Just because creation gives God great delight, we cannot say that He is worshipping it; rather, He is worshipping Himself as He sees His goodness bringing such blessing to people that they give their heartfelt thanks and praise to Him for the benefits He imparts.
– Daniel Fuller
Month: November 2015
The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ~
I grew up with a bleak view of the future. I was told by men with charts and diagrams and TV shows that the world would become worse and worse, and then God would get totally fed up, beam up the ones who had said the right prayer, remove his Holy Spirit from the earth and expect those left behind to figure it out for themselves before the whole thing went up in a giant fireball. The process involved increased earthquakes, more wars, rebellious children and the inability to trust any miracles or signs and wonders out of the ordinary – or anyone associated with them – because many would be deceived by false prophets.
Then there was the anti-Christ. This horrible dictator was re-identified every few years but had surely already been born and was practising his evil skills on the unsuspecting public somewhere. He was probably a Democrat. Or a Russian. Or a Pope. Or a Jew. In any event, he spoke with an accent. His side-kick, The Beast, was probably the head of the World Council of Churches, or maybe a giant computer in Brussels or something.
I knew people who sold all their worldly goods and moved to communes to await the great zap, when they would all be rescued from this horrid place.
Then they ran out of money. They hadn’t planned on the great zap taking so long. They had to move back into town and get jobs. They hadn’t saved for their kids’ college tuition or made any retirement plans. It’s hard to plan for the future when you think you don’t have one.
I love reading about revivals and great moves of God throughout history when entire cultures changed, addictions decreased, prisons closed, families reunited, and people were inspired to pray continuously. They rose up to take the good news to the ends of the earth – places that now have a higher percentage of followers of Christ than the countries missionaries came from. I began to be curious about why these wonderful events slowed down or ended. Why did some of them go off the rails completely? Why did some become cultish groups who hid behind walls and stored up arms like the people of Munster under the leadership of Jan of Leiden, who called himself the new King David (an incident freakily repeated in history in Waco, Texas under the leadership of a man who called himself David Koresh)?
I’ve noticed something they have in common. They nearly all believed that the end was near, that extreme persecution was imminent, and that these extenuating circumstances justified the neglect of investment in their grandchildren’s future. They began to be motivated by fear and to pour their descendants’ inheritance into their own self-defence. They began to see the world in terms of “them” and “us.”
I began to wonder, since this seems to have been a method that has been successfully used many times by the enemy of our souls to shut us down, shut us in, and shut us up, if my own reading of scripture had been tainted by fear of the future. I prayed to have my eyes and heart opened. Since then the message of hope glistens on every page of the Bible. Yes, there are warnings of consequences of sin, but it’s not the convoluted dismal projection I grew up with. There are many promises that give us a future and a hope, for ourselves and for our great grandchildren.
I see more writers, theologians, teachers, and prophets coming out of their caves to declare the good news. The light shines brighter and brighter.
I believe Jesus will return at the Father’s timing, but when he does will he find us faithfully planting vineyards for the future, or sitting huddled in an overgrown field with our suitcases wondering what took him so long?
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord, all nations;
For He has bestowed His mercy upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endures forever.
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes
Laudate eum, omnes populi
Quoniam confirmata est
Super nos misericordia eius,
Et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
Conspiracy of Goodness
The light was perfect on the little lake as I set up my camera. Then it started to rain. I muttered under my breath that everything seemed to be working against me that day.
Recently I heard someone say, “It feels like everything is conspiring against me.”
This past week I read dozens of social media posts from people who fear conspiracy in government, health, education, media, food production, even sports. I began to think about the word conspire.
Originally conspire meant to come into agreement, to breathe as one. Now it nearly always has a negative connotation. Now it involves people getting together to plan harm. An entire field of study on conspiracy theories has statistically-oriented people holed up in their academic cells pounding out dissertations on the subject at this very moment. Why do we reject legitimate warnings? Why do we believe far-fetched conjectures? Why does the motive of conspirators always seem to be to bring people down or control them?
Our son and daughter-in-law conspired to give their children something good. That summer, after snowmelt and unprecedented rain combined to flood their town, the kids watched as most of their possessions and big chunks of their home were tossed in a dumpster or piled on the street for large machinery to scoop up and haul away. Their Dad not only spent many hours working on his own home, but dedicated many more to shoveling muddy sewage out of other people’s homes and helping with a thousand other urgent matters as he was pastor of a church that owned one of the few public buildings in town that remained mostly dry.
Their parents told them that someone they knew was going on a trip to Disneyland and that they were driving to the airport to bring them their luggage. On the way their young son became sullen. As they pulled into the parking lot he could no longer contain himself.
“It’s not fair! Everybody else gets to do neat things! You always look after people and do good things for them like driving their suitcases to the airport, but a pastor doesn’t get to take his family on vacation. I hate your job!”
His parents quietly gave him a suitcase to pull to the terminal. Inside the door was a glass-covered poster advertising the thrill of Disneyland.
“Oh, look! There’s the family that is going on the trip!” Dad said, pointing to the display. Our granddaughter said she saw no family in the poster. Then she saw their own reflection in the glass. Her jaw dropped and she started jumping up and down in excitement. Our grandson refused to look. He didn’t get it. He was mad. It wasn’t until he was strapped in his seat on the plane that he accepted that it was his own family going on vacation and he broke out in a wide smile. He knew his parents had no money for a trip. It was just too hard for him to believe someone would give their family such a generous gift. He had to adjust to the idea of goodness and grace.
Sometimes conspiracies for good are about the joy of surprise. Sometimes they are for protection. We don’t tell children about events too soon in case plans change, or because they can’t understand timing. It’s not always wise to go public with business plans until everything is in place, lest the competition be given a heads-up. Sometimes people will make assumptions that steer their own preparations in the wrong direction if they know too much too soon.
We are actively trying to find the best living arrangement we can for my husband’s elderly mother. There is so much red tape and dealing with agencies who don’t seem to communicate with each other. And waiting. Waiting for appointments. Waiting for reports. Waiting for vacancies. Because her increasing memory problems make this process so confusing to her we have elected not to tell her the details. She knows we are doing something “behind her back.” Like our grandson looking resentfully at the luggage in the car, it is hard for her to believe we are not all in cahoots conspiring against her. It’s frustrating, and frankly somewhat painful. Her sons are both men of outstanding character who may be two of the most responsible, reliable, honest (to a fault) people on the planet. Sadly the disease has stolen that fact. She can’t remember who is trustworthy and who is not.
The Lord reminded me that I also have a tendency to assume he is conspiring against us.
“When, Lord?” I asked.
“When you complain that situations are hopeless, when you whine that answers take too long, when you blame me for messes of your own making but don’t ask me for help. You accuse me of conspiring against you when you forget my character and that I am good.”
Here’s the thing: if we believe the lie that our heavenly Father is an angry, controlling, megalomaniac in the sky who demands that we love him or he will make our lives a living hell, we will see all his plans as conspiracies of harsh punishment against us. If we remember his past goodness to us and his faithful loving character shown through Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us, we will see his plans as conspiracies of goodness – conspiracies for us.
One night I heard in a dream, “If I tell you where I am going with this it will remove the element of faith.”
Sometimes God doesn’t tell us all the details of his plans, for his own very good reasons. Sometimes he is giving us an entire renovation and all we see is our precious old stuff landing in the dumpster. Sometimes all we see is that everybody else is getting a trip to Disneyland. Sometimes all we see is one darn heavy suitcase after another that we have to carry for somebody else when he is giving us weight-lifting exercises so we will be prepared and strong enough to walk in a higher level of faith and authority.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always breathe together in perfect unity. They are conspiring – for our good.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
In This Together
Lessons from the Banff Film Festival
I grew up in a house on a hill on the west side of Calgary. Our picture window faced the mountains. Every chance he had Dad loaded the kids in the converted school bus and took us to Banff National Park. Calgary was where we worked and studied. Banff was where we lived.
Last week I was vacationing with family in an American city on the edge of the Rockies. My daughter suggested that for our girl’s night out we go to the Banff Film Festival showing in an auditorium nearby. I wondered what it would be like to see the familiar in an unfamiliar country. When we finally found the place my daughter sighed.
“Ahh… my people… my tribe,” she said.
I looked around. The dress code differed from other film festivals. Required elements seemed to include toques, down-filled vests, yoga pants and quality footwear that could cradle your feet to Banff and back. I qualified with Salomon hiking shoes but I was definitely in the alternative body shape category. I may have been the only one in the sold-out crowd displaying that diversity. Fortunately my daughter’s North Face and Mountain Equipment Co-op labels, my minimal footwear and two paid tickets got us seats. We settled in beside a couple of weathered guys of indeterminate age who leaned forward and uttered, “Dude!” every time a death-defying act brightened the screen.
Love of nature and mountains, rivers, and open spaces I understand. Testing the limits of athletic abilities and physical endurance I do not. I went for the photography but people wearing body cameras in several of the films kept me on the edge of vertigo and clinging to the one arm rest not claimed by the dude-mutterer every time they leapt off something. Some of the photographers hung from cables over waterfalls to film kayakers going over the edge. Yikes. Not my style.
I know many mountain adventurers. I went to school with a guy who became an Olympic and World Cup downhill ski champion. By the age of 13 he was already way out of the box. My brother became a climber of some renown who started the Upward Bound program in Canada. He told me the other day that his daughter and her partner are doing climbs he never would have attempted. Our circle of friends has included extreme skiers, boarders, mountain bikers, kayakers, runners, and rock and ice climbers. I love them, but I have never understood them. I was determined to take this opportunity to listen and observe both the audience and the people featured in the films – this “tribe.”
This is what I learned:
– They have an incredible need to break the bonds of constraint. They are driven by the search for freedom. The Great Outdoors represents the antithesis of structure. They break out of offices, shops and Emergency Rooms and head for the hills like they are Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Nature cannot be controlled. In fact they hold in disdain those who would try to tame nature with dams and golf courses. They prefer the wild.
– Many are deeply spiritual people. They form a spiritual link with something that is too big to be contained or manufactured and wax poetic about it. It is easy for a lot of folks to exchange worship of the Creator for worship of creation, but for many God is more likely to found on a mountaintop than in a pew. (This I understand.)
– They think out of the box. One segment featured a fellow who was one of the co-inventors of the mountain bike. Frustrated with the limitations of racing bikes that needed paved roads he rummaged through dumps and garage sales and any place he could scavenge parts to make something different. He essentially re-invented the wheel when he made a fat tire that would handle rough terrain. These guys are constantly inventing new sports and new equipment.
– When they get together it’s all about the gear. I’ve known guys who willingly sleep in a car and eat nothing but beans for weeks rather than skimp on equipment. They check and re-check, count and weigh, and plan and re-pack for months. They are courageous, but not fool-hardy. Equipping is essential.
– The goal is not to conquer the mountain, but to conquer fear. Even those who admit that the craving for adrenaline-induced highs is part of their DNA are stymied by physical and emotional reactions to fear. They prefer to confront fear rather run from it. (As one who is sensitive to emotional atmospheres, may I say this may have been one of the most fear-free atmospheres I have been in lately? It was certainly more peaceful than anything on TV or social media lately, death-defying activities, or no.)
– Living at altitude requires time. Adjusting to thinner oxygen levels means one has to simply be in a high place without drama for a while before attempting anything.
– Donning a toque in the morning is committing to a lifestyle for the rest of the day. I asked my daughter why so many people in the theatre were wearing over-sized droopy toques when the room was quite warm from the heat of so many bodies.
“Toque head,” she said. “You can’t just come home from a day on the mountain, pull the wool off your head and go out without your hair looking extremely out-of-place.”
– The lowliest creatures let us know how healthy our world is. A film about a rather homely salamander in the Appalachian streams became a symbol of observing how well we are caring for our environment. When the hidden and unnoticed among us are dying we are in trouble.
– Community is less about being in the same space at the same time as understanding each others hearts, passions, and helping another person on the trail. One film followed a guy who had done a demanding ridge run for many years. Now he mans a comfort and support station at altitude along the way. He encourages and mentors the young. He doesn’t compete with them. He gives so they might know the joy he has known. Another film featured an elderly former guide and climber. When asked if she missed her former life she said she didn’t, because those adventures are a part of who she is, not just who she was.
I went for a walk the next day and thought about this. I wondered if the Lord was showing me something through the experience. I believe so.
– Living a life at altitude, in the Presence of God, requires commitment. When you put on your toque (or helmet of salvation) it’s gonna mess with your head and you will never fit in with those to whom appearance is the highest priority. Thinking with the mind of Christ is going to make you look weird and bring critical looks. Best to keep your helmet on.
– It is for freedom that Christ set us free. The search for freedom drives those who seek the wider latitudes Christ gives his friends.
– Worship is about connecting with the Creator, about being in the center of God’s glory, however He chooses to express Himself.
– We need to be equipped and to learn to equip others. This requires thinking out of the box, taking old things out of the treasury and adding new revelation to do what has not been done before in a way that is original, yet honours the accomplishments of those who have gone before us. You can climb a mountain without helmets, ropes, harnesses and pitons, but you will get to climb more mountains if you use them. In the same way, it is more efficient to do things the way Jesus did if you use the tools and provisions Holy Spirit makes available. On the other hand, it is easy to become obsessed with acquiring new gear and spend more time showing it off than using it. It is easy to be side-tracked by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and spend more time impressing ourselves than using it for God’s purposes.
– Community is more about having a point of mutual spiritual experience and mutual relationship with the Eternal than uniformity of rules, or expressions. White water kayakers may have more in common with free-fallers than they do with other boaters. Unity is not sameness.
– True mentors take joy when their protegees exceed what they themselves have accomplished. They are not afraid of being replaced. They are willing to raise others up.
– The well-being of the hidden members of our society is a good indication of the health of our culture. The poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, the voiceless – these speak to our collective conscience.
– Learning to live at altitude takes periods of rest with gradually increased activity. It’s about learning not only to breathe deeply but letting every molecule of oxygen affect us for good. We need Pneuma, the Holy Spirit – the breath of life infiltrating us completely.
– The challenge is not about who gets to the finish line first. The challenge is about the process and who you are becoming in the process.
– The goal is not to conquer this world anymore than it is a climber’s goal to conquer the mountain or a surfer’s goal to conquer the wave. The goal is to conquer the fear that keeps us from being fully alive in Christ. The goal is to abide in Him as He abides in us, to be creative as He is creative, to love as He loves, to become Christ-like. The goal is to truly know Him, follow Him, and know that in Him there are no limits.
I bought a bigger toque before I went home.
Those who know Your name will rely on You,
for You, O Eternal One,
have not abandoned those who search for You.
The wind howls and ice crusts the puddles the little ones jumped into just a few days ago. It’s fuzzy socks and warm boot weather, not barefoot on the beach weather.
My little granddaughter told me she couldn’t sleep. She was scared. What if the wind blew so hard that a tornado came? I told her that tornadoes hardly every happen here because the mountains protect us. And we can pray that God will send angels to surround us.
“Does he know we are visiting Montana?” she asked.
“Yes. He always knows where we are. He never forgets us.”
“So God gives us make-sures?”
Make-sures. That sounds like a good word for promises.
“Yes, God gives us make-sures,” I said. “Things don’t always go the way we plan, but God has promised to care for us.”
She went back to bed and quickly fell asleep. I pulled the blanket over her feet and remembered the day this past summer when she and her little sister, tuckered out with intense play, curled up on the beach blanket, covered themselves with towels and fell asleep. I felt the Lord telling me that resting in him in a storm takes no more effort than resting on a sunny beach.
I felt some anxiety myself when the lights flickered and power went out for the rest of the night. It didn’t come back on until noon the next day. A tree did fall across the road in front of a neighbouring house. I thought she would be upset when she saw it, instead she said, “Aren’t you glad God gives us make-sures, Nana?”
Yes. I am.
Thank you, Lord.
“Who is this in royal robes,
marching in his great strength?
“It is I, the Lord, announcing your salvation!
It is I, the Lord, who has the power to save!
(from Isaiah 63)
On the morning before the slaughter in Paris, while I was still asleep, I heard a voice. It woke me.
This has happened before, so I asked, “Psalm 42?”
I looked it up. It’s starts with a prophecy about the Messiah, his character, his role, his manner and his purpose.
I looked up Isaiah 63. It has a similar theme of a Father who fights evil on behalf of his children.
Both passages end with a description of His sorrow when the people he desired to save turned to their own methods, even other gods, instead of calling on Him and responding to Him. In Isaiah’s time He left them to their own devices for a while, but continued to call out to them over and over through his prophets.
Many times in history God’s people have prayed crying “‘Anah!” to Him. “Hear us! Respond to us!” (A discussion of the word ‘anah here.)
Many times in history Yhwh has prayed to his beloved, “‘Anah!” “Hear Me! Respond to me!”
For a few days I didn’t understand why he would direct my attention to these passages. Since then I have seen many responses to the triumph of evil in Paris and Kenya and Syria and many other places in the world. Love them all! Kill them all!
Can we just admit that if there was a sure-fire method of solving this situation without exacerbating horrible actions or being captured by the evil spirits behind it ourselves, that it would have been done by now? We have lost our innocence about both the nobility of armed conflict and the consequences of doing nothing when we hear the cries of victims of evil aggression.
In our own family, this very week, we are still fighting World War II. My mother-in-law barely escaped death or an internment camp as a young teenager when her family’s home in Rangoon, Burma was bombed by the invading Japanese. Their savings were in that house. They lost everything and fled on the last military transport to India. Now, as her short-term memory loss requires us to take measures to protect her she feels like her own family is confiscating her savings and threatening her freedom by sending her to an old person internment camp. (She refuses to live with us.) In her mind history is repeating -or perhaps the war has never ended- and that which she feared most has come upon her.
I remember my mom describing the beatings she and her brothers suffered on the way home from school as ethnic Germans living in Canada during the war. No one took the time to understand that they were running from both the Russians and the Germans. No one noticed that their older brother was fighting for the Canadian army in the Netherlands. When Hitler’s troops arrived in my grandfather’s village they killed 1/3 of the population in one day. Stalin had already killed my grandmother’s family. I see the Syrian refugees fleeing violence as unjust as the pogroms of Russia a century ago also being met with rejection from all sides.
Some of our extended family were still in Germany when the battle lines were drawn up. Let me tell you no one hated Hitler more than a German boy drafted to the Russian front! But if you were Ukrainian like my husband’s grandparents and saw a German boy in a tank coming toward you, it was not a good time to offer hospitality. It is not easy to love your enemy and love your children at the same time. We desperately need wisdom and discernment.
I am a grandchild of refugees who still lives with the consequences of war. I am so grateful that Canada took my family in! I am grateful Canada heard the cries of the victims of injustice and made room for them. I am grateful that many were willing to lay down their lives to fight injustice. Now I am even more grateful to those, like the intercessor Rees Howells, who fought the war on their knees. We will never know this side of heaven how much intercessors, those who war in the heavenlies, did to bring peace.
Now it is time for those who hear his voice to respond.
What am I saying? History has proven that our methods of solving problems like ISIS are horribly inadequate. I have heard people say, after they have tried everything they can think of to save themselves in threatening circumstances, “Well, all we can do now is pray.”
I hear my heavenly Father say, “Make Me your first response! It is I, the Lord! It is I, who has the power to save!”
“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.
He is my chosen one, who pleases me.
I have put my Spirit upon him.
He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout
or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.
He will not falter or lose heart
until justice prevails throughout the earth.
Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.”
(from Isaiah 42)
The Formerly Splendid
Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die. (1 John 2:15-17)
Never the Same
“You can never be the same after the unveiling of a truth.”
– Oswald Chambers
I once met a couple who moved to this valley just after a mid-winter temperature inversion settled in and swathed the mountains in clouds for three long weeks. It looked no different from any other cold grey town in Canada. Then one crisp morning the sun cleared the peaks and clouds blew away like wisps of melancholy lacking any foothold in truth.
The couple were astonished that they had been surrounded by enormous snow-covered blue mountains the whole time. The mountains were no less real while they were still veiled, but up until the young man and his bride got a glimpse they wondered what people were talking about when they went on about how beautiful they were.
We can listen to people talk about the beauty and goodness of God, and nod politely. Perhaps we even believe that the love of Jesus Christ exists somewhere, even though we’ve never experienced it ourselves.
But when we see with our own eyes, we can never be the same.