Stepping into Freedom

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Have you ever assembled your paints and brushes and canvas, or sharpened your carving knife and fondled that perfect piece of wood, or pulled the new fabric out of the shopping bag, and then asked yourself the question, “What should I make?”

For me, deciding on subject matter is the hardest part of creativity. I collect potential. It’s easier to spend time imagining possibilities and gathering materials in arts and craft stores, or stationery stores, or fabric stores, or writing app stores, than it is to decide what I want to say. Always there is the fear deep down somewhere, What if it’s not good enough? What if I waste time and materials and create disappointment that doesn’t measure up to what other people are doing?

Sometimes I need a nudge to just do it already. Painting as a form of creative worship moves me out of my comfort zone. Way out of my comfort zone. People are watching. Time is limited. I’m an amateur. I don’t know what I’m doing.

The musicians at most Sunday services play for less than thirty minutes. In the circle my friends have invited me to hang out in, a weekend conference with a guest speaker provides three sessions with a total of about one and a half hours in which to paint something.

I don’t even have as much time trying to decide what to paint as I usually spend trying to pick a Netflix show. Sometimes I have ideas before I get there. Sometimes nothing.

This past weekend, as I prayed about it while the band did their sound check, I remembered a picture I had in my head as I listened to people worshiping God one morning recently. I saw a pretty scene with an inviting path. Then it was as though the camera pulled back and I realized my point of view was behind barbed wire. An gate opened. When I looked up I saw the words written over many prison camps in Europe in World War II: Arbeit macht frei. Work makes free.

But I saw them in reverse. I saw them from the point of view of someone inside the prison camp who knew too much, someone who knew those words were not true. Arbeit macht frei was a ruse meant to placate people who were anything but frei.  I understood. I had worked and worked for years and still didn’t feel good enough — and definitely not free.

I asked the Lord what this was about. I understood it was an invitation to step out of the captivity of believing the lie that if we work hard enough, if we prove ourselves invaluable to God, if we perform well enough to impress him, he will notice us and accept us into his kingdom.

In my vision the gates were open, not only for me, but for everyone who responds to his call to come away with him. We are free to step out of imprisoning thoughts of having to earn his love. We are free to step into all the beauty he has for us. We are free to walk with him now, knowing the Creator of the Universe as the Lover of Our Souls.

So this is what I painted, imperfect as it is. I choose to step into freedom. I choose to step into all he has for me. Jesus Christ sets the captives free.

Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did!
His light broke through the darkness and
he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow
and snapped every one of our chains.
So lift your hands and give thanks to God for his marvelous kindness
and for his miracles of mercy for those he loves!
For he smashed through heavy prison doors and
shattered the steel bars that held us back, just to set us free!

Psalm 107: 13-16 TPT

Epiphany

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“Epiphanies occur by the immediacy of unbidden insight, arriving without conscious thought or reasoning skills. They often come at times of great perplexity when the discrepancy between where you are and where you are intended to be leave you feeling as if a solution is not forthcoming, and there is temptation to surrender to a sense of despair. It’s the creative tension existing in that gap where you dare to believe.”

-Mark Chironna

Incognito

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When I saw this mannequin in a country store she reminded me of someone going incognito. Incognito is Latin for unseen, unknown. The goal of going incognito is the opposite of intimacy, something else I’ve been thinking about lately.

The problem with writing about intimacy with God is that when you use the word intimacy, people think you are talking about sex. Intimacy in current usage is very much about being seen and being known by someone of importance.

We see articles about improving intimate relationships in marriage and advertisements for intimate apparel, which have their place, but there is a greater intimacy with the Creator that goes beyond the physical and the emotional. I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this kind of intimacy without alluding to sexual intimacy, but as I read the Bible, I notice something. God is proficient in the language of symbolism. He doesn’t avoid talking about sex, so why should I?

Sexual intimacy is a metaphor for something even bigger and better.

When God created man and woman they stood before each other naked and unashamed. The Bible says Adam knew Eve and she conceived. According to Strong’s, yada’, the word often translated knew means:
1. to know, learn to know
2. to perceive
3. to perceive and see, find out and discern
4. to discriminate, distinguish
5. to know by experience
6. to recognise, admit, acknowledge, confess
7. to consider

The first act of seduction and the first act of unfaithfulness was when the serpent, the creator of lies, convinced these two humans that if they ignored God’s instructions and ate from the tree, they would become like gods themselves. They would yada’ good and evil.

The first bit of knowledge they perceived, learned and experienced (yada’ again) after they chose to believe the serpent, was that they were naked – and ashamed. The Hebrew word for ashamed also carries the connotation of disappointment. Sin brought a sense of disappointment in themselves and disappointment in each other as part of the package deal That profound disappointment is called shame. They needed a layer of protection to try to keep their shame from being seen. They covered up. They hid from God. They tried to go incognito. Unseen. Unknown. The plan failed. It’s been failing ever since because God came looking for them.

One of the key verses for my life is Philippians 3:10 and 11: “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The problem is that knowing him intimately means confronting the problem of shame that piles up like stinky laundry in front of the door. Can I be honest and tell you that a life-time of sin-awareness has not made me less sinful, but more aware of my shame? I’ve watched an entire industry based on the design, fabrication, and marketing of fashionable religious cover-ups expand in my life. I’ve watched it burgeon in the lives of people around me too.

The thing is about sexual intimacy is that involves us standing naked before someone and exposing our less-than-perfect parts. Am I the only one who has noticed, after many trips to the beach, that I am not the only one with scars and rolls and, um, a disappointing shape? I won’t even mention smells and sounds.

Sexual intimacy requires a lot of trust. One of our greatest fears is taking a risk and later experiencing rejection or betrayal as a result. That’s why Jesus said that when a person claiming to represent God betrays the trust of a vulnerable person, they have committed a heinous crime. If a victim thinks God is on the side of the perpetrator, they are hindered from turning to God for healing. It may take years and many demonstrations of unconditional love before they can regain a sense that God will not also betray them. So many people have believed lies about the nature of God as a result of abuse. I believe God wants to uncover truth about who he really is through his goodness.

Spiritual intimacy also requires trust, perhaps even more than physical intimacy. When we make a spiritual connection we give access to the deepest, most vulnerable part of our being.

Entire literature and film genres cash in on crimes of passion based on fear of rejection and betrayal. It is easier to approach God covered with a thick bullet-proof mantle of religiosity,  to speak in tones of formal scripted recitation, and to never let him get between us and the exit than it is to drop defenses.

But God makes a way.  He deals with shame by inviting us to consider it dead. He makes us into someone new. He shows up with his goodness and covers us with his own righteousness. Jesus’ humiliating experience of hanging naked on a cross as he bore our shame, purchased that righteousness for us.

Intimacy requires the participation of two naked people with nothing hidden, nothing held back. Because God makes the first move by exposing his heart for me, I can drop my own attempts at cover-up. I am free to expose my heart to him. His righteousness becomes mine. In his eyes I am beautiful.

The passage before the verses I’ve claimed as my life theme goes like this:
“…I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:8 & 9)

As I was thinking about daring to respond to God’s invitation to increased intimacy, a line from an old song came to mind:

“…dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before his throne.”*

Trust involves risk. For so many years, I found it difficult to trust someone I was told wanted to punish me for not loving and obeying him perfectly. It was too risky to trust. That’s because I didn’t know him. Eventually I took the risk. Trusting someone who demonstrated love by giving his life for me is worth the risk. To be known and loved down to the cellular level by the One who created me is priceless.

It’s worth the cost of dropping disguises — that I may know him.

 

*From My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less by Edward Mote

You Are Loved

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I like this photo of yarrow because it reminds me that all of us are at a different stage in life. Some blossoms are at their colourful peak, some are fading, and others are yet to emerge. Like the flowers of the field that Jesus told us were cared for by a loving Father, our place in the kingdom of God is not determined by anything other than his generous love and our response to him.

 

The Father’s love is greater than fear of not “being a winner,” not being at one’s peak performance-wise, or not being noticed for one`s efforts. Our success relies simply on knowing Him and abiding in his love.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17)

Do you feel overlooked? God sees you.

He knows you. He absolutely loves you. Receive his comfort, drink in the sunlight of his grace, live in hope, and let him love you the way you are meant to be loved, wherever you are this day.

Be who you are meant to be — a much loved child of God — and you will do what you are meant to do.

 

Carefree in the Care of God

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I looked out the window above my computer. This is what God’s voice sounds like — the rush of wings. This is what God’s voice looks like — birds feasting on berries in a mountain ash tree on a cold Canadian winter morning.

I was worrying. I went to the pharmacy this morning, expecting to pick up a prescription. It’s a unique medication formulated for a unique condition. (My case is “complex,” the doctors say, nearly every time I see them.)

The dear people who faithfully count out my pills told me they were just informed that the medication was on back-order and the company didn’t expect to be able to send any in the dosage I require until July. They seemed as shocked as I was.

This is not a medication one can suddenly stop taking without dire effect. I have an eight day supply left.

My pharmacist is working to find a solution and I was not frantic with worry, but I was somewhat perturbed with worry when I heard a rush of wings and saw a flock of birds swoop past my window. The breeze they stirred up shook the panes slightly and immediately caught my attention.

In unison, they flew away, circled around the neighbourhood, then flew back. Then they flew away again. When they returned, they landed on the mountain ash tree, full of red berries ignored by other over-wintering birds and hanging from branches too high for the deer to reach.

It’s like a feast of unique red fruit was prepared months ago during the long hot days of summer and now, it beckons. A table spreads before them in the winter wilderness of snow and ice.

I suddenly remembered Jesus talking about his heavenly Father providing for the birds. All morning, well all week, really, I have teetered on the teary brink of feeling like I felt so often during my childhood — unnoticed, unimportant, out of step, and out of season in a wrong place/wrong time sort of way.

The unspoken question as faint as a birdwing fluttered in my heart: Do you see me? Do you care? Will you look after me when my own responses to “take care of yourself” are not enough?

The birds whooshed away and whooshed back a few minutes later. I watched. I listened. I heard.

“Take the carefree birds as your example,” He said to my heart. “Do you ever see them worry?”

“They don’t grow their own food or put it in a storehouse for later. Yet God takes care of every one of them, feeding each of them from his love and goodness.

Isn’t your life more precious to God than a bird? Be carefree in the care of God!”

(Luke 12:24 TPT)

He’s got this.

 

Closer

Hearing God’s voice is more about deepening relationship than completed tasks. Some people I admire for their intimate walk with God tell me that the voice that was once so clear actually becomes softer over time. Sometimes it feels like the sound of silence. When they lean in, waiting for specific direction, all they hear is “Closer.”