Just Jesus

I love all the “things” about Christmas.  White twinkling lights make my whole life better.  I love having Christmas baking around for my kids.  And Austrian jam cookies for me.  I love the thrill of finding the perfect gift and spending an evening wrapping them all perfectly.  I love the cantata, the Sunday school plays, the music, the traditions, getting my yearly visit with my brother…everything.

But as much as I love all of that, is not really the point, is it?

Its Jesus.

If the only thing you feel like you can celebrate this Christmas is Jesus, you’ve had a successful Christmas.  If the only thing you can think to be happy about is your salvation, Christmas is still amazing.  Without that central story of a baby who came because God loved us that much, Christmas is just stuff.  The wonder wouldn’t be there.  The joy, the meaning, the celebration, is all because of Jesus.

If you are lonely, remember Emmanuel – God is with us.  Even if every earthly person has forsaken us.  When we’ve recently lost a loved one.  When there’s an empty chair because you’ve been abandoned.  When you’ve been hurt and betrayed.  Jesus is Emmanuel.

If you feel like you’re in darkness, remember that Jesus is the Light of the World.  Whether the darkness is a terrible circumstance or a difficult situation.  When you feel a darkness covering your life that you can’t explain.  No matter the cause of the darkness, Jesus brings light.

If you feel dissatisfied, Jesus is the Bread of Life.  There are people who will have actual physical hunger this Christmas.  And there are people who will be hungry spiritually.  And some of us will feel a hungering for the things this world offers.  Jesus is the only satisfaction we need.  And when we fill up on Him, we stop hungering for everything else.

If you feel lost, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Maybe this Christmas you find yourself wandering the hills.  Maybe you have left to search for meaning, or you’ve left the flock because of hurt, or you’re just feeling out on your own.  No matter what, Jesus is your shepherd.  That means He’s pursuing you.  Rescuing you.  Watching over you.  He will always come and find you.

If you have sinned, Jesus is our Mediator.  Sometimes the hurt, the circumstances, the difficulties are because of other people.  But sometimes, its our own fault.  Our own sin that has created our problems, the barrier between us and God.  In those times, Jesus stands before His Father, ready to mediate on our behalf.  To stand ready to pay the price and wipe our record clean.  We can come boldly to the throne of grace.  Because of Jesus.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  If you are tired.  If you are worn.  If you are sad, weary, depressed, stressed, hurt, angry…no matter what is going on this season, you can have peace because you can have Jesus.  He stands ready beside you no matter what.  And He shares His peace with you, if you’ll only accept it.

This is the ultimate way to have a Merry Christmas even if your heart is not light – Jesus.  Just Jesus.  May you look to Him for everything you’re missing today and find the peace that He gives and celebrate the joy of your salvation.

Merry Christmas.


Praying

Some weeks I end up feeling like I’ve run a marathon.  Or like I’m caught in some endless marathon.  I’ve been feeling like this for a few weeks now – end of term at school means grades for all the kids, new songs to be chosen and recorded, etc.  Big conference at church means seven different practices on Sunday – you know the drill.  We all have those weeks, whether its work, or sick kids on rotation.

I was starting to get a little…maybe testy is a good word.  I was maybe not my best, most peaceful self.

Because of a few things, I spend a lot of time each morning in God’s Word.  Well, I’m sure I could always use more!  But its a decent amount of time.  But I tend not to pray first thing.  Mostly because I’ll always fall back asleep.  Just keeping it real.  So I pray throughout the day – while I’m washing dishes, or driving, or getting ready in the morning.  But I noticed this was starting to contribute to this feeling of no peace.  Usually it works well, but last week I was just overwhelmed.

While I was driving home from dropping the kids off at school one day last week, I was going over my to-do list in my head.  Laundry, cleaning, getting to work early to choose that last song, lets not even talk about the ironing.  And this quote from Martin Luther popped into my head.  I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

What a challenge.  So I tried it.  I went home, dropped my stuff right by the front door, went and curled up in a comfy spot on my couch and set a timer for fifteen minutes.  It was the best decision I made all week.  In fact, when that timer went off, I set it for another fifteen because I was enjoying this peaceful time with the Lord so much.

That purposeful reset in the middle of my week was just what I needed.

Maybe you’re so busy right now that you need to just stop for a while too?  Multi-tasking is awesome and being caught up is awesome and getting as much done as you can in a day is awesome.  But sometimes our soul just needs to stop for a while and sit with Jesus.


Jesus Never Fails

Our pastor is currently preaching through the book of Hebrews on Sunday nights.  The theme of the series is Jesus is Better.  This week he used the song, Jesus Never Fails, as part of his message and the closing hymn.  The first few lines of the song say,

Earthly friends may prove untrue

Doubts and fears assail

One still loves and cares for you

One who will not fail

Jesus never fails

Jesus never fails

Heav’n and earth may pass away

But Jesus never fails

For some reason those words really gripped my heart this week.  I’ve been singing that song since I was a kid, but you know how songs just jump out at you anew?  Just when you need them?

Its been a bit of a rough year with people and I.  I have learned much about forgiveness, fighting bitterness and resentment.  And I have failed people this year too.  I’ve come to this conclusion – people are going to fail people.  Its just a fact of life.  I wish it weren’t so.  I wish I could say that other people have failed me but I’ve managed to not fail anyone else in the process.  Sadly, its not true.

But what if we could take every time we are hurt as an opportunity to remind us that there is only one person who will never fail us?  What if we could let every betrayal point us back to Jesus?  What if instead of a heart of bitterness, we could accept the failure of people as something that will always happen and allow it to create a heart of thankfulness for Jesus?

People fail.

Jesus never does.

What an amazing thought.


New Mercies

Its now been one whole year since we moved.

In the few days before we moved, I spent quite a bit of time with a dear friend.  She had some words of wisdom for me.  She told me to get through the first year, knowing that all the firsts would be difficult.  Then after that, it would be so much easier because there were no more firsts.  A couple of weeks ago I was telling some ladies at our church’s ladies auction that it was my last first.  The last thing on the church’s calendar year that I had never been to, had no idea how it worked.

Not only was it for firsts here, but firsts from my old life too.  The first time I missed Western Day.  The first summer of not being at camp.  The strange longing that comes with knowing you’re right where you’re supposed to be, and loving it, but still feeling like a piece of your heart is somewhere else.  I suppose we all experience a little of that at different times.

This past Sunday was Christian School Sunday at church and I was asked to give a testimony as a new staff member.  It made me continue my reflection on this past year.  Its a completely different life.  And I love it so much, even though there are people and places and things I miss from my old one.  But the thought that kept coming up was, His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.

God took my heartbreak and turned it into something beautiful.  He took the ashes of an old life and created the most wonderful new one.  And He’s still doing so, every single day.

And He’s been faithful for this whole year.  Faithful to walk beside me in each new situation.  Hold me up every time I wanted to quit.  Rejoice with me in every victory, even when it was just driving somewhere without a GPS.  Cry with me with every memory, good or bad.  Forgive me for my lack of faith or forgiveness.

I would have never made it through this past year without a daily dose of mercy.  Praise God that it never runs out.  We can never make too many mistakes.  Never cry too many tears.  Never forget Him for too long.  Every single morning we wake up, His mercies are fresh and new.  Just waiting for the taking.


Are We There Yet

Has your life taken you on some unexpected twists and turns?

My marriage definitely has.  From where I grew up, to the Philippines, back again, into the ministry and living at camp, and now to Barrie.  Definitely not what I envisioned when I started out as a newly married 20 year old!  I couldn’t have predicted the route we would have taken.  And because of this crazy road we’ve traveled, I wouldn’t even try to predict the route we have ahead of us for the second half!

I was privileged to receive an early copy of the book “Are We There Yet?” by Paul and Terrie Chappell.  In this book they use travel analogies to talk about marriage.  I knew it would be a helpful read because I’ve read many things written by them, but it was even better than expected.  It was full of Biblical and practical advice.

In a chapter entitled Unexpected Turbulence, the Chappells talk about what its like to go through trials together as a couple.  I thought this would be a helpful passage to share with you, as we look together for hope in hard times!

“Although you may not be facing intense persecution as a couple, perhaps you are facing an incredible time of trial or pressure.  You feel as though you are running from Satan’s attacks, hiding in a cave of loneliness, watching destruction come in the lives of people you love, or facing any type of ongoing trial.  Your trial may be financial – perhaps the loss of a job, trouble finding work, bills, debt, bankruptcy.  Perhaps yours is health-related.  Perhaps you’re dealing with doctors, test, treatment, hospitals, pain, exhaustion.  Maybe your trial is a child who is struggling, rebelling, or has left the faith.  Maybe you have lost a child or have not been able to have children.  Maybe it is an unfaithful spouse, the death of your parents, a child with special needs, a deep life disappointment, a …There are more possibilities than we can name here.  But none of these possibilities surpass the grace of God.

These times of trial have the potential to make or break a marriage. On one hand, they can drive us to the Lord and to each other as we seek His help and recognize our need for His grace.  On the other hand, we may respond wrongly to the trial and reject God’s grace and allow the stress to drive us away from one another.

God desires to bless you through your times of turbulence as well.  Trials do place pressure on the most tender places of our hearts.  But rather than allowing the trial to destroy your marriage, let God use it to strengthen your marriage. This happens when you together decide to respond to the trial in faith and trust.”

I hope that if you’re married you’ll consider getting this book.  It was a blessing to me and I know it will be to you too – whether or not you’re going through a trial right now.

Its available on October 17th, but you can pre-order it anytime.  If you click on this link, you can see what free bonuses you’ll receive when you pre-order.

Happy Reading!


Identity

Today was my first day back at work in six years.  And that was just a one year stint.  I hadn’t worked for nine years before that.  I was super excited – I even told you guys all about my new job.

Until about two days ago.  Last night I had nightmares.  This always happens before a big event, so I was kind of surprised that I didn’t have more nights of them.

First, all the kids came to choir in sleeping bags, laid down on pews, and refused to participate.  After I lost my mind on them, I finally got them to stand up and sing, only to see someone in the back with a checklist, slowly shaking his head.  This man is a choir director at a church with a Bible college, who, by the way, I’ve had very little interaction with, ever.  Can you feel me rolling my eyes at myself?   Like my son said, at least it was so unrealistic I didn’t have to worry about it coming true!

Lo and behold, everything went perfectly fine today.  There will still be a few kinks to work out, but for a first day, it was great.  And I had so much fun.

So why, then, am I so anxious?  And why do I feel as though someone is always there with a checklist, shaking their head?

I think its because I’ve always been a doer.  I try so hard to just be.  To be okay with that.  But I never am.  I’m always striving for other people’s approval.  And mine.  And I fall short of my own approval every day.  The voices in my head are always chattering, always negative.  Sometimes I allow this to become my identity – the woman who is perfectly capable and perfectly qualified to do her job, and yet deep down, believes that someone, somewhere is shaking their head and finding her wanting.

How do we combat the lies we tell ourselves?  Its easy to just say, find your identity in Christ, harder to let it sink into our hearts.  The only thing powerful enough to do that is scripture.  Consider these verses…

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;

Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

I Peter 2:9-10

We are chosen.

We are royal.

We are holy.

We are peculiar or belonging to God.

We show forth His praise.

And my favourite one of all

We have obtained mercy.

Its quite a list.

But if we could let its deep truth sink into our hearts, we could start to find our identity in Christ.

Notice this list doesn’t say anything about us.

Our job doesn’t make the list.

How clean our house is today doesn’t make the list.

That huge pile of laundry in my bedroom doesn’t matter.

If you failed today, if you sinned today, His holiness covers you.

If you feel alone, you are chosen.

No matter what, no matter the situation, there is mercy.


enough strength

Almost two weeks ago I sat staring at my phone, at an email waiting to be sent.  I reworded it, I saved it as a draft, I went back and forth for a while before I hit send.  It was an email asking for help.  Because this summer, I’ve been struggling with something.  And I noticed that I was eating too many snacks, and watching too much Netflix, and not writing enough.  And I knew what I would tell anyone else…just talk to someone.  So it was time to hit send.

I had thought and thought about this issue I was having.  Until I knew exactly what I would say when I went to this meeting.  I had an outline.  For real.  Points one, two, three, here are my issues, what do you think?  All very logical and organized.  I even made it all the way through without crying, quite a feat for me.

Basically, this issue came down to the fact that I was tired of fighting a battle.  I wanted the magic fix, a snap your fingers solution, someone else to do it for me.  The only problem is, this is not that kind of battle.

It wasn’t until after talking that I realized something…I am at once tired of fighting, and yet desperate to win the battle.  I was thinking all last week, I don’t understand myself, it’s like I’m two different people.

And then a few days ago, I remembered that I am.

If you are a Christian, you are always two different people.

How quickly I forget.

And I was allowing the old me, the fleshly me, to gain the upper hand.  Eating and Netflix and silence and being alone were not helping me to win the battle.  And it just took one conversation for me to remember who I really am.

That I am a child of God so I don’t walk alone.

That I am a soldier fit for battle and God has given me everything I need.

That as a friend and a wife and a church member, God has surrounded me with people who will help and that silence doesn’t allow those people to know when to help or what to say or how to be there for me.

That as a Christian, I don’t have to fight alone, in my own strength.  God gives me all the strength I need each day.  Maybe just enough.  But enough.

I’m so glad I hit send that day.  That conversation started my thinking down the right path.  It gave me hope.  Mostly because I was just reminded of the basics.  But the basics are always enough.  If we remember them.


How to be a light bearer in a torch bearing world

I’m not usually a current events writer, but something about the riots in Charlottesville this past weekend stuck with me and I can’t let it go.  The term torch-bearers kept rolling around in my mind.  What seemed to be an innocuous term now has violence and hatred associated with it.    And rightfully so.  The people that were bearing those torches are evil.  I can’t think of a better word.  What they stand for and what they believe and what they do is so against the Bible, it can only be called evil.

I believe that its important to publicly condemn these people.  Its important to say the words and put on the labels.  But what I really thought about this weekend is, how can I actually change the world?  I don’t have an internationally read blog, so its not like saying anything here is going to change people’s minds.  A Facebook or Instagram post doesn’t change the world, and honestly, did a fight on twitter ever help anyone?

So, then what do we do?  Do we stay silent?  Pretend that it was an isolated incident?  That it has nothing to do with us?

No.  Staying silent is not the right answer.  But we can’t fight hatred with hatred.  As a Christian, I believe that the best way I can change the world, is one person at a time.  Some people have huge platforms and God has called them to a public life.  But most of us are just like me – a regular person leading a regular life, yet called to do something extraordinary.  Love people the way God would love them.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the book of Job these past few months.  You probably know the story – a man who is going through the worst time of his life.  And he has terrible friends.  Friends who tell him that he must be doing something wrong.  That if he would only repent, things would get better.  They assume they know the ins and outs of the situation.  They assume  they know the depth of his grief.  And worst of all, they assume they know the reason for Job’s trials and that they have all the answers.  Sounds like a lot of words being spoken these days.

In chapter 16 Job tells his friends just how it is – “miserable comforters are ye all”.  And he goes on to tell them three things he wishes for from his friends.  I think when someone in pain speaks up and tells us what they need, its a good time to listen closely.

“I would strengthen you with my mouth”  The words we use when speaking to others matter.  When so many words of hatred are spewing out on the streets and on the internet, words of love stand out.  Words that strengthen are not the norm anymore.  May we always look for those who are hurting and use words that strengthen them, build them up, help them to feel the love of God through us.

“the moving of my lips should asswage your grief” Asswage is an old word that means to lessen the intensity of (something that pains or distresses).  Do our words bring healing?  Do they lessen grief?  Or do they add to it?  I know that I am guilty of that sometimes.  I think the biggest point of this is that in order to asswage someone’s grief, we first have to listen for a long time to understand it.  We can’t be afraid of people’s stories, of their opinions, of their grief.

“ O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!”  The last thing Job says at the end of the chapter is that he really needs them to pray for him.  And not just pray, but plead with God.  The most important thing we can do for those who are hurting, those in our little circle of influence, is to pray for them.  We desperately need prayer for our countries, our cities, our friends, our homes, our governments.  Its scary out there and people are hurting.  We are called to be the light of the world, to shine God’s love to each and every person out there.  To strengthen, to asswage grief, to pray.  But we can’t do that in our own strength.  It is a mission that only God can give us the strength to do.

May we go out tomorrow with determination to shine God’s love to each person that we can and change the world in a small way.


When God gives it back

Just over a year ago I really wrestled with God.

I felt that He was asking me to give up some things that were really important to me.  First was my own music education – even though I was so close to completing my dream and had worked away at it for so long.  The second was teaching music.  I had been teaching music in some form for almost 20 years and yet felt that God was calling me to quit and focus on my kids and my health.  It was a very difficult decision and one that I wrestled with for a while before I finally surrendered, choosing to believe that God’s way was best, even when it was hard to see.

Then, a few months later, that October, everything changed again.  We moved cities, jobs, I no longer homeschooled.  But the saddest part for me was I was no longer in ministry.  Besides my family and my relationship with God, the only thing I was more passionate about than music was ministry.  Now that was gone too.  It seemed as though everything was being stripped away.

And it was.

But when God asks us to give something up and we follow in that step of obedience, there is always reward.

Its easy now to look back and see why He asked me to give that all up – logistically, it would have made the move harder and I would’ve felt bad about leaving people in a lurch had I been teaching a bunch of kids.  But still, this year I wondered what would happen, how God would replace those parts of my life.

But recently, God has given it all back to me.  This fall I will officially become the music teacher at Heritage Christian Academy, my kids school at our church.  Its seriously the dream job.  Ministry and music combined!  Its like the cumulation of everything I worked for.  It also gives me the opportunity – and a good excuse – to go back and and study under a teacher again.  I honestly couldn’t be more excited.  And summers and breaks off too – perfect for a mom. (I tried super hard in this paragraph to not use multiple exclamations marks and/or smiley faces on every sentence.)

My heart has always been for the ministry and music is a love, so to combine the two is amazing.  I’m grateful for the opportunity.  But more than that, its pretty amazing to see when God gives you a glimpse of why He asked you to make the hard choices.  Because we don’t always get to see that!  Sometimes we just have to trust that He is good and have faith that it will be the best decision.  But once in a while He allows us these glimpses and we can see the direct result of our surrender.  And it is so faith building.

Is there something that God is asking you to do today?  Maybe its something that is hard to give up, or scary to start.  Either way, we can always trust our God.  It will always be His best in the end.

Also, I’m super excited.  Just so you know.


Seemingly Insignificant

Do you ever feel insignificant?

Do you wonder if the work you do each day will ever amount to anything?  Is it worth it to do the dishes again, answer a million questions, teach that english lesson, switch one more load?

Do you wonder if what you do has value?

I do.  All the time.  Oh, I know that everything I do has value, somehow, somewhere, but it can be so hard to move from knowing to believing, can’t it?  And the knowing keeps me doing it all, but the believing, that’s where the real difference is made.

I recently went on a missions trip to Chile.  When you think of missions trips, you think of doing wild, amazing things.  Of leading people to Christ, speaking to large groups, basically anything that seems big and significant.

And what did I do all week?  Well, the first day I led people from one line to the next appropriate line.  Yup.  For an entire day.  That’s all I did.  I said hola, smiled, and led them where they needed to go.  I was working in a vision clinic so I just led them to see the doctor or to be fitted for glasses.  The next three days I learned how to fit people for glasses.  Which was slightly more rewarding because it was fun being able to watch some people see clearly for the first time and they were very grateful.  But significant?  Didn’t really feel like it.

But you know what?  Because we said hola, and smiled, and were kind, and showed the love of Jesus through free glasses, when people were led over to the area where other Chilean christians were waiting to share the Gospel, the people holding those glasses were open and receptive.  And over 350 people got saved in those four days of clinic.

Its not very often that we get to see the results of our seemingly insignificant actions right in the same room, on the same day.  But it was a beautiful reminder to me that every little thing we do in the name of Jesus really is significant.

I was about to write this post last Tuesday, when God had other plans.  I think He wanted this lesson to really sink into me before I shared it with you.  Instead of my plans of writing on the internet and trying to do something significant, I spent the afternoon with my daughter in the walk-in clinic.  She’s fine.  She just decided to jump off the top of bleachers at her dad’s baseball game and sprain a ligament in her foot.  So a bone is kind of bumping out the side of her foot a little.  But no cast for the summer – all the praise hands.

So if today you’re showing up faithful to your job, or you’re wiping snot for the one hundredth time, or you’re doing groceries, or cooking, or whatever, remember that when we do the seemingly insignificant with the love of Jesus, He turns whatever we do into significance.