Robed

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Everything in the department store that had been such a part of my life growing up was discounted. Changes. The store was closing. I had time between appointments in Calgary so I dropped by the mall for the close-out sale. I left the North Hill neighbourhood long ago and unexpected memories hit me as soon as I passed the bus stop outside the door. As I picked up a few items (in what my mother would have called the foundation department) I had a flashback to when my friends and I spent our emerging freedom hanging out at the mall.

Fashion is about change. The marketing and design managers probably switched the fitting rooms’ location many times over the intervening decades, but suddenly I heard the laughter of teenage friends as we tried on clothes.

“Does this suit me?” the girl who used to be me asked, checking herself out in the three-way mirror.

“No! You look like a missionary!” Ruth blurted.

She tried on a clinging satin dress with a plunging neckline. “How about this?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face.

“Now you look like a tramp!!” Lois answered, feigning shock. “Your mother would hate it! Yes! Get it!”

They giggled and gave the next girl their judgment as she struck a pose in garments decorated with dangling price tags they ignored. It’s like the girls put on a new identity with every new item of clothing.

We came from a culture where the standards of modesty made it difficult to find fashions that fit everyone’s criterion. Our mothers often sewed our clothes themselves. My grandmother called mini skirts “worldly.” When my mother, who learned English from reading Dickens novels, joined me in the fitting room she would say, “It behooves one to dress in a manner more befitting to a girl with higher standards. This is unbecoming.”

Unbecoming. I did not like the word unbecoming. She used it when my summer shorts were too short, or when I didn’t sit like a lady, or when my voice was too loud, or when my silent sulking fits had all the subtlety of a this-week-only salesman with a megaphone. She was right of course, most of the time, which is why she was so annoying. “This is not the direction I have in mind for you.”

I’ve been meditating on the connection between righteousness and peace this week. I looked up antonyms of the word righteousness because sometimes considering the opposite meaning helps me understand – and I’m trying to see beyond the negative parameters of rule-following that make me want to run in the opposite direction. One of the words listed caught my attention. Unbecoming. I can almost hear it in Mom’s voice. Then I read this passage about being clothed with righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations.
(Isaiah 61: 10, 11 NAS)

Unrighteousness is a destructive attitude. It does not help us to become. It does the opposite; it unravels the beauty God intended for us to walk in. There is a great deal more to righteousness than obeying rules. In fact, clothing ourselves in manufactured rules of conduct that change behaviour but not the heart may not be befitting at all. When we choose to follow the folly of false distractions we fail to choose life. We un-become.

We can choose instead to let wrap Jesus wrap his robe of righteousness around us. Our own home-made efforts embarrass by comparison. They are also unbecoming because they do not represent grace-empowered transformation that enables us to blossom and be all God intended. Righteousness is right thinking, coming into alignment with the Creator’s plans for us (the one who loves us perfectly, understands the future and our potential perfectly and is much better at this than our moms who had their own agendas mixed up in their motives).

A line from an old song comes to mind, “Dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne…”

 

 

 

 

As One

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Your mercy and your truth have married each other.
Your righteousness and peace have kissed.

(Psalm 85:10 TPT)

A quick read-through of the social media sites I participate in reminds me that thinking the way God does about truthandmercy and righteousnessandpeace does not come naturally to the unrenewed mind.

Sometimes I am confused when a couple has a combined name on a Facebook account. Who am I talking to? One such couple answered my query with, “Us. We tag team.”

I don’t get it. My man and I will have been married 46 years this autumn, and we have never perfectly agreed on anything for more than a few minutes. How could we speak as one?

I love the classic joke from an old episode of All In the Family. Malory tells her brother, Alex, that it’s like she and her boyfriend “have one mind.” After the perfectly timed pause he asks, “Which one of you is using it tonight?”

The only way my husband and I could tag team and trust each other to give the exact same response would be if one of us was redundant – or taken over by drugs or cyborgs or something. I’m the artsy feeling one. He’s the logical scientific one. We have to discuss everything. For hours.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s the diversity and the broader perspective of seeing more than one side and still being in unity that creates a bigger definition of a concept.

God is multifaceted and sees many sides at the same time. Being totally One there is no polarity, no gap, no need to choose between his concept of mercy and his understanding of perfect truth or his definition of righteousness and his experience of peace.

There is more.

 

Countering Frustration: The Right Tool for the Right Job

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When I was a kid I listened to my mother wishing the grocery budget stretched farther. I remember watching her grab a five dollar bill by each end and actually try to stretch it. When she was frustrated Mom said, “I’m so mad I could spit fuzzballs.” This was one of those fuzzball moments.

Alas, the blue paper rectangle did not stretch. It tore. Right in half. I expected to see flying fuzzballs next. That didn’t happen either. Instead, when she calmed down, I received instructions to go to the store and get the food on the list she gave me. I was to hand the money to the cashier, folded in such a way as to hide the last inch of cellophane tape in the house that held it together, and then run home – or stand there and cry if necessary. As I recall the method worked. I don’t remember if I waited for change though.

I understand frustration. I have never mastered the art of fuzzball spitting, but I developed other creative expressions.

Sometimes frustration expands at a rate far beyond the usual response to the annoying. Like many friends who faced injustice or betrayal, diagnoses of fatal illnesses, or financial ruin, or loss of reputation, or who are misunderstood, or caught in the mechanisms of heartless “policy,” I have found mere fuzzballs, even if I could spit them, insufficient. I have known the feeling of a mushroom cloud level reaction building up.  Sleeplessness, nausea and curling up in the fetal position are less violent, but equally ineffective alternatives.

I am learning to recognize that genuine frustration is giving in to the notion that I am stymied. There is no solution. I have run out of ideas and resources. It can’t be done. There is no try. There is no do. There is only fail.

Frustration is an emotional flailing about before going under the water for the last time.

Frustration is a declaration of the opposite of faith in the goodness of God.

Frustration’s recommendation: Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

But what if frustration is an indication that the tool you used last time “needs an upgrade” as Graham Cooke puts it:
If I focus on frustration,
the core of my attention
is the opposite of who God is for me.

Frustration is an emotional sign
That I need an upgrade.
It points to available increase,
Raising my awareness of God’s provision.
Therefore, frustration must turn to
Celebration of God’s intent.”*

To be honest, when I am on the verge of a damaging, but satisfying explosion, giving someone a piece of my mind I can ill afford to part with, or alternatively, collapsing in a heap of hopeless inertia in front of a speeding locomotive, the choice to pick a better response feels like reining in a team of runaway horses heading toward the cliff in an old western movie. Effort is required.

I need to stop. Then I need to take panting, snorting thoughts captive and turn them around.

My heavenly Father has promised to provide all I need. I memorized Philippians 4:19 when I was a kid. “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Sometimes he swoops down and rescues when I call. Sometimes he laughs and says, “You need to get another tool. You’re using a Phillips screwdriver. You need a Robertson.”baskets weave woven ch crop DSC_0095

“But I don’t have a flippin’ Robertson, whatever that is,” I protest. (Can I admit I’m not always reverent when it feels like I’m going down for the third time?)

“I know. That’s why you need to get one.”

“HOW?!”

“Look in the fruit basket.”

“What?”

“Remember the time you were fighting the mad clutches of a Chinese finger puzzle-type problem? The kind that gets tighter the harder you try to pull your fingers out? You were applying persistence in resistance when you needed to use gentle patience. You found it in time. Now go look in the collection of fruit of the Spirit I provided.”

I look. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.

“Why don’t you try joy as your Robertson this time?”

“That’s counterintuitive,” I reply.

“Isn’t it though,” he laughs.

“I don’t have much joy right now.”

“I do. Use mine. It’s free.”

He smiles.

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My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.
And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace.
(James 1: 2-5 TPT)

I’m still here. I’m still learning. His grace never stops. His love never fails.

*Manifesting Your Spirit p.66

Seated in Heavenly Places

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The signs were not good. I was worried. From where I stood the odds against a particular situation in my life turning out well for all concerned were as high as a British Columbia mountain. The word, “insurmountable” came to mind. I wasn’t so much praying as worrying at God, trying to explain the problem to Him from my point of view.

I placed my empty coffee cup and wadded napkin in the trash bag the stewardess held as she made her way back up the aisle of plane. She thanked me and moved on. I turned back to my book.

“Clearly, if we are to walk with the Father in his ways, then our earthbound thinking requires serious adjustment.”*

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I looked out the window at the dramatic view of mountains and valleys below. It wasn’t easy, but I fished my camera out of my backpack under the seat in front of me. I am not fond of heights, but for some reason I love flying, especially on a glorious early spring day with fresh snow on the peaks.

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The flight from Vancouver on the western edge of the province to my city, nestled in a valley on the eastern side, lasts less than an hour and a half. Crossing the province in a little car would take one very long day through deep dark valleys and over high passes. Driving in avalanche and unpredictable weather season is not for the faint of heart. I try to avoid the expense of flying, but going by plane, even a small prop plane, is so much easier.

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I took a few more snaps then hung the camera strap around my neck and read on.

“In His realm, His abundance in heaven obliterates our poverty on earth. In his domain we are never outclassed, overwhelmed or overcome. No matter what is against us, we can win through His name. Impossible odds are fun to Him, who loves to laugh at His enemies.

I laughed out loud. The man across the aisle looked at me funny, but it didn’t matter. What are the odds of me telling God about impossible odds from my earthbound view and then Him telling me about odds from His heavenly view — as I occupied a seat in the sky?

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“We are learning how to occupy a seat in heavenly places in Christ, so that his viewpoint of the circumstances is the one that dominates our thinking, praying, and believing.”

I aimed my camera out the window again. From this perspective I could see lakes and fields beyond the ranges that seemed so imposing from down there. I could see the bigger picture from my chair in the sky, seated where I was in this high place.

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When it came to my problem, it felt as if the Lord was saying, “Keep looking down. You are seated with Christ in heavenly places.”**

In this place all things are beneath His feet and nothing is impossible.”

Nothing.

*Graham Cooke, Manifesting Your Spirit, pp. 28, 29
** Ephesians 2:6

 

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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Surface

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It wasn’t the kind of day when people think about going to the lake. I heard no boats, or children’s laughter, or squealing teens in the middle of a splash fight. I smelled no sweet  poplar sap or tangy sauce from smoking barbecues. The quiet off-season offers a different perception.

Someone suggested creating a photographic meditation during the Lent season as a preparatory discipline for Resurrection Sunday. If this were a religious requirement to add to a to-do list in order to appease an angry or narcissistic god, I would not participate, believe me. This is voluntary. I respond to this appeal to worship creatively. I make no promises about blogging the process daily. Not everything on the journey is for public consumption, but I will share my thoughts today.

Today’s word is surface, and yet, divergent (maybe even contrary) thinker that I am, I find I find myself drawn to go beyond the obvious and look for objects below the surface.

In a discussion with the religious “experts” of his time, who accused him of breaking the law by healing someone on the day of obligatory rest, Jesus said this:

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

The people who couldn’t hear pushed back.

The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. (John 7:16-24 NLT)

Look beneath the surface.

We took a course on parenting teens. The teacher urged us to engage with our kids when emotional issues arose so we could understand the beliefs they held “below the water line.” The example he gave was of a girl who was desperate wanted to make a cheer-leading team and devastated when she didn’t.

After a heart to heart talk, the mother learned her daughter had accepted some lies about herself. Making the squad would squash her fears that inadequate attractiveness, or athletic talent would hinder her acceptance by people in her world. Under the water, lying unseen, was the shallow belief that her worth, her safety, her happiness, depended on what people thought about her and not on what God thought or could do. She was on the verge of making dangerous choices based on an unexamined false assumption.

The example prompted me to examine unconscious beliefs in my own life. One of the questions coming out of that experience was, “Why have I placed the approval of  humans (who can be very disappointing) ahead of the approval of the One who loves me perfectly and so selflessly that he was willing to give his only Son to demonstrate that love?”

In the altercation with the religious experts Jesus says it is possible to see below the surface. Their motive was not based on love. His was.

Jesus’ demonstration of love changed everything. God’s new covenant was not a reform school arrangement with punishments for breaking rules meant to clue rebellious kids into the fact that they are not actually in charge. God’s new covenant is based on responding to his love. Since you can’t say yes to love if you can’t say no, freedom is an essential part of this arrangement. Grace offers freedom. Grace is a terrifying concept to religious experts who are themselves motivated by fear of punishment.

Solomon, the king who was granted wisdom in response to his request to rule well, wrote:

There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 14:12 NASB)

When we are being rational we use reason. When we rationalize we try to give actions, which seem right to us, the appearance of reason. We can be quite convincing — especially to ourselves. Sometimes our “appearance of reason” involves false ideas about God.

How can we know what lies down there? First, by admitting there is stuff down there. Second, by asking for help.

I keep coming back to Psalm 139. The psalmist sings about being intimately known by the Creator from his first moment of existence. It ends this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Jesus is saying, “Look beneath the surface.” The surgeons who removed the nasty malignant tumour in my guts in October would not have been able to do so if I not had the guts to subject myself to diagnostic scans or to sign consent forms. I admit it was a struggle to trust them. It hurt. But now it is done and I am healing well.

In this season of preparation I am asking the Lord to help me see beneath the surface and lead me in his way of thinking.

Change my heart, oh God. Make it ever new. I give consent.

And I don’t say that lightly.

Grace-fountain Strength

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But Lord, your nurturing love is tender and gentle,

You are slow to get angry, yet swift to show your faithful love,

You are full of abounding grace and truth.

Bring me to your grace-fountain

So that your strength becomes mine.

(Psalm 86: 15, 16 TPT)

You can’t give what you have never received. If the message you have been hearing is that you are a disgusting wretched sinner who (in spite of years of failed efforts) needs to gather up the shreds of your tattered will and try harder, you need to step into the grace fountain and soak up some love.

Let the Shepherd nurture you with His tender, gentle love. Let His strength become your strength and his grace flow through you, not around you. Let the Holy Spirit living in you transform you from a wretch to royalty.

There is a war going on. Hostages of the evil one are believing his lies and acting on them in the streets. You see it.

You are not a victim. You are not without hope. You are loved by the King of the Universe.

You were born for such a time as this.