Invaluable

The power to endure is greatly undervalued. In a culture where rapid solutions win the rat race we have little appreciation for the seasons in which God’s grace is empowering us to endure all things while keeping hope and faith alive. We want the comfortable stuff and the fun stuff — now! God sometimes has other plans. Endurance, like patience, cannot be developed in a hurry.

We’re heading into another winter season with so many unknowns battering our feeble understanding of peace and progress. Although the gap between striving to up our faith and leaning on his faithfulness is painfully evident, his grace is still abundant.

This morning I woke with song of encouragement playing in my head.

I know Your thoughts
Your plans for me are good
And I know You hold
My future and my hope
Your promises never fail
Your promises never fail

(from Your Promises Never Fail by Jason Ingram and Ben Fielding)

The Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, means, in part, nothing missing and nothing lacking. Even when we can’t see it the Holy Spirit is working in us to transform us into his image.

My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking. (James 1:1-4 TPT)

The Torch: Be Yours to Hold It High

When I was a young bride far from my family in the days before easy communication, four elderly women who lived together in a heritage house  extended themselves to become family. Rhea and Kathleen, the sisters who inherited the house, showed me how to can fruit, and frame artwork.  They invited us to important events and introduced us to influential people. Dorothy, a retired college principal, recommended excellent books and engaged us in thought-provoking conversations. Mavis, a retired English nanny, became my much-appreciated resource when our first baby was born. I loved these women.

Something made me wonder though. They were outstanding women of character, intelligence, and grace. Old photos showed them as once attractive, fashion-conscious girls and young women. Why were they all single?

Finally, I asked Kathleen, “Did you ever think about getting married?”

“Of course,” she said. “But my young man died in the war.”

“Oh Kathleen! I’m so sorry. I never knew. What was his name?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “He died before I met him.”

She told me this with the mischievousness of someone who had lighted upon an answer that served her well for many years. There was also a sting of truth to it I had not considered before.

Her sister explained, “When we reached the age to consider marriage, we realized many of the young men we had known never came home after the first world war. There was a severe shortage of men. Frankly, neither of us met anyone who shared our interests and passions and we didn’t care to compromise. Between our careers and caring for our parents as they grew older, we filled our time well enough and were content. We learned how to create family in other ways.”

Each Remembrance Day we honour those who fought for freedom from oppression. We sing songs, recite poems, lay wreaths, and invite school children to submit artwork and essays to express thanks to those who served in the military. This year, as I remember the old house and the ladies who showed us how to celebrate each day as a gift, I would like to honour those who bore the heavy burden of war as bereaved parents, widows, fatherless children, and young women whose lovers died before they had a chance to meet. They were the ones who picked up the torch and held it high.

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

– John McCrae

Good News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just to Be Near You

O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise!
You are the God who answers prayer;
all of humanity comes before you with their requests.

Though we are overcome by our many sins,
your sacrifice covers over them all.
And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen,
will be greatly favored to be brought close to you.
What inexpressible joys are theirs!
What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary!
How satisfied we will be just to be near you!

You answer our prayers with amazing wonders
and with awe-inspiring displays of power.
You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.

Everyone everywhere looks to you,
for you are the confidence of all the earth,
even to the farthest islands of the sea.

What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours!
You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.

Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT

I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.

What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.

Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts in the sounds of stillness.

Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.

Rest in His Love

On my bed I remember you;

    I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,

    I sing in the shadow of your wings.

I cling to you;

    your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:6-7 NIV

I don’t know why pain, worry, and loneliness seem worse at night, but many people tell me this is when they too feel most vulnerable. Perhaps the absence of busy-ness and entertainment leave us with fewer ways to avoid what sometimes lies behind the façade of having it all together.

I have found the best way back to confidant security is to admit my need and to remember that all the Father’s love is poured out on his son Jesus Christ. Since, as a believer, I am in Christ and he is in me, I am also a recipient of all that love. Do you have any idea how much love that is?

The Lover of our souls never sleeps, is never distracted, and never rejects those are his. In the midst of any circumstance we are never alone.

Rest. He’s got this.

Ultimately

“While the earth remains,

Seedtime and harvest,

Cold and heat,

Winter and summer,

And day and night

Shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:22

A hundred-year old record was broken here this week. A record for cold. The leaves, many of which are still green, froze solid on the trees. A bird, seeking warmth, flew into the house via the chimney. My husband’s search for warm gloves turned up eight meant for the left hand and one for the right. It looked like the right failed match any of the lefts.

We weren’t ready for this.

Many miles away this same cold front is dropping snow on massive wildfires that surround a city. A friend posted photos today of steaming earth where threatening flames roared the day before. She joyfully expressed thankfulness.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what on earth is going on. While I mourn the death of the last of my pretty little flowers, I rejoice with my friend for answered prayer and preservation of something much bigger.

Today this passage in Genesis showed up where I was not expecting to see it. I appreciate the reminder. While we need to change our exploitive ways and take responsibility for tending the earth and its resources well, ultimately God is the one who created its intricate workings. He is the one who holds it all together. He’s got this.

Jonah and Me

The Port of Joppa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Jonah 4:1-4 NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fully Where I Am

“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

– Henri Nouwen

The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.

Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.

This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.

How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

Lord, Who Dares to Dwell With You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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