Striving vs. Living

Image result for image of striving

Strive: 1. To make efforts; to use exertions; to endeavor with earnestness; to labor hard; applicable to exertions of body or mind. (Merriam Webster Dictionary 1828)

I think that I have spent a good part of my life striving – striving to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good wife, a good mother, a good neighbour, a good friend, a good employee, a good member of society, a good church member. I definitely strove to be a “good” Christian. I worked VERY hard at trying to please God – at least, striving for what I thought would please God.

Unfortunately, I never felt like my striving was enough – for anybody – especially God. The more I strove the more defeated and condemned I felt. The more striving I did, the less living I enjoyed.

This inner conflict was made worse by the fact that I was attending, what I now realize was, a very legalistic church. My “spiritual” life at that time seemed to be made up of a lot of “can’t do this” and “shouldn’t do that’s”. One would think that as a type “A” perfectionist personality, that type of living, all kinds of black and white rules, would suit me well. In reality, all it did was make me ever more conscious of the fact that, no matter how hard I  strove, I couldn’t do any of it on a consistent basis. That made me feel like there was no way I would ever be “good enough” for God, which in turn caused me to feel condemned and defeated. I eventually left that denomination.

My first breakthrough in this battle came after pouring out my concerns to a pastor from a home fellowship that I had started attending. He advised me that when I read the Bible, to take any verse that described who and what we are , and what we have in Jesus Christ, and make it personal and put “I am” into the verse.

For example:

Rom 3:24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; 

To get that into my thick skull, I would insert “I have been” justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;

Note to self – I have been justified (made righteous before God) by God’s grace through my faith in Jesus Christ, NOT by my striving to be good enough!

Romans 6: 1-14 talks about the fact that when we accept Jesus Christ, we share in his death and resurrection. Spiritually, this means that :

Rom 6:7 For he that is dead is freed from sin. 

Note to self – because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, I share in his death and I am freed from sin – NOT by striving to obey rules and regulations.

Col 2:10 And you are complete in Him,

Note to self – I am complete (made full and perfect) in Jesus Christ, NOT by my striving to do everything perfectly.

I read and re-read these truths over and over again until The Truth of them took hold deep inside of me. Now I no longer walk around with the burden of striving to be good enough for God.

Although I was no longer under the bondage of guilt and condemnation for my sins, I remained under bondage worrying that I wasn’t doing enough for God. I kept hearing the verse from Matthew in which Jesus tells his disciples to “go and teach all nations…”. I would feel inadequate and guilty every time I heard a message about evangelism.

I involved myself in a wide variety of volunteer community service organizations as well as church ministry. I found that I loved teaching the rightly divided word of truth to believers but was very uncomfortable with approaching unbelievers with the gospel – no standing on street corners waving signs for me!

A personal crisis changed my life dramatically and everything that I had been striving to do for God was lost in the aftermath of the storm. I was left feeling COMPLETELY  useless in the Kingdom of God as well as in my own world. I REALLY struggled with a HUGE feeling of having no purpose in life – mine or God’s. I felt cast adrift with no sense of direction. I kept thinking “what is the point of life in this world if I am not using mine to serve God and humanity”??? For me, life without a worthwhile purpose, has no purpose at all.

I received a breakthrough in this struggle after participating in a group study of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life

Through that study I discovered the truth that the main purpose for my life was to have a close and loving relationship with my Heavenly Father, my Abba. This is something that I am able to do 24/7, whether or not I am attending church, carrying out ministry or volunteer work, or just staying at home.

I must confess though, that because I am a “do-er” type of person, and because I know the great need of this world and have a sense of urgency, I can still struggle with the feeling that I need/should be “doing” more. But I try to allow God to be the one to open up opportunities for ministry rather than me “chasing” them. I also try to remember to “bloom where I am planted”, which at this time, is looking after my beloved husband, and “being there” for my sons and mother, all of whom are struggling with various life’s challenges.

Now, instead of always feeling like I need to be constantly striving to carry out some sort of “work” for God, I spend much more time enjoying living with Him – no matter what I am doing.

I pray that you experience the freedom in exchanging striving for living.

 Joh 8:32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 

Php 4:7 And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 

 

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The Incomplete Message of John 3:16

My apartment is a veritable maze of boxes in various stages of packing. My cat, Emma, is enjoying all the new viewing stages and resting spots all these boxes are providing. But why a cat would prefer to sleep on top of a hard cardboard box rather than her cushioned chair is a mystery to me. For myself, I am sick of looking at boxes! And I can’t believe that this small apartment holds so much stuff! At the end of the day, I feel like a lab rat who has to negotiate a maze before I can get my treat – which in my case would be my bed!

Because of all that is going on in my brain as I prepare for our move, there hasn’t been a lot of brain power left over to write a new post. But I thought that I would take a few minutes today to write a short one.

This morning, as I was performing my morning ritual of ‘bathing in the glow’ of my SAD lamp (that’s a light for those of us who are on the ‘dim’ side of things during the winter) I watched a DVD of Chonda Pierce, who is a Christian comedienne. Although she is humourous, her humour often contains important lessons for those of us who call ourselves Christians.

One of her stories was about how she went into a Christian bookstore with a Jewish man, who had never before been in a Christian bookstore. He noted all the products that had ‘John 3:16’ printed on them. He asked Chonda if that was an important date for Christians. He was interested because his birthday was March, 16th.

Chonda explained that John 3:16 indicated the book, chapter and verse where a truth (I would say the main truth) of God’s word could be found. And this is that truth:

Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know that verse off by heart. It contains two unchangeable truths 1) God loves us and he loves us so much, that He sent His son to die for us 2) If we believe in Jesus, who he is and what he did for us, then we will live for eternity.

Now we Christians may say “Yes, I know that. Yup, I get it.” And if we truly do ‘get it’ then we should be sharing that good news with others – and maybe you do. But that isn’t all of the story and the truth that is contained in that small section of scripture. And this is what Chonda continued to point out in her story – how the scripture goes on to say:

Joh 3:17, 18 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes on Him is not condemned,…

And I think that it is right there that many of us Christians get God’s message wrong. We may be good about spouting off John 3:16 but we neglect to back it up with behaviour that supports those next two verses. Notice vs. 17 states that God DID NOT send Jesus into the world to condemn the world. Without salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, this world is condemned already. You don’t have to look too far to see the glaring evidence of sin, wickedness and evil that is present in this world. God did not send Jesus into the world to ‘rub salt into the wound’, as it were, of this hurting world. God sent Jesus to love us back into His kingdom.

And that is where we often get it so terribly wrong. As Christians, we are way too ready, willing and eager to look upon others with judgement and condemnation. God’s Word plainly tells us that He did not use Jesus to bring condemnation upon us, but – oh how often do we use Jesus to bring condemnation upon others – both unbelievers and believers?

Yes, the sad truth is that Christians can be very hurtful towards others. I was once told that the term ‘Bible thumpers’ could be used to describe those Christians who like to use the Word of God to ‘thump’ people with correction. We use God’s Word to condemn people for what they wear, for how they look, for what they eat, for what they say, for what they do and for what they have done. We use Jesus as a weapon to cut people down rather than a tool to build people up.

John 3:17 states that the world is saved through Jesus. How did Jesus bring people to salvation? Was it with judgement, criticism and condemnation? No, he brought people to salvation by speaking the truth with LOVE and in LOVE. “LOVE” is who God is.

1Jn 4:8 The one who does not love has not known God. For God is love.

When we condemn others, we are not operating in the love of God. And if we are not operating in God’s love, in His way of loving, then we are not ‘of God’. And if we are not ‘of God’ we can not call ourselves Christians.

1Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God.
1Jn 4:8 The one who does not love has not known God.

So the next time you tell someone about John 3:16, don’t forget that the message is incomplete if you neglect the truth about ‘no condemnation’.

1Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God

Blessings

 

A New Year

When I was young, I never considered the fact that I would be living in a new millennium yet here we are, already half way through the first month of 2014! I guess I am now living on the side of the age time-line where time seems to speed by.(Whoa horse!)

My husband doesn’t care to celebrate New Year’s – he thinks that it is just another ordinary day. The only reason that I would like to celebrate is so that I could get dressed up in some pretty sparkly stuff and go dancing!  (Can’t blame a girl for wanting to wear bling once a year) Never-the-less, we tend to avoid the noisy and inebriated New Year’s Eve crowds and stay at home and enjoy tasty hors d’oeuvres (fancy French word for finger foods :)) and  maybe a cocktail or two while we watch the “fireplace channel” on tv. (hey – we live in an apartment with no fireplace so we have to make do!)

Come New Year’s morning, we do not keep company with the thousands of people who are already regretting their New Year’s Eve celebrations. You know, the ones who makes New Year’s resolutions while hanging their heads over the “porcelain throne”.

Ah yes – those famous, or perhaps I should say, infamous New Year’s Eve resolutions. I am sure that most of us have made at least one of them in our lives. And I am sure that most of us have broken at least one of them too! Out of all the resolutions that get made each New Year, I wonder how many of them actually get carried out?

This year, someone posted on Facebook that they were not making any New Year’s resolutions, instead, they were setting goals. Sounds impressive, but I wonder if changing the word “resolutions” to “goals” actually makes any difference? Having and/or setting goals is a good thing, but I think it requires as much commitment and follow-through as does making resolutions.

There are so many things that I wish I had done with my life and so many things I still want to do. And of course, I have many, many regrets about the mistakes I have made. I have sat on many a New year’s Eve thinking about all the difficult and unpleasant situations that I lived through that year. And I have sat praying fervently that the upcoming year would be a better one – please God! Perhaps you have experienced that too?

There were years where I didn’t think that things could get any worse – that the upcoming year just had to be better than the previous one! In 2007, my world, as I knew it, fell apart; my 26 year marriage ended suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt forced to leave my home, my possessions,my friends and my church. A few months later, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. At the same time, I was forced to be involved in a very unpleasant legal battle. On top of all this, was the agony of watching my youngest son as he pulled away from me. Then, on top of the “on top of all this” I fell victim to an evil person who scammed me.

You can believe that my New Year’s Eve during that time was FILLED with guilt, remorse, anger, shame, confusion and fear. Talk about feeling STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!

If, like me, you have ever sat on New Year’s Eve and contemplated the errors, mistakes, foolishness, wrong thoughts and wrong behaviours that you committed over the preceding year, you need to remember a few things:

Firstly, and most important, is that we, as Christians, have a loving Heavenly Father who loves us and will continue to love us, despite our mistakes.

Rom 8:35  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Rom 8:37  But in all these things we more than conquer through Him who loved us.
Rom 8:38  For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Rom 8:39  nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Secondly, we have Jesus, who acts as an understanding intercessor between us and God:

Heb 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted just as we are, yet without sin.

And thirdly, we have a just God who is willing to forgive us our mistakes and sins when we confess them to Him:

1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Another thing that I would like you to understand, especially if you are looking back with regret, or living with guilt because you have already broken this year’s resolution: there is a BIG difference between condemnation and conviction.

Condemnation means to be accused, judged, found guilty and sentenced to punishment. And who is it that accuses us? It is our enemy, the devil:

Rev 12:9  And the great dragon was cast out, the old serpent called Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world. He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Rev 12:10  And I heard a great voice saying in Heaven, Now has come the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night.

God tells us that He did not send His son, Jesus, to accuse and condemn us, but rather, to save us if we accept Jesus as our Saviour:

Joh 3:17  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.
Joh 3:18  He who believes on Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.

Webster’s dictionary defines “conviction” as:

2. The act of convincing, or compelling one to admit the truth of a charge; the act of convincing of sin or sinfulness; the state of being convinced or convicted by conscience; the state of being sensible of guilt; as, the convictions of a sinner may be temporary, or lasting and efficacious. By conviction, a sinner is brought to repentance. Men often sin against the conviction of their own consciences.

3. The act of convincing of error; confutation; the act of compelling one to acknowledge his error, or the truth of what is alledged; as, the conviction of a heretic may induce him to abandon his errors.

Basically, conviction means that you realize and/or acknowledge that you made a mistake or sinned. Notice how conviction tends to come from within a person, not from an outside accuser. And also notice, that conviction does not come with sentencing and punishment.

As Christian believers, we have been given a built-in helper, God’s holy spirit,  to assist us in recognizing and acknowledging any areas in our lives that need correcting and/or changing:

Joh 16:7  But I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you. But if I depart, I will send Him to you.
Joh 16:8  And when that One comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment.

God does not want us to live in destructive condemnation, but rather, He wants us to live with loving, constructive conviction. So when you fall, recognize and acknowledge the fall, then “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again…” knowing that, through Jesus Christ, you have the forgiveness and love of your heavenly Father, and power through God’s holy spirit to overcome mistakes and change negative habits.

And rejoice – for every day is a new day and a new opportunity. I like what Paul wrote in Philippians:

Php 3:12  Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I am pressing on, if I may lay hold of that for which I also was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
Php 3:13  My brothers, I do not count myself to have taken possession, but one thing I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before,

Php 3:14  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

We are not yet perfect, so don’t beat yourself up about mistakes you have made (or will make). Whether you call it a New Year’s “resolution” or a “goal” just keep moving forward every day, reaching toward the high calling you have been given in Jesus Christ. You will never go wrong if your focus is on Jesus!

I like the following verse from a song sung by Michael Buble:

Stars when you shine
You know how I feel
Scent of the pine
You know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life

And I’m feeling good!

Blessings