Am I Hearing You Right?

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While there are birds, birds to fly…

I heard that Mother Teresa said “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

I’m no Mother Teresa, and I already know that God will give me things I can’t handle. I also know that he gives me things that He can handle if I learn to do only what He asks and let Him do the heavy lifting. (“Will You Be My Alligator” link here.) But sometimes I wonder…

I didn’t feel like driving to Alberta again yesterday when I have so much to do at home. But the Lover of my soul knew I needed a break, so I ended up going. I spent the time in the car talking to God, pouring out my feelings to Jesus, and sitting quietly with Holy Spirit. I have evidence of transformation in my life because I have much more peace than I used to when my list of concerns to pray about gets longer and longer. But still I wonder if I could have done things differently (or sooner), if I said something I ought not to have said (or failed to say), if I am following the right path or if I have missed some crucial heavenly download somewhere. Am I doing this right?

Change is messy, I know, but it looks like I may have to exchange my rubber boots for hip waders soon. I cried out, “Lord! I really need to hear your voice about now! Just talk to me! What should I do?!” (I may have raised my voice.)

I was listening to music on my phone as I drove. (Gotta love a car with a USB port.) Road conditions demanded my attention so I left it on shuffle. The songs played in random order. Most of the music on my phone is a peaceful worshipful style aimed at reducing stress in city traffic. My other more eclectic collections are on a road trip sticks or CDs.

A song came on just as I asked my question. I tell you the truth. I do not recall ever hearing this song before or downloading on my phone. It was in a large, but inexpensive collection of classic jazz tunes I bought a few months ago, but I had only listened to a few familiar favourite  songs.

This is what I heard: Trust in Me.

Who says the Lord can’t speak through the voice of a woman of color?

I think I have a new favourite.

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“While there’s a moon, a moon up high…”

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Hammered Vessels

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When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!

How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-

God knows what He’s about.

-Author Unknown

Quoted by Ravi Zacharias in “God will use you; don’t underestimate what you can do.”

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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Decisions. We face them constantly. Shall I get out of bed now, or can I try to stretch the night to last another ten minutes? Should I open that unwelcome letter or have a coffee first? Should I say something, or bite my tongue once again? Since I no longer have a micro-manager hovering over my desk, shall I dedicate my morning to writing, or cleaning, or playing, or resting?

Decisions, large and small, reflect what we truly believe and reveal our values and the state of our developing character. Decisions, large and small, can also precipitate major changes in our lives – not all of them anticipated. Decisions to turn right or left, to take the stairs or the elevator, or to accept an invitation can all have life-altering consequences.

Sometimes the options spread before us entice with the frustrating pleasure of a candy shop full of delights and the limits of just enough coins in a child’s pudgy hand for one treat.

Sometimes the options range from really bad to frankly terrible. It feels like sitting in a sterile examining room, listening to a doctor ask us to choose between amputation and unrelenting pain.

Some days we face looming deadlines and the need to make a major decision without all the information we want, without any clear, well-advised course of action, or a sense of where this could lead.

We can ask God for guidance and wisdom. In fact he invites us to ask, but then we have to wait and pay attention under pressure. Sometimes we want a particular problem to go away while He, in His wisdom and from His perspective, sees how the problem can become a means to a greater end. The answer may not be as straight forward as we want. Here’s the thing: if we are going to ask the Creator of the Universe for His wisdom it’s not wise to turn it down to look for something we like better.

Ask, but ask in faith, believing in a way that transforms God’s advice into acts of faith.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

(James 1:5-8 MSG)

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Especially in the Wilderness

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“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”

– Frederick Buechner

Sometimes we travel to the soundtrack of saints’ and angels’ song. Sometimes the sun shines warm upon our heads and the road is paved with the invitation to acceleration.

Then suddenly the clouds hide the sun, the cold north wind drowns out the music. The road is no longer dry and pothole-less. It has not been cleared of ice and snow drifts. In fact, not only is the road not paved with golden potential fulfilled, it’s not even paved.

Who knew that the wilderness is where the Lover of our souls takes us when he asks us to come away with him?

Who knew this is the place where he tells us who we are and shows us a part of his character we never understood before?

Who knew this is where faith is built, where we learn to lean on him?

Who knew this valley is the fulfillment that puts systems and material wealth and the approval of people who don’t think the way God does into perspective?

Who knew the wilderness is preparation for prosperity so that it will not distract and overwhelm?

Who knew the Valley of Achor (trouble) is where the door of hope awaits?

Who knew? The Lover of our soul knew. He planned it.

He invites us to come away to his upside-down kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where his thoughts become our thoughts, and where, with his covenantal laser of sweet pain, he writes his law of love on our trembling heart.

Come away.

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All the Time

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“Every life has dark tracks and long stretches of somber tint, and no representation is true to fact which dips its pencil only in light, and flings no shadows on the canvas.”

– Alexander MacLaren

Winter days are short in the north, but when the sun reflects off the snow they can be gloriously bright. The contrast between extreme brightness and dark shadow is sometimes difficult to capture with a camera. Photographers have to figure out how to adjust for areas of an image appearing either blown-out white or indiscernible black.

As I drove in the countryside my eyes could not adjust quickly enough to the deep blue shadow across the road in a forested section after open white fields. For a moment I couldn’t see. I felt disoriented. Nothing had changed. The sky, the earth, the road were still all there and as solid and real as they had been seconds before driving into the shadow. It takes a while to be able to discern shapes and terrain in a canyon cutting between tall fir trees.

Sometimes when we enter dark times in our life we are tempted to question what we knew only a short time before. Does God still love me if I can’t feel him or see him? Did I mess up so badly this time he has given up on me? There are lots of voices offering condemnation in this place. Where do they come from?

It takes a while to be able to discern truth in dark places, but it is still truth. When we refuse to panic and instead choose to slow down by resting in trust, gradually we can again see and hear that the love of God has been there all the time.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?

If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?

And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way!

Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

(Romans 8:31-39 MSG)

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Better Than Gems

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For a few hours, before the snow cover blanketed them, ice crystals adorned the periwinkle along the edge of the garden path. They caught my eye. I stopped to admire the sparkling jewels, all the more precious for their temporary existence. I needed to get on with my day so I walked on as the snow fell. By the time I passed that way again they had vanished.

I read a scripture verse today about gems. As precious and beautiful as real gems are, King Solomon wrote about something of even greater value, and that is wisdom.

I used to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs every day. 31 chapters made it convenient to find my place. It’s been a while and since I have been praying for wisdom a lot lately (because I really need some) I thought I should go back and review. Yesterday I read the eighth chapter for the eighth day of the month – the chapter about Wisdom calling out, begging to be noticed. I was reminded that Wisdom existed before time. Wisdom is part of the very creation of the earth. Wisdom is foundational and unlike my ice diamonds, not a temporary, relative thing. It’s been there all the time.

The more I experience of the grace and goodness of God the more I begin to hate evil both in myself and in the world around me. Evil is anything that is out of line with God’s perfect nature and design.

I write a lot about grace and the freedom it brings, but grace does not over-ride wisdom nor, as some people fear, give license to sin. Wisdom is woven into grace and, like love and mercy and kindness, is part of the character of God. Sin is ultimately disrespect for God. Disrespect for the Creator is the opposite of the goal of grace.

Grace does not ignore evil or dismiss the consequences of evil as being no big deal. Quite the opposite. Grace points to the sinless nature of the One who loves us perfectly and empowers us to come into alignment with his heart and avoid the consequences of idiotic choices that can start a chain of events that roll out like a Rube Goldberg device. God’s heart makes evil look unbearably sick in comparison.

God has provided a way for us to be forgiven, to be drawn back into a right relationship with him, to know how much he loves us. Wisdom rejoices in the nobility of this truth and shows us that knowing God means hating anything that puts up road blocks for others or keeps us from being aware of his desire for a closer relationship. Whether it is arrogant pride that doesn’t value others highly enough, evil conduct that soothes our pain with false comfort, or perverse speech that spouts lies about who God is and who he created us to be, the closer we get to him the uglier sin is revealed to be in comparison.

Wisdom allows us to see the gap between the way things work in a fallen world and the way things work in a restored world where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Wisdom doesn’t make us choose between truth and real love, or justice and mercy. Wisdom comes from God’s perspective. Wisdom shows us how to listen and how to walk in his ways.

Isn’t Lady Wisdom calling?
    Listen; don’t you hear the voice of understanding crying out?
 She’s taken her stand at the highest place in the city,
    at the crossroads where everyone can see her.
 There, and at the gates, at the entrance to the city,
    right in front of the city doors she cries out:

 

Lady Wisdom: O people! I am calling to you;
        I have a message for all humanity.
     You gullible people, acquire insight.
        You naive ones, cultivate a heart that truly understands.
    Listen, for I am about to tell you of unparalleled excellence and beauty;
        what I am about to say will set things right.
     I will only speak the truth;
        I despise evil, so it will not pass through my lips.
     Everything I say promotes justice;
        not one word is crooked, and nothing is distorted.
    Each and every word is straight talk to perceptive people,
        upright and honest to knowledge-seekers.
     Accept my correction as being more valuable than your prized possession,
        authentic knowledge more valuable than pure gold.

 You see, no gem is more precious than Lady Wisdom—
    your most extravagant desire doesn’t come close to her.

 

Lady Wisdom: I make my home with prudence;
        I obtain knowledge and sound judgment.
    If you respect the Eternal, you will grow to despise evil.
    I despise wretched, vile talk
        and ways of pride and arrogance.
     Good counsel is mine, and also true wisdom.
        I am understanding, and strength belongs to me.
    It’s because of me that kings wield power
        and authorities decree what is right.
    It’s because of me that leaders and their agents govern
        and all judge according to what is right.
     I love those who love me;
        those who search hard for me will find me.
     Riches and honor are the benefit of following me;
        so are lasting wealth and justice.
    My reward is better than gold, even the purest gold;
        and my profit is greater than the highest quality silver.
     I follow the way of right living.
        Follow me along the path to find justice;
     I’m ready to meet those who love me, bestow true riches upon them,
        and fill up their lives until their treasuries overflow.
    

The Eternal created me; it happened when His work was beginning,
        one of His first acts long ago.
     Before time He established me,
        before the earth saw its first sunrise.
    I was born before the deep existed,
        before any springs poured out their water,
     Before the mountains were placed on their foundations,
        before the hills rolled across the land—
        yes, before all this, I was brought forth.
     When the earth was yet unformed and the fields were not yet nestled beneath the wind—
        even before the first dust of the earth—
     When He created the heavens, I was there.
        When He drew a circle in the deep, dividing the oceans and the sky, I was there.
    I was there when He established the sky.
        I was there when the springs in the deep were fortified;
     I witnessed Him lay down the shore as a boundary
        and put limits on the water
    And determine the foundations of the earth.
    

All this time I was close beside Him, a master craftsman.
        Every day I was His delightful companion,
        celebrating every minute in His presence,
     Elated by the world He was making and all its fine creatures;
    I was especially pleased with humanity.

    

So now listen to me, my children:
        those who live by my ways will find true happiness.
     Pay attention to my guidance, dare to be wise,
        and don’t disregard my teachings.
     The one who listens to me,
        who carefully seeks me in everyday things
        and delays action until my way is apparent, that one will find true happiness.
    For when he recognizes and follows me, he finds a peaceful and satisfying life
        and receives favor from the Eternal.
     But heed my warning: the one who goes against me will only hurt himself,
        for all who despise me are playing with fire and courting death.

(Proverbs 8 The Voice)

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