First Response

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“Who is this in royal robes,
marching in his great strength?
“It is I, the Lord, announcing your salvation!
It is I, the Lord, who has the power to save!

(from Isaiah 63)

On the morning before the slaughter in Paris, while I was still asleep, I heard a voice. It woke me.

“42! 63!”

This has happened before, so I asked, “Psalm 42?”

“Isaiah 42.”

I looked it up. It’s starts with a prophecy about the Messiah, his character, his role, his manner and his purpose.

I looked up Isaiah 63. It has a similar theme of a Father who fights evil on behalf of his children.

Both passages end with a description of His sorrow when the people he desired to save turned to their own methods, even other gods, instead of calling on Him and responding to Him. In Isaiah’s time He left them to their own devices for a while, but continued to call out to them over and over through his prophets.

Many times in history God’s people have prayed crying “‘Anah!” to Him. “Hear us! Respond to us!” (A discussion of the word ‘anah here.)

Many times in history Yhwh has prayed to his beloved, “‘Anah!” “Hear Me! Respond to me!”

For a few days I didn’t understand why he would direct my attention to these passages. Since then I have seen many responses to the triumph of evil in Paris and Kenya and Syria and many other places in the world. Love them all! Kill them all!

Can we just admit that if there was a sure-fire method of solving this situation without exacerbating horrible actions or being captured by the evil spirits behind it ourselves, that it would have been done by now? We have lost our innocence about both the nobility of armed conflict and the consequences of doing nothing when we hear the cries of victims of evil aggression.

In our own family, this very week, we are still fighting World War II. My mother-in-law barely escaped death or an internment camp as a young teenager when her family’s home in Rangoon, Burma was bombed by the invading Japanese. Their savings were in that house. They lost everything and fled on the last military transport to India. Now, as her short-term memory loss requires us to take measures to protect her she feels like her own family is confiscating her savings and threatening her freedom by sending her to an old person internment camp. (She refuses to live with us.) In her mind history is repeating -or perhaps the war has never ended- and that which she feared most has come upon her.

I remember my mom describing the beatings she and her brothers suffered on the way home from school as ethnic Germans living in Canada during the war. No one took the time to understand that they were running from both the Russians and the Germans. No one noticed that their older brother was fighting for the Canadian army in the Netherlands. When Hitler’s troops arrived in my grandfather’s village they killed 1/3 of the population in one day. Stalin had already killed my grandmother’s family. I see the Syrian refugees fleeing violence as unjust as the pogroms of Russia a century ago also being met with rejection from all sides.

Some of our extended family were still in Germany when the battle lines were drawn up. Let me tell you no one hated Hitler more than a German boy drafted to the Russian front! But if you were Ukrainian like my husband’s grandparents and saw a German boy in a tank coming toward you, it was not a good time to offer hospitality. It is not easy to love your enemy and love your children at the same time. We desperately need wisdom and discernment.

I am a grandchild of refugees who still lives with the consequences of war. I am so grateful that Canada took my family in! I am grateful Canada heard the cries of the victims of injustice and made room for them. I am grateful that many were willing to lay down their lives to fight injustice. Now I am even more grateful to those, like the intercessor Rees Howells, who fought the war on their knees. We will never know this side of heaven how much intercessors, those who war in the heavenlies, did to bring peace.

Now it is time for those who hear his voice to respond.

What am I saying? History has proven that our methods of solving problems like ISIS are horribly inadequate. I have heard people say, after they have tried everything they can think of to save themselves in threatening circumstances, “Well, all we can do now is pray.”

I hear my heavenly Father say, “Make Me your first response! It is I, the Lord! It is I, who has the power to save!”

“Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.
He is my chosen one, who pleases me.
I have put my Spirit upon him.
He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout
or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.
He will not falter or lose heart
until justice prevails throughout the earth.
Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” 

(from Isaiah 42)

Donkey Tales

 

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My grandchildren are visiting and we decided to do “home church” on Sunday. They remembered doing that last time they were here because somebody had something potentially infectious that was not wise to share at Sunday School. They thought the experience was worth repeating.

It’s interesting to observe what little kids consider essential to a church experience. According to the eldest, one must, apparently, have decorations on the wall, a theme, a sign on the door posting expectations re: starting and finishing times, music, snacks, crafts, and story time. They loved being in charge of “church time” (although one was clearly more in charge than the others.)

We had a great time, especially after I gave the only boy real drum sticks and a real drum and the girls my box of craft materials. If only Michelangelo had construction paper, toothpicks, butterfly stickers  and tape. Who knows what he could have accomplished.

The kids chose the stories. They asked me to read as they dramatized: King Saul going pee in the cave and sneaky David cutting his robe, David (with rolled up sock stones and uncle’s old plastic slingshot found in the bottom of the toy box) and Goliath (holding a badminton racquet and pot lid shield and standing on a chair with Mommy’s long skirt covering the legs), and The Talking Donkey with a blanket saddle.

Silly me, I failed to notice the escalating violence in these scenarios until the final re-enactment needed to be cut short by a bribe of watermelon and granola bars. Balaam had the donkey in a strangle hold while the menacing angel of the Lord wound up for a good smiting from the top of the sofa back with the re-purposed badminton racquet sword. Good will was restored with juice box communion and then church was dismissed.

 

For some reason seeing the wrestling match in the middle of our home church reminded me of a few unexpected agents of grace in my life that have frustrated me. I think I may have attacked and tried to wrestle messenger donkeys to the ground myself when I didn’t recognize their purpose.

In the story the prophet Balaam hears the Lord accurately but imposes his own agenda. He misses the fact that a big old angel bringing the message of “No! Not this way” is terrifying the wits out of his mount. The donkey collapses under him, then smashes his foot against a wall. When an upset and hurting Balaam starts beating the animal, it supernaturally starts talking saying, essentially, “Sheesh! You really don’t get it, do you?”

I wonder if sometimes when the Lord speaks dramatically to people through crazy, unusual, dramatic, out-of-the-ordinary manifestations it’s not necessarily a compliment or sign of how super-spiritual they are. Maybe it’s not so much an experience to be bragged about as much as  Sheesh! What-does-it-take-to-get-your-attention moment?

Anyway the prophet and donkey who were thrashing it out on my living room floor reminded me of something I read years ago about anxiety attacks and depression and stress-related illnesses and really annoying relationship problems being agents of grace. We are traveling down the road expecting our plans to go smoothly when the things or people we rely on fail us.They collapse under us, or ram us into a wall, or yell Sheesh!  loud enough to scare the wits out of us. The usual reaction is to become frustrated and fight rather than listen to the message – at least mine is.  (Balaam was so defensive he barely noticed it was a bloomin’ donkey talking to him.)

By the time a dramatic attention-grabber shows up we have probably been ignoring the Lord or justifying doing thing our own way for quite a while. It’s the goodness of God that sets up circumstances that get our attention. It’s as if he is saying, “Stop! Yes, you have a gift. Every body in the family gets at least one. No, you may not use it in a way that will hurt others.”

A good tool is one that performs its job well. A knife that can slice through fresh hot bread without squashing it is a good knife. A knife sticking out of a friend’s back — not so much.

Here’s the thing about using the gifts (tools) that Father God gives us: they come with instructions on their safe use. The most essential instructions are found in 1 Corinthians 13 right in the middle of the discussion on the gifts. Without love it’s all a gong show.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing…. 

Love never fails.

Without love, “church” is in danger of turning into a chaotic pile-up on the living room floor.

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Look Who’s Here!

 

Blooming by my front door this morning.

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Melting ice down at the creek yesterday.

 

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The same gentle warm sun that streams through my window has been gently coaxing changes in the neighbourhood. Gentle awakenings. Yes.

I’ve noticed that gentleness is on the list of the fruit of the Spirit and brutal candor is not. Why is that, I wonder. What’s with this frying pan to the face school of prophecy? If Holy Spirit takes the time to melt our hearts with patience and kindness and speaks truth to us in a gentle way that melts away lies we have believed and replaces them with courage to take the risk of blooming, shouldn’t we do the same for each other? Gentleness is not weakness; it is patient power under control.

I read this quote by Stephen Crosby the other day. “If people are going to reject the gospel we carry, let them reject it because they are rejecting a love they cannot process or handle at the moment, not because of an idiot with a Bible and the interpersonal skills of Attila the Hun.

Yes, there are times, when for the sake of protecting the vulnerable we need to be more blunt and even aggressive, and there are folks for whom subtlety is a faintly detected jet trail flying miles overhead. Jesus spoke gently in powerful parables, but sometimes he confronted religious pseudo-experts directly and plainly, but only when they blocked the path for everyone else. Allowances need to be made, but if smacking people upside the head with words – however true – becomes your go-to means of communication (because you “don’t have time to say this nicely”) and fact-delivery continually trumps loving encouragement, don’t be surprised when your garden of friends in May looks more like a frozen creek in January.

Just sayin’.

(File under: Things I have learned the hard way.)

A Foretaste

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“Watching and waiting,
looking above,
echoes of mercy,
whispers of love.”

(from Blessed Assurance by Fanny Crosby)

My husband said, “Let’s go!” So we went.

I wasn’t expecting it at all, but he said he could take a few days off and unseasonably warm weather on the left half of the continent made a road trip in February feasible. We looked at a map and determined the closest place with sandal-worthy temperatures was Northern California.

The first thing I saw when we got out of the car after two and a half days of driving was a tree in bloom.

A few days before we left I kept hearing and seeing the word “adapt” in a dream. Frankly, I started bracing myself for another challenge. What now, I thought. I realized instead, as I was looking for sandals and summer clothes to quickly toss in a suitcase, that “adapt” this time meant adapting to a pleasant surprise.

We’re home now, after a wonderful ten days in a different world with sun and palm trees and spring flowers. There is ice on the sidewalk here and work piles up again. It will be another three months before my plum tree is in bloom, but I feel like I had a foretaste of what is to come.

He does that, my Abba God. It’s a kind of now and not yet gift. He allows us to experience a taste of what He has planned, a remembrance of the future. And it gives us hope.

Hope is vision-led endurance.

Thank you, Lord.

Thank you.

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The Hope of Glory

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Saints of old the promise heard

and clung to the prophetic word.

For so long, by faith perceived,

the hope was given

and by faith received.

And they believed.

They believed.

They believed

in Christ in you,

the hope of glory.

I’ve been thinking of the people who were mentioned in the book of Hebrews as examples of great faith. They were also examples of great imperfections and the Bible doesn’t gloss over that. What strikes me this time is that none of them lived long enough to see the plan of God play out in the time and place they journeyed through. Faith is actually easier for us because so much more has been revealed to us than they had access to at that time.

My grandparents left everything behind seeking a better future for their children in a new land. They struggled to survive and never saw the promises fulfilled in their shortened life-times. How could they, who never had a washing machine or indoor plumbing, ever have imagined that one of their grandchildren would be on the team of engineers that invented the Canada Arm on the space shuttle – a crucial part of the exploration of the skies? But still they sacrificed to bring it about.

I wonder if I have faith to believe for prophecies beyond my life-time. There are bright and beautiful promises I can see from here, but I don’t know the timing or exactly how they will play out. This I know, the saints before me received hope by faith and it was accounted to them as righteousness. They walked in the hope. By faith I walk in the promise of hope that the light will grow brighter and brighter and the glory of Christ in my children’s children’s children will shine with a brilliance beyond my greatest imaginings.

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Watch

God’s first language is not English, nor is it Greek or Aramaic or even Hebrew. His first language is Himself and glory is however He chooses to express Himself.

He speaks in the vast expanse of space, he speaks in the tiniest particles of earth. He speaks in light and sound. He speaks in pictures. He speaks through flesh and blood. He once spoke to me through a prairie chicken.

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I was driving home on a dull November day when I felt the urge to pull off  at a provincial campground. I felt like the Lord was saying, “Stop at Lundbreck Falls. There’s something I want to show you.” I hadn’t stopped there in years, and I totally doubted the urge but I thought I might get a good photo there. I could use a good stretch. So I stopped. The light was all wrong and the waterfall was in deep shadow. I walked around and wondered what that was about, because I was trying to listen to the Lord.

Truth is I barely shut up enough to listen. You see a few days earlier someone who told me they were a prophet said I was going into a “winter season.” I’d been in a winter season for years, thank you very much. I was just waking up the reality of the love of God in my life, starting to feel close, and was learning Holy Spirit wants to communicate with all his children.  I complained loud and long that I didn’t want to go into another winter season.

So there I was on a dark November day walking in an empty campground, nearly back at the car, complaining about the approach of winter, when a grouse suddenly appeared on the road ahead of me. There were no other birds about. He marched right up to me, turned his back and splayed his tail feathers in a grand TA DAA movement. Then he puffed his throat and did an entire spring mating display just for me. I wanted to grab my camera from the car, but I was afraid he would leave, so I watched until he marched toward the shrubbery.  Only then did I only grab it.  I was flattered and thanked him, but explained he wasn’t really my type, then drove home, pondering.

Later while praying in the woods I came around the corner to see a crocus blooming on the trail. A spring flower. Not unheard of, but highly unusual. I asked, “Are you saying something, Lord?”

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“Spring. Between you and me, it’s spring.” I love his sense of humour and that he can speak through a prairie chicken and a fuzzy purple flower. And that whole year it was spring between me and Jesus (and I learned to test the words of prophets). It was like falling in love for the first time. He was showing off with his kindness.

He also speaks in English, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Chinese and Ktunaxa. The Bible is indeed “a more sure word” even if it doesn’t contain every word. If you are not familiar with it, you won’t recognize his voice in other ways, and he doesn’t contradict the written word. It’s a familiar voice. He also often speaks (or sings) to me through music of all genres.

As I have been thinking about the days leading up to the story told in While He Lay Dying, I know He gave us some very clear heads-ups that he was in this event. The most obvious to me came through music. My friend, Valerie, introduced me to Taizé music only a few days before we left for our granddaughter’s birthday in Lethbridge Alberta. I had checked out a few of these songs on YouTube. I like songs with a ground bass that allow for improvisation over top (like Pachelbel’s Canon) so these simple tunes interested me. Later in the week one of them started playing in my head repeatedly. That’s not unusual for me. I have music in my head all the time. But this one wouldn’t stop. It was driving me nuts! It played in my sleep. It played over top of other music when I tried to listen to something else. On the drive to Alberta it was so loud and insistent in my head I had a hard time carrying on a conversation with my husband. It played all night before Bruce went to the hospital, and all through the next day until we received word on Sunday morning that he had crashed and was on life support. Then it stopped.

I cried, “Oh God! What are we supposed to do?”

That’s when a friend phoned and said, “You know, I think we are supposed to stay with him around the clock. I think we need to watch and pray.” Their pastor told my daughter, “We are going to stay and pray with him 24/7.”

Then I understood the reason for the song. A watch can be a military defense, or a close observation. This time it was both. The Lord had been telling me all week we needed to stand and contend for his life through prayer, but also to watch. Watch what God could do with the most horrendous circumstances. Watch. Because this was going to be good.

And it was. Very, very good. My daughter and son-in-love tell the story in While He Lay Dying.