Laying It Down

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In God’s economy nothing of value is actually lost. Theory is all well and good, but until our personal stories work something of Christ’s character into to us, we don’t know Him. Not really. He never asks for anything of us – even our lives – without plans to give us something greater in return.

“You notice that the Apostles got their revelation for the Church in practical situations. They never met around a table to have a Round-Table Conference, to draw up a scheme of doctrine and practice for the churches. They went out into the business and came right up against the desperate situation, and in the situation which pressed them, oft-times to desperation, they had to get before God and get revelation. The New Testament is the most practical book, because it was born out of pressing situations. The Lord gave light for a situation. The revelation of Christ, we might say, in emergencies is the way to keep Christ alive, and the only way in which Christ really does live to His own.”
— T. Austin Sparks

Those gathered around our son-in-love’s hospital bed while he was in a coma and expected to die, admitted they had no idea how to pray. As they cried out in desperation, the Lord answered. It started with one man who wanted to reconcile with his brother. Then another, and another until many people who were woken in the night to pray for him and were reminded they needed to go to a brother or sister and be reconciled before they could pray with authority. As they did, the miracles started happening, one tiny rise in blood pressure at a time. The Lord was asking for a united unoffended body of believers to come together to pray in faith.

They dug deep and found Holy Spirit had already planted the seeds of faith and love in their hearts long before they needed it. He was there all the time, in their story with them.

 

Thanks for Everything

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On the kind of dull November day when you need lights on in the house all the time and it’s too cold to open a window for fresh air, I drove out past the houses to go for a walk and rid myself of a sluggish mood and heavy heart. I started thanking God for everything, the tests, the joys, the quiet, the noise…

Then the sun broke through

and I felt him smile.

Thank you!

Everything in me says

“Thank you!”

Angels listen as I sing my thanks.
I kneel in worship facing your holy temple
and say it again:

“Thank you!”

Thank you for your love,
thank you for your faithfulness;

(Psalm 138:1,2 The Message)

Remember, Remember

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“I was not pleased, during my childhood, to have been born in November, as there wasn’t much inspiration for birthday party motifs. February children got hearts, May ones flowers, but what was there for me? A cake surrounded by withered leaves?”
— Margaret Atwood

Sometimes I agree with Margaret. November is not my favourite month. In the fading light of autumn it seems like a constant reminder that life is short. I keep warning myself not to compare but as the dullness of winter approaches my mind goes back to more pleasant sunny days. Maybe that’s why the theme of remembrance keeps showing up this time of year –Remembrance Day here, the chants of “Remember, remember the fifth of November” in the UK and Thanksgiving in the US. Thanksgiving is really the healthiest way to handle November I think.

We can choose to remember with bitterness or with thanks, but I’ve noticed that if we fail to re-cap the memories of the goodness of God and thank him, those strengthening moments eventually are lost to us under piles of bitterness and complaints. Without re-calling the good times we project disappointment for ourselves and others. Some elderly people in the November of their lives are a delight to visit; some are not. The ones who remember the good times and are appreciative give away a sense of hope. The ones who rehearse their disappointment give away a sense of impending doom.

I’ve been realizing how much negativity has robbed me not only of my past, but of my future. I need to change. I can compare my life to those who seem to have been granted hearts and flowers from birth and focus on my dead leaves, or I can recall memories of God’s faithfulness — even in those leaves, and glory in their colour, saying, “Thank you, Lord! You are good, and You have a wonderful plan for my life.”

And mean it.

Butter and the Border

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Recently my dear friend and I had the chance to go down to Montana for a girl’s weekend and shopping trip. The scary stern faces of the border guards (and scary stories -like the time my daughter and her friend were surrounded by men with automatic weapons pointed at them because a scant amount of radiation from a bone scan her friend had earlier that week tripped some sort of alarm) make us aware that we are in a foreign country. Since the border with the US is the only border Canadians regularly cross by land it’s an adventure. Our kids, and now our grandchildren are fascinated by the “foreign travel” aspect. But the truth is we have to look for differences. They’re not obvious.

Our language is the same, and our cultures are pretty similar. We understand the movie and celebrity references. We even get most of the political references. The kids always notice the flags everywhere and I also notice the alcohol for sale in the grocery stores and at the first gas station we stop at -oh, and also the low price of gasoline compared to ours. That’s why we always try to arrive with a mostly empty tank. There are a couple of shops whose cash registers seize up when introduced to my Canadian debit card, but most have no trouble. The money is all the same colour so it’s harder to tell at a glance how much is left in the wallet after we hit Costco, where chicken and cheese are cheaper, but produce costs more.

The American side of the border crossing seems to have been deforested around Eureka. Somebody told us this was for security. I don’t know. Looks kind of bare to me. There are philosophical differences between the two countries that aren’t obvious at first, but I will probably never get used to seeing people with holsters and handguns. I thought they were part of a cowboy costume theme week or something. No, ordinary people really do carry guns when they are not hunting moose. This seems very strange to us, and a bit scary considering we are the foreigners all that security is meant to protect them from. I really don’t get it, but it seems to be very important to them, so OK. Just keep it in the holster.

So my friend and I picked up a few groceries to take to our lovely rental condo.

“You can sure tell you are in a foreign country,” she said as she put some things in the fridge. “Look at this butter. Now I know what the American recipes mean when they call for a stick of butter.” The butter was divided and packaged into rectangular shapes inside yet another package. I laughed at her (Lovingly. She is the dearest person.) because this is how hard we have to look to see our differences sometimes. Our butter comes in 454 gm. blocks -usually. 454 gm.  -not 500 gm. which is an even number, because 454 gm. is a pound, but we like to think we’ve gone metric.

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I was thinking later, as I drove through de-forested Eureka, how easy it is to look for our differences, our “distinctives.” It’s a defensive thing, really, to look for things we do better. Part of our Canadian identity is that we are not Americans (although our country takes up the majority of the land mass on this continent called America.) My ancestors were United Empire Loyalists -heroes in one country, traitors in the other, and there have been a lot of anti-American words spoken since then. I wondered (and this might seem a strange question to Americans, but try reversing the scenario) what do people in the States do better than we do? What can we learn from them? I immediately thought of the servers in restaurants who were all friendly and helpful. I was pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness of store clerks -especially by the fact that you could actually find some. They do service better than we do. There were more products on the shelves and more menus in cafes that accommodated my food sensitivities. There were greeting cards and plaques with Christian themes in regular stores. As I began to see more I began to bless them for their differences -and realized we really do have a lot more in common than we have “distinctives.”

There is a turning point in the story told in While He Lay Dying, when two brothers who were so very aware of their distinctives were in the same room. One was comatose and dying. The other wanted desperately to reconcile their relationship. A pastor in the room asked him, “Can you bless your brother for all the ways he is different?” He did so, and not only did he experience deep healing himself, but something in the atmosphere changed. All of a sudden people who were praying in their homes started texting in saying they felt the Lord was bringing their attention to Psalm 139 -“How blessed it is when brothers dwell in unity…” Right after that people were woken in the night with the sense that they could not pray for this man’s survival until they had reconciled with someone. People from different churches showed up and reconciled in the hallways before they joined in prayer.

We were watching the beginning of a miracle, and it began when one man blessed another for his differences.

Unity is not uniformity, nor compromise of essentials. It is more than tolerating cultural and style differences; it is honouring them. When we in Christendom can stop defending our possession of our piece of the puzzle long enough to bless other denominations and their expression of love for Jesus Christ, we can not only learn from each other, we can start the reconciliation process that will re-unite this fractured, divided church. Step one in healing and restoration: come together and bless each other for our differences.

And I think dividing butter into 1/2 cup “sticks” is a great idea.

Watch

God’s first language is not English, nor is it Greek or Aramaic or even Hebrew. His first language is Himself and glory is however He chooses to express Himself.

He speaks in the vast expanse of space, he speaks in the tiniest particles of earth. He speaks in light and sound. He speaks in pictures. He speaks through flesh and blood. He once spoke to me through a prairie chicken.

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I was driving home on a dull November day when I felt the urge to pull off  at a provincial campground. I felt like the Lord was saying, “Stop at Lundbreck Falls. There’s something I want to show you.” I hadn’t stopped there in years, and I totally doubted the urge but I thought I might get a good photo there. I could use a good stretch. So I stopped. The light was all wrong and the waterfall was in deep shadow. I walked around and wondered what that was about, because I was trying to listen to the Lord.

Truth is I barely shut up enough to listen. You see a few days earlier someone who told me they were a prophet said I was going into a “winter season.” I’d been in a winter season for years, thank you very much. I was just waking up the reality of the love of God in my life, starting to feel close, and was learning Holy Spirit wants to communicate with all his children.  I complained loud and long that I didn’t want to go into another winter season.

So there I was on a dark November day walking in an empty campground, nearly back at the car, complaining about the approach of winter, when a grouse suddenly appeared on the road ahead of me. There were no other birds about. He marched right up to me, turned his back and splayed his tail feathers in a grand TA DAA movement. Then he puffed his throat and did an entire spring mating display just for me. I wanted to grab my camera from the car, but I was afraid he would leave, so I watched until he marched toward the shrubbery.  Only then did I only grab it.  I was flattered and thanked him, but explained he wasn’t really my type, then drove home, pondering.

Later while praying in the woods I came around the corner to see a crocus blooming on the trail. A spring flower. Not unheard of, but highly unusual. I asked, “Are you saying something, Lord?”

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“Spring. Between you and me, it’s spring.” I love his sense of humour and that he can speak through a prairie chicken and a fuzzy purple flower. And that whole year it was spring between me and Jesus (and I learned to test the words of prophets). It was like falling in love for the first time. He was showing off with his kindness.

He also speaks in English, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Chinese and Ktunaxa. The Bible is indeed “a more sure word” even if it doesn’t contain every word. If you are not familiar with it, you won’t recognize his voice in other ways, and he doesn’t contradict the written word. It’s a familiar voice. He also often speaks (or sings) to me through music of all genres.

As I have been thinking about the days leading up to the story told in While He Lay Dying, I know He gave us some very clear heads-ups that he was in this event. The most obvious to me came through music. My friend, Valerie, introduced me to Taizé music only a few days before we left for our granddaughter’s birthday in Lethbridge Alberta. I had checked out a few of these songs on YouTube. I like songs with a ground bass that allow for improvisation over top (like Pachelbel’s Canon) so these simple tunes interested me. Later in the week one of them started playing in my head repeatedly. That’s not unusual for me. I have music in my head all the time. But this one wouldn’t stop. It was driving me nuts! It played in my sleep. It played over top of other music when I tried to listen to something else. On the drive to Alberta it was so loud and insistent in my head I had a hard time carrying on a conversation with my husband. It played all night before Bruce went to the hospital, and all through the next day until we received word on Sunday morning that he had crashed and was on life support. Then it stopped.

I cried, “Oh God! What are we supposed to do?”

That’s when a friend phoned and said, “You know, I think we are supposed to stay with him around the clock. I think we need to watch and pray.” Their pastor told my daughter, “We are going to stay and pray with him 24/7.”

Then I understood the reason for the song. A watch can be a military defense, or a close observation. This time it was both. The Lord had been telling me all week we needed to stand and contend for his life through prayer, but also to watch. Watch what God could do with the most horrendous circumstances. Watch. Because this was going to be good.

And it was. Very, very good. My daughter and son-in-love tell the story in While He Lay Dying.

Suspension or Restoration

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“We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.”
— Timothy Keller