Motivation

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I walked by the off-leash park the other day. I watched the dogs for a while after their owners released them. Some stay close to the gate at first, but they soon run for the open field. They expressed such joy in freedom.

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I’m thinking about “motivation.” It’s the word suggested for meditation today in the Lenten Snapshot challenge I am following. At first I thought about taking photos of the obvious, symbols of motivations for doing what I don’t want to do, like scales or a boot to the rear. But I tend to look for something different, so I began to think about my motivation for extending myself to do what I actually do want to do and don’t have to do.

In the past few years my motivation has changed. I used to base my actions on wanting to please God, please my family, and not annoy my neighbours too much. That meant subjecting myself to other people’s standards, and to some extent, “God’s standards” as defined by other people’s standards (aka their interpretation of the Bible.)

My friend helped me realize that my quest has changed. We were discussing why I can’t seem to make progress on the novel I’ve been writing (mostly in my head) for years.

“You realize this story is about you,” she said.

“Of course, I do. I only know what I know –or think I know– and that is going to come out.”

“Your heroine was born in a prison, right?”

“Yes. And then she ends up in a cloistered convent against her will and eventually tries to escape.”

“You are the one who was born in a prison and kept in a kind of convent, you know. You were cloistered by legalistic religion. You are the both the writer and the reader. You hit writer’s block when you changed your audience to a demographic that would be marketable. You need to free yourself from asking ‘What would please this audience?’ and get back to writing your way out of convention to the place of your own freedom.”

I doodled on the paper in front of me because that’s what I do when I’m thinking.

“You’re good,” I told her. Believe it or not, I ran out of words.

She put her finger on an inconsistency in my life, a misalignment. My motivation used to be guessing at what other people wanted and then fulfilling that need to make myself useful, and thereby avoid rejection. I’m changing. I am looking for freedom.

My motivation is changing. This verse to “the foolish Galatians,” who were trying to gain sanctification by going back to earning approval via the old covenant laws, inspires me to do what I do, to worship, to paint, to take photos, to write, to walk in the countryside, to sit around the table talking to kindred spirits. The Passion Translation (which I am calling the emotional content version) puts Galatians 5:1 this way:

Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.

I took photos as I walked around another park yesterday (aptly named “Idlewilde”). Winter snow and ice still cover the hills and lake. Trees rest in a dormant season that seems particularly long this year. But I find freedom in what I see. I see rest.

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I am more motivated by freedom from performance-based Christianity, freedom from trying to meet expectations that do not come from my loving heavenly father, freedom to be a human being and not a human doing, freedom to rest and know I am loved perfectly by the One who created all this.

I hear him say, “Be still. Cease striving. Know Me. Know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth. I will be acknowledged by the nations. You are not in charge of fixing the world, nor my P. R.. You only have to extend the love you have known by the power of the grace you have been given.”

He takes off the religious leash and says, “Now run, girl. Run.”

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Doubt and That Time Jesus Got a Gun

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“I don’t see him that way,” my friend said. “He’s more like a desert rose.”

“That’s what I always thought,” I told him, “But in the dream I was talking on the phone when I heard a gun go off. In my ear! It was so shocking and so loud everyone else in the banquet room heard it too. They dropped their desserts and scattered in every direction.”

“I don’t think Jesus would do that,” my friend insisted. “He has certainly never been like that for me. Perhaps you should pray some more about it.”

“Well,” I continued, not wanting to argue about how much prayer was sufficient, “the next thing I did in the dream was to run to the place where the phone call originated to make sure everyone was alright. I saw a gun leaning up against the cupboards in the kitchen. “

I could tell my friend had already lost interest, but I kept going.

“You did it!” I said to the man who I knew represented one aspect of Jesus in my dream symbolism. “You shot the gun! Why would you do that?”

“Got your attention!” he said. “And you quit talking and came looking for me.”

My friend shrugged, “I still don’t think Jesus would use a gun.”

This is part of a much longer dream that came to mind this week, not because of all the discussion about guns in the media (although that may be a backdrop), but because God is again grabbing my attention in unexpected ways.

Earlier this week another friend mused about what Jesus was doing on the days he didn’t use to go see Lazarus, after being told his beloved friend was deathly ill.

Jesus was acting unpredictably, that’s what he was doing. He may have been doing something we don’t know about in his private conversations with his Father and his compassionate heart may have been in deep pain (we know he wept in public later) but whatever he was doing he was not bowing to the will and expectations of people around him, as much as he loved them. He listened only to his Father and his Father said, “Wait.”

When I was a kid we sang a song with the line, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child.” I have experienced Jesus’ gentleness. I have seen demonstrations of his meekness, but desiring to follow him on a trail that just gets steeper has taught me he is anything but mild. He will kick the sides out of any box we design to define him. He will grab our attention by shocking or offending us if he has to.

The roots of word define mean to determine the ends or limits of something. You can’t define God. His majesty has no limits.

Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. I can imagine the women running outside to see if Jesus was coming yet. I imagine Lazarus asking where Jesus was as he gasped for breath. I can feel hope dying like a sputtering candle as they realized it was too late and disappointment growing like a monstrous dark shadow that filled the room. Where was he? Why wasn’t he coming?

When Jesus did finally show up Martha’s first words were an accusation. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Mary stayed behind in the house. Was she too devastated to move? When she did speak to him, her first words were the same as her sister’s. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

When I have found myself in situations where the Lord didn’t grant me what I asked when I asked for it, I heard my own voice cry out, “If you had been here, things would have been different.” Then the truth at the root of my pain: “You are not who I thought you were!”

Can I admit that moments in which I have discovered people were not who I thought they were, have been by far the most painful events in my life? Of all the stories in the Bible, this is the moment in which I sympathize with Bible characters’ dismay the most: Mary and Martha deep in grief and baffled that their friend and master did not come until it was too late. Intentionally.

In such moments doubt forces me to ask, “What if he is not who I think he is? What do I do with the profound sense of insecurity and fear that disappointment triggers in me?”

I throw myself at his feet and weep.

Where were you? Why did you let this happen?

He doesn’t answer. These are not the questions he is waiting for.

Who are you? What am I supposed to do now?

Yes. These are the questions he will answer.

In order to see the majesty of God, Mary and Martha had to let what they thought they knew about him die. Dying to self means acknowledging that God is God and I am not. I get to let go of my right to define him by my own limited understanding, or to use him to fulfill my own agenda.

The women only said what everyone was thinking. In John 11 we read, “Yet others said, ‘Isn’t this the One who opens blind eyes? Why didn’t he do something to keep Lazarus from dying?’”

Jesus let his disciples in on his purpose before they started the journey the Bethany. He made it plain to them, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there, because now you have another opportunity to see who I am so that you will learn to trust in me. Come, let’s go and see him.”

They didn’t understand.

Jesus told Martha her brother would live, but she didn’t believe him. She thought he was talking about the afterlife. When he asked for the tomb to be opened she protested that his corpse unapproachable because he had been dead four days. She didn’t have a grid for what he was about to do.

Jesus looked at her and said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you will believe in me, you will see God unveil his power?”

Their concept of who Jesus was, even though the women believed he was the Anointed One, was too limited. He was about to show them something about himself they could see in no other way. He offended them to reveal more powerful love than they had ever imagined.

The period of time between losing the surety of what we think we know about God and the revelation of something greater can disorient us to the point of wailing. In the beginning of my dream everyone was partying, enjoying the abundant life. Then the gun went off. When I returned to the banquet hall, the dessert table was empty and the crowds were gone. Basic nutritious food was on a high shelf. I had to stretch to reach it.

The gun has not only gone off for me lately. It’s blasted for a number of people I care about. Life changes due to car accidents, divorce, loss of careers, loss of reputation, loss of property, loss of health, loss of loved ones or betrayal of all kinds can all cause us to cry out, “Where were you? If you had been here…

Sometimes we can be in this disorienting pain for a long time. Battles with doubt occur daily. We don’t always win.

But Jesus said we have the choice to stop doubt in its tracks. We can remember. What did Jesus say after the biggest most confusing disappointment of all when he lay dead in a tomb himself only a short time later, when he entered the room full of stunned, disoriented, grieving disciples?

Be at peace. I am the living God. Don’t be afraid. Why would you be so frightened? Don’t let doubt or fear enter your hearts, for I AM! Come and gaze upon my pierced hands and feet. See for yourselves, it is I, standing here alive. Touch me and know that my wounds are real. See that I have a body of flesh and bone.”

Did Jesus just kick the sides out of the box you had him in? Did a gun just go off in your ear? Doubt need not win. You can have faith because the Faithful One has no limits.

What aspect of Himself is He about to show you next? Annie J Flint, the hymn writer penned:

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
~Annie J. Flint

Limitless.

 

Prayer: The Secret Place

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I was thinking about the word “prayer” today when I passed by the creek. I paused and felt Jesus smile in an old familiar way.

When I was a child, I had a secret place where no one could find me. I dragged my little sled down the back lane, across the street and down into the gulley where the creek ran. That was in the days when kids could roam more freely. We just had to be home before supper – or before hypothermia set in.

In the summer the soggy earth at the bottom of the valley sucked the shoes right off your feet, but in the winter the mounds of bent grass and hummocks of earth proved solid under my feet. The sled gave me a dry place to sit among the bulrushes. Sometimes the water bubbled under the ice and sometimes it flowed through open channels. No one could see me. I sat quietly for hours, telling Jesus things I couldn’t tell anybody else.

I didn’t know I was praying. I thought prayer involved reciting rhymes at the dinner table, or at bedtime or making speeches to God in a voice loud enough for Him to hear in case he was sitting in the back row like the other people who hoped to make a fast getaway. I thought silent prayer happened at those times when the preacher told everyone to be quiet and think about what horrible sinners they were and how much they had disappointed God. Then he told us to apologize and promise to never do it again –knowing we would, because we were, as was mentioned frequently, horrible sinners with “desperately wicked hearts.”

I was afraid of that god. I assumed he was like my grandfather and always angry with me for making noises and messes. I didn’t talk to that god when I was down in the gully, but I could talk to Jesus, because he was more like a brother.

Most of the time I don’t think I said anything. I sat in my secret place and listened to the crows or the ga-bloop sound of the water trying to break free from the ice. I didn’t know that sitting still, and saying nothing, just being, was prayer.

We learn to know the Saviour in the secret place. But he is not limited to that place. The corporate knowledge of his presence is also important. Prayers in agreement with other believers are powerful. Corporate prayer is different.

As an adult I have difficulty praying extemporaneous prayers in public. I try to become invisible when someone asks “Who wants to open in prayer?” My friends will tell you I have no problem speaking in front of people but praying is different. Jesus showed me what the father was really like, so I’m not afraid of him anymore, and once I recognized Holy Spirit I love his presence. It’s the other people in the room that make me uncomfortable.

Once, a person who I’m sure was trying to be encouraging, told me she thought I had prayed “some good prayers” at our regular prayer meetings, but suggested I pay attention to a couple of star intercessors and study their presentation. I began to wonder if they were going to hold up cards with scores on them. Technique: 4.9 Artistic Impression: 3.2

I didn’t stay.

You see, when I pray I am like that kid in the gully just talking with Jesus – if that kid were naked and without protective walls. I have to be completely transparent in the presence of God because he knows everything anyway, and really, who am I fooling?

I stammer in front of people. I’m not sure they’re as accepting as he is. I can let my guard down for a while, but my hand still holds the rope and pulley that whip it up pretty fast again. I’m working with being okay with what people think and staying focused on God and allowing the Holy Spirit in me to connect with the Holy Spirit in them. Unity in the Spirit doesn’t keep score, see prayer as “work,” or seek its own agenda. Unity in the Spirit means the Spirit leads in adoration and decides the priority of needs to bring to our relentlessly kind Abba — Father.

I’m thankful for trustworthy friends who are teaching me that where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus in the midst. He is the one we are looking to. Our hearts are centered on him.

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But I still meet him in the secret place wherever that might be now. I don’t always remember, but I still need to withdraw from the noise and rapid pace of life to sit still in the quiet with him. Today he again met with me down by the creek, in the snow, just like in the old days.

Within

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She suffered a lot those last few years. My mother told me she survived the long, dark, sleepless nights by remembering and reciting passages of scripture. Think what you will of a person who wants more than scientific facts about the disease process and research into potential treatments (that still need more development). This is where what you have come to know about who God is plays out. In the dark. In pain. Alone.

My mother found great solace in her Saviour. “Jesus? Oh, he’s wonderful!” she said with a smile on one of the worst nights of my life when I took her to the hospital for the last time. He was with her on those dark nights. Moments before she left us her face lit up like a delighted child on Christmas morning. She saw someone, someone she knew, and she ran to him.

After she passed away, I helped my father sort through her belongings. In the drawer I found scraps of paper wound into tiny scrolls. Each one contained a Bible verse of promise. I keep them in a treasure box now. She was a poor woman by most people’s standards, but she left me a wonderful inheritance.

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The real treasure, the little scrolls tell me, is not in a box, or even in a book. The real treasure, the secret treasure of the ages, the treasure of greatest value now lies within us when Christ enters our lives.

There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience.

Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory!

This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it!

(Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)

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Whether we are healed physically in this dimension, or move on to a greater one (which we all do eventually) we can live in hope. We are continually flooded with the expectation of the riches of his glory because we abide in Christ and Christ is embedded within us.

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The greatest treasure. Ever.

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Clean

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Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)

The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.

When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.

I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.

When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.

In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.

The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.

Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.

The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom.
Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again!
Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.
Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return.
The places within me you have crushed
will rejoice in your healing touch.
Hide my sins from your face;
erase all my guilt by your saving grace.
Create a new, clean heart within me.
Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.

 

Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.

Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.

There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.

He is willing.

While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.

 

*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.