My testimony

Let me set the stage: When I was fourteen, I entered high school with what felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders. As most teenagers go, I don’t think I was that different. I had my own self-image problems, had my own friend problems, and was entering a world of new peers – those who didn’t know me for who I was but were making judgments as I was at that moment. One would think that is a good thing if you are ready to escape your past identity. But in my elementary years, I had found my niche, my posse. It was comfortable and I had let my guard down. I had been vulnerable. And people accepted me. I didn’t know Jesus at that time and I had no idea what church was except an institution that seemed to be for old people and out of touch.

But here I was, coming into a peer group of 200, from my previous 30. Two hundred – just small enough that everyone knows you and gossip spreads like wildfire – but large enough that it’s really intimidating. And here I was, overweight, one of the shortest in my class, nonathletic and struggling with my identity. Having walked through some abuse issues I was dealing with (it’s ok – that is ancient history that has been washed clean by the healing of Jesus), I was pretty screwed up. I didn’t know what was normal, what was abnormal – all I knew was that I didn’t fit in and I desperately wanted a community who would know me and love me for who I was.

But, grade 9s can be mean. Cruel. Judgmental. Not all – just some. So, here I was in September, walking through the halls, and friends I’d had for years were still friends but they were developing new relationships and not as available as they once had been. So, getting back home to my parents, although dreading the question, “How was school?”, was a haven.

On grade 9 day, when we went to do team building and get to know you activities at the beginning of October, I felt out of place (ever been last chosen 🙂 ) and uncertain of what this high school thing was that I was getting into. Was this what the next 5yrs were going to look like?

Enter Elizabeth. A woman in her early 30s, who had decided she wanted to volunteer in my high school, and be a friend to students. The only way I can describe it was the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. She came to me on that day, introduced herself and extended a figurative olive branch to me. An olive branch of peace.

Thus began an unlikely journey of me with this woman who, as it turns out, was part of an international Christian organization who saw school ministry as vital to Christ’s mission to make disciples of the world. So, there she was, volunteering 8hrs a week at my high school to meet with students. She had talked the school into giving her an old storage room as her office, and she filled it with warmth and love in the shape of teapots and coffee mugs and candies for students who stopped by.

I saw her walk through the halls, being greeted by so many students, and getting hugs from many of them. What was it about her? What was it about her that was magnetic?

She invited me several times to come to a youth gathering she had on Friday nights around the city. Several schools’ students would gather and have fun playing games, sing songs and learn about God. When I heard several schools’ students were going to be in attendance, I silently freaked out and thanked her for the invite. It took several months before I got up the gumption to go.

That first Friday night, we played the strangest, goofiest games in one of the student’s basements, with about 25 students and about 10 university and 20/30 something youth workers. These youth workers danced around in sleeping bags, passed bananas to us with their feet, and everyone had a great time. Guards were down, and I began to feel safe. Then came the singing of Pharaoh Pharaoh – a song I’d never heard before, with actions to boot – and then a time of reading the Bible. I had NO idea how to use the Bible, and there I sat in a small group looking at scripture verses, yet feeling safe and secure. And all the adult volunteers were like Elizabeth – magnetic, warm, inviting me into a community that gripped me.

We are magnetic. The Bible says that inside the heart of every man there is a hole waiting to be filled by God. You see, the Holy Spirit calls to us, inviting us to lay down our lives – our ambitious lifestyles, our anxiousness, our eagerness, our dashed hopes and our dreams and says meet with me and let me take you through this life as it should be lived. What I was seeing in Elizabeth and in these people was Jesus calling to me. They were living examples of Jesus to me. They were the only Jesus I knew.

After attending this group for about six months, we went away on a retreat and God spoke to me. Each of those leaders came and shared stories of how they realized they needed Jesus. Womanizers who found Jesus, a geek who was desperate for more than just the life she’d seen, another was a lawyer candidate who realized he didn’t believe in the civil law he was learning to defend, another was a uni graduate who had no idea where she was going next, another one was a single woman in her thirties looking for a husband, another was a big burly black man who would normally have scared the death out of me talking of how he came for a football scholarship but in the process found Jesus through a fellow student. In each story, I heard this desperation in each of them – a desperation of something bigger than themselves. A community, a faith, a hope, a salvation that was bigger than anything that they had seen in this world. All Friday night and Saturday their stories reverberated in my mind and heart and I just had to have Jesus. I had to meet Jesus. I cried out to him and my world turned upside down.

Was high school all the sudden easy? No. But it was possible because I had Him. I had Him and a community of people who enjoyed life and didn’t care about appearances, how they fit in, how they carried themselves. They were living a life of freedom, and now I was too. And people noticed a difference. People at school saw me more confident. They saw me stand taller. They saw me become more grounded.

Scripture says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” This was the abiding word in me. His loving-kindness became my salvation and it became such life to me. Soon after I found in my school library Nine O’clock in the Morning and Chasing the Dragon – two books about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the power it has in the life of the believer. It wasn’t long after that I was filled with his Holy Spirit and praying in tongues in my bedroom – laughing my head off that this was happening. I’m sure my parents would have thought me crazy if they weren’t at the other side of the house. I remember waking up the next morning and lying in bed wondering if I could still speak it and it came out no problem. I prayed all through my shower, and felt a new sense of purpose and lightness fill me. The Holy Spirit, who had made me holy through Christ’s blood, was now filling me with a dynamic that is beyond comparison.

So why am I sharing this today? Turn with me to Mark 8:34. Let’s read together:

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

These men and women were not ashamed of what God had done for them. They were not ashamed of the gospel. As it says in scripture: 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

They showed me a better way to live. I had thought that life was all about accomplishing feats, of being popular, of being successful in business and career. And yet I was confronted with a Jesus who carried only the clothes on his back. He was the antithesis of what this world defines as success. He shows no favoritism to the rich and successful, he doesn’t turn his back on the broken and dejected, he didn’t go to university and become a teacher of the law. No, he was a carpenter’s son. They showed me that in laying down my life for Jesus, He’d give me his and we’d live a grand adventure together.

Sometimes we are running this race – we are caught in the waves of vision and dreams and programs – which are all excellent and can be very helpful to the growth and development of the Kingdom. But let’s remember that the Kingdom is made up of you, of me, people who encountered a Jesus who said lay down your life, give me your everything – all your hopes, fears, dreams, disappointments, and let’s walk through this life together. Let’s be Jesus to those around us, let’s take them by the hand and give them the hope we now have.

It’s that simple. People in this world need Jesus. People in this world need me. They need you. They could be the womanizer. They could be the football jock. They could be the geek. They could be the lawyer or the unemployed university graduate. But they each have a whole inside their heart that is longing for Jesus. They just might not know it. They might be scared to ask for it.

Today, the invitation from the Holy Spirit is manifold:

  1. Have you lost sight of that love relationship you had with Jesus when you first met him? Are you neither hot nor cold? Are you just lukewarm? As I spoke of that magnetism, that lifestyle that I saw in my youth workers – do you want that? You want that missional lifestyle – either for the first time or back again – you want to operate in that dynamic where people want to be with you who don’t know Jesus and they want what you have.
  2. You are saved but you don’t yet know the baptism of the Holy Spirit? It says in Corinthians that Paul wishes that we all be baptized and filled with the Spirit and speak mysteries that edify our souls. The invitation is there for you to be filled with his Spirit.
  3. Maybe you’ve been desperate for something but didn’t realize yet that it was simply Jesus. You could even be a Christian, or have a faith in God, but you realized you hadn’t laid down this part of your life to him and taken up your cross and followed him. You realized you were attempting to gain something but in the process, were losing your soul. The invitation to you is this – are you weary and heavy burdened. Come to me and lay down your burdens. But pick up my harness in your life. Allow me to lead you. Accept me, accept Jesus as your Saviour and the answer to every need you have. He’s ready to show you the better way.
  4. Finally, I mentioned abuse in my past. Some of you have a destructive part of your history that you’ve not dealt with. You suffered a harm that was unfair, unjust, and incomprehensible. Jesus wants to free you from that. He wants to set you free.

Now, I want you to know that this is just the beginning. God has more amazing plans for us here. He has big plans for us that are bigger than anything he did. Whatever he did, he said we would do greater. That means of the healings, the miracles, the signs and wonders that followed him – we are poised to do more. He just wants a people after his own heart who are willing to be ashamed for the gospel because they know it is the power of salvation.

So lay down your religiosity. Lay down your dreams. Lay down your fears and disappointments. Lay down the successes of yesterday or last year. Those aren’t the end game. The end game?? Nothing less than God’s best for you and me and Peterborough. And God’s best isn’t sickness, isn’t poverty, isn’t broken relationships, isn’t pursuit of the mighty dollar.

And do you know what’s going to happen? What Peter preached will happen:

“Now Lord, consider the threats of this world and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. And all the believers were in one heart and mind….And God’s grace worked so powerfully in them all that there were no needy persons among them.

Taking on Giants

goals

How to take down the giants in life is not common sense. It really isn’t. If it were, we would all be living our best life. There would be noNo condemnation there – just a fact.

Most days I give up before I start. I have already told myself that today is not the day. Tackle that mountain? Nope, not today.

How many of us have that as our attitude towards the goals we set in life? In his interview with Hailie Deegan, Jeff Haden talks about this very issue.

one of the most common reasons people give up on their goals is the distance between here, where they are today, and there, where they someday hope to be…That’s why so many people give up on huge goals: They don’t feel they can bridge the gap between here and there.

It can’t be the here and there that stops people. It’s the fear that is attached to getting there when all they can see is the here. The layers of the fear. The fear of making a mistake. The fear of looking foolish. The fear of not being able to do it. The fear of others’ opinion.

Which is why so many people fail because they allow the fear to overcome them before they even start.

How can we overcome this fear? Here are seven tips I have learned in this past year:

  1. Take captive every thought. When fear or doubt about the here and there creeps in, as it will do every day (sometimes many times a day), don’t entertain it. As one friend says “Don’t let it land.” Every person who has found success in the big and the small has had to stop the barrage of negative thoughts ready to take them out.
  2. Acknowledge that you are not the only one who struggles with this tendency. That can be a powerful tool if we see that if others go through it and overcome, then I can too.
  3. Find your tribe. Find those people in your life that naturally elevate your thinking. Whether they cause you to think big, live big, reach far or keep your head above the weeds, find your tribe. Their influence in your life can be stronger than any negative thought that tries to land. They will be there to check in periodically, encourage you, ask you great questions, and speak to the giants in your life.
  4. Read, research, surround yourself in the thought culture that aligns with your goals. If you want to become an excellent cook, you have to follow the learnings of those who went before you. I’d suggest you follow people on various stages of the journey. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube can all be helpful in research and spectrum thinking. Following beginners, intermediates and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), can help you with keys to success along your journey. The beginners are particularly helpful because they are your comrades, your brothers-in-arms, as you step out. Buy books, watch Ted talks – anything that helps you align your thinking.
  5. Meditate, pray, journal. Have you ever found yourself feeling overwhelmed in the middle of the night or having a mini-panic attack during the day where you have made a mountain out of a molehill? It’s when you rehearse again and again all that needs to be accomplished, all the reasons why you can’t or won’t be able to reach your goal. In those times, worry has become the meditation of your heart. To journal, pray or intentionally settling your thoughts can have a profound quieting effect on those mountains. By naming the mountain, naming the panic, we can minimize its power, and it shrinks back to being a molehill. That’s why some experts recommend you keep a notepad on your side table at night, so you can write down those “to dos” or things your prone to struggle with. They say that by writing them down, you effectively lay them to rest, so you can rest your mind.
  6. Simplify your life to make room for the things you want. A friend of mine once used the analogy of Lego blocks when discussing relationship. If you picture your available time as those raised circles on a Lego piece, you only have a finite number of connections you can make to those in your life. This can be said too of your time to complete tasks. If you are spending most of your time on tasks that detract from your goals, then simplify your tasks. For some, it might be reducing your meetings out, or reducing your activities (or your children’s activities). For others, it might be reducing your possessions (less possessions have been proven to increase free time and creativity). Whatever it is, evaluate your life and begin to simplify. Learn to say no to the things that keep you from saying yes to the things you want to accomplish. It will be hard at first – deconditioning is reprogramming your mind – but with regular baby steps of simplifying, the tide will turn.
  7. Similar to finding your tribe, find a select few who you invite into your accountability. They will be more closely aligned to you than your tribe. They will have access to you, and will likely have strengths that you don’t have. I would recommend you read Who’s in Your Personal Boardroom by King and Scott. A very helpful resource, challenging us to be intentional with our relationships.

This is not an exhaustive list of tips. There are so many articles that speak of productivity and goal setting. This will probably not be my last article about it either.

What tips do you have for me?

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Edmund Hillary

 

Defining moments

Ok – I’m going to need some amen’s here.

God is all seeing. God is all present. God is all knowing. God is everywhere.

God has always been. He is now. And He always will be.

There is nothing that can be hidden from the Lord.

God orders my steps. God orders your steps.

In Him we move, we live and we have our being….

Being = existence, purpose, experience of life.

When God chose David, he chose him as a boy but he saw him as a King. When God gave Hannah Samuel, He gave him as a son, but called him as a Prophet. When God called Joshua and Caleb, he started them as scouts, but He made them to be warriors. When God called Joseph, He was rejected but God made Him powerful.

What makes these men amazing? Their start in their life? Their end in life? No – that God called them to for His purpose and His purposes alone.

But, if David had listened to Saul and his army or even Goliath, I would venture he wouldn’t have become King. If Hannah had accepted her plight in life as being barren, then she would never have prayed a prayer for fertility. If Joshua and Caleb had seen the giants in their scouting expedition more than they saw God, Israel would never have crossed over. And if Joseph had accepted rejection by his brothers and being jailed unjustly, he never would have been made senior advisor to Pharaoh.

In all of these examples, God took the faith of each man to overcome the enemy. God saw each man, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient – he knew everything about these men. He saw them and he called them. Whe he spoke to each man, they were in their most challenging place emotionally – Gideon was hiding in a wine press, hiding from the enemy; Moses had run away from all that he was because he murdered a man, David was was a man who was an adulterer, Peter was a man who put his foot in his mouth countless times! And yet, God chose them to turn their worlds upside down.

This year, I don’t care if you have had or are going to have trials or tribulations, if you are knocked down, pressed down, thrown into the fire like Shadrack, Meshack and Abed-nego, or thrown into a well like Joseph was thrown into one like his brothers. In the most unlikeliest of locations, God calls us into greatness. God delivers us, takes us out of the wells, takes us from the battles we face in our lives, and he makes them the very stepping ground for victorious living. David became king, Joseph became the administrator of all of Pharaoh’s kingdom, Shadrack, Meshack and Abed-Nego lived in favour in their land, Peter preached the word, full of the Spirit, and thousands came to salvation in that one moment, Joshua and Caleb led the people into a land of promise, of giant slaying and great signs.

And yet, each of these men had qualities and character that led them into a lifestyle of victory – attitudes that God saw within them even when they were in their darkest hours. I would like to suggest to you that these were qualities that God honours in each of us:

  1. Embrace the promise
  2. Be quick to repent
  3. Discipline yourself
  4. Live in a holy dissatisfaction of anything less that the best you
  5. Have faith in the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God

You were formed in your mother’s womb with God’s eternity planted in your heart. He has plans and purposes for you – plans to raise you up, give you a hope and a future. His destiny is not to destroy you or bring you down. So, if you are down, are feeling slighted or knocked around, just know that God’s still delivering you into your purposes. And perhaps your purpose right now is to hold fast to him, just like Daniel did in the lion’s den, as David did in the cave, as Joseph did in prison. In their very darkest hours, God delivered them. God’s best for you is nothing short of deliverance into purpose.

In the eye of the beholder

The fear of success can be a struggle as real as the fear of failure.

Take me, for instance. In writing, with the intent to publish, I am effectively throwing out my ideas and thoughts to not only those that know me but those who have no idea who I am.

So, what if my writing funds great success. What if my writings reach more than a few hundred people who know me and love me and are willing to humour my musings.

What if it reaches thousands and friends refer it to friends? And what if those people come to my church and meet me and listen to me. This is where the fear of success comes in:

What if people don’t like the real me? What if they think I was actually disingenuous in my writings after they see the real me? Would they want their money back? Would they write reports of how I’m not actually the person I purported to be?

My fear is that people will think I’m a poser, an imposter, and won’t like the “real” me. What if they think I’m not worth all the hullaballoo?

But do you know what God’s response is to me? Love yourself. How about you take the perspective that you are made worthy by me of the success? How can you hope to love others through your writing if you can’t live yourself.

And so I write. To not is to no one’s benefit. But to write means I believe that old saying that “God don’t make no junk.”

Excellence reveals

Good human work honors God’s work. Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit. (pg. 312, Christianity and the Survival of Creation)

― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays