“Lord, catch me off guard today. Surprise me with some moment of beauty or pain so that at least for the moment, I may be startled into seeing that you are here in all your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life I breathe.”Frederick Buechner
I needed signs of spring. I needed colour! As I write this, much of Canada is still snow covered and a blizzard is whiting out the prairies. Here in the Okanagan, spring arrives sooner than in most of the land, but even here it is late this year.
One of the first wild flowers to bloom in the drier parts of British Columbia is Balsam Root. I saw these bright yellow blossoms on a hill basking in the sun, but it was hard to get there. I went looking for some I could get closer to, but very few were blooming elsewhere yet. Instead I went to a garden shop and took photos of flowers that are too fragile to plant outside yet. They were very pretty, but there is something special about the wild ones.
Yesterday, as I drove in the rain, I saw a cluster of familiar blooms near the edge of the country road. I was hoping for bright sunny flowers on a bright sunny blue sky day, but as I checked out the images on my cell phone later, I was impressed by the contrast.
This is what they said to me: Sometimes you don’t fit in because you are not supposed to. Sometimes the brave, the bold, the courageous, and the strong ones who anticipate change embarrass the sheltered and subdued by bursting out in summer colour while winter still lingers on the edge of a dull cold day.
The first people to move into something new need to be strong. They need to know how get their approval from God because there are plenty of critics to point out what could go wrong. They need to be courageous because they face uncertainties without sure-footed examples to follow.
When someone says, “Be brave!” or “Have courage!” I must admit my first reaction is, “Why? Is this going to hurt? It’s going to hurt, isn’t it?”
Then I hear my Lord’s voice saying, “It’s not going to hurt as much as staying where you are, mired in discouragement like this.”
Someone I love told me she feels the Lord is telling her to “have courage.” Her reaction is much the same as mine was before the Lord took me on a roller coaster ride that ended brilliantly. The ride did require faith and some uncomfortable “illogical” standing out at times, but God certainly was with me in every twist and turn and rise and fall. He brought me safely through.
As we spoke, it also reminded me of the time God spoke to Joshua before he led a band of people who knew only the daily-ness of the same old same old. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous,” he said to the man who inherited Moses’ role. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The season is changing. Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to stand out.
“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”C.S. Lewis
Unlock My Heart
Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips,
and I will overcome with my joyous praise!
For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance
or the sacrifices I might offer to you.
The fountain of your pleasure is found
in the sacrifice of my shattered heart before you.
You will not despise my tenderness
as I bow down humbly at your feet.Psalm 51:15-17 TPT
There’s a setting on the photo editing software I use that lets me make a kaleidoscope-style image using bits and pieces from my own photos. The photo I used here was of a barren tree in a snow-covered field at sunset. It feels like spiritual transformation to me.
Have you noticed that God gave many people their assignments in his Kingdom when they were at their lowest? God is more impressed by our willingness to offer him the broken pieces of our failures than the efforts that made us successful in other people’s eyes. A shattered heart? Now that he can use. He takes our locked hearts and disappointments in ourselves, tosses them around, and lets us see through a lens that transforms and multiplies our offering into something beautiful.
He takes our limitations and opens our eyes to limitless possibilities. He’s good that way.
Leaning In to Hear the Heart of God
“The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”
Psalm 25:14 (NKJV
Someone told me I should write a devotional. I didn’t take kindly to the suggestion. For those of you out of the North American Protestant/Evangelical/Charismatic lingo loop, a devotional is a collection of meditations and suggested Bible readings attached to dates on the calendar. Some of them are published as monthly booklets and some as hardbound classics.
The problem for me is that “devotional” did not bring up fond memories of pleasant times of focusing on God. It brought up memories of one more thing I had to do before I could shut off the lights and go to sleep, one more tense morning around the breakfast table while Dad quickly read to us from the booklet with one arm already in the sleeve of his coat, one more packaged sermonette from the camp counsellor before we could go down to the lake to swim, one more occasion to cease the fun and get serious at youth group. In short, I associated “doing devotions” with religious duty that interfered with stuff I valued more. I needed deep healing from the ravages of godless religiosity. I’m realizing, when negative reactions like this pop up, that I still do.
I know I’m not the only one, because a brief online search for devotional material revealed a number of titles bragging about brevity. The Ten Minute Devotional. Quick Daily Devotions for the Busy Mother. Seven Minutes to Starting Your Day Right. Five Minute Devotions. I think the winner of this genre had it down to one minute. That’s what happens when a once good idea becomes an obligation. Let’s get this thing out of the way and get on with life.
The other use of the word “devotion” means a heart set apart and acting out love, loyalty, and care for a person or object. Being devoted to something or somebody means making the object of that devotion a high priority. Imagine Moses saying to his brother Aaron, “I’d love to stay with you and listen to these people complain, but I have to go up on a mountain top and watch the goodness of the Creator of the universe go by.” Imagine Mary of Bethany saying to her sister Martha, “I’d rather wash pots with you, but I have to put in ten minutes of listening to Jesus talk about his Father in heaven first.” Imagine Paul telling the Holy Spirit, “Fine. You can explain the mystery of the ages to me, but be brief. I’ve got a boat to catch.”
Here’s the thing it has taken me far too many years to realize: we cannot love God without receiving his love first. Without his love, without his grace, without revelation of his purposes since time began we have nothing to give but grudging obedience to rules and a quick prayer that nothing bad will happen to us, or our kids, if we miss occasionally. From the beginning he planned for our salvation. He has always been devoted to our well-being, our spiritual spiffing up, and satisfying eternal life with him. We can love him because he loved us first. We can respond from the heart to his invitation to go for a walk with him and ask him our questions, or we can choose to go for the record and see if we can cut down the doing devotions thing to thirty seconds next time.
One day, some years ago now, with the ugly voice of depression whispering that I would just be disappointed again, I chose to get up and go for a walk with the Lover of my soul. I’ve never looked back. Sometimes we talk about how much we value each other, but he always wins. His love is stronger. His devotion to the objects of his love is from everlasting to everlasting.
Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God.(Habakkuk 3:18 The Message)
We saw Jesus Revolution yesterday. Wow, that brought back memories! I remembered the clothes, the hair, the music, the Romeo and Juliet clip (I let my straight dark parted-in-the-middle hair grow down to my waist after seeing that movie). I also remembered the atmosphere in those days. It reminded me a lot of what is happening again. We were also a generation with trust issues.
I’m a few months younger than Greg Laurie, the searching high school student in the movie. We both grew up in the Cold War years with the threat of nuclear annihilation feeling very real. Some guys I knew were drafted to fight, against their wills, in a proxy war they were told was to protect their way of life. We were manipulated by media marketing that urged our parents to go into debt to make sure we got to the consumer trough first. We witnessed the consequences of pollution and environmental carelessness in the name of corporate profit. We were offered unrestrained sexual expression and recreational drug use as valid, mind-expanding escapes. Sound familiar?
Lately, my attention has been drawn to a phrase inspired by the message in the book of Revelation to the church in Ephesus, a church that worked hard at doing good deeds, but somewhere along the way had lost the plot. The phrase is: “Return to your first love.”
Sometimes, when a married couple is struggling, a counselor will ask, “What first attracted you to each other?” Sometimes in the three-legged race that is a partnership that includes kids, financial and time budgets, and differing priorities, we can lose the plot and forget why we even entered this crazy contest. Sometimes, in a church with all the complexities of “one-anothering,” in a group with an even greater variety of beliefs, expectations, and quirks, we lose the plot.
The film provoked me to remember first love. I remembered falling in love with the guy who would become my husband. I wanted to know him better. I also remembered giving my yes to the invitation to “know Jesus” and get baptised.
What did I know about love? Frankly, like Greg in the movie, I had no guarantee that the love Jesus offered was not just another manipulative ploy to get me to serve “a way of life” some institution decided ought to be preserved. Like Greg, I took the risk and discovered that Jesus was who he said he was.
By the end of the film, the man who has loved me and stayed with me through some pretty tough times in the past fifty years was still there sitting beside me, holding my hand. Tears filled our eyes as we remembered our mutual first love for each other and for Jesus and his faithfulness to us. It’s something we dearly want to see the current generation of young people experience.
He’s real, man.
Whatever It Takes
I’ve been thinking about gain and loss today. I’ve been reading about persecution around the world. It’s one thing to choose to follow Jesus in a culture where family, friends and colleagues are also believers, or there are, at least, no serious consequences. It is quite another thing when choosing to be a disciple of Christ means rejection by beloved parents, brothers, sisters and community. In places where not having a seat at the table is the result of shame dumped on a new Christian, choosing to walk a lonely path requires a courage few of us can raise on our own.
More than once I have spoken to sincere seekers who faced a hard choice.
“I want to leave my guilt and shame behind and believe in Jesus,” one young woman told me, “But I couldn’t hurt my father that way. It would disappoint him so much.”
“It would break my mother’s heart,” said another with tears in his eyes.
I don’t know what they decided.
A man I met in the U.K. in a class we both took told me, “My family said I brought dishonour upon them by my choice to become a Christian. They have tried to kill me more than once. My own mother fed me poison,” he said, his voice growing softer. “I know they will try to kill me again if I go back to my home country, but they need to know God loves them. Jesus died and overcame death to show them that he is not angry with them. I can’t turn back. Jesus loves me. I am his servant. Whatever it takes…”
What struck me was that none of these dear ones were rebellious by nature, nor were they angry with their families. In fact, they were the opposite. They cared deeply about loved ones. The issue they all wrestled with was the question of how to love God first, then others. Sometimes I feel like avoiding relatives who merely disapprove of my fashion choices and taste in music. Would I be willing to be misunderstood, to be disinherited, to lose everything and everyone dear to me to love them with the love of the Lord?
That kind of love, that kind of faith, can only come as a gift of empowering grace from the One who sees the beginning from the end. How I admire those with the determination to hold tightly to the Saviour and find their true home in the family of God.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29 NASB)
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1,2 NASB)
Often at night I lie in bed and remember You,
meditating on Your greatness till morning smiles through my window.
You have been my constant helper;
therefore, I sing for joy under the protection of Your wings.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand reaches down and holds me up.
-Psalm 63:6-8 The Voice
Sometimes relief from the exhaustion of wrestling with worry and anxiety is a matter of replacing intrusive thoughts that recycle disappointment and diminishing hope with better thoughts, like thoughts of God’s greatness, of dreams fulfilled, of joy in the morning. Sometimes when our hearts ache and start to slip down the slope of dismal forebodings, our Helper and Protector gently suggests it’s time to change the diet of despair we are feeding our souls.
Sometimes, it’s not the time to escape into denial and thoughtlessness. Sometimes it’s time to have another thought, a better thought, a Holy Spirit-breathed thought. Sometimes it’s time to think again.