s grandmother and one given up for adoption. While working at whatever jobs she could find — including being a barker for a travelling carnival — she discovered she was pregnant for the third time. When she sought an abortion, she found they were illegal in Texas except in cases of rape or incest. So she lied and claimed rape, but the claim was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Two attorneys used Norma’s desire to have an abortion as a reason to file suit against the state of Texas. To protect Norma’s privacy, they gave her the fictitious name of “Jane Roe,” a name immortalized in the now famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case (“Wade” was the local district attorney in Dallas County, Texas). In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Norma McCorvey’s favour, and abortions on demand have been legal in America ever since. (Norma’s third child was born before the case was decided.)

But Norma McCorvey had a change of heart. In the early 1990’s, she professed faith in Christ and has written two books affirming her pro-life, anti-abortion position. In her second book, Won By Love (1998), she described her sudden awareness that the life in the mother’s womb is a baby, a child whom God loves:

“When my conversion [to Christ] became public knowledge, I spoke openly to reporters about still supporting legalized abortion in the first trimester. The media was quick to use this to downplay the seriousness of my conversion, saying I typified the “general ambivalence” of our culture over abortion. But a few weeks after my conversion, I was sitting in [Operation Rescue’s] offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them.

I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me, “Norma,” I said to myself, “they’re right.” I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if the blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth – that’s a baby!”

As I kept researching for a good part of a day I found that modern technology now allows us to see the astonishing complexity of a developing child (baby – not ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo,’ ‘clump of tissue’ … see Part Two of my processing) with our own eyes. In a 2010 TED presentation titled Conception to Birth — Visualized, Alexander Tsiaras, mathematician and chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale University, presented a series of incredible images of a child’s development in the womb. In his production you can see never-before-viewed videos and photos of the very first cell division, the development of the heart at only 25 days, the development of the arms and hands at only 32 days, and the development of the retinas, nose and eyes at 52 days.

Clearly astonished by what he witnessed in his own images, Tsiaras concluded his talk with these words: “The complexity of the things, the mathematical model of how these things are indeed done, [is] beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician I look at this with the marvel of, ‘How did these instruction sets build that which is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.”

“For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works;

And that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

 

Oh, that marvel of conception…

What a miracle of skin and bone, muscle and brain.

You gave me life itself, and incredible love.

You watched and guarded every breath I took.

(Job 10:10-12 The Message version)

More next time…

Sometimes I’m My Own Worst Enemy

Most weeks everyone of us faces a number of demands upon our life

Events, relationships, circumstances, and situations that demand our time and attention

But, at the same time, there is a personal and private side of life that also needs you to invest some time and effort into it on a regular basis

This is our inner life that deals with the soul and spirit realm – the essence of who we are

But the demands of life can be fairly heavy, consistent, and demanding so we put our soul aside in order to carry on with the demands of life

We all do it

Life goes on, despite our personal struggles

And. Often because of the pace of regular life, we simply neglect our inner life

A friend of mine lost his father on a Wednesday

His company expected him back at the office on Monday

It is hard on our soul

It is hard on our life with God

So, a question arose in my soul the other day:

“Why is kindness toward my own soul so unfamiliar that it is so easy to ignore my own inner need – the wrinkles in my soul – to just ‘carry on with things?’”

Events, demands, expectations

To meet other people’s needs while ignoring my own

Doing what is expected of me instead of what is needed by me 

The world requires us to keep going at such speeds that we end up having only one emotional state towards everything 

A general, haggard, hazy condition of “on”

I’m on for a phone call from Kazakhstan

I’m on for a chat with a leader in Russia

I’m on for writing five blogs this week

I’m on for a phone call with my sister in Montreal

We live life pretty much on ‘automatic pilot’ without engaging our thoughts and feelings

Life is so busy and so demanding that there’s little to no margin for anything else and so the needs of our soul are stuffed into the corner and ignored time and again

We are so busy being kind to everyone else we fail to show kindness toward ourselves

And, in this regard “Sometimes I’m My Own Worst Enemy”

I came to this realization while reading Paul’s letter to  the Church in Ephesus

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”       (Ephesians 1:6-8 NLT)

God is “so rich in kindness…”

He has showered His kindness on us

This kindness is so lovely and life-giving, we really need to pause — we really should pause —  and take time to reflect upon it

Kindness

Such a simple virtue that often takes a back seat to more dramatic qualities like bravery and holiness

And yet kindness is such a wonderful thing to receive

Don’t you love it when people are kind to you?

I sure do!

In a world growing increasingly angry and hostile, a little bit of kindness can make your day

You’re trying to merge into busy traffic and instead of cutting you off, the driver ahead pauses and waves you in

You’re returning some item to the store and, after waiting your turn behind several customers, you get to the counter only to realize you forgot the receipt

“No worries,” the clerk says, “We can take care of this.”

Such simple gestures can totally change your day

Kindness is simply wonderful 

If it is so wonderful – so refreshing – I find it interesting that we are seldom kind to ourselves

“Sometimes I Am My Own Worst Enemy”

And, as I have been thinking about all this — I am struck by the power of offering kindness towards ourselves

I was out in the yard this past summer working to assemble 300 pounds of bricks designed to form a fire pit for the yard

I have the base all level and straight – in the center of the yard, well situated

I have read the instructions and moved all 300 pounds of bricks from the front to the side yard and then move them, once again, to the back of the house two at a time

I start lining up the bottom row so they fit tight together and create the circular base of the fire pit

Too wide a circle leaving gaps between … so I move the bricks in closer

Still too wide … so I move all of them again to close the gap

Still too much open space after laying the complete bottom row … so I move them ALL

Now they are too close and I can’t get the last two in correctly … so I move them ALL

By this time I have worked for 90 minutes and achieved nothing but becoming angry and tired with raw finger tips

Finally, I realized what I needed — I need to walk away

I needed to let it go

I needed to sit down and have a coffee and calm down

I needed to express some kindness towards myself

This was totally new to me

Even though I have spent 50+ years telling others how to be gracious to their souls

I have always been hard on my own

So, I began to practice simple kindness toward myself 

Demanding less of myself

Giving myself permission to stop and not just keep pushing through

Allowing myself some slack

The fruit of this has been really good on my soul

The ripple effects are good on everyone else around me

In a book I was reading the other day the author was expressing the need to show kindness towards himself

I was all ears – well, all eyes, as I was reading a book

He wrote:

“A friend was in town last week. I felt I ought to invite him to come over. But before I sent the text, I paused and asked Jesus. Not a good call, He said. You’re utterly exhausted. And it’s true — I was wiped out from a week of meetings, mission, and work, and I was about to spend my one and only evening off on further giving, had not Jesus intervened. His counsel didn’t come as a command; it came in the gentle spirit of kindness. He said, Don’t do that to yourself.

Boy, for me this was and is a whole new way of living my Christian life

Experiencing God’s kindness and, as a result, showing kindness to myself

Let’s review the Scripture again… 

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”       (Ephesians 1:6-8 NLT)

So, I began to make some foundational changes

      • I take a one minute pause every hour or so – just to take a deep breath and say thanks to God for … whatever

This is kind

      • I have begun to make room for more walks outside regardless of the weather getting in touch with nature and with my soul

This is kind

      • Unplugging for a short time on a daily basis from the constant barrage of media coming at me — most of which I need for my work and ministry

This is kind

      • Taking whole segments of time when I ignore the phone and all of its related ways to connect with people … they can wait as I am busy being kind to myself

This is kind

      • Taking time both early morning and before bed just to review the condition of my soul 

This is kind

I do these things (and others) because they bring me life

I do these things because they make me more aware of God’s presence and peace

I do these things because they heal and strengthen my soul

I do these things because the results are amazing and I would be a fool not to

So what might practicing kindness toward yourself look like these days:

      • Perhaps in the way you talk to yourself, especially when you blow it, mess something up, let a friend down
      • It might be in the pace you are currently demanding that your soul keep up with
      • What about the spoken and unspoken expectations you live by
      • Or maybe the to-do list you currently have for yourself 

These are four that I am currently working on correcting to show more kindness to myself

To not be so hard on myself

Because: Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy

Jesus said:

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31)

Jesus is implying a direct link between one and the other

Loving our neighbour is clearly an essential to the Christian walk

I think we all get that one

But the qualifier “as yourself” is lost on most people

It sounds too much like pop psychology – self-help nonsense

Something you’d see on the cover of the magazines at the checkout counter, right next to the articles on “brain superfood” and “how to talk to your pet.”

Yet Jesus was pretty matter-of-fact about the comparison:

Treat people like you treat yourself

Think about it: If we treated our neighbours the way we typically treat ourselves, we would not be great neighbours

So, Jesus drives home healthy self-care (being kind to yourself) as tied directly to how we love others

The truth that arises out of this realization (revelation) is: The way you treat your own heart and soul is the way you’ll end up treating everyone else’s

You may think that it is not like that….

“I’m much more patient with my daughter than I am with myself”

That may be so … in the short term

But over time our lack of patience with ourselves begins to show up in our relationship with others and people notice

If you are a “neat freak,” I guarantee that you show more natural delight when your child straightens up their room to your standards than when they do a less-than-perfect job

“Wow — look at your room! You did a great job!”

The point: How you treat yourself is how you will treat others

The point: How you view yourself is how you will view others

                  • Patient with yourself – patient with others
                  • Love yourself – love others
                  • Hard on yourself – hard on others
                  • Judge yourself – judge others
                  • Accept yourself for who you are – accept others for who they are
                  • Expect better of yourself – expect better of others

Here’s a key issue:

Most of the time we are completely unaware of how we treat our own heart and soul 

Our “way” with ourselves is simply our norm 

We have been at it so long we don’t notice how we treat ourselves

In the same way that we don’t notice how much we bite our nails

The way we finish our spouse’s sentences for them

The fact we end most sentences with “eh” (a Canadian thing)

 

A second key issue:

How we treat ourselves has a direct effect on those around us

The father who doesn’t allow himself his own emotions communicates so much to his children by that practice alone

Not being kind to himself regarding how he is feeling teaches his children to ignore or bury their feelings — Feelings are something to ignore and hold at arm’s length

He further reinforces the lesson when he is visibly awkward and uncomfortable with the emotions of his child

He tries to hurry them through a “comforting” process:

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’ll feel better tomorrow”

“How about we get some ice cream”

He is trying to rush the child through their emotions to a place of resolution, teaching them to be as abrupt with their own heart as he is with his

Not being kind to himself on the feelings level teaches his children, by example, to not be kind to themselves on an emotional level

The Fact: The way you treat your heart and soul is the way you’ll end up treating everyone else’s heart and soul

We need to learn that God is gentle and that His kindness towards us is gentle

That He has and is pouring out His kindness on us 

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”       (Ephesians 1:6-8 NLT)

Then we can be kind to ourselves

Then we can take that kindness and let it flow out to others we relate to

His kindness flows both into us and through us to others – gentle grace

Let me apply this to our everyday life where we often face self-imposed unspoken, unrealistic expectations…

I recently received one of those “you must watch” videos forwarded to me

Normally I don’t read, watch, or listen to anything that is forwarded to me – personal policy

But the person who sent it to me has never forwarded anything to me before

And he included an enticing line” “You’ve just got to see this!”

And it was impressive, no question

A beautifully filmed video of a professional dirt bike racer who had taken up surfing and wanted to combine his extreme adventures

So he constructed a dirt bike he could actually ride at high speeds on the ocean. Really!

The gorgeous project was filmed in Tahiti

The climax of the video is him actually catching and surfing a wave on a motorcycle

Impressive! Outrageous!

In a battle for our attention, this one is an easy winner; it seriously an attention getter

And completely unkind

Because the cumulative effect of this stuff sets up all sorts of unspoken, maybe even unconscious expectations within us

I don’t think we have given any thought to what it does to the soul to live in a culture where that kind of stuff is the daily fare

This stuff shows up in my inbox all the time — I know you get them too

First it was base jumping

Folks leaping off cliffs and tall building wearing a parachute or parasail

That becomes routine, so it elevated to jumping without parachutes in “squirrel suits,” flying through the air to safe landing zones

Now that’s routine, so the video I got the other day was of two guys jumping off a mountain with no safe landing zone within miles, flying in squirrel suits through the air and making their “landing’ into the door of an airplane

The incessant upgrade of everything

Always pushing the boundaries

Extreme this, extreme that

It sets up an unspoken set of expectations in our hearts that, unless your life is YouTube ready, your life is stupid

Your life is boring

Studies show that anxiety and depression — and envy — rise in direct proportion to one’s consumption of social media

Because we’re comparing our lives to what’s online

Creeping in is the message that if your life is going to measure up and be wonderful, it has to be fantastic

Men use to get on bended knee to propose to their beloved

Nowadays you’re a loser unless you do it skydiving or kayaking over waterfalls

This phenomenon is shaping Christianity — or Christian practices — and even more harmfully shaping our spiritual expectations

Modern worship bands not only need to be extraordinarily talented musicians, young, and beautiful — BUT their live events must employ multimedia to keep your attention as well 

Now church services compete with concert-level staging, lighting, special effects, and films.

The terrible, unspoken assumption creeping in is this:

If you’re going to find God

If you’re going to have more of God

It’s going to come through some amazing experience, something wild and over the top

Or we think that once we have God, the proof will be an over-the-top life … “life not ordinary”

Not true of course

Actually unhelpful and immensely unkind to your soul and mine

This expectation actually makes those deeper experiences of God seem inaccessible for most of us

We do need more of God, much more

Little sips between long droughts will not sustain us

We need more of God in our bodies, our souls, our relationships, our work — everywhere in our lives

But when you live in a culture of the incessant upgrade of everything — the sensational 

It gives the impression that if you’re going to have a deeper, richer, amazing experience of God, it’s going to have to come in some sensational way

I have some wonderful news for you: Nope! Not true! Not even close!

Life is built on the dailies

Consider love, friendship, and marriage

Love, friendship, and marriage are not built on skydiving together

Trips to Paris

Kayaking the Amazon River

Perhaps once in your life you might do something like that

But the fantastic is not your daily

Love, friendship, and marriage are nurtured in the context of simple things like…

      • Coffee together
      • Hanging out
      • Getting a burrito
      • Holding hands
      • Taking a walk
      • Doing the dishes
      • Reading to one another
      • Just reading different things while you’re together in the same room
      • Sharing your thoughts and feeling
      • Responding to someone when they have shared their thoughts and feelings

 

It’s the little things that build a beautiful life – and solid relationships

I know we often tend to live for the big events – the break from the normal

But, life is made up of the “daily things” 

If you want to walk in a half marathon – then you start by walking each day and building up the muscles and the stamina 

If you want to bike across Canada and raise money for a worthy cause – you start by getting on your bike every day and riding around your neighbourhood and city

If you have a desire and a dream to see the lost come to the Lord by the hundreds as you share in front of large crowds – you start by sharing with those you meet daily as you live your normal life here and now

You are making it second nature so that when you do go out, you can handle what you will encounter

AND, this is how life with God works as well … small steps daily … It’s in the dailies

I do think that God has amazing things or us

I really do

I have been part of some extraordinary experiences with God

I have had global adventures with Him

But, I don’t live there

Getting there, just like getting to love others or anything else that’s wonderful in this life – is in the dailies

It’s back here at home in the little things we do

That is how we practice kindness to ourselves – in the dailies

So, what does extending kindness towards yourself look like right now?

How do you talk to yourself?

What is your “way” with yourself?

Is it harsh?

Unforgiving?

Demanding?

What about the expectations you currently have for getting things done?

Is efficiency running your life and causing you to see things a certain way?

Pace of life is a good barometer too

What’s the pace you’re currently demanding of yourself?

Would you ask the same pace of someone you love?

Ask Jesus…

What is the pace you want for me right now, Lord?

He might have some things He’d like to say to you about that

Not in the negative sense, but in loving directions toward life and then abundant life

Kindness towards oneself means not being driven – but being led by God

Kindness towards oneself means not expecting perfection or even improvement every day

Kindness toward oneself means taking time to be in touch with your feeling and dealing with them as they rise up inside

Maybe just allowing yourself to have feelings

Kindness toward oneself mean’s being gracious about your heart’s slow journey toward God

Kindness toward oneself means to stop trying to measure up to some ideal that you have of who you should be … accepting yourself for who you are and where you are at right now

Kindness toward oneself means stop comparing yourself to others and just be you

Kindness to oneself may even mean to turn off the newsfeed on Facebook and to stop spending so much time on You Tube

Kindness to oneself means living life in such a way that you have both personal space and personal time

 

God really wants for us to accept His kindness – to receive and live in His kindness

God wants to lead us into rest, beauty, restoration and all that He has planned for us 

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”       (Ephesians 1:6-8 NLT)

 

What is Your Dream?

Jan Koum was born into a Jewish family in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1976, during the Soviet era when anti-Semitism was rampant. There was no running water in their home, and his parents were seldom home together because of work. They assumed their phone was tapped, so they had limited contact with the world. Jan grew up with a constant feeling of being bugged and surveilled.

When he was sixteen, Jan and his mother immigrated to California. (His dad planned to come later but died before he could make the trip.) Jan’s mother found work as a babysitter, and Jan swept floors to help pay bills. When he got his first computer in high school he taught himself programming by buying used computer manuals. That skill led to a job as an internet security tester, and later he was hired by Yahoo.

One evening Jan visited the home of Alex Fishman, who often invited the local Russian speaking community to his home for pizza and movies. Forty or so people showed up, and that’s when Jan’s dream was born. He wanted a way for people to stay in touch without Big Brother listening — an encrypted phone app. Apps were a new thing, and Jan had bought his first iPhone and visited one of the first app stores a few months before. He wondered if an app could actually help people stay in touch around the world. He remembered the difficulty of communicating with his family in Ukraine and the expense involved. He also shuddered as he thought of being monitored. Koum began to envision an app that would safely connect people around the world.

He thought of the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “What’s Up.” Jan found some cheap cubicles in a converted warehouse and worked day and night, covering himself in blankets to stay warm. Instead of making money, he drained his bank account. This was during the great recession of 2009. Who launches a start-up in a downturn?

Still, Jan Koum and his partner from Yahoo days, Brian Acton, worked on. “We won’t stop until every single person on the planet has an affordable and reliable way to communicate with their friends and loved ones,” Jan promised.

When Jan Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $19.3 billion in 2014, he chose an unusual place to sign the papers: an old white building that used to house the social services office in the California town where Jan went to school. He and his mother had stood in line in front of that same building to collect food stamps.

When Jan Koum had nothing, he actually had the one thing many people never find: he had a dream (vision). Despite hardship, and against great odds, the vision of a better tomorrow drove him forward in life. That’s what a dream can do for you. All you need is a picture of what your tomorrow could be as you follow Christ. 

The Rescue – Part Two

We are looking at the lack of personal time and space in today’s world of constant demand and connectedness. In a world where your soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. And how that leaves our souls feeling exhausted and out of touch with who we really are. So, let’s add God into the issue we looked at yesterday and see if that might help.

I’m a Christian and so I believe that if we had more of God, that would really help. We could draw upon His love and strength, His wisdom and resilience. After all, God is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). If we had more of His lavish life bubbling up in us, it would be a rescue on this soul-scorching hour. 

But this frantic, volatile world constantly wilts the soul, dries it out like a raisin, making it almost impossible to receive the life God is pouring forth. How true.

I have tried to find more of God, knowing that if I only had a greater measure of His life in me, I’d be able to navigate this rough terrain. I was practicing the usual stuff — prayer, worship, Scripture, sacrament. But still I felt shallow. Sipping God with teaspoons, not drinking great gulps; wading not swimming. My soul felt like a shallow rain puddle (it’s raining today as I write this). But I know the soul isn’t a shallow puddle at all; it’s deep and vast, capable of symphonies and heroic courage. I wanted to be living from those deep places, but I was trapped in the shallows.

Because of the internet and television we are losing our ability to focus and pay attention longer than a few moments. We live at the depth of the text, the swipe, the “like.” This isn’t just an intellectual problem; it’s a spiritual crisis. It pretty hard to hear “deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7) when we’re forced into the shallows of our own hearts and souls by this frenetic world. 

So, this past summer (June to August) I unplugged and stopped the frantic pace at which my life was being lived. I removed all my schedules and just let life happen. I took my calendar that I use to plan each day to make the most of it and removed all the preset events and activities. I simply stepped out of the “Christian rat race” and worked at doing life differently. I wanted above all else to “experience the ‘more’ of Him. And, in the process I began to get my life back.

God wants to come to us and restore our lives. He really does. But if our soul is not well, it’s almost impossible to receive Him. Dry, scorched ground can’t absorb the very rain it needs.

As C.S. Lewis explained, “The soul is but a hollow which God fills.” In place of hollow I let the word vessel, something beautiful and artistic. Our souls are exquisite vessels created by God for Him to saturate. You can picture the round, curved basin at the top of an elegant fountain, with water spilling down all sides, running over with unceasing life. Isn’t that the promise? “As Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

And so it follows that if we can receive help for restoring and renewing our weary, besieged souls, we’ll enjoy the fruits (which are many and wonderful) of happy souls and also be able to receive more of God (which is even more wonderful). We’ll find the vibrancy and resiliency we crave as human beings, living waters welling up from deep within. And then — we’ll get ur lives back!

But the process needs to be something the Lord leads you into. There are no preset packages or prepackaged programs that you can buy into that will guarantee success and a deeper spiritual life resulting in a more meaningful life lived to the fullest. We have all tried exercise, diets, Bible study programs that began with vim and verve but over time got shoved to the side, lost in the chaos. So, don’t look to a pre-packaged regiment or process or program. You are a unique individual and God will meet you in a way that is specifically designed for who you are and where you are at in life.

All you need to do to get started is to recognize that you are living on the surface and that your life lacks meaning – real meaning and true depth. It has lots of activity and important things to do. But, meaning and true life does not come from the “do” in life. It comes from the “be” in life… and so you need to be … be who you really are; be in His presence; be still and know that He is God; be comfortable with who you are right now and where you are at …. Simply come to Him as you are and let Him guide and direct you on this new and renewing part of your journey.

God wants to strength you and renew your soul; Jesus longs to give you more of Himself. Come, you who are weary and heavy laden. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life … and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message). You can get your life back; you can live freely and lightly. The world may be harsh, but God is gentle; He knows what your life is like. What we need to do is put ourselves in places that allow us to receive His help. 

So simply come to Him. Ask Him to help you; lead and guide you. Tell Him that you want to know Him more. That you want to experience Him in fresh and new ways. You will be amazed at what He will do.  

The Rescue – Part One

There’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is. Because it’s taking our lives hostage.

First, there is the blistering pace of life. It seems that we are busier than ever. People send you an important text message where they are expressing what is happening in their life and we respond with thumbs-up emojis. I experience this personally on a daily basis as I send out a group text to everyone in my local house church. Worse than an emoji is simply total silence. People no longer interact with texts. At one time emails felt so efficient when it replaced the letter. Texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t give us more space to live life. It didn’t make our lives more spacious. We simply had more to keep up with, respond to.

Even as I write this I just had an email from a pastor I don’t know who visited my web site. He lives in Africa… then a phone call followed by a text. He is looking for immediate attention. He is impatience. He is expecting me to jump and respond. I didn’t. I deleted. This is a daily event in my life. And, I admit that I struggle to keep up with all the messages that come in daily via numerous apps. So, I delete the ones with whom I have no relationship and have not initiated the conversation. I currently don’t need more contacts, more relationships, more open doors to minister.

It seems that we are living at the speed of the swipe and the “like,” moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome. I feel busier than I have ever felt before. And, time for what is important seems to be lacking. For example, reading a book, writing in my journal, spending time reflecting, praying and reading Scripture. Coffee with a friend.

It seems that we have been sucked into a pace of life that nobody is enjoying.

Second, there is the deluge of media coming at us. We are spending three hours a day using apps on our phones, ten hours viewing media, consuming enough informations each week to crash a laptop. As someone recently wrote: “We talk about unplugging, but we’re enchanted — by the endless social media circus of love and hatred, the vapid, alarming, sensational, and unforgivable. We’re snagged by every new notification. And while we’ve always had our individual struggles and heartbreaks to deal with, now we have the tragedies of the entire world delivered to us hourly on our mobile devices.”

This is very hard on our soul.

Traumatizing, in fact. Exposure to traumatic events can traumatize us, and we’re getting lots of it in our feed. It’s like we’ve been swept into the gravitational field of a digital black hole that is sucking our lives from us. 

So, I get this text from the pastor in Africa and then an email and then a phone call on an app. And, I find myself totally ignoring every attempt to communicate with me. There are simply too many people wanting a piece of my time to add another demand to an already busy day. A day that has me feeling somewhat overwhelmed with just the basic demands and needs. 

I find myself flinching when a friend texted and asked for some time. I didn’t want to open email for fear of the demands I’d find there. I have a shorter and shorted fuse in traffic. I feel numb to tragic news reports. It makes me wonder — am I becoming a less loving person? I have little capacity for relationships and the things that bring me life —- a walk in the park, a quiet coffee with a friend, a day to paddle board and enjoy the water. And when I do steal a few minutes for something life-giving (like reading by an open fire by my fire pit), I feel so overwhelmed, so distracted, so exhausted that I can’t enjoy the time. I can’t focus.

It isn’t a failure of love or compassion. These are all symptoms of a soul pushed too hard, strung out, haggard, fried. My soul just can’t do life at the speed of smartphones. But I am asking it to; everybody’s asking theirs to do so as well.

I’m guessing that you have experienced something similar. I am not alone. I am not unique. And, like me, your soul its looking for something. Are you aware of what it is?

How would you score your soul these days:

      • Are you happy most of the time?
      • How often do you feel lighthearted?
      • Are you excited about your future?
      • Do you feel deeply loved?
      • When was the last time you felt carefree?

Our souls are bleary, seared, smeared. Still able to love, yes; still able to hope and dream. But at the end of any given day most people come home in a stay of exhaustion. Numb on our good days, fried more often than we admit. We feel stretched and living life on the surface. Stretched so badly that we can’t give our full attention to anything or any one. “Like butter that has been scraped over too much bread” as one author states it. 

The world has gone completely mad, and it’s trying to take our souls with it.

More next time…

A Slower Walk

We are well into the fall season and stores are beginning to put out Christmas decorations and signage … fighting for space with the large Halloween displays that are up in most stores. Interesting to see them side-by-side in some of the larger stores. Not an ideal time to mention slowing life down and living life at a slower pace. 

We are so use to living life in the fast lane that we fail to read the Gospel stories of Jesus, His life and ministry, in the context of the first century. We fail to see all the in-between times when Jesus and His followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing that it took the disciples three days by foot to get there. 

Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from the well; the campfires in the evenings. Even as I write this, it sounds luxurious. Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another; there was down time, transition time between these demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter.

That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God. Time we would categorize almost as vacation time, for those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. We highly progressive moderns try to keep up without any of these intervals and transitions. 

The things that we require of ourselves — we go from a tender conversation with our eight-year-old anxious about going to school to an angry phone call with our insurance company as we drive to work, followed by a quick chat with our sister ending a decision about our aging parents’ “memory care unit.” Then it’s straight into a series of business meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some email), firing an employee, interviewing another, making dinner reservations for our spouse’s birthday, fitting in a conversation with our boss because we can’t say no, and showing up late and haggard for dinner.

And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God, receiving more of Him, feeling like we’re overflowing with life.

The EMS technician, who leaves the scene of a terrible accident, races to get to his Bible study group, but wonders afterward why he couldn’t find God there. The school teacher, who come home exhausted from a day herding a riotous classroom, tries to be present to her own child, but can’t seem to find the right gear to do so. The modern pastor, who needs to be a real estate expert on one meeting, a brilliant trauma counsellor in the next, and a caring friend over lunch, only to shift gears into the role of savvy corporate CEO for the meeting that follows.

We are forcing our souls through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour, and after years of this we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” We don’t really know; we aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: go. All the subtleties of human experience have been forced into one state of being.

Mercy. No soul was meant to live like this. 

What sort of madness have we come to accept as normal when just taking a minute to reflect and rest feels like a luxury? We need time to process as we move from one event to another, one demand to the next. We need time to transition between what we are doing now and what is next being demanded of us. Not a long time – just a brief moment or two. A few minutes to process what you have just been involved in and to prepare for what you are about to focus on. A brief pause that you take to process and reflect; to sense and to learn. And, no one is going to offer this “pause.” It is up to each of us to learn how to slow things down a bit allowing us the needed time to pause and ponder and to sense God in al that we are involved in. To walk at a slower pace allowing us to live life as God intended. 

Ten Suggestions When Using Social Media – Part Six

We have been looking at how, as believers, we can interact with social media and use this amazing technology in such a way as to glorify God. We have looked at 8 of the 10 commandments. Let’s finish up today…

The ones we have looked at….

1> Put God first in all you say and post.

2> Love others as you want to be loved.

3> Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships.

4> Use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol.

5> Turn your virtual other cheek to posts that offend you.

6> Do not post out of emotion.

7> Always reflect Jesus, loving God whether online or off.

8> Do not use social media to fuel temptation.

9> FORM YOUR OWN OPINIONS; DO NOT FOLLOW THE CROWD.

When you follow other people online, you can learn a lot of wisdom from those who are wise. Unfortunately, not only are some people not wise, they can be downright foolish. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I love the way the New Living Translation translates the last part of this verse. It says, “the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.” Chances are you’ve seen this type pf person let loose online.

Jesus instructs us to stay on the narrow road, warning that the broad or wide road leads to destruction (see Matthew 7:13-14). Sometimes it seems as if everyone is going the same way, but that doesn’t mean they are going the right way. Often on social media, many people jump on the bandwagons of opinions about God, politics, or the latest celebrity scandal. But just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true. Especially when it comes to what people post online. 

It may be tempting to follow the crowd, but doing so can be dangerous. Exodus 23:2 says, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” God gave you a brain to think for yourself. He gave you His Word to seek His will. He gave you His Spirit to guide you into all truth (see John 16:13). Instead of believing everything you see or hear, think for yourself.

Paul explain the importance of resisting the lure of the crowd when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Don’t be like everyone else. The Message loosely translates this same verse: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” Instead of doing what most everyone else does or believing what many say is true, we should have our minds renewed by God’s truth.

Resist the urge to blend in.

Don’t be a sheep and follow the herd.

Follow the Shepherd.

10> DO NOT BASE YOUR IDENTITY ON WHAT PEOPLE THINK

Anyone who spends time on social media will be tempted to compare, thinking, “How many followers do they have? Wow! That’s way more than I have.” We may also be tempted to think the opposite when we see that someone gets fewer Likes or mentions than we do — that they aren’t as important as we are. An unhealthy view of social media can cause us to feel either an ungodly pride or an unhealthy sense of inadequacy.

Not only can we be tempted to base our identity on who follows us (or by who doesn’t), but we can also allow ourselves to be consumed by what others say. If they Like our new shirt in our latest selfie, we feel great. If they don’t say anything, we might assume they don’t like it. And if they say, “What were u thinking when u bought that UGLY thang?” We might never shop at the same store again.

As Christians, we must constantly remind ourselves not to base our identity — our view of ourselves and our worth — on what other people say or think about us. Who we are and our value is determined by what Christ says about us. Others may criticize us, ignore us, or unfollow us, but that doesn’t affect who we really are. We are who Christ says we are.

In case you’e wondering what He says about you, here’s a short list.

      • You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
      • You are forgiven, and your sins are washed away (Ephesians 1:7)
      • You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)
      • You are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)
      • You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)
      • You are filled with the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11)
      • You are a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
      • You are Christ’s divine representative to this world (2 Corinthians 5:20)
      • You are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
      • You are greatly loved by God (John 14:20-23)

No matter what anyone says or implies, you do not need to be moved by their words. You are secure in Christ and Christ alone. Thou shalt not base your identity on what people think.

So there you have the ten commandments for using social media. It can be tempting to view these like we often view the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses — as burdens that limit what we can and can’t do. But in truth, God’s commandments are supreme blessings that free us to serve Him faithfully and to live joyfully. In the same way, I pray these ten commandments of social media will provide live-giving and life-protecting boundaries that enable you to enjoy relating to others online without losing focus on what matters most.

So post, tweet, click, snap, text, chat, comment, and enjoy it all. But do it all out of the overflow of your love for God and love for people. Use technology, but don’t let it overtake your life. Enjoy the benefits of technology, but don’t let it define you.

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

Ten Suggestions When Using Social Media – Part Five

So far we have looked at the first seven of ten commandments to help us use social media in a gracious, kind, loving, and thus Christian manner.

1> Put God first in all you say and post.

2> Love others as you want to be loved.

3> Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships.

4> Use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol.

5> Turn your virtual other cheek to posts that offend you.

6> Do not post out of emotion.

7> Always reflect Jesus, loving God whether online or off.

8> DO NOT USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO FUEL TEMPTATIONS

It’s no secret that technology and social media can open the door to temptations with simple clicks and keystrokes. Instead of having to go through numerous steps, actions, or behaviours to come face to face with a fierce temptation, we can now encounter it on our monitors in nanoseconds.

I don’t just mean sexual temptations. A shopping app for some is more temptation to click and buy than they can handle on a weak evening with nothing to do. Or an open door to gambling is the worse possible temptation for someone who feels lucky — again. For others, online gossip quietly whispers their name: “Come get in on the know.” Some are tempted to compare, to overshare, or to look and lust. It’s important to be honest about where you’re vulnerable, and plan to avoid the traps that can hurt you.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, doesn’t pull any punches when he describes the deception and dangers of temptation. After explaining clearly that God never tempts, James adds, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). The Greek word James uses that is translated enticed is actually a fishing term that illustrates how temptation baits us and then hooks us. What starts out as something small and seemingly harmless can quickly become something big and dangerous, even deadly. 

However, as a believer in Jesus, you never have to battle temptation alone. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “because [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18). If you are being tempted, you are not on your own. Jesus is able to help you. So if you spot an open door to online temptation, ask Jesus to help you close it.

When you pray for wisdom, God will give it to you (see James 1:5). When He shows you how to shut the door to online temptation, slam that door, lock it, and throw away the encryption key. Delete the app if you have to. Or if you need to, give someone else a password to keep yourself from having access to download apps. You might need to download a filtered browser or block certain websites. Or you might share passwords or have joint accounts with your spouse. Whatever it takes, thou shalt not use technology to fuel temptation.

Ten Suggestions When Using Social Media – Part Four

So far we have looked at the first five of ten commandments to help us use social media in a gracious, kind, loving, and thus Christian manner.

1> Put God first in all you say and post.

2> Love others as you want to be loved.

3> Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships.

4> Use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol.

5> Turn your virtual other cheek to posts that offend you.

Let’s look as several more today…

6> DO NOT POST OUT OF EMOTION

When you think about it, the ability to say whatever you’re thinking to a large group of semi-interested people is pretty scary, which is a good reason never to post when you’re feeling angry, upset, rejected, or offended or are feeling any other unsettling emotion. If you’re wondering whether you are responding out of emotion, remember this: when in doubt, wait it out.

As a rule, I never, ever post when I’m overly emotional. Never,. I also have the discipline not to defend myself or get into unnecessary online controversy. For years, I’ve avoided responding to critics or posting out of emotion. Many years ago the Lord told me to let Him fight my battles. So, even when I am being spoken against or misunderstood – I remain quite on social media. What I might say can come back to bite me so it is better to say nothing. And, remember, people can read whatever emotion in to the words you write that they want to. So, you can quickly add to the misunderstanding without meaning to. Take a deep breath. Relax. The Kingdom is doing just fine. And, let the Lord defend you. He better at it than you are.

Without a doubt, you will be tempted to post when you’re agitated or hurt. But when in doubt, wait it out. Post only out of love.

7> ALWAYS REFLECT JESUS, LOVING GOD WHETHER ONLINE OR OFF

After Jesus had silenced the attacking Sadducees the Pharisees conspired to trap Him. One of the experts baited Jesus by asking Him which commandment was the greatest. “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV). Above all else, the most important command we have is to love God with every part of our being. Therefore, we should always love and reflect Jesus online and off.

I encourage you to go through everything you’ve posted or said online in the past month. Pretend like you don’t know anything about yourself. Look at everything objectively and determine what conclusions someone would draw about you based on what you’ve posted. Do you like what you see? What does your online footprint reveal about you? Does what you show accurately reflect what you believe? Would people say you love God above all? Or would they think you love something else more – maybe even yourself?

This doesn’t mean the only thing we ever post should be Bible verses or quotes from your pastor’s sermon. But over a month’s time, certainly people should be able to see evidence that we love God and follow Jesus. If this evidence is not in your posts, ask yourself why not. Are you afraid of what people will think? Or worse yet, are you revealing that you aren’t really loving God above all else?

If you are falling more and more in love with God each day, your love will show in the things you post. You won’t have to force it or fake it. If you realize you are forcing or faking it, instead of trying to show something that’s not real or genuine, acknowledge the you aren’t loving God with all your heart and all you are. Ask Him to help you, to guide you, and to draw you. When you seek Him, you will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13). He will reveal Himself to you. When you experience Him and taste His goodness, so will your online and offline witness for Him.

Thou shalt always reflect Jesus.

Love God online and off.