Trespassing By Permission Only

Wait… what?

Every time I pass this sign on an empty lot I shake my head. “TRESPASSING BY PERMISSION ONLY”

Wait… what?

If you have permission to trespass are you not still trespassing? Is trespassing not a boundary violation thus implying a, you know, violation?

Is this permission to trespass like the greasy grace I hear people talking about, the definition of grace that says sin has no consequences because everything past and future has been forgiven? I met a person who insisted that any effort to live a righteous life rejected the grace of God and proved they had a works-based picture of salvation. She left a broken relationship debris trail in her wake.

Is this a trick or a Mission Impossible set-up? We want you to go do this thing, but should you be apprehended we shall disavow any knowledge of you or permission given. Intrigue may be the stuff of fascinating film plots, but it’s not the stuff of a lifestyle of integrity that earns respect or votes in the next selection of committee chairperson.

Is this a case of the owner of the property and the administrator of the property disagreeing on who is in charge? I’ve had supervisors like that. Boss #1: All forms must be submitted in triplicate, no exceptions. Boss #2: Ignore that policy. It takes too long. One copy is good enough. Here’s an impossible pile of work for you to complete by closing today. It feels like being free to choose your executioner.

Is this the kind of rule that does not apply equally? I know people who think traffic rules apply only to stupid people with slow reaction time, and they, being neither stupid nor slow, are not subject to laws that impede their agenda. Drive the legal speed limit in the left lane and they will let you know which category they consider you to be in. I also know people qualified by knowledge and hazmat suits who dare to go where others do not, but are they trespassing by permission, or those ordained by legal authority are they boldly re-taking polluted territory?

Is this a rule that is actually a valid rule or did someone assume they could stick up a sign any old place and claim squatters’ rights the way an intimidating person with a snarling dog claims a patch of pavement in a part of town Mama told you to avoid? Jesus was not afraid to confront demonic squatters who claimed ownership of suffering souls. “He is mine!” they cried. “No, he is not. Get out!” he said firmly. They left and he destroyed their signs.

Is this the kind of law that made sense in a different time and a different culture but is a source of humour now? We laugh at some ancient rules still on the books for lack of a good clean-up. They may have been based on consideration or expediency at the time, but no longer apply. In the town of Saywhat, Saskatchewan, it is illegal to tie your hog to the statue of the mayor on Tuesdays. Is it always better to remain single or was that advice given for a time of severe persecution in the first century in Thessalonica? Must a woman be silent in the presence of all men forever or was Paul’s advice to Timothy meant to be a temporary measure to establish some kind of order in a place that had no grid for freedom with consideration?

Is this the kind of sign that indicates a significant change in the way we assumed God works? I sympathize with Peter, a life-time rule-keeper, who was given a repeated vision of formerly forbidden food before realizing God was asking him to take the good news beyond boundaries he had always known. How would I respond? I would hope that I had the discernment to be very sure this was God speaking to me, but I would probably want more than three repetitions, an audible voice and a committee knocking at the door.

If I think I have heard the voice of God telling me to trespass, either the boundary is not really a boundary, or it is not really the voice of God.

Or does this sign merely snag the attention of picky people who think too much? Maybe I just need to see it as a reminder that gracious people can glance at a sign, smile, and say I know what they meant. Good enough.

 


Mission Possible

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I’m thinking of instituting a film rating system based on trombones. A chick-flick can be rated for emotional content by the number of tissues used. An epic film requires a score written for trombones and some sort of electronically produced bass. A medieval clash in the forest – one trombone. An interplanetary collision that rocks the universe? Five trombones.

I think I am finally beginning to understand something. After several days of watching movies chosen by three generations of men in my family, I felt like I was suffering from PTSD. Last evening I holed up in a bedroom with a book while explosions and monster noises emanating from the new sound system in the basement shook the house. I felt exhausted. Every nerve jangled on high alert. (Discovery: God does not issue real grace for fictional film crises.)

The movies this week had similar themes. The world is dark. Evil has a death grip on hope. You can’t always tell the good guys from the bad guys. Just when a protagonist has eluded certain annihilation or won a battle against impossible odds, another heavily armed enemy steps into the hallway or lands with a dishware-shaking thud in front of a disabled space vehicle.

I don’t know about the main character or characters, but I am tired after just watching – and I haven’t even been shot, stabbed, punched or launched through the air by a creature with fingers as thick as my thigh. 10,000 may fall at his right side, but somehow this lone misunderstood guy (or this group of oddly gifted last bastions of truth and right) keeps going.

I watch my grandson who, as a teenager, has recently been admitted to the fraternity of watchers of movies with adult ratings and parental guidance warnings. As a grandmother I want to protect his innocence as long as possible. You see, the years between us mean that I have seen the consequences of evil. For him, it’s mostly theoretical. I know too much, most of that knowledge garnered the hard way. My scars bear witness.

But I can’t protect him. He is already surrounded by absurd philosophies and circumstances my parents never dreamed of. He is now the one preparing to take up the sword. He is becoming a man with a growing drive to fight evil, injustice, and hypocrisy. (God help the parent of a teen with a radar for hypocrisy!) The enemy of our souls may try to hinder this upcoming generation by throwing deception and distraction, but many of them know there is more than hopeless acceptance of corruption. They see the light on the horizon. The hope of eternity is planted in their hearts. They are warriors.

The mission is not impossible. God equips his children with unlikely weapons and powerful gifts that include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. As the angel Gabriel said to a girl who was probably still a teenager: “Not one promise from God is empty of power, for nothing is impossible with God!”

This grandmother never stops praying for wisdom and that they will be protected from temptation to fight anyone but the enemy in any other way but God’s way.

 

Don’t Hit Bye: Prayer Without Ceasing

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It’s been a long time since I fit in the secret hiding space under a blanket-covered coffee table, but my youngest granddaughter brought me along as her special guest recently. She read to me from her first I Can Read booklet, then introduced me to all her Lego people by name and personality characteristics. She has a marvelous imagination.

It didn’t bother her in the least that I attended via Facetime on Mommy’s phone. She just propped me up between sweet Emma with the yellow plastic hair and charming Benjamin with the miniature bow and arrow. We played until the phone batteries ran out.

This week she called to show me – with great excitement — the space where her baby tooth used to reside. Its new residence was an empty Doritos bag, because she was munching chips in her car seat in the van when the great moment arrived. She dug the tooth out and proudly held it up to the screen so I could see the little spot of blood on the bottom – her red badge of courage.

My family is spread across the country and as much as I complain about being techno-challenged, I love modern technology that allows me to be a part of the lives of people I love so much. On the other side of the continent, in the Maritimes, another granddaughter also lost her first tooth on the same day. She shared her joy as well.

Later in the week, when a storm closed schools and took out power on the island, she and her brother called me from their safe place snuggled with two cats and a dog under thick blankets in a dark cold house. We talked about feeling afraid and what we can do when things we depend on don’t work and that Jesus is always with us. Suddenly the lights came on! There was much rejoicing and plugging in of devices.

When my oldest granddaughter started staying at home by herself instead of attending her brother’s “boring soccer games,” she Facetimed me as well. Sometimes I help her with homework and sometimes she just props me up near the computer while she works on an essay and I putter around on my own projects. Sometimes we don’t need words to say I love you. Sometimes being in the presence of a safe person is enough – even if that presence is only via a cell phone. She jokingly told me she simply wanted someone who could hear her scream should the occasion arise.

Once one of the kids put me in the fridge to see if the light stayed on when the door was closed. I was able to advise. Another time she smuggled me into a room where an adult conversation, that clearly neither of us was meant to hear, was taking place. Awkward. I started singing a silly song – loudly, very loudly. And then she had to go to bed and we couldn’t play anymore that evening.

One chat with my little granddaughter made me think. During one of our Grandma-babysits-by-long-distance-so-Mommy-can-shower play dates she said, “Grandma, I’m setting you down for a minute. I’m just going to the bathroom so don’t hit bye, ok?”

I’ve often said I wished I could pick up a phone and talk to God. I have questions. I have things I want to show him. Sometimes I get scared in a cold dark world with no sign of order or light being restored any time soon, and I need him to just be there in case I feel the urge to scream.

That’s what prayer is – talking and listening to God, with a variety of subtler forms of communication. Sometimes prayer is pouring out my heart and sometimes it’s simply being in his presence. The thing is, I realized I am the one who “hits bye” when I am distracted.

Some place along the way I picked up ideas about prayer that formalize and complicate hanging out with someone who loves me and enjoys being with me as much as I enjoy my grandchildren. Somehow, I thought prayer was like sending God a formal business letter. It needed a salutation, words of appreciation and respect, reminders of previous topics discussed, and an information download leading to the real reason of the letter – the request, followed by more compliments and a closing assuring sincere intent.

Prayer in public meant making an extemporaneous speech addressed to God but delivered for others to hear and judge with appropriate confirming murmurs. Frankly, the process was just about as intimidating as standing up before my fellow tenth graders and talking to them about civil responsibility and my intent to vote when I was old enough. These speech prayers usually have sign-off endings as well, sometimes with an over-and-out “amen” by each speaker and sometimes in “a closing prayer” by a person with authority to wrap things so we could get on with the more relaxed talk in the foyer. (By the way, Amen doesn’t mean The End. It means “I agree.” In current vernacular it might be the equivalent of a thumbs-up like.)

Sometimes a prayer can be written with thought, like a poem. Many passages of scripture are prayers we can voice ourselves, but they do not need to be the end of the conversation. They may be the beginning of a deeper intimacy.

My granddaughter made me question why I “hit bye” at the end of my prayers. What if God wasn’t finished? What if he was puttering around holding the universe together while he waited for me to get to the point or ask a better question and then when he had something to say I hung up on him?

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (who were experiencing some pretty severe bullying) that they would find God’s way for them if they continuously practised expressing joyful, thankful attitudes and didn’t stop praying.

How do we stay in continual contact with our Maker? Call out to him. Talk. Listen. And don’t hit bye.

Frost

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In lazy apathy let stoics boast, their virtue fix’d:
’tis fix’d as in a frost;
contracted all, retiring to the breast;
but strength of mind is exercise, not rest.

– Alexander Pope

It takes courage to ponder, to puzzle, to wrestle with a new way of thinking.

It takes strength to fully engage feelings without fear of the overwhelming flood.

It takes wisdom to care deeply and still govern oneself wisely.

 

Ancient Words: Changing Me, Changing You

The artist who created these masks, a therapist who helps people overcome addictions, gave me permission to share his work. I was deeply moved when he explained their meaning to me.

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As I recall, the first mask represents the moment when demon addiction can no longer be kept hidden behind an everything’s-fine façade.

The second mask symbolizes the honest appraisal of that realizes both a dark side and a light side exist in the same person.

The face in the third mask is covered with words from Psalm 51, in which the broken-hearted writer admits the need for forgiveness and appeals to God to create in him a clean heart and to restore his joy. The promises of God become his new covering. “You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O, God.”

The passage is written in Medieval Hebrew script. It is followed by the Lord’s prayer in Greek. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

These are some of the verses in the psalm that stood out to me:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.

For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight…

Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin…

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me…

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God…

(Selected verses from Psalm 51 NLT)

 

I believe true change of  heart needs more than an understanding of what motivated us to make the choices we did and gearing up for another attempt at exerting willpower. True change is insight and an effort to change powered by Gods`s grace that heals our hearts and creates an entirely new person through Jesus Christ.

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The song, Ancient Words, by Michael W Smith is playing in my mind.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
Oh let the ancient words impart
Courage, peace, a loving heart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
Oh let the ancient words impart
A moving, quick incisive dart.

 

 

 

 

There is Always, Always Something to Be Thankful For

 

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Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!

We Canadians celebrated our Thanksgiving back in October, but every day is a good day to be thankful, so I’m ready to celebrate again.

Someone asked why Canadians changed the date. Apparently Martin Frobisher held the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1578, forty years before the Pilgrims arrived in the new country — not that it’s a contest. I found out that I have deep roots in Canada, but I am also a descendent of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, so I feel entitled to be thankful at least twice a year.

In fact, I am entitled to be thankful every day of the year. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t always feel thankful, especially after weeks of cluster headaches and other unexplained physical torments. Sometimes the sacrifice of praise is just that — a sacrifice. It’s not easy. Sometimes it comes through teeth gritted in pain or a heart broken in sorrow.

Coupled with hope, the sacrifice of praise is a pure, distilled form of worship, I think. It leads us to the table in the valley where the feast is kept.

“Yet, will I praise you,” the Psalmist wrote. “Your lovingkindness endures forever.” Praise re-focuses our attention on the character of the God of all comfort. Thankfulness helps us remember his provision. There is always, always something to be thankful for.

This week my two youngest granddaughters (on opposite sides of the country) both celebrated losing first teeth on the same day. I am thankful for their joy and evidence they are growing up.

This week the tax department told my husband he owes them more money. I am thankful that he still earns money and for good healthcare that doesn’t leave us destitute.

This week a friend dropped by with flowers, other friends prayed for me, my kids and grandkids called, I got to know a nephew better (what fascinating adventures he has had!). I am thankful for caring fellow-travellers on this journey.

I am thankful for a nearly blank calendar which allows me to rest when I need to.

Mostly I am thankful to Jesus, the Lover of my soul, who never leaves or gives up on me and still gives me songs in the night.

Lord, you never fail me. Thank you.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

(Hebrews 13:15 NIV)