Return to the Lord by Maria Sibaja

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13

At the age of 15, I was exposed to a world that until that point I hadn’t believed truly existed. One of my classmates and close friends tragically passed away one Friday night while we were all at a school function. We were in the midst of celebrating when the school’s director got on stage and shared the news. I don’t remember exiting the theatre or how I got to a bathroom stall but sometime later another girl found me where I was huddled in a corner, in shock. Finally, as I was surrounded by my family and teachers I remember turning to the school director and asking her how it happened. It scares me to know that upon asking that question, somewhere a part of me knew that this hadn’t been some accident. She merely looked down and I knew that my friend had made the decision to say goodbye.

I knew what suicide was but in my world it wasn’t real. It was portrayed on TV or in books, perhaps the opening scene of a cop show or Holden Caulfield’s blasé remarks. It was so removed from the world I lived in that it felt like it was meant for shock value; nobody you knew actually committed suicide. Worst of all, I thought that if someone were to ever decide to take their own life you’d know. You’d see the warning signs, the obvious suffering. Never, in my very short 15 years did I ever think a 14 year-old boy, who seemed relatively happy, would decide that the world was so unbearable he didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

I don't remember much about the days that followed but bits and pieces stand out. His mother’s anguished cries as she held on to me and tried to thank me for being her son’s friend through a mixture of tears and mucus. The colourful balloons used in the ceremony we had at school. The whispered conversation in the kitchen while my aunts discussed the friend of a friend who had also taken their own life and how tragic it was that I was going through something similar. A whole summer went by without my noticing, but throughout it I was left with a constant burning sensation inside and along with this burning sensation was the heavy aching of three questions. Three questions that had been playing on repeat inside my head since that night:

  • Was I not a good enough friend? 

  • What could I have done differently? 

  • Why did God allow this to happen?

That burning and aching, I would later learn, were the physical signs of fear and anxiety. I now lived in a constant state of alertness, tense like a rubber band that’s about to snap, always checking for signs that this could happen again. If a friend said “goodbye,” I wanted to be sure it wasn’t a permanent goobye. If anyone was sad or angry I needed to check throughout the night that they were still around. I had constant nightmares of finding out my loved ones had chosen to leave their lives behind prematurely. In the years that followed, that anxiety spread into every area of my life and with it spread anger and resentment. I had lived in a world of safety, love and comfort. I’d grown up extremely active in the church, a place that told me that there was a God who loved us so much he had sacrificed his only son to save us. He loved us so much he’d always be looking for us, protecting us, fighting for us. How could this same God let this happen? How could I live in a world where a boy suffered so much he chose to leave it? 

At some point in my late teenage years, my anger and resentment continued to grow until one day I decided God did not exist. There was no way the God I grew up loving and worshipping would allow this type of suffering in the world. With that decision came a break that at the time I saw as a break to freedom but in reality was a break in my relationship with God. All my life God had been the hard rock that I leaned on, my anchor and focus point; with him gone I thought I was free of the “silly” Christian rules that governed my life. What truly happened is I was left in a kind of void, like an astronaut whose tether has been severed, aimlessly floating in the cold vacuum of space. My lifeline was gone.

The years that followed were hard, my anxiety developed into a more serious problem and invited its friend depression. I entered university and was constantly in an exhausting state of mind where everything felt too big to tackle and I was living in a constant state of panic and fear. Small things like ordering a coffee became so stressful that I avoided leaving my dorm; big things like exams and projects felt like they could potentially end my world. Finally one night, during finals week of my sophomore year it all became too much.

I remember sitting on my dorm room floor, surrounded by my friends as I bawled my eyes out over a calculus exam that was the tipping point after a long series of events. I came to the point described in Joel 2:13 where my distress and grief were such that I might as well have been rendering my garments. My world was falling apart. Later that evening, as I was trying to pull myself together from hours of crying I got a message from someone I hadn’t seen in years, an old coworker of my father’s who had no reason to be messaging me. In this message he wrote that he’d been praying that evening when he saw a picture of me, sitting on the floor crying in grief. Upon seeing that picture he felt God tell him to reach out to me and let me know that everything would turn out okay.

You can imagine what this did to me. Here I was, five years after my friend’s death, after years of turning away from God, lost and angry and yet God was still reaching out to me. He was still trying to love me whether I wanted him to or not. In that moment I realized what I had known all along. God was always there for me, still willing to look for a lost sheep that had stubbornly run away. He is gracious and merciful. I had pretty much renounced him, turned my back on him and yet he held on. He was not angry with me; he didn’t disavow me, or give up on me. It took a long time after that for me to forgive myself but God had already forgiven me. Like the father in the Prodigal Son, he’d been standing with his arms open waiting for me to return home. 

He is our Father, who gives his grace freely to those who ask for it, rich in mercy and always ready to forgive. He is slow to anger, he doesn’t pour out the wrath that our sins deserve nor does he retain anger forever. He is our good and kind father, who will never leave or forsake us.

Maria can currently be found at Redemption Church’s office where she is the office manager. She is originally from Costa Rica but has fallen in love with Vancouver and its people. Her greatest treasure is her cat Sherlock, who is a truly wonderful ginger purr-ball and she loves talking about him.

All Who Are Sick by Simon Jung

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Mark 2:17

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I recently went through a “dry season”. I have to say, I used to feel mystified by this church language, but through the process, I've come to realize that it's an important part of the faith journey, and one that still has God's call to come deeper. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t realize where I was going until I was already there. For me, this season felt shameful and worrisome as I wrestled with an already challenging question: why should I (continue to) follow Jesus?

How did I end up in this place? Let me backtrack a bit. During our fast in January, God called me to surrender a long term--perhaps even a lifelong--addiction. I had known for a long time that it wasn’t anything to be proud of, but the addiction was my safe place, a way to cope with trauma, and, to a large extent, my identity. In my brokenness, God’s conviction felt condemning and overwhelming. As I struggled to keep the fast going for the sake of fasting, I eventually came to a crossroads where my love for God and my other love were in direct conflict.

But I still felt reluctant and apprehensive. How do I let go of something that feels like a friend or even my own body? I didn’t know how, I didn’t fully understand the reason, and I obviously didn’t really want to. I felt truly stuck. And the more I thought about all of this, the more I felt defensive about meeting my needs that were being displaced. And then I started to feel that Christians only cared about their righteousness and not about me or my suffering. Soon enough, I was full on angry, and I remember thinking, ‘God’s standards are impossibly high, and the call to follow Jesus is too much for me. I don’t want to do this anymore’.

It’s difficult to recount the details of this journey, especially through my introverted and introspective lens. It certainly took another one of God’s miracles (and grace) for me to uncover that God is--as I have once believed and known--good, and that He has been good all along. There was plenty of turmoil, frustration, and anger throughout the process, but in the end, through my very own brokenness, God was able to bring about a greater healing and redemption in my life than I had ever experienced before.

I want to share some of my key learnings. Number one is that I was holding onto lies about God. The usual suspect, right? But understanding how and why the lies took hold in the first place helped me to see my journey not through shame but through the grace and compassion that God extends to all of us. Evidently, I had picked up a lot of guilt and negative self-worth throughout my life, and it was making me view my relationships through a lens of oppression and rejection. And, even more importantly, I realized that I had built up a pattern of withdrawal and escape, even towards God.

Next is that there is a faith aspect to all of this. At the “turning point”, I had made a conscious decision to trust God; to believe that He is good and that He is for me, even if my shame, hurt, and anger didn’t feel that way. One of the biggest things that helped me was hearing what Jesus had to say about how it’s the sick who needs the doctor. This made sense (logically), and so I was able to recognize that I shouldn't have to feel shameful about getting help. And if what Jesus said on His Sermon on the Mount (ex. Matthew 5:4) were true, there seemed to be a place in His Kingdom for me.

I want to acknowledge that God’s Kingdom doesn’t always seem welcoming without His grace. And perhaps it never does. With my partner's encouragement, attending church even when it was filled with upsetting triggers gave me the opportunity to be reminded that God gives freely to everyone. I may have been too hurt and/or too prideful to have asked for forgiveness, but Jesus has already paid the price and He just wants me to come and receive Him. This part defies the logic of justice, but here we all are having received God's grace when we were still His enemies. Once I started to understand and process the forgiveness that Jesus offered, I started seeing God differently. From this place, I was able to ask for His forgiveness and ask for help, which is something that I am continuing to press into.

In my field (special education), educators take on somewhat of a detective role. We look at behaviour fundamentally as a form of communication, and when we see a student struggle--or completely fail--we take responsibility to identify any barriers that may be in their way. I see now that my barrier was (and still is) shame. But I wonder what other barriers stand in the way of us coming closer to Jesus--just as we are, sick and broken. If you are questioning, my heart feels for you. If you’re questioning, I see that you’re seeking and fighting.

I have come to realize that God is always and actively calling us into a deeper relationship with Him. Every Christian, no matter how ‘spiritual’, is in the process of overcoming something through God’s help. After all, this is the very nature of what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus.

In this season of Lent, we are told to come. What does this look like for you? I think we all have different postures for coming to King Jesus. In my experience, Jesus sometimes simply said, “Look at me”. Sometimes it meant singing a bit more with my heart. And sometimes, it meant going up to the prayer ministry and asking for help, allowing God to work through the members of our community. And I think, more often than not, the picture isn’t so much as us coming to God, but rather us coming to answer the door.

In all the times that my brokenness and sin--which I think are often the two sides to the same coin--were revealed, it has been both a time of blessing and a time of feeling shame, inadequacy, and helplessness. I'll say it right here: being truly vulnerable is hard and the healing process can be painful. But through my dry season, I was able to affirm God’s character: God is encouraging and God wants to help us become whole; shame and guilt do not come from Him. Knowing this, I find the strength again to come back to His presence and worship Him with others. And so my journey with Jesus continues. I’m not sure where your journey begins, but may the hope and peace of Christ Jesus help you to come find the healing you need.

Simon is getting married soon. He is working as an EA in the school board now. He enjoys music, writing, and watching TV. He still loves getting brunch after church.

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Receiving Grace by Sarah Chen

“For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.”” Ezekiel 34:11

Growing up, there was no reason to question my faith. In the family I grew up in, being a Christian didn’t just mean going to church, but rather an intense journey of faith, not knowing what each day would bring, facing an assortment of immigration, financial, and health issues that no amount of planning or preparation could resolve on its own, except through God’s grace and provision through miracles.  

After working at the church, I felt like I had gained a greater depth of knowledge to my faith that I had lacked in evangelical churches growing up. I was a ‘good’ Christian who served in the church, had an intellectual understanding of my faith, prayed and heard from God. My faith was invincible, or so I thought.

However, in 2018, I started wrestling with the reason for my faith. Having witnessed the people closest to me experience a time of distance in their own faith amidst my own questioning led me to wonder what the point of it all was. My lifelong experiences of God could not save the amount of apathy I felt towards my faith nor my fear of burning in a pit of fire in hell (somebody please tell me I’m not the only one who grew up reading those terrifying Chick tract comics). I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God, the same God who I credited as having saved my life (literally) and having been with me through all of the pain and suffering I had experienced in my past.

This is where I wish I could tell you that I had a very mature way of working through all of this. However, I did not. I made distressed pleas and complaints to God, all of which ended something like this, “God, I really don’t care, and if you’re real and want me to come back to you, then you’re going to have to make it happen, because I have absolutely no interest in that right now, and can’t foresee myself making it happen.” In the following months, I experienced a strange sense of listlessness. Whenever I was not distracted by work, TV, or social activities, in the moments of quiet in my life, I would feel indescribable anxiety about something I couldn’t place my finger on and tiredness that wasn’t physical, emotional, or mental, something I did not attribute to being spiritual until much later.

I did not pray to God again, until later when I decided to pray about a few job prospects for my parents’ sake, as it would have affected them in some way. While I was at it, I figured I might as well try to reconnect with God, because I was so uneasy and I felt the need to do something meditative to ease the uneasiness. I would tell Him how tired I was; pray about my job prospects, and soon I ran out of things to say. All I could do was sit quietly and stare out into the distance from wherever I was, mind blank. In one of these moments, I decided to let myself rest and wait. If God wanted me to return to faith in Him, He would make it happen. I resigned myself to the fact that I had no means to go back on my own and I let go of the fear of it. I let myself do what I wanted, and to escape the anxious feeling that cropped up at times, I spent most of my free time reading the psalms, listening to quiet instrumentals, or sitting outside and journaling.

Somehow, in that time and space, I finally understood the grace of God. When I reached an all-time low in my lack of faith, I was disoriented, anxious, and had no interest or reason to seek God. How I even turned to God again is a mystery to me, and nothing I did out of my own volition. It is something I can only attribute to God, for having answered my desperate plea from months previous. He chose me, a person who wanted nothing to do with Him. I had no good deeds to give Him. The only thing I could give him was my own disinterested heart, and He took it, and made it His own.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16

Having realized this, I finally felt free. He asked for us, empty-handed. It might seem like being subservient and weak, but to me, I finally knew what it meant to come to God with no agenda, no good responsible duties on hand to offer, but just me, as I am, like a friend. And life has never been more beautiful. For the first time, I felt incredibly grateful to be alive.

Of course, this is not a happy ending story. I am still regaining my step in life and recovering my energy. I still have not figured out my future. There are still things I struggle with and still many unanswered prayers that I am waiting on. There will be more hurdles down the road, and more I can learn about God. The thing that has changed is my perspective on God, which has changed my faith. Faith has seasons, and with each new season comes a renewal in faith and a new perspective gained. I hope that if your faith is dry, apathetic, non-existent, or exhausting, then you will receive a new faith in Christ that leads you to freedom and joy.

Sarah is a church attendee who has been at Redemption since she was an undergraduate student. She really loves cats (especially her parents’ cat), hiking, eating Asian food, and reading (A LOT). If you want a good book to read this lent season, she recommends “Til We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis. She is usually found hidden in the back of the church on Sundays. Come say ‘hi!’

 

Repost: Chew this Word

Over the weeks of lent, we've had different bloggers reflect on the verses within Ephesians 2:1-10. We've also asked you to join us in reflection and reading of the passages on our lenten Sundays. As we enter Easter weekend, from Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday, we invite you to spend some time reflecting on Ephesians 2:1-10 in your own quiet time with God. A tool that you can use to do this is Lectio Divina, a traditional practice of reading scripture slowly and in contemplation. Kasey Kimball wrote about Lectio Divina last year, and she includes a guide on how to use it. We invite you to re-read her blog as you read over the scripture passage this week. 

Chew This Word - by Kasey Kimball

Gates, Walls, and the Inner Jerusalem of Our Hearts

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:1-10

Our Lent focus turns to Holy Week and I invite you to imagine yourselves with the crowd of pilgrims preparing for the entry into Jerusalem, or Palm Sunday as we know it. The pilgrims were coming to celebrate the great Jewish stories of freedom and hope. Many of the participants along with the disciples believed that Jesus deserved a royal entry.  But it seemed that few understood what Jesus was about when he entered Jerusalem on that colt, so who would be really prepared for the upside down turn of events. Even though Jesus had told his disciples that he would be mocked, insulted, flogged and killed, then rise again on the third day, they did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them and they did not know what he was talking about. (Luke 18:34)

It's interesting that while the crowds were cheering about what they knew not – Jesus wept. They just weren't in tune with the mission of Jesus. 

The atmosphere was full of expectation, turmoil, uprising, and then a big disappointment for the disciples. I imagine if I were part of the scene at that time I'd have my own expectations and most likely they would have been displaced. I'd be focusing on the great kingdom life I was going to have once Jesus rose to the top, claimed his sovereignty, his Lordship over all. Of course I had not absorbed all the teaching he so diligently brought forth and I hardly knew him well enough to understand anyway. So naturally when he was crucified I'd be walking on the road to despair, wondering how I could have been so mistaken, so gullible to believe in the first place.

Holy Week is both about Jesus' outward, visible and historical entry into Jerusalem and what he did there, and yet also about his entry into the inner Jerusalem – the seething holy city as writer / poet Malcolm Guite calls it –  of our own hearts. In his poem Palm Sunday he suggests that we pose a few questions about our inner lives. 

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The Saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they'll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing…

The expectations of the crowd as well as my own are easily displaced. Disappointment follows. Jesus understood, as he wept over Jerusalem. It's taken me years to understand that scene. But somehow as I've returned to him repeatedly with misplaced expectations and disappointments he has met me with compassion and, of course, grace. 

I've had my own intimate encounter with Jesus this past few months as I came to terms not just with a diagnosis of breast cancer but the difficult acceptance of the loss of Wendy Dubois, Elder of Redemption and friend, to cancer.

Wendy texted me in November during a Sunday service about her diagnosis.

I texted her several weeks later about mine, and she died shortly after. The gate in my heart closed and the walls went up for a season as I struggled to find my anchor in the dark days of January following her death and my own upcoming surgery in February. My journal entry records a time of depression, anguish, fear, doubt, repentance, faith, confidence and then true trust. Trust based on the progression in Holy Week that leads us to a new and greater understanding of what our Christian faith is about: cleansing the temple of our hearts, acknowledging his death on the cross for our sins as the means of a new life that is full of hope and faith, and perhaps fewer misplaced expectations.

I’m grateful to have recovered what Eugene Peterson refers to as my 'resurrection centre' – not just for my life, but Wendy's as well. The death and resurrection of Jesus creates and then makes available the reality in which we become God's workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) I need to be reminded not just during Holy Week but especially those times when the gate in my heart closes and the walls go up. This year especially I’m looking forward to celebrating Easter with all of you.  

P.S. Follow along with the continuation of this selected passage with the upcoming blogs of this lenten season here.

Deborah Phillips

Deborah A. M. Phillips is an Elder at Redemption. She is the author of the novel Argonauta.  Her poetry, and essays have been published in English and French. Deborah previously worked as a church planter. She taught at Institute Biblique du Québec, and is the former Director of Women's Ministries for the province of Québec.  

This is Our Story

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:1-9

How have these weeks of lent been for you? Have you taken the time, as suggested by Sarah, to take those (usually uncomfortable) steps toward freedom by confessing and repenting of your sins? Did you set something aside and/or pick something up in order to “turn (your) heart’s focus – from a ‘once was’ to an ‘even now’”? I must admit that I’ve not spent as much time meditating on our passage as I’d hoped to, but in the time I have, I’ve found focusing on our Ephesians passage has given me a glimpse of the place from whence we have come – it’s not pretty, is it? That old story is not a nice story, but it is not the story in which we now live.

As we continue meditating on this passage, I hope you’re going to soak in this stark contrast – where we were, in darkness, and where are been brought – “the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”  As Rebecca beautifully said, Jesus’ story is now our story. We are in Christ. His story is now our story.

In the old story, we were “children of wrath.” In the new story we are children of God (John 1:12, Romans 8:14, Galatians 3:26, Galatians 4:5).

In the old story we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In the new story we have been made alive together with Christ, free to walk as who we truly are.

In the old story, we were following the patterns of this world. In the new story we are evidence of God’s mercy, grace, and love - “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness.” God wants to show who He is, and He is using us to do that. We are God’s show-and-tell. What an honour!

In the old story we were striving to carry out the desires of the body and the mind. In the new story we get “to work joyfully with him for the redemption of all creation.”

Let us tell His story (now our story), and “boldly testify to the power and love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” And this is surely the thing to which we testify – “the gift of God.” We didn’t write ourselves into this grand narrative. The Author has given us a place in this story, in Christ. It is not our own doing, and no amount of doing will make it so.

Let us therefore boast in Christ, share His incredible story.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
~ Fanny J. Crosby

P.S. Follow along with the continuation of this selected passage with the upcoming blogs of this lenten season here.

Laura Bulk

Laura is a proud Dutch-woman from Saanichton, BC. She has been part of the family for as long as she remembers, and has been part of the Redemption Church community since 2012. She is also passionate about advocating for human dignity and occupational justice, and is doing her PhD in the area of blindness in the hopes of advocating for change. She loves to make food for people, play games, walk (fast) with a friend, dance and laugh – if you like any of those things, give her a ring!

Beyond Forgiveness

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." ~Ephesians 2:1-7

Paul compares where we came from to what God has done for us, while we were yet sinners. He, who is rich in mercy, raised us from the dead, and made us alive in Christ Jesus. God goes beyond delivering us from death and forgiving us of our sins—He raised us up with Christ, and seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms. All this is done that He might be glorified, and that, through us, He might demonstrate the riches of his grace and his loving kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Do you believe He has done this for you? Do you really believe this?

While God can demonstrate His creative power and display His glory in the amazing beauty of His creation, Scriptures tell us that the primary way His loving kindness and the riches of His grace is exhibited is in how He relates and deals with us. Rather than treating us as our sins deserve or repaying us for our iniquities, God forgives us of all our sins, and raises us up in Christ Jesus. He did not just write off the debt and pretend it did not exist, but placed the penalty for our sin on Christ who paid it on our behalf. That alone should be enough to bowl us over completely and bring us to our knees with gratitude and humility. The Great Exchange on the Cross has become our Great Escape.

Like the Prodigal Son, we should be running to God and begging Him to take us in, in light of what He has done. And we would consider ourselves lucky if He lets us come back into His household as a servant. This is because we know that if we were to give our whole life (which is no longer ours) to serve Him, we can never repay Him for His mercy. Never. The debt is simply too big. 

But Jesus did not only die to save us from the penalty of sin, but God has seen it fit to elevate us and seat us with Christ. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, He restores us as His children, and gives us a place at the table! He gives us the full meal deal complete with inheritance as His heirs. The Psalmist provides us with a picture of the richness of God’s grace in Psalm 103: God forgives all your sins; heals all your diseases; redeems your life from the pit; crowns you with love and compassion; satisfies all your desires with good things. He has compassion on us as a father has compassion on His children.

If we should boast, let us boast in His great mercy. May we boast in the fact that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love! Now that we have been restored to right relationship with God in Christ, let us go forth to freely share the good news of His forgiveness, seek to bring His healing to the broken world around us, and work joyfully with Him for the redemption of all creation.

P.S. Follow along with the continuation of this selected passage with the upcoming blogs of this lenten season here.

Cheryl Wong Miklos

Originally from Malaysia, Cheryl came to Canada in 2005 to pursue her master's degree at Regent College where she now serves as an Admission Counsellor. She is grateful to have met her husband at Redemption Church and that they can continue to be part of the family here. If you love food, or love thinking, talking, reading, watching films about food, she'd like to get to know you. Unfortunately, no photo is available as she prefers not to post personal photos online for privacy and security reasons.

 

Forgiven and Free

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.” ~Ephesians 2:1-5

I can’t help but wonder at the author of these words. Before he became known as Paul, Saul was a man who actively pursued the persecution of Christians. He gave his approval for their murder (Acts 7:54-60) and was passionate for their imprisonment (Acts 9:2). He was not indifferent or apathetic, rather he was a man on a mission of destruction. And yet the Lord spoke these words about him, “this man is to be my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

Here was a man who so obviously did nothing to earn salvation and everything to earn God’s wrath, even so grace was extended to him.

When I think of Paul, I regard him as an amazing person. Yes, he did unspeakable acts, things that could have lingered in his soul and tormented him under the revelation of his new life in Christ, but he boldly shared the gospel. Imagine if Paul had allowed his sin to weigh heavily in his memories; the persecution of people whose only crime was to follow Christ, a “crime” he himself was now committing. His sins would have been like the proverbial ball and chain around his ankle hindering him, slowing him down. Instead, Paul allowed the recognition of what the cross had done for him, an acceptance of this gift freely given, to remove the potentially crippling effect of sin on his life. Moreover, he used the revelation of his salvation to fuel him forward. He professed the gospel with zeal because he fully understood from whence he had come and the hope into which he had been reborn. He professed and lived this truth:

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:16-21).

I often reflect on the active spiritual battle that wages war on our heart, soul and mind. On any given day there is a conflict of great consequence taking place in the Heavens; one that endeavours to make us remember and hang onto our sin, to keep our eyes fixed on ourselves and not on Jesus, and thus interfere with the race marked out for us. But we are called to “throw off the sin that so easily entangles,” to remember the undeserved place we have been given. Although sometimes challenging, we must simply accept that we have been fully forgiven because of the grace extended to us. When we do this, we proclaim Jesus as the victor. The alternative is to carry sin with us and thus shift the victory into enemy territory.

Paul’s story is also our story. Our conversion moment may not have been as dramatic as Paul’s, but the salvation story is the same for all. We have all been washed clean by the blood of Christ. We have all been rescued from the pit and covered with sacrificial love and gracious provision that required nothing from us but surrender. We have received redemption from the death due us, and the life of freedom we cannot earn. We need to live in this truth! Allow it to penetrate our heart, soul and mind, to cut through things that hinder because God sees us as His instruments. Like Paul, he has chosen each of us for a purpose. With abandon, let us turn away from the anchor of sin and humbly accept God’s beautiful gift of grace and so boldly testify to the power and love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.”

P.S. Follow along with the continuation of this selected passage with the upcoming blogs of this lenten season here.

Rina Carbol

Rina is quickly becoming one of the “oldies” in the church. She has been around since just after the doors of this church opened 28 years ago. Rina (along with her husband) raised her four children in this church and while some have strayed from the truth, Rina knows that God is faithful. After all, He saved her from complete darkness and so she knows without doubt that He is able to do the seemingly impossible in anyone. Rina loves to walk her dogs, drink coffee and exercise. She enjoys the Fall and Winter rains with their grey days, the Spring rains that reveal rainbows, and the brief sunshine of the Summer. Odd duck? Probably. Content? Very. Rina loves to pray for others. Need prayer? Ask:)