Honeysuckle

I passed by this honeysuckle bush growing over the limits a dilapidated unpainted fence tried to set around a sad-looking house. I snapped a photo with my phone and thought about the contrast.

Sometimes the flowers that bloom in overgrown, untended yards surrounded by broken fences and derelict vehicles are all the more beautiful for their powers of endurance.

It amazes me that some of the sweetest, most beautiful, most caring people I know have grown up in foul, ugly, uncaring environments.

The grace they exude defies all predictions of perpetual victimhood. Like the garden flowers in the back alley, they are givers because they know how to receive from God when others have let them down.

The Problem With That Is…

What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.

-Os Guinness

Against Such Things There Is No Law

“I hear it all day, Grandma,” my grandson said with the same tone of exasperation I’ve heard in my own voice. “Tommy*, don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run!” He rolled his eyes. “I hear it at school. I hear it at daycare. I hear it at the pool. I hear it at the mall. I hear it everywhere. Tommy, don’t run!” He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes. “It haunts my dreams, Grandma.”

He was so cute, I wanted to smile, but I chose instead to treat him with the same respect all people deserve and listen.

Oh, honey, I hear you. I know God created you to be a runner. You just have to move. It’s hard for you, I know.

I’m on the other end of the age scale, but my dreams are haunted by admonishment and reminders of restrictions other people want to put on me too. Don’t sing. Don’t dance. Don’t laugh loudly. Don’t think for yourself. Do as you’re told. Don’t associate with the wrong people. Be aware of every possible thing that could offend or disturb anyone, anywhere and don’t offend them. Oh, and remember that those who have no problem giving offense are often the most easily offended. Keep your opinions –and especially your odd sense of humour– to yourself. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!

I hear you, my boy, because there is never an end to people who want to place restrictions on your desire to run, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to talk and to just be free. But here’s the thing: Their rules and regulations and protocols have holes. Big holes. They can’t keep out the light. They are defenseless against goodness and peace. Kindness leaks across property lines. Gentleness dismantles barbed wire. Joy makes them jealous. Peace irritates them no end, and love, well love elevates restrictions to a higher court where the judge is the one who made you. All of this equipment is available to you if you follow Jesus. He’s gone ahead of you and will show you where he stashed them, if you ask.

So you shine, boy. Run the race that is set before you and eventually the critics and accusers will either have to join you or be left behind.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)

*Not his real name

Cherish Wisdom

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
 She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.

Proverbs 4:6-9 NIV

Pressure

But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves.

We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body.

(2 Corinthians 4:7-10 Amp)

There’s nothing like pressure to reveal weakness. I was very tired recently and grumbled loud and long about not being able to stay home and rest, but despite my physical weakness God used me to encourage someone when I grudgingly went out. It always surprises me when that happens. I guess part of me still thinks that helping someone is the result of my pseudo-superhero strength of character and somewhat flimsy appearance of righteousness. It’s not. It’s definitely not. Thanks for the reminder, Lord.

People given to shows of religiosity sometimes forget that it is God working through them that makes a difference in the world. I think God uses fragile people to carry his message of salvation because he needs us to quit making objects of worship out of anyone but Himself. It happens so easily. And then our “idols” fall because either the elevated person or his or her worshippers need to be reminded that God alone deserves all the praise.

The truth is our bodies are weak and our egos are fragile. Jesus knew what it was like to live in a body subject to fatigue. The night before he was crucified, he experienced physical weakness under huge pressure. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he conceded when his disciples couldn’t stay awake to pray with him in the garden. He understands.

Paul told the believers in Corinth that sometimes life could be tough. He and his companions had questions. They were pressured and perplexed like we sometimes are. They were hunted, persecuted, and struck down, but they were not crushed, not driven to despair, or deserted, or destroyed because God was their source of strength. He was doing something wonderful through them. These “fragile vessels” carried the living resurrected Christ. How amazing! Substance before style! It’s so opposite of the way the world operates with its public relations media machines and style before substance.

Our weaknesses keep us from claiming credit when the credit belongs to God. He is teaching us to trust him under pressure. “Under pressure” is where the rubber meets the road.

Carrying the precious message, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is about His sufficiency and not ours. Soli Deo gratia.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Pressure

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

Expansion: Get Used to Different

I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding.
 (Psalm 119:32 NLT)

Sometimes I think about what life was like when my grandparents built their first houses on the Canadian prairies. They had to be adventurous people. Breaking ground that has never been broken before is a daunting task. I think about both my grandmothers preparing meals for large families and threshing crews without modern appliances or even a grocery store nearby.

I wonder if they were suddenly transported to today, a hundred years in their futures, if they could comprehend cooking a quick dinner in the microwave from a recipe I searched for on my cell phone. I wonder if they would understand a fraction of the material my thirteen-year-old granddaughter learned in science today or the games my twelve-year-old grandson played on his computer this afternoon. Instead of my spinning wheel I could show them the shirt I bought this morning. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles.

Yet I wonder if we, ok I, went back a hundred years, if I could understand their willingness to go beyond the bounds of the familiar, and seek a better life for themselves and their children. Both my grandmothers remained faithful to God in challenging circumstances, both saw many changes in their lifetimes. Both had a vision for the future and a willingness to expand their horizons (which were literally much broader on the prairies.)

I wonder if God has much more for us to understand about him, and the world he created, and who he created us to be in that world. I wonder if we will not be able to understand without taking the risk of making changes.

There is a line spoken by the actor representing Jesus in the popular episodic series, The Chosen. It stood out to me when the smiling, kind Son of God said, “Get used to different.” It was a pay-attention moment.

Throughout history, the stress of change and upheaval has often been the way God has moved to expand our understanding. He’s doing it again. Get used to different. Your understanding may be his next expansion project.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Expansion

Nourishment

Nourishment

I sat beside one of my grandchildren. She was busy eating vegetables with what seemed like great enthusiasm.

“Wow, you must really like vegetables,” I said.

“Not really,” she said, grabbing another piece of celery. “Daddy said I could have a piece of cake if I ate my veggies. That piece was really good, so now I’m eating more veggies so I can have another piece of cake.”

“Hmmm. Veggies as a confectionary offset. Is it kind of like buying a carbon offset and paying someone to do a good environmental deed for you when you want to burn a lot of fossil fuel in your private jet or yacht on your way to a climate conference?” I asked.

“What? I don’t have a jet!”

“Yeah. Neither do I. It’s not really my problem is it?”

She finished munching and ran into the kitchen with her plate.

The idea of doing a good deed to pre-atone for a self-indulgent act is not new. In fact, one of the things that provoked the time of societal upheaval in sixteenth century Europe was the sale of indulgences (yes, that’s what they were actually called). According to the people hawking them, buying an indulgence could take years off your time in purgatory. (Exactly how many years off or exactly how long a sentence in Purgatory was expected to last was little hard to pin down). Overzealous salesmen caused several deep thinkers to say, “Hey, wait a minute… That means the rich can get away with more…”

I thought about times when I partook in plain healthy spiritual nourishment without savouring or appreciating its subtle ungarnished goodness because I wanted to get on to something more exciting. I remembered sitting through obligatory ‘devotionals’ at youth group meetings where all the cute guys were because, well, you know, cute guys.

I thought about years of attending church services and that feeling of relief when it was over. I loved the sense of freedom when the religious obligation thing was done, and the rest of the week was mine to enjoy. I kind of left God behind in the building with the guilt accumulated in the previous week.

After a few years, I started to think, “Hey, wait a minute…” Churchianity wasn’t doing it for me. I wanted to encounter Jesus and find out if he meant what he said about grace and healing and knowing the Father’s heart of love and acceptance into his family and being transformed. There were better places to find good entertainment and frankly, the service clubs did a better job of serving. The unspoken rules were getting to me. What was I doing here? Either God was real, or he was not. I had to find out.

I returned to the simplicity of the stories of Jesus on earth, some of it in his own words. The good healthy, nourishing truth of Jesus’ words had more spiritual vitamins and minerals than I knew. Time spent reading the words of Jesus himself for myself was well worth the effort of establishing a healthy discipline of seeking him first. God encounter experiences came later.

Some times a loving Father gives us treats. Sometimes he reminds us to focus on the essentials first.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Nourishment

Alignment: What’s Your Point?

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Alignment

I thought the illustration for today’s Creative Meditations for Lent word would be easy. Alignment. Of course, I want to be aligned with God’s purposes. I want to hear his heart and direct my energies to serving him by doing the works he created me to do. How can I illustrate that? I could draw a picture of two people running together toward a goal, or take a photo of machine parts in alignment working together, or maybe I could find an older photo of railroad tracks going in the same direction.

I began to think about what it means to align with God’s intent and purposes. (My husband says God is a good listener, but he doesn’t take advice well. We could save ourselves a lot of bother if we just knew what he was up to.) But I kept getting interrupted, first by grumbling and trying to use a straight iron to fix a haircut that is much shorter than I wanted, then by a meeting, then by an appointment with the dentist and a little shopping while I was in that part of town, then by some rabbit trail research, then by a nap, then by a chat, then another meeting, then a little browsing through YouTube and Twitter (dangerous diversion, that), then writing and deleting a long reactionary post on a topic which I finally admitted I knew too little about to venture an informed opinion, then by cooking supper and tidying up, then by doing a last minute favour for someone that only took an hour or so, then stopping to pick up something at the store that I forgot to get earlier before coming home and talking to my husband about his day, then fixing myself a bed-time snack. Now the day is nearly done and the thing I set out to do this morning is not nearly done.

I realized how easy it is to fritter away time, and the older I get, the more whatever time I have left increases in value. I felt the Lord ask, “If your desire is really to get in line with my purposes, why are you letting all these other things distract you?”

I wonder if the devil can’t convince us to take part in outright rebellion if he just gets us to fail in our purpose by throwing interesting and often pleasant distractions in the way. I really should be working on my book. Oh look! A shiny!

What’s my point? I want to say “yes” to God, to be in alignment with him. But saying yes to him means saying no to other things. Even voluntary creative meditations require focus. My pencils are all lined up and ready to go, but they won’t produce anything useful without my intent to align with God’s intent. Alignment is not so easy.

Flow

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.) 

(John 7:38, 39 The Message)

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Flow