We’re in the season of Lent right now. It started Mar 5 this year and will end at Easter. It is a period of 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter (which is on the first Sunday after the full moon, after the Spring Equinox). Lent is a time to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before He began His ministry. There He was tempted by the devil three times but He overcame by the power and Word of God. I haven’t studied this but I feel it also points to an even greater temptation He felt…to NOT go to the cross. At the height of this very human feeling, the night before He was betrayed and led to the cross, He pleaded with God to take the cup (of God’s wrath) from Him, but still said “Not as I will, but as You will.” Words are insufficient in describing that kind of submission and obedience and trust in the Father.

Back to Lent…Christian observers of Lent originally fasted from any kind of rich foods (i.e. wine, meat, fat, sugar) for 40 days to commemorate Jesus’ period of fasting in the desert. This, in a way, lead to some serious binging of rich foods the day before Lent started…which brings us modern day festivals like Mardi Gras. I think the spirit of Lent is kinda lost in that….but anyways, we were encouraged by our pastor to observe Lent by giving up something that takes up undue attention and time in our lives so that we can make more room for God. To give something up so that God can fill it in with more of Himself. To break holds that things or people or practices might have in our lives so that we can have a better hold on God.

This year, I’ve chosen to give up Facebook. I’ve given this up in past Lenten seasons as well but I haven’t been as thoughtful about filling the time that would otherwise be used Facebooking with things of God. This time, I aim to pray for someone or pray over a situation every time I have the inclination to check Facebook. I must say…I pray a lot more now. Ha. But it’s been really good. There is less anxiousness through the day when I’m lifting everything to God in prayer. In submission and trust in God. I really want to keep this habit up even after Lent is over. Prayer is so critical to a life of faith. It is more powerful than any human word or action. It reaches out to and taps into the power of the Creator of the Universe! And because really, Facebook is SUCH a waste of time in comparison!

“Christian morals are for Christians only”

That was the view presented at our discipleship group a few Sundays ago. And I think I agree with it….that people who claim to be followers of Christ should quite naturally be the ones compelled to follow His commands, example and teaching. Because only those who have the Holy Spirit will be capable of recognizing what is in line with His teaching or not, and only they have the power to live it out as God transform them from the inside out. So the ones who aren’t followers, who don’t have the Holy Spirit, well why should they be held to Christ’s standard?

The Western world developed on Judeo-Christian principles and back then, it can safely be assumed that everyone believed in God and followed Biblical teaching. Encouraging, upholding, rebuking each other in accordance to the Word was part of the community norm. Times have definitely changed and believers are in the minority…but somehow, we keep trying to push the “Christian way” onto everyone else…and it comes across as judgmental, unloving and ungracious. Which is totally not lined up with who Jesus or God is.

I don’t believe Biblical principles and instructions are to be blindly followed by Christians just for the sake of following them though. I believe most Biblical principles have very solid reasons to be followed for our own physiological, emotional and spiritual well-being. Granted some of those benefits primarily applied to that period of history or that area of the world….but many are still relevant and applicable today. Taking the time to look deeper into why God may have laid down certain boundaries will result in a deeper understanding and appreciation for those boundaries. While we look at our decisions and actions within the tiny context of the world immediately around us (i.e. “I’m not hurting anyone that immediately comes to mind), God sees the WHOLE PICTURE and works His boundaries for the benefit of all, the environment included. So I think those principles that benefit us physiologically and emotionally CAN be shared even with those who do not follow Christ. Spiritual boundaries/benefits are harder to express and share….even though a lot of physical/emotional boundaries are tied to spiritual well-being too. But hey, if asked, be prepared to answer in gentleness and respect!

So, my take-away from that discussion…be loving, compassionate and gracious to all. Celebrate what’s meaningful in the lives of all whom we care about; mourn with each other; walk with and talk with them for as long as you are welcomed. If asked your opinion on something, then share honestly and openly, have discussion, but don’t expect any kind of compliance to your thoughts, and respect each other regardless. If someone won’t accept you then just shake the dust off your feet and move on. (And I might add, this goes both ways…those who are secular shouldn’t be forcing their values onto others who seek to live as Christ taught either.)

Thoughts on this? I know I’ve just scratched the surface.

DON’T “Be true to yourself”

(Image Not Mine)

“Be true to yourself”
We hear that a lot as a guide for what decisions to make in life. One definition on the web says it “means to act in accordance with who you are and what you believe.” Is that really the best way to go? Is being true to yourself going to give the best result?

I think it sounds very encouraging when we say being true to ourselves is to know and love ourselves and not to do something that goes against our values just to gain acceptance from others. It’s mostly true. But because we are each fundamentally flawed, starting from when Adam and Eve decided to be true to themselves, our best intentions will be clouded by selfishness, self-preservation and self-righteousness. Being true to a flawed “self” will mean those decisions made will also be flawed…because at the very core of it, “being true to yourself” is self-seeking.

@RevTedNg was sharing that if you are married, then your first concern is to be true to your spouse and to put yourself aside. If you were true to yourself, you couldn’t be true to your spouse. Being true to yourself would mean you put your concerns, beliefs and happiness and well-being above your spouse’s…and we know that is a quick way to tank that relationship. Or any relationship. You might say, “but one of my values is to be faithful to my husband, so being true to myself includes that.” Yes, but is one of your values also that you deserve happiness and to feel loved? What if someone else makes you feel happier or more loved? Which value will stand? Our culture advises, “Listen to your heart!” But the Bible warns “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9) I think God knows our hearts more than we’re willing to admit. And so He warns us that we CANNOT trust it to lead us in the right way.

And if you are Christ following, then the top priority is ultimately to be true to Christ. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Being true to Christ is to live in a manner worthy of bearing His name. It is to give entirely of yourself to God, submitting to whatever He might want so that you can be made more Christ-like. It is daily choosing “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” and to “not conform to the patterns of this world” (Romans 12:1-2) ….patterns that tell you to “be true to yourself”, “listen to your heart” or “you know what’s best for you”.

With eternal rewards in mind, I think we first need to be true to Christ for the best outcome in everything else. God’s values and principles are unchanging, unfailing and comes wholly out of His LOVE. When we line our lives up to be true to HIS values, then, and only then, could we be true to our spouses and true to ourselves…in the way God designed His goodness to be lived out in us.

Biblical or not: Saving sex for marriage

(Image not mine)

Last month I had the privilege and enjoyment of sharing dessert and wine with a diverse group of women. The conversation was dynamic, vibrant and thought provoking. I loved it. As far as topics went, we covered a lot of ground…including of course, the topic of sex. At one point someone said,

“…and I hear tons of youth are having oral/anal sex instead of vaginal to keep their virginity…”

Someone cut in, “Hahaha, sounds like they’re Christian and being totally literal about it.”

And another, “Totally! Haven’t they heard you can be a born again virgin? Just abstain for one year.”

More laughter and the conversation flowed to other things…but this stuck in my mind. I’m a slower processor so I didn’t jump in with comments….but where are people getting the idea that you’ve “saved sex for marriage” as long as you don’t have vaginal sex?? Sadly, it is probably true that many are “Christians” believing the line to avoid crossing is vaginal intercourse. Everything but that “line” is permissible. Is that the standard we’re teaching our youth….in our families and in church?? If it is we’ve failed miserably.

For the record, “save sex for marriage” isn’t even in the Bible. That was a marketing catch phrase to counter the “Safe Sex” messages being pushed through schools in the 80’s and 90’s. You may have seen it…mottos like “The only SAFE sex is to SAVE Sex for marriage”. It’s all very well meaning, and the principle is biblical, but clearly, it’s lacking the depth of meaning God intended for sex if that’s all there is to the message. I’m not a scholar, but I KNOW God’s boundaries around sex relates to being pure before and after you marry. Even just looking lustfully at someone is equivalent to having committed adultery. (So if you’ve thought “It’s ok to look, just don’t touch” then think again.) We need to teach more about what purity means. It’s about HONORING the marriage bed…HONORING your future/current spouse….HONORING God….whether publically or privately…in our actions, words or thoughts. So many have dumbed it down to just “can’t have [vaginal] sex before marriage” and have completely missed God’s heart.

God’s standards do not have loopholes for us to sneak through. Yes, sometimes it seems like an impossibly high standard, but sometimes, something only seems impossible until you put your mind to actually try living by it. Then being empowered by God to obey, we actually CAN do it. There is no temptation under the sun where God hasn’t provided a way out. We just have to be willing to take it.

And I do believe it is possible to be a “born again virgin”…to start over. God’s gift is grace and giving second, third, many chances. But the point isn’t to abuse His grace so we can continue sinning (“Oops I did it again”) rather it’s for us to be able to move forward saying, “I’m new in Christ. I’m through with making up excuses and justifying my compromises. I desire purity…for myself, for my future spouse and in obedience to God. Help me to make my next decision a good one.” And then find yourself desiring what tempts you less and less, as the character and desires of God fills you more and more. So, to those who bear Christ’s name…consider honestly, whose standard are you living by?

Christ’s resurrection: What difference has it made? Part 2

Looking honestly into myself, I feel Hope and Relief when I consider Christ’s resurrection from death. But the main question is still

What difference does Christ’s resurrection make in your life?

And I mean regular day-to-day life.

I think I am a fairly hopeful person. Quietly optimistic. My INTJ personality is one that looks for possibilities beyond the obvious and it lends itself to having strong faith. But I confess the times I get short-sighted, not wanting to take a step unless I can see the whole path. It’s the struggle to have everything under control, under MY control. I want to grow more in this area…of living by faith. To the world, it may look kind of crazy at times, unwise even. Or it may look like I have good intuition or luck when it does work out by God’s provision. Looking back into my own life, I can see these moments. But can anyone else see this Hope or see God at work in my life?

As for relief of not having to try to save myself. It’s really about not having to try to be good enough as defined by values around me. Or even by what God demands of us – to be perfect. Christ lived the perfect life, and I somehow, get to appropriate it as my own. All the while allowing God to transform me from the inside so that I actually become more like Christ. It’s pretty amazing to consider. It might be hard to differentiate how this transformation is going from year to year, but from five years ago until now, I think I’m more compassionate, more gracious, slower to judge and maybe a little more patient. =) Praise God!

Not having to find approval from the world also comes out in me not caring as much what people might think of my status in life. I don’t want to be defined by anything the world tries to define people by. Sometimes it’s a struggle. I was talking to Dahn about this…how our nationalities and job titles and socio-economic statuses are all just labels humans give each other. I don’t fit any of them entirely and frankly don’t want to fit. I don’t want to be known as a “middle class” “married” “female” “Chinese Canadian” “Christian”….I just want to be known as someone who’s Christ-like. (And I have a looooooong way to go.) As Dahn put it “My identity is CHRIST and my citizenship is HEAVEN.”  The more I live like I believe that, the more peace and relief I’ll have of not having to try to fit into this world. Because fitting into this world isn’t going to make me a better person; being transformed into Christ’s likeness will. Again, I’m relieved it’s not dependent on my trying or conforming to be more like Christ, but rather, allowing God to transform me from within. I just have to get out of His way. Which brings up another question, is Christ more and more apparent in me?

Day-to-day differences going forward….

I hope I am kinder and more compassionate…
I hope I am more gracious and slower to make assumptions…
I hope I live more boldly, unafraid of what the world might think of me…
…and unfettered by trying to amass worldly security for myself…
I hope my life is vibrant, as evidence of the abundant Life Jesus promised…
I hope I am more generous, with my time and finances…
I hope others can see Christ’s love through me…