Bluer than Blue

Kootenay Lake

Bluer than Blue

The artist leading the workshop in the desert city looked at my paintings and asked, perhaps facetiously, “You use a lot of blue. Are you depressed?”

I looked around at the other participants’ work, mostly done in earth tones –beiges, browns, greys –with occasional splashes of red and yellow. Desert colours.

“No,” I said, “Not anymore. I just come from a place that is mostly blue.”

When I arrived home a few months later, deep lavender blue skies, shifting azure-blue lakes, paler and paler layers of blue mountains and sparkling blue snow shadows seemed even bluer than the paintings.

Bluer than blue.

I come from a place that is mostly blue.

To some blue communicates serenity. To some blue communicates depression. I come from a place that was mostly depression.

A while ago I was told in a dream, “Look to the area of your greatest failure, for therein lies your greatest success.”

There was that night.

That night when I bowed on a stage before an audience jumping up to shout “Brava” and throw flowers. Most of them didn’t know I was balancing on one leg the whole time because I had broken the other one only a few days before.

Then there was that night.

That night, in a locked ward where a silhouetted person behind a flashlight peered in my room every fifteen minutes to make sure I was still alive.

That night on the stage, the night of  “my greatest success,” was actually my greatest failure. That was the night when I identified myself as a strong-willed, disciplined, overcomer. That’s when I was foolish enough to think that if I just worked hard enough I could earn love, respect, and adulation.

The night on the ward, the night of  “my greatest failure,” was actually the night of my greatest success. That was the night when I admitted it took more courage to live than to die. I was fresh out of courage. That was the night when my tank hit empty, when I had no will power, no discipline, no hope. That was the night when grace pulled me deep down into those depths of blue and began to show me that freedom means nothing left to lose. That was the night when Jesus Christ took me by the hand and lifted me up toward the dim speck of light. Drowning in emptiness and being lifted up to hope as a kind of baptism, if you like.

It took a while to get on my feet. I had a lot of forgiving to do. Forgiving myself was the hardest test of wrestling pride, self-sufficiency, and the albatross of potential to the ground. I still have to remember to punch it in the beak regularly.

Blue means freedom and serenity now. I understand better what Paul meant when he wrote:

Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.

Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.

(Philippians 3)

Only Someone who knows the plans He has for us has the courage it takes to show us how to die so that we might live.

Door

Photo: *Doot doot doo, lookin’ out my back door* (OK not my own back door but the back door of the place where we hung out with great friends this week.)

And so I tell you, ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. The one who asks will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the man who knocks.”

(Luke 11:9,10)

Paradigms, Paradox, Puzzles and Peace

Photo: An Upside Down Kingdom

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;

    call upon him while he is near;

 let the wicked forsake his way,

    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,

    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

  For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Isaiah 55:6-9)

I’m upset by division and quarreling I see amongst Christians around me. The interwebby thing is full of it. One week it’s about aggressive sex and submission of women, the next it’s about the right to speak out about how people who don’t trust God’s kindness yet should be forced (by those who supposedly do) to obey his standards anyway. As one editor wrote, “Controversy sells.”

In a previous blog I talked about the problem of living with paradox (two opposing ideas that are both true) and how we tend to want to slide toward one end or the other depending on which part of our soul is dominant  –the mind, the will or the emotions.

https://charispsallo.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/why-i-am-a-label-eschewer/

I have shifted from more than one paradigm to another on many issues, but even in myself there is tension and a desire to find a single logical solution. I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I enjoy debate and the power of witty words to put people down. Then I had a dream in which I was told to stop thinking in two dimensions.

So what dimension am I missing?  What is the viewpoint I have not taken into consideration?

Isaiah says God does not think the way we do; he is not limited to a view that is tied to time, or a physical spot on this planet, or even the laws of physics. The spiritual dimension is so much higher than our earth-bound reasoning abilities we have trouble imagining it.

I think the dimension that we tend to forget is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus spoke constantly of the Kingdom of God. He said that when the sick were healed and the demonized freed that the Kingdom of God was near.

He said that it was like a mustard seed, like leaven, like a net, like a hidden treasure or a priceless pearl that was worthy of the pursuer divesting himself of everything he had to get it.

He said his kingdom was not of this world and we could not observe this place with physical eyes. He told the people listening to him that it was in the midst of them.

He told the one who admitted that love was greater than sacrifice that he was not far from it.

He said expecting to use money to get there was less than useless; it was a hindrance.

He said that prostitutes and thieves would experience it before the powerful and self-righteous who rejected him.

He said that unless we were willing to enter as little children (I assume that means dropping  wealth, power, position, authority, good deeds, hard work, physical strength, education, talent, family or political connections, accomplishment or recognition –all the usual means to success in this world) that we couldn’t get in either.

When the disciples asked how to know the way he was going he said, “I am the way.”

He said he was the door (but it’s a narrow door that requires us to drop our backpacks, curriculum vitaes, and other accumulated assets.)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9)

He said we had to be born again.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)

When the Kingdom of God intersected space and time on earth in the form of Christ Jesus, it opened up a doorway into eternity where things are different, where we realize our thinking is upside down.

“The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand for they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

But the one who has been made spiritually alive has access to another dimension when, by faith, she or he lives in Christ and Christ lives in her or him.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2: 4-7)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28,29)

For those who trust and obey Jesus Christ, God has already seated them in heavenly places, since that is where Jesus sits and they are in him and he in them.

… to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

In the Kingdom of God there is no division in the church. There are no labels. The church is one.

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.   There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:25-28)

Why then, do we still compete with each other? Why do we think that if we are “righter than thou,” and work hard to impress him, God will let us enter through that door when we die?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:1-6)

Passions may be the big motivating factor in the world, but God doesn’t think like us.

Could it be that we don’t really trust him enough to obey him and to seek him for understanding of all these paradoxes or for wisdom on how to live in love and the bond of peace?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

What if we are meant to start to enter into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ now and it’s not all about pie in the sky in the sweet by and by? What if we quit trying so hard to be the greatest and just rest in Jesus’ finished work? What if we trust him enough to believe what he says about us being new creatures and start acting like it? What if we could hear his voice and obey his commandments now?

For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)

People who seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness will not think the same way as those who are bound to earthly logic and reasoning ability. They do not fit in. They are annoying because they refuse to play by the same rules. They don’t wear the same trendy labels; they are frequently misunderstood. They are often persecuted –sometimes by those holding religious power– but that’s not unexpected. They did that to Jesus Christ too.

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20)

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Height and depth

Photo: On the Banff Jasper Parkway

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Beached

A day at the beach

There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach to remind us that although we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, very very few of us have perfect bodies.

A lot of people avoid the beach, postponing enjoyment (often indefinitely) until they have bodies that match the images in their minds. Others just have fun in whatever shape they may be in (although a little more modest covering on some could help avoid awkward moments and the problem of averting one’s eyes.)

We can be pretty good at trying to dress up our hearts to look spiffier than they actually are too, layering them with politeness, accessorizing with colourful splashes of generosity and public service to detract from our less  attractive “problem” areas. (To be sure a little discretion can sometimes help avoid awkward moments there as well. Not every foible needs to be exposed in public.)

I wonder if there is room in the big C Church for a beach for the heart -a fun place where we can dare to let go of tailored suits or winter boots or freshly-pressed vestments (or even flak jackets) and exchange them for modest, but less disguising garments and just enjoy life together, soaking in the warmth of the sun.

I guess it’s called friendship.

It might even be called love.

Thirsty

A kind person told me that feeling an emotion is like feeling thirsty. There is no shame in feeling thirsty. You might consider if anything unusual caused your thirst, or if you need to drop everything and get a drink, or if you can wait until the next convenient time to deal with it. Seldom do people say, “I’m so sorry. I really shouldn’t feel thirsty. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” Thirst is.

We might consider the cause of an unexpected emotion, but we have the choice to deal with it right away or wait until the next convenient time –but we can’t ignore feelings forever. There is no need to say,”I’m so sorry. I really shouldn’t feel this way. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” Feelings are.

Today I feel emotionally thirsty. I’ve been in a time of giving (freely and with joy because I absolutely love the people who needed my help) but today I am feeling tired and a bit, well, prunish. There are scattered piles of requests for attention all over my house. The urgent has been attended to, but I’m not putting this off anymore, so dust, emails, laundry, lesson plans, and call back messages, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go soak in the love of Jesus now.

Transparent, yet deep

Photo: Crowsnest Lake

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, remembering that as members of the same body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you. (Colossians 3:15)

An attitude of thankfulness allows us the freedom of vulnerability. It is only when we begin to comprehend the richness of God’s love that we can dare to be transparent before Him and others and allow Him to do a deep work in our hearts. It takes a lot of trust to expose the lies we have believed and the lies we told others –or ourselves.

Deep ain’t cheap. But Jesus Christ paid the price.