Converge Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:08:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How cancer changed me Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:00:06 +0000 How cancer changed me by Andrew Rozalowsky

I knew something was going on in my body. I felt tired. Two blood clots had developed in my legs....

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How cancer changed me by Andrew Rozalowsky

I knew something was going on in my body.

I felt tired. Two blood clots had developed in my legs. I was starting to bruise easily. Then, two days before Christmas 2011, my doctor called: “It looks like you have leukemia. I’ve arranged for you to meet with the doctor at the cancer centre today.”

I was shocked. As I walked upstairs with trembling legs, I began to cry. I struggled to tell the news to my wife who was taking care of our year-and-a-half-old son.

“I … they … think … I … have … have … cancer.”

After a whirlwind day of blood work and several meetings with the doctor, the diagnosis came back as acute myeloid leukemia. In other words, an aggressive blood cancer.

I was anywhere from a few days to a few weeks away from death.

I had no illusions before I was diagnosed, and I have none now. There is pain, sickness and death everywhere. I know that suffering is part of the current order. So why should I ask, “Why me?” Why not me?

I had to learn this truth in painfully new ways. I’ve never liked getting my blood drawn. I’ve passed out a half dozen times in my life from blood work. And ironically, I ended up with a blood cancer. I never got used to the poking and prodding or even the pain of bone marrow biopsies. Thankfully, my wife was always right there, holding my hand while I was forced to curl up like a baby so that the large needle could be pushed into my hip bone.

But even in the midst of this pain, God did not leave me alone. Often I would lie on my hospital bed, with hardly a shred of energy from the chemo drugs or from the hardened bone marrow, yet I only needed to look beside me at my wall and read the words my wife wrote out from Psalm 73:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

I cried to these words several times. They were so real. It was never a despairing cry; it was a cry of joy. God is present. God is my strength.

So this is what it means to know God’s presence!

As beautiful and important as this was to me, there was still the added knowledge of a future hope. There isn’t just a God out there who’s able to bring forth creation. He’s also able to bring forth new creation.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

All of history is heading somewhere. God is remaking the earth and all of us with it. And that presence of God I was talking about? It will be total in the new creation!

The four rounds of chemotherapy were effective and the cancer hasn’t come back since. All the same, I do have a 50 per cent chance of relapsing.

Through the difficulties of not knowing whether I would live out the week or the year, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to go through this cancer without knowing God’s presence, and without believing in the promise of his new creation. That knowledge was so partial before the diagnosis, but now it’s a knowledge of different kind.

In the here and now, I want to use every minute to glorify God with what He has given me. Having been so close to death, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. I get emotional every time I think about not being around to support my wife or to raise my sons. But just as my life is wholly in God’s hands, so too are my wife and sons. If we have to go through this sickness again, I’m glad to know that by God’s grace I am even more prepared for it than the first time.


Photo (Flickr CC) by Ed Uthman
Originally published in Issue 12 of Converge Magazine.

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Leonard Cohen: musical legend, spiritual guide Wed, 29 Oct 2014 19:00:00 +0000 Leonard Cohen: musical legend, spiritual guide by Wes Jakacki

“Blessed is the name, the name be blessed, written on my heart in burning letters. That’s all I know, I...

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Leonard Cohen: musical legend, spiritual guide by Wes Jakacki

“Blessed is the name, the name be blessed, written on my heart in burning letters. That’s all I know, I do not know the rest.”

This may sound like a couple of lines from a poetic praise band, but instead this gem comes from 80-year-old folk poet Leonard Cohen. The legendary Canadian singer/songwriter has released just 13 albums in his 47-year career, but he has made a tremendous impact with each one.

His latest two albums, Old Ideas and Popular Problems, are not only among his best, they’re also among the most spiritually profound.

Cohen himself is an observant Jew who also practices some aspects of Zen Buddhism. Even so, throughout his entire career, Cohen has shown interest in the message of Christ and has infused gospel music elements in increasing bunches.

Since his very first song, “Suzanne,” Cohen has shown an understanding of the healing power of Christ to mankind. “Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water. And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower. And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him. He said ‘All men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them.’”

Cohen has even shown a fondness for Christ in his interviews. When asked about the Christian imagery in his lyrics, Cohen replied, “I love Christ. I see Christianity as the world historic mission of certain ideas that the Jews developed. Christianity is a mighty movement, and that is the way those ideas penetrated the world. Christianity is the missionary arm of Judaism. As Maimonides said, ‘We’re all working for the world to come.’”

Cohen’s understanding of daily grace and God’s rescuing powers in times of need are deeply profound. On “Take This Longing” off of Cohen’s 1974 New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Cohen is shown reaching out to God for relief. “Just take this longing from my tongue all the lonely things my hands have done. Let me see your beauty broken down like you would do for one your love.”

Then of course there is “Hallelujah,” which has been redone by both Christian and secular artists alike, and included in countless TV shows and movies. While the best-known version of “Hallelujah” is Jeff Buckley’s hauntingly beautiful rendition, the meaning and message of the song is quintessential Cohen. “Hallelujah” was penned in 1983 at a low point of his career, where the label executives at Columbia didn’t even want to release Various Positions, the album “Hallelujah” was on.


In “Hallelujah,” Cohen mixes imagery from the stories of David and Samson with personal anecdotes that centres around the moment in life where things seem most broken and hopeless. It’s a song about, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, how we should “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

On Old Ideas and Popular Problems, Cohen has taken down the harp and other pretty elements of his music and ratcheted up the gospel elements with Hammond organ and a gospel choir. Where his early work speaks to God’s gracious and poetic love, his last two albums have focused on Cohen’s mortality, the world’s brokenness, and looking forward to the life to come with humour and hope.

The beginning of 2012’s Old Ideas finds Cohen longing for heaven on “Going Home” with a good-natured wink but also a tremendous amount of sincerity. “Going home without my sorrow. Going home sometime tomorrow. Going home to where it’s better than before.”

“Amen” looks at the day when God will wipe away every tear and “when the filth of the butcher is washed in the blood of the lamb.”

“Show Me The Place” finds Cohen looking to God for direction and a way home, all shrouded in gospel imagery. “Come Healing” asks God to come calling in our brokenness with the singing of angelic female backing vocals.

Cohen’s latest, Popular Problems, focuses less on the life to come and more on his last days. “Almost Like the Blues” looks at our suffering here on earth, and points at the futility of the skeptic that gives up because of it. “’There is no God in Heaven, and there is no Hell below.’ So says the great professor of all there is to know. But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse. And it’s almost like salvation. It’s almost like the blues.”

“Samson in New Orleans” is a reworking of the biblical tale through life in New Orleans post-Katrina, and examines the heartbreak and range of emotions the region has gone through.

“Born In Chains” tells a liberation story through the Exodus story meant as a psalm to the Lord above. Cohen sees the ugliness, the violence, the heartache of the world around him, but still praises the Lord. It’s the same faith beyond understanding that Job showed, and it’s so rarely seen in our self-centred world. “Born In Chains” is even the sort of hymn you could actually see replicated in churches.

“You Got Me Singing” caps off Popular Problems with yet another praise song, a rustic and jubilant song in the spirit of “I’ll Fly Away.” It’s a joyous sound for the always-reverent Cohen, someone for whom Christians can learn much from.

While we may not share the same conclusions, Cohen’s music and his unwavering faith and reverence can help us understand God and His grace.


Photo (Flickr CC) by Takahiro Kyono.


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The decline of the Bible Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:00:36 +0000 The decline of the Bible by Kyle Stiemsma

The recent Bible Engagement Study shows a decrease in Christians’ Bible reading. Surprised? Neither were we.  When people hear that I’m getting...

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The decline of the Bible by Kyle Stiemsma

The recent Bible Engagement Study shows a decrease in Christians’ Bible reading. Surprised? Neither were we. 

When people hear that I’m getting a Master’s degree in theology, their assumption is that I’m immersed in biblical studies.

Well, I’m not.

I tend to hang around with the doctrinal and spiritual theology crowd while the biblical studies kids, with their Greek and Hebrew books, stay on the other side of the room.

It’s a funny thing about theological education: generally, people gravitate to two different poles. People like me, theology nerds, like to think about big ideas, painting with broad strokes on the canvas of the unknowable. My friends in biblical studies tend to have sharp, detailed minds. They love to obsess over one word, or one passage, diving into linguistics, historical and cultural context, and an array of critical methods to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

We’re different, but we rely on each other; I can’t do theology without the Bible, and their scholarship keeps me on the straight and narrow. And the biblical studies people need theologians, someone to formulate and consolidate all of their treasured ideas and synthesize them with lived experience. In short, we do practically the same thing and have the same goal, but we use our different skills and temperaments to help each other along the way.

We both couldn’t agree more: the Bible is essential for knowing and experiencing God.

I recently am able to speak with Lawson Murray, president of Scripture Union Canada about his work with the Canadian Bible Forum and the Bible Engagement Study 2014. They have an extremely large data pool that they’re sifting through and you can expect several articles and initiatives to be released by them in the coming months.

The study shows the decline in Bible engagement.

I mean, we all know people don’t read the Bible like they used to, and I think we all expected to see a decline. But Murray says the surprising thing about the decline is how indiscriminate it is.

“While everyone knew from observation that Bible engagement was in decline,” Murray says, “we continued to assume that older generations were reading the Bible more so than younger generations. What happened is, my generation, the boomer generation, in large part have stepped away from engagement with the Bible.”

He says another surprising thing found in the study was that the drop in Bible engagement was far greater among the mainline Protestant churches than with Catholics and Evangelicals.

“Presbyterians, Anglicans, United Church, [in] particular, who used to be at the centre of our religious world in Canada, are no longer there,” Murray says. “Pretty much Catholics and evangelicals hold centre stage.”

Murray defines Bible engagement as this: “Bible reading, coupled with reflection with the text — so it’s not just reading, it’s digging into the text.”

He goes on to say that Bible engagement is the primary catalyst for spiritual health and growth. This is why he says this study is so alarming; death of Bible engagement spells out death for any vibrant church life.

Like any good postmodern Christian millennial, I have gone through periods where the Bible stays on the shelf, with no intention of taking it down. The book is long, and it’s often quite boring. Not to mention it’s a translation so the language is off, and it couldn’t be more confusing at times. And sometimes it says things I really wish it didn’t say.

The Christianity of the not-so-distant past placed Scripture at the centre of Christian life. We propped it up on a pedestal, and glossed over the parts we didn’t like.

The pulpit — the ministry of the word — (while oh so important) eclipsed the table, and eclipsed any tangible practices that allow us to participate in the life of God. This turned our faith largely into an intellectual endeavor, and pushed any divine experience onto the worship leaders.

And so, our Sola Scriptura heritage has left us without any grounding in the traditions of the past. The wounds of Biblicism are deep, and the healing process ahead will be a long road.

“We’ve had generations of people over the last 60 or so years who have got close to what is good and right,” says Murray, “but have missed it a little bit, [and] they’ve missed the lot.”

The Bible is not — and must never be — the centre. Jesus Christ is the centre of Christian life. The Bible’s indispensable value comes from the fact that it reveals Him.

Murray makes this point clearly: “I fundamentally believe that we don’t need a Bible reading revival or Bible engagement revival. We ultimately need a Jesus revival. Because the Scripture’s primary purpose is to point us to Him.”

We are a generation obsessed with stories and the power they hold. We’ve heard that the Bible is an instruction manual on how to be a good person and live a good life. We’ve seen it presented as a formula on how to experience God. We’ve heard it called — horribly, painfully — “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”

But I hope, together, we can reject these oversimplifications of a complex book, and instead recover the beauty and power in God’s grand narrative of redemption and self-emptying love, the story of life in a world of death.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Pete Markham.

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There’s beauty in the waiting Tue, 28 Oct 2014 11:00:13 +0000 There’s beauty in the waiting by Jessica Jordan

We all have those friends. You know the ones I mean. The friends who get everything they want in life....

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There’s beauty in the waiting by Jessica Jordan

We all have those friends. You know the ones I mean. The friends who get everything they want in life. Or — even worse — everything you want in life, without even really trying that hard.

One minute you’re side-by-side at the starting line. Suddenly they have sprinted ahead of you and are now living in the light of accomplishment. In the light dreams are made of.

I find myself in a constant state of jealousy over the latest accomplishments of my friends. Sure, I’m happy for them, but seriously? They found the love of her life already? They have the greatest job on the planet? They just bought a puppy?

When will it be my turn?

I have come to the conclusion that dreams happen for people at different points in life. Maybe I’m moving at a slower pace than most of my friends. But it’s my life — so shouldn’t it be my pace?

Though it might sound cliché, I think the journey is just as significant as the destination. Fighting and waiting for what I want has made me appreciate getting it so much more.

There is a distinct beauty in the waiting. Those in-between moments where either success or failure waits for you. Those moments have a purpose.

Between relationships, I have learned the importance of individuality and self-confidence. Between jobs, I have experienced the fear of asking for help and have learned to survive on less. Between times of doubt and faith, I’ve learned how to question life and disregard judgment.

The lessons came when nothing great was happening, when I was thoroughly entrenched in the mundane. When I was just taking things one day at a time.

It seems like some of my friends have everything figured out. Their pace of life is so much faster than mine that I feel intimidation and nervousness. But their definition of success is also different than mine. Do I want to be married someday? Sure. But do I want to be married at 21? Nope. So why do I envy their accomplishment if I truly don’t want it right now?

In truth, I’m jealous because sometimes it’s easier to be upset than joyful.

Though we can’t help feeling like failures as we compare ourselves to our friends — even if our goals are completely different than theirs — we can be happy for them without being sad for ourselves.

God could have created the entire world in a day, but he chose seven. He stretched out his purpose for a reason. This act is proof that timing and pace are significant.

I don’t have anything definitive in my life right now. I don’t have a single answer about what the future holds, or how to best accomplish the goals I have in life. But as hard as it is to be caught in the in-between, I’m learning how to be content, and how to embrace the beauty of the waiting.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Christian St Clair.

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Community: how do we do it? Mon, 27 Oct 2014 11:00:36 +0000 Community: how do we do it? by Holly Hrywnak

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. (Acts 2:42,...

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Community: how do we do it? by Holly Hrywnak

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. (Acts 2:42, The Message)

Community. Everybody’s talking about it, the new Christian buzzword. We all agree community is vital to our faith, and that we have been called to it. In Acts we read about the first Christians and what their lives looked like in the early church. And what we find is they lived life together. Nothing super fancy there. They just did life, together.

The problem comes when we try and figure out how to accomplish genuine community in the midst of our own lives. Unfortunately — or fortunately depending on how you look at it — community cannot be legislated. It’s not founded in a program or maintained in potluck dinners. Ive seen both fail for the same reason: lack of authenticity. Youve got to be willing to share openly and honestly, because thats where connection happens. And community is built through connections.

I havent met very many honest people in church. But I have seen a lot of people trying to put on happy faces and hide broken places. Putting on your Sunday besthas very little to do with what clothes you decide to put on, but has everything to do with the person you want to present to those around you. And if youre like me, you have figured out pretty quickly that youd better show people the best possible version of yourself. (If you dont, theyll look at you with their judging eyes.)

So, instead, we talk about the things that are acceptable. These topics include: the weather, the pastors sermon, where you plan on eating lunch after the service, what you did the previous week, and possibly sports. Banned topics include: sex, unanswered prayers, doubts, and real struggles.

Im not talking about the struggles that make you look better (I pray for an hour every day, but I really feel like I should pray for two.) Im talking about admitting an addiction to pornography, or not trusting God, or how you havent cracked open your Bible in the past year.

Were afraid to be honest. We keep things shallow and manageable to protect ourselves.

With depth comes uncertainty and the possibility of being hurt and rejected. Theres no doubt theres a risk involved. Genuine relationships are messy and you will get hurt. You will question whether being open was worth the hurt. It is. At least I think so.

Because Id rather have the genuine — with its flaws and brokenness — than have to tiptoe around a self-constructed facade. Its in the unguarded conversations where people can relate to one another and truly begin to encourage one another.

I want to hear about marriages that arent perfect, but have made it through the battles stronger and more united. I want to hear from mothers who struggle with perfection, but who are finding joy in the mess. I want to hear from people who battle anxiety, but are able to learn a deeper trust in God in spite of it.

I may not have the same challenges as the person across the sanctuary from me, but I can glean wisdom from their experiences. I cant learn if I never take the time to truly listen, or if I dont even ask.

And Im not talking about asking, How are you?while you keep walking, either. If youre going to ask me how Im doing, you wont be getting some prepackaged and pre-rehearsed robotic response. Youre going to hear about the migraine Ive had all day, or how someone brought me a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast.

We tend to complicate how to accomplish community, but I think if we go back to Acts 2:42, well be reminded that all we really need to do is live life together. Are you planning on going on a wine tasting tour to admire the fall colours? Do you want to check out the new sushi place everyone has been talking about? Are you entering a 5K to support a local charity? Invite someone new to come along. Sure, there may be some awkward silences, but no one ever died from it. Trust me.

Weve got to start somewhere because we need each other. As much as Id rather just stick to myself and do things my own way, I know community helps me grow and mature in my relationship with Christ.

And that type of growth only happens with honest conversation — an iron-sharpening-iron type dialogue.

So, lets do it. Lets live life together. Let’s be in community.

Photo (Flickr CC) by judylcrook.

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Redefining success Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:06 +0000 Redefining success by Hayli Goode

We spend semesters in classrooms learning the trade of our future careers, searching for the perfect internship, and then crossing...

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Redefining success by Hayli Goode

We spend semesters in classrooms learning the trade of our future careers, searching for the perfect internship, and then crossing our fingers that we’re good enough for consideration.

This past summer, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and into the brutal and busy streets of New York City.

It was a journalism major’s dream. A summer in the city making connections, learning the way of life (and subway system), and hopefully foreshadowing what the future could be.

If you asked me a year ago to define success, I would have told you that it was something like this:

Suc-cess (n.): Whatever makes me better than the next person.

While I was interning in New York, I was able to connect with the executive assistant to the editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine, Meaghan O’Connor, who considers having reached the start of her dream career.

“Something that I wrestle with a lot is the fact that I’m in a job that a million girls would kill for. And sometimes it’s hard, challenging, and fast-paced and you’re exhausted,” O’Connor says.

We all have our own versions of success, of “making it.” It could be landing a dream job, or finding the perfect spouse, or even perfecting the recipe/craft that has been haunting you on Pinterest for weeks. Whatever the goal may be, it turns into a sin when it starts to consume us.

“I think this [job] had always been the pedestal,” says O’Connor. “I was looking at the job like it was the be all, end all. And now I’m realizing that it’s only just the beginning.“

My conversation with O’Connor reminded me of God’s command in Leviticus: “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.”

Have I turned “success” into an idol?

Despite landing an internship in the Big Apple, I wasn’t fully satisfied. It wasn’t enough. It didn’t fulfill me. After weeks of making connections with the “right” people in the industry, my thirst wasn’t quenched. And finally, after a mental breakdown one night because I wasn’t able to get an informal meeting with an assistant magazine editor, I realized that an interview would never fill that hole, never truly make me feel complete.

That night, Philippians 1:18 and 21 spoke to me directly: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice…. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Let me say that again. To live is Christ. To die is gain.

That verse hit me so hard. I suddenly realized that my life on this earth is not for my life on this earth. My purpose here is not for my own comfort. For my own success. My life is for His name, for His kingdom, for His honour.

So, if you were to ask me for my definition of success today:

Suc-cess (n.): Dying to my own desires so that I’m able to do what God wants to do in and through me.


Photo (Flickr CC) by Stefano Corso.

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What a simple conversation means Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:00:56 +0000 What a simple conversation means by Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Thank you for talking to me!” His words were surprising, direct, and intentional. Yet they were woven warm with all...

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What a simple conversation means by Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Thank you for talking to me!”

His words were surprising, direct, and intentional. Yet they were woven warm with all of the enchantment and depth that makes a human being unlike anything else in all of existence.

His words were heavy and laboured, nearly lost in his thick Hispanic accent. His smile lit a face deeply etched by the lines of age that had been sketched across a pallet of time and hardship. Indeed, his face was a mosaic of pain and loneliness that was instantly redrawn by nothing more than a handful of words said to him by a complete stranger.

“Thank you for talking to me!” he said to me.

This invisible man, whose name I never thought to ask, labouriously checked cars out of a sprawling rental lot at a large and bustling international airport. Menial, mundane, and entirely lost in the ever-shifting exodus of people, he checked out cars one at a time, day after day in this asphalt desert.

In the end, his life will not be remembered by many. When he’s gone, few will ask where he went or what became of him. He will be easily replaced by someone else.

“Thank you for talking to me!” he said with a robustness that set me back.

It all started because I asked him about his watch, as it was rather unique and quite attractive; I offhandedly asked him where he got it. Within a moment he transformed from a stoic parking lot attendant to a fascinating human being who suddenly looked a whole lot like me.

It was as if his watch was a magical porthole into a much larger story: his story. Within the few brief moments spent together, he shared where he came from, and where he has been.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve become inhuman in our view of humanity. As we hurriedly rush from place to place, we’ve let the people around us become commodities that serve us along the way, rather than assets that enrich our journey. Too often we’ve robbed others of the very humanity that we demand they acknowledge in us.

In the disheveled rush and baffling mayhem of living out our lives, we need to hear people say, “Thank you for talking to me.”

When our own stress is crushing us and we’ve given everything that we have to give, we need to hear them say, “Thank you for talking to me.”

When we’ve had more than our fill of people and we’re starving for solitude, we need to hear, “Thank you for talking to me.”

When it would have made a whole lot more sense and been a whole lot more convenient simply to pass people by, we still need to hear them say, “Thank you for talking to me.”

For it’s in these moments, when we acknowledge one another as more similar than different, as brothers rather than strangers, when our paradigm turns on its head. Suddenly our fear of “the other” disappears. Our empathy grows.

So maybe it’s time to start talking. Maybe it’s time to turn our attention away from the egotistical mirror of self and look into a face other than our own. Maybe it’s time to realize that our greatest contributions are not the monuments that we construct, but the lives that we change, because we took the time to get to know those around us. Maybe it’s time to change the world one life at a time. Maybe it’s time to talk.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Susan Sermoneta.

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What I’m still learning in my 20s Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:54 +0000 What I’m still learning in my 20s by Meghan Mellinger

At 28, the only thing I’m sure about is that I’ve stopped growing — in inches that is. As I...

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What I’m still learning in my 20s by Meghan Mellinger

At 28, the only thing I’m sure about is that I’ve stopped growing — in inches that is. As I reflect upon my near three decades on this earth, I’ve realized I’ve forgotten a lot, learned a little, and am still discovering even more.

In a culture where our 20s have become the be-all-end-all decade of our lives, we’ve become more obsessed with being there than getting there. And while I may have plateaued at 5’10 in kindergarten, God’s not done with me yet.

Here are 10 lessons I’m still learning in my 20s.

1. Who God is

For too long I’ve confined God to a small box constructed with walls of Sunday school answers. I’m finding that discovering God is like searching for eggs at an Easter egg hunt — He is available to me, I just have to take the time to look everywhere and in everything to find Him.

2. There’s more to life than my 9-5

When I’m asked to finish the sentence “I am a _____” I don’t fill in the blank with my job title. While the world tells me I’m defined by my career, I’m learning there’s so much more to my life than where I am and what I am doing during the hours of 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday. I am a writer. I am a friend. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a photographer. I am a Bible study leader. I am a sunset chaser. I am a wannabe comedian. I am a child of God.

3. How to say “no”

My life is like going to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. I blink once and my plate, now a skyscraper of egg rolls, is attempting to reach the heights of poor, demoted Pluto. Inevitably, I’m sick to my stomach from attempting to balance it all and swear I’ll never take on another ministry role, enroll in another graduate class, or ask for a promotion ever again. Then an hour later I forget about it all and eat another egg roll. For my own sanity and efficacy, I’m working on breaking my “yes” gluttony, and learning how to prayerfully discern what should go on my plate.

4. If now, so then

I am a master of making cereal for dinner and forgetting to read my Bible every day. But I’ve been learning that I need to work on developing healthy patterns and spiritual habits today, so that they will carry over into my future.

5. This world will one day be restored

Broken marriages. Sick children. Tragic deaths. Financial woes. Political unrest. From a conversation with a close friend to five minutes of a news channel, the troubles of this world are heavy and many. But I’ve been learning to not only cling to the hope that God will pick up the pieces of our broken world, but he’ll also restore it to an Eden-like reality.

6. Have a teachable spirit

Humble pie tastes a lot like vegetables, and I’m a carnivore. I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong or have to readjust my thinking, but I’m working on being open to reproach, teaching, and wisdom when God is trying to mold me.

7. Be in the world but boldly not of the world

My face may not radiantly shine after being in God’s presence like Moses, but my life as a Christian makes me the clear winner of “which one of these is not like the other” in most venues. While my choices, actions, words, and Sunday morning location sometimes make me feel like the last kid waiting to be picked for kickball, I’m learning to become emboldened by Christ’s transformative power, instead of covering up my obvious differences with a veil.

8. My faith is my own responsibility

I can blame the worship band for singing the same three songs every Sunday, or the minister for giving me milk when I’m ready for meat, but it’s not a church’s job to walk with Christ for me. If I’m not being fed to the full, I need to get cooking.

9. The importance of rest

I’m pretty sure when God rested on the seventh day it wasn’t because He was physically tired — He set apart the seventh day and made it holy because rest is a beautiful thing. And we all need it. In this culture of constant stimulation, I’m learning to make time to be still and know that God is God, and let Him refresh my soul.

10. God’s not done with me yet

God’s daily workout plan for me: 1) Pick up my own cross 2) Repeat. For as long as He has me here on this earth, I’ll always be His work in progress.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Navy Blue Stripes.

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5 reasons I’m glad I lost my job Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:00:02 +0000 5 reasons I’m glad I lost my job by Joël Malm

When I was gone one Sunday, my aspiring mega-church pastor offered my job as music director to someone else. He...

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5 reasons I’m glad I lost my job by Joël Malm

When I was gone one Sunday, my aspiring mega-church pastor offered my job as music director to someone else. He never told me I was being fired, he just… replaced me and didn’t plan on telling me.

My wife and I had just bought our first house five months earlier based on a housing allowance raise that was given to us by that same pastor. We had to move out of the house to avoid financial trouble. My wife was devastated. I was an emotional wreck.

But looking back now, I’m actually really glad I lost my job. Here are five reasons why:

1. I was comfortable and it was holding me back

Comfort is often your enemy when it comes to pursuing dreams that God has put in your heart. It’s far too easy to sit back and say, “Well, the timing isn’t right on what I really want to do. I’m going to wait on God here in this comfortable job He has provided.” And then you never leave.

Losing my job forced me to take the little side gig I’d been dabbling in seriously. Now I’m doing it full-time and I love it. It’s quite possible that there is something great in your future that God needs to get you out of your comfort zone to accomplish.

 2. It was a test

I hate tests, but when you pass them you get to move on to the next level. I believe God allows those tests to give us a chance to advance, if we handle it correctly. Keep a pure heart. Don’t get bitter.

This test was hard. I felt betrayed and abandoned. But I held on to 1 Peter 1:7: “the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Losing my job gave me a chance to show how mature I really was in my walk with God. I had good days and bad, but based on what I see God doing now in my life, I like to believe I passed the test.

3. It reminded me where I get my security

When the money stops flowing, you figure out in a real hurry where you’ve been placing your trust. It’s easy to talk about trusting God when everything is within your power. But when you really have to lean on Him, trust takes on a whole new meaning.

Security is a myth. Your only true security comes from Jesus and His promise that He will never leave or forsake you. When something in life rocks your sense of security, make sure you run to the ultimate source of security.

4. I would have been miserable staying at that job

I always believed I had more in me than that job. But I convinced myself I loved what I was doing. I did like it, but it definitely wasn’t my sweet spot. In truth, it was actually starting to get a little monotonous for me. I often wonder how many years I would have spent living just short of what God really had for me. Thankfully, I was forced out. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for me now if I was still there.

It’s easy to lie to yourself about how fulfilling you find your work. Maybe it’s because lying to yourself is easier than acknowledging that a change is in order. Losing my job made the decision easy. It’s important to remember that God is the one who truly knows who you are. He made you for a purpose. Let Him lead you to that purpose (however he decides to do it) and you’ll find true fulfillment.

5. It reminded me that my future is in God’s hands

I pray it all the time, “God give me direction and clarity.” He did. I lost my job. It was really clear. But rather than see it as God giving me clarity and direction, I got mad. How could you let this happen to me? All the while I was still asking for clarity.

I don’t understand God’s methods. But I know He’s determined to get glory from impossible situations. The harder it is, the better for God. If you are truly surrendered to God’s will, He is guiding your path. He’ll make it clear what roads you need to take. Even if that requires Him forcibly taking you off one road to get your feet onto an even better road. Trust God’s leading. He’s got a good plan for your life.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)


Photo (Flickr CC) by José Manuel Ríos Valiente.

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God’s still working through you Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:00:36 +0000 God’s still working through you by Veronica Fetzer

Whether you realize it or not “What is God really doing in my life?” “I should do more to show...

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God’s still working through you by Veronica Fetzer

Whether you realize it or not

“What is God really doing in my life?”

“I should do more to show God to others somehow.” 

There are moments or days or months (or years) when we feel like there’s no physical, tangible, touchable evidence of His presence in our lives. So we ask ourselves these questions, never feeling entirely good enough, always feeling like we’ve missed the mark somehow.

And yet, our feelings of inadequacy aren’t quite so intentionally voiced; it’s much more subtle than that. These kinds of thoughts usually slowly begin to creep into our consciousness, overtaking the way we view our lives and our living of them.

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years emphasize that Christians should be more defined by what they do rather than what they don’t do. That they should be known by the kind of love that’s actively expressed to others, rather than a list of “thou shalt nots.”

I am all for this mindset.

But I think that we can and should be defined by both; what we choose to do and what we choose not to do are testaments to God in our life.

Whenever we find patience or perseverance in ourselves that we didn’t have there before — this is God’s blessing poured out on us. And whenever we abstain from sin because we find that our desire to participate in certain activities has disappeared — it is by the grace of God.

Both are marks of the walk of faith.

Back in high school there was an incident where the police were over at my house. It was a small incident, but when the policewoman was questioning me, and when I told her more about my life and how this whole circumstance had arisen because of my mom’s emotional and mental instability, she eventually asked me this question that has stuck with me ever since:

How did you turn out so well?

Apparently from our short conversation, she was convinced that I should not be who I was; in some way or another, I should have been more broken than she found me to be. I’m sure she had seen it all, especially the dysfunction that is so easily passed from parent to child. And yet, she saw that it had not been passed to me.

I was able to respond with something along the lines of: “Because I have had a good life. I am blessed with many good things; I have my faith.”

To me, it didn’t feel like the things that I wasn’t doing were really that significant. Honestly, most of the things she might expect me to do were never legitimate pressures for me to begin with. And why is that? It is all because of the grace of God, so that “[we] will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:15)

The irony of the situation is that this policewoman asked that question at a time when I was not feeling like God was very evident in my not-quite-so-picture-perfect life. Yet God was still being displayed in my life; He had clearly rescued me from darkness, when others may not have been surprised if I had been in it over my head.

So when God tells us that we will “shine among them like stars in the sky,” we may not even realize that we are shining. In faith we believe that we shine for Him, but it’s not always a bad thing if we don’t fully realize it. For we are not called to look at ourselves as stars, but to the Son, who shines the brightest of all.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Charlie Barker.

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