Restore, Confirm, Strengthen and Establish

 

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The year I started writing this blog our valley was hit by an explosive wind storm. Many homes were damaged and thousands of trees fell. (I wrote about it here.) I grieved for my beautiful shade tree, one of the victims. We carted the big old May tree away in pieces to a place where a wood chipper re-purposed it as mulch. I hated the gap left, but the back garden has improved with the increased sunlight. The roots were too hard to remove, so I left two shoots to grow and kept hacking away at the others that sprang up.  Yesterday I was doing a spring clean up in the yard when I saw the first blooms on the two shoots that have become young trees. Today most of the rest of them opened.

 

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In all the years the big tree stood there it never blossomed before May 1. At this altitude and latitude it was often closer to June 1 than May 1 when the sweet-smelling flowers appeared. Because the root system established by the old tree was so deep and wide these two new trees springing up from it are growing faster than I could have imagined. They are filling in the gap and are taller than the house now. Hundreds of flowers cover them.

As I watched them sway in the golden sun of evening the word that came to mind was “restore.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

(1 Peter 5:6-10 ESV)

The Lord is faithful. He himself has restored. Now I have two May trees – and they are blooming sooner than expected. The first signs of promise of the restoration of many things. I wait and watch with anticipation.

 

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Sustaining

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The clouds, too, drink up their share,
raining it back down on the mountains from the upper reaches of Your home,
Sustaining the whole earth with what comes from You.
And the earth is satisfied.
Thus You grow grain for bread, grapes for wine, grass for cattle—
all of this for us.
And so we have bread to make our bodies strong,
wine to make our hearts happy,
oil to make our faces shine.
Every good thing we need, Your earth provides;
our faces grow flush with Your life in them.

(Psalm 104: 13-15 The Voice)

Deeper

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Solitude is the place where we can connect with profound bonds that are deeper than the emergency bonds of fear and anger.

– Henri Nouwen

When I was a child I asked Jesus into my heart because I was afraid of God. I hoped Jesus would protect me from the wrath to come. I heard stories about how the world was going to get worse and worse and then a terrible tribulation was coming. My unspoken prayer was really, “I’ll do whatever you want. Please don’t hurt me.” I was essentially accusing God of soul-rape.

The way something is established is often the way it must be maintained. A relationship built on fear needs more fear to keep it going. I heard plenty of dire warnings.

Eventually I became tired of being afraid. I let go of that angry controlling God. I didn’t care if he killed me.

That’s when I began to hear a sweet alluring song in the wilderness. The quiet Voice of love sang to me in the place of solitude where the harsh lying voices that provoked fear of Him no longer motivated me.

A relationship established on God’s love is maintained by God’s love, not by my performance or my ability to love someone I was afraid of.  It’s about His faithfulness, His joy, His peace, not mine. I had only to respond to that love and his peace became mine.

It was not difficult.

It’s Like…

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When my uncle from Saskatchewan came to visit I took him to one of my favourite lookouts to see the mountains. I asked him what he thought. He thoughtfully stroked the stubble on his cheeks that reminded me of the stubble covering his flat fields after harvest.

“They’re okay I guess, but they kind of block the view, ” he said.

A talented musician I once worked with told me she had a similar reaction. She grew up in The Netherlands and although she had seen pictures of mountains she never actually climbed even a hill until a visit to Scotland when she was eighteen.

“The mountains in Canada make me feel claustrophobic,” she said. “I miss the sky.”

 

My beautiful picture

 
I must admit that when I take trips back to the prairies I appreciate the sky and the marvelous sunsets, but I feel so exposed. My Dad joked that on his childhood farm he could see the train coming two days away and it was this environment that necessitated the invention of the outhouse.

Communication involves so much more than the facts of terrain and topology. Words and images don’t always contain the same meanings to different beholders.

I loved the annual “Missionary Convention” at my church when I was a kid. The missionaries on furlough brought costumes and articles from far away exotic cultures and told stories of eating local comfort foods that made kids raised on Jello and Wonder bread gag. I remember one guy telling us the problems he had translating the Bible into the language of a society whose only previous outside contacts had been oil and mining company workers and anthropologists. He wondered how to translate, “Behold the lamb of God.” Somehow “Behold the fuzzy creature of God” didn’t seem appropriate. “Behold the little pig-sized animal covered with curly whiskers like the ones on Jake the geologist’s face” seemed too cumbersome to repeat more than once. He finally went with “Behold the piglet of God” because these people raised pigs and often took the little ones into their homes as pets. He knew that word could be shocking in other cultures, but it conveyed the meaning of something innocent, valued and loved. A lamb, in a way, was like their piglet, but then again, not really. There are limits to how far an analogy can go. Sometimes you need more than one.

Jesus told stories to explain a kingdom outside the experience of the people who gathered around him. “The kingdom of God is like a pearl. It’s like a coin. It’s like…”

 

“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.”

(Matthew 13: 10-15 The Message paraphrase in modern clichés)

 

God still speaks to us today in stories and similes that come from our own cultures. His language is not always English nor any other spoken language. He can speak through nature and pop music and babies and even international politics – and many other ways that connect us with his heart – but most people don’t hear because his imagery means little without a desire to understand the story-teller. His language is relationship. He is the Word.

I’ll be honest and say that I enjoy poetry and I write poetry, but I don’t read a lot of it. It’s work and I want to know the poet has something of value to say before I invest mental energy in interpreting the imagery. You can’t read poetry (except perhaps limericks) without taking time to ponder over what the writer is trying to communicate. Taking time to listen to God develops eyes to see and ears to hear what the kingdom of God is like, but more importantly what the Lover of our Soul is like.

“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” (verses 16-17)

 

“Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all… I see… I hear… Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee.” (How Great Thou Art)

Victory and Suffering: Both

I have often felt I’ve been in the awkward position of having to choose between being with those who pursue a life of victory in Christ or those who glory in suffering.

My life verse has been, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” The problem is that I cannot ignore the next part: “and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Victory, yes, but suffering…

I came across this video by Ryan Matchett (one of the pastors at River of Life Church in Lethbridge, Alberta) talking about this problem. It’s about realizing the purpose and value of suffering without getting stuck there.

Thomas believed in Jesus enough to be willing to die with him. His doubt was about his difficulty transitioning from a willingness to suffer with Jesus to a willingness to also share in his resurrection. “When we don’t believe in resurrection in the midst of suffering we make agreement with death.”

This is well worth the 38 minutes of listening time.

I don’t work there anymore

I needed to hear this again today. Sometimes God allows painful memories to surface to remind us that we have not cut the ties with past events or people who have caused us to live in fear. I didn’t realize those voices still have an influence and I need to stop listening to them. How about you?

Charis: Subject to Change

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Long ago and far away I worked in a really crazy office. The two women who ran the department were nuts -and I say that in the nicest possible way. They actually threw books at each other. Since my desk was between theirs I learned to duck when “Olga” began her wind-up.  She had a good arm but her pitches were often low. Olga qualified as a United Nations translator, but when people she didn’t like required her services, she suddenly developed a thick accent and twenty word English vocabulary. She would hand me the phone and I got to pass the messages on. Yet Olga had power. She had been there forever, knew the dirt on everyone and wasn’t afraid to drag it up. She even made the company president cower.

“Lulu” was Olga’s assistant. She had the worst bouts of PMS I have ever witnessed. Most of the…

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