O Come, Thou Dayspring

It’s strange the way darkness displaces a little more light every day in the north. I’ve been so busy I didn’t notice the dawn slowly shift from behind the eastern mountains to rise, lazily, beside the ridge of hills much further to the south. Yesterday I needed to turn on my headlights at 3:30 in the afternoon. How did it get so dark so fast?

I have a light on my desk that imitates sunlight. It produces “lux” sufficient to cheer my writing space, but little more. If I were to aim it out my window into the blackness it would scarcely draw the attention of anyone stumbling in the dark street. It’s enough to change my room but not enough to make an impact beyond it.

One of the best opening sentences of any novel (prove me wrong) is Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Today I feel if I wrote, “It was the darkest of times; it was the brightest of times.” many of you would understand.

I don’t want to be accosted by the news anymore. It’s not just a matter of avoiding the pain of another disaster, another riot, another variant, another death count, another public breach of trust, another grab for power in the guise of “public service.” (“No one jostles for the position of servant,” Gayle Erwin reminds us). I don’t want to pay so much attention to the news on any media because it involves so many people promoting problems by yelling higher and louder than they did the last time their attempts at playing God didn’t work. Very few are listening. Animosity escalates. Our best efforts are not enough. And it’s getting dangerous to say so. How did it get so dark so fast?

I had a vision the other evening. (Take it or leave it. I’ve stopped apologizing.) I saw crowds of people coming from all directions toward a small circle with light emanating from the center. Tired bodies were dressed in dark clothes. Everyone had slumped shoulders and moved without swinging their arms. Some shuffled along as if in pain, but they were all drawn by curiosity to see this strange light. Some pushed their way to the front. I was one of them.

The light emanated from a baby in a manger. I watched him turn into a boy discussing matters of importance with religious leaders baffled by his enlightened insight. He grew into a man creating with carpenter’s tools in his hands. I saw him touching, healing, teaching, caring, and leading as crowds of followers grew. With every action the light around and within him shone brighter. The whole story was told in light I can’t explain. Then I saw him being taken away and murdered on a cross. His body was left in a sealed tomb. The light in the circle suddenly died.

A moan went up from the crowd. It was as though their greatest fear, the fear of disappointment, had been realized.

Then the light walked out of the grave and expanded as he rose until it was too bright for the onlookers to see. The light rose to fill the whole earth. It spread in ripples, and as it did tens, then hundreds, then thousands spontaneously fell to the ground and bowed in worship. I looked and saw costumes and masks drop. I saw ceremonial and honorary robes of all kinds fall to the ground as people bowed in humble adoration.

I realized that Jesus Christ was at the center of all of this. I watched as a chalice appeared where he stood and became a fountain. Out of him flowed light, hope, healing, forgiveness and love, pure love in the form of blood. It was as if many people were overwhelmed by his presence and, really seeing him for the first time, knew he was the answer to the darkness within themselves.

I saw selfish ambition, mockery, slander and mischief slink away as if they found the light too painful to bear.

Later that night, as I walked home under dark clouds, I thought of all the Christmas songs that talked about waiting in darkness and about the baby who came to bring light into the world. On the first day of advent an obscure verse from the ancient hymn “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” played in my heart.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel means “God with us.” Before this happened I had been praying about how to pray in these dark days. I believe God was showing me the importance of keeping Christ at the center of everything I do. I pray for new life to spring up as his light shines in the darkness and makes an impact beyond my own little corner.

After Paul the apostle came down from his intellectual discussions with philosophers on Mars Hill (which impressed only a few people) he ended up in Corinth. He wrote this about the experience with the people there: My brothers and sisters, when I first came to proclaim to you the secrets of God, I refused to come as an expert, trying to impress you with my eloquent speech and lofty wisdom. For while I was with you I was determined to be consumed with one topic—Jesus, the crucified Messiah. I stood before you feeling inadequate, filled with reverence for God, and trembling under the sense of the importance of my words. The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit. For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in his almighty power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-4)

My eloquent speech and lofty wisdom plus ten dollars will get you on any subway in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. But the Holy Spirit? His signs point to the Light. As circumstances become darker, the light shines brighter and brighter. This time we’re in? It may be the darkest of times, but it is also the brightest of times. Consider the Light.

Green Pasture

After 35 years in the same house and 36 years in the same town, we are preparing to move to another city. It’s a time of simplifying, downsizing, and saying goodbye to hobbies and activities we no longer have time or energy for. For someone who has been addicted to potential for so long, letting go of unfinished projects feels like a loss.

There is the furniture I meant to refinish. Over there the bins of fabric I meant to turn into something useful take up more space than I will have in the new apartment. I have canvasses and frames I bought from an estate sale still sitting in the basement. And books! Books I meant to re-read, books I meant to loan to someone who doesn’t realize they need to read it, books with useful information I meant to write about, books that my mother gave me from her childhood when she was learning English. I no longer have room in my life for all this stuff.

Grieving is involved. So is gratefulness.

The piles of stuff to sell, give away, and trash are evidence that God has provided well for us. We have more than we need. I am learning to trust in Him for the future instead of my boxes of “potential.”

I keep coming back to Psalm 23. I love Rutter’s setting. The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture…

One day, when I was a very young child who refused to eat her peas, my frustrated young father said, “I can’t even afford to feed you!” As an adult I understand now that his angry tone had much more to do with a sale that fell through than my burdensome existence, but it became a defining moment in my life. I never wanted to cost anybody anything. I learned to make do, to recycle before recycling was trendy, to pinch a penny so hard you could hear it scream for mercy. Worrying about swings in the market became the habit of the child of a man whose income depended upon sales commission. Resting in the Lord, financially speaking, has been a challenge.

This week I discovered, among the boxes full of paintings that I stashed away, a little 8 x 10 canvas with my first attempt in oil. It’s labeled simply “Green Pasture.” There was something about its simplicity on a stack of too much stuff that caught my attention.

God is letting me rest in a green, growing, nourishing place. He provides, because goodness is his nature. He is the good shepherd, therefore I lack nothing. I am not a burden to him. He is not on a budget or worried about the economy. He says “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

Sometimes you need to let go of your grip on the past before your hands are free to reach for the future.

Rutter: The Lord Is My Shepherd – YouTube

Dig Deep

How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord;
    within their hearts are the highways of holiness!
Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears,
    they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.
    He gives to them a brook of blessing
    filled from the rain of an outpouring.
They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward,
    and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.

Psalm 84:5-7 TPT

Valley experiences are common to all of us who draw breath in this world. Some valleys are deeper than others. I’ve watched people who impress me walk through tough times as if they have a secret resource that allows them to remain at peace in spite of everything. When I ask them how they do it they tell me, “It’s in the dark places and stressful times that God’s grace is most plentiful. It’s not as easy as it was before. You have to dig. But that’s where profound silence invites you to come closer. That’s when you can feel his heart of love for you.”

Arise, My Soul

Awake, O my soul, with the music of his splendor-song!
Arise, my soul, and sing his praises!
My worship will awaken the dawn,
greeting the daybreak with my songs of praise!

Wherever I go I will thank you, my God.

Among all the nations they will hear my praise songs to you.

Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens,
Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky!

Lord God, be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens.
May your shining glory be shown in the skies!
Let it be seen high above all the earth!

-King David in Psalm 57 TPT

Walk With Me

Can I be honest? I’ve been feeling down lately. It’s not just flesh and blood loved ones I miss in this current bout of voluntary house arrest, I miss the sights, sounds, and scents of being out in nature. Because of two very messed up, very painful knees I haven’t been able to go for a walk for almost a year. Being out in the forests and mountains, talking with the God I love, has always refreshed my soul. I’m mourning the loss of hours enjoyed walking in this wonderful place.

A prophetic artist, knowing nothing about my situation, said she had a picture for me. She said she saw me walking out in nature, receiving healing for my soul, and the Lord told her, “It’s not over yet.”

If you feel a nudge and like you may have a word of encouragement for someone, don’t hold back. You have no idea how much it may mean to someone who is struggling.

I’m not able to get out yet, although I finally received a diagnosis on Monday and have some hope that healing is on its way, with or without medical intervention. In the meantime I decided to imagine one of the spots I love and quickly painted it. I can still hear the Lord’s invitation to walk with him in the secret place.

I’ll get back outside someday. A God who created such beauty around us surely has plans for beauty in our future. He hasn’t abandoned us.

My lovely friend and neighbour moved to the other side of the continent for work this week. I’ll miss her and the chats we have had from a distance across the road. I gave her the painting so she can take a little bit of this corner of the world with her with my love and appreciation. T

There will be more.

I look up to the mountains and hills, longing for God’s help.
But then I realize that our true help and protection
come only from the Lord,
our Creator who made the heavens and the earth.
He will guard and guide me, never letting me stumble or fall.

-Psalm 121:1-3 TPT

Kissing a Guilty World

On the mount of crucifixion

Fountains opened deep and wide

Through the floodgates of God’s mercy

Flowed a vast a gracious tide

Grace and love, like mighty rivers

Poured incessant from above

And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice

Kissed a guilty world in love

From “Here is Love” by William Rees and Robert Lowry

This verse from the hymn that became the theme of the Welsh Revival in 1904 has been going through my head lately. As light shines in dark places there is an increasing awareness of systemic injustice and corruption that has dragged us into a dark place where hopeless compassion offers only a cruel kindness. Death dresses up as relief and the very young, the very old, and the poor and disabled are victims of the lie.

We cry out for justice, and we long for peace, acknowledging everyone’s guilt but our own.

I had a dream in which I was told that change doesn’t come about by making the same apologies over and over again. Change comes about in the heart first, and only God’s love can heal a heart because only God can be both just and loving. He has provided a way that is truth and life. The way, the only way, is Jesus. God’s kind of justice meant sending his son to set the captives free, not condemn them. He offers life, not death.

Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with me. To know me is to know my Father too.” (John 14:6 TPT)

Good News

I had good news this week! More of that later. Other people also told me their good news today. 

I had breakfast with friends at a restaurant this morning. It is the first time we met over coffee and variations on an egg theme since our worlds shrunk eight months ago. I sat near the middle of the table (with distance between settings of cutlery and cups, of course.) That meant I was part of two, and sometimes three conversations taking place on either side.  

We are friends. We know each other’s histories and struggles. I joked that when we were younger, conversations in this kind of setting tended to be about comparing childbirth experiences, balancing work and home responsibilities, and diet and exercise plans. Now we compare surgery stories, and talk about adult children’s work, grandchildren’s and nieces’ and nephews’ adorableness, and which vitamins or herbal supplements “they” say will keep us going. 

We did cover all those things, but we are all women who have lived through difficult circumstances we never foresaw when we first enjoyed getting away on a Saturday morning. Among us there have been some devastating life events such as the death of children and spouses, betrayals, divorces, financial losses, long hospitalizations and recoveries from accidents and illness, and many hopes deferred. But there were also stories of God’s provision in our lives. This was not a churchy testimony meeting. This gathering was just a group of friends talking about real life and the goodness of God. 

I took advantage of my seat in the middle and listened to stories of what has happened since we last met. One beautiful woman spoke excitedly about doctors agreeing they had no explanation for her husband’s remarkable recovery from an illness that brought him entirely too close to death’s door. She knew it was Jesus’ doing. Another friend spoke about a wonderful encounter with Jesus that healed deep wounds – in the very place the original trauma occurred. Another, who had lost functional eyesight, is now able to see. One who was unable to leave her house for months because of severe pain now walks without a limp. Some who feared not being able to survive the crisis financially reported with joy and relief that God has taken care of them.  

My good news? I was able to share that I finally had the tests and scans that were postponed last spring due to the hospital’s preparation for the onslaught of crowds of covid-19 patients that, thank God, never happened here. I felt that in this season the Lord wanted to show me he is my keeper and that his provision of peace and patient endurance were available if I wanted to pick it up. (A little background. I was told after surgery for stage 3b cancer three years ago, that although the primary tumour looked like it was low-grade, it was acting aggressively and these kind “always return with a vengeance.” Due to mix-ups and pandemic protocol, postponement meant 18 months between “keeping an eye on it” procedures that are part of my palliative care plan.) 

Worry and a tendency to catastrophize have dragged my faith into the ditch since I was a child. This time holding on to hope while waiting was not as difficult as it used to be. I am learning that the Lover of my soul may take me through valleys on this journey, but he is trustworthy in his methods and his timing (and that the valley is where the feast is kept.)  

This week I finally received the overdue medical report: No demonstration of metastatic disease. Thank you, Lord!

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world.” In other words, “I’ve got this.” 

We can ask God to show us his true nature and tell him that we want him to help us become more like him, but we can’t tell him how to do it. When he asks permission to work in our lives, he doesn’t say how he’s going to show us aspects of himself we haven’t understood before or how he’s going to transform us into the people he knows us to truly be. When we say yes to God, we surrender the right to write the script. After a while we can begin to recognize challenging circumstances to be the opportunities for change (some of us sooner than others. I have been a slow learner.) 

All the mature women I met with today can tell you the journey with God took them in directions they never would have chosen. Every one received answers to prayer in different ways and in different lengths of waiting time, from seconds to decades. Every one of us can tell you we are still mid-crisis in some area with problems that, on our own, we don’t know how to fix, but every one of us will also tell you that God is good, and that the good news, the really good news, is that he loves us so much that he sent his son to show us how much. 

This is the best news ever. Hang on to it. You are going to need it.

Jonah and Me

The Port of Joppa

There are days when I sympathize with Jonah. The story of the prophet who ran from an assignment from God and spent three days inside a special creature God created for the occasion must have made an impression on my little boy too. In one of those moments for quiet reflection in church he felt obliged to rescue the preacher from embarrassing “dead air.” He stood up on the pew and shouted in the most authoritative voice a three-year old could muster, “God said to Jonah. ‘GO TO NINEVEH!!’” Everyone laughed. Perhaps we should have listened.

Sometimes it feels like God gives me a “GO TO NINEVEH!” command and, like Jonah, I suddenly have a desire to check out vacation rentals in Iceland.

Our minds tend to snag on the big fish part of the story. (My little boy did a hilarious impression of a barfing fish when he got to this bit, after Jonah changed his mind and the creature regurgitated him on land.) It is not until the final chapter that we learn the reasons why Jonah zipped over to Joppa to board a ship heading elsewhere.

The Assyrians in Nineveh (an area on the outskirts of a city now known as Mosul in Iraq) had a reputation for being a highly militarized society who humiliated those they conquered. They treated captives with particularly nasty cruelty. It didn’t take a prophet to see them as a serious threat to neighbouring countries. Jonah didn’t run because he didn’t want disaster to befall them. He ran because he was afraid disaster would not befall them.

The Ninevites heard the message and took it seriously. They admitted their wickedness and dramatically demonstrated a desire to change. They repented. God relented. It’s not until the final chapter that we hear a re-cap of Jonah’s earlier discussion with God.

“This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 

So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish!

I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 

Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’”

The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?

(Jonah 4:1-4 NLT)

Yesterday, someone said something to me which provoked thought about Jonah’s story. He said, “Prophecy is not fate. It’s not always set in stone. Prophecy can be an opportunity to align with God and actually change your future.”

Somehow it is easier to believe that those who hatefully oppose our political, cultural, or philosophical positions deserve disaster. God’s mercy messes up the plotline created in our vain imaginations. God tells us to leave revenge to him because, as illustrated in many Bible stories, his favourite form of revenge is transformation, redemption, restoration and renewed relationship.

Jonah resents God’s response. Not only did the Creator change the future of the people of Nineveh by not wiping them out, the action left a dent in Jonah’s pride as an accurate prophet when what he predicted did not happen.

In a culture where a web search for films with revenge themes turns up a list 44 pages long and a list only one page long for films with forgiveness or redemption themes, mercy is obviously not our usual response to offense. When we demonstrate, through acts of every day cyber-revenge like boycotts, cancellation, banishment, and censorship, that the acknowledgement of being right holds more value than the search for God’s truth, we have to admit we are not seeking restorative justice motivated by love.

God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. All of us have rebelled against his ways. After three days and nights of less than stellar accommodation, Jonah confessed and asked for forgiveness for his rebellion and decided to obey God. That act made a way for the people of Nineveh to do the same.

This morning I read Psalm 32. This was King David’s experience after acting in a cruel ungodly way himself.

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. 

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
    that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
For you are my hiding place;
    you protect me from trouble.
    You surround me with songs of victory.

The last question God asked Jonah causes me to examine my own heart. God does not offer the cruel compassion of dealing with sin by justifying evil and leaving us to continue in hurtful ways with their eventual unpleasant consequences. He extends his love and mercy to offer a way out.

Now here is my confession. I didn’t want to write this. I’ve had enough doom and gloom God-is-going-to-get-you-for-that preaching in my life to receive a very distorted picture of God. I lost many years to an image of an angry vengeful deity before I realized Jesus Christ came to show us what the Father was really like. I didn’t want to risk being misunderstood or judged as unloving. I argued with him that the blogs I write about obedience don’t attract much response anyway. When I prayed about an alternate topic nothing came to mind. Blank. For nearly three weeks. Then it dawned on me that I was acting like Jonah and that I didn’t want to extend the same mercy to some people as he extended to me — and still extends to me when he points out my hurtful choices and I respond to a good Father’s correction.

Transformation, redemption, restoration and renewed relationship. That’s your revenge, Lord. Thank you for your great mercy.

Lord, Who Dares to Dwell With You?

When this season of challenges began, many people found refuge in the promises of Psalm 91 that begins:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
(NASB)

It is still one of my favourite psalms, but may I confess that sometimes I find it difficult to remain in that place near to the heart of God where His thoughts conquer my worries? Psalm 15 describes the characteristics of those who dwell in that place. The Passion version caught my attention.

Lord, who dares to dwell with you?
Who presumes the privilege of being close to you,
living next to you in your shining place of glory?

Who are those who daily dwell in the life of the Holy Spirit?

 They are passionate and wholehearted,
always sincere and always speaking the truth—
for their hearts are trustworthy.

They refuse to slander or insult others;
they’ll never listen to gossip or rumors,
nor would they ever harm another with their words.

They will speak out passionately against evil and evil workers
while commending the faithful ones who follow after the truth.

They make firm commitments and follow through,
even at great cost.

They never crush others with exploitation or abuse
and they would never be bought with a bribe
against the innocent.

They will never be shaken; they will stand firm forever.

This raises questions for me. Are these traits the result of spending time with the Lord in the secret place or qualifications for entering and staying?

After pondering, I believe the answer is both. Knowing that I can never be good enough through my own efforts and that I am dependent on the righteousness of Christ to be my righteousness, what does God require of me?

God makes the first move. He extends the invitation. His grace empowers us to change. The more time we spend with him, the more we become like him, but transformation requires intent and cooperation.

I adore my grandchildren, but if they thoughtlessly track mud into my clean house I will tell them to go back out and leave their muddy boots on the step. Toddlers receive a gentler reminder and more assistance than teens. It is called respect (and maybe even the fear of Grandma). Learning to honour the things that matter to parents and grandparents and others in authority is something children need to learn in safe, loving relationships.

If we wish to dwell in the presence of the Holy One we need to respect the things that matter to Him. We enter with praise but also with clean hands and a pure heart. I wonder if sometimes the distance we feel from the Lord is because he is reminding us to leave the mud outside and to drop some ideas and attitudes that do not belong in his dwelling place.

The first one I need to leave outside is apathy and a lack of passion for holiness I have picked up from the doom and gloom and hopelessness that is so prevalent on the streets in the world.

The song that comes to mind is Refiner’s Fire. The chorus from Brian Doerkson’s song:

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will

Restore. Reveal.

My friend, Linda, introduced me to videos by an art restoration master named Julian Baumgartner. There is something deeply satisfying about watching beauty being restored and revealed.

Grime and pollutants can add up so slowly we don’t realize that we have lost sight of the intent of the artist, that what we pay to see in museums is not what it looked like originally. Many old works are actually so much better than we thought when restoration reveals the true beauty underneath.

Some of the works Mr. Baumgartner restores look like they have been through a war. They are torn, gouged, chipped, patched, warped, filthy and seriously distressed. I often wonder how he can ever make them look presentable again. And yet he does.

As I was watching another episode today, words from middle stanzas of an old hymn I heard when I was a squirmy, unappreciative, bored kid in the pew came to mind:

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

(from The Churches One Foundation by Samuel John Stone)

Considering how enormously valuable many of the old paintings restorers work on are, I wonder why owners have not taken better care of them. Perhaps familiarity with family heirlooms has bred a type of contempt. Perhaps owners have left them in storage and lost sight of what lies underneath layers of discoloured varnish and dirt.

I wonder if, under the grime of corruption and the distorting effects of neglect, what many people think the Church of Christ, the Body, the Ekklesia looks like is not what they think it is. I wonder if we, the living stones that make up the Church Jesus talked about, are in need of restoration to what the Creator intended us to be — those who can be identified by love as the Holy Spirit flows through them.

Repentance is change. Submission to Christ is a willingness to allow him to clean us up and restore us to be the visibly beautiful work of art he intended us to be.

Anyway, those are the words that catch my attention today. Restore. Reveal.

God has so much more for us. So much more.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 NASB)