Dying Grace.

734117_10153674637135594_718303557_nRight before Christmas my 84 year old Nana had a stroke. She’s a feisty one. She lives alone, still walks to her part-time job and stay up until all hours of the night. She called 911 herself when she felt her speech starting to slur. It’s a miracle she’s still alive. She’s been left almost paralyzed on the right side and she’s quite weak and tired but we are so thankful she’s still with us.

We’ve been spending lots of time at the hospital with Nana. My mom and my uncle are there pretty much everyday. A little while ago my Mom and I spent the afternoon with Nana. We washed and cut her hair because the length was bothering her. We painted her nails and massaged her legs with cream and we chatted while she went in and out of sleeping.

At one point I sat and watched as my mom fed her mom dinner. I listened as she spoke softly to Nana and encouraged her to eat just a little bit more. I watched as she adjusted the blankets on nana’s bed, brushed her teeth and took her dentures out for her. As I watched daughter care for mother, I could not help but think that it was Nana who gave birth to my mom and now here they are years later in a hospital room with roles that are very much reversed. Isn’t life a funny thing? The way that it changes us from child to adult, from daughter to mother, from receiver to care-giver. The way that it takes from us before we’re ready to let go. The way that it gives us gifts when we least expect it. Isn’t it funny how life ebbs and flows?

Life is not static; it never stays the same. Life forces us to change and to adapt. The tension makes us fight and cry and search for safe places and arms to land in. It’s the tension that makes me hug my mom a little longer and tell my dad that I’m so glad he has life in his veins. It is the tension that makes me search for joy and laughter because we need more everywhere. No, life does not stay the same.

As I watch my Nana struggle to recover, I’ve been thinking about our bodies and how they get to a point when they just won’t work like they used to. They grow tired and slow and it’s kind of like they are longing for heaven, to be new again. Being young, I struggle to appreciate this. But my Nana is 84 years old and she has earned those wrinkles. She has lived a full life and while I dearly hope that it’s not her time to go yet, especially because she’s told me she plans to be at my wedding, (and only Jesus knows when that day might be) I realize that her body and her mind are starting to long for heaven. And it just might be harder for me to think about letting her go than it is for her to think about going home to heaven.

I’ve heard about this thing called dying grace. It’s extra grace given to those who are getting ready to die. It’s this type of peace that those of us without it just can’t understand. It’s the kind of grace we all hope to have when our time comes. Even now I can’t understand it because I long for life, a long life lived to the fullest. I hate death, I hate thinking about loss and separation. to the point that I feel great anxiety when I start to ponder these things. But as I have begun to watch my Nana in the last stages of her life, whether it will be weeks, months or a few years that she has left, I have become so aware of the beauty there is in aging. It’s this helpless type of beauty that breaks down all of society’s notions of what beauty is. Aging creates a longing for heaven in a new way. One day, and I do hope it’s a long way off, I hope that when my grandchildren look into my eyes and speak with me in my last days, I hope that I will long for heaven. I hope that my years of living life fully will bring me to the time where I long to go home and walk beside my saviour.

My prayer for my Nana is more life here on earth, but if God’s plan for her is life in heaven, then I ask for dying grace for her. I ask for a deep longing for heaven to exist in her soul, one that surrounds her with peace and a deep excitement to meet Jesus face to face. Dying grace that takes away her fear of dying, her fear of separation and any longing for this world.

While I pray for dying grace for her, I pray for living grace for the rest of us. Grace that reminds us to live fully while we can. Grace that allows us to keep going when we feel the separation and loss of those we love most. Grace that reminds us that life ebbs and flows and our seasons of grief will not last forever. Grace that whispers to us that we’re not alone.

So today, this evening, this morning, this afternoon, wherever you find yourself, I pray that you will experience living grace, right where you are. And may you hear Jesus whisper to you that “you are not alone”.

Start Again.

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I have come to believe that sometimes in life you have to give yourself permission to start again.

After finishing a rough first semester where I failed miserably at life, I am now embarking on my final semester of my undergrad (insert shouts of “finally” here). As the Christmas season is over and the new year has been ushered in with the clinking of glasses, the kiss at midnight and echoes of things we will change this year. As 2013 is no longer, I have been thinking about what it means to start fresh.

I think there are many of us who aren’t very good at letting ourselves off the hook. These are the sensitive, guilt-ridden worrying types. These are the overachievers, the perfectionists and the ones who think too much. They are the ones who have grace for others but leave little for themselves. We feel the weight of expectation, when in fact the heaviest burdens come from the expectations we have for ourselves. We are our own worst enemies. And this year, in 2014, it’s time for a heavy dose of grace, for ourselves. Because sometimes it’s ok not to have straight A’s. It’s ok not to take on every burden that passes your way, and it’s ok to make some time just to breathe and just be, in fact it’s time you did that.

So in 2014 I’m deciding to start again. I’m choosing to create some margin in my life. Margin for coffee and sleep and a good book. Margin for seeing the gifts right in front of my eyes, margin for visiting my Nana in the hospital, margin for dinner with my Mama, margin to be more aware of Jesus and the ways he’s moving in my life. And maybe 2014 is your year for creating some margin in your life. Maybe you need some margin to stay in your pyjamas all day, margin to go the gym or take that cooking class. I’m starting to realize that it’s in the margins where we often find Jesus, and when we don’t make time for them, we so easily miss him. And it’s our loss.

So here’s to a fresh start, here’s to creating margin, and here’s to giving myself permission to let myself off the hook every once in a while. Because I don’t want to miss the life that comes from creating margin.

Welcome 2014, let’s start again.

Imagine: A Guest Post by Natalie Frisk

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I love John Lennon’s song “Imagine” minus the first verse. I just don’t want to imagine “no heaven.” I like heaven. But imagine: no countries, no religion, no possessions – sounds a whole lot like the kingdom of God, doesn’t it?

I don’t think Lennon had any idea or intent to point to a kingdom theology in his song, but he sure does. No international borders, no religious trappings, no possessions that stand in the way of relationships – this is the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus declared, unlocked the door to, and laid down his life to usher in.

And so, when Jesus said love your enemy, I think he meant it. I think he also showed it with incredible implications. The cross is often pointed to as the ultimate act of enemy love – Jesus died for all people. Imagine. People who warred against him. People who insulted him. People who hurt him.

But Jesus also does something incredible the night he is betrayed. A mob is coming to take him to his death. (A mob, in fact, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders – imagine your church leadership sending a mob after someone.) As this happens, they take hold of Jesus and one of his disciples busts out a sword and lops off the ear of the servant of the high priest.

Jesus practices enemy love. He is in the act of being arrested. He knows that his arrest will lead to painful things and end in his death, and yet, here he is stopping a scene from going from bad to worse to more bloodshed. Jesus stops them from further violence. But he doesn’t end his efforts there.

Jesus restores. Despite the fact that the injured man was coming to arrest him and lead him to his inevitable end, Jesus stops the violence and heals this man. This enemy. He doesn’t leave him wounded. He doesn’t simply help this man find a bandage. He restores him.

Imagine.

Imagine if we took a play from Jesus’ book. Imagine if we could lay down our own feelings of betrayal or pride or hurt and seek the same kind of restoration. What would that look like?

I know there is a cynical voice somewhere who says, “But I’m not Jesus.” You’re right. Thank God you aren’t. But we are called to be more like him each day. And what does it look like to be more like Jesus? To lay aside our own feelings of personal injustice, of pride, or of betrayal and love unconditionally?

It looks hard. It looks like work. But it isn’t impossible.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.”

Imagine.

And then live it.

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485743_484959431574895_2036711021_nNatalie Frisk is the Curriculum Development Pastor at The Meeting House Church – a multi-site church in Ontario, Canada, and an ordained minister with the Brethren in Christ denomination in Canada. She is married to Sam and together they have an awesome daughter, Erin Penny.

Read more of Natalie’s writing at nataliefrisk.com and follow her on twitter @NatalieFrisk. 

Confession: I Failed Miserably at Life This Semester…

tumblr_lkmt6fBcvp1qhn4sdo1_500_largeI took a blogging hiatus for almost three weeks. I didn’t intend to. It happened because of two weeks of last minute papers, a week of exams and you know, having a total breakdown.

So here’s my confession: this semester has been a total gong show and in very many ways, a total failure on my part. Somewhere along the way I started believing that in order to have a full life without regrets, it means saying yes to everything. It means trying to be everything for everyone. It means attempting to be the fixer of all problems, and the carrier of all burdens. In trying to be fully present and not saying no because of being afraid of missing out on something, and in my attempt to try to do it all, I have failed miserably at life this semester. I took on things so I could have more life and together, all combined, they ended up sucking the life right out of me.

Last week while I was having a very candid conversation with one of my professors about an essay grade that I was not very happy with, he broke me down with a few unexpected words. I was being defensive and trying to cover up my lack of effort when he told me that he knew I hadn’t given the assignment 100%, and he felt like I had been coasting through his class. Those words struck my heart like a bullet; they were like poison to my overachieving soul, but they broke me. Everything that had been building came out. I cried, I confessed far too much, I said I was sorry, I said that I was ashamed, that I’ve never been this person, that it’s not who I am. And in those very raw moments, my professor turned into my pastor and offered me something I so desperately needed: grace.

Prior to that conversation, I never would have admitted that I thought I could do it all. Yet, I think deep down I really did think I could do it all. I thought I could be everything to everyone. And now, after a semester that has left me utterly exhausted, with a tank on empty, I’m finally ready to admit that I can’t do it all. Because trying to do it all robs you of joy and fun and rest. It robs you of having time to really see people, instead of blankly staring at them while you think about everything else you have to do. It robs you of patience, and time and of bring able to breath deeply.

And I’ve found that there are two beings that it robs. First, it robs me. My body gets the shaft because I don’t make time to get the proper rest, I don’t make time to eat right and exercise and do the things that fill me up so that I can pour out. And so what happens is that by doing more, I really have less to give and offer others.

The second being it robs is Jesus. I’d like to say that in my efforts to do it all, I put Jesus first, but I can’t. He gets put on the back burner because after all, it’s all for him. Right? My manager said to me the other day that you can do ministry without God. It’s a simple thought and probably obvious to most, but it hit me when she said it. Have I been doing that? Have I been going so fast that I haven’t left any margin for Jesus to actually fill me? Maybe he doesn’t actually want me to be doing everything I’m doing? Could it be? And furthermore, in robbing Jesus of my time, I’ve also robbed myself of his presence. So I get robbed twice.

I’ve felt like a failure for the past week because I couldn’t do it all. I’ve felt like a disappointment to God because I’m supposed to be his superstar servant and I came up short. And the guilt flows easily in my tired and anxious state. I want to throw in the towel because the bar is too high and I’ve always been able to reach it, until now.

So as I enter into this week of celebration and rest, I cling to the promise that his burden is light and his yoke is easy. I’m clinging to that part where Jesus tells me to cast all of my stuff on him. I’m clinging to that story in the Bible when God gave David rest because that’s what he needed. I’m holding on to that small voice that whispers that despite failing, somehow I’m still enough. I wish it would shout it at me, maybe then it would sink in and take root.

If denial is the first step then I’m hoping confession puts me a little farther down the line. So here’s to the ones who like me thought, or still think they can do it all. May you find grace when you hit burn out and realize your expectations of yourself are not God’s (thank goodness).

And may you trade your burden for his because his yoke is easy.

Choose Life…

45844-Always-Choose-LifeThis has been a rough fall for many people in my circles of life. I can’t ignore the dark shadow that death brings. I’ve written about several of these things – suicide, sudden death, a little boy with an inoperable tumour. Just this past week a young man who was my neighbour growing up was in a terrible work accident and his family is at the hospital waiting for him to take his last breath.

My heart breaks for each person that is affected by these things. My heart aches for the journey of grief that each will embark on.

I remember when I knew that my brother was going to die. I remember sitting at the computer staring out the kitchen window while trying to write the tribute that I would deliver at his memorial. Waiting for someone to die is inexplainable. Your every word is spoken with purpose. Your prayers become desperate. You try and make sense of this. People often say that if only they knew that someone was going to die, they would have done things differently. But you never expect to get to know, to have to wait. And when the person is young, it wreaks havoc on everything you thought you knew about the world.

I called my Mom the other day. I told her I just needed to talk to her, to hear her voice, to tell her that I love her, that I’m thankful for her, that I’m scared that something will happen. The events of this fall have made me scared to walk out my front door. Fear of what will happen next? Thinking about how much we don’t know about life, how we can make plans but sometimes they are futile.

But I can’t cling to my fear. I have to fight this dark cloud that threatens to consume all joy, all hope, and all peace. I have to pray that hope for those who can’t pray it for themselves. I have to seek out every opportunity to laugh, and to sing, and to dance. I have to celebrate life every single chance I can because I can’t seem to rid myself of the thought that there are people choosing to end their lives when there are others so desperately trying to hold onto it, who are wishing for more time.

My University president spoke at the memorial of the young man from our school who took his life a few weeks ago. He spoke on two words: “choose life”. This is the message that’s been ringing in my ears ever since, choose life. But not just to choose life over death, but to choose life when the darkness overwhelms you.

Choose life when others speak words of hate.
Choose life when you’re full of anger and sadness.
Choose life when the world is spinning with confusion.
Choose life when you think you have no purpose.
Choose life when you feel like you have no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Choose life, choose it even when you don’t feel it coursing through your veins.
Choose to participate in the moments that bring life, even when you don’t feel like it.

Jesus came to give us life, and give it abundantly. When we know him, we get the opportunity to know that life doesn’t end here on earth, there is so much more.

BUT…

Yes, there’s a but. But, Jesus also came to give us life here on earth. Life in our relationships, in our homes and schools and places of work. Life in our souls, the kind of life that runs through us and seeps into the places where we find ourselves.

So please, whether you are suffering, mourning, grieving, rejoicing, dancing or just going through your days in a state of numbness, please know that there is still life, and it was made for you.

Choose life, even when it hurts and when it doesn’t make sense.

And know that Jesus can bring life to the emptiest of places. And when someone you know forgets this and when they need to hear it most, remind them. Share with them some of your life, some of the life that is running through your veins. Sometimes Jesus uses us to give others life, life that they have lost and life that some of them have never found.

So choose life, choose it so you can give it.

It’s About Time We Talked About It…

5STR828CV28HGEDA-rszw514As I sit here and I write, I have to admit my burden is heavy.

It sits on my chest. The day seems somewhat grey and there’s a fog that seems to be sitting over my part of the world.

I spent the weekend up north for a youth retreat. I hung out with some of the most amazing kids. We laughed and danced and sang songs of worship. I watched in awe as Jesus captured the hearts of so many students, some for the very first time.

I needed to see that happen again. I needed to remember what it looks like when God captures your attention for the first time. There was something that happened deep in my soul as I heard a student utter that they never knew that God loved them until now. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.

On that same day I heard about two people from two very different parts of my world, that died. The kind of death you don’t expect, the kind that shocks you to the core. The kind that makes you want to tell everyone important in your life that you love them. The kind that makes you breathe just a little bit deeper and hug just a little bit longer.

On the same day that my heart rejoiced for those kids that experienced Jesus in a new way, my heart broke because one man took his life and another man lost it. I am reminded once again of the tension of this life.

This weekend student after student poured out their hearts to trusted leaders. Things came to the surface that have been buried down deep for so long. The things that these kids are facing these days astounds me. Yesterday morning I heard one friend say that she was speaking to a guidance counsellor at a local school, they told her that she shouldn’t be alarmed that one kid was considering suicide because it’s normal these days, most kids do it.

I’m sorry, what?

When did this become ok? When did it become “normal” for most of our kids to be contemplating suicide? When did life become so hopeless that the only way out was to end it all?

Who told you that you are worthless?

Who told you that you don’t have a choice?

Who told you that no one cares?

Have we done this to ourselves?

Well, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of not talking about it. I’m sick of the idea that in order to follow Jesus and belong to the church you have to have it all together.

Where is it getting us?

Instead of creating safe places, we’ve created a culture of guilt and shame.

You’re depressed?

Anxious?

Bulimic?

Bi-polar?

Schizophrenic?

HIV positive?

Have same gender attraction?

Suicidal?

Don’t talk about it. Pretend it’s not there. Pray about it. Don’t think about it. Blah blah blah.

We use language of shame and guilt. We create a culture of spiritual abuse.

And this is what we want to invite people into?

I don’t want to do it anymore. We need to talk about it. We need to acknowledge that in this day and age more people are struggling with mental illnesses than ever before. It doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian, it doesn’t mean God loves you less, and it doesn’t mean you’re sick or screwed up. But we can’t be quiet anymore. Because there are too many people walking around dying inside and putting on a smile so no one knows.

I have anxiety. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. A few years ago it got so bad that I started having panic attacks. My thoughts would make me so anxious that nothing could calm me down. I hated myself. I was frustrated with God because he wouldn’t take it away. I felt like no one could understand what was going on inside of me. I was so ashamed that I was struggling with this. I thought that going to see a counsellor meant I was crazy. I thought that only crazy people needed medication. And so I suffered in my worry, until I read this book by a young Mom who talked about how everyone should see a counsellor at some point in their life. She talked about creating space when you’re young to work out your “junk”. Somehow, those words in that chapter freed me. I decided I should talk to a counsellor. My anxiety got so bad that I started to feel like I couldn’t go on living this way. So I did some research and as I looked and read stories of people, I realized that there were others struggling just like I was. I started taking some medication to help with my anxiety about 3 years ago, and it’s actually changed my life for the better. I started seeing a counsellor, who I went to for about 2 years, which also helped me work through a lot of my feelings of guilt and shame.

As I started to feel better, I became more and more open with people about my struggle with anxiety, with coming to grips with the fact that I needed help and that I couldn’t do it on my own. As I started to share with people, they started to talk about their own struggle with similar things. It was like a domino effect, and I found that people need to talk about it. They need to know that they’re not alone, that their struggle shouldn’t make them feel ashamed, that there is hope and help and a light at the end of the tunnel. I started to find that the more freedom there was to talk about these things, the more the walls of stereotype and stigma came down.

God didn’t heal me of my anxiety. I still struggle with it daily. I still take stuff to help me. I still have days where I feel like I’m having a heart attack because I have so much anxiety. People can’t see it from the outside. Most people would never look at me and think, oh she must really struggle with anxiety, or she’s for sure had those dark moments that seemed so hopeless, where her parents didn’t even know what to do with her. God didn’t just take it away. This has been a long journey for me. A long journey of becoming comfortable with who I am, with owning the fact that I’ve got some junk and God doesn’t always just fix it. Sometimes he chooses to walk with us through it, because that’s how we learn to know him. He wants that for us so badly. So maybe in a way God did heal me, just not from what I thought I needed healing from. I’m tired of this “healing language” that tells us that we can always pray our problems away. Sometimes, God chooses to take it away but most times he chooses to jump in the mud with us and help us find our way.

And usually we find that there’s a whole lot more people in the mud than not, and they need us. They need us to share our story, they need us to come alongside them and tell them it’s not always going to be this hard. This is true community, and this is what the Church should be.

So please, can we just talk about it. Whatever it is, wherever you find yourself, find a safe person and just talk about it.

Be a safe person and listen.

Actively break down those walls.

Stand up against the language of guilt and shame.

Cast it out.

Call it out.

Declare that there’s no place for it.

My burden is heavy because I don’t want my students to grow up having to keep it all in. I don’t want them to think that the church is a place where perfect people live. I want it to be a safe space, with safe people, where they can share without shame.

We have to start somewhere.

So, where will you start?

Living In The Tension

This morning in my medieval theology class we watched a short film depicting the life of a large group of Byzantine monks that live on a secluded mountain in Greece. It’s fascinating to see their way of life, their commitment to constant prayer and meditation. At one point in the film, one of the monks talks about how the goal of their life is to prepare for death because then they will finally be fully present with God.

There were a lot of things in the film that stood out to me, but nothing struck me more than this idea that a monk spends his life waiting to die.

I think that there are many things that we can learn from the monks, about their devotion to daily prayer, their work ethic and their commitment to reflection, but I have to admit that the idea of spending my days preparing to die does not appeal to me whatsoever. Perhaps, it’s due to the fact that I’m pretty grateful for life. You only have to hear a few stories of people fighting cancer or some life threatening condition to realize that while some are waiting to die, others are fighting to live. Is this not the tension of life?

The tension is that while some people are wasting their time in meaningless pursuits, someone is trying to suck every last drop of meaning from their pursuits. The thought that one person hates their life enough to take it, and in the same city another person would give anything just to have one more day. We live in the tension.

And yet I can’t seem to forget that Jesus was the one who said he came to bring life and bring it to the fullest. I can’t help but wonder what we miss in the present while spending our time focusing on the future. One day I want to be with Jesus in heaven but right now I want to be with Jesus on earth. I want to experience him in my everyday life. I want to see heaven crash into earth; to watch in wonder as the presence of Jesus transforms the dark corners of the world and the deepest places of people’s hearts.

I don’t want to focus on death when I’ve been given the gift of life. These days go by so quickly and we aren’t promised tomorrow, but we have today. A few summers ago I got the opportunity to work at a community church in Kitchener, Ontario. During my summer I got the opportunity to hang out with a very special family. Megan and Nathan Maier have 4 beautiful boys, all full of life and spunk and each with their own unique personality. The second oldest is Leif, who is 5. The Maier’s just found out that Leif has an inoperable brain tumour. My heart breaks at the thought of sweet little Leif and his family having to face this. I ask you to pray for healing for Leif, for strength and extra grace for him and his family. I don’t understand why these things happen but I know Jesus is fully present with this family, and with this little boy. They don’t have to wait to experience His presence, He is with them right now. We plead for a full life for Leif, for time to run and play and learn and grow, but more than this we plead that Jesus would be so very real to Leif and to his family. May they know the strong and healing presence of Jesus in life, despite what may happen.

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Jesus invades our darkest moments, hears our deepest cries and His presence fills the emptiest of spaces. While some are begging for more of life, others are wishing it away.

May you spend today living life to the full, because Jesus came so that you can. So do it today, because today is the gift we have been given.

Why The “Christian Life” Isn’t Worth Living: A Blog by Kurt Willems

I have a friend named Kurt, who is a prominent blogger from the States. He’s been a big inspiration for me concerning all things in the blogosphere. He’s graciously allowed this post from his blog to appear here on my site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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For most of my life, I focused my faith on knowing Jesus through morality management. More accurately, Jesus was savior and the Spirit was the voice that helped give me the strength to avoid things like cussing, gossip, lust, and pride. Getting through a single day where those sins were avoided meant a major victory as I walked closer to Christ.

In college, a new sort of emphasis emerged in my Christian journey. Instead of seeing discipleship as a system of sin management, I discovered the red letters of Scripture. These words of Jesus (along with the actions of Christ that aren’t in red) propelled me in a new direction: justice.

Compulsively, I would give a few bucks to homeless people as they asked. In my youth curriculum (while I served as a youth pastor), more of the emphasis moved toward Christian activism. That is not to say that I didn’t care about relational aspects of knowing God, but that justice (at times superficial forms there of) became a primary emphasis. As a result many areas became important in my personal life: signing every progressive petition that would lead to influencing the system for the poor, avoiding stores that are known for their social Darwinism, and purchasing anything I could find that is organic.

It would be safe to say that I went from conservative evangelical focuses to a progressive faith emphasis. Still holding to the essentials of the Christian theology, but believing that true discipleship meant doing certain things. It’s interesting to me looking back: at one end of the pendulum of my faith journey I tried to avoid things, and at the other end of the swing I tried to do things. Both attempts at living the Christian life miss the point of discipleship – completely!

Which begs the question: What’s the point?

I’m becoming convinced that both polarities of holiness miss the point. We aren’t supposed to live as though God is a cop, ready to bust us each time we sin. Neither does God call us to work ourselves so hard that we become void of spiritual vitality.In this sense, the Christian life isn’t worth living.

I’ve quoted Dallas Willard elsewhere but this is worth noting a second time:

“Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth.  These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Chrsitlikeness, were put forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays.  Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.  For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser…  True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.”[1]

This “responding like Jesus would” impulse comes to us in many places – like the Sermon on the Mount – but also in 1 Peter 2:

21 You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. 22 He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. 23 When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Did you notice the reason that Jesus was able to endure such horrendous violence? Jesus “entrusted himself” to his heavenly Father. Prior to enduring the sufferings of the cross, with beads mixed of sweat and blood dripping down his brow, he humbly accepted the will of God the Father. In that painful, yet intimate moment, Jesus’ relationship to God took the ultimate leap forward, a deep knowing that led to a profound trust.

Jesus had chosen to know the Father’s will so much that it determined the natural impulses of his actions toward his enemies. Peter invites us to model our lives in the same way. How do we live as people of peace? The answer begins with “entrusting” ourselves to God, allowing the life of God to transform our character. When this happens, enduring unjust treatment via nonviolence will become part of our second nature.

The same is true of every other justice issue. God empowers us to become the sort of people whose impulses are bent toward love, and this happens when we create space in our lives to know God intimately. Justice and spirituality go together!

And, what of my former moral management approach to faith? Well, the sort of morality that God desires is a morality formed by the Spirit of Christ. Anything that looks like self-help strategies to administer a sin prevention plan misses the point of holiness all together. Christ wants to make our impulses bent toward holiness, including social justice, not dependent on our own legalistic strategies.

Certainly, we ought to also practice doing justice and living morally, even when we feel spiritually deflated. Those moments also work toward intimacy with God. In fact,in serving is how many people come to know Jesus the most. The risk is that we allow all of our doing to replace moments with God in our own Garden of Gethsemane, when some of the most profound “entrusting” and character formation by the Spirit takes place. No wonder Jesus often got alone for prayer before major Kingdom moments.

The Christian life isn’t worth living as I used to understand it. Instead, what if we all chose to allow the life of God to live in and among us? With such a reframe, holiness coupled with justice might just become more like second nature.


[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives,7-8.

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378429_307809582593130_190381821_nKurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is leading a church planting project in partnership with Urban Expression and the Brethren in Christ in Seattle, WA.  He writes at The Pangea Blog and is also on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.  Kurt is a contributing writer for Red Letter Christians, and has also written for Relevant MagazinePrismIn PartThe Ooze,Emergent VillageMennonite Weekly ReviewConverge Magazine, and Sojourners.

It’s Your Breath In Our Lungs…

I want to love Jesus.

I want Him to be enough for me.

I want to know it in my head and feel it in my heart.

And yet, sometimes I go through these periods where I feel so far from Jesus. Where it is such a struggle for me to believe that Jesus really sees me, and knows me, and loves me. And then sometimes I have these moments where Jesus is so real to me. I have to admit that these moments where Jesus feels so near that I could reach out and touch him, these moments don’t happen as often. I know that Jesus is present with me always, but when I get to have these rare moments of closeness with Him, I feel so overwhelmed with thankfulness.

I had one of these moments a few nights ago. I was at a worship concert with All Songs & Daughters. I sang one line of a song and it was the end of me. It might not seem profound to you but in that moment it broke me. The line is simply this: “It’s your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise to You.” It’s that simple. But here’s the thing…

It’s His breath that I breathe into my lungs. This life is not mine. It was given to me as a gift and it can be taken away. It’s not my right to breathe. It isn’t my right to have this life. It’s all His. And with His breath that I breathe into my lungs, will I praise Him?

I’ve been reminded in the last few weeks how fragile this life can be and how things can change so fast. I don’t want to spend my days forgetting or neglecting that it’s HIS breath that I breathe and that this life is not mine.

As I sang out these words I just wanted more of Jesus. Nothing else mattered, just Him. I wish that I could say that I feel this desire all of the time. I wish that I could tell you that Jesus always comes before the things that I want from life. I want it to be true, but I can’t say that it always is. But as I sang out those words to my Father, as I poured out everything I had in that moment, I experienced, even for a short time, what it was like to just want Him.

I think these moments are glimpses of heaven. I think they are sweet gifts that Jesus gives us in these rare and unexpected times, just when we need them the most. Just when we need to be reminded that He sees us, and He knows us, and that He loves us so very much. I think the line of that song will be my new anthem. I want to remember that this life is not my right but a gift; each breath that I breathe into my lungs, all a gift.

The full version of the song is above, I hope it will bless you like it has and is continuing to bless me. And may you remember that it’s His breath in your lungs.