We are living in a time when wearing masks is becoming part of our “new normal” as health authorities balance opening up public spaces while mitigating the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Perhaps like me, before you leave home on one of those essential trips, you complete a mental checklist that looks like this:
- Hand Sanitizer
And if you are a mom of young kids, you’d probably have a few additional items to add to that list.
Recently, a friend commented to me about how she now triple-checks that she always has her mask. She also mentioned how she was wondering why people were not smiling back at her as she flashed them a lovely smile until it dawned on her that they were unable to see her smile behind her mask. Touché.
That got me thinking about another kind of mask - those invisible masks that many of us have been wearing for most of our lives. This type of mask-wearing is not unique to our time; Jesus addressed this issue several times during His earthly ministry and I’d like to take a look at one account in Luke’s gospel.
For our purposes, the Message paraphrase describes it beautifully: Luke 12:1-3 (MSG)
By this time the crowd, unwieldy and stepping on each other’s toes, numbered into the thousands. But Jesus’ primary concern was his disciples. He said to them, “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. (Emphasis Added)
In this example, Jesus was talking about the ultra-religious Pharisees and the religious masks they wore, as they literally walked around in robes with tassels that showcased to the public how many religious laws they were “obeying”. The fact is that they may have appeared a certain way on the outside, but they lived the exact opposite in reality.
Religious masks remain a big part of our society today, even though they may not take the form of tassel-lined robes. Today, it may take the shape of our perfect church attendance, involvement, connections, memory verse knowledge, and the like.
But that is only one type of mask. Masks come in many forms to hide various underlying conditions in our search to belong. We may feel inferior, not good enough, not a part of the group, or a range of other things. I do believe that our Social-Media saturated age has amplified this perceived need to wear masks. It may mean that multiple masks become necessary for different audiences, risking a loss of our identity altogether. We may have one mask to conceal the loneliness that we experience, another to portray a certain type of success, and yet another to hide deep wounds that’s causing us pain; the list could be endless. It can become exhausting to keep up with the different masks.
For a lot of my life, I became very skilled at wearing different masks - the religious mask around certain people, the success mask around others, and the “everything-is-fine” mask almost all the time. What I didn’t know then, was how much those masks were preventing me from receiving all that God had in store for me – healing, growth, authenticity and joy. You see, masks inhibit others from getting to know the real us and keep us stuck in that fake state of existence which we are trying so hard to conceal.
Ladies, do not allow the world to deceive you into the trap of wearing invisible masks. Thankfully, if you’ve been putting on a mask, you can also choose to remove that mask. On your own, I know, that could seem like a daunting task, but I would encourage you to find a trusted group of friends who will lovingly walk with you through the process of unmasking and finding healing. James 5:16 talks specifically about how we find healing when we confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. Like most churches these days, our church has provided opportunities for you to do so in the safe environment of our small groups where you can build meaningful, godly relationships. God has always intended for us to build life in the context of community and I highly recommend that you connect with a small group.
It may be a long while before Public Health authorities remove the restriction of wearing masks in public; however, the benefit of halting the spread of the virus that has ravaged our world far outweighs the discomfort of wearing a mask, so I am happy to comply.
But when it comes to those invisible masks, this I know firsthand: the freedom that comes from removing them cannot be overstated against the debilitating risk of not doing so.
Blanca recorded this song, “Real Love” a few years ago and it seems to be a fitting song choice for this week. I urge you to reflect on the lyrics.
By: Yolande A. Knight
Packing & Unpacking
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)
When going on a vacation, packing creates anticipation and excitement. When I arrive at my destination, I usually unpack so I don’t feel like I am living out of a suitcase but actually staying for a while. Our family just experienced packing up ALL of our belongings to move to a new permanent address. Although there is anticipation and excitement, purging is exhausting. What items are essential? Which items are still relevant in the new home and what should be thrown away? Through this entire process of down-sizing, I have been thankful for where we were headed and for being forced to minimalize. However, it was very difficult to let go of some items such as shower and wedding gifts (we have been married 28 years😊), toys from our now adult children’s past. Things like cassette tapes, who still has cassette tapes? Emotional attachment and memories can sometimes stop me from letting go.
When COVID began, we were all forced to pack up some things; vacations, schedules, weddings, celebrations, freedoms, convenience shopping, socializing, entertainment and attending church. At the beginning, I knew many people who were excited about the thought of a short vacation with their families, albeit in their homes. However, as news changed daily, realization set in, this was going to be a long journey. The questions I have been asking are similar to my physical move from Oshawa to Merrickville. What have I held onto that maybe needs to be reassessed? Unforgiveness? Imbalance between work and home? My relationships with neighbours, family, and my community? What has been repacked that needs to stay for me to move forward with Christ? Regular time with Jesus, my prayer life, need for rest, contentment in all circumstances, a grateful attitude.
What about as a church family? Should we reassess what happens when the doors open? (Note: I am not talking about mandatory safety protocol) Have we ordered our church services purely out of tradition or out of listening to the moving of the Holy Spirit? What are the essential, non-negotiable parts of our service? What is the most relevant way to share Jesus with our community? How do our weekly services help us re-align our faith individually and corporately to be the light we were created to be the rest of the week? I do not know the answers, but I am filled with excitement and anticipation as we unpack the plan God has for Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)
By: Karlene Fletcher
We are thrilled to welcome Karlene to Arlington Woods Church in her new role as Worship Coordinator. On one of her last visits to Arlington Woods, Karlene sang this Nichole Nordeman song, "The Unmaking", whose original version is featured below.
RUN WITH ENDURANCE
The famous quote by Dr. Phil, “life is a marathon, not a sprint” has taken on new meaning for me during this pandemic season. I’ve never ran a marathon though it has been on my bucket list for several years, but I have run both 10K and 5K races several times. The idea of running 42.2 kilometres (26.2 miles) for hours is not something to be taken on a whim, requiring months of training and a lot of discipline. As I looked into the origin of the marathon, I discovered the legend that marathons originated when a Greek soldier, who had just fought in the Battle of Marathon, ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver a message that the Persians had been defeated when he then collapsed and died. (Source: Wikipedia)
This very long haul of adhering to restrictions imposed by Public Health authorities, with the goal of flattening the coronavirus curve, has been difficult on many of us.
How are you holding up? And what are you doing to endure this marathon?
The writer of Hebrews was trying to encourage a group of believers (among others) who were getting worn down from rejection and persecution by fellow Jews and offered some practical advice to them which are equally relevant for us today as we run our race.
In Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV), the writer offers the following: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Emphasis Added)
I’ve highlighted the practical takeaways that I see from that passage for quick reference; did you catch them?
- A great cloud of witnesses – these not only refer to the people referenced in the previous "Hall of Faith" chapter (Hebrews 11), whom we can read about in God’s Word but also the godly leaders whom God has entrusted to us today, including those within our local church. QUESTION: Are you in God’s Word regularly and are you staying connected to your local church?
- Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles – those things would be different for each of us. “Everything” or “the weight” (used by some translations) are not necessarily things that are inherently wrong, but they are things that can slow us down as we run our race. QUESTION: What is that “thing” that may be slowing you down?
Similarly, the sin that so easily entangles (some translations use the term “besetting sin”) would be different for each of us. And we all have at least one of these! Perhaps it’s impatience that leads to angry outbursts, intolerance or hatred of others made in God’s image, gossip, slander, lying or cheating in the form of subtle inaccuracies that make you look more favourable to others. QUESTION: What is that besetting sin for you?
- Fixing our eyes on Jesus – We are encouraged to “fix” our eyes on Jesus. Fixing involves intentionality and determination. Part of “fixing” requires that we regularly reflect on what Jesus endured on the cross so that we have a solid understanding of how He is able to relate to our suffering AND it encourages us not to grow weary or lose heart. Did you notice the text mentions that Jesus sat down? That’s significant – it means that Jesus, our High Priest, is finished making atonement unlike the Jewish High Priests who used to have to go back repeatedly. Jesus did not stay on the cross, Sisters; He is now seated on the throne, interceding for you and me. QUESTION: How does this fact change your perspective of your current circumstances?
May I encourage you to reflect on the questions above in the coming week and know that God is on your side. Our Christian life was not intended to be easy especially when we attempt to do it on our own. But God has provided us all we need to run our race; Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us, so let us run with endurance and finish well by His grace!
By: Yolande A. Knight
Enjoy this new release by Mack Brock -"I Life My Eyes"
Have you noticed how quickly your devices are running out of power due to increased usage over the past several months of WFH – that’s the new acronym for working from home (for those who didn’t know)? If I am not careful, my earbuds will run out of power while I am on that important Zoom meeting with my boss. Or my computer will flash the “connect to power source” warning and if I’m not paying attention, my computer will shut off in the middle of an important work project rendering me to start all over.
This got me thinking about how the same is true in our spiritual lives. If we are not paying attention, our spiritual batteries could be signaling “connect to power source” while we blindly go about our days, oblivious to the warning signs.
I am thankful that I recently noticed that blinking warning sign in my own life. But that was after several different signs popped up. It started with a stirring in my spirit, which I’ve come to realize was the Holy Spirit nudging me. Then it was a conviction through a course I was completing on prayer. That followed with a devotional from a respected pastor which focused on Matthew 6:6 (NASB) But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Emphasis Added)
Think about that verse! God, the Father, Creator of the Universe, invites us to commune with Him privately, where He sees us and promises to reward us! What an awesome promise!
This, folks, is a private meeting with Almighty God; not a small group meeting – as great as those can be! You and Father God. Alone. Nothing else should be more important to us! Of all the meetings on my agenda on any given day; this meeting should always take priority.
But was I giving God the priority that he deserves or was I allowing this direct access to minimize the value of this relationship? Was I turning this privilege into an obligation?
Many of us can think of a public figure with whom we would relish the opportunity to have one private meeting and I imagine how thrilling it would be to have such an occasion. And yet, we have been given this awesome privilege of meeting with our Heavenly Father anytime we want, for as long as we want, through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Not through an intermediary, not through a High Priest, but direct access to God’s Throne Room! That’s huge, sisters!
God has communicated with us through His Word and on an ongoing basis, through the Holy Spirit which NEVER contradicts His Word. He has given us the privilege of prayer to communicate with Him and our study of His Word enables us to continually improve that communication. When prayer becomes a discipline, we begin to delight in this privilege and experience the peace that Jesus promised over our stressful lives.
I am becoming more intentional about staying connected and as I’ve been taken back to the basics of my spiritual disciplines; I was led back to one of my go-to worship songs from several years ago, “The Greatness of Our God”.
By: Yolande A. Knight
“THAT WE MAY ALL BE ONE”
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. - John 17:20-23 ESV (Emphasis added)
Most of us are familiar with “The High Priestly Prayer” found in John 17 when Jesus prayed for his disciples on the night he was betrayed, just before heading to the cross. Many of us have heard numerous sermons preached on that passage of Scripture and I imagine, each time, it evokes warm and fuzzy feelings in our hearts. I vividly remember the first time the Holy Spirit revealed to me that Jesus had prayed for me and I wrote the words “that’s me” in my Bible, long before I felt comfortable to actually write in the Holy Book! (Side note: as children, we were forbidden from writing in any books, let alone the Bible!)
In his letter to the Ephesian church about their (and our) divine calling, the apostle Paul pleaded with them (and us) to walk holy and to guard “the sweet harmony of the Holy Spirit” as we are one. But what does it mean to be one? To be one body, one spirit, one Lord, one hope, one faith, one baptism and one Father, as the passage states. That’s seven one’s – like one for every day of the week! (Ref: Eph 4:3-6)
It means that we operate in unity, the kind of unity that Jesus prayed in John 17 so that the world may believe. Unity in the body is vital for our witness to the world and critical in our current climate of social justice. Yet it can be overwhelming to the ordinary person who may not know where to begin, what to do or say, making it easy to tune out and pretend that things are fine, especially when it doesn’t seem to affect you personally. But I believe that’s the essence of Paul’s message, that if we are one, we are all affected when one member is affected.
As we continue to figure out the how’s and what’s, may I encourage you to keep learning about the issues, to learn how to lament with those who are grieving and to commit yourself to growing in this area. Bishop Cliff has announced the establishment of a task force to address these issues from a national perspective and I am greatly encouraged to see this initiative. Perhaps your first act could be prayer for this group.
Of all the times that we could have existed, God sovereignly chose this time for each one of us to be on earth. And since God does nothing by coincidence, I am spending time in prayer, asking Him what He expects of me during this time when the world is hurting, when there is a global appetite for racial reconciliation.
How might He be asking us to steward our influence, time, talent, and resources to make a difference in His world right now? How will things change if each of us did our little part?
I discovered this new collaboration with Phil Wickham and Bethel Music speaking so powerfully of this time and about our "God of Revival".
By: Yolande A. Knight