Following the Sun

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Happiness is untested delight. Joy is delight tested.
~ Jack Hyles

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The sunflowers are back in the Kootenays. Yes, I know they are really called arrow leaf balsam root but locals call them sunflowers because they follow the sun.

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I love this time of year! My friend told me they were in bloom. I’m grateful I felt well enough this weekend to hike up to the first butte where they are known to congregate.

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It’s been a year of testing, a year with moments that would not usually fit in the delightful category. And yet there is joy in the midst of challenge. I am learning to choose to notice the delight God takes in his creation, for example.

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I am learning that joy is not dependent on circumstances. Joy rises above mere logic and statistics of probability.

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Joy, real joy, is knowing that the Source of joy is trustworthy.

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Joy is seeing the big picture and knowing that in the end all will be well.

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The road between here and there can be steep, trying, and even painful, but in the end, all will be well. Our heavenly Father sees the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning. His love wins.

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This is the season of new hope, freshly sprung and following the sun.

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Hope. Spring. Eternity.

God is good.

Looking At the Yesterdays

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For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

~Mike Yaconelli

Looking back I can see the path of my spiritual journey. It looks like a haphazard trail created by a person lurching from crisis to crisis interspersed with resting places called “Good Enough.”

It’s a looking back kind of day. My Daddy died on this day three years ago. I call him Daddy today because the space between now and the day he took his last breath is like a vista where time is less sequential and light shines on foreground, midground, and background equally. Today I can look up to my confident Daddy standing in the field at the same time as I look down on my confused father lying in the hospital bed.

My Daddy always told us stories, but he didn’t leave the good enough safety of a job he hated to become a writer and professional story-teller until he was nearly sixty. He said his tales of a Saskatchewan boyhood had just enough truth in them to make them believable but enough fiction to right the wrongs of people broken by hardship. He wrote and published his stories, saw his book become a best seller (by Canadian prairie province standards), then settled in a cottage called Good Enough that looked out on the past. The future caught him by surprise. It’s hard to re-write the future.

Sometimes I envy those who are content to stay as they are, where they are. But I also feel a need to run from those who shrug and say, “It is what it is.” I joke about my addiction to potential and tendency to collect more artistic “raw material” than I will live long enough to use, but I don’t want to look into my grave and ask, “Is that all there is?” I know there is more for us both here and beyond the horizon.

I have taken up residence in places called Good Enough for long stretches in my life, but eventually I catch a glimpse of the future me — the way God sees me outside of the sequence of time – and I long for more. It’s a holy discontent that wants to partner with God. I hear him whisper, “Come away with me and I will show you things you never knew before.”

The advantage of having a diagnosis of cancer is receiving the fulfilment of David’s prayer in Psalm 90: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Cancer is not a death sentence that people without cancer do not also have. It’s like a mileage sign post to give you a heads up that you will be approaching an exit ramp sometime in the future — but not yet.

God’s not finished with me yet. When I look at my yesterdays I know that’s who I was but it is not who I am going to be. I am still changing. Like Mike Yaconelli, I feel that holy discontent rising up. The desire to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus and whatever he is doing is growing again. I hear Holy Spirit say, “Get your coat. Let’s go. There is more.”

No Other Way

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“[God desires] not that He may say to them, ‘Look how mighty I am, and go down upon your knees and worship,’ for power alone was never yet worthy of prayer; but that He may say thus: ‘Look, my children, you will never be strong but with my strength. I have no other to give you. And that you can get only by trusting in me. I can not give it you any other way. There is no other way.'”

~ George MacDonald

Seated in Heavenly Places

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The signs were not good. I was worried. From where I stood the odds against a particular situation in my life turning out well for all concerned were as high as a British Columbia mountain. The word, “insurmountable” came to mind. I wasn’t so much praying as worrying at God, trying to explain the problem to Him from my point of view.

I placed my empty coffee cup and wadded napkin in the trash bag the stewardess held as she made her way back up the aisle of plane. She thanked me and moved on. I turned back to my book.

“Clearly, if we are to walk with the Father in his ways, then our earthbound thinking requires serious adjustment.”*

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I looked out the window at the dramatic view of mountains and valleys below. It wasn’t easy, but I fished my camera out of my backpack under the seat in front of me. I am not fond of heights, but for some reason I love flying, especially on a glorious early spring day with fresh snow on the peaks.

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The flight from Vancouver on the western edge of the province to my city, nestled in a valley on the eastern side, lasts less than an hour and a half. Crossing the province in a little car would take one very long day through deep dark valleys and over high passes. Driving in avalanche and unpredictable weather season is not for the faint of heart. I try to avoid the expense of flying, but going by plane, even a small prop plane, is so much easier.

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I took a few more snaps then hung the camera strap around my neck and read on.

“In His realm, His abundance in heaven obliterates our poverty on earth. In his domain we are never outclassed, overwhelmed or overcome. No matter what is against us, we can win through His name. Impossible odds are fun to Him, who loves to laugh at His enemies.

I laughed out loud. The man across the aisle looked at me funny, but it didn’t matter. What are the odds of me telling God about impossible odds from my earthbound view and then Him telling me about odds from His heavenly view — as I occupied a seat in the sky?

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“We are learning how to occupy a seat in heavenly places in Christ, so that his viewpoint of the circumstances is the one that dominates our thinking, praying, and believing.”

I aimed my camera out the window again. From this perspective I could see lakes and fields beyond the ranges that seemed so imposing from down there. I could see the bigger picture from my chair in the sky, seated where I was in this high place.

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When it came to my problem, it felt as if the Lord was saying, “Keep looking down. You are seated with Christ in heavenly places.”**

In this place all things are beneath His feet and nothing is impossible.”

Nothing.

*Graham Cooke, Manifesting Your Spirit, pp. 28, 29
** Ephesians 2:6

 

Surface

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It wasn’t the kind of day when people think about going to the lake. I heard no boats, or children’s laughter, or squealing teens in the middle of a splash fight. I smelled no sweet  poplar sap or tangy sauce from smoking barbecues. The quiet off-season offers a different perception.

Someone suggested creating a photographic meditation during the Lent season as a preparatory discipline for Resurrection Sunday. If this were a religious requirement to add to a to-do list in order to appease an angry or narcissistic god, I would not participate, believe me. This is voluntary. I respond to this appeal to worship creatively. I make no promises about blogging the process daily. Not everything on the journey is for public consumption, but I will share my thoughts today.

Today’s word is surface, and yet, divergent (maybe even contrary) thinker that I am, I find I find myself drawn to go beyond the obvious and look for objects below the surface.

In a discussion with the religious “experts” of his time, who accused him of breaking the law by healing someone on the day of obligatory rest, Jesus said this:

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

The people who couldn’t hear pushed back.

The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. (John 7:16-24 NLT)

Look beneath the surface.

We took a course on parenting teens. The teacher urged us to engage with our kids when emotional issues arose so we could understand the beliefs they held “below the water line.” The example he gave was of a girl who was desperate wanted to make a cheer-leading team and devastated when she didn’t.

After a heart to heart talk, the mother learned her daughter had accepted some lies about herself. Making the squad would squash her fears that inadequate attractiveness, or athletic talent would hinder her acceptance by people in her world. Under the water, lying unseen, was the shallow belief that her worth, her safety, her happiness, depended on what people thought about her and not on what God thought or could do. She was on the verge of making dangerous choices based on an unexamined false assumption.

The example prompted me to examine unconscious beliefs in my own life. One of the questions coming out of that experience was, “Why have I placed the approval of  humans (who can be very disappointing) ahead of the approval of the One who loves me perfectly and so selflessly that he was willing to give his only Son to demonstrate that love?”

In the altercation with the religious experts Jesus says it is possible to see below the surface. Their motive was not based on love. His was.

Jesus’ demonstration of love changed everything. God’s new covenant was not a reform school arrangement with punishments for breaking rules meant to clue rebellious kids into the fact that they are not actually in charge. God’s new covenant is based on responding to his love. Since you can’t say yes to love if you can’t say no, freedom is an essential part of this arrangement. Grace offers freedom. Grace is a terrifying concept to religious experts who are themselves motivated by fear of punishment.

Solomon, the king who was granted wisdom in response to his request to rule well, wrote:

There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 14:12 NASB)

When we are being rational we use reason. When we rationalize we try to give actions, which seem right to us, the appearance of reason. We can be quite convincing — especially to ourselves. Sometimes our “appearance of reason” involves false ideas about God.

How can we know what lies down there? First, by admitting there is stuff down there. Second, by asking for help.

I keep coming back to Psalm 139. The psalmist sings about being intimately known by the Creator from his first moment of existence. It ends this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Jesus is saying, “Look beneath the surface.” The surgeons who removed the nasty malignant tumour in my guts in October would not have been able to do so if I not had the guts to subject myself to diagnostic scans or to sign consent forms. I admit it was a struggle to trust them. It hurt. But now it is done and I am healing well.

In this season of preparation I am asking the Lord to help me see beneath the surface and lead me in his way of thinking.

Change my heart, oh God. Make it ever new. I give consent.

And I don’t say that lightly.