Laying It All Down/Gaining Everything

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“…at present Jesus simply looks for those who willingly answer His call and say yes to Him. “Yes. You gave everything You have for me. I now give everything I have to You….

“[Jesus] became obedient even to the point of death. It really does cost to follow God. And there’s sometimes sadness and grieving in that, in terms of how much we will have to give up. The truth is, to be fully a disciple of Jesus will cost us everything. Jesus doesn’t ask for half our heart; He asks for it all. But there is good news in that. When we deny ourselves and lay down our lives – the meager amount we have to offer anyway in comparison – we actually gain every thing!”

– Bruce Merz, in While He Lay Dying

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” -Jesus Christ

(Matthew 16:25 NLT)

This Might Take Awhile

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“For many of us perseverance is not a spiritual quality that we aspire to. We seem rather to think that faith is evidenced by quick results. We get faith for something and start believing with the force of a steam train, but if we don’t see the results we want, and quickly, we lose heart.

I think it may be more accurate to say we lose faith quickly because we have already lost heart. Losing faith is merely a symptom. Much like chest pain is a sign of a heart attack, so lack of perseverance is a sign our heart has been damaged.”

-Bishop Todd Atkinson, from While He Lay Dying

I’m back in ranch country babysitting my grandchildren while their parents are away. They are hard-working folk, these cowboys. For over a hundred years they have been saddling up, no matter what the weather. Some of the more grizzled ones look like they have been in the saddle for a hundred years, but they are strong people.

I cleaned the fresh snow off the car, scraped the ice off the windshield, and drove the grandkids to school in the dark and cold this morning. None of us were thrilled about the rituals of a January morning. This is the longest month of the year for me. It’s a one foot in front of the other kind of time.

While I’m here I’m teaching my amazing twelve-year old granddaughter to sew. I’ve been doing it for so long I’ve forgotten how many steps there are to learning how to put the pieces of fabric together, but she catches on very quickly. She is also excited about learning math and science and is teaching herself sign language as well. She has an amazing ability to synchronize information gleaned from one area and connect it to another. It’s starting to come together for her. I love watching the way her mind works. But without the dailiness of school and reading and fact gathering she wouldn’t have the information she needs – and craves – to put the pieces together. Her brother is a keen observer of people and makes the same kind of connections, but in relationships. He already shows a growing ability to live with compassion and consideration.

And so we all saddle up and go through the routines of a winter morning, because perseverance in the dark and in the cold leads to breakthrough and connection to greater truths.

There are times when we are in crisis and facing overwhelming odds, as a community did when contending for the life of Bruce Merz, when the lessons the Lord has taught through perseverance start to come together. Who knew one of the lessons involved would be perseverance itself? Bishop Atkinson understood that like Daniel prevailing in prayer for 21 days, the breakthrough would not be quickly won.

Amazingly after 21 days of round-the-clock prayer there was breakthrough. We started to make connections – the kind of connections that change our lives forever.

The story is told in While He Lay Dying. The website, including photos and videos, is here.

It’s inspiring reading on a cold January day and may give you some of the information you need to gather for your own breakthrough.

Thanks for the Memories

 

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“...The Lord showed me the reason I didn’t think he answered my prayers. It was simply that I was not thankful when He did. Without an attitude of thanksgiving those memories were lost to me.” -Lara Merz

The new book While He Lay Dying is touching some sore spots for some people. I understand. The story hit a lot of mine as well -sore spots that God was putting pressure on, like a kind doctor who looked into my eyes while asking, “Does that hurt?”

The intent of the doctor is not to torment you, but to heal you, but first he needs to identify the source of the pain by having you acknowledge it.

I do believe that prayer is more about learning to listen to God than handing him my Christmas wish list, or a job description of my design with expectations I think he needs to meet. Still he invites us to come to him with all our cares and needs and with prayers and petitions – with thanksgiving – and present our requests. The thanksgiving is actually for our sakes, because being grateful for the things he has done for us already helps us remember and come in faith.

I met a woman a few years ago who, like I had been, was mired in chronic depression. Healing from depression can involve more than one avenue since this wretched condition affects every part of our lives – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational. But one of the glimmers of light in that cave of darkness begins to shine when we are willing to be thankful for one thing. Thanking God for just one thing is like picking up the first crumb that leads to a trail of crumbs -more things to be thankful for. The trail leads to the exit of the dark cave. I asked her to tell God one thing she was thankful for. She refused. She could think of nothing -as she sat in a large warm house, in a free country, with a good meal, and all her expenses cared for by a generous family member, comforted by friends who constantly tried to reach out to her. “My life is too bitter,” she said.

Another person said, “Sure. God healed your son-in-law. How nice for you. But why be thankful? There is no guarantee he’ll be here next Christmas. He could be hit by a bus, or another tragedy could strike your family. It happens all the time. Where was God when this happened and that happened? Look at the news this week and what about the time I prayed and he didn’t give me the answer I wanted?”

Do you see how quickly we can lose the memory of a miraculous response to prayer and forget God’s goodness when we refuse to be grateful and choose to focus on disappointment? It was like turning away from the spot of light in a dark cave and saying, “So you saw something that might point to a light, or maybe even an exit of some sort. How nice for you. But my experience is that it is dark in this cave. Look at all the places where there is no light. Don’t remind me of my pain. There is no hope.”

Of course we all die. Miracles are not about having perfect circumstances and a care-free life. Signs point to something -or Someone. Signs are not the destination. Don’t park there. Keep moving.

A friend reminded me yesterday that those of us born in the 50’s have lived in two centuries and two millennium -and people we knew in our youth had been born in the 1800’s. He made me think. One of the most influential people in my life, my grandmother, was born in 1909. My granddaughter was born in 2009 -100 years later, and yet these two people are central in my memories. I am so thankful for them. I am especially thankful that my grandmother told me the stories of God’s provision, even through the most horrible experiences -from the death of her kitten as a wee girl to the death of her two children as a young mother. Yes, she found herself in dark places sometimes, but she always came out singing, because she remembered her answered prayers, and thankfulness pinned those memories down for her. She knew the God she appealed to, and the longer she knew him, the more she loved him. A few weeks before she died she told me, “Death holds no fear for me. It is a wide-open door to the light. And my dear Jesus is standing there, arms open, waiting to wipe away all my tears.”

 

I Want My Daddy!

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What do you do when God gives you a real live miracle?

First, you respond with thankfulness. Then you look toward the One the sign points to. Asking Him why we received a miracle brings as silent a response as asking why there have been times when we did not see a loved one healed. A better question is “What?”

“What would you have us do with this experience?”

“What does this mean?”

“What are you showing us about yourself?”

Or “How would you have us respond?” ”

My job during the crisis was mainly to care for the children. We knew people were praying and most of the time felt a cocoon of love around us, but to be honest there were times when this little boy in the photo felt the agony of not having his Daddy there with him, of not knowing why somber adults spoke in hushed voices or stopped talking when they noticed him playing at their feet or hiding behind the door. There were times when he cried inconsolably, “I want my Daddy! Where is my Daddy? I need my Daddy!” and no one, not uncles or grandmothers or even Mommy could comfort him. There were times when he refused to eat or sleep and trashed his room late at night when grown-ups insisted he go to bed.

Then there were times when he was the one with the strongest faith, when he sat on Mommy’s lap and looked into her eyes and said, “We don’t hass to be afraid, Mommy. We don’t hass to be afraid cuz Jesus is wiss us.” When doctors privately gave his Daddy a 0% chance of recovery from necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) he and his sister set aside drawings and pine cones and other precious things to show Daddy when he came home. They sang songs about nothing being impossible for Jesus.

What do you do when God gives you a real live miracle? What you do with a miracle is tell the story truthfully, including the times of outrageous faith, and the times of soul-crushing disappointment. I appreciate our son-in-love Bruce and daughter Lara Merz’ efforts to be accurate when they tell the story of their miracle in the book While He Lay Dying. They are honest about their struggles, their fears. their set-backs. They are honest about surges of faith that came from beyond themselves. They are honest about the difficulty of pursuing being a community of love and being transparently vulnerable in times of crisis. They are honest about the way God accomplished the very tasks Bruce had once strived to accomplish, by bringing them about while he lay in bed doing absolutely nothing. At all. He couldn’t even breathe for himself.

One of the contributors to the book is a fine physician who witnessed the roller-coaster ride that this event entailed. He volunteered to verify the chronology and medical information and write a chapter from his perspective. Their pastor gives his story of how the event led to greater revelation for him and its significance for the larger church, and Bruce and Lara’s little daughter also expresses her point of view.

What do you do when God gives you a real live miracle? You stand up, relinquish your rights to life as you have known it and say, “This is what we saw. This is what God did. This is Who He is to us.” You become a witness to His goodness. You give him all the glory for the things He has done.

Last week I heard this little guy giggling as his Daddy tucked him into bed. God heard his cry. Daddy came home without any loss of limbs and with organs functioning better than before he becme ill.

This week the book telling this amazing story of how the Lord gathered an army of believers to pray for the life of one man and support one little family has been released. I think you’ll find it inspiring.

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The website:
http://whilehelaydying.com/#

Book available from:

Amazon in both print and eBook form. (A free Kindle download is available for reading eBooks on computers and other devices.) Click on one of these:

In the USA

In Canada

In the UK

Kobo (eBook)
Indigo/Chapters with free shipping until Dec. 15

Essence Publishers (print)

Your local bookstore by request

Profits beyond expenses related to book to go to charity.

Butter and the Border

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Recently my dear friend and I had the chance to go down to Montana for a girl’s weekend and shopping trip. The scary stern faces of the border guards (and scary stories -like the time my daughter and her friend were surrounded by men with automatic weapons pointed at them because a scant amount of radiation from a bone scan her friend had earlier that week tripped some sort of alarm) make us aware that we are in a foreign country. Since the border with the US is the only border Canadians regularly cross by land it’s an adventure. Our kids, and now our grandchildren are fascinated by the “foreign travel” aspect. But the truth is we have to look for differences. They’re not obvious.

Our language is the same, and our cultures are pretty similar. We understand the movie and celebrity references. We even get most of the political references. The kids always notice the flags everywhere and I also notice the alcohol for sale in the grocery stores and at the first gas station we stop at -oh, and also the low price of gasoline compared to ours. That’s why we always try to arrive with a mostly empty tank. There are a couple of shops whose cash registers seize up when introduced to my Canadian debit card, but most have no trouble. The money is all the same colour so it’s harder to tell at a glance how much is left in the wallet after we hit Costco, where chicken and cheese are cheaper, but produce costs more.

The American side of the border crossing seems to have been deforested around Eureka. Somebody told us this was for security. I don’t know. Looks kind of bare to me. There are philosophical differences between the two countries that aren’t obvious at first, but I will probably never get used to seeing people with holsters and handguns. I thought they were part of a cowboy costume theme week or something. No, ordinary people really do carry guns when they are not hunting moose. This seems very strange to us, and a bit scary considering we are the foreigners all that security is meant to protect them from. I really don’t get it, but it seems to be very important to them, so OK. Just keep it in the holster.

So my friend and I picked up a few groceries to take to our lovely rental condo.

“You can sure tell you are in a foreign country,” she said as she put some things in the fridge. “Look at this butter. Now I know what the American recipes mean when they call for a stick of butter.” The butter was divided and packaged into rectangular shapes inside yet another package. I laughed at her (Lovingly. She is the dearest person.) because this is how hard we have to look to see our differences sometimes. Our butter comes in 454 gm. blocks -usually. 454 gm.  -not 500 gm. which is an even number, because 454 gm. is a pound, but we like to think we’ve gone metric.

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I was thinking later, as I drove through de-forested Eureka, how easy it is to look for our differences, our “distinctives.” It’s a defensive thing, really, to look for things we do better. Part of our Canadian identity is that we are not Americans (although our country takes up the majority of the land mass on this continent called America.) My ancestors were United Empire Loyalists -heroes in one country, traitors in the other, and there have been a lot of anti-American words spoken since then. I wondered (and this might seem a strange question to Americans, but try reversing the scenario) what do people in the States do better than we do? What can we learn from them? I immediately thought of the servers in restaurants who were all friendly and helpful. I was pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness of store clerks -especially by the fact that you could actually find some. They do service better than we do. There were more products on the shelves and more menus in cafes that accommodated my food sensitivities. There were greeting cards and plaques with Christian themes in regular stores. As I began to see more I began to bless them for their differences -and realized we really do have a lot more in common than we have “distinctives.”

There is a turning point in the story told in While He Lay Dying, when two brothers who were so very aware of their distinctives were in the same room. One was comatose and dying. The other wanted desperately to reconcile their relationship. A pastor in the room asked him, “Can you bless your brother for all the ways he is different?” He did so, and not only did he experience deep healing himself, but something in the atmosphere changed. All of a sudden people who were praying in their homes started texting in saying they felt the Lord was bringing their attention to Psalm 139 -“How blessed it is when brothers dwell in unity…” Right after that people were woken in the night with the sense that they could not pray for this man’s survival until they had reconciled with someone. People from different churches showed up and reconciled in the hallways before they joined in prayer.

We were watching the beginning of a miracle, and it began when one man blessed another for his differences.

Unity is not uniformity, nor compromise of essentials. It is more than tolerating cultural and style differences; it is honouring them. When we in Christendom can stop defending our possession of our piece of the puzzle long enough to bless other denominations and their expression of love for Jesus Christ, we can not only learn from each other, we can start the reconciliation process that will re-unite this fractured, divided church. Step one in healing and restoration: come together and bless each other for our differences.

And I think dividing butter into 1/2 cup “sticks” is a great idea.

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.

Angels Help Us to Adore Him

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I’ve never seen an actual angel, not that I know of, at least not while I was awake. I know people who have – and some of them are the scientifically-oriented type not given to flights of fancy. I gather it’s a rather startling experience.

I’ve sung about them quite often.

Angels, help us to adore Him,

Ye behold Him face to face;

Sun and moon, bow down before Him;

Dwellers all in time and space,

Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!

Praise with us the God of grace.

(from Praise My Soul the King of Heaven by Henry Lyte)

I’ve read about them too, but like most folk the pictures of angels I’ve been acquainted with came from Christmas decorations, Baroque paintings, corner gift shops and carved stones in cemeteries.

I’ve seen them in dreams though. One leaned down low and told me a secret that explained a lot of previously unexplained events in my childhood. Another time, after I had been praying about what action to take I saw an angel pointing to the trail I often walk on when I go to pray. He was leaning on the please-clean-up-after-your-dog sign and smiling.

I have seen angels in uniform in my dreams, in battle fatigues, in air force uniforms, and one dressed as a cable guy. He was in my house repairing something in the wall where my husband and the boys had once threaded a wire that connected their computers so they could play games together. Shortly after that I noticed a definite improvement in communication in their relationships.

When I hear people’s stories of real live encounters I become envious. I have sincerely prayed for my eyes to be opened like Elisha’s servant so I could see too, but every time I have done that someone close to me sees something, and I don’t.

When our son-in-law lay dying several people told me about seeing angels around him. One praying friend in another part of the world sent a message telling me about the angel she saw in a vision. Within a few hours I heard two other people who were there at the hospital describe seeing exactly the same thing. Some people saw two very tall angels on guard duty on either side of the door to his room. Some saw angels crowded in the room and hallways. Some saw angels holding his head.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed.

Just before that season when the doctor thought I had cancer, then my mother-in-law was in ICU for heart problems and surgery, our son-in-law had flesh-eating disease, and our son’s family’s home and community was nearly destroyed in a flood, etc. etc. etc. I prayed to see angels. I didn’t. My husband did though. He’s really a down-to-earth guy, a scientist, but he old me excitedly the next morning that he dreamed (or he thought it was a dream) that he answered a knock on the door and a bunch of very big angels walked past him into the living room. He said they all dressed and acted like rugby players. Big tough rowdy guys.

“What did they look like?” I demanded. “Did you see their faces? Did they have names?”

“There was a whole team of giant nine-foot tall rugby player angels crammed into our little eight foot high living room! It was really hard to see anything. All I know is that they were slapping each other on the back enthusiastically like they were really looking forward to playing a big important game. They were like ‘Bring it on! We are so ready for this!’”

Maybe I haven’t seen angels because I might be so distracted I would forget to do my part in the battle, which seems a lot like pulling out little Lucy’s tiny dagger in the presence of a whole huge army of threats and ugly hatred like she did in a battle in Narnia.

The Bible talks freely about angels, and how they are servants of God. They are not made of stone or paper or cookie dough and they aren’t chubby babies with aerodynamically impossible tiny wings. We don’t worship them, but it’s good to know the angels who worship the Creator of the Universe and see him face to face help us fight the good fight. I trust the Lord sends them where he needs them – and where I need them when I pull out my little dagger.

There are more accounts of angel sightings in the book, While He Lay Dying.