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
ARLINGTON WOODS CHURCH DAILY PRAYER TIME
Editorial Note: Both Larry & Janet McClung regularly lead the Tuesday night prayers at Arlington Woods Church. As Larry describes in this guest post, when COVID-19 restrictions were implemented by the Province, this led to some God-inspired creativity. We are thankful to Larry for providing this post which will be sure to inspire your prayer life.
How do you react when God whispers, asking you to do something unusual? Something that should fail?
In mid-March we, like others, were faced with the inability to use our church building for any activity, including gathering for prayer on Tuesday evenings. Man said – just use Zoom (ignoring the fact that more than half of the people who attended had never heard of Zoom). God added – and do it every night (yes, even weekends). We chose to trust God (isn’t that why we pray, because we trust Him, and want to hear from Him?). So, starting on the following Tuesday evening (March 17), we held a Zoom-based prayer meeting that continues to meet every evening, now into June. We were pleasantly surprised when a slightly larger group than normal appeared in the Zoom windows; we were even more surprised when the numbers continued to rise on the second and third nights and, after 11 weeks, have remained higher than our former once-a-week meeting.
Traditional shut-ins can attend as easily as all of us new shut-ins. People that rely on public transit can get there just as fast as those who own cars. Parents of young children can arrive only a minute after tucking the last child into bed – or even while cuddling a fussy child, if they know how to use the mute button. People can arrive late or leave early without disrupting the meeting. And God is still in the room – every room – just as in our “normal” prayer times.
Even more satisfying, while deliberately allowing “social” time, the focus of the gathering has remained on prayer. This includes prayer that we will be protected from the debilitating effects of the pandemic, or that specific individuals will be strengthened as they face troubling situations. But a core element of the prayer time remains on praying that God will continue to break down barriers between our church and our community, taking us out into the community and bringing community members into God’s kingdom – which does not require a building.
By: Larry McClung
Listen to "One Moment" by Highlands Worship about how time spent with God changes everything!
RACE & RESTORATION IN THE CHURCH
Like many of you, I have been saddened and deeply hurt by the incidents of injustice and racism that have flooded our airways over the past two weeks. As a Black woman, this has hit close to home because, though I do not have a son; I have nephews, and Black brothers-in-law, friends with Black young men, and male friends who are Black and I feel the angst and pain they suffer whenever their Black men leave their homes, afraid they would not return, ending up another victim.
I recognize that many of you reading this post are white and do not understand why this pain is so real to Black people because you’ve not had encounters with racism. It’s even difficult for many of us to explicitly share our feelings because it’s hard to find the right words to express what we feel in a way that you may comprehend. Or some may even fear repercussion for being considered an “activist”. Every Black person I know, in Canada and the U.S., has had an encounter that they would classify as having racial undertones, running the gamut of outright racism to covert prejudice.
Over the past few weeks, I have gone out of my way to re-educate myself on the issues of race and inequality that permeate our society and what the church’s response should be, as I believe, the church can lead the way in fostering restoration. The Bible commands us to do so in several places (Isaiah 1:17; 58:6-7, Micah 6:8).
In fact, before we get to the so-called "Proverbs 31 Woman" found in Proverbs 31:10-31, verses 8 and 9 ask us to speak up for those being crushed. I could not escape the impact of that word “crushed” in view of the recent events in Minneapolis as the phrase “I can’t breathe” kept going through my mind.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice. (Prov 31:8-9 NLT)
So, I’d like to share a powerful resource with you that I believe, sheds light on the issue of racism in North America from a Christian perspective. Understanding the issue is a first step toward finding a solution. The interview was initiated by Christine Caine, a white Christian woman who founded the anti-trafficking organization, a21. Christine spoke to a Black Christian Mental Health Therapist, Dr. Anita Phillips, about how white people can help in the fight against racism as we all seek an end to injustice.
Dr. Anita, who specializes in trauma, explains that the problem is deeper than racism; it is about dehumanization – a term that may be foreign to some but that brings clarity to a complex social issue. I hope that you will take the time to listen with an open heart and be prepared to learn a few things.
Similarly, I would direct you to a recent research on the topic, “What is the church’s role in Racial Reconciliation” that was conducted by Barna Group, a research firm that conducts research related to faith and values. This study was published in July 2019, 400 years after slaves were brought to America and is also an enlightening read.
Like the late Dr. Martin Luther King, I am confident that we will get to the mountaintop; I hope we do so in some of our lifetimes.
By: Yolande A. Knight
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO DIG INTO THE OLD TESTAMENT!
August 2017, the month I chose to turn to God and run in his direction. Sometime later that month, I found a local Christian store and walked into it ready to conquer the Word of the Almighty! With fresh interest in the Word, I was excited and determined! I walked out of, what would soon be, my new favourite store with a pack of gel highlighters, colourful pens and a plain black journaling Bible.
God must have been cheering me on because he had waited for this moment for 23 years and finally here, I was, approaching his throne with a smile on my face and a fierce fire in my soul.
It has now been almost 3 years since that day, and I have read through the vast majority of the Bible. I must say the Old Testament is truly something special!
I mean, we all love Jesus and he is an extremely important part of how the story ties together, but sometimes we tend to forget why we need Jesus. It is so much easier to embrace the New Testament with all the goodies packed inside just the first 4 books! And it’s amazing to read all the wisdom filled letters from Paul, especially being in prison when he wrote 7 of those letters over the course of 3 years. Amazing!
Before I give you 3 of my favourite reasons why reading the Old Testament is so important, I want to give you a little history. I decided to begin reading the Old Testament from Genesis and work my way through; by the time I got to Deuteronomy, I dropped down to my knees in serious praise. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I prayed to God, feeling so ashamed of every little thing I’d ever done, knowing that through it all he never stopped loving me. I can truly say that was the first day my eyes were actually opened, and I had an understanding heart.
How appreciative I am to have a God who still loves me no matter what! A God who knew we would all need Jesus! A God who did not just leave us hanging out to dry on a cold day, but a God who invited us into his palace to be with him and get to know him personally through Jesus!
We must never take the Old Testament for granted and must educate ourselves through the Old Testament as to why Jesus had to come.
We understand the main points: He died for our sins, he is the way, the truth, the light, but why? Why did Jesus do what he did and why does he claim to love us so much?
So, here are my 3 reasons why reading the Old Testament is so important and why it should NEVER be watered down!
- We need to get rid of our boastful attitudes and humble ourselves before the Lord. Reading the Old Testament is the perfect way to do this. (Ref. Psalm 12:3 NIV)
Reading 3-4 chapters of the Old Testament daily can really transform your heart and your understanding of God’s true love for us. Sin is just as bad now as it was back then, as it will be 1000 years from now.
You might be thinking: “I’m not as bad as the people back in the Old Testament days.”
And I would reply: “Maybe not, but we’re still very sinful.”
For example; people cheat on their taxes, steal items from stores, remove discount tags and attach them to an item in their carts and think nothing about committing those kinds of sins. Lying, whether big or small is sin. There’s talking about others behind their backs and mistreating others because they look or act a certain way that’s different from you. We can be really mean, rude and hurtful and those are all sins in God’s eyes. So, thank God we do NOT have to bring animal sacrifices every time we sin!
- The Old Testament also teaches us on how to pray through every situation - when they didn’t have Jesus as their example.
The Old Testament is filled with real people going through some really hard situations. These folks also did not have Jesus as their guide; they trusted in a very invincible God with mighty powers!
God knows we are going to fail; he is not condemning us for that. He wants us to learn how to fully rely on Him and not on ourselves, our pleasures or our friends. Bear your troubles at the Lord’s feet. He wants to hear from you; He wants to help you!
Nehemiah was a perfect example of a man of prayer not just for himself but for Israel! (Nehemiah 1:3-11)
Would you say you have a healthy prayer life? Would you say you have a vital connection to the Lord? He wants to know your heart not your practiced or repetitive prayers.
As Sheila Walsh puts it, “what would you ask Jesus for if you could see Him? If He was sitting right across from you at your kitchen table, listening, inviting you to ask for anything that was on your heart, what would you ask for?” (Praying Women by Sheila Walsh)
Putting prayer this way could really change your perspective on who you’re actually praying to - an almighty God with might powers!
- The tough books should be read to realize our sins are not far off from theirs, and this is why we need Jesus.
One of the most common sins most people don’t put much thought into is their words. We might not kill people, but there are some serious consequences with the words we use; some words have driven others to suicide. Let’s be real, our tongues are no laughing matter when used at a disadvantage to others! (Ref. Psalm 52:2 NIV)
So, here’s the thing; we might not enjoy reading everything in the Old Testament, but shall I remind you, the Old Testament isn’t meant to make us feel comfortable. The Bible is a book about God and who He is! It’s about God's unfailing love for His people no matter how rebellious they were, and no matter how rebellious we still are!
Time and time again I’ve heard the same reason why people avoid the Old Testament - the violence! It can be uncomfortable to read about all the murderous activities, but it should be read to help everyone understand how much more they needed a Saviour just as we do now.
We see real people chasing after God’s own heart, getting down on their knees and tearing their clothes in true agony, weeping out loud, begging the Lord for help. And then we see people tearing down temples and sacrificing their children to Baal just because they could. So thankfully we have two sides to one large story; two examples we should follow:
- The Old Testament folks should be our leading example of what NOT to do.
- Jesus as our PRIME example of what to do.
If we are always reading just one side of a good story, eventually we start overlooking what’s actually good about it. Sounds a little funny right? But it’s the truth!
All things aside, are YOU in his Word? The Lord is waiting for you to chase after His heart and get to know Him through His Word which He graciously gave to us. The Lord wants to hear from YOU!
Thank you, Father, thank you for your Word!
Thank you for our beloved Saviour Jesus Christ and everything He had to endure to become our Saviour.
I pray over the wonderful women who are reading this article which You guided me to write.
I pray you give each and every one of them renewed excitement in their souls, to open up their Bibles and turn to the Old Testament and start digging into your grace and forever unfailing love and guidance.
Lord, be with each and every one of these women, guide them as they journey back with a grateful heart and open their eyes to new perspectives.
Thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do!
In Jesus’ name
By: Sheena Frederick
Photo Credit: All photos used were provided by Sheena.
Below is a photo of Sheena with her first Bible!
Listen to the deep lyrics of one of Cory Asbury's latest songs: "The Father's House".
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"