The Problem With Submission…

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” -James 4:7-8

I have a tough time with one word in this passage.
It has nothing to do with God, faith or salvation…it has everything to do with how this word is used in the world, sometimes maliciously, in order to put people in their place.

What is the word?

“Submit”.

I don’t do well with submission.
Honestly, it makes me feel like a prisoner having to obey the warden. (Images of Shawshank Redemption come to mind)…

Perhaps it is because I have personally witnessed that word being used and abused.
Perhaps it is because I struggle with my own need for freedom.
Regardless of the why, there is still the issue with the how…how do I submit…and the ‘who’ – who am I to submit to?

For some of us it is the trust involved in such an act.
Questions like, “what if my trust is betrayed”, and “can I really trust them”?
Many time it isn’t even about submitting to God, but rather authority figures in our own lives; Bosses, business advisors, managers, family members…etc. Then, when we have been burned by submitting to a faulty human-led system, we transplant this disappointment and disillusionment upon God…as if He too is imperfect and will let us down.

I too have struggled with this notion, meanwhile transplanting my own mortal experience upon an immortal God. But have I short changed God when I’ve done this? Do I still struggle with these trust issues? Can I fully submit to God in spite of my past hurts and the numerous failed dumpster fires of attempted human submission?

Maybe I’m overthinking this…have you ever done that?
I’ve counted all of the variables, outcomes, pros and cons way before ever taking a step. My 1st Grade Teacher’s voice keeps ringing in my ear as she said, “look before you leap.” But maybe in this case, it’s the other way round?! Perhaps I just have to go for it and place my all before God when I do.

In James 4:7-8, perhaps it’s more about coming near to God than it is about submitting to Him…because wouldn’t we naturally do that anyway when we really, really know someone? After all, didn’t God come close to us first when He sent Jesus into this messed up world? He met us more than halfway as He hung on a cross for our sins.

You see, I know all of the theological implications of such an act. I know Jesus intellectually, but are there still times when my heart does not know Him…when I’m not near to God, in fact, I couldn’t be further from Him? Have you ever felt like that? We have all of the head knowledge, but when it really comes down to it, there’s a heart issue that still needs working out.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re still trying to reconcile what submission looks like with God. I’ve been on this journey for quite some time, and I feel that the Holy Spirit has led me this far, I’m going to have trust Him in the things I have yet to figure out. He hasn’t given up on me, and I’m positive He certainly hasn’t given up on you either. Perhaps it’s not so much submission that He’s after, but rather a closer relationship with us. After all, doesn’t submission come from a place of trust? I cannot submit to something I don’t trust, and I cannot trust if I don’t come close enough to God.

The trouble with submission is we aren’t close enough to a God who desires a relationship with us…and I’m still working through this. I don’t have a Mary Poppins answer for you, just a notion and a nudge to deepen your relationship with the Almighty…we just might discover that is what was needed all along.

-Something more to ponder today.

The Death Of The Sacred

I have a confession to make.
Well, it’s really not much of a confession, more of a revealing of my nature.
Here goes, I love technology.
I love how it makes things convenient for me. My schedules are synced to my computer and my phone, I can create presentations from most of my mobile devices (of which I have multiple devices), and I can take striking photos and create beautiful banners that look like art…all because of technology.

The Dangers
Despite the fact that I love technology, I have become more and more aware that I can become too dependent upon it for everything. My car even tells me where to go these days, so rarely do I acknowledge or recognize the direction in which I am going – my mobile GPS does it all…well, except drive (but I can’t wait until it can!…Okay, I digress).

Despite all of these technological advances in our age, I truly feel like we run the risk of losing the ancient and the sacred. What do I mean by this?
Our attention spans have grown shorter since the introduction of cellular devices. You don’t believe me? Can you go an entire hour without looking at your phone, either to check for new status updates on social media or to see if that special someone has texted you? It is becoming increasingly difficult even for me to divorce myself from the tech all around me and I fear I am losing the sacred even in my own life.

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How about you?

Can you put your phone down?
Can you close your laptop, tablet, other devices without feeling the ‘itch” to check it again?

What do I mean by ‘Sacred’?
If you were to study the spiritual disciplines, these things that I consider ‘sacred’ would be:
Meditation
Prayer
Fasting

Image result for Holy
Solitude and Practicing Presence

Study
Simplicity
Solitude
Submission
Service
Confession
Worship
Guidance
Celebration (In God’s Presence)
(Source: Renovare )

It is very difficult to do any of these sacred things when our attention spans have grown short and shorter. For some of you reading this right now, you might even get hung up on the word ‘sacred’, because some of you perhaps have an issue with the practice of anything liturgical or what some might consider “high Church”…needless to say we can become so distracted that the sacred has died in our age, or is in its death throws as we speak.

Perhaps the next question should be:
How do we revive the sacred in our lives“?
Here are my suggestions to help you with this process, but as a caveat to this, each person is different, and if you find that something works better than something else, do what helps you to revive the sacred in your life.

1) Make a list
Make a list of all the distractions in your life.
This will help you recognize the things that prevent you from entering into those sacred moments. Remember, that the elements are not the desired goal, but rather the fellowship with our Father in Heaven should be our desire. It is in the moments of the sacred that we encounter the Divine.

2) De-clutter a space.
After you have acknowledge and listed the things that distract, find a specific space to de-clutter and prepare. No space is holy, it is our attitudes and focus that allows us to tune into the presence of God. So, if a closet is the space you choose, the so be it. God’s presence isn’t fixed in specific locations, because the Holy Spirit resides in His people. The space we de-clutter is for us, that we might focus and prepared to receive and listen.

3) Sit in Silence (Try not to fall asleep)
I saw this partly in jest, because I have, at times, placed myself in silence and have struggled with slumber. Other times, your body is telling you to get more sleep, and perhaps we need to listen to that. A time of silence can help us enter into the sacred, although I openly acknowledge (as an extrovert) that this practice is much hard for me. Perhaps you will find it easier…if you do, please enlighten me by commenting below.

4) Converse with God.
You don’t need special words, or a litany of things to bring Him…have an honest conversation. After all, He knows you better than you know yourself – He made you, so He understands your intricacies and nuances. He is aware of your situations and the things you struggle with. Be honest, because you can’t fool God – He already knows. What this conversation does is opens our lives before Him as we acknowledge elements of it verbally.

5) Begin with one of the above mentioned disciplines…study, read and apply:
The last one will take patience.
This isn’t an instant gratification, fast food type of habit.
You must acclimate yourself.
This will take discipline and acknowledgment that it will not occur over night, but rather gradually as you apply yourself to this task.

The sacred is not dead…yet.
Don’t let it perish because of our distractions – at least in this generation.
Perhaps we have to eliminate the distractions in order for us to return to the sacred. Perhaps it is within our own busy minds that this war needs to be waged. Where ever the distractions lay, confront them and carve out those intentional moments in which we might encounter the Divine.

Something more to ponder today.


The Lightning and the Valley of the Shadow of Death…

I recently came across the story of Major Walter Summerford who was a British officer in the early 1900’s and he fought in World War I. While galloping through a field in Belgium he was struck by lightening. One would think that one lightening strike would be more than enough for one lift time, and for the most part you would be right. But in the case of Major Walter Summerford, this was only his first encounter of the mass voltage from the sky.

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Major Walter Summerford



After Walter’s initial injury sustained from the lightning blast, he was forced to retire early because for a time he was paralyzed from the waist down. He relocated to Vancouver Canada where he began to enjoy early retirement with outdoor activities such as fishing. On one such day in 1924, he took fishing pole and bait in hand and set off towards his favorite fishing hole. He perched (no pun intended) himself under a tree and began fishing…unfortunately the tree that he had decided to sit under destined for…yes, you guessed it, a lightening strike. Major Walter Summerford was struck by lightening once again. Initially Major Summerford was paralyzed on one side of his body, but remarkably, after two years of healing he recovered from his injuries.

One would think that being struck, not once, but twice by lightning it could never happen again, but the remarkable thing is it did. Major Summerford was walking one evening in town when another bolt of lightning crashed from the heavens and, defying the odds, found its mark on the body of poor Major Walter Summerford. This time the lightning strike proved lethal and Major Summerford eventually succumbed to his injuries.

One would think that this is the end of the story, but unfortunately it is not.
The body of Major Walter Summerford was then interned at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. For four years his body was undisturbed until the spring of 1936 when his gravestone was once again struck by lightning. How could one be so unlucky some might ask.

Image result for walter summerford


I find this story quite fascinating. We read of people and the trials that they have gone through and we wonder how they could ever overcome these difficulties. Some of us reading this right now have gone through or are currently going through difficulties and there are moments when we wonder if we will survive this (whatever ‘this’ is).

Our journey through the valley of the shadow of death isn’t always death itself. Sometimes it’s financial concerns. Other times it’s stress at work, or difficult coworkers, or problems with your children. We all find ourselves here in this valley. It’s almost as if we’ve been struck by lightning again and again and we wonder “Lord, why?” and then wonder if it could get any worse…and sometimes it does.

I know at this point it may not sound very encouraging, but bear with me.
We all go through the valley of the shadow of death.
We all experience terrible, horrible, no good very bad days.
We all wonder in times of great trial if God is really there with us, or if we can possibly handle another strike of lightning.

I am here to tell you that we can all make it through these dark times.
You aren’t alone in this journey.
You never were.
It may feel as if you have been, but you’re not alone.

God promised Moses and the Israelites that He would be with them,
My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.
They had been through some very difficult things, many of the younger generations could only remember being slaves in Egypt. They had lived in this valley of the shadow of death all their lives.

Imagine experiencing your terrible, horrible, no good very bad day – EVERY DAY?!

The same God who promised that His presence would go with the Israelites also promises to go with us, and even in our times of trial He will provide us with the rest that we so desperately need.

How About You?
Do you feel as unlucky as Major Walter Summerford?
Does it feel like you’ve been kicked while you have been down?
I know at times it doesn’t seem fair and it is easy to become bitter and angry at your life’s circumstance, but remember that God is very near and He will never leave you or forsake you.

Prayer:
Lord, help me today in my stress and in my trials.
You know my breaking point, and my struggles.
Remind me when I feel all alone in this fight that I am not alone.
Cleanse my heart from all bitterness and unrighteous anger.
Guide me in my dark valley of the shadow of death and restore my soul.
In your name I pray these things.
Amen.

Faith Lessons From The Ocean – Lesson #1 “The Trench Of Fear”

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” -Psalm 56:3

They say that you should never underestimate the power of the ocean.
It can be a dangerous place, and many a person has been lost beneath its currents and waves.

With that thought in mind, for the next few installments of Pastorsponderings.org, I want to explore what I want to call ‘Faith Lessons From The Ocean’, and how it might apply to our daily living:

Lesson #1 ‘The Trench of Fear’
I recall, on numerous occasions being a hapless victim of its tides.
I have never drowned, mind you, but I have faced some scary moments while within the ocean’s grasp. One such day occurred when I was a child. I remember it vividly. I was wading out into the surf, feeling the salty sting on my eyes and lips. I had not gone out very far when all of a sudden I found myself in deeper waters where I could not reach the bottom. The normal ocean floor shelf was further out, but I had stepped into a sand pit that was much deeper than the surrounding area. I momentarily panicked, I recall that my head went under the ebbing waves, and I choked on some of its spray.

For a brief moment, dread filled me and I was frozen in fear. This probably only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity had gone. I was a helpless victim and no matter how hard I tried, I was caught in the rip current of this small ocean trench.

When I came to my senses and pushed my panic down, I remembered the pull and push of the ebb and flow of the ocean waves and so on the next in coming wave, I stretched out my arms and paddled like I have never paddled before. I rode the wave out of my trench of fear…and I was finally free!

Our faith journey can be a lot like that trench of fear.
We will be cruising right along, enjoying life and riding the waves of success, then suddenly we find ourselves below the waves…and panic sets in.
In a sudden crisis, we might quickly forget God’s promises to us.
We might forget that He promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
We might forget that God always keeps His promises to us.

So we might be traveling in life, and all of a suddenly we come up against an obstacle that we feel has no bottom and we are drowning beneath its weight. Have you been there? Have you felt the powerful pull from the riptide? Have you lost your firm footing and have been forced to tread water? Perhaps you are at the point of sheer panic, because we do not know what will happen next when another large wave of life spills over you.
-Breathe.
You aren’t alone.
Don’t Panic.
This trench may seem to be your doom, but you will survive…you were made for more than this, and God is with you…trust Him!

Fear can be debilitating.
It can hold us captive and in chains.
Fear will lie to you, and reveal to you all of your weaknesses and insecurities. It will make you think that you can’t go on and that you are all alone in your struggles.
Fear is also tool of the Father of lies…and he loves it when we are held paralyzed in its awful grasp.

Fear is a Liar Music Video

Have you been to this place?
It’s a cold, desolate wasteland where hopelessness lives and is neighbor to unfulfilled dreams.

Don’t live there.
Don’t waste your time.
The trench of fear holds many souls captive…don’t let it hold you!

Where are the trenches located in your life?
What causes you dread and holds you captive?
Perhaps it is time to cry out to the Father.
He hears us, and He will not let your foot slip, even if you find yourself treading water from time to time amidst waves that seem determined to do you in. You will survive, and He will provide you the path by which you can thrive.

“When my anxieties multiply, your comforting calms me down.” -Psalm 94:19

“Lost and Found”

“…I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” Jeremiah 29:14

Have you ever misplaced your keys…your wallet…you cell phone?
I once lost my cell phone, and I began to tear the house a part, only to discover it was still in my pocket.  (No joke, you just can’t make this stuff up!)

When we lose something there is this sense of dread, we become frantic, we tear couch cushions off of sofas, pull every drawer open…all the while double backing and retracing our previous steps in order to find that missing item.   Finally when we relocate that missing thing (usually vital item – like the car keys), we exhale with a sense of relief.
Have you been there?  I am sure you can relate to this!

It reminds me of the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10).
A woman loses this valuable coin and turns her entire house upside down in order to find it, and when she does she calls all of her neighbors to come and celebrate with her.
And then Jesus drops the mic with the next sentence:  “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (v.10)

The angels (and God himself) celebrates with what was lost is now found again…

Here are some observations about this topic: 

-Don’t ever think that you’re insignificant to God and that He doesn’t care about you.
-God searches for you when you have lost your way!
-You are precious to Him (more than you can imagine).

“…I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” Jeremiah 29:14
Context: 

God’s people had become corrupt, lost, broken and exiled because of their unfaithfulness.  Despite all of that God was still searching for them; still hoping that they would return to Him.  All hope was NOT lost!

God said to that generation, and I believe He still says this to our generation today:
I will be found by you.

If you’re feeling lost today, please know that the maker of the Universe is searching for you.  He knows you, loves you, desires for you to know Him.  It’s not to late, never too late to return to Him.

Let me ask you two final questions:
What are you searching for in life?
Is there peace and joy in your heart?

God wants to be found by you…
May we never stop running after Him.
May we seek after God…
May we never stop learning all that we can about this amazing God of ours.

Something more to ponder today.

Silence is a Killer…A Devotional Pondering.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Let’s face it, we all encounter difficult days…some more difficult than others.
There are days that we can manage on our own, and then there are days when we are completely floored by the problems that come our way.  The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…

I know what you’re thinking, “that doesn’t sound very encouraging to me”…let me finish:
The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…but we were never meant to handle it all on our own.

In the Apostle Paul’s day, the new believers in Thessalonica were encountering all kinds of trouble.  Thessalonica was the largest city in Macedonia which boasted over 200,000 people.  This city was known for being a military and commercial port city.  So within this large city in Macedonia, these young Christians were encountering all sorts of trouble – even persecution and death because of their new-found declarations of faith.  In the midst of their living testimonies, they longed for the day of Christ’s return.  What does that mean?  They lived in fear every single day, and couldn’t wait for Christ to come back.   And so these young Christians lived expectant lives while encouraging each other onward.

The persecution in Thessalonica must have been fierce for the Apostle Paul to remind them that they needed one another and they ought to continue (“just as you are doing”) to encourage one another.

Let’s put this into perspective:
We might not be facing certain death for our faith, instead we might be struggling to pay rent, finding funds to feed our families, enduring a tough problem at work or at home…all of these situations are arduous and, at times they keep us up at night.
The killer is silence. 
What do I mean?
We think no other Christian is struggling, and if they are it must mean that their faith isn’t strong enough.  This could not be further from the truth.
We have this idea that we shouldn’t let other Christians know how discouraged we really are, because we don’t want them to think less of us.  Because we don’t want others to talk.  Because we fear judgment of others.  Because we believe in the perfect Christian life that really doesn’t exist…because we’ve bought the lie that to be a Christian means we don’t struggle with these things anymore.

And so, silence is a killer.
No one knows.
We don’t share.
And our hurts go unchecked, unnoticed, and unaddressed.

Dear Christian,
How can we encourage one another if we aren’t being honest with each other?
How can we carry each other’s burdens if we allow silence to slowly kill our souls?
We cannot continue to buy the lie that everything is fine when we face times of trial and we keep it private.  (Some will laugh at this and say, but church is full of hypocrites and gossipers…then find REAL believers in whom you can confide!)

Healing can begin with out this kind of encouragement, but long is the process and deep the scars.  When we have others who will journey beside us, and encourage us, we will find added strength, hope, abundance and encouragement.

Don’t let silence kill you.

What Are You Illuminating?

Mark 4:21-25 Jesus went on: “Does anyone bring a lamp home and put it under a washtub or beneath the bed? Don’t you put it up on a table or on the mantel? We’re not keeping secrets, we’re telling them; we’re not hiding things, we’re bringing them out into the open. “Are you listening to this? Really listening? “Listen carefully to what I am saying—and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.

Dare I say not all churches worship God.
Some churches have been erected for the sake of man’s glory and the glory of wealth.
Such establishments are an abomination to God and will never last.

There are also churches that have been built within the heart.
This church is built upon what the passions are of the person.
If that soul desires and runs after God, then the light it sheds will be pure and others will be drawn to it.  If that soul desires to fill their church with selfishness and desires that only impact self – then their light has been hidden and they worship the god of self.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, which church are you building within your heart?
Which path are you illuminating?

It can be very easy to say all of the right words and dress the right way, and carry your bible to church…but never truly believe.  Why?  Because the church you are building in your heart has no room for others let alone Christ.  We can say all of the “amens” and “hallelujahs” we want in church and never have it penetrate the church of our hearts.

So, let us ask…truly ask the most important question that determines the foundation of our personal faith:  what are you illuminating?

Self or God?

If we only illuminate self in the church of our hearts, there is no room for God.
If we desire to run after God, then may we illuminate God and from that foundation everything else will fall into place.

What are illuminating today?
Something more to ponder.
To God be the glory forever and ever. 

Amen.

If It’s Not Broke…Then Break It.

There is a problem with our self-reliance.
Independence is a great thing, but are we independent from God?
Do we only require God’s help when it gets tough and we use God like a panic button?
The problem with self-reliance isn’t about having too much control, it’s about the willful choice of not surrendering.

what?
But isn’t surrendering a sign of weakness?

Not when it comes to surrendering to God.
He desires it.
Longs for it.
Yet, so few of us ACTUALLY surrender ourselves completely to Him.

Did you know that only reason Christianity spread so far and wide in the Acts church is because they were shattered and scattered?   Act chapter 8 records the shattering of the church as Saul persecutes Christ-followers.  Before he becomes Paul, he plays this vital role of breaking… broken

Without the breaking we don’t have a gospel message that goes far and wide.
Still today, without the breaking, I fear our witness becomes far too comfortable and contained…so much so that Satan doesn’t have to worry about us anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t long for the breaking…no one ever truly longs for such a time, but sometimes it is needed.

Could there be a need of breaking in your life right now?
Have you become comfortable in your faith or church or current state of life right now?
God desires our full surrender, and unfortunately, sometimes the only way for us to become fully committed and surrendered to Him is to be broken…to be shattered again.

What needs to be broken in your life in order for you to grow spiritually again?
What must you surrender to God in order to truly live for Him?
My fear in this time and era of the Church is that there are far too many Christians comfortably numb to the moving of the Holy Spirit.  I am afraid that many churches and Christians in the Western world are asleep and unaware of what God longs to do.

We have to WAKE UP.
We have to be shattered and broken again.
Without this, I am unsure if any of us will truly know the freedom of living by faith in God’s grace…because we haven’t invested or stepped beyond what we are comfortable with.  Did you catch that?

What WE are comfortable with.
There is no inclusion of His presence in that statement.
It’s all about what WE feel, and what WE want, and what WE can get from it…
broken2
God,
SHATTER me again.
Lord,
BREAK me.

May it be our desire to be fully surrendered.
Not in our own time and convenience.
Not because we have nothing better to do, or we “freed up” some time in our schedules.
BUT, because it’s what God desires from us.
FULL and COMPLETE Surrender.

Father,
Break us again.

AMEN.

Lenten Perspective Day 4: Featuring Major Stephen Court

The Resurrection means everything to me. It means that instead of having just a dying Jesus, a Saviour from my sins, I also have a living Jesus, a Lord for my life. Without the Resurrection I would be limited to following a body of teachings from the righteous Christ. With the Resurrection I also have a vital relationship with the reigning Christ. If Jesus’ history ended on Good Friday He would be one among many great philosophers and founders of religion. As His history continued beyond Easter, Jesus is distinguished from not only every philosopher and every founder of any religion, but from every mortal who has, in his or her own way, vainly sought God. By His bloody propitiation Jesus is able to relieve us from the penalty of sin. By His glorious Resurrection, He is able to relieve us from its power. Therefore, I have received salvation from the dying, sacrificial Christ; and sanctification from the living, victorious Christ. HALLELUJAH! Have you? If so, celebrate it! —- Grace.

Court

 

Major Stephen Court is an avid writer, blogger, speaker and Officer of The Salvation Army.
Check out his blog site at:  http://armybarmyblog.blogspot.ca/

 

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