In Days of Preparation

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We, and thousands of others, have changed our travel plans this week. Our intent was to drive to Edmonton, Alberta today to help an elderly relative. The flashing red weather advisory on the site I checked suggested we reconsider. Another winter storm is coming.

But it’s supposed to be spring, right?

Edmonton has apparently set a new record for the most number of consecutive days when the temperature has gone below freezing — a dubious achievement. The Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta (between here and there) could see more than 20 cm. of snow with high winds and white-out conditions. I’ve been caught in those blizzards before. We’re staying home.

I have developed a tradition in years when I’m longing for spring and it feels more like January 106th than April 16th. I go to the place where people are busy making preparation for warm sunny days in the garden, a place where it is already spring. I go to the greenhouses at our local nursery.

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Yes, it’s too soon to buy plants, but the place is full of activity. Shipments of luscious greenery arrive from the coast, workers in the perennial house sort pots of tender shoots, and new staff clean shelves and learn where the fertilizer, whirl-a-gigs, and watering cans go.

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As I walked between the aisles of charming English daisies, eager purple pansies, and beguiling begonias, it struck me that all of this preparation was being made in faith that spring and summer will arrive eventually — and the staff had better be ready for the rush.

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Living by faith means making preparation for promises fulfilled. It is easier to complain about freezing temperatures than it is to clean the garden shed or sharpen the hoe or start seedlings inside, but if we really believe something is coming, change is about to happen, and hope deferred will grow into the flowering tree of desire fulfilled, we will make preparations.

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Faith without works, if not dead, is at least dormant. Frozen. Under 20 cm. of snow.

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Beth Moore said it:

How often we expect big things from God without preparing for big things from him.”

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Hopeful people see the flowers in the greenhouse and admire them before their time, knowing that soon the promise of spring will become visible reality in our neighbourhoods.

People of faith also make preparations for change. They walk in the place where it has already happened in their hearts. Get ready. This may involve shoveling fertilizer and kneeling in the dirt first, but it’s going to be good.

Made Alive

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Blooming beside my front door this morning, the crocus proclaims new life in tones of royal purple.

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive!”

1 Corinthians 15: 20-22

 

 

Broken: All I Had to Offer Him…

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Have you heard this one? How many counsellors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one.

But the lightbulb must really want to be changed.

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One of the words suggested for a photographic meditation in the season of Lent is “broken.” Contrary to my usual practice of looking for beauty in the midst of the ordinary, I looked for the less-than-lovely. For the sake of this exercise I gave myself one hour to photograph only the broken.

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I love photography because it has trained me to pay attention to the goodness of God, particularly his creativity and generosity in nature. I have changed. I used to be overly aware of disorder. Seeing only the broken took no effort, and the loss and heartache it symbolized began to feel overwhelming.

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This is not the way it was meant to be.

Yesterday we gathered with friends to study the book of Matthew. The more time I spend reading about Jesus’ words and actions the more ideas and practices I realize I need to unlearn in the quest to know him. I’m trying to imagine what it was like for him to live in a broken world among broken people when he was the only one who understood the way it was meant to be. He knew what was in people’s hearts, and yet he loved them. He did what he did for the joy set before him – for the hope of establishing a new normal.

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This passage touched my heart:
Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness.
When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35, 36 TPT)

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I thought about the type of compassionate responses offered to broken, weary, helpless, people falling through the cracks in my own country. We offer borrowed money to feed, drugs to numb, unrestrained sexual pleasure to distract, adversarial court procedures that throw gas on broken relationships to pacify, and physician-assisted death for those who have lost hope for themselves or their offspring still in the womb.

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Compassion without hope can be a cruel kindness.

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Many religious folk have lost hope as well. They may raise funds to offer material relief, or pray that a person will be comforted in their incurable condition, but they seldom act with the type of merciful power Jesus demonstrated. They would never admit it, but their responses to broken people are not much more effective than the Pharisees who saw doubling down on the rules as the way to prevent hopeless suffering. They take a stance at the other pole on the cruel kindness playing field. They see the world in terms of “us and them.”

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Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s home to share a meal with him. Many other tax collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples.
When those known as the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant, and they kept asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why would your Master dine with such lowlifes?” (Matthew 9: 10, 11)

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Jesus told them, essentially, that if they thought they held the copyright on normal, they wouldn’t value what he had to offer.

“…Healthy people don’t need to see a doctor, but the sick will go for treatment.” Then he added, “Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse:
I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.
For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.” (verses 12 and 13)

Earlier in Matthew we read about the narrow road to knowing who Jesus is and the significance of what he has done for us. It starts with step one, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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Being poor in spirit means admitting that our methods of coping with brokenness are not working. It means we recognize our powerlessness. It means looking at the mess we think “is what it is” and recognizing our inability to conceive of how effective God intended us to be. My own heart is convicted.

It means admitting, like the old Gaither song says, “All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife.”

It means turning to The Great Physician and asking him to heal us, body, soul, and spirit.

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It means that we who make excuses about living in a way that does not demonstrate the way Jesus said the Holy Spirit would empower us to act, also need to admit our poverty,  and turn to follow him more closely. Sharing his heart means not only feeling the deep compassion he feels for the broken, but also aligning with him to do something about it.

If we really want to be changed The Great Counsellor is willing.

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Beautiful Mystery

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“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone who knows more than I do.”

~Oswald Chambers.

This is a digital manipulation of a photo I took of barren trees beside a winter road (see the little branches?).

Many times it is difficult to see how God can use things that appear dead in the cold dark season we are in, but He has a plan to make something beautiful of our lives.

How does he do it? It’s a mystery.