I was reading 2 Corinthians earlier, and it reminded me that it’s important to monitor our spiritual temperature. I know, you can’t remember where that thermometer is, right? Me either. That’s no problem, because taking our spiritual temperature doesn’t require any special equipment, just a willingness to be honest. Here’s the passage from 2 Corinthians 5:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:14-18)

How does this fit in with taking our spiritual temperature? The answer lies in the first few words: “For Christ’s love compels us”. How compelled are you to share the good news of God’s grace with lost people? Would you respond to God’s voice with “not my will but yours, Lord”, or would you ignore Him if He’s asking you to do something difficult or inconvenient?

Christ’s love compels us to reach out to the lost, to be His “ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (v. 20) I hate to admit it, but my spiritual temperature has been rather lukewarm lately. I’ve allowed the devil to use my emotional struggles to discourage, distract and disarm me. My focus has shifted away from God and onto myself, my feelings, my pain, my heartache.

There is a time to focus on ourselves. Introspection is an important part of letting God’s light shine on our brokenness, so that He can heal us. However, if we’re not careful, the devil will take what God means for our good and distort it for his purpose, namely, our harm.

Here are some indicators to watch for if you sense that your spiritual temperature isn’t quite what it should be:

  • “that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them…” Who are you living for? Is God on the throne in every area of your life? Living for ourselves is a dead-end street. Joy and peace cannot be found in the cul-de-sac of self-absorption.
  • “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Once we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit enables us to see people through God’s eyes. His vantage point is not superficial or worldly. Rather, He sees our need for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. When we get a revelation about the depth of our own brokenness and God’s love, we will develop a “fervour fever”, burning to share what God has done.
  • “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Are you bored with your Christian walk? Wish you had a high-profile ministry position? Change your vantage point. God has given all of us the most significant ministry going – the ministry of reconciliation. It’s our “raison d’être” as Christians.

So, how’s your temperature? If you’ve allowed the enemy to distract, discourage and disarm you, don’t give him the extra ammunition of guilt and shame. Remember who you are in Christ: Totally forgiven, reconciled to the Father, deeply loved, and significant. And remember His promise: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)


I know this isn’t an original topic, but since I’m having struggles in this area like never before, I figured I might as well put it “out there.” You never know who God might reach if you’re willing to let Him use all of you, even the parts you don’t particularly want exposed.

As Christians, we have this treasure in jars of clay. I know that when I was born again, the old Sandy was crucified with Christ, and she no longer lives. The “new me”, spiritually redeemed and free, is still housed in a cracked pot. Of late that has become glaringly obvious.

The past few months have been an agony of deep despair, hopelessness, mental confusion and emotional pain. I’ve always tended towards the melancholy – it’s just my personality – but this has been different. My sense of worth and value has crashed down around me. Most of my days have been spent alone, looking forward to sleep, dreading the morning. I have thought about suicide repeatedly. I could see no other way out of what has felt like a bottomless pit of pain and despair.

I’m not writing this to elicit pity – I’m truly not. Actually, this morning was the first time in months that I’ve woken up feeling somewhat hopeful. It was such a relief, and I thank God for it. But the past months have challenged my own assumptions and prejudices about what mental illness is – and what mental health is.

Assuming I’m fairly average in this area, I would venture to say that there’s still quite a bit of stigma surrounding mental illness. That’s surprising considering the record numbers of people who are apparently being treated for depression, bipolar disorder, and so on. I think there’s often an extra dimension to the stigma in Christian circles.

There was a time when I vowed I would never take antidepressants, because I was a woman of faith, familiar with the scripture from Isaiah 53 – “by His stripes we are healed.” I’ve heard people at church voice this attitude recently. One woman told me about how she was depressed and her doctor prescribed Paxil, but she refused to take it – and God healed her. On the one hand, I think it’s awesome when God heals someone of their illness, mental or otherwise. On the other, there can be a subtle pride underlying this attitude. It’s not so much an expression of faith in God, as it’s faith in our faith in God.

I’ve come to realize that mental illness and mental health are not so much polar opposites as they are gradations on a continuum. None of us can claim that our thoughts are completely healthy. But most of us are able to tell the difference between thoughts that are rational and can/should be acted upon, and those that aren’t. So, here are some of the things I’ve gleaned from my experience so far:

  • Thinking that killing oneself is a reasonable, viable (no pun intended) solution is a good sign that your mental state is not healthy, and you need help. I needed help, badly. Thankfully help is available, and I have had the support needed to access it.
  • Mental health and isolation are never found together, at least not for long. It’s a conundrum, because the worse I felt about myself, the more I wanted to be alone. This is typical in depression.
  • It’s probably a good idea not to disparage psychiatric drugs or counselling in Christian circles, because chances are, someone within earshot is availing themselves of one or both.
  • Similarly, don’t think that because you’ve had a few rough patches, you understand what clinical depression is. I really didn’t understand until recently. As well-meaning as your suggestions might be, telling a depressed person to pray & read the scriptures more can just add to their sense of shame, failure and aloneness.

Next time, I’ll explore how the church can help people who struggle with mental illness. Hint: Churches who are “real” from the top down foster mental, emotional and spiritual health.

We are scavengers hungry for meaning,
sorting through the broken shards of our lives.
We try to make sense of pain and sorrow,
hoping it might somehow make them easier to bear.

Yet we have this treasure in jars of clay,
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
God silences my feeble attempts to understand,
saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

We are grains of sand on the seashore.
My New Year’s Resolution is to scavenge less.
I lift a shell to my ear, hoping for clarity.
It roars with indifference.

(Inspired by a poem called “Picking Up” by Richard Fisher. “We are scavengers hungry for meaning” is taken from his poem.)

puff of smokeI’ve decided this morning that life really doesn’t make sense. We could be spared endless heartache if we stopped thinking that it does, or that it should. Actually, let me rephrase that: Life makes sense, but not in a way that we can understand. In the grand scheme of things, the bigger picture, from God’s standpoint, every part of life makes sense – even cruel, horrible tragedies. I’m going to be honest. As I typed those last words, something in me rose up and screamed “NO!” I love the Lord, and nothing, NOTHING, will change that, but what happened yesterday is a very hard pill to swallow “submissively”. I put that in quotes because what happened can’t be God’s will, yet He allowed it to happen.

Let me tell you about Jonathan. He is a handsome, articulate, funny, kind guy. He’s married to a beautiful woman and has two gorgeous kids. I don’t know them all that well, but from what I can see, they are a shining example of a Christian marriage and family. They are very involved at the church I attend. Actually, Jonathan played a lead role in the Easter Cantata a couple of years ago. He was great.

Yesterday Jonathan died. He and his family were enjoying the last weekend of summer at a lake, and he drowned. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t need to. An emergency prayer alert went out to our church family as he was being airlifted to the hospital, his family taken there by police cruiser. Within a few hours he was gone.

Some of you might say, “well, we can rejoice that Jonathan is with the Lord.” Yes, that’s a reason to rejoice, but the timing isn’t. I can’t begin to imagine the horrible anguish and numb disbelief that his wife and children are feeling, and his extended family. How do they go forward? His wife suddenly a widow, his children instantly deprived of their father?

Please don’t give me a religious response, “the Lord will provide”. Of course He will. I think we say things like that because we’re trying to make sense of something senseless, or we’re trying to reassure ourselves. It’s really quite terrifying to realize how little control we have.

When tragedy strikes, we are often encouraged to speak only positive words, just believe that God will work all things for our good, etc. These things aren’t wrong, but I think the context is. Do we encourage people to avoid expressing negative feelings because it makes us uncomfortable? God can’t heal what we hold back from Him. Some would say that talking honestly about our doubts and anger plays straight into the devil’s hands. I think supressing these things gives him the upper hand and slowly drives a wedge between us and God. The Psalms are a perfect scriptural example of someone (David) expressing all his thoughts and feelings to God. The full spectrum of David’s emotions didn’t seem to trouble God.

We often say, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship”, which is absolutely true. In a healthy relationship, the lines of communication are open and there are no forbidden topics. God is strong enough to withstand our questions, doubts and rage. I think it’s part of the healing process to express these things to Him. When we suppress them or pretend they’re not there, God can’t comfort us. I have in mind the picture of a child who has been hurt, running arms outstretched towards Daddy. I feel certain that God is heartbroken for Jonathan’s family, and He wants to comfort them.

Mourning is a process, sometimes a lengthy one. The best gift we can give to Jonathan’s family is to allow them to feel and grieve in an open, honest environment, one that permits questions, doubts and feelings of anger – indeed, any feelings they may have.

I was watching a Christian TV program recently that featured an interview with Brian Doerksen. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he’s an acclaimed Christian songwriter and worship leader, and a beautifully humble man. During the interview he talked about two of his children, both of whom are profoundly disabled due to a genetic condition called “fragile X syndrome”. Rather than describing his family situation as a burden, Brian said that these kids know how to give and receive love in a way that “normal” people don’t – and this makes them a huge blessing. He said, “sometimes God’s grace comes in disguise”.

Wow. That is such a great attitude to have in the face of some of the things life throws at us. Actually, if we understand God’s grace, even in a limited way, we realize that we aren’t just saved by grace. We live and breath and have our being in and by grace, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

It’s easy to see God’s grace when something happens that we like. “Wow! God is so awesome! I needed extra money this month to make ends meet, and someone at church just blessed me with a cheque for (fill in the blank)!” But grace doesn’t mean getting our own way all the time, or getting everything we want. Why? Because God sees things we can’t see, and His main priority isn’t our comfort and happiness.

Think about the story of King David’s sin with Bathsheba. He was the most powerful man in Israel. He started out as a humble shepherd boy, but apparently power went to his head. He saw Bathsheba, had her summoned, and slept with her. Then he tried to cover up his sin by arranging for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle. In a rather understated fashion, the Bible reads, “the thing David had done displeased the LORD”.

If you’re familiar with the story, you know that Nathan the prophet confronts David. I love what the Bible says: “The LORD sent Nathan to David”. (2 Samuel 12:1) I’m sure David would’ve preferred if his cover-up plan had worked, but God sent Nathan to David because He loved him – and because David’s sin put the whole nation at risk. Sometimes God’s grace comes in disguise.

I’m experiencing God’s grace in disguise in my own life right now. I’m returning to work shortly, and I can’t say I’m jumping up and down for joy at the idea. I’ve been off for almost 10 months. I like my job, but I like what I’ve been doing in the last ten months better – exploring my creative side, stepping into ministry through the natural and spiritual gifts God has so graciously blessed me with. (there’s that word!) So I find myself worrying, wondering – what are you doing, God?

I hear Brian Doerksen’s words: “Sometimes God’s grace comes in disguise”. God’s plans and dreams and hopes for us exceed anything we can conjure up ourselves. Put another way, He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20) According to His power, by His grace, for His glory.

God opens doors that no one can shut, and closes doors that no one can open. In the interim, I know that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness. What is weakness? The realization that without Him, we can do nothing. When I am weak, then I am strong. It’s really liberating to let myself be weak in His arms. Makes me think of something Jesus said – “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Is there anything unwelcome or perplexing happening in your life right now? Has somebody confronted you with something you don’t want to hear? Don’t be too quick to dismiss every obstacle as “an attack of the enemy”. It could be God’s grace in disguise.

Love can build a bridge

My post today is part of a larger initiative of more than 70 bloggers all sharing their thoughts on how to ‘bridge the gap’ between Christians and gay people. You can check out the other links at www.btgproject.blogspot.com

tay_rail_bridge_470x353A good friend of mine visited me yesterday. She was in town for a few days, and it was great to have the chance to just hang out together. She’s one of those seriously fun people who loves to laugh. We share the same dry, off-the-wall sense of humour. Needless to say, we did quite a bit of laughing! I’m still smiling at the thought of it.

My friend committed her life to Christ as an adult, much like I did. Though our backgrounds are different in many ways, we do have one important thing in common: We both came to know Jesus through our desperation, tired of hungering for love and being hurt and disappointed again and again. I suppose you could say we were looking for love in all the wrong places. She looked for love in the arms of men. I looked for it in the arms of women. We both found it in the arms of Jesus.

There’s no denying that bridging the gap between Christians and gay people is challenging. On the one hand, there are Christians who are so threatened by the idea of reaching out to gays that they won’t even consider it. On the other, some gay people make it their mission in life to be as “in your face” as possible about their sexuality, particularly around people who consider homosexuality sinful. I think both of these postures are born out of fear, hurt and misunderstanding. It’s heartening to know that there are people in between the two extremes.

One of the songs my friend and I sang together yesterday was “Love can build a bridge”. It was recorded back in the 1980’s by the Judds, a mother/daughter country duo. Some of you may get to this point in my post and think, “is this the best response you can come up with to the question at hand?” Well, yes and no. Here are the words to the chorus of “Love can build a bridge”, in case you’re not a country music fan:

Love can build a bridge,
between your heart and mine.
Love can build a bridge,
don’t you think it’s time,
don’t you think it’s time.

It is the best answer I can come up with, in the sense that it’s the only answer to our lost condition, whether we identify ourselves as gay, straight, or somewhere in between. It’s the same answer given in the beautiful simplicity of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” If you’re a Christian and you don’t include gay people in the “whosoever” category, then I would gently suggest that you are underestimating God’s grace. If you’re gay and you’ve written off Christianity because you’ve been hurt by people in the church, I hope you won’t write Jesus off. God doesn’t affirm any of us on the basis of our behaviour, because we’re all sinners. He affirms us based on the “whosoever will believe in Him” part of John 3:16. In the same way, none of us can measure up to God’s standard of holiness. We all fall short in many ways. The grace that saves us is the same grace that enables us to grow in purity and obedience once we have accepted His gift of salvation.

You’ll notice that I haven’t addressed the issue of whether or not homosexual behaviour is sinful, and that’s deliberate. It’s not because I don’t have an opinion. I haven’t addressed it because I think if we truly want to bridge the gap between Christians and gay people, or indeed with anyone who doesn’t share our beliefs, we need to keep the horse before the cart.

If you’re a Christian trying to reach out to a gay person, and the first thing you say after “God loves you”, is “homosexuality is an abomination in His eyes”, then your cart has already toppled into the ditch. I believe when we take this approach, making sure our theological position is stated at the outset, we aren’t really motivated by love – we’re motivated by fear. The reality is, most gay people already know what the Bible says about homosexuality. If you feel compelled to tell them, consider how lovingly Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery in John 8. And remember that it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance – all of us.

When I left my gay identity behind, it wasn’t because well-meaning Christians persuaded me to. It happened because the Holy Spirit wooed me, gently changing how I saw myself and others. I found the love I had been longing for in Jesus. In the process, I discovered (and am discovering) my true self. I’m very glad to say that His love has been expressed to me over the years through Christians. They offered the same grace and patience we all need, and trusted God to change me. Their love bridged the gap in my life.

So, when you think about it, God has already built a bridge. Don’t you think it’s time for us to walk across it by loving all people the way Jesus does?

83350I love the fact that Jesus wasn’t afraid to identify Himself with us. It’s the reason He came, of course – to identify so completely with us that He actually took the guilt of our sin upon Himself on the cross. He went way beyond what any of us would do for another person, even someone we really love. But think about His day-to-day existence 2000 years ago. He was all about identifying Himself with broken, lost, sinful ‘outcasts’. The Pharisees thought they were hurling insults when they accused Jesus of being “a friend of sinners”. Man, those words are sweet music to my ears!! Jesus, my friend! I worry sometimes that we, as the church, have forgotten who we were, or who we are, without Jesus. You know, when we talk about someone in that gossipy, condescending tone, a sort of thinly disguised self-righteousness that we convince ourselves is okay as long as we say, “we need to pray for them”. Them? We are them. Or at least, without Him, we are them.

We all say we want to be more like Jesus. We sing the words, “Lord, I wanna be more like you… I want to be a vessel You flow through…” That’s great. I sing those words and I sincerely mean them. But when push comes to shove, do we really want to be more like Him? To what extent? Are we prepared to be spit upon and beaten, humiliated, betrayed, deserted, mocked, shamed, unjustly accused and executed? Maybe in some parts of the world, but I doubt very many of us here would put up with that for anybody’s sake, let alone Christ’s.

Think about some of the people He came in contact with during His earthly ministry. The raving, demon possessed man in Luke 8. When Jesus was confronted by him as He stepped ashore, did He get back into His boat and row away? Of course not. He was very hands on when He healed people. He wasn’t afraid he was going to “catch” something, or afraid of being gossiped about for touching sinners. He didn’t see us as “them”. He abased Himself, coming down to our level in order to lift us up to His.

If we love Jesus, I mean really love Him, we can show it by identifying with Him. He identified with our sin and shame. We have a responsibility to identify with every sinful expression of humanity that we encounter. I don’t mean we should get involved in the sin, but we need to actively embrace “sinners” because we understand that God’s grace is the only thing that can lift us out of our shared pit of broken humanity. All it takes is His love, a gift He has given us to share. We can show our gratitude by identifying with Him – Jesus, our friend, a friend of sinners.