Author! Author!

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Sometimes, when alpenglow lights up the mountains for a few minutes at sunset I want to stand up and applaud, shouting “Author! Author!”

Sometimes I do.

I want to praise the Creator of all this.

I heard of a writer who tried to correct some information about his motivation for the development of a character on a Wikipedia article about himself. Ironically, the corrections he tried to make were “re-corrected” because he – the author – was not recognized as an authority on himself. (A whole other discussion about media and trust could be held here but I shall resist for the moment.)

Yesterday my son  and I were discussing theology as he helped me make dinner.  He thought there was a reason the people who marvelled at the things Jesus said recognized he that taught as one who had authority.

“It’s because he was the author,” my son said, as he mashed the potatoes. “Teachers like the scribes of Jesus’ day, can only propose theories on what they think the author meant, but Jesus spoke with authority because, as the author of the story, he knew what it meant.”

The best way to understand what the author intended is to ask the author. In Hebrews we read that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the ultimate authority on God’s intentions. Like watching a continuing saga of gigantic proportions the meaning of beginning of the story can only be fully understood in the context of the ending. This takes a brilliant author.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrew 12 NKJV)

In Christ the great mystery of the ages is revealed.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  

And he is the head of the body, the church;

he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1: 17-20)

He speaks as one having authority.



Wisdom in an Upside-down Kingdom

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“But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.”

– Edmund Burke

Wisdom is an overlooked but very necessary gift from God.

Wisdom is often the missing element when trying to communicate liberty and love. Wisdom includes knowledge, but knowledge does not necessarily include wisdom. How often do we hear the phrase, “I’m sure he meant well?” whilst cleaning up a human relations fiasco.

There is a difference between wisdom that comes from above and wisdom gained from years of study and experience. Like words of knowledge mentioned in Romans 12, words of wisdom go beyond the natural ability of a person to perceive without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The wisdom that comes from God “is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy.” (James 3:17 Phillips)

The gift of wisdom is a spiritual gift, and is closely connected with hearing and understanding God’s perspective. Sometimes Godly wisdom is counter-intuitive because it has a different goal in mind than what we think is in our best interest. While reading about Godly wisdom I was surprised to learn that the greatest hindrance to using this gift is rivalry, jealousy and envy.

“Are there some wise and understanding men among you? Then your lives will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom.” (James 3:13)

It reminds me of the time a man with a sword stood before Joshua as he was about to lead his men into battle. Joshua asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

The real question is not whether or not God is on our side. The question is about whether or not we are on His.

Someone told me once that presumptive sin is the unquestioned idea that God is a kind of Santa Claus who exists to serve our desires. Our desires can look quite noble. We want a family we can be proud of. We want our country to be free, peaceful, and prosperous. We want our own church gathering -the one that meets under a particular steeple or gymnasium roof – to be a beacon of light in the community. We want our mission to bear fruit.

Secretly, however, we want our congregation to shine more brightly than others. We want to be able to say we have the greatest growth, the widest influence, the finest music, the biggest outreach, the most political influence, the finest sermons, the most popular programs, the most prosperous, healthy, well-taught, well-behaved attendees and the best thought-out forms of governance with leaders well-schooled in the art of business administration. We want our mission to be blessed in stead of blessing God’s mission. We want our team to win.

Wisdom is understanding how to apply all the other gifts in a way that will be to the benefit of others and will honour God.

The Bible says wisdom is connected to humility, not ambition – and definitely not pride. The fastest way to shut down the operation of wisdom in our midst is to fail to recognize the gifts and callings in others or to encourage them or promote them as being more important than ourselves.

Spiritual growth that screens knowledge through wisdom and love is often counter-intuitive in an upside down Kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

James goes on to write in chapter four of the book named after him that the greatest cause  – no, the cause – of division and disgruntlements in the church is competitiveness and jealousy.

“But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.”

Since we were just told in chapter three that rivalry and jealousy shut down the ability to receive wisdom, perhaps what we ought to be praying for is not the things we can spend on our own pleasure, or for things that improve our own reputation or attract admiration. Perhaps the gift we need to be asking for is wisdom and grace we can lavish on others to God’s glory.

God promised He will give wisdom liberally -all we have to do is remain humble and ask with the right motives.


Luminous Night of the Soul

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Long before music was sung by a choir,
Long before silver was shaped in the fire,
Long before poets inspired the heart,
You were the Spirit of all that is art.

You give the potter the feel of the clay;
You give the actor the right part to play;
You give the author a story to tell;
You are the prayer in the sound of a bell.

Praise to all lovers who feel your desire!
Praise to all music which soars to inspire!
Praise to the wonders of Thy artistry
Our Divine Spirit, all glory to Thee.

(Charles Anthony Silvestri)

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

(St. John of the Cross)

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Christmas? It’s Complicated

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My relationship with Christmas is complicated.

I’ve been in four car accidents in my life. Two were on Christmas Eve and one was on Christmas Day. The first one left a lasting impression as a man stepped into the icy street in front of a vehicle my father was following. Neither could stop in time and drove over him. Years later I learned the investigation showed the man chose this method to commit suicide. (I wrote about it here in The Sorrow of Christmas.) I was very young, but I never bought “the magic of Christmas” after that.

On the other hand I was a singer and some of the best music in the world, especially choral music, is performed at Christmas.

On the other hand I love food. Cooking for her family and friends was how my mother expressed affection and she dished out the love at Christmas. I enjoy making cookies and Santa Claus pie with my grandchildren. Even though I can’t eat  it anymore shortbread in the oven still smells like love.

On the other hand I love art and crafts and creativity and pretty baubles that serve no purpose whatsoever other than to say “Here I am in all my sparkly Modge Podge glory.” Where’s my glue gun?

Christmas Eve at our house always included a decorated tree. It always included hot chocolate and new slippers and pajamas. Christmas Day always included an over-heated house full of relatives and the smell of roasting turkey. Aunt Jessie always brought her pineapple marshmallow whipped cream salad. Uncle Joe always piled his plate so high there ought to have been avalanche hazard warnings posted. Christmas afternoon always included a crokinole tournament for the men and a card table with bits of a thousand piece puzzle scattered on it for the women. It always included a plate of Aunt Doris’ maple fudge and a bowl of nuts still in the shell with dangerous-looking implements sticking out that little kids weren’t supposed to touch, but did. It always included a political rant or two from opinionated patriarchs-in-training.

Frantic cleaning and cranky words usually bracketed the arrival and departure of guests. That was a tradition too.

When we married and had our own home we always honoured the Christmas season script with tree and lights and presents and turkey. The season included weeks of shopping on a tight budget whilst dressed up like a sweating Eskimo in a store with yuletide carols [badly sung] piped into every aisle. (Let’s just say it’s a good thing it’s not a Canadian tradition to carry guns into Walmart or there might be one less looped tape of Santa Baby and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in the office.)

Christmas included saying no to kids who saw far too many commercials on TV. It often included travelling long distances in horrid weather on icy roads. It involved little kids in emotional melt-down Christmas Day because the tradition on one side of the family said gifts must be opened at midnight. Sometimes it included cancelled flights and sleeping in airports and midnight rides on Greyhound buses because one simply did not risk breaking with tradition. Christmas frequently included Kleenex and cough drops and aspirin. Flu is also a Canadian seasonal tradition.

Christmas included shopping in a town with only two stores for white shirts so kids could sing in the school choir (and bringing baked “goodies’), obligatory parties for every club or group anyone in the family attended (and bringing baked goodies) and finding dates for student concerts and recitals that didn’t conflict with all the other events (and bringing baked goodies).

Christmas makes me feel emotional, but it doesn’t always bring thoughts devotional. Man-made traditions tend to accumulate and open branch offices. Don’t blame the old stodgy churches for being mired in ritual. Sometimes it takes only one repetition to create a tradition.

One thing I have learned is that you can discuss theology until the Arminian/Calvinist debate is actually settled amicably but you don’t mess with people’s traditions. Neglect to take part in the Lord’s Table for weeks and folks will hardly notice. Accidentally double book the hall for the third annual mother/daughter Christmas tea and someone may question whether your name is actually written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Christmas for me has always included stress -good stress, bad stress. Stress is the most consistent tradition. It wasn’t until the year that baby Jesus, or parts of him, went missing from the nativity scene for who knows how long (puppy?) that I noticed the disappearance of Jesus as the center of the creche looked a lot like the absence of Christ at the center of many of our traditions and rituals. I had to ask, “Is this actually “Christian?”

Tradition can be a memorial stone that helps us remember important experiences, but rituals can also become a burdens that miss the original point entirely. There is a difference between the traditions of God and the traditions of man.

Some ancient traditions started with spontaneous expressions of joy or sorrow around certain events. Jeremiah wrote songs of mourning when King Josiah died. They became traditional laments in the Jewish culture. The people in exile  inaugurated the feast of Purim to memorialize the victory told in the book of Esther. Man-made tradition and rituals can help us to remember and to teach our children. I love liturgy for the same reason. The church calendar can be like a lesson plan that reminds us to examine the whole of scripture and not merely our favourite bits. But forms without flexibility to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead can also become a burden.

Some ancient traditions are God-ordained. Moses said to the people:
“This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt.” (Exodus 13:9 NLT)

The protectors of an established way of life that came from extrapolations on the law of Moses said to Jesus: “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ “(Matthew 15:2-9 NLT)

I’ve made progress in neutralizing my acid pen in the past few years, but I lost it in November. The nasty protests on social media against commercial outlets that don’t follow “Christian traditions” started up again. (Has no one noticed that holidays is just the traditional spelling of Holy Days?). There is no command in the Bible to celebrate Jesus’ birth on an arbitrary day with holly on a coffee cup or nativity scenes on city hall property. How can we demand that people who do not know the Lord honour our man-made traditions when we ignore what He actually demonstrated? How did it get to be alright to demand protection for “our way of life” when that act itself violates a command of God to love your neighbour and treat those in authority with respect?

How is it alright for our car full of Christmas traditions to run over the lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the sick, the grieving, the desperate as we rush home to celebrate the birth of the One who showed us what love is? How is it alright to lay burdens on ourselves that resist the message that Christ came to set us free?

Jesus Himself said that if we love him we will obey His commandments which are simply to love others as we love ourselves.

I’ve had to apologize for attacking people for attacking people and for being intolerant of the intolerant. I’m not one who says you mustn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th. I’m saying don’t make this season of worship a farce.

I’m saying it is for freedom that Christ came to set us free and we need to be careful not to take on another yoke of bondage.

I’m saying God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That is joy. That is love.

Anything else is unplugged tangled Christmas tree lights that bring no light at all.

Shine in Our Hearts

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For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
(2 Corinthians 4:6 NLT)

I was walking home in darkness that falls too early this time of year. When I stopped to tie my bootlace I realized I was standing under the neighbour’s lamp stand at the end of their driveway. The darker the sky grew the brighter the light grew in  comparison.

Even in dark times our loving Father makes the light to shine in our hearts as we abide in Christ and he indwells us. This is  my first Christmas without my Dad since he is celebrating with Mom and Grandma and Grandpa and the rest of the cloud of witnesses this year. This is also the first Christmas since my husband’s brother passed away. Tears fall easily lately, but even in sorrow there is hope. The mystery hidden for ages is now made known. Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Have you noticed how many Christmas carols are about the light shining in the darkness? One of my favourites is Candlelight Carol by John Rutter. Candlelight, angel light, fire light and star glow.

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Highly Favoured

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Like many other people in the world I have always known that I was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Oh my parents loved me and cared for me, but they were hoping to enjoy life together for a while before itty bitty me showed up shortly after the honeymoon and left my uncharacteristically emotional mother spending much of her first year of marriage hanging over a toilet. I heard the story of my birth many times. She nearly died and was left with chronic pain which I frequently witnessed. To make things worse I was not the curly-haired, cheerful, compliant child she had dreamed of dressing up in the latest kiddy fashions. I felt like I was born with a huge debt for being the wrong child born at the wrong time in a most troublesome manner.

She never said that of course. It was just something a child picked up from overhearing stories about “the baby” in a transverse position and all the complications that followed. I knew I was “the baby.” The desperate fussy attempts to make me look like the children in movies and story books and exasperated words like, “Why can’t you be more like Mary Beth?” told me there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t fix.

I was also born in the middle of the baby boom when there was a shortage of classrooms and books and gym equipment and a lot of other desired items. We boomers always seemed to surprise the authorities who never totally grasped the numbers until our mob moved on. One year my parents went to a parent/teacher interview. Not only did the teacher not know my name after three months sitting under his tutelage, he insisted I wasn’t in his class. They proved I was. His only comment to them was that I needed to speak up more. I was used to being lost in a crowd.

I know I’m not the only one who grew up harbouring shame for being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some people feel they were born the wrong gender, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong temperament. The artsy one in a sports-mad family. The tone-deaf one in a family of musicians. The extrovert in a family of introverts. The chubby one in a family of fashionistas. The seventh in a family that could barely afford six.

I didn’t realize how deeply those feelings affected me until the Lord stopped me one day in the middle of a pity-party.

“You’re not, you know.”
“Not what?”
“You’re not an accident. You were very much planned.”
“I heard them say otherwise.”
“You were planned. By Me. You are exactly the right person at the right time in the right place.”
“Seriously? I thought I was a ‘surprise.’”
“Nothing surprises Me. Do you think Jesus was a surprise? Not to Me.”

I thought about Mary and the shock she must have felt when an angel showed up and gave her surprising news that she would bear a son, much too early to fit convention or to give her and Joseph a comfortable settling-in period. I realized again the trust she must have had in God when she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” I realized how much trust the Lord must have had in her. She understood Who was asking and the importance of what He was asking of her. Even the angel knew who she was.

“Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you,” he said. She was the one who was highly favoured!

But Mary was not God’s only highly favoured child. God’s love is so immense that His favour towards those who respond to Him has no limits.

I found confirmation in Psalm 139:
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!”

(Verses 13 to 22 in The Message)

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This may just be conjecture, but I wonder if the psalmist struggled with the same doubts about who he was. I wonder if he needed to hear the assuring words of the One who loved him for who he was.

Some of you need to hear this: You are not a mistake. You were planned and have always been planned in the heart of the Creator of the universe. You are the right temperament, the right colour, the right size, the right gender. You are in this time and this place because He has marvelous plans for you. You are not merely one among billions. You are not lost in a crowd. He knows everything about you. He thinks about you constantly.

He knows your name! He absolutely adores you, you know.

You are highly favoured.

And You, My Little Son

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“And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.

You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.

Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.”

– from Zechariah’s prophecy over his baby son, John (in The Message)