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.”

Immense

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This is a big country. I stopped by a field on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta on my way home this weekend. I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the sky and land I can see from one spot in one place on one road. I cannot comprehend the size of this province or this world, let alone the universe.

I’ve met some extremely intelligent people in my life. I love scientists. Many of them have spent a lifetime learning all they can in a field the size of a clump of clay. Even astrophysicists who look at the big picture and gaze into the sky beyond the sky admit that all their accumulated knowledge is humbling. Questions multiply like the expanding universe. The more we know the more we have to admit we just don’t know.

The same difficulty is seen in developing wisdom on how to rule a nation or get along with other countries. If two people, who care deeply about each other, cannot agree on the best way to earn a living, clean the house, raise a child, or even the best route to drive to the grocery store how can we trust a few people in positions of power and who despise each other to make wise decisions for all of us?

When I read the news and sense the current atmosphere I feel frightened. Sometimes I know too little; sometimes I know too much. The problems are too complex to figure out all by my little self.

Someone reminded me of a story the author of ‘The Hiding Place’, Corrie ten Boom, wrote. She lived in difficult times and sometimes felt overwhelmed. Her father reminded her that when she was a child and excited about going on a train trip with her Papa he didn’t put her ticket in her hand until it was time to actually get on the train. In the same way, God often doesn’t give us the grace to handle a problem until we need it.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety as I faced another medical scan on Friday. I wrote about it here in Real Time. I clung to Corrie’s story, trusting God to hand me a ticket when I needed it even though I was shaking so badly when I arrived at the hospital I could barely hold a pen to sign the permission paper. I wanted to cry. While the nurse started an I.V. for the contrast I wished for a power failure or something — anything– to give me an excuse to escape the place.

Panic attacks attack reason. It magnifies annoyances and projects them on the screen in the mind as terrifying monsters. The night before I convinced myself I could endure ten minutes in the tube. I had serious doubts about lasting twenty minutes. Then I was told the test would take sixty minutes.

The doctor had given me pills to take to calm anxiety, but, like last time, they weren’t helping much. When my name was called I felt like I was marching to my doom, or at least an embarrassing display of illogical immaturity.

And then it happened.

My heavenly Father handed me my grace ticket. The technician told me this MRI machine was significantly larger than the one I was crammed into last time. I felt peace flow over me.

I got on the less narrow bed, closed my eyes, and entered the place where God promised to meet my every need. I thanked him for his goodness. I chose to find delight in him by picturing his beautiful creation. I sang a song of praise. Soon I was in an orchard grove feeling the soft grass bed and warm dappled sun on my skin like I did when I was a child. Then I was in a cool pool of blue water like a mountain lake feeling Holy Spirit’s hands underneath me like he was teaching a child to float. My part was to be still and trust. I felt his smile.

It didn’t feel like sixty minutes. It felt like I was in that place where time didn’t matter. I felt immense peace as wide as the Alberta sky. When the technician told me they were finished, slid me out and helped me to my feet I knew I had experienced the strength that comes from resting in the Lord in more than a theoretical way. If you have never suffered from anxiety attacks this won’t make sense to you, but to me it felt like a miracle.

We all face uncertainty and fear, some of us more than others because of personal history, or loss of physical or mental strength, or seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I know I’m not the only one who is sensing an atmosphere of increased anxiety in the world. Many people, especially children and young people, are experiencing high levels of anxiety like never before. I do believe we need to turn to God in humility admitting that we need help.

I am learning that if God says he’s got this, he’s got this. Even when the atmosphere fills with threatening clouds the warmth of his love can shine through. We have the freedom to ask, then quietly trust like a contented child at rest on a mother’s lap.

Lord, my heart is meek before you.
I don’t consider myself better than others.
I’m content to not pursue matters that are over my head—
such as your complex mysteries and wonders—
that I’m not yet ready to understand.

I am humbled and quieted in your presence.
Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap,
I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.

O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust,
waiting upon the Lord now and forever.

(Psalm 131 The Passion Translation)

Thank you, Lord. You are so good.

Real Time

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It’s 3:30 a.m. Instead of sleeping I am here, on the computer. I’m also eating some ridiculously expensive fat-free, dairy-free strawberry rhubarb ice cream which I stashed in the corner of the freezer for an auspicious occasion.

This is not an auspicious occasion. I can’t get back to sleep after I woke from a nightmare about being sealed in an MRI tube by people who lied to me about how long the procedure would take, and then forgot I was in there.

Fear is custom-designed.

Being stuck in an MRI machine that is several sizes too small happens to be a fear designed for me.  I have a scan scheduled for later this week. It doesn’t help to know doctors are looking for evidence of metastatic cancer in my liver. This is the faith journey in real time.

It would be so easy to say, “I am struggling with fear.” We often hear that expression, but when I hear someone say, “I am struggling with jealousy,” or “I’m struggling with pornography,” I want to respond, “No, you’re not. You are choosing to surrender to obsessive resentful thoughts about your colleague. You are not “struggling.” You are giving in to self-indulgent lustful curiosity via photographic image.”

It’s easy to be smug when other people’s temptations are not tempting to me. But I face my own temptations. The Bible says don’t you go accusing God of tempting you. Temptation only latches on to weird stuff you are already hoarding in the basement of your heart and secretly nurturing with strawberry rhubarb ice cream.

When you are tempted don’t ever say, “God is tempting me,” for God is incapable of being tempted by evil and he is never the source of temptation. Instead it is each person’s own desires and thoughts that drag them into evil and lure them away into darkness. Evil desires give birth to evil actions. And when sin is fully mature it can murder you! So my friends, don’t be fooled by your own desires! (James 1:13-16)

The first step to getting free from “the struggle” is to admit that it is there. The root of my fear is the lie that my heavenly Father is distracted by more attractive, more important, more rewarding relationships with his other children. Sometimes I feed that nasty monster in the basement bits of bitter memories of being forgotten and ignored and misdiagnosed and mistreated before. That’s when the devil and his minions say, “Oh. You’re bitter and scared. We can help you with that.”

The thing is, being mistreated and forgotten was not my heavenly Father’s doing in the first place. That was a result of the brokenness of people with their own ways of coping with pain caused by the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. God was the one has consistently got me through those situations. He’s a good, good father. Jesus came to show us what he was really like – and I can’t imagine Jesus sealing me up in a noisy metal tube and leaving me there.

He delights in us. He wants relationship. Like the Lover in the Song of Songs he invites to come away and walk with him in a flowered spring orchard like the one I saw in the Okanagan this week.

The Bridegroom-King:
Arise, my dearest. Hurry, my darling.
Come away with me!
I have come as you have asked
to draw you to my heart and lead you out.
For now is the time, my beautiful one.

The season has changed,
the bondage of your barren winter has ended,
and the season of hiding is over and gone.
The rains have soaked the earth
and left it bright with blossoming flowers.
The season for singing and pruning the vines has arrived.
I hear the cooing of doves in our land,
filling the air with songs to awaken you
and guide you forth.

Can you not discern this new day of destiny
breaking forth around you?
The early signs of my purposes and plans
are bursting forth.
The budding vines of new life
are now blooming everywhere.
The fragrance of their flowers whispers,
“There is change in the air.”
Arise, my love, my beautiful companion,
and run with me to the higher place.
For now is the time to arise and come away with me.

(Song of Songs 2:10-13)

Okay. I’m putting away the ice cream now and choosing to evict the lie. I choose instead to be thankful for modern medical procedures that can give assurance that liver cells are doing what liver cells were intended to do or can diagnose hidden nastiness before it gets out of hand. I am thanking the Lord for his promise to never leave me and to heal not only my body, but my wounded heart. I’m choosing to give up the struggle and surrender to his love by putting my trembling hand in his big strong hand. He’s got this.

Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also.  – Jesus (John 14:1 TPT)

Doubt and That Time Jesus Got a Gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I throw myself at his feet and weep.

Where were you? Why did you let this happen?

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

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

Yes. These are the questions he will answer.

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

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

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

They didn’t understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limitless.

 

Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Colossians 1:26,27 TPT)

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

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The greatest treasure. Ever.

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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.

The Hope Alternative

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Nothing is more irritating to people resigned to life without hope than people awakening to hope.

Hope anyway.

Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!

(Romans 15:13 TPT)