Exalt

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I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.

I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

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This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

(Psalm 34:1-8)

 

Laying It All Down/Gaining Everything

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“…at present Jesus simply looks for those who willingly answer His call and say yes to Him. “Yes. You gave everything You have for me. I now give everything I have to You….

“[Jesus] became obedient even to the point of death. It really does cost to follow God. And there’s sometimes sadness and grieving in that, in terms of how much we will have to give up. The truth is, to be fully a disciple of Jesus will cost us everything. Jesus doesn’t ask for half our heart; He asks for it all. But there is good news in that. When we deny ourselves and lay down our lives – the meager amount we have to offer anyway in comparison – we actually gain every thing!”

– Bruce Merz, in While He Lay Dying

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” -Jesus Christ

(Matthew 16:25 NLT)

Times and Seasons

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Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
(Daniel 2:20 -22)

Charcoal: When Painful Memories Remain

fire sq

I think I must have a nerve that goes straight from my nose to a file of old memories in the dusty attic that is my brain. The scent of autumn leaves on the ground takes me back to kicking my way through the park and burying my little brother in a mound of leaves so he could suddenly sit up and scare the wits out of passersby. He was a fun kid.

I learned as a kid that leaves and flowers stuffed in a plastic container with a layer of snow to preserve them didn’t smell so good when you opened the lid a few months later. The odor of rotten vegetation triggers memories of bad ideas.

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Not all smells are good. Before the Lord healed me certain odors could trigger flashbacks and bring on anxiety attacks that felt like hanging over the fires of hell by an unravelling rope. If you don’t understand what that means I thank the Lord for his goodness to you and pray that sentence will never make sense. Just let me assure you that God does heal memories and removes their power over you. (My friend, Praying Medic, has written a book about one very effective method of healing prayer for memories and emotions. His blog with link to book here.)

But sometimes God lets some memories remain.

I was struck by a story in the Bible that mentions a campfire on the beach after Peter and the boys decided to give up this whole disciple-schtick and go back to the old job, wondering what those three last years were all about.

Wood fires smell all Kum-by-yah and marshmallow torches to me. Charcoal fires put me back in the scene of a crime I vaguely recall with some not-so-sober friends who tip over a little hibachi grill onto the Parks Canada picnic table. We drag it lakeward with the intentions of throwing it in because we are afraid of starting a forest fire, which really would really tick off the rangers, when somebody has the bright idea of pouring some of the lake on the table instead.

But I digress.

So there is Jesus, no longer dead, cooking fish over a charcoal fire. Maybe he had a hibachi. I don’t know. He yells at the boys, who were failing as badly at fishing as they were when he first met them. (Why, in the face of disappointment, do so many of us return to the very same thing that didn’t work for us the last time either?)

“Throw the net on the right side!” he yells.

The same miracle happens. Lots of fish, Many, many, many fish.

Now Pete, bless his heart, is still not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and it takes his buddy John to point out the coincidence to him. Then he does his impulsive thing, although perhaps less impulsively than before because this time he puts some clothes on first, and swims for shore. When the other guys catch up they see the charcoal fire and a fish fry happening on the beach.

Now I don’t think the Bible throws in a lot of extra detail because the Lord knew the book needed to be portable (although I’m still working on understanding why I have to haul all those genealogies around every time I throw it in my big old tie-dyed hippy bag). So why mention charcoal?

Because when Peter denied Christ he was standing near a charcoal fire.

When Jesus asked Peter twice if he loved him (agape -God’s total all-encompassing love) Pete was again standing beside a charcoal fire, but on the beach this time.

The memory of the last time he stood beside a charcoal fire would have been very strong. He could not answer that he loved Jesus with agape love because he knew that in himself he did not have that ability. His ceiling had already caved in on that issue. He was publicly exposed as a coward and had wept bitterly at his own weakness.

And now Jesus is rubbing the memory of his failure in his nose.

By making him a meal over charcoal early in the morning, Jesus is reminding him of his worst moment, yet serving him and loving him at the same time. My stomach would have been willing to give back the fish at that point. In the midst of the smoke, which I can see drifting his way, Peter has to be totally honest and humble before Christ -and himself- and admit he can, at best, only offer a lesser phileo (brotherly) love. So Jesus asks again and after receiving the same response lowers the ante and asks the broken man if he loves (phileo) him.

This is the moment when Jesus chooses to call him to leadership. “Feed my sheep.”

While Peter’s nostrils are sending the memory of the worst moment of his life straight to his heart and mind, Jesus says he is ready to care for His sheep and lambs.

Have you noticed when you feel like God might be asking you to step up and do something courageous, something that might look like a promotion to anyone else, he often picks the moment when you are most aware of your personal inadequacies, the moment when you know without a doubt the task is beyond you?

There you are, bravado and enthusiasm stinking like a Tupperware casket full of last season’s rotten leaves, as you slink off the stage hoping no one remembers what you look like. And then God says, “Now you’re ready.”

Why? Because he doesn’t need your talent, your muscle, your wit, your confidence and excellent self-esteem. He wants your love. That’s it. That’s the only qualification. And he doesn’t even expect you to drum up a lot of that on your own either.

Three times Jesus asked Peter the question, giving him the chance to confirm three times what he had denied three times. Jesus is very good that way. He takes our worst moments and burns them up to cook breakfast over, just for us. He is not afraid of our failure. His kindness is relentless.

He puts his love in our trembling hands so we have something to hand back to him.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

Useful or Loved

Thomas and his friend

My grandson and I cuddled on the couch watching his favourite video. I listened to the theme of Thomas the Train and watched his train friends’ adventures for what seemed like the fiftieth time. Maybe it took that many views for me to notice how many times the word “useful” was used to describe the little engines’ motivation for his adventures. He wanted to be a really useful little engine.

I remembered another conversation on the couch, with a friend this time. Her daughter, and the entire family, was suffering terribly. The girl had not told them, until her methods of coping landed her in a psychiatric hospital, that for some time she had been molested by a trusted member of their church. Like so many other victims she blamed herself and was drowning in shame.

“I try to tell her it will be okay, “ her mother whispered. “God can still use her. But that just seems to make her shut off even more.”

“Maybe ‘God can still use her’ is not the best choice of words,” I tried to explain gently. “She has already been ‘used’ and it has not turned out well.”

“I never thought of it that way,” she said. “Anyway, she knows God still loves her.”

“Does she? Right now she feels such shame she can’t even look her earthly Dad in the face. Her ability to trust authority figures has been thoroughly shaken. It’s going to take a while for her to sort out who God is and especially who God is not. We need to demonstrate to her the same kind of grace and love God does. She needs to know that she does not have to do anything to receive your love. Love and accept her just as she is, with all her dysfunction. She does not need to be an honour student, or a perfect weight, or a junior missionary with a “testimony of victory.”

As I recalled this conversation I had to ask myself, “Who is God for me now? Do I still carry vestiges of the message that I am more acceptable if I am useful?

I have never made friends easily. Acquaintances, yes. Close friends I felt safe with and in whom I could confide, not so much. There have been a few who have been tremendous blessings, but even though much improved, I still have trust issues myself. My pattern over the years was to keep friends by making myself really useful like the little train. It’s been hard to believe I could be loved otherwise. Usefulness was my insurance against rejection.

I’ve been going through a time when the Lord has asked me to set “workin’ fo’ da kingdom” aside to learn, on a deeper level, that I don’t have to earn his approval. This goes deep. It’s not about the importance of engaging in activities like teaching, or providing music, feeding the poor, or even meeting with friends to pray for various excellent ministries. It’s about motivation. Can I admit this is tough? I question this action all the time. What will people think? What is the measure of my faithfulness now?

When the son who demanded his inheritance early – and blew it all – returned to the Father, it was with a sense of shame. He thought if he made himself useful, like the other servants, he could earn a place in the household. The Father not only accepted him back without asking first for any pledge of behaving better in future, he honoured him as a son, in the stinky pig state he was in, without a two-year disciplinary period to prove he was worthy of acceptance. The son’s shame was met with unexpected honour.

That’s grace. Amazing, shocking grace. Hard to believe, hard to receive, but that is the fine robe God wraps us in when we turn to him, empty-handed.

The elder son didn’t believe it. He took off in a huff. The Father went out to him and assured him that he had access to everything in the house, but jealousy kept him from sharing the Father’s joy. The eldest demanded to know how anyone who was not useful could be a part of this family.

When people first come into the household of faith they come as orphans, grateful for food and shelter. They long for, but don’t really expect – or know how to handle – the Father’s affection. They focus on learning the rules in the orphanage, lest they do something to offend and face rejection.

Some people, longing for friendship with God, move on to become voluntary servants, hoping to secure a place by becoming essential workers and ingratiating themselves with the Father’s favour. One of the signs that they see themselves as servants and not sons is competition and flare-ups of jealousy toward others.

A son, however, knows he is held in the Father’s embrace by nothing more than the Father’s love. He learns, just by remaining there, that bond of love is so strong he can feel the Father’s heartbeat. Not until a sense of shame and unworthiness is washed away by a flood of grace upon grace can he afford to extend that same love to others.

We can try to use God to supply our wants. We can try to earn his approval by being used by God. But we don’t realize that we are sons of God until we come humbly as orphans and bond servants and discover, much to our surprise, that He simply loves us because He loves us, because He loves us, because He loves us…

Then we find joy and fulfillment in being who he made us to be – His workmanship, created for great things, partners in the Father’s plan.

For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. (John 1:16 ESV)

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