Here

Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing! 

(Song of Solomon 2:11,12 MSG)

Sometimes, when shrill voices tell us to look at what’s happening there, and there, or over there, we overlook the still, quiet voice of the Lover of our souls inviting us to look here. I was looking for photo-worthy balsam root blossoms that thrive in the Okanagan. I wanted to photograph a patch, but they all seemed to grow in places where I couldn’t stop the car, or places too hard for me to walk to.

When I told my daughter my frustration she said, “Oh, we have some here in the forest beside our house where the children play.”

I found them! What a wonderful place to be a child! I’m so happy for them!

When I was a young child, our little house was in a eastside neighbourhood squeezed between a meat packing plant, an oil refinery, and a railway yard. No matter which way the wind blew it never smelled like a forest of flowers and evergreen trees.

When I was a child, I carried worries that were too heavy for a little kid. I thought God was mad at me all the time like everyone else seemed to be. I didn’t know that he actually liked me and wanted to be with me. It was many years before I could hear him calling me to come away with him, not to do a job for him, but because he loved me and wanted to be with me.

It’s so easy to say, “I’ll be happy when this is over, or when this is done.” We can have joy now, in this moment. I hear the loving invitation of my Lord inviting me to leave stress and worry behind, to come away with him, and appreciate the song that beauty sings here in the secret place he created for the two of us, here where he made it accessible. Here –in my heart.

But I Call You Friends

Old Friends

In my grandmother’s day, people did not call each other by first names without permission. Sometimes that permission was not granted for years. I use the word much more freely, sometimes calling a person “my friend” after merely agreeing me once or twice on social media. To the women in my grandmother’s circle the friend designation carried a certain responsibility. Friendship meant loyalty. It meant standing up for each other and contending for another woman’s welfare if called upon. Grandma knew a lot of people. She was an extrovert before the word was invented. The word may have been invented to describe her. She knew a lot of people, but she had only a few fast friends.

People I have met who are well-known enough to have fans tell me that many of their devoted followers are quick to claim close relationship without permission. (Neither confirming nor denying anything here.) Photos — especially selfies — do lie. Six seconds in the same camera frame backstage do not a friendship make. Fans can turn on a celebrity in a minute if they feel personally disappointed by a cancelled concert or even a change in marital status. Fans think they know a famous person when in truth they do not. Most of what they perceive is either from P.R. staff or media coverage published by people who really don’t know the heart of the famous person either.

Jesus was a famous person. He spoke to crowds but he didn’t need them. He had compassion but found the mass of neediness exhausting. He knew what was in the hearts of those who wanted to use him for their own purposes. When he did not give them a political solution to their deeper spiritual problem many former “fans” turned on him.

The night before they did though, he had Passover supper with the men who knew him best. He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

A person offering friendship shares more than opinions. A friend shares his or her heart. He told them straight out who he was and what was about to happen.  

The disciples didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be a friend of the Messiah. Most of them disappeared when the going got tough. One of them even betrayed him, trading the inside information he was trusted with to tell the authorities where they could find Jesus away from the crowd that could potentially get in the way or make a scene.

Betrayal is part of the risk of friendship. Being a friend means we give another person all the ammunition they need to deeply hurt us. Real betrayal only comes from those close enough to truly wound us. Jesus taught us how to be fully human by allowing himself to be vulnerable to the kind of pain only those we love can inflict.

Jesus showed them that real love means the willingness to lay your life down for a friend. He demonstrated this love by laying his life down for his friends. His action requires response. He says to us, “Real love looks like this. I gave everything for you. Are you willing to give everything for me? I call you friend. Can you call me friend knowing what it means to be a friend of the Son of God?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-17 NIV)

I hear him saying “I love you so much I went through hell and back for you. I offer you my friendship. Now let me ask you, are you my friend or just a fan?”

Truth

Truth, real truth, total truth is like a burning laser light. Most of us can’t handle the truth.

When the prophet Isaiah encountered God in a vision, he encountered Truth. He cried out, “Woe is me for I am a man with unclean lips.” The blindingly holy light of truth revealed that he (like most of us) had spoken things that were untrue. I wonder what would have happened if God had not ministered mercy by sending an angel to purify his lips with a hot coal. I’ve also noticed that sometimes truth leaves scars.

Here’s the thing. Truth without love is harsh. Very harsh.

Have you ever watched two people fall in love? When most couples go on a first date, both put great effort into creating a good impression. The truth is, they don’t always look this good, smell this good, or act so thoughtfully. They keep some important information to themselves and may add a sheen to unavoidable details if they want a second date. As time goes on, they begin to test the interest level by gradually revealing minor unappealing aspects about themselves to see if the other will stick around. Love grows in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance. More truth can be told. Sadly, some people keep up a false image until the effort half kills them and everything falls apart. The truth will eventually come out.

Many of us are still vainly attempting to impress God while concealing aspects of ourselves that trigger shame. Hiding stuff doesn’t work. He knows. That fact alone sends millions into metaphorical sewing of fig-leaf wear whilst hiding in the shrubbery like Adam and Eve.

For those who don’t read social cues well and are whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth tellers, this whole dating thing is a mine field.

“You told her she needed a better deodorant?” I exclaimed with shock when my neuro-divergent friend told me about meeting a girl he liked. “I was only telling her the truth. I care about her. She should know.”

My explanation to him involved caring truth-telling about the way neuro-typicals perceive information. (At least I hope he perceived it as caring.) He was telling her the truth, but how was she to know he cared? How did he demonstrate that? Telling her she needed better deodorant could have felt a bit hurtful even if it was true. Most people can’t handle the truth, especially truth about themselves. Truth must be wrapped in communicated love, or it feels like a frying pan to the face and that’s the end of that.

Before Jesus was taken away to be killed, he told his friends, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”  (John 16: 12,13)

The disciples were not ready to bear all the truth Jesus wanted to tell them. Jesus is The Truth, but he is also Love. Love doesn’t lie, and Godly truth gives us only as much truth as we can handle. He understands out frailty, but he also wants us to grow. Without a solid understanding of who God is, and that his lovingkindness and mercy endure forever, all of us, including the extremely narcissistic, tend to mix our truth medicine with a spoonful of denial, if not a cup of outright fantasy. Maturity is being able to appreciate the whole truth without being blown away by it. We need help getting to that point, but God provided for that too.

J.B. Phillips phrased it this way in his paraphrase of Ephesians 4:11-16

His “gifts to men” were varied. Some he made his messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of the common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the “fullness of Christ”.

We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.

The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, but patiently, not by dumping it all on our heads all at once. He is kind. Sometimes it’s a wonderful warm experience and sometimes it feels like receiving a father’s concerned discipline, but it always carries the scent of merciful lovingkindness.

Like many aspects of spiritual maturity, the ability to comprehend truth and see the way God sees is a process. I am learning that being Christ-centered and acknowledging Jesus in everything means becoming as intentional about a deepening relationship as he is.

It’s all about getting to know him.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Truth

Aroma

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2 NLT)

I love the scent of poplar trees when the sap begins to flow. It reminds me of paddling down a sun-dappled river with my friends when I was a teenager. I have to stop in a pine forest just to breathe the fragrance in the air. It carries memories of carefree Saturdays in the mountains with my family when I was a child.

My friend feels differently. The aroma of spring sends her to the pharmacy for tissues and antihistamines in preparation for allergy season. I understand. Personally, I hate the smell of motor oil. It reminds me of the disappointment of a broken car being worked on in the garage instead of taking us on another adventure. I’m obviously not a mechanic who enjoys hours tinkering under the hood.

Many passages of scripture tell us that certain aromas carry a sweet fragrant aroma of a sacrifice which is pleasing to God. I wonder if it the aroma metaphorically carries the attitude of worship to him, the way the aroma of freshly baked bread carried the message of motherlove to me.

Some passages of scriptures continue the metaphor of aroma and tell us some smells are good and some are bad. Evil rebellious people are like a bad stink to God:

All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemesThese people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (Isaiah 65:2 & 5)

A life filled with sacrificial love is pleasing aroma to God. False love (aka manipulation) smells, well, off. We say something smells fishy when we are around people whose services seem self-serving. Something is off. We detect a stink under the rose water. In contrast, the kind of love Christ demonstrated is a pleasing aroma. God discerns the attitude of the heart.

In dream symbolism the nose often represents discernment. It’s that sense that detects what usually cannot be seen. Some people have told me they can discern what spirit is operating behind the scenes in room by pleasant and unpleasant smells. Apparently demonic spirits can stink like latrines or decaying flesh.

I once detected the beautiful scent of orange blossoms while in worship with friends. No one was wearing that fragrance. It was wonderful! Have you ever sensed something like it? Let me know in the comments.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Aroma

Carry

Creative Meditations for Lent. Word prompt: Carry

There are so many ways I could go with the word carry. Carry out, carry through, carry on, carry over, carry away, carry around…  What I hear in my heart is a line from a song by Selah called “Audrey’s Song.” The part of the song I keep hearing is “I will carry you.”

The song is sung by a mother to her child in the womb. Doctors told the parents that the baby had anomalies incompatible with life and recommended abortion. Instead, the they chose to love their child and honour the life she had, how ever short it would be. (Warning, it’s a tear-jerker.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MI9duC9mXQ

I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) by Selah from the album “You Deliver Me”

There were photographs I wanted to take

Things I wanted to show you

Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes

Who could love you like this?

People say that I am brave but I’m not

Truth is I’m barely hanging on

But there’s a greater story

Written long before me

Because He loves you like this

I will carry you

While your heart beats here

Long beyond the empty cradle

Through the coming years I will carry you

All my life

And I will praise the One Who’s chosen me

To carry you

Such a short time

Such a long road

All this madness

But I know

That the silence

Has brought me to His voice

And He says … I’ve shown her photographs of time beginning

Walked her through the parted seas

Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes

Who could love her like this?

I thought about others in the faith who died young. I have often wondered why Jesus chose James, along with his brother of John – the other half of the sons of thunder— and Peter, to be his three closest companions. Jesus would have known that James wasn’t going to live long. King Herod had him “put to the sword.” In a manner all too common in political machinations, when he saw favourable numbers in the local population’s response to his handling of the disruption caused by these Jesus followers, Herod decided to kill some more of them. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, but James hadn’t been. James was killed.

Why would Jesus invest so heavily in someone who wouldn’t be around very long? Who can say James’ life was of less value than the life of John who lived to a very old age? Jesus obviously loved him and could have rescued him. James obviously had faith and he was surrounded by the same faithful people who prayed for Peter to be released.

Somehow, we have adopted the idea that a successful life is a long life, that people ought to be valued for accomplishments, or at least potential accomplishments. Baby Audrey lived outside her mother’s womb for only two hours, but I believe God saw her life was as valuable and he loved and appreciated her as much as a 100-year-old woman with many accolades.

God loves us for who we are. He loves us because he loves us. Nothing we do or don’t do can make him love us any more or any less. Can we also take the risk of loving someone who may be leaving life on earth shortly? Being separated from a loved one is extremely painful, but not eternally painful. I admire those who can risk the pain of loss and love freely, carrying another person in their heart because they know they are loved by Love Himself.

He will carry them too.

Why the photo of spring flowers on the windowsill? These words in 1 Peter inspired me.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

For, ‘All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.’

And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Let

After their last supper together, Jesus asked Peter to let him wash his feet. Peter protested.

Peter looked at Jesus and said, “You’ll never wash my dirty feet—never!”
“But Peter, if you don’t allow me to wash your feet,” Jesus responded, “then you will not be able to share life with me.” (from John 13 in The Passion Translation)

Jesus confronted him sternly. This was important. This was so important that Jesus said Peter could not be a part of him if he did not let Jesus wash his feet.

On that evening full of important parting instructions, he also said, “So this is my parting command: Love one another deeply!” (verse 17)

Loving one another deeply requires mutual submission. Submission is not a word I like. Surrender is even worse. By confronting Peter he gave the clear message: Unless you are willing to accept help — my help — you can’t be a part of this.

This is the aspect of submission that I’ve missed for so many years. Submission doesn’t mean being a doormat to someone who would take advantage. Submission means saying, “How can I extend myself to help you to become all Christ means you to be?” Submission also means surrendering to Christ when he says, “Let me help you.”

Submission means becoming vulnerable to God’s goodness.

Experiencing God’s goodness is a prerequisite to loving one another.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Let

Red

Today’s prompt for Creative Meditations for Lent was the word “Red.” The final verse of my favourite hymn comes to mind when prompted by red. From “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go” by George Matheson:

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

Love

Recently I met a refugee family who has demonstrated love in a way that goes beyond the usual experience in North America. They come from a country where it is illegal to change religions or influence anyone to change religions. When approached by two young men who were looking for an understanding of God, a Christian man gave them Bibles to read. After they read about the God who loved us so much that he let his son die and overcome death so that if we believe in him we will have eternal life, they chose to follow the God of love. They found new life in Christ.

The consequences of assisting at the birth of this new life were dire for this man and his wife and children. They faced serious death threats. Even after they fled to another country, they were incarcerated, the mother and the children for a short time and the father for five years.

Conditions in that prison were appalling. The father endured great stress. The mother and children knew great hardship as well living without him in the home. And yet everyone in the family says their love for God grew most during this time as they experienced his faithfulness and provision. They are truly beautiful people, and the love of God shines through tears as they tell their story.

Today I thought about the way love takes the risk of birth. My granddaughter asked me if childbirth hurts.

“It does,” I told her, “But the reward is so great that most women who have given birth once choose to give birth again because they know the joy of seeing new life and that love is greater than pain.”

My mother nearly died giving birth to me. I heard the story many times. The physical consequences for her lasted a lifetime. And yet she chose to give birth to my brother even when a doctor warned she could face problems again. She did it out of love for someone who would not understand the significance of her willingness to suffer for him until many years later.

As I think about it, I realize that the greatest force in the universe is love. It was love that motivated Jesus to suffer, die, and overcome death. It was love that sent my new friend to those men knowing that he could suffer and even die for doing so. It was love that sent my mother to the delivery room for the second time knowing she could suffer like the first time, or even die.

It is love whenever someone is willing to extend themselves beyond a low-risk comfort zone to make it possible for new life to begin and grow. Only the love of God is strong enough to overcome the fear of suffering or even death and cause a person to know they are loved even in the middle of severe trials. We can love because God loved us and gave us first mortal life, then the opportunity for eternal life through Jesus Christ.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Love

When You Just Don’t Know

“Where is peace to be found? The answer is surprising but clear. In weakness. Why there? Because in our weakness, our familiar ways of controlling and manipulating our world are being stripped away, and we are forced to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are most vulnerable, the peace that is not of this world is mysteriously hidden.”

Henri Nouwen

Sometimes it’s not until we have reached the end of our ideas, our energy, and our optimism that we are ready to ask God for wisdom. Sometimes it’s not until we wait –for we know not what– that we can start to hear the voice that speaks in silence.

He often starts with, “I love you. Do you know that? Do you know that?”

Radical Demonstrations

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you.”

Jesus Christ (Luke 6:27, 28)

What if what is missing in the lives of people who hate you, who want to see you silenced, cancelled, dismissed is an experience of grace? What if people who don’t deserve it (like all of us) experience the goodness of God through the blessings of those they shun?

What if we prayed for and not against all the people Jesus loved so much that he gave his life to reconcile them to their creator?

What if those of us who know what it means to have been loved by the Lover of our souls while we were still far from him come out and demonstrate? What if we come alongside our haters in radical demonstrations of the love he has poured out for us?

Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It would take a radical shift in our first-reaction mindsets.

But what if Christians believed Jesus? How would culture shift?

Jesus Christ, the ultimate revolutionary.