Thursday, October 19, 2017

Think on These Things

The ease and speed of communication are wonderful things. When my daughter went on a trip this summer, I could track her flights in real time and expect an email on her arrival. There was no waiting for weeks on end for a letter assuring me she had safely crossed the ocean. Just a few clicks was all it took. But this ease and speed of communication have a downside.

There are times when it seems as though all the bad news in the world comes scrolling across my screen. Tragedies both natural and instigated by man seem to pile on top of one another until it is overwhelming. When a particular story or issue strikes a chord, my heart aches, and I want to do something about it. But situations are too big and attitudes too entrenched for one woman to make that much of difference, which can lead to discouragement and even cynicism. I've been feeling this as of late, which is why my pastor's sermon on Philippians 4 was very timely.

Given human nature and the state of the world, joy isn't my normal default nor is it something I easily slide into. Joy in the Lord needs to be pursued intentionally, and one way is described in verse 8.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8 (KJV)
This is more than avoiding the bad like an ostrich that sticks its head in the sand in denial. I've tried that, not literally, but I could only keep but so much at bay. This involves actively seeking  the good, which is also more than the power of positive thinking.

If anyone was a realist, the Apostle Paul was. He had no illusions about his circumstances. He was in prison. He fully expected to die a martyr's death. He was deeply concerned that the believers in Asia minor would remain steadfast in the face of increasing persecution. But even in his incarcerated state, which would have been horrific by today's standards, Paul found true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and good things to think upon. And God has given His people these joy-producing things to think on today.

Just consider these verses in Philippians (NASB):
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 1:6
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 1:12-14
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 2:9-11
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 3:20-21
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 4:6-7
These are words of assurance and hope that are worth clinging to when the world seems so dark. And these are only a few verses from just one book. How much more in the whole counsel of God! 

While it is vital for me to "think on these things" as an individual, the benefit is multiplied in community. For example, my small group met and discussed the sermon on joy. One young sister, more than 40 years younger than me, shared how this sermon seemed tailor-made for the challenges she has been facing in a new school. But this circumstance has also driven her to  pray, seek out other believers, and look for gospel opportunities. I think everyone in the room was moved by her testimony, and we left that evening praising God because we could share "these things" together.

There are still times when I get stirred up and need to deliberately step away from the endless media stream of what is wrong with the world. Yesterday in fact. But stepping away doesn't mean I stop caring. Rather it gives me the opportunity to actively seek the good as I take my burdens and prayers to the One who is perfectly just, righteous, and compassionate. The One who holds the world together and governs its events. And the One who is coming again. 

"if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A face I won't forget

I've told this story before on my personal blog, but I'm too lazy to go looking for the original text. It's a story I will never forget, so it's not hard to remember details.

When I was in 8th grade, I was bullied by a group of kids in my grade. I was not the only one. That same crowd of kids targeted another girl, Kathy. She had a very sweet face, long black hair, a quiet voice, and a very generous bosom. For reasons I could not fathom, she did not wear a bra. She often wore a knit powder blue t-shirt. It attracted attention. She was not a skinny girl, so phys. ed. was particularly bad for her, especially when she had to run laps. I used to wonder why her parents just didn't buy her proper attire, but looking back, I wonder if it was a matter of them not being able to provide those things.

People snickered behind her back and to her face. They taunted her and called her names. However, one of the worst things she endured was when, during a group project, Kathy "accidentally" got glue in her hair. That long black hair, almost to her waist, with glue in it. I remember the name of the boy who did it.

A target for bullying myself, I felt her pain, yet I never said a thing in her defence. In my own immaturity and selfishness, I didn't want to be seen to befriend her because I wanted to keep as low a profile as possible. In my own stupidity, despite knowing that those people were not worth being friends with, I still wanted their acceptance. I don't remember ever having a conversation with her. I was glad when junior high ended.

My high school was big; 2500 students strong. It was so easy to simply slip into anonymity. It was a clean slate, and I forgot about Kathy until one day in 11th grade when I was in the cafeteria. I said hello to her and as she smiled at me, I was taken aback at how pretty her smile was. I'll never forget her saying to me, "I didn't think you'd remember my name."

Kathy, I will never forget.

All these years later, I still remember her face clearly, and I still feel regret for not having reached out to her in friendship. I knew the pain she was going through and I did nothing to show her my sympathy.

I won't forget also because this kind of conduct never really goes away. Teenage bullies often grow into adult bullies. Perhaps the strategy changes, but there are still those who exclude others, belittle others, try to control others, and look down on others. And there are still times when, in an effort not to be rejected by whatever group we belong to, we don't reach to others, or we don't defend those who are bullied. I can't forget Kathy because I see the same kind of thing still happening. I want that memory to remind me that I need to be kind  and show love. I need to reach out to others, something I don't find easy, because I generally find it difficult to trust others. But I have to try.

As Christians, love and kindness ought to be part of our daily expression. Yet, we fail. I fail. But it can be something as simple as saying hello, smiling at someone, and making eye contact. It means remembering that we are to esteem others better than ourselves, not try to reduce them. It means remembering that we are all created in God's image. Within the context of the Church, it means that we are part of the same body. Who abuses her own body? Or dismisses it when it is in pain? It means thinking outside of ourselves and our own desire for attention and approval. Particularly with using social media, we can spend a lot of time courting the favour of the important people; the popular people. But do we reach out to those around us who really need friendship?

I hope Kathy has a good life today. I hope she has friends and family. I pray she found Christ. Maybe she was already a Christian, and had I got to know her, I would have found that out. Wherever she is, I pray God's blessing upon her.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We have a new winner!


Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Closer Than a Sister by Christina Fox.
We had 86 entries, and Marilyn C. won the random draw!

Thanks to all for your continued interest in our blog!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Hole in the World

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.

The night my husband died, these words from the song by the Eagles kept running through my head. His death left a big hole that will be forever unfilled, at least in this life.

He left a young son to grow through his teen years without a father, and believe me, every teen boy needs a dad. My youngest son has an empty spot, a hole, where a dad should be, and he will always feel it. I know this because my husband also had a hole, one left by his own father who died when he was a child. He always longed for something he didn't have.

But the hole in the world is bigger than the empty spot left when a son loses his dad, although there’s nothing like the death of someone you need and love to reveal the all-encompassing hole—the big hole made up of all the smaller holes. The hole is bigger, even, than the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack the song was written for, and it's not just there tonight, but always.

When I was younger, I wanted to believe my story would start with “once upon a time” and end with “they lived happily ever after,” but even then, deep down, I knew that none of this world’s true stories are fairy tales. At some point, we all realize that even as we struggle to gain, we are not even maintaining. We strive for stability, but things keep changing, and not for the better. We build buffers against the unexpected, but they are never as strong as we imagine, and we are always one disaster away from losing everything.

Hurricanes come, and fires and earthquakes and floods and debilitating diseases. Evil people harm others in acts of shocking cruelty. Worst of all, death is inevitable, for ourselves and for everyone we love. We live our lives fearing future losses and grieving past ones.

Have you thought about why Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11)? We know he planned to raise him: “I go,” he said, “to awaken him.” Yet he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” when he saw Mary and the others weeping. He wept, I suppose, in sympathy for them, yet he knew their bereavement would be short-lived. In just moments, they would be celebrating like never before. Do you think he wept because he knew that however brief their sorrow this time round, and however joyful the reunion, Lazarus would die again? Their sorrow would return, inescapably, over and over for the rest of their lives. Did Jesus weep because of the hole in the world?

Still, Lazarus and his sisters had hope for the future, and so can we. The one who raised Lazarus has already defeated death, and one day all those who believe in him will have their own resurrection. One day creation will have it’s redemption and everything wrong will be made right. No more hole, not because the world is patched up, but because the world is made new.

But in the meantime, life is painful. The hole is everywhere; we can't ignore it. We grieve, not like those who have no hope, but we still grieve.

Jesus, the one who defeated death, wept in the face of it. We can't do better than Jesus.

This is an edited version of post I wrote 10 years ago. It seemed appropriate to repost it now. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Closer Than a Sister: Review and Giveaway

Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish by Christina Fox, Christian Focus, 2017, 191 pages. Release date: October 6, 2017.


The desire for real friendships is part of what it means to be human, made in the image of God, and something with which many of us struggle. I know I long for rich friendships, yet often I find the idea of having the closeness others enjoy elusive and disconnected from my own experience.

In Closer Than a Sister, Christina Fox tackles the topic of friendships for women in the church by emphasizing the local church (the body of Christ), union with Christ, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Divided into three sections, the book lays out theological, expository, and redemptive perspectives on Christian friendship.

In the first section, the author discusses the theological foundations for Christian friendship, the origins of Christian community, and how unity with Christ creates essential unity between believers. Specifically, for Christian women, our bonds go beyond mere secular notions of friendship, because we have been given a bond and unity in Christ intended to make us a heavenly family. On the one hand, we have been made to enjoy community with one another, but on the other hand, because of sin, community is still broken and still often falls short of meeting that desire or honoring the Lord.

As a competent guide and expositor of the relevant New Testament passages, the author then takes her readers on a journey in the second section through various scriptural examples and instructions that depict Christ-exalting Christian friendships between sisters in the Lord.  Fox presents the text from a first person perspective as trained counselor and seasoned blogger on women's topics, speaking and engaging with the reader using a very personal approach. For some readers, this approach may seem intimidating; however, from my point of view, the approach was a welcome change from the sanitized, non-personal academic writing that I encounter regularly in my graduate research program.

Finally, in the third section, the author approaches some of the downfalls that Christian women often experience, including the loss of friendships that result from moving, changes of the season of life, or even conflict. Struggles with idolatry, unrealistic expectations, and gossip regularly seem to exacerbate our loneliness and longing for community. While not every woman in our local churches will become close friends, the author shows us how we can reach out to our sisters in Christ, in a spirit of love and sacrificial service. Ultimately, if we are in Christ, we're called to remember that he is our true Friend -- the One who will never leave us or forsake us and who will never let us down or reject us.

I would recommend this book for several purposes: (1) if like me, friendship is a struggle for you, this book will likely be a worthwhile read and (2) for anyone interested in cultivating a mentoring, Titus-2 type relationship, I would see this book as an invaluable resource for understanding the kind of relationships we might emulate. If you're already gifted in this area, the book is still a very good reminder of what Gospel friendships look like and of the One Friend Who we all are longing to meet face to face in that day.

The giveaway has ended - Thank you everyone who entered!