Saturday Round-up

“He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

I’m thankful for the wise people in my life and can only hope and pray that some of their wisdom is rubbing off on me. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Jocelyn Green, a beloved friend who is also a beloved author, recently posted this caution on Facebook:

I just read a meme on Twitter that really has me scratching my head. It’s a quote from a book that says, “I can’t think of a single time where Jesus held someone accountable. He just held people closely.” Can we think about this for a second? Can we be discerning?

First, I understand that the idea is that we are to love our neighbors. That is a truth that cannot be denied. (See Matthew 22:36-40.) Jesus says love, so we should.

But let’s look at the first sentence in the quote. Not a single time where Jesus held someone accountable? The definition of “accountable” is responsible or answerable, or subject to the obligation to report, justify, or explain something. Check out Matthew 23 to see how Jesus holds the Pharisees accountable for their actions and hypocrisy. Matthew 25:31-46 clearly shows how we are all accountable for our decisions, and the consequences are eternal. In John 8, people are getting ready to stone an adulterous woman, and Jesus tells them to only throw a stone if they have never sinned. Isn’t that holding them accountable/responsible? At the end of that story, he pours grace over the woman, but ends with “Go and sin no more.” Again, he’s giving her the responsibility to make better choices. The book of Revelation contains letters to churches, holding them accountable for what they did or didn’t do. There are more examples, but I’ll stop there.

I’m sharing this as an example that we all need to be discerning when reading memes and hearing sound bytes and listening to famous people. I’m an author so it’s no secret that I love books. But we should be holding up those books to the Truth of God’s Word. We don’t get to decide what Jesus did and didn’t say. It is written.

Amen to that!

Here’s some more great advice from another author friend, Jackie Johnson: Feeling Lonely? Isolated? 5 Essential Life Connections

Just for Fun

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Something I came across on someone’s blog several years ago:

“Today, whilst I was driving, a speed camera flashed me. I was not over the speed limit, so I turned around and went past it again even slower, again it flashed me. Confused I did again, it flashed. Finding this funny, I drove past again at snail’s pace. Only later receiving four fines for no seat belt.”

Oy vey!

Have a great weekend! 🙂

Ann-Margret

 

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You Can’t Clean with Filthy Rags

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

Can I assume we all enjoy living in a clean house? What might be less certain is how many of us enjoy cleaning our homes. Ironically, the more we avoid cleaning, the more cleaning we have to do when we reach the point that we can no longer ignore the dirt. . . or somebody is coming over and we couldn’t possibly let them see things less than perfect. Now we’ve got two problems: a big ugly mess and the daunting task of cleaning it up.

Conversely, some of us may work hard at keeping our homes clean (and Pinterest-worthy!) because it makes us feel good about ourselves, not necessarily for the sheer pleasure of having beautiful surroundings.

Some time ago, God showed me that this was my approach toward righteousness. Perhaps you can relate. We know it’s important to be pure and holy and we desire it because it makes us feel good, but we don’t necessarily pursue it for the right reasons or go about it the right way.

At our church Bible study one day, someone pointed out that righteousness and self-righteousness are not the same thing. Ironically, my reaction to that was self-righteous: I thought, “I’m not self-righteous. I’m painfully aware of my own sins and shortcomings!” However, I was confusing self-righteousness with arrogance or pride. It struck me later that self-righteousness is not thinking I’m righteous; rather, it’s trying to be righteous on my own strength and wisdom, doing it as a duty, or works.

Isaiah 65

The Bible warns us that our own righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). . .not even fit for cleaning our homes with! Scripture has many verses about delighting in the Lord, about finding our joy in Him and in His righteousness, not in our own. If we delight in the Lord and grow in our relationship with Him, He will make us righteous in a way that no amount of discipline and hard work ever could.

Ann-Margret

Saturday Round-up

I’m competing with the royal wedding this morning. Ah well. Hopefully some of you will drop by when the festivities are over. 🙂 (No, I’m not watching. I have a television but I don’t have TV, if you know what I mean. I just watch Netflix and DVDs. My current obsession is Lie to Me.)

Speaking of Royal Marriages…

Last week I learned that one of my favourite hymns, Unto the Hills, was penned by the fourth Governor General of Canada, John Douglas Campbell (1878 – 1883), and that he was married to Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise. Useless information but still pretty cool, especially as I’m Canadian. The hymn is based on Psalm 121, by the way:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

And that reminds me of this more modern take on the Psalm:

Are You Rejecting the Promised Land?

This year, I’m reading the through the Bible using the M’Cheyne Bible Calendar (it goes through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice). So, I’ve been in Numbers, a book that isn’t necessarily one you’d turn to for inspiration or spiritual enlightenment. That’s what made it all the more surprising when I tripped over this nugget several days ago:

“As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected.” (Numbers 14:31)

What’s the big deal about this verse? Let me highlight the words the land you have rejected. The Israelites didn’t make it into the Promised Land for one simple reason: They rejected it. God didn’t take it away from them. For forty years, He patiently led them toward it and all they did was grumble and moan and complain and whine and murmur and reminisce about (of all things!) the garlic and onions back in Egypt. For forty years, they made it abundantly clear that they didn’t want the blessings God had in store for them. For forty years, they rejected His goodness.

It hit me right in the face: How many of God’s blessings, whether good health or success in my work or healthy relationships, have I missed out on because I was too busy navel-gazing at my pity parties? How many doors that God has opened have I not walked through because I didn’t want to leave something else behind?

I could write a whole Bible study on this theme, and maybe I will one day, but I just wanted to share those thoughts for now. I’d love to hear your own comments!

Read a Good Book Recently?

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Why not take a few minutes to write a review on Amazon or another bookstore’s website that sells the book? I can tell you from personal experience that even a one-sentence positive review can be a huge boost to an author.

If you (or your kids) have read any of my books, would you please consider writing a review? If you have friends who have bought my book, could you encourage them to do the same? Thank you so much! You can find my books on Amazon here.

One for the Road

May this encourage you today: “God’s power, glory, and majesty make me feel like I don’t deserve to be in the same room with him. His love, mercy, and compassion let me know I don’t belong anywhere else.” — Eric Collier

See you on Tuesday!

Ann-Margret

Dreadfully Busy! (Really?)

If you’re anywhere near my age (or if you have kids), you might be familiar with this old VeggieTales “Silly Song”:

I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy!
You’ve no idea what I have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy…

I can relate to being “dreadfully busy” but, sadly, I must admit that I can also relate to the last words of the chorus: “Much, much too busy for you!” Please tell me it’s not just me.

But, come on now. . . we are legitimately busy, aren’t we? People just don’t understand! We have work deadlines to meet. We have family commitments—our children or spouses or parents need and expect us to do certain things for them. There are committee meetings to attend and weddings/showers/funerals to go to (not to mention shop for). We have to catch up on our housework, our bill payments, our laundry, our yard work, our correspondence!  Did I mention sleep and going to the hair salon and grocery shopping and walking the dog and picking up the dry cleaning? And (cough, cough) Facebook?

Stop!

Breathe.

When did we get caught up in this whirlwind of activity? When did we start believing that unless we get all these things done—and well—we’re either going to be a big failure or we’re going to be unhappy?

No wonder we don’t have time to visit and sit with an elderly or sick person.

Or don’t we?

No wonder we can’t attend more than one church meeting per week.

Or do we just think we can’t?

No wonder we can’t find more than a few minutes each day to read our Bibles and pray.

Or can we?

Believe me, I’m pointing my fingers at myself here, too. The problem is not that we don’t have enough time, nor that we have too much to do. God has given us all 24 hours each day. He has also blessed us with opportunities, either at work or with our families, to do certain things and we should take advantage of them. So what is the problem?

I believe we’re doing things backwards. We’re not tithing our time. What I mean is, we’re not first scheduling in the important things in our lives and making the rest of the stuff fit around them. We’re trying to fit the important things around the other stuff. It doesn’t work!

Or. . . hmmmm. . . perhaps we think the wrong things are important?

Why don’t we take some time right now to submit ours calendars and agendas to God? Maybe we won’t find ourselves so “dreadfully busy” anymore!

Ann-Margret

Saturday Round-up

Hello, friends! After waffling a bit on the best types of posts to share on my blog, and on what days, I think I’ve finally sorted it out. For now, at least—ha!

I’ll continue to post inspirational / devotional / reflective pieces on Tuesdays, and Saturdays will now be a little like what I was trying to do with “Curated Wednesdays” earlier in the year… only simpler. I jot things down throughout the week—quotes, ideas, resources, etc.—but sometimes those notes are not enough to turn into an entire blog post. Compiled into a round-up, however, they may prove interesting. So, let’s give it a try today and see what happens. 🙂

Mother’s Day Colouring Page

In case you missed it, I’ve got a free colouring page for Mother’s Day on my Freebies page that you’re welcome to download and print and enjoy! (Or you can just click on the image below.)

Mother's Day

More on Manna

Remember my devotional about manna a couple of weeks ago? I stumbled across this morsel a few days ago that fits nicely:

“The children of Israel did not find in the manna all the sweetness and strength they might have found in it; not because the manna did not contain them, but because they longed for other meat.” (Saint John of the Cross, 1542-1591)

How often does God give us unimaginable blessings, and we don’t appreciate them because we’re longing for something different? And that reminds me of this C.S. Lewis quote:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Bible Not-so-trivial Trivia

Did you ever notice that the shortest chapter in the Bible is not in the Psalms? Jeremiah 45 is only five verses long (compared to Psalm 23, which has six). But the last verse of this chapter really packs a punch! The exhortation reminds me of Matthew 6:33.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Adam vs. Jesus

At one of the Bible studies at church, we have been studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans. In the fifth chapter, there is a complex discussion about how humankind received death through Adam and life through Jesus Christ. I’ve studied this portion before but had never thought of this particular contrast between the two figures until our teacher pointed it out: One was tested in a perfect garden and failed; the other was tested in the wilderness and succeeded. 

Joy in Grumbling?

A few weeks ago, I caught myself grumbling when someone at Bible study, during the worship time, asked for a hymn by its title and everyone turned to me to provide the page number. Why can’t anyone else ever look it up in the index?, I thought. Still, being the pastor’s daughter and all, I did a quick search and called out the page number while I flipped through my own hymnbook. And then it suddenly hit me. OUCH!

The song that had been chosen was Joy in Serving Jesus. I couldn’t even look up a hymn number for someone without grumbling. How could I say I was serving Jesus with joy? Yeah. That one stung a bit. But in a good way.

Well, that’s it for today. Happy Mother’s Day to all you lovely mothers reading this… and to those of you who, like me, have not experienced the joys of motherhood and would have liked to, or if this celebration is painful for you for any other reason, I send you a warm hug. ❤

Ann-Margret

The Bondage of Duplicity

Sitting your kids down for a talk, preparing a lesson, writing a sermon or standing up in front of a crowd is child’s play compared to practicing what you preach. Parents, teachers, pastors: Am I right? Most of our struggles in living out what we believe, even as “mature” Christians, stem not from a lack of understanding of the truth but from a lack of conviction about it.

Several years ago, I spoke to the women at my church about being single-minded Christians, about inviting simplicity into our lives. A week later, I caught myself playing tug-of-war solitaire as I tried to figure out how to approach a couple of situations in my life. I felt torn between choices that all seemed good and I couldn’t decide which path to follow. I heard myself praying, “God, I don’t even know what I want!”

A moment later, Matthew 6:33 came to mind:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The lights went on in my mind as I recognized that I was ailing from the type of double-mindedness I had been teaching others about. I felt anxious because I was, as the old proverb goes. . .

rabbit

I felt stuck. I thought I had to be control of every aspect of my life. In fact, there was only one simple thing I needed to focus on: God and His will for me.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have the free will to make choices but, if we feel trapped in a dilemma, it’s probably because we’re trusting our own wisdom rather than His. James 1:5-8 invites us to ask God for wisdom, which He grants readily and generously. That passage also warns us, however, to ask without doubting. . .without being double-minded. We see the same warning about double-mindedness in James 4:8.

Richard J. Foster, a Christian theologian and author in the Quaker tradition, uses the term duplicity: “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.”

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus makes the message even clearer, pointing out that we cannot serve two masters. We can’t say we worship God and then make idols of our wealth, our relationships, our careers or our accomplishments. We can’t say we’re committed to Christ and then put all our energy into selfish, self-pleasing pursuits. We can’t say we trust God with our future and then do things to manipulate it. We can’t say we love God above all else and then allow distractions into our lives that take our attention and time away from Him.

Many of us believe we can escape the stress of information overload, busy schedules and unhealthy habits if we revolutionize our lifestyles into simpler ones. However, this is almost impossible to achieve on our own because we live in a broken world; as Foster says, we are “trapped in a maze of competing attachments. One moment we make decisions on the basis of sound reason and the next moment out of fear of what others will think of us.” When people lack a divine Centre, their need for security drives them into an insane attachment to things.

“We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic…because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” (Foster)

There are practical ways we can achieve simplicity in our lives, but asceticism is not the answer, nor is it biblical, though there is clear and strong teaching against greed and materialism. What is the correct, biblical balance? Asceticism is “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” Simplicity, in contrast, places possessions in proper perspective and rejoices in the gracious provision from the hand of God. (See Philippians 4:12, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Peter 5:2.)

Remember: It may be possible to have it all, but not all at the same time (and, besides, where would you put it all, or when would you have time to enjoy it all?) You’re better off pursuing the best that God has for you than chasing after things that offer no real value.

Reflection Questions

  1. Who or what in your life distracts you from your relationship with God?
  2. What are some concerns that occupy your mind and heart on a regular basis?
  3. In what areas of your life do you worry about what others think? (e.g. your appearance, your social status, your material possessions, your job, etc.)
  4. How would your life change if you cared only about what God thinks of you and your choices?
  5. If you were single-mindedly focused on God’s will for you, what changes do you think He would ask you to start making in your life?

Ann-Margret

How Thirsty Are You?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

Psalm 42_1

Some years ago, I was doing a personal Bible study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) and found it enriching to go through that Scripture text slowly, chewing  on each verse rather than just reading it all quickly and coming away with a mere taste of the message within.

The study guide I was using, Mocha on the Mount by Sandra Glahn (a friend who is also an editor I wrote for a couple of times), asked a provocative question when we got to Matthew 5:6 (see above). Glahn encouraged the reader to think about the last time she was hungry or thirsty. Then she challenged: “In terms of intensity, what’s the difference between someone who would like to be righteous and someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness?”

Wow—I had never thought of it that way! Most of my life I have been satisfied in knowing that I would like to be righteous, that holiness is important to me, that I try to be a good Christian who pleases her Lord.

Think about it for a moment: hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Do we even understand what that means? When we read Psalm 42:1 (see graphic above), do we stop long enough to remember that when a deer has spent the day running from wolves, lions or bears, she desperately needs the refreshment of water?

Is that the kind of thirst we have for God, for His Word, for righteousness? Are we preoccupied, even distracted, by our desire to be holy and pure and righteous? Are we consumed by the need to be close to God and to be filled and transformed by His Spirit?

I don’t know about you, but I frequently find it easy to give greater attention to earthly and self-seeking priorities and desires. How many of us walk around mentally balancing our cheque books, planning menus, checking items off our to-do lists and fantasizing about our next vacation, shopping expedition or sports event?

Those things are not bad. But do they satisfy us? Rarely.

“What would it look like for you to be passionate about  righteousness? How might your schedule change? Your spending priorities? Your attitudes?”
(Glahn)

I encourage you to memorize Matthew 5:6 and to repeat it to yourself daily. God promises we will be satisfied if we hunger for righteousness.

Ann-Margret

 

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