Moving Steadily Forward

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Injustice infuriates me. I hate it when the wicked prosper at the expense of the weak. I’m so tired of seeing demonstrations of the abuse of power in the media, in education, in scientific research, in religion, in families, in politics, in… well, in every sphere of life.

With the Psalmist I cry out, “How long, Lord? How long?”

Lately I have been drawn to Psalm 37, as my agony increases over the abuse of women, and especially children, who are victims of sex trafficking. I’ve known about it since I overheard people I worked with say that part of the cost of getting a producer to consider their project involved buying a boy for his use for the night.

They laughed.

I cried.

Now even more is coming to light despite many cover-ups. Sometimes this world is so ugly. Why do the wicked prosper?

I am reminded of William Wilberforce, who spent his whole adult lifetime working for the abolition of slavery in Britain. Sometimes change is a very slow process, at least by our concept of time, but what an example of endurance and perseverance!

In the late 1800’s and into the 20th century American doctor, Kate Bushnell, and her colleagues worked tirelessly to expose government sanctioned sex trafficking in the brothel camps provided for British soldiers overseas. Later she uncovered similar practices in logging camps and mining operations in North America. With day by day dogged determination she pursued and shamed authorities until laws and policies and were changed.

Sometimes it feels like a dreary long road, but David understood when he wrote: The steps of the God-pursuing ones follow firmly in the footsteps of the Lord. And God delights in every step they take to follow him. (Psalm 37:23)

In the end Kate Bushnell realized that real change required more than revised laws and policies. She saw that what was required was a heart change. Without it the demand for human beings who could be used and dominated continued. It’s not just a matter of prosecuting the people who sell captives, it’s a matter of changing the hearts of the apparently massive number of people who pay to use them. And those people are often also slaves – slaves to lust. Many, many people are realizing they are held captive by an addiction to pornography and illicit sex and cry out for freedom themselves.

A heart change is what God promises when people turn from their own ways of coping with personal pain and disappointment or feeling out of control and instead trust in Jesus Christ.

This is what we pray for. Freedom for all captives and an awakening of the realization that our hearts can only find healing and restoration in the heart of the One who created us for greater things. An awakening to new life as the Holy Spirit moves through our land.

So we press on, day by day cultivating faithfulness, trusting His promises, walking in his path and praying without ceasing.

So don’t be impatient for the Lord to act;

Keep moving steadily forward in his ways,

And he will exalt you at the right time.

And when he does, you will possess every promise,

Including your own inheritance.

You’ll watch with you own eyes

And see the wicked lose everything (verse 34)

But the Lord will be the Saviour of all who love him.

Even in their time of trouble

God will live in them as Strength.

Because of their faith in him, their daily portion will be

A Father’s help, and deliverance from evil.

This is true for all who turn to hide themselves in him!

(verses 39 & 40 The Passion Translation)

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The Scent of Freedom

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Oh how I love the scent of lilacs. I stuck my nose in a cluster and inhaled deeply.

“Don’t you just love lilac season?” I asked a woman standing near the bus stop.
“Dot so buch,” she said and blew her nose in a tissue.
“Pardon me?”
“I’b allergic to theb,” she answered. “As sood as I sbell theb I can’t sbell adythig else. I’b so stuffed up. I avoid theb like the plague.”

Her wiped her red runny make-upless eyes. I wanted to cry for her. What a tragedy not to enjoy the fragrance of lilacs.

For me the smell of lilacs brings back memories of the introduction to freedom. In Calgary and Edmonton, where I grew up, lilacs bloomed around the time I took my Trinity College of London or Royal Conservatory music examinations. I stood outside a theatre auditorium feeling relieved I had remembered all my words and the sharp in the second run of the fourth song. On either side of the steps huge old lilacs bushes loaded with purple flowers swayed in a warm breeze gently wafting their fragance around my head. The test was over. A new summer vacation season stretched before me like a an open invitation to joy.

They could remind me of studying and exam anxiety, I suppose, but to this day when I smell lilacs I smell freedom.

When the poor lady with allergies smells lilacs she smells dread.

Paul (the man who once hated Christians so much he persecuted them until he met the real Jesus) wrote something interesting about fragrance in his letter to the young believers in Corinth. After chastising them for bad ideas that didn’t leave such a great odor behind he wrote:

Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable “scent” of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself.
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16 Phillips)

Sometimes people’s reactions to you have nothing to do with you. (Okay, and sometimes they do because everyone has moments of weakness when they don’t smell so good.) My point is we don’t always know why people have negative responses to expressions that other people experience as beauty. Sometimes merely being genuinely joyful irritates a person who has lost hope.

Should the lilacs stop blooming to keep from offending someone who has negative reactions? (Full disclosure: I have some allergies myself so I do understand the limits of this analogy.) Put it this way, should those who carry the fragrance of Jesus’ gift of eternal life hide away to avoid offending those who smell death?

Paul tried to stifle those irritating smelly followers of Jesus for a while. (He condoned the cutting down of Stephen in his prime.) Then he met the One who changes everything – and the scent they carried began to remind him of freedom.

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For Freedom!

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For freedom Christ has set us free;

stand firm therefore,

and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

There is a scene in Chariots of Fire where the trainer shows his runner where another man lost the race. It was when he looked back to check the progress of someone else.

So often we lose ground in this race when we try to measure our progress by comparing ourselves to others. Spiritual competitiveness can be a giant speed bump we will trip over if we are paying attention to the wrong things. You can’t love someone and desire to beat them at the same time, nor can you run the race with all your heart if you let the slowest person on the track set the pace. Our eyes need to be fixed on Jesus, the one who never fails to love us, and can love others through us, wherever we are on this journey.

For you were called to freedom, brothers.

Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,

but through love serve one another. 

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

(Galatians 5)

Mixed Message

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“You have an odd concept of freedom,” my friend said.

Odd? It was the definition I grew up with –freedom is the ability to choose to obey.

“Can you disobey?” he asked.

“Not without suffering rejection and other dire consequences,” I answered.

“You have an odd concept of freedom,” he said.

Freedom, like grace, was a concept I struggled with during my much-delayed adolescence (that took me well into my forties). It took me a while to figure out that I had accepted mixed messages without question.

Mixed messages are crazy-making.

I just read a recipe that defines mixed message for me. It calls for a bowl full of lovely, fresh, healthy vegetables, sunflower seeds and green grapes. To this collection of organic goodness you add 1/2 a pound of diced fried bacon, eight ounces of grated cheese, and a salad dressing that crams the maximum number of calories possible in the form of fats and sugar into a measuring cup. Healthy with a death wish.

Some people who talk about grace will welcome you into their church and tell you that you cannot earn God’s love and that salvation is a free gift, that Jesus paid it all. They will point out the verses that say the purpose of the law was to demonstrate, like an impossible-to-please teacher who never gave out perfect marks, that you were never quite good enough. You could never obey all the rules perfectly, no matter how hard you tried. But now you are free; you are saved by grace through faith.

That’s it. They welcome you to the fold.

Then they remind you to pick up a copy of the new rules on the way out.

The new rules are book length and some of the pages written in ink so faint you need special secret decoder ring and spy glasses to read them. And guess who has the decoder ring and spy glasses?

Mixed messages are crazy-making. They’re like a green salad that will give you a myocardial infarction before you get to the gluten-free zucchini muffins.

Grace is not sin-consciousness; Grace is Saviour-consciousness. Grace is not about your failure; it’s about Jesus Christ’s success. Grace is not about who you were; it’s about who God sees you as.

And freedom? Freedom is permission to run toward that destiny – person you are becoming in Christ, unencumbered by fear of making mistakes, and being secure in the knowledge that you are cherished by the One who holds his arms open wide.

You are precious in his sight. He absolutely adores you, you know.

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No Agenda

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Some people love to be able to look at their calendars and tell you precisely what they will be doing at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday eight and a half months from now.

Not me. That which feels like order and security to others feels like restrictive ropes to me. I love the blank page, the open road, the uncommitted agenda. I guess I’m addicted to the potential found in freedom. I like to be busy, and I like to plan ahead, and some routine does rescue me from the challenge  of devoting too much thought energy to the mundane, but  I  do love having space to be flexible. There is more; I know there is more.

A single phrase from a simple song keeps playing in my head:

We step into freedom.

We step into all you have for us.”

What do you want to do today, Lord? What do you have for us?