Coming in the Opposite Spirit

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I’m wrestling with an attitude problem. No, it’s not the attitude of a surly teenager at the breakfast table, or a disgruntled boss who seems impossible to please, or even the doom and gloomer media riding their own tidal wave of predicted disaster into my house. It’s my own surly attitude that wants to roll up in a ball under the duvet, shun expectations, and type nasty you-think-that’s-bad responses on my cell phone.

Ongoing health problems and extreme cold have kept me housebound for most of the past two months. I realize I need to do something to break the pattern of negativity and low expectations that I have been allowing to creep in like the cold of another frozen grey day.

I’ve heard people use the expression “coming in the opposite spirit” to describe an attitude that does not succumb to the prevailing spiritual atmosphere. This is an attitude that chooses to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable and responds to evil with good.

An example of this is found in 1 Peter 3:9:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

On a day when I woke up sensing an atmosphere of darkness, coldness of heart, and dismal forebodings, I choose to come in the opposite spirit. I’m going to do this metaphorically here.

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The opposite season of year from today is mid-July. I went back to a file of photos labeled July, and chose some of them to post. Then I found some music from a delightful British Gardening show that carries good memories for me. This is the atmosphere I am creating on my blog today. This afternoon I think I shall peruse some online seed catalogues and make plans for the future.

Lord, to my heart bring back the springtime.

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All the Time

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“Every life has dark tracks and long stretches of somber tint, and no representation is true to fact which dips its pencil only in light, and flings no shadows on the canvas.”

– Alexander MacLaren

Winter days are short in the north, but when the sun reflects off the snow they can be gloriously bright. The contrast between extreme brightness and dark shadow is sometimes difficult to capture with a camera. Photographers have to figure out how to adjust for areas of an image appearing either blown-out white or indiscernible black.

As I drove in the countryside my eyes could not adjust quickly enough to the deep blue shadow across the road in a forested section after open white fields. For a moment I couldn’t see. I felt disoriented. Nothing had changed. The sky, the earth, the road were still all there and as solid and real as they had been seconds before driving into the shadow. It takes a while to be able to discern shapes and terrain in a canyon cutting between tall fir trees.

Sometimes when we enter dark times in our life we are tempted to question what we knew only a short time before. Does God still love me if I can’t feel him or see him? Did I mess up so badly this time he has given up on me? There are lots of voices offering condemnation in this place. Where do they come from?

It takes a while to be able to discern truth in dark places, but it is still truth. When we refuse to panic and instead choose to slow down by resting in trust, gradually we can again see and hear that the love of God has been there all the time.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?

If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?

And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way!

Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

(Romans 8:31-39 MSG)

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Better Than Gems

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For a few hours, before the snow cover blanketed them, ice crystals adorned the periwinkle along the edge of the garden path. They caught my eye. I stopped to admire the sparkling jewels, all the more precious for their temporary existence. I needed to get on with my day so I walked on as the snow fell. By the time I passed that way again they had vanished.

I read a scripture verse today about gems. As precious and beautiful as real gems are, King Solomon wrote about something of even greater value, and that is wisdom.

I used to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs every day. 31 chapters made it convenient to find my place. It’s been a while and since I have been praying for wisdom a lot lately (because I really need some) I thought I should go back and review. Yesterday I read the eighth chapter for the eighth day of the month – the chapter about Wisdom calling out, begging to be noticed. I was reminded that Wisdom existed before time. Wisdom is part of the very creation of the earth. Wisdom is foundational and unlike my ice diamonds, not a temporary, relative thing. It’s been there all the time.

The more I experience of the grace and goodness of God the more I begin to hate evil both in myself and in the world around me. Evil is anything that is out of line with God’s perfect nature and design.

I write a lot about grace and the freedom it brings, but grace does not over-ride wisdom nor, as some people fear, give license to sin. Wisdom is woven into grace and, like love and mercy and kindness, is part of the character of God. Sin is ultimately disrespect for God. Disrespect for the Creator is the opposite of the goal of grace.

Grace does not ignore evil or dismiss the consequences of evil as being no big deal. Quite the opposite. Grace points to the sinless nature of the One who loves us perfectly and empowers us to come into alignment with his heart and avoid the consequences of idiotic choices that can start a chain of events that roll out like a Rube Goldberg device. God’s heart makes evil look unbearably sick in comparison.

God has provided a way for us to be forgiven, to be drawn back into a right relationship with him, to know how much he loves us. Wisdom rejoices in the nobility of this truth and shows us that knowing God means hating anything that puts up road blocks for others or keeps us from being aware of his desire for a closer relationship. Whether it is arrogant pride that doesn’t value others highly enough, evil conduct that soothes our pain with false comfort, or perverse speech that spouts lies about who God is and who he created us to be, the closer we get to him the uglier sin is revealed to be in comparison.

Wisdom allows us to see the gap between the way things work in a fallen world and the way things work in a restored world where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Wisdom doesn’t make us choose between truth and real love, or justice and mercy. Wisdom comes from God’s perspective. Wisdom shows us how to listen and how to walk in his ways.

Isn’t Lady Wisdom calling?
    Listen; don’t you hear the voice of understanding crying out?
 She’s taken her stand at the highest place in the city,
    at the crossroads where everyone can see her.
 There, and at the gates, at the entrance to the city,
    right in front of the city doors she cries out:

 

Lady Wisdom: O people! I am calling to you;
        I have a message for all humanity.
     You gullible people, acquire insight.
        You naive ones, cultivate a heart that truly understands.
    Listen, for I am about to tell you of unparalleled excellence and beauty;
        what I am about to say will set things right.
     I will only speak the truth;
        I despise evil, so it will not pass through my lips.
     Everything I say promotes justice;
        not one word is crooked, and nothing is distorted.
    Each and every word is straight talk to perceptive people,
        upright and honest to knowledge-seekers.
     Accept my correction as being more valuable than your prized possession,
        authentic knowledge more valuable than pure gold.

 You see, no gem is more precious than Lady Wisdom—
    your most extravagant desire doesn’t come close to her.

 

Lady Wisdom: I make my home with prudence;
        I obtain knowledge and sound judgment.
    If you respect the Eternal, you will grow to despise evil.
    I despise wretched, vile talk
        and ways of pride and arrogance.
     Good counsel is mine, and also true wisdom.
        I am understanding, and strength belongs to me.
    It’s because of me that kings wield power
        and authorities decree what is right.
    It’s because of me that leaders and their agents govern
        and all judge according to what is right.
     I love those who love me;
        those who search hard for me will find me.
     Riches and honor are the benefit of following me;
        so are lasting wealth and justice.
    My reward is better than gold, even the purest gold;
        and my profit is greater than the highest quality silver.
     I follow the way of right living.
        Follow me along the path to find justice;
     I’m ready to meet those who love me, bestow true riches upon them,
        and fill up their lives until their treasuries overflow.
    

The Eternal created me; it happened when His work was beginning,
        one of His first acts long ago.
     Before time He established me,
        before the earth saw its first sunrise.
    I was born before the deep existed,
        before any springs poured out their water,
     Before the mountains were placed on their foundations,
        before the hills rolled across the land—
        yes, before all this, I was brought forth.
     When the earth was yet unformed and the fields were not yet nestled beneath the wind—
        even before the first dust of the earth—
     When He created the heavens, I was there.
        When He drew a circle in the deep, dividing the oceans and the sky, I was there.
    I was there when He established the sky.
        I was there when the springs in the deep were fortified;
     I witnessed Him lay down the shore as a boundary
        and put limits on the water
    And determine the foundations of the earth.
    

All this time I was close beside Him, a master craftsman.
        Every day I was His delightful companion,
        celebrating every minute in His presence,
     Elated by the world He was making and all its fine creatures;
    I was especially pleased with humanity.

    

So now listen to me, my children:
        those who live by my ways will find true happiness.
     Pay attention to my guidance, dare to be wise,
        and don’t disregard my teachings.
     The one who listens to me,
        who carefully seeks me in everyday things
        and delays action until my way is apparent, that one will find true happiness.
    For when he recognizes and follows me, he finds a peaceful and satisfying life
        and receives favor from the Eternal.
     But heed my warning: the one who goes against me will only hurt himself,
        for all who despise me are playing with fire and courting death.

(Proverbs 8 The Voice)

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Stubbornness vs. Perseverance

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Perseverance is an admirable character trait. Stubbornness is not.

The problem is that for those who would set themselves up as judge and jury, they are hard to tell apart. Much depends upon motive. One person pursues excellence in a field because God has placed a dream in his or her heart. Others strive to be the best because they believe their accomplishment will finally gain them the respect and attention they deserve – or crave.

Sometimes we don’t even understand our own motives. It’s too scary to look deeply into our own hearts so we keep trudging on toward the illusive goal, never questioning whether the quest is a worthy one. Examination of our hearts means questioning core beliefs and sometimes confronting lies we have believed.

I remember taking a course on rearing teenagers. The instructor was actually helping us understand ourselves by asking us to look under the surface behaviours of our kids. He used the example of comforting a distraught girl who failed to make the cheerleading team. We were inclined to talk about perseverance, and trying again next year. He asked the girl what she felt the rewards of winning a spot would have been. She admitted her hopes of social acceptance based on beauty and talent were attached to being a cheerleader. Her core belief was that people who are not physically beautiful or athletically inclined were not as worthy of love and acceptance as those who had such attributes. What a handicap that lie can become! The time had come to confront it.

I realized one day that my own perseverance in service to others was actually a stubborn act of the will. I had hoped that God would be impressed with my efforts and recognize me in front of other people, showing them that they ought to love me too. I didn’t know I was already loved by God and that nothing I did could make him love me any more.

As for being loved by others, well, the truth will out eventually and they know when they are being used.  They also become users and the whole cycle rolls on. Giving out of genuine love and caring and giving out of a need to be needed are based on entirely different motives as well, and have entirely different outcomes.

The Holy Spirit is the one who can probe and ask questions that reveal false ideas we have picked up because he always has an “instead.” His love never ends and his patience is infinite. Sometimes he will use other gentle people or even not-so-gentle situations to bring us to a teachable moment, but it is the devil’s job to accuse without offering hope of change, not God’s. God doesn’t work that way. God never says “This is not the way,” without pointing out a better way – his way.

When the Holy Spirit gently asks, “So, how’s this workin’ for ya?” it’s because he is giving you the attention you need and crave. He is offering love and a better way that will, in the end, offer greater satisfaction than you ever imagined possible. Perseverance and patient endurance bring rewards that stubbornness and pride never can. And God knows the difference.

If you are pursuing something you feel strongly God has asked you to do and it’s not easy, it’s okay to rest, strengthen yourself in the Lord, and then keep going.

If you have been pursuing a goal based on a false belief, it’s okay to stop and change direction.

Everyone else looks at behaviour, but God looks at the heart.

Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.  Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.  And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,  which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness.  And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

(Romans 5:1-5 The Voice)

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Heart Change

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Politics deals with externals: borders, wealth, crimes. Authentic forgiveness deals with the evil in a persons heart, something for which politics has no cure. Virulent evil (racism, ethnic hatred) spreads through society like an airborne disease, one cough infects a whole busload. When moments of grace do occur, the world must pause, fall silent, and acknowledge that indeed forgiveness offers a kind of cure. There will be no escape from wars, from hunger, from misery, from rancid discrimination, from denial of human rights, if our hearts aren’t changed.

-Philip Yancey

Where You’ve Not Been Before

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I hate feeling incompetent. I enjoy being asked questions when I know the answer. Memories of first day on the job stress when I knew less than the customers or the students still get shoved back in the closet as soon as they make a peep.

As much as I enjoy new things and find routine stifling there are times when I enjoy feeling like I know what I’m doing and that I can handle this. I can coast. I can offer free advice. Dare I say it? Sometimes, in my Walter Mitty-type imagination I picture the Networks calling to ask me to come into the studio as their talking head expert of the day.

Mid dream sequence the music screeches to a stop. God asks me to follow him.

“Where?” I ask.

“You’ll see.”

“But I finally know what I’m doing here. I have a system.”

“I know. Let’s do something else now.”

I wish I was faster at saying yes. I’m learning that growth only comes as I depend on God and quit relying on what worked before. I have a bad habit of not noticing that change lies ahead until I run into a dead-end or get kicked out of the nest. Sometimes asking God for guidance and yet not moving until the yank of a bridle twists my neck or a stick pokes my butt and the guidance is no longer subtle is not the most comfortable way.

Part of the problem is still my fear of making a mistake, of being wrong, of having to backtrack, or worse, make an apology. But grace gives us latitude to learn. Somewhere deep down I am still fighting the notion that I have to earn this grace with a perfect performance. That’s when failure becomes freedom. His love is not conditional. I never knew how much God loved me until I offered him my incompetence as an ego-sacrificing form of praise.

He says his eyes will be our guide. We can respond more quickly when our eyes are focused on his face. If we are more focused on our work and personal improvement projects than on where he is looking we will miss it.

Stay close. Listen. Watch. Trust.

This is going to be good.

I hear the Lord saying, “I will stay close to you,
Instructing and guiding you
Along the pathway for your life.
I will advise you along the way,
And lead you forth with my eyes as your guide.
So don’t make it difficult, don’t be stubborn
When I take you where you’ve not been before.
Don’t make me tug you and pull you along.
Just come with me!”

(Psalm 32:8 – 9 TPT)

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Shaped

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God gives us the vision, then he takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way. Every vision will be made real if we will have patience.

-Oswald Chambers

How have your experiences in the valley shaped you for living in higher places?

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