Charcoal: When Painful Memories Remain

fire sq

I think I must have a nerve that goes straight from my nose to a file of old memories in the dusty attic that is my brain. The scent of autumn leaves on the ground takes me back to kicking my way through the park and burying my little brother in a mound of leaves so he could suddenly sit up and scare the wits out of passersby. He was a fun kid.

I learned as a kid that leaves and flowers stuffed in a plastic container with a layer of snow to preserve them didn’t smell so good when you opened the lid a few months later. The odor of rotten vegetation triggers memories of bad ideas.

leaves maple sq ch

Not all smells are good. Before the Lord healed me certain odors could trigger flashbacks and bring on anxiety attacks that felt like hanging over the fires of hell by an unravelling rope. If you don’t understand what that means I thank the Lord for his goodness to you and pray that sentence will never make sense. Just let me assure you that God does heal memories and removes their power over you. (My friend, Praying Medic, has written a book about one very effective method of healing prayer for memories and emotions. His blog with link to book here.)

But sometimes God lets some memories remain.

I was struck by a story in the Bible that mentions a campfire on the beach after Peter and the boys decided to give up this whole disciple-schtick and go back to the old job, wondering what those three last years were all about.

Wood fires smell all Kum-by-yah and marshmallow torches to me. Charcoal fires put me back in the scene of a crime I vaguely recall with some not-so-sober friends who tip over a little hibachi grill onto the Parks Canada picnic table. We drag it lakeward with the intentions of throwing it in because we are afraid of starting a forest fire, which really would really tick off the rangers, when somebody has the bright idea of pouring some of the lake on the table instead.

But I digress.

So there is Jesus, no longer dead, cooking fish over a charcoal fire. Maybe he had a hibachi. I don’t know. He yells at the boys, who were failing as badly at fishing as they were when he first met them. (Why, in the face of disappointment, do so many of us return to the very same thing that didn’t work for us the last time either?)

“Throw the net on the right side!” he yells.

The same miracle happens. Lots of fish, Many, many, many fish.

Now Pete, bless his heart, is still not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and it takes his buddy John to point out the coincidence to him. Then he does his impulsive thing, although perhaps less impulsively than before because this time he puts some clothes on first, and swims for shore. When the other guys catch up they see the charcoal fire and a fish fry happening on the beach.

Now I don’t think the Bible throws in a lot of extra detail because the Lord knew the book needed to be portable (although I’m still working on understanding why I have to haul all those genealogies around every time I throw it in my big old tie-dyed hippy bag). So why mention charcoal?

Because when Peter denied Christ he was standing near a charcoal fire.

When Jesus asked Peter twice if he loved him (agape -God’s total all-encompassing love) Pete was again standing beside a charcoal fire, but on the beach this time.

The memory of the last time he stood beside a charcoal fire would have been very strong. He could not answer that he loved Jesus with agape love because he knew that in himself he did not have that ability. His ceiling had already caved in on that issue. He was publicly exposed as a coward and had wept bitterly at his own weakness.

And now Jesus is rubbing the memory of his failure in his nose.

By making him a meal over charcoal early in the morning, Jesus is reminding him of his worst moment, yet serving him and loving him at the same time. My stomach would have been willing to give back the fish at that point. In the midst of the smoke, which I can see drifting his way, Peter has to be totally honest and humble before Christ -and himself- and admit he can, at best, only offer a lesser phileo (brotherly) love. So Jesus asks again and after receiving the same response lowers the ante and asks the broken man if he loves (phileo) him.

This is the moment when Jesus chooses to call him to leadership. “Feed my sheep.”

While Peter’s nostrils are sending the memory of the worst moment of his life straight to his heart and mind, Jesus says he is ready to care for His sheep and lambs.

Have you noticed when you feel like God might be asking you to step up and do something courageous, something that might look like a promotion to anyone else, he often picks the moment when you are most aware of your personal inadequacies, the moment when you know without a doubt the task is beyond you?

There you are, bravado and enthusiasm stinking like a Tupperware casket full of last season’s rotten leaves, as you slink off the stage hoping no one remembers what you look like. And then God says, “Now you’re ready.”

Why? Because he doesn’t need your talent, your muscle, your wit, your confidence and excellent self-esteem. He wants your love. That’s it. That’s the only qualification. And he doesn’t even expect you to drum up a lot of that on your own either.

Three times Jesus asked Peter the question, giving him the chance to confirm three times what he had denied three times. Jesus is very good that way. He takes our worst moments and burns them up to cook breakfast over, just for us. He is not afraid of our failure. His kindness is relentless.

He puts his love in our trembling hands so we have something to hand back to him.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

Prayerness

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His Daddy asked each of the children to tell him three things they liked about Mommy so he could write it in her birthday card. I like this habit they are developing in the children. On birthdays now, even for the adults, we go around the table and everyone expresses something they see in the person of honour – a character quality, an improvement or a promising bit of potential. One of the observations our four-year old grandson wanted his Dad to write down as a message to Mommy was, “I like your prayerness.”

I love it. Prayerness. Prayer is not just something you do; prayer is a state of being.

Why did I choose one of my photos of fire today? Lately, with all the extreme cold of winter, some people are experiencing furnace problems. The pilot light (flame) has gone out. The furnace won’t work. Some of our friends depend on wood heat. If they sleep too long without stoking the wood stove the fire goes out and the whole thing has to be re-kindled and built up again.

Prayerness, a constant state of being in connection with God, the source of all light and power, essentially keeps the fire burning. It keeps our hearts from growing cold. That’s why we are told to pray for those people who are a source of annoyance (or worry) in our lives – because you can’t maintain the warmth of caring without prayer. We become cold-hearted, detached. Without prayer we rely on our own resources, which have a shelf-life. With prayerness we don’t have to go looking for Jesus when we have a question or a crisis. We’re already connected.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Romans 12:12)

I love it when a four-year old preaches.

Awake, Sleeper

weathered church window

When is a revival needed? When carelessness and unconcern keep the people asleep.

Author: Billy Sunday

Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.

Author: J.I. Packer

When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing, Awake, you sleeper! Rise from your grave, And the Anointed One will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:13, 14 The Voice)

Lead On!

Warrior Chick
Warrior Chick

God has a great sense of humour. He seems to get a kick out of sending his most powerful messages through some of the most unlikely people. He delights in annoying the religious establishment with folks my mom would call “characters.”

Amongst his own disciples Jesus included Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector. This was the equivalent of including a gun-totin’ anti-government survivalist and an IRS auditor on the same camping trip. That alone would be worth the price of admission just to hear conversations around the campfire.

I don’t imagine John the Baptist smelled that good, dressed as he was in camel-hair in the desert heat in pre-deodorant days. And some of those other messenger boys were pretty weird too. I have a feeling that if you had a gathering of Old Testament prophets it would look like a blooming asperger’s convention.

God’s habit of using the non-mighty makes me wonder if Samson looked more like Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer than Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules –and that’s why the Philistines demanded to know the source of his strength — because it obviously wasn’t his own steroids. (Judges 14)

Ehud, another unlikely hero whose name means “praise”, was sent to bring down a fat despot who oppressed the people. Ehud was left-handed. He was weak on the side where most soldiers were strong, but strong on the side where most other warriors were weak. His strength was overlooked and he walked right into Eglon’s bathroom with an unconventional weapon strapped to his thigh. Where armies could not rise up enough to free the people, a “weak” man could. (Judges 3)

Another time Barak told the judge Deborah that he would attempt to rid the country of the oppressor by going after Sisera only if she would go with him. She agreed, but said the victory would go to a woman. In that time, when women were regarded as property, this was humiliating to a man. The victory did go to a woman. The tent-wife Jael finished Sisera with the unconventional weapons of a tent-peg and hammer. (One scholar goes as far as saying the word used here implies Jael was a not even a regular wife, but a sex-slave captured from another people group. The lowest of the low.) (Judges 4)

Eowyn from Lord of the Rings reminds me of Jael and Deborah. The Nazgul had her pinned down and intimidated her with the known fact that he could not be killed by a man. She herself became the unexpected weapon when she removed her helmet and cried, “I am no man!” and thrust her sword into the enemy’s face.

I heard a story once of how a janitor became the leader of a group of high-powered CEOs when he bashed through the wall with his broom handle and rescued the entire group from a burning building. Because he had the knowledge of where the weak spot was in the wall and unconventional weapons, and wisdom and foresight to do what needed to be done, he became the instant leader.

The battle is heating up. Have you noticed? This very week powers of darkness twist communication and seek to divide and confuse people who are meant to be examples of love, grace, and freedom to live holy lives.

This song has been going through my head over and over for the past few days. (I’ve learned to pay attention to insistent songs that wake me up in the night.) It’s about those who dwell in the tents of the Lord, who are made strong by grace and carry the unconventional weapons of deeds of love and mercy.

Lead on, O King eternal,

the day of march has come;

henceforth in fields of conquest

your tents will be our home.

Through days of preparation

your grace has made us strong;

and now, O King eternal,

we lift our battle song.

Lead on, O King eternal,

till sin’s fierce war shall cease,

and holiness shall whisper

the sweet amen of peace.

For not with swords’ loud clashing

or roll of stirring drums

with deeds of love and mercy

the heavenly kingdom comes.

Lead on, O King eternal;

we follow, not with fears,

for gladness breaks like morning

where’er your face appears.

Your cross is lifted o’er us,

we journey in its light;

the crown awaits the conquest;

lead on, O God of might.

-Henry Smart

While men jockey for positions of power in government and church hierarchies, it is often the janitor in the elevator, the odd student, the refugee with limited language skills, the grandmother on her knees, and even the slave who become the generals in this fight against sin and unbelief that would block God’s goodness and hurt the ones He loves so much. Their weapons are not rhetoric or guns but whatever God has placed in their hands with which to demonstrate love and mercy. They receive their orders from the King of heaven himself and they follow Him alone. He has been bringing them through a tough school of preparation, teaching them to respond to his grace, live holy lives and rely on His faithfulness.

Over them, gladness breaks like morning, because they look to his face. The joy of the Lord is their strength.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,  that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1)

Save

Save

The Squeeze

Photo: moulded

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.

(Romans 12:2 -J.B. Phillips version)

I’m weird.

I’m weird and finally okay with it.

Some people are just meant to be on the edge of the crowd, not really out there, but not really fitting in either.

If something is trending you’ll find me wending down some other path. I figure the trendies have got that one covered.

When the tourists are snapping photos of each other in front of  iced mountain peaks, I’m focusing on lichen blanketed rocks in the ditch. I weep for the clown, rejoice for the beggar, fast at the feast,  and arise to do battle at night. When the clan gathers for a celebration in the heat of a summer’s eve, I slip out in the moonlight to breathe the cool falling cedar and pine air as it settles along the creek bed.

My poor, dear mother never knew what to do with me. I was hopelessly out of step.

I tried. I really did. I wore the uncomfortable fashionable clothes and the crippling high heels. I endured the horrid chemical smells of perms and hair dyes and nail polish. I spent far too much of my income and far too many years of my life obsessively following diet and exercise programs that, in the long run, always left me in worse shape than when I started. I listened to hours of pop music trying to understand the allure of a limited assortment of repetitive chords, rhythms and lyrics. I read the best-sellers and watched the Oscared pondering the pay-off of fear and pessimism. I paid attention to political pundits who knew what was wrong with everyone else’s ideas and I faithfully endured more sermons and devotional talks than I dare to recall. I tried to participate in the church ladies’ games (which usually involved rolls of toilet paper and or unscrambling baby and cooking related words.) The only spiritual maturity I gained from those exercises was learning how to doze with my eyes open and with an is-every-body-happy-smile on my face.

Then I realized one day I was spending a lot of effort trying to win the approval of people who didn’t really have mine -not that they were doing anything wrong, it’s just that I had no passion for the things that seemed to move them.

There is only one person whose approval I really need, and that is God’s. He likes weird. He can work with weird. When I look at the weird folk he loved in the Bible I realize I am in good company. Jesus didn’t exactly fit in either.

The crowd can move on without me. I’ll catch up later. Right now I am just enjoying watching the osprey flying a pas de deux, the daisies growing in cracks of asphalt, and working on becoming who God intended me to be in the first place.

Red Button, Yellow Button

What do you see?

My grandma’s kitchen table overflowed with happy chaos –as did her closets, drawers, shelves, baskets and any other available surface. She was a quilter, crafter, seamstress and creator of quasi-useful doo-dads extraordinaire. She should have had a blog.

Some might have thought she was a hoarder, but she actually made use of her stashes of potential and gave most of the finished projects away. A quilt stretched out on a frame usually took up most of the living room and when I came home from school I automatically picked up a threaded needle and joined the two or three older friends (all called Mrs. So-and-so, even to each other) while Grandma fixed me a snack.

One of the other jobs she gave me was sorting the bottles of buttons she snipped off thrift store clothes too worn to wear, but still good for quilt patches. I learned I could look at the buttons spread out before me and concentrate on seeing a certain colour. If I thought, “Red!” the red buttons popped out and I put them into egg carton sections. If I thought “Yellow!” the red buttons would fade and the yellow ones would stand out.

I can still do it. Is it just me?

As I was thinking about thinking (any thing to avoid housework) I remembered this button experience. We tend to see what we are thinking about.

I am blessed with a beautiful granddaughter who thinks differently than most kids. It makes for an awkward social life but gives her plenty of time to read, observe strange human behaviour and contemplate complexities. At the age of about five or six years old she was obsessed with learning Bible stories. She had read her children’s Bible through several times and knew the history of many obscure characters I didn’t recognize. Her favourites were the prophets –especially the female prophets.

“They could hear God talking to them! Isn’t that amazing, Grammie? My favourite is Miriam, because she was so smart and she got to save her little brother Moses and be a dancer and singer/songwriter and a prophetess too!”

One day while we were making cookies she asked me, “Do you think it would have been easier to be a disciple of John the Baptist or a disciple of Jesus?”

I hadn’t really thought about it before so I asked her, “What do you think, honey?” – because obviously she had been thinking about it.

She said, “Well, I think John the Baptist because he worked in the same area most of the time, and people came out to see him, so if you were his disciple you could go home for supper and have your own room and everything, but if you were Jesus’ disciple you would have to walk and walk and follow him around because he never even had his own house, so you wouldn’t either and they never had cars or buses or anything for transportation so your feet would get really sore, except that they did have boats on the lake of Galilee so sometimes they could travel by boat…”

It doesn’t take much to get her on a roll.

“So there was this time when the disciples were in a boat at night? They saw Jesus walking on the water –well, it turned out to be Jesus, but they thought at first he was a ghost because you don’t really expect to see somebody walking on the water in the dark at night and maybe one of them saw a ghost before or something – and anyway Peter said, “Jesus, if that’s you I will walk on water too,” so he got out of the boat and he did! He did walk on water, Grammie! Isn’t that amazing? (She used that expression a lot) and then he was walking, walking, walking and oh no! He started to go down and he looked at his feet and they were under the water and he looked at the waves and they got bigger and his knees were under the water and he saw more water coming and he started going down and down and down and do you know what I think that means, Grammie?”

“What, honey?” (Why slow her down now?)

“I think that means that when we look at our sin all we see is our sin and we get too afraid to look at Jesus. The waves are like our bad things and the problem is when we look at our bad things we just do another bad thing because that’s all we know how to do. We need to stop thinking about being bad! We need to look at Jesus walking on the water because he’s the only one who knows how to do it.”

Wow.

Preach it, little sister.

She smashed the peanut butter cookie dough with her fist and chattered on about foods and baking raisin cakes in the Bible, but my mind stayed with her observations on focus.

We see what we focus on. When we pray, “Oh Lord, make me ever mindful of what a worm I am and how horrible my sins are,” we are like Peter looking at the waves and his inability to conquer them –and our only solution is to try to use the same tactics that have failed us so many times before.

It’s like thinking about red buttons and seeing red buttons.

Some people say, “Have faith.” But faith in what?  Happy endings? Our ability to overcome all by ourselves? That this time will be different? We can have all the faith in the world that this time we will walk on water, but when we start to sink it’s panic time -again. We think, “Don’t think about eating, or spending, or coveting… maybe if I try harder, keep the junk food out of the house, cut up the credit cards, stay off Pinterest, put a blocker on those TV channels, avoid the Facebook gossipy rants about famous people, bite my tongue, pour the booze down the toilet, memorize scripture verses….ooh, chocolate…that always makes me feel better…oh no…I’m horrible…I can’t even resist a measly brownie…I’m a sinner and I will always be a sinner…I’m so disgusting…glug…glug….glu…

Our faith cannot be in our ability to try harder. It needs to be in Jesus, who knows how to do this water-walking stuff. He doesn’t walk for us, but he does show us how to walk with him . Our eyes must be on Him, not us! It’s a matter of seeing what you think about.

Jesus? If that’s you we will walk on water too!

Let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glory without fault and with unspeakable joy, to the only God, our saviour, be glory and majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before time was, now, and in all ages to come, amen. Jude 1:24

Bashless

I hope to keep this blog a bash-free zone, not that it comes easily to me. Change will  require effort. I have been known to wield an acid pen and in the past have taken far too much delight in humour that comes at the expense of another’s dignity. Sorry ‘bout that.

I just read this: Now if you feel inclined to set yourself up as a judge of those who sin, let me assure you, whoever you are, that you are in no position to do so. For at whatever point you condemn others you automatically condemn yourself, since you, the judge, commit the same sins. God’s judgment, we know, is utterly impartial in its action against such evil-doers. What makes you think that you who so readily judge the sins of others, can consider yourself beyond the judgment of God? Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient mercy towards you as weakness on his part? Don’t you realise that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2 Phillips translation.)

I do believe we all harbour bash-worthy thoughts and practices in our lives. I also think that most of us are perfectly aware of them. We can make excuses and try to camouflage them from ourselves for a while, but when the spirit of stupid takes up residence in our lives it produces a mound of garbage no amount of room deodorizer can disguise.

There is a difference between offering critique and being critical (“helpful” or otherwise). One is requested and delivered in private with respect by a person who has proven themselves to be trustworthy; the other slops all over the place. Proper loving critique improves, encourages and builds one up. Judgmental criticism is published on Facebook and blogs, broadcast in the media, gossiped at coffee shops, preached from the pulpit and whined at the breakfast table. Condemning judgment (as opposed to wise discernment or encouraging assessment) effectively hits every target but the intended one. (We all know “open letters” are read by everyone except the person to whom they are addressed.) Frequently the purpose of such judgment is to dismiss or even eliminate perceived competition.

Strangely the very issues that trigger our pontifications are often the same besetting temptations we shove back in the closet. You know it is the kid who inherited your own character flaws who most drives you up the wall. When we attempt to parent the whole world those same weaknesses fuel our urge to flame. When momma taught us the dangers of playing with word matches, the fascination with that power didn’t disappear for many of us; we just blow-torched the personal refuse bin of someone at a distance instead.

The problem is that fire spreads.

Chapter three of James says: The human tongue is physically small, but what tremendous effects it can boast of! A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire, with vast potentialities for evil. It can poison the whole body, it can make the whole of life a blazing hell.

Yes, but what if somebody on the internet is wrong?

Have they asked to be set right? Are you in authority over them? Then they’re probably not listening anyway.

It was God’s kindness that drew me to him. Years of striving and putting in my best efforts and failing to follow even my own moral code led to discouragement. His loving kindness led to encouragement. He poured into me the courage to go on when all I wanted to do was quit. He knows the plans he has for me.

I like the lyrics from Stuart Townend’s song:

Come all you vagabonds,

Come all you ‘don’t belongs’

Winners and losers,

Come, people like me.

Come all you travelers

Tired from the journey,

Come wait a while, stay a while,

Welcome you’ll be.

Come all you questioners,

Looking for answers

And searching for reasons

And sense in it all;

Come all you fallen,

And come all you broken,

Find strength for your body

And food for your soul.

Come those who worry

‘Bout houses and money,

And all those who don’t have

A care in the world;

From every station

And orientation,

The helpless, the hopeless,

The young and the old.

Come all believers

And dreamers and schemers,

And come all you restless

Just searching for home;

Movers and shakers

And givers and takers,

The happy, the sad

And the lost and alone.

Come self-sufficient

With wearied ambition,

And come those who feel

At the end of the road.

Fiery debaters

And religion haters,

Accusers, abusers,

The hurt and ignored.

Come to the feast,

There is room at the table.

Come let us meet in this place

With the King of all kindness

Who welcomes us in

With the wonder of love,

And the power of grace.

The Woman at the Well

The Woman at the Well

My soul longs for you as a parched land.

The memory of honeyed smiles crumbled

and caught by the wind of too-many-words

has scattered among the freeze-dried roses.

Dust fountains, flowing with artificial love

choke the living well,

and like the foreign woman

I have poured buckets of dirt into cracked clay pots.

Sir, give me this water,

this living water,

that I might not have to

come here again

to lower my craving

into the dark well

alone.

Jesus often chose to reveal profound truths about himself to women first. He ignored a lot of cultural taboos. The revelation of his true identity to a lone woman at a well in Samaria is one example. I’ve heard so many sermons about this woman and her five husbands and the one she was shacked up with who was not her husband. Across the centuries she is still judged as being promiscuous -and probably seductive.

I knew a woman who had been married five times. I admit to some curiosity as to how she managed to snag five men when I had lovely, talented, caring, single friends in their forties and fifties who had not yet managed to snag one.

Then I met her fifth.

Well, let’s just say anyone could catch one of those. Most people with sense would have taken him off the hook and thrown him back in.

The thing about the cultural norms Jesus was defying is that they were different from many of ours. We don’t realize how revolutionary his relationships with women were unless we understand how disrespected and powerless they were in that place, at that time. Women could not choose to divorce. Men chose to divorce. A provision for divorce was made in the Jewish law so a rejected woman would not starve. A divorce allowed another man to claim her as property so she wouldn’t languish in poverty like many widows in India have done for centuries.

If the woman at the well had five husbands and another guy, it’s because she was rejected five times. The most common cause for rejection was sterility, a source of shame in a place where women were treated like cattle. The likely reason for her to be at the well alone in the heat of the day was not that others considered her a tart, but that she considered herself as damaged, rejected goods. The guy who was not even her husband was probably at the end of a line of very poor options.

Her astounding boldness demonstrated by running back into the town to tell everyone about the man who told her everything about her life at her Messiah encounter speaks of the change of identity Jesus is able to impart. He is not unaware of our reality; he does not reject us for it, but he offers us a better one.

Encounters with Jesus, the real Jesus, the living water, cause us to see ourselves differently. When we understand who he sees us to be, we can leave the craving for identity behind, run in new freedom and make a difference in the world.