Come Up Higher

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I have a confession. I live in the mountains, and I love them, but I am afraid of heights. I’m a valley dweller. I prefer to look up at lofty mountain grandeur. Looking down makes me feel, well, uneasy, to say the least.

Some people who come here from sea-level cities also find themselves a little out of breath, even in the valleys, but for different reasons. It takes a while to adjust to the altitude. On the other hand, when we visited the Dead Sea area in Israel, which is well below sea level, I was amazed at the way I could scramble around on the rocks without becoming tired. My body had been trained simply by living on a higher plane.

Many of our friends are mountain climbers, including several who climbed Crowsnest mountain recently (the one pictured here.) My brother is a well-known climber who lives near Banff. I’m content to admire their drive, look at their photos and listen to their stories.

One story my brother tells is about the time he paired up with another climber to scale one of the highest mountains in the province on one of those rare days when its peak was not in the clouds. His friend had climbed many times before, but not quite that high, and not quite that fast. Neither of them expected that he would get altitude sickness. My brother said his friend began to act as if he were drunk. That’s when he knew he needed to help him back down -very carefully. The descent took longer than expected and they had to bivouac on the side of the mountain overnight. That means they secured their sleeping bags to stakes pounded into the sheer face of the mountain and tried to get some sleep -whilst one of them was exhausted and the other was impaired. Fun times.

Like I said, I prefer valley living. But in our spiritual lives sometimes God calls us to come up higher and see things from his perspective. Jesus took Peter, James and John on a mountain climbing trip when he wanted to let them in on some inside information.

“Come up here,” He told John later in a vision on the isle of Patmos, “I want to show you something.” And he did.

Mountain top experiences can be a little disorienting. Not only are we not accustomed to the perspective, we are not used to the altitude. It takes some time to adjust. We are meant to live at altitude -after all Paul tells us in Ephesians that we who have been adopted into the family of God are seated in high places with Christ. He calls us to come up higher and get his perspective, but sometimes it’s a little disorienting for valley dwellers. Sometimes we feel out of breath, our ears feel the pressure, our brains can’t keep up; some people feel downright panicky or sick for a time. The climb to higher ground can be frankly uncomfortable and even scary, so the Lord provides resting places along the way where we can take time to adjust, but soon he calls us to keep moving to higher ground -because he has something to show us we could not see any other way.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

from “Higher Ground” by Johnson Oatman

When You Haven’t Got the Whole Picture

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The story is told in the book of John about the time Jesus grossed his disciples out. He said something about not being a part of what he was doing unless they ate his body and drank his blood. For people who wouldn’t touch shrimp barbeque or BLT sandwiches, this was pretty offensive. Some of them left. They didn’t get it.

The ones who stayed didn’t get it either, but Peter, who was one of them, answered Jesus (who asked if they wanted to leave too), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Later, they understood the significance of “eating his body and drinking his blood” when they remembered the last supper where he offered them broken bread and wine and said, “This is my body. This is my blood.”

Jesus spoke the language of metaphor.  That’s why his first miracle involved replacing the ceremonial cleansing water at the wedding in Cana with gallons and gallons of wine. Wine symbolized his blood which was shed to save people from their sins. But all these things became clear only in retrospect.

Children tend to be concrete literal thinkers and the disciples often thought like children. People often misunderstood the language of the Kingdom because, like children, their thinking was literal. God often speaks in symbolic pictures.

Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

His words came to life for the disciples later when Holy Spirit brought them to memory and interpreted them.

Sometimes the Lord will give us a puzzle piece and it does not make sense to us. Sometimes there is the temptation to try to make sense of it before we have the other pieces, but there is meant to be a certain amount of tension as we follow Jesus in faith, not understanding what on earth he is talking about.

Like Mary we treasure and ponder, but we don’t always know where this is all going. I think of Joseph who died before seeing the man he raised as his own son crucified and risen from the dead. I’m sure he knows now, but it must have been difficult at times.

In the chapter that comes in the middle of the discussion of the charisma, or gifts of the Spirit, Paul talks about living with only part of the picture.

 For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect).

But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).

 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.

 For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand  fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God].

 And so faith, hope, love abide [faith—conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope—joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love—true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13: 10 – 13 Amplified)

So what do we do in the meantime, when we see only in part?

We have faith that He will not lead us astray.

We cooperate with Holy Spirit living in us in the development of our character that leads to hope that does not disappoint.

And when we don’t know what we are doing, we err on the side of love.

We love because He loved us first and He gives us the ability to extend to others the grace He extended to us.

Sometimes following Jesus means saying, in all humility, “I don’t know. But I have come to believe, and to know, that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God and I choose to follow Him.”




Fear and Over-organization

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“Another cause back of our top-heavy and ugly over-organization is fear. Churches and societies founded by saintly men with courage, faith and sanctified imagination appear unable to propagate themselves on the same spiritual level beyond one or two generations.

The spiritual fathers were not able to sire others with courage and faith equal to their own. The fathers had God and little else, but their descendants lose their vision and look to methods and constitutions for the power their hearts tell them they lack. Then rules and precedents harden into a protective shell where they can take refuge from trouble. It is always easier and safer to pull in our necks than to fight things out on the field of battle.

In all our fallen life there is a strong gravitational pull toward complexity and away from things simple and real. There seems to be a kind of sad inevitability back of our morbid urge toward spiritual suicide. Only by prophetic insight, watchful prayer and hard work can we reverse the trend and recover the departed glory.

~ A.W. Tozer

I overheard a conversation recently when a clergyman was challenged to explain a certain practice in his denomination. He said it could best be explained by giving the history. It began in Victorian times, apparently, and seemed like a good idea at the time, and even though circumstances are very different now, the practice has remained. It’s become rather endearing actually, and is now part of their “distinctives.” Then he admitted, in a softer voice, that although some contemporary pastors agree it makes no sense and quietly try to ignore it,  it is still entrenched in their constitution, and change is not something they do well. It upsets people.

The church I grew up in was never intended to be a denomination. The first members of the group left the confines of the steepled building to reach out to poor people in the local streets and then in the streets around the world. They had to leave because most parishioners were comfortable in their enclaves and wanted to protect standards -and the lower classes did not meet those standards. The poor and dysfunctional who met the real Jesus in the streets found they never did fit in with the established church so they just hung out together until they realized they were also the church and they gradually formed a constitution and established methods of maintaining their own standards.

My grandmother joined in the early days, but by the time she lived in the senior’s lodge, beside the new mega church edifice, the social climate there  had changed. It’s called “lift.” The problem is that the protestant work ethic works. Get a person free of alcohol and other addictions, restore their love for neighbour and family, and their kids become better educated, get good jobs and nice homes, and their grandchildren are raised in a completely different environment with different expectations (or feelings of entitlement). I remember Grandma lamenting that it was a sad day when she realized she was too poor to go to prayer meeting in that church. You see, someone (who undoubtedly did not live on a widow’s pension) thought it was a good idea to encourage people to come to prayer gatherings on certain mornings by having them catered. A woman who had fed her children lard sandwiches had trouble adjusting to the thought of paying $15 for breakfast. She did know how to feed a street full of kids on $15, but the church she was now in was just like the church the founders left, because those members had also lost understanding of the people on the outside. My grandmother’s denomination became comfortable with plush theatre seats, sound systems and coffee shop  in the grand foyer. The order of service was established, and the academic qualifications (from approved seminaries) of those who are ordained to preach and preside over communion was written in stone. Policies now require a complicated procedure at the national annual general conference to change.

History shows us this pattern repeating itself.

In  “The Jesus Style,” Gayle D Erwin writes about fresh movements of the Holy Spirit in different generations. He has this to say in the chapter entitled “Prisoners of History”:

Here is a drastic proposal. Every religious organization should have in its first constitution the irrevocable provision that it be disbanded and dispersed at the end of 50 years. For some this limit should be 25 years. This would free the constituency to be more constantly in touch with God . . . Such an approach would simply be recognizing the manner in which the Holy Spirit works anyway. He keeps raising movements that are alive and in touch with him, while the older structures get huffy and kick the new movement out. . .”

Perhaps we have reached a point where we can recognize the pattern and instead of kicking new movements out of the older structures, the older structures can offer the benefits of wisdom seasoned by knowledge accumulated in good and bad years and make room for those not familiar with the culture. Or it that too optimistic? Can we repent – that is, think again, determine not to repeat the errors of the past, change our ways and join in following what Holy Spirit is doing now – or does fear of loss of control keep us clinging to old wine skins whether they be two generations or two hundred generations old? Is giving control of the church back to Holy Spirit feasible? Or is that thought too scary?  Can the Church of Laodicea become hot again? Can its vision be healed? Can the Church of Ephesus return to it’s first love? Can the Church of Sardis awaken from its near-death coma?

Or is it time for another Reformation?

Tell me what you think.

If We Truly Believe

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“And if we truly believe that God the Father is love, then we must therefore believe that He, as a Father, is patient, kind, and gentle. He doesn’t envy, He isn’t proud, He’s not rude, He’s not self-seeking, He’s not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. He doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. He never fails.”
― Darren Wilson, Filming God: A Journey From Skepticism to Faith

Feeling Bad About Feeling Good

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I’ve heard a lot of sad stories lately, stories of loss, betrayal, disappointment, threat, jealousy, hatred, hopelessness….

It’s so easy for someone like me (a person who seems to attract I’ve-never-told-anyone-this-before confidences) to start to take on those feelings as if they were my own.

Joy, real joy, is not dependent on circumstances -mine or the many other situations I hear and read about. Joy doesn’t need to wait until that illusive when-this-is-over moment to well up inside the heart where Holy Spirit lives.

Hope, true hope, glows in the dark, and grows stronger with perseverance. True hope does not disappoint because it is based on something greater than relief of everything from annoyances to agony.

As I walked on the edge of the fog by the lake just after dawn this morning the song “It is Well With My Soul” was going through my head. I wondered why. Some parts of the woods were hidden in the mist, and others caught the sun. I was reminded that sometimes we can see the light and sometimes we walk by faith, but growth takes place no matter what the circumstance.

My daughter and son-in-love invited me to help them write their story. God did a miracle after our daughter’s much-loved husband had a 0% chance of survival from flesh-eating disease and was on life support. We have learned so much in the process about the importance of thanksgiving, of unity, of repentance, of perseverance, and of love. The book is now in the hands of the publisher (which feels somewhat like sending your child  -or in my case, grandchild- off to college). More than anything all the writers involved, including a physician, a pastor, and many of the people who followed the story online, want to give all the praise and thanks to God.

But at one point or another, all of us involved have felt the burden of the pain of those whose stories did not end with miracles. Each of us have questioned whether or not sharing our joy will increase another person’s sorrow and wondered if we should talk about it so publicly. We have felt bad about feeling good.

There is a young couple who helped us. They said goodbye to their precious little girl in an ICU just like the one where we spent many days and nights. Their sorrow was still fresh, because such sorrow lasts a very long time. They did not have to sit in the hospital waiting room day and night praying for their friend, but they did, because in spite of their own profound disappointment, they believe that no matter what, God is good. They refused to let the darkness win and rob them of hope and joy and pushed through their pain to find the God of all comfort. They dared to trust. They are gracious enough to also tell their story in the book.

There are plenty of sad stories in the world. I could tell you a few myself. But joyful stories of hope also need to be told, because like the trees in the forest, real joy, and true hope continue to grow, whether in the sun or in the fog. No matter what, God is good, and it is well with my soul.

We enter Your gates with thanksgiving in our hearts and into Your courts with praise, Lord -no matter what.

Thank you, Abba.

There is More to the Song Than Lyrics

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Sometimes my young friends like to post snippets of lyrics to songs in the status box on Facebook. My first reaction is often, “Are you OK, honey?” Then I figure it out – a song has spoken to their heart.

But it has not spoken to mine, and out of context it sounds, well, a little weird. Since I don’t know the song and have no emotional connection to it, the words are often just an interesting record of something that means something to somebody else. Thanks for sharing.

Photos can be like that too. I have my grandmother’s photos here, black and white records of her unnamed friends standing in front of grey rose bushes long since scattered in the wind. I can appreciate that they had deeper meaning to her than they do to me, and I suppose I kept them around out of respect for the things that were important to her, but now I’m paring them down and storing the more interesting ones in waterproof boxes.

For many years I was surrounded by people who told me about the wonderful things God has said. The Bible records them. I read them for myself. But for many years when someone quoted a verse of scripture it felt like reading lyrics to somebody elses favourite song.

Then I heard the Singer.  I heard the Song.

The difference between studying the Bible and hearing the Voice of the Lord for oneself is like the difference between reading the lyrics and hearing the song.

John, the disciple who rested his head on Jesus’ chest, understood. Jesus came, not as more lyrics, but as the song. He told the religious people who studied the puzzling snippets of lyrics they had, that they were about Him, and that there was more to a song than written words. But they had to let go of their “expertise” to hear -and for many that was troubling.

There is more, so much more, to this relationship with God. The difference between reading about the King of the Universe and going for a walk with him is like the difference between looking at photo of the memory of grey roses and actually touching and smelling colourful living roses.

John understood the lyrics when he heard the Voice sing the song:

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

    The Voice was and is God.
 This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
     His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
    all things that exist were birthed in Him.
 His breath filled all things
    with a living, breathing light—
 A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
    blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.

(The good news of John, chapter one, The Voice)

The Bible is a divinely inspired record of wonderful lyrics. But lyrics alone are not the Song our hearts long to hear. What is He singing over you?


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Colla voce. Follow the Voice.