About Heather

Proudly born and raised Texan, Heather now resides in the great White North of Canada with her husband, John, her five children, a dog who adores her a little too much and a cat who tolerates her from time to time. When not homeschooling her children, Heather either has her nose in a book or her eye to her camera. You can read and see more by Heather at her Photo/Blog Heather Ferguson Photography.

Run to Jesus

Colorado Springs wild fire

I have struggled with words this past month – my words.  I don’t seem to have any – it happens.  It’s not always a bad thing.  So as I read of my friends wrestling the wild fire in Colorado, I want words to encourage – to give them sustaining life to persevere.  But I have none – none that don’t seem trite. Fortunately, I know many who do – from ages back, who fought their own fires, battles and storms.  So for my friends in Colorado – and for my friends (that’s you) across the world fighting fires and raging storms whatever they may be, let this hymn spur you to run to Jesus and find comfort.  He calls you to come.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness, into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of earth’s sorrows, into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy blessed will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair, into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy home,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

– William Sleeper 1887

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What love!

Beginning with Hope

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sightIn love he predestined us to be adopted as his [children] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.  And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment-  to bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ.                                                                                           Ephesians 1:3-11

 

What love!  As I read these words, I am overwhelmed by what they communicate.  Paul uses words such as lavished, and riches, and grace to communicate the vastness and passion of God’s love for his children in Christ Jesus.  I am struck, because I don’t live there – basking in that love.  And I want to. 

But no, all I see is bleakness, stress, more things to do, more relationships in which I have disappointed, more relationships in which I have been disappointed, aches, pain, and brokenness.  Why is that all I can see, when God the Father has lavished his love upon me in Christ Jesus???

I want to see.  I want to take hold daily of this love that is already mine in Christ!  I want to live in it, in spite of what is going on in my life.  I want to know it more than the darkness that surrounds.  I want the power of that love to energize me to walk with great hope and faith even when I don’t feel it, even in the darkness.  I want to remember that God did not promise an easy life, there will be trials, there will be suffering, there will be sickness, this side of Heaven.  But he has given Christ for our redemption – therefore we belong to him, to God the Father.  And with him as our Abba, Daddy, we can walk any path because we walk in the strength that comes from knowing we are greatly loved by him.

And so, Paul prays for us, also in Ephesians 1, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

He has given us much in Christ Jesus.  Choose to see.

 

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“I should be able to handle it!”

I should be able to handle this now

These were the tear-filled words of my friend as I sat across the table from her listening to her share her struggles to find normal after years and years of addiction.  She had just listed off her celebrations – things she did accomplish, things she had never done before because it was just too hard – she had lived a life of defeat, running to other substances when the weight of the daily responsibilities began to push her under – unable to breathe.  She had left that life – saying no, standing firm and not looking back. But as she looked forward to the next week, and the new list of responsibilities, the things that needed to be done, I saw her sink in her chair and the tears flowed from a heart overwhelmed with sorrow and stress and difficulty.  She used to run to a false “savior” to make her forget the stress, the sorrow, the difficulties, the hurt.  But that was no longer an option – she was weary of doing good and she felt stuck.

“I should be able to handle this now.  Everybody else can handle their stuff.   So I just need to handle it but I am so stressed out!”

At that moment, I realized – I am just like her.  I think I should be able to handle the stresses and difficulties of life on my own.  I see everyone else “making life work”, so what’s wrong with me that I can’t?  I should be capable.  I should be able to handle it.

But I can’t.

When life gets overwhelming, I run, just like my friend used to, to another “savior”.  It can be anything – I am quite creative.  But whatever it is, it dulls the pain and postpones the inevitable – but it doesn’t save.  In fact it draws me further away from my true Savior.  The one who calls me to Himself.  The one who enables me to persevere in even the most difficult circumstances.  The one who promised to walk with me down every path of life he calls me to. The one who said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.(Matt. 11:28-30)”

There is no other Savior as loving as Jesus.  There is no other savior as kind as Jesus.  And there is certainly no other savior as worthy as Jesus.  He has proved himself again and again, but his ultimate proof was his willing giving of himself on the cross to do that which we are completely unable to do for ourselves.

Run to him and find rest for your weary soul.  You don’t have to handle it – I don’t have to handle it. He has for us.

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Engaging Culture with Discernment

Engaging Culture with Discernment

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.                                                    -Romans 12:1-2

Well, it seems that the pot has been stirred yet again.  The opening of The Hunger Games movie this weekend has Christians visiting again the issue of how to deal with culture.  So what’s a Christian to do?  How should we think about and engage culture? How do we know when to flee, and how do we keep from being simply reactionary?  How can we learn to be critical and discerning regarding culture?  How do we train our children to be leaders in critical and discerning thought regarding culture?  I have a few ideas.

1. Flee the obvious in light of Scripture.  What do I mean by obvious?  Books, movies, video games, and music that by the genre they have been put in obviously are set apart by Scripture to be avoided because by their nature they are meant to lead one into sin.  Examples would be porn, erotica, or any other genre of sexual deviance. Other areas not sexual in nature should be considered as well.  Be sure definitions of what is sin are Biblical definitions.

2. Filter out those things that you (or a family member) are susceptible to.  If your child cannot read a fantasy novel or play a certain video game without having a major disassociation with reality, then remove those things from his use until you deem him more mature and discerning. Also be careful to not make a blanket generalization that just because you are avoiding something, everyone else should as well.  We want to be careful not to fall into legalism as we seek to make wise choices for our families.

3. Test the rest. Test it how?  By engaging it – reading it, watching it.  Watch it with your mind.  Pay attention to the message being sent because there is always a message. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but usually it’s mixed.  Be willing to pull apart the subject matter and find what might have been dropped in there just because we are all made in the image of God.  Look for themes of redemption – everyone wants to be saved, fixed, or found. What is the message the author or movie maker ultimately wants to leave us with?  How does it stand up with Scripture?  If it’s not a Biblical worldview, then what worldview is it?  Postmodernism?  New Age?  Secular humanism? (Ah, yes, we have to know what those are, don’t we.)  Take every thought captive -2 Corinthians 10:5.

4. Do engage in material “from the other side” knowing your own limitations and sinful inclinations.  If you have a friend who needs to check her horoscope everyday, you may want to become a bit more versed in the “language of the Babylonians” in order to show her from Scripture how what she is doing is leading her away from God.  Usually, in order to have these conversations, you need to know something about the subject so that you can have the credibility that comes with knowing what it is you are saying to stay away from. We do our non-Christian friends well to be able to intelligently discuss their views with them. More than a few have come to know Christ through those avenues, C.S. Lewis being an excellent example of this.  Do this with much prayer and  accountability.  Let someone you trust know that you are reading a book to learn more about what your friend believes and have that person pray for you as you research and engage in conversations with unbelievers.

5. Represent the subject accurately.  We are all clouded by our own biases and judgments, so, as people of the truth we must make every effort to represent whatever we are critiquing as accurately as possible.  Don’t you hate it hear a critique of what Christianity is supposedly about, only to learn that the critic is entirely misinformed, or worse is intentionally misrepresenting Christianity?  I just read a review of The Hunger Games by a well-respected Christian.  It was not a favorable review – which is fine.  (Remember – a review is someone’s opinion, nothing more.) What bothered me about his review was the fact that his relaying of the story had some major inaccuracies, especially regarding the thoughts and feelings of the characters, which were very much revealed in the storytelling of The Hunger Games itself.  I highly respect this man, so I was left disappointed.

6. Teach your children to do all of the above at appropriate times in their maturity and development.  It is so fun to have discussion with my children regarding culture – what they like, what drives them crazy, and how they see others trying to make life work apart from Christ. They have not always been able to do this.  They had to learn, and are still learning…as am I.  But it has been so encouraging to learn together, to sharpen one another, and to challenge one another to think more Biblically and not reactionary (I’m a mom…yes…it still happens.)  All of this came bit by bit as we engaged age-appropriate content over the years with them.

I also suggest checking out the ClearPlay DVD player.  It has been a wonderful tool for our family allowing us to watch more movies and shows together while filtering out the elements (e.g., gratuitous language) without detracting from the storyline.

I offer these suggestions because it is my desire to see Christians intelligently engaging culture with a Biblical worldview. We belong to Christ Jesus and we have been fully equipped to engage our culture with discernment.  Put on that armor and go forth in the Spirit of wisdom, courage and truth.

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Heavenly Minded, Therefore Earthly Good

Landscape with grass and mountains

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. - C.S. Lewis

I have been thinking much about Heaven these past weeks.  In my last post, I wrote about the sudden death of the daughter of dear friends of ours.  A couple of days after her funeral, we received news that my husband’s seminary professor and mentor had died – another funeral to attend within a week of the previous.

But both of these funerals were bittersweet – both had passed from life on earth to life in Heaven.  There was much to mourn for those of us left, but I found myself for the first time longing to find joy in the midst of the sorrow – partly because I had wrestled earnestly with the fact that suffering will be a part of life this side of Heaven the year my brother died.  I had come to terms that my family will have to walk some hard roads and I don’t have any idea what all of those will be, but they will be just by the nature of living in a fallen world.  But I also found myself longing to find joy because this mentor was the most beloved, humble man I knew and he was passionate about Heaven.  I wanted to share a little bit in the joy he was now experiencing as he sat with his admired C.S. Lewis (he was a Lewis scholar) asking the questions I had heard him voice in his lectures. (“When I get to Heaven, I would like to ask Lewis what he meant by….”).  And I also wanted to move from being swallowed up with a cynical despair (“Well, this is life this side of Heaven-what can you expect?”) to a forward-looking joy that supersedes any fear of suffering and death.  I wanted to truly long for Heaven – and let that move me in the way I live my life this side of it.

So to help me, I have been reading Randy Alcorn’s excellent volume, Heaven.  Alcorn does a fantastic job joining together Scripture to show us that the Bible really does say a lot more than we realized about Heaven.  And much of what we traditionally thought is actually not biblical at all – and not only is it not biblical, but is discouraging – if we ever allowed ourselves to admit it.  Alcorn shows from Scripture what Scripture is clear on – and it’s exciting.  He also pulls from Scripture some implied “supposed-s” – if that makes sense.  But he is good to say , “I am supposing based on how I am reading this text – it may not actually be the case.”  So there is no fear of “thinking wrongly”.  Whatever Alcorn might not get right, he humbly conceds that someday he will know for sure -and so will we.  But what I have found as I am exploring this path more fervently is it is energizing me on this side of life.  I am encouraged and not despairing.  I want to work more productively for the Kingdom.  I want everyone to know that there is more than this life – but this life does matter too- flesh and blood do matter – the work of my hands in this life matter and may even have a place in Heaven.  We are not just polishing brass on a sinking ship, but we are doing the work of our Heavenly Father and some of it will carry over into Heaven – and not just what is considered “ministry”.

So I won’t spoil the exploration for the rest of you.  I can’t recommend Alcorn’s book enough.  I know Joni Erickson Tada also has a book on Heaven that I am sure is wonderful.  I only want to encourage you to let thoughts of Heaven propel the work done now on this side – let the place that God has made for His children ignite your hearts with a passion for more than this life, let it energize your relationships, and let it constantly remind you that this life, this side was never meant to satisfy.  We were made for more.  Long for it.  Love it.  Live it.

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When Plans Change

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Yesterday didn’t go the way I had planned.

I had planned to “get organized”, get done those items that didn’t get done before I left for Houston to help with my new niece, get done the organization and plans to start school back today with the kids after way too long off for Christmas break.

As I sat at the table yesterday afternoon, fretting over what to keep doing school-wise, what to let go, what each child needs and how in the world am I going to get it done – the stress beginning to fill me, the tension in my shoulders bearing down, my husband came in and wordlessly, handed me his iPad to read.  In a moment, everything I had planned, everything I was fretting over, everything I thought was important was rendered meaningless.

Yesterday morning, on their way to school, a dear friend and his 14 year old daughter were in a car accident.  She died.  So in the wake of this news, yes, all my plans were put in their proper place as “not that big of a deal” and “there is more to this life”.  Everything was shoved aside as we wept and prayed, made and received phone calls as the news disseminated among the community of those that love these dear ones, and as we began to walk a new path with our children.  They had experienced the death of an extended family member, the death of a child of friends, but this was the first time it was a peer…someone their age, someone they had hung out with and played with and laughed with.  I didn’t plan on having these conversations with my kids.  My plans were changed.

We had been asked at AMH to consider and write about those things that we are often wrestling with at the new year, and what it means to bring them before Jesus and sit at his feet.  As I think about “plans made” and “plans unmade” and how to deal with the uncertainty that life this side of Heaven brings, I can only point to the certainty of the One who holds us tightly in His hands.  We can and should make plans – but we must hold those plans with a loose grip.  God is the one who directs and redirects.  We are often angry when our plans are unmade or frustrated, shaking our fist at God screaming ,”Don’t you know all the things I have to get done???”

But it’s days like yesterday, and today, and tomorrow, that I am reminded of what is important – and what is needful – and who it is that walks me through this life.  His plans are sometimes hard to handle – they are not always the plans I would have made.  But I rest in his heart for me.  I rest in his heart for our dear friends who did not have the death of their dear daughter in their plans.  So as we continue to make our plans,  give thanks to the Great Planmaker who holds his children in His tender hands.  He has shown his great love for us by the gift of his Son. Hold loosely to our plans and tightly to His hands.

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To Delight and Instruct

Rustic Living Room

It was Christmas of our third year in seminary.  I was pregnant with our third son and had just finished reading a book about books by some of my favorite Christian authors. Until then, I had not ventured into the world of “the Classics” believing them to be so far above my limited brain power, it wasn’t even worth the effort. But my recent read from beloved “friends” encouraged me to try. So for Christmas, I asked for Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky.

I didn’t jump right into the novel, still wondering if I would be able to “get it” and not wanting to try and then feel dumb if I couldn’t.  So much fear.  But within a month, our third son was born by c-section, 4 weeks early.  So while he stayed, stabilized and in gifted hands at the hospital, for the first time, I went home to recover without a baby.  As I laid in bed, cherishing the much needed rest after a difficult pregnancy, I picked up Crime and Punishment and began to read.

My reading has never been the same since.

Not only did I find that I could wade through the dense language and character development, I also found that the work was well worth the effort.  I found myself amazed at the arrogance of Raskalnikov, Dostoyevsky’s protagonist, as he lived out his Neitzchen Superman philosophy that says some people (few) are so intelligent that they are above the law.  And then my heart turned towards anger as he commits his crime and then seeks to justify himself to himself  (and to God) as to why he was not guilty.  And finally, I found myself feeling deep compassion for him, such a lost soul, as his burden of guilt brought on physical illness and ultimately insanity – an insanity that Raskalnikov suffered until he confessed his guilt and took responsibility for his crime and then repented before God.  It was then and only then, as he endured hard labor in a Russian prison camp that he experienced real freedom.

How much truth can a novel tell?  A lot.  The wonderful effect that stories have on our hearts is God-designed.  We are meant to relate to stories differently than we relate to straight didactic teaching – stories touch our emotions as well as our minds and thus bring about a fuller level of understanding.  The writers of days gone by understood this better than most in our age.  It was the Roman poet Horace who said, “Art is meant to delight and instruct.”  C.S Lewis advised that for every new book one reads, two old ones should be read next.  Yes, older books require more effort – the language, even in a translation, can be dense.  Often the historicity of the story – taking place in a time and place we can’t relate to, can be a hinderance.  But persevere – God gave us minds to use – the depths of the rewards gained from the work put forth will not be lost. By reading more “old” books, we are deepened and sharpened by the lives lived long ago.

So, with that said, a few recommendations:  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – it only takes one look into temptation to fall into sin, thus a godly and upright woman is brought down.  At the same time, an agnostic honestly struggles to find faith and love.  He does.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – the most beautiful rendition of Gospel in story apart from the Gospel  itself found in Scripture.  A contrast of living out of gratitude for what has been done for you and trying to do it yourself.  Grace vs. Law, 101.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – God is at work in every aspect of our lives even when we can’t see it.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Discontent, bitterness, and pride will kill our hearts turning us into shadows of  the humanity for which God designed.

Elie Weisel said, “God made man because he loves stories.” Our Savior spoke often in stories.  Our God tells us stories throughout Scripture to teach of who He is and what He is doing in this world.  Don’t be afraid to join the “great conversation” humanity has been having since the beginning of time.  Grab a good book, a cup of coffee, light the fire and take and read.

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The Gospel and Generosity

Hand Reaching

…when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this “pushes the button” down deep in believer’ souls, and they begin to wake up.  – Tim Keller Generous Justice

I have been reading recently books and articles on the subject of justice and helping the poor.  It has come out of a desire to understand the church universal’s role biblically in the face of a cultural mindset that seeks the answers in government institutions.  I have wrestled with what I think about that – I want to know what the right course of action is – thus the readings.

But I have also found in me a desire to be more generous on a personal level.  One would think that two years on the mission field in Peru, working with some of the poorest in the world, I would have a a heart of generosity.  Unfortunately, the opposite happened – as a result of my experience in Peru, I found myself hard, calloused and cynical.  How could that be?  Well…

I forgot the gospel.

I forgot how poor I am.

I was offended by the bad behavior some of the poor would use to get what they needed.

I wanted them to be honest and grateful and, in some way, earn my generosity.

I forgot that I am just like they are.

Poor in spirit.  Poor in heart.  Self-protecting.  Self-justifying.  I will do whatever I need to do to get what I think I need.

I also am poor – not in the same way – but poor nonetheless.

Tim Keller, in his little gem of a book, Generous Justice, calls believers to consider those suffering poverty and injustice,  just as God considered us – as  poor and in need.  As Jesus so eloquently states to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:31-32)  It is because we were shown generosity from God the Holy One, condescending, becoming “poor” in more ways than just taking on flesh, in order to rescue us from the slavery of sin and death, that we would overflow with grace and generosity for others, especially those who are suffering day to day, moment to moment, just to survive without basic needs.  Not out of guilt, as the quote above suggests.  Not out of legalism – we HAVE to love the poor because that’s what we are supposed to do.  Not out of a political agenda that seeks to manipulate the weak for it’s own uses.  Not out of a feeling of superiority – pride – I’m so good I even look after the poor….

We do it because we know that we are just the same.  There are many ways to be poor.  Our Lord Jesus became poor in every way that one can – financially, relationally, physically, and yes, even spiritually – that He might raise us up with him in glory.  It is the gospel that enables us to do the same for one another of mankind.

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The Gospel of Rest- the Freedom to Work

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These words from Horatius Bonar speak volumes themselves, so I am going to just let them…

The gospel does not command us to do anything in order to obtain life, but bids us live by that which another has done; and the knowledge of its life-giving truth is not labour but rest – rest of soul – rest which is the root of all true labour; for in receiving Christ we do not work in order to rest, but we rest in order to work.  In believing, we cease to work for pardon, in order that we may work from it;  and what incentive to work, as well may work from it; and what incentive to work, as well as joy in working, can be greater than an ascertained and realized forgiveness?

Are you living out of what Jesus has done for you?  Or what Jesus has done for you + what you can do for yourself?  I have been living the latter – it’s a horrendous cycle I find myself in time and time again.  I know the Gospel, I know that how I was saved is how I am to walk – nothing of me, all of Jesus – by faith…and repentance…and faith…and repentance….  As I look only to Jesus in faith, and nothing of myself – not my lists, not my “responsibilities”, not my reputation, or fear of damaging my reputation, I am finding freedom in my heart and soul – my breathing is lighter, my nerves are not so edgy, and I am doing things that felt like burdens, with joy and peace – almost without thinking.  The outside might not look much different (although I am sure my countenance does), but inside is less weighty.  I can’t…I can’t…but He can through me…and even without my help.

I like this place.  Too bad I’m going to take it all back again tomorrow.  Or by lunch today even. Yep…I ‘m sure I will.  It’s what I do.

Day by day…minute by minute…moment by moment…I dance the dance…faith…repentance…faith…repentance…repentance…faith…my Jesus…He does love me.

I live out of His love.

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