Exuberant

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Our daughter needed to study calculus as part of her bachelor degree requirements. She liked math and was good at it so she happily signed up for the course. The problem was that the only class that fit into her timetable was the class her father taught. She had hoped to avoid that scenario, still being a teen and all.

One day she needed to ask a question about something she didn’t understand. Her father carefully explained the concept covering two blackboards with figures and diagrams, then turned and asked her if she understood.

“What? Oh…” she said looking up from the page she had been doodling on. “Um, sorry. I heard you go into your lecturing voice and I tuned you out.”

The students who didn’t know about their relationship gasped in shock. Those that knew the prof was her dad laughed.

This story came back to me today as I was thinking about relating to the many facets of God. Our daughter was relating to the man at the front of the class as the dad who had been responsible for setting limits through some chaotic years. In that moment she wasn’t relating to him as a valuable teacher and missed what he had to offer. (All was not lost. That was the year she gained respect for his skills and actually changed direction to become a math education major herself.)

Many metaphors describe the way God wants to relate to us; He presents himself as creator, king, father, bridegroom, shepherd, healer, provider, lamb, mother, brother, law-giver, judge, protector and many more. Someone once asked me, “Who does God want to be for you now?”

I didn’t understand the question at the time. God is God. Holy Other. Unchanging. There is no one like him.  What do you mean?

Since then I have come to know God as my loving heavenly father, Jesus as a brother and the Holy Spirit as a comforter. I’ve known him as a teacher and healer and encourager and even as an intimate friend who shares confidences. What I am still learning is how to be flexible when he wants to show me another aspect of himself.

Lately I have been spending time praying about some heavy matters brought to my attention. I feel privileged to be trusted, and I do remember praying “break my heart with what breaks yours,” but I’ve been feeling the weight of it lately. I know the joy of the Lord is my strength but I must have set it down somewhere and I’m having trouble remembering where I put it. Before I fell asleep I asked for an understanding of joy, because I don’t know how to make myself feel something I don’t feel.

It snowed last night. When I looked out my window this morning I saw the berries on the mountain ash tree covered with little tipped white piles of snow that looked like gnome hats. I ran out in my robe and slippers and took a photo, not caring what the neighbours digging out their vehicles thought. The mountain ash hats just looked silly. They reminded me of little red Smurfs. I smiled.

“There it is,” he said.

“There is what?”

“Joy. My joy. It’s been here all along. You just weren’t expecting it or looking for it.”

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I need to shift my thinking and learn to relate to God as someone who has tremendous joy in spite of seeing selfish people misuse their authority and abuse the vulnerable. He knows how all this ends, and it ends well.

I remembered a passage of scripture that talks about Jesus being exuberant and full of joy because of his Father’s plans. This scene happened after he commissioned 70 people to go out ahead of him and declare the kingdom of God by healing the sick and casting out demons.

The seventy came back triumphant. “Master, even the demons danced to your tune!”

Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”

At that, Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. “I thank you, Father, Master of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.

“I’ve been given it all by my Father! Only the Father knows who the Son is and only the Son knows who the Father is. The Son can introduce the Father to anyone he wants to.”

(Luke 10 :17-22 The Message)

I put on my warm clothes and high boots and went out into the dazzling light of the day, plowing through white powder nearly up to my knees. I listened to the distant birds, and the babbling brook. I stood under showers of tiny diamonds as the snow crystals fell from high branches in the sunlight. Today I am learning who God wants to be for me now. Jesus is introducing me to a happy Creator – my strength and my joy.

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Save

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Shelter

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If anything in this world bugs me it’s people who don’t care. Cold-heartedness.

The problem is I succumb to compassion-fatigue too. It takes a certain amount of denial to be able to function and not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of pain in this world. I find myself fleeing not only from cold-heartedness in others, but cold-heartedness in myself. It’s not only threats against our person that make us run to the Lord for refuge. It’s also when the things we judge others for show up in ourselves.

Here’s the thing: you can’t give what you have never received. Without the shelter and warmth and love Jesus provides when we run to him, we have nothing to share. So many sensitive people who do care find their love growing cold and become bitter and hopeless when they don’t leave the frigid environment out there and spend time regularly soaking up God’s love for them in the shelter he provides. It’s not selfish. It’s essential. It’s where our hope lies.

So God has given us two unchanging things: His promise and His oath. These prove that it is impossible for God to lie. As a result, we who come to God for refuge might be encouraged to seize that hope that is set before us. (Hebrews 6:18)

Evergreen

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Those who are devoted to God will flourish like budding date-palm trees;
they will grow strong and tall like cedars in Lebanon.

Those planted in the house of the Eternal
will thrive in the courts of our God.

They will bear fruit into old age;
even in winter, they will be green and full of sap
To display that the Eternal is righteous.

He is my rock, and there is no shadow of evil in Him.

(Psalm 92:12-15)

Merry Strawberry Season! Wait…. what?

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Someone sent me a wish for a happy Hanukkah this week and mentioned that it is officially strawberry season (in the Middle East). We are singing songs like “See amid the winter snow, born for us so long ago,” and “In the Bleak mid-winter,” and “Let it Snow” and “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Strawberry season couldn’t be farther away.

I keep running into slogans on social media: “It’s Merry Christmas, not Season’s Greetings or Happy Holiday!” I don’t know if the intent is to come across as being rigid and somewhat less than gracious about this, but it doesn’t exactly exude warm wishes. I’m particularly concerned that it is aimed at poor harried store clerks who are just following store policy. It is a Christian’s job to bless people who don’t know about the love of God, not theirs to give us “the proper greeting.” When I talked about it some people told me that the issue is that they feel an attack by governments and lobby groups to deny their traditions and they’ve had about enough of this political correctness stuff that denies folk the right to express themselves freely.

Ah. That’s the reason for the defensiveness — defending tradition. One simply does not mess with someone’s traditions. Someone told me that saying Merry Christmas was standing up for Jesus. Hmmm. I have found that putting myself in charge of God’s public relations by using my own disgruntled methods seldom puts him in a good light. He’s more likely to say, “Thanks, but I’ve got this,” and then he just pours out his goodness on those who speak ill of him.

There is a difference between “standing up for Jesus” and “standing up for our traditions.” I don’t see any instructions to say “Merry Christmas” anywhere in the Bible. In fact I don’t see any command to celebrate Jesus’ birth on an arbitrary date chosen to give an alternative to winter solstice rituals. (A good case can be made for Jesus’ birth being around the time of Sukkot, or the Jewish Festival of Booths, by the way), but I consider every day a good day to celebrate Jesus, so why not Christmas Day as well? I’m good with that.

To me “standing up for Jesus” is about standing up for what Jesus taught and acknowledging that he is who he said he is. I have a hard time seeing him scold someone for not upholding the traditions of man according to some unwritten rules. In fact, the only people he scolded were the ones who burdened people with the traditions of man to the point where they no longer accurately communicated the nature of God.

Our tradition in northern Europe and northern America is that Jesus was born amid the winter snow. It’s a rather self-absorbed man-made tradition that does not take into consideration that in other places in the world, it’s strawberry season. Whether it’s winter or summer where you live, whether Jesus’ birthday was on December 25 or September 25, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Putting Christ back into Christmas means being Christ-centered in all our choices and extending his love and peace.

May the love and peace of Christ be with you this day and every day. He absolutely adores you, you know.

Into the Gaps

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek