The Internal Disease

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Patti Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis, a fictional novel based on the real-life events surrounding the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. During one of their conversations, Joy expressed dismay at her tendency to be tempted by certain sins. She was struggling and I can imagine that she might have been angry, too—angry that she was bound to a nature that she could not be rid of or change.

I’ve been there. I’ve subconsciously—perhaps even wilfully at times—questioned God for making me a certain way, with weaknesses and tendencies that I am uncomfortable with and ashamed of. Why couldn’t He have made me to be naturally kind and pure and unselfish? This is spiritual immaturity and a lack of wisdom.

I love C.S. Lewis’ response: “God doesn’t judge by internal disease, but by moral choices.” In other words, we may not be able to control what tempts us, angers us, saddens us, or hurts us, but we do have agency to react to each situation in a moral and godly manner. Shame shouldn’t lie in one’s natural inclination toward particular sins but in choosing to yield to those temptations when God has clearly given us the free will to choose otherwise.

It’s like the hyperparathyroidism I battled for many years: I did nothing to create the disease in my body and I could do nothing to get rid of it. However, I had the choice to either change my diet and habits to minimize the symptoms or ignore my doctor’s guidelines and suffer. (Thankfully, surgery eventually solved my problem but even that was beyond my own capabilities.)

Looking back on my life, my sense is that many of us expend a lot of energy fighting with or denying our sinful nature when all we really need to do is daily choose God’s will over our own, God’s plan for us over our own.

Ann-Margret

thinking girl

 

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Joy Unspeakable

Growing up, I used to enjoy the vinyl records my parents played (I may have just given my age away!) and occasionally I hear some of the songs echoing in the far recesses of my brain. One of them was a hymn sung by a then-popular television evangelist, and it made me smile to remember it a few days before the new year because it is about a three-letter word that has become my theme in recent months: JOY!

Joy Unspeakable, written by Barney E. Warren in 1900, goes like this:

I have found His grace is all complete,
He supplieth every need;
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes, free indeed.

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, full of glory;
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Oh, the half has never yet been told.

I have found the pleasure I once craved,
It is joy and peace within;
What a wondrous blessing, I am saved
From the awful gulf of sin.

I have found that hope so bright and clear,
Living in the realm of grace;
Oh, the Savior’s presence is so near,
I can see His smiling face.

I have found the joy no tongue can tell,
How its waves of glory roll;
It is like a great o’erflowing well,
Springing up within my soul.

Isn’t that beautiful? The Bible says that the peace we find in Christ is beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7). Similarly, it’s fitting to say that the joy He gives us is “unspeakable”—indescribable. How do you explain that deep, bubbling joy that begins far down in your soul and overflows even in the midst of pain, hardship, uncertainty and need? It defies human logic and flies in the face of worldly standards of happiness.

I don’t know whether you’ve made any resolutions or goals for 2019, but I have one overarching one: to seek my joy in Christ alone and to share that joy with others. One way I try to do that is through my daily posts on Facebook, which you can follow here. I hope you’ll come and visit and be encouraged.

Be sure to check out the “31 Days of Encouraging Others” challenge I posted. In case you don’t have Facebook, here it is in a nutshell:

January challenge

Oh, one more thing before I close: Click on the “Freebies” tab above to find my latest free colouring page (“Rejoice!”)

I wish you a joyous New Year!

Ann-Margret 

P.S. Thanks for your patience while I took a break from my blog. I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be posting but I’ll be around a little more often. 🙂

 

Hiatus

Dear readers,

I haven’t posted in a while, and I appreciate your patience while I take a break from blogging for a little while longer. I had big plans for this blog at the beginning of the year but I had more enthusiasm than time and energy. And a week from today I’ll be on my way to Armenia for three weeks, along with my Dad and my niece Alexis, for my fourth mission trip to my motherland. Please follow our trip on our blog or on Facebook.

In late September, I’ll be the keynote speaker at the InScribe Fall Conference in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, and then, in mid-October, I fly down to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Breathe Conference, where I’ll mainly be learning (and my friend Jocelyn Green will be the keynote speaker!) but I’ll also have the opportunity to co-lead a workshop and facilitate a creative activity.

I’m also working on a new book proposal so, as you can see, there’s a lot going on! I still post pretty regularly on Facebook, though, so I invite you to follow me there, too.

This blog is not over, friends. I’m just gathering some really good material to share with you when the time is right. Thanks for sticking around! 🙂

Have a blessed summer,

Ann-Margret ❤

 

Devotions: What’s the Outcome?

Note: I apologize for how quiet it’s been on my blog the last couple of weeks. Life happens sometimes. Amiright? Updates to come… 

Bible with glasses

One of my favourite topics to write and speak about is something I used to struggle with for years and, I suspect is a common issue: my quiet time with God or, to put it another way, my devotional life.

You may be a new Christian who needs to learn how to develop a devotional life. Or maybe you’ve been a Christian for a while but your quiet times are dead in the water and need resuscitation. Maybe they’re just irregular and haphazard and you need some renewal. You may be very disciplined in your devotional life but feeling like you need a new spark, a bit of a turbo boost to take your quiet times to the next level.

Let’s look at why quiet time with God is essential to our spiritual growth:

  • Jesus demonstrated and talked about a devotional life. (Mark 1:35, Matthew 14:23, Luke 21:37, Luke 5:16)
  • It is our primary source of spiritual nourishment and growth. (Psalm 1:1-3)
  • It protects us from sin and strengthens us in times of crisis and temptation. (Matthew 26:40-41, Psalm 119:11)
  • It guides us in our everyday lives and in long-term decisions. (John 10:27)
  • It results in fruitfulness. (John 15:4, 7)
  • It plugs us into God, our source of power. (John 7:37-38)

The first step to reviving our quiet times is to acknowledge that something is missing in our encounters with God and His Word. Then we must reconsider the value of the Bible in our lives (see Psalm 119:50) and start relating to it the way Jesus did. He knew Scripture intimately and used His knowledge to teach others. Jesus also lived Scripture and walked in fulfilment of God’s Word.

It’s important to remember that the Bible is not just a story—it’s your story. It explains your origins, your value, your redemption, your call and your future. When you can recapture that sense that God’s Word is living, breathing  and life-changing, you can begin to connect with Him in a new and exciting way.

Remember to focus on the outcome of your quiet times and not on the activity itself. Your goal shouldn’t be about how many chapters you read or how long you pray, but about really connecting with God and becoming more like Him.

Ann-Margret 

If you would like to read more about how to effectively engage with God’s Word, you can find my articles on the American Bible Society Bible Engager’s Blog here.

 

The Humble Branch

I love this old saying:

“It is the laden bough that hangs low, and the most fruitful Christian who is the most humble.”

In other words, the more fruit a tree branch has on it, the lower it will bend toward the ground from the weight of the fruit. Similarly, when the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives, it should make us humble.

Naturally, as you grow in Christ, you may begin to recognize in yourself some of the characteristics described in Galatians 5:22-23a—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” In fact, you should see these traits in your life, as should those around you.

What we all need to guard ourselves from is the temptation to compare ourselves to others: “Hmm, she’s really impatient and rude. She’s not a very good Christian! And he has absolutely no self-control. God should discipline him. And that whole family is so miserable all the time—how ungrateful!”

If the good that people see in our lives doesn’t come from a humble heart that recognizes it has nothing to offer except what God Himself puts there, then it’s not genuine. It’s like taking a hot glue gun and attaching store-bought plastic pears and apples to a tree. Deceivingly attractive perhaps (though sometimes very obviously fake), but horrible—if not dangerous—to eat!

You know what makes a low-bending branch full of fruit so wonderful? Its fruit can nourish and delight those who come across it! What would be the point of being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled… if it didn’t benefit and bless the people around you?

I’ve always found it curious that humility isn’t listed among the fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps this concept of the “laden bough” has something to do with it. We can be intentional about developing the nine characteristics Paul listed in Galatians. However, I’m not sure we can make an intellectual decision to be humble. That must come as a result of maturing, of being so unwaveringly connected to Christ that we produce spiritual fruit as easily as we breathe.

At that point, I believe, we truly understand that the “fruit of Ann” or “fruit of Jimmy” or “fruit of Jane” is useless and undesirable, but the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit living in us is what really transforms lives. The humility must then come naturally—unrehearsed, unplanned and without any conceit.

May God bless you fruitful branches this summer!

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

P.S. A shorter version of this devotion is found in my colouring book Restore My Soul. Check it out!

 

Saturday Round-up

Here are some of my favourite things from the past week or so:

Flip Flop Art – This video is only 60 seconds long but that’s all you need to be inspired by the creativity of this wonderful project. It’s great for the environment, it’s great for those it employs and it’s just plain COOL!

APPLE PIE TACOS! Okay, so I haven’t tried this recipe yet but how delicious do these look? I would love one right now! If you try them before I do, please come back and let me know how they turned out.

You’ve got to see this video of a Nigerian street evangelist with inspiring courage and an obvious burden for telling people about Jesus. Let’s pray for this man’s ministry, and that we would have that kind of commitment! (Note: I can’t seem to find this video outside of Facebook, so I apologize to those of you who aren’t signed up.)

An interview I did for Christian Creative Nexus. Just a wee way to get to know me a little better. 🙂

And, finally, here’s a little funny to send you off you with:

They had been up in the attic together doing some cleaning. The kids uncovered an old manual typewriter and asked her, “Hey Mom…what’s this?”

“Oh…that’s an old typewriter,” she answered, thinking that would satisfy their curiosity.

“Well what does it do?” they asked.

“I’ll show you,” she said and returned with a blank piece of paper. She rolled the paper into the typewriter and began striking the keys, leaving black letters of print on the page.

“WOW!” they exclaimed, “that’s really cool…but how does it work like that? Where do you plug it in?”

“There is no plug,” she answered. “It doesn’t need a plug.”

“Then where do you put the batteries?” they persisted.

“It doesn’t need batteries either,” she continued.

“Wow! This is so cool!” they exclaimed. “Someone should have invented this a long time ago!”

Uh, yeah. 🙂 Have a lovely Saturday!

Ann-Margret

Is Christ at Home in Your Heart?

 

MHCHNearly 70 years ago, Robert Boyd Munger wrote a challenging meditation about Christian discipleship called My Heart, Christ’s Home (click on the title or image to open the full text, which is only six pages long) and it is estimated that more than 10 million have read this book. I read it for the first time about 15 years ago and it had a great impact on my life.

Imagine Jesus coming to the home of your heart when you receive Him as your Saviour. As He moves from room to room, what does He see? In the library, are you embarrassed to let Him see what is on the shelves?

In the dining room, what’s on the menu? What appetites do you try to satisfy there? Do you allow Christ to replace your secular fare with His soul-satisfying food and drink?

In the workroom, does He find that you are using your gifts and talents for His glory or are your tools rusting and collecting dust?

Do you even allow Him into the rec room where you go for fun and leisure activities? Is it a place you would feel comfortable inviting Him to hang out with you?

What about the bedroom? Are your relationships pure and godly? Will you consider His guidelines, keeping in mind that He gives them out of His love for you and not to stifle you?

Is there anything rotting in your hall closet that you’ve hidden away? Will you let Him clean it out?

The living room is the ideal place to meet with Him for fellowship. But do you visit with Him regularly, talking and sharing or does He sit there waiting for you to make some time for Him?

I love Munger’s interpretation of what Jesus might say:

“The trouble is that you have been thinking of the quiet time of Bible study and prayer as a means for your own spiritual growth. This is true, but you have forgotten that this time means something to me also. Remember, I love you. At a great cost I have redeemed you. I value your fellowship. Just to have you look up into my face warms my heart. Don’t neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whether or not you want to be with me, remember I want to be with you. I really love you!”

Jesus may be your Saviour—but have you truly made Him Lord of your life, of your heart…His home?

Ann-Margret 

 

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