Ten weeks into quarantine and we are beginning to see signs of re-entry for various sectors of our society sparking joy in some and fear in others.
The question that remains on the minds of many of us is this: when is the church going to get back together?
Whether churches are in Phase 2 or 3 of the government’s opening plan, we can all agree that it will not be business-as-usual. But what will that mean for us?
Just like we pivoted to virtual community gatherings when the quarantine began, we’d be required to pivot yet again to a “new normal” when it ends. As individuals and families, I believe that we ought to give some consideration to how we see ourselves functioning in this “new normal” reality, making informed decisions for ourselves and our families.
As Christians, this presents an opportunity for us to reflect on how quarantine has deepened our commitment to lives that truly honour God and demonstrate that we are his ambassadors.
When I emerge from this quarantine, I’m hoping that my life reflects one that shows:
- God-dependency - This pandemic has stripped us all of things that we held close to our hearts and that we may have believed were accomplished in our own strength. I pray that this pandemic also strips me of my self-sufficiency as I acknowledge my need for God in every area of my life.
- Gratitude - For many of us, we’ve assumed that all the things we enjoy would always be available and accessible to us, taking so much for granted. I pray that my new normal reflects a life that is grateful for all the blessings I enjoy, even the simplest ones.
- Growth - It’s easy to go through life running on autopilot. I pray that I will come out of this pandemic determined to grow through life as I learn from my experiences and fully apply myself to the mission for which I was created.
Finally, I hope to quit “doing” church and instead move to “being” the church.
Recently I saw a poster that said, “The church has left the building” and it caused me to think about how, generally speaking, we may have been too focused on looking inwardly. Perhaps this is a time for us to focus more of our resources on the needs of the world around us and away from the comforts of church buildings.
I continue to reflect on the question that Bishop Cliff asked of us to contemplate during this pandemic: “What is God allowing to die?”
I may have said in a previous post that when I get on the other side of this pandemic, I hope to be changed for the better – to someone who is more on fire for God, intentionally serving Him first and then to intentionally serve others.
By: Yolande A. Knight
It's the intention expressed in this Sanctus Real song "On Fire"
FOSTERING COMMUNITY THROUGH VIRTUAL PRAYER
I’ve recently acquired my very own copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, a must-read for every Christian who desires to do life in a thriving Christian community, in my humble opinion.
I am thankful to belong to such a community at Arlington Woods, which some feared would have been weakened through the physical distancing in this time of pandemic. I am happy to report that the opposite is true; I see a community strengthened through the nightly practice of meeting for prayer as well as intentionally finding ways to connect. I believe the same is true for many church communities around the world; for what the enemy meant for evil, God has used for good and his glory. (Ref: Gen 50:20)
While not every member of our church gathers each night for prayer, the ones who do are interceding on behalf of the entire church. I believe that the earnest prayers offered up for every person who attends Arlington Woods Church, or those who visit from time to time, will have lasting impact in their lives. Because at the heart of every prayer is a desire to see the church community grow closer to God & each other and be more effective in its outreach to the wider community.
But how has it impacted me?
I can think of at least three specific ways these nightly gatherings have impacted me during this time of isolation:
- Enriched Prayer Life - Listening to the variety of prayers by everyone has helped to enrich my own prayer time as I learn from some of the seasoned prayer warriors of our church community.
- Enhanced Faith - To say that my faith has been stirred would be a huge understatement! As we spend time recounting God’s goodness and experience the answers to prayers each night, it bolsters our faith and deepens our trust in God.
- Encouragement to Persevere - I have been challenged to listen, to be comfortable in the silence, to wait and trust God’s timing and to keep running the race even when life gets hard knowing that others are praying on my behalf.
So let me invite you to drop in to one of these nightly prayer Zoom meetings; you don’t have to say anything or even show your face, but I promise, you will be richly blessed by the prayers of God’s people over you as they stand in the gap against this pandemic. (If you are a part of the AWC community, send an email to Alanna for the info to sign in at email@example.com)
By: Yolande A. Knight
One of the viral songs of this season is "The Blessing" by Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes & Elevation Worship. Be blessed by the Symphonic Version from Passion City Church.
I wish I could tell you that every time God speaks to me, I clearly hear his voice or that I always get it right when I believe I’ve heard from God. I wish I could tell you that I know when God gives me a word for someone, and that I eagerly relay that message with confidence and conviction. Unfortunately, I can’t; more often than not, I get it wrong.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sensing that God is asking me to listen to him and to tune out the distractions around me – and let me quickly say, there are many! For starters, I’m always working on multiple projects at the same time. Then, I spend too much time on my smartphone, scrolling through Social Media, discovering new playlists, responding to those annoying alerts, etc. I also thrive on staying in touch with people, and I occasionally watch too much Netflix.
As I journal my thoughts each morning, I normally get the process started by writing this question in my journal: “Holy Spirit, what are You saying to me today?” On Saturday, April 18th, here is part of what I believed I heard the Holy Spirit say to me:
“When you hear from God, you will know exactly what to do. So keep listening. Tune in and adjust your frequency to hear from God. Get rid of all the distractions and keep the frequency clear. Adjust your antennas.”
Now, I wish I had edited that entry for grammar and spelling but that was what I captured. A few days later, on April 25th, I received a similar message.
Imagine my reaction when our leader at Nightly Prayer on Tuesday, May 5th, instead of starting with the usual Scripture reading, made this announcement: I believe God wants for us to hear his voice and he is asking us to listen to him.
Wow, God! I thought.
You see, I firmly believe that God is preparing us for a great harvest that is going to come out of this season of global hardship. But, he needs his people to be mature and ready for those whom he will send to us.
The question is not; is God still speaking but rather, are we listening? This is the essence of John 10:3-5, that as we grow closer to God, we will recognize his voice.
As I began delving deeper into this topic, I was led to the parable of the sower that Jesus told and was recorded in Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15 where Jesus says “who has ears, let them hear.” This is one of the few parables that Jesus took the time to explain, which is quite significant, as it removes any doubt as to its meaning - that we need to have prepared hearts to “hear” God clearly. Take some time to read this parable again and get a fresh perspective.
Here are my takeaways from that parable as it pertains to the obstacles that prevent us from clearly hearing God speak:
- A Polluted Heart - We may have too much stuff in our hearts to hear God clearly – these may be self-inflicted, unconfessed sin or they may be relationships that we need to restore. (James 1:21 NLT)
- A Distracted Heart - Hell is determined to keep us from hearing from God so we may need to turn down the world’s volume that keeps us distracted from hearing God’s voice. (Luke 10:39-40 AMP)
- A Neglected Heart - We may need to stop making excuses and start making changes in our life and our worship that helps us to mature in our relationship with God. (Heb 12:1-2 GNT)
Ultimately, God is looking for a Prepared Heart - We can prepare our hearts when we offer true repentance, refocus our priorities, and ask God to bring a revival in our lives. (2 Cor 7:1 MSG)
In this current global crisis, many are calling on God to hear us from heaven and heal our land. I submit that God is listening to us and waiting for us to get our hearts set right and make ourselves truly humble and available (2 Chron 7:14 ESV).
One of the new releases from Elevation Worship - "Available" speaks to this issue.
By: Yolande A. Knight
I can honestly say that I’ve never met someone who enjoys waiting though I’m sure that such a person exists; I’ve just not met them yet. Let me tell you that I am not that person; my patience meter is usually running on empty on any given day. Needless to say, this current perpetual state of waiting has been very difficult for me as it’s been for many of you.
Yet God is asking us to wait! Millions of believers around the world are praying and seeking God for an end to this crisis and no one knows when that time will be.
This reminds me of the Israelites who waited 400 years for deliverance and even then, God took them the long way around, through the desert, to get to the Promised Land. As we have studied their journey and reflected on their response, we have often criticized their grumbling, lack of faith and trust in God. You can read the account in Exodus 13-17.
But how are we measuring up in the face of COVID-19 in 2020?
I’ve read somewhere that in an average lifetime of 80 years, we spend approximately six of those years waiting. Of course, not all at once, but broken down into chunks of time; waiting at traffic lights, in lines at various places for services, waiting on people, waiting for a response to a question, for a baby to arrive, for a call back from our doctor, a job offer, and the like. It all adds up. It begs the question about how our waiting, during this time of COVID-19, will affect that average of six years!
Waiting is not easy, even for the most patient person but it does not have to be unbearable. I have found that waiting is less painful when I shift my focus.
May I share three ways that have consistently helped me to shift focus during extended periods of waiting:
- Refining my worship - Waiting reveals the “thing” that we worship the most. Our worship can be aimed at success, acquisitions, something, or someone other than God. I’ve learned to increase my worship of Jesus while I wait on him and I do so by saturating myself with his Word, being in constant communion with him through prayer, and surrounding myself with uplifting music that glorifies God.
- Recalling God’s unchanging faithfulness in my life - As someone who journals on a regular basis, this has been easy for me to do. During this current time, I have spent hours re-reading journals from several years ago and I have been reminded of and astounded by the many times when God showed up for me in miraculous ways. Will he do it again? Absolutely!
- Preparing for my next season - I recognize that this term “season” is one that we (Christians) frequently use which may cause it to lose its effectiveness. I do believe that, just like God’s natural order has distinctive seasons such as spring, summer, fall, and winter; so too do our lives. I don’t always recognize when I am heading out of a season, but I have come to distinguish when I am being prepared for a next season. I believe that “The Church” is in a time of preparation for its next season.
As I have been reflecting on this time, I discovered this worship song by Lincoln Brewster, "While I Wait" which had me completely undone. I urge you to listen to the lyrics of this song which I believe will encourage you today.
By: Yolande A. Knight
ANXIETY & TRUST
Can I be honest with you? I’m scared. I wake up every morning wondering if this will be the day when I start to feel sick. Being completely transparent here; I’ve been battling anxiety for the past couple years. When I say anxiety, I don’t mean regular, everyday stress, such as traffic, or making it to work on time. I mean a general fear of the world. The best way I’ve been able to explain it to myself is that the world feels unsafe to me. What has gotten me through the daily feeling of dread and quickened breaths is acknowledging that the thoughts are in my head, and the world, out there, is actually safe.
And then coronavirus happened. I woke up, and the world instantly became unsafe. And everything changed! Suddenly, going outside, which always felt scary for me, now had a “real” sense of danger. What makes this more challenging is that I am a Christian. For many, the idea that someone can have anxiety and be a Christian doesn’t add up. Some days, I feel like I’m not “Christian enough” because I’m scared of the big, bad world. I imagine that others who deal with anxiety feel this way as well.
So, what does this look like for me on a daily basis, as someone who loves Jesus? It means a lot of time talking to God and being honest about my fears. It looks like some deep, but faithless prayers throughout my day, asking for calm. In the midst of this current global pandemic, it looks like me scribbling my prayers in a notebook, being real with my thoughts to God.
The thing is, the Bible knew that we would have anxious thoughts and that the world would be unsafe. Some believe that's why the phrase “Fear not” is used 365 times in the Bible – some say, there’s a fear-not command for every day of the year. In fact, Jesus tells us that we will have trouble in this world but that he is with us in the midst of those troubles (John 16:33). That we are to trust him, even when it’s not clear that the answer will be what we’re looking for. I believe that for many, coronavirus is revealing what trust in our relationship with God really looks like.
So how do we get through each day with the heightened anxiety that we may all be feeling right now?
As I pondered that question, I was reminded of something that I learned during my time as a competitive figure skater. During training, especially leading up to competition, my sports psychologist and coach would remind me to focus on what I could control. I couldn’t control what the judges would think of me, if the event was running on time, or what the other skaters were doing. As a figure skater, what I could control was my training, my mental state, and my own elements (to a certain extent). Basically, I did my part, and the rest was up to God.
What can we control during this time, and what do we need to let go? For me, I’ve learned that I can’t control how this virus is going to spread. I can’t control the news, or how the government will respond. I can’t control how people practice physical distancing, or how the future is going to unfold. But I can control how I practice physical distancing and stay home. I can control how much of the news I watch or read, how much sleep I get, how I move through my days - by exercising, and eating healthy. I can also control how I support those in my circle during this time - a friend reminded me that for many, this is the hardest thing that most people have had to face in their lifetime. I can also draw on my “training”, on past difficulties that I have gone through which have all equipped me to handle this current challenge. I can lean on my support system of friends, family and my church community. The rest is up to God.
Easier said than done, I know! As a Type A perfectionist with anxiety, I KNOW how hard this is in reality. Right now, each time I think about planning my week, I take a step back and pray first; the uncertainty of this crisis is causing me to put Proverbs 16:9 into action, which talks about how we make our plans but it’s God who actually turns those plans into reality. Maybe this is a lesson I needed to learn a long time ago, maybe you do too. For the first time, I’m taking things one day at a time, and it’s a strange feeling.
Hoping not to sound like one of those annoying Instagram Influencers (who are apparently making many feel that they’re not doing enough), may I encourage you to try to find something you can learn during this period. Personally, I want to accept the lessons God may be imparting to me during this season. I continue to pray for the virus to be stopped in its tracks and for God to keep us all safe. But how he responds, is not up to me, which honestly, is probably a good thing.
By: Yelena Knight
Here is a Casting Crowns song "Oh My Soul" that puts perspective on the worry of our souls.
LIVING WITH COVID-19
Editorial Note: Susi Steier, a thirty-something young lady living in England and a friend to one of our AW young moms, has graciously agreed to share her story of living with COVID-19 on our blog. She first posted this account on her Facebook page on March 25th. She has since recovered from the virus and is doing well.
Published with permission.
Many of you might be wondering what it’s like to be one of the many suspected cases of coronavirus, so I thought I’d share a bit of my experience with you.
I started feeling ill last Saturday, March 21, 2020. First, I was just unusually tired, but towards the evening I got a mild fever. Then I developed the dreaded cough.
I spent the next day in bed with a fever, but by Monday I felt slightly better. Less fever, more fatigue, more coughing. I get out of breath easily, even when I just speak or eat, and I often feel dizzy. My fever has been up and down since the symptoms started, but all in all they have been relatively mild.
I talked to a friend from church yesterday who works with COVID patients in London and he said that the symptoms reach their peak on day 5-7. So, let’s see how the next few days will go.
Something that kept coming to my mind over the last few days was how God repeatedly calls his people to trust him in the face of danger. In the book of Isaiah, we see the Assyrian army coming, they have already taken the Northern Kingdom and now they’re on their way to Jerusalem. How are they supposed to trust in God when the danger is so real and so immediate? Before the pandemic, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated what it might feel like to trust in God rather than in other people. In governments making the right decisions, in doctors who help the critically ill, in researchers who develop a vaccine, in my own body to fight the virus.
God eventually delivers Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. But even this rescue is only temporary because only two chapters later we see hints of the next enemy, Babylon, who will in only a few years’ time destroy Jerusalem and drag the people into exile.
Will our rescue from the coronavirus be just as temporary? When we finally get through this, what will the world look like? What’s the next danger we need to be rescued from?
In Isaiah, God promises his people a rescue that lasts. A rescue from this broken world to a world where there is no more danger, no more coronavirus or unemployment or loneliness. A world where there is no more death.
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.”
This is so much better than any rescue this world has to offer because it means we won’t ever need another rescue. We often think the idea of a new world, or of heaven, is irrelevant for us, but during this time I’m reminded that heaven is exactly what we all need. We’ll finally be safe and perfectly happy. Isn’t this what we’re all longing for?
By: Susi Steier
Absolutely Susi, our ultimate goal is to be with the Father in Heaven - Enjoy Chris Tomlin's "Home"
The Season of Easter, and Social-Distancing
Editorial Note: We are thrilled to bring you the following blog which was written and first published on March 16th, 2020 by Melissa Reeve on her blog “Because of a Sticker”.
Published with permission.
We’re in the middle of March, in the middle of Lent, and in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t think anyone thought that the church as a whole would start giving up church services for Lent. We’ve been told to sit tight for a couple of weeks, and reassess then. We’re about 4 weeks away from Easter. We might be giving that up for Lent as well.
It’s hard to imagine Good Friday and Easter passing by without church services, but it might come to that. I think it’s best to prepare ourselves, in case that happens. It’s one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, and one of the busiest. And we might all be stuck inside our own homes.
I think there are a few very important things to keep in mind this year as Easter approaches. I know it hurts to consider cancelling services that are probably already in the planning stages. Easter comes with special services, special speakers, special music, church potlucks, family dinners etc. But as hard as it is to imagine cancelling, should it become necessary, we need to keep the big picture in mind – two big pictures, really.
First, God is still God regardless of circumstances. History is still history regardless of current circumstances. Who God is, or what He did on the cross, will not change just because we have to cancel services. Even if we have to celebrate at home, we can do that. God hears us individually as well as corporately, and His plan for us does not change based on church attendance. The big picture is that God is ultimately in control of our lives here, and in heaven. For a Christian, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). Christ is our hope, our peace, and our joy here on earth, and whenever we do die, we get to experience Him in person. Missing even the most important of church services will never change that.
Second, as long as we live, our commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). How can we best love our neighbours right now? A good way to start is by being sensible during a pandemic. It’s hard to adjust to the idea of loving people by avoiding them, but spreading a potentially deadly virus is not a good way to love your neighbour. Stay home, when possible, for the good of the vulnerable people around you. This virus moves quickly, and the best way to keep hospitals from being overrun, and to keep our families and communities safe, to is keep our distance. It’s everyone’s job to take proactive measures as much as possible.
It’s easy to think that Lent, Good Friday and Easter are necessities of the Christian faith. You know what? They are. But the celebrations and traditions that accompany them are not. Easter is still Easter without a service. During this time in the church calendar, we focus on Christ’s sacrifice which atoned for our sins so that we could be seen as blameless before God. That is incredibly important. Without that, we’re just a group of broken and sinful people with no hope. But God is our hope, and God does not change when our traditions have to change.
Hang onto the big picture, in terms of community health, and eternal hope. Keep being proactive about this public health crisis. Remember that God is with us even when we can’t be with each other. Keep praying, singing praise songs, and reading your Bibles at home, and come out of this with a stronger faith. Set a good example in loving your neighbour enough to stay home. And as I heard in a sermon online this week, the building is not the church: the body of Christ is the church. As much as we’re social-distancing, we’re still not alone. We’re still connected.
By Melissa Reeve
As Melissa has so eloquently stated, and echoed in this beautiful song by Kari Jobe, (we) "I am Not Alone".
God is Still Good!
It is truly our hope that you are adjusting to the new way of doing life, ministry, work or connecting with your family and friends. This is certainly not easy, nor is it preferable; in fact, God never intended for us to live our lives "physical-distancing" from one another. Before sin was introduced in Genesis 3, God told Adam that it was not good for him to be alone and created Eve as Adam's companion (Genesis 2:18 GNT). God's heart has always been for community and relationships. In many ways, this crisis is causing us to be very intentional about maintaining our connections as we amp up the communication and take advantage of the available technology to stay connected.
I am convinced that most of us will emerge from this crisis changed for the better!
In the meantime, we can choose to spend our days focusing on what we lack and thinking about how crises bring out the worst in people (like those toilet paper and hand sanitizer hoarders or those who continue to disregard public-health guidelines and gather in groups). OR, we can look around and see God's goodness sprinkled in the random acts of kindness and compassion strangers extend, the selfless sacrifice of our frontline workers, unwavering leadership and commitment of essential service providers, government and church leaders.
This coming week, be intentional about seeing the goodness of God in the circumstances around you and watch for glimpses of goodness in others. Recognize how many of the faithful prayers of believers around the world are being answered by God on a daily basis and remember who has come through time and again for you and for those you love. While we do not know for certain how or when this will end, we do know that we can trust the One who holds our future in his hands. We can find peace in his grace and trust his wisdom. He knows that we are confused and that we don't understand what's going on but he is not shaken; he has a plan and of that we can be certain.
Are you able to trust him with all your heart and to lean not on your own understanding? (Ref: Proverbs 3:5 NIV)
Receive a boost to your faith as you reflect on the lyrics of this week's worship song: "Do it Again" by Elevation Worship.
Arlington Woods Women's Ministry Team
God is Still Working!
As we continue to wade through this uncharted territory of COVID-19, it may seem like each day brings more questions than answers. We quietly go about our days in a modified state of existence, watching events cancelled, more restrictions implemented, states of emergencies declared, as parents set up homeschool classrooms at their kitchen tables. Our friends and loved ones are losing jobs, others are getting sick and many others are succumbing to this virus around the world.
Where is God through all of this?
Not only is God still present, he is still working on our behalf! Think back to the time when the Israelites were ready to give up hope, certain they were going to die as Pharaoh and his mighty army overtook them at the Red Sea. Then God showed up in all his glory and led them on dry land to the other side so that God "will get glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen." (Exodus 14:18 ESV)
God is still working on our behalf even when it looks impossible to our finite minds. We serve the Almighty God who fights for us and all we have to do is be silent. Silent in prayer and steadfast in our faith. (Ref: Exodus 14:14 ESV)
Let us hold onto the promise that God is working all things out as we are diligently and faithfully waiting on him in prayer and intentionally drawing closer to him.
Enjoy this week's worship song: "Yes I WIll" by Vertical Worship.
Arlington Woods Women's Ministry Team
God is Still Present!
In these unprecedented and uncertain times, when we must practice social distancing while craving community, be encouraged to remain steadfast in the Hope that is Jesus. As Christians, we do not worry as the world does; rather, we hold onto our anchor and lean on each other.
That is what we hope to do as a community of sisters during these times - offer encouragement and support. Here are some practical ways we encourage you to stay connected as we "virtually" gather under the canopy of God's faithfulness:
- Keep in touch with one another via text messages, social media, emails, and phone calls.
- Use this time to draw closer to God through increased time in prayer and worship.
- As you are able, join the AWC Daily Evening Zoom Prayer Meetings (Online) from 7:30pm - 8:30pm.
- Consider doing an in-depth study of a book of the Bible and virtually talk it over with a friend.
- Think about journaling your thoughts and prayers during this time and then anticipate & record how God answers them.
Know that we will get through this together. May this be the time when we look more like Jesus to a world that is in desperate need of him.
Let this worship song, "With You" by Elevation Worship encourage you today.
Arlington Woods Women's Ministry Team
"Forgiveness: Why it Matters.”
Editorial Note: Forgiveness that most of us are required to give or receive may be of a different nature than the following account. However, the end result of any type of forgiveness is the same. There is healing for the person who is doing the forgiving. God is so gracious to grant that to us.
You are about to get a glimpse into one woman’s personal story about forgiveness - how she came to extend forgiveness to someone who had sexually abused her when she was a child. This is not everyone’s story, yet there may be some of you who have had similar experiences. We encourage you to not suffer in silence or alone; there are resources and support available to you. Please reach out and access them.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14, (NIV)
Forgiveness is a topic that not everyone enjoys talking about. It makes us think. Choices that have been made in life, whether it affects our life directly or not, places us in situations or circumstances where forgiveness needs to be addressed. Maybe we are not ready to look “in the mirror” and see what the reflection is telling us to do or what direction God is telling us to go.
Google gives the definition of forgiveness as “the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence. The offence may not be forgotten yet forgiven.”
I like this definition as it says that forgiveness is intentional (on purpose) and it’s a voluntary process (it’s our choice and it can take a while). Forgiveness can be instantaneous!
As believers, one of God’s amazing gifts to us is His son who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. We talk about that as salvation or forgiveness of sins.
Why does that matter? It brings purpose for us to walk a holy life with and for God. God forgives us of our sin, yet we struggle with sin and the shame that it has brought to our lives. We often find that we need to forgive "ourselves" and the choices we have made in the past, and it becomes a part of the process of working out our salvation.
Jesus’ story is about believing by faith in someone we cannot physically see. When Jesus said in Luke 23:34, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do...”, this was at the time when He was dying on the cross. Pause and think about that scene for a moment.
When you imagine the scene, is He still on the cross? Or is the cross empty like the ones often displayed in churches?
I try to picture the scene on the day HE was there suffering for our sins. I know that I can’t see it all, but I try. I see the cross as the ultimate display of FORGIVENESS.
When I was growing up, I used to listen to a song that identifies with the topic of forgiveness; I still often think about the lyrics that went like this: “He knew me, yet He loved me”. This song talks about how if it were only for me, Jesus would have still died on the cross because He knew me, yet He loved me. Have you ever wondered that for yourself? Would Jesus have died for just "you alone" on the cross? This question can produce strong feelings and conviction all at the same time.
Forgiveness evokes many questions such as, do we forgive on the basis of feeling and emotion or by choice and being obedient to what God tells us in Scripture. What chapter and verse do we find that?
Forgiveness and why it matters is a question, I believe that many of us have to deal with in our lives. Perhaps you are dealing with someone or something that requires forgiveness - either giving or receiving? What is your story?
Jesus’ story of forgiveness was shared in the Bible for a purpose. Does the forgiveness that is needed in your life hold a purpose?
My story is one of childhood sexual abuse at the ages of 11-13 within a church setting that happened many years ago. I had to deal with this because God brought the situation to a point where the abuser needed to come to a place of accountability. He needed forgiveness. Did I wake up one day and say, “He is forgiven Father.” No, I did not. It was a journey of healing and a testimony of God’s faithfulness because through that journey, I came to realize that the LIFE-GIVER (Jesus) did not abandon me.
God gives us purpose and sometimes that purpose includes forgiving others for the wrong that they have done in our lives. Wrong choices that have affected our lives, caused us pain and suffering. Because of free will, given to us by God, we often make sinful choices. These choices harm us, but we know that our God is bigger than our mistakes and He can turn our situations around and give us new life. He is the life giver and remember He doesn't abandon us!
One of the choices in my life that still has repercussions today and that I continually talk with God about is “keeping secrets”. It was a big part of my life for a long time, a learned behaviour that became a part of my identity. God knew every detail, but I was “keeping this secret” from everyone. Someone made a wrong choice and changed the course of my life. Yes, I have the ability to change how that affects my life now. Through God’s grace, my secret was brought to light. That’s what God is about. Bringing light to the dark areas of life which results in progressive healing in His strength, His love and His hope.
Today, I literally have to remind myself to “change the tape, CD, record, and the “self-talk” that I am “a failure” because of the abuse, I am not a failure, I am a survivor of my past and a daughter of God who saved me, healed me, forgave me and made me a new creation in Him.
What is your story? What has happened in your life that needs forgiveness? Why does it matter? It matters to God, YOU matter to God.
On Saturday, October 13, 2018, I will tell my story and share how God has brought me on this journey of healing and forgiveness. I will share what I believe to be the purpose and why it matters in life. Hope to see you there!
Here are some verses to get you ready for our time together on Saturday:
Mark 11:25-26, (NIV), “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Luke 6:37, (NIV), “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
By: Ruthann Wheaton
Listen to the 2-part story that inspired the Matthew West, "Forgiveness" song.
“I will set out and go back to my father…” Luke 15:18a (NIV)
There is something to be said about distance; something about picking yourself up and leaving something behind, because you no longer want to be held captive by whatever was holding you down. The older I get, the easier I can recognize it! There is often a lot said about walking away from something, and never turning back, but I want to talk about going back to something that maybe you should not have walked away from or walking away from something that you thought was not for you.
It takes a certain amount of humility to return, doesn’t it? Tail between your legs, head down to the ground, total humility. It’s about going back to your mom after being away for a while because you thought the world was better than your family or returning to a marriage you had given up on. It’s going back to a place you maybe shouldn’t have left.
It can be terrifying! It can bring you back down to earth incredibly quickly. Until it becomes a matter of returning to the place that is home; the familiar and nurturing place where you find acceptance in spite of your shortcomings.
How often have you had to return to your faith home? Or are you in a place where you need to return?
I’m not talking about a physical church building, though it could be that too, but the home that is in Christ; returning to the Father.
Does this get you thinking about the story of the prodigal son? If you’re not familiar with that parable, you can find it here. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic or severe, but a return may be the next thing that you need to do in your faith journey. This is something that has been on my own heart lately, as I began to sense a disconnect; a bit of a distance from “home”.
Recently, I returned to a job which I had boldly left months ago. I was onto bigger and better things and was ready to become a full-fledged independent boss lady. Pretty quickly, I realized that this new place, that seemed shiny when I was looking from a distance, really wasn’t for me. Though I always had the option of returning to my original position, I knew that it would take a certain amount of humility, admitting I made a wrong move, and that I missed the place I called my “work home”. I remember how nervous I was to tell my former boss, that I wanted to come back. I was expecting a bit of frustration, even rejection, and was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome back I received.
It was like receiving the prodigal son’s robe, ring and celebration – I received a warm hug, and pure joy that I had returned. I’ve never felt more valued in a work setting before!
Jesus is like this – though better! When we stray, and honestly, we will all have seasons when we are a bit farther away from Him than others; it’s the ebb and flow of a human relationship with a Holy God. But He is waiting for us; arms open, with a warm hug, and our very own robes, rings and celebration. We see this in a series of parables recorded in Luke 15. In each of the illustrations, something is lost, and each time, the owner, representing the Father, searches for it; leaving the other items (99) to search for the one.
It’s so amazing to me when anyone gives me a second chance, but especially when God, the perfect being gives me chance, after chance, after chance. I screw up in countless ways and would have given up on me a long time ago. Thankfully, God never will.
I’m not sure what your story is; maybe you’re in a great place with your faith, where you’re excited to meet God every day. Maybe you’re feeling a bit over it, going through the motions, like you’re trying for no reason because nothing changes (hello, I’ve been there). Maybe you’ve given up all together, and are ready to move to the next place, city, relationship, job, family.... I’m not sure where this message meets you, but I hope it encourages you to return to your home, return to the place that can’t go wrong, even when it feels like there is a better way, a better, shinier home. There isn’t one.
Will it be easy? Probably not. Usually, when we have to return to our faith home, it means leaving behind a bit of mess. Maybe it’s a life of deceit, or a relationship that reduces you, or even habits that will lead to destruction. But take the step, He will meet you, and help you.
It’s never too late, never met with anger and you will not be turned away. You will be received with warmth and acceptance. Ask God for the courage to return and the humility to go back and start again.
By: Yelena & Yolande Knight
Allow these powerful, yet simple lyrics of this song "I Wanna Go Back" by David Dunn to resonate with you.